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FCC Halts Investigation of Zero-Rating - Net Neutrality Gone

     
6:02 pm on Feb 4, 2017 (gmt 0)

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THE FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS Commission’s new chairman made what could be the least politically risky move of his entire tenure: He’s ending the agency’s investigations into companies for giving away free stuff. -- [wired.com...]


For example, you can stream all the Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora you want under certain T-Mobile programs without using any of your data. But in late 2015, the FCC sent four internet providers letters notifying them that the commission was looking into whether zero-rating violated its net neutrality rules. After all, favoring one network over another on your network sounds a lot like preferential treatment.

That investigation is now over, and zero-rating is here to stay.


The interesting thing to me here is that Google and Facebook and a couple of other big players are looking to put the telecoms out of the ISP business (with drones, balloons, low-orbit mini-satellites) and this will likely accelerate those efforts... then what happens?
1:52 am on Feb 5, 2017 (gmt 0)

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If Ajit Pai continues his hands-off approach expressed when he was an FCC commissioner, now that he's chairman he's likely to remove any regulation to keep net neutrality.

Indication has been made that since Pai previously worked as a lawyer for Verizon Communications, he may favor their push to implement pay tiers for data usage across their network. This could significantly impact what the end user pays for streaming movies & music.
9:57 pm on Feb 5, 2017 (gmt 0)

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What do you think of the idea that some big players (Google, Facebook, SpaceX, etc in various combinations and partnerships) are poised to break the telecoms hold on consumers?

At Pubcon, Scoble said that he believes that five years from now, people will be switching away from the telecoms toward alternatives. And then that raises the question of what happens when two big players (because there are about 4-5 contenders but analysts seem to think there's room in the market for two players at the end), own the distribution networks and those two players are Google and Facebook? I think that's a scarier world than the one in which AT&T and Verizon are the only players.
10:24 pm on Feb 5, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I have no idea what will happen. Theoretically, competition is a very good thing & the market will level itself as far as pricing - BUT - this is new territory.

So far, with so few telecom companies controlling the market, government regulation was the only thing keeping the net neutral; it was a necessary evil. But with more hats in the ring, not only should there be a huge increase of diverse content, there ultimately will be a completely different entertainment & news model.

If this happens the way it appears, things may get shaken up for a year or two. It's likely to be confusing to the end user.

My carrier Cox Cable (the 4th largest in the US) won't let go of it's cable box even though there was a gov't mandate to do so by 2020. All they really need is an app, but so many users do not have a WiFi TV yet. As long as that stays true, they still have a hold on those customers.

I think the BroadBand & Cable companies will try to hold control over their networks through pricing. This is where I see the problem if regulation is removed. As I said above, Verizon & ATT both want to charge different rates to streaming services, affecting the costs to watch movies & listen to music.
6:05 am on Feb 6, 2017 (gmt 0)

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As far as Google and Facebook taking over, I disagree; at least I don't see it happening as long as reception is reliant on fiber. Even WiFi uses fiber networks.

Whoever owns the roads controls the traffic... that's Verizon, Comcast & AT&T here in the US.
7:26 am on Feb 6, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I look at it as zero rating on mobile for some material means that mobile guys have that much more bandwidth to see the rest of the web during each monthly billing ... or, more opportunities for me to be visited. YMMV

What I don't want is Title II as that is a completely different kettle of fish!
1:27 pm on Feb 6, 2017 (gmt 0)

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If a wireless customer pays for a bundle of services that happens to include unlimited streaming - that streaming data is not free..
10:45 pm on Feb 6, 2017 (gmt 0)

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In most places there are only 1 or 2 choices. For me my only choice was AT&T. Whoever built my townhouse did not run the cable from the front yard to my house so AT&T was my only choice. Comcast would not even consider fixing it. I stream a lot and AT&T is not as fast as Comcast. I live 5 miles from Downtown Houston and my neighborhood was mostly built after 2004 my house was built in 2007.

I would love to get Internet faster than 18 Mbps and only pay $50 a month and not have my provider start cutting my bandwidth after a long day of Binge Netflix.
2:23 am on Feb 7, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Well, don't consider yourself too out of luck. If I could get 1.8Mbps for $50/month I'd be excited! But then I'm 38 miles from downtown Oakhurst, pop 12,000.
2:33 am on Feb 9, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I think the current threat to net neutrality is getting lost, to some extent, amidst the noise of threats to other liberties. Which sucks because if we were to lose it, the loss of innovation that went with it would impact the economy. Likely to a much greater degree than people outside of the digital tech can grasp without help from the media.

