So things just keep getting stranger and stranger online. A bunch of mobile operators are apparently planning to start automatically blocking all mobile ads. Now, for those of you who hate ads online, this might seem like a good thing, but it is not. If you want to disable ads on your own, that should be your call. In fact, as we've noted before, we think people on the web have every right to install their own ad blockers, and we find it ridiculous when people argue that ad blocking is some form of "theft."
But this is different... and this is dangerous.
As the reports make clear, this move has nothing to do with actually protecting the public from malicious or annoying ads... and everything to do with the mobile operators hoping to shake down Google.
The plan – which would be devastating to companies reliant on advertising – is not limited to a single European network. Its apparent aim is to break Google’s hold on advertising.
The FT report says that “an executive at a European carrier confirmed that it and several of its peers are planning to start blocking adverts this year” and will be available as an “opt-in service” however they are also considering applying the technology across their entire mobile networks.
And, the clear plan is to then go to Google and say "give us money or else":
The unnamed European carrier in the Financial Times article is reportedly planning to target Google and block its ads to force the company into giving up some of its revenue.
The companies are using a product called Shine, which has a big bullshit claim on its page that it "champions the consumer's rights to control mobile ads." If that were the case it would be offering the tool to consumers. It's not. It's selling to big service providers, and then letting those service providers spy on all of your surfing in order to remove the ads.
This should be a serious concern for anyone using a service that signs up for Shine. Even if it's an "opt-in" offering, what the company is really doing is a form of deep packet inspection and blocking your mobile internet from acting the way it should. In other words, this looks like a net neutrality violation on a large scale.
As we've pointed out in the past, the broadband providers aren't stupid. They know that if they go for a direct plan of blocking or degrading apps you like, it gets people angry. So they look for ways to break net neutrality that look like they're doing the consumer favors -- things like zero rating, and now this. But that's not what's happening at all. This is all just the exact same plan as many broadband providers have had for years: figure out a way to pressure Google into coughing up some of its revenue, not by earning it, but by creating a mess for the company.
And, in the process, it's causing a mess for users by mucking with their internet connections, doing deep packet inspection, and blocking content.
Considering the extent of its (most web-related) censorship efforts, South Korea must consider itself fortunate to be next-door neighbors with North Korea. Any time another censorship effort arrives, all the government has to say is, "Hey, at least we're not as bad as…" while pointing its index fingers in an upward/roughly northerly direction.
It blocks sites and web pages with gusto, subverting its own technological superiority by acting as a Puritanical parental figure. Not that it helps. Every time the government ropes off one area, citizens carve out another. Four years ago, it attempted to pass a law making government-approved computer security software installation mandatory, supposedly in hopes of heading up the enlistment of citizens' computers into botnet armies.
The app, "Smart Sheriff," was funded by the South Korean government primarily to block access to pornography and other offensive content online. But its features go well beyond that.
Smart Sheriff and at least 14 other apps allow parents to monitor how long their kids use their smartphones, how many times they use apps and which websites they visit. Some send a child's location data to parents and issue an alert when a child searches keywords such as "suicide," ''pregnancy" and "bully" or receives messages with those words.
Last month, South Korea's Korea Communications Commission, which has sweeping powers covering the telecommunications industry, required telecoms companies and parents to ensure Smart Sheriff or one of the other monitoring apps is installed when anyone aged 18 years or under gets a new smartphone. The measure doesn't apply to old smartphones but most schools sent out letters to parents encouraging them to install the software anyway.
Some terms it monitors (both in text messages and searches) would obviously raise concerns in parents.
Threat, kill, shut up, violence, destroy, handicap, crazy, prostitute, garbage, thief, porn, suicide, pregnancy, inn, obscene, sex, sexual crime, sexual relationship, prostitution, motel, beer, rape, adultery, run away from home, outcast, invisible person, don't have friends, jealousy, lonely, stress, don't want to live, loser, complaint, help, worry, menstruation, adoption, divorce, rape, homosexual love, single parent, IS, terrorism, poison...
