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FTC Seeks to Examine the Privacy Practices of U.S. Broadband Providers (ftc.gov)
440 points by infodocket on Mar 26, 2019 | hide | past | web | favorite | 166 comments

It’s good to check on this of course but...as far as ISPs go, this is actually about #3 on the list of problems I want the FTC or someone to fix.

How about the fact that there’s usually only one choice. Or that Internet that everyone wants can be force-bundled with ridiculous things no one wants (like a home phone line and minimum TV bundle), that we tolerate because there is no option. Or prices that go up forever with no improvements, except when they all magically found a way the day after Google Fiber was announced. These companies abuse their positions and need to be checked for that in addition to privacy.

The issue is local monopoly laws granted to ISP's by city governments. In order to encourage ISP's to invest the necessary money to build infrastructure in their jurisdictions, many of these places granted them monopolies. It's an issue of crony capitalism at the hyperlocal level.

Its definitely a monopoly but I think this as much derives from the redundancy of running multiple cables/fibers/etc. hence a lot of these are natural monopolies. It's why utilities are handled the way they are as well. Similar concept applies to roads hence why roads are usually publicly owned. Having competing roads wouldn't really make that much sense...

All that said, I'm hoping wireless solutions change this scenario. Effectively, if I can run a 5G (or w/e) hotspot connected to my router, the latency/throughput is good enough, I'm pretty much cool ditching my wired options. A monopoly on the wireless side is still possible (spectrum can be a limiting reagent), but I think it's much less likely to devolve into our current ISP dynamic. I'm certain there are plenty of technical issues with going all wireless but it doesn't seem insurmountable.

A 5g tower is like a WiFi hotspot with maybe 2-3x the range. Any factors that apply to traditional home internet will apply to 5g as well because it needs the same internet access as your home WiFi hotspot.

This is not the case for 4g since the much lower frequencies (with much lower data rates) go much further meaning that the given last mile monopoly in an area has less of an effect on the 4g service.

If a cell phone carrier builds all of its own infrastructure to supply bandwidth to 5g towers, they are subject to all the same difficulties and delays as existing ISPs. This means that build out of 5g as fast as home internet will take decades and many areas will have only one or two options (same as the situation is with home internet).

The waters are muddied by the fact that carriers use “5g” to refer to what will be a wide range of service levels, but right now are only hyping the fastest possible imagined deployments.

> A 5g tower is like a WiFi hotspot with maybe 2-3x the range. Any factors that apply to traditional home internet will apply to 5g as well because it needs the same internet access as your home WiFi hotspot.

It’s more than that, but even there you’re talking about covering 9 houses for the cost of wiring up one. The fan-out math kills you for FTTH.

Everything I've read about 5g makes it sound stupid, why are we even doing this?

My fear with fixed link wireless broadband is that it won’t be “real” internet in the sense of a publically accessible IP.

In the case of regular cellular service, is the IP publically accessible, or is it behind a NAT of some sort? I always assumed that it was behind a NAT for some reason, but I don’t know for sure.

I like to be able to host my own services for personal use.

Wouldn't tunnelling of some sort be an answer here? The percentage of people who want to run their own IP-accessible services is pretty low after all. Tunneling to some kind of proxy service isn't ideal, but it would fulfill most needs.

100% agreed. The "franchise agreement" my local band of cities signed includes a pretty heavy handed set of stipulations. They must provide lots of government access / public access type channels, agree to certain dispute resolution steps, emergency alert systems, construction timetables, etc. etc.

Maybe in rural areas it is easier, but within any suburban area, you probably have to spend a few hundred thousand simply to draft and get an agreement signed...before building a single thing.

I'm sure there was a reason to do this, but it effectively stops all but the big corporations from entering into agreements.

It’s the “public interest” folks that demand all that stuff. Municipalities see franchising as an opportunity to get stuff for free (fiber to schools or whatever), and to give service to residents below cost (requiring all neighborhoods to be covered, even ones that aren’t profitable to serve). Yes, it helps maintain the de facto regional monopolies (actual monopoly franchises have been illegal for decades), and it’s all the fault of the public interest people.

I mean, as much as libertarians like to complain about regulations being the problem, nothing you posted there sounds too onerous. That's all pretty standard stuff for a utility, and a few hundred thousand really isn't that much compared to the scale of investment of wiring up a municipality.

Google has counsel in house to cover a that more or less for free, and still essientially failed. There's deeper issues at play.

> Google has counsel in house to cover a that more or less for free, and still essientially failed. There's deeper issues at play.

Google refused to build Fiber in places that imposed most of those conditions. It demanded the opposite—free use of municipal resources for fiber huts, etc. and it absolutely rejected any attempt to impose one of the most common franchise stipulations: build-out requirements that require universal coverage of neighborhoods.

Google failed because even with all that special treatment, building fiber is not profitable compared to selling ads.

And the primary issue behind that is that a second wire run through the same neighborhood costs the same as the first, and has the effect of splitting users and so cutting profits in half. Therefore it is a natural monopoly.

The secondary issue is that all of the broadband providers have a bad habit of "accidentally" cutting the other provider's wires. It happens enough by real accident that it is impossible to prove in any particular case. But it also happens enough that providers have a pretty legitimate reason to ask that the next provider not be allowed to install wires.

