Tag Archives: internet service provider

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.

 

Buying vs. Leasing Technology Hardware

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Courtesy Dream Designs

Lease or buy technology hardware?  Black consumers need to ask themselves this question because, as I have said before, Black people don’t play when it comes to money. 

Consider your cellphone; cell phone carriers have long practiced the art of selling you a cellphone with their service without actually selling you a cell phone. You know the deal, sign a two year contract and get the cellphone for free or at a discount. Cellphones have never been cheap and the true price of the phones are buried in your wireless bill. Now cell carriers are dropping those two year contracts, slashing monthly fees and creating new programs for the actual cost of the phone.  The option of buying or leasing a phone has become serious money choice.

Consider this, cheaper phones means a cheaper bill every month. If you are sensitive to the steep price of some of the more advanced phones you can drop your monthly bill by selecting a cheaper phone. 

But lets face it; the best way to save big money is to keep your old phone. Think about it, do your really need the latest smartphone just because it’s the newest thing on the market? That is what the cellphone makers want you to think!

Once your current phone is paid for that cost comes off your bill putting $20-30 a month back in your pocket.  Before the death of two year contracts service providers didn’t lower your bill even if you didn’t upgrade to a newer device.

If you must have a new phone for whatever reason you can always buy a nice refurbished smartphone. They are often just a year or two old and much cheaper than brand new phones. Many of these phones are refurbished by the manufacturer and are hard to tell from new. Finding these phones is simple just search online.

You have to do the math and see where your best deal is. Sprint and other carriers are offering some interesting deals where you get to upgrade the phone every two years without actually buying it. Sprint comes right out and says you are leasing it.

At the end of the lease you have the option of turning in the old phone (just two years) and getting an upgrade and keep paying. Or you can pay off the balance on the phone and just pay for the monthly service. 

AT&T recently has changed its phone plans making it tough to own a phone. Where it once offered three plans AT&T now offers only two. The new plan, titled AT&T Next Every Year, offers an annual upgrade and lets you trade-in your current phone as long as you’ve paid 50 percent of its retail value. The other option, AT&T’s Next plan, offers a 30-month financing plan. With AT&T Next you trade-in your phone after two years as long as you’ve paid 80 percent of its value. You also have the option of 24, 18 or 12 month lease plans. But you need to check the fine print on these plans. Both plans require you to trade-in the financed device meaning there’s no option to simply pay one off and start fresh with a new device or just buying a service plan. You just keep paying. The cellphone industry is getting tricky so you need to seriously consider buying versus leasing your next phone.

Another area to consider lease versus buy is your home Internet connectivity. Ask yourself this question; how long have you been leasing you Internet router and cable modem? Probably years. Now do the math. How much would a new router and modem cost you that you own free and clear? As little as $99 each. The average person can save as much as $250 dollars a year depending on the combination of router and service you currently pay for.  Starting to get the picture?

Here are a few things to think about when considering leasing versus buying a router and modem. To start make sure the equipment you buy is compatible with your Internet providers networks. You can usually find that information on their website or give them a call. Also consider technical things like learning how to configure it for maximum performance and security. If you have multiple wireless devices in your home you must consider how your router will perform and that includes television and telephone service. Some routers have a limited number of devices it can service effectively. Finally, if you have trouble or a breakdown of equipment you are responsible for repair or replacement of the equipment. 

With a lease you won’t have these worries. You just call your provider and problem solved.

Now you know.

 

 

African-Americans and Net Neutrality

fcc-seal_rgb_emboss-largeIn a close three to two vote along party lines, the FCC announced new rules on Internet governance to support net neutrality and the open Internet, protecting freedom of innovation and access to web content.

The new rules from the FCC, changed the way ISPs operate. The Internet has been re-classified as a utility. This means that all people have a right to the Internet. The new rules reflect the FCC’s re-classification of broadband as a Title II telecommunications service under the 1934 Communications Act. 

ISPs are now subject to the privacy provisions of the Communications Act of 1934. This new rule requires your ISP to provide you with any information they collect and maintain on you, the customer, upon written request.

Net neutrality has also been extended to wireless devices such as smartphones. The decision prevents cell providers from throttling, or slowing down, the data stream to your mobile device. A common practice of many carriers when they believe you consume too much data.

