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Ajit Pai's FCC Can't Admit Broadband Competition is a Problem -
Fri, 19 Jan 2018 13:51:20 EDT -

While the FCC is fortunately backing away from a plan that would have weakened the standard definition of broadband, the agency under Ajit Pai still can't seem to acknowledge the lack of competition in the broadband sector. Or the impact this limited competition has in encouraging higher prices, net neutrality violations, privacy violations, or what's widely agreed to be some of the worst customer service of any industry in America.

The Trump FCC had been widely criticized for a plan to weaken the standard definition of broadband from 25 Mbps down, 3 Mbps up, to include any wireless connection capable of 10 Mbps down, 1 Mbps up.

Consumer advocates argued the move was a ham-fisted attempt to try and tilt the data to downplay the industry's obvious competitive and coverage shortcomings. They also argued that the plan made no coherent sense, given that wireless broadband is frequently capped, often not available (with carrier maps the FCC relies on falsely over-stating coverage), and significantly more expensive than traditional fixed-line service.

In a statement (pdf), FCC boss Ajit Pai stated the agency would fortunately be backing away from the measure, while acknowledging that frequently capped and expensive wireless isn't a comparable replacement for fixed-line broadband.

"The draft report maintains the same benchmark speed for fixed broadband service previously adopted by the Commission: 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload," stated Pai. "The draft report also concludes that mobile broadband service is not a full substitute for fixed service. Instead, it notes there are differences between the two technologies, including clear variations in consumer preferences and demands."

That's the good news. The bad news: the FCC under Pai's leadership continues to downplay and ignore the lack of competition in the sector, and the high prices and various bad behaviors most people are painfully familiar with.

Pai's statement was part of the FCC's annual report on the state of broadband competition and availability. Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires the FCC to continually assess whether broadband is being deployed on a "reasonable and timely basis," and if not -- to do something about it. While the FCC this week released a fact sheet on the draft Broadband Progress Report, it hasn't released its actual findings. But Pai's statement makes it clear that he doesn't think limited competition is a problem. And if it, he apparently believes that policies like killing popular net neutrality rules are magically going to fix it.

"The draft report also discussed how, over the course of the past year, the current Commission has taken steps to reduce barriers to infrastructure investment and promote competition in the broadband marketplace," said Pai. "Taken together, these policies indicate that the current FCC is now meeting its statutory mandate to encourage the deployment of broadband on a reasonable and timely basis."

Pai's efforts to "reduce barriers to infrastructure investment" have included killing FCC plans to make the cable box market more competitive, helping derail privacy protections for broadband consumers, weakening price controls that helped keep business broadband monopolies in check, helping prison phone monopolies rip off inmate families, killing net neutrality, and making it harder for the poor to get access to decent broadband by slowly and surely dismantling the Lifeline program (created under Reagan and expanded under Bush Jr.).

Like several of his revolving door regulatory predecessors (most notably former FCC boss turned top cable lobbyist Mike Powell), Pai has an almost-comedic habit of completely ignoring the blatant lack of competition in the sector. This effort runs so deep, you'll simply never see him acknowledge that this lack of competition results in high prices, something that's patently obvious to most American consumers (especially if they've surveyed the cost of TV, phone and broadband in, say, Paris).

So while it's great that Pai won't be weakening the standard definition of broadband to cover competition gaps (for now), he's still under the impression that letting giant, uncompetitive telecom duopolies run amok will somehow cure everything that ails one of the least competitive markets in American industry.
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Phone Maker OnePlus Hacked, User Credit Card Data Compromised -
Fri, 19 Jan 2018 16:00:02 EDT -

Phone manufacturer One Plus has confirmed that the company was hacked and user data was compromised after numerous customers complained of credit card fraud in the wake of buying a phone from the company. The hardware manufacturer sent an e-mail to customers earlier today, informing them their credit card numbers, expiry dates, and security codes "may have been compromised" by the breach. Complaints by OnePlus customers of credit card fraud had been circulating online and in the company's forums for the last week.

"As soon as we were made aware of the attack, we launched an urgent investigation," the e-mail to users states. "We suspended credit card payments and have been working with a cybersecurity firm to reinforce our systems."

