NEW YORK (AP) — AT&T says any cellphone customer can sign up for unlimited data plans starting Friday. That option had been limited to customers of AT&T-owned DirecTV.
The change comes just days after Verizon announced an unlimited plan without such restrictions.
All four major cellphone providers now offer unlimited plans, a major reversal from a few years ago. AT&T’s version costs the same as Verizon’s — $180 — for a family of four but is pricier for an individual. Sprint and T-Mobile are cheaper.
Sprint also said Thursday that it’s letting unlimited customers watch video in high definition rather than DVD quality. T-Mobile announced a similar change Monday after Verizon said HD video was included. AT&T’s unlimited plan degrades video to DVD quality, but customers can turn HD video back on for free.
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (AP) — For its next trick, an internet-beaming balloon factory spun out of Google believes it can outmaneuver the wind.
In doing so, the 4-year-old “Project Loon” says it will be able to bring remote parts of the world online more quickly with a smaller fleet of the balloons than it previously thought.
Engineers involved in the eccentric project, a part of the X Lab owned by Google’s corporate parent Alphabet Inc., say they have come up with algorithms that enable the high-flying balloons to do a better job anticipating shifting wind conditions so they hover above masses of land for several months instead of orbiting the earth.
X now expects to need fewer balloons to fulfill its goal of delivering internet service to billions of people living in unconnected regions in the world, ranging from small villages in Africa to the woods of California.
The need for fewer balloons should lower Project Loon’s costs and accelerate plans to start selling internet-services subscriptions to consumers and businesses.
The X lab, like other parts of Alphabet that are funded by Google’s highly profitable digital advertising network, is under pressure to start making money on its own. The Alphabet subsidiaries operating outside Google, a hodgepodge of far-flung projects, have lost a combined $7.1 billion during the past two years. In an acknowledgement of their lofty goals and risky nature, Alphabet CEO Larry Page calls them “moonshots.”
Astro Teller, who runs the X Lab, declined to provide a specific timetable for when Project Loon might start selling internet access plans.
Meeting with reporters Thursday at X’s headquarters in a former shopping mall in Mountain View, California, Teller said the project hopes to team up with a telecommunications provider within the next few months to begin testing how well the balloons’ new navigational system will work. He likened the newly developed algorithms’ objectives to “a game of chess with the wind.”
If the algorithms prevail in their metrological battle, Project Loop hopes to need only 10 to 30 beams floating about 60,000 feet above the earth to transmit high-speed internet signals to a target market, instead of up to 400 balloons orbiting around the globe. Keeping the balloons in smaller clusters will also make them easier to locate and retrieve once they descend back to land after several months in the stratosphere, Teller said.
Project Loon has been doing most of its testing recently in South America, although Teller said that isn’t necessarily where it will team up with a telecommunications provider to determine the effectiveness of its wind-defying technology. Since launching in New Zealand in 2013, the balloons have traveled 19 million kilometers, or nearly 12 million miles, according to Project Loon.
Alphabet frames Project Loon as a noble endeavor striving to enable people currently without reliable internet service to tap into the vast reservoir of knowledge, entertainment and conveniences available online. But it could also enrich Google by expanding the potential audience that can query its search engine, watch video on YouTube, correspond through Gmail and click on digital ads.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Brad Stevens was preparing to have this weekend off. A family trip was in the works, likely to someplace relatively close to home like New York or Washington.
The getaway is still happening.
The days off have been cancelled.
Stevens has never been to an NBA All-Star Game, and that’s about to change. Boston’s fourth-year coach will lead the Eastern Conference side in New Orleans this weekend, a perk that comes with his team sitting at No. 2 in the East and with Stevens well on his way to having the Celtics improve their record for the third consecutive season.
“My 11-year-old son is really excited,” Stevens said. “My 7-year-old daughter is just as excited but for different reasons. She hasn’t gotten the basketball bug like my 11-year-old. She’s just looking forward to hanging out with our staff’s other kids. We’re excited and to spend that moment together and share that moment together, I think it is the best part about this for our staff and our family.”
Stevens and the Celtics’ staff got the nod because of the league rule preventing a coach from having to accept All-Star responsibilities in consecutive seasons. Cleveland leads the East, which means Tyronn Lue would have been in line for the job — but he and the Cavs’ staff had the All-Star gig in Toronto last season.
Celtics All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas said he thinks Stevens and his staff deserve the spotlight.
“That says a lot,” Thomas said. “That says we’re winning, we’re doing pretty good — and for them to get there, I’m happy. I’m happy for them.”
The Celtics were 25-57 in Stevens’ first season and gotten better ever since. They went 40-42 in his second year and made the playoffs, then were 48-34 last season and got Stevens his first two playoff victories.
This year, they’ve won 11 of their last 12 games going into the pre-All-Star finale in Chicago on Thursday night — and are on pace for the franchise’s best record since the 2010-11 season. Many players around the league, including some of the ones Stevens will coach this weekend like LeBron James, have long said from afar how impressed they’ve been with the job he’s done.
“At the end of the day, you do this job because you really like working with your team and like the chance to compete as an organization,” Stevens said. “If somebody gives you accolades, that’s nice to hear but it’s not the end-all, be-all for me.”
