Saturday, December 07, 2013

FCC will auction some airwaves, including broadcast space, in 2015, when software is ready

The Switch Blog of the Washington Post is reporting that the FCC is planning a big airwave auction to telecommunications companies in 2015.  The Post article by Brian Fung is here.
  
The FCC calls this the Broadcast Television Spectrum Incentive Auction, and Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman, stakes out his position here
  
The ability to prepare the auction software and make it seemless and goofproof seems like a big deal, giving the example set by “Obamacare” technology.

The theory seems to be that bigger telecommunications companies will be able to use some of the former broadcast channels to improve speeds and performance, especially in rural areas. 
  

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Most airlines will charge for cell phone service aloft in the US, if they offer it at all

Airlines will be allowed to install firmware to enable passengers to make cell phone calls when over 10000 feet, but it’s not clear that airlines will want to, and most passengers say they don’t want to sit next to chatters.
   
So airlines are likely to charge heavy fees for the service.
   
My own cell phone usually simply doesn’t have a signal on the air until landing, but the clock works and local apps work. 
  

The FAA press release Oct. 31, 2013 is here

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Washington Post, Pew Research look at digital divide

Andrea Peterson has a big story in the Washington Post Wednesday, November 13, 2013 “Offline in America” in a special Washington Post insert, “The Digital Divide”, link here
  
Pew reports that about 15 percent of Americans don’t use the Internet.  Some older Americans don’t find the Internet “relevant” – after all, a lot of us did a lot without it until the 1990s. The article points out differences by race and educational level, as well as rural residence. 
    
I didn’t sign up for email until August 1994, when I got it on AOL on an old IBM PS-1.  I think I had 2400 baud at home at first, but 56K by the late 1990s.   My first online experience was with AOL and Prodigy.  In fact, I found out about the Oklahoma City attack when I logged on to AOL when I got home from work on April 19, 1995.   Things were slower then.
  
At work, one employee tracked our merger negotiations on Compuserve back in 1994.
  
At age 70, I still don’t use social media (or Likenomics) as aggressively as some people.  I blog and tweet a lot, and I do some “Likes”, but I don’t’ make a big deal of volumes of followers.   Still, short posts on Twitter, which get sent to Facebook, get seen by scores of parties immediately, and they might not look at my blog postings, websites, or books.   
  
Today the Post also takes up issue of getting public schools up to speed, in the article by Lnndsey Layton. 
  

Pew reproduced the Post story online, and has an important story on how teens share the pictures of others online, which I’ll come back to soon on other blogs.  

Friday, November 01, 2013

FAA liberalizes airplane rules on electronics, but maybe I had been breaking them

There are widespread media reports that the FAA is relaxing most of the rules regarding the use of electronics on flights.

Tablets, latpops and smartphones can be used in airplane mode, with local materials, at all times.  I wasn’t aware that they had to be completely turned off.  In the past, I have put my cell phone in airplane mode and no one has complained.

Cell phone calls are not allowed at any time.  I wasn’t aware of that, but usually during flights the connection bars are blank and there is no service anyway at high altitude until landing. 
   
Internet service on long flights has typically cost about $12 or so, and has generally been pretty effective, enabling blogging on a laptop.  Some ads don’t serve onto websites in the air, however.
     

CNN’s story is here

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Shutdown could affect new wireless devices getting to market

An extended government shutdown could affect consumers planning to upgrade their smartphones soon.  And my own Motorola Droid should be getting near the end of its contract this month or next (with Verizon).
  
I wasn’t aware that the FCC has to approve new wireless products.  That could include other devices like wireless modems and keyboards/mice popular in many homes and small businesses.   It might affect some medical-related devices, like baby monitors.
  

Brian Fung has a story on “The Switch” in the Washington Post Oct 1, here.   Funny, because conservative Dick Morris has been saying that the FCC is one agency we can just do away with in a debt ceiling showdown. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Telecommunications want to "neuter" the FCC

Cecilia Kang has a story in the Washington Post Thursday to follow right along the short film reviewed here yesterday.  Telecommunications companies like Verizon, Comcast and ATT want Congress to shift regulation of them from the FCC to other, presumably more lenient, agencies.  The story on p. A15 of today’s Washington Post is here.  On the Switch blog, the headline referred to “neutering” the FCC.
    

Consumer advocates maintain that we need a strong FCC because telecomm companies lack competition and lack incentive to develop their infrastructures in areas where there is less big business use and less easy profit.  

