Karl Bode's Techdirt Profile

Karl Bode

About Karl Bode Techdirt Insider

Posted on Techdirt - 6 January 2022 @ 01:57pm

The VPN Is On Everybody's Shitlist After Years Of Scammy Providers And Empty Promises

The high number of scammy providers and overall rise in encryption appears to have turned the public sentiment against virtual private network (VPN) VPNs, and whether most consumers actually even need one. As privacy scandals and hacks grew over the last decade, VPNs quickly emerged as a sort of mystical panacea, that could protect you from all harm on the internet. Of course, this resulted in a flood of VPN competitors who were outright scams, made misleading statements about what data is collected, or failed to protect consumer data.

The end result is a new trend in the press where about once a month we get a new story informing you that you probably don’t actually need a VPN. NBC News was the latest last week, pointing out that VPNs aren’t the panacea many people seem to assume:

“Most commercial VPNs are snake oil from a security standpoint,” said Nicholas Weaver, a cybersecurity lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley. “They don’t improve your security at all.”

Scammy VPN providers are a major reason for the shift. A Consumer Reports study last month took a look at 16 top VPN providers, and found that the majority of them misrepresented their products or their data retention practices, and many of the companies actually put consumer privacy at greater risk. Only a quarter of the VPNs looked at clearly indicated how long they retain user browsing and other data. The gold rush and regulatory apathy created an environment where the industry’s floorboards rotted out below it, creating products that actually put consumer privacy and security at greater risk.

Granted simple technical innovation is another reason why the VPN is no longer deemed essential. Most browsers implemented HTTPS, making the dreaded (and frankly often unlikely) scenario whereby a nearby coffee shop hacker hijacks the entirety of your finances no longer as much of a threat. There’s also (much to the chagrin of total surveillance fans in intelligence and law enforcement) greater encryption overall, and a parade of browser extensions and plugins that can help provide additional security. Now, you’re far more likely to be subject to a basic human engineering phishing attack, which a VPN won’t help with:

“Users now need to worry far less about being hacked by a fellow coffee shop patron than by a hacker simply sending an email from anywhere around the world to trick them into giving up their passwords and other sensitive information, she said.

Hackers “would likely do a phishing attack on you before they would walk into a cafe with free Wi-Fi,” Hancock said. “Sending people nefarious emails, it’s much easier to do that kind of campaign. Those have been tried and true, unfortunately,” she said.”

That’s not to say VPNs don’t still have their function. The technology is still an essential security layer for governments, corporations, or others dealing with extremely sensitive information. But for many ordinary consumers, they’re more trouble than they’re worth, in no small part thanks to an industry that completely lost its soul at the data collection and monetization trough.

Posted on Techdirt - 6 January 2022 @ 06:27am

Shitty U.S. Broadband Maps Are A Feature, Not A Bug

We’ve noted a few times now how the U.S. is preparing to spend $42 billion to shore up broadband access, despite not actually knowing where broadband is or isn’t available. It’s part of a multi-decade effort to fix mediocre broadband without using real world data to actually do it, and without acknowledging that the primary reason U.S. is mired in mediocrity is thanks to regional monopolization and the vast state and federal corruption that protects it.

While the press and punditry haven’t yet found the courage to directly acknowledge that latter point (you might upset a campaign contributor, story source, or advertiser), the infrastructure bill has drawn new attention to the fact that it’s 2022 and we still can’t accurately measure U.S. broadband availability and speeds.

The Washington Post recently did a good story on this problem, and this week Protocol joined the rush with a good piece of its own.

Both stories note how, for years, the FCC determined a census block “served” with broadband if an incumbent ISP simply claimed it could service one home in that census block. Both correctly note that we’re finally seeing a bipartisan push to do something as states rush to the trough of both COVID relief and infrastructure broadband funds. Both correctly note that mapping methodology fixes are coming, but probably too late for the massive funding coming down the lane. And both stories ably document the frustration of local community leaders and reformers who are trying to fix a problem with a blindfold on:

“It just shows how woefully inadequate the current broadband maps are; yet, we continue to keep relying on them,” said Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumer Reports, who is familiar with the area.

