We’re Not Neutral on Net Neutrality

The intended repeal of net neutrality by the FCC will affect all of us. We’re likely to see the first changes as they affect the cost and availability of streamed programming and premium content; less is likely to cost more. We don’t know, yet, how it will affect search engines and your ability to find local businesses or anything else on the internet.

 Let’s start with a quick review of the history of the internet. It began as a level playing field for exchanging information worldwide, and it led to a communications revolution. It mightily disrupted the communications industry’s business models in every way imaginable.

Telephone calls, for example, are free or cost just pennies per minute to almost anywhere in the world. We can even make video calls for free. The internet, in this case, took away a revenue stream from traditional telephone carriers – and added a business capability for the cable TV industry.

Telephone service – or voice communication – became essentially a throw-in for telephone carriers and cable providers. Even if they were restricted in some markets in certain ways, at least one of each plus a satellite carrier could compete for your business. That led to service tiers and bundles of programming that customers were likely to buy.

Cable or satellite TV, in turn, was impacted by the internet. You don’t need a cable connection – or a satellite dish – to get all manner of visual content: TV shows, movies, etc. All you had to do was buy and install a good Wi-Fi system in your home and pay for fast enough internet service, and you could pick and choose what you wanted to watch.

This setup, which has continued until now, has allowed a number of smaller, innovative companies to get into the content business, either as producers or carriers. Companies that have innovated in some way, shape or form have become big-time players in the internet. Google, Amazon, Netflix, Microsoft and the like are relatively new companies that grew rapidly by exploiting technology.

But those companies are not ISPs (Internet Service Providers). The ISP business is essentially comprised of telephone and cable carriers, and that business has been commoditized. How many of us have switched ISPs at the drop of a hat to save a few bucks on basic services or add new features for very little additional cost? How many of us have simply dropped cable or satellite TV?

One of the factors that has contributed to our freedom of choice is Net Neutrality. Simply put, it is a governmental regulation that prohibits any ISP from blocking or slowing down virtually any content from virtually any provider. If you pay for 300-mbs internet service or 1-gigabit service, you can get it at that speed because the ISP can’t block it or slow it down.

That’s different from most cable or satellite TV services. Ever since their inception, they have sold blocks of programming in tiers. The more programming you want, the more you pay. If you want to pay less, you sacrifice choice – or you choose not to get high-definition service. That was OK because with Net Neutrality, you could get programming over the internet, and you could price your service more selectively.

The removal of Net Neutrality means that your internet service will now be bundled like cable/satellite TV programming. You want to stream Netflix or Amazon programming? There could be a premium charge for that. You want to stream sports or news programming? Your ISP can negotiate with the program providers to determine which ones they’ll carry and at what data speeds. No matter how it happens, your cost is likely to go up.

And there’s more. What about your favorite search engine? Why has Google fought so hard to become the dominant search engine? Why does Facebook keep trying to expand its user base? You know why: they can get more advertising dollars. Who doesn’t get any benefit from that now? Your ISP.

With the removal of Net Neutrality, search engines will need to strike deals with ISPs just like programmers have had to do, and then you’ll have to decide on an ISP based on a search engine you might want – as well as what websites you might want to access. Or, will some carriers show preferences for certain businesses? What’s to prevent one from favoring a shopping site over others in return for a higher access fee? What’s to prevent a consumer products company from being priced out of a website presence by bigger, well-financed conglomerates?

All of the innovation that we’ve seen? It’s going to be harder and harder for startups to get a foothold. We think the end of Net Neutrality will lead to higher prices and fewer choices for anything that we’ve become accustomed to finding on the internet. At least that will be the case until something new comes along. You can bet somebody’s hard at work developing the next alternative.

In the meantime, you can count on us to help you navigate the new world of the internet. We can help you select and install the networking equipment you’ll need to be compatible with your ISP and/or TV provider and make sure all interfaces and security systems function properly. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us with any questions you have as Net Neutrality events unfold.

New Browser War

Mozilla just launched Quantum, the fastest and most feature-laden version of its Firefox browser. Will it be the shot heard ‘round the internet? We think it’s overtaken Chrome and that it’s way ahead of Edge, which Microsoft launched to replace Internet Explorer.

When it was introduced in 2004, Firefox, an open-source darling, shot ahead of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, but its star faded with the development of Google’s Chrome. By the time it launched Quantum, also known as Firefox 57, Mozilla saw its user base at 6 percent of the browser market. Chrome, which was my browser of choice, had 55 percent of the market, and Safari had 15 percent. In the desktop market, Chrome has had a 64 to 15 percent market advantage over Firefox. Clearly, Mozilla had to make some big changes.