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

"The Internet Must Go": Mockumentary short film makes a business case for network neutrality, through the back door

Recently, Electronic Frontier Foundation tweeted a link to John Wooley’s 30-minute short film on Network Neutrality, a spoof titled “The Internet Must Go.”  The basic link is here
  
Wooley pretends he has been hired by a consortium of Internet Service Providers to write a report countering the political support for network neutrality.  The ISP’s say that they can’t give unlimited access to ordinary people;  it you want an express freeway, you need an EZPass or enough business (riders) to justify the HOV lane.
  
  
Wooley talks to countless business and Internet experts: John Hogman, Tim Wu, Fanner Brown, Gigi Sohn (whom I know from DADT battles).  He talks to the founder of Zipcar and people at Reddit.  He talks to “avaaz.org” which reported on the floods in Myanmar.  Everyone says that network neutrality, which treats telecommunications as a neutral utility like basic electricity and phone, is necessary for business and innovation.
  
Wooley travels to rural North Carolina, one of nineteen states who yielded to lobbyists and passed state laws blocking setting up community broadband service.  He claims that rural areas don’t have good wireless access and travels to “Death Hill” in North Carolina (reminds me of the horror movie “Silent Hill”) where kids risk getting hit by cars to get a 3G connection for their homework.  Wooley says that cable and wireless companies are kept apart artificially (I’m not sure that’s really true).  Law professor Susan Crawford says network neutrality is very difficult sell to politicians, given their campaign indebtedness to telecomm companies. 

The telecommunications companies face the business and ethical questions about investing in infrastructure when they don't have enough competition. I would say that electric utilities face the same issues in hardening the power grid against possible major disruptions from solar storms or even terrorists (EMP attacks).  
      
Wooley also begs an interesting ethical question about journalism: should you be hired to represent one party’s point of view – like a lobbyist – since you, as a real person, have real bills and maybe a family to support?
  
The style of filmmaking is a curious mixture of Morgan Spurlock “Inside Man” journalism and the mockumentary technique of Reid Ewing’s “Reid.ing” series where the “Rainbow Man” looks at what is actually “free” in life.  Technically, the film looks sharp and professional.  Should the three of these collaborate in film? 
  
I’ll mention and list this short film on my main Movies blog soon so that it gets found there easily.


Friday, August 16, 2013

Obama wants FCC to hike cell phone user fees more to fund public school broadband everywhere

Conservatives are berating President Obama about a plan to get the FCC to prod for a new cell phone tax to help fund broadband for all public schools, New American story here
  

The FCC would hike the E-rate fee, which would add about $12 per cell phone user over three years.  Playing Robin Hood?  There is plenty of socialism in the telecommunications fee tax structure already, but at the local level it adds up, affecting low income consumers. 
  
I was a substitute teacher a few years ago, and even then, the upper income school districts had quite advanced technology.  I remember playing with Google Earth in a school library before I got it myself. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

ISP "server bans" seem to be controversial; maybe they just want "businesses" to pay more

It may not be particularly well known that standard ISP terms of service with major telecomm companies, at least when they are residential contracts, ban the customer’s use of his service to run “servers”.

It’s a little bit soft and ambiguous.  Would ordinary P2P be banned (a computer will run both client-side and server-side methods)?  What about a tinkerer who is just curious and wants to learn how to do it?  (A coworker ran a server on a 386 machine in his apartment around 1994 and taught himself OOP and Java, rode the job market and now rolls in multiple six figure incomes.  He used to berate me for “astonishing lack of curiosity”.

My first site (hppub.com) was hosted from 1997-2001 on a small server farm in a man’s home in Maryland;  I don’t know whether it could have violated such a ban.

Electronic Frontier Foundation, in an article by Dan Auerbach about Google Fiber’s ban, which is prettu standard on the industry.  EFF calls it a violation of the spirit of network neutrality. 
  

Actually, though, my experience is that companies offer “business plans” that would allow servers (and perhaps more prompt customer service in case of outages.  And shared hosting companies often offer dedicated server hosting, with the understanding that the customer may be serving applications to customers himself.  