I keep hearing noise (on various urban planning sites - at least the ones that don't suggest getting rid of cars entirely) about how whenever a municipality digs up a street for road work, they should install a tube going down the length of the street for electricity/phone/cable/Internet/any future uses that might require wires in the future. I know of no municipalities that actually do this.

It seems like this is a common-sense solution to that problem. The cost of digging, drilling, and laying building materials is centralized with the municipality that owns the land, who can coordinate maintenance and future drilling with street maintenance that they need to do anyway. It's future proof - if someone invents a great new communication/energy/electromagnetic technology in the future, the last-mile infrastructure to deliver it to residences is already there. New telecom providers need only run wires, a task they already have to do. They don't do digging or have the opportunity to clip each others' wires. It encourages competition.

SF has some rules about putting in or making space for extra lines when you do a a new conduit run in the streets. I'm sure other cities do as well.

Wasn't the result of this that nobody runs conduits anymore? "Microtrenching" is the new hotness (aka, let's dig a hole 1cm wide and put a wire in without a conduit, and cover it back up).

Maybe we should separate infrastructure from service. A company may build the lines but cannot provide consumer services. My brother tells me that Japan is like this and service is quite good.

Japan is ... complicated. NTT is required to offer access to its fiber, but also offers its own Internet service. The Japanese government also continues to be the majority shareholder in NTT, so NTT gets preferential treatment because the Japanese government benefits from NTT’s profitability. The Japanese government also gave direct cash subsidies to NTT for building fiber. Japan also has extremely lax rules for running fiber. If you look around Tokyo, the utilities are hanging out in the open all over the place. That makes the build much cheaper. Also, they’re Japanese so they’re good at building infrastructure.

You couldn’t replicate that in say San Francisco just by separating the infrastructure, while still requiring everything to be buried and look pretty, and requiring unprofitable neighborhoods to be served at the ISP’s expense, etc., and all of the roadblocks places like San Francisco throw up to development. All with San Francisco municipal government types overseeing everything and San Francisco NIMBYs protesting and filing lawsuits over the color of the fiber distribution hubs. It wouldn’t work.

> Japan is ... complicated. NTT is required to offer access to its fiber, but also offers its own Internet service

Complicated to say the least. NTT doesn't just offer its own Internet service, it has three different subsidiaries all competing to offer their own Internet services

It is interesting how this is essentially culturally and historically dependent. In Sweden we have what you say doesn’t work in SF. Much (all?) of the fibre is owned by the the municipality and many operators offer services on top. The only redundant cabling is old telephone cabling with ADSL. The whole electric network is the like that with no duplication.

In Stockholm the fiber operator (which is owned by the municipality but operated as a private company) built the network over more than a decade, based on demand and by using revenues to support further expansion. E.g. it primarily targeted businesses first. In New York, the city demanded Verizon wire up the whole city in just five years, and started a civil rights investigation because it’s verboten to wire up profitable areas first. Sweden’s approach to fiber in rural areas was to give rural people a tax credit worth up to $600 or so. In the US, instead of giving tax benefits for fiber, we put a special tax on telecom services (like it’s something bad like cigarettes or alcohol) and use that money to subsidize rural users at up to tens of thousands of dollars per subscriber. Our rural and inner city politics makes for some very bad policies when it comes to fiber deployment.

I'm surprised that in a city as big as Stockholm there's only one fiber operator... in Malmö depending on your building you'll have either Telia, Tele2, ownit, bredband2, etc etc. It's a free market free-for-all.

There are dozens of IP operators offering services over a few different infrastructures. Fibre (mainly Stokab), cable and telephone lines.

>> they’re Japanese so they’re good at building infrastructure

This argument strays into racism, or a circular argument. Either the Japanese are uniquely genetically capable of building public goods cheaply, or their continued success is a result of how they have structured their society.

If it isn’t genetic (how could it be?), this is an argument for emulating the uniquely Japanese cultural aspects that led to the success.

I’m saying that it’s a matter of culture, not policy (and certainly not genetics). You can’t replicate it just by cherry picking some of their policies. And it’s very hard to change culture.

The Japanese take pride in infrastructure and development. Americans try to figure out how to abuse environmental laws to keep it from being built. We turn every development project into a civil rights battle or a rural/urban battle. We hate paying for development with visible taxes, but love creating invisible taxes by attaching mandates as riders to projects. “You can build that apartment building, but only if you widen that public road and build a school. You can build fiber there, but only if you also build fiber in this place where it makes no economic sense.” That often makes development unattractive altogether, but that’s okay because we hate development anyway.

We have this in Utah and it's amazing honestly. https://www.utopiafiber.com/

Utopia can only enter cities that allow & fund it, so for most cities this not an option. Nothing like Comcast.

Singapore is a good example. Every household has two fibre pairs supplied by a single (I believe, government owned) company. ISP's can then sell service over these cables.

Monopoly franchises have been illegal under federal law since 1993. Most places are de facto monopolies because nobody wants to compete with the incumbent. (Largely because the municipality won’t let them compete just in the areas that can profitably support competition. For example, that’s why Baltimore doesn’t have FiOS, whereas all the places around it do. The folks in the city government decided if the vast swaths of the city below the poverty line wouldn’t get $70/month fiber, nobody should be able to.)