According to OnePlus, a malicious script was somehow inserted into the company's website code, allowing the attacker to collect sensitive user data. According to OnePlus, "up to 40,000" customers may have been impacted by the security failure. They confirmed that the malicious script "operated intermittently" between mid-November and January 11. The company disabled credit card purchases last Thursday as it began to examine the problem.

OnePlus says it's working on providing free credit monitoring to impacted customers. There's a little more detail in the company's statement, including steps impacted customers should take next.

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Weekend Open Thread! -
Fri, 19 Jan 2018 18:00:03 EDT -

Drop something incredibly interesting into the comment section below.
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Friday Morning Links -
Fri, 19 Jan 2018 06:40:02 EDT -

Comcast s surprisingly good mobile network just got a little easier to access
FCC Backs Away From Proposal to Redefine 'Broadband'
FCC admits mobile internet is a poor broadband replacement
Sprint, Cox Go From Patent Suit to Partnership
CenturyLink Rural Broadband Expansion Includes 600K Additional Locations
Latest Gfast chipsets are offering a mature solution for gigabit broadband that is re-igniting the copper-versus-fiber debate
T-Mobile commits to starting 5G rollout in 2019, scoffs at AT&T s and Verizon s promises
AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile Tout Boosted Cellular Capacity Across Twin Cities in Anticipation of Super Bowl LII
Apple has a change of heart and approves an app that finds net neutrality violations
TiVo, Google Expand Patent Deal to Include YouTube TV
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Cable One Says Gigabit Speeds Now Available to 95% of Users -
Fri, 19 Jan 2018 07:40:03 EDT -

DC based cable operator Cable One says the company has completed its deployment of gigabit broadband service to 95% of the company's footprint. For these deployments, Cable One ignored DOCSIS 3.1 and instead went with DOCSIS 3.0 modems capable of bonding 24 channels to reach gigabit speeds. A company announcement indicates that the service is now available to 200+ markets where the cable operator provides its broadband services. The company offers gigabit service for $175 per month, but this pricing may vary depending on the level of competition in the market. Those interested can check out or reader reviews of CableOne service here, or stop by our CableOne forum for the latest on the company's offerings.
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Comcast Wireless Now Lets You BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) -
Thu, 18 Jan 2018 16:00:03 EDT -

Comcast will now let you bring your own device (BYOD) for use on the company's Xfinity Mobile wireless phone service. More specifically, Comcast will let you bring very specific devices for use on the service, a company announcement indicating that "select, unlocked iPhone models" qualify. You'll need to head to this website to see if your current model qualifies. A company FAQ says the company is working hard to expand qualifying handsets, including Android devices. The lack of a BYOD option turned many users off when Comcast unveiled the service last year.

XFinity wireless piggybacks on Comcast's footprint of 18 million Wi-Fi hotspots, but uses Verizon s cellular network as a backup.

"A core tenet of Xfinity Mobile is that it s simple and easy, and our in-store BYOD experience will be no different," Comcast says of the new option. "We are committed to simplifying the mobile experience from the moment a customer signs up, through activation and account management."

Comcast's service offers existing triple play customers wireless phone service for $45 per line for unlimited (users get throttled to 1.5 Mbps after 20 GB) data, text and voice. This same service is $65 per month if users only subscribe to Comcast broadband service, making it abundantly clear that Comcast's primary goal with the effort is to upsell users to additional services.

Comcast is also offering an option where users can pay $12 per GB of cellular data across all lines on an account. Under this option, Comcast took a page from other providers' playbooks, and allows users to only pay for what they use. Comcast says folks in a single home can mix and match unlimited and per gig plans, and switch between the options without penalty.

Comcast recently said the company has passed 200,000 subscribers for the new Xfinity Mobile wireless service.
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Cox Might Partner With Sprint to Offer Wireless Phone Service -
Fri, 19 Jan 2018 08:30:03 EDT -

Sprint and Cox have struck a new partnership that will let Sprint use the cable company's core network for potential wireless backhaul and connectivity, and could open the door toward Cox offering a MVNO-esque wireless service using the Sprint network. According to the joint announcement, the agreement was forged out of a settlement of patent litigation between the parties, and will allow Sprint to leverage Cox's broadband infrastructure to "accelerate the densification of the Sprint network while simultaneously increasing efficiency of its macro backhaul and small cell deployment."

