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Second stimulus check money: How much would another IRS payment bring? – CNET

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Should we expect a new payment if Congress passes a second stimulus package this summer?

James Martin/CNET

For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

As the US economy continues to stumble through the coronavirus pandemic, Congress is under pressure to approve a second stimulus package by the end of July. The timing for when exactly a new economic impact payment would go out this year, who would qualify for a second stimulus check and how much you might get won’t be settled until the Senate returns to work next week and begins crafting the bill.

The size of another relief package — and how Congress will divide up the money — will determine the amount that individuals and families are eligible to receive in a second economic impact payment. The first stimulus check, which was approved in March, sent each person who met the requirements up to $1,200 apiece, and up to $6,000 for families.  

White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow said July 10 that a second stimulus check will be smaller than the first, according to Fox Business. That aligns with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, who has indicated that the next stimulus package would have a $1 trillion cap, but it runs contrary to the president’s stated desire for a larger check.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, disagrees.

“A trillion dollars is, OK, that’s an interesting starting point, but it doesn’t come anywhere near,” Pelosi said July 9. “We need $1 trillion for state and local [assistance]. We need another $1 trillion for unemployment insurance and direct payments. We need something like that, but probably not as much, for the [coronavirus] testing, tracing, treatment,” Pelosi said. “What doesn’t measure up is, ‘Oh, it can only be a trillion dollars.'”

For the last two months, proposals have surfaced over how big a second stimulus check should be, ranging from a single $1,200 payment up to $2,000 a month through the end of the pandemic.

Read on for what we’re hearing from the Senate, House of Representative and the White House about the next relief check. And here’s more information on when we think Washington will reach a decision and who might qualify for a second stimulus check if a new economic bill passes.

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How much money would a second stimulus check get you?

Washington leaders are talking about these possible stimulus figures for individuals:

These figures represent the maximum sum we’ve heard. As with the first stimulus check, it’s almost certain that Congress will include eligibility restrictions based on how much money you make annually, your age, the number of dependents you have and your US citizenship or residency status.

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What does President Trump and his administration say about a second stimulus check?

The president has, over the past few weeks, come out as a firm advocate of a second round of direct payment to Americans.

“I support actually larger numbers than the Democrats,” the president said July 1, referring to the $1,200-per-person amount the Democrat-led House of Representatives proposed in May. The Washington Post reported in June that the president has told aides he is largely supportive of sending a second round of checks to Americans.

cash funds running out of money change dollars wallet empty

cash funds running out of money change dollars wallet empty

The president said he supports another round of direct payments.

Sarah Tew/CNET

National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow echoed the president’s support, telling Fox Business last week, “Direct checks are probably going to be part of it, as far as the president is concerned right now.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also expressed support, telling reporters at a White House briefing, “We’re going to serious[ly] consider whether we’re going to put more payments and direct payments over. It worked very well.”

Further, Chair of the Federal Reserve Jerome Powell made the case for more stimulus money in prepared remarks before the House committee on Financial Services on June 30. “A full [economic] recovery is unlikely until people are confident that it is safe to re-engage in a broad range of activities,” Powell said. “The path forward will also depend on the policy actions taken at all levels of government to provide relief and to support the recovery for as long as needed.”

The Senate’s view: A smaller second stimulus check

“I’ll be unveiling something, which will be a starting place, in a few weeks,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said July 6 about a new stimulus package. And a new payment for individuals and families “could well be part of it,” he added. In fact, we picked through the Senate calendar to get a good idea of its timeline.

And while the Senate has not offered many specifics on what it will include in its proposal, McConnell has been clear what it won’t offer. 

“I can’t tell you what the amount is likely to be at this point, but it won’t be $3 trillion,” McConnell said late last month. McConnell also proposed setting a $40,000 income ceiling to qualify for a check. “I think the people who have been hit the hardest are people who make about $40,000 a year or less. Many of them work in the hospitality industry,” he said

Here’s what we know about who might qualify for a second check.

McConnell had previously stressed that the focus of another bill will be narrow and, if approved, will be the last. Republican senators are focused on including incentives to bring people back to work.

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money-cash-dollars-stimulus-payments-pay-7102

The Senate intends to weigh the benefits of a second check this month.

A $1,200 one-time payment from the House’s Heroes Act?

