Tuesday, December 28, 2010

FCC's official "Report and Order" available; some lingering uncertainty about its real intentions, according to EFF

Electronic Frontier Foundation has provided a link to a pdf of the FCC’s “Net Neutrality rules” as adopted December 21, 2010, with link (website url) here. It’s titled “In the Matter of Preserving the Open Internet Broadband Industry Practices”, then “Report and Order”.

The report does distinguish among a variety of companies and providers. There are ISP’s which provide cable broadband and/or wireless service to homes and small businesses (and large entities); there are web hosts which enable individuals to network and self-publish (often with shared hosting) on the web, sometimes for fee, sometimes with free services (supported by secondary advertising revenue); some companies may provide both. Because the mix of services varies so much, public policy must be flexible, too. On p 118, the report mentions the 2007 Economic Census (just recently published, according to footnote), which considers, among other things, who actually owns the broadband access channels and provides the networking services. (As I have noted on the “BillBoushka” blog, that is something that matters in determining who can register as a “Copyright Agent” for DMCA safe harbor notification purposes.)

EFF has a summary article dated Dec. 27, “2010 Trend to Watch: Net Neutrality”, link here. EFF notes that the FCC is having to rethink its “authority” given a recent federal court ruling involving the FCC’s intervention in Comcast’s handling of BitTorrent. It fears a “Trojan horse” effect where neutrality is warped to favor establishment interests, particularly in the media business.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

FCC will approve net neutrality rules today, somehwhat open to GOP legal challenges; flexible billing supported

The Federal Communications Commission is set to vote on network neutrality rule son Tuesday, December 21, 2010.

The expected policy is still a bit ambiguous, and could be challenged in court or by GOP lawmakers in the 112th Congress.

Liberals say there is little regulation of wireless, which poorer communities depend on, and particularly travelers. Cable companies are rapidly encouraging homes and businesses to manage their own local home wireless networks.

On its face, the rules will prevent ISP’s from slowing delivery of certain online services, but not prevent deals for faster access or billing by volume of bandwidth use. Flexible billing and tiered pricing seems essential for business profitability and growth. It’s likely that eventually a company like Comcast or Time Warner could provide its own Internet movie streaming and charge more for access to competitors like Netflix. That makes business sense because Comcast and TW are, after all, media and cable movie companies. (Time Warner is also connected to the movie studio Warner Brothers, which could raise more legal questions. In the past, movie distributors have been prohibited from owning theaters by anti-trust laws.)

Cecilia Kang’s front page Washington Post story (“FCC set to enact new rules affecting Internet access”) is here.

Doug Gross has a similar story on CNN here.  There is a picture of Julius Genachowski advocating an “open Internet”.

Update: Dec. 22

The FCC board 3-2 to adopt new rules, with a story by David Lieberman here reporting that ISP's have some leeway to control unusual broadwidth hogging if they announce their rules in advance or gave certain kinds of customers "preferential treatment."

Thursday, December 09, 2010

FCC wants to prevent broadcasters from imposing blackouts on consumers during disputes

Todd Shields reported on p A19 of The Washington Post and on Bloomberg News on Thursday that the FCC is looking for ways to protect consumers from channel blockage during fee disputes. Broadcasters have been asking for cable and satellite companies to pay for content that would be free over the Internet (although not always, as most MLB and NFL content in my experience is not free online). The Post story is here.

Bloomberg has a longer version of the story here.

Many of the blackouts have involved sports events, like the World Series.

But the FCC may have limited powers without more legislation.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

FCC would accept billing based on usage from telecommunications providers

The FCC’s chairman Julius Genachowski says that the agency is open to the idea that telecommunications companies can bill consumers for usage (or at least for high volumes of usage) as long as they don’t interfere with traffic that actually reaches end users (or arbitrarily cut off users).

That’s the gist of the story by Cecilia Kang in the Dec. 8, 2010 Washington Post, “FCC’s pay-as-you-go raises video, access questions,” here, p A15, also on the “Post Tech” blog.

The measure could be problematic for companies like Netflix (and I guess Blockbuster) that plan to expand Internet streaming of movies, and in a manner that recalls the “do not track” debate, Logo, which offers free streaming with heavy ads. It could also affect new artists (including classicaL) who promote themselves with high definition videos of their performances, often free with ads.

The link for the story is here.

Wireless companies typically offered tiered pricing plans (as does Verizon for connecting through the Blackberry), and AT&T no longer offers unlimited access.

But it’s really a billing policy issue, not a neutrality issue.  It's like normal electric utility billing, or even an apartment's complex decision to withdraw "bills paid" rental plans (which used to be common in high rises in some cities, but not NYC) because some tenants are heavy electricity users.

It reminds me of the “debate” some years back on unlimited mileage car rentals.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Network neutrality components: blocking, attachment, priority (the tale of the old router that still works): comments by a Columbia law professor

Columbia University law professor Tim Wu gives an interview to Ezra Klein in the Washington Post on network neutrality, printed in the Business Section Sunday Dec. 5, with link here.

He makes the point that if a telecommunications provider bills you more for higher bandwidth usage, that’s a billing issue, not a neutrality issue, just as it would be a pricing issue with electricity use.

However, he analyzes the idea that some consumers will want to be able to use their own choice of brand of network router at home (or an already owned router) with a different ISP.

He says FCC has it right on banning blocking, OK on attachment, and may be lacking in controlling paid priortization, but it may be weak on potential legal challenges in court.

He says that the FCC is "right in the middle", like Obama himself.

I wonder if there could be any cross issues with “tracking”, which the FTC is addressing.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Comcast has a major outage Sunday night, maybe a DNS hack?

At a time when Comcast is getting heat over net neutrality issues and the dispute with Level3, it had a major outage Sunday night, for over three hours, for many areas from northern Virginia to New England. The Boston Globe has a story by D.C. Denison and Erin Ailworth, “Comcast outage leaves Internet customers adrift,” link here.