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Broadband-only plans become popular, may deliver enough streaming video to replace cable in many areas

Various media sources are reporting that telecommunications providers are selling broadband-only packages more often in some areas (especially California) and encounter younger customers who prefer that. A typical story on FierceCable (related to Fierce Markets?) is here
  
A basic package a just 1 mbps typically costs around $20.  But meaningful video experience (movies and major TV episodes) probably needs 30-50 mbps, which could run up to $75 or so for the best service.  Still, it is cheaper than full cable and smartphone and everything now. 
  

Data-only plans seem to offer higher profit margins.  Is the old cable TV model (known since the 1970s) in trouble.  

Monday, August 05, 2013

WSJ points out that American-style competition in telecomm probably gets better results in bandwidth than does "neutrality" regulation in Europe

Take a look at the article in the Wall Street Journal Monday August 5, 2013, p A13 by Ev Ehrlich, “The Myth of America’s Inferior Broadband”, link here
  

Ehrlich argues that competition has served American consumers relatively well, compared to some of Europe where service is often only around 20mbps and is regulated (the exception is Finland).  America and South Korea are similar in their approach, he writes, offering a choice between DSL, cable, fiber optic and Wireless LTE.  The latter typically functions around 20 mbps (as on my iPad when I’m out) in 4G mode, and could stand some improvement if one wants a lot of video (data transmission seems to cost  lot more in LTE than cable in my own experience).  I’m not sure what my Comcast Xfinity usually runs, around 50 maybe? Amazon Instant play and Netflix instant usually run without any stalls, as do private Vimeo screenings from movie distributors – because somebody paid for the better rate, where as YouTube “free films” do tend to stall more.  Not an argument for legal “net neutrality”. 

Ken Cuccinelli argues similarly toward the end of his book "The Last Line of Defense" (books blog, Aug. 1).  

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Do we really need to do everything on our smart phones? Take the IQ test

Do we really need to do everything with our smart phones? 
  
Jenna Wortham has a “Bits” column in the Sunday New York Times business section “I’m still waiting for my phone to become my wallet,” p. 3, link here
 l
I haven’t learned to use my smartphone the way kids have; I should get the taxicab app to work so that I can get a cab when out at the bars.  

And I find self-checkout in grocery stores and CVS, which has enough complicated steps even with credit cards, let alone phone, a bit of a problem.

The end result will be fewer retail clerks and cashiers, fewer lower-wage hourly jobs (which I skipped out on) but fewer situations where there is a line and only one cashier – or maybe more such encounters. Have you ever abandoned a purchase because the line was too long for someone to take your money? I did once at a Walgreen’s in Minneapolis. 
  

My father used to love the “Automat” Horn cafeterias in NYC in the 1950’s.  I don’t know what happened to them..    

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Courts say that software that enables skipping commercials doesn't infringe on copyrights

Cecilia Kang reports in the Washington Post July 25 that the Ninth Circuit (3 judge panel) has agreed with a district court that the Dish Hopper service, sued by Fox, did not violate copyrights in providing a way for consumers to bypass commercials.  The link for the story is here

The court ruled that bypassing commercials doesn’t infringe copyrights. Only making illegal (complete or partial) copies will do that.

The problem impacts traditional broadcast and perhaps cable television business models, in a manner parallel to how "do not track" might affect Internet "free service" business models. 
  
In my own experience, I see ads on cable programs that I “pay” for (like on CNN); on many YouTube videos (which I can skip).  I don’t see them on Amazon Instant Play, which is sometimes free when played immediately, but often requires a rental (from $1.99 to $6.99).  Google YouTube rentals also don’t display commercials. 



Friday, July 05, 2013

Long Island community (Fire Island) opposes plan by Verizon to go wireless only after Hurricane Sandy

Fire Island (where “The Ocean Meets the Sky”) is a seaside resort town on an isthmus off the southern Long Island Coast, about 40 miles from Manhattan, requiring ferry access, and popular with the gay community (both the Pines and Cherry Grove, with about a half mile of beach and notorious pine forest between them).  
  
I often made day trips there when I lived in New York City in the 1970s.
  
Cecilia Kang has a story in the Washington Post Friday here

The town was battered by Sandy, and Verizon wants to replace all the old landline service with a suprt wireless only service called VoiceLink.  Presumably the service is good enough for Internet streaming video (not sure of the data limits and costs) and television, and most functions.  But DSL will not be available, nor old-fashioned Fax, or some function essential to medicine (I’m not aware that the community has a hospital from what I remember), or even the ability to take collect calls.  Some people want “plain old telephone service”, and there are a few barebones cell plans (without Internet) offered now, possibly aimed at low income people.   

