Coloring Within the Lines

 

To maintain the integrity of a supplied drawing, people usually color as much as they can within the lines. Some people use crayons, while others use markers or pens. When it comes to using electromagnetic spectrum in the United States, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is in charge of allocating bands within the spectrum and making sure everyone stays within their specified lines. The NTIA does its work within the Department of Commerce.

 

The Department of Commerce also oversees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which in turn oversees the National Weather Service (NWS). Independent of all these Department of Commerce agencies is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which regulates the parts of the spectrum allocated for its oversight by the FTIA, such as radio, television, and cellular phone frequencies. Beginning late last year, the FCC has been auctioning spectrum to mobile phone companies for them to use in their 5G networks. When the FCC auctioned off spectrum in the 24GHz (gigahertz) band, they raised alarm within the NOAA since that agency uses the 23.8GHz band in its weather satellites to measure water vapor in the atmosphere, a key component in its ability to forecast the weather.

January 2016 Spectrum Wall Chart
This image of an outdated January 2016 Spectrum Wall Chart from the NTIA is only useful as an overview of just how tightly packed bandwidth allocation is in parts of the spectrum, based on the jumble of colors. For a better view, download a PDF (Portable Document Format) of the chart from the NTIA website, though even then it can be a strain on the eyes without higher magnification.

Now anyone who has ever manually tuned a radio receiver with a dial knows the radio stations do not stay exactly within their spectrum lines at all times, and depending on the power of the transmitters the different stations use and atmospheric conditions and the varying state of the ionosphere, some stations can occasionally push into the territory of other stations. That is what worries NOAA administrators about the 24GHz band proposed for 5G use by mobile phone companies and their man in the FCC, Chairman Ajit Pai. NOAA administrators believe 24GHz is too close for comfort and may occasionally interfere with its use of 23.8GHz, which it cannot change because it is determined by the physical law of water vapor’s behavior. They believe the interference could cause as much as a 30 percent drop in forecasting efficiency, akin to stepping back in time to 1980.

This inter agency squabble isn’t even necessary, it turns out, because if the FCC and American mobile phone companies followed the European model for ensuring minimal interference with weather satellites, they would simply add greater restrictions to the transmitting power of 5G antennas in the higher bandwidths and rely more extensively on mid-range bandwidths that are not only better for 5G transmission, but also safely removed from the vicinity of crucial weather data transmissions.

A May 2019 news report from Sky News in London, England.

There will be a World Radiocommunication Conference in Egypt in October and November, where attendees will set international standards for 5G. Considering the attitudes and policies of the current presidential administration, the American delegation will probably resist the European model and go its own incautious way in order to serve the interests of the major telecommunications companies. It’s possible the American model may turn out fine eventually, but considering the drawbacks of being wrong, wouldn’t it be prudent to heed the concerns of weather forecasters, at least until more field testing proves without a doubt the safety of using the 24GHz band of the spectrum? To satisfy the greed of telecommunications executives and the desire of some smartphone users for faster loading Facebook feeds, is it worth having a hurricane drop in on us unexpectedly? A real hurricane, that is, not one drawn with crayons, however neatly.
— Techly

 

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Lead, Follow, or Get out of the Way

 

Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), is at it again, undercutting support for dissemination of broadband internet service when it doesn’t suit the interests of major telecommunications companies. His latest effort involves capping spending on the FCC’s Universal Service programs, which are intended to make broadband available to poor urban neighborhoods and underserved rural areas. Mr. Pai and the other two Republican commissioners on the five person board have voted for the plan, and the next step will be a three month public comment period before the commissioners take a final vote. If most people commenting on the plan are against it, then Mr. Pai and his fellow Republican commissioners will likely ignore their wishes and subvert the comment period with shenanigans intended to muddy the waters, just as they did two years ago with the net neutrality rule change.

