Boing Boing 

Turn on your data for one minute, AT&T sticks you with a $750 international roaming charge


Jeff writes, "I learned this week that it's possible to run up a $750 international data roaming bill in one minute on AT&T. I managed to convince AT&T to forgive the charges after two days and 40 minutes of phone calls but the best guess at how this happened is kind of alarming. It seems that AT&T's billing system sometimes bundles US traffic with international traffic." Jeff was driving in the Pacific northwest, near the Canadian border.

Read the rest

Rightscorp: a business founded on threats of Internet disconnection

Rightscorp, a company that went public last year, has an idea: they'll issue millions of legal threats to alleged music file-sharers, threaten them with millions in fines, and demand nuisance sums ($20/track) too small to warrant consulting with an attorney -- and they'll arm-twist ISPs into disconnecting users who don't pay up. Rightscorp has a secret system for identifying "repeat offenders" who use Bittorrent, and they believe that this gives them to right to force ISPs to terminate whole families' Internet access on the basis of their magically perfect, unknowable evidence of wrongdoing. They call this "holding the moral high ground." More than 72,000 Americans have had "settlements" extorted from them to date, though Rightscorp still runs millions in the red.

Rightscorp's rhetoric is that the sums it demands are "deterrents" to prevent wrongdoing, and that it wouldn't really want to sue people into penury. But it is a publicly listed company with a fiduciary duty to extract as much money as it can from the marketplace. It's a good bet that its prospectus and quarterly investor filings announce that the company will hold its "fines" down to the smallest amount that provides the deterrent effect -- instead of, say, "all the market can bear."

The legal theory under which Rightscorp is operating is pretty dubious: a belief that ISPs have a duty to terminate the Internet connections of "repeat offenders" based on a clause in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. This theory has been sparsely litigated, but the one major case in which it has been tested went against Rightscorp's business-model. But as Joe Mullin points out in his Ars Technica profile of the company, they may be able to get past this hurdle just by suborning the increasingly corrupt, noncompetitive, inbred and rent-seeking ISP industry by giving them a piece of the action.

Read the rest

It's not Net Neutrality that's at stake, it's Cable Company Fuckery

John Oliver was incandescent on the subject of Net Neutrality, Time Warner and Comcast on Saturday, and he has a new, less-boring term for Net Neutrality: "Cable Company Fuckery." This is not only brilliant, it's hilarious. John Oliver is a perfect blend of Jon Stewart and Charlie Brooker. A reminder: you can reach out and touch the FCC on the subject of Cable Company Fuckery, and EFF can explain how to do it.

Read the rest

De-obfuscating Big Cable's numbers: investment flat since 2000


The cable lobby group NCTA claims the industry has been investing record amounts in network upgrades, which will dry up if they are forced to endure Net Neutrality. Techdirt points out that Big Cable's numbers are cumulative, and re-runs them year on year. Turns out investment has been flat since about 2000.

Read the rest

FCC brings down the gavel on Net Neutrality

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler just brought down the gavel on the latest moment in the Net Neutrality saga. Commissioners voted 3-2 to allow his "Notice of Proposed Rulemaking" to go ahead, meaning we have 120 days to submit comments on his terrible proposal to allow for "Internet fast-lanes" that will be available to the online services that offer ISPs the biggest bribes. The outcome that I -- and Net Neutrality advocates -- had been hoping for was that for the Commission to reject his proposal outright and tell him to come up with a better one for comment. A reminder: Wheeler is a former cable lobbyist, and the cable companies stand to make billions, forever, from his proposal.

Activist camp on FCC's doorstep for Net Neutrality: Occupy the FCC!

Evan from Fight for the Future writes, "Since Wednesday May 7th, net neutrality activists have been camped out on the FCC's doorstep in Washington, DC with tents, sleeping bags, signs, and a giant banner that says 'Don't break the Internet.'

Read the rest

240 Writers Guild of America members sign pro-Net Neutrality letter to the FCC

Robbo sez, "The WGA (Writers Guild of America West) has stepped into the fray over the FCC's proposed non-Net Neutrality rules with over 240 members (show runners, creators & writers alike) signing a letter urging FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to protect a free and open internet and not let it become like cable television. While the larger tech companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Mozilla and others have also publicly expressed their concerns over FCC proposals to create a two-tiered approach to Internet access there has been little if any outcry from any major players in the Hollywood industry - until now."

Read the rest

Cable lobbyists strong-arm Congresscritters into signing anti-Net Neutrality petition

Robbo sez, "Cable lobbyists are trying to get Congress Critters to sign off on a letter from the industry exhorting FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to NOT reclassify broadband Internet as a Title II common carrier service. It is, of course, complete horseshit and now (even after all the public outcry over Wheeler's patronizing positioning over his own proposed rules) the weasels of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association are looking to get their Congressional lackeys to block any reasonable response to the public will.

"It's a shame members of Congress don't read more than their bank balance - if they'd read anything from Susan Crawford they'd know the rational recourse would be for the FCC to declare the net a common carrier. But with Wheeler at the helm and with the NCTA dicks priming the pump from the shadows we're likely to see further douche maneuvering on the Hill."

Read the rest

Turning spam-calls from a hassle into a profit-centre


Lee Beaumont of Leeds, England got sick of unsolicited calls to his home number, so he spent £10 registering a "premium rate" number that costs 7p/m to call, and started listing that as his home number in all of his commercial dealings. Once he'd set things up so that spammers made him money, he started to spread his number around, tweeting it in the clear and telling customer service reps to call him on it. The number paid for itself in two months, and, when the story drew press-attention last summer, the lengthy press-calls he received made him hundreds of pounds. If you want to give Mr Beaumont 7p (or more), you can call him at

Read the rest

Huge tech coalition asks FCC to save Net Neutrality

A massive consortium of technology companies ranging from Google, Facebook and Amazon to smaller publishers like Techdirt, have signed an open letter to the FCC opposing Chairman (and former cable lobbyist) Tom Wheeler's plan to allow ISPs to discriminate among Internet services, demanding bribes to deliver the data that we request.

Some considerations for potential XKCD phone purchasers

Randall Munroe's xkcd Phone has the greatest warning label of all time: "Presented in partnership with Qualcomm, Craigslist, Whirlpool, Hostess, LifeStyles, and the US Chamber of Commerce. Manufactured on equipment which also processes peanuts. Price includes 2-year Knicks contract. Phone may extinguish nearby birthday candles. If phone ships with Siri, return immediately; do not speak to her and ignore any instructions she gives. Do not remove lead casing. Phone may attract/trap insects; this is normal. Volume adjustable (requires root). If you experience sudden tingling, nausea, or vomiting, perform a factory reset immediately. Do not submerge in water; phone will drown. Exterior may be frictionless. Prolonged use can cause mood swings, short-term memory loss, and seizures. Avert eyes while replacing battery. Under certain circumstances, wireless transmitter may control God."

Telcos gave spies unfettered, deep, warrantless access to Canadians' digital lives

Michael Geist writes, "The recent revelations regarding massive telecom and Internet provider disclosures of subscriber information has generated a political firestorm with pointed questions yesterday to Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the House of Commons. While Harper tried to provide reassurances that warrants were obtained where necessary, the reality is that the law includes a massive exception that permits voluntary, warrantless disclosure of subscriber information."

Read the rest

Broadband, Net Neutrality and airplane boarding: industries' love affair with stupid


As you probably know, we board airplanes in just about the worst, most inefficient way possible (this is the best way). The airlines know this, but stupid boarding remains the order of the day. That's because stupid boarding involves charging rich people more to skip the stupid, and participate in the slightly-less-stupid of eating warm nuts while you hang around waiting for everyone else to endure the maximally stupid.

The thing is, this isn't just stupid, it actually costs the airlines a ton of money -- in aviation, time is money, and stupid wastes a lot of time. Much more than they make from charging special skip-the-stupid/eat-warm-nuts fees. But there you have it. They're addicted to stupid, because stupid makes money, while smart merely saves (even more) money.

As Mike Masnick points out, this kind of stupid is a perfect microcosm of the terrible behavior we're likely to see as a result of the US FCC abolishing Net Neutrality and allowing Net Discrimination:

Read the rest

Every 27 seconds, Canadian telcos hand over subscriber data to cops (mostly without a warrant)

Michael Geist writes, "These stunning disclosures, which were released by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, comes directly from the telecom industry after years of keeping their disclosure practices shielded from public view. Every 27 seconds. Minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month. Canadian telecommunications providers, who collect massive amounts of data about their subscribers, are asked to disclose basic subscriber information to Canadian law enforcement agencies every 27 seconds. In 2011, that added up to 1,193,630 requests. Given the volume, most likely do not involve a warrant or court oversight (2010 RCMP data showed 94% of requests involving customer name and address information was provided voluntarily without a warrant).

Read the rest

Barack Obama will take a backseat to no one when it comes to (promising) Network Neutrality

Back before Barack Obama appointed a Net Neutrality-destroying cable lobbyist to run the FCC, he was clear: "I will take a backseat to no one when it comes to Network Neutrality."

President Obama and Big Telcoms: delivering high-speed fiber to the campaign promise every election cycle!

Podcast: Internet service providers charging for premium access hold us all to ransom

Here's a reading (MP3) of a my latest Guardian column, Internet service providers charging for premium access hold us all to ransom, which tries to make sense of the disastrous news that the Federal Communications Commission is contemplating rules to allow ISPs to demand bribes from publishers in exchange for letting you see the webpages you ask for.

Read the rest

Gutting Net Neutrality also guts innovation, fairness and democracy


My latest Guardian column, Internet service providers charging for premium access hold us all to ransom, explains what's at stake now that the FCC is prepared to let ISPs charge services for "premium" access to its subscribers. It's pretty much the worst Internet policy imaginable, an anti-innovation, anti-democratic, anti-justice hand-grenade lobbed by telcos who shout "free market" while they are the beneficiaries of the most extreme industrial government handouts imaginable.

Read the rest

Phone phreakers' anthem

Brad sez, "A few decades ago, phone phreaks spent all of their free time learning about the Bell telephone system and making free phone calls to each other. This song by Bonecage attempts to capture that era, and the footage for the video was contributed by phone phreaks (and ex-phone phreaks) around the world."

Open net gets a huge boost in the EU: net neutrality and no roaming fees

Andrew sez, "The fight for the Open Web and Net Neutrality won a big one today after the EU Parliament voted to approve EU Parliamentarian Marietje Schaacke's proposal to codify Net Neutrality in EU law. Here's her statement after the winning vote:"

Read the rest

The Internet should be treated as a utility: Susan Crawford


Susan Crawford (previously) is America's best commentator on network policy and network neutrality. In this interview with Ezra Klein, she makes the case for treating Internet access as a utility -- not necessarily a right, but something that markets do a bad job of supplying on their own. She describes how regulatory failures have made America into a global Internet laggard, with enormous damage to the nation's competitiveness and potential, and provides a compelling argument for locating the market for service in who gets to light up your fiber, not who gets to own it. Drawing on parallels to the national highway system and the electrification project, Crawford describes a way forward for America where the Internet is finally viewed as "an input into absolutely everything we do," and not merely as a glorified video-on-demand service.

Read the rest

FCC adds 100MHz of spectrum to the commons

The FCC has unanimously voted to open up 100MHz of spectrum at the bottom end of the 5GHz band, redesignating them as open spectrum, under rules similar to those that created the original Wifi boom. Previously, the spectrum had been exclusively allocated to a satellite telephony company. Adding more open spectrum is amazingly great news, and even better is the bipartisan support for the move, which was attended by very promising-sounding remarks from commissioners from both parties about the value of open spectrum as a source of innovation and public value.

Read the rest

Obama administration will make tiny, nearly meaningless changes to illegal bulk phone spying


The Obama administration will unveil a plan to sunset the bulk collection of US telephone data by American spies. Instead, it will plunder data that the carriers are required to retain for 18 months (America's spies currently warehouse phone data for five years) on the strength of warrants issued by its secret, rubberstamp Foreign Intelligence "court." This won't take place for at least 90 days, and for those 90 days, the administration expects the "court" to renew the spies' power to harvest bulk phone data as it has until now (despite that fact that Obama's appointed independent commission concluded that this program is illegal). Spies will only be able to explore phone data within two "hops" of their persons of interest, rather than the "three hop" rule they claim they've followed until now. Civil liberties groups are very slightly cheered by all this news.

Read the rest

AT&T to Netflix: if you don't bribe us to do our job, you're asking for a "free lunch"

AT&T Senior Executive Vice President of Legislative Affairs James Cicconi has written a monumentally stupid attack on Reed Hasting's call for Net Neutrality. Cicconi says, "there is no free lunch, and there’s also no cost-free delivery of streaming movies. Someone has to pay that cost. Mr. Hastings’ arrogant proposition is that everyone else should pay but Netflix."

What Cicconi ignores is that Netflix is paying its ISPs to be connected to the Internet. And AT&T's customers are paying to be connected to the Internet. And AT&T's customers are asking to have the service they are paying for to be connected to the service Netflix is paying for. AT&T is then demanding that Netflix pay it a bribe in order to carry out the service that its customers are paying for.

If you're an AT&T customer paying for a 4MB/s DSL line, you have entered into a commercial arrangement whereby AT&T delivers you the bytes you ask for as quickly and efficiently as it can. You're not entering into an arrangement whereby AT&T can, if it notices that many of its customers really like a service, charge that service for the privilege of giving AT&T customers what they're already paying for.

Imagine if AT&T was a city-bus with an exclusive contract to serve your town, and it noticed that a lot of passengers were getting off at a certain stop every day to visit a restaurant. What AT&T is doing is saying "We will no longer stop near that restaurant unless it pays us a bribe," (and they're hinting, "We will stop at a competing restaurant if they do pay a bribe"). When the restaurant objects, AT&T says, "Hey, there's no such thing as a free lunch."

This isn't "just business" -- it's extortion.