The name Quantum may come from the quantum leap the browser made in speed. The 57th iteration of Firefox is reportedly twice as fast as Firefox 52. Mozilla claims it uses 30 percent less memory than Chrome, which will enable you to run other programs or apps faster on your computer, and it claims to have better privacy features than Chrome. Its new Tracking Protection is a default operation that blocks extensive requests for online user tracking and reportedly reduces the average page loading time by 44 percent.

The new browser supports WebVR, which enables websites to take full advantage of VR headsets, and Mozilla’s Pocket service is now more integrated in the browser and displays trending articles on the new tab page. Last but not least, for those of you who didn’t like being locked into Yahoo as the default search engine for Firefox, you get several choices after entering your search topic.

One drawback might be the loss of add-ons from the old Firefox engine. They allow a lot of customization. Most of the top extensions have been updated, but if you need to retain some of them, you could try Firefox ESR, which will give you the add-ons but at a slower speed. In the meantime, you get plenty of extension, theme and toolbar options to customize it.

Since I’ve installed it, I think Quantum – or Firefox 57 – will give Chrome a run for its money. Firefox says it will have several tweaks over the next year to make the browser even faster. If you want to check it out, download it directly from Mozilla.

If you have questions about Quantum/Firefox 57, call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us for help. We think you’re going to like it.

Automotive Electronics Systems are Flat Tires

In an article about the reliability of automotive brands, in-car electronics systems took the big hits for some big brands. Surprising? Not at all.

We’re putting a lot of pressure on electronics, and they, in turn, are putting pressure on our cars’ batteries and our overall perception of how well our cars are working. Batteries are becoming the most-replaced part in our cars, and it’s no wonder. With all the power accessories we depend on, such as our infotainment systems and power seats, and the increasing replacement of mechanical systems with electrical and electronic systems, we put a lot of strain on our batteries. That’s something those of us in the Northeast might want to note as we head into winter.

Strong batteries, however, won’t solve some inherent problems that I’ve noticed. Our electronic infotainment systems are slow to integrate with other systems, everything from climate control to navigation, radios and Bluetooth connections for phones or music playlists. When we’re driving and depending on our navigation system and the defroster, for example, we need speedy integration. We can’t afford to take our eyes off the road for more than a split second. We also can’t afford a glitch in the performance of either function. When a turn comes up in heavy traffic, we need to be in position to make the turn safely. And, at the same time, we need to be able to see where we’re going. If our system is slow, we get distracted from our driving, and that could cause an accident.

Distraction seems to be a major problem from reports we’ve seen. The big areas of concern are the size of the screens themselves and how the systems integrate with Apple CarPlay (which I have in my Volvo) and Android Auto. Some drivers can’t always be sure whether they’re using their phone’s system or their car’s. That confusion can be a distraction, especially if your car and your phone have you plugged into different navigation systems – and one of them may not be sending you where you want to go.

We should briefly note, too, that some in-car systems are compatible only with Apple or Android systems or can favor one system over the other. That’s something you should know when you set up your car system, your phone or both. For example, we love Waze, but it’s not available through CarPlay. Google Maps has some features that are not available on Apple Maps, and that reflects a larger problem of your car’s system telling you which apps you can or cannot use.

Just to note, there are some current topics related to in-car systems. First, Bluetooth is still an issue when setting it up in older cars or to work as an installed capability with Apple or Android systems. Second, Lexus has decided to develop its own in-car systems. They may or may not work with Apple and Android systems, but the cars will have apps that tie in with your mobile devices, giving you some control or monitoring the car and its operations while you’re not there. A few comments about kids and valet parking come to mind for that.

The other distraction is the visual distraction, and that has two parts.

Some displays are just too big, and one that comes to mind right away is Tesla’s 17-inch touchscreen. That’s bigger than many laptop computers, and there are two problems. First, it’s large area to scan when you need to change something, and that can take more of your attention when you’re driving. This may be less a consideration for a driverless car, but today, you need to drive. It also creates a large reflection or a large bright light that can be a distraction.

The flipside is that a smaller screen can take you too long to pinpoint the place you need to touch for the action you require. That can take up more of your attention, too, and lead to an accident.

Some systems don’t have a screen layout that may be good for you. And while you can overcome some of that by locking the locations of some functions in your memory, the pressure of all the decisions you need to make while driving may negate that.

With all their current problems or shortcomings, in-car electronics will play bigger roles in your car and how you drive – or don’t drive it. Many of the things we see, such as warnings, automatic braking and stopping systems, navigation and self-parking are precursors of automated or driverless cars.

But while we’re still in the present, we can help you set up and integrate Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and your mobile devices and apps in new or older cars. There are lots of set-up options, and we can help your sort them through and make sure your setup is what you need. Call us -973-433-6676 – or email us to talk about it.