Tag Archives: Federal Communications Commission

Net Neutrality War Rages On!

On April 23rd of 2018 net neutrality will die. The FCC ruling will take affect and the Internet as we know it will change dramatically. There is a lot that could happen between now and then so the war against the ruling rages on.

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong

Lies were told.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is investigating claims that millions of comments provided to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in support of the repeal were fake. The GAO is looking into the claim that the comments were made by bots impersonating real people.

One study estimated that removing the fake comments left 98.5 percent majority against the FCC’s repeal. According to Emprata.com “The lack of user authentication by the Electronic Comments Filing System (ECFS) makes it difficult to determine ‘genuine’ comment submissions.”

Emprata.com also pointed out that, “9.93 million comments were filed from submissions listing the same physical address and email, indicating that many entities filed multiple comments. This was more prevalent in comments against repeal of Title II (accounting for 82% of the total duplicates), with a majority of duplicate comments associated with email domains from FakeMailGenerator.com.”

ARS Technica did an analysis of the comments and found that hundreds of comments were filed with identical time stamps. Other evidence indicated that others were posted at a steady rate, “unlike the way humans would send in comments.” Others were considered suspicious because the were in all caps indicating they may have been generated or submitted from a database.

The fake comments were so blatant and obvious that even Barack Obama of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was listed as commenting in favor of repealing net neutrality.

The FCC, under the command of Ajit Pai has steadfastly refused to investigate this evidence or hear from others who have complained of the fake comments.

Another lie that came from the net neutrality war was that the Obama administration put pressure on the FCC to maintain net neutrality. The FCC’s own investigation proved otherwise. Motherboard.com obtained a copy of the investigation’s findings via the Freedom of Information Act. Reaching back to 2015 FCC investigators reviewed at least 600,000 emails from all five commissioners seeking evidence indicating the Obama White House pressured the FCC. The report’s final summary reads as follows;

“In conclusion, we found no evidence of secret deals, promises or threats from anyone outside the Commission, nor any evidence of any other improper use of power to influence the FCC decision-making process. To the contrary, it appears that to the extent entities outside of the Commission sought to influence the process, the positions were made known in the record, in full view of all.”

The rebellion inside the FCC.

As you probably already know the Democratic members of the FCC have been vociferous about their opposition to the repeal of net neutrality. But they are not alone among those inside the FCC who oppose the ruling.

The FCC’s own Chief Technology Officer, Eric Burger, who was appointed by Chairman Pai in October, pointed out that the repeal could allow internet service providers (ISP) to block or throttle specific websites. In an email Burger said “Unfortunately, I realize we do not address that at all. Burger went on to say, “If the ISP is transparent about blocking legal content, there is nothing the Federal Trade Commission can do about it unless the FTC determines it was done for anti-competitive reasons. Allowing such blocking is not in the public interest.”

States Rebel

Regardless of the FCC effort to rollback net neutrality it appears that states have declared an open rebellion to the new rule. According to the Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution federal law wins if state laws conflict with federal laws. But several states have take it upon themselves to fight for net neutrality Supremacy Clause be damned!

Currently more that half of the states are setting their own net neutrality protections. California, New York, Montana, Hawaii, and Vermont have all passed legislation that is intended to protect net neutrality. According to the FCC states aren’t allowed to pass their own net neutrality laws.  But that hasn’t stopped them. At least 21 states have sued the FCC to restore its original rules.

Most recently Nebraska, a state glowing Republican red, has also struck back at the the ruling. State Sen. Adam Morfeld (D) introduced legislation to establish net neutrality regulations in law on the state level.  Morfeld’s bill prevents broadband providers from slowing down or blocking internet content and from cutting deals with content companies to give them faster connection speeds. It should be noted that this is just a bill and not yet law.

In Montana the governor, Steve Bullock, a Democrat, issued an executive order in January making ISPs who do not observe net neutrality ineligible for state contracts. This move is intended to preserve net neutrality in the state without passing any law that violates the Supremacy Clause. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a similar order.

Currently there are 21 states and various interest groups that have launched legal challenges to the FCC ruling. In Congress there are currently 50 votes to block the net neutrality rule, one short of the number needed to stop it. The war rages on.

Breaking It Down.