The Democrat-led House of Representatives passed the Heroes Act on May 15. The bill, which has not passed the Senate and is not law, seeks larger payments for more family members, according to a fact sheet from the House Appropriations Committee (PDF). McConnell has already dismissed the bill, as has the president, who has called it DOA. Here are the broad outlines of the House coronavirus bill:

  • Individuals: An eligible person could receive up to $1,200.
  • Children and dependents: Each dependent could qualify for a $1,200 payment.
  • Families: Households would qualify for a maximum payment of $6,000 total, capped at five family members at $1,200 apiece.
  • People who aren’t US citizens: Noncitizens who file tax returns, pay taxes and otherwise comply with federal tax law using an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) instead of a Social Security number would qualify for a payment.

The bill would also extend many federal benefits set to expire this month.

Second stimulus check: What comes next?

It’s July, which puts us on the month-long deadline McConnell set for the Senate to decide on a second stimulus check. The House passed its Heroes Bill in May. With the Senate on a planned break till July 20, McConnell and the Republican-led Senate will have three weeks until Aug. 7 to craft its own stimulus package, if it does decide to move forward.

If you’re still waiting for your first stimulus check, here are 10 possible reasons for a delay and what you can do if you think your payment is lost or has fallen through the cracks.

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Coronavirus pandemic: We’re still in the first wave. So what happens in the second? – CNET

hair salon masks and shield

Face masks and plexiglass shields have become the norm at hair salons and retail stores, but new coronavirus cases continue to surge.

Sarah Tew/CNET

For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

Are we in the first wave of coronavirus infections or the second? And what happens when flu season arrives? For a while it looked like the US was flattening the curve. New cases were slowly trending down as states began reopening their economies. But the trend reversed course in mid-June, resulting in record numbers of new infections, well outpacing the virus’ spread at the beginning of the pandemic.

Experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, say no, we’re still “knee deep” in the first wave because confirmed case numbers didn’t drop enough for a long enough period of time to squash the initial outbreak. Instead, cases dipped before rising higher than they had been before.

Another complication: The uncertainty of the approaching fall and winter — in other words, flu season. Speaking to Time Magazine, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Robert Redfield warned, “The real risk is that we’re going to have two circulating respiratory pathogens at the same time.”

We take a look at what doctors and scientists have to say about a second wave of the coronavirus, including how it might relate to the current spike in new cases as well as what experts predict for the fall and winter. Please note: This story provides an overview of the current discussion, and is updated frequently in light of new and changing information provided by health officials, global leaders and the scientific community. It is not intended as a medical reference.

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Coronavirus cases are spiking worldwide: The latest news

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Reopening the economy has put people in closer contact with one another, but not everyone chooses to wear a face mask in public.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If we’re still in the first wave, when will a second wave happen?

“We are still knee-deep in the first wave of this [pandemic],” Fauci said during a July 6 interview on Facebook Live. “And I would say, this [recent uptick in cases] would not be considered a wave. It was a surge, or a resurgence of infections.”

The first wave will end when the rate of positive coronavirus tests drops to “the low single digits,” Fauci said in June. Instead, new cases declined modestly, then plateaued through most of May before starting to spike again in late June, never quite getting low enough. Basically, you can’t have a second wave until cases and deaths from the first wave drop close to zero for a sustained period of time. If cases spike again after that point, that’s a bona fide second wave. 

South Korean officials, for example, have declared the country is experiencing a second wave as case numbers have begun to surge again after about two months of single-digit infection rates. However, while the World Health Organization has acknowledged the seriousness of these new clusters of cases, the WHO has stopped short of calling it a “second wave.”

fall leaves turning brown

fall leaves turning brown

As fall approaches, so does flu season, which experts warn could complicate the public health response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Why are experts worried about coronavirus in the fall?

Most public health experts — including Fauci and Redfield — have said they anticipate a big uptick to happen this fall and winter. The White House has admitted it’s preparing for the possibility. However, part of that prediction was based on the assumption that the virus would slow down over the summer, which appears not to be happening.

Much of the attention aimed at fall has now shifted to concern over the possibility of two potentially lethal viruses circulating at the same time — COVID-19 and the seasonal flu, the latter of which kills around 40,000 people in the US per year. Because of certain overlapping symptoms such as fever and a cough, it may be harder for individuals and doctors to immediately determine which infection you have.

If severe COVID-19 infections continue to push hospitals to the brink of their capacity and abilities, it may also be harder to care for potentially virulent flu patients.

The CDC is nudging drug manufacturers to produce millions more doses of flu vaccine this year than usual in anticipation of greater demand. Typically, fewer than half of all US adults take the flu vaccine in any given year, but that rate increases to about two out of three for adults over 65, a population the CDC has identified as being at a higher risk for more severe COVID-19 infections.

Why did coronavirus cases start going back up again?