Read the rest

Irony not dead: Comcast claims it is Net Neutrality's best friend

Since Netflix CEO Reid Hastings published a statement on Net Neutrality and Comcast (whom Netflix has had to bribe in order to secure normal service for its users), Comcast has gone on a charm offensive. The company sent a statement to Consumerist in which it asserts an imaginary history of championing Net Neutrality, a work of Stalin-grade reality-denying fiction that has Consumerist's Chris Morran practically chewing the keyboard in rage:

Read the rest

"Fiber to the press release"

Techdirt's Mike Masnick has a gift for catchy, acerbic shorthand terms to describe shenanigans. He coined the term "Streisand Effect" to describe any situation in which a relatively obscure piece of information becomes widely known through a ham-fisted attempt to censor it. He's done it again: "Fiber to the press-release" is the phenomenon of incumbent carriers like AT&T making showy announcements about their intention to build super-fast broadband networks to replace their creaky, under-invested monopoly infrastructure, without ever mentioning scale, timelines, pricing, or any other specifics, only to have the announcement lapped up and repeated by a credulous press.

Firefox OS and the unserved billions of the developing world

Last month, I wrote about the announcement of the $25 Firefox OS smartphone, aimed at developing world users who have never owned a smartphone and can't afford a high-end mobile device. An editorial by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry describes how such a device could find an audience of billions, and spur a new ecosystem of developing world developers who make software that's geared not just to the Firefox OS platform, but also to the unique needs of people in the developing world.

The vision of Firefox OS is a contrast to the Zuckerberg plan to supply "Internet" to poor people in the form of an ad-subsidized, all-surveilling walled garden. As Susan Crawford says, "That's not the Internet -- that’s being fodder for someone else's ad-targeting business. That's entrenching and amplifying existing inequalities and contributing to poverty of imagination -- a crucial limitation on human life."

Asking whether the Internet is good or bad for freedom misses the point. It's clear that network technologies have the power to track and control their users, and the power to free and enrich them. The right question to ask is: "How do we get an Internet that does more for freedom?"

Firefox OS sounds like part of the answer.

Read the rest

Video explainer: why open spectrum matters, and why you're about to lose it

Harold Feld from Public Knowledge writes, "One of the hardest problems I face advocating for more open, shared 'unlicensed' spectrum is trying to explain exactly what 'spectrum' is and why decisions about it made by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) matter. My organization, Public Knowledge, now has a two minute video animation 'Wireless Spectrum: How To Use It And Why You Might Lose It' that explains for those new to these issues. The video ties in to our effort to save the newest unlicensed spectrum, 'TV white spaces,' from being auctioned away to the biggest wireless companies. If you agree after watching the video that we need to protect and promote open spectrum as well as get more licensed spectrum to AT&T and Verizon, please click through to our petition."

Wireless Spectrum: How To Use It And Why You Might Lose It (Thanks, Harold!)

America's copyright threat letters turn one year old, but no one will say how they're doing

The Copyright Alert System -- a "voluntary" system of disconnection threats sent to alleged file-sharers, created by entertainment companies and the large US ISPs -- has just celebrated its first birthday, having spent $2 million in order to send out 625,000 threats to people it believed to be infringers. How's that working out for them?

No one knows. The Center for Copyright Information -- which made a lot of noise about its war on piracy when it was ramping up -- has been totally silent for the past twelve months, not issuing a single press release (nor have its participating entities said anything about it in that time).

I guess there are two possibilities: one is that this was an amazing success, but they're too modest to boast.

The other one is that, like every other variant on this, as practiced in New Zealand, the UK, and France, it is an expensive boondoggle that wasted millions, alienated hundreds of thousands, and did nothing to break the copyright logjam that has been sowing chaos on the Internet since the 1990s.

This program was the brainchild of US copyright czar Victoria Espinel and the entertainment bigs, and was a predictable disaster from the outset. No doubt there will be some grossly flawed study in the near future to demonstrate that they've finally managed to invent perpetual motion square the circle make Pi equal 3.1 threaten Internet users into doing their bidding.

Read the rest

Mozilla's $25 Firefox smartphone: a free/open device for billions of new netizens


Mozilla's sub-$50 Firefox OS smartphones are aimed at countries like India and Indonesia, where devices costing hundreds of dollars are out of reach of hundreds of millions of people. The idea is to bring a smartphone running a free/open operating system that is optimized for Internet access to people who have no net connection at all today.

The phones are slow and only have a few apps, but they're infinitely more useful than a candybar-shaped "feature phone," and with their low pricetag, many people will be able to buy them outright, rather than being beholden to phone companies who subsidize handset purchases through long-term, abusive contracts; and they'll get online using devices that don't lock them into a single company's ecosystem for email, messaging, and apps.

Read the rest