Category Archives: International

Net Neutrality Officially Dies

By: Marguerite Reardon of CNet

The Obama-era net neutrality rules, passed in 2015, are dead.

As of Monday, much of the proposal regarding the Republican-led FCC’s oversight of the internet goes into effect. Because this is Washington DC, and nothing can be simple, some of the changes don’t quite go into effect until a vote by the Office of Management and Budget in the next few days. But rest assured, the net neutrality rules as we knew them are no more.

Though many people agree with the basic principles of net neutrality, those specific rules had been a lightning rod for controversy. That’s because to get the rules to hold up in court, an earlier, Democrat-led FCC had reclassified broadband networks so that they fell under the same strict regulations that govern telephone networks.

Chairman Ajit Pai has called the Obama-era rules “heavy-handed” and “a mistake,” and he argues that they deterred innovation and depressed investment in building and expanding broadband networks. To set things right, he says, he’s taking the FCC back to a “light touch” approach to regulation.

But supporters of net neutrality, such as big tech companies like Google and Facebook, as well as consumer groups and pioneers of the internet like the creator of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, say the internet as we know it may not exist without these protections.

“We need a referee on the field who can throw a flag,” former FCC chairman and Obama appointee Tom Wheeler said last week at MIT during a panel discussion in support of rules like those he championed. Wheeler was chairman when the rules passed three years ago.

If you still don’t feel like you understand what all the hubbub is about, have no fear.  We’ve assembled this FAQ to put everything in plain English.

What’s net neutrality again?

Net neutrality is the principle that all traffic on the internet should be treated equally, regardless of whether you’re checking Facebook, posting pictures to Instagram or streaming movies from Netflix or Amazon. It also means companies like AT&T, which is trying to buy Time Warner, or Comcast, which owns NBC Universal, can’t favor their own content over a competitor’s.

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Michael Bloomberg Writes Check To Cover U.S. Obligation To París Climate Agreement

By: Harry Cockbern of The Independent

Billionaire former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg has said he will write a $4.5m cheque to cover the US’s financial commitment to the Paris Climate agreement for 2018.

Donald Trump pulled the US out of the climate pact last year, saying it was a “terrible deal” which would “undermine” the economy and put the US at a “permanent disadvantage”.

The move made the US the only country in the world opposed to the climate change agreement which aims to cut carbon emissions in an effort to restrict global temperature rises to less than 2C by the end of this century.

In an interview with CBS, Mr Bloomberg said he hopes that by next year Mr Trump will have changed his mind.

Mr Bloomberg will continue to provide money for the pact if the United States does not rejoin the agreement, according to a news release from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charity he founded.

“Our foundation will uphold our promise to cover any cuts to UN climate funding by the federal government,” Mr Bloomberg said in the statement.

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Appointed FCC Broadband Adviser Arrested For Million Dollar Fraud Allegation

By: Nick Statt of The Verge

A broadband adviser selected by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai to run a federal advisory committee was arrested last week on claims she tricked investors into pouring money into a multimillion-dollar investment fraud scheme, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The adviser, Elizabeth Pierce, is the former chief executive of Quintillion, an Alaska-based fiber optic cable provider operating out of Anchorage. In her capacity as CEO, Pierce allegedly raised more than $250 million from two New York-based investment companies using forged contracts with other companies guaranteeing hundreds of millions of dollars in future revenue. Pierce resigned from Quintillion in August of last year, and she stepped down from her role in Pai’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC) the following month.

“As it turned out, those sales agreements were worthless because the customers had not signed them,” US attorney Geoffrey Berman said in prepared remarks, as reported by the WSJ. “Instead, as alleged, Pierce had forged counter-party signatures on contract after contract. As a result of Pierce’s deception, the investment companies were left with a system that is worth far less than Pierce had led them to believe.” Pierce was trying to raise money to help build out a fiber optic system that would wire Alaska with high-speed internet and better help connect it to networks in other US states. Pierce was charged with wire fraud last Thursday and faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Pierce was tapped by Pai in April of last year to be the chair of the BDAC, which he formed “to accelerate the deployment of high-speed internet access, or broadband, by reducing and removing regulatory barriers to infrastructure investment.” According to broadband industry news and advocacy website Stop the Cap, Pierce may have gotten on Pai’s radar by complaining about how cumbersome it was to bring internet access to parts of the country like Alaska.

