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AT&T and Verizon Facing FCC Scrutiny After Exempting Their Own Apps From Data Caps

Both AT&T and Verizon offer apps and streaming services that don’t count against the data cap they impose on customers, a practice that the United States Federal Communications Commission does not approve of.

The FCC this week sent letters (via The Verge) to both Verizon and AT&T, claiming that the data cap exemptions, called “zero rating,” raise net neutrality concerns and could impact consumers and competition.

AT&T and Verizon each offer programs that allow content providers to pay a fee to be exempted from customer data caps, programs that they themselves take advantage of with their own apps and services.

DirecTV Now, AT&T’s recently introduced streaming television service, does not use data when streamed on the AT&T network, for example. DirecTV Now pays for the data, but as an AT&T subsidiary, AT&T is just paying itself. Verizon, meanwhile, exempts its own Go90 streaming service from using data on the Verizon network and does not pay fees to do so.

The FCC first sent a warning to AT&T in early November, but was not pleased with the response it received from the company. In this week’s letter, the FCC says that it has come to the “preliminary” conclusion that the Sponsored Data program inhibits competition, harms consumers, and violates Open Internet rules. It asks AT&T to answer a series of questions about its Sponsored Data practices.

We find that those responses fail to alleviate the serious concerns expressed in our November 9 letter regarding the potential anti-competitive impacts of a wholesale Sponsored Data program for zero-rated mobile video services. Indeed, your submission tends to confirm our initial view that the Sponsored Data program strongly favors AT&T’s own video offerings while unreasonably discriminating against unaffiliated edge providers and limiting their ability to offer competing video services to AT&T’s broadband subscribers on a level playing field.

A similar letter sent to Verizon expresses concern over the “FreeBee Data 360” program and says it has the potential to “hinder competition and harm consumers” because Verizon does not need to pay to participate in the Sponsored Data program when it exempts its own app, but competing content providers do.

The position that the participation of Go90 in FreeBee Data 360 is the same as that of third parties, however, fails to take account of the notably different financial impact on unaffiliated edge providers. For example, while there is no cash cost on a consolidated basis for Verizon to zero-rate its own affiliated edge service, an unaffiliated edge provider’s FreeBee Data 360 payment to Verizon is a true cash cost that could be significant.

AT&T and Verizon have responded to the letters sent by the FCC in statements given to the media. AT&T says the government should not take away a service that’s saving customers money, while Verizon says its practices are good for consumers, non-discriminatory, and consistent with the rules.

The two carriers have been given a December 15 deadline to respond to the FCC’s concerns.

Tags: FCC, AT&T, Verizon
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The Engadget Podcast Ep 16: Feds Watching

Managing editor Dana Wollman and senior editor Devindra Hardawar join host Terrence O’Brien to talk about the week’s biggest tech news, including Nike’s new self-lacing shoes, Netlix’s offline mode and “yelfies.” Then they’ll rant about what’s been bother them this week, whether that’s DirecTV, crappy touchpads or Amazon’s convoluted pile of apps. Lastly they’ll try to unravel the complicated mess that is Rule 41 and what it means for privacy in America.



Winning %

Christopher Trout
Mona Lalwani
Devindra Hardawar
Dana Wollman
Chris Velazco
Cherlynn Low
Nathan Ingraham
Michael Gorman

Relevant links:

  • Yelp wants you to add a ‘Yelfie’ to your restaurant reviews
  • A first look at Nike’s self-lacing HyperAdapt sneakers
  • Netflix’s offline viewing mode was inevitable
  • Amazon needs to simplify Prime Video to compete with Netflix
  • AT&T’s DirecTV Now streaming service launches on November 30th
  • DirecTV Now is a good start for AT&T but nothing truly original
  • How an obscure rule lets law enforcement search any computer

You can check out every episode on The Engadget Podcast page in audio, video and text form for the hearing impaired.

Watch on YouTube

Watch on Facebook

Subscribe on Google Play Music

Subscribe on iTunes

Subscribe on Stitcher

Subscribe on Pocket Casts


DirecTV Now is a good start for AT&T, but nothing truly original

If you’ve seen Sling TV or PlayStation Vue in action, AT&T’s DirecTV Now streaming service won’t offer up many surprises. Like the competition, it’ll let you stream live TV and on-demand content across a wide variety of devices — all you need is an internet connection. But right now, on the day of DirecTV Now’s launch, that’s pretty much all it is. There’s no cloud DVR functionality, which Vue has had for a while and Sling will soon start beta testing. And, strangely, there’s no support for Roku devices yet, which leaves out a significant chunk of its potential audience.

