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New FCC proposal would kill net neutrality if it goes through

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April 24, 2014

According to The Wall Street Journal, the Federal Communication Commission's newly drafted proposal for updated net neutrality rules will allow internet service providers to charge companies for preferential treatment, effectively undermining the whole concept of net neutrality in the first place. The new rules would allow ISPs to invoice companies for special treatment so long as they offer that treatment to all interested parties on "commercially reasonable" terms, with the FCC deciding whether the terms are reasonable on a case-by-case basis.

Additionally, if the new rules are to take effect, providers will reportedly not be able to block individual websites, however.

The aim of net neutrality rules is to prevent service providers from discriminating between different content, allowing all types of data and all companies' data to be treated equally.

While it appears that the outright blocking of individual services won't be allowed, the Journal reports that some forms of discrimination will be allowed, though that will apparently not include slowing down websites.

In response, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler issued a statement that reports of net neutrality's demise are "flat out wrong." Nonetheless, allowing some websites to pay for preferential treatment would inherently favor larger, more successful companies.

The actual draft of the newly proposed rules has not yet been released, but the FCC did release a framework of the rules back in February.

Those proposed changes, however, are a large departure from the original Open Internet rules as well as what was shown earlier this year.

An FCC spokesperson has confirmed that the proposal does include the ability for service providers to negotiate with individual companies, so long as all content is delivered at a baseline level of service.

"Exactly what the baseline level of service would be, the construction of a 'commercially reasonable' standard, and the manner in which disputes would be resolved, are all among the topics on which the Commission will be seeking comment," the spokesperson said.

The FCC will begin to internally circulate the rules tomorrow ahead of a vote on May 15th, after which the rules would be opened up for public comment if they pass.

The agency says that the proposed rules are meant to fulfill the goals of the 2010 Open Internet order ó the neutrality-enforcing rules that were struck down in court earlier this year.

It says that the proposed new rules are also consistent with the analysis of the court that initially struck its neutrality regulations down.

Though internet service providers likely aren't eager for regulation to return, net neutrality advocates such as Netflix have been calling on the FCC to take action quickly, and with even broader action than before.

Netflix would also like to see the newly proposed rules govern the actual infrastructure for moving data, preventing service providers from charging companies additional fees for delivering it to their customers, but the FCC has said that it won't be doing this for now, with its rules only covering what's known as the "last mile" between providers and their customers.

Instead, the new regulations are expected to broadly resemble the earlier Open Internet rules, with one key difference that this time they'll rely on legal grounds that are believed to grant the FCC the proper authority to enforce them, though it'll still be working off of something closer to a technicality than explicit permission.

The changes mentioned in the Journal would of course be major differences as well, though we may not see a draft of the rules until sometime in mid-May.

The FCC is already accepting public comments based on the framework released in February, which it should be factoring in to the upcoming draft.

In other mobile news

Earlier today, AT&T has announced a new plan that could see Gigabit high-speed fiber Internet networks rolled out in as many as one-hundred U.S. cities, in 21 metro regions.

It's a move that places the wireless carrier in a head-to-head battle with Google, which has begun its own charge to dramatically increase internet speeds in various cities throughout the United States.

The network, called 'AT&T U-Verse with GigaPower' is capable in delivering Gigabit broadband speeds. That's roughly 100 times faster than current speeds in many parts of the U.S.

The company plans to enter discussions with local leaders in areas it has already identified as having suitable existing networks and likely a high demand for the faster service.

"This initiative continues AT&T's ongoing commitment to economic development in these communities, bringing jobs, advanced technologies and infrastructure," the company said in a news release.

The metropolitan areas being considered are-- Atlanta; Augusta, Georgia; Charlotte, North Carolina; Chicago; Cleveland; Fort Worth, Texas; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Greensboro, North Carolina; Houston; Jacksonville, Florida; Kansas City, Kansas; Los Angeles; Miami; Nashville; Oakland, California; Orlando, Florida; San Antonio, Texas; San Diego; St. Louis; San Francisco and San Jose.

AT&T had already announced plans to install the high-speed network in Austin and Dallas and says it is in "advanced discussions" with Raleigh-Durham and Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

However, it's worth underlining that none of this is a guarantee yet. More likely, it's AT&T publicly pointing out locations it thinks are good candidates for network upgrades, but there could be some changes in the planning, and none of this has been confirmed yet.

