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FCC’s Ajit Pai Proposes Eliminating Net Neutrality Rules; Claims Government is ‘Controlling Internet’

Phillip Dampier April 27, 2017 Net Neutrality, Public Policy & Gov't, Reuters 3 Comments

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announces his opposition to Net Neutrality at a FreedomWorks-sponsored event at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The head of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday proposed overturning the landmark 2015 Obama-era Net Neutrality rules that prohibit broadband providers from giving or selling access to certain internet services over others.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, named by President Donald Trump in January, said at a speech in Washington he wants to reverse rules that boosted government regulatory powers over internet service providers. Proponents who fought to get the rules passed said his proposal would set off a fierce political battle over the future of the internet regulation.

The rules, which the FCC put in place in 2015 under former President Barack Obama, prohibit broadband providers from giving or selling access to speedy internet, essentially a “fast lane,” to certain internet services over others.

The rules reclassified internet service providers much like utilities. They were favored by websites who said they would guarantee equal access to the internet to all but opposed by internet service providers, who said they could eventually result in rate regulation, inhibit innovation and make it harder to manage traffic. Pai said he believed the rules depressed investment by internet providers and cost jobs.

“Do we want the government to control the internet? Or do we want to embrace the light-touch approach” in place since 1996 until revised in 2015, he asked.

A federal appeals court upheld the rules last year. The Internet Association, a group representing Facebook Inc, Alphabet Inc, and others, said the rules were working and that reversing them “will result in a worse internet for consumers and less innovation online.”

Pai said his proposal will face an initial vote on May 18 but he would not seek to finalize a reversal of the Obama rules until the FCC takes public comment, which could take several months.

Republican FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly said the rules “took internet policy down into a dark and horrible abyss” and said the FCC will “expunge Net Neutrality regulations from the internet.”

Internet providers such as AT&T, Verizon Communications, and Comcast Corp have argued that the Net Neutrality rules have made investment in additional capacity less likely. Comcast chairman and chief executive Brian Roberts said Pai’s proposal “creates an environment where we can have a fresh constructive dialogue.”

Democratic Senator Edward Markey predicted Pai’s plan to overturn the rules would face a “tsunami of resistance.”

Democrats and advocates of the rules called for a massive public outcry to preserve them. In 2014, comedian John Oliver in his HBO show owned by Time Warner Inc., helped galvanize support for Net Neutrality.

“I am confident that the millions of Americans who weighed in with the FCC in support of the open internet order will once again make their voices heard to demonstrate how wrongheaded this approach is,” said Senate Democrat Leader Charles Schumer.

Republicans said Democrats should work with them to pass a legislative fix to set internet rules. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell praised Pai for working to reverse “the Obama Administration’s eight-year regulatory assault on all aspects of our economy.”

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Tom Brown, Diane Craft and David Gregorio)

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Phillip Dampier April 27, 2017 Editorial & Site News No Comments

Due to conditions beyond our control, our audio and video content is temporarily offline. We hope to have these features restored sometime next week with some improved performance. We appreciate your patience and understanding.

Charter’s Channel Roulette: Keeping Your Favorite Channels May Require an Upgrade

Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks customers are now getting a taste of the frustration that original Charter Communications customers have experienced for years in dealing with the company’s complicated TV packages.

Sheila Topmiller in northern Kentucky wasn’t the only former Time Warner Cable customer to see her bill spike after Charter took over and rolled out its new Spectrum TV packages. Her bill increased from $152 to $180 a month — a $28 rate increase. Her triple-play TV lineup had to change, along with her bill.

One of the highlighted points Charter executives told Wall Street and investors regarding its acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks was that Charter’s “simplified pricing” and crackdown on promotions would result in higher average revenue from customers over time. The reasons are simple: fewer value-priced broadband options, illusory TV channel “choice” in packages designed to compel customer upgrades, higher phone pricing, and no more deals for complaining customers.