Despite those issues, there’s a good chance DirecTV Now will find some footing in the newfangled streaming TV ecosystem. It has the full backing of AT&T, after all, which is positioning the service as the start of an entirely new video platform (alongside its mobile Fullscreen and FreeVIEW services). The company plans to push DirecTV Now in all of its retail locations, which gives it more exposure to mainstream consumers than Sling. It’s tempting subscribers with deals featuring the new Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV Stick and LeeCo TVs. And it won’t count DirecTV Now streams against AT&T wireless customers’ data caps, which is a direct affront to net neutrality. DirecTV Now might just be too big to fail.

I had a chance to take an early look at the service’s Apple TV app, and for the most part it delivered a solid streaming TV experience. I didn’t go through the entire setup process (it came pre-installed on an Apple TV from AT&T), but upon launching it for the first time, it loaded up New York City’s ABC station in under a second. Moving to other live shows via the channel guide generally took two seconds at the most. It’s not as instant as some TV services, but it’s a lot better than the performance I saw at last night’s launch event.

DirecTV Now’s video quality looked good for the most part, though I noticed some artifacts in scenes that were very dark or featured fast motion. Those are generally areas where most streaming services fall flat, though. As a test, I compared a few episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown via CNN’s on demand selection against their iTunes counterparts. (What can I say? I’m a fan.) The iTunes files were clearly superior, thanks to a significantly higher bitrate. But DirecTV Now’s version still looked decent on my 4K OLED TV, and notably they looked on-par with what I’ve seen on Sling TV.

Swiping down on the Apple TV’s remote brings up the app’s top menu, which points you to the search feature, channel guide and settings. By swiping up, you can reach what’s airing live, the list of shows available on demand, movies on demand, or the channel guide. You certainly won’t be lacking ways to find bingewatching options. DirecTV Now’s interface might take some time to learn, but it’s a lot less clunky than Sling TV’s UI, which sometimes feels baffling. Another plus, it seems like DirecTV Now also has more on-demand offerings than Sling, at least based on what I’ve seen available on CNN, HGTV and FX.

While AT&T executives made a big deal about their content deals during DirecTV Now’s launch event, you can expect the same sort of channel limitations as you would on Vue or Sling. Some channels might prevent fast forwarding and rewinding of content, for example. And whenever AT&T implements cloud DVR, you can also expect similar limitations to affect that feature, as it does on competing services. DirecTV Now also doesn’t have CBS or Showtime aboard yet, though AT&T says it’s “actively” working to sign them on. And unfortunately, there’s no support for NFL Sunday Ticket either.

Aside from the baffling choice to launch without Roku support, the most disappointing aspect of DirecTV Now is that it’s pricing is nowhere near as aggressive as AT&T originally implied (execs were floating the figure as last month). Sure, for now you can lock in over 100 channels for $35 a month as a promotional offer, but the company was very clear to point out that’s just temporary. Future subscribers will get 60 channels for that price, while the 100 channel option will go for $60 a month. PlayStation Vue, in comparison, starts at $30 a month for around 45 channels (depending on your market, it might be more), while Sling TV starts at $20 a month with fewer channels.

For now, AT&T has basically proven it can build a decent streaming TV service. But with Vue and Sling already having a head start, and similar services supposedly in the works from Apple and Google, it’s looking like there will be plenty of competition ahead. AT&T will probably find some sort of toe-hold through sheer force of marketing alone, but it’s unclear if DirecTV Now will be able to thrive, or just survive.


AT&T pushes Fullscreen, FreeVIEW service in DirecTV Now’s wake

AT&T’s internet TV plans don’t stop with DirecTV Now, as it also highlighted two Go90-ish services during an event today. The already-available Fullscreen (previously mentioned as DirecTV Mobile) offers a $6 per month subscription video service intended to be social- and mobile-first (read: this is where some of those Vine stars went), and now AT&T mobile customers will be able to get a year of free access bundled with new or existing plans.