My own feeling is that Verizon has a real point.  It is much easier to concentrate on making infrastructure robust and impervious to storms and maybe even sabotage if there is less physical wiring to maintain.  The public perhaps ought to get behind aggressive wireless deployment, if the data limits are generous enough. There are new technologies (like imaging systems, popular with insurance companies, to replace fax).  The medical questions are disturbing, though.  

Companies have already forced customers to adjust.  Some years ago, AOL eliminated phone line dialup and went all web.  
  

Wikipedia attribution link for Fire Island lighthouse. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Super high-speed Wi-Fi could come soon; Will Obama administration let it happen?

I noticed this story on my smartphone on a day trip yesterday, on CNN Money, “Much Faster Wi-Fi coming soon,”  link here
  
As a practical matter, it could make your home or apartment cable connection less critical.  How would data transfer limits affect people who want to use faster speeds to watch movies and video? 
  
Speeds could be close to 100 times current speed, near the theoretical limit 1.3 Gigabits per second.  
  
They could be a real boon for travelers if the routers become small and portable enough.

Then look at the contrasting piece Friday in the New York Times, p. A19, by Lowell C. McAdam, “How the U.S. Got Broadband Right”, link (website url) here.  McAdam says that the US approach is rather libertarian (I think some of my friends will disagree) and that 80% of US households have wireless speeds of at least 100 megabits per second.  We’re not as good as South Korea.  (And by the way, it occurs to me that a nearby Korean-family-owned supermarket and sports bar here in Arlington s very tech savvy.)   But the article claims that only 2% of households in Europe have similar access.   What about Estonia? Finland?  Does that mean that if I go to Europe and sit outside in a rural French cafĂ© (isn’t that fun?) I could miss the latest news.  

Friday, June 07, 2013

President Obama has announced a plan to have high-speed Internet available in 99% of schools by 2018

This should come as no surprise, despite a rocky week for the administration on its surveillance policies.

President Obama has announced a plan (or, rahter, asked for an initiative) to have high-speed Internet available in 99% of schools by 2018, although it might have to be funded by slightly higher telecommunications taxes (which are already overloaded). 
  
CBS News has a typical story. 


Doug Gross of CNN has another typical story here
  

When I subbed in northern Virginia schools in 2004-2007, I found that all school libraries had good Internet service (including Google Earth) and most classrooms did.  In an Honors Chemistry class, we used to look up terms (like “electronegativity”) for exercises on Google and display the results on an opaque projector, but students didn’t have individual laptops.  

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Verizon, maybe other telecomms, let NSA spy on ordinary domestic cell phone use

The National Security Agency, under a FISA secret court order in April, has been collecting data on cell phone calls by ordinary Americans, according to multiple media reports.
  
MSN has a typical story by Matthew DeLuca and Alaistair Jamieson of NBC News, here

The surveillance apparently does not include the contents of calls, but can identify precise location and length. 
People make calls and textx for social purposes from dance floors and bars all the time.  It seems very unlikely that these could attract any interest.
  
But the Obama administration seems particularly aggressive, compared to Bush, in domestic surveillance of tech devices.  According to NBC, the Obama administration would not confirm the NBC report. 

Some sources indicate that the civilian surveillance had gone on long before the April court order. Maybe the contents and info are going through some profiling software.  It's extremely rare for anything to raise a flag -- but you never know.

Some customers said they would leave Verizon -- but isn't everybody doing it?

Al Gore tweeted and decried this practice today. 

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Acquisition of Sprint by Japanese company said to be good for users

A New York Times editorial Friday has characterized the likely acquisition of Sprint by Japanese company SoftBank  (link) has a likely boon for mobile users, as in this editorial here
  
The Times sees this as a bit like Sony owning Columbia Pictures. 

It dismisses national security concerns, maintaining that SortBank will use domestic manufacturing and not open the network up to vulnerabilities from China. 
  

Will the ability of users of other networks to connect to Sprint in remote areas (like West Virginia, for me recently) improve some more?  

Friday, May 24, 2013

New microbatteries can recharge electronics, including smartphones, in seconds

There is a new type of cell phone charger that can fully charge a smartphone in about a second.  The UK Mail has a typical story about research on the matter at the University of Illinois here.  The technology involves "microbatteries" that remind one of the nano-charging devices from the NBC series by J.J> Abrams, "Revolution".

