Why is Net Neutrality important?

In a few days, on December 14th, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote to change how the internet is regulated in the United States. The impact on how regular users like you and me access information online could be massive, and here’s why.

Currently, there is policy around open communications, mandating that the treatment of traffic should be non-discriminatory: broadband providers cannot get in the way, they cannot censor or make deals that benefit certain types of content over others. For example, Comcast is not allowed today to treat Netflix differently than any other new video streaming startup.

The FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai (who worked as Associate General Counsel at Verizon), is proposing to vote to remove these rules in favor of a less regulated internet. Fewer regulations means, according to their main argument, that the amount of investments made by telecommunication companies will stop decreasing. However, the same data that the FCC used shows that investments have been flat at worse (or actually increased at best) since 2013.

The FCC also argues that if any corporation starts misbehaving, consumers can take their business elsewhere. Nonetheless, more than 50% of the US population only has access to one single internet provider, so they cannot even vote with their wallets. The only way to defend consumers rights will be through litigation and class action lawsuits.

Is everything bad in the new proposed plan? No, there is one important point that will be critical to detect future abuses: broadband providers are obligated to be transparent about their traffic practices; in other words, if Comcast made a deal to promote Netflix over any other streaming service, or if they started blocking or throttling certain sites, it would have to be public knowledge (even if that just means one more line in the fine print at the end of a contract).

Surprisingly, the FCC Chairman has refused to participate in any interview where tech journalists can ask questions about the new plan. Even more unfortunate is the fact that net neutrality rules have become a partisan issue: the rules have started to change every time a new administration is elected.

The latest episode of the podcast “Too Embarrassed to Ask” included an interview by Kara Swisher and Lauren Goode to Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic member of the FCC, and I was lucky enough to get one of my Twitter questions picked up for the interview: how do you prevent net neutrality rules from changing with every new administration?

The Commissioner reinforced the idea that net neutrality rules started off non-partisan. She mentioned that the 1st time that the FCC put these rules on paper, was during the presidency of George W. Bush. She continued: “this was not, in fact, an especially partisan issue for a decade. […] And so the attack that we are seeing right now, it’s unfortunate to me that it’s partisan and that somehow we are viewing this now through a prism where by one type of administration says yes, the next says no. I don’t think that kind of back and forth is good for the economy, I think we can use some stability on these issues, but that stability should include some fundamental commitment to internet openness.

The FCC seems determined to remove the current net neutrality rules, and we won’t know how bad it will get until it’s already too late.


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What’s in my phone’s home screen?

2017 is almost over, so I wanted talk about the apps that have taken the most important space on my phone during this year, and whether or not I think they’ll still be there next year.

Let’s start with a screenshot of my home screen:

I place apps in my home screen based on the frequency in which I use them. I try to minimize the amount of times I have to go to other pages of the home screen, so these are truly the apps that keep me going. But are all of these apps equally important for my daily tech routine? Will they stay in such a prominent position next year? Let’s break them into categories.

Connecting with friends & family

Messages, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Mail are absolutely critical to stay connected with family and friends, especially those in other countries. I’m convinced that I’ll keep these around since they are literally the first thing I check every morning.

Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat have been part of an interesting migration during 2017: most of my friends stopped posting on Facebook and became more active on apps where their posts have a 24 hour expiration date. So far, most of my friends are choosing Instagram, probably due to the fact that it has a classic profile of everlasting posts; Snapchat will have a hard time recovering after the aggressive takeover from Instagram, so I would not be surprised if Snapchat didn’t make it on my phone through the next year.

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Would you give up your privacy for unlimited movies? interview with René Sánchez from CineSinFronteras.com

MoviePass is a subscription-based service that allows users to watch almost any movie in theaters for a flat monthly rate. In August, the company announced a surprisingly low price of $9.95, leaving many scratching their heads. I interviewed René Sánchez, cinema expert and movie critic at CineSinFronteras.com, and we discussed the privacy implications and the potential impact to the online streaming industry.

moviepass.png

Even though I’ve been using it for a month already, it still feels too good to be true. Were you surprised by the MoviePass announcement?