A monopoly itself is partly a feature though too. How many copies of each piece of infrastructure do you want in your jurisdiction? The mono- in monopoly means one copy of x cluttering up the landscape, where x might be

construction project

lane closure

fiber vault with a manhole you get to test your shocks on

trench, with its somehow always shitty pavement repair

ugly pole

even-uglier tower


This means more to people in some jurisdictions than others.

The solution being to differentiate the core infrastructure provider from the services provider. i.e. force the company installing the infrastructure to hire it out at a fair price to all service providers

This is a good argument for dealing with such infrastructure as a regulated public utility.

That's true from the standpoint of you want everyone to have access to equally marginal service, but not the latest or greatest service. Instead, I think this is a good argument for removing regulations and stopping the cronyism that inhibits competition.

It's the internet, it drives innovation. Let's stifle it by making a bazillion rules that everyone needs to follow and pay to play. Let's make sure that like most utilities, change and improvements happen at the slowest possible pace, because I like T1 and isdn, ever since they rolled back net neutrality I been stuck on these dial up lines.. Plus, making it a utility, we can ensure that none of these 5G providers can enter the marketplace.. I guess it's cool for everyone to be a socialist now, count me all in..

Poles already carry the cables of both duopolies in areas that have them and fiber ducts have always carried multiple fiber providers - they are public rightaways. The cell tower infrastructure is also increasingly shared the last 10 years days as AMT and Crown and Castle own the towers and lease space on them to multiple providers. So monopolies are not really a feature in those things you mentioned.

This isn't quite accurate. A bunch of municipalities would like to run their own broadband but are prevented from doing so by successful lobbying from the CableCo's which occurred at the state level[0,1,2,3]. So crony capitalism, sure, but it's not at the hyperlocal level.

(In general, I perceive that many of our cities are run better than the states they are in.)

0. https://consumerist.com/2014/08/28/how-isps-compete-with-mun...

1. https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/02/isp-lobby-has-al...

2. https://www.cio.com/article/2447188/more-cities-and-towns-wa...

3. https://www.govtech.com/network/Comcast-Time-Warner-Merger-W...

This was happening with mere coax cable TV providers way before the internet took up the strategy. I do think there is a way through it with local actions against the cities who are signing these exclusivity agreements, but that movement is heretofore disorganized.

can't wait for satellite to some day be robust and cheap enough to utterly destroy the notion of municipal internet. probably not in my lifetime, but hey, my 4g is cheap enough for my current uses :)

Not going to happen. Satellite ISPs are crippled by a couple of largely insurmountable technical limitations:

1. Latency. 600-700 ms RTT is typical on satellite, and it's bounded by the speed of light. This makes a lot of real-time services, like voice chat and video games, essentially unusable.

2. Bandwidth. The satellites you're communicating with have a limited capacity, and provisioning more capacity is nontrivial. As a result, most satellite services have very low data caps, typically 10 - 100 GB/month.

3. Physical concerns. Satellite connectivity requires an antenna with a clear view of the equatorial sky (e.g. south for northern hemisphere). This is often unavailable in cities, apartments, or hilly areas -- if there's a tall building or a mountain between you and the satellite, you can't use their service.

The next generation of satellite Internet is not going to be based on satellites in geostationary orbit. They are close to the surface of the Earth and form a mesh that can make paths that are shorter than the great circle distance.

This should fix all three of your problems, except maybe total bandwidth.

> form a mesh that can make paths that are shorter than the great circle distance

I think that's a slight mis-wording - you can't beat the great circle distance over the surface unless you go underground, but you can definitely beat a packet-switched, zig-zagging network running through the ground with a more or less direct point-to-point mesh running 100km above it.

If I understand correctly, that won't fix the latency problem. It will make it less severe, though.

It should give you latency that you'd expect from a wired connection.

I always wonder about the latency with satellite internet. A friend tried HughesNet one time. I tried to tell him, "I hope you don't care about online gaming..." Sure enough, the link had good bandwidth, but horrid latency. A TCP connection would take >2 seconds to establish.

Until satellites solve the weather transmission interference problems, that's a long way off.

GPS for example works just fine in the rain. Geostationary orbits have much larger issues with weather than the closer orbits of next gen satilite Internet.

You wouldn't notice when your GPS goes out off and on while in inclement weather. It's a service that can degrade gracefully. Some systems revert to other sensors when you lose GPS signal (tunnels, underground, etc). However, you would certainly notice when your packets drop and your video/audio streaming cuts out.

Bad weather alone does not stop GPS. Other issues can, but in cases of unobstructed views of the sky and solid equipment it’s not an issue.

Most streaming services can also degrade gracefully. Granted, we don’t have actual hardware to examine for these internet services, but many satellite uplinks already work fine in bad weather with at worst some loss of bandwidth.

Tell that to my DirecTV satellite tv.

Direct TV is using a geostationary orbit which as I said has many issues. That’s made worse by using a tiny dish, but even then it’s still much better the closer to the equator you are. The difference between Mane and key west is huge.

