Businesses

Senators Blast Comcast, Other Cable Firms For "Unfair Billing Practices" (arstechnica.com) 174

An anonymous reader writes: Six Democratic US senators [Wednesday] criticized Comcast and other TV and broadband providers for charging erroneous fees, such as cable modem rental fees billed to customers who bought their own modems. The senators have written a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler asking the commission to 'stop unfair billing practices.'.....Last year, more than 30 percent of complaints to the FCC about Internet service and 38 percent of complaints about TV service were about billing...
Government

Cable Lobby Steams Up Over FCC Set-Top Box Competition Plan (arstechnica.com) 167

An anonymous reader writes: Cable TV industry lobby groups expressed their displeasure with a Federal Communications Commission plan to bring competition to the set-top box market, which could help consumers watch TV on different devices and thus avoid paying cable box rental fees.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed new rules that would force pay-TV companies to give third parties access to TV content, letting hardware makers build better set-top boxes. Customers would be able to watch all the TV channels they're already paying cable companies for, but on a device that they don't have to rent from them. The rules could also bring TV to tablets and other devices without need for a rented set-top box. The system would essentially replace CableCard with a software-based equivalent.

The Internet

T-Mobile's Binge On Violates Net Neutrality, Says Stanford Report (tmonews.com) 217

An anonymous reader writes: The debate over whether or not Binge On violates Net Neutrality has been raging ever since the service was announced in November. The latest party to weigh in is Barbara van Schewick, law professor at Stanford University.

In a new report published today — and filed to the FCC, as well — van Schewick says that Binge on "violates key net neutrality principles" and "is likely to violate the FCC's general conduct rule." She goes on to make several arguments against Binge On, saying that services in Binge On distorts competition because they're zero-rated and because video creators are more likely to use those providers for their content, as the zero-rated content is more attractive to consumers.

Google

Google Testing Project Loon: Concerns Are Without Factual Basis (thestack.com) 78

An anonymous reader writes: In a filing submitted to the FCC, Google has stated that while concerns for health and environmental risks posed by Project Loon testing were 'genuinely held,' 'there is no factual basis for them.' Google's filing attempts to address a wide range of complaints, from environmental concerns related to increased exposure to RF and microwave radiation, to concerns for loss of control and crashes of the balloons themselves. First, it states that its proposed testing poses no health or environmental risks, and is all well within the standards of experimentation that the FCC regularly approves. It also pledges to avoid interference with any other users of the proposed bandwidth, by collocating transmitters on shared platforms and sharing information kept current daily by an FCC-approved third party database manager.
Communications

The Telecommunications Ball Is Now In Cuba's Court 59

lpress writes: The FCC has dropped Cuba from its exclusion list (PDF), so there are now no restrictions on U.S. telecom company dealings with ETECSA, the Cuban government telecommunication monopoly, or any other Cuban organization. Last week the U.S. sent its second high-level telecommunication delegation to Cuba. The delegates were FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and other government officials plus representatives of Cisco, Comcast, and Ericsson. Some of the news: there are at least 6 proposals for an undersea cable between Havana and Florida; Cisco has proposed a Network Academy at Cuba's leading computer science university (Chinese infrastructure dominates today); 4G mobile connectivity was discussed and Google was conspicuously absent. The time for Cuba to act is now — while President Obama is still in office.
United States

Why 6 Republican Senators Think You Don't Need Faster Broadband (cio.com) 522

itwbennett writes: Broadband in the United States still lags behind similar service in other industrialized countries, so Congress made broadband expansion a national priority, and it offers subsidies, mostly in rural areas, to help providers expand their offerings,' writes Bill Snyder. And that's where an effort by the big ISPs and a group of senators to change the definition of broadband comes in. Of course, the ISPs want the threshold to be as low as possible so it's easier for them to qualify for government subsidies. In a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, dated January 21, 2016, the senators called the current broadband benchmark of 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream 'arbitrary' and said that users don't need that kind of speed anyway. '[W]e are aware of few applications that require download speeds of 25 Mbps.' the senators wrote, missing the simple fact that many users have multiple connected devices.
Privacy

