The Pentagon is carrying out warrantless surveillance of Americans, according to a new letter written by Senator Ron Wyden and obtained by Motherboard.
Senator Wyden’s office asked the Department of Defense (DoD), which includes various military and intelligence agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), for detailed information about its data purchasing practices after Motherboard revealed special forces were buying location data. The responses also touched on military or intelligence use of internet browsing and other types of data, and prompted Wyden to demand more answers specifically about warrantless spying on American citizens.
This covers a line of thinking that I have never quite wrapped my head around. There would be a mass revolt in the United States — and in many countries, sure, but this is about the U.S. — if people were strongly encouraged to carry around a literal surveillance device that reported the user’s actions directly to the military. What I do not understand is how it is somehow more okay among certain schools of thought if that device is made by a private company, the entire surveillance apparatus is privately owned, and any of those private companies can share or resell the data they collect to any interested party — including the military.
I am not saying I would rather live in a world of constant government surveillance. But, in some twisted sense, it may be preferable: at least there are laws stating what is and what is not permissible. Those laws may frequently be broken, but they at least exist. What laws govern the collection and sale of behavioural data by an ad network? In the U.S., there are very few, and none at the national level.
Apple today announced Apple Music is bringing industry-leading sound quality to subscribers with the addition of Spatial Audio with support for Dolby Atmos. Spatial Audio gives artists the opportunity to create immersive audio experiences for their fans with true multidimensional sound and clarity. Apple Music subscribers will also be able to listen to more than 75 million songs in Lossless Audio — the way the artists created them in the studio. These new features will be available for Apple Music subscribers starting next month at no additional cost.
If you’ve been paying attention to the rumour mill, you might have expected that Apple would add lossless and spatial audio. The surprise is that it will be included with subscriptions at no extra cost, and that is a bold move. Spotify has not announced pricing yet for its lossless tier, but it costs $5 more per month to add lossless audio to a Deezer subscription, and it is a $10 per month add-on with Tidal, which is oddly now owned by Square. Tidal’s high-end subscription also offers Dolby Atmos tracks and spatial audio through Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format.
According to Apple’s FAQ on these new features, Dolby Atmos tracks will play automatically when you’re connected with compatible hardware, including all models of AirPods. The Apple TV is a little more complicated: if you’re using your AirPods, Dolby Atmos will work fine, but Atmos is only available through speakers with the Apple TV 4K with Atmos-compatible hardware.
To start listening to Lossless Audio, subscribers using the latest version of Apple Music can turn it on in Settings > Music > Audio Quality. Here, they can choose different resolutions for different connections such as cellular, Wi-Fi, or for download. Apple Music’s Lossless tier starts at CD quality, which is 16 bit at 44.1 kHz (kilohertz), and goes up to 24 bit at 48 kHz and is playable natively on Apple devices. For the true audiophile, Apple Music also offers Hi-Resolution Lossless all the way up to 24 bit at 192 kHz.
Apple says that listening to tracks at 24/192 requires an external USB DAC, which you would probably expect. I still have not seen any evidence that people can actually hear the difference in these extremely high-resolution tracks, probably because their advantages are entirely out of the human range of hearing. It’s a bit like if there were a new display that outputs the full range of the electromagnetic spectrum, not just visible light. At least you won’t be killed by radiation exposure from high-res audio tracks.
Apple has confirmed to T3 that this equipment, sadly, does not include AirPods Pro or AirPods Max. Both of Apple’s elite headphone models only use the Bluetooth AAC codec when connected to an iPhone, which means they can’t receive the full quality of the Apple Music ‘Lossless’ files, which will be encoded as ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) files.
We had hoped that Apple could enable some kind of Bluetooth secret sauce to allow for higher-quality audio over Bluetooth to its top-tier headphones, since the iPhone 12 and AirPods Max all support Bluetooth 5.0, which is theoretically capable of CD-quality audio transmission. But alas, it proved to be wishful thinking. And we presume the forthcoming AirPods 3 will be the same story.
AirPods Max also won’t support lossless over the lightning cable, the company tells me. No Sonos support for lossless streaming just yet either.
