Tag: Corrupt Politicians

Net Neutrality Roundup #2

Yesterday I discussed Ajit Pai's plan to dismantle the FCC's net neutrality regulations, his disingenuous justifications for doing so, and the inevitability of lawsuits challenging the change in court. We left off on Tim Wu's observation that Pai is doing this in opposition to the vast majority of public opinion.

The FCC comment period concerning the net neutrality repeal saw 22 million comments; it received a greater response than any other FCC proposal in history.

While Pai has openly acknowledged that he doesn't care about the quantity of pro-Title II comments, he has also, disingenuously, drawn a false equivalence between the number of pro- comments and the number of anti- comments. Jon Brodkin at Ars Technica notes:

Pai [...] released a "Myth vs. Fact" sheet that claims public comments to the FCC don't show significant support for net neutrality. Pai's office called it a "myth" that commenters "overwhelmingly want the FCC to preserve and protect net neutrality," arguing that fraudulent comments far outnumber legitimate ones.

That's true largely because the FCC imposed no real restrictions on comment uploads and took no steps to remove fraudulent comments from the record. But analyses of comments show that about 98 or 99 percent of "unique" comments oppose the net neutrality repeal.

That last link goes to an article by Jeff Kao at Hackernoon titled More than a Million Pro-Repeal Net Neutrality Comments were Likely Faked. Here are a couple lines from the abstract:

My research found at least 1.3 million fake pro-repeal comments, with suspicions about many more. In fact, the sum of fake pro-repeal comments in the proceeding may number in the millions. In this post, I will point out one particularly egregious spambot submission, make the case that there are likely many more pro-repeal spambots yet to be confirmed, and estimate the public position on net neutrality in the “organic” public submissions.

Kao goes on to chart the duplicate versus unique comments:

Chart of trends in FCC comments

Keep-Net Neutrality comments were much more likely to deviate from the form letter, and dominated in the long tail.

From this chart we can see that the pro-repeal comments (there are approximately 8.6 million of them) are much more likely to be exact duplicates (dark red bars) and are submitted in much larger blocks. If even 25% of these pro-repeal comments are found to have been spam, that would still result in more than 2 million faked pro-repeal comments, each with an email address attached. Further verification should be done on the email addresses used to submit these likely spam comments.

On the other hand, comments in favor of net neutrality were more likely to deviate from a form letter (light green, as opposed to dark green bars) and were much more numerous in the long tail. If the type, means of submission, and ‘spamminess’ of comments from both sides were equal, we would expect a roughly even distribution of light and dark, red and green, throughout the bars. This is evidently not the case here.

Kao has gone to more trouble than Pai to try and tell spam comments from legitimate ones. Indeed, New York AG Eric Schneiderman has accused the FCC of stonewalling his investigation into FCC comments using fraudulent names and addresses. And he's not the only one investigating:

Schneiderman is not the first to accuse the FCC of stonewalling investigations into the net neutrality comment system. The FCC's claim that the comment system was temporarily disrupted by DDoS attacks has received lots of attention, but the FCC hasn't provided all the records requested in several Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) requests.

The FCC also told members of Congress that it won't reveal exactly how it plans to prevent future attacks on the public comment system.

A FoIA request from Ars was denied by the FCC due to "an ongoing investigation."

US Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) criticized the FCC for failing to turn over its internal analysis of the DDoS attacks that hit the FCC's public comment system. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) requested an independent investigation into the DDoS attacks, and the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has agreed to investigate.

The FCC is also facing a lawsuit alleging that it ignored a FoIA request for data related to bulk comment uploads, which may contain comments falsely attributed to people without their knowledge.

So are there any other ways the FCC's terrible plan is vulnerable to litigation?

Why yes. Yes there are. Because it also prevents states from passing their own net neutrality laws.

And there's legal precedent stating that the FCC can't preempt state laws -- ironically, decided in a case where Tom Wheeler's FCC attempted to prevent states from passing laws against municipal broadband.

These are just some of the avenues of attack Pai has opened himself up to. The question isn't whether there will be lawsuits after the net neutrality repeal; it's how many and how soon.

Net Neutrality Roundup #1

Ajit Pai has announced, expectedly, that he intends to vote to kill the FCC's Title II net neutrality regulations on December 14.

As I've discussed previously, this was a foregone conclusion, but the point was never to change Pai's mind; there are, after all, two whole branches of government besides the one he serves in.

Tim Wu (the man who coined the phrase "Network Neutrality") discusses one of those branches in a recent op/ed in the New York Times called Why the Courts Will Have to Save Net Neutrality.

