Television

FCC Approves Next-Gen ATSC 3.0 TV Standard (reuters.com) 148

New submitter mikeebbbd writes: "U.S. regulators on Thursday approved the use of new technology that will improve picture quality on mobile phones, tablets and television, but also raises significant privacy concerns by giving advertisers dramatically more data about viewing habits," reports Reuters. ATSC3.0 will apparently make personal data collection and targeted ads possible. New TVs will be necessary, and broadcasters will need to transmit both ATSC 2.0 (the current standard) for 3 to 5 years before turning off the older system. For now, the conversion is voluntary. There appears to be no requirement (as there was when ATSC 2.0 came out) for low-cost adapter boxes to make older TVs work; once a channel goes ATSC 3.0-only, your old TV will not display it any more.
The Internet

Detroit's Marginalized Communities Are Building Their Own Internet (vice.com) 120

An anonymous reader writes: Motherboard has a report that discusses how some of Detroit's communities are building their own internet to help close the gap between the roughly 60 percent of Detroiters who have internet and 40 percent who don't. From the report: "[Diana Nucera, director of the Detroit Community Technology Project] is part of a growing cohort of Detroiters who have started a grassroots movement to close that gap, by building the internet themselves. It's a coalition of community members and multiple Detroit nonprofits. They're starting with three underserved neighborhoods, installing high speed internet that beams shared gigabit connections from an antenna on top of the tallest building on the street, and into the homes of people who have long gone without. They call it the Equitable Internet Initiative. The issue isn't only cost, though it is prohibitive for many Detroiters, but also infrastructure. Because of Detroit's economic woes, many Big Telecom companies haven't thought it worthwhile to invest in expanding their network to these communities. The city is filled with dark fiber optic cable that's not connected to any homes or businesses -- relics from more optimistic days.

Residents who can't afford internet, are on some kind of federal or city subsidy like food stamps, and students are prioritized for the Initiative, Nucera told me. The whole effort started last summer with enlisting digital stewards, locals from each neighborhood who were interested in working for the nonprofit coalition, doing everything from spreading the word, to teaching digital literacy, to installing routers and pulling fiber. Many of these stewards started out with little or no tech expertise, but after a 20-week-long training period, they've become experts able to install, troubleshoot, and maintain a network from end to end. They're also aiming to spread digital literacy, so people can truly own the network themselves."

Businesses

FCC Repeals Decades-Old Rules Blocking Broadcast Media Mergers (variety.com) 146

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Washington Post (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): Federal regulators rolled back decades-old rules on Thursday, making it far easier for media outlets to be bought and sold -- potentially leading to more newspapers, radio stations and television broadcasters being owned by a handful of companies. The regulations, eliminated in a 3-to-2 vote by the Federal Communications Commission, were first put in place in the 1970s to ensure that a diversity of voices and opinions could be heard on the air or in print. But now those rules represent a threat to small outlets that are struggling to survive in a vastly different media world, according to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. One long-standing rule repealed Thursday prevented one company in a given media market from owning both a daily newspaper and a TV station. Another rule blocked TV stations in the same market from merging with each other if the combination would leave fewer than eight independently owned stations. The agency also took aim at rules restricting the number of TV and radio stations that any media company could simultaneously own in a single market. A major beneficiary of the deregulatory moves, analysts say, is Sinclair, a conservative broadcasting company that is seeking to buy up Tribune Media for $3.9 billion.
The Internet

FCC Plans December Vote To Kill Net Neutrality Rules (bloomberg.com) 115

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: The U.S. Federal Communications Commission under its Republican chairman plans to vote in December to kill the net neutrality rules passed during the Obama era, said two people briefed on the plans. Chairman Ajit Pai in April proposed gutting the rules that he blamed for depressing investment in broadband, and said he intended to "finish the job" this year. The chairman has decided to put his proposal to a vote at the FCC next month, said the people. The agency's monthly meeting is to be held Dec. 14. The people asked not to be identified because the plan hasn't been made public. It's not clear what language Pai will offer to replace the rules that passed with only Democratic votes at the FCC in 2015. He has proposed that the FCC end the designation of broadband companies such as AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp. as common carriers. That would remove the legal authority that underpins the net neutrality rules. One of the people said Pai may call for vacating the rules except for portions that mandate internet service providers inform customers about their practices. The current regulations forbid broadband providers from blocking or slowing web traffic, or from charging higher fees in return for quicker passage over their networks.
The Internet

Ads May Soon Stalk You on TV Like They Do on Your Facebook Feed (bloomberg.com) 203

