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Fri, 06 Jan 2017 18:07:47 +0000
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telecom – Ars Technica
US Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) delivers a speech at the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.

Enlarge / US Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) delivers a speech at the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (credit: Getty Images | Alex Wong)

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who has tried to overturn net neutrality rules and help states impose limits on municipal broadband, will be the new chairperson of a Congressional telecommunications subcommittee.

Blackburn will chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, committee leadership announced yesterday. She'll take over from Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), another frequent critic of the Federal Communications Commission who was recently selected by fellow Republicans to become chair of the full Energy and Commerce Committee.

Blackburn has consistently tried to unravel FCC attempts to regulate broadband providers. In 2015, she filed legislation titled the "Internet Freedom Act" to overturn the Federal Communications Commission's then-new network neutrality rules that prohibit blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization. The net neutrality rules still remain in effect, but Republicans are expected to attack the rules again under President-elect Donald Trump. Blackburn has claimed that the FCC's net neutrality order is an attempt to "set all the rates" that broadband providers charge for Internet service, even though the FCC hasn't tried to do that and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said he had no intention of doing so.

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Fri, 05 Jun 2015 09:36:33 +0000
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Author of anti-net neutrality “Internet Freedom Act” gains leadership position
Vodafone confirms “early stages” of deal with Virgin Media

Mobile network Vodafone has confirmed that it's in the "early stages" of talks with Liberty Global, the owner of TV and broadband provider Virgin Media. The company is discussing "a possible exchange of selected assets," but maintained that it was "not in discussions with Liberty Global concerning a combination of the two companies." Specific details on what those assets might be were not provided, but a deal could enable Vodafone to become a quad-play provider offering TV, broadband, telephone, and mobile services to customers.

The news follows months of speculation that Vodafone was interested in purchasing Liberty Global. In December of last year, Vodafone chief Vittorio Colao told investors that a takeover—which would cost the company well over £40 billion—wasn't on the cards. However, recent comments by Liberty Media chairman John Malone sparked rumours that the merger was back on, provided Vodafone was willing to split its Western European networks from other further-flung markets such as Turkey, South Africa, and India.

Vodafone may have reconsidered its position on Liberty Global following BT's purchase of mobile network EE for £12.5 billion (~€17 billion) earlier this year. The acquisition allows BT to offer customers landline, broadband, TV, and mobile offerings in a single package, without going down the route of becoming an mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) as Virgin Media has done with its quad-play bundles. Vodafone will also be facing increased competition from Three, which recently purchased fellow UK network O2 for over £10 billion (~€13.6 billion).

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Tue, 19 May 2015 14:08:33 +0000
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Vodafone confirms “early stages” of deal with Virgin Media
Vodafone launching its own fibre broadband and TV services in the UK

(credit: Wikipedia)

Vodafone confirmed this morning (PDF) that it's moving ahead with Vodafone Connect, a fibre broadband (i.e. FTTC) service that will be launched in the UK in "the coming weeks." Later in 2015, Vodafone will also start selling an IPTV product, too.

The UK used to be a Vodafone stronghold, but in recent years it has started to feel the squeeze from triple- and quad-play providers, and the emergence of EE following the merger of T-Mobile and Orange. By offering its own fibre broadband product, plus TV, Vodafone is hoping to bring in some more customers with some triple-play discounts of its own.

Rather than simply reselling Openreach's FTTC product, it sounds like Vodafone will be taking a slightly different approach. “We will be putting in our routers at the VDSL parent exchanges,” a Vodafone spokesperson told ISPreview. Vodafone has previously said that it would be present in around 1,000 exchanges, accounting for about 80% of the population. The unusual bit is that Vodafone will be connecting these exchanges to its own fibre backhaul network, rather than using BT's.

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Tue, 10 Mar 2015 15:08:54 +0000
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Vodafone launching its own fibre broadband and TV services in the UK
From left, Gigaom founder Om Malik, and writers Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel.

From left, Gigaom founder Om Malik, and writers Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel. (credit: Gigaom)

Gigaom, long one of the better sources of technology news, has shut down after running out of money.

Founded in 2006 by Om Malik, "Gigaom recently became unable to pay its creditors in full at this time," according to a statement released by Gigaom management last night. "As a result, the company is working with its creditors that have rights to all of the company’s assets as their collateral. All operations have ceased. We do not know at this time what the lenders intend to do with the assets or if there will be any future operations using those assets. The company does not currently intend to file bankruptcy. We would like to take a moment and thank our readers and our community for supporting us all along."

While that statement left some room for interpretation, a personal blog post by Malik indicated that the site won't be revived. "Gigaom is winding down and its assets are now controlled by the company’s lenders. It is not how you want the story of a company you founded to end," he wrote.

