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Privacy

'Why The US Senate's Vote To Throw Out ISP Privacy Laws Isn't All Bad' (technologyreview.com) 98

"Nobody wants their data spread far and wide," write two associate editors at MIT Technology Review, "but the FCC's rules were an inconsistent solution to a much larger problem." An anonymous reader writes: They point out the rules passed in October "weren't even yet in effect," but more importantly -- they only would've applied to ISPs. "[T]he reality is that the U.S. doesn't have a baseline law that governs online privacy," and the truth is, it never did. "The FCC's new privacy rules would have been dramatic, to be sure -- but they would only have addressed one piece of the problem, leaving companies like Facebook and Google free to continue doing much the same thing.
While the repeal still needs approval in the U.S. House of Representatives and the president's signature, their article argues that what's really needed is "a more consistent approach to privacy."
Communications

T-Mobile Kicks Off Industry Robocall War With Network-Level Blocking and ID Tools (venturebeat.com) 76

T-Mobile is among the first U.S. telecom companies to announce plans to thwart pesky robocallers. From a report on VentureBeat: The move represents part of an industry-wide Robocall Strike Force set up by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last year to combat the 2 billion-plus automated calls U.S. consumers deal with each month. Other key members of the group include Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Verizon. T-Mobile's announcement comes 24 hours after the FCC voted to approve a new rule that would allow telecom companies to block robocallers who use fake caller ID numbers to conceal their true location and identity. From a report on WashingtonPost: The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday proposed new rules (PDF) that would allow phone companies to target and block robo-calls coming from what appear to be illegitimate or unassigned phone numbers. The rules could help cut down on the roughly 2.4 billion automated calls that go out each month -- many of them fraudulent, according to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. "Robo-calls are the No. 1 consumer complaint to the FCC from members of the American public," he said, vowing to halt people who, in some cases, pretend to be tax officials demanding payments from consumers, or, in other cases, ask leading questions that prompt consumers to give up personal information as part of an identity theft scam.
Communications

Senate Votes To Kill FCC's Broadband Privacy Rules (pcworld.com) 397

The Senate voted 50-48 along party lines Thursday to repeal an Obama-era law that requires internet service providers to obtain permission before tracking what customers look at online and selling that information to other companies. PCWorld adds: The Senate's 50-48 vote Thursday on a resolution of disapproval would roll back Federal Communications Commission rules requiring broadband providers to receive opt-in customer permission to share sensitive personal information, including web-browsing history, geolocation, and financial details with third parties. The FCC approved the regulations just five months ago. Thursday's vote was largely along party lines, with Republicans voting to kill the FCC's privacy rules and Democrats voting to keep them. The Senate's resolution, which now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration, would allow broadband providers to collect and sell a "gold mine of data" about customers, said Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat. Kate Tummarello, writing for EFF: [This] would be a crushing loss for online privacy. ISPs act as gatekeepers to the Internet, giving them incredible access to records of what you do online. They shouldn't be able to profit off of the information about what you search for, read about, purchase, and more without your consent. We can still kill this in the House: call your lawmakers today and tell them to protect your privacy from your ISP.
Verizon

Verizon Wireless Wades Right Back Into the Net Neutrality Debate With Fios Deal (theverge.com) 37

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Verizon is taking a page out of AT&T's book by zero rating its Fios cable TV service for all Verizon Wireless customers. That means that if you purchase your mobile data plan from Verizon Wireless and your cable TV plan from Fios, you can now use the Fios Mobile app to stream live channels and on-demand shows and not have it count against your monthly data cap. (It should be noted that Verizon Wireless and Fios are separate subsidiaries, but both are owned by Verizon Communications.) This builds on Verizon's previous decision to zero rate its Go90 mobile app for customers of its own wireless service, which net neutrality advocates see as prioritizing its own products to the detriment of those from competitors and upstarts. One notable exception here is for customers with unlimited mobile data plans. Streaming Fios Mobile content will in fact count toward the unlimited plans' 22GB a month cap, after which Verizon will cap speeds. This caveat is not made clear in Verizon's marketing language, and instead is found only in the App Store release notes.
AT&T

