Saturday, January 31, 2015

Find: The FCC has changed the definition of broadband

The FCC has changed the definition of broadband
// The Verge - All Posts

As part of its 2015 Broadband Progress Report, the Federal Communications Commission has voted to change the definition of broadband by raising the minimum download speeds needed from 4Mbps to 25Mbps, and the minimum upload speed from 1Mbps to 3Mbps, which effectively triples the number of US households without broadband access. Currently, 6.3 percent of US households don’t have access to broadband under the previous 4Mpbs/1Mbps threshold, while another 13.1 percent don't have access to broadband under the new 25Mbps downstream threshold.

FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler was vehement in his support for the new broadband standard. "When 80 percent of Americans can access 25-3, that's a standard. We have a problem that 20 percent can't. We...

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

YouTube says HTML5 video ready for primetime, makes it default

This is a big nail in flash's coffin. 


YouTube says HTML5 video ready for primetime, makes it default
// Ars Technica

Everyone hates Flash, right? You have to install a plug-in, it's resource intensive, it doesn't work on mobile, and it causes all sorts of security problems. YouTube has been working on ridding itself of Adobe's ancient Web plug-in for several years now, and while the whole site has been slowly transitioning away from Flash, today YouTube announced that it finally serves HTML5 video by default. Users of Chrome, IE 11, Safari 8, and "beta versions of Firefox" will all have a Flash-less experience.

YouTube's transition seems to have been pretty straightforward. Four years ago, YouTube laid out a laundry list of problems it had with HTML5, and today it has a blog post explaining how it has worked with the Web community to solve each issue.

MediaSource Extensions have enabled YouTube to add adaptive bitrate streaming, which can change video quality on the fly without having to stop and rebuffer the video. YouTube says this has reduced buffering by "50 percent globally and as much as 80 percent on heavily-congested networks."

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Who watches the watchers?: FTC issues official report on the Internet of Things [feedly]

Who watches the watchers?: FTC issues official report on the Internet of Things
// Ars Technica

On Tuesday morning at the annual State of the Net conference in Washington DC, Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez gave a keynote address announcing the FTC's latest initiative: watching the Internet of Things for privacy violations. The commission recently voted four to one to issue a report pointing out a number of best practices that the FTC expects the nascent Internet of Things industry to follow. The report, released today (PDF), included some softer recommendations as well.

Although the report largely reiterates most of the statements Ramirez made at CES three weeks ago, the official backing from the FTC's commissioners is an important step toward keeping a more watchful eye on companies out to make a quick buck without a corresponding consumer protection plan.

"I think it's important to understand how an Internet of Things world changes the landscape,” Ramirez told the audience this morning. “You're now in a world where data is being collected all the time... we're bringing these devices into our homes, into what used to be private sphere.”

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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Internet Explorer Project Spartan Shows Large Performance Gains [feedly]

Internet Explorer Project Spartan Shows Large Performance Gains
// AnandTech

With the release of build 9926 of Windows 10, I have had some time to get to know the new build. One of the things discussed at the Windows 10 event in Redmond was an update to the browser, codenamed Project Spartan, which is a new fork of Microsoft’s browser. There will be a lot of features coming to Spartan, such as the ability to annotate web pages with digital ink or keyboard text input, a new reading experience, and Cortana integration. It will be available on all Windows 10 devices – PCs, tablets, phones, and even Xbox. Internet Explorer has never been on the fast update cycle that other browsers are on – namely Google’s Chome browser and Mozilla’s Firefox.

As a brief history, there are of course several major browsers and many smaller ones. Webkit has become one of the dominant rendering (also called layout) engines, and powers Apple’s Safari browser on both OS X and iOS. Chrome used to be based on Webkit, but in 2013, Google forked WebCore from the WebKit project and created Blink, which is also now used by the Opera browser. Firefox has their own rendering engine, called Gecko, and Internet Explorer has used a closed source rendering engine called Trident since version 4.0.

In addition to the rendering engine, each browser also has an ECMA Script engine for executing JavaScript. JavaScript has become very important on the web, so JavaScript performance of the engine is important for how fast web pages feel. Safari’s engine is branded as Nitro, Chrome has V8, Firefox has SpiderMonkey, and Internet Explorer uses Chakra. This means that even though Chrome and Safari were both based on Webkit, performance can be very different because of the different script engines in each browser.

Previous to Internet Explorer 9, IE used a script interpreter for JavaScript, which was fine back when the web was mostly static content, but not good enough with the move to dynamic webpages. Chakra was created for IE9, and it gave a large jump in performance for IE 9 over IE 8. It was certainly an improvement, but quickly fell behind in terms of performance against the other competitors. IE 10, and IE 11, both improved somewhat over the competition, but still the performance of Javascript was poor.

