Archive for the ‘Policy’ Category

US travel ban blocking students from presenting their research

November 14th, 2018
A poster grayed-out in protest at the recent Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego.

Enlarge / A poster grayed-out in protest at the recent Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego. (credit: Twitter user: @Doctor_PMS)

At an academic conference, the question “where are you from?” can have many meanings. “For anybody who’s in science, that’s a complicated question,” says paleontologist P. David Polly. “Where are we now, where did we get our degree, where did we grow up, where did we get the other degree?” For many people in science, the list of answers will span multiple countries.

Because of this international culture, science is feeling the effects of increasing restrictions on international travel. At last week’s Society for Neuroscience (SfN) meeting in San Diego, a research poster drew a lot of attention: the bulk of the poster was grayed out, covered instead by a message from the author explaining that, as a citizen of Iran, she had been unable to enter the US to take part in the conference. “Science should be about breaking barriers,” she wrote, “not creating new ones.”

Tightening barriers

Leili Mortazavi, an undergraduate student at the University of British Columbia, ran into the same barrier. When her work was accepted for presentation at SfN, she started the visa application process, but when she arrived at her appointment, she was told she was “ineligible to apply” because of her Iranian citizenship. “I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a visa application or a background check,” she told Ars. But the current situation is one of “excluding everyone based on their place of birth and not caring if the reason for their traveling is legitimate or not.”

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Posted in international science, Policy, science, Science policy, travel ban | Comments (0)

Bitcoin plunges 12 percent, reaching lowest value in a year

November 14th, 2018
Many people doubt Craig Wright's claim to be Bitcoin founder Satoshi Nakamoto.

Many people doubt Craig Wright's claim to be Bitcoin founder Satoshi Nakamoto. (credit: BBC)

Bitcoin's price has fallen more than 12 percent over the last 24 hours to $5,400, the lowest price for the popular cryptocurrency in more than a year.

Bitcoin's plunge is part of a broader cryptocurrency sell-off. Ethereum has fallen more than 15 percent over the last 24 hours, while Bitcoin Cash is down 18 percent.

Cryptocurrency markets are jittery ahead of a high-stakes "hard fork" of Bitcoin Cash. Rival factions are pushing different, mutually incompatible versions of the spinoff cryptocurrency, and the two versions are scheduled to create separate, competing versions of the blockchain starting on Thursday. The schism could create confusion among users and damage the reputation of the cryptocurrency.

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Posted in bitcoin, bitcoin cash, craig wright, Policy | Comments (0)

Comcast forced to pay refunds after its hidden fees hurt customers’ credit

November 14th, 2018
Comcast forced to pay refunds after its hidden fees hurt customers’ credit

Enlarge (credit: Aurich / Getty)

Comcast has agreed to pay $700,000 in refunds "and cancel debts for more than 20,000 Massachusetts customers" to settle allegations that it used deceptive advertising to promote long-term cable contracts, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced yesterday. "Comcast stuck too many Massachusetts customers with lengthy, expensive contracts that left many in debt and others with damaged credit," Healey said.

The Massachusetts AG alleged that Comcast violated state consumer protection laws by "fail[ing] to adequately disclose the actual monthly price and terms of its long-term contracts for cable services, including failing to disclose to customers that the company could increase the price of certain monthly fees at any point during the long-term contracts."

Comcast advertised a $99 lock-in rate "but did not adequately disclose equipment costs and mandatory monthly fees" that would add to monthly bills, and "failed to adequately disclose that the fees could increase while the customer was locked into the long-term contract," the AG investigation found.

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Posted in Comcast, hidden fees, Massachusetts, Policy | Comments (0)

Man pleads guilty to swatting attack that led to death of Kansas man

November 14th, 2018
Man pleads guilty to swatting attack that led to death of Kansas man

Enlarge (credit: Chatsimo / Getty Images)

Federal prosecutors in Kansas announced Tuesday that a 25-year-old Californian has admitted that he caused a Wichita man to be killed at the hands of local police during a swatting attack late last year.

Swatting is a way to harass or threaten someone by calling in a false threat to law enforcement, and, when successful, it usually results in a police SWAT team showing up needlessly at its victim's house.

According to the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Kansas, Tyler Barriss pleaded guilty to making a false report resulting in a death, cyberstalking, and conspiracy. He also admitted that he was part of "dozens of similar crimes in which no one was injured."

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Posted in FCC, Policy, SWATting, Tyler Barriss | Comments (0)

Thermal power plants use a lot of water, but that’s slowly changing

November 13th, 2018
nuclear cooling towers

Enlarge / A view of the decommissioned Duke Energy Crystal River Nuclear Power Plant. (credit: Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images)

It may come as a surprise that as of 2015, most of the water taken out of US ground- and surface-water sources was withdrawn by the electricity sector. Irrigation is a close second, and public supply is a distant third.

In 2015, thermal power generation—anything that burns fuel to create gas or steam that pushes a turbine—used 133 billion gallons of water per day. That water is mostly for cooling the equipment, but some of it is also used for emissions reduction and other processes essential to operating a power plant.

