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Time Warner Cable Boosts Speeds in Portions of NYC, LA -

Thu, 24 Apr 2014 10:01:39 EDT

Last November we noted that Time Warner Cable, historically a bit sluggish when it comes to next-gen broadband upgrades, was considering a brand refresh named "Maxx" that would include significant speed and TV improvements. A blog post and press release by the company last January shed a little more details on these improvements, which the company say will first be coming to the New York City and Los Angeles markets -- "transforming their service as they know it."

This week the company announced that those upgrades are now underway for LA and NYC customers. According to a press release, the company is now offering 300 Mbps in "several" communities in both cities, including Costa Mesa and West Hollywood in California and portions of Woodside, Queens and Staten Island in New York City.

Users in those communities will see the company's Standard Internet plan bumped from 15 Mbps to 50 Mbps, and the company's Ultimate plan bumped from 100 Mbps to 300 Mbps -- for the same current pricing.

According to Time Warner Cable, the speed bumps arrive "on the heels of a top-to-bottom network evaluation and upgrade in these areas to ensure optimum performance and rock-solid network reliability." They also arrive as Comcast attempts to get regulatory approval for acquiring Time Warner Cable, meaning it's unclear just how many users will see these upgrades before an ownership switch.
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Shockingly, Nobody Uses Samsung's Annoying Smartphone Bloatware -

Thu, 24 Apr 2014 08:44:35 EDT

A new study by Strategy Analytics indicates that nobody uses the bevy of bloatware that companies like Samsung include on their handsets. While Samsung recently patted itself on the back for having 100 million users for ChatOn (Samsung's messaging app), Strategy Analytics notes that US users spent around six seconds on average in the app. The firm strongly suggests that those actually using Samsung applications may only be doing so by accident.

"Based on AppOptix March 2014 US panel data on 250-plus Galaxy S3 and S4 users , the total time spent across key Samsung Apps on its flagship devices - Galaxy S3 and S4 came just under 7 minutes," notes the company. The firm goes on to point out that the same Galaxy user spent 149 minutes using three Google applications.

Hopefully somebody can do a similar study on the assorted bloatware companies like Verizon insist on including on their devices. Verizon's entire assault on bootloaders is predominately focused on ensuring they can continue to load devices with their own applications and services; it would be curious to see just how beneficial these practices are for Verizon's bottom line.
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New Jersey Lets Verizon Off the Hook on Broadband Obligations -

Thu, 24 Apr 2014 08:28:20 EDT

As noted recently, some New Jersey locals have been annoyed that Verizon failed to adhere to a 1993 requirement that provided the company with subsidies and tax cuts in exchange for a promise to wire all of the state with 45 Mbps fixed-line broadband by 2010. Worse, Verizon was then caught sending bogus public support letters to the state Board of Public Utilities, supporting a provision that lets Verizon off the hook for the failed promise.

Surely Verizon was held accountable for taking taxpayer money, failing to follow through on documented promises, then essentially engaging in fraud to get itself off the hook, right?

Not so much.

According to the Bergen Record, state regulators have voted unanimously to approve a settlement with Verizon that lets Verizon proclaim that capped, expensive LTE service is "good enough," meaning New Jersey residents will never see the fixed-line broadband investment they paid for years ago:

Under the settlement, Verizon does not have to provide broadband to customers who already have such service from cable TV providers or who have access to 4G service. The settlement also sets up a process in which customers in census tracts with no broadband can request such service from Verizon, if there are 35 or more of them, and each signs a contract for at least one year of service with a $100 deposit.
Verizon did something similar in Pennsylvania, promising the state full 45 Mbps broadband coverage after taking billions in subsidies and tax cuts, then simply being pardoned when they failed to follow through. Again, this kind of cozy relationship between timid regulators and industry is precisely why the United States continues to be the poster child for mediocrity when it comes to most global broadband rankings.
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Wheeler Denies His Neutrality Rules Will Be The Flimsiest Yet -

Thu, 24 Apr 2014 08:16:37 EDT

Yesterday anonymous sources told several news outlets that the FCC was crafting new neutrality rules that would try to utilize at least some of the somewhat flimsy legal justifications that got the FCC in trouble with the courts to begin with. Worse perhaps, sources claim that at best the new rules are simply a rehash of the already flimsy rules the FCC already tried to pass (which were largely crafted by industry).

