Monday, December 08, 2014

CNN op-ed argues that network neutrality is necessary to protect amateur users


An aggressive editorial, by Cory Booker and Angus King, on CNN today argues for the need for strict network neutrality regulation, arguing that telecommunications executives are already thinking about layering services and eliminating less profitable content streams, here.  I would be concerned if his argument means that some blogging or self-expression platforms might not be around forever if they don’t generate enough revenue. 

Many bloggers, like me, publish “free content”, with little revenue activity, and some social and political influence because it is “always there” and the “right people” find it, rather than large numbers of people. 


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Zoning and local laws interfere with rural broadband access even with neutrality


On the same day that President Obama asked the FCC to reclassify service providers so it could legally enforce network neutrality. the New York Times reported on serious problems in some rural areas where farmers, local businesses or other property owners can't get effective broadband extended across county lines or city limits.  The example given was in Wilson, NC, on the coastal plain;  I know some one from the area, in fact.  The story by Edward Wyatt is here. I don't think the president had yet read this story when he gave the speech, but he surely has by now,

The picture is from a Veteran's Park along I-85 in North Carolina, Jan. 2011.   

Monday, November 10, 2014

Obama asks FCC to classify ISP's as telecommunications providers


President Obama has announced that he will encourage the Federal Communications Commission to reclassify internet service providers as telecommunications providers (like older phone companies), to guarantee the legal basis of network neutrality.  Obama said blunty that ISP’s have no business monitoring which websites a consumer visits. 


This announcement would seem to apply to conventional land cable or fios based broadband, but not to wireless.
   
This announcement would seem to put to bed the idea of a “tiered” plan, which the FCC believed appropriate for some extreme uses of bandwidth (like gaming sites).  

The president's announcement seems to be a reaction to a New York Times editorial Sunday that had supported a "hybrid" approach, link here

Monday, November 03, 2014

FCC's two-tiered compromise proposal still gets a lot of criticism from lawyers


On Friday, Halloween, Oct. 31, 2014, the Wall Street Journal published an analysis by Gautham Nagesh on its Marketplace page, describing a two-tiered system that the FCC wants to define for broadband providers.  The top tier would provide basic telecommunications for Internet access to consumers, and a second tier would provide a “backbone” (rather like the mountain in Maryland) for website content distribution, but the “backbone mountain” could be regulated as a common carrier to prevent abusive deals.  But some deals, as for gaming platforms that require huge resources, would be approved.
  
  

Nevertheless, most observers believe this plan will wind up in court, as giving the FCC too much power.  The FCC believes this plan leaves its earlier policies in place, to deregulate many simpler services.  The latest Nagesh story is here

Friday, October 31, 2014

A first hand account of ATT's "throttling" on unlimited data plans


Timothy Stenovec has a detailed article in the Huffington Post, “I experienced the dreaded AT&T ‘throttling’ firsthand”, link here

The writer does say that most Internet-related functions on his smartphone became useless after the slowdown.

I don’t use smart phone apps as much as others (for shopping, paying parking meters, or various apps offered by many news content providers), but I can see how this could make an independent contractor on a supposed “unlimited” plan unable to do his job. 

  

FCC has recently sued AT&T over the practice.  

Monday, October 20, 2014

I get a "settlement" from my telecomm provider, but it's not about cramming


I got a notice at my business address today from Verizon, about a tentative settlement of "Gordon v. Verizon Communications et al" in New York County (Manhattan).  I thought this must be about cramming, but I saw that it had to do with an acquisition problem that supposedly stiffed shareholders.   So I suppose I'll get a very small check for it.

But indeed, there are "cramming" lawsuits against T-Mobile (Time magazine) and ATT Landline (settled in late 2013) here.

In the meantime, my XFinity bill seems to grow all the time.  The Cable section, while it offers everything, is rather high.  I wonder what happens if all the major channels follow HBO with "Go" services.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Vox Media lays out network neutrality debate in cardstack format; how the FCC's discretion is at the center of it


The FCC in 2005 decided to classify “broadband services” (as by Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon) as information services, because the Supreme Court allowed it to do so.  Then in early 2014 the Federal Circuit ruled that, since FCC had classified broadband services this way, the FCC couldn’t impose network neutrality regulations on broadband carriers, at last not in a straightforward fashion. That’;s the nutshell of the legal question, as summarized on Card 9 of Tim Lee’s explanation of the network neutrality debate in Vox “cardstack” format starting here.  It’s worthy of note that the FCC can still change its mind, but doing so could subject broadband services to other requirements, like screening fro obscene content (perhaps measures that could run afoul of Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act).

On Card 11, Lee explains that Comcast offered Netflix a whole new connection, not just a faster lane.  That doesn’t violate the meaning of neutrality, Comcast says.  My own experience is that Netflix instant play never stalls, but Amazon has stalled once or twice (but films usually appear on Amazon sooner and often must be rented separately, even under Prime). Long rented YouTube videos sometimes stall. 