“The original sin here is the FCC data,” said Peggy Schaffer, executive director of ConnectME, a state body that put together an application for grant money to build out broadband in seven areas of the state, including Deer Isle. “The further original sin is any assumption that the FCC data, given what they ask providers for, is accurate, because it’s not.”

But what continues to be weird about the mainstream press’ coverage of this subject is they generally don’t like talking about why it’s 2022 and U.S. broadband maps still suck outside of some vague nods toward government incompetence.

They don’t really want to discuss how this rose-colored vision of U.S. broadband access and affordability is the active result of telecom lobbying. They don’t really talk much about how telecom giants have routinely scuttled efforts at better maps. They don’t really discuss how incumbents have lobbied to foster apathy on this subject, because bad maps help obfuscate the real-world harm of regional monopolization, limited competition, and telecom regulatory capture.

U.S. broadband isn’t utterly mediocre in 2022 due to funding or technological limitations. State and federal subsides have rained from the sky for decades, and fiber and assorted wireless technologies only get cheaper and faster to deploy.

U.S. broadband remains mediocre in 2022 because for literally the better part of a generation we’ve let regional monopolies like Comcast, AT&T, Frontier, Verizon, and Charter dictate most, if not all, state and federal policy proposals. That has generally included blanket neutering of most consumer protections, repeated rubber stamping of harmful mergers, and undermining telecom oversight at every opportunity. The end result is obvious to anybody who has been on hold with Comcast customer support, or tried to get their local phone company to upgrade DSL lines with top speeds straight out of 2003.

Yet when a major news outlet, regulator, or politician discusses U.S. telecom and broadband policy, corruption, monopolization, and the multi-decade assault on healthy competition are routinely never even mentioned. The problem is usually framed in vague, nebulous ways with terms like the “digital divide.” Shitty, spotty, expensive U.S. broadband is generally discussed as something that just happened one day, completely free of any causation. Bad maps and bad data are a cornerstone of this denialism. Throwing money at the problem without understanding where that money is going is also enabled by bad mapping.

Accurate broadband maps would only highlight how mindless consolidation, mergermania, and deregulation haven’t delivered the Utopian future telecom lobbyists and their think tank associates have been pushing for the better part of several decades. Accurate broadband maps would only incentivize policymakers to singularly focus on policies that drive more competition to market. Accurate broadband maps would only serve to highlight how heavily monopolized and broken the U.S. telecom market is. Accurate data might actually prompt folks to intelligently fix the problem with data-driven solutions, and given how profitable U.S. telecom monopolization is, we certainly wouldn’t want that.

Posted on Techdirt - 5 January 2022 @ 06:29am

Court Ruling Paves The Way For Better, More Reliable Wi-Fi

A ruling (pdf) last week by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has paved the way for deployment of faster, better Wi-Fi, while simultaneously cementing the FCC’s authority to make important decisions related to spectrum and interference concerns.

Last year, the FCC voted to open up a chunk of spectrum in the 6GHz band for unlicensed use, providing more airwaves to be used by Wi-Fi and other technologies. Wi-Fi is the most immediate beneficiary; this posed the biggest expansion of available spectrum since Wi-Fi was first unveiled back in 1989. The expansion, and the new standards making more efficient use of more spectrum, should result first in better, more reliable Wi-Fi, and ultimately faster speeds of 1–2 Gbps connections over Wi-Fi. That means better broadband, and more innovation in the band:

Granted, large wireless carriers like AT&T didn’t much like this plan. They wanted the FCC to auction off this swath of publicly owned airwaves to them for deployment of their 5G networks. Carriers masked this ambition under interference concerns in a subsequent lawsuit, claiming that Wi-Fi in these bands would interfere with the “tens of thousands of microwave links critical to maintaining network infrastructure.” The FCC and its staff of engineers (and a bipartisan array of commissioners) disagreed, and found that opening this spectrum to unlicensed use served both innovation and the public interest.

Now, the court has reiterated that the FCC has the expertise and authority to make these kinds of decisions. That had long been understood, but there’s been a concerted effort to reduce the FCC’s authority on countless fronts over the last decade. First, you watched as the broadband industry effectively gutted much of the agency’s consumer protection authority with the net neutrality repeal. We also watched a heavily-lobbied Congress gut the FCC’s broadband privacy authority with a partisan vote. More recently, everybody from the wireless industry to the FAA has been trying to malign the FCC’s engineering authority (see: the FAA’s weird attempt to limit 5G deployments based on shaky interference and safety claims).

