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US Internet Service In 2014: Net Neutrality Challenges and High-Speed Build-Outs 73

Ars Technica takes a look at two sides of the world of internet service, as it's available to customers in the U.S., and especially at changes that are in the works for the next year. Thanks to Google, AT&T and other providers (including municipal networks), the number of Americans with access to very high speed household connections is rising dramatically — good news, for those in range of fiber-to-the-home rollouts, and this means at least some pressure on competitors. But as Ars writer Jon Brodkin points out, there are also developments that may dismay many customers, specifically the possibility that the Federal Communication Commission's 2010 Open Internet Order ("a network neutrality law that forbids ISPs from blocking services or charging content providers for access to their networks") may be overturned or weakened. That could come about either through lawsuit (Verizon's suit is mentioned), or through a more market-oriented approach from the FCC. Writes Brodkin: "If the law were overturned, ISPs could more easily steer customers to their own services and away from those of their rivals. They could charge companies like Netflix for the right to have their videos prioritized over other types of Internet traffic, perhaps indirectly raising the price consumers pay for streaming video and making it more difficult for startups to compete against established players who can afford the 'Internet fast lane' fees."
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US Internet Service In 2014: Net Neutrality Challenges and High-Speed Build-Outs

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  • by MacDork ( 560499 ) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @11:32AM (#45787815) Journal
    If the FCC decides Net Neutrality is no good, I would suggest sites pass the new costs to end users.

    We've detected your ISP is Comcast. Due to fees Comcast charges YouTube to deliver content to you, YouTube is no longer free on Comcast. If you would like to continue using YouTube, you must change your ISP or pay YouTube $X/mo to offset this cost. We are sorry Comcast has decided to double charge you. Thank you for using YouTube

    • An idea which completely falls apart when you remember an overwhelming majority of people have only an abusive monopoly or duopoly at best.

      • They idea isn't to switch, but to put pressure on Comcast et al. Users unable to switch would complain. It's a start.
        • by Shadow of Eternity ( 795165 ) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @12:19PM (#45788061)

          You think people don't already complain about an ISP whose nickname is "Comcrap"?

        • by Megane ( 129182 )

          In other words, it's like when a cable company's contract with a local TV station is up. For three months you get end-of-the-world warnings about LOSING YOUR KZZZ TV CHANNEL!!!1!!11ONE~!!1 (as though it were not possible to watch it any other way but through the officially blessed One True Cable Box*), but at the last minute, a new contract is signed, just in time. (Or after maybe one token day of black-out just to remind the plebes that their fate is entirely at the mercy of CocksWeener CableCo.)

          *not tha

          • Interestingly, my GF and her daughter are both cutting the cable and buying HD antennas. They get more *useful* channels - especially local and regional news, better quality (mostly), real HD, and a price of $0 per month. They won't be getting various cable channels but they weren't really watching any of them but the Weather Channel.

      • by MacDork ( 560499 )

        For wired connections, that may be the case. But I have no contract unlimited data for $30/mo. [] That's less than half the price I pay for cable, and the 4G is as fast as cable. I'm teetering on cancelling cable already.

        • Now try actually using that as your primary internet connection and see how long it takes before you're cut off, sued, or throttled.

          • I am on Verizon Wireless, and used that as my internet connection for a couple of years, including my job as an IT person. I'm not a big movie watcher or anything, but it was fine for quite a while. I did finally sign up for cable internet (no TV, no phone) because I needed a fixed location for some web server testbed and document storage that required a fixed base. But I'm typing this on my laptop running through my phone in a friend's apartment in Miami. Verizon Wireless can get expensive as the data

    • That would be exactly the proper cure. The chances we see it are negligible.

      Remember when credit cards came out? Retailers marked their products with two prices - cash, and credit. Credit card companies went to state legislators and to court to have that practice curtailed. The end result was, we all pay more, so that credit card users can pay the same price as everyone else.

      • by MacDork ( 560499 )
        Funny you should mention credit card surcharges. [] Those are on the way after a long court battle, and a federal judge has already declared it unconstitutional [] for states to block it.
      • by SirGeek ( 120712 )

        Not "quite". Places are allowed to say "Price: X.XX, Cash Discount of $ Y.YY"

        I've seen a few gas stations saying this. And doing this (offering a cash discount) is perfectly legal.

