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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Net News : New Net neutrality bill frowns on ISP 'favoritism'

Comcast, AT&T, and other network operators would be expected to refrain from "unreasonable discriminatory favoritism" of content on their pipes under a recrafted Net neutrality proposal introduced Wednesday in the U.S. House of Representatives.
But this time around, the new bill (PDF) sponsored by Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of a House Internet and telecommunications panel, isn't directly forcing Internet service providers to follow specific rules. The new bill is an apparent effort to be less prescriptive than his previous efforts, which failed in a Republican-dominated Congress two years ago.

"The bill contains no requirements for regulations on the Internet whatsoever," Markey said in a statement upon introducing the bill. "It does, however, suggest that the principles which have guided the Internet's development and expansion are highly worthy of retention, and it seeks to enshrine such principles in the law as guide stars for U.S. broadband policy."

Rep. Charles "Chip" Pickering (R-Miss.), who has argued against Net neutrality regulations in the past, is now co-sponsoring the rewritten measure, which is being called the Internet Freedom Preservation Act.

The modified approach is an apparent attempt to address the howls of protest from network operators, who have argued that previous Net neutrality bills in Congress amount to unnecessary Internet regulations.

The old bill decreed that broadband operators have certain duties: not blocking or degrading content, not prioritizing some applications over others, and not imposing "surcharges" for premium placement, to name a few. Violators would have been subject to penalties. A pending Senate bill, which hasn't yet seen any action in this session of Congress, takes a similar approach.

The new Markey-Pickering bill, by contrast, proposes adding four broadband policy statements to existing federal communications law. Those statements build upon a set of broadband policy principles that the Federal Communications Commission adopted years ago, including recommendations that the government allow consumers to reach the lawful content and applications of their choice and hook up whatever devices they please, provided that they don't harm the network.

Violation of those principles would not carry any penalties under the new bill, according to a Markey aide. The bill does, however, leave open the possibility of tougher rules later. One principle dictates that the government should to adopt and enforce "baseline protections to guard against unreasonable discriminatory favoritism for, or degradation of, content by network operators based upon its source, ownership, or destination on the Internet."

The bill would direct the FCC to study broadband providers' current practices and whether "enforceable" rules governing Internet openness are necessary. The FCC would also be required to stage at least eight public "broadband summits" at "geographically diverse locations" around the United States to discuss the state of competition, consumer protection, and consumer choice in broadband.

The bill's introduction arrives amid a recent stepped-up focus in Washington on network management practices. The FCC is weighing whether it's "reasonable" for companies to slow down peer-to-peer traffic on their networks, as Comcast has admitted to doing in what it argues is an attempt to keep all its subscribers surfing smoothly.

The same consumer advocacy groups that support Net neutrality legislation have asked the FCC to declare that such practices aren't, in fact, "reasonable," and should be forcibly stopped.

The FCC also announced on Tuesday that it's holding a February 26 public hearing at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Mass., to hear from experts on network management issues.

Fans of Net neutrality laws--including, Google, and a number of consumer advocacy groups--support Markey's latest proposal, heaping praise on the new language before the congressman had even formally introduced it. They have long argued that without strong Net neutrality principles enshrined in law, there will be nothing to stop network operators from, say, charging YouTube additional fees to be delivered to consumers faster than a rival video-sharing Web site.

Network operators, by contrast, have long opposed Net neutrality regulations because they argue that they need the freedom to manage their networks as they see fit and that new obligations could discourage investments in building out their pipes.

Scott Cleland, the chairman of, a group whose members include all the major cable, telephone, and wireless companies, said Markey's new approach doesn't blunt those concerns. While the "letter" of the new Markey bill may not include those new regulations, he said, the "spirit" of it does, creating the same heartburn for opponents as the earlier version.

Updated at 9:53 a.m. PST: Comcast declined to comment on the measure, and cable industry representatives were not immediately prepared to comment.

The U.S. Telecom Association, which represents large Internet service providers like AT&T and Verizon Communications, blasted the new bill. Group president Walter McCormick said it would "blindly legislate a new national broadband policy, without regard to its implications, and then require the FCC to spend the next year determining whether the Internet is being constructed, managed, and operated in conformance with this new government mandate."
Comcast Responds To Claims Of Network Discrimination
WASHINGTON -(Dow Jones)- Comcast Corp. (CMCSA) told a federal regulator that its decision to block users from popular network sharing software was due to a small number of customers hogging too much bandwidth on its broadband network.

The company launched its defense Tuesday against allegations that it had prevented broadband Internet customers from using certain software applications, in violation of so-called network neutrality principles.