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Berkeley Discovers A Way To Recycle Wasted Heat

By: MIchael Irving of NewAtlas

Waste heat generated by electronics is a big problem. Not only can it damage components if it gets out of hand, but it represents a large amount of energy going to waste. Now scientists at the University of California, Berkeley have developed a thin film that could be built into computers, cars or factories to capture and recycle the energy from waste heat.

Many existing systems that tap into this energy source work on the thermoelectric principle, which generates electricity through the temperature difference between two sides of a material. That works well for devices like the JikoPower, which captures heat from pots and pans while cooking to charge phones, but it’s not much use for smaller temperature differences between the hot and cold sides of a material.

The UC Berkeley team wanted to create a device that could tap into what’s known as low-quality waste heat, which involves temperatures below 100° C (212° F). To do so, the new film works on the principle of pyroelectric energy conversion, which can work with lower temperatures and more gradual changes. That makes it ideal for use in electronics.

“We know we need new energy sources, but we also need to do better at utilizing the energy we already have,” says Lane Martin, senior author of the study. “These thin films can help us squeeze more energy than we do today out of every source of energy.”

The team built prototype devices that supplied heat and electric fields to pyroelectric films just 50 to 100 nanometers thick, and measured the temperature and amount of electricity they generated. The devices managed to achieve an energy density of 1.06 Joules per cm3, a power density of 526 W per cm3, and a Carnot efficiency of 19 percent. According to the team, all of these figures are new records for this kind of pyroelectric energy conversion.

The researchers say their work helps improve our understanding of pyroelectric physics, which in turn can improve how these devices are designed. In future, the films could be optimized for individual systems, depending on how much heat is being lost and at what temperature.

“Part of what we’re trying to do is create a protocol that allows us to push the extremes of pyroelectric materials so that you can give me a waste-heat stream and I can get you a material optimized to address your problems,” says Martin.

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New Synthetic Could Repel All Liquids

By: Gabe Cherry Of Michigan News

In an advance that could grime-proof phone screens, countertops, camera lenses and countless other everyday items, a materials science researcher at the University of Michigan has demonstrated a smooth, durable, clear coating that swiftly sheds water, oils, alcohols and, yes, peanut butter.

Called “omniphobic” in materials science parlance, the new coating repels just about every known liquid. It’s the latest in a series of breakthrough coatings from the lab of Anish Tuteja, U-M associate professor of materials science and engineering. The team’s earlier efforts produced durable coatings that repelled ice and water, and a more fragile omniphobic coating. The new omniphobic coating is the first that’s durable and clear. Easily applied to virtually any surface, it’s detailed in a paper published in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

Tuteja envisions the new coating as a way to prevent surfaces from getting grimy, both in home and industry. It could work on computer displays, tables, floors and walls, for example.

“I have a 2-year-old at home, so for me, this particular project was about more than just the science,” Tuteja said. “We’re excited about what this could do to make homes and daycares cleaner places, and we’re looking at a variety of possible applications in industry as well.”

He says the new coating is the latest result of the team’s systematic approach, which breaks with the traditional materials science “mix-and-see” approach. By mapping out the fundamental properties of a vast library of substances, they’re able to mathematically predict how any two will behave when they’re combined. This enables them to concoct a nearly endless variety of combinations with very specifically tailored properties.

“In the past, researchers might have taken a very durable substance and a very repellent substance and mixed them together,” Tuteja said. “But this doesn’t necessarily yield a durable, repellent coating.”

