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Supreme Court: Warrants Needed for Cell Phone Data - - Fri, 22 Jun 2018

The Supreme Court today issued a 5-4 ruling stating that law enforcement must first seek a warrant before obtaining historical cell phone location data from cellular carriers, reversing a decade-long practice by law enforcement. The "Carpenter case" focused on a criminal by the name of Timothy Carpenter, who was busted for a string of armed robberies thanks to historical location data obtained by MetroPCS without a warrant, police claiming that because the MVNO already had his data, there could be "no reasonable expectation of privacy."

The Supreme Court's ruling shot down that narrative, Chief Justice John Roberts stating that the government's warrantless access to cell-site records over a period of time "contravenes that expectation" of privacy.

"The fact that such information is gathered by a third party does not make it any less deserving of Fourth Amendment protection," said Roberts.

"Because location information is continually logged for all of the 400 million devices in the United States -- not just those belonging to persons who might happen to come under investigation -- this newfound tracking capacity runs against everyone," he added.

It's worth noting that the ruling, while huge, is also a bit narrow in that it only applies to historical cell phone location data, not real-time location data tracking or so-called cell tower dumps. Groups like the ACLU remained jubilant at the ruling, which had been highly anticipated by privacy rights organizations.

"This is a groundbreaking victory for Americans privacy rights in the digital age, said ACLU attorney Nathan Freed Wessler, who argued the case before the court last November. "The Supreme Court has given privacy law an update that it has badly needed for many years, finally bringing it in line with the realities of modern life. The government can no longer claim that the mere act of using technology eliminates the Fourth Amendment s protections."
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Friday Morning Links - - Fri, 22 Jun 2018

NY Appeals Court OKs Lawsuit Alleging Charter Falsely Promised Reliable Access to Online Content
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai posts 'bizzare' unlisted travel video on YouTube - Rambles about the natural beauty and rural broadband projects in and around Twin Falls, Idaho
TDS Cable Broadband Upgrades Continue, 600 Mbps Broadband Coming to More Markets
DirecTV Now is on track to hit 2.4 million subscribers by the end of 2018 and become the biggest U.S. digital bundler in 2019
Senate Commerce Committee schedules June 27 vote on the nomination of Geoffrey Starks to succeed Democrat Mignon Clyburn on the FCC
Verizon Is Already Benefiting From the Proposed T-Mobile-Sprint Merger
Consumer Cellular on track to pass 3M-customer mark this year
Wireless Broadband Alliance backs wifi roaming to tackle digital divide
YouTube announces $4.99/mo Channel Memberships for eligible channels with 100K+ subscribers Official YouTube Blog
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Supreme Court Ruling Opens Door to Online Sales Tax - - Fri, 22 Jun 2018

The Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 (pdf) to greenlight state sales tax for online purchases, reversing a decade-old precedent. Brick and mortar retailers and state lawmakers have been lobbying for decades to reverse a 1992 ruling in Quill Corporation v. North Dakota, which declared that the Constitution prohibited states from requiring businesses collect sales taxes unless they have a substantial connection to the state they operate in.

States were eager to collect the estimated $13.4 billion in annual revenue they could potentially glean from charging online sales taxes.

More traditional brick and mortar retailers had long claimed the ruling put them at a notable disadvantage to online retailers, many of which don't charge sales tax whatsoever. On the flip side, this advantage is what resulted in decades of explosive growth in online retail, while also giving some smaller online entrepreneurs a leg up against traditional giants like Walmart.

But the Supreme Court ruled that the previous court case was no longer relevent in the modern broadband era.

Between targeted advertising and instant access to most consumers via any internet-enabled device, a business may be present in a state in a meaningful way without that presence being physical in the traditional sense of the term, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his opinion. "A virtual showroom can show far more inventory, in far more detail, and with greater opportunities for consumer and seller interaction than might be possible for local stores."

States and traditional brick and mortar retailers were quick to applaud the ruling, while representatives of smaller online retailers claimed the looming state rush to collect sales tax would only be a compliance burden. Regardless, your online shopping (depending on who you use) likely just got notably more expensive.
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AT&T Launches $15 Skinny TV Bundle, New Unlimited Plans - - Thu, 21 Jun 2018

As promised, AT&T has taken the wraps off a new $15, skinny streaming bundle, one the company says will be free if you're an AT&T wireless subscriber. According the website for AT&T's new AT&T Watch service, AT&T's new streaming video offering offers access to 30 live TV channels from top cable networks including A&E, AMC, Animal Planet, CNN, Discovery, Food Network, Hallmark, HGTV, History, IFC, Lifetime, Sundance TV, TBS, TLC, TNT, VICELAND, and several others (you can find the full breakdown here).

Note that the company isn't yet offering the $15 service as a standalone offering, details on which the company says are "coming soon."

AT&T did however unveil two new unlimited data wireless plans that integrate the service for free, as AT&T tries to use the streaming video wars and its new Time Warner acquisition to upsell consumers to the company's wireless data offerings.

Unlimited & More and Unlimited & More Premium both include Watch TV (plus a $15 credit for DirecTV Now, AT&T's IPTV service or DirecTV) at no additional charge.

The new Unlimited & More plan starts at $70 per month for one line, limits users to HD quality video (I've reached out to AT&T to find out what that actually means), and features 15 GB of bandwidth for tethering. In contrast, the Unlimited & More Premium plan starts at $80 per month for one line, has no apparent restrictions on video quality, and no limit to the amount of tethering data, though AT&T notes both plans may be deprioritized and video throttled to SD depending on network congestion.

