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The NRA Gave Ajit Pai An Award Today For Being 'Courageous' -
Fri, 23 Feb 2018 14:03:13 EDT -

Ajit Pai may be one of the least liked people in America after he ignored the public and killed popular net neutrality rules last December. But while Pai faces massive, bipartisan criticism for being a sellout to giant, entrenched telecom monopolies, the NRA today gave Pai their golden seal of approval. Journalists attending the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) today noted that the organization gave Pai the Charlton Heston "Courage Under Fire" Award for his attack on net neutrality.

An added bonus alongside the award? A gun.

More specifically a musket the NRA said will be permanently housed in its museum to (apparently) memorialize Pai's "courage" for killing net neutrality. Dan Schneider, the Executive Director of the American Conservative Union (backer of CPAC), went so far as to call Pai "the most courageous, heroic person that I know" at today's event.

No, this is not the Onion. If you're struggling to understand why the NRA would jump into the net neutrality debate at this juncture, it's worth noting that Matt Schlapp, chairman of one of the groups that organize CPAC, is a lobbyist for both Verizon & Comcast according to lobbying disclosure forms.

Washington Post reporter Tony Romm and Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale both attended the event and first posted about the award on Twitter:

»twitter.com/TonyRomm/sta ··· 6971136

»twitter.com/ddale8/statu ··· 6058241

Pai also gave a speech, the transcript of which was not made immediately available, entitled: "American Pai: The Courageous Chairman of the FCC."

Regular readers will of course realize there's nothing particularly courageous about Pai's efforts to rubber stamp every whim of extremely unpopular cable and broadband providers. Or his decision to ignore the public, ignore the experts, and ignore all objective data during his attack on net neutrality. It's similarly hard to find much courage in Pai's decision to block a law enforcement investigation into the fraud and identity theft during the repeal's public comment period. And while ISPs benefit from the infighting inherent in framing net neutrality as a "partisan" issue, surveys show the idea routinely has overwhelming bipartisan support.

Said "award" comes just a week after the FCC Inspector General's Office confirmed it had opened a bipartisan investigation into whether Pai is too cozy with the giant companies he's supposed to be holding accountable, another notably odd definition of "courage."
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Weekend Open Thread! -
Fri, 23 Feb 2018 18:00:03 EDT -

Dump something interesting into the comment section below.
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Friday Morning Links -
Fri, 23 Feb 2018 06:40:03 EDT -

The unwinding of net neutrality will begin on April 23rd theverge.com
States Refile Suits To Try To Block Net Neutrality Repeal reuters.com
SpaceX launches the first of its 12,000 planned Internet satellites techspot.com
Ethernet Leaderboard: CenturyLink Overtakes AT&T for the Top Spot telecompetitor.com
CenturyLink Pulling Plug on OTT TV Beta Service multichannel.com
It looks like Dish is actually building its own 5G wireless network bgr.com
'World's first' 5G call completed by Vodafone and Huawei techrepublic.com
Charter quietly launches a la carte streaming bundle Choice fiercecable.com
Meet Coldroot, a nasty Mac trojan that went undetected for years zdnet.com
DirecTV Now vs Hulu vs PlayStation Vue vs Sling TV vs YouTube TV - best live TV apps! androidauthority.com
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The FCC's New Broadband Availability Map is a Misleading Joke -
Thu, 22 Feb 2018 13:26:18 EDT -

In February of 2011 the government released our first ever broadband map (available here) after spending roughly $300 million on the project. Our readers by and large were unimpressed at the time, noting the map didn't list prices, and often reported non-existent competitors and unavailable speeds in many markets. Many of these shortcomings are due to carriers, who have fought for the last decade to keep price comparison and deployment data out of the hands of consumers.

So while the intention was arguably good, the implementation wasn't--in part because ISPs don't really like having coverage, competition, and pricing issues highlighted and the FCC routinely lacks the courage to hold their feet to the fire.

After being stuck in funding limbo for several years, Ajit Pai's FCC announced that they'd be relaunching the map as part of Pai's arguably hollow dedication to "closing the digital divide."

"The new, cloud-based map will support more frequent data updates and display improvements at a far lower cost than the original mapping platform, which had not been updated in years," the FCC said in a statement.

The agency also took to Twitter to claim the updated map "provides consumers, policymakers, and stakeholders a robust tool for closing the digital divide."

»twitter.com/FCC/status/9 ··· 6208129

The problem: the new map (available here) appears to have all of the problems that plagued the original, and then some. And were somebody to actually use it to determine where broadband coverage gaps exist, they'd falsely walk away thinking there weren't any.

The map still doesn't bother to list pricing data, since ISPs have lobbied ferociously to keep that data out of the hands of the public. After all, if the public could see how much limited competition impacts the price they pay for broadband, somebody in government might just be forced to actually stand up to telecom campaign contributors and actually do something about it.

