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Cellphones

FCC Votes To Upgrade Emergency Smartphone Alerts (cnn.com) 97

After recent bombings, the Federal Communications Commission has voted to update the four-year-old emergency smartphone alerts system, which is used by officials to ping smartphones to alert people of severe weather, missing children, terror attacks or other danger. Some of the new changes allow the system to send texts with links to pictures, maps and phone numbers. CNNMoney reports: The agency also voted to allow longer messages -- 360 characters, up from 90 -- and to require wireless providers to support Spanish-language alerts. Wireless carriers will be allowed to support embedded links later this year. They'll be required to next year. The system's limits were on display last week when millions of New Yorkers received a text alert seeking information on Ahmad Khan Rahami, suspected in bombings in New York and New Jersey. "See media for pic," the alert said. Emergency alerts still won't include embedded photos, but commissioners said they're open to the idea. "Vague directives in text about where to find information about a suspect, just as we saw in New York, are not good enough," said Jessica Rosenworcel, an FCC commissioner. "As we move into the 5G future, we need to ensure that multimedia is available in all of our alert messages." Not everyone was so sure. Michael O'Rielly, another commissioner, said adding links and multimedia could jam cell networks during emergencies.
Communications

FCC Delays Cable TV Apps Vote, Needs Time To Work Out Licensing (arstechnica.com) 39

The FCC has delayed a vote on a plan that would require pay-TV operators to make free TV applications, so cable subscribers will have to wait longer for an alternative to renting set-top boxes from cable companies. ArsTechnica reports:The FCC was scheduled to vote on final rules at its monthly meeting today, but the item was removed from the agenda just before the meeting began. The commission's Democratic majority still seems determined to issue new rules, but there have been objections from the cable industry and disagreements among Democratic commissioners over some of the details. "We have made tremendous progress -- and we share the goal of creating a more innovative and inexpensive market for these consumer devices," Chairman Tom Wheeler and fellow Democrats Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel said today in a joint statement. "We are still working to resolve the remaining technical and legal issues and we are committed to unlocking the set-top box for consumers across this country." The vote could happen at next month's meeting, but the commissioners did not promise any specific timeline.
Government

FCC Official Asks Agency To Investigate Ban On Journalists' Wi-Fi Personal Hotspots At Debate (arstechnica.com) 170

Yesterday, it was reported that journalists attending the presidential debate at Hofstra University were banned from using personal hotspots and were told they had to pay $200 to access the event's Wi-Fi. The journalists were reportedly offered the option to either turn off their personal hotspots or leave the debate. Cyrus Farivar via Ars Technica is now reporting that "one of the members of the Federal Communications Commission, Jessica Rosenworcel, has asked the agency to investigate the Monday evening ban." Ars Technica reports: Earlier, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel tweeted, saying that something was "not right" with what Hofstra did. She cited an August 2015 order from the FCC, forcing a company called SmartCity to no longer engage in Wi-Fi blocking and to pay $750,000. Ars has since updated their report with a statement from Karla Schuster, a spokeswoman for Hofstra University: The Commission on Presidential Debates sets the criteria for services and requires that a completely separate network from the University's network be built to support the media and journalists. This is necessary due to the volume of Wi-Fi activity and the need to avoid interference. The Rate Card fee of $200 for Wi-Fi access is to help defray the costs and the charge for the service does not cover the cost of the buildout. For Wi-Fi to perform optimally the system must be tuned with each access point and antenna. When other Wi-Fi access points are placed within the environment the result is poorer service for all. To avoid unauthorized access points that could interfere, anyone who has a device that emits RF frequency must register the device. Whenever a RF-emitting device was located, the technician notified the individual to visit the RF desk located in the Hall. The CPD RF engineer would determine if the device could broadcast without interference.
Government

ISP To FCC: Using The Internet Is Like Eating Oreos (consumerist.com) 227

New submitter Rick Schumann shares with us a report highlighting an analogy presented by an ISP that relates Double Stuf Oreos to the internet. Specifically, that Double Stuf Oreos cost more than regular Oreos, and therefore you should pay more for internet: The Consumerist reports: "Ars Technica first spotted the crumbly filing, from small (and much-loathed) provider Mediacom. Mediacom's comment is in response to the same proceeding that Netflix commented on earlier this month. However, while Netflix actually addressed data and the ways in which their customers use it, Mediacom went for the more metaphor-driven approach. The letter literally starts out under the header, 'You Have to Pay Extra For Double-Stuffed,' and posits that you, the consumer, are out for a walk with $2 in your pocket when you suddenly develop a ferocious craving for Oreo cookies." Of course their analogy is highly questionable, since transmitting data over a network doesn't actually consume anything, now does it? You eat the cookie, the cookie is gone, but you transmit data over a network, the network is still there and can transmit data endlessly. Mediacom's assertion that the Internet is like a cookie you eat, is like saying copying a file on your computer somehow diminishes or degrades the original file, which of course is ridiculous.
Communications

