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Data capping by ISPs means that a customer is allotted a certain amount of data, generally in a plan. When the customer’s usage exceeds that amount, the customer is normally either charged extra or switched to a slower network. At first glance, this appears fair, customer’s pay for what they use. However, according to Harvard Law professor Susan Crawford’s superb, eye-opening book Captive Audience, it cost wired ISPs less than a penny per extra gigabyte used by customers, yet they often charge many times that, sometimes a dollar or more per gigabyte. So clearly ISPs are making enormous profits. Gigantic profits are not the only problem; ISPs often also own content, such as movies, which they bundle with Internet.

When customers stream content owned by their Internet service provider, it does not count toward data usage but when they stream content from other providers, such as Netflix and Amazon, the data counts towards their data allotment. Watching a single Netflix series in HD or more than seven HD movies can often use an entire month’s data allotment.  This puts content providers that operate independently of ISPs at a severe competitive disadvantage against ISPs that bundle their content with Internet service. On a truly neutral net, ISPs would not be allowed to do this because they are not treating their own content the same as content from other sources but they used a loophole in the net neutrality laws to not treat traffic owned by them as broadband.

As a result of this, those independent content providers may go out of business. Then we will all have fewer news and entertainment options, making this a poorer country.

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Recently, Cambridge Analytica harvested Facebook data from 87 million users accounts and used the data to build models to send targeted news stories to those users.  Whistleblower Christopher Wylie, the former Director of Research at Cambridge Analytica, said, “We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis the entire company was built on.”

Using this tool, you can see the data Facebook has about you and to which advertisers it sold your data.  An article about the tool is here and you can also learn if Cambridge Analytica harvested your data here.  You can read my brief letter about Facebook and privacy published in the New York Times here.

Many recent opinion articles suggest that the problems created by the exploitation of information posted on social media could be solved by regulation of social media companies and more transparency about how our information is monetized. While these measures could help they do not get at the root of the problem. The problem’s root is that many people do not know how to distinguish between real and fake news and they do not realize or are in denial that when they post something to a social media site, the post is public.

Librarians can teach people how to distinguish between real and fake news.  A good place to begin is to show people how to determine whether an argument has internal merit or not.  For instance, a personal attack has no internal merit.  If an argument has internal merit, then it can be checked against external reality, using sites like factcheck.org.

Here is a guide I adapted and augmented that accompanied a class I taught to faculty at a university on the topic of helping students navigate the news.  (Please use the tabs to navigate.)

My last post on net neutrality was in 2015.  Soon after that post, the FCC adopted rules to ensure net neutrality, which means that regardless of its source, all Internet data would be transferred at the same speed.   These rules will be repealed on April 23, 2018.

To lay the groundwork for the repeal, on November 2017, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said, “we decided to abandon successful policies solely because of hypothetical harms.”  The “successful policies” to which he refers are essentially allowing ISPs to self-regulate and the “hypothetical harms” to which Pai refers are not hypothetical.  In 2013-2014, Comcast gradually slowed data from its competitor Netflix to a crawl and demanded that Netflix pay them.  Netflix paid and immediately their data transferred quickly again.  You can read more about this in my blog post here and in my letter in the New York Times here.

Ajit Pai’s arguments revolve around the idea that the market will self-regulate and if a consumer does not like her ISP, she can select another.  Many ISP markets in the US are monopolies or duopolies, so the choice is often Internet access or no Internet Access.  They also ignore the threat of vertical monopolies, i.e. a single company owning the entire supply chain.  For instance, Comcast is not only the largest ISP in the US, it also owns many content producers, such as NBC and Universal Pictures.  Without regulation, Comcast could simply block or throttle traffic from its competition and become a vertical monopoly. Also, an ISP owner could decide to block or throttle content from a publisher who did not share her political views.

Some ISPs, such as Sonic.net and Monkeybrains have net neutrality policies.  When selecting an ISP it is worth asking about their net neutrality policies if they do not have statements about their positions on their websites.  Libraries and schools that support open access to information would serve their patrons well by selecting an ISP that with policies that ensure net neutrality.

The city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, developed its own broadband Internet service. Through the service customers can purchase a 1-gigabit connection per second for $70 per month and 100-megabit connection for $58 per month. The average US broadband speed is about 9.8-megabits per second for an average of about $47.50.

The Obama Administration and now the chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, are proposing that access to the Internet be regulated like access to a public utility. The project in Chattanooga began in 2008 and uses infrastructure that was built to also route electricity. In many ways, broadband in Chattanooga is literally a public utility rather than just regulated like one. It provides much faster connections for about the same price.

This may be a good model for other municipalities. During the last eleven years various cities have attempted to make free Wi-Fi available for everyone. These attempts have been largely unsuccessful or the Wi-Fi has only been available at a few specific locations in the cities. There are three key differences between Chattanooga’s approach and these other attempts. First, in Chattanooga Internet access is not free. Second, the other cities subcontracted to private companies to provide Internet access. Third, these other cities were attempting to provide wireless Internet whereas Chattanooga provides wired Internet. Incidentally other ISP’s unsuccessfully sued Chattanooga to try to stop them from developing the service.

