Cable ISP warns “excessive” uploaders, says network can’t handle heavy usage

A pair of scissors cutting an Ethernet cable.

Mediacom, a cable company with about 1.4 million Internet customers across 22 states, is telling heavy uploaders to reduce their data usage—even when those users are well below their monthly data caps.

Mediacom’s fastest Internet plan offers gigabit download speeds and 50Mbps upload speeds with a monthly data cap of 6TB. But as Stop the Cap wrote in a detailed report on Wednesday, the ISP is “reach[ing] out to a growing number of its heavy uploaders and telling them to reduce usage or face a speed throttle or the possible closure of their account.” Mediacom told Ars that it is contacting heavy uploaders “more frequently than before” because of increased usage triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The company said that heavy uploaders “may be under their total bandwidth usage allowance but still have a negative impact on Mediacom’s network.”

Mediacom’s terms and conditions say the company charges $10 fees for each additional block of 50GB used by customers who exceed the data cap. But users may be warned about their usage long before they risk overage fees. One user in East Moline, Illinois, who described the predicament on a DSLReports forum in early January, said they paid for the 6TB plan “to make sure we wouldn’t go over the cap” and had never used more than 4TB. The user wrote:

So, got a call from the Mediacom fraud and abuse department today. The rep told me they were calling customers that have “higher than average” bandwidth usage as they are having network issues. I hurried up and checked my account and only used a bit over 2.5TB last month. He told me my upload was 450GB over their average and if I didn’t reduce my usage they would either throttle or disconnect me. I argued that I used less than half of the total data allowed by my plan, but he said my 1.2TB of upload was too much and that this was my warning.

Another gigabit user in Missouri named Cory told Stop the Cap that the 6TB monthly cap “is way more than I will ever use, but I still received a warning letter claiming I was uploading too much. I discovered I used about 900GB over the last two months, setting up a cloud backup of my computer. At most I can send files at around 50Mbps, which they claim is interfering with other customers in my neighborhood. I don’t understand.”

Too much usage in “Mediacom’s sole opinion”

Letters sent by Mediacom to heavy uploaders said, “your account’s usage is greater than 99.5 percent of all Service customers. Due to your excessive use, you are negatively impacting Mediacom’s network and other users of the Service.”

The letter goes on to say that it’s a “violation” of Mediacom’s acceptable use policy to “use excessive bandwidth, whether upstream or downstream, that in Mediacom’s sole opinion, places an unusually large burden on the network or goes over normal usage. Mediacom has the right to impose limits on excessive bandwidth consumption via any means available to Mediacom.”

Mediacom provided slightly more detail to the Federal Communications Commission in response to customer complaints. A Mediacom letter to the FCC said the company’s “network is built to allow for more downstream usage than upstream usage.” Mediacom’s letter to the FCC also described the data cap as “a large conduit with a smaller conduit within it… Due to historical trends, the smaller conduit allows for upstream usage while the remainder of the conduit is reserved for downstream usage.” Heavy upload use can stress that “smaller conduit,” meaning that customers “can be under the total data usage allowance but still be negatively impacting the network.”

Mediacom blames pandemic

Even without the overall data caps, Mediacom’s Internet plans have built-in limits on uploading. While the gigabit-download plan limits uploads to 50Mbps, the 60Mbps-download plan limits uploads to just 5Mbps and the 100Mbps-download plan limits uploads to 10Mbps. The 60/5Mbps plan has a 200GB monthly cap, and the 100/10Mbps plan has a 1TB cap.

We asked Mediacom why it hasn’t upgraded its network enough to fully support the upload speeds and data allotments that its customers pay for, but we didn’t receive an answer. New versions of the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS), which have been heavily hyped by the cable industry, can support symmetrical download and upload speeds of 10Gbps. Even an earlier version of the DOCSIS 3.1 standard that’s now widely deployed theoretically allows 10Gbps downloads and 1Gbps upload speeds. But the cable industry has been slow to raise upload speeds.

