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Does net neutrality still matter in our post-web world?

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Net Neutrality: What is it and why should you care?
In the effort to maintain an open internet, some think we need more government intervention while others trust the free market to keep the big telecoms in check.

“I read it on Google,” I’ve heard people say about news articles they discovered on their smartphones that proposed some new and intriguing fact — something about the polar ice caps, maybe, how they’re melting or freezing over again or exploding, whatever ice caps do nowadays. Never mind that their publishers may have been The New York Times or CBS News or Russia Today or even The Onion. It was a topic they either found by querying Google, or that they asked Google by voice to read to them, or that Google News condensed for them and printed among its list of most intriguing headlines. They don’t know who actually printed it, nor do they really care.

“Can you get Google on your iPhone?” I heard another person ask at the same table. “Or does Apple still ban Google?”

Some of us whose heads are still stuck in the 2000s, perhaps in want of refuge from the present decade, lost track of when the Web stopped being a thing for most people.

Wider net

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Scott Fulton

Last month, I accompanied my wife and daughter through Grant Park in Chicago on a very soggy weekend, as they participated with thousands of other folks in a festive, phone-based event for the game of Pokemon Go. If you’ve never seen this in action, it’s an extraordinary spectacle. Imagine thousands of smartphones pretending to be windows into another dimension inhabited entirely by fantastical creatures, and each of these phones serving as a butterfly net to capture and catalog them into its database.

Connectivity has evolved into the stuff that festivals are made of now. It’s an extremely clever idea to tie the functionality of a game to the geography of our world, kicking our butts away from our desktops so that, even if coincidentally and for the silliest of reasons, we come together as a community. Too much divides us as a people today for us to frown at anything that brings us closer.

At a more technological level, Pokemon Go is emblematic of who we have become as consumers of this thing called “content.” Granted, a small, though measurable, minority of the human race plays this game. Yet, as an application, it represents the extent to which software architecture can evolve, and how quickly, when there is a rational business model behind it. Pokemon Go is a colossal distributed functionality platform, leveraging the HTTP protocol for connectivity but using Kubernetes to extend it far beyond the confines of the old Web.

Pokemon Go, Netflix, AWS, Azure, and even the much-maligned Facebook, are all not only expansive services but marketplaces unto themselves. Each has had a hand in remaking the Internet in a new and more capable model.

Neutral zone

In the light of this revelation, it’s perhaps a bit past time for us to revisit this whole idea of net neutrality.

When the phrase was coined, it was in the context of a debate in the US Congress over the idea of a possible nationwide license for broadband service providers. States and municipalities were responsible for granting such licenses to limited geographies, and Republicans in the House were looking for new sources of revenue. Under the provisions of a never-passed law called the COPE Act, ISPs would be given incentives to purchase nationwide licenses instead of more localized ones. One such incentive was a waiver of enforcement of any laws or regulations restricting ISPs’ right to divide their pipelines into “good/better/best” service tiers.

There was substantive opposition, but Sen. Ron Wyden (D – Oregon) raised the stakes to a moral issue. At issue, he argued, was the small publisher’s and garage-based enterprise’s right to conduct their business on the same Internet like Google and eBay, as equal players in a digital market.

Politically speaking, the concept of net neutrality has been as malleable as sediment from an Oregon mudslide. But over the last few decades, Congress has been unwilling to bake that clay into anything permanent. So in 2010, the Federal Communications Commission, under then-Chairman Julius Genachowski, unveiled a regulatory framework designed to stop the leakage from the gaping hole in federal regulations. No one should presume the authority, the framework said, of diverting Internet traffic or blocking access to content, so long as that destined content is legal.

That sounds like an altruistic statement of fairness. But it has two fatal flaws. First, it is not up to a regulatory agency to decide for itself what’s fair and unfair — that’s for the law to codify. The current argument that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has overstepped its bounds in conducting raids without just cause is precisely this same argument: An agency doesn’t get the right to issue proclamations on behalf of some self-declared monarch.

The second flaw was made evident by all those folks in Grant Park capturing bulbasaurs, pidgeottos, and raticates: Not all Internet services are created equal. Some justify the premiums that consumers are willing to pay.


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  • The winter of this content

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    Scott Fulton

    When net neutrality became a cause célèbre, back before the world caught on fire, the Web was framed as the modern reformation of the “public airwaves.” It seemed logical to many that the FCC would be the proper enforcer of fairness in this new, digital marketplace.