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Sun, 12 Jan 2014 20:00:19 +0000
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Gigaom, one of the better tech journalism sites around, shuts down
"Bell System" manhole cover along Main Street in Durham, New Hampshire.

"Bell System" manhole cover along Main Street in Durham, New Hampshire. (credit: SchuminWeb)

Art Brodsky began covering telecommunications just before the AT&T breakup. He has been a reporter, editor, communications director for a Federal agency and for a non-profit group on telecom and Internet issues ever since. His freelance writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Huffington Post, and other outlets. From time to time he posts to his blog, Continental Drive.

The annual Consumer Electronics Show extravaganza started off with a big announcement from AT&T: Customers of their wireless service can get around onerous caps on data usage if the company supplying, say, video, pays extra to AT&T for the privilege.

With one fell swoop, AT&T not only invalidated the whole concept of data caps as a necessary evil to control traffic, but also set the telecom policy world ablaze with an idea that would violate the concept of a neutral Internet, if such concepts applied in the wireless world. The Net Neutrality rules as they exist now, of course, grant freedom for such things in the wireless space.

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Fri, 27 Dec 2013 03:00:27 +0000
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Op-ed: AT&T’s new data cap “deal” is just another weapon against regulation

On Wednesday, the Nikkei news agency cited unnamed sources who said that SoftBank, the company that owns a majority of Sprint, was “in the final stages of talks with T-Mobile's German parent, Deutsche Telekom.” News of a merger between Sprint and T-Mobile hit in early December, with the Wall Street Journal reporting that Sprint’s parent company was wary of trying to merge with T-Mobile like AT&T had years earlier, only to see its efforts thwarted by the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission.

Nikkei’s sources went on to say that SoftBank is estimated to offer over $19 billion for a 60 to 70 percent stake in T-Mobile through its US subsidiary Sprint. AT&T, on the other hand, had offered Deutsche Telekom $39 billion for the carrier back in 2011. If Sprint and T-Mobile join, the two companies would have a combined 53 million postpaid subscribers, compared to Verizon's 95 million and AT&T's 72 million.

A merger between the two carriers would have to be approved by the DoJ and the FCC before it could go through. While the two authorities have been reluctant to allow telecom giants to merge, combining the third and fourth largest carriers would put the resulting company more on par with Verizon and AT&T in the US.

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Mon, 16 Dec 2013 19:57:06 +0000
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Report: Owners of Sprint in final stages of deal for T-Mobile
Why AT&T says it can deny Google Fiber access to its poles in Austin

(credit: grendelkhan)

Google's quest to build a fiber network in Austin, Texas has hit a snag in the form of AT&T.

AT&T owns about 20 percent of the utility poles in Austin, with the rest of them being owned by the city. Instead of increasing congestion by adding more poles, the City Council was expected to vote last week "to force AT&T to allow Google Inc. use of its utility poles to install its planned high-speed Google Fiber network in the city," as the Austin American-Statesman reported last Tuesday. The Council drafted a new ordinance making it easier for communication service providers to secure pole attachments at reasonable prices.

The vote was postponed until January 23, 2014, however. AT&T and Google are expected to negotiate an agreement before that date, but AT&T's public stance is that it doesn't have to let Google use its poles.

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Wed, 09 Oct 2013 17:17:17 +0000
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Why AT&T says it can deny Google Fiber access to its poles in Austin
Regulations are just as outdated as this phone, AT&T argues.

Regulations are just as outdated as this phone, AT&T argues. (credit: Alexandre Dulaunoy)

If there's one thing AT&T loves to talk about, it's how government regulations designed to protect consumers are really annoying.

In particular, the company says that century-old rules designed to spread phone service to all Americans should be eliminated as the country moves from traditional phone lines to all-IP (Internet Protocol) networks, a transition AT&T wants to see happen by 2018 or 2020.

The company's latest attempt to sway public opinion toward its anti-regulation views comes in the form of research by the Internet Innovation Alliance, which is bankrolled in part by AT&T and consistently pushes AT&T's agenda. The group previously extolled the "positive effects" for consumers of an AT&T/T-Mobile merger, a deal blocked by the federal government's antitrust authorities. This week, the group pushed out a report titled "Telecommunications competition: the infrastructure-investment race," by Georgetown professor Anna-Maria Kovacs. The report's findings are proof that regulation is bad for the broadband market, the Alliance argued.

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Wed, 21 Aug 2013 22:23:14 +0000
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AT&T: The Internet is awesome, so let’s get rid of phone regulations

A report from the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday gives a much clearer look at how—and how much—information is gathered by the secret NSA programs recently brought to light in the Edward Snowden leaks. While we already knew that the NSA permitted itself to access communications “two to three hops” away from suspected terrorists (which would encompass hundreds of millions of Americans), the WSJ reports that, through the cooperation of major telecom corporations, the NSA has the ability to sample from 75 percent of the nation's Internet traffic.

