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It shouldn't take a merger for low-income Americans to get cheap broadband | WashPost.com

It shouldn't take a merger for low-income Americans to get cheap broadband | WashPost.com | Surfing the Broadband Bit Stream | Scoop.it

Comcast is extending its $10-a-month broadband program for low-income Americans. The discounted service, known as Internet Essentials, was set to expire three years after Comcast's merger with NBC-Universal in 2011. But now the cable company says it's making the program available to eligible people "indefinitely."


The announcement Tuesday comes a month after Comcast announced its plan to acquire Time Warner Cable -- a deal that would create a massive conglomerate covering roughly a third of the pay-TV market and that is expected to draw the attention of antitrust regulators. The merger must still be approved by the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission, and analysts say Comcast's latest moves are part of a charm offensive designed to win over skeptical regulators.


Comcast's motives aside, giving poorer Americans the same access to broadband that wealthier people enjoy has been a longtime goal of the Obama administration. Internet Essentials makes a dent by connecting some 300,000 families to the Web — the equivalent of 1.2 million individuals, according to Comcast. Other cable providers have since followed suit, working with the FCC in a program called Connect to Compete that also aims to provide a similar discount. The map highlights areas covered by Connect to Compete.


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Frontier Runs America's Worst Website: Dead Last in 2015 Web Experience Ratings | Phil Dampier | Stop the Cap!

Frontier Runs America's Worst Website: Dead Last in 2015 Web Experience Ratings | Phil Dampier | Stop the Cap! | Surfing the Broadband Bit Stream | Scoop.it

Frontier Communications scored dead last in a nationwide survey of websites run by 262 companies — ranked for their usability, helpfulness, and competence.

The “2015 Web Experience Ratings,” conducted by the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm, looked at how customers feel about companies based on experiences visiting their websites. The firm wanted to know whether customers would forgive a company if its website proved less than satisfactory. The answer appears to be no, and phone and cable companies were the most likely to experience the wrath of dissatisfied customers.

“It’s ironic that many of the cable companies that provide Internet service earned such poor ratings,” Bruce Temkin, managing partner of Temkin Group, said.

Most household name cable companies did especially poor in the survey. Time Warner Cable, Comcast and CenturyLink all tied at 252nd place (out of 262 firms). But special hatred was reserved for the website run by Frontier Communications, repeatedly called “incompetent” by consumers, especially after the phone company disabled most of the website’s self-service functions in late April. A well-placed source inside Frontier told Stop the Cap! the company could not manage to get its website ordering functions working properly and simply decided to give up, forcing customers to call instead.

Only 29% of consumers were willing to forgive a telecommunications company for a lousy web experience, according to the findings. Other website disasters were run by: Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Spirit Airlines, Blue Shield of CA, and Haier.


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The tragedy of Puerto Rico, America's very own Greece | Felix Salmon | Fusion.net

The tragedy of Puerto Rico, America's very own Greece | Felix Salmon | Fusion.net | Surfing the Broadband Bit Stream | Scoop.it

The eyes of the world are trained on Greece, this week, as it teeters on the brink of disaster. Which perhaps helps to explain Alejandro García Padilla’s timing: the Puerto Rico governor chose Monday to announce that the island territory is insolvent, and cannot (will not) pay back its $72 billion in debt. Not on time and in full, in any case.

Like Greece, Puerto Rico’s economic problems aren’t new, and they aren’t likely to be resolved anytime soon. The Puerto Rico government recently asked a team of former IMF economists to write a report on the country, which makes for extremely depressing reading. The big economic picture is downright scary (see charts above).


And then comes a litany of lowlights:


  • In 1996, the US government repealed Section 936 of the Internal Revenue code, which gave tax breaks to mainland companies operating on the island, with predictable results: the Puerto Rican economy started shrinking in 2005, right as the 10-year phase-out period for the tax breaks ended.
  • Home prices have fallen by 38% from their 2010 peak. That’s very bad news in a territory where almost everybody has weak credit, and so borrowing against real estate is just about the only way to raise fresh capital.
  • The island’s banking sector is in crisis, and shrinking even faster than the economy as a whole, which means that it can’t boost lending to fuel a recovery.
  • Just 40% of Puerto Rico’s adult population is either employed or looking for work.


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Here’s How Charter Will Commit to an Open Internet | Marvin Ammori | WIRED.com

Here’s How Charter Will Commit to an Open Internet | Marvin Ammori | WIRED.com | Surfing the Broadband Bit Stream | Scoop.it

The nation’s network neutrality drama isn’t over: the FCC’s landmark rules are in court again—after courts threw out two previous FCC net neutrality orders. But there is a little-known front in the fight that has long been central to advancing network neutrality: the commitments that broadband companies make when they merger.

For the last decade, while the court kept throwing out industry-wide rules, network neutrality advocates (like me) were able to extract merger conditions to preserve an open Internet and further entrench the concept. In 2005, AT&T and Verizon each made two-year network neutrality merger commitments; in 2006, AT&T and BellSouth made a 30-month open Internet commitment; in 2011, Comcast and NBC made a 7-year commitment. As someone who has spent 10 years fighting for network neutrality, I have seen these commitments pave the way for the new, even-stronger industry-wide rule now on appeal.

