Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Verizon criticized for 911 problems

Verizon has been criticized for failures in its 911 system, which the Washington Post  says (in a story by Mary Pat Flaherty and Joe Stephens on December 1) predate the  Friday June 29 derecho.  The link is here.

It is true that the derecho damaged some cell towers, damaged some transmission lines (especially on ridge tops in West Virginia), and caused a few Verizon centers to lose power for longer than could be supported by generators.  I do recall that cell service was spotty on Saturday June 30 and wasn’t completely normal until Sunday night. 

But the story says that the Verizon 911 service had up to 11 outages since July 2010 in the DC area.

Cell phone 911 service is an especially important home security issue.  A homeowner, still in the bedroom, can reach police even if lines are cut, or even before confronting an intruder, a fact which should deter some crime.  Also, most home security systems now communicate to monitoring centers by cellular wireless rather than landlines.  

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Should the method of delivery of radio (Internet or cable) affect musicians' royalties?

There is a proposal, supported by Pandora Internet Radio (link), that would set up a uniform royalty structure for radio services on the Internet, cable, and satellite.  The Washington Post story Nov. 26 by Hayley Tsukayama “Music royalties fight continues” is here.  
Opponents say that the measure would reduce royalties for many musicians whose music is broadcast by services like Sirius XM for cars (which I have on my Ford Focus). 

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Private school in Vermont has to deal with the coming of broadband, undermining student discipline

Vivian Yee has an article about a private school and retreat in eastern Vermont, “The Mountain School”, where students are encouraged to do without modern communications, and where the lack of much broadband service (without a lot of “sharing” and good luck) makes that goal realistic.

Plans to bring fiber-optic cable and cellphone service to the town (Vershire, VT) could change all that. 
But right now, students have to make calls on pay phones and with phone cards.  Ten years ago, I can remember being approached about phone-card distributorships, and even then I thought that the idea sounded silly.

The story in the New York Times, p. A12, Nov. 8, is here

Wikipedia attribution link for Mt. Katahdin “Knife Edge” in Maine (two states over, but very remote),   My only visit to Baxter State Park (and a hike up to the lake) occurred in 1975.  

Monday, November 05, 2012

Post-Sandy: Weak cable signals at night

A couple more little oddities with my own wireless service post-storm have cropped up.

My Comcast XFinity, the past two evenings, has started pixillating and garbling (like a stutterer), especially on hi-def channels.  Half the recording of the “Seal Team 6” got garbled. 

There is a link on this problem here

Maybe when the temperature goes down a splitter somewhere contracts and the signal strength weakens.  If it continues, I’ll call Comcast.  The problem clears completely during the day time. 

If other XFINITY customers in the northern VA (Arlington) area have had this problem since Sandy visited us, please send me a comment.

I did not lose cable or Internet during the storm at all. Count my blessings?  Must maximum wind gusts of 60 mph and heavy rain could have damaged some splitters or concentrators on the lines in the neighborhood, in such a way that the problem only shows when the lines are not warmed by ambient sunlight.  

Here’s another oddity:  I’ve never used the voice recorder on my smart phone (a Motorola Droid with Verizon), but today I was sending a text, and I muttered a profanity to myself, and the profanity showed up in the message, just before I sent it to confirm a dental appointment.  I didn’t even know the phone can do this.  It’s pretty dangerous. 

Update: Nov. 7

The Comcast Tech adjusted the "TDU" and rebalanced the amplifier on a pole down the street, for winter temperatures.   This has not been necessary in previous years.  The amp had been repaired after the summer derecho. 

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Why has my Verizon Droid phone stayed in 3G?

Since Sandy grazed the DC area, I’ve noticed that my Verizon Motorla Droid stays in 3G mode, even though everything seems to work.  If I turn off the sound in a theater, it seems as though I have to turn it back on twice.

Others seem to be having the same problem if they had a Verizon smart phone.

I do find that if I go to airplane mode and then back to normal use, the 4G comes back on.  I don’t know if it will stay on.

Here’s a thread on the problem on Verzion’s website, link

Oh, yes, I see other people's iPhones in discos.  They make great videos and look like miniature iPads.  

Sunday, October 21, 2012

"Extended" pseudo-roaming in West Virginia: Is Sprint providing more coverage in remote areas than Verizon? Looks like it.