Rights Groups Push For Strong Broadband Privacy Rules (reuters.com) 29

An anonymous reader writes: A coalition of rights groups has sent a letter to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission asking for tougher privacy regulations on providers of broadband internet services. The letter was sent by the ACLU, the EFF, Public Citizen, and over 50 other groups. "Critics say broadband providers are already harvesting huge amounts of consumer data for use in targeted advertising, the groups wrote. 'This can create a chilling effect on speech and increase the potential for discriminatory practices derived from data use,' the letter said." FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said such firms need to ensure their data is protected, and that consumers should know more about what data is being collected, but he hasn't addressed whether the data should be harvested in the first place. He expects the FCC to review these practices "in the next several months."
Build

Arduino SRL Turns Focus To New Connected Boards (hackaday.com) 67

szczys writes: Arduino has driven a tidal wave of embedded development over the last decade. But last year a rift formed in the shape of two companies — Arduino LLC and Arduino SRL — who are suing each other over trademark. While that is ongoing, each company is trying to outdo the other in terms of new hardware. Arduino SRL is now focusing on producing connected boards and will soon have several new offerings available. The Uno WiFi is a traditional Arduino with an ESP8266 WiFi chip on board. The Tian has a MIPS processor with 2.4 & 5 GHz WiFi making it a Linux single board computer with support for low level pin driving. And the Lei is somewhere in between the other two and only for the Chinese market (it would need FCC certification to be sold in the US). From the user side the trademark dispute looks like a waste of energy, but if it drives the companies to produce more boards and fight for followers on price and quality that may be the silver lining.
Google

Google Glass For Work Is Sleeker, Tougher and Foldable (engadget.com) 71

An anonymous reader writes: FCC filings published today are offering a glimpse of the "Enterprise Edition" of Google Glass. According to Engadget: "...The work-focused eyepiece touts a much slicker (and likely more durable) design with both a larger display prism and a hinge that lets you fold it up for travel. The test photos also reveal a spot for a magnetic battery attachment and what looks to be a speedier Atom processor. There's still no word on when Google will announce this headset, although the FCC presence hints that it might not take long."
The Internet

Marco Rubio and Other Senators Move To Block Municipal Broadband (theintercept.com) 352

New submitter h33t l4x0r writes: Presidential candidate Marco Rubio recently "fired off a letter (PDF) to the Federal Communications Commission asking the agency to allow states to block municipal broadband services." The municipal services offer cheaper, faster broadband alternatives to the large telecoms. Rubio's campaign has taken large donations from AT&T, and the article notes that other providers, "fearing competition, have used their influence in state government to make an end-run around local municipalities. Through surrogates like the American Legislative Exchange Council, the industry gets states to pass laws that ban municipal broadband networks, despite the obvious benefits to both the municipalities and their residents."
Cellphones

Cellphones Really Are Not As Good As They Were 10 Years Ago At Making Calls (telegraph.co.uk) 215

whoever57 writes: If you ever thought that your cellphone does not make calls as well as the cellphone you had 10 years ago, you may be right. The UK's Ofcom (roughly equivalent to the FCC) tested cellphones and found that many needed a much higher signal than the standards recommend in order to send and receive data. This applied to 2G, 3G and 4G connections. Confirmation bias has me nodding along; Google Fi has been dropping a huge percentage of my calls lately, and I've been unfairly reminiscing about the good old days with a heavy Nokia 5100 series phone.
The Internet

US Rep. Joe Barton Has a Plan To Stop Terrorists: Shut Down Websites (arstechnica.com) 275