Today, we have another merger, which means, thanks to our successes, another network neutrality condition on offer. Charter, a relatively small cable company, is buying the second-largest provider, Time Warner Cable, and an affiliated company called Bright House Networks. Charter’s merger sales pitch is pretty straight-forward: it argues that it has always been too small to bully Internet companies, TV makers, and its own customers, so it has“un-cable” practices they hope to extend. The slowest speed the company usually offers is 60 Mbits, which is great for online TV, and Charter has no data caps, usage-based charges, or modem-rental fees. Charter also posts a laudable no-cost interconnection policy for Internet backbone companies, and Charter has never been accused of any network-neutrality violations.

Still, we must “trust, but verify.” We need to ensure that Charter will not lose its way after taking over Time Warner and becoming four times larger. That’s where merger commitments come in. In its legal application filed today with the FCC, Charter makes its case that the merger will benefit the public, and offers several legally enforceable commitments. The FCC will review the application, along with the initial commitments made, likely for the next six months, with input from the public.

Charter hired me—which, to be honest, took some humility on its part since I have helped lead public campaigns against cable companies like Charter—to advise it in crafting its commitment to network neutrality. After our negotiation, I can say Charter is offering the strongest network neutrality commitments ever offered—in any merger or, to my knowledge, in any nation. In fact, in the end, I personally wrote the commitments. For the first time, I’d like to lay out what those commitments are and why I think they is so strong.


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What Happens When Your Phone Network Fails? | Meredith Filak Rose | Public Knowledge

What Happens When Your Phone Network Fails?  | Meredith Filak Rose | Public Knowledge | Surfing the Broadband Bit Stream | Scoop.it

Fun fact: unlike traditional copper lines, most new “land line” phone technologies don’t run on their own power. When the power goes out, so does the phone line—and your ability to call for help.

It’s even more dangerous for those in rural areas. A severed copper line can isolate a remote community from the outside world. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the small customer base and the high cost of repairs means that phone companies don’t have an incentive to replace—or even service—damaged copper in these areas. Instead, companies have pushed to offload these communities onto cheap, less reliable technologies such as wireless “landline” services and VoIP. The result is a one-two punch against marginalized communities who need access the most.

This public safety catch-22—you can’t call for help at exactly the moment you’re most likely to need it, especially if you’re in a community that needs it the most—is one of the many reasons Public Knowledge, along with 28 other public interest groups, is calling for the FCC to include backup power requirements for consumer premises equipment (CPE) in their ongoing tech transition rulemaking.

The phone companies, unfortunately, don’t see any problem at all with the way they do business. The Independent Telephone and Telecommunications Alliance (ITTA) recently argued that there’s “virtually no consumer demand for” backup power solutions—and that when it is offered, “in nearly all cases, customers decline the option.”

However, what’s more likely is that:

  • this phone technology is relatively new, so
  • consumers don’t fully realize that their new phone network will stop working when the power goes out, and thus
  • underestimate the risk of losing service in an emergency.


If you need proof of how spectacularly these new systems can fail, look no further than Fire Island, New York. When Verizon decided not to repair the copper phone lines that had been damaged by Hurricane Sandy, and instead deployed its wireless VoiceLink service, residents were absolutely furious at the system’s shortcomings—including its susceptibility to bad weather.

Emergency responders were among the first critics of the VoiceLink service.


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Enabling competition from Google Fiber means FCC must reconsider pole attachment pricing | Sean Buckley | Fierce Telecom

Enabling competition from Google Fiber means FCC must reconsider pole attachment pricing | Sean Buckley | Fierce Telecom | Surfing the Broadband Bit Stream | Scoop.it

Google Fiber's plans to bring its 1 Gbps service into Salt Lake City and Nashville by using existing utility poles in each city not only sheds light on its ongoing buildout strategy, but also shows how important access to utility poles at reasonable rates is key to expanding broadband services.

In Salt Lake City, Google will deploy 600 miles of fiber, which will be attached to more than 20,000 utility poles which will then be attached to a point of presence on the ring.

The Nashville fiber deployment will have a similar configuration as Salt Lake City, with some differences. It plans to deploy 3,200 miles of fiber, install 18 fiber huts, and attach fiber to at least 100,000 utility poles.

While the service provider did not reveal the terms of the agreements, the Internet giant has cited gaining rights of way to utility poles as a key issue in what cities it will target with its 1 Gbps service.

Google Fiber has had various run-ins with local utilities and telcos over pole access. In December 2013, AT&T said that it does not have to provide access to Google Fiber in Austin. The telco's decision was later overturned when Austin's City Council, which owns the remaining 80 percent, drafted an ordinance to make AT&T open up the poles.

Earlier, Google Fiber had to resolve a dispute with the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities, the owner of the city's utility poles, over where exactly it would place its fiber cables.

During the Spring COMPTEL event, Google's VP of access Milo Medin said that local utilities and incumbent telcos and cable operators should not be allowed to delay the "make ready" process when a competitor wants to build out fiber in a new region on existing poles.

