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Comcast Boosting Speeds Across Central U.S.; Most Will Get 25-100Mbps Service

Phillip Dampier November 15, 2017 Broadband Speed, Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News 4 Comments

Comcast is raising broadband speeds across its expansive Central Division, which covers customers in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

  • Performance Starter (10Mbps) increases to 25Mbps;
  • Performance (25Mbps) will now be 60Mbps;
  • XFINITY Blast! (75Mbps) rises to 100Mbps.

Customers subscribed to the Performance tier will see the biggest speed jump, rising by more than double the current speed.

The new speeds are gradually rolling out to customers in these states from mid-November until mid-December. In some cases, customers will need to briefly unplug their cable modems to get the free speed upgrade.

 

Outage Hits Comcast, Other Internet Customers; CenturyLink’s Level 3 Takes Responsibility

Phillip Dampier November 6, 2017 CenturyLink, Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News No Comments

The culprit?

A major internet outage is affecting internet users nationwide since this morning, particularly those subscribed to Comcast’s internet service.

“Some customers are having issues with their XFINITY Internet service. We apologize & appreciate your patience while we work to fix,” Comcast tweeted to its customers this morning.

The outages are not just affecting Comcast customers, however, with sporadic slowdowns and problems also reported by Charter/Spectrum, AT&T, and Verizon customers.

One factor that may explain the outage affecting customers beyond Comcast is CenturyLink’s Level 3, which provides backbone services for several ISPs.

Outages affecting Level 3 just happen to be in major Comcast service areas.

Level 3 eventually did take responsibility for the outage in a statement to the media:

On Monday, Nov. 6, our network experienced a service disruption affecting some customers with IP-based services. The disruption was caused by a configuration error. We know how important these services are to our customers. Our technicians were able to restore service within approximately 90 minutes.

On Nov. 1, Level 3 officially became part of CenturyLink, as part of a $30 billion acquisition. Hopefully CenturyLink will spend a bit more and build additional redundancy into Level 3’s network.

As of 30 minutes ago, Comcast claims the internet outage has eased.

Comcast, AT&T and the Koch Brothers Secretly Bankrolled GOP Convention “Cloakroom”

Phillip Dampier October 25, 2017 Issues No Comments

President Donald Trump promised voters during last summer’s Republican National Convention that he would ‘not look the other way’ and ignore Washington politicians that have “sold out to some corporate lobbyist for cash.”

But newly released documents show that while Mr. Trump was delivering his remarks, top Republican officials and some of the nation’s biggest corporate lobbyists were enjoying a plush, corporate funded private hideaway where politicians could safely meet with corporate interests away from the public’s glare.

The Center for Public Integrity could not directly obtain information about the “cloakroom” — the informal name designated by the GOP for the space designed to look like a cross between an elite hotel lobby, a private club, and expensive office space — because the organizers sought to keep it a secret. But an unrelated lawsuit filed in a Ohio court made public important bank records which revealed just how much some of America’s top corporations were willing to quietly spend to keep the Republicans happy.

The top donor was Comcast Corp., which contributed $200,000. Microsoft, the Koch Brothers, and AT&T each donated $100,000. Those companies were joined by large banks, the oil, gas, and pharmaceutical industries, and curiously an $80,000 check from the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, among the top political donors in California. The group has spent more than a quarter-billion dollars on campaign contributions and lobbying to convince lawmakers to allow the Native Americans the right to spread slot machines around the state.

To keep the contributions a secret, Republicans created a limited liability corporation — “Friends of the House 2016 LLC,” according to bank records. This group was not obligated to disclose its funding sources, and fought hard in court to keep the names of its corporate donors from being revealed to the public.

Corporate interests were nervous about sponsoring the 2016 Republican convention that was widely expected to choose Mr. Trump as the Republican candidate. Corporate interests told the New York Times last year they were under pressure to scale back their contributions as the campaign grew divisive. AT&T told the newspaper it was limiting its contributions to convention activity “aimed at benefiting the democratic process.” The company had no comment about how their contribution to fund an exclusive, strictly off-limits to the public-“cloakroom” accomplished that.

Instead of foregoing contributions, the Republicans devised a way to quietly obtain corporate money while giving donors cover from public scrutiny.

“The immediate effect is it looks like it hid certain donors to the convention,” said Lawrence Noble, senior director and general counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan nonprofit that advocates for campaign finance reform.

One of the designated perks of being a donor to the ‘Friends of the House’ was a free pass to enjoy the facilities for refreshment and relaxation.

“As a sponsor of the hospitality venue, we were invited to use it, as well,” said Jori Fine, a spokeswoman for Health Care Service Corp. The company paid Friends of the House 2016 LLC $100,000, according to bank records, a payment that Fine said “supported hospitality and other events during the 2016 GOP Convention in Cleveland.”

Should a donor’s lobbyist or corporate executive bump into top Republican lawmakers inside, such as House Speaker Paul Ryan, who was given his own private space in the “cloakroom,” that was ‘purely coincidental.’ Since donor companies were given access while non-donors were not, lawmakers using the “cloakroom” could easily deduce donors by the presence of their lobbyists or company officials.