At worst, according to the Wall Street Journal, they'd allow some fairly broad new leeway for traffic discrimination. It's also pretty clear Wheeler doesn't intend to wade into the new growing interconnection tensions between content companies and large ISPs.

Apparently hoping to nip some of the hysteria in the bud and avoid another SOPA-esque Internet community response (it might be too late), FCC boss Tom Wheeler issued a statement to the media proclaiming there's absolutely nothing to worry about:

"There are reports that the FCC is gutting the Open Internet rule. They are flat out wrong. Tomorrow we will circulate to the Commission a new Open Internet proposal that will restore the concepts of net neutrality consistent with the court's ruling in January. There is no 'turnaround in policy.' The same rules will apply to all Internet content. As with the original Open Internet rules, and consistent with the court's decision, behavior that harms consumers or competition will not be permitted."
Granted the FCC claimed the same thing about the original rules, which contained all manner of loopholes at the behest of major carriers, while omitting wireless services from meaningful protection almost entirely. The rules are to be circulated to other Commissioners today (with a conversation with media occurring this morning at 11 AM), but it's unclear how soon the public will be allowed a look.
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AT&T: 46% Sign up For 10 GB or Larger Data Buckets -

Wed, 23 Apr 2014 18:07:43 EDT

AT&T's first quarter 2014 earnings indicate that the telco giant posted a quarterly profit of $3.7 billion on revenues of $32.5 billion. That's obviously again thanks to wireless, with AT&T brushing off T-Mobile pesky "uncarrier" marketing push by adding 625,000 postpaid wireless subscribers -- many of which continue to be drawn by the better overall coverage of the larger two carriers. Wireless revenues jumped 7% over last year thanks largely to the company's shared data plans and their "Next" handset upgrade program. The company today stated that 46% of their wireless customers are now on plans of 10 GB or larger (whether they actually need those sized buckets isn't clear).
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FCC Circulates New Neutrality Rules: Will They Be Just as Wimpy? -

Wed, 23 Apr 2014 16:20:11 EDT

After Verizon managed to defeat the FCC's already fairly wimpy net neutrality rules in court earlier this year, the FCC stated they wouldn't try to reclassify ISPs under common carriers, but would try to craft new rules based on some of the same shaky legal footing that got them in trouble in the first place.

For months now FCC boss Tom Wheeler has been painfully ambiguous about precisely what these rules will include, though Wheeler this week stated the agency will consider the new draft neutrality rules at the FCC meeting on May 15:

As we reported in February, Wheeler will propose basically the same rules that the agency had tried before, but justify them under a different part of the law. Consumer groups have complained about that plan because they re worried that Wheeler s rules may not hold up in court either.
Where's the disconnect in Wheeler's thinking? While the court did strike down the rules in the FCC's battle against Verizon, the court also stated the FCC does have the authority to craft some rules under Section 706 of the Communications Act, which tasks the FCC with encouraging deployment of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans.

The devil will be in the details. The original rules, based largely on industry-crafted language, didn't cover wireless, and allowed effectively all manner of anti-competitive shenanigans and "creative" pricing ploys -- provided ISPs simply proclaimed it was for the health and security of the network. As such an ISP could get away with all manner of bad behavior provided they throw about some faux technical justifications with a straight face (something Verizon Wireless does nearly every day when they block a device or service that competes with their own offerings).

