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New incoming FCC boss Tom Wheeler is expected to have his confirmation hearing today before the Senate Commerce Committee. Wheeler's ties to wireless and cable companies
aren't expected to be much of an obstacle for his hearing, and in fact are likely why Wheeler was chosen (in order to see as little resistance from an industry-friendly Congress as possible). While he will be approved, his campaigning and fundraising for the Obama Administration will likely be the big target of the day.
A Republican staff memo has leaked showing what Wheeler lists as his priorities when he begins work at the FCC
1) implementing the spectrum auctions and creating a public safety network; 2) the IP transition--overseeing the transition from analog switched-circuit networks to Internet Protocol (IP) delivery (Wheeler has been chairman of the FCC's Technological Advisory Council, which has been wrestling with that IP transition); and 3) advancing civil society through communications, including the broadband buildout and promoting diversity.
You'll note the utter lack of any mention of improving competition, the lack of which results in higher prices, predatory behavior, and all manner of other problems. Instead Wheeler's focus is status quo FCC agenda items: more spectrum (usually for incumbents), managing the IP transition away from the PSTN and toward IP (which may include deregulating AT&T and Verizon so they can hang up on millions of DSL users they don't want to upgrade
) and the digital divide (usually used as a show pony issue for political brownie points).
You'll recall the Wheeler pick received praise from Susan Crawford and consumer groups like Public Knowledge
, who brushed aside his lobbying ties. It's possible Wheeler is hiding his pro-consumer activist side simply to get approved by Congress. It still seems unlikely that after approval, he's going to magically shake off thirty years of thinking forged by life as a lobbyist and address broadband-sector consumer issues more seriously than his predecessors.
Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt recently crowed before investors that the company's new and unpopular modem rental fee
had room to grow
. He now appears to have carried through on that promise, with the news that the company's $4 modem fee -- is now a $5 modem fee for new users
. Alongside the new higher modem fee, Time Warner Cable is charging news users a $20 "one-time charge" simply for signing up for certain promotions. Given Comcast charges $7 for modem rentals you can expect Time Warner Cable's charge to continue growing in time (users are strongly recommended to buy their own modem
instead of throwing more money at their cable operator). As for the new $20 charge, it's just one more way these companies jack up your advertised price post sale.
Earlier this month Sprint tried to scrap Dish's proposed takeover of Clearwire by arguing that the proposal was technically illegal under Delaware law
. Now Sprint has filed a new lawsuit against both Dish and Clearwire
in an effort to prove it and derail the deal once and for all. According to the lawsuit, Dish has "repeatedly attempted to fool Clearwire's shareholders into believing its proposal was actionable in an effort to acquire Clearwire's spectrum and to obstruct Sprint's transaction with Clearwire." The fuss over Clearwire's spectrum has resulted in the Wall Street Journal
calling the historically dismally-performing Clearwire the "darling of telecom" in a report yesterday.
As the PRISM story from last week mutates, it has been interesting to see how many of the Internet companies have fought NSA requests, completely unlike what we saw with AT&T and Verizon when it was exposed
that they were allowing the NSA to split network fibers and monitor all traffic in real time. Google for example recently went out of their way to point out they refused NSA attempts to install their own gear on network
, and now the New York Times
reports that both Yahoo and Twitter also tried to fight secretive rubber-stamped FISA court requests.
One of the benefits of having little to no competition in your markets is you can jack up prices and add all the little obnoxious fees you'd like with no repercussions, since most of your customers have no other options. One of the benefits of lobbying and enjoying regulatory capture in uncompetitive markets
is you can engage in this kind of behavior repeatedly and be confident that United States regulators simply won't give a damn.
The Justice Department appears poised to take a closer look at the cable industry after their admission this week that they pay or threaten content companies
to keep content away from Internet video competitors. An anonynmous source now tells the New York Times
the Justice Department is "looking into the issue as part of a broad investigation into cable and satellite company practices." After Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt oddly decided to admit such practices at a cable industry trade show
this week, the company then turned around and tried to argue that paying and threatening companies to crush smaller competitors was just good spirited, healthy, competitive fun
. Perhaps Britt's planned retirement at the end of the year may be magically stepped up a few months.
Elaborating on announcements made back in February
, GM says that they'll soon bring AT&T LTE connectivity to most of their 2015 car models
, with the broadband tied to the vehicle's OnStar infotainment and emergency aid services. GM insists that the automobile will be the next great tech evolution platform "and one with far better battery life than an iPhone." Two hurdles will mar GM and AT&T's vision: one, most people now already have a smartphone with mobile hotspot capability and aren't keen on paying more money for another pricey (some would say over-priced) AT&T data connection. Two, automaker infotainment system GUI's traditionally seem like they're designed by teams of drunk orangutans -- a huge, persistent problem when you're technically competing with iOS and Android for the driver's attention.
Dish says that the company has started testing a fixed LTE product capable of delivering speeds up to 50 Mbps. In a press statement
, Dish insists that they've seen speeds of 25-30 Mbps downstream using 2.5 GHz BRS spectrum in Virginia tests with their partner nTelos, who they recently announced a new fixed LTE partnership with
. Dish has offered up this video
with a few produced consumer impressions of the service, though the company has yet to announce an plans for expansion beyond the Virginia test sites, or prices (or cap) plans for when/if the service sees full commerical deployment. Unless the price and caps are outrageous, this could be a promising option for users stuck on satellite broadband.