With Windows 10, Microsoft is finally talking about performance again, but also compatibility. For legacy sites, Spartan can load the IE 11 engine as needed, but most of the time they will be able to avoid the legacy code and use a much leaner, faster engine, along with a revamped Javascript engine which offers much greater performance.

Spartan will not be Internet Explorer. This will be a completely new browser, with a new name. Spartan will however be able to load the IE 11 engine if and when needed to maintain compatibility with older sites. For enterprises which still rely on older technologies such as ActiveX controls and Browser Helper Objects, Internet Explorer will still be available in Windows 10 for those use cases, however it will have the same dual rendering engine as Spartan, allowing modern sites to be rendered with the new rendering engine, and older sites to be rendered with IE 11.

For the Windows 10 build 9926 which was released on January 23rd, Spartan is not yet available, and will show up at a later date. However Internet Explorer does have the new Edge document mode. A small number of testers will have this mode enabled by default, and anyone who wants to test against it can manually enable it by going to about:flags in the address bar. Switch Enable Experimental Web Platform Features to Enabled, and you will be using the latest rendering engine. This is still pre-release software, so enable at your own risk of course. Also in the experimental features is the ability to set a custom user agent string, and Microsoft has continued the successful strategy that they brought forward in Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 of having a user agent string say that it is not Internet Explorer to avoid old IE-only content.

The performance increase of the new Javascript engine is massive, and brings Internet Explorer basically up to par with Google Chome for Javascript performance. WebGL still has some work to be done, and at the moment, the only HTML5 features that have been added is WebM support. Let’s take a look at the numbers.

Browser Performance - Core i7-860
Benchmark IE Old IE Experimental Chrome 40 Firefox 35 Percentage Change
Sunspider (lower is better) 149.7ms 144.6ms 260.9ms 220.1ms 3.4%
Octane 2.0 (higher is better) 9861 17928 17474 16508 81.8%
Kraken 1.1 (lower is better) 3781.2ms 2077.5ms 1992.8ms 1760.4ms 45.1%
WebXPRT (higher is better) 913 1083 1251 1345 18.6%
Oort Online (higher is better) 1990 2170 5370 3900 9%
HTML5Test (higher is better) 339 344 511 449 1.5%

IE was well optimized for Sunspider already, so there is not much of a change there. Google Octane 2.0 however has always been terrible in IE, and now it comes in roughly the same as Chrome, for a massive 81.8% increase over the old rendering engine. Kraken continues this with a 45% jump in performance. It is a big change, and a welcome one too.

Spartan should have good performance when it is eventually previewed, and hopefully the standards support will increase as well. Since it will be updated through the Windows Store, the old way of updating Internet Explorer with new Operating System releases should also disappear, allowing Microsoft to ramp up the updates to the new browser. It has taken a long time, but it seems that Redmond is finally focusing on performance and standards for a new web. For those that want to read up on more of the changes, check out the MSDN IE Blog for more information.

Google Fiber’s next construction spot is reportedly in North Carolina [feedly]

Google Fiber’s next construction spot is reportedly in North Carolina
// Ars Technica

Google is holding events in Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte, North Carolina, next week and is reportedly planning to begin Google Fiber construction in the state as early as April.

There's no official announcement, but WRAL TechWire quoted "industry sources" as saying that Google Fiber is coming to the Research Triangle area in Raleigh and Durham.

"A formal announcement might come as early as next week at Google events in Raleigh and Durham, but the company won't say what those events are about," WRAL reported today. "Speaking to WRAL TechWire, a source who asked to remain anonymous said Google is seeking bids to begin building a fiber network as early as April. 'Drill crews' have been sought for the fiber-laying process."

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No need for speed: Cable industry opposes 25Mbps broadband definition [feedly]

No need for speed: Cable industry opposes 25Mbps broadband definition
// Ars Technica

The cable lobby is opposed to a Federal Communications Commission plan to define "broadband" as speeds of at least 25Mbps downstream and 3Mbps up.

Customers do just fine with lower speeds, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) wrote in an FCC filing Thursday (thanks to the Washington Post's Brian Fung for pointing it out). 25Mbps/3Mbps isn't necessary to meet the legal definition of "high-speed, switched, broadband telecommunications capability that enables users to originate and receive high-quality voice, data, graphics, and video telecommunications using any technology," the NCTA said.