The court basically made it clear the FCC has the expertise and authority to make major decisions in this space — provided it clearly explains why with real-world data (something it often didn’t do during the Trump era).

It’s one of those weird and rare instances where a bipartisan coalition of FCC officials all align to do the right thing, despite heavy meddling from giant wireless carriers like AT&T, ever eager for policies more favorable to their bottom lines. The coalition of companies excited to develop innovative products making use of the additional spectrum are understandably happy about the ruling, as are consumers and tinkerers looking forward to better, faster Wi-Fi — and the policy wonks happy to see the FCC’s authority to do its job cemented by the courts.

Posted on Techdirt - 4 January 2022 @ 06:22am

Wireless Carriers Balk At FAA Demand For 5G Deployment Delays Amid Shaky Safety Concerns

We’d already noted how the FAA had been making some shaky claims about how 5G deployments in the 3.7 to 3.98 GHz “C-Band” spectrum range posed safety threats to airline safety. More specifically, the FAA claims operating in this band poses a potential interference problem for airline altimeters. The problem: FCC data, and data from upwards of 40 countries where 5G is already deployed in this band, suggest the concerns are baseless, and that the FCC’s decision to set aside a 220 MHz unused guard band to act as a buffer was more than enough to prevent any issues whatsoever.

It’s been a bit of a weird story given the FAA’s own documents have suggested that there isn’t a problem. And the FAA, instead of initially working transparently with the FCC (the regulator with specific expertise on this kind of stuff), instead spent the last few months leaking scary stories to the press. The FAA then issued an order pausing all 5G deployment in this C-Band.

Deployment in this band matters to you because U.S. 5G performance has been largely mediocre, in large part because of our failure to make middle-band spectrum available for use. We’ve got plenty of high-band spectrum (high speeds, but limited range and poor building wall penetration) and lots of low-band spectrum (great range but slower speeds), but not much in the middle (a decent combination of speed, penetration, and range). Verizon and AT&T recently paid $70 billion to deploy this spectrum, and aren’t keen on any additional delays for obvious reasons.

The two companies had already agreed to a 30-day deployment pause, and to lower the power of transmissions at this range. But in a letter to the FAA last week, the two balked at any additional, prolonged delays:

“At its core, your proposed framework asks that we agree to transfer oversight of our companies’ multi-billion dollar investment in 50 unnamed metropolitan areas representing the lion’s share of the U.S. population to the FAA for an undetermined number of months or years. Even worse, the proposal is directed to only two companies, regardless of the terms of licenses auctioned and granted, and to the exception of every other company and industry within the purview of the FCC.”

AT&T and Verizon did agree to avoid deploying 5G around any airports for six months in a bid to mirror select exclusion zones currently adopted in places like France. Again, the altimeters and landing guidance systems the FAA is concerned about don’t actually operate in this band, and the existing buffer and exclusion zones means transmissions shouldn’t get anywhere close to causing a problem. But that doesn’t seem to matter much to the FAA, which seems excited to flex its regulatory muscle here instead of working transparently and collaboratively with the agency that actually knows how these systems work (the FCC, a reality just reiterated by the courts).

Posted on Techdirt - 3 January 2022 @ 06:12am

Telecom Monopolies Are Exploiting Crappy U.S. Broadband Maps To Block Community Broadband Grant Requests

We’ve noted repeatedly that despite a lot of breathless rhetoric about America’s “quest to bridge the digital divide,” U.S. government leaders still don’t actually know where broadband is or isn’t available. Shoddy broadband mapping has generally been a good thing for regional U.S. telecom monopolies, who not only have been allowed to obscure competition gaps (and the high prices and poor service that result), but hoover up an endless gravy train of subsidies and tax breaks for networks that…mysteriously…always wind up half deployed. Our failure to measure deployment success has been painfully, repeatedly exploited.