Regardless of what deals Google Fiber was able to make, pole attachment and the associated fees continues to be a big issue for cable and competitive telcos alike.


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How States Are Fighting To Keep Towns From Offering Their Own Broadband | Leticia Miranda | Techdirt

How States Are Fighting To Keep Towns From Offering Their Own Broadband |  Leticia Miranda | Techdirt | Surfing the Broadband Bit Stream | Scoop.it

Earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission voted to ease the way for cities to become Internet service providers. So-called municipal broadband is already a reality in a few towns, often providing Internet access and faster service to rural communities that cable companies don't serve.

The cable and telecommunications industry have long lobbied against city-run broadband, arguing that taxpayer money should not fund potential competitors to private companies.

The telecom companies have what may seem like an unlikely ally: states. Roughly 20 states have restrictions against municipal broadband.

And the attorneys general in North Carolina and Tennessee have recently filed lawsuits in an attempt to overrule the FCC and block towns in these states from expanding publicly funded Internet service.

North Carolina's attorney general argued in a suit filed in May that the "FCC unlawfully inserted itself between the State and the State's political subdivisions." Tennessee's attorney general filed a similar suit in March.

Tennessee has hired one of the country's largest telecom lobbying and law firms, Wiley Rein, to represent the state in its suit. The firm, founded by a former FCC chairman, has represented AT&T, Verizon and Qwest, among others.

James Tierney, director of the National State Attorneys General Program at Columbia Law School, said it is not unusual for attorneys general to seek outside counsel for specialized cases that they view as a priority.

Asked about the suit, the Tennessee attorney general's office told ProPublica, "This is a question of the state's sovereign ability to define the role of its local governmental units." North Carolina Attorney General's office said in a statement that the "legal defense of state laws by the Attorney General's office is a statutory requirement."

As the New York Times detailed last year, state attorneys general have become a major target of corporate lobbyists and contributors including AT&T, Comcast and T-Mobile.


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Approval of AT&T-DirecTV Merger Expected Next Week | Phil Dampier | Stop the Cap!

Approval of AT&T-DirecTV Merger Expected Next Week | Phil Dampier | Stop the Cap! | Surfing the Broadband Bit Stream | Scoop.it

AT&T Inc’s proposed $48.5 billion acquisition of DirecTV is expected to get U.S. regulatory approval as soon as next week, according to people familiar with the matter, a decision that will combine the country’s No. 2 wireless carrier with the largest satellite-TV provider.

The Department of Justice, which assesses whether deals violate antitrust law, has completed its review of the merger and is waiting on the Federal Communications Commission to wrap up its own, according to three people familiar with the matter.

The FCC, which reviews if deals are in public interest, is poised to approve the deal with conditions as early as next week, according to three other people familiar with the matter.

All the sources asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak with the media. An AT&T spokeswoman and FCC spokesman declined comment. Justice Department representatives were not immediately available for comment.

AT&T’s merger with DirecTV, announced in May 2014, would create the country’s largest pay-TV company, giving DirecTV a broadband product and AT&T new avenues of growth beyond the maturing and increasingly competitive wireless service.

The deal has been expected to pass regulatory muster in contrast with the rival mega-merger between cable and Internet providers Comcast and Time Warner Cable, which was rejected in April largely over the combined companies’ reach into the broadband market.

The FCC and AT&T have been in negotiations over conditions for the merger for several weeks, the people said, adding that none of the conditions are controversial enough to break the deal.


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We’ve finally hit the breaking point for the original Internet | Brian Fung | WashPost.com

We’ve finally hit the breaking point for the original Internet | Brian Fung | WashPost.com | Surfing the Broadband Bit Stream | Scoop.it

It's finally happened. The North American organization responsible for handing out new IP addresses says its banks have run dry.

That's right: ARIN, the American Registry for Internet Numbers, has had to turn down a request for the unique numbers that we assign to each and every smartphone, tablet and PC so they can talk to the Internet. For the first time, ARIN didn't have enough IP addresses left in its stock to satisfy an entire order — and now, it's activated the end-times protocol that will see the few remaining addresses out into the night.

IP addresses are crucial to the operation of the Internet. They're the numbers behind URLs like "google.com" or "facebook.com." They identify every device that connects to the Web, from servers to connected cars. The original designers of the Internet thought they'd only need around 4 billion unique combinations, derived from the series of dots and digits that make up IP addresses everywhere.

How wrong they were.

By 2020, humanity will be living alongside 25 billion Internet-connected devices, according to Gartner researchers. The rising global demand for Web-enabled devices is far outstripping the original system's ability to keep up. Left, uh, unaddressed, this problem would have put a stranglehold on the Web, keeping it from growing. It would've kept you from using new devices like smartwatches or smart refrigerators. Entirely new technologies we haven't dreamt of might never have emerged. We'd have been stuck with the Internet that we now have, forever.

