GO TO TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR THIS PAGE

Ethernet cable




http://www.powernotebooks.com/specs/images/8660/

NEWS So much news of so many types...but you can get to it in 3 ways - click on a picture above, click on our hot topics list immediately below, or for our "trolling for news" click...news!

Or...You can sing along with this page - just a simple substitution - just substitute "lawyers" for "clowns" and do a Judy Collins imitation!

CIVIC, CIVIL AND UNCIVIL USES;  U.S. control of internet over - report 3-14-14.
      
REBOOT BY APPLE & GOOGLE;  MILITARY USES OR GOVERNMENT INVASION OF PRIVACY;  CRIME (THEFT OF SMARTPHONES)




Another side of this multi-sided issue.



Story in full here:  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/12/business/net-neutrality-debate-access-and-costs-are-top-issues.html?action=click&contentCollection=Media&region=Footer&module=MoreInSection&pgtype=article



So is the President coming out in opposition to his own FCC Chairman?


Politics makes strange bedfellows department:  6-3 vote previously favoring broadband companies had a minority opinion written by Scalia with support from Ginsberg and Souter!

Story in full:  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/11/technology/obama-net-neutrality-fcc.html?module=Notification&version=BreakingNews&region=FixedTop&action=Click&contentCollection=BreakingNews&contentID=21939171&pgtype=article

Read the NYTIMES editorial:  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/15/opinion/why-the-fcc-should-heed-president-obama-on-internet-regulations.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=c-column-top-span-region&region=c-column-top-span-region&WT.nav=c-column-top-span-region



CIVIL LIBERTIES LAWYERS WORSE THAN USED CAR SALESMEN?

From the NYTIMES:  http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2014/11/06/us/ap-us-philadelphia-abduction.html?module=WatchingPortal&region=c-column-middle-span-region&pgType=Homepage&action=click&mediaId=none&state=standard&contentPlacement=4&version=internal&contentCollection=www.nytimes.com&contentId=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2Faponline%2F2014%2F11%2F06%2Fus%2Fap-us-philadelphia-abduction.html






Story in full:  http://www.nhregister.com/business/20141024/frontier-takes-over-att-landline-service-saturday





Spicy, (r) in retirement in New Zealand, concerned about her new country's election, although she is happy about Net Neutrality.

Is a commercial product is built to military-industrial standards & quality?
Signaling Post-Snowden Era, New iPhone Locks Out N.S.A.

NYTIMES
By DAVID E. SANGER and BRIAN X. CHEN
SEPT. 26, 2014

WASHINGTON — Devoted customers of Apple products these days worry about whether the new iPhone 6 will bend in their jean pockets. The National Security Agency and the nation’s law enforcement agencies have a different concern: that the smartphone is the first of a post-Snowden generation of equipment that will disrupt their investigative abilities.

The phone encrypts emails, photos and contacts based on a complex mathematical algorithm that uses a code created by, and unique to, the phone’s user — and that Apple says it will not possess...

Google has also started giving its users more control over their privacy. Phones using Google’s Android operating system have had encryption for three years. It is not the default setting, however, so to encrypt their phones, users have to go into their settings, turn it on, and wait an hour or more for the data to be scrambled.

That is set to change with the next version of Android, set for release in October. It will have encryption as the default, “so you won’t even have to think about turning it on,” Google said in a statement...

Story in full here:  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/27/technology/iphone-locks-out-the-nsa-signaling-a-post-snowden-era-.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&version=LedeSum&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news



Kim Dotcom, Online Renegade, Shakes Up New Zealand Election

NYTIMES
By JONATHAN HUTCHISON
SEPT. 18, 2014


AUCKLAND, New Zealand — It was not an ordinary political rally, but this has been anything but an ordinary election.

The hundreds of people who packed Auckland Town Hall on a recent evening were regaled with speeches by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden, the last two appearing by Internet video link. Mr. Greenwald and Mr. Snowden said the New Zealand government had carried out, or at least participated in, mass domestic surveillance.

But at the center of the show was the event’s organizer, Kim Dotcom, the online entrepreneur accused of mass copyright theft whose fledgling Internet Party stands a chance at winning seats in Parliament in the national elections on Saturday.

“We are going to work really, really hard to stop this country from participating in mass surveillance,” Mr. Dotcom told the crowd. “And we’ll close one of the Five Eyes,” he added, referring to the intelligence alliance that includes the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The crowd erupted in cheers.

In this remote Pacific island country, where elections usually turn on such bread-and-butter issues as jobs and personal financial security, this election campaign has been rocked by a scandal involving the hacked emails of a right-wing blogger that led to the resignation of a senior minister, a campaign finance scandal that forced the resignation of a member of Parliament, and a lawsuit brought by the publishers of the American rapper Eminem accusing the governing National Party of illegally using his song “Lose Yourself” in a campaign ad. (The party denies the allegation.)

The issue that has drawn international attention, however, has been Mr. Dotcom himself, who, since he moved here several years ago, has become an outspoken character and a significant player in New Zealand politics.

Born Kim Schmitz in Germany before legally changing his name, Mr. Dotcom, 40, is fighting extradition to the United States, where he is wanted on racketeering charges stemming from his now defunct file-sharing site Megaupload.

While out on bail as he appeals the case, he has introduced a new online storage company, Mega, confronted the prime minister in Parliament, released an album and founded the Internet Party.

The party advocates a wide range of policies, including decriminalizing marijuana for personal use, setting a national goal of 100 percent sustainable energy generation by 2025, repealing surveillance legislation and amending copyright laws to, among other changes, protect Internet companies from “civil liability arising from the action of their users,” a fix that could shield hosting services such as Mega.

There is widespread suspicion, as well, that should his party win a place in the government, it would try to block his extradition.

Analysts say that a spot in a coalition government is not out of the question.

The Internet Party, though relatively tiny, has formed an alliance with the small, left-leaning Mana Movement, which already has one member of Parliament. The 3 News poll suggests that if the current Mana leader retains his seat, the combined Internet-Mana coalition could take three seats in Parliament.
Continue reading the main story

If no party wins a majority, smaller parties could wield significant negotiating power and potential influence in a coalition government, which would have final say over an extradition.

Mr. Dotcom, who is not a New Zealand citizen and cannot run for office himself, has campaigned publicly and spoken on his party’s behalf, acting as its founder, figurehead and financier.

“He’s still sort of seen as being outside the parliamentary political process, but kind of throwing some sort of hand grenades into it,” said Bryce Edwards, a lecturer in the politics department at the University of Otago. “His whole position is quite unprecedented, really, in so many different ways.”

Mr. Dotcom has sunk at least 3.5 million New Zealand dollars, or $2.9 million, into the Internet Party, the largest personal contribution to a political party on record in New Zealand, according to the Electoral Commission. Dr. Edwards said the donation “overshadows everything else that’s gone before in New Zealand politics.”

While it is not known how much Mr. Dotcom is worth, when he was arrested in 2012 in a dramatic helicopter raid on his compound, he was living in New Zealand’s most expensive mansion, worth $24 million. The police seized 18 luxury vehicles worth $6 million — including a Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupé and a 1959 pink Cadillac — computers, and as much as $11 million in cash. He has said Mega was worth $210 million.

In politics, he has said one of his main goals was to help to defeat the National Party-led government, which he has accused of colluding with the American film industry. With the film industry cited as one of the main victims of Megaupload’s alleged copyright piracy, Mr. Dotcom sees the government’s cooperation with his extradition as doing the industry’s bidding.

Despite the scandals this year, the center-right National Party remains the most popular, with support from about 45 percent of voters, according to a poll conducted by 3 News on Sept. 9-15, still far ahead of its nearest rival, the left-leaning Labour Party, with just 26 percent.

Still, Mr. Dotcom has been able to rattle both parties.

On the campaign trail, the usually calm and composed prime minister, John Key, has lashed out on occasion, calling Mr. Greenwald a “loser” and a “henchman” of Mr. Dotcom.

And although Mr. Dotcom has tried to ally himself with other left-leaning parties, they have not always welcomed the attention.

“Frankly, people have had about enough of Kim Dotcom,” the Labour leader, David Cunliffe, grumbled Wednesday. “I detest the influence of big money in New Zealand politics, wherever it comes from.”

In response to Mr. Dotcom’s spying allegations, Mr. Key has denied repeatedly that the Government Communications Security Bureau, New Zealand’s equivalent of the National Security Agency in the United States, conducts mass domestic surveillance. But he has refused to comment on whether it shares N.S.A. data that may have been collected from New Zealanders.

Mr. Key said he believed Mr. Dotcom was toying with politics simply to advance his own interests.

“We’ve got an election, which is about New Zealanders, being heavily influenced by a guy who cares about himself and not being extradited to the United States,” Mr. Key said in a video interview posted on The New Zealand Herald’s website on Monday.

Mr. Dotcom, who declined to be interviewed for this article, denies his political aspirations are selfish.

“This party has nothing to do with my extradition,” Mr. Dotcom told reporters in June. “Anyone you have asked in your interviews within the last couple of months has confirmed to you that I have not brought up the topic of extradition once, because this is not what the Internet Party is all about.”

Regardless of his intentions, he seems to have stirred interest in the election. As of Wednesday, more than 434,000 people had already cast ballots in early voting, more than double the number who had voted by this time in the previous election.

Dr. Edwards said he predicted an increase in turnout on Saturday “because this has been such a colorful election campaign.”

“There would hardly be anyone that doesn’t know the election is taking place,” he said. “And people have become more polarized and excited — or maybe even repulsed — by some of the major players.”





http://www.ct.gov/occ/lib/occ/occ_hosted_dynamic__innovative_broadband_conference.pdf

The next big thing?




Many State Computers Still Run Windows XP As Microsoft Ends Security Updates;  Connecticut Could Pay $250,000 For Interim Tech Support
The Hartford Courant
By BRIAN DOWLING
5:54 PM EDT, April 4, 2014

HARTFORD — When Microsoft puts Windows XP out to pasture Tuesday, ceasing to provide new technical and security upgrades, thousands of computers in state government will still be running the beloved operating system.

The computers, whose hard drives record taxes, inmate lists, disease information, budget documents, regulatory files, laws, as well as birth, marriage and death certificates, could become increasingly vulnerable as time goes on.  Missing the deadline will not cause the jail cell doors to fly open on Tuesday, or the tax rolls to vanish, for that matter. But continuing to use Windows XP unaided by custom support is not a good idea, experts say.

"The state becomes more vulnerable to security breaches over time," said Peter Vogt, president of the state's chapter of the Information System Security Association, an industry group of information technology and security professionals.

An estimated 20 percent of state computers still use XP and will not be upgraded in time, officials said, raising questions about cybersecurity and even regulatory compliance.  More than just the state, information technology staff in towns, libraries and nonprofit groups have rushed to upgrade to newer operating systems before the April 8 deadline to continue to get periodic vaccine-like security patches from Microsoft technicians when vulnerabilities are discovered.

At the Department of Correction, which runs the state's prisons, its 2,600 computers still run XP, according to a spokesman. With a plan in hand, it expects to have the machines upgraded by early 2015. Over at the Department of Revenue Services, technicians have about 66 percent of its 826 computers upgraded from XP.

At the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection and the Department of Administrative Services, a quarter of their computers will miss the support deadline, which Microsoft announced in September 2007.  There are a few bright spots among state agencies, including the Department of Social Services, which says that all of its computers will be running Windows 7 by Tuesday, and the Department of Public Health, where nearly all of the computers have been upgraded.

"There may be some remaining XP laptops. There are about 43 laboratory instrument PCs on XP," spokesman William Gerrish said. "Because of the specialized nature of this equipment, we have been working with the vendor to make the conversions."

State officials said they are investigating a plan to buy custom support from Microsoft for as much as $250,000. That service would enable computers stranded with XP to get patched by Windows technicians.

One concern about stranding XP without support is that future security patches for other Windows operating systems could provide a road map for people looking for ways to breach XP's security.

"They do share a common code," said Dan Salazar, director of IT services for the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, which does technology work for towns and nonprofit groups. "If that patch is part of the common code, then technically savvy people could write something that could take advantage of that."

He has seen towns and other organizations scrambling to upgrade at the last minute, some buying refurbished computers or making hardware upgrades because their machines cannot take the upgrade.  Mark Raymond, Connecticut's chief information officer, said that one in every five computers in state offices runs on XP and that over the next year all computers that can be upgraded will be.

"Microsoft was pretty clear several years ago that this was going to happen," Raymond said in an interview Friday. "They didn't communicate it as broadly as they have done more recently. It's how closely that you were paying attention to that information is whether you planned and reacted for it or not."

And the state's progress on the upgrade, he said, depends on where you look.

"Some agencies made tremendous progress, he said. "Others have not."

In the next week, Raymond said, his office will have determined which computers across all state offices need security coverage to extend beyond XP's end-of-life deadline.

"We will be providing a very cost-efficient solution for the agencies by pooling this together. If they had done this individually, it would have cost the state several million dollars, but by doing this together it's only going to cost the state $250,000 in total," he said.

Some, though, say the interim security tactic isn't the best use of government funds.  Eileen Hasson, president of The Computer Company Inc., an IT consulting firm in Cromwell, said that she is not advising any of her clients to pay for extra support. Rather, she said, they should invest in new equipment.

"As a taxpayer, they need to come up with technology that works," she said. "We pay for it in the long run."

On its website, Microsoft explains that failing to upgrade the operating system could cause security risks, lost support from third-party vendors and regulatory compliance issues.

Compliance with the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, requires that covered entities, like hospitals or public health departments, and their contractors keep their systems reasonably secure. Part of that means ensuring that computers cannot be compromised.

Rachel Seeger, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services office for civil rights, said that entities covered by HIPAA — which governs the privacy and security of patients' health data — need to analyze the risk of not upgrading systems when they lose technical and security support.

"The worst thing for a business or a covered entity could do is ignore it," she said.

Salazar, at the advanced technology center, said that people are wrong to think that add-on security software like Norton Antivirus or Symantec will be adequate protection for XP machines. He explained that computer security involves many levels.

At its most simple, security involves where you are taking your computer — for example, which websites you visit. There are firewalls and add-on software, in case something gets onto your computer. Inside all of those, though, is the operating system's own walls, which occasionally are found to be cracking or soft in places.

"A simple mistake of a thumb drive or a vulnerability somewhere else on the network, if those other precautions fail, you could be in trouble," Salazar said.

According to Avast, a computer security software company, 23 percent of its users currently are on XP, and those users are six times more likely to be attacked with a virus than Windows 7 users.

"The abandonment by Microsoft will not only affect Windows XP users, but will create a big security problem for the whole ecosystem," the company's chief operating officer, Ondrej Vlcek, said in a blog post. "Tens of millions of PCs running XP connected to the Internet, unpatched and without security updates, are just waiting to be exploited."

Copyright © 2014, The Hartford Courant



And in a related matter
Comcast vs. the Cord Cutters
NYTIMES
By FARHAD MANJOO
FEB. 15, 2014

The typical American household pays about $90 a month for cable television service, according to the NPD Group, the market research firm. But according to the research firm of You and Pretty Much Everyone You Know, when you click on your TV and browse the guide, what you often find hardly seems worth $90 a month.

This is the battle hymn of the cord cutter: You are paying too much for television, and you aren’t watching most of what you’re paying for. Over the last couple of years, millions of Americans have ditched their cable plans in favor of online streaming services like Netflix and iTunes. Perhaps intoxicated by the money they think they’re saving, cord cutters tend to be evangelical about their lifestyle, feeding a viral phenomenon that is altering the economics of the cable business.

But can cord cutters truly escape the cord? And are they, in fact, saving much money at all?

Comcast’s deal this week to acquire Time Warner Cable highlights the pickle that cord cutters may soon find themselves in. The acquisition rests on the assumption that as people cut back on their monthly TV plans, the cable lines coming into their homes won’t lose their value. Instead, the more we imbibe of all the glories available on streaming services, the more we’ll need to shell out for high-speed broadband service.

In most American households, the cable cord is the fastest conduit for broadband service. This suggests the canny strategy by which those once-inescapable cable providers might combat the rise of cord cutters: The cable giants will simply become even-more-inescapable Internet giants.

If the big providers can do that, cord cutters’ gleeful self-satisfaction may prove short-lived. Critics of the Comcast-Time Warner deal argue that it will eventually give Comcast the power to raise prices for its broadband and cable TV services and especially to hold its Internet-only subscription prices so close to its TV-and-Internet prices that few people will see much use in declaring their cable independence.

“Comcast and the new, giant Comcast are going to do as much as they can to stop you from unbundling,” said Craig Aaron, president of Free Press, a consumer advocacy group. “In order for you to get content you like, you’re going to be pushed to pay the cable bill, too.”

You can get a hint of such a future in Comcast’s current price structure. Today, its cheapest Internet service — a plan that a cord-cutting household might select — goes for $40 a month for the first year. It offers download speeds of up to 25 Mbps, which means it’s fast enough to stream two or three videos simultaneously — say, a FaceTime video chat in the teenager’s room, an episode of “Scandal” in the living room and “Adult Swim” in the man cave.

Here’s the twist: Comcast’s cheapest TV-and-Internet plan goes for $50 a month for the first year, or just $10 a month more than the cord cutter’s plan. Subscribers to the bundle get the same streaming speed as the Internet-only plan, as well as basic TV service that offers a handful of local channels. Comcast also throws in its service for watching TV shows on your mobile devices. More enticingly, the plan includes access to HBO and its streaming service, HBO Go, which — unlike Netflix and Hulu — isn’t available to cord cutters who lack a cable TV subscription.

None of the prices quoted here include taxes and fees for extra equipment. Comcast also notes that prices may vary by location. Considering these caveats, it’s likely that your bill for these plans will be higher than the quoted prices. Still, it’s instructive to note the very small price difference between the cord-cutting plan and the TV-and-Internet plan.

Cutting the cord, in Comcast’s universe, just doesn’t save you very much money. Comcast has carefully set up pricing to get you whether you watch shows the old-fashioned way, on a boob-tube fed with a cable, or whether you prefer to veg out with Netflix on your iPad. Either way, you’re probably paying hundreds of dollars a year to maintain your vital hook to the outside world. And if you consider the added costs of Netflix and streaming rentals, it’s possible that the cord cutter may be paying more, over all, than someone who subscribes to cable.

Whether and how Comcast’s bid for Time Warner Cable will further shape pricing will be a matter of fierce debate before regulators sitting in judgment of the deal. In its presentation announcing the bid, Comcast argued that because it doesn’t currently offer service in markets served by Time Warner Cable, acquiring it won’t reduce competition in those markets.

The company also points out that it is now bound by consumer-protection conditions that the Federal Communications Commission applied as part of Comcast’s acquisition of NBC Universal in 2011 — protections that Comcast is willing to extend to Time Warner Cable’s customers. Among these protections are “open access” rules, also known as network-neutrality provisions, which prevent Comcast from favoring certain content over its network.

For instance, the rules would prohibit Comcast from slowing Netflix streaming unless Netflix paid Comcast an extra fee, a model that has been floated by some in the television industry. Because a federal court struck down a more widely applicable set of open-access rules in January, Time Warner Cable is not bound by any similar provisions. Comcast’s acquisition, then, would technically extend the rules to cover more Americans.

Critics note that the F.C.C.’s neutrality conditions expire in 2018, after which Comcast would be free to start new, network-neutrality-violating business models for its services — perhaps, for example, charging Netflix a fee to get a faster network speed.

More immediately, they point out that while Time Warner Cable imposes no limit on how much data its Internet subscribers can download, Comcast would probably impose its data cap of 250 gigabytes a month on Time Warner’s customers. That number is enough to stream dozens of high-definition movies a month, so it shouldn’t be a problem for most customers. But a few of Time Warner Cable’s most active cord cutters might feel the pinch.

There is also the matter of network performance. According to data published by Netflix, subscribers who use Time Warner Cable experience streaming speeds that are about a third faster than those on Comcast. When those Time Warner users are switched to Comcast’s infrastructure, they may find that “House of Cards” takes a little bit longer to start playing.

Which is not to say that striking down the merger would lead to some kind of cord cutters’ nirvana. Americans pay far more for broadband and TV service than people in most other industrialized nations. According to data collected by the New America Foundation, in Los Angeles, the cheapest monthly television, phone and Internet service costs about $80. In Paris, a similar bundle sells for $32, and in Seoul, it goes for $15.

Broadband markets in most other countries generally operate under tighter rules than those in the United States. Nonetheless, the F.C.C. has attributed those high prices to a lack of competition in local broadband markets. Most American households are served by only two high-speed Internet providers, and some have only one or none. Even in markets with two providers — usually a phone company and a cable company — prices tend to rise.

According to a report by the research firm SNL Kagan, Comcast’s price for its basic Internet tier in Philadelphia and Atlanta rose more than 50 percent from 2009 to 2013. In each of these markets, Comcast faced competition from phone companies — but those high-speed providers raised their prices more than 30 percent over the same period.

The steady price increases in broadband rates cast a pall over any cord cutter’s dreams. It’s possible that you might still save money now by cutting off your cable. But if you plan to watch a lot of TV over the Internet, don’t expect to save money forever.



   
Landlines Continue to Disappear in CT and Nationwide, New Federal Data Shows
By CTByTheNumbers.
On 01/19/2014

One-fifth of all adults and one-quarter of all children under 18 living in Connecticut reside in households that have wireless telephones but no landlines, according to data compiled in the National Health Statistics Report.  For calendar year 2012, the most recent data available, 20.6 percent of adults age 18 and over and 25.4 percent of children under age 18 did not have a landline telephone in their home.

The report also indicates that in Connecticut, 20.6 percent of adults live in a wireless-only residence, 18.8 percent live in a mostly-wireless home, 32 percent live in a “dual-use” residence using both wireless and landline, 18.5 percent are mostly landline at home, and 9 percent have landline only.

Among children under age 18 in Connecticut, the growing dominance of mobile phones is evident, with nearly half in wireless-only (25.4 percent) or wireless-mostly (20.6 percent) households and 32.9 percent in dual-use residences.  Only 11.8 percent and 8.4 percent describe their household as being landline-mostlyphone pie or landline-only.

The National Health Interview Survey is the most widely cited source for data on the ownership and use of wireless telephones.  It is conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The report showed “great variation in the prevalence of adults living in wireless-only households across states.  Estimates for 2012 ranged from a high of 52.3 percent in Idaho to a low of 19.4 percent in New  Jersey.  Other states in which the prevalence of wireless-only adults was relatively high (exceeding 45 percent) were Mississippi (49.4%), Arkansas(49.0%), and Utah(46.6%).

Several other states in the northeascellphone survey health covert joined New Jersey with prevalence rates below 25 percent, including Connecticut (20.6%), Delaware (23.3%), New York (23.5%), Massachusetts (24.1%), and Rhode Island (24.9%).

Results showed a great variation in the prevalence of wireless-only children across states, ranging from  a high of 63.4 percent in Mississippi to a low of 20.6 percent in New Jersey.  Other states with a high prevalence of wireless-only children included Idaho (62.2%), Arkansas (59.8%), Missouri (55.2%), and South Carolina (54.5%). Other states with a low prevalence of wireless-only children included Vermont  (24.5%), Connecticut (25.4%), Alaska (25.7%), and Massachusetts (26.7%).

The 2012 state-by-state data was released by the NHIS in December 2013.  At the same time, the agency released composite national data for the first six months of 2013 that indicates 38.0 percent of U.S. adults lived in a household that has only mobile telephone service and no landline. As reported in the Huffington Post, their tracking shows that more than half of adults under age 35 and nearly two thirds (65.6 percent) of those ages 25 to 29 are cell-phone only.

The Pew Research Center, in a spring 2013 survey, found that ror the first time, cell phone ownership among adults has exceeded 90 percent. Cell phones are now being used by 91 percent of adults, according to the Internet & American Life Project survey conducted between April 17 and May 19 of 2,252 adults.




Graphic from Washington Times (part)

Discussion of 1934 Communications  Act and revisions in the works, perhaps
Illustrated by showing Philco table radio (18h x 16.5w x 11d = 30 lbs) from 1931 atop all the other devices!  We only located this interesting article today, December 30, 2013.




Much Ado About Bitcoin
By ADRIAN CHEN, NYTIMES
November 26, 2013

FOR the obsessive followers of the volatile virtual currency bitcoin, the price of a single bitcoin at the time their fixation began holds undue significance. I know one bitcoin cost around $9 when I first stumbled on it in the summer of 2011. That was before I single-handedly sent the price of bitcoin soaring.

I wasn’t trying to manipulate an underground economy. I was just doing my job as a blogger for the website Gawker when I broke the story of the online underground illegal drug market Silk Road, on which bitcoin was the only accepted currency because of its relative anonymity. The article went viral and introduced hundreds of thousands to bitcoin.

Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, helped, too. During a news conference a couple of days after my article was published, he called bitcoin “an online form of money laundering.” I suppose a lot of people thought that sounded pretty cool. The price of bitcoin surged to $14.

Huh, I thought, maybe I should buy some bitcoin.

But I didn’t, and as of this writing, one bitcoin is worth around $880. Senate hearings held to discuss regulating bitcoin earlier this month were “lovefests,” according to The Washington Post. Abroad, Chinese investors are flocking. Bitcoin seems on the brink of respectability.

Still, there’s a zaniness about the currency. Bitcoin is built on a weird mix of the most old-fashioned kind of speculative greed, bolstered by a contemporary utopian cyberlibertarian ideology. Boosters say that bitcoin is the currency of the future. I’d argue that the phenomenon is a digital gold rush perfectly emblematic of the present.

Some of bitcoin’s appeal comes from the fact that it does not physically exist. Each bitcoin is just a string of numbers. Instead of a bank, a decentralized network of computers ensures the authenticity of bitcoin and issues new ones by doing complex calculations. This allows bitcoin to be traded peer to peer, bypassing credit card companies and payment processors. It’s digital cash, offering the same relative anonymity and freedom as a paper sack of bills. WikiLeaks began accepting bitcoin donations in 2011 in order to bypass PayPal and credit card companies, which had frozen payments to the organization.

The WikiLeaks episode hints at the utopian promise built into bitcoin by its creator, a mysterious programmer called Satoshi Nakamoto, whose identity is a subject of dispute and intrigue. The ideas behind bitcoin can be traced to a 1988 tract called the Crypto Anarchist Manifesto, which loftily predicted a future where anonymity-protecting technology made state control of the market impossible. Everything would be for sale to anyone all the time, 100 percent tax-free. Many of bitcoin’s hard-core fans see the currency as a revolutionary step toward this anarchocapitalist wonderland.

I’m skeptical. I don’t think we’ll all be paying in bitcoin for tickets to Kanye West’s 2024 presidential victory tour. You can’t use bitcoin for much today besides gambling in online casinos and reserving seats on Virgin Galactic spaceflights, and a vast majority of it is held by speculators. Even with the imprimatur of government regulation, the promise of bitcoin seems to end with helping online retailers avoid credit-card processing fees. Bitcoin is mainly innovative in the way of credit default swaps: new ways to gamble with money.

Bitcoin is most interesting on an emotional level. Its sheen of technomagic has let uber-rational geeks treat the casino-floor frenzy as a serious technological story. Tech blogs breathlessly track the price of bitcoin. Each new business that accepts bitcoin is heralded with the fanfare of a despot opening his country’s borders to a new, previously outlawed luxury. The drumbeat suggests that getting rich is as simple as being an early adopter.

So many have bought in because the Internet is very good at stoking the fear of missing out. There’s even a trendy acronym, FOMO, to describe the anxiety inspired by scrolling through the social media accounts of people having more fun than you. Bitcoin fosters a particularly potent brand of FOMO. Recently there was the story of the Norwegian 20-something who discovered that his long-forgotten bitcoin, bought for basically nothing, was worth so much that he traded some of it to buy an apartment. Bitcoin holders have taken to posting screenshots of their swollen accounts. I know a guy who bought a few hundred dollars’ worth of bitcoin as a sort of joke years ago. Now he’s made enough to buy a nice car.

All I can say is that the crash is going to be great. Bitcoin is too dependent on speculative mania to be of practical use as a currency. But as a symbol of the misguided dream that one can tap into the global data stream and download riches like a pop song, it’s gold.

Adrian Chen is a freelance journalist and an editor at The New Inquiry.



Comcast is donating heavily to defeat the mayor who is bringing gigabit fiber to Seattle
WASHINGTON POST
By Andrea Peterson
Updated: October 31 at 3:59 pm

One of Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn's big policy initiatives has been expanding the quality and quantity of high-speed Internet access throughout the city. A public-private partnership plans to offer higher speeds at lower prices than most broadband providers currently offer. And incumbent providers, particularly Comcast, have invested heavily in defeating McGinn in Tuesday's mayoral election. While Comcast denies there is any connection between McGinn's broadband policies and their donations, the company has given thousands of dollars to PACs that have, in turn, given heavily to anti-McGinn groups.

McGinn's major opponent, state Sen. Ed Murray (D-Seattle), has committed to honoring the city's existing contracts for a 14-neighborhood pilot project, but has shown limited enthusiasm about McGinn's plans to expand the network in the future. So the election could determine whether Seattle residents have new options for high-speed broadband service, or will have to make do with the slower services already offered by incumbents like Comcast.

McGinn's broadband initiative

According to Robert Cruickshank, a senior communications adviser for McGinn, one of McGinn's core promises in the 2009 campaign was to "develop a city-wide broadband system." The mayor considered creating a citywide broadband system as a public utility, like water or electricity. But aides say that would have been too expensive, so the mayor settled on public-private partnerships using city-owned dark fiber. This dark fiber was laid down starting in 1995, and the mayor's office now says there are some 535 miles of it, only a fraction of which is being used.

In a partnership with the University of Washington, the city put out a request for proposals in late 2012. "The RFP process is not intended to pick one provider," says Cruickshank, but one company -- Washington, D.C.-based Gigabit Squared -- is currently farthest along. The company is still wrapping up its funding and finalizing plans with the city. They expect to begin offering gigabit-speed service to households with a combined population of 50,000 in early 2014, according to Mark Ansboury, co-founder of Gigabit Squared.

In June, Gigabit Squared announced pricing for its Seattle service: $45 dollars a month for 100 Mbps service or $80 a month for 1 Gbps service plus a one-time installation cost of $350 that will be waived for customers signing a one-year contract. For comparison, Comcast, one of the primary Internet providers in the area, offers 105 Mbps service in the area for $114.99 a month according to their website. (It's unclear if there is an installation charge.)

McGinn has suggested that Comcast hasn't taken this threat of competition lightly. In a recent question and answer session on reddit, he was asked what would happen to Gigabit Squared if he were to lose the race. "I don't know, but I do know Comcast gave Murray a big pile of money," McGinn responded.

Ansboury believes Gigabit Squared's plans will continue regardless of who wins the mayoral election Tuesday, saying that although he supports McGinn -- who he calls an "avid supporter of broadband and fiber services" -- his company's pursuit of fiber service is a community initiative focused on the citizens. "It's pretty clear that outside of the politics, the citizens of Seattle are really looking forward to getting gigabit connections," he said.

Murray does not mention broadband policy or his stance on the mayor's fiber initiative on his Web site. A spokesman for his campaign said that the lack of comment was because "this issue has not come up before in the campaign," so it had not "drilled down yet to make systematic assessment of how the City's approach to promoting ultrafast broadband is going."

The spokesman also committed that, if elected, Murray would honor the current agreements between Gigabit Squared and the city, "but he will also makes sure that the City monitors the company's performance to ensure that they are delivering the promised results as the project moves forward." In other words, the limited pilot project would likely go forward in a Murray administration, but there's more of a question about whether the rest of Seattle would be offered gigabit service via a private-public partnership.

Comcast's contributions

An analysis of Murray's campaign contributions show that he received $700 from Centurylink WA PAC less than a month after the Gigabit Squared project was announced. Comcast has previously donated to Murray's state senate campaigns, and records also show that a Comcast executive named Janet Turpen contributed $500 to Murray's mayoral campaign in October 2013. Her LinkedIn profile describes her as the VP of Government Affairs for Comcast Cable in Seattle.

Comcast's donations to political action committees (PACs) suggest Comcast has poured dramatically more resources into defeating McGinn. The Broadband Communications Association of Washington PAC, which received 94 percent of its 2013 contributions from Comcast, donated $5,000 to the group People for Ed Murray less than a month after Gigabit Squared's pricing announcement. That was the PAC's largest single donation. Unsurprisingly, People for Ed Murray has made significant expenditures supporting Murray's candidacy. The Web site of the Broadband Communications Association of Washington also lists Janet Turpen as president-elect.

Comcast also donated $5,000 to the PAC called the "Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy," or CASE, whose largest expenditures were donations to People for Ed Murray, to the tune of $52,500 -- over half of the money spent by the group according to the most recent disclosures online. Their second largest expenditures was $10,000 to People for a New Seattle Mayor, a group opposing McGinn's reelection.

Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission recently levied a fine against CASE for failing to disclose that a major donation (from a party other than Comcast) was earmarked for People for Ed Murray.

In a statement to The Post, Comcast denied their donations to the Murray campaign were related "in any way to any actions of the current Mayor," instead saying they reflected their prior support for Murray's state senate campaign. On the issue of the CASE donations, they said the PAC "gives to a wide variety of candidates, and which candidates they support is in no way determined by us." A follow-up inquiry about their donations to the Broadband Communications Association of Washington was not returned by the time this blog item was published.

For his part, Ansboury, was not surprised to hear about Comcast's contributions, saying "it's not uncommon in the industry that the larger incumbents, cable operators, and PACs support certain policy initiatives that favor" their interests. Established Internet providers are often afraid of the disruptive nature of fiber competitors, he says, whose potential for much higher speeds can be disruptive to their business.

Often, he believes, these incumbent providers seem to think they know what consumers need more than consumers themselves, but says Gigabit Squared has received over 10,000 requests for gigabit service before even launching in Seattle. That demand is at odds with the argument a Comcast executive vice president made in an op-ed this summer, suggesting that the reason there weren't higher broadband speeds was that consumers didn't want them.

If Comcast is indeed attempting to sway the election, it would fall in line with a larger pattern of telecom interests lobbying against municipal efforts to create their own municipal broadband systems or leveraging city-owner fiber resources to create more competition for incumbent providers. A number of states have even enacted legislation banning municipal broadband.

A loss for McGinn on Tuesday probably won't mean the end of Gigabit Squared's work in the Seattle metro area, though it could curtail Gigabit Squared's plans to expand to other parts of Seattle. More importantly, though, if Comcast's donations help Murray defeat McGinn, it will send a powerful message to mayors in other American cities considering initiatives to increase broadband competition.

© The Washington Post Company



Five Charged in Hacking of Financial Companies

By NATHANIEL POPPER, NYTIMES
July 25, 2013, 10:19 am

Federal prosecutors on Thursday brought what they called the largest hacking and data breach case in the country, charging five people with running an organization that hacked the computer networks of more than a dozen corporations, stealing and selling at least 160 million credit and debit card numbers.

The scheme was run by four Russian nationals and a Ukrainian, said the prosecutors, who announced the indictments in Newark. Paul Fishman, the United States attorney for the District of New Jersey, said losses ran into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“The losses in this case are staggering,” Mr. Fishman said at a news conference in Newark. “This type of crime is really the cutting edge of financial fraud.”

The victims in the scheme, which prosecutors said ran from 2005 until last year, included JCPenney; 7-Eleven; JetBlue; Heartland Payment Systems, one of the world’s largest credit and debit processing companies; and the French retailer Carrefour. A separate case involving one of the defendants and the Nasdaq stock exchange was filed by the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York.

“The defendants and their co-conspirators penetrated the secure computer networks of several of the largest payment processing companies, retailers and financial institutions in the world, and stole the personal identifying information of others, such as user names and passwords,” prosecutors said.

The defendants were identified as Vladimir Drinkman, Aleksandr Kalinin, Roman Kotov and Dmitriy Smilianets of Russia and Mikhail Rytikov of Ukraine. Mr. Drinkman is in custody in the Netherlands and Mr. Smilianets is in custody in the United States. The whereabouts of the other three was unclear.

The attacks underscore the broader threat that hacking poses to a financial system that is almost entirely reliant on networked communications.

In the Nasdaq case, Mr. Kalinin is accused of hacking into the servers used by the exchange. From November 2008 through October 2010, he installed malicious software, or malware, on servers that allowed him to delete, change or steal data, according to the indictment unsealed on Thursday. The infected servers did not include the platform for securities trading.

In a separate indictment also unsealed in federal court in New York, Mr. Kalinin and another Russian, Nikolay Nasenkov, who is also at large, are accused of conducting a scheme to steal bank account information and use it to withdraw millions of dollars from the victims’ bank accounts. From December 2005 through November 2008, the two men hacked into computer systems and stole information from banks including Citibank and PNC Bank, according to the indictment.

In January 2006, the personal identification numbers for hundreds of customer accounts were compromised by a cyberattack on PNC Bank’s online banking Web site, the indictment said. Mr. Nasenkov supplied stolen account information to co-conspirators who, in turn, used it to encode blank A.T.M. cards and withdraw $1.3 million from victims’ accounts.

In 2007, Mr. Kalinin placed malware on a computer network that processed A.T.M. transactions for Citibank and other financial institutions and used the code to steal bank account information for about 500,000 bank accounts, including 100,000 Citibank accounts, the indictment said. The stolen account information was used to to create A.T.M. cards that were used to withdraw $2.9 million from Citibank customers’ accounts.

In 2008, Mr. Nasenkov used a computer program to attack Citibank’s Web site that resulted in the theft of account information for more than 300,000 accounts, according to the indictment. The information was used to create A.T.M. cards that were used to withdraw $3.6 million.




New guy at F.C.C.?
His Feb. 19, 2014 proposal on net neutrality here.

Guess who underwrote the Democratic National Convention in 2012?
F.C.C. Chairman Announces Resignation
By EDWARD WYATT, NYTIMES
March 22, 2013

Julius Genachowski, the Federal Communications Commission chairman since June 2009, who set out ambitious plans to expand broadband Internet service throughout the country and to free up additional airwaves for sale to mobile phone companies, said Friday that he would leave the commission “in the coming weeks.”

No successor has been named. Mr. Genachowski’s departure, on the heels of the resignation earlier this week of Robert M. McDowell, a Republican commissioner since 2006, will leave the agency with only three of five board spots filled, although Democrats will retain a 2-to-1 majority.

Both resignations had been widely expected since the re-election of President Obama, although the timing had been in doubt because of the chairman’s desire not to leave the commission with a 2-to-2 split between Republicans and Democrats.

Mr. Genachowski leaves a number of his highest priorities unfinished, if well under way. The F.C.C. is in the process of drawing up an ambitious plan to make additional high-value airwaves, or spectrum, available for sale to mobile phone companies for use in wireless broadband Internet service.

The plan hinges on the F.C.C.'s ability to persuade television broadcasters to give up some of their airwaves in exchange for some portion of the sale proceeds.

Most broadcasters have strongly resisted that plan, and an associated proposal to move stations that don’t give up their airways to other frequencies on the electromagnetic spectrum. That process, known as repacking, would vacate bands of airwaves by allowing television broadcast signals to be packed closer together.

“Over the past four years, we’ve focused the F.C.C. on broadband, wired and wireless, working to drive economic growth and improve the lives of all Americans,” Mr. Genachowski told staff members on Friday, according to an agency statement.

“Today, America’s broadband economy is thriving, with record-setting private investment; unparalleled innovation in networks, devices and apps; and renewed U.S. leadership around the world,” he added.

Mr. Genachowski also oversaw the conversion of an $8 billion federal program to provide telephone service to rural and low-income Americans, known as the Universal Service Fund, into one that used the same money to expand broadband Internet service. The fund has now been renamed the Connect America Fund.

As chairman, Mr. Genachowski attracted criticism from both industry and consumer groups, although they also supported some of his actions. Public Knowledge, a consumer group, said in a statement that the chairmanship was best characterized as “one of missed opportunities.”

“The chairman deserves credit for defending both the commission’s data roaming rules and unlicensed spectrum, for permitting DISH Network to provide terrestrial wireless service, and for releasing the staff report that helped to end AT&T’s attempted takeover of T-Mobile,” the organization’s statement said. “But it remains to be seen whether those positive steps will mitigate the enormous consolidation that has taken place in the broadband marketplace under his watch.”

Michael Powell, a Republican who served as F.C.C. chairman and now leads the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, a cable industry trade group, praised Mr. Genachowski’s tenure. “Chairman Genachowski wisely believed that ubiquitous Internet connectivity would be the defining technology of our day,” Mr. Powell said, “and his leadership has ensured that America’s robust wired and wireless broadband networks are world class.”

FCC proposes public Wi-Fi networks
Wireless industry opposed, Google, Microsoft back plan
By CECILIA KANG The Washington Post
Article published Feb 4, 2013

Washington - The federal government wants to create super Wi-Fi networks across the nation, so powerful and broad in reach that consumers could use them to make calls or surf the Internet without paying a cellphone bill every month.

The proposal from the Federal Communications Commission has rattled the $178 billion wireless industry, which has launched a fierce lobbying effort to persuade policymakers to reconsider the idea, analysts say. That has been countered by an equally intense campaign from Google, Microsoft and other tech giants who say a free-for-all Wi-Fi service would spark an explosion of innovations and devices that would benefit most Americans, especially the poor.

The airwaves that FCC officials want to hand over to the public would be much more powerful than existing Wi-Fi networks that have become common in households. They could penetrate thick concrete walls and travel over hills and around trees. If all goes as planned, free access to the Web would be available in just about every metropolitan area and many rural areas.

The new Wi-Fi networks would also have much farther reach, allowing for a driverless car to communicate to another vehicle a mile away or a patient's heart monitor to connect to a hospital on the other side of town.

If approved by the FCC, the free networks would still take several years to set up. And, with no one actively managing them, connections could easily become jammed in major cities. But public Wi-Fi could allow many consumers to make free calls from their mobile phones via the Internet. The frugal-minded could even use the service in their homes, allowing them to cut off expensive Internet bills.

"For a casual user of the Web, perhaps this could replace carrier service," said Jeffrey Silva, an analyst at the Medley Global Advisors research firm. "Because it is more plentiful and there is no price tag, it could have a real appeal to some people."

Designed by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, the plan would be a global first. When the U.S. government made a limited amount of unlicensed airwaves available in 1985, an unexpected explosion in innovation followed. Baby monitors, garage door openers and wireless stage microphones were created. Millions of homes now run their own wireless networks, connecting tablets, game consoles, kitchen appliances and security systems to the Internet.

"Freeing up unlicensed spectrum is a vibrantly free-market approach that offers low barriers to entry to innovators developing the technologies of the future and benefits consumers," Genachowski said in a an emailed statement.

Some companies and local cities are already moving in this direction. Google is providing free Wi-Fi to the public in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan and parts of Silicon Valley.

Cities support the idea because the networks would lower costs for schools and businesses or help vacationers easily find tourist spots. Consumer advocates note the benefits to the poor, who often cannot afford expensive cellphone and Internet bills.

The proposal would require local television stations and other broadcasters to sell a chunk of airwaves to the government that would be used for the public Wi-Fi networks. It is not clear whether these companies would be willing to do so...full story here.




The Brits know all about political sex scandals, IIRC.


Petraeus Case Raises Fears About Privacy in Digital Era
NYTIMES
By SCOTT SHANE
November 13, 2012

The F.B.I. investigation that toppled the director of the C.I.A. and now threatens to tarnish the reputation of the top American commander in Afghanistan underscores a danger that civil libertarians have long warned about: that in policing the Web for crime, espionage and sabotage, government investigators will unavoidably invade the private lives of Americans.

On the Internet, and especially in e-mail, text messages, social network postings and online photos, the work lives and personal lives of Americans are inextricably mixed. Private, sensitive messages are stored for years on computer servers, available to be discovered by investigators who may be looking into completely unrelated matters.

In the current F.B.I. case, a Tampa woman, Jill Kelley, a friend both of David H. Petraeus, the former C.I.A. director, and Gen. John R. Allen, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, was disturbed by a half-dozen anonymous e-mails she had received in June. She took them to an F.B.I. agent whose acquaintance with Ms. Kelley (he had sent her shirtless photos of himself — electronically, of course) eventually prompted his bosses to order him to stay away from the investigation.

But a squad of investigators at the bureau’s Tampa office, in consultation with prosecutors, opened a cyberstalking inquiry. Although that investigation is still open, law enforcement officials have said that criminal charges appear unlikely.

In the meantime, however, there has been a cascade of unintended consequences. What began as a private, and far from momentous, conflict between two women, Ms. Kelley and Paula Broadwell, Mr. Petraeus’s biographer and the reported author of the harassing e-mails, has had incalculable public costs.

The C.I.A. is suddenly without a permanent director at a time of urgent intelligence challenges in Syria, Iran, Libya and beyond. The leader of the American-led effort to prevent a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan is distracted, at the least, by an inquiry into his e-mail exchanges with Ms. Kelley by the Defense Department’s inspector general.

For privacy advocates, the case sets off alarms.

“There should be an investigation not of the personal behavior of General Petraeus and General Allen but of what surveillance powers the F.B.I. used to look into their private lives,” Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in an interview. “This is a textbook example of the blurring of lines between the private and the public.”

Law enforcement officials have said they used only ordinary methods in the case, which might have included grand jury subpoenas and search warrants. As the complainant, Ms. Kelley presumably granted F.B.I. specialists access to her computer, which they would have needed in their hunt for clues to the identity of the sender of the anonymous e-mails. While they were looking, they discovered General Allen’s e-mails, which F.B.I. superiors found “potentially inappropriate” and decided should be shared with the Defense Department.

In a parallel process, the investigators gained access, probably using a search warrant, to Ms. Broadwell’s Gmail account. There they found messages that turned out to be from Mr. Petraeus.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, said the chain of unexpected disclosures is not unusual in computer-centric cases.

“It’s a particular problem with cyberinvestigations — they rapidly become open-ended, because there’s such a huge quantity of information available and it’s so easily searchable,” he said, adding, “If the C.I.A. director can get caught, it’s pretty much open season on everyone else.”

For years now, as national security officials and experts have warned of a Pearl Harbor cyberattack that could fray the electrical grid or collapse stock markets, policy makers have jostled over which agencies should be assigned the sensitive task of monitoring the Internet for dangerous intrusions.

Advocates for civil liberties have been especially wary of the National Security Agency, whose expertise is unrivaled but whose immense surveillance capabilities they see as frightening. They have successfully urged that the Department of Homeland Security take the leading role in cybersecurity.

That is in part because the D.H.S., if far from entirely open to public scrutiny, is much less secretive than the N.S.A., the eavesdropping and code-breaking agency. To this day, N.S.A. officials have revealed almost nothing about the warrantless wiretapping it conducted inside the United States in the hunt for terrorists in the years after 2001, even after the secret program was disclosed by The New York Times in 2005 and set off a political firestorm.

The hazards of the Web as record-keeper, of course, are a familiar topic. New college graduates find that their Facebook postings give would-be employers pause. Husbands discover wives’ infidelity by spotting incriminating e-mails on a shared computer. Teachers lose their jobs over impulsive Twitter comments.

But the events of the last few days have shown how law enforcement investigators who plunge into the private territories of cyberspace looking for one thing can find something else altogether, with astonishingly destructive results.

Some people may applaud those results, at least in part. By having a secret extramarital affair, for instance, Mr. Petraeus was arguably making himself vulnerable to blackmail, which would be a serious concern for a top intelligence officer. What if Russian or Chinese intelligence, rather than the F.B.I., had discovered the e-mails between the C.I.A. director and Ms. Broadwell?

Likewise, military law prohibits adultery — which General Allen’s associates say he denies committing — and some kinds of relationships. So should an officer’s privacy really be total?

But some commentators have renewed an argument that a puritanical American culture overreacts to sexual transgressions that have little relevance to job performance. “Most Americans were dismayed that General Petraeus resigned,” said Mr. Romero of the A.C.L.U.

That old debate now takes place in a new age of electronic information. The public shaming that labeled the adulterer in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Scarlet Letter” might now be accomplished by an F.B.I. search warrant or an N.S.A. satellite dish. .




"PICKPOCKET'S DELIGHT"
People seem so absorbed while using "smartphones" that they lose contact with their immediate surroundings.

Thefts of cellphones approach epidemic proportions nationwide
DAY
By TERRY COLLINS Associated Press
Article published Oct 21, 2012

San Francisco - In this tech-savvy city teeming with commuters and tourists, the cellphone has become a top target of robbers who use stealth, force and even guns.  Nearly half of all robberies in San Francisco this year are cellphone-related, police say, and most occur on bustling transit lines.  One thief recently snatched a smartphone while sitting right behind his unsuspecting victim and darted out the rear of a bus in mere seconds.

Another robber grabbed an iPhone from an oblivious bus rider - while she was still talking.  And, in nearby Oakland, City Council candidate Dan Kalb was robbed at gunpoint of his iPhone Wednesday after he attended a neighborhood anti-crime meeting.

"I thought he was going to shoot me," recalled Kalb, who dropped his phone during the stickup. "He kept saying, 'Find the phone! Find the phone!"'

These brazen incidents are part of a ubiquitous coast-to-coast crime wave. New York City police report that more than 40 percent of all robberies now involve cellphones. Thefts of cellphones in Los Angeles - more than a quarter of all the city's robberies - are up 27 percent from this time a year ago, police said.

"This is your modern-day purse snatching," said longtime San Francisco Police Capt. Joe Garrity, who began noticing the trend here about two years ago. "A lot of younger folks seem to put their entire lives on these things that don't come cheap."

Thefts of cellphones - particularly the expensive do-it-all smartphones containing everything from photos and music to emails and bank statements - are costing consumers millions and sending law enforcement and wireless carriers nationwide scrambling for solutions.  In San Francisco, police have gone undercover and launched a transit ad campaign, warning folks to "be smart with your smartphone." Similar warnings went out in Oakland, where there have been 1,300 cellphone robberies this year.

When Apple's ballyhooed iPhone 5 went on sale last month, New York City police encouraged buyers to register their phone's serial numbers with the department. That came just months after a 26-year-old chef at the Museum of Modern Art was killed for his iPhone while heading home to the Bronx.  In St. Louis, city leaders proposed an ambitious ordinance requiring anyone who resells cellphones to collect detailed information including the seller's names, addresses, a copy of their driver's licenses - even their thumbprints.

Though some experts put annual cellphone losses in the billions of dollars, there is no precise figure on how many are stolen each year. But the problem has become so visible that it has caught the attention of lawmakers seeking to take the profit out of cellphone theft.  In April, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly announced that the major carriers and the Federal Communications Commission have agreed to set up a national database to track stolen phones - scheduled for late 2013.

Schumer also introduced the Mobile Device Theft Deterrence Act, which proposes a five-year prison sentence for tampering with the ID numbers of a cellphone.

The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association said carriers are expected to launch databases later this month to permanently disable a stolen cellphone.  Previously, U.S. carriers have only been able to disable so-called SIM cards, which can be swapped in and out of phones. That's led to a profitable black market for stolen phones.  Chris Guttman-McCabe, CTIA's vice president of regulatory affairs, said the goal of creating theft databases is to render stolen cellphones worthless.

"We want to dry up the aftermarket," Guttman-McCabe said. "Hopefully, there will be no sense in stealing a phone and a once valuable piece of hardware will essentially turn into useless metal."

Right now, the incentive is to steal and that's creating huge losses, said Kevin Mahaffey, a co-founder of Lookout, a San Francisco-based mobile security firm which has advised carriers about the national database.

"Thieves know that carrying a smartphone is like carrying $500 in your hands," said Mahaffey. His company estimates that stolen and lost cellphones could cost American consumers more than $30 billion this year.

Many cities with highest rates of stolen and lost phones also rank among the FBI's listing of U.S. cities with the highest crime rates, including Cleveland, Detroit, Oakland and Newark, N.J., Mahaffey said.

Meanwhile, cellphone thefts and police response continue at a frenzied pace.  In Chicago, two men each were charged with armed robbery last week after stealing an iPhone from a teen.  In Oakland, nearly three dozen people were recently arrested during a sweep for allegedly stealing smartphones. On Tuesday, police arrested 15-year-old boy who allegedly swiped a woman's iPhone near Oakland's City Hall and sold it in downtown San Francisco for $200 to buy marijuana.

"It's a quick crime of opportunity, a snatch and grab, either by foot or on bike," Officer Johnna Watson, an Oakland police spokeswoman, said. "The thieves are gone in an instant."




WARNING:  "Data Centers" - really long story here.   And another part here.  Now, after 2013 N.S.A. leak, we know about - or perhaps we weren't paying attention - another "data center..."




CLICK ABOVE FOR NEWS REPORT;  AN EVEN EARLIER REPORT HERE
Googled map of Kansas City (Kansas and Missouri) - click here

In One City, Signing Up for Internet Becomes a Civic Cause
By JOHN ELIGON, NYTIMES
September 9, 2012

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With Google’s promise last year to wire homes, schools, libraries and other public institutions in this city with the nation’s fastest Internet connection, community leaders on the long forlorn, predominantly black east side were excited, seeing a potentially uplifting force. They anticipated new educational opportunities for their children and an incentive for developers to build in their communities.

But in July, Google announced a process in which only those areas where enough residents preregistered and paid a $10 deposit would get the service, Google Fiber. While nearly all of the affluent, mostly white neighborhoods here quickly got enough registrants, a broad swath of black communities lagged. The deadline to sign up was midnight Sunday.

The specter that many blacks in this city might not get access to this technology has inflamed the long racial divide here, stoking concern that it could deepen.

“This is just one more example of people that are lower income, sometimes not higher educated people, being left behind,” said Margaret May, the executive director of the neighborhood council in Ivanhoe, where the poverty rate was more than 46 percent in 2009. “It makes me very sad.”

For generations, Kansas City has been riven by racial segregation that can still be seen, with a majority of blacks in the urban core confined to neighborhoods in the east. Troost Avenue has long been considered the dividing line, the result of both overt and secretive efforts to keep blacks out of white schools and housing areas and of historical patterns of population growth and settlement, said Micah Kubic, with the nonprofit Greater Kansas City Local Initiatives Support Corporation.

Nearly three in four people living east of Troost in Kansas City’s urban center are black, according to an analysis of 2010 Census data by Andrew Beveridge, a sociology professor at Queens College in New York City.

 As recently as 15 to 20 years ago, black residents said, they did not venture west of Troost for fear of harassment from the police. Today, they complain that their schools are failing, crime is rampant and infrastructure is dilapidated.

“See all this filthiness?” Vic, a 47-year-old lifelong resident of the east side who declined to give his last name, said as he stared at hip-high brush in a vacant lot. He expressed doubt about how much of an inroad Google Fiber would make. “You can’t get the neighborhood to come together to get this cleaned up,” he said. “How you going to get them to care about that?”

Convincing residents of the importance of Internet access — to apply for jobs, do research, take classes and get information on government services — was one of Google’s primary challenges here. The service is currently being offered only here and in Kansas City, Kan. About 25 percent of homes in both cities do not have broadband, and 46 percent of blacks do not use the Internet.

Qualifying neighborhoods will get Internet service with speeds of up to a gigabit per second — 100 times faster than the average broadband connection — for $70 a month. Google is also offering a television service along with Internet for $120 a month. Schools, libraries, hospitals and other institutions in areas that qualify would receive gigabit connections for free.

But the feature most attractive to low-income areas is Google’s offer of a free 5-megabit Internet connection for 7 years, but which requires a one-time $300 construction fee.

As of Sunday evening, only about 32 percent of people in the neighborhoods that qualified for Google Fiber were black, while just over 54 percent were white, according to Mr. Beveridge.

With almost all of Kansas City, Kan., including low-income areas, achieving their sign-up goals, Google’s focus over the weekend was here in Missouri, where it worked with community groups to register people.

The dividing line of Troost “certainly predated us,” said Kevin Lo, the general manager of Google Access, which oversees the Fiber operation. “It’s unrealistic to expect that we can, in six weeks’ time, close the gap.”

Yet Mr. Lo said helping close the digital divide was “absolutely a core part of our mission.”

Google planned to announce on Monday that neighborhoods that did not qualify this time would have another opportunity to do so, though it did not say when. It also said it would offer grants to community groups in Kansas City to promote digital literacy.

On Saturday, Ms. May, the neighborhood council director, and Google workers set up a tent outside the Ivanhoe community center and urged passers-by to sign up, with the center using a private donation to pay the $10 deposits and giving out Rice Krispies treats. One woman who registered herself offered to register her neighbor’s address as well.

Myron T. Moore, a neighborhood activist in Ivanhoe, walked door to door with a clipboard asking people to write down their name, address and telephone number so the council could sign them up and pay their deposit. When Melissa Gilmore, 34, said she did not live at the house where she had answered the door, Mr. Moore asked if she could sign up the people who did live there. They were not home, and Ms. Gilmore said she was not comfortable doing so, though she did give her own address.

Google rolled an ice cream truck through one area, as a woman on a loudspeaker enticed residents to register. Several Google workers walked alongside, answering questions and handing out brochures and ice cream sandwiches.

Advertisements ran all weekend on Hot 103 Jamz, a hip-hop and R&B radio station, urging people to sign up for the good of their communities, even if they were not going to get the service.

In some neighborhoods, residents feared that if the service were unavailable in their communities, property values would drop and their schools and hospitals may fall further behind those in affluent areas. Businesses that rely on technology might shun their communities, they said, denying them jobs and economic development opportunities.

“It’s just one more step to the east side not being able to compete with the west,” said Monsherry Terrell, 40, who lives in the east and runs an Internet shopping business.

During the sign-up, Google faced other practical problems. Many people did not have credit or debit cards, which were required to register, or e-mail addresses. And it failed to account for numerous vacant homes in some communities, so it lowered the number of registrants needed to qualify in those areas.

Many people in black neighborhoods had not heard about Google Fiber, and many who knew only had a vague understanding of it.

Three men pulled up to Ms. May’s table in a white Ford Expedition, and one of them, Kevin Jackson, asked, “What’s that Google Fiber about?”

Mr. Jackson, 51, sighed when he found out that he would not be paid for signing up — he initially mistook the offer to pay the $10 registration fee for him to mean he would be given $10. Still, Mr. Jackson relented and gave over his personal information after prodding from Ms. May. “You’re helping Ivanhoe,” she said. “This has a deeper meaning.”



We’re becoming a Nation of leakers
NYPOST
By ARTHUR HERMAN
Last Updated: 11:39 PM, September 7, 2012
Posted: 11:28 PM, September 7, 2012


Most Americans know that in time of war, some national-security secrets need to stay secret. The old World War Two poster said it best: “Loose Lips Sink Ships.” Yet some of the loosest lips these days are at the Pentagon, CIA and National Security Council. Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein spoke out this spring against the “avalanche of leaks” on the Osama bin Laden kill. Now come new revelations that the Obama team may have passed actionable intelligence about the operation to Hollywood film-makers.

Call it the WikiLeak Presidency, in which no secret is safe if it helps get Barack Obama re-elected.

E-mails recovered by the watchdog group Judicial Watch show just how far President Obama’s team was willing to go to turn OBL’s death into a pre-election PR blockbuster — and what they were willing to give away to get it done.

When the Obamaites learned that a Hollywood film-making team wanted to do a movie about the OBL killing, they got as excited as a 12-year-old with a new Harry Potter novel. On June 15, 2011, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications said that the White House wanted “visibility” in projects related to the OBL killing, and “this [movie] is likely the most high-profile one.” A CIA spokesperson agreed: “It makes sense to get behind a winning horse.”

They were particularly thrilled that the movie was slated to come out in early October 2012, just before the election. (Thanks to the public outcry, it’s now been postponed until afterward.)

That July 14, the Defense Department gave the film-makers direct access to the planner of the OBL operation — whose identity was otherwise highly secret. The official in charge meekly added, “The only thing we ask is that you not reveal his name because he shouldn’t be talking out of school.”

There was also worry that passing secrets to Hollywood producers might set a bad precedent: “[We] do not want to make it look like the commanders think it’s OK to talk to the media.”

The CIA went even further. According to the e-mails, when the producer noticed that the third floor of OBL’s compound had been withheld from the public-source plans he’d received, he asked if Langley would mind passing the info along. “Of course I don’t mind,” gushed the CIA spokesperson, “I’ll work on that tomorrow.”

The irony is, real secrets may have beem compromised in order to tell a narrative that was a lie from the start.

“No Easy Day,” an unauthorized account of the OBL operation by one of its Team Six members, flatly contradicts many aspects of the administration’s narrative of the raid, including the claim that OBL was armed and dangerous when he was taken out. And others report that Obama put off the OBL raid at least twice, for fear failure would wreck his reputation.

All in all, Obama & Co. look less like America’s avenging angels and more like publicity-hungry opportunists willing to do anything to get a good story in front of cameras.

According to “No Easy Day,” none of this came as a surprise to the Navy SEALs risking their lives in the raid. They’d seen Obama grab credit for the successful release of the Maerk Alabama hostages from Somali pirates back in 2009 and “there was no doubt in anyone’s mind he would take all the political credit for this too.” They even joked, “We’ll get Obama re-elected for sure.”

This leaves a final question. “No Easy Day” is itself a bundle of unauthorized leaks — including classified info, the Pentagon says. And now Judicial Watch is pushing for the release of more e-mails dealing specifically with OBL’s supposed “burial at sea.” Where does it stop?

Are we becoming a WikiLeaks Nation, where no secret stays secret unless it serves our personal agenda?

After an earlier wave of leaks, including revelations of how the Obama team had helped Israel launch a computer virus into Iran’s nuclear program (a story that got three Iranian technicians arrested as American spies), former Defense Secretary Bob Gates paid a visit to National Security Adviser Tom Donilon’s office.

“A new strategy for you,” he reportedly said. “Shut the f--k up.”

That sounds like good advice for everyone involved in this mess.



Samsung ordered to pay Apple $1B
Greenwich TIME
PAUL ELIAS, Associated Press
Published 8:08 p.m., Friday, August 24, 2012


SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- After a year of scorched-earth litigation, a jury decided Friday that Samsung ripped off the innovative technology used by Apple to create its revolutionary iPhone and iPad.

The jury ordered Samsung to pay Apple $1.05 billion. An appeal is expected.

Apple Inc. filed its patent infringement lawsuit in April 2011 and engaged legions of the country's highest-paid patent lawyers to demand $2.5 billion from its top smartphone competitor. Samsung Electronics Co. fired back with its own lawsuit seeking $399 million.

But the day belonged to Apple as the jury rejected all Samsung's claim against Apple. The jury did reject some of Apple's claims against the two dozen Samsung devices at issue, declining to award the $2.5 billion Apple demanded.

However, the jury found that several of Samsung's products illegally used such Apple creations as the "bounce-back" feature and the ability to zoom text with a finger tap.

During closing arguments, Apple attorney Harold McElhinny claimed Samsung was having a "crisis of design" after the 2007 launch of the iPhone, and executives with the South Korean company were determined to illegally cash in on the success of the revolutionary device.

Samsung's lawyers countered that it was simply and legally giving consumers what they want: Smart phones with big screens. They said Samsung didn't violate any of Apple's patents and further alleged innovations claimed by Apple were actually created by other companies.

Samsung has emerged as one of Apple's biggest rivals and has overtaken Apple as the leading smartphone maker.  Samsung's Galaxy line of phones run on Android, a mobile operating system that Google Inc. has given out for free to Samsung and other phone makers.  Samsung conceded that Apple makes great products but said it doesn't have a monopoly on the design of rectangle phones with rounded corners that it claimed it created.

The trial came after each side filed a blizzard of legal motions and refused advisories by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh to settle the dispute out of court.

Deliberations by the jury of seven men and two women began Wednesday.

Samsung has sold 22.7 million smartphones and tablets that Apple claimed uses its technology. McElhinny said those devices accounted for $8.16 billion in sales since June 2010.

Apple and Samsung combined account for more than half of global smartphone sales.

As part of its lawsuit, Apple also demanded that Samsung pull its most popular cellphones and computer tablets from the U.S. market.

From the beginning, legal experts and Wall Street analysts viewed Samsung as the underdog in the case. Apple's headquarters is a mere 10 miles from the courthouse, and jurors were picked from the heart of Silicon Valley where Apple's late founder Steve Jobs is a revered technological pioneer.

While the legal and technological issues were complex, patent expert Alexander I. Poltorak previously said the case would likely boil down to whether jurors believe Samsung's products look and feel almost identical to Apple's iPhone and iPad.

To overcome that challenge at trial, Samsung's lawyers argued that many of Apple's claims of innovation were either obvious concepts or ideas stolen from Sony Corp. and others. Experts called that line of argument a high-risk strategy because of Apple's reputation as an innovator.

Apple's lawyers argued there is almost no difference between Samsung products and those of Apple, and presented internal Samsung documents they said showed it copied Apple designs. Samsung lawyers insisted that several other companies and inventors had previously developed much of the Apple technology at issue.

The U.S. trial is just the latest skirmish between the two tech giants over product designs. Previous legal battles were fought in Australia, the United Kingdom and Germany.

The U.S. case is one of some 50 lawsuits among myriad telecommunications companies jockeying for position in the burgeoning $219 billion market for smartphones and computer tablets.

Samsung won a home court ruling Friday in the global patent battle against Apple.

Judges in Seoul said Samsung didn't copy the look and feel of the iPhone and ruled that Apple infringed on Samsung's wireless technology.

However, the judges also said Samsung violated Apple's technology behind the feature that causes a screen to bounce back when a user scrolls to an end image. Both sides were ordered to pay limited damages.