The problem for Mr. Pai is that government agencies are not free to abruptly reverse longstanding rules on which many have relied without a good reason, such as a change in factual circumstances. A mere change in F.C.C. ideology isn’t enough. As the Supreme Court has said, a federal agency must “examine the relevant data and articulate a satisfactory explanation for its action.” Given that net neutrality rules have been a huge success by most measures, the justification for killing them would have to be very strong.

It isn’t. In fact, it’s very weak. From what we know so far, Mr. Pai’s rationale for eliminating the rules is that cable and phone companies, despite years of healthy profit, need to earn even more money than they already do — that is, that the current rates of return do not yield adequate investment incentives. More specifically, Mr. Pai claims that industry investments have gone down since 2015, the year the Obama administration last strengthened the net neutrality rules.

Setting aside whether industry investments should be the dominant measure of success in internet policy (what about improved access for students? or the emergence of innovations like streaming TV?), Mr. Pai is not examining the facts: Securities and Exchange Commission filings reveal an increase in internet investments since 2015, as the internet advocacy group Free Press has demonstrated.

A popular argument I've seen from anti-Title II trolls on sites like Ars Technica and Techdirt is "Well if we need these rules, how did the Internet do so well before 2015?" (This rhetorical question is usually coupled with sarcastic remarks about former president Barack Obama.)

That question is disingenuous, for a couple of reasons. First, as Wu notes, that's the opposite of how FCC rules get passed and repealed. We already asked and answered the question of why we needed Title II regulations during the public comment period in 2014. The question isn't "Why did we need these rules in 2015?" It's "Why do we no longer need them in 2018?" It's the oldest forum troll trick in the book: "I'm not going to provide supporting evidence for my argument, I'm going to demand that you provide supporting evidence for yours, even though the burden of proof is on me."

The other reason the "How did the Internet ever survive before 2015?" question is disingenuous horseshit is that Pai's not merely rolling back FCC rules to pre-2015 levels, he's rolling them back to pre-2005 levels. Wu's article continues:

But Mr. Pai faces a more serious legal problem. Because he is killing net neutrality outright, not merely weakening it, he will have to explain to a court not just the shift from 2015 but also his reasoning for destroying the basic bans on blocking and throttling, which have been in effect since 2005 and have been relied on extensively by the entire internet ecosystem.

This will be a difficult task. What has changed since 2004 that now makes the blocking or throttling of competitors not a problem? The evidence points strongly in the opposite direction: There is a long history of anticompetitive throttling and blocking — often concealed — that the F.C.C. has had to stop to preserve the health of the internet economy. Examples include AT&T’s efforts to keep Skype off iPhones and the blocking of Google Wallet by Verizon. Services like Skype and Netflix would have met an early death without basic net neutrality protections. Mr. Pai needs to explain why we no longer have to worry about this sort of threat — and “You can trust your cable company” will not suffice.

So let's, just for a moment, play the trolls' game and explain why we need Title II regulations to protect net neutrality.

There's a convenient list of net neutrality violations making the rounds; I don't know where it originated, but I've seen variations on it in a couple of different places: by a poster named JoeDetroit on Techdirt and a poster named Happysin on Ars Technica. Here are both those versions of the list combined and lightly edited:

2005 - Madison River Communications was blocking VOIP services. The FCC put a stop to it.

2005 - Comcast was denying access to P2P services without notifying customers.

2007-2009 - AT&T was having Skype and other VOIPs blocked because they didn't like that there was competition for their cellphones.

2011 - MetroPCS tried to block all streaming except YouTube. They actually sued the FCC over this.

2011-2013 - AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon were blocking access to Google Wallet because it competed with their own wallet apps. This one happened literally months after the trio were busted collaborating with Google to block apps from the Android marketplace.

2012 - Verizon was demanding Google block tethering apps on Android because it let owners avoid their $20 tethering fee. This was despite guaranteeing they wouldn't do that as part of a winning bid on an airwaves auction.

2012 - AT&T tried to block access to FaceTime unless customers paid more money.

2013 - Verizon literally stated that the only thing stopping them from favoring some content providers over other providers were the net neutrality rules in place.

2014 - Netflix & Comcast sign a deal where Netflix will pay Comcast to stop throttling the service. The very next day, streaming problems vanish.

That is, needless to say, not an exhaustive list.

Meanwhile, there's another kind of forum troll, making the rounds like clockwork on every article I've ever seen on this subject: the "What does it matter? Pai's just going to do it anyway; he doesn't care what we think!" troll.

