TIME Wireless

Everything to Know About Google’s New Wireless Service

Project Fi is cheaper and more flexible than most wireless plans

Google is already an Internet Service Provider and a pay-TV operator. Now it’s expanding to become a wireless carrier as well.

Google unveiled Wednesday a new cell phone service dubbed Project Fi, which offers the same basic functionality as traditional wireless carriers, such as voice, text and Internet access, at a lower price than many common plans.

Here’s a primer on everything you need to know about Google’s Project Fi:

What exactly does Project Fi offer?

Project Fi offers a basic cell phone plan that includes unlimited domestic talk and text and unlimited international texts for $20 per month. International calls will cost $.20 per minute. Subscribers can add a monthly allotment of 1GB of data for $10 month, and increase the allotment by $10 per gigabyte.

One thing that makes Fi different from many mainstream carriers is that any data a customer doesn’t use shows up as a credit on their next bill — each 100MB is worth $1. There are also no overage penalties, as extra data use is charged at the same rate as data that is part of the plan. And, in a nice plus for international travelers, mobile data costs the same $10/GB in more than 120 countries.

How will Project Fi differ from what traditional wireless carriers offer?

Google’s service will switch between different high-speed wireless networks operated by Sprint and T-Mobile, depending on which is stronger in a given area. In addition to regular cellular coverage, phones on Project Fi will switch to Wi-Fi networks when available to place calls and access the Internet without using up customers’ data plans.

Using Wi-Fi for voice service is becoming an increasingly popular strategy in the telco industry — Cablevision recently unveiled a cell phone service that is entirely reliant on Wi-Fi connections and costs $30 per month.

What do I need to get Project Fi?

Right now, you can only use Project Fi with a Nexus 6, Google’s flagship Android phone. The Nexus 6 costs $649 for the 32GB version. Unlike traditional carriers, Google isn’t offering a subsidy on the phone in exchange for a two-year contract commitment (Project Fi is contract-free).

However, customers can pay for the device over the course of two years if they pass a credit check. And if you already own a Nexus 6, it’ll work on Project Fi.

How is Google able to build the infrastructure to offer cell phone service?

Google isn’t building its own cell phone towers for Project Fi. Instead, it operates on networks already operated by Sprint and T-Mobile. The big wireless carriers already make lots of money by effectively renting access to their networks to smaller carriers, who then resell that service to consumers using different branding.

Google, of course, could be a much bigger long-term threat to the wireless industry than the typical small-scale operator. But Sprint has reserved the right to renegotiate its deal with Google if the search giant gains a large number of subscribers, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Why would Google want to be a wireless carrier?

Google’s primary interest as a company is getting people on the Internet so that they can make Google searches and be served ads, which is how Google makes money. Developing new ways to make Internet access cheaper, faster or more reliable creates more opportunities for users to feed into Google’s core business.

Google likely doesn’t have aspirations to become the next AT&T or Comcast–those firms have incredibly high infrastructure costs and often contentious relationships with their customer base because of the high fees they charge. Rather, Google wants to tip the scales to force the giants in telecommunications to offer better service. This is already happening with Google Fiber, Google’s high-speed Internet service, which has prompted Time Warner Cable to boost Internet speeds for its own customers in places like Charlotte, N.C.

How will this affect the other carriers?

For now, any impact will be small, because Project Fi is only available on the Nexus 6. T-Mobile and Sprint will actually benefit financially because Google is paying them for their networks, and those companies will have the leverage to stamp out Google’s service if it develops in ways they don’t like. But in the long run, Google’s presence could force carriers to offer customers plans that are cheaper and more flexible. T-Mobile has already been filling this disruptive role in the telco industry through its aggressive Uncarrier plan.

Read next: This Is Facebook’s Latest Move to Take Over Your Phone

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TIME Cloud Computing

IBM Is Stumbling Its Way Into the Future

A general view of IBM's 'Watson' computing system at a press conference at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center on January 13, 2011 in Yorktown Heights, New York.
Ben Hider—Getty Images A general view of IBM's 'Watson' computing system at a press conference at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center on January 13, 2011 in Yorktown Heights, New York.

Despite ambitious plans for its future, the technology giant faces serious hurdles

The problem with being a tech giant is that, no matter how hard you try to charge into the future, you’re always weighted down by the past. And lately, no company has exemplified this conundrum better than IBM.