Other trigger terms seem to do nothing more than give parents a reason to lock their kids up until they're old enough to move out:
Girl I like, boy I like, dating, boyfriend, girlfriend, breakup…
This new mandate is obviously creating a chilling effect. Some have noted the Smart Sheriff app may give government agencies access to minors' communications, all under the pretense of helping parents out. Nearly 80% of South Korean schoolchildren (teens and elementary students) own smartphones. That's a whole lot of communications potentially being delivered to law enforcement and intelligence agencies (if not also to schools and service providers).
As a result, smartphones are now no longer viewed as essential equipment by teenagers.
To get around the regulations, some students say they will wait until they turn 19 to get a new phone.
"I'd rather not buy a phone," said Paik Hyunsuk, 17. "It's violation of students' privacy and oppressing freedom."
Open Net Korea, which has tracked South Korean censorship efforts for years, has a translation of the law's stipulations, which not only requires installation of government-approved spyware apps, but also stipulates cell phone providers actively hassle parents who don't seem to be taking the mandated monitoring seriously.
Article 37-8 (Methods and Procedures for Providing Means to Block Media Products Harmful to Juveniles, etc.)
(1) According to Article 32-7(1) of the Act, a telecommunication business operator entering into a contract on telecommunications service with a juvenile under the Juvenile Protection Act must provide means to block the juvenile’s access to the media products harmful to juveniles under the Juvenile Protection Act and the illegal obscene information under Article 44-7(1)1 of the ICNA (“Information harmful to juveniles”) through the telecommunication service on the juvenile’s mobile communications device such as a software blocking information harmful to juveniles.
(2) Procedures prescribed below must be followed when providing the blocking means under (1):
At the point of signing the contract: a. Notification to the juvenile and his/her legal representative regarding types and features of the blocking means; and b. Check on the installation of the blocking means.
After closing the contract:
Monthly notification to the legal representative if the blocking means was deleted or had not been operated for more than 15 days.
So, not only is it censorware and spyware, but it's also apparently nagware -- with telecom reps calling or emailing every month to remind parents to perform their duties as proxy surveillance operatives for the South Korean government.
Batteries are the bane of our mobile existence, limiting the usefulness of our devices and bottlenecking the power that can be built into them. External battery packs have unsurprisingly become a popular item, but with heavy usage they are just another device that needs to be regularly replaced, and another source of batteries that end up in the trash. For this week's awesome stuff, we're looking at the BETTER RE: a small piece of inspired engineering that aims to stem that waste and expense by making old smartphone batteries reusable as external battery packs.
BETTER RE is, quite simply, a universal smartphone battery adapter. You can hook up any battery inside the chassis and the BETTER RE lets you charge it up and use it to charge your devices. This just seems like a great idea. The creators rightly point out that device-churn has picked up the pace, and today the average smartphone is thrown out while its battery still has lots of life left. This is incredibly inefficient and expensive, not to mention a serious disposal headache and environmental concern — and now we're putting millions of additional external batteries in circulation alongside the phones themselves. The BETTER RE stems that tide from both directions, extending the usefulness of phone batteries and reducing the need for new externals. For the individual, it means a powerpack that lasts forever instead of wearing itself out — plus you can use it as a secondary charger, with quick and simple test functions, making it easier to have multiple phone batteries in rotation. There are also stackable expansion units, so you can amp up those old batteries to charge new, high-power devices.
At $50, the BETTER RE is not dirt-cheap but it seems quite reasonable when you consider that it won't need to be regularly replaced the way batteries themselves do. And as a cool bonus, the creators have been stockpiling and testing old batteries, and will throw them in for $10 a piece on top of the regular pledges.
Even the BETTER RE can't truly free us from the tyranny of batteries. There are some obvious limitations to the device when compared to a dedicated high-power battery unit: though it's great for smaller phones, even with three units stacked it can't quite give a full charge to an iPad Air, and the charge it does give takes hours; though it's currently designed to work with just about any smartphone battery of any size, there's no guarantee that compatibility will remain; and, of course, more and more devices are being built with non-removable batteries, which could put the brakes on the entire idea. Because of all this, I actually suspect that the biggest markets for the BETTER RE won't be wealthy high-tech countries but rather parts of the world where cheaper, smaller phones still reign supreme — and that's not a problem, as many devices have found huge success and made a real impact by targeting such markets.