The WSJ's report relies on the testimony of multiple anonymous “current and former intelligence and government officials and people from companies that help build or operate the systems, or provide data.”

These sources confirmed that, “in some cases, [the NSA] retains the written content of e-mails sent between citizens within the US and also filters domestic phone calls made with Internet technology.” Access to this information is granted at “more than a dozen” major Internet junctions on US soil, rather than sucked up exclusively from undersea or foreign cables.

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Wed, 01 May 2013 21:40:07 +0000
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In Salt Lake City for the 2002 Olympics? The NSA may have read your texts
Ohhhh yeah, the new FCC commissioner is going to be awesome for the telecom industry!

Ohhhh yeah, the new FCC commissioner is going to be awesome for the telecom industry! (credit: Aurich Lawson vs Kraft)

President Barack Obama today announced his choice to run the Federal Communications Commission. As reported yesterday, the nominee is Tom Wheeler, a venture capitalist who was formerly a lobbyist at the top of the cable and wireless industries, leading the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) and Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA).

The nomination continues the parade of lobbyists becoming government officials and vice versa, a trend that has favored moneyed interests over the average American citizen and consumer time and again. One can take solace in the fact that Wheeler will be tasked with implementing the communications policies of President Obama, who says he is eager to fight on behalf of consumers and to maintain thriving and open Internet and wireless marketplaces.

But the same President who said "I am in this race to tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over" when he was running for office has given the FCC's top job to a former lobbyist. Wheeler donated $38,500 to Obama's election efforts and helped raise additional money for Obama by becoming a "bundler," arranging for large contributions from other donors after hitting legal limits on personal contributions.

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Wed, 07 Nov 2012 15:36:52 +0000
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Uh-oh: AT&T and Comcast are ecstatic about the FCC’s new chairman

Sprint has agreed to buy several central Midwestern markets from competitor US Cellular, the companies announced Wednesday. Sprint hopes to use the $480 million cash acquisition to boost its business in the Midwest and stay competitive with rivals Verizon and AT&T.

The 20MHz of spectrum in the 1900MHz trading hands in the deal will help fill out both Sprint’s 3G and 4G LTE coverage in areas including Chicago, Illinois; St. Louis, Missouri; South Bend, Indiana; and parts of Michigan and Ohio. The transaction will place 585,000 of the roughly 5.8 million US Cellular customers under Sprint's umbrella.

This deal comes quickly on the heels of Sprint’s merger with SoftBank of Japan, which gave the Japanese telecom a 70 percent stake in the company for the price of $20.1 billion. Sprint pitched this move as a way to improve 4G LTE coverage, as well, indicating that it’s anxious to try to meet the blistering pace of Verizon’s LTE rollout, as well as catch up to the slower AT&T.

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Thu, 18 Oct 2012 19:25:10 +0000
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Sprint buys Chicago, St. Louis markets from US Cellular in spectrum grab

No matter how fast your new graphics card is or how much RAM is in your console, the biggest limitation for your gaming rig (and the gaming industry as a whole) could just be your Internet connection. At least that was the message Eidos President Ian Livingstone delivered to delegates gathered at the Broadband World Forum in Amsterdam this week.

"You're kind of holding us back in many respects" he told the audience full of telecom operators from around the world (as reported by and Total Telecom). "We have to worry about broadband when we should be thinking about making better games."

Even though average broadband speeds are generally increasing worldwide, Livingstone noted total file sizes for modern games are increasing at an even faster rate. Overall download times for digital purchases are getting longer and longer (as anyone who has left their system on overnight to download an MMO well knows). This is a big reason the console market in particular hasn't made a bigger push to an online-only model, Livingstone said. It's why the next generation of consoles will still be centered on disc-based media sold at retail.

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Tue, 21 Aug 2012 23:25:37 +0000
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Eidos president: Low broadband speeds are holding the game industry back

(credit: ssoosay)

Censorship and government monitoring aren’t the only problems facing Syrian Internet users. There have been frequent, recent shutdowns of all Internet traffic crossing the Syrian border over the last few months, accompanying dramatic changes in how the country connects to the rest of the world. With growing international diplomatic pressure and sanctions against Syria, the Syria Telecommunications Establishment (which controls the country’s Internet infrastructure) has increasingly taken its network business somewhere it’s wanted: China. But despite sanctions, some Syrian ISPs still maintain a presence in the US, with the largest hosting its homepage on a server in Chicago.

