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Old 07-04-21, 06:17 AM   #1
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Default Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - April 10th, 21

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April 10th, 2021

An Unexpected Way To Pirate Comic Books On Amazon Kindle?
Rich Johnston

Okay, this is a twist on the old pirating comic book story courtesy of Amazon. Someone, using the name Raymond Coles, appears to have uploaded a whole load of Marvel and DC comic book digital files to Amazon Kindle and has been promoting them on Amazon Marketplace, and crediting the comics to themselves. And while one can pay a minimal amount to purchase copies – much less than legitimate digital sales or print sales would cost – one could also read them on Kindle Unlimited for free – a small amount of the reader's Amazon Prime subscription going to whoever uploaded them. Could be Raymond Coles, could be anyone.

Because there are other author names being used as well, including the likes of Norma Sanchez, Mike Ketter, Maria Mehl, Curtis Queen, Nora Wickham and others. Oh and that, ironically, includes the complete Invincible from Image/Sjybound. It appears that there is a systematic attempt to pirate lots of mainstream comic books, from a bunch of separate Amazon Publisher accounts, genuine or hacked, acting in unison.

I understand that a number of people have already submitted complaints earlier in the week to Amazon.com, but as of earlier today, they were still live. A number have also been listed in the nonfiction graphic novels section, and as a result, are rather high in those specific charts.

Last year, Amazon joined a number of authors in tackling websites that hosted pirated versions of books, that could have been taken from Kindle files. But who knew that someone could use Amazon's own website to systematically host a lot of popular comics and graphic novels and that Amazon could profit from them in the process?

It is expected that these files will be taken down by Amazon at some point, especially if there's publicity like this. People who have paid for the pirated files may find the files disappeared. And as for those who posted them in the first place? They may have put themselves in the spotlight somewhat.

What's Up With BitTorrent (BTT) Crypto Today?
Shivdeep Dhaliwal

The coin associated with popular peer-to-peer file sharing and torrent platform BitTorrent has risen almost 70% in the 24 hours leading to press time.

What Happened: BitTorrent (BTT) traded 69.89% higher at $0.0128 at press time and has gained as much as 258.41% on a seven-day trailing basis.

BTT reached its all-time high of $0.01426 on Sunday. As of press-time, the cryptocurrency traded almost 9.15% below that level.

The market capitalization of BTT touched $12.79 billion at press time when the coin was at the no. 11 spot in CoinMarketCap’s list of top virtual assets. The top cryptocurrency, Bitcoin (BTC), traded 0.61% lower at $57,932.36.

BitTorrent announced some development updates on Sunday, which include an increase in network decentralization and the completion of Repair mode. Challenge mode is still underway.

Why It Matters: Last month, BTT rallied significantly after the price was influenced by large holders who anticipated an impending token burn.

The buzz around BTT is continuing on social media on Monday.

XRP (XRP), the token associated with Ripple payments network, is also seeing higher interest. XRP traded 15.3% higher on Monday after Ripple reached an agreement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission over redactions in private correspondence in an ongoing lawsuit.

‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ Tops the Pandemic Box Office with $32.2 Million in Domestic Opening Weekend
Sarah Whitten

• “Godzilla vs. Kong” tallied a pandemic-best opening over the weekend, securing $32.2 million over Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
• Over the five-day Easter weekend the film garnered $48.5 million in the U.S. and Canada.
• Over the weekend only 55% of theaters were open in North America, compared to the total open in 2019, according to data from Comscore.

The domestic box office is back.

Warner Bros. and Legendary’s “Godzilla vs. Kong” tallied a pandemic-best opening over the weekend, securing $32.2 million over Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The film, which was released domestically on Wednesday, has how garnered $48.5 million in the U.S. and Canada.

Internationally, “Godzilla vs. Kong” added an additional $71.6 million to its box office haul. Since opening last week in foreign markets, the film has tallied $285.4 million.

“The results for ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ are absolutely mind-blowing and a represent a ‘welcome back’ of sorts for an industry that has been working its way back from the brink for over a year,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.

“Godzilla vs. Kong” opened in more than 3,000 theaters in North America over the weekend, the most of any film during the pandemic. In addition to posting the largest opening weekend since the coronavirus pandemic began, the film also had the largest opening day on Wednesday with $9.6 million and the largest single day on Saturday with $12.5 million.

“For anyone who may have doubted the pent-up demand for moviegoing, this performance is yet another sign of just how resilient the theatrical industry can be,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice.com.

Over the weekend only 55% of theaters were open in North America, compared to the total open in 2019, according to data from Comscore. The majority of those cinemas are operating at around 50% capacity.

“It should again send a message to studios that the world’s audiences are hungry for big cinematic releases,” Robbins said. “If ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ can break out to these numbers in a still-handicapped domestic market with a simultaneous streaming release, imagine what other blockbuster contenders will be able to achieve in the months ahead when given a reasonable window of theatrical exclusivity from day one.”

“A sleeping giant is truly beginning to wake up,” he said.

Under Scrutiny, Nielsen Defends Coronavirus Count of TV Audience
Brian Steinberg

The media industry’s go-to authority for measuring audiences acknowledged on Friday that the recent coronavirus pandemic bent its yardstick, but maintained nothing is broken.

Nielsen, under fire from the TV networks that depend on it to count the audiences for which advertisers pay, says pandemic conditions resulted in a smaller panel of consumers it relies on to monitor TV viewing, but believes the trends it chronicles during 2020 remain viable. “What we have seen is that the decline in linear is definitely increasing,” Mainak Mazumdar, Nielsen’s chief data and research officer, says in an interview. “There is an increase in streaming, but the decline in linear is not offset by total viewing.”

The TV companies believe Nielsen allowed its measurement process — the bedrock of deals struck with advertisers — to deteriorate between March of 2020 and March of 2021, leading to a significant undercounting of the audience. They say Nielsen didn’t dispatch field agents to monitor the technology it has in individuals contracted to report viewing to Nielsen and did not replace panelists as they relocated around the nation during the pandemic. That resulted in notable shortfalls in tracking audience viewing. Nielsen is releasing Friday, but it offers “a four-ounce solution to a 10-pound problem,” says Sean Cunningham, CEO of the VAB, a trade organization that represents TV networks to Madison Avenue.

“During the COVID-19 period, Nielsen transformed the way it manages its panel to leverage more remote techniques and address the challenges of this unprecedented time,” Nielsen said in a release meant to address the networks’ concerns. “While this drove a sample size smaller than it was pre-COVID, it remains robust and representative.”

Citing its data, Nielsen says spikes in TV viewership that began during the early days of the pandemic eventually settled down — and suggests the effects of the coronavirus on TV production crimped the flow of the original content that would have kept viewers better engaged. “In aggregate, the combination of more repeats, delayed premieres, programs produced in homes (and basements) and the lack of sports heightened the challenges for the TV industry — challenges that inspired some audiences to seek out new content. SVOD programming, news and nostalgic comedy programs fared well, but the overarching shifts in total TV viewing are bigger than specific program genres,” Nielsen said Friday.

Looking at October, Nielsen said its data shows that the networks aired 13% fewer new episodes, compared with the same month a year earlier, leading to a 75% increase in programming repeats. The company has also noticed explosive growth for ad-free streaming outlets like Netflix and Disney Plus, as well as a 39% increase in streaming audio consumption between May 2020 and January 2021 — even without people using commutes to work to listen to podcasts.