But there are other ways that incumbents exploit our ongoing failure to map broadband to their advantage. Case in point: roughly 230 U.S. communities have applied for broadband grants being doled out as part of the National Transportation Infrastructure Agency (NTIA)’s $288 million Broadband Infrastructure Program. But when a town or local cooperative/utility/public-private partnership looking to build its own, better broadband network applies for the grant, they’re facing baseless challenges by ISPs which claim they already serve these areas.

Grafton, New Hampshire, for example, is looking to build its own fiber network after years of market neglect. It had 3,000 of the 4,000 census blocks they applied for grant money for falsely challenged by regional giants Comcast and Charter Spectrum:

“Of the 4,000 census blocks covered by Grafton’s grant application, Coates said that incumbent ISPs challenged 3,000 of them, even those dominated by cemeteries. In the majority of the challenges, telecom giants overstated available speeds and existing coverage, he noted.
“My immediate response was that this was them telling us to go boil water,” Coates said. “Here you go, prove that you can do this in these three thousand census blocks. Have fun figuring it out.”

As we’ve noted, there’s a big lobbying push afoot by entrenched monopolies to ensure as little government stimulus money as possible goes toward building out competition to their regional dominance, no matter what that competition looks like (cooperatives, utilities, local governments, smaller private ISPs, private/public partnerships). To justify their obstruction to local community grants, big ISPs like Comcast and Charter point to FCC broadband maps they know aren’t accurate to insist nothing needs to be done. That perpetuates the sub-par service and high prices created by monopolization.

Except the FCC’s maps routinely overstate both coverage and speeds, and have for decades. The FCC’s methodology also declared (until only recently) that an entire census block is “served” with broadband, if an ISP claims it can serve just one home in that census block. While there have finally been some meaningful improvements to FCC mapping pushed through Congress, it’s still going to be several years (and significantly more funding) before most of those fixes can be properly implemented. Some states have developed their own alternative mapping solutions, but for many, engaging in a bureaucratic battle with deep-pocketed monopolies to disprove their coverage claims isn’t financially viable.

While the NTIA has made some progress of its own on mapping, it’s still being tasked with doling out $42 billion in additional broadband grants as part of the recently passed infrastructure bill — despite still not having an entirely accurate picture of the problem it’s trying to fix. That is, and will continue to be, exploited by entrenched monopolies like AT&T, Comcast, Charter, or Verizon which have not only fought against better mapping for years (knowing more accurate data would only spur calls for reform), but have a vested interest in fighting tooth and nail against any effort to disrupt the uncompetitive status quo.

Posted on Techdirt - 30 December 2021 @ 05:56am

Dish's Hyped 5G Network (And 'Fix' For T-Mobile/Sprint Merger) Is Looking Rather Skimpy

Two years ago the Trump DOJ and FCC rubber stamped the Sprint T-Mobile merger without heeding experts warnings that the merger would likely erode competition, raise rates, and kill jobs. Then, working closely with T-Mobile and Dish, the FCC and DOJ unveiled what they claimed was a “fix” for the problematic nature of the deal: they’d try to cobble together a fourth major replacement wireless carrier in Dish Network.

As we noted a few times the proposal was never likely to succeed. One, because Dish had no track record in this space outside of a parade of empty promises. Two, because the remaining three providers (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile) want less price competition and would be incentivized at every step to ensure it fails. Three, because the government would likely dole out more than wrist slaps should Dish miss major build out milestones.

So far, things are going just about as well as you’d expect. T-Mobile has already laid off 5,000 employees, and the plan has been mired with endless squabbling between T-Mobile and Dish. And both the beta and commercial launch of Dish’s 5G network, first in Las Vegas, keeps being delayed. There is technically a network operating in Las Vegas, but most folks in wireless continue to eye the company’s plans with justified skepticism. Early analysis of the network that does exist isn’t what you’d call bubbly, as both speeds and coverage are sorely lacking after repeated delays:

“They have some work to do to catch up,” summed Emil Olbrich, VP of networks with Signals Research Group (SRG), in comments to Light Reading. He said Dish’s 5G network in Vegas isn’t as good as T-Mobile’s 5G network in the city, but he said it’s still early days for Dish and the company likely will improve its offering…the firm’s initial findings indicate Dish likely isn’t providing the blazing-fast speeds that other 5G providers are.