If you haven't already guessed, we have a backup system in place so that Xboxes and Playstations of the future can continue to get online. Internet engineers have actually been anticipating this day for decades. To understand how they've solved it, let's let one of the original designers of the Internet explain:


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NY: Critics blast PSC on telecom analysis | Casey Seiler | TimesUnion.com

NY: Critics blast PSC on telecom analysis | Casey Seiler | TimesUnion.com | Surfing the Broadband Bit Stream | Scoop.it

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner is one of the signatories to a letter sent Thursday to the state Public Service Commission (PSC) criticizing its action so far on a comprehensive analysis of New York's telecommunications system — a study that's months past its original deadline.

Miner is one of many who have complained that, a decade after the state deregulated the telecom industry, the state's system is overpriced and under-responsive to the needs of upstate residents, rural and urban alike.

The letter, dated Thursday, comes in response to this week's release of a 97-page PSC staff report that will serve as the factual foundation for the final product, and its scheduling of a series of hearings around the state.

The letter notes the Capital Region and Hudson Valley aren't on the list, something its authors called "inadequate and discriminatory."

"We note that only one-third of the hearings take place in the region of the state having at least two-thirds of the state's population," the letter said of the schedule, which includes stops in Smithtown, New York City, Utica, Binghamton, Lake Placid and Buffalo.

The letter also complains the PSC has yet to release "a series of broad questions" that would also guide its work. While those questions weren't included in the staff report, they were offered in a separate filing from PSC that was recently included in the record of documents related to the telecom study.

The letter was signed by Miner as well as Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause, and Robert Master of the Connect New York Coalition.


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Letter to the Editor : Working together for broadband | AspenTimes.com

I have just attended this year’s Mountain Connect conference in Vail, CO where the theme was developing rural broadband infrastructure through public/private partnerships. The conference was excellent and well attended by more than 350 people, including local technology planning teams, county officials and industry representatives from every corner of the state. They came together to hear from industry experts on the latest trends in technology and local technology planning teams on their successes and lessons learned.


Governor Hickenlooper’s staff announced at the conference that building broadband infrastructure throughout the state is their No. 1 economic development priority. Last fall, the governor announced that the Department of Local Affairs was making $20 million available to local governments for planning and building open access rural broadband infrastructure.


The good news is Department of Local Affairs has already committed or spent $19 million and is working with almost every part of rural Colorado, including Northwest Colorado, to put these funds to work. There also are substantial sources of funds available from the federal government to build broadband infrastructure for three of our most important entities: schools and libraries, hospitals and first responders.

Here in northwest Colorado, your counties, regional council of governments and local technology planning teams are busy planning and building the broadband infrastructure needed for our future economy. Pitkin County has just received $150,000 from Department of Local Affairs for network engineering and connectivity within the Roaring Fork Valley. In Steamboat Springs, our local technology planning teams (Northwest Colorado Broadband Inc.) has used a public/private partnerships to built a carrier neutral location, purchased middle mile capacity for a group of community anchor institutions and seen their cost of broadband service drop by up to 90 percent.


Our next step, in both cases, is to prepare a comprehensive broadband plans to identify the options for providing abundant, reliable and affordable service for all of our residents. Similar efforts are under way throughout the 12,000 square miles of Colorado Mountain College’s district.

There is still a lot of work left to do and we will need your help to be successful. Please watch for more details as we move forward.

Ken Brenner

Colorado Mountain College, trustee and representative to

Northwest Colorado Broadband Inc.

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Chicago Rages Against The Future With 9% Tax On Netflix, Spotify And Other Streaming Services | Tim Geigner | Techdirt

Chicago Rages Against The Future With 9% Tax On Netflix, Spotify And Other Streaming Services | Tim Geigner | Techdirt | Surfing the Broadband Bit Stream | Scoop.it

Almost exactly three years ago, Mike wrote up a post that discussed Planet Money pulling together five economists with differing political views to see what they could all agree on. The result was several policy ideas that appeared to transcend politics if economics was the driving motivator instead of any kind of partisanship.


The whole post is awesome, and has influenced my thoughts on economic policy and taxes to a large degree, but I came away from it with one general concept firmly in mind: tax what you want to discourage, don't tax what you want to encourage, and never tax innovation or the future.

And now my home city is taxing the future. You see, the city of Chicago recently announced that it will extend its 9% amusement tax to online streaming services and cloud computing.

A ruling by Chicago’s Department of Finance allows the city to add an extra nine percent tax onto “electronically delivered amusements” and “nonpossessory computer leases.” In an odd combination, buying a subscription to streaming media, such as Netflix or Spotify, would qualify, as would using a cloud computing platform, such as Amazon Web Services. Each would be subject to 9% tax; Chicago is the first major American city to levy a tax on either streaming services or cloud computing services.

Amusement taxes in and of themselves generally violate the concept I highlighted in the opening. After all, if you're a municipality, taxing fun is essentially saying you want less fun. But what makes this re-write of the amusement tax already on the books silly is that it is purely a money-grab.


Here's what happened: the amusement tax in Chicago worked primarily to collect revenue from book stores, music stores and movie rental stores, which are obviously becoming increasingly in short supply as consumers move to online stores and streaming services like Netflix and Spotify and Amazon for all of the above.


