The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is getting plenty serious about the Internet. Besides striking a stance in favor of net neutrality, the FCC feels that the quasi-monopolies that dominate the industry should be more responsive to their customers. And to help you keep an eye on your ISP, the FCC has rolled out www.broadband.gov, which will let you check your broadband speeds.
Yeah, yeah, yeah--this is nothing new. Many of the major ISPs offer something like this, as do a number of independents, like SpeedTest.net But the FCC’s effort is a bit different. The FCC would like you to anonymously provide your address (How can that be anonymous?), which the FCC will use to compile a “Broadband Dead Zone” report. If you feel uncomfortable about ratting out your ISP to the government, just keep in mind your ISP doesn’t share your guilt when it comes to ratting you out.
What’s fun, though, is Marguerite Reardon’s testing of her broadband connection, and her resulting conversation with her ISP, Time Warner Cable. Using both a Dell laptop and an Apple MacBook, she never got close to the 10Mbps download speed Time Warner promises. When asked about this, a Time Warner service rep said 10Mbps wasn’t guaranteed, that speeds “can go up to 10Mbps.” And you know what, he’s right, that’s exactly what Time Warner says on its web site.
Which of course means that Time Warner can just as easily promise speeds up to 100Mbps, while still delivering the sub-7Mbps Reardon was registering. Perhaps it might be a good idea to rat out our ISPs.
In retrospect, 2009 was really the year of the PS3. Sales of the oft maligned console finally began picking up after price drops and the introduction of the PS3 Slim. The continued ascendancy of Blu-Ray certainly didn’t hurt either. Even with all the focus on Sony’s console, they thought they could sneak some new versions through the FCC without anyone knowing. Not so much.
The two new versions are identified by their model numbers: CECH-2101A and CECH-2101B. The current PS3 Slims have model numbers CECH-2001A and B, denoting the 120GB and 250GB versions. So we can be fairly certain that these new models are differentiated by their hard drive size, but what’s changed from the current gen?
The wireless components tested by the FCC seem to be the same. It is possible, though depressing, that Sony may have just tweaked the manufacturing process to save money and slapped a new model number on them. But maybe… just maybe there’s some secret Sony magic under the hood of these new models. We can only hope. What do you think?
Want to ruffle a few feathers in the telecommunications industry? Try telling them to get on the ball and make 100Mbps transmission speeds a reality, and do it by 2020.
That's exactly what the FCC proposed earlier this week, saying it wants broadband providers to up the ante in the next decade and deliver 100Mbps speeds to 100 million homes in that time-frame. As it stands right now, the average U.S. Internet speed is only 4Mbps, so that's quite a gap to fill, and one that many ISPs say is simply unrealistic.
"A 100 meg is just a dream," Qwest Communications International Inc. Chief Executive Edward Mueller told Reuters. "We couldn't afford it."
Mueller went on to say that customers don't want speeds that high, so why bother. He wasn't alone in that sentiment.
"In order to earn a return for investors, you have to be conscious of what consumers will pay. I don't know this is something consumers wil pay for," Piper Jaffray analyst Christopher Larsen said. "It's a nice goal, but it's a little on the over ambitious side."
The folks at Engadget noticed an interesting similarity in an FCC filing that Google made late last week. The filing included details for a new handset that supports 3G on WCDMA Bands I, II, and V, providing the capability to work on AT&T’s network.
The original Nexus One filing listed the FCC ID of the device as NM899100. The new filing had an ID of NM899110. The model ID on the device follows the same one-digit-off scheming. Since there is only a minor change in IDs, it is likely a variant device of the same model. All signs are pointing to a Nexus One that will work off of T-Mobile’s network and fully support 3G speeds.
Right now, you could chalk up $529 and get yourself a Nexus One that is unlocked, which will surely work on other networks. Downside is, that the 3G support within the handset only works with T-Mobile’s network so you're stuck in slow-mo.
The FCC has formally issued their draft net neutrality rules, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is calling foul. The document contains language covering so-called “reasonable network management”. According to the EFF, this creates a loophole that would allow ISPs to block BitTorrent.
The net neutrality debate really took off when in 2007, Comcast began blocking BitTorrent connections. Eventually the FCC forced them to stop, but Comcast is still appealing the decision. This copyright loophole in the draft could be used by content producers to encourage ISPs to enforce copyright law. In fact, the EFF claims the exact behavior that got Comcast in hot water, and kicked off the debate could be perfectly acceptable under the proposed regulations.
It may not be feasible for the FCC to be intimately involved in every aspect of an ISP’s network management. What’s the solution? Can they just require protocol agnostic management?
The RIAA, which represents the recording industry, was born out of frustration and anger over the loss of control of content. It’s not, to put it simply, a happy camper, and probably never will. Anything and everything the RIAA perceives as bad for the recording industry is something else for the RIAA to rail against, no matter how good that something might be for the rest of us. The RIAA is now on the warpath against net neutrality. It seems that net neutrality limits the ability of ISPs to act as its brownshirts in the RIAA's war against file sharing. So net neutrality, according to the RIAA, has gotta go.