On Card 12, Lee explains why the network neutrality debate has been less controversial or contentious with wireless networks than with conventional land broadband.  

This cardstack is a nice resource in following this debate (the topic for this blog), because the concepts in the network neutrality tend to get mushy in most conventional news reporting.  

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Berners-Lee differentiates network "services" from "infrastructure" in advocating pro-neutrality regulation by FCC


Tim Berners-Lee has drawn a distinction between “Internet infrastructure” and “Internet services” in arguing for network neutrality, in a summary in TechDirt, here. Berners-Lee says that the biggest companies could destroy competition and the free market if allowed to.  So, echoing George Soros when talking about financial regulation, Berners-Lee says you need some regulation of the biggest players to make sure they allow a fair playing field for smaller companies, especially in providing services.    

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Netflix, others plan to "pretend" to slowdown Sept. 10 to protest FCC proposals for a fast lane


Some major Internet companies, including Netflix and Reddit (and even Pornhub), will show “loading wheels” and give the appearance being on a slow lane (or not being on the fast lane, as a matter of logic) all day Thursday Sept. 10, to protest FCC plans to allow major providers to allow other big countries to pay for “fast lanes”.  EFF has a link for the story here. The demonstration seems less dramatic than the day that Wikipedia took itselfdown in 2012 to protest SOPA proposals. 
   
It appears that sites won’t actually load slower – that’s a bit unclear.  But maybe Sept. 10 one can just play a DVD rather than stream.  It’s always “go big or go home”.  

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Facebook is not alone in driving up cell charges with autoplay default


Facebook isn't the only service provider whose "auto play" default might be driving up data usage and cell phone bills of many customers, especially teens and younger ones, according to an article in Network World Sept. 3, link here.
Autplay defaults became more prevalent in late 2013, and usage escalated during the recent Ice Bucket Challenge, which has attracted a lot of criticism for other reasons.   

Monday, August 18, 2014

Telecomm companies don't walk away rich from faster express lanes


Telecommunications companies done't make the enormous profit margins from "monopoly" that social media and sometimes content companies make, according to Ev Ehrlich in an op-ed on p A15 of the Washington Post Monday, "The Net Neutrality Myth", link here. The online title gives a different flavor, "Internet policy shouldn't pit service providers against content providers".

I think his comment about working for Unysis back in 1989 is interesting.  Microsoft and Intel were making money on everybody else's decisions.  Before it had been IBM.

Remember that the tendency for there to be a few big winners is an outgrowth of the atmosphere in the world after the dot-com bust of 2001.  

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Is Comcast duplicitous with its claims of support of net neutrality?


Brian Fung has a long “Switch Blog” article in the Washington Post about Comcast’s claim that it supports network neutrality, with the basic link here.  Fung starts out by saying that Comcast doesn’t define what it means by net neutrality.  It needs to play ball to get its merger with Time Warner approved (Time Warner was my provider when I lived in Minneapolis).  It also had to agree to it for the deal with NBC-Universal.

  
Comcast had agreed to follow some pretty strict rules until 2018.  These include not cutting off access for a consumer to any site or significantly degrading it.  It’s not clear what happens after 2018. 
  
I noticed a Comcast ad claiming net neutrality on the Vox Media blog site this morning.
  
Fung also writes that Comcast is expanding its $10 a month program for low-income people, allowing unpaid bills in some cases, link here. It’s not clear good and stable this bare bones access is, or how much bandwidth it allows.  

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Net neutrality rules would let consumers "curate" their own accounts


According to a Washington Post story today by Nancy Scola, there is general agreement that network neutrality rules should allow customers to decide within their accounts if they want to pay to curate or prioritize some services over others, as with this link.  The could massage their accounts to make video play more quickly.  But there could be some question as to the granularity of the "customer".  Is it just a family or a small business?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

FCC extends period for commenting on net neutrality, is overwhelmed


WJLA and News Channel 8 in Washington DC report that the Federal Communications Commission has extended the period for commenting on the rather ambiguous rules it has suggested (particularly for "express lanes") through Friday, July 18.  The deadline had been today.  But the commenting system had problems processing all the requests.  The WJLA news story link is here. The FCC comment link appears to be here.
 
The Wall Street Journal reports (Gautham Nagesh) on extensive backlash on the issue, and that Silicon Valley companies want to see the Internet regulated as a utility, link

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Aereo shuts down for now, lobbies to "protect my antenna"


Aereo TV suspended operations around noon on June 29, and has directed consumers to a lobbying campaign website “Protect My Antenna”here.

Is Aereo conceptually like satellite TV (with the Dish)?  I have never used it, although I admit that the idea of a service that does not require cables to your home (that storms and falling trees can cut) with all channels, is appealing.  I haven’t looked at the business model for satellite, but I presume that it pays for licenses to use content from the various stations.  A similar idea would exist for Sirius XM radio subscription for music in your car.

On the surface, right now, this doesn’t bode well for Aereo-like service.
  