Charter Fights FCC's Attempt To Uncover 'Hidden' Cable Modem Fees (arstechnica.com) 65

Charter is trying to convince the Federal Communications Commission to backtrack on a plan that would force cable providers to charge a separate fee for cable modems, an anonymous writes, citing an ArsTechnica report. From the article: Charter is unusual compared to other cable companies in that it doesn't tack on a cable modem rental fee when offering Internet service. But FCC officials don't think that's good for consumers, because the price of Charter Internet service is the same whether a customer uses a Charter modem or buys their own. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's latest proposal for new cable box rules would require companies to list fees for equipment used to access video. The FCC is clearly hoping that Charter will create a separate fee for cable modems and lower the base price of Internet service by a corresponding amount, thus letting customers save money in the long run by purchasing their own modems. (Separately from modems, Charter already charges monthly fees for the use of its TV set-top boxes.) "As part of the proposal, all pay-TV providers are required to be fully transparent about the cost consumers pay for leased equipment used to access video programming," an FCC spokesperson told Ars. "The goal is to uncover hidden fees and give consumers the ability to make informed choices. If a consumer chooses to purchase their own equipment at retail, our rules would require they no long have to pay for the built-in cost on their bill. We look forward to input from the Commissioners on this aspect of the proposal."
The Courts

Appeals Court Decision Kills North Carolina Town's Gigabit Internet (hothardware.com) 222

MojoKid writes: In early August, the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled the FCC had no authority to prevent states from imposing restrictions on municipal internet. This was a result of the FCC stepping in last year in an effort to "remove barriers to broadband investment and competition." However, the courts sided with the states, which said that the FCC's order impeded on state rights. In the end, this ruling clearly favored firmly entrenched big brand operators like Time Warner Cable, Comcast, and ATT, which lobbied hard to keep competition at bay. The federal ruling specifically barred municipal internet providers from offering service outside of their city limits, denying them from providing service to under-served communities. The fallout from the federal court's rejection of the FCC order to extend a lifeline to municipal internet providers has claimed another victim. The small community of Pinetops, North Carolina -- population 1,300 -- will soon have its gigabit internet connection shut off. Pinetops has been the recipient of Greenlight internet service, which is provided by the neighboring town of Wilson. The town of Wilson has been providing electric power to Pinetops for the past 40 years, and had already deployed fiber through the town in order to bolster its smart grid initiative. What's infuriating to the Wilson City Council and to the Pinetop residents that will lose their high-speed service is that the connections are already in place. There's no logical reason why they should be cut off, but state laws and the lobbyists supporting those laws have deemed what Greenlight is doing illegal. Provide power to a neighboring town -- sure that's OK. Provide better internet to a neighboring town -- lawsuit
Communications

Cable Lobby Tries To Make You Forget That It Represents Cable Companies (arstechnica.com) 33

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The U.S. cable industry's biggest lobby group has dropped the word "cable" from its name in a rebrand focusing on its members' role as providers of both Internet and TV services. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) will henceforth be called NCTA-The Internet and Television Association. NCTA will be maintained in the name as a nod to the group's past, even though the initials no longer stand for any particular words. "Just as our industry is witnessing an exciting transformation driven by technology and connectivity, NCTA's brand must reflect the vibrancy and diversity of our members," NCTA CEO Michael Powell (a former Federal Communications Commission chairman) said in today's announcement. The group's "mission to drive the industry forward remains the same," he said. This isn't the NCTA's first name change. The group began as the National Community Television Council in 1951 and then became the National Community Television Association in 1952, according to the Museum of Broadcast Communications. Despite dropping the word "cable," the NCTA's name change announcement makes reference to how cable companies are dominating the broadband market. Powell noted that the NCTA "represent[s] an industry that is America's largest and fastest home Internet provider." As it goes forward, the NCTA won't be the only telecom lobby group initialism that no longer stands for anything. The CTIA -- previously known as the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association and then the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association -- is now just "CTIA-The Wireless Association."
Communications

