Fight for the Future, Demand Progress, and Free Press are organizing one last-ditch effort to fight the FCC’s coming vote to kill net neutrality. On Tuesday, Dec. 12, dozens of web sites (including this one) will display banners suggesting what the future will be like if internet service providers are allowed to pick winners and losers. The Break the Internet project directs visitors to call their Congressional representatives to pressure the FCC to hold off on making that change.

A few years ago, this tactic worked great to stop SOPA by threatening anyone who would face re-election. The difficulty this time is that the FCC commissioners don’t have to worry about being voted out by the public, so pressure is necessarily indirect. (There’s also the problem of the Republican majority at the FCC in favor of dropping Title II protection and Republican control of both houses of Congress.)

Will this online protest do any good? I doubt it, but I’ve been wrong before.

 Three Came Home (1950) on IMDb

Three Came Home is based on the true story of Agnes Newton Keith, an author who spent three years in Japanese internment camps after they invaded her community in Borneo. She was separated from her husband and had to raise their son under demanding conditions. Claudette Colbert starred as Keith.

Although this was the only copy of this movie that would embed, its sound loses synchronization midway through. To watch it more easily, try this MP4 version available for download. It’s worth it to see such a highly ranked film in the Internet Archive Top 100.

Pluto TV guide screenInventing free TV packages on paper was something I used to do a lot. In the glory days of free-to-air satellite TV, the idea was to put together enough free (or dirt cheap), attractive, useful channels on one transponder to get viewers to buy and install Ku-band equipment, and then the size of the audience would attract other channels and so forth.

I’m reminded of those big ideas when I fire up Pluto TV, an amazing collection of live channels and video on demand. It’s all free, mostly ad-supported, and it makes a wonderful supplement for cord-cutters who rely on over-the-air broadcast TV.

My top two categories of typically neglected genres on OTA TV are news (most of the day) and sports (most of the week). Pluto has news covered, with NBC News, CBS News, The Weather Network, Bloomberg, and much more. And Pluto has a bit of sports, with Stadium, Big Sky Conference schools, and a couple of other Pluto-originated catchalls. There are also several live movie channels and plenty of alternative entertainment channels. The lineup changes now and then, but you can download a list (pdf). And like my imaginary satellite service, it’s asking for more channels to join its lineup.

(Lately my guilty pleasure has been Slow TV, with long, uninterrupted videos of Norwegian train rides. As with NatureVision TV, it’s a soothing background for any other activity. And for the holidays, there’s also a fireplace to “watch”. Such peaceful enjoyment!)

Pluto also offers a lot of free ad-supported on-demand movies and TV shows. Vudu’s Movies On Us is a similar free program, but I wonder whether Pluto’s inventory is larger.

Viewing platforms are not a problem. I can watch Pluto on just about anything: smartphone, tablet, Windows desktop, Roku, AirTV, and more. It’s a big reason why I’m looking forward to seeing Channel Master’s new receiver next month; if it’s based on Android TV, it’ll run the Pluto TV app. If anyone can combine a good OTA DVR (like CM’s DVR+) and Pluto TV in the same box, they’d have a great combo for cord-cutters.

 

 

If you read nothing else, check out today’s article in Wired about the origins of Net Neutrality, written by the guy who coined the term, Tim Wu. The concept that bridges, railroads, and other common carriers shouldn’t discriminate based on traffic type goes back hundreds of years, and the telecommunication version goes back to the early 1970s. Wu also offers a bit of hope from the court system. “The Supreme Court requires that an agency demonstrate its action was not ‘arbitrary’ or ‘capricious’; it must ‘examine the relevant data and articulate a satisfactory explanation for its action.'” he wrote. “And when it changes course dramatically, as the FCC has, the agency must explain why it ‘now reject[s] the considerations that led it to adopt that initial policy.’”

Joel Espelien of TDG Research wrote that despites its denials, Amazon is prepping a skinny bundle of pay-TV channels to launch in the first half of 2018 as an Amazon Prime benefit. As he pointed out, for folks who subscribe to Prime mainly for the free shipping, everything else is gravy; it “feels like it’s free.” Amazon doesn’t need to make money on TV in the short term, and getting customers hooked on a “free” set of channels might be a great opportunity to upsell them on some premiums.

And Parks Associates released a report on Smart TVs and The User Experience, as reported on today by Broadband TV News and others. It said that viewers want easy navigation and discovery in their TV interfaces. I’d add that curation underpins that discovery component, and that ease of use is paramount. When Roku first came out, I wondered why anyone would choose it over a connected, dedicated Windows PC, which could access everything the Roku could and then some. Now I know better.

When I took Dish’s offer to drop satellite-delivered locals, I thought my Dish Hopper DVR could handle recording them over-the-air. I was wrong. Maybe it’s a quirk in my particular receiver or maybe it’s systemic, but most HD OTA recordings would play back with a hiccupped soundtrack. Unwatchable.

I would have called Dish tech support by now except that I quickly switched to my old Tablo, which worked so well that I didn’t bother with my Hopper. I play my Tablo’s OTA recordings back through the Roku via my home network.

Today I noticed that Amazon has the latest model of the dual-tuner Tablo available for a lower price than I paid for my older version. It comes with better wifi support than mine (which isn’t a problem because I’ve got mine connected via Ethernet), and unlike mine it comes with 64 GB of memory built-in (but I’d recommend an inexpensive external hard drive anyway). Unlike most DVRs, it can also stream outside the home so you can watch your recordings or live TV from anywhere with an internet connection.

If you order one for yourself or as a present for a cord-cutting friend while using this link, Amazon will eventually reward me with enough hard cash to pay my hosting bill for several days – maybe a week. That would be a win for everybody.