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Posted on Net Neutrality Special Edition - 19 January 2018 @ 6:24am

Apple's Incoherent App Approval Process Strikes Again, Net Neutrality App Banned For No Real Reason

from the you're-not-helping dept

By now Apple's app-store approval process is legendary for being completely untethered from anything even vaguely resembling consistency, accountability, or transparency. App makers can often find their passion projects banned for no coherent reason whatsoever, or because the app in question competes with Apple's own offerings. The process of complaining is traditionally semi-Sisyphean, with Apple often refusing to adequately explain their decisions. And it's inconsistent; banned apps and games can often reappear with no concrete explanation as well.

The latest case in point: David Coffnes, a researcher at Northeastern University, recently built an app named Wehe to help broadband users test their connections for possible throttling or net neutrality violations. But the app in question was banned by Apple for no coherent reason, the company simply telling Coffnes that his app "has no direct benefits to the user," and contained "objectionable content," neither of which is true:

"An Apple App Store reviewer told Choffnes that “your app has no direct benefits to the user,” according to screenshots reviewed by Motherboard. According to Apple’s reviewer, the app contained “Objectionable Content,” a catch-all for apps that Apple doesn’t want to let into its App Store. Apple is blocking the app and no one is quite sure why, including Choffnes; neither Apple nor Verizon responded to requests for comment for this article."

Coffnes, who is paid by ISPs like Verizon to test their own network video performance, is collecting data on how ISPs manipulate data to manage video on their networks, a practice that's increasingly common as ISPs increasingly test the boundaries of net neutrality (or, as is now the case, the lack thereof) and good taste. Coffnes' app simply connects to and analyzes data throughput from seven apps: YouTube, Amazon, NBCSports, Netflix, Skype, Spotify, and Vimeo. It then reports if the ISP you're using is somehow manipulating or throttling back network speeds as an effort to provide some layer of transparency to the end user.

Neither Apple nor Verizon were willing to comment about the apparently arbitrary ban, raising obvious questions about transparency. These sort of tools are, it should go without saying, going to be important as the government increasingly makes it clear it has zero real intention of protecting consumers from lumbering, predatory telecom duopolies eager to abuse a lack of sector competition for additional financial gain. With government now sitting on its hands in fealty to telecom providers, the onus is on the consumer to do due diligence regarding their own connections.

According to FCC boss Ajit Pai, public shame alone is supposed to help hold ISPs accountable in the wake of federal apathy to the net neutrality violations caused by a lack of broadband competition:

"Most attempts by ISPs to block or throttle content will likely be met with a fierce consumer backlash … in the event that any stakeholder [ISP] were inclined to deviate from this consensus against blocking and throttling, we fully expect that consumer expectations, market incentives, and the deterrent threat of enforcement actions will constrain such practices."

Right. But it's a little hard to do that when you lack the choice of an alternative provider, or the ISPs that are available aren't clear about their network management practices, something net neutrality rules required. There's certainly plenty of legitimate network management practices, but just as often network management can be used as an anti-competitive weapon. Determining which is true requires the help of researchers like Coffnes, and Apple's adding another layer of non-transparency to the equation by banning useful consumer tools and apps for (once again) no coherent reason.

Update: As we've seen in previous instances of Apple's bizarre app store approval process, the company has backed off the blockade, but has failed to explain what resulted in the app being banned in the first place:

"The conversation was very pleasant, but did not provide any insight into the review process [that] led the app to be rejected in the first place," Choffnes told us in an email."

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Posted on Net Neutrality Special Edition - 18 January 2018 @ 10:43am

Mozilla, Consumer Groups Sue The FCC For Its Attack On Net Neutrality

from the litigation-nation dept

Mozilla and several consumer groups say they'll be joining 22 state Attorneys General in suing the FCC for its net neutrality repeal. While procedure dictates that lawsuits can't be filed until after the FCC's "Restoring Internet Freedom" order is posted to the federal register (which hasn't happened yet), Mozilla notes that it petitioned the United States Court of Appeals (pdf) out of an abundance of caution, kickstarting the process to determine which court will finally hear the case:

"As a process note, the FCC decision made it clear that suits should be filed 10 days after it is published in the Federal Register, which has not yet occurred. However, federal law is more ambiguous. Due to the importance of this issue, even though we believe the filing date should be later, we filed in the event a court determines the appropriate date is today. The FCC or a court may accept this order or require us and others to refile at a later date. In fact, we’re urging them to use the later date. In either instance, we will continue to challenge the order in the courts."

Mozilla's lawsuit was filed the same day as coordinating lawsuits from consumer groups like Public Knowledge and Free Press. In a statement of its own, Public Knowledge notes it similarly filed its petition early as a preliminary and protective legal move:

"While we believe that under the best reading of the rules the FCC's Order is not ripe for challenge until it is published in the Federal Register, in the past the judicial lottery -- which determines which appellate court will hear a challenge to an FCC action -- has been run based on premature petitions. Thus, to protect our rights, we have filed today.

In other words, this is a purely procedural move, and we would not object if all early-filed petitions were held in abeyance by the FCC and the lottery is conducted based only on challenges filed after Federal Register publication. Of course, we will file to challenge the FCC at that time, as well."

The Open Technology Institute also says it also filed its own lawsuit against the FCC early, hoping to ensure a favorable court selection during the Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) lottery. All told, four of the net neutrality lawsuits were filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, while the Free Press lawsuit was filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

This is just the opening salvo in what will be a long-standing legal standoff between people who'd prefer the internet remain healthy and competitive, and ISPs eager to abuse a lack of competition in the broadband last mile to their own, additionally anti-competitive advantage. All of the lawsuits will attempt to prove that the FCC violated the Administrative Procedure Act by engaging in an "arbitrary and capricious" reversal of extremely popular policy without proving that the broadband market changed dramatically enough in just two years to warrant it.

As we've noted previously, the lawsuits will also focus on how the FCC turned a blind eye to identity theft and comment fraud during the FCC's open comment period, and efforts by some group or individual to try and downplay the massive public opposition to the FCC's handout to the telecom sector. Expect more details on the origins (and potentially funding) of these efforts as the legal fight moves forward over the coming months and years. Though some ISPs surely won't be able to help themselves, expect ISPs to try and remain on their best behavior for a while to avoid undermining their arguments in court.

Should they win in court however, it can't be understated how the attack on net neutrality is just one small part of an over-arching ISP lobbying effort to remove nearly all meaningful state and federal oversight of some of the least-liked, least-competitive companies in America. That involves efforts to pass loophole-filled fake net neutrality laws with one goal: preventing tough, real rules from being passed down the road by a less Comcastic Congress or FCC.

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Posted on Net Neutrality Special Edition - 18 January 2018 @ 6:30am

Senate Push To Save Net Neutrality Needs Just One Vote, But You Still Shouldn't Get Your Hopes Up

from the reverse-the-reversal dept

A Congressional effort to reverse the FCC's attack on net neutrality needs just one vote to move forward, but still faces a very steep uphill climb toward success. Fifty senators have endorsed a legislative measure to use the Congressional Review Act to reverse the FCC's repeal of the rules. The CRA can be used to reverse any regulatory action with a majority vote in Congress, provided the vote occurs within 60 days of the regulatory action in question. With 49 Democrats and one Republican (Maine's Susan Collins) now supporting the effort, it needs just one Republican vote to forward, notes Senator Ed Markey:

"Momentum is building,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) told reporters at a Boston press conference on Tuesday. "There will be a vote on the floor of the U.S. Senate to restore net neutrality as the law of the land,” Markey said. Under the Congressional Review Act it takes just 30 votes to bring a resolution to a vote and there would be a “price to pay” for lawmakers to side with the FCC. “Access to a free and open internet is and should be a 21st right—net neutrality forms the foundation of both our democracy and our economy."

The chance of this gambit's success have been consistently and routinely over-hyped by the well intentioned. Should the effort pass the Senate it still needs to secure floor time and win a vote in the House, where lawmakers like Marsha Blackburn have pretty routinely made protecting AT&T, Verizon and Comcast revenues their very top priority. Pennsylvania Representative Mike Doyle issued a statement listing the supporters currently signed on in the House, though that support remains well short of the threshold needed to run the gauntlet of ISP-beholden lawmakers there:

"We’ve made good progress so far in getting Members to sign on as original cosponsors of our bill to restore Net Neutrality, and I will continue to seek additional cosponsors in the weeks ahead,” Congressman Doyle said today in releasing the list of names. “There’s overwhelming public support for preserving Net Neutrality, so it’s no surprise that there’s strong support in Congress as well. I’m confident that if there’s enough public pressure, Congress will overturn the FCC’s order killing net neutrality."