As such, Wheeler taking those same timid rules and re-justifying them using different legal language really doesn't mean much for consumers, especially if things like the new frontier of interconnection feuds are ignored. And there's every indication they will be. An anonymous source tells the Wall Street Journal that large ISPs won't be able to block websites outright (not like any of them would anyway since they'd take a PR beating) but will get plenty of leeway to explore troll tolls and other aggressive pricing possibilities:
The Federal Communications Commission plans to propose new open Internet rules on Thursday that would allow content companies to pay Internet service providers for special access to consumers, according to a person familiar with the proposal. The proposed rules would prevent the service providers from blocking or discriminating against specific websites, but would allow broadband providers to give some traffic preferential treatment, so long as such arrangements are available on "commercially reasonable" terms for all interested content companies.
With the rules again not doing very much (or even less), larger carriers likely won't offer up much resistance. Comcast will be happy to sign off to get their Time Warner Cable deal approved, and AT&T never opposed the rules in the first place (because again, they do little). AT&T's generally a good coal mine canary for how consumer friendly a regulatory policy is. If the rules actually did something meaningful, AT&T would be first in line protesting them.

Verizon, for their part, actually co-wrote a large chunk of the rules with Google. They only sued because they saw an opportunity to gut FCC authority moving forward. With the court acknowledging some FCC authority under 706, Verizon may not want to push their luck a second time. Especially if the new rules are just as toothless as the first attempt.

The problem here is that network neutrality as a term isn't even useful any longer, because what we're simply talking about is anti-competitive behavior. Whether it's the Netflix interconnection feud (letting your peering points saturate so content companies have to pay you an extra toll for "normal" service) or AT&T's sponsored data (using your gatekeeper authority to charge wealthier content companies a toll that gives them a leg up against smaller ones), we've entered a new age where anti-competitive behavior is far more subtle and clever.

Reconstituting rules that didn't help fix these problems before simply isn't going to cut it, especially if regulators keep falling asleep at the wheel -- or aren't even aware these situations are problems in the first place.
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Akamai: Average U.S. Broadband Speed Hits 10 Mbps -

Wed, 23 Apr 2014 14:35:20 EDT

Akamai's latest State of the Internet report notes that average United States Internet speeds have just bumped past the 10 Mbps mark -- largely due to faster DOCSIS 3.0 cable upgrades. While that's a 25% bump over last year, it's still only enough to put the United States in tenth place among all countries worldwide. If it makes you feel any better, most of those countries are much smaller, and the U.S. is second in terms of originating network attack traffic.

Virginia has the fastest average Internet speed among all states at 14.4 Mbps, while Delaware leads the country with the percentage of users operating at speeds faster than 4 Mbps (95%).

Despite Boston still being a hold out for Verizon FiOS, Massachussets ranks first in terms of the percentage of their citizens above 10 Mbps (57%).

According to Akamai, 34% of U.S. Internet users connected at speeds above 10 Mbps during fourth quarter, up 2.1% from last quarter and up 56% from the fourth quarter of 2012.

The full report is worth a read, and offers data on everything from attack traffic statistics to IPv6 adoption.
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Amazon Strikes Exclusive Deal to Stream HBO Content -

Wed, 23 Apr 2014 12:18:36 EDT

We've increasingly seen a fracturing of streaming video content as more and more companies strike exclusive deals for content, resulting in consumer confusion as to what content is available on what service. In a move that continues that trend yet expands HBO content availability at the same time, HBO has struck an exclusive deal to allow Amazon to offer older HBO series on the company's Prime streaming service.

While HBO's catalog of older shows like Deadwood (my personal favorite) will soon be available on Amazon, newer shows like Game of Thrones will only be made available three years after they air on HBO. While it's not the standalone streaming HBO service everyone wants but HBO refuses to deliver, it's at least a step in the right direction.

Correction: Some new programming will be included three years after air, though the deal apparently excludes ultra-popular and highly-pirated programs like Game of Thrones. It's also worth noting that Bernstein Research estimates this deal will cost Amazon somewhere between $200 and $400 million for the life of the arrangement.
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Users Complain AT&T 'GigaPower' is Nowhere Close to 1 Gbps -

Wed, 23 Apr 2014 10:32:04 EDT

AT&T's 1 Gbps "Gigapower" product is currently only available in a portion of one market: Austin, Texas. At the moment users pay $70 ($100 if you don't want AT&T monetizing your browsing habits) for 300 Mbps, though AT&T insists users will be able to get 1 Gbps service later this year. But some users in Austin say that Gigapower currently struggles to offer even 300 Mbps, much less the 1 Gbps AT&T is promising in a bevy of promotional material.