Meanwhile, FreeVIEW (previously DirecTV Preview) is an ad-supported outlet that trickles out content from DirecTV channels like Audience and Otter Media. Its content can be found within the DirecTV Now app and website once they’re fully available. All three options will be available starting November 30th, and Fullscreen, like DirecTV Now, won’t count towards data caps for participating AT&T wireless customers.

Source: AT&T, Fullscreen


AT&T’s DirecTV Now streaming service launches on November 30th

Add another streaming television offering to the fray. AT&T officially unveiled DirecTV Now today, its attempt to take on Sling TV and Sony’s PlayStation Vue. It was first revealed way back in March, but now we’ve got the fully skinny: It’ll start at $35 with 60 channels, and it’ll launch on November 30th. As a promotion, early adopters will be able to lock in 100 channels for that price (that package will normally cost $60 a month). In comparison, Vue starts at $30 a month with around 45 channels, while Sling TV starts at $20 with fewer networks.

As for other packages, you can get 80 channels for $50 a month and more than 120 for $70 a month. You’ll be able to view the service on the Apple TV, Fire TV devices, iOS, Android, Internet Explorer, Chrome and Safari. As you’d expect, there’s also Chromecast support on Android, LeeCo and Vizio TVs (iOS Chromecast users will have to wait until next year). Surprisingly, there’s no Roku support yet, though AT&T says that’s coming in 2017.

Despite having most of the major channels aboard, AT&T is still working “actively” to bring CBS and Showtime onto the service. There’s also no integration with NFL Sunday Ticket yet — sorry, football fans.

To make the service even more tempting, AT&T is offering several bundles. You’ll get an Apple TV for pre-paying for three months of DirecTV Now, or an Amazon Fire TV stick (with Alexa voice remote) if pay a month in advance. You’ll also get up to one year of DirecTV Now service with the purchase of some LeEco TV models.

In many ways, DirecTV Now is a new move for AT&T. It’s the company’s first mobile-first entertainment service, and it’s also the first time they have control of the “full stack” of the experience, according to AT&T Entertainment CEO John Stankey. He describes it as an even bigger undertaking than the launch of AT&T’s UVerse TV service a decade ago.

So what makes this service different than the rest? Enrique Rodrigeuz, AT&T Entertainment’s CTO, claims there’s more of a focus on personalization. The service will learn more about you as you use it, and hopefully highlight better recommendations. Based on a brief demonstration, it also seems to load content a bit faster than Sling or Vue (though that could just be a very speedy demo setup).


Source: AT&T


AT&T Unveils ‘DirecTV Now’ Streaming Television Service

AT&T today announced the debut of a new DirecTV-branded streaming television service, DirecTV Now, which will include various channel bundles at prices ranging from $35 to $70. Packages will include live sports, on-demand content, premium channels, and popular shows.

DirecTV Now will be available starting on November 30, and will give customers the chance to sign up for four different bundles:

– Live a Little – $35 / month (60+ channels)
– Just Right – $50 / month (80+ channels)
– Go Big – $60 / month (100+ channels)
– Gotta Have it – $70 / month (120+ channels)

Customers can check out any of the above packages for free for seven days from the DirecTV Now website, and to celebrate the launch of the service, the “Go Big” package is available for $35 per month for a limited time. Premium channels like HBO and Cinemax can be added to a package for an additional $5 per channel.

On its November 30 launch date, DirecTV Now will be available on both iOS devices and the Apple TV through a dedicated app. AT&T is even offering a special Apple TV deal, giving customers a free Apple TV with the purchase of three months of pre-paid DirecTV Now service.

On its November 30 launch date, DirecTV Now will be available on both iOS devices and the Apple TV through a dedicated app. It will also be available via the web and on Android and Amazon devices.

Along with DirecTV Now, AT&T also announced two additional video streaming services, “FreeView” and “Fullscreen.”

FreeView is an ad-supported offering that allows customers to watch some DirecTV television content free of charge, while Fullscreen, which actually debuted earlier this year, is an on-demand streaming service that offers select TV shows and movies aimed at young adults for $5.99 per month.

For AT&T Mobility customers, data used while watching DirecTV Now, FreeView, and Fullscreen in their respective apps will be free while on the AT&T mobile network.

