President Trump signs executive order on rural broadband Internet


NASHVILLE — During a whirlwind trip here Monday, President Trump signed an executive order aimed at promoting the expansion of broadband Internet into rural areas that lack connectivity.

Trump, speaking before a crowd of nearly 5,000 American Farm Bureau Federation members at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention, also touted the effects of axing regulations on American industry and cutting taxes on the nation’s farmers and agriculture industry.

“The American dream is roaring back,” he said.

He then spent the next 35 minutes defending his first year in office in a speech tailored to the audience of farmers, a group that remains one of the pillars of his political base. In a rarity for the president, Trump stayed mostly on script and was more policy focused than usual, offering less of the firebrand populist rhetoric that has defined him.

“You are forgotten no more,” Trump said. “We’re fighting for our country, we are fighting for our farmers and we are fighting for our great American flag. …

“And we want our national anthem respected as well,” the president said, receiving one of several standing ovations as impromptu chants of “U-S-A” broke out.

The president’s address marked his first major policy speech in weeks and came amid a tumultuous period after the release of a controversial new book that has put the administration on the defense.

Nevertheless, Trump derided the “fake media” only once, and he never mentioned former Trump aide Steve Bannon, whose recent comments about the president’s son, quoted in the book, have come under fire.

Trump used the bulk of his speech to trumpet the effects of recently enacted tax cuts on the nation’s farmers and agriculture industry.

“Under this new law, the typical family of four earning $75,000 will see an income tax cut of more than $2,000 — slashing their tax bill in half,” the president said.

Trump also received a standing ovation after mentioning changes to the estate tax that he said were beneficial to farmers and small businesses.

About 80 small businesses and small-farm estates are expected to face an estate tax in 2017, levied on estates in excess of $5.49 million, and on average those estates will owe less than 6% of their value, according to the nonpartisan Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center in Washington. In 2018, a couple can exclude $22.4 million from estate taxes.

Although the Farm Bureau sought to eliminate the estate tax entirely, the final version of the tax bill kept it intact while reducing the number of people who pay it.

The new tax law will allow farmers to deduct the entire cost of new equipment in the first year of their investment, an effort the Farm Bureau had pushed. Before 2018, most agricultural machinery and equipment had to be depreciated over seven years, according to the IRS.

“In every decision we make, we are honoring America’s proud farming legacy,” Trump said.

Trump signed the executive order on rural broadband Internet service at a table on stage. It declares the executive branch will “use all viable tools” to accelerate the deployment and adoption of affordable and reliable broadband connectivity in rural America.

Executive departments “should seek to reduce barriers to capital investment, remove obstacles to broadband services and more efficiently employ government resources,” the order goes on to say.

“Those towers are going to go up, and you’re going to have great, great broadband,” Trump said, flanked by the state’s Tennessee Republican congressional delegation as well as its GOP governor, Bill Haslam. The order does not appear to allocate any financial resources to the broadband effort, an area that also has been Haslam’s priority.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will be required to develop a plan to support rural broadband deployment, according to a memo to the secretary from the White House.

Although some farmers were hoping the president would discuss key industry issues, Trump’s speech contained little in terms of substance about the expiring Farm Bill, the omnibus legislation that governs food and agriculture programs; the North American Free Trade Agreement; and immigrant workers. Trump did vow to seek a farm bill that includes crop insurance subsidies, a key for the nation’s farmers.

“Oh, are you happy you voted for me,” he said as the audience laughed. “You are so lucky that I gave you that privilege.”

Several times, Trump proudly discussed his administration’s cuts of federal regulations, which he said have burdened businesses and farmers. He accused Democrats of wanting to raise taxes and said his opponent during last year’s presidential election would have been bad for farmers.

In a statement before Trump’s arrival, Tennessee’s Democratic Party chairwoman, Mary Mancini, pointed to the rising number of closed rural hospital in the state, which she blamed on the Republican-led state legislature’s refusal to accept federal Medicaid dollar. She also slammed Republican efforts to eliminate the Affordable Care Act.

