Category Archives: FCC

The future of the open internet — and our way of life — is in your hands

By Quincy Larson – So far, the story of the internet has followed the same tragic narrative that’s befallen other information technologies over the past 160 years:

  • the telegram
  • the telephone
  • cinema
  • radio
  • television

Each of these had roughly the same story arc:

  1. Inventors discovered the technology.
  2. Hobbyists pioneered the applications of that technology, and popularized it.
  3. Corporations took notice. They commercialized the technology, refined it, and scaled it.
  4. Once the corporations were powerful enough, they tricked the government into helping them lock the technology down. They installed themselves as “natural monopolies.”
  5. After a long period of stagnation, a new technology emerged to disrupt the old one. Sometimes this would dislodging the old monopoly. But sometimes it would only further solidify them.

And right now, we’re in step 4 the open internet’s narrative. We’re surrounded by monopolies.

The problem is that we’ve been in step 4 for decades now. And there’s no step 5 in sight. The creative destruction that the Economist Joseph Schumpeter first observed in the early 1900s has yet to materialize. more>

Proper fiber broadband is not a waste, but you need a little socialism to do it properly

By Chris Duckett – To overcome the lust of corporations to hit the next quarterly target by squeezing the very last dollar from aging assets and instead roll out more future-proof technologies, a little government encouragement is needed in the form of monetary incentives or legislation.

There is no point in running down the path of smart infrastructure and digital interactions with authorities if the rural section of the community is stuck on outmoded systems, and governments can also enforce another important aspect to dealing with broadband on a societal level: Universality.

Broadband is a paradoxical beast once baseline speeds in double digits are attained as the benefits it can provide to society become proportional to the difficulty in reaching them, and this inversely impacts profitability.

Consequently, users end up in a situation where those who need it most often have to go without, or live with poor connections because it doesn’t make economic sense to service them. Private companies will not willingly enter regional areas, because even if there is a very slim profit margin, it could take decades before the investment paid for itself. more>

Only governments can safeguard the openness of the internet

By Rufus Pollock – On 6 October 1536, in the prison yard of Vilvoorde castle near modern-day Brussels, a man named William Tyndale was strangled then burnt at the stake. His crime? To translate the Latin Bible into English, his native tongue.

A priest and scholar, Tyndale was an information freedom-fighter, whose mission was to open up the scripture for ordinary men and women.

The internet’s low-cost transmission can just as easily create information empires and robber barons as it can digital democracy and information equality. The growing value of being able to mine and manipulate huge data-sets, to generate predictions about consumers’ behaviour and desires, creates a self-reinforcing spiral of network effects. Data begets more data, locked down behind each company’s walls where their proprietary algorithms can exploit it for profit.

But in an alternative, more open world, how would we pay to create information in the first place? After all, it costs real money and real resources to make new software, movies or drugs.

What matters is who owns information, not just the infrastructure by which it is distributed. Digital technology must be combined with concrete actions that protect openness across the spectrum, from maps to medicines, from software to schools.

Better that we do it through public institutions, instead of relying on mavericks and martyrs. more>

Why Depth Sensing Will Proliferate

By Jeff Bier – When we think about embedded vision (or, more generically, computer vision), we typically think about algorithms for identifying objects: a car, a curb, a pedestrian, etc. And, to be sure, identifying objects is an important part of visual intelligence. But it’s only one part.

Particularly for devices that interact with the physical world, it’s important to know not only what objects are in the vicinity, but also where they are.

Knowing where things are enables a camera to focus on faces when taking a photo, a vacuum cleaning robot to avoid getting wedged under the sofa, and a factory robot to safely collaborate with humans. Similarly, it’s often useful to know the size and shape of objects – for example, to enable a robot to grasp them.

Historically, depth sensors have been bulky and expensive, like the LiDAR sensors seen on top of Google’s self-driving car prototypes. But this is changing fast. The first version of the Microsoft Kinect, introduced in 2010, showed that it was possible – and useful – to incorporate depth sensing into a consumer product.