In the past few months, IBM has rolled out innovation after promising innovation. The company launched an analytics tool for the healthcare industry based on its Watson artificial-intelligence platform. Watson tools for other industries are on tap, and meanwhile Watson has written a cookbook.

IBM is also building a cloud platform for the Internet of things that companies can use to make sense of data collected from far-flung sensors embedded in a wide variety of devise. The company not only announced its Hybrid Cloud–meshing IBM’s own cloud with a client’s on-premise machines–it signed the US Army up as a key customer. Oh, and it’s building new computers that mimic the human brain.

The company is serious about investing in these new ideas. CEO Ginny Rometty told investors in February IBM would spend $4 billion this year in growth areas like analytics, cloud computing, mobility and security software. These areas accounted for only 27% of IBM’s total revenue in 2014, but Rometty sees revenue growing to $40 billion from $25 billion in four years.

This all sounds encouraging, but now look at the first-quarter earnings report IBM delivered on Monday. Revenue fell 12% year-over-year to $19.6 billion and came in $100 million shy of analysts’ consensus forecast. That marked the 12th straight quarter of falling revenue and the eighth time in the last nine quarters that IBM missed its revenue estimate. In fact, it was IBM’s lowest quarterly revenue since the first quarter of 2002.

Explaining the weak revenue, IBM pointed out that the decline reflected the sale of certain assets like its low-end server unit and the effect of a strong US dollar. (IBM warned that if the dollar stays at current levels it could slice 80 cents a share off full-year EPS.) Excluding those factors, IBM’s revenue was still flat with the year-ago quarter. Net income fell 2.4% to $2.3 billion.

How can IBM have so many promising technologies and such a weak financial performance? The answer is a classic innovator’s dilemma, in which successful companies struggle to stay atop their industries as they face newer, more efficient technologies and business models that slowly drain life from their cash cows.

Enterprise IT giants like IBM, SAP and Oracle face one such threat from cloud computing. The choice they face is an ugly one: Dig in and maintain a profitable but slowly dying business; or invest in those same innovations, thereby cannibalizing their core business. IBM has made the bold choice to invest in the future, even if it’s eating into its present success.

This isn’t new. Throughout its history, IBM has backed out of aging businesses to focus on new areas of growth. In the past four decades, it’s sold off its Selectric typewriters to Lexmark, its copier business to Eastman Kodak, its hard-disk drive unit to Hitachi, and its PC and low-end server divisions to Lenovo. In the late 90s, the company broke from its roots to push into IT services. Under Rometty, IBM is again making a transition into areas it sees as growing for years.

The catch is that areas like cloud-based services are growing because they’re cheaper, lither versions of the legacy services IBM and others have depended on for profits. In a conference call discussing earnings Monday, CFO Martin Schroeter talked about “a pretty dramatic shift of spending within IBM… Some of what you’re seeing in that core business decline is that engineered shift toward the strategic imperatives.”

“Strategic imperatives” is IBM-speak for the growth markets it’s pushing into: data analytics, cloud, mobile and security. Behind the bigger headlines of falling revenue, IBM is actually seeing some success here. Analytics revenue rose more than 20% last quarter. Cloud revenue—including the hardware that lets clients build their own “private cloud”—jumped 75%. This business has brought in $7.7 billion in revenue during the past 12 months.

Looking at cloud as a service alone, revenue totaled less than $1 billion. Again, this represents a tiny portion of IBM’s total revenue. But consider that at an annual rate it’s bringing in $3.8 billion. By way of comparison, Amazon’s Web Services, which focuses on cloud hosting, brought in $4.6 billion in revenue in 2014 with razor-thin margins. From that perspective, it’s not hard to imagine IBM as a rising leader in the emerging cloud economy.

As promising as this future growth sounds, it doesn’t change the fact that slowing revenue has pulled IBM’s stock down 22% in the past two years, a stretch when the S&P 500 has risen 32%. Investors remain patient, however, partly because IBM has doled out $26 billion in stock buybacks over that period, in addition to $8 billion in dividends.

Investors may grumble, but few are rebelling. Earlier this month, Reuters said top shareholders were seeking out activist investors to shake up IBM. But at least two such activist firms balked, in part because they felt Rometty was doing as good a job as could be expected with a tough transition. Another deterrent was Warren Buffett, who seems to support Rometty’s work. Berkshire-Hathaway has been adding to its position in IBM, which now stands at a 7.8% stake.

