image
23 February 2017

Your City Can Provide Better, Cheaper Internet

Municipal Internet (or, depending on the technology, “municipal fiber”, or “municipal broadband”) is an Internet service provider run partly or entirely by by local governments - usually on a city or county level. Being run with involvement from the local government means municipal Internet can be provided at a much lower cost, or in some cases even for free while being better tailored to the local community’s needs. Areas that provide municipal Internet often are able to provide more equal access to the Internet and better connectivity. To top it off, areas that have built municipal networks have attracted high tech companies and have experienced local economic development, providing more value to the community.

Large telecoms such as Time Warner, Verizon, and the like exist as huge, near-monopolistic companies. When it comes to their policies, there is no way to vote with your wallet and switch providers; m...

image
08 February 2017

Innovation and a Neutral Internet

The debate on the role of net neutrality when it comes to innovation is subtle. Both pro and anti net-neutrality debates tend to involve innovation, but from different angles. Internet providers are usually anti-neutrality with the claim that a neutral Internet stops them from charging more to move data, which would (in theory) prevent them from investing more into their networks. Large companies such as Google tend to be for net neutrality, because a non-neutral Internet would likely cost them more. The likes of Google, Facebook, Netflix and other huge online services grew and for now continue to grow in a neutral Internet. However, so do Internet providers, which make far above what’s considered a “good” profit margin for a business.

Internet providers have already

image
02 February 2017

Net Neutrality and Your Voice

The Internet gives everyone access to a platform through which they can share their views and make their voices heard. More than half of Americans use the Internet as their primary source of information, which highlights how important it is for people to be able to make their voices heard online. With over 1.2 billion people sharing their voices on Facebook - not to mention other social networks and websites - it’s clear that the Internet has made that more possible than ever before. However, access to the Internet is provided by an industry with a near monopoly on providing Internet service, who claim their own rights to free speech when it comes to deciding what their customers have access to.

Service providers have in the past claimed - and some still claim - that continue reading

image
25 January 2017

The Problems with Tiered Internet

We’re generally familiar with how buying cable works. Usually, there’s a collection of packages including an increasing amount of channels with increasing cost. Adding “extras” like HBO cost extra. The Internet does not work the same way. Rather than paying for access to collections of websites, we pay for different speeds, and the entirety of our Internet will be delivered at that speed. The Internet operates very differently, so this sort of access scheme makes sense. A tiered Internet would operate more like cable; you might pay for faster access to a collection of websites, and your cable company might charge companies to allow their services to be available to you at better speeds.

In a tiered Internet, you pay twice for the services you use. In a world of Internet fast lanes, some companies could pay Internet providers for their service to be faster than others. In return, they would pass the costs of doing so on to their subscribers. This means that consumers end u...

image
16 January 2017

Why Zero Rating Actually Sucks

Everyone loves zero-rating, which is when certain services don’t count against your data limit. Depending on your provider, anything from NFL games to Pokémon Go might be free to use without using up your data. There are two ways carriers do this: by having the company behind the zero-rated service pay for the data use, or by simply not counting it for promotional reasons. For us as users, it seems pretty good. Unfortunately, zero-rating brings a number of serious problems that hurt users in the longer term. It hurts competition between online services, limits and disincentivizes users from freely accessing the Internet, and costs more. It turns out that as great as it seems, the problems zero-rating has are big.

Zero-rating can be anti-competitive because it gives large advantages to the services that zero-rate their own apps. This can be particularly problematic when service providers zero-rate their in-house servi...

image
10 January 2017

How Data Caps Hurt the Internet

Data Caps (also called Bandwidth Caps) are a limit on how much you can upload and download through your Internet provider, often on a monthly basis. Most of us are familiar with data caps from cell phone data plans, although data caps on home Internet also exist. Usually, they’re sold as a quality and fairness measure, so that no one person can hog the service provider’s network. Whether or not that’s widely believed is questionable, since customer protest usually causes ISPs to roll out data caps as a voluntary way to reduce bills or as “tests” in a certain area. In modern networks, data caps are not necessary to ensure quality of service for everyone on the network and actually have little to nothing to do with actual usage. It turns out that data caps are more profit driven and actually influence consumers to s...

image
04 January 2017

Net Neutrality and Access to Information

The Internet is a major source of information, providing digital outlets for nearly any information. Almost 40% of Americans get their news online, according to a Pew Research study in 2016, making the Internet a news source second only to television. In addition, a majority of adults happened to get news from social media - which is a problem because social media provides only a curated view of the news. These statistics underscore the need for open access to news and information online. Limiting access to information - fake news is a different issue - makes it much more difficult to stay informed. Easy access to information is empowering.

Many news sources tend to have a political bias, to the point where continue reading

image
23 December 2016

Why Internet Providers Don't Compete

In the United States, most people have access to only one or two Internet Service Providers. Only 28% had access to three or more for speeds one might consider tolerable, and 9% for speeds one might consider “fast” as of 2014. Since that data was collected, some providers have merged with others so there are fewer options available. Mobile Internet is better, as most people have access to more than three providers for standard speeds.

The lack of options isn’t surprising. Unlike most other industries, building an Internet service provider (ISP) is prohibitively difficult. It requires large, expensive installations of equipment, and requires ...

image
05 December 2016

Explaining Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality is the idea that all data on the Internet, regardless of who it comes from, its political affiliation, company, or who’s consuming it, should be treated the same way and should move at the same speed. We’ve enjoyed a mostly-neutral Internet for some time now, which is what has allowed the Internet to become an important means for moving information around the world. A neutral Internet is also the reason it’s easy for new companies to get up and running online and find their customers. It’s difficult to explain well in a short blog post the importance of a neutral Internet, so be sure to take a look at the links throughout for more information.

At a glance, it can be difficult to understand why Net Neutrality matters, in particular because we’ve never seen a non-neutral Internet. A non-neutral Internet can even seem appealing from the marketing suggestions that service providers publish, in that you can pay only for what you need. Unfortunately, service prov...

image
28 August 2016

Encryption is not the enemy

Encryption is a well-understood and well-known technology in the world of computing. Though the media would have us believe otherwise, encryption is not much more than fairly basic math involving some large, random numbers. There’s a little more to it than that, but it’s based around the fact that modern computers take a really long time to do certain things. That’s not that it’s complicated, just that it’s something computers happen to be fairly bad at. Most things that use encryption use methods that are widely used and known; it’s the keys (or passwords) that are not. No dark magic, and no weird science, just a little math and some keys. If you felt inclined, you could do the tedious job of encrypting something without a computer as long as you had some notes on the math and a calculator.

While it isn’t always made clear, encryption is imperative when doing almost anything...

Older Posts