 

Government support – or lack of it – for promoting broadband internet service for the entire country is a mishmash of conflicting goals, regulations, and laws at the federal, state, and municipal levels. The FCC under Mr. Pai serves the interests of telecommunications companies, which often do not coincide with those of citizens, while paying lip service to broadband service for all. The current president, who appointed Mr. Pai chairman, is hopelessly muddled in his understanding of the aims and actions of his own administration, as he demonstrated once again in his recent comments about how farmers cannot connect benefit their operations by connecting to broadband service because of deficient infrastructure in the countryside. Of course he and his followers do not care about the facts behind that deficiency, and he may get around as he always does to blaming Barack Obama and Democrats generally for the problem while he does nothing to alleviate it and his administration actively makes it worse.

20111110-OC-AMW-0030 (39220804105)
A United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) photo of a crew installing electric service lines in the countryside. The Rural Electrification Act of 1936 brought service to underserved areas through electric cooperatives owned by members, bypassing private utilities which saw little profit in the enterprise.

State legislatures around the country continue passing laws intended to cripple the ability of municipalities to take matters into their own hands and get broadband service to small towns and outlying areas. The legislators, mostly Republican, pass these laws at the behest of lobbyists for the major telecommunications companies, who claim services provided by municipalities would undercut their ability to compete. But the big companies aren’t interested in competing in small towns and the boonies anyway! Really they’re afraid it’s a good idea that will spread, and therefore they attack it as socialism, by which they mean it’s bad. Large telecommunications companies, like the large banks, are all for socialism when it benefits them.

The Flintstones: “They’re the modern stone age family!”

Municipal governments and regional electric cooperatives are the only groups trying to ensure broadband service for poor and rural citizens, and trying to do it without price gouging. They get little help from federal and state governments, which often work either at cross purposes are try to undermine their efforts, again with the strings being pulled behind the scenes by Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Charter, Sprint, and the rest of the big telecommunications companies. Naturally absolutely everyone says they are all for expanding broadband internet service at reasonable rates to poor and underserved areas – who wouldn’t come out in favor of that? – but the actions of many legislators, regulators, and company executives tell a different story. It would be best for citizens – customers – if everyone from the top down in government and private industry worked consistently and uniformly toward the one goal they all claim to be their mission, which is better serving the public, no matter who they are or where they live.
— Techly

 

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Anxious Days

 

Editor’s note: This post has been delayed one day on account of dismally slow internet service, most likely caused by the service provider’s defective equipment. Thanks, Ajit Pai, Chairman of the FCC, for continuing to safeguard the interests of monopolistic corporations while disregarding those of ordinary citizens!

Waiting through an outbreak of severe weather can be nerve wracking if you’re one of the millions of Americans living in substandard housing. Related to withstanding severe weather events, substandard housing means no basement or a weak foundation, poorly engineered roofing, shoddy workmanship overall, bad drainage around the structure, easily shattered windows, and any number of other problems large and small generally not present in the well built housing of the upper classes. Should something bad happen to a substandard structure due to severe weather, the people living there often do not have the resources to recover from it.


Severe weather affects everyone, rich and poor, but what is usually overlooked is how the poor disproportionately suffer the adverse effects of it both coming and going. To know that should a tornado, a hurricane, a derecho, a hailstorm, ice storm, or flood deal even a glancing blow to the place you live causes many anxious days, first in watching the weather forecast and then during the day or days of the event. There’s personal safety, of course, and the possibility of unaffordable emergency medical attention, and then the possibility of damage to the structure and the unaffordability of repairs, if it is repairable. The last thing any person living in a structure without a safe, reinforced room or basement wants to hear is the freight train roar of an approaching tornado, and to have children to protect must make even imagining such a scenario unbearable.

Winslow Homer - Hurricane, Bahamas
Hurricane, Bahamas, an 1898 painting by Winslow Homer (1836-1910).

All things are relative, and while comparatively few people in the United States have to exist in notoriously unsafe conditions like those in a Brazilian favela, there are still far too many in this rich country who live a hair’s breadth away from personal and financial disaster, a ruin which can befall them in a few unfortunate moments with the caprice of bad weather. As severe weather outbreaks become more frequent and as the population continues to increase, the possibilities for deaths, injuries, and property damage will also increase, all of which burden poor people more than others (yes, even death, because of the costs to survivors).