When contacted by Ars, Mediacom pointed to cable-industry statistics showing 31.8 percent growth in downstream traffic and 51.1 percent growth in upstream traffic since the pandemic ramped up in March 2020. Mediacom spokesperson Thomas Larsen also told us:

Given the surge in traffic during the pandemic, we have been reaching out to the customers who fall into the top 0.5 percent of upstream users more frequently than before. This is not the easiest topic to explain because Internet usage is growing rapidly in this work from home/study from home environment, so it is difficult to give an exact number that puts a customer into the 0.5 percent category because that number changes from month to month.

Ideally, we can help the customer identify the cause of the upstream overutilization issue and help them take steps to manage it. We can offer business class services that are designed to support greater upload capacity, but that’s really not the point of this exercise.

Mediacom also contacts heavy download users “when their usage negatively impacts” other customers, Larsen said. “Since our network is engineered to be able to handle significantly more downstream traffic, this happens less frequently.”

As for whether customers who don’t lower their usage will face throttling or account terminations, Larsen said, “use that causes a negative impact on Mediacom’s network is prohibited and Mediacom may implement necessary network programs to address such use or suspend or terminate the service.”

Switching ISPs “not an option”

Mediacom’s handling of uploaders is reminiscent of steps taken by Cox Communications earlier in the pandemic. Cox imposed neighborhood-wide slowdowns in some cases, reducing the gigabit-download plan’s upload speeds from 35Mbps to 10Mbps. Mediacom doesn’t appear to have done anything that drastic, but telling users to reduce their upload usage when they haven’t even come close to hitting their data caps is frustrating for customers.

“If there were any other Internet options other than horribly slow AT&T DSL, with a small data cap, I would switch in a heartbeat,” the Mediacom customer in Illinois who posted on the DSLReports forum wrote. “Unfortunately with my job and working from home, going without usable Internet is not an option.”

30% of “SolarWinds hack” victims didn’t actually use SolarWinds

This is an artist's concept of <em>Wind</em>, a NASA <a href="">spacecraft</a> which spent twenty years gathering data on the solar wind (no relation).
Enlarge / This is an artist’s concept of Wind, a NASA spacecraft which spent twenty years gathering data on the solar wind (no relation).

When security firm Malwarebytes announced last week that it had been targeted by the same attacker that compromised SolarWinds’ Orion software, it noted that the attack did not use SolarWinds itself. According to Malwarebytes, the attacker had used “another intrusion vector” to gain access to a limited subset of company emails.

Brandon Wales, acting director of the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA), said nearly a third of the organizations attacked had no direct connection to SolarWinds.

[The attackers] gained access to their targets in a variety of ways. This adversary has been creative… it is absolutely correct that this campaign should not be thought of as the SolarWinds campaign.

Many of the attacks gained initial footholds by password spraying to compromise individual email accounts at targeted organizations. Once the attackers had that initial foothold, they used a variety of complex privilege escalation and authentication attacks to exploit flaws in Microsoft’s cloud services. Another of the Advanced Persistent Threat (APT)’s targets, security firm CrowdStrike, said the attacker tried unsuccessfully to read its email by leveraging a compromised account of a Microsoft reseller the firm had worked with.

According to The Wall Street Journal, SolarWinds is now investigating the possibility that these Microsoft flaws were the APT’s first vector into its own organization. In December, Microsoft said the APT in question had accessed its own corporate network and viewed internal source code—but that it found “no indications that our systems were used to attack others.” At that time, Microsoft had identified more than 40 attacks on its customers, a number that has increased since.

Microsoft Corporate VP of Security, Compliance, and Identity Vasu Jakkal told ZDNet that the “SolarWinds” campaign isn’t an isolated emergency so much as the new normal, saying, “These attacks are going to continue to get more sophisticated. So we should expect that. This is not the first and not the last. This is not an outlier. This is going to be the norm.”

AT&T eats a $15.5 billion impairment charge as DirecTV debacle continues

A man with an umbrella walking past a building with an AT&T logo.
Enlarge / A man walks with an umbrella outside of AT&T corporate headquarters on March 13, 2020, in Dallas, Texas.