It’s true, consumers can use their own rabbit-ears or digital antennae (since 2009) free.  But even with this, there are restrictions.  The NFL and MLB have always said that consumers cannot charge admission to watch games.  That was an idea that could have been of issue in the 1960s.  What comes to mind is a Sunday afternoon picnic in June, 1961, right after I graduated from high school, when the “new” Washington Senators blew a 7 run lead with two outs in the bottom of the ninth in Fenway Park in Boston.  I saw it all on a porch with the burgers and goodies.  And it was free.  

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Aereo loses in the Supreme Court


The Supreme Court has ruled against Aereo, saying that to offer its service to consumers, it can be expected to pay license fees in a manner similar to cable companies.  This reversed a finding in the Second Circuit.  The ruling went 6-3.  A typical news story on Techcrunch is here.

The case is American Broadcasting Company v. Aereo, and the slip opinion is here

Vox has a summary of the opinion here.
  
Despite initial speculation that Aereo would close, the company seems ready to fight, and has posted a blog post (at least as of 6/26) in response to the ruling, here. The company insists consumers have a right to pick up broadcasts from antennae over airwaves.

The Court rejected Aereo's arguments that its antenna mechanism turned public performances, regulated by copyright law, into private instances.  
    
The Court says that the concern here is the covered or indirect transmission of copyrighted works or performances, and that there is no inference to be made on how cloud computing could be affected.  But Ezra Klein, of Vox, is saying that "trust us" won't cut it with entrepreneurs and investors.  I personally don't see the connection between Cloud services and Aereo, but I do wonder about YouTube embeds.


More details on the road ahead are forthcoming. I think that in some markets, an Aereo-type service can make sense even if the Aereo-like company has to pay licensing, if it can deliver all channels to the consumer without a physical hookup.  In that sense, it becomes like satellite service, but the little antenna sounds a lot easier to deal with than a dish.  It's desirable for consumers to be able to get as many cable channels as possible (even if not HD) without a physical land connection, to get service after storms or other outages.  Maybe consumers would pay for this, even if licensing were passed on to them.    Some observers note that most major networks charge for new episodes online (or require cable signon) but offer older episodes free; Hulu tries to offer new episodes, however.  


Monday, June 16, 2014

Dispel the myths about net neutrality!


The Washington Post, on p B2 of the Outlook Section Sunday June 15, 2014, ran a perspective by Nancy Scola, “5 Myths About Net Neutrality”, link here.  Here are some points:  The Internet was born out of a heavily regulated telephone network, along with enterprising defense-related work in the 60s and 70s;  the Internet would not fall apart if it allows paid “Ezpass” toll lanes, but smaller startups could be at a serious disadvantage over time; Network neutrality rules would not hinder wired broadband or even better cellular wireless;  the neutrality concept has largely been a grass roots movement; and neutrality is not necessarily just an on-off matter. 

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Opposing viewpoint: the case for keeping landlines, and the tricky FCC self-classification problems


Jon Brodkin has a detailed op-ed (“When the Landline Is a Lifeline” about the landline v. WiFi debate on p A23 of the New York Times today Thursday, June 5, 2014, p. A23, link here
      
Brodkin offers arguments that in remote areas, conventional landlines (or fiber-optic) can turn out to be reliable, especially for contacting emergency services, than cellular services and Internet phone.  He talks about prolonged power outages.  True, conventional phone lines don’t depend on the same power source, but physical destruction (and falling trees) can bring down conventional lines, too. And remember the plot lines of most “noir” mystery movies predicated on rural murders: cut the phone lines first.  Wireless service has the advantage that it can’t be attacked at the location of a particular residential target.  (Along these lines, it’s better if home security systems are connected to central monitoring by cellular wireless than land lines.)
    
He mentions that the FCC, in the tangential but different issue of net neutrality, still hasn’t come around to reclassifying broadband as a telecommunications, rather than information service (the latter is what really matters the most to me in practice).  He also discusses compatibility problems (in connection to fax or to emergency services) of some VoIP and Voice Link.
   
When I returned to Virginia in 2003, I found my mother had gone to ATT for her land service for a better rate.  I got cable and high speed Internet quickly, then on separate lines.  In February 2005, a freak storm caused a neighbor’s tree limb to bring down the landline but not the cable line.  It took three days to get the landline back up because ATT had to go through cumbersome channels with Verizon.
    
Comcast Xfinity usually encourages customers to switch landline to digital voice, which makes landline service more vulnerable to cable service outages than they were before, when stand alone.   



Wednesday, June 04, 2014

We should be able to get everything at some level of service by cellular wireless


Here's a brief thought about land hardwired broadband availability.  I understand that's important, but it has to be hard to keep it maintained in remote areas susceptible to storms and the elements.

I think that consumers are perhaps as well served if cellular wireless is even more powerful, so that video usage can be reasonably priced.  Furthermore, I think that it's desirable that all major channels (including especially CNN) are available through digital broadcast airwaves and don't depend on a hardwired land connection.  

