Author Archives: Jon Brodkin

Verizon cuts 10,000 jobs and admits its Yahoo/AOL division is a failure

By | December 13, 2018
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Verizon is parting ways with 10,400 employees in “a voluntary separation program,” despite the Trump administration providing a tax cut and various deregulatory changes that were supposed to increase investment in jobs and broadband networks. The cuts represent nearly seven percent of Verizon’s workforce and were announced along with a $4.6 billion charge related to struggles in Verizon’s Yahoo/AOL business division.

Verizon described the voluntary buyouts as well as ongoing Yahoo/AOL failures in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing on Tuesday. The buyouts affect “US-based management employees” in multiple business segments, not just Yahoo and AOL.

Here’s what Verizon says about its Yahoo/AOL problem:

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T-Mobile lied to the FCC about its 4G coverage, small carriers say

By | December 13, 2018
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T-Mobile lied to the Federal Communications Commission about the extent of its 4G LTE coverage, according to a trade group that represents rural wireless providers.

T-Mobile claimed—under penalty of perjury—to have coverage in areas where it hadn’t yet installed 4G equipment, the Rural Wireless Association (RWA) said in an FCC filing Monday. The same group previously reported to the FCC that Verizon lied about its 4G coverage, leading to the FCC starting an investigation and announcing that at least one carrier exaggerated its 4G coverage.

Inaccurate coverage maps could make it difficult for rural carriers to get money from the Mobility Fund, a government fund intended to build networks in unserved areas. The FCC last year required Verizon and other carriers to file maps and data indicating their current 4G LTE coverage with speeds of at least 5Mbps. Carriers must provide “a certification, under penalty of perjury, by a qualified engineer that the propagation maps and model details reflect the filer’s coverage as of the generation date of the map in accordance with all other parameters,” the FCC order said.

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FCC panel wants to tax Internet-using businesses and give the money to ISPs

By | December 12, 2018
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A Federal Communications Commission advisory committee has proposed a new tax on Netflix, Google, Facebook, and many other businesses that require Internet access to operate.

If adopted by states, the recommended tax would apply to subscription-based retail services that require Internet access, such as Netflix, and to advertising-supported services that use the Internet, such as Google and Facebook. The tax would also apply to any small- or medium-sized business that charges subscription fees for online services or uses online advertising. The tax would also apply to any provider of broadband access, such as cable or wireless operators.

The collected money would go into state rural broadband deployment funds that would help bring faster Internet access to sparsely populated areas. Similar universal service fees are already assessed on landline phone service and mobile phone service nationwide. Those phone fees contribute to federal programs such as the FCC’s Connect America Fund, which pays AT&T and other carriers to deploy broadband in rural areas.

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Net neutrality bill gains votes in Congress—but not enough to reverse repeal

By | December 11, 2018
The dome of the United State Capitol Building against a deep blue sky in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / The dome of the United State Capitol Building in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty Images | Phil Roeder)

Legislation to restore net neutrality rules now has 180 supporters in the US House of Representatives, but that’s 38 votes short of the amount needed before the end of the month.

The Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution, already approved by the Senate, would reverse the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of net neutrality rules. But 218 signatures from US representatives (a majority) are needed to force a full vote in the House before Congress adjourns at the end of the year.

Net neutrality advocates previously said they needed 218 signatures by December 10 to force a vote. But an extension of Congress’s session provided a little more time.

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Comcast rejected by small town—residents vote for municipal fiber instead

By | December 11, 2018
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A small Massachusetts town has rejected an offer from Comcast and instead plans to build a municipal fiber broadband network.

Comcast offered to bring cable Internet to up to 96 percent of households in Charlemont in exchange for the town paying $462,123 plus interest toward infrastructure costs over 15 years. But Charlemont residents rejected the Comcast offer in a vote at a special town meeting Thursday.

“The Comcast proposal would have saved the town about $1 million, but it would not be a town-owned broadband network,” the Greenfield Recorder reported Friday. “The defeated measure means that Charlemont will likely go forward with a $1.4 million municipal town network, as was approved by annual town meeting voters in 2015.”