Malware may knock 64,000 Americans off Internet on Monday
Hartford Courant
By Salvador Rodriguez
1:34 PM EDT, July 5, 2012

As many as 64,000 Americans could be knocked offline Monday as a result of malware unless they change their DNS server addresses, according to a report.

The problem is exclusive to Windows users, but you can check if your computer is infected by clicking on this link. If you are, call your Internet provider, let its representatives know you were affected by the DNS Changer Malware and have them give you a new DNS address, which should solve the problem.

However, that link was down at least for some time Thursday morning, likely due to high amounts of traffic, so if that's the case, there are also various links on this help page to assist you in checking for the infection manually.

Google and Facebook have also been Good Samaritans and have been issuing alerts if their sites suspect infected users are logging on.

If you don't catch the infection in time, you can still fix the problem the same way. Simply contact your Internet service provider.

The problem is a result of a large online advertising scam that took over more than 4 million computers around the world.

When the FBI went in to shut down the scheme, the agency realized that turning off the malicious servers would cause infected computers to lose access to the Internet. So the FBI set up two other servers, which have been connecting infected users to the Internet, but they will be shut down on July 9 at 12:01 a.m. EDT.

As a result, 277,000 computer users worldwide as well as about 50 Fortune 500 companies could be affected by the shutdown, according to a report by the Associated Press.




Photo: Carol Kaliff / The News-Times
Safety advocate, a familiar face, at Danbury High School with computer monitor with cameras that record activity around the building. 

Smile, you're on security camera
Robert Miller, Danbury News-Times
Updated 10:55 a.m., Tuesday, May 22, 2012

There are cameras everywhere.

There traffic cameras monitoring the ebb and flow of traffic.  Security cameras are ubiquitous in banks and stores -- in corner convenience stores and big box locations.  They're also now everyday installations in public schools -- especially in larger high schools, where it's hard to keep an eye on every hallway.

"They're a fact of life," said New Fairfield First Selectman John Hodge. "In fact, there may come a time when you're considered negligent if you don't have one."

Local police are now starting to use cameras to scan passing license plates, feeding those scans into central data bases.  A bill introduced in the General Assembly that came close to passing would have installed cameras at intersections to catch people speeding through red lights.  A bill that died earlier would have required the Department of Motor Vehicles to study the use of radio frequency identification on state license plates.

That technology involves tiny radio components the size of a pellet of rice that give off information about the vehicle and its owner when it passes through a scanner.  That technology is now in use in private industries and retail stores as a way to track inventory. It's how an E-ZPass works on a highway. Some European countries are now installing the components in passports.

With a warrant, police can track your whereabouts via your cellphone.  All this gives some people pause. The many ways of tracking where you are going and what you are doing can be a bit intimidating.

"It's probably gotten worse since 9/11," said prominent civil rights attorney John Williams, of New Haven. "But the debate over these issues has been going on for a long time. Dostoevsky wrote about in `The Brothers Karamazov.' "

"Personally, I don't think it's any of the government's damn business to know where I'm going," said Kevin Gutzman, professor of history at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury. "The problem is there will never be a point at which the police stop and say, `We've got enough information,' " Gutzman said. "They always want more."

But for the people who rely on the cameras and what they're capturing, they are simply a valuable tool.  Art Colley, finance director for the Brookfield school system, said there are now 42 cameras in the hallways and common areas of Brookfield High School -- but not in the classrooms, cafeterias or gymnasiums.

"It's a very long building. We added to it by making it longer," Colley said.

The monitors allow administrators to make sure nothing untoward is happening. He said the school keeps the videotapes for a week. 

"If anything happens, we can go back seven days," he said.

Sal Pascarella, Danbury superintendent of schools, said there are cameras at the entrances of every school in the city to watch who enters and leaves.

"We can monitor the hallways from the principal's office," Pascarella said. "I can watch from my office. They're not an intrusion," he said. "They are there for students' protection."

Alicia Roy, New Fairfield's school superintendent, said the images caught on the tapes can be used to help teach students.  If a camera catches a student bullying another student in a hallway, Roy said, school administrators can use the film to show the student why it was wrong to act that way.  The cameras that watch over Main Street, are, in fact, benign. City Traffic Engineer Abdul Mohammed said Danbury has the webcam system as several locations so it can watch how traffic waxes and wanes.

The film is never stored and never used for law enforcement. Anyone can watch it by going to the city's traffic cam website at web.ci.danbury.ct.us/trafficams.  For some civil libertarians, the increasing amount of monitoring in other venues is a little off-putting.  For them, the police use of license plate scanners with an unlimited database is an easy way to keep track of cars -- and people -- without any legal restraint.

"It's so easy," Williams said of the way law enforcement can track people. "You don't need to leave any fingerprints."

Williams said in the 1970s, it was easier to prove police were involved in illegal wiretapping and other intrusions into private lives.

"Today, it's impossible to do that," he said. Police have become much more sophisticated in gathering information.

Along with that, there's an increasing sense that people believe it's all right for the government to do this -- "I'm not doing anything wrong, so why should I worry?"

Gutzman, who has written the book "Who Killed the Constitution?" as well as a new book on James Madison, the father of the Constitution, has said that under the reauthorization of the National Defense Authorization Act, the U.S. Congress made it legal to apprehend anyone suspected of terrorism, including U.S. citizens, and hold them without trial, indefinitely.

"Obama said the bill was so bad he wouldn't sign it," Gutzman said. "When it reached his desk, he signed it anyway, then had a signing statement said he would never use that power. I would really like something more than a personal promise."

Williams said as technology advances, it's more important that ever for those who defend civil liberties to speak out against its infiltration of our lives.

"They have to keep their chins up and keep fighting," he said.



Spam Invades a Last Refuge, the Cellphone
By NICOLE PERLROTH, NYTIMES
April 7, 2012

Text message spam has started waking Bob Dunnell in the middle of the night, promising cheap mortgages, credit cards and drugs. Some messages offer gift cards to, say, Walmart, if he clicks on a Web site and enters his Social Security number.

Once the scourge of e-mail providers and the Postal Service, spammers have infiltrated the last refuge of spam-free communication: cellphones. In the United States, consumers received roughly 4.5 billion spam texts last year, more than double the 2.2 billion received in 2009, according to Ferris Research, a market research firm that tracks spam.

Spread over 250 million text message-enabled phones, the problem is not as commonplace as e-mail spam. But it is a growing menace, with the potential for significant damage.

“Unsolicited text messaging is a pervasive problem,” said Christine Todaro, a lawyer with the Federal Trade Commission, the consumer watchdog agency, which is turning to the courts for help. “It is becoming very difficult to track down who is sending the spam. We encourage consumers to file complaints, which helps us track down the spammers, but even then it is a little bit like peeling back an onion.”

Although some text spam is of the harmless, if annoying, marketing variety, a vast majority is more insidious, experts say. With one mobile tap, smartphone users risk signing up for a bogus, impossible-to-cancel service.

Or they may succumb to that offer for a Walmart gift card or a free iPhone in exchange for taking a survey and divulging all sorts of personal information, like their addresses or their transaction history — which can then be sold to digital marketers or even used to crack their bank accounts.

And, so far, it is hard to stop it. Even replying to unwanted messages with “NO” or “STOP” — the usual method for unsubscribing from an unwanted text message list — may only verify to spammers that you have a working number that can then be resold.

Scrambling to get a better grasp on the problem, the mobile industry last month joined with a maker of antispam software, Cloudmark, on a new reporting service that lets users forward mobile spam to “7726,” a number that spells SPAM on most keypads. Carriers will then use that information to block numbers.

Mobile spam is illegal under two federal laws — the 2003 Can Spam Act and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which set up the Do Not Call Registry in 2003. Smartphone users can report numbers that spam comes from on both the Web sites of the F.T.C. and the Federal Communications Commission. The major wireless carriers — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Bell Mobility and Verizon Wireless — all also offer ways to report the numbers on their Web sites and can block numbers. A number of apps for Android phones also promise enhanced spam text filtering.

Spammers, though, are endlessly inventive. Mobile carriers and filtering software can detect when a large volume of spam is sent from one phone number, and when the texts try to get someone to click on a Web site.

So spammers are turning to large banks of phone numbers, regularly changing the Web sites they try to get consumers to click, and blasting their messages from the Internet using “over the top messaging systems,” which let them send millions of messages cheaply. The minute a carrier blocks one number, spammers simply start using another.

“It seems this is all coming from different sources,” said Mr. Dunnell, a financial security consultant in St. Louis, who reported some texts he received on the F.T.C.’s Web site and signed up for the Do Not Call list — to no avail. “I don’t know what good blocking one number will do.”

Spam on social media and instant-messaging services is also a problem, and there is more of it than of mobile spam, experts say, although security firms do not keep comprehensive figures. But the filtering technologies are more sophisticated.

As of last October, Facebook said it had blocked 220 million malicious links from a total of a trillion links clicked on Facebook a day.

Mobile spam, a more recent trend, is growing faster partly because spammers can blast their messages across providers, which share technologies; they have to customize for each instant-messaging provider and social media platform.

Legal remedies may provide some help against mobile spam. Verizon has brought 20 lawsuits against wireless telemarketers and spammers, most of which have been settled.

The F.T.C. tried its first mobile spam case in February 2011 against Phillip A. Flora of Huntington Beach, Calif., accusing him of sending more than five million text messages over a 40-day period at a “mind-boggling” rate of 85 a minute, according to court documents.

Prosecutors said Mr. Flora was draining users’ allotted text message limits, which cost them money, and blasting messages at all hours of the night. The number of anyone who verified it by replying to the text message was sold to marketers.

The federal complaint against Mr. Flora said he charged $300 for every 100,000 text messages he sent — on top of what he made from selling cellphone numbers to third parties.

Mr. Flora settled the charges for $32,000 and agreed to cease sending spam texts. His lawyer, Michael A. Thurman, said his client “did not realize what he was doing was in violation of the law.”

Text spam that tries to get consumers to reveal their personal information is similar to the e-mail frauds known as “phishing.” In the mobile context, these spams are known as “smishing.”

One of the two most common mobile spam messages last month, according to Cloudmark, the antispam software maker, was the “Need Cash Now” spam, in which users were promised quick cash if they disclosed personal and financial tidbits about themselves, which could be used to gain access to a bank account. The other was a gift card swindle, which lured users into taking a survey, in many cases on a spoofed Web site, and answering questions about their salary, debt levels, marital status and health history.

“Attackers gain multiple layers of revenue from that information,” said Rachel Kinoshita, Cloudmark’s head of security operations. “They amass a 360-degree view of their target and can sell that information to marketers or just phish their bank accounts.”

Spammers can make a tidy profit blasting tens of thousands of messages at once. They use computers to generate millions of possible number combinations and then send messages to those addresses without knowing whether they have dialed a working number.

“If there weren’t so much money to be made here, spammers would simply go away,” Ms. Kinoshita said.

And of course smishing costs victims who do not have unlimited text message plans. Getting as few as 10 a month at 20 cents each would cost $24 more a year.  Mr. Dunnell has considered changing his cellphone number but concluded it would be too disruptive. “I just wish there was a better way to deal with this,” he said.



Read about adventures in the one-Party government of Connecticut here.  One thing in the Administration's favor, they certainly aren't "roundabout" in their policy direction.  Right turns only!



WHERE GLOBAL FINANCE AND GLOBAL COMMUNICATION MEET

THE SOCIAL NETWORK
Thought you could expunge that silly photo you posted?  How many Harvard drop-outs are on the list of wealthiest people?


FACEBOOK

We have been following this concept of networking, wondering when and if it might result in Big Brother Is Watching You effect - Supreme Court in United States facing the question now - seems to be something they have thought about, too!





DIE HARD 4 OR IS IT 5:  2012 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN
Internet meets terrorism - or maybe just watching too many movies?


Anonymous planning another BART protest
Vivian Ho, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, August 22, 2011

Anonymous is anyone, and therefore it's everyone.

It's a cause, an idea, a network, a rallying point, its supporters say.

But it's a movement that has no structure, no leader, no rules. And yet this is the group - and many of its supporters don't even consider it a group - that gave BART a major headache last Monday when a protest organized online forced the agency to close its four downtown San Francisco stations during evening rush hour, stranding thousands of commuters.

Today, Anonymous is promising more of the same, planning a protest for 5 p.m. at Civic Center Station - the same time and place as last week's demonstration.

As part of the Anonymous campaign known as OpBART, the group promises to keep up pressure until BART officials admit they were wrong to cut off cell-phone service in underground stations to head off an earlier planned protest, apologize to the public and fire the transit agency's chief spokesman, who defended the cutoff and has been outspoken in his denunciation of "cyber-thugs."

Sometimes called a proponent of "hacktivism," Anonymous generally targets institutions its supporters consider to be suppressing free speech and Internet freedom. Earlier this year, some blamed its supporters for a sophisticated attack on Sony's PlayStation Network over the company's pursuit of PS3 hackers, an attack that forced the system offline.

In December, Anonymous initiated an online attack against PayPal after the company stopped processing donations to WikiLeaks. When the FBI arrested 14 Anonymous members last month in connection with the action, the group asked supporters to boycott PayPal.
Offline

In 2008, Anonymous went offline, organizing demonstrations at Scientology centers around the world. But several supporters in Anonymous chat rooms - the forum where its plans are hatched and organized - celebrated the Aug. 15 BART protest in San Francisco as one of the movement's first strikes outside the confines of the online world.

"We're not just cyber anymore," said Peter Fein, 33, a computer programmer from Washington state and one of the few Anonymous supporters willing to reveal his identity. "This is as good as a protest gets. There were no arrests, no extensive injuries, no damages. This is how it should be."

While Anonymous' faceless, online organizing technique makes it a difficult target for law enforcement to pin down, it also leaves the movement vulnerable to internal disagreements. When the Anonymous Internet Relay Chat network was attacked and rendered unusable Thursday evening, OpBART organizers initially said they feared the perpetrator was an Anonymous supporter opposed to their protests. They later found out it was someone with a personal grudge against some of his Anonymous friends.

"Anonymous is not unanimous," said one of OpBART's organizers, who is known by the pseudonym Po and identifies himself only as a computer programmer living in the United States.

Some of the Anonymous actions taken in the name of OpBART have run into criticism even from those who otherwise back the campaign. Po, who was interviewed online, said he opposed the Anonymous-backed hacking last weekend of the marketing website myBART.org, which resulted in the online posting of more than 2,000 customers' personal information.

But because Anonymous does not control individual actions, there is nothing organizers can do when an individual goes rogue.

"It's a matter of timing and 'force of will,' " said an OpBART organizer known as AlbaandOmegle. "The actions we take (as a whole) have to drown out the bumps."

Another problem for the Anonymous movement is that because anyone can claim membership, any hacking can be attributed to Anonymous.

When a French girl known only as Lamaline_5mg hacked the BART police association's website last week and released the personal information of 102 officers and other employees, many assumed the action was the work of Anonymous. The girl turned out to be acting on her own.

In addition to being angered by BART's cell-phone cutoff Aug. 11 - an action the agency did not repeat during last week's actions - OpBART supporters said that they were seeking to "amplify" earlier protests over the July 3 fatal shooting of a knife-wielding transient by a BART police officer. Among Anonymous' demands is that BART retrain its officers to minimize the use of deadly force.
Changes ignored

Linton Johnson, the BART spokesman whom Anonymous wants fired, said the movement is overlooking police reforms that BART has instituted since the New Year's Day 2009 incident in which then-Officer Johannes Mehserle fatally shot the unarmed Oscar Grant. Johnson said BART has tripled police training and created two independent bodies to keep police accountable.

"It's ironic that these protesters have no idea about the sacrifices that people who live and care about this community made after Oscar Grant, and all the sweat and tears they poured in to create citizen oversight," Johnson said. "Use the process that your predecessors put in place and let the people get to their jobs and loved ones."

As for Anonymous' call for his firing, Johnson said, "Regardless of what they think of me, let's have a discussion outside the fare gates and let the customers get from point A to point B."

Among those planning to protest at the Civic Center Station this evening is Fein, who is making the trip from Washington state.

"If our only actions are online, then we're shouting in vain," Fein said. "It's the year the Internet crossed back over into making a difference in real life."
Planning for protests

BART advises that it may have to adjust service or close stations temporarily tonight in downtown San Francisco because of a demonstration planned for 5 p.m. at Civic Center Station.


Hackers gain access to transit police union site
YAHOO
By PAUL ELIAS - Associated Press
17 August 2011

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Hackers on Wednesday again targeted a California transit agency that came under fire last week for turning off cell phone service in its stations to thwart a potential protest.

This time, the hackers gained access to a Bay Area Rapid Transit police union website and posted personal information on more than 100 officers. The officers' home addresses, email addresses and passwords were posted online.

The hacker group Anonymous announced the breach on Twitter and published the address of the website where the officers' information could be found. It did not immediately claim responsibility for the hack as it did when it broke into BART's marketing website last week and released the personal information of more than 2,000 customers.

BART Police Deputy Chief Daniel Hartwig said his office "has been made aware of the breach" and referred inquiries to the BART Police Officers Association.

Union president Jesse Sekhon didn't immediately return a phone call. The union's website was disabled later Wednesday.

The two hacks are in apparent retaliation to BART's cutting wireless communication in its San Francisco stations last week to quell a brewing protest over a police shooting.


Cell service stays on during BART protest in SF
SFGATE.COM
Rachel Gordon, Vivian Ho, Will Kane,Demian Bulwa, Chronicle Staff Writers
Tuesday, August 16, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO -- The busy evening commute out of downtown San Francisco gave way Monday to a chaotic cat-and-mouse game between police officers and roving protesters who lashed out at the transit agency for temporarily shutting down underground cellular phone service last week.

BART closed all four downtown San Francisco stations - Civic Center, Powell, Montgomery and Embarcadero - soon after the protest began at 5 p.m. Officers in riot gear blocked entrances as many train riders fumed on the sidewalks and tried to figure out how to get home. All stations were reopened by 7:30 p.m.

Muni Metro stations at the same locations were closed in tandem with the BART stations.

BART's action last Thursday - which ignited an international debate about technology, free speech and public safety - was an effort to diffuse an antipolice demonstration. But it spurred an even larger protest Monday that was organized online by a loose-knit band of computer hackers known as Anonymous.

Trains continued to run through the stations, only allowing passengers to exit. Outside, protesters carried signs and chanted, while some - at the urging of Anonymous - wore T-shirts spattered with fake blood and creepy Guy Fawkes masks popularized by the graphic novel and movie "V for Vendetta."

At a brief news conference after service was fully restored, BART spokesman Linton Johnson said, "Tonight our customers are angry and frustrated."

Police reported no arrests and no injuries.

Closing the stations

The station closures began at 5:25 p.m., when protesters were ejected from the Civic Center Station after at least one blocked a door of a Dublin-Pleasanton train for two minutes as others chanted "No justice, no peace." The train continued east, and police issued a dispersal order.

"Once we got to a situation where the BART platform was unsafe, we cleared the station," said BART Deputy Police Chief Daniel Hartwig.

He said cell service was never switched off. "The bottom line with cell service is that it's always in the game plan, but we chose not to utilize that resource tonight," Hartwig said. "Once we read the dispersal notice and they complied, we didn't feel like any other actions were required."

Demonstrators then began marching toward the other stations, prompting BART to close them, one by one, as people affiliated with the hacker group gloated online through Twitter. At one point, near the Embarcadero Station, protesters blocked Market Street, but quickly complied with police orders to clear out.

Some transit riders were infuriated. Jennifer Cohn, an attorney who works downtown, arrived at the Civic Center Station at about 6 p.m. with her two sons, ages 3 and 4, after picking them up from day care. She was trying to get home to the Glen Park neighborhood.

With the station closed, she tried to catch a cab, but they seemed to be avoiding the area.

"This is an outrage. We just want to get home," Cohn said. "I don't really see why they should be shutting down the stations. If they have an issue with BART, they should go to BART headquarters."

But Ryan Bell, 25, of San Jose yelled to sullen-faced pedestrians, "What's a bigger inconvenience, missing your train or getting shot by a BART cop?" Other protesters held phones with cut cords while repeating "Can you hear me now?"

Johnson, the BART spokesman, said earlier Monday that the agency had the right to cut cell phone service Thursday because transit riders "don't have the right to free speech inside the fare gates." He said passengers' safety was threatened by protesters upset over a BART police officer's fatal shooting of a knife-wielding man on July 3.

"We're in the business of transporting people from point A to point B safely," Johnson said. "We were forced into a gut-wrenching decision on how we were going to stop (the possible Thursday protest), given the propensity of this group to create chaos on the platform."
Genesis of the protests

Activists angered by the police shooting of Charles Blair Hill disrupted service during a protest July 11 that started at Civic Center Station and spread to the 16th Street Mission and Powell Street stations. BART closed all three stations for varying lengths of time.

BART shut down cell service Thursday at four downtown San Francisco stations, Johnson said. The agency did not jam cell signals, which is illegal, but shut off the system - which Johnson said is allowable under an agreement with several major phone service providers that pay rent to BART.

Lynette Sweet, a member of BART's Board of Directors, said Monday that she opposed any further disruption of cell service and would seek to bring the issue before the board for a vote.

"This is one where we can almost say we're stuck on stupid," Sweet said. "We put ourselves on the radar screen for no good reason. This is a country that champions civil liberties all the time. So why would a transit agency take it upon themselves to trample on civil liberties?"

The Federal Communications Commission is looking into BART's action. In a statement Monday, spokesman Neil Grace said, "Any time communications services are interrupted, we seek to assess the situation."

The protest came after the hackers breached a BART website Sunday and released personal information from more than 2,000 customers. Johnson said the FBI was investigating the hack attack.

BART serves San Francisco, San Mateo, Alameda and Contra Costa counties, with about 350,000 boardings a day.


Legal Debate Ignites Over BART’s Anti-Protester Cellphone Shutdown
WIRED.COM
By David Kravets Email Author
August 15, 2011   3:55 pm 

For apparently the first time in the United States, a government agency shuttered mobile internet and phone service in a bid to quash a demonstration — the same type of speech suppression exercised by Middle Eastern tyrannies to quell dissent.

Thursday’s move by Bay Area Rapid Transit authorities was greeted by an uproar of comparisons to Egypt and Libya. The hacking collective Anonymous responded in typical form over the weekend by defacing the agency’s website, and stealing and releasing the private account information of some 2,000 BART subway riders.

The controversy began when officials removed the power to underground service towers Thursday at four San Francisco stations in anticipation of a planned protest — which did not materialize — over the shooting death of a knife-wielding man by BART police last month.

Some constitutional scholars are likening BART’s actions to an unlawful suppression of First Amendment speech — a digital form of prior restraint. Others, however, say BART’s move would probably survive a court challenge, and will likely be copied by other government agencies as the use of mobile technology and social networking by protesters grows.

“You have the right to speak,” Damon Dunn, a First Amendment lawyer in Chicago, said in a telephone interview. “I don’t think you have the right to leverage your speech through technology that you don’t necessarily control yourself.”

An earlier BART protest in July resulted in a major disruption of rush-hour service, as some protesters even climbed atop cars at the Civic Center station.

“The interruption of cell phone service was done Thursday to prevent what could have been a dangerous situation. It’s one of the tactics we have at our disposal. We may use it; we may not. And I’m not sure we would necessarily let anyone know in advance either way,” BART spokesman Jim Allison said.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation said BART’s actions constituted an unconstitutional breach of protesters’ First Amendment rights. A blog post on the San Francisco civil rights group’s website likened the subway’s move to Egypt’s decision to cut internet access to quell protests: “Bart Pulls a Mubarak in San Francisco.”

“What they did, effectively, is suppressed an enormous amount of speech that otherwise would have occurred by disabling people’s devices,” Lee Tien, an EFF staff attorney, said in a telephone interview. “They just put a cone of silence for cell phone service over the BART stations in the belief that something needed to be prevented. In my mind, that’s the electronic version for shutting down somebody.”

He added that, “I’m not aware of us having thought about actually suing yet. I’m not aware of anyone doing that.”

The American Civil Liberties Union said it was mulling legal action, but conceded that there could be instances when it would be legal for a government agency to shutter mobile-phone service.

“I don’t want to say, absolutely, that this will never be permissible,” Michael Risher, an ACLU staff attorney, said in a telephone interview. “It should not happen unless under extraordinary circumstances, real and concrete, where it is necessary to prevent some disaster.”

He does not believe that BART has met that burden. But he noted that it might be hard to put the genie back in the bottle.

“It’s very difficult to stop this from happening once,” he said. “It never happened before. There are no rules.”


Anonymous to BART: We Hack. We Organize, Too
NYTIMES
By JOSHUA BRUSTEIN
August 15, 2011, 2:09 pm


Anonymous, the loosely affiliated group of computer hackers, is planning a flesh-and-blood demonstration Monday afternoon in San Francisco to protest the Bay Area Rapid Transit cutting off underground cellphone service to thwart protesters.

Since Thursday, when BART temporarily shut down cellphone service in its tunnels to prevent a protest against police violence, the group has gone on the offensive. It hacked into myBart.org, a Web site for BART riders, and leaked the names, phone numbers and passwords of users.

Now it is calling for people to gather at the San Francisco Civic Center Bart Station at 5 p.m., wearing shirts stained with blood or paint. In addition to putting a call out on Twitter, the group said that it has sent an e-mail to the approximately 120,000 people it found on BART’s own mailing list, asking them to attend.

“Remember to bring your mask, and remember that this is a peaceful protest. Anonymous does not support violent action and it is discouraged,” the group said in a video posted online.

While Anonymous’s target is ostensibly the agency, leaking the names and passwords of riders has the potential to alienate those who it claims to support. The group acknowledged this danger, but ultimately blamed BART’s poor security for the breach.

“We apologize to any citizen that has his information published, but you should go to BART and ask them why your information wasn’t secure with them. Also do not worry, probably the only information that will be abused from this database is that of BART employees,” the group wrote on the Web site where it posted the leaked information.

Linton Johnson, a spokesperson for the BART police department, jumped on the chance to portray the agency as a victim, saying that Anonymous had violated riders’ privacy. He said that BART has called in the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies to investigate the attack.

Anonymous has been very active in recent months, attacking the Web sites of major corporations and government agencies. But this action has been in the form of hacking attacks, not physical demonstrations. The group has held several large-scale demonstrations in the past, perhaps most notably a series of protests against the Church of Scientology in 2008.

But previous protests took weeks of planning, said Gregg Housh, an advocate affiliated with Anonymous who played a role in physical demonstrations in the past. The speed at which such actions can be organized is changing rapidly, a trend that has been on display across the globe this year.

“It used to be months, then weeks, now it’s days,” he said. “Soon it will be hours.”

Of course, it is unclear how many people will actually show up on Monday. But BART is not taking any chances. On Sunday, it posted an alert on its Web site warning riders of possible disruptions due to the protest.

Mr. Johnson, the agency spokesperson, said that as BART prepares for protests this afternoon and in the future, it would not rule out cutting cellphone service again. He said that the criticism the agency has received for its actions last week were misguided.

“The fact that people want to focus on the cellphone service, I think it’s an interesting argument, but people are forgetting the other constitutional right that allows government agencies to put people’s right to safety ahead of their right of expression,” he said. “We are allowed to designate the time, place and manner of free speech.”


San Francisco transit blocks cellphones to hinder protest
Washington Times
By Paul Elias, Associated Press
Saturday, August 13, 201

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Transit officials blocked cellphone reception in San Francisco train stations for three hours to disrupt planned demonstrations over a police shooting.

Officials with the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, better known as BART, said Friday that they turned off electricity to cellular towers in four stations from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday. The move was made after BART learned that protesters planned to use mobile devices to coordinate a demonstration on train platforms.

The tactic drew comparisons to those used by the former president of Egypt to squelch protests demanding an end to his authoritarian rule. Authorities there cut Internet and cellphone services in the country for days earlier this year.

“BART officials are showing themselves to be of a mind with the former president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation said on its website.

The American Civil Liberties Union criticized the tactic, saying on its blog that it was the “wrong response to political protests.”

BART officials were confident the cellphone disruptions were legal. They said in a statement that it’s illegal to demonstrate on the platform or aboard the trains, and that it has set aside special areas for demonstrations.

The demonstration planned Thursday failed to develop. “We had a commute that was safe and without disruption,” said BART spokesman Jim Allison.

The demonstrators were protesting the July 3 shooting of Charles Blair Hill by BART police, who claimed Hill came at them with a knife. Several people were arrested when a July 11 demonstration disrupted service during the rush-hour commute and prompted the closing of BART’s Civic Center station.



Town meetings now live on mobile devices
Greenwich TIME
Neil Vigdor, Staff Writer
Updated 10:55 p.m., Friday, July 8, 2011


Greenwich is pandering to the Droid population.

No, not R2-D2 -- smart phone owners can now watch town meetings in progress through a free live video streaming application on their mobile devices, including the Droid by Motorola, the iPhone and iPad.

"It's as if you were sitting in front of your TV set," said Paul Curtis, the station's volunteer main producer and a member of the Representative Town Meeting.

The feature is one of a series of enhancements that were recently announced by Greenwich Community Television, the town's government-access channel. In addition to the new service on mobile devices, he station is also now available on Channel 24 of FiOS, the fiber-optic television service of Verizon that was launched as a competitor to cable in Greenwich in September 2010.

GCTV carries live coverage of the RTM, Board of Selectmen, Board of Estimate and Taxation, BET Budget Committee, and Planning and Zoning Commission meetings, as well as rebroadcasts of the meetings.

"The more people who watch our system of government here in Greenwich, we'll all hopefully benefit and get more people involved," said Selectman Drew Marzullo, a liaison between the station and the Board of Selectmen.

The only way to watch GCTV up until last month, when the station rolled out its new streaming service for smart phone users and availability on FiOS, was on Channel 79 for Cablevision customers or the Internet.

"It's just another way to reach viewers," Curtis said, estimating that over half the households in town now get the station, whether it be through Verizon or Cablevision.

GCTV is dropping Channel 79 from its name as a result of the expansion to FiOS.

The station is expected to receive funding from Verizon the way it does from Cablevision, which Curtis said contributes $6,000 to $7,000 to the station annually through equipment purchase reimbursements. Funding is based on the number of customers in town, a figure Cablevision keeps a closely-guarded secret.

"They say, `OK, go buy the cameras,' and they pay us back," Curtis said of the reimbursement program.

Under federal and state law, all cable companies are required to provide public access, including two channels devoted to local government and education. In lower Fairfield County, Cablevision viewers pay $5 per year in their bills to fund public access. The money goes into to a pool governed by the Area Nine Cable Council, to which municipalities can apply for grants to purchase equipment and cover other costs associated with the channels.

GCTV is separate from the town's educational access station, Channel 78 for Cablevision customers and Channel 26 on FiOS, which carries school board meetings and other events.

To watch town meetings live on your smart phone, go to the app store, do a search for Ustream TV and hit "install" to download the free application. Once the application is loaded, do a search for Greenwich Community Television.

There's a 15-second to one-minute delay depending on wireless coverage and whether the smart phone is connected to a Wi-Fi network, according to Curtis.

"We had a couple of people watching it at the RTM on their Androids, not on Wi-Fi, and it looked fine," Curtis said.



COMING SOON TO AMERICA: go to a hospital/doctor and records are online???
Gordon Brown Says Newspaper Hired ‘Known Criminals’
NYTIMES
By JOHN F. BURNS, JO BECKER and ALAN COWELL
July 12, 2011

LONDON — Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown brought new and alarming charges on Tuesday to the broadening scandal enveloping Rupert Murdoch’s media empire in Britain, accusing one of the most prestigious newspapers in the group of employing “known criminals” to gather personal information on his bank account, legal files and tax affairs.

The claims came a day after the crisis deepened with reports that two Murdoch newspapers may have bribed police officers or used other potentially illegal methods to obtain information about Queen Elizabeth II as well as Mr. Brown.

At the same time, two former journalists for The News of the World — the newspaper at the epicenter of the scandal, which the Murdoch family closed last weekend — said that police officers had been bribed to use restricted cellphone-tracking technology to pinpoint the location of people sought by the papers in their pursuit of scoops.

Since flying to Britain over the weekend, Mr. Murdoch has assumed command of damage control efforts at his London headquarters amid a torrent of new revelations, including reports that newsroom malpractice extended far beyond The News of the World to two other newspapers in his British stable — The Sunday Times, an upmarket broadsheet, and The Sun, the country’s highest-selling daily tabloid.

On Tuesday, Mr. Brown accused The Sunday Times — owned by News International, the British subsidiary of Mr. Murdoch’s News Corporation — of employing “known criminals” to gather personal information on his bank account, legal files and “other files — documentation, tax and everything else.”

“I think that what happened pretty early on in government is that the Sunday Times appear to have got access to my building society account, they got access to my legal files, there is some question mark about what happened to other files — documentation, tax and everything else,” Mr. Brown, who was Britain’s Labour prime minister from 2007 to 2010 after serving for a decade as chancellor of the Exchequer, told the BBC on Tuesday.

“I’m shocked, I’m genuinely shocked, to find that this happened because of their links with criminals, known criminals, who were undertaking this activity, hired by investigators working with the Sunday Times,” Mr. Brown said.

Mr. Brown added: “I just can’t understand this — if I, with all the protection and all the defenses and all the security that a chancellor of the Exchequer or a prime minister has, am so vulnerable to unscrupulous tactics, unlawful tactics, methods that have been used in the way we have found, what about the ordinary citizen?”

The Guardian newspaper reported earlier that Mr. Brown’s bank, Abbey National, alerted him that someone acting for The Sunday Times had posed in his name — a practice commonly referred to as identity theft, or blagging — to obtain details of his account six times in 2000, when he was chancellor. The BBC said that the effort was made as part of an inquiry by the paper into allegations that Mr. Brown had bought a property in his native Scotland at below-market value, something Mr. Brown has strongly denied.

But the most damaging aspect of the affair involving Mr. Brown related to his son Fraser, now five years old, who suffers from cystic fibrosis. Mr. Brown told the BBC on Tuesday that he had never publicly discussed his son’s medical condition. But a person close to Mr. Brown said on Monday he believed that The Sun gained access to his son’s medical records for an article about his illness that ran in November 2006, four months after the boy’s birth.

Mr. Brown said on Tuesday that he and his wife Sarah were “in tears” when they learned that details of the health issue were going to appear in the newspaper.

The BBC, quoting its sources, said the information about the boy’s condition had been obtained first by The Sunday Times, and passed to The Sun. Mr. Brown said that Rebekah Brooks, then The Sun’s editor and now News International’s chief executive, called him to tell them that the tabloid knew of the boy’s condition, which they had believed was something known only to themselves and medical professionals who were caring for their son.

In a statement, News International said it noted the allegations about Mr. Brown, adding: “So that we can investigate these matters further, we ask that all information concerning these allegations is provided to us,” Britain’s Press Association news agency reported. The statement said The Sun was satisfied that its story about the boy’s cystic fibrosis had been obtained legitimately.

But Mr. Brown said: “They will have to explain themselves. I can’t think of any way that the medical condition of a child can be put into the public arena legitimately unless the doctor makes a statement or the family makes a statement.”

A person close to Mr. Brown said that the former prime minister asked Scotland Yard last year whether his personal details were among the 11,000 pages of notes seized from Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator working for The News of the World who was jailed in 2007 for hacking the phones of the royal household. Scotland Yard confirmed that, the source said.

Phone hacking and other illegal or unethical methods have also been common at many British newspapers that are not Murdoch-owned. But the focus for now is on the Murdoch empire, which confronted what many have called an existential threat on Monday by revising its attempted $12 billion takeover for Britain’s most lucrative satellite television company, British Sky Broadcasting, in ways that appeared to delay the bid for at least six months.

Many commentators in Britain said Mr. Murdoch appeared to be playing for time, in the hope that public and political anger over the current scandal will abate, making room for politicians and regulators to judge the takeover on its business merits, and not on the basis of retribution for the hacking scandal.

The revelations about the intrusive activities directed at the queen and Mr. Brown have seized the headlines, driving home the realization that nobody, not even the most powerful and protected people in the land, had been beyond the reach of news organizations caught up in a relentless battle for lurid headlines and mass circulation.

A wide segment of British society, from celebrities to ordinary families wrestling with personal tragedies, has been shown to be potentially vulnerable to the newspapers’ use of cellphone-hacking, identity theft, tracking technology and police bribery — perhaps even clandestine property break-ins, if some reports circulating in recent days are true.

The BBC and The Guardian, in their Monday reports, cited internal e-mails from a News of the World archive in which requests were made for about $1,600 to pay a royal protection officer — one of several hundred Scotland Yard officers eligible to serve in the palace security detail — for classified information about the queen, Prince Charles and other senior members of the royal family in what a Scotland Yard official described as a major security breach. The Guardian article said two officers on the royal detail were involved and that the e-mails from an archive assembled by The News of the World were exchanged by a senior executive and a reporter, neither of whom it identified.

The accounts said the money was used to obtain a copy of a contact book used by the royal protection service — a volume known as the Green Book, according to the BBC — that contained information about the queen, Prince Charles, other senior royals and their friends and contacts. A report in The Evening Standard newspaper said the information included “phone numbers, and tips about the movements and activities” of the queen and her husband, Prince Philip. The BBC said the book also gave details of friends of the royal couple, their palace staff and other regular royal contacts. A Guardian report said the police had informed the palace that the cellphones of Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, may have also been hacked.

The BBC also reported that an e-mail requesting approval for the money to buy the contacts book was written by Clive Goodman, The News of the World’s royal correspondent, who served a four-month jail term in 2007 for his role in an earlier hacking case. The request for funds was addressed to Andy Coulson, a former editor of The News of the World and senior aide to Prime Minister David Cameron. Mr. Coulson was questioned by police for nine hours on the hacking allegation and other alleged abuses after he was arrested last Friday. He was released on bail.

Prime Minister Cameron said on Monday that he was outraged by the diversion of the contact book, describing the alleged police involvement in the palace intrusion as “a dereliction of duty” and adding, “We need to get to the bottom of that if it is true.”

Separately, an inquiry by The New York Times, which included interviews with two former journalists at The News of the World, has revealed the workings of the illicit cellphone tracking, which the former tabloid staffers said was known in the newsroom as “pinging.” Under British law, the technology involved is restricted to law enforcement and security officials, requires case-by-case authorization, and is used mainly for high-profile criminal cases and terrorism investigations, according to a former senior Scotland Yard official who requested anonymity so as to be able to speak candidly.

According to Oliver Crofton, a cybersecurity specialist who works to protect high-profile clients from such invasive tactics, cellphones are constantly pinging off relay towers as they search for a network, enabling an individual’s location to be located within yards by checking the strength of the signal at three different towers. But the former Scotland Yard official who discussed the matter said that any officer who agreed to use the technique to assist a newspaper would be crossing a red line.

“That would be a massive breach,” he said.

A former show business reporter for The News of the World, Sean Hoare, who was fired in 2005, said that when he worked there, pinging cost the paper nearly $500 on each occasion. He first found out how the practice worked, he said, when he was scrambling to find someone and was told that one of the news desk editors, Greg Miskiw, could help. Mr. Miskiw asked for the person’s cellphone number, and returned later with information showing the person’s precise location in Scotland, Mr. Hoare said. Mr. Miskiw, who faces questioning by police on a separate matter, did not return calls for comment.

John F. Burns and Jo Becker reported from London and Alan Cowell from Paris. Ravi Somaiya, Don van Natta and Graham Bowley contributed reporting from London.


Voicemail spying shows phone network weak spots
AP
By JORDAN ROBERTSON - Associated Press, RAPHAEL G. SATTER - Associated Press
7 July 2011

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The voicemail tampering scandal engulfing Rupert Murdoch's News of the World tabloid demonstrates not only the vulnerability of phone networks, but also the fallibility of the people who help maintain them.

The British tabloid is accused of breaking into voicemail accounts of various celebrities and dignitaries —and even crime victims and their families— in a relentless hunt for scoops.

Those accused of hacking on behalf of Murdoch's publication were alleged to have employed a variety of ruses. Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator at the center of the phone hacking scandal, once targeted members of Britain's royal household by duping phone operators into handing over their personal codes. Those PIN codes in turn allowed him and tabloid journalist Clive Goodman to listen in on the royal family's voicemails.

Many of the methods that phone hackers use are surprisingly low-tech.

"Pretexting" is a common technique for fooling company representatives into giving up a customer's private account information. A pretexting scheme works like this: A hacker calls up the telephone company pretending to be his victim. An agent asks for personal information, such as mother's maiden name or a pass code, to determine the person's identity. The customer service rep then surrenders call logs or passwords if the information is convincing enough.

Perhaps the most famous example of pretexting emerged in 2006 when it was revealed that Hewlett-Packard Co. was spying on journalists and its own board members by hiring private investigators to retrieve their phone logs. The practice was already illegal in the U.S., but was common in the world of private investigations because prosecutions were rare. After the HP debacle, new federal legislation clarified the penalties. Anyone found guilty of pretexting in the U.S. could face up to 10 years in prison.

Knowing bits of key information —such as a Social Security number, names of family members on the accounts — can help a hacker establish credibility in pretexting attacks. Having access to the target's e-mail account can be valuable as well.

In other cases in Britain, all journalists had to do was dial directly into victims' phones and enter a default or easy-to-remember password, such as "1111," to gain access to their voicemails.

The News of the World fiasco has led to prison terms for an investigator and a former reporter for the tabloid, caused several major companies to pull advertising. It is complicating Murdoch's attempt at a multibillion-pound (dollar) takeover of British Sky Broadcasting, which some in government now insist should be blocked because of the hacking incident.

Authorities say tabloid staffers may have interfered with police investigations by hacking into the cellphone of a 13-year-old girl who was eventually found murdered. The staffers are also being investigated on allegations of tampering with phones of victims of the July 7, 2005, terrorist attacks in London, which killed 52 people.

Just as many people are surprised by how easy it is to hack into someone's Internet e-mail account — the "forgot my password" feature is reviled by many security professionals— it may be surprising as well that phone accounts aren't much safer.

Unlike an ATM withdrawal that requires a bank card and a PIN code, voicemail typically only requires a PIN code.

Today, we simply store too much information and don't take enough advantage of technologies such as voice recognition, for instance, that could better secure voicemail, said Mark Rasch, director of cybersecurity and privacy consulting for Computer Sciences Corp.

"The four-digit PIN will someday die, but I can't tell you when," Rasch said. "Businesses still like it, and people like it because it's easy and easy to remember. But it's only easy and easy to remember if you use the same PIN for everything — and once you do that, if you've compromised it one place, you've compromised everywhere."

If all else fails, hackers can sometimes purchase phone information. Britain's Guardian newspaper has reported allegations that other investigators paid bribes to obtain information from Britain's police database, the drivers' licensing agency, and cell phone companies.

The phone numbers and passwords were obtained in industrial quantities. Last year Scotland Yard said that some 4,000 names, 3,000 cell phone numbers and nearly 100 passwords had been found in Mulcaire's notes when he was arrested.






How do you say "bureaucracy kills innovation" across the pond?

10 May 2011 Last updated at 09:54 ET

Microsoft confirms takeover of Skype

Microsoft has confirmed that it has agreed to buy internet phone service Skype. 

The deal will see Microsoft pay $8.5bn (£5.2bn) for Skype, making it Microsoft's largest acquisition.  Luxembourg-based Skype has 663 million global users. In August last year it announced plans for a share flotation, but this was subsequently put on hold.  Internet auction house eBay bought Skype for $2.6bn in 2006, before selling 70% of it in 2009 for $2bn.  This majority stake was bought by a group of investors led by private equity firms Silver Lake and Andreessen Horowit.

Other major shareholders include tech-firm Joltid and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.

'Defensive move'

Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer said: "Skype is a phenomenal service that is loved by millions of people around the world.

Together we will create the future of real-time communications so people can easily stay connected to family, friends, clients and colleagues anywhere in the world."

Skype will now become a new division within Microsoft, and Skype chief executive Tony Bates will continue to lead the business, reporting directly to Mr Ballmer.

"It's a strategic asset and a defensive move [for Microsoft]," said Colin Gillis, an analyst at BGC Financial.

"If they can put it on Windows 8, it gives them an advantage. It helps them in the tablet market."

Other analysts say Microsoft's aim in buying Skype is to improve its video conferencing services.

Price concerns

Although the price tag of $8.5bn will not stretch the US giant, some experts have questioned whether it is paying too much for a company that has struggled to turn a profit.  Michael Clendenin, managing director of consulting firm RedTech Advisors, said: "If you consider [Skype] was just valued at about $2.5bn 18 months ago when a chunk was sold off, then $8.5bn seems generous.

"[It] means Microsoft has a high wall to climb to prove to investors that Skype is a necessary linchpin for the company's online and mobile strategy."

This view was echoed by Ben Woods, head of research group CCS Insight.

"The big unanswered question is how do Skype assets work for Microsoft... how do you justify the price?" he said.

Skype was founded in 2003.  Calls to other Skype users are free, while the company charges for those made to both traditional landline phones and mobiles.



Microsoft agrees to buy Skype for $8.5B
YAHOO
By PETER SVENSSON, AP Technology Writer
10 May 2011

NEW YORK – Microsoft Corp. said Tuesday that it has agreed to buy the popular Internet telephone service Skype SA for $8.5 billion in the biggest deal in the software maker's 36-year history.  Buying Skype would give Microsoft a potentially valuable communications tool as it tries to become a bigger force on the Internet and in the increasingly important smartphone market.  Microsoft said it will marry Skype's functions to its Xbox game console, Outlook email program and Windows smartphones. The company said it will continue to support Skype on other software platforms.

The sellers include eBay Inc. and private equity firms Silver Lake and Andreessen Horowitz.

About 170 million people log in to Skype's services every month, though not all of them make calls. Skype users made 207 billion minutes of voice and video calls last year.  Most people use Skype's free calling services, which has made it difficult for the service to make money since entrepreneurs Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis started the company in 2003. An average of about 8.8 million customers per month, or just over 1 percent of the user base, pay to use Skype services.

Skype lost $7 million on revenue of $860 million last year, according to papers that the company has filed since announcing its intentions last summer to launch an initial public offering of stock. The IPO was later put on hold. Skype's long-term debt, net of cash, was $543,883 at the end of 2010.

The Skype takeover tops Microsoft's biggest previous acquisition — a $6 billion purchase of the online ad service aQuantive in 2007.  Microsoft said Skype will become a new business division headed by Skype CEO Tony Bates, who will report directly to Ballmer.

Although it makes billions from its computer software, Microsoft has been accustomed to losing money on the Internet in a mostly futile attempt to catch up to Google Inc. in the lucrative online search market. Microsoft got so desperate that it made a $47.5 billion bid to buy Yahoo Inc. three years ago, but withdrew the offer after Yahoo balked. Yahoo is now worth about half of what Microsoft offered.

Microsoft would be Skype's second large-company owner. EBay bought Skype for $2.6 billion in 2005, but its attempt to unite the phone service with its online shopping bazaar never worked out. It wound up selling a 70 percent stake in Skype to a group of investors led by private equity firms Silver Lake and Andreessen Horowitz for $2 billion 18 months ago.

Besides eBay, Silver Lake and Andreessen Horowitz, Skype's other major shareholders are Joltid and Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.



3.5 millions Texans' personal data mistakenly posted on public servers
New Haven REGISTER
By The Associated Press
12 April 2011

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — The personal information of about 3.5 million Texans — including addresses and Social Security numbers — was mistakenly posted on public servers controlled by the state comptroller’s office and remained there in some cases for more than a year, the agency said Monday.

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs said that in some cases, the data inadvertently released included dates of birth and driver’s license numbers. There was no indication any personal data had been misused.

“I deeply regret the exposure of the personal information that occurred and am angry that it happened,” Combs said in a statement.

Agency spokesman R.J. DeSilva said the personal data was contained within folders on a comptroller FTP site separate from its main page — one that contained hundreds of folders. Some of those folders were security-protected and could only be accessed by state agencies, while others were open to the public.

The personal information was “on a portion of the page where anyone could look,” he said.

Jerry Strickland, a spokesman with the state attorney general’s office, said officials had contacted the FBI to assist in a criminal investigation that began last week. Strickland said he couldn’t comment on whether the information had been misused, citing the active investigation.

DeSilva said officials discovered the problem March 31, but only notified those agencies it affected Monday.

The information affected was in data transferred by the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, the Texas Workforce Commission, and the Employees Retirement System of Texas.

The Teacher Retirement System data was transferred in January 2010 and had records of 1.2 million education employees and retirees, while the Texas Workforce Commission had data on about 2 million individuals listed in an April 2010 information transfer. The records of about 281,000 state employees and retirees were included in an Employees Retirement System’s transfer from last May.

The comptroller’s office will begin issuing letters Wednesday, notifying those people whose personal information was mistakenly made accessible to the public.

The personal information was included in data transfers required by state statute.






Obama promotes plans for wireless expansion
YAHOO
By ERICA WERNER, Associated Press
10 February 2011

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama wants nearly all Americans to have access to speedy wireless services. He's promoting that plan in a small city in Michigan that's becoming a model for how the Internet can bring prosperity to far-flung places.

Obama on Thursday heads to Marquette, Mich., a university and tourism town of 20,000 overlooking Lake Superior that cherishes both its geographical remoteness and technological savvy. He'll see high-tech wireless initiatives in action at Northern Michigan University, where students telecommute, and talk about the plan in his State of the Union address to expand access to high-speed wireless to 98 percent of the population within five years.

It's a lofty goal considering such technology is only now being built in major cities by AT&T, Verizon and others. And it costs billions of dollars that Republicans probably will be unwilling to spend. But it's all part of Obama's new focus on innovation, technology and competitiveness as a pathway to jobs and "winning the future" — the new White House mantra.

Thursday's visit also takes Obama to a largely conservative area of a state that will be important in the 2012 presidential campaign.

Obama's wireless plan involves nearly doubling the space available on the airwaves for wireless high-speed Internet traffic to keep up with ever-growing demand. This would be accomplished in part by auctioning off space on the radio spectrum to commercial wireless carriers. The White House says this would raise nearly $30 billion over 10 years, and the money could be spent on initiatives that include $10 billion to develop a national broadband network for public safety agencies and $5 billion for infrastructure to help rural areas access high-speed wireless. Additional money could be used to reduce the deficit, the White House says.

It's all conditioned on congressional approval, and the proposals may get cold-shouldered by the Republicans who now control the House and have made clear they want to decrease spending in most areas, not go along with the targeted increases in areas like infrastructure and education that the president is pursuing.

Portions of the plan will be included in the 2012 budget proposal Obama comes out with next week.




Vint Cerf, Google's chief Internet evangelist, considered the father of the Internet

Internet running out of addresses, new set needed
San Francisco  CHRONICLE
Carolyn Said, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, February 3, 2011

Thirty years ago, when the Internet was just getting started, it seemed a safe bet that 4.3 billion addresses would be more than enough. After all, that was roughly the world's population at the time.

"Who the hell knew how much address space we needed?" said Vint Cerf, Google's chief Internet evangelist, considered the father of the Internet, in an interview last month with Australian journalists. "I thought it was an experiment, and I thought that 4.3 billion (addresses) would be enough to do an experiment."

But now it appears the number was too small.

"It turns out the experiment got out of the lab," said Leo Vegoda, number resources manager at the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), in an interview Thursday. "There is a big mismatch between 4 billion and what we need today for a global-spanning telecommunications network that's good for transmitting data packets. We need more addresses."

Every website, computer, smart phone, network printer, cable TV and wireless device out there has a unique numerical IP (Internet protocol) address. As devices and data multiply and the world's population hovers around 7 billion, those IP addresses are now almost exhausted.

On Thursday, the international groups that coordinate Net addresses officially allocated the last blocks of them to five regional registries that in turn distribute to Internet service providers, websites and so forth. Those final allocations could be used up within months.

That means the Internet must now switch to a new address protocol. It's a bit like an overpopulated area code that's out of phone numbers - but instead of just creating a new area code, the behind-the-scenes IP addresses will become a lot more complex.
Seamless - for now

For most users, the transition should be seamless - until a few years from now, when people with older modems may need to upgrade them to recognize the new addresses.

The current system, IPv4 (version 4) uses "dotted quads" - four numbers separated by periods. For instance, the IP address for www.sfgate.com is 66.35.240.8. (Domain names, such as sfgate, essentially act as an address book, providing an easy way to look up IP addresses.)

The new system, IPv6, uses 128-bit addresses. A typical IPv6 address might look like this: 2001:0db8:0234:AB00:0123:8a2e:0370:7334.

It can handle a huge number of addresses, 340 undecillion, to be precise. That number can be expressed as writing 3.4 followed by 38 zeroes, said David Ulevitch, founder and CEO of OpenDNS, a San Francisco company that translates domain names into numbers.

"The (IPv4) trough is now empty," Ulevitch said. "The Internet continues to grow, and the only way to grow is to use IPv6."
The new protocol

In fact, enterprises have been experimenting with the new protocol for over a decade, but the imminent exhaustion of IP addresses provides motivation to step up those efforts, he said.

June 8 has been designated as the ultra-nerdy "Test Flight Day" when Google, Facebook, Yahoo and other major companies will offer their content over IPv6 to motivate ISPs, hardwaremakers, operating system vendors and others to handle the new addresses.

"It's drawing a line in the sand as to when everyone supports this important technology," said Greg Smith, senior director of technical marketing for Citrix Systems, which sells products to translate the older version of IP addresses to the new ones. "There's a chicken-and-egg dynamic: it requires some investment on the part of websites and companies and they don't want to make it until they see demand."

"This is not sneaking up on anybody," said Bill Woodcock, research director at San Francisco's Packet Clearing House, a nonprofit that researches Internet traffic and global network development. "IPv4 addresses will continue working exactly as they always have."

Some people with older modems may be affected eventually once the new protocol becomes the default.

"A lot of DSL modems and cable modems out there right now don't support v6 because they are the cheapest and most commodity pieces of gear and vendors didn't require their hardware providers to do that engineering until recently," Woodcock said. "At some point those may need to be swapped out."



G.O.P. to Open House to Electronic Devices
NYTIMES
By MICHAEL D. SHEAR
December 24, 2010

WASHINGTON — The iPad is coming to Capitol Hill.

Tucked into new rules proposed by the incoming House Republican majority is one that could fling the chamber — for good or ill — into the 21st century: Members may use an electronic device on the House floor as long as it doesn’t “impair decorum.”

The new rule would relax the complete ban on the use of gadgets like the iPad, iPhone or BlackBerry on the floor. Mobile phones, tablet computers and the whole universe of applications that run on them will be officially available to House members as they conduct business.

Members still may not talk on the phone in the chamber and are supposed to use the devices for official business only, according to a spokesman for the soon-to-be speaker, John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio. But as long as the mute switch is on, lawmakers will be free to tap away.

“Mr. Boehner has deep respect for the institution and its traditions,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for the Republicans. “This is not free license to Skype or pay bills online. But we recognize that people consume information electronically these days. It’s just silly that the House wouldn’t accommodate that.”

The decision represents a vivid concession of old-fashioned tradition to new technology. But while the nation’s lawmakers will be fully plugged in, they will also be in danger of tuning one another out.

As the Emily Post etiquette Web site states: “Tapping on a hand-held device is O.K. if it’s related to what’s being discussed, but taking care of personal business is unprofessional. Your associates might think that you were more interested in your gadget than the business at hand.”

Mobile technology has already started to sneak onto the floors of both the House and the Senate. While the rules of the 111th Congress officially banned iPads and other devices from the floor, there has been a “wink and a nod” approach to a lawmaker who takes furtive glances at his BlackBerry, according to a senior Republican aide.

That was obvious last week, when Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, was seen, head down, tapping out messages as he sat directly behind Senator Arlen Specter, Democrat of Pennsylvania, who was giving his farewell address. Earlier this month, Representative Henry Cuellar, Democrat of Texas, took his iPad to the speaker’s rostrum as he presided over the chamber. And Representative Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia, was caught using his BlackBerry during President Obama’s health care address in 2009.

In the Senate, a leadership aide said that no changes were planned, but that the rules committee could look into loosening the rules at some point. But in the House, members will be free to whip out their mobile phones any time.

That prospect worries Jaron Lanier, the author of “You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto.”

“This notion of the deliberative body being insulated and being a little bit removed was there for a reason,” Mr. Lanier said Friday in an interview. “Real-time Tweets? Do we want that?”

Apparently, we do. Mobile devices are everywhere these days. The one on Mr. Obama’s hip can often be seen in photographs snapped as he emerges from Air Force One. Even Laura Bush, the former first lady and a lover of paper-bound books, admitted recently that she was hooked.

“I had not used a computer in the eight years I spent in the White House, and I didn’t know a thing about BlackBerrys,” Mrs. Bush told Advertising Specialty Institute Radio. “And now, like everyone in the U.S., I have one in my hand every moment. I’m addicted to it.”

The new rules in the House, first reported by Nancy Scola of techPresident.com, will be clarified early next month in a document called the Speaker’s Announced Policies. For example, Mr. Buck, the Republican spokesman, said the use of the ubiquitous white iPod earphones would probably not be allowed.

The intent, he said, was to let lawmakers look up the text of a bill, check a fact or keep up on the news of the day. Their advisers could also send them important messages. And, especially with the iPad’s bigger screen, lawmakers could abandon paper copies of bills in favor of electronic versions. Or they could use Google on their smartphone to check the accuracy of something a colleague had just said.

On the other hand, less-high-minded members could use the devices to play games, do their Amazon shopping or find movie listings. In Florida, where laptop computers are already allowed to sit on the desks of state senators, one member was caught with pictures of naked women on his screen.

Still, Mr. Lanier envisioned a bright side, even if lawmakers are not using the devices strictly for work. Recalling the many scenes of lawmakers’ speaking to a mostly empty chamber, he said, “At least if they have a little game to play, maybe they will attend more.”




FAMILY FEUD..."What's good for me, Al Franken" - on the losing end this time.

Divided FCC adopts Internet traffic rules
YAHOO
By Jasmin Melvin
21 December 2010

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. communications regulators adopted Internet traffic rules on Tuesday that prevent providers from blocking lawful content but still let them ration access to their networks.

The Federal Communications Commission approved the "Open Internet" order after FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's plan got the support of fellow Democrats Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn.

The rules aim to strike a balance between the interests of Internet service providers, content companies and consumers, but some industry analysts think a court challenge is still likely.

At issue is whether regulators need to guarantee that all stakeholders continue to have reasonable access to the Internet, a principle often called "net neutrality," or whether the Internet is best left to flourish unregulated.

The FCC's ability to regulate the Internet has been in doubt since an appeals court in April said the agency lacked the authority to stop cable company Comcast Corp from blocking bandwidth-hogging applications.

Senior FCC officials have said they will invoke new legal arguments not employed in the Comcast case.

The two Republican commissioners at the agency opposed the latest rule-making effort, saying it was unnecessary and would stifle innovation. Robert McDowell and Meredith Attwell Baker told an FCC open meeting that they believed the rules would fail in court.

High-speed Internet providers like Comcast and Verizon Communications can "reasonably" manage their networks under the rules and perhaps charge consumers based on levels of Internet usage.

The rules, to be somewhat looser for wireless Internet, could help cable companies in competition with plans by Microsoft Corp, Google Inc and Amazon.com to deliver competing video content over the same Internet lines the cable companies run to customers' homes.

Adoption of the measure had been expected after Copps and Clyburn had issued statements on Monday saying they would support the proposal despite some misgivings.

But McDowell warned on Tuesday that the FCC was defying the court and also circumventing the will of Congress. Republicans will be in control of the U.S. House of Representatives come January and made gains against Democrats in the Senate in November's elections.

"Litigation will supplant innovation. Instead of investing in tomorrow's technologies, precious capital will be diverted to pay lawyers' fees," McDowell warned.

Genachowski, speaking last at the meeting, said the Internet currently was unprotected and invoked the names of his Republican predecessors to back adoption of the rules.

"The rules of the road we adopt today are rooted in ideas first articulated by Republican Chairmen Michael Powell and Kevin Martin, and endorsed in a unanimous FCC policy statement in 2005," said Genachowski.


Internet rules to get go ahead by US regulators
By Maggie Shiels Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley
21 December 2010 Last updated at 05:34 ET

Controversial new rules affecting the running of the internet are expected to be approved by US regulators today.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote on a principle known as net neutrality; a tenet that ensures all web traffic is treated equally.

The rules have been criticised for setting different standards for fixed line broadband and mobile operators.

Officials said the regulations are "the first time the Commission has adopted enforceable rules" to govern the web.

Tuesday's vote is the culmination of five years of fighting over how best to ensure the free flow of information in all its forms over the internet.

The proposal also comes at a time when consumers are increasingly accessing the web via smart phones and turning to the internet to watch TV shows.

'Rules of the road'

The Commission's ability to regulate the internet was thrown into doubt following an appeals court decision earlier this year that said the agency lacked the authority to stop cable firm ComCast from blocking bandwidth-hogging applications.

The FCC's agenda said the vote will address "basic rules of the road to preserve the open internet as a platform for innovation, investment, competition and free expression".

That is a view backed by chairman Julius Genachowski.

"We're adopting a framework that will increase certainty for businesses, investors and entrepreneurs," Mr Genachowski said in remarks prepared for the meeting.

"We're taking an approach that will help foster a cycle of massive investment, innovation and consumer demand both at the edge and in the core of our broadband networks."

The five member Commission is expected to vote 3-2 along party lines.

Michael Copps, a Democrat, said in a written statement that he will not block the plan after weeks of what senior FCC officials called "robust engagement" with the Commission to toughen the rules.

"The item we will vote on is not the one I would have crafted but I believe we have been able to make the current iteration better than what was originally circulated," said Mr Copps.

"If vigilantly and vigorously implemented by the commission, it could represent an important milestone in the ongoing struggle to safeguard the awesome opportunity-creating power of the open internet."

Fellow Democrat Mignon Clyburn is also expected to concur on the rules, whilst Mr Genachowski's vote is expected to push it through. Republicans Meredith Baker and Robert McDowell are expected to vote against the order.

The regulations are expected to be challenged in court.

'Squandered'

A number of interested parties including internet providers, developers and companies like Google have said the rules will provide some regulatory certainty going forward. Many have acknowledged that the proposal could have been much worse.

The new regulations would prohibit telecommunications companies that provide high-speed internet service from blocking access by customers to any legal content, applications or service.

But, for the first time, there will be a policy that will allow for what has been termed "paid-prioritisation", where companies will be able to pay for a faster service.

The FCC proposal would also place tougher restrictions on wired services from cable and phone companies than on wireless carriers, which have more limited bandwidth.

It comes at a time when an increasing number of people are using smart phones or tablet devices to access the web or watch TV shows.

The rules would allow mobile firms to block access to sites or applications that specifically compete with a carrier's voice or video services.

Supporters of net neutrality feel the new regulations should have gone further and have slammed them as "fake net neutrality".

"I think today is a tremendously important day in the fight to preserve a free and open internet," Aparna Sridhar of advocacy group the Free Press, told BBC News.

"Chairman Genachowski has completely squandered a golden opportunity to make this vote meaningful. Until now we have had a certain amount of regulatory uncertainty and the carriers have had an incentive to stay on their best behaviour.

"This rule will endorse bad practices in the wireless space and I think we will see the flood gates open from the blocking of applications to the slowing down of competitors' apps to monetising every application that seeks to travel over their network," added Ms Sridhar.

In an opinion piece for the Huffington Post, Al Franken, US Senator for Minnesota, called the FCC vote "the most important free speech issue of our time" and the draft order the FCC will vote on a "badly flawed proposal".




4 November 2010 Last updated at 11:33 ET
Burma hit by massive net attack ahead of election

An ongoing computer attack has knocked Burma off the internet, just days ahead of its first election in 20 years.  The attack started in late October but has grown in the last few days to overwhelm the nation's link to the net, said security firm Arbor Networks.  Reports from Burma say the disruption is ongoing.

The attack, which is believed to have started on 25 October, comes ahead of closely-watched national elections on 7 November.  International observers and foreign journalists are not being allowed into the country to cover the polls.  It will raise suspicions that Burma's military authorities could be trying to restrict the flow of information over the election period.  The ruling generals say the polls will mark a transition to democratic civilian rule.

But as the BBC's Sue Lloyd-Roberts reports from Burma, many believe the election is a sham designed to cement the military's grip on power.  In the last elections in 1990, Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory but the junta ignored the result and have remained in power ever since.

Cyber attack

The Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack, as it is known, works by flooding a target with too much data for it to handle.

The "distributed" element of it means that it involves PCs spread all over the world. These networks of enslaved computers - known as "botnets" - are typically hijacked home computers that have been compromised by a virus.  They are typically rented out by cyber criminals for various means, including web attacks. They can be called into action and controlled from across the internet.

Burma links to the wider net via cables and satellites that, at most, can support data transfers of 45 megabits of data per second.

At its height, the attack was pummelling Burma's connections to the wider net with about 10-15 gigabits of data every second.  Writing about the attack, Dr Craig Labovitz from Arbor Networks said the volume of traffic traffic was "several hundred times more than enough" to swamp these links.  The result, said Dr Labovitz, had disrupted network traffic in and out of the nation.  He said the attack was sophisticated in that it rolled together several different types of DDoS attacks and traffic was coming from many different sources.

At time of writing, attempts to contact IP addresses in the block owned by Burma and its telecoms firms timed out, suggesting the attack is still under way.

"Our technicians have been trying to prevent cyber attacks from other countries," a spokesperson from Yatanarpon Teleport told the AFP news agency.

"We still do not know whether access will be good on the election day."