The problem appears to have occurred in Comcast’s domain name resolution system. Some savvy users got around by using their routers to connect to Google’s DNS service. There is some suggestion that this could have been caused by hacking, linking back to a DNS security hole discussed on my “ID theft” blog in August 2008.

I’ll hunt around on this later, but here is an article on how to use a Cisco router as a DNS server (link).

I have sometimes had trouble reaching specific sites from Comcast (like AOL mail) and find that it works when I switch to Verizon Wireless broadband.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Comcast fees for Level 3 and Netflix set up the net neutrality ballteground

Cecilia Kang has an important story on p A17 of the November 30, 2010 Washington Post, “Firm calls Comcast fees for Netflix feeds unfair: Level 3’s complaint speaks to fears about NBC Universal deal”, link (website url) here.

The focus is on additional fees charged by Comcast on feeds through Level 3 Communications (link) whose main client seems to be Netflix. Apparently these fees apply when consumers watch movies in Instant Play on their computers on high speed Internet or pipe it through Web or Internet TV (which I am not doing yet but plan to do in 2011). Netflix recently raised subscription rates for 2011, possibly in part as a result of these fees.

As the W3C chairman noted (last post), there is legitimate fear that Comcast and other telecommunications providers will charge a premium for transmit other people’s content.

But Comcast also fears that Netflix’s Instant Play service can propel cable subscription losses. To some extent, cable channels like HBO have tried to offset these losses by offering their movies on demand at any time. Another technique is for companies like HBO to work more closely with major motion picture companies and distributors (and theater chains like Landmark) to achieve some theatrical presence even for films originally intended for cable. This is of interest to me because I want to get my “Do Ask Do Tell” project going soon. The segmentation of movies into “theater” and “cable” and “instant play” is no longer a viable business practice.

Jessica E. Vascellaro and Nat Worden have an account in the Nov. 30 Wall Street Journal "Comcast disputes Level3's accusations" here.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Scientific American presents case by W3C head for network neutrality

Scientific American, December 2010, has an important article on p 80, “Long live the web, a call for continued open standards and neutrality: The Web is critical not merely to the digital revolution but to our continued prosperity – and even our liberty. Like democracy itself, it needs defending,” by Tim Berners-Lee, director of the World Wide Web Consortium W3C, link here.

Berners-Lee distinguishes between the Internet, with is like the electric grid, and the Web, which is like a plug-in appliance. He makes a number of points about neutrality. First, he says that cable companies that offer web tv might want to limit the content on their connection to the content they control. Later, he notes that even major political proponents of net neutrality like Google don’t always support it in a wireless environment, which is all some rural areas have. And he still fears that without net neutrality some ISP’s might slow down access to politically incorrect content. He also covers the controversy over Comcast’s slowing BitTorrent traffic, which a federal court in April 2010 ruled the FCC could not stop Comcast from doing. (Comcast has also pushed more responsibility onto home users by encouraging wireless rather than hardwired multiple routers.)

He also covers several bills or laws in both Europe and the US that would allow ISP’s or governments to pull the plug on infringing users or websites without due process (including COICA).

If you go to the Technology link at Scientific American, you’ll see a series of essays “The Web Turns 20”.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

How stable are Cox, Comcast, Verizon? Response to a Cox TV ad.

I saw a television broadcast ad on ABC this morning for Cox high speed cable, in some areas of northern Virginia (Falls Church and much of Fairfax). A customer said that in twenty years he had only one Internet outage, and that since he worked at home, stable Internet was important to keeping his job.

In other areas in northern Virginia, Comcast is available. It’s hard for me to believe that any provider could achieve the stability claimed. When exposed to the elements, outdoor splitters tend to weaken, leading to stalls in the connection, which go away when the splitters are replaced by technicians (typically after 2-3 years outdoors). Cable modems and routers sometimes drop because of household voltage fluctuations, but these be controlled by plugging modems and routers as well as computers themselves into UPS’s.

Some people around have gotten Verion FIOS, and the word on the street for stability has been favorable. I welcome comments on the stability of various cable and FIOS providers.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cablevision says News Corp may cause widespread World Series blackout

Here we go again. A consumer advocacy group says that News Corp (Fox) has pulled 67 professional sports teams off the air, when it snubbed a negotiation arranged by the FCC with Cablevision (which Cablevision agreed to).  There is a full page ad on p A14 of the Thursday Oct. 21 Washington Post (“News Corp’s ugly October surprise”), and the website for the petition is here. According to Cablevision, 20 million people could have the World Series blocked.
News Corporation also owns 20th Century Fox Film Corporation.  The news business is known for its conservative viewpoints, but those don't seem to extend to the movie studio or programming tastes of its stations.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hotels vary in how good the WiFi is for business travelers; university-owned may be the best

Here’s an article from New Years Day this year (2010) to the effect that cheaper chain motels are better at offering WiFi than a lot of five star hotels around the world. The TechCrunch article (by Sarah Lacty: “Hotel WiFi should be a right, not a luxury”) is here.

But of course, the quality of the WiFi is also an issue.  If you pay for it, some hotels will give you a more secure, encrypted connection (although you should have a good firewall on our travel laptop anyway, and always use https for business transactions).  Generally, you get a logon id and password, and the first time you may be prompted to install a secure-connect application. (Whether you need it may depend on your operating system and what security updates XP or Vista may have already sent you.)  Hotels owned by universities or colleges typically use the campus system, which is typically of high quality but may be stricter as to acceptable usage policies.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Verizon will refund to millions for "accidental Internet use" charges

Verizon Wireless is going to refund up to $90 million (up from $50 million) to about 15 million customers who were incorrectly charged for “Internet use” without having data access plans. There are many accounts, such as one from Mashable yesterday, here.