The media (CNN) has also reported on an 18 year old girl (I believe in the Seattle area) who has invented such a battery for a science fair.  No doubt there will be some competing designs.

The innovation could have positive implication for the resilience of cellular networks and for the power grid itself against attacks or space weather.




Saturday, May 18, 2013

On my day trip to the high country in West Virginia -- no Verizon service at all in most spots in the Mountain State, not even 1X

On my day trip to the high country in West Virginia (around Franklin) today, I was unable to get my Verizon Droid smart phone to work at all.  I was told in Franklin in a convenience store, "we get ATT only".

In other rural sections of the state, I've gotten "1X" coverage where the phone gets connected to Sprint.  Verizon seems very weak in the Mountain State.

It seems to me that the telecomm companies should work out their contracts among one another so that a phone works anywhere in North America.

When I lived in Minneapolis, until late 2003, I had a USWest phone, which did not work at all in northern Virginia when I moved back here, even though USWest had a building in Ballston in Arlington/

Cellular phone service ought to be portable (like health insurance and pensions).

Picture: Crest of US 250 on Allegheny Mountain on V Wa border, 4300 feet elevation. Verizon had worked in Monterrey VA, 14 miles away (as 3G).

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

FAA will soon allow tablet electronics during flight takeoff and landing, but not cellular use


The FAA is likely to loosen rules regarding passenger electronics and allow some devices, especially tablets and e-readers, to be used during flight takeoff and landing. But they are not likely to allow cell phone use during these periods, according to widespread media reports at the end of March 2013, such as in Digital Trends, here

My experience in flight on a smart phone is that telephone connectivity does not stay up for long, and generally recovers only upon landing. 
    
Airlines are continuing to increase paid subscriptions for inflight Internet service, and paid one-time connections (which are pricey, up to about $14), even for narrower jets and shorter flights, such as here on American, link. AA calls it "Stay Entertained".  

I used this service on Delta returning from California last May.

You might enjoy this missive, “What flying was like in the 1960s”, (website url) here.  I remember that, going from DC to Kansas for graduate school, and later in 1969 when starting my job interviews while still in the Army. 


Monday, May 06, 2013

Wireless carriers warn on capacity of radio bandwidth


AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint are warning the FCC that they need more radio spectrum, or they will “run out” before too long, according to an April 17 New York Times story by Brian X. Chen, here.
  
But others say that technology will increase the data transmission capacity of any one antenna.
I’ve noticed weak signals in areas that should have strong service, even in residential Arlington VA.  
  
Sometimes a 4G signal comes back on if I place the Droid in airplane mode for a moment and then turn it back to normal. 
  
At Busch Gardens, near Williamsburg VA, Saturday, most of the coverage (Verizon) was only 3G and sometimes was too weak for Internet (particularly video), even outdoors.
  
The link for the Times story is here.



Thursday, May 02, 2013

Cellular companies lagging on improving security to prevent smart phone thefts


Brian X. Chen and Mal;ia Wollan warn, in a New York Times article May 2, that the “industry looks the other way” on Cellphone thefts, in a front page article here
  
The report indicates that cellular carriers have a conflict of interest and have little incentive to fix the problem.
There is a national database for stolen phones, but many stolen films are shipped overseas.
  
However, Verizon says that a stolen phone, once inactivated on its database, cannot be reactivated.
Washington DC Police Chief Kathy Lanier has been vocal on calling for more industry attention to the problem to reduce the incentive to street crime, especially on the Metro.
  
Google doesn’t offer any theft-deterrence software inits android, but it is available from third parties.  Apple has been ambiguous on improving security beyond location on iCloud.  

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Government or Business can shut down cell service for large crowds


The government or police did not shut down cell phone service in the crowd are of the Boston Marathon, but it could have.  Ars Technica ("Law and Disorder") has a detailed article by Timothy B. Lee Tuesday on the matter, link here

The story was motivated by incorrect AP reports that police had shut down cell phone service during the attacks.  Evidence shows that the “pressure cooker” pipe bomb was detonated by a 60s-ers timer, not by cell phone signals. 

The issue came up before when Bart officials shut it down near some stations in San Francisco to forestall demonstrations by BART police. 

Shutting service down in some areas has been proposed to control or prevent flash mobs, particularly  in Britain.