So go ahead and shake your head at IBM’s earnings. Yes, the company set clear goals for 2015 profits and has fallen short. Yes, revenue is shrinking and may do so in future quarters. But the company deserves credit for the painful work of building a foothold in the future of tech, even at the cost of easy profits today. IBM has chosen to address the investor’s dilemma head on, knowing no giant can endure over time without some pain along the way.

Read next: All Your Modern Technology Is Thanks to This 50-Year-Old Law

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These Are America’s Secret Money Habits

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You'll be surprised at how we really see ourselves

Young adults spend less on groceries, but eat out more. New Yorkers are suckers for a fancy brand name, Bostonians love giving gifts and Floridians want to get money advice from Warren Buffett.

These are some of the finds in the new TD Bank Saving and Spending Survey, which uncovers some good news as well as some red flags about how Americans manage their money today.

Respondents under the age of 35 have the most financial confidence of any age bracket. They’re less likely to use the words “conservative” or “cautious” to describe their approach to saving, and they’re a full 10 percentage points more likely when compared to the overall pool of respondents to say they’re “very confident” that they’ll be able to save enough for retirement.

This apparent contradiction is because young adults are at very different points in their lives, says Nandita Bakhshi, TD Banks’ head of consumer bank. “Some are just graduating from college while others are married and starting a family. This mixed group lends itself to mixed answers.”

Bakhshi adds that because many of them are landing their first “real” post-college jobs, they’re seeing their financial circumstances shift rapidly. “Many of them… finally have extra income they can use to splurge on items they want,” she says, and they also have the ability to save a meaningful amount for the first time in their adult lives. “Seeing their savings grow, even if it is a small amount, is a big accomplishment and gives them a sense of pride and confidence,” she says.

Other recent research yields similar findings. The Bank of America/USA Today Better Money Habits Millennial Report finds that more than two-thirds of young adults have savings or save regularly each month; more than three-quarters of those who have savings goals say they meet them.

But when people were asked where they tend to overspend, millennial respondents to the TD Bank survey are most likely to say they spend too much in all categories, and more likely to say they wish they could save more.

In particular, they stand out for splurging on restaurants, even though they spend less on groceries than other age groups.

Bakhshi says this is a combination of millennials being unable to resist an option that offers greater convenience, and this demographic’s preference for doing things in groups. “Dining out is also considered to be a social event that many millennials look forward to [even if] it may stretch their budget a bit,” she says.

Both surveys find that parents and friends are a big influence on how young people manage their money. The Bank of America/USA Today survey finds that almost two-thirds of young adults say they get financial guidance from their parents, and nearly 30% get financial information from their friends.

The TD Bank survey found that a little more than half of young adults get financial advice from their parents, just over the average for respondents of all ages, but 14% say they turn to their friends — a considerably higher figure than the 8% of all respondents who say the same.

There are other differences that break down by geography rather than age. TD Bank finds that Florida residents, for instance, are much more likely to say that their ideal person to talk about financial strategy with is famous investor and Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett.

“Florida has a high population of retirees [who]may no longer have that support system” of friends and family for financial advice, Bakhshi says.

Bostonians are the only group of respondents who say they overspend on gifts for other people, but that generosity has limits: This is also the category more Bostonians say they’d cut back on if they hit a financial tight spot.

New York City residents report higher spending on purchases like restaurant meals and tickets to sporting events, and overspending on more categories like high-end brands and coffee, than people who live in other places do.

“In many urban areas, such as New York, consumers have easy access to many things such as dining out, entertainment and clothing,” Bakhshi says. “It is hard to walk down the street without passing any of these places.”

TIME Careers & Workplace

3 Reasons Traveling Abroad Can Help Your Career

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Learning to accept and appreciate cultural differences is a good move for your career

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I remember the first time I left the United States. I was about eight years old, visiting family in El Paso, Texas. During the trip, we traveled to nearby Juarez, Mexico, to visit the market.

Everything about the market was different from any previous shopping experience I’d ever had. It was an open-air market with a dirt floor, and it was packed to the brim with booths. Vendors negotiated their prices, and children peddled wares. I saw goods for sale that were new to me, like a Mexican soft drink I’d never heard of or ever tasted. It gave me a new appreciation for—and curiosity about—other cultures.

I spent a lot of time thinking about that trip and the many things I saw and experienced that were different from my everyday life. That trip is a significant reason why, to this day, I have an itch to travel and an interest in other cultures.

In the work I do now on a college campus, I see students return from study abroad trips with similar wonder in their eyes. It’s amazing to witness the impact that a change in environment can make in a person’s life and career.

