Thursday, December 31, 2009

Fox, Time Warner Cable dispute could pull plug on some bowl games New Years Day

So, Fox and Time Warner Cable are in a dispute that, if not settled by midnight New Years Eve, could lead to TW customers not getting Fox programming, including many bowl games and American Idol, New Years Day and into 2010.

Fox wants Time Warner to pay (more) for programming. Where have we heard that before. And it will be passed on to consumers. The FCC is jawboning the two parties into trying to settle before midnight.

The AP story is by Ryan Nakashima, with link here. It was also run on Yahoo!

So some customers who went out and converted old rabbit ears boxes, or who use "The Dish", may be better off.

I had Time Warner in Minneapolis.

Time Warner Cable was spun off from Time Warner holding company earlier in 2009.

Update: Jan. 1 2010

The negotiations continue, but TW is allowing Fox to be broadcast New Years Day.

Update: Jan 5

There is a similar dispute between Scripps and Cablevision over Food Network and HGTV taht may not get resolved at all. AOL covered the story here.

Here are the remarks by Guy Fieri from "I Love Food Network" on YouTube.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

AT&T finds it hard to keep up with iPhone demands in Manhattan

AT&T stopped selling Apple’s iPhone to Manhattan residents over the weekend, directing to pick another phone, because of difficulties in satisfying the data volume demands of typical urban iPhone customers, whose behavior on popular shows like CWTV’s “Gossip Girl” probably exaggerates the problem at bit. Niraj Sheth has a subscription article on the Wall Street Journal here; the article appears in print on p B1, Marketplace, on Tuesday December 29.

Cell phone companies in some large cities have difficulties supplying good service everywhere when there are many skyscrapers over a large area, as in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, or many Asian cities in China, Japan, Malaysia, etc. In other cities, like Washington DC (or many European cities) where there are many fewer tall buildings their task is much easier. It is probably easier in cities where downtowns are relatively concentrated. In some cities like Dallas there are many tall buildings but they tend to be spread out in urban development centers in various areas of the city. These cities are easier to design service for.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

FCC wants to guarantee every home broadband, use other rural telephone resources if necessary

The Federal Communications Commission says it is dead serious about the aim of making high speed broadband utility available to every household in the United States, no matter how rural or poor. The Washington Post story Thursday Dec. 17 is “FCC issues proposals to met national broadband plan”, link here.

One proposal is to use money from the Universal Service Fund, normally used now to subsidize rural phone service, an idea that sounds like playing Robin Hood to some. The agency is also considering jawboning cable operators into supplying everyone with set-top devices (similar to stripped-down PC’s, usually running on proprietary, Linux-like operating systems) to integrate cable and video services. Of course, there would have to be attention to security for these devices.

Gigi Sohn, director of Public Knowledge, has suggested that smaller telecomm companies should have access to lines owned by bigger companies.

Public Knowledge has a page on Network Neutrality, here. The page includes a quote of a Network Neutrality provision required of AT&T by the FCC when AT&T bought back Bell South at the end of 2006.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Would net neutrality violate "corporate" free speech?

Randolph J. May has an op-ed on p A15 of the Dec. 15 Washington Times, “Voiding the Constitution: FCC Rules Could Counter Freedom of Speech”, link here.

The argument more or less makes ISP’s into virtual people and asserts their First Amendment rights to discriminate, in various “innocent” hypothetical situations (content involving gay marriage, etc). But ISP’s are not content producers or publishers; they are more like utilities or perhaps distributors. (Okay, you could say that a motion picture distributor is engaging in speech in practice.)

But this is one more piece on the “con side” of the network neutrality debate.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Small-town Vermont struggles to get broadband during credit crisis

Tunbridge, Vermont struggles to find funding for high speed Internet service, with the latest proposal a $100 million fiber-optic project. Ordinary cable companies find land lines too costly to build in this mountainous, less populated area, and some politicians look at broadband as a “luxury”. But small businesses say that broadband is now an essential utility for survival, and the question becomes existential. One of the small businesses in the report is a sheep farm.

Funding for the fiber-optic project would have been a cinch two years ago, before the credit crisis that unraveled in 2008. How’s that for social justice, Suze Orman?

The report is in a WSJ video link here.

Wikipedia link for Vermont Population density. Tunbridge is half way up, near the NH border.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

NBC-Comcast proposed merger; Comcast and TW plans to increase PC subscriptions present an interesting horizon

Cecilia Kang has several recent stories in The Washington Post about the cable television industry, mainly about the move of Comcast and Time-Warner both to offer most major television series to subscribers on their PC’s (using a license or access code), and, as we heard today, plans for Comcast to buy a majority stake in NBC, taking it away from GE (at one time, NBC was a subsidiary of RCA).

The most important story probably occurred Dec 3, “Cable giants to put shows online
Time Warner, Comcast launch service in hopes of retaining customers”, link here.

The major networks (including CWTV as well as NBC, CBS and ABC) already offer many episodes of many of their shows for re-viewing free on PC’s. Some offer embed code for news shows (like 60 Minutes on CBS). Some cable networks (ABC Family) also offer episodes on video. Gay network LOGO offers many shows and movies, but then takes some of them down.

Of course, regulators will be concerned about anti-competitive potentials of the Comcast-NBC merger. I have Comcast at home, and I worked for both RCA (my first “professional” job in 1970) and later NBC (1974-1977) in applications programming. NBC is combined with Universal Pictures and Focus Features. For future filmmakers, this could make things interesting. I still remember some of the people at NBC then.