I've already responded to that argument at length (and up at the top of this post -- "two whole branches of government"). Wu reinforces my point:

Moreover, the F.C.C. is acting contrary to public sentiment, which may embolden the judiciary to oppose Mr. Pai. Telecommunications policy does not always attract public attention, but net neutrality does, and polls indicate that 76 percent of Americans support it. The F.C.C., in short, is on the wrong side of the democratic majority.

That's why people left comments on the FCC website. It's why people are writing articles protesting it now, and planning in-person protests for December 7. Lawsuits are inevitable, and clear and constant reminders that Pai threw out the Title II classification against public opinion makes his weak case weaker.

And that's not the only thing. Come back tomorrow for more.

Net Neutrality Day

Today's the Net Neutrality Day of Action.

Here's what I said about net neutrality during the open comment period in 2014, before the Title II rules passed, when the FCC was pushing a policy that would allow ISPs to charge websites for fast lanes:

This is exactly the kind of policy you get when you put a cable company lobbyist in charge of the FCC: a plan nobody but the cable companies could possibly want, and that seeks to make the Internet work like cable TV.

This plan has no benefit whatsoever to consumers. Cable companies demand extortion money from content providers; the providers who are willing and able to pay pass that cost on to their consumers (as Netflix has already done by raising its streaming subscription price), and the providers who aren't are put at a crippling disadvantage. You can bet the ever-increasing bottom dollar on your cable bill that if Comcast had had the opportunity to demand a premium from YouTube to stream video in 2005, we wouldn't be talking about YouTube today -- though maybe that would have been good news for Real Networks, as we'd probably still be limping along on the vastly inferior RealPlayer. Buffering...

This proposal is a government handout to the kind of companies that need it the least: monopolies and near-monopolies that already provide poor service at exorbitant prices, and suffer no market backlash for the simple reason that they provide a necessary service and have no competition.

Google doesn't want this. Microsoft doesn't want this. Netflix doesn't want this. Amazon doesn't want this. Consumers don't want this, and small businesses sure as hell don't want this. The only ones who DO want this are the cable companies who pick our pockets every month -- and their former employees like Chairman Wheeler.

And here's what I said during the open comment period this year, with the FCC preparing to repeal the Title II rules and, once again, proposing Internet fast lanes:

Seeking public comment? This is a farce. Chairman Pai heard exactly what the public had to say in 2014. The public responded, overwhelmingly, in support of net neutrality; indeed, the public interest was so high that the traffic brought down fcc.gov.

If Chairman Pai cared what the public thought, he would not be reversing a rule supported by the public in order to grant more power to internet service providers, some of the most despised companies in America. Nobody wants this except Comcast, AT&T, Charter, and Time Warner.

There is no free market competition in broadband Internet in America. There is no incentive for ISPs to compete on price or on service. We, as Americans, are a captive audience; our only choices are "use whatever ISP is available at our address" and "try to participate in twenty-first century America without Internet access".

We've already seen AT&T prioritizing its own traffic and Comcast banning protocols it didn't like. We need net neutrality protections to prevent predatory, monopolistic ISPs from engaging in that behavior. This is obvious to every American who's seen their monthly bill go up while the quality of service goes down.

But Chairman Pai has made it abundantly clear that he doesn't care what the American public has to say. If he did, he wouldn't even be considering repealing net neutrality.

I was wrong about Wheeler. He backed away from the fast-lane proposal, and passed Title II regulation. It wasn't perfect, but it was better than I ever thought we'd get.

I don't think I'm wrong about Pai. I'd love to be, but I think the fix is in. Pai doesn't give a fuck what the American public has to say.

But it's not about Pai. Pai won't last forever. Trump won't last forever. Even if the Republican majority in Congress sticks around, they're going to have to face their constituents sooner or later. And while net neutrality is a partisan issue on Capitol Hill, it's got broad bipartisan support everywhere else.

I don't think today's protests are going to make a damn bit of difference to Pai. But this is a long game. We need to keep the pressure on.

And hey, I've been surprised before. I thought SOPA and the TPP were foregone conclusions too. Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised again.


I wrote a post about VPNs a few months back, referring to the recent repeal of Obama-era regulations that would have prevented ISPs from selling customer browsing history.

There's a common refrain I've seen from people who favor the repeal, both in the government and in Internet comments sections: "Google and Facebook track you and sell your data, and the government doesn't stop them from doing it, so it's not fair to stop your ISP from doing it!"

Now, this argument is fundamentally dishonest, for the following reasons, off the top of my head:

  • Your ISP sits between you and every single site you visit. Google and Facebook have extensive tracking operations, but not that extensive.

  • You can use the Internet without using Facebook or Google. It may not be easy, but it's possible. You can't use the Internet without your ISP.

