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Paul Merrell

Bankrolled by broadband donors, lawmakers lobby FCC on net neutrality | Ars Technica - 1 views

  • The 28 House members who lobbied the Federal Communications Commission to drop net neutrality this week have received more than twice the amount in campaign contributions from the broadband sector than the average for all House members. These lawmakers, including the top House leadership, warned the FCC that regulating broadband like a public utility "harms" providers, would be "fatal to the Internet," and could "limit economic freedom."​ According to research provided Friday by Maplight, the 28 House members received, on average, $26,832 from the "cable & satellite TV production & distribution" sector over a two-year period ending in December. According to the data, that's 2.3 times more than the House average of $11,651. What's more, one of the lawmakers who told the FCC that he had "grave concern" (PDF) about the proposed regulation took more money from that sector than any other member of the House. Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) was the top sector recipient, netting more than $109,000 over the two-year period, the Maplight data shows.
  • Dan Newman, cofounder and president of Maplight, the California research group that reveals money in politics, said the figures show that "it's hard to take seriously politicians' claims that they are acting in the public interest when their campaigns are funded by companies seeking huge financial benefits for themselves." Signing a letter to the FCC along with Walden, who chairs the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, were three other key members of the same committee: Reps. Fred Upton (R-MI), Robert Latta (R-OH), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). Over the two-year period, Upton took in $65,000, Latta took $51,000, and Blackburn took $32,500. In a letter (PDF) those representatives sent to the FCC two days before Thursday's raucous FCC net neutrality hearing, the four wrote that they had "grave concern" over the FCC's consideration of "reclassifying Internet broadband service as an old-fashioned 'Title II common carrier service.'" The letter added that a switchover "harms broadband providers, the American economy, and ultimately broadband consumers, actually doing so would be fatal to the Internet as we know it."
  • Not every one of the 28 members who publicly lobbied the FCC against net neutrality in advance of Thursday's FCC public hearing received campaign financing from the industry. One representative took no money: Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV). In all, the FCC received at least three letters from House lawmakers with 28 signatures urging caution on classifying broadband as a telecommunications service, which would open up the sector to stricter "common carrier" rules, according to letters the members made publicly available. The US has long applied common carrier status to the telephone network, providing justification for universal service obligations that guarantee affordable phone service to all Americans and other rules that promote competition and consumer choice. Some consumer advocates say that common carrier status is needed for the FCC to impose strong network neutrality rules that would force ISPs to treat all traffic equally, not degrading competing services or speeding up Web services in exchange for payment. ISPs have argued that common carrier rules would saddle them with too much regulation and would force them to spend less on network upgrades and be less innovative.
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  • Of the 28 House members signing on to the three letters, Republicans received, on average, $59,812 from the industry over the two-year period compared to $13,640 for Democrats, according to the Maplight data. Another letter (PDF) sent to the FCC this week from four top members of the House, including Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), argued in favor of cable companies: "We are writing to respectfully urge you to halt your consideration of any plan to impose antiquated regulation on the Internet, and to warn that implementation of such a plan will needlessly inhibit the creation of American private sector jobs, limit economic freedom and innovation, and threaten to derail one of our economy's most vibrant sectors," they wrote. Over the two-year period, Boehner received $75,450; Cantor got $80,800; McCarthy got $33,000; and McMorris Rodgers got $31,500.
  • The third letter (PDF) forwarded to the FCC this week was signed by 20 House members. "We respectfully urge you to consider the effect that regressing to a Title II approach might have on private companies' ability to attract capital and their continued incentives to invest and innovate, as well as the potentially negative impact on job creation that might result from any reduction in funding or investment," the letter said. Here are the 28 lawmakers who lobbied the FCC this week and their reported campaign contributions:
Paul Merrell