The map also tends to hallucinate competitive options and over-state speed availability.

For example, I only have the option of one real broadband provider at my home address (Comcast). Yet the FCC's broadband availability map informs me I have more than seven broadband options. Two of which are counted twice (CenturyLink fiber, CenturyLink DSL) despite the fact that neither are actually available at any speed. And despite being a map that proclaims to measure "fixed broadband deployment," three of my available options are slow, over-priced and capped satellite broadband service. Four of the listed options don't even meet the FCC's own definition of broadband (25 Mbps down, 3 Mbps up).

Were somebody to actually use the FCC's map to determine where broadband coverage gaps exist, they'd falsely walk away thinking there weren't any.
For good measure, the map appears to have also hallucinated fixed wireless broadband availability that isn't actually available in my neighborhood.

Of course if you've watched Pai manipulate facts and ignore the public as he rushes to give wet sloppy kisses for the industry he used to work for, none of this is probably surprising. Nor is it particularly surprising for an FCC that has actively worked to change measurement criteria to make the sector look more competitive. And if you've been paying attention you're probably not shocked to learn large ISPs like Comcast and AT&T routinely lobby to prevent more accurate mapping.

Again, if you release data that clearly highlights the negative impact limited competition has on price, availability, and customer service, somebody might just get the crazy idea to actually do something about it -- and we certainly wouldn't want that.

Head to the FCC's "new" map here and let us know in the comment section if it reflects reality in your neck of the woods.
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Space X Launches First Satellites for Major Broadband Play -
Fri, 23 Feb 2018 16:00:03 EDT -

Space X has officially launched the first two satellites to be used as the cornerstone of the company's looming broadband efforts. Thursday morning saw the launch of two of the satellites that will be used in the company's low-orbit Starlink broadband service, which isn't expected to see commercial launch until 2019. The new service, once complete, will utilize a constellation of roughly 4,425 satellites to hopefully provide better connectivity than traditional satellite broadband provides.

The two satellites were launched alongside a Spanish radar satellite via Space X's Falcon 9 rocket. Recent Space X filings states the launch deployed "two experimental non-geostationary orbit satellites, Microsat-2a and -2b."

"These are experimental engineering verification vehicles that will enable the company to assess the satellite bus and related subsystems, as well as the space-based and ground-based phased array technologies," the company told the FCC in the filing.

These two satellites will be the backbone of early tests to determine the viability of the broader Starlink plan. If successful, Space X states that commercial satellite launches will begin in 2019, slowly ramping up to 4,425 satellites in 2024. Ideally, Space X says that the system, if it becomes viable, will provide speeds up to a gigabit per second, with latency somewhere between 25ms and 35ms. It's obviously far too early to speculate how much this service will cost.

That would be a dramatic improvement over existing satellite broadband technology, which has traditionally be plagued by high latency, high costs, slow speeds and usage caps (it's too early to know if Space X will have similar usage restrictions, though given the cost it seems likely). The satellites will orbit at 511km, notably lower than the 35,400km orbit of traditional satellite broadband satellites.

Granted Musk isn't the first person to explore low-orbit satellite as a fixed-line broadband alternative, and due to the complexity of such systems past efforts on this front have tended to amount in lots of sound of fury, but not much else. Others also have the same idea.

Richard Branson, for example, is also building a service called OneWeb, which he says will use 720 low-Earth orbit satellites using the Ka (20/30 GHz) and Ku (11/14 GHz) frequency bands, providing "ubiquitous low-latency broadband connectivity across the United States, including some of the most remote areas in places like Alaska where broadband access has not been possible before," according to an FCC filing.
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With Net Neutrality Dying, AT&T Expands Zero Rating to Prepaid -
Fri, 23 Feb 2018 08:30:03 EDT -

With AT&T having successfully lobbied the government to kill net neutrality protections, it's quickly moving to expand zero rating to the company's prepaid plans. The idea of zero rating involves letting some content (quite often a large ISP's own) be exempt from what are often already arbitrary usage caps. Critics have long argued that this practice gives incumbent ISPs an unfair advantage in the media space, since it gives an ISP's own services an unfair advantage in the streaming video space. The previous FCC was just about to ding AT&T for behaving anti-competitively in this space before the last election.

But that was then, and this is now.

With net neutrality on the chopping block, AT&T has expanded the company's "Sponsored Data" program into the prepaid space. Under Sponsored Data, companies can pay AT&T extra money to have their content be cap-exempt. While that allows deeper-pocketed companies an unfair leg up over smaller competitors (especially of the non-profit or startup variety), AT&T tries to advertise the program as the broadband equivalent of "free shipping" or a "1-800 number for data."