The Ham Radio Parity Act Unanimously Passed By US House (arrl.org) 195

This week the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed "The Ham Radio Parity Act" -- a huge victory for grass-roots advocates of amateur radio. Slashdot reader bobbied reports: This will allow for the reasonable accommodation of amateur radio antennas in many places where they are currently prohibited by homeowner associations or private land use restrictions... If this bill passes the Senate, we will be one step closer to allowing amateur radio operators, who provide emergency communications services, the right to erect reasonable antenna structures in places where they cannot do so now.
The national ham radio association is now urging supporters to contact their Senators through a special web page. "This is not just a feel-good bill," said representative Joe Courtney, remembering how Hurricane Sandy brought down the power grid, and "we saw all the advanced communications we take for granted...completely fall by the wayside."
Republicans

FCC Republicans Refused To Give Congress Net Neutrality Documents (arstechnica.com) 99

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The two Republican members of the Federal Communications Commission have refused to give Congress documents needed to complete an investigation into the FCC's net neutrality rule-making process, according to a lawmaker. "Your refusal to cooperate with the Committee's request is unacceptable, it obstructs our investigation, and it prevents the Committee from having a complete or accurate understanding of the circumstances surrounding this rulemaking," U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) wrote in a letter to FCC Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly yesterday. There are "serious questions" about "Pai's efforts to organize opposition to the proposed rule with outside parties," Cummings' office said in a related press release. "Pai previously worked as associate general counsel for Verizon, one of the major opponents of the open Internet policy, and he reportedly 'enjoys the support of conservative think tanks like the Phoenix Center, the Free State Foundation and TechFreedom,'" the press release said. O'Rielly wrote an op-ed on the net neutrality rules in 2014, but only after he "sought edits on [the] draft op-ed from three individuals outside the FCC with professional interests that could be affected by the rule," the press release said. The Republican lawmakers claimed that President Obama had "an improper influence" over the FCC's decision and demanded documentation of all communication between FCC personnel and the White House, as well as calendar appointments, visitor logs, and meeting minutes related to meetings with the White House, plus all internal documents discussing the views and recommendations of the White House. They also asked for all documents and e-mails related to views of FCC personnel about the net neutrality proceeding. A Cummings staff member told Ars that the "request has the backing of the full committee and all the enforcement mechanisms the committee has, including issuing a subpoena." The committee has schedule a hearing for September 27 on the status of outstanding document requests to different federal agencies, and could seek updates on the requests to the two Republican FCC commissioners at this hearing, a Democratic aide for the Oversight Committee also said.
Government

Why The FCC Chair Says Set-Top Box Reform Proposal Could Change (fortune.com) 33

An anonymous reader writes: Hardware costs are down yet fees still seem to climb. The head of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission said he might change his proposal to allow tens of millions of U.S. pay TV subscribers to ditch costly set-top boxes and access video programming online. At a Senate hearing on Thursday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler defended his revised proposal, which is scheduled for a final vote on Sept. 29. The plan, announced last week, lacks some of the most controversial aspects of the original proposal unveiled in January but includes a new licensing body to ensure that pay-TV companies do not enter into anti-competitive agreements. The plan is aimed at ending the cable industry's long domination of the $20-billion-a-year set-top box market and lowering prices for consumers. Nearly all pay-TV subscribers lease the boxes from their cable, satellite, or telecommunications providers at an average annual cost of $231. Those fees have jumped 185% since 1994, while the cost of televisions, computers, and mobile phones has dropped 90%, the FCC has estimated.
Communications

Netflix Pushes FCC To Crack Down On Data Caps (dslreports.com) 160

Netflix hates data caps. The on-demand movies and TV shows service has asked the US Federal Communications Commission to declare that home internet data caps are unreasonable and that they limit customers' ability to watch online video. From an article on DSLReports:Netflix has long has an adversarial relationship with ISPs, and often for good reason. Usage caps on fixed-line networks are specifically designed to protect ISP TV revenues from Netflix competition, allowing an ISP to both complicate and generate additional profit off of the shift away from legacy TV. "Data caps (especially low data caps) and usage based pricing ("UBP") discourage a consumer's consumption of broadband, and may impede the ability of some households to watch Internet television in a manner and amount that they would like," said Netflix in a new filing with the FCC. "For this reason, the Commission should hold that data caps on fixed Âline networks ÂÂand low data caps on mobile networksÂÂ may unreasonably limit Internet television viewing and are inconsistent with Section 706." Netflix's filing comes as ISP's increasingly turn to broadband usage caps to take advantage of the lack of broadband competition in many markets. Fearing FCC crackdown both Comcast and AT&T raised their caps to one terabyte, though many ISPs still cap usage at much-lower allotments. High, low, or somewhere in between, Netflix highlights that there is no good reason to implement caps on well-managed fixed-line networks, despite a decade of ISPs trying to justify the price gouging.
Communications