“This isn’t just a health-care issue,” she said. “People in rural communities are struggling to keep a roof over their head and buy food for their families because there are no jobs available that can sustain a family. Businesses will not go to communities that don’t have a hospital.”

The president’s executive order coincides with the release of recommendations from a task force established last year that seeks to make several improvements to the country’s rural areas. The task force’s recommendations are set to include measures seeking to enhance broadband access, improving quality of life, generate a reliable workforce, advance technological innovations and economic development.

Trump’s widespread support in the nation’s rural counties enabled him to pull off his election victory upset over Democrat Hillary Clinton last year. His rural base has remained committed to the president as his poll ratings have plunged nationally.

Trump is the first president to address the American Farm Bureau Federation since George H. W. Bush in 1992. His visit to Nashville was his second since taking office last year; he staged a campaign rally in March and visiting the historic home of President Andrew Jackson.

For his latest trip, Sen. Bob Corker and Reps. Diane Black, Marsha Blackburn, Phil Roe, David Kustoff and Chuck Fleischmann, all Tennessee Republicans, joined Trump on Air Force One. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, was also on board.

Corker, who has been in a public spat with the president for weeks, trailed Trump down the stairs of Air Force One after arriving in Nashville. Haslam, Sen. Lamar Alexander and Rep. Scott DesJarlais, all Republicans, were among the dignitaries who greeted Trump at the airport.

Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, a Democrat, was not at the airport. A spokesman cited scheduling conflicts.

Ahead of Trump’s visit, protesters and supporters clashed at a site where

At one point, two Trump supporters approached a man in all black carrying an Antifa flag representing the far-left anti-fascist group. After they traded insults, one of the Trump supporters held out a lighter. He later said he thought about burning the flag.

A different Trump supporter raised his hand in a Nazi salute before walking away.

Minutes later, another man walked up and knocked a protest sign to the ground. The man picked up a rock and paused. He eventually walked away.

Police officers standing nearby did not intervene during either altercation.

The majority of the rain-soaked supporters and protesters were peaceful,

Trump departed Nashville at about 4:15 p.m. ET for Atlanta to attend the National Championship football game between the University of Alabama and the University of Georgia. He then was scheduled to return to the White House.

After net neutrality, brace for Internet ‘fast lanes’


Now that federal telecom regulators have repealed net neutrality, it may be time to brace for the arrival of internet “fast lanes” and “slow lanes.”

The net neutrality rules just voted down by the Federal Communications Commission prohibited such “paid prioritization,” as it’s technically known. That’s when an internet provider such as Verizon or Comcast decides to charge services like YouTube or Amazon for faster access to users. Firms that decline to pay up could wind up in bumper-to-bumper slow lanes.

The Associated Press queried seven major internet providers about their post-net-neutrality plans, and all of them equivocated when asked if they might establish fast and slow lanes. None of the seven companies — Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Charter, Cox, Sprint and T-Mobile — would rule out the possibility. Most merely said they had “no plans” for paid prioritization, and a few declined to answer the question at all.

By contrast, several of these firms promised not to block or slow down specific internet sites and services, two other practices prohibited by the expiring net-neutrality rules. (Those rules won’t formally end until sometime in early 2018.) Any such move could set off a public uproar and might even trigger an antitrust investigation.

Here are the net-neutrality promises from the country’s biggest wireless and cable companies.


FAST LANES: No specific response

BLOCK OR SLOW DOWN SITES: Says it doesn’t do so, but declined to address the future

THE WORDS: In a Nov. 21 statement, Verizon senior vice president Kathy Grillo said: “We continue to believe that users should be able to access the internet when, where, and how they choose, and our customers will continue to do so.” Asked whether Verizon will continue not to block or throttle content or whether it will charge internet companies to get better access to customers, Young said Verizon “does not block or throttle content and that’s the bottom line.”