TV packages are supposed to offer customers at least the illusion of choice, giving options to cut down a TV package in return for a lower bill. But cable operators like Charter Communications are savvy enough to know what channels are considered “must-have” by customers, and can move networks from one tier to another with little notice. This can force subscribers to upgrade to get back channels stripped from their current package. Now Time Warner Cable customers shifting to Spectrum packages are discovering six popular Viacom-owned channels Nickelodeon, MTV, VH-1, Spike, BET, and Comedy Central are only included in the most expensive tier.

Pay-per-laugh

Just a year ago, these six networks were commonly found as part of Charter’s cheapest “Select” TV tier. But new customers found them transitioned first to the Silver tier, and finally to Charter’s most expensive “Gold” package. Existing Charter customers may not have noticed because the networks were often grandfathered into their current package, but ex-Time Warner Cable customers like Topmiller did. She has kids, and Nickelodeon is considered a “must-have” network in her home.

“You have to subscribe all the way to the highest plan to get Nickelodeon,” she complained.

This isn’t the first time channels have been shifted from one package to another, and Charter is not the only cable operator following this practice. In 2012, Comcast got a lot of heat for moving the popular commercial-free Turner Classic Movies from its Digital Starter package to its much more expensive Digital Preferred tier. Customers that wanted TCM back had to pay an extra $22 a month for the upgrade.

Time Warner Cable had its own tiers, but incentivized most customers through bundles and promotions to take its Preferred TV package that bundled Starter, Standard and Variety Pass options together. Time Warner Cable also didn’t bundle premium movie channels into TV packages the way Charter does. Charter’s Silver package, as well as adding basic networks, also bundles HBO, Cinemax, and Showtime. Upgrading to Gold to win back those six Viacom basic networks also gets you the aforementioned premium movie channels plus Starz, TMC, Starz/Encore, Epix, and NFL RedZone. For many customers, Gold is aptly named because it results in a considerably higher bill unless a customer already subscribed to most or all of the available premium networks through Time Warner Cable or Bright House Networks in the past.

To boost revenue, a cable operator need only shift popular cable networks into higher-priced tiers and watch customers follow.

Charter Communications may sell you a Silver or Gold package to restore your old lineup, but there is a better way to get channels back without spending money on premium movie channels you may not want.

Spectrum quietly offers two “digi-pack” options to customers who balk at paying for HBO and other premium networks:

  • Digi-pack 1 ($12) gives you access to all Silver-level basic cable networks, but no premium movie channels;
  • Digi-pack 2 ($12) gives you access to all Gold-level basic cable networks, but no premium movie channels.

But Charter representatives still claim its TV package “simplification” and new pricing is good for customers.

“It’s actually less money when you factor in there is no modem fee. No data caps, no contract to sign, no modem fees,” said Charter (and former Time Warner Cable) spokesman Mike Pedelty. He doesn’t mention customers could buy their own modems and avoid Time Warner Cable’s modem fees, and Charter’s predecessor also had no data caps or contracts to sign.

Class Action Lawsuits Hit Cable Modem Manufacturers Over Widely-Reported Defect

Phillip Dampier April 26, 2017 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

The Netgear CM700 is the target of a class action lawsuit filed in California.

As consumers increasingly spend money out-of-pocket to acquire their own cable modems to avoid leasing fees, alleged defects in those modems are spurring class action lawsuits to force manufacturers to fix the problems or issue refunds.

Two separate class action cases have been filed this month in Calfornia courts alleging “serious defects” in the Netgear CM700 and Arris SURFboard SB6190 — both newer DOCSIS 3.0 modems. But those modems are not the only ones affected by a serious firmware bug that can dramatically degrade internet performance.

Both modems rely on a relatively new Intel Puma 6 chipset, which some media outlets have also implicated in similar defects in a variety of cable modems including the Hitron CGNV4, the Compal CH7465-LG, and Puma 6-based modems like Virgin Media’s Hub 3 and Comcast’s top-end Xfinity boxes. Other newer modems branded by Linksys and Cisco also use the same system-on-chip and may also be affected.