Function is what makes the BETTER RE interesting, but it bears mention that it's no slouch on the fashion front either. It's built from aluminum (in white or black, brushed or matte, all of which look very nice in the product shots) and walnut and maple hardwood. As a nice bonus, laser-engraving on the wood endpiece is included with most backer tiers.
Perhaps, like me, you've never really understood the curious ban some airflights and airlines have had on mobile and electronic devices during flights, take-offs, and landings. Perhaps, like our Jefe, Mike Masnick, you've dismissed the requests from flight attendants that those devices be fully powered down out of hand, because you too are a rebel the likes for which this world is wholly unprepared. And maybe you too cheered when the FAA summarily dismissed these silly rules way back in 2013, thinking that the madness of a few moments without our favorite devices had finally come to an end.
But then, as you may know, the Association of Flight Attendants sued the FAA in order to retain the ability to lord over your smart-phones, tablets, and computers on flights. Notably, the AFA's filing made essentially zero claims having anything to do with the safety of electronic devices on the flights. Instead, their argument centered on whether the power to decide whether flight attendants could treat passengers like children who hadn't finished their vegetables resided with the FAA, or if the AFA should have some input.
In this case, it really does not matter whether Notice N8900.240 is viewed as a policy statement or an interpretive rule. The main point here is that the Notice is not a legislative rule carrying “the force and effect of law.” Perez, 135 S. Ct. at 1204. A legislative rule “modifies or adds to a legal norm based on the agency’s own authority” flowing from a congressional delegation to engage in supplementary lawmaking. Syncor, 127 F.3d at 95.
That's court-speak for "nice try, now go away." Of course the FAA can make changes to flight rules as it pleases and, when it comes to the use of devices the ban for which has always been cast in the light of flight-safety, an association for flight attendants ought to have about as much input as a doctor's receptionist should have on medical policy. This tantrum of a suit, which is all it ever was, has been dismissed and we are finally free to play Angry Birds during takeoff. Free at last, free at last.
More seriously, it's somewhat nice to see some aspect of security theater being done away with regarding anything to do with airplanes and flights. If we could just take this same tact with the rest of airport security, we'd be making a world of improvements.
We've noted how AT&T and Verizon investors and executives have been terrified for some time that they would have to (gasp) compete on price as T-Mobile continues to disrupt the market with its consumer-friendly, faux-punk rock behavior. Ever since the AT&T deal was blocked by regulators, T-Mobile has been mercilessly (but entertainingly) mocking both companies, offering a bevy of promotions while eliminating a lot of "pain points" for consumers (like overage fees). It's working: T-Mobile's now signing up more subscribers each quarter than Sprint, AT&T or Verizon -- just by treating consumers well.
So far, outside of a few very time-limited promotions, Verizon's been unwilling to compete on price, insisting the company's high prices are justified by a "premium network experience." Verizon also recently tried to shoot down the appeal of T-Mobile's unlimited data offerings by insisting that nobody really wants unlimited data plans, they're just being driven by "gut feelings." With T-Mobile just having one of its most successful quarters ever, Verizon's increasingly under pressure to compete on price, yet the telco continues to proclaim it doesn't have to:
The company reported on Tuesday that it had lost 138,000 postpaid customers in the last three months. Francis Shammo, Verizon’s chief financial officer, apparently won't be missing customers who, he says, value price over quality. "If the customer who is just price-sensitive and does not care about the quality of the network—or is sufficient with just paying a lower price—that’s probably the customer we’re not going to be able to keep," he said in the company’s quarterly earnings call."
It shows you just what kind of competition Verizon's historically used to if the company honestly believes you have a choice of when you get to compete on price. And while the company is busy telling investors that it's not feeling any heat from T-Mobile, the growing, magenta-hued (TM) threat has Verizon simultaneously testing a number of new price promotions it hopes will help tip the subscriber scales back in its favor. Smelling blood, T-Mobile this week launched a new promotion that specifically takes aim at these "price sensitive" customers Verizon apparently doesn't want any more:
Of course Verizon's not entirely wrong. The company does come in first place pretty consistently in most customer service and network performance studies. Verizon's also well aware it enjoys an 80+% retail market share with AT&T, and an 85% market share of the special access (cell tower backhaul) market. The two companies also enjoy an estimated $171 billion in combined spectrum holdings, which certainly helps keep other competitors from market. Still, this belief that the company doesn't have to compete on price in the face of increased price competition seems like a pipe dream narrative they'll only be able to push for so long, especially if Sprint can manage to get out of its own way, fix its lagging network, and become a viable fourth wireless competitor.