Speaking Thursday, the VAB’s Cunningham suggested that Nielsen’s research does little to address the destabilization of the marketplace its changes in process have created and likened it to putting a Band-Aid on a gaping flesh wound. The white paper, he said, “falls way short” of what advertisers need to understand a period of measurement the TV industry believes represents an “anomaly.”

The issue comes to a boil as the nation’s big media companies prepare for the industry’s annual “upfront” market, when U.S. TV networks try to sell the bulk of their advertising inventory ahead of their next cycle of programming. Nielsen ratings are the bedrock of how TV networks and media agencies set prices, and many advertisers build out placement of their clients’ commercials by “mirroring” audience levels from the prior year.

This isn’t the first skirmish between the networks and Nielsen in recent months. In July of last year, Nielsen reversed a last-minute decision to not implement a new measure of so-called “out of home” viewing — audiences watching TV in offices, bars, hotels and the like — even though the networks had sought it. Nielsen cited the pandemic’s effects on viewership in those venues as a reason to delay launch of the new system. The networks, which had already established ad deals with the new measurement involved, went ballistic, and even demanded a public apology. Media outlets and advertisers have increasingly found themselves at odds as new technology forces changes in the systems both sides have relied upon for decades.

Sony Pictures Enters a Streaming Deal with Netflix
Nicole Sperling

In another sign of Netflix’s growing dominance, Sony Pictures Entertainment has signed a five-year deal that will give the streaming giant the exclusive U.S. rights to Sony’s films once they leave theaters and premium video-on-demand services.

The deal, which begins with the studio’s 2022 releases, builds on Netflix’s existing partnership with Sony Pictures Animation and replaces the agreement Sony, one of the few major studios without its own streaming service, has had with Starz Entertainment since 2005.

That means that upcoming films like “Morbius,” which features Jared Leto playing the Marvel vampire, and “Uncharted,” starring Tom Holland in an adaptation of a Playstation game, will become available on Netflix after they complete their theatrical and on-demand runs. As part of the deal, Sony will make two to three direct-to-streaming movies a year for Netflix, expanding Sony’s slate and giving Netflix exclusive films for its service.

“This not only allows us to bring Sony’s impressive slate of beloved film franchises and new I.P. to Netflix in the U.S., but it also establishes a new source of first-run films for Netflix movie lovers worldwide,” Netflix’s head of global films, Scott Stuber, said in a statement on Thursday.

Sony emphasized that the arrangement would not alter its theatrical strategy. Before the pandemic, the studio released 15 to 20 films a year in theaters, a plan it intends to resume now that theaters are reopening. Films made for Netflix will be in addition to the theatrical releases, it said.

With the pandemic shutting down movie theaters for much of last year, Sony Pictures, like most studios, pushed many of its films into 2021. It also sold a handful to streaming services, including “Greyhound” with Tom Hanks to Apple and the upcoming animated comedy “The Mitchells vs The Machines,” from the creators of Sony’s Oscar-winning film “Spiderman: Into the Spider-verse,” to Netflix.

Pandemic Profits: Netflix Made Record Profits in 2020, Paid a Tax Rate of Less than 1 Percent
Matthew Gardner

In the early days of the COVID-19 health and economic crisis, it quickly became clear that consumers would drastically shift how they buy goods and services and that certain companies—chief tax avoiders among them—would profit immensely.

So, it’s no surprise that streaming giant Netflix’s U.S. income leaped from $1.7 billion in 2019 to $2.8 billion in 2020 as people turned to the Internet for more of their entertainment. It’s also not surprising that the tax-avoiding company hasn’t changed its ways.

Netflix’s “current” federal income tax for 2020 was $24 million, which equals just 0.9 percent of the company’s pretax income for the year. This is another way of saying Netflix paid an effective federal income tax rate of just 0.9 percent in 2020. If the company paid the 21 percent statutory rate, its tax bill would be $572 million.

Two years ago, Netflix incurred the wrath of many Americans—including Sen. Bernie Sanders—by disclosing that it paid zero federal tax on $845 million of U.S. income. The company made a halfhearted, easily rebuttable denial. Its latest accounting means that over the first three years of the 2017 Trump-GOP tax law, Netflix enjoyed $5.3 billion in U.S. income and paid an effective federal income tax rate of just 0.4 percent.

That profitable companies can avoid millions or hundreds of millions in federal tax year after year should compel policymakers on both sides of the aisle to work toward a fix.

The stock market quickly recovered its March 2020 losses, and the elite, wealthy beneficiaries of record profits and rising stock valuations are prospering. At the other extreme, millions of people face housing and food insecurity. Ten million fewer people are employed today than a year ago. Congress is debating the merits of a $1.9 trillion relief package that is rightly focused on ordinary people’s economic needs, but periodic deficit hawks are—predictably—musing about how much the package will add to the nation’s debt. Notably, the chief complainants had no qualms about passing a $2 trillion tax cut in 2017 that continues to primarily benefit corporations and rich people.

Most economists agree that deficit-financed spending is an appropriate response to the current economic crisis. But Congress can both enact legislation to meet ordinary people’s immediate needs and advance tax policies to rectify loopholes that allow profitable corporations such as Netflix to dodge taxes on an incredible scale no matter the state of the economy.

For every Netflix reporting record profits for the year just ended, there will surely be dozens of large companies in the retail or service space reporting that they paid no income taxes because they legitimately faced catastrophic pretax losses in a pandemic year. For this reason, it’s vital that companies in thriving sectors such as tech and pharmaceutical who are increasing their market share pay something approaching the statutory tax rate.

Tax Law Makes Next-to-Nothing Effective Corporate Tax Rates Possible

There is no reason to see Netflix’s tax avoidance as anything other than the normal workings of the corporate tax laws. Among the mechanisms Netflix is using to achieve its next-to-nothing tax liability are accelerated depreciation (which appears to have cut the company’s tax expense by $148 million); deductions for stock options for Netflix executives and other employees ($339 million); and research and development tax credits ($113 million).

As for tax breaks Netflix has used, none are justified on policy grounds. For example, a 2019 ITEP report outlines how accelerated depreciation tax breaks don’t stimulate capital investment or economic growth as proponents have claimed. Further, current tax treatment of executive stock options is far too generous.

As for the research tax credit, reasonable people can question whether the nation should subsidize (through the tax code) whatever “research” Netflix claims to be doing. A Citizens for Tax Justice report argues that the research tax credit has a long and checkered history of subsidizing research of questionable value.

Netflix’s tax avoidance is all perfectly legal, but it should not be. Congressional tax writers had a valuable opportunity to look at each of these tax provisions just three years ago when then-President Donald Trump prioritized cutting the corporate tax rate, but the 500-page cocktail napkin lawmakers rushed through in the last days of 2017 either left these breaks intact or, in the case of depreciation, sharply expanded them.

One Policy Solution

President Biden so far has not proposed to do away with these tax breaks, but he has proposed a second-best solution—requiring corporations to pay a minimum tax equal to 15 percent of profits they report to shareholders and to the public if this is less than what they pay under regular corporate tax rules. This would be a big improvement because it would finally require all corporations to contribute at least something to support the society that makes their profits possible.

The stakes for our tax system, and for the public investments the corporate tax helps fund, are as high as they’ve ever been. If the Netflixes of the world don’t pay their fair share in these troubled times, who will?