FCC Investigating Coast-To-Coast 911 Outage For AT&T Wireless Users (nbcnews.com) 53

AT&T says it has fixed a nationwide outage that prevented its wireless customers from making 911 emergency calls. "Service has been restored for wireless customers affected by an issue connecting to 911. We apologize to those affected," the company officials said in a statement. The outage was serious enough to gain the attention of the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, said via Twitter that they are investigating what went wrong. NBC News reports: The company didn't say how widespread the outage was, but as reports poured in from across the country, Karima Holmes, director of unified communications for the Washington, D.C., government, said her office had been "advised there is a nationwide outage for AT&T." At 10:20 p.m. ET, about 10 minutes before AT&T gave the all-clear, DownDetector, a site that monitors internet traffic for real-time information on wireless and broadband carriers, indicated that outage reports for AT&T were clustered most prominently around New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Miami, Dallas, Houston, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle. But emergency authorities across the country confirmed 911 outages and publicized direct police, fire and ambulance dispatch telephone numbers that AT&T customers should call in emergencies.
Republicans

GOP Senators' New Bill Would Let ISPs Sell Your Web Browsing Data (arstechnica.com) 300

Yesterday, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and 23 Republican co-sponsors introduced a resolution that would overturn new privacy rules for internet service providers. "If the Federal Communications Commission rules are eliminated, ISPs would not have to get consumers' explicit consent before selling or sharing web browsing data and other privacy information with advertisers and other third parties," reports Ars Technica. "The measure would use lawmakers' power under the Congressional Review Act to ensure that the FCC rulemaking 'shall have no force or effect.' The resolution would also prevent the FCC from issuing similar regulations in the future." From the report: Flake's announcement said he's trying to "protect consumers from overreaching Internet regulation." Flake also said that the resolution "empowers consumers to make informed choices on if and how their data can be shared," but he did not explain how it will achieve that. The privacy order had several major components. The requirement to get the opt-in consent of consumers before sharing information covered geo-location data, financial and health information, children's information, Social Security numbers, Web browsing history, app usage history, and the content of communications. This requirement is supposed to take effect on December 4, 2017. The rulemaking had a data security component that required ISPs to take "reasonable" steps to protect customers' information from theft and data breaches. This was supposed to take effect on March 2, but the FCC under newly appointed Chairman Ajit Pai halted the rule's implementation. Another set of requirements related to data breach notifications is scheduled to take effect on June 2. Flake's resolution would prevent all of those requirements from being implemented. He said that this "is the first step toward restoring the [Federal Trade Commission's] light-touch, consumer-friendly approach." Giving the FTC authority over Internet service providers would require further FCC or Congressional action because the FTC is not allowed to regulate common carriers, a designation currently applied to ISPs.
Communications

Trump Renominates Ajit Pai For Five More Years at the FCC (theverge.com) 57

According to Axios, Bloomberg, and several other publications, President Trump has nominated FCC chairman Ajit Pai for a second five-year term at the commission. "Pai's current term ended last June, though he's been able to stick around through the end of the year even without reconfirmation," reports The Verge. From the report: The nomination comes just days after Pai sat down with the president for a meeting, during which they're said to have "reconnected" but without actually discussing anything the commission is actively considering. Pai will need confirmation from the Senate for the nomination to be approved. He was first nominated in 2012 to fill the slot of a commissioner. With approval, he'll be able to stick around through at least the entirety of Trump's current term. The question now is when Trump will nominate people to fill the two slots still vacant at the commission. The FCC remains short staffed, with only three out of five seated leaders, which somewhat limits how quickly Pai is able to get through his agenda.
Communications

FCC Chair Wants Carriers To Block Robocalls From Spoofed Numbers (arstechnica.com) 178