While the statement says the agreement will "increase and strengthen other business ties between the two companies," it doesn't specifically suggest that Cox could offer its own wireless services, but that's certainly still possible.

Numerous cable operators have increasingly tried to jump into the wireless industry as they find cable TV profit margins narrowing and broadband growth saturating. Comcast already offers its own WiFi centric phone service relying on Verizon's network, and Charter is expected to unveil its own, similar offering within a matter of months.

And Sprint has been looking for partners to try and make a profit off of such efforts, striking an MVNO agreement with Altice last November that opened the door to Altice-owned Optimum and Suddenlink offering wireless phone service.

"This is another opportunity to work with a strategic partner to accelerate our densification plans to improve our network performance and experience for Sprint customers throughout Cox's national territory," Sprint CTO John Saw says of the new deal. "Moving forward, we will continue to look for new opportunities to work with Cox in ways that are mutually beneficial."
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Forum Topic: Starz, Altice Feud, Blackout Continues -
Fri, 19 Jan 2018 12:00:03 EDT -

Users in our Optimum forum continue to lament the fact that Starz has been pulled from the lineups of Altice-owned Suddenlink and Optimum, after Altice and Starz failed to strike a new programming contract. Such disputes (and subsequent content blackouts) are growing increasingly common as broadcasters increasingly ask for more money for the same content, arguably tone-deaf to customer price fatigue and the growing trend of cutting the traditional TV cord for cheaper, more flexible streaming alternatives.

Apple Bans Net Neutrality Testing App for No Coherent Reason -
Thu, 18 Jan 2018 14:00:02 EDT -

Apple's determination over what does and does get approved for distribution in the Apple store has never been what you'd call consistent. App makers can routinely find their passion projects banned for no coherent reason, with Apple often simply unwilling to even have a dialogue as to why. Sometimes apps are banned because they compete with Apple, though other times apps are banned for no apparent reason whatsoever.

The latest case in point: Vice's Motherboard points out that an app that allows you to test your connection for throttling or other network management and net neutrality violations has been banned from Apple's app store.

The app in question, dubbed Wehe, lets users test the integrity of their connection by downloading data from numerous content providers, including YouTube, Amazon, NBCSports, Netflix, Skype, Spotify, and Vimeo. The app then checks your throughput data to determine if your connection is being slowed, potentially without you being informed of it.

That sort of thing is a far more likely scenario now that net neutrality rules have been dismantled, and the Trump/Pai FCC have shown no genuine interest in protecting consumers from predatory telecom duopolies. Pai has repeatedly tried to argue that "consumer backlash" will keep ISPs honest, and such tools are necessary should that claim actually be true.

But Apple has banned Wehe for no concrete reason, telling app creator David Coffnes, a researcher at Northeastern University, that his app has "no direct benefits to the user." Apple claimed that the app had "objectionable content," a catch-all phrase Apple tends to use to justify its bizarre and arbitrary app approval process. Coffnes is already being paid to "research the video performance of Verizon s video streaming services," so it's not like the industry disputes his findings either.

Granted, the banning of the app certainly leaves room for more important fare in the App store, as DSLReports author and site moderator uid://203342 noted on Twitter.

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It's worth noting that Android users can nab the app in question here.
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Thursday Morning Links -
Thu, 18 Jan 2018 06:40:02 EDT -

Comcast's New Xfinity Platform Blurs Streaming Media, Live TV, Internet, Apps... And Smart Home Hub
Rhode Island threatens to shun ISPs in latest bid to preserve net neutrality
Reaching rural America with broadband internet service
Cable One Touts Gigabit Deployment Milestone
Verizon Dunks Deal to Stream NBA Content, sell NBA League Pass
AT&T pushes pre-5G network for Super Bowl
Study claims AT&T and Verizon are still feeling the pain of unlimited
T-Mobile slams Verizon s pre-standard 5G plan
Google support page says a fix for Google Cast protocol bug that causes temporary WiFi outages on many routers will roll out tomorrow via Google Play update

T-Mobile: Our 5G Hype is the Only 5G Hype You Should Listen To -
Fri, 19 Jan 2018 10:00:03 EDT -

T-Mobile has fairly consistently blasted AT&T and Verizon for fifth generation (5G) wireless hype, though the company is no stranger to 5G hype of its own. T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray posted a blog entry arguing that AT&T and Verizon are hyping unavailable 5G technology to overshadow the fact that T-Mobile is now neck and neck with them in terms to network speed and performance.