It’s important for individuals to have the ability to receive cell phone calls, for business or even security reasons (such as from their own homes).   Some venues turn off cell phone access (some cinemas and theaters do), and a few require surrender of cell phones to enter (such as some embassies like Israel, some areas of the US Capitol, and at least one major gay leather party in New York City).
   
Here’s a curious YouTube video about blocking a cell phone signal with a Faraday Cage.  I don’t know if this would really work.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Aereo wins legal battle in appeals court; its retransmission is not copyright infringement


There is some legal controversy over a service offered by a company called Aereo in New York City. The service would allow owners of Apple PC’s and smart phones to watch rebroadcast television shows on their devices, as explained on a Wiki here, , or at the company’s own link
  
   
Aereo has also won a legal battle in a federal appeals court in New York, Second Circuit, that its rebroadcast service does not constitute copyright infringement (technically, that a trial was not likely to go in the broadcasters' favor), even though broadcast networks earn revenue from licensing rebroadcast.  Brian Stelter has a story in the New York Times Monday, April  1, link here.
  
Aereo plans to expand to as many as twelve other cities. The customer acquires a small antenna to attach to his device.  The fact that a consumer has his or her own antenna somehow gets reflected in legal arguments that Aereo's business model does not violate copyright law. Cable channels pay to rebroadcast content but Aereo does not.  

Some networks, including Fox and even NBC, have said that they might stop conventional broadcasting and go to cable eventually in cities that offer Aereo or similar services.

Update: May 7:

Ars Technical reports that Aereo has launched a "pre-emptive" lawsuit against CBS, Joe Mullin, story here

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

The "Pebble" wristwatch makes staying in touch while driving or biking safer/


This may not be much of a “network neutrality” issue, but it seems as though the Pebble will bring back the need for the wristwatch. 
  
It’s pretty clear that looking at a watch for the time or for traces of tweets or messages is more acceptable when driving or biking than picking up a cell phone – merely being seen holding one could get you pulled over in many states.  And pretty soon cameras will probably enforce no phones rules.  I wonder if new cars will. Bikers will really like this product -- even allowing for "Premium Rush". 
  
This is as good a basic reference as any, link

  
Apparently Eric Migicovsky made effective use of Kickstarter, which can work for “real product”, but not abstractions like mine.  

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Cable companies want media to aggregate their channels more efficiently


Cable companies are pressuring media companies to package their channels into bundles that represent what consumers really want, as a way of offering lower prices, according to a story in the Washington Post today by Cecilia Kang, link here
  
The concept seems important to me because major networks need to provide ways to cover regular programming when it is preempted in some locations by breaking news, especially sudden presidential news conferences or severe weather warnings. 

For example, in Washington DC NBC has a regular hi-def channel (211 in Arlingtopn on Comcast) and is supposed to use 208 as a backup, but often does not use it, meaning the episodes of some shows are missed entirely in some areas (although they can usually be found online the next day).  Networks should set up backup channels on cable that can always carry scheduled programming , and include them in cable packages.

The availability of many programs online is undermining the older business model for cable.  (I'm watching Sunday night's "Revenge" right now as I write this. Nolan is irresistible!)  
  
For my own reference as much as anyone’s, here’s the Comcast lineup

Monday, March 18, 2013

Who needs to "root" his cell phone?


My own Motorola Android is “getting old” and is probably “inferior” to the iPhone.  But I picked up, at a BN, BDM’s “Advanced Hacks + Guides + Tips for Android”.  The book appears to come from the UK.
  
Of particular curiosity is the chapter on “rooting” your phone, on p. 90.  It seems a bit risky, because you could “brick” your phone (make it unusable for good), and it’s hard to imagine the benefits.  But maybe for some people, some custom ROM software really does work better.  Maybe something like software that gets you a taxi quickly in a dangerous area of a particular city, or some other particular issue in interfacing with the physical world.  Rooting usually requires Java JDK and HDK.   (Somehow the term hints at shaving.)  On poage 96, the booklet talks about rooting with a tool called “SuperOneClick”, as well as the more complicated “Revolutionary” (an ironic name, given the substance of a recent NBC miniseries). 

I'm not sure what the legality of all of this is, assuming even that you are on your original contract.  

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Congress sympathetic to consumers who want the legal right to unlock cell phones again


Should cell phone unlocking be legal again?  Chloe Albanesius has a detailed story in PC World about the reaction of legislators, since unlocking became illegal again in January after a 90 day waiting period.

The main story is here.
  