Wednesday marks the deadline for submissions to Federal Communications Commission investigators looking into allegations made against Comcast by several public interest groups and software companies.

At issue is to what extent Internet service providers like Comcast can interfere in the traffic that flows over their networks in order to ensure the majority of customers have a satisfactory Web-surfing experience.

The specific allegation made against Comcast is that it blocked or slowed down some customers' access to a file-sharing software called BitTorrent.

File sharing allows individuals to share user-generated and other content over the Internet.

In its filing to the FCC, Comcast argued that a small number of customers use bandwidth-heavy applications like BitTorrent to the detriment of the majority of its customers.

A "very small number of broadband users employ certain (peer-to-peer) protocols that utilize immense amounts of bandwidth in ways that are unpredictable and inconsistent and that can threaten to overwhelm network capacity and harm the online experience of other users," Comcast said in the filing. "That is why, even with continuous upgrades and constant investment, the fact remains that network capacity is not - and never will be - unlimited."

The Federal Communications Commission has established four principles on network neutrality. Republican Chairman Kevin Martin has argued they are sufficient to safeguard against abuses by network operators.

"The FCC has repeatedly said it has the ability to enforce its policy statement in this area," said Markham Erickson, executive director of the Open Internet Coalition, an umbrella of public interest groups and high-tech companies. "This is the first major test case on whether the FCC will be able to do that."

For its part, BitTorrent argues that it is no longer a niche software used by a small number of individuals.

"This is a very scripted response from a company that is behaving like a monopoly," said Ashwin Navin, president and co-founder of BitTorrent.

Navin said that in an average month, there are 40 million users of its software globally, a fact he said refutes Comcast's argument that the issue is about a small number of people using software applications like it.

Marvin Ammori, general counsel at the public interest group Free Press, said network operators like Comcast are facing the reality that the Internet hasn't developed how they thought it would.

He said that when Comcast was building the bulk of its network, it bet on the fact that most of the traffic would be downstream, or into customers' households, rather than the other way.

But as file-sharing applications grow in popularity, Internet service providers are having to fall back on network management as a way to ensure their networks don't collapse under the weight of customer-generated content, said Ammori.

"Because people want to use the Internet in ways Comcast didn't plan for, they are trying to prevent them from doing so," said Ammori.

Comcast is not alone in its argument that network management is an essential practice.

In its filing to the FCC investigation, AT&T Inc. (T) urged the commission not to consider laying down prescriptive rules about what constituted reasonable management.

"The Internet exists in a uniquely volatile technological environment, and engineers must have the flexibility to address the constantly changing demands on their networks...with a full toolbox of network-management techniques," said the company's submission.

Time Warner Cable Inc. (TWC) said that it supported Comcast's arguments regarding network management, although it didn't engage in any blocking or slowing down of traffic itself.

The company recently announced that it would consider starting to charge higher fees to heavy bandwidth users later this year, in an attempt to govern the flow of traffic over its network.

The FCC must decide if Comcast's practice violates its four principles, and if so, whether it will penalize the company. It must also determine if its principles are robust enough to guard against future abuses.

It had announced on Thursday its plans to hold a hearing at Harvard University to consider testimony from various experts about broadband network management practices. Public interest groups cheered this announcement as evidence the commission is taking the situation seriously.

It may be too early to tell whether the Comcast situation will mushroom into the kind of network neutrality debate that dominated Washington in 2006.

But it is notable that lawmakers are paying attention. Rep. Edward Markey, D- Mass., the powerful chairman of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee, is believed to be preparing to introduce legislation that addresses the network neutrality issue.

New Shuttle Team Ready for Walk After Day’s Delay

Sick Astronaut Prepares to Spacewalk
German astronaut Hans Schlegel floated out of the international space station for his first spacewalk on Wednesday, two days after an illness forced the shuttle Atlantis crew member to skip an outing to install a new European lab.

Schlegel and American astronaut Rex Walheim ventured outside minutes before the space station passed over Cologne, Germany. They will spend the day replacing a nitrogen tank on the orbiting outpost.

"Hello to all the people of Germany," Walheim said. "What a pleasure it is to be up here spacewalking with one of your native sons, Hans Schlegel."

Schlegel said spacewalking is great.

"It's great to be a part of an international team ... doing research in space," he added.

In a series of broadcast interviews Tuesday, Schlegel said he was feeling great but was a little anxious about his first venture outside the safe confines of the cabin. He refused to say what had been ailing him, insisting "medical issues are private."