AT&T lost 617,000 customers from DirecTV and its other TV businesses in the final quarter of 2020, capping a year in which it lost nearly 3 million customers in the category, AT&T reported today.

AT&T today also informed the Securities and Exchange Commission that it has taken “noncash impairment charges of $15.5 billion” related to its ongoing DirecTV debacle. AT&T said the $15.5 billion charges reflect “changes in our management strategy and our evaluation of the domestic video business… including our decision to operate our video business separately from our broadband and legacy telephony operations.” This operational decision “required us to identify a separate Video reporting unit and to assess both the recoverability of its long-lived assets and any assigned goodwill for impairment,” AT&T said.

AT&T said it also logged “charges of approximately $780 million from the impairment of production and other content inventory at WarnerMedia, with $520 million resulting from the continued shutdown of theaters during the pandemic and the hybrid distribution model for our 2021 film slate.”

The charges were added to AT&T’s Q4 expenses. As a result, AT&T reported a $13.9 billion net loss in the quarter, compared to a net profit of $2.4 billion a year ago. Q4 revenue was $45.7 billion, down from $46.8 billion year over year. The Q4 net loss swung AT&T to a full-year net loss of $5.4 billion.

“Executives called the non-cash accounting charge a sign of the pay-TV unit’s aging status as the Dallas company promotes an Internet-streaming model that gives its content-production business a direct line to viewers,” The Wall Street Journal wrote today.

“Our biggest and single most important bet is HBO Max,” AT&T CEO John Stankey said.

Premium TV customers flee in droves

AT&T is down to 16.5 million customers in the Premium TV category that includes DirecTV satellite, U-verse wireline video, and the newer AT&T TV online service. That’s down from 17.1 million three months earlier and down from 19.5 million since the beginning of 2020.

AT&T has strung together several years of big TV-customer losses since early 2017, when it had over 25 million users in the category. The loss of nearly 3 million customers in 2020 was an improvement over 2019, when AT&T lost 3.4 million Premium TV customers in the calendar year.

These numbers do not include the streaming service formerly known as DirecTV Now, which AT&T just killed off this month. The service dropped from 1.86 million subscribers in Q3 2018 to 656,000 by year-end 2020. Existing customers can keep that service, but AT&T isn’t offering it to new users.

DirecTV and U-verse customers have been driven away by years of price increases and AT&T’s reduced use of promotional offers. This is reflected in AT&T’s average revenue per user (ARPU) in the Premium TV category, which jumped from $121.76 per month at year-end 2018 to $131 at year-end 2019 and $137.64 at the end of 2020.

AT&T attributed the 617,000-customer loss in Q4 to “competition, lower gross adds from the continued focus on adding higher value customers and a programming dispute, partially offset by lower churn.”

Video revenue down 11.2 percent

AT&T reported video revenue of $7.2 billion in Q4 2020, “down 11.2 percent year over year due to declines in premium and [online] subscribers, partially offset by higher premium TV ARPU and higher advertising revenues during the general election.” Operating expenses in the category were $7.1 billion, leaving AT&T with a profit of $98 million.

AT&T doesn’t report individual numbers for DirecTV, U-verse TV, and AT&T TV. But the company said gains in AT&T TV streaming subscribers last quarter helped offset losses in DirecTV and U-verse, meaning that DirecTV and U-verse together lost more than the 617,000 net-customer loss in the Premium TV category.

AT&T said it is encouraged by the progress of HBO Max, which costs $15 a month on its own but is also included in various bundles. “The release of Wonder Woman 1984 helped drive our domestic HBO Max and HBO subscribers to more than 41 million, a full two years faster than our initial forecast,” Stankey said.

Selling DirecTV at a loss

AT&T bought DirecTV for $49 billion in 2015 but has been trying to sell the beleaguered satellite division for the past few months. AT&T is reportedly close to a deal to sell a stake in DirecTV to TPG, a private-equity firm, but AT&T may maintain majority ownership of the company. Bids for DirecTV have reportedly valued the subsidiary at about $15 billion.