Charter Communications Paid no Federal Income Taxes in 2020, New Report Shows
Paul Schott

The company that provides Spectrum-branded cable, phone and internet services to more than 30 million customers was one of at least 55 U.S. corporations that paid no federal corporate income taxes last year, according to a new report by the nonprofit Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

Stamford CT-based Charter Communications incurred a bill of $903 million in 2020 federal income taxes. But postponing payments and using tax breaks allowed it to avoid paying any of those taxes last year — and it instead ended up receiving a $7 million federal income-tax rebate.

More Information

Charter Communications was one of at least 55 U.S. companies that paid no federal corporate income taxes last year. At the same time, it received $7 million federal tax rebate.

In 2020, Charter’s tax situation included the following:

• $536 million in deferred federal income taxes

• $290 million reduction for “excess stock compensation”

• $35 million in federal tax credits

• $33 million tax reduction related to “tax rate changes”

• The payment of $168 million in state income taxes

Source: Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy; U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

Corporate taxes are attracting renewed scrutiny in light of President Joe Biden’s unveiling last week of his $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan, which would institute major changes including a hike in the corporate tax rate to help fund the infrastructure-focused legislation.

The treatment of Charter and the 54 other companies “continues a decades-long trend of corporate tax avoidance by the biggest U.S. corporations, and it appears to be the product of longstanding tax breaks preserved or expanded by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, as well as the CARES Act tax breaks enacted in the spring of 2020,” ITEP’s Matthew Gardner and Steve Wamhoff wrote in the report.

In response to an inquiry from Hearst Connecticut Media, Charter provided a statement summarizing its taxes.

“As a result of legacy net operating losses (NOLs), Charter’s tax burden was decreased. Our investments in technology and infrastructure — which total nearly $40 billion over the past five years alone — also resulted in a decreased tax burden, as well as taxes being deferred for future payment,” the statement said. “Charter does currently pay income tax in most state and local jurisdictions. Charter expects to be a meaningful federal cash taxpayer in 2022.”

The company did not comment in response to a follow-up inquiry about how much it anticipated paying in federal income taxes this year.

Paying zero in federal income taxes in 2020

Charter’s federal income tax bill of $903 million for last year was derived from a federal corporate tax rate of 21 percent on its pre-tax income of $4.3 billion in 2020.

Its $7 million federal rebate illustrated the impact of the provisions it used to defer and reduce its tax expenses, which were summarized in its 10-K annual report submitted to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The rebate compared with a $6 million payment in federal income taxes in 2019 and a $23 million contribution in 2018.

Continuing a frequent practice of tax deferrals, Charter postponed the payment of $536 million in 2020 federal income taxes. It had deferred $358 million in 2019 and $204 million in 2018.

Among its tax breaks, it recorded a reduction of $290 million tied to “excess stock compensation.” Charter comprised one of more than a dozen companies that used a tax break for executive stock options to “sharply reduce” their income taxes last year, according to ITEP. Other firms who used that break to help avoid paying federal income taxes last year included Advanced Micro Devices, Archer Daniels Midland, Booz Allen Hamilton, Nike and Salesforce.com.

Charter also reduced its income tax expenses with $35 million in federal credits and a $33 million deduction for “tax rate changes.”

The company noted in its 10-K “numerous tax provisions” in the CARES Act and Families First Coronavirus Act, which were passed in 2020. But it said the legislation “currently has no material impact to income tax expense.” It did not specify how much, if any, it received in tax benefits from those measures.

Charter and the 54 other companies cited in the ITEP report would have cumulatively contributed $8.5 billion for the year had they paid the 21 percent rate on their 2020 income — but they instead received a total of $3.5 billion in tax rebates, according to ITEP.

No other Connecticut-headquartered companies were cited in the report by the Washington, D.C.-based ITEP, which is a nonpartisan group. The study summarized ITEP’s analysis of annual financial reports filed by the largest publicly traded U.S.-based corporations in their most recent fiscal years.

At the state level, Charter paid $168 million in income taxes last year, compared with $113 million in 2019 and $47 million in 2018.

In the past year, Charter has grown significantly amid the surge in remote working and online learning sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. Its 2020 revenues rose some 5 percent year over year to about $48 billion. In the fourth quarter of last year, it served a total of about 31 million residential and business customers in 41 states — up nearly 7 percent from the same period in 2019.

Ranking No. 71 on the 2020 Fortune list, Charter comprises one of Connecticut’s largest corporate employers, with about 1,300 based in Stamford. It is planning to open later this year a new headquarters in the new 500,000-square-foot building at 406 Washington Blvd., next to the downtown Metro-North Railroad station. It is now based a few blocks away at 400 Atlantic St.

To support its growth, Charter has received from the state a total of $18.5 million in loans and grants and could earn up to $23 million in tax credits, according to data from the state Department of Economic and Community Development.

Democrats eye corporate tax changes

While the American Jobs Plan focuses on spurring economic recovery through massive infrastructure investments, Biden and many Congressional Democrats have also framed it as a tool for tackling corporate tax avoidance.

“Some of the biggest, most profitable corporations in America (I’m looking at you, Amazon) have paid $0 in federal corporate income taxes,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, said in a tweet on March 31. “I’ve pushed for a tax on the book profits of these giant corporations, and the Biden-Harris #AmericanJobsPlan includes a version of this.”

To help pay for the infrastructure spending, the American Jobs Plan calls for increasing the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent. The current level was instituted through the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act; the corporate rate was previously 35 percent.

“The lower the tax rate, the easier it is for companies to use these tax breaks to get down to zero. Biden’s plan to increase the tax rate would make it harder to avoid all taxes,” ITEP’s Gardner said in an interview Tuesday. “But increasing the tax rate will not be the main solution to ending tax avoidance. What we really need to do is broaden the tax base. We need to get rid of loopholes and get rid of tax breaks.”

Among other changes, the American Jobs Plan plan would levy a 21 percent minimum tax on American companies’ foreign income.

Charter declined to comment on the American Jobs Plan, instead referring to a statement by internet and television association NCTA, of which it is a member. The statement did not mention the prospective tax changes, but cited other issues.

“The White House has elected to go big on broadband infrastructure, but it risks taking a serious wrong turn in discarding decades of successful policy by suggesting that the government is better suited than private-sector technologists to build and operate the internet,” NCTA CEO and President Michael Powell said in the statement. “This shift is encouraged by mistakenly lumping in our successful modern digital networks with our decaying roads, bridges, waterways and electric grids.”

SpaceX President Says Starlink Doesn't Plan to Offer Tiered Pricing
Catie Keck

Starlink opened up pre-orders for its service in February for a $99 deposit, but it doesn’t appear that the company plans to offer any kind of tiered plan to folks who were hoping for some options.

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell, speaking during a Satellite 2021 LEO Digital Forum panel on Tuesday, said that she doesn’t “think we’re going to do tiered pricing to consumers” for Starlink’s satellite internet service, per CNBC. Shotwell added that the company was “going to try to keep it as simple as possible and transparent as possible, so right now there are no plans to tier for consumers.”

That could be a make-or-break for potential subscribers who were hoping for a discounted—or for that matter, even more premium—version of the service than the one it’s currently offering. The $99 refundable security deposit offering that rolled in February does not cover the total cost for the service.