Students come back with a greater understanding of the intricacies of conducting business abroad, which makes them more competitive when applying to companies that do international work. They bring new perspectives and ideas to their careers and see opportunities they may not have seen otherwise.

Even if you’re not a student, travel can significantly benefit your career—here’s how.

1. It Might Open Doors You Aren’t Expecting

Consider Scott Harrison, who actually paid to work with a medical mission team in West Africa when he grew tired of his (very successful) career in club promotions. His experience left him bursting with passion to improve lives in the impoverished areas he visited.

Today, he’s the founder and CEO of charity: water, a highly visible and highly successful organization that provides access to clean water all over the world. But that may not have happened if Harrison hadn’t set foot on that ship bound for Liberia.

Leaving your comfort zone can provide inspiration, awareness, and ideas you wouldn’t likely consider if you continued following the same routine in the same place, day after day.

Not every person who travels abroad will come home and found a wildly successful organization, of course. But you may think of new ways to approach old problems, make a new business contact, or learn about a new career path that wasn’t previously on your radar.

2. It Can Help You Learn a Language

Immersion in a new city or culture is an almost surefire way to pick up a language. There are other ways to learn a language—for example, traditional classes or online-based resources like Rosetta Stone or Mango Languages—but the best, most effective way to become proficient in a new language is to put yourself in a situation in which you have to use it consistently in your day-to-day interactions.

Understandably, the thought of simply dropping into a foreign country and hoping you’ll develop the language skills to survive may be intimidating. To ease the apprehension, look for opportunities that will provide a little more structure and support in your immersion experience. For example, consider taking a study-abroad class through a local university or traveling with a group that will be providing a service in the country you want to visit.

But what does learning a new language have to do with your career?

Consider this: The United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects a 46% increase in employment of interpreters and translators by 2022. That means the demand for people who can communicate in multiple languages is—and will continue to be—very high.

But if you’re not specifically interested in working as a translator, language skills can still benefit your career. For example, if you can speak more than one language, you can save your company from having to hire a translator for global meetings.

And, in general, as technology allows organizations to interact with others across the globe, language will become increasingly important to effectively collaborate and develop partnerships.

3. It Can Increase Your Cultural Competency

One branch of a large, global corporation is located in the relatively small community (i.e., the population is about 19,000) where I live. Employees at that branch have collaborated with colleagues in Singapore, Scotland, Nigeria, Brazil, and Dubai.

Many of the people who work at this company weren’t necessarily looking for an international experience when they found employment there, but they have to understand their position in a global corporation to be effective.

For example, I once watched a family member return to her office at this company at 9 PM, after being home from her workday for several hours. When I asked what in the world she was doing, she explained that she’d forgotten to enter some critical data in the system, and the Nigeria team would be arriving for their workday in a few hours and needed that information to complete their part of the work. Leaving it for the next day just wasn’t an option because it impacted the processes of an entire plant overseas.

Employees at the local plant also have to be mindful of customs and holidays at other locations that may impact the work schedule or their ability to reach their colleagues in those locations, as well as communicating our local holidays to their counterparts worldwide who might not know that the local office will be closed.

In an increasingly globalized society, learning to accept and appreciate cultural differences is a good move for your career. You certainly don’t have to leave the country to increase your comfort when interacting with people of different races or cultures, but immersing yourself in another culture can create an unparalleled awareness and understanding of people who are different than you.

With that kind of understanding, when you have to talk to a colleague in Singapore to figure out why something has gone awry with an assignment, you’ll be less stressed about the interaction and less likely to feel barriers to communication—which means you’ll be more likely to easily reach a solution. Everyone wins.

Traveling abroad can be a pricey investment, but it doesn’t have to be an insurmountable barrier. Look for scholarships if you’re traveling with a class, or read travel websites and blogs to learn how to cut expenses while you’re abroad. It’s worth it: This is an investment that can change your world—and your career.

This post is in partnership with The Muse. This article was originally published on The Muse.

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TIME Careers & Workplace

7 Strategies for Dealing With Negative People

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Choose your battles

We’ve all experienced the side effects of a negative friend, colleague or co-worker. Perhaps you work with someone who complains endlessly about his job but never offers any solutions. Or, a good friend speaks unfavorably about others in your circle and creates drama.

These negative people are markedly pessimistic and will exhaust anyone. Destructive energy and drama follow them everywhere. If you’re not careful, they can pull you into their chaos — disrupting your focus and sidelining your goals.