The law firm of Schubert, Jonckheer & Kolbe, which is handling the Netgear legal case, says these cable modems may be affected:

  • Arris SB6190
  • Arris TG1672G
  • Arris TM1602
  • Super Hub 3 (Arris TG2492LG)  (commonly, Virgin Media)
  • Hitron CGN3 / CDA / CGNV series modems:
  • Hitron CDA-32372
  • Hitron CDE-32372
  • Hitron CDA3-35
  • Hitron CGNV4
  • Hitron CGNM-3552 (commonly, Rogers)
  • Hitron CGN3 (eg CGN3-ACSMR)
  • Hitron CGNM-2250 (commonly, Shaw)
  • Linksys CM3024
  • Linksys CM3016
  • TP-Link CR7000
  • Netgear AC1750 C6300 AC1900
  • Netgear CM700
  • Telstra Gateway Max (Netgear AC1900 / C6300) (Australia)
  • Cisco DPC3848V
  • Cisco DPC3941B / DPC3941T  (commonly, Comcast Xfinity XB3)
  • Cisco DPC3939
  • Compal CH7465-LG / Arris TG2492LG (commonly, Virgin Media Hub 3)
  • Samsung Home Media Server

Customers of Comcast, Charter, and Cox in the United States are impacted, as well as Rogers and Shaw customers in Canada and Virgin Media in the United Kingdom. The faster your internet connection, the more likely you will notice the defect, which causes dramatic latency spikes and degraded internet performance.

Intel admitted there was a problem back in December, but ISPs have been slow to respond.

Intel acquired the Puma family of chips from Texas Instruments in 2010, and the latest — the DOCSIS 3.0-compatible Puma 6 – uses an Atom x86 processor designed to handle up to 1.6Gbps connections. Unfortunately, the engineers who developed the firmware have tasked the Atom CPU with too much work while it also copes with processing network packets on a high-speed internet connection.

As The Register reported back in December:

Every couple of seconds or so, a high-priority maintenance task runs and it winds up momentarily hogging the processor, causing latency to increase by at least 200ms and, over time, about six per cent of packets to be dropped. It affects IPv4 and IPv6 – and it spoils internet gaming and other online real-time interaction that need fast response times.

This problem is easily seen in two graphs provided to the Register by a reader in Phoenix who plugged in two different modems to his Cox Cable internet connection. The blue lines represent latency and the red lines are packet loss. The test was performed with an ICMP ping running 33 times a second to his ISP’s DNS server over a 30 minute period.

An Arris SB6183 cable modem using an older Broadcom-based chipset exhibits no problems. (Image: The Register)

The Arris SB6190 running the new Intel Puma 6 chipset shows significant and readily identifiable problems. (Image: The Register)

Online gamers are among the most likely to be affected by latency problems.

“I excitedly swapped out my Arris SB1683 Broadcom modem for the new SB6190 Intel one expecting gigabit performance and immediately noticed slower webpage loads,” one gamer told The Register. “During first-person gaming, I was getting killed way more often for no apparent reason. I looked at an eight-year graph of latency from my home logs, and was horrified. Swapping back to my SB6183 solved all the issues.”

Arris also confirmed the problem.

“Arris has been working actively with Intel to address the issue, which resulted in some SURFboard SB6190 users reporting latency concerns,” a spokeswoman for Arris said. “We plan to quickly issue Intel’s firmware updates to resolve any latency. We remain committed to providing the best broadband experience for all users of Arris devices and regret any inconvenience this issue caused.”

Unfortunately, regardless of how fast modem manufacturers issue updated firmware to resolve the problem, end users will not notice a difference until their cable operator pushes that firmware update to customers. You cannot update cable modem firmware on your own, and any effort to do so would be futile because your provider would automatically replace it with an older “approved” version as soon as the unauthorized firmware change was identified.

The lawsuits seek a jury trial and damages forcing the manufacturers to recall the modems and either replace them or issue refunds to all affected customers. Customers who own an affected modem who want to participate in the class action case can fill out this form for more information.