The Starlink installation kit costs $499 and includes a power supply, a wifi router, and a mountable dish antenna. Shipping and handling will add at least another $50 to that price. And then there’s the service itself, which costs $99 per month. That might make the service less accessible to, for example, low-income households in rural regions. And those customers might be better served by Starlink’s satellite service than they might be with 5G.

But that’s who Shotwell said Starlink is attempting to serve, commenting that the company “will be able to serve every rural household in the United States,” according to CNBC, or an estimated 60 million people.

If that’s the case, it would seem Starlink may need to seriously reevaluate its up-front costs.

T-Mobile Launches Long-Promised 5G Home Internet Service

Once again putting Sprint’s mid-band spectrum to work
Allison Johnson

After a long pilot period, T-Mobile is making its 5G home internet service a reality today. The company made the announcement on a live stream today, teased as its next Uncarrier move, and it says 30 million homes are now eligible for the service — 10 million of which are in rural areas.

The service costs $60 per month, or $65 without autopay, which is $10 more per month than when the pilot program was introduced. The service comes with no data caps, hardware rental fees, or annual contracts, and customers self-install their own equipment. T-Mobile says most customers will experience speeds of 100Mbps, and all eligible customers should see average speeds of 50Mbps. Depending on coverage in your area, it will either use a 4G or 5G signal, whichever is faster.

But there’s an important caveat: home internet customers are subject to data slowdowns during times of network congestion, which could be a serious deterrent for some customers who live in dense areas.

T-Mobile’s talk of 5G home internet dates back to 2019, when the company was making its case to the Federal Communications Commission why it should be allowed to acquire Sprint. It claimed that gaining access to Sprint’s network would be a necessary step in offering high-speed in-home wireless internet. According to the company, this would allow T-Mobile to offer an alternative to the dominant ISPs and bring faster internet to underserved rural areas.

Before the ink was dry on the deal, T-Mobile started piloting the service over its existing LTE network. It started small, as an invitation-only deal for 50,000 households. As of last month, the pilot included 100,000 households.

Testing a pilot program in select cities is one thing; opening up that service to 5G customers across the country is another. T-Mobile is certainly confident that its network can handle it, and with good reason: that spectrum it acquired from Sprint has given it a leg up, especially compared to Verizon and AT&T. Maybe when it’s done fulfilling this promise from its Sprint acquisition talks, it can work on its promise to help Dish become that fourth wireless carrier that we’ve been missing.

Broadband Use Surged more than 30% During Pandemic, Industry Group Says

Maybe it's time to buy a mesh router or pay for better upload speeds.
Stephen Shankland

Broadband use surged 30% to 40% during the COVID-19 pandemic in the US, and even reached 60% in some areas, an industry group has concluded. Although the internet shouldered the load without much problem, you might consider upgrading your own network equipment to avoid issues.

The broadband use increase began as people started working from home in March 2020, when authorities began issuing orders to stay home to slow the COVID-19 spread. The change also meant many more of us relied on our internet connections for entertainment like streaming video and social activity like videoconference weddings.

The Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group released data this week that it gathered from internet service providers, broadband analytics firms, and networking companies that help deliver data. We all consumed more downstream data -- the flow from the internet to the home -- but upstream use grew faster. That's an important consideration given that most cable and DSL services offer much higher downstream capacity.

All those videoconferences for work meetings and online schooling likely were involved in the upstream data traffic. "Some networks saw more than 300% increase in the amount of videoconferencing traffic from February to October 2020," the report said.

Though the internet itself held up well overall, there are problems. "Rural and low-income households have struggled" with broadband access to online services, the report said, and some households suffered with older equipment that couldn't handle heavy traffic or the increase in networked devices in the home.

If you're having problems at home, you should consider an Ethernet cable connection to your network router, upgrading to a mesh network with multiple network access points, upgrading your PC or phone, or paying for a faster internet connection if it's available.

"It is apparent that performance issues inside of home networks related to inadequate customer supplied user devices and Wi-Fi have become real problems," the report said.

EXPLAINER: What Biden's New $100B Plan for Broadband Means
Tali Arbel

The problems with U.S. broadband networks have been obvious for years. Service costs more than in many other rich nations, it still doesn't reach tens of millions of Americans and the companies that provide it don't face much competition.

Now the Biden administration is promising to do something about all of those issues as part of its proposed $2.3 trillion infrastructure package. The plan, which would devote $100 billion to get all Americans connected, is more idea than policy and lacks a lot of important detail.

But it sketches out a striking new vision of activist government measures intended to improve high-speed internet service, following decades in which the government has largely left the job to private companies.


It would spend $100 billion to “future-proof” broadband as part of an eight-year infrastructure plan, calling high-speed connections “the new electricity" that's now a necessity for all Americans. (For history buffs, that's a reference to the Rural Electrification Act — Depression-era legislation that sped the extension of power lines to farms and rural communities.)

It could signal a major policy shift toward lowering the high cost of internet service, rather than just handing money to broadband providers for building out networks. “Americans pay too much for internet,” the plan bluntly states.

It pushes for greater competition that could lower prices, by encouraging and supporting networks owned or affiliated with local governments, cooperatives and nonprofit organizations. Currently, roughly 20 states restrict municipal broadband. Prioritizing such networks could give them a leg up when the government doles out money for extending service.

“The most important thing about what President Biden has done in the proposal is that he’s redefined the digital divide,” said Larry Irving, a top telecom official in the Clinton administration. “The simple act of recognizing that poverty is a bigger indicator of lack of access than geography is a huge statement.”

It's not clear how the Biden administration plans to bring that about.


The pandemic has made clear that millions of Americans are not online, a problem that isn’t limited to rural areas but includes cities too. The White House says more than 30 million Americans don’t have access to high-speed internet at all, and millions more can’t afford it.

The divide persists even after the government has spent billions encouraging broadband providers to connect far-flung and often isolated communities. From 2009 through 2017, federal spending on such programs totaled $47.3 billion, according to a government watchdog report. An additional $20 billion is lined up over the next decade for rural broadband, and another $9 billion for high-speed wireless internet called 5G in sparsely populated regions. Billions more flowed to broadband from the three huge relief packages enacted during the pandemic.

America's rural-internet policy has been an ongoing mistake, said Gigi Sohn, an official in the Obama-era FCC. “A lot of what we have is very slow,” she said. The White House now says it wants “future-proof” networks “in unserved and underserved areas," so they don't have to be rebuilt again years later because they're out-of-date.

Exactly what those terms means for what gets built and where isn't clear, either, and many Republicans oppose putting federal funds to work in areas that do have internet even if it's slow — what's called “overbuilding."


The $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan has its detractors. Some Democrats are disappointed because they wanted more. On the other hand, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called it a “Trojan horse” for tax hikes.

Internet access is a bipartisan issue, but Republican leaders of the House and Senate Commerce committees called Biden's approach on broadband wasteful.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the Republican ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Biden's plan would “hurt private investment in our networks without actually closing the digital divide.” She called for trimming regulations on building infrastructure to help prompt investment. Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the Republican ranking member of Senate Commerce, said the proposal “opens the door for duplication and overbuilding.”

Congressional Democrats have recently introduced major broadband legislation of their own, including a $94 billion bill from Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the House Majority Whip, who both said they approved of the White House's approach.