If anyone thinks that the end of net neutrality is near think again. This issue will be fought all the way into the mid-term elections and even the next presidential election. There are just too many questions around the legitimacy of the decision. For such an unpopular decision to take affect is mind boggling. Even if the decision stands, which I doubt very seriously, the states are basically going to undermine it. They have already begun to institute rules forcing the ISP to disregard the new FCC ruling. It it won’t stop there. The big telecoms are playing a game of chicken with the market. Let me explain. The big ISPs and cell service providers were living fat and happy with the cellphone market firmly in their grasp. The had consumers locked up with long term contracts and high rates. Then along came the little guys with a better deal. They were forced to bow to market pressure and now the rates are pretty cheap and the contracts are gone. Same for cable television. They got too expensive and now everybody is cutting the cord. The Internet is the only game left in the telecommunications sector. The big ISPs can start throttling data or blocking websites if they want to. But how long before some small company starts screaming, “NO THROTTLING AND NO BLOCKED WEBSITES!  in their advertising. And before long the game is back where it started. What I am saying is that big ISPs are going to fold. There will be a lot more and a lot smaller ISPs taking over the market soon. The big companies need to move on to something else.

 

 

 

African-Americans and Internet Privacy

Black people don’t like the idea of putting their business “in the streets.” Its a cliche that means we keep our affairs to ourselves and unless it concerns you then stay out of it. But black people are Internet users and we need to be concerned about our privacy there as well.

Recently some changes have occurred that need to be addressed if you go online. The Federal Communication Commission and President Trump have rolled back Obama administration rules that kept your Internet service provider from tracking your online activity and selling it to whoever wants to buy it. Basically its now legal to put your business in the streets of the cyber world.

You need to understand that its not just your business but the online activity of anyone in your home that uses your Internet connection. That includes your children. Why are they doing this?  Its all about targeting advertisements at you.

For marketers knowing what’s happening with you and in your home helps them to sell you to something. But it goes deeper than that. They can sell this information to the police or anyone willing to pay for your digital profile. Whats in your digital profile? Try financial data such as your online banking, shopping and credit data, personal health information, your browsing history such as what websites you visit including social media and porn, app usage, and your location. If you have children in the house what are they doing online? The cable company knows who their friends are and where they are, what school they go to and a lot more about what they do online.

But let’s take it deeper. You probably have cable television, phone service and even cellphone service from the cable company. If you have Comcast that additional service is coming this year.  AT&T is also offering this bundled service.   So what does that mean for your privacy? It means these companies know everything you are doing. What television shows you watch and record on your DVR and who you call on your home phone and/or cellphone.

Let’s get even deeper. Do you have a home security system provided by the cable company? How about a smart thermostat on your wall? Now the cable company knows when you come and go and can even see into your home if you have security cameras. The cable company, because it provides your internet connection, knows how cool or warm you like your home and its all for sale. Thats your busness in the street.

What can you do about it? Now is the time to learn about VPN’s. A VPN is a service that creates a private connection over the public Internet between you and the website you visit. Its called tunneling. The VPN service can scramble or encrypt you information so that not even your ISP can see it. Basically a VPN hides who you are, where you are and what you’re doing online.

VPN’s are relatively easy to install and use but there a few things you need to understand. They are not perfect. For example you may experience a slow down in your connection speed. VPNs don’t block ads or ad tracking. You need to block cookies and ads using your browser. To block ad trackers, try using a privacy-focused browser extensions like uBlock Origin and Privacy Badger. These will stop ad-trackers from following you around the Internet.

Most major browsers offer ad blocker extensions. You can find the best paid and free ad and pop up blockers at PC & Network Downloads.

But there is an easier step you can take to protect your privacy, simply switch web browsers. To make an immediate difference in your online privacy download and install the Opera web browser. This is currently the only available web browser that comes with a VPN. Opera also offers a mobile browser and a free standing VPN app along with other tools.

A few other things you need to know about VPNs. Finding one that is the “best” is a tough job. There are many available and not all are created equal. Some use outdated encryption technology and others keep logs of your traffic. This is where the work comes in. Why would you use a VPN service that keeps logs of your internet activity? Kind of defeats the whole purpose doesn’t it? You need to check their privacy policies before you purchase a VPN service. And by the way they are fairly cheap. About $50-$100 a year. Some sell lifetime subscriptions.

Right now the atmosphere in the Washington D.C is not conducive to protecting your privacy. And, to be honest, its damn near impossible. But you can keep some of your business off the streets some by  exercising a few measures and using a VPN is a good start.

Now you know.

 

Internet Service Providers Can Sell Your Data

 FBI Director James Comey said, “There is no longer absolute privacy in the United States.” In the age of information everything you say do, write or watch on television is recorded somewhere. And now Congress is letting your internet service provider sell your personal data including your internet activity.