Austin resident Stacey Higginbotham over at GigaOM notes that some Gigapower customers say they're not even able to get 100 Mbps:

Yesterday I was at my brother in-law s house where he is a GigaPower subscriber, his computer was registering speeds of 70 Mbps down and 50 Mbps up using Ookla on a wired connection. That s fast, but not 300 Mbps fast and certainly not a gig. My brother and sister-in-law are not speed freaks like myself, but they were disappointed with the GigaPower product.
Some people at the official AT&T forums say they're getting 300 Mbps, while others don't. Interestingly there's also some chatter in our forums from users who complain that AT&T is throttling UseNet on these 1 Gbps 70 Mbps connections, resulting in them actually returning to local cable incumbent Time Warner Cable. If you're one of the few users able to get Gigapower, we'd love to see some speed tests from you in the comment section below.
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Sprint to Make All Devices Launched After 2/11/15 Unlockable -

Wed, 23 Apr 2014 09:14:43 EDT

In January of last year, unlocking your cellphone technically became illegal after the Librarian of Congress removed it from the DMCA exception list. It technically remains legal for you to jailbreak your phone, but you can't unlock it without carrier permission. The absurdity of that concept resulted in a White House website petition, in turn resulting in the White House (via the NTIA) nudging the FCC to create new Part 20 rules making unlocking legal once again.

Instead of new tough rules, FCC boss Tom Wheeler got the carriers to sign off on voluntary unlocking guidelines (pdf) that don't force carriers to sell unlocked phones, but do require they're clear on any restrictions and process unlocking requests quickly where applicable (once a postpaid user's contract is up).

Sprint, one of the worst carriers when it comes to unlocked cell phones, has updated their unlocking FAQ this week to indicate they'll be making all devices "launched after February 11, 2015" unlockable for use on other networks. Have an older Sprint device? You're out of luck, according to their FAQ:

Specifically, devices manufactured with a SIM slot within the past three years (including, but not limited to, all Apple iPhone devices), cannot be unlocked to accept a different domestic carrier's SIM for use on another domestic carrier's network. Sprint has no technological process available to do this. In accordance with Sprint's voluntary commitment contained within CTIA's Consumer Code for Wireless Service ( Unlocking Commitment ), Sprint is working to ensure that all devices developed and launched on or after February 11, 2015 are capable of being unlocked domestically.
Again, while this all falls short of requiring carriers sell unlocked devices from the start, it's a long-overdue baby step in the right direction toward a more open wireless ecosystem.
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Dish May Unveil Internet TV Service This Summer -

Wed, 23 Apr 2014 08:29:49 EDT

Bloomberg quotes anonymous sources who claim that Dish Network will be unveiling a new Internet TV service sometime this summer. According to those sources, Dish aims to target the 18 to 34 year old demographic with a live TV channel package that will cost $20 to $30 per month. The biggest hurdle is the same one countless companies before Dish have faced: stubborn broadcasters.

The largest content providers have placed several conditions on Dish s service before they ll agree to deals, according to two people familiar with the matter. At least two of the four major broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC -- must be included in the service, and at least 10 of the highest-rated cable networks must also be part of the package. Through its agreement with Disney (DIS), Dish has already signed up ABC, as well as cable channels ESPN and Disney Channel.
Granted Dish got Disney/ABC on board because they were willing to make their "controversial" Hopper auto-ad-skipping DVR a little less useful for consumers. Companies like CBS have suggested they're going to want a significantly larger pound of flesh if they're to sign off on such an effort. As such, expect Bloomberg's source's claims of "summer" to actually mean 2015 -- or never.
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