The Day the Internet Died

In an expected 3-2 party line vote, the FCC has voted to end Net Neutrality…

Well, this was disappointing; but not unexpected…

Today, the United States Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 along party lines to repeal the Obama-era internet regulations aimed at insuring that the internet didn’t have pay to access lanes for consumer oriented content. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai cast the landmark tying breaking vote, providing ISP’s like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon the power to control what content consumers can access.

Many different groups, including Democrats, many movie studios and companies like Google owner Alphabet and Facebook had urged the FCC to keep the content neutral rules barring service providers from blocking or slowing access to content. Pai is a Republican, appointed by President Donald Trump.

Consumer advocates and trade groups representing content providers have planned to launch a legal challenge, aimed at preserving those rules. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, said in a statement he will lead a multi-state lawsuit to challenge the reversal. He called the vote “a blow to New York consumers, and to everyone who cares about a free and open internet.” ‘

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, also a Democrat, said prior to the vote that Republicans were “handing the keys to the Internet” to a “handful of multi-billion dollar corporations.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has argued that the 2015 rules were heavy handed, stifled competition and [limited] innovation among service providers, “The internet wasn’t broken in 2015. We weren’t living in a digital dystopia. To the contrary, the internet is perhaps the one thing in American society we can all agree has been a stunning success,” he said on Thursday.

The problem that he is refusing to lend credibility to, however, is that service providers like AT&T, Comcast (Xfinity) and Verizon have CLEARLY indicated, that they want consumers to use THEIR content networks and will institute pay for performance (speed) premiums against competing services like Netflix and Hulu (as well as others). Those premiums will ultimately be passed down to individual consumers and users.

Internet access with speeds suitable for streaming and general computing and browsing at the same time for many is already very expensive. With the focus shifting to streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and to streaming boxes like AppleTV and Roku, or an Amazon Fire TV or Fire TV Stick, having affordable, non-taxed, high speed bandwidth available is probably one of the more important services you have coming into your home today.

That service is going to provide all of your TV service in the near future, if not now (if you’ve cut the cord). Its very clear to me that having an ISP free of neutrality restrictions is going to lead to additional charges and fees being passed on to the consumer.
At the end of the day – and this is very frustrating – no one has any idea yet of just what and how the removal of the Obama-era Net Neutrality rules will mean to consumer delivered ISP and consumer content services. However, its at least understood that there are likely fees and surcharges coming in a play to “play” scenario that is expected to be passed on to the end user.

Its this anticipated pay to “play” tax that most are concerned with, especially end users. Its clear that ISP’s like Comcast, who owns NBC and its related assets may give preferential bandwidth to their own content and make competitors like Netflix and Applet pay a surcharge or tax to insure that their services stream with the same bandwidth priority over Comcast’s backbone. This is where most of the consumer concern comes from.

What do you think is going to happen with Net Neutrality? Is the removal of the 2015 Obama-era rules a problem? Did they restrict competition or protect consumer interests? Is the internet freer now than it was before, or is the internet just more expensive to use now? Do you believe that the larger regional or national ISP’s will take advantage of this new development and begin charging clients surcharges or fees for accessing competing or different streaming services other than the ones they already partner with or are different from their own offerings?

Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion area below and give me your thoughts?

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Apple Releases watchOS 3.1.1

The latest release has a number of different fixes…

On 2016-12-12 the day proved to be very busy for Apple’s software release department. They released a number of different updates for their mobile platforms including wearables. watchOS 3.1.1 was released to the public with a number of different fixes.

The update included improvements and bug fixes for the following, more notable items:

  • Fixes an issue that could prevent contact names from appearing in the Messages app and notifications
  • Fixes an issue that could impact ability to respond to notifications
  • Resolves an issue where the Stocks complication may not update on the watch face
  • Fixes an issue that may prevent the Activity rings from displaying on the Activity watch faces
  • Fixes an issue that prevented the dials on an analog watch face from appearing after changing the temperature unit in the Weather app
  • Resolves an issue that could cause the Maps app to stay launched after navigation has ended
  • Resolves an issue where the incorrect date could be displayed in the Calendar app month view

Apple’s watchOS is the platform for their industry leading wearable, the Apple Watch. Version 3.x has significant improvements over versions 1 and 2; and is significantly faster, even on Apple’s original Apple Watch, affectionately dubbed, “Series 0” by many tech industry pundits, including myself.

Apple also released iOS 10.2 and tvOS 10.1 to the public today. Common to both of these platforms is Apple’s new TV app that allows users to search and watch TV shows. The app includes Siri integration so you can control the app with voice commands.

However, don’t look to use the TV app with streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. The app currently isn’t on speaking terms with those popular services yet. Whether or not that will actually happen remains to be seen, but you never know…

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Netflix Now Offers Offline Content

Streamers and video junkies rejoice..!

netflix_logoI’ve been a Netflix subscriber for years. I started off as a DVD subscriber and at one point had three to four DVD’s flowing in and out of my house a week. When the streaming biz started, we jumped on that too, as it was sometimes easier to stream than to wait for the DVD to arrive. Sometimes you had to wait weeks or months for one to get here, especially if it was a popular film. We’re streaming only now, as the DVD biz has gone the way of the do-do… and I got tired of paying for the service that regularly didn’t deliver what I was wanting to watch.