Actually, the tall building in Rockefeller Center was called the RCA Building then, and on the second day of work in February 1970 I did meet the top executives of RCA then before starting at what was called then the David Sarnoff Research Center (or Princeton Labs) at Princeton NJ, about two miles from the University campus. Memories are long.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

ATT: Only 3% of customers had broadband in 2000; Black Monday problems; some personal experience

Well, last night Webroot Spyweeper ran a backup while I watched a half-hour short film on Logo on Comcast broadband.

I did have a lot of trouble connecting with the movie server, which may have been due to packet contention over the fact that my PC was transmitting data out through the cable to a remote server. Eventually the movie ran, but it stalled several times. James Martin’s textbook on telecommunications back in the mid 1990s would explain how this works.

Does Comcast regulate the rate at which data can come in to and leave my machine? Probably, to protect other customers. I can’t say that this is objectionable.

Also, AT&T has been pointing out that in 2000 only 3% of computer email users had broadband. It claims that the industry, including itself, has provided “neutral” service with little oversight of consumers (of the type above). The ad doesn’t say what percent of customers have broadband today.

Monday night, Nov. 30, I had trouble getting "server busy" messages when FTP-ing to my doaskdotell domain with WS-FTP (Ipswitch). I don't know if this was a broadband problem, or it had to do with some end-of-month cleanup at the ISP. A number of sites were slow, on both comcast and even Verizon wireless this time; maybe there was a central routing problem (Mae East). Broadband technology will have to deal with peak usage, as on "Black Monday" when people are climbing online to make cyber purchases.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

ATT objects to metaphor of White House chief of Technology, comparing ISP's to China!

AT&T has objected to comments made by Andrew McLaughlin, White House chief of technology, comparing the potential for web censorship by ISP’s to censorship by China. All this appears in a story by Cecilia Kang, The Washington Post, p A15, “Comments on net neutrality irk AT&T: White House official links the issue to censorship in China”, link here.

That earlier entry is in the Post Voices column Nov. 23 and seems to be this, and refer to remarks made at a telecom law conference at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln (one state up from my own University of Kansas, where I went to grad school myself; a math PhD friend became a professor there).

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Cloud Computing and new operating systems: provides another argument for greatly improved domestic broadband

Miguel Helft offers a strategically important article on p B4 of the Friday Nov. 20 Business Section of The New York Times, “Google offers peak at operating system, a potential challenge to Windows,” web URL link here, tied to the Chrome browser, which I personally generally find works faster than IE or Mozilla.

The operating system would depend on using the Internet to perform many functions typically loaded today onto PC’s as running (often startup) programs. This might even included word processing.

The concept is called “cloud computing.” But it would place a much greater dependency on broadband. Users would buy smaller, cheaper and more portable PC’s (embedded perhaps in blackberries or iPhone or tablet like devices) and depend on cable or wireless for basic functions. This also makes wireless security a bigger issue. Broadband access in remote areas becomes more important, as does equitable use of bandwidth.

The Obama administration should take note of the technical nature of operating systems proposed to depend on cloud computing, in order to pursue broadband infrastructure policy.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Verizon on replacing lost Blackberries; an oddity on the engineering of Comcast cable boxes (and why they fail)

Well, here goes the saga of a lost Blackberry, one which vanished during a shopping trip. I get to the Verizon store, and find that if I want service transferred to another Blackberry, it costs almost $500, although it’s refundable if the old Blackberry shows up and the new one is returned. With the “insurance” you can get a new one at the old price but only in two days by FedEx.

Well, the Smartphone 9630 is smaller, and curiously there is no VZAccessManager CD. And Windows Vista isn’t smart enough to find it on Vzam (it does find the drivers for most new hardware). There is a card in the new box telling you to go to, and then you have to locate the right model yourself. Then comes a long download, and a multi-step remove-and-install-and-verify charges before you can finally go online on the laptop with the new Smartphone blackberry.

But one good thing, the wireless access on the Vista machine is much faster than was the big old 8830. A smaller Blackberry is easier to carry properly in-case when out and probably less likely to be lost or misplaced.

Probably the Secret Service has made sure that the president’s blackberry is easy to carry and get out without being misplaced.

Here’s another technical weirdo. I try to connect an old radio shack cordless phone, and instant a few cable channels drop off the Comcast box (not all of them, just a few less stable ones). I disconnect it and they come back. It looks like Comcast cable boxes are very sensitive to voltage changes, and this behavior may mean that a surge protector has failed.

Update: Monday

Well, the clunky old 8300 showed up tucked away deep inside the front door space of the car. So Verizon accepted the new phone (which is much better) back for a full refund, and I have to wait for 20 elapsed months to be eligible for upgrade.

Nevertheless, the new driver from works for the old Blackberry (it probably would work for President Obama's Blackberry) and it is MUCH better. It gives you usage detail and, for what it is worth, if finds more local networks, including a local business which I would not use illegally. (Okay, maybe that's a security problem; if I weren't a good guy -- more postings to come on Wireless security on my Internet security blog.) Also, the sites pull up much faster (so it's the driver, not the Blackberry itself), including Blogger sites now load fast in wireless. So I gained something from all this.

If you do buy an older Blackberry for Verizon, use the VZAM website; don't use the CD. But Windows Vista doesn't find it automatically. VZAM has separate drivers for Windows 7, which I believe it will load automatically when I get it.

Monday, November 09, 2009

A paper in March 2009 from the University of Minnesota School of Mathematics: watch out for logical traps in arguing net neutrality

A paper in March 2009 from the University of Minnesota School of Mathematics and the Digital Technology Center, by Dr. Andrew Odlyzko carries out a thought experiment in showing the dangers of carrying the intellectual arguments for network neutrality too far. The paper, published in The Review of Network Economics, is titled “Network Neutrality, Search Neutrality, and the Never-ending Conflict Between Efficiency and Fairness in Markets”, with link here.

