Thursday, February 26, 2015

FCC "reclassifies" telecom providers, but it isn't over

Practically everyone has heard the “big news” today, that the FCC is using its legal authority to regulate cable providers by “reclassification” (as "utilities").  Verizon sarcastically wrote a press release on a 1934 typewriter (like one in my family for generations).  But, as Timothy B. Lee argues on Vox, conservatives are probably winning the broader broadband debate, link here.  The detail he gives, comparing today’s world to that around 2000 when DSL was new and 56K modem dialup was common and AOL was prominent, is interesting.
The libertarian Cato Institute still calls net neutrality as the FCC’s “nuclear option” here.  CNN has a balanced perspective that is more libertarian-conservative than usual for the news company, and recommends that Congress get to work – under GOP leadership – to balance small business and innovation against shareholders of large telecoms, that seem to enjoy quasi-monopoly. Regulation could have unintended consequences, like hindering upgrading 911 service discussed earlier this week. 
I don’t think I had cable Internet until early 2002, in Minneapolis, which I used at the time only on the Imac.  I got it from Time Warner and sometimes it went down.  But I kept my main Sony Vaio PC connected to a second phone line.  It was amazing how much I got done that way in those days, but that we the Web 1.0 world.

As for Verizon’s typewriter, I used to turn in my own typewriter for repair when I went on vacation, back in the 1970s.  In 1981, while living in Dallas, I actually took it with me on vacation (carryon) and worked on one of my book manuscripts in Utah motels.  

Monday, February 23, 2015

911 systems often use outmoded technology, cannot accurately located emergency callers, under FCC regulation

This may sound more like a post for the issues, Internet safety, or even main blog, but a lot of this problem has to do with the way communications technology is deployed under FCC regulation, so I’ll put it under “network neutrality” first. 
Tonight NBC News reported that most 911 operators can’t immediately locate someone from a cell phone call, because somehow cell phone routing isn’t precise enough.  Satellite technology, used by Garmin in your car route-planning software, is more accurate.  But the goal for the FCC is just 40% accuracy by 2017. 
The story by Jeff Rossen and Neil Mclravy is here.  The news report did a test in a 911 call center that appeared to be in Ashburn, VA and was off by a quarter mile.  It also reported that a young woman delivering newspapers at night drove into a pond and drowned because it too responders too long to find her, and the 911 operator could not locate the road she gave her. 
On the other hand, in the dropped 911 incident in New Jersey that starts the story of Brian Aitken (Books blog, Dec. 24, 2014) seemed to be tracked very accurately.
Accurate 911 tracking would be very critical in stopping home invasions and kidnappings and could be a real national security issue.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

An unintended consequence to FCC-imposed net neutrality: fees for senders?

An overzealous FCC, using its powers to reclassify Internet ISP’s as essentially utility telephone carriers, could compromise USS flexibility in dealing with authoritarian governments, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal Wednesday February 18, 2015, p. A15, by Robert M. McDowell and Gordon M. Goldstein, link here. “Debtors love FCC’s plan to regulate the Internet”.
This could lead to an environment where user-generated content on the Web is no longer free for posters, especially for content to be viewed overseas.  I’m not sure how significant that would be in practice because dictators tend to block content anyway – but the blocking isn’t always effective.  I have a little trouble how it would actually happen, but there are precedents for senders’ fees (at least internationally) in traditional telephone.  And that certainly is the case with mail and shipping.
Of course, there have been proposals to make microcharges for sending email, to combat spam, and that sounds like a good idea.  But could the same idea apply to tweets? Blog posts (which can be spammed)?  It could be interesting. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Local DC station offers advice on how to lower cable, Internet bills

WJLA7, ABC Affiliate in Washington DC (actually, Rosslyn in Arlington VA) aired a nice report last week on how existing cable customers can negotiate with their providers for lower rates on cable and high speed Internet, link here.
Rates tend to go up quickly for existing customers, especially those who want all the channels.  One technique is to ask to talk to the “retention” department. 
Some people give up cable entirely and rely on Internet streaming, but most television series distributors require you to log on to you cable account to watch their “free” series episodes.

Some people find satellite and Direct TV better.  In the past, it had a reputation of not being as reliable; that could have changed.  But you need good reception, and possibly the ability to climb onto a roof yourself to make repairs.  Some apartments might not allow it (on balconies).  Satellite as a big advantage in not requiring a land-wired connection that can be broken by storms and require waiting for company technicians to come and repair, with window appointments that require you to be home.  (But don’t put your dish where a tree branch could fall on it.) 

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

GOP may offer net neutrality "deal" to Obama and FCC

While ABC News reports that the FCC will consider “who the Internet belongs to”, here Vox reports (story by Tim Lee ) that the GOP-controlled Congress wants to offer a “deal”:  If the FCC will back off considering ISP’s as ordinary communications carriers, the GOP will consider reasonable regulation to ensure that all users get access to the Internet for their content at reasonable speeds and cost. 
Off hand, I like the idea of a deal better than just administrative or judicial regulation.

The Wall Street Journal, on Feb.3, however, in an article by Gautham Nagesh, reported "FCC ready to ratchet-up regulation of Internet", link here

Monday, February 02, 2015

FCC may overrule state laws in NC, TN that hinder municipal broadband

The Federal Communications Commission will move to pre-empt state broadband limits, accorsing to a story by Brian Fung Monday in the Washington Post, here

Particularly, state laws in Tennessee have hindered the cities of Chattanooga, TN and Wilson, NC in setting up services that would compete successfully (with lower prices) than what is available from large commercial carriers.

The FCC may have the legal authority to do this, but some Republicans object to municipalities getting into the broadband business.  The story seems ironic in that Google seems to be focusing on the South in bringing ultra high speed fiber optic broadband to several large cities in the region (Jam/ 29).