This is actually a good thing from a public interest standpoint for a variety of reasons: less pollution from physical products, more efficiency in the marketplace, the opening of more creative outlets for members of the city, and more access to more content from more places and devices, meaning a more robust economic marketplace. The future, in other words, although increasingly the present as well. And Chicago wants to tax all this, effectively discouraging its use, in order to collect an additional $12 million a year.

Chicago, mind you, is in the hole for roughly one hundred times that amount.


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A look at California's effort to build an H-1B firewall | Patrick Thibodeau | NetworkWorld

A look at California's effort to build an H-1B firewall | Patrick Thibodeau | NetworkWorld | Surfing the Broadband Bit Stream | Scoop.it

California lawmakers are considering a bill that would make it difficult for state-regulated utilities to replace U.S. workers with H-1B workers. It may be one of the most significant anti-offshoring measures in years.

In the absence of federal action, states have long tried to put the brakes on the shift of jobs to offshore. Legislative efforts began in earnest with the burst of the dotcom bubble in 2001. Many state bills were never adopted, but that hasn't stopped some from trying.

In New Jersey, for instance, lawmakers in 2012 approved legislation intended to impede call center outsourcing. The Communication Workers of America, which spurred the effort, said that it had represented about 3,000 New Jersey call center workers in 2002, but by 2012, that figure had fallen to 725.

The New Jersey CWA said telecommunications providers, notably Verizon, were shifting DSL call-center support jobs to India and other countries. New Jersey lawmakers responded by passing, in both houses, the "Save New Jersey Call Centers Jobs Act." But Gov. Chris Christie, who announced Tuesday that he is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, vetoed the bill with little explanation.

The New Jersey bill required any employer relocating a call center to a foreign country to notify the state, and give up any grants, loans or tax benefits. A similar bill first introduced in Congress in late 2011, the U.S. Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act, gained nearly 140 co-sponsors, mostly Democrats, but was not adopted. The bill was subsequently reintroduced in the following Congress, and once again failed to pass.

California's anti-offshoring bill (AB 853), sponsored by Assembly member Roger Hernandez (D-West Covina), is aimed at IT operations. It requires an electric or gas company "to use direct employees for any work associated with the design, engineering, and operation of its nuclear, electrical, and gas infrastructure, including all computer and information systems, to the extent feasible."


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MN: Pennington County Broadband 2014 Update: 92% coverage despite $15.33 per Megabit to connect to the Internet backbone | Ann Treacy | Blandin on Broadband

MN: Pennington County Broadband 2014 Update: 92% coverage despite $15.33 per Megabit to connect to the Internet backbone | Ann Treacy | Blandin on Broadband | Surfing the Broadband Bit Stream | Scoop.it

I’m working on a County-by-County look at the State of Broadband in MN. My hope is to feature a county a day (in alphabetical order). In November, Connect Minnesota released their final report on broadband availability. Here is how Pennington County stacked up:

  • Household Density: 9.4
  • Number of Households: 5,836
  • Percentage serviced (without mobile): 91.64%
  • Percentage serviced (with mobile): 91.64%


Pennington is doing pretty well. And we have a unique look at the situation in Pennington because it was used as an example in the last Minnesota Task Force report to demonstrate the inequity in cost to a provider to connect to the Internet backbone based on location…


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Vivint Becomes First Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) to Offer Fiber-Fast Speeds Through the Air | KSL.com

Vivint Becomes First Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) to Offer Fiber-Fast Speeds Through the Air | KSL.com | Surfing the Broadband Bit Stream | Scoop.it

Vivint, a leading provider of smart home technology, today announced Vivint Internet, a pioneering broadband service that offers residential customers high-speed Internet access through the air. The service is a fast and affordable alternative to the high-speed services offered by competing Internet service providers. Vivint Internet offers symmetrical 100 Mbps download and upload speeds for suburban customers — faster than any other wireless Internet service provider in the U.S.


Vivint designed its antenna to be easy to install, reliable and weatherproof in all conditions.

To ensure that customers have maximum speeds, even during peak evening periods, Vivint uses a unique "hub home" deployment model. Vivint beams high-speed data from local fiber optic access points to a hub home located centrally in a neighborhood. The hub home then relays Vivint Internet to nearby customer homes. This approach maintains the speed and integrity of the signal, ensuring that networks are not overburdened, even during the busiest hours.

Vivint Internet speeds are more than nine times faster than the average connection speed in the U.S. (11.1 Mbps) reported in Akamaiâ"™s Q4 2014 State of the Internet Report.


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Chicago Extends 9% Entertainment/Use Tax to Almost Everything You Do Online | Phil Dampier Stop the Cap!

Chicago Extends 9% Entertainment/Use Tax to Almost Everything You Do Online | Phil Dampier Stop the Cap! | Surfing the Broadband Bit Stream | Scoop.it

Starting Sept. 1, Chicago residents will be paying 9% more for everything from Netflix to income tax filing as city officials impose a recently reinterpreted entertainment/use tax on almost every online subscription content provider, even those peddling adult entertainment.