Yes, I was surprised by their announcement to reduce the monthly subscription price to just $9.95. It is such an amazing deal, especially when you consider that a regular, 2D movie here in the Seattle metro area costs between $12-15. So even if you only watch one movie every month, you will be saving some dollars with MoviePass! What shocked me the most was to know that the major exhibitors and theater chains were onboard with this change. I expected a lot of pushback from them, considering their old-school ways to operate. So far, only AMC has tried (and failed) to restrict the use of MoviePass in their theaters.

What’s the problem that MoviePass is trying to solve?

People don’t go to the movie theaters anymore. Studios and exhibitors keep blaming Netflix and other rival streaming platforms for their audience loss, instead of recognizing the real root cause: the movie-going experience has become very expensive and obsolete. Ticket prices rise every year (the same goes for concessions), studios keep releasing sequels and remakes no one asked for, and most multiplexes scream for renovations (uncomfortable seats, run-down interiors, and poor image and sound quality). To top it off, patrons can sometimes be rude and annoying.

Again, it’s really not Netflix’s fault that people want to stay at home, rather than going out to watch a movie. Who wants to pay more than $60 (including tickets, food and parking/Uber) to enjoy a mediocre movie in a rickety auditorium, while everyone else is either talking or staring at their phones?

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Visiting the Oculus office in Seattle: is augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) the future of user interfaces?

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of visiting the Oculus Seattle office for a private tour, some cool demos and a very interesting conversation. During the whole visit, a question kept popping up in my mind: will augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) ever become the standard way of interacting with our desktop or mobile devices?

User interfaces have evolved over the years in very significant ways: we moved from punched cards to command-line interfaces, and from there to graphical interfaces, which ended up evolving into what we know today, mouse, keyboard and touch. With recent advances in artificial intelligence, we are beginning to transition into conversational interfaces, where we can use natural language to get things done, sometimes even without touching a button or reading a line of text.

Is the future of user interfaces an (almost) invisible one? In many cases, yes, just watch the 2014 movie Her to see a glimpse of where we will be in a few years (minus the “falling in love” part):

However, for many other tasks we will still need to read, type, touch and draw. This doesn’t mean that we will be tied forever to a screen, and here’s where VR and AR come in.

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How Mexico is using technology to help people after the 7.1 earthquake: interview with Paulina Bustos

Is that an earthquake?” the candidate asked with their eyes wide open, as everything around us started shaking. On September 19th, a 7.1 earthquake hit Central Mexico shortly after 1pm, and I was there interviewing university candidates for Microsoft. We were able to exit the building without issues, and even though my phone was unable to make any calls, it had data connectivity, allowing me to contact my family and friends over WhatsApp.

Many others weren’t so lucky: 369 people were killed, and over 6,000 were injured. The earthquake occurred on the 32nd anniversary of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, which killed around 10,000 people. After spending the following days inspired by the amazing reaction of the Mexican society, united and determined to help each other, I wondered how different the situation would have been without technology’s help. How long would it take for people to find out if their families and friends were OK? How would they be able to find help or where help was needed?

My good friend Paulina Bustos was the perfect person to talk about these issues, so I decided to interview her. Paulina studied Computer Science at the Tecnológico de Monterrey University, worked at Microsoft in Redmond, WA for over 3 years and is now living in São Paulo doing a Technology Fellowship with Artigo 19; she is the co-funder of Cívica Digital in Mexico, where she worked with several non-profit organizations and governments to strengthen citizenship using technology, and she also teaches Software Design & Analysis at ITAM University.

Where were you during the September 19th earthquake in Central Mexico and what was your immediate reaction when you realized the magnitude of the event?

I was in Sao Paulo in a meeting, when my cellphone started ringing with all the messages from family and friends. My oldest sister lives in Mexico City and she usually texts back within the first 5 minutes after an earthquake. This time she took almost an hour. I knew immediately that something was off.