The three key provisions of the Open Internet Order covers both fixed and mobile internet access;

  • No blocking. ISPs cannot block access to legal content, apps, services or non-harmful devices;
  • No throttling. ISPs are forbidden from impairing or otherwise degrading legal Internet traffic on the basis of such criteria as content, apps, services or non-harmful devices.
  • No paid priority. ISPs are not allowed to charge for favored access of legal Internet traffic over other kinds in exchange for money. They are banned from giving their own content and services, and that of their affiliates, priority.

Internet service providers (ISPs), the companies that own the wires and antennas that transmit data, were seeking the right to charge Internet websites, content providers, and users based on how much data they put out or consume through those wires and antennas.

Advocates of net neutrality feared the creation of a two-tier internet where data flows are controlled and regulated based on one’s ability to pay.

Jessica Rosenworcel

Jessica Rosenworcel

Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic member of the commission said, “We cannot have a two-tiered Internet with fast lanes that speed the traffic of the privileged and leave the rest of us lagging behind. We cannot have gatekeepers who tell us what we can and cannot do and where we can and cannot go online. And we do not need blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization schemes that undermine the Internet as we know it.”

ISPs have a different view of the situation and the decision. These companies feel they have the right to profit from their investment they made in expanding the network and improving the speed of data transmission. They believe it is unfair for companies like Netflix, that consume huge amounts of network capacity, to use that capacity without paying more for it. They have a point. They also believe that the rules of the 1934 Communications Act are outdated and should not, and cannot, apply to today’s technology. These regulations, they believe, could cripple innovation by discouraging investment in networks. Some believe the rules could permit the government to impose new Internet taxes and tariffs increasing consumer bills and even give the government the power to force ISPs to share their networks with competitors. Sen. Ted Cruz has gone so far as to say the new rules are “Obamacare for the Internet.”

Republicans have accused the White House of skewing the independence of the FCC and called for an investigation into Obama’s role in shaping the rules. They conceded however they could not pass a veto proof net neutrality bill without support from Democrats. Major ISPs, cable and telecom companies have promised a court battle to reverse the ruling.

The FCC also voted to preempt state laws that prevented at least two cities from expanding their city owned broadband networks to neighboring communities especially rural areas.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

These communities have sought to over turn restrictive state laws prohibiting them from delivering high speed connectivity to rural neighbors. “There are a few irrefutable truths about broadband,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler ahead of the vote. “One is you can’t say you’re for broadband, and then turn around and endorse limits.”

Breaking It Down.

Many African-Americans may ask what is net neutrality and what does it mean to me? It means that black people will not be caught on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Black people and the economically disadvantage should not be left behind in the age of information. The ability to access knowledge, much like the public library, must be equal for all people.

In order for our schools to provide a quality education we need to have high speed Internet access. We cannot have politicians telling us they don’t have the money in the budget to pay for the needed connectivity.  The same way they tell us there is no money for music, athletics and other vitals of a good education. Connected schools for the rich alone? Don’t let that happen.

This decision is all about the digital divide. The gap between the have and the have nots. If we, as a nation, condone the restriction of access to the Internet based on who can pay then we take an terrifying step toward a dystopian society where education is for the rich alone. Don’t let that happen.

We have to realize that education is changing. Right now we are taking classes online and getting degrees. But soon the text book will be obsolete. It takes too much time and too many resources to update paper books. Books will be delivered over the Internet to a reader or tablet. Up to date and relevant content for the rich alone? Don’t let that happen.

We will have a society where education moves to the electronic classroom from pre-school to college and beyond. Classes tailored to the need and desires of the student. Lessons will be interactive and learning will be self-paced. Vastly improved quality of education for the rich alone? Don’t let that happen.

ISPs, in an effort to drive up profit margins, will eventually decide to categorize and price Internet access. That is the cablelization effect. We should not be forced to pick and choose what websites and services we can afford. Don’t let that happen.

Without net neutrality many people would find themselves limited to packages of Internet websites they can visit a month. Poor people will have to choose between researching information about their health or information about their government. They can’t afford both. Don’t let that happen.

This scenario will create an underclass of people who see the Internet and information as a luxury. As black people we understand very well how the denial of knowledge can impact people and equality. Denial of knowledge has been used throughout history to deny people equal rights.  Don’t let that happen.