It's just capitalism. Nothing especially crony about it.

Except that competition and choice is at the heart of capitalism. Not local governments signing monopoly deals...

Using capital to muscle any advantage they can get away with is the heart of capitalism. The crony part of capitalism is what you get if you're not omnisciently watching everything that the owners and stewards of capital are doing (which is impossible).

The definition of crony capitalism is using government power to protect business interests. It is not impossible to watch the markets, because the invisible hand of free choice does it every day, and it punishes those who cannot compete. It's when governments try to get in the way of competition that things break down.

All capitalism is using government power to protect business interests. The very idea of capital only makes sense with a state enforcing it.

Google should never be considered a savior just look at what they did in Louisville KY with Google Fiber.

They are no different then Comcast, ATT or other biggies who abuse their power.

There are a number of factors that basically require a local monopoly for terrestrial telecom. This is a feature of the market — not anything the government has done.

#1 is the universal coverage requirement — anyone receiving a local monopoly from a municipality has to agree to make service available in the entire city. Many poor or low-density neighborhoods are not profitable for even a single company to serve, much less multiple companies. Overbuilders have no such requirement to even provide the potential of service in low-income areas, so none do. A side effect of this is that overbuilders can’t approach the level of efficiency that the monopolists can (see #4) and none can be much more than a nuisance to the incumbents as long as they remain overbuilders.

#2 is that in the wealthier / denser areas of a city that can support more than one provider, there are typically 2-5 providers offering speeds of 100+ mbit. The local monopolists therefore rely on the profits from the wealthy areas to cover the losses from the poor areas.

#3 is that it’s really hard to get investment to overbuild unless it’s a wealthy area. Telecom rollouts are expensive and require taking on significant debt. For every additional overbuilder serving an area, your ratio of [households served] / [households subscribed] and the amount of overhead you have to recoup for each customer goes up. Investors will not loan you money if they think you won’t make it back.

#4 is that telecom services are a scale business where you need vertical integration to be viable. TimeWarner Cable had their backbone network with TimeWarner Telecom. That was fine until both companies split and the infrastructure was owned by two different companies. TimeWarner Cable then had to build their own backbone — which lowered their credit rating, which made every subsequent debt offering more expensive. They were trapped in a cycle where they needed to invest badly, their network was slow so they couldn’t raise prices much, but borrowing was so expensive for them it turned into a death spiral. And that’s how the #4 cable provider in the country was able to buy the #2 provider — Charter was simply more vertically integrated through Liberty Media and had a better balance sheet.

The “take rate” (how many households of the total subscribe to broadband internet — directly correlated with household income) of a neighborhood largely determines how many companies serve the area. The overall take rate of the wealthiest cities is sufficient to support at most 3 broadband providers serving a given household; in the poorest cities the government has to subsidize access for even a single company to serve the area.

Capitalism and abuse of position go hand-in-hand. I would argue that abuse of position is the fundamental driving force behind capitalism.

(These rules largely do not apply to wireless.)

This is why the municipality should own the plant and rent it to the providers. This is the only way for competition to exist.

I don’t disagree with you. But then I look at the state of state / municipal services where I live and have zero faith that my municipal government would be able to successfully do so without being horrendously corrupt.

If they can’t find money to repair the roads and subways, a muni broadband network is going to get even less funding / oversight.

That said, I think it’s total BS when laws are passed that prevent the establishment of municipal broadband networks. It probably works for some cities, but it definitely would not for many.

> But then I look at the state of state / municipal services where I live and have zero faith that my municipal government would be able to successfully do so without being horrendously corrupt.

My city's track record isn't quite as awful as yours, I think -- but even if it were, I'm not sure that would be any worse than what I have to put up with right now from Comcast.

At least if the local municipality is in charge, you have some amount of ability to reform any mismanagement. With the private sector in the absence of real competition, you have none.

I’ve never lived in a city where the local broadband option was worse than, for example, the public transit. Comcast isn’t great in Baltimore, but the local government is like a third world country’s.

anyone receiving a local monopoly from a municipality has to agree to make service available in the entire city.

This is not true. Manhattan, for example, had multiple cable providers for a very long time, until they were merged/bought.

Chicago currently has multiple cable providers: Comcast and RCN. Possibly a third.

There is no requirement for a city to give all of its territory to one company other than poor negotiating skills.

But none of those companies serve the same addresses, so there’s no competition.

Abuse of position goes hand in hand with government granted monopolies. How can a business abuse their position when people voluntarily agree to buy from them? You're defending crony capitalism and then declaring that capitalism is broken.

To put it another way: if there weren’t government-granted monopolies, the wealthiest 10% would have 5 ISPs to choose from, the next 40% would have maybe 1 or 2, and the remaining 50% just wouldn’t have broadband service available at any price.

The goal with these rules is to make sure being wealthy isn’t a prerequisite to having access to communication services. If we didn’t have these rules, forget about broadband in poor neighborhoods (much less rural areas).

Edit: capitalism overall isn’t broken; but it is broken in some industries with unique market features (health care, telecom, etc). I don’t think it’s a contradiction at all to have some industries more or less socialized while maintaining a capitalist economy overall...