Regarding competition... I don't care where it comes from, we need it. We should be doing everything we can to maintain our leadership role in digital innovation. Our net infrastructure is badly outdated because there is very little motivation for ISPs to spend the money to improve it.

Remember when the big ISPs took billions in government subsidies to roll out fiber in the 90's and early 2000's and never actually did it? They didn't get punished for not doing it either. Their hold on Washington is impressive. Competition from companies big enough to afford the battle is the only thing likely to change that.

In the meantime we're paying more for less, in terms of internet connection speeds, than much of the rest of the world, while our ISPs operate at the sorts of profit margins that only virtual monopolies get to enjoy.

Why the U.S. Has Fallen Behind in Internet Speed and Affordability [nytimes.com]
(A couple years old, possibly things have changed to some degree since)
5:17 am on Feb 9, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Yes, depending on where you live, technology has changed quite a bit since that 2014 article was written. Not sure how accurate it was even then.

I pay relatively little for connectivity which is faster than any of my EU of British friends.

I do agree we all pay too much though. We pay for R&D of services and technologies we don't even use. That's built into the business model.
7:37 am on Feb 9, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Top 10 Average Internet Speeds Comparison - Q3 2016 [fastmetrics.com]
Superfast internet? South Korea wins, U.S. lags far behind [usatoday.com]

The birthplace of Google and Facebook still isn't in the top 10, decades into the digital revolution.

Here's hoping the corporate money that made it that way doesn't succeed in killing net neutrality.
8:56 am on Feb 9, 2017 (gmt 0)

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That Houston fellow (fellow Houstonian) call AT&T and get on them. I'm stuck at 12mbs because I'm in an apartment these days, but it's .... well, significantly less than what you've indicated. Work your deal!

Much has been made of "net neutrality" and a whole bunch of that was under the last USA administration. Personally, I think that crew got it wrong and had a different end agenda (Title II and what that means re: regulations) and the new bunch put the bang in the buck back on the table. Time will tell.
9:06 am on Feb 9, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Ian I can also find articles saying the US has the fastest speeds. Here's one attesting Minneapolis will soon have the fastest speeds in the world... Minneapolis! [minnesota.cbslocal.com...]

Can't really compare countries, nor even cities. It needs to be more specific: one connection to another.

I think we may be in for a big upset in the next couple years as the ISPs sort out what they can get away with. Doesn't seem to be much left to stop them now :(
5:25 pm on Feb 9, 2017 (gmt 0)

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>>Minneapolis will soon have

Enough said ;-)

Seriously, the actual issue is that the last mile problem is much bigger in the US. So if you look at averages on a national basis, the US is never going to compete. As I alluded to above, I pay $388.80/mo for 1.5Mbps because that is the only option other than slow satellite (my area isn't even covered by the newer fast satellite services) and my area isn't even *that* remote compared to a lot of the Western US. There's probably no neighborhood of 225 houses in the UK or SK that has such bad service.

>>Remember when the big ISPs took billions

Yes. They used it all to lobby and change the definition of "high-speed" so that low-speed satellite and ISDN lines would qualify. Though in my area, AT&T actually turned the Obama stimulus money down saying they had no intention of ever running high-speed lines to us and no amount of subsidy would change that.
9:39 pm on Feb 9, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I pay $388.80/mo for 1.5Mbps
The norm for home high speed cable in my area (big city, S. Cal) is about $55 monthly for 160Mbps. I have a business accout and pay a little more with speeds ranging from 300Mbps to 700Mbps.

I know people that get along without an accout of their own. There's so much WiFi everywhere. My building has free WiFi (but slower than mine.) All the resturaunts, coffee shops & bars offer it free and the shopping center down the street has it free.
6:38 pm on Feb 10, 2017 (gmt 0)

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>>norm for home high speed cable in my area

Yes, that's exactly my point about the problem with national numbers. We're probably only a couple hundred miles apart, but in terms of internet cost and speed, you're closer to Rio de Janeiro (100Mbps for $32/mo) than you are to me.

Also, the numbers can be expressed many ways
- average speed. So in this case, if you average us out, the average speed is 81Mbps which sounds good.
- % above a threshold, which is how most of these surveys are constructed. So again, using just you and me as a sample set, only 50% of the sample is faster than 2Mbps, which is atrocious.

Most people around me opt for cheaper satellite service. Guests from the city don't realize that a connected, but "idle," iPhone will commonly max out a satellite connection until the bandwidth is gone and the FAP kicks in just checking for updates and such or that 30 photos syncing to iCloud will use up all the available bandwidth for the entire day.