Fiber gains, DSL losses

AT&T’s broadband-subscriber base remained steady at 14.1 million in the quarter. The company boosted fiber-to-the-premises subscribers from 4.68 million to 4.95 million in Q4 2020, but it dropped from 8.98 million to 8.74 million in fiber-to-the-node and from 440,000 to 407,000 in its outdated DSL service. AT&T stopped accepting new DSL customers in October 2020.

AT&T said its Q4 broadband revenue was “$3.1 billion, down 1.4 percent year over year due to declines in legacy services partially offset by higher IP broadband ARPU resulting from an increase in high-speed fiber customers and pricing actions.” Operating expenses were $2.8 billion.

All the best weatherproof and wireless outdoor speakers

Picture yourself relaxing somewhere nice, with the sun shining and a cold drink in your hand. The only thing that could make this vision even more perfect would be having a great speaker playing your favourite playlist.

When you’re selecting a speaker for this scene, there are a few features you’re going to want to prioritise. Choosing a wireless speaker — one where you don’t need to tangle with power cords and can easily connect to your phone via WiFi or Bluetooth — can definitely make things easier, which is why you should only consider a wireless speaker for listening outside.

Wireless technology isn’t the only feature that you need for an outdoor speaker. There are a few other things to consider, and we’re going to guide you through everything you need to know.

What should you look for when buying an outdoor speaker?

Before you make any sort of purchase, you should come up with a list of priorities, and match potential purchases against what matters to you. If that sounds like far too much work, don’t worry, because we’ve done most of the hard work for you.

We have checked out a wide range of wireless outdoor speakers, and come up with a shortlist of things you should care about. These are the most important things to consider: 

Durability: This might seem obvious, but you need your speaker of choice to be durable. If it’s not, then it’s not going to last for long outdoors. Chances are, any outdoor speaker is going to take a few bumps and it might even get dropped. So the last thing you need is something that easily breaks. 

With this in mind, durability should always be right at the top of your list of priorities, and certainly above things like how cool it looks. We know we’re being very sensible here, but a snazzy speaker is not going to be much good to you if it’s totally smashed.

Weather-resistance: Newsflash: If you’re using a speaker in the great outdoors, you’re going to want something that’s weather-resistant. Of course, nothing is indestructible in the elements, but you will need something that can hold up at least for a little while in whatever weather conditions are common near you. This is where a speaker that’s water or heat resistant can come in handy.

If an outdoor speaker isn’t either of these things, we recommend looking elsewhere. It’s as simple as that.

Waterproofing: We have just mentioned how important water resistance is, but you should also look for the next step in protection. If you’re planning to use your speaker near a pool, lake, or sea, you should get one that can be submerged in water. Accidents happen, and it’s best to play it safe with a waterproof speaker.

Sound quality: Just like with any speaker purchase, you’re going to want to prioritise sound quality. What’s the point if your speaker doesn’t play your tunes any better than your phone? So make sure you pick something with bass, clear audio, and good volume. Fortunately, you have plenty of options when it comes to speakers that deliver powerful and accurate sound.

Style: The way a speaker looks is not as important as sound quality, durability, or anything else really, but we’re not going to pretend that it doesn’t matter at all. Most of the best speakers come with colour options, so you should always be able to find something that works for you. If you don’t have the option to switch things up, then you should carefully consider how a speaker is going to look when you picture it sat next to you in that sunny scene we mentioned earlier.

Unfortunately, finding a speaker that has all of these elements can sometimes drive the price up — but if you think you’re going to use the speaker often, it’s worth the cost. 

What is the best wireless outdoor speaker?

Once you’ve made sense of what matters most to you, and what you should be looking for in an outdoor speaker, you can actually decide on your preferred device. This isn’t the most simple task, because there are a lot of options out there that tick a lot of boxes. 

To make things easier for you, we have lined up a selection of the best wireless outdoor speakers, including popular models from top brands like JBL and Ultimate Ears. We have searched high and low to bring you this list, and we’re confident that there is something for everyone and every budget. 

These are the best wireless outdoor speakers in 2021.

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Image: amazon

The Good

Fully waterproof and weather-resistant • Great loud sound • Portable

The Bad

Loud for small spaces

The Bottom Line

This waterproof, wireless speaker has everything you want.