In a filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the RIAA is arguing that the adoption of strict net neutrality rules will limit the ability of ISPs to flexibly address illegal online file sharing. According to the RIAA, “ISPs are in a unique position to limit online theft. They control the facilities over which infringement takes place and are singularly positioned to address it at the source. Without ISP participation, it is extremely difficult to develop an effective prevention approach.”
It seems the RIAA has given up trying to sue the pants of everybody who shares files and wants ISPs to now do their dirty work. But net neutrality makes this impossible. ISPs would be limited in blocking illegal file sharing, which the RIAA wants ISPs to be actively encouraged to do.
Some large ISPs are not too keen on becoming the lapdog of the RIAA. They’ve already rejected the RIAA’s request to disconnect subscribers after three copyright violations. Rather than pander after the ISPs, the RIAA is looking to have the FCC compel the ISPs to fall into line, and police their networks for illegal file sharing.
There are others, such as Public Knowledge, the Consumer Electronics Association, and the Electric Frontier Foundation, who are opposed to the RIAA’s position. They say the FCC should keep its nose out of copyright enforcement, and so too should ISPs. Snooping or limiting service interferes with legitimate, and legal, network activity. According to them ISPs are "poorly placed to determine whether or not transfers of content are infringing or otherwise unlawful, a task generally reserved to attorneys, courts, and law enforcement.” In other words, let the RIAA do its own dirty work.
Remember when Comcast was sanctioned by the FCC for throttling BitTorrent? Well, they’re still in court trying to get that overturned, but at the same time they’re making some noise about the whole issue of Net Neutrality. On the face of it, their position sounds downright reasonable. Comcast is pushing for “clear rules” for Net Neutrality from the FCC.
The internet giant is apparently worried that the all but inevitable regulations pushed by FCC Chair Genachowski could end up being overly broad and confusing. Comcast says that they were completely surprised that fiddling with users’ BitTorrent connections and lying about it would be frowned upon. They just want to avoid that sort of embarrassing incident in the future.
Comcast also spoke disapprovingly of the tone of debate saying, “It’s truly sad that the debate around “net neutrality,” or the need to regulate to “preserve an open Internet,” has been filled with so much rhetoric, vituperation, and confusion.” There seems to be a bit of a disconnect here, considering a lot of that rhetoric comes from the ISPs. It could be that Comcast is just trying to save face as it becomes clear Net Neutrality will move forward.
The FCC recently requested comment on transitioning to a fully IP-based phone network to replace landlines. Apparently AT&T’s ears perked up upon hearing that. Good ol’ Ma Bell submitted a 32 page position to the FCC in support of the changeover. They requested the FCC eliminate the rules that require carriers to provide landline service and decide on a date to phase out the technology.
According to AT&T, the landline business is on a steep decline and is expensive for AT&T and other carriers to run. Between 2000 and 2008 the use of long distance minutes on landlines fell 42 percent. Revenues also fell 27 percent. Perhaps the best indicator that it’s time for a change is that less than one in five homes rely exclusively on landlines. AT&T asked for regulatory changes that would allow them to transition away from copper lines. Ma Bell also hinted that telecom regulations ought to be handled by the federal government and not states. While this may very well be the time to begin transitioning to new technology, AT&T provided no suggestions on how to serve those 20 percent of people that rely on landlines.
Do you think we’re ready to move away from the old, reliable copper phone line?
FCC commissioner Clyburn is none too pleased with Verizon right now. Big Red’s response to the inquiry about the new $350 early termination fee for advanced devices was sent off last week. The FCC had asked Verizon to explain why they increased the fee assessed to customers that leave their contracts early, pointing out that customers still had substantial cancellation charges even near the end of a contract. Verizon said it was only to recoup the costs of the more expensive phones they sell, and in the long run would keep prices low for people wishing to buy inexpensive handsets.
The FCC response was vaguely threatening, calling the Verizon response, “unsatisfying and, in some cases, troubling.” The commissioner also scolded Verizon for denying they charge customers who inadvertently launch their web browsers. Clyburn cautioned that ETFs were not to be used to cover the costs of doing business. The commissioner’s statement closes with a promise that, “I look forward to exploring this issue in greater depth with my colleagues in the New Year.” Now that’s how you threaten someone.
Comcast must have thought no one would notice when, in 2007, the ISP began preferentially slowing or blocking BitTorrent packets on its network. Users quickly noticed that Comcast was up to something; an AP investigation confirmed their findings. Now a class-action that came from that incident has been settled with Comcast agreeing to pay $16 million.
Comcast had at first claimed that it had nothing to do with the slowdowns. Even when they were found out, the issue was explained as acceptable traffic management. The FCC didn’t see it that way, and Comcast was forced to reverse course. However, that didn’t stop the lawsuits from being filed.
The settlement in question certainly doesn’t mean Comcast is admitting any wrongdoing. A Comcast statement claims the settlement is intended to “avoid a potentially lengthy and distracting legal dispute that would serve no useful purpose." Parties to the class-action can expect a rather small share of the funds. Each valid claim will be paid a maximum of $16. It might not be a lot of money, but it is Comcast’s money.