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Major media sill against Comcast-Time Warner merger


The New York Times weighs in against the Comcast acquisition of Time Warner today, in an editorial with this link.  

The NYT makes the point that wireless can play video (after all, youtube videos play all right on the iPad – except when Shockwave is encoded) but quickly becomes prohibitively expensive.  But in theory that could be fixed.  The less dependence on hardwired infrastructure, the better.
  
The Times maintains that Comcast would be in a position to limit consumer access to competitors of NBC-Universal, which would sound like anti-trust-law violation.  The argument also reminds one of previous SEC rules preventing movie distributors from owning theater chains. 
 

The piece also notes that 64% of American homes have a choice between no more than two land broadband providers.  When I lived in Minneapolis, 1997-2003, Time Warner was the only cable provider.  

Thursday, May 15, 2014

FCC punts on fast-lane rules, seeks more public comment


The Federal Communications Commission voted to “punt” today and take public comments for four months before issuing legally binding rules on the extent to which telecommunications providers would be allowed to set up “fast lanes” (or “EZPass lanes, by analogy with commuter turnpikes) for larger companies streaming huge volumes of video.  The benefit for consumers: more films and video become available quickly and conveniently, for those who can pay.  (The convenience might even help solve the piracy problem.)  The downside:  smaller internet companies and startups are at a real disadvantage, an innovation is discouraged in the long run.

The FCC seems to be leaning in the direction of "reclassification", treating broadband Internet service as a utility  There are narrow legal arguments that seem to still give it this authority if it "redefines itself."   
   
Timothy B.Lee has a summary report at midday Thursday, here

Most media account have emphasized the idea that the FCC is still seriously considering allowing some sort of fast lane for end-user delivery.  Again, that's like allowing toll lanes (as opposed to HOV's) on Interstates near metropolitan areas. 
Apparently, there were some small demonstrations today at FCC, just south if Independence Ave. and the Department of Agriculture in Washington.    

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Comcast "Internet Essentials" criticized as ineffective; other companies have it, too


With all the “fuss” about network neutrality these days, it’s well to note that Comcast offers an “Internet Essentials” program (link here) for low income families, in some areas (like Philadelphia and Washington) when children can qualify for free lunches at school. (It’s not clear if it is available to the childless.)  

The service appears to offer barebones services at low speeds, but social media and email are included.

The Washington Post reports that the service is “under fire” in an article Saturday morning, story by Cecilia Kang, link here. Other companies, like Cox, have similar packages.  
 

Comcast Xfinity has been running television ads saying that it supports network neutrality.  It would appear that it believes that “fast access” lanes for large content providers (like Netflix) doesn’t violate the basic idea. But the basic problem, even with the most moderate proposals from the FCC, is that new content delivery companies will have trouble competing, and innovation will be stifled.  

Thursday, May 08, 2014

The FCC has the power to change the Internet forever (but it says it doesn't)


Nilay Patel writes in Vox Media "This summer will change the Internet and media forever", with dire analysis of FCC proposals, in the light of recent Supreme Court decisions, to allow content companies like Netflix and Apple (for iTunes) to buy "fast lanes" from telecommunications providers, link here.

Patel discusses the Aereo case and its significance in some detail.  A ruling on Aereo is likely by June, slightly after the FCC announces its fast-lane rules.

My own take on Aereo is that the consumer benefits if it can get all content wirelessly, through the airwaves and without the necessary for a land wire connection.  That guarantees you could still get shows after a cable outage from a storm (I used it a week after the 2012 derecho; I had a generator that restored power immediately).  I thought I would throw that observation in.  I have a small antenna digital TV that gets used whenever there is an outage, but I can't get CNN or many other channels on it.  I could hook up the antenna to the plasma screen if I made the effort.  

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Mozilla floats modified plan of pseudo-net neutrality to protect ordinary websites


Here’s a piece by Roy Fournier in the National Journal, “Net Neutrality’s Death Could Stir Populist Revolt: With echoes of the Gilded Age, Washington coddles moneyed, monopolist Internet barons”, link here

At the same time, the National Journal links to a PDF proposal by Mozilla, “Petition to recognize remote delivery services in terminating access networks and classify such services as telecommunications services under Title II of the Telecommunications Act”, link here. Mozilla wants Title II to apply to the relationship between websites and ISP’s, but not necessarily, in all cases, to the connection between consumers and ISP’s.  So charging major providers like Netflix for very fast lanes would sometimes be acceptable. 
  
  
Others say that the Mozilla proposal is a semantic game, and that it is not easier than reclassification of providers.
   

Some sort of neutrality protection of ordinary websites might be necessary to make shared hosting a viable business, with good customer service for websmasters, going forward.  