It appears this is true for all lossless formats on the iPhone over Bluetooth, not just the 24/192 spec and not just the files from Apple Music. (Update: An Apple spokesperson confirmed to me that this is the case.) As best as I understand the Bluetooth audio spec and the codecs in play here, it makes sense, but it is frustrating and looks incredibly silly that Apple’s highest-end headphones are not compatible with Apple’s lossless audio specifications from the Apple Music service.
Jack Forster of Hodinkee interviewed Thierry Stern, CEO of Patek Philippe:
Some brands have experimented with connected watches. Patek has not. Why?
It’s not our field. Can you imagine? Am I going to fight against Apple, which has nearly the same budget as I do in R&D, except they have five more zeros at the end of it? I can’t compete with that. It’s another way to fabricate watches. We have always been dedicated to mechanical watches, this is what we know and what we enjoy. Working on something electronic may be fun, but it’s not my business. You have to give it to the pro, and I’m not a pro in this type of technology.
[…] I like that he knows the reason why they are who they are. That understanding has allowed them to grow and be able to create value and desire for their products. I really wish more companies were as focused on their own excellence rather than chasing growth for the sake of growth.
The tech world is full of examples of companies experimenting and trying new things — and that is certainly one way to run a business. But I think there is something more interesting about companies that have a single product or service that they are relentlessly attempting to improve. Patek is an extreme example, but I wish there were more of those.
A riveting story from Ben Smith about how some people, including nearly six hundred former “Jeopardy!” contestants, are committed to a completely false conclusion from a hand gesture representing a third victory on the program.
The Browse tab in the Music app across Apple’s platforms has started displaying a prominent teaser hinting at an upcoming major announcement for Apple Music. Under the heading “Coming soon,” the headline says “Get ready – music is about to change forever.” An accompanying “Tune-In Video” simply shows an animated Apple Music logo.
The animation of the logo certainly suggests 3D space, hinting at something more than the new lossless audio tiers. Intriguing.
Speaking of the current president, the Biden administration revoked the previous president’s Executive Order “Preventing Online Censorship”. Not only did the unconstitutional contents of that order not reflect its title — as a former Republican FCC commissioner pointed out and consequently lost his nomination for another term — its demands were not acted upon as far as any journalist can tell.
Ryan Mac, Katie Notopoulos, Ryan Brooks, and Logan McDonald, Buzzfeed News:
On Friday, following a passing mention in the New York Times that the president has sent his grandchildren money on Venmo, BuzzFeed News searched for the president’s account using only a combination of the app’s built-in search tool and public friends feature. In the process, BuzzFeed News found nearly a dozen Biden family members and mapped out a social web that encompasses not only the first family, but a wide network of people around them, including the president’s children, grandchildren, senior White House officials, and all of their contacts on Venmo.
While many critics have focused on how the app makes all transactions public by default, Venmo’s friends lists are arguably a larger privacy issue. Even if a Venmo account is set to make payments private, its friends list remains exposed. There is no setting to make this information private, which means it can provide a window into someone’s personal life that could be exploited by anyone — including trolls, stalkers, police, and spies.
I would love to know why Venmo continues to believe that its financial services app demands a poorer degree of privacy protection than a protected Twitter account. Buzzfeed documents an extraordinary list of proven privacy vulnerabilities that I am sure most people do not think of when they send someone a few bucks. This is not new information; this is basic stuff. And it isn’t like Venmo is some startup that just doesn’t know better — it is owned by PayPal.
Starlink is a truly remarkable feat of engineering, and the sheer force of will required to make it work as a simple consumer product shines through. It is, however, in everyone’s best interest to consider the trade-offs of having done all this work and putting all these satellites in orbit simply to get internet access. Astronomers and scientists are very mad about this. Starlink should talk to them more.
Second, all the people dreaming of Starlink upsetting cable monopolies and reinventing broadband need to seriously reset their expectations. At best, Starlink currently offers reasonably fast access with inconsistent connectivity, huge latency swings, and a significant uptick in time spent considering whether you can just get out the chainsaw and solve the tree problem yourself.
