FCC approves net neutrality rules, reclassifies broadband as a utility

It’s a good day for proponents of an open internet: The Federal Communications Commission just approved its long-awaited network neutrality plan, which reclassifies broadband internet as a Title II public utility and gives the agency more regulatory power in the process. And unlike the FCC’s last stab at net neutrality in 2010, today’s new rules also apply to mobile broadband. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler laid out the basic gist of the plan earlier this month — it’ll ban things like paid prioritization, a tactic some ISPs used to get additional fees from bandwidth-heavy companies like Netflix, as well as the slowdown of “lawful content.” But now Wheeler’s vision is more than just rhetoric; it’s something the FCC can actively enforce.

“It [the internet] is our printing press; it is our town square; it is our individual soap box and our shared platform for opportunity,” said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel during today’s open commission meeting. “That is why open internet policies matter. That is why I support network neutrality.”

Don’t expect the net neutrality drama to end here, though. Verizon has already made vague threats about suing the agency if it went through the public utility route, and Wheeler expects other lawsuits as well. Verizon’s last legal action against the FCC led an appeals court to strike down its earlier (but far weaker) open internet rules on jurisdictional grounds. That’s what ultimately pushed the agency to reclassify broadband — now that it’s viewed as a utility like telephone service, the FCC is free to make stronger regulatory decisions. The agency is aiming to alleviate fears of overregulation through forbearance, a process that lets it legally ignore certain regulations that other public utilities have to deal with. That includes things like limiting rates and unbundling, which lets companies take advantage of equipment and services from competitors.

If you’ve been following the net neutrality debate over the past few years, you wouldn’t be blamed for getting discouraged. Verizon’s legal victory over the FCC last year made it seem like the big companies — who would benefit the most from lax internet regulations — had pretty much won the war for the web. But, it turns out, that defeat actually helped spark an unprecedented amount of grassroots activism on the web from groups like Fight for the Future, which got more than 4 million consumers to write into the FCC in support of net neutrality. Companies like Twitter, Reddit and Netflix — whose businesses rely on unobstructed access to web users — also did their part to lobby for an open web. All of that led to President Barack Obama announcing his support for Title II broadband reclassification last fall, which put the FCC in a pretty awkward spot.

In his Wired editorial, Wheeler pointed out that he was previously relying on “commercial reasonableness,” a concept brought up in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, to keep the internet open. He ended up changing his mind, however, when he realized that line of thought could end up protecting companies more than consumers. But, far more likely, Wheeler changed his stance as the tide turned in favor of regulating broadband as a utility.

When it comes to the new mobile broadband rules, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn framed it as something that will help ensure equality: “We know many low-income Americans rely heavily on their mobile device, and some rely heavily on that mobile phone as their only access to the internet,” she said. “They need, they deserve, a robust experience on par with their wired peers.”

Television writer and producer Veena Sud, whose series The Killing was saved from cancellation by Netflix twice, laid out the artistic justification for net neutrality:

What the open internet means for creativity, innovation and diversity points is by no means limited to my own experience. Series like Orange is the New Black and Transparent are giving voice to worlds and people and experiences never before seen on the small screen.

Sud also mentioned an intriguing data point about web content: Around 40 percent of online comedies and dramas are backed by women, compared to just 20 percent on traditional television.

So what’s next? You can expect plenty of chest thumping from Republicans, libertarians and large telecoms against the new rules. FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai also railed against the agency’s decision as intrusive government regulation. He was skeptical that the FCC will stick with its forbearance plan, and he warned that the open internet rules will also lead to slower broadband speeds and more taxes. Expect to hear those talking points repeatedly throughout the rest of the year.

“This proposal has been described by one opponent as, ‘A secret plan to regulate the internet.’ Nonsense!” Wheeler said right before the agency voted on the new rules. “This is no more a plan to regulate the internet than the first amendment is a plan to regulate free speech. They both stand for the same concept: openness, expression, and an absence of gatekeepers telling people what they can do, where they can go and what they can think.”

via FCC approves net neutrality rules, reclassifies broadband as a utility.