Earthquake Retrofit writes: In an FCC oversight hearing, U.S. Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) asked Chairman Tom Wheeler if it's possible to shut down websites used by ISIS and other terrorist groups. He said, "Isn't there something we can do under existing law to shut those Internet sites down, and I know they pop up like weeds, but once they do pop up, shut them down and then turn those Internet addresses over to the appropriate law enforcement agencies to try to track them down? I would think that even in an open society, when there is a clear threat, they've declared war against us, our way of life, they've threatened to attack this very city our capital is in, that we could do something about the Internet and social media side of the equation." Wheeler pointed out that the legal definition of "lawful intercept" did not support such actions, but added that Congress could expand the law to validate the concept. Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee is exploring the idea of using the recent terror attacks in France as ammunition to force tech companies away from end-to-end encryption. "Lawmakers said it was time to intensify discussions over what technology companies such as Apple and Google could do to help unscramble key information on devices such as iPhones and apps like WhatsApp, where suspected terrorists have communicated."
Businesses

Why Free Services From Telecoms Can Be a Problem On the Internet 89

HughPickens.com writes: T-Mobile said last week that it would let customers watch as many movies as they wanted on services like Netflix and HBO as well as all other kinds of video, without having it count against their monthly data plans. But the NYT editorializes that there are real concerns about whether such promotions could give telecommunications companies the ability to influence what services people use on the Internet, benefiting some businesses and hurting others. Earlier this year, the FCC adopted net neutrality rules to make sure that companies like T-Mobile, Verizon and Comcast did not seek to push users toward some types of Internet services or content — like video — and not others. The rules, which telecom companies are trying to overturn in court, forbid phone and cable companies to accept money from Internet businesses like Amazon to deliver their videos to customers ahead of data from other companies. The rules, however, do not explicitly prevent telecom companies from coming up with "zero rating" plans like the one T-Mobile announced that use them treat, or rate, some content as free.

"Everybody likes free stuff, but the problem with such plans is that they allow phone and cable companies to steer their users to certain types of content. As a result, customers are less likely to visit websites that are not part of the free package." T-Mobile has said that its zero-rating plan, called Binge On, is good for consumers and for Internet businesses because it does not charge companies to be part of its free service. "Binge On is certainly better than plans in which websites pay telecom companies to be included," concludes The Times. "But it is not yet clear whether these free plans will inappropriately distort how consumers use the Internet."
Government

FCC Clarifies: It's Legal To Hack Your Router (betanews.com) 85

Mark Wilson writes with an update to an earlier report that the wording of new FCC regulations could mean that it would be illegal to modfiy the software running on wireless routers by installing alternative firmwares. Instead, The commission has now acknowledged that there was more than a little confusion from people who believed that manufacturers would be encouraged to prevent router modifications. The FCC wants to make it clear that most router hacking is fine and will remain fine. With a few exceptions, that is. In a blog post entitled Clearing the Air on Wi-Fi Software Updates, Julius Knapp from the FCC tries to clear up any misunderstandings that may exist.
Privacy

The FCC Says It Can't Force Google and Facebook To Stop Tracking Their Users (washingtonpost.com) 127

An anonymous reader writes: The FCC announced that it will not prevent Facebook, Google, and other websites from not honoring users' Do Not Track requests that make it difficult for them to track online activities. The Washington Post reports: "The announcement is a blow to privacy advocates who had petitioned the agency for stronger Internet privacy rules. But it's a win for many Silicon Valley companies whose business models rely on monetizing Internet users' personal data. It's also the latest move in an ongoing battle to defend the agency's new net neutrality rules, which opponents warned would result in the regulation of popular Web sites and online services. By rejecting the petition, the FCC likely hopes to defuse that argument. The rules, which took effect this summer, allow the FCC to regulate only providers of Internet access, not individual Web sites, said a senior agency official."
The Internet

Comcast Expanding Data Cap Locations, Training Reps To Avoid Subject (arstechnica.com) 264