And lastly, if you are a telecom executive or regulator in the United States, you have no choice but to see Starlink, its execution, and the unrestrained excitement and hype around it as a direct indictment of your rhetoric and efforts to properly connect this country to the internet over the past two decades. Dishy McDishface is a sign that reads YOU FUCKED UP AND EVERYONE HATES YOU. Read the sign. This is your fault.
My hope is that Starlink reflects a problem that can be resolved with better policy. A big, orbiting, last-ditch, and unscalable response to telecom monopolies that can be fixed if policymakers actually try. In this world, Starlink-like satellite clusters would only be used in very remote areas, like northern Canada.
If this becomes more popular than that — either through American companies like Amazon and Starlink itself reflecting some sort of neocolonial force of space-based internet access, or through regional efforts like those from Russian and Chinese firms, and those are not mutual options — I worry that we will blanket our sky with tens of thousands more satellites to barely make a dent in a problem with many terrestrial solutions. There are billions of people around the world for whom internet access is slow, expensive, and unreliable, or entirely nonexistent. That is not to say that all of the problems of satellite clusters are inherently insurmountable, but they are significant. For example, while Starlink is attempting to solve reflectivity problems, that only works so long as the sky is not densely packed with satellites. Overall, it would be a long-term mistake to privatize internet policy for something that is, realistically, an inadequate solution for the billions of people who are unserved or poorly served by existing ISPs.
There’s an old line that everyone in tech is trying to give someone else’s business away for free, and to turn it into a feature of their own product and their own business model. Google gives away a free smartphone operating system to support its ad business, and Amazon gives away free TV shows to support its ecommerce business. Apple’s business model is to sell hardware to around a billion people, bringing in about $200 per user at a 30% gross margin in 2020, then to give away, or sell, a lot of other services on top, both for incremental revenue (about $50 per user at 65% gross margin) and to drive retention.
What kind of services? Well, Apple looks for businesses it can transform with simplicity and control, and take a cut, without owning anything itself, and where it can use that to leverage hardware sales. That worked for music, failed for TV, succeeded massively in smartphone apps and especially games, and has done OK in payments. How about advertising?
I think Evans’ piece is a great assessment of what Apple could be trying to do with its own advertising products and how that correlates with its privacy efforts. But I am sort of stuck on how much of a reversal the advertising market is compared to Apple’s other services.
The billion-or-so iOS users out there want music, apps, and games. They want to buy or use all of those things, creators want to sell all of those things, and Apple wants to take a cut of all of those transactions. Everybody wins or, at least, gets 70% of a win. Also, most payment mechanisms suck — you have to type in your credit card details, maybe verify something, then manage all of the different places where those cards are stored — so it was ripe for the kind of solution Apple can provide.
But ads? People mostly hate ads.
There is always going to be tension between Apple’s premium brand position and its display advertising spots. Different entities work better as ad-supported businesses than alternatives, plenty of companies want to promote their stuff so they want to buy ads, and Apple would surely love to take a cut of each ad placement. But they are all going to be fighting users who, at best, have become numb to advertising. Digital advertising, in particular, has built a reputation of being disrespectful to people: it is abusive to individual privacy, it is rife with fraud, and it has become increasingly obnoxious in its desperate attempts to fight market fatigue.
If Evans is correct and this is the strategy Apple is pursuing, I see the company making a difference on all fronts but still necessarily fighting its users.
Although Bill C-10 was tabled back in the fall, it only stoked widespread public controversy a few weeks ago when the government astonished observers by removing a crucial exemption for user-generated audiovisual content. This means all of the pictures, video and audio we upload to internet platforms would now be subject to regulation by the CRTC.
Note for my American readers: in most English-speaking places, “tabled” means to propose for discussion, not to delay it.
The government is now backtracking with further amendments to the bill, narrowing the CRTC’s jurisdiction over our user-generated content to only treating it like broadcasting if we’re lucky enough our content’s popular and focusing on “discoverability” — hiding content our feeds would otherwise display to showcase CRTC-defined “Canadian” content.
But the core problem with Bill C-10 hasn’t changed: user audiovisual speech on platforms remains subject to CRTC regulation, a huge leap in government authority over an increasingly central area of our online expression.