Republicans' concerns echo those from industry. The cable lobbying group NCTA said the White House “risks taking a serious wrong turn ... by suggesting that the government is better suited than private-sector technologists to build and operate the internet." The NCTA also said it was worried about price regulation. The Biden document does not mention price controls.

Jonathan Spalter, CEO of the lobbying group USTelecom, said that prioritizing investments in government-owned broadband is “exactly the wrong approach” since taxpayers will get the bill if such networks fail. He also claimed that broadband prices are already falling.

The Labor Department says pricing for telephone services, which includes internet plans along with phone service, has dropped about 7% over the past decade. Internet service costs, which include things like web hosting, have risen 2%. A think tank with a lot of tech-industry funding, New America, says prices are higher in the U.S. compared with Asia and Europe.

Verizon Recalls Mobile Hotspots Sold to Schools, in Stores

Verizon is recalling 2.5 million mobile hotspots after some reports of overheating and two reports of minor burns.

The 4G hotspots were used by schools and sold by stores. They are called Ellipsis Jetpack mobile hotspots and were imported by Franklin Wireless in San Diego.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said Thursday that the lithium ion battery in the hotspots can overheat, posing fire and burn hazards.

Out of the 2.5 million units, there have been 15 reports of devices overheating, including six reports of fire damage to bedding or flooring and two reports of minor burn injuries.

The units were sold by Verizon stores in the U.S., other stores and school districts between April 2017 and March 2021. They were sold for $50 to $150.

Users can contact Verizon for a refund or replacement. Parents whose children received the recalled Ellipsis Jetpack from their schools should contact their school for instructions on how to receive a replacement.

Verizon said that of2.5 million devices being recalled, just over 1 million are currently in use. Of those, several hundred thousand were purchased and are being used by schools.

Myanmar Junta Limits Internet, Seizes Satellite TV Dishes

An information blackout under Myanmar’s military junta worsened Thursday as fiber broadband service, the last legal way for ordinary people to access the internet, became intermittently inaccessible on several networks.

Authorities in some areas have also started confiscating satellite dishes used to access international news broadcasts.

Protests against the Feb. 1 coup that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi continued Thursday despite the killing of 11 people by security forces a day earlier.

It was unclear if the internet interruptions for at least two service providers, MBT and Infinite Networks, were temporary. MBT said its service was halted by a break in the line between Yangon and Mandalay, the country’s two biggest cities. But internet users had been complaining for the past week of major slowdowns in the services.

The junta has gradually throttled down internet service since the coup. It initially imposed a largely ineffective block of social media such as Facebook and then cut mobile data service, the most common way of connecting to the internet, but only at night. As the junta increased its use of deadly force against protesters it also imposed a total ban on mobile data use.

At least 598 protesters and bystanders have been killed by security forces since the takeover, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors casualties and arrests.

The use of satellite television as a source of information also appeared to be under threat. In Laputta and other towns in the Irrawaddy Delta southwest of Yangon, local government vehicles announced over loudspeakers that it was no longer legal to use satellite dishes and that they must be turned in at police stations. Police also raided shops selling the dishes and confiscated them.

Online news services Khit Thit Media and Mizzima said similar measures were taken in Mon state in the country’s southeast. Satellite TV offers access to international sources of news about Myanmar.

Since the coup, all non state-owned daily newspapers have stopped publishing and online news sites have come under severe pressure. Five popular independent news services had their operating licenses revoked in early March and were told to stop publishing and broadcasting on all platforms, but mostly defied the orders. Other agencies have been sued over their coverage.

About 30 journalists arrested since the coup remain detained. About half of them have been charged with violating a law covering circulation of information that could hurt national security or disturb public order. The offense is punishable by up to three years in prison.

In an open letter to the junta this week, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists called for “the immediate and unconditional release of all journalists detained in the aftermath of your February 1 suspension of democracy and imposition of emergency rule.”

The group said that since the military’s takeover, “press freedom conditions have rapidly and drastically deteriorated in your country. News reports indicate journalists have been beaten, shot and injured by live bullets and arbitrarily arrested and charged by security forces while merely doing their jobs of covering the demonstrations and your regime’s retaliatory clampdown.”

Thursday’s protests included demonstrations in Launglone township, in the south of the country, where villagers sang songs and lit candles before dawn and then marched down rural roads, and in the city of Dawei, also in the south, where engineers, teachers, students and others joined in their latest demonstration.

Despite eight killings in Dawei by security forces, opponents of the junta have continued protesting on the streets, avoiding confrontations by varying the demonstrations’ starting times and breaking into smaller groups.

On Wednesday, security forces stormed the town of Kalay in northwestern Myanmar where some residents had used homemade hunting rifles to form a self-defense force.

Security forces killed at least 11 civilians and injured many others, local news reports said. The state-owned Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported Thursday that 18 people described as rioters with homemade weapons had been arrested but said nothing about civilian casualties.

U.N. workers on the ground have seen an alarming humanitarian impact from escalating violence in northeastern and southeastern Myanmar in recent weeks, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Thursday.

In southeastern Kayin state and Bago region, thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes due to military attacks and airstrikes, as well as army clashes with ethnic guerillas representing the Karen minority. In the northeast, clashes have displaced 3,000 people, while in northern Shan state, fighting has forced more than 8,000 people from their homes, Dujarric said from New York.

On the diplomatic front, Christine Schraner Burgener, the U.N. special envoy for Myanmar who has called for the restoration of democracy, is heading to Thailand this week and hopes to visit other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as well as China, Dujarric said.

Schraner Burgener has called for a robust international response to the crisis and a unified effort by regional countries to use their influence toward Myanmar’s stability, he said.

Schraner Burgener is also continuing efforts to visit Myanmar and hopes the military will provide her access to detained leaders including President U Wint Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, Dujarric said.

Schraner Burgener is also ready “to resume dialogue with the military to contribute to a return to Myanmar’s democratic path, peace and stability,” he said.

Official Censorship Should Have No Place in the Digital Public Square

Courts are barring public officials from blocking critics from their social media accounts.
Jameel Jaffer and Katie Fallow

With Donald Trump gone from the White House and banned from the major social media platforms, the Supreme Court on Monday finally brought an end to the long-running litigation over the former president’s practice of blocking critics from his Twitter account, declaring the case to be moot.

The lawsuit, which we and our colleagues filed six months into Mr. Trump’s tenure, will likely be remembered as an artifact of the Trump era — a collision of the First Amendment, the pathologies of social media and a thin-skinned, attention-craving demagogue indifferent to constitutional limits on his authority.

But the case will have lasting effects, even if the appeals court decision holding that Mr. Trump acted unconstitutionally has now been vacated. The case has broad implications for other officials and for platforms other than Twitter, and it will shape the digital public sphere — in valuable ways — for a long time to come.

The case grew out of Mr. Trump’s decision to conduct his presidency by tweet. From the beginning, he used his Twitter account to make cabinet appointments, announce policy initiatives and engage with foreign leaders. He used it to harangue and demean his perceived adversaries, including journalists and former officials of his own administration.

Harnessing Twitter’s interactive features, he used his account to communicate directly with the public, unfiltered by what he called the “fake news media.” To his critics — and to some of his supporters, too — Mr. Trump’s Twitter habits were undignified or worse, an insult to the office. He saw things differently. “My use of social media is not Presidential — it’s MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL,” he tweeted in the summer of 2017.

