An anonymous reader writes "Rumors have surfaced that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will restrict bidding at their TV spectrum auction in 2015 to effectively favor smaller carriers. Specifically, when 'auction bidding hits an as-of-yet unknown threshold in a given market, the FCC would set aside up to 30MHz of spectrum in that market. Companies that hold at least one-third of the low-band spectrum in that market then wouldn't be allowed to bid on the 30MHz of spectrum that has been set aside.' Therefore, 'in all band plans less than 70MHz, restricted bidders—specifically AT&T and Verizon (and in a small number of markets, potentially US Cellular or CSpire)—would be limited to bidding for only three blocks.' The rumors may be true since AT&T on Wednesday threatened to not participate in the auction at all as a protest against what it sees as unfair treatment."
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halfEvilTech writes with news that Comcast has emerged victorious from Consumerist's annual Worst Company In America contest. Comcast narrowly edged out Monsanto in the finals with 51.5% of the vote. The reigning champion for the past two years, Electronic Arts, lost in the first round to Time Warner Cable. TWC made the quarterfinals, which is notable because Comcast has proposed a merger with TWC. In fact, Comcast submitted an FCC filing today explaining why they think the deal should be allowed. They say, 'the companies don’t overlap or compete against each other.' Other strong contenders for the Worst Company in America included Chase, SeaWorld, Wal-Mart, Bank of America, and Verizon.
An anonymous reader writes with this excerpt from a thought-provoking article at TechDirt: "My own representative in Congress, Jackie Speier, has apparently decided to introduce a federal 'revenge porn' bill, which is being drafted, in part, by Prof. Mary Anne Franks, who has flat out admitted that her goal is to undermine Section 230 protections for websites (protecting them from liability of actions by third parties) to make them liable for others' actions. Now, I've never written about Franks before, but the last time I linked to a story about her in a different post, she went ballistic on Twitter, attacking me in all sorts of misleading ways. So, let me just be very clear about this. Here's what she has said: '"The impact [of a federal law] for victims would be immediate," Franks said. "If it became a federal criminal law that you can't engage in this type of behavior, potentially Google, any website, Verizon, any of these entities might have to face liability for violations.' That makes it clear her intent is to undermine Section 230 and make third parties — like 'Google, any website, Verizon... face liability.'"
retroworks writes: "Telecom giants AT&T and Verizon Communications are lobbying states, one by one, to hang up the plain, old telephone system, what the industry now calls POTS — the copper-wired landline phone system whose reliability and reach made the U.S. a communications powerhouse for more than 100 years. Is landline obsolete, and should be immune from grandparents-era social protection? The article continues, 'Last week, Michigan joined more than 30 other states that have passed or are considering laws that restrict state-government oversight and eliminate "carrier of last resort" mandates, effectively ending the universal-service guarantee that gives every U.S. resident access to local-exchange wireline telephone service, the POTS. (There are no federal regulations guaranteeing Internet access.) ... In Mantoloking, N.J., Verizon wants to replace the landline system, which Hurricane Sandy wiped out, with its wireless Voice Link. That would make it the first entire town to go landline-less, a move that isn't sitting well with all residents."
First time accepted submitter techpolicy (3586897) writes "The big four wireless carriers are spending millions of dollars to hire professors, fund Washington think tanks and to meet with the Federal Communications Commission to try to convince the agency to write rules for an upcoming auction of spectrum that favor them, according to an article posted by the Center for Public Integrity in Washington. The frequencies are needed to bolster or build out their nationwide networks — and this kind of low-band spectrum won't be up for sale for a very long time. The biggest fight is over a rule that would limit how much AT&T and Verizon can get of these valuable frequencies. How it plays out will determine who has control over your smartphone."
An anonymous reader writes "Speaking to The Verge, author and Microsoft Researcher Danah Boyd put words to a feeling I've had about Facebook and other social networking sites for a while, now: 'The era of Facebook is an anomaly.' She continues, 'The idea of everybody going to one site is just weird. Give me one other part of history where everybody shows up to the same social space. Fragmentation is a more natural state of being. Is your social dynamic interest-driven or is it friendship-driven? Are you going there because there's this place where other folks are really into anime, or is this the place you're going because it's where your pals from school are hanging out? That first [question] is a driving function.' Personally, I hope this idea continues to propagate — it's always seemed odd that our social network identities are locked into certain websites. Imagine being a Comcast customer and being unable to email somebody using Time Warner, or a T-Mobile subscriber who can't call somebody who's on Verizon. Why do we allow this with our social networks?"