None of this takes on web giants, as Guilbeault claims. It’s simply giving the government, CRTC, and big tech even more power over what we can do and see online. And such strict regulations and requirements ensure only the largest platforms can afford to comply — guaranteeing their continued dominance.
Hatfield is not some blanket anti-regulation libertarian advocate. The organization he works for, OpenMedia, works to support regulations that incentivize a privacy-friendly and open web. But Bill C-10 is bad news and desperately needs to be scrapped — or, as my American readers may refer to it, “tabled”.
Canada is the biggest hoarder of vaccine pre-orders, having secured enough to vaccinate the population five times over. Despite this, it has constantly run into supply problems and lagged behind comparable countries when it comes to administering the vaccines on a per capita basis. In response to criticism of its hoarding, the government continues to focus on its plans to donate all surplus doses to the COVAX vaccine sharing program — but these promises were somewhat more convincing before Canada became the only G7 country to withdraw doses from COVAX. Despite all this, and despite pressure from experts who explain how vaccine hoarding will prolong the pandemic for everyone, the country has continually refused to voice its support for a TRIPS patent waiver at the WTO.
I cannot imagine what is holding back Canadian support of a waiver on these patents — maybe it is concern over upsetting vaccine suppliers while we are still waiting for deliveries — but it would be inhumane if we remain a holdout when our peers are all vowing to waive intellectual property protections, at least temporarily.
Apple recently hired Antonio García Martínez, a former Facebook ads-product manager and the author of “Chaos Monkeys,” to join its product-engineering team for ad platforms, another sign of the technology giant’s growing ambitions in the advertising space.
García Martínez joined Apple in April and will work out of Cupertino, California, according to his LinkedIn profile. Apple’s ad-platforms team works on the technology that powers ads within the App Store and the Apple News and Stocks apps.
How did this happen? García Martínez is a walking pile of red flags. Longtime readers of this website may remember that name from the handful of times I have pointed to his narcissistic and obtuse commentary, but that is barely scratching the surface. He previously worked at Facebook; before that, he worked for Goldman Sachs. Those are the corporate ethics he is bringing to Apple’s advertising team.
When he left Facebook, he wrote a book. Sophie Kleeman mined it for quotes for Gizmodo, adding this disclaimer:
Before we launch into it, however, an important note: Martinez delights in describing the bad behavior and questionable conduct of places like Facebook, but he’s guilty of exactly the same kind of dickishness. His treatment of women is particularly awful — he describes women in the Bay Area as “soft and weak” with “self-regarding entitlement feminism” — and the book is peppered with casual homophobia and misogyny. (A nice example from page 33: “Whether it be a Breathalyzer or a banana, you can’t make eye contact with a man while going down on something. It’s too weird.”) It’s also worth pointing out that the book isn’t solely devoted to Martinez’s time at Facebook — a good chunk deals with his tenure at other assorted Silicon Valley entities.
García Martínez So this is about the woman that had my children, and I’m, you know, I’m sort of praising her.
Swisher The British woman.
García Martínez The British trader.
García Martínez “She had wild green eyes with natural red spots in her irises when you pulled close, reminiscent of that Afghan girl from the National Geographic cover. Her personality was flinty and rough and as leathery as her skin. She had spent years between various jobs, backpacking around the rougher parts of the world. She was an imposing broad-shouldered presence. Six feet tall on bare feet and towering over me in heels. Most women in the Bay Area are soft and weak, cosseted and naive despite their claims of worldliness, and generally full of shit. They have their self-regarding entitlement feminism and ceaselessly want their independence, but the reality is come the epidemic plague or foreign invasion, they become precisely the sort of useless baggage you trade for a box of shotgun shells or a jerrycan of diesel.” And this is the important thing to put into context! I am contrasting this broad overgeneralization to the reality of the woman that I was falling in love with, okay?
He did not leave that misogyny in Silicon Valley. A year after his book was published, he got into a heated argument with Heidi N. Moore and sent her a cruel email after she blocked him on Twitter.
This was around the time he went full survivalist off the coast of Seattle, saying that “in the post-America, the 5.56 millimetre round will be the currency of the new America”. He has also made comments dismissive of privacy.