        I would just like to see more places that do debit and credit (that don't charge more) asking people to use their debit cards (AS debit cards) whenever possible because it saves them CC Transaction fees - and thus saves THEM money because they don't need to raise their prices to pay for the fees).

        • Different jurisdictions have different laws, of course. You must have seen MacDork's post above. The state of New York seems to have passed a law the imposed criminal penalties on retailers who charged for credit card use. The courts have placed an injunction against imposing that law.

          When I was growing up, my home state did indeed make it illegal for merchants to add any credit card surcharge. In the decades since, I've seen those "cash discount" prices you mention. I would be hard pressed to remember

          • by TheCarp ( 96830 ) <[ten.tenaprac] [ta] [cjs]> on Thursday December 26, 2013 @01:35PM (#45788553) Homepage

            > It should be perfectly legal, and publicly known, that credit card transaction fees are charged
            > to the person making the purchase

            It should but its actually a complicated problem; mostly due to the way card processing works now.

            My knowledge of this comes directly from my Wife, who worked in the POS industry (that is sale and setup of cash registers and assorted paraphernalia) for several years.

            Basically, what you see, and I see them around too...mostly at gas stations, is the "two price" scenario, one for cash, one for credit. It may be described as a "cash discount", but I have never seen it called a "credit fee", and part of the problem is...the fees are NOT fixed, they vary from card to card.

            So, if Alice and Bob both walk into Carolmart on the same day, of the same year, at the same time and buy the same item, they will both pay the same price. However, if Alice uses her Capital One Card, and Bob uses his Discover.... Carolmart will, in fact, actually be charged two different fees!

            That is right, if you have a card with "Cash back" or some "rewards program" they actually charge the retailer who takes the card more to cover the rewards! So if they really were to implement such fees, the fee would depend on what card you use (as well as other factors like how much business the store does).

            There is some ability to deny specific cards: this is the very reason "American Express" is commonly not accepted because they have some of the higher fees (ditto for discover). However this breaks down a bit when you factor in how many different cards all work under the VISA or MASTERCARD brands.

            Not saying any of this isn't fixable, just that its grown up somewhat complicated and there is a lot of interest in not fixing it or making it more transparent.

            • Oh, it's definitely complicated. A lot of that nonsense is easily fixed though. You have kinda indicated as much. Each of the state legislatures can easily pass a law that forbids those cash-back refunds, and sets a limit to transaction fees. Or, if the CC companies want to take all those laws to court, then congress can address the issue with a similar law.

              Actually, I think I prefer a law passed by congress. Credit cards are pervasive in our society, and few of us live in insular communities today. J

              • by TheCarp ( 96830 )

                Well if the states start passing such laws, the credit card companies will push for congress to pass one themselves. That is how things seem to work across every industry. First they oppose any and all regulation federally or local. Then a few local areas pass it....and suddenly they are faced with compliance with different codes in different places....and a single federal law starts looking like their best option, so they push for that.

                I bet all you really need is 2-3 states to pass their own laws, prefera

    • by TheCarp ( 96830 )

      I often wonder what these so-called "costs" are.

      My problem with the whole concept is this idea that an ISP should be able to go to a content provider, who isn't their customer, and threaten to degrade their own customers service; which he paid for; if the content provider doesn't pay.

      The customer paid for internet access. If he requests content from google, he should get it and get it in a similar timely manner as any other site; and if he doesn't, it really shouldn't be the fault of the very people he is p

    • Why do you think Google has been laying dark fiber? So when Comcast starts that shit, they'll just look them in the eye and say "Do you really want another Austin or Kansas City?" Not that they want to light it up, but to use it as a threat.

      Of course, that only really helps Youtube and other Google projects

  • by Bill_the_Engineer ( 772575 ) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @11:59AM (#45787933)

    They finally flipped the switch and capped their "unlimited" internet to 300GB. They will automatically upgrade my service (with increased monthly fees) for every 50 GB over the original 300 GB. I can manually downgrade my service back to the original 300 GB whenever I feel 300 GB is enough. Xfinity video service doesn't count towards the cap but YouTube and Netflix does.