For the first time ever, my new iPad showed an “Extended” coverage icon as it reached Internet sites while I was on an excursion train from Romney West Va Friday.  Apparently it was able to access the web through Sprint in an area where Verizon did not have towers.  At first, the iPad would say “no Internet service” but if I keyed in Google as the web address, it would start working in Extended mode.

The cell phone was able to access Internet only as “1X” at the train station, which means that it is in extended mode, in this area connected with Sprint.

But later, in Wardensville, the cell phone could not locate service at all (even for phone), despite the fact that the restaurant said that Sprint was available in the area.

A link on how extended “pseudo-roaming” works is here

It's interesting to compare Verizon coverage (here) with Sprint (here).  If you enter a zipcode in a white area for a town in West Virginia, where Verizon is weak, you find pockets of "extended coverage" (dark red) that work only for a few miles.  It seems that right now Sprint has fewer areas of no coverage. That's a surprise.  Not all coverage is 4G, much of it is 3G in remote areas.

It does look as though some people in the area (both along the railroad and in the hollows back toward Lost River State Park) must indeed live "off the grid".

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

FCC urged to prohibit local government wireless shutdowns; but DHS has the mysterious "SOP 303"

In May 2012, Public Knowledge filed a brief with the Federal Communications Commission encouraging it to promulgate administrative rules that would normally prevent state and local governments from shutting down Internet or wireless service in an area because of a perceived emergency.

The story is here.

The brief is motivated in part by an incident where BART in San Francisco shut down wireless service around its stations to prevent a flash mob from forming.  Local governments could try this in other circumstances where flash mobs are feared (they have been a particular problem in the UK).

DHS has a “secret” protocol document called SOP 303”, supposedly signed on to by telecommunications carriers, providing for shutdowns in case of major cybersecurity threats. 

The Center for Democracy and Technology has a link about this SOP (website url) here

Thursday, October 04, 2012

More on the mystery Comcast package

I got around to looking at the Comcast package.  I have digital voice, and the new (smaller) Arris modem didn't have a jack for the phone, so it couldn't be right.  I returned it all to a Comcast store nearby, which said I didn't appear to need an upgrade anyway.

I suppose it could have been useful to keep it, to have another one upstairs, but the router seems to be able to reach the entire house, and I would never need more than five computers (including iPad) on at once.

So I'm not sure what this was all about. But if I find out more what the upgrade could have been for, I'll update here.  

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

To save money, many people live "almost" off the grid

Anton Troianovski has an interesting story in the Friday Sept. 28, 2012 Wall Street Jounal, Technology, p. B5, “Living without a cellphone: To cut expenses, some Americans give up wireless service or switch to budget plans.

That doesn’t work for someone whose life plan includes staying connected, especially when travel, with multiple redundancies to cover outages and failures. 

However, many people are switching to plans that allow only limited data per month, and keep their phones off most of the time.

They say that without cell phones, they have to learn to “be punctual”.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Synergy between cable and wireless; why a need for a cable modem upgrade?

The Business Day section of the New York Times on Monday Sept. 24, 2012 led off with a story by Amy Chozmick. “Mobile services and cable TV are unexpected allies”, link here

The detailed news story covered the business results of Verizon’s purchase of Spectrum from Birght House, Cox, Comcast, and Time Warner – the idea that pseudo-cable services can be provided wirelessky that the cable and wireless industries can cross-sell (just as in financial services). Any possible possibility of trust or monopoly?

To the contrary, it could be good for consumers.  Right now, it’s difficult to find arrangements where you can watch much video on 4G networks without data overage.  Cross-selling will provide backups for consumers when lines are down because of storms, and will probably encourage wireless companies to allow more video watching without excess data problems.

I got a package from Comcast yesterday with a new Arris modem.  I don’t recall the letter from them (I do recall a letter on the Xfinity security system , which would compete with ADT).  I don’t know why the upgrade is necessary, and one risks having a problem with doing a switch.  I’ll report what this is for when I find out and install it. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

The "I broke my smart phone" problem

Take a look at Michelle Singletary’s “Color of Money” column Sunday Sept. 23 in the Business Section of the Washington Post, “Billions spent on busted iPhones”, link here

People do drop cell phones into toilets, it seems, and not just in the movies.  
Modern smart phones, including Droids, may be more vulnerable than smaller phones were to damage, and sometimes have batteries that are harder to replace.  I once dropped my Motorola Droid on a Metro escalator trying to put it in my pocket, and I’ve had trouble with overfilled cokes at movie theaters. But so far, no damage.  Once in a while, the Droid seems to lose charge quickly, for no reason.