NASA and European Space Agency officials stressed there were no changes to Wednesday's 6 1/2-hour spacewalk on Schlegel's behalf, and that he would do everything just as he'd practiced before last week's launch. No one was opposed to his going outside to perform the strenuous spacewalking work, officials said.

Schlegel, 56, said Tuesday he backed NASA's decision to pull him off the first spacewalk because of his illness and delay Columbus' hookup by a day, even though it was a bitter pill.

"Nobody could have been happier than me when we finished (Monday's spacewalk) with the major objectives all done," he said.

Schlegel and the nine other space travelers spent Tuesday opening up the $2 billion Columbus lab and getting its equipment running. They were continuing that work Wednesday.

The astronauts — wearing goggles to guard against floating dust, metal chips or other debris — opened up floor panels to get to the equipment underneath, and turned on computers, heaters and fans. A few of the systems had startup trouble, but that's normal for a brand new piece of hardware, NASA managers said.


Astronaut better, OKd for spacewalk
The European space station program manager, Alan Thirkettle, said it was thrilling to see astronauts inside Columbus, which was immaculate and brilliantly white.

"They're doing the first thing that the crew does, which is to make a complete mess of what was a beautiful piece of clean hardware inside," Thirkettle joked.

Atlantis will remain at the space station until at least Sunday. NASA is considering keeping the shuttle there an extra day.

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station spent Sunday moving supplies from the shuttle Atlantis and preparing for a spacewalk delayed by the illness of a German astronaut.

NASA officials said Sunday that everything was ready for a critical Monday spacewalk in which astronauts will prepare the European Columbus science module to be removed from the shuttle’s cargo bay and attached to the station.

Hans Schlegel, a European Space Agency astronaut from Germany, appeared well and talkative in videos of crews working aboard the station. Mr. Schlegel had been scheduled to be one of two astronauts on the first excursion outside to work on the science module, but he was pulled from the assignment because of an undisclosed illness, causing a one-day delay.

The crews were awakened Sunday by a German song selected by Mr. Schlegel’s wife. In a radio message back to mission control, he said, “Greetings to everybody in America, in Europe and in Germany, and especially of course to my close family and my lovely wife, Heike.”

NASA officials announced the change shortly after the shuttle and its seven-man crew arrived at the station on Saturday, but refused to identify the astronaut or the nature of the illness, citing privacy concerns. The European Space Agency confirmed that the astronaut was Mr. Schlegel, 56, a physicist and former paratrooper on his second spaceflight.

“E.S.A. astronaut Hans Schlegel was fully fit to launch with Columbus on 7 February,” the agency said in a statement. “However, a condition developed that is not life- or mission-threatening in any way, but that could affect his efficiency during a spacewalk.”

Stanley G. Love will join Col. Rex J. Walheim of the Air Force in getting the laboratory prepared to be lifted out of the shuttle’s cargo bay by a robot arm and attached to the station.

NASA officials would not say definitely if Mr. Schlegel would resume his schedule or if his medical issue had been resolved.

But Michael Sarafin, the lead flight director for the shuttle, said in a Sunday news conference from the Johnson Space Center in Houston that the rest of the mission would be performed as planned, meaning that Mr. Schlegel was still assigned to a spacewalk now set for Wednesday.

John Shannon, chairman of the Mission Management Team for NASA, said the shuttle’s heat shield had been inspected and cleared. The only remaining issue was a small tear along the seam of an insulating blanket atop one of the shuttle’s rear engine pods. Mr. Shannon said no one was overly concerned about the tear, but astronauts used a camera on the shuttle’s robot arm to get a closer look on Sunday. Managers will determine later if repairs might be needed.

T-Mobile announced that it will soon begin using Yahoo as its preferred mobile search provider in Europe

T-Mobile Dumps Google in Europe for Yahoo

Mobile announced Tuesday that it will soon begin using Yahoo as its preferred mobile search provider in Europe, ending the operator's existing relationship with Google for mobile search.

The move was seen by many as a minor coup for Yahoo, which is competing with Google and Microsoft to win the loyalty of a growing number of mobile Internet users. Others noted that mobile search is in its infancy and said the field is still wide-open.

When T-Mobile signed its original deal with Google, it made headlines as one of the earliest partnerships between a mobile operator and a search provider.

"Well done Yahoo, for knocking Google off the Web n Walk home page," wrote John Delaney, an analyst for Ovum, commenting on the announcement. Web n Walk is T-Mobile's mobile Internet offering.

Beginning in March, T-Mobile customers in 11 European countries will see Yahoo's mobile oneSearch by default on their phones. OneSearch is designed to make it easy for mobile users to get relevant search results and navigate through different categories within search results.