Most of the companies who made contributions are still trying to keep it a secret. In addition to an effort to get a Ohio judge to seal the records before they were made public, 15 of the 20 donor companies refused to confirm they were donors and had no comment or did not respond when asked about it.

Marketing materials from the company that constructed the “cloakroom” give the public their only view of its elegance. Members of the public were not allowed inside.

“The convention is one big loophole to the limits of corrupting money on politics,” Paul S. Ryan, vice president for policy and litigation at Common Cause, a nonpartisan nonprofit that advocates for limits on money in politics told the Center. He is not related to House Speaker Paul Ryan.

The Center for Public Integrity also exposed how companies and individuals like the Koch Brothers claimed they were staying away from contributing to the GOP convention, while eagerly feeding secret contributions to the LLC that benefited it:

Friends of the House 2016 LLC appears to have provided companies an especially discreet opportunity to support the GOP convention.

For several of the companies that didn’t otherwise donate cash directly to the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee — a list that includes 12 of the entities listed in the bank records — there was little or no public evidence of their use of corporate dollars to support of the 2016 Republican convention.

For example, Comcast Corp., which wrote a $200,000 check to Friends of the House 2016 LLC, isn’t listed as a donor by the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee.

Neither is Koch Companies Public Sector, which wrote a $100,000 check to Friends of the House 2016 LLC. In fact, a Koch Industries spokesman in June said the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, well-known Republican megadonors, weren’t planning to contribute to the convention at all.

Neither firm responded to a request for comment about the payments to Friends of the House 2016 LLC.

The majestic space created for politicians and corporate interests to relax together in a familiar “cloakroom” setting was no small undertaking, according to Joe Mineo Creative, the company that transformed the Cleveland Cavaliers’ practice basketball court inside the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland into something that would fit comfortably in a high-end D.C. hotel or private offices for corporate executives. It was with some embarrassment to the Republicans that the company that did the work was sufficiently proud of it to boast about it in marketing materials, giving the public its only glimpse of how more than $1 million in corporate contributions was spent during the three-day convention. When it was over, the “cloakroom” was torn down to restore the basketball court.

It isn’t known if any campaign finance laws were broken as a result of these contributions.

 

Mich. Lawmaker Seeks Ban on All Community Broadband Networks (And Blocks Stop the Cap!)

Rep. Michele Hoitenga (R-Manton) doesn’t care much for community broadband, so she introduced a bill in the Michigan legislature that is as stark as it is short:

House Bill 5099:

The bill is remarkable for its brevity — most proposed community broadband ban bills avoid outright bans, preferring to use forced complicated referendums or operational limitations that usually make municipal broadband projects untenable. But Rep. Hoitenga’s bill leaves no doubt she wants private cable and phone companies left unmolested by publicly funded alternatives. Although the Michigan Republican chairs the House’s Communications and Technology committee, she appears confused about the difference between upload and download speeds. Her bill would define a “qualified” internet service as one offering at least 1/10Mbps service. Yes — 1Mbps download speed and 10Mbps upload speed.

Ars Technica’s Jon Brodkin asked Rep. Hoitenga about the oddity of the language in her bill:

When asked about this on Twitter, Hoitenga said she would have to “speak with the attorneys who wrote the bill” to determine whether the listed speed was a mistake. “I will speak with the attorneys who wrote the bill. They changed the language I submitted but will ask why they changed it,” Hoitenga wrote.

Rep. Hoitenga

Rep. Hoitenga used her Twitter account to promote and defend her bill, pointing out the district she represents had “37 providers” to choose from — a fact she gleaned from an online AT&T Yellow Pages directory. Stop the Cap! investigated that claim and found the majority of the providers cited did not offer internet access to members of her district, provided service only in adjacent communities, or sold commercial internet services to businesses only. In fact, for the overwhelming majority of her constituents, there are only two providers to choose from — AT&T or Comcast. Both are top donors to Rep. Hoitenga’s campaign, but more on that later.

Michigan has never been a hotbed of community broadband initiatives, despite having uneven broadband service in suburban and rural areas across the state. Michigan law already includes several significant roadblocks for public broadband projects, notes Lisa Gonzalez from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance:

“Michigan already has a significant state barrier in place; municipalities that wish to improve connectivity must first appeal to the private sector and can only invest in a network if they receive fewer than three qualifying bids. If a local community then goes on to build a publicly owned network, they must comply with the terms of the RFP, even though terms for a private sector vendor may not be ideal for a public entity.

“Nevertheless, several communities in Michigan have dealt with the restrictions in recent years as a way to ameliorate poor connectivity. They’ve come to realize that their local economies and the livelihood of their towns depend on improving Internet access for businesses, institutions, and residents.”

Although Rep. Hoitenga’s bill offers the possibility for “public-private” partnerships, her bill would bring a significant chilling effect because the proposed law fails to define how such partnerships should be structured.