That's certainly the justification that a lot of people use for these sorts of rules, monopoly grants, etc. etc.

As for me, I find it interesting that the most regulated industries always tend to be the ones that are the most dysfunctional. Your example of health care is a perfect poster child.

Because these markets are naturally rife for abuse; which is usually how they got regulated in the first place.

Health care needs to be more or less socialized — the sales pitch for any non-emergency medical procedure is effectively “pay me or stay sick / die”. There is no way to price discriminate that maximizes profits without introducing moral hazard by withholding treatment from people who can’t afford it.

I'm sensing a pattern here. Earlier, you basically said, "Guys, the free market can't be trusted to provide solutions for internet access, so we have to regulate them and grant monopolies. Oh crap, monopolies cause abuse of power. Also, please ignore the solution that the market came up with to all these problems (wireless Internet)."

Now you say, "Hey guys, allowing people to not be medically treated is immoral, so let's force people to provide a service because that is totally moral."

In both scenarios, you're trying to argue for something but you're not being consistent with your logic. You're picking and choosing data points and circumstances without being consistent across the board.

Why is that interesting? It's explained by the theories of both regulation proponents (industries that are dysfunctional get regulated) and opponents (industries that are regulated become dysfunctional). Therefore it wouldn't seem to have much informational value.

> How about the fact that there’s usually only one choice.

If you think it's so very important that there be more than one already-installed terrestrial or directional radio broadband provider in the middle of nowhere; you are perfectly welcome to find out what that will tend to cost, and start a charity to subsidize it.

The government can not force private individuals or businesses to provide new services to any random location in the United States that anyone could technically choose to live. That's a good thing, in my view.

As somebody who intends to live further away from urban centers, and knows what distance does to the cost of providing telecommunications services, it is my responsibility to entice others to do business with me, not anyone else's.

If somebody is actively conspiring to prevent new business in this sector, that's one thing; but if the local government, geographic, and economic situation of some place is just such that it's not worth extending ISP services there, that's not in the FTCs purview.

Who said we were talking about the middle of nowhere? There are plenty of urban and suburban areas where there are only one or two choices (typically the one cable company and DSL).

Which urban area are you referring to? (I do recognize the problem at the local level, where in some part of a city or suburb ISPs seem to agree probably-unlawfully not to compete, but really how often is this the case?)


That map doesn't load.

I can tell you that there are plenty of places in which the only option is a false option between the large carriers. In Houston, for example, my choices are: get fucked by AT&T, get ripped a new one by Comcast, or get laughed at by Windstream.

All of this from companies that have taken tax money and actively fight against community-operated broadband services.

Well, okay. I'm in Silicon Valley. That map lists Comcast, AT&T, and a small local player I've never heard of. Comcast: my current ISP. AT&T: didn't offer broadband service the last time I checked; this has apparently changed since then. (But the map says they offer 75Mbps, but AT&T says only 50Mbps.) They've had accusations of privacy issues (tracking their users via inserting cookies, selling their data for ads unless the user opts-out for a token fee, IIRC) so, not so enthusiastic there, and the last small player offers gigabit (wow!) for $400/mo (dealbreaker).

So, maybe it's a duopoly, but the privacy stuff breaks it for me. Though I'm sure someone's going to point out that Comcast likely isn't any better…

So, I'm highlighted at "3" but really the answer is charitably 2, maybe 1.

Also, you've linked to the map highlighted at 10/1; but my understanding is that the FTC definition of broadband is presently 25/3.

> and a small local player I've never heard of

That's part of your problem; there is a third competitor and you didn't even try to do business with them, because they weren't one of the famously screwy companies you've heard of.

I don't envy your big two choices there, but I guarantee it'd be worse with just Comcast or (shudders) just AT&T.

A family member has a small cottage where just under half of the building is on the other side of the county line. We can only get one fixed provider there, and it's satellite, but over the county line they have Comcast and a couple other terrestrial ISPs. the situation is hilarious.

> Also, you've linked to the map highlighted at 10/1; but my understanding is that the FTC definition of broadband is presently 25/3.

Sorry! I pulled up that search from a bookmark (10/1, excluding satellite), and didn't switch the bandwidth setting back to the default.

> I'm sure someone's going to point out that Comcast likely isn't any better…

Google search: comcast http injection.

Results from 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013 ... all of them seem "surprised" about Comcast modifying HTTP stream data...

Comcast even published an RFC for it: https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc6108

Comcast even goes so far as to claim that it's "more" secure: https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc6108#section-10

That broadband map is famously and wildly inaccurate.

In my area, it says I have 6 different options. In reality, I have one.

The issue is these incumbents use local laws to punish new comers. Just look at the poll access issues throughout this country. The regulatory burden of having to wait for a competitor to move their lines to make room for you is just one of many ways incumbent ISPs slow competitive access.

That broadband map isn't very good. At my old place it said I could get fiber for several years before I actually could. Checking my current place it looks like it still incorrectly says I can get fiber. I'm in a major urban area.

Olympia, Tumwater, Lacey. State capital of Washington. 300,000 people in the Urban Growth Area.

Residential options:

Comcast, at up to 400mbps.

CenturyLink, at up to 3mbps, and "for most homes, 1.5mbps".