In the 1978 BBC television production of dramatist Dennis Potter’s Pennies from Heaven, Bob Hoskins as sheet music salesman Arthur Parker encounters a busker called The Accordion Man, played by Kenneth Colley, who in return for Arthur treating him to a meal treats Arthur to a rendition of the song “Pennies from Heaven” (lip synched to a 1937 recording by Arthur Tracy).

Insurance companies’ business model currently has them paying out after disaster strikes (contesting the payout all the way, and digging in their heels where they can), while offering little incentive for builders and developers to proof structures against disaster. Eventually, as expenses incurred by natural disasters mount to insupportable levels, insurance companies will have to come around to a more preventive strategy of offering lower premiums for stronger structures, something easier for them and builders and developers to cooperate on for wealthier homeowners. Where government can step in to protect poor people is to enforce insurance policy standards for their housing, rather than continuing to allow the corruption and slapdash oversight which currently riddles the market. Meantime, as always you’re on your own out there, particularly if you’re not rich, and you have to look out for yourself to stay safe. Good luck.
— Izzy

 

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Surprise, Surprise

 

After the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) five member board voted along party lines to roll back Net Neutrality regulations last month, it wasn’t surprising to see some major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) trot out rate increases soon afterward. The new regulatory structure doesn’t take effect until 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register, which may take a few more weeks while the FCC completes final edits to the paperwork, but companies like Comcast just couldn’t wait. Meanwhile, in another predictable outcome of the end of Net Neutrality, over 20 states have started instituting their own rules in an effort to adhere to the old guidelines, while also suing the FCC to prevent it from trying to impose its new rules within each state.

 

This comes down to regulating interstate commerce in the form of communications companies, which is the only reason for federal agencies such as the FCC to exist. It will all have to be sorted out in the courts, and that could take years and many millions of taxpayer dollars, all because FCC Chairman Ajit Pai turned a deaf ear to the majority of Americans while he listened very closely to his corporate masters, such as at Verizon, where he worked as a corporate lawyer before being appointed to the FCC by President Barack Obama, at the behest of Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Reinstate Net Neutrality sign, Women's March, DTLA, Los Angeles, California, USA (39824631401)
“Reinstate Net Neutrality” sign at the January 20, 2018, Women’s March in downtown Los Angeles, California. Photo by Cory Doctorow.

There have been noises from Congress about legislating Net Neutrality, or a semblance of it, once and for all, thereby stripping the FCC of its bouncing ball regulations. Even if one of these measures manages to squeak by with enough votes in Congress, it will then cross the whistle-clean desk of Supreme Leader, who after all is the one who elevated Ajit Pai from FCC board member to chairman, most likely with the express purpose of encouraging him to gut Net Neutrality for the benefit of corporate giants. Supreme Leader will veto any legislation that undercuts his man at the FCC, and there will not be enough votes in Congress to override his veto, since that would require the votes of two thirds of the members.

Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality 04
One of the ironic slogans used by the non-profit organization Fight for the Future to promote the July 12, 2017, Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality.

In that case, it appears everyone will have to get used to paying through the nose for broadband internet service in areas of the country where there are only one or two providers, which is to say most areas. Consumers could pay less in a tiered system for service at the speed of dial-up, which is what the FCC has opened the door to now. Instead of being regulated like utilities, which must provide similar service to all consumers universally, the ISPs will be regulated like cable television companies, a business some of them have also been in for years.


The problem vexing consumers is that they usually have few choices for providers of these services, although they have slightly more choices than they do when it comes to their electric service. Still, in a market with limited competition, the advantage lies entirely with the unregulated company that is unfettered to charge whatever it can squeeze from captive consumers. Take it or leave it.


“Wildflowers”, the title song of Tom Petty’s (1950-2017) solo album from 1994.

