Category Archives: Policy

Snowed out: Testing ISP Speeds on a Snow Day

What happens when the internet, the backbone of our high-tech economy, is down?  That’s a question recently brought to the forefront of the public’s attention, between the debate over Net Neutrality, hacking attacks, and President Obama’s recent proposal to expand broadband options.  Despite years of gains,  millions of Americans lack broadband access, and even where it is available speeds often lag other markets.  Yet we’re also more reliant on the web than ever before, constantly connected whether at home, at work, or anywhere on the go with smartphones. It’s easy to take for granted the benefits of fast, reliable broadband internet – at least until we lose our own connections.

Snow crossing signDuring the recent hurricanes and winter storms which managed to shut down major parts of the U.S. East Coast, there were numerous reports of internet service outages and website downtime for major hubs like Huffington Post and Netflix.  Some of these issues could have been caused by infrastructure damage from the storms, but at least some downtime was attributed to servers buckling under the load of millions more Americans simultaneously logging-on while stuck indoors during the inclement weather.  In fact, even during normal nights Netflix can account for as much as one-third of internet traffic during the peak evening hours, straining web servers and ISP networks.

Knowing these trends I formed a hypothesis: local ISPs would crumble during last week’s storm (Winter Storm Juno) under the heavy load of snowed-in users. To test my hypothesis, I recruited a simple network sample, emailing my friends across the New York metro area to run speed tests at the same time: around 9 PM EST on Monday, January 26th 2015. For the methodology we used to gauge speeds, while I collected details about each participant’s ISP and connection type, attempting to rule out as many variables as possible.  So here are some results from our little experiment: Continue reading Snowed out: Testing ISP Speeds on a Snow Day

Defend the web: Why I Support Net Neutrality

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: internet service providers want to create a “fast-lane” for certain websites (namely those who pay for the privilege) at the expense of effectively slowing down other websites. If it seems like we’ve Matt Hurst loadingbeen defending the principles of Net Neutrality for at least a decade you’re not far off (myself included during my early blogging days), but telecom companies continue to spend millions of dollars every year to lobby for policies designed to create an uneven playing field from which they profit but at the expense of consumers.  Today I’ve joined thousands of bloggers and websites by participating an Internet Slowdown protest, simulating the same slowdown we might experience if ISPs are able to remove Net Neutrality rules set by the FCC.

First let’s make sure we understands what Net Neutrality is: a guiding principle of the internet that the web should be open and level-playing field for all websites.   For the uninitiated, talk show John Oliver has an excellent primer on Net Neutrality and why it’s important: Continue reading Defend the web: Why I Support Net Neutrality

An Eye For An iPhone: How Gadget Theft is Becoming A Growing Problem

I never thought it could happen to me, but last year I had an iPhone stolen out of my own hands while riding the subway late one summer night.  Even though I had read news stories and blog posts before about how the theft of smartphones and iPads was becoming more common while riding public transportation, I thought I was safe until I became another victim.


My first instinct was to share my experience through social media, where I learned that a few more of my friends had also had their phones stolen riding the subway.  A little further research led me to see the problem was growing across the US, and that many more shared my frustration being unable to recover my handset, even using the Find My iPhone feature. Most recently, in acknowledgment of the growing theft problem the FCC proposed changes to how the carriers manage reported thefts, hoping to help consumers avoid the hefty costs often associated when their stolen phones.

After I learned that the problem had become so widespread, I made a collection of clips on Storify sharing how the problem has grown, which I’ve updated over the last year. Here’s my ongoing story about the growing problem of iPhone theft: Continue reading An Eye For An iPhone: How Gadget Theft is Becoming A Growing Problem

Introduction to Copyright and Fair Use

I can has copyright?

What is copyright and what constitutes fair use? Do I need to register a copyright for my creative work to be protected? How long is a work copyrighted, and when does it enter the public domain? Are there advantages to using creative commons licensing or copyright?

In a recent course I took at the Brooklyn Brainery, our class took these questions head on to discuss the need to protect creative work and limit the exploits of copyright trolls. Sometimes referred to as intellectual property, copyright is a kind of property right (and a Constitutional Right in the US) which protects the use of creative work. Of course creative work is unique compared to other kind of property, so copyright is created whenever it’s “fixed in a tangible form of expression” by its creators, whether it’s a written novel or a music recording. Copyright gives its owners the exclusive right to reproduce the work, derivative works, and public performances of it.

There’s a careful legal balance between protecting the intellectual property rights of their owners and promoting the free expression which is guaranteed as a constitutional right.  For example, in the music recording industry many musicians don’t profit from sales of their recordings after they cede to their labels/distributors ownership to copyright for their work, sometimes waiting years to regain the copyright to their own songs. Likewise the creators of mash-ups and remixes such as Girl Talk make a legal balancing act necessary to avoid infringing on copyrights while using elements of old recordings to create something new.

While media law is a continuously evolving field and largely a matter of interpretation for the judges, over time some precedence has emerged that provides some legal framework. As we learned in our class for general purposes, here’s the four requirements you need to meet for Fair Use of copyrighted works: Continue reading Introduction to Copyright and Fair Use