On a personal note, in the mid 2000’s I read about the SFLAN, a free “citywide” Metropolitan Area Network in San Francisco and was excited to try it. The only way I could get a connection was to take my laptop to my roof. On the roof, it took several minutes to open the home page of the New York Times. Despite the James Taylor song about the wonders of being on a roof, I decided that this was unworkable. 😉

More information can be found about Chattanooga’s network here:

http://money.cnn.com/2014/05/20/technology/innovation/chattanooga-internet/

Additional information about cities’ attempts to provide free Wi-Fi can be found here:

http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2013/07/wireless-networks

This blog has included four previous posts about the importance of Net neutrality. In November of last year President Obama released a statement describing the importance of Net neutrality. I agree with his statement and wrote one of the nearly four million public comments mentioned early in the full statement. An excerpt from the middle part of the statement is posted below.

Prior to reading the excerpt though please consider an example of what happens when what happens when what the President describes as the “gatekeepers” decide to throttle certain content on the Internet in order to extract more profits from content providers. Starting during the summer of 2013 Netflix subscribers’ accessing the Internet using Comcast found that their movie streams gradually slowing. Comcast wanted Netflix to pay to have them upgrade their capacity. Then in February 2014 Netflix paid an undisclosed amount to Comcast and the problem instantly stopped. Obviously it is not possible for a cable company to upgrade its capacity where no capacity existed before. Doing so would be like building a 12-lane highway overnight.

Here is the excerpt from President Obama’s Statement:

I believe the FCC should create a new set of rules protecting net neutrality and ensuring that neither the cable company nor the phone company will be able to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what you can do or see online. The rules I am asking for are simple, common-sense steps that reflect the Internet you and I use every day, and that some ISPs already observe. These bright-line rules include:

  • No blocking. If a consumer requests access to a website or service, and the content is legal, your ISP should not be permitted to block it. That way, every player — not just those commercially affiliated with an ISP — gets a fair shot at your business.
  • No throttling. Nor should ISPs be able to intentionally slow down some content or speed up others — through a process often called “throttling” — based on the type of service or your ISP’s preferences.
  • Increased transparency. The connection between consumers and ISPs — the so-called “last mile” — is not the only place some sites might get special treatment. So, I am also asking the FCC to make full use of the transparency authorities the court recently upheld, and if necessary to apply net neutrality rules to points of interconnection between the ISP and the rest of the Internet.
  • No paid prioritization. Simply put: No service should be stuck in a “slow lane” because it does not pay a fee. That kind of gatekeeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet’s growth. So, as I have before, I am asking for an explicit ban on paid prioritization and any other restriction that has a similar effect.

If carefully designed, these rules should not create any undue burden for ISPs, and can have clear, monitored exceptions for reasonable network management and for specialized services such as dedicated, mission-critical networks serving a hospital. But combined, these rules mean everything for preserving the Internet’s openness.

The rules also have to reflect the way people use the Internet today, which increasingly means on a mobile device. I believe the FCC should make these rules fully applicable to mobile broadband as well, while recognizing the special challenges that come with managing wireless networks.

To be current, these rules must also build on the lessons of the past. For almost a century, our law has recognized that companies who connect you to the world have special obligations not to exploit the monopoly they enjoy over access in and out of your home or business. That is why a phone call from a customer of one phone company can reliably reach a customer of a different one, and why you will not be penalized solely for calling someone who is using another provider. It is common sense that the same philosophy should guide any service that is based on the transmission of information — whether a phone call, or a packet of data.

So the time has come for the FCC to recognize that broadband service is of the same importance and must carry the same obligations as so many of the other vital services do. To do that, I believe the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act — while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services. This is a basic acknowledgment of the services ISPs provide to American homes and businesses, and the straightforward obligations necessary to ensure the network works for everyone — not just one or two companies.

November 10, 2014

For the entire statement please click here:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/net-neutrality – section-read-the-presidents-statement

For all of the posts in this series about Net neutrality, which include additional examples of problems with a non-neutral Net please click here:

https://ethanannis.wordpress.com/category/net-neutrality/

In late 2010 the FCC enacted a set of rules known as the Open Internet Order to stop deals between Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) and content providers.  This meant, for example, Giant Movie Provider could not pay an ISP to have its HD movies stream fluidly while Itsy Bitsy Movie Provider’s films were only given enough bandwidth to appear like pixelated images shot while using a stroboscope for illumination.  Or imagine Bank Q’s homepage opens in a millisecond, whereas Bank B’s homepage opens in 20 seconds.  Or even imagine that Bank B’s content, which is entirely legal, is blocked by your ISP.  Having such commercial arrangements would give businesses with deep pockets a major advantage.  

Today, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, ruled that rules that bar ISP’s from charging content providers are invalid.  This will give ISP’s incentive to make deals with whoever can pay them the most.  Although plaintiffs argued that this was necessary for innovation, as far as I can tell, providing the wealthiest content providers with the fastest access to customers will further ossify the existing structure thereby reducing competition, which in turn will diminish innovation.

In the press, an aspect I have not seen mentioned is that much of the backbone of the Internet in this country is paid for by our taxes.  ISP’s provide some of the infrastructure but mainly what they provide are onramps for people like you and me.  They charge us monthly fees to use those onramps.  Of course for traffic/content coming from content providers such as Netflix, the on-ramp you are using is their off-ramp.  Now ISP’s have a means of charging for traffic going in both directions.  This could restrict or make difficult access to certain information.  If you wish to learn more about this, please read the other posts in this series which can be accessed using the following link:

https://ethanannis.wordpress.com/category/net-neutrality/