The Internet must be considered a utility. Similar to essentials like water, electricity and the telephone, it is a matter of fairness and human dignity.

I understand perfectly what the ISPs are saying when it comes to their investment in the networks. But like the telephone companies learned long ago, once you become essential to the human condition you lose the right to decide who you can do business with and how much you can charge. Consider it an honor.

But restricting access to knowledge and information is the equivalent of charging admission to the public library. We can’t let that happen.

Why the Net Neutrality Ruling Will Affect African Americans

Image courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

There are a lot of African Americans who haven’t heard of the net neutrality ruling or heard about it and don’t believe it will affect them. The ruling is about money and how much you pay for your Internet service. That affects everybody.

The term Net Neutrality simply means that all data traveling over the Internet is the same and is treated the same. Data travels over the Internet in what are called packets. According to net neutrality all packets are the same. So, all data is the same regardless of the sender, recipient, content, platform, application, equipment, and modes of communication. Now you know what net neutrality is.

African-Americans, like most Americans, get our Internet service from our cable or phone company. Many people pay for the famous bundle. This service allows you to get the big three, cable, Internet and phone for one price. Now that net neutrality is changing so will your bill for that bundle

The FCC was sued in federal court by Internet service provider Verizon. Verizon argued that the FCC regulations preventing the company from charging different prices for different services are invalid. The court agreed. Now you know what happened.

The result was the rule preventing broadband providers from slowing down or blocking certain traffic was invalid. This means companies like Verizon, Comcast and others could block certain traffic if they wish and charge for higher speed services. The rule also required that companies using fiber optic or other cable treat all traffic the same and reveal their network practices. All these rules were thrown out by the court.

The impact on black people is easy to understand. The era of an open and free Internet may have come to an end. The result may be that the commoditizing of entertainment and information that was at one time free or cheap.  Companies such as Netflix and Hulu may raise their prices because the Internet Service provider (Comcast, Verizon et al.) are going to charge them more. This may also include online gaming, and targeted websites such as those for the Black and Latin American community.

But the FCC has not thrown in the towel. According to the Washington Post the FCC is re-writing the rules that will prohibit cable providers from blocking or slowing down Internet traffic or charging higher prices for high speed content.

Chairman of the FCC, Tony Wheeler, has stated he will not appeal the courts’ ruling but instead sees the ruling as an invitation to re-write the rules so they conform to communications laws.

In a statement Wheeler said; “I intend to accept that invitation by proposing rules that will meet the court’s test for preventing improper blocking of and discrimination among Internet traffic, ensuring genuine transparency in how Internet Service Providers manage traffic, and enhancing competition.

Breaking It Down

 In my opinion this was a set up from the beginning. How does this happen that the FCC loses a ruling that allows it to control how Internet traffic is regulated? Well first of all the head of the FCC used to work for the same companies that won the ruling.  Tony Wheeler is a former lobbyist for the cable and wireless companies (Comcast, Verizon, et al). So is it a surprise that he’s not going to appeal?

Yes, he is going to re-write the rules but you can forget the old Internet. This guy is no friend of free and open Internet. I’m betting the new rules will allow the cable companies and Internet Service Providers to charge what they want for Internet service, watch and see.

Soon you will be seeing what is being called the “cablelization’ of the Internet. This is Internet service where certain traffic is blocked or slowed because the website won’t pay for the faster service or to be preventing from crossing the last mile to your home. The last mile is a term used to describe the final stretch of wire that brings Internet service into your home.

I see a day where certain websites are charged because they do not have the minimum traffic that makes it profitable for the ISP to carry them. That means some minority focused websites may be dropped. Think African-American or Latin news sites. I know this sounds blatantly racist but these companies are not looking at race as a basis for what they charge. They are looking at hard numbers. If they can carry only web services and websites that are paying or main stream sources of information then it’s all about profit. The rest be damned! Maybe the consumer will be put in a position where you can choose Google or Yahoo services or both for a higher price. It’s called tiered pricing and you’ve seen it already with your cable television bill.

Basically the Internet service provider will give better service to those web services that pay for it and leave consumers in the lurch for their desired content. I fear that is what is going to happen and a lot of consumer groups agree with me…or I with them.