There's been some positive news in the last year (and the last few) for American cellphone customers: certainly there's more visible competition for their business among the largest players in the market. Nonetheless, the Wall Street Journal reports that while more competition may translate into some more attractive service bundles, flexibility in phone options, or smoother customer service, it doesn't actually mean that the customers are on average reaping one of the benefits that competition might be expected to provide: lower price. Instead, the bills for customers on the major wireless providers have actually gone up, if not dramatically, in recent months — which means U.S. cell service remains much more expensive than it is in many other countries. The article could stand a sidebar on MVNOs and other low-cost options, though -- I switched to one of these from AT&T, and now pay just under $40 for one version of the new normal of unlimited talk and text, plus quite limited (1GB) data, but still using AT&T towers. Has your own cost to talk gone up or down?
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phantomfive writes "Verizon has said they will not be digging new lines any time soon. Time-Warner's cash flow goes towards paying down debt, not laying down fiber. AT&T is doing everything they can to slow deployment of Google fiber. How can the situation be improved? Mainly by expediting right-of-way access, permits, and inspections, according to Andy Kessler. That is how Google was able to afford to lay down fiber in Austin, and how VTel was able to do it in Vermont (gigabit connections for $35 a month)."
Lauren Weinstein writes "You'd think that with so many concerns these days about whether the likes of AT&T, Verizon, and other telecom companies can be trusted not to turn our data over to third parties whom we haven't authorized, that a plan to formalize a mechanism for ISP and other 'man-in-the-middle' snooping would be laughed off the Net. But apparently the authors of IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) Internet-Draft 'Explicit Trusted Proxy in HTTP/2.0' (14 Feb 2014) haven't gotten the message. What they propose for the new HTTP/2.0 protocol is nothing short of officially sanctioned snooping."
An anonymous reader writes "We've been hearing more and more reports of ISPs throttling Netflix and other high-bandwidth services lately. The ISPs have denied it, and even Netflix itself seems to believe them. If that's the case, what's going on? Well, according to this article, the blame still lies with the ISPs. While they may not be explicitly throttling connection speeds, they're refusing to upgrade network connections as they demand more money from content distributors. For example, Netflix pays Cogent to distribute their internet traffic. Cogent has an agreement with Verizon to exchange traffic — which works fine until the massive amount of traffic from Netflix makes it a lopsided arrangement. Verizon wants more money from Cogent, and one of their negotiating tactics is simply to stop upgrading their infrastructure so that service degrades. 'There are about 11 Cogent/Verizon peering connections in major cities around the country. When peering partners aren't fighting, they typically upgrade the connections (or "ports") when they're about 50 percent full, Cogent says. ... With Cogent and Verizon fighting, the upgrades are happening at a glacial pace, according to Schaeffer. "Once a port hits about 85 percent throughput, you're going to begin to start to drop packets," he said. "Clearly when a port is at 120 or 130 percent [as the Cogent/Verizon ones are] the packet loss is material."'"
Karl C writes "In a statement issued today, FCC commissioner Tom Wheeler announced that the commission will begin a rule-making process to re-impose Net Neutrality, which was recently struck down in Federal court. Among the standards Wheeler intends to pursue are vigorous enforcement of a requirement for transparency in how ISPs manage traffic, and a prohibition on blocking (the 'no blocking' provision.) This seems like exactly what net neutrality activists have been demanding: Total prohibition of throttling, and vigorous enforcement of that rule, and of a transparency requirements so ISPs can't try to mealy-mouth their way around accusations that they're already throttling Netflix. Even before the court decision overturning net neutrality, Comcast and Verizon users have been noting Netflix slowdowns for months."
Trailrunner7 writes: "AT&T, in its first transparency report, said it received at least 2,000 National Security Letters and nearly 38,000 requests for location data on its subscribers in 2013. The new report from AT&T is the latest in a growing list of publications from telecom companies, Web providers and cell phone carriers who have been under pressure from privacy advocates and security experts in the wake of the Edward Snowden NSA surveillance revelations. AT&T's report shows a higher number of NSLs and subpoenas in 2013 than its most relevant competitor, Verizon. In January, Verizon's first transparency report showed that the company received between 1,000 and 1,999 NSLs in 2013 and 164,000 subpoenas. AT&T said it got 2,000-2,999 NSLs and 248,343 subpoenas last year. AT&T also received nearly 37,000 court orders and more than 16,000 search warrants."
An anonymous reader writes "Verizon has discontinued its Home Monitoring and Control solution, a $10/month service for do-it-yourselfers that enables remote monitoring and control of security, lighting, thermostats and more. The author notes Verizon 'was attempting to become the first successful provider of a DIY security/automation system that had a monthly fee separate from a professionally monitored security system. ... Providers could (and do) charge premiums of $10 or more for automation and self-monitored security as an attachment to professional monitoring, but not as a standalone service.'"