I am sure García Martínez is not the only person at Apple who has beliefs like these, but it is hard to reconcile such a high-profile hire with the company’s values. I wonder how employees there are feeling about working alongside or for someone who has so explicitly admitted that in a pandemic — like the one we are currently in — he thinks of them as “useless baggage” that he would trade for ammunition. Also, I wonder how Apple could consider him a good fit for a company that really does promote social justice and equity.
Employees have begun circulating a petition about his hiring. García Martínez did not reply to my request for a comment.
Antonio García Martínez, a newly hired engineer on Apple’s ads team, is gone from Apple after employee backlash regarding sexist comments he made in his book Chaos Monkeys, company says. Employees have been incredibly angry about his hire and questioned Apple’s hiring practices.
Gurman also posted a tweet-length statement from Apple. This response still leaves unanswered questions about why he was hired in the first place.
Plenty of examples from Jason Kottke of gas stations that have some personality, with even more over at Moss and Fog. I appreciate such a high level of thought and care that goes into designing something so pedestrian. We should expect quality like this in the built world around us; we should not be okay with ugly or, worse, boring cities.
There are a lot of big numbers in this statement from Apple regarding its efforts to combat App Store fraud, but these two paragraphs stood out to me:
Unfortunately, sometimes developer accounts are created entirely for fraudulent purposes. If a developer violation is egregious or repeated, the offender is expelled from the Apple Developer Program and their account terminated. Apple terminated 470,000 developer accounts in 2020 and rejected an additional 205,000 developer enrolments over fraud concerns, preventing these bad actors from ever submitting an app to the store.
And in just the last month, Apple blocked more than 3.2 million instances of apps distributed illicitly through the Apple Developer Enterprise Program. The program is designed to allow companies and other large organizations to develop and privately distribute internal-use apps to their employees that aren’t available to the general public. Fraudsters attempt to distribute apps via this method to circumvent the rigorous App Review process, or to implicate a legitimate enterprise by manipulating an insider to leak credentials needed to ship illicit content.
Both of these are huge figures to me — perhaps even more stunning than the $1.5 billion in fraudulent transactions Apple says that it stopped last year. They give a sense of just how many developer accounts are created specifically to circumvent the App Store rules, to enable fraud, or to misbehave in other ways. The half-a-million developer accounts terminated in 2020 compares to only about 180,000 new developers Apple says that it worked with to get their apps into the App Store.
But all of these numbers are necessarily going to be large. Apple is a big company, there are many users of its products, and it has a large developer community. Unfortunately, none of the numbers in this press release have any attached context. For example, Apple says that it rejected over 215,000 apps in 2020 for not meeting its privacy standards. But to understand what that means in terms of the total number of submissions, you have to go find the documents that surfaced in the company’s lawsuit with Epic Games, where you will find an average of about five million apps submitted annually, around 35% of which are rejected for any reason. But we still don’t know anything about the kinds of apps that were rejected. How many of the 215,000 apps were ever admitted into the store? And were any of them downloaded by users before being pulled? The answers to these kinds of questions are not in this press release.
Also, this felt pointed:
Even with these stringent review safeguards in place, with 1.8 million apps on the App Store, problems still surface. Users can report problematic apps by choosing the Report a Problem feature on the App Store or calling Apple Support, and developers can use either of those methods or additional channels like Feedback Assistant and Apple Developer Support.
These are the only options available to report a fraudulent app? These? I have already covered how Report a Problem is insufficient for raising alarms about a rule-breaking app, particularly if it is free. And the only other thing I can do, as a customer, is to telephone Apple Support? Ridiculous.
If you pay Apple’s developer program fee, you get two more ways of reporting scams. One is Feedback Assistant, which does not have a specific way of reporting fraud or abuse in another developer’s app. But it seems there is actually one way to raise that issue — in Developer Support, click on Report a Concern, then choose “report a fraud concern”. It’s right there, clear as day.
It’s not as clear nor as accessible as a button in the App Store but, you know, it’s something.
Apple uses data about in-app purchases that users have made and apps that they have downloaded to personalize ads. This data was previously available to other advertising platforms through the event streams they ingested from apps and websites via SDKs and pixels, but ATT will sever that access. Apple is using the particular definition of “tracking” — and a very generous definition of all transactions facilitated through the App Store as being first-party data — to capture advertising market share.