FAST LANES: No specific response

BLOCK OR SLOW SITES: Says it “will not” do so

THE WORDS: Spokesman Mike Balmoris didn’t specifically answer when asked if AT&T will create fast lanes. In a Nov. 30 blog post , AT&T senior executive vice president Bob Quinn said: “We will not block websites, we will not throttle or degrade internet traffic based on content, and we will not unfairly discriminate in our treatment of internet traffic.”


FAST LANES: Has “no plans” to create them

BLOCK OR SLOW SITES: Says it “will not” do so

THE WORDS: In a Dec. 14 blog post , senior executive vice president David Cohen said: “We will not block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content on the Internet; we will be fully transparent with respect to our practices; and we have not entered into any paid prioritization arrangements, and we have no plans to do so.”


FAST LANES: Says there are no plans to create them

BLOCK OR SLOW DOWN SITES: Says it doesn’t do so and has “no plans” to change that

THE WORDS: In a Dec. 14 blog post : “We don’t slow down, block, or discriminate against lawful content. Simply put, we don’t interfere with the lawful online practices of our customers and we have no plans to change our practices.”


FAST LANES: Does not plan to create them

BLOCK OR SLOW DOWN SITES: Says it doesn’t do so and has no plans to

THE WORDS: In an emailed statement on Dec. 14: “We do not block, throttle or otherwise interfere with consumers’ desire to go where they want on the Internet.” A spokesman said the company has no plans to block or throttle content or enter into paid prioritization agreements.


FAST LANES: No specific response

BLOCK OR SLOW DOWN SITES: Says it doesn’t block sites, but declined to address the future

THE WORDS: In a press release on Dec. 14, Sprint wrote: “Our position has been and continues to be that competition is the best way to promote an open internet.”

From its “open internet” website : “Sprint does not block sites based on content or subject.”


FAST LANES: No response about future plans

BLOCK OR SLOW DOWN SITES: No response about future plans

THE WORDS: A company spokeswoman pointed to a February 2015 statement from T-Mobile CEO John Legere: “We have always believed in competition and in a free, open Internet with rules that protect net neutrality — no blocking, no discrimination and transparency.”

Net Neutrality May Shape the Next Episode of China’s Internet War

Image result for Net Neutrality May Shape the Next Episode of China's Internet WarJust as the US decision to overturn “net neutrality” – a set of principles stipulating that internet service providers must treat all traffic the same – spured a heated public debate, a broadband plan in China that goes against net neutrality principles is growing at an impressive pace. The mobile internet plan, branded as King Card, grew from 20 million users in May to over 50 million as of this December.

King Card is an alliance between China’s social media and gaming giant Tencent and one of the country’s “big three” telecom service providers, China Unicom, which announced (in Chinese) its latest user numbers at a recent conference. Starting at RMB 19 a month, the card gives unlimited data usage on Tencent’s ecosystem of apps encompassing everything one needs in daily life – from messaging, payments and news to music, video streaming and gaming.

It’s not news that China’s tech giants try to lock users within their own walled gardens using carrots and sticks. The current Chinese internet arena is, to some extent, a duopoly between Alibaba and Tencent. WeChat users can’t open links from Alibaba’s e-commerce platform Taobao within the messaging app, for example, and Taobao users can’t make purchases via WeChat on the online shopping platform. The two giants have also tried to lure users with their newly minted social credit systems.

But few tactics have been as appealing as the broadband plan. Users who have chosen to stick with Tencent apps pay as little as RMB 19 a month (around USD 3). Even if they do use apps that don’t belong to Tencent, the monthly fee comes at no more than RMB 49 provided that daily usage does not exceed 500MB.

China’s big telcos, which are all state-owned, are facing big pressures in the mobile internet era as social networking giants like WeChat eat away their network share. This has led to retaliation from China’s largest mobile carrier China Mobile which invited Tencent’s CEO Pony Ma for a “private chat” asking him for compensation.

