Wednesday, August 20, 2008

FCC Chairman calls for much more competition in cable television industry

Today, Aug. 20, 2008, The Washington Times ran an Exclusive “Newsmaker Interview” with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin, appointed by President Bush and a Republican. The article is by Kara Rowland, and the link is here. The title is “FCC Chief Slams Cable Rates: Martin Sees Ineffective Competition.”

Martin believes that cable companies have tended to overbundle cable services, offering relatively few choices of packages, and requiring the purchase of many channels, some of them objectionable, to get the educational channels desired by many families. He cites lack of effective competition in the industry, which also relates to somewhat less than robust customer service, often done by contractors. He also cites the lack of effective competition from satellite companies, partly because many apartment buildings and complexes don’t allow satellite. He says that more competition is needed to make cable affordable to lower income people.

FIOS fiber-optic cable from Verizon and other companies may start to increase competition in many areas.

Rowland seems to believe that presidential and legislative candidates for office should make increasing competition among service providers a high political priority, rather than over-regulation.

Picture: a sculpture at the University of the District of Columbia campus, but it looks inspired by the magic beads (enabling instantaneous teleportation) in Clive Barker's 1991 fantasy novel "Imajica". Barker's "In ovo" is the ultimate alien "Internet", although not exactly neutral.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

AOL: Will Dial-Up Internet access go bye-bye?

AOL may shed the dial-up business that, in the mid 1990s became the core of its operation, in the “good old days” when AOL, like Prodigy, offered proprietary content, lively message boards, and dial-up (even at lower speeds like 2400 baud) as the portal to the Internet. Later in the 90s, it turned to ordinary http protocol content, and advertising became more critical. Eventually, a couple years ago, if started to offer free email through existing Internet connections. Now it might abandon or at least sell the dial-up operation.

In the 90s, AOL’s own operation was still effective in delivering news. I found out about the Oklahoma City attack when I came from work with an AOL headline. One year it played an April Fool’s joke claiming that life on Jupiter had been found. The service was expensive, with usage-based charges, one time running up to $67 for me, before taking on fixed rates. Today, it still charges for the separate dial-up and mass storage capabilities, a practical backup to access through existing Internet service in case of cable disruption.

In some areas that still do not have cable or broadband service, or where it is unreliable, and where secure wireless is also unreliable, residents might still depend on dialup at 56K to get Internet access.

In fact, I often used the 56K dialup as late as 2005. In practice, a lot of content (other than video) worked. In those days, I did most of my own website updates with WS-FTP and generally files of up to 500K would transfer with acceptable efficiency at that speed. However, massive security updates from Microsoft and anit-virus upgrades from McCaffee sometimes take way too long at these speeds. In Minneapolis, in a high rise apartment, I used a second phone line for most access, and did not start to use broadband until 2002, because until then it was not as reliable.

The news story appears in the Business Section of the August 5 Washington Post, by Zachary A. Goldfarb and Frank Ahrens, is titled “AOL Is Moving Closer To Jettisoning Dial-Up”, link here.

The story emphasizes the need of making reliable and secure broadband and wireless available everywhere. For example, there is a recent dispute over wireless access on the Navajo reservation. On August, 2, Holly Watt had reported on p A2 of The Washington Post, “FCC Tries to Avert Threatened Satellite Cutoff”, link here.

Monday, August 04, 2008

EFF offers "Switzerland" to check network for ISP interference

Electronic Frontier Foundation announced Aug. 1 that had released a product called “Switzerland” to enable users to check “the integrity of their Internet communications”. The testing package is intended to detect interference with your Internet traffic. The EFF Press Release is here.

The actual product is on a site called Sourceforge and the link for the download is here.

This package, the link says, was developed by or for the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco, and is not an external product already previously developed for some other purpose. But it is likely that it would become a general tool and that the product or similar products will eventually be offered by other companies, probably including those in the computer security industry. The general concept of a product like this seems to be the use of software monitoring tools from private sources to simulate “network neutrality” or to force ISP’s to adhere to neutrality principles with private tools and market principles rather than just government regulation. EFF maintains that the FCC is by itself unable to monitor ISPs for neutrality even in accordance with its own policies. Is this a libertarian example of “government doesn’t work”?

Friday, August 01, 2008

FCC issues ruling against Comcast for blocking large file transfers

The Federal Communications Commission has, in a divided 3-2 administrative law voted, ruled against Comcast and ruled that Comcast violated FCC policy when it blocked some large file transfers for some customers, apparently using BitTorrent and P2P. The FCC was critical of Comcast’s unwillingness to disclose to consumers how it manages its traffic.

The FCC did not assess a fine.

Comcast says that it believes that the FCC is violating its due process rights. Comcast seems to be saying that the FCC’s network neutrality principles are too vague to be enforceable after the fact.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is said to favor network neutrality legislation.

The Washington Post ran (online) the AP story by John Dunbar at noon Aug 1. The original link is here.

The preliminary ruling was discussed on this blog July 11, 2008 with link to the PDF for the FCC policy given there.

August 2

The New York Times has a story in the Business Section by Saul Hansell, "F.C.C. Vote Sets Precedent on Unfettered Web Usage," link here.