The streaming service is nice, as I can get all the kids watching on iPads as well as my wife and I and my daughter and son-in-law watching separate shows on separate TV’s at the same time. It works out very nicely for us.

One of the biggest asks of all Netflix streamers, though was offline viewing of content. Sometimes, an internet connection isn’t available, especially on a plane or on a long car trip, and a movie on an iPad is just the ticket to a little peace and quiet. Until now, that wasn’t possible. Now… it is.

Netflix recently added an option to its mobile apps that will download films AND TV shows in advance, allowing users to watch them without an active internet connection. Extended trips and plane rides will never be the same.

Unfortunately, not everything in the Netflix catalog is available for offline viewing.

Seen as one of the most desired subscriber features, offline viewing has long been the most popular subscriber request. Netflix has resisted it for years thinking that cell service would improve to the point where it wouldn’t be needed. Unfortunately, mobile internet STILL isn’t ubiquitous, and Netflix competitors began offering the service. That’s what ultimately drove the company to offer it to its customers. Well, that and expansion into other countries where cell and internet services are spotty at best.

You CAN view the following popular shows, among others, offline:

  • Stranger Things
  • Orange is the New Black
  • The Crown
  • House of Cards

The following shows and movies, among others, are NOT available offline:

  • Sherlock (BBC)
  • Disney’s’ Zootomic
  • The Little Price

However, more downloadable content is scheduled to be released, “soon.” Downloadable content is clearly marked with a downward facing arrow next to a show or movie’s title.

In order to view offline content, subscribers need to download the latest version of Netflix’s app. The app, available on iOS and Android devices.

Are you a Netflix subscriber? Have you downloaded the latest app update? Have you tried to download any offline content? What was the download experience like? What was the offline viewing experience like? Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area, below and give me your thoughts on this interesting development?

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Lessons Learned by a Would be Cord Cutter

Ya know… Getting rid of your cable or satellite subscriptions ain’t as easy as you might think. This is what I’ve learned so far…

 

Introduction

I recently got a new job in a different state. While we wait for the housing market to improve a bit before we sell the house, I’ve got long term, temporary housing set up. In an attempt to manage costs, I’ve decided to forgo with a local cable TV subscription and have decided to become a cord cutter. Internet TV or even getting TV on your computer isn’t as easy as you thought it might be; and I’ve learned some interesting lessons over the past few weeks. I’m going to do my best to cover as many of them as I can.

apple-itv

 

You Still Need a TV

I’ve got a 27″ Thunderbolt Display; and as a computer monitor it’s totally awesome. As a TV, however, it leaves something to be desired. It would be great if the right services were in place to be able to use it as a TV.

iTunes can be controlled with an Apple Remote on every Mac. I’ve also found that my Thunderbolt Display works well from across a small room; and an Apple Remote can perform basic VCR functions as well as control volume levels on my MacBook Pro. This however, is only part of the equation.

However, you can’t “change a channel,” and Apple TV functionality isn’t present on a Mac. Channel surfing really doesn’t exist in this situation. Things like Netflix or Hulu Plus are run in a browser and you need a full blown mouse or some kind of motion control device (like Microsoft Connect) to control your Mac from your couch.

If you have a TV and other accessories (see below) you can still cut the cable, but get the best of both worlds. If the Apple iTV was really a Thunderbolt Display with a built in Apple TV, or if there was a real world way to marry the two together, this would eliminate the need for a TV from the cord cutting equation. Unfortunately, I’m finding that a TV is still a required component.

 

Get a Set Top Box

As I mentioned above, if you REALLY want to have the best “cord free” experience, you’re not only going to need a TV, but you’re going to need a set top box. I’m really talking about an Apple TV, Roku Box, Chromecast dongle or other device that helps you find some traditional network (ABC, NBC, CBS, etc.) content, cable network (HBO, ShowTime, Cinemax, etc.) content, some specialty content (NFL Network, ESPN, etc.) as well as some streaming services like Netflix and/or Hulu Plus.

While streaming services like Netflix and Hulu Plus are available via a browser, as I pointed out above, getting a full blown TV experience is difficult without a set top box. It is possible to find traditional network, cable network or specialty content on the web with a web browser; but that often involves a separate fee. The set top box is often licensed by the content owner to play or stream the content without paying an additional licensing fee. It also makes using your streaming service subscription a lot easier, as it consolidates all of your options – including those available on your PC – into a single interface and place. Again, if I could use my Apple TV with my Thunderbolt display, this would solve a big problem for me.

 

Invest in a Really Good Digital Antenna

Services like Aero are really kinda cool. However, Aero isn’t available in all markets, and there really isn’t anything else like it that would allow streaming of local channels over the internet or other network connection. This is a huge problem if you’re a cord cutter and are trying to obtain digital TV services without any kind of cable or satellite TV package.