Tags: AT&T, DirecTV
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Google, other tech giants outline ways to improve IoT security

Google, Intel, Microsoft, Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and a handful of other tech industry giants joined former FCC Chief Technologist Dale Hatfield to form the Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group in 2010, in an attempt to develop a set of best practices for broadband management and security. Today, BITAG laid out its recommendations for a rapidly growing industry within the world of online communication: the Internet of Things.

Connected home devices occupy the wild west in terms of security and privacy practices; there’s little to no regulation in terms of the software that powers smart homes. BITAG says some IoT devices have security vulnerabilities relating to outdated software, unauthenticated and unencrypted communications, data leaks, malware, and service interruptions.

This isn’t just speculation: IoT devices enabled two widely publicized DDoS attacks in October, one that took out the internet across the United States and another that disabled the website of security researcher Brian Krebs. The Krebs attack infiltrated an estimated 145,000 IoT devices, mainly security cameras and DVRs.

BITAG recommends a handful of security standards for IoT devices, including timely, automated and secure software updates, password protection, and increased testing of customization options. The group also suggests implementing encryption best practices, plus the ability for these devices, particularly home alarm systems, to function if internet connectivity or the cloud fails. BITAG even wants to establish an industry cybersecurity program that includes a seal for certified “secure” devices.

BITAG doesn’t have any actionable power to enforce these recommendations, but its report can influence regulatory discussions in the future.

Source: BITAG


AT&T’s DirecTV Now service will be unveiled on November 28th

It seems like DirecTV Now has been in the works forever. Announced back in March as a competitor to Sling TV and PlayStation Vue, it’s an online streaming TV service that’ll offer 100 channels for just $35 a month. After months of teasing details, AT&T just sent out invites for an event in New York City on November 28th, where we’ll finally get the full skinny about the service. It’s still unclear when, exactly, DirecTV Now will launch, but we’ll be on the ground at the event to learn more.

What’s most interesting about DirecTV Now is its aggressive pricing and channel offering. PlayStation Vue starts at $30 a month with around 45 channels, while Sling TV starts at $20 with even fewer networks. Both services let you add more channels for additional fees, but at that point the benefits of cancelling cable start to seem moot.


Amazon Echo can send hands-free texts for AT&T subscribers

Say, you have your hands full and need to text someone ASAP — if you’re an AT&T subscriber with access to Amazon’s speakers, you can now send messages completely hands free. Starting today, Amazon’s Alexa-powered devices can compose messages for you and send them to a pre-programmed list of contacts. You only need to say “Alexa, ask AT&T to text <name>,” and the assistant will prompt you to dictate your message. Company VP Jeff Bradley said AT&T “is the first carrier to bring this unique skill to a product already known for innovation.”

The feature does come with limitations, though. For one, you can only send messages to ten contacts, which you’ll have to pre-program through the Alexa app for smartphones. You’ll also have to have a compatible device and plan. If you’re not sure if you have either, you’ll have to download the voice assistant’s app to try it out. That’s assuming you already have an Amazon speaker — in case you don’t have one yet, you can also get the Echo or the Echo Dot directly from AT&T’s new website for the Alexa skill.

Source: AT&T


AT&T will downgrade mobile video streams by default next year

We have officially entered a world in which carriers think they’re doing us a favor by throttling video streams. AT&T today announced a new “feature” called Stream Saver that’ll automatically downgrade whatever video you’re streaming to standard definition 480p, or “DVD quality.” In early 2017, AT&T will turn Stream Saver on for all customers by default, though you’ll be able to opt-out of it through your account settings.

AT&T is correct in noting that your limited data plan will technically go further with this new setting, but it’s also easy to see it as a way for the company to ease congestion on its network without many of its less-informed customers even knowing what it is doing. AT&T also says that it’ll at least be notifying customers when this goes into effect and will include directions on how to disable it, but that’s still an annoyance for those that don’t want AT&T throttling their video streams.

In a lot of ways, Stream Saver bears similarities to what T-Mobile has been doing for some time — first with its controversial “Binge On” plan that automatically downgraded your video streams but didn’t count video data against your caps. More recently, T-Mobile did away with data caps entirely, but downgraded all video; to get back to HD quality you’d have to pay extra. At the very least it seems like AT&T’s service isn’t violating any net neutrality principles just yet, unlike T-Mobile’s Binge On. Here’s hoping AT&T makes it crystal clear what it is doing with its customer’s video when it rolls out.

Source: AT&T

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