“They’re going to have some issues,” Olbrich said of Dish’s efforts to refine its network in Vegas.”

Here’s the problem: to meaningfully build a nationwide 5G network that people actually like and use, Dish is going to need a massive trove of cash and to compete on price. But the company continues to bleed the customers it does have — traditional satellite TV customers — at an alarming rate. Here’s the other problem: motivating T-Mobile to actually meet set FCC benchmarks (its network has to cover at least 70% of the U.S. population with 5G by 2023) requires regulators willing to impose major penalties and stand up to large telecoms, and the U.S. simply… doesn’t have that (regardless of the political party in power).

The Trump folks who pitched this deal knew that. I’m fairly convinced this has always been a performance to justify approval, with the crafters knowing the end result will be a Dish face plant and reduced competition (and fatter revenues) in the wireless space. I also tend to think Dish is inevitably doomed, and this could just be an elaborate exit package for CEO Charlie Ergen, who could eventually sell off the company’s massive spectrum holdings and existing build for tens of billions of dollars, throw a few nickels at any regulatory and legal penalties that result, and still ride off into the sunset with a fat stack of cash.

Posted on Techdirt - 29 December 2021 @ 05:29am

House Republicans Don't Want Infrastructure Money Going Toward Broadband Competition

For years the broadband industry has successfully convinced the U.S. government to remain fixated exclusively on broadband coverage gaps, not the overall lack of broadband competition. That’s in part because they’ve known for decades that substandard maps mean policymakers have never really known which areas lack or need access. That’s helped create an ecosystem where we throw billions upon billions of dollars in tax breaks and subsidies at regional monopolies every year, in exchange for broadband networks that are routinely half-completed.

With a record $42 billion broadband investment on the horizon, the industry is obviously worried that some of that money might go toward (gasp) added competition. As in, not just used to expand access to the estimated 20-40 million Americans without broadband, but funding to help bring new competitors to the estimated 83 million Americans living under a broadband monopoly. That regional monopolization, as we’ve long documented, is why U.S. broadband tends to be expensive, spotty, slow, and with terrible customer service.

Of course you can’t just come out and acknowledge you don’t want money going toward encouraging broadband competition, even though more competition would greatly benefit consumers, small businesses, and countless internet-based economies. So instead the industry’s biggest players (and the politicians and regulators paid to love them) like to complain about “overbuilding,” or the act of creating “duplicative” broadband networks in “already served” areas. This is generally framed in such as a way as to make it sound as if broadband in most parts of the country is already wonderful, and spending any money to expand access in these “already served” areas would be completely wasteful.

That rhetoric and language was quick to pop up in a House Republican letter sent to the two agencies overseeing fund distribution: the NTIA (pdf) and FCC (pdf). In the letters, lawmakers profess they’re just super duper worried about the potential for waste:

“Given the billions of dollars concurrently being awarded for broadband infrastructure deployment by several agencies and the Commission, this Office is on the front line of preventing duplicative and wasteful subsidized overbuilding.As you work to allocate grants pursuant to these laws, we urge you to prioritize funding for unserved communities that lack access to any broadband connection rather than funding
duplicative or upgraded service in areas that already have broadband access.

Here’s the thing though: House Republicans are defining “access” as just a single ISP offering speeds of 25 Mbps downstream, 3 Mbps upstream. More often they define it as “any broadband at all, however pathetic.” As such, “access” as theses folks envision it could be a single terrible cable company, a single lazy phone company offering substandard DSL, or a single satellite broadband provider offering capped, expensive, slow, high-latency satellite. That’s, well, a monopoly. Lawmakers are being prodded by giants like AT&T to ensure that nobody does much of anything to challenge said monopoly, but it’s framed in such a way as to make it sound as if lawmakers are doing due diligence regarding fraud and waste.

In reality you can focus on shoring up broadband coverage gaps and expanding competition. In fact, these often operate synergistically. We’ve seen time and time again how local competition forces entrenched broadband providers to expand their footprint, lower prices, or offer significantly faster speeds. So by funding and encouraging competition, you technically are also helping to shore up broadband coverage gaps.