The Chicago Tribune reports the city’s Finance Department has vastly broadened the reach of Chicago’s amusement and personal property lease transaction taxes to apply the 9% tax to virtually any content that a customer borrows, leases, or subscribes to that is not purchased outright. Buying a CD on Amazon.com would not be subject to the tax but a Spotify subscription allowing you to listen to that same CD as long as your subscription is maintained will be taxed. Buying a digital copy of a movie will not be taxed, but watching it through a subscription service like Apple TV, Amazon, or Netflix will be.

Although some are dubbing it the “Netflix Tax,” it will also apply to cloud storage, paid television programming — including satellite, cable, telephone, and online-delivered content, financial and investment services, and almost anything else accessed online with a paid subscription. Even paying to host a website (or having someone manage it for you) will be subject to the tax.

The expanded tax is part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s strategy to deal with Chicago’s huge budget shortfall with fees, fines, and broadening taxes. The city predicts the expanded tax will capture up to $12 million a year from Chicago residents and businesses.

“In an environment in which technologies and emerging industries evolve quickly, the City periodically issues rulings that clarify the application of existing laws to these technologies and industries,” mayoral spokeswoman Elizabeth Langsdorf said in a statement issued Wednesday. “These two rulings are consistent with the City’s current tax laws and are not an expansion of the laws. These ensure that city taxation is uniformly and fairly applied and that businesses are given clear guidance on the applicability of the City’s tax laws to their operations, and they clarify that the amusement tax and personal property lease tax apply to digital services.”


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Are We Expecting too Much from WiFi? | Doug Dawson | POTs and PANs

Are We Expecting too Much from WiFi? | Doug Dawson | POTs and PANs | Surfing the Broadband Bit Stream | Scoop.it

I don’t think that a week goes by when I don’t see somebody proposing a new use for WiFi. This leads me to ask if we are starting to ask too much from WiFi, at least in urban areas.

Like all spectrum, WiFi is subject to interference. Most licensed spectrum has strict rules against interference and there are generally very specific rules about how to handle contention if somebody is interfering with a licensed spectrum-holder. But WiFi is the wild west of spectrum and it’s assumed there is going to be interference between users. There is no recourse to such interference – it’s fully expected that every user has an equal right to the spectrum and everybody has to live with the consequences.

I look at all of the different uses for WiFi and it’s not too hard to foresee problems developing in real world deployments. Consider some of the following:


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Why the government is about to approve the AT&T and DirecTV mega-deal – and the one thing that remains a big concern | Cecilia Kang | WashPost.com

Why the government is about to approve the AT&T and DirecTV mega-deal – and the one thing that remains a big concern | Cecilia Kang | WashPost.com | Surfing the Broadband Bit Stream | Scoop.it

A decision on AT&T's merger with DirecTV is expected any day now, and suddenly federal officials are being swarmed with visits and calls by the companies who are arguing over details of the conditions attached to any approval.

That's actually a good sign for the merger's chances. To understand why, it's useful to compare how regulators are approaching this deal to Comcast's failed attempt to buy Time Warner Cable, which was rejected in April.

Throughout the Justice Department and FCC's review of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, government officials were convinced that the deal would harm competition so the companies didn't even get a chance to talk about conditions in depth. Federal officials eventually made it clear that nothing could make them change their minds, according to regulators.

But public filings show that top AT&T and DirecTV executives have met with antitrust officials and commissioners at the Federal Communications Commission to answer a slew of last-minute, detailed questions in recent weeks -- a major sign that regulators are likely to approve the $45 billion merger that would create a mobile video powerhouse.


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Will Maine Create a $500 Municipal Broadband Fund? | Colin Wood | GovTech.com

Will Maine Create a $500 Municipal Broadband Fund? | Colin Wood | GovTech.com | Surfing the Broadband Bit Stream | Scoop.it

he state of Maine is firmly committed to municipal broadband — it just doesn't want to pay for it.

If Maine Gov. Paul LePage signs LD1185, the state will create a new fund that would endeavor to provide residents with a wider array of high-speed broadband providers in the coming years. The fund would offer grants to research how municipalities might build open-access gigabit broadband networks, expanding competition in a rural state dominated by Time Warner Cable and Fairpoint Communications.

When the bill was introduced, the fund was $12 million, then reduced to $6 million; now the fund is a $500 placeholder that Congress will revisit next year.

Originally municipalities would have been eligible to apply for up to $200,000 in funding to research the development of an open-access gigabit network. The old version of the bill required that a minimum of 50 such grants be made available, at least half of which would be granted to low-income areas. If signed, the new fund will exist in spirit, but with no funds to distribute.

The organization that would distribute the funds should they become available would be the ConnectME Broadband Authority, the state’s broadband advocacy and engagement arm. Lisa Leahy, associate executive director of ConnectME, said the bill is an excellent idea that has had a lot of support from all directions.

“It establishes that there can be a fund and now the work will continue in regard to ‘OK, how do we fund it?’” Leahy explained. “At this time, I think there’s been such a concern around budget that any bill that has a fiscal note attached to it is being looked at very closely.”

When or how the fund would contain more than $500 is unknown, but it’s something the state Legislature will look at next year, Leahy said.

Chris Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance said that what the state is doing is smart, though the lack of funding is disappointing.