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Report: FBI opens criminal investigation into net neutrality comment fraud

By | December 10, 2018
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The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating the use of stolen identities in public comments on the government’s repeal of net neutrality rules, BuzzFeed News reported Saturday.

The investigation focuses on “whether crimes were committed when potentially millions of people’s identities were posted to the FCC’s website without their permission, falsely attributing to them opinions about net neutrality rules,” the report said.

“Two organizations told BuzzFeed News, each on condition that they not be named, that the FBI delivered subpoenas to them related to the comments,” BuzzFeed wrote.

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At least one major carrier lied about its 4G coverage, FCC review finds

By | December 10, 2018
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Four months after receiving a complaint claiming that Verizon “grossly overstated” its 4G LTE coverage in government filings, the Federal Communications Commission says that at least one carrier is apparently guilty of significant rules violations.

The FCC did not name any specific carrier in its announcement and did not respond to our question about whether Verizon is among the carriers being investigated. But the investigation was apparently triggered by a complaint about Verizon filed in August by the Rural Wireless Association (RWA).

The RWA, which represents rural carriers, made its case to the FCC by submitting speed test data. The speed tests showed the Verizon network wasn’t providing 4G LTE service in areas that Verizon claimed to cover, according to the RWA.

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Ajit Pai buries 2-year-old speed test data in appendix of 762-page report

By | December 5, 2018
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai holding a stack of papers while testifying in front of a Senate committee.

Enlarge / FCC Chairman Ajit Pai testifying at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on May 17, 2018 in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty Images | Win McNamee )

The Federal Communications Commission yesterday released broadband speed test data for the first time in two years, after ignoring months of inquiries about why the annual speed test reports hadn’t been released since Ajit Pai became chairman.

As we reported last month, the FCC’s Measuring Broadband Program hadn’t issued a new report since December 1, 2016.

Pai’s office ignored questions from Ars about the lack of new data, and his commission never provided documents in response to a public records request we made in August. But now, the FCC has released a draft of two Measuring Broadband America reports, one for 2017 and one for 2018.

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Verizon/AOL helped advertisers track kids online, must now pay $5M fine

By | December 4, 2018
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Verizon-owned AOL helped advertisers track children online in order to serve targeted ads, in violation of a federal children’s privacy law, and has agreed to pay a fine of $4.95 million, New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood announced today.

“The Attorney General’s Office found that AOL conducted billions of auctions for ad space on hundreds of websites the company knew were directed to children under the age of 13,” Underwood’s announcement said. “Through these auctions, AOL collected, used, and disclosed personal information from the websites’ users in violation of COPPA [Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act], enabling advertisers to track and serve targeted ads to young children.”

In addition to paying the largest-ever fine for violating COPPA, the Verizon-owned company “has agreed to adopt comprehensive reforms to protect children from improper tracking,” the announcement said.

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“What is the FCC hiding?” Pai still won’t release net neutrality server logs

By | December 3, 2018
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

Enlarge / FCC Chairman Ajit Pai speaking at a press conference on October 1, 2018, in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty Images | Mark Wilson )

The Federal Communications Commission has once again refused a New York Times request for records that the Times believes might shed light on Russian interference in the net neutrality repeal proceeding.

The Times made a Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) request in June 2017 for FCC server logs and sued the FCC in September of this year over the agency’s ongoing refusal to release the records. The court case is still pending, but the Times had also appealed directly to the FCC to reverse its FoIA decision. The FCC denied that appeal in a decision released today.

The Times’ FoIA request was for server logs related to the system for accepting public comments on FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s repeal of net neutrality rules. The Times sought the information in order to investigate Russian involvement in fraudulent public comments. A similar request was made by Buzzfeed News, and the FCC rejected the requests from both news organizations in its order today.

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Did Sprint throttle Skype? Researcher explains evidence behind allegation

By | November 29, 2018
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The US government killed off its net neutrality rules in June of this year, but that doesn’t mean no one is monitoring whether carriers are blocking or throttling online services.

Northeastern University researchers led by computer science professor David Choffnes recently determined that Sprint was throttling Skype. Their finding was based on an analysis of user-initiated tests conducted with Wehe, an app for Android and iPhone that the researchers developed to detect throttling. About one-third of the tests detected Sprint’s throttling of Skype, Choffnes said.