Stevens came to the Celtics from Butler, where he went to consecutive NCAA championship games. It’s a daunting leap from the college level to the NBA, especially for a first-time pro coach, even moreso when that first-timer is taking the reins of a storied franchise like the Celtics.
He’s rarely seemed flustered.
Stevens usually walks the sideline calmly, rarely raising his voice. His intellect is well-known, but that cool demeanor is something that University of Miami coach Jim Larranaga — whose son Jay is an assistant on Stevens’ staff — thinks sets Stevens apart.
“Brad Stevens is headed to the Hall of Fame,” Larranaga said. “You see what he did in college — amazing. But when he goes to Boston, takes a team that trades away its best players … is starting over almost from scratch and he’s built it to second place in the East only behind Cleveland, the world champions? He’s an amazing coach.”
Other than asking his video staff to get some things together, Stevens has not done any All-Star planning yet. There’s only two games in the NBA on Thursday night and he’s coaching in one of them — meaning his All-Star break, which was already going to be busy, starts later than just about everyone else’s.
Stevens’ schedule for this weekend is already loaded with community-service events and media responsibilities, plus family time. He’s not sure how much time he’ll have to socialize with players while in New Orleans.
“I like the idea of obviously getting the chance to be around them as they’re getting ready to play a game and see what they’re like in a game,” Stevens said. “I’ve admired the way these guys have played for a long, long time. These are some of the guys in the league you lose sleep at night trying to figure out how to slow down. It’s pretty neat when a lot of those guys are under one roof.”
In other words, it’s going to be a memorable family vacation.
NEW YORK (AP) — The parent company of the social network Snapchat is valuing itself at up to $22 billion as it prepares for the tech industry’s biggest initial public offering in years.
Snap Inc. said in a regulatory filing Thursday that the IPO is likely to be priced between $14 and $16 per share. Had the IPO price matched the $30.72 per-share price obtained in its last round of financing, Snap would have a market value of about $30 billion, based on the quantity of outstanding stock listed in its IPO documents.
Snap’s highly anticipated IPO would be the largest since China’s Alibaba Group went public in 2014. But Snap, based in Los Angeles, draws comparisons to social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Facebook raised $16 billion when it went public in 2012.
Snap said that it’s offering 145 million Class A shares, while existing stockholders are offering an additional 55 million Class A shares. Snap won’t receive any proceeds from shares sold by those stockholders. Underwriters of the IPO have an option to buy up to an additional 30 million shares.
Co-founders Evan Spiegel and Robert Murphy will have controlling power over all matters at Snap through a special class of stock that gives them 10 votes for every share they own. The Class A stock being sold in the IPO has no voting power, while another class has one vote per share.
Snap anticipates its net proceeds will be $2.1 billion, or about $2.3 billion, if underwriters buy all the shares they are entitled to. These amounts are based on the IPO being priced at $15 per share.
Snapchat, whose hallmark is messages that vanish after they are sent, has millions of daily users. The app has adapted nimbly over to users’ whims and demands, just as Facebook has. This, as both companies have discovered, is key to outlasting social media fads. Snapchat is no longer just about disappearing messages.
For example, it’s added a “Discover” section where a diverse group of publishers — including People, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, Vice and Food Network — post video-heavy stories aimed mostly at millennials.
Another feature, “Stories,” lets people create a narrative from messages, videos and photos from the past 24 hours. It’s so popular that Facebook’s Instagram now has a version of it, too.
Snapchat’s “Lenses,” lets people add animated overlays to photos and videos. It was one of the company’s few missteps when some of those lenses were perceived as racist. It quickly ditched those lenses.
Snap is expected to trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the “SNAP” ticker.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Keith Urban’s boundary-pushing album “Ripcord” has spawned several top country singles and led him to pick up seven nominations including entertainer of the year and album of the year at this year’s Academy of Country Music Awards.
Lady Antebellum announced the nominations Thursday on “CBS This Morning” for the awards show, which will be held April in Las Vegas and aired live on CBS. Urban is also nominated for male vocalist of the year, single record of the year and song of the year.
Six-time nominee Miranda Lambert could make history again as she is nominated for female vocalist of the year, which she has won a record seven years in a row. She is also nominated for album of the year for her double album, “The Weight of These Wings,” single record of the year, song of the year and video of the year.
Coming off her Grammy win for best country solo performance, Maren Morris tied Lambert with six nominations, including album of the year for “HERO.” She also is nominated as female vocalist of the year, new female vocalist of the year and single record of the year for her song, “My Church.”
With strong pop, dance and R&B influences, Urban’s album has dominated country radio over the past year, with four singles reaching the top six on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart.
Urban, who performed his newest single “The Fighter” at the Grammys last Sunday with Carrie Underwood, said the entertainer of the year nomination is an acknowledgement of great live performances.
“I have been a musician since I was six and playing on stage since I was like 7,” Urban told The Associated Press on Thursday. “I have always loved performing on stage, being an entertainer. So that category has always been the highest honor imaginable.”