Back when AT&T stopped offering unlimited wireless data, it grandfathered many of the unlimited users it had at the time. Unfortunately for those users, AT&T immediately started waging a quiet war on these customers as part of a concerted effort to drive them like cattle to more expensive plans. That included at one point blocking Facetime from working at all unless users switched to metered plans (but net neutrality is a "solution in search of a problem," am I right?) and throttling these "unlimited" LTE users after they'd consumed as little as three gigabytes of data.
Then, just about a year ago, the FCC (like it has on a number of consumer telecom issues like telco accounting fraud or municipal broadband) miraculously awoke from a deep, fifteen-year slumber and decided to do something about this kind of behavior. FCC boss Tom Wheeler started warning telcos that they can't use congestion as a bogeyman to justify cash grabs, and that network management should be used to actually manage network congestion -- not as a weapon to herd users to more expensive options. The FTC also filed suit against AT&T for false advertising over its "unlimited" claims.
"As a result of the AT&T network management process, customers on a 3G or 4G smartphone with an unlimited data plan who have exceeded 3 gigabytes of data in a billing period may experience reduced speeds when using data services at times and in areas that are experiencing network congestion. Customers on a 4G LTE smartphone will experience reduced speeds once their usage in a billing cycle exceeds 5 gigabytes of data. All such customers can still use unlimited data without incurring overage charges, and their speeds will be restored with the start of the next billing cycle."
As of this week, the policy now looks like this:
"As a result of AT&T’s network management process, customers on a 3G or 4G smartphone or on a 4G LTE smartphone with an unlimited data plan who have exceeded 3 gigabytes (3G/4G) or 5 gigabytes (4G LTE) of data in a billing period may experience reduced speeds when using data services at times and in areas that are experiencing network congestion. All such customers can still use unlimited data without incurring overage charges, and their speeds will be restored with the start of the next billing cycle."
In other words, gone are the references to throttling unlimited LTE users just because they hit a totally arbitrary threshold, and the company is now using network management to manage the damn network, not to make an extra buck. AT&T will of course find other, clever ways to annoy these users until they switch to more expensive plans, but it's at least good to see that the network congestion bogeyman (fear the exaflood!) isn't quite as effective as it used to be when it comes to justifying high rates, misleading consumers or conning regulators.
from the when-smart-devices-get-a-little-TOO-smart dept
We've long talked about how companies are only just starting to figure out the litany of ways they can profit from your cell location, GPS and other collected data, with marketers, city planners, insurance companies and countless other groups and individuals now lining up to throw their money at cell carriers, auto makers or networking gear vendors. For just as long we've been told that users don't need to worry about the privacy and security of these efforts, and we definitely don't need new, modernized rules governing how this data is being collected, protected, or used, because, well, trust.
Automakers (and the cellular carriers that control the on-board infotainment systems) for example are collecting and sharing an ocean of data with only a casual glimpse toward security and transparency. No worry, however, as they promise that they're totally thinking about consumers as they use this data for a litany of new, utterly non-transparent purposes you hadn't even thought about. Like your automaker taking your car's GPS and performance data and selling it to insurance companies to potentially impact your insurance rates.
"Daniel Björkegren, an economist at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, is working with EFL to predict whether someone will pay back a loan based on their cellphone data. He combed through the phone records of 3000 people who had borrowed from a bank in Haiti, looking at when calls were made, how long they lasted and how much money people spent on their phones.
The algorithm looks at this metadata to get a sense of a person's character. Do they promptly return missed calls and pay their phone bills? That suggests they might be more responsible. Are most of their calls made in an area far away from the bank branch? Then it may be hard for the bank to keep tabs on their whereabouts.
Björkegren found that the bank could have reduced defaults by 43 per cent by using the algorithm to pick better people to give loans to. The results were presented at the NetMob conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts, earlier this month."