Utah lawmaker questions city water going to NSA - 0 views

  • SALT LAKE CITY – A Utah lawmaker concerned about government spying on its citizens is questioning whether city water service should be cut off to a massive National Security Agency data storage facility outside Salt Lake City.Republican Rep. Marc Roberts, of Santaquin, said there are serious questions about privacy and surveillance surrounding the center, and several Utah residents who spoke at a legislative committee hearing Wednesday agreed.During the last legislative session, lawmakers opted to hold off on Roberts' bill to shut off the facility's water and decided to study it during the interim."This is not a bill just about a data center. This is a bill about civil rights," web developer Joe Levi said. "This is a bill that needs to be taken up and needs to be taken seriously."Pete Ashdown, founder of Salt Lake City-based Internet provider XMission, called the center a stain upon the state and its technology industry. "I do encourage you to stand up and do something about it," he said.Lawmakers said they aren't considering shutting down $1.7 billion facility, but the committee chair acknowledged the concerns and said there might be another way to get the point across. "We may look at some type of a strong message to give our representatives to take back to Congress," said Republican Sen. David Hinkins, of Orangeville.
  • The NSA's largest data storage center in the U.S. was built in Utah over 37 other locations because of open land and cheap electricity. The center sits on a National Guard base about 25 miles south of Salt Lake City in the town of Bluffdale.NSA officials said the center is key to protecting national security networks and allowing U.S. authorities to watch for cyber threats. Beyond that, the agency has offered few details.The center attracted much discussion and concern after revelations last year that the NSA has been collecting millions of U.S. phone records and digital communications stored by major Internet providers.
  • Cybersecurity experts say the nondescript Utah facility is a giant storehouse for phone calls, emails and online records that have been secretly collected.Outside the computer storehouses are large coolers that keep the machines from overheating. The coolers use large amounts of water, which the nearby city of Bluffdale sells to the center at a discounted rate.City records released earlier this year showed monthly water use was much less than the 1 million gallons a day that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers predicted the center would need, causing some to wonder if the center was fully operational.NSA officials have refused to say if the center is up and running after its scheduled opening in October 2013 was stalled by electrical problems.City utility records showed the NSA has been making monthly minimum payments of about $30,000 to Bluffdale. The city manager said that pays for more water than the center used.The state of Nevada shut off water to the site of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas in 2002, after months of threats.The project didn't run dry because the Energy Department built a 1-million-gallon tank and a small well for the site. Department officials said the stored water, plus 400,000 gallons stored in other tanks at the Nevada Test Site, provided time for scientists to continue experiments and design work at the site.
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  • SALT LAKE CITY – A Utah lawmaker concerned about government spying on its citizens is questioning whether city water service should be cut off to a massive National Security Agency data storage facility outside Salt Lake City.Rep
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    Hey, go for their electricity too! But what do we do with the Bluffdale facility after we abolish the NSA? Turn it over to Internet Archives, with a $1 billion endowment for maintenance? Free and permanent web sites for everyone?  
Gary Edwards

Duke Engines' incredibly compact, lightweight valveless axial engine - 0 views

  • The Duke engine is an axial design, meaning that its five cylinders encircle the drive shaft and run parallel with it. The pistons drive a star-shaped reciprocator, which nutates around the drive shaft, kind of like a spinning coin coming to rest on a table.
  • The reciprocator's center point is used to drive the central drive shaft, which rotates in the opposite direction to the reciprocator. "That counter-rotation keeps it in tidy balance," says Duke co-founder John Garvey. "If you lay your hand on it while it's running, you can barely detect any motion at all, it's quite remarkable." That's borne out by the video below, where the engine revving doesn't even cause enough vibrations to tip a coin off its side.
  • Instead of cam- or pneumatically-operated intake and outlet valves, the cylinders rotate past intake and outlet ports in a stationary head ring. The spark plugs are also mounted in this stationary ring – the cylinders simply slide past each port or plug at the stage of the cycle it's needed for and move on. In this way, Duke eliminates all the complexity of valve operation and manages to run a five-cylinder engine with just three spark plugs and three fuel injectors. The Duke engine ends up delivering as many power strokes per revolution as a six cylinder engine, but with huge weight savings and a vast reduction in the number of engine parts.
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  • The engine has shown excellent resistance to pre-ignition (or detonation) – potentially because its cylinders tend to run cooler than comparable engines. Duke has run compression ratios as high as 14:1 with regular 91-octane gasoline. This suggests that further developments will pull even more power out of a given amount of fuel, increasing the overall efficiency of the unit.
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    Watch the second video! This is extraordinary. "New Zealand's Duke Engines has been busy developing and demonstrating excellent results with a bizarre axial engine prototype that completely does away with valves, while delivering excellent power and torque from an engine much smaller, lighter and simpler than the existing technology. We spoke with Duke co-founder John Garvey to find out how the Duke Axial Engine project is going."
Paul Merrell