Targeted ads that seem to follow us everywhere online may soon be doing the same on our TV. From a report: The Federal Communications Commission is poised to approve a new broadcast standard that will let broadcasters do something cable TV companies already do: harvest data about what you watch so advertisers can customize pitches. The prospect alarms privacy advocates, who say there are no rules setting boundaries for how broadcasters handle personal information. The FCC doesn't mention privacy in the 109-page proposed rule that is scheduled for a vote by commissioners Thursday. "If the new standard allows broadcasters to collect data in a way they haven't before, I think consumers should know about that," Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, said in an interview. "What privacy protections will apply to that data, and what security protections?" For broadcasters, Next Gen TV represents an advance into the digital world that for decades has been siphoning viewers away to the likes of Facebook, Netflix, Google's YouTube and Amazon's Prime video service.
Businesses

Payphones Still Make Millions of Dollars (vice.com) 142

From a report on Motherboard: Disruption-y tech companies like Uber and Twitter are a big part of "the discourse" and our daily lives, but neither of them make any profit. You know what once-groundbreaking technology doesn't have any problems making bank year after year? That's right, it's payphones. Most people now have a cell phone, so you may have wondered who still uses those rusted, quarter-eating boxes. As it turns out, a lot of people do. According to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission's 2017 monitoring report, payphones in Canada made $22 million CAD in 2016 (this figure may not account for the cost of upkeep, but the CRTC has stated in the past that payphones are "financially viable at current rates.") That's spread out among nearly 60,000 payphones in the country, which made roughly $300 per phone over the course of the year. That's at least a few calls per day, each. The US numbers are similar: The FCC reports that in 2015 payphones made $286 million, which is comparable for a population ten times the size of Canada's.
Privacy

Verizon Wants To Ban States From Protecting Your Privacy (dslreports.com) 183

DSLReports that Verizon sent a letter and white paper last week to the FCC, insisting that "the FCC has ample authority to pre-empt state efforts to protect consumer privacy, and should act to prevent states from doing so." Verizon's letter reads in part: "Allowing every State and locality to chart its own course for regulating broadband is a recipe for disaster. It would impose localized and likely inconsistent burdens on an inherently interstate service, would drive up costs, and would frustrate federal efforts to encourage investment and deployment by restoring the free market that long characterized Internet access service." From the report: But there's several things Verizon is ignoring here. One being that the only reason states are trying to pass privacy laws is because Verizon lobbyists convinced former Verizon lawyer and FCC boss Ajit Pai that it was a good idea to kill the FCC's relatively modest rules. It's also worth noting that ISPs like Verizon (and the lawmakers paid to love them) have cried about protecting "states rights" when states try to pass protectionist laws hamstringing competitors, but in this case appears eager to trample those same state rights should states actually try and protect consumers. Verizon makes it abundantly clear it's also worried that when the FCC votes to kill net neutrality rules later this year, states will similarly try to pass their own rules protecting consumers, something Verizon clearly doesn't want. "States and localities have given strong indications that they are prepared to take a similar approach to net neutrality laws if they are dissatisfied with the result of the Restoring Internet Freedom proceeding," complains Verizon, again ignoring that its lawsuits are the reason that's happening.
Television

FCC To Loosen TV, Newspaper Ownership Rules (reuters.com) 86

The FCC is planning to vote on rolling back landmark media ownership regulations that prohibit owning a television station and newspaper in the same market and making it easier to acquire additional TV or radio stations. Reuters reports: If approved at the FCC's November meeting, the move would be a win for newspapers and broadcasters that have pushed for the change for decades, but was criticized by Democrats who said it could usher in a new era of media consolidation. The FCC in 1975 banned cross-ownership of a newspaper and broadcast station in the same market, unless it granted a waiver, to ensure a diversity of opinions. The rule was made before the explosion of internet and cable news and Republican President Donald Trump and Pai have vowed to reduce government regulation.

"We must stop the federal government from intervening in the news business," Pai told a congressional panel, noting that many newspapers have closed and many radio and TV stations are struggling. Pai moved earlier this year to make it easier for some companies to own a larger number of local stations. Pai said the marketplace no longer justifies the rules, citing Facebook and Alphabet's dominance of internet advertising. "Online competition for the collection and distribution of news is greater than ever. And just two internet companies claim 100 percent of recent online advertising growth; indeed, their digital ad revenue this year alone will be greater than the market cap of the entire broadcasting industry," Pai said.