Unlike the Senate, there's no rule that lets a minority of members force a vote, meaning even getting floor time could prove problematic. House supporters could use a discharge petition to bring a vote, but it would require a majority of members (218) to force a vote on the issue. Given this is the same House where members of both parties consistently trip over themselves to give sloppy kisses to AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, this could prove a tall order. Expectations should be in line with this reality.

If the effort gets through the House it would still need the signature of President Donald Trump. Activists I've talked to hope that should it get past Congress, Trump's tendency to bend whichever way the "populist" wind is blowing could get him to sign off on the proposal. But giving such a notable middle finger to his own FCC would be uncharacteristic given all the ISP money being spent on gutting all meaningful state and federal oversight of incumbent ISPs, and there will be plenty of well-funded pressure to ensure that doesn't happen.

While success here has long odds (though this shouldn't discourage you from contacting your lawmaker anyway), the gambit does have the practical purpose of forcing AT&T, Verizon and Comcast's lackeys in both houses to put their disdain for the public down on the public record. That's going to prove particularly useful during the looming midterms, where net neutrality is very quickly becoming a wedge issue. That's especially true among Millennial voters, who seem to have a more innate understanding of why letting Comcast run amok isn't a particularly great idea.

The entire effort again highlights the stupidity of viewing net neutrality through a partisan lens. Despite a healthy, competitive internet being in everybody's best interest, ISPs have spent fifteen years successfully framing net neutrality as a partisan issue to help sow dissent and stall progress on meaningful rules. Survey after survey however have indicated that the concept has broad, bipartisan support among the public at large. Anger at being ignored will drive voter turnout, and lawmakers (as well as Ajit Pai, whose post-FCC political ambitions couldn't be clearer) are going to figure that out the hard way.

All of that said, there's still plenty of ways to bring net neutrality back to the table should this effort fail. While it will take a while, the looming lawsuits have a solid chance at reversing the FCC's repeal given the FCC's numerous procedural and ethical missteps. A massive shakeup in Congress could also finally drive support for a real net neutrality law down the road, provided ISPs aren't successful in passing their own, entirely bogus legislation first.

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Posted on Techdirt - 17 January 2018 @ 12:02pm

US Telcos Threatened With Loss Of Government Contracts If They Do Business With Huawei

from the evidence-schmevidence dept

Last week we noted how AT&T was forced to scrap a partnership with Huawei to sell the company's smartphones here in the States, just hours before it was set to be announced at CES. The reason? Apparently a few members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees fired off a letter to the FCC demanding that they pressure US telcos into avoiding Huawei. The letter, which nobody has published, allegedly accuses the company of being little more than an intelligence proxy for the Chinese government.

There are several problems with this. While it's certainly possible that Huawei helps the Chinese government spy, there's been no hard evidence of this. In fact, numerous investigations (including one eighteen months long) found no evidence of any spying whatsoever. What inquiries did find is that these allegations pretty consistently originate with U.S. hardware vendors like Cisco, who routinely enjoy playing up the threat simply because they don't want to compete with Chinese hardware vendors. You know, the very same thing we routinely (often quite accurately) complain about China doing.

Despite no real evidence, a new Reuters report indicates this new pressure is much greater than just AT&T's smartphone partnership. In fact, the report suggests that the government is now urging all US telcos and ISPs to avoid using any Huawei gear whatsoever if they want to continue winning government contracts (and as an NSA BFF, AT&T has plenty of contracts to protect). From the report:

"The lawmakers are also advising U.S. firms that if they have ties to Huawei or China Mobile, it could hamper their ability to do business with the U.S. government, one aide said, requesting anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

One of the commercial ties senators and House members want AT&T to cut is its collaboration with Huawei over standards for the high-speed next generation 5G network, the aides said. Another is the use of Huawei handsets by AT&T’s discount subsidiary Cricket, the aides said.

And while Reuters mentioned that there have been investigations, it oddly forgets to mention what the outcome of those investigations were (again, zero evidence of spying). Also ignored is the fact that Chinese networking hardware is absolutely everywhere in the States, including being embedded in many of the products sold by U.S. manufacturers. If China wants to spy on America, it only need turn to the ocean of poorly secured IOT devices, the lion's share of which are now made in China by companies with a complete and total disinterest in anything even vaguely resembling security standards.

Similarly and comedically ignored is the fact the United States government engages in this kind of behavior all of the time. You might recal the NSA was caught intercepting Cisco hardware to install surveillance technology a few years ago. The Snowden documents also revealed how the NSA hacked into Huawei and stole company source code as early as 2007, all in the hopes of planting backdoors in network hardware used by countries who avoid buying American gear. Everyone but the most ardently myopic patriots realize that the United States' credibility on this subject was dismantled decades ago.

This latest wave of hysteria comes simultaneously and not-coincidentally as Representatives Michael Conaway and Liz Cheney introduced a bill banning US carriers from doing any business whatsoever with Huawei or ZTE Corp (two guesses on which companies are pushing for that law). Again, it's perfectly possible that Huawei helps the Chinese government spy. But if that's the case, it shouldn't be too difficult to provide some hard evidence supporting this position. Unless, of course, this is all little more than an adorable little stage play concocted simply to protect US hardware vendors from having to actually compete.

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Posted on Net Neutrality Special Edition - 17 January 2018 @ 6:27am

22 State Attorneys General File Suit Against The FCC For Its Net Neutrality Repeal

from the legal-fisticuffs dept

The legal fight over the FCC's historically unpopular decision to kill net neutrality has begun. An announcement by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office indicates that 22 State Attorneys General have filed suit against the FCC. The AGs says the multi-state coalition has filed a petition for review in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the first of what's expected to be numerous lawsuits in the weeks and months to come.

The announcement makes it clear the suit intends to focus on the FCC's potential violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. Under the Act the FCC will need to prove that the broadband market changed so substantially since the passage of the original rules in 2015 to warrant such a stark reversal (tip: it didn't). Under the Act, a decision can be declared "arbitrary and capricious" (Ajit Pai's agenda is undeniably both) if the regulator in question can't prove such a dramatic change, which is why you've watched industry lobbyists and their BFF Pai routinely and falsely claim that the modest rules somehow devastated sector investment.

Schneiderman quite correctly documents the potential pitfalls of gutting meaningful oversight of some of the least-competitive companies in America:

"An open internet – and the free exchange of ideas it allows – is critical to our democratic process,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “The repeal of net neutrality would turn internet service providers into gatekeepers – allowing them to put profits over consumers while controlling what we see, what we do, and what we say online. This would be a disaster for New York consumers and businesses, and for everyone who cares about a free and open internet. That’s why I’m proud to lead this broad coalition of 22 Attorneys General in filing suit to stop the FCC’s illegal rollback of net neutrality."

You'll recall that Schneiderman's office is also conducting an investigation into who's behind the flood of bogus comments filed during the public comment period of the FCC's repeal order. Millions of the bogus comments were clearly filed by some group or individual hoping to erode trust in integrity of the comments in the hopes of downplaying massive public opposition to the FCC's plan. When Schneiderman's office contacted the FCC to get some help identifying the culprits the FCC refused nine different times over a period of five months, according to an open letter to the FCC by Schneiderman late last year.

Numerous lawsuits are expected to follow once the FCC's repeal hits the Federal Register (expected in the next month or so).

All of these suits will highlight the numerous instances of FCC incompetence or fraud, ranging from the fake DDoS attack the FCC apparently manufactured to downplay the John Oliver effect, to why the FCC turned a blind eye while somebody stole the identity of dead people to forge bogus support for the FCC's agenda. Also likely to be highlighted is how the FCC ignored the public, ignored the experts, ignored the industry's startups, and used bogus lobbyist data to prop up what may just be the least popular tech policy decision in the history of the modern internet.

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Posted on Net Neutrality Special Edition - 16 January 2018 @ 6:27am

Blackburn Doubles Down On A Decade Of Lies As She Pushes Fake Net Neutrality Law

from the disingenuous-dreck dept

So we've repeatedly noted how the FCC's assault on popular net neutrality protections sits on pretty shaky legal ground. The agency not only ignored the public in trashing the rules, it ignored the nation's startups, the people who built the internet, and any and all objective data. They also ignored the rampant comment fraud that occurred during the public comment period of the proceeding, a ham-fisted attempt by "somebody" to downplay the massive public opposition to the plan. For good measure the agency also blocked a law enforcement investigation into said fraud and even made up a DDOS attack.