The discussion of this article was continued by Nate Anderson in Ars Technica on Oct. 28, 2009, in an article with link here.

The concern is that after zeroing in on ISP’s and telecommunications companies, we’ll apply the same “logic”, inexorably and relentlessly (rather like pursuing Nixon for his tapes) to the behavior of search engines.

Differential pricing, based on what a consumer is willing to pay based on the way the consumer approached the provider, is necessary in most business models, the argument goes. Yup, Donald Trump talked about it all the time on “The Apprentice.” Cable companies do it by charging existing customers more than new customers, because if the inertia or inelasticity in changing companies. So it shouldn’t be surprising that search engine companies could get tempted or lured by it. (Odlyzko goes into a complex hypothetical example with Starbucks.) Yet the market will probably limit how much price manipulation --- and therefore engine result placement – really happens. The fact is, with no regulation, search engines companies in the late 90s found in their best interest to index the content of amateurs (including me) free, even without the use of metatags, meaning that newbies with innovative content, even if not particularly crafty or pretty technologically, could get noticed, and very globally.

Odlyzko’s paper comes from an upper Midwestern campus that we think of as progressive and perhaps leftist – but the tone is certainly libertarian to conservative, somewhat like the writings of U of M graduate Tim Lee (which appear on Ars Technica). It wouldn’t surprise me to find the Washington Times running some of the materials by either writer.

Wikipedia attribution link for U of Minnesota campus picture. I lived about two miles from here, in downtown Minneapolis, from 1997-2003.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Is US broadband capacity too weak to handle telecommuting for a pandemic?

Here’s a good one. CNN, over the Halloween weekend, reported the concern that so many people would telecommute and work from home during the H1N1 influenza crisis that the Internet would come to a halt.

More specifically, the nation, when compared to Japan or South Korea, does not have the broadband capacity to deal with a sudden increase in tele-work (including teleconferencing in lieu of travel by air) that can happen during a pandemic.

Any takers on this argument? I suppose we could face the question again, if something deadlier, like H5N1 (instead of H1N1) surfaces.

Who keeps all the telecomminications and ISP's up if we have really big workplace outages?

Let the FCC ponder this now.

Friday, October 23, 2009

FCC begins tedious process of writing net neutrality rules

The Oct. 23 Washington Post has a story by Cecilia Kang, p 18A, link web URL here to the effect that writing the network neutrality regulations will be a long and politically difficult process. The story title is “FCC to draft net neutrality rules, taking step toward Web regulation: Writing of regulations expected to be long, contentious process”.

Even progressives and liberals admit that poorly conceived rules, while superficially protecting consumers from arbitrary actions by telecommunications providers, could hurt small startup companies attempting creative innovations, such as with the many new ideas being tossed around for new social media.

On page 22A of the same paper, Mike Musgrove reports on comments by Google chief executive Eric Schmidt, to the effect that abusive behavior by major telecommunications companies should be prohibited, major bigtime regulation should be avoided because it would shut down innovation by the smaller businesses that liberal politicians believe they are trying to protect.

A comparable story appears on p A5 of The Washington Times, "FCC moves on Net Neutrality: Cites concern over Internet's accessibility", by Tom LoBianoc, here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

FCC's net neutrality rules may be well intended, but is it dangerous for FCC to have the power to issue them?

Corynne McSherry has a valuable essay on the Electronic Frontier Foundation site, “Is Net Neutrality an FCC Trojan Horse?”, link here.

The EFF typically takes libertarian positions, even against overregulation that may sound well intended and protective of individual rights. Here is no exception: EFF is not criticizing the FCC network neutrality regs (from Chairman Genachowski) per se, but tie Federal Communication Commission’s “ancillary” authority to develop and implement them. EFF suggests that the FCC could get tempted to implement its own “Internet decency policy” (an administrative CDA or COPA, which would probably be unconstitutional). The FCC made the case for its authority in a case involving Comcast, with the court brief here with a Progress of Freedom Foundation rebuttal here with respect to Bit Torrent. EFF also envisions an imaginary “Internet Lawful Use Policy” that could mimic the DMCA. Possibly even (in my opinion) it could consider some form of mandatory liability insurance for bloggers, in order to reduce “systemic risk”, a new Obama administration buzzword these days.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

FCC admits to need for flexibility, especially for wireless

Cecilia Kang has followed up with a story on p A25 of the Thursday Oct. 8 Washington Post, “FCC Chief Promises Industry More Spectrum – and Net Neutrality Rules,” link here.

One of the biggest points is that wireless operations (compared to landline cable) need more flexibility in adjusting bandwidth for technical reasons, without any real customer impact in the usual sense. Companies are also expanding the concept of portability. AT&T will run Internet applications for the iPhone on its wireless network. Verizon and Google are developing the Android application system for cell phone software, with the idea of accepting any applications. Some of the groundwork for this stuff had been done by teenage hobbyists, as reported here in August 2007.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

GOP tries to block FCC administrative net neutrality rules

In late September, some Republican senators moved to bloc FCC proposals to use its administrative authority to enforce network neutrality rules on telecommunications companies.

A typical story is by John Eggerton of Multichannel News, “.Republicans Move To Block FCC's Network Neutrality Initiative: Hutchison Introduces Amendment To Appropriations Bill Prohibiting Agency From Spending Money To 'Implement New Regulatory Mandates'”. The link is here.

The resolution was introduced as an amendment to an appropriations bill. Cosponsors were Senators John Ensign (R-Nev.), Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), David Vitter (R-La.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) The GOP statement suggests that the party believes that policy should emphasize technical upgrades for everyone, and bring broadband speeds up to those in South Korea and Japan; doing so, even if allowing preferences, will help ordinary speakers and consumers more than government-enforced, neutrality, they argue.

