Archive for the ‘Policy’ Category

Making Internet service a utility—what’s the worst that could happen?

May 23rd, 2020
The cable industry takes a subtle approach to anti-Title II advertising.

The cable industry takes a subtle approach to anti-Title II advertising. (credit: National Cable & Telecommunications Association)

It's 2020, and a coronavirus pandemic has underscored how crucial broadband service is to the lives of Americans for work, entertainment, and school. Internet service is a necessity, and yet it isn't regulated as a utility the way services like water and electricity are. But back in 2014 (when this story was originally published) and 2015, there was a hot debate over whether the Federal Communications Commission should treat broadband service like a utility—or, more precisely, as a Title II common-carrier service—in order to impose net neutrality rules.

We're resurfacing this article from December 2014, which examined the cable industry's argument that utility-style regulation would hurt broadband users and broadband providers. Ultimately, the FCC did reclassify broadband to enforce net neutrality in 2015, but never imposed strict utility regulations like price caps or network unbundling. Broadband users enthusiastically supported the rules and ISPs admitted to investors later that the extra regulation didn't harm their businesses. But FCC Chairman Ajit Pai deregulated the broadband industry anyway, eliminating net neutrality rules and other consumer protections such as a prohibition on hidden fees. Since Pai's decision, the top ISPs have been decreasing network investment despite operating in the mostly regulation-free environment they sought, and the FCC has relied on ISPs' voluntary promises instead of real rules to keep customers online during the pandemic.

There seems to be nothing the broadband industry fears more than Title II of the Communications Act.

Title II gives the Federal Communications Commission power to regulate telecommunications providers as utilities or "common carriers." Like landline phone providers, common carriers must offer service to the public on reasonable terms. To regulate Internet service providers (ISPs) as utilities, the FCC must reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service, a move that consumer advocacy groups and even President Obama have pushed the FCC to take.

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Posted in AT&T, Biz & IT, cable, Comcast, FCC, Features, NCTA, Net Neutrality, Net Neutrality Day, Netflix, Policy, Title II, verizon | Comments (0)

Facebook workers get remote work option—but it could come with a pay cut

May 22nd, 2020
Mark Zuckerberg demonstrates an Oculus Rift headset at a 2016 event.

Enlarge / Mark Zuckerberg demonstrates an Oculus Rift headset at a 2016 event. (credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Facebook will become far more friendly to remote work, founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in a Thursday livestream to employees that was shared publicly.

"We're going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale," Zuckerberg said. "I think that it's quite possible that over the next five to 10 years, about 50 percent of our people could be working remotely."

Right now, of course, far more than 50 percent of Facebook employees are working from home due to the pandemic. The company has told workers that they'll be free to work remotely through the end of 2020. But even after the COVID-19 threat subsides, Facebook will be more accepting of remote workers than it was before the pandemic.

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Posted in coronavirus, COVID-19, Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, Policy, remote work | Comments (0)

The story of cheaper batteries, from smartphones to Teslas

May 22nd, 2020
The story of cheaper batteries, from smartphones to Teslas

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty)

In 2010, a lithium-ion battery pack with 1 kWh of capacity—enough to power an electric car for three or four miles—cost more than $1,000. By 2019, the figure had fallen to $156, according to data compiled by BloombergNEF. That's a massive drop, and experts expect continued—though perhaps not as rapid—progress in the coming decade. Several forecasters project the average cost of a kilowatt-hour of lithium-ion battery capacity to fall below $100 by the mid-2020s.

That's the result of a virtuous circle where better, cheaper batteries expand the market, which in turn drives investments that produce further improvements in cost and performance. The trend is hugely significant because cheap batteries will be essential to shifting the world economy away from carbon-intensive energy sources like coal and gasoline.

Batteries and electric motors have emerged as the most promising technology for replacing cars powered by internal combustion engines. The high cost of batteries has historically made electric cars much more expensive than conventional cars. But once battery packs get cheap enough—again, experts estimate around $100 per kWh for non-luxury vehicles—electric cars should actually become cheaper than equivalent gas-powered cars. The cost advantage will be even bigger once you factor in the low cost of charging an electric car, so we can expect falling battery costs to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles.