It's worth noting that despite the collected data being anonymized, researchers were able to identify people 90% of the time with just 4 pieces of information. That's yet another example of how anonymous data isn't really anonymous, and if the data gets into the wild -- the fact that it has been "anonymized" doesn't really mean all that much. And with the security on everything from "smart" TVs to home IOT devices usually being relatively flimsy, there's going to be an awful lot of new data on you out there floating around the ether to include in analysis.
And while such a system might be great for the banks, it's probably not so great for you if you didn't want your cell data used in this way. And as the article notes, should you protect your privacy and opt out of your cell data being used in tangential business relationships, customers in the not-so-distant future might find themselves labeled as "suspicious" by companies -- simply for not being in a sharing mood.
Having written about the FCC for most of my adult life, I've grown cynically accustomed to an agency that pays empty lip service to things like consumer welfare and the painful lack of broadband competition. It doesn't matter which party is in power; the FCC has, by and large, spent the lion's share of an entire generation ignoring last mile competitive problems and the resulting symptoms of that greater disease. When the agency could be bothered to actually address these issues, the policies were so tainted by the fear of upsetting campaign contributors (read: regulatory capture) they were often worse than doing nothing at all (see our $300 million broadband map that hallucinates speeds and ignores prices or 2010's loophole-filled net neutrality rules co-crafted by Verizon and Google).
Whether it was former FCC boss turned cable lobbyist Michael Powell's claims that massively deregulating the sector would magically result in telecom Utopia (tip: that didn't happen) or Julius Genachowski being utterly terrified of taking any meaningful stand whatsoever, the broadband industry has spent decades governed by an agency that, at its best, is too timid to do its job, and, at its worst, is an obvious revolving-door lap dog to an industry it's supposed to regulate.
So in 2013 when it was announced that a former lobbyist for both the wireless and cable industries would be the next FCC boss, the collective, audible sighs of disgust unsurprisingly rattled the Internet. I, like many others, believed we were bearing witness to a twisted culmination of decades of regulatory capture, a giant, living, breathing middle finger to a public hungry for a more consumer and innovator-friendly FCC. John Oliver even put Wheeler's name in lights when he infamously compared hiring the former cable lobbyist to employing a dingo as a babysitter:
Most people (with a few notable industry exceptions) believed Wheeler was the final nail in a grotesque, campaign-cash stuffed telecom coffin long under construction. We were painfully, ridiculously wrong.
In fact, if you read profiles on Wheeler, he's turned out to be a complete 180 from the thinking of a traditional revolving-door regulator, basing his decisions on all available information -- even if that data conflicts with previously-held beliefs (a unique alien indeed in 2015). And while it's true that massive grass roots advocacy helped shift Wheeler's thinking on issues like Title II, his embrace of issues like municipal broadband required little to no shoving, since the lion's share of the public had no idea the issue existed. One of the biggest reasons Wheeler's willing to stand up to the broadband industry? He's 69, and no longer biting his tongue and biding his time for the next cushy lobbyist or think tank gig. Perhaps we should make a rule that all future FCC bosses must be on the brink of retirement to avoid what we'll henceforth call Michael Powell syndrome.
Still, watching Wheeler fills me with cognitive dissonance, as if my frequently-disappointed brain isn't quite sure what to do with an FCC Commissioner capable of objective thought free of AT&T, Comcast and Verizon lobbyist detritus. As a sure sign of the looming apocalypse, last week I watched an FCC Commissioner issue a statement about protecting competition -- and actually mean it:
"Comcast and Time Warner Cable’s decision to end Comcast’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable is in the best interests of consumers. The proposed transaction would have created a company with the most broadband and video subscribers in the nation alongside the ownership of significant programming interests. Today, an online video market is emerging that offers new business models and greater consumer choice. The proposed merger would have posed an unacceptable risk to competition and innovation especially given the growing importance of high-speed broadband to online video and innovative new services."
Though his tenure's unfinished, it may not be a stretch to say that a man most of us believed would be the epitome of revolving door dysfunction has proven to be one of the most consumer- and startup-friendly FCC Commissioners in the agency's history. Granted that may not be saying much; caring more about consumers than Martin, Powell and Genachowski is like getting an award for beating a handful of lobotomized ducklings at a hundred yard dash. And none of this is to classify Wheeler as a saint -- the agency's net neutrality rules have some very concerning loopholes and the FCC still refuses to talk much about pricing, whether that's the problems inherent in usage caps, unreliable meters, or sneaky below the line fees.