China Unicom, on the other hand, has been forging close ties with tech groups to revitalize its business. In August, some of China’s largest tech companies – including the BAT trio – invested a total of USD 11.7 billion in China Unicom. The investments are a part of China’s “mixed ownership reform.” Led by President Xi Jinping, the initiative aims to reinvigorate the country’s bloated state sector by allowing private capital into state-owned companies.

Having realized the formidable benefits of telecom partnerships, other data-heavy services like Alibaba’s Xiami music app and Youku-Tudou video streaming service have also introduced their versions of China Unicom cards. So far Tencent is leading in the gaming arena with cheaper package fees and more generous offerings. As industry experts have suggested, the next episode of China’s internet war will be shaped by the unfair advantage companies gain from working side by side with the country’s telco players.

Repealing net neutrality is actually good for the internet


A post widely circulated on social media purports to show the prices various internet content providers will charge consumers now that the FCC’s network neutrality rules have been repealed.

The text is quite specific: A Google search will now set you back $1.99 per query; Twitter will cost $14.99 per month; Netflix will cost $9.99 per movie, and so on.

The charges would be an outrage if true — but they are not. The “price list” is fabricated out of whole cloth, a complete fantasy.

The fictional price list, however, is only the most obvious of untruths being spread in the backlash to the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of its 2015 network neutrality rules. These rules barred internet service providers — companies such as Verizon, Comcast, and T-Mobile — from offering different service levels to the content providers using their networks.

Regulating this activity via the FCC is one of those ideas that sounds good in the dorm late at night, but makes no sense in the light of day. For instance, the rules specifically ban “paid prioritization,” which means charging more for better services, or less for service that is more limited. But what’s wrong with that? Most every market in America uses discounts and premiums. Try buying an airline ticket, gas for your car or even new clothes, and you will find this kind of “discrimination.”

In the case of net neutrality, the rules make consumer prices more — not less — likely to rise. That’s because the rules apply only to the backend connection between ISPs and content providers. That makes it harder to make content companies pay for the costs they impose — leaving the consumer to carry the load.

But, the defenders of regulation assert, without FCC restrictions the big corporations would be able to do whatever they want, driving the little guys out of business.

Another fantasy.

First, the neutrality rules make no distinction between “big” and “little” companies. Some of the largest firms in economic history — Google, Amazon, Facebook — are longtime supporters of the restrictions. Conversely, smallish challengers like T-Mobile and Sprint find themselves subject to the full force of the rule. This makes no sense.

Moreover, the idea that the big companies will — without the constraints of FCC regulation — ride roughshod over the broadband market is simply one more fantasy. Network neutrality — despite the pinkie swears of its eager supporters — is not a long-standing rule of the internet. It was imposed only two years ago. The explosion of creativity, innovation, access and choice on the web did not begin suddenly since 2015. In occurred not — as the fantasists would have you believe — as a result of FCC ISP restrictions — but in their absence.

At any rate, with or without neutrality rules, there have been virtually no cases of abuse by the internet service providers. Despite years of scrutiny, the only clear case of market impropriety involved a small, rural telephone company, which blocked internet traffic for a few days in 2004. And the FCC stopped the blocking almost immediately. Other claimed violations — such as Comcast’s slowing of “bandwidth hogs” and T-Mobile’s plan to offer to waive data caps for content from certain content providers — are not abuses of consumers, but benefits for them.

If problems should arise in the future, antitrust regulators will be able to address them — as they do in almost every other industry. Bizarrely, the just-repealed FCC rules took the antitrust regulators out of the picture. With the rules now gone, these competition cops are back on the beat.

Proponents of network neutrality are taking the public on the policy equivalent of Mr. Toads Wild Ride. But the internet — while fantastic in so many ways — is not Fantasyland.

The real world danger to the internet is too much government interference, not too little. The FCC’s repeal of these ill-conceived rules is a welcome step.