At one point, about 90% of everyone in the US was under some sort of lockdown order and the curve was starting to flatten. But that all began to change in the second half of April, when a few states — notably Georgia and South Carolina, which are both now seeing about a five-fold increase in new daily cases compared to mid-April — started loosening lockdown restrictions.

For a while, some government officials, including US President Donald Trump, claimed the rising rates of infections were due to increased testing capabilities. However, that view has since been challenged by a ProPublica analysis of the data in June and a World Health Organization press briefing in July, both of which concluded that the pandemic is accelerating faster than testing expansion alone can account for.

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Although some have blamed the rise in new cases on expanded testing, positivity rates are rising faster than testing alone can account for.

James Martin/CNET

An analysis by the New York Times demonstrates how the current surge in new coronavirus cases is being driven, for the most part, by states that were among the first to ease lockdown restrictions. Many doctors, including Fauci, had warned this could happen.

Are we headed for another lockdown?

By mid-July, about half of all US states were either reopening or had reopened. Meanwhile the other half had either paused or begun rolling back reopening plans. 

Health experts, including Fauci and Dr. Ali Khan, the former director of the CDC’s public health preparedness office, have said that if states are able to effectively test for coronavirus — and follow that testing up with contact tracing — while people in those states practice social distancing and wear masks in public, it would be possible to once again flatten the curve without having to revert back to a full-blown lockdown. If that strategy isn’t followed and new cases continue to skyrocket, “your only option is to shut down,” Khan said.

Closed Parks due to Coronavirus

Closed Parks due to Coronavirus

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

In early July, NBC reported that the White House had begun formulating a new coronavirus messaging strategy summed up as, “We need to live with it.” 

Not long after that revelation,President Donald Trump began publicly pressuring the CDC to loosen its guidance for safely reopening schools and threatening to cut federal funding for districts that don’t go back to in-person classes this fall. 

Some critics claim such pressure is an attempt to boost the flailing US economy in advance of the November presidential election. Trump has trailed in the polls for months against presumptive Democratic candidate Joe Biden, which most analysts attribute to Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

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The best Android tablet for 2020 – CNET

When you’re in the market for a new tablet, it can seem obvious to opt for Apple iPads (including the iPad Mini and iPad Air) and easy to overlook the Android tablet option, especially as fewer and fewer manufacturers are making them these days. It may seem unfair, but there are a few Android tablets on the market that try their best to rival the Apple iPad. 

While some might question the sanity of an Android tablet buyer in this day and age, the best ones can meet any casual or professional need. Some Android tablets even work with a touchpad or mouse. And if you’re already invested in the Android app ecosystem, you won’t have to buy them again for iOS. 

Whether you’re looking for an inexpensive device for media consumption or a possible laptop substitution, there are options worth exploring. We did the research, taking into consideration everything from screen size to battery life to ease of use — basically, all the factors that go into a great tablet. Here are our picks for the best Android tablet out there.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Google Pixel Slate tries to match the iPad Pro and Microsoft Surface Pro by blending a tablet and Chromebook into a single device — a kind of tablet PC, if you will. Though it’s not a full-fledged Android tablet (and it certainly isn’t a cheap Android tablet), you do have access to the apps in the Google Play store and plenty of power here to use them. It comes with a stylus and has a 48Wh battery, front and rear camera and a touchscreen LCD display screen. It also has a full desktop browser and support for a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard. It could even be used as a gaming tablet. The Pixel Slate also has the option for Google Assistant. Overall, just a great tablet. Read our Google Pixel Slate review.

Read more: 

David Carnoy/CNET

Amazon has come a long way from the first Kindle Fire tablet. The Amazon Fire HD 10 is Amazon’s biggest tablet with a 10-inch screen size and powerful speakers. Just like its smaller 8-inch sibling, the Fire HD 8, the tablet is packed with benefits for Prime subscribers making it easy for members to stream and download movies, TV shows and games. The Fire tablets don’t use a pure version of Android, but instead Amazon’s Android-based Fire operating system and pulls apps from the Amazon App Store. You can still get apps from Google Play, but you’ll have to install the store yourself — meaning gaming enthusiasts have access to all of their favorite mobile games for an excellent gaming tablet experience. Also, this is probably the closest thing we have to a budget contender on this best Android tablet list. Read our Amazon Fire HD 10 review.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 tablet packs in a lot for an Android device. It has a speedy Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor and flexible expandable storage up to 1TB with a microSD card. The Galaxy Tab S6 also looks amazing, with a super AMOLED display with a 16:10 ratio screen size. Battery life clocks in at about 15 hours and the rear camera has a 13 MP resolution. And if you’ve ever operated a Samsung Android device, the operation of this particular tablet will feel very intuitive. The recent updates to Samsung’s DeX mode even makes the Tab S6 a possible laptop substitution letting you connect to a mouse and even an external display. Just grab a keyboard and you will be all set. Read our Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 review.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The Lenovo Smart Tab P10 combines a tablet and a smart display into one 10-inch device. This Android tablet comes with Android Oreo, front and rear cameras, fingerprint scanner and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 450 processor. When you set it on the dock, the Lenovo Tab becomes a smart display a lot like the Amazon Echo ShowRead more about the Lenovo Smart Tab P10.

