News Center

Congress must resolve net neutrality once and for all

By: Mike Montgomery

When the U.S. Court of Appeals backed the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) so-called netneutrality rules this week, PC World nailed the problem with its headline: “The decision will be challenged, and the case could drag on for years.”

Regardless of how the court ruled, net neutrality was destined to play out in courtrooms for the next decade as policymakers, technologists and consumers grapple with how to ensure open access to the internet while not crushing innovation and discouraging investment that created the Web in the first place.

Today the battle is largely between ISPs and edge providers. But as we’ve seen with buyers’ remorse statements from companies such as Netflix and Cloudflare, as well as EFF’s John Perry Barlow, in the future these legal battles may become more muddled as tech titans realize that they could be captured by the rules designed to keep the internet accessible to all.

These battles would test the patience of Bill Murray’s character in “Groundhog Day,” which is why there is only one entity that can settle the issue once and for all: Congress. Critics of the FCC contend the agency overstepped its bounds and applied 20th Century rules to innovative and rapidly changing technologies. At the same time, everyone wants to ensure that the internet continues to remain open and that we don’t create fast lanes, ban blocking and enhance transparency.

Only Congress can solve this problem by rewriting the laws that the FCC uses to base its rules. However well meaning the FCC was with its approach, two obvious negatives exist. The first is that the uncertainty over a decade-long legal fight leads tech companies – both those that supply the pipes and those who rely upon them – to play wait and see on new investments or innovations. That’s bad news for consumers and really bad news for an economy that needs a tech jolt.

The second is that we risk accepting that the Web deserves to be treated no differently than our water or electrical utilities – plodding and innovation-free, devoid of competition. That harms consumers and innovators alike due to a lack competition, choice and investment.

Read the full article here.

Periscope and Facebook shine a bright light on democracy

By: Mike Montgomery

Justice Louis Brandeis said, “sunshine is said to be the best of disinfectants.” A ray of digital sunshine emerged last week as a new kind of disinfectant, one that may make sure our nation’s elected representatives keep cameras on.

Last Wednesday, a group of Democrats staged a sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives to draw attention to the gun responsibility debate raging across the country in the wake of the Orlando shootings. Republicans blocked a piece of legislation that would have made it illegal for people on the no-fly list to purchase guns. In protest, Democrats vowed to “occupy” the floor until Republicans allowed a vote on the bill.

In retaliation, the Republican leadership sent the house into recess, which caused C-SPAN’s cameras to go dark. The public window to the Hill is only open when the House is actually in session. Without cameras to watch, Republicans assumed they were taking the wind out of the Democrats’ protest sails.

But a few tech-savvy staffers and representatives quickly realized there was a way to keep the protest on the air. Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., was the first to take out his phone and start broadcasting the protest on Twitter using Periscope. C-SPAN soon started broadcasting the feed, eventually switching back and forth between Peters’s feed and Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s Facebook Live feed.

Needless to say, this was an historic use of technology driving government transparency, one that will mark a real turning point in how we see our elected officials in action. Both Periscope and Facebook Live, per Politico, have been trying to become bigger parts of this election year by forming debate-night partnerships. But Wednesday, both sites showed just how powerful livestreaming can be when users can work around traditional media blackouts without tripping the piracy alarm like Periscope did when it burst onto the scene during the the Mayweather-Pacquiao boxing match.

Read the full article here.

The Dark Web Is Still A Huge, Difficult Problem

By: Tim Sparapani

If you want to buy someone’s private data, it’s disturbingly easy to do. It’s all there for sale on the dark web, a completely anonymous twin of the web most of us use daily.

The dark web (or deep web, if you prefer) is “dark” because the sites on it cannot be indexed by a web crawling browser, such as Google. That makes it hard for ordinary people, and law enforcement, to find specific websites. This anonymity has the advantage of creating a zone of free speech where individuals can communicate, think and explore ideas without government interference.

But it also creates a haven for illicit activity, including the buying and selling of drugs, child pornography and individuals’ private information such as social security numbers, health records and passwords.

People who don’t closely follow privacy issues probably associate the dark web with Silk Road, the infamous illegal drug marketplace that did millions in business before the FBI managed to shut the site down in 2013.

But the death of Silk Road didn’t put an end to the dark web. This shady technological playground is still going strong, and many sites that thrive on the dark web are a daily threat to privacy and the economy.

Over the past three months, the website LeakedSource has uncovered huge caches of account data being sold on the dark web from eight websites including Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn. In some cases, those accounts came from privacy breaches at the web companies. In other cases, data thieves were able to steal information directly from users.

The way the account information was stolen matters less than the fact that so much of it is for sale. Need a Netflix password? They’re available for pennies on the dark web. You can also get stolen passwords for Hulu, HBO Go and Spotify.

The dark web has also become a haven for child pornography. According to an article on Wired, over 80% of dark web searches are related to pedophilia.

Read the full article here.