Since then, many companies have made enormous investments to create depth sensors that are more accurate, smaller, less expensive and less power hungry. Other companies (such as Google with Project Tango and Intel with RealSense) have invested in algorithms and software to turn raw depth sensor data into data that applications can use. And application developers are finding lots of ways to use this data. more>

A neat trick that makes political ads more effective

By Meredith McGehee – Why do supporters go to the trouble of creating innocuous-sounding groups that fund all the ads? Because it works.

Viewers are more likely to be persuaded by political TV ads, several recent studies reveal, when the groups behind them are undisclosed. The studies help explain why ads by secret independent groups have become the vehicle of choice in the 2016 presidential election.

Recognizing that it makes a big difference when a viewer or listener knows the actual sponsor behind an ad can help build a strong case for why the Federal Communications Commission needs to enforce on-air sponsorship requirements.

Even in the age of social media, television continues to stand out as “the most influential medium when it comes to voting behavior among all age groups and political affiliations,” according to a new study. So U.S. voters need to know who is behind the political ads broadcast on television. more>

“Nailing Jell-O To The Wall”: How China Shut Down The Open Internet

By Steven Melendez – Not so long ago, techno-utopians and mainstream politicians agreed that trying to censor the Internet was essentially impossible.

China’s government, in particular, realized early on that the Internet was both vital to the country’s economic growth—and a threat to the stability of the Communist regime, says Adam Segal, director of the digital and cyberspace policy program at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“Once you actually instill a bit of uncertainty in users, they begin to self-censor,” Segal says.

“I just think a lot of people really thought about the implications of technology but didn’t really think about how all of these things are still rooted in a place and [there’s still] a jurisdiction and sovereignty over them,” he says.

“Companies still had people that could be arrested, and users still could be arrested.” more>

The Digital Divide Is About Much More Than Access

By Rick Paulas – If you look at the numbers, it doesn’t seem like America has much of a digital divide anymore. A new survey of low- and moderate-income families shows that 94 percent of them have Internet access.

Except, the divide hasn’t actually closed. The pace and necessity of Internet-based technology has simply created other inequities. The question we need to consider is the quality of that access.

Dig deeper into the survey data, and you can see the problem with those accessibility numbers.

Of the 94 percent of families that “have” Internet access, 52 percent of them report having slow Internet, 26 percent complain about having to share a computer with too many people in their household, 20 percent say their Internet has been shut off over the past year due to lack of payment, and eight percent are still using dial-up.

Not all Internet is created equal. more>

How to keep the Internet free and innovative

By Ryan Radia – Unless the courts or Congress rein it in, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) might soon transform itself into the Internet Regulation Commission.

To understand the FCC’s latest power grab, think back to 1996 — the year America Online introduced its unlimited dial-up service.

That’s the last time Congress rewrote federal telecom laws, albeit making barely any mention of the Internet. One new provision, Section 706, instructed the FCC and the states to use their powers to encourage the expansion of speedy Internet access and promote infrastructure investment.

This provision sounds simple enough, but as current FCC leadership sees it, the law is an invitation for potentially boundless regulation. more>

Net Neutrality Trumping Privacy Undercuts The U.S.-EU Data Safe Harbor

By Scott Cleland – The U.S. government’s Internet priorities in Europe are upside down.

It has chosen bits over bodies, prioritizing protecting the neutrality of innumerable inanimate Internet bits over protecting peoples’ privacy and personal data.

The European Court of Justice has made it doubly clear that Europeans have a right to privacy concerning how Big Internet companies collect and use Europeans’ private data in Europe and that the European Court of Justice will be vigilant in protecting Europeans’ privacy going forward.

In stark contrast, Big Internet companies’ lobbying in the U.S. has been very successful in ensuring that Americans have virtually no right to privacy concerning Big Internet companies. Both the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have proven very weak Big Internet privacy enforcers. more>

Wired to fail

By Tony Romm – Even the agency’s staunchest defenders in Congress have learned: When it came to funding broadband projects, RUS (Rural Utilities Service) never found its footing in the digital age.

The checkered performance of RUS offers an all-too-familiar story of an obscure federal agency that has grown despite documented failures, thanks in large part to its political patrons in Congress.

The massive infusion of stimulus money, which required RUS to disperse record sums faster than it ever had before, further exposed its weaknesses — troubles that in many ways remain unaddressed, despite repeated warnings — even as RUS continues lending. more>