Use these seven strategies to better deal with negative people in your life.

1. Set boundaries.

Don’t feel pressured to sit and listen to a negative person. Their negative energy will seep into your own life and affect your attitude. Set limits and put some distance between yourself and this individual. If you must be around a negative person, try to keep your interactions short. You can’t control the negative behavior, but you can control whether or not you engage.

2. Avoid complainers.

People who complain about everything will never enhance your life. They don’t offer solutions, only point out problems. They will knock your ideas and suck you into their emotional pity party. If a friend, family member or colleague displays the classic symptoms of a complainer, stop socializing. Only deal with him or her if you absolutely must.

3. Weed out negative employees.

Your company culture is a critical part of your brand. One toxic staff member can affect the entire culture of your business. Formerly positive employees may show signs of dissatisfaction, or worse, they may begin to adopt the behavior habits of their negative co-worker. The quicker you deal with a negative co-worker, the quicker you will be able to resolve the situation. Have a meeting, convey your concerns and give the person a chance to change. If his toxic behavior continues, it might be time to let him go.

4. Choose your battles.

Don’t engage every time someone irritates you. Not only will you be seen as argumentative, you’ll be welcoming the toxicity into your own life. Rather than argue, try to ignore any negative comments. Control your emotions and prevent the situation from escalating. Walk away from unnecessary conflict. You’ll be respected for taking the high road.

5. Don’t over analyze the situation.

Negative people can sometimes behave irrationally. You will waste valuable time and energy if you try to make sense of their actions. Do whatever you can to prevent yourself from becoming emotionally invested in their issues.

6. Develop a support system.

Build a network of positive friends, acquaintances and professional contacts. If someone knows exactly how to get under your skin, you may not be able to manage the situation by yourself. Have the emotional intelligence to recognize when you need help. When you find yourself becoming overly emotional, call a friend or mentor and calmly explain the situation. Oftentimes an objective person can provide you with a different perspective or a new approach.

7. Embody positivity.

Your happiness and wellbeing are too important to let anyone’s negative opinion or rude comments bring you down or affect how you view yourself. Remain positive and begin to limit your time with the negative individuals in your life. With any luck, your positivity will be repugnant to toxic people and they will gradually fall away naturally.

This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com.

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Read next: Here’s How to Strike Up a Conversation With Almost Anyone

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TIME Careers & Workplace

How to Change Your Reputation at the Office

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Don’t pull a 180-degree shift overnight

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In the March 2015 issue of Elle, Katy Perry described celebrities as “characters.” “…Taylor’s the sweetheart. Kanye’s the villain. That’s the narrative.”

Even if no one in your office has Grammy awards on his or her bookshelf odds are, you (and your co-workers) are also pigeonholed into certain roles. You can always count on Karen to find the humor in something. Mike isn’t that friendly, but he’s whip-smart. Claire is really talkative.

Of course, we’re all more complex than the first attribute that jumps to mind. For example, you’re great at your job, but somehow, that goes without saying. And it could be that Karen is also an incredible writer, Mike holds a ton of institutional memory, and Claire is really creative. But somehow their personality brand, so to speak, overshadows the other aspects of their “work self.”

Certainly, there’s advice for Karen and Mike and Claire’s colleagues (um, “be less judgmental”). But, what happens when you’re the person stuck with a reputation you’d like to shake? Maybe you’re over your reputations as a talker, because you feel like it overshadows your listening skills. Or maybe you want to be taken more seriously.

Thankfully, there are things you can do to change your office reputation.

Don’t Become a Different Person Overnight

Do Take Small Steps

I remember hearing the term “skintern” to describe the college-aged summer interns “who looked like they bought their business attire out of the Victoria’s Secret catalogue.” Now, if you learned that your attire was considered wildly inappropriate, you’d probably want to make a change ASAP.

But interestingly, if you leaped to the other extreme (think: wearing serious pantsuits every day), people would still be talking about your attire, and you might still seem out of place. A better plan would be to start dressing like a more professional version of yourself. Meaning, you could still wear summer dresses, but you’d want to look for ones with longer hemlines, opt for short sleeves over spaghetti straps, and bring a blazer or cardigan for good measure (and to combat the air conditioning).

Along similar lines, let’s say you’re known for being funny. But then, you get passed over for a project you were eyeing, because your boss thought the client would respond to someone “more serious.” That can sting, and your first instinct might be resolving never to tell another joke in the workplace.