On Monday Sept. 28 The Washington Post ran an editorial "The FCC's Heavy Hand: Federal regulators should not be telling Internet service providers how to run their businesses", link here. The Post is appropriately critical of Mr. Genachowski's plans to micromanage what is a reasonably well running marketplace. I was a bit surprised by the editorial.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Neutering the Net?

Holman Jenkins has a provocative op-ed in the Wall Street Journal Wednesday, Sept. 23, “Neutering the Net”, link here. He does make the Internet sound like a wild tomcat.

He points out that almost all big telecomm companies have built business models based on “overusing” an existing infrastructure, and gives the example of AOL with its dialup service in the 1990s, which at one time was based on time connected but still rode on the backs of customers with unlimited local phone service. Business models today, based on advertising, assume that users have relatively unlimited access to almost any lawful content. Therefore, most of the large telecomm companies, as well as much of Wall Street, are in bed with the Obama administration and the Democratic Party in supporting neutrality, using the democratizing effects of free speech and blogs like mine as examples.

The article discusses an advocacy group called “Free Press” (link)not to be confused with the well known publishing company. (By the way, Free Press has a byline “journalism is in trouble”. More about that later.) Free Press is also connected to “Save the Internet: Make net neutrality the law.”

If you search for “network neutrality” on the wsj online site, you’ll find three articles from Sept. 21, by Amy Schatz, who sees a political struggle between content infrastructure companies (like Google, MSN, Yahoo!) and actual telecomm companies (AT&T, Time Warner, Comcast), the latter of which have business models that may benefit from usage-related pricing whereas the former do not. There was “nothing neutral” about the reactions to the FCC announcement Monday.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

FCC to announce net neutrality rules to providers soon

On Saturday, the AP and CNN reported that the Federal Communications Commission plans to issue new administrative “network neutrality” rules to ISP’s. A link for the AP report by Brian Cubbison is here. The rules will be announced Monday Sept. 21 at a speech at the Brookings Institution.

ISP’s and telecommunications providers would be prohibited from interfering with the speed of transmission of user applications in certain circumstances. This would protect them from liability of course (the old Section 230 issue) but could affect their plans to cut off home users who over consume. That part isn’t clear.

The broadband infrastructure must accommodate itself to a world in which users expect much more bandwidth, as for movies on demand.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Insurance companies won't cover devices that would help disabled with really efficient net access

Insurance companies have interacted with the computer and cell phone world in a bizarre way, refusing to pay for text-to-speech devices that have general purpose computer uses. This is particularly true of cell phones and netbooks, as written up by Ashlee Vance in a front page story in the New York Times on Tuesday Sept. 15.

Text-to-speech translation hardware supported by insurance is very costly, compared to conventional personal computers, and yet software available with these computers is much cheaper. This can be an argument for libertarian-style conservatives to argue against regulation of health insurance technology. It’s also obvious that people with disabilities will need efficient access to broadband and Internet services (maybe physicist Stephen Hawking is only the most famous example), and the free self-pay market seems to be a lot more responsive than corporate (let alone government and especially Medicare) bureaucracy.

The story title is “Insurers Fight Speech-Impairment Remedy” and the link is here.

In one of my screenplays, people abducted from Earth, housed in a “synecdoche” apartment building in a city on another planet have several kinds of computer terminals in their apartments for different purposes, with one of them being for “telepathic” (faster than light) information exchange with Earth. Imagine network neutrality between planets.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Consumer group advises moderation in cell phone use for safety reasons -- but...

An advocacy organization called the “Environmental Working Group” is advocating that consumers moderate their cell phone use, in a press release “Lower Your Exposure to Cell Phone Radiation: Comprehensive Online Guide To Low-Radiation Wireless Devices” with link here" (link here).

NBC Nightly News covered the story, and stressed that the radiation from wireless devices is non-ionizing, much less than a microwave oven or chest Xray. So far there is no evidence that the radiation associated with cell phone use causes tumors.

Friday, September 04, 2009

USTelecom CEO makes "simple" arguments against legislated net neutrality

I found an older anti-network Neutrality story by John Eggerton in a cable industry website, in which Walter McCormick, president of US Telecom, argued against the legislation without using the bad “nn” words. The story dates to May 2008, here. It refers to a speech to a First Amendment Think Tank at the Media Institute.

McCormick claims that the essential nature of broadband tends to invite competition (as long as government doesn’t rig things to discourage it), and if a telecom provider behaves in a discriminatory manner, in time competition will always punish it. Of course, such an argument presumes that telecom companies can naturally make enough profit by serving smaller customers in a neutral manner. The controversy over “amateurism” discussed elsewhere in these blogs could call that into question.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

NY Times "comes out" for Network Neutrality in brief editorial

The New York Times has an editorial “Access and the Internet” on p. A16 of the Saturday Aug. 29 paper. The link is here. The brief editorial comes out very strongly for Network Neutrality as it is usually presented. It argues tat without NN, telecommunications companies will give preferred outward bandwidth to large paying customers (compare to individuals and bloggers) and may even censor (as it mentions a “planned parenthood” case). It also mentions possible other issues with unfair competition, regarding Apple, the iPhone, Google Voice, and AT&T.

Others have insisted that the free market will prevent these problems. I tend to agree with “the latter”.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

FCC meeting on Broadband and Homeland Security: blogger notes

Here are some notes from the Public Safety and Homeland Security Conference at the FCC in Washington today on Aug. 25 (see previous post). The meeting was brought into homes with Cisco Webex, and Vista installed and ran the components easily.