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About the iPhone X notch controversy

The iPhone X was already controversial even before it was officially introduced last Tuesday, mostly due to the rumored removal of Touch ID in favor of Face ID.

However, Apple’s presentation caused a new controversy: the infamous notch. Even though the array of cameras and sensors got leaked long before the event, nobody knew how Apple was planning to do in order to integrate it with iOS 11. We have the answer now: Apple is so proud of that black bar that they decided to render the user interface around it.

Since Apple controls the operating system, they made sure it looks good with most 1st party apps. But what happens with 3rd party content like a website? The notch gets in the way. Continue reading

3 reasons why I’m excited about the new iPhone

Apple will present the new iPhone this Tuesday and, as usual, most of the details have already been leaked.

What seems guaranteed is that we’ll see 3 models being introduced: the iPhone 7s, 7s Plus and a special edition to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the original iPhone. That special edition has been known until now as iPhone 8, iPhone Edition, or iPhone Pro, but the official name iPhone X has been confirmed (among other details) thanks to the final version of iOS 11 leaking.

These are the top 3 reasons why I’m excited about the iPhone X.

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One month with the Nintendo Switch

Scarcity is “the fundamental economic problem of having seemingly unlimited human wants in a world of limited resources“.

Many thought that Nintendo was the master of artificial scarcity because of how difficult it was to find in stock the Switch (and other Nintendo consoles). It increased the hype for all those fans who were anxious to get their new toy, and for those who got it, it created a feeling of exclusiveness.

However, reality is slightly different: even today, over 5 months after its worldwide release, many retail stores still have limited availability or are sold out. Nintendo is actually having supply issues, which I bet they are trying hard to resolve before the holiday season.

Now, does the console live up to its hype? After a few weeks playing with it, I have to say ‘absolutely‘. The Nintendo Switch surprised me with its versatility as a powerful docked console and as a portable gaming device that doesn’t compromise.

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Women in engineering and public office: interview with Bea Q. Rico, candidate for Port of Seattle Commissioner

Becoming an engineer is not an easy task. Excelling at it is even more complicated. And if you happen to be a woman and part of an ethnic minority, things will be remarkably tougher for you.

Today, I’m interviewing Bea Querido-Rico, an engineer with over 12 years of experience in the aerospace industry, who is also running for Port of Seattle Commisioner. Join us while we talk about what we can do to improve the world for future generations.

Education is one of the big challenges of our time, with less students choosing STEM degrees each year. How would you encourage the younger generations to become the professionals that we need as a society?

The strategy that works the best is inspiring through understanding first what motivates younger generations. Once the motivation is understood, then link that motivation to S.T.E.M. and pair it with relevant fun courses as well as role models that they can relate to.

Growing up I was only exposed to sports, accounting, and nursing. Some people in my family took steps into starting a business and my brother pursued engineering in college but all of that in my world was so abstract until I landed an internship at the Boeing Company working for the C-17 military cargo aircraft. That summer internship in aerospace widened my perspective and heavily influenced the way I think and operate professionally.

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Using a Surface RT, 5 years later

Right before my last trip to Spain, rumors of a laptop ban in flights from Europe to the U.S. started appearing. I didn’t want to take my Surface Book and risk being forced to throw it inside my luggage on my way back (we all know how airlines treat luggage).

So what options did I have? Either leave my laptop at home, or travel with a device that I could live without, in case it broke after being handled like a sack of potatoes.

That’s when I thought of my old Surface RT, abandoned in a shelf for years. I wasn’t sure it would be “enough of a tablet” for my trip but coincidentally, that same week happened to be the 5th year anniversary of its presentation, so it was perfect timing for a test.

Would I be able to use my email? Write a little bit? Upload pictures to Facebook? Read Twitter? Buy tour tickets and make trip reservations? Would any of the old apps work?


The answer to all of those questions was, surprisingly, yes.

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