The core proposition of the lawsuit was that Mr. Trump’s account had become a public forum for First Amendment purposes because it was a space that a government official had opened to the public for expression. It’s well established that the First Amendment prohibits public officials from excluding citizens from public forums such as city council meetings, school board meetings and legislators’ town halls because of their political viewpoints. We argued that officials who use their social media accounts as extensions of their offices should be subject to the same rule.

Some legal scholars questioned whether the public forum doctrine should be applied on private platforms. We pointed out that courts had applied the doctrine to private property before, and that the alternative would be to allow city councils and other public bodies to evade the First Amendment simply by moving their meetings to hotel conference rooms. The district court and the appeals court ultimately saw things our way.

After the district court issued a decision in our case, the White House unblocked our clients and dozens of others who had been locked out of Mr. Trump’s comment threads after they criticized the president or his policies.

Our case focused on the former president, but its implications are broader. Public officials and government agencies all over the country now use social media to communicate with the public. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, has used her Twitter account to solicit her constituents’ opinions about her legislative agenda. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says its Twitter account is for sharing “daily credible health & safety updates.” Florida’s Division of Emergency Management uses its account to warn residents of hurricanes and inform them about emergency relief.

When officials and agencies use interactive social media in these ways, they create spaces that play important functions in our democracy. Their accounts can be sources of official information, channels through which citizens can petition their representatives for “redress of grievances” (as the First Amendment puts it) and forums in which citizens can exchange information and ideas. The same reasoning that led the appeals court to hold that Mr. Trump couldn’t constitutionally block critics from his Twitter account makes clear that other government actors who engage in similar conduct do so at their peril.

In fact, since we filed the case, almost a dozen other courts have applied the First Amendment’s public forum doctrine in cases involving the social media accounts of legislators, mayors, city councilors and sheriffs. The effect of these judicial rulings extends beyond the litigants. Made aware of these rulings, many public officials who were excluding people from their accounts based on viewpoint have voluntarily changed their practices.

These rulings also have implications for government-run accounts on platforms other than Twitter. The Army and Navy have been using Twitch, a gaming platform, to livestream e-sports as part of their recruiting efforts. Those who watch these multiplayer video games on the military’s Twitch channels can also exchange messages in moderated forums. The exchanges can be wide-ranging, but until recently moderators made a practice of ejecting participants who asked questions about war crimes. Moderators changed course only after the court’s decision in Mr. Trump’s case was brought to their attention.

These developments in the law, and in the practice of government agencies and officials, should be welcomed. The technology may be new, but the rule that government actors can’t exclude people from public forums on the basis of viewpoint has been practically synonymous with the First Amendment for decades. It’s a good thing that speakers who were previously silenced can now voice their dissent, that public officials who were previously shielded from the views of their constituents are now exposed to them and that digital forums that were previously echo chambers are now more ideologically diverse.

Over the next years, the courts, legislatures and the public will have to answer a slew of thorny questions about free speech and social media, including about the extent of Congress’s power to regulate the companies. As Justice Clarence Thomas noted Monday in connection with the Supreme Court’s order, some of these questions were presented starkly by the major social media companies’ decision to deplatform Mr. Trump after the siege on the Capitol. In comparison with these questions, the one presented by our case was easy.

But if the proposition that government officials may not exclude speakers from public forums because of their political views is straightforward, it’s also foundational to our democracy. Even those disinclined to thank Mr. Trump for anything can perhaps thank him for having given the courts an occasion to reaffirm this basic principle.

Victory for Fair Use: The Supreme Court Reverses the Federal Circuit in Oracle v. Google

You Wouldn't Reimplement an API
Michael Barclay

In a win for innovation, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that Google’s use of certain Java Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) is a lawful fair use. In doing so, the Court reversed the previous rulings by the Federal Circuit and recognized that copyright only promotes innovation and creativity when it provides breathing room for those who are building on what has come before.

This decision gives more legal certainty to software developers’ common practice of using, re-using, and re-implementing software interfaces written by others, a custom that underlies most of the internet and personal computing technologies we use every day.

To briefly summarize over ten years of litigation: Oracle claims a copyright on the Java APIs—essentially names and formats for calling computer functions—and claims that Google infringed that copyright by using (reimplementing) certain Java APIs in the Android OS. When it created Android, Google wrote its own set of basic functions similar to Java (its own implementing code). But in order to allow developers to write their own programs for Android, Google used certain specifications of the Java APIs (sometimes called the “declaring code”).

APIs provide a common language that lets programs talk to each other. They also let programmers operate with a familiar interface, even on a competitive platform. It would strike at the heart of innovation and collaboration to declare them copyrightable.

EFF filed numerous amicus briefs in this case explaining why the APIs should not be copyrightable and why, in any event, it is not infringement to use them in the way Google did. As we’ve explained before, the two Federal Circuit opinions are a disaster for innovation in computer software. Its first decision—that APIs are entitled to copyright protection—ran contrary to the views of most other courts and the long-held expectations of computer scientists. Indeed, excluding APIs from copyright protection was essential to the development of modern computers and the internet.

Then the second decision made things worse. The Federal Circuit's first opinion had at least held that a jury should decide whether Google’s use of the Java APIs was fair, and in fact a jury did just that. But Oracle appealed again, and in 2018 the same three Federal Circuit judges reversed the jury's verdict and held that Google had not engaged in fair use as a matter of law.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court agreed to review the case. In a 6-2 decision, Justice Breyer explained why Google’s use of the Java APIs was a fair use as a matter of law. First, the Court discussed some basic principles of the fair use doctrine, writing that fair use “permits courts to avoid rigid application of the copyright statute when, on occasion, it would stifle the very creativity which that law is designed to foster.”

Furthermore, the court stated:

Fair use “can play an important role in determining the lawful scope of a computer program copyright . . . It can help to distinguish among technologies. It can distinguish between expressive and functional features of computer code where those features are mixed. It can focus on the legitimate need to provide incentives to produce copyrighted material while examining the extent to which yet further protection creates unrelated or illegitimate harms in other markets or to the development of other products.”

In doing so, the decision underlined the real purpose of copyright: to incentivize innovation and creativity. When copyright does the opposite, fair use provides an important safety valve.

Justice Breyer then turned to the specific fair use statutory factors. Appropriately for a functional software copyright case, he first discussed the nature of the copyrighted work. The Java APIs are a “user interface” that allow users (here the developers of Android applications) to “manipulate and control” task-performing computer programs. The Court observed that the declaring code of the Java APIs differs from other kinds of copyrightable computer code—it’s “inextricably bound together” with uncopyrightable features, such as a system of computer tasks and their organization and the use of specific programming commands (the Java “method calls”). As the Court noted:

Unlike many other programs, its value in significant part derives from the value that those who do not hold copyrights, namely, computer programmers, invest of their own time and effort to learn the API’s system. And unlike many other programs, its value lies in its efforts to encourage programmers to learn and to use that system so that they will use (and continue to use) Sun-related implementing programs that Google did not copy.

Thus, since the declaring code is “further than are most computer programs (such as the implementing code) from the core of copyright,” this factor favored fair use.