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The FCC in 2015 made it clear that voice service providers can offer call blocking tools to customers, but commissioners said at the time that more needed to be done about Caller ID spoofing. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has now scheduled a preliminary vote for March 23 on new rules designed to solve the problem. "One particularly pernicious category of robocalls is spoofed robocalls -- i.e., robocalls where the caller ID is faked, hiding the caller's true identity," the proposal says. "Fraudsters bombard consumers' phones at all hours of the day with spoofed robocalls, which in some cases lure consumers into scams (e.g., when a caller claims to be collecting money owed to the Internal Revenue Service) or lead to identity theft." The proposed rules would let providers "block spoofed robocalls when the spoofed Caller ID can't possibly be valid." Providers would be able to block numbers that aren't valid under the North American Numbering Plan and block valid numbers that haven't been allocated to any phone company. They'd also be able to block valid numbers that have been allocated to a phone company but haven't been assigned to a subscriber. The proposal would also codify the FCC's previous guidance that phone companies can block calls when requested by the spoofed number's subscriber. The upcoming vote on March 23 is for a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), which means the rules won't take effect immediately. The FCC uses NPRMs to seek comment on proposals before issuing final rules.
Communications

FCC Chairman Calls Net Neutrality a 'Mistake' (theverge.com) 319

FCC chairman Ajit Pai said today that net neutrality was "a mistake" and that the commission is now "on track" to return to a much lighter style of regulation. The Verge adds: "Our new approach injected tremendous uncertainty into the broadband market," Pai said during a speech at Mobile World Congress this afternoon. "And uncertainty is the enemy of growth." Pai has long been opposed to net neutrality and voted against the proposal when it came up in 2015. While he hasn't specifically stated that he plans to reverse the order now that he's chairman, today's speech suggests pretty clearly that he's aiming to. [...] Pai's argument is that internet providers were doing just fine under the old rules and that the new ones have hurt investment.
AT&T

FCC Chairman Says His Agency Won't Review AT&T's Time Warner Purchase (engadget.com) 104

Today, FCC commissioner Ajit Pai confirmed that his agency would not review AT&T's Time Warner purchase, clearing the way for the Justice Department to likely approve the deal. Engadget reports: Last month, AT&T revealed how it might structure its deal to acquire Time Warner without having to go through FCC review. The communications giant noted that it "anticipated that Time Warner will not need to transfer any of its FCC licenses ... after the closing of the transaction." That means that the FCC wouldn't need to review the transaction. "That is the regulatory hook for FCC review," Pai said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. "My understanding is that the deal won't be presented to the commission." The WSJ notes that this would leave the Justice Department as the only governmental agency reviewing the potential deal. Time Warner has said that it has "dozens" of FCC licenses, but the company believes those won't need to be transferred to AT&T as part of the merger, thus keeping the FCC out of the deal. The report notes that the deal still might not go through even if the FCC won't review the transaction. There's a lot of opposition to it from consumer advocacy groups, and President Donald Trump has said he opposes the deal.
Businesses

How Cable Monopolies Hurt ISP Customers (backchannel.com) 89

"New York subscribers have had to overpay month after month for services that Spectrum deliberately didn't provide," reports Backchannel -- noting these practices are significant because together Comcast and Charter (formerly Time Warner Cable) account for half of America's 92 million high-speed internet connections. An anonymous reader quotes Backchannel: Based on the company's own documents and statements, it appears that just about everything it has been saying since 2012 to New York State residents about their internet access and data services is untrue...because of business decisions the company deliberately made in order to keep its capital expenditures as low as possible... Its marketing department kept sending out advertising claims to the public that didn't match the reality of what consumers were experiencing or square with what company engineers were telling Spectrum executives. That gives the AG's office its legal hook: Spectrum's actions in knowingly saying one thing but doing another amount to fraudulent, unfair, and deceptive behavior under New York law...

The branding people went nuts, using adjectives like Turbo, Extreme, and Ultimate for the company's highest-speed 200 or 300 Mbps download offerings. But no one, or very few people, could actually experience those speeds...because, according to the complaint, the company deliberately required that internet data connections be shared among a gazillion people in each neighborhood... [T]he lawsuit won't by itself make much of a difference. But maybe the public nature of the attorney-general's assault -- charging Spectrum for illegal misconduct -- will lead to a call for alternatives. Maybe it will generate momentum for better, faster, wholesale fiber networks controlled by cities and localities themselves. If that happened, retail competition would bloom. We'd get honest, straightforward, inexpensive service, rather than the horrendously expensive cable bundles we're stuck with today.