As I outline in my Content Fortresses thesis, when only first-party data is permissible for use in advertising targeting, then the largest consumer tech companies will simply grow their first-party datasets. Apple is claiming that the entirety of the App Store exists in its first-party data environment and so every interaction that takes place in any app is fodder for its ads optimization algorithm.
From a consumer’s perspective, there is some logic to the argument Apple is making and which is echoed by the W3C. Using only first-party data to target advertising fits with the existing business relationship a user has with a company. If I have tracking enabled, I fully expect Apple to use my App Store purchase history to show me ads for other apps. If I use one of Facebook’s apps, I will not be surprised if it uses the accounts I follow and things I search to inform the advertising it shows me. But if I launch some other third-party app, I only know that some undisclosed SDK will inform the ads Facebook and Google show me elsewhere because I am in this industry and I write this website. It’s the same thing for ad tracking across the web.
But if platform owners get to claim that the activity that occurs in their own apps and third-party apps that are required to use a specific payment mechanism, that gives them a diabolical first-party advantage. No matter whether this is legal, it sure looks bad for Apple to quickly seize upon its platform owner position with new ad slots. Perhaps my interpretation of this is coloured by how much I think advertising has generally crapped up the App Store, but this seems like a brazen taunt directed at the many antitrust investigations Apple is currently facing.
And Facebook is left with little recourse. The company attempted to sway consumer sentiment to its side through an enormously wide-reaching PR campaign, but its efforts there were hobbled by the narrow messaging that was available to it. Facebook couldn’t explain in detail why ATT will harm consumers because, in doing so, it would need to reveal just how it personalizes ads — through observing conversions on third-party websites and apps. So Facebook was restricted to a fairly weak PR strategy, which was to highlight that small businesses would be harmed by ATT. This is true, of course, but it doesn’t invigorate a deep well of compassion from consumers. Does anyone want to acknowledge that their local florist or butcher is personalizing ads to them? Meanwhile, Apple simply had to mention “privacy” whenever objections to ATT were raised and mainstream media outlets rushed to defend it.
The fact that companies — businesses small and large — use creepy ad targeting to more precisely find potential customers does not make it any less creepy or any more permissible. I continue to believe that this anti-privacy economy ought to be regulated to the teeth. Not only would it assert that privacy is a right we should all have no matter the medium, it would also mean companies like Apple would be unable to use privacy as a unique pretext for decisions like these.
Matter is a new name for a smart-home alliance previously called CHIP, short for Connected Home over Internet Protocol. Unveiled in 2019, it employs the internet’s core technology to smooth over the complexities of connecting smart-home devices. The technology allows users to control lighting, heating, home theaters, video doorbells, door locks and alarms through smart speakers.
Getting all of these devices to get along — especially with Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri and Google Assistant competing to be your preferred interface — can be difficult. Matter is designed to unify the network domain, ensuring devices will work with any of those three main voice control systems. It should work even if you use more than one control system.
I recently stumbled across Troy Hunt’s lengthy series on getting smart home devices to work, and this whole market seems catastrophic. Stories like Hunt’s and the many competing standards in this space have dissuaded me from considering any smart home devices. Maybe Matter will make a difference, but maybe there are some things that simply should not be computers.
Code Editor — originally called “Diet Coda” then later “Coda for iOS” — was our powerful and full-featured iOS editor for developers. Introduced in 2012, it was packed with innovation, like our “Super Loupe” designed to make iOS cursor placement more precise — even fun, and an “iPad Preview” that let you use your iPad as a dedicated website preview screen long before Sidecar. The goal was to make a great code editor for iOS that anyone could use on-the-go.
Unfortunately, like Transmit iOS and Status Board before it, we’re discontinuing Code Editor as it doesn’t generate enough revenue to cover its continued development.
But that’s not the only reason. Read on.
Panic says that technical limitations effectively prohibit it from bringing its new Nova IDE to iOS or iPadOS and, if it could find a way around those restrictions, it would be a crapshoot whether the app would make it past App Review.