There's been some positive news in the last year (and the last few) for American cellphone customers: certainly there's more visible competition for their business among the largest players in the market. Nonetheless, the Wall Street Journal reports that while more competition may translate into some more attractive service bundles, flexibility in phone options, or smoother customer service, it doesn't actually mean that the customers are on average reaping one of the benefits that competition might be expected to provide: lower price. Instead, the bills for customers on the major wireless providers have actually gone up, if not dramatically, in recent months — which means U.S. cell service remains much more expensive than it is in many other countries. The article could stand a sidebar on MVNOs and other low-cost options, though -- I switched to one of these from AT&T, and now pay just under $40 for one version of the new normal of unlimited talk and text, plus quite limited (1GB) data, but still using AT&T towers. Has your own cost to talk gone up or down?
phantomfive writes "Verizon has said they will not be digging new lines any time soon. Time-Warner's cash flow goes towards paying down debt, not laying down fiber. AT&T is doing everything they can to slow deployment of Google fiber. How can the situation be improved? Mainly by expediting right-of-way access, permits, and inspections, according to Andy Kessler. That is how Google was able to afford to lay down fiber in Austin, and how VTel was able to do it in Vermont (gigabit connections for $35 a month)."
Lauren Weinstein writes "You'd think that with so many concerns these days about whether the likes of AT&T, Verizon, and other telecom companies can be trusted not to turn our data over to third parties whom we haven't authorized, that a plan to formalize a mechanism for ISP and other 'man-in-the-middle' snooping would be laughed off the Net. But apparently the authors of IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) Internet-Draft 'Explicit Trusted Proxy in HTTP/2.0' (14 Feb 2014) haven't gotten the message. What they propose for the new HTTP/2.0 protocol is nothing short of officially sanctioned snooping."
An anonymous reader writes "We've been hearing more and more reports of ISPs throttling Netflix and other high-bandwidth services lately. The ISPs have denied it, and even Netflix itself seems to believe them. If that's the case, what's going on? Well, according to this article, the blame still lies with the ISPs. While they may not be explicitly throttling connection speeds, they're refusing to upgrade network connections as they demand more money from content distributors. For example, Netflix pays Cogent to distribute their internet traffic. Cogent has an agreement with Verizon to exchange traffic — which works fine until the massive amount of traffic from Netflix makes it a lopsided arrangement. Verizon wants more money from Cogent, and one of their negotiating tactics is simply to stop upgrading their infrastructure so that service degrades. 'There are about 11 Cogent/Verizon peering connections in major cities around the country. When peering partners aren't fighting, they typically upgrade the connections (or "ports") when they're about 50 percent full, Cogent says. ... With Cogent and Verizon fighting, the upgrades are happening at a glacial pace, according to Schaeffer. "Once a port hits about 85 percent throughput, you're going to begin to start to drop packets," he said. "Clearly when a port is at 120 or 130 percent [as the Cogent/Verizon ones are] the packet loss is material."'"
Karl C writes "In a statement issued today, FCC commissioner Tom Wheeler announced that the commission will begin a rule-making process to re-impose Net Neutrality, which was recently struck down in Federal court. Among the standards Wheeler intends to pursue are vigorous enforcement of a requirement for transparency in how ISPs manage traffic, and a prohibition on blocking (the 'no blocking' provision.) This seems like exactly what net neutrality activists have been demanding: Total prohibition of throttling, and vigorous enforcement of that rule, and of a transparency requirements so ISPs can't try to mealy-mouth their way around accusations that they're already throttling Netflix. Even before the court decision overturning net neutrality, Comcast and Verizon users have been noting Netflix slowdowns for months."
Trailrunner7 writes: "AT&T, in its first transparency report, said it received at least 2,000 National Security Letters and nearly 38,000 requests for location data on its subscribers in 2013. The new report from AT&T is the latest in a growing list of publications from telecom companies, Web providers and cell phone carriers who have been under pressure from privacy advocates and security experts in the wake of the Edward Snowden NSA surveillance revelations. AT&T's report shows a higher number of NSLs and subpoenas in 2013 than its most relevant competitor, Verizon. In January, Verizon's first transparency report showed that the company received between 1,000 and 1,999 NSLs in 2013 and 164,000 subpoenas. AT&T said it got 2,000-2,999 NSLs and 248,343 subpoenas last year. AT&T also received nearly 37,000 court orders and more than 16,000 search warrants."
An anonymous reader writes "Verizon has discontinued its Home Monitoring and Control solution, a $10/month service for do-it-yourselfers that enables remote monitoring and control of security, lighting, thermostats and more. The author notes Verizon 'was attempting to become the first successful provider of a DIY security/automation system that had a monthly fee separate from a professionally monitored security system. ... Providers could (and do) charge premiums of $10 or more for automation and self-monitored security as an attachment to professional monitoring, but not as a standalone service.'"