Mr Labovitz said that he did not know the motivation for the attack but said that analysis of similar events in the past had found motives that ran the gamut "from politically motivated DDoS, government censorship, extortion and stock manipulation."

He also noted that the current wave of traffic was "significantly larger" than high-profile attacks against Georgia and Estonia in 2007.




BlackBerry CEO suggests route to eavesdropping
YAHOO
By ANDREW VANACORE, AP Business Writer
Mon Sep 27, 5:45 pm ET

NEW YORK – BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd. says it has no way of providing government officials with the text of encrypted corporate e-mails its devices serve up. But if the companies that employ BlackBerry phones want to hand over the encryption keys to their e-mail, it won't object.

In a recent interview, RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie said he could envision countries that want access to BlackBerry e-mails setting up a kind of national registry where companies doing business within their borders would have to provide government officials with the ability to peek at encrypted messages.

"We would support that if it's applied equitably to everyone," Balsillie said, while warning that governments that use too heavy of a hand on the issue risk scaring away businesses.

The issue comes up as a growing list of countries — including the U.S. — raise concerns that communications technology has outpaced the ability of authorities to eavesdrop.

The controversy drew wide public attention last month when the United Arab Emirates announced plans to block BlackBerry e-mail, messaging and Web browsing services. Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Indonesia and India are considering or planning similar steps.

In the U.S., the Obama administration plans to propose legislation next year that would require online communications providers to be technically equipped to comply with a wiretap order, according to a report in The New York Times on Monday. Along with BlackBerry service, the new rules would apply to social media sites including Facebook and direct person-to-person services such as Skype, the Times reported.

Balsillie took pains to emphasize that these security concerns extend beyond BlackBerry service. He pointed out that most corporate e-mail is encrypted in a similar way.

Because of how BlackBerry e-mail service is set up, it isn't technically possible for RIM to give government officials access to company e-mail that its users send back and forth. And RIM will not remove the layers of encryption that protect corporate e-mail because its customers put a high value on privacy.

While RIM won't give details of discussions with any particular government, the type of national registry that Balsillie mentioned helps outline one area of potential compromise.

The idea would leave RIM out of the decision-making process when it comes to government surveillance requests. A foreign government would collect the keys that it needs from companies whose employees use company e-mail on their BlackBerrys. It would be up to any individual company whether to hand over those keys.

"They're not ours to give," Balsillie said. "That's a decision for the company that is operating within that jurisdiction."

Balsillie warned, however, that demanding access to encryption keys would be a "blunt instrument" and could spook companies that want tight security around their communications.

"Will companies just leave and say this is not commercial practice that's acceptable?" he said. "Strong encryption for corporate data is the norm in all business."


Report: US would make Internet wiretaps easier
YAHOO
27 September 2010

WASHINGTON – Broad new regulations being drafted by the Obama administration would make it easier for law enforcement and national security officials to eavesdrop on Internet and e-mail communications like social networking Web sites and BlackBerries, The New York Times reported Monday.

The newspaper said the White House plans to submit a bill next year that would require all online services that enable communications to be technically equipped to comply with a wiretap order. That would include providers of encrypted e-mail, such as BlackBerry, networking sites like Facebook and direct communication services like Skype.  Federal law enforcement and national security officials say new the regulations are needed because terrorists and criminals are increasingly giving up their phones to communicate online.

"We're talking about lawfully authorized intercepts," said FBI lawyer Valerie E. Caproni. "We're not talking about expanding authority. We're talking about preserving our ability to execute our existing authority in order to protect the public safety and national security."

The White House plans to submit the proposed legislation to Congress next year.  The new regulations would raise new questions about protecting people's privacy while balancing national security concerns.  James Dempsey, the vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, an Internet policy group, said the new regulations would have "huge implications."

"They basically want to turn back the clock and make Internet services function the way that the telephone system used to function," he told the Times.

The Times said the Obama proposal would likely include several requires:

-Any service that provides encrypted messages must be capable of unscrambling them.
-Any foreign communications providers that do business in the U.S. would have to have an office in the United States that's capable of providing intercepts.
-Software developers of peer-to-peer communications services would be required to redesign their products to allow interception.

The Times said that some privacy and technology advocates say the regulations would create weaknesses in the technology that hackers could more easily exploit.



FCC to open up vacant TV airwaves for broadband
YAHOO
By JOELLE TESSLER, AP Technology Writer
Mon Sep 13, 12:35 am ET

WASHINGTON – A new flavor of Wi-Fi, with longer range and wall-piercing power, could show up in wireless gadgets a year from now if the Federal Communications Commission works out the last details of new spectrum rules that have been long in the making.

Nearly two years ago, the FCC voted to open up the airwaves between broadcast TV channels — so-called "white spaces" — for wireless broadband connections that would work like Wi-Fi on steroids. But wrangling over key technical details, including concerns about interference with TV signals and wireless microphones, has prevented exploitation of these spaces.

On Sept. 23, the FCC plans to vote on rules meant to resolve those issues. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski predicts electronics makers will jump at this "super Wi-Fi" technology, as the agency calls it, and make it just as popular as conventional Wi-Fi.

"We're hoping history will repeat itself," Genachowski said. "White spaces are a big deal for consumers and for investment and innovation."

The commission's plan would make white spaces available for free, without specific permission, just as it already does for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.  Last year's transition from analog to digital television broadcasting freed up enough spectrum to make this possible, but the plan faced serious opposition from television broadcasters worried that their signals could be disrupted. Wireless microphone manufacturers and users — including churches, theatres, karaoke bars and all types of performers — also raised concerns about interference.

To address these issues, the FCC has been working with broadcasters and white-spaces proponents to map TV channels across the country. The current FCC plan would require installers to configure white-spaces devices to use a frequency that's vacant in their area — a white space. Alternatively, the devices themselves could figure out their location using such technologies as GPS; a database would then help the devices figure out the right frequencies for their area.

In addition, the agency hopes to set aside at least two channels for minor users of wireless microphones. And it plans to put big wireless microphone users, such as Broadway theaters and sports leagues, in the database, so devices would know to avoid their airwaves.  The upcoming FCC vote is a welcome development for some of the country's biggest technology companies, including Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Dell Inc. The tech industry hopes that white-spaces networks will create a multibillion market for advanced wireless devices, including laptops, set-top boxes and smart phones.

"We've all been chomping at the bit in the tech community ... to get going with white spaces," said Richard Whitt, Google's Washington-based counsel for telecommunications and media. "These are highly valuable, open, unused airwaves."

If all goes according to plan, Liam Quinn, chief technology officer for client business at Dell, expects to see "proof of concept" products at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, followed by early products in about a year and mass production a year after that.  White spaces are particularly well suited to providing broadband, tech companies say, because they can penetrate walls, have plenty of network capacity and are able to cover large areas. According to Quinn, the signals can travel several miles and deliver Internet speeds ranging from 15 to 20 megabits per second — as fast as a cable modem.

Technology companies envision all sorts of uses for white spaces: providing emergency services in disaster zones and creating home wireless networks that can send video between television sets and computers, to name just a few possibilities.

Wilmington, N.C., one of a handful of U.S. communities testing the technology, is using white-spaces connections to send live video feeds from traffic and surveillance cameras.

The city's network also gathers real-time data from a sensor in a remote part of the local watershed to monitor water quality and levels. Previously, Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said, the city had to send a worker out in a boat once a month to collect the data, as the city's Wi-Fi network could not reach the sensor.

"There are a million and one possibilities for this spectrum," Saffo said.

Neeraj Srivastava, a vice president at a Florida company called Spectrum Bridge Inc., noted that white-spaces networks could be used to bring high-speed Internet access to remote corners of the country where the phone and cable companies don't offer landline broadband. That's a high priority for the FCC.

Indeed, Spectrum Bridge, which helped build the Wilmington network, also helped build a test system in rural Claudeville, Va., a community that had only dial-up Internet and costly satellite-based broadband service before.

For now, it remains unclear whether the FCC's plan for dealing with interference will go far enough for the broadcast industry, which wants the FCC to require that white-spaces devices include spectrum-sensing technology that can detect when airwaves are already being used. The FCC left that requirement out amid opposition from the tech industry.

"This is still a work in progress," said David Donovan, head of the Association for Maximum Service Television, which handles technical issues facing broadcasters. "But we're trying to make it work."



Government report: 4 cos. control wireless market
YAHOO
By JOELLE TESSLER, AP Technology Writer
26 August 2010

WASHINGTON – A government report finds that mergers and acquisitions over the past decade have left just four big carriers in control of 90 percent of the wireless market, thus making it harder for small and regional companies to compete.

A study from the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, also found that despite the consolidation, consumers are benefiting from better wireless coverage and prices that are half what they were in 1999.

The GAO report, released Thursday, comes as the Federal Communications Commission is ramping up oversight of the wireless industry. The report says the number of cell phone subscribers in the U.S. stood at 285 million at the end of 2009, up from 3.5 million in 1989.





Protesters denounce Google plan for 'two-tier internet'
By Maggie Shiels Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley
14 August 2010 Last updated at 00:57 ET


Around 100 people have rallied outside Google's California offices to protest against controversial proposals to alter how data is treated over the web.  Google and Verizon suggest treating fixed line services differently to wireless and some specialised content.  This would allow net providers to give priority to certain online traffic.  Protesters outside the famed Googleplex said this would create a "pay-to-play" service and urged Google to live up to its famous motto "don't be evil".

"Companies like Google have benefited from a free and open internet and their plan will destroy that," said James Rucker of ColourofChange.org, one of many consumer and public advocacy groups taking part in the event.

"They are talking about producing a fast lane, essentially a higher tier, for premium content that means if you want to play in the 21st Century internet you will have to pay."

The proposals unveiled this week by the search giant and telecom titan Verizon champion an open net for wireline services but suggest loopholes for wireless and what they called "differentiated" content.  Critics have said this would undermine the principle of net neutrality where all web data is treated equally and no-one is given preferential treatment or discriminated against.

"Whether you are a blogger, an entrepreneur, a journalist or someone trying to organise a community, the internet is precious," said Mr Rucker.

"We all want to stand together to ensure it is protected for the future. We would expect Google to take leadership in making that happen, not be on the front line of undoing that."

'In mourning'

Google and Verizon made their announcement after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ended closed-door talks with service providers and internet companies to find a consensus on the principle of net neutrality.  The FCC is trying to navigate what it has called a "third way" to resolve the issue after its authority was called into question when a court ruled it had no power to sanction Comcast for slowing some net traffic.

Net neutrality is seen as central to the government's broadband plan to provide high speed access to every citizen by 2020.  Protestor Christine Springer criticised the lack of leadership coming from the agency.

"The FCC is sitting on their hands. They are hoping nobody will notice but unless we make a lot of noise the corporate giants will prevail. The job of the FCC is to regulate not negotiate with giant corporations."

Those taking part in the rally agree and chanted slogans like "net neutrality is under attack, stand up and fight back" and "we demand our internet rights, together we stand together we fight".

There was also some singing to the tune of "Clementine" organised by a group of senior citizens calling themselves the Raging Grannies.

"We want to raise awareness about this issue and shine a light on how important it is to keep the internet free and open to one and all," said Raging Granny Gail Sredanovic.

Martha Champion donned a heavy black Victorian costume to drive home her concerns.

"I am in mourning for the death of the internet and believe this plan will lock out those that can't afford to pay a premium for their content to load faster or for their site to go quickly."

The rally also attracted the very young. Seven year old Alexis Buggs said she took part "to help save the internet".

Her mum Erin Hodgson told BBC News "I'm a stay at home mom and so it was either go to the park or come out here and take a stand and teach my kids about putting our voice out there and being proud to be American."

'Fierce supporter'

The rally organisers presented Google with boxes of petitions they claimed held the signatures of 300,000 people opposed to anything that would harm the principle of net neutrality.
guy carrying a box of petitions with Google don't be evil sign The petition signatures were collected over the last couple of weeks  Google asked those that took part in the protest to fill out a form and submit their own comments about the proposals.  Afterwards the company's head of public policy, Nicklas Lundblad spoke to reporters.

"This is an important issue, a complex issue and it deserves to be discussed. Google is a fierce supporter of an open internet and we see that we have a couple of key enforceable protections in our proposal with Verizon and that is much better than no protections at all.

"This issue has been at a standstill for quite some time and we think this proposal is a way to advance that discussion."

In a move that comes as no surprise, telecom company AT&T has given its backing to the plan while firms like Facebook and Skype have denounced it.


FCC draws fire over talks with Internet, telecom giants on 'net neutrality'
By Cecilia Kang, Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 5, 2010; A13

Thwarted in his campaign to set government control over consumer access to the Internet, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski has been trying to salvage his efforts by negotiating directly with a handful of the biggest Web firms and network service providers.

His goal is for those firms to put aside their differences on how Internet service providers control content on their networks and agree on legislation that Genachowski can present to Congress.

But critics say that by handpicking Google, AT&T, Verizon and Skype for seven closed-door meetings that continue this week at the FCC, Genachowski could be determining the future of how consumers access the Web in a manner more favorable to those businesses.

Massive corporate interests are at stake as the firms and the agency discuss so-called net neutrality provisions, or regulations that would prevent Internet providers from blocking or slowing access to Web sites. The talks could determine, for instance, whether Verizon could provide YouTube online video with better resolution than competitor Netflix, or whether Google and Skype have to pay extra to get their online voice services onto AT&T broadband networks.

"These big companies can make deals for themselves, but they are leaving out the rest of us," said Susan Crawford, a communications law professor at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

Wider discussions

Genachowski's chief of staff, Eddie Lazarus, has been running the meetings and said he has also talked to dozens of consumer groups, start-ups, venture capitalists and smaller network operators. Those discussions have taken place outside the hours-long sessions that continue this week with officials from Google, Skype, AT&T, Verizon and a cable trade association and coalition advocating Genachowski's net neutrality rules.

"That one room is not privileged, in my view. There have been dozens of stakeholder discussions with varied interests who are all important to this process," Lazarus said.

Free Press, Public Knowledge, Amazon.com and Sony Electronics are among parties represented by the Open Internet Coalition, which has a place at the meetings. Cable firms are also represented by a trade group, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

"I can't presume to speak for all of them on any given issue," said Markham Erickson, executive director of the Open Internet Coalition, which also represents Google. "We try to be a consensus-based coalition, but the challenge is that there is a diversity of points of view on any given issue when you get to very specific points."

Matt Polka, president of American Cable Association, a group that represents smaller cable broadband operators, said he agrees with the National Cable and Telecommunications Association that the FCC shouldn't pursue open-Internet rules. But, he said, "you have to hope that the interests of smaller rural providers are also being represented in these discussions and not just the biggest cable firms."

Analysts said agreements made between those parties could encourage Congress to introduce legislation as the FCC grapples with questions over its ability to regulate broadband providers.

Wireless partners Google and Verizon are close to announcing an agreement on ground rules that they hope to hold as an example of successful self-regulation, according to sources familiar with those negotiations. The firms are expected to announce a deal soon that would allow Verizon to offer more room on its networks to content providers that pay more. But any promises regarding open-Internet access wouldn't apply to mobile phones, sources close to the companies said.

Verizon said in a statement that it will continue to participate in FCC talks. Google did not respond to requests for comment. The two firms have stood on opposite ends of the net neutrality debate but have partnered on Android phones, based on Google's operating system and applications. In recent months, Verizon chief executive Ivan Seidenberg and Google chief Eric Schmidt have announced in op-eds and speeches that they are finding "common ground" in the debate.

The FCC chief's goal

Such an agreement could frame discussion on legislation in Congress. And it would enable Genachowski to address his biggest policy goal -- open Internet access -- without having to follow through on a separate, controversial proposal to redefine broadband access providers as telecommunications services. That promise of open-Internet rules was touted by President Obama during his campaign but was derailed by a federal court decision that questioned the FCC's authority over broadband. And amid growing opposition in Congress, the FCC has sought to find a way out by asserting its authority to regulate broadband.

"These matters clearly are important to both network and apps providers, and it remains to be seen whether the difference can be overcome," said Paul Gallant, an analyst at Concept Capital. "If they are not, Chairman Genachowski is expected to move toward a reclassification ruling that would be negative for cable, telcos and possibly telecom equipment suppliers."




Apple to give iPhone 4 owners free 'bumper' case
NYPOST
Last Updated: 2:26 PM, July 16, 2010
Posted: 1:31 PM, July 16, 2010

Apple Inc., answering mounting criticism over the reception issue and antenna design of its recently launched iPhone 4, admitted Friday the phone drops more calls than the previous version, and said it would give away protective cases as a remedy.

Apple "screwed up" with the signal algorithm of the phone, Chief Executive Steve Jobs said during a press conference at the company’s Cupertino, Calif., headquarters. But he stuck to the company line regarding the antenna problems being common with all smartphones, and said the problem was blown "so out of proportion, it's incredible."

Customers that buy an iPhone 4 through Sept. 30 will get a free protective cover, or bumper. Anyone who has already purchased a bumper will get a refund.

"We're not perfect," Jobs said. He went on to say the company has sold more than 3 million iPhones since it went on sale in June 24, and defended it as the "perhaps the best product made by Apple."

He acknowledged that the iPhone 4 loses signal strength when touched in the lower left corner, but argued the problem is not unique to his company's device. He went on to show videos of other smartphones, including the BlackBerry Bold and HTC Droid Eris, that appear to lose reception when gripped in certain ways.

"This is life in the smartphone world," he said. He said 1.7 percent of customers have returned their iPhone 4 to AT&T Inc., a lower rate than the predecessor, the iPhone 3GS.

The iPhone 4, which has an unusual antenna design, was immediately dogged by complaints about its reception, particularly when owners held the device in a particular way.

The problems cascaded into a full-blown public relations challenge for Apple, which initially told owners to hold the phone differently and then blamed the reception difficulties on software. The company's problems worsened when influential product review publication Consumer Reports said it could not recommend the phone.

The publication determined that touching the iPhone's antenna, which wraps around the sides of the device, degrades the device's signal. It later recommended sheathing the iPhone in a case that covers the sensitive lower left section to remedy the situation.

Apple's stock has taken a beating since the release of the new iPhone, dropping nearly 8 percent from record highs just a month ago.

The bumpers currently sell for $29 on its website. The product is sold out; the website says it will ship in five to seven business days.



How Do We Stop the Internet From Making Us Stupid?
By Niraj Chokshi, Atlantic Monthly
We found this article via the Courant on June 11, 2010

When it comes to focus, turning on the spotlight may not matter as much as our ability to dim the ambient light.

Nicholas Carr argued on Saturday in The Wall Street Journal that the Internet is making us dumber and on Monday The New York Times had a front-page feature on the mental price we pay for our multi-tasked lifestyles. If we are indeed losing our ability to think deeply, the key to fighting back may lie in a subtlety: focus may be more about our ability to filter out distractions than our ability to home in on the issue at hand.

Carr posed his idea that technology is making us stupid in a 2008 Atlantic cover story and his forthcoming book "The Shallows" is a longer rumination on the theory. According to professors and research cited in The Times piece "the idea that information overload causes distraction was supported by more and more research." And those distractions, according to research Carr cites, are forcing us to change the way we think. Deep thought is losing ground to superficiality.

So, if our multitasking lifestyle causes distraction, and distraction leads to superficial thinking, how do we fight back? Carr offers some advice:

    Reading a long sequence of pages helps us develop a rare kind of mental discipline. The innate bias of the human brain, after all, is to be distracted. Our predisposition is to be aware of as much of what's going on around us as possible. Our fast-paced, reflexive shifts in focus were once crucial to our survival.

There is some noteworthy subtlety here. Carr doesn't argue that reading directly increases our ability to focus, but that it "helps us develop a rare kind of mental discipline." That's because focus may be less about highlighting what matters and more about the discipline of ignoring what doesn't.

This view of focus is supported by research. For example, in a 2009 paper published in the well-regarded Journal of Neuroscience, Theodore P. Zanto and Adam Gazzaley, who is cited in The Times piece, reach a similar conclusion. Filtering out the irrelevant, they suggest, may improve accuracy and speed in a short-term memory test, but attention-directing skills may not have a similar effect.

So, abandoning the distractions of technology for a single task may not do as much to retrain our brains as improving our ability to brush those distractions away.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2010/06/how-do-we-stop-the-internet-from-making-us-stupid/57796/
Copyright © 2010 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All Rights Reserved.



AT&T caps phone data usage with new wireless plans
YAHOO
By PETER SVENSSON, AP Technology Writer
2 June 2010

NEW YORK – In time for the widely expected launch of a new iPhone model, carrier AT&T Inc. is pulling in the reins on data usage by its customers with smart phones and iPads.

The sole U.S. carrier of the iPhone is introducing two new data plans, starting June 7, with limits on data consumption. They'll replace the $30 monthly plan with unlimited usage that it has required for all smart phones, including the iPhone.

With the change, AT&T is adopting a carrot-and-stick approach to assuage the data congestion on its network, which has been a source of complaints, especially in cities such as New York and San Francisco that are thick with iPhone users. The new plans will take effect just as Apple is expected to unveil the next generation of its iPhone at an event Monday in San Francisco.

Subscribers who use little data or learn to limit their consumption will pay slightly less every month than they do now, while heavy users will be dinged with extra consumption fees.

One new plan will cost $25 per month and offer 2 gigabytes of data per month, which AT&T says will be enough for 98 percent of its smart phone customers. Additional gigabytes will cost $10 each.

A second plan will cost $15 per month for 200 megabytes of data, which AT&T says is enough for 65 percent of its smart phone customers. If they go over, they'll pay another $15 for 200 megabytes.

With that plan and voice service, a smart phone could cost as little as $55 per month before taxes and add-on fees, down from $70 per month. Ralph de la Vega, the head of AT&T's consumer business, said that means smart phones can become accessible to more people.

"Customers are getting a good deal, and if they can understand their usage, they can save some money," de la Vega said in an interview.

Current AT&T subscribers will be allowed to keep the unlimited plan, even if they renew their contracts. But all new subscribers will have to choose one of the two new plans.

Figuring out which one to choose may not be easy, given that many people have only a hazy notion of the size of a gigabyte and how many they use now. A gigabyte is enough for hundreds of e-mails and Web pages, but it's quickly eaten up by Internet video and videoconferencing.

De la Vega said AT&T is doing its part to educate consumers, by letting them track their usage online. The iPhone contains a data usage tracking tool. The carrier will also text-message subscribers to let them know they're getting close to their limits.

Data usage over Wi-Fi, including AT&T's public Wi-Fi hot spots, will not count toward the limits.

The new $25-per-month plan will replace the current $30 plan with unlimited usage that is available for the iPad, the tablet computer Apple Inc. released just a few months ago, though iPad owners can keep the old plan as long as they keep paying $30 per month, AT&T said.

Paradoxically, the data caps arrive at time when carriers have started to lift the limits on other forms of wireless use, by selling plans with unlimited calling and unlimited text messaging. That's not a big gamble, because not many people have the time to talk phone for eight hours a day or spend every waking minute sending text messages. But smart phones can draw a lot of data, depending one where and how they're used. With the new plans, de la Vega hopes to see high-consumption applications like Internet video being steered toward hot spots, where they don't clog up AT&T's cellular network.

Consumers have rebelled against the idea of data usage caps on home broadband, at least when the limits are set low enough to make online video consumption expensive. Time Warner Cable Inc. was forced to back away from trials of data caps last year after consumer protests and threats of legislative action.

In the wireless world, where data capacity is more constrained, usage caps are more common. Most wireless carriers, for instance, limit data cards for laptops to 5 gigabytes per month.

But with intense competition for smart phone users, phone companies have been reluctant to impose similar limits on those devices, although Sprint Nextel Corp. reserves the right to slow down or disconnect users who exceed 5 gigabytes per month. It remains to be seen whether AT&T's rivals will join it in imposing caps or use their own "unlimited" plans as a marketing advantage.



Instant messaging: This conversation is terminated
Page last updated at 12:32 GMT, Monday, 24 May 2010 13:32 UK

Yahoo
By Jon Kelly, BBC News Magazine

Instant messaging was once tipped to replace e-mail, but recent figures suggest that it has lost ground sharply. Why?

OMG. Instant messaging (IM), once the mainstay of teenage gossips, techie know-it-alls and office time-wasters everywhere, looks as though it is in trouble.

Just a few years ago, it was meant to be the future.

More immediate than e-mail, less fiddly than texting, sending an IM was widely expected by many technology pundits to become our preferred mode of online communication, whether socially or in the office - or socially in the office, for that matter.

WHAT IS INSTANT MESSAGING?
Lets users send notes back and forth in real time while online
Displays which friends and contacts are online
Most popular providers include AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), Yahoo! Messenger, Google Talk, Windows Live Messenger (formerly MSN Messenger)

But how times change.

In 2007, 14% of Britons' online time was spent on IM, according to the UK Online Measurement company - but that has fallen to just 5%, the firm says, basing its findings on the habits of a panel of 40,000 computer users.

The study was released shortly after AOL sold its ICQ instant messaging service $187.5m (£124m) - less than half what the company paid for it in 1998.

And in September 2009, a survey of internet use by the New York-based Online Publishers Association found that the amount of time spent by surfers on traditional communications tools, including IM and e-mail, had declined by 8% since 2003.

It is a far cry from the early days of the decade when this very website anticipated that IM would overtake e-mail by 2004 [see internet links].

Cast your mind back to the early noughties - a time when dial-up was still widespread and the Apple G3s looked futuristic - and it becomes easier to recall why IM looked like it was about to conquer the world.

It was, after all, instant. It let users see if their friends and contacts were online and, if so, communicate with them in real time.

Tech-savvy office staff could chase up a query and expect an answer straight away, without having to pick up the phone. Teenagers in their bedrooms could exchange schoolyard tittle-tattle without the encumbrance of having to press "refresh" on the browser screen to their web-based e-mail account.

It also offered workers a handy means of circumventing their employers' e-mail usage policies.

Chat's all folks

Chris Green, a technology journalist turned industry analyst, recalls the heady days of IM's ascendency.

"That was the way it was going," he remembers. "E-mail had peaked. And IM offered additional value over e-mail."

There were niggles, however. Initially, IM systems were "proprietary" and non-compatible, so those using Microsoft's MSN Messenger were unable to reach friends on Aim, ICQ, or Yahoo! Messenger.

The firms would subsequently allow cross-pollination of their systems, but, says Mr Green, the delay in "finding something that was ubiquitous across all platforms" - in the same way that sending an e-mail from a Yahoo! to a Hotmail account was seamless - cost the format dearly.

Google Talk
Google Talk was supposed to revive IM. It didn't

Into the vacuum stepped social networking sites.

Paul Armstrong, director of social media with the PR agency Kindred, believes that the rise of the likes of Facebook and Twitter - which allow users to do much more than just send messages - simply had more to offer.

"With instant messaging you have to stay at your computer," he says. "With social networking, you can use your phone's web browser or SMS.

"Rather than shifting away from instant messaging, people are using the functions of instant messaging on different platforms."

Even though Facebook's own instant messaging system - not covered in the UK Online Measurement habits - was widely-regarded as inferior to those provided by the established IM networks, users were tied into a one-stop shop for sharing thoughts, photos, and being re-introduced to long-forgotten former colleagues and classmates.

Return to sender

The effect on IM, says Chris Green, has been catastrophic.

Windows Live Messenger - formerly MSN Messenger - was no longer "bundled" with Vista and Windows 7, becoming instead an optional extra, he says. Google may be bullish about Google Talk, the search engine's attempt to blend IM with e-mail, insisting that millions of its users "love the convenience and simplicity" of the service.

But Mr Green says its modest success represents a "flop" when put alongside the company's dominance elsewhere on the web.

LJ Rich
We've gone from instant messaging to something that's more like conference calls
LJ Rich
Technology journalist

"People have moved on," he says. "The novelty value has worn off. If you look at teenagers today, they are using Twitter on their mobiles."

But has IM died out altogether? The figures would suggest that although its market share has fallen, its raw numbers have not.

California-based IT research firm The Radicati Group estimates that there are 2.4 billion IM accounts worldwide, rising to 3.5 billion by 2014.

Plenty of browers, it seems, still value the speed and simplicity of IM.

Technology journalist and BBC Click presenter LJ Rich notes that, in many countries where internet use is censored, BlackBerry Messenger is used to bypass state-sponsored snoops.

And she believes that the principles of IM survive - it is just that sites such as Facebook and Twitter let us talk to a wider audience via a wider range of platforms, including mobiles.

"With social networks, we've gone from instant messaging to something that's more like conference calls," she says.

Maybe IM will have the last laugh after all. Or, rather, the last LOL.



White House sees no cyber attack on Wall Street
YAHOO
By DANIEL WAGNER, AP Business Writer
Sun May 9, 12:45 pm ET

WASHINGTON – The White House's homeland security and counterterrorism adviser says there is no evidence that a cyber attack was behind the chaos that shook Wall Street last Thursday...full story here.



Apple's Jobs unveils 'intimate' $499 iPad tablet
YAHOO
By JESSICA MINTZ and RACHEL METZ, AP Technology Writers
January 27, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO – Apple Inc. will sell the newly unveiled tablet-style iPad starting at $499, a price tag far below the $1,000 that some analysts were expecting.

The iPad, which is larger in size but similar in design to Apple's popular iPhone, was billed by CEO Steve Jobs on Wednesday as "so much more intimate than a laptop and so much more capable than a smart phone."

Jobs, 54, a pancreatic cancer survivor who got a liver transplant during a 5 1/2-month medical leave last year, looked thin as he introduced the highly anticipated gadget, though he seemed to have more energy than he did at Apple's last event in September.

The iPad has a 9.7-inch touch screen, is a half-inch thick, weighs 1.5 pounds and comes with 16, 32 or 64 gigabytes of flash memory storage. It comes with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity built in. Jobs said the device has a battery that lasts 10 hours and can sit for a month on standby without needing a charge.

The basic iPad models will cost $499, $599 and $699, depending on the storage size, when it comes out worldwide in March.

Apple will also sell a version with data plans from AT&T Inc. in the U.S.: $14.99 per month for 250 megabytes of data, or $29.99 for unlimited usage. Neither will require a long-term service contract.

Those 3G iPad models will cost more — $629, $729 and $829, depending on the amount of memory — and will be out in April. International cellular data details have not yet been announced.

Apple had kept its "latest creation" tightly under wraps until Wednesday's unveiling, though many analysts had correctly speculated that it would be a one-piece tablet computer with a big touch screen, larger than an iPhone but smaller than a laptop.

Raven Zachary, a contributing analyst with mobile researchers The 451 Group, considered the iPad a laptop replacement, especially because Apple is also selling a dock with a built-in keyboard.

But Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey said he doesn't believe the iPad added enough for consumers to justify buying yet another gadget, or to call this a new category of devices. In an e-mail, he criticized its lack of social features such as ways to share photos and home video and recommend books.

Sitting on stage in a cozy leather chair, Jobs demonstrated how the iPad is used for surfing the Web with Apple's Safari browser. The CEO typed an e-mail using an on-screen keyboard and flipped through photo albums by flicking his finger across the screen. He also showed off a new electronic book store and a book-reading interface that emulates the look of a paper book, putting the iPad in competition with Amazon.com Inc.'s Kindle and other e-book readers.

Like iPods and the iPhone, the iPad can sync with Apple's Macintosh and Microsoft's Windows computers. Jobs said the iPad will also be better for playing games and watching video than either a laptop or a smart phone. Software coming with the iPad includes a calendar, maps, a video player and iPod software for playing music. All seem to have been slightly redesigned to take advantage of the iPad's bigger screen.

Tablet computers have existed for a decade, with little success. Jobs acknowledged Apple will have to work to convince consumers who already have smart phones and laptops that they need this gadget.

"In order to really create a new category of devices, those devices are going to have to be far better at doing some key tasks," Jobs said. "We think we've got the goods. We think we've done it."

Applications designed for the iPhone can run on the iPad. Apple is also releasing updated tools for software developers to help them build iPhone and iPad programs.

"We think it's going to be a whole 'nother gold rush for developers as they build applications for the iPad," said Scott Forstall, an iPhone software executive.

A new newspaper reader program from The New York Times and a game from Electronic Arts Inc. were also demonstrated during the event. The audience, which included many journalists and bloggers, clapped and even gave Jobs a standing ovation.

Shares in Apple rose $2.04, or 1 percent, to close Wednesday at $207.98. The Cupertino, Calif.-based company's shares have more than doubled over the past year, partly on anticipation of the tablet computer. Shares in Amazon rose $3.27, or 2.7 percent, to $122.75.



Pew study hints at what Web users will pay for
YAHOO
Thu Dec 30, 12:13 am ET

NEW YORK – The Web may seem like the land of something for nothing. Free video. Free news. Even free tools such as word processing and spreadsheets.

But almost two-thirds of adult Internet users in the U.S. have paid for access to at least one of these intangible items online, according to a new survey from the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Whether people will pay for different types of material on the Web is among the most pressing questions facing media companies in the 21st century.

As people shift their attention to the Internet from more traditional ways of enjoying media, the companies that provide everything from movies to mystery novels want to make sure they can still get paid for what they do. The big TV networks want viewers to pay for full access to episodes of their favorite shows. Newspaper companies want readers to pay for news. Book publishers want higher prices for digital editions of new releases.

The new figures from Pew suggest paying for content online is at least not a completely foreign idea for most people.

About a third of respondents said they have paid for digital music. Same for software.

Behind that came mobile apps for cell phones or tablet computers at 21 percent. Then digital games at 19 percent and newspaper, magazine or journal articles at 18 percent.

The survey found that among people who paid for content, the typical user spent about $10 a month. However, there are some extremely high-end users, such that the average among those who have paid for content is about $47 a month. That includes subscriptions and individual files downloaded or accessed.

The survey of 755 Internet users in the U.S. was conducted Oct. 28-Nov. 1 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.


The Times to Charge for Frequent Access to Its Web Site
NYTIMES
By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA
January 21, 2010

The New York Times announced Wednesday that it intended to charge frequent readers for access to its Web site, a step being debated across the industry that nearly every major newspaper has so far feared to take.

Starting in early 2011, visitors to NYTimes.com will get a certain number of articles free every month before being asked to pay a flat fee for unlimited access. Subscribers to the newspaper’s print edition will receive full access to the site.

But executives of The New York Times Company said they could not yet answer fundamental questions about the plan, like how much it would cost or what the limit would be on free reading. They stressed that the amount of free access could change with time, in response to economic conditions and reader demand.

“This announcement allows us to begin the thought process that’s going to answer so many of the questions that we all care about,” Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the company chairman and publisher of the newspaper, said in an interview. “We can’t get this halfway right or three-quarters of the way right. We have to get this really, really right.”

Any changes are sure to be closely watched by publishers and other purveyors of online content who scoffed at the notion of online charging until advertising began to plummet in 2007, battering visions of Internet businesses supported solely by ads. Few general-interest publications charge now, but many newspapers and magazines are studying whether to make the switch.

Still, publishers fear that income from digital subscriptions would not compensate for the resulting loss of audience and advertising revenue.

NYTimes.com is by far the most popular newspaper site in the country, with more than 17 million readers a month in the United States, according to Nielsen Online, and analysts say it is easily the leader in advertising revenue, as well. That may make it better positioned than other general-interest papers to charge — and also gives The Times more to lose if the move backfires.

The Times Company has been studying the matter for almost a year, searching for common ground between pro- and anti-pay camps — a debate mirrored in dozens of media-watching blogs — and the system will not go into effect until January 2011. Executives said they were not bothered by the prospect of absorbing barbs for moving cautiously.

“There’s no prize for getting it quick,” said Janet L. Robinson, the company’s president and chief executive. “There’s more of a prize for getting it right.”

This would not be the first time the company has attempted an online pay model. In the 1990s it charged overseas readers, and from 2005 to 2007 the newspaper’s TimesSelect service charged for access to editorials and columns. TimesSelect attracted about 210,000 subscribers who paid $49.95 a year but it was scrapped to take advantage of the boom in online advertising.

Company executives said the current decision was not a reaction to the ad recession but a long-term strategy to develop new revenue.

“This is a bet, to a certain degree, on where we think the Web is going,” Mr. Sulzberger said. “This is not going to be something that is going to change the financial dynamics overnight.”

Two specialized papers charge already: The Wall Street Journal, which makes certain articles accessible only to subscribers, and The Financial Times, which allows non-paying readers to see up to 10 articles a month, a system close to what is planned by The Times.

Most readers who go to the Times site, as with other news sites, are incidental visitors, arriving no more than once in a while through searches and links, and many of them would be unaffected by the new system. A much smaller number of committed readers account for the bulk of the site visits and page views, and the essential question is how many of them will pay to continue that habit.

Executives said the computerized subscription service must work smoothly and communicate seamlessly with the computer systems that handle the database of print subscribers. The Times will not use one of the pay systems being marketed by other companies, like Journalism Online, led by Steven Brill, or the News Corporation, instead choosing to create the system essentially from scratch.

“There’s a lot of technical work that we need to do over the next year to get this right,” said Martin A. Nisenholtz, the company’s senior vice president for digital operations. “And I think if you were to benchmark this against other, similar implementations, you would find that a year is not excessive.”

Bill Keller, the executive editor, embraced the plan.

“It underscores the value of what we do — trustworthy, aggressively reported professional journalism, which is an increasingly rare and precious thing,” Mr. Keller said. “And it gives us a second way to sustain that hard, expensive work, in addition to our healthy advertising revenue.

Company executives would not release estimates of how many subscribers and how much revenue an online system would attract, how many visitors the site might lose because of it, or how much ad revenue would decline.

The Times Company looked at several approaches, including a straightforward pay wall similar to The Journal’s; various “metered” systems, including the one they chose; a “membership” format similar to the one used in public broadcasting, with rewards for supporters but little or no limit on access to the site; and a hybrid among those options.

The approach the company took is “the one that after much research and study we determined has the most upside in both” subscriptions and advertising, Mr. Nisenholtz said. “We’re trying to maximize revenue. We’re not saying we want to put this revenue stream above that revenue stream. The goal is to maximize both revenue streams in combination.”




Who has to hack anymore - just go on FACEBOOK

Companies Fight Endless War Against Computer Attacks

NYTIMES
By STEVE LOHR
January 18, 2010

The recent computer attacks on the mighty Google left every corporate network in the world looking a little less safe.

Google’s confrontation with China — over government censorship in general and specific attacks on its systems — is an exceptional case, of course, extending to human rights and international politics as well as high-tech spying. But the intrusion into Google’s computers and related attacks from within China on some 30 other companies point to the rising sophistication of such assaults and the vulnerability of even the best defenses, security experts say.

“The Google case shines a bright light on what can be done in terms of spying and getting into corporate networks,” said Edward M. Stroz, a former high-tech crime agent with the F.B.I. who now heads a computer security investigation firm in New York.

Computer security is an ever-escalating competition between so-called black-hat attackers and white-hat defenders. One of the attackers’ main tools is malicious software, known as malware, which has steadily evolved in recent years. Malware was once mainly viruses and worms, digital pests that gummed up and sometimes damaged personal computers and networks.

Malware today, however, is likely to be more subtle and selective, nesting inside corporate networks. And it can be a tool for industrial espionage, transmitting digital copies of trade secrets, customer lists, future plans and contracts.

Corporations and government agencies spend billions of dollars a year on specialized security software to detect and combat malware. Still, the black hats seem to be gaining the upper hand.

In a survey of 443 companies and government agencies published last month, the Computer Security Institute found that 64 percent reported malware infections, up from 50 percent the previous year. The financial loss from security breaches was $234,000 on average for each organization.

“Malware is a huge problem, and becoming a bigger one,” said Robert Richardson, director of the institute, a research and training organization. “And now the game is much more about getting a foothold in the network, for spying.”

Security experts say employee awareness and training are a crucial defense. Often, malware infections are a result of high-tech twists on old-fashioned cons. One scam, for example, involves small U.S.B. flash drives, left in a company parking lot, adorned with the company logo. Curious employees pick them up, put them in their computers and open what looks like an innocuous document. In fact, once run, it is software that collects passwords and other confidential information on a user’s computer and sends it to the attackers. More advanced malware can allow an outsider to completely take over the PC and, from there, explore a company’s network.

With this approach, the hackers do not need to break through a company’s network defenses because a worker has unknowingly invited them inside.

Another approach, one used in the Google attacks, is a variation on so-called phishing schemes, in which an e-mail message purporting to be from the recipient’s bank or another institution tricks the person into giving up passwords. Scammers send such messages to thousands of people in hopes of ensnaring a few. But with so-called spear-phishing, the bogus e-mail is sent to a specific person and appears to come from a friend or colleague inside that person’s company, making it far more believable. Again, an attached file, once opened, unleashes the spy software.

Other techniques for going inside companies involve exploiting weaknesses in Web-site or network-routing software, using those openings as gateways for malware.

To combat leaks of confidential information, network security software looks for anomalies in network traffic — large files and rapid rates of data transmission, especially coming from corporate locations where confidential information is housed.

“Fighting computer crime is a balance of technology and behavioral science, understanding the human dimension of the threat,” said Mr. Stroz, the former F.B.I. agent and security investigator. “There is no law in the books that will ever throw a computer in prison.”

As cellphones become more powerful, they offer new terrain for malware to exploit in new ways. Recently, security experts have started seeing malware that surreptitiously switches on a cellphone’s microphone and camera. “It turns a smartphone into a surveillance device,” said Mark D. Rasch, a computer security consultant in Bethesda, Md., who formerly prosecuted computer crime for the Justice Department.

Hacked cellphones, Mr. Rasch said, can also provide vital corporate intelligence because they can disclose their location. The whereabouts of a cellphone belonging to an investment banker who is representing a company in merger talks, he said, could provide telling clues to rival bidders, for example.

Security experts say the ideal approach is to carefully identify a corporation’s most valuable intellectual property and data, and place it on a separate computer network not linked to the Internet, leaving a so-called air gap.

“Sometimes the cheapest and best security solution is to lock the door and don’t connect,” said James P. Litchko, a former government security official who is a manager at Cyber Security Professionals, a consulting firm.

Some companies go further, building “Faraday cages” to house their most critical computers and data. These cages typically have a metal grid structure built into the walls, so no electromagnetic or cellphone transmissions can come in or out. Defense contractors, aerospace companies and some automakers have built Faraday cages, named for the 19th-century English scientist Michael Faraday, who designed them to shield electrical devices from lightning and other shocks.

But in the Internet era, isolationism is often an impractical approach for many companies. Sharing information and knowledge with industry partners and customers is seen as the path to greater flexibility and efficiency. Work is routinely done by far-flung project teams. Mobile professionals want vital company data to be accessible wherever they are.

Most of that collaboration and communication is done over the Internet, increasing the risk of outside attacks. And the ubiquity of Internet access inside companies has its own risks. In a case of alleged industrial theft that became public recently, a software engineer at Goldman Sachs was accused last year of stealing proprietary software used in high-speed trading, just before he left for another firm. The engineer, who pleaded not guilty, had uploaded the software to a server computer in Germany, prosecutors say.

The complexity of software code from different suppliers, as it intermingles in corporate networks and across the Internet, also opens the door to security weaknesses that malware writers exploit. One quip among computer security experts is: “The sum of the parts is a hole.”

But, security experts say, the problem goes well beyond different kinds of software not playing well together. The software products themselves, they say, are riddled with vulnerabilities — thousands of such flaws are detected each year across the industry. Several weaknesses, it seems, including one in the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser, were exploited in the recent attacks on Google that were aimed at Chinese dissidents.

The long-term answer, some experts assert, lies in setting the software business on a path to becoming a mature industry, with standards, defined responsibilities and liability for security gaps, guided by forceful self-regulation or by the government.

Just as the government eventually stepped in to mandate seat belts in cars and safety standards for aircraft, says James A. Lewis, a computer security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the time has come for software.

Mr. Lewis, who advised the Obama administration about online security last spring, recalled that he served on a White House advisory group on secure public networks in 1996. At the time, he recommended a hands-off approach, assuming that market incentives for the participants would deliver Internet security.

Today, Mr. Lewis says he was mistaken. “It’s a classic market failure — the market hasn’t delivered security,” he said. “Our economy has become so dependent on this fabulous technology — the Internet — but it’s not safe. And that’s an issue we’ll have to wrestle with.”



B'way broadband brawl center stage
New York Post
By BILL SANDERSON
Last Updated: 10:59 AM, January 16, 2010
Posted: 2:44 AM, January 16, 2010

There's new drama on Broadway over the federal government's decision to reallocate radio frequencies used by stage crews and performers.

Verizon and AT&T are taking over radio frequencies allotted to wireless microphones used in theaters, churches, sports arenas and stadiums, among other places.

On Broadway, the wireless systems are used by stage crews to communicate scenery moves and by performers to amplify voices.

Theaters have until June 12 to switch to new frequencies. On some big shows, the changeover could end up costing $100,000, the Broadway League says.

Long-running shows like "Wicked" will have the hardest time, since their producers bought equipment before the FCC contemplated changing the airwave rules.

Broadway producers were unhappy with the change, but say that in return for giving up their frequencies the FCC may impose new protections on their new systems.

Verizon and AT&T won a government auction in 2008 to use the theaters' frequencies for high-speed Internet services.

Also yesterday, Verizon and AT&T announced they'll cut prices for voice cellphone services.

Verizon moved first, slashing the cost of an unlimited voice plan by $30, to $69.99 before taxes. AT&T quickly matched it.




Pa. district took 56,000 images on student laptops
YAHOO
By MARYCLAIRE DALE, Associated Press Writer
20 April 2010


PHILADELPHIA – A suburban school district secretly captured at least 56,000 webcam photographs and screen shots from laptops issued to high school students, its lawyer acknowledged Monday.

"It's clear there were students who were likely captured in their homes," said lawyer Henry Hockeimer, who represents the Lower Merion School District.

None of the images, captured by a tracking program to find missing computers, appeared to be salacious or inappropriate, he said. The district said it remotely activated the tracking software to find 80 missing laptops in the past two years.  The Philadelphia Inquirer first reported Monday on the large number of images recovered from school servers by forensic computer experts, who were hired after student Blake Robbins filed suit over the tracking practice.

Robbins still doesn't know why the district deployed the software tracking program on his computer, as he had not reported it lost or stolen, his lawyer said.  The FBI has opened a criminal investigation into possible wiretap violations by the district, and U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, of Pennsylvania, has introduced a bill to include webcam surveillance under the federal wiretap statute.

The district photographed Robbins 400 times during a 15-day period last fall, sometimes as he slept in bed or was half-dressed, according to his lawyer, Mark Haltzman. Other times, the district captured screen shots of instant messages or video chats the Harriton High School sophomore had with friends, he said.

"Not only was Blake Robbins being spied upon, but every one of the people he was IM chatting with were spied upon," said Haltzman, whose lawsuit alleges wiretap and privacy violations. "They captured pictures of people that have nothing to do with Harriton. It could be his cousin from Connecticut."

About 38,000 of the images were taken over several months from six computers the school said were stolen from a locker room.  The tracking program took images every 15 minutes, usually capturing the webcam photo of the user and a screen shot at the same time. The program was sometimes turned on for weeks or months at a time, Hockeimer said.

"There were no written policies or procedures governing the circumstances surrounding activating the program and the circumstances regarding turning off the activations," Hockeimer said.

Robbins was one of about 20 students who had not paid the $55 insurance fee required to take the laptops home but was the only one tracked, Haltzman said.  The depositions taken to date have provided contradictory testimony about the reasons for tracking Robbins' laptop. One of the two people authorized to activate the program, technology coordinator Carol Cafiero, invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions at the deposition, Haltzman said.

About 10 school officials had the right to request an activation, Hockeimer disclosed Monday.

The tracking program helped police identify a suspect not affiliated with the school in the locker room theft, Hockeimer said. The affluent Montgomery County district distributes the Macintosh notebook computers to all 2,300 students at its two high schools, Hockeimer said.  As part of the lawsuit, a federal judge this week is set to begin a confidential process of showing parents the images that were captured of their children.

The school district expects to release a written report on an internal investigation in the next few weeks, Hockeimer said. School board President David Ebby has pledged the report will contain "all the facts — good and bad."



Specter pushes in Pa. for electronic privacy laws
YAHOO
By MARYCLAIRE DALE, Associated Press Writer
29 March 2010

PHILADELPHIA – Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania is pushing for new federal laws on electronic privacy as a school district back home struggles with a lawsuit over attempts to locate missing laptops by turning on webcams — something that could have enabled it to film students at home.

Specter, a Democrat, said at a field hearing of a Senate subcommittee that he believes existing wiretap and video-voyeurism statutes do not adequately address concerns in an era marked by the widespread use of cell-phone, laptop and surveillance cameras.

"My family and I recognize that in today's society, almost every place we go outside of our home we are photographed and recorded by traffic cameras, ATM cameras, and store surveillance cameras," Blake Robbins, the Harriton High School student who sued, wrote in a statement read into the record at the hearing of the crime and justice subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"This makes it all the more important that we vigilantly safeguard our homes, the only refuge we have from this eyes everywhere onslaught," he wrote.

Robbins accuses the Lower Merion School District of spying by secretly activating webcams on the school-issued laptops; officials admit they did so but said they were trying only to locate 42 lost or stolen computers.

Neither Robbins nor his parents attended the session, which did not specifically focus on the Lower Merion case — the subject of ongoing county and FBI investigations. Instead, five experts debated how best to strike a balance between privacy and security concerns.

Lawyer Kevin Bankston of the Electronic Frontier Foundation argued that wiretap laws, which now cover audio recordings, should be broadened to include videotaped surveillance. But others disagreed, arguing that wiretap charges should not apply, lest they entangle innocent people using software tracking programs to try to find their own stolen phones or laptops.

"If it does fall under (the Wiretap Act) in the new legislation, we hope there will be an exception for stolen devices," said John Livingston, chairman of Absolute Software Corp., the Vancouver, British Columbia-based company that acquired the LANrev TheftTrack software program deployed by Lower Merion.

The panel debated whether any new law should focus on the intent of the person using the camera; whether the subject's location affords them an expectation of privacy, such as a home or locker room; or the full context of the situation.

Only one person from the Lower Merion district testified, a parent opposed to the Robbins family's lawsuit who urged a middle ground between security and privacy concerns.

Bob Wegbreit said a warning might suffice to let families know the district might activate webcams without a student's knowledge. Students could then choose to keep the computers in other parts of the house, instead of their bedrooms, said Wegbreit, whose group fears the lawsuit will damage the upscale district's finances and reputation.

Federal legislation might help clarify what school districts, employers or others can and cannot do, he said.

"There's no question that I believe the federal government should be legislating in this area," said Fred H. Cate, an Indiana University law school professor who specializes in cybersecurity issues. "We've seen a proliferation of video cameras in every aspect of our lives."

Specter, the only senator in attendance Monday, agreed to lead the effort, noting that at least one federal judge voiced concerns a quarter century ago that privacy laws were not keeping up with emerging technology.

"My sense is my colleagues will be responsive," Specter said. "If there is a gap, it ought to be closed ... after 25 years."



Pa. school district is asked not to wipe computers
YAHOO
By MARYCLAIRE DALE, Associated Press Writer
Feb. 22, 2010

PHILADELPHIA – A student who accuses his suburban Philadelphia school district in a lawsuit of spying on students via their school-issued webcams will ask district officials not to remove any potential evidence from student computers, his lawyer said Monday.

Lawyers for the Lower Merion School District are due in federal court on the issue Monday afternoon, on an emergency petition from student Blake Robbins of Penn Valley.

Lower Merion officials confirmed last week they had activated the webcams to try to find 42 missing laptops, without the knowledge or permission of students and their families. Both the FBI and local authorities are investigating whether the district broke any wiretap, computer-use or other laws.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a brief in support of the student Monday, arguing that the photo amounts to an illegal search.

"That school officials' warrantless, non-consensual use of a camera, embedded in students' laptops, inside the home is a search cannot be doubted," the ACLU wrote in a brief filed Monday morning.

Students at the district's two high schools have taken to taping over the webcam and microphone, even as school officials insist they have stopped the practice.

Robbins sued last week, alleging that Harriton High School officials took a photo of him inside his home. He learned of it when an assistant principal said she knew he was engaging in improper behavior at home, according to his potentially class-action lawsuit. Robbins and his family have told reporters that an official mistook a piece of candy for a pill and thought he was selling drugs.

In the wake of the outcry over the alleged spying, school district officials have said they have abandoned the practice of remotely activating the webcams. Still, the Robbinses' lawyer does not want the district to remove any information or programs from the 2,300 laptops issued to students at its two high schools.

"Defendants intend to reclaim each laptop from the possession of members of the class for the purpose of wiping clean the hard drive or otherwise engaging in the spoliation of evidence," family lawyer Mark S. Haltzman wrote in the emergency petition.

Lawyer Henry E. Hockeimer Jr., who represents the district, urged families and community members not to jump to conclusions.

"These are important issues, and we view them seriously," Hockeimer, a former federal prosecutor, said in a statement.

While courts have held that students can be searched at school given "reasonable suspicion" of a crime — a more relaxed standard than "probable cause," designed to ensure school safety — the lower standard does not apply in the home, the ACLU argued in its brief.

The district recovered 18 of the 42 laptops that disappeared in the past 14 months, district spokesman Doug Young said Monday. He did not immediately know whether any were found — after the webcam pictures were taken — in student homes.

Young has declined to discuss whether Blake Robbins' laptop was reported missing, because of the litigation, but said the district did not violate its policy to activate webcams only for that purpose.

Robbins insists in court filings that it was never reported missing.

The district has no plans to take back the student laptops, Young said.

"To the extent any mistakes were made, we will make recommendations for any needed changes in policies and procedures," Hockeimer said.




Nationwide: Computers Increase Students' Temptation To Cheat

Hartford Courant
By JESSE LEAVENWORTH
October 30, 2009

The link between teenagers' computer abilities and an increase in academic cheating is evident across the nation.

From Manchester to Newport Beach, Calif., high school students have been accused of tapping into school computer systems to change grades, erase absences and lift exams before they're given.

Two Manchester High School students — both boys, ages 15 and 17 — are suspected of altering online grade books and attendance records, officials said this week. No charges have been filed, but police are investigating.

Asked Thursday if the boys had confessed, police spokesman Lt. Chris Davis would say only that they "have been cooperative."

There's nothing new about cheating, said Lt. James Wardwell, a computer forensics expert with the New Britain Police Department, "and the computer is just another tool to help someone accomplish a bad deed."

What is new is that cheating in America's high schools has become "rampant, and it's getting worse," according to a 2008 nationwide survey by the Josephson Institute, the California-based nonprofit organization that runs the Character Counts! youth ethics program in schools in Connecticut and throughout the country.

The survey of 30,000 high school students found that 64 percent said they had cheated on a test during the past year, up from 60 percent in 2006. The survey did not address school computer hacking, but 36 percent of respondents said they had used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment, an increase from 33 percent in 2006.

Some students have been lured into cyber-cheating by the apparent cloak that computers and personal communication devices provide, Michael Josephson, president of the ethics institute, said. Armed with stolen information, kids can enter school record systems from their bedrooms, or they can photograph copies of tests with their cellphones and send them to others who have to take the same test.

"Technology has made it easier to cheat" and is driving the upward trend in cheating, Josephson said.

But most of the increase, he said, is due to a passive indifference and cynicism among both schools staff and parents.

"It's a mistake to focus on the tools," Josephson said. "If they had the moral fiber, they wouldn't do it no matter how easy it was."

Newspaper reports from throughout the country show that the methods students use to crack school computer programs range from simply watching a school staff member entering a password — the method used in Manchester, according to police — to sneaking spyware onto school computers. "Key-logger" programs, for instance, record all strokes on a computer keyboard and send a record to another computer.

In some cases, cyber-cheating students have lifted user names and passwords from hard copy lists left in school offices. Some school staff members use their own names, or slightly altered variations, as passwords, enabling a student to enter a grading or attendance site after a few guesses.

That was the case in Naples, Fla., recently, where police say a 16-year-old boy slipped into school district computers by guessing an employee's password. The boy was then able to change the grades of five or six students, according to Florida news reports.

Students often share stolen passwords with friends, expanding illicit record changes and the resultant costs to taxpayers in lost staff time and security upgrades. In Sugar Land, Texas, last year, four high school students were suspected of changing the grades of at least 60 students, according to the Houston Chronicle. Investigators estimated the cost to the school district at about $190,000.

Manchester school officials have been close-mouthed about the alleged cheating at the high school and have not commented about the students' possible punishment. Davis said police must analyze the three computers they seized from the boys before any charges are filed.

Just as a burglar leaves tracks in the mud, computer crime leaves trails, Wardwell said. In most cases of school cyber-cheating, police have seized computers to track that digital path.

Sometimes, however, evidence literally pops up.

In Eau Claire, Wis., last year, a high school student altered grade and attendance records for himself and two friends, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. School officials were tipped to the activity when a box twice appeared on a teacher's computer screen indicating that she was logging out while she was entering grades. The teacher also noticed in her log-in history that she had logged in at times when she wasn't using her computer, according to the newspaper report.

Alert teachers and school staff also have noticed discrepancies between online and hard copy records, and sometimes their memories of students' grades and absences didn't match the online record.

Classmates also reveal the schemes. Manchester police said another student told officials about the alleged record changes.

Of course, there's always simple deduction.

A Kentucky high school student's scheme unraveled in 2007 when school officials found tests and quizzes from seven teachers had been copied from the school system. Those seven teachers had only one student in common, according to The Courier-Journal newspaper in Louisville.

Copyright © 2009, The Hartford Courant





FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski - to be gone in 2013

F.C.C. Moves to Ease Wireless Congestion
By EDWARD WYATT, NYTIMES
February 20, 2013

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday took a step to relieve growing congestion on Wi-Fi networks in hotels, airports and homes, where Americans increasingly use multiple data-hungry tablets, smartphones and other devices for wireless communications.

The commission proposed making a large chunk of high-frequency airwaves, or spectrum, available for use by unlicensed devices, including Wi-Fi routers like those that many Americans use in their homes.

The agency’s five commissioners also expressed hopes that the new airwaves would unleash new innovations, just as unlicensed spectrum in the past has made possible such devices as cordless phones, garage door openers and television remote controls.

After a public comment period, the commissioners will try to issue final rules and regulations, a process that could take a year or more. But all of the commissioners expressed hope that the new airwaves could be put to use without unnecessary delay.

Possible roadblocks do exist, however, mainly because some of the airwaves proposed for the new applications are already in use by private organizations and government agencies, including the United States military.

Congress has mandated that the F.C.C. undertake the expansion of unlicensed spectrum, and the Obama administration has urged the freeing up or sharing of airwaves currently allocated to the federal government.

But various government agencies, including a division of the Department of Commerce, have warned against allowing consumer uses to interfere with current applications.  Lawrence E. Strickling, assistant commerce secretary for communications and information, said in a letter to the commission that the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security and NASA use parts of the same airwaves for communication between aircraft and ground stations. Those communications enable activities like drug interdiction, combat search and rescue, and border surveillance.

Julius Genachowski, the F.C.C. chairman, said he was confident that the commission’s engineers would be able to work with the affected government and private entities to solve interference problems.

“It’s very important for the country that we all lean into this in a problem-solving way,” Mr. Genachowski said. “This is not a new challenge for the commission to address.”

While “it will require significant consultation with stakeholders” to avoid problems, he added, “consultation can’t be an excuse for inaction or delay.”

The commission also voted unanimously to approve a new regulation allowing consumers and companies to use approved and licensed signal boosters to amplify signals between wireless devices, like cellphones, and the wireless networks on which they operate.

Those boosters, millions of which are currently used in ungoverned applications, help consumers and businesses to improve coverage where cell signals are weak. Boosters are also used by public safety departments to extend wireless access in tunnels, subways and garages.

The order, which takes effect March 1, creates two classes of signal boosters, for use by consumers and businesses, each with distinct requirements to minimize interference with wireless networks.


FCC opens up unused TV signals for broadband
YAHOO
By JOELLE TESSLER, AP Technology Writer
23 September 2010

WASHINGTON – The Federal Communications Commission is opening up unused airwaves between television stations for wireless broadband networks that will be more powerful and can travel farther than today's Wi-Fi hotspots.

The five-member FCC voted unanimously Thursday to allow the use of so-called "white spaces" between TV stations to deliver broadband connections that can function like Wi-Fi networks on steroids. The agency is calling the new technology "super Wi-Fi" and hopes to see devices with the new technology start to appear within a year.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said white spaces networks will serve as "a powerful platform for innovation," driving billions in industry investment.

Leading technology companies, including Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Dell Inc., are eager to develop the market. They say television white spaces are ideally suited for broadband because they are able to penetrate walls, have plenty of capacity and can travel several miles.

Just like the spectrum used by Wi-Fi, the white spaces will be available to all users for free, with no license required. The FCC hopes they will help ease strain on the nation's increasingly crowded airwaves as more consumers go online using laptops and data-hungry smart phones.

Although the FCC first voted to allow the use of white spaces for broadband nearly two years ago, the plan ran into serious opposition from television broadcasters worried about interference with their over-the-air signals. Wireless microphone manufacturers and users — including churches, theatres, karaoke bars and all types of performers — raised similar concerns.

Thursday's vote mandates the creation of a database with a map of TV channels across the country as well as big wireless microphone users, such as Broadway theaters and sports leagues. White spaces networks and devices would be required to determine their own location and then consult the database to find vacant frequencies to use. The FCC is also setting aside at least two channels for minor users of wireless microphones.

David Donovan, president of the Association for Maximum Service Television, said the group will work with the FCC to develop the technical protections to safeguard television signals.


FCC, public safety at odds over broadband plan
YAHOO
By JOELLE TESSLER, AP Technology Writer
25 July 2010

WASHINGTON – Two years ago, the Federal Communications Commission stumbled as it tried to create a nationwide wireless broadband network for police officers, firefighters and emergency medical workers, delaying the construction of what everyone agrees is an urgently needed system.

Now the agency is hoping to rework the plan, which relies on a prime slice of airwaves called the D Block. But many public safety officials say the commission is, once again, going about it the wrong way.

In 2008, the FCC attempted to auction off the block to the wireless industry, with a requirement that the winning bidder help build out a sturdy communications network that would be shared with first responders and give them priority in an emergency. But those conditions proved too onerous, and the auction failed to attract any serious bidders.

So this time around, the agency hopes to auction off the D Block to wireless carriers and use the proceeds — projected to be as much as $4 billion — to help pay for a public safety network on a separate slice of spectrum already set aside for first responder broadband use. In frequency terms, the existing public safety airwaves are right next door to the D Block and just as big. Both pieces of spectrum were freed up in last year's transition from analog to digital TV signals.

The existing public safety block, the FCC says, provides plenty of capacity for day-to-day operations — letting first responders access everything from surveillance video to fingerprint databases using laptops and handheld devices in the field. And in an emergency, the FCC proposal would give public safety users priority access to the D Block and other airwaves from the digital transition.

The FCC says its proposal would fulfill a Congressional requirement to auction off the D Block and ensure public safety benefits from the latest wireless technology.

"We have a brief technological window to get everybody on the same page from the beginning and build a 21st Century ... broadband system," says Rear Admiral James Barnett, head of the FCC's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau.

But the FCC proposal has run into fierce resistance from public safety leaders who warn that their current spectrum holdings are not big enough to meet their needs. They are wary of relying on commercial networks to fill the gap, particularly in emergencies, and are calling on the government to give the D Block to them so they can combine it with the adjacent airwaves and double the amount of spectrum dedicated to public safety broadband.

"If they auction this spectrum, we've lost it forever," says Rob Davis, head of the San Jose Police Department and president of the Major Cities Chiefs of Police Association. "We need to control this network ourselves."

Public safety officials have powerful allies in Congress, including Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. But House Commerce Committee leaders are drafting legislation based on the FCC plan.

The big wireless carriers have also joined the fray. T-Mobile USA and Sprint Nextel Corp., eager for more spectrum, support the FCC proposal. Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc., both flush with spectrum from 2008 auctions of other airwaves from the digital transition, want to see the D Block go to public safety. So does Motorola Inc., which dominates the market for first responder communications equipment and handsets.

The one thing everyone agrees on is the need to bring nation's public safety communications networks into the digital age.

The shortcomings of the existing networks became apparent after the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina, when police officers, fire fighters and other first responders could not talk to one another because they were using incompatible — and sometimes antiquated — systems. One recommendation of the 9/11 Commission was the construction of a nationwide "interoperable" wireless network that would let public safety workers across agencies and jurisdictions communicate with each other.

The FCC insists its proposal, part of its national broadband plan, would meet the needs of first responders. The spectrum already dedicated to public safety, Barnett says, can handle day-to-day operations since advanced 4G wireless technology can make far more efficient use of airwaves than public safety networks do today.

And in a big emergency, he warns, even the bigger block of spectrum envisioned by the public safety plan might not be enough. The FCC's proposal would give public safety first dibs on at least three times more spectrum in a crisis.

But Chuck Dowd, deputy chief in the communications division of the New York City Police Department, says commercial networks are just not reliable enough for first responders who deal with life-and-death matters. Richard Mirgon, president of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International, adds that in a mass emergency, commercial networks are often already overwhelmed — making it impossible for first responders to even connect to them.

With the dispute now heading to Congress, the focus is on funding.

Bruce Gottlieb, chief counsel to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, says the FCC plan would drive down the cost of a first responder network by allowing public safety to piggyback on the massive investments being made by commercial wireless carriers as they upgrade their technology.