JBL Xtreme 2

This wireless portable speaker has amazing sound, can withstand any weather, and plays music for 15 hours on one charge.

This portable speaker has everything you want in an outdoor wireless speaker: it’s got amazing sound, a large volume range, and durability. It’s waterproof and weather-resistant, built to withstand snow, sand, cold and heat.  
It offers up to 15 hours of playtime from a single charge, with dual passive radiators that deliver powerful, ear-catching JBL sound that resonates loud and clear. 
Basically, the JBL Xtreme 2 has everything you want from an outdoor speaker, and more.

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Image: amazon

The Good

Built-in smart features, supporting Alexa and Google Assistant • Great audio quality • Easy switch from WiFi to Bluetooth • Features Auto TruePlay technology

The Bad

No smart features in Bluetooth mode • Not small or light weight enough for convenient travel

The Bottom Line

Doubling as both an outdoor speaker and a portable Bluetooth speaker, the Sonos Move has the quality and flexibility to work for most of your outdoor events.

Sonos Move

This easy-to-use, rechargeable speaker streams over WiFi and Bluetooth, making it a convenient outdoor speaker for you to move around with you.

The Sonos Move is a durable, battery-powered speaker that’s a great option if you want something you can move around outside from place to place, say from the pool to the BBQ. It’s also strong enough to take the occasional drop or bump. While it’s not the easiest to travel with due to its weight and bulky size, it is portable so you can also bring it with you on cookouts or go tailgating. The battery lasts up to 10 hours and comes with a charging base. You can also recharge it with a USB-C charger. 
This speaker is also super easy to use: it’s quick to set up, it’s simple to control through the Sonos app, and you can switch from WiFi to Bluetooth streaming when needed. And of course, since it’s an outdoor speaker, it’s weather resistant and able to stand up to humidity, rain, snow, dust, sun rays, and salt.  

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Image: amazon

The Good

Waterproof • Floats • Long battery life • Portable

The Bad

Charging dock not included • Bass not great at high volumes

The Bottom Line

This speaker is loud enough to throw a great garden party, is waterproof to survive a fall in the pool, and ultra portable.

Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3

If you’re looking for a wireless speaker for the pool, this waterproof, floatable option is your best bet.

Available in multiple fun colours, this Bluetooth-compatible speaker features 360-degree sound and reaches high volumes, making it ideal for playing outside in large gardens. It takes a little short of three hours to charge, but then has 15 hours of battery life — perfect for a long day outside. 
One of the best features, though, is that it’s waterproof enough to survive being dropped and left in a pool for up to 30 minutes. In fact, it floats in water so it’s easy to retrieve if it does take that swim.  

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Image: amazon

The Good

360-degree sound • Siri and Google Assistant compatible • Weatherproof • Can integrate into a Bose audio system • 12-hour battery life

The Bad

Charging dock not included • Not fully waterproof or dust proof

The Bottom Line

A great choice if you’re looking for a speaker that provides a 360-degree listening experience.

Bose SoundLink Revolve

If you’re looking for a 360-degree outdoor speaker, this is the one for you.

This sleekly designed speaker is portable and offers true 360-degree surround sound, making for a great listening experience. It can also be paired with a second speaker for stereo sound or integrated into a Bose audio system. 
The speaker is easy to use and features a built-in mic for taking phone calls or engaging your phone’s smart assistant. It also features a good battery life of 12 hours, though the charging dock must be purchased separately.  

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Image: amazon

The Good

Waterproof build • Strong sound for size • Features LED lights

The Bad

On the heavier side

The Bottom Line

Light up the night with this portable Bluetooth speaker that features LED lights.

JBL Pulse 4

Combine outdoor music with an impressive LED light show, and you’ve got yourself the perfect speaker for your next al fresco dinner.

This is more than just a Bluetooth speaker: it’s also a light show. When you play music, the speaker will put on an LED colored light show to light up the night thanks to its wrap-around panel. 
The speaker is portable, though a little heavier than one might want if you plan to travel with it a lot. It’s easy to connect to your phone and features a pretty good battery life of 12 hours.  