FCC Chief To Unveil Revised Plan To Eliminate Cable Boxes (fortune.com) 149

The top U.S. communications regulator plans to unveil a revised plan to allow about 100 million pay TV subscribers to replace expensive set-top boxes with less-costly apps that provide access to television and video programs, Fortune reports. From the report: Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed in January opening the $20 billion cable and satellite TV set-top box market to new competitors and allow consumers to access multiple content providers from a single app or device. The plan, aimed at breaking the cable industry's long grip on the lucrative pay TV market and lowering prices for consumers, drew fierce opposition from TV and content providers, including AT&T, Comcast and Twenty-First Century Fox. The FCC has said Americans spend $20 billion a year to lease pay-TV boxes, or an average of $231 annually. Set-top box rental fees have jumped 185 percent since 1994, while the cost of TVs, computers and mobile phones has dropped 90 percent, the FCC has estimated. Update: 09/08 19:18 GMT by M :Tom Wheeler has just published the proposed laws at LATimes.
Communications

FCC Proposes 5G Cybersecurity Requirements, Asks For Industry Advice (fedscoop.com) 29

Presto Vivace quotes a report from FedScoop: "Cybersecurity issues must be addressed during the design phase for the entire 5G ecosystem, including devices. This will place a premium on collaboration among all stakeholders," said FCC chairman Tom Wheeler during a National Press Club event on June 20. "We continue to prefer an approach that emphasizes that industry develop cybersecurity standards just as we have done in wired networks." The FCC published a request Wednesday for comment on a new set of proposed 5G rules to the Federal Register focused on adding specific "performance requirements" for developers of example internet-connected devices. If a company hopes to secure a license to access higher-frequency 5G spectrum in the future then they will need to adhere to these specific requirements -- in other words, compliance is non-negotiable. Notably, these FCC "performance requirements" now include the submission of a network security plan. The report adds: "A quick review of the FCC's proposed 5G cybersecurity plan shows a six category split, organized by a companies' security approach, coordination efforts, standards and best practices, participation with standards bodies, other security approaches and plans with information sharing organizations. Security plans must be submitted to the commission at least six months before a 5G-ready product enters the market, according to the notice."
AT&T

ISP Lobbyists Pushing Telecom Act Rewrite (dslreports.com) 77

Karl Bode, reporting for DSLReports:Telecom lobbyists are pushing hard for a rewrite of the Telecom Act, this time with a notable eye on cutting FCC funding and overall authority. AT&T donated at least $70,000 to back Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, and clearly expects him to spearhead the rewrite and make it a priority in 2017. The push is an industry backlash to a number of consumer friendly initiatives at the FCC, including new net neutrality rules, the reclassification of ISPs under Title II, new broadband privacy rules, new cable box reform and an attempt to protect municipal broadband. AT&T's Ryan donation is the largest amount AT&T has ever donated to a single candidate, though outgoing top AT&T lobbyist Jim Cicconi has also thrown his support behind Hillary Clinton.
Electronic Frontier Foundation

EFF Accuses T-Mobile of Violating Net Neutrality With Throttled Video (arstechnica.com) 57

An anonymous reader writes: T-Mobile's new "unlimited" data plan that throttles video has upset the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which accuses the company of violating net neutrality principles. The new $70-per-month unlimited data plan "limits video to about 480p resolution and requires customers to pay an extra $25 per month for high-definition video," reports Ars Technica. "Going forward, this will be the only plan offered to new T-Mobile customers, though existing subscribers can keep their current prices and data allotments." EFF Senior Staff Technologist Jeremy Gillula told the Daily Dot, "From what we've read thus far it seems like T-Mobile's new plan to charge its customers extra to not throttle video runs directly afoul of the principle of net neutrality." The FCC's net neutrality rules ban throttling, though Ars notes "there's a difference between violating 'the principle of net neutrality' and violating the FCC's specific rules, which have exceptions to the throttling ban and allow for case-by-case judgements." "Because our no-throttling rule addresses instances in which a broadband provider targets particular content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices, it does not address a practice of slowing down an end user's connection to the internet based on a choice made by the end user," says the FCC's Open Internet Order (PDF). "For instance, a broadband provider may offer a data plan in which a subscriber receives a set amount of data at one speed tier and any remaining data at a lower tier." The EFF is still determining whether or not to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission.
AT&T

