Fire at AT&T Facility Causes Massive Internet Outage in Dallas

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AT&T internet service in Dallas has experienced a widespread outage starting from 10 a.m. Monday after a fire occurred at one of their facilities. Down Detector report shows that the internet service has been interrupted in the regions from Fort Worth to Garland to Dallas to Frisco. As soon as the outage occurred, AT&T  team quickly update their Twitter account with the status of the restoration progress.

Before the outage occurred, there was a heavy rain with lightning. It was thought that the lightning hit the facility and caused the fire. The fire crew came and left at 12:15 pm.  Curtis Poovey, the Fire Chief of Richardson fire department said the outage was not caused by the lightning strike. He commented that they still could not determine the reason why the wiring in the electrical room caught fire.

Customers are still experiencing outage at 9 pm on Monday. AT&T team replied hat they are not equipped with ETA. Customers with internet and cable reported that the internet service was back at around 9:30 pm. About 10 minutes later, sporadic customers reported that the internet is back but they still couldn’t access internet on their phones.

Fortunately, at 10:30 pm, the internet service was restored. Many customers are unhappy about the outage and demanded that AT&T provide some sorts of compensations. Many who filed the complaints rely on internet to work at home. The outage also affected  internet phone system of businesses who use AT&T business internet plan.

The outage caused the AT&T customer telephone support line and Twitter account to be flooded with complaints. One customer who was angry demanded refund for his phone data as he was forced to convert his phone into a Wi-Fi spot when the outage occurs. AT&T did not reveal the number of customers that are affected by the internet outage on Monday.

They also did not comment whether they will be providing any compensation for customers. Charles Bassett, the spokesman for AT&T, said that customers who are not satisfied can talk to the customer care team. Some people remarked that the outage coverage could be limited if there is a backup plan in place.

Scott Kingsley, the program director for telecommunications and network engineering graduate program at the Southern Methodist University, said that facility of big internet and cable company like AT&T should have battery and diesel generators in place. However, he believes that no electricity can pass through if the wiring is burned.

It seems that the Richardson switching station is the station where all U verse services are routed. What surprises Kingsley is that they did not reroute the customers when damage occured at the Richardson station. However, he said that there is no need for every company to make such preparation in their facilities because redundancy can occur all the times.

On Tuesday morning, people are still circulating the hostile and humorous messages on Twitter. Many of the social media messages are tagged with the #attoutage hashtag. Some people are still experiencing internet connection problems but it is on a smaller scale now.

AT&T Launching a New Service to Compete with Netflix Next Year

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On Wednesday, AT&T announced that they will start offering a new service to compete with Netflix next year. The new service plan will feature HBO as the leading content. At the moment, the company is already offering streaming services like DIRECTV Now, HBO Go, and HBO Now.

DIRECTV Now is designed for people who prefer streaming TV on their mobile devices. It is a great option for people who want to find an alternative to cable TV. HBO GO which requires a cable login allows you to watch TV shows on devices like phone, tablet, and computer. HBO Now is a standalone platform dedicated to broadcast HBO shows. Besides, AT&T also has a streaming service that specializes in offering DC Comics show. This plan costs only $7.99/month.

John Stankey said that Warner Media will provide lots of additional contents along with third party content at the New Establishment Summit in Vanity Fair on Wednesday. The decision comes after Dallas based AT&T had acquired Time Warner for $109 billion. He continued to say that they have lots of loyal customers who are interested in their content. Stankey hopes that they will launch a compelling product that can help them to increase their customer base.

Stankey said the reason why they introduce the new service plan is because they want to offer something that will give customers more time of engagement. He thought about what he can do to make the brand unique and resolved that the solution is to provide more interesting entertainment that will increase the customer engagement.

Ever since AT&T has taken over Time Warner, Stankey has been doing his best to improve HBO content. He wants AT&T to offer entertainment products that are as high quality as Netflix. HBO puts a lot more emphasis on quality instead of the quantity of movies. On the other hand, Netflix has more movies and shows to offer. Stankey now hope that HBO can offer just as many shows as Netflix.

Warner Media did not state what property it will include in the new service plan. Warner Media is the owner of movie franchises like Batman. It also has shows that aired on big networks like CNN, TNT, and TBS. The new service plan will include shows from the Cartoon Network. The plan is only available with the HBO included. Customers can also purchase the HBO separately.

The price will be more expensive than HBO which is priced at $14.99. Stankey said that it will be given a compelling price point due to the highly competitive fields. The price will only announced when close to the launch date next year. The plan on launching the new service plan was telegraphed at a New York Investor road show last month. The telegraph was sent by AT&T chief executive officer (CEO), Randall Stephenson. AT&T plans on launching the service in the 4th quarter of 2019. The launching of the new service will put AT&T in competition against other rivals such as Netflix,  CBS All Access, YouTube Premium, Hulu and Amazon.

As FCC considers new broadband privacy rules, report urges wider user data safeguards

A new report from U.S. consumer rights and privacy advocacy group, the Center for Digital Democracy, has set out the case for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to tighten data protection rules around how ISPs and telcos collect and use consumer data.