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Bright comet Neowise coming to an evening sky near you: How to catch it – CNET

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Comet Neowise as seen from the Czech Republic on the morning of July 6.

Jan Tláskal/Spaceweather.com

Comet Neowise might prove to be the most photogenic iceball in decades. After two other promising comets — Swan and Atlas — fizzled and faded away, Comet C/2020 F3 (aka Neowise) is already dazzling skywatchers, and the best may be yet to come.

The comet survived its closest brush with the sun on July 3 and is now headed toward its nearest pass by Earth on July 23. 

Over the past couple of weeks, a number of amateur astrophotographers have shared stunning images of the comet captured as it appeared just above the horizon in predawn skies. 

Astronauts on the International Space Station have also spotted the comet, aided by their premium vantage point, and NASA’s Parker Solar Probe captured the profile of Neowise, showing it has multiple tails.  

The best time to view the comet from the surface of Earth is currently shifting from the early morning hours to the evening.

According to NASA solar system ambassador Eddie Irizarry, it’ll start to be visible in the evening around July 15-16. It should be a little easier to see during the second half of July when it’s higher in the sky. 

Right now, the advice being shared by many of those who have successfully spotted the comet is to first locate it in the sky using binoculars or a telescope. Once you’ve found it and its trademark split tail, you should be able to then track it with the naked eye. 

July 5 – my third consecutive morning observing Comet NEOWISE. When I held my 7×40 binoculars to my eyes to search for…

Posted by Fred Espenak on Sunday, July 5, 2020

The comet’s closest pass by Earth will be July 23, which might make for a particularly exciting viewing opportunity if the comet’s brightness continues to hold where it is or even intensifies. It’ll also rise a little higher in the sky on July 24 and 25 in case you miss the actual flyby date. Comets are notoriously fickle things that could always break up and burn out at any moment, so fingers crossed. 

There’s a possibility, for the most optimistic of us, that Neowise might brighten dramatically to become a so-called “great comet” that’s easily visible and spectacular to see with the naked eye. While there’s no strict definition of what a great comet is, it’s generally agreed that we haven’t seen one since Hale-Bopp in 1997. 

Once it appears in the evening sky at mid-month, the comet will be visible toward the northwest and western edges of the sky. 

Here’s where you can spot the comet over the next couple of weeks. Online resources like TheSkyLive also offer similar night sky maps to aid your comet quest. 

This diagram from Sky and Telescope shows where to look for comet Neowise in the night sky this month.

Sky and Telescope

If you don’t catch the comet before it inevitably fades away in August or sooner, you’ll have to wait awhile for its next trip through the inner solar system, currently estimated to happen in the year 8786.

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Facebook built a new fiber-spinning robot to make internet service cheaper – CNET

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Facebook has designed a robot that can install fiber on traditional power lines, as shown in this rendering.

Facebook

The robot rests delicately atop a power line, balanced high above the ground, almost as if it’s floating. Like a short, stocky tightrope walker, it gradually makes its way forward, leaving a string of cable in its wake. When it comes to a pole, it gracefully elevates its body to pass the roadblock and keep chugging along.  

This isn’t a circus robot. Facebook developed the machine to install fiber cables on medium-voltage power lines around the globe. The aim is to make it cheaper for internet service providers to build out their networks using super-fast and reliable fiber connections. Installing fiber is a pricey endeavor, limiting where it can be deployed. If the cost of installation goes down, says Facebook, so too does the cost of service for the end user. 

The social network and Mark Zuckerberg, its chief executive and founder, have long wanted to expand access to the internet. The fiber-installation robot — code-named Bombyx, which is Latin for silkworm — and a slimmer fiber-optic cable that’s housed inside the machine’s body are part of that push. The robot crawls along power lines and weaves its streamlined fiber cables around the lines already in place. It “dramatically lowers” the cost of fiber deployment by using existing electrical infrastructure, Facebook says. 

The social networking giant plans to nonexclusively license the technology and will launch a pilot program with partners next year. It won’t be building the robot  — which doesn’t have a set retail price — but will count on partners to manufacture and sell it. 