  • Google and Facebook's business model is that they provide a service and, in exchange, you allow them to gather your personal data and resell it to third parties. Your ISP's business model is that it provides service and, in exchange, you pay them eighty fucking dollars a month. Did I say eighty? They just kicked it up to one-thirty, if you want unlimited data.

    When you give your personal data to Facebook or Google to sell to third parties, you get their service in return. When you give your personal data to your ISP to sell to third parties, you get fucking nothing in return, because you're already paying your ISP money in exchange for Internet service. Is your ISP going to lower your bill in exchange for taking your personal information to sell to third parties? LOLno.

  • Google and Facebook have competitors. Those competitors don't have the dominant market position that Google and Facebook do; hell, maybe they're just plain not as good. But they exist. They're options.

    There is no significant broadband competition in the US. If I don't like my ISP, I can't just switch to another one, because there is no other one available at my address. My choices consist of Cox, no Internet, and moving.

    There's no incentive for your ISP to behave ethically. There's no incentive for your ISP to charge you fairly. There's no incentive for your ISP to provide quality service. My ISP is a monopoly. Yours probably is too. Or, at best, it might have one competitor that does all the same shit.

  • Google and Facebook have pages where you can opt out of tracking.

But. Despite the intellectual dishonesty of the "but Google and Facebook track you!" argument, there is a kernel of truth in there: yes, Google and Facebook track you, yes it's difficult to avoid that tracking, and no, there are no regulations in place to protect your data. This is a problem.

So, shortly after writing that post, I removed the Google Analytics code from this site. And now I've also updated the site so that the fonts it uses are hosted here at corporate-sellout.com, not called from Google Fonts (hat tip to the Disable Google Fonts WordPress plugin). I'm still using a Google Captcha on the Contact page for now, but I'm looking at alternatives. Plus, there are YouTube videos embedded on this site...and, well, there's nothing I can really do about preventing Google from tracking you when you load YouTube videos. Sorry about that.

I'm also planning on adding SSL to the site, eventually, but I haven't gotten around to it yet.

This blog's not a business. Occasionally somebody buys something through an Amazon Associates link, or buys my book (thanks!), but I've got a day job; I'm not here to make money. I write stuff here because I like to write stuff. Sometimes people like it, and that's cool, and it's cool to know that people are reading. But that's as far as my interest in analytics goes.

I don't resell data; I don't do SEO or A/B headlines or clickbait or any other kind of crap to try and drive people here -- hell, I hate all that shit. But I like looking at site stats once in awhile to see where people are coming from, where somebody's mentioned me, and to laugh at search terms like "did stan lee bone at jack kirby's wife".

So I'm looking for a new stats package. Server-side; just for me, not Google.

Meanwhile, I am looking for ways to use Google as little as possible, not just on this site but in general. I think I can probably get a few more posts out of that subject.

Resources for pfSense, Private Internet Access, Netflix, and Hulu

You've probably heard by now that the US Congress just repealed Obama-era regulations preventing Internet service providers from selling their users' browsing data to advertisers. I'll probably talk more about that in future posts. For now, I'm going to focus on a specific set of steps I've taken to prevent my ISP (Cox) from seeing what sites I visit.

I use a VPN called Private Internet Access, and a hardware firewall running pfSense. If that sentence looked like gibberish to you, then the rest of this post is probably not going to help you. I plan on writing a post in the future that explains some more basic steps that people who aren't IT professionals can take to protect their privacy, but this is not that kind of post.

So, for those of you who are IT professionals (or at least comfortable building your own router), it probably won't surprise you that streaming sites like Netflix and Hulu block VPNs.

One solution to this is to use a VPN that gives you a dedicated IP (I hear good things about NordVPN but I haven't used it myself); Netflix and Hulu are less likely to see that you're using a VPN if they don't see a bunch of connections coming from the same IP address. But there are problems with this approach:

  • It costs more.
  • You're giving up a good big chunk of the anonymity that you're (presumably) using a VPN for in the first place; your ISP won't be able to monitor what sites you're visiting, but websites are going to have an easier time tracking you if nobody else outside your household is using your IP.
  • There's still no guarantee that Netflix and Hulu won't figure out that you're on a VPN and block your IP, because VPNs assign IP addresses in blocks.

So I opted, instead, to set up some firewall rules to allow Netflix and Hulu to bypass the VPN.