ISP lawyers and lobbyists know their victory could be short lived if looming lawsuits are able to convince a court that the FCC rushed to pass an "arbitrary and capricious order" while disregarding the public and violating FCC procedure. That's why they've begun pushing hard for new net neutrality legislation they're claiming will put the debate to bed, but has one real purpose: to pass flimsy, loophole-filled rules now to prevent the FCC (or a future, less cash-compromised Congress) from passing tougher, better rules down the road.

Just days after Comcast began pushing harder for such legislation, the telecom industry's most loyal ally in the House, Tennessee Representative Marsha Blackburn, began pushing a law that perfectly mirrors everything Comcast asked for. Namely, it makes everything but the most ham-fisted abuses (like outright blocking of websites) legal, effectively codifying federal apathy on net neutrality into law. The law doesn't ban paid prioritization, zero rating, interconnection shenanigans, or any of the areas the modern net neutrality debate currently resides.

To push her fake Comcast and AT&T-written law, Blackburn keeps pushing violently misleading editorials like this one (warning: autoplay video), where she doubles down on a decade of net neutrality falsehoods pushed by the telecom sector. That includes all of your favorite AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast talking points on the subject, ranging from the false canard that the FCC's fairly modest rules destroyed sector investment, to the idea that the real villain here are Silicon Valley tech giants:

"The heavy-handed regulations imposed in 2015 have hurt innovation and decreased broadband investment, and only served to bolster the Big Tech special interests that pose a threat to online free speech."

Again: SEC filings, ISP earnings reports, and countless statements by nearly a dozen ISP CEOs contradicts the claim that the rules hurt broadband investment, but that doesn't stop Blackburn:

"With strong, permanent consumer protections and fewer burdensome federal regulations, internet service providers (ISPs) will again be able to innovate and invest. This will stand in stark contrast to the past two years, when network investment decreased by billions of dollars. We absolutely must reverse that trend, and we will do it with an approach that fits the new, and dynamic digital economy."

But again, the broadband industry is lobbying for changes that go well beyond just killing net neutrality. They're (quite successfully) convincing the government to simultaneously gut FTC, FCC and state authority over broadband providers almost entirely, creating a massive accountability vacuum for companies that were already some of the least ethical, and least competitive in America. But they're worried that none of this can happen if the courts overturn the FCC's recent vote to repeal the rules, which is where loyal foot soldiers like Blackburn come in.

Like Ajit Pai recently did, Blackburn goes out of her way to malign internet companies like Twitter, throwing a little red meat to a partisan base still upset by the platform's completely-unrelated efforts to rein in the nation's neo-nazi flare up. It's not the massive telecom duopolies with a decade of anti-competitive behavior to their names you should worry about, notes Blackburn, it's Twitter:

"These companies, with market caps that are two to four times that of service providers like Verizon or AT&T, go unregulated when it comes to neutrality – yet they spend millions advocating for heavy-handed regulations to be imposed on the ISPs that actually connect millions of Americans to the internet. This is not simply disingenuous, but it also has the potential to harm consumers."

While Silicon Valley giants have problems of their own (though it's worth clarifying that Google doesn't truly support net neutrality and hasn't for the better part of this decade), Blackburn once again ignores the fact that net neutrality is just a symptom of a lack of competition in broadband.

Users angry with Google (with some exceptions, like advertising) can simply switch to another search engine or e-mail platform. Users don't have to use Twitter. But most users only have access to one or two broadband ISPs, which is where this entire problem originates. Net neutrality violations are just a symptom of a lack of competition in broadband, a problem Blackburn has repeatedly made worse by supporting ISP-written state laws hamstringing competition. Blaming a problem she actively, repeatedly makes worse by pandering to AT&T and Comcast, then blaming Twitter for it is simply obnoxious.

Blackburn, whose blind fealty to giant ISPs helped land her a role as chairman of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, proceeds to insist that anybody that tries to block her fake net neutrality law is the real enemy:

"You’ll know who the real bad actors are when they try to block or throttle this important legislative effort in 2018."

In reality, the "bad actors" are the ones supporting a ham-fisted repeal of incredibly popular rules that completely ignored the public interest. Blackburn won't be the last lawmaker to push such flimsy legislation. Expect a flurry of similar legislation proposals with tractor-trailer sized loopholes as ISP executives grow increasingly nervous that the looming FCC court battle may not go their way.

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Posted on Techdirt - 12 January 2018 @ 3:36pm

Colorado Cities Keep Voting To Build Their Own Broadband Networks

from the roll-your-own dept

So we've long mentioned how incumbent ISPs like Comcast have spent millions of dollars quite literally buying shitty, protectionist laws in more than twenty states. These laws either ban or heavily hamstring towns and cities from building their own broadband networks, or in some cases from even engaging in public/private partnerships. It's a scenario where ISPs get to have their cake and eat it too; they often refuse to upgrade their networks in under-served areas (particularly true among telcos offering DSL), but also get to write shitty laws preventing these under-served towns from doing anything about it.

This dance of dysfunction has been particularly interesting in Colorado, however. While lobbyists for Comcast and CenturyLink managed to convince state leaders to pass such a law (SB 152) in 2005, the legislation contains a provision that lets individual Colorado towns and cities ignore the measure with a simple referendum. With frustration mounting over sub-standard broadband and awful customer service, more than 100 towns and cities have done so thus far.

Late last year in Fort Collins, for example, 57.15% of locals voted to open the door to community-run broadband despite Comcast and Centurylink spending nearly $1 million on misleading ads claiming the plan would cause the city to fall into disrepair. And this week, the city council voted unanimously on a plan that will help deliver cheap, ultra-fast (gigabit) fiber broadband to most city residents. Under the proposal, the city will take out a $1.8 million loan to help the local utility with startup costs, with expansion funded by bonds:

"Last night's three unanimous votes begin the process of building our city's own broadband network," Glen Akins, a resident who helped lead the pro-municipal broadband campaign, told Ars today. "We're extremely pleased the entire city council voted to support the network after the voters' hard fought election victory late last year. The municipal broadband network will make Fort Collins an even more incredible place to live."

With the Trump administration's assault on net neutrality, broadband privacy rules and pretty much all meaningful oversight of telecom duopolies, interest in these kinds of creative solutions as an escape from the broken telecom market is only going to grow. In Fort Collins, a city planning document indicates the city is promising to operate a network that actually adheres to net neutrality and avoid usage caps:

"The network will deliver a 'net-neutral' competitive unfettered data offering that does not impose caps or usage limits on one use of data over another (i.e., does not limit streaming or charge rates based on type of use). All application providers (data, voice, video, cloud services) are equally able to provide their services, and consumers' access to advanced data opens up the marketplace."

ISP lobbyists, executives, and their paid policy parrots like to paint these community broadband efforts as automatic boondoggles. In reality, they're just like any business plan, with some good and some arguably awful. But lost in this claim is the fact that ISPs are bribing state legislatures to take local infrastructure decisions out of the hands of local voters -- simply because they're terrified of anything vaguely resembling competition. Also lost is the fact that these towns and cities wouldn't be looking into these efforts if U.S. broadband wasn't such an anti-competitive, uncompetitive shitshow.

But why should ISPs like Comcast compete when it's much easier to buy awful state laws, then sue any community broadband efforts into oblivion (as Comcast attempted to do in Chattanooga)? The problem for incumbent ISPs is their ham-fisted efforts to obliterate things like net neutrality is only fueling anger in communities looking for any alternative to the dysfunctional status quo.

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Posted on Net Neutrality Special Edition - 12 January 2018 @ 6:25am

After Being AWOL From The Fight For Years, Google & Facebook To Fund Lawsuits Over Net Neutrality

from the fashionably-late dept

Not surprisingly, the Internet Association has stated that the organization intends to participate in the looming lawsuits against the FCC for its repeal of net neutrality. The group, which represents countless tech companies including Google, Amazon, Facebook, Etsy and more, stated that the organization will not only participate in the coming lawsuits (which should arrive shortly after the repeal hits the Federal Register), but would support a "legislative solution" to help make net neutrality permanent (though as we've noted, folks should be careful on that front):

"The final version of Chairman Pai’s rule, as expected, dismantles popular net neutrality protections for consumers. This rule defies the will of a bipartisan majority of Americans and fails to preserve a free and open internet. IA intends to act as an intervenor in judicial action against this order and, along with our member companies, will continue our push to restore strong, enforceable net neutrality protections through a legislative solution."

