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Trump Ready to Sign Repeal of Internet Privacy Regs; Net Neutrality Repeal Up Next

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump plans to sign a repeal of Obama-era broadband privacy rules as a bigger fight looms over rules governing the openness of the internet, the White House said on Wednesday.

Republicans in Congress on Tuesday narrowly passed the repeal of the privacy rules with no Democratic support and over the strong objections of privacy advocates.

The fight over privacy sets the stage for an even larger battle later this year over Republican plans to overturn the net neutrality provisions adopted by the administration of former President Barack Obama in 2015.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said he did not know when Trump would sign the bill.

The privacy bill would repeal regulations adopted in October by the Federal Communications Commission under the Obama administration requiring internet service providers to do more to protect customers’ privacy than websites like Alphabet Inc’s Google or Facebook Inc.

Under the rules, internet providers would need to obtain consumer consent before using precise geolocation, financial information, health information, children’s information and web browsing history for advertising and marketing.

The reversal is a win for AT&T Inc, Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications Inc. Websites are governed by a less restrictive set of privacy rules overseen by the Federal Trade Commission.

Republican commissioners have said the rules would unfairly give websites the ability to harvest more data than internet service providers.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a tweet the vote was “Terrible for American people, great for big biz.”

Republicans next plan to overturn Net Neutrality provisions that in 2015 reclassified broadband providers and treated them like a public utility.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican, in December said he believes that Net Neutrality’s days are numbered.

The rules bar internet providers from obstructing or slowing down consumer access to web content and prohibit giving or selling access to speedy internet, essentially a “fast lane” on the web’s information superhighway, to certain internet services.

Critics say the rules opened the door to potential government rate regulation, tighter oversight and would provide fewer incentives to invest billions in broadband infrastructure.

Pai told Reuters in February be backs “a free and open internet and the only question is what regulatory framework best secures that” but has steadfastly declined to disclose his plans.

Trump has not talked as president about Net Neutrality but in 2014 tweeted he opposed it.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Republican-Controlled House Votes 215-205 to Repeal Internet Privacy Regulations

Phillip Dampier March 29, 2017 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Reuters 1 Comment

U.S. House of Representatives

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House voted on Tuesday 215-205 to repeal regulations requiring internet service providers to do more to protect customers’ privacy than websites like Alphabet Inc’s Google or Facebook Inc.

The White House said earlier Tuesday that President Donald Trump strongly supports the repeal of the rules approved by the Federal Communications Commission in October under then-President Barack Obama.

Under the rules, internet providers would need to obtain consumer consent before using precise geolocation, financial information, health information, children’s information and web browsing history for advertising and marketing.

Last week, the Senate voted 50-48 to reverse the rules in a win for AT&T Inc, Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications Inc.

The White House in its statement said internet providers would need to obtain affirmative “opt-in” consent from consumers to use and share certain information, but noted that websites are not required to get the same consent. “This results in rules that apply very different regulatory regimes based on the identity of the online actor,” the White House said.

Websites are governed by a less restrictive set of privacy rules overseen by the Federal Trade Commission.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai in a statement praised the decision of Congress to overturn “privacy regulations designed to benefit one group of favored companies over another group of disfavored companies.” Last week, Pai said consumers would have privacy protections even without the Obama internet provider rules, but critics say they will weaker.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which opposes the measure, said companies “should not be able to use and sell the sensitive data they collect from you without your permission.”

An Internet & Television Association statement called the repeal “an important step toward restoring consumer privacy protections that apply consistently.”

One critic of the repeal, Craig Aaron, president of Free Press advocacy group, said major Silicon Valley companies shied away from the fight over the rules because they profit from consumer data.

“There are a lot of companies that are very concerned about drawing attention to themselves and being regulated on privacy issues, and are sitting this out in a way that they haven’t sat out previous privacy issues,” Aaron said.

Representative Michael Capuano, a Massachusetts Democrat, said Tuesday that Comcast could know his personal information because he looked up his mother’s medical condition and his purchase history. “Just last week I bought underwear on the internet. Why should you know what size I take? Or the color?” Capuano asked. “They are going to sell it to the underwear companies.”

Comcast declined to comment.

Representative Michael Burgess, a Texas Republican, said the rules “unfairly skews the market in favor” of websites that are free to collect data without consent.

Republican commissioners, including Pai, said in October that the rules would unfairly give websites like Facebook, Twitter Inc or Google the ability to harvest more data than internet service providers and thus further dominate digital advertising. The FCC earlier this month delayed the data rules from taking effect.

(Reporting by David Shepardson. Additional reporting by David Ingram and Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Grant McCool)

FCC Chairman Pai Leads Effort to Gut Lifeline Broadband Program for the Poor

Phillip Dampier March 29, 2017 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

Ajit Pai, Chairman of U.S Federal Communications Commission, delivers his keynote speech at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, February 28, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Communications Commission plans to reverse an Obama era decision that allowed it to approve companies to offer government-subsidized telecommunications services to low-income families, the agency’s Republican head said on Wednesday.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai has said telecoms service providers exploited loopholes in the “Lifeline” program for their own gain and states should decide which companies provide the internet, mobile phone and fixed line services to poorer Americans.