The best “insurance” she says, is to keep the older phone, which could be reactivated if you break the new one (if you didn’t change companies) until the contract time runs out. 

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Psychology professors say that FAA cell phone turn-off rules not justified by any evidence

A recent survey shows that about 42% of Americans admit to not turning off their cell phones and other electronics during aircraft takeoff and landing, as required by FAA rules, and about 7% do nothing.

Daniel Simons (University of Illinois) and Christopher F. Chabris (Union College) have an article in the Wall Street Journal Saturday, “Do our gadgets really threaten planes? The ban on electronic devices rests on anecdotes, not hard evidence – because there isn’t any”, link (website url) here.

The authors are discussing the result of their own study.  Correlation does not imply causality, they say,
I did comply literally with the cell phone rules on my May trip to California (from DC), but an earlier trips to Minneapolis and then Dallas, I was part of the 42%.  Back in 2004, I got a substitute teaching assignment phoned in while on the tarmac in Tampa, FL. 

Picture: over Wisconsin.  (I know: when Matt Damon and Ben Affleck played angels in "Dogma", they lived there, on the ground.  They didn't obey FAA rules when they filed.) 

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

GAO recommends that FCC up the cell phone radiation safety limits

The General Accounting Office has a report that urges the FCC to increase  (by 20%) the maximum radiation levels allowed by smart phones, according to many stories today, such as one on CNN by Amy Gahran, here.

A factor in the recommendation is the widespread multipurpose use of small phones, which are often held further from the body.

At the same time, there have been some stories showing concern about the use of cell phones close to the heads of children.

The GAO link (and PDF) are here.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Verizon cellular hot spot on new iPad not an economic replacement for cable or FIOS; it's just a backup

I checked my data usage on my new iPad for the remainder of the cable outage caused by the June 29 derecho.  Verizon says I used a total of 3GB during the billing period.  It had totaled 2 GB until two days before cable was restored. I used much less than 1 G last week on my road trip, when I used the hot spot in the  Charleston, WVa motel. I did not watch videos with the hot spot. I satisfied myself with the motel's cable. 

I had upped my allowance to 5GB, but Verizon billed me both the additional $20 for the allowance, and a $10 overage after all.  This seems wrong, like double billing.

Curiously, Verizon is telling me that my iPad service is eligible for an upgrade on 9/11/2012.  I don’t know what this means.

Cellular wireless, while quite efficient, right now is apparently not an economically viable substitute for land based cable or FIOS, which in suburban and rural areas is very subject to outages caused by storms and which some remote areas still don’t have.

I do have unlimited data on my smart phone, but that would go away when I get another upgrade at a discount price (in 2013).

I also noted Saturday that in the Potomac Highlands of West Virginia, that Verizon’s cellular Internet service was spotty, and 3G at best.

Cellular wireless is very popular in the workplace, for workers who carry laptops to customer homes. It is also now popular in the home security business, since it has no lines that can be cut.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Road games: Your iPad is your bullpen

How good is wireless Internet on the road?

Wednesday, I tried it in three random locations in the Virginia and West Virginia border areas, using the Verizon New iPad and a Gateway Windows 7 netbook.  In one location I could not connect. In two others, it started to work after about ten minutes of patience.

I had to turn the “hotspot mode” off on the iPad, go to Safari, and wait about five minutes for the iPad Safari to find its normal Verizon Internet access (according to my own contract) from an appropriate nearby tower.  

I could then go to Settings, switch back to Hostpot on, let the iPad go to sleep once, then reawaken it, and wait for WiFi to say “On”.

Then, the Gateway Internet connection options would find the iPad, and when clicked, would offer the connection mode, which should be “Public” when on the road.
When you play on the road, the home team bats last and knows how many runs it needs.  You take your turns paying your dues. 

Monday, July 02, 2012

A "shocker" text from Verizon on iPad hotspot data use after DC storm

I got a bit of shock in a text message from Verizon Wireless this morning, saying that I had used a little over 1G of my iPad data limit of 2G (I had thought it was unlimited when I got it, since June 25, though the next billing date of July 25.

I started using the iPad hotspot late Friday night June 29 after the derecho knocked out cable Internet service. 