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Image: amazon

The Good

Good quality sound for the price • Water-resistant • Portable • Bluetooth connectivity up to 100 feet

The Bad

Takes a long time to charge

The Bottom Line

For great sound at a more wallet-friendly cost, this is the wireless speaker for you.

Tribit MaxSound Plus

Waterproof and portable, this speaker delivers quality sound at a wallet-friendly price.

For its size — and its price — this speaker does not disappoint. It is waterproof in up to 3 feet of water for 30 minutes, weather resistant, and has a long-lasting rechargeable battery. It will also easily connect to your devices over Bluetooth. 
It also delivers impressive sound, with advanced Texas Instruments amplifier modules, audio processing tech, and larger drivers pumping out a accurate sound at all volumes (including decent bass).

Software data shows freight groups avoiding UK, prices rising

LONDON (Reuters) – An increasing number of freight groups rejected contracts to move goods from France into Britain in the second week of January, while prices rose, according to data that shows the impact of Brexit and COVID-19 on UK trade.

FILE PHOTO: A truck drives towards the entrance to the Port of Dover, following the end of the Brexit transition period, in Dover, Britain, January 15, 2021. REUTERS/John Sibley/File Photo

Transporeon, a German software company that provides a network for suppliers, retailers, shippers and more than 100,000 logistics service providers, said prices were up 47% compared with the third quarter in 2020.

Prices had been up 39% in the first week of January. The third quarter of 2020 was chosen to reflect the most normal trade levels with regards to COVID-19 turbulence last year.

The data also shows that freight forwarders, the companies that book truckers or other modes of transport to move goods on behalf of suppliers, are rejecting jobs from companies they are contracted to serve, when it comes to moving goods to Britain.

In the second week of January the rejection rate was up 168% on Q3, 2020, compared with the 102% jump it recorded in the first calendar week of the year.

The data backs up what UK freight forwarders have been telling Reuters, that many European drivers are refusing to come to Britain after Brexit. And that prices are soaring.

Businesses across Britain have struggled to export goods into Europe since the UK left the EU’s orbit, particularly small firms unaccustomed to filling in lengthy declarations and food producers having to secure health certificates.

Lorry drivers were also incensed in December when France shut the border to Britain to contain a new infectious variant of the coronavirus, and then demanded negative COVID-19 tests, leaving thousands stranded in Britain over Christmas.

The haulage industry estimates that around 80% of truck drivers operating between Britain and France are employed by European firms.

Transporeon said freight forwarders had also rejected jobs to move goods from Germany, Italy and Poland into Britain.

Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by Jonathan Oatis

British firms call for immediate $10.3 billion in COVID aid

LONDON (Reuters) – British firms called on Tuesday for another 7.6 billion pounds ($10.3 billion) of emergency government help, saying they cannot wait until finance minister Rishi Sunak’s March budget to learn if they will get more pandemic support.

FILE PHOTO: A man looks towards skyscrapers of the City of London financial district as he crosses Waterloo Bridge, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in London, Britain, January 15, 2021. REUTERS/Toby Melville

With Britain back under lockdown and companies adjusting to life after Brexit, firms are taking big decisions about jobs and investment and need to know if their financial lifelines will be extended, the Confederation of British Industry said.

“We just have to finish the job. Now would be a very odd time to end that support,” CBI Director-General Tony Danker said in a statement.

Sunak has extended his support measures several times already and has said his response to the pandemic will cost 280 billion pounds during the current financial year, saddling Britain with a peacetime record budget deficit.

But he is facing calls on many fronts to spend yet more including from lawmakers, some from his Conservative Party, who want an emergency welfare benefit increase to be prolonged.

The CBI said Sunak should extend until June his broad job retention scheme, which is scheduled to expire in April, and then follow it up with targeted support for jobs in sectors facing a slow recovery such as aviation.

He should give firms more time to pay back value-added tax which was deferred last year, grant a similar deferral for early 2021 and extend a business rates tax exemption for companies forced to close by the lockdown as well as their suppliers.

“The rule of thumb must be that business support remains in parallel to restrictions and that those measures do not come to a sudden stop,” Danker said.