Democrats say Pai’s moves are aimed at winding down the program, but Pai has said he just wants to reform Lifeline to prevent fraud.

On Wednesday Pai said the commission would not approve about three dozen pending applications from companies that wanted to join Lifeline. He said the agency would not defend prior FCC actions with regards the program in a case pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Twelve states have challenged the FCC’s order before the appeals court allowing the agency to approve companies to offer services. Pai said the FCC would ask the court to send the case back to the agency so it can reverse the decision and let states take the lead on approving companies.

“Congress gave state governments, not the FCC, the primary responsibility for approving which companies can participate in the Lifeline,” Pai said.

Putting the approval process in the hands of state utility commissions is essential to police against fraud, he added.

A group of U.S. House Democrats said Pai’s decision was an effort “to inflict death by a thousand cuts” to Lifeline, which has provided more than $1.5 billion in annual subsidies in recent years.

“Through lawyerly maneuvering, the FCC is trying to disguise its efforts to eliminate a system designed to make it easier for anyone who needs access to broadband to get it,” they said in a statement.

In March 2016, the FCC voted to expand the $9.25 a month telephone subsidy to include internet access. Pai said over 3.5 million Americans were currently receiving subsidized broadband service through Lifeline from 259 providers.

The FCC has estimated that 95 percent of U.S. households with incomes of at least $150,000 have access to high-speed internet, while less than half of households with incomes lower than $25,000 have Internet access at home.

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said Wednesday Pai’s decision means “low-income Americans will have less choice for Lifeline broadband, and potential providers who want to serve low-income Americans will face greater barriers to entry and regulatory uncertainty.”

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Andrew Hay)

Comcast Takes ‘XFINITY Instant TV’ Online Video Package Across National Footprint

The NBC and Comcast logo are displayed on top of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, formerly known as the GE building, in midtown Manhattan in New York July 1, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Comcast Corp is planning to rebrand and expand a streaming video option for broadband subscribers who do not want to pay for a traditional cable package, sources told Reuters on Monday.

The service, dubbed Xfinity Instant TV, will be priced as low as $15 a month to roughly $40 a month, sources said. It will include major broadcast networks as well as sports channels like ESPN and Spanish language channels such as Telemundo and Univision.

Xfinity Instant TV is expected to be available in the third quarter to more than 50 million homes within Comcast’s footprint, which includes cities such as Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Chicago.

The company is changing its video offerings to be more targeted as viewer habits evolve. Xfinity Instant TV will be aimed at high-speed Internet subscribers who cannot afford or do not want to pay for bigger cable bundles, sources said. The hope is that subscribers will eventually upgrade to Comcast’s X1 platform.

Comcast has already given a $15-a-month streaming video service known as Stream a trial run in Boston and Chicago, sources said. Xfinity Instant TV is a revamped version of that offering and will be rolled out nationwide in Comcast’s territories.

Other pay-TV providers including Dish Network Corp and AT&T Inc have started online streaming services for “cord cutting” consumers, or those who are dropping their cable packages for other options.

Comcast’s service is different in that it is limited to its territories and to its own broadband subscribers. It has yet to offer an over-the-top streaming service more broadly nationwide.

(Reporting by Anjali Athavaley; Editing by Bill Trott)

Texas Homeowner Appalled Over “Sissy Ass Fight” Between Two AT&T Workers in Her Backyard

Phillip Dampier March 28, 2017 AT&T, HissyFitWatch, Video 1 Comment

A San Antonio homeowner was upset when she discovered two AT&T subcontractors installing a fiber line in her backyard were instead engaged in what seemed to be a fight/wrestling match/comedy routine.

“Caught this sissy ass fight on my security camera today in my backyard,” the unidentified homeowner wrote on her Facebook page. “These idiots are supposed to be installing AT&T fiber wire not getting into a lovers’ quarrel. It’s a full on chick fight, about the sissiest fight I’ve ever seen in my life. I could have done a better job at kickin’ those boys tails.”

Only in Texas.

“‘Honestly, I couldn’t tell if they were playing around and wrestling or what,” she complained. “Then I saw some sissy hair pulling and thought, ‘Oh no way! This is for real!’ Two grown men rolling around pulling hair like a bunch of sissy pants.”

An embarrassed AT&T sent the Houston Chronicle a statement about the unfortunate incident.

This involved employees of a company that was hired by one of our contractors, and obviously didn’t meet our requirements of how they conduct themselves… The contractor has assured us they will no longer use this company when working for us.

In response to the story, a local company offered the duo free fight lessons.

“If either of these guys want to learn to fight, shoot us a message,” wrote Genesis Jiu Jitsu SA. “We offer a free month of lessons on the house.”

AT&T Subcontractor Fight Club: A San Antonio homeowner’s video security system picked up this encounter between two workers that were there to install a fiber cable. She posted the fracas on her Facebook page. (1:30)

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