To be clear, that's a good thing. These upcoming lawsuits, which will focus on the FCC's blatant disregard for objective data and public interest, are going to need all the help they can get. Said suits will focus extensively on how Ajit Pai and the FCC ignored the nation's startups, the people who built the internet, and any and all objective data as it rushed to give a sloppy, wet kiss to the nation's entrenched telecom monopolies.

That said, several IA member companies' dedication to net neutrality has been anything but consistent. Google, while often touted as a "net neutrality advocate," hasn't truly supported the concept since 2009 or so. As the company pushed into fixed (Google Fiber) and wireless (Project Fi, Android) broadband, its interest in rules that truly protected consumers from duopoly market abuse in the sector magically disappeared. And Google worked with AT&T and Verizon to help craft FCC net neutrality protections in 2010 that were so packed with loopholes as to be largely useless (they didn't even cover wireless networks).

Other IA members like Facebook have actively worked to undermine net neutrality overseas as they attempt to corner the ad market in developing nations. Facebook received ample criticism for its behavior in India specifically, when the company tried to trick citizens into supporting Facebook's push for a zero-rated walled garden platform dubbed "Free Basics." India ultimately banned such zero rating efforts under its own net neutrality rules, supporting Mozilla's position that if Facebook is so concerned about the Indian poor, it should help fund access to the entire internet -- and not just a Facebook-curated walled garden.

Even Netflix, perhaps the most vocal and deep-pocketed support of net neutrality, has softened its position on the subject as it has grown more powerful. Company CEO Reed Hastings recently proclaimed that network neutrality was SOP (somebody else's problem) now that the company is large enough and wealthy enough to fight off anti-competitive behavior by the likes of AT&T, Verizon and Comcast:

"The Trump FCC is going to unwind the rules no matter what anybody says,” Hastings argues. He might believe that net neutrality is “important for society," but his company, Netflix, isn’t in trouble so it’s not going to get into the fight. “We had to carry the water when we were growing up and we were small," Hastings said. "Other companies have to be on that leading edge."

That's a painfully myopic read of the situation, and one Netflix has been forced to walk back from after ample criticism for its tone-deafness. Or at least, the company has been more vocal about its "support" of net neutrality on Twitter, for whatever that winds up being worth in the face of AT&T, Verizon and Comcast lobbying muscle.

All of that said, the IA has a broad roster of countless smaller members, like Etsy, who have been perfectly consistent about their support for net neutrality. That support remains completely intact, according to a statement released by the company:

"The FCC’s decision to overturn net neutrality rules was deeply disappointing for those of us who have fought so hard for the strong protections that enable millions of microbusinesses to start and grow online. Under the FCC’s new proposal, millions of small business, like Etsy’s 1.9 million sellers, could find themselves in the internet slow lane or blocked altogether."

Again, it's great that some of Facebook, Google and Netflix's money will be used to help fund the fight against the repeal. But if these Silicon Valley giants hadn't decided to take a nap during this latest fight to protect the rules, we might not be in this position in the first place.

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Posted on Net Neutrality Special Edition - 11 January 2018 @ 6:14am

Nebraska The First 'Red' State To Craft Its Own Net Neutrality Law

from the the-people-have-spoken dept

So we've noted repeatedly how the attack on net neutrality is just one small part of a much larger, dumber plan by major ISPs to neuter nearly all federal and state oversight. A plan that involves gutting all meaningful FCC authority over broadband ISPs, then shoveling any remaining authority to the FTC. An FTC (surprise surprise) the broadband industry is currently in court arguing has no authority over broadband providers. Ajit Pai's FCC (at Verizon and Comcast lobbyists' request) also included provisions pre-empting states from trying to protect consumer privacy or net neutrality.

So far individual states aren't listening. New York, Washington, Minnesota, Massachusetts and California are all pushing their own net neutrality rules. And since the FCC's net neutrality repeal prohibits states from passing such laws, many of these states are creatively eyeing provisions that require ISPs adhere to net neutrality if they want to win government contracts, or if they want to keep getting taxpayer subsidies for those fiber networks they always tend to leave half built anyway.

ISP lobbyists have already begun trying to argue that these individual state efforts create a discordant patchwork of regulations that may be difficult to adhere to. But that's the sort of thing said lobbyists should have thought about before rushing mindlessly to destroy federal net neutrality rules. Rules that were actually among the more modest of any of the developed nations that have passed such protections (see The Netherlands, India, Japan, Canada, Germany).

Nebraska has now added itself to the list of states stepping up to the plate in the wake of federal consumer apathy. State Senator Adam Morfeld has introduced LB 856 (pdf), which would restore the federal net neutrality rules on the state level, and prevent ISPs from "limiting or restricting access to web sites, applications, or content." Speaking to his hometown newspaper, Morfield expressed surprise at the volume of bipartisan feedback he received in the wake of the FCC's decision:

"For me, this is an economic development and consumer protection bill,” Morfeld said. “The internet drives the economy now and it’s critical people have open and fair access to the internet. I knew I was passionate about it, but I was shocked at the support I received from Republicans, from Democrats and Libertarians," he said.

He shouldn't be surprised. Survey after survey (including some from the industry itself) show that net neutrality has broad, bipartisan support among consumers. One recent poll indicated that 83% of Americans opposed the FCC's handout to the telecom sector. The fact that the FCC ignored this support in its rush to repeal the rules will be playing a starring role in the looming lawsuits awaiting the agency later this year.

Whether Nebraska's law will be preempted by FCC authority is something else the courts will have to hash out, especially since the FCC has had its wrist slapped for overreach in the past when it has tried to preempt state authority on matters of broadband. ISP lobbyists (and the countless think tankers, lobbyists, consultants and academics paid to love them) express breathless adoration of "states rights" when states are criticized for passing anti-competitive state laws, but when those same states actually try to protect consumers and small businesses, you'll notice that this adoration of states rights magically disappears.

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Posted on Techdirt - 10 January 2018 @ 7:29pm

In Keeping And Improving News Comments, The Intercept Shows Websites What Giving A Damn Looks Like

from the this-muzzle-represents-my-love-for-you dept

For the last few years, the trend du jour in online media has been to demonize, vilify, then shutter the traditional news comment section. Usually these closures come with all manner of disingenuous nonsense about how websites are banning comments for the sake of "building relationships" or because the website in question just "really loves conversation." Usually, on-site users are then shoved toward social media silos at Twitter and Facebook we're told are "just as good" as an active, on-site community (read: doing this is cheaper and makes it somebody else's problem).

Traditionally, readers of these websites are told that news comments simply had to die because it's impossible to cultivate healthy discourse in the post-truth, mega-troll era. But as Techdirt and countless other websites have made clear for more than a decade, that's simply not true. And while being lazy, cheap and actively hostile to on-site community is any website's prerogative, this ignores the fact that online news comments are an excellent avenue for transparency and a tool to hold websites, and authors, accountable.

With so many websites muzzling community speech because they just so adore conversation, it's good to point out when websites swim upstream against this trend. For example the Intercept last month announced that the news outlet would be partnering with the The Coral Project at Mozilla to make their news comments system better via a myriad of changes to their commenting platform. The Coral Project interviewed some 300 individuals from 150 newsrooms in 30 countries as part of an effort to improve online discourse.

Informed by this research, The Intercept's changes include the ability to mute annoying users, the ability to track comment edits, a new offensive comment reporting feature, the "featuring" of exceptional comments by website staff, and the expanded ability of staff to interact with users that pose particularly important questions. Again, none of this is particularly revolutionary. Most of it involves treating readers like human beings. But in this day and age -- doing so is apparently now a revolutionary act.

As the Intercept's Glenn Greenwald and Rubina Madan Fillion note, lost in the vilification of comments sections as little more than troll gardens is the fact that on-site comments are a great way to hold journalists accountable:

"Journalists often tout their responsibility to hold the powerful accountable. Comments are a way to hold journalists themselves accountable. Unlike posts on social media, comments occupy the same space as the stories and travel with them as they’re shared across platforms. Comments also make it possible for people to share their reactions without having to connect them to a social media account. That’s why we continue to be strong proponents of comments and encourage our colleagues at The Intercept to read (and respond to) them."

Again, for better or worse news in the modern era is a conversation. Muting your on-site audience may feel good to editors on tight budgets, tired of trolls, and wistful for the bygone days of carefully-chosen letters to the editor, but it's doing your community (and the news industry at large) a disservice. As such, the Intercept's moves are a welcome change of pace for an industry that has spent the last few years insisting that muzzling your readership somehow represents a breathless dedication to quality online discourse.