Friday, April 25, 2014

FCC proposes some "home field advantage " net neutrality that allows peering agreements


The FCC is likely to propose some “partial network neutrality”, where telecommunications providers could allow big media distributors (like Netflix now or perhaps Amazon and some YouTube channels) to pay for preferred streaming, but would have to meet certain “neutrality” standards “within the ballpark” of the residential user, essentially allowing the average customer a “home field advantage” concept. 
  
Grant Gross explains it in PC World with a story “So long for Net Neutrality? FCC proposes new pay-for-preferential treatment” rules, link here

Yet, many commentators have voiced opposition to these “peering agreements”.  Yet it probably would not lead to major interference with ordinary personal websites and blogs.  But if you had a lot of video content and wanted people to see it, you’d need to get it loaded onto a platform (like Netflix) that had such an agreement.



Update: April 26

Nevertheless, Nilay Patel offers this assessment of the FCC section 706 interpretive rule, "Politics is about to destroy the Internet, on Vox Media, here.

It does seem that Netflix and Amazon videos play without any disruption, always.  

Thursday, April 24, 2014

ATT wants to beat Google with its own super-broadband service in select pro-business cities.


AT&T has announced a plan to challenge Google with its own super high speed service, called “AT&T U-verse with GigaPower), in up to 100 metropolitan areas, according to a CNN story April 22, here

AT&T generally doesn’t have quite the 4G reach that Verizon does.  But the presence of super-high broadband, much of it in cities popular with tech companies like Austin, TX or the Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte areas in North Carolina, would be a boon to certain kinds of industry, ranging from finance to film.
   
In fact, if I relocate at some point in the future to get my own DADT books into film (an idea I am contemplating), the presence of super broadband could well affect my choice of location.
 
Time threw a little cold water on the plan in its article about “smothering” Google here

At the same time, there have been articles about the unwillingness of telecomm companies to provide good broadband in more remote areas, or areas with fewer business connections.  

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How much does the Aereo case matter to most consumers? Oral arguments today, some comments here


The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Aereo case today.  Vox media has a series of panels explaining “everything you need to know”, so here it is.  ABC news has a discussion, too, here

I won’t repeat their explanation, but note some observations.  Would it be bad for me here in DC if Fox and CBS went off the air?  If they went off the air everywhere (which I doubt), yes.  I use airwaves as a backup when cable fails.  I was without cable a week after the derecho in 2012.  I’d like to be able to get CNN over the airwaves, too.
    
Aero’s legal reasoning is that it copies content only at the direction of users, who mix the content for themselves.  Vox points out that services like Amazon Cloud (which I use a lot to buy music and movies) could be in jeopardy if Aero loses.  I used Dropbox a lot in working with Xlibris in publishing my most recent book.  So this stuff seems to matter, maybe.  

Sunday, April 20, 2014

WiFi, cellular wireless, and access abroad -- a changing picture


We sometimes use the terms broadband and wifi interchangebably, and that confuses the discussion.
Generally “WiFi” comes from a wireless signal emitted by a router which is itself connected to a broadband hardwired source (although that will become less important with time).  Many of us get “WiFi” from a router connected to cable (like Comcast Xfinity) or FIOS. 
  
“Cellular wireless”, now up to 4G, is a totally wireless service from a wireless carrier.  Generally, it has been as good for watching video, but it is quite adequate for most ordinary browsing, email, blogging, FTP, and the like.   (Actually, the old 56K modems 15 years ago weren’t that bad.)  OK, it’s not quite good enough for high-speed securities trading, perhaps.   Cellular is typically available in most reasonably populated areas in western countries from at least one carrier. 
  
Some cellular plans don’t connect to everything. For some reason, my Kindle no longer connects to my Verizon iPad, but it does to my home Comcast router.  My iPhne expects me to use true WiFi to update to near versions.
  
There’s an article in the Washington Post Saturday by Christopher Elliot, “Ready to connect home while traveling abroad? Don’t count on finding WiFi” link here

I’ll have to dig into this one.  I thought broadband, and therefore WiFi, in many countries (like South Korea) was much better than in the US.  The article reports broadband in many hotels in Europe as expensive and unreliable, which surprises me. 

I’m just starting to look at the issue of cell service and hot spot access overseas (or WiFi) if I go abroad later this year, as with this New York Times link here.

This seems to be a rapidly changing area.



Thursday, April 17, 2014

Suddenly, a fair weather cable TV signal failure (COMCAST Xfinity) that takes a lot of time to fix -- did they rush system changes for new customers too fast? What about the established customers?


Cable companies have been performing a “digital migration”, and that includes Comcast Xfinity.  The company recently sent out a letter to customers explaining that some could need new converter boxes, as here.

Three times since March 1, my own XFinity cable service has suddenly been interrupted with a “blue screen of death”, as with this link.  

The first two times, the Internet was also out.  The first time, the Comcast website showed a neighborhood outage.  It was cleared in about a half hour.  The second time, the website did not admit an outage, and the upstairs television tried to reboot.  It was cleared in about an hour.  But I called the 800 number for COMCAST, was told to leave a message, and got a callback the next morning, long after it was fixed.
   