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Spam Alert!

trojanSeveral variations of DHL spam have been seen today. Some are linked to hacked websites. Others have malware attached (e.g., in a zip file). They include subject lines like “DHL TRACKING PARCEL — PLEASE LOGIN TO TRACK PARCEL ” Some sent to overseas customers are written in German. BE CAREFUL!!!

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Amazing video shows how dust moves from the Sahara Desert to Brazil

Here’s an awesome 3D visualization from NASA that shows how the Sahara Desert helps fertilize the Amazon rainforest even though they’re on two different continents that are separated by an entire ocean. The Saharan dust is carried over by wind and the phosphorous in the dust is essential to the Amazon.

It’s really neat how the world’s largest desert is responsible for creating the world’s largest rain forest. It’s also interesting that the amount of phosphorus in the sand sent from the Sahara—22,000 tons—is about the same amount that the Amazon loses from rain and flooding every year.

In total, about 27.7 million tons of dust is blown over from the Sahara to the Amazon. NASA says that’s enough to fill 104,980 semi trucks.

via Amazing video shows how dust moves from the Sahara Desert to Brazil.

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Graphene Could Be Used to Neutralize Cancer Stem Cells

Graphene has a frankly overwhelming array of amazing possible uses, from body armor to seeing through walls. To that list, you can perhaps add the ability to fight cancer, too.

Researchers at the University of Manchester in the UK—the birthplace of graphene—have used the 2D carbon material to target and neutralise cancer stem cells. Using a modified form of graphene called graphene oxide, Professor Michael Lisanti and Dr Aravind Vijayaraghavan have observed that it can act as an anti-cancer agent, inhibiting the formation of the basic tumour sphere that grows during the onset of cancer.

Instead, the stem cells went on to form non-cancerous cells. Testing graphene oxide formulations with breast, pancreatic, lung, brain, ovarian and prostate cancer cells, flakes of the material appear to blocks the surface processes through which cancer stem cells join together. The results are published in Oncotarget.

The researchers suggest that the compound could be used alongside other treatments to help encourage tumour shrinkage as well as preventing the spread of cancer and its recurrence after treatment. A particularly attractive aspect of that proposition is that the compound is non-toxic, unlike many other cancer therapeutics, suggesting it could be used with few side effects.

It’s worth noting that it’s not quite time to pop champagne corks, though. “Naturally, any new discovery such as this needs to undergo extensive study and trials before emerging as a therapeutic,” explains Vijayaraghavan. From this stage of experiment, that could be years away. But it remains an exciting finding—and another feather to add to graphene’s cap. [Oncotarget via EurekAlert]

via Graphene Could Be Used to Neutralize Cancer Stem Cells.

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Five miles of Hyperloop test track will be built in California

If you were worried that Hyperloop was nothing more than a fantasy, you might be happy to learn that some companies are taking the idea very seriously. Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, one of the companies inspired by Elon Musk’s idea of making people travel in tubes, has signed a deal to build a five mile test facility in California. The facility will be built by a local developer along Interstate 5, and is expected to begin construction next year. According to CNBC, the scheme will cost an eye-watering $100 million to build and should be up and running by 2019.

Although Elon Musk himself is credited with the Hyperloop idea, he had originally stated that he was too busy with SpaceX and Tesla to develop the project. Since then, however, the entrepreneur has changed his tune, pledging to build a test facility of his very own down in Texas. Unlike HTT’s, the Musk loop will be used by companies and students to test pod designs, and could even host a student race competition in the vein of Formula SAE. All we can say is that we hope it won’t be long after that before we start seeing Hyperloop tunnels popping up across the country.

via Five miles of Hyperloop test track will be built in California.

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States can no longer restrict city-run broadband internet

Today is one of the more momentous days in the FCC’s recent history. Its net neutrality vote will get most of the press attention, but its moves to protect municipal broadband from state legislators are also quite important. The proposal adopted today is narrowly focused, but it could have huge implications. What the regulator has decided to do is preempt state laws that seek to restrict the spread of city-built broadband networks in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina. But the agency also reserved the right to intercede on behalf of municipalities on a case-by-case basis if it thought that local or state governments were getting in the way of improving competition and spreading access to broadband internet. Continue reading

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