What’s Hot 8/16/2013

Administration looks to dodge Supreme Court challenge to NSA program(TheHill.com, 10/14/2013)

The Justice Department urged the Supreme Court Monday to throw out a legal challenge to the National Security Agency program that collects records on all U.S. phone calls. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a petition directly to the Supreme Court in July, claiming that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court overstepped its authority when it granted the NSA permission to collect the phone records in bulk. In its petition, EPIC noted that the Patriot Act only authorizes the NSA to collect business records that are “relevant” to a terrorism investigation. By allowing the NSA to collect records on millions of Americans without any ties to terrorism, the court acted outside of its own jurisdiction, the privacy group argued. The group asked the Supreme Court to order the surveillance court to rein in the program or to hear arguments on whether the program is legal. But in its response, the Justice Department argued that the Supreme Court lacks the jurisdiction to consider EPIC’s challenge.


Hurricane Sandy devastated Mantoloking, N.J., a barrier island community of multimillion-dollar homes. But in Peter Flihan’s view, Verizon Communications has delivered a second blow: the telecommunications giant did not rebuild the landlines destroyed in the storm, and traditional telephone service here has now gone the way of the telegraph, Edward Wyatt reports. Verizon said it was too expensive to replace Mantoloking’s traditional copper-line phone network — the kind that has connected America for more than a century — and instead installed Voice Link, a wireless service it insisted was better. Verizon’s move on this sliver of land is a look into the not-too-distant future, a foreshadowing of nearly all telephone service across the United States.


AT&T-Backed Report Prompts Question: Should The U.S. Get Rid Of Phone Lines? (Forbes.com, 10/13/2013)
AT&T and Verizon have been pushing federal regulators to sunset the nation’s traditional copper-based communications network—and many of the pesky regulations that come with it. Their latest effort to win support comes in the form of a newreport written by a visiting scholar at Georgetown University and paid for by an organization known as the Internet Innovation Alliance that consistently supports AT&T’s agenda. AT&T also provides an undisclosed amount of financial support to the group. At its heart, the report asserts that regulations that force the carriers to maintain the traditional telecommunications network are unnecessarily diverting investment away from modern broadband networks that don’t carry the same onerous regulatory requirements. To be clear, the report, which is titled “Telecommunications competition: the infrastructure-investment race,” frames the issue just a little differently and uses somewhat stronger language. It asserts that “outdated regulations that force companies to build and maintain obsolete copper-based legacy telephone networks are unnecessarily diverting investment away from modern broadband networks and services that 95 percent of U.S. households prefer, desire and use.” Shamelessly misleading, the report makes a big deal about the explosive growth of IP-based video traffic and how it dwarfs legacy phone calls in size. This isn’t surprising given that phone calls are measured in kilobits and videos in megabytes. It’s also not particularly relevant since video is not an alternative to phone calls. But the report treats the two as equivalent. “Legacy switched traffic amounts to less than 1 percent of IP traffic today and is likely to decrease to a small fraction of 1 percent by 2017,” it states. “The regulatory framework, however, has not caught up to the marketplace reality.” The size of IP-based video traffic isn’t the issue in determining how to best regulate next-generation networks. Rather, the issue is the 100 million people, together with millions of small businesses, who continue to rely on traditional copper-based phone lines. Still, the report succeeded in reeling in a Washington Post journalist who wrote a blog post asking, “We spend billions a year maintaining phone lines (almost) nobody depends on. Should we get rid of them?”


Kentucky — Broadband available here, but is it fast enough for classes? (The Gleaner, 10/13/2013)
It’s been more than a decade since high-speed Internet service — broadband — first became available to homes in Henderson, Unio and Webster counties. Years later, some of the players have changed. Time Warner Cable bought Adelphia, then Insight; AT&T bought BellSouth. Now, a recent study by the University of Kentucky estimates that more than two out of three Henderson County households — 69 percent — have broadband service at home. Similarly, an estimated 69 percent of homes in Union County and 66 percent in Webster County have broadband. But do they have the option of superfast Internet speeds — sufficient for taking online college classes? “According to a study sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration, distance learning … requires a minimum 25 Mbps (megabits per second) download speed for an ‘OK’ experience and 50 Mbps for a ‘good’ experience,” the U.K. report says. “While federal data show that 82 percent of U.S. households have (the option of) access to at least 25 Mbps, only about 61 percent of Kentucky households have access to this speed,” according to the report, titled “The Internet in Kentucky: Life in the Slow Lane” and available at cber.uky.edu. Only 18 Kentucky counties were ranked in the report as “nationally competitive,” meaning their connection to broadband service, and the option to subscribe to 25 Mbps service, meets or exceeds the national average. Just four are in Western Kentucky: Daviess, Warren, McCracken and Marshall.


Delaware — Sussex sues over AT&T cell tower (delmarvanow.com, 10/15/2013)
Sussex County government is suing AT&T’s wireless division over a cellphone tower in South Bethany that is unloved by the neighborhood associations near it. On Sept. 23, the county filed a civil action in the Court of Chancery, asking the court to force AT&T to tear down a temporary, 60-foot-tall wooden tower for cellphone equipment it has placed on leased land in South Bethany. The tower has been the subject of a lot of legal jousting. AT&T approached the county’s Board of Adjustment in 2009 with an application to place a 100-foot tower on the property. After the board approved it, a group of opponents filed an appeal in Superior Court. Before the appeal was heard by the court, AT&T went ahead with construction of a temporary, 60-foot tower.