The agency's plan puts the cost of building the public safety network at roughly $6.5 billion and the cost of operating and maintaining it at between $6 billion and $10 billion over 10 years — less than half the cost of a stand-alone network, the FCC says.

In the face of a ballooning federal deficit and state and local budget cuts, Barnett insists, the FCC plan offers the best way to come up with this funding.

But public safety officials are confident they can find the resources to pay for a broadband network even without D Block auction proceeds. If they get the D Block, they say, they would be able to lease excess airwaves to commercial carriers since they would not always need all of it.

What's more, another key recommendation in the FCC's national broadband plan is a proposal to free up a lot more spectrum for wireless broadband over the next 10 years. That, public safety officials say, will produce plenty of revenue to pay for a first responder network.


Gov't plans to double available wireless spectrum
YAHOO
28 June 2010


WASHINGTON – The Obama administration intends to nearly double the available amount of wireless communications spectrum over the next 10 years in an effort to keep up with the ever-growing demand for high-speed video and data transmission to cell phones, laptops and other mobile devices.

President Barack Obama on Monday committed the federal government to auctioning off 500 megahertz of federal and commercial spectrum. Revenue from the auctions would be spent on public safety, infrastructure investments and deficit reduction.

In a memo to heads of federal agencies and departments, Obama said he wanted to unleash the full potential of wireless broadband and spur innovation.

"This new era in global technology leadership will only happen if there is adequate spectrum available to support the forthcoming myriad of wireless devices, networks and applications that can drive the new economy," Obama wrote.

National Economic Council director Lawrence H. Summers was to explain the new policy in a speech Monday at the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank. In an excerpt released by the White House, Summers said the initiative could "help to create hundreds of thousands of jobs."

The administration said it hopes to encourage the spread of wireless broadband across the country, including rural areas. The auction is intended, in part, to counter fears of a potential "spectrum crunch" as smart phones and laptop computers become more popular and new wireless devices hit the market.



FCC asks: Do media ownership limits make sense?

YAHOO
By JOELLE TESSLER, AP Technology Writer
21 June 2010

WASHINGTON – Even the news industry's free fall probably will not be enough to wipe out complicated federal rules designed to restrain the power of media companies.  For decades, the Federal Communications Commission has imposed strict limits preventing any company from controlling too many media properties in the same market. These limits were established to ensure that communities have choices of newspapers and local TV and radio stations.

Congress requires the FCC to take a hard look at the rules every four years to determine whether they still serve the public interest. If they don't, the FCC has to rewrite them.  Now, as the FCC kicks off its latest review, it faces calls to pare the limits because traditional media companies are no longer the almighty players that they were when the ownership rules were first enacted.

Newspaper readers and advertisers have migrated to the Internet, where a lot of content is free and advertising costs less. As a result, newsrooms have shrunk and newspapers have sought bankruptcy protection or shut down. Television broadcasters are suffering too as cable, satellite TV and the Internet splinter audiences and siphon ad dollars — forcing stations to seek new revenue streams and even raising questions about the future of free, over-the-air TV.

Against this backdrop, media companies argue that the FCC's ownership limits no longer make sense and should be relaxed, or even scrapped, so that the companies can get bigger in order to better compete and survive.

"These rules need to fall away," says Jerry Fritz, general counsel for Allbritton Communications, an Arlington, Va., company that owns eight TV stations in seven markets, a cable station in Washington, D.C., and Politico, a successful online and print publication that covers politics. Allbritton is also launching a local news website to cover the Washington region. "The FCC rules make no sense anymore," Fritz says.

But the FCC is unlikely to toss out media ownership restrictions entirely. The agency is also under pressure from public interest groups that support strong limits. Andrew Schwartzman, head of the group Media Access Project, argues that such rules remain critical because democracy relies on a vibrant press with many voices.

These groups have a key ally in Michael Copps, one of the three Democrats on the five-member FCC. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has said little publicly about his views on the existing rules, and his staff has promised a fresh look at the entire media ownership framework. But Genachowski was an architect of the Obama campaign's technology platform, which included a pledge to encourage diversity in media ownership.

Complicating the situation: Even as the FCC launches the 2010 review, the agency still is tied up in a legal battle in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals over the media ownership reviews of Genachowski's Republican predecessors.

The case goes back to the 2002 review under then-FCC chairman Michael Powell. Powell tried to raise the caps on TV and radio station ownership and relax the so-called "cross-ownership" ban, a rule adopted in 1975 that prohibits common ownership of a broadcast station and a newspaper in the same market. (Holdings in some markets, such as Chicago, where Tribune Co. owns WGN radio and TV and the Chicago Tribune, were grandfathered in.)

But Powell's plan drew legal challenges from public interest groups that said he had gone too far and media companies that said he had not gone far enough. So the 3rd Circuit sent the matter back to FCC, telling it to rewrite the rules. And that led Powell's successor, Kevin Martin, to try to ease the cross-ownership ban in the 20 largest media markets. That drew more challenges from both sides.

After Genachowski came to the FCC last year, the agency urged the 3rd Circuit to hold off on considering the case because Martin's rules would soon be superseded by the 2010 review. For a time, the court complied and prevented those rules from going into effect. But in March, the court got tired of waiting for the agency to act and allowed Martin's rules to take force, which could pave the way for cross-ownership deals in the biggest markets. So now, the FCC must decide how to respond in court to the challenges to Martin's actions — even as it launches its own media ownership review.

On both fronts, public interest groups are pushing to roll back Martin's cross-ownership rules and leave the rest of the restrictions in place. Meanwhile, media companies are fighting to lift the cross-ownership ban entirely. They also want some relief from rules that prohibit one company from owning more than one TV station in smaller markets and more than two TV stations in larger markets, including only one of the top four.

Such rules, opponents say, reflect a time when the news business was dominated by just three TV networks and local newspapers — before cable, satellite and the Internet transformed the media, providing outlets for all sorts of viewpoints and voices. Indeed, some of the current ownership rules date in some form to as early as the 1940s. So why, critics ask, should the FCC continue to measure competition by counting broadcast stations and newspapers in individual markets?

"I don't think the average consumer sees the market the way we regulate it," Powell says. "This isn't the way Americans consume media."

Critics also say the rules do more harm than good by artificially inflating the number of media outlets fighting for a limited pool of readers, viewers and advertisers in individual markets. Allowing consolidation, says Harold Furchtgott-Roth, a former Republican FCC commissioner, would let media companies build larger audiences to attract advertisers and spread hefty newsgathering costs by repurposing content across more platforms.

"If we want robust local news, we need to give media companies the opportunity to achieve scale, since producing local news is not cheap," says Rebecca Duke, vice president of distribution for LIN Media, a company based in Providence, R.I., that owns 29 TV stations.

Lifting the rules could help save struggling newspapers or TV stations looking for a buyer, Furchtgott-Roth adds, because often the only potential suitor might be the other major media outlet in town.

One irony not lost on media executives is that the FCC and the Justice Department are expected to approve Comcast Corp.'s proposal to buy a majority stake in NBC Universal from General Electric Co. That deal, which would give the nation's largest cable TV operator control of NBC's media empire, would dwarf the types of local media mergers prohibited by the FCC's current rules.

Still, Corie Wright, policy counsel for the public interest group Free Press, insists there is not enough competition in most markets to permit consolidation. Even as cable and the Internet offer many more choices for general news and commentary, most local reporting is still done by newspapers and TV stations, she notes.

Georgetown Law professor Angela Campbell, who represents several public interest groups defending strong ownership limits, fears more consolidation would lead to newsroom layoffs as media companies combine operations and feed the same content to different outlets.

"Every time you have one of these deals, at the end of the day it means one newsroom closes, another lost voice, less local coverage and less diversity of perspective," says FCC Commissioner Copps.

Schwartzman, head of Media Access Project, is also skeptical of the argument that the industry's troubles justify deregulation. After all, he noted, the economy is still emerging from a deep recession that has hit major advertisers in the auto, real estate and retailing sectors particularly hard. As those sectors recover, he says, media companies may recover too.

"I am concerned about enacting policy changes based on temporary economic conditions," Schwartzman says. "We don't know what the new normal is."

But whatever the new normal turns out to be, it figures to look very different from the traditional media landscape. That's why some observers are asking whether all the debate over media consolidation may be beside the point, given the huge problems facing the industry.

"Media companies are struggling and the government is standing in their way," says Kenneth Ferree, a former FCC official who pushed to relax the ownership limits under Powell and is now a senior fellow with The Progress & Freedom Foundation, a free-market think tank. "But even if the FCC got rid of the rules, would it matter anyway? That's the $64,000 question."



Editorial: 
The F.C.C. and the Internet

April 19, 2010


With the Internet fast becoming the most important communications channel, it is untenable for the United States not to have a regulator to ensure nondiscriminatory access, guarantee interconnectivity among rival networks and protect consumers from potential abuse.

Yet that’s exactly where the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit left us all when it said this month that the Federal Communications Commission didn’t have the authority to regulate the Internet — and specifically, could not force the cable giant Comcast to stop blocking peer-to-peer sites.

The decision, in the words of the F.C.C.’s general counsel, Austin Schlick, undermines the agency’s ability to serve as “the cop on the beat for 21st-century communications networks.” It also puts at risk big chunks of the F.C.C.’s strategy for increasing the reach of broadband Internet to all corners of the country and fostering more competition among providers.

Chairman Julius Genachowski said the commission is not planning to appeal the decision, and is studying its options. The F.C.C. could try to forge ahead with its broadband plan despite the court’s decision. Or Congress could give the F.C.C. specific authority to regulate broadband access.

But the court tightly circumscribed the F.C.C.’s actions. And with Republicans determined to oppose pretty much anything the administration wants, the odds of a rational debate on the issues are slim.

Fortunately, the commission has the tools to fix this problem. It can reverse the Bush administration’s predictably antiregulatory decision to define broadband Internet access as an information service, like Google or Amazon, over which it has little regulatory power. Instead, it can define broadband as a communications service, like a phone company, over which the commission has indisputable authority.

The F.C.C. at the time argued that a light regulatory touch would foster alternative technologies and aggressive competition among providers. It assumed that the Internet of the future would be dominated by companies like AOL that bundle access with other services, justifying its conflation of access and information.  And it claimed that it could still regulate broadband access even if it was classified as a service. All it had to do was convince the courts that it was necessary to further other statutory goals, like promoting the roll-out of competitive Internet services. This legal argument did not hold up.

Any move now by the F.C.C to redefine broadband would surely unleash a torrent of lawsuits by broadband providers, but the commission has solid legal grounds to do that. To begin with, the three arguments advanced by the F.C.C. during the Bush years have proved wrong.

Rather than seeing an explosion of new competition, the broadband access business has consolidated to the point that many areas of the country have only one provider. Broadband Internet has unbundled into a business with many unrelated information service providers vying for space on the pipelines of a few providers.

And most persuasively: broadband access is probably the most important communication service of our time. One that needs a robust regulator.



Telecom Report:  FCC unveils grand plan for speedy Internet everywhere
Far-reaching goals called laudable, but stiff opposition to plan is likely
By Jeffry Bartash, MarketWatch
March 15, 2010, 4:38 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) - Federal regulators are set to unveil an ambitious plan to make the Internet faster and more affordable to all Americans, but their efforts are likely to draw sizable opposition, and the process could take years.

On Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission will reveal its long-awaited national broadband plan. The goals: connect every American home to high-speed Internet service and make broadband in U.S. the fastest in the world.

Hopes are fading that Google will be able to reach an agreement with China to remain in business there. With an exit by Google, a big chunk of the search market would be up for grabs, Ben Worthen reports on Digits with Stacey Delo, Eric Savitz and Marcelo Prince.

The FCC, for example, envisions download speeds reaching as high as 100 megabits a second within 10 years in at least 100 million U.S. homes. Current speeds range from 1.5 megabits to 12 megabits, with FCC data showing that as many as one-third of all Americans lack broadband in their homes.

In a summary of the plan released on Monday, the FCC said improved broadband access would improve the lives of Americans in virtually every area, including work, education, health care and access to government services. Click here to read plan summary.

"Like electricity a century ago, broadband is a foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness and a better way of life," the FCC summary said.

The FCC's far-ranging proposal, however, touches a number of hot-button issues that are sure to provoke resistance from some members of Congress as well as industry groups such as broadcasters and phone companies.

The agency, for example, wants to make 500 megaherz of spectrum available to wireless carriers - 10 times the amount of airwaves now in FCC hands. Mobile carriers such as AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) say they will eventually need more spectrum to provide reliable and superfast Internet connections to every customer.

Yet much of that spectrum is now in the hands of television broadcasters, which won't give up the badly needed airwaves without compensation.

"The problem is most of the spectrum is occupied by somebody else," said Adam Thierer, president of the free-market leaning Progress & Freedom Foundation. "They are going to want a lot of money for this."

The agency suggests giving broadcasters a portion of the cash raised when the FCC resells the spectrum to carriers, but analysts say that might be a hard sell in Congress. Lawmakers have used proceeds from past auctions to fund other priorities, including deficit reduction or new programs.

The FCC also wants to overhaul the "universal service fund," which subsidizes phone service for rural inhabitants and poorer Americans, to include broadband. Yet past efforts at reform have been foiled by disputes over how to pay for the multibillion-dollar fund and how to divvy up the subsidies.

"There is a general consensus that the system is broken and needs to be fixed," said Jeffrey Silva, a technology analyst at Washington, D.C.-based Medley Global Advisors. "That doesn't mean it's not subject to political infighting. It will be."

Other potential landmines include new FCC proposals to safeguard the privacy of consumers, alter rules on competition and force network operators to disclose more data on how they price Internet service.

"As with any report of this size, variety and complexity, we expect that we will have points of agreement and disagreement on specific issues," said Kyle McSlarrow, president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

Despite the likelihood of some stiff opposition, many technology companies strongly support the FCC's wider goals of making broadband service faster and more affordable.

Jeff Campbell of Cisco Systems Inc. (NASDAQ:CSCO) , the nation's largest seller of Internet-networking gear, said world-class broadband networks would make the U.S. more competitive globally and spur the creation of millions of jobs in the long run, especially in small and medium businesses.

Cisco and dozens of other large companies such as Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) , Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) , eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) and Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) are members of the TechNet alliance that backs the general thrust of the FCC plan.

Campbell acknowledged that change won't come easily, but he said the FCC "has the fortitude to do it if they try to see it through." Given the usual long lag in translating FCC plans into policy, however, major changes won't take effect anytime soon.

"The impact for companies and investors is not going to ascertained for at least a year," Silva said.

Another potential obstacle: an already jammed calendar for Congress. Analysts say lawmakers would prefer the FCC to focus on the parts of its plan that the agency can enact without congressional approval or new funding.



I BBC
Cable
Icann oversees the structure of the net

Page last updated at 15:07 GMT, Wednesday, 30 September 2009 16:07 UK

US relaxes grip on the internet
By Jonathan Fildes, Technology reporter, BBC News

The US government has relaxed its control over how the internet is run.

It has signed a four-page "affirmation of commitments" with the net regulator Icann, giving the body autonomy for the first time.

Previous agreements gave the US close oversight of Icann - drawing criticism from other countries and groups.

The new agreement comes into effect on 1 October, exactly 40 years since the first two computers were connected on the prototype of the net.

"It's a beautifully historic day," Rod Beckstrom, Icann's head, told BBC News.

The European Commission, which has long been critical of Icann's alliance with the US government, welcomed the new deal.

"Internet users worldwide can now anticipate that Icann's decisions...will be more independent and more accountable, taking into account everyone's interests," said Viviane Reding, European Commissioner for information society and media.

'Global system'

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) is a not-for-profit private sector corporation - set up by the US government - to oversee critical parts of the internet, such as the top-level domain (TLD) name system. Top level domains include .com and .uk.

Since its inception in 1998, it has periodically signed accords - known collectively as the Joint Project Agreement (JPA) - with the US Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

we endorse this Affirmation and applaud the maturing of Icann's role in the provision of internet stability
Eric Schmidt
CEO, Google

These papers meant that the US government was responsible for reviewing the work of the body.

These have now been abandoned in favour of the new "affirmation of commitments", a brief document which turns the review process over to the global "internet community".

"Under the JPA, Icann staff would conduct reviews and hand them over to the US government," explained Mr Beckstrom.

"Now we submit those reviews to the world and post them publically for all to comment."

In addition, independent review panels - including representatives of foreign governments - would specifically oversee Icann's work in three specific areas: security, competition and accountability.

The US will retain a permanent seat on the accountability panel.

Mr Beckstrom said the decision to break away from the US government in all other areas had been made "over the last year and a half".

"Stakeholders told us that the JPA should not be renewed and that it wasn't appropriate for it to be renewed," he told BBC News.

"It is also recognition by the US government that the internet is a global system."

The internet began as a research project by the US military, known as Arpanet.

On 1 October 1969, the second computer was connected to the network, said Mr Beckstrom. Ever since, the US has played close attention to the workings and growth of the net.

"Today's announcement bolsters the long-term viability of the internet as a force for innovation, economic growth, and freedom of expression," said US Assistant Secretary for communications and information Lawrence Strickling.

"This framework puts the public interest front and centre."

Businesses have also welcomed the change of direction by the US.

"Google and its users depend every day on a vibrant and expanding internet; we endorse this affirmation and applaud the maturing of Icann's role in the provision of internet stability," said Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google.

However, the new agreement does not totally sever the links between the US government and Icann entirely.

In addition, Icann also has a separate agreement with the US - to run the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) - that expires in 2011.

The IANA oversees the net's addressing system.




$100M-plus broadband map runs into cost questions
By PETER SVENSSON and JOELLE TESSLER, AP Technology Writers Peter Svensson And Joelle Tessler, Ap Technology Writers
Sat Sep 12, 12:37 pm ET

WASHINGTON – The national stimulus package passed by Congress in February may have been too enthusiastic about spending money on one particular project: figuring out where broadband Internet access is available and how fast it is.

The $787 billion stimulus bill championed by the Obama administration set aside up to $350 million to create a national broadband map that could guide policies aimed at expanding high-speed Internet access. That $350 million tag struck some people in the telecommunications industry as excessive, compared with existing, smaller efforts. The map won't even be done in time to help decide where to spend much of the $7.2 billion in stimulus money earmarked for broadband programs.

Now it appears the final cost won't be as high as $350 million — though just how much it will be is unclear.

To ensure the mapping money is used "in a fiscally prudent manner," the National Telecommunications and Information Administration signaled Wednesday it would initially spend more than $100 million, and then reassess the program.

The agency, which is part of the Commerce Department, said it has received requests for $107 million in funding for projects that would map broadband in individual states over the first two years. The states want another $26 million for various purposes over five years, including steps to encourage broadband demand. On top of that, the NTIA will have to spend more money to collate the statewide maps into a national one.

But while the map should run much less than the $350 million cap set by Congress, the total still looks like it will be far higher than estimates based on the costs of smaller mapping programs in individual states.

In North Carolina, for instance, state broadband authority e-NC spends at most $275,000 per year on maintaining a map of broadband availability in the state, detailed enough to list individual addresses, according to executive director Jane Smith Patterson.

Rory Altman, director at telecommunications consulting firm Altman Vilandrie & Co., which has helped clients map broadband availability in some areas, said $350 million was a "ridiculous" amount of money to spend on a national broadband map.

Even $100 million might be high. The firm could create a national broadband map for $3.5 million, and "would gladly do it for $35 million," Altman said.

Dave Burstein, editor of the DSL Prime broadband industry newsletter, believes a reasonable cost for the map would be less than $30 million.

The map should reveal what most individuals already know: whether their homes can get broadband, and how fast it is. Officially, the goal for the map is to help shape broadband policy and determine where best to invest government funds. It may also help consumers shopping for Internet service.

However, the map won't be ready in time to influence the first round of broadband grants and loans funded by the stimulus package. That money will start going out this fall. And the map likely won't be finished before February's scheduled release of a national broadband plan being developed by the Federal Communications Commission, which is also mandated by the stimulus bill.

About two-thirds of U.S. homes already have broadband. It's available to many more, perhaps 90 percent of homes, but the figure is uncertain because of the lack of authoritative nationwide studies. The cable industry alone says it covers 92 percent of U.S. households.

When the Pew Internet and American Life Project surveyed people who didn't have broadband in 2007 and 2008, it found that most of them aren't interested in it, find the Internet too hard to use, or don't have computers. Lack of available broadband was the third most common reason.

Still, there is concern that the U.S. is falling behind other countries in the reach and speed of its Internet connections, and that this might hinder economic growth. Advocates of expanding broadband also worry that some rural areas might never get high-speed Internet because service providers don't see a payoff in extending their lines there.

Identifying those areas will be a major thrust of the mapping project. The maps will show broadband availability, type (phone or cable, for example) and speeds for each small cluster of homes, roughly equivalent to a city block in urban areas.

Each state's grant for mapping will go to either a nonprofit or a government agency. Internet service providers have already committed to handing over data about where they have broadband coverage, so the main job will be to collect and translate that information into a map.

Mark Seifert, who is overseeing the broadband grant and mapping programs at the NTIA, offers several reasons why the federal government may spend proportionally more on mapping than some states. For one thing, he said, most efforts that have been done in states have focused on so-called "last-mile" connections that link homes and businesses with the broader infrastructure of the Internet. The NTIA also wants extensive data on that behind-the-scenes Internet infrastructure.

What's more, since much of the mapping data will come from phone and cable companies, the NTIA wants the information to be independently verified — which could involve knocking on doors to confirm where broadband is and is not available and conducting other on-the-ground checks.

"You can spend less money on a map ... but you get what you pay for," he said. "Data costs money."

Although the map will not be done in time to guide this round of broadband funding in the stimulus package, it could prove useful for later broadband deployment programs. And it could help set priorities in the years ahead for huge federal programs such as the Universal Service Fund and the Rural Utilities Service, which spend billions of dollars annually to subsidize telecom services.

In addition to the NTIA's mapping project, there's a parallel push at the FCC to gather more detailed data on broadband subscribers. Both efforts are designed to aid the Obama administration's goal of "data-driven decision making" in setting telecom policy, said Colin Crowell, a senior counselor to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

"There is a voracious appetite for all kinds of broadband data," said Crowell, who helped write the broadband mapping legislation as a staffer on a House subcommittee overseeing telecommunications. "Policymakers have been wringing their hands for several years that we don't have accurate data on broadband deployment and adoption."



How does this relate to ACORN, if at all...for example, some people get off easy?
Legal Battle Plays Out: Online Attitude vs. Rules of the Bar
NYTIMES
By JOHN SCHWARTZ
September 13, 2009

Sean Conway was steamed at a Fort Lauderdale judge, so he did what millions of angry people do these days: he blogged about her, saying she was an “Evil, Unfair Witch.”

But Mr. Conway is a lawyer. And unlike millions of other online hotheads, he found himself hauled up before the Florida bar, which in April issued a reprimand and a fine for his intemperate blog post.  Mr. Conway is hardly the only lawyer to have taken to online social media like Facebook, Twitter and blogs, but as officers of the court they face special risks. Their freedom to gripe is limited by codes of conduct.

“When you become an officer of the court, you lose the full ability to criticize the court,” said Michael Downey, who teaches legal ethics at the Washington University law school.

And with thousands of blogs and so many lawyers online, legal ethics experts say that collisions between the freewheeling ways of the Internet and the tight boundaries of legal discourse are inevitable — whether they result in damaged careers or simply raise eyebrows.  Stephen Gillers, an expert on legal ethics at New York University Law School, sees many more missteps in the future, as young people who grew up with Facebook and other social media enter a profession governed by centuries of legal tradition.

“Twenty-somethings have a much-reduced sense of personal privacy,” Professor Gillers said. Younger lawyers are, predictably, more comfortable with the media than their older colleagues, according to a recent survey for LexisNexis, the legal database company: 86 percent of lawyers ages 25 to 35 are members of social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace, as opposed to 66 percent of those over 46. For those just out of law school, “this stuff is like air to them,” said Michael Mintz, who manages an online community for lawyers, Martindale-Hubbell Connected.

In Mr. Conway’s case, the post that got him in trouble questioned the motives and competence of Judge Cheryl Aleman, and appeared on a rowdy blog created by a criminal defense lawyers’ group in Broward County. The judge regularly gave defense lawyers just one week to prepare for trials, when most judges give a month or more. To Mr. Conway, the move was intended to pressure the lawyers to ask for a delay in the trials, thus waiving their right under Florida law to have a felony trial heard within 175 days, pushing those cases to the back of the line.

“All I had left were my words,” Mr. Conway said, adding that he decided to use the strongest ones he had.

Mr. Conway initially consented to a reprimand from the bar last year, but the State Supreme Court, which reviews such cases, demanded briefs on First Amendment issues. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida argued that Mr. Conway’s statements were protected speech that raised issues of legitimate public concern. Ultimately the court affirmed the disciplinary agreement and Mr. Conway paid $1,200.

That penalty is light compared with the price paid by Kristine A. Peshek, a lawyer in Illinois who lost her job as an assistant public defender after 19 years of service over blog postings and who now faces disciplinary hearings as well.  According to the complaint by officials of the state’s legal disciplinary body, Ms. Peshek wrote posts to her blog in 2007 and 2008 that referred to one jurist as “Judge Clueless” and thinly veiled the identities of clients and confidential details of a case, including statements like, “This stupid kid is taking the rap for his drug-dealing dirtbag of an older brother because ‘he’s no snitch.’ ”

Another client testified that she was drug free and received a light sentence with just five days’ jail time, and then complained to Ms. Peshek that she was using methadone and could not go five days without it. Ms. Peshek wrote that her reaction was, “Huh? You want to go back and tell the judge that you lied to him, you lied to the presentence investigator, you lied to me?”

The complaint, first noted by the Legal Profession Blog, said that not only did Ms. Peshek seem to reveal confidential information about a case, but that her actions might also constitute “assisting a criminal or fraudulent act.”

Ms. Peshek declined to comment, citing the pending inquiry “for which I am currently seeking representation.”

Frank R. Wilson, a lawyer in San Diego, caused a criminal conviction to be set aside and sent back to a lower court because of his blog postings as a juror. According to a decision published recently in the California Law Journal and picked up by the Legal Profession Blog, Mr. Wilson, while serving on a jury in 2006, posted details of the case on his blog. Any juror who blogs about the details of a trial risks trouble and even civil contempt charges. But lawyers like Mr. Wilson also face professional penalties that can threaten their livelihood.

Mr. Wilson received a 45-day suspension, paid $14,000 in legal fees and lost his job. He said that warnings not to discuss the case did not ban blogging; the bar disagreed. Mr. Wilson also had not disclosed during jury selection that he was a lawyer. In an interview, Mr. Wilson said he had not been working as a lawyer at the time and had only been asked his occupation.

Judges, too, can get into trouble online. Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in California, was investigated for off-color humor that was accessible on his family’s Web server, though not intended to be public. He was cleared of wrongdoing, but a three-judge panel admonished him for not safeguarding the site, which they said was “judicially imprudent.”

Of course, some lawyers’ online problems are the same as everyone else’s, like getting caught in a fib. Judge Susan Criss of the Texas District Court in Galveston recalled in an interview a young lawyer who requested a trial delay because of a death in the family. The judge granted the delay, but checked the lawyer’s Facebook page.

“There was a funeral, but there wasn’t a lot of grief expressed online,” Judge Criss said. “All week long, as the week is going by, I can see that this lawyer is posting about partying. One night drinking wine, another night drinking mojitos, another day motorbiking.” At the end of the delay, the lawyer sought a second one; this time the judge declined, and disclosed her online research to a senior partner of the lawyer’s firm.

Judge Criss, who first told the story at a panel during an American Bar Association conference, said that the lawyer has since removed her from her friends list.

For his part, Mr. Conway noted that the judge he criticized was reprimanded last year by the Florida Supreme Court, which affirmed a state panel’s criticism of what it called an “arrogant, discourteous and impatient” manner with lawyers in another case. (Judge Aleman did not return calls seeking comment.) Mr. Conway said his practice was “probably enhanced by the experience” of going public.

But the State Supreme Court ultimately concluded that his online “personal attack” was “not uttered in an effort to expose a valid problem” with the judicial system. And so, the court concluded, the statements “fail as protected free speech under the First Amendment.”



ALERT:  Danger to the Internet
ACORN fires 2 in DC after video footage

Washington Times
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Saturday, September 12, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The advocacy group ACORN said Friday it fired two more employees over hidden camera videos that show the group's workers giving financial advice to women posing as prostitutes.  The latest firings, in the Washington office, come a day after two other ACORN workers in Baltimore were fired over hidden camera footage.  Fox News Channel aired parts of the latest video and posted it online Friday. It shows a man and woman at the group's Washington office, asking for help in buying a house for her prostitution business.

Fox News said the video was provided by conservative activist James O'Keefe, who appears in both videos.

The workers tell the woman not to list prostitution as her profession on housing loans. Instead, they suggest she create a false business name and tell banks that she's a consultant for her own company.  The couple tells the workers they plan to bring several girls from Central America to work in the house. Another option the workers suggest is that the man could buy the house and act as a landlord unaware of what's happening in the home.

Because of his political ambitions, the workers tell the supposed law student and potential office-seeker to avoid the house. They say the couple must be low-key about the business, or people could "call Fox."

On Thursday, two other ACORN workers in Baltimore were fired after a they were recorded in a similar incident. O'Keefe, the filmmaker, has told FOX he posed as a pimp in the first video and that he was shocked by the ACORN employees' helpfulness.  In Maryland, Delegate Anthony J. O'Donnell, House Minority Leader on Friday called for an investigation into ACORN by the state's attorney general, Baltimore's state's attorney, and the U.S. Attorney's Office for Maryland.

In a statement, ACORN's President of Housing Alton Bennett and Executive Director Mike Shea, said they were "appalled and angry" to see the latest video. They said there were no loan documents completed, no bank loans arranged and no new business established. They said the two workers were fired and an internal review of practices will be done.

But Bennett and Shea said the video was "slanted to misinform the public about ACORN Housing." The video fails to mention that the same people who made the tape went to at least five other ACORN Housing offices where they were either turned away or where employees responded by calling police, they said.

"It is part of a long-term plan to smear ACORN Housing for political reasons and provide entertainment in the process," Bennett and Shea said. "But that does not excuse the behavior of the employees."

ACORN officials are asking Fox News to disclose its relationship with O'Keefe. An attorney for the group sent a letter to Fox News on Friday saying the filming and broadcast of the conversations violate secret recording laws. The letter demands that the network stop broadcasting the videos on air and the Internet in advance of litigation.

ACORN -- which stands for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now -- advocates for poor people. It conducted a massive voter registration effort last year and became a target of conservatives when some employees were accused of submitting false registration forms with names such as "Mickey Mouse." ACORN has said only a handful of employees submitted false registration forms and did so in a bid to boost their pay.

On its Web site, Fox News reported that the first videotape was made public Thursday on a political blog, BigGovernment.com.



Op-Ed Columnist
Stung by the Perfect Sting
By MAUREEN DOWD
NYTIMES
August 26, 2009

WASHINGTON

If I read all the vile stuff about me on the Internet, I’d never come to work. I’d scamper off and live my dream of being a cocktail waitress in a militia bar in Wyoming.

If you’re written about in a nasty way, it looms much larger for you than for anyone else. Gossip goes in one ear and out the other unless you’re the subject. Then, nobody’s skin is thick enough.

“The velocity and volume on the Web are so great that nothing is forgotten and nothing is remembered,” says Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic. “The Internet is like closing time at a blue-collar bar in Boston. Everyone’s drunk and ugly and they’re going to pass out in a few minutes.”

Those are my people, I protested, but I knew what he meant. That’s why I was interested in the Case of the Blond Model and the Malicious Blogger.

Sooner or later, this sort of suit will end up before the Supreme Court.

It began eight months ago when Liskula Cohen, a 37-year-old model and Australian Vogue cover girl, was surprised to find herself winning a “Skankiest in NYC” award from an anonymous blogger. The online tormentor put up noxious commentary on Google’s blogger.com, calling Cohen a “skank,” a “ho” and an “old hag” who “may have been hot 10 years ago.”

Cohen says she’s “a lover, not a fighter.” But the model had stood up for herself before. In 2007, at a New York club, she tried to stop a man named Samir Dervisevic who wanted to drink from the vodka bottle on her table. He hit her in the face with the bottle and gouged a hole “the size of a quarter,” as she put it, requiring plastic surgery.

This time, she punched the virtual bully in the face, filing a defamation suit to force Google to give up the blogger’s e-mail. And she won.

“The words ‘skank,’ ‘skanky’ and ‘ho’ carry a negative implication of sexual promiscuity,” wrote Justice Joan Madden of State Supreme Court in Manhattan, rejecting the Anonymous Blogger’s assertion that blogs are a modern soapbox designed for opinions, rants and invective.

The judge cited a Virginia court decision that the Internet’s “virtually unlimited, inexpensive and almost immediate means of communication” with the masses means “the dangers of its misuse cannot be ignored. The protection of the right to communicate anonymously must be balanced against the need to assure that those persons who choose to abuse the opportunities presented by this medium can be made to answer for such transgressions.”

Cyberbullies, she wrote, cannot hide “behind an illusory shield of purported First Amendment rights.”

Once she had the e-mail address, Cohen discovered whence the smears: a cafe society acquaintance named Rosemary Port, a pretty 29-year-old Fashion Institute of Technology student.

Cohen called and forgave Port, but did not get an apology. She had her lawyer, Steve Wagner, drop her defamation suit. But now Port says she’ll file a $15 million suit against Google for giving her up.

Port contends that if Cohen hadn’t sued, hardly anyone would have seen the blog. (If a skank falls in the forest and no one hears it ... ?)

But Cohen says the Internet is different than water-cooler gossip. “It’s there for the whole world to see,” she told me. “What happened to integrity? Why go out of your way solely to upset somebody else? Why can’t we all just be nice?”

She said she may become an activist, and has been e-mailing with Tina Meier, mother of Megan Meier, the 13-year-old who killed herself after getting cyberbullied by the mother of a classmate who pretended to be a teen suitor named “Josh.”

“If that woman had started a MySpace page as herself, that little girl would still be in her mother’s arms,” Cohen said.

The Internet was supposed to be the prolix paradise where there would be no more gatekeepers and everyone would finally have their say. We would express ourselves freely at any level, high or low, with no inhibitions.

Yet in this infinite realm of truth-telling, many want to hide. Who are these people prepared to tell you what they think, but not who they are? What is the mentality that lets them get in our face while wearing a mask? Shredding somebody’s character before the entire world and not being held accountable seems like the perfect sting.

Pseudonyms have a noble history. Revolutionaries in France, founding fathers and Soviet dissidents used them. The great poet Fernando Pessoa used heteronyms to write in different styles and even to review the work composed under his other names.

As Hugo Black wrote in 1960, “It is plain that anonymity has sometimes been assumed for the most constructive purposes.”

But on the Internet, it’s often less about being constructive and more about being cowardly.




ORWELL LIVES!  ("Big Brother is watching you" department)

Editorial: The Government and the Web

NYTIMES
August 25, 2009

The Obama administration is considering new rules to make it easier for government Web sites to use “cookies” and other technology to track visitors. There are valid reasons for using such tools, but the government has to build in robust privacy protections.

The Clinton administration adopted a rule severely limiting tracking on federal Web sites. Tracking could be done only if officials could prove a compelling need and the agency head had personally authorized it.

Tracking technology can help improve the quality of Web sites by monitoring how many people are visiting and how they use the site, and by personalizing the experience. For example, the Parks Service could offer information based on where a user lives.

Browser makers have made it easier for users to remove cookies or even reject them wholesale. But tracking technology can still present a real privacy risk, especially for the uninitiated. If users give personal information on one government Web site, the government could track visits to its other Web sites, like one offering information on drug addiction or H.I.V./AIDS. It could do this with cookies, or by keeping track of users’ IP addresses, which may be tied to specific individuals.

In recent years, the government has monitored some Americans’ library use and illegally eavesdropped on telephone calls and e-mail. Privacy groups are concerned that the new rules could pave the way for third parties to collect large amounts of data through government sites — for example, if an agency site posted a YouTube video carrying its own cookies.

The Office of Management and Budget is developing the new rules. Officials say they recognize that people must be told that their use of Web sites is being tracked — and be given a chance to opt out. More is needed. The government should commit to displaying such notices prominently on all Web pages — and to making it easy for users to choose not to be tracked.

It must promise that tracking data will be used only for the purpose it was collected for: if someone orders a pamphlet on living with cancer, it should not end up in a general database. Information should be purged regularly and as quickly as possible. These rules must apply to third parties that operate on government sites.

The Obama administration is working to better harness the power of the Internet to deliver government services. That is good. But it needs to be mindful that people should be able to get help and be assured that their privacy is being vigilantly protected.



Scientists Worry Machines May Outsmart Man
NYTIMES
By JOHN MARKOFF
July 26, 2009

A robot that can open doors and find electrical outlets to recharge itself. Computer viruses that no one can stop. Predator drones, which, though still controlled remotely by humans, come close to a machine that can kill autonomously.

Impressed and alarmed by advances in artificial intelligence, a group of computer scientists is debating whether there should be limits on research that might lead to loss of human control over computer-based systems that carry a growing share of society’s workload, from waging war to chatting with customers on the phone.

Their concern is that further advances could create profound social disruptions and even have dangerous consequences.

As examples, the scientists pointed to a number of technologies as diverse as experimental medical systems that interact with patients to simulate empathy, and computer worms and viruses that defy extermination and could thus be said to have reached a “cockroach” stage of machine intelligence.

While the computer scientists agreed that we are a long way from Hal, the computer that took over the spaceship in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” they said there was legitimate concern that technological progress would transform the work force by destroying a widening range of jobs, as well as force humans to learn to live with machines that increasingly copy human behaviors.

The researchers — leading computer scientists, artificial intelligence researchers and roboticists who met at the Asilomar Conference Grounds on Monterey Bay in California — generally discounted the possibility of highly centralized superintelligences and the idea that intelligence might spring spontaneously from the Internet. But they agreed that robots that can kill autonomously are either already here or will be soon.

They focused particular attention on the specter that criminals could exploit artificial intelligence systems as soon as they were developed. What could a criminal do with a speech synthesis system that could masquerade as a human being? What happens if artificial intelligence technology is used to mine personal information from smart phones?

The researchers also discussed possible threats to human jobs, like self-driving cars, software-based personal assistants and service robots in the home. Just last month, a service robot developed by Willow Garage in Silicon Valley proved it could navigate the real world.

A report from the conference, which took place in private on Feb. 25, is to be issued later this year. Some attendees discussed the meeting for the first time with other scientists this month and in interviews.

The conference was organized by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, and in choosing Asilomar for the discussions, the group purposefully evoked a landmark event in the history of science. In 1975, the world’s leading biologists also met at Asilomar to discuss the new ability to reshape life by swapping genetic material among organisms. Concerned about possible biohazards and ethical questions, scientists had halted certain experiments. The conference led to guidelines for recombinant DNA research, enabling experimentation to continue.

The meeting on the future of artificial intelligence was organized by Eric Horvitz, a Microsoft researcher who is now president of the association.

Dr. Horvitz said he believed computer scientists must respond to the notions of superintelligent machines and artificial intelligence systems run amok.

The idea of an “intelligence explosion” in which smart machines would design even more intelligent machines was proposed by the mathematician I. J. Good in 1965. Later, in lectures and science fiction novels, the computer scientist Vernor Vinge popularized the notion of a moment when humans will create smarter-than-human machines, causing such rapid change that the “human era will be ended.” He called this shift the Singularity.

This vision, embraced in movies and literature, is seen as plausible and unnerving by some scientists like William Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems. Other technologists, notably Raymond Kurzweil, have extolled the coming of ultrasmart machines, saying they will offer huge advances in life extension and wealth creation.

“Something new has taken place in the past five to eight years,” Dr. Horvitz said. “Technologists are replacing religion, and their ideas are resonating in some ways with the same idea of the Rapture.”

The Kurzweil version of technological utopia has captured imaginations in Silicon Valley. This summer an organization called the Singularity University began offering courses to prepare a “cadre” to shape the advances and help society cope with the ramifications.

“My sense was that sooner or later we would have to make some sort of statement or assessment, given the rising voice of the technorati and people very concerned about the rise of intelligent machines,” Dr. Horvitz said.

The A.A.A.I. report will try to assess the possibility of “the loss of human control of computer-based intelligences.” It will also grapple, Dr. Horvitz said, with socioeconomic, legal and ethical issues, as well as probable changes in human-computer relationships. How would it be, for example, to relate to a machine that is as intelligent as your spouse?

Dr. Horvitz said the panel was looking for ways to guide research so that technology improved society rather than moved it toward a technological catastrophe. Some research might, for instance, be conducted in a high-security laboratory.

The meeting on artificial intelligence could be pivotal to the future of the field. Paul Berg, who was the organizer of the 1975 Asilomar meeting and received a Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1980, said it was important for scientific communities to engage the public before alarm and opposition becomes unshakable.

“If you wait too long and the sides become entrenched like with G.M.O.,” he said, referring to genetically modified foods, “then it is very difficult. It’s too complex, and people talk right past each other.”

Tom Mitchell, a professor of artificial intelligence and machine learning at Carnegie Mellon University, said the February meeting had changed his thinking. “I went in very optimistic about the future of A.I. and thinking that Bill Joy and Ray Kurzweil were far off in their predictions,” he said. But, he added, “The meeting made me want to be more outspoken about these issues and in particularly be outspoken about the vast amounts of data collected about our personal lives.”

Despite his concerns, Dr. Horvitz said he was hopeful that artificial intelligence research would benefit humans, and perhaps even compensate for human failings. He recently demonstrated a voice-based system that he designed to ask patients about their symptoms and to respond with empathy. When a mother said her child was having diarrhea, the face on the screen said, “Oh no, sorry to hear that.”

A physician told him afterward that it was wonderful that the system responded to human emotion. “That’s a great idea,” Dr. Horvitz said he was told. “I have no time for that.”




Finally - someone has noticed that old notions of privacy are out the window.

The End of Privacy?
NYTIMES editorial
July 14, 2012

Cellphones, e-mail, and online social networking have come to rule daily life, but Congress has done nothing to update federal privacy laws to better protect digital communication. That inattention carries a heavy price.

Striking new data from wireless carriers collected by Representative Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, and first reported last week by Eric Lichtblau of The Times, showed surging use of cellphone surveillance over the past five years by law enforcement agencies at every level and for crimes both mundane and serious.

Wireless carriers reported responding to a whopping 1.3 million demands from law enforcement agencies for subscriber information, including location data, calling records and text messages. The number of people whose information was turned over is almost certainly much higher because a single request for a cell tower “dump” could sweep in the names of thousands of people connected to a given tower at a certain time.

As cell surveillance has ballooned, federal and local officials have come to rely less on wiretapping to eavesdrop on conversations, probably because cell tracking is less time consuming and less legally difficult to manage. In most cases, law enforcement officers do not need to hear the actual conversation; what they want to know can be discerned from a suspect’s location or travel patterns. And location data can be as revealing of a cellphone owner’s associations, activities and personal tastes as listening in on a conversation, for which a warrant is mandatory.

As a result, warrants for wiretaps, which are subject to stringent legal standards used for decades, declined by 14 percent last year, to just 2,732 nationwide. The legal standards applied to cell tracking and other forms of digital monitoring are more lax and inconsistently applied, with many law enforcement agencies claiming a right to such data without having to show a compelling need or getting detailed vetting by a court.

Clearly, federal laws need to be revamped and brought into line with newer forms of surveillance. A good place to begin is the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the main federal statute governing access to electronic information. The act has not had a significant overhaul since its passage in 1986.

Senator Patrick Leahy, the Judiciary Committee chairman and lead author of the 1986 law, introduced a promising bill last year that would amend it in important, sensible ways. It would require a probable cause warrant for access to e-mails and other electronic communications no matter how long they were saved or where they were saved, whether in a personal computer or an online storage system. Under current law, there is no warrant requirement after an e-mail has been stored for 180 days.

Electronic correspondence deserves no less protection than letters kept in a drawer. The government would still be free to access blog postings and other publicly available content, and exceptions to the warrant requirement would remain for emergencies and intelligence investigations.

Similarly, existing law requires a warrant for the government to access photos, calendars and other private data stored on laptops or desktop computers at home, but not for the same files stored with a service provider in the “cloud.”

The Leahy bill would also provide some protection for location information from cellphones or GPS systems, though probably not enough. It would require a warrant for law enforcement agencies to access real-time location data, but not past location records. The warrant rule should cover both, the sensible standard in a bipartisan location privacy bill offered in the House by Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, and in the Senate by Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat.

Both the Leahy bill and the location privacy bill break away from the traditional “third-party doctrine,” which says there is no reasonable expectation of privacy if the information is held by third parties, like the cell carriers. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court shied away from eliminating that doctrine when it rightly ruled this year that having the police attach a GPS device to a car constitutes a “search” under the Fourth Amendment. The Leahy bill has not attracted any Republican co-sponsors. That is all the more reason to put it before the Judiciary Committee and begin a debate on this critical issue.


That’s No Phone. That’s My Tracker.
NYTIMES
By PETER MAASS and MEGHA RAJAGOPALAN
July 13, 2012

THE device in your purse or jeans that you think is a cellphone — guess again. It is a tracking device that happens to make calls. Let’s stop calling them phones. They are trackers.

Most doubts about the principal function of these devices were erased when it was recently disclosed that cellphone carriers responded 1.3 million times last year to law enforcement requests for call data. That’s not even a complete count, because T-Mobile, one of the largest carriers, refused to reveal its numbers. It appears that millions of cellphone users have been swept up in government surveillance of their calls and where they made them from. Many police agencies don’t obtain search warrants when requesting location data from carriers.

Thanks to the explosion of GPS technology and smartphone apps, these devices are also taking note of what we buy, where and when we buy it, how much money we have in the bank, whom we text and e-mail, what Web sites we visit, how and where we travel, what time we go to sleep and wake up — and more. Much of that data is shared with companies that use it to offer us services they think we want.

We have all heard about the wonders of frictionless sharing, whereby social networks automatically let our friends know what we are reading or listening to, but what we hear less about is frictionless surveillance. Though we invite some tracking — think of our mapping requests as we try to find a restaurant in a strange part of town — much of it is done without our awareness.

“Every year, private companies spend millions of dollars developing new services that track, store and share the words, movements and even the thoughts of their customers,” writes Paul Ohm, a law professor at the University of Colorado. “These invasive services have proved irresistible to consumers, and millions now own sophisticated tracking devices (smartphones) studded with sensors and always connected to the Internet.”

Mr. Ohm labels them tracking devices. So does Jacob Appelbaum, a developer and spokesman for the Tor project, which allows users to browse the Web anonymously. Scholars have called them minicomputers and robots. Everyone is struggling to find the right tag, because “cellphone” and “smartphone” are inadequate. This is not a semantic game. Names matter, quite a bit. In politics and advertising, framing is regarded as essential because what you call something influences what you think about it. That’s why there are battles over the tags “Obamacare” and “death panels.”

In just the past few years, cellphone companies have honed their geographic technology, which has become almost pinpoint. The surveillance and privacy implications are quite simple. If someone knows exactly where you are, they probably know what you are doing. Cellular systems constantly check and record the location of all phones on their networks — and this data is particularly treasured by police departments and online advertisers. Cell companies typically retain your geographic information for a year or longer, according to data gathered by the Justice Department.

What’s the harm? The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, ruling about the use of tracking devices by the police, noted that GPS data can reveal whether a person “is a weekly church goer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups — and not just one such fact about a person, but all such facts.” Even the most gregarious of sharers might not reveal all that on Facebook.

There is an even more fascinating and diabolical element to what can be done with location information. New research suggests that by cross-referencing your geographical data with that of your friends, it’s possible to predict your future whereabouts with a much higher degree of accuracy.

This is what’s known as predictive modeling, and it requires nothing more than your cellphone data.

If we are naïve to think of them as phones, what should we call them? Eben Moglen, a law professor at Columbia University, argues that they are robots for which we — the proud owners — are merely the hands and feet. “They see everything, they’re aware of our position, our relationship to other human beings and other robots, they mediate an information stream around us,” he has said. Over time, we’ve used these devices less for their original purpose. A recent survey by O2, a British cell carrier, showed that making calls is the fifth-most-popular activity for smartphones; more popular uses are Web browsing, checking social networks, playing games and listening to music. Smartphones are taking over the functions that laptops, cameras, credit cards and watches once performed for us.

If you want to avoid some surveillance, the best option is to use cash for prepaid cellphones that do not require identification. The phones transmit location information to the cell carrier and keep track of the numbers you call, but they are not connected to you by name. Destroy the phone or just drop it into a trash bin, and its data cannot be tied to you. These cellphones, known as burners, are the threads that connect privacy activists, Burmese dissidents and coke dealers.

Prepaids are a hassle, though. What can the rest of us do? Leaving your smartphone at home will help, but then what’s the point of having it? Turning it off when you’re not using it will also help, because it will cease pinging your location to the cell company, but are you really going to do that? Shutting it down does not even guarantee it’s off — malware can keep it on without your realizing it. The only way to be sure is to take out the battery. Guess what? If you have an iPhone, you will need a tiny screwdriver to remove the back cover. Doing that will void your warranty.

Matt Blaze, a professor of computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania, has written extensively about these issues and believes we are confronted with two choices: “Don’t have a cellphone or just accept that you’re living in the Panopticon.”

There is another option. People could call them trackers. It’s a neutral term, because it covers positive activities — monitoring appointments, bank balances, friends — and problematic ones, like the government and advertisers watching us.

We can love or hate these devices — or love and hate them — but it would make sense to call them what they are so we can fully understand what they do.

Peter Maass and Megha Rajagopalan are reporters on digital privacy for ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative newsroom.


Tight Budget? Look to the ‘Cloud’
NYTIMES
By VIVEK KUNDRA
August 30, 2011

Cambridge, Mass.

AS the global economy struggles through a slow and painful recovery, governments around the world are wasting billions of dollars on unnecessary information technology. This problem has worsened in recent years because of what I call the “I.T. cartel.” This powerful group of private contractors encourages reliance on inefficient software and hardware that is expensive to acquire and to maintain.

In one particularly egregious example of waste, the Defense Department last year pulled the plug on a personnel system devised by Northrop Grumman after spending approximately $850 million on it in 10 years.

When I joined the Obama administration as the chief information officer, we quickly discovered vast inefficiencies in the $80 billion federal I.T. budget. We also saw an opportunity to increase productivity and save costs by embracing the “cloud computing” revolution: the shift from hardware and software that individuals, businesses and governments buy and then maintain themselves, to low-cost, maintenance-free services that are based on the Internet and run by private companies.

Examples of cloud computing companies include Web behemoths like Amazon and Google, which offer a variety of services (data storage or e-mail, for example), as well as companies like salesforce.com, which helps businesses manage customer relationships via social networks. Other services and applications include health care access, mobile energy management and storm recovery assistance. Most cloud-based services are either free for consumers or delivered via a monthly subscription service for businesses. According to the research firm Gartner, cloud computing will be a $149 billion industry by 2015.

Like a large office building, cloud data centers are efficient: many different tenants occupy the same space, sharing the same critical infrastructure, yet each tenant still has its own secure, customizable space. For example, in preparation for the 2010 census, the Census Bureau used the cloud computing services of salesforce.com to expand its I.T. capabilities, saving the cost and time of purchasing, designing and installing a brand-new I.T. infrastructure.

Shortly after the Obama administration took office, we instituted a “Cloud First” policy, which advocates the adoption of cloud services by government agencies and mandates the transition of at least three projects for every agency to the cloud by next summer.

Some agencies, like the General Services Administration, have embraced cloud computing; the agency has cut the I.T. costs on things as simple as its e-mail system by over 50 percent. But other agencies have balked. The State Department, for instance, has raised concerns about whether the cloud approach introduces security risks, since data is stored off site by private contractors.

But cloud computing is often far more secure than traditional computing, because companies like Google and Amazon can attract and retain cyber-security personnel of a higher quality than many governmental agencies. And government employees are so accustomed to using cloud services like Dropbox and Gmail in their personal lives that, even if their agencies don’t formally permit cloud computing, they use it for work purposes anyway, creating a “shadow I.T.” that leads to a more vulnerable organization than would a properly overseen cloud computing system.

 The United States cannot afford to be left behind in the cloud computing revolution. In health care alone, a productivity increase of 1 percent in the next 10 years — much of which could be achieved with cloud-based services — represents a $300 billion value. Similar efficiencies could be realized in sectors like financial services, education and manufacturing.

Consider the example of Japan, which has faced significant economic challenges for two decades. The government’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry estimates that the Japanese cloud computing market is likely to reach $20.1 billion by 2015 and is implementing a cloud initiative as a key tenet of its national economic strategy.

Similar growth is predicted for India, where the cloud market is projected to grow to $3 billion by 2015 and create 100,000 jobs. As foreign governments prioritize investment in the cloud, the United States cannot hesitate because of hypothetical security threats that serve the entrenched interests of the I.T. cartel.

One of the critical remaining issues concerning cloud computing is whether cloud data can and should flow between nations and what restrictions should be placed upon it. The next step should be the creation of a global Cloud First policy that forces nations to work together and resolve these critical issues. The United States, along with leading nations in Europe and Asia, has an opportunity to announce such an initiative at the World Economic Forum meeting in January.

The budget crisis will accelerate the move toward cloud services. Governments, businesses and consumers all have a lot to gain, but not everyone will have an equal say at the table. Public and private organizations that preserve the status quo of wasteful spending will be punished, while those that embrace the cloud will be rewarded with substantial savings and 21st-century jobs.

Vivek Kundra, the Obama administration’s chief information officer from 2009 until this month, is a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society and the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, both at Harvard.


Salesforce shares soaring on cloud computing craze
YAHOO
By MICHAEL LIEDTKE, AP Technology Writer
Fri Nov 19, 2010 6:04 pm ET

SAN FRANCISCO – A hot high-tech concept known as "cloud computing" is lifting Salesforce.com Inc.'s stock to lofty heights.

The shares rocketed more than 18 percent Friday after Salesforce issued a strong third-quarter earnings report and an optimistic management forecast that persuaded several analysts that the stock is bound to climb even higher. As it is, Salesforce in nearly 6 1/2 year as a public company is proving to be more fruitful than high-tech darling Google Inc.

The fervor surrounding Salesforce has been swelling during the past year because the company appears to be sitting in a sweet spot as more businesses and government agencies change the way they buy and use software.

After years of paying huge upfront fees to install and maintain applications on individual computers in their offices, more companies are embracing the idea of subscribing to software that can be accessed from any machine with an Internet connection. The trend is becoming so popular that it has been tagged with the catchphrase "cloud computing" to replace its more geeky shorthand of "SaaS, an abbreviation of "software as a service."

The transition has enriched and vindicated Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, who faced widespread ridicule when he started the company 11 years ago on the presumption that the old way of installing software made by the likes of Microsoft Corp., Oracle Corp. and SAP was doomed. Skeptics abounded at the time, contending that businesses would never be willing to trust a vendor to run their critical programs and applications on computers far away from their own premises.

But now Salesforce is seen as being ahead of the curve, as Microsoft, Oracle and SAP all scramble to build their own online subscription services. At the end of its latest quarter, Salesforce boasted 87,200 customers, including personal computer manufacturer Dell Inc. and health insurer Kaiser Permanente.

Wall Street has become so enamored with Salesforce that its stock is outshining Internet search leader Google, a much more renowned company that went public just two months after Salesforce did in 2004.

A $10,000 investment in Salesforce's June 2004 initial public offering would now be worth $124,000 after Friday's surge left shares with a gain of 85 percent so far this year. A $10,000 investment in Google's August 2004 IPO would be worth about $70,000.

Even Google has latched on to some of Salesforce's ideas as it tries to expand its own cloud computing service. Google now offers a suite of word processing, spreadsheet and calendar programs in hopes of luring people away from Microsoft's Office bundle of applications. Salesforce and Google have also teamed up on some cloud computing projects.

Google remains the far larger company with more than 23,000 employees and revenue expected to approach $30 billion this year. Salesforce employs about 5,000 people and is on track for about $1.7 billion in revenue in its fiscal year, which ends in January. Salesforce stirred excitement late Thursday when it topped off the release of better-than-expected third-quarter earnings with a prediction that its revenue for the year ending in January 2012 would reach $2 billion for the first time.

Salesforce shares soared $20.97, or 18.1 percent, Friday to close at $136.74 after hitting a new record high of $137.31 earlier in the session. The run-up has left Salesforce with an exceptionally high price-to-earnings, or "p/e," ratio, a wildly used yardstick for sizing up a company's value. Based on its projected earnings for fiscal 2012, Salesforce's p/e is 90; Google's is 18. An extremely high p/e ratio sometimes signals investors are becoming irrationally exuberant about a company's prospects, but most analysts don't seem to believe that's what's happening with Salesforce.

Benioff, 46, has relied on some of the marketing skills that he picked up while working at Oracle to win over potential customers and investors. He's a protege of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who has blended a flair for the dramatic with technological savvy and ruthless negotiating tactics to build his software empire. Ellison was among Salesforce's early investors and served on the company's board until Benioff fired him because he thought his former boss was stealing secrets to help Oracle develop a competing product.

Ellison also is the largest shareholder in another cloud computing service, NetSuite Inc., which competes with Salesforce.

Investors are now betting NetSuite will also prosper from the cloud computing craze: NetSuite shares gained $2.57, or nearly 12 percent, to close Friday at $24.57.

Ellison recently has been publicly criticizing Salesforce, something he has done to other companies that Oracle has ended up buying. A suitor interested in making a bid would have to have deep pockets, as Oracle does, because Salesforce's market value now stands at $15 billion.

With Salesforce flying high, Benioff's stake in the company is now worth about $1.4 billion. The fortune has allowed Benioff to build a huge home in Hawaii, where he says he likes to swim with dolphins to clear his mind. Although Salesforce has its headquarters in San Francisco, Benioff sometimes runs the company from Hawaii, using high-definition videoconferencing technology.

One of Benioff's latest ideas has been focused on building a business version of Facebook's social networking tools. That effort appears to be paying off as 60,000 Salesforce customers use a new tool called "Chatter." Although Chatter is free, analysts believe its popularity will make workers even more reliant on Salesforce's money-making services that help companies manage their customer relationships.


Op-Ed Contributor - we note the interrelationship between "cloud" computing and another concern...
Lost in the Cloud
NYTIMES
By JONATHAN ZITTRAIN
July 20, 2009

Cambridge, Mass.

EARLIER this month Google announced a new operating system called Chrome. It’s meant to transform personal computers and handheld devices into single-purpose windows to the Web. This is part of a larger trend: Chrome moves us further away from running code and storing our information on our own PCs toward doing everything online — also known as in “the cloud” — using whatever device is at hand.

Many people consider this development to be as sensible and inevitable as the move from answering machines to voicemail. With your stuff in the cloud, it’s not a catastrophe to lose your laptop, any more than losing your glasses would permanently destroy your vision. In addition, as more and more of our information is gathered from and shared with others — through Facebook, MySpace or Twitter — having it all online can make a lot of sense.

The cloud, however, comes with real dangers.

Some are in plain view. If you entrust your data to others, they can let you down or outright betray you. For example, if your favorite music is rented or authorized from an online subscription service rather than freely in your custody as a compact disc or an MP3 file on your hard drive, you can lose your music if you fall behind on your payments — or if the vendor goes bankrupt or loses interest in the service. Last week Amazon apparently conveyed a publisher’s change-of-heart to owners of its Kindle e-book reader: some purchasers of Orwell’s “1984” found it removed from their devices, with nothing to show for their purchase other than a refund. (Orwell would be amused.)

Worse, data stored online has less privacy protection both in practice and under the law. A hacker recently guessed the password to the personal e-mail account of a Twitter employee, and was thus able to extract the employee’s Google password. That in turn compromised a trove of Twitter’s corporate documents stored too conveniently in the cloud. Before, the bad guys usually needed to get their hands on people’s computers to see their secrets; in today’s cloud all you need is a password.

Thanks in part to the Patriot Act, the federal government has been able to demand some details of your online activities from service providers — and not to tell you about it. There have been thousands of such requests lodged since the law was passed, and the F.B.I.’s own audits have shown that there can be plenty of overreach — perhaps wholly inadvertent — in requests like these.

The cloud can be even more dangerous abroad, as it makes it much easier for authoritarian regimes to spy on their citizens. The Chinese government has used the Chinese version of Skype instant messaging software to monitor text conversations and block undesirable words and phrases. It and other authoritarian regimes routinely monitor all Internet traffic — which, except for e-commerce and banking transactions, is rarely encrypted against prying eyes.

With a little effort and political will, we could solve these problems. Companies could be required under fair practices law to allow your data to be released back to you with just a click so that you can erase your digital footprints or simply take your business (and data) elsewhere. They could also be held to the promises they make about content sold through the cloud: If they sell you an e-book, they can’t take it back or make it less functional later. To increase security, companies that keep their data in the cloud could adopt safer Internet communications and password practices, including the use of biometrics like fingerprints to validate identity.

And some governments can be persuaded — or perhaps required by their independent judiciaries — to treat data entrusted to the cloud with the same level of privacy protection as data held personally. The Supreme Court declared in 1961 that a police search of a rented house for a whiskey still was a violation of the Fourth Amendment privacy rights of the tenant, even though the landlord had given permission for the search. Information stored in the cloud deserves similar safeguards.

But the most difficult challenge — both to grasp and to solve — of the cloud is its effect on our freedom to innovate. The crucial legacy of the personal computer is that anyone can write code for it and give or sell that code to you — and the vendors of the PC and its operating system have no more to say about it than your phone company does about which answering machine you decide to buy. Microsoft might want you to run Word and Internet Explorer, but those had better be good products or you’ll switch with a few mouse clicks to OpenOffice orFirefox.

Promoting competition is only the tip of the iceberg — there are also the thousands of applications so novel that they don’t yet compete with anything. These tend to be produced by tinkerers and hackers. Instant messaging, peer-to-peer file sharing and the Web itself all exist thanks to people out in left field, often writing for fun rather than money, who are able to tempt the rest of us to try out what they’ve done.

This freedom is at risk in the cloud, where the vendor of a platform has much more control over whether and how to let others write new software. Facebook allows outsiders to add functionality to the site but reserves the right to change that policy at any time, to charge a fee for applications, or to de-emphasize or eliminate apps that court controversy or that they simply don’t like. The iPhone’s outside apps act much more as if they’re in the cloud than on your phone: Apple can decide who gets to write code for your phone and which of those offerings will be allowed to run. The company has used this power in ways that Bill Gates never dreamed of when he was the king of Windows: Apple is reported to have censored e-book apps that contain controversial content, eliminated games with political overtones, and blocked uses for the phone that compete with the company’s products.

The market is churning through these issues. Amazon is offering a generic cloud-computing infrastructure so anyone can set up new software on a new Web site without gatekeeping by the likes of Facebook. Google’s Android platform is being used in a new generation of mobile phones with fewer restrictions on outside code. But the dynamics here are complicated. When we vest our activities and identities in one place in the cloud, it takes a lot of dissatisfaction for us to move. And many software developers who once would have been writing whatever they wanted for PCs are simply developing less adventurous, less subversive, less game-changing code under the watchful eyes of Facebook and Apple.

If the market settles into a handful of gated cloud communities whose proprietors control the availability of new code, the time may come to ensure that their platforms do not discriminate. Such a demand could take many forms, from an outright regulatory requirement to a more subtle set of incentives — tax breaks or liability relief — that nudge companies to maintain the kind of openness that earlier allowed them a level playing field on which they could lure users from competing, mighty incumbents.

We’ve only just begun to measure this problem, even as we fly directly into the cloud. That’s not a reason to turn around. But we must make sure the cloud does not hinder the creation of revolutionary software that, like the Web itself, can seem esoteric at first but utterly necessary later.

Jonathan Zittrain, a law professor at Harvard, is the author of “The Future of the Internet — And How to Stop It.”



U.S. Justice Department Eyeing Telecom Probe: Report
NYTIMES
By REUTERS
Filed at 3:20 p.m. ET
July 6, 2009

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department has begun looking at big telecom companies to try to determine if they have abused their market power, the Wall Street Journal reported in its online edition on Monday.

The journal, which cited people familiar with the matter, said the Antitrust Division's review was in its very early stages and was not a formal probe of any specific company.

The country's biggest operators are AT&T Inc <T.N> and Verizon <Communications <VZ.N>.

Lawmakers have recently raised questions about whether large wireless carriers were hurting smaller rivals by entering exclusive agreements with the makers of popular phones. Deals like AT&T's multiyear agreement with Apple Inc <AAPL.O> for exclusive rights to sell the iPhone in the U.S. are at the center of some lawmakers' concerns.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel referred questions on any probe to the Department of Justice. But he defended the practice of exclusive agreements between carriers and phone makers, saying they spurred competition and helped companies collaborate on new features.

Verizon Wireless spokesman Jeffrey Nelson said that his company, which is the biggest U.S. mobile service, had had no notice from the Justice Department about any probe into handset exclusivity. Verizon Wireless is a venture of Verizon Communications <VZ.N> and Vodafone Group Plc <VOD.L>.

John Taylor, a spokesman for Sprint Nextel <S.N>, the No. 3 U.S. mobile service which has an exclusive agreement to sell Palm Inc's <PALM.O> high-profile Pre phone, declined comment on the reported probe.

He also defended exclusive handset agreements as pro-competitive. "We think that without these exclusivity arrangements carriers are less likely to risk the investment necessary to develop and promote devices like these," he said.