Apparently these were customers who had not signed up for Internet use plans.

Typically, sophisticated cell phone or Blackberry users do sign up for Internet access (which they can also use on their PC’s, especially when cable access fails, as a backup, as during power failures with laptops). But typically these are restricted to about 5 gig a month, althouh newere MiFi plans from several companies (especially Virgin Mobile) will offer much more usage, especially for travelers.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

FCC approaches "put up" time on its own plan for net neutrality

Rob Pegoraro has an interesting perspective in the Washington Post on Sunday, Oct. 3, Business, p G5, “It’s put up or shut-up time for FCC’s net neutrality advocates”, link here.

Pegoraro argues that while startups might rightfully fear the effect of communications providers charging more for the “passing lane” (or HOV lane), in practice no providers seem to want to do this for legitimate uses, although they may want dedicated lines for medicine or very limited prime services, and they may want the ability to charge for really excessive use, especially P2P.

The FCC has indeed proposed that it can impose net neutrality by reversing a 2005 decision that had put telecomm companies under looser regulation than phone companies. This is called a “Title II Reclassification” related to the Telecommunications Act of 1934.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Chattanooga TN will have fastest broadband in US but it is pricey; FCC will licensed unused airwave wireless frequencies for MiFi

Chattanooga TN’s city owned utility EPB has announced the nation’s fastest broadband Internet service, at 1 gigabit per second, 200 times faster than the average broadband in the US, with news story from the utility here.  The plan is pricey, about $170 a month. In the meantime, Google is pledging to supply similar service to about 500000 people among communities that apply. Other companies like Verizon are planning to offer services 30 to 50 times what is available now on average. Only a few places on Earth, like some of Hong Kong, have 1 gigabit per second.

I last visited Chattanooga myself in 2004, and drove up Lookout Mountain. There's an interesting underpass-tunnel on US 441; I don't have a picture.

And Edward Wyatt, in the Business Section of the Sept 13 New York Times, reports that the F.C.C. is considering offering unlicensed wireless frequencies to entrepreneurs. They’re actually used, for example, for baby monitors (also used in eldercare). These could develop more mid-level MIFI hotspot services (like Virgin’s) with improving security, and essentially guarantee “reasonable” service almost everywhere. The link is here. I talked about MiFi on my IT blog Sept. 2.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

"The Economist" gives us a course in net neutrality concepts; but the issues are bigger, still; Check "Free Press" notes

The British mass-market periodical “Economist”, in the Sept. 4-10 issue (I could call it “The September Issue”) has a critical op-ed on p. 11, “The Web’s New Walls: How the threat to the Internet’s openness can be averted”, link here.

The editorial is developed in several detailed stories in the issue. “Untangling the social web” (p. 16), “The Virtual Curmudgeon” (p. 25, about music composer and existential social critic Jaron Lanier – I reviewed his “You Are Not a Gadget” on my books blog Feb. 10, 2010) and, most important, “A Cyber-House Divided” on p 61.

The general concern focuses on two or three areas. One is foreign governments intercepting and censoring content that their citizens see – most of all, China – and the “technology” of getting around these efforts. (These may include Tor Bridges, explained by EFF, as I discussed on my International Issues blog Aug 13, 2009.) But the biggest concern is their spin on the network neutrality debate: the idea that companies want to wall off certain areas and charge more for it, a process that economically seems natural and part of innovation.

Personally, I disagree that there is a lot of practical threat that the average user is going to find the Internet of the future a mishmash of “walled gardens” (the analogy to AOL, Prodigy and Compuserv is a bit misplaced; the Internet in early days wasn’t developed enough to get beyond proprietary content models; I remember back in 1994 how people watched for news about corporate merger negotiations on CompuServ while waiting for employee meetings.) Some walling off (to protect a smart energy grid or health care information and real time diagnosis and treatment grid) really is appropriate. And some consumer technologies (high def video) require special attention when used in great bulk (if we really are going to go to the movies on the Internet). I think that largely market incentives work. A bigger issue is the idea of “Natural Law”, the idea that citizens need to follow some principles of “common good” that will limit what they can do on their own. That gets back to the debate on media perils insurance (could it become mandatory some day), and whether ISPs and content forum hosts (or advertising hosts like Craigslist) should continue to enjoy Section 230 (and DMCA Safe Harbor) protections.

The Sept. 6, 2010 issue of Time Magazine, p 68, has an article ("The awesome column") by Joel Stein, "Net wit: Forget neutrality. Here's why we should make the Internet less fair and less balanced", link for article abstract here  (subscription). Stein is "volunteering" for a lobbying association, the CTIA, the "wireless association."  He thinks lobbyists are legit and "call back fast".  He also thinks that unlimited consumer broadband for low-quality stuff interferes with stability for everyone and for more essential aps like medicine and smart energy. (I would say that Internet modem stability can be affected by something as simple as the stability of your household's electricity voltage.)

Here is a video from the Berkman Center where Chris Riley, Policy Counsel of Free Press (link) the non-profit org, not the book publisher), discusses Comcast, BitTorrent and Network Neutrality, Feb 2009.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

"Separate Peace" among telecomms would leave wireless unregulated

The “separate peace” strategy among some major Internet and telecomm companies, allowing some kinds of specialized premium services to be offered for extra fees, would also include leaving wireless largely exempt from network neutrality regulation, a story in the New York Times business section today Sept 3, “F.C.C. seeks more input on wireless Internet rules,” by Edward Wyatt says, with link (website url) here.

The concept is significant as wireless may become a more important part of rural access broadband strategy. For example, the innovation of portable “MiFi” devices may make portable Internet access available to all, but not of as good a quality for some applications (see IT blog today).