Solar Impulse 2 Shows The Possibilities, And Limitations, Of Movable Solar

By: Mike Montgomery

Anyone who thinks even a little about energy is thinking about renewables. According to REN21, new investments in renewable power and fuel climbed from $45 billion in 2004 to $270 billion a decade later.

That makes it an incredibly appealing market for entrepreneurs. The vast majority of that money has been focused on renewable energy that can go into the grid and power our homes and offices. But the Solar Impulse 2, a long, thin plane that is powered completely through the use of solar panels, has shown another side of renewable energy: solar-powered transportation.

Is the Solar Impulse 2 a breakthrough or a novelty? It may be a little of both.

Bertrand Piccard, one of two Swiss pilots who have been flying the plane in tandem, sees promise in the new technology. “Today we do not have the technology for a [commercial] solar airplane,” he says. “Nevertheless, it will happen.”

But not anytime soon. “It’s not years away, it’s decades,” adds Tom Werner, the CEO and president of SunPower, the company that manufactured the solar cells for the Solar Impulse 2.

Werner explains that when developing solar-powered transportation, you need to consider cost, weight and efficiency. Although the Solar Impulse 2 shows that it’s possible to power a vehicle solely from mounted solar cells, today the challenges for a typical passenger car or commercial airplane far outstrip any benefits. For example, in order to drive 200 miles a day only on solar power, a typical passenger car would need 10 times as many solar cells than would fit onto that car’s roof.

Read the full article here.

Airbnb regulation plan would do more harm than good

By: Mike Montgomery

As housing prices in Los Angeles continue to rise, the affordability crisis has been on the minds of state and local leaders.

It’s true that Los Angeles is among the least affordable rental markets in the country, due in part to the city’s historically low vacancy rates. But it is inaccurate and does a disservice to the actual problem to solely blame short-term rentals for this wide-ranging crisis that has sharpened over the years. Home sharing has been an important tool for middle class families to remain in their homes, in the city they love.

As incomes stagnate and the cost of living essentials like housing and child care rise, making a second unit or home available for rent on a short-term basis has helped thousands of families make ends meet.

And that is exactly what the overwhelming majority of home-share listings are — short-term rentals. Time and again, home-sharing opponents have attempted to misrepresent data to mislead Angelenos.

According to a study released in September 2015, more than 80 percent of home listings in Los Angeles on the home-sharing platform Airbnb are rented fewer than 90 nights a year. In the vast majority of cases, an entire home listing does not represent a unit of housing taken off the market but the home of a regular citizen rented a few weeks out of the year while the owner is on vacation or a work assignment.

The ability to rent out a room or a second unit has allowed many Angelenos to stay in their homes. In a survey of hosts conducted in February, nearly 3,000 said their income from Airbnb has prevented them from losing their homes to foreclosure or eviction.

Businesses throughout the city have enjoyed the benefits of Airbnb travelers. In 2015, the Airbnb community generated an estimated $920 million in economic impact for Los Angeles. These dollars are spread to local businesses and across parts of the city that don’t typically see much tourism activity.

Misleading statistics undermine the arguments of opponents who claim inaccurately that landlords are using home-sharing platforms as an end-run around rent control and other tenant protections.

Read the full article here.

The Disappointing Strategy Behind The Losing Battle To Force-Feed Set-Top Boxes To Consumers

By: Mike Montgomery

Despite the short window for public comment now being closed on the FCC’s unnecessary and harmful set-top box (STB) proceeding, efforts to rationalize and mislead the public continue in earnest. Yesterday, and likely in consultation with the FCC, a group of well-known individuals was assembled to push back on the massive group of detractors to the proposal.

We’re not talking about a few, scattered voices who dislike the FCC’s anti-innovation mandate. We’re talking about tech coalitions, business entities which would undoubtedly benefit from the proposed scheme, labor unions, broadcasters, content creators and an enormous bipartisan group of members of Congress (180 members!) that is seemingly growing by the day.

The best way for allies of the FCC’s ill-fated scheme to chip away at the groundswell of opposition that is rallying against the proposal is, apparently, to continue spewing erroneous facts and take personal potshots at members of Congress. It’s a strategy. But it’s not a mature strategy.

These proponents continue to bang away at the supposed size of the market, saying it’s a $20 billion dollar a year industry. They rely upon a Moore’s Law-ish theory that the price of consumer electronics falls over time and therefore the price of boxes should fall over time, but haven’t. These numbers and theories were pulled out of thin air. They fail to account for the innovation that has occurred. A few years ago, one couldn’t watch HD, couldn’t record a show and watch it later, and couldn’t watch video on demand. Today, I’m able to go all-HD, I can record, at the same time, far more programs than I can watch and can pull up an episode of Dora and Friends for my daughter or Mr. Robot for me — on demand. I can store hundreds of hours of programming. Do I love my box? Not really, but I don’t hate it either. I dream of a not-to-distant magical world where the box is marginalized, not demonized. I want a world where the box is unnecessary, not forced into my living room by government mandate.

Read the full post here.

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