"Notably, no party provides any justification for adopting an upload speed benchmark of 3Mbps," NCTA Counsel Matthew Brill wrote. "And the two parties that specifically urge the Commission to adopt a download speed benchmark of 25 Mbps—Netflix and Public Knowledge—both offer examples of applications that go well beyond the 'current' and 'regular' uses that ordinarily inform the Commission’s inquiry under Section 706" of the Telecommunications Act.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Mozilla tweaks “referer headers” in bid to limit website privacy grabs [feedly]

Mozilla tweaks “referer headers” in bid to limit website privacy grabs
// Ars Technica

Developers of the Firefox browser want to better protect user privacy by limiting the amount of data contained in Referer headers.

The "meta referrer," as the new feature is dubbed, is aimed at stemming the ballooning amount of information many sites stuff into Referer headers, Mozilla Security and Privacy Engineer Sid Stamm wrote in a blog post published Wednesday. Referer headers started out as a way for website operators to know what external link users clicked on to arrive the page they are currently viewing. Over time, the information contained in such links has mushroomed and often includes usernames, site preferences, and other data that reveals personal information. Some sites have worked around this privacy invasion by erecting an elaborate set of redirects that strip some of that data out of Referer headers.

"This HTTP header has become quite problematic and not very useful, so we're working to make it better," Stamm wrote.

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Microsoft unveils Project Spartan, the browser after Internet Explorer [feedly]

Microsoft unveils Project Spartan, the browser after Internet Explorer
// Ars Technica

It's the end of an era... kinda. Microsoft unveiled the Windows 10 Consumer Preview in Redmond today and, with it, a new browser codenamed Spartan. This replaces Internet Explorer as the default Windows browser, and it represents the future of Microsoft's browser development.

The browser brings new interface. Just as Firefox did before it, the new interface takes its design cues from Chrome, with tabs in the title bar and the address bar inside the tabs.

Microsoft showed off a few different Spartan features, including Cortana support, a Reading List that can save articles for offline reading and sync between your phones and PCs, and the ability to annotate and clip pieces of webpages for easy sharing.

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Republicans: Utility rules unnecessary because broadband isn’t a monopoly [feedly]

Republicans: Utility rules unnecessary because broadband isn’t a monopoly
// Ars Technica

Republican members of Congress today made their case for legislation that enforces net neutrality rules while limiting the Federal Communications Commission’s authority to regulate broadband providers.

“The Internet is not a monopoly like the telephone companies were and the utilities were in the 1930s,” said US Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX). “It is one of the most vibrant markets in the world. The chairman’s draft is an attempt to keep it that vibrant marketplace.”

Barton was speaking during a hearing on draft legislation proposed by republicans including Greg Walden (R-OR), chairman of the House Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. The bill enforces net neutrality principles such as a ban on blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization, but with exceptions for “specialized services.”

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Find: Google to launch wireless service this year

Speaking of mvnos....


Report: Google to launch wireless service this year
// Ars Technica

Update: The Wall Street Journal is corroborating this story with a report that makes this sound like a done deal. The Journal mostly focuses on the Sprint side of things, saying the MVNO agreement with Google went all the way up to the Sprint and Softbank CEOs. Apparently Sprint was worried it would be "letting a rival into the gates" by dealing with Google, but a clause limiting Google's customer base calmed the company's fears.

Reports about a rumored Google wireless service are cropping up again. The Information (subscription required) is reporting that Google plans to resell Sprint and T-Mobile services as a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO).

The last time we heard about this was back in April 2014, when Google was supposedly talking to Verizon and Sprint. MVNOs are resellers of wireless access—they get access rights from one of the "Big Four" carriers and resell it to end users. Google does a lot of ISP work with things like Google Fiber, Project Loon, and the Space X investment, but those are all projects where it owns the hardware and is free to innovate. As a reseller, Google controls little other than the price and packages it provides to end users and the software it puts on devices it sells.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Find: My love for gadgets is purely physical

Expression on your mobiles. 


My love for gadgets is purely physical
// The Verge - All Posts

One of the rubber feet on my old MacBook got scuffed shortly after I bought it. For a long time, I fretted about reducing the laptop’s resale value and spoiling its precise, perfectionist aesthetic, but now that I’m using a new machine, I miss that stupid scuff so dearly. I wasn’t aware of it then, but I’d developed a habit of fingering the fissure when anxiously waiting to cover a live event or new product launch. It was my little bit of tactile reassurance that I had the equipment needed for my job, which my new Haswell MacBook, though faster and longer-lasting, just can’t provide. Unless I decide to personalize it by spoiling it just a little.

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Monday, January 19, 2015

Find: Google might pour money into SpaceX, really wants satellite Internet

Google might pour money into SpaceX, really wants satellite Internet
// Ars Technica

The Information reported on Monday that, according to “several people familiar with the talks,” Google is considering investing in SpaceX to support its plan to deliver hundreds or thousands of micro satellites into a low (750 mile) orbit around the globe to serve Internet to rural and developing areas of the world. The Information's sources indicated that Google was in the “final stages” of investing in SpaceX and valued the company at “north of $10 billion.” SpaceX is apparently courting other investors as well.