The article says Spectrum charged 800,000 New Yorkers $10 a month for outdated cable boxes that "weren't even capable of transmitting and receiving wifi at the speeds the company advertised customers would be getting," then promised the FCC in 2013 that they'd replace them, and then didn't. "With no competition, it had no reason to upgrade its services. Indeed, the company's incentives went exactly in the other direction."
Government

FCC To Halt Rule That Protects Your Private Data From Security Breaches (arstechnica.com) 119

According to Ars Technica, "The Federal Communications Commission plans to halt implementation of a privacy rule that requires ISPs to protect the security of its customers' personal information." From the report: The data security rule is part of a broader privacy rulemaking implemented under former Chairman Tom Wheeler but opposed by the FCC's new Republican majority. The privacy order's data security obligations are scheduled to take effect on March 2, but Chairman Ajit Pai wants to prevent that from happening. The data security rule requires ISPs and phone companies to take "reasonable" steps to protect customers' information -- such as Social Security numbers, financial and health information, and Web browsing data -- from theft and data breaches. The rule would be blocked even if a majority of commissioners supported keeping them in place, because the FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau can make the decision on its own. That "full commission vote on the pending petitions" could wipe out the entire privacy rulemaking, not just the data security section, in response to petitions filed by trade groups representing ISPs. That vote has not yet been scheduled. The most well-known portion of the privacy order requires ISPs to get opt-in consent from consumers before sharing Web browsing data and other private information with advertisers and other third parties. The opt-in rule is supposed to take effect December 4, 2017, unless the FCC or Congress eliminates it before then. Pai has said that ISPs shouldn't face stricter rules than online providers like Google and Facebook, which are regulated separately by the Federal Trade Commission. Pai wants a "technology-neutral privacy framework for the online world" based on the FTC's standards. According to today's FCC statement, the data security rule "is not consistent with the FTC's privacy standards."
Communications

FCC Votes To Lift Net Neutrality Transparency Rules For Smaller Internet Providers (theverge.com) 115

The Federal Communications Commission today voted to lift transparency requirements for smaller internet providers. According to The Verge, "Internet providers with fewer than 250,000 subscribers will not be required to disclose information on network performance, fees, and data caps, thanks to this rule change. The commission had initially exempted internet providers with fewer than 100,000 subscribers with the intention of revisiting the issue later to determine whether a higher or lower figure was appropriate." From the report: The rule passed in a 2-1 vote, with Republicans saying the reporting requirements unfairly burdened smaller ISPs with additional work. Only Democratic commissioner Mignon Clyburn opposed. Clyburn argued that the disclosures were an important consumer protection that was far from overbearing on businesses, particularly ones this large. Clyburn also argued that the rule would allow larger internet providers to avoid disclosing information by simply breaking their service areas up into different subsidiaries. Republican commissioner Michael O'Rielly voted in favor of the change, saying he actually would have preferred the subscriber exemption to be even higher. And commission chairman Ajit Pai said the rules were necessary to protect "mom and pop internet service providers" from "burdensome requirements [...] that impose serious and unnecessary costs."
Communications