On Friday, the Senate blocked the implementation Obama administration rules stopping internet service providers like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon from selling customers internet browsing history and other data. The rule itself was scheduled to go into effect next year. It would have been a significant wall to ISP’s efforts to sell your personal data and combine that data with your other services to target advertising at you.

Many people fail to realize, or have become accustomed, to the level of tracking that is done by major corporations. For example Facebook tracks everything users do on their website and beyond, everything! And so do many other social media sites. This move lets ISP ‘s do the same.

But ISP’s have a bit of an advantage over sites like Facebook. For example many ISP’s offer bundled services. You can get television, internet, telephone and even cell phone service and home security in one package and one price.   This basically allows them to create a profile of not only what you watch on television, but who you call or calls you, your emails, your web searches, online activity and your mobile activity on your smartphone.

If you use Verizon your profile just expanded significantly. The Senate vote cleared the way for Verizon to link up all its databases. These databases contain customer information from AOL which Verizon purchased in 2015 for $4 billion. Soon that database will get even bigger if the sale of Yahoo! to Verizon goes through. 

Since the election of Donald Trump Republicans have worked to undo regulations imposed under President Barack Obama. All 50 Republicans voted in favor of killing the rule while 46 Democrats and two independents voted against.

New FCC Chair Scrutinizing Lifeline Program

Trump appointed Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai is rolling back some of his predecessors actions. The new chairman has already begun to make changes to programs that help schools and low income families. Arguing that the the FCC’s Lifeline program is riddled by fraud, waste and abuse he has shut down a small expansion to the program. Lifeline discounts $9.25 per month off broadband or phone services for households near or beneath the poverty line. Pai claimed last year that the program loses around $476 million annually to waste. Others disagree with these numbers. But the statement highlights Pai’s concerns with the program.

Broadband service providers have to apply to the commission before offering these subsidies to customers. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler had extended the program to nine more providers. Pai  has decided to delay their approval until changes are made to the program. However there is no threat the Lifeline program is being eliminated. Currently there 900 companies participating in the Lifeline program. Most are offering subsidized phone or Internet services and some are offering both.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai

According to Pai the system needs to be tweaked to prevent companies from enrolling people who are not eligible.

In addition to his rollback of the Lifeline program, the FCC has also withdrew a progress report on the expansion of E-rate. E-Rate is a program that subsidizes broadband and computer equipment for  low income school districts. Changes could be coming to this program as well. The commission has not commented on future plans to revisit the Lifeline and E-rate proceedings.

But the question remains whether Pai’s changes will legitimately fight abuse or will the FCC make it harder for legitimate low-income households and school districts to participate.

One of the major problems of the digital age is what has become known as the digital divide. This is the gap between those that can afford high speed acess to the Internet for things like education and those who cannot. This socio-economic group, made up of mostly minority households, maybe left behind in the age of information. Being left out out of the Internet revolution has some serious consequences. 

Schools and education suffer because of lack of high speed Internet access. According to a Pew Foundation study 56 percent of teachers in low income schools say that their student’s inadequate access to technology is a ‘major challenge’ for using technology as a teaching aid.  Only 18 percent said their students had adequate access at home. Urban teachers are more likely to say students have poor access to Internet at school, while rural teachers are more likely to report that students have poor access at home. This issue creates a class of students who are unabe to fully particiate in a technology based economy. 

Today’s workforce requires technology skills but the lack of these skills, practiced at school and home, creates a disadvantage in the search for jobs. The digital divide increases the difficulty of finding a job. This means it lowers not only the chance of finding a suitable job but also the ability to secure a decent income.

Most employers recieve job applications online. But this method creates inequality among job seekers by dividing them into two classes, those who are computer literate, and those who are not. These workers lack knowledge of Internet based information and communication tools. People caught on the wrong side of the digital divide with no access to the Internet lack the technology and digital skills that the modern workplace requires. All these factors create a class of people who are locked in poverty caused by low wages and inadequate education.

A good example is the city of Detroit, MI. This city is stricken by poverty among urban blacks who simply cannot afford computers and Internet access. According to the FCC Detroit has the worst rate of Internet access of any major American city. Four in 10 of its 689,000 residents lack broadband Internet access.

Detroit is not alone. Among the worst cities for Internet connectivity are Cleveand, OH, Memphis, TN, Birmingham, AL and Miami FL. These are the people that federal programs like E-rate and Lifeline is intended to help.

Now you know

 

T-Mobile to Pay for Misleading Customers

t-mobile-logoThe FCC has dropped the hammer on cell provider T-Mobile. T-Mobile USA Inc. agreed to cough up at least $48 million for making customers believe it offered a truly unlimited data plan. It was never true.