Ars has contacted both SpaceX and Google for comment and will update when we receive a response.

Musk on Friday told a gathering in Seattle that SpaceX's new office in that city would be dedicated to this satellite Internet service. Musk's announcement came just days after another competing satellite Internet company, OneWeb, announced its own investments from Richard Branson's Virgin Group as well as Qualcomm.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Find: Obama to push for cheaper, speedier broadband in the US

Hopefully this will help create a free market for internet access. 


Obama to push for cheaper, speedier broadband in the US
// The Verge - All Posts

President Obama today outlined an upcoming executive action to increase US broadband speeds and reduce its cost, something he intends to announce at a speech tomorrow in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and again in his sixth State of the Union address next week.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Find: Tom Wheeler says FCC will vote on net neutrality on February 26th

Tom Wheeler says FCC will vote on net neutrality on February 26th
// The Verge - All Posts

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has announced that his office will vote on an official proposal for net neutrality on February 26th. "We're going to circulate it to the commissioners on February 5th and vote on it February 26th," Wheeler told CEA President Gary Shapiro in a public interview at CES. Wheeler did not specifically say whether the commission was selecting a hybrid approach or reclassification of broadband as a utility, but he did speak highly of Title II's regulatory abilities. In November, President Obama urged the FCC to classify internet traffic under Title II, although Wheeler has declined to explicitly endorse the proposal.

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Find: American Workers Say Internet Makes Them More Productive

American Workers Say Internet Makes Them More Productive
// Bits

A new survey by the Pew Research Center finds that e-mail is very important to three-fifths of American workers, while social media is a blip on the charts.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Find: Both Sides Make Closing Net Neutrality Arguments as Decision Looms

Both Sides Make Closing Net Neutrality Arguments as Decision Looms
// Re/code



Last-minute arguments about new net neutrality rules have been piling up at the Federal Communications Commission over the holidays as expectations rise that Chairman Tom Wheeler will unveil his latest proposal in the next few weeks.

On Tuesday, several tech industry associations, including the Computer & Communications Industry Association and startup group Engine, filed a joint letter asking FCC officials to use a “light-touch policy framework” when writing new rules to prohibit discriminatory delivery of Internet traffic.

Most of the final arguments are variations on the same themes that have been heard throughout the debate: Internet providers don’t want the FCC to re-regulate broadband service, while net neutrality proponents are pushing the agency in that direction.

One thing that has changed in the ongoing, eye-glazing debate over legal justifications is that both sides now appear to assume that Wheeler will propose reversing the FCC’s decade-old decision to deregulate Internet lines. That’s not a bad bet, since the odds of Wheeler tilting that direction increased dramatically in November after President Obama suggested he do it.


Net neutrality activists protest outside an FCC meeting earlier this year.

Notably, the conversation has now shifted from whether to re-regulate Internet lines under Title II of the Communications Act to how the agency could do it. Internet providers are urging the FCC to use few if any sections of Title II, while net neutrality proponents are pressing the agency to rely on a handful of key sections.

On Christmas Eve, Comcast* sent a 26-page letter to the FCC laying out its concerns about Title II and, in particular, how the agency should forbear from using most of the law.

“Emotion and hyperbole are substituting for facts, and the highly politicized environment risks impeding sound legal reasoning and wise policy choices,” Comcast warned in the missive, pointing out that using Title II wouldn’t explicitly prohibit broadband providers from offering fast-lane priority service.

The cable industry called re-regulation of Internet lines a “profound mistake” but said if the agency goes that route it should “at a bare minimum” pair it with “immediate, nationwide forbearance from all of Title II’s obligations and restrictions.”

On the other side, consumer groups have been showering FCC lawyers with arguments about how the agency can use key sections of Title II to ensure Internet providers don’t discriminate against rivals or create fast-lane service that leaves others behind.

Three short sections of the law (sections 201, 202 and 208, for any lawyers reading this) are “bedrock provisions” and would be enough to “enforce strong rules against application-specific discrimination and access fees,” said Marvin Ammori, a lawyer who has helped several startups advocate for net neutrality rules, during a mid-December meeting with senior FCC attorneys.

Public interest group Public Knowledge offered a 24-page argument for re-regulating Internet lines, particularly extending net neutrality protections over wireless networks. It argued the agency shouldn’t just automatically forbear from using parts of the law, suggesting instead the FCC “use interim rules to give itself time to determine where forbearing would actually serve the public interest.”

* Comcast’s NBCUniversal unit is a minority investor in Revere Digital, Re/code’s parent company.