Justice Breyer then discussed the purpose and character of the use. Here, the opinion shed some important light on when a use is “transformative” in the context of functional aspects of computer software, creating something new rather than simply taking the place of the original. Although Google copied parts of the Java API “precisely,” Google did so to create products fulfilling new purposes and to offer programmers “a highly creative and innovative tool” for smartphone development. Such use “was consistent with that creative ‘progress’ that is the basic constitutional objective of copyright itself.”

The Court discussed “the numerous ways in which reimplementing an interface can further the development of computer programs,” such as allowing different programs to speak to each other and letting programmers continue to use their acquired skills. The jury also heard that reuse of APIs is common industry practice. Thus, the opinion concluded that the “purpose and character” of Google’s copying was transformative, so the first factor favored fair use.

Next, the Court considered the third fair use factor, the amount and substantiality of the portion used. As a factual matter in this case, the 11,500 lines of declaring code that Google used were less than one percent of the total Java SE program. And even the declaring code that Google used was to permit programmers to utilize their knowledge and experience working with the Java APIs to write new programs for Android smartphones. Since the amount of copying was “tethered” to a valid and transformative purpose, the “substantiality” factor favored fair use.

Finally, several reasons led Justice Breyer to conclude that the fourth factor, market effects, favored Google. Independent of Android’s introduction in the marketplace, Sun didn’t have the ability to build a viable smartphone. And any sources of Sun’s lost revenue were a result of the investment by third parties (programmers) in learning and using Java. Thus, “given programmers’ investment in learning the Sun Java API, to allow enforcement of Oracle’s copyright here would risk harm to the public. Given the costs and difficulties of producing alternative APIs with similar appeal to programmers, allowing enforcement here would make of the Sun Java API’s declaring code a lock limiting the future creativity of new programs.” This “lock” would interfere with copyright’s basic objectives.

The Court concluded that “where Google reimplemented a user interface, taking only what was needed to allow users to put their accrued talents to work in a new and transformative program, Google’s copying of the Sun Java API was a fair use of that material as a matter of law.”

The Supreme Court left for another day the issue of whether functional aspects of computer software are copyrightable in the first place. Nevertheless, we are pleased that the Court recognized the overall importance of fair use in software cases, and the public interest in allowing programmers, developers, and other users to continue to use their acquired knowledge and experience with software interfaces in subsequent platforms.

Drought in Taiwan Pits Chip Makers Against Farmers

The island is going to great lengths to keep water flowing to its all-important semiconductor industry, including shutting off irrigation to legions of rice growers.
Raymond Zhong and Amy Chang Chien

Chuang Cheng-deng’s modest rice farm is a stone’s throw from the nerve center of Taiwan’s computer chip industry, whose products power a huge share of the world’s iPhones and other gadgets.

This year, Mr. Chuang is paying the price for his high-tech neighbors’ economic importance. Gripped by drought and scrambling to save water for homes and factories, Taiwan has shut off irrigation across tens of thousands of acres of farmland.

The authorities are compensating growers for the lost income. But Mr. Chuang, 55, worries that the thwarted harvest will drive customers to seek out other suppliers, which could mean years of depressed earnings.

“The government is using money to seal farmers’ mouths shut,” he said, surveying his parched brown fields.

Officials are calling the drought Taiwan’s worst in more than half a century. And it is exposing the enormous challenges involved in hosting the island’s semiconductor industry, which is an increasingly indispensable node in the global supply chains for smartphones, cars and other keystones of modern life.

Chip makers use lots of water to clean their factories and wafers, the thin slices of silicon that form the basis of the chips. And with worldwide semiconductor supplies already strained by surging demand for electronics, the added uncertainty about Taiwan’s water supply is not likely to ease concerns about the tech world’s reliance on the island and on one chip maker in particular: Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company.

More than 90 percent of the world’s manufacturing capacity for the most advanced chips is in Taiwan and run by TSMC, which makes chips for Apple, Intel and other big names. The company said last week that it would invest $100 billion over the next three years to increase capacity, which will likely further strengthen its commanding presence in the market.

TSMC says the drought has not affected its production so far. But with Taiwan’s rainfall becoming no more predictable even as its tech industry grows, the island is having to go to greater and greater lengths to keep the water flowing.

In recent months, the government has flown planes and burned chemicals to seed the clouds above reservoirs. It has built a seawater desalination plant in Hsinchu, home to TSMC’s headquarters, and a pipeline connecting the city with the rainier north. It has ordered industries to cut use. In some places it has reduced water pressure and begun shutting off supplies for two days each week. Some companies, including TSMC, have hauled in truckloads of water from other areas.

But the most sweeping measure has been the halt on irrigation, which affects 183,000 acres of farmland, around a fifth of Taiwan’s irrigated land.

“TSMC and those semiconductor guys, they don’t feel any of this at all,” said Tian Shou-shi, 63, a rice grower in Hsinchu. “We farmers just want to be able to make an honest living.”

In an interview, the deputy director of Taiwan’s Water Resources Agency, Wang Yi-feng, defended the government’s policies, saying the dry spell meant that harvests would be bad even with access to irrigation. Diverting scarce water to farms instead of factories and homes would be “lose-lose,” he said.

When asked about farmers’ water troubles, a TSMC spokeswoman, Nina Kao, said it was “very important for each industry and company” to use water efficiently and pointed to TSMC’s involvement in a project to increase irrigation efficiency.

That Taiwan, one of the developed world’s rainiest places, should lack for water is a paradox verging on tragedy.

Much of the water used by residents is deposited by the summer typhoons. But the storms also send soil cascading from Taiwan’s mountainous terrain into its reservoirs. This has gradually reduced the amount of water that reservoirs can hold.

The rains are also highly variable year to year. Not a single typhoon made landfall during last year’s rainy season, the first time that had happened since 1964.

Taiwan last shut off irrigation on a large scale to save water in 2015, and before that in 2004.

“If in another two or three years, the same conditions reappear, then we can say, ‘Ah, Taiwan has definitely entered an era of major water shortages,’” said You Jiing-yun, a civil engineering professor at National Taiwan University. “Right now, it’s wait and see.”

In 2019, TSMC’s facilities in Hsinchu consumed 63,000 tons of water a day, according to the company, or more than 10 percent of the supply from two local reservoirs, Baoshan and Baoshan Second Reservoir. TSMC recycled more than 86 percent of the water from its manufacturing processes that year, it said, and conserved 3.6 million tons more than it did the year before by increasing recycling and adopting other new measures. But that amount is still small next to the 63 million tons it consumed in 2019 across its Taiwan facilities.

Mr. Chuang’s business partner on his farm in Hsinchu, Kuo Yu-ling, does not like demonizing the chip industry.

“If Hsinchu Science Park weren’t developed like it is today, we wouldn’t be in business, either,” said Ms. Kuo, 32, referring to the city’s main industrial zone. TSMC engineers are important customers for their rice, she said.

But it is also wrong, Ms. Kuo said, to accuse farmers of guzzling water while contributing little economically.

“Can’t we take a fair and accurate accounting of how much water farms use and how much water industry uses and not stigmatize agriculture all the time?” she said.

The “biggest problem” behind Taiwan’s water woes is that the government keeps water tariffs too low, said Wang Hsiao-wen, a professor of hydraulic engineering at National Cheng Kung University. This encourages waste.

Households in Taiwan use around 75 gallons of water per person each day, government figures show. Most Western Europeans use less than that, though Americans use more, according to World Bank data.

Mr. Wang of the Water Resources Agency said: “Adjusting water prices has a big effect on society’s more vulnerable groups, so when making adjustments, we are extremely cautious.” Taiwan’s premier said last month that the government would look into imposing extra fees on 1,800 water-intensive factories.

Lee Hong-yuan, a hydraulic engineering professor who previously served as Taiwan’s interior minister, also blames a bureaucratic morass that makes it hard to build new wastewater recycling plants and to modernize the pipeline network.

“Other small countries are all extremely flexible,” Mr. Lee said, but “we have a big country’s operating logic.” He believes this is because Taiwan’s government was set up decades ago, after the Chinese civil war, with the goal of ruling the whole of China. It has since shed that ambition, but not the bureaucracy.

Taiwan’s southwest is both an agricultural heartland and a rising center of industry. TSMC’s most advanced chip facilities are in the southern city of Tainan.

The nearby Tsengwen Reservoir has shrunk to a marshy stream in some parts. Along a scenic strip known as Lovers’ Park, the floor of the reservoir has become a vast moonscape. The water volume is around 11.6 percent of capacity, according to government data.

In farming towns near Tainan, many growers said they were content to be living on the government’s dime, at least for now. They clear the weeds from their fallowed fields. They drink tea with friends and go on long bike rides.

But they are also reckoning with their futures. The Taiwanese public appears to have decided that rice farming is less important, both for the island and the world, than semiconductors. The heavens — or larger economic forces, at least — seem to be telling the farmers it is time to find other work.

“Fertilizer is getting more expensive. Pesticide is getting more expensive,” said Hsieh Tsai-shan, 74, a rice grower. “Being a farmer is truly the worst.”

Serene farmland surrounds the village of Jingliao, which became a popular tourist spot after appearing in a documentary about farmers’ changing lives.

There is only one cow left in town. It spends its days pulling visitors, not plowing fields.

“Around here, 70 counts as young,” said Yang Kuei-chuan, 69, a rice farmer.

Both of Mr. Yang’s sons work for industrial companies.

“If Taiwan didn’t have any industry and relied on agriculture, we all might have starved to death by now,” Mr. Yang said.

A Guide to Reddit's r/piracy Subreddit, and how the Community Discussion Site is Combating Illegal Sharing
Dave Johnson

Illegal piracy on the online forum, Reddit, has led to increasing crackdowns. SOPA Images / Contributor/Getty Images

• Piracy on Reddit has often run rampant on the community discussion website.
• There are several subreddits dedicated to the discussion of piracy, but Reddit doesn't officially allow pirated content.
• Reddit has increased its content moderation efforts but still struggles to ensure its subreddits follow anti-piracy guidelines.
• Visit Insider's Tech Reference library for more stories.

Even if you've never used Reddit, you've no doubt heard of it; it's one of the largest sites in the US, and with more than 2 million "subreddits," it has a stunning depth and breadth of content.

With all that activity, it's not surprising that Reddit has become a hub for digital piracy, and the site has struggled with managing copyright violations for several years. A subreddit called r/piracy (all subreddits begin with an "r/") in particular has become the focus of some unwanted attention.

Reddit's piracy subreddit, explained

While other subreddits have occasionally shared copyrighted material, the r/piracy forum is, by design, for individuals interested in the tools, techniques, and resources of online piracy.

With more than 640,000 members, it was created in 2008 with the mission of being "a community dedicated to the discussion of digital piracy," according to its own description. That you can find discussions of the vulnerabilities of piracy laws on Reddit is unsurprising.

"Google 'reddit piracy' and you'll find lots of active links, where Reddit users openly discuss the weakness and vulnerabilities of various piracy laws," said Monica Eaton-Cardone, chief operating officer of Chargebacks911.

Given the subject matter, the piracy subreddit attempts to thread a particularly precarious needle. According to the rules of the subreddit, "submissions must be related to the discussion of digital piracy." The rules of the forum specifically prohibit activities like linking directly to pirated media, requesting activation keys, asking others to download pirated content, or asking how to pirate specific copyrighted works (though generalized conversations about pirating techniques are acceptable).

A scan of r/piracy reveals an active community (at any given time, there are more than 1,000 users online) with threads about a diverse range of topics, including tips and tutorials on using popular tools and utilities, troubleshooting tips ("why are my 4K movies purple?"), and news about sources for copyrighted content.

Unlike many online forums elsewhere on the internet, though, r/piracy is a moderated community (Reddit moderators are unpaid volunteers from the community) and the discourse is largely civil and on-topic.

The state of piracy on Reddit

Reddit has been attempting to address piracy on its platform for several years, with serious efforts to mitigate copyright infringement beginning around 2019. Eaton-Cardone said, "Reddit has banned some of the more blatant abusers — /r/NFLstreams, /r/NBAstreams, /r/soccerstreams, /r/UFCstreams, /r/WWEstreams — but Reddit is one of the largest sites in the world. Policing it is extraordinarily difficult."

Nir Kshetri, a professor at the Bryan School of Business and Economics, explained why Reddit was compelled to act: "When it was shut down, r/NBAstreams had 474,000 subscribers who could access pirated NBA content for free. The subreddit r/soccerstreams had more than 400,000 subscribers who had access to pirated soccer streams."

Rather than shutting down r/piracy outright, as happened with those other subreddits, Reddit decided in 2019 to delete all of r/piracy's posts and comments created prior to September 2018 — a decade's worth of content, erased from the Reddit archives.

In Reddit's transparency reporting, it's clear that the platform has been increasing its content monitoring exponentially. In 2018, Reddit received 9,534 copyright notices, which resulted in 26,234 content removals. In 2019, Reddit received 34,989 copyright notices, which resulted in 124,257 content removals — nearly five times that of the year before. In 2020, Reddit received 86,866 copyright notices and removed 375,774 pieces of content — three times as many as in 2019.

Based on the takedown requests — and actual takedowns — Reddit appears to have a piracy problem, and r/piracy moderators have existential concerns about the future of their subreddit. "We are now on thin ice," moderators wrote in one post, and added that the subreddit is in jeopardy. "We definitely do not want to be banned like r/megalinks, which was a subreddit specifically tailored to providing links to pirated content."

Cleansing Reddit won't eliminate piracy

Even if members appear to follow guidelines and avoid posting links to copyrighted material, some users say that the subreddit is still a direct vector to piracy.

Will Peach, a fourth-year medical student who regularly uses the r/piracy subreddit, said, "It happens via the backdoor. Recommendations are made in various threads and then DMs [direct messages] are sent privately. Piracy happens via other portals, like Google Drive. But it almost always starts on Reddit."

Reddit moderators appear to be enforcing guidelines in hopes of staving off a full shutdown of the r/piracy subreddit, yet they're also planning for the worst.

Allan Borch, founder of the tech marketing blog Dotcom Dollar, said, "[They] already have a list of forum replacements, including rival discussion site Raddle.me." Referring to the purge of posts older than 2018, Borsh added, "Indeed, those posts 10 years in the making aren't actually gone. They've already been archived on GitHub. Piracy might move away from Reddit, but that doesn't mean it's dead."

Until next week,

- js.

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Jack Spratts' Week In Review is published every Friday. Submit letters, articles, press releases, comments, questions etc. in plain text English to jackspratts (at) lycos (dot) com. Submission deadlines are Thursdays @ 1400 UTC. Please include contact info. The right to publish all remarks is reserved.

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