Both state and city prosecutors around the country are forming a new coalition aimed at thwarting cell phone theft
, in the process taking aim at carriers and handset makers for not doing enough to help. The coalition includes attorneys general from New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Delaware, Minnesota and Hawaii -- as well as DAs and police officials from New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Boston.
Last week's latest leaks about the NSA's domestic spy capabilities are only just the "tip of the iceberg," according to one Democratic politician briefed on the programs. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) made that statement
after being briefed on Tuesday about the NSA's programs by counterterrorism officials. "What we learned in there," Sanchez said, "is significantly more than what is out in the media today." If you've actually read what previous NSA and carrier whistle blowers have been saying
for ten years (and it's increasingly obvious that most
of the press has not), the depth of the NSA's surveillance rabbit hole shouldn't be particularly surprising.
Time Warner Cable has issued a longer statement in response to reports this week
disclosing that the cable company, along with many of its contemporaries, pay and/or threaten content companies to keep their content off of competing Internet video services. While this had long been suspected, Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt for whatever reason decided to confirm it this week, as did sources speaking to Bloomberg news.
Roughly one in three Americans insist that former security contractor turned NSA leaker Edward Snowden is a patriot and should not be prosecuted, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll
. 31 percent insisted that Snowden was a "patriot," while 23 percent insisted Snowden was a "traitor." Some 46 percent said they did not know, not uncommon given how little most in the public actually understand about what's going on. Granted focusing on whether Snowden is a patriot, narcissist, or "villain
" helps steer the conversation away from what Snowden actually unveiled.
Complicating the Dish, Clearwire, SoftBank and Sprint romance further, Clearwire's board has officially rebuffed Sprint and appears to be favoring a deal with Dish Network. Clearwire's board this week rescheduled their shareholder meeting for June 24, and urged stockholders to vote against Sprint's latest offer to acquire the remainder of Clearwire Sprint currently doesn't own. story continues..
Speaking at the cable industry's NCTA trade show this week, Time Warner Cable admitted that the company pays certain broadcasters
to keep their content off of the Internet, thereby securing traditional cable power over the TV industry. Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt revealed for the first time that the company has more than 300 contracts with content creators, and many of those contracts ban companies from offering their content online. Sources tell Bloomberg this is a fairly common occurrence, though cable companies, most of whom profess to love the "free market" at every possible opportunity, refuse to comment publicly on them. Surely antitrust regulators would be interested in hearing more, Mr. Britt?
As we've been discussing
, a lot of the carefully-worded denials crafted by the companies allegedly participating in the NSA's "PRISM" surveillance program focused on denying that the NSA had "direct access" to their servers. These denials obviously didn't preclude things like NSA hardware on network that split streams and stores data on NSA hardware
, something AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein claimed was common practice
Microsoft recently alienated a huge portion of their customer base
by proudly proclaiming that their new Xbox One game console would be rife with all manner of DRM restrictions, ranging from the inability to normally trade games -- to a ban on game rentals. Showing a certain tone deafness to consumer concerns, Microsoft's Xbox boss Don Mattrick proclaimed that if users don't like the fact the Xbox One makes you check in online once every twenty four hours, they can buy Microsoft's old console instead
"...until you use it, it's really hard to understand what all the advantages are." For those who don't have an Internet connection--Mattrick brought up an example of a person living on a submarine--he pointed out that the Xbox 360 is not going away anytime soon.
A bi-partisan group of eight Senators has drafted a new bill that aims to prevent the government's secret interpretation of law that has allowed the NSA to expand surveillance power exponentially under the protection of national security. The proposed law
would urge the Attorney General to declassify significant Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) opinions, giving Americans better insight into the width and breadth of legal authority the government is claiming in order to spy on millions of American citizens:
Americans deserve to know how much information about their private communications the government believes its allowed to take under the law, explains Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat who has been an outspoken advocate for congressional oversight of surveillance programs. There is plenty of room to have this debate without compromising our surveillance sources or methods or tipping our hand to our enemies. We cant have a serious debate about how much surveillance of Americanss communications should be permitted without ending secret law."
In other words, the goal would be to publicize the FISC's rather broad interpretations of the law, but not the confidential information contained therein.
In response to the continued revelations into ever-expanding government domestic spying, today a group of 86 organizations
, including ourselves, Free Press, the EFF, Mozilla and others, have joined forces in Voltron-esque fashion to form StopWatching.Us
. StopWatching.Us is a campaign "calling on citizens and organizations from around the world to demand a full accounting of the extent to which our online data, communications and interactions are being monitored."
The campaign calls for a congressional investigatory committee, similar to the Church Committee of the 1970s, to investigate the NSA's violations of the Constitution and endlessly-expanding surveillance of American citizens.
Last weekend's "Game of Thrones" series finale set piracy records, with the program being downloaded by more than a million people in one day. According to Torrent Freak
, the show set BitTorrent records specifically, with some 170,000 people sharing one copy of the show simultaneously. The massive, unprecedented piracy comes as HBO continues to refuse to make their streaming platform HBO Go
available to users without a traditional cable connection. The show is expected to surpass 5 million BitTorrent downloads over the next week, with most of those downloaders coming from Australia, followed by the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
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