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    Free news sites step up pleas for consumers to disable adblocking software

    One tech expert says consumers might want to ignore those requests

    If your web browser has recently updated, or you’ve loaded some new browser extensions, you may be seeing a message when you visit certain free content sites.

    “Please support journalism by allowing ads,” one of the pop-up messages reads. 

    In the message, there is a large link that will disable the adblocker extension in your browser. There is a smaller link that will allow you to proceed to the site while continuing to block ads.

    Dominic Chorafakis, with the cybersecurity consulting firm Akouto, says adblocking extensions aren’t exactly new, but it’s possible browsers have strengthened them in recent updates.

    “Sites that rely on ad revenue, of course, don’t like this at all, and there is quite a bit of effort being put in from their side to detect when a visitor has adblocking in place and either ask them politely to disable adblocking or outright prevent them from viewing their content unless they disable it,” Chorafakis told ConsumerAffairs.

    Not all ads are harmless

    Should consumers oblige and disable their adblocker? It’s one thing to support certain websites, but it is quite another to open devices to ads that might be more than simply annoying.

    “Malicious ads are a very real thing, and the companies that are making massive profits from internet ads are not doing enough to stop hackers from posting them,” Chorafakis said. “As a result, many legitimate sites end up serving malicious ads to unsuspecting visitors.”

    Chorafakis said he makes it a point to keep adblocking enabled on his devices until he sees publishers do more to control the kinds of ads they display.

    “I would rather not see a site’s content than take the risk of being served up a malicious ad if that’s how they want to behave,” he said. “If there is something that I absolutely must see but am being prevented by blocker detection, then I will temporarily use a different browser without adblocking that I have specifically for those very rare instances.”

    Two business models

    The issue highlights a growing dichotomy of the internet. There are companies that earn their revenue from services and subscriptions and those that earn money by showing ads and collecting data. 

    Many news sites have erected a paywall that prevents consumers from reading their content unless they subscribe. Most TV stations and TV networks continue to allow viewing for free but show ads to produce revenue.

    This split in the internet burst into the open last week when Apple changed its privacy policy and Facebook angrily responded with full-page ads in newspapers denouncing the move.  

    Apple’s newly announced  iOS14 privacy changes will require app developers like Facebook to “provide information about some of your app’s data collection practices on your product page.” The change will also require Facebook to “ask users for their permission to track them across apps and websites owned by other companies.”

    In the ad, Facebook maintained that Apple’s changes will be “devastating to small businesses” that rely on its ad network to leverage clicks and sales. 

    It also highlights the internet’s divide between consumers who value privacy and are willing and able to pay for the content they view and consumers who are willing to accept some limits on privacy in exchange for free content.

    If your web browser has recently updated, or you’ve loaded some new browser extensions, you may be seeing a message when you visit certain free content sit...
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    FCC announces $9 billion 5G federal subsidy plan

    The plan is part of the agency’s effort to shrink the digital divide

    On Wednesday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that it plans to scrap its previous plan for a $4.5 billion program to provide federal support for 4G LTE support in underserved areas. Instead, the agency says it will launch a $9 billion fund to bring 5G to rural areas of the U.S. 

    FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the new fund will help carriers pay for 5G deployments in areas with “unique wireless connectivity needs,” such as farms, ranches, and other areas that tend to face difficulties in obtaining access to wireless services or the internet.

    “5G has the potential to bring many benefits to American consumers and businesses, including wireless networks that are more responsive, more secure, and up to 100 times faster than today’s 4G LTE networks,” Pai said in a statement. “We want to make sure that rural Americans enjoy these benefits, just as residents of large urban areas will.” 

    “We must ensure that 5G narrows rather than widens the digital divide and that rural Americans receive the benefits that come from wireless innovation,” Pai said. 

    The proposal also involves allocating at least $1 billion to help bolster efforts to deploy precision agriculture tools that require 5G connectivity. 

    The FCC said it plans to formally propose the new 5G fund early next year. The funding will come from its Universal Service Fund, which uses money from surcharges on telephone service and provides subsidies to schools and libraries.

    On Wednesday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that it plans to scrap its previous plan for a $4.5 billion program to provide federal...
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    The FCC says rural broadband service has improved

    But one GOP Congressman says rural America is still underserved

    The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in a draft report, says the U.S. has made great strides in closing the “digital divide” and expanding broadband internet services in rural areas of America.

    Rural counties have consistently lagged behind metro areas in the deployment of fast internet because consumers are spread out and it’s expensive to serve them. Increasing service to rural areas has been an FCC priority for nearly a decade but expansion of service has come at a slow pace.

    “We’ve been tackling this problem by removing barriers to infrastructure investment, promoting competition, and providing efficient, effective support for rural broadband expansion through our Connect America Fund,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement

    The draft report says the number of Americans who lack access to a fixed broadband connection dropped by 25 percent in one year, from 26 million to 19.4 million between 2016 and 2017.

    Minimum speed

    To be considered broadband service, an internet connection must achieve a minimum speed of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps. The report says a lot of the progress has come in rural America, where 5.6 rural consumers got faster internet over the course of 12 months.

    Earlier this month, the co-chair of the Congressional Rural Broadband Caucus released a letter he wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that urged her to include broadband spending in a potential infrastructure package.

    Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), whose district spans a wide area of rural Eastern Virginia, says President Trump’s proposal for an infrastructure bill should include funding for technology infrastructure too.

    “With that in mind, I am urging you to prioritize policies in the 116th Congress that will help promote broadband investments and bridge the digital divide between urban and rural America,” Wittman wrote in the letter.

    Virginia an underserved state

    According to Wittman, nearly 50 percent of consumers living in rural Virginia lack access to high speed internet and 29 percent don’t have any internet service at all. He says obstacles include government red tape and regulations, cost of service, and varying geographic factors.

    FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, one of two Democrats on the Commission, took issue with the draft report that reports significant progress.

    “Millions of households -- in rural and urban communities -- have no access to high-speed service,” she wrote in a tweet. “That’s a fact.”

    The five commissioners -- three Republicans and two Democrats -- will meet later to vote on whether to adopt the draft as official FCC policy.

    The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in a draft report, says the U.S. has made great strides in closing the “digital divide” and expanding broadban...
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    FCC leaders say a ‘national mission’ is needed to bring broadband to every American

    The agency’s commissioners say the initiative is facing several challenges

    Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican, and Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, aren’t on the same side regarding the net neutrality debate. However, they both agree that the lack of high-speed internet access in many rural areas is something that needs to be changed.

    More than a third of the U.S. population lags behind in connectivity, putting residents in many rural areas at a disadvantage when it comes to job creation, economic opportunity, and being connected to others in their community.

    “It really would be a game-changer for rural America if every town in this country were connected,” Pai said in an interview with CNET. “And that idea is bipartisan in nature.”

    But Pai and Rosenworcel acknowledge that financial hurdles must be overcome in order to deploy broadband in many parts of the country.

    "In big cities and urban areas where you have dense populations, the cost of deployment is lower," Rosenworcel said. "When you get to rural locations it's harder because financing those networks, deploying them and operating them is just more expensive."

    Closing the digital divide

    Rosenworcel added that the issue of financing shouldn’t prevent the dream of bringing broadband to every American from becoming a reality.

    "That's not a reason not to do it. We're just going to have to get creative and find ways to connect everyone everywhere,” she said.

    In order to achieve the goal, Pai says it might take a "national mission when it comes to broadband.” That mission would be similar in scale to what the government did when it brought electricity to rural America in the 1930s, Pai and Rosenworcel said.

    "We were able to get electrification to happen in rural, hard-to-reach parts of this nation," Rosenworcel said. "We need to be able to do the same with broadband."

    Fixing map inaccuracies

    Rosenworcel said another challenge currently being reckoned with is the issue of inaccuracies on the FCC’s current broadband map.

    "Our broadband maps are terrible," she said. "If we're going to solve this nation's broadband problems, then the first thing we have to do is fix those maps. We need to know where broadband is and is not in every corner of this country."

    To help the agency get a better idea of where broadband is needed, Pai and his administration have come up with a new process of requesting input from the public.

    "We've asked the American public, state and local officials, and carriers, consumer groups, farm groups in rural states to challenge those maps and tell us where they're inaccurate," he said. The goal, said Pai, is “to make sure with respect to wireless connectivity that we have a clear-cut idea about where those connections are and where they aren't."

    Rosenworcel wants to take the plan a step further by dispatching FCC staff from field offices to go out and check the maps. She also believes the FCC needs to go to the public for this information.

    "Every one of us knows where we get bars on our phone," she said. "We need to figure out how to crowdsource all that energy out there in the public and develop a map that isn't just made here in Washington but is made by all of us."

    Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican, and Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, aren’t on the same side regardin...
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    Human rights and internet groups sue to overturn law that is kicking sex trade offline

    The groups want to stop a crackdown on online businesses that are accused of online sex trafficking

    A coalition of advocacy groups have filed a lawsuit against the federal government and Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an attempt to stop enforcement of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), a law that won bipartisan support and the president’s signature last spring.

    While sex trafficking is already a crime, regulators who championed FOSTA claimed that their new legislation would prevent pimps from prostituting women against their will by also holding any online service that they used to commit the crime liable.

    For the first time in over two decades, entities ranging from Backpage.com, a classifieds website that is known to profit from prostitution ads, to CloudFlare, an internet content delivery network that simply counted a social networking site for sex workers among its clients, may risk criminal prosecution or lawsuits based on users’ third-party content

    (The United States government is already prosecuting Backpage on pimping and money laundering charges, but the case was brought against them before FOSTA went into effect).

    A “vaguely defined” law

    Critics who fear widespread internet censorship note that FOSTA fundamentally changed the Communications Decency Act, the law partly credited for allowing the internet to thrive. Under FOSTA, any website or online service that authorities determine to have helped “facilitate” sex trafficking could be included in a sex-trafficking sting or vulnerable to lawsuits.

    Sex workers, even those who work in legal industries like pornography, saw many of the online services that they had depended on for their safety and income disappear overnight. Community workers said that FOSTA would do little to deter prostitution and instead would send more sex workers to the streets and into unsafe situations.

    Human Rights Watch, which includes sex worker safety and internet free speech among the many issues it champions, is now included in the group suing the feds to stop what they describe as a “vaguely defined” law.

    “FOSTA says third parties can’t post content that promotes or facilitates prostitution but doesn’t define what it means by ‘promote’ or ‘facilitate,’” Human Rights Watch explains. “Fear of prosecution may prompt websites not to share our research findings, or individuals not to share our advocacy on social media.”

    Joining Human Rights Watch in their legal effort is the Woodhull Freedom Foundation -- which is another human rights’ group -- the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Internet Archive, which both promote internet freedom-of-speech issues. A sex workers’ activist, a massage therapist, and a law firm that often litigates First Amendment cases are also joining the effort. (The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the law firm are representing the plaintiffs as their attorneys but are not parties to the suit themselves).

    The lawsuit reflects “a cross-section of concerns” held by internet and free speech activists and sex workers, one community organizer told RollingStone.

    The lawsuit is asking for a preliminary injunction, which would prevent authorities from criminally prosecuting or suing online businesses under FOSTA should a judge rule in the plaintiffs’ favor.

    A coalition of advocacy groups have filed a lawsuit against the federal government and Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an attempt to stop enforcement of...
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