So that's why I say that the last mile problem is going to always make the US look atrocious compared to places like the France or Germany or South Korea unless there is a basic change in the infrastructure. We simply have a higher percentage of the population affected by the last mile problem.
9:32 pm on Feb 10, 2017 (gmt 0)

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RE: last mile problem

I've only heard that term associated with ADSL & Satellite, not with Cable.
11:37 pm on Feb 10, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I would say that it's actually a much bigger issue for cable - most of rural America is wired for phone service and if you're within a certain distance of the CO (10,000 feet or so?), you can get ADSL. Very little of rural America is wired for cable though, so for cable it's a "last 100 miles problem"

For satellite, there really isn't a last-mile problem unless you mean you hear of satellite mentioned as the only solution to the ADSL last-mile problem. In any case, you probably don't hear about as much with cable because cable coverage is so limited.

Go here
[broadbandmap.gov...]

And zoom in on Wyoming and Nebraska and look at the difference between DSL and Cable. Cable coverage in rural America is very limited.
11:48 pm on Feb 10, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I would say that it's actually a much bigger issue for cable
I'm certainly no expert but all indication is that distance from source is not much of an an issue with fiber optic cable (what I use.) In fact, they make it a selling point in their TV ads.

The older *digital* cable had a small amount of signal degradation, but way less than ADSL.
2:26 am on Feb 11, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Signal degradation and the "last-mile problem" are two different things. The former is technological and the latter is primarily economic and logistical. Generally speaking, the "last-mile problem" simply refers to the disproportionate cost associated with running lines to fewer and fewer consumers because of "tree topologies" in networks. As the branches get "thinner" the last-mile problem increases, and this is not specific to a given technology, but inherent in the nature of networks.

A phrase used in the telecommunications and technology industries to describe the technologies and processes used to connect the end customer to a communications network. The last mile is often stated in terms of the "last-mile problem", because the end link between consumers and connectivity has proved to be disproportionately expensive to solve. -- [investopedia.com...]


So signal degradation is what creates the last-mile problem on most DSL systems because, if not for that, distance to the CO wouldn't matter and since most homes have a copper pair already paid for long ago, then there wouldn't be a huge last-mile problem with DSL. But that's not always the limiting factor. In many rural communities, such as mine, the problem is the fact that we are serviced by an old pair-gain system that is incompatible with DSL, so we have an expensive last-mile problem with DSL because it would require changing out the entire phone switching system for our area to a DSLAM-compatible pair gain, but AT&T doesn't want to do that because of the low return on investment due to low population density.

In cable systems, though, the last-mile problem occurs simply because it has always been too expensive to run lines out to cable consumers and, with satellite TV available, incentives were low.

With satellite internet, the last-mile problem is mostly a latency issue and satellite capacity issue, so it's really metaphorical, since it's really the last 44,000 miles that matter in this case, but it's still considered a "last-mile problem," understood here as the link between the end user and the main network.

In theory, the technologies that Google, Facebook, et alia are working on are aimed at solving the last-mile problem by building a lot of capacity into a low-latency system that does not require running wires for the last mile.

If they are able to do so, they become a serious threat to the telecoms. If you look at the huge white areas on that map I linked to, there is not a lot of population out there, but the population that is out there would mostly gladly pay a premium for decent internet and the telecoms have no means of servicing those people at a reasonable price. With the proposed systems, though, it's the same price to service someone at a remote research station as someone in downtown.

Of course, we can expect Google and Facebook to also cut sweetheart deals if it's in their interest, but thus far they have tended to be more in favor of net neutrality in the US (though Facebook's efforts in India were extreme zero rating efforts and, if it pencils out for them in the US, I would expect the same here).
2:40 am on Feb 11, 2017 (gmt 0)

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PS - the last mile problem also exists in our electrical infrastructure - we have a lot more power outages than people in densely-populated urban areas because we have a lot of single-point failures that take out the system because it's expensive to build in redundancy as you get out to the thin branches of the tree.

Obviously, no solution there on the horizon, but the Google and Facebook plans have way less branching than the systems from the telecoms, so if they ever manage to succeed, it flattens the tree structure a lot, which means all of us out on the thin branches say "bye bye" to the telecoms at first chance.
10:58 am on Feb 11, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Signal degradation and the "last-mile problem" are two different things...
Thanks for explaning that ergophobe. I had assumed one was the resullt of the other. As the lines split over & over, the signal would become weaker, degraded.

Anyway, one of the perks of city living is great connectivity, if you can find parking to actually use it.
 

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