New York Governor proposes localised net neutrality rules

New York state will join the likes of Washington and California in creating localised net neutrality rules.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the new rules to follow-up an executive order from 2018 which prevented Government agencies from entering into contracts with telco and technology companies unless they followed net neutrality principles. While the complications of contradictory state- and federal-level rules have not been fully appreciated, New York joins the crowd in ignoring the FCC.

“A free and open internet is one of the great equalizers — allowing every person the same access to information and helping protect freedom of speech,” said Cuomo.

“While the federal administration works to undermine this asset, in New York we are advancing the strongest net neutrality proposal in the nation so big corporations can’t control what information we access or stymie smaller competitors. These protections will help ensure an open market for ideas and content across platforms and preserve the unimpeded access to online content the public wants and needs.”

As part of the rules, telcos will be prevented from any blocking, throttling or paid prioritization of online content, while ‘zero-rating’ products will also be deemed illegal. Cuomo believes these rules exceed the levels of protection which were offered to the consumer under the net neutrality rules put in place by former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

Although the net neutrality rules were officially undone by a Republican-controlled FCC on December 14, 2017, New York now becomes the fourth state to create its own rules. Washington State was the first, though California and Maine have followed suit. The next Presidential Election will dictate the next chapter of this story, though the current position is not healthy.

What is slowly emerging across the US is a fragmented regulatory landscape. This is not only because of the polar opposite approach in New York, California, Maine and Washington State compared to the FCC’s stance, but also the nuances between the different net neutrality regulations. None will be exactly the same creating a patchwork of legislative complications. Companies like consistency, and this is anything but consistent.

Net neutrality argument reappears with another court appeal

A coalition of consumer interest groups are attempting to reinvigorate the dying embers of the net neutrality debate with a petition filed with US courts.

Filed in US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the very same court which turned down the original appeal in October, the petition has asked the judges to reconsider their decision. The petition suggests the ruling from the October appeal conflicts with the decisions and precedent set by these judges and the Supreme Court in previous competition cases.

“The court unfortunately got it wrong when it upheld the FCC’s decision to arbitrarily side-line itself from protecting consumers’ internet access,” said Ed Black, President of the Computer & Communication Industry Association (CCIA).

“Open access is important for all internet users, and for businesses it supports more competition and innovation by putting the next start-up on equal ground with bigger businesses. With so many politicians calling for more competition and better enforcement, it would be a shame to miss an opportunity to uphold open internet rules which have supported competition.”

Alongside the CCIA, the petition has been filed by the Public Knowledge, Free Press, the Center for Democracy and Technology, New America’s Open Technology Institute and the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society.

Despite numerous challenges from consumer interest groups and Attorney Generals, the net neutrality debate did look to have come to a conclusion. After years of friction, the DC Court of Appeals confirmed in October that the FCC was perfectly within its rights to repeal the net neutrality rules, adding credibility to the assertion from the regulator that competition and fair access to the internet can be retained without the stringent oversight.

Interestingly enough, in the petition filed on Friday, the groups are suggesting the rules and definitions of consumer protection and competition are flawed, as opposed to criticizing the FCC’s ability to enforce them. This is a different strategy from the court proceeding which have been initiated in the past, though whether the consumer groups have enough weight behind them remains to be seen.

The previous cases against the FCC’s dismantling of net neutrality generated momentum thanks to significant support from Big Tech companies, but also from the general public. This support might have forced the hand of some politically-minded bureaucrats, but the courts backed the FCC. Renewed efforts without the previous support might struggle.

China joins the race to 6G

Days after 5G was switched on by the three telecom operators in China, the Chinese government officially launched a 6G R&D programme.

Yes, you read it right. 6G is officially on the card. Reported by the Science and Technology Daily today, the official launch meeting was hosted by the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) on 3 November, three days after the country’s three incumbent telecom operators started offering 5G commercial services. The government department oversees the country’s long-term strategy in science and technology, and also owns the newspaper.

Two organisations will be set up to drive 6G R&D in China. The 6G R&D Working Group will be composed of government representatives from different departments, and will be responsible for overall promotion and implementation of R&D in 6G. The Experts Group will include 37 scientists and technology experts from academia, research institutes, and businesses, and will be responsible for setting 6G R&D agenda and conducting technology evaluation, as well as advising on important government policies.

The government officials believed this will be a prescient programme, when 6G technology roadmaps and use scenarios are still far from having an industry-wide consensus. Such an early move will help China assume a driving role to define where the technologies are going. Some industry experts have estimated that 6G will start taking a more concrete shape from around 2030.

China is not the first country to officially start research in 6G. The Finnish government endorsed the “6Genesis” programme already last year. The programme, led by the University of Oulu in northern Finland, will run into 2016. The first 6G Wireless Summit was held in March in Levi, a ski resort in Finnish Lapland, and the world’s first 6G whitepaper, “Key drivers and research challenges for 6G ubiquitous wireless intelligence” was published in September.

Shortly before the Finns came onstage at Mobile World Congress to announce their ambitions and plans, the most high-profile advocate for 6G was President Donald Trump, who tweeted at the beginning of the year that he wanted 6G in the United States as soon as possible.

Is China’s AI industry much ado about nothing?

Investment in China’s AI companies has plummeted after hitting a high in 2017, amid inflated valuation and unfulfilled promises.

In July the research firm ABI Research released a report tracking investment in AI. China’s AI industry attracted $4.9 billion private sector investment in 2017, overtaking the US for the first time as the world’s biggest AI investment destination. Barely four months have passed when the firm published an update to show that the investment in China’s AI sector has plummeted in the first half of 2018, attracting only $1,6 billion, less than one third of the level of its biggest rival.

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A couple of factors may have contributed to the decline in the investment level. Valuation of start-ups has soared. According to Kai-Fu Lee, a former Google senior executive who nowadays runs a venture capital investing in China’s technology sector, the reasonable valuation of a typical AI start-up in China is less than half of the price level it was a year ago. This may well have put off some investors.

Another factor could be the speed of progress. “[We’re] at a juncture where the generic use cases have been addressed,” Lian Jye Su, the firm’s principle analyst spoke to the Financial Times. “And building generic general purpose chatbots is much easier than specific algorithms for industries like banking, construction, or mining because you need industry knowledge and buy-in from the industry.”

But specialised AI products are hard to come by and take a long time to develop. So, some companies chose to take a short-cut to show their progress. Natural language processing is one such competitive sector. Not too long ago a controversy arose when a simultaneous translator claimed that the company that hired him at a conference in China used a voice-to-text engine to display his translate to the conference audience, pretending the live speech was AI machine-translated. The company explained that it was using a hybrid solution.

The much hyped, and feared, “social credit” system is also moving at a slow pace. Recently a university in southern China, instead of using AI to troll internet traffic, decided to resort to the analogue way of detecting dissent: it required all students and staff to hand in their computers, mobile phones, and USB sticks to be inspected by the school authorities. It backfired badly, and the university told the media that it would “rethink” the scope of its approach.

At the end of the day it falls to the technology heavyweights rather than the start-ups to take charge. Huawei and Alibaba have both started developing their own AI chips to shore up its vertical integration capability. This will take much longer than developing a gimmicky application, hybrid or not, but will be much more specialised and more powerful, especially supported by the large amount of data the companies possess.