While the government is no stranger to waste, most of the waste in telecom has generally come at the hands of the telecom monopolies whose turf House Republicans are protecting here. Countless billions have been thrown at giants like AT&T, Frontier, and Verizon for networks they routinely only half deploy. In the twenty years I’ve covered the sector I’ve lost track of the billions of state and federal dollars given to giant industry incumbents for network upgrades that simply don’t arrive (often with zero meaningful penalty). Notice how it’s rarely a concern if the company getting the money is, say, AT&T.

Yeah, the broadband component part of the infrastructure bill is going to be a massive challenge, in large part because most of the broadband mapping improvements being adopted won’t arrive in time. Entrenched monopolies of course know this, and are busy injecting themselves in the process on both the state and federal level to ensure as much money as possible goes to them, and not potential competitors. Loyal lawmakers want to help them in this process under the performative cover of just being ultra concerned about government efficiency and waste, when in reality it’s all about defending the busted (but very profitable) status quo.

Posted on Techdirt - 28 December 2021 @ 09:38am

AT&T Exits The Ad Business As Merger Ambitions Continue To Unravel

We’ve noted for years how U.S. telecom giants aren’t particularly competent when it comes to wandering outside of their core competencies (building and running networks, lobbying the government to hamstring competitors). As government pampered regional monopolies who haven’t had to try particularly hard for decades, stuff like competition, innovation, adaptation, and creativity are often alien constructs.

It routinely shows in the failed products they try to launch: mobile payment platforms that share names with terrorist organizations; Millennial-targeting streaming video platforms nobody actually wanted to watch; news websites that aren’t allowed to write about the news; “me too” apps, app stores, and other products that can’t compete.

AT&T in particular has showcased telecom’s knack for face plants with its $200 billion acquisitions of DirecTV and Time Warner, which was supposed to cement the telecom’s place as an advertising and mobile media giant. Instead, the company somehow managed to lose millions of subscribers while laying off tens of thousands of employees, despite receiving no shortage of regulatory favors and tax breaks to make it easier to succeed.

After recently spinning off the entire media fiasco, AT&T’s now jumping ship from its ad ambitions as well as it tries to recover from the massive debt load creating by its megamerger fiasco. The company last week quietly announced it would be selling Xandr, its programmatic advertising marketplace, to Microsoft:

“AT&T formed Xandr in September 2018, combining its TV and digital advertising businesses, including digital ad marketplace AppNexus, which the telco bought for a reported $1.6 billion that year. …Xandr had ambitions of becoming a dominant player in cross-platform advertising.”

Again though, none of AT&T’s ambitions worked out. In part, employees have consistently noted, because AT&T executives were cocksure, thought they knew better, and generally didn’t bother to listen to folks with expertise in the markets they were trying to disrupt. A year out past the wreckage and AT&T executives still haven’t really accepted their role in the entire mess, spending a lot of time claiming they’re not getting enough credit.

That hubris stems from being an industry that historically hasn’t had to listen to anybody, compete, or generally innovate (outside of which network technologies to adapt, or which anti-competitive lobbying strategies to adopt). But investors demand their pound of flesh in the form of quarter over quarter results. Having cut as many corners as they can on broadband deployment and customer service, that growth has to come from somewhere, so it routinely comes from pushing into business sectors telecoms lack the core competency to play in.

Posted on Techdirt - 27 December 2021 @ 01:39pm

Google Will Cripple OnHub Routers Starting Next Year

We’ve long written about how you don’t really own what you buy in the modern era. Books, games, and other entertainment can stop working on a dime due to crappy DRM. Game consoles you’ve purchased can find themselves suddenly with fewer features. Or worse, hardware you’ve bought thinking you’d own it for a decade can wind up being little more than a pricey paperweight.

But quite often, products that should work for years just slowly stop being supported, leaving you with hardware that gradually becomes less and less useful. We saw this recently when Sonos initially bricked still working (and expensive) speakers. The phenomenon popped up again this week when Google announced that its OnHub router, launched back in 2015, will no longer be supported starting next year. The products will still technically function as a basic router, but they’ll no longer see security updates, and many of the cloud-based functionality and advanced features will be stripped from the devices.