The cost for the iPad on my account was $30 a month for 2G.  I upped it to 5G for $50 pro-rated.  But I don’t see how I could have used 1G in one day.  I didn’t watch any big videos. 

The 4G service from the iPad is very efficient, almost as fast as cable.

On Saturday, June 30, thought, the service was spotty, stalling and dropping at times because Verizon had power issues with its towers.

Perhaps Carbonite auto backups are an issue, since Carbonite seems to back up a lot of unnecessary files.
I checked my history and found that Verizon recorded  1.024 gig every month since January, so it only reports in whole 1G increments.  Once a significant fraction of 1G is used, the Verizon application reports  a whole gig as in use.

I have surfed on the iPad when traveling,  including some video, and apparently not run into issues with excessive data.  I have to see if hot spot use changes the calculation.

My Droid data use is modest, a few hundred megs a month, including watching some MLB replay videos and weather channel maps and reports.  

There's a story in PC Magazine by Sascha Segan, March 21, 2012, "How to avoid burning through your iPad 4G'a data cap".  Best advice: watch the video streaming.  The link for the story is here.

The YouTube bit rate per second, linked on this story, is also helpful, here

Verizon provides a spread-sheet style analysis of each episode of iPad access, but it doesn't show up until the next day.  Times appear to be MDT.

 For what it's worth, most of my own still pictures now are small (< 200K).  There's little need for finer resolution for most ordinary blogging.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

FAA bemused further by web-enabled watches, eyeglasses

On Monday June 18, on p. B4 of Business Day, Nick Bilton reported in the New York Times on the complications for FAA rules on electronics use during takeoff on landing, from devices like Internet-mobile-enabled wristwatches and even eyeglasses.

I don’t wear a watch anymore at all, since a cell phone can give me the time.  So web-enabling of a grabby watch seems like overkill to me.

Nevertheless, it will heighten the debate further on the latent dangers of electronics for older aircraft (last discussed here May 24).

The Times link is here

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Verizon pricing changes raise controversy as dependence on cellular wireless grows

A major front page story in the Wall Street Journal Wednesday by Anton Troianovski and Thomas Gryta describes major pricing changes by Verizon aimed at data services and reversing a past trend toward lower costs. The link is here

New customers will have to pay for “data buckets” in 2GB or 6GB increments, and will find multi-device plans more economical.  Existing smart phone customers can keep unlimited data plans, but would have to pay full price for new smart phones when contracts expire in order to keep unlimited use.

The policy raises concerns, because as 4G cellular wireless becomes stronger, customers will want to use it (for example, by using Verizon's new iPad as a hot spot) because they don’t need storm-vulnerable land wire connections in many cases.  

Monday, June 04, 2012

Amtrak's WiFi service is spotty at best

Ron Nixon has an article Sunday in the New York Times Travel section on Amtrak’s WiFi service, called “Missed Connections”, here

I’ve never been able to keep a stable Internet connection with it.  I’ve used Verizon MiFi and now the new iPad as a hotspot on the train, with fair success.  But returning from NYC last Thursday mid-day, I had trouble even with the Verizon iPad connection in New Jersey and later between Wilmington and Baltimore.

Amtrak may be using Verizon’s service, accounting for similar results.

On Amtrak, with the service “free”, there may be much more competition for bandwidth than with modern airlines GoGo service, which requires paying a fee.  But the service, with a train moving at 90 mph, has trouble keeping connections.  In my experience, connectivity comes back when the train slows or stops.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

NC ponders total cell phone ban when driving; how far can this go?

The city of Chapel Hill, NC has banned all cell phone use when driving, even hands free use, according to a story May 3, 2012 at Hands-free info, link
I’ve heard the media report that the North Carolina legislature is considering the same thing for the entire state.

I wonder if some states or localities will carry this further, requiring cell phones to be turned off completely or at least be in “airplane mode” when a vehicle is running.

My own practice.  Don’t pick up the phone until I pull over and stop, and put the car in park.  That takes about four rings.  On an Interstate, that means getting to the next exit, rest area or service plaza. Yes, I remember Midway in Pennsylvania!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Is there really a problem with passenger use of iPads and cell phones in some flight phases? Well,, maybe there is.