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Posted on Techdirt Wireless - 10 January 2018 @ 10:30am

Trump's New Rural Broadband Executive Order Doesn't Actually Do Much Of Anything

from the Comcastic dept

You have probably noticed by now that the biggest problem in the U.S. broadband market is a lack of vibrant competition in many areas. This lack of competition over the "last mile" is the core reason for the majority of the problems in the sector, from privacy violations to net neutrality infractions. And while lawmakers from both parties adore paying empty lip service to making broadband faster, cheaper, and more available, very few have the courage to stand up to AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast and actually implement policies that improve our competitive options.

More often than not, government's "solution" for the broadband market involves first ignoring that there's any real competition problem whatsoever, then hyping "broadband expansion" efforts that fail to truly address the underlying problems.

That's usually accomplished via programs with "goals" that would have been accomplished anyway. Like when Obama promised in 2011 to ensure wireless broadband reached 98% of the public (ignoring the problem of high prices and usage caps, or the fact this coverage was going to occur anyway), or when Obama's former FCC boss Julius Genachowski promised a gigabit ISP in each one of the fifty states (also something that would have happened without government involvement). Such efforts usually comically ignore how limited competition and high prices are the biggest problem.

Keeping this proud tradition alive, President Trump this week held a rally to hype his purported dedication to the nation's forgotten rural areas. This dedication, according to a breakdown by Reuters, will involve "making it easier for the private sector to locate broadband infrastructure on federal land and buildings":

"U.S. President Donald Trump was expected on Monday to sign an executive order to make it easier for the private sector to locate broadband infrastructure on federal land and buildings, part of a push to expand high-speed internet in rural America. Faster internet speeds in rural areas have long been seen as key to addressing the economic divide between rural and urban America, but the costs have so far been prohibitive."

But if you bother to read the actual order, the "new efforts" cited within are nothing new. They're simply part of a concerted effort to speed up construction and placement of cellular towers and other essential gear on government property at the behest of AT&T and Verizon, a priority at the FCC for several years now. In Trump fashion however, the President took ample time to insist this looming surge in "great, great broadband" was exclusively thanks to his leadership and the creation of this new executive order:

"Those towers are going to go up and you’re going to have great, great broadband,” Trump told the annual convention of the American Farm Bureau Federation. "Farm country is God’s country,” he declared..."Oh, are you happy you voted for me,” he added. “You are so lucky that I gave you that privilege."

While faster cellular tower placement is great and all, it doesn't solve the real problem in the sector: a lack of competition. FCC data indicates that two-thirds of American homes lack access to modern broadband (25 Mbps) from more than one ISP. Instead of addressing that problem, the Trump FCC has been actively working to undermine how broadband is measured in a blatant attempt to hide coverage and competition gaps. Trump's FCC has also started taking a hatchet to programs that help bring broadband to the poor, an increasing problem given that incumbent providers refuse to upgrade countless poor or rural markets.

Reuters' and other mainstream coverage of Trump's EO also ignores the countless problems that will be caused by the Trump administration's attack on net neutrality, elimination of consumer broadband privacy protections, or industry-backed efforts to gut nearly all meaningful oversight of entrenched telecom duopolies, something that history repeatedly tells us only makes service worse and more expensive. Unsurprisingly, reports fail to note the fact that the Trump FCC has taken steps to protect the entrenched monopoly at the heart of the cellular backhaul and business data services (BDS) markets, ensuring competition there remains tepid and cellular connectivity remains expensive.

Here's a tip: you'll know a politician's "broadband plan" is worth anything if it makes Comcast, AT&T and Verizon lawyers, lobbyists and lackeys angry. Any plan worth its salt would drive competition to the sector, eroding revenues for duopolies all-too-comfortable nursing the status quo. If they approve of it, it likely doesn't actually tackle the heart of the dysfunction that is the American broadband market.

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Posted on Techdirt Wireless - 10 January 2018 @ 6:27am

AT&T, Huawei Phone Partnership Killed At Last Second By More Unproven Accusations Of Huawei Spying

from the not-so-free-markets dept

If you remember a few years ago, there was ample hysteria and hand-wringing in Congress regarding Huawei's plan to compete in the American cell phone and network hardware business. But despite near-constant claims by certain lawmakers that Huawei was an intelligence proxy for the Chinese government, numerous, multi-year investigations found absolutely no evidence to support this conclusion. That of course didn't stop certain parties from repeatedly insisting that Huawei was a Chinese government spy, since we all know that in the post-truth era, what your gut tells you is more important than empirical evidence.

Never mind that almost all U.S. network gear is made in (or comprised of parts made in) China. Never mind that obviously NSA allegations show the United States spies on almost everyone, constantly. Never mind that reports have emerged that a lot of the spy allegations originate with Huawei competitor Cisco, which was simply concerned with the added competition. Huawei is a spy. We're sure of it. And covert network snooping is bad. When China does it.

Fast forward to this week. A new report in the Wall Street Journal indicates that AT&T and Huawei were about to announce a new cellphone sales partnership at CES. While Huawei phones are available unlocked in the States (and Huawei has helped Google build its own smartphones already), the deal would have marked the first major partnership between the company and a major cellular provider. But the deal was scrapped at the last second for reasons neither company wanted to disclose to the Journal:

"It was unclear why AT&T, the country’s No. 2 carrier by subscribers, changed its mind. An AT&T spokesman declined to comment. A Huawei spokesman declined to comment on conversations with AT&T, saying only that “Huawei has proven itself by delivering premium devices with integrity globally and in the U.S. market."

A paywalled report over at the Information appears to offer the real reason for the last-minute scuttling of the partnership: namely a letter sent to the Trump FCC by members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees again claiming that Huawei is a spy for the Chinese government:

While it's certainly not impossible that Huawei is aiding Chinese government surveillance, the fact remains that there have been numerous, lengthy investigations into this claim (one of which was eighteen months long), none of which have actually resulted in the slightest bit of evidence proving the allegations. And again, what has been proven so far is that lobbyists for companies like Cisco have spent ample time pouring fire on these concerns in the minds of cash-compromised lawmakers, simply because they don't want to have to face another deep-pocketed competitor in the US hardware market.

That is, as some guy named Mike Masnick noted on Twitter, something we've long enjoyed criticizing China for:

AT&T, no stranger to domestic spying (bone grafted as it is to the United States own intelligence-gathering aparatus) may have been willing to kill the deal out of blind "patriotism" or the belief it could help gain regulatory approval for the company's $86 billion acquisition of Time Warner (currently being challenged by the DOJ in court). Nobody in this chain has much in the way of integrity or a history of truth-telling, and until evidence emerges that Huawei is the nefarious spymaster allegations have long alleged, a dash of skepticism seems warranted.

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Posted on Net Neutrality Special Edition - 9 January 2018 @ 6:23am

Uphill Effort To Reverse Net Neutrality Repeal Has The Early Votes

from the reverse-the-reversal dept

As we've been tracking, there are several routes net neutrality advocates should support if they want to reverse the FCC's attack on net neutrality. The best path forward remains with the courts, where the FCC will need to explain why it ignored the public, the experts, 1,000 startups, and all objective data as it rushed to give a sloppy kiss to Comcast, AT&T and Verizon. It will also need to explain why it made up a DDOS attack and blocked a law enforcement investigation into rampant comment fraud during the proceeding; both apparently ham-fisted attempts to downplay legitimate public opposition to the plan.

But we've also noted how there's an effort afoot by net neutrality advocates and Senator Ed Markey to use the Congressional Review Act to overturn the FCC's vote. Under the CRA, Congress can overturn a regulatory action with a majority vote if the Act is used within 60 days of said action. It's what the Trump administration and the GOP used early last year to kill broadband privacy protections before they were scheduled to take effect.

Bringing such a vote to the floor requires at least 30 members of the Senate, something net neutrality advocates now have with the new support of Claire McCaskill:

And while net neutrality supporters are enthusiastic about the CRA route, even with these votes it has a steep, uphill climb to success. The CRA reversal would require the signature of President Trump, which isn't going to happen. And getting House floor time for a comparable vote is likely untenable given the steeper GOP majority in the house. As we've long noted, this binary thinking of net neutrality as a partisan issue is a disservice to the public, since the vast majority of voters support net neutrality and opposed the FCC's handout to industry.

That said, there's still real value in forcing Comcast-loyal lawmakers to put their disdain for the public down on the permanent record. Especially given the looming midterms, when countless politicians will have to explain (espcially to more tech-savvy Millennial voters) why they chose to ignore the will of the public just so Comcast, AT&T and Verizon could explore new, creative ways of screwing over small businesses, startups, consumers, and the health of the internet.