In April, the Obama administration announced sanctions against Syriatel, the Syrian telecommunications company, for its role in "tracking and targeting citizens for violence." Syriatel owns SAWA, Syria’s largest ISP. While that has prevented US telecommunications companies such as Cogent and Level 3 from doing business with SAWA, it hasn’t stopped the Syrian company from using some US Internet services.

While doing research for this story, Ars discovered the website for Computer Engineering Corporation, SAWA’s technology services company, was hosted on a server at HostForWeb’s Chicago data center. A company spokesperson for HostForWeb was not available for comment. While the site appeared to be down 15 minutes after we placed a call to the company, a ping of the site and a lookup of the IP address still resolved to a host at the company. At this article's publication, the site appeared to be functioning normally again.

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Wed, 18 Jul 2012 16:05:41 +0000
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Syria sidesteps sanctions by turning to China for Internet bandwidth

As promised, AT&T has officially announced that new and old customers will be able to start buying shared data plans in late August. But these aren't the shared data plans we've dreamed of, where we can finally save some money by lumping our tablet and smartphone bills together. AT&T seems to think that the convenience alone is worth quite a bit of money.

Carriers have been talking about shared data plans for well over a year now, and Verizon beat its competitors to the punch in June. But when we ran the numbers on the new Verizon plans, we found there were little, if any, savings to be had. This was especially the case for solo smartphone-and-iPad owners. AT&T's plans work the same way as Verizon's, with a flat fee for unlimited minutes and texts and a set amount of data, then a sizable access charge for each device on the plan. However, AT&T manages to charge significantly more money with shared data than with separate plans in at least one common scenario.

The charge breakdown for AT&T's shared data plans. Regular family and individual plans will continue to be available to new customers.

The charge breakdown for AT&T's shared data plans. Regular family and individual plans will continue to be available to new customers.

As it is, a typical solo tablet-and-smartphone user's bill breaks down like this: $40 per month for 450 minutes (at minimum), $20 for unlimited messaging, $30 for 3GB of data for the phone, and another $30 for 3GB on the tablet. That comes to $120 per month. If that user changes over to a shared data plan, they'd pay $90 per month for unlimited minutes, texts, and 6GB of data; $35 for smartphone access; and $10 for tablet access—coming to $135 per month. That's $15 more per month than they'd already be paying, and all they gain is unlimited minutes and slightly more flexibility with how they use data.

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Tue, 17 Jul 2012 19:20:31 +0000
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AT&T’s shared data plans: not the savings we hoped for

Sprint has created a new service to entice mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) to base their operations on its network. With the new service, Single Source Enablement, Sprint manages every aspect of the business, from customer care to the distribution of devices. The only thing the MVNO has to worry about is acquiring customers.

MVNOs have existed in the US for some time (Boost Mobile is one that uses Sprint's network) but are far more popular in Europe and Asia. The services are gaining ground with Americans, often because of their a la carte-style services that allow users to avoid mandatory charges that accompany most contracts. (Dear service providers: no one wants to pay $40 per month for a big chunk of minutes when all they need is a few hundred megabytes of data and a couple [thousand] text messages).

Sprint is already the most enthusiastic MVNO supporter by far, with over 20 businesses piggybacking on its network. With its new MVNO service package, Sprint handles "all systems, processes, customer care, online Web enablement, and the warehousing of distribution of devices." All the MVNO has to do is lure customers in, presumably with clever branding and marketing, one of Sprint's weak suits. The largest drawback of a Sprint-supported MVNO is still the breadth and quality of cell service in many areas, though the 4G LTE network the company recently turned on may help alleviate those problems. Sprint will also continue to offer other tiers of service packages that give MVNOs more control over the back-end of business.

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Tue, 03 Jul 2012 21:10:35 +0000
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Sprint to MVNOs: if you get us customers, we’ll do the rest
Sumitomo's distinctive black Thunderbolt cables aren't being sold directly in the US.

Sumitomo's distinctive black Thunderbolt cables aren't being sold directly in the US. (credit: Chris Foresman)

Intel's Thunderbolt high-speed interconnect has been shipping for over a year now, and new vendors have been announcing products compatible with the standard ever since. One sticking point, however, has been that Thunderbolt devices require an expensive $50 cable—only available from Apple until recently. And unfortunately, prices aren't coming down any time soon.

While other vendors are now offering their own Thunderbolt cables, prices have mostly stayed the same—in fact, some have gone up. We found this surprising; typically more vendors offering competing products leads to lower prices. And as the high cable price represents a fairly high barrier to entry for Thunderbolt devices, it relegates the standard to niche, early-adopter territory.

This isn't likely to change in the near future. Our research shows that for the rest of 2012, Thunderbolt cables are going to remain in the $45-60 price range. Prices aren't likely to drop noticeably until early 2013, when second-generation silicon for Thunderbolt's active cabling becomes available in production quantities.

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