The downside to this approach is obvious: Cox can see me connecting to Netflix and Hulu, and also Amazon (because Netflix uses AWS). However, this information is probably of limited value to Cox; yes, they know that I use three extremely popular websites, when I connect to them, and how much data I upload and download, but that's it; Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon all force HTTPS, so while Cox can see the IPs, it can't see the specific pages I'm going to, what videos I'm watching, etc. In my estimation, letting Cox see that I'm connecting to those sites is an acceptable tradeoff for not letting Cox see any other sites I'm connecting to.

There are a number of guides on how to get this set up, but here are the three that helped me the most:

OpenVPN Step-by-Step Setup for pfsense -- This is the first step; it'll help you route all your traffic through Private Internet Access. (Other VPNs -- at least, ones that use OpenVPN -- are probably pretty similar.)

Hulu Traffic -- Setting up Hulu to bypass the VPN is an easy and straightforward process; you just need to add an alias for a set of FQDNs and then create a rule routing connections to that alias to WAN instead of OpenVPN.

Netflix to WAN not OPT1 -- Netflix is trickier than Hulu, partly because (as mentioned above) it uses AWS and partly because the list of IPs associated with AWS and Netflix is large and subject to change. So in this case, instead of just a list of FQDNs, you'll want to set up a couple of rules in pfBlockerNG to automatically download, and periodically update, lists of those IPs.

That's it. Keep in mind that VPN isn't a silver bullet solution, and there are still other steps you'll want to take to protect your privacy. I'll plan on covering some of them in future posts.

Private Prisons

I wrote something yesterday that forumgoer Mothra referred to as "a Thad mic drop", so I figured it might be a good idea to repost here. For posterity and stuff.

Mothra had brought up the Kids for Cash scandal, which has been in the news recently due to the Third Circuit's rejection of Mark Ciavarella's appeal.

The short version of the story is that two judges accepted bribes from the owner of a private juvenile detention center, in exchange for sending as many children there as possible.

I'm not a religious man, so when I say that there is a special place reserved in Hell for them, what I actually mean is "a minimum-security prison".

Anyhow, here's what I wrote yesterday; originally posted on Brontoforumus.

There are a lot of industries I hate. A lot I see as hopelessly, incurably corrupt, as industries whose very function is to profit from human suffering.

Health insurance. Investment banking. Oil and coal. Weapons. Newscorp.

But the private prison industry is the very worst.

The very proposition of creating a profit incentive for putting people in prison and keeping them there is one that should result in only two reactions: laughter that the notion is farcical; disgust at the realization that people are serious about it.

Have I mentioned the private prison lobby's role in crafting SB1070 lately? Because here, let me just link this again:

Prison Economics Help Drive Ariz. Immigration Law, by Laura Sullivan, NPR, 2010.

Judging Congress

Dear Speaker Boehner,

I recently read your comments that Congress should not be judged on how many new laws it creates, but on how many laws it repeals.

Given that this Congress has repealed a total of zero laws, can you tell me what the thinking behind that statement was?

Was it (1) an honest admission that this really IS the worst Congress in history, (2) did you, as Speaker of the House, not actually know how many laws your Congress has repealed, or (3) did you just figure the American public is stupid and nobody would look it up?

Thanks for your time, and I look forward to your response as it will help settle a bet with my wife. (She says it's 2, but it's gotta be 3, right? Don't let me down, Mr. Speaker.)



Hey NSA, Here's a Freebie

Dear Speaker Boehner,

I read your comments today, regarding your latest attempt to weaken the Affordable Care Act, that "It's unfair to protect big businesses without giving the same relief to American families and small businesses." I must say that I am impressed by your sudden and completely unprecedented concern about big business getting preferential treatment over individuals. I mean, you know, it's sort of an interesting definition of "preferential treatment" -- you are suggesting that, because big business is getting a reprieve from having to pay for employees' healthcare, individuals should be allowed a reprieve from receiving healthcare -- but it's the thought that counts.

But Mr. Speaker, you may want to sit down -- because you may not know this, but in 2010 the United States Supreme Court ruled that corporations have the same rights to free speech as individuals. Well, I say "same" -- but the Court also ruled that money is a form of speech, meaning corporations get more speech than individuals. Mr. Speaker, you strike me as a man who knows his Orwell; I'm sure you can recognize a "some are more equal than others" proposition when you see it.

That's why I'm sure I can count on you, based on your words today, not only to reject all corporate campaign contributions and run only clean grassroots elections from now on, but indeed to champion a Constitutional Amendment putting an end to corporate personhood. I'm sure that from here on in you will see to it that every Republican in the House votes in favor of individual liberties over monied interests.

Just kidding. I know you have absolutely no control whatsoever on how House Republicans vote.

Thanks for your time,

Thaddeus R R Boyd