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Posted in batteries, environment, Features, Policy, science, Tesla | Comments (0)

Just turning your phone on qualifies as searching it, court rules

May 21st, 2020
A close-up of the PIN entry form on a smartphone's unlock screen.

Enlarge / A close-up of the PIN entry form on a smartphone's unlock screen. (credit: Nehru Sulejmanovski | EyeEm | Getty Images)

Smartphones are a rich data trove not only for marketers but also for law enforcement. Police and federal investigators love to get their hands on all that juicy personal information during an investigation. But thanks to the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution and all the case law built upon it, police generally need a warrant to search your phone—and that includes just looking at the lock screen, a judge has ruled (PDF).

Usually when the topic of a phone search comes up in court, the question has to do with unlocking. Generally, courts have held that law enforcement can compel you to use your body, such as your fingerprint (or your face), to unlock a phone but that they cannot compel you to share knowledge, such as a PIN. In this recent case, however, the FBI did not unlock the phone. Instead, they only looked at the phone's lock screen for evidence.

A man from Washington state was arrested in May 2019 and was indicted on several charges related to robbery and assault. The suspect, Joseph Sam, was using an unspecified Motorola smartphone. When he was arrested, he says, one of the officers present hit the power button to bring up the phone's lock screen. The filing does not say that any officer present attempted to unlock the phone or make the suspect do so at the time.

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Posted in civil rights, Fourth Amendment, phone search, Policy, search and seizure | Comments (0)

AT&T still refuses to kill misleading 5GE network icon for 4G service

May 21st, 2020
Logo for 5Ge is superimposed over lush forest landscape.

Enlarge / Screenshot from an AT&T commercial. (credit: AT&T)

AT&T has reluctantly agreed to stop using the phrase "5G Evolution" to describe its 4G service in advertising but will apparently continue to use the misleading "5GE" icon as the network indicator on phone screens even when there's no 5G service.

AT&T's so-called 5G Evolution service is in reality just 4G with advanced LTE features like 256 QAM, 4x4 MIMO, and three-way carrier aggregation. AT&T has faced widespread ridicule since putting the 5GE network icon on 4G phones more than a year ago, but the icons have likely convinced many AT&T customers that they have 5G service when they really don't. The other major carriers also deployed LTE-Advanced features but continued to accurately describe the service as 4G.

T-Mobile last year challenged AT&T's 5GE campaign with the National Advertising Division (NAD), which serves as the advertising industry's self-regulatory body, and the NAD subsequently ruled that AT&T should discontinue the 5G Evolution claims. AT&T appealed that decision, claiming that its ads "served to educate customers about the billions of dollars AT&T has invested to give customers an outstanding experience," but the National Advertising Review Board (NARB) rejected the carrier's appeal.

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Posted in 5G, AT&T, Biz & IT, Policy | Comments (0)

Crypto hedge funds struggle to recover from “bloodbath”

May 21st, 2020
Crypto hedge funds struggle to recover from “bloodbath”

Enlarge (credit: Yuriko Nakao | Getty Images)

Vlad Matveev has learned the hard way how volatile cryptocurrency hedge funds can be.

The 50-year-old Muscovite invested $250,000 last year with California-based Cryptolab Capital, which targeted double-digit gains from trading crypto regardless of whether the market rose or fell. But Matveev said his investment fell 98.5 percent in value when the fund folded in this year’s coronavirus-induced turmoil.

“I don’t really know what happened,” said Matveev, a fund manager-turned-private investor. “They said they had a diversified set of strategies.”

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Posted in bitcoin, Biz & IT, cryptocurrency, Policy | Comments (0)

Ousted scientist says she was asked to manipulate Florida COVID-19 data

May 20th, 2020
Florida began allowing businesses to reopen this week, but the ousted manager of the data behind that decision warns it may not be solid.