An anonymous reader sends news that Comcast is about to expand its 300GB data cap to more cities in the Southeastern U.S. "Newly capped areas include Little Rock, Arkansas; Houma, LaPlace, and Shreveport, Louisiana; Chattanooga, Greeneville, Johnson City, and Gray, Tennessee; and Galax, Virginia." This happened at the same time organizations are calling on the FCC to investigate Comcast for this practice. A helpful Comcast employee decided to leak the internal training on how Comcast plans to message these data caps to consumers. For example, they direct their representatives to tell customers that areas without a data cap actually have a 250GB cap, but it just isn't being enforced. They even suggest avoiding the term "cap," instead preferring "usage plan." There's also this: "If a customer calls in with any questions associated with the usage policy and how it relates to Net Neutrality, Netflix or observations about how XFINITY services are or are not counted relative to third party services, do not address these items with the customer."
Communications

FCC Fines Another Large Firm For Blocking WiFi 138

AmiMoJo writes: Another company is learning about the fine points of Section 333 of the Communications Act, which prohibits willful interference with any licensed or authorized radio communications. This time, M.C. Dean, who provided the Baltimore Convention Center's in-house WiFi service, were caught by the FCC sending deauthentication frames to prevent hotspot users maintaining a connection. The complainant alleged that M.C. Dean's actions were identical to those that had earned Marriott a $600,000 fine only weeks earlier.
Government

Debt Collectors Sneaking Robocall Exemptions Into Budget Bill 216

TCPALaw writes: Hate robocalls? In July, the FCC tightened the rules regarding robocalls to cell phones, especially debt collection calls (in particular limiting calls to wrong numbers or to anyone who is not the debtor). Now the debt collection industry is getting their revenge by sneaking in a massive exemption (see section 301 on page 10 to the PDF) to the the FCC's rules that would expressly permit debt collection robocalls to cell phones (and even collect calls!) for student loans, mortgages, taxes, and any other debt owed or guaranteed by the government. Time to make a few phone calls myself to some senators. The Senate switchboard is (202) 224-3121 or go to senate.gov to find the number for your senators. This may come up for a vote in 24 hours or less.
Education

Google, Facebook, Microsoft Deliver K-12 CS Demands To Congress (politico.com) 120

theodp writes: Politico reports that just one day after Facebook launched TechPrep, a highly-publicized initiative to attract more minorities and women to coding, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Code.org quietly sent a letter to top education lawmakers in the House and Senate insisting that computer science "must" be added to the list of "core academic subjects" and states be given resources to improve STEM education programs. "Computer science is marginalized throughout K-12 education," reads the letter. "We need to improve access for all students, particularly groups who have traditionally been underrepresented." Echoing the last point at this month's Grace Hopper Women in Computer Celebration, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki called for mandatory computer science in schools, suggesting that boys — like her own son — are monopolizing the family computer across America, leaving girls — like her own daughter — out of the conversation when it comes to technology (video @38:33). The new round of hand-wringing comes as tech companies face the deadline for filing their 2015 EEO-1 surveys and seek more tech-friendly U.S. visa and OPT STEM policies, so it's probably worth remembering that Microsoft proposed tech could turn workforce diversity lemons into H-1B visa lemonade by connecting tech immigration to K-12 CS education.
Communications

FCC Passes Landmark Reform of 'Egregious' Prison Phone Charges (vice.com) 173

derekmead writes: The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to crack down on exorbitant prison phone rates, in a landmark victory for criminal justice reform advocates who have long criticized what they call abusive and predatory practices by phone companies. The new FCC rules cap the cost of prison phone calls at 11 cents a minute for debit or prepaid calls in state and federal prisons, and reduce the cost of most inmate calls from $2.96 to $1.65 for a 15-minute in-state call, and from $3.15 to $1.65 for a 15-minute long distance call. The new policy also cracks down on excessive service fees and so-called "flat-rate calling," in which inmates are charged a flat rate for a call up to 15 minutes regardless of the actual call duration.

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