California Legislature Wants to Give $300 Million of Your Money Away to AT&T, Frontier, and Big Cable

Delivering 21st century broadband speeds to rural Californians just doesn’t interest incumbent phone companies like AT&T and Frontier Communications, so the California legislature has been hard at work trying to entice upgrades on the taxpayer’s dime while reassuring ISPs they won’t have to break a sweat doing it.

Steve Blum from Telus Venture Associates reports the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), California’s equivalent of the FCC’s Connect America Fund (CAF) – is about to get a makeover sure to delight the two phone companies while throwing some cash at cable operators like Comcast, Cox and Charter to keep them happy as well.

The changes are encompassed in Assembly Bill 1665, sponsored by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D–Riverside County), who counts AT&T as his sixth biggest contributor. The phone company has cut checks to the former mayor of Coachella not less than a dozen times amounting to $16,700. Garcia has also received special attention from AT&T’s lobbyists, who invited him to appear side-by-side with AT&T officials at press-friendly events where the phone company donated $10,000 to an abused women’s shelter and $25,000 to the Court Appointed Special Advocates of Imperial County.

Blum reports that the bill has been largely a placeholder until now as negotiations and dealmaking happened behind the scenes. The result is a corporate welfare bonanza that will raise $330 million for the CASF by reinstating a telephone tax on consumers and businesses than ended last year. Of that, $300 million will end up in the pockets of phone and cable companies, $10 million will go to regional broadband efforts, and the remaining $20 million will be designated for schools, libraries, and non-profit groups to promote broadband use, but only where providers already offer service or will shortly. In effect, that $20 million will turn public institutions into sales agents for ISPs.

The corporate giveaway bill will also sell Californian consumers down the river:

  • The bill effectively replaces the FCC’s minimum definition of broadband (25/3Mbps) with California’s own minimum: 6/1Mbps — conveniently about the same speed telephone company DSL provides. As Blum writes, the language “makes 1990s legacy DSL technology the new 21st century standard.”
  • AT&T and Frontier Communications get monopoly protection with exclusive CASF rights in areas where they currently receive federal CAF funding. This means both companies will get to double-dip federal and state money to expand inferior DSL or fixed wireless service and never have to worry about taxpayer funding going to their competitors or communities that might choose to build their own superior broadband networks. It virtually guarantees rural California will be stuck with sub-standard internet access indefinitely, and at the taxpayer’s expense.
  • CASF funding has always been exclusively for infrastructure construction — building out the last mile to deliver internet access to consumers and businesses. But the new bill now allows the money to also be spent on “operating costs,” a rat hole where millions can quickly disappear with little improvement in broadband expansion or service.
  • The new bill suggests that provider contributions — where providers agree to kick in a percentage (usually 30-40%) of their own money on expansion projects in return for getting taxpayer subsidies, is just too hard on struggling phone companies like AT&T and Frontier. Under the new proposal, this requirement should be eliminated.
  • Individual homeowners would be able to apply for grants to get broadband connections, a direct nod to the state’s cable companies that routinely ask would-be customers just out of reach of the nearest cable line to pay tens of thousands of dollars to build a line extension. If approved, cable companies could set the installation price as high as the sky and get taxpayers to foot the bill, enriching themselves while avoiding any regulatory scrutiny.

Cable companies also get another wish granted — keeping subsidized broadband out the hands of many poor Californians that need connections for education, job-seeking, and training. The bill proposes to ban funding for broadband facilities in public housing. Cable companies have been irritated spending capital on broadband expansion to public housing only to find many of its customers would likely to qualify for their “internet for the poor” programs that cost as little as $10 a month.

Blum reports the language isn’t final and is likely to be amended as negotiations continue. A hearing of the Communications and Conveyance Committee at the State Capitol, Room 437 is scheduled for 1:30pm PDT today on the bill. You can listen to the hearing when in session here.

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  • Milan Gohil: Phillip, I trust that you will let us know what we can do to fight this assault on our freedom! Ajit PAID is a slimy POS! Trump is well on his way to...
  • Tammy Nelson: This is crap! Why are the customers always losing and they always win? I pay quite a bit for cable and internet. If you are cutting channels, at le...
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