AT&T, Apple, Google To Work On 'Robocall' Crackdown (reuters.com) 113

Last month the FCC had pressed major U.S. phone companies to take immediate steps to develop technology that blocks unwanted automated calls available to consumers at no charge. It had demanded the concerned companies to come up with a "concrete, actionable" plan within 30 days. Well, the companies have complied. On Friday, 30 major technology companies announced they are joining the U.S. government to crack down on automated, pre-recorded telephone calls that regulators have labeled as "scourge." Reuters adds: AT&T, Alphabet, Apple, Verizon Communications and Comcast are among the members of the "Robocall Strike Force," which will work with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. The strike force will report to the commission by Oct. 19 on "concrete plans to accelerate the development and adoption of new tools and solutions," said AT&T Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson, who is chairing the group. The group hopes to put in place Caller ID verification standards that would help block calls from spoofed phone numbers and to consider a "Do Not Originate" list that would block spoofers from impersonating specific phone numbers from governments, banks or others.
Cellphones

FCC Complaint: Baltimore Police Breaking Law With Use of Stingray Phone Trackers (baltimoresun.com) 108

An anonymous reader writes from a report via Baltimore Sun: Civil rights groups have complained to the FCC over the Baltimore Police Department's use of stingray phone tracking devices. They claim that "the way police use it interferes with emergency calls and is racially discriminatory." Baltimore Sun reports: "The complaint argues that the police department doesn't have a proper license to use the devices and is in violation of federal law. It calls on regulators at the Federal Communications Commission to step in and formally remind law enforcement agencies of the rules. 'The public is relying on the Commission to carry out its statutory obligation to do so, to fulfill its public commitment to do so, and to put an end to widespread network interference caused by rampant unlicensed transmissions made by BPD and other departments around the country,' the groups say in the complaint. Police in Baltimore acknowledged in court last year that they had used the devices thousands of times to investigate crimes ranging from violent attacks to the theft of cellphones. Investigators had been concealing the technology from judges and defense lawyers and after the revelations Maryland's second highest court ruled that police should get a warrant before using a Stingray. The groups argue that surveillance using the devices also undermines people's free speech rights and describe the use of Stingrays as an electronic form of the intrusive police practices described in the scathing Justice Department report on the police department's pattern of civil rights violations."
Communications

FCC Loses Court Battle To Let Cities Build their Own Broadband (theverge.com) 160

Jacob Kastrenakes, writing for The Verge: The Federal Communications Commission's plan to let cities build their own broadband networks hit a major roadblock today, as a federal appellate court ruled that the commission was overstepping its authority. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit said today that the FCC is not able to, essentially, remove state laws that prevent the construction of municipal broadband networks, as it attempted to do in Wilson, North Carolina and Chattanooga, Tennessee last year. Both Wilson and Chattanooga had petitioned the FCC for permission to build out their own broadband networks -- a measure some cities are turning to in order to increase competition among internet providers, who often hold regional monopolies and more or less refuse to compete. State laws, however, prevented them from doing so; that's the case in 19 states in total, all of which could have been affected by future FCC orders had the court ruled in its favor.Ars Technica has more details.
Communications

US Broadband: Still No ISP Choice For Many, Especially at Higher Speeds (arstechnica.com) 95

Despite things getting better with adoption -- however slow -- of Google Fiber in several regions of the United States, the broadband market has gotten slightly less competitive since 2013, says a new report from the FCC. The report adds that, as a result, Americans still have little choice of high-speed broadband providers (PDF). From an ArsTechnica report: At the FCC's 25Mbps download/3Mbps upload broadband standard, there are no ISPs at all in 30 percent of developed census blocks and only one offering service that fast in 48 percent of the blocks. About 55 percent of census blocks have no 100Mbps/10Mbps providers, and only about 10 percent have multiple options at that speed. At the 10Mbps/1Mbps threshold -- which captures slower DSL technology in addition to cable and fiber -- about 90 percent of census blocks have at least two providers. These numbers exclude satellite, which is available nearly everywhere but has high latency and often low data caps. Even these numbers overstate the amount of competition, because an ISP might offer service to only part of a census block. The percentage of households with choice is thus even lower.
AT&T

AT&T Is Paying $7.75 Million in Refunds and Fines Over Sham Calls (fortune.com) 38

AT&T will pay $7.75 million after a federal investigation found it allowed unauthorized third-party charges on its customers' telephone bills, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission said Monday, reports Reuters (via Fortune). From the report: The company allowed "scammers to charge customers approximately $9 per month for a sham directory assistance service," the FCC said Monday. The fraud was uncovered by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration while investigating two Ohio companies for drug-related crimes and money laundering, the FCC said. The settlement includes $6.8 million in refunds and a $950,000 federal fine, the FCC said. AT&T signed a consent decree with the FCC and agreed to cease billing for nearly all third-party products and services on landline bills and adopt procedures to obtain express consent from customers prior to allowing third-party charges. The company also agreed to revise its billing practices to ensure third-party charges are conspicuously identified on bills.

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