Law enforcement and public safety needs tend to be specific. Many applications are character driven with fixed screens or maps (a concept well known to me from mainframe CICS) so sometimes the actual capacity requirements are small. But specific items need to be available to police officers, such as fingerprints or bio-data, in addition to the typical Motor Vehicle and wanted lists today.

Some of the infrastructure today should be kept on landlines. VHF goes through objects better than UHF and wireless.

Police departments need 100% availability even during catastrophes, so infrastructure backup should be based on satellites, off the planet and away from storms and conflict (although satellites could be vulnerable to solar storms).

An early presentation showed the broadband wireless coverage in Pennsylvania, and noted that there is no coverage in “The Land of the Endless Mountains” and that there are problems with lack of competition.

In the middle of the first session, there was a whimsical comment, “The United States invented the Internet”. At least, there was no mention of Al Gore.

In the second session, a speaker mentioned that the US broadband network is 4 times slower than the rest of the industrialized world.

There was also a question as to whether "network neutrality" would interfere with preferred service for emergency responders. If the term refers only to the Internet, it's not too relevant; if it refers to the entire network infrastructure, managed services are necessary because with absolute neutrality we become "sitting ducks."

The agenda link is in Sunday's post.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

FCC to hold workshop, webinar on broadband and Homeland Security

The Federal Communications Communication will hold a workshop meeting and webinar on the use broadband to enhance homeland security, on Aug. 25, 2009. The link describing the Washington DC meeting, webinar signup, and agenda is here. The first panel will stress the economics of broadband as a response infrastructure tool, and the second will discuss the use of broadband in handling specific infrastructure vulnerabilities.

The website lists a number of other workshops, all of which tend to argue the idea that broadband should be available in all areas as a critical instrastrucural utility.

Monday, August 10, 2009

FCC: Comcast, other ISP's must be more forthwith on bandwidth restrictions

FCC Regulator want telecommunications companies to disclose to consumers exactly what they are doing if they limit bandwidth use, whether they charge or warn and curtail service. The story by Steve Hansell, “F.C.C. Chief would bar Comcast from imposing Internet restrictrions”, July 12, 2009, link here.

Kevin J. Martin, head of the FCC, had said that Comcast may have improperly interfered with the way some users exchanged large volumes of information over the Internet.

In some cases, Comcast apparently slowed the use of BitTorrent even when usage parameters had not been exceeded.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Does "Jupiter Jack" answer critics of cell phone use while driving?

States are likely to ban not only texting and ordinary cell phone use while driving (maybe even eating and drinking pop or coffee). Safety experts say that even hands-free or Bluetooth devices present issues because the conversation is distracting as well as the use of hands.

Then will the Jupiter Jack for cars stand up to big government? The device, as advertised, makes it very easy to use a cell phone not only without hands but also without wires. I wonder.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Coffee shops chase out wi-fi freeloaders or "parasites"

Coffee shops are starting to “pull the plug” on customers who sit in their offices all day for free wi-fi but don’t buy any food, according to a Wall Street Journal story Aug. 6 by Erica Alini, “No More Perks: Coffee Shops Pull the Plug on Laptop Users; They Sit for Hours and Don't Spend Much; Getting the Bum's Rush in the Big Apple”, link here.

The story was offered Saturday morning on Dell-MSN’s home page for Dell computers.

It’s also a bit unwise to pursue personal transactions on free wi-fi space, although the encryption of the https protocol is supposed to offer some protection.

The going rate for subscription to secure services is still about $40 a month for 5 gig transfer. It’s not as generous as cable yet.

In Ohio, a few months back, a man was prosecuted when seen by police using wi-fi in his car right outside a coffee shop.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Is access to the Internet equivalent to access to the Web itself?

There is a short article “Network Neutrality, Web Access, & The Public Knowledge Project” here, dated Dec. 2008.

The author (Victor Godot) makes a distinction between “access to the Internet” and “access to contents on the Web” (presumably including publishing on the Web, possibly free or personal content). The author feels that this could lead to setting up a “major leagues” on the Internet, and the relegation of the “minors” or “sandlots” to sporadic or unreliable and less credible service.

Generally, so far, the economics of the Internet haven’t worked out that way as he fears. But future political forces or methods of control, as Lessig describes in his “Code 2.0”, might take us in that direction.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Cell phones, EMF's and cancer: concerns raised by "Bio-Pro Technology"

A Company called “Bio Pro Technology” has an article (by Tim Kennedy) on p 31 of the Arlington-Fairfax “Your Health” Magazine for Aug. 2009. It claims that prolonged cell-phone use (and Bluetooth use), especially in the young with developing brains and thinner skulls, might be associated with tumors or malignancies later in life. There is a prospective concern that a decade from now we’ll have a definitive study and then liability issues for manufacturers of the devices, a cornerstone of modern communication technology.

The weblink for the company seems to be this.

The website requires a “consultant id” to use many of its features right now.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

NHTSA held back report on cell phone use and driving: telecommunications lobby at "work"?

So now we reach another one of Joshua Cooper Ramo’s “unthinkable” ideas: maybe all cell phone use in cars will be banned soon. That comes after the National Highway Safety Administration (link) got caught in the open without having revealed a 2003 study showing how dangerous it could be. Girls, even with handheld devices, it’s the conversation that distracts. The “unthinkable” and “horrid” story is available here.

What’s next, banning eating and coffee drinking? That can help keep you awake.

Media reports rumor that the cell phone industry “lobbied” to suppress the report. I wonder.