AT&T

DirecTV to Launch Android TV-Based OTT Set-Top Box (variety.com) 28

Janko Roettgers, reporting for Variety: AT&T's DirecTV is getting ready to embrace internet-based content delivery beyond its DirecTV Now service: The company is about to introduce a new TV set-top box that's based on Google's Android TV platform and ditches satellite connectivity for over-the-top streaming, according to a new FCC filing. The new device, which goes by the model number C71KW-400, is being described by these documents as "the new AT&T/DirecTV Wireless 4K OTT Client." A user manual published as part of the filings specifies that the device won't be able to interact with any of DirecTV's existing Genie hardware, and hints at a future hardware product called HS27. Helpfully, the manual also supplies a definition of OTT as "the delivery of video via the internet directly into user-connected devices, allowing access to services anywhere, anytime, on any device." The manual also reveals that the set-top will shop with a voice remote with integrated touch pad, and photos show that it has Ethernet, digital audio, HDMI and USB ports, but no antenna connectivity -- meaning that any and all programming will indeed come over the internet.
Television

FCC Ends Decades-Old Rule Designed To Keep TV, Radio Under Local Control (variety.com) 223

The FCC on Tuesday voted to eliminate a rule that required broadcast station groups to maintain a physical presence in the community of their primary local coverage area, a move that critics say will help media companies further consolidate their operations and even be a boost to the ambitions of Sinclair Broadcast Group. Variety reports: But FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the elimination of the rule has been a long time coming and will produce cost savings for stations. He said the "overwhelming majority" of public input favored the elimination of the rule, citing the support for such an action even from National Public Radio. "Continuing to require a main studio would detract from, rather than promote, a broadcaster's ability and incentive to keep people informed and serve the public interest," Pai said. The National Association of Broadcasters supports the rule's elimination, and has argued that it will free up funds for stations to spend on staff and programming. Commissioner Michael O'Rielly said the elimination reflects how the public currently interacts with local businesses -- not by visiting their facilities, but through telecommunications and social media. The rule dates to 1940. The two Democrats on the commission opposed the change. "There are many broadcasters who do an extraordinary job serving communities during disaster," said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. "But let's be honest -- they can only do so when they have a real presence in their area of license. That's not a retrograde notion -- it's a fact."
AT&T

Mobile Phone Companies Appear To Be Selling Your Location To Almost Anyone (techcrunch.com) 149

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: You may remember that last year, Verizon (which owns Oath, which owns TechCrunch) was punished by the FCC for injecting information into its subscribers' traffic that allowed them to be tracked without their consent. That practice appears to be alive and well despite being disallowed in a ruling last March: companies appear to be able to request your number, location, and other details from your mobile provider quite easily. The possibility was discovered by Philip Neustrom, co-founder of Shotwell Labs, who documented it in a blog post earlier this week. He found a pair of websites which, if visited from a mobile data connection, report back in no time with numerous details: full name, billing zip code, current location (as inferred from cell tower data), and more. (Others found the same thing with slightly different results depending on carrier, but the demo sites were taken down before I could try it myself.)
Businesses

FCC's Claim That One ISP Counts As 'Competition' Faces Scrutiny In Court (arstechnica.com) 200

Jon Brodkin reports via Ars Technica: A Federal Communications Commission decision to eliminate price caps imposed on some business broadband providers should be struck down, advocacy groups told federal judges last week. The FCC failed to justify its claim that a market can be competitive even when there is only one Internet provider, the groups said. Led by Chairman Ajit Pai, the FCC's Republican majority voted in April of this year to eliminate price caps in a county if 50 percent of potential customers "are within a half mile of a location served by a competitive provider." That means business customers with just one choice are often considered to be located in a competitive market and thus no longer benefit from price controls. The decision affects Business Data Services (BDS), a dedicated, point-to-point broadband link that is delivered over copper-based TDM networks by incumbent phone companies like AT&T, Verizon, and CenturyLink.

But the FCC's claim that "potential competition" can rein in prices even in the absence of competition doesn't stand up to legal scrutiny, critics of the order say. "In 2016, after more than 10 years of examining the highly concentrated Business Data Services market, the FCC was poised to rein in anti-competitive pricing in the BDS market to provide enterprise customers, government agencies, schools, libraries, and hospitals with much-needed relief from monopoly rates," Phillip Berenbroick, senior policy counsel at consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge said. But after Republicans gained the FCC majority in 2017, "the commission illegally reversed course without proper notice and further deregulated the BDS market, leaving consumers at risk of paying up to $20 billion a year in excess charges from monopolistic pricing," Berenbroick said.