Still, it's a lesson learned in letting your mind run on cynicism autopilot, and it's a reminder that even our very broken, campaign-cashed soaked government can still occasionally manage to give birth to consumer-friendly policies. So in short, the tl;dr version is this: I apologize to you, Tom Wheeler, for believing you were a mindless cable shill. I was wrong.
As you might have read, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been losing some major clients lately, including Google, T-Mobile and Microsoft. Those companies have been quietly distancing themselves from ALEC, after critics have illustrated its ties to legislative assaults on climate change science and meaningful pollution standards. Before Google announced it was leaving the group last fall, chairman Eric Schmidt went so far as to accuse the legislative grist mill of "literally lying" about its role in climate change denial. In a response letter to Google, ALEC proclaimed Google's departure was "based on misinformation from climate activists who intentionally confuse free market policy perspectives for climate change denial."
Apparently climate change isn't the only sensitive topic for ALEC as the outfit tries to stem the flow of client departures. The group has also been sending cease and desist letters to companies like wirelesss MVNO Credo Mobile, which in recent months has been sending its subscribers missives hammering ALEC for its role in fighting community broadband. The small company markets itself as having an activist, pro-consumer edge, and has scored exceptionally well on the EFF's privacy report card.
Credo's been busy pointing out to its subscribers how ALEC's model legislation, clearly visible on ALEC's website, has been used as the framework for roughly twenty state-level protectionist broadband bills nationwide. As we've frequently discussed, these bills are the worst sort of protectionist dreck, shoveled into the legislative bloodstream by the likes of AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and CenturyLink to protect its duopoly power from communities desperate for something better. Credo frames ALEC's participation in these efforts this way in a recent notice to subscribers:
"The American Legislative Exchange Council—a shadowy corporate front group that works to enact discriminatory voter ID laws, weaken gun safety laws and eliminate environmental regulations—is now pressuring state legislatures around the country to ban cities from offering broadband Internet access. ALEC is pushing its anti-municipal broadband agenda through model legislation it has developed, which one municipal broadband advocate described as “the kind of language one would expect to see if the goal is to protect politically powerful cable and telephone company monopolies.”
Many perennial funders and members of ALEC, including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner [Cable], stand to gain financially from these state laws because they eliminate the possibility of competition from city-run broadband services."
In its cease and desist letter to Credo, ALEC first proclaims it's a respected think tank, not a lobbying apparatus. It also insists it doesn't "block" municipal broadband, the group simply advocates encumbering towns and cities with "certain steps," should they be interested in building their own broadband:
"We demand that you cease making inaccurate statements regarding ALEC, and immediately remove all false or misleading material from the Working Assets and Credo Action or related websites and action pages within five business days," the letter, dated March 5, reads. "Should you not do so, and/or continue to publish any defamatory statements, we will consider any and all necessary legal action to protect ALEC."
ALEC contends that it does not oppose city broadband but only advocates that certain "steps" be required before a municipality can provide telecom services. Additionally, ALEC takes issue with Credo labeling it as an organization that lobbies state legislatures at all, arguing that it is merely a "think-tank for state-based public policy issues and potential solutions."
How exactly can you claim you don't oppose municipal broadband when you've played a starring role in opposing municipal broadband? Because many of the bills ALEC helps pass don't technically "block" municipal broadband. They are however usually saddled with language by ISP lawyers that effectively does the same thing. For example most of the bills prohibit communities from getting into the broadband business if their market is "served" by an existing provider. They then go on to define "served" to include satellite and cellular connections, while using extremely generous versions of zip code coverage analysis. Similarly ALEC doesn't lobby to pass these bills directly, their incumbent ISPs client do that.
"Not only does ALEC attempt to influence legislative outcomes, it clearly succeeds in doing so. As recounted in a 2011 Bloomberg News article, ALEC's model legislation on municipal broadband was the principal reason why cable companies were able to block Lafayette, Louisiana from offering high speed Internet access to its citizens (editor's note: Lafayette was ultimately able to offer gigabit connections via LUS Fiber, but only after a protracted legal fight against regional incumbents Cox and BellSouth (now AT&T)).
