image
02 February 2017

Net Neutrality and Your Voice

Net neutrality aims to protect the many voices that compose the Internet from censorship. The web has made it more possible than ever before to be informed and to be heard. More than half of Americans use the Internet as their primary source of information. An average of over 1.2 billion people per day shared their voices on Facebook in March 2017. Unfortunately, access to the Internet is provided by an industry with a near monopoly on providing service, that claims its own rights to free speech when it comes to deciding what their customers have access to. If the ISP industry has its say, the world of free speech that exists online could be divided and censored based on what the industry determines people are willing to pay for.

Service providers have in the past claimed—and some still claim—that

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...

image
13 June 2016

On Orlando

When I woke up yesterday morning, I saw that there had been a mass shooting in Orlando. It’s really telling that when I saw the headline, my reaction was “ugh, again?” and I kept scrolling. We’ve reached the point as a country where my generation considers mass shootings to be so common that we hardly react to the headlines and we forget about them quickly. Earlier this month, there was a murder-suicide at UCLA that we’ve already stopped talking about and others we haven’t even heard about. It’s clear that we need to do more, both legislatively and culturally, to work towards a resolution of these issues. When we politicize human rights and safety, this is the result and will continue to be the result.

The attack on Pulse was a direct attack against LGBTQ+ individuals as well as U.S. citizens, Latinos, and Muslims. At least forty-nine innocent people died in the attack and fifty-three were injured, some in critical condition as of last night. Over 100 circles of families ...

image
16 March 2016

Explaining Software to Non-Engineers

If certain stock images are to be believed, software engineering is equivalent to reading the source code of the Matrix. It’s not tremendously surprising to see it depicted that way. Software is a very abstract concept that is frequently communicated very poorly by the people who build it.

As we learn about the world, we develop what are called mental models, which are thought processes surrounding how something works. When we learn about something new, we look for ways to apply our existing mental models to it, sometimes incorrectly. A great example of a mis-applied mental model is someone experienced with film cameras equating a digital camera’s memory card to film and replacing it when full. Mental models are usually functional so they don’t work as well when applied to something abstract such as software construction. Most people also don’t have a mental model that can be applied to software so they’re m...

Newer Posts

Older Posts