If the findings are correct, Sprint would be violating a Federal Communications Commission rule requiring Internet providers to disclose throttling. Even though the FCC no longer bans throttling itself, the agency requires ISPs to publicly disclose any blocking, throttling, or paid prioritization.

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Congress has refused to restore net neutrality as Dec. 10 deadline nears

By | November 28, 2018
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Enlarge / A protester holds a sign outside FCC headquarters on Dec. 14, 2017 before the vote to repeal net neutrality rules. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

Net neutrality advocates are preparing one more “Day of Action” before the expiration of a key deadline for restoring the repealed rules.

In May, the US Senate narrowly voted to reverse the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of net neutrality rules. But the measure still needs majority support from the House of Representatives by a deadline of December 10, net neutrality advocates say.

Advocacy groups Fight for the Future and Demand Progress organized a Day of Action for Thursday this week.

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Trump proposes state-run TV network to tell world how “GREAT” America is

By | November 27, 2018
President Donald Trump at a press conference, pointing his finger and talking to CNN journalist Jim Acosta.

Enlarge / President Donald Trump gets into an exchange with CNN reporter Jim Acosta during a news conference a day after the midterm elections on November 7, 2018. (credit: Getty Images News)

President Donald Trump yesterday proposed creating a government-run TV network that would broadcast globally to show the world how great America is.

Trump pitched the state-run network as an alternative to CNN. “Throughout the world, CNN has a powerful voice portraying the United States in an unfair and false way,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Something has to be done, including the possibility of the United States starting our own Worldwide Network to show the World the way we really are, GREAT!”

Law professor Richard Painter, who was the chief White House ethics counsel in the Bush administration from 2005 to 2007, tweeted that Trump’s proposed network sounds “Just like Pravda, the Reich Propaganda Ministry and other fine examples of state-run media.”

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Comcast raises cable TV bills again—even if you’re under contract

By | November 26, 2018
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Comcast is raising its controversial “Broadcast TV” and “Regional Sports Network” fees again on January 1, with the typical total price going from $14.50 to $18.25 a month.

The newly raised broadcast TV fee will be $10 a month, and the sports fee will be $8.25 a month, Cord Cutters News reported last week. The new fee sizes are confirmed in a Comcast price list for the Atlanta market.

About a year ago, Comcast raised the broadcast TV fee from $6.50 to $8 and the sports fee from $4.50 to $6.50.

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FCC’s robotext crackdown could block legal messages, critics say [Updated]

By | November 21, 2018
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Update on December 12: The FCC today approved the robotext proposal described in this article. Original story from November 21, 2018 is as follows:

The Federal Communications Commission says it is giving cellular carriers added authority to block text messages, saying the action is needed to protect consumers from spam or robotexts. But critics of the plan note that carriers are already allowed to block robotexts and worry that the change will make it easy for carriers to censor political texts or block certain kinds of messages in order to extract more revenue from senders.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s announcement acknowledges that carriers are already allowed to block illegal robotexts. Pai did not promise new consumer-friendly blocking services; instead, he said his plan “allow[s] carriers to continue using robotext-blocking and anti-spoofing measures to protect consumers from unwanted text messages” (emphasis ours).

Despite that, Pai is proposing to classify text messaging as an information service, rather than a telecommunications service. That’s the same legal classification that Pai gave to home and mobile broadband services as part of a December 2017 vote to deregulate the industry and eliminate net neutrality rules. The FCC has not previously ruled on whether text messaging is an information service or a telecommunications service.

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Ajit Pai wants to raise rural broadband speeds from 10Mbps to 25Mbps

By | November 20, 2018
Illustration of red, blue, yellow, and black lines on a grid, representing broadband speeds.

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The Federal Communications Commission is planning to raise the rural broadband standard from 10Mbps to 25Mbps in a move that would require faster Internet speeds in certain government-subsidized networks.

The FCC’s Connect America Fund (CAF) distributes more than $1.5 billion a year to AT&T, CenturyLink, and other carriers to bring broadband to sparsely populated areas. Carriers that use CAF money to build networks must provide speeds of at least 10Mbps for downloads and 1Mbps for uploads. The minimum speed requirement was last raised in December 2014.