"Under these circumstances, the language used in the statements you challenge -- "working to make sure it never happens" and "pressuring state legislatures" -- is well within the bounds of political discourse in making the point that ALEC's model legislation and positions have the intent and effect of encouraging enactment of state legislation effectively banning cities from offering broadband Internet access."
It's not entirely clear what ALEC hopes to accomplish here, as its role in both climate change and municipal broadband is pretty clearly established by documentable history, news reports, and the legislative process itself. It's kind of like the town drunk, after months of being videotaped punching clowns in the face, becoming foul-mouthed and indignant at the mere mention of the odd number of clown black eyes around town. In fact the behavior is only bringing additional critical attention to ALEC's longstanding role as an organization that's useful to corporations looking to quietly shovel bad legislation through financially compromised state legislatures with the bare minimum of fuss or actual public debate.
from the these-are-not-the-droids-you're-looking-for dept
As we've made repeatedly clear, consumers really like the ease and simplicity of unlimited data plans. Whether that's on fixed-line or wireless networks, users don't really like having to guess if they'll make it in under the wire this month, and don't particularly enjoy being socked with $15 per gigabyte overages should they stream a few extra songs or watch a YouTube clip. However, when you enjoy the kind of regulatory and market power AT&T and Verizon do, you don't have to give a flying cellular damn what your consumers actually want.
As such, both companies decided to eliminate their unlimited data plans entirely a few years ago, replacing them with shared data plans laden with caps and steep overages. And while both companies did grandfather existing unlimited users, they made life as uncomfortable as possible for those users, whether it was by secretly throttling them after a few gigabytes of usage or restricting their access to specific apps unless they "upgraded" to a shared, metered plan. Meanwhile, competitors T-Mobile and Sprint have tried to differentiate themselves by continuing to offer unlimited data options.
Continuing the proud tradition of telling users what they want instead of giving them what they want, Verizon this week offered up an amusing blog post in which an analyst paints unlimited data plans as a public menace of the highest order. To hear analyst Jack Gold tell it, we should all agree that you can't have unlimited data plans, because they'll obliterate the network and leave us all weeping over our smart devices:
"The quality of connection is important to wireless users, and when connections become slow or disconnections occur due to overcrowding, users become disappointed. Let’s face it, if everyone had unlimited data and used it fully, the performance of the networks would suffer because of bandwidth restrictions and the “shared resource” nature of wireless. The bottom line is: users agree that degrading the networks is something that they don’t want to happen."
If I only had a nickel every time the congestion bogeyman was trotted out to defend anti-competitive pricing and policies. While spectrum is certainly a finite resource, Gold intentionally ignores the fact that offering unlimited data plans doesn't mean idiotically ignoring all network management and letting your network implode. While both Sprint and T-Mobile offer unlimited data, they still implement network management and throttling practices that ensure traffic loads remain relatively balanced and the consumer experience remains consistent.
In other words, most unlimited data plans aren't really unlimited anyway, or users have to pay a steep premium for the privilege of not having to worry about data thresholds. That's because AT&T and Verizon dominate 85% of the special access and cell tower backhaul market, resulting in Sprint and T-Mobile (and most everybody else) having to pay an arm and a leg too. It's all quite by design.
Gold knows this, but it's apparently much more fun to try and argue that unlimited data plans decimate the fabric of the space-time continuum and rip the very axle of the universe from its foundation. Disagree? Verizon's analyst proceeds to imply you're simply being overly emotional:
"So, while unlimited data may sound attractive, there is no practical effect of data limits on the majority of users. Understanding this should bring rationality to a discussion that is often held on a “gut feeling” level. Keeping adequate speed and performance while allowing all users to share the limited commodity we call wireless data is the fair way to deal with wireless connectivity. And ultimately, that is what is beneficial for wireless consumers."
Just so it's clear, it's "rational" to support Verizon's vision of internet pricing, in which you pay some of the highest prices among developed nations, but it's a "gut feeling" should you start to desire a better value plan. It's never quite clear to me who these telecom blog authors actually think they're speaking to. Surely the goal is to influence an overarching policy discussion, but all they generally wind up doing is having their brand mocked mercilessly by news outlets for being painfully out of touch with what consumers actually want.