An FCC investigation that began last year  looked into whether the company properly disclosed that it was slowing down data speeds for heavy users. In the cell phone industry this is a common practice known as throttling.

As part of the agreement T-Mobile will pay a $7.5 million fine and offer $35.5 million in customer benefits that includes data upgrades and discounts on accessories. The giant cell provider will also spend another $5 million to improve mobile high-speed Internet access for as many as 80,000 low-income public school students.

Travis LeBlanc, head of the FCC Enforcement Bureau said, “Consumers should not have to guess whether so-called unlimited data plans contain key restrictions, like speed constraints, data caps and other material limitations.When broadband providers are accurate, honest and upfront in their ads and disclosures, consumers aren’t surprised and they get what they’ve paid for.”

The FCC enforced settlement applies to T-Mobile’s unlimited data plans but not its Binge On service.

According to the FCC it began investigating in March 2015 after T-Mobile and pre-paid service provider MetroPCS customers complained. T-mobile customers complained about being mislead by the so-called unlimited data plan. According to the FCC the plan throttled customer data speeds after a certain data threshold is used each month.

T-Mobile “de-prioritized” heavy users data speeds during times of network congestion. Unlimited plan subscribers who consumed more than 17 gigabytes of data in a given month, typically about  3% of its users, were subject to slower speeds than advertised.

The FCC found that T-Mobile failed to properly notify its customers of the restriction from August 2014 to June 12, 2015.  T-mobile has agreed to better inform its customers of the restrictions and notify customers when their data usage approaches the monthly limit at which it could be slowed.

For T-Mobile  customers they could get 20% off the regular price for any accessories up to $20 and an automatic upgrade of 4 gigabytes of data for one month, valued at $15 that can be used over the course of a year under its “data stash” program. MetroPCS customers automatically get the 4GB of data to use over two months. The company must also notify eligible customers of the benefits by Dec. 15.

In an effort to help bridge the digital divide T-Mobile has also agreed to spend an additional $5 million providing free tablets and other mobile devices to low-income public school districts. Beginning in October 2017 eligible schools will receive reduced-cost mobile broadband services for the devices. Students and their families will get the service at no cost. The program will enroll 20,000 students annually over four years.

Low Income Families To Receive Broadband Subsidy

fcc-seal_rgb_emboss-largeThe Federal Communications Commission has voted to provide subsidies to low income families for broadband Internet service. 

The decision expands on the 1980’s era Lifeline program that provided a monthly subsidy of $9.25 for voice-only phone service. The FCC plan costs $2.25 billion with a clause attached that states that if the Lifeline program came close to that amount the commission would have to choose whether to increase the funding. Republican members of the commission voted against the expansion believing that limit could easily be exceeded if the FCC either votes to increase it or does nothing. The FCC expects that figure to increase as people take advantage of the new broadband subsidy offer. Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are considering a bill to put a cap on the program’s spending. 

Internet and broadband access has become a human right issue. The Human Rights Council of the United Nations General Assembly declared access to the Internet a basic human right which enables individuals to “exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression.”

In the United States there is a significant digital divide between the rich and the poor as well as racial groups.  A 2012 Pew Report “Digital Differences,” revealed that only 62 percent of people in households making less than $30,000 a year used the Internet. In contrast households with income of $50,000-74,999 was at 90 percent.

Looking at the issue from a racial perspective showed only 49 percent of African-Americans and 51 percent of Hispanics have high-speed internet at home. Compare this to  66 percent of Whites.

The digital divide has a definite impact on a family’s economic well being as well as a child’s educational development. A Pew survey of teachers of low income students tended to be less able to use educational technology effectively than their peers in more affluent schools. Of teachers in the highest income areas 70 percent said their schools provided support for incorporating technology into their teaching. Only 50 percent of teachers in low income schools said the same. Teachers in low income schools said that inadequate access to technology is a “major challenge” for using technology as a teaching aid.

Major corporations are also stepping to help bridge the digital divide. Comcast recently announced a pilot program that will bring low-cost Internet service to public housing residents in Miami-Dade County, Nashville, Philadelphia and Seattle. Comcast, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s ConnectHome initiative set up the program to fight the digital divide. As many as 40,000 public housing residents will benefit from the program.

Normally, Comcast’s Internet Essentials package costs $9.95 a month. The service comes with a free Wi-Fi router and families are also offered computers for less than $150. All public housing residents in the four pilot markets are eligible to apply for the service online or by calling 1-855-847-3356.