“Half the world’s population is not connected,” said Karthik Yogeeswaran, a wireless systems engineer in Facebook’s connectivity group and the brains behind the new robot. About 80% of those people live under existing 3G or better networks but still aren’t online because they can’t afford it, he said in an interview with CNET.

“Fiber has orders of magnitude more bandwidth than basically any other technology,” Yogeeswaran said. “We want to allow abundance so that more people can get more data.” 

While carriers are busy rolling out super-speedy 5G wireless service, pockets of the world still have slow internet, and 3.5 billion people have no access at all. The novel coronavirus pandemic has made the need for high-speed, broadband internet even more obvious. In some places, hospitals, schools and other critical organizations don’t have fast-enough internet to function. As people work from home, they require steady connections to get their tasks done, and kids need internet access to complete their digital coursework. Without connectivity, none of that is possible, disadvantaging people who live in places without reliable, fast internet access. Facebook wants to help, but it’ll be hard-pressed to succeed where many others have failed.

Now playing: Watch this: Facebook builds a fiber-optic-spewing, power line-crawling…

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In the US, the federal and state governments have provided billions of dollars to companies to build out speedy fiber networks, but the installation is still pricey and time consuming. Digging up ground and putting fiber in can cost tens of thousands of dollars per mile to install. In emerging markets, lack of access to broadband can be even more pronounced. Even if service is available, it can be too pricey for many people to afford beyond low data-cap, pay-as-you-go plans.

“While the pandemic isn’t responsible for the digital divide, it’s exposing … the hard truth of the significance of that,” Yael Maguire, vice president of engineering for Facebook’s Connectivity Lab, said in an interview. “The pandemic is certainly unprecedented for all of us in many ways.”

While the timing of Facebook’s announcement may raise eyebrows given all of the controversy surrounding the company, it’s important to note that the social network’s mission to expand internet connectivity started long before COVID-19 ravaged the globe. The company envisions the entire world connected to the internet. It’s worked on programs like internet-beaming drones and apps that let users briefly browse text on any mobile website for free

Facebook isn’t the only tech company working on fiber. Google, as well as traditional carriers like Verizon, have rolled out fiber but have struggled along the way. Like Google, Facebook benefits when more people are online and able to use its services, whether it’s the core social network, Instagram or messaging service WhatsApp. 

Cables and robots

Three years ago, Facebook started looking at a more affordable way to deliver high-speed internet through fiber-optic cables. Yogeeswaran said the idea of using power lines to support the fiber cables came to him while he was traveling through rural Africa. Uganda was filled with medium-voltage power lines that emit between 10,000 to 35,000 volts, and he envisioned fiber installed alongside those cables.

Building a robot to install the fiber, high above the ground, made sense. While doing more research, Yogeeswaran learned about a method developed in the 1980s in which a machine would wind fiber cable around power lines.

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facebook-aerial-fiber-technology-image

Facebook’s new robot moves forward as it wraps fiber cables around power lines.

Facebook

“It never really caught on as a commercial success and that was partially because it was built using ’80s technology,” he said. “You had gas-powered motors and they kind of relied on humans moving these things across obstacles. You had to shut the power off.”

One product developed in the UK called SkyWrap winds cable around power lines in remote areas and places where it would be tough for a human to reach the poles, such as above a river. 

Traditionally, workers will lash a fiber cable to a wire attached to a pole rather than wrap it around. But there’s a lot of preparation work that needs to be done beforehand to support the fiber cable. The task requires large crews of people and heavy equipment, which drives up the cost, Yogeeswaran said. Wrapping fiber cable around power lines cuts this time-consuming work because workers no longer need to make new space on the pole or pull the cable with a lot of tension so it doesn’t fall. Facebook’s approach would require two or three electric utility linemen, a pickup truck, spools of fiber cables only a few kilometers long, a robot and several other tools.

Medium-voltage power lines are also “thinner and weaker,” so Facebook had to create a lighter robot, along with slimmer fiber cable that can resist damage from high temperatures and wind but still be small enough to be wound inside the robot’s body. 

Working with veteran cable designer Wayne Kachmar and other academic advisors and companies, Facebook and its partners created a fiber cable that’s 4 millimeters in diameter. A typical aerial fiber cable can be between 10 to 13 millimeters in diameter. Cable used to wrap around power lines is about 7 millimeters in diameter.