I had not paid a lot of attention to the issue of passengers’ being ordered to turn off all electronics before take off and at all times when aircraft is below 10000 feet.  Furthermore, all cell phones must remain in “airplane mode” when on even at higher elevations.  Passengers generally aren’t allowed to make or receive cell phone calls at any altitude.  On May 17, I reported on plans by Virgin Atlantic to allow cell phone calls on board.

Delta actually tells passengers to put iPads and smartphones in airplane mode and then to turn them off.

Are these rules necessary?  While problems are rare, industry studies point to reports where operations of navigation systems in older planes have sometimes been seriously compromised, as in this report by Brian Ross in December 2011 for ABC News.  So this sounds like a "common good" problem.  It's not practical for airlines to retrofit the shielding on all older planes quickly. 

John Nance, aviation safety consultant, has somewhat poohed the claims of danger, at least as reported in this Time Newsfeed article by Frances Romero in Dec. 2011, here.  

A blog called “Skeptical Scalpel” weighs in on the IATA report here. (I couldn’t find the report online).    The iPad and some modern smart phones are reported as the most dangerous to older aircraft.
I had been oblivious to this issue before, and even allowed my cell phone to stay on in regular mode in a couple of trips last year.  I had noticed that most of the time the phone (then a Blackberry) could not get or maintain a bars signal.

Yesterday, I tried Delta’s GoGo Inflight Internet service, flying from Salt Lake to Baltimore.  It cost $12.50 and was reasonably fast (between 3G and 4G), and I could blog on my laptop. I found that GoGo does block some ads.  It went down only once, for about a minute. 

Flying out last week (from Charlotte to LAX), USAir did not have the service. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Verizon will end unlimited 4G plans, even for existing customers

Verizon will curtail allowing new customers unlimited data with its 4G LTE plan and will eventually stop grandfathering existing customers into unlimited plans when they convert from 3G.  My own plan (it says on my cell phone) is unlimited.

Robert Yu has a detailed story in USA Today here.  He says that Verizon will offer some Family member sharing plans.

USA Today links to a blog on how to survive bandwidth rationing.  One tip is to use cable for heavy video and save the heavy downloads for home.  Unfortunately, Microsoft (and sometimes Apple) and other vendors like Adobe keep interrupting users with huge security updates all the time,  

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Virgin Atlantic will expand wireless services for passengers, taking the risk

Virgin Atlantic will be the first British (or US) airline to expand wireless access in flight, to allow full access to voice, text and Internet, despite technical controversy over possible interference with aircraft, as in a story on Expert Reviewshere.   This is supposed to be an improvement on passenger rental of limited Internet access for a fee on flights.

Yet I'm told that regulatory environments have discouraged innovation in this area.

In the US, not all carriers have been vigorous about offering even paid-for Internet on long flights. USAir seems to be slow on this.  

Friday, May 11, 2012

Comparison of the regulatory environments for airlines and broadband -- instructive

Timothy Lee has an interesting article on Ars Technica comparing the airline industry with telecommunications, “What the airline industry can teach us about broadband caps”, link here

He starts with an tale about an airline traveler who wasn’t allowed by a particular gate agent to bring an obviously fragile viola on to a fight as a carry-on. (That brings up a posting I made on my “IT job market” blog May 9 about carry-ons, electronics, and maintaining connectivity while traveling.) He gets into a discussion of how “first class” passengers subsidize travel for everyone but that works in a competitive market.  He also discusses how airlines were prevented from having too much vertical integration. They can’t own the airports.

But no such analogy exists in telecommunications, where merging and consolidation is removing competition, particularly in the broadband use area.  This is does not bode well for businesses  (like Netflix) and consumers who want to move movies and television to online streaming, 

Friday, April 13, 2012

In many states, telecom companies can or want the right to end landline service

Telecommunications companies are lobbying to have the right to end reasonably priced landline service to homes, at least in areas with good broadband and wireless coverage.

The basic story “Landline rules frustrate telecoms” appears in the Friday April 13 Washington Post, front page, link 

Florida, Texas, North Carolina and Wisconsin already absolve telecom companies of responsibility for providing service in cell or broadband covered areas. Ohio, Indiana, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi. Kentucky, and California have considered such measures.

There are concerns about low-income residents, and whether a cellular and broadband system could stay up during a terrorist attack or major catastrophe.

Telecom companies have been considering terminating service of those with many accusations of illegal downloading.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Major carriers will implement multi-step plan to discourage smart phone theft

The FCC and CTIA announced yesterday a major plan, taking into 2013 to implement a several-step plan to make stolen smartphones worthless to thieves so that consumers will not remain targets on streets.  Smartphone theft has sometimes led to violent crime.