The obvious thing to do here is to purchase a really strong, really good digital antenna for your TV. While this will insure that you can get local TV programming, the most important thing you have to remember is that even though this is the Digital Age, you’re going to take yourself back to the Golden Age of Television when you do this. In other words, it’s going to be a challenge.

Local TV stations are required by Federal mandate to broadcast their programming over the air so that you can pick them up with a digital antenna. You don’t HAVE to have a cable or satellite TV subscription in order to get these channels, though in many ways, this is the easiest way to insure that

  1. You get the local programming
  2. You’re able to view it all clearly, without reception issues

I’ve used digital antennas before with other digital TV products and I’ve noticed that, like the SD TV’s from the ’50’s to the ’80’s (i.e.: before cable really took hold), a lot of antenna adjusting may be required based on your geographical and topographical location (where you are and the shape of the geography around you). The best thing you can do is to insure that the antenna you have is the best you can afford. The stronger that receiver is, the better the quality of the picture you will receive. (You’ll also cut down on the amount of tin foil and forks you’ll need to use to insure that the picture comes in clearly.)

 

Next Page

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Streaming vs. Download – What Happens when the Cloud Evaporates?

It’s all well and good until the darn cloud is gone…so which is better, streaming or downloading?

The cloud is a wonderful thing, and it can mean and be many different things to many different people.  However, no matter what it is, no matter what it does, the cloud has one big problem.  Users must rely on the internet to get access to it and its resources.

This means different things to different people, depending on your location.  In Europe, with the requirement for ubiquitous 3G coverage throughout the European Union, and with high speed internet coming from cable and satellite providers, people can get access to the cloud and its technology from just about anywhere.  In the US, it’s a little different.

There are still many states that are without complete 3G coverage and, in some cases, without broadband internet.  The problem with all of this is that many new and soon to launch services, like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and iCloud rely on internet access to provide the service.  Slower speed services like dial-up, DSL/ADSL and EDGE don’t handle the download requirements well, and performance of these services over these slower access services, is poor. So, there’s a problem with these streaming services when service is inconsistent.

When service simply stops – i.e. when your network connection is totally interrupted via a power outage or a service outage, when the cloud evaporates – there’s a huge problem.  There is no service.  Without a local copy of whatever resources you’re trying to access, you’re out of luck.

Services like Netflix, Hulu, Pandora and Amazon Prime – those that rely on streaming for service delivery (with or without any kind of local cached data) – aren’t functional when network service is interrupted.  Services like iCloud, which run through iTunes and may have a complete, local copy of the content you are trying to enjoy, may be better, provided they switch to the local copy if communication with the host service is interrupted.  At the very least, you could restart the media and fast forward the audio or video on the local copy to the point you were at on the streamed copy provided you can put your hands on it.

The problem is consistent, high speed network access and the fact that it isn’t available everywhere, all the time.  The problem is also storage space on your PC, laptop, smartphone or tablet.  SD & HD video can often vary in size from about 1GB to 4GB.  When many smartphones and tablets often have 8GB to 16GB of storage to start, it makes it hard to store a complete movie or TV show on your device. If you do, you run the risk of running out of needed space for mail, pictures or other items.

The bottom line is this – until internet access reaches utility status (like water or electricity), users are going to have to choose between using your internet access and streaming content to where ever you are, or carrying it with you. If you stream and you bump into a connectivity problem, you won’t get your content. If you store locally and need space later, you may not be able to add content (like pictures) on the fly.  You’re going to have to be willing to choose one or the other and be aware of its limitations.

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Roku 2 rocks the TV world

Meet Roku 2, the second version of the best-selling streaming player, a small gadget that can make you enjoy the best movies and TV shows, live sports, music and lately games all instantly on your TV, without the need of a PC. Forget about antenna or cable TV, cause Roku needs only an Internet connection.

Like its predecessor, Roku 2 can be connected to your TV, or wireless to your network at home in order to stream your favorite channels in minutes. With Roku you can access you existing subscriptions like Netflix, YouTube, AOL HD, Facebook, Major League Soccer, Live streaming FoxNews.com, etc.

The company brings the second generation of Roku again in three different models:

Roku 2 HD is the base model and can be acquired for $59. It has Bluetooth, and plays back resolutions up to 720p;

Roku 2 XD is an improved version of Roku 2 HD, costs $79, and features Bluetooth connectivity, but supports up to 1080p playback resolution.

Roku 2 XS is the ultimate Roku product which costs $99. It comes with Ethernet and USB inputs, supports 1080p playback resolution and features the new Roku motion remote very similar to the Wii remote controller. With its double functions, the Roku motion remote can be used also as a gamepad while playing the games supported by this gadget. At the moment you can only play Angry Birds, but there will be a complete list of games to be distributed through Roku network, games that will not surpass the $5 limit.

Roku 2 can be acquired only online, so in case you want to buy one, go to http://www.roku.com.

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