Put AI to Work for Your Small Business in 2018

Image result for Put AI to Work for Your Small Business in 2018

Although it may seem that software products with advanced artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities are out of the reach of small businesses with limited IT budgets, the truth is that AI is trickling into a growing number of affordable solutions. A compelling reason for adopting AI is the time it can save users, according to Salesforce’s Ruthie Miller.

AI can automate the little, repetitive tasks that add up a to a major time sink. An AI-powered virtual assistant can help busy professionals tame their calendars, stick to impending deadlines and more. Online chatbots can answer questions and take care of simple customer service requests that would otherwise mean hours spent tethered to a phone.

Most importantly, AI can be turn rarely-used data into a valuable resource.

“For example, you can adopt an AI solution that predicts buying habits for your product based on both life events and market-based factors,” blogged Miller. “In turn, this gives your salespeople accurate information on prime prospects, plus plenty of ammunition to increase deal flow. And what makes such AI systems especially powerful is that they can learn, which allows them to adapt and continually improve.”

In this scenario, AI helps salespeople focus their time and energy on qualified deals rather than chasing iffy prospects, she added.

Here’s a look at some major IT vendors that are putting AI to work form small businesses


In November, Salesforce launched Sales Cloud Lightning Essentials, a customer relationship management (CRM) offering tailored to the needs of small businesses.

Highlights include the company’s interactive online learning environment called Trailhead, which guides users through the setup process, allowing them to get started in mere minutes. The mobile-friendly Salesforce app helps users make the sale at any time, anywhere, and on practically any device.

But the star of the show is Einstein, Salesforces’ AI.

“Sales Cloud Lightning Essentials is infused with Einstein, empowering small businesses to automate basic sales activities and work smarter. Einstein Activity Capture automatically keeps customer records up-to-date without any tedious data entry by connecting a user’s email and calendar,” stated Marie Rosecrans, senior vice president of SMB marketing at Salesforce, in a Nov. 7 announcement.


The Redmond, Wash. software giant has been infusing AI into practically the entirety of its software and services portfolio. Naturally, that includes Dynamics NAV.

Earlier this month, Microsoft released the latest version of its enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution for small and midsized businesses (SMBs), Dynamics NAV 2018. In a Dec. 1 announcement, Microsoft corporate vice president James Phillips, revealed that the upgraded software now uses “Microsoft Cognitive Services for image recognition of inventory Items and contacts. We’ve also added improvements to the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) capabilities with the Kofax Invoice Capture Service, for process improvement with digitized purchase invoices,” all of which helps eliminate manual data entry for busy workers.


Despite their productivity-enhancing benefits, IT experts haven’t been too keen on companies using consumer-grade virtual assistants like Alexa in business settings. Amazon rose to the challenge in November by announcing Alexa for Business.

“Alexa for Business not only brings Alexa into your workday to boost your productivity, but also provides tools and resources for organizations to set up and manage Alexa devices at scale, enable private skills, and enroll users,” wrote Tara Walker, technical evangelist at Amazon Web Services, in a blog post. With simple voice commands, Alexa can be sued to join remote meetings in a conference room, check calendars, set reminders, reorder office supplies and much more.

Huawei CEO Lays Out Ambitious Plans for 2018

Huawei hasn’t always been a household brand name in North America, but in recent years it has increasingly become one. From cloud and enterprise networking gear to consumer devices include set top boxes and mobile phones, Huawei is now a major IT force in the world.

Image result for Huawei CEO Lays Out Ambitious Plans for 2018

In 2018, Huawei is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the company’s creation. The company’s CEO Ken Hu released a special announcement for the new year, detailing the progress the company has made to date and where Huawei is headed in the future.

For fiscal 2017, Hu noted Huawei’s total sales revenue is expected to reach 600 billion yuan in 2017, or approximately $92.4 billion US, for a 15 percent year-over-year gain.

“In 2017, despite fluctuations in telco investment cycles, our carrier business has remained healthy and robust,” Hu wrote. “As markets waver, we are more committed than ever to exploring better solutions with our customers as they shift away from network construction models that are investment-driven, to models driven by value.”