And of course, the biggest beneficiaries of AT&T's decision to push zero rating into the prepaid space is...AT&T:

Not coincidentally, the only three services I could find that support AT&T s sponsored data are owned by AT&T: DirecTV, U-verse, and Fullscreen, all video services. If you re an AT&T wireless customer deciding between DirecTV Now and a competitor, like Hulu or Sling TV, this program gives the AT&T-owned service a huge advantage.
On one hand, if you're an AT&T customer on a capped plan this probably looks good to you, as these services aren't eating up your data allotments. At least until you realize that caps and overage fees are entirely arbitrary in the first place, creating a system where AT&T can tilt the entire playing field in favor of the company's own services. And while the return of unlimited data plans helps bypass this issue in the interim, it's more than likely that with sector oversight gutted that carriers will try their hardest to bring back metered options.

The failure of otherwise smart people to understand how zero rating is used anti-competitively is one of the reasons we're currently staring at the ashes of meaningful net neutrality protections.
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Oregon Looks to Repeal Law That Gave Comcast a Huge Tax Break -
Thu, 22 Feb 2018 18:00:02 EDT -

A few years ago, you might recall that Oregon legislators passed a new law giving tax cuts to ISPs willing to quickly deploy gigabit broadband in the state. The goal was to encourage the rise of smaller broadband competitors, easing their entry into what traditional has been a very hostile market controlled by politically-powerful incumbents. But the effort had numerous issues, first of which being that an initial draft actually make deployment more expensive for companies like Google Fiber. The other problem: Comcast quickly nabbed millions in tax breaks due to the legislation without having to do much of anything different.

Oregon lawmakers quickly lamented their decision, pointing out that Comcast charging $300 per month (plus a $1000 install fee) wasn't quite the kind of behavior they were looking to reward.

The 2015 effort also backfired in that Google Fiber, which had repeatedly hinted at offering service in the city, abruptly backtracked in 2016 after Google higher ups began to get cold feet about the slow pace and high costs of fiber deployments. With the tax cuts intended to aid competition instead going to pad incumbent pockets, the state now wants that money going back into its communities, not Comcast's already-flush wallet.

As such, state lawmakers are now looking at killing off the relatively young law entirely. According to estimates, Comcast is now netting $15 million a year in tax breaks from the new law and Frontier Communications about $2.5 million. And again, those huge tax breaks came without either company doing much of anything differently (Comcast had already planned to offer gigabit broadband via DOCSIS 3.1 in the state).

State Rep Rob Nosse says the bill was a rushed attempt to improve broadband competition in the state, but wasn't properly vetted before passage.

"We should start over. It's too generous a tax break," Nosse said. "I'm not even sure if it's needed, and I think we should stop offering it."
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Forum Topic: Bell Canada's Unpopular Website Filtering Plan -
Fri, 23 Feb 2018 12:00:03 EDT -

Users in our Canadian broadband forum discuss how Bell is urging its employees to support a new website filtering initiative Bell has been pushing over the last year. The effort, which would create a quasi-government agency tasked with filtering websites at the behest of major Canadian corporations, has been roundly criticized as draconian and potentially harmful (since such filtering efforts almost always cause collateral damage for legitimate websites falsely flagged as infringing).

Grande Communications Simplifies Tiers, Pricing -
Fri, 23 Feb 2018 07:40:02 EDT -

Texas-based cable operator Grande Communications appears to have streamlined the company's broadband pricing. Site regular uid://1440579 noticed that the company's website now lists just three promotional tiers from the company: a 300 Mbps down, 20 Mbps up tier for $36 per month; a 600 Mbps down, 35 Mbps up tier for $50 per month; and 1 Gbps down, 50 Mbps up tier for $70 per month. That last service provides symmetrical 1 Gbps service in areas where Grande has deployed full fiber. It looks like these are twelve-month promotional prices, which appear to be a response to Charter Spectrum's own, similar tier simplification efforts.
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Bell Canada Pushes Employees to Astroturf For Website Filters -
Thu, 22 Feb 2018 16:00:03 EDT -

Bell Canada Enterprises, Canada's largest communications company, has been pushing hard for the creation of new website filtering and censorship effort aimed at tackling piracy. The controversial proposal would involve the creation of a quasi-government agency dubbed "FairPlay Canada" to block websites that are deemed infringing on content that they, or other members of the coalition supporting this venture, own the broadcast rights to.

Similar action has already been implemented in Australia despite the fact such filters are usually easily bypassed (doing nothing to seriously thwart piracy) while frequently causing collateral damage by blocking legitimate websites.

Hoping to push its agenda the CRTC, as part of the Canadian Federal Department of Heritage, has been more than happy to conduct a public consultation on its website entitled "Application to disable on-line access to piracy sites" (ZIP file) to which individuals and corporations can submit comments, called interventions.