The CBI said its longer-term priority was an overhaul of the business rates system that it said was outdated and discouraging investment in low-carbon energy.

Danker said it was too soon to start raising Britain’s corporation tax rate, one of the lowest among rich economies after a Times report that Sunak was drawing up plans to increase it to start fixing the public finances.

“It would be wrong to raise business taxes when we don’t have a recovery,” Danker said.

($1 = 0.7380 pounds)

Writing by William Schomberg; Editing by Alexander Smith

More than 4 million Britons receive first COVID-19 vaccine dose

A man walks past a sign outside the mass vaccination centre at the Totally Wicked Stadium, in St Helens, Merseyside, Britain, January 18, 2021. REUTERS/Molly Darlington

LONDON (Reuters) – More than 4 million people have received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in Britain, according to official data on Monday which showed there had been a further 37,535 cases reported and 599 deaths within 28 days of a positive test

A total of 4,062,501 people have received their first shot Public Health England said as the government ramps up the vaccination programme.

Reporting by Costas Pitas

Johnson criticised over lack of COVID-19 welfare commitment

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was criticised in parliament on Monday for refusing to commit to the renewal of a temporary welfare payment increase brought in last year to help people through the COVID-19 pandemic.

FILE PHOTO: Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends a virtual news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, at 10 Downing Street in London, Britain January 7, 2021. Tolga Akmen/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

Parliament voted 278 to 0 in favour of keeping the top-up payment of 20 pounds ($27) a week, but the vote was symbolic and does not force the government to act.

Johnson told his lawmakers to abstain in the vote, after a debate that renewed attention on whether his government is doing enough for people on low incomes after a damaging row over free school meals for needy children.

The opposition Labour Party called for the increase to the Universal Credit welfare payment to be extended beyond April, when it is due to expire.

“We all know, families are looking at us, wondering what we will do to help make getting through this crisis that little bit easier,” said Labour lawmaker Jonathan Reynolds. “What they don’t expect, is the government making it even harder.”

Speaking ahead of the debate Johnson was asked four times whether the top-up would continue, but did not give a definitive answer.

“What we’ve said is that we will put our arms around the whole of the country,” he said.

The government says no decision has been made yet and accuses Labour of staging a political stunt with the vote.

Some members of Johnson’s Conservative Party spoke out against the government, underlining dissatisfaction over ministers’ handling of support for society’s most vulnerable.

“People need some certainty about their family finances for the coming year,” said former Conservative cabinet minister Stephen Crabb, one of six Conservatives to defy Johnson’s instruction to abstain.

Britain has announced emergency help for the economy worth 280 billion pounds, including a massive job protection scheme, and is running its largest peacetime deficit to try to soften the blow of the pandemic.

Universal Credit is Britain’s main method of supporting those who are out of work, in low income jobs or eligible for welfare based on sickness or disability.

The number receiving it has almost doubled to 5.8 million from pre-pandemic levels. ($1 = 0.7385 pounds)

Reporting by William James; Editing by Estelle Shirbon, Alison Williams and Alex Richardson

‘Brexit carnage’: shellfish trucks protest in London over export delays

LONDON (Reuters) – More than 20 shellfish trucks parked on roads near the British parliament and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Downing Street residence on Monday to protest against post-Brexit bureaucracy that has throttled exports to the European Union.

A lorry with a sign in protest against post-Brexit bureaucracy that hinders exports to the European Union, drives at the Parliament Square in London, Britain, 18 January 2021. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Many fishermen have been unable to export to the EU since catch certificates, health checks and customs declarations were introduced at the start of this year, delaying their deliveries and prompting European buyers to reject them.

Trucks with slogans such as “Brexit carnage” and “incompetent government destroying shellfish industry” parked metres from Johnson’s 10 Downing Street office in central London. Police were asking the truck drivers for details.

“We strongly feel the system could potentially collapse,” said Gary Hodgson, a director of Venture Seafoods, which exports live and processed crabs and lobsters to the EU.

