Thursday, April 13, 2017

Trump's FCC chairman seems to press for "voluntary" compliance with no-throttle expectations from telecom companies

Silicon valley companies that provide social networking or publication services are still pressuring the FCC to preserve network neutrality rules established during the Obama administration, according to a story on p. A14 of the Washington Post today.

Trump’s FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has been contacting telecom providers (the natural antagonists of service companies) to get “voluntary promises” not to throttle or block sites, in exchange for dispensing with formal rules. The intention is to provide telecom companies with incentive to improve broadband in rural areas or for specific kinds of customers where there is real economic justification.
But a story by John D. McKinnon in the Wall Street Journal on the Technology Page, B4 today (good reading when at a Starbucks) says “Web firms defend net neutrality as GOP takes aim”.  This story refers to Mr. Pai’s apparent intention to “preserve basic elements of net neutrality, such as no blocking or throttling” and an intention to turn over supervision to the Federal Trade Commission (as part of Trump’s federal government streamlining).s

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Trump promises to bridge the digital divide between rich and poor, but Ajit seems to counter him; Time Magazine issue on infrastructure

Karl Vick has an important story in Time, April 10, “Internet for All”, link.  It's part of an issue dedicated to rebuilding national infrastructure, Steve Bannon's pet priority.

Still, a quarter of the nation does not have broadband (Internet connection capable of watching video) .  Trump has said that he wants to close the communications gap in between the haves and have-nots in rebuilding infrastructure.  But so far Ajit Pai, the new FCC Chairman, seems to want to dismantle rules that might help poor people get broadband.

Vick discusses rural areas where satellite dishes are the only source of Internet. They are slower and less reliable and consumers run out of data limits.

Vick says we need a “unity of purpose” the way we had with rural electrification and then with phone service.  Right now, it isn’t profitable enough to serve some remote areas with typical business thinking.

And then there are the cell free zones by deliberate choice, like around Green Bank. W Va.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Laptops cannot be taken on flights (at least in cabins) on direct flights from some less stable countries, dangerous implications for staying connected during travel

The ability to carry electronics when traveling long distances may have been slightly more compromised today, as the US banned carryon laptops and most electronics (although it allowed cellphones) on direct flights to the US from 12 or more countries in the Middle East and Africa.

The ban, announced suddenly (and coming to light on a tweet from Jordanian Airlines, later deleted) seems to be based on intelligence that Al Qaeda could come up with undetectable bombs in laptops (which was attempted in Somalia a year ago).

Here is the Foreign Policy story.  I had tweeted the CNN story, and it was liked immediately by an Arab source, odd.

So far, the ban does not affect any US carriers, or domestic flights.  Travelers from those countries might avoid the ban by changing in another European airport, or European countries could institute the policy.

The TSA today warns travelers the opposite: don’t put laptops in checked bags, since they are likely to be damaged.  Travelers may arrive without usable laptops in the US.

A few years ago, Internet cafes offering widespread relatively secure computer time were common.

 Now they are not since people normally carry their own electronics as they travel.  When you combine this with the concern over battery safety, we could have a new problem for travelers coming, especially business.
Possibly people could reasonably ship laptops in original packing by UPS to destinations.

It has been difficult to safely carry drug-store photo packs (to be developed), but I’ve actually mailed those home (USPS) before taking flights before.

The Washington Post added more details early March 21 here.

Update: March 24

Aviation Weekly has a podcast on he issue of lithium ion batteries in the cargo hold vs, cabin, as well as on the security issues, link.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Headphones fire on a Chinese flight draws more attention to worldwide safety problem with lithium batteries in any carry-on electronics

A woman wearing lithium-battery powered headphones experienced a fire in the batteries, burning her face, on a flight from Beijing to Melbourne, forcing an emergency landing in Japan.
CNN has the story here.
But the incident calls attention to the rise in fire and smoke incidents in planes from many devices (not just Samsung Galazy smartphones).  There were only three such incidents in 2011, but 106 in 2015.

Stanford researchers seem to be making major progress with aluminum ion batteries that could make a safer product for millions of users.  One problem is that with so many millions of users, even a very low incident rate creates safety and liability problems.

Travelers need to be able to carry their electronics safely to conduct business normally when on the road.

Monday, February 27, 2017

WJLA report "Warning: Exploding Lithium" has more future implications for travel

WJLA-7 aired a report “Warning: Exploding Lithium” on the increasing attention to the remote but possibly catastrophic results from lithium battery explosions and fires, especially in electronics. In the past, entire brands of smartphones (in Samsung's lines) were banned from planes because of this problem.

And a very few lithium battery laptop fires have been reported, although these may be from a known manufacturing issue in the mid 2000’s.

The way travel works, it is critical that people be able to bring their devices (phones, tablets and laptops) on planes and have them fully usable when they arrive.
One tip is not to leave unattended devices plugged in.

Overseas manufacture, especially in China, contributes to the problem. Donald Trump could be right that some things would be better and safer if we made them at home.  