Enlarge / Florida began allowing businesses to reopen this week, but the ousted manager of the data behind that decision warns it may not be solid. (credit: CHANDAN KHANNA | AFP | Getty Images)

As Florida tries to move past the COVID-19 crisis and reopen businesses and venues, the former manager of the state's novel coronavirus data project alleges she was fired for refusing to cook the numbers and make the state look better.

Rebekah Jones said Friday she was removed from her position, local outlet Florida Today was the first to report.

Jones built and managed the COVID-19 data dashboard for the state from March until until May 5. Last week, she explained that for "reasons beyond my division's control," her office lost all connection to the portal, and neither she nor her team was any longer involved with it, its data, its publication, or answering questions.

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Posted in coronavirus, COVID-19, data, Florida, Policy | Comments (0)

Ajit Pai doubts Elon Musk’s SpaceX broadband-latency claims

May 20th, 2020
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk gesturing with his hands and speaking during a conference.

Enlarge / SpaceX CEO Elon Musk at the Satellite 2020 Conference in Washington, DC, on Monday, March 9, 2020. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

The Federal Communications Commission is not convinced that SpaceX's Starlink broadband network will be able to deliver the low latencies promised by CEO Elon Musk. As a result, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is proposing limits on SpaceX's ability to apply for funding from a $16 billion rural-broadband program.

While traditional satellite broadband generally suffers from latency of about 600ms, Musk says that Starlink will offer "latency below 20 milliseconds, so somebody could play a fast-response video game at a competitive level."

Everyone expects Starlink to offer much lower latency than traditional satellites, because SpaceX satellites are being launched in low Earth orbits ranging from 540km to 570km. By contrast, geostationary satellites used for broadband orbit at about 35,000km.

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Posted in Biz & IT, FCC, Policy, satellite, spacex, starlink | Comments (0)

Trump declares scientific study a “Trump-enemy statement”

May 20th, 2020
Closeup image of hands holding a small box labeled hydroxychloroquine.

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

Early in April, before much data was in on potential COVID-19 treatments, President Trump promoted one that seemed to have anecdotal support. Hydroxychloroquine was suggested as a potential treatment very early on in the pandemic and had picked up some weak support via a badly flawed French study. That was enough for Trump to suggest people take it, his rhetorical "What do you have to lose?" question breezing past the well-known and potentially dangerous side effects of the drug.

In the time since, however, Trump went silent on the topic, and the evidence piled up that chloroquine did little while retaining its problematic side effects. But it returned to the spotlight on Monday when Trump announced he had been taking it, possibly in response to several cases among the White House staff. This naturally led to questions about why he was doing that in light of the research that has come out in the intervening weeks. Trump's response was to label a study done by government researchers a "Trump-enemy statement."

The chloroquine saga

Chloroquine and its derivatives, like hydroxychloroquine, were first developed as anti-malarial drugs. But they have a variety of effects on the body and have found a use through their role as immune suppressors, treating autoimmune diseases like lupus. In cultured cells, they show a relatively general antiviral activity, including the suppression of SARS-CoV-1. This led a number of teams to try chloroquine against SARS-CoV-2 early on in the pandemic. Notably, a French team released a draft study that seemed to show some promising results.

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Posted in chloroquine, covid-9, Policy, SARS-CoV-2, science, Trump | Comments (0)

Facebook takes on Amazon with online shopping venture

May 20th, 2020
The Facebook app displayed on the screen of an iPhone.

Enlarge / The Facebook app displayed on the screen of an iPhone. (credit: Fabian Sommer | picture alliance | Getty Images)

Facebook is hoping that its 2.6 billion users will begin shopping on its platform, as it unveiled a service that puts it in direct competition with Amazon and eBay.

“Facebook Shops” will allow sellers to create digital storefronts on Facebook or Instagram, the company said on Tuesday, adding that it would benefit by gathering valuable data on what shoppers want.

Users will be able to browse products, message businesses to arrange purchases, and in some cases buy them directly via a recently introduced online checkout feature.

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Posted in amazon, Facebook, Gaming & Culture, Policy | Comments (0)