The last area where ISP giants are working to complete their cornering of the market is in the contest over municipal broadband services, which are usually public/private partnerships between municipalities and smaller ISPs, where the municipality provides some infrastructure and subsidies, and the private company provides the hardware, operations, and maintenance. Municipal broadband often provides better service and better rates to consumers than they can get from the big companies, and is likely to provide service to poor and rural consumers who otherwise would have no service options. No wonder the big companies are intensively lobbying state and local officials to choke off municipal broadband. It appears their greed compels them to throttle competition and now, at their discretion, some services to their customers.
— Techly

 

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In Comcast We Trust

 

Recently one of the minority Democratic members of the five person board of the FCC took the unusual step of writing an article for distribution in the popular press urging the public to sit up and pay attention to what the majority Republican members of the board are attempting to do with a vote on December 14 to repeal net neutrality rules. Jessica Rosenworcel asked the public to make a fuss with the FCC and with Congress to try postponing the vote until after public hearings. The vote will likely still take place on the 14th, and the outcome is certain considering the three to two Republican majority on the Commission board. The next step will probably see the rule changes challenged in court, with litigation taking years.

Congress could change how a regulatory agency like the FCC goes about its business so that it is less swayed by the variable political winds, but it appears there is little will in the Republican Congress to overrule the agency and tie it down to enforcing a net neutrality law enacted by legislators. There is some discussion in technology circles that introduction of 5G wireless service in the next few years will change the competitive landscape since 5G speeds and bandwidth will challenge the monopoly of wired service providers for the crucial last mile of service to customers’ homes. Until now, wireless internet service providers like Verizon and AT&T could not compete with wired providers like Comcast and Charter because their service was slower and not capable of handling the bandwidth demands of home users piling up GigaBytes of usage every month, usually by streaming video.


5G may indeed change the competitive landscape between a few large internet service provider companies as it rolls out, but customers will still have to deal with fast lanes and slow lanes imposed by whichever gatekeeper they sign up with for service. The proposed FCC rule changes will allow ISPs to charge different content providers varying amounts based on tiers of service, rather than providing equal access to all as they are required to do now since they are regulated as public utilities.

Jessica Rosenworcel official photo
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who began service on the Commission in 2012 and was confirmed by the Senate for an additional term in 2017.

When FCC Chairman Ajit Pai first proposed rolling back net neutrality rules early this year, Comcast said essentially “Trust us, we would never take full advantage of the regulatory opening to charge a premium for faster internet service.” As if anyone would believe them, particularly anyone who had any experience at all as a Comcast customer! Lately Comcast has walked back their earlier statement with some linguistic mumbo-jumbo that’s supposed to make people think they won’t be doing what they intend on doing when the time comes and they can get away with it, which will be to charge a premium for faster internet service and, as a bonus, no data caps! Comcast’s duplicity surprises no one, and their pleas for trust are laughable.

The best thing that can be hoped for by people who wish to keep a relatively open and inexpensive internet beyond December 14 is that the rule changes will be tied up in the courts for several years, and to some extent that will tie the grasping hands of some internet service providers who are eager to take advantage of the new rules to gouge content providers and customers. Beyond that, the best hope for a decisive, long term answer to the problem will have to come from Congress, which in the current environment does not appear possible, but may be so after a change in party dominance in Congress as a result of the 2018 election. The FCC needs to be more an enforcer of rules Congress makes, and less its own rule maker.
― Techly

 

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We’re Going to Need More Dimes

 

When it comes to net neutrality analogies, many people opt for the internet superhighway one where there may be fast lanes and slow lanes or, on a content neutral internet, all lanes are equal. Since it’s hard to bring in the gatekeepers who set the rules for the internet on that kind of analogy, it might be easier to think of net neutrality or non-neutrality as related to a toll plaza, where the gatekeepers, such as AT&T, Verizon, or Comcast, charge different amounts and cause varying delays to the vehicles attempting to pass through their gates.

 

On a net neutral superhighway, the gatekeepers at the toll plaza charge roughly the same amount to every vehicle and pass them all through with equal alacrity. On an internet superhighway that is not neutral and grants wide discretion to the gatekeepers at the toll plaza, toll charges vary a great deal from vehicle to vehicle, and the gatekeepers might also hold up certain vehicles, making them late to their destination.