The Copyright Office had been involved in an obscure deliberation of whether the unlocking envisions “non-infringing” intentions, a consideration in whether to allow tampering with a device under the DMCA.  The PDF of the press release from last October is here.  This area of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is more obscure than the "Safe Harbor" (or "safe haven") area, and seems to have unintended consequences in areas not really involving copyright (although patents could come into play).  

This action by the Copyright Office seems to have originated administratively and has drawn attention from more libertarian and perhaps GOP members of Congress.  The penalties could be enomrous and the means of enforcement would be obscure (facial recognition)?

Sam Seder has a video on the LOC's action here.
  
So many lawmakers feel that you should be allowed to unlock a phone when you own the hardware. This probably is true in state legislatures, too.  
   
The practical concerns could occur when a customer moves to a different area of the country (maybe because of job change) because his home carrier doesn’t cover the new area well. For example, Verizon doesb’t cover a lot of West Virginia very well, but Sprint does.  When I moved back to northern Virginia in the early fall of 2003, I found that USWest (from Minnesota) didn’t cover the new area at all, and I had to start all over with a new cell phone, an additional moving expense.

A earlier article by Chloe in PC World warned that jailbreaking can void your warranty on an iPhone (or any smart phone).

There is an article in Tech Liberation, which informs us that the true libertarian (Cato) position is to respsect the carrier's right to enforce a contract, article by Jerry Brtio, here
   
It’s likely in the future that some remote home security features, and even 2-step website signon may work better with some carriers on some manufacturers (the iPhone) than others, especially for consumers traveling overseas, and this could provide additional legitimate reasons consumers could want to switch.  

Saturday, March 02, 2013

"National Day of Unplugging": Is this giving up technology for Lent?


I’m not much for ceremonial observations of Lent, but today (mabe starting yesterday) is supposed to be the “National Day of Unplugging”, where people “give up” using cell phones and laptops (desktops seem to be OK).  Here’s the major link.

The idea is supposed to be engaging people, and building social capital.

  
The Daily Beast has an account here
  
Are people supposed to give up blogging, tweeting, and social media?
  
At nearby churches, the youth recently did their “30 hour fasts” to recognize hunger (see my Moives blog yesterday), but what do they do with the time?  Make a short film.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Georgia bill would prohibit towns from building their own networks if even one resident has "good" private service


There is a bill in the Georgia legislature that would bar towns from setting up their own broadband networks if one home in the town has service over 1.5Mpbs (the FCC considers 4.0 a benchmark for good service).

The bill is being pushed by "incumbent" telecommunications companies.  
  
The concept behind the bill is that private companies rather than networks should provide service.  But some rural areas do not have good service or the ability to attract competition to a local monopolistic telephone company.
   
Timothy B. Lee has a story about this in Ars Technica today here
  
One of the comments asks the question, what is an essential utility, and what is a luxury?  Is fiber-optic cable becoming an essential utility?  

Monday, February 04, 2013

FCC proposal for Super WiFi creates schisms in tech industry


There is a new schism between major tech service and social networking companies (Google, Facebook, and the like) and telecommunications providers (like ATT, Comcast) over an FCC proposal to create super WiFi networks across the nation, enabling lower income people to use the Internet with no fees and reaching rural areas.  Also, such networks would be much more resistance to storms or other physical disruption. 
    
The story by Cecilia Kang in the Washington Post appears Monday February 4, 2013, link here

Republicans say that the government could cut its deficit (and even contribute toward the sequestration hearings and debate) by auctioning off wireless frequencies to private carriers, but possibly stipulating improved performance and speeds, especially in rural areas. 

High quality streaming in heavy volume would still have to be paid for by consumers in subscription plans and contracts in a normal fashion, but very basic service might be free.

I often find that cellular service, especially Internet access, is spotting in rural areas, particularly in West Virginia, where my own Verizon service usually goes over to 1X and connects to Sprint, not always successfully. 
  
Cellular service has been improving on the Metro on most lines and at most stations, except in the deepest tunnels.  
It's important to remember that the government itself cannot set up the super WiFi.  It can license unused airwaves to companies that will do it.  

Saturday, February 02, 2013

FTC encourages mobile apps to have same privacy as desktops -- disco "kids" don't care


Mobile devices so far do not seem to offer users the same degree of control over privacy or “do not track” possibilities as laptops and desktops, and that is a situation that the FTC wants to change, according to a New York Times story Saturday in the Business Section by Edwart Wyatt, link here

The article discussed a social network called Path.