I applied for a job with NHTSA back in 1971, one of the few times in my career when I was pseudo-desperate.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Rural Utilites Service criticized in inability to help with rural broadband

Lisa Myers tonight, on NBC Nightly News, reported that a lot of the Obama Administration’s economic stimulus appropriation for rural broadband is held back by the inadequacy of the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service, which is supposed to handle some of the stimulus. The report showed a farmer in North Carolina dialing up to Earthlink through ordinary land phone lines, which 10 years ago seemed adequate, before heavy video streaming and automatic security software updating.

The RUS was criticzed for spending a third of its broadband assistance resources on wealthy and politically connected exurbs rather than for truly rural areas. Some parts of North Carolina really are the boonies, not just One Tree Hill or David Lynch country.

Attribution link for Wikimedia North Carolina Blue Ridge picture.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Congressional doublespeak on airwaves "Fairness Doctrine"

Bob Unruh, of World Net Daily, has a story reporting a House Rules Committee rejection a resolution preventing restoration of a provision to allow the FCC to enforce the “fairness doctrine” over the airwaves. The story believes that the FCC unfairly censors religious broadcasters. I know, the story is confusing and it seems to consist of a “double negative.” Such is politics.

The Heritage Foundation has a position paper arguing against the Fairness Doctrine (why it is “anything but fair”) here, The basic argument is that proliferation of stations (and now of individual speakers and bloggers) makes it unnecessary.

Wikipedia’s article on the Fairness Doctrine is here. It was stopped in 1987 under the Reagan administration. It should not be confused with the Equal Time Rule.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

"Monopoly" can occur in both content and device portability areas: Does Facebook pose a neutrality question?

Here’s some more reasons that “liberals” are concerned about monopoly business practices on the Net, even if the owners and management of these companies are probably much closer to the Democratic Party than the Republicans.

Facebook is getting sued by Power (back) for restricting access to Facebook for purposes of scraping and consolidating profiles. The summary story (by Nicholas Carlson) appears on July 10 in Business Insider here. True, if you go to, you’ll see Twitter, LinkedIn, Orkut and MySpace, but no Facebook.

Electronic Frontier Foundation, in an article by Jennifer Granlick, points out that Facebook closed down a “controversial” (or perhaps “risqué”) medical marijuana group (in its home California, it’s supposed to be legal, and the new administration is supposed to be backing down on this – so I don’t get the fear factor) and then adds that Facebook is making it harder for users to take their content elsewhere. That sounds like the “discriminatory monopoly” ideas floated around in the net neutrality debate. The EFF article is here. EFF also points out that Facebook would be the eight largest country in the world if measured by its user count; that's how much asymmetric power its founder generated by hitting "Enter" in his dorm room in 2004!

EFF goes on with a good metaphor about the telecommunications. The CTIA, it says, is trying to keep customers of major “phone companies” from taking their devices with them when they want to switch carriers. That flies is the face of some adventurous or enterprising teenage reverse engineering of these devices reported before here.

The CTIA is the acronym for “The Wireless Association” and its Policy Topics page is here. It has a brief policy paper link there that opposes formal net neutrality legislation.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

New router for geeks shows the temper of the telecommunications companies

I’m a little late reporting this news story, and I wonder on which blog it best fits – but I’m picking on my Network Neutrality blog, because one of the practical considerations for “net neutrality” is the user friendliness of any of the hardware and software that consumers need to communicate over the Internet, whether the Web, social networking, entertainment (the focus of this item), or P2P.

So we have an article July 1 in The New York Times by David Pogue about the ultimate “mashup” (to borrow a buzzword from Joshua Cooper Ramo and his recent book on “The Unthinkable”) home PC device: the D-Link DIR-685 router, which would allow the hobbyist (and amateur movie pirate) to download BitTorrent files while having everything out of the house – perhaps for that mandatory business trip. The link is here.

Pogue makes the point that the directions for the product are misleading and that the company seems to have sloppy support. Telecommunications companies act as if they expect all their customers to be teen geeks.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Biden announces $4 billion economic stimulus for broadband, but with a catch: low standards!

Vice President Joseph Biden has announced the release of $4 billion in economic stimulus funds to provide broadband access in many more rural areas of the nation, according to a Washington Post story July 2 by Ceclia Kang, link here.

The minimum transmission rate is only 768 kilobytes per second, which would not be sufficient to watch video or apply automatic updates comfortably. The low standard was set because it is very difficult to build cable and fiber optic networks in some remote areas. Smaller companies like Level 3 and XO Communications are more likely to apply for grants than are Verizon or Comcast.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

"Safelink Wireless" is a free service available for income-eligible customers

On Tuesday June 30 television stations ran public service advertisements for a service called “Safelink Wireless”, a government program that provides wireless service and free minutes to customers within certain income parameters. The link is here. Call waiting and voicemail are available, and unused minutes do roll over (see the comment). The website offers a zipcode box to get details for your state. For example, in Virginia you have to participate already in another public assistance program, and no one in your household (even if not in a legal relationship) can received cell service.

The ad emphasized the value of the program for customers stranded in an automobile in rural areas.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Comcast, Time Warner collaborate to offer Internet TV, maybe monitor broadband use

Comcast and Time Warner Cable will soon make an announcement of a partnership tomorrow that some say is done with the intention of introducing broadband metering on all customers. A typical story is here.

But the story Smart Brief says that they are teaming up to introduce an authentication allow cable television subscribers to watch television over the web or mobile phones, link here.

Comcast and Time Warner have partnered on specific projects in the past.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Do cell phone companies overcharge for texting?

Various media sources report that telecommunications companies have been raising charges for text messages out of proportion to what it costs to provide the bandwidth, to the shock of many parents of teenagers. Text charges have quadrupled in the past two years, although telecommunications companies say that the unlimited message plans have been made cheaper.