Storebaelt toll area
The Great Belt Fixed Link toll plaza in Denmark. Different colored lights indicate different payment methods. Photo by heb.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, after going through the motions of a public comment period through the summer on his proposed, Orwellian-named “Restoring Internet Freedom” gutting of the 2015 net neutrality rules, announced today that the FCC board of three Republicans and two Democrats will vote on rules changes on December 14. The fix is in, as it has been since early this year when Mr. Pai expressed his intention to overturn the 2015 rules, and there is little doubt how the majority will vote on December 14. It is still possible between now and then to bring enough public pressure to bear on Congress for that body to influence either the FCC board vote, which is not likely, or put in motion legislation to override FCC rules on rescinding net neutrality, which is the more likely outcome, if there is to be a positive one at all for neutrality advocates.

Regulation of internet access is too vital to leave up to the unelected five member board of a regulatory commission. The current FCC board has also recently demonstrated its irresponsibility to the country at large when it did away with rules preventing monopolization of local media markets by a single company, recklessly opening the gates to allow Sinclair Broadcasting to consolidate its control across the country.

In the 1974 film Blazing Saddles, directed by Mel Brooks, the citizens of Rock Ridge set up a toll booth to slow down the bad guys coming to destroy their town. Warning: foul language.

Congress could put an end to FCC favoritism toward big business by passing legislation, instead of allowing the FCC board to vote on rules after the formality of a meaningless public comment period, since the board Republicans will almost certainly vote against net neutrality despite the majority of public comments in favor of it. Congress is also beholden to big business, but at least it retains some ability to bend to the public will. As it stands now, after the December 14 vote the new rules will likely get challenged in court, and the legal struggle will eat up years, and all the while the internet gatekeepers will make fortunes extorting internet users who need to pass their toll booths.
― Techly

 

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Not Everyone Likes Pai

 

Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), requires confirmation by the Senate as a board member before the end of the year to continue with the agency. If he is not confirmed for another four year term and is removed from office, the current president will most likely replace him with another Republican and advance the nomination of that person or another of the board’s two Republican members to the chairmanship. In the end, getting rid of Chairman Pai may not alter the current course of the FCC toward revoking Net Neutrality rules and allowing the merger of the Sinclair Broadcast Group with Tribune Media, but his removal does offer the opportunity to change course, however slim that may be.

Since his advancement to the chairmanship at the beginning of the year, Mr. Pai has worked to dismantle Net Neutrality under the Orwellian rubric “Restoring Internet Freedom”. The public comment period on the proposed rule change closed at the end of August, and now everyone awaits the decision of the five member board, three Republicans and two Democrats. It’s difficult to say what may be taking so long, considering that Mr. Pai has the votes, and by his actions earlier in the summer it appeared the fix was in anyway. Perhaps he’s having a hard time drafting the new regulations and lowering the bar enough to reflect proper deference to the major players like Comcast.

In the 1972 film Cabaret, Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey sing “Money, Money”.

The other major issue on Chairman Pai’s agenda is the merger of Sinclair with Tribune Media, which he favors. To advance his position for taking away regulations that treat Internet Service Providers as common carriers and therefore subjects them to rules of Net Neutrality, Mr. Pai uses language about protecting the consumer and getting the government out of the way of innovation, yet when it comes to allowing one enormous broadcast company, Sinclair, to become even larger and therefore monopolize some smaller media markets around the country, he suddenly and conveniently forgets his previous arguments. Monopolies have historically neither looked out for consumers in any way other than to take their money, nor have they had any incentive to innovate in any way other than how to take even more money.


The comments from the public in favor of keeping Net Neutrality regulations in place have outstripped the comments against, and to the limited extent the public has been paying attention to the Sinclair/Tribune merger, most are against it. Will the FCC, and in particular Chairman Pai, listen to the public or to corporate interests? It’s not hard to imagine the answer to that question if you subscribe to the wisdom of the comedian Lily Tomlin, who said “No matter how cynical I get, I can’t keep up.” Be that as it may, the public retains the option through Congress to say to Mr. Pai “You’re fired!”
― Techly

Dick York Bewitched 1968
“My, What Big Ears You Have”, a 1967 episode of the sitcom Bewitched, with Dick York as the beleaguered Darrin Stephens, whose mother-in-law has cast a spell on him that causes his ears to grow every time he lies.

