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Comcast/NBC’s Peacock Launches This Spring – Free for Comcast & Cox Video Customers

Comcast video customers will be the first to get Comcast/NBCUniversal’s new streaming platform, dubbed “Peacock,” featuring over 400 TV series and 600 movies, mostly from the library of Universal Studios, beginning this spring.

“This is a very exciting time for our company, as we chart the future of entertainment,” NBCUniversal chairman Steve Burke said at an event this afternoon announcing details about the service to Comcast’s investors. “We have one of the most enviable collections of media brands and the strongest ad sales track record in the business. Capitalizing on these key strengths, we are taking a unique approach to streaming that brings value to customers, advertisers and shareholders.”

Peacock will feature multiple tiers of service, at least two available for free:

  • Peacock Free: This ad-supported tier (promised to include only five minutes of ads per hour) will be available to all and will feature about half of Peacock’s content library (7,500 hours). Similar to Hulu’s basic service, this free tier will offer next-day access to currently airing NBC TV series, entire seasons of selected older shows, selected movies, news, and sports programming. Some of Peacock’s original series will also be available on the free tier, along with a selection of clips and shows highlighting NBC content like Saturday Night Live, Family Movie Night, and the Olympics.
  • Peacock for Authenticated TV Subscribers (free): If you are a current Comcast or Cox cable TV subscriber, you can get Peacock’s Premium offering with a complete selection of Peacock content at no charge. This tier offers 15,000 hours of live/on-demand content, but has advertising. You can get rid of the ads by paying an extra $5 a month.
  • Peacock Premium: If you are a cord-cutter or do not subscribe to a TV package with a Comcast-partnered provider, you can subscribe directly to Peacock’s premium, ad-free version for $10 a month. This unlocks the complete lineup of Peacock content.

NBCUniversal officials also used today’s event to announce more original programming deals beyond those already announced, including new original comedies from Tina Fey, Sky Studios, Mindy Kaling and Amy Poehler. Almost all of Dick Wolf’s ubiquitous Law & Order (and its various spinoff series) will also be available for streaming, as will his current roster of Chicago-based series Fire, P.D., and Med. Peacock Premium customers will also be able to stream NBC’s late-night shows before they air on NBC. The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon will be available as early as 8 p.m. ET and Late Night with Seth Meyers will be available by 9 p.m.

Peacock will enter a very crowded field of streaming services, and is the last previously announced streaming service to launch, likely shortly after AT&T launches HBO Max. The fact there will be a free version may make the service more palatable to consumers weary of subscribing to yet another paid streaming service, on top of Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, and a range of specialty streaming services featuring international programming, sports, movies, and documentaries.

Mediacom Wants to Kill Public Broadband in Iowa

Lobbyists for Mediacom, one of America’s medium-sized cable operators, are reportedly behind the latest effort to curtail public broadband in the state of Iowa with a new bill designed to make life difficult for municipalities trying to get internet access to their residents.

Senate Study Bill 3009, proposed by Sen. Dan Dawson, the new chairman of the Iowa Senate Commerce Committee, would create an unfair playing field between cities and towns attempting to offer their residents broadband service and the state’s private cable and phone companies which often do not.

In addition to tying the hands of local officials in their efforts to obtain funding for such projects, the bill would also make a public record of private strategies used by providers to construct systems and market service to the public. Cable operators like Mediacom could be able to obtain business records from municipal providers that would give the company an unfair advantage identifying financial information and rollout schedules about where municipal systems would offer service next.

Iowa’s report for Mediacom’s lobbying activity shows their support for restricting public broadband.

The bill would also forbid communities from marketing their broadband service on bills sent for other municipal services, including power, gas, sewage, garbage removal, and water. Municipalities would also be forbidden from lowering rates to levels deemed unprofitable, even when incumbent providers like Mediacom cut prices in competitive service areas to keep business while quietly subsidizing those lower prices on the backs of their other subscribers in non-competitive areas.

Iowans can protest the new bill by sending e-mail to Sens. Dan Dawson ([email protected]) and Carrie Koelker, ([email protected]) the subcommittee chairperson reviewing the bill. Ask them to kill the bill, because Iowa needs more broadband service, not less.

N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo Vetoes Public Rural Broadband Feasibility Study as the Unserved Struggle On

No service.

Despite New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $500 million, 2015 Broadband for All initiative which guaranteed broadband service for anyone  that wanted home internet access, five years later rural broadband gaps continue to plague the state.