Computer World has this account

There will be a database that catalogues every IMEI smartphone number, enabling remote shutdown.  Then carriers will provide users instructions as to placing secure passwords on their phones, and provide applications enabling remote disabling. This is more effective than just disabling SIM cards (as Verizon does now), because SIM cards (small cards which users insert into special slots in smartphones when purchased) can be easily replaced by thieves.

The plan would require consumer cooperation and a kind of “herd immunity”.

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) explained the measure on his own site here.    He says he will also introduce a measure making it a federal crime to tamper with a phone’s IMEI number, which could still be attempted by thieves.  

Greshman College in the UK has this discussion on IMEI numbers.

See also earlier posting on this problem Feb. 10. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

My own practical test of bandwidth rationing

Yesterday, I had an unusual problem with my Comcast Xfinity cable Internet, which leads to a router for up to five computers.  I had signed on to my main Dell laptop (Windows 7) using the router, and switched to the Verizon "new" iPad hotspot, which is 90% as fast, to give it some work.  I could not get the Dell to reconnect to the Internet on Comcast, even though the older Dell XP Tower next to it had stayed connected. Upstairs, I could not get the Toshiba notebook (also W7) to connect to Internet on it either, but the Mac book next to it would.  I wondered if there could be a problem with the router access, or the way it was assigning internal iP addresses.

Soon, however, I heard the access on the Tower "chime", which means that Comcast has reset the modem and high speed service, so it must have detected the problem.  Then it all connected.

As it happened, I installed Carbonite backup on my MacBook yesterday as preparation for a music project.  (I don't have a Lion OS late enough to use iCloud, and I'm not about to start replacing OS's on a whim.) That resulted in a 10 hour "initial backup" through Xfinity of 9 gig from the MacBook.

During that period, until almost the end, once again I could not sign on to Xfinity through my Dell laptop, although the older XP stayed connected.  Is this a matter of bandwidth management?  No complaints, because I just used iPad hot spot all day on the Dell (which has to be refreshed if you leave the computer idle and it goes to sleep).  Today it all worked as normal.

Picture: OK, I don't dust often enough. 

Monday, April 09, 2012

Smart phone video use is becoming expensive for consumers; pricing doesn't keep up with smartphone technology

Brian X. Chen has a major “Business Day” article in the New York Times Monday, “A Ballooning Megabyte Budget”, link here

The widening use of 4G phones has led many consumers to exceed their data limits quickly, and the telecommunications industry doesn’t seem to have a handle on how to price its services to match the explosion in mobile and cellular wireless technology.

It can cost about $100 to watch 5 films through wireless devices.  Cable-based services are generally much more generous with limits (or before starting to slow down data).  

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Don't let cell phone cramming even start!

David Segal has an important piece in the New York Times Saturday, “To Stop Cellphone Cramming, Don’t Let It Start”, link here.  The main problem seems to be that consumers unwittingly sign up for SMS (short message service) from less-than-reputable sources, such as “celebrity gossip”.  These may seem like spam.

Some message services, such as from your tax preparer when you file electronically, or warnings from the Weather Channel, seem to be legitimate (even if overdone sometimes).  You’d want to know if there was a tornado sighting in your area.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Telecommunications companies profit from police surveillance

Perhaps a peripheral issue in the Network Neutrality debate is the ability of telecommunications companies to make money by helping police track possible and actual suspects, sometimes without proper court supervision, as in this front page New York Times story April 1 by Eric Lichtblau. The title is “Police are using phone tracking as routine tool; cell companies profit; civil libertarians worry as surveillance skirts court oversight,” link here.

Electronic Frontier Foundation has a Surveillance Self-Defense project here, and we will surely hear more about it in the future. 

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Verizon Fios pressures landlords

Here’s a way to sell a telecommunications service. Verizon Fios is communicating, in a Ballston Common Mall ad, that prospective renters should check if their landlords run “Fios buildings.”  That’s supposed to put pressure on building owners.

In NYC, in some parts of the city, people have complained that only Time Warner is available and it takes a long time sometimes before installers come. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Broadband access in rural areas is improving, but still raises questions as USPS considers reducing service

The Washington Post has a major story at the bottom of the Business Page Sunday, Feb. 19, “No Broadband yet, soon no post office either", suggesting that the USPS shutdowns of smaller post offices will hurt rural communities that still have weak broadband (or maybe none).   