The FCC is currently consulting on proposals to changes to the rules on how ISPs can gather and utilize customer data — with an internal vote due at the end of this month. If the commissioners vote for the rule changes (as expected), a wider U.S. public consultation would then take place ahead of any new regulations being forged.

Making the public case for updating consumer protections earlier this month, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler argued it boils down to a matter of consumer choice.

“Every broadband consumer should have the right to know what information is being collected and how it is used. Every broadband consumer should have the right to choose how their information bits should be used and shared. And every consumer should be confident that their information is being securely protected,” he wrote in an article in the Huff Po, flagging up the visibility ISPs such as TechCrunch’s parent AOL’s parent Verizon can have into users’ digital lives.

“This is not to say network providers shouldn’t be able to use information they collect — only that since it is your information, you should decide whether they can do so. This isn’t about prohibition; it’s about permission.”

“Simply by using the Internet, you have no choice but to share large amounts of personal information with your broadband provider,” added Wheeler. “You have a right to know what information is being collected about you and how that information is being used. That’s why establishing baseline privacy standards for ISPs is a common sense idea whose time has come. The bottom line is that it’s your data. How it’s used and shared should be your choice.”

The FCC chairman is by no means the lone voice raising privacy concerns here. Back in January Wheeler was sent a letter co-signed by around 50 consumer rights and privacy organizations all urging the FCC to create stronger rules to regulate broadband providers’ use of data.

“What tracking is going on now and how the info is being used is in most cases not readily apparent,” Susan Grant of the Consumer Federation of America — one of the letter’s co-signatories — told TechCrunch at the time.

The CDD was another co-signatory. In its report it’s now seeking to further flesh out what’s at stake — by profiling in some detail the data harvesting practices of specific ISPs and cable providers, including AT&T, Comcast, Dish Network, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, Disney/ABC, News Corp (Fox) and others, as well as detailing some of the interplay between ISPs/broadband/cable providers and different data brokers and larger Internet companies also involved.

It’s this complex and non-transparent (from a consumer point of view) web of data harvesting and processing relationships that has enabled ISPs to amass sophisticated consumer tracking and ad targeting infrastructures in recent years (including via the acquisition route), the CDD argues.

“ISPs have made partnerships with powerful data brokers, giving them insights into our online and offline behaviors. They are incorporating state-of-the-art “Big Data” practices — such as “programmatic advertising” — that significantly threaten the privacy of subscribers and consumers,” it writes.

“The stealth data-profiling apparatus that determines whether a person is bought, sold, or ignored, and used to target family, friends and others, requires the Federal Communications Commission to address the use and consequences of practices that threaten privacy and pose consumer-protection concerns,” the report adds.

The CDD is urging the FCC to adopt rules to help reverse what it dubs “the tide of ever-growing and unchecked collection and use of consumer data across devices”.

“A truly “open” Internet that embraces “network neutrality” must have privacy and consumer protection at its core. Otherwise, powerful data and digital marketing gatekeepers will be in an even more influential position to influence the kinds and diversity of programming available in the marketplace,” it goes on to assert, suggesting there is a risk of consumer information being used in “unfair and discriminatory ways that can harm individuals and families” — by, for example, financial data being used to target high-interest credit card or loan offers to at-risk consumers; the singling out of seniors to promote unnecessary medical devices and services; basing targeting profiles on racial and ethnic data; and taking advantage of young people.

The CDD is advocating for consumer protection rules and privacy policies that reflect “Fair Information Practices”, rather than just requiring opt-in consumer consent for data harvesting and processing — arguing for a total bar on “pervasive and continuous data collection”, such as via crossdevice tracking (a technique used by TechCrunch’s parent AOL, for instance) and offline/online data profiling; and for data minimization safeguards “to ensure that online records are kept to a minimum and cannot be used for ongoing targeting”. It also wants a ban on deep-packet inspection being used by ISPs to allow them to examine the content of communications.

As you’d expect, ISPs are opposed to the FCC’s proposals for stricter regulations around data use and consumer privacy — and have claimed they are amply regulated by the FTC already. However they may well be whistling into the wind there. The FCC’s reclassification of broadband as a public utility last year has paved the way for what is a more powerful regulatory body with (unlike the monitoring body, the FTC) legal authority to create new rules. Last year’s strict net neutrality rules now look like only the FCC’s first order of business, vis-a-vis broadband providers.

Beyond ISP’s philosophical objections to being more strictly schooled in how much snooping they can do on users, one more specific criticism of the FCC’s proposals — made by ISPs and others — is that it focuses only on ISPs and does not loop in larger Internet companies, such as Google, which may also have amassed sophisticated data processing, user tracking and ad-targeting capabilities. Internet companies remain the regulatory purview of the FTC.

Indeed, the CDD report itself includes Google as one of the companies profiled, noting that the company is “in the forefront of using programmatic and other data-driven advertising across platforms, including digital video” and adding: “Google illustrates how the role of data and our use of digital devices is fundamentally transforming our viewing across screens”.