They discovered that even more important than durability or repellency is a property called “partial miscibility,” or the ability of two substances to mix together in exactly the right way. Chemicals that play well together make a much more durable product, even if they’re less durable individually.

Tweaking the miscibility of this particular coating posed a special challenge. To make a versatile coating that’s optically clear and smooth enough to repel oils and alcohols, the team needed to find a repellent ingredient and a binder with exactly the right amount of miscibility, as well as the ability to stick to a wide variety of substrates. They also needed a coating that would stay smooth during processing and drying.

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Was The Zuckerberg Trail A Total Sham?

By: Zephyr Teachout of The Guardian

On Tuesday, Mark Zuckerberg was in the hot seat. Cameras surrounded him. The energy in the room – and on Twitter – was electric. At last, the reluctant CEO is made to answer some questions!

Except it failed. It was designed to fail. It was a show designed to get Zuckerberg off the hook after only a few hours in Washington DC. It was a show that gave the pretense of a hearing without a real hearing. It was designed to deflect and confuse.

Each senator was given less than five minutes for questions. That meant that there was no room for follow-ups, no chance for big discoveries and many frustratingly half-developed ideas. Compare that to Bill Gates’ hearing on Microsoft, where he faced lawyers and staff for several days, or the Kefauver hearings, which were over a year. By design, you can’t do a hearing of this magnitude in just a couple of hours.

The worst moments of the hearing for us, as citizens, were when senators asked if Zuckerberg would support legislation that would regulate Facebook. I don’t care whether Zuckerberg supports Honest Ads or privacy laws or GDPR. By asking him if he would support legislation, the senators elevated him to a kind of co-equal philosopher king whose view on Facebook regulation carried special weight. It shouldn’t.

Facebook is a known behemoth corporate monopoly. It has exposed at least 87 million people’s data, enabled foreign propaganda and perpetuated discrimination. We shouldn’t be begging for Facebook’s endorsement of laws, or for Mark Zuckerberg’s promises of self-regulation. We should treat him as a danger to democracy and demand our senators get a real hearing.

The best senators understood this was a show, and used it as such. “Your user agreement sucks,” said John Kennedy. “Are you a monopoly?” asked Lindsey Graham. (Zuckerberg “comically” responded: “It certainly doesn’t feel like that to me.”) Richard Blumenthal said we needed laws, not promises or apologies.

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New Documents Show Shell Predicted The Dangers Of Fossil Fuel Decades Ago

By: Josh Gabbatiss of The Independent

Oil giant Shell was aware of the consequences of climate change, and the role fossil fuels were playing in it, as far back as 1988, documents unearthed by a Dutch news organisation have revealed.

They include a calculation that the oil company’s products alone were responsible for 4 per cent of total global carbon emissions in 1984.

They also predict that changes to sea levels and weather would be “larger than any that have occurred over the past 12,000 years”.

As a result, the documents foresee impacts on living standards, food supplies and other major social, political and economic consequences.

In The Greenhouse Effect, a 1988 internal report by Shell scientists, the authors warned that “by the time the global warming becomes detectable it could be too late to take effective countermeasures to reduce the effects or even to stabilise the situation”.

They also acknowledged that many experts predicted an increase in global temperature would be detectable by the end of the century.

They went on to state that a “forward-looking approach by the energy industry is clearly desirable”, adding: “With the very long time scales involved, it would be tempting for society to wait until then before doing anything.

“The potential implications for the world are, however, so large that policy options need to be considered much earlier. And the energy industry needs to consider how it should play its part.”

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Portugal Ran 100% Of It’s Energy On Renewable Energy March 2018

By: Michael Coren of Quartz

Portugal’s renewable electricity production exceeded monthly consumption for what is likely the first time, in March, according to the nation’s transmission system operator, REN.The average renewable generation for the month exceeded 103% of consumption, beating out the last record (99.2%), set in 2014.