The FCC plans no action during a comment period, which would last until the November elections.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

"Free response" final exam for net neutrality policy makers

Selena Frye, in the Network Administrator blog for Tech Republic, has a post “Seven questions for the new Internet rule makers,” link (website url) here.

It reads like a college essay exam, or maybe an AP “free response” problem set. Teachers and professors should love this piece.

The biggest overall question seems to be whether average end users can really tell what is going on in matters that can affect them. For example, Cisco is claiming we can make the environment rich enough for everybody so the issue goes away. But what about rural areas? Will greater dependency on wireless (because it is cheaper in the long run) mean bigger security problems for average users, especially in rural areas?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Network neutrality, Section 230 and DMCA safe harbor: ISP's want to have it all ways

A blog called “Public Knowledge”, with a lot of primer material on network neutrality, has a posting Aug. 20 by Anne Hasley, “ISP’s want to have their First Amendment cake and eat it to,” link here. The article mentions "H.R. 3817: Investor Protection Act of 2009", Dan Kanjorski (D-PA), govtrack link here.

As we noted, ISP’s have resisted FCC suggestions to treat them just like telephone companies, because then they would not have the ability to tweek access speeds where they say there is a generally publicly valid reason, such as better speed for showing surgical procedures.

ISP’s have, with limited success, said that they need to monitor facilities like BotTorrrent, which by their very nature invite consumer abuse (excessive bandwidth and sometimes piracy or copyright infringement). Courts have disagreed with this contention.

But Halsey is one of the few bloggers to talk about the “downstream liability” protections to ISP’s from both Section 230 (the 1996 Telecommunications Act) and the DMCA Safe Harbor. Few articles discuss both, and few articles link these to network neutrality as a legal issue.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

FCC meltdown led to "a separate peace" between Internet giants

Sam Gustin has a piece in Daily Finance, “How FCC Bungling Led to the Google-Verizon Deal”, link here (provided by AOL Aug. 19).  The two companies “bailed out” of the talks (it sounds like a project getting canceled – I experienced that with a consortium back in the early 80s) and struck their own deal. That is to say, for really premium content, it’s OK for telecommunications providers like Verizon to set up premium connections and charge more. This would be OK for real-time health care information, or remote participation in surgery, or for a revamped aviation traffic control system or for a smart energy grid. “Ordinary content”, like my blogs, or Daily Finance, or Yahoo!, or Salon or the Huffington Post, (or YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Myspace) could be treated in a neutral fashion on the regular Internet.

The article leads to another link with this embedded video where Sam Gustin explains the private deal to Amy Stone.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Companies divided on "cable-ization" plans that challenge net neutrality

The philosophical underpinnings and conceptual meaning of “network neutrality” are experiencing even more perturbations these days, as companies want to offer specialized “supra-Internet” services on faster channels for which speed and robustness or storm-proof reliability would have to be paid for separately. A good example would be health care and eldercare remote monitoring, and another would be the smart energy grid. All of these ideas also pose security issues, since they potentially place major pieces of national infrastructure within the reach of hackers. The general term for this is “cable-ization” of the Internet, borrowing on the concept of paying more for premium channels.

The story “Web Plan Dividing Companies” appears in the Business Day section of the August 12 New York Times, is by Claire Cain Miller and Brian Stelter, and has this link.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

FCC criticized for 1-on-1 talks with big telecom, content companies

Ceclia Kang has a story “FCC draws fire over talks with Internet, telecom giants on ‘net neutrality” on p A13, Economy and Business, of the Washington Post on Thursday, Aug. 5.

Companies like Verizon, AT&T, Google and Comcast are discussing neutrality with the FCC in “1:1” meetings, from a “best practices” perspective, which would, for example, allow corporate content providers higher video resolution and bandwidth when they pay more for certain infrastructure facilities and robustness. They would also allow companies to make legal agreements regarding preferred pricing plans for using one another’s facilities.

The companies insist that there is no censorship of content or preference based on subject matter (gay rights, immigration, tea parties, and the like).

The FCC is backing away from its strategy of classifying broadband access providers as telecommuniucations services, which it says it could do, however awkwardly, without Congress.

The link for the story is here.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

CED Magazine plays devil's advocate on net neutrality precepts

Patrick Hunter has an interesting, if detailed perspective, about network neutrality in CED Magazine, dated Aug. 1, called “Network Neutrality: Overgovernance in a Digital Age”, link here. A subtitle of the article is "Moving forward, the debate should keep focus on the relevant issues". CED calls  itself "The Greening of Cable".

Hunter makes the interesting point, that telecommunications companies have to practice “ethical” technical “discrimination” all the time in giving different kinds of traffic (technically, such as text when compared to voice or video) different patterns of resources so that the consumer experience is optimized. Modern routers are very good at determining the appropriate level of resources to give traffic of different character (James Martin’s textbooks on telecommunications back in the 1990s went over this in detail).

The practical problems come in assessing the behavior or ISP’s in the last link of their delivery of data (or receipt from) the end users, whether corporate, government or home.

He is somewhat critical of the views of Tim Wu, Vinton Cerf, and Paul Misener.

Generally, large companies have tried to be “neutral’ when it comes to free speech issues, but often there are controversies over some speech that are hard to resolve in an ethically neutral manner.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

AT&T and network neutrality (and wireless TOS)

I noticed some news stories and blog entries about AT&T’s claim that network neutrality doesn’t work for wireless. Back around April 1, 2009 there had been a spat about AT&T’s TOS for wireless that forbad downloading movies or video by P2P or some other forms of customer initiation (maybe Netlfix or Logo or even YouTube rentals) unless authorized specifically by AT&T.

Rob Topolsk had written this explanation on the “Public Knowledge” blog here

and NewTeeVee had a story “AT&T Changes TOS to limit mobile video”, link here.