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Posted on Techdirt - 8 January 2018 @ 6:23am

Those Annoying Cable Channel Blackouts Are Only Going To Get Worse In 2018

from the more-money-for-the-same-substandard-service dept

The last few years, cable TV customers have faced a growing number of obnoxious carriage fee blackouts, which occur when broadcasters and cable operators can't agree on new programming contracts. Such feuds usually go something like this: a broadcaster will demand a fairly obnoxious price hike for the same content, to which the cable provider (already awash in complaints about higher rates) will balk. Instead of negotiating their differences like adults, this content is subsequently blacked out for paying customers to force a settlement. Customers never see refunds for the inconvenience of being used as props.

For weeks, consumers are bombarded with PR missives, new websites and on-screen tickers all trying to amplify public outrage and drive greater pressure for one side or the other to buckle. After a while, the two sides strike a new confidential deal, and the higher rates are then quickly passed on to consumers. In a letter to lawmakers last year, Dish Network argued that consumers have faced 750 such broadcaster blackouts since 2010, with the retransmission consent fees that broadcasters demand growing a whopping 27,400% between 2005 and 2016.

It's an idiotic cycle of dysfunction that's unsustainable and only acts to drive consumers to alternative video options (like piracy). The fact that these costs are only driving users away from the traditional pay TV ecosystem is irrelevant to many cable and broadcast executives, who seem inclined to believe that they'll be able to nurse this dying cash cow in perpetuity.

The annoying phenomenon shows no sign of slowing down in 2018. Frontier customers in Seattle this week lost access to CBS after the company says it was told it needed to pay 80% more money for the same exact content:

"Cox’s bullying and heavy-handed blackout tactics hurt consumers,” said Steve Ward, Frontier Senior Vice President Video Technology and Content. "Their demands for an outrageous price increase would have to be passed on to customers in the form of higher monthly service rates. It’s time for Cox to agree to a fair and reasonable solution."

Meanwhile, Suddenlink and Optimum (formerly Cablevision) customers woke up to the new year with the news that they'd no longer be able to access Starz after their cable provider and the broadcaster failed to strike a new deal. For now, customers of those cable providers are being told that if they want access to Starz content, they'll need to pay extra to access it via Starz online streaming platform:

"Given that Starz is available to all consumers directly through Starz' own over-the-top streaming service, we don't believe it makes sense to charge all of our customers for Starz programming, particularly when their viewership is declining and the majority of our customers don't watch Starz," Altice said in its statement. "We believe it is in the best interest of all our customers to replace Starz and StarzEncore programming with alternative entertainment channels that will provide a robust content experience at a great value."

Of course with regulatory capture and the death of net neutrality, it's likely that this is one of several problems in the telecom and cable world that will only get worse before it gets better. Regulators from both parties were already inclined to dismiss this problem as just "boys being boys," wary of getting involved in what they believe are simple business disputes. And while there have been occasional talks about banning these blackouts as an act of bad-faith negotiations, nothing much ever appears to come of them. The hope was that the threat of regulatory intervention would be enough.

And while it's certainly true that this behavior will only drive customers to new streaming alternatives, broadcasters still dictate licensing for (or outright own) those services as well, meaning it's only a matter of time before this problem expands to hamper access to online content. There have been several different times where broadcasters blocked user access to their online services as well (usually by ISP IP range); behavior that only ceased due to companies being worried that they might run afoul of net neutrality (since many ISPs are broadcasters, like Comcast) or adult regulatory supervision.

With both of those concepts on the chopping block, expect carriage fee bickering (and the subsequent blackouts) to get both worse and more sophisticated in the new year.

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Posted on Net Neutrality Special Edition - 5 January 2018 @ 10:44am

California The Latest State To Propose Its Own Net Neutrality Rules

from the states-rights...or-not... dept

As we've been trying to help people understand, the FCC's repeal of net neutrality goes well beyond just killing net neutrality. The agency's "Restoring Internet Freedom" order not only guts FCC authority over broadband providers, but attempts to shovel any remaining oversight to the FTC. An FTC whose own authority over ISPs is already very limited, and which could be eroded almost completely if AT&T wins an ongoing court battle against the agency (this fact is conveniently forgotten by the small minority of folks still barking support for this historically-unpopular plan).

The goal is to eliminate nearly all meaningful federal oversight of uncompetitive telecom duopolies. But both Verizon and AT&T also successfully lobbied the FCC to include language banning states from trying to protect consumers from monopoly market abuses, whether they take the form of net neutrality violations, misleading pricing, hidden fees, or a rotating crop of privacy violations.

But the incumbent ISP stranglehold over state legislatures is so severe, this tends to be an uphill battle. Case in point: California recently tried to pass a new, EFF-approved privacy law in the wake of the GOP assault on FCC rules, only to have it scuttled by ISP lobbyists, who convinced state lawmakers that the proposal would somehow "increase popups" and "aid extremists." In reality the proposal was relatively modest, mirroring the deceased FCC proposal requiring ISPs disclose what data is being collected and sold (and to whom), while requiring they provide working opt out tools.

California's back again to try the same thing with net neutrality.

Unfortunately right now the proposal by California state Senator Scott Weiner is little more than a placeholder (pdf), but it tries to detail how California will tackle ISPs that violate net neutrality. Since the FCC repeal "pre-empts" states from passing their own net neutrality protections, states like Washington and New York have instead looked toward punishing bad actors like Comcast in other ways. Like restricting access to utility poles, rights of way, or government contracts to companies that repeatedly engage in anti-competitive, anti-consumer behavior. From the proposal:

"Under existing law, the Public Utilities Commission has regulatory authority over public utilities, including telephone corporations. Pursuant to its existing authority, the commission supervises administration of the state's telecommunications universal service programs. The Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006 establishes a procedure for the issuance of state franchises for the provision of video service, defined to include cable service and open-video systems, administered by these commissions.

The bill would state the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation to effectuate net neutrality in California utilizing the state's regulatory powers and to prevent Internet service providers from engaging in practices inconsistent with net neutrality...

There's of course several potential pitfalls here. One, the real issues will arise when California begins trying to define what net neutrality is. As we saw on the federal level in 2010 and 2015, lobbyists are immeasurably successful at using the complex technical nature of net neutrality to their advantage, convincing Luddite lawmakers to include so many loopholes as to make the rules useless. ISP lobbyists will likely work overtime to either water down the bill's language to the point of absurdity, misrepresent what the bill does (as they did with privacy), or bombard the state with lawsuits (likely all three).

And that's of course California. There's countless states where companies like AT&T and Comcast quite literally own state legislatures and most telecom regulators (Tennessee comes quickly to mind). States where similar laws will never be passed or enforced, creating huge oversight gaps for companies with thirty-years of documented anti-competitive history.

That's why, again, the best path forward to protecting net neutrality remains in hoping the courts get it right, and reverse the FCC's repeal for being "arbitrary and capricious," ignoring the public welfare, and turning a blind eye to shady comment period fraud. Not that states shouldn't try to protect consumers, but without rooting out state-level telecom influence and corruption first, passing meaningful state-level net neutrality protections -- then seeing consistent enforcement -- remains a long shot.

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Posted on Techdirt - 5 January 2018 @ 6:27am

Maine Governor Tells 16-Year-Old Worried About Net Neutrality Repeal To 'Pick Up A Book And Read'

from the you're-not-helping dept

As more than a few folks have noted, many opponents of net neutrality (from FCC boss Ajit Pai to Mark Cuban) are following blind ideology. Many of them quite honestly believe that no regulation can ever be good, and that government is absolutely never capable of doing the right thing. That kind of simplicity may feel good as you navigate a complicated world, but it's intellectually lazy. As a result, the decision to use net neutrality rules as an imperfect but necessary stopgap (until we can reduce corruption and drive more competition into the sector) simply befuddles them.

Of course this kind of blind ideology is particularly handy when you don't actually know how modern broadband markets or net neutrality even work, but your gut just tells you why the whole nefarious affair is simply bad. That's why you'll see folks like Ted Cruz consistently doubling down on bizarre, misleading claims based on repeatedly debunked falsehoods. Needless to say, this sort of lazy thinking is not particularly productive. Especially when you're a member of the same government purportedly tasked with analyzing real-world data, listening to constituent concerns, and actively tasked with making things better.

Case in point: one sixteen-year-old Maine high school student recently wrote to Maine Governor Paul LePage, clearly worried about the impact the broadband industry's attack on net neutrality will have on her ability to freely access information online. Camden Hills Regional High School sophomore Hope Osgood actually took the time to write her governor, expressing concern about how the repeal could pose problems for free speech, competition, and the health of information exchange:

"The internet is the easiest way to access anything. News, information, etc. Companies being able to put restrictions on internet usage isn’t ideal! People will be left in the dark about some things. All my school work is internet-based, but what happens if I can’t reach what I need to? What about my lessons in school?"