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The rise of niche video streaming: Even Lifetime movies have their own service now | Andrea Peterson | WashPost.com

The rise of niche video streaming: Even Lifetime movies have their own service now | Andrea Peterson | WashPost.com | Surfing the Broadband Bit Stream | Scoop.it

Lifetime movies are a genre unto themselves: The television channel even aired a deadpan take on its particular brand of melodrama starring Will Ferrell and Kristin Wiig -- "A Deadly Adoption" -- earlier this summer.

And now, Lifetime movies will have a streaming service unto themselves.

The channel rolled out an iOS app that will give subscribers access to a selection of roughly 30 Lifetime movies for $3.99 a month, according to Variety, just in time for binge-watching over the Independence Day weekend.

When most people think of streaming services, they think of the big three: Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. But there's also an expanding world of niche standalone streaming services -- some tied to specific channels, genres, or even shows.

HBO Now, the premium cable brand's subscription streaming service that launched this spring, is probably the best known of the channel-specific options. But CBS also offers a streaming service: For $5.99 a month, people can watch current and previous seasons of its shows online -- plus live television in some markets, with the exception of some sports content.


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Leaked TPP Chapter Shows How It's A Massive Gift To Big Pharma And Against Public Health | Mike Masnick | Techdirt

Leaked TPP Chapter Shows How It's A Massive Gift To Big Pharma And Against Public Health | Mike Masnick | Techdirt | Surfing the Broadband Bit Stream | Scoop.it

Over the last few years, we've seen leaks here and there of the various chapters of the TPP agreement, but generally ones that are quite out of date. The latest public leak of the "intellectual property" chapter that I'm aware of was done last October by Wikileaks and was the version from the previous May (2014). Now, Politico claims that someone has leaked the May 2015 version, though Politico has not published the document (which, frankly, is pretty lame for a journalism property). But, based on Politico's report, the agreement still looks to be what everyone's been saying it would be: a huge gift to giant corporate special interests, such as Big Pharma:

The draft text includes provisions that could make it extremely tough for generics to challenge brand-name pharmaceuticals abroad. Those provisions could also help block copycats from selling cheaper versions of the expensive cutting-edge drugs known as “biologics” inside the U.S., restricting treatment for American patients while jacking up Medicare and Medicaid costs for American taxpayers. “There’s very little distance between what Pharma wants and what the U.S. is demanding,” said Rohat Malpini, director of policy for Doctors Without Borders.

In response, the USTR falls back on its standard lame reply, about how draft texts are not "final." But this is why it's actually important to post these draft texts publicly, because what the draft Politico saw appears to show is that, whether or not it gets it, the USTR is fighting for policies that would harm poor, sick people, and massively benefit giant pharmaceutical conglomerates.


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Windstream's Kinetic TV Barely Competes With Time Warner Cable in Nebraska | Phil Dampier | Stop the Cap!

Windstream's Kinetic TV Barely Competes With Time Warner Cable in Nebraska | Phil Dampier | Stop the Cap! | Surfing the Broadband Bit Stream | Scoop.it

If Windstream was hoping to make a splash with its new Kinetic IPTV service, Time Warner Cable certainly isn’t reaching for a towel.

Kinetic debuted in April in Lincoln, Neb., the first community to get Windstream’s fiber to the neighborhood TV service. Three months after being introduced, it’s available in about half of the city. But it is not proving much of a threat to incumbent Time Warner Cable because Windstream set rates roughly the same or higher than what the cable company charges.

In fact, a Stop the Cap! reader contemplating a trial run of Kinetic was quickly dissuaded when he learned Windstream charged $10 more than what he already paid Time Warner Cable.

“Windstream either does not understand Time Warner’s pricing or is artificially trying to limit demand for the moment,” our reader tells us. “I have to believe it is one or the other because the alternative is they don’t know what they are doing and are creating an experiment built to fail. When I told Time Warner I was toying with the idea of trying Kinetic, they cut my bill another $30 a month and Kinetic is now dead to me.”


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22 Towns in Massachusetts Are Building Their Own Gigabit Fiber Network | Jason Koebler | Motherboard

22 Towns in Massachusetts Are Building Their Own Gigabit Fiber Network | Jason Koebler | Motherboard | Surfing the Broadband Bit Stream | Scoop.it

Large swaths of rural Western Massachusetts are about to get gigabit fiber internet after residents in 22 separate towns decided to join a government cooperative designed to bring high speed broadband to places where traditional cable companies refuse to offer service.

The towns have secured $34.5 million in government bonds to undertake the project, which is expected to cost a total of $79 million. The Massachusetts state government is expected to pick up 40 percent of the overall cost as part of the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (the $34.5 million is not included in that total), according to the coop, called WiredWest.

WiredWest hopes to eventually wire a total of 32 towns in the state. Of those, 22 have formally joined, meaning that 40 percent of the households in a given town agree to buy the fiber service and have made a $49 deposit to secure their spot. Town councils must also pass a measure agreeing to contribute their share of the overall costs.

"This is a major commitment for a town. In time WiredWest’s revenues from the network may cover all or part of the principal and interest on that debt," WiredWest wrote on its site, explaining why wiring the towns may be a controversial issue. "But the town will be on the hook, and some townspeople may oppose borrowing the money. If you want high-speed internet service, you need to be at town meeting to vote yes."