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We’ll Be Grading on a Curve

 

This past Wednesday, July 12, many internet companies and net neutrality advocacy groups participated in a “Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality”. They were attempting to influence Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai and his two fellow commissioners during the public comment period on reversing the 2015 FCC net neutrality rules, or as Chairman Pai would have it, “Restoring Internet Freedom”.
Ajit Pai - Caricature (33950745973)
2017 caricature of Ajit Pai by DonkeyHotey.
The public comment period is open until mid-August and is all well and good, but based on Chairman Pai’s previous comments as well as recent remarks, the entire thing is merely a charade to satisfy bureaucratic regulations. After the public comment period is over, Chairman Pai and the other Republican on the Commission’s board will vote to roll back net neutrality and deal with the consequences in court over the next few years. The FCC board has space for five commissioners, but currently there are only three, two Republicans and one Democrat. [Editor’s note: For an accessible version of the Wikipedia page about the FCC, click here; the amount of commissioners listed on the page may have changed since this post was written.]

A fantasy scene from the 1983 film A Christmas Story, with Peter Billingsley as Ralphie, and Tedde Moore as his teacher, Miss Shields.

 

The recent remarks from Chairman Pai that make a mockery of the public comment period have to do with his off-hand dismissal of the sheer number of genuine letters, calls, and emails in favor of net neutrality on the grounds that numbers will not sway him, only the content as he judges it. Oh. In that case, he may be judging these comments, or compositions, based on grammar, originality, penmanship, and interesting presentation. Please have them all on his desk by mid-August, as late comments will be marked down for tardiness.

Doris Day sings the theme song from her 1958 film co-starring Clark Gable.

 

Mr. Pai, formerly a lawyer for Verizon, has not shown as much critical judgment of the anti net neutrality comments the FCC has received, many of them astroturfed. Those comments must have been from the “D” students, and Mr. Pai, in the interest of fairness to everybody, but particularly to them, has decided to overlook their faults and boost their grades at least to “C”. The smarty pants crowd will take what marks Mr. Pai gives them in the interest of Restoring Internet Freedom to Verizon, Comcast, CenturyLink, AT&T, and other mega-millions Internet Service Providers (ISP). There’s the level playing field everyone likes to believe in, and then there’s the reality of the playing field groundskeepers have groomed to suit the home team. To get all these mixed metaphors to agree, think of the grading curve fix which benefits major sport athletes in school. Verizon? A+!
― Techly

 

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Light the Way

“Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” ― the Rev. William L. Watkinson*(1838-1925)

The nonprofit organization Fight for the Future has set up a website called Comcastroturf which allows people to check if their name has been used surreptitiously to file anti net neutrality comments with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC had recently opened up a public comment period in anticipation of rolling back net neutrality regulations, and within a short time they were inundated with anti net neutrality comments which appeared to be generated by Internet Service Provider (ISP) astroturfers from hijacked subscriber lists. Comcast threatened Fight for the Future with a lawsuit, from which they have since backed down after it appeared obvious even to them that it was a tone deaf public relations debacle. They blamed the company they outsource their brand defenses to for excessive vigilance.


Let there be light
Let there be light; photo by Flickr user Arup Malakar, taken in the Kamakhya Temple, a shakti temple on the Nilachal Hill in the western part of Guwahati city in Assam, India.

 

It’s clear from new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s remarks on net neutrality that he does not support the FCC net neutrality regulations adopted in 2015. Since the rest of the now Republican controlled board of commissioners will most likely go along with him when they vote on the regulations in September, the public comment period appears to be a mere formality. That apparently hasn’t deterred the ISP industry from feeling the need to generate a phony campaign to support the anti net neutrality commissioners. Perhaps they were concerned about the pro net neutrality campaign of John Oliver. Now Comcast and other industry giants have egg on their faces, and Chairman Pai has not escaped squeaky clean either, as he has declined to question the validity of the astroturfed comments, while distracting the attention of the public by complaining about mean tweets.