The new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Julius Genachowski, plans to review the deals.  According to a copy of the written responses to questions from Senator John Kerry obtained by Reuters in mid-June, Genachowski said he would "promote competition and consumer choice."

Lawmakers have also raised questions about the pricing of text messages.



Plugging In $40 Computers
NYTIMES
By Saul Hansell
May 21, 2009, 7:45 am

What would you do with a $40 Linux computer the size of a three-prong plug adapter?

Marvell Technology Group is counting on an army of computer engineers and hackers to answer that question. It has created a “plug computer.” It’s a tiny plastic box that you plug into an electric outlet. There’s no display. But there is an Ethernet jack to connect to a home network and a USB socket for attaching a hard drive, camera or other device. Inside is a 1.2 gigahertz Marvell chip, called an application processor, running a version of the Linux operating system.

All this can be yours for $99 today and probably for under $40 in two years.

“There’s not much in there,” said Sehat Sutardja, Marvell’s chief executive and co-founder, just a few chips and the sort of power supply used to charge a cellphone battery. Because this computer uses chips designed for cellphones, it uses far less power than chips designed for regular computers.

In its 13 years of existence, Marvell Technology Group has become a major player in semiconductors, with annual sales of more than $2 billion a year. It makes more than half of the microprocessors that control hard disk drives and is also a supplier of chips that go into cellphones.

Mr. Sutardja envisions an explosion of innovation about to hit home users because of the combination of open-source software and very powerful chips that are becoming available at very low costs.

The first plausible use for the plub computer is to attach one of these gizmos to a USB hard drive. Voila, you’ve got a network server. CloudEngines, a startup, has in fact built a $99 plug computer called Pogoplug, that will let you share the files on your hard drive, not only in your home but also anywhere on the Internet.

“This creates a smart data center for the home,” Mr. Sutardja said.

Another application might be to connect a security camera to the Internet, adding enough intelligence to help analyze images to distinguish between a stray dog and a cat burglar.

Scientific American asked some “alpha geeks” at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory what they might do with a plug computer. One researcher imagined a system to automatically turn on and off appliances as people moved around the house. Another described a “life filter” that might weed out boring e-mails before sending them on to his computer.

Ultimately, these computers may well be used in more mainstream devices, especially for home entertainment.

“We wanted to seed the thinking of people in the market place with what you can do with our processors,” Mr. Sutardja said. “Eventually you won’t see the plug. We want this device to be in your TV, your stereo system, your DVD player.”

The Marvell chips are based on designs by ARM Holdings, which have emerged as the leading rival to Intel’s x86 chip architecture. ARM dominates the cellphone market because of its chips’ low power usage. ARM licenses its designs to Marvell and many other chipmakers. A year ago, Warren East, the chief executive of ARM, predicted what would happen when the price of ARM’s processors fell from the $10 range to 50 cents. At that level, every light switch may well be an Internet connected computer, he said.

The plug computer idea is clearly a step in that direction. And it is part of an even broader array of chips designed initially for phones that will add features to many other devices.

Mr. Sutardja talked about the sort of digital photo frame you can now buy for about $50. Add $2 in chips, and it can display high definition movies, he said. Another $2 adds a camera. And less than a dollar adds several microphones.

“You now have the sort of video conferencing that corporations buy for much more money,” he said.

Not surprisingly, in Mr. Sutardja’s view, it is the sort of brain that Marvell makes that will be in the center of all this.

“The uses of an application processor are endless,” he said. “It is up to smart people to imagine what it can do.”




Frontier Communications, Local 1298 reach deal on contract
By Luther Turmelle, New Haven Register
Posted: 06/25/14, 8:07 PM EDT |


Frontier Communications has struck a deal with Local 1298 of the Communications Workers of America to extend a contract that the union’s members have with A&T, which is selling the Stamford-based telecommunications company its land line phone business and UVerse television product.

Local 1298’s contract with AT&T was set to expire in April 2016, but the agreement between the union and Frontier extends the length of that deal to April 2018. The agreement also calls for:

— The same benefits, pension and retiree medical plans that are already in place, plus wage increases of 2.5 percent and 2.25 percent for the two years that the contract is extended.

— Healthcare benefit costs that are in place in 2016 will remain unchanged through 2018. Eligible retirees who leave during the terms of the agreement will pay what active union members pay for the life of the agreement.

— The company agrees to add 85 new union jobs, with 75 to be hired within six months of the time that the AT&T-Frontier deal closes.

— Frontier commits to maintain a union workforce size of 2,433, which includes the 85 new employees and no layoffs for any existing employees through April 2018.

— All union and non-union employees will receive 100 shares of Frontier stock when the deal closes, an estimated value of $600 per employee.

The announcement of the agreement came on the eve of the start of a state regulatory hearing on Frontier’s proposed acquisition of AT&T’s Connecticut assets.

“We were up against a deadline; they know it and we knew it,” said William Henderson, Local 1298’s president. “I think they wanted to get the deal done before hearings started because after that, some things could happen that couldn’t be controlled or taken back.”

Henderson’s comment is thinly veiled reference to the fact that as recently as three months ago, the union was publicly calling for federal regulators to block the AT&T-Frontier deal. At the time, Henderson claimed the company wasn’t providing enough information to allow the union to assess Frontier’s financial capability and business sense to operate reliably in Connecticut.

But with the deal reached and an assessment of Frontier’s financial information complete, Henderson said the union will enthusiastically support Frontier’s bid to get regulatory approval for the deal.

“It’s a partnership in which our members will work together with the company to develop a plan on how to provide the best service possible and build the business one customer at a time,” he said.

Daniel McCarthy, president and chief operating officer of Frontier, said the company is pleased that the union will support its deal with AT&T.

“Our discussions with the CWA about the Connecticut acquisition have been open, honest and ongoing,” McCarthy said in a prepared statement. “We look forward to a strong partnership that will mean the best service and products for our customers and their evolving communications needs.”

The deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter of this year and also needs the approval of the Federal Communications Commission, in addition to that of the state’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority.

After the close of the transaction, Frontier will employ nearly 3,000 people in Connecticut, serving approximately 1 million customers in the state.


Frontier to Buy Rural Verizon Lines for $5.3B
NYTIMES
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 11:31 a.m. ET

May 13, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) -- Verizon Communications Inc. said Wednesday it reached a deal to sell scattered phone service areas outside its main Northeastern and Californian territories for $5.3 billion in stock.  The buyer is Frontier Communications Corp., based in Stamford, Conn. The company focuses on serving small towns and rural areas and will triple in size with the deal.

The deal continues Verizon's strategy of focusing on its core areas, where it is upgrading its phone lines to fiber optics, enabling it offer TV service and faster Internet access. It sold off its phone lines in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont for $2.3 billion last year to Fairpoint Communications Inc.  The agreement would give Frontier 4.8 million phone lines to residential and small business customers and 1 million broadband connections. Frontier currently has 2.3 million customers.

The sale includes all of Verizon's phone lines in Arizona, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin as well as some assets in border areas of California.  Verizon shareholders will receive one share of Frontier stock for approximately every 4.2 shares of Verizon stock, depending on the price of Frontier shares at closing, which is expected within a year.

Frontier shares were up 39 cents, or 5.2 percent, at $7.96 in premarket trading Wednesday. Verizon shares gained 9 cents to $30.49.  Verizon is also extracting $3.3 billion from the units before selling them off, by having them pay cash to the parent company and letting them assume debt.  Frontier will issue so much stock to Verizon shareholders that they will end up owning 68 percent of the company.

''This is a truly transformational transaction for Frontier,'' Maggie Wilderotter, Frontier's chief executive, said in a statement. ''With more than 7 million access lines in 27 states, we will be the largest provider of voice, broadband and video services focused on rural to smaller city markets in the United States.''

Frontier also said it is cutting its annual dividend to 75 cents from $1, freeing cash to invest in the acquired areas, including for broadband buildouts. The cut takes its dividend yield to 9.9 percent.

Analyst Christopher King at Stifel Nicolaus noted that buyers of Verizon phone lines have fared badly in the past -- Fairpoint is struggling with its debt load, and the buyer of Verizon's Hawaiian business is in bankruptcy. But Frontier will actually reduce its debt load relative to its earnings through the transaction, King said.  The roughly 11,000 workers that support the local landlines will move to Frontier with union contracts intact, Verizon said.

Verizon lines in Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas and Virginia and most of California are not affected by the deal.

FORMER LEADER INFO


Oklahoma, Utah Lead Going Cell-Only; Calif, NY Lag
NYTIMES
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 12:21 p.m. ET
March 11, 2009


Trendy California isn't a trendsetter when it comes to relying on cell phones. And while the 1987 movie ''Wall Street'' helped introduce the then-brick-sized mobile phone to popular culture, New York and other Northeast states lag in dropping landlines. Surprisingly, Oklahoma and Utah lead in going wireless, according to federal estimates released Wednesday.

At least 26 percent of households are now cell-only in Oklahoma and Utah, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated. That rate was at least 20 percent in nine other states -- Nebraska, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, New Mexico, Texas, South Carolina and Tennessee -- and the District of Columbia.

The study is sure to be watched closely by telecommunications companies trying to understand state and local markets better, and by government, academic and commercial survey researchers using telephone polling to monitor health trends, politics and much more.

The CDC, blending its own 2007 survey data with Census updates, found the prevalence of cell-only households varies widely by state -- sometimes within regions and even between neighboring states. This is tied to differences by state in demographics known to predict wireless-only ownership, especially being young and renting rather than owning a home.

States with the fewest cell-only households: Vermont (5 percent) and Connecticut, Delaware and South Dakota (6 percent each). South Dakota was near the bottom even though next-door Nebraska was near the top. Also below 10 percent: Rhode Island, New Jersey, Hawaii, California (9 percent), Montana, Massachusetts and Missouri.

In New York -- where Michael Douglas as corporate raider Gordon Gekko roamed lower Manhattan barking orders on a huge early cell phone in ''Wall Street'' -- 11 percent of households were cell only.

The study also estimated how many adults only have cell phones. Those estimates mostly came within a point or two of the household numbers.

The study's lead author, Stephen Blumberg, senior scientist at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, noted the data are from 2007 and all signs indicate people keep substituting cell phones for landlines at a steady pace.

''We would expect that today in 2009 the prevalence rates in every state have increased, perhaps by 5 percentage points or more. What we don't know is whether the rate of growth is the same in every state,'' Blumberg said in an interview.

By asking about telephone usage in its monthly in-person health surveys, Blumberg's agency is the only source for data on prevalence of cell-phone-only households. It estimates more than one in six American homes -- 17.5 percent -- had only wireless phones as of a year ago.

The health survey doesn't have enough interviews to produce reliable state-level estimates in most states, so Blumberg's team looked to the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey, with large state samples. The researchers compared CPS data on demographic groups known to be associated with cell phone usage and adjusted the CDC state estimates to conform.

U.S. telephone surveys, especially on the state level, typically sample only landline phones. There's growing evidence from the 2008 election that excluding cell phones could hurt poll accuracy, at least a little. Blumberg noted that in health surveys omitting cell-only respondents could, among other things, underestimate the number of smokers and binge drinkers -- and, paradoxically, those who exercise regularly.



China will limit Internet access during the Olympic games 
DAY
By Andrew Jacobs    
Published on 7/31/2008 


Beijing - The International Olympic Committee failed to press China to allow fully unfettered access to the Internet for the thousands of journalists arriving here to cover the Olympics, despite promising repeatedly that the foreign news media could “report freely” during the games, Olympics officials acknowledged Wednesday.

Since the Olympic Village press center opened Friday, reporters have been unable to access scores of Web pages - among them those that discuss Tibetan issues, Taiwanese independence, the violent crackdown of the protests in Tiananmen Square and the Web sites of Amnesty International, the BBC, Radio Free Asia and several Hong Kong newspapers.

The restrictions, which closely resemble the blocks that China places on the Internet for its own citizens, undermine sweeping claims by Jacques Rogge, the IOC president, that China had agreed to provide free Web access for foreign news media during the games.

But a high-ranking IOC official said Wednesday that the committee was aware that China would continue to censor Web sites carrying content that Chinese propaganda authorities deemed harmful to national security and social stability. The committee acquiesced to China's demands to maintain such controls, said the official, who declined to be identified.

In its negotiations with the Chinese over Internet controls, the official said, the IOC insisted only that China provide unfettered access to sites containing information useful to sports reporters covering athletic competitions, not to sites that the Chinese and the Olympic committee negotiators determined had little relevance to sports.

The official said he now believed that the Chinese defined their national security needs more broadly than the Olympic committee had anticipated, denying reporters access to some information that they might need to cover the events and the host country fully.

This week, foreign news media in China were unable directly to access an Amnesty International report that detailed what it called a deterioration in China's human rights record in the prelude to the games.

Chinese officials initially suggested that any troubles journalists were having with Internet access probably stemmed from the sites themselves, not any steps that China had taken to filter Web content. But Sun Weide, the chief spokesman for the Beijing Olympic organizing committee, acknowledged Wednesday that journalists would not have uncensored Internet use during the Games.

”It has been our policy to provide the media with convenient and sufficient access to the Internet,” said Sun. “I believe our policy will not affect reporters' coverage of the Olympic games.”  




Demand for Data Puts Engineers in Spotlight
NYTIMES
By STEVE LOHR
Published: June 17, 2008

In Silicon Valley, the stars have long been charismatic marketing visionaries and cool-nerd software wizards. By contrast, mechanical engineers who design and run computer data centers were traditionally regarded as little more than blue-collar workers in the high-tech world.  For years, they toiled in relative obscurity in the engine rooms of the digital economy, amid the racks of servers and storage devices that power everything from online videos to corporate e-mail systems. Their mission was to keep the computing power plants humming, while scant thought was given to rising costs and energy consumption.

Today, data center experts are no longer taken for granted. The torrid growth in data centers to keep pace with the demands of Internet-era computing, their immense need for electricity and their inefficient use of that energy pose environmental, energy and economic challenges, experts say.  That means people with the skills to design, build and run a data center that does not endanger the power grid are suddenly in demand. Their status is growing, as are their salaries — climbing more than 20 percent in the last two years into six figures for experienced engineers.

“The data center energy problem is growing fast, and it has an economic importance that far outweighs the electricity use,” said Jonathan G. Koomey, a consulting professor of environmental engineering at Stanford. “So that explains why these data center people, who haven’t gotten a lot of glory in their careers, are in the spotlight now.”

At one time, “we were seen as sheet metal jockeys,” said Chandrakant Patel, a mechanical engineer at Hewlett-Packard Labs who has worked in Silicon Valley for 25 years. “But now we have a chance to change the world for the better, using engineering and basic science.”

There is no letup in the demand for data center computing. Digital Realty Trust, a data center landlord with more than 70 facilities, says that customer demand for new space is running 50 percent ahead of its capacity to build and equip data centers for the next two years. “We’re building the railroads of the future, and we can’t keep up,” said Chris J. Crosby, a senior vice president at Digital Realty.

For every new center, new data center administrators need to be hired. “It takes us eight months to find a guy to run a data center,” said Mr. Crosby.

Indeed, some data managers with only a degree from a two-year college can command a $100,000 salary. Trade and professional conferences for data center experts, unheard of years ago, are now commonplace. Five-figure signing bonuses, retention bonuses and generous stock grants have become ingredients in the compensation packages of data center experts today.

Paul Marcoux knows the feeling of being wanted. Cisco Systems, giant Silicon Valley maker of equipment used in data centers, recently held a nationwide search for a vice president for “green engineering.” It needed someone who could manage the traditional information technology functions as well as increasingly important mechanical and electrical systems.

Last November, Cisco found Mr. Marcoux, an electrical engineer with an M.B.A. working at American Power Conversion, a manufacturer of power supplies and air-conditioners for data centers. Mr. Marcoux, 57, worked on the design and construction of about 100 data centers in his 30-year career.

“To really make progress, we have to bridge the analog and the digital worlds,” said Mr. Marcoux.

At Cisco, Mr. Marcoux is applying his experience to improving the company’s data centers and its products, so that its computers increasingly can communicate with the coolers and power generators. “Our products need to talk to the power supplies and air-conditioners instead of being standalone boxes,” he explained.

Cisco is just one of the many companies — and the Energy Department’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory — working on the challenge of making data centers operate more like seamless machines, using sensors and software, for example, so the computers can direct air-conditioners and fans where and what level of cooling is needed.

Mr. Patel is overseeing H.P.’s programs in energy-efficient data centers and technology. The research includes advanced projects like trying to replace copper wiring in server computers with laser beams. But like other experts in the field, Mr. Patel says that data centers can be made 30 percent to 50 percent more efficient by applying current technology.

The pace of the data center buildup is the result of the surging use of server computers, which in the United States rose to 11.8 million in 2007, from 2.6 million a decade earlier, according to IDC, a research firm. Worldwide, the 10-year pattern is similar, with the server population increasing more than fourfold to 30.3 million by 2007.

“For years and years, the attitude was just buy it, install it and don’t worry about it,” said Vernon Turner, an analyst for IDC. “That led to all sorts of inefficiencies. Now, we’re paying for that behavior.”

The problem is that most computers in data centers run at 15 percent or less of capacity on average, loafing the rest of the time, though consuming electricity all the while. (In the old days, when they housed a few large computers, data centers were far more efficient. Mainframe computers run at 80 percent of capacity or more.)

The computers also generate a lot of heat, so much so that half of the energy consumed by a typical data center is for enormous air-conditioners, fans and other industrial equipment used mainly to cool the high-tech facilities.

The nation’s data centers doubled their energy consumption in the five years to 2006, exceeding the electricity used by the country’s color televisions, according to the latest government estimates.

The availability of electricity, not just its cost, presents a threat to the continued expansion of data center computing that can hamper companies across the economy, as they increasingly rely on information technology.

Based on current trends, by 2011 data center energy consumption will nearly double again, requiring the equivalent of 25 power plants. The world’s data centers, according to recent study from McKinsey & Company, could well surpass the airline industry as a greenhouse gas polluter by 2020.

Because the task ahead, analysts say, is not just building new data centers, but also overhauling the old ones, the managers who know how to cut energy consumption are at a premium. Most of the 6,600 data centers in America, analysts say, will be replaced or retrofitted with new equipment over the next several years.

They apparently have little choice. Analysts point to surveys that show 30 percent of American corporations are deferring new technology initiatives because of data center limitations.

Mechanical and electrical engineers with experience in data center design, air-flow modeling and power systems management are in demand. “If you have those skills, there are jobs waiting,” says Phil Calabrese, a mechanical engineer and director of I.B.M.’s real estate engineering and construction unit.

No company has longer experience in the care and feeding of data centers than I.B.M., and analysts say improving data center efficiency will involve applying some mainframe-style management disciplines.

To exploit the opportunity, I.B.M., which built its business on mainframes and still sells them, last fall introduced a green data center services unit. The new group signed $300 million in contracts in the fourth quarter of last year, and the business is growing rapidly this year, the company says.

Now that costs and energy consumption are priorities, the data center gurus are getting a hearing and new respect.

“After 25 years, we’re finally elevating mechanical engineering and adding a lot of electrical engineering, computer science and applied physics,” said Mr. Patel of Hewlett-Packard. “I wish I were 20 years younger.”



Vast Spy System Loots Computers in 103 Countries
NYTIMES
By JOHN MARKOFF

March 29, 2009


TORONTO — A vast electronic spying operation has infiltrated computers and has stolen documents from hundreds of government and private offices around the world, including those of the Dalai Lama, Canadian researchers have concluded.

In a report to be issued this weekend, the researchers said that the system was being controlled from computers based almost exclusively in China, but that they could not say conclusively that the Chinese government was involved.

The researchers, who are based at the Munk Center for International Studies at the University of Toronto, had been asked by the office of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader whom China regularly denounces, to examine its computers for signs of malicious software, or malware.

Their sleuthing opened a window into a broader operation that, in less than two years, has infiltrated at least 1,295 computers in 103 countries, including many belonging to embassies, foreign ministries and other government offices, as well as the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan exile centers in India, Brussels, London and New York.

The researchers, who have a record of detecting computer espionage, said they believed that in addition to the spying on the Dalai Lama, the system, which they called GhostNet, was focused on the governments of South Asian and Southeast Asian countries.

Intelligence analysts say many governments, including those of China, Russia and the United States, and other parties use sophisticated computer programs to covertly gather information.

The newly reported spying operation is by far the largest to come to light in terms of countries affected.

This is also believed to be the first time researchers have been able to expose the workings of a computer system used in an intrusion of this magnitude.

Still going strong, the operation continues to invade and monitor more than a dozen new computers a week, the researchers said in their report, “Tracking ‘GhostNet’: Investigating a Cyber Espionage Network.” They said they had found no evidence that United States government offices had been infiltrated, although a NATO computer was monitored by the spies for half a day and computers of the Indian Embassy in Washington were infiltrated.

The malware is remarkable both for its sweep — in computer jargon, it has not been merely “phishing” for random consumers’ information, but “whaling” for particular important targets — and for its Big Brother-style capacities. It can, for example, turn on the camera and audio-recording functions of an infected computer, enabling monitors to see and hear what goes on in a room. The investigators say they do not know if this facet has been employed.

The researchers were able to monitor the commands given to infected computers and to see the names of documents retrieved by the spies, but in most cases the contents of the stolen files have not been determined. Working with the Tibetans, however, the researchers found that specific correspondence had been stolen and that the intruders had gained control of the electronic mail server computers of the Dalai Lama’s organization.

The electronic spy game has had at least some real-world impact, they said. For example, they said, after an e-mail invitation was sent by the Dalai Lama’s office to a foreign diplomat, the Chinese government made a call to the diplomat discouraging a visit. And a woman working for a group making Internet contacts between Tibetan exiles and Chinese citizens was stopped by Chinese intelligence officers on her way back to Tibet, shown transcripts of her online conversations and warned to stop her political activities.

The Toronto researchers said they had notified international law enforcement agencies of the spying operation, which in their view exposed basic shortcomings in the legal structure of cyberspace. The F.B.I. declined to comment on the operation.

Although the Canadian researchers said that most of the computers behind the spying were in China, they cautioned against concluding that China’s government was involved. The spying could be a nonstate, for-profit operation, for example, or one run by private citizens in China known as “patriotic hackers.”

“We’re a bit more careful about it, knowing the nuance of what happens in the subterranean realms,” said Ronald J. Deibert, a member of the research group and an associate professor of political science at Munk. “This could well be the C.I.A. or the Russians. It’s a murky realm that we’re lifting the lid on.”

A spokesman for the Chinese Consulate in New York dismissed the idea that China was involved. “These are old stories and they are nonsense,” the spokesman, Wenqi Gao, said. “The Chinese government is opposed to and strictly forbids any cybercrime.”

The Toronto researchers, who allowed a reporter for The New York Times to review the spies’ digital tracks, are publishing their findings in Information Warfare Monitor, an online publication associated with the Munk Center.

At the same time, two computer researchers at Cambridge University in Britain who worked on the part of the investigation related to the Tibetans, are releasing an independent report. They do fault China, and they warned that other hackers could adopt the tactics used in the malware operation.

“What Chinese spooks did in 2008, Russian crooks will do in 2010 and even low-budget criminals from less developed countries will follow in due course,” the Cambridge researchers, Shishir Nagaraja and Ross Anderson, wrote in their report, “The Snooping Dragon: Social Malware Surveillance of the Tibetan Movement.”

In any case, it was suspicions of Chinese interference that led to the discovery of the spy operation. Last summer, the office of the Dalai Lama invited two specialists to India to audit computers used by the Dalai Lama’s organization. The specialists, Greg Walton, the editor of Information Warfare Monitor, and Mr. Nagaraja, a network security expert, found that the computers had indeed been infected and that intruders had stolen files from personal computers serving several Tibetan exile groups.

Back in Toronto, Mr. Walton shared data with colleagues at the Munk Center’s computer lab.

One of them was Nart Villeneuve, 34, a graduate student and self-taught “white hat” hacker with dazzling technical skills. Last year, Mr. Villeneuve linked the Chinese version of the Skype communications service to a Chinese government operation that was systematically eavesdropping on users’ instant-messaging sessions.

Early this month, Mr. Villeneuve noticed an odd string of 22 characters embedded in files created by the malicious software and searched for it with Google. It led him to a group of computers on Hainan Island, off China, and to a Web site that would prove to be critically important.

In a puzzling security lapse, the Web page that Mr. Villeneuve found was not protected by a password, while much of the rest of the system uses encryption.

Mr. Villeneuve and his colleagues figured out how the operation worked by commanding it to infect a system in their computer lab in Toronto. On March 12, the spies took their own bait. Mr. Villeneuve watched a brief series of commands flicker on his computer screen as someone — presumably in China — rummaged through the files. Finding nothing of interest, the intruder soon disappeared.

Through trial and error, the researchers learned to use the system’s Chinese-language “dashboard” — a control panel reachable with a standard Web browser — by which one could manipulate the more than 1,200 computers worldwide that had by then been infected.

Infection happens two ways. In one method, a user’s clicking on a document attached to an e-mail message lets the system covertly install software deep in the target operating system. Alternatively, a user clicks on a Web link in an e-mail message and is taken directly to a “poisoned” Web site.

The researchers said they avoided breaking any laws during three weeks of monitoring and extensively experimenting with the system’s unprotected software control panel. They provided, among other information, a log of compromised computers dating to May 22, 2007.

They found that three of the four control servers were in different provinces in China — Hainan, Guangdong and Sichuan — while the fourth was discovered to be at a Web-hosting company based in Southern California.

Beyond that, said Rafal A. Rohozinski, one of the investigators, “attribution is difficult because there is no agreed upon international legal framework for being able to pursue investigations down to their logical conclusion, which is highly local.”



Lawmakers say computers were hacked from China 

DAY
By PETE YOST and LARA JAKES JORDAN    
Published on 6/12/2008  

 
Washington - Multiple congressional computers have been hacked by people working from inside China, lawmakers said Wednesday, suggesting the Chinese were seeking lists of dissidents.

Two congressmen, both longtime critics of Beijing's record on human rights, said the compromised computers contained information about political dissidents from around the world. One of the lawmakers said he'd been discouraged from disclosing the computer attacks by other U.S. officials.  Virginia Rep. Frank Wolf said four of his computers were compromised, beginning in 2006. New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith, a senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said two of his computers were attacked, in December 2006 and March 2007.

Wolf said that following one of the attacks, a car with license plates belonging to Chinese officials went to the home of a dissident in Fairfax County, Va., outside Washington and photographed it.  During the same time period, The House International Relations Committee - now known as the House Foreign Affairs Committee - was targeted at least once by someone working inside China, said committee spokeswoman Lynne Weil.

Wednesday's disclosures came as U.S. authorities continued to investigate whether Chinese officials secretly copied the contents of a government laptop computer during a visit to China by Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez and used the information to try to hack into Commerce Department computers. The Pentagon last month acknowledged at a closed House Intelligence committee meeting that its vast computer network is scanned or attacked by outsiders more than 300 million times each day.

Wolf said the FBI had told him that computers of other House members and at least one House committee had been accessed by sources working from inside China. The Virginia Republican suggested that Senate computers could have been attacked as well.  He said the hacking of computers in his Capitol Hill office began in August 2006, that he had known about it for a long time and that he had been discouraged from disclosing it by people in the U.S. government he refused to identify.

”The problem has been that no one wants to talk about this issue,” he said. “Every time I've started to do something I've been told 'You can't do this.' A lot of people have made it very, very difficult.”

The FBI and the White House declined to comment.  The Bush administration has been increasingly reluctant publicly to discuss or acknowledge cyber attacks, especially ones traced to China.

In the Senate, the office of Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who chairs the Senate's subcommittee on humanitarian issues, asked the sergeant at arms to investigate whether Senate computers have been compromised.

Wolf said the first computer hacked in his office belonged to the staffer who works on human rights cases and that others included the machines of Wolf's chief of staff and legislative director.

”They knew which ones to get,” said Dan Scandling, who currently is on leave of absence from his job as Wolf's chief of staff. “It was a very sophisticated operation,” he said. “The FBI verified that it had been done.”

Smith said the attacks on his office computers were “very much an orchestrated effort.”

He said that after the first intrusion in December 2006, “that was the last time” his office put the names of dissidents on its computers.

In Beijing, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs had no immediate comment on the allegations by Wolf and Smith.  Last week, China denied the accusations regarding Gutierrez's laptop and the alleged effort to hack Commerce Department computers.  Wolf said he was introducing a House resolution that would help ensure protection for all House computers and information systems.

It calls for the chief administrative officer and sergeant at arms of the House, in consultation with the FBI, to alert members and their staffs to the danger of electronic attacks. Wolf also wants lawmakers to be fully briefed on ways to safeguard official records from electronic security breaches.

”My own suspicion is I was targeted by China because of my long history of speaking out about China's abysmal human rights record,” Wolf said in a draft of remarks he prepared to give on the House floor.

He said Congress should hold hearings, specifically the House Intelligence Committee, Armed Services Committee and Government Operations Committee. Speaking generally in May 2006, Wolf called Chinese spying efforts “frightening” and said it was no secret that the United States is a principal target of Chinese intelligence services.

Wolf thinks that President Bush should stay away from the Olympics because of China's human rights record.  He also has been outspoken on the subject of violence in the Darfur region of Sudan, where China has major oil interests.  Smith has introduced the Global Online Freedom Act which would prohibit U.S. Internet companies from cooperating with countries such as China that restrict information about human rights and democracy on the Internet.

Wolf and Smith both traveled to Beijing 17 years ago seeking the release of 77 people imprisoned or under house arrest because of their religious activities.



Recording Industry Getting Tougher On State's Students For Illegal Downloads; Settle Now Or Face A Federal Lawsuit, Lawyers Tell The Accused In Form Letter 
DAY
Published on 2/15/2008 


Free downloads have never cost so much.

Since last August, 84 University of Connecticut students, along with many others from Yale, Fairfield University, and Trinity College, have received letters from attorneys representing several major record companies threatening heavy fines and legal action against the students, who have allegedly downloaded music illegally using the school's Internet server.

The letters state, “You have been infringing copyrights owned by the Record Companies.”

The correspondence, obtained this week by The Day and addressed Jan. 9 from the Denver-based law firm Holme, Roberts and Owen, goes on to say that the students had 20 days “to settle the claims for a significantly reduced amount.”

If the accused students do not settle, the record companies promise to file a federal lawsuit, according to the letter, and the students would face much stiffer penalties compared to what the companies' settlement offers.

A spokesman for the law firm said it doesn't comment on the letters.

One Canterbury man, who is the father of a UConn sophomore, said his daughter received a presettlement letter. The man asked not to be identified because he fears retaliation from the record companies. When he called the settlement hotline, the law firm asked for $3,000 compensation for the 350 songs his daughter had downloaded.

“It's totally ridiculous — it's extortion,” he said. “They're kind of bullying you.”

The man said his daughter did not pay the fine and now faces $262,000 in penalties from the record companies.

The record companies represented by the law firm are the heavyweights of the industry — EMI Recorded Music, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group, as well as all of their subsidiaries.

Since last February, the Recording Industry Association of America has been waging an aggressive campaign against illegal downloads, especially cracking down on colleges and universities, because there are disproportionately higher incidences of illegal file sharing on college campuses. More than 2,350 students have settled with the RIAA since the stepped-up campaign began, according to the association.

The recording industry does not know the names of the students yet, just the specific IP addresses of their computers; however, the companies can compel the university to reveal the names by issuing a subpoena.

“We're familiar with these kinds of claims, and we have no direct authority to intervene,” Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said earlier this week.

According to Blumenthal and an online database for federal court cases, the university has not yet been served with a subpoena.

Blumenthal said he has been contacted by a relatively small number of people seeking help, and his office has “successfully moderated or reduced such penalties in the past by appealing to the companies' sense of fairness and common sense.”

University officials said that instances of illegal downloading on campus has drastically decreased over the past years, but combating it is still a challenge.

“It's a constantly moving target,” said Michael Kerntke, chief information officer at UConn.

Kerntke said the college has software to prevent the type of person-to-person file sharing that has led to legal challenges, but students who are determined to download files illegally will find a way to do so.

“The RIAA is obviously trying to enforce royalty payments in some way, shape or form,” Kerntke said. As a way to help students avoid the temptation of illicit file sharing, the university points students to a site that allows free, legal downloads, www.ruckus.com.

In a Feb. 6 post on the university's Web site, Dean of Students Lee Williams warned about the consequences of illegal file sharing.

“When the RIAA contacts the University, and produces a legal subpoena, we are obliged to give them information about students' identification and online activity,” Williams wrote in her post. “All we can (and will) do on your behalf is notify you that the RIAA is after you. At that point, you'll have to either pay this fine, or hire a lawyer to fight this.”

The experience of people who have fought that legal battle has not been good. Just this week Oklahoma State University revealed the names of 11 students accused of illegal downloads. The students and the school were unsuccessful in trying to quash the RIAA subpoena.

“The bottom line is: illegal downloading is ... illegal. And it will cost you a bundle,” Williams said in her message.  



SOFTWARE WILL RULE THE WORD

Das Kapital: This is very Orwellian
"K"  only replace as a capital letter Kindel?  Not to try to start a fire, how about replacing "kindling" with "nookling?" 


Nook version of "War and Peace" contains embarrassing search-and-replace error
YAHOO
By Tecca | Today in Tech
4 June 2012

Editors are pretty important people. They keep books, magazines, and even websites error free. But what happens when you take shortcuts and skimp on professional editing? You open yourself up to significant embarrassment, as the publisher of the Nook e-book version of War and Peace is finding out.

While reading a copy he downloaded on his Barnes & Noble Nook for 99 cents, eagle-eyed blogger Philip Howard noticed the odd usage of the word "Nookd." It was a bizarre inclusion, but since War and Peace is translated from the original Russian, the word didn't truly stand out.

"Thinking this was simply a glitch in the software," Howard explains, "I ignored the intrusive word and continued reading. Some pages later I encountered the rogue word again. With my third encounter I decided to retrieve my hard cover book and find the original (well, the translated) text."

It turns out that every instance of "kindled" had been replaced with "Nookd," with Kindle, of course, being the name of Nook's competitor. It's believed the mistake happened as a result of a lazy application for inclusion in the Nook Book Store. The book's publisher likely performed a search-and-replace to change all references to Amazon's competing e-book Kindle, not realizing that Leo Tolstoy had used the word "kindled" no fewer than eight times in the text.




The Amazon "Kindel" (seen above)

Sony to Launch a Wireless e-Reader
NYTIMES
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 2:42 p.m. ET
August 25, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) -- Sony Corp. plans to offer an e-book reader with the ability to wirelessly download books, injecting more competition in a small but fast-growing market by adopting a key feature of the rival Kindle from Amazon.com.

Sony's $399 Reader Daily Edition will go on sale by December, Sony executives said Tuesday at an event at the New York Public Library. The device has a 7-inch touch screen and will be able to get books, daily newspapers and other reading material over AT&T Inc.'s cellular network.

Sony has sold e-book reading devices with ''electronic ink'' displays in the United States since 2006, but has seen most of the attention stolen by Amazon.com Inc., which launched the Kindle with similar e-ink technology a year later. The latest version of the Kindle -- which is not controlled by touching the screen -- costs $299 and uses Sprint Nextel Corp.'s wireless network for downloads.

On Tuesday, Sony also began selling a ''Pocket Edition'' e-book reader with a 5-inch screen, for $199, and a larger $299 touch-screen model. Neither has wireless capability, so both have to be connected to a computer to acquire books.

Though Sony is following in Amazon's footsteps by adding wireless capability, its e-book strategy differs in crucial respects.

The only copy-protected books the Kindle can display are from Amazon's store, and the only devices the store supports are the Kindle, the iPhone and the iPod Touch.

Sony, on the other hand, has committed to an open e-book standard, meaning its Readers can show copy-protected books from a variety of stores, and the books can be moved to and read on a variety of devices, including cell phones.

Sony also announced Tuesday that the Readers will be able to load e-books ''loaned'' from local libraries. A library card will provide access to free books that expire after 21 days.

The library connection ''would seem to be something Amazon would never embrace, so that could be a key differentiator,'' said Richard Doherty, director of research firm The Envisioneering Group.

The alliance with AT&T helps the Dallas-based carrier further expand the use of its wireless network beyond cell phones. Like other carriers, AT&T is looking for new avenues of growth now that almost every adult has a cell phone. In July, it announced that it would provide the connection to another upcoming e-book reader from Plastic Logic Ltd., which will use the e-book store of Barnes & Noble Inc.

Reader owners won't be charged a subscription fee for wireless access, said Steve Haber, head of Sony's U.S. reading division.

Instead, the bookseller will likely have to pay AT&T for the wireless access, out of money it charges for the books, similar to the way Amazon pays Sprint. Sony's multi-store strategy makes that challenging. The Daily Edition will initially have wireless access only to Sony's e-book store, Haber said.

Sony said the names of the newspapers that will be available on the device will be announced later. The Kindle already offers 46 newspapers, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today.

Sony's U.S. shares rose 43 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $27.01 in midday trading, while Seattle-based Amazon gained 30 cents to $84.80.




7 May 2009
By Michael Fitzpatrick
BBC News

Kindle DX
The Kindle DX is designed for newspapers and periodicals - but is only black and white

The rise and rise of e-readers
Amazon's launch of its first dedicated e-reader for newspapers and magazines points to a future when digital and analogue publishing begins to merge.

Nearly double the size of the book giant's existing e-reader, Amazon's wireless Kindle DX has adopted a tabloid-like format for ease of reading newspapers and magazines such as The New York Times and the Washington Post which have announced they will launch pilots editions on Kindle DX this summer.

Although others, most notably the Japanese and the Dutch, have trials underway that publish tabloid-size digital editions for other handheld e-reader devices, Amazon with its mighty marketing clout represents the first mainstream commercial stab at the market.

Increased graphics resolution and the larger size of the tablet-like, the $489 Kindle DX is also a departure from previous e-readers on the market, although Japan's Fujitsu has a similar sized colour reader on the market for twice the price.

"Cookbooks, computer books, and textbooks - anything highly formatted -shine on the Kindle DX," claims Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com Founder and CEO underlining the new Kindle's purported better handling of detail and graphics.

Amazon already has a hit on its hands with the Kindle 2. The same heft as a paperback, weighing about eight ounces, such e-ink readers are basically handheld screens on which you can read words page by page reasonably comfortably.

Amazon says it has already sold more than 500,000 of its $359 Kindle e-readers, which buyers use mostly as a portable library downloading print media via a wireless connection.

The new Kindle DX, like other popular e-readers such as the Sony reader, employs "e-ink" technology that far enhances the reading of digitized print.

Sony Reader
Sony has a rival e-reader on the market

As there is no backlight and no glare, the effect is not unlike reading a page in a regular book. Publications are bought online making paid subscriptions, along the lines of paid for music on iTunes, a possibility.

Such benefits have not been lost on newspaper editors who are desperate to find alternatives to today's failing business models of newspaper publishing.

Alan Rusbridger, the editor of UK newspaper The Guardian, for one, has predicted there might be an "iPod moment" for the industry with the coming of a handheld device on which reading a newspaper will become commonplace.

However excited some in the ailing newspaper and magazine industry are over the new Kindle, there are still severe shortcomings, not least that content offerings still come only in black and white.

Vastly superior to reading off a computer monitor or conventional mobile phone screen Amazon's e-readers and their ilk are products of electronic-ink technology that creates clear, easy-to-read text even in sunlight.

With electronic ink, charged particles migrate under the influence of an electric field. Depending on the field applied, either the white or the black particles move to the front of the screen to make up the image.

The technology used in most e-readers are adaptations of this form of "ePaper" and "e-ink" that create bubbles of e-ink by pushing ink-like particles around under its light-grey plastic skin.

As a leader in the field of e-paper development Japanese researchers at Fujitsu Frontech have attempted to sidestep the mono-chromatic drawbacks by creating colour e-ink and went to market last month with a full colour e-reader.

Dubbed Flepia, the three-quarters of a pound device displays 260,000 colours - good enough to display magazine-like graphics, is slightly smaller than a sheet of A4 and just over a centimetre thick.

Flepia
Fuji sells a colour e-reader - but it is expensive

Colour for such e-ink technology does not come cheap, however, and Flepia retails at $1,000 in Japan.

Looking at the Flepia, the future of e-ink digital e-readers, says Tokyo-based new media journalist Nobuyuki Hayashi, has a long way to go, not least on price.

"Flepia has a too slow refresh rate (1.8 seconds), users have to use a stylus to turn pages and its user interface is no-frill, no-fun and non-intuitive. In my opinion this does not look like a serious consumer device," he says.

"An easier-to-use device from outside of the country such as Kindle (or the iPhone), will probably eliminate this somewhat alien product."

Whatever the outcome of both Fujitsu's and Amazon's new formats the rivals have entered an increasingly crowded marketplace for the e- reader.

Sony and a Dutch firm iRex have both experimented with newspaper subscriptions on their paperback sized e-readers.

Kindle 2
The Kindle DX has a 9.7 inche screen and can display Adobe Acrobat files

Since Christmas, iRex has offered over 800 newspapers from 81 countries on its new monochrome but high- resolution iRex Digital Reader 1000 series.

While French telecoms provider Orange has just finished an e-reader trial in partnership with five French newspapers, including Le Monde and Les Echos, and will be looking to start a proper commercial service by the end of the year.

But despite having success with using an e-reader with its e-reading clients, Orange is undecided which platform is best suited to delivering daily print media subscriptions "as the market is moving too fast to tell".

With smartphones and net books falling in price, such all in one devices - suitable for anything from book reading to watching TV - might prove a more convenient platform for publishing and even present better business models for publishers as Japan has found.

"Expect a slow beginning and a period of rapid evolution before e-reader's become ubiquitous, " says Japanese media consultant David Kilburn.

"They will also need to compete successfully with what people can already do using their mobile phones."

Already "keitai culture", the pervasiveness of mobile phone usage, as generated by Japan's early embracing of mobiles is making its impact felt in other activities such as newsgathering and newspaper reading.

The popularity of Amazon's Kindle and the Sony e-book reader suggests there is a market that has been poorly exploited so far by smartphones in the west while Japan is racing ahead with manga by e-mail and paid for newspaper subscriptions by phone.

Ryo Shimizu CEO of applications developer UEI in Tokyo says the phone as book, magazine or sketchpad is already something that has taken off in Japan.

"The killer application in Japan is CGM, such as novels or comics, which can be read by mobile phones. Here, mobiles are already a true alternative to paper."

Looking at Japan's reach for the handier keitais, going bigger isn't always going to be better, even for Amazon.





JULIA'S LAST NAME IS HUXLEY?
Click above left for on-line "Brave New World" - the original.


‘Julia Decides to Have a Child’
Jeffrey H. Anderson, Weekly Standard
May 8, 2012 6:05 AM

One aspect of President Obama's philosophically revealing — and mock-worthy — "Julia" web ad doesn't seem to have garnered as much attention as one might have expected. Just as Julia's life of government dependency isn't likely to inspire a new set of books along the lines of the celebration of self-reliance and freedom depicted in the Little House on the Prairie series, her romantic life isn't likely to spawn any sequels to Jane Austen novels.

Julia, of course, is the fictional subject of the newly released Obama ad. She leads a rather bland, conformist, and dependent life — a life more reminiscent of the centrally planned lives in Brave New World than of the vibrant lives led by so many Americans from the founding generation, through the era of Abraham Lincoln and Huckleberry Finn, to the present day.  Throughout the ad, we’re shown what Julia is doing at various points in her life with the help of the Obama administration's myriad regulations and taxpayer-funded federal programs.

When Julia, who never entirely seems to grow out of childhood in her own right, hits the age of 31, we are told that she "decides to have a child."

This is peculiar phrasing.  There's no mention of Julia having first decided to get married, and no mention of Julia's husband — or even of her dating anyone — in any of the snippets shown from any of the stages of her life.  Perhaps the ad simply doesn't mention Julia having gotten married because it was one of the few noteworthy events in her life that didn't involve the active assistance of the federal government.

Still, it would be a rather strange choice to convey Julia's and her husband's (or even her boyfriend's) desire to start a family by using the phrase, "Julia decides to have a child."  Who would say this?  Nor does the ad suggest that Julia has found herself in an unenviable predicament and is now simply trying to do the right thing — it doesn't say, "Having unexpectedly gotten pregnant, Julia decides to have the child."

No, by all appearances, Julia has planned this pregnancy, by herself, from the start.  Moreover — and most disturbingly — the ad suggests that Obama thinks this is a good thing, worthy of federal support (in the form of Obamacare benefits, which are listed as being offered to Julia at this juncture).

Aside from the total lack of romantic spirit on display in this stage of Julia's life, one wonders what Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the longtime Democratic senator from New York, would have thought of this ad.  Moynihan famously highlighted the decline of the American family — particular of black Americans’ families.  He highlighted that, as of 1963, the out-of-wedlock birthrate had risen to an alarming 24 percent among black Americans (from 17 percent in 1940), compared to 3 percent among white Americans (from 2 percent in 1940).  He noted that this “breakdown” in the family structure “led to a startling increase in welfare dependency.”

Fast-forwarding to the present day, the New York Times reports that these numbers are now 73 percent (for black Americans) and 29 percent (for white Americans).  Overall, 41 percent of American children are now born out of wedlock — including 53 percent of American children born to women under the age of 30.

In his choosing to present Julia’s decision in cheerful tones and brag about the federal support he would offer to help make it possible, perhaps Obama could be defended on the grounds that Julia’s life is nearly (to quote the Times) "the new normal" — although not quite — in this vein.  But would Moynihan so casually have released such an ad?  Would he have condoned at least implicitly awarding the presidential seal of approval to this lifestyle choice?  (And in Julia’s case it seemingly is a lifestyle choice, not a reaction to unplanned events.)  Moreover, shouldn’t Obama be aware of the heavy price that many Americans, and especially inner-city black Americans, have paid for the decline of the American family?  Shouldn’t he be doing something, at least rhetorically, to try to reverse this trend?

In a sense, however, it's not surprising that Obama would instead subtly offer the opposite message.  After all, observers from Plato to Moynihan (and beyond) have noted the inverse relationship between the strength of the family and the strength of the state.


After many years the "Revisited" came out...Source:  Wikipedia:
Brave New World Revisited (Harper & Row, 1958, 1965), written by Huxley almost thirty years after Brave New World, was a non-fiction work in which Huxley considered whether the world had moved towards or away from his vision of the future from the 1930s. He believed when he wrote the original novel that it was a reasonable guess as to where the world might go in the future but in Brave New World Revisited he concluded that the world was becoming much more like Brave New World much faster than he thought...


Rell seeks to safeguard citizenry's private information from online search sites
Manchester Journal Inquirer
By: Harlan Levy
12/25/2007

Complaints about online directory assistance sites that reveal extensive personal data have prompted Gov. M. Jodi Rell to start developing a legislative package to help

In a news release, Rell said Monday that she's received complaints about online search engines that list not only names, addresses, and telephone numbers but also people's ages, places of work, and other personal information.
 
Rell said she plans to propose restrictions that would likely be in the form of an "opt-out" registry that's an electronic version of the state and federal "Do Not Call" list, which blocks telemarketing calls to citizens whose phone numbers are on the list.

"Anyone who goes to WhitePages.com or 411.com will find personal information published that many people may want protected," Rell said. "This is a safety and security issue, particularly for our elderly citizens who too often are targeted by scam artists and other opportunists."

A third site, veromi.net, provides the names of possible relatives and roommates, as well as a person's name, address, age, and other information.

The opt-out registry Rell outlined would establish a centralized, one-time process for Connecticut residents to remove some or all of their private information from Internet search sites, credit card solicitations, direct mail lists, and other records.

"There have long been Web sites that, for a modest fee, specialize in taking bits and pieces from each of these sources and assembling a surprisingly complete profile of an individual, including Social Security number, address history, employer and even the make and model of their car," Rell said in the release.

"Now some sites are adding even more personal information to search results ... I am concerned this 'personal information creep' will put more and more individual privacy at risk."

Rell said she understands that these sites are breaking no law by gathering and disseminating this information.

Nevertheless, she said, an opt-out registry "will in no way jeopardize my commitment to transparency in government," because "I believe there are reasonable protections we can explore without compromising the Freedom of Information Act and the principles of open government."

One impediment is that the First Amendment of the Constitution prohibits the restraint of free speech. That means that the directory-assistance Web sites cannot be forced to remove any data that is public. And one's name, spouse's name, address (unless unpublished), age, and workplace are probably all available to the public, whether they can be easily found or not.

If it's public, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said, "there are no constitutional problems that I would foresee. The government cannot censor what's in the public realm."

What the government can censor, Blumenthal said, is a party tracking and selling the private information that comes from an individual's Internet dealings and purchases without the individual's knowledge.

Three weeks ago Blumenthal proposed a "Do Not Track" list similar to a Canadian program that would prohibit such conduct by telemarketers and others who use, buy, or sell such information that they surreptitiously obtain without consent. Blumenthal wants next year's legislature to enact the measure.

"The basic concept is to prevent collecting information without the consumer's consent," Blumenthal said.
"If the consumer objects to collecting the information and says, 'Do not track me when I travel the Internet,' that wish should be respected, and this law would compel marketers to protect that right under consumer privacy."

That protection would come from state law and not under the right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment, Blumenthal added.

"The Fourth Amendment right is against the government invading my privacy and telling me what to do," he said.
Privacy laws being scrutinized

Rell noted that many states are examining their privacy laws, security measures, and the kinds of information they collect, manage, and distribute in light of identity theft, fraud, and other computer crimes.

The state has endured several recent incidents of misplaced computers with vast amounts of unprotected personal data. Protective reactions followed soon thereafter.

In October, Rell announced that the Department of Information Technology had selected a new encryption tool for use by state agencies for laptop computers and other mobile computing and storage devices.

On Sept. 10, Rell announced a new mobile computing and storage device security policy requiring agencies to adhere to new restrictions and accountability measures, including mandatory risk assessments and written authorization from the agency head for any instance in which restricted or confidential data must reside on a mobile device for business reasons.

Any data residing on a mobile device under these controlled circumstances must be encrypted, the amount of data and length of time it may reside on the mobile device must be limited, and protections from unauthorized access and disclosure are required.

Rell also directed all agencies to assess and purge sensitive data currently on laptop computers and portable storage devices if there was no compelling business need for the information to be so stored.

"Privacy concerns are constantly evolving," Rell said. "We must not only keep up with them but do our best to stay ahead of the curve."

Rell said she will ask state agencies to review private information about residents that the state collects, manages, and distributes.

"While bearing in mind such traditional functions such as tax collection, media and freedom-of-Information requests and law enforcement, I want to ensure that the security of private information within state government is protected," Rell said.

Recent new laws in other states sharply curtail the business use and release of Social Security numbers and specify that businesses may not retain information from the "magnetic stripe" on the back of credit and debit cards for longer than 48 hours.



On Its Own, Europe Backs Web Privacy Fights
NYTIMES
By SUZANNE DALEY
August 9, 2011

MADRID — All 90 people wanted information deleted from the Web.

Among them was a victim of domestic violence who discovered that her address could easily be found through Google. Another, well into middle age now, thought it was unfair that a few computer key strokes could unearth an account of her arrest in her college days.

They might not have received much of a hearing in the United States, where Google is based. But here, as elsewhere in Europe, an idea has taken hold —individuals should have a “right to be forgotten” on the Web.

Spain’s government is now championing this cause. It has ordered Google to stop indexing information about 90 citizens who filed formal complaints with its Data Protection Agency. The case is now in court and being watched closely across Europe for how it might affect the control citizens will have over information they posted, or which was posted about them, on the Web.

Whatever the ruling in the Spanish case, the European Union is also expected to weigh in with new “right to be forgotten” regulations this fall. Viviane Reding, the European Union’s justice commissioner, has offered few details of what she has in mind. But she has made clear she is determined to give privacy watchdogs greater power.

“I cannot accept that individuals have no say over their data once it has been launched into cyberspace,” she said last month. She said she had heard the argument that more control was impossible, and that Europeans should “get over it.”

But, Ms. Reding said, “I don’t agree.”

On this issue, experts say, Europe and the United States have largely parted company.

“What you really have here is a trans-Atlantic clash,” said Franz Werro, who was born and raised in Switzerland and is now a law professor at Georgetown University. “The two cultures really aren’t going in the same direction when it comes to privacy rights. “

For instance, in the United States, Mr. Werro said, courts have consistently found that the right to publish the truth about someone’s past supersedes any right to privacy. Europeans, he said, see things differently: “In Europe you don’t have the right to say anything about anybody, even if it is true.”

Mr. Werro says Europe sees the need to balance freedom of speech and the right to know against a person’s right to privacy or dignity, concepts often enshrined in European laws. The European perspective was shaped by the way information was collected and used against individuals under dictators like Franco and Hitler and under Communism. Government agencies routinely compiled dossiers on citizens as a means of control.

Court cases over these issues have popped up in many corners of Europe.

In Germany, for instance, Wolfgang Werlé and Manfred Lauber, who became infamous for killing a German actor in 1990, are suing Wikipedia to drop the entry about them. German privacy laws allow suppression of criminal identities in news accounts once people have paid their debt to society. The lawyer for the two killers argues that criminals have a right to privacy too, and a right to be left alone.

Google has also faced suits in several countries, including Germany, Switzerland and the Czech Republic, over its efforts to collect street-by-street photographs for its Street View feature. In Germany, where courts found that Street View was legal, Google allowed individuals and businesses to opt out, and about 250,000 have.

The issue, however, has had no traction in the United States, where anyone has the right to take pictures of anything in plain sight from the street.

Google declined to discuss the Spanish cases, instead issuing a statement saying that requiring search engines to ignore some data “would have a profound chilling effect on free expression without protecting people’s privacy.”

In a blog post this year, Peter Fleischer, Google’s global privacy counsel, discussed the subject under the headline, “Foggy thinking about the Right to Oblivion.” The blog post made clear that he was speaking for himself, not Google. But he left little doubt that he considered Europe’s efforts to forge new privacy rights poorly defined and misguided, raising complex legal and technical questions.

In fact, the phrase “right to be forgotten” is being used to cover a batch of issues, ranging from those in the Spanish case to the behavior of companies seeking to make money from private information that can be collected on the Web.

Some European experts feel that new rules of play need to be drawn up anyway.

Mr. Werro says many Europeans, including himself, are broadly uncomfortable with the way personal information is found by search engines and used for commerce. When ads pop up on his screen, clearly linked to subjects that are of interest to him, he says he finds it Orwellian.

A recent poll conducted by the European Union found that most Europeans agree. Three out of four said they were worried about how Internet companies used their information and wanted the right to delete personal data at any time. Ninety percent wanted the European Union to take action on the right to be forgotten.

Spain’s Data Protection Agency, created in the 1990s to protect individual rights, believes that search engines have altered the process by which most data ends up forgotten — and therefore adjustments need to be made.

The deputy director of the agency, Jesús Rubí, pointed to the official government gazette, which used to publish every weekday, including bankruptcy auctions, official pardons, and who passed the civil service exams. Usually 220 pages of fine print, it quickly ended up gathering dust on various backroom shelves. The information was still there, but not easily accessible.

Then two years ago, the 350-year-old publication went online, making it possible for embarrassing information — no matter how old — to be obtained easily.

Mr. Rubí said he doubted that anyone meant for the information to haunt citizens forever: “The law obliges us to put this info in the gazette. But I am sure that if the law was written today, lawmakers would say O.K., publish this, but it should not be accessible by a search engine.”

The publisher of the government publication, Fernando Pérez, said it was meant to foster transparency. Lists of scholarship winners, for instance, make it hard for the government officials to steer all the money to their own children. “But maybe,” he said, “there is information that has a life cycle and only has value for a certain time.”

Experts say that Google and other search engines see some of these court cases as an assault on a principle of law already established — that search engines are essentially not responsible for the information they corral from the Web, and hope the Spanish court agrees. The companies believe if there are privacy issues, the complainants should address those who posted the material on the Web.

But some experts in Europe believe that search engines should probably be reined in. “They say they are not publishing, so you should address yourself elsewhere,” said Javier de la Cueva, a Madrid lawyer specializing in the relationship between law and technology. “But they are the ones that are spreading the word. Without them no one would find these things.”



Major Internet hubs see lesser influence
By ANICK JESDANUN, AP Internet Writer
October 7, 2007

NEW YORK - The recent rush by major Internet portals to buy advertising companies and extend their sales networks is a sign that the business of being a one-stop shop for information and entertainment isn't what it used to be.  Gone are the days of emphasizing ways to attract and keep visitors — the way television networks long have operated — by creating destinations with anything people might need for work, leisure or companionship.

Instead, those companies are now more aggressively trying to follow Web surfers elsewhere — and bring lucrative advertising to them.

As people increasingly turn to blogs, social-networking sites and other sources of user-generated media, Google Inc., Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Time Warner Inc.'s AOL have spent more than $10 billion collectively this year to acquire companies and technologies that help extend their online advertising networks.  So instead of relying solely on being portals for consumers, the major companies are creating one-stop shops for advertisers, who are increasingly wanting to buy ads centrally and place them where the eyeballs are. The networks take care of feeding the ads to smaller sites.

"We're not interested in building yesterday's portal," said Ron Grant, AOL's president and chief operating officer. "Consumers are finding what they are looking for is coming from more and more fragmented places. We need a way for advertisers to take advantage of that fragmentation."

That shift is important for the major Internet businesses to grab a substantial share of the marketing dollars expected to flow at the expense of television and print.  For consumers, the development means greater freedom and a further erosion of artificial walls designed to keep visitors from leaving sites.  According to comScore Media Metrix, the U.S. audience for the four major Internet brands grew over the past year. But the total time spent at Yahoo and AOL dropped about 10 percent, while Microsoft's MSN-Windows Live services saw an 8 percent decline.

In other words, these sites are attracting more people but are keeping them for shorter durations as users find what they need elsewhere.  Google was the exception, with a 57 percent jump in total time spent, but even the company recognizes that "no individual property will have all those products and services" a user might want, said Tim Armstrong, Google's head of North American ad sales.

"The Internet is basically being built and scaling (faster) than any one property on the Internet is," Armstrong said. "Companies in the Internet space are changing their business models to have models which are consumer driven, not property driven."

That's not to say the major Internet destinations are ceding their own properties.  In a few cases, the large companies have bought wildly popular sites. Google spent about $1.76 billion last November to absorb the leading video-sharing site, YouTube. It also owns the blogging service Blogger, while Yahoo has the photo-sharing site Flickr.  They are also innovating. AOL revamped its video search site in August, while Yahoo retooled its core search engine this month to try to make it more engaging and lure back those who had defected to Google.

"Everyone still wants to be your home page. They are always going to battle for that," said Nick Nyhan, chief executive of market research firm Dynamic Logic. "But they have to think beyond that. Consumers aren't going to just take your stuff."

Google, Yahoo and AOL still make most of their ad money from sites they own and operate (Microsoft did not break down figures in its regulatory filings). Google and Yahoo even reported relative growth there in the second quarter.  Ad networks set the stage for the future and help the large Internet companies ensure they will have enough inventory to sell in the years ahead.  Ford Motor Co. can, for instance, come to Google and buy ads that run not only there but also at The New York Times' Web site and thousands of others within Google's AdSense network. Ford wouldn't have to deal with all those sites individually; third-party sites wouldn't have to expand their sales team.

Meanwhile, Google gets a cut of ad revenues — without spending a dime developing those specialty sites.  Although this concept isn't new, what is changing is the scale.  In agreeing to acquire DoubleClick Inc. for $3.1 billion, Google is looking for better ways to deliver multimedia display ads to supplement the small, text-based ads the company already does well.  The still-pending acquisition also extends Google's reach beyond AdSense to all the outside sites for which DoubleClick now distributes advertising.

Likewise, in buying Tacoda Inc., AOL not only gets Tacoda's technology for targeting ads, but also extends its reach to NBC Universal, Scripps Networks and the Times (sites can join multiple ad networks). AOL also has a network through its 2004 acquisition of Advertising.com and separately bought companies this year serving international markets and wireless devices.

Yahoo, meanwhile, paid about $650 million for the 80 percent of Right Media Inc. it did not already own and agreed to buy BlueLithium Inc. for $300 million. Microsoft bought aQuantive Inc. for $6 billion.

"It's not that networks are going to supplant these mass-market sites, but they will have less influence as networks have more," said David Hallerman, a senior analyst at the research group eMarketer, which projects U.S. online advertising spending at $44 billion in 2011, more than double the $17 billion last year.

The shift didn't happen overnight. Many factors are involved, including online hangouts like Facebook and News Corp.'s MySpace commanding more of a user's time over the past few years. Web sites big and small are making features available, through tools called widgets, for viewing directly at those sites.  Of course, the major brands would still prefer visitors going to them directly, as they wouldn't have to share ad revenues with another site.

But as audiences disperse, advertisers have become reluctant to concentrate their spending at a traditional portal.

Besides standardization, efficiency and diversity, advertisers get better targeting with networks. Say you are trying to reach Seattle natives with a propensity to fly to the remote Arctic island of Svalbard. On a portal you might find 10. On a network 100 times larger, you'd find 1,000 without changing your campaign.

There are drawbacks, though.

U.S. and European regulators are reviewing Google's proposed acquisition of DoubleClick. Critics complain Google would have too much control over online advertising and personal information collected on users. 
And despite the efficiencies, consolidation could hamper flexibility, said Jason Turner, vice president for interactive at advertising agency Ignited.

"When there were four television networks, you were beholden to those four, (who could say), `Here are the rules. This is what it's going to cost and if you don't like it you're not going to get on TV,'" Turner said.

Nonetheless, ad networks are here to stay.

"Advertisers are going to need to start to use the Internet the way people always use the Internet, spreading out in hot pursuit of the things they need and want," said Jarvis Coffin, chief executive of Burst Media Corp., an independent ad network. "It's much easier to fish where the fish are."



Intel Unveils New Classmate PCs
NYTIMES
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: April 3, 2008
Filed at 10:50 a.m. ET

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Intel Corp. unveiled new features for its line of low-cost laptops for schools Wednesday, adding bigger screens and more data storage capacity as the chip maker ratchets up its rivalry with the One Laptop per Child organization, which sells a competing machine.

Intel's new Classmate PCs -- slated to go on sale in April for between $300 and $500 -- reflect the company's growing efforts to sell computers equipped with its own chips to schools in developing countries, a battleground for technology companies because of the millions of people there just coming online.

But the target market has expanded to include kids in the U.S. as potential users of cheaper, stripped-down machines.

Classmate PCs also are part of Intel's push to generate interest in a new class of mobile devices the company is calling ''netbooks,'' which are smaller and have fewer functions than standard laptops but also use far less power and are easier to carry around.

Other tweaks to the Classmate that Intel announced Wednesday from its developer forum in Shanghai include the availability of both 7-inch and 9-inch screens, a 30 gigabyte hard disk drive and an integrated Web camera.

At the developer forum, Intel executives also rolled out five new processors under the ''Atom'' brand name. The chips are designed for pocket-size Internet devices. The chips come in speeds up to 1.86 gigahertz while using less than 3 watts of power.

Intel said its Classmate PCs will eventually use Atom processors.

Classmates are based on Intel's design and include its processors, but they are built by other manufacturers and sold under a variety of brand names. The first generation went on sale in March 2007 with the 7-inch screen and fewer functions. Intel said it has sold ''tens of thousands'' of the machines but declined to provide more specific data.

Intel and OLPC have feuded furiously over their competing products.

The Cambridge, Mass.-based nonprofit OLPC says it has sold hundreds of thousands of its $188 machines.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology spinoff's low-cost XO laptop includes a microprocessor from Advanced Micro Devices Inc., the world's No. 2 microprocessor maker behind Intel.

A short-lived truce between Intel and OLPC ended earlier this year when Intel suddenly pulled out from OLPC's board of directors.

Intel claimed it couldn't continue cooperating with OLPC when founder Nicholas Negroponte demanded Intel stop selling Classmates overseas. Negroponte said the dispute stemmed from Intel sales reps disparaging OLPC products while pushing Intel's own machines.



WORLD-WIDE INTERNET CONNECTIVITY...BEGUN IN 2007...


One Laptop Per Child's next move: the $100 tablet
YAHOO
JESSICA MINTZ, AP Technology Writer
Thu May 27, 2:15 pm ET

SEATTLE – The nonprofit organization that has tried to produce a $100 laptop for children in the world's poorest places is throwing in the towel on that idea __ and jumping on the tablet bandwagon.

One Laptop Per Child's next computer will be based on chipmaker Marvell Technology Group Ltd.'s Moby tablet design. Marvell announced a prototype of the device this year and said it costs about $99.

Nicholas Negroponte, founder of One Laptop Per Child, is optimistic his organization will be able to keep the price under $100 in part because Marvell plans to market its tablets widely to schools and health care institutions.

"We want to see the price drop, and volume is the key to that," Negroponte said.

The quirky green and white XO laptop sold by One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) to governments and organizations in countries such as Afghanistan and Uruguay wasn't destined for such a broad audience. OLPC had to repeatedly scale back expectations for how many of the laptops it could produce, and it didn't get the price much below $200, twice the price specified by the device's "$100 laptop" nickname.

In 2005, Negroponte envisioned having built 100 million laptops in about two years. Today, 2 million of the machines are in use.

The XO was also more expensive to produce than a tablet would be because of its many moving parts and features meant to withstand glaring sun, blowing sand and spotty access to electricity. In some cases, OLPC had to change the XO's design by region. For example, the physical keyboard had to be customized for students in countries that don't use a Latin alphabet. It would be less expensive to change the software behind touch-screen keyboards.