He added that great performances are all about being “in the flow,” and mentioned Adele’s performance at the Grammys when she restarted her tribute to George Michael.
“She had this incredible courage to stop it in the middle of a live show and say, ‘Let me get this thing right,'” Urban said. “It was the most extraordinary thing I have ever seen on a live TV show.”
Competing with Urban for entertainer of the year will be last year’s winner, Jason Aldean, along with Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line and Underwood.
Florida Georgia Line and Tim McGraw both have five nominations each, including a shared nomination for vocal event of the year for their collaboration on the song “May We All.”
Bryan and Dierks Bentley, who has three nominations, return to host the awards for a second time together. Thomas Rhett and Chris Stapleton also each have three nominations.
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad & Tobago (AP) — A Caribbean island nation has become an unlikely source of fighters and funding for the Islamic State militant group, prompting an internationally backed effort to stem the flow of money and recruits to Syria and Iraq.
Security officials and terrorism experts believe that as many as 125 fighters and their relatives have traveled from Trinidad and Tobago to Turkey and on to IS-controlled areas over the last four years, making the country of 1.3 million people the largest per-capita source of IS recruits in the Western Hemisphere.
The Islamic State has put out propaganda videos and magazines featuring bearded fighters with lilting Trinidadian accents training in the desert with sniper rifles and encouraging their countrymen to join them.
Alarmed, Trinidadian state security officials have launched intensive surveillance and monitoring of the country’s homegrown Islamist movements, which have a history of militancy and crossover with the country’s violent criminal gangs. Saying their efforts are bearing fruit, Trinidad and Tobago officials have recently proposed legislation to crack down on the flow of money to Islamic State fighters overseas by establishing criminal penalties for those sending money to the group.
“There’s always a concern in terms of money leaving Trinidad and Tobago that could be involved with terrorist activities,” National Security Minister Edmund Dillon said. “There is a minority in the Muslim community and there is a minority in the criminal community that is hellbent on committing these types of offenses.”
U.S. officials have described themselves as deeply concerned about the combatants and funds heading out of Trinidad and Tobago. They say they are working with the islands’ government on intelligence-sharing and new legislation, as well as sponsoring trips for Muslim leaders to the U.S. to meet Islamic leaders working on anti-extremism programs.
“They are certainly not the only ones worried about this phenomenon of self-radicalization and how easy it has become,” said U.S. Navy Adm. Kurt Tidd, who is responsible for Department of Defense operations in Central and South America and the Caribbean. “They need to be able to understand what are the conditions that might predispose individuals to become radicalized and then to be able to take steps to try to stop that from occurring before people go down that path with the tragic results we have seen in everyplace from Paris to Brussels to Berlin to Orlando to San Bernardino.”
Tidd praised Trinidad and Tobago for adopting anti-terrorism legislation and cooperating with the U.S. and other international partners.
“Trinidad is a serious country and recognizes that there is work to be done,” Tidd said.
Some hard-line Muslim leaders have opposed the new efforts, instead blaming the government for failing to improve the lives of poor, largely Afro-Trinidad youth who can find themselves drawn in by IS recruiters.
An oil-rich nation just off the coast of Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago has long been celebrated for its rich mix of cultural influences, primarily rooted in India and Africa. Its Muslim minority of Indian-descended families and Afro-Trinidadian converts includes dozens of mainstream mosques and more militant strains such as the Jamaat al Muslimeen, an organization responsible for a 1990 coup attempt classified as the Western Hemisphere’s only Islamist uprising.
“I think that the indictment is on the government, past and present,” said Yasin Abu Bakr, leader of the Jamaat Al Muslimeen, which has seen as least two members travel to Syria. “Why would the young people in a place like Trinidad and Tobago, the land of steel band and calypso, carnival and gaiety, chutney and all the rest of it. Why would a young person take up his family and go to a place where death is almost certain. Why would somebody do that? That is the big question that the state has to answer.”
Umar Abdullah, head of the hard-line Islamic Front group in southern Trinidad, said he has actively discouraged members from traveling to Syria to fight. He said he knew several young men who had become IS fighters, although he declined to provide specifics.
“I do feel responsible in some way with some of these brothers that have left and gone to Syria and fight and so on,” Abdullah said. “I felt I could have done a lot more, I felt I could have dissuaded them.”
At the same time, Abdullah defended IS recruits as legitimate defenders of embattled Muslims in Syria and Iraq, comparing them favorably to Western soldiers involved in military actions in the Middle East.
“Whosoever has left and gone Syria, how can they call them terrorist,” Abdullah said. “I would call my guys freedom fighters as well.”
The Trump administration attempts to block travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries has raised sensitivities in Trinidad and Tobago about what some call an alarmist focus on the country’s problem with IS recruiting.
But some of Trinidad’s Islamist leaders say they approve of Trump’s attempted crackdown on visitors from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, and admire what they call his bold and decisive leadership style.
“I am in agreement with Donald Trump 110 percent,” Abu Bakr said. “More than that, I have a lot of admiration for Donald Trump.”
Ben Fox in Miami, Michael Weissenstein in Havana and Tony Fraser in Port of Spain contributed to this report.
Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein