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Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - January 30th, ’21
January 30th, 2021
Nigerian Bookseller Jailed One Year for Pirating Bible
A FEDERAL High Court , Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, has sentenced a trader, Chinonso Ugochukwu, to one year imprisonment for pirating the Holy Bible and other books.
The trial judge, Justice F.O. Riman however, gave the convict an option of N30,000 fine and to compulsorily forfeit the recovered materials to the Federal Government.
Justice Riman convicted Ugochukwu of a two-count- charge, bordering “on pirating, being in possession and offering for sale, 578 copies of various literary works including The Holy Bible (Revised Standard version).
The offence contravenes section 20(2)(c) of the Copyright Act, Cap C28, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria which attracts one year imprisonment.
During trial, a witness and staff of staff of Nigeria Copyright Commission (NCC), Martins Umoh, had told the court that the commission received complaints from copyright owners, including The Bible Society of Nigeria alleging that their literary works were being pirated.
Read Also: Court lifts house arrest of Bobi Wine
Umoh said they embarked on searches in several local government areas of the state and discovered that several copies of pirated literary works were found in Ugochukwu’s shop located at No 17 Grace Bill Road, Eket, in Akwa Ibom State.
Also testifying, a staff of the Bible Society of Nigeria, Oluwafemi Akindele, told the court that his office translates The Holy Bible, typesets it and sources for funds to publish it.
Akindele said that they observed that while the products were everywhere in the market, it never reflected in its official Bible distribution figure
According to him, that was when they observed that most of the products in the market were pirated copies and made formal complaints to NCC which led to the arrest, prosecution and conviction of Ugochukwu.
Filmyzilla Leaks Madam Chief Minister Only Hours After Its Release, Read More
The Indian torrent website Filmyzilla has recently leaked the new Richa Chadda starrer ' Madam Chief Minister' only hours after its theatrical release.
Recently the Richa Chadda-starrer Madam Chief Minister was released in cinemas across India. The 2021 Indian Hindi-language political drama film directed by Subhash Kapoor and stars Richa Chadda in the lead role. However, fans saw that only hours after its theatrical release on January 22, the film a Madam Chief Minister download link was made available on the Indian torrent website Filmyzilla. Read on to learn more about it.
The pirate website Filmyzilla has been pirating mainstream Bollywood and Hollywood movies for a long time now. The website provides the users free HD latest movie download online. It is very well known that pirating is one of the major challenges that big film production companies are facing. Filmyzilla is amongst the many Indian sites that pirate newly released streaming content and movies. Recently Filmyzilla released a download link for the latest Netflix film Madam Chief Minister.
Movie piracy is considered illegal in India, the USA and many different countries. The Indian government has banned sites like Filmyzilla movies download, Movierulz, 123movies and TamilRockers from Google. However, seemingly these sites keep creating domain extensions from .com. .info, .best, .in, .uk and more to tackle the efforts made by the government to stop the leak of movies on such websites.
Read | Filmyzilla leaks Gashmeer & Yudhishthir starrer 'Shrikant Bashir' post OTT ReleaseRead | Filmyzilla leaks latest horror movie 'Durgamati' for download on its illegal website
Filmyzilla.com Bollywood is infamous for leaking Hindi movies before or during their release in the theatres. The notorious piracy website gives provides its audiences a huge collection of Hollywood, Hindi dub, Tamil and Telugu movies online. All the pirated content on the website is available for free as well.
To lure many movie watchers into accessing their pirated content, they have made content on their website, easily accessible and mobile-friendly. Hence one can watch and download movies without any fear of viruses. Filmzilla Tamil provides the HD and high quality of newly-launched Tollywood films to their South Indian customers. The pirated films and shows on Filmyzilla are uploaded as quickly as possible and the initial quality of the latest free download movies are between 360P to 720P. However, later, after a few weeks, HD quality movies are uploaded.
New Spotify Patent Involves Monitoring Users’ Speech to Recommend Music
The streaming platform is interested in extracting data points like emotional state, gender, age, and accent to hone its recommendations
Spotify has been granted a patent with technology that aims to use recordings of users’ speech and background noise to determine what kind of music to curate and recommend to them, Music Business Worldwide reports. The company filed for the patent in 2018; it was approved on January 12, 2021.
The patent outlines potential uses of technology that involves the extraction of “intonation, stress, rhythm, and the likes of units of speech” from the user’s voice. The tech could also use speech recognition to identify metadata points such as emotional state, gender, age, accent, and even environment—i.e., whether someone is alone, or with other people—based on audio recording.
The patent filing outlines how Spotify currently uses a decision tree—showing users different artists, genres, and more—to help refine its recommendation algorithm for the user. “What is needed is an entirely different approach to collecting taste attributes of a user, particularly one that is rooted in technology so that the above-described human activity (e.g., requiring a user to provide input) is at least partially eliminated and performed more efficiently,” reads the filing. Find the patent below.
It’s currently unclear whether Spotify has established a roadmap for the implementation of this tech into its desktop or mobile apps, or what form this implementation might take. It is also unclear if the technology currently exists or if the patent is speculative. It should be noted that it is not abnormal for tech companies to patent technology that does not end up making it to market.
A Spotify spokesperson provided the following statement to Pitchfork:
Spotify has filed patent applications for hundreds of inventions, and we regularly file new applications. Some of these patents become part of future products, while others don't. Our ambition is to create the best audio experience out there, but we don't have any news to share at this time.
They Found a Way to Limit Big Tech’s Power: Using the Design of Bitcoin
Companies inspired by the cryptocurrency are creating social networks, storing online content and hosting websites without any central authority.
Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, publicly wrestled this month with the question of whether his social media service had exercised too much power by cutting off Donald J. Trump’s account. Mr. Dorsey wondered aloud if the solution to that power imbalance was new technology inspired by the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.
When YouTube and Facebook barred tens of thousands of Mr. Trump’s supporters and white supremacists this month, many flocked to alternative apps such as LBRY, Minds and Sessions. What those sites had in common was that they were also inspired by the design of Bitcoin.
The twin developments were part of a growing movement by technologists, investors and everyday users to replace some of the internet’s fundamental building blocks in ways that would be harder for tech giants like Facebook and Google to control.
To do so, they are increasingly focused on new technological ideas introduced by Bitcoin, which was built atop an online network designed, at the most basic level, to decentralize power.
Unlike other types of digital money, Bitcoin are created and moved around not by a central bank or financial institution but by a broad and disparate network of computers. It’s similar to the way Wikipedia is edited by anyone who wants to help, rather than a single publishing house. That underlying technology is called the blockchain, a reference to the shared ledger on which all of Bitcoin’s records are kept.
Companies are now finding ways to use blockchains, and similar technology inspired by it, to create social media networks, store online content and host websites without any central authority in charge. Doing so makes it much harder for any government or company to ban accounts or delete content.
These experiments are newly relevant after the biggest tech companies recently exercised their clout in ways that have raised questions about their power.
Facebook and Twitter prevented Mr. Trump from posting online after the Capitol rampage on Jan. 6, saying he had broken their rules against inciting violence. Amazon, Apple and Google stopped working with Parler, a social networking site that had become popular with the far right, saying the app had not done enough to limit violent content.
While liberals and opponents of toxic content praised the companies’ actions, they were criticized by conservatives, First Amendment scholars and the American Civil Liberties Union for showing that private entities could decide who gets to stay online and who doesn’t.
“Even if you agree with the specific decisions, I do not for a second trust the people who are making the decisions to make universally good decisions,” said Jeremy Kauffman, the founder of LBRY, which provides a decentralized service for streaming videos.
On Tech with Shira Ovide: Your guide to how technology is transforming our lives — in the time of coronavirus and beyond.
That has prompted a scramble for other options. Dozens of start-ups now offer alternatives to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Amazon’s web hosting services, all on top of decentralized networks and shared ledgers. Many have gained millions of new users over the past few weeks, according to the data company SimilarWeb.
“This is the biggest wave I’ve ever seen,” said Emmi Bevensee, a data scientist and the author of “The Decentralized Web of Hate,” a publication about the move of right-wing groups to decentralized technology. “This has been discussed in niche communities, but now we are having a conversation with the broader world about how these emerging technologies may impact the world at quite large scales.”
Bitcoin first emerged in 2009. Its creator, a shadowy figure known as Satoshi Nakamoto, has said its central idea was to allow anyone to open a digital bank account and hold the money in a way that no government could prevent or regulate.
For several years, Bitcoin gained little traction beyond a small coterie of online admirers and people who wanted to pay for illegal drugs online. But as its price rose over time, more people in Silicon Valley took notice of the unusual technical qualities underlying the cryptocurrency. Some promised that the technology could be used to redesign everything from produce tracking to online games.
The hype fell flat over the years as the underlying technology proved to be slow, prone to error and not easily accessible. But more investments and time have begun to result in software that people can actually use.
Last year, Arweave, a blockchain-based project for permanently storing and displaying websites, created an archive of sites and documents from the protests in Hong Kong that angered the Chinese government.
Minds, a blockchain-based replacement for Facebook founded in 2015, also became an online home to some of the right-wing personalities and neo-Nazis who were booted from mainstream social networks, along with fringe groups, in other countries, that have been targeted by their governments. Minds and other similar start-ups are funded by prominent venture capital firms like Andreessen Horowitz and Union Square Ventures.
One of the biggest proponents of the trend has been Mr. Dorsey, 44, who has talked about the promise of decentralized social networks through Twitter and has promoted Bitcoin through the other company he runs, Square, a financial technology provider.
The reason I have so much passion for #Bitcoin is largely because of the model it demonstrates: a foundational internet technology that is not controlled or influenced by any single individual or entity. This is what the internet wants to be, and over time, more of it will be.
— jack (@jack) January 14, 2021
His public support for Bitcoin and Bitcoin-related designs dates to around 2017. In late 2019, Mr. Dorsey announced Blue Sky, a project to develop technology aimed at giving Twitter less influence over who could and could not use the service.
After shutting down Mr. Trump’s account this month, Mr. Dorsey said he would hire a team for Blue Sky to address his discomfort with Twitter’s power by pursuing the vision set out by Bitcoin. On Thursday, Blue Sky published the findings of a task force that has been considering potential designs.
Twitter declined to make Mr. Dorsey available for an interview but said it intended to “share more soon.”
Blockchains are not the only solution for those in search of alternatives to Big Tech’s power. Many people have recently migrated to the encrypted messaging apps Signal and Telegram, which have no need for a blockchain. Moxie Marlinspike, the creator of Signal, has said decentralization made it hard to build good software.
The experimentation with decentralized systems has nonetheless ramped up over the last month. Brave, a new browser, announced last week that it would begin integrating a blockchain-based system, known as IPFS, into its software to make web content more reliable in case big service providers went down or tried to ban sites.
“The IPFS network gives access to content even if it has been censored by corporations and nation-states,” Brian Bondy, a co-founder of Brave, said.
At LBRY, the blockchain-based alternative to YouTube, the number of people signing up daily has surged 250 percent from December, the company said. The newcomers appear to have largely been a motley crew of Trump fans, white supremacists and gun rights advocates who violated YouTube’s rules.
When YouTube removed the latest videos from the white supremacist video blogger Way of the World last week, he tweeted: “Why do we waste our time on this globalist scum? Come to LBRY for all my videos in HD quality, censorship free!”
Megan Squires, a professor at Elon University who studies new computer networks, said blockchain-based networks faced hurdles because the underlying technology made it hard to exercise any control over content.
“As a technology it is very cool, but you can’t just sit there and be a Pollyanna and think that all information will be free,” she said. “There will be racists, and people will shoot each other. It’s going to be the total package.”
Mr. Kauffman said LBRY had prepared for these situations. While anyone will be able to create an account and register content on the LBRY blockchain that the company cannot delete — similar to the way anyone can create an email address and send emails — most people will get access to videos through a site on top of it. That allows LBRY to enforce moderation policies, much as Google can filter out spam and illegal content in email, he said.
Even so, Mr. Kauffman said, no one would lose basic access to online conversation.
“I’d be proud of almost any kind of marginalized voice using it, no matter how much I disagreed with it,” he said.
Berty is a Secure Peer-To-Peer Messaging App that Works With or Without Internet Access, Cellular Data or Trust in the Network
Berty is an anonymous, secure, peer-to-peer protocol that doesn't need an internet connection to function.
There is a protocol that uses advanced cryptography and a messenger app that is built on top of the protocol.
• No phone number or email required to create an account
• End-to-end encryption used to encrypt all conversations
• Focus on leaking as little metadata as possible
• Decentralized, distributed, serverless
• No consensus, no blockchain
• No internet connection required (uses the BLE technology and mDNS)
• Free forever, no data stored, transparent code, open-source
Berty is currently developed by Berty Technologies, a French non-profit organization.
• When you need to share sensitive information.
• If you want to communicate with good anonymity.
• If you don't want to use servers, because you want full control of your data.
• In countries that have censorship and restrict network access and usage.
• In areas with weak or no connection or cell reception.
• When you travel and you want to communicate safely through insecure public connections.
Note: the project is made by a small team of humans who are not experts and who make mistakes. Please, do not hesitate to point out if you notice a bug or something missing. See the contribute section below.
We cannot promise to give you the best app, but we can commit to doing our best in that direction.
Berty is still under active development and should not be used to exchange important data.
The current Berty Messenger implementation is using the Berty Protocol. Which means the encryption is safe and it's a P2P app! Berty Messenger has not been hardened yet so avoid using it on devices with weak sandboxes. If you're trying to roll your own app based on the protocol, beware that the app layer protocols used by Berty Messenger might change in the future.
The current Berty Protocol is partially implemented. The API will certainly change in a near future, so be prepared to have breaking changes if you start using it right now.
We will open betas for the different packages and apps soon, so anyone will be able to give it a try even without the coding skills. Subscribe to our newsletter if you want to be notified.
Note: this is an ongoing work. The repos are being opened progressively, and there will be more changes and updates.
Under the hood
A generic SDK that allows developers to write P2P applications. It contains everything needed (encryption, identities, network routing, group management, account management, device management, application lifecycle) so you can just focus on the high-level features of your app.
The main concept of the Berty Protocol is the "group", a virtual place where multiple devices can share messages and metadata using OrbitDB, which itself relies on IPFS.
git clone https://github.com/berty/berty
A messenger application written in React Native, that uses the Berty Protocol using gomobile-ipfs, which, in its turn, is using gomobile.
Main items in the repo
• ./go: Where all the Golang code belongs.
• ./go/pkg/bertyprotocol: Berty Protocol Golang SDK to create secure and autonomous groups using IPFS.
• ./go/framework/bertybridge: gomobile entrypoint.
• ./go/cmd/berty: Main Berty CLI, containing:
• berty daemon: Runs the whole Berty Protocol instance.
• berty mini: Simple CLI messenger app using Berty Protocol.
• ./go/cmd/rdvp: A Rendez-Vous Point server.
• ./go/cmd/betabot: An onboarding bot used during the beta phase.
• ./go/cmd/testbot: A bot used by integration tests and developers.
• The Berty Messenger application, written in React Native.
• ./docs: Mostly auto-generated documentation.
We want to contribute to the world of free, secure communication without fear of censorship and surveillance.
Open source is more secure, since anyone can examine the code, improve it and maintain it. Our ultimate goal is to completely lose control of Berty and have it evolve as a global community project.
AT&T Eats a $15.5 Billion Impairment Charge as DirecTV Debacle Continues
AT&T lost 617,000 Premium TV customers in Q4 and 3 million in the calendar year.
AT&T lost 617,000 customers from DirecTV and its other TV businesses in the final quarter of 2020, capping a year in which it lost nearly 3 million customers in the category, AT&T reported today.
AT&T today also informed the Securities and Exchange Commission that it has taken "noncash impairment charges of $15.5 billion" related to its ongoing DirecTV debacle. AT&T said the $15.5 billion charges reflect "changes in our management strategy and our evaluation of the domestic video business... including our decision to operate our video business separately from our broadband and legacy telephony operations." This operational decision "required us to identify a separate Video reporting unit and to assess both the recoverability of its long-lived assets and any assigned goodwill for impairment," AT&T said.
AT&T said it also logged "charges of approximately $780 million from the impairment of production and other content inventory at WarnerMedia, with $520 million resulting from the continued shutdown of theaters during the pandemic and the hybrid distribution model for our 2021 film slate."
The charges were added to AT&T's Q4 expenses. As a result, AT&T reported a $13.9 billion net loss in the quarter, compared to a net profit of $2.4 billion a year ago. Q4 revenue was $45.7 billion, down from $46.8 billion year over year. The Q4 net loss swung AT&T to a full-year net loss of $5.4 billion.
"Executives called the non-cash accounting charge a sign of the pay-TV unit's aging status as the Dallas company promotes an Internet-streaming model that gives its content-production business a direct line to viewers," The Wall Street Journal wrote today.
"Our biggest and single most important bet is HBO Max," AT&T CEO John Stankey said.
Premium TV customers flee in droves
AT&T is down to 16.5 million customers in the Premium TV category that includes DirecTV satellite, U-verse wireline video, and the newer AT&T TV online service. That's down from 17.1 million three months earlier and down from 19.5 million since the beginning of 2020.
AT&T has strung together several years of big TV-customer losses since early 2017, when it had over 25 million users in the category. The loss of nearly 3 million customers in 2020 was an improvement over 2019, when AT&T lost 3.4 million Premium TV customers in the calendar year.
These numbers do not include the streaming service formerly known as DirecTV Now, which AT&T just killed off this month. The service dropped from 1.86 million subscribers in Q3 2018 to 656,000 by year-end 2020. Existing customers can keep that service, but AT&T isn't offering it to new users.
DirecTV and U-verse customers have been driven away by years of price increases and AT&T's reduced use of promotional offers. This is reflected in AT&T's average revenue per user (ARPU) in the Premium TV category, which jumped from $121.76 per month at year-end 2018 to $131 at year-end 2019 and $137.64 at the end of 2020.
AT&T attributed the 617,000-customer loss in Q4 to "competition, lower gross adds from the continued focus on adding higher value customers and a programming dispute, partially offset by lower churn."
Video revenue down 11.2 percent
AT&T reported video revenue of $7.2 billion in Q4 2020, "down 11.2 percent year over year due to declines in premium and [online] subscribers, partially offset by higher premium TV ARPU and higher advertising revenues during the general election." Operating expenses in the category were $7.1 billion, leaving AT&T with a profit of $98 million.
AT&T doesn't report individual numbers for DirecTV, U-verse TV, and AT&T TV. But the company said gains in AT&T TV streaming subscribers last quarter helped offset losses in DirecTV and U-verse, meaning that DirecTV and U-verse together lost more than the 617,000 net-customer loss in the
Premium TV category.
AT&T said it is encouraged by the progress of HBO Max, which costs $15 a month on its own but is also included in various bundles. "The release of Wonder Woman 1984 helped drive our domestic HBO Max and HBO subscribers to more than 41 million, a full two years faster than our initial forecast," Stankey said.
Selling DirecTV at a loss
AT&T bought DirecTV for $49 billion in 2015 but has been trying to sell the beleaguered satellite division for the past few months. AT&T is reportedly close to a deal to sell a stake in DirecTV to TPG, a private-equity firm, but AT&T may maintain majority ownership of the company. Bids for DirecTV have reportedly valued the subsidiary at about $15 billion.
Fiber gains, DSL losses
AT&T's broadband-subscriber base remained steady at 14.1 million in the quarter. The company boosted fiber-to-the-premises subscribers from 4.68 million to 4.95 million in Q4 2020, but it dropped from 8.98 million to 8.74 million in fiber-to-the-node and from 440,000 to 407,000 in its outdated DSL service. AT&T stopped accepting new DSL customers in October 2020.
AT&T said its Q4 broadband revenue was "$3.1 billion, down 1.4 percent year over year due to declines in legacy services partially offset by higher IP broadband ARPU resulting from an increase in high-speed fiber customers and pricing actions." Operating expenses were $2.8 billion.
Cable ISP Warns “Excessive” Uploaders, Says Network Can’t Handle Heavy Usage
Mediacom says heavy uploaders harm network even if they don't exceed data cap.
Mediacom, a cable company with about 1.4 million Internet customers across 22 states, is telling heavy uploaders to reduce their data usage—even when those users are well below their monthly data caps.
Mediacom's fastest Internet plan offers gigabit download speeds and 50Mbps upload speeds with a monthly data cap of 6TB. But as Stop the Cap wrote in a detailed report on Wednesday, the ISP is "reach[ing] out to a growing number of its heavy uploaders and telling them to reduce usage or face a speed throttle or the possible closure of their account." Mediacom told Ars that it is contacting heavy uploaders "more frequently than before" because of increased usage triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The company said that heavy uploaders "may be under their total bandwidth usage allowance but still have a negative impact on Mediacom’s network."
Mediacom's terms and conditions say the company charges $10 fees for each additional block of 50GB used by customers who exceed the data cap. But users may be warned about their usage long before they risk overage fees. One user in East Moline, Illinois, who described the predicament on a DSLReports forum in early January, said they paid for the 6TB plan "to make sure we wouldn't go over the cap" and had never used more than 4TB. The user wrote:
So, got a call from the Mediacom fraud and abuse department today. The rep told me they were calling customers that have "higher than average" bandwidth usage as they are having network issues. I hurried up and checked my account and only used a bit over 2.5TB last month. He told me my upload was 450GB over their average and if I didn't reduce my usage they would either throttle or disconnect me. I argued that I used less than half of the total data allowed by my plan, but he said my 1.2TB of upload was too much and that this was my warning.
Another gigabit user in Missouri named Cory told Stop the Cap that the 6TB monthly cap "is way more than I will ever use, but I still received a warning letter claiming I was uploading too much. I discovered I used about 900GB over the last two months, setting up a cloud backup of my computer. At most I can send files at around 50Mbps, which they claim is interfering with other customers in my neighborhood. I don't understand."
Too much usage in “Mediacom’s sole opinion”
Letters sent by Mediacom to heavy uploaders said, "your account's usage is greater than 99.5 percent of all Service customers. Due to your excessive use, you are negatively impacting Mediacom's network and other users of the Service."
The letter goes on to say that it's a "violation" of Mediacom's acceptable use policy to "use excessive bandwidth, whether upstream or downstream, that in Mediacom's sole opinion, places an unusually large burden on the network or goes over normal usage. Mediacom has the right to impose limits on excessive bandwidth consumption via any means available to Mediacom."
Mediacom provided slightly more detail to the Federal Communications Commission in response to customer complaints. A Mediacom letter to the FCC said the company's "network is built to allow for more downstream usage than upstream usage." Mediacom's letter to the FCC also described the data cap as "a large conduit with a smaller conduit within it... Due to historical trends, the smaller conduit allows for upstream usage while the remainder of the conduit is reserved for downstream usage." Heavy upload use can stress that "smaller conduit," meaning that customers "can be under the total data usage allowance but still be negatively impacting the network."
Mediacom blames pandemic
Even without the overall data caps, Mediacom's Internet plans have built-in limits on uploading. While the gigabit-download plan limits uploads to 50Mbps, the 60Mbps-download plan limits uploads to just 5Mbps and the 100Mbps-download plan limits uploads to 10Mbps. The 60/5Mbps plan has a 200GB monthly cap, and the 100/10Mbps plan has a 1TB cap.
We asked Mediacom why it hasn't upgraded its network enough to fully support the upload speeds and data allotments that its customers pay for, but we didn't receive an answer. New versions of the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS), which have been heavily hyped by the cable industry, can support symmetrical download and upload speeds of 10Gbps. Even an earlier version of the DOCSIS 3.1 standard that's now widely deployed theoretically allows 10Gbps downloads and 1Gbps upload speeds. But the cable industry has been slow to raise upload speeds.
When contacted by Ars, Mediacom pointed to cable-industry statistics showing 31.8 percent growth in downstream traffic and 51.1 percent growth in upstream traffic since the pandemic ramped up in March 2020. Mediacom spokesperson Thomas Larsen also told us:
Given the surge in traffic during the pandemic, we have been reaching out to the customers who fall into the top 0.5 percent of upstream users more frequently than before. This is not the easiest topic to explain because Internet usage is growing rapidly in this work from home/study from home environment, so it is difficult to give an exact number that puts a customer into the 0.5 percent category because that number changes from month to month.
Ideally, we can help the customer identify the cause of the upstream overutilization issue and help them take steps to manage it. We can offer business class services that are designed to support greater upload capacity, but that's really not the point of this exercise.
Mediacom also contacts heavy download users "when their usage negatively impacts" other customers, Larsen said. "Since our network is engineered to be able to handle significantly more downstream traffic, this happens less frequently."
As for whether customers who don't lower their usage will face throttling or account terminations, Larsen said, "use that causes a negative impact on Mediacom's network is prohibited and Mediacom may implement necessary network programs to address such use or suspend or terminate the service."
Switching ISPs “not an option”
Mediacom's handling of uploaders is reminiscent of steps taken by Cox Communications earlier in the pandemic. Cox imposed neighborhood-wide slowdowns in some cases, reducing the gigabit-download plan's upload speeds from 35Mbps to 10Mbps. Mediacom doesn't appear to have done anything that drastic, but telling users to reduce their upload usage when they haven't even come close to hitting their data caps is frustrating for customers.
"If there were any other Internet options other than horribly slow AT&T DSL, with a small data cap, I would switch in a heartbeat," the Mediacom customer in Illinois who posted on the DSLReports forum wrote. "Unfortunately with my job and working from home, going without usable Internet is not an option."
State Reps Try to Ban Comcast Data Cap and Price Hikes Until Pandemic is Over
Massachusetts bill would halt data caps, price hikes, new fees, and ISP shutoffs.
In response to Comcast imposing a data cap on Massachusetts residents, state lawmakers have proposed a ban on data caps, new fees, and price increases on home-Internet services for the duration of the pandemic.
The legislation was filed on Tuesday this week by Democratic state representatives Andy Vargas and Dave Rogers. Vargas called the bill a "response to Comcast Internet data cap plans," while Rogers said the goal is "to push back at Comcast and any other service providers who try to raise prices or fees during a pandemic." Verizon FiOS and RCN also provide Internet service in Massachusetts but do not impose data caps.
Vargas and Rogers previously led a group of 71 Massachusetts lawmakers who urged Comcast to halt enforcement of its 1.2TB monthly data cap, arguing that the cap hurts low-income people and is unnecessary because of Comcast's robust network capacity. While Comcast already enforced the data cap in 27 states for several years, the cable company brought the cap to the rest of its territory—an additional 12 states including Massachusetts and the District of Columbia—this month. Comcast is easing-in enforcement so that the first overage charges for newly capped customers will be assessed for data usage in the April 2021 billing period.
The Massachusetts House has a 128-30 Democratic majority. Besides Vargas and Rogers, the bill so far has 21 cosponsors, most of whom just signed on today. We contacted Comcast about the bill today and will update this article if we get a response.
No caps, price hikes, or Internet shutoffs
The bill proposes "an emergency law, necessary for the immediate preservation of the public convenience." It would remain in effect "for the duration" of the COVID-19 state of emergency that was declared by Governor Charlie Baker in March 2020 and for at least 60 days after the state of emergency is declared to be ended.
If passed, ISPs would not be allowed to "impose new data caps or allowances onto their subscribers." The bill would also impose "a moratorium on any pre-existing data caps or allowances" that were already imposed by ISPs.
Moreover, ISPs would not be allowed to "increase the cost" of Internet plans, "levy any new fees or charges" related to broadband service, or "shut off Broadband Internet Access Service or services for subscribers that are unable to pay overdue bill[s] due to financial hardship caused by the COVID-19 emergency."
The bill would also repeal a Massachusetts law that prohibits state or municipal regulation of the "rates, terms or conditions of VoIP Service or IP enabled service." The bill doesn't take any further action on VoIP offerings such as the phone services provided by cable companies and other ISPs, though.
The bill's prohibitions on data caps, price increases, new fees, and shutoffs would affect home-Internet services and mass-market retail plans available to business customers. The bill would not affect cellular or mobile Internet services, with one exception: the bill would apply to "hotspots provided to students for educational purposes."
The proposal to ban Internet shutoffs is similar to a provision in the "Keep Americans Connected Pledge" announced in March 2020 by then-Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai. But with Pai having deregulated the broadband industry earlier in his term, the pledge was entirely voluntary for ISPs and expired at the end of June. Separately, Democrats in Congress proposed a law to ban Internet shutoffs until the pandemic is over, but it didn't pass.
While the proposed Massachusetts emergency law would automatically expire 60 days after the state of emergency is declared to be over, it would also give the governor the option to extend the provisions "for a maximum of 180 days after the termination of the governor's March 10, 2020 declaration of a state of emergency."
‘Meme Stock’ Rally Rescues AMC Theaters from $600M Debt
This week’s bizarre “meme stock” rally, which has delivered lottery-like windfalls for holders of GameStop stock, also wiped out $600 million in debt owed by the AMC theater chain.
That’s because, on Wednesday, a private equity firm named Silver Lake — and private equity firms are popularly considered the “bad guys” in this snobs-versus-slobs drama — elected to convert the corporate bonds it held into AMC Entertainment Holdings stock. Although the theater chain’s stock price has tumbled and soared since the move, the debt relief is permanent.
Just Monday, AMC was warning investors that “there is substantial doubt about our ability to continue as a going concern.” The reason is obvious: the COVID-19 pandemic has savaged the movie theater business, and the broader stimulus, payroll, and recovery actions by the U.S. government have done little to prop it up.
Wiping out more than half-a-billion dollars in debt, though, should take a lot of pressure off AMC in the short term. “A week ago, it was not crazy to think this company was doomed,” Bloomberg’s Matt Levine wrote on Thursday. “Now it is entirely possible that it will survive and thrive and show movies in movie theaters for decades to come because everyone went nuts and bought meme stocks this week.”
As of this weekend, AMC was third on a list of U.S. stocks being short-sold the most; Redditors in the r/WallStreetBets subreddit, and elsewhere, have piled into these shorted stocks because, essentially, institutional investors are betting the companies will fail and their share prices will go down. The collective action of Reddit’s day-traders (“retail investors,” as the industry calls them) has driven some share prices up, with GameStop’s headline-making rally leading the charge.
Yet, by converting their AMC debt holding to AMC stock, the Silver Lake equity firm has gotten hurt by a falling stock price, too. The conversion price for the bonds Silver Lake held was $13.51; Silver Lake cashed in on Wednesday, when AMC’s shares ended the day at $19.90, more than 400% better than the day before. Smart move, right?
Well, AMC’s share price at publication time Friday was about $15 — but it closed Thursday at $8.63. So, unless Silver Lake found some other sucker to buy the stock before it bottomed out, they’ve been riding a roller coaster that at best has them about 5% to 7% ahead of their original position, with no guarantee of staying there.
“I don’t really know what those convertible holders were thinking but there you go,” Levine wrote. “Maybe they were thinking, ‘Wow, Redditors really want to buy this stock, we’d better get some stock to sell them.’”
GameStop’s stock price was $19.95 on Jan. 12 when Reddit’s disruption-minded investors made their move. It closed at $193.60 on Thursday after eclipsing $400 that morning, the first major drop for the stock since the feeding frenzy began. GME, at publication time, is still $348.
The company on Thursday issued its first public comments since its stock became front-page news all over the world. GameStop’s statement, however, concerned the 100 score it received from the Human Rights Campaign for its LGBTQ workplace equality practices. The company avoided talking about its stock altogether, even though its market capitalization is (on paper, of course) now $24.2 billion.
Analysts are assuming that the hype for GameStop, AMC, and other stocks will cool off as short-sellers either give up, are no longer forced into buying the stock to cover their losses, or U.S. regulators finally intervene. The Biden administration on Wednesday said Treasury secretary Janet Yellen and her economic advisors were monitoring the situation.
The mobile trading app Robinhood on Thursday suspended or restricted trading in GameStop, AMC and other stocks in response to the mania, a move that drew condemnation from lawmakers as disparate as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
The GameStop Reckoning Was a Long Time Coming
This week, gleeful online hordes turned the stock market upside down. This shouldn’t come as a surprise.
This week, the biggest story in the financial markets is the absurdist, pretty-sure-I-hallucinated-it drama involving GameStop, a struggling video-game retailer that became the rope in a high-stakes tug of war between Wall Street suits and a crusading internet mob.
The simplest explanation for what happened is that a bunch of hyper-online mischief-makers in Reddit’s r/WallStreetBets forum — a clan of self-described degenerates with user names like “dumbledoreRothIRA” and “Coldcutcombo69” — decided it would be funny and righteous (and maybe even profitable, though that part was less important) to execute a “short squeeze” by pushing up the price of GameStop’s stock, entrapping the big-money hedge funds that had bet against it.
The strategy worked. Within two days, GameStop was the most heavily traded stock in the world, Elon Musk and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez got behind the revolt, and r/WallStreetBets users were posting screenshots of their suddenly inflated account balances. The scheme’s originator, whose Reddit user name is unprintable in a family paper, claims to have turned an initial investment of $50,000 into a windfall of more than $40 million. One of the hedge funds that had shorted GameStop’s stock, Melvin Capital, had to get a $2.75 billion bailout from two other investors after it was hammered with huge losses.
Depending on whom you ask, the GameStop saga is either a cautionary story about a bunch of reckless nerds destabilizing the stock market for laughs in a way that is likely to backfire on them spectacularly, or a David-and-Goliath morality tale about a fearless band of retail investors cleverly putting one over on corrupt financial elites. (The truth is somewhere in the middle. There really is a “revenge of the nerds” angle here, but there are also plenty of rich investors cashing in on GameStop alongside the line cooks and high school students.)
In any reading, the most unusual thing about Wall Street’s being challenged by a rowdy band of Redditors is that it took so long to happen. This kind of populist revolt — internet-based insurgents gleefully pulling down the pants of the unsuspecting establishment — has been happening for years, to many powerful institutions.
In fact, it’s harder to think of a pillar of the global establishment that hasn’t been trampled by a similar stampede in recent years. Book publishers, movie studios, restaurant chains — all of them have, in some way, been forced to cede power to their online critics. Our politics, too, have been transformed by internet activists, with TikTok teens disrupting presidential rallies and Twitch-streaming memelords storming the Capitol.
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No matter what their goals are — moving a stock, overturning a presidential election, getting the graphics on a Sonic the Hedgehog movie changed — these internet-based insurgencies tend to follow a similar pattern. One day, a group decides to take action against a system it feels is immoral or corrupt. Members identify structural weak points (a vulnerable political party, a risk-averse studio head, an overexposed short position) and figure out creative ways to exploit them, using social media for leverage and visibility. With enough highly motivated people pushing in the same direction, they eventually prevail, or get enough attention that it feels like they did.
These online crusades can be waged in good faith or in bad faith, and some can become deeply destructive. (The classic example of a bad-faith battle is Gamergate, a 2014 culture war that started as a feud over video game journalism but morphed into a toxic campaign of violent misogyny and racism that paved the way for the alt-right.) But the best ones can jolt the status quo in useful ways: exposing injustice, challenging outdated norms or merely putting indolent gatekeepers on notice.
Wall Street was among the last powerful institutions to be overrun by online populists, in part because it had a higher barrier to entry. Anyone with an internet connection and a Twitter account can start a hashtag campaign, but because trading stocks costs money — and required some level of expertise and time commitment — it was mostly left to professionals.
Smartphone-based trading apps like Robinhood changed that, by introducing commission-free trades and an interface that made executing a gamma squeeze as straightforward as ordering a burrito from Uber Eats. Suddenly, millions of amateurs could organize themselves, generate their own market research and investment theses, drum up excitement in Reddit threads and TikTok videos, and enter the casino with the big boys. (Whether storming the high-roller tables has helped them financially is another question entirely.)
Plenty of reporting on the GameStop saga has captured the jokey, profane enthusiasm of the traders, and the stunned disbelief of their Wall Street antagonists. But there’s an economic justice angle that is easy to miss. On r/WallStreetBets, you’ll find impassioned essays from traders who say betting on GameStop has made them feel newly empowered in a financial system that has only taken advantage of them and their families for years.
“Greed is absolutely out of control at the top, and this funny little news story is tangible proof of that,” wrote one user in a popular post on Wednesday. “Do not let them gaslight you into thinking that it’s wrong for you to get a slightly larger sliver of the pie.”
If you can get past the all-caps lunacy and strange inside jargon, the Redditors make some good points. Big banks and hedge funds really do play by different rules than retail investors. Wall Street banks really did get bailed out after the 2008 financial crisis while Main Street homeowners suffered. M.B.A.s in fancy suits are probably no more likely to give you good investing advice than guys on YouTube with names like “RoaringKitty.”
While watching the GameStop drama, I’ve been reflecting on what the author Martin Gurri calls “the revolt of the public.” Mr. Gurri writes that the internet has empowered ordinary citizens by giving them new information and tools, which they then use to discover the flaws in the systems and institutions that govern their lives. Once they’ve discovered these shortcomings, he writes, these citizens often rebel, tearing down elites and dominant institutions out of anger at having been lied to and withheld from.
The result, Mr. Gurri writes, is a kind of vengeful nihilism, an urge to burn down the establishment without a clear sense of what’s supposed to replace it.
To me, that sounds a lot like GameStop. Retail investors, armed with new kinds of tools and information that allow them to compete on equal footing with professionals, are looking at the Masters of the Universe and going: Really? Those guys run the market?
In other words, this is not just a speculative bubble or a stupid prank. It’s an authority crisis. And even if GameStop stock crashes or regulators step in and call off the party, these disillusioned day traders will keep trying to create chaos for the elites they feel have spent decades profiting at their expense.
The rebels may not win in the long run. Institutional power has a way of reasserting itself after sudden shocks. Eventually, the National Guard arrives, the studio head gets a backbone and the regulators show up. Already, we are seeing the GameStop brigade running up against the limits of its power. On Wednesday, Discord — a chat app that Reddit day traders had turned into their virtual casino floor — banned the Wall Street Bets server, citing violations of its hate-speech policy. On Thursday, Robinhood — an app whose entire public brand consists of “stand with the little guy” messaging — blocked users from buying shares in GameStop and several other stocks that the r/WallStreetBets crowd had targeted.
But for the Reddit day traders, the important victory was always the symbolic one. They might lose their shirts, but they’ve sent the message that with enough passion and rocket-ship emojis, a crowd of profane, irreverent degenerates — again, their words, not mine — can turn the stock market on its head.
The hordes are here, and Wall Street will never be the same.
Until next week,
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