Cellphones

Alphabet's Balloons Will Bring Cellphone Service To Puerto Rico (wired.com) 65

An anonymous reader writes:Hurricanes Irma and Maria wiped out more than 90 percent of the cellphone coverage on Puerto Rico. Now the FCC has given "Project Loon" permission to fly 30 balloons more than 12 miles above the island for the next six months, Wired reports, to temporarily replace the thousands of cellphone towers knocked down by the two hurricanes.

Each balloon can service an area of 1,930 miles, so the hope is to restore service to the entire island of Puerto Rico and parts of the U.S. Virgin Islands. In May Project Loon, part of Google's parent company Alphabet, deployed its technology in Peru and later provided emergency internet access there during serious flooding. (Those balloons were acually launched from Puerto Rico.) These new Project Loon balloons will be "relaying communications between Alphabet's own ground stations connected to the surviving wireless networks, and users' handsets," according to the article, which reports that eight wireless carriers in Puerto Rico have already consented to the arrangement.

America Online

Regulate Facebook Like AIM (vice.com) 105

New submitter gooddogsgotoheaven shares a report from Motherboard arguing why the U.S. government should regulate Facebook like AIM: Sixteen years ago, the FCC approved a merger between American Online and Time Warner, but with several conditions. As part of the deal, AOL was required to make its web portal compatible with other chat apps. The government stopped AOL from building a closed system where everyone had to use AIM, meaning it had to adopt interoperability -- the ability to be compatible with other computer systems. The FCC required AOL to be compatible with at least one instant messaging rival immediately after the merger went through. Within six months, the FCC required AOL to make its portal compatible with at least two other rivals, or face penalties. The FCC's decision changed how we communicate with each other on the internet. By forcing AIM to make room for competition, a range of messaging apps and services, as well as social networks emerged. Instead of being limited to AIM, people who used AOL's portal could choose other platforms.

If Facebook were forced to make room for other services on its platform in the same way AOL made room for other chat apps, new services could emerge. "Facebook has to allow people to access their relationships however they want through other businesses or tools that are not controlled by Facebook," Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute, said. "Having them control and mediate the structure of those relationships -- that's not right." Of course, people can opt out of Facebook and choose to use other, smaller social networks. But those businesses are essentially unable to thrive because of the hold Facebook has on how we communicate online. All our friends and family are already on Facebook, and because the platform is not regulated to allow competition, it's incredibly difficult for other, newer ones to emerge.

The Internet

More Than 80 Percent of All Net Neutrality Comments Were Sent By Bots, Researchers Say (vice.com) 108

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: The Trump administration and its embattled FCC commissioner are on a mission to roll back the pro-net neutrality rules approved during the Obama years, despite the fact that most Americans support those safeguards. But there is a large number of entities that do not: telecom companies, their lobbyists, and hordes of bots. Of all the more than 22 million comments submitted to the FCC website and through the agency's API found that only 3,863,929 comments were "unique," according to a new analysis by Gravwell, a data analytics company. The rest? A bunch of copy-pasted comments, most of them likely by automated astroturfing bots, almost all of them -- curiously -- against net neutrality. "Using our (admittedly) simple classification, over 95 percent of the organic comments are in favor of Title II regulation," Corey Thuen, the founder of Gravwell, told Motherboard in an email.
Communications

Ex-Verizon Lawyer Ajit Pai Confirmed To Second Term As FCC Chair (fastcompany.com) 101

Congress late Monday approved Ajit Pai for a second term as chair of the Federal Communications Commission, Fast Company reports. "The Senate voted 52-41 (with almost all 'yea' votes coming from Republicans) to give Pai a new five-year term retroactive to July 1, 2017. Without the confirmation, Pai would have had to give up the chair at the end of 2017."

"I am deeply grateful to the U.S. Senate for confirming my nomination to serve a second term at the FCC and to President Trump for submitting that nomination to the Senate," Pai said in a statement. Pai served as Associate General Counsel at Verizon Communications Inc. in February 2001, where he handled competition matters, regulatory issues, and counseling of business units on broadband initiatives.
Businesses

US Telco Fined $3 Million in Domain Renewal Blunder (bleepingcomputer.com) 42

Catalin Cimpanu, writing for BleepingComputer: Sorenson Communications, a Utah-based telecommunications provider, received a whopping $3 million fine from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last week for failing to renew a crucial domain name used by a part of the local 911 emergency service. The affected service was the Video Relay System (VRS), a video calling service that telecommunication firms must provide to deaf people and others people with vocal disabilities so they can make video calls to 911 services and use sign language to notify operators of an emergency or crime. According to the FCC, on June 6, Sorenson failed to notice that the domain name on which the VRS 911 service ran had expired, leading to the entire system collapsing shortly after. Utah residents with disabilities were unable to reach 911 operators for almost three days, the FCC discovered. Sorensen noticed its blunder and renewed the domain three days later, on June 8.
Government