The third time was different, and happened Wednesday, April 17 (in Arlington VA) around 4 PM. This time Internet stayed up (although sometimes slower) as did digital phone (except for a few minutes).  Eventually, I found that a downstairs smaller TV with an older cable box could get the channels under 100, but upstairs got nothing.  The website showed me connected.  I called the 800 number and got the same leave-a-message jargon.  I tried back around 10 PM, but this time a slightly different XFINITY number which seemed to have a more detailed set of options that could reach someone immediately.  This time reached a man who checked and said there was a neighborhood outage.
  
This morning there had been no progress, and Internet was barely working.  I called again.  I had to try twice to get the land line to work.  I got a human being again, who stayed with the problem with a call that took 40 minutes.  I tried rebooting.  Then she checked around, saw that the neighborhood signal problem was supposed to be completed, but some signal numbers were low.  She checked with operations twice.  Finally, it was decided to send someone out. 

The tech arrived fairly promptly, in about two hours.  He found the signal strength at the source still weak. Still, he said that properly wiring standards had changed since this job had been done in 2003.  He grounded the line against any possible lightning strike (a fire hazard no longer considered acceptable).  He replaced several splitters.  He said that having too many levels of splitting isn’t good because it dilutes the signal strength.  After the work, and a reboot, the below-100 channels would work upstairs (although with some pixilation).  But the HD channels would no longer work until some more hardware maintenance was done in the neighborhood (including an amplifier at the end of the block).  That could take up to 72 hours, although it sounds like it probably will be much less than that.  If it isn’t done in 72 hours, there is a direct number to call to get it done that day.  Again, most neighborhood outages (other than lines downed by tree limbs in storms) really do get resolved within an hour or two. But not this one.  It used to be that the same tech could do the neighborhood maintenance, but not now (although maybe that’s because the response was immediate, in an emergency).   


  

The bottom line?  It very much appears that XFinity has upgraded its platforms to all digital without ensuring that all the hardware in many older neighborhoods would work or was compatible.  It’s the old IT problem of putting a project into production. “It if works, it’s production; it if fails, it’s a test”.  But the customer bears the loss of service in the meantime. 

Update: Later

Full service on all HD channels was restored around 9 PM, after a 29 hour partial-outage.  

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

FCC approves auction on airwaves for WiFi and "broadband wireless"

Edward Wyatt reported on p. B8 of the New York Times Tuesday that the FCC has freed up more airwaves for WiFi and “wireless broadband”, the latter of which is not a completely adequate substitute for FIOS or cable sometimes (see previous article).  The auction is supposed to develop a fund for more emergency broadband services.  The link for the story online is here

The FCC is also ruling that the four major broadcast companies cannot form a marketing block to negotiate with cable and wireless, removing competition.

I recall that there was a major “cable and wireless” company in Tysons Corner VA in the 1990s, using mainframe! 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Telecomm companies not offering broadband everywhere yet (Newsweek)

Newsweek, which seems to be coming back in print with many interesting perspectives on things, singles out the telecomm industry for not wanting to offer broadband to the entire country, because of cost.  The article by David Coy Johnston, March 11, 2014, is titled “Telecomm giants drag their feet on broadband for the whole country”, link here

It mentions some neighborhoods in some towns in New Jersey, like Mt. Holly (between Camden and Trenton) where it is still not available, or where only a certain number of contracts are sold per area.  This sounds surprising.

In many areas, wireless 4G may be available without connected broadband FIOS or cable, but 4G is not as fast.   You have to pay attention to this when you move anywhere. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

CS Monitor offers major perspective on neutrality debate

The Christian Science Monitor has a major perspective this week by Henry Buinius, “Net neutrality: Is the Internet about to change?” The link is here

Is the Internet essentially a public utility, like the phone systems was (remember the breakup of ATT), or perhaps the interstate highway system, or is it more like the cable industry, something that is a bit of a luxury?  The lack of neutrality is blamed for the fact that Americans pay more for service that is not as fast as the service in, say, South Korea.  Of course, the US has more area to cover and a lower population density in many parts of the country.
  
The article notes that the loss of “neutrality” could lead to a value added structure.  But maybe the building of the railroads is a good metaphor.  That took entrepreneurs and risk takers, and they needed rewards. 
   

Network neutrality, or its lack, could have major social implications eventually.  But so could space travel, which back in the 1960s we thought would come first.  And it would not have been neutral.  

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Comcast-Netflix deal will not adversely affect newbies

My mother used to use a phrase, “It wasn’t meant to be”, but Wednesday, in the Wall Street Journal, Business World, Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. has a piece on p, A15, “How the Internet was meant to be, link here

Comcast and Netflix made a deal because they had to.  Netflix customers’ use had grown so much that their video streaming could affect other customers.  So Netflix paid for its own custom infrastructure upgrade. 

Yes, in time, some consumers could notice some subscription price increases to pay for it.
  