“Prime Minister Boris Johnson needs to be honest with us, with himself and with the British public about the problems for the industry,” he told Reuters. One operator, he said, needed 400 pages of export documentation last week to enter Europe.

David Rosie at DR Collin & Son, which employs 200 people, used to send one or two trucks a night to France carrying live crab, lobster and langoustine worth around 150,000 pounds ($203,000). He said he had not exported a single box this year.

Fishermen, he said, “lost their livelihoods in the turn of a clock” when Britain left the EU’s orbit on New Year’s Eve.

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Under a deal reached last month, British trade with the EU remains free of tariffs and quotas. But the creation of a full customs border means goods must be checked and paperwork filled in, shattering express delivery systems.

Using a phrase that has angered many business owners, Johnson described the changes as “teething problems”, and said they had been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Johnson said an additional 23 million pound ($31.24 million) fund had been created to compensate businesses that “through no fault of their own have experienced bureaucratic delays, difficulties getting their goods through where there is a genuine buyer on the other side of the channel”.

The government said this extra cash was on top of a 100 million pound investment in the industry over the next few years and nearly 200 million pounds provided to the Scottish government to minimise disruption.

Britain’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said that as well as financial support, it was working with the industry and the EU to address documentation issues.

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“Our priority is to ensure that goods can continue to flow smoothly to market,” a government spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Fishing alone contributes 0.1% of Britain’s GDP if processing is included, but for coastal communities it is a lifeline and a traditional way of life.

The Scotland Food & Drink association says exporters could be losing more than 1 million pounds in sales a day.

Many in coastal communities voted for Brexit but said they had not expected this impact.

Allan Miller, owner of AM Shellfish in Aberdeen, Scotland, said times for his deliveries of live brown crab, lobster and prawns had doubled from 24 hours. This mean lower prices and some of the product did not survive, he said.

“You’re talking 48 hours to 50 hours. It’s crazy,” he said.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Kate Holton, Timothy Heritage, Jonathan Oatis and Catherine Evans

Aubameyang double gives Arsenal win over Newcastle

LONDON (Reuters) – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang struck twice as Arsenal defeated Newcastle United 3-0 in the Premier League on Monday, condemning Steve Bruce’s side to a ninth game without a win in all competitions.

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After a dreadful start to the season, Mikel Arteta’s side are now up to 10th place in the league and they never looked in danger against a Newcastle side that looks demoralised.

Aubameyang struck the post in the first half and Alexandre Lacazette forced a good save out of the Newcastle keeper just after the interval.

But Aubameyang finally fired the Gunners ahead in the 50th minute, finishing off a counter-attack, running at the Newcastle defence and then blasting home a powerful left-foot drive at the near post.

Ten minutes later Bukayo Saka made it 2-0 with a confident slot home after good work down the left flank from impressive youngster Emile Smith Rowe, who jinked his way around the back of the Newcastle defence before delivering a pinpoint pass.

Aubameyang completed the comfortable victory after Cedric Soares got to the byline and pulled the ball back into his path.

VAR examined whether the ball had crossed the line before Cedric’s pass but allowed the goal to stand.

Arsenal have now kept a clean sheet in five straight games in all competitions.

“I’m really happy overall. Really positive performance, collective and individually we looked really solid and convincing from the first whistle,” said Arteta.

“It took us a little bit longer than I expected to score the first goal but I really like the chemistry, cohesion and rhythm the team played with.”

Aubameyang had only netted three goals prior to Monday’s game and his manager was delighted to see him score his first double since last season’s FA Cup final.

“He needed that for his confidence and the team needs that to be successful. We need him at his best. We were missing his goals, we all know that so to have them back is great for the team,” he said.

Newcastle boss Steve Bruce had made eight changes to his team after the defeat to bottom club Sheffield United and was disappointed his team could not improve on a solid first half.

“We gave as good as we got and got into ourselves some decent opportunities but that little bit of confidence has ebbed away for sure. We were caught in the second half where we didn’t see it coming from the first-half performance,” he said.

Asked about his future, the experienced Bruce said: “I am trying to do the best I possibly can as always but you will have to ask others about that.”

Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Pritha Sarkar