To be clear this isn’t an end of the world type of scandal. Google’s providing 40% discounts to OnHub owners off of new Google routers (which will experience the same fate in a few years). The Hub also had some initial performance problems, and was quickly supplanted in Google’s lineup by its Google WiFi (now Nest) products a year after they launched. But the downgrades are still part of an annoying shift in which companies hype all manner of cloud-based functionality at launch, then gradually strip functionality away once they no longer want to pay to support their own products:

“That Google can take an aging but perfectly functional router and switch off big parts of its functionality is one of the downsides of networking hardware that requires you to sign up for an account or use an app to administer it. While most advanced mesh routers are moving in this direction, offerings from Asus, Netgear, Linksys, and others at least retain some kind of web administration interface so you can continue to handle basic configuration tasks if those companies discontinue support or cease to exist.”

It’s not only annoying, but it’s obviously not great for the environment to be routinely discarding fully functional kit. This may be less of an issue for more technologically sophisticated users who keep tabs on trends like this, but it’s much more of a headache for Luddites who barely understood how their old router worked in the first place — and now suddenly have to navigate the fact that perfectly good hardware has been crippled remotely.

Posted on Techdirt - 27 December 2021 @ 06:25am

3 Out Of 4 Americans Support Community Broadband, Yet 19 States Still Ban Or Hinder Such Networks

For years a growing number of US towns and cities have been forced into the broadband business thanks to US telecom market failure. Frustrated by high prices, lack of competition, spotty coverage, and terrible customer service, some 750 US towns and cities have explored some kind of community broadband option. And while the telecom industry routinely likes to insist these efforts always end in disaster, that’s never actually been true. While there certainly are bad business plans and bad leaders, studies routinely show that such services not only see far better customer satisfaction scores than large private ISPs, they frequently offer better service at lower, more transparent pricing than many private providers.

Undaunted, big ISPs like AT&T and Comcast have waged a multi-pronged, several decades attack on such efforts. One, by writing and buying protectionist laws in dozens of states either hamstringing or banning cities from building their own networks, often in cases where private ISPs refuse to expand service. Two, by funding economists, consultants, and think tankers (usually via proxy organizations) happy to try and claim that community broadband is always a taxpayer boondoggle — unnecessary because private sector US broadband just that wonderful.

Of course if you ask actual American consumers, they generally support towns and cities building better, faster broadband networks if they’ve been historically underserved. And they most certainly don’t approve of Comcast buying state laws that eliminate their voting right to make local infrastructure decisions for themselves. A recent Consumer Reports survey found that three out of four Americans support community broadband efforts:

“Three out of four Americans feel that municipal/community broadband should be allowed because it would ensure that broadband access is treated like other vital infrastructure such as highways, bridges, water systems, and electrical grids, allowing all Americans to have equal access to it.”

The survey also found that the subject somewhat splits along partisan lines, despite not technically being a partisan issue (more on that in a second):

“A larger percentage of Democrats (85%) than Independents (74%) and Republicans (63%) say municipal/community broadband should be allowed.”

Here’s where I’ll note that wanting to maintain your local voting rights to make infrastructure decisions for yourselves isn’t really a partisan issue. Wanting better broadband isn’t a partisan issue. A disdain for regional monopolies like Comcast isn’t partisan. Most community broadband networks have been built in conservative cities (the most popular being Chattanooga). The subject is often only partisan because regional monopoly lobbyists and policy folks like to frame it that way in policy conversations to sow dissent, stall consensus, and undermine anything that challenges their regional monopoly power.

ISPs could easily derail the movement by offering better, cheaper, faster broadband in more markets. But the reality is they’ve found it easier and cheaper to throw campaign contributions at state and federal lawmakers, letting them effectively buy laws banning meaningful challenges to their dominance. As a result, 83 million Americans currently live under a broadband monopoly, and in a long line of states, cities and towns have their hands tied when it comes to actually doing something about it.

Having tracked the US telecom sector for a while, most of the exciting progress in the space is happening on the local level. There’s a massive grass roots coalition of utilities, co-ops, governments, small ISPs, local businesses, and public/private partnerships doing most of the heavy lifting in this space. And it remains aggressively idiotic that state leaders continue to block such efforts, often under the misleading claim of “market freedom,” simply because AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast don’t like a challenge or competition.

More posts from Karl Bode >>