Meanwhile, Google first launched Google Fiber in 2012. That service also promises speeds of 1 gigabit per second, which the company says could allow someone at full capacity to download an entire feature-length movie in about 38 seconds.

Google has already brought the service to Kansas City, Kansas; and Provo, Utah and plans to roll it out as well in Austin, Texas, by the end of 2014.

Google connects fiberoptic cables directly to a home or office in order to give users broadband Internet and television service.

In Kansas City and Provo, Google's ultra-fast Internet service costs $70 a month for Internet, or $120 if you add streaming video.

In February, Google said it is currently exploring plans to lay down the special cables in nine additional metro areas-- Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville, Phoenix, Portland, Raleigh-Durham, Salt Lake City, San Antonio and San Jose.

That includes 34 cities in those regions. We'll keep you posted on these and other stories as they happen.

In other mobile news

If you're not sure what a so-called 'NFC Ring' is supposed to do, you're probably not alone.

An NFC (Near Field Communication) Ring is actually a small piece of jewellery with two NFC tags embedded in it that pass information to nearby phones, tablets and other electronic devices using low power radio waves.

However, given the fact that NFC has been a bit of a flop so far, this may seem a little pointless, but we will tell you what it can do just the same.

But as a ring, it may start to make a bit of sense. For starters, it turns the model around. Rather than expecting you to use your phone to pay-by-tap, it uses the ring to control the phone.

But most importantly, it can replace the lock code or swipe pattern by just holding the phone while wearing the ring. Tap the ring against the phone and you're in-- the code to unlock the device is sent wirelessly from the ring.

The NFC Ring is the brainchild of John McLear, a British citizen. Initially described by some as a 3D device, the first prototypes turned out to be made of plastic and didn't work too well.

In theory, an NFC ring can replace a contact-less payment card, but these things are never quite that straightforward. McLear wants to support payments, but that will need expertise in global payment-card standard Europay-MasterCard-Visa (EMV).

In Britain, it canít be used as an 'Oyster Card' as thatís proprietary MiFare technology, although the London Underground is also moving to EMV which is why Tube-dwelling Londoners are getting constant warnings to keep their payment cards and Oyster cards separate.

Other similar applications include NFC door locks. There are a few around, principally targeted at the hotel market, but Yale has shown off a domestic version. With two chips in the ring, one can be used for public functions, such as handing over a Bitcoin wallet address, while the other can be private.

The two chips are denoted by white and black areas on the ring. McLear is applying the Etherpad open-source ethos to NFC Ring, opening up the technology for third-party developers.

So for the moment, itís just a pair of NXP NTAG 203 chips, especially made for the NFC Ring and tuned to the titanium they are using for the band. A special polymer coating protects the silicon.

Remember, this has to survive a much harsher environment than is usual for electronics. You donít shower with a phone or use it to do the washing up. Future models will cater for gold, platinum and then silver rings.

McLear adds that he's discovered that phone hardware varies a lot from one device to the other, and he's the first person weíve met who doesnít like the metal back on the HTC One M8-- ďThe only place where the NFC works is by the camera lensĒ.

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And then of course, the software is also a big issue. Clearly there is no iPhone option. Itís rumored for the iPhone 6 but then it was for every past generation as well...

McLear's NFC Ring supports Android and Windows Phone. Overall, Android works better because you can use it to unlock the phone, whereas Windows' proximity API doesnít allow access when the phone is locked.

The best utilization for an NFC Ring, as a Windows Phone user, is to link to a web page. For an Android user itís an elegant solution and has certainly captured the imagination of some people.

The successfully completed Kickstarter project sold 10,000 rings and they have sold 5,000 more since, partly thanks to backing from Audrey Capital.

There are major investments in the production and quality control of NFC Rings, with the initial manufacturing in China. McLear is keen to find British companies with the technology, particularly for the polymer coating.

The current ring is just passive but future plans include active devices with inductive charging. This is much more ambitious as a ring needs to last much longer than the technology we are used to.

Jewellery is a very different market to technology. Itís attractive because the margins are so much higher but brings other issues- ďAbout 10 percent of people get their size wrong when they orderĒ said McLear, but with experience, and as with anything, heís getting on top of the game.

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Source: The FCC.

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