I’ve never gotten into texting or Twitter, because my social interactions just don’t move that fast. But that is how people establish themselves, it seems.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Cell phones for the poor: Telecommunications companies, with government help, look at their last untapped market

Matt Richtel has an interesting article in the New York Times Business Section, Monday June 15, “Providing Cell Phones for the Poor,” link URL here. Only about 32 million Americans don’t have at least one cell phone, so the poor are the telecommunications industry’s last untried market. A twist in a federal law that used to provide the poor landline phone service can now be used to provide the poor with cell phones. Once again, we begin to see wireless service as a basic utility, particularly beneficial to residents in lower cost, more rural areas. Here is a good example of “Cato” reasoning: the marketplace provides a natural incentive to help the poor.

The June 12 digital conversion day for TV seems to have passed without a "Nevil Shute" whimper.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

AOL provides information on cable-broadband provider popularity

AOL has provided a list of the “top searched cable providers” from its own search, the number one being Comcast. Here is the link.

The consumer faces perplexing choices: a switch to another company to get an introductory combo rate can be cumbersome. What’s becoming apparent is that many people experience broadband and cable as like a basic “utility”: many more people work on their own, as consultants, and have to manage their own home of small business infrastructure (which leads to the topic yesterday, about owning your own Internet connection). There are more jobs, like home customer service agents, that require that the worker do this. So the comparison of different companies can create a critical decision.

The other important issue is availability of dependable broadband everywhere – which is still an issue in more remote areas. Generally, small communities have found that dependable broadband does help their small businesses provide more jobs. Further, broadband is going to become important in reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions, as Thomas Friedman has pointed out – even if this sounds like an anti-Luddite paradox. This is still a major infrastructure priority for the new administration.

Picture: George Mason University, Fairfax VA -- admittedly the shot didn't turn out the way I hoped.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Broadband carriers do not a "cartel" make!

Rob Domanski (computer science and political science instructor from City College of New York) has a blog (“The Nerfherder”, as if from the NBC show “Chuck”) posting that shoots down a false analogy between “bandwidth cartels” like AT&T + Comcast, and oil cartels, as with OPEC. The posting comes from last summer, here.

An earlier posting from him analyzes a question from a post on the Google policy blog, “What if you could own your own Internet connection?,” also from July 2008, by Policy Analyst Derek Slater. The experiment is already going on in Ottawa, Ontario, and the analogy to owning your own connection could be like owning a personal computer in the early 1980s, the Radio Shack days (when computing was dominated by mainframes and especially IBM). Another analogy is the time it took for owning your own phone to become acceptable. It’s a pretty immodest proposal

Friday, May 22, 2009

"Neutrality" of the speaker -- that's an issue, too

One aspect of the network neutrality debate seems particularly important to me now: While there is a lot of attention as to whether traffic will be treated equally according to its source or origin, an equally important issue in practice is how content posted by speakers is viewed when found randomly by the public.

When a “professional” journalist reports on a particular sensitivity (for example, “gossip” websites, which are though to provoke a lot of problems for school systems) the public generally understands that the report was generated as part of the journalist’s job, for pay. An individual “amateur” who originates posts exactly the same content (presumably without copyright infringement, and presumably material that is true so that it is not libelous or of questionable legality for some other reason) might be viewed in many cases as trying to provoke others into some kind of undesirable activity. Why? Because many people see “self interest” in terms of social structures (and the monetary incentives that go with these structures), and do not grasp the value of speech for its own sake.

Search engines are, in actual practice, and without regulation, neutral as to the content they find (I haven’t find that paid placement makes any real difference in practice) and amateur content often places well because it has more static files and often loads faster. The visitor is likely to judge the credibility of an item by the source, sometimes. Some TLD’s indicate that the item could only have come from a “professional” source. Other features of web addresses do not, however (www2 for example has little significance, as explained here.)

All of this should be borne in mind during the network neutrality debate.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

GAO warns of possible collapse of GPS by 2010: how would this affect everything else?

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has stunned everyone with a report indicating that a large portion of the US Military’s GPS system could start to fail by 2010. The main abstract for the report is at this link.

The breakdown or degradation could affect trucking, airlines, and motorists who use GPS for emergency roadside assistance. It could also affect car rental companies who “spy” on renters.

It’s less clear how it could affect more familiar parts of the Internet.

Most of the concerns seem related to cost overruns and inadequate project management.

Tech News World has a report by Michael Pearson here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Obama administration may pursue antitrust actions against some Internet companies

Steve Lohr and Miguel Helft have an important story on p B1, the Business Section, of The New York Times, on plans by the Obama administration to toughen anti-trust legislation against giant, dominant Internet companies. I won’t name names here, because most of the companies are pretty benevolent. (Okay, you can disagree.) But the dominance of a few companies can give them power to influence user behavior and even control Internet content, according to some model of political correctness, if at some time in the future a company wanted to. This would be a big concern in the network neutrality area, even though as a whole these companies have lobbied for network neutrality and say they benefit from it (they do).

I think this is a good topic for the Cato Institute to take up further, although papers written by Tim Lee and others have suggested that network neutrality legislation might gradually have the unintended consequence of causing greater concentration of financial and even political power in a few companies.

Generally, the administration will consider the practical effect on end users in determining how to administer anti-trust laws written decades before for other industries.

The link for the story is here.

Picture: Our president's Blackberry.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Does it pay to purchase bundled cable, Internet, phone, wireless?

On Tuesday, May 12, 2009, consumer reporter Liz Crenshaw at NBC Washington (I’ve always thought she is much less “ideological” than ABC’s John Stossel) aired a story on bundled telecommunications services: Internet, phone, wireless, and cable television. In the DC area, Verizon may have the most deals, but there is also Comcast and Cox.