It almost certainly won’t be the last time. The country is predicting that renewables will satisfy its mainland electricity needs by 2040, ultimately eliminating the electricity sector’s greenhouse gas emissions. Although most of last month’s electricity came from water and wind (link in Portuguese), the country relied on some fossil fuel and imported electricity. Water- and wind-generated power can be rather unpredictable, so even as total renewable generation exceeded Portugal’s electricity consumption for the month (as well as some exports), Portugal needed those sources to even out supply.

An international debate is gathering steam about whether 100% renewable energy is possible (or even advisable). Portugal’s feat, the result of decades of investment in low-carbon technology, shows it is possible, but plenty of caveats remain. The grid only ran on 100% renewables for relatively short periods: two 70 hour spans (Portugal managed a four-day streak in 2016). But imports and conventional generation from natural gas were still needed to balance the grid because solar and wind can vary significantly. The proposition that a full year’s worth of peaks and valleys can be managed with renewables alone has yet to be tested. During the same period last year, renewables supplied only 6% of Portugal’s electricity (thanks in part to a drought that reduced its hydro capacity).

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Facebook Announced 87% of Users Could Have Had Their Data Leaked By Cambridge Analytica

By: Troy Wolverton of Business Insider

Facebook made a bombshell admission about the security of its users’ personal information on Wednesday, in a startling revelation that’s almost certain to worsen the privacy crisis currently hanging over the world’s largest social network.

“Most” of Facebook’s 2 billion users may have had their personal data skimmed from the site by “malicious actors,” the company said in a blog post by Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer. Facebook said it has disabled the feature in its site’s search function that enabled the data scrapping, but the fact that so much user data may have been vulnerable was another setback to the company’s efforts to restore confidence with users.

Meanwhile, up to 87 million users may have been affected by the leak of personal information to Trump-linked data firm Cambridge Analytica — a number that was much bigger than previous estimates.

Facebook has been reeling since a whistleblower disclosed that Cambridge Analytica had managed to get hold of user data and used it to target voters with emotional and divisive messages during the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.

Schroepfer disclosed the new information about privacy compromises on Wednesday in a post describing changes the company has made to its service, to better protect users’ personal data.

“We believe these changes will better protect people’s information while still enabling developers to create useful experiences,” he said in the post. “We know we have more work to do — and we’ll keep you updated as we make more changes”

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Penn State Researchers Discover The Benefit of Education Investment

By: Matt Swayne

Investing in education may help boost economic opportunities for the next generation, according to a team of economists.

In a study, researchers suggest that investing in public education can lead to more upward economic mobility and lower teen pregnancy rates, as well as provide a way to ease income inequality.

“It’s something we’ve long suspected, but this study really confirms that there’s a strong link between the quality of the schools you go to and the opportunities you have later in life,” said Stephan Goetz, professor of agricultural and regional economics, Penn State and director of the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development. “The better your school, the better your economic opportunities.”

The study, which focused on public spending in education and returns from education, as well as taxation, indicated that communities that invested more in education had lower drop-out rates and fewer teen pregnancies.

The researchers, who released their findings in a recent issue of Economic Development Quarterly, added that reducing the high school dropout rate had nearly twice the beneficial effect on upward mobility as on reducing teen birth rates.

According to the researchers, poor school quality can lead to a cascade of economic and social ills. For example, the lower the school quality, the higher the dropout rate, which can lead to higher numbers of teen pregnancies, said Goetz.

“Because the dropout rate negatively affects both teen birth rates and absolute upward mobility, this shows that school quality not only has short-term impacts on educational outcomes, but also has long-term impacts on children’s success as adults,” said Goetz.

The researchers also said that, often, the only way up economically for young people in rural communities is to move out.

“One finding — that rural young people rely on moving out of the area to move up in the income rankings — presents a challenge for  policy makers who not only care about prosperity for people, but also for places,” said Minghao Li, a former graduate student in rural agricultural, environmental and regional economics, Penn State, and now a postdoctoral researcher at Iowa State. “To be able to retain talented children, rural areas need to create high-skilled jobs and favorable environments for start-up entrepreneurs.”

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