The companies plan to offer other Yahoo services to T-Mobile customers, including Flickr, Messenger, Mail, Weather and Finance. Yahoo now counts 29 operators around the world as oneSearch customers.

The deal appears to mark a strategy change at T-Mobile. When the operator launched Web n Walk, the service was designed to mimic the Web by minimizing T-Mobile branded services and prominently offering Google, Delaney said. Since then it has evolved to add more T-Mobile services. It's not clear yet which strategy end-users prefer. "The risk is that T-Mobile will discover that its users really preferred it when T-Mobile gave them access to the Web, and then got out of their way," Delaney said.

While the T-Mobile/Yahoo deal is a blow to Google, the search giant had a significant mobile win of its own this week. Nokia announced on Tuesday that it will add Google search, in addition to its own search offering, on select phones. Nokia plans to extend the offering to more phones in the future.

Nokia has begun offering an increasing number of services, such as location-based maps and social-networking services, which could compete with offerings from operators. "Nokia is walking a bit of a fine line because they're definitely moving into what some consider carrier territory," said Mike Wolf, an analyst at ABI Research.

So far, the market for branded search services on mobile phones, like those from Yahoo and Google, is still wide-open, he said. The search providers are increasingly interested in mobile because there is strong growth in mobile Internet usage, he said. The iPhone is contributing to that, as a device that aims to make the mobile Internet as similar as possible to the PC-based Internet.

Services from Yahoo and Google also compete with those that are branded by the operator. Companies like Medio specialize in offering technology to operators for branded search services. Operators in the U.S. have been more likely to use the self-branded option rather than partner with one of the online brands. AT&T, however, is one notable exception -- it uses Yahoo's oneSearch.

Success in the mobile Internet is important enough that Wolf believes that Yahoo's track record in the mobile market was a factor in Microsoft's decision to try to buy the search provider. "Mobile is probably at least a consideration in the acquisition attempt," he said.


T-Mobile Drops Google In Favor Of Yahoo
Google was hit with a major blow yesterday when T-Mobile announced that they would be dropping Google as a European partner, in favor of going with the technology of rival internet search giant Yahoo. T-Mobile stated though they would still release the first Gphone with the Android mobile operating system before the end of 2008.

Yahoo will replace Google as T-Mobile’s partner in the UK and across Europe.

This is a huge blow to Google as they will lose 90 million mobile users who use the Google search engine through T-Mobile.

T-Mobile’s chief executive, Hamid Akhavan, stated that T-Mobile decided to go with Yahoo due to the mobile search technology. He stated it was better than what Google offered.

Akhavan stated at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, “We have established a partnership with Yahoo that is strategic, this one is more than just working together. We believe we can have a longer and deeper relationship.”

Akhavan stated though that T-Mobile will continue to work with Google in other areas, such as a mobile phone operating system, Android anyone?

T-Mobile also stated they will offer customers the first Gphone with installed software from Google before 2008 is out.

Yahoo Presents OneConnect Mobile Service In Barcelona

The Barcelona Mobile World Conference unveiled a new service brought by Yahoo, oneConnect, a “socially connected address book” combining e-mail, SMS, instant messaging and social networking and at the same time, an open service that allows other companies to join, Yahoo said on Tuesday.

Marco Boerries, executive vice president for Connected Life at Yahoo said at the congress held in Barcelona that the service will become available this spring as part of the Yahoo Go 3.0 mobile platform. OneConnect is actually an all-in-one service, designed to keep users in touch with the latest changes of their social networking contacts, by mixing social messaging and social applications for the users’ best convenience.

The service will support sites such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Hi5 and others and will be compatible with instant messaging services like Yahoo Messenger, Google Talk, AOL Instant Messenger and MSN Messenger. OneConnect is expected to make its debut in the United States around March this year.

“The key driving force in opening up the platform is putting content into the device. No company can create these ecosystems alone. We have to be open,” said Boerries at the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona, the Associated Press reports.

Boerries also announced the collaboration with the cell phone carrier T-Mobile, that will provide its European customers access to Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Messenger, Yahoo Weather and other related services. T-Mobile dumped Google for Yahoo because Yahoo’s mobile search technology was far superior to what Google had to offer, as Hamid Akhavan, T-Mobile chief executive, said.

Yahoo is also thinking about negotiating all-inclusive tariffs for the one Connect service, especially for its European users. The large amount of data sent to and from the mobile phone could turn the service into an unattractive one, due to high costs for its customers, but Yahoo is thinking about introducing prices for unlimited amount of data, similar to the U.S. system.

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