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FCC Releases Mobile Usenet Access Speed Tester
March 12th, 2010

Today, telecom and ISP related newsgroups are discussing the latest announcement from the The Federal Communications Commission of a mobile tool to help consumers test the wireless broadband coverage in their area. The mobile version of the Consumer Broadband Test is available in the Apple iPhone App Store and the Android App Market. Using this tool alongside your portable newsreader can help determine and tweak Usenet access speeds.

Essentially, the app clocks how long it takes to download and upload data to the phone. The release of the two apps come just days before the Commission is set to release its new national broadband plan on March 16, which will heavily stress the need for mobile data networks.   One of the more outstanding recommendations has been to:

“Consider use of spectrum for a free or very low cost wireless broadband service.” The FCC didn’t detail where the spectrum would come from, but it falls in line with the government’s February 2010 request  for 500MHz of additional wireless spectrum to help improve wireless broadband in the U.S.

The app does automatically send the test information to the FCC, but the FCC says this is a voluntary initiative to get help collecting that data, and adds that it will protect the identity of its users. “The FCC is committed to protecting the personal privacy of consumers utilizing these tools, and will not publicly release any individual personal information gathered,” the FCC said in announcing the new app.

The FCC has been criticized for being too reliant on independently unverified data provided by carriers — instead of going out into the field and collecting data first hand. They’ve also been criticized as an agency that hasn’t been very good about using quality data to shape policy decisions. While these tools may help the few users not familiar with speedtests, it’s not clear how much they’ll help the FCC on the accurate data front.

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FCC Wants 100Mbps Usenet Access For All
February 16th, 2010

The FCC shared some details of their national broadband plan which will be presented to the US Congress in less than a month. Newsgroups report that they have already agreed to a draft of an updated set of “net neutrality” rules after the fierce objections of telecom providers who say they need flexibility to manage and invest in their networks as well as other propositions.

The national broadband plan would set “ambitious but achievable goals,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski told an audience at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners conference.

The issue has come to the fore as cases emerged of broadband providers choking off bandwidth for surfers using data-intensive resources such as USENET and mobile phone carriers erecting barriers to competing online calling services. The biggest broadband providers are Comcast Corp, Time Warner Inc., AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc.

“Despite significant private investment and some strong strides over the last decade, America’s broadband ecosystem is not nearly as robust as it needs to be,” he said. “Broadband creates jobs and economic growth on the networks, in companies that start or expand on the Internet.”

In his preview of the upcoming national broadband plan, Genachowski cited a program that has a goal of providing 100 million Americans with 100 megabit access. ” Our plan will set goals for the U.S. to have the world’s largest market of very high-speed broadband users. A “100 Squared” initiative — 100 million households at 100 megabits per second — to unleash American ingenuity and ensure that businesses, large and small, are created here, move here, and stay here.

The FCC’s “100 Squared Initiative” would bring Internet data transmission speeds of 100 megabits per second to 100 million homes by 2020, a significantly higher speed than what many homes get now. Google Inc. announced plans earlier this week to begin building and testing ultra-fast fiber networks, in an effort to spark additional innovation and competition in this arena. Genachowski praised Google’s latest Web foray, noting in his speech that its high-speed lines would drive growth. He later called on other Internet service providers to follow suit.

“We need others to drive competition to invent the future,” he said. Genachowski did not provide details on the time lime of the initiative or how the FCC would encourage private sector providers to reach the minimum speeds.

Other goals in the FCC’s plan will include increasing Internet connections in classrooms and rural medical clinics, lowering the cost to build connections through “smart use” of government rights-of-way, and freeing “a significant amount” of airwaves for use by wireless Internet devices.

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FCC Broadband Plan May Effect USENET Access For Some
December 17th, 2009

The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday laid out a rough draft of its national broadband plan after weighing through 66,000 pages of written comments, 27 public notices, 100 items posted on its “blogband” web site, and 700 blog comments posted to the record. The initial outline of the plan to be presented to Congress in February draws sharp criticism for ignoring competition issues involving the duopoly of local cable and telephone companies.

Depending on this vote, this could considerably change how new and current subscribers of newsgroups will access USENET in the United States. A government task force charged with developing a comprehensive national strategy for broadband deployment and adoption today issued its first set of policy recommendations, calling for an overhaul of a federal telephone subsidy program and a revision of the current system of allocating wireless spectrum. The FCC agency is quoted as stating that it is still difficult to answer key questions that must be addressed within two months’ time, or by February 17, 2010.  This morning, the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet gathered for a hearing about HR 3019 and HR 3125, two bills that aim to speed up the inventory and re-allocation of spectrum so we can be ready to accommodate the explosive growth of consumer mobile broadband.

“Encouragement of competition will be a guiding principle of the plan, since competition drives innovation and provides consumer choice,” the FCC said in a statement. “Finding ways to better use existing assets, including Universal Service, rights-of-way, spectrum and others, will be essential to the success of the plan. The limited government funding that is available for broadband would be best used when leveraged with private sector investment.”

At its Dec. 16 public meeting, the FCC’s broadband team provided broad strokes on policy for the plan, but provided no hard and fast proposals.  FCC officials have been handed the task since early this year as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. So far, the FCC has identified 10 major areas ripe for change: the USF; infrastructure access; spectrum allocations; tribal lands; set-top boxes; consumer information; media; broadband adoption; accessibility for the disabled; and public safety. The past two major spectrum auctions at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission each took more than 10 years from start to finish, Largent told the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet. “We simply can’t wait until 2020 or beyond,” he said

The critics — specifically the broadcast industry, as well as service industry and military contractors — did not dismiss the dire need for more commercial spectrum. However, they did present concerns for the next major shift in frequency allocation. There’s a lot at stake for future broadband development, including $7 billion in stimulus money from the federal government. From here until mid-February, The Federal Communications Commission has the time to come up with the ultimate solution on how to build out a national broadband infrastructure. How it will affect USENET as a whole remains to be seen.

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FCC Net Neutrality May Help USENET
September 21st, 2009

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski announced today  new Net Neutrality” rules that would require carriers to deliver broadband in a non-discriminatory manner and to disclose their network management policies in a transparent manner.

While the FCC is a US-only entity, fact of the matter is that “control” over the internet lies within the US, so whatever the FCC decides, it will affect the rest of the world as well the USENET and subsequent newsgroups.

The principle of Net Neutrality dictates that all Web traffic should be treated equally by Internet access providers, and has been a source of contention since the Internet’s inception decades ago. So far, the Web has been largely self-regulated, as well as the USENET.

The Net neutrality debate pits large Internet providers like AT&T and Comcast against content and application providers like Google and Skype that rely on those connections to deliver their Web pages and programs to consumers.

Genachowski proposed that the commission adopt the four principles previously laid out by former Chairman Michael Powell in 2004, known as the “Four Freedoms,” as well as two new principles he believes should be added to the list. Those are:

  • Freedom to access legal content
  • Freedom to use applications of the users’ choice
  • Freedom to attach personal devices to connections in users’ homes
  • Freedom to obtain service plan information
  • Non-discrimination: Broadband providers cannot discriminate against particular Internet content or applications
  • Transparency: Providers must be transparent about network management practices

“[Service providers] cannot block or degrade lawful traffic over their networks or pick winners by favoring some content or applications over others in the connection to subscribers’ homes,” Genachowski said. “Nor can they disfavor an Internet service just because it competes with a similar service offered by that broadband provider. The Internet must continue to allow users to decide what content and applications succeed.”

Internet providers argue that they should be free to block or manage content that taxes their networks, unhindered by any regulation, while content providers like Google say that selective blocking is unfair and stymies innovation.

Genachowski said that he will begin work on implementing the new rules during the FCC’s meeting next month. If enacted, likely by a 3-2 party-line vote at the FCC’s October meeting, the rules would prevent the carriers from deliberately blocking or slowing some types of Internet traffic. The FCC has launched a new website, OpenInternet.gov, to encourage input from the public.

Newsgroups dedicated to wireless technologies note that Genachowski signaled that wireless providers should be included in the FCC’s efforts to make traffic flow freely, in much the same way that wired networks are compelled to provide open and transparent service. With wireless networks increasingly becoming more robust, the status of open wireless service grows more important daily.

The wireless situation may become increasingly sensitive because the major wireless carriers can stress that they have already paid out billions to the FCC for their spectrum.

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