Steve Wozniak: Net Neutrality Rollback 'Will End the Internet As We Know It' (siliconbeat.com) 215

An anonymous reader quotes Silicon Beat: Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak penned an op-ed on Friday with a former Federal Communications Commission chairman, urging the current FCC to stop its proposed rollback of Obama-era net neutrality regulations. In the op-ed published by USA Today, Wozniak and Michael Copps, who led the FCC from 2001 to 2011, argued the rollback will threaten freedom for internet users and may corrode democracy... "Sometimes there's a nugget of truth to the adage that Washington policymakers are disconnected from the people they purport to represent," they wrote. "It is a stirring example of democracy in action. With the Internet's future as a platform for innovation and democratic discourse on the line, a coalition of grassroots and diverse groups joined with technology firms to insist that the FCC maintain its 2015 open internet (or 'net neutrality') rules."
In the joint letter, Wozniak and Copps write that "We come from different walks of life, but each of us recognizes that the FCC is considering action that could end the internet as we know it -- a dynamic platform for entrepreneurship, jobs, education, and free expression."

"Will consumers and citizens control their online experiences, or will a few gigantic gatekeepers take this dynamic technology down the road of centralized control, toll booths and constantly rising prices for consumers? At stake is the nature of the internet and its capacity to transform our lives even more than it already has."
Communications

FCC Silenced Puerto Rico Radio Station's Boosters In March 2017 155

An dochasac writes: WAPA (680 AM) is a radio station in San Juan, Puerto Rico. After Hurricane Maria took out power, phone lines, cell towers and internet, WAPA was the only Puerto Rican radio station on the air for crucial public emergency communication. But WAPA's signal coverage was significantly cut in March 2017 when the FCC refused to renew the license for synchronous AM booster stations at Arecibo, Mayaguez and Aguadilla in March due to procedural issues with the petition for renewal. This decision limited the coverage, signal strength and signal quality of this station for remote and mountainous parts of Puerto Rico where the need for emergency communications is greatest. The FCC audio division chief who pulled WAPA's synchronous booster license decided to retire a few days ago. The position is open but is focused on legal training rather than technical expertise and experience with emergency communications.

FCC audio division's regulations have done little to stop AM and satellite radio from broadcasting right-wing streams-of-consciousness throughout the lower 48 states. With IoT, cellular, mesh, satellite, social media and cognitive radio, communications technology is changing much faster than the FCC's legal efforts to regulate it. But its arcane regulations leave Puerto Rico as one of the few islands in the Caribbean without a long distance shortwave broadcast station. With line of sight FM stations offline and WAPA's AM station neutered, post-Maria Puerto Ricans have a better chance of getting news and emergency information from Havana, Cuba than from anything under the FCC's increasingly pointless jurisdiction.
Businesses

Internet Activists Urge Congress to Fire Trump's FCC Chief Ajit Pai (vice.com) 104

Open internet advocates and Democratic lawmakers are mounting a last-ditch effort to remove Federal Communications Commission chief Ajit Pai over his anti-net neutrality stance, just days before Pai is set to be approved by the Senate for a new term. From a report: Since being elevated by President Trump to lead the FCC in January, Pai has become the bete noire of open internet advocates for a variety of anti-consumer actions, but none more so than his crusade to kill federal rules protecting net neutrality, the principle that all internet content should be equally accessible to consumers. [...] During a blistering floor speech on Thursday, Sen. Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat, portrayed Pai, a Republican former Verizon lawyer, as an industry stooge who has worked relentlessly to deliver gift after gift to the nation's largest broadband companies. "Mr. Pai has a long track record of putting big cable before consumers, big corporations above small businesses, and pay-to-play over the free and open internet," Wyden wrote in a blog post accompanying his speech. Free Press, a DC-based public interest group, has also launched a campaign to pressure the Senate to "fire Pai," citing his proposal to kill the FCC's net neutrality policy and other anti-consumer actions. But if reconfirmed, Pai is expected to try to ram through his plan to torpedo the FCC's net neutrality rules before the end of the year. "Rehiring Pai to head the agency that oversees US communications policies would be a boon for the phone and cable companies he eagerly serves," Tim Karr, Free Press Senior Director of Strategy, wrote in a blog post.

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