Problem is, your colleagues already think of your sense of humor as a defining quality. So, your new message—that you’re to be taken seriously—could be overshadowed by what your co-workers perceive as you not quite being yourself. They might inquire if something is wrong or even see you as less capable during what they assume is an uncharacteristic interim.

Per the wardrobe example, take small steps. Don’t swear off joking altogether, but set a reasonable goal. So, if you use humor as an icebreaker, challenge yourself to limit that strategy to once a day—and then once every few days—and try new ways to bond with colleagues and clients.

Don’t Announce Your Change Before it Happens

Do Be Honest About Your Efforts

You may be tempted to announce your intentions the moment that you decide to make a change. Sure everyone sees you as the “talkative one,” but you’re ready to listen, and you want your co-workers to know that you’ll be chiming in less. This talk can be valuable—your colleagues can support you and help keep you in check—but you need to practice patience and wait for the right moment.

Developing new habits takes time. Even if you come up with actionable steps, like letting everyone else in the room pose questions before you raise your hand, you might still jump in or talk at length from time to time as you make the shift. If you’ve already told your colleagues you’re making a change, even infrequent slip-ups can make you seem less dedicated to or sincere about your goal. If you’ve told everyone you’ll no longer be the late colleague, arriving late to just one meeting after your announcement undermines your words. Suddenly, you’re just as bad as the spouse who always says she won’t bring work home from the office (but does most nights), or the colleague who says he’s trying to pack his lunch (but never does).

A better approach is to let your actions speak louder than your words. And, yes, your colleagues may come to you to inquire why you’re no longer as funny or as loud or as insular, in which case you can agree, but take a moment to say why you’re changing your signature attribute. It doesn’t have to be a long speech: Try a simple, “I’m glad people think I’m funny, but I want to show that I have a serious side and can be considered for different types of projects” or “I realized that the amount I spoke was sometimes mistaken for a disinterest in what others had to say. I’ve learned some new techniques that have developed my listening skills, and they’re helping me work more collaboratively.” You’ve worked hard! So, connect the dots between your new skills and the multi-dimensional reputation you’d like to have.

Remember, you have a say in what you’re known for. If you want to change your reputation, start by adjusting your actions—just don’t pull a 180-degree shift overnight.

This post is in partnership with The Muse. The article above was originally published on The Muse.

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TIME europe

Here’s Why Europe is Taking on Russia’s Gazprom

EU charges Gazprom
Wiktor Dabkowski—picture-alliance/DPA/AP Margrethe Vestager, EU commissioner for Competition announce the Statement of Objection against Gazprom activities in 8 countries during the press conference at European Commission headquarters in Brussels, April 22, 2015.

After accusing Google of abusing its dominant position, the E.U. now has Gazprom in its sights

Europe’s top antitrust regulator wants you to know she isn’t afraid. Only a week after accusing Google Inc. of abusive behavior, she’s now taking aim at another mean 800-pound-gorilla of an altogether different kind.

Competition Commissioner Margarethe Vestager formally sent a “statement of objections” to Russian gas giant OAO Gazprom Wednesday, saying it had used unfair pricing policies to stop competition in five countries in central and eastern Europe.

The case promises to be a defining moment in Europe’s evolving relations with Russia, a new source of friction to add to the problems of mutual sanctions related to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Vestager tried to play down the political dimensions of the case at her press conference Wednesday, pointing out that the Commission has often undertaken similar action to crack down on similar abuse by state-owned companies in member states like France and Italy.

But there’s no glossing over the fundamental ideological gap between the two sides: Russia, and before it the Soviet Union, believes that in gas, security of supply is paramount, and than a monopoly is the best way of delivering that security. The E.U., whose member states used to agree with that policy back in the Cold War, has for the last 30 years insisted that consumers are best served by competition instead.

The case boils down to one old gripe and one new one: the old one is the ‘destination clauses’ in Gazprom’s contracts that forbid companies in one country from reselling its gas in another member state. This combines with Gazprom’s traditional price formula, which is linked to the price of oil with a time-lag. This often leaves Gazprom’s prices out of sync with spot prices. The mismatch can work against the Russians as well as for them, but the Commission argues that the formula “unduly favors” Gazprom.

“Gazprom has been able to charge higher prices in some countries, knowing that gas wouldn’t flow in from other countries,” Vestager explained.