Those gallons are mostly freshwater, but some near-coast power generators do use saline or brackish water to operate. Much of the water is returned to the ecosystem, but some of it is also lost in evaporation. The water that is returned can often be thermally polluted, that is, it's warmer than what's ideal for the local ecosystem.

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Posted in Energy, Policy, science, thermal power, water | Comments (0)

Amazon is getting more than $2 billion for NYC and Virginia expansions

November 13th, 2018
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on September 13, 2018.

Enlarge / Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on September 13, 2018. (credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Over the last year, Amazon has dangled in front of cities the possibility that they could host the company's "second headquarters"—a massive $5 billion facility that would provide 50,000 white-collar jobs. On Tuesday, Amazon confirmed what had been widely reported: nobody would be getting this massive prize. Instead, the expansion would be split in half, with New York City and Arlington, Virginia, (just outside Washington, DC) each getting smaller facilities that will employ around 25,000 people each.

Amazon's Seattle offices will continue to be the company's largest and will continue to be Amazon's headquarters by any reasonable definition. But pretending to have three "headquarters" undoubtedly makes it easier for Amazon to coax taxpayer dollars out of local governments.

The announcement is underwhelming in other ways, too. The Washington, DC, area has been widely seen as the frontrunner since the competition was announced last year. When Amazon announced a list of 20 finalists, the region claimed three of those 20 spots, with separate entries for Northern Virginia; Montgomery County, Maryland; and the district itself. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post in 2013 and bought the largest house in Washington DC in 2016.

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Posted in amazon, hq2, National Landing, Policy | Comments (0)

AT&T CEO: State net neutrality and privacy laws are a “total disaster”

November 13th, 2018
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson speaking and gesturing with his hand while being interviewed at a tech conference.

Enlarge / AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson yesterday urged Congress to pass net neutrality and consumer data privacy laws that would prevent states from issuing their own stricter laws.

"There are a number of states that are now passing their own legislation around privacy and, by the way, net neutrality," Stephenson said in an interview at a Wall Street Journal tech conference (see video). "What would be a total disaster for the technology and innovation you see happening in Silicon Valley and elsewhere is to pick our head up and have 50 different sets of rules for companies trying to operate in the United States."

There was a single US standard for net neutrality passed by the Federal Communications Commission in 2015. But AT&T and other ISPs opposed it and sued the FCC in a failed effort to get the regulation thrown out by a court.

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Posted in AT&T, Net Neutrality, paid prioritization, Policy, Privacy, zero-rating | Comments (0)

Report: Amazon chooses New York City neighborhood, DC suburb for HQ2

November 13th, 2018
A pedestrian walks past a mural in the Long Island City neighborhood in the Queens borough of New York, U.S., on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018.

Enlarge / A pedestrian walks past a mural in the Long Island City neighborhood in the Queens borough of New York, U.S., on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. (credit: Christopher Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Amazon has reportedly selected two joint sites for its second headquarters, or HQ2: Long Island City—a neighborhood in Queens, New York City—and Crystal City, Virginia, adjacent to Washington DC.

According to the Wall Street Journal, which broke the news on Monday evening, the selection caps a process that lasted over a year to lure the Seattle-based retail giant.

In January 2018, 20 "finalist" cities were named, including Raleigh, Toronto, Chicago, and Atlanta, among others.

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Posted in amazon, hq2, Jeff Bezos, Policy | Comments (0)

French investigators to work directly with Facebook to monitor hate speech

November 12th, 2018
French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during the opening session of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris on November 12, 2018.

Enlarge / French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during the opening session of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris on November 12, 2018. (credit: LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images)

For the first time, Facebook has agreed to allow French regulators to work closely with the company as a way to monitor what actions it's taking to combat hate speech. If necessary, France could impose further regulations on the social media giant.

In a French-language speech before the Internet Governance Forum held in Paris on Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron said that the two sides would work together for six months starting in early 2019 to come up with "joint, precise, and concrete" proposals that both Menlo Park and Paris could agree with.

"There's a Californian Internet and a Chinese Internet," he explained, urging those in attendance to seek a middle-ground "European" model.

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Posted in Emmanuel Macron, Facebook, France, Policy | Comments (0)

Comcast uses NBC to harm other cable companies, rivals say

November 12th, 2018
A Comcast/NBC logo.

(credit: Comcast)

Comcast's smaller rivals in the cable industry have called on the Department of Justice to investigate whether Comcast uses its ownership of TV programming to harm competitors.

The American Cable Association (ACA), a lobby group for more than 700 smaller TV and broadband companies, asked for the investigation in a letter to Department of Justice (DOJ) antitrust chief Makan Delrahim.

The investigation should target "the business practices of the vertically integrated media giant Comcast-NBCU, focusing on harms stemming from the dominant communications firm's control of cable systems, TV stations, and regional sports networks (RSNs) concentrated in some of the largest local markets in the country," the ACA said in a press release today. Some ACA members such as RCN, Wide Open West, and Wave Broadband compete directly against Comcast for TV and broadband customers in certain local markets.

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Posted in Comcast, nbcuniversal, Policy | Comments (0)