    Except that whole “marketplace” thing was the problem. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 renders unto the FCC the authority to regulate an electronic signal-based medium under two conditions: if it’s an information service like a broadcaster (Title I) or if it’s a communications service like a telephone (Title II). If it’s a marketplace, then the law (where we have one) specifies the Federal Trade Commission should be its overseer.

    So if the Internet is as expansive and inclusive as the Genachowski framework painted it to be, then his agency should withdraw from acting as its authority. That’s eventually what happened.

    In the absence of a regulatory framework, however, the evolution of our relationship with content has resumed unimpeded. Although Netflix and  Amazon Prime have been compared in status to the NBC, ABC, and CBS networks of the 1960s, the truth is, none of these modern-day channels are generally considered institutions, keepers of the public trust, bearers of the Seal of Good Practice. When word spread that the streaming show “Good Omens” was about a demon and an angel who conspire to thwart the coming apocalypse, thousands protested Netflix demanding the show’s removal, not thinking for one moment that any other streaming service besides Netflix (in this case, Amazon Prime) existed.

    We subscribe to content now; all these sites or carriers or services or streaming providers (whatever you want to call them) are little more than buttons and menu pathways that lead folks to it. Playlists — the modern form of broadcasting schedules — no longer belong to behemoth broadcasters but individual viewers and listeners. The reason people think so poorly of their service providers (which shall remain nameless so that this doesn’t become one more opportunity to pile on poor Comcast) is that they get in the way of a more direct relationship between ourselves and our content. In this environment, technology is not so much perceived as the enabler but as a burden — something that should either be streamlined or circumvented.

    There’s a good argument in favor of the need for federal law that defines fairness and equal access in this new and refined context of digital communications. (There’s a better argument in favor of the need for climate change law since if we expect to experience this new content mecca, it’d be nice if we were all, say, alive.)

    But we can expedite that process, and perhaps get a real and truly vital discussion going as to what “fairness” means, if we can finally agree that the 2010 version of net neutrality is about as pertinent today as new regulations governing the conduct of callers on party lines. It would astonish a great many people to learn how their streaming media traffic, their cloud-based functionality, and even their face-to-face communications, bypass the public Internet in favor of direct, higher-speed, fiber optic media. The “net” in any modern vision of net neutrality needs to be cast a lot wider. And before we do that, we all need to become more aware of what this network of networks has truly become.

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    2021 Kia Niro Hybrid and Niro PHEV gets new tech and safety updates

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    The 2021 Kia Niro Hybrid and Niro PHEV are soldiering on with a couple of new safety and technology features. Kia updated the Niro’s styling last year, and the changes carry over to the 2021 model. The Niro may not be the roomiest or best-handling crossover on the road, but it easily achieves 43 to 50 mpg in combined city/highway driving.

    New for the 2021 Kia Niro and Kiro PHEV is a rear occupant alert system, a new 8-inch touchscreen infotainment display, and wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity. Vehicles equipped with Kia’s Smart Key now have a remote engine start feature. Meanwhile, Niro models with navigation get ten years of complimentary MapCare updates.

    Moreover, both the Niro Hybrid and Niro plug-in-hybrid also get navigation-based smart cruise control with a ‘curve’ function. The latter automatically applies the brakes to reduce vehicle speed upon entering a corner. The Niro is comprehensively equipped with top-notch safety and driver assistive features like forward collision avoidance, blindspot detection, lane keeping assist, smart cruise control, and a rearview camera, to name just a few.

    The 2021 Kia Niro Hybrid remains motivated by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and an electric motor pumping out a combined 139 horsepower, all of which are sent to the front wheels via a six-speed dual-clutch gearbox. It also has a 1.56 kWh lithium-ion polymer hybrid battery pack sending juice to the small electric motor.

    On the other hand, the 2021 Kia Niro PHEV has the same gasoline engine and electric motor as the hybrid version producing 139 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. The difference is a larger 8.9 kWh battery pack, allowing 26 miles of all-electric range before the battery runs out of juice. The Niro PHEV is EPA-rated at 46 mpg.