Of course, generally speaking, national wireless plans don’t provide the same robust high volume transfer capacity that landbased broadband cable or FIOS can. Just look at the typical rates for a national Verizon Wireless plan for your Blackberry, if you want to use it when your cable broadband is down or when you’re on the road. It works, but it is slower, and not very suitable for movies. To me, this says, that a really effective broadband policy needs to bring land-based cable to all areas, or very robust wireless or satellite. (Verizon now says it can serve 92% of the country with its national wireless subscription.)

AT&T issued a statement in September 2009 on Net Neutrality, and talks about “common carriage” and says that ignoring it is an “intellectual contradiction” and that content providers and facilitators must play by the same rules as trunk telecommunications providers. The line is fuzzy indeed

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Use Universal Service Fund for wireless broadband, FCC and telecomms say

FCC and telecomunnications companies are simultaneously calling for reforms in the Universal Service Fund, which pays for landline phone service in remote areas. Recently, in interior (“inland empire”) Washington State, over $17000 a piece was spent on each of 17 people for conventional service.

There is a legitimate debate as to using the fund to set up wireless and/or satellite networks that could provide complete phone and broadband service much more cheaply, but would have to be carefully vetted as to the number of companies and amount of competition involved.

The story appears on p A17 of the July 20 Washington Post, “Reforms urged in federal funding for phone lines”, by Cecilia Kang, here.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Videos on FCC meetings on NN, and Wash. Post interviews former FCC officials

The Washington Post has an interview with Reed Hundt and Michael K. Powell, former chairmen of the Federal Communications Commission, 20 minutes, in a debate about Network Neutrality and whether this is necessary to provide broadband reasonably for everyone and keep the playing field level for all speakers. Here is the (web url) link.

The post has an “Embed link” tag here that does not seem to work.

There is the sentiment that where you have competition, you don’t need regulation. But that is seen to be a uniquely “American” view.

Here is a YouTube video (1 hour 29 minutes) of the FCC Open Agenda Meeting at Troy University Oct. 22, 2009

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Will metered broadband prevent Internet "brownouts"? 2012 can come too soon

Time Warner Cable has been saying that metered broadband Internet use will prevent “Internet brownouts” that will start to occur by 2012, if there are not some action taken to charge for unreasonable use.

Brownouts would probably cause intermittent loss of connectivity that would cause video loads to stall repeatedly.

On the other hand, some businesses like Netflix (and YouTube) feel that their business model of streaming new indepndent films legally over the Internet for rental could be affected.

The article by Martin Bosworth appeared in Consumer Affairs in April 2009, link here.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

How good is customer service for land lines (Verizon especially?)

Recently I got a notice in the mail that the area had been wired for Verizon FIOS, but that I was still “unactivated” – as if it were that simple. I have Comcast for cable and Internet, and it keeps getting more expensive, and yes the new deal for Verizon looks attractive.

About four years ago, in the winter, after a minor ice storm a tree limb fell on a Friday morning and knocked out the landline phone and not the cable. The local service was with AT&T but the lines belonged to Verizon. It took until Monday afternoon to get the line restored. But maybe that was inter-company (and intra-company) red tape.

Practically all local phone service contracts come with maintenance provisions, which allow the company to bill for labor and materials for repairs. Most apartment buildings and neighborhoods have residents with a mix of local services, so an outage from a storm doesn’t always affect everyone consistently. There are reports of Verizon and some other companies taking unreasonably long to provide repairs for land service.

Some of the stories are at this site.

In its defense, it must be admitted that Verizon says it connects billions of calls a day without incident.

I must add something else.  AOL went to free email a few years ago, but I still get a $25 bill from them on my card. I'm not sure what for unless its for their web content. It's OK, but Yahoo!, MSN, CNN, etc. is "free"!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Freepress accuses telecomm companies of manipuating FCC and net neutrality regs to their benefit

An advocacy group called “Freepress” has been warning that industry giants—specifically Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T – are manipulating the FCC and the network neutrality in order to gain control of broadband regulation. On Wednesday, June 23, they took out a full page ad (on p A11) in The Washington Post.

They have their own story on this on their site, here.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

FCC invents a "Title 1.5" concept to start classifying ISP's so that it can implement "net neutrality"

Jennifer Martinez of the McClatchy News Service wrote on June 20 that the Federal Communications Commission voted on June 17 to start classifying Internet Service Providers as instrumentalities of a “highly regulated telecommunications service” like the (former) Bell System companies. The regulatory framework will be called “The Third Way”. The link is here.

Scott M. Fulton III has a “Policy & Law News” article on May 6, 2010 called “The Third Way: FCC attempts strange ‘Title 1.5’ broadband reclassification,” link here.  One problem is that its network neutrality ideas based on the 1996 formulation of information services doesn’t fly under “Title I”. The opposite pole has been the “Title II” formulation of an ISP as a “real communications service”.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Comcast (and maybe other telecomms) check MAC addresses on Ethernet cards, "force" wireless router use to help manage bandwidth abuse "transparently"

Here’s some scuttlebutt on how Comcast (and maybe some other vendors) are handling the “controversy” of overage by a few customers (the surcharges or cutoffs discussed earlier).

Recently, after I had some instability problems in the high speed Internet, they told me that my land Netgear router from early 2006 was at “end of life.” True, an outdoor splitter had deteriorated in February’s snowstorms and needed to be replaced. But the company ships you the new Cisco cable modem and Netgear wireless router, with some instructions that leave some holes unanswered. I covered this last week on my “IT Jobs” blog (it was a job).

I found that after connecting the cable modem (which as I wrote there requires a call to tech support for the account to be reset), other computers would no longer connect to the Internet on the wired modem connection. That seems to be because Comcast cable modems (made by Cisco) now check (or, have Comcast’s servers check) the MAC address (Media Access Control Address) on your Ethernet card. They only allow you to use one computer this way. If you don’t want to use wireless and your computer breaks and you get another one (even temporarily, as during a warranty repair) you have to call the company’s tech support to “re-provision” your connection. That’s what Geek Squad told me today at a Best Buy store visit.

