It’s February, which is showtime for the Federal Communications Commission! As reported by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and several other news organizations, the FCC now proposes that the Internet be regulated like any other public utility. A vote on the proposal by the full commission is scheduled for Feb. 26. While the F.C.C. is an independent agency, it takes action through a five-member commission vote.
Also in FCC news: The agency was just not having that petition from the Marriott Hotel chain to block Wi-Fi hotspots and other external networks that guests may be using for security and management reasons, so the hotel empire has withdrawn that request. Late last week, the agency updated its definition of what counts as the minimum benchmark for broadband speeds from a now-wimpy 4 megabits per second to 25 megabits per second for downloads. As The Consumerist blog points out, this reclassification could affect the Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal, Earlier this week, the FCC also began to consider draft legislation that would stop state laws in North Carolina and Tennessee that limit cities from deploying their own municipal broadband services to compete with national mega-providers.
It’s not just the FCC gearing up for new rules — the National Security Agency is getting some from the White House. The Obama Administration will now be requiring the NSA to delete irrelevant personal and private information of Americans and foreigners that the agency may accidentally grab during its big data sweeps. Note that this announcement comes the week before German chancellor Angela Merkel comes to visit.
Reddit has published its first Transparency Report detailing government requests for information on its users. According to the company’s tally, it handed over information for 58 percent of all government and civil requests, and 64 percent of all US state and federal government requests.
The White House also released its budget request for the fiscal year 2016, which included a half-billion dollar bump for NASA. The budget, which allocates a total of $18.5 billon dollars to the space agency, allows for continued development on the Orion mission and the 2018 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope. There’s also $30 million dollars set aside the development of a mission to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons and possibly a place to host alien life.
The Comcast Customer Service department is back in the news, not horribly long after last year’s incident when an aggressive company rep basically refused to let a man disconnect his cable service. This time, a customer reported that a Comcast employee had changed the name on his bill to a rather descriptive and obscene moniker after the man’s wife tried to cancel the cable to save on monthly bills. This prompted other Comcast customers to come forward with their own reports of name changes In response to the original incident, Comcast published a blog post last week called “Respecting Our Customers” that apologized for and said that the employee in question will no longer be working on behalf of Comcast. (Also in Big Telco and Customer Relations, Verizon Wireless said it plans to let its subscribers opt out of those invulnerable supercookies, or unique identifiers, that privacy advocates were so concerned about.)
If you’ve been thinking about getting into barebones computing, you may be excited to hear the Raspberry Pi 2 is now on sale for the very reasonable price of $35. The little board is more just a toy — this generation of the tiny computer can actually run a version of Windows 10. Microsoft has been working with the Pi makers to create a compatible version of the operating system and invites interested parties to come register for the company’s Windows Developer Program for IoT.
Radio Shack seems to be headed over the financial cliff. As reported by Bloomberg News, the chain is said to be preparing a bankruptcy deal that would sell half its store leases to Sprint and shut down the other half. Bloomberg also reports that Amazon may be interested in picking up a few RadioShack locations to give the online company a little more brick-and-mortar action.
Tangerine, one of the most buzzed about movies at the recent Sundance Film Festival, was shot entirely on an iPhone 5S tricked out with the $8 Filmic Pro app, a Moondog Labs lens adapter and some external audio gear. And Vine has introduced a new simplified version of its six-second looping video app called Vine Kids .
For the map lovers — Google Earth Pro is now free. This premium version of Google Earth used to cost $400, but now you can get the exclusive data layers and advanced measuring tools of Google Earth Pro for zero dollars. The Big G has also added Google Now info cards for about 40 different apps. (Google, in addition to all the other things it’s been working on lately, is also recreating human skin — will they call it Google Flesh?)
And finally, while we’re on the topic of medical research: Mark Shrime, a medical researcher at Harvard, wondered about the factual content of articles published in medical journals. So he decided to run a little experiment and used gibberish produced from www.randomtextgenerator.com to produce text for a fake article titled entitled “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs? The surgical and neoplastic role of cacao extract in breakfast cereals,” authored by Pinkerton A. LeBrain and Orson Welles. According to Fast Company magazine, he submitted the article to 37 journals in a two-week period and at least 17 of them have accepted it. Most wanted a $500 “processing” fee, so the “call for papers” here is clearly referring to those infamous small green pieces of paper that make the world go ’round. But, hey, at least it doesn’t cost anything now to see the world spin in Google Earth Pro.