Marvell's co-founder, Weili Dai, said the company has also found ways to cut costs in the way it's designing the chips.

The new tablets will have at least one, and maybe two, video cameras. They'll sport Wi-Fi connections to the Internet, "multi-touch" screens and have enough power to play high-definition and 3-D video. Marvel hopes to make the screens 8.5 inches by 11 inches, the size of a standard sheet of paper. Unlike Apple Inc.'s iPad tablet, the device will also work with plug-in peripherals such as mice.

Negroponte said he eventually wants the tablets to run some version of the free Linux PC operating software. But the first generation of the "XO 3.0" tablet will likely use Android, the mobile-device operating system from Google Inc., or something similar.

Although his group, which is based in Cambridge, Mass., worked with Microsoft Corp. to get its Windows operating system running on the XO laptops, Negroponte said the new tablets will not use Windows 7 because the software requires too much memory and computing power.

Negroponte said he plans to unveil the tablet device at the annual International Consumer Electronics Show in January.

The One Laptop Per Child project has its share of skeptics, who have questioned the possibility of manufacturing a laptop for $100 and the point of computers in countries that lack basic infrastructure.

Even so, OLPC's work turned competitors on to the growing market for technology in developing countries. Companies including Intel Corp. came up with their own designs for inexpensive laptops for kids, while other organizations figured out ways to turn regular desktop computers into multiple workstations, drastically cutting costs for school computer labs and Internet cafes.

The scramble to produce inexpensive laptops for kids in developing countries also helped prime the pump for the recent flood of "netbooks," which are smaller, cheaper and less powerful than laptops.

Negroponte said the last few months have been a turning point for his group.

"People are no longer asking 'Does this work?'" Negroponte said. "The one question I hear all the time is, how do I pay for it? How do the economics work?"


Op-Ed Columnist
The Land of ‘No Service’
NYTIMES
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
August 16, 2009

Chief’s Island, Botswana

If you travel long enough and far enough — like by jet to Johannesburg, by prop plane to northern Botswana and then by bush plane deep into the Okavango Delta — you can still find it. It is that special place that on medieval maps would have been shaded black and labeled: “Here there be Dragons!” But in the postmodern age, it is the place where my BlackBerry, my wireless laptop and even my satellite phone all gave me the same message: “No Service.”

Yes, Dorothy, somewhere over the rainbow, there is still a “Land of No Service” — where the only “webs” are made by spiders, where the only “net” is the one wrapped around your bed to keep out mosquitoes, where the only “ring tones” at dawn are the scream of African fish eagles and the bark of baboons, where the only GPS belongs to the lioness instinctively measuring the distance between herself and the antelope she hopes will be her next meal, and where “connectivity” refers only to the intricate food chain linking predators and prey that sustains this remarkable ecosystem.

I confess, I arrived with enough devices to stay just a teensy-weensy connected to e-mail. I wasn’t looking for the Land of No Service. But the Okavango Delta’s managers and the Wilderness Trust — a South African conservation organization that runs safaris to support its nature restoration work — take the wilderness seriously. The staff at our camp on the northwestern tip of Chief’s Island, the largest island in the delta, did have a radio, but otherwise the only sounds you heard were from Mother Nature’s symphony orchestra and the only landscapes, sunsets and color combinations were painted by the hand of God.

So, like it or not, coming here forces you to think about the blessings and curses of “connectivity.” “No Service” is something travelers from the developed world now pay for in order to escape modernity, with its ball and chain of e-mail. For much of Africa, though, “No Service” is a curse — because without more connectivity, its people can’t escape poverty. Can there be a balance between the two?

For the normally overconnected tourist, the first thing you notice in the Land of No Service is how quickly your hearing, smell and eyesight improve in an act of instant Darwinian evolution. It is amazing how well you can hear when you don’t have an iPod in your ears or how far you can see when you’re not squinting at a computer screen. In the wild, the difference between hearing and seeing with acuity is the difference between survival and extinction for the animals and the difference between a rewarding experience and a missed opportunity for photographers and guides.

It was our guide spotting a half-eaten antelope lodged high in a tree that drew our attention to its predator, a leopard, calmly licking her paws nearby and then yawning from her midday meal. The cat’s stomach was heaving up and down, still digesting her prey. The leopard had suffocated the antelope — you could still see the marks on its neck — and then dragged it up the tree, holding it in her jaws, and placed the kill perfectly in the V between two branches. And there the antelope dangled, head on one side, dainty legs on the other, with half her midsection eaten away. The rest would be tomorrow’s leopard lunch, stored high above where the hyenas could not get it.

But while maintaining “No Service” in the wild is essential for Africa’s ecotourism industry, the rest of the continent desperately needs more connectivity. Eric Cantor, who runs Grameen Foundation’s Application Laboratory in Uganda, explains what a huge difference cellphones and Internet access can make to people in Africa:

“A banana farmer previously limited to waiting for a buyer truck to pass his farm to sell the week’s harvest can now use a mobile-phone marketplace to publicize the availability of his stock or to search for buyers who might be in the market or have truck transport available to a larger market,” said Cantor. “They can also compare going prices to gain more power in a negotiation. Teenagers too shy to ask parents about causes and symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases can research them privately and improve their own health outcomes. A farmer with no money who needs a remedy for the pest attacking her primary crop can find one that uses locally available materials, when they need it.”

Botswana, about the size of Texas, luckily has enough diamonds to be able to turn 40 percent of its land into nature preserves. Its urban connectivity with the global diamond exchanges enables it to maintain “No Service” in its wilderness. Zimbabwe, by contrast, has become virtually a country of “No Service” after decades of dictatorship by Robert Mugabe, and, as a result, both its people and wildlife are endangered species.

The more African countries where “No Service” can be a choice, not a fate — an offering for the eco-tourist to enjoy, not a condition for the entrepreneur to overcome — the more hope that this continent will be able to enhance its natural wonders and its people at the same time.


Bringing the Internet to Remote African Villages
NYTIMES
By CHRIS NICHOLSON
February 2, 2009

ENTASOPIA, Kenya — The road from Nairobi winds 100 miles to this town deep in Masai country. The asphalt gives way to sand and dust, until finally it is just a dirt track climbing over broken hills and plunging back to desert flats. The going is slow.

The outpost, with about 4,000 inhabitants, is at the end of that road and beyond the reach of power lines. It has no bank, no post office, few cars and little infrastructure. Newspapers arrive in a bundle every three or four weeks. At night, most people light kerosene lamps and candles in their houses or fires in their huts and go to bed early, except for the farmers guarding crops against elephants and buffalo.

Entasopia is the last place on earth that a traveler would expect to find an Internet connection. Yet it was here, in November, that three young engineers from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, with financial backing from Google, installed a small satellite dish powered by a solar panel, to hook up a handful of computers in the community center to the rest of the world.

In recent years the mobile phone has emerged as the main modern communications link for rural areas of Africa. From 2002 to 2007, the number of Kenyans using cellphones grew almost tenfold to reach about a third of the population, many of whom did not have land lines, according to the International Telecommunication Union.

But many of the phones were simple models made more for talking than Web browsing, and wireless data networks are slow, with sporadic coverage.

Satellite connections are faster and more stable, which is why they are attracting interest from the likes of Google, as a way to provide Internet connections to the estimated 95 percent of Africans who, according to the telecommunications union, have no access.

Although providing Internet access is outside the normal business realm of Google, with this project it is looking at how obstacles might be overcome in Kenya and other parts of Africa.

The dish at Entasopia was intended to operate for months with little maintenance under harsh conditions. This station, along with two others in villages almost as remote, is part of a larger push by Google into small, marginal communities, providing them with new tools to access information, work with distant colleagues, and communicate with friends and family.

Google paid for the final design of the stations and is covering the monthly fees for satellite bandwidth. The company has also invested in O3b, a start-up that hopes to deploy a constellation of satellites over Africa by the end of next year.

“Building infrastructure is not necessarily Google’s objective, but if you look at all the areas that Google has gone into, in many cases it has been to fill a gap,” said Joseph Mucheru, who heads Google’s East Africa office. “The market should see the opportunity.”

Just how much opportunity there is remains unclear. Google is uncertain whether such satellite stations can pay for themselves in rural areas, given the cost of equipment and bandwidth. Communities may well benefit from the connection, but they do not all have the means to afford it.

Bandwidth fees for stations like the one in Entasopia could cost as much as $700 a month, though slower ones cost less, said Wayan Vota, a senior director at Inveneo, a nonprofit that works to disseminate Internet technology throughout Africa and the developing world. As these connections are introduced more widely, which is O3b’s goal, the price could fall, Mr. Vota said.

When Internet connections arrive in small towns like Entasopia, they put new tools into the hands of people hungry to use them, and for some there, that has had wide repercussions.

James Mathu has worked for the Kenyan agriculture ministry in Entasopia for five years, advising farmers on the environment, crop husbandry and soil conservation. The stable Internet link allows him to send information to district headquarters in Kajiado, instead of spending days traveling there and back to deliver monthly reports, which are too lengthy for him to send via cellphone.

“It is a five-day affair,” he said, estimating that the Internet saved him 12,000 shillings a year, or $152, in a country where the gross domestic product per person is $1,700.

Julius Kasifu, 40, is using the Internet to try to help others. His family runs a farm, but because his legs were crippled by polio as a child, he was limited in the farm work he could do.

In Masai society, he said, disabilities like his were seen as bad omens. Traditionally, disabled newborns were abandoned and their mothers were put through a ritual cleansing to banish the evil spirits that were said to have caused the disability, while the place where the birth took place was burned. Even now, such children are often kept hidden away in the family manyatta, a wattle-and-daub hut.

Mr. Kasifu is leading a campaign to raise awareness and to build a shelter, called Tuko, for such children. With the Internet connection, he has been able to upload a short video about their plight.

“The mothers come to me and say: ‘Have you got a place to take our children?’ ” he said. “It hurts, but what can I do? Out of that hurt came this project.”

But there are significant limits to how many Kenyans the Internet can reach. Even if it is available free, not everyone can take full advantage of it, one obstacle being computer literacy.

Teddy Chenya, who for the past eight months has helped staff the community center for the Arid Lands Information Network, the Kenyan nongovernmental organization running the satellite ground stations, said that younger people were more likely to visit him than older ones, because they had time to spend and were willing to sit down, three to a computer, and learn by trial and error.

“Most people looking for information, they need help,” he said. “They still don’t know where to look or what a Web address is. I played for them streaming video, and they said: ‘Is it a radio? Is it a TV?’ ”

Another obstacle is literacy itself: many of the adults in Entasopia, especially women, cannot read.

Nthenya Mule, East Africa manager for Acumen Funds, a nonprofit organization, directs investments in regional businesses that have a social-development aspect. Ms. Mule said there were many challenges facing poor, rural communities, and progress was often held back by larger problems like lack of infrastructure, health care or loan availability, rather than the scarcity of Internet access.

“Is VSAT what’s most important?” she asked, referring to very small aperture terminal, the satellite technology being used in the project.

Still, Ms. Mule said, “there are so many issues, sometimes you just begin acting where you can.”


MIT Spinoff's Little Green Laptop A Hit In Remote Peruvian Village 
DAY
By Frank Bajak, AP Technology Writer    
Published on 12/25/2007 

Arahuay, Peru — Doubts about whether poor, rural children really can benefit from quirky little computers evaporate as quickly as the morning dew in this hilltop Andean village, where 50 primary school children got machines from the One Laptop Per Child project six months ago.

These offspring of peasant families whose monthly earnings rarely exceed the cost of one of the $188 laptops — people who can ill afford pencil and paper much less books — can't get enough of their “XO” laptops. 
At breakfast, they're already powering up the combination library/videocam/audio recorder/music maker/drawing kits. At night, they're dozing off in front of them — if they've managed to keep older siblings from waylaying the coveted machines.

“It's really the kind of conditions that we designed for,” Walter Bender, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology spinoff, said of this agrarian backwater up a precarious dirt road.

Founded in 2005 by former MIT Media Lab director Nicholas Negroponte, the One Laptop program has retreated from early boasts that developing-world governments would snap up millions of the pint-sized laptops at $100 each.  In a backhanded tribute, One Laptop now faces homegrown competitors everywhere from Brazil to India — and a full-court press from Intel Corp.'s more power-hungry Classmate.

But no competitor approaches the XO in innovation. It is hard drive-free, runs on the Linux operating system and stretches wireless networks with “mesh” technology that lets each computer in a village relay data to the others.  Mass production began last month and Negroponte, brother of U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, says he expects at least 1.5 million machines to be sold by next November. Even that would be far less than Negroponte originally envisioned. The higher-than-initially-advertised price and a lack of the Windows operating system, still being tested for the XO, have dissuaded many potential government buyers.

Peru made the single biggest order to date — more than 272,000 machines — in its quest to turn around a primary education system that the World Economic Forum recently ranked last among 131 countries surveyed. Uruguay was the No. 2 buyers of the laptops, inking a contract for 100,000.

Negroponte said 150,000 more laptops will get shipped to countries including Rwanda, Mongolia, Haiti, and Afghanistan in early 2008 through “Give One, Get One,” a U.S.-based promotion ending Dec. 31 in which you buy a pair of laptops for $399 and donate one or both.  The children of Arahuay prove One Laptop's transformative conceit: that you can revolutionize education and democratize the Internet by giving a simple, durable, power-stingy but feature-packed laptop to the worlds' poorest kids.

“Some tell me that they don't want to be like their parents, working in the fields,” first-grade teacher Erica Velasco says of her pupils. She had just sent them to the Internet to seek out photos of invertebrates — animals without backbones.

Antony, 12, wants to become an accountant.

Alex, 7, aspires to be a lawyer.

Kevin, 11, wants to play trumpet.

Saida, 10, is already a promising videographer, judging from her artful recording of the town's recent Fiesta de la Virgen.

“What they work with most is the (built-in) camera. They love to record,” says Maria Antonieta Mendoza, an Education Ministry psychologist studying the Arahuay pilot to devise strategies for the big rollout when the new school year begins in March.

Before the laptops, the only cameras the kids at Santiago Apostol school saw in this population-800 hamlet arrived with tourists who visit for festivals or to see local Inca ruins.  Arahuay's lone industry is agriculture. Surrounding fields yield avocados, mangoes, potatoes, corn, alfalfa and cherimoya.  Many adults share only weekends with their children, spending the workweek in fields many hours' walk from town and relying on charities to help keep their families nourished.

When they finish school, young people tend to abandon the village.  Peru's head of educational technology, Oscar Becerra, is betting the One Laptop program can reverse this rural exodus to the squalor of Lima's shantytowns four hours away.  It's the best answer yet to “a global crisis of education” in which curricula have no relevance, he said. “If we make education pertinent, something the student enjoys, then it won't matter if the classroom's walls are straw or the students are sitting on fruit boxes.”

Indeed, Arahuay's elementary school population rose by 10 when families learned the laptop pilot was coming, said Guillermo Lazo, the school's director.  The XOs that Peru is buying will be distributed to pupils in 9,000 elementary schools from the Pacific to the Amazon basin where a single teacher serves all grades, Becerra said.  Although Peru boasts thousands of rural satellite downlinks that provide Internet access, only about 4,000 of the schools getting XOs will be connected, said Becerra.

Negroponte says One Laptop is committed to helping Peru overcome that hurdle. Without Internet access, he believes, the program is incomplete.

Teachers will get 21/2 days of training on the laptops, Becerra said. Each machine will initially be loaded with about 100 copyright-free books. Where applicable, texts in native languages will be included, he added. The machines will also have a chat function that will let kids make faraway friends over the Internet.

Critics of the rollout have two key concerns.  The first is the ability of teachers — poorly trained and equipped to begin with — to cope with profoundly disruptive technology.  Eduardo Villanueva, a communications professor at Lima's Catholic University, fears “a general disruption of the educational system that will manifest itself in the students overwhelming the teachers.”

To counter that fear, Becerra said the government is offering $150 grants to qualifying teachers toward the purchase of conventional laptops, for which it is also arranging low-interest loans.

The second big concern is maintenance.  For every 100 units it will distribute to students, Peru is buying one extra for parts. But there is no tech support program. Students and teachers will have to do it.

“What you want is for the kids to do the repairs,” said Negroponte, who believes such tinkering is itself a valuable lesson. “I think the kids can repair 95 percent of the laptops.”

Tech support is nevertheless a serious issue in many countries, Negroponte acknowledged in a phone interview.  One Laptop is currently bidding on a contract with Brazil's government that Negroponte says demanded unrealistically onerous support requirements.  The XO machines are water resistant, rugged and designed to last five years. They have no fan so they won't suck up dust, are built to withstand drops from a meter and a half and can absorb power spikes typical of places with irregular electricity.

Mendoza, the psychologist, is overjoyed that the program stipulates that kids get ownership of the laptops.  Take Kevin, the aspiring trumpet player.  Sitting in his dirt-floor kitchen as his mother cooks lunch, he draws a soccer field on his XO, then erases it. Kevin plays a song by “Caliente,” his favorite combo, that he recorded off Arahuay's single TV channel. He shows a reporter photos he took of him with his 3-year-old brother.  A bare light bulb hangs by a wire from the ceiling. A hen bobs around the floor. There are no books in this two-room house. Kevin's parents didn't get past the sixth grade.

Indeed, the laptop project also has adults in its sights.

Parents in Arahuay are asking Mendoza, the visiting psychologist, what the Internet can do for them.

Among them is Charito Arrendondo, 39, who sheds brief tears of joy when a reporter asks what the laptop belonging to ruddy-cheeked Miluska — the youngest of her six children — has meant to her. Miluska's father, it turns out, abandoned the family when she was 1.

“We never imagined having a computer,” said Arrendondo, a cook.

Is she afraid to use the laptop, as is typical of many Arahuay parents, about half of whom are illiterate?

“No, I like it. Sometimes when I'm alone and the kids are not around I turn it on and poke around.”

Arrendondo likes to play checkers on the laptop.

“It's also got chess, which I sort of know,” she said, pausing briefly.

“I'm going to learn.”  


I-BBC; Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 December 2007, 15:04 GMT
A child's view of the $100 laptop
What will a child in the UK make of a laptop designed to help children in the developing world? Rory Cellan-Jones brought an XO home to find out.

The XO laptop
The laptop was designed to be robust and easy to use

In late November I returned from Nigeria with a sample of the XO laptop.

The computer, made by the One Laptop per Child charity, is a robust little machine designed to entertain and educate children while allowing them to learn by themselves.

I knew there was only one person who could review it for me.

The Nine Year-old's View

Enter Rufus Cellan-Jones. He is nine, has far more experience of games consoles than computers, and has strong views on most matters.

"Looks fun," was his only comment when I handed over the small, green and white laptop, explaining that he was the only child in Britain to have one.

But very quickly he was up and running.

All I did was give him the security code for our home wireless network so he could take the XO online. The rest he figured out for himself, as he explains:

Lots of fun

"I just seemed to work it out. It was rather easy. I didn't even need help." Surprise, surprise, his first discovery was a game. "I found Block Party. It's like Tetris. I'm now up to Level 7."

I thought my young games fanatic might stick there but he moved on. "Then I discovered paint. You can use pencils, change the texture, use different sizes of brush."

Even better, there was an animation programme called Etoys.

"That's my favourite.You make things. You can see tutorials and demos. Then you can make a new project. I've made a crazy UFO which you can move."

But Rufus says it isn't just about play.

"I use the calculator - that can be rather useful for sums. You can even browse onto the internet. You can watch and learn stuff. You can write things and it can also remind you which is extremely useful."

What, I asked, does a nine year old need to remind himself about? "Christmas stuff," he said, with an air of mystery.

Social networking

But the real surprise came one evening, when Rufus asked me to explain what his friends were telling him on the laptop.

I thought those imaginary childhood friends from years back must have returned.

But I went and had a look - and it was true - he appeared to be chatting online.

So how had he managed that?

"You go on "neighbourhood", then you go to the chat thing.

You go on Nigeria and you chat to them."

But why, if he was online with the children at the Nigerian school I had visited, were they sending messages in Spanish?

I decided he must be linking up with one of the South American schools taking part in the OLPC project but we still aren't sure quite how that is happening.

Still, Rufus is widening his social circle. " I have three friends. It's nice to talk to them. They don't speak much English but I can understand them." The conversation is not exactly sparkling, but Rufus has learned to say "Hola".

Not a toy

So Rufus is using his laptop to write, paint, make music, explore the internet, and talk to children from other countries.

Because it looks rather like a simple plastic toy, I had thought it might suffer the same fate as the radio-controlled dinosaur or the roller-skates he got last Christmas - enjoyed for a day or two, then ignored.

Instead, it seems to provide enduring fascination.

I had returned from Nigeria not entirely convinced that the XO laptop was quite as wonderful an educational tool as its creators claimed.

I felt that a lot of effort would be needed by hard-pressed teachers before it became more than just a distracting toy for the children to mess around with in class.

But Rufus has changed my mind.

With no help from his Dad, he has learned far more about computers than he knew a couple of weeks ago, and the XO appears to be a more creative tool than the games consoles which occupy rather too much of his time.

The One Laptop Per Child project is struggling to convince developing countries providing computers for children is as important as giving them basic facilities like water or electricity.

Unusually, Rufus does not have an opinion about that controversy, but he does have a verdict on the laptop. "It's great," he says.


Laptop Project Says Each Sale To U.S. Buyer Will Donate One To Developing-Country User 
DAY
By Brian Bergstein, AP Technology Writer    
Published on 9/24/2007 
   
Cambridge, Mass. — The project that hopes to supply developing-world schoolchildren with $188 laptops will sell the rugged little computers to U.S. residents and Canadians for $400 each, with the profit going toward a machine for a poor country.

The One Laptop Per Child project expects that its “Give One, Get One” promotion will result in a pool of thousands of donated laptops that will stimulate demand in countries hesitant to join the program. It will be offered for only two weeks in November.

Originally conceived as the “$100 laptop,” the funky green-and-white low-power “XO” computers now cost $188. The laptops' manufacturer, Quanta Computer Inc., is beginning mass production next month, but with far fewer than the 3 million orders One Laptop Per Child director Nicholas Negroponte had said he was waiting for.

Negroponte said the availability of donated laptops would not be the sole condition for many countries weighing whether to place multimillion-dollar orders. But “it just triggers it,” he said. “It makes it all happen faster.”

By opening sales to people in the U.S. and Canada at http://www.xogiving.com, “Give One, Get One” will delight computing aficionados, because the XO is unlike any other laptop.

It has a homegrown user interface designed for children, boasts built-in wireless networking, uses very little power and can be recharged by hand with a pulley or a crank. Its display has separate indoor and outdoor settings so it can be read in full sunlight, something even expensive laptops lack.

The machines use the Linux open-source system and don't run Windows; Negroponte expects that to be possible soon, but Microsoft Corp. insists it can't guarantee that, given the machine's idiosyncratic specs.

The catch is that “Give One, Get One” will run only from Nov. 12 to Nov. 26. Negroponte said the limited availability is partly necessary so the nonprofit doesn't run afoul of tax laws, but mainly designed to create scarcity-induced excitement.

“We need that burst,” he said.

Just the first 25,000 buyers will be promised delivery of their XOs by the Christmas season. Everyone else will be on a pace reminiscent of the old Sears Roebuck catalog, with the computer probably arriving in January.

Then again, most buyers figure to be motivated more by the “Give One” aspect than the “Get One” part. Negroponte said that dynamic is beginning to pervade the program, with several poor countries finding that richer governments are willing to act as sponsors.

For example, Italy is buying all 50,000 XOs that Ethiopia will get in the program's first wave. Now Negroponte is trying to encourage similar arrangements with governments in Europe and Asia, with Pakistan and Afghanistan among the possible recipients. Megabillionaire Carlos Slim is expected to purchase 25,000 XOs and lend them to Mexican children.

Thailand, Uruguay, Nigeria, Brazil, Libya and Rwanda are among the countries that could be in the first wave of laptop customers, though specifics have not been announced.

Given all the innovations in the XO and the discussions it has inspired about computers in education, One Laptop Per Child — a spinoff from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — can claim significant achievements. However, Negroponte hoped to be further along by now.

In September 2005, he was saying that 5 million to 15 million machines might be in production in 2006, with perhaps 100 million out by now. In April 2006 he foresaw 5 million to 10 million XOs dotting the landscape in 2007.

Now 250,000 to 300,000 are due to be made by the end of this year. Negroponte expects that to ramp up to 1 million a month next year, though he still lacks signed orders for that many.

One reason things may have gone slower than predicted is One Laptop Per Child's impending emergence awoke commercial vendors to the promise of a low-cost international educational market. Now governments considering buying XOs for their youngsters have multiple options in the $200 range — including more-conventional computers that can run Windows. Negroponte acknowledges the absence of Windows led Russia to say no.

One of the laptop program's unabashed admirers is Miguel Brechner, who runs a government-funded technology group in Uruguay. Brechner has been overseeing a test of 200 XOs in a Uruguayan village and believes the laptops have stimulated collaboration and raised expectations for children. He expects to buy many more XOs as Uruguay soon begins to outfit all 400,000 of its primary schoolchildren with laptops.

“I'm absolutely a believer that this will change the country,” Brechner said.

But not all of those computers will be XOs. To hedge its bets, Uruguay probably will buy other inexpensive laptops as well, including Intel Corp.'s Classmate PCs. Brechner argues that Windows is a better option for older kids who are closer to entering the computing work force.

“We will see (what happens) in the field and change whatever is necessary,” Brechner said. “We will make some mistakes. We don't know who to copy on this.”



Wireless is beefed up in downtown
By FRANK MacEACHERN, fmaceachern@thestamfordtimes.com
September 6, 2007

STAMFORD —Three small parks in the city's downtown are more than just places to relax on a warm day, they're also areas where people can connect to the Internet via free Wi-Fi service.

City officials hope it's just the start of a "wireless corridor" running from the downtown to the transportation center, said Michael Pensiero, Stamford's director of technology management services.

"Our entire plan is to have a wireless service from Ferguson Library to the transportation center, to create a wireless corridor," said Pensiero.

The service enables people who have a laptop to work in an area where they can't plug in to a wall socket in order to access the Internet. Instead they're able to sit in an area, such as a park, and connect to the Internet wirelessly.

The project is funded by a $15,000 federal grant which was used to purchase the radio equipment and for service fees, said Pensiero. Approval for the grant came last fall and the city received the money approximately two months later.

Last year the city offered the service at Columbus Park. This summer the city added Latham Park on Bedford Street and Veterans Park on Atlantic Street near Stamford Town Center.

The city is working with the state to have the service extended to the transportation center so commuters would be able to use it while waiting for a train, said Pensiero.

To access the Internet users have to type the 13-digit access code on Connecticut library cards. Out-of-state residents have to obtain a library card from Ferguson Library if they wish to connect to the Internet.

There haven't been many users yet, said Pensiero, but he hoped more will take advantage of it once they get to know about the service.

Once users know about free Wi-Fi service they're eager to use it, said Alice Knapp, director of public services at the Ferguson Library.

The library began offering the service three years ago at its main branch and then expanded it this year to the Harry Bennett and the Weed & Hollander Memorial branches in Turn of River and Springdale areas respectively. She estimated about 12-13,000 users have signed on to use the Wi-Fi service.

For people who bring their laptop to the library to work on a project or assignment the Wi-Fi service is another convenience for them. They can work and also access reference material at the same time as others are doing so, said Knapp.

Internet speed at the Wi-Fi sites is very good, said Pensiero, although he cautioned it's affected by how many users are online.



Municipal Wi-Fi faces financial hurdles
By MICHAEL LIEDTKE, AP Business Writer
Fri Aug 31, 2:54 AM ET

SAN FRANCISCO - A year ago, it seemed like just about every major U.S. city was drawing up ambitious plans to build wireless Internet networks so more people, both rich and poor, could have online access wherever they wanted. Now, economics is blurring the Utopian vision as city leaders and the companies proposing to build the Wi-Fi networks haggle over whether the projects make financial sense.

The problem came into sharper focus this week as once-ballyhooed projects in San Francisco and Chicago unraveled while another high-profile deal in Houston neared a breaking point.

"Cities and companies are rethinking the models that they are adopting," said Esme Vos, founder of MuniWireless.com, a Web site that tracks trends in the industry. "It's all about economics and risk-sharing now."

MuniWireless estimates Wi-Fi networks have either already been built or are under consideration in 455 cities and counties across the United States, up from 122 two years ago.

The second thoughts about municipal Wi-Fi revolve around questions about whether the networks will generate enough revenue to justify the multimillion-dollar investments to build and maintain them.

EarthLink Inc., an Internet service provider that had been one of the chief evangelists in the crusade to blanket cities with Wi-Fi, has decided it can no longer afford to foot the bill by itself as the Atlanta-based company tries to bounce back from $46 million in losses during the first half of this year.

"We will not devote any new capital to the old municipal Wi-Fi model that has us taking all the risks," Rolla Huff, EarthLink's chief executive, told analysts during a Wednesday conference call. "In my judgment, that model is simply unworkable."

Later Wednesday, Huff informed San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom that EarthLink was rescinding a proposal to cover the estimated $14 million to $17 million cost of building the city's Wi-Fi network.

Had the San Francisco system been built, EarthLink planned to charge about $20 per month for Wi-Fi access that would have been three to four times faster than a free service subsidized by ads sold by Google Inc. San Francisco still hopes to find other vendors willing to build a Wi-Fi network in its city, an effort that Google said it will continue to support.

"Google is committed to promoting alternative platforms for people to access the Web no matter where they are, and we encourage others to think creatively about how to address access issues in their own communities," Google spokesman Andrew Pederson said.

Last year, Google completed a free Wi-Fi network in its home town of Mountain View that the company says attracts about 15,000 users per month.

EarthLink had doubts about whether it could sign up enough San Francisco subscribers to recover its costs there, based on its experience so far in other cities, including Philadelphia and New Orleans, where it has already completed or is still building Wi-Fi networks.

Houston was counting on EarthLink to invest about $50 million to build a Wi-Fi network there, but those high hopes are now fading. The city this week notified EarthLink that it will fine the company $5 million for missing its contractual deadlines. The payment will give EarthLink more time to consider whether it wants to abandon the Houston project or find other partners willing to help defray the costs.

Chicago canceled its $18.5 million Wi-Fi project after concluding it would require the city to spend too much money to help finance it.

Financial worries also have jeopardized a $20 million Wi-Fi network in Milwaukee. The project remains in its testing phase, but the vendor, Midwest Fiber Networks, has publicly expressed concerns about whether the network will attract enough customers to recoup the investment.

Vos and other industry observers believe the dreams about wireless Internet access in big cities can still be realized if the some of the financial burden is shifted from the private sector.

"What is happening right now is a black eye (for Wi-Fi), but I don't think it's a death blow," said Godfrey Chua, who follows wireless networking issues for the research firm IDC. "We just need to work on new business models."

Some cities already have agreed to help finance Wi-Fi by sharing some of the upfront costs and guaranteeing subscriptions. Minneapolis, for instance, has agreed to become the "anchor tenant" on its Wi-Fi network — a commitment that will cost the city $1.25 million annually.

Houston had also agreed to pay EarthLink $500,000 annually to give the city's workers Wi-Fi access during the first five years of its contract, but that still might not be enough to keep EarthLink on board.



DPUC Issues Certificate For U-Verse; Decision Clears The Way For AT&T's New Phone-Line Television Offering 

By Anthony Cronin, Day Business Editor    
Published on 11/2/2007         

AT&T and union officials on Thursday welcomed state regulators' approval of the communications company's new U-verse offering, which provides television services over its phone network.

The state Department of Public Utility Control issued a “certificate of video franchise,” making AT&T the first competitor to offer television services under a new state law designed to increase competition with the cable industry.

New London is one of the introductory markets for the new U-verse television service. AT&T, whose statewide headquarters is in New Haven, launched the service last December in a handful of towns and cities. Since then, it has expanded to 42 municipalities and serves more than 150,000 customers. Company officials said AT&T would continue to expand the service to more towns and cities across Connecticut.

In addition, downtown New London is home to a service center for the new U-verse service that employs about 100.

Ramona Carlow, president of AT&T's Connecticut operations, said her company is pleased with the DPUC decision, saying that Connecticut consumers “have long desired more choice in the video marketplace.”

The U-verse service comes into a residence via the telephone network. Once inside the home, equipment essentially “splits” the television signal off from the voice or data signals, providing cable-like service to individual television sets in a home.

Earlier this week, AT&T won an important court victory when a Hartford Superior Court judge backed the communications company in its battle to convince state regulators to let it sell the service without being considered a regulated cable provider.

The DPUC had ruled this past month that AT&T needed a cable-television license for its new service. AT&T objected, along with its union workers and many of its customers. AT&T officials said they have invested more than $300 million in the new service and disputed that it is a cable-like service.

William F. Henderson III, president of the Communications Workers of America Local 1298, said the DPUC decision on Thursday offers welcome relief to his union, which had forecast the loss of at least 1,300 jobs across the state if the new television offering were halted.

The CWA workers include various technicians and service personnel who are working to install the new service and broaden the U-verse network to more municipalities across the state. “I'm happy that they (DPUC) moved so quickly because jobs were at stake and the economy in the state of Connecticut would suffer” if jobs were lost from the initial DPUC ruling in October, Henderson said.

U-verse basic service starts at $44 a month, but the price increases depending on the level of service, such as adding television offerings or Internet-related packages.



AT & T Wins In Court; TV Service To Continue
By MARK PETERS | Courant Staff Writer
November 1, 2007

A Hartford Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday that AT&T can resume signing up customers for its TV service, possibly ending the battle over how to regulate the company's alternative to cable television.

Judge Robert McWeeny overturned a ruling by the state Department of Public Utility Control that required AT&T to follow the same rules as cable companies. McWeeny ruled that AT&T should instead be regulated under a new state law designed to promote TV services that compete with cable companies, something the state hopes will lead to lower rates and improved service.

"The legislature has made a policy determination to encourage competition in the area of cable services by reducing the regulatory burden on providers… The DPUC and [state Office of Consumer Counsel] are created by the legislature to facilitate and implement their policy determinations, not to frustrate them," the judge wrote.

As a result of the recent DPUC decision, AT&T threatened to lay off hundreds of workers, call off hundreds of millions of dollars in construction and shut down the TV service for its 7,000 existing customers.

AT&T now plans to continue expanding its TV service known as U-verse, which is available in parts of 42 towns and cities in Connecticut. The company uses an Internet-like technology to deliver ESPN, HBO and other TV programming over telephone lines.

As part of the new state law, AT&T will have to receive a new kind of license from the DPUC as a competitive video provider. The company said it won't start signing up new customers until it gets the license.

"Connecticut consumers will have a chance for video choice at last. We are proud and pleased today to have gotten clarity from [the court]," Seth Bloom, an AT&T spokesman, said in a statement.

It wasn't clear Thursday whether the state might appeal the ruling. Neither officials at the DPUC nor the Office of Consumer Counsel, which represents TV service customers, could be reached for comment.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal had argued that U-verse should be treated the same as cable TV companies and abide by the same rules. But he softened his position in recent days, and said Thursday he doesn't believe McWeeny's ruling should be appealed. He may seek legislative changes to ensure competition for TV service is fair.

"We may differ on legal issues, but we share the goal of providing cable consumers with this new service so they, hopefully, have the benefits of lower prices and better service. Continued legal combat ill-serves that common objective," Blumenthal said in a statement.

The battle over AT&T's U-verse service had focused on whether the phone giant should be compelled to get a franchise license for the whole state and provide service to anyone who wanted it, statewide. Cable companies like Comcast and Cox Communications currently have that requirement for their franchise areas, which encompass several municipalities and not the whole state.

The consumer counsel and Blumenthal had argued that if AT&T wasn't required to serve everyone, then only certain areas of the state would benefit from competition. The company could then pick and choose the most lucrative areas, leaving others particularly the poor or those in rural areas with no competitive choice.

AT&T argued that to offer the service to everyone would be burdensome as it entered a market where cable companies have had a decades-old monopoly. If the state wanted competition, the company maintained, it would have to drop the so-called universal service requirement.

The General Assembly did just that in a law passed earlier this year that prevents AT&T from discriminating against low-income areas, but doesn't require the company to offer U-verse to all customers. The law also set up a lighter regulatory system that still included customer service requirements and public access TV funding.

However, that law came into question after a federal court ruled that AT&T was a cable company in a lawsuit brought by the consumer counsel and cable industry. The federal ruling resulted in the DPUC ruling on Oct. 15 that AT&T didn't qualify under the new state law and had to stop signing up customers until it received a cable franchise license.

AT&T balked and appealed the ruling to state court, leading to Wednesday's ruling.



AT&T building U-verse
CT POST
By PAM DAWKINS
Article Last Updated: 08/23/2007 10:35:33 PM EDT


While a federal district court and state regulators contemplate rulings about the nature of AT&T's U-verse television service, the company continues building up the infrastructure and customer base.

AT&T plans to spend about $336 million on infrastructure improvements in the state as part of its three-year plan to roll out U-verse nationally.

It started the service in Connecticut in parts of nine towns in December; today it is available in parts of 35 cities and towns, including Bridgeport, Danbury, Derby, Fairfield, Milford, New Haven, Stratford, Trumbull, Westport and West Haven. The company won't disclose specific numbers, but says it has thousands of subscribers here already. Its marketing efforts include a doublewide trailer with two living rooms, where customers can check out the service. That trailer is at the Best Buy parking lot in Danbury for another month.

"The main driver behind U-verse is the empowerment of the Web U-verse is about bringing that Web empowerment to your TV," Chris Traggio, AT&T's vice president for consumer operations, said Thursday during a media tour of the video hub office.

For security and competitive reasons, AT&T has asked the hub's location be identified only as being in New Haven County, around the center of the state. The hub has no identifying signage.

This is where AT&T acquires Connecticut and New York City channels — sent digitally through fiber optics — and merges them with national content, said Rob Frey,
the facility manager.

Inside, gray and black bookcase-like shapes line rows, holding black boxes sporting a variety of wires and lights; bundles of yellow fiber-optic cable are everywhere. Everything has a redundancy, Frey said, so service isn't interrupted. This includes the power supply; huge batteries fill in for a secondary backup generation if the primary generator, which is on site, fails.

The local signal moves down an aisle of machinery, which processes it into an Internet Protocol stream. Technicians can also change the color or volume in a program. The process is mirrored on the other side of the room for national programming.

Both sets move via fiber optics to neighborhood nodes but once there, the content moves to individual sites via the copper wire that also carries phone service, said Chad Townes, AT&T's vice president and general manager for Connecticut. That need to move through sites with fiber optics is why it's not available in the whole state at once, he said. "Every day, we're adding more fiber."

Part of the installation — the company has 100 technicians now with more going through six-week training courses continuously — includes rewiring the house if the wires are too old.

U-verse is billed as competition to cable television, but Attorney General Richard Blumenthal maintains the service is cable television, and so AT&T should be regulated like a cable company, which includes requesting a franchise from the state Department of Public Utility Control.

One worry, Blumenthal has said, is that AT&T will "cherry pick" its demographic, bringing U-verse to wealthier communities and leaving poorer areas behind. Also, unless held to franchise rules, the company won't offer public access television; AT&T, however, has promised to do this.

In June 2006, the DPUC ruled AT&T's Internet Protocol Television is not subject to cable franchising requirements; Blumenthal sued in U.S. District Court for a ruling that it is. In July 2007, the court overturned the DPUC's decision. Now, AT&T has moved for a reconsideration while Blumenthal has filed an emergency request with the DPUC to force AT&T to apply for a franchise.

Blumenthal puts AT&T's chances of a reconsideration at "virtually zero," calling it a "futile attempt" at delaying the inevitable.

"Whatever the rules for cable franchises they should apply to IPTV," he said Thursday. "It's the law," and what the federal courts have decided.

"We're waiting until court action is finalized," because it would be imprudent to take action until then, DPUC spokeswoman Beryl Lyons said Thursday. The DPUC's cable regulating authority is minimal and includes ensuring cable companies meet public, education and government access requirements.

"Cable competition has been permitted since 1984," Lyons said, but "the investment is enormous. The risk was very great," so no one wanted to start up service. AT&T, however, already has a fiber-optic infrastructure.

In its most recent session, the state Legislature passed, and Gov. M. Jodi Rell signed, a bill to prompt competition wherever possible. In part, Lyons said, as of Oct. 1, the bill narrows the DPUC's jurisdiction once competition — when there's at least one non-cable company customer in an existing franchise — is established. The DPUC, however, remains the franchising authority and continues to oversee access channels and customer service.

Townes declined to comment Thursday about the court case, but said, "There's a huge difference between the two technologies." Cable, he said, is a one-way broadcast of content; U-verse is two-way communication.

The cable box, he said, brings in a signal with all the offerings. The U-verse set-top box tells the hub what programming to send. This frees up bandwidth for more channels and other offerings.

The company has four packages, which include high definition television channels. Prices for bundled U-verse and Internet service — customers can buy the television service alone but the highspeed Internet service is embedded in the signal — range from $59 to $129 a month, depending on Internet speed.

The basic package has more than 100 channels and comes with one receiver. Other packages come with three receivers, including one with a digital video recorder, which can record up to four channels at once. "We don't ever expect to replace the computer," Townes said, but U-verse will soon be capable of showing photos from the Web, stock quotes and movie times and even send messages to appear on the screen from an off-site computer. Today, users can program their DVR from an off-site computer or cell phone.Wallingford resident Leslie Spiars, an AT&T employee, has a projection television hooked up to U-verse, as well as a 1988-era model in the basement. "We're kind of into technology," said Spiars; the company used her home setup as a demonstration for reporters Thursday. While AT&T is looking at U-verse as a way to bring new services to existing customers, it is also planning to take people away from the cable companies. According to Townes and other executives, their service is about 20 to 30 percent cheaper than comparable cable television prices.

But the cable companies, which are going after telephone customers through their new offerings, won't be giving up on television.Cablevision, for example, has about 1.4 million residential phone service customers; it also offers customers a chance to bundle telecommunications services.

"Cablevision is successful in a competitive market because customers love and value our television, Internet and phone products. Our digital cable service features real interactivity, local news and information through News 12 Connecticut, and 40 high-definition programming services at no additional charge," the company said in a prepared statement. Blumenthal, meanwhile, said even if the court and DPUC rule against AT&T, he doesn't expect the company will pull its U-verse out of Connecticut, because there's "too much money and opportunity [here]."



AT&T Asks Court To Reconsider 'U-verse' Decision; Company's new interactive video service must abide by cable-TV rules, judge said 
DAY
By Patricia Daddona    
Published on 8/14/2007 


AT&T has asked the U.S. District Court in New Haven to reject a recent federal opinion that finds the same rules for cable programming apply to a new video product offered by the phone company.

At the same time, one of the plaintiffs in the case, the state's Office of Consumer Counsel, has asked Judge Janet Bond Arterton to halt AT&T's acceptance of its new “U-verse” interactive video technology until it obtains a cable franchise license and to direct the state Department of Public Utility Control to require the company to take that step immediately.

Last month, the judge ruled in a summary judgment in federal court that U-verse must be subjected to the same regulations as conventional cable. The opinion, if it becomes a final ruling, would require AT&T to get a cable franchise just like other cable providers.

Arterton's judgment has the effect of potentially shooting down a 2006 decision by the DPUC, which had said AT&T was not required to seek a cable franchise for its Internet protocol television service, since it was not the same as conventional cable, but rather relied on two-way interaction between the company and the subscriber.

Arterton said, however, that federal law pre-empts the state's interpretation. Although AT&T uses two-way delivery of services, AT&T still delivers prepackaged programming to all subscribers, so subscriber interaction “is the same as that involved in traditional” cable programming, she wrote.

In its request to be heard again, in writing and orally, AT&T argues that the judge erred factually and as a matter of law, in part by failing to take into account that the new video service is capable of providing — and “in time” will enable — features and functions that subscribers can use to customize the type of video content they receive.

The distinction makes AT&T's service “fundamentally” different than traditional cable service, the telecommunications giant argues.

AT&T describes U-verse as interaction over a corporate Internet network that enables a person's TV to communicate and work with other Internet-driven devices. For instance, a cell phone might be used to set the recording time for a digital video recorder, or a subscriber might display ball-game statistics without waiting for a program producer to do it.

The court also mistakenly decided, AT&T contends, that U-verse is not a two-way transmission and that “interactivity must be visible to the subscriber” to count as interactivity, an interpretation the company claims is nowhere to be found in legislative language or history governing cable franchises in Connecticut, or in the Federal Communication Commission's interpretations.

The cable company also provided the court with a “status report” on recent changes in Connecticut law regarding cable franchises. A new law intended to encourage competition among video service providers requires new providers like AT&T to get a certificate of video franchise authority, the company states, asserting that the law was written with specific regard for AT&T.

“Once (the judge) evaluates the information we submitted, we're eagerly anticipating her decision on that,” said Adam Cormier, a spokesman for AT&T.

But William Vallee Jr., lead attorney for the state's Office of Consumer Counsel, said the judge's opinion “is pure law” and correctly interprets what existing federal law means.

“There's nothing new here,” Vallee said of the motion for reconsideration. He also points out in a status report for the plaintiff that the state certificate does not become effective until Oct. 1. “Only a clear, unambiguous order from this Court can ensure ... compliance,” he wrote.

Last week, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal asked the DPUC to force AT&T to apply for a franchise license, but DPUC spokeswoman Beryl Lyons said no action could be taken until any appeal period on a final ruling expired. Lyons was not available for comment late Monday.

“AT&T's request for reconsideration is without basis in law or fact,” Blumenthal said, “a blatant delaying tactic to forestall state licensing and regulation of its Internet television service.”



Smile! Aerial images being used to enforce laws
YAHOO
By FRANK ELTMAN, Associated Press Writer
14 August 2010

RIVERHEAD, N.Y. – On New York's Long Island, it's used to prevent drownings. In Greece, it's a tool to help solve a financial crisis. Municipalities update property assessment rolls and other government data with it. Some in law enforcement use it to supplement reconnaissance of crime suspects.  High-tech eyes in the sky — from satellite imagery to sophisticated aerial photography that maps entire communities — are being employed in creative new ways by government officials, a trend that civil libertarians and others fear are eroding privacy rights.

"As technology advances, we have to revisit questions about what is and what is not private information," said Gregory Nojeim, senior counsel at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Democracy and Technology.

Online services like Google and Bing give users very detailed images of practically any location on the planet. Though some images are months old, they make it possible for someone sitting in a living room in Brooklyn to look in on folks in Dublin or Prague, or even down the street in Flatbush.  Sean Walter, an attorney and first-term town supervisor in Riverhead, N.Y., insists he is a staunch defender of privacy rights and the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure.

But Walter supported using Google Earth images to help identify about 250 Riverhead homes where residents failed to get building permits certifying their swimming pools complied with safety regulations. All but about 10 eventually came to town hall.  Walter said the focus was safety, not filling town coffers with permit money, which averaged about $150 depending on the size of the pool. A 4-foot fence is required, gates have to be self-closing and padlocked. All pools must have an alarm that sounds when sensors are activated indicating someone is in the pool.

"We have a town employee who is a personal friend of mine whose son was found face-down in a swimming pool," Walter said. "He's OK, but I don't want to be the supervisor that attends the funeral of a child that drowns in a swimming pool."

Lillie Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C., fears that while Walter's focus was safety, other municipalities may use the images to check for other transgressions.

"It's only a matter of time," Coney said. "There are lots of ordinances where this can be used. In California, where they deal with brush fires, could a satellite image show if a homeowner has brush growing too close to his home? What if someone has junk cars on their lot in violation of ordinances?"

Riverhead resident Tony Villar said the town's action "could be considered Big Brother looking down at you."

"But at the same time, if the government can listen to your telephone conversations in the name of terrorism," he said.

Standing outside the Riverhead Public Library, Walter Casey of Flanders agreed. "I think it's a great intrusion on people's privacy; they should use it on the politicians' backyards."

The New York Civil Liberties Union's Donna Lieberman said there are ways to enforce requirements "without this sort of engaging in Big Brother on high. Technically, it may be lawful, but in the gut it does not feel like a free society kind of operation."

In Greece, officials are struggling with a debt crisis and have sought to catch tax-evaders by using satellite photos to spot undeclared swimming pools — indicators of taxable wealth.  Google spokeswoman Kate Hurowitz said in a statement that Google Earth acquires its information from a broad range of commercial and public sources.

"The same information is available to anyone who buys it from these widely available public sources," she said. "Google's freely available technology has been used for a variety of purposes, ranging from travel planning to scientific research to emergency response, rescue and relief in natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake."

At least nine lawsuits seeking class-action status have been filed in the United States, contending that Google collected fragments of e-mails, Web-surfing data and other information from unencrypted wireless networks as it photographed neighborhoods for its "Street View" feature. Google is also facing investigations or inquiries in 38 states as well as in several countries, including Germany, Spain and Australia.  The Mountain View, Calif., company said in May it had inadvertently collected the data from public Wi-Fi networks in more than 30 countries, but maintains it never used the data and hasn't broken any laws.

Google Earth posts updates about every two weeks on selected images from its providers, with images ranging from a few weeks to a few years old.  For big cities like Chicago, tracking illegal pools, porches and decks through Google Earth requires frequent imaging updates, so the Chicago buildings department uses it as a reference tool on a case-by-case scenario, said spokesman Bill McCaffrey.

"We're not opposed to adopting new technology, but until it advances where we can get photos of more recent updates, we don't have any plans to implement it," he said.

Smaller towns such as Champaign and Naperville, Ill. opted to use satellite images as reference only.

"Mostly it's so we can see that we're going to the right building when we go to do inspections," said Ann Michalsen, lead inspector for code enforcement in Naperville.

It's also important for police officers to know they have the right destination when executing search warrants, said Joe Pollini, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. "Most departments would use it as a preliminary step, but they would also use active surveillance with their own aircraft," he said.

The nonprofit group Consumer Watchdog is seeking to determine the extent of the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration's use of Google Earth in its investigations, spokesman John M. Simpson said last week.

Federal contracting records reviewed by Consumer Watchdog show that the FBI has spent more than $600,000 on Google Earth since 2007. The Drug Enforcement Administration, meanwhile, has spent more than $67,000.  Simpson has called on Congress to investigate how U.S. law enforcement and intelligence communities are using Google technologies. The group says it has concerns that data could be used for racial profiling.

The New York Police Department's Real Time Crime Center uses satellite imaging and computerized mapping systems to identify geographic patterns of crimes and to pinpoint possible addresses where suspects might flee — information relayed to investigators on the street. The NYPD also has two major security initiatives where a network of public and private cameras will eventually link and be searchable.

The NYCLU has filed lawsuits in opposition.

"We live in an environment where we are told that if it's on camera, if you have a video record, that will make us safer," Lieberman said. "That may be appealing, but it is an unproven assertion. There's no evidence of that. Yet we see millions, if not billions, of post-9/11 money has gone to law enforcement for installing cameras in every conceivable nook and cranny."


Big Brother is watching us all
By Humphrey Hawksley, BBC News, Washington
15 September 2007

The US and UK governments are developing increasingly sophisticated gadgets to keep individuals under their surveillance. When it comes to technology, the US is determined to stay ahead of the game.

computer image capturing Humphrey Hawksley's height, tracking and gait DNA
Humphrey Hawksley's data is captured by a camera in one second

"Five nine, five ten," said the research student, pushing down a laptop button to seal the measurement. "That's your height."

"Spot on," I said.

"OK, we're freezing you now," interjected another student, studying his computer screen. "So we have height and tracking and your gait DNA".

"Gait DNA?" I interrupted, raising my head, so inadvertently my full face was caught on a video camera.

"Have we got that?" asked their teacher Professor Rama Challapa. "We rely on just 30 frames - about one second - to get a picture we can work with," he explained.

Tracking individuals

I was at Maryland University just outside Washington DC, where Professor Challapa and his team are inventing the next generation of citizen surveillance.

They had pushed back furniture in the conference room for me to walk back and forth and set up cameras to feed my individual data back to their laptops.

Gait DNA, for example, is creating an individual code for the way I walk. Their goal is to invent a system whereby a facial image can be matched to your gait, your height, your weight and other elements, so a computer will be able to identify instantly who you are.

Crowd of people at airport
How you walk could be used to identify you in a crowd
"As you walk through a crowd, we'll be able to track you," said Professor Challapa. "These are all things that don't need the cooperation of the individual."

Since 9/11, some of the best scientific minds in the defence industry have switched their concentration from tracking nuclear missiles to tracking individuals such as suicide bombers.

Surveillance society

My next stop was a Pentagon agency whose headquarters is a drab suburban building in Virginia. The Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) had one specific mission - to ensure that when it comes to technology America is always ahead of the game.

Its track record is impressive. Back in the 70s, while we were working with typewriters and carbon paper, Darpa was developing the internet. In the 90s, while we pored over maps, Darpa invented satellite navigation that many of us now have in our cars.

"We ask the top people what keeps them awake at night," said its enthusiastic and forthright director Dr Tony Tether, "what problems they see long after they have left their posts."

"And what are they?" I asked.

He paused, hand on chin. "I'd prefer not to say. It's classified."

"All right then, can you say what you're actually working on now."

"Oh, language," he answered enthusiastically, clasping his fingers together. "Unless we're going to train every American citizen and soldier in 16 different languages we have to develop a technology that allows them to understand - whatever country they are in - what's going on around them.

"I hope in the future we'll be able to have conversations, if say you're speaking in French and I'm speaking in English, and it will be natural."

"And the computer will do the translation?"


Opinion polls, both in the US and Britain, say that about 75% of us want more, not less, surveillance

"Yep. All by computer," he said.

"And this idea about a total surveillance society," I asked. "Is that science fiction?"

"No, that's not science fiction. We're developing an unmanned airplane - a UAV - which may be able to stay up five years with cameras on it, constantly being cued to look here and there. This is done today to a limited amount in Baghdad. But it's the way to go."

 CCTV cameras
In Britain we are monitored 24/7 by four million CCTV cameras

Smarter technology

Interestingly, we, the public, don't seem to mind. Opinion polls, both in the US and Britain, say that about 75% of us want more, not less, surveillance. Some American cities like New York and Chicago are thinking of taking a lead from Britain where our movements are monitored round the clock by four million CCTV cameras.

So far there is no gadget that can actually see inside our houses, but even that's about to change.

Ian Kitajima flew to Washington from his laboratories in Hawaii to show me sense-through-the-wall technology.

"Each individual has a characteristic profile," explained Ian, holding a green rectangular box that looked like a TV remote control.

Using radio waves, you point it a wall and it tells you if anyone is on the other side. His company, Oceanit, is due to test it with the Hawaiian National Guard in Iraq next year, and it turns out that the human body gives off such sensitive radio signals, that it can even pick up breathing and heart rates.

"First, you can tell whether someone is dead or alive on the battlefield," said Ian.

"But it will also show whether someone inside a house is looking to harm you, because if they are, their heart rate will be raised. And 10 years from now, the technology will be much smarter. We'll scan a person with one of these things and tell what they're actually thinking."

He glanced at me quizzically, noticing my apprehension.

"Yeah, I know," he said. "It sounds very Star Trekkish, but that's what's ahead."


Chips: High tech aids or tracking tools?
By TODD LEWAN, AP National Writer
Sun Jul 22, 6:23 AM ET

CityWatcher.com, a provider of surveillance equipment, attracted little notice itself — until a year ago, when two of its employees had glass-encapsulated microchips with miniature antennas embedded in their forearms.

The "chipping" of two workers with RFIDs — radio frequency identification tags as long as two grains of rice, as thick as a toothpick — was merely a way of restricting access to vaults that held sensitive data and images for police departments, a layer of security beyond key cards and clearance codes, the company said.

"To protect high-end secure data, you use more sophisticated techniques," Sean Darks, chief executive of the Cincinnati-based company, said. He compared chip implants to retina scans or fingerprinting. "There's a reader outside the door; you walk up to the reader, put your arm under it, and it opens the door."

Innocuous? Maybe.

But the news that Americans had, for the first time, been injected with electronic identifiers to perform their jobs fired up a debate over the proliferation of ever-more-precise tracking technologies and their ability to erode privacy in the digital age.

To some, the microchip was a wondrous invention — a high-tech helper that could increase security at nuclear plants and military bases, help authorities identify wandering Alzheimer's patients, allow consumers to buy their groceries, literally, with the wave of a chipped hand.

To others, the notion of tagging people was Orwellian, a departure from centuries of history and tradition in which people had the right to go and do as they pleased, without being tracked, unless they were harming someone else.

Chipping, these critics said, might start with Alzheimer's patients or Army Rangers, but would eventually be suggested for convicts, then parolees, then sex offenders, then illegal aliens — until one day, a majority of Americans, falling into one category or another, would find themselves electronically tagged.

The concept of making all things traceable isn't alien to Americans. Thirty years ago, the first electronic tags were fixed to the ears of cattle, to permit ranchers to track a herd's reproductive and eating habits. In the 1990s, millions of chips were implanted in livestock, fish, dogs, cats, even racehorses.

Microchips are now fixed to car windshields as toll-paying devices, on "contactless" payment cards (Chase's "Blink," or MasterCard's "PayPass"). They're embedded in Michelin tires, library books, passports, work uniforms, luggage, and, unbeknownst to many consumers, on a host of individual items, from Hewlett Packard printers to Sanyo TVs, at Wal-Mart and Best Buy.

But CityWatcher.com employees weren't appliances or pets: They were people made scannable.

"It was scary that a government contractor that specialized in putting surveillance cameras on city streets was the first to incorporate this technology in the workplace," says Liz McIntyre, co-author of "Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move with RFID."

Darks, the CityWatcher.com executive, dismissed his critics, noting that he and his employees had volunteered to be chip-injected. Any suggestion that a sinister, Big-Brother-like campaign was afoot, he said, was hogwash.

"You would think that we were going around putting chips in people by force," he told a reporter, "and that's not the case at all."

Yet, within days of the company's announcement, civil libertarians and Christian conservatives joined to excoriate the microchip's implantation in people.

RFID, they warned, would soon enable the government to "frisk" citizens electronically — an invisible, undetectable search performed by readers posted at "hotspots" along roadsides and in pedestrian areas. It might even be used to squeal on employees while they worked; time spent at the water cooler, in the bathroom, in a designated smoking area could one day be broadcast, recorded and compiled in off-limits, company databases.

"Ultimately," says Katherine Albrecht, a privacy advocate who specializes in consumer education and RFID technology, "the fear is that the government or your employer might someday say, 'Take a chip or starve.'"

Some Christian critics saw the implants as the fulfillment of a biblical prophecy that describes an age of evil in which humans are forced to take the "Mark of the Beast" on their bodies, to buy or sell anything.

Gary Wohlscheid, president of These Last Days Ministries, a Roman Catholic group in Lowell, Mich., put together a Web site that linked the implantable microchips to the apocalyptic prophecy in the book of Revelation.

"The Bible tells us that God's wrath will come to those who take the Mark of the Beast," he says. Those who refuse to accept the Satanic chip "will be saved," Wohlscheid offers in a comforting tone.

___

In post-9/11 America, electronic surveillance comes in myriad forms: in a gas station's video camera; in a cell phone tucked inside a teen's back pocket; in a radio tag attached to a supermarket shopping cart; in a Porsche automobile equipped with a LoJack anti-theft device.

"We're really on the verge of creating a surveillance society in America, where every movement, every action — some would even claim, our very thoughts — will be tracked, monitored, recorded and correlated," says Barry Steinhardt, director of the Technology and Liberty Program at the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, D.C.

RFID, in Steinhardt's opinion, "could play a pivotal role in creating that surveillance society."

In design, the tag is simple: A medical-grade glass capsule holds a silicon computer chip, a copper antenna and a "capacitor" that transmits data stored on the chip when prompted by an electromagnetic reader.

Implantations are quick, relatively simple procedures. After a local anesthetic is administered, a large-gauge hypodermic needle injects the chip under the skin on the back of the arm, midway between the elbow and the shoulder.

"It feels just like getting a vaccine — a bit of pressure, no specific pain," says John Halamka, an emergency physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
He got chipped two years ago, "so that if I was ever in an accident, and arrived unconscious or incoherent at an emergency ward, doctors could identify me and access my medical history quickly." (A chipped person's medical profile can be continuously updated, since the information is stored on a database accessed via the Internet.)

Halamka thinks of his microchip as another technology with practical value, like his BlackBerry. But it's also clear, he says, that there are consequences to having an implanted identifier.

"My friends have commented to me that I'm 'marked' for life, that I've lost my anonymity. And to be honest, I think they're right."

Indeed, as microchip proponents and detractors readily agree, Americans' mistrust of microchips and technologies like RFID runs deep. Many wonder:

Do the current chips have global positioning transceivers that would allow the government to pinpoint a person's exact location, 24-7? (No; the technology doesn't yet exist.)

But could a tech-savvy stalker rig scanners to video cameras and film somebody each time they entered or left the house? (Quite easily, though not cheaply. Currently, readers cost $300 and up.)

How about thieves? Could they make their own readers, aim them at unsuspecting individuals, and surreptitiously pluck people's IDs out of their arms? (Yes. There's even a name for it — "spoofing.")

What's the average lifespan of a microchip? (About 10-15 years.) What if you get tired of it before then — can it be easily, painlessly removed? (Short answer: No.)

Presently, Steinhardt and other privacy advocates view the tagging of identity documents — passports, drivers licenses and the like — as a more pressing threat to Americans' privacy than the chipping of people. Equipping hospitals, doctors' offices, police stations and government agencies with readers will be costly, training staff will take time, and, he says, "people are going to be too squeamish about having an RFID chip inserted into their arms, or wherever."

But that wasn't the case in March 2004, when the Baja Beach Club in Barcelona, Spain — a nightclub catering to the body-aware, under-25 crowd — began holding "Implant Nights."

In a white lab coat, with hypodermic in latex-gloved hand, a company chipper wandered through the throng of the clubbers and clubbettes, anesthetizing the arms of consenting party goers, then injecting them with microchips.

The payoff?

Injectees would thereafter be able to breeze past bouncers and entrance lines, magically open doors to VIP lounges, and pay for drinks without cash or credit cards. The ID number on the VIP chip was linked to the user's financial accounts and stored in the club's computers.

After being chipped himself, club owner Conrad K. Chase declared that chip implants were hardly a big deal to his patrons, since "almost everybody has piercings, tattoos or silicone."

VIP chipping soon spread to the Baja Beach Club in Rotterdam, Holland, the Bar Soba in Edinburgh, Scotland, and the Amika nightclub in Miami Beach, Fla.

That same year, Mexico's attorney general, Rafael Macedo, made an announcement that thrilled chip proponents and chilled privacy advocates: He and 18 members of his staff had been microchipped as a way to limit access to a sensitive records room, whose door unlocked when a "portal reader" scanned the chips.

But did this make Mexican security airtight?

Hardly, says Jonathan Westhues, an independent security researcher in Cambridge, Mass. He concocted an "emulator," a hand-held device that cloned the implantable microchip electronically. With a team of computer-security experts, he demonstrated — on television — how easy it was to snag data off a chip.

Explains Adam Stubblefield, a Johns Hopkins researcher who joined the team: "You pass within a foot of a chipped person, copy the chip's code, then with a push of the button, replay the same ID number to any reader. You essentially assume the person's identity."

The company that makes implantable microchips for humans, VeriChip Corp., of Delray Beach, Fla., concedes the point — even as it markets its radio tag and its portal scanner as imperatives for high-security buildings, such as nuclear power plants.

"To grab information from radio frequency products with a scanning device is not hard to do," Scott Silverman, the company's chief executive, says. However, "the chip itself only contains a unique, 16-digit identification number. The relevant information is stored on a database."

Even so, he insists, it's harder to clone a VeriChip than it would be to steal someone's key card and use it to enter secure areas.

VeriChip Corp., whose parent company has been selling radio tags for animals for more than a decade, has sold 7,000 microchips worldwide, of which about 2,000 have been implanted in humans. More than one-tenth of those have been in the U.S., generating "nominal revenues," the company acknowledged in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing in February.

Although in five years VeriChip Corp. has yet to turn a profit, it has been investing heavily — up to $2 million a quarter — to create new markets.

The company's present push: tagging of "high-risk" patients — diabetics and people with heart conditions or Alzheimer's disease.

In an emergency, hospital staff could wave a reader over a patient's arm, get an ID number, and then, via the Internet, enter a company database and pull up the person's identity and medical history.

To doctors, a "starter kit" — complete with 10 hypodermic syringes, 10 VeriChips and a reader — costs $1,400. To patients, a microchip implant means a $200, out-of-pocket expense to their physician. Presently, chip implants aren't covered by insurance companies, Medicare or Medicaid.

For almost two years, the company has been offering hospitals free scanners, but acceptance has been limited. According to the company's most recent SEC quarterly filing, 515 hospitals have pledged to take part in the VeriMed network, yet only 100 have actually been equipped and trained to use the system.

Some wonder why they should abandon noninvasive tags such as MedicAlert, a low-tech bracelet that warns paramedics if patients have serious allergies or a chronic medical condition.

"Having these things under your skin instead of in your back pocket — it's just not clear to me why it's worth the inconvenience," says Westhues.

Silverman responds that an implanted chip is "guaranteed to be with you. It's not a medical arm bracelet that you can take off if you don't like the way it looks..."

In fact, microchips can be removed from the body — but it's not like removing a splinter.