Rep. Hoitenga told Stop the Cap! the bill would put a stop to tax dollars being spent on broadband service, something she felt was unwarranted. We asked the Michigan representative, “Did you know the phone and cable companies receive taxpayer subsidies already in the form of PILOT agreements, and other incentives?” which received the non-sequitur response that her office’s phones were ringing constantly with callers praising her new bill.

But that isn’t what Rep. Hoitenga told her Facebook fans.

“Many individuals have reached out to my office in regards to HB5099; with the belief that I am attempting to limit broadband expansion,” Hoitenga wrote. “This could not be further from the truth. One of my main goals as the Chair of the House Communications and Technology committee is to make internet access more easily obtainable. This legislation does indeed prevent cities from using tax dollars to subsidize ISPs; especially without a vote of the people. While at first glance government operated networks may sound like a good idea, the argument in support of them crumbles with an in depth look into the financial and long-term investment side of implementing such a network.”

So we remain unsure if the wave of phone calls Hoitenga referenced were in support of her proposed bill or opposed to it. Either way, the Michigan representative mischaracterized her own three-paragraph bill by claiming it would prevent cities from using tax dollars for internet service, “without a vote of the people.” But no provision for such a vote exists or would be allowed by her existing bill. Hoitenga’s bill also clearly makes internet access less obtainable, especially in communities where a for profit provider does not exist and a community is seeking to provide an alternative.

Hoitenga later states communities may not need to worry about internet accessibility because, “there is also a package of bills in the senate regarding Small Cell Technology (which also attempts to reduce barriers),” she wrote. That provision is backed by AT&T, which is currently one of the two ISPs serving her district.

She then picks up familiar talking points distributed by public broadband opponents:

“There are examples throughout the state and nation of taxpayers being on the hook for failed networks. There is also concern that some of these networks are in towns where employee pensions are severely underfunded, causing layoffs and cutting services, yet there seems to be money for high risk broadband investments. It’s time to address these issues.

“My colleagues and I have introduced legislation that aims to remove some of the current barriers (HB5096-5098), and help streamline the broadband expansion and installation process for private providers. Municipalities should not be allowed to push out the free markets with unlimited tax payer resources and unfair advantages but could partner with providers to offer fiber for expansion to unserved areas.”

She also cited a 2017 study critical of municipal broadband networks authored by University of Pennsylvania Law School Professor Christopher Yoo and co-author Timothy Pfenninger. Neither author or Rep. Hoitenga disclosed the group that produced the study is funded by AT&T and Comcast, among other large telecom companies and their respective lobbying organizations.

After opening a dialogue with the Michigan representative, she did not take kindly to questions or criticism about her bill, and summarily blocked Stop the Cap! from seeing her Tweets or communicating with her further — the first time anyone has blocked our group on Twitter. Shortly after that, she changed her Twitter channel to be viewable by invitation only, limiting her potential audience to her 284 current followers. At the moment, the only social media outlet that seems to be still open to communicating with Rep. Hoitenga is Facebook, where she is taking heat from her constituents about her bill.

The Michigan representative has been behind several controversial bills introduced in the current session of the Michigan House, including a proposal to allow concealed pistols to be carried in public and a ban on Sharia law being practiced in the United States.

Her top donors for the current legislative session include:

#2 – Telecommunications Association of Michigan PAC, $3,000
#4 – AT&T Michigan, $1,500
#11 – Comcast Corp. & NBC Universal, $500

FCC Chairman Confirms Agency Cannot Revoke Licenses Over News Coverage

Phillip Dampier October 19, 2017 Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

Pai

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s chairman said Tuesday the agency does not have authority to revoke broadcast licenses, despite suggestions from President Donald Trump.

Ajit Pai, a Republican who was named chairman of the telecommunications regulator in January, broke days of silence by rejecting Trump’s tweet that the FCC could challenge the license of NBC after stories Trump declared were not true.

“Under the law, the FCC does not have the authority to revoke a license of a broadcast station based on the content,” Pai said at a forum. “The FCC under my leadership will stand for the First Amendment.”

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Democrats had been pushing Pai to denounce Trump’s suggestion that broadcast licenses could be threatened following reports by NBC News that his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, had called him a “moron” after a discussion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

“With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!” Trump tweeted last Wednesday.

Trump and his supporters have repeatedly used the term “fake news” to cast doubt on media reports critical of his administration, often without providing any evidence to support their case that the reports were untrue.

Any move to challenge media companies’ licenses, however, would likely face significant hurdles.

The FCC, an independent federal agency, does not license broadcast networks, but issues them to individual broadcast stations that are renewed on a staggered basis for eight-year periods.

Comcast Corp, which owns NBC Universal, also owns 11 broadcast stations, including outlets in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Dallas and Chicago.

When reviewing licenses the FCC must determine if a renewal is in the public interest. Courts have held that a station exercising its First Amendment rights is not adequate grounds to challenge a license.

The agency does not issue similar licenses for cable networks such as CNN and MSNBC, or regulate internet news or other websites.

In the early 1970s, then-President Richard Nixon and his top aides discussed using the FCC’s license renewal process as a way of punishing The Washington Post for its coverage of the Watergate burglary that ultimately brought down his presidency.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Jonathan Oatis

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