Nemo the Magnificent writes "A few days ago we talked over a post by David Raphael accusing Verizon of slowing down Netflix, by way of throttling Amazon AWS. Now Jonathan Feldman gives us reason to believe that the carriers won't win the war on Netflix, because tools for monitoring the performance of carriers will emerge nd we'll catch them if they try. I just now exercised one such tool, NetNeutralityTest.com from Speedchedker Ltd. My carrier is Verizon (FiOS), and the test showed my download speed at the moment to be 12 Mbps. It was the same to Linode in NJ but only 3 Mbps to AWS East. Hmm."
alphadogg writes "When a certain Los Angeles office building lights up, it's a dark day for nearby cellphone users, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Fluorescent lights at Ernst & Young Plaza, a 41-story tower near the heart of downtown, emit frequencies that interfere with the Verizon Wireless 700MHz network, the agency said in a citation issued against the building owner. The FCC's message comes through loud and clear in the filing: the building owner could be fined up to $16,000 a day if it keeps using the interfering lights, up to a total of $112,500. The alleged violation could also lead to 'criminal sanctions, including imprisonment,' the citation says."
hondo77 points out a blog post by Dave Raphael, who noticed some odd discrepancies between two different Verizon broadband connections he has access to. His personal residential plan and his company's business plan both went through the same Verizon routers, but his residential plan is getting unusably slow speeds to places like AWS. He suggests that Verizon is already waging a war on high-bandwidth services like Netflix after the recent court decision against net neutrality. His discussion with a Verizon service representative seems to confirm this, though it's uncertain whether such an employee would have access to that information.
As the NSA metadata collection scandal has developed, a number of technology and communications companies have fought to increase the transparency of the data collection process by publishing reports on how much data government agencies are asking them for. These transparency reports have been limited, however, because most government requests are entwined with a gag order. In a speech two weeks back, President Obama said this would change, and now the Dept. of Justice has announced new, slightly relaxed rules about what information companies can share. According to an email from the U.S. Deputy Attorney General (PDF) to the General Counsel of Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Microsoft, and Yahoo, the companies can publish: how many Criminal Process requests they received, how many National Security Letters they received, how many accounts were affected by NSLs, how many Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act orders were received (both for communications content and 'non-content'), and how many customers were targeted by FISA requests. The companies still aren't allowed to give specific numbers, but they can report them in bands of 1,000 — for example, 0-999, 1,000-1,999, etc. Information requests for old services cannot be disclosed for at least six months. The first information requests for a new service cannot be disclosed for two years. The companies also have the option of lumping all the NSL and FISA requests together — if they do that, they can report in bands of 250 instead of 1,000.
Gunkerty Jeb writes "After months of public calls from privacy advocates and security experts, Verizon on Wednesday released its first transparency report, revealing that it received more than 164,000 subpoenas and between 1,000 - 2,000 National Security Letters in 2013. The report, which covers Verizon's landline, Internet and wireless services, shows that the company also received 36,000 warrants, most of which requested location or stored content data."
memnock writes "Wired and The Washington Post both report that mobile service provider CREDO is the first telecom to release a report detailing requests from the government for customer information. From Wired: 'A small telecom believed to be at the center of a historic court battle over government surveillance published its first transparency report on Thursday, noting that it had received 16 government requests for customer data in 2013. But the report may be most significant for what it doesn't say.'"
Ars Technica takes a look at two sides of the world of internet service, as it's available to customers in the U.S., and especially at changes that are in the works for the next year. Thanks to Google, AT&T and other providers (including municipal networks), the number of Americans with access to very high speed household connections is rising dramatically — good news, for those in range of fiber-to-the-home rollouts, and this means at least some pressure on competitors. But as Ars writer Jon Brodkin points out, there are also developments that may dismay many customers, specifically the possibility that the Federal Communication Commission's 2010 Open Internet Order ("a network neutrality law that forbids ISPs from blocking services or charging content providers for access to their networks") may be overturned or weakened. That could come about either through lawsuit (Verizon's suit is mentioned), or through a more market-oriented approach from the FCC. Writes Brodkin: "If the law were overturned, ISPs could more easily steer customers to their own services and away from those of their rivals. They could charge companies like Netflix for the right to have their videos prioritized over other types of Internet traffic, perhaps indirectly raising the price consumers pay for streaming video and making it more difficult for startups to compete against established players who can afford the 'Internet fast lane' fees."
wiredmikey writes "Telecommunications giants Verizon and AT&T both announced (separately) this week that they would join a growing list of tech and telecom sector companies in publishing a 'transparency report' about demands for information from law enforcement agencies. Verizon said the first report would come in early 2014, with updates being published semi-annually. AT&T said it would also release a semiannual report starting in early 2014 with information 'to the extent permitted by laws and regulations.' The transparency reports will include things such as the total number of law enforcement agency requests in criminal cases, subpoenas, court orders and warrants. However, telecom and tech firms are still barred from releasing data on national security requests from the FBI and U.S. intelligence services."