The capsules can migrate around the body or bury themselves deep in the arm. When that happens, a sensor X-ray and monitors are needed to locate the chip, and a plastic surgeon must cut away scar tissue that forms around the chip.

The relative permanence is a big reason why Marc Rotenberg, of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, is suspicious about the motives of the company, which charges an annual fee to keep clients' records.

The company charges $20 a year for customers to keep a "one-pager" on its database — a record of blood type, allergies, medications, driver's license data and living-will directives. For $80 a year, it will keep an individual's full medical history.
___

In recent times, there have been rumors on Wall Street, and elsewhere, of the potential uses for RFID in humans: the chipping of U.S. soldiers, of inmates, or of migrant workers, to name a few.

To date, none of this has happened.

But a large-scale chipping plan that was proposed illustrates the stakes, pro and con.

In mid-May, a protest outside the Alzheimer's Community Care Center in West Palm Beach, Fla., drew attention to a two-year study in which 200 Alzheimer's patients, along with their caregivers, were to receive chip implants. Parents, children and elderly people decried the plan, with signs and placards.

"Chipping People Is Wrong" and "People Are Not Pets," the signs read. And: "Stop VeriChip."

Ironically, the media attention sent VeriChip's stock soaring 27 percent in one day.

"VeriChip offers technology that is absolutely bursting with potential," wrote blogger Gary E. Sattler, of the AOL site Bloggingstocks, even as he recognized privacy concerns.

Albrecht, the RFID critic who organized the demonstration, raises similar concerns on her AntiChips.com Web site.

"Is it appropriate to use the most vulnerable members of society for invasive medical research? Should the company be allowed to implant microchips into people whose mental impairments mean they cannot give fully informed consent?"

Mary Barnes, the care center's chief executive, counters that both the patients and their legal guardians must consent to the implants before receiving them. And the chips, she says, could be invaluable in identifying lost patients — for instance, if a hurricane strikes Florida.

That, of course, assumes that the Internet would be accessible in a killer storm. VeriChip Corp. acknowledged in an SEC filing that its "database may not function properly" in such circumstances.

As the polemic heats up, legislators are increasingly being drawn into the fray. Two states, Wisconsin and North Dakota, recently passed laws prohibiting the forced implantation of microchips in humans. Others — Ohio, Oklahoma, Colorado and Florida — are studying similar legislation.

In May, Oklahoma legislators were debating a bill that would have authorized microchip implants in people imprisoned for violent crimes. Many felt it would be a good way to monitor felons once released from prison.

But other lawmakers raised concerns. Rep. John Wright worried, "Apparently, we're going to permanently put the mark on these people."

Rep. Ed Cannaday found the forced microchipping of inmates "invasive ... We are going down that slippery slope."

In the end, lawmakers sent the bill back to committee for more work.




Cameraphone-Internet catches another excess?

Lawyer Wants Video Suppressed in Texas Fight Case
NYTIMES
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 12:11 p.m. ET
July 6, 2009

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) -- A lawyer for a man accused of organizing fights among developmentally disabled Texans for entertainment argued Monday that cell phone videos of the events should be suppressed.

The grainy cell phone videos showing the students forced to fight each other was expected to be the evidence centerpiece this week as four former employees at the Corpus Christi State School go on trial.

State District Judge Sandra Watts was hearing arguments Monday on a motion filed for defendant Timothy Dixon, who allegedly recorded the fights on a phone that was turned over to police. His attorney, Ira Miller, contends the phone was stolen and police should have obtained a search warrant before examining the videos.

Jury selection, expected to begin Monday morning, was delayed. Jurors were expected to be picked for the trial of Dixon, 30, D'Angelo Riley, 23, and Jesse Salazar, 25, all charged with multiple counts of causing bodily injury to a disabled person. In a separate courtroom, Stephanie Garza, 21, was to face a lesser charge of not intervening to stop the fights. Two other former employees are scheduled to go on trial later this year.

''These people did horrific things,'' said Jeff Garrison-Tate, of the advocacy group Community Now!, which has called for closing the state schools in favor of community-based services. ''But they were given silent permission for these heinous acts.''

District Attorney Carlos Valdez did not return calls for comment. Defense attorneys for the accused declined to comment.

Almost 20 videos dating back to 2007 were found on a cell phone turned in to police, showing staff at the Corpus Christi State School forcing residents into late-night bouts, even kicking them to egg them on. Eleven staff members were identified and six were charged.

Dixon is believed to have shot the videos, though other staff members can been seen pointing cell phone cameras toward the brawls. None of those charged still works at the facility.

The state has taken pains to close the issue. In May, the Legislature approved a $112 million settlement with the Justice Department for widespread mistreatment found at Texas' 13 residential facilities for the developmentally disabled. Gov. Rick Perry signed legislation last month aimed at improving oversight of the facilities that house nearly 5,000 people.

The settlement is ''a big step that will certainly bring improvements and changes to the system,'' said Laura Albrecht, a spokeswoman for the Department of Aging and Disability Services. She said the agency is making unannounced visits to the Corpus Christi facility and cameras are being installed.

The school's director remains in place, to the consternation of some who say that the incidents showed a disturbing lack of supervision.

Beth Mitchell, the managing lawyer for Advocacy Inc., a nonprofit with federal authority to monitor abuse and neglect at the facilities, asked what the administration's role in the alleged crimes was.

''They (those charged) were probably the ones instigating the fight clubs, but my concern is: How can you have it going on as long as it did without the administration knowing about it?'' she asked.


Camera phone maker mulls gadget's impact
By MAY WONG, AP Technology Writer
Sun May 20, 1:47 AM ET


SANTA CRUZ, Calif. - The chilling sounds of gunfire on the Virginia Tech campus; the hateful taunts from Saddam Hussein's execution; the racist tirade of comedian Michael Richards.   Those videos, all shot with cell phone cameras and seen by millions, are just a few recent examples of the power now at the fingertips of the masses. Even the man widely credited with inventing the camera phone in 1997 is awed by the cultural revolution he helped launch.

"It's had a massive impact because it's just so convenient," said Philippe Kahn, a tech industry maverick whose other pioneering efforts include the founding of software maker Borland, an early Microsoft Corp. antagonist.

"There's always a way to capture memories and share it," he said. "You go to a restaurant, and there's a birthday and suddenly everyone is getting their camera phones out. It's amazing."

If Kahn feels a bit like a proud father when he sees people holding up their cell phones to snap pictures, there's good reason: He jury-rigged the first camera phone while his wife was in labor with their daughter.

"We were going to have a baby and I wanted to share the pictures with family and friends," Kahn said, "and there was no easy way to do it."

So as he sat in a maternity ward, he wrote a crude program on his laptop and sent an assistant to a RadioShack store to get a soldering iron, capacitors and other supplies to wire his digital camera to his cell phone. When Sophie was born, he sent her photo over a cellular connection to acquaintances around the globe.  A decade later, 41 percent of American households own a camera phone "and you can hardly find a phone without a camera anymore," said Michael Cai, an industry analyst at Parks Associates.


Market researcher Gartner Inc. predicts that about 589 million cell phones will be sold with cameras in 2007, increasing to more than 1 billion worldwide by 2010.  Mix in the Internet's vast reach and the growth of the YouTube generation, and the ubiquitous gadget's influence only deepens and gets more complicated. So much so that the watchful eyes on all of us may no longer just be those of Big Brother.

"For the past decade, we've been under surveillance under these big black and white cameras on buildings and at 7-Eleven stores. But the candid camera is wielded by individuals now," said Fred Turner, an assistant professor of communications at Stanford University who specializes in digital media and culture.

The contraption Kahn assembled in a Santa Cruz labor-and-delivery room in 1997 has evolved into a pocket-friendly phenomenon that has empowered both citizen journalists and personal paparazzi.

It has prompted lawsuits — a student sued campus police at UCLA for alleged excessive force after officers were caught on cell-phone video using a stun gun during his arrest; and been a catalyst for change — a government inquiry into police practices ensued in Malaysia after a cell-phone video revealed a woman detainee being forced to do squats while naked.

On another scale, parents use cell-phone slideshows — not wallet photos — to show off pictures of their children, while adolescents document their rites of passage with cell phone cameras and instantly share the images.  One of the recipients of Kahn's seminal photo e-mail was veteran technology consultant Andy Seybold, who recalled being "blown away" by the picture.

"The fact that it got sent wirelessly on the networks those days — that was an amazing feat," Seybold said.

Kahn's makeshift photo-communications system formed the basis for a new company, LightSurf Technologies, which he later sold to VeriSign Inc. LightSurf built "PictureMail" software and worked with cell phone makers to integrate the wireless photo technology. 
Sharp Corp. was the first to sell a commercial cell phone with a camera in Japan in 2000. Camera phones didn't debut in the U.S. until 2002, Kahn said.

Though Kahn's work revolved around transmitting only digital still photographs — video-related developments were created by others in the imaging and chip industries — his groundbreaking implementation of the instant-sharing via a cell phone planted a seed.

"He facilitated people putting cameras in a phone, and he proved that you can take a photo and send it to someone with a cell phone," Seybold said.

Kahn, 55, is well aware of how the camera phone has since been put to negative uses: sneaky shots up women's skirts, or the violent trend of "happy slapping" in Europe where youths provoke a fight or assault, capture the incident on camera and then spread the images on the Web or between mobile phones.  But he likes to focus on the technology's benefits. It's been a handy tool that has led to vindication for victims or validation for vigilantes.

As Kahn heard the smattering of stories in recent years about assailants scared off by a camera phone or criminals who were nabbed later because their faces or their license plates were captured on the gadget, he said, "I started feeling it was better than carrying a gun."

And though he found the camera-phone video of the former Iraqi dictator's execution disturbing, Kahn said the gadget helped "get the truth out." The unofficial footage surreptitiously taken by a guard was vastly different from the government-issued version and revealed a chaotic scene with angry exchanges depicting the ongoing problems between the nation's factions.

Kahn also thinks the evolution of the camera phone has only just begun.

He wouldn't discuss details of his newest startup, Fullpower Technologies Inc., which is in stealth mode working on the "convergence of life sciences and wireless," according to its Web site.  But, Kahn said, it will, among other things, "help make camera phones better."



Our question is this:  what will actions taken be after the last "twitter" is silenced?

Internet Most Popular Information Source: Poll
NYTIMES
By REUTERS

Filed at 1:04 p.m. ET

June 17, 2009

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Internet is by far the most popular source of information and the preferred choice for news ahead of television, newspapers and radio, according to a new poll in the United States.

But just a small fraction of U.S. adults considered social websites such as Facebook and MySpace as a good source of news and even fewer would opt for Twitter.

More than half of the people questioned in the Zogby Interactive survey said they would select the Internet if they had to choose only one source of news, followed by 21 percent for television and 10 percent for both newspapers and radio.

Only 10 percent described social websites as an important for news, and despite the media buzz about Twitter, only 4 percent would go to it for information.

The Internet was also selected as the most reliable source of news by nearly 40 percent of adults, compared to 17 percent who opted for television and 16 percent who selected newspapers and 13 percent for listened to the radio.

"The poll reinforces the idea that efforts by established newspapers, television and radio news outlets to push their consumers to their respective websites is working," Zogby said in a statement.

Almost half of 3,030 adults questioned in the online survey said national newspaper websites were important to them, followed by 43 percent who preferred television websites.

Blogs were less of a necessity than websites with only 28 percent of those polled saying blogs that shared their political viewpoint were important.

"That the websites of traditional news outlets are seen by a wide margin as more important than blog sites - most of which are repositories of opinion devoid of actual reportage - could be seen as an encouraging development for the media at large," Zogby added.

When asked to peer into the future, an overwhelming 82 percent said the Internet would be the main source of information in five years time, compared to 13 for television and 0.5 percent chose newspapers.

About 84 percent of American have access to the Internet, according to industry studies.



Page last updated at 09:36 GMT, Tuesday, 16 March 2010

US plans to give high-speed broadband to every American
By Maggie Shiels, Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

Fibre-optic cables, Eyewire
Pressure groups see broadband investment as vital to the US economy

US regulators have unveiled the nation's first plan to give every American super-fast broadband by 2020.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which will now submit the plan to Congress, said broadband was the "greatest infrastructure challenge".

It estimates that one-third of Americans, about 100 million people, are without broadband at home.

The FCC's goal is to provide speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps), compared to an average 4Mbps now.

"Broadband for every American is not too ambitious a plan and it is absolutely necessary," former FCC chairman Reed Hundt told BBC News.

"The consequences of not succeeding are heartbreaking. Every nation needs a common medium to gather around and to have the internet as a common medium where a third are left out is unacceptable."

'Silver bullet'

In an executive summary released ahead of the presentation to Congress on 16 March, the FCC said: "Broadband is a foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness and a better way of life.

WHAT GOVERNMENT WILL DO
Connect 100 million homes to super-fast broadband with speeds up to 100 megabits per second
Allocate spectrum to allow network updates for wireless broadband
Increase adoption rates to 90% and make sure every child is digitally literate before they leave school
Encourage greater competition among providers to make prices cheaper and deals easier to understand
Use digital switch-over fund to bring cheap broadband to rural areas
Provide one gigabit broadband to schools, hospitals and military installations

"It is changing how we educate children, deliver healthcare, manage energy, ensure public safety, engage government, and access, organise and disseminate knowledge".

For industry analyst Erik Sherman of business and news site BNet.com, all the talk "sounds like an overstatement".

"The plan cannot be a silver bullet for all these issues and problems which exist for a number of different reasons and not just because of a lack of broadband.

"The plan is very big in scope and if you look at the rationale, the FCC is basically saying we need more money for more internet. I am not saying we don't need a broadband plan but we have to be realistic about what it can and cannot do," Mr Sherman told BBC News.

'Fairy wings and wishes'

Months of hype and speculation has preceded the presentation of the country's first comprehensive broadband roadmap. The FCC has also held a series of briefings previewing its goals.

"It's an action plan, and action is necessary to meet the challenges of global competitiveness, and harness the power of broadband to help address so many vital national issues," said FCC chairman Julius Genachowski.

Broadband subscribers, BBC
Wide differences in broadband access are revealed by statistics

The executive summary revealed that access to high-speed internet services had grown dramatically from eight million Americans 20 years ago to nearly 200 million today.

Estimates to implement the plan have been put at $350bn (£233bn). How that bill will be split between private investment and tax dollars is not known.

"Who pays and how much is the big fight ahead," said technology industry analyst Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group.

"The devil is in the detail and right now it's all fairy wings and wishes. The Republicans are going to fight anything that is excessively expensive while the Democrats have to be wary of looking like they are cutting cheques at a time when the government is for the most part broke."

The FCC will auction off some 500 megahertz of spectrum to pay for some of the expense. More than $7bn will come from President Obama's 2009 stimulus package, which targeted broadband-related initiatives.

'Digital exclusion'

For years the technology industry has pushed for the US government to create a national broadband plan.

Ahead of today's meeting with Congress, a number of hi-tech companies wrote to Mr Genachowski to praise the plan.

"Broadband is critical to America's long-term economic and social well-being. As society increasingly moves online, the costs of digital exclusion grow as well," said the signatories of the letter, which included Cisco, Sony, Salesforce, Microsoft, Facebook and Intel.

One possible battleground is expected to be over the sale of spectrum that is mostly in the hands of television broadcasters.

Mobile carriers like AT&T and Verizon have said they will need more spectrum in future to provide superfast reliable internet connections to every customer.

"The problem is most of the spectrum is occupied by somebody else. They are going to want a lot of money for this," said Adam Thierer, president of the free-market leaning Progress & Freedom Foundation.




Warning sounded on web's future
By Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News
15 September 2008

Giant magnet at Cern, AFP/Getty
Some feared firing up the LHC would doom the Earth

The internet needs a way to help people separate rumour from real science, says the creator of the World Wide Web.

Talking to BBC News Sir Tim Berners-Lee said he was increasingly worried about the way the web has been used to spread disinformation.

Sir Tim spoke prior to the unveiling of a Foundation he has co-created that aims to make the web truly worldwide.

It will also look at ways to help people decide if sites are trustworthy and reliable sources of information.

Future proof

Sir Tim talked to the BBC in the week in which Cern, where he did his pioneering work on the web, turned on the Large Hadron Collider for the first time.

The use of the web to spread fears that flicking the switch on the LHC could create a Black Hole that could swallow up the Earth particularly concerned him, he said. In a similar vein was the spread of rumours that the MMR vaccine given to children in Britain was harmful.

Sir Tim told BBC News that there needed to be new systems that would give websites a label for trustworthiness once they had been proved reliable sources.

"On the web the thinking of cults can spread very rapidly and suddenly a cult which was 12 people who had some deep personal issues suddenly find a formula which is very believable," he said. "A sort of conspiracy theory of sorts and which you can imagine spreading to thousands of people and being deeply damaging."

Sir Tim and colleagues at the World Wide Web consortium had looked at simple ways of branding websites - but concluded that a whole variety of different mechanisms was needed.
Tim Berners-Lee (AFP/Getty)
Sir Tim wants to help get the web to people who are cut off from it.

"I'm not a fan of giving a website a simple number like an IQ rating because like people they can vary in all kinds of different ways," he said. "So I'd be interested in different organisations labelling websites in different ways".

Sir Tim spoke to the BBC to publicise the launch of his World Wide Web Foundation which aims to improve the web's accessibility.

Alongside this role it will aim to make it easier for people to get online. Currently only 20% of the world's population have access to the web

"Has it been designed by the West for the West?" asked Sir Tim.

"Has it been designed for the executive and the teenager in the modern city with a smart phone in their pocket? If you are in a rural community do you need a different kind of web with different kinds of facilities?"

Creative medium

The Web Foundation will also explore ways to make the web more mobile-phone friendly. That would increase its use in Africa and other poor parts of the world where there are few computers but plenty of handsets.

The Foundation will also look at how the benefits of the web can be taken to those who cannot read or write.

"We're talking about the evolution of the web," he said. "Perhaps by using gestures or pointing. When something is such a creative medium as the web, the limits to it are our imagination".

The Foundation will also look at concerns that the web has become less democratic, and its use influenced too much by large corporations and vested interests.

"I think that question is very important and may be settled in the next few years," said Sir Tim.

"One of the things I always remain concerned about is that that medium remains neutral," he said.

"It's not just where I go to decide where to buy my shoes which is the commercial incentive - it's where I go to decide who I'm going to trust to vote," he said.

"It's where I go maybe to decide what sort of religion I'm going to belong to or not belong to; it's where I go to decide what is actual scientific truth - what I'm actually going to go along with and what is bunkum".





FCC set to test wide-range broadcast internet 
DAY
By Kim Hart    
Published on 7/25/2008 

Wasington - The nation's top technology companies have spent millions of dollars and nearly two years building devices, poring over laptops and working in federal labs trying to come up with a new way of providing high-speed Internet to bandwidth-hungry cities as well as hard-to-reach rural regions.

Last week, the companies moved from lab to field.

Engineers from the technology heavyweights, including Motorola and Philips, lugged their laptops, antennas and other equipment to parks, homes and high-rises around the Washington area, hoping to prove to the Federal Communications Commission that the unlicensed airwaves between television stations, known as white spaces, could provide a new form of mobile Internet service.

Using white spaces “will provide a way to provide broadband across long distances at much faster speeds than cellphone networks and WiFi,” said Jake Ward, spokesman for the Wireless Innovation Alliance, which includes Google, Microsoft, HP and Dell.

The group is trying to convince regulators that using the airwaves will provide broadband to rural schools, beam high-definition online video to low-income households and let consumers stream music while sitting in highway traffic.

First out of the gate was a team from Motorola. On a recent steamy day in the middle of Patapsco Valley State Park about 10 miles west of Baltimore, Dave Gurney, an engineer for the company, set up shop in a parking lot surrounded by dense forest.

A large black box the size of a suitcase hooked up to a laptop sat near the base of a tree-covered hill. An antenna perched on a tripod rested a few feet away. A group of engineers stared intently at the contraption, as if it were about to spring to life.

”It's done!” Gurney said. He held his breath as the men leaned in further and quickly jotted down a cryptic list of numbers. Then he ran the test again.

The stakes are high for this mysterious black box. Tech giants and Silicon Valley start-ups are betting that using white spaces could extend the Internet's reach. They also hope it will spark a new wave of portable devices.

But the idea faces big hurdles. Broadcasters use adjacent airwaves to beam TV shows to viewers, and they say the technology could interfere with over-the-air signals. Wireless microphone users, from pop stars to mega-church ministers, say using white spaces could blot out their sounds.

White-space backers say their devices will be able to detect and avoid frequencies being used by broadcasters and wireless mics. Critics say the devices are not reliable enough.

The FCC is trying to settle that debate. For more than a year, the agency has been testing prototypes with mixed results. An early prototype built by Microsoft failed to operate in the FCC's lab. Microsoft later determined the device was broken.

The FCC is now testing other prototypes built by Philips and Motorola as well as Silicon Valley start-up Adaptrum and Singapore-based Institute for Infocomm Research. The Motorola device connects to a database of TV stations operating within 200 kilometers and scans the airwaves nearly every second for other signals that may pop up unexpectedly, such as a wireless microphone.

If the device senses that it is within or close to a TV station's coverage area, it is supposed to avoid that station's frequency. It then ranks empty frequencies by their proximity to existing signals. If a new signal suddenly appears, the white-space device should automatically switch to another open channel.

”We're testing multiple times to make sure the results are consistent,” Gurney said.

But the results can be hard to decipher. At the first location, Motorola's device indicated that channel 51, for example, was open and available. At the second location, the device picked up a weak signal on the channel, suggesting that it was already in use.


Motorola's engineers say that means the signal changed slightly between locations, and the device would be able to avoid that channel as soon as it was detected. But Bruce Franca, vice president of policy and technology for the Association for Maximum Service Television, a broadcasting industry group, is skeptical.

”The results of every single test were different,” he said. “The device failed to recognize that certain channels are actually being occupied by TV signals. ... Clearly this is not ready for prime time.”

Shure, which makes microphones and other audio equipment used in Broadway shows and sports games, argues the tests have not proven that the prototypes can consistently detect TV signals, let alone wireless microphones that hop on frequencies without notice.

The FCC plans to test the white-space devices at an entertainment venue in the next few months. The National Football League has offered the Baltimore Ravens' stadium or the Washington Redskins' park as possible venues. And the Recording Academy, which puts on the Grammy Awards, has offered up the Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago next month for testing.

”That's where the rubber will meet the road,” said Mark Brunner, senior director of brand management at Shure. 




LATEST (l) 2011;  a wajanbolic antenna (c), described in story below. Example (r) of "WIFRY" - narrowing signal for better quality and range
WOKTENNA instructions below:

Make 2.4GHz parabolic mesh dishes from cheap but sturdy Chinese cookware scoops & a USB WiFi adaptor! The largest so called "WIFRY" or "WOKTENNA" (12"= 300mm diam) shows 12-15dB gain (enough for a LOS range extension to 3-5km),costs ~US$5 & comes with a user friendly bamboo handle that suits WLAN fieldwork- if you can handle the curious stares! Neater boutique versions may better appeal indors.

Starbucks: Free Wi-Fi at 6,700 US sites
YAHOO
By ASHLEY M. HEHER, AP Retail Writer
14 June 2010

CHICAGO – Starbucks Corp. will begin offering unlimited free Wi-Fi at all of its company-operated U.S. locations next month, part of an ongoing effort to bring more customers in the door.

The free wireless Internet will be available July 1 at about 6,700 locations.

The coffee house, which recorded its first quarterly increase in customers in 13 quarters earlier this year, had previously offered two free hours of Web access each day to registered customers.

After that, consumers at the Seattle chain were charged a small fee.

Access will continue to be offered through AT&T. But it won't require a Starbucks loyalty card, according to the announcement Monday by CEO Howard Schultz, who spoke at a conference in New York.

The move comes six months after Starbucks' competitor McDonald's Corp. began offering free Wi-Fi at 11,500 U.S. locations.

The two companies have sparred in recent years at McDonald's revamped its coffee and rolled out a successful McCafe line offering everything from drip coffee and lattes to cappuccinos to icy coffee drinks.

Along the way, Starbucks struggled as it was hit by the recession and overwhelmed by its own rapid expansion.

As business soured, it brought back Schultz, who helped build the company, to lead the day-to-day operations. And it shut hundreds of locations and laid off thousands of workers to scale back its spending.

Also Monday, Starbucks said customers will get free access to certain online content through its Wi-Fi this fall. Called the Starbucks Digital Network, the program will give Starbucks Web surfers free access to paid sites like the Wall Street Journal, along with exclusive content and free downloads from other organizations such as Apple Inc.'s iTunes, The New York Times, Patch, USA TODAY, Yahoo and Zagat.

Starbucks shares climbed 34 cents, or 1.3 percent, to $27.49 in midday trading Monday.

Frying the wires, freeing the waves      
Grassroots organisations in Indonesia are building communication media from the most basic of utensils
By Edwin Jurriëns - jurriens-wajanbolic.jpg
Received via e-mail from Yale, 2-15-09

While Indonesia’s big cities are saturated with many types of media, media fare at the village level is often quite limited. In response, several grassroots organisations have begun building a more participatory communications infrastructure, relying on advances in technology to provide community television facilities and cheap wireless Internet. Like existing community radio, theatre and print media already scattered across the archipelago, these new media have emerged as an alternative to government and business-controlled Internet and television programming.

Out of the frying pan

In 2000, residents of Timbulharjo village in Bantul, Central Java formed the organisation Angkringan, named after the Javanese term for ‘food vendor’, to build a media infrastructure that would meet the information and communication needs of their community. Starting with an eight-page print bulletin of local news and entertainment, within half a year, Angkringan expanded into community radio broadcasts. During the parliamentary elections of 2004, the organisation used mobile screening facilities to air information about the elections. And in 2007, Angkringan began work on establishing a local Internet network, called AngkringanNet, for Timbulharjo.

AngkringanNet relies on the convergence of community radio broadcasting with wireless Internet technology. Using a community radio antenna, AngkringanNet transmits an Internet signal over the 2.4 MHz frequency, free of charge. The signal can then be accessed by anyone in Timbulharjo with a computer and a ‘wajanbolic’ antenna.

Using wajanbolic receivers, browsing the Internet and sending e-mail is as easy as frying an egg

The wajanbolic antenna is the key to the system: it is composed of an actual wajan, or frying pan, wrapped in aluminium foil and connected to a short tube. Once placed on a rooftop, tree or other elevated point, the linked WiFi USB stick can be connected to one or more personal computers. Users do not have to pay individual Internet connection fees, but can share the costs with other users, keeping the costs per household to only several thousand rupiah per month.

Angkringan’s wajanbolic antenna is based on alternative Internet technology pioneered by the Indonesian technology guru Onno W Purbo and students from Muhammadiyah University in Malang. Angkringan deliberately chose the wajan, a basic piece of cookware that can be found in almost every Indonesian kitchen, to put people with no prior exposure to modern communication technology at ease, and to make it clear that browsing the Internet or sending an e-mail was as easy as frying an egg. The choice can also be seen as a symbol of local resistance against business monopolies dominating the computer and Internet industries.

AngkringanNet provides Timbulharjo residents with Internet links to the outside world as well as an Intranet exclusively for the community. Villagers are encouraged to understand and creatively engage with the technology, and move beyond simply being end users. The AngkringanNet web site makes available various Open Source software programs for villagers to use. They can also contribute to the Village Database, which contains information on local governance, economy, health and other issues.

To date, 12 wajanbolic antennas have been installed in Timbulharjo. In various workshops, Angkringan has shared its ideas and experiences beyond their village with representatives of other Indonesian community media organisations. The Indonesian government, through the Department of Communications (Depkominfo), has also donated computer equipment and provided assistance in Internet training sessions. Angkringan plans to open its wireless service to locally produced community television broadcasts in the near future.

Members of Angkringan also helped establish the Association of Indonesian Community Television (Asosiasi Televisi Komunitas Indonesia, or ATVKI), an umbrella organisation of community television stations. Similar to Angkringan’s wajanbolic philosophy, ATVKI defines its community television as ‘from, by and for the people’. ATVKI members exchange technical information and give each other guidance on organisation and broadcast content.

Not coincidentally, ATVKI was founded in Grabag village in Central Java, home of Grabag TV, one of the few active community television stations in Indonesia. Grabag TV was founded in 2005 by Hartanto, a lecturer from the Jakarta Institute of the Arts and native of Grabag. At the time, Grabag residents could only receive the commercial television channel RCTI, relayed from Jakarta by antenna because of the village’s mountainous surroundings. Hartanto built a small studio, provided basic equipment, and organised training sessions on script-writing, filming and editing. Using the existing antenna, villagers began broadcasting programs written and produced by their fellow citizens.

Community TV should broadcast content ‘from, by and for the people’

Currently, Grabag TV has two-hour broadcasts every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon. Any villager with an idea for a program or a general interest in broadcasting is welcome to make a contribution. Farmers and traders go on air to talk about their professional problems, plans and strategies. Programs have featured students from primary and secondary schools discussing the positive and negative effects of television on education, part of Grabag TV’s efforts to raise the media literacy of Grabag’s citizens. The art and culture programs often contain popular Javanese dance and music performances. Grabag TV also organised live coverage of elections for the village head, thus providing a new mechanism for monitoring local political processes.
Costs and controversies

Grabag TV has been able to restrict its average operational costs to only Rp. 800,000 ($A109) per month. It covers these costs with voluntary donations from the viewers. In general, money is an important issue, but not a major obstacle to community initiatives like Grabag TV and AngkringanNet. Often such initiatives find more difficulties in generating innovative and educational media content, and ensuring community participation once the initial enthusiasm has worn off.

Community media also face regulatory and legal hurdles. In the 2003 negotiations over the allocation of broadcast frequencies by the government, community television was passed over while public, commercial and pay television channels were given official broadcast rights, possibly under pressure from the broadcasting industry. The process of receiving a community broadcasting license is also time-consuming and expensive. AKTVI continues to fight for official broadcast frequencies and the streamlining of broadcast licenses.

The work done by organisations like Angkringan and AKTVI illustrates the awareness of Indonesian media activists that the struggle for free and independent information and communication can start, but certainly will not stop, with a WiFi USB stick and a frying pan.  

Edwin Jurriëns (e.jurriens@adfa.edu.au) is a lecturer in Indonesian Language and Culture at The University of New South Wales, Canberra.

Global Dreams for a Wireless Web
NYTIMES
By JOHN MARKOFF
Published: May 25, 2008

Menorca, Spain

SITTING on the porch at Finca Torrenova, his 800-acre retreat on this Mediterranean island, Martin Varsavsky ticks off the credentials of the group of Internet entrepreneurs finishing lunch at a nearby table.

“He has 40 million uniques, he has 50 million, and he has 8 million,” Mr. Varsavsky says, referring to the number of visitors to Web sites owned by his guests — many of whom are also business associates and have joined him for several days of brainstorming about the digital future.

These days, commercial victory on the Internet is all about scale, and Mr. Varsavsky, a 48-year-old from Argentina, can be forgiven for speaking longingly and in detail about his peers’ achievements. No stranger to success — he has had a tidy crop of new media and telecommunications hits since the 1990s — he is still struggling to bring his newest Internet venture to fruition.

Three years ago, aiming to create a global wireless network, he founded FON, a company based in Madrid that wants to unlock the potential power of the social Internet. FON’s gamble is that Internet users will share a portion of their wireless connection with strangers in exchange for access to wireless hotspots controlled by others.

The swaps, in theory, would allow “Foneros” to have ubiquitous, global wireless access while traveling for business or pleasure. But despite $55.2 million in backing from such corporate heavyweights as Google and BT, the former British Telecom, as well as newer enterprises like Skype and a handful of venture capital firms, FON and Mr. Varsavsky are still missing a crucial ingredient: scale.

At the moment, there are just 830,000 registered Foneros around the world, and only 340,000 active Wi-Fi hotspots run FON software. Because it’s built upon the concept of sharing Wi-Fi access, FON works well only if there are Foneros everywhere.

And as he struggles to expand the FON network, Mr. Varsavsky faces particular hurdles now that the Internet’s commercial side has reached a crossroads. Born a few decades ago as an anarchic, digital version of a barn-raising, the wireless Internet is now a battleground between two giant technology consortiums seeking to rein in the Web’s chaotic openness in favor of creating uniform, global access built upon wireless data networks.

The two camps, known as WiMax and L.T.E., for “long-term evolution,” are both top-down, highly structured approaches that will cost billions of dollars to build and may close a door on some of the architectural openness that led to the rapid growth of the Internet.

But their potential advantage is that closed standards can encourage the kind of growth that offers more access to mainstream consumers and business users, as occurred when Microsoft imposed a measure of conformity on software development.

For his part, Mr. Varsavsky hopes that FON can offer a middle ground — deploying the original, bottom-up strengths of the early Internet movement and at the same time wedding them to a more formal, corporate approach to expansion.

Although FON faces huge obstacles in realizing those ambitions, the company also has a growing number of devotees.

“The wireless Internet market today is fragmented and complex — it can be accessed through 3G operators, through WiMax, through private hotspots, through paid hotspots and through corporate networks,” said Michael Jackson, a partner at Mangrove Capital in London and a former FON board member. “In summary, it is a nightmare for a consumer. FON can and will change this.”

But others have their doubts.

“I know that the people at Google like this idea,” said John Saw, the chief technology officer at Clearwire, the WiMax start-up of Craig McCaw, which recently announced a $14.5 billion joint venture to build a nationwide WiMax network with Sprint, Google, Intel, Comcast and others. “But we’re skeptical.”

Undeterred, Mr. Varsavsky says that what he currently lacks in scale he can make up for in huge cost savings, particularly because FON avoids the expensive proposition of having to build a worldwide network of cellular towers and Wi-Fi nodes from scratch.

“Our army of Foneros is a much more efficient way of distributing a signal,” he says. “We believe WiMax operators will be happy to have some customers use their services for free and save billions in infrastructure deployment.”

MR. VARSAVSKY has worked overtime trying to line up more high-profile partners for FON. To that end, he traveled to Cupertino, Calif., last fall to meet with Steve Jobs, the chief executive of Apple.

During that 90-minute meeting, Mr. Varsavsky says, the two men discussed why a partnership might make sense.

Apple has sold millions of its Wi-Fi routers to residential customers, and its community of Wi-Fi users who share router access would be an ideal platform for FON. For his part, Mr. Jobs had developed an interest in Wi-Fi sharing because of the expanding number of iPhone users who are often frustrated by locked Wi-Fi access points.

But, Mr. Varsavsky says, from the moment that he and Mr. Jobs met, their discussion devolved into an argument. (Mr. Jobs did not respond to requests to comment on the meeting.)



At the outset, Mr. Varsavsky recalled, Mr. Jobs asked sharply, “Who needs your community?” and “Why should British Telecom bother to do a deal with you, and why shouldn’t people just leave their routers open for sharing?”

Mr. Varsavsky says he responded, “Why should you bother to do a deal with AT&T? Shouldn’t iPhones just be connected freely with any cellphone network?”

Mr. Varsavsky says he left the meeting with the uncomfortable feeling that Apple might end up as a competitor rather than as a partner. But it wasn’t only because of Mr. Jobs’s legendary stubbornness that the Apple meeting apparently went awry. Mr. Varsavsky’s own substantial ego also came into play — something he freely acknowledges when he talks about how he first got into business.

“My father died and my mother was saying, ‘Martin, get a job, get a job,’ ” he recalls. “And I would go to job interviews and they would say, ‘How do you see yourself in five years?’ And I would say, ‘Well, at least as your boss!’ ”

That attitude surfaced in other forums as well. In high school in Argentina during the 1970s, he says, he persuaded classmates to open their own office supply store to compete with a store across the street from their school. He also declared his interest in left-leaning politics, which he said attracted the attention of the Argentine military junta that was purging high schools of dissidents. In the “dirty war” of 1976-83, the government killed thousands it suspected of being leftists.

An officer told the school to expel him, Mr. Varsavsky says, and he left for Brazil. Around the same time, he believes, his cousin was kidnapped and killed by the military. The Varsavsky family fled to the United States, and Mr. Varsavsky earned his undergraduate degree in economics and philosophy at New York University in 1981. He later attended Columbia University, where he received graduate degrees in international affairs and business administration.

MR. VARSAVSKY says start-ups got into his blood during graduate school, when he made his first million in a real estate foray: renovating and reselling lofts in New York.

After moving to Spain in the 1990s, he had three big telecommunications and Internet successes. He says that a $200,000 investment he made to start a long-distance company, Viatel, in 1990 was worth about $240 million when he cashed in his stake in 1999; that the 5 million euros he used to start Jazztel in 1997 has given him a stake now worth about 150 million euros; and that the 38 million euros he used to start a Spanish Internet service provider, Ya.com, in 1999 had grown to about 149 million euros when he sold the company the next year.

Then, after this first round of success, Mr. Varsavsky was hit with a loss that he describes as a striking, gut-wrenching failure. His German start-up EinsteinNet, founded in 2000 as an effort to sell software over a private fiber optic network, collapsed in 2003, leaving him with a personal loss of $50 million.

“I used the most money of my own in a company where I lost it all, and I consider it my business black eye,” he recalls, saying that he also drew a valuable lesson from the misadventure: “I don’t invest on my own. If other people don’t want to back me, it’s a sanity check.”

TO that end, Mr. Varsavsky has become a tireless networker, traveling the world to participate in a continuous parade of technology conferences and cultivating a global retinue of friends and contacts. He has also been active on the philanthropic front, earning kudos from a onetime resident of the White House.

“Martin represents the future of entrepreneurial culture and is helping to transform the way people give,” former President Bill Clinton says. “He has found different ways to use his acute business sense and creativity to improve our world and the lives of others.”

This month, Mr. Varsavsky brought together more than 70 Internet business people and technologists from Europe, Asia, Latin America and the United States for a conclave on his Menorca farm. Some guests represented the more than 20 digital enterprises in which he has a stake; others were “friends of Martin,” a loose-knit group that comprises his informal business network around the world.

The four-day conclave featured several unscripted “tech talks” in which entrepreneurs described problems they faced building their businesses. Participants included Lukasz Wejchert, the chief executive of Onet, Poland’s dominant Internet portal.

Deals with companies like Onet will be crucial if Mr. Varsavsky is to make good on his goal of having a million FON customers on each of three continents by 2010. The two companies recently came close to a deal, Mr. Wejchert says, but Onet decided that it was still to early for it to become an Internet service provider in Poland because the regulatory environment worked against new entrants.


That major players like Onet are beginning to find FON a potentially profitable partner is promising, and Mr. Varsavsky’s formidable networking abilities with politicians and entrepreneurs are also a plus. Ultimately, however, FON’s success will hinge on its strategic soundness and operational prowess — not on Mr. Varsavsky’s skills at working the cocktail circuit.

He likes to refer to FON as a “revolution,” but so far his crusade has had difficulty gathering momentum because formal corporate alliances have been slow to jell.

In Mr. Varsavsky’s approach, FON’s business is subsidized by non-Foneros — passing Web surfers who buy time for access to the network — which he can then share with FON’s customers. The approach is different from that of Boingo, a Wi-Fi aggregator based in Los Angeles that charges users a monthly fee for using hotspots while they are traveling.

Yet both FON and Boingo have faced significant resistance from Internet service providers that carefully restrict access to their customers, leaving the idea of a seamless wireless Internet based on Wi-Fi technology an unfulfilled dream so far.

Mr. Varsavsky said he initially hoped that selling $30 Wi-Fi routers embedded with FON software would be all he needed to expand the ranks of Foneros around the globe. But this approach failed to gain traction fast enough, and he shifted gears. Now he is trying to steadily stack up distribution deals with I.S.P.’s.

While some I.S.P.’s have ignored his company, Mr. Varsavsky says FON has gained ground among I.S.P.’s that are looking for a way to attract new customers in competitive markets as well as to compete with high-speed wireless cellular networks.

FON now has a growing range of alliances, including ones with the BT Group, Neuf Cegetel in France, Livedoor (a Japanese I.S.P.), and Time Warner in the United States, as well as a recent agreement with the city of Geneva, which is distributing hundreds of FON routers to residents. Now strongest in Britain, France and Japan, FON has recently made progress with new agreements with two major Japanese retailers and a Taiwanese I.S.P. And Mr. Varsavsky said he is close to major agreements in India and Russia.

FON’s losses have shrunk from more than a million euros a month to less than 500,000, Mr. Varsavsky says. He also hasn’t given up his belief that a coming generation of wireless Internet technology will eventually give FON an even bigger boost.

The first generation of Wi-Fi technology was limited in range, making it impractical for Foneros to share their routers widely. But a new wireless technology, known as 802.16, which should be more widely available to consumers over the next two years, will offer far greater ranges.

This next generation of wireless communication, called WiMax by Intel and others, may allow him to complete his dream — in effect making it possible to weave together a wireless digital network in an urban area with nothing more than an army of Foneros willing to let their routers be used as micro cell towers.

“Why should anyone have to build their own towers?” he asks.

FON’s future, he argues, will revolve around universal access to the wireless Internet. In the meantime, he faces a big obstacle in one of the world’s most lucrative communications markets: the United States, where newer cellular networks with flat-rate pricing may prove a challenge because they will provide universal high-speed coverage.

In Europe, the Internet landscape looks more promising. The European Commission’s decision last summer to place a price cap on voice calls — to make cellphones more affordable for residents traveling within the European Union — didn’t include mobile data. Recent high-speed wireless networks introduced in Europe also use per-megabyte pricing, discouraging the streaming of large files like video.

That leaves a potentially big opportunity for a widely accessible sharing solution for travelers. Yet even in Europe, there are potential roadblocks, not the least of which has been a historically inhospitable atmosphere for entrepreneurial gambits.

“Europe has a larger market than the U.S.A., but it is culturally fragmented and risk-averse,” Mr. Varsavsky says. “But the differences are narrowing, and now there are European venture capitalists and a local entrepreneurial culture.”

Yet he remains undaunted when he discusses his unfinished revolution and FON’s prospects.

“FON,” he said, “is like a telephone company built by the people,” he said.

Vaunted WiMax's messy side: the spectrum grab
By John Letzing, MarketWatch
Last Update: 10:31 AM ET Sep 29, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) -- In its drive to roll out a new, cutting-edge wireless technology, Sprint Nextel Corp. has taken on Burke County Middle School and a cast of equally unlikely opponents in a nasty spat over the use of airwaves.

Sprint announced in July that they will team up to cover 100 million people with WiMax networks by 2008.  Sprint is placing a risky bet on the largely unproven technology to revive a wireless business that has lost ground to those of rivals Verizon and AT&T, analysts say. Upstart Clearwire, meanwhile, hopes WiMax can one day help the company become a major telecom player.
 
But laying the groundwork for WiMax has involved a messy endeavor to gather up access to necessary airwaves. Much of the spectrum is owned by non-profits and schools, such as those in Burke County, Ga. Many have held it for years, without assigning much value to it. Wrangling over rights to this spectrum has pitted Sprint against a number of the schools and non-profits, while underlining a rift with Clearwire, an important partner in dispatching WiMax in its early stages.
 
Decades ago, the Federal Communications Commission allocated to schools and non-profits much of the 2.5 gigahertz spectrum ideal for WiMax. Classified as "EBS," it can't be owned directly by businesses. The North American Catholic Educational Programming Foundation, for example, can use it to broadcast programming such as "Prayer Talk" and "Gift and Mystery."

Others, like the Burke County schools near Augusta, Ga., didn't even realize they had it until Sprint came calling. General counsel for Burke County Public Schools, James Hyder, said Sprint made an unexpected offer early last year to lease one of the schools' two spectrum licenses.

"We woke up one day and saw we had these," Hyder said. After a call to a former superintendent to clear up what it was exactly Sprint was after, the schools agreed, Hyder said.

Seeing dollar signs

The relationship took an odd turn late last year, however, when the Burke County schools applied to the FCC to renew a second, expired spectrum license. Around 40 other organizations, ranging from Heartland Community College to Connecticut Public Broadcasting, had also applied for the renewal of expired EBS licenses which, thanks largely to WiMax, have dramatically increased in value.

The FCC granted those requests in January, inviting a flood of hundreds of subsequent late renewal requests. Sprint has called the development a mushrooming threat to its network plans. It filed a petition for the commission to reconsider the late renewals in February.

"These former licensees seek to hijack ... valuable spectrum," Sprint said in its petition, adding that the FCC "should not be mislead into granting new authorizations."

Clearwire, meanwhile, has sided with the schools and non-profits. The FCC hasn't yet issued a decision on the matter.
 
The EBS spectrum in question was long seen as having little value beyond broadcasting TV signals in one direction. That's changed as companies like Sprint and Clearwire have announced plans to use it for beaming data and voice communication among computers and phones on WiMax networks, and as the FCC has issued rules making it easier to lease for commercial purposes.

"These educational groups who didn't really care ... whether they had these [licenses] or not are now seeing dollar signs," said Tim Sanders, an analyst with research firm Maravedis Inc.
Indeed, some groups have seen handsome windfalls, thanks to the spectrum's increased value. But the grab for airwaves has also resulted in a series of lawsuits and a surplus of acrimony.

Pandora's box

WiMax can blast radio signals far more broadly than WiFi, thus requiring less network equipment to cover large areas, and some believe it also has certain technical advantages over cellular phone technology.

But the FCC's decision to grant renewals of expired EBS licenses could mar Sprint's WiMax rollout by cutting holes in carefully-planned network coverage areas, the company says. Sprint would either have to negotiate new deals for the reinstated licenses, or see them fall to competitors.   A number of educational groups with EBS licenses have also joined Sprint in complaining about the renewals, which they say threaten to impinge on existing coverage areas.

"You think you have a three-bedroom house, and then all of a sudden someone comes and says, 'hey, half the house is mine'," said Sprint spokesman Scott Sloat. "This has opened a whole Pandora's box."
So far, at least 188 expired EBS license renewal applications have now been filed with the FCC, Sloat said.

In a filing with the FCC posted Friday, Sprint, Clearwire and a number of license holders put forth a proposed settlement, under which late-renewed licenses would have slightly altered coverage areas.
The impetus for the schools' and non-profits' late renewals, Maravedis' Sanders said, is often "someone approaching them and saying, 'we'll lease your spectrum if you can get your license back'."

"I can't speak to their motivation other than to say spectrum is a valuable asset, and people aware of that may see that as an opportunity for a land grab," Sloat said.

Hyder, the Burke County schools' general counsel, said the decision to renew their second spectrum license and seek a suitor was an easy one. "It's the difference between getting nothing today, and something tomorrow," Hyder said, adding that whatever the schools are offered to lease the spectrum "doesn't have to be too significant" for a deal to make sense.
 

Faster Wi-Fi in works to transfer data
By GREG BLUESTEIN, Associated Press Writer
Sun Sep 2, 2:43 PM ET

ATLANTA - With a wave of his hand over a homemade receiver, Georgia Tech professor Joy Laskar shows how easily — and quickly — large data files could someday be transferred from a portable media player to a TV.
 
Poof! "You just moved a movie onto your device," Laskar says.

While Wi-Fi and Bluetooth have emerged as efficient ways to zap small amounts of data between gadgets, neither is well suited for quickly transferring high-definition video, large audio libraries and other massive files.

Laskar and other scientists at the Georgia Electronic Design Center have turned to extremely high radio frequencies to transfer huge data files over short distances.

The high frequencies — which use the 60 gigahertz band — have been a mostly untapped resource. Researchers say it could one day become the conventional wireless way to zap data over short distances.

Laskar hopes it could soon become a rival to other wireless technologies. Getting government permission to use the spectrum would not be a problem, since that radio band, much like the one used for Wi-Fi, is unlicensed. Because the range will likely be less than 33 feet, interference is less likely and transmissions could be more secure.

A similar short-range technology, known as ultra-wideband, is just now reaching the market after several years of wrangling between different companies and engineering bodies. It exploits another unlicensed band, reaching up to 10.3 GHz. Last month, Toshiba Corp. introduced laptops with built-in UWB chips that can communicate wirelessly with a docking station. Other possible uses include transmission of high-definition video.

But the maximum current speed of UWB is about 480 megabits per second, equivalent to a high-speed computer cable but possibly not be enough for all applications. Use of the 60 GHz band promises much higher speeds.

"There will be a constant pressure for speed and it will never cease," said M. Kursat Kimyacioglu, director of strategy and wireless business development at the semiconductor subsidiary of Philips Electronics NV. "We need much faster wireless data networking technologies to make much faster downloads and back-ups and higher resolution HD video streaming possible."

He said Philips is looking at using the technology to eliminate cable bundles, but much more research will be needed. The signals don't penetrate walls very well and are too easily disturbed by passing people and pets, Kimyacioglu said.

The research is far from over, Laskar said, but he hopes those challenges can be overcome in the next year or so. If so, the hardware for transferring files could be available by 2009, and new TV sets could be built with the chips the next year.

The center has already achieved wireless data-transfer rates of 15 gigabits per second from a span of 1 meter. That would mean a download time of less than five seconds for a DVD-quality copy of "The Matrix" or other Hollywood movies.

Specialized radios have been sending and receiving high-frequency signals for years, but they're big and can cost tens of thousands of dollars. The Georgia center's challenge has been to convert these devices into tiny chips that can be slipped directly into phones and computers. To be competitive with other technologies, Laskar's set his sights on a $5 chip, and so far his researchers have hammered together a few prototypes to show off the technology.

"We don't want to replace these guys," says Laskar, pointing at an HD receiver and TV set. "We want to complement them."

A cheap chip would launch a new round of competition for the technology, said Anh-Vu Pham, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of California at Davis.

"The technology is there, it just requires a little more work," he said. "If the radio can be deployed, you'll have a lot of applications — from HDTV to flash drives — without using any type of cable. Once you solve that problem, you open up so many applications."

The technology could get a big boost if the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a top international association of electrical engineers, decides to create a standard for the spectrum. The group is weighing the decision now and could decide by next year.

"You're talking about moving gigabits in seconds, your whole iPod library, your whole video library," said Laskar. "This has the potential of becoming the de facto way of moving this information on and off the devices.

"With this type of technology, you can compete — and pretty much crush — the wired competition."


Cities struggle with wireless Internet
By ANICK JESDANUN, AP Internet Writer
May 21, 2007

A $3 million plan to blanket Lompoc, Calif., with a wireless Internet system promised a quantum leap for economic development: The remote community hit hard by cutbacks at nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base would join the 21st century with cheap and plentiful high-speed access. Instead, nearly a year after its launch, Lompoc Net is limping along. The central California city of 42,000, surrounded by rolling hills, wineries and flower fields more than 17 miles from the nearest major highway, has only a few hundred subscribers.

That's far fewer than the 4,000 needed to start repaying loans from the city's utility coffers, potentially leaving smaller reserves to guard against electric rate increases.

And Lompoc isn't alone. Across the United States, many cities are finding their Wi-Fi projects costing more and drawing less interest than expected, leading to worries that a number will fail, resulting in millions of dollars in wasted tax dollars or grants when there had been roads to build and crime to fight.

More than $230 million was spent in the United States last year, and the industry Web site MuniWireless projects $460 million will be spent in 2007.  Without revenues they had counted on to offset that spending, elected officials might have to break promises or find money in already-tight budgets to subsidize the systems for the low-income families and city workers who depend on the access. Cities might end up running the systems if companies abandon networks they had built.

The worries come as big cities like Philadelphia and Portland, Ore., complete pilots and expand their much-hyped networks.

"They are the monorails of this decade: the wrong technology, totally overpromised and completely undelivered," said Anthony Townsend, research director at the Institute for the Future, a think tank.

Municipal Wi-Fi projects use the same technology behind wireless access in coffee shops, airports and home networks. Hundreds or thousands of antennas are installed atop street lamps and other fixtures. Laptops and other devices have Wi-Fi cards that relay data to the Internet through those antennas, using open, unregulated broadcast frequencies. In theory, one could check e-mail and surf the Web from anywhere.

About 175 U.S. cities or regions have citywide or partial systems, and a similar number plan them, according to Esme Vos, founder of MuniWireless.  Rhode Island has proposed a statewide network, while one in California would span dozens of Silicon Valley municipalities. San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta also want one.
Because systems are just coming online, it's premature to say how many or which ones will fail under current operating plans, but the early signs are troubling.

"I will be surprised if the majority of these are successful and they do not prove to be drains on taxpayers' money," said Michael Balhoff, former telecom equity analyst with Legg Mason Inc. "The government is getting into hotly contested services."

Most communities, including Lompoc, paid for their projects. Elsewhere, private companies agreed to absorb costs for the chance to sell services or ads.  The vendors remain confident despite technical and other problems. Chuck Haas, MetroFi Inc.'s chief executive, said Wi-Fi networks are far cheaper to build than cable and DSL, which is broadband over phone lines.

Demand could grow once more cell phones can make Wi-Fi calls and as city workers improve productivity by reading electric meters remotely, for instance.  Balhoff, however, believes the successful projects are most likely to be in remote places that traditional service providers skip — and fewer and fewer of those areas exist. Cities, he said, should focus on incentives to draw providers.

In Lompoc's case, officials say construction was delayed about a year once they realized wireless antennas had to be packed more closely together. Then the city learned that its stucco homes have a wire mesh that blocks signals, making Internet service poor or nonexistent indoors without extra equipment.

But more importantly, just as Lompoc committed to the network, cable and telephone companies arrived with better equipment and service, undercutting the city's offerings.

"It seemed like we announced we were going to do this and that and the next day we got trucks from the providers doing this and that, when we've been asking for years and nothing ever happened," Lompoc Mayor Dick DeWees said.  D.A. Taylor, who runs a software business from her home, said Lompoc's Wi-Fi service lacks key features she gets through DSL.

"It's a really great idea, but they didn't spend a lot of time thinking who their target market was," Taylor said.

DeWees acknowledged that Lompoc might have to pull the plug if it cannot boost subscriptions, but he said the city still has an aggressive marketing push in store. Lompoc recently slashed prices by $9, to $16 a month, for the main household plan.  Just a few years ago, these municipal wireless projects seemed foolproof. 
Politicians got to tout Internet access for city workers and poorer households — many programs include giveaways for lower-income families. Some cities bear no upfront costs when a company pays for construction in exchange for rights to use fixtures like lamp poles.

Vendors like EarthLink Inc. saw a chance to offset declines in dial-up subscriptions. MetroFi, offering free service, got to join the burgeoning market for online advertising. Google Inc. also is jumping in for the ads, partnering with EarthLink in San Francisco, although the city's Board of Supervisors is resisting their joint proposal.  As projects get deployed, both sides are seeing chinks in their plans.

Many cities and vendors underestimated the number of wireless antennas needed. MobilePro Corp.'s Kite Networks wound up tripling the access points in Tempe, Ariz., adding roughly $1 million, or more than doubling the costs.

"The industry is really in its infancy, and what works on paper doesn't work that same way once you get into the real world," said Jerry Sullivan, Kite's chief executive.

Networks like St. Cloud, Fla., and Portland, meanwhile, shared Lompoc's difficulties penetrating building walls, requiring indoor users to buy signal boosters for as much as $150. And when it works, service can be slower than cable and DSL.

"There's an antenna literally at the curb of my house, but when I've tried to log on, it cuts in and out," said Landon Dirgo, who runs a computer repair shop in Lompoc.

One recent sunny afternoon in Portland, few could be found surfing the Internet from the city's downtown parks. Mari Borden, a student at Portland State, said she couldn't connect to MetroFi's free network from several locations, even though her computer could detect a signal (MetroFi officials say users might need stronger wireless cards to send back a signal).  The vendors insist they have been upfront with customers about limitations. But MetroFi's Adrian van Haaften said managing expectations can be challenging.

EarthLink said it has 2,000 customers in four markets — New Orleans; Milpitas and Anaheim, Calif.; and Philadelphia — paying $22 or less a month. MetroFi said it had 8,000 free users in Portland in April, averaging 10 hours online; the city says about 1,000 use the network on any given day.  Although both companies say their numbers are good given that their networks aren't fully built yet, they also are realigning expectations.

MetroFi will insist that future contracts commit cities to spend a specific amount for public safety and other municipal applications. EarthLink, which recently suspended new bids while it focuses on existing projects, said it would likely seek minimums, too.  Glenn Fleishman, editor of the Wi-Fi Networking News site, said vendors could no longer afford to treat projects as testbeds and loss leaders for winning publicity and new business.

Municipalities, meanwhile, are becoming more cautious. Applying lessons from other municipalities, Boston plans to raise money upfront from local groups and businesses and avoid tax dollars or a corporate partner.  Competition and expectations will only increase as DSL and cable modems get faster.  Users today are struggling with e-mail and the Web over some wireless systems, yet video and online games will require even more capacity.

"Most people if they are going to do serious work aren't looking to be sitting in a park," said Eric Rabe, a spokesman for DSL provider Verizon Communications Inc. "They want to be at a desk where they have their papers or business records."

Lompoc's backers, though, still claim success, "even if the whole network were to be written off tomorrow," said Mark McKibben, Lompoc's former wireless consultant.

"Prices dropped and quality of service went up," he said. "That's the way a lot of cities look at it. They don't look at business profits and losses. They see it as a driver for quality of life."




US concerned by Australian Internet filter plan
YAHOO
By ROD McGUIRK, Associated Press Writer
29 March 2010

CANBERRA, Australia – The United States has raised concerns with Australia about the impact of a proposed Internet filter that would place restrictions on Web content, an official said Monday.

The concerns of Australia's most important security ally further undermine plans that would make Australia one of the strictest Internet regulators among the world's democracies.

"Our main message of course is that we remain committed to advancing the free flow of information which we view as vital to economic prosperity and preserving open societies globally," a U.S. State Department spokesman Michael Tran told The Associated Press by telephone from Washington.

Tran declined to say when or at what level the U.S. State Department raised its concerns with Australia and declined to detail those concerns.

"We don't discuss the details of specific diplomatic exchanges, but I can say that in the context of that ongoing relationship, we have raised our concerns on this matter with Australian officials," he added.

Internet giants Google and Yahoo have condemned the proposal as a heavy-handed measure that could restrict access to legal information.

The plan needs the support of Parliament to become law later this year.

Australian Communications Minister Stephen Conroy says the filter would block access to sites that include child pornography, sexual violence and detailed instructions in crime or drug use. The list of banned sites could be constantly updated based on public complaints. If adopted into law, the screening system would make Australia one of the strictest Internet regulators among the world's democracies.

Conroy declined to comment on the U.S. concerns.

"The Australian and U.S. governments liaise regularly on a broad range of issues. It would be inappropriate to discuss the details of these consultations," said his spokeswoman, Suzie Brady.

Some critics of Australia's filter have said it puts the nation in the same censorship league as China.





Technology Challenges Iran's Censors 
By New York Times News Service 
Published on 6/23/2009

Shortly after Neda Agha-Soltan bled her life out on the Tehran pavement, the man whose 40-second video of her death has ricocheted around the world made a somber calculation in what has become the cat-and-mouse game of evading Iran's censors. He knew that the government had been blocking Web sites like YouTube and Facebook. Trying to send the video there could have exposed him and his family.
Instead, he e-mailed the 2-megabyte video to a nearby friend, who quickly forwarded it to the Voice of America, the newspaper The Guardian in London and five online friends in Europe, with a message that read, “Please let the world know.” It was one of those friends, an Iranian expatriate living in the Netherlands, who posted it on Facebook, weeping as he did so, he recalled.

Copies of the video, as well as a shorter one shot by another witness, spread almost instantly to YouTube and were televised within hours by CNN. Despite a prolonged effort by Iran's government to keep a media lid on the violent events unfolding on the streets there, Agha-Soltan was transformed on the Web from a nameless victim into an icon of the Iranian protest movement.

At one time, authoritarian regimes could draw a shroud around the events in their countries by simply snipping the long-distance phone lines and restricting a few foreigners. But this is the new arena of censorship in the 21st century, a world where cell phone cameras, Twitter accounts and all the trappings of the World Wide Web have changed the ancient calculus of how much power governments actually have to sequester their nations from the eyes of the world and make it difficult for their own people to gather, dissent and rebel.

Iran's sometimes faltering attempts to come to grips with this new reality are providing a laboratory for what can and cannot be done in this new media age - and providing lessons to other governments, watching with calculated interest from afar, about what they may be able to get away with should their own citizens take to the streets.

One early lesson is that it is easier for Iranian authorities to limit images and information within their own country than it is to stop them from spreading rapidly to the outside world. While Iran has severely restricted Internet access, a loose worldwide network of sympathizers has risen up to help keep activists and spontaneous filmmakers connected.

The pervasiveness of the Web makes censorship “a much more complicated job,” said John Palfrey, a co-director of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

The Berkman Center estimates that about three dozen governments - as widely disparate as China, Cuba and Uzbekistan - extensively control their citizens' access to the Internet. Of those, Iran is one of the most aggressive. Palfrey said the trend during this decade has been toward more, not less, censorship. “It's almost impossible for the censor to win in an Internet world, but they're putting up a good fight,” he said.

Since the advent of the digital age, governments and rebels have dueled over attempts to censor communications. Text messaging was used to rally supporters in a popular political uprising in Ukraine in 2004 and to threaten activists in Belarus in 2006. When Myanmar sought to silence demonstrators in 2007, it switched off the country's Internet network for six weeks. Earlier this month, China blocked sites like YouTube to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

In Iran, the censorship has been more sophisticated, amounting to an extraordinary cyber-duel. It feels at times as if communications within the country are being strained through a sieve, as the government slows down Web access and uses the latest spying technology to pinpoint opponents. But at least in limited ways, users are still able to tweet and transmit video to one another and to a world of online spectators.

Because of the determination of those users, hundreds of amateur videos from Tehran and other cities have been uploaded to YouTube in recent days, providing television networks with hours of raw - but unverified - video from the protests.

The Internet has “certainly broken 30 years of state control over what is seen and is unseen, what is visible versus invisible,” said Navtej Dhillon, an analyst with the Brookings Institution.

But taking pictures is an increasingly dangerous act in Iran. The police in Tehran confronted citizens who were trying to film near a memorial to Agha-Soltan on Monday.

Threatening people who have cameras is only the latest in a series of steps by the authorities. On June 12, the day a disputed presidential election set off the protests, the government summarily shut down all text messaging in the country - the prime tool that government opponents had been using to keep in touch - making newfangled tools like Twitter and old-fashioned techniques like word-of-mouth more important for organizing.

In the days that followed, Iran has tightened the spigot without closing it entirely. Even before the election, the country was known to operate one of the world's most sophisticated Web filtering systems, with widespread blockades on specific Web sites. According to media reports in April, some of the monitoring technology was provided by Nokia Siemens Networks, a joint venture between Nokia, the Finnish cell phone maker, and Siemens, the German technology giant.

The day after the election, Iran's state-controlled telecommunications provider completely dropped off the Internet for more than an hour, according to Renesys, an Internet monitoring company. Access was partly restored the Monday after the election. YouTube said traffic to the site from within Iran was down about 90 percent last week, indicating that most - but not all - connections had been stopped or slowed. Facebook said traffic from Iran was down by more than half since the election.

Whether for political, social or financial reasons, Iran has been hesitant to shut off its sterilized Internet access entirely. Some have reasoned that a complete halt would hurt businesses.

Still, the off-and-on Web connections and government threats imposed a kind of self-censorship on some of the population, one that is also evident in other countries with authoritarian regimes, Palfrey said. Some Iranians have harnessed ways to bypass the system, relying in part on supporters around the world who are offering their computers as so-called proxy servers, which are digital safe-houses that can be used to make the Iranians' Internet connection anonymous so they can view blocked Web sites. Tor, a volunteer-run tool for masking Internet traffic that bounces Internet connections off three separate computers, said the traffic emanating from Iran over the course of the week increased tenfold.

Despite the crackdown, the videos and tweets indicate to many that broadly distributed Internet tools - and the spirit of young, tech-savvy people - cannot be completely repressed by an authoritarian government.

”You can't take the entire Internet and try to lock it in a little box in your country, as China continuously attempts to do,” said Richard Stiennon, founder of IT-Harvest, a Web security research firm. “There are just too many ways now to find paths around blockages. They would have to ban the Internet entirely, or build their own network.”

That may not be so far-fetched. Experts say China is in its own league for filtering. Ethan Zuckerman, a colleague of Palfrey's at the Berkman Center, said China has “baked in the censorship” for its citizens by building its own Web sites and tools. Recently it said it would require so-called Green Dam filtering software to be installed on all computers sold in the country, prompting a complaint from the U.S. government and likely kicking off yet another round of cat-and-mouse.

Brian Stelter reported from New York, and Brad Stone from San Francisco. Reported was contributed by Michael Slackman from Cairo, Steven Lee Myers from Baghdad, Noam Cohen from New York, and a New York Times employee from Tehran. 


3 Net Providers Will Block Sites With Child Sex
NYTIMES
By DANNY HAKIM
Published: June 10, 2008

ALBANY — Verizon, Sprint and Time Warner Cable have agreed to block access to Internet bulletin boards and Web sites nationwide that disseminate child pornography.

The move is part of a groundbreaking agreement with the New York attorney general, Andrew M. Cuomo, that will be formally announced on Tuesday as a significant step by leading companies to curtail access to child pornography. Many in the industry have previously resisted similar efforts, saying they could not be responsible for content online, given the decentralized and largely unmonitored nature of the Internet.

The agreements will affect customers not just in New York but throughout the country. Verizon and Time Warner Cable are two of the nation’s five largest service providers, with roughly 16 million customers between them.

Negotiations are continuing with other service providers, Mr. Cuomo said.