Nemo the Magnificent writes "A few days ago we talked over a post by David Raphael accusing Verizon of slowing down Netflix, by way of throttling Amazon AWS. Now Jonathan Feldman gives us reason to believe that the carriers won't win the war on Netflix, because tools for monitoring the performance of carriers will emerge nd we'll catch them if they try. I just now exercised one such tool, NetNeutralityTest.com from Speedchedker Ltd. My carrier is Verizon (FiOS), and the test showed my download speed at the moment to be 12 Mbps. It was the same to Linode in NJ but only 3 Mbps to AWS East. Hmm."
alphadogg writes "When a certain Los Angeles office building lights up, it's a dark day for nearby cellphone users, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Fluorescent lights at Ernst & Young Plaza, a 41-story tower near the heart of downtown, emit frequencies that interfere with the Verizon Wireless 700MHz network, the agency said in a citation issued against the building owner. The FCC's message comes through loud and clear in the filing: the building owner could be fined up to $16,000 a day if it keeps using the interfering lights, up to a total of $112,500. The alleged violation could also lead to 'criminal sanctions, including imprisonment,' the citation says."
hondo77 points out a blog post by Dave Raphael, who noticed some odd discrepancies between two different Verizon broadband connections he has access to. His personal residential plan and his company's business plan both went through the same Verizon routers, but his residential plan is getting unusably slow speeds to places like AWS. He suggests that Verizon is already waging a war on high-bandwidth services like Netflix after the recent court decision against net neutrality. His discussion with a Verizon service representative seems to confirm this, though it's uncertain whether such an employee would have access to that information.
As the NSA metadata collection scandal has developed, a number of technology and communications companies have fought to increase the transparency of the data collection process by publishing reports on how much data government agencies are asking them for. These transparency reports have been limited, however, because most government requests are entwined with a gag order. In a speech two weeks back, President Obama said this would change, and now the Dept. of Justice has announced new, slightly relaxed rules about what information companies can share. According to an email from the U.S. Deputy Attorney General (PDF) to the General Counsel of Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Microsoft, and Yahoo, the companies can publish: how many Criminal Process requests they received, how many National Security Letters they received, how many accounts were affected by NSLs, how many Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act orders were received (both for communications content and 'non-content'), and how many customers were targeted by FISA requests. The companies still aren't allowed to give specific numbers, but they can report them in bands of 1,000 — for example, 0-999, 1,000-1,999, etc. Information requests for old services cannot be disclosed for at least six months. The first information requests for a new service cannot be disclosed for two years. The companies also have the option of lumping all the NSL and FISA requests together — if they do that, they can report in bands of 250 instead of 1,000.
Gunkerty Jeb writes "After months of public calls from privacy advocates and security experts, Verizon on Wednesday released its first transparency report, revealing that it received more than 164,000 subpoenas and between 1,000 - 2,000 National Security Letters in 2013. The report, which covers Verizon's landline, Internet and wireless services, shows that the company also received 36,000 warrants, most of which requested location or stored content data."
memnock writes "Wired and The Washington Post both report that mobile service provider CREDO is the first telecom to release a report detailing requests from the government for customer information. From Wired: 'A small telecom believed to be at the center of a historic court battle over government surveillance published its first transparency report on Thursday, noting that it had received 16 government requests for customer data in 2013. But the report may be most significant for what it doesn't say.'"
Ars Technica takes a look at two sides of the world of internet service, as it's available to customers in the U.S., and especially at changes that are in the works for the next year. Thanks to Google, AT&T and other providers (including municipal networks), the number of Americans with access to very high speed household connections is rising dramatically — good news, for those in range of fiber-to-the-home rollouts, and this means at least some pressure on competitors. But as Ars writer Jon Brodkin points out, there are also developments that may dismay many customers, specifically the possibility that the Federal Communication Commission's 2010 Open Internet Order ("a network neutrality law that forbids ISPs from blocking services or charging content providers for access to their networks") may be overturned or weakened. That could come about either through lawsuit (Verizon's suit is mentioned), or through a more market-oriented approach from the FCC. Writes Brodkin: "If the law were overturned, ISPs could more easily steer customers to their own services and away from those of their rivals. They could charge companies like Netflix for the right to have their videos prioritized over other types of Internet traffic, perhaps indirectly raising the price consumers pay for streaming video and making it more difficult for startups to compete against established players who can afford the 'Internet fast lane' fees."