Synergies, Yo

AT&T's quick to proclaim that its new merger is to thank for the new offerings.

"Our merger brings together the elements to fulfill our vision for the future of media and entertainment," AT&T states. We ll bring a fresh approach to how media and entertainment works for you. This means new offerings that integrate content and connectivity."

"You ll see a new level of choice, innovation and value as we deliver a more personalized and immersive entertainment experience--from experimenting with new forms of content to offering new ways to access and view premium content, especially on mobile devices," AT&T states.

AT&T and other ISPs are currently on their best behavior for several reasons. One, they want consumers to believe that the added power nabbed from dominating both the conduit into the home and the content running over those lines will be a net positive for the end users. Two, they're worried that the FCC's repeal of net neutrality won't stand up to court scrutiny, and don't want to add any ammunition for consumer advocates or their lawyers.

But should the FCC's repeal of net neutrality stand up to court challenge, you can expect AT&T to quickly start being more "creative" in terms of finding ways to give its own content and services a notable market advantage, likely to the detriment of your wallet and smaller, competing services.
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Sprint Highlights How Badly It Sucks in Merger Filing With FCC - - Fri, 22 Jun 2018

For years all Sprint would talk about was the fact that the company was finally starting to turn the corner, cleaning up its balance sheet, and building the network everybody has wanted for years. But in a new filing with the FCC urging the agency to approve its $23 billion merger with T-Mobile, Sprint is suddenly issuing dire predictions that the company could fall apart if regulators don't allow it to consummate the deal.

Sprint s standalone future will not be one that allows it to be an effective competitor to Verizon and AT&T on a nationwide basis," Sprint said in its filing with the FCC.

And though Sprint s massive cost reductions have stabilized the company s finances and yielded positive free cash flow for the first time in many years, the company achieved that result only by shrinking the company and reducing network investment to historically low levels," Sprint insists.

While Sprint does have a lot of debt, it's in no imminent peril of imploding, especially given continued investment by its wealthy Japanese owner, Softbank. Even if Sprint was at risk of imminent collapse, there's numerous potential partners Sprint could have worked with (Dish, Charter, Comcast) that would have boosted competition in the space instead of eliminating one of just four major competitors.

Despite clearly being on far more secure footing, T-Mobile also tried to play up the idea it was on death's doorstep in the FCC filing.

T-Mobile, as a standalone company, has had some success but will not be able to continue competing as well without the merger," the company told the FCC.

Which is a curious statement for a company that has routinely been stealing customers from AT&T and Verizon for several consecutive years.

Still, the narrative that these two companies would simply fall apart if not allowed to consummate a deal is repeated throughout their sales pitch to the FCC.

"Put simply, Sprint lacks the scale and resources to expand its network capital spending (as required to avoid falling further behind in network quality and to begin deploying 5G network technologies) and continue its aggressive spending (in the form of promotional pricing and other incentives) on customer acquisition," Sprint declares, again in stark contrast to countless other statements made by the company over the last few years.

Few doubt that the Ajit Pai FCC won't rubber stamp the deal, though things are still likely to get somewhat heated during Congressional hearings next week discussing the looming deal. Those hearings are sure to note that, in stark contrast to Sprint and T-Mobile claims, the deal will most assuredly result in less incentive for the remaining carriers to compete on price, with Wall Street analysts predicting job losses between 10,000 and 30,000 strong.
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ISP Freeola Launches Ultrafast Broadband and Phone Packages - Fri, 22 Jun 2018

freeola logo
Internet and hosting provider Freeola has today quietly become the latest UK ISP to launch a new “ultrafast broadband” service based off Openreach’s new hybrid fibre technology, which offers maximum download speeds of up to 330Mbps and uploads of up to 50Mbps. At present only a small number of providers have introduced packages […]

Cityfibre Delist from London Market as Bidco Finish £537.8m Buy - Fri, 22 Jun 2018

cityfibre fibre optic cable engineers and bosses
Urban focused fibre optic (FTTP/H) network builder Cityfibre has officially removed itself from the London Stock Exchange’s international AIM market for smaller companies, which occurs at the same time as Connect Infrastructure Bidco conclude their £537.8m acquisition of the company. Bidco is a newly-incorporated company that is jointly-owned by a consortium of two key infrastructure […]

Gigaclear CEO Matthew Hare Exits as ISP Aims for 350K FTTP Premises - Fri, 22 Jun 2018

gigaclear manhole
The CEO of alternative network ISP Gigaclear, Matthew Hare, has today announced that he is stepping down after 8 years of building Gigabit capable fibre optic (FTTP) broadband networks to rural parts of the UK. The company’s Chief Operating Officer (COO), Mike Surrey, will become its interim CEO. Under Matthew’s stewardship the once tiny ISP […]

Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant duke it out at CES 2018 - Sat, 13 Jan 2018

Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant duke it out at CES 2018CES 2018 had more than its fair share of wacky items and compelling gadgets, but one of the biggest trends to emerge, once again, from the popular tech expo was voice-enabled devices. And, of course, it was all about Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

The weirdest tech of CES 2018 - Fri, 12 Jan 2018

The weirdest tech of CES 2018Here are seven items at CES 2018, some of which address legitimate use cases and some of which may be closer to mad-scientist territory.

Sennheiser co-CEO: Why we're betting on AR and VR with 3-D audio - Fri, 12 Jan 2018

Sennheiser co-CEO: Why we're betting on AR and VR with 3-D audioAt CES 2018, Sennheiser announced two new products that focus on recording or playing back 3-D audio.

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