A bill that would set aside funds to complete a feasibility study to launch a state owned broadband provider of last resort was quietly vetoed by Cuomo at the end of 2019. Assembly member Aileen Gunther (D-Monticello) sponsored the bill after hearing scores of complaints about terrible or non-existent internet access from constituents in her district, which covers the parts of the rural Catskills region north of the Pennsylvania border.

Gunther complained that despite the governor’s broadband initiative, private phone and cable companies were still ignoring rural customers, leaving them with slow DSL service or no internet access at all. Gunther’s bill was a first step in potentially allowing the state to step in and provide service to New Yorkers unable to get broadband from any private provider.

New York has spent over $500 million on its Broadband for All program and made Charter Spectrum an integral part of its broadband expansion plans in return for approval of its 2016 acquisition of Time Warner Cable. But a growing number of the governor’s critics claim the program has failed to deliver on its mandate, stranding thousands of New Yorkers without internet service and tens of thousands more with just one option — unpopular satellite internet access.

Gunther

Gunther was upset to learn that New York was prepared to hand over more than a half billion dollars to large private telecom companies including Frontier Communications and Verizon while not being willing to spend a penny to fund projects to reach New Yorkers for-profit companies could not be dragged kicking and screaming to service.

“We’re all spending millions and millions of dollars on privately owned internet service providers,” said Gunther. “In return for promises, a lot of our communities do not have access to the internet, or if they do have access to the internet, it’s slow and these companies are not, I think, fulfilling the promises made.”

The rural broadband problem is not resolved in the Finger Lakes or Southern Tier regions of New York either. This week, Yates County announced it was joining an effort by Schuyler, Steuben, and Tioga counties, and the Southern Tier Network, to complete a broadband feasibility study to improve internet access in the four counties. Fujitsu Broadband will manage the study and hopes to have results by June. The study will target the pervasive problem of inadequate broadband service in the region, which includes crucial tourist, winery, and agricultural businesses vital to New York’s rural economy.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announcing rural broadband initiatives in New York in 2015.

Gov. Cuomo has called such initiatives “well-intentioned” but was non committal about contributing more state funds to construct new networks or underwrite further expansion of existing ones. New York is about to begin its annual hard-fought budget negotiations in hopes of completing the state budget by April. Finding funding for such projects will probably require a powerful political advocate able to wrestle funding for further broadband improvements.

Even after spending $500 million, New York’s rural broadband problem has not been resolved. That offers insight into the merits of other state broadband programs, which often limit annual broadband expansion funding to under $30 million annually.

Those still without service are likely in high-cost service areas, where each customer could cost over $20,000 to reach. New York’s Broadband for All program relied on a reverse auction that required private companies to bid to service each unserved address. No wireline provider bid on any high-cost service areas, leaving Hughes Satellite as a subsidized satellite provider of last resort. But inadequate broadband mapping left scores of rural New Yorkers behind without even the option of subsidized satellite internet access.

Charter, Comcast Start Competing in Each Other’s Territories… But Only For Big Business Accounts

Comcast and Charter Communications have begun to compete outside of their respective cable footprints, potentially competing directly head to head for your business, but only if you are a super-sized corporate client.

Comcast Business has targeted selling large Fortune 1000 companies internet service through contractual partnerships with Charter, Cox, and Cablevision/Altice USA for a few years now. The cable giant recently entered the Canadian market, at least for U.S.-based companies that have satellite offices north of the border. Comcast now directly competes with other cable operators selling enterprise-level broadband service, whether the customer is inside Comcast’s footprint or not, but will not offer a similar service to consumers looking for better options.

The cable industry’s longstanding de facto agreement not to compete head to head for customers will probably remain intact even as Charter this week unveils its own national broadband service called Spectrum Total Connect. It will be available across the country, offering customers up to 940 Mbps broadband service at a highly competitive price, but only if you are running a large business and have an account with Spectrum Business National Accounts, which provides connectivity for large business franchises, national retailers, and companies utilizing a large network of telecommuters scattered around the country. Consumers need not apply here either.

Charter has refused to say who it has partnered with to provide the service, but it is likely a reciprocal agreement with Comcast and other cable companies it already works with to provide enterprise-level service. The new service will be rolled out in the next several weeks.