Most Agencies Falling Short on Mandate for Online Records - 1 views

  • Nearly 20 years after Congress passed the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments (E-FOIA), only 40 percent of agencies have followed the law's instruction for systematic posting of records released through FOIA in their electronic reading rooms, according to a new FOIA Audit released today by the National Security Archive at www.nsarchive.org to mark Sunshine Week. The Archive team audited all federal agencies with Chief FOIA Officers as well as agency components that handle more than 500 FOIA requests a year — 165 federal offices in all — and found only 67 with online libraries populated with significant numbers of released FOIA documents and regularly updated.
  • Congress called on agencies to embrace disclosure and the digital era nearly two decades ago, with the passage of the 1996 "E-FOIA" amendments. The law mandated that agencies post key sets of records online, provide citizens with detailed guidance on making FOIA requests, and use new information technology to post online proactively records of significant public interest, including those already processed in response to FOIA requests and "likely to become the subject of subsequent requests." Congress believed then, and openness advocates know now, that this kind of proactive disclosure, publishing online the results of FOIA requests as well as agency records that might be requested in the future, is the only tenable solution to FOIA backlogs and delays. Thus the National Security Archive chose to focus on the e-reading rooms of agencies in its latest audit. Even though the majority of federal agencies have not yet embraced proactive disclosure of their FOIA releases, the Archive E-FOIA Audit did find that some real "E-Stars" exist within the federal government, serving as examples to lagging agencies that technology can be harnessed to create state-of-the art FOIA platforms. Unfortunately, our audit also found "E-Delinquents" whose abysmal web performance recalls the teletype era.
  • E-Delinquents include the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House, which, despite being mandated to advise the President on technology policy, does not embrace 21st century practices by posting any frequently requested records online. Another E-Delinquent, the Drug Enforcement Administration, insults its website's viewers by claiming that it "does not maintain records appropriate for FOIA Library at this time."
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  • THE E-DELINQUENTS: WORST OVERALL AGENCIES In alphabetical order
  • The federal government has made some progress moving into the digital era. The National Security Archive's last E-FOIA Audit in 2007, " File Not Found," reported that only one in five federal agencies had put online all of the specific requirements mentioned in the E-FOIA amendments, such as guidance on making requests, contact information, and processing regulations. The new E-FOIA Audit finds the number of agencies that have checked those boxes is now much higher — 100 out of 165 — though many (66 in 165) have posted just the bare minimum, especially when posting FOIA responses. An additional 33 agencies even now do not post these types of records at all, clearly thwarting the law's intent.
  • The FOIAonline Members (Department of Commerce, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Labor Relations Authority, Merit Systems Protection Board, National Archives and Records Administration, Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, Department of the Navy, General Services Administration, Small Business Administration, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Federal Communications Commission) won their "E-Star" by making past requests and releases searchable via FOIAonline. FOIAonline also allows users to submit their FOIA requests digitally.
  • "The presumption of openness requires the presumption of posting," said Archive director Tom Blanton. "For the new generation, if it's not online, it does not exist." The National Security Archive has conducted fourteen FOIA Audits since 2002. Modeled after the California Sunshine Survey and subsequent state "FOI Audits," the Archive's FOIA Audits use open-government laws to test whether or not agencies are obeying those same laws. Recommendations from previous Archive FOIA Audits have led directly to laws and executive orders which have: set explicit customer service guidelines, mandated FOIA backlog reduction, assigned individualized FOIA tracking numbers, forced agencies to report the average number of days needed to process requests, and revealed the (often embarrassing) ages of the oldest pending FOIA requests. The surveys include:
  • Key Findings
  • Excuses Agencies Give for Poor E-Performance