 

There are customers of Comcast who complain endlessly about the company’s high prices and lackluster, even adversarial, customer service, yet those customers do little or nothing to explore alternatives to Comcast. They sit grumbling in the dark and won’t lift a finger to light a candle. Such people do a disservice to themselves, but since they seem to be satisfied with that in a masochistic way, the rest of us are left having to listen to their grousing while they do nothing to improve their situation. That shouldn’t be a problem for those of us who can get out of earshot, though in the broader perspective it is those dissatisfied but immovable customers of Comcast who grant the company its monopolistic power in the marketplace, and that’s a problem for everyone because it limits affordable options as smaller companies struggle to establish themselves when confronting the obstacles thrown at them by industry giants and the legislators and regulators they have in their pockets.

 

Comcast and companies like it might behave better if they started experiencing mass defections. Comcast has been losing subscription television customers, while increasing broadband customers. Cord cutting does not affect Comcast’s bottom line if the customers doing so are merely moving their dollars from one part of the service to another. City dwellers and suburbanites have more options for internet service than people in the countryside, and so they have fewer excuses for continuing with Comcast even while they dislike the company intensely. Ultimately the choice comes down to a decision about what to give up, at least in the short term. Even without streaming video, life goes on. For the majority of the Earth’s inhabitants, the whining of some Americans about how to get along without access to each and every National Football League (NFL) game over either the internet or subscription TV, or the latest “must see” TV series, must appear ingloriously obtuse and selfish. These companies have too much power because we have given it to them. It’s like being abused in a relationship and not working to free yourself because you can’t imagine life any other way. Who knows, life untethered from the Comcast umbilical cord could be better than you think.
― Techly

 

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Fresnel
Pigeon Point Lighthouse, south of San Francisco, California; photo by Diedresm.

 

 

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How Green Was My Astroturfing

 

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) net neutrality rulings of 2015 are under attack from – surprise, surprise! – Ajit Pai, the former attorney for Verizon and new FCC chairman. Mr. Pai calls the rollback of Title II regulations “Restoring Internet Freedom”. It’s clear Mr. Pai has read and understood his Orwell. Part of the niceties involved in rolling back the Internet Service Provider (ISP) common carrier regulations of Title II that Mr. Pai and his Republican allies in Congress and the White House want to have happen are invitations for public comment on the FCC website. It turns out, however, that when the FCC isn’t complaining about John Oliver inciting his viewers to inundate the FCC website with comments in support of Title II, they are ignoring the questionable origin of comments against Title II from citizens whose identity may have been hijacked by the very companies they pay for monthly internet service, companies like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T.

 

Astroturfing is nothing new in politics, but to ignore the obvious signs of astroturfing in a letter writing or email campaign to government regulators or congresspeople signifies a set agenda that is not to be swayed by emails or letters of varying opinions. The fix is in, in other words. It’s clear from FCC Chairman Pai’s previous public comments what his opinion is on Title II and net neutrality, and now that the FCC board has a Republican majority, his opinion is likely to become policy. It is hypocrisy then for the FCC to invite public comment and ignore for whatever reason the comments it’s board doesn’t want to hear, even though they are genuine, while accepting the clearly astroturfed comments originating from industry insiders.
Ajit V. Pai headshot
Ajit V. Pai, new Chairman of the FCC.

Lewis Black in a concert in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, after the 2008 financial meltdown, comments on capitalism, greed, and how the United States government handled the crisis. In the end, there were no repercussions to the wealthy for the damage they inflicted on the working and middle class people who pay their way year after year. Warning: foul language.

 

Chairman Pai has remarked that in the 90 day public comment process, the FCC will not ” rely on hyberbolic statements about the end of the internet as we know it, and 140-character argle-bargle, but rather on the data.” Presumably the FCC chairman will then be ignoring the considerable amount of 140 character argle-bargle generated by his boss, the Argle-Bargler-in-Chief. Would that it were so. The reality is that the new FCC Chairman and the new President and the new Republican Congress appear to be in perfect agreement on rolling back Title II common carrier regulations for ISPs, and there’s little that ordinary citizens can do to stop them. Try John Oliver’s solution or the one from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and good luck to you, but in the future pay attention at the ballot box once every two to four years, and every day remember not to buy into the “fruit from your tree” delusion.
― Techly

 

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