    The 2021 Kia Niro Hybrid is available in five trim models: LX, LXS, Touring, Touring SE, and EX Premium. Base prices start at $25,865 (an increase of $100 over last year’s model), while the top-of-the-line Niro Hybrid EX Premium starts at $34,125 (inclusive of $1,175 destination fees).

    If you like the 2021 Kia Niro PHEV, you can choose from three available trims: LXS, EX, and EX Premium, with base prices starting at $30,765. Both the Niro Hybrid and Niro PHEV are available to order now. The new 2021 all-electric Niro EV is also coming later this year.

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    The final phase of Ram’s limited-edition “Build to Serve” truck line launches

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    Ram has been building special limited edition “Build to Serve” trucks to celebrate the United States Armed Forces. So far, the automaker has built these special trucks to honor all five branches of the United States Armed Forces. The fifth and final installment in the series introduces 500 units in a color called Spitfire and 750 in Bright White.

    The military branch-inspired interior will be available in showrooms starting in Q2 of 2021. The Built to Serve edition’s fifth installment offers a maritime force-inspired theme with both exterior color options featuring a black interior with orange accent stitching. With the fifth and final version of the truck revealed, each of the five US military service branches has been honored by Ram with two specially selected exterior paint colors meant to evoke the spirit, mission, and history of that service.

    Built to Serve edition Ram trucks were made in the following numbers and colors. Ram made 1000 units in Gator and 1000 in Diamond Black Crystal. Ram produced 1000 in Ceramic Gray and 1000 in Patriot Blue. 1250 units were built in Anvil with 1500 produced in Billet Silver Metallic.

    In the series, 1000 trucks were made in Tank and 1000 in Flame Red. This fifth and final installment are the rarest of the special edition trucks, with only 500 produced in Spitfire and 750 made in Bright White. All Built to Serve trucks get 20-inch aluminum wheels with a unique Technical Gray finish along with body-color wheel flares.

    All the trucks feature unique Built to Serve instrument panel badging, optional lockable center storage console, deeply bolstered cloth and vinyl sport seats, black onyx chrome interior trim, and all-weather slush mats. The trucks also include the 4×4 Off-Road Group and are available on all body styles and with all powertrains.

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    Manhart MH3 600 and MH4 600 are spicier versions of BMW’s M3 and M4

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    German tuning brand Manhart has a nifty pair of new BMWs to call its own: The MH3 600 and MH4 600. Based on the all-new G80 BMW M3 sedan and G82 M4 coupe, both the MH3 600 and MH4 600 receive a plethora of upgrades, including a 600-plus horsepower turbocharged inline-six motor.

    Manhart starts with the 2021 M3 and M4 Competition models, both pumping out 510 horsepower from the factory. After installing a Manhart MHtronik Powerbox, the inline-six motor has a new maximum output of 620+ horsepower, around 100 more horses than stock. Additionally, you have 553 pound-feet of torque at your disposal.

    The mods include a Manhart Performance cat-back or OPF-back exhaust system with twin carbon tailpipes to unleash those spent gasses. According to Manhart, their Mhtronik Powerbox is also applicable to a standard M3 or M4, allowing the motor to churn out 590 horsepower. If you’re keeping count, that’s 117 more horsepower than a typical M3’s 473-horsepower output. Nice.

    Other upgrades include new H&R lowering springs, staggered Concave One forged wheels developed in-house by Manhart, and a sprinkling of carbon-fiber exterior bits to improve aerodynamics, including a new hood, front splitter, rear spoiler, and rear diffuser. Manhart is also developing a unique set of side flaps for MH3 600 and MH4 600.

    Of course, no Manhart creation is complete without a set of body decals. You get a gold decal kit for the MH3 600 and MH4 600, including side stripes and racing stripes. What’s more, you can have gold pinstriping on the wheels if you like a bit more bling in your Bimmer.

    The 2021 BMW M3 and M4 (including the 4-Series in general) were targets of blatant criticism upon debuting last year, and it all has something to do with that oversized kidney grille. But looking at Manhart’s MH3 600 and MH4 600, the stealthy vibe fits both vehicles quite well. Dare we say Manhart has sorted out the M3 and M4’s polarizing façade?

    And when you think about it, Manhart isn’t done with the M3 and M4. The 600-horsepower upgrade is only Phase 1 of the tuning program. Phase 2 involves more power, more noise, and more ridiculous exterior appendages, and we can’t wait to check it out soon.

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