You can check the progress of broadband (both wired and wireless) on a major site, such as Broadband Map (link).  I tried a town in western Kansas (67878), where a KU roommate had been found, Tribune, and found some service at 768 kilobyte per sec (the 3G standard).

If you try Dedham, IA (51440), in the newspaper story,  you do find Iowa Telecom at 3G speed (contradicting the story).

The Post story is by Emily Stephenson and Cezary Podkul, here

Lightsquared is considering “punting” by swapping bandwidth with DOD, while the government claims it still presents a problem of possibly interfering with other devices, Venturebeat link.  

This idea of the Reston company would seem to help with the entire broadband availability issue.
Advocacy groups have been maintaining that an FCC auction of airwave space will help pay for an extension of the Social Security tax cut, typical story here

Monday, February 13, 2012

Media starts tattling on AT&T "data throttling" of heavy users

News reports today accuse AT&T of slowing down the connection speeds of users, apparently not over their limits, to where a web page takes up to two minutes to load rather than a few seconds.

There is another website that seems dedicated to documenting telecommunications carrier behavior, called “Stop the Cap”, here

There is an AppAdvice Daily Special Report on “The Truth Behind ATT Throttling”, YouTube report here (8 min).

It’s supplied by a site called “iClarified” which offers some additional explanation here

Friday, February 10, 2012

Stolen cell phones should be permanently disabled to reduce muggings

Stolen cell phones should be permanently disabled, according to New York state Senator Charles Schumer, in this Aug. 2011 story by NY1 news,  (website url) here.  He says Verizon is the only carrier that permanently disables the phones to break the market in stolen phones (from street muggings).

Other carriers just disable the SIM card to protect consumer data and end the liability for the account. In the UK, carriers must permanently disable to phone by serial number,

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Lightsquared questions tests saying GPS could be compromised

Lightsquared, a tech company in Reston VA planning to offer a super wireless broadband, says the tests that show interference with GPS devices were rigged, as in this story.

In theory, Lightsquared’s products could become a keystone strategy for offering reliable broadband in remote areas, or in areas exposed to storms. There is obvious advantage to homeowners if they don’t have to depend on physical wires staying up to keep their connections.

The same idea is becoming common in home security, as companies (ADT, Ackerman, etc) are now using cellular wireless connectivity to headquarters instead of landlone phone. 

There was an earlier story on Lightsquared Sept. 15, 2011. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Supreme Court hearing case on legacy broadcast indecency rules with FCC

The Supreme Court is hearing a case regarding whether the FCC can regulate “indecency” among legacy television broadcasters but not on Cable, Satellite, or Internet channels.  Call it the "Justin Timberlake-Janet Jackson-wardrobe malfunction" case if you like (which was all over the web during the second half of the 2004 Super Bowl). 

The FCC explains its position here, saying that it believes the law applie only to signals carried through “radio communications”, which do not cover cable and satellite. It also says that voluntary paid subscription services may need less regulation, and that it does not enforce any regulations between 10 PM and 6 AM local time. 

It will be interesting to compare the Supreme Court's reaction to this case to its 1997 ruling on the Communications Decency Act, which turned out extremely well for the Internet. 

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Engineers question whether broadband access is a "right"

Vinton G. Cerf, a fellow for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, in Reston VA, on p. A21 of the Jan. 5 New York Times, “Internet access is not a human right”, link here

Internet access is a tool to getting to something else, efficient global communication, which can be used to keep “the powers that be” honest.  But it’s ultimately about fairer access to “necessities”, not about the speech itself.  What becomes a human right is what communication facilitates.

Cerf applies a similar argument to countering the notion that Internet Access is even a “civil right”, which can be implemented and protected by a democratic government. But the policy debates (over guaranteeing broadband access for everyone) seem to reflect the belief that it should be.

Cerf then migrates to discussing the responsibility for the Internet industry to provide a safe computing environment.

In the past, however, we’ve talked about “fundamental rights” as including self-expression for its own sake, with less clarity about the “right” to efficient distribution of the expression rather than the right to freedom from censorship of the content.  Cerf seems to be concerned with the “purpose” of the communication, which can leads us down to discussions about the troubling subject of “implicit content.”