Today, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he’s proposing raising that standard from 10Mbps/1Mbps to 25Mbps/3Mbps. “[W]’re recognizing that rural Americans need and deserve high-quality services by increasing the target speeds for subsidized deployments from 10/1 Mbps to 25/3 Mbps,” Pai wrote in a blog post that describes agenda items for the FCC’s December 12 meeting.

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Amazon trying to buy 22 cable TV sports channels, including Yankees network

By | November 20, 2018
TV cameramen and a YES network logo banner at Yankee Stadium.

Enlarge / A YES logo banner. (credit: Getty Images | Michael Heiman)

Amazon is trying to buy 22 regional sports TV networks (RSNs) from the Walt Disney Company, according to a CNBC report today.

In June, Disney received Department of Justice approval to buy 21st Century Fox properties on the condition that it divest Fox-owned regional sports networks (RSNs). Together, these networks have programming rights for 44 Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, and National Hockey League teams.

“In addition to Amazon, Apollo Global Management, KKR & Co, The Blackstone Group, Sinclair Broadcast Group and TEGNA also made first round bids for the full slate of networks,” CNBC wrote, citing anonymous sources.

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Charter cable doesn’t have 1st Amendment right to discriminate, court rules

By | November 19, 2018
Entertainment Studios Networks founder Byron Allen.

Enlarge / Entertainment Studios Networks founder Byron Allen at Universal Studios Hollywood on April 26, 2018, in Universal City, California. (credit: Getty Images | Noel Vasquez )

A US appeals court ruling today said that cable companies do not have a First Amendment right to discriminate against minority-run TV channels.

Charter, the second-largest US cable company after Comcast, was sued in January 2016 by Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios Networks (ESN), which alleged that Charter violated the Civil Rights Act of 1866 by refusing to carry TV channels run by the African-American-owned ESN. Allen, a comedian and producer, founded ESN in 1993 and is its CEO; the lawsuit seeks more than $10 billion in damages from Charter.

Charter argued that the case should be dismissed, claiming that the First Amendment bars such claims because cable companies are allowed “editorial discretion.” But Charter’s motion to dismiss the case was denied by the US District Court for the Central District of California, and the District Court’s denial was upheld unanimously today by a three-judge panel at the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

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Ajit Pai isn’t saying whether ISPs deliver the broadband speeds you pay for

By | November 19, 2018
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai drinking from a giant coffee mug in front of an FCC seal.

Enlarge / FCC Chairman Ajit Pai with his oversized coffee mug in November 2017. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

Nearly two years have passed since the Federal Communications Commission reported on whether broadband customers are getting the Internet speeds they pay for.

In 2011, the Obama-era FCC began measuring broadband speeds in nearly 7,000 consumer homes as part of the then-new Measuring Broadband America program. Each year from 2011 to 2016, the FCC released an annual report comparing the actual speeds customers received to the advertised speeds customers were promised by Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, AT&T, and other large ISPs.

But the FCC hasn’t released any new Measuring Broadband America reports since Republican Ajit Pai became the commission chairman in January 2017. Pai’s first year as chair was the first time the FCC failed to issue a new Measuring Broadband America report since the program started—though the FCC could release a new report before his second year as chair is complete.

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FCC tells SpaceX it can deploy up to 11,943 broadband satellites

By | November 15, 2018
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SpaceX today received US approval to deploy 7,518 broadband satellites, in addition to the 4,425 satellites that were approved eight months ago.

The Federal Communications Commission voted to let SpaceX launch 4,425 low-Earth orbit satellites in March of this year. SpaceX separately sought approval for 7,518 satellites operating even closer to the ground, saying that these will boost capacity and reduce latency in heavily populated areas. That amounts to 11,943 satellites in total for SpaceX’s Starlink broadband service.

SpaceX “proposes to add a very-low Earth orbit (VLEO) NGSO [non-geostationary satellite orbit] constellation, consisting of 7,518 satellites operating at altitudes from 335km to 346km,” the FCC said in the draft of the order that it approved unanimously today. The newly approved satellites would use frequencies between 37.5 and 42GHz for space-to-Earth transmissions and frequencies between 47.2 and 51.4GHz for Earth-to-space transmissions, the FCC said.

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