The link for the report is here. (I don’t know why NBC spells the name of its star reporter with small letters.) The gist of the matter is that bills still tend to vary a lot and be hard to figure out. And telecommunications companies are notorious for initial offers, that explode in price after six months or so. And it’s a lot of trouble to change companies if you depend on high speed for a home-based business.

Furthermore, in more remote areas there may not be choice at all.

A report by Mark Cooper from Consumers Union back in February 2004 accuses cable companies of stifling competition to gouge consumers, and that companies arrange their cable television offerings to manipulate competition away, link here. The story is called “CABLE PRICES RISING, ANTI-CONSUMER PRACTICES CONTINUE: Consumer Analysis Shows FCC Report Whitewashes Real Reason Behind Skyrocketing Bills”, link here. In 2004, rates were going up at three times the rate of inflation!

In my own circumstances, I have to look at how to make a secure wireless carrier work with Internet, blackberry, cell phone, and blogging activities. I haven't done the analysis yet of my own situation, but I will soon and report on it.

Picture: Inside the UFO at the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC. I suspect that space aliens would use telepathy for email.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Telecommunications companies oppose jamming of prisoner cell phones

The NBC Today show reported on Tuesday, May 12, 2009, that prisoners have been getting access to cell phones and sometimes planning crimes from prison, including identity theft and, in a few cases in Maryland and South Carolina, at least, hits on people who had testified against them.

Co-conspirators throw pigskin footballs across prison walls with cell phones inside, or even shoot bazookas. Outdoor prisoners scarf them up when guards aren’t watching. Prisoners get to be like McGwyvers and dissemble phones and hide them in cells before inspections.

Prisoners seem to be able to get and keep accounts despite cell phone company terms of service.

The media asks the fair question, why not just jam them. A federal law passed in the 1930s prevents jamming of prisons. The cell phone industry has opposed repealing the law, saying that jamming would affect nearby neighborhoods. Experts say, no, jamming can be done now in a very precise way, much as movie theaters do it. Walky-talkies would continue to work.

The MSNBC link did not seem to be up yet as of early Tuesday.

Matthew Lasar had written an article for ArsTechnica reporting that the Federal Communications Commission had nixed a phone jamming demonstration in one of the District of Columbia’s jails, here (Feb 20, 2009).

Sacramento Station KCRA has a similar story for California, April 14, 2009.

And there is a similar story from Baltimore ABC affiliate Channel 2 here by Kuren Redmond.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Broadband providers need to help consumers watch for overages

The Business Section of the Sunday, May 3, 2009 Washington Post has, on p G1, an intriguing article by Robert Pegoraro, “Broadband Caps Can Cost You,” link here. The writer surveys the debate over broadband cap plans, which don’t seem to be settling out to a predictable and reliable practice for consumer.

Time Warner apparently backed away from a plan that would have started at $15 a month for a 1 gig, and charged about $2 per extra gig or increment, up to a maximum of $75 a month.

Comcast says it set a 250 gig cap on its residential service, but does not charge for going over. But a consumer who goes over twice in a six month period can be canceled. Comcast says that just .1 % of consumers go over.

Pegoraro says that a plan like Time Warner’s is questionable because many mandatory downloads are large. Microsoft’s Service Pack 1 for Windows Vista runs up to 345 megabytes (compared to the starting 1 gig limit, that’s 34%) and Apple has a 668 MB download for one of its feline operating systems. (Apple seems to like cats.) Pegoraro notes that a lot of his use seems to happen when he is not even using the system. Personally, I still prefer not to leave a machine on for a long period if I am asleep or away from home.

Broadband providers should provide consumers a convenient way of monitoring their usage, something comparable to a logon account to a wireless cell account (remember even the message units on your landline phone bills). They still need to do a lot of work in this area, particularly as the president wants to promote making broadband a utility everywhere.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

International roaming charges shock some customers

Jacqui Cheng has an interesting Ars Technica article on what can happen if you download too much overseas without activating a data roaming plan. “Alberto” was hit with a $62000 bill, later negotiated down to $17000, for downloading the 98 minute “Wall*e” while on vacation in Mexico. There’s also a class action lawsuit against iPhone for a $2000 charge for roaming in Mexico.

The moral is, plan carefully before traveling abroad.

I can recall being bemused for a separate $2.95 “international” connection charge to AOL from a motel in Thunder Bay, Ontario back over Labor Day weekend in 2001, when I lived in Minneapolis. I would receive a spammy email warning of impending catastrophe, which I attributed to just that, or maybe a virus. It’s a peculiar memory. The last time I was in Europe was spring 2001, and I found it easy to get on the web in hotels everywhere, even then, without significant charges.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

"A Tale of Two Cities": Two SW Virginia towns have different experiences with rural broadband

Cecilia Kang has a front-page story in the April 23 Washington Post about the variable results of investing in broadband in rural areas. The story title is “Rural Riddle: Do Jobs Follow Broadband Access?: Two Hamlets That Got High-Speed Lines Show Wildly Different Results”, and the link is here.

Our “tale of two cities” involves Lebanon, and then even farther to the SW along Route 58 in Virginia, Rose Hill. Lebanon attracted a number of high paying jobs with Northrop Grumman and the software vendor CGI; Rose Hill only got a few more home-based businesses.

Still, I wonder if we will be able to view broadband as a basic utility, like electricity itself. Remember how electricity developed in rural areas in the 1930s.

That part of Virginia jets way out to the west, toward Cumberland Gap, into coal mining country, as in the recent independent film “Bonecrusher”.

I last visited the area in July 2005.