The Commission’s newer gripe is that Gazprom has been using its position as a dominant supplier of gas in eastern Europe, a legacy of the USSR’s position as gas supplier to its Comecon satellites. Gazprom’s market share in eastern Europe can be anything between 51% and 100%). Vestager said the company had bullied those countries into not building infrastructure that would let them accept competing gas. That particular row led to Gazprom cancelling in December the construction of “South Stream”, a new pipeline under the Black Sea that would have fed south-eastern and central Europe for years.

The stakes are enormous: the E.U.’s gas supply (24% of total supply) depends on Gazprom, and the degree of dependence increases the further east you go. If Gazprom carries out a threat to stop piping gas to Europe through Ukraine in 2018, the Balkans will struggle to find alternative sources.

But Russia’s budget also depends on Gazprom–20% of all budget revenue comes from the company, and most of that comes from its legally-enshrined export monopoly of piped gas. In a year when Russia’s economy is set to shrink by nearly 4%, the need for those gas dollars is especially pressing.

For those reasons, the two sides have soft-pedaled the issue for 20 years. Although the Commission has had all the information it needed for over a year, it has held off until now from launching the case, for fear (many suspect) of fanning the flames of the Ukrainian crisis. Even now, Vestager’s case, focusing on the Baltic States, Poland and Bulgaria, is only a slimmed down version of what it could have been.

Gazprom stopped short of saying that the case against it was politicized Wednesday, but did say it was “unfounded”. By the same token, Vestager avoided accusing Russia of using Gazprom’s preferential pricing as a foreign policy lever, although it’s what everyone in Europe thinks.

The irony of the case is that the failure of Russia, the E.U. and the two key transit countries of Belarus and Ukraine to settle their differences amicably has led to billions of dollars being wasted on surplus infrastructure. Neither the Russian pipelines under the Baltic and Black Seas, built out of spite for the transit countries, nor the LNG terminals being built in Poland and Lithuania to spite Gazprom, should have any place in an efficient market.

Gazprom has 12 weeks to respond to the E.U.’s statement. If the charges stick, then it could face a fine of up to 10% of its global revenue, although few expect anything that extreme, due to the political sensitivity of the case.

This story originally appeared at fortune.com

TIME Companies

Google’s New Cellular Service Is About to Launch

The Google Inc. company logo is seen on an Apple Inc. iPhone 4 smartphone in this arranged photograph in London, U.K., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012.
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The service will only charge customers for the data they use

Google may unveil its new wireless phone service as early as Wednesday, according to a new report.

The Wall Street Journal, citing anonymous sources, reports that the service will charge customers only for the data they use. The service will just be available for users of the company’s latest Nexus 6 smartphones, the Journal reports.

The project, which has been in the works for two years, is part of a broader effort by the company to make the Internet more accessible to users. Google has operated an ultra high-speed home Internet service provider in select cities for years.

To facilitate its wireless service, Google has made agreements to use Sprint and T-Mobile’s networks, according to the Journal.

Google declined to comment.


Read next: Google Is Making a Big Change to Its Search Results

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European Union Opens Antitrust Case Against Russia’s Gazprom

EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestagerr spoke about the antitrust case against Gazprom in Brussels on April 22, 2015.
Yves Herman—Reuters EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestagerr spoke about the antitrust case against Gazprom in Brussels on April 22, 2015.

E.U. says that Gazprom's behavior amounts to an abuse of its dominant position

BRUSSELS — The European Union is opening an antitrust case against Russia’s state-controlled Gazprom energy giant amid worsening relations between Brussels and Moscow.

EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said Wednesday that Gazprom’s behavior in central and eastern European member states, where it sometimes almost fully controls the gas market, amounts to an abuse of its dominant position.

Vestager said she is concerned that Gazprom imposes contractual obligations “preventing gas from flowing from certain Central Eastern European countries to others, hindering cross-border competition” and allowing the multinational to charge unfair prices.

The move comes at a time when the EU has already imposed economic and political sanctions on Russia for its involvement in the violence in eastern Ukraine.

Gazprom has 12 weeks to react to Wednesday’s EU allegations.


Cheap Gas Helps Pull the Plug on Electric Cars

2014 Chevy Spark EV
GM 2014 Chevy Spark EV

Sales of the Nissan Leaf and other electric cars have dipped thus far in 2015, and automakers have resorted to price cuts to boost interest in plug-ins.

How does the price of gas correlate to electric car sales? One might reasonably assume that the higher gas prices go, the more likely battery-powered vehicles are to appeal to the masses. When gas prices are cheap, on the other hand, interest in electric cars would tend to fade, as the difference in the cost of charging versus fueling up shrinks.