T-Mobile Promises Big LTE Boost From 5GHz Wi-Fi Frequencies (arstechnica.com) 64

"T-Mobile USA is ready to deploy a new LTE technology over the same 5GHz frequencies used by Wi-Fi following U.S. government approval of the first 'LTE-U' devices," reports Ars Technica. "The Federal Communications Commission today authorized the first LTE-U (LTE for unlicensed spectrum) devices after a controversial process designed to ensure that cellular network use of the 5GHz band won't interfere with Wi-Fi networks." From the report: LTE-U will help T-Mobile achieve its goal of offering gigabit LTE speeds, the carrier said. Verizon Wireless is also planning to use LTE-U. The company said in September that it is "eager to deploy" the technology and developed an equipment testing plan, but it's not clear when a Verizon deployment will happen. Cellular carriers in the US generally hold exclusive licenses to spectrum, while Wi-Fi operates in unlicensed frequencies. Anyone can operate in unlicensed spectrum without an FCC license as long as they use certified radio equipment and comply with power limits and other technical requirements. The plan to bring LTE to unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum set off an industry fight. LTE-U deployment plans drew opposition in 2015 from cable companies and the Wi-Fi Alliance, an industry group that certifies equipment to make sure it doesn't interfere with other Wi-Fi equipment. Industry groups worked together to develop a "Coexistence Test Plan" to prevent interference, and the Wi-Fi Alliance said it's satisfied with the result even though the new testing is voluntary rather than required by the FCC.
Businesses

SoftBank Is Willing To Cede Control of Sprint To Get T-Mobile Merger Done, Says Report (phonedog.com) 28

According to Reuters, SoftBank is willing to cede control of Sprint to make a T-Mobile-Sprint merger happen. The company controls 83 percent of Sprint, but it'd reportedly be willing to surrender control of Sprint and retain a minority stake in a merger with T-Mobile. PhoneDog reports: It's said that SoftBank is growing frustrated with Sprint's lack of major growth in the U.S. market, and so it wants to merge with T-Mobile in order to better compete with Verizon and ATT. No talks between SoftBank and Deutsche Telekom are currently happening because of the FCC's 600MHz spectrum auction that prevents collusion between competing companies. Once the auction ends in April, though, it's expected that SoftBank will approached Deutsche Telekom about a deal.
Cellphones

FCC Chairman Wants It To Be Easier To Listen To Free FM Radio On Your Smartphone (recode.net) 209

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Recode: Your smartphone has an FM radio in it, only it's unlikely that you're able to use it. That's because in the U.S., less than half of phones actually have the FM tuner turned on. But FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who just recently assumed the top position at the regulatory agency under President Trump, thinks that should change. In remarks made to the North American Broadcasters Association yesterday, Pai said that it's a public safety issue. Both the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Association and an FCC advisory panel on public safety have advocated for turning on the FM radio capabilities in smartphones, since radio is a reliable source of information when internet or cellphone networks go down in severe weather. Although Pai thinks smartphones should have the FM chip turned on, he doesn't think the government should mandate it: "As a believer in free markets and the rule of law, I cannot support a government mandate requiring activation of these chips. I don't believe the FCC has the power to issue a mandate like that, and more generally I believe it's best to sort this issue out in the marketplace."
Businesses

'The End Of The Level Playing Field' (avc.com) 108

Venture Capitalist Fred Wilson writes in a blog post: When the Internet came along in the early 90s, we saw something completely different. Here was a level playing field where anyone could launch a business without permission from anyone. We had a great run over the last 25 years but I fear it's coming to an end, brought on by the growing consolidation of market power in the big consumer facing tech companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, etc, by the constricted distribution mechanisms on mobile devices, and by new leadership at the FCC that is going to tear down the notion that mobile carriers can't play the same game cable companies played. It is certainly true that consumers, particularly low-income consumers, like getting free or subsidized data plans. There is no doubt about that. But when the subsidies are coming from the big tech companies, who can easily pay them, to buy competitive advantage over that nimble startup that is scaring them, well we know how that movie ends.
AT&T

FCC Rescinds Claim That AT&T, Verizon Violated Net Neutrality (arstechnica.com) 197

jriding writes: The Federal Communications Commission's new Republican leadership has rescinded a determination that ATT and Verizon Wireless violated net neutrality rules with paid data cap exemptions. The FCC also rescinded several other Wheeler-era reports and actions. The FCC released its report on the data cap exemptions (aka "zero-rating") in the final days of Democrat Tom Wheeler's chairmanship. Because new Chairman Ajit Pai opposed the investigation, the FCC has now formally closed the proceeding. The FCC's Wireless Telecommunications Bureau sent letters to ATT, Verizon, and T-Mobile USA notifying the carriers "that the Bureau has closed this inquiry. Any conclusions, preliminary or otherwise, expressed during the course of the inquiry will have no legal or other meaning or effect going forward." The FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau also sent a letter to Comcast closing an inquiry into the company's Stream TV cable service, which does not count against data caps. The FCC issued an order that "sets aside and rescinds" the Wheeler-era report on zero-rating. All "guidance, determinations, and conclusions" from that report are rescinded, and it will have no legal bearing on FCC proceedings going forward, the order said. ATT and Verizon allow their own video services (DirecTV and Go90, respectively) to stream on their mobile networks without counting against customers' data caps, while charging other video providers for the same data cap exemptions. The FCC under Wheeler determined that ATT and Verizon unreasonably interfered with online video providers' ability to compete against the carriers' video services.
Communications