And Netflix right now seems to be the most reliable source of streamed video.
  
Jenkins makes the valuable point that a separate peace between Netflix and Comcast does not affect smaller companies offering content through ordinary Comcast services.  It does not keep the newbies out.  They need to act only when their customers use enough bandwidth that they have a problem



Monday, February 24, 2014

DOD will compete with telecommunications companies for broadband chunks

Despite announcing plans for a much smaller military in terms of personnel counts, the Pentagon wants to reserve a larger chunk of the elctromagnetic spectrum for strategic weapons.  This national security need could compete with plans by telecommunications companies to use more frequencies, possibly for superfast broadband chunks for paying customers, or possibly, on the other hand, to expand broadband in less populated areas or to lower income people.  The Washington Times has the story by Maggie Ybarra here.
 
It's possible that larger broadband chunks could be advantageous in protecting the country from nuclear or EMP terror attacks.  

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Netflix-Comcast "deal" seen as marking the end of net neutrality

Today, I got a tweet about a Wall Street Journal article reporting on a deal between Comcast and Netflix. The poster said, “The Internet was nice while it lasted,” story on The Verge, link here.  The discussion gets into the operation of what sounds like a secondary reseller, Cogent, which could get squeezed out.       

Timothy B. Lee, on his Switch Blog for the Washington Post, explains the significance of the Comcast-Netflix deal as it’s creating almost a separate Internet.  With a few big companies controlling everything, that’s what you’ll get, a few big setups.  There is no practical way for the FCC to stop it; only the SEC and DOJ can apply anti-trust laws in regulating mergers, which might work against the proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable by Comcast.  Tim’s article is called “Comcast’s deal with Netflix makes network neutrality obsolete”, link (website url) here

Remember the dot-com bubble and crash?  (It was silly that in 1999 ReliaStar CEO John Turner told employers, before the ING acquisition, that it was too bad that the company wasn't a "Dot Com".   It was only the big and powerful that emerged as real players.  

Thursday, February 20, 2014

FCC gets ready for its new round of pseudo-rules

Major media sources that the FCC is preparing to issue "Open Internet" rules under Section 706, despite the recent federal circuit appeals court ruling that said that it could not reclassify telecomm companies to regulate them.  Edward Wyatt has a typical article in the New York Times here.

Apparently the FCC might have residual ability to reclassify telecommunications companies if they do not comply pseudo-voluntarily.

The FCC does not want companies like Verizon to give big companies like Amazon or Netflix faster bandwidth when they pay more if it slows smaller companies down.  However, larger companies have been quite aggressive in encouraging independent media producers to develop cbannels or groups on their sites, effectively giving them the same access to high speed for their customers as established media companies.  At least, that what the telecomm companies argue.

The FCC also wants to stop states from preventing communities from developing their own broadband companies or operations.  

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Netflix experiencing slowdowns over paying Verizon for more infrastructure bandwidth

The Wall Street Journal is reporting, in a story by Drew Fitzgerald and Shalani Ramachandrin, that Netflix is experiencing slowdowns (that must mean, Netflix users are experiencing them), particularly when connection through Verizon, because Netflix doesn’t want to pay for its use of infrastructure upgrades/ The story is here.

The problem as crept up as the volume of online viewing of films replaces handling DVD’s.
   
I use Comcast Xfinity.  I last used Netflix Monday night for an 82-minute film and did not notice any issues. 
But I have also used YouTube rentals, private Vimeo, and Amazon.  I’m a little more likekly to experience stalls with YouTube in my own experience.  Sometimes major film festivals (Tribeca) set up channels to rent viewings of festival films on YouTube.  Most film distributors use private Vimeo for private screeners now, rather than sending DVD’s. 
  
Picture: Landmark Theaters, Harbor East in Baltimore.  


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Comcast acquisition of Time-Warner Cable likely to face a lot of opposition

Jeffrey Toobin outlined the arguments regarding Comcast’s proposal to purchase Time-Warner Cable.  The two companies don’t compete in any one market, and people no longer have to use cable for media: they can choose wireless, “telephony”, Direct TV, or cable.  CNN Money has a story by Dave Goldman here
  
Well, for one thing, Direct TV lost the Weather Channel. 
  
Comcast owns so many content companies:  NBC, Universal, and that means some other movie companies like Focus, Rogue, Relativity.  Could that affect which movies (and that means which filmmakers) are most likely to be seen on their networks?  Could they really give faster download speeds for content associated with one of their companies? 
   
Tim Lee, of the Washington Post, makes an interesting argument harking back to the days that AT&T was split up in 1984, on The Switch, here
  
As far as monopoly goes, my experience is that I had Time-Warner in Minneapolis until 2003, and Comcast and XFinity after I moved back to Arlington VA.  Stability of broadband was very good from 2003-2004 (even being restored quickly after Hurricane Isabel in 2003), but became more sporadic from 2005-2008, often slowing down and having intermittent stops during the weekday.  Once, we replaced all splitters.  Since 2009, stability seems to have improved considerably, as has robustness when there are severe thunderstorms or ice and snow. 
   