Here's one. North Seattle, ballard area.

Internet options:

Comcast, cable. 2gbit down, 25mbit up.

Centurylink, adsl, 40mbit down, 0.7mbit up.



Nearby, CenturyLink has synchronous 1 gbit fiber with no data cap for $65/mo.

The government can certainly help here. While they can't force anyone to provide service to a certain location, there are plenty of providers that want to offer service in a building, but don't want to pay the landlord's fee for providing such a service. It's not the ISPs that are driving costs up, it's the lack of transparency around building management companies and their backroom deals with the incumbents. The government can show up, say "you can charge an ISP a maximum of $100 per month for a PoE to your building", and suddenly the Internet is a lot faster and cheaper.

They can absolutely fine and jail those businesses for colluding to only operate in specific markets where other businesses agree not to operate.

The ISP's didn't collude with other businesses, they colluded with governments and got monopoly protections.

Also, notably, the governments colluded with them.

The government didn't collude, the government was taken for a ride, and doesn't have the balls to now go after their $400mil.

The ISPs colluded with one another so that they don't overlap territories and keep their exclusivity in given areas.

"The orders were sent to: AT&T Inc., AT&T Mobility LLC, Comcast Cable Communications doing business as Xfinity, Google Fiber Inc., T-Mobile US Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., and Cellco Partnership doing business as Verizon Wireless."

(In case you wanted to actually know who was named.)

Why was Charter Communications excluded?

Edit: Both CenturyLink and Cox were also exluded.

The companies named offer digital advertising services. The issue in question is if they used customer data for advertising purposes.

That is crazy, Charter is the second largest ISP in the US.

Charter has no advertising service as far as I know?

You seem surprised. Why is that?

Except for Comcast as xfinity, they are all closely associated with cellular providers or are cellular providers.

It was launched last year so it isn't a major player yet but Charter does have a cellular product.


Comcast / Xfinity is also a mobile provider: https://www.xfinity.com/mobile/

I hadn't realized, well there's the connection at least.

To be fair they use Verizon towers for their cellphone service

They also leverage their 'network' of wifi hotspots (which are just all the home routers they give to cable customers). Either way I imagine they route all the traffic through a gateway on their network so are likely to have just as much opportunity to collect data and/or modify traffic as the tower operator would.

That's a good question, but I have a hunch and am willing to bet that by sheer coincidence they will focus particularly on the smallest of the seven named.

Good. When I return from frequent business traveling I immediately get daily spam calls from local area codes. Since I don’t allow any of my apps to have my location (except Google Maps and Apple Maps, and then I have to run them, which is rare) I suspect ATT is monetizing my location data with these spam callers. That would also make sense to me because ATT certainly has the technology to identify spammers and shut them down.

I am not sure this is the ISP here -- (out of the air) I think this might be simpler to answer by saying the spammer is abusing vulnerabilities in the SS7 network.

learning about those vulnerabilities can be done by watching public CCC and other similar conference talks

At the very least a fire should be lit under their arses to try and address/fix the vulnerability.

Gee, I didn't know there were 7 broadband providers in the USA total. There's Comcast, of course, but who are the other dwarfs after Cox and Centurylink?

There are plenty of ISPs in the United States. I get 500 Mbps internet from a provider not on this list, despite being the sixth largest provider in the country and operating in ten different states.

You may not realize how many there are total because most of them are regional. Things like Spectrum or Charter or Verizon or Cox or CenturyLink are all broadband carriers that were never available where I am, so I only heard about them through others online. Meanwhile, neither you nor this announcement mentioned my ISP.

As many of those are not part of this inquiry, presumably the FTC is not worried about the privacy practices of those ISPs at this time, and just targeting ones it has specific concerns about.

There are not plenty of ISPs for 99% of people in the US. You have one provider, maybe 2 if you’re lucky, and if you’re really lucky one will offer an uncapped symmetrical fiber connection. But that’s not the case for 99% of people.

I live in the Bay Area - my options are shitty Comcast for $66 for 60Mbps or $50 for 18Mbps from AT&T. I live in a building with 75+ units. Imagine that. My parents in a third world country have far more options, with better speeds (including Fiber) and far cheaper options too.

> my options are shitty Comcast for $66 for 60Mbps or $50 for 18Mbps from AT&T.

So sonic.net doesn't service your area? They were a great CLEC/ISP when I was in the bay area, mostly carried over AT&T lines so you could get it anywhere AT&T did DSL.

It's irrelevant if you can only get 18Mbps. I pay Comcast $95 to get 150 or 250 down, internet only, because ATT and Sonic can only get me 40.

Thankfully, ATT just rolled fiber down my street last week, and I was on Sonic's preorder list the day after they announced it for my neighborhood. No timeframe, but I'm ecstatic to be using a local ISP again, not to mention symmetric gigabit with no caps for half of what comcast charges me.

Consider yourself lucky.

When I lived in Chicago, the building I was in with almost 700 units the only choice for internet was AT&T DSL which struggled to get to 3 Mbps, simply because the wiring in the building was old.

I know a business in Chicago that has to do everything on tethered cell phone connections because the phone lines are too old to handle DSL, and the cable company won’t run a line across the street to their factory.