Cable companies have been successful selling connectivity products to small and medium-sized businesses, but large national companies have traditionally relied on phone companies to provide them with total connectivity packages that can reach all of their locations. Until Comcast began selling service outside of its footprint, cable companies have had to turn down business opportunities outside of their respective service areas. But now Comcast and Charter can reach well beyond their local cable systems to satisfy the needs of corporate clients.

But neither company wants to end their comfortable fiefdoms in the residential marketplace by competing head to head for customers. Companies claim it would not be profitable to install redundant, competing networks, even though independent fiber to the home overbuilders have been doing so in several cities for years. It seems more likely cable operators are deeply concerned about threatening their traditional business model supplying services that face little competition. In the early years, that was cable television. Today it is broadband. Large swaths of the country remain underserved by telephone companies that have decided upgrading their deteriorating copper wire networks to supply residential fiber broadband service is not worth the investment, leaving most internet connectivity in the hands of a single local cable operator. Most cable companies have taken full advantage of this de facto monopoly by regularly raising prices despite the fact that the costs associated with providing internet service have been declining for years.

Cherry-picking lucrative commercial customers while leaving ordinary consumers mired in a monopoly is more evidence that the U.S. broadband marketplace is broken and under regulated. Competition is the best solution to raising speeds while reducing prices — competition regulators should insist on wherever possible.

Cheap $39 Smartphone Sold By a U.S. Subsidized Lifeline Provider is a Malware Nightmare

The Unimax U683CL

An inexpensive $39 Chinese-made smartphone offered by a U.S. government-subsidized Lifeline mobile phone service provider is wide open to malware and trojan horse apps, leaving users exposed to privacy violations, adware, and auto-installed backdoor apps that might expose some to fraud.

Malwarebytes Labs, an online security company, issued a serious warning to the public about the Unimax U683CL smartphone’s compromised-from-the-box status, and criticized provider Assurance Wireless for selling the phone and ignoring repeated warnings sent to the company about the phone.

“Assurance Wireless by Virgin Mobile offers the UMX U683CL phone as their most budget conscious option. At only $35 [$39 as of Jan. 13, 2020] under the government-funded program, it’s an attractive offering,” Nathan Collier, a senior malware intelligence analyst at Malwarebytes Labs writes in a company blog. “However, what it comes installed with is appalling.”

Malwarebytes began getting complaints about the phone last fall, and secured one to investigate further. It quickly emerged the phone arrived with questionable software pre-installed:

The first questionable app found on the UMX U683CL poses as an updater named Wireless Update. Yes, it is capable of updating the mobile device. In fact, it’s the only way to update the mobile device’s operating system (OS). Conversely, it is also capable of auto-installing apps without user consent.

Thus, we detect this app as Android/PUP.Riskware.Autoins.Fota.fbcvd, a detection name that should sound familiar to Malwarebytes for Android customers. That’s because the app is actually a variant of Adups, a China-based company caught collecting user data, creating backdoors for mobile devices and, yes, developing auto-installers.

From the moment you log into the mobile device, Wireless Update starts auto-installing apps. To repeat: There is no user consent collected to do so, no buttons to click to accept the installs, it just installs apps on its own. While the apps it installs are initially clean and free of malware, it’s important to note that these apps are added to the device with zero notification or permission required from the user. This opens the potential for malware to unknowingly be installed in a future update to any of the apps added by Wireless Update at any time.

The second piece of unremovable malware is the UMX’s own “Settings” app, crucial to operating the phone. Researchers called this “heavily-obfuscated malware” that is detected as Android/Trojan.Dropper.Agent.UMX. This app quietly downloads and installs apps without the user’s permission, most recently including a variant of HiddenAds, which forces users to endure frequent advertising screens on their phone, even when not web browsing.

The malware activates the moment a user powers on their phone for the first time. Most customers will simply be annoyed if ad-related apps automatically install, but with a security-compromised phone opening the door to more malware in the future, this “lowers the bar on bad behavior by app development companies,” according to Collier.

“Budget should not dictate whether a user can remain safe on his or her mobile device. Shell out thousands for an iPhone, and escape pre-installed maliciousness. But use government-assisted funding to purchase a device and pay the price in malware? That’s not the type of malware-free existence we envision at Malwarebytes,” Collier said.

“We informed Assurance Wireless of our findings and asked them point blank why a U.S.-funded mobile carrier is selling a mobile device infected with pre-installed malware? After giving them adequate time to respond, we unfortunately never heard back,” Collier added.

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