So you follow the directions for Netgear and set up the wireless home network (another post today on the IT blog).

What’s the point? I think it helps Comcast (or any similar competitor) manage excessive use by a few customers. Say you have a fraternity house with land connections and multiple kids running BitTorrent (maybe illegally) and chewing up bandwidth from more “casual” consumers, leading to slowdowns in service. Wireless is good, but the responsibility for correct and heavy use shifts to the consumer.

It is true, that even with the router on, the “wired” connection to the “original” computer is about 50% faster than it was before, and is much less prone to slowdowns during heavy usage periods on business days.

The fact is, even average consumers have to become more tech savvy to keep good service, even for ordinary use. The Kids (“Our Kids”, who some of us taught and raised) have taken over.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

AT&T will no longer allow new smart phone and iPad users unlimited bandwidth at one price

AT&T will stop letting new consumers sign up for unlimited data bandwidth plans for smart phones and iPads, and charge for excessive bandwidth use, according to an AP story by Peter Svensson. AT&T says it will help ease data congestion from heavy users. The link for the story is here.

I'm pretty used to bandwidth limits myself, as with a regular website. But these limits have gotten very large, although maybe a DOS attack would exceed them. With my own Blackberry, there are minutes and bandwidth limits with Verizon, but these have not been an issue so far.

Unlimited anything can get to be unsustainable. I can recall a time when people predicted that car rental companies would stop allowing unlimited mileage.

The controversy is similar to that of cable Internet providers starting to warn users of really excessive use, as with P2P users.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

FCC: consumers are unaware of their broadband speeds

Cecilia Kang has an important but brief blog posting in her “Post Tech” column, printed Wednesday June 2 on p A10 (Economy & Business) of the Washington Post, “4 out of 5: Broadband users don’t know their connection speed,” link here.

The Federal Communications Commission performed a study or survey that determined that the actual speeds provided by service providers where sometimes less than half of what was advertised.

The survey was conducted by ABT Associates (link) and SRBI (link).

FCC wants to have a survey where consumers install hardware in their homes that will tell them how well their connections work.

The survey seemed to focus on wireless. In my experience, wired broadband (through cable) is slightly faster generally than Verizon wireless connections through a Blackberry. However, sometimes in my experience Comcast has brief network problems where some sites will not connect for a while whereas they will contact through Verizon (this has happened particularly with AOL mail).

On the other hand, I’ve found that with wired land broadband (Comcast in my case, but Cox and Time Warner are probably similar), the quality of splitter connections exposed to the elements outside can affect speed. Generally, if (home) outdoor splitters are replaced after two or three years, speed and stability (absence of slowdowns and stalls) seem to improve. That was particularly true at the February snowstorms on the East Coast that covered outdoor splitters in my case. Freezing and melting seems to cause the connection stability to degrade. I haven’t seen this commented on with broadband discussions.

Monday, May 24, 2010

FCC needs a "fourth way" for net neutrality: "back to Congress" (Back to the Bay!)

The Washington Post is appropriately critical of Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Monday morning (May 24), with the editorial, “Why broadband regulation needs help from Congress,” link here.

The Post is underwhelmed by the FCC’s idea that a broadband backbone provider is a quasi-telephone company. (I remember all those interviews with the Bell system – including Bellcomm and Bell Labs, as I was getting out of the Army in 1970; I got one offer; those were the days, my friend.)

The editorial argues for a “fourth way” as if suggesting we need access to unused dimensions in string theory. It writes “The agency, industry, consumer groups and other interested parties should work with Congress to craft clear but limited rules tailored to broadband.”

Libertarians, of course, will choke on the idea that Congress will get involved again in the net neutrality debate. But it was already engaged a few years ago, around 2006, when it drafted the “Internet Freedom Preservation Act”, described here on the original June 22, 2006 posting.

"Back to Congress" is like the Army saying "Back to the Bay". Or, back to Statism.

Monday, May 17, 2010

NY Times explains the significance of "broadband classification" with respect to authority of FCC to regulate it

The New York Times has an important editorial today (Monday May 17), “Broadband and the F.C.C.”, link here.

The editorial maintains that the Bush administration had classified broadband as an “information channel” for the “purpose of freeing it from regulation.” That means that broadband is conceived of as involved in delivering actual content and therefore should not be regulated (or censored) by government but should adhere to the free market.

However, the FCC wants to claim that broadband service is more like a plug-in utility, like telephone. The Times advertises that the real broadband backbone is controlled by only a few corporations, reducing the effect of competition in many less populated parts of the U.S., and that Americans pay more for broadband than do many in Europe or many parts of Asia (such as Japan and South Korea).

The Times also questions the wisdom of Comcast’s questioning the authority of the FCC to regulate broadband under its previous definition.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Satellite damaged by solar storm could interfere with much of US cable television service soon

There is a possibility that damage to a satellite owned by Intelsat Corporation could cause it to interfere with another satellite used by US cable television companies, starting May 23, if it approaches close enough.

The story was reported by Newsroom Solutions in Arkansas Matters, (web url) here.  Intelsat would not say which cable companies or areas of the US could be most affected.
It’s not clear if it could affect broadband Internet also.

Michael Weissenstein has a more detailed story (“Drifting satellite threatens US cable programming”) for WJLA Channel 7 (ABC) in Arlington VA, link here. There is no danger of collision with the Galaxy 15 satellite, and engineers have several strategies for keeping the Intelsat satellite from being close to the Galaxy satellite and causing prolonged outages.

