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!