Osgood said she is concerned that big companies "might have more control over everything. If you wanted to go to a certain website, it might be slowed down. You might have to pay to access that, or it might be completely blocked off what you can see. They could filter news, media, or things they don’t agree with. I don’t think that should be able to happen. Everybody should be able to get information."

Le Page's response to her concerns? To scribble a response in the margins of her letter telling the kid to "pick up a book and read!":

His response not only is insulting, but makes no coherent sense. How would reading a book solve letting telecom monopolies run roughshod over competitors and the health of the internet? It wouldn't. Like so many others, LePage's disdain for net neutrality is being fueled entirely by blind ideology, and much like Donald Trump, the Governor probably couldn't tell you what net neutrality even is in one-on-one conversation. Needless to say, Osgood and her family didn't walk away charmed from her first run in with civil engagement:

"Osgood showed the letter to her grandfather, Rick Osgood, a LePage supporter who didn’t like the tone of the governor’s response. Rick Osgood has voted for LePage twice and supports much of what the governor is doing in Maine, but he called LePage’s message “just a snide remark.” “I think it’s mighty rude,” he said."

Again, a lot of the folks that aided and supported this latest attack on net neutrality don't really understand the backlash that's headed their direction, especially among younger voters. In their heads, they've heroically fought back a "government takeover of the internet" because they're letting blind ideology drive the car. In reality, they've made a stupid, unpopular, economically unsupportable decision that's going to impact voting decisions for the next decade. Watching many of them realize this when election time rolls around should provide at least a modicum of entertainment value in the wake of one of the worst tech policy decisions in a generation.

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Posted on Net Neutrality Special Edition - 4 January 2018 @ 12:02pm

Supporters Aim To Use Net Neutrality To Bludgeon Cash-Compromised Lawmakers In The Midterms

from the enjoy-the-backlash dept

We've already noted that the best route for killing the FCC's recent attack on net neutrality rests with the courts. Once the repeal hits the Federal Register in January or soon thereafter, competitors and consumer groups will be filing multiple lawsuits against the FCC. Those lawsuits will quite correctly note how the FCC ignored the public, relied on debunked lobbyist data, ignored the people who built the internet, and turned a blind eye to rampant fraud during the comment proceeding as it tried to rush through what may just be the least popular tech policy decision in a generation.

The hope will be to highlight that the FCC engaged in "arbitrary and capricious behavior" under the Telecommunications Act by reversing such a popular rule -- without proving that the broadband market had dramatically changed in just the last two years. They'll also try to claim that the FCC violated the Administrative Procedure Act, and even went so far as to block law enforcement investigations into numerous instances of comment fraud during the open comment period.

There is, however, another less likely route toward stopping the FCC's repeal of net neutrality. Since the vote, net neutrality advocates have been trying to pressure lawmakers into using the Congressional Review Act to roll back the FCC's repeal. Under the CRA, Congress has the ability to dismantle a regulatory decision with a vote on the hill, provided it's done within 60 days of the original regulatory decision. It's how the Trump administration killed broadband privacy rules earlier this year that were passed under the Wheeler FCC, and would have taken effect back in March.

Groups like Fight for the Future have been pushing hard to get enough Senators on board to reach the thirty-vote threshold needed to bring a broader CRA vote to the floor (last I checked, they had around 29 lawmakers on board). As such they've launched a new Vote For Net Neutrality effort intended to drum up public support for the CRA vote, while publicizing the countless Senators that are now-mindlessly beholden to every whim of entrenched telecom duopolists. The group suggests that while the effort may be somewhat Sisyphean, it remains possible:

"In the Senate, we may only need one more Republican to vote for the CRA to get it passed, given that Susan Collins (R-ME) opposed the FCC plan and signalled openness to a CRA. In the House, we'll need about 20 Republicans to listen to their constituents and vote for the CRA. That's harder, but several Republican representatives have already criticized the FCC's vote, and given that more than 75% of Republican voters support net neutrality, it's doable."

While well intentioned, this ignores the fact that Trump would still need to vote to seal the deal and kill the FCC's repeal, something that isn't likely to happen given everything we've seen so far. But net neutrality advocates know that forcing Senators to clearly put their name to a vote against net neutrality could prove immeasurably beneficial as a political cudgel ahead of the looming midterms.

That's because as we've noted repeatedly, net neutrality has broad, bipartisan appeal among voters. After all, our collective disdain for Comcast (and what passes for Comcast customer service) is one of a few subjects that tends to bridge the partisan divide. It has only been framed as a partisan issue by ISP lobbyists looking to foment dissent and stall progress. As such, it would be foolish to think that the FCC's decision to kill net neutrality won't have a notable impact on voter behavior (particularly among Millennials) as we head into midterm season.

So while overturning the FCC's repeal in the courts remains the best option, finding ways to publicize the grotesque fealty many lawmakers have toward some of the most-hated companies in America still serves a purpose. As we've noted, a big part of the broadband industry's lobbying agenda for 2018 will be the passage of bogus net neutrality legislation that will claim to "put the issue to bed," but will be exclusively focused on making the FCC's unpopular decision permanent. Purging at least a few of AT&T, Verizon and Comcast's mindless footsoldiers from Congress could go a long way in keeping that from happening.

It feels naive in 2018 to think that we can ever purge enough of them to actually pass a meaningful net neutrality law without numerous, idiotic loopholes, but a notable shift in the makeup of Congress could still be helpful in stopping the broadband industry's attempt to replace all meaningful oversight of the uncompetitive broadband sector with the policy equivalent of wet tissue paper.

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Posted on Techdirt - 4 January 2018 @ 6:29am

FCC Prepares To Weaken Broadband's Definition To Hide Competitive, Coverage Issues

from the not-particularly-subtle dept

Under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act, the FCC is required to consistently measure whether broadband is being deployed to all Americans uniformly and "in a reasonable and timely fashion." If the FCC finds that broadband industry is failing at this task (you may have noticed that it is), the agency is required by law to "take immediate action to accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment" and by "promoting competition in the telecommunications market."

Of course given that the telecom sector is often the poster child for regulatory capture, this mandate often gets intentionally lost in the weeds. This is usually accomplished by simply pretending the lack of competition doesn't exist. Or worse, by meddling with broadband deployment metrics until the numbers show something decidedly different from the reality on the ground. It's a major reason why broadband ISPs (and the lawmakers who love them) whine incessantly every time we try to update the definition of broadband to a more reasonable and modern metric.

As such, we engage in this endless tug of war depending on how grossly-beholden the current FCC regulators are to regional telecom duopolies. Regulators not blindly loyal to giant ISPs will usually try to raise the bar to match modern needs, as Tom Wheeler did when he bumped the standard definition of broadband to 25 Mbps down, 4 Mbps up back in 2015. Revolving door regulators in turn do everything in their power to manipulate or ignore real world data so that the industry's problems magically disappear.

Case in point: the FCC is expected to vote in February on a new proposal that would dramatically weaken the standard definition of broadband. Under the current rules, you're not technically getting "broadband" if your connection in slower than 25 Mbps down, 4 Mbps up. Under Pai's new proposal, your address would be considered "served" and competitive if a wireless provider is capable of offering 10 Mbps down, 1 Mbps up to your area. While many people technically can get wireless at these speeds, rural availability and geography make true coverage highly inconsistent.

The original notice of inquiry (pdf) proposed by the FCC tries to frame this manipulation of the data as a matter of efficiency, asking:

"Given that Americans use both fixed and mobile broadband technologies, we seek comment on whether we should evaluate the deployment of fixed and mobile broadband as separate and distinct ways to achieve advanced telecommunications capability. Taking into account the differences between the various services and the geographic, economic, and population diversity of our nation, we seek comment on focusing this Section 706 Inquiry on whether some form of advanced telecommunications capability, be it fixed or mobile, is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion. Would such an inquiry best follow the statutory instruction to evaluate the deployment of advanced telecommunications capability "without regard to any transmission media or technology?"

And while that's designed to sound reasonable on its surface, industry analysts like Doug Dawson have quickly pointed out that there's all manner of issues with this effort. One, wireless simply isn't equivalent to a fixed-line connection and may not be for a decade or more in many rural markets, where users not only pay an arm and a leg for capped and metered service, but are often kicked off the network for using these connections like traditional, unlimited fixed-line connections. Folks who believe wireless to be some magical competitive panacea often like to ignore usage caps and higher prices of cellular:

"There is a monstrous difference in price between landline and cellular data. A household using 100 gigabytes of cellular data in the month might pay nearly $1,000 per month. Most ISPs report that the average US household now uses between 150 and 200 gigabytes of broadband per month. It’s hard to think of cellular broadband as a substitute for landline broadband with such disparate pricing."

