FCC Chairman Proposes Broadband Subsidy for Low-Income Families in the U.S.


Broadband access is, according to the U.S. Federal Communications Commissions' (FCC) chairman Julius Genachowski, now a more important communications platform than phone service. Because of this, Genachowski today announced a draft proposal that, if adopted, would extend the subsidies the U.S. government currently offers low-income families for phone service to broadband service as well. The so-called "Lifeline" program currently has about 10 million participants.

Genachowski noted that the current program is "outdated" and "focused on phone service when high-speed Internet has become our vital communications platform." The growing digital divide in the U.S. will likely remain a major stumbling block for low-income families and programs like this will at least alleviate some of the problems. It's not clear how large these subsidies would be. The Lifeline program currently provides families that qualify with a $10 discount on their monthly phone bill.

In October 2011, the FCC also announced a $4.5 billion broadband fund that aims to bring broadband access to rural areas in the U.S. How (and if) these two programs would work together is not clear at this point.

According to Wade Henderson, the president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the main problem with this new program is that the FCC is currently only proposing a pilot program and that this "puts the program years away from having a notable impact on narrowing the digital divide." This, says Henderson, "won’t help the millions of Americans struggling right now to get a leg up in today’s economy."


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11:10 am

Is Cell Phone Radiation Harmful? Nobody Knows, But San Francisco Wants to Warn You Anyway


When it comes to the radiation that emanates from cell phones, nobody really knows if it is harmful or not. For every study that “proves” that cell phones will cause you cancer, another one appears that shows just the opposite. The Board of Supervisors of San Francisco, though, isn’t going to leave anything to chance and retailers in the city will now have to provide shoppers with information about potential radiation risks.

The version of San Francisco’s cellphone ordinance  that passed today is significantly weaker than another one the city tried to pass last year. At that time, though, the wireless industry association CTIA challenged that ordinance  in court where it remained in legal limbo until today. The old version would have forced retailers to make comparisons between different phones available to consumers, while the new version just expects them to display general information and to offer a tip sheet on how to reduce (the purported threat of) exposure.

These new rules still have to pass a final vote by the board on July 26, but, according to the Bay Citizen’s Stephanie Sara Chong the general expectation is that the ordinance will easily pass.

Image credit: Flickr user whatleydude

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4:59 pm

Google-Backed Measurement Lab to Distribute Free Routers for Broadband Testing


Measurement Lab is a Google-backed project that brings together industry and academic researchers who are interested in measuring broadband speed, doing network diagnostics and researching how ISPs throttle and block certain applications and services. The project launched in 2009 and has since released a number of tools for measuring your Internet connection. Now, with the BISMark (the Broadband Internet Service BenchMARK) project, Measurement Lab is taking its efforts one step further by distributing a large number of free routers to users all across the country. Currently, the project gathers data every time a user runs a test on its website. This new project, however, will give researchers a better idea of how networks perform, as the measurements are done at the router level and hence shielded from problems on a user’s computer and home network setup.

The project is led by Georgia Tech and the University of Napoli, but the organization is also working with broadband measurement company SamKnows and the FCC. SamKnows, of course, already has a network of routers installed all across the U.S. and UK (I’ve been using one for the last 9 months or so), making the company an ideal partner for this project.

The routers will then run tests throughout the day. These tests measure latency, packet loss, jitter, throughput, and network capacity. The results will be available for researchers, but the users themselves will also get access to a dashboard where they can take a look at their own data.


To apply for a free router and to become part of the project, just fill out this form here. The primary router used in this test will be a NetGear WNDR3700. Advanced users with an OpenWRT-capable router can also download the software package themselves and install it on their own routers.

3:28 pm

House Tries to Stop FCC from Enforcing Net Neutrality Rules


Just when you thought Net neutrality was going to be the law of the land soon, Washington politics intervene. Now it looks as if the highly charged political atmosphere in Washington could put the enforcement of the FCC’s proposed Net neutrality rules on hold or even kill them altogether. Today, an amendment to the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representative’s budget proposal for 2012 passed the House vote that would ban the FCC from using any part of its budget for enacting the newly proposed Net neutrality rules. The amendment was proposed by Republican representative Greg Walden of Oregon, the chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. The amendment passed the House by a vote of 244-181. Votes were mostly along party lines.

Here is the short summary of amendment #404:

The amendment would prohibit the use of funds made available by this Act to be used to implement the Report and Order of the Federal Communications Commission relating to the matter of preserving the open Internet and broadband industry practices.

In a press release issued after the amendment passed, Walden argued that “we all want an open and thriving Internet. That Internet exists today. Consumers can access anything they want with the click of a mouse thanks to our historical hands-off approach. I am pleased that my colleagues in the House accepted my amendment to ensure the FCC does not have the funds to implement the controversial Internet regulations.”

Once the House passes its version of the budget, it will have to be reconciled with the version of the Senate, which is controlled by the Democrats.

It would probably be hard to argue that banning the FCC from enforcing Net neutrality rules would do anything to reduce the forecasted $1.4 trillion deficit. While most Democrats and President Obama are generally in favor of giving the FCC control over enforcing strict Net neutrality regulations, this year’s budget discussion will likely become extremely heated and Net neutrality could just fall to the wayside in these debates.

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