Jessica Caldwell, director of industry analysis at Edmunds.com, has said that gas prices “certainly” have an effect on electric car sales. This week, Edmunds released some data that may seem particularly alarming to green car enthusiasts: Thus far in 2015, 22% of owners who traded in hybrid or electric cars did so while buying an SUV; only 12% did such as swap three years ago.

“For better or worse, it looks like many hybrid and EV owners are driven more by financial motives rather than a responsibility to the environment,” Caldwell said in a press release timed to coincide with Earth Day. “Three years ago, when gas was at near-record highs, it was a lot easier to rationalize the price premiums on alternative fuel vehicles. But with today’s gas prices as low as they are, the math just doesn’t make a very compelling case.”

Edmunds is hardly the only auto industry observer to take note of how low gas prices affect car purchases. John Krafcik, the former CEO of Hyundai Motor America and current president of the car-buying website TrueCar.com, explained to NPR, “During months when gas prices are low, less fuel-efficient cars tend to take a greater share of the market and vice versa. It’s a fairly one-to-one relationship.”

Yet other data indicates that falling gas prices have little, or perhaps no, impact on sales of electric vehicles. The Los Angeles Times pointed out that plug-in EV sales were up 3% in January 2015—when the national average price for a gas was a cheap $2 per gallon—compared with sales in January 2014. Sales of the plug-in Nissan Leaf remained strong last fall and hit a record high for 2014, even as gas prices plunged and fuel-efficient hybrids like the Toyota Prius struggled to win over buyers. Some electric car enthusiasts have therefore concluded that “gas prices don’t affect electric car sales,” or that there is “zero correlation” between gas prices and plug-in electric vehicle sales.

Let’s look at how things have played out over the past few months, however, during a time when gas has remained cheap, and when forecasts indicate that prices at the pump will stay low for some time to come.

Indeed, EV sales in January 2015 surpassed the same month in 2014, and sales in the first three months of this year are above the corresponding period from 2014. According to Inside EVs data, 23,339 plug-in cars were purchased in the U.S. from January to March 2015, compared with 22,671 for the same three months in 2014. Yet 2015’s total includes 2,681 sales of the BMW i3, a vehicle that wasn’t on the market during the same period in 2014. What’s more, sales of the $70K+ Tesla—which, presumably, few buy for the sake of saving money on fuel—have taken off lately. Through March 2015, an estimated 4,700 Tesla Model S vehicles have sold, compared to 3,500 a year ago. Remove the i3 and the Model S from the equation, and EV sales in 2015 have fallen behind the 2014 pace.

Notably, the world’s best-selling electric car, the Nissan Leaf, is in a sales slump. Just over 4,000 Leaf purchases have been made in the U.S. during the first three months of 2015, down more than 20% compared with roughly 5,200 for the corresponding period a year ago. The #2 best-selling plug-in, the gas-electric hybrid Chevy Volt, has fared even worse: The prospect of the forthcoming 2016 redesign, as well as anticipation of the long-range Chevy Bolt down the road, seems to have dampened enthusiasm for the current Volt. Sales are down roughly 50% compared with last year, and Chevy announced it would halt production of the Volt in May with the hopes of clearing out a backlog on dealership lots.

A couple of other GM electric cars are showing obvious signs of weakness as well. Cadillac just cut the price of the ELR plug-in hybrid, while Chevy dropped the price of the Spark EV—essentially bringing the takeaway cost to under $15,000 in some places once incentives are factored in—and has also begun offering leases for as little as $139 per month.

That’s “cheaper than the average family’s monthly phone bill,” as Kelley Blue Book’s Karl Brauer put it in a USA Today story. “Automakers are doing what they can to get these vehicles out of showrooms and into consumers’ hands.”

It’s foolish to say that the price of gas is the only reason more people aren’t buying these cars. Still, the cheap price of gas can only hurt the case for owning such a vehicle.

As for what’s the smartest approach when it comes to deciding which car to go with, it’s unwise to buy into an idea just because it happens to be trendy at the time, just as it’s unwise to make a big-ticket purchase based on the price of gas at any given time. Most car buyers expect to own their vehicles for the long haul, and they should fully expect gas prices to fluctuate over the years. Edmunds.com put it this way: “The best rule of thumb is that the longer you intend to keep a vehicle, the less you should rely on the present price of fuel when determining whether your budget can handle the monthly operating costs.”

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