Panic has tried to crack this nut multiple times without success, but it is hard to see how any developer can make iOS work for apps like these. We all know that Panic makes great software, it has enthusiastic users, and it has long been a high-profile independent developer. Even if iOS is out of the question, evidence is mounting that Apple is kneecapping iPadOS by continuing to treat it with the same kinds of developer and app distribution rules as a smartphone.
This video from Marques Brownlee is an excellent explanation of how putting computers in everything allows manufacturers to maintain a greater level of control over the after-sale use of their products.
It still bums me out how hard companies like Apple and John Deere are fighting Right to Repair legislation. It is no secret why that is the case. However, it is troubling to see so much effort and money spent on making it harder for users to lengthen their buying cycle. I see the combination of hard-to-get parts, difficult repairs, and purchasing only a license to use a product instead of outright buying it as a particularly toxic one over the long term.
The average US home-Internet bill increased 19 percent during the first three years of the Trump administration, disproving former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai’s claim that deregulation lowered prices, according to a new report by advocacy group Free Press. For tens of millions of families that aren’t wealthy, “these increases are felt deeply, forcing difficult decisions about which services to forgo so they can maintain critical Internet access services,” Free Press wrote.
This report squares with research published in November indicating that American internet speeds rose in 2020; it makes sense that working and learning from home pushed people to upgrade to faster and more expensive plans. But the deregulation push by the FCC under the last administration clearly did not bring prices down, nor did dropping net neutrality increase capital expenditures as Pai claimed it would:
Capital investment by Internet providers has dropped, “with substantial declines at large companies like AT&T (where 2020 investment was 52 percent below the 2016 total for the company on an inflation-adjusted basis) and Comcast (where 2020 cable segment investment was 22 percent below 2016’s level on an inflation-adjusted basis),” the report said.
A global catastrophe will obviously have unexpected effects. But capital expenditures also declined in 2018, and this report shows that broadband prices increased that year as well. Pai’s claims about the relationship between net neutrality and spending are as fictional as the millions of people who apparently supported his plan, as are his claims about the supposed advantages of deregulating a utility.
So what about speed? Well, the FCC is required to release a report about the state of broadband in the United States and nationwide speeds appears to be getting better every year. But this data does come with a significant caveat. Peggy Schaffer, Techdirt:
As a director of a state broadband program, one of my biggest challenges is data. I know lots of areas in my state have inadequate or no service. I get those emails every day. We have a public facing broadband map which is based on the data that the internet service providers (ISPs) provide to the FCC on what is known as the Form 477. The notorious problem with the 477 data is that gross inaccuracies are built into the reporting. ISPs report advertised speeds based on census blocks, where if one home in a census block is served, or could reasonably be served, the entire census block is considered served.
Instead of the FCC’s data, we drew on an anonymized dataset collected by Microsoft through its cloud services network, published in increments by the company over the past 18 months. If the FCC monitors the connections that providers say they’re offering, this measures what they’re actually getting. You can roll over specific counties to see the exact percentage of households connected at broadband speed, and the data is publicly available on GitHub if you want to check our work or drill down further.
The disparity between FCC reports and the Microsoft data can be shocking. In Lincoln County, Washington, an area west of Spokane with a population just a hair over 10,000, the FCC lists 100 percent broadband availability. But according to Microsoft’s data, only 5 percent of households are actually connecting at broadband speeds.
Other areas stand out for the sheer scale of the problem. Nine counties in Nevada fall under the 10 percent threshold, covering more than 100,000 people and the bulk of the area of the state. Most of Alaska is a similar dead zone — understandably, given how rugged the state’s interior is — but similar gaps pop up in southwest New Mexico or central Texas.
This is some excellent reporting.
Microsoft’s data indicates that 93% of people in California’s Santa Clara county are using internet speeds of 25 Mbps or higher. That is among the highest density of broadband users in the country, which explains why so many software companies headquartered there see no problem with pestering us with weekly updates that total several hundreds megabytes or, often, many gigabytes.
These reports indicate that American broadband — and, as previously noted, Canadian broadband as well — remains expensive and slow compared to other developed nations. Deregulation did not help; gutting net neutrality made things worse. And this pandemic is only making these gaps more noticeable and urgent.