Comcast reported that since 2011 it had invested $280 million to help fund digital literacy training initiatives and has distributed more than 47,000 subsidized computers at less than $150 each.

Another major technology company, Google, says it’s going to give away its high speed Internet service through Google Fiber to thousands of low-income Americans across the country. The program kicks off in its Kansas City market at theWest Bluff Townhomes community in Kansas City, Mo. Ultimately, as many as 1,300 households in Kansas City, Mo. and Kansas City, Kan.

Google Fiber eventually plans to wire “select” public housing buildings in all of the cities where it operates, the company said.

President Obama, the nation’s first cyber president, is also backing a plan to provide as many as 20 million more low-income families to affordable broadband services by 2020. 

Breaking It Down

Ignorance equals poverty. The two intercourse and breed. And that is where a lot of our problems begin. Access to the Internet is a human right because we cannot allow a restriction on information and education to create a bed for poverty and ignorance to lay. We need to accept that all children have a right to rise up from poverty. The FCC is making it clear that we need to help these families and in the long run help ourselves.  This nation and indeed the world came to the conclusion that telephone was a vital instrument. Now we face the same reality with the Internet.

 

 

 

Study: Internet-based Job Hunting Effective for African-Americans

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Originally published November 7, 2013 at DiverseEducation.com

A new study has found that, with the Internet emerging as a credible resource for searching and applying for jobs, African-Americans have come to rely on online job search information sources more than any U.S. racial or ethnic group. In addition, African-Americans are more likely than average “to say the Internet was very important to landing a job,” even while their measures of digital skills and literacy are reported to be “modestly lower than the average.”

In the study, “Broadband and Jobs: African-Americans Rely Heavily on Mobile Access and Social Networking in Job Search,” these results and others lead the study’s publisher, the Washington-based Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies think tank, to conclude that “efforts to improve people’s digital literacy and skills are likely to improve their capacity to use the Internet effectively for job search.”

The study goes on to say that improving digital literacy and skills would generally benefit low-income individuals, those with lower levels of educational attainment, and those in social groups that have significantly lower than average digital skills and literacy scores.

“Broadband and Jobs” contends that, if policymakers and other stakeholders “do in fact help people increase their level of digital skills, [Americans] are going to get payoffs in terms of people’s engagement with those tools to solve important problems whether it’s job search, education, or health care,” said Dr. John Horrigan, the study author and senior research fellow at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

“We’re looking at how people, who do have an urgent need or an urgent problem to solve in their lives, go about solving it,” continued Horrigan. “In this case, it’s looking for work. And we find that people generally use the Internet and think it’s an important pathway to finding a job.”

The study reports that 50 percent of African-Americans said the Internet was very important to them in finding a job, a figure that significantly outpaces the 36 percent average for the entire sample. Smartphones proved an important part of the job search process for minorities with 47 percent of African-Americans and 36 percent of Latinos reporting that they had used their devices for job searches. Twenty-four percent of Whites indicated that they had used their smartphones for job searches.

“Broadband and Jobs” also notes that libraries have an important “role to play in providing access points for the Internet as well as digital skills and literacy training.”

The study found that, while 15 percent of all American adults had used the Internet at a public library within the previous year, 21 percent of African-Americans and 23 percent of Latinos had done so. Among poor Americans, or those with annual household income less than $15,000, 24 percent had used the Internet at a public library in the previous year.

“We found in the report that African-Americans and Latinos, especially African-Americans, over index on the activities we asked about when it comes to looking for a job using the Internet,” Horrigan explained, “which is to say they did those job search activities more often than other segments of the population.”

The study is based on an extensive survey of 1,600 Americans, including an oversample of African-Americans, conducted last May by the Joint Center Media and Technology Institute. The survey indicates that, although personal contacts remain the most important job search factor for Americans, nearly one-third of those who had recently been without work cited the Internet as the most important component in a fruitful job search.

“Digital literacy is the key issue to achieving equity in the future of the digital economy,” said Jason Llorenz, the director of innovation policy for the Latino Information Network at Rutgers University.

Along with Horrigan and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn of the Federal Communications Commission, Llorenz participated Wednesday in a Joint Center public forum that examined the “Broadband and Jobs” study. Llorenz told Diverse that the “Broadband and Jobs” study represents a critical inquiry into why digital literacy matters as a priority for participating in the nation’s evolving economy.

“The Internet really provides an opportunity to level the [economic] playing field,” he said.

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Written By Ronald Roach

Senior Contributing Editor at Diverse Issues in Higher Education

@RonaldRoach