Facebook then teamed up with New York-based ULC Robotics to design a robot that can wrap a cable around a power line as it moves forward, and clear obstacles such as an insulator and other objects on the pole without the help of a human. Instead of using a round heavy spool loaded with a kilometers’ worth of cable, workers shed weight by forming the cable into a horseshoe shape and attaching it to the robot. That also makes it possible for the robot to clear obstacles by lifting up the fiber cable. As the robot passes an obstacle, it regains its balance, lowers the fiber cable and continues wrapping. 

Importantly, Bombyx can safely wrap fiber around power lines that carry electricity, something that’s difficult for humans to do. There’s no need to cut power service to customers served by the line to install fiber using the robot. And it can install more than a kilometer of fiber in about an hour and a half.

Still, there’s more work to be done before Facebook and its partners launch a pilot project. That includes making sure the robot can get the job done without requiring an engineer to oversee its work, working with electric companies and creating safe operating procedures. 

Fiber’s price tag

Today, millions of Americans lack broadband internet, defined as download speeds of 25 megabits per second and upload speeds of 3 mbps. The latest estimate from the US Federal Communications Commission says 18 million Americans, or roughly 5.6% of the population, go without fast connections. But certain segments are hit even harder. About 30% of people in rural areas lack broadband, as do 40% of the nation’s schools and 60% of health care facilities outside major metropolitan areas.

cable-comparison

cable-comparison

One kilometer of a typical aerial fiber-optic cable would weigh about 250 pounds. The same amount of Facebook’s thinner cable weighs 28 pounds.

Facebook

US federal and state officials have made nationwide broadband access a priority, offering grants and other incentives to big internet service providers and small-town telephone companies to upgrade their networks. In February, the FCC approved a $20 billion fund to ensure that residents in rural areas of the US have access to broadband internet connections. But differing opinions exist about how best to deploy those funds, and outdated maps with insufficient detail make it tough to determine where the true need really is.

The situation in developing nations is even worse, with wide swaths of countries having little or no connectivity. 

Fiber-optic lines typically are the best solution for spreading high-speed internet. Even 5G networks, which are being turned on around the globe, rely on fiber as their backbone. Fiber can deliver gigabit speeds and is more reliable than wireless connections. The preferred way to deliver such high speeds to users is to build fiber straight to their homes. But that gets expensive fast. 

A decade ago, many companies turned to fiber as the way to deliver internet to their customers. In 2010, Google launched its big push with fiber, promising to deliver service more than 100 times faster than what most Americans could access. ISPs in cities Google served lowered their prices and boosted speeds to compete. But in an illustration of the cost and difficulty of deploying fiber, Google in 2016 “paused” plans to roll out its internet service to new cities to explore other wireless options. Verizon also stopped rolling out its Fios fiber-optic internet service, which likewise connected to individual houses.

In 2019, 37% of US homes, or about 46.5 million, had access to fiber connections, up dramatically from 50,000 in 2002, according to trade group the Fiber Broadband Association. This month, Google unveiled its first new Google Fiber city in four years: West Des Moines, Iowa. 

In developing countries, fiber installation costs around $10 per meter, Facebook said. That averages aerial fiber construction costs with pricier underground construction. In developed countries like the US, the price could be $20 or higher per meter, the company said. Overall, fiber deployment typically ranges from about $2 per meter in areas with looser installation guidelines and low labor costs, all the way up to $100 for underground installation in difficult soil conditions, according to Facebook. 

The company estimates its technology will reduce the deployment cost of fiber in developing countries to $2 to $3 per meter. In developed countries, Facebook estimates the price tag of installing fiber would be less than $5 per meter. 

The price of fiber cable itself has dropped, but labor costs remain high, something Facebook’s robot could help address. While fiber may be the most expensive technology up front, it’s still the most reliable and cheapest solution over the long term, experts say. Other cheaper options upfront include running fiber to a nearby tower that then beams the signal to homes (a technique called fixed wireless) or using co-ax or other cables to link homes to a nearby fiber-connected box called a node. Fixed wireless can be deployed at about one-seventh the cost of fiber and one-fifth the cost of cable, according to the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association

Facebook’s technology won’t solve the “last mile” problem — getting connectivity from a tower to a home — but instead resembles fixed wireless offerings. Facebook sees its fiber robot as a way to “solve the mid-mile problem,” Maguire said. But those last few hundred meters are often the most costly part of a deployment.

For that “last mile,” Facebook has other products in the works. 

No silver bullet 

From the use of drones to lasers, Facebook has been experimenting since 2013 with different ways to make access to high-speed internet more affordable. That year, Zuckerberg said in a 10-page white paper that he believes connectivity is a “basic human right.” Expanding internet access also gives Facebook an opportunity to rope in more users as more people go online. The company runs a connectivity lab that’s part of an initiative called Internet.org.