    Other shenanigans from Comcast includes: Charging extra ($35) for the battery inside the cable modem to keep the telephony working during blackouts and starting in January they will charge $2 each per month for the simple digital converters they gave for free more than 3 years ago when they eliminated their analog signal. Funny how it was free when converters were on sale everywhere. Now that the supply dried up, they'll start charging for what they gave away.

    Welcome to Comcast!

    • You do realize those converters were for OTA TV not cable? Comcast loves the converters as there is effectively nothing that is not encrypted anymore. This means they no long have to send trucks to the projects etc to turn off peoples cable.

      • There were cable compatible converters available alongside the OTA converters at the time. Comcast pretty much said why buy one when we can give you one for free?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      They finally flipped the switch and capped their "unlimited" internet to 300GB.

      Have they?

      Just checked my account, and they've dropped my cap from 300GB to 250GB, but they're still not enforcing said cap.

      The cable modem battery thing is hilarious, though.

      I really wish my only alternative wasn't AT&T. They make Comcast look like saints.

      • The cap is only in some markets. They are testing it. People need to express their dissatisfaction while the testing phase is still happening.

    • My phone is wireless, so it wont work in a power outage anyway. But I asked the comcast rep about the battery in the modem, and according to her, the phone would keep working even without power or the battery. I don't believe her.
    • Other shenanigans from Comcast includes: Charging extra ($35) for the battery inside the cable modem to keep the telephony working during blackouts

      Get OOMA, the get used to paying virtually nothing in the way of a bill . Get a UPS that kicks in when the elec goes out. It will run your router + OOMA for a *very* long time.


      • It's already on a UPS. The thing that irritated me the most was that while I was out of town they upgraded my cable modem with a self install kit. The person who did the install left the rechargeable battery in the old modem thinking that the new modem had a battery in it (they are both Arris brand). It wasn't until I returned later that week and noticed that the new modem was lighter than the old one, that I discovered that they no longer send a battery with the cable modem. When I called Comcast about it,

        • Try OOMA. If you can get it to work, it's great. You only have ot pay some small telephone regulatory fees each month if you don't upgrade to their 100 / year package.

  • by plopez ( 54068 ) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @11:59AM (#45787935) Journal

    "a more captured market-oriented approach from the FCC"

    There we go. Fixed it. Remember, no business droid in their right mind wants a level playing field. They want a playing field tilted in their favour.

  • Re: Let me summarize (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Like most US infrastructure, the United States internet build out has lost it's premiere status on the world stage. Overtaken by the higher per capita government investment from much smaller economies, or simply [i]smarter[/i] per capita investment in some cases: the US consumer has a depressing selection of options available to them. In many areas, higher download speeds are actually available through next generation wireless technologies such as 4G LTE than can be found from their local ISP. Some may cons

  • By all means get rid of net neutrality, with one caveat: The Verizon's, AT&T's, Comcast's et al of the world must not be allowed to sue either local municipalities or the federal government for creating their own competing delivery systems when it comes to high speed access. And as soon as said companies file a lawsuit the networks of named litigants are immediately open to other network and content providers (aka Optimum) to provide services for as long as the lawsuit is active.
    • Nice optimistic idea, but long term it won't work like you think. The entrenched powers are too powerful and the system is way too corrupt; including the incompetent citizenry.

      BTW, bogus meaningless lawsuits can shutdown small players and even if you can fight them without going broke, their law firms against your cheap lawyer can make you lose even the obvious cases. I've seen it happen in my area where "cable" in the contract agreement was defined as TV only because it was signed in the 80s so internet a

  • Given the return of the walled-garden versions of the Internet, we might as well call it that.

  • by WOOFYGOOFY ( 1334993 ) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @03:24PM (#45789455)

    Shoot anyone against it.

    Also. The FCC is filled to the gills with politically well connected, revolving door sycophants there to do industry's bidding before jumping back on the gravy train. It's the poster child for a watchdog agency overrun and infested with regulatory saboteurs and common's-hating overpavers. [] [] [] [] []

    • What we ought to do is just let Munis have community WIFI. They have actually been stopped by the courts by the telcos. Sorry, but that is just corruption. The idea that private corporations can stop the democratically elected local governments from enacting laws which are otherwise not unconsitutional is new to me and I wonder where the legal basis for such comes from.

      People need to wake up and educate themselves as to what's at stake here. Allowing auction style bidding wars for bandwidth to deci

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