In October 2003 there were solar flares that caused little disruption in the US (ironically, an episode of “Smallville” was based on a solar flare’s affecting the teen Clark Kent, and it was aired the same day as the real flare even though it must have been filmed months before). There is always a possibility that solar storms can disrupt terrestrial communications.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of solar prominence.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

FCC will still try to regulate broadband by "redefining it"

Edward Wyatt has a Business Day story in The New York Times “FCC Push to Regulate Broadband Is Expected”, link here.  

Julius Genachowski is expected to announce a finding that broadband service is a “hybrid” between “information service” and a “utility” and that the FCC has the legal authority to stop telecomm backbone companies from charging more to content provider companies like Google, even though telecomm companies like AT&T and Comcast say they have no intention to do so.

The FCC Chairman apparently believes that he can deal with recent court opinions by redefining the legal definition of broadband service provider.

To put all this in context, look at Dan Woods, “Designing the Future Internet: It’s time for the technology equivalent of urban planning” in Forbes, May 4, here.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Broadband for America promotes libertarian position on Discovery Channel breaks

The organization “Broadband for America” (link ) has been advertising on the Discovery Channel (during Hawking's documentary) with the typical “libertarian” position on network neutrality, to the effect that free market innovation will effectively provide consumer neutrality on its own.  There are maps delving into the broadband development situation in each state.

The group provides a link to a Wall Street Journal report (link here  ) by Laura Landro, April 13, 2010, “Breaking Down the Barriers: When health-care providers exchange electronic medical records, costs go down and patient care goes up”. True, but the limiting factor for medical records is not telecommunications capability (although there is an issue of format compatibility in some health care record transmissions), but a culture of medical specialists who feel that manual records help protect their turf.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Do garden apartments with heavy satellite use lack conventional broadband?

While driving around some old haunts near the location of the first job of my career, I noticed something about two adjacent garden apartment complexes, one of which I had lived in from 1970-1971 (my first apartment). I won’t name them here, other than to say they are in New Jersey in a reasonably prosperous and gradually exurbanizing area.

One of the complexes had satellite dishes all over the place. The one I had lived in did not. The logical conclusion might have been that land-line broadband had not yet arrived to the other complex.

I don’t know how well most garden complexes are doing now in offering cable and broadband, but it’s an interesting consideration.

It’s even more critical in high rises, as broadcast signals often don’t work too well, even with master antennas (they never have in my experience; I had cable in New York City as early as 1975).

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Washington Post favors telecomm disclosure, but not formal net neutrality regulation

The Washington Post has a moderate to Cato-like editorial on the overturning of FCC rules for the Internet on Saturday April 17, “Internet oversight is needed, but not in the form of FCC regulation”, link here.

The editorial discusses a possible unintended consequence of the recent court ruling: that the FCC could take the track of treating ISP’s and telecoms as like phone companies and common carriers and actually set rates (remember the collectivist 1970s?) The Post favors a public policy of expected public disclosure. For example, “ISPs … should be required to disclose information about how they manage their networks to ensure that these decisions are legitimate and not meant to interfere with applications that compete with the ISPs' offerings.

Update: April 19

The New York Times has an editorial today, "The F.C.C. and the Internet", link here. The Times characterizes broadband Internet as a world with many service and content providers competing for room with relatively few physical communications providers. It writes "broadband access is probably the most important communication service of our time. One that needs a robust regulator."

Friday, April 09, 2010

Libertarian views on network neutrality get published following appeals court ruling

Robert M. McDowell (probably no relation to the American composer!) has a great piece on the court’s FCC ruling, along Cato-like, libertarian lines, “Hands off the Internet, please”, today, Friday, April 9, link here.

His writing is blunt. He maintains that the appeals court ruled that Congress never gave the FCC the power to implement “network management” rules. He also argues that the FCC might find legal work around by analogy to old “Ma Bell” and railroad rules. An image flashes into my mind: a day in the fall of 1972, when I was working as a site rep for Sperry Univac, and I made a visit to AT&T in lower Manhattan, in the days of telephony innocence. It even reminds me of my opening job interviews with the Bell system (there were several) as I was getting out of the Army around the beginning of 1970.

McDowell warns that allowing the government to micromanage telecommunication provider policy could be a stepping stone for greater government intervention with content, aka China, although the COPA trial that I have written about places that concept into question.

Like other libertarian comments, the piece points out that a large portion of American households have effective land-based broadband, and that wireless broadband is rapidly improving in quality and reliability – and hopefully, security.

Cecilia Kang has a comment board on his article here.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Appeals court sides with Comcast, guts FCC network neutrality policy

A federal appeals court ruled today that Comcast can slow down the delivery of some video or streaming content to high-volume users in order to deliver consistent service to all customers.

Zdnet has a comprehensive story with links to Comcast’s statement, “Court sides with Comcast, sides with FCC’s Net Neutrality Efforts”, link here.

From the Opinion:

“The Commission may exercise this “ancillary” authority only if it demonstrates that its action—here barring Comcast from interfering with its customers’ use of peer-to-peer networking applications—is “reasonably ancillary to the . . . effective performance of its statutorily mandated responsibilities…”

“The Commission has failed to make that showing. It relies principally on several Congressional statements of policy, but under Supreme Court and D.C. Circuit case law statements of policy, by themselves, do not create “statutorily mandated responsibilities.” The Commission also relies on various provisions of the Communications Act that do create such responsibilities, but for a variety of substantive and procedural reasons those provisions cannot support its exercise of ancillary authority over Comcast’s network management practices. We therefore grant Comcast’s petition for review and vacate the challenged order.”

Update: April 7:

The Washington Post has a front page story "Court limits FCC clout over Web; Ruling for Comcast is blow to 'net neutrality' and White House goals", by Cecilia Kang.  Comcast had apparently been targeting BitTorrent use.  As a Comcast user myself, I've noticed that once in a while there are slowdowns in weekdays; this may be related to keeping all customers connected without any disruption. There is a concern, however, that the ruling could hinder Obama administration plans to use telephony funds for rural broadband extension.  The link is here.