But Facebook’s plans to connect the world have also hit roadblocks. 

Facebook's Aquila drone

Facebook's Aquila drone

Facebook has also experimented with solar-powered drones to deliver internet access.

Facebook

In 2018, the social network quietly shuttered a project to build solar-powered drones that would use lasers to beam internet to remote areas — something it had been developing for about four years. The company conducted two test flights of a prototype drone called Aquila. During its first test flight in 2016, the drone crashed in the Arizona desert because of a “structural failure,” but it had a smooth landing the following year.

Facebook’s efforts to bring free basic internet services to developing countries have faced political backlash. In 2016, India banned the social network’s Free Basics program because of concerns that it favored some internet services, including Facebook’s, over others. The company denied the program threatened net neutrality — the principle that all internet traffic should be treated equally — and made changes to address the concerns. This year, in Peru, the company started testing a new app called Discover that lets people browse text on any mobile website.

There are different products that providers can use to deliver high-speed internet service, but what works well in one area might not work well in another. Facebook, for example, has been mounting wireless devices known as “nodes” on poles as part of a project called Terragraph that it says is cheaper and faster than laying down fiber. But that system works well only in dense urban and suburban areas where there are a lot of buildings and poles because the nodes can’t be farther than 250 meters apart — otherwise the high frequency waves Terragraph uses can get disrupted by water and oxygen.

Installing fiber-optic cables underground in trenches is a more stable option than a wireless system, especially in areas with freezing weather, but that method can be pricey and slow due to permitting and other issues. Facebook’s latest robot project focuses on wrapping fiber around power lines in the air on poles that are often found outside of city centers and wealthy communities.

“We really believe there is no silver bullet for connecting the world. There isn’t going to be one technology or one business model that’s going to get the entire job done,” Maguire said. “Rather than focus on any kind of one-size-fits-all solution, we’re looking at building blocks.”

When it comes to that fiber-installation robot, Facebook is talking with potential partners around the globe. The company won’t be making these robots itself or installing fiber lines. Instead, Facebook plans to license its designs to other companies. 

One of the first is San Francisco-based NetEquity Networks, which aims to make high-speed internet access affordable within a decade for every human. Facebook will give NetEquity a nonexclusive, royalty-free license to deploy fiber networks using the technology and sell wholesale services to internet service providers and mobile network operators. After that, it’s up to NetEquity and other Facebook licensees to decide where to roll out the robot and fiber.

“It’s really going to be up to our partners and their interests of where they want to deploy the technology globally,” Maguire said. “If there’s interest in deploying it in the United States, we’d obviously be absolutely thrilled.”

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Star Wars: The Bad Batch hits Disney Plus in 2021 – CNET

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The Bad Batch will return in their own Disney Plus show.

Lucasfilm

Star Wars: The Clone Wars might have come to a glorious end, but the Bad Batch is still in action. The unique squad of clone troopers — which first appeared in the final season back in February — are getting their own Disney Plus show in 2021, the company revealed on Monday.

It’ll be set after the Clone Wars and the events of Revenge of the Sith, and see the Bad Batch acting as mercenaries as the era of the Galactic Empire begins. When we last saw them, they’d just gotten a new recruit in the form of cyborg clone Echo.

Clone Wars executive producer Dave Filoni will return for the new show, with Jennifer Corbett as head writer.

“Our partnership with the groundbreaking storytellers and artists at Lucasfilm Animation is only beginning,” said Agnes Chu, senior vice president for content at Disney Plus. “We are thrilled to bring Dave Filoni’s vision to life through the next adventures of the Bad Batch.”

Presumably the excellent Dee Bradley Baker will also return to voice Echo, supertracker Hunter, the incredibly strong Wrecker, knowledgeable Tech and deadly sniper Crosshair. 

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T-Mobile CEO teases that its next ‘un-carrier’ event is coming this week – CNET

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T-Mobile’s next “un-carrier” event seems set for Thursday. 

Graphic by Pixabay/Illustration by CNET

Since closing its Sprint merger in April, T-Mobile has been fairly quiet when it comes to major announcements. The company has continued to expand its 5G network and rolled out some initiatives such as its promised free service for first responders, but when it comes to its trademark “un-carrier” events, it hasn’t made any major waves.

That seems set to change this week. On Monday CEO Mike Sievert tweeted out a video teasing that an event is coming soon. While the tweet did not specify what this upcoming event will be focused on, a timestamp in the left corner had the clock set to “7:16” suggesting the news will be shared this Thursday, July 16. 

Former CEO John Legere previously teased an un-carrier event during the company’s Q4 2019 earnings call in February

T-Mobile declined to comment.

