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In the Wall Street Journal: Rural Families Struggle With Work and School With No Home Internet Access
Months after work and school went remote for millions of Americans, some communities are still waiting to get online. In the Wall Street Journal in August, members of a rural community in West Virginia discuss the daily toll in their life that this struggle to receive home Internet access takes. ILSR’s Christopher Mitchell also explains the failures of US broadband policy that has kept communities from getting connected:
We see states that are still making policy based on what the cable and telephone companies, the big cable and telephone companies, tell them. But we electrified the country by recognizing that those business models do not work for all of America.
A recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article (requires subscription) chronicles the increasingly problematic effect of data caps on the quality of residential subscribers' Internet access experience.
Also known as a bandwidth cap, a data cap is a monthly bandwidth usage limit Internet Service Providers (ISPs) sometimes impose on subscribers at their standard monthly rates. While some ISPs charge customers more for exceeding their monthly bandwidth caps, in other cases ISPs may even cut off a customer’s service completely.
The problem is also harming companies like Netflix and Sling TV who are losing customers who can’t justify paying for a high capacity video streaming service that’s only available until they hit their data caps partway through the month. In response, Netflix lowered the video quality for users on ISP networks that use data caps as a way to help them avoid the limitations. The plan worked, but in the process Netflix angered customers, who blamed both the ISPs and the streaming service for the lowered video quality.
It's Not All About The Money
The problem goes beyond the extra fees charged to customers who use a lot of data. The WSJ article cites two Internet users who’d like to join the growing number of “cord cutters” who are dropping television service for Internet-based video. As one man put it:
“I wouldn’t have regular TV if not for the data cap,” he says. “Comcast has got me by the throat.”
“I was planning to cut the cord when my DirecTV contract is up,” he says. “This is essentially a ploy to keep people from cutting cable in my opinion.”
An increasing number of subscriber complaints and suspicions about the accuracy of measuring bandwidth usage heighten concerns.
Feds Take Notice
It's an urban legend that the government launched the Internet. The myth is that the Pentagon created the Internet to keep its communications lines up even in a nuclear strike.Well, he was right about the nuclear strike bit. But the federal government played several important roles in the creation of the Internet, which truly was created by the efforts of many people, companies, and institutions. As evidence for his argument, Crovitz cites Dealers of Lightning by Michael Hiltzik. Unfortunately, Hiltzik disputed Crovitz's understanding of it:
And while I'm gratified in a sense that he cites my book about Xerox PARC, "Dealers of Lightning," to support his case, it's my duty to point out that he's wrong. My book bolsters, not contradicts, the argument that the Internet had its roots in the ARPANet, a government project. ... But Crovitz confuses AN internet with THE Internet. Taylor was citing a technical definition of "internet" in his statement. But I know Bob Taylor, Bob Taylor is a friend of mine, and I think I can say without fear of contradiction that he fully endorses the idea as a point of personal pride that the government-funded ARPANet was very much the precursor of the Internet as we know it today. Nor was ARPA's support "modest," as Crovitz contends. It was full-throated and total. Bob Taylor was the single most important figure in the history of the Internet, and he holds that stature because of his government role.CNET talked to Vint Cerf about the Crovitz claims. In reaction to a Crovitz claim that the government didn't understand the value of TCP/IP but the private sector did, Vint said:
I would happily fertilize my tomatoes with Crovitz' assertion.Nicely done.
But microwave networks can be faster than their fiber-optic counterparts. Signals shot in a straight line between microwave dishes within sight of each other don't have to negotiate the mountains, buildings and other obstacles that lengthen the trip by cable. Because of their height, cell towers are prime locations for the dishes. On the downside, microwave networks are less reliable than cables, because signals can be disrupted by bad weather and other interference. They also can't carry as much information.So I figured this was a good weekend story because of the wireless/fiber angle but also because it is a reminder that Wall Street invests narrowly for its benefit. Extracting value from the market by having a 1 millionth of a second advantage over everyone else provides no value for the rest of us. This is not a system that is rationally allocating capital, it is a system that allows vampires to suck the life out of us. And that is a very good reason to find ways of being self-reliant.
The interconnected nature of the Internet fostered the growth of online communities such as Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook. These sites host our humdrum daily interactions and serve as a public soapbox for our political voice. Both the PROTECT IP Act and SOPA would create a national firewall by censoring the domain names of websites accused of hosting infringing copyrighted materials. This legislation would enable law enforcement to take down the entire tumblr.com domain due to something posted on a single blog. Yes, an entire, largely innocent online community could be punished for the actions of a tiny minority. If you think this scenario is unlikely, consider what happened to Mooo.com earlier this year. Back in February, the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security seized 10 domains during a child-porn crackdown called “Operation Protect Our Children.” Along with this group of offenders, 84,000 more entirely innocent sites were tagged with the following accusatory splash page: “Advertisement, distribution, transportation, receipt, and possession of child pornography constitute federal crimes that carry penalties for first time offenders of up to 30 years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine, forfeiture and restitution." Their only crime was guilt by association: They were all using the Mooo.com domain.From our point of view, what is most interesting is not who is pushing this bill (Hollywood and the usual suspects that tried to kill the VCR because it would obviously destroy the movie industry) but who is not resisting.