In the carrier business, one of the big areas of growth for Huawei in 2018 is the deployment of 5G wireless. He noted that Huawei’s goal is to help carrier deliver a superior experience for content delivery.

For Huawei’s enterprise business unit, Hu said that product enhancements will continue in multiple areas including cloud, campus networks, data centers, and IoT. He added that currently 197 companies in the Fortune Global 500 have chosen Huawei as their digital transformation partner.


In 2017, Huawei formed a Cloud Business Unit to help advance its effort in the growing cloud market. Huawei is a leading member of the OpenStack Foundation and has its own FusionSphere distribution of OpenStack.

Hu said that Huawei’s Cloud BU now offers 97 different services across 14 major categories.

“We have deployed over 50 solutions for manufacturing, enterprise intelligence, e-commerce, and SAP applications,” Hu stated. “Since the formation of the Cloud BU, resource utilization and our number of cloud users have both tripled.”

Hu’s goal for Huawei in the coming years is to make sure his company helps to enable what he referred to as, ‘an intelligent world.”

“At the threshold of this new era, we stand tall in our commitment: Huawei will bring digital to every person, home and organization for a fully connected, intelligent world,” Hu stated.

Social media companies could face huge fines from German hate speech law

The silhouette of Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., is seen during the Oculus Connect 4 product launch event in San Jose, California, on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017.

Germany has started enforcing a controversial hate speech law that carries hefty fines for social media companies that fail to quickly remove objectionable content.

The law, which was passed in June, went into effect Monday, officially granting internet companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube-parent Google just a 24-hour window to remove offending posts once a user flags them for review.

The law carries fines of up to $60 million if companies fail to remove posts that are “obviously illegal” within 24 hours. It grants a week to consider more ambiguous cases.

The Network Enforcement Act, colloquially referred to as the “Facebook law,” also includes defamatory posts and incitements of violence.

All three companies have previously said they’ll cooperate with the new restrictions.

Twitter declined to comment Tuesday on how the company would operate under the new law. Google did not immediately return request for comment.

“We’re committed to removing hate speech any time we become aware of it,” Facebook said in a June statement on the company’s blog.

Given the history of the Nazi era, Germany is especially sensitive to hate crimes.

WhatsApp Private Reply Feature for Groups Enabled by Mistake

WhatsApp Private Reply Feature for Groups Enabled by Mistake, Expected Soon: Report

WhatsApp mistakenly rolled out the ‘Reply Privately’ feature in a beta update for Windows Phone that will allow users to privately send a message to a participant in a group without anyone else knowing about it. The hotly-anticipated WhatsApp feature is under development and could be rolled out with other features as well. The Private Reply feature appeared and was subsequently dropped from the beta version of WhatsApp, watcher of the popular chat app @WABetaInfo said, confirming that the developers wrongly enabled the feature.

“In the new WhatsApp beta for Windows Phone 2.17.344 the private reply feature is disabled. Probably WhatsApp has wrongly enabled it in 2.17.342,” WABetaInfo tweeted. The feature was again implemented in the v2.17.348 beta update.

WABetaInfo said that the Private Reply option will only be available in group chats and will be included in the small menu that pops-up when users press and hold on a message. They can then quote the message in a Private Reply to users, sent as a personal chat. In the early form it was spotted, there were still several bugs, WABetaInfo noted, such as being visible in personal chats rather than just group chats.

Other new features that arrived with the v2.17.336 and v2.17.342 betas for Windows Phone include a new UI design for calls, similar to the Android interface, one that’s disabled by default. Also new is the Quick Switch to video call, enabling users to switch from a voice call to a video call without interrupting the conversation. Advanced group settings were also seen.

Earlier this month, WABetaInfo leaked the details of the features that WhatsApp was developing for Web and desktop, including tap to unblock and a picture-in-picture (PIP) mode.