Moving to the Bay Area, I was surprised to find such limited ISPs given that the Bay is home to SV and its neighbors. I don't know what I expected, but I certainly didn't expect it to be as limited as it is here.

Moved from Bay Area to North Carolina, not even one of the "major" metro areas. Everyone has great internet

The point being made was that there are plenty of ISPs not named by this order. You're off on a tangent.

Yes, I misinterpreted the comment. After being frustrated by lack of any decent internet almost everywhere, I have a knee jerk response to the words “plenty of ISPs”. You can go all the way from coast to coast and still have to choose being abused by either Comcast/Verizon/ATT/Centurylink/Spectrum/Charter.

Comcast, Charter, ATT, Verizon, CenturyLink, Cox are the biggest 6.

The only other two that have much more than a million customers are Altice and Frontier. I think you can argue that those 8 server nearly every American.

My bad. Apparently WOW bills itself as the "sixth largest cable provider" as of Dec. 31, 2018, which presumably means not including fiber and DSL and the like: https://ir.wowway.com/investor-relations/overview/default.as...

As seen in the second paragraph one of them is just a sub brand of Verizon and another is a sub brand of AT&T, meaning total of 5.

The complaint was directed towards broadband providers "in light of the evolution of telecommunications companies into vertically integrated platforms that also provide advertising-supported content" so providers that aren't evolving into ad-supported content are not listed.

ATT, ATT Wireless, Verizon, Verizon Wireless


How about they investigate geographic monopolies, forced rental of modems and routers that are cheaper to buy, arbitrary rate increases, and terrible customer service? I am so frustrated by these regulatory efforts against ISPs that don’t actually help consumers. No one cares about “privacy.” 1/3 of customers are incapable of even understanding the concept. The industry loves these probes into “privacy” so we don’t probe how they rip us all off everyday.

Good. It's disgusting the contempt that telecom companies have for American's privacy.

It is also quite interesting to observe how the public almost universally despises their ISP, Cable TV and Mobile Phone companies.

What other companies get such hate? (excluding: Tobacco, Big Pharma, and Oracle)

Oil industry for sure; the larger energy industry as a whole to a lesser extent.

Lawyers? There's no one firm on the same scale as big telcos, but as a group "lawyers" are pretty low on the public-image-for-major-job.


I don't think anyone in America trusts the FTC it examine anything right now. Or at least not to examine it with the best interest of the American people in mind.

Do you mean the FTC, or FCC?

The FTC is stepping up because the FCC can't be trusted.

. . . because the FCC won't do its job.

Grandparent OP confused the agencies, thats all

I generally approve of the FTC. What did they do that should perhaps make me think otherwise?

The current head of the FTC is a Trump appointee who is a corporatist.

> Prior to becoming FTC Chairman, Simons was a partner and co-chair of the Antitrust Group at the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. Simons has held two previous positions at the Commission. He served as Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition between 2001 and 2003, during which he was responsible for overseeing the re-invigoration of the FTC’s non-merger enforcement program. In an earlier stint at the Commission in the 1980s, Simons served as the FTC’s Associate Director for Mergers and the Assistant Director for Evaluation. Simons earned the FTC’s Award for Meritorious Service. [0]

Where did you get corporatist from?

[0] https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2018/05/josep...

GP maybe confused FTC with FCC? The current FCC chairman Ajit Pai does not support net neutrality: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ajit_Pai#Net_neutrality_in_the...

Yes! Apologies!

The "Antitrust Group" at Paul Weiss isn't in the business of trust busting. That's the group that defends businesses accused of antitrust violations. Not my first pick for head of an agency that is chartered with protecting American consumers.

I'm aware of this, but was pointing instead to his history of involvement with the FTC. He seems like a perfectly fine choice.

I'm not sure what you mean by "involvement"? He was with the agency for 2 years from 2001-2003 and for 2 years in the 1980's. I understand that e.g., prosecutors become defense attorneys and vice versa, but in those cases they have clients or bosses to ensure they're working in good faith. I'm skeptical that anyone in the Trump administration will exert pressure on Simon to run the FTC as an advocate for US consumers.

This skepticism is the product of an administration that hires people like Ryan Zinke and Tom Price. None of his hires get the benefit of the doubt.

> I'm not sure what you mean by "involvement"?

He was Director of the FTC's Bureau of Competition, and earned an FTC award of meritorious service.

> I'm skeptical that anyone in the Trump administration will exert pressure on Simon to run the FTC as an advocate for US consumers.

Agreed— I would just like to point out that his working in corporate law should have no negative impact on the outcome. If our administration truly wanted someone who wouldn't do anything to defend American consumers, they could find that in a wide range of candidates.

The only argument that would raise issue with him working in corporate law prior to this appointment would be to claim that he may give preferential treatment to those he previously defended. This is an entirely separate issue from Trump, and while possible, I would be very surprised if the government had no federal oversight of this position. This claim, if I'm not mistaken, would actually amount to a criminal level of corruption.


Probably because of the current net neutrality challenges in Congress to replace net neutrality [1].

The removal of net neutrality took oversight from the FCC where it was Title II and essentially a utility, over to the FTC where it cannot be seen as a utility.