Hackers Take Over Unsecured Radio Transmitters, Play Anti-Trump Song (arstechnica.com) 99

Ars Technica is reporting that "a certain model of Low Power FM radio transmitter with known vulnerabilities has been targeted in a new wave of radio-station hacks this week." Hackers have taken advantage of an exploit that was known all the way back in April 2016 to take over terrestrial radio stations and broadcast the YG and Nipsey Hussle song "Fuck Donald Trump." From the report: News of the song's unexpected playback on radio stations began emerging shortly after Trump's inauguration on January 20, and the hack has continued to affect LPFM stations -- a type of smaller-radius radio station that began to roll out after the FCC approved the designation in 2000. Over a dozen stations experienced confirmed hacks in recent weeks, with more unconfirmed reports trickling in across the nation. Thus far, the stations' commonality isn't the states of operation or music formats; it's the transmitter. Specifically, hackers have targeted products in the Barix Exstreamer line, which can decode many audio file formats and send them along for LPFM transmission. As Barix told its products' owners in 2016, Exstreamer devices openly connected to the Internet are incredibly vulnerable to having their remote login passwords discovered and systems compromised. The company recommends using full, 24-character passwords and placing any live Internet connections behind firewalls or VPNs. Reports have yet to connect any dots on why the exploit has apparently focused on the YG and Nipsey Hussle song -- though it is fairly popular, having recently finished in the Top 15 of the Village Voice's 2016 Pazz and Jop music critics' poll. Plus, the uncensored lyrics and topical nature are certainly more likely to catch people's attention, especially when played on stations with formats like oldies, classic rock, and Tejano.
Government

Trump's FCC Chairman Pick Ajit Pai Vows To Close Broadband 'Digital Divide' (arstechnica.com) 292

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: On his first full day as Federal Communications Commission Chairman, Republican Ajit Pai yesterday spoke to FCC staff and said one of his top priorities will be bringing broadband to all Americans. "One of the most significant things that I've seen during my time here is that there is a digital divide in this country -- between those who can use cutting-edge communications services and those who do not," Pai said (transcript). "I believe one of our core priorities going forward should be to close that divide -- to do what's necessary to help the private sector build networks, send signals, and distribute information to American consumers, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or anything else. We must work to bring the benefits of the digital age to all Americans." Pai promised to "hear all points of view -- to approach every issue with a literal open door and a figurative open mind," as the FCC "confronts this and many other challenges." Pai didn't offer any specific initiatives for closing the digital divide yesterday, but in September 2016 he outlined a "digital empowerment agenda." The plan included "remov[ing] regulatory barriers to broadband deployment," changes to pole attachment rules, and "dig once" policies that install broadband conduit when roads are dug up during any road and highway construction project. He also proposed setting aside 10 percent of spectrum auction proceeds for deployment of mobile broadband in rural areas. Pai suggested requiring mobile carriers to build out service to 95 percent of the population in areas where they have spectrum licenses; he noted that some licenses only required service for 66 percent or 75 percent of residents, a problem in sparsely populated rural areas. At the same time, he proposed extending initial spectrum license terms from 10 years to 15 years to give the carriers more time to complete the construction. Pai also proposed creating "gigabit opportunity zones" in areas where average household income is below 75 percent of the national median. In these areas, state and local lawmakers would have to "adopt streamlined, broadband deployment-friendly policies," and there would be tax incentives and tax credits for companies building high-speed networks.

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