In the end, enough towns have decided to join to make it a reality. So far, 6,700 people have placed deposits for service, which represents a third of the area's overall number of households.

The collective is notable because it's one of several throughout the country attempting to bring high speed internet to places that are primarily served by dial-up or slow DSL lines. The Federal Communications Commission has said that such arrangements are critical to eventually wiring the country, because companies such as Comcast and Verizon have made it clear that it's not worth their investment to connect rural areas.

WiredWest says it will offer 25 Mbps speeds for $49 per month, 100 Mbps for $79 per month, and 1 gb/s speeds for $109 per month. DSL or satellite internet, which is common in the area, usually tops out at just a couple Mbps, at best.


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Security threats, hackers and shadow IT still plague health IT | Kenneth Corbin | CIO.com

Security threats, hackers and shadow IT still plague health IT | Kenneth Corbin | CIO.com | Surfing the Broadband Bit Stream | Scoop.it

Security has long been a primary challenge in the health IT market, and two new reports help illustrate the vulnerabilities surrounding some of the most sensitive consumer data.

The health IT group HIMSS on Tuesday released its 2015 cybersecurity survey, finding that 87 percent of healthcare officials and information security workers polled identify cybersecurity as an increasing business priority within their organizations, but still report an alarming rate of intrusions.

Two-thirds of the nearly 300 respondents report that their organization had recently experience a "significant" cyber event, and many express little confidence in their ability to defend against zero-day attacks.

In a statement, HIMSS Vice President Lisa Gallagher calls the recent breaches in the healthcare sector a "wake-up call" that should remind the industry that the information held in medical systems is a high-value target, and that many firms need to take security more seriously.

"Healthcare organizations need to rapidly adjust their strategies to defend against cyberattacks," Gallagher says. "This means implementing threat data, incorporating new tools and sophisticated analysis into their security process."

In a separate study, the security-software vendor Skyhigh Networks offers a sobering assessment of the extent of unauthorized applications and services running within healthcare organizations. As a result of that so-called shadow IT, the average healthcare firm is running 928 cloud services, more than 10 times the number that IT departments know to be in use, according to Skyhigh's analysis.

In most cases, employees have no malicious intent when they use unauthorized tools to collaborate, develop software or share content, but in doing so they nonetheless introduce new security vulnerabilities -- only 7 percent of the cloud services Skyhigh detected meet its standards for acceptable enterprise security and compliance.


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Securing the ‘Net – at what price? | Taylor Armerding | NetworkWorld.com

Securing the ‘Net – at what price? | Taylor Armerding | NetworkWorld.com | Surfing the Broadband Bit Stream | Scoop.it

Is it possible to secure the Internet? And if so, what would it cost?

According to Jim Manico, a global board member of the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) Foundation, it is. And he suggested a price of $4 billion, in a recent "open letter" to President Obama.

Manico said if the government would write him a check for that amount, “or any amount of money deemed enough to instigate change – I’ll show you how to help secure the software that drives modern businesses and the Internet at large.”

If he’s right, it could be one of the best, most efficient investments the federal government has made.

Yes, $4 billion is a lot of money – enough to put an individual at the top end of the 1% income bracket. But it is less than 1% of the money lost to cybercrime annually, which according to a report by Intel Security and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is $575 billion, with $100 billion of that coming from the U.S.

And compared to the 2015 federal budget of nearly $3.2 trillion, it is not even a rounding error – barely more than one-tenth of 1%. The government spends that much in less than half a day.


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Wi-Fi password-sharing feature in Windows 10 raises security concerns | Blair Hanley Frank | NetworkWorld.com

Wi-Fi password-sharing feature in Windows 10 raises security concerns | Blair Hanley Frank | NetworkWorld.com | Surfing the Broadband Bit Stream | Scoop.it

With the launch of Windows 10, anyone who walks into your house and gets your Wi-Fi password for their PC could potentially let all their friends onto your network, thanks to a new feature that has ignited controversy online.

Called Wi-Fi Sense, the feature is designed to make it easier for people to get Internet access for their devices while they’re on the go by automatically logging them into wireless hotspots. It does so with a two-pronged approach: by logging users into select open networks and also by allowing them to share secured connections with their friends (and vice versa). Perhaps unsurprisingly, that has drawn the ire of people who care about wireless security.

If someone with a Windows 10 device logs on to a new network, they can check a box to share that access with their contacts, who could include their Facebook friends, Outlook.com contacts and people on their Skype contact list. This isn’t exactly a new feature—Microsoft introduced it with Windows Phone 8.1 last year, but it didn’t make much of a splash at the time because not that many people use Windows Phone.

Craig Mathias, a principal at the Farpoint Group who specializes in wireless technology, said in an email that the feature was “a cheap hack.” He went on to say that the Wi-Fi Alliance’s Passpoint technology, which makes it possible for some devices to connect securely to wireless networks without going through a login process, is “more important.”

“And no one should ever leave Wi-Fi access wide open,” he said.


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