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Lego teases buildable NES set following leaks – CNET

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The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) may be coming in Lego form.

Josh Miller/CNET

Lego will apparently offer a retro gaming fix with its Nintendo Entertainment System set, which it teased Monday after Chinese website VJGamer leaked images. It’ll include 2,646 pieces, cost about $250 and launch on Aug. 1, according to Promo Bricks.

The set consists of a NES console (non-functioning, unfortunately), a CRT TV with Super Mario Bros‘ World 1-1 playing on the screen, a controller and a game cartridge, Promo Bricks reported. A little crank can be used to move Mario along the screen.

It seems that this set will be compatible with the upcoming Lego Super Mario set, which is also out on Aug. 1

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The official Lego Twitter tease was a little more circumspect, with a GIF revealing the set’s silhouette.

“Are you ready to play like never before?” the company wrote.

If you want to play some actual NES games, you’ll have to get yourself a NES Classic. Switch owners can also subscribe to the $20-a-year Nintendo Switch Online service to gain access to a retro library.

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iPhone slow down because of ‘batterygate?’ You could be eligible for a $25 settlement – CNET

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If you have an older iPhone like an iPhone 6 or 6S you could be eligible for a settlement from a class-action lawsuit. 

Angela Lang/CNET

Still have your original iPhone SE or an iPhone 6, 6S, 7 or one of the Plus models? If you live in the United States, you may be able to get up to $25 back from Apple as part of a class action settlement. 

In 2017 Apple revealed that it slows down iPhones as they age in order to preserve battery life. That news didn’t sit well with a lot of people, who were unaware that the company’s iOS software was doing this automatically. As a result, Apple apologized and made it easier to monitor battery health and, for a time. It also cut the prices for battery replacements. 

It still didn’t stop lawsuits, with the iPhone-maker agreeing in March to pay up to $500 million to settle a class-action lawsuit filed against it, though it also denied any wrongdoing in the case. Now, users could begin to submit their claims for their share at a website set up by the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

According to the site, those looking to file need to be, or were, “a United States owner of an iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s, 6s Plus, 7, 7 Plus, and/or SE device that ran iOS 10.2.1 or later” or an iPhone 7 or 7 Plus owner that “ran iOS 11.2 or later before Dec. 21, 2017.” 

Filers will also need to have had “experienced diminished performance on your device(s).” 

Those looking to make a claim, which could be worth roughly $25 per device though the exact number will vary depending on the number of claims filed, will need to do so before Oct. 6, 2020. 

While forms could be submitted online or via mail, you’ll need to have your iPhone’s serial number to be able to file, which could be challenging if you’ve since sold, traded in or upgraded your older iPhone. A search tool is available to help look up serial numbers using your Apple ID email address. 

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Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 Concept could foreshadow a Hemi-powered off-road SUV – Roadshow

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 Concept

Alright, this is really cool.

Jeep

Jeep definitely, definitely wanted a piece of Ford Bronco day. Ford’s long-awaited off-road SUV is due to debut tonight, so of course, Fiat Chrysler’s off-road and SUV-focused division decided to drop some pretty big news.

This is the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 Concept, which houses a 6.4-liter Hemi V8 engine, as the numerical part of the name suggests. (That’s 6.4 liters in cubic inches.) While Jeep’s tinkered with wild V8-powered concept cars for years now, this one is different.

The brand noted the last time its well-known off-roader offered a V8 engine was way back in 1981, and the company knows fans have long asked for V8 power from the Wrangler. To quote from the announcement, “The new Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 Concept is an indication they may soon get their wish.” Fingers crossed for a 450-horsepower Wrangler, folks.

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 Concept

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 Concept

Wrangler: Now with Hemi exhaust burble.

Jeep

Not to mention, the Wrangler Rubicon 392 Concept basically looks like a production car. The knobby 37-inch mud-terrain tires are really the only thing that look more show car than production car. Jeep even detailed the rest of the running gear for the “concept” and it all sounds doable.

An eight-speed automatic transmission handles shifts and there’s a full-time, two-speed transfer case beefed up further thanks to Dana 44 axles. The front and rear receive electric lockers, too. The concept also includes a Mopar Accessories-derived two-inch lift kit. Other tweaks include new aluminum Fox shocks, a hood scoop and a switch to alter the exhaust sound on the fly. I bet this thing sounds really freaking good.

Keep those fingers crossed, Wrangler nation, because it sounds like we’re mighty close to a final decision on whether Jeep will build the SUV. I really don’t think it would have an issue selling out a production run, if the company wants a smidge of insight.

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