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A battle is breaking out between ISPs and the FCC

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January 12, 2016

Don't look now but there's a mini war going on right now between ISPs and the Federal Communications Commission.

To be sure, the FCC's Annual Broadband Report will be published shortly and last week, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler put out a factsheet about its main finding-- that broadband is not being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion to all Americans.

The report will be discussed at the FCC's next meeting on January 28 and Wheeler noted in his summary that the regulator is required to "take immediate action" if it makes that finding.

Unsurprisingly, the ISPs are not happy at all and US Telecom has rushed out a response. "It would seem that the FCC's report should carry the headline 'our policies have failed,'" the industry body complains, "since it concludes that six years after adoption of the national broadband plan, the commission's actions haven't produced even so much as a 'reasonable' level of broadband deployment."

It takes issue with the main finding. "No one actually believes that deployment in the United States is unreasonable. Unfortunately, this annual process has become a cynical exercise, one that eschews dispassionate analysis, and is patently intended to reach a predetermined conclusion that will justify a continuing expansion of the FCC's own regulatory reach."

The rollout of broadband in the U.S. has been a source of tension for more than ten years already. The truth is that compared with many other nations, the provision of internet access is far behind, both in terms of speed and reach. It is also significantly more expensive than in comparable nations.

Wheeler also lists the factors that led to the conclusion that broadband is not being deployed "in a reasonable and timely fashion," and they include:

  • 34 million Americans don't have access to the FCC's benchmark speed of 25 Mbps on downloads and 3 Mbps on uploads, a benchmark it upped this time last year.
  • 39 percent of the rural population does not have access to fixed broadband, something he says is a persistent urban-rural digital divide.
  • 41 percent of schools have not met the FCC's goal of 100 Mbps per 1,000 students/staff.
  • Just 9 percent of schools have fiber connections capable of meeting the FCC's long-term goal of 1 Gbps per 1,000 students.
  • The U.S. is still far behind other countries, ranking 16th out of 34 developed nations.
  • Ever since Wheeler pushed net neutrality rules through in 2015 and against the very strong wishes of the telcos, the regulator has been butting heads with those it oversees, somewhat of a change in what has traditionally been quite a cozy relationship.

    But this report should not have come as much of a surprise to the industry. When the FCC changed the benchmark speed from 4 Mbps to 25 Mbps a year ago, Wheeler was quite open about the fact that he felt bandwidth speeds had not kept up with user demands.

    An accompanying report at the time argued that rural areas of America were underserved, with 53 percent of the rural population falling short of the newly proposed minimum speed.

    It also estimated that about 55 million people, or 17 percent of the population, lacked access to the so-called 25/3 standard in the United States.

    The FCC has crystal clear authority to act when it feels not enough is being done under the one piece of modern telecommunications legislation: the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

    Wheeler clearly signalled his intentions twelve months ago and again last week, and in that time, ISPs have responded by getting broadband to an additional 14 percent of the rural population and to an additional 21 million American citizens.

    Wheeler added that's not enough-- the ISPs will beg to differ. Later this month, we will find out what the FCC proposes to do about it. But you can expect a lot more fighting on both fronts. The ISPs are only getting warmed up.

    In other mobile and broadband news

    Apple today reported what it called a record breaking time for its App Store during the Holidays. The numbers surpassed its expectations by a wide margin.

    Apple said in a statement that in the 2 weeks ending January 3rd, Apple device users spent over $1.1 billion on mobile apps and in-app purchases.

    This is setting back-to-back weekly records for both site traffic and purchases, and it took a few industry analysts by surprise.

    The first day of 2016 also marked the biggest day in App Store history with customers spending over $144 million for that day alone.

    It broke the previous single-day record set just a week earlier on Christmas Day 2015. That too surpised a few observers.

    Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of the company's worldwide marketing division said Apple customers spent about $20.26 billion on the App Store in all of 2015.

    “We're grateful to all the app developers who have created the most innovative and exciting apps in the world for our customers. We can't wait for what's to come in 2016," Schiller asserted.

    Globally, the App Store has brought in nearly $40 billion for app developers since 2008, with about 35.6 percent generated in the last year alone.

    In other mobile and wireless news

    Market research firm IDC has published a survey of 5,778 mobile app developers which highlights integrating with various functions such as back-end data management as the biggest challenge in mobile app development and integration these days.

    For instance, mobile app developer Appcelerator has designed a new product this year that is used as a cross-platform mobile development tool.

    IDC notes that the survey may not be representative of all mobile developers, but nevertheless offers a good indication of where the market's been going this year.

    Among this list though, rougly 34 percent spent more than half their development effort on back-end integration.

    Their work includes creating and debugging APIs, finding the various documentation for existing APIs, and managing the data from multiple sources in the industry.

    IDC also asked about target platforms-- iOS and Android dominate, as you would expect. The most popular targets are the iPhone and the iPad, which gets the attention of between 80 to 90 percent of developers, up a bit from 2014's numbers.

    Android phones have declined from 75 percent to around 70 percent this year, on average.

    But for its part, the Windows Phone is down to about 23 percent, from 28 percent last year, with Windows tablets just below it.

    The disappointment for Microsoft this year is that all its hoopla about the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) does not seem to resonate at all, contrary to the company's large ambitions.

    While Appcelerator's Titanium tool does support Windows Phone and Store apps, UWP developers may prefer Microsoft's tools to a certain degree, but that still remains to be seen.

    Apple Watch has made a good start, with about 60 percent of developer attention according to the survey.

    And what happens about the never ending goal of making money? Just about 60 percent of those surveyed are primarily out to make money from apps themselves, with others aiming for goals such as customer loyalty and brand awareness for their product.

    Of those with a profit motive though, about 43 percent said that in-app purchases are the most effective method, followed by advertising at close to 24 percent and app purchase at 19.2 percent.

    In other mobile news

    It appears that Google's new Lollipop 5.0 release is more secure, but still not secure enough.

    At least that's the verdict of security researchers who checked out the model that Google's applied to its Android OS since the Lollipop 5.0 release.

    In an Arxiv paper, Elena Reshetova and her collaborators from Finland's Aalto University (with support from Intel) look over the post-Lollipop era, in which they note “every process must be run inside a confined SEAndroid domain with a proper set of access control rules defined”.

    The issue is that while the structure and its policy framework would work well if they were followed, OEMs have room to make implementation mistakes.

    “Overall, OEM modifications can render policies less strict, resulting in a wider attack surface for potential security vulnerabilities”, the researchers write.

    The security errors arise because OEMs simply aren't coping with turning the product around quickly enough to compete, while trying to make sure their implementations comply with the SEAndroid security policy.

    Such issues include:

  • The overuse of default profiles. This can mean OEM Android versions can point to sensitive resources from untrusted domains;

  • The overuse of predefined domains. Instead of defining separate domains for each of their apps, OEMs tend to put them in the system_app or platform_app domains, leading to an accumulation of too many apps sharing the same allow rules;

  • Forgotten rules. Security rules that are either auto-generated or relate to deprecated drivers, hanging around creating vulnerabilities;

  • Dangerous rules. Essentially insecurity-by-convenience. Rather than go back and make wholesale changes to the code-base, OEMs ship products with inadequate security policies.
  • The research group has put together an open-source tool named SEAL, which provides policy analysis, policy visualization, and policy decompilation.

    Source: The FCC.

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