The New York Times story is "U.S. Court  curbs F.C.C, authority on web traffic; oversight role defined; Internet companies can control the speed of specific sites," by Edward Wyatt. Internet companies could charge more for services like YouTube or movie streaming later, even though it does not appear that they intend to do so now (outside of BitTorrent and P2P). The link is here.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Washington Times presents "opposing viewpoints" on Obama-FCC broadband policy initiative

The Washington Times, on Maudy Thursday April 1, has a good “opposing viewpoints” or “point-counterpoint” on the FCC-Obama plan to make broadband a basic utility for all Americans, even in the most remote areas.

Andrew Moylan, of the National Taxpaers Union (link), writes “Spare us the broadband plan: everything is working just fine without the Obama meddling”. Moylan gives statistics apparently showing that most Americans already have access to broadband or at least wireless, and that for those who do not, satellite providers (“the dish”) can offer speeds 18 times faster than dialup. I don’t know whether Tea Party site (Fox) Searchlight Nevada has broadband, but it’s pretty remote. I think Sarah Palin has broadband. The link here.

Larissa Herda (CEO of small telecomm companies in Colorado, Everwood-style) has a counterargument “New broadband policy s good start: FCC needs to rapidly improve its business focus”, link (web url) here. Her arguments are more familiar.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Some webmasters till have to use dialup still

CNN has a story this morning (March 16) “A webmaster without the high-speed web, about Kelli Fields, who still runs a website from a rural home in Oklahoma with dialup. High-speed fiber-optic cables have not yet reached her residence, although she could get high speed access through a relatively expensive satellite connection. She does use broadband at work. It's dangerous to run a website now with dialup only because automatic security updates are so difficult.

Lack of broadband access would also make it difficult for some people to apply for jobs, especially at major companies, or start small businesses.

The story by John D. Sutter is “A webmaster without the high-speed web” here.

Ceclia Kang has a story on the front page of the Washington Post Tuesday March 16, “FCC plan would greatly expand Internet connections,” link here. This follows on to a similar New York Times story documented here Saturday, March 13.

Mid-size telecomm providers might benefit the most from the FCC plans, which involve using funds originally intended for rural telephone service to be directed to broadband. Congress, especially GOP members, want the FCC to stay focused on brining broadband to everyone. This seems to be a bipsartisan priority.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

FCC wants broadband to become a comprehensive utility nationwide for all

The New York Times has an important front page story Saturday March 13 by Brian Stelter and Jenna Wortham, “Effort to widen Internet access sets up battle: A 10 Year Plan by the FCC; Industries at odds over making broadband the top medium”, link here.

This approach would make broadband an essential utility, and move it away from being viewed as a disposable luxury in “Suze Orman” financial smackdowns. It could affect the business models of network television and movie studios. But it also depends on stable infrastructure, being hardened to storms. It also raises security and privacy concerns (as with the issue of smart power grids, as recently discussed by EFF), as tightly integrated utilities could be vulnerable to a variety of attacks.

Broadband becomes more essential as security updates from computer operating system vendors (Microsoft and anti-virus packages) require it to work well.

It’s not clear how dependent the broadband would be on landlines, or whether wireless would fit in more (using previous laws for providing telephone service). Some telecommuting jobs require landlines, as companies trust wireless less (for dependability and security).

The Obama administration is pushing making broadband like a “right” (like “health insurance”) but is waffling in the approach to protecting speakers from unreasonable “turf-oriented” behavior by legacy music and movie industries regarding possible copyright and trademark issues, which could affect network neutrality policies.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

NY cable dispute seems to pull plug on Oscars for cable viewers

NBC Washington is reporting that three million cable customers in New York will not be able to access the Oscars through cable because of a dispute between Disney and Cablevision, which had to pull the plug last night on Disney programs. Maybe it will get settled Sunday. In apartment buildings, rabbit ears, even digita,l don’t work. This is shameful corporate behavior. Why can't Disney (owning ABC) serve its customers and take legal action later to demand payment from NY Cablevision?

Story on Cinemaretro here.

This is the second such dispute in recent memory.

Update: Service was restored 14 minutes into the Oscar broadcast (various reports).

Friday, March 05, 2010

EFF petitions to close loophole in FCC net neutrality rules regarding alleged copyright infringement enforcement

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in San Francisco has submitted comments to the Federal Communications Commission on the proposed rules for network neutrality.

The EFF believes that the FCC should not make copyright infringement or any issue related to the content of speech (when challenged by third parties) as a form of “reasonable network management”. The EFF believes that lawful, non-infringing speech will get caught in the crosshairs; supposed infringement or pending DMCA takedowns should not be related to bandwidth access.

Here is a link to a PDF of EFF’s comments.

EFF says it has accumulated more than 7000 signatures on its petition demanding that the FCC close this loophole in proposed net neutrality regulations.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

"Peering" competes with centralized Internet routing, complicated net neutrality debate

The Science Times section of The New York Times has an interesting long article by John Markoff, “Striving to Map the Shape-Shifting Net” today March 2, link here.

The article discusses a neo-novel technique called “peering” , linking different businesses or entities in a “meet-me” environment without depending on centralized server routing to big players like ATT, Comcast, Mae-East and West, and the like. On the other hand, the huge centralized servers have become necessary to handle the enormous increase in video traffic and on-demand movies (as from Netflix). The newspaper page is well illustrated with drawings of blobs ("it crawled out of the woodwork" from "The Outer Limits") that resembled depictions of "branes" used to theorize parallel universes.

The complexity of the environment is going to challenge the very meaning of “network neutrality” rules as recently developed by the FCC.