Comcast is also entering the home security and smart appliance market, as well as arrangement to integrate land and mobile phone service in order to implement “smart home” technology and improve the ability of property owners to monitor homes when traveling (making it hacker-proof is still an issue).  There is a complicated procedure for stopping robo calls, which I have yet to install.  

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Appeal of net neutrality ruling unlikely; Section 706 powers are too much at risk

The Supreme Court is unlikely to take an appeal of the Federal circuit’s ruling on the “network neutrality” issue, according to a column by Brian Fung. And the FCC may not even appeal it, for doing so could entail loss of regulatory authority that it already has under Section 706.  Brian Fung has a short piece in the Switch Blog in the Washington Post here
   
 Section 706 would still give the FCC the power to go after specific telecomm companies for narrowly construed anti-competitive behaviors or anti-consumer behaviors, especially if they affect deployment of newer forms of broadband.  But it would not give the authority to pass blanket regulations preventing content-related or brand-related discrimination.
   
Maybe it’s a distinction without a difference.

So far, I haven’t personally noticed any differences from the ruling in what happens in my world.  But it’s early.  The more significant changes in traffic occur mainly because social media (especially timelines) makes news-following much easier for people (without blogs like mine) than it was five years ago.  

Friday, February 07, 2014

The case for simple landlines for phone service (WSJ)

The Wall Street Journal has a couple of LTE's arguing that consumers should keep their old landlines, authors are Socha and Vraniak, link (possible paywall) here.
   
The point that landlines stayed up in the Northeast during the August 2003 power outage is well taken.  And it's true that with digital voice, you depend on the cable of FIOS line to stay up, and it is more vulnerable to failure than simple phone service.  On the other hand, totally digital phone, when it works right, can give enormous advantages in areas like home security.
   
But landlines don't stay up during ice storms or tornadoes, either.

I do remember the days of having two land phone numbers, one for the computer and one for voice.
   
Furthermore, when I lived in New York City in the Village in the 1970's, we lost phone service for six weeks, I think in 1977, because of a fire at the phone center.  Imagine if I had depended on dialup for Internet and email then, but that was in the days before the "Liberation".
 
Of course, residents of lower Manhattan lost power for up to a week during Sandy just because ConEd left a lot of its infrastructure at too low an elevation.
 
Note also some LTE's in the WSJ about broadcast spectrum, and its decreasing relevance to most consumers. 

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Major Internet companies spend $750 million to help middle schools have broadband

Today President Obama visited a middle school, Buck Lodge Middle School in Adelphi, MD, to announce a government-private partnership to provide $750 million for high-speed broadband Internet to middle schools across the country.  The companies are Apple, Verizon, Sprint and Microsoft.  The Washington Post story Tuesday by Ovetta Wiggins and David Nakamura is here.

At this particular school, every student has a tablet computer.

Broadband interest in school and in lower income homes is very critical to students being able to keep up academically now.

Maybe the cooperation of companies will spill over and reduce the effect of the loosening of net neutrality rules. Call this part of the "Solution Economy" (Books, Feb. 3).  

Monday, February 03, 2014

Maintenance accident in W Va can raise questions about stability of cell service, infrastructure

A cell phone tower near Clarksburg, W Va collapsed during maintenance, its toppling causing a smaller tower to fall.  Three fatalities resorted.

But I wondered how long residents in the area could be without cell phone or hot spot service.  This could be a serious matter for people or small businesses in the area. 
  
The New York Daily News has an AP story here.
   
That begs the question of how quickly cell service could come back in coastal New Jersey and Long Island after Hurricane Sandy.
  
Cell towers are normally very resilient to storms, even though they are on wind-exposed ridgetops.  But a power line tower near Mt. Storm West Virginia fell during the 2012 derecho on June 30. 


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Petition to restore network neutrality delivered to FCC today

I did sign a petition to restore Network Neutrality that came to me by email from the ACLU.  It was apparently organized by the Free Press Coalition, which delivered the petition to the Federal Communications Commission today with over one million signatures, as in its story here. The ACLU never informed us of the time the petitions would be delivered.. 

I apparently got there too late to see the protesters.  The FCC building is in SW Washington DC, on 12th St., below Independence Ave. and the Smithsonian Metro Station.  I found two men on bicycles who were also too late.
  
Across 12th Street there is the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, which has been involved in some domain seizures because of the supposed piracy of some members, as I covered on my main blog back in 2011.  Oddly, on the East side of the street, the addresses are in the 500 block, but the FCC is in the 400 block.  ICE was actually a good source of contract mainframe programming jobs in the 1990s and probably since then;  I know a couple people who worked there as contractors for a while.

Some critics say that the FCC has regulated bandwidth in such a way as to make ICE seizures easier.
  
The FCC had an open commission meeting today, as it often does, and you can follow the video here