Folks that think wireless competition will come and save us all also like to ignore the fact that just two carriers hold a monopoly over business data services and backhaul connections that feed towers, something Ajit Pai's FCC also recently tried to downplay when they redefined what constitutes competition in that segment as well. Again, the goal here isn't efficiency, it's illusion:

"The major reason that counting cellular data as equivalent to landline data is that it’s going to largely take the FCC off the hook for promoting broadband. They currently have directed billions from the Universal Service Fund to help build faster broadband networks, mostly in rural America. They can discontinue such programs and not expand their effort if most of rural America is considered to have broadband. With a simple vote a large percentage of rural homes on the wrong side of the digital divide will suddenly have broadband. That’s going to be big news to rural people who already understand that cellular broadband is not really broadband."

Again, it's so much easier to justify your apathy to a problem (in this case, broadband coverage and pricing problems caused by market failure and a lack of competition) when you manipulate the data to suggest the problem somehow doesn't exist.

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Posted on Techdirt - 3 January 2018 @ 11:58am

A Major Security Vulnerability Has Plagued 'Nearly All' Intel CPUs For Years

from the whoops-a-daisy dept

Intel is in for a very challenging few weeks. Reports began to bubble forth this week suggesting that "nearly all" intel chipsets (and some chipsets from other vendors) have been plagued by a security vulnerability over the last decade that could impact millions upon millions of users. While the full details of the vulnerability have been largely been kept under secret embargo by the security community, the scale of the flaw appears to be monumental. From what's currently known, the vulnerability currently allows programs to gain access to the layout or contents of what previously was believed to be protected kernel memory.

You know, the area where everything from passwords, login keys, and files cached from disk are presumably stored away from prying eyes. The problem appears to be unprecedented, and the entire security community is rushing to quickly push out updates for the problem:

"There is presently an embargoed security bug impacting apparently all contemporary CPU architectures that implement virtual memory, requiring hardware changes to fully resolve. Urgent development of a software mitigation is being done in the open and recently landed in the Linux kernel, and a similar mitigation began appearing in NT kernels in November. In the worst case the software fix causes huge slowdowns in typical workloads. There are hints the attack impacts common virtualization environments including Amazon EC2 and Google Compute Engine, and additional hints the exact attack may involve a new variant of Rowhammer.

So for one, this appears to have been in the wild for years, raising questions as to whether this has already been exploited by the intelligence community and others. And while the nature of the vulnerability isn't being fully disclosed, AMD hinted at the structure of a problem in an e-mail over the holiday to the Linux kernel mailing list stating that AMD products aren't affected:

"AMD processors are not subject to the types of attacks that the kernel page table isolation feature protects against. The AMD microarchitecture does not allow memory references, including speculative references, that access higher privileged data when running in a lesser privileged mode when that access would result in a page fault."

At least one computer science PHD candidate at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam claims to have already developed a proof of concept capable of exploiting the flaw to read kernel memory from user mode:

And while the vulnerability can be patched on the OS level (patches for the Linux kernel are already available even though the notes try to tap dance around the true nature of the issue), early reports indicate these updates could come with a much as a 30% performance penalty, something that will make gamers and other enthusiasts likely weep:

"Crucially, these updates to both Linux and Windows will incur a performance hit on Intel products. The effects are still being benchmarked, however we're looking at a ballpark figure of five to 30 per cent slow down, depending on the task and the processor model. More recent Intel chips have features – such as PCID – to reduce the performance hit. Your mileage may vary."

In other words, Intel's not only about to take a severe beating for a massive security vulnerability, but the performance of much of its product lineup is about to be dramatically impacted by the fix, which could flood the market with people looking for new, unimpacted CPUs. That's likely great news for AMD sales, but notably less so for Intel PR reps coming off of their holiday break, who'll be tasked with softening the perceived impact of the flaw ahead of more details in a week or two.

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Posted on Net Neutrality Special Edition - 3 January 2018 @ 6:45am

No, The Death Of Net Neutrality Will Not Be Subtle

from the in-your-face dept

If you listen to Comcast , AT&T, Verizon and their army of paid allies, nothing bad will happen now that the FCC has voted to kill net neutrality protections. In fact, Comcast argues, without government oversight of an uncompetitive market, investment and jobs will soon be miraculously springing forth from the sidewalks. It will, the industry argues, be impossible to even measure the incredible innovation that will be created by letting entrenched ISPs (and their natural monopoly over the broadband last mile) run roughshod over the backs of American consumers and smaller competitors.

But even among folks that support net neutrality, there's pretty clearly a contingent that still believes the damage caused by the repeal of the rules will somehow be subtle. Because the net neutrality debate in recent years wandered into more nuanced and quirky areas like interconnection and zero rating, they believe the ultimate impact of the repeal will likely be modest. After all, these harms (like Comcast exempting its own content from usage caps, or Verizon covertly choking interconnection points) were murky and out of the intellectual or technical reach of many Luddite consumers.

The good folks at Boing Boing, for example, warn readers that the impact of the death of net neutrality will somehow be "hard to spot." Julian Sanchez similarly shared his concerns that net neutrality advocates are harming the overall goal of the movement by warning of dire outcomes in the years to come. Actual harms, Sanchez insists, will be "pretty much invisible":

Of course most of the folks that really understand net neutrality have acknowledged that the harms initially may be muted. ISPs will initially want to be on their best behavior in the new year as they wait for the inevitable lawsuits against the FCC (for ignoring the public and ignoring rampant comment fraud) to shake out, wary of providing the ongoing proceedings with any ammunition. And, as we've noted, ISPs are well aware that even then the rules could simply be recrafted at a later date, which is why they're pushing for a fake net neutrality law that makes federal apathy on the subject the law of the land.

But should ISPs win in the courts or on the Hill, the end result of what they're trying to accomplish will be anything but subtle. Anybody believing otherwise doesn't understand the full scope of what ISPs lobbyists are (so far successfully) up to here.

That's because the FCC didn't just repeal net neutrality. The repeal of the neutrality rules is, in fact, just one part of a much larger vision the ISPs have been lobbying for for years. And that vision includes gutting FCC oversight of broadband ISPs entirely, then shoveling any remaining oversight to an FTC whose authority over ISPs is currently being challenged in court and may soon be all but worthless. With federal oversight out of the way, ISPs have also successfully lobbied the FCC to pre-empt any states that get the crazy idea of protecting consumers from these regional telecom mono/duopolies.

Subtle, nuanced violations of net neutrality (like zero rating) were the end result of fairly tepid, inconsistent regulatory oversight of administrations' past. But what we're talking about here is the wholesale dismantling of adult regulatory oversight of some of the least-liked, least-competitive companies currently operating in America. Anybody that has studied history (or watched Comcast and AT&T do business) and still thinks the resulting harms will be subtle once adult supervision leaves the building simply doesn't understand the full scale of what's being attempted here.

As such, "net neutrality violations" will only be a small part of the problem. Net neutrality infractions are just a symptom of a lack of competition. They're just "creative" efforts to abuse a lack of competition. With neither oversight nor competition, there's no longer a need to be creative or measured. And the impact will be a diverse array of compounded problems, including higher prices, expanded and tightening usage caps and overage fees, even worse customer support (if that's possible for the telecom sector) and even greater privacy abuses than we've grown accostomed to.

Should Comcast, AT&T and Verizon successfully win in court and make the repeal permanent, all bets are off. History tells us repeatedly that the one-two punch of regulatory capture and limited competition has very real, very obvious harms. With no rules and little to no real oversight, there will no need for the pretense we saw as ISPs attempted to creatively tap-dance around the FCC's modest 2015 rules. If you think these companies will be reasonable and measured when they finally receive the green light, you may soon get a very intimate lesson in regulatory capture and natural monopolies.

That said, there remain reasons for hope. The FCC engaged in so much bizarre behavior, made so many procedural gaffes and leaned so heavily on bogus data that the repeal has a good shot at being overturned in the courts. And the subsequent efforts to have ISP cronies in Congress pass bogus net neutrality rules appear to be facing too much justifiable skepticism to gain much traction (though this effort will see a renewed push with multiple legislative efforts -- and lots of phony, farmed support -- in the new year). With a little luck and some elbow grease, the doomsday scenarios quite correctly being predicted may still not come to pass.

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