Dega704 sends this story from Ars: "A Senate bill called the 'Consumer Choice in Online Video Act' (PDF) takes aim at many of the tactics Internet service providers can use to overcharge customers and degrade the quality of rival online video services. Submitted yesterday by U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), the 63-page bill provides a comprehensive look at the potential ways in which ISPs can limit consumer choice, and it boots the Federal Communications Commission's power to prevent bad outcomes. 'It shall be unlawful for a designated Internet service provider to engage in unfair methods of competition or unfair or deceptive acts or practices, the purpose or effect of which are to hinder significantly or to prevent an online video distributor from providing video programming to a consumer,' the bill states. A little more specifically, it would be illegal to 'block, degrade, or otherwise impair any content provided by an online video distributor' or 'provide benefits in the transmission of the video content of any company affiliated with the Internet service provider through specialized services or other means.' Those provisions overlap a bit with the FCC's authority under its own net neutrality law, the Open Internet Order, which already prevents the blockage of websites and services. However, Verizon is in court attempting to kill that law, and there is a real possibility that it could be limited in some way. The Consumer Choice in Online Video Act could provide a hedge against that possible outcome."
Nerval's Lobster writes "Google is still the tech company that spends most lavishly to make its influence known in Washington, D.C., according to a report analyzing the lobbying activity of technology firms. Using data from disclosure forms filed with the Clerk of the House of Representatives, the oversight group Consumer Watchdog added up the efforts of tech-company representatives to get in front of lawmakers and state their employers' case. Facebook's spending on lobbying rose 47 percent between 2012 and 2013, from $980,000 during the third quarter of 2012 to 1.4 million during 2013. Microsoft also boosted its spending by 20 percent, from $1.9 million in 2012 to $2.2 million during the third quarter of this year. Google cut its spending on lobbyists, but still spent $3.4 million during the third quarter – three times what Facebook spent during the same quarter. Apple's lobbying efforts shot up 111 percent between the third quarter of 2012 and 2013, but still amounted to only $970,000 this year. Cisco Systems spent $890,000; IBM spent $1.18 million; Intel spent $980,000 and Oracle spent $1.36 million. Though telecommunications firms are in a separate category, Google still outspent Verizon (down 2 percent, to $3.04 million) and Verizon Wireless (up 19 percent, to $1.2 million). It was trumped by AT&T (up 23 percent, to $4.3 million)."
Trailrunner7 writes "A security researcher discovered a simple vulnerability in Verizon Wireless's Web-based customer portal that enabled anyone who knows a subscriber's phone number to download that user's SMS message history, including the numbers of the people he communicated with. The vulnerability, which has been resolved now, resulted from a failure of the Verizon Web app to check that a number entered into the app actually belonged to the user who was entering it. After entering the number, a user could then download a spreadsheet file of the SMS activity on a target account. Cody Collier, the researcher who discovered the vulnerability, said he decided right away to report it to Verizon because he is a Verizon customer and didn't want others to have access to his account information. 'I am a Verizon Wireless customer myself, so upon finding this, I immediately looked for a way to contact Verizon. I wouldn't want my account information to exposed in such way,' Collier said via email."
Nerval's Lobster writes "The U.S. Army Research Laboratory has awarded as much as $48 million to researchers trying to build computer-security systems that can identify even the most subtle human-exploit attacks and respond without human intervention. The more difficult part of the research will be to develop models of human behavior that allow security systems decide, accurately and on their own, whether actions by humans are part of an attack (whether the humans involved realize it or not). The Army Research Lab (ARL) announced Oct. 8 a grant of $23.2 million to fund a five-year cooperative effort among a team of researchers at Penn State University, the University of California, Davis, Univ. California, Riverside and Indiana University. The five-year program comes with the option to extend it to 10 years with the addition of another $25 million in funding. As part of the project, researchers will need to systematize the criteria and tools used for security analysis, making sure the code detects malicious intrusions rather than legitimate access, all while preserving enough data about any breach for later forensic analysis, according to Alexander Kott, associate director for science and technology at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory. Identifying whether the behavior of humans is malicious or not is difficult even for other humans, especially when it's not clear whether users who open a door to attackers knew what they were doing or, conversely, whether the "attackers" are perfectly legitimate and it's the security monitoring staff who are overreacting. Twenty-nine percent of attacks tracked in the April 23 2013 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report could be traced to social-engineering or phishing tactics whose goal is to manipulate humans into giving attackers access to secured systems."