  • Justice Department guidance undermines the statute. Currently, the FOIA stipulates that documents "likely to become the subject of subsequent requests" must be posted by agencies somewhere in their electronic reading rooms. The Department of Justice's Office of Information Policy defines these records as "frequently requested records… or those which have been released three or more times to FOIA requesters." Of course, it is time-consuming for agencies to develop a system that keeps track of how often a record has been released, which is in part why agencies rarely do so and are often in breach of the law. Troublingly, both the current House and Senate FOIA bills include language that codifies the instructions from the Department of Justice. The National Security Archive believes the addition of this "three or more times" language actually harms the intent of the Freedom of Information Act as it will give agencies an easy excuse ("not requested three times yet!") not to proactively post documents that agency FOIA offices have already spent time, money, and energy processing. We have formally suggested alternate language requiring that agencies generally post "all records, regardless of form or format that have been released in response to a FOIA request."
  • Disabilities Compliance. Despite the E-FOIA Act, many government agencies do not embrace the idea of posting their FOIA responses online. The most common reason agencies give is that it is difficult to post documents in a format that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act, also referred to as being "508 compliant," and the 1998 Amendments to the Rehabilitation Act that require federal agencies "to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities." E-Star agencies, however, have proven that 508 compliance is no barrier when the agency has a will to post. All documents posted on FOIAonline are 508 compliant, as are the documents posted by the Department of Defense and the Department of State. In fact, every document created electronically by the US government after 1998 should already be 508 compliant. Even old paper records that are scanned to be processed through FOIA can be made 508 compliant with just a few clicks in Adobe Acrobat, according to this Department of Homeland Security guide (essentially OCRing the text, and including information about where non-textual fields appear). Even if agencies are insistent it is too difficult to OCR older documents that were scanned from paper, they cannot use that excuse with digital records.
  • Privacy. Another commonly articulated concern about posting FOIA releases online is that doing so could inadvertently disclose private information from "first person" FOIA requests. This is a valid concern, and this subset of FOIA requests should not be posted online. (The Justice Department identified "first party" requester rights in 1989. Essentially agencies cannot use the b(6) privacy exemption to redact information if a person requests it for him or herself. An example of a "first person" FOIA would be a person's request for his own immigration file.) Cost and Waste of Resources. There is also a belief that there is little public interest in the majority of FOIA requests processed, and hence it is a waste of resources to post them. This thinking runs counter to the governing principle of the Freedom of Information Act: that government information belongs to US citizens, not US agencies. As such, the reason that a person requests information is immaterial as the agency processes the request; the "interest factor" of a document should also be immaterial when an agency is required to post it online. Some think that posting FOIA releases online is not cost effective. In fact, the opposite is true. It's not cost effective to spend tens (or hundreds) of person hours to search for, review, and redact FOIA requests only to mail it to the requester and have them slip it into their desk drawer and forget about it. That is a waste of resources. The released document should be posted online for any interested party to utilize. This will only become easier as FOIA processing systems evolve to automatically post the documents they track. The State Department earned its "E-Star" status demonstrating this very principle, and spent no new funds and did not hire contractors to build its Electronic Reading Room, instead it built a self-sustaining platform that will save the agency time and money going forward.
Paul Merrell

South Korea considers shutting down domestic cryptocurrency exchanges - 0 views

  • The request is one of the first responses from the U.S. Congress to the disclosure earlier this month by security researchers of the two major flaws, which may allow hackers to steal passwords or encryption keys on most types of computers, phones and cloud-based servers. McNerney, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, asked the companies to explain the scope of Spectre and Meltdown, their timeframe for understanding the vulnerabilities, how consumers are affected and whether the flaws have been exploited, among other questions.
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