Monday, February 13, 2017

Verizon "backs down", offers mobile users unlimited data

Verizon has now offered unlimited data plans, both at the family level and individual.  For me it is $80 a month, and I just converted a few moments ago online.  (Yes, the site was slow and busy.)  My own bill increases $16 a month. NBC Nightly News has a typical video covering the story.

Verizon and other companies are finding themselves going back to unlimited plans because fewer people today need to buy new phones.  About 80% of Internet access is now mobile.  People with really huge data use though can have speeds slowed down.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Trump FCC appointee starts to dissolve network neutrality rules, but maybe without much practical effect

Ajit Pai, Trump’s new FCC chairman, is starting to erode the previous administration’s network neutrality rules, according to a story by Cecilia Kang on Feb. 5.
Nine companies were prevented from offering Internet basics to low-income consumers, although no consumers had started the programs yet.  Ajit also believes that zero-rating practices of some providers regarding data limits will help consumers and not unduly affect fair competition.

Pai has said he disagrees with the idea that Internet service providers are “utilities”, but he has not said how he will challenge the finding.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Thune (R-SD) wants to provide bipartisan compromise and stability on net neutrality, regardless of Trump or any other president

Senator John Thune (R-SD) wants to pass a “moderate” bill on network neutrality so that the Internet is not subject to whims of extremes on other side, something strong enough to prevent overly monopolistic or anti-competitive behavior, writes Tim Lee in Vox now.

Amir Nasr has a shorter but similar article on Morning Consult here.

Update: Feb. 24

Thune gave the New York Times an interview on his proposals here

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Trump names network neutrality foe to head FCC, but it's much less clear how important this really will be

Donald Trump has named a “network neutrality foe” Ajit Pai to head the Federal Communications Commission.

Timothy B. Lee has a detailed article on the possible significance of his appointment on Vox here.     He also refers to a speech given by Pai to the FCC in December 2016 here.

Let’s cut to the chase.  Have telecommunications companies ever charged new content providers with the right to be “hooked up” to their Internet services and be found?  I’ve never heard of that.  Brain Fung had mentioned the idea last fall in the Washington Post.  Lee mentions that when Facebook got started, Mark Zuckerberg didn’t have to worry about this, but Zuckerberg got Facebook started long before there was meaningful network neutrality regulation anyway. Lee also says that it could take over a year for the undoing of Net Neutrality to occur, and that litigation would follow.  (Private contract agreements also come into play.)

It does sound logical that telecom companies could be concerned about very high volume sites (and these might include porn sites), that could mean the need for more servers or hardware or routers in various locations.

Theoretically, if telecom companies started behaving this way when allowed to, small business people or bloggers could not longer have their own public domains, as we have become accustomed.

 They could use free services like Blogger or Automattic Wordpress, at the whim of being pulled at any time.  And I’m not sure that the business model for these free services is sustainable forever, especially in a Trump climate with new concerns about hidden national security threats (and with Trump’s dislike of “computers” as not “safe”).

Perhaps, though, shared hosting companies (like Bluehost, Godaddy) would take care of the hookup access, but would have to pass the costs along to website owners.  Setting up new domains (except for popular names people want) has been very cheap.

On the other hand, a Comcast or a Verizon has every “free market” reason to offer consumers access to everything lawful and accessible by normal Internet protocols, because consumer should expect it.
I don’t think that allowing a Netflix to have a “fast lane” (rather like an EZPass toll lane)  for consumer convenience (when consumers will pay more for premium speed service)  or to a faster streaming service that a telecom company owns, though should logically need to compromise consumer access to normal “small’ websites (like mine, for example).

Net neutrality rules could have some impact on other services that consumers want to use for protecting kids or for limiting liability from guest use (like OpenDNS or guest hotspots).

Update:  CNN has a story this evening by Seth Fiergerman.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Even if Trump kills net neutrality, telecomm companies already committed by private agreements

The latest on Donald Trump and net neutrality seems to be an article Jan. 2 in Wired by Klint Finley, “This is the year Donald Trump kills net neutrality”.

But private contracts would require Comcast to honor it until 2018 and Charter until 2020+.

The biggest practical issue, according to Wired, is the interest in telecomm companies in offered “zero rated” services to consumers (no data charges) to content providers who negotiate big deals with them.  In the video streaming area, this encourages big companies to bully small ones out of existence, and seems monopolistic.  But for non-video content, or for consumers whose video use is more moderate, it probably doesn’t matter.  Zero-rating can help consumers living in large family households with only one connection.  It probably means very little to singles.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Telecomm companies contemplate life without net neutrality again

Russell Brandon has a detailed article in the Verge explaining why Congress is likely to “go easy” (Giuoco Piano or maybe “pianissimo”, by analogy to chess) on upending the FCC’s legal authority for network neutrality.   There is mention that providers are likely to be allowed to offer more of the “basic” services to low-end consumers without data charges, but that wouldn’t affect things a lot.

Karl Bode has an article in TechDirt from Nov. 9 that vaguely lays out ISP preparations for Trump’s probable gradual gutting of net neutrality.   Bode seems to think that without regulation, telecom companies have little incentive to meet competition and will tend to get away with weak or bad customer service.  Tech dirt has another article noting that European and Asian governments tend to see zero-rating as a strategy to eliminate competition.