This action is just the FTC making it look like they are challenging them to try to defeat the net neutrality push and act like the FTC would do something about abusive ISPs regarding net neutrality and private data protections which were both removed in 2017 and put under the FTC from the FCC.

When the bill is defeated in the Senate, some members will mention that the FTC right now it looking into the ISPs/telcos but that is just for show.

Ultimately the FTC is a worse place to put net neutrality oversight since at the FCC it is a utility and the liabilities are greater for the ISPs, plus they can't throttle data or sell ads/private data as easy.

Both net neutrality and privacy protections [2][3] were removed at the FCC and put on the FTC which is only now suddenly doing something for show due to the movement of the new net neutrality push.

Jeff Flake initially pushed the removal of privacy protections [2] and it led to the net neutrality bill and both move oversight from FCC under Title II to the FTC under where all there are are fines and less liability after abuse.

> Under the FTC’s stewardship, our internet economy has become the envy of the world. The FTC helped by establishing clear standards and robust enforcement mechanisms that protect our sensitive information while remaining flexible enough to respond to our preferences as consumers.

> When it comes to federal regulations, to borrow a phrase from back on the ranch, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Unfortunately, the previous administration decided to search for a problem when we already had the solution.

> In February 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) undertook a unilateral power-grab by asserting jurisdiction over ISPs. This bureaucratic turf battle stripped ISPs of their traditional regulator, and could have thrown the entire internet ecosystem into flux. But it went virtually unnoticed by the media and activists who care about privacy.

> After more than a year of ad-hoc privacy regulation, the FCC decided to adopt its own rules. Instead of basing the rules on proven regulatory framework that applies throughout the rest of the internet, the FCC pushed through new rules on a party-line vote in the waning days of the previous administration.


> Now the FCC and the FTC can work hand-in-hand to enforce a uniform privacy framework for ISPs and the rest of the Internet. In an early sign of how successful this model can be, the major broadband providers have already updated their privacy policies to make it clear how consumers can opt out of targeted advertising.

The reason ISPs want to keep the FTC in charge is net neutrality and privacy protections can be broken and smaller fines can be paid if they are ever challenged. With the FCC they were liable under different Title II / utility protections that both actually prevented abuse and made harsher penalties for breaking it for ISPs.

This is quite a good show by the ISPs and FTC though.

[1] https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/qvyqvm/bill-that-...

[2] https://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/news/arizona-senator-jeff-fl...

[3] https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2017/05/congress-repealing-our...

Its hard to believe this is real - considering the ftc's former position on net neutrality. Am I just being paranoid, or could this at all just be a sham investigation to appear as if the FTC is doing something, which will turn out findings that are all 'unremarkable' to further protect isps?

their position never meant turning a blind eye, it was handing the industry a rope and seeing what they would do with it. we survived for many years prior to NN and scare stories the internet has not been absconded with.

if anything people are clamoring for censorship by wrapping it up under the mantra of fake news all the while ignoring the fact what someone declares as fake may not be truly fake, merely what they don't want you to believe.

industry moves best when regulations are light but the oversight is vigilant

I would love for someone to write a Robert Caro [0] style book on the hidden history behind the cable and broadband oligopoly in the U.S that has endured to the detriment of the American people.

I've seen just enough to surmise that there must be some serious power players a la Robert Moses [1] working behind the scenes to fleece the federal purse while enacting protectionist laws at the federal, state, and local levels.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Caro [1] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1111.The_Power_Broker?ac...

This will be interesting to see how the FTC handles this vs how the FCC may have.. or just doesn't care.

this is where govt lawyers and bureaucrats get to see ... what industry actually does.. meanwhile, industry will selectively blow smoke or stall, depending on the stakes... Round One

This is a study, not an investigation. There is literally nothing to see here.

>There is literally nothing to see here.

I'm not sure that is the case. There will be something.

I never said there would never be anything, just that there's literally nothing right now except the FTC announcing a study and speculation HN folks who never made it past the article title. I fail to see how this is 'news worthy'.

Any study starting is nothing to see right now.... you could say that about anything.

Start of an investigation certainly can be news.

Uh, this is the start of a study: no news.

This is not an investigation: no news.

Nothing has been concluded: no news.

Care to elaborate?

It's not the start?

I can't figure out what you think the story is about.

I have a hard time believing anything meaningful will be the result of this any time in the next decade. Until then I will patient await proof that I was wrong.

I mean changing things is the legislative system's job... FTC can investigate and provide data.

No investigation here..

Everyone knows Comcast is shady af. Good to see the FTC step up after years of FCC letdown.

Time to install an antenna on your roof and join a wireless community network.

This doesn't make sense. Where was the FCC about room 641A. Now they're concerned about privacy?

That’s outside the FTC’s statutory authority, isn’t it?

Yeah, privacy theatre, not unlike the kabuki performance of EU governments using google analytics and their ilk on their websites… all in a effort to do something™


What happened? A decade of time and shifting of society's values and their view of the value of communications.

(laughs in European)

Are you sure you have the copyright to post that from the EU (how did you get past the filter...)? I joke - anyway, not sure if this is why you are laughing but the FTC is well in the pocket of large business and their interests so yes, very likely this will be a joke.

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