Net neutrality faceoff: Congress summons ISPs and websites to hearing

The biggest websites and the biggest Internet service providers are being summoned to Congress to testify about net neutrality.

US Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he is scheduling a full committee hearing titled, “Ground rules for the Internet ecosystem,” for September 7.

“Today I’m sending formal invitations to the top executives of the leading technology companies including Facebook, Alphabet, Amazon, and Netflix, as well as broadband providers including Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and Charter Communications, inviting each of them to come and testify before our full Energy and Commerce Committee,” Walden said during a Federal Communications Commission oversight hearing this morning.

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Elon Musk: Mark Zuckerberg’s understanding of AI is “limited”

There aren’t many people in the world who can justifiably call Mark Zuckerberg a dumb-ass, but Elon Musk is probably one of them.

Early on Tuesday morning, in the latest salvo of a tussle between the two tech billionaires over the dangers of advanced artificial intelligence, Musk said that Zuckerberg’s “understanding of the subject is limited.”

I won’t rehash the entire argument here, but basically Elon Musk has been warning society for the last few years that we need to be careful of advanced artificial intelligence. Musk is concerned that humans will either become second-class citizens under super-smart AIs, or alternatively that we’ll face a Skynet-like scenario against a robot uprising.

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Break up the cable monopolies? Democrats propose new competition laws

Senate and House Democratic leaders today proposed new antitrust laws that could prevent many of the biggest mergers and break up monopolies in broadband and other industries.

“Right now our antitrust laws are designed to allow huge corporations to merge, padding the pockets of investors but sending costs skyrocketing for everything from cable bills and airline tickets to food and health care,” US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wrote in a New York Times opinion piece. “We are going to fight to allow regulators to break up big companies if they’re hurting consumers and to make it harder for companies to merge if it reduces competition.”

The “Better Deal” unveiled by Schumer and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was described in several documents that can be found in an Axios story. The plan for “cracking down on corporate monopolies” lists five industries that Democrats say are in particular need of change, specifically airlines, cable and telecom, the beer industry, food, and eyeglasses. The Democrats’ plan for lowering the cost of prescription drugs is detailed in a separate document.

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Dockless bike sharing lands in Seattle—and leads us down unsavory alleyways

SEATTLE—Let’s say you want to whisk across a city’s downtown at a pace somewhere between walking and taxiing, and you’re not interested in bus waits or looking like a dork on a hoverboard. How about a bike? How about a bike that you can pick up on practically any street corner, then leave behind in the same fashion when you’re done?

That’s the promise of not one but two bike-sharing efforts (Spin and LimeBike) that launched in Seattle this week. They differ largely from another former Seattle bike-sharing program, Pronto, in that they don’t require any official docks. Take a bike; leave a bike. It’s the two-wheeled equivalent of app-powered, car-sharing services like Daimler AG’s Car2Go and BMW’s ReachNow, only with a much cheaper rate of $1 per half hour of use.

Upon hearing about these services launching in my town, I got excited. Hop from place to place with shared bikes and my phone? Cool! But a few days of intermittent use—and some very odd encounters—have cooled my pedaling heels.

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German energy company wants to build flow batteries in old natural gas caverns

A German energy company recently announced that it’s partnering with a university to build a massive flow battery in underground salt caverns that are currently used to store natural gas. The grid-tied battery, the company says, would be able to power Berlin for an hour.

The technology that the project is based on should be familiar to Ars readers. Two years ago, Ars wrote about an academic paper published in Nature that described “a recipe for an affordable, safe, and scalable flow battery.” German researchers had developed better components for a large, stationary battery that used negatively and positively charged liquid electrolyte pools to exchange electrons through a reasonably priced membrane. These so-called “flow batteries” are particularly interesting for grid use—they have low energy-density, so they don’t work for portable energy storage. But as receptacles for utility-scale electricity storage, their capacity is limited only by the amount of space you have.

Now the ideas in that paper are graduating to real-world use. EWE Gasspeicher, a gas-storage company owned by German power company EWE, announced in June that it’s looking into building the researchers’ flow battery in two medium-sized salt caverns that the company has been using to store natural gas. EWE is calling the project “brine4power,” reflecting how a saltwater brine is used in the electrolyte.

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Verizon accused of throttling Netflix and YouTube, admits “video optimization”

Verizon Wireless customers this week noticed that Netflix’s speed test tool appears to be capped at 10Mbps, raising fears that the carrier is throttling video streaming on its mobile network.

When contacted by Ars this morning, Verizon acknowledged using a new video optimization system but said it is part of a temporary test and that it did not affect the actual quality of video. The video optimization appears to apply both to unlimited and limited mobile plans.

But some YouTube users are reporting degraded video, saying that using a VPN service can bypass the Verizon throttling. The Federal Communications Commission generally allows mobile carriers to limit video quality as long as the limitations are imposed equally across different video services despite net neutrality rules that outlaw throttling. The net neutrality rules have exceptions for network management.

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Amazon will pay full price to US retailers to boost its inventory

Amazon sells a wide variety of products, but you can’t buy anything and everything through the online retailer. The company is reportedly trying to change this by sacrificing huge profits in favor of efficiency—according to a CNBC report, Amazon contacted thousands of third-party retailers via e-mail about taking part in a new program in which Amazon would buy their inventory at full price. Amazon would then be able to sell those products on its website, allowing it to quickly fulfill more orders around the world.

According to the e-mail obtained by CNBC, Amazon is offering “no additional fees” for a limited time for the third-party retailers that choose to be part of the new program. Amazon will buy their inventory at local market price, meaning Amazon likely won’t make much of a profit on those items if and when they sell on its website. But according to an Amazon spokesperson that confirmed the authenticity of the e-mail, profit isn’t the biggest goal of this program.

“When items are unavailable in a particular geography, we provide customers with selection from another marketplace,” the spokesperson said. “This offers customers a wider selection of great brands and helps sellers increase sales.”

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Microsoft 4Q17: Office 365 revenue surpasses traditional licenses

In the fourth quarter of its 2017 financial year, Microsoft posted revenue of $23.3 billion, up 13 percent on a year ago, with an operating income of $5.3 billion (up 73 percent), a net income of $6.5 billion (up 109 percent), and earnings per share of $0.83 (up 112 percent on the same quarter last year).

For the full 2017 financial year, revenue was $90.0 billion (up 5 percent on 2016), operating income was $22.3 billion (up 11 percent), net income was $21.2 billion (up 26 percent), and earnings per share were $3.31 (up 29 percent).

Microsoft currently has three reporting segments: Productivity and Business Processes (covering Office, Exchange, SharePoint, Skype, and Dynamics), Intelligent Cloud (including Azure, Windows Server, SQL Server, Visual Studio, and Enterprise Services), and More Personal Computing (covering Windows, hardware, and Xbox, as well as search and advertising).

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