“I added Google and others to show that the basic data collection business model — all your data, all the time — is impacting every part of the media, communications and advert sector,” adds the CDD’s Jeffrey Chester, when asked about this. “While ISPs have unique and powerful ways to capture consumer data, such as deep packet inspection, they are part of a digital environment where privacy is always at risk.”

Earlier this month, in a response to the FCC’s proposals, the Electronic Privacy Information Center also called for the new privacy rules to be applied more broadly. “While ISPs are engaged in invasive consumer tracking and profiling practices, focusing only on these providers misses a vast amount of data collection activities by other service providers,” it argued, also calling for the FCC to establish “a broad framework for communications privacy, based on Fair Information Practices.

And in another blurring of the line here, one of the big Internet companies in question (Google) is also an ISP (via its fiber program). Albeit a far more dominant Internet company than it is ISP.

The CDD report notes that Google is using data-targeted ads as part of its Google Fiber Internet and TV service in Kansas City, adding that: “Google Fiber set-top boxes are IP based,” which allows for continuous monitoring and changes via the cloud — including for targeted marketing.”

You can read the full CDD report here.

American privacy in the digital era should not be for sale

privacy please

On March 31, The Federal Communications Commission will vote to start the process of updating the rules protecting the privacy of our phone calls to include the protection of our broadband connections.

While the FCC has no jurisdiction over websites like Google or Facebook, the FCC’s proposal would require broadband providers like Comcast and AT&T to follow the same basic security practices to protect your online information that phone companies use today to protect your phone information, including asking your permission before selling that information to others.

Unsurprisingly, the broadband industry has fiercely resisted even beginning the process to update the FCC’s phone privacy rules for broadband.

Internet Service Providers have done everything they can to water down the FCC’s attempts to protect digital privacy. Rather than require ISPs to respect user privacy, they propose that consumers should pay extra for “privacy services” such as Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), or learn how to use encryption on their own.

No one can doubt how much we expose ourselves online by completing homework assignments, applying for jobs, banking, and performing a myriad of other daily tasks.

The details around your Internet behavior (e.g. what sites you visit, how long you stay, and whether you upload or download something) give ISPs a comprehensive view of your behavior.

In the era of “big data,” broadband providers do not need to look at the actual content you stream or download to learn about the likes and dislikes of everyone in your home.

The details around your Internet behavior (e.g. what sites you visit, how long you stay, and whether you upload or download something) give ISPs a comprehensive view of your behavior.

The information your ISP collects on the number of Internet connected “smart” devices, and how they behave, allows anyone with the information to construct a frighteningly accurate picture of your private life.

Princeton professor, Nick Feamster, in a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, succinctly points to all of the information ISPs can see:

“The traffic that an ISP can observe from such a gateway contains a significant amount of private information about user behavior. The same study from 2013 finds that network traffic can reveal significant information about user activity, including information about when a user is home; the number, type, and manufacturer of devices that they have connected to the network; and in some cases even the waking and sleeping patterns of users in the home. It is worth noting that we can observe these features of user activity even when traffic is encrypted.”

The amount of information ISPs have access to multiplies when an ISP is also the customer’s cable provider. Cable companies can and do collect information from a customer’s set-top cable box. Your mobile phone tracks your location information.

An entire industry has grown around buying all this information, combining it with information collected from websites like Google and Facebook, to produce detailed information on your daily habits in order to sell you more stuff.

The industry response is divided between reassuring the public that this data collection is harmless, while at the same time telling worried consumers that if they want privacy, they’ll just have to buy it.

privacy please

In a paper partially funded by Broadband for America, a coalition whose members include AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon, Peter Swire alleges that a user can shield herself from an ISP’s prying eyes by using encryption or Virtual Private Networks.

But these services carry an additional cost not everyone can pay.

Lifeline” subscribers — consumers part of the Federal phone subsidy program that the FCC may extend to broadband — will likely struggle to afford a VPN. Even as the FCC debates modernizing Lifeline, some groups protest the agency protecting Lifeline subscriber privacy at all, which could have grave consequences when it comes to protecting privacy online.

In other words, if you can’t afford to buy a VPN or know how to build one yourself, you don’t deserve protection.

Privacy for a price is by no means what Congress intended. Privacy is a right to expect in your communications. Strong privacy protection of communications has been the standard since Congress established The Post Office Department (now the United States Postal Service.)

There are strong privacy protections for telephone communications. Broadband is today’s dominant form of communication and consumers should receive the same level of privacy communications in the 21st century as they did in the 1800’s. The FCC, as the primary “cop on the beat” for telecommunications, needs to enforce the consumer’s long established right to privacy.

As the FCC prepares to release its notice on March 31, we face a fundamental question: Does digital privacy belong to those who can pay for it and who can encrypt their traffic, or is privacy a right as Congress intended?

The FCC should follow the law and propose rules that recognize that consumers have the same right to privacy when visiting a website as they do when making a phone call. Privacy isn’t just for those who can afford it.

Featured Image: Dan Bruins