Many people don’t want mobile applications to disclose their physical locations, invitations to burglary or to stalking.  That doesn’t seem to be as controllable as it should be.
  
On the other hand, if you just notice how people behave on dance floors, interrupted by constant texts – they want to know where their friends are – exactly, and constantly – even if only fifty feet away in darkness, strobe lights and noise.   I don’t see how kids can text so well without seeing anything.  I can’t. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

NYTimes follows up on story of high speed in KC area, with op-ed on high speed for everyone in US


Susan Crawford has an important op-ed in the New York Times on Thursday January 24, 2013, “How to get America Online” (pun), called also “How to get high-speed Internet access to all Americans”, link here

The story follow an important report on Google Fiber in the Kansas City area.

Crawford reports that US law allows cable and telecommunications policies to remain monopolistic many areas, and that FCC regulation (under Genachowski) has not done enough to encourage competition.  

Telecommunications companies are sometimes able to lobby effectively to reduce competition.
  
It seems inexcusable that we would not have high-speed access comparable to that of other countries, like South Korea.
   
In the northern Virginia suburbs, most customers can choose between Verizon Fios and either Comcast or Cox.  While Internet access speeds are adequate for most video, they would not support the higher volume uploading that some filmmakers would need (and that Google’s YouTube allows for users with “good reputations” (not causing copyright complaints)).  .  

Saturday, January 26, 2013

In Kansas City, Google Fiber dazzles with highest connection speeds ever; an opportunity for filmmakers (and me)?


The Kansas City area (first, Hanover Heights in Kansas and soon across the stateline in Missouri) is getting a huge boost from Google Fiber, a prototype for broadband service that could be the fastest in the world (even by South Korean standards) and become a new standard everywhere.

The Washington Post on Saturday January 26, 2013 has a front page story by Cecilia Kang.
   
Google Fiber optic runs at 1000 MPS; Verizon Fios runs at 300 MPS; Comcast Xfinity Cable (which I have) is “only” 50 Mbps.  MPS means “Megabits per second”.

Comcast is still adequate for most purposes – including Netflix movies on Instant play.  Where I think I could have a problem is when I make my own documentary video soon, and want to upload it to YouTube.  I am authorized to load segments over 15 minutes, but in practice it takes too long.

That means I could have to rethink my own arrangement this spring.

Maybe XFinity speeds will increase.
   
The Washington Post offers this chart here and has another lnk for testing connection speeds.
   
Higher speeds  will enable some new security systems, like Eye Verify (a retinal system, link ), to work more easily.  It seems as though this sort of system would appeal to the TSA.

Here’s a video (by Ramsey Mohsen) on testing connection speed.


I wonder if Google Fiber will come to Lawrence, Kansas, at KU, where I went to graduate school in the 1960s.   

Picture: University of Kansas campus, 2006.  Is it next?

Second picture:  I could have trouble uploading a lengthy lecture or "narrated hike" like this (from iMovie):

Sunday, January 20, 2013

SafeLink (under LifeLine) is still a resource for low-income consumers


This Sunday morning, CNN carried an ad for the Federally backed Lifeline service, for income-eligible consumers.  It is described on the Federal Communications Communication website here

Curiously, Lifeline was instituted during the Reagan administration.

Lifeline is now available on wireless phones, through a facility called SafeLink, with a discussion here

According to the description. TracFone wireless pays for the phones. 


In 2009, SafeLink had 2 million customers in 36 states.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

2013: Is net neutrality still an issue?


Visitors may enjoy a post by Daniel Brenner, “Net Neutrality: A Solution in Search of a Problem”, in Forbes, in September, 2012, link (website url) here

Brenner, like many other commentators recently, warns against allowing the ITU to regulate Internet access protocols (this has been discussed on the International Issues blog and on my main blog Dec. 3).

But Brenner notices that there seems to be very little attempt on the part of service providers to manipulate speed of access to content by ordinary home or mobile users, since the FCC rules of 2010.  There has been controversy over manipulation of access speeds related to bandwidth use.  And very large outfits can pay for faster bandwidth.

There does seem to be a question of infrastructure investment.  Why are our access speeds less than those of, say, South Korea?

USA Today on Jan. 3 published the top ranking five countries in citizen Internet use as Iceland, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Lyxembourg.  The US is not in the top 5, at least.