Companies like Verizon have traditionally justified their higher prices by claiming network superiority, a claim that isn't quite what it used to be after T-Mobile's growth and the return of unlimited data.

Ray points to a new Open Signal study that claims T-Mobile now offers the fastest current generation (LTE) wireless broadband speeds.

"Naturally, the Duopoly is now desperate to try to change the subject," Ray argues. "Verizon even launched a multi-million-dollar ad campaign to do just that. It s classic carrier strategy. If you can t win, distract, distort, confuse, convolute."

T-Mobile again mocked AT&T for its "5G Evolution" marketing hype, which tried to confuse consumers into conflating 4x4 MIMO antennas and 256 QAM technology with 5G. The company also mocked Verizon for consistently missing its own 5G deadlines, and for hyping a fixed 5G service Ray claims won't scale successfully.

"Why does it matter that Verizon doesn t use 5G industry standards?" Ray asked. "Well, it won t scale and won t work with the vast majority of 5G smartphones that will come to market, which will be standards based. Oh, and Verizon still hasn t gotten the message that mobile 5G is what matters. So, not only is Verizon standing alone on the Fixed 5G Island, but it *really* is an island!"

Of course T-Mobile has been no stranger to its own 5G hype, though it has been careful to at least make clear that 5G isn't an official standard yet, and any real-world deployment of it isn't likely to occur until 2020 or so.

"I can t believe I have to say this, but yes, industry standards matter," notes the CTO. "Verizon s ignoring them in their rush to fixed 5G this year, but that just means they re building a bridge to nowhere. 5G should be built with interoperability and scalability in mind and that means respecting industry standards."

T-Mobile is promising to use its 600 MHz spectrum to launch 5G "nationwide" by 2020, a promise you'll likely want to bookmark and come back to, since there's numerous logistical hurdles tied to this incentive auction spectrum T-mobile needs to overcome for this timeline to stick.
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Google's Project Fi Unveils Its Version of 'Unlimited' Data -
Wed, 17 Jan 2018 18:00:03 EDT -

A few years ago, Google launched Project Fi, a wireless phone service that leaned predominantly on WiFi, but used the Sprint and T-Mobile networks for cellular backup. Initially, the company offered unlimited talk, text, tethering and international roaming for $20 a month. After that, Project Fi charged you a flat $10 per each additional gigabyte of GB for cellular data whether in the US or abroad (read: $10 for 1 GB, $20 for 2 GB, or $30 for 3 GB) -- up to 10 GB per month. Users got refunds at month's end for any data not consumed.

Today, Google announced that they're shaking up pricing in a number of new ways.

One, Google says it's introducing something called "bill protection." Under this new option, users who consume more than a set amount of data during a month will have their total charges for calls, texts and data capped at a maximum of $80 per month. Like other similar "unlimited" options, users will have their connection throttled for the remainder of their billing cycle. Your throttling cap will vary depending on how many users are on your plan, notes Google.

"If you re a super heavy data user, you ll experience slower data speeds in months when you ve consumed more than 15 GB of data (less than 1% of current Fi users today)," notes the company. "But as always, you ll have the power to customize your plan, and you can opt out of slower speeds by paying $10/GB for your individual data usage above 15 GB."

While Google is calling this bill protection, it's really just Project Fi's answer to the shift by major carriers to unlimited data, which has resulted in Project Fi seeming slightly less revolutionary than it did at launch.

"With Bill Protection you ll never have to pay for unlimited data in months when you don t actually need it," Google says. "If you only use 1.4 GB of data, at the end of the month you ll pay just $34 instead of $80. So no matter how much data you use, you can save money with Bill Protection every month."

Google's bill protection begins rolling out today to individual subscribers and group plans. The company says that current Fi subscribers will see it appear on their next billing cycle. There's more detail available on Project Fi's new pricing plan over at the full announcement.
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