To date, there have been over 5600 comments submitted, and the overwhelming majority are in opposition - even though it has been pointed out that the default option for filing an intervention on the CRTC website is suspiciously set to "Support."

So what's a huge corporation to do? Ask its own employees to astroturf, of course. iPhoneinCanada posted a story showing an anonymous whistleblower alerted Canadian Internet advocate Michael Geist with screenshots of these Internal Bell communications commanding: "Help stop online piracy and protect content creators. You can let the CRTC know you support FairPlay Canada." This despite Bell being fined $1.25 million by the Competition Bureau for a similar stunt of encouraging staff to post positive online reviews back in 2015.

It's unlikely that this story will be covered by any Canadian media outlet, since virtually all of them are owned by vertically-integrated companies that are part of the FairPlay coalition.

Even the staunchly-independent federally-owned CBC, which has traditionally reported on Canadian Internet access issues that monopoly-owned outlets would not, has also backed FairPlay. And don't expect much defence from the government, either, since Canadian Heritage has been dictating what content Canadians have access to for decades, under the guise of Canadian content rules. Being able to put an end to Canadians having a real choice in how and where they access media must be a dream come true for the government and media conglomerates alike. Sadly, this sounds more like North Korea than the land of the "true north strong and free."

It's been pointed out by many comments that the arguments used in the CRTC submission are flawed, use data that in no way relates to Canada, and don't account for the fact that declining subscriber numbers, a key point in justifying why this proposal is necessary, aren't actually indicative of increasing piracy - simply fed-up customers that have decided to give up traditional forms of overpriced and overcontrolled media entertainment and find something else to do with their precious free time.

Huge media companies like Bell, Rogers, and their American kin like Comcast are obviously so desperate to protect their outdated and failing business models, and justify poor financial performance to their shareholders, that they must resort to convincing federal regulators like the CRTC and FCC to change the rules. Even if it means pressuring their own staff into supporting draconian policy that likely infringes on the constitution and the rights of citizens. It is only a futile delay tactic for inevitable change.

You can join the conversation in our Canadian Broadband Forum. Or if you'd like to submit an intervention, you can do that here. Unlike those interested in seeing FairPlay become a reality, DSLReports won't tell you to support or object. But then, we don't need to.

This article was contributed by the DSLReports.com community. If you'd like to receive payment for writing content like this for our front page, please drop us a line.
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Thursday Morning Links -
Thu, 22 Feb 2018 06:40:02 EDT -

Surprise! U.S. Mobile Internet Speeds Lag Behind Most Of The World ibtimes.com
Dish's Sling TV tops internet TV providers with 2.21M subscribers appleinsider.com
First Intercontinental 5G Trial Begins at Winter Olympics IEEE.org
SpaceX satellite broadband test launch delayed at least 1 day due to strong high altitude winds cnet.com
Liberty Global Holds Back on DOCSIS 3.1 broadbandworldnews.com
Why AT&T s 5G Network Won t Be Speeding Up Your Phone Anytime Soon fortune.com
Dish allocates $1B for wireless network buildout through 2020 fiercewireless.com
T-Mobile and AT&T to sell Qualcomm s Always-On PCs, joining Sprint and Verizon ubergizmo.com
NBC, NAB demo ATSC 3.0 next-gen TV during Olympics broadcast fiercecable.com
Streaming video games is finally a reality - but it will take a 5G network to make it good bgr.com
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CenturyLink Pulls Plug on Streaming Video Service -
Fri, 23 Feb 2018 10:00:03 EDT -

CenturyLink is already giving up on the company's in house, over the top streaming video ambitions. The service, creatively named CenturyLink Stream, was launched as a paid beta last year, offering 48 live TV channels and a cloud DVR for $45 per month. The service allowed up to three simultaneous streams, and was being offered to users both inside and outside of CenturyLink's traditional broadband footprint.

But the company is already pulling the plug on the effort after an apparent lack of consumer interest.

The company's website now says the service is ending and CenturyLink is no longer taking new customers. The company gives no explanation for axing the service,

"If you are a current subscriber, you can continue to sign in to your account to watch your channels until your current subscription period ends," says CenturyLink. The company also says that as a perk, existing customers will be able to rent movies for free via the service until March 31, 2018.

It's very possible that CenturyLink's service simply didn't see the kind of traction the ISP was looking for. Some telcos have struggled to shift from turf-protecting telco to innovative and disruptive streaming. It's also possible that CenturyLink could be looking to partner with existing services that already resonate with customers.

W e are open to looking at other options," CenturyLink CEO Glen post stated last year on a conference call. "Matter of fact, we continually talk with some of these other providers, look at the best ways we can bring that service and also other ways in working with them to reduce our content cost...It does not have to be our product."
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