The companies have agreed to shut down access to newsgroups that traffic in pornographic images of children on one of the oldest outposts of the Internet, known as Usenet. Usenet began nearly 30 years ago and was one of the earliest ways to swap information online, but as the World Wide Web blossomed, Usenet was largely supplanted by it, becoming a favored back alley for those who traffic in illicit material.

The providers will also cut off access to Web sites that traffic in child pornography.

While officials from the attorney general’s office said they hoped to make it extremely difficult to find or disseminate the material online, they acknowledged that they could not eliminate access entirely. Among the potential obstacles: some third-party companies sell paid subscriptions, allowing customers to access newsgroups privately, preventing even their Internet service providers from tracking their activity.

The agreements resulted from an eight-month investigation and sting operation in which undercover agents from Mr. Cuomo’s office, posing as subscribers, complained to Internet providers that they were allowing child pornography to proliferate online, despite customer service agreements that discouraged such activity. Verizon, for example, warns its users that they risk losing their service if they transmit or disseminate sexually exploitative images of children.

After the companies ignored the investigators’ complaints, the attorney general’s office surfaced, threatening charges of fraud and deceptive business practices. The companies agreed to cooperate and began weeks of negotiations.

By pursuing Internet service providers, Mr. Cuomo is trying to move beyond the traditional law enforcement strategy of targeting those who produce child pornography and their customers. That approach has had limited effectiveness, according to Mr. Cuomo’s office, in part because much of the demand in the United States has been fed by child pornography from abroad, especially Eastern Europe.

“You can’t help but look at this material and not be disturbed,” said Mr. Cuomo, who promised to take up the issue during his 2006 campaign. “These are 4-year-olds, 5-year-olds, assault victims, there are animals in the pictures,” he added. “To say ‘graphic’ and ‘egregious’ doesn’t capture it.”

“The I.S.P.s’ point had been, ‘We’re not responsible, these are individuals communicating with individuals, we’re not responsible,’ ” he said, referring to Internet service providers. “Our point was that at some point, you do bear responsibility.”

Representatives for the three companies either did not return calls or declined to comment before the official announcement of the agreements on Tuesday.

Internet service providers represent a relatively new front in the battle against child pornography, one spearheaded in large part by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Federal law requires service providers to report child pornography to the National Center, but it often takes customer complaints to trigger a report, and few visitors to illicit newsgroups could be expected to complain because many are pedophiles themselves.

Last year, a bill sponsored by Congressman Nick Lampson, a Texas Democrat, promised to take “the battle of child pornography to Internet service providers” by ratcheting up penalties for failing to report complaints of child pornography. The bill passed in the House, but has languished in the Senate.

“If we can encourage — and certainly a fine would be an encouragement — the I.S.P. to be in a position to give the information to law enforcement, we are encouraging them to be on the side of law enforcement rather than erring to make money for themselves,” Mr. Lampson said.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children collaborated on Mr. Lampson’s bill and with Mr. Cuomo’s office in its investigation and strategy.

“This is a major step forward in the fight against child pornography,” Ernie Allen, the president and chief executive officer of the center, said in a statement. “Attorney General Cuomo has developed a new and effective system that cuts online child porn off at the source, and stops it from spreading across the Internet.”

As part of the agreements, the three companies will also collectively pay $1.125 million to underwrite efforts by Mr. Cuomo’s office and the center for missing children to purge child pornography from the Internet.

One considerable tool that has been assembled as part of the investigation is a library of more than 11,000 pornographic images. Because the same images are often distributed around the Web or from newsgroup to newsgroup, once investigators catalog an image, they can use a digital identifier called a “hash value” to scan for it anywhere else — using it as a homing beacon of sorts to find other pornographic sites.

“It’s going to make a significant difference,” Mr. Cuomo said. “It’s like the issue of drugs. You can attack the users or the suppliers. This is turning off the faucet. Does it solve the problem? No. But is it a major step forward? Yes. And it’s ongoing.”

The most graphic material was typically found on newsgroups, the online bulletin boards that exist apart from the World Wide Web but can be reached through some Internet search engines. The newsgroups transmit copies of messages around the world, so an image posted to the server of a service provider in the Netherlands, for example, ends up on other servers in the United States and elsewhere.

The agreement is designed to bar access to Web sites that feature child pornography by requiring service providers to check against a registry of explicit sites maintained by the Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Investigators said a few providers, including America Online, had taken significant steps on their own to address some of the problems their competitors were being forced to tackle.

Mr. Cuomo said his latest investigation was built on agreements he and other state attorneys general had reached with the social networking sites Facebook and MySpace to protect children from sexual predators.

“No one is saying you’re supposed to be the policemen on the Internet, but there has to be a paradigm where you cooperate with law enforcement, or if you have notice of a potentially criminal act, we deem you responsible to an extent,” he said. “This literally threatens our children, and there can be no higher priority than keeping our children safe.”


Study finds 25 countries block Web sites
By ANICK JESDANUN, AP Internet Writer
Fri May 18, 12:46 AM ET

NEW YORK - At least 25 countries around the world block Web sites for political, social or other reasons as governments seek to assert authority over a network meant to be borderless, according to a study out Friday.

The actual number may be higher, but the OpenNet Initiative had the time and capabilities to study only 40 countries and the Palestinian territories. Even so, researchers said they found more censorship than they had initially expected, a sign that the Internet has matured to the point that governments are taking notice.

"This is very much the revenge of geography," said Rafal Rohozinski, a research fellow at the University of Cambridge in England.

China, Iran, Myanmar, Syria, Tunisia and Vietnam had the most extensive filters for political sites. Iran, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen had the strictest social-filtering practices, blocking pornography, gambling and gay and lesbian sites.

In some countries, censorship was narrow. South Korea, for instance, tends to block only information about its neighboring rival, North Korea.

Yet researchers found no filtering at all in Russia, Israel or the Palestinian territories despite political conflicts there.

Governments generally had no mechanism for citizens to complain about any erroneous blocking, with Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates being among the exceptions.

The OpenNet Initiative, a collaboration between researchers at Cambridge, the University of Oxford, Harvard University and the University of Toronto, has previously published reports detailing censorship in specific countries. The latest study was its attempt to compare filtering worldwide.

The study did not attempt to chronicle the effectiveness of the efforts. Some technical approaches are better than others in blocking sites, but all can be bypassed with enough technical know-how to use "proxy" techniques or special software.

The organization said the regions chosen for review should not be considered comprehensive. It didn't include any countries in North America or Western Europe on grounds that filtering practices there have been better known than elsewhere. It also excluded North Korea and Cuba for fear of risks to collaborators it would need in those countries.

The group supplied software to volunteers in each of the countries tested. Web sites checked include those for gambling, pornography and human-rights abuses.

Jonathan Zittrain, professor of Internet governance and regulation at Oxford, said filtering appeared to occur most widely in countries where Internet penetration is higher, possibly explaining the lack of any censorship efforts in Russia and Egypt.



Technology saves day for NH parents of Virginia Tech students
New Hampshire Union Leader Staff
By JOHN WHITSON
10am Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Technology can be a godsend in a crisis.  When Donna Sproul of Londonderry heard about the shootings at Virginia Tech, where her son Jonathan goes to school, she couldn't reach him by telephone.

"My brother-in-law, who lives in Blacksburg (Va.), called me in a panic because he couldn't get hold of him," said Sproul.  After her own initial attempts failed, she went online and there he was.

"Thank God for instant messaging," said Sproul.  Michael Neverman of Londonderry said cell phone circuits were busy when he tried to call his daughter, Erica, a Virginia Tech freshman, yesterday morning.  Neverman then sent a text-message, sat back, and nervously waited for a response.  An unidentified person is carried out of Norris Hall at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., yesterday. (AP)

►President Bush orders flags to half staff after Virginia Tech massacre; click here for MSNBC's coverage

"About 10 minutes later she text-messaged me back saying she was OK," said Neverman, breathing another sigh of relief as he told the story.  Jonathan Sproul, a freshman, said the campus went into lockdown - meaning students couldn't leave the buildings they were in - minutes after he returned to his dormitory after a 9 a.m. class.

"Right now they're actually opening up the dining halls and we're allowed to go to eat," said Jonathan shortly after 2 p.m.  Classes, he said, were cancelled yesterday and all day today.

Sproul said other students on campus from New Hampshire that he knows were safe. He said he spoke with Paul Ahern of Londonderry, and another Granite-Stater, Ashley Morgenstern of Derry, posted online messages saying she was OK.

The lockdown order came from campus police via e-mails, said Sproul. Once he and his roommate heard the news they turned on a TV. "We haven't taken our eyes off it," he said.  When they took time to look outside, Sproul said police officers were everywhere. "They were surrounding the dorm next to us, with guns drawn," he said.

The dormitory where the first shootings happened at about 7:15 a.m., explained Sproul, is two buildings and about 200 yards away from his.  The shootings have been the only topic of conversation throughout the lockdown, said Sproul, but people started to relax a little bit by afternoon. "Right now it's pretty calm," he said, "but no one knows what to think."

Erica Neverman was in a physics class when the campus went into lockdown. Her father said he was especially nervous because she is an engineering major.  The second round of shootings took place in an engineering class in Norris Hall. "That was the scary part," said Neverman.

"It's obviously frustrating when you're a long way away," he said. "You feel so helpless."

Yesterday was actually the second day of shootings this school year at Virginia Tech.  Sproul, who is studying civil engineering, said three people were shot on campus during the first day of school last fall.

"I think they're random incidents," he said. "I don't see a pattern. I don't have any thoughts of transferring."

His mother said she also finds no fault with the school itself.

"We've been going to Blacksburg forever," said Donna Sproul. "It has been my child's dream to go to this school. It is the most beautiful school you could ever imagine and the safest town you could ever imagine. For this to happen is unbelievable."

Michael Neverman said uncertainty in the minutes and hours when the shootings were first reported turned into a mixed blessing for his household.

"I think we've discovered how blessed we are," he said, "because there have been a gazillion e-mails and messages and calls asking about (Erica) and sending prayers for our family."


At Home or Away, It’s Still a DVR
NYTIMES
By Eric A. Taub
June 30, 2009, 2:43 pm

DVRs, or digital video recorders, first popularized by the TiVo brand, have become an essential part of the TV viewing experience in many U.S. homes.

But the hardware to allow consumers to record and pause video on a hard disk can be costly. Cablevision, the cable TV operator, came up with a different approach: Keep the show recordings on a central server and feed them to the viewer when they requested them. Customers could be charged less, and capacity would no longer be an issue.

This remote recording technology came under attack from the big four TV networks, among others, with the companies suing Cablevision claiming copyright infringement.

The case was decided against the networks and they appealed to the Supreme Court. Earlier this month, the U.S. Solicitor General recommended to the Court that they not hear the case; apparently it agreed. On Monday, the Supreme Court decided to let the lower court ruling stand, allowing Cablevision to go ahead and offer its off-site DVR.

The Consumer Electronics Association sung the praises of the decision, with its CEO, Gary Shapiro, stating that “From a common-sense standpoint, the Court’s decision was a slam-dunk. The Court has already ruled that consumers have the right to time-shift television shows.”

Apparently, a DVR is a DVR, whether you have it in your house or it’s located at some central location miles away.


High Court Won't Block Remote Storage DVR
NYTIMES
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 10:21 a.m. ET
June 29, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Hollywood studios and television networks have lost a Supreme Court bid to block the use of a new digital video recorder system that could make it cheaper and easier for viewers to record shows and watch them when they want, without commercials.

The justices, in an order Monday, say they will not disturb a federal appeals court ruling that Cablevision Systems Corp.'s remote-storage DVR does not violate copyright laws.

For consumers, the action means that Cablevision and perhaps other cable system operators soon will be able to offer DVR service without need for a box in their homes. The remote storage unit exists on computer servers maintained by a cable provider.



Conn. says utility pole boxes need municipal OKs 
DAY
By STEPHEN SINGER, AP Business Writer 

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Connecticut regulators issued a draft decision Friday that AT&T must get permission from municipalities before putting its large video equipment boxes on utility poles and other properties.

The state Department of Public Utility Control issued a preliminary ruling on a petition from Bridgeport, Danbury and Stamford. The cities asked regulators to investigate the safety and location of the telecommunications equipment.

The so-called VRAD cabinets, which house equipment for AT&T's video U-Verse services and broadband, are about five feet high by four feet wide. Fewer than 8,000 of AT&T's 800,000 utility poles in Connecticut will be used to mount the equipment, regulators said.

AT&T "should have acted in a more responsible manner" by providing notice to public officials and seeking informed consent from municipalities and neighboring property owners, the state agency said.

A final decision is expected Sept. 29.

Adam Cormier, a spokesman for AT&T in New Haven, would not comment specifically on regulators' criticism of the telecommunications company.

"It's a draft decision so we look forward to working with the department and all the parties to bring the docket to a final decision," he said.

Burt Rosenberg, assistant corporation counsel for Stamford, said the city challenged AT&T because officials demanded to be informed about where the equipment is placed. The boxes, which he said are about the size of small refrigerators, are one foot off the ground and present a hazard to pedestrians, bicyclists and others, Rosenberg said.

The cities said the boxes should be at least seven feet above the ground, he said. Lawyers for the municipalities cited the federal Americans with Disabilities Act as a basis for the complaint, arguing that blind pedestrians or people who use wheelchairs are particularly at risk.

Following the decision by the Department of Public Utility Control, AT&T will inform cities of the location of the VRAD equipment and municipal officials will meet with the telecommunications company to voice objections, Rosenberg said.

State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal praised regulators, but said he will ask that AT&T be ordered to seek retroactive permission from municipalities and property owners for video equipment boxes already installed. The draft decision requires the company to seek permission to install boxes if property owners or municipalities had objected, he said.


Blumenthal's TV Change 
DAY editorial
Published on 10/26/2007 


It is great that Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has seen the light and moderated his anti-competition position when it comes to new television service technologies, but he does not go far enough.

A new state law that took effect Oct. 1 appeared to settle the matter. It provided a format for new emerging technologies — such as AT&T's U-verse and Verizon's FiOS — to compete with cable-TV franchises. The consumer-friendly legislation would let competition determine prices and drive service.

But when AT&T applied for a certificate to offer U-verse service under the new law, Mr. Blumenthal and the Office of Consumer Counsel opposed it. Citing a federal court decision, they argued these new technologies should be regulated under the old monopolistic cable-TV regulations, including forcing them to commit to providing service to entire franchise areas.

Unfortunately, the state Department of Public Utility Control bought their argument and, ignoring the new law, told AT&T it had to apply for a cable-TV franchise. AT&T argued the old regulatory model made no sense in this new age of communication. If necessary, AT&T said it would take the $336 million it planned to invest in a Connecticut U-verse system to other states that welcomed competition. Such a move would also mean the loss of thousands of jobs.

Consumers have reacted with outrage. They want TV service options. Apparently Mr. Blumenthal realized he was on the wrong side of this issue. In a letter to AT&T Tuesday, he said he would be happy to support a stay of the DPUC decision while the courts decide whether to apply the old law or new law to U-verse.

While the change of heart may help Mr. Blumenthal politically (he may run for governor in 2010), a stay wouldn't do much for AT&T or consumers. The company is not likely to sign up new customers and build out its system when an adverse court ruling could force it to unplug them.

The better course of action would be for the DPUC to reverse its decision and let the new law take effect immediately. Meanwhile, a hearing is set for today at which AT&T will ask state Superior Court Judge Robert F. McWeeny to force the DPUC to abide by the new competition-friendly law. The legislature's intent to encourage competition is clear. The Day urges Judge McWeeny to act swiftly and order that the law be implemented.


Phone TV Conflict Blurry; Officials Try To Defend Choice By Denying it
By MARK PETERS | Courant Staff Writer
October 21, 2007

TV viewers might find it difficult to choose a side in the fight over cable competition in Connecticut.  Should they choose the side of government officials who say they are representing consumers by encouraging TV-service competition as long as everyone in the state can benefit?

That position effectively eliminated a choice between AT&T's new U-verse service and cable TV for as many as 150,000 consumers last week in areas where U-verse was going to become available. Regulators told AT&T it had to stop expanding U-verse and apply for a franchise.  Or should consumers take AT&T's side? Starting 10 months ago, the telephone giant began giving some consumers a competitive option to the decades-old monopoly of local cable TV franchises. U-verse delivers television programming over telephone lines.

But AT&T is beholden first and foremost to shareholders, which is part of the reason the company doesn't want to be required to offer TV service to every home in its franchise area.

The legal, technical and business arguments about the new service can be perplexing for consumers. The confusion was evident last Thursday as union workers for AT&T rallied in downtown Hartford to support their employer's position in the battle. A few commuters waiting nearby for their evening bus were trying to figure out what the protesters were shouting about.

"I thought the phone company only had Internet, and obviously, phone service," said Sharon Griffin-Joseph, watching for both the rally and her bus.

But inside the telecommunications industry, the fight is fierce over how new types of TV service should be regulated.

The issue in Connecticut revolves primarily around what's known as a universal service requirement. That regulation would require AT&T to provide TV service to all customers in its franchise area, which could be the whole state.

For years, the state has been divided into cable franchise areas, and each cable company is required to offer service throughout its franchise area.  AT&T has said that if it is forced to adhere to the universal service requirement, it will drop its more than 7,000 U-verse customers in the state and proceed with the service elsewhere.  Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, government regulators and cable companies say universal service must be a requirement, or all consumers won't get the lower rates and other benefits expected to come with more competition.

At stake is an additional option for consumers who have endured years of rising rates for cable TV and the only other available choice, satellite TV.  The Federal Communications Commission, in a study of prices for TV service, found that cable rates rose nationally by 93 percent between 1995 and 2005. In areas where effective competition exists, prices charged by cable companies were 17 percent lower, the same study found.

For now, unless they have the benefit of clairvoyance, Connecticut consumers will simply have to decide which side offers the most persuasive argument about what might happen in the future.  In the most recent skirmish last week, AT&T lost a crucial battle before the state Department of Public Utility Control. The DPUC ruled Monday that AT&T had to stop signing up new U-verse customers until it followed the same franchise rules as cable companies, including the universal service requirement.

Thomas W. Hazlett, a professor of law and economics at George Mason University and former chief economist of the FCC, said the DPUC's decision won't help consumers.  He said challengers to cable won't come into markets if they're required to meet the universal service requirement. And, he asked, why would the government want to stand in the way of increased competition and lower prices for at least some consumers?

"You can't get 100 percent," Hazlett said. "If you can't, get 10 percent or 20 percent."

AT&T points out that universal service requirements weren't imposed on cable companies when they began offering telephone service to compete with AT&T's predecessor companies, SBC Communications and Southern New England Telecommunications Corp.  Also, the state has seen this situation before. In the mid-1990s, SNET introduced its Personal Vision product to compete with cable companies, but shut it down in part because of what AT&T now says was a universal service requirement.

But Blumenthal and other consumer advocates have a different view.

Competition won't benefit everyone and won't last unless AT&T - or others - have to serve all customers, said Blumenthal and William Vallee, a lawyer with the state Office of Consumer Counsel, which represents cable ratepayers.  They said the fear is that competition will develop only in those areas where AT&T finds it profitable to offer service. That would leave rural areas and, possibly, the poorest section of cities with no competitive choices, Blumenthal said.

He said that without statewide competition, areas without competitive choices would see prices increase more rapidly while customer service declines.  The attorney general also predicted that after a period of years, AT&T could become a new monopoly because of the advantage it would have of being able to pick and choose customers. It ultimately would replace cable TV and re-create the problem that competition is supposed to fix.

"The government will be giving its stamp of approval to essentially a different form of monopolistic power," Blumenthal said.

The two sides are due in court this week as AT&T challenges the DPUC's most recent decision.


Blumenthal: Make AT&T Get Cable License;  AG asks state DPUC to reconsider its decision in wake of federal court ruling 
DAY
By Ted Mann    
Published on 8/7/2007 


Hartford — Attorney General Richard Blumenthal petitioned the state Department of Public Utility Control Monday to force AT&T to seek a cable license for its Internet television service, in the wake of a federal court ruling that the new technology must be subject to the same regulations as conventional cable.

The ruling overturned a 2006 decision by the state agency, which had said AT&T was not required to seek a cable franchise for its Internet protocol television (or “IPTV”) service, since it was not the same as conventional cable.

“This service must be licensed as cable, regulated as cable,” Blumenthal said, standing alongside attorney William L. Vallee Jr. of the Office of Consumer Counsel, which brought the federal suit.

Blumenthal said he would urge the department to order AT&T to apply for a cable license that would compel the company to offer its services statewide, and would ask the department to require the company to halt its construction of infrastructure for the service and its effort to enroll customers until the license is granted.

A spokeswoman for the department, Beryl C. Lyons, said the agency would take no action until the deadline for AT&T to appeal the court ruling expires next week.

“It would be premature for us to go doing something that could just be overturned again,” Lyons said, but added that the DPUC board would respond if the court decision overturning the earlier ruling is upheld on appeal.

“Then we've got a federal court ruling overturning our decision, and then we've got to take appropriate action,” she said.

A spokesman for AT&T, Seth Bloom, called Blumenthal's action “premature,” and said the company's IPTV service, called U-verse, was the sort of offering specifically encouraged by a state law passed just months ago by the legislature that was intended to spur new entries in the state's cable market.

U-verse is already active in 30 cities and towns in Connecticut, Bloom said, and already providing consumers with new choices for television service.

“We're in the market today,” he said. “We've put our money where our mouth is.”



Blumenthal seeks 'new era in cable competition'
By PATRICK R. LINSEY, Hour Staff Writer
August 7, 2007

REGION — Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal will not be satisfied until all state residents have a choice in their cable television provider.

But AT&T, which is challenging traditional cable companies with its new fiber-optic service, said Blumenthal's efforts could backfire — stifling the very competition he hopes to create.

In the wake of a court decision last month, Blumenthal petitioned the state Department of Public Utility Control Monday to force AT&T to seek a traditional cable license for its television service.

"We are seeking to enforce a new era of cable competition," Blumenthal said. "The first steps are an emergency order that would stop AT&T from constructing new facilities and signing up new customers until it has a franchise."
The license would require AT&T to make its fledgling U-verse service available to all residents in the state. Blumenthal has accused AT&T of seeking to "cherry pick," offering service in affluent communities and not poorer cities.

The telephone company has invested millions of dollars into infrastructure for its digital television system, which is now available to residents in 35 Connecticut towns and cities. Included are wealthy suburbs — like Westport and Guilford — but also cities with a range of incomes — like Norwalk and Stamford — and Bridgeport — a city with significant poverty.

AT&T has argued that its service is distinct from traditional cable television and therefore does not require a cable license from the DPUC. The DPUC agreed, ruling last summer that television services like AT&T's do not need a cable franchise.

But the Office of Consumer Council, a public consumer group for utility payers, and Cablevision, a traditional cable company, filed lawsuits. Last month, a judge at the U.S. District Court in New Haven ruled that U-verse is subject to the same regulation as traditional cable.

"The federal court's ruling provides a legal foundation for the fact that an unequal playing field for video services is unacceptable and illegal," Blumenthal said, "and that the legal structures already in place in state and federal law demand balance among the service providers."

But AT&T spokesman Seth Bloom said the judge has yet to assign a remedy in the case and is currently taking input from all sides to determine an appropriate resolution.
Bloom also cited a law signed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell last month that encourages new entrants to the state's cable market. The law, which takes effect October 1, was not a factor in the recent court decision.

AT&T has no plans to restrict its U-verse service to affluent communities, Bloom said.

"We plan to bring U-verse to as many consumers as possible as quickly as possible," he said. "We stand behind our strong record building out DSL in Connecticut. With no one telling us we needed to, we got from 0- to over 90-percent availability in the state in a short seven or eight years."

AT&T has argued that customers in competitive cable markets pay lower rates. But forcing statewide service dissuades new companies from entering the market, Bloom said.

Cable service in the state is largely provided by regional monopolies. Cablevision provides service to the great majority of cable customers in central Fairfield County.

"For years nobody came in to offer (an alternative) service in the cable industry," Bloom said. "They would have had to ... get a franchise, which requires them to build out to the entire state, which doesn't make sense when you're a new entrant dealing with a monopoly. Nobody did and (traditional cable companies) took advantage and raised rates whenever they wanted "



New Law Could Nullify AT&T Ruling
By MARK PETERS | Courant Staff Writer
July 27, 2007

A federal judge ruled Thursday that AT&T must follow the same rules as cable TV companies as the phone giant competes for customers with its fledgling video service.

The decision by Judge Janet Bond Arterton strikes down a year-old ruling by the state Department of Public Utility Control. The agency had ruled that AT&T did not have to abide by cable franchise regulations, including requirements that prevent it from offering its service only in select markets.

But it's possible that the ruling from U.S. District Court in New Haven will be blunted or even nullified by a recently passed state law that establishes a new system to regulate cable TV and AT&T's video service.

AT&T, the state's Office of Consumer Counsel and others involved in the federal suit say they're reviewing the ruling to understand how it might affect AT&T's U-verse service. The service, which delivers TV programming over telephone lines, is available in parts of more than 20 Connecticut towns and cities.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said Thursday that the federal ruling was good news for consumers, but will probably be negated by the new state law.

"Unfortunately, a new law guts the very safeguards that the court so resoundingly affirmed," he said in a statement.

AT&T said it's reviewing the decision, but pointed out that the court case concerns law that has been changed.

The federal lawsuit against AT&T and the DPUC was filed last July by the consumer counsel, which represents cable ratepayers, and the New England Cable and Telecommunications Association, whose members include Comcast Corp. and Cox Communications.

The trade association and consumer counsel argued that the DPUC was giving AT&T an unfair advantage as it enters the TV market in Connecticut. The phone company did not have to meet public access requirements, provide service to all homes in a franchise area, or go through the lengthy cable franchise renewal process that examines customer service.

AT&T has argued that the cable companies are only interested in keeping their monopoly and avoiding competition.

The cable association could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Bill Vallee, principal attorney for the state's consumer counsel, said Thursday that Arterton's decision supports his argument that AT&T should be treated the same as cable companies, even though the technology is different. He said the ruling could have an effect on AT&T's plans for other states because it is now more likely to be treated like a cable provider wherever it goes.

But the impact of the suit here is likely to hinge on the new state law, which legislators saw as a compromise between the cable industry and AT&T to ensure competition in the industry.

It was widely criticized by Blumenthal and Vallee for eroding consumer protections while continuing to give AT&T certain advantages.



AT&T Is Cable Operator, Says Connecticut Court
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable,
7/26/2007 3:33:00 PM

A Connecticut U.S. District Court has ruled that AT&T's Lightspeed IPTV video service is a cable service subject to local franchising laws.

The summary judgment was a victory for the New England Cable & Telecommunications Association, and the cable industry at large.

It was a defeat for the Connecticut Department of Public Utility Control (DPUC), which had ruled that AT&T's service was an information service, like other data services.

Central to the DPUC's conclusion was the way AT&T delivers its service, which is not to deliver a channel until the subscriber's set-top box requests it, rather than constantly delivering all the channels. That, said DPUC, was a level of interaction that made the service a two-way data exchange, or as DPUC put it "“[AT&T’s] network is unique in comparison to cable operators such as it entails a switched, two-way client server IP-based architecture designed to send each subscriber only the programming the subscriber chooses to view and entails a high level of subscriber interaction

 The FCC defines cable service as one-way, though it includes VOD in that definition, so the DPUC concluded AT&T's service did not meet that definition.

 The court saw it differently. Although factual findings by expert goverment agencies are due judicial deference under the Chevron doctrine, the court concluded that DPUC's determination that AT&T's was a two-way system was a legal conclusion-on the appropriate definition of "cable service"--rather than a factual finding, and a wrong legal conclusion at that.

AT&T is a cable operator, its service is a cable service, and its network is a cable network, said the court.

The cable industry has argued that AT&T's service should be subject to the same franchise restrictions as their members, but the DPUC had ruled differently.


Microsoft to change Vista after Google complaint
REUTERS
By Peter Kaplan
Wed Jun 20, 1:07 AM ET

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq:MSFT - news) has agreed to modify its Windows Vista operating system in response to a complaint that its computer search function put Google Inc. (Nasdaq:GOOG - news) and other potential rivals at a disadvantage, the Justice Department and Microsoft said on Tuesday.

Under an agreement with the department and 17 state attorneys general and the District of Columbia, Microsoft will build into Vista an option to let users select a default desktop search program on personal computers running Windows.

The function, known as "Instant Search," allows Windows users to enter a search query and get a list of results from their hard drive that contain the search term.

The agreement was made public as part of a joint report that the Justice Department and Microsoft filed late on Tuesday with the court overseeing Microsoft's compliance with a 2002 antitrust consent decree.

As part of the deal, a Microsoft official said the company also had pledged to place links inside the Internet Explorer window and the "Start" navigation menu to make it easier for people to access that default desktop search service.

The changes will be introduced in a service pack, or updated version of Windows Vista software. Microsoft said it anticipates a test version of the Vista Service Pack 1 to be ready by the year-end.

Under the agreement, Microsoft also promised to provide additional technical information to third-party developers, such as Google, in order to optimize the performance of their desktop search service on Vista.

"These remedies are a step in the right direction, but they should be improved further to give consumers greater access to alternate desktop search providers," David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, said in a statement.

The changes stem from a complaint Google filed with the Justice Department in December, in which it argued that a feature built into Vista that allows users to search a computer's hard drive did not leave room for competition from other desktop search applications.

Google said the feature violated the consent decree that monitors Microsoft's conduct as part of its settlement with the government.

"We are pleased that as a result of Google's request that the consent decree be enforced, the Department of Justice and state Attorneys General have required Microsoft to make changes to Vista," Drummond said.

The agreement is expected to be presented to the judge monitoring the consent decree, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, at a June 26 court hearing.

The Microsoft consent decree, which settled the government's landmark antitrust case against the company, is scheduled to expire in November. However, some provisions have been extended to November 2009.

Microsoft has called Google's complaint "baseless" and said it was in compliance with the antitrust settlement.





GOP GOT IT CORRECT!
Both Republicans voted for net neutrality (3-2 vote).

Readers Say a ‘Net Neutrality’ Vote Was Reported Upside Down and Backward
NYTIMES
By MARGARET SULLIVAN, Public Editor 
May 22, 2014 1:04 pm

Should a speedy Internet be available to everyone equally or are some users, in Orwell’s terms, “more equal than others”? Should there be “haves” and “have-nots” on the Internet, with the winners being large corporate or commercial users, as opposed to small businesses or regular people?

That’s the essence of the debate behind the high-stakes subject of “net neutrality,” which the Federal Communications Commission voted on last week.

A recent Times article about that vote has brought many protests from readers, and from outside commenters, who say the new development was presented in a misleading way, one far too accepting of the perspective of the F.C.C. and its chairman, Tom Wheeler, who has spoken in support of the proposal.

“I’ve long become accustomed to news articles as well as editorials in the Times asserting that black is white or white is black, but for you to insist that the actions of the FCC last week will protect and enhance internet neutrality is way over the top,” wrote one reader, William Edwards.

And another, Robert Ofsevit, wrote a detailed critique, comparing the headline in The Times, “F.C.C. Vote Paves the Way for New Open Internet Rules” unfavorably with a more direct headline on a Reuters story that ran on Huffington Post: “F.C.C. Votes for Plan to Kill Net Neutrality.” He wrote:

        I would add that the Times subsequently changed the headline and parts of the article online, without even noting why. The changed story does no better, describing a false controversy that does not exist, namely, defining web neutrality. Any arrangement that has two tiers, and charges for various rates for faster service, kills net neutrality. Most agree on this point except the large corporations who would stand to benefit, and their representatives.

        The writer denigrates and marginalizes “some opponents” of Chairman Wheeler’s plan, and “net neutrality purists” who view the plan as killing net neutrality. In fact, these are not fringe views held only by “purists.” The New York Times’ own editorials condemn the Chairman’s plan. Are they “net neutrality purists”? President Obama himself, in 2007 stated emphatically that he “… would take a back seat to no one in my commitment to network neutrality, because when providers start to privilege some applications or websites over others, then the smaller voices get squeezed out, and we all lose.”

I asked Suzanne Spector, the technology editor, to respond to these complaints.

On the matter of the different versions of the article, she said that the later version was not an effort to fix a flawed story, but rather an example of something The Times does on a daily basis: “We write the news in real time and then we do a more analytical take” for print. (I’ve written a number of times about changes to evolving stories. To summarize my view: When mistakes are corrected, that must be clearly noted; when the story becomes very different, it should get a new URL; but I don’t believe in explanatory editor’s notes for every evolving story.)

In general terms, she said, “net neutrality is a complex, dense subject, and our challenge is to explain it clearly every time we write about it.” One of the issues, she said, is how to define net neutrality — does it involve only the “last mile” that information travels (between service provider and consumer), or does it refer to the entire highway from beginning to end? On this polarizing subject, Ms. Spector said, there is room for disagreement on that score.

As a whole, she contended, The Times has done a good job of explaining these issues clearly in its coverage. But, she said, “in this story, we could have been clearer.” And she agreed that the use of the term “purists” was not a good choice.

“If we had a do-over, we probably wouldn’t use that term,” she said.

My take: I’m with the critics on this one. While I’m no expert, I don’t think the issues here really are all that muddy. Maybe this makes me a purist, but as I see it, this F.C.C. vote was a clear strike against the commonly understood idea of net neutrality, and The Times should have written and presented it that way.


Warnings Along F.C.C.’s Fast Lane

NYTIMES
David Carr
MAY 11, 2014

The next time the loudmouth in the next cubicle interrupts you with yet another recap of his weekend, just start talking about “net neutrality.”

He will immediately bury his head back in his work, perhaps even lay it on the desk and begin napping.

But a topic that generally begets narcolepsy is about to become, well, interesting. The government is contemplating changing the rules for how content is delivered over the Internet, which could mess with people’s TV programming and web browsing, so there may soon be fire in those glazed-over eyes.

Wait, we’ve seen this before: Remember the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, the dispute two years ago in which the entertainment companies, backed by the government, took on Silicon Valley? It was the Little Big Horn. Time and again, when the government tries to insert itself between the Internet and its users, it gets clobbered. This could end up the same way. Here’s why:

This Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission will vote on whether to move forward with a proposal that would allow broadband providers to charge extra to content providers if they want their programming delivered in a fast lane so it streams reliably.

In a letter released on Friday, Tom Wheeler, the F.C.C. chairman, said he cared deeply about the principle of net neutrality, or the equal treatment of content on the Internet.

“My commitment to protect and preserve the open Internet remains steadfast,” he wrote. But regardless of how he spins it, Mr. Wheeler is really proposing two Internets: One slow, where most of the traffic lives, and one fast, for those who can afford it. On Sunday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Mr. Wheeler would propose new language, as soon as Monday, saying that the agency will not allow the web to be divided into fast and slow lanes.

Netflix already cut such a deal with Comcast, complained about it, and then turned around and struck essentially the same deal with Verizon, which is kind of a nifty trick when you think about it. Comcast and other broadband providers point out that Netflix sucks up about 30 percent of the system’s capacity, so that it should pay more than others only makes sense.

But why should you, as someone who just wants to use the web to surf or watch programming, care whether companies like Netflix and Hulu have to pay companies like Comcast and Verizon to ensure smooth feeds? Well, even though consumers won’t be charged directly for the faster service, we all know where those fee increases will end up landing. I just received a notice from Netflix that the price of a new membership is rising $1, to $8.99. It’s still small money and a bargain at that, but as its costs and that of other companies go up, what had been a cheap alternative for lots of programming could start to become costly.

The bifurcation of the Internet is a scary prospect and the F.C.C. itself is divided over the proposed rules: Jessica Rosenworcel, a commissioner, has called for a delay in any changes, and Mignon Clyburn, a fellow Democrat on the five-member panel, has joined her in pushing back against the aggressive plan that Mr. Wheeler has set out.

A potentially more threatening pushback arrived on Wednesday when a coalition of tech companies — Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo, and just about every other digital company you have ever heard of — registered their opposition to the changes in a letter to the F.C.C.

The signatories did not mince words, calling the proposal “a grave threat to the Internet.”

The letter goes on: “The commission’s longstanding commitment and actions undertaken to protect the open Internet are a central reason why the Internet remains an engine of entrepreneurship and economic growth,” it reads, continuing, “This commission should take the necessary steps to ensure that the Internet remains an open platform for speech and commerce so that America continues to lead the world in technology markets.”

Translation: You are about to break the Internet and you will be deeply sorry if you do.

In the debate between the Beltway vs. the Valley, my money is on the Valley. Remember in 2012 when a clueless Congress lumbered into Internet regulation by coming up with SOPA and a companion bill in the Senate (the Protect I.P. Act)? The entertainment companies that backed the legislation thought it was no big deal, but then a group of Silicon Valley players — many of the same ones who are now coalescing to oppose new Internet regulations — unleashed their user base and a huge wave of protest erupted. Both bills went down hard.

In the weeks after the SOPA debacle, I was at the Sundance Film Festival and then in Hollywood, talking with entertainment executives. They looked like extras from “The Walking Dead,” with bite marks all over them. They didn’t know what hit them because they did not understand the intimate relationship that the Valley has with its customers.

Google, Facebook, Twitter and the like offer you an endless array of useful products, many of them at a cost of absolutely nothing. (You actually trade oodles of privacy and data for the privilege, but that’s another column.) By contrast, cable companies, which provide most of the broadband, supply an endless array of entertainment, but at a very dear price that is not going to endear them to anyone. Add in the fact that broadband providers are the ones we call when the web isn’t working — have you ever contacted Netflix when your movie was endlessly buffering? — and you can see how they get the blame for everything and credit for nothing.

All this comes as Comcast, the No. 1 cable company, is also appearing before the F.C.C. and Congress seeking to acquire Time Warner Cable, the No. 2 cable company. Between looking for approval on the merger and greater flexibility in how it delivers web content, Comcast is asking for a great deal of permission and control, all at the same time.

The F.C.C. is in the position of proposing new rules because in January, a three-judge panel struck down the commission’s previous attempts to exercise control to ensure that all traffic is treated equally. So far, the commission has declined to treat the web as a public utility because it did not want to discourage investment by the big providers, but if it had the will and foresight, many believe it could exercise more authority in a way that would pass judicial muster. It would mean going back to the drawing board, and taking on some powerful interests, but it might be worth it.

The public has an expectation that the web will work like other utilities: When people turn on a light switch, the room lights up, and when they twist a faucet handle, water comes out. People expect the same of the Internet — always on, always working.

We don’t want two Internets — a good one and a bad. We want the money and investment to flow toward a single infrastructure that works rapidly and efficiently, as it does in so many other countries. It should be a medium in which videos of your niece dancing to Beyoncé, streaming coverage of Occupy Wall Street and “House of Cards” all play smoothly when you hit a button.

Given the mounting opposition, the F.C.C. commissioners would be well advised to delay any changes this Thursday. And if they don’t, they may end up starring in a sequel: “SOPA II: When Nerds Bite Back.”




Action needed by FCC article here
Court strikes down FCC’s ‘net neutrality’ rules

NYPOST
By Kaja Whitehouse
January 14, 2014 | 10:45pm

Equality on the Internet is dead.

On Tuesday, a federal appeals court opened the door for broadband service providers like Verizon and AT&T to charge certain content providers — like YouTube and Netflix — more to reach consumers.

In a unanimous ruling by the three-judge panel, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said that the Federal Communications Commission overstepped its bounds when it implemented a series of rules in 2010 forbidding broadband providers from blocking content or giving preferential treatment to one content provider over another.

The court’s ruling stems from a case brought by Verizon challenging the FCC’s authority to impose the rules. It upends the FCC’s years-long fight to impose so-called “net neutrality” on the Internet.

Consumer advocates warn that the ruling will lead to a Wild West online and open the door for broadband providers to pick and choose which content providers get faster and cleaner service.

But experts like Brett Sappington of research firm Parks Associates reject fears that broadband providers will begin to retaliate or block content for competitive reasons — lest they risk the ire of the FCC.

“That’s a concern, but I really doubt the FCC will allow that to happen,” Sappington said.

Stock-market reaction was muted for both the providers and the high-bandwidth users, as investors could not determine winners or losers yet.

Indeed, the appeals court ruling upheld the FCC’s right to regulate broadband providers’ treatment of Internet traffic — just not statutorily. To do that, the FCC would have to first change how broadband providers are classified, the court said.

The FCC is considering “all available options,” including appeal, “to ensure that these networks … provide a free and open platform for innovation and expression,” said FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler.



N E T    N E U T R A L I T Y  :   LWVCT the expert here!


Verizon-F.C.C. Court Fight Takes On Regulating Net
NYTIMES
By EDWARD WYATT
September 8, 2013


WASHINGTON — Few people would dispute that one of the biggest contributors to the extraordinary success of the Internet has been the ability of just about anyone to use it to offer any product, service or type of information they want.

How to maintain that success, however, is the subject of a momentous fight that resumes this week in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The battle pits one of the largest providers of Internet access — Verizon — against the Federal Communications Commission, which for nearly 80 years has been riding herd on the companies that provide Americans with telecommunications services.

Verizon and a host of other companies that spent billions of dollars to build their Internet pipelines believe they should be able to manage them as they wish. They should be able, for example, to charge fees to content providers who are willing to pay to have their data transported to customers through an express lane. That, the companies say, would allow the pipeline owner to reap the benefits of its investment.

The F.C.C., however, believes that Internet service providers must keep their pipelines free and open, giving the creators of any type of legal content — movies, shopping sites, medical services, or even pornography — an equal ability to reach consumers. If certain players are able to buy greater access to Internet users, regulators believe, the playing field will tilt in the direction of the richest companies, possibly preventing the next Google or Facebook from getting off the ground.

The court is set to hear oral arguments starting Monday morning in Verizon v. F.C.C., which is billed as a heavyweight championship of the technology world, setting the old era against the new.

“This will determine whether the laws and regulations of the past — the pre-Internet age — will apply to the Internet’s future,” said Scott Cleland, the chairman of NetCompetition, a group sponsored by broadband companies, including Verizon. “It will determine the regulatory power and authority of the F.C.C. in the 21st century.”

Susan Crawford, a supporter of the F.C.C.’s position who is co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard and a professor at Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law, called the showdown “a moment of grandeur.”

“The question presented by the case is, does the U.S. government have any role to play when it comes to ensuring ubiquitous, open, world-class, interconnected, reasonably priced Internet access?” Ms. Crawford said. “Does the government have good reason to ensure that facility in America?”

European countries are similarly struggling with whether and how to regulate Internet service. The Netherlands has some wireless regulations in place, and France this year introduced strict anti-discrimination measures. But while European Union officials have voiced support for what is known as net neutrality, a recent proposal gives In December 2010 the F.C.C. issued its “Open Internet Order,” an 87-page set of instructions directing Internet service providers not to block or to unreasonably discriminate against any type of Internet traffic deemed not harmful to the system. The only exception to the open access principle is for “reasonable network management,” a loosely defined term that allows a company to do what it takes to keep its network up and running.

Internet service providers also were ordered to disclose how they manage their networks and how their systems perform — like how they handle congestion when a large portion of users are, for example, downloading high-definition video.

The order was necessary, the F.C.C. said in court papers, because “there were significant threats to openness, and thus to the engine that has driven investment in broadband facilities.” In the past, the F.C.C. said, “several broadband access providers had blocked or degraded service.” One was Comcast, which in 2008 was punished by the F.C.C. for blocking access by some of its users to the file-sharing service BitTorrent, which was often used for the unauthorized exchange of movies or music.

“Other providers have the technological capability and the economic incentive to engage in similar acts,” the commission said. “And with the majority of Americans having only two wireline broadband choices (many have only one), market discipline alone could not guarantee continued openness.” The F.C.C.’s rules generally are more strict for wireless carriers, because those networks are more susceptible to congestion.

In the Comcast case, the cable company appealed the F.C.C. ruling, and the D.C. federal appeals court — the same court hearing the Verizon case — said in 2010 that the agency had overstepped its bounds, failing to show that it had the authority to regulate an Internet service provider.

It is in fact far from easy for the F.C.C. to demonstrate that it has such authority. That is because in 2002 the commission, then led by Michael K. Powell, a Republican, voted to classify Internet service as an information service rather than a telecommunications service.

The difference meant that Internet providers were not subject to regulation like a telephone company. Instead, they were free of restrictions on rates and exempt from regulations that would require them to open their networks to allow competitors to offer lower-cost service over the same pipes.

The judge who wrote the Comcast decision, David S. Tatel, is one member of the three-judge panel that will hear Verizon’s appeal. Many industry experts view the two other judges as highly likely to take opposing sides, leaving Judge Tatel as the swing vote.

Verizon argues that the F.C.C.’s Open Internet Order should be struck down because it is arbitrary and capricious, and aims to prevent activity that is not taking place. It argues in its court filings that the F.C.C. has documented only four examples, over six years, of purported blocking of Internet content by service providers.

During those six years, the company said, “end users successfully accessed the Internet content, applications and services of their choice literally billions of times.”

More broadly, Verizon argues that the F.C.C., as in the Comcast case, “fails to identify any statutory authority for the rules.” And in fact, Verizon said, the F.C.C. order is so broad that it would give the commission the power “to regulate all sectors of the Internet economy without limit.”

The court is likely to take several months to issue its decision, lawyers involved in the case say — perhaps before the end of the year, but more likely in 2014. When the ruling comes, many people will be waiting. More than 400 organizations or individuals weighed in at the F.C.C. when the rules were being considered. More than 60 signed legal briefs supporting the F.C.C., while at least a dozen did so backing Verizon.




Get background on this vital national issue here:  LWVCT FALL CONFERENCE  DEC. 1, 2007, all morning at the CAPITOL - watch it again, over and over, here!!!

Latest reports...scroll down, or how about libel suits for a cooling down method?



Sherrod’s suit vs. Breitbart tests libel law in era of Web
The Washington Times
By Ben Conery
8:36 p.m., Sunday, February 20, 2011


The defamation lawsuit filed by a former Obama administration official against conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart promises to test the application of traditional libel laws in an emerging media landscape in which blogs and social networking websites have taken the place of newspapers and television broadcasts.

Media and legal observers say the case bears watching because of that, but that it largely will hinge on well-established law and precedents despite its high-tech setting.

"While this is one of the first high-profile blog-based libel suits, the basic underpinning is pretty simple — was the gist of the material posted not substantially true," Jeff Stein, a communications professor at Wartburg College in Iowa who also is a lawyer, wrote in an e-mail to The Washington Times. "I think she can win on that."

The lawsuit stems from a highly charged incident last summer in which Mr. Breitbart posted a video clip of Shirley Sherrod, who is black, delivering a speech at an NAACP event. In the video, she describes an incident in which she was reluctant to help a poor white farmer. The video ignited a media firestorm and ultimately led the Obama administration to force Mrs. Sherrod's resignation as the Department of Agriculture's Georgia state director of rural development.

Soon afterward, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People released a video of the full speech showing that Mrs. Sherrod was describing an episode that took place more than two decades ago. The speech was about how she overcame her initial prejudice and helped the poor white farmer, an account the farmer corroborated. The speech's overall message was the importance of helping the poor, regardless of their race.

The White House apologized to Mrs. Sherrod and offered her a higher-level position in the Agriculture Department. She declined the offer.

According to the lawsuit, Mr. Breitbart posted the video clip in attempt to show racism within the NAACP because he was angered by the organization's accusations of racism against the tea party.

In a statement on his website, Mr. Breitbart expressed confidence that he will be vindicated, even hinting that the lawsuit was filed in retaliation for his work exposing what he called wide-ranging fraud that relates to reparations paid to black farmers, which he suggests involved Mrs. Sherrod.

"I can promise you this: neither I, nor my journalistic websites, will or can be silenced by the institutional left, which is obviously funding this lawsuit," he said. "I welcome the judicial discovery process, including finding out which groups are doing so."

Mrs. Sherrod, in a statement sent to Media Matters, a liberal media-watchdog group, said the lawsuit was not about politics or race.

"It is not about Right versus Left, the NAACP or the Tea Party. It is about how quickly, in today's Internet media environment, a person's good name can become 'collateral damage' in an overheated political debate," she said. "I strongly believe in a free press and a full discussion of public issues, but not in deliberate distortions of the truth.

"Mr. Breitbart has never apologized for what he did to me and continues — to this day — to make the same slurs about my character," she said.

Analysts told The Times that the case could be difficult for Mrs. Sherrod to win, especially if the court determines she is a public figure instead of a private citizen. Public figures have a higher burden in defamation cases, having to prove "actual malice" or "reckless disregard for the truth." A private citizen must prove only that a media outlet was negligent.

"This has been a difficult standard to prove in most cases, since it requires to prove some knowledge of the intent of the person who did the publishing of the remark," Richard J. Goedkoop, a communications professor at LaSalle University, wrote in an e-mail to The Times.

Mrs. Sherrod's attorneys argue in the lawsuit that "the extensive and misleading nature of the defendant's edits of the video" along with the additional text on the website show the "defendants' defamation and disparagement of Mrs. Sherrod was done intentionally and with actual malice."

Mrs. Sherrod has accused Mr. Breitbart, employee Larry O'Connor and the unnamed source of the video with defamation, representing her in a false light and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The lawsuit, filed Feb. 11 in Superior Court in the District of Columbia, seeks the removal of the video and related blog posts from Mr. Breitbart's site and monetary compensation, including punitive damages, to "punish the defendants' reprehensible conduct and to deter its future occurrence.

"Defendants deliberately edited the full video of Mrs. Sherrod's 43-minute speech down to a short, highly misleading two-and-a-half minute clip that defendants knew, or should have known, would portray Mrs. Sherrod in a false and defamatory manner," the lawsuit stated.

The lawsuit has more wrinkles than traditional defamation cases because it mentions the video and blog postings — including one that stated that Mrs. Sherrod "discriminates against people due to their race" — and cites messages Mr. Breitbart posted on the social networking site Twitter.

"Will Eric Holder's DOJ hold accountable fed appointee Shirley Sherrod for admitting practicing racial discrimination?" read one of his Twitter posts, referring to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and the Department of Justice.

The lawsuit stated: "Defendant Breitbart's Twitter message directly illustrates his intent to accuse Mrs. Sherrod of unlawful activity and to provoke and instigate financial and reputational damage to Mrs. Sherrod."

Still, Peter Breen, executive director and legal counsel for the Thomas More Society, a pro-life, public interest law firm in Chicago involved in representing conservative bloggers facing similar lawsuits in Chicago and Quebec, told The Times that there is a strong chance the case could be thrown out on a preliminary motion to dismiss.

In addition to the increased burden of proof Mrs. Sherrod is likely to face, he said, Mr. Breitbart is a noted conservative who was criticizing an Obama administration appointee, which means his statements could be considered the sort of "hyperbolic" opinions afforded greater protection under freedom-of-speech rights.

If the case isn't dismissed outright, Mr. Breen said, Mr. Breitbart could face considerable difficulties, such as a judge's order to reveal the identity of the person who provided him with the video. Mr. Breitbart has refused to disclose that person's identity.

Should a judge make such an order, said Stuart Slotnick of the Washington, D.C., law firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, Mr. Breitbart could be put in the unenviable position of either disclosing his source or risk having the judge hold him in contempt of court and possibly rule against him automatically.

In that case, Mr. Slotnick said, the only proceedings held would be to determine what Mrs. Sherrod would receive from Mr. Breitbart, although her actual damages were an open question. "She effectively, as a result of being prematurely asked to resign, got a raise and turned it down and left herself without a salary," he said, adding that what she does have going for her is that "she was really wronged."

"She was portrayed as a racist and the content of the statements by Breitbart were put on the Internet, in which she can argue was meant to be virally transmitted throughout the Internet," she said. "She was labeled as a racist throughout the entire country when she was criticizing racism and attempting to be above it."

© Copyright 2011 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.



FCC chief stands by ‘net neutrality’ push
By David Eldridge, The Washington Times
2:15 p.m., Thursday, May 5, 2011

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski on Wednesday offered a strong defense of his agency's new Internet traffic regulations in the face of questioning from skeptical Republican lawmakers.

"In my view, while critically important, antitrust laws alone would not adequately preserve the freedom and openness of the Internet," the Obama-appointed FCC head told a House Judiciary subcommittee on the hot-button issue of "net neutrality."

The issue has led to sharp disputes between major users of the Web and telecommunications giants such as Comcast and Verizon, which operating the basic wiring underlying the global information network.

Led by Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, who is chairman of the subcommittee, GOP congressmen at the hearing questioned whether the new rules pushed through by Mr. Genachowski usurp congressional authority and federal antitrust laws.

But Mr. Genachowski said the new regulations, first announced late last year, are necessary.

The FCC, he said, needs to "provide enough certainty and confidence to drive investment in our innovation future. As we heard during our FCC proceeding, antitrust enforcement is expensive to pursue, takes a long time and kicks in only after damage is done."

Robert McDowell, one of the two Republicans on the commission who voted against the FCC's "Open Rules of the Road" for the Internet, disagreed again with the FCC chairman, telling Mr. Goodlatte that the regulations will stifle innovation in the tech sector of the American economy.

The net-neutrality rules will "disproportionately affect smaller companies who will have to bear the adjudication costs," he said.

Net neutrality, which President Obama campaigned on before the 2008 elections, is designed to prevent the telecommunications giants from using their gatekeeper status to impede the business of their competitors, from Web powers such as Google down to small startup Internet businesses.

Republicans have called the new regulations a power grab by federal bureaucrats and a "solution in search of a problem."

© Copyright 2011 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.


Google and Verizon Near Deal on Pay Tiers for Web
NYTIMES
By EDWARD WYATT
August 4, 2010 (we noticed this on the 5th)


WASHINGTON — Google and Verizon, two leading players in Internet service and content, are nearing an agreement that could allow Verizon to speed some online content to Internet users more quickly if the content’s creators are willing to pay for the privilege.

The charges could be paid by companies, like YouTube, owned by Google, for example, to Verizon, one of the nation’s leading Internet service providers, to ensure that its content received priority as it made its way to consumers. The agreement could eventually lead to higher charges for Internet users.

Such an agreement could overthrow a once-sacred tenet of Internet policy known as net neutrality, in which no form of content is favored over another. In its place, consumers could soon see a new, tiered system, which, like cable television, imposes higher costs for premium levels of service.

Any agreement between Verizon and Google could also upend the efforts of the Federal Communications Commission to assert its authority over broadband service, which was severely restricted by a federal appeals court decision in April.

People close to the negotiations who were not authorized to speak publicly about them said an agreement could be reached as soon as next week. If completed, Google, whose Android operating system powers many Verizon wireless phones, would agree not to challenge Verizon’s ability to manage its broadband Internet network as it pleased.

Since the court decision, involving Comcast, in April, the F.C.C. has been trying to find a way to regulate broadband delivery, and that effort has been the subject of a series of private meetings at the agency’s headquarters in recent weeks. At the meetings, officials from the nation’s biggest Internet service and content providers, including Google and Verizon, have tried to reach a consensus on how broadband Internet service should be regulated in light of the decision. Those meetings continued this week, apart from the talks between Google and Verizon.

The court decision said the F.C.C. lacked the authority to require that an Internet service provider refrain from blocking or slowing down some content or applications, or giving favor to others. The F.C.C. has since sought another way in which to enforce the concept of net neutrality. But its proposals have been greeted with much objection in Congress and among Internet service providers, cable companies and some Internet content producers.

A spokesman for Verizon said that the company was still engaged in the larger talks to reach a consensus at the F.C.C. and declined to comment on other negotiations. A spokeswoman for Google also declined to comment. While a deal between Google and Verizon would affect only those two companies, it could sway the opinions of lawmakers, many of whom have questioned the wisdom of the F.C.C.’s plans to oversee broadband service.

At issue for consumers is how the companies that provide the pipeline to the Internet will ultimately direct traffic on their system, and how quickly consumers are able to gain access to certain Web content. Consumers could also see continually rising bills for Internet service, much as they have for cable television.

The prospect of a Google-Verizon agreement infuriates many consumer advocates, who feel that it would concentrate in a few corporations control of what to date has been a free and open Internet system in which consumers decide which companies are successful.

“The point of a network neutrality rule is to prevent big companies from dividing the Internet between them,” said Gigi B. Sohn, president and a founder of Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy group. “The fate of the Internet is too large a matter to be decided by negotiations involving two companies, even companies as big as Verizon and Google.”

It is not clear that the Google-Verizon talks will result in a deal, or that any agreement would extend beyond those companies. David M. Fish, a spokesman for Verizon, acknowledged the talks, saying, “We’ve been working with Google for 10 months to reach an agreement on broadband policy.”

But, Mr. Fish added, “We are currently engaged in and committed to the negotiation process led by the F.C.C. We are optimistic this process will reach a consensus that can maintain an open Internet, and the investment and innovation required to sustain it.”

The F.C.C. process he referred to is what is jokingly called at the agency headquarters “the secret meeting.” At least nine times in the last seven weeks — including Wednesday, with another meeting scheduled for Thursday — a group that includes Google, Verizon, AT&T, Skype, cable system operators and a group called the Open Internet Coalition has met with top F.C.C. officials to discuss net neutrality and the agency’s legal basis for regulating Internet service.

Cable and telephone companies want free rein to sell specialized services like “paid prioritization,” which would speed some content to users more quickly for a fee. Wireless companies, meanwhile, want no restrictions on wireless broadband, which they see as a different technology than Internet service over wires.

Many content providers — like Amazon, eBay and Skype — prefer no favoritism on the Internet or they want to be sure that if a pay system exists, all content providers have the opportunity to pay for faster service.

The F.C.C., meanwhile, favors a level playing field, but it cannot impose one as long as its authority over broadband is in legal doubt. It has proposed a solution that would reclassify broadband Internet service under the Communications Act from its current designation as an “information service,” a lightly regulated designation, to a “telecommunications service,” a category that, like telephone service, is subject to stricter regulation.

The F.C.C. has said that it does not want to impose strict regulation on Internet service and rates, but seeks only the authority to enforce broadband privacy and guarantee equal access. It also wants to use federal money to subsidize broadband service for rural areas.

While the F.C.C. is gathering public comment on its reclassification proposal, it has convened the private talks, which are overseen by Edward Lazarus, the chief of staff to Julius Genachowski, the F.C.C.’s chairman.

The talks have produced some common ground among the participants on smaller matters. But one participant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the group members agreed not to discuss their deliberations publicly, said there had been little movement “on the few big issues that are the most important.”

Frustrated with that lack of progress in the last two months, direct talks between Google and Verizon have accelerated, according to people close to the discussions who were not authorized to comment publicly.

Google and Verizon have their own interests at stake in negotiating separately. The Android operating system from Google is used on many Verizon phones, including the Droid, a competitor to the iPhone from Apple.

Consumer groups have objected to the private meetings, saying that too many stakeholders are being left out of discussions over the future of the Internet.

Mr. Lazarus said the meetings “are part of our efforts to identify the best way forward in the wake of the Comcast case to preserve the openness and vibrancy of the Internet.”


Source: Google, Verizon near net neutrality plan
YAHOO
By JOELLE TESSLER, AP Technology Writer
Thu Aug 5, 4:04 am ET

WASHINGTON – Google Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. are close to finalizing a proposal for so-called "network neutrality" rules, which would dictate how broadband providers treat Internet traffic flowing over their lines, according to a person briefed on the negotiations.

A deal could be announced within days, said the person, who did not want to be identified because negotiations are still ongoing.

Any deal that is reached could form the basis for federal legislation and would likely shape efforts by the Federal Communications Commission to broker an agreement on the contentious issue, which has pitted the nation's big phone and cable companies against many big Internet companies.

The FCC has been holding talks with a handful of large phone, cable and Internet companies - including Verizon and Google - to try to reach some sort of industrywide compromise on net neutrality that all sides can accept. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is seeking to adopt rules that would require phone and cable companies to give equal treatment to all broadband traffic traveling over their networks.

Public interest groups and a number of big Internet companies, including Google and online calling service Skype, say such rules are needed to prevent broadband providers from becoming online gatekeepers. They are particularly concerned that the phone and cable companies could start charging extra for priority access, or could slow or even block Internet phone calls, online video and other Web services that compete with their core businesses.

But the phone and cable companies argue that after investing billions in their networks, they need to be able earn a return on their massive investments by offering premium services. They also insist that they need flexibility to manage network traffic so that high-bandwidth applications don't eat up too much capacity and slow down their systems for everyone else.

While there is consensus that broadband providers should not be allowed to block or degrade Internet traffic, the FCC talks have yet to produce an agreement. Two big sticking points center on whether broadband providers should be allowed to offer premium services and whether net neutrality rules should apply to wireless networks, which tend to have more bandwidth constraints than landline systems.

In a statement Wednesday, Verizon said it has been in talks with Google for nearly 10 months to try to strike some sort of compromise on net neutrality. It added that it remains committed to the discussions taking place at the FCC and is "optimistic this process will reach a consensus that can maintain an open Internet and the investment and innovation required to sustain it."

Google had no comment.

Google and Verizon are already business partners since Google's Android operating system powers Verizon Wireless's Droid smartphone. The Droid is the biggest competitor to Apple Inc.'s iPhone, which is available only through AT&T Wireless in the U.S.

An FCC statement said only that "the broad stakeholder discussions continue to actively include Google and Verizon."

AT&T Inc., which is also taking part in the FCC talks, said it is "not a party to the purported agreement between Google and Verizon" and remains "committed to trying to reach a consensus on this issue through the FCC process."

Several public interest groups, meanwhile, voiced concerns that a deal between Verizon and Google would allow broadband providers to offer premium services and would not apply to wireless networks. Josh Silver, founder and president of the group Free Press, warned that an agreement would amount to "a bold grab for market power by two monopolistic players" and would "effectively create two Internets where application and content innovators have to ask Verizon and Google for permission to reach mobile Internet customers."

"The point of a network neutrality rule is to prevent big companies from dividing the Internet between them," said Gigi Sohn, president and co-founder of the group Public Knowledge. "We do not need rules to protect Google and Verizon, but we need a rule to protect the customers of Google and Verizon and the competitors of Google and Verizon."

The talks at the FCC are also focused on establishing the agency's authority to regulate broadband. The agency has been scrambling to develop a new regulatory framework since a federal appeals court in April cast doubt on its jurisdiction over broadband - including its ability to mandate net neutrality - under existing rules.



FCC's neutral net plan tough balancing act
DAY editorial
Article published May 10, 2010

Federal Communications Chairman Julius Genachowski appears to be making a good-faith effort to strike a balance between providing enough regulation to maintain the creative vitality of the Internet, without acting so heavy-handedly that he damages, rather than enhances, its entrepreneurial potential.

It's a big challenge, but Mr. Genachowski recognizes a problem that needs addressing.

His plan is to adopt "net neutrality" rules, assuring that Internet providers such as Comcast and AT&T allow data to travel to subscribers' computers without interference. Internet companies, like Google and eBay, need unencumbered access if they are to expand high-bandwidth services such as video and games, necessary to grow and compete.

The danger in the absence of regulation is that Internet providers could choke off access, slow some broadband traffic and play favorites, ultimately reducing consumer choice and dynamic competition.

This potential problem became more than a hypothetical in April when an appeals court ruled that the FCC had overstepped its bounds in sanctioning Comcast Corp. for intentionally slowing some broadband traffic in 2008. By enhancing existing FCC regulations with new specific rule making, Mr. Genachowski wants to provide "a solid legal foundation" for enforcing net neutrality "in the most effective and least intrusive way."

But this will not be an easy balancing act. Internet providers warn that strict net neutrality rules would interfere with their ability to innovate in a constantly evolving field. And while Mr. Genachowski says he will not require service providers to share their lines with rivals at government-regulated rates, it is becoming increasingly difficult to sort out rivals on the Wild West Web.

More challenging, Mr. Genachowski will be using FCC regulations adopted during the early stages of the Internet that prevent service discrimination, protect privacy, require reasonable rates and provide a complaint process. While far from ideal, it is preferable to having Congress rewriting rules, which would invite a high-level lobbying slugfest between Internet services and providers seeking to twist rules to their favor.

The exact outline of how this will work awaits completion of a rule-making process that will include several months of public comment. The goal, net neutrality, is a good one. It's not going to be easy.



Court Says F.C.C. Cannot Require ‘Net Neutrality’
NYTIMES
By EDWARD WYATT
April 6, 2010

WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court on Tuesday dealt a sharp blow to the efforts of the Federal Communications Commission to set the rules of the road for the Internet, ruling that the agency lacks the authority to require broadband providers to give equal treatment to all Internet traffic flowing over their networks.

The decision, by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, specifically concerned the efforts of Comcast, the nation’s largest cable provider, to slow down customers’ access to a service called BitTorrent, which is used to exchange large video files, most often pirated copies of movies.

After Comcast’s blocking was exposed, the F.C.C. told Comcast to stop discriminating against BitTorrent traffic and in 2008 issued broader rules for the industry regarding “net neutrality,” the principle that all Internet content should be treated equally by network providers. Comcast challenged the F.C.C.’s authority to issue such rules and argued that its throttling of BitTorrent was necessary to ensure that a few customers didn’t unfairly hog the capacity of the network, slowing down Internet access for all of its customers.

But Tuesday’s court ruling has far larger implications than just the Comcast case.

The ruling would allow Comcast and other Internet service providers to restrict consumers’ ability to access certain kinds of Internet content, such as video sites like Hulu.com or Google’s YouTube service, or charge certain heavy users of their networks more money for access.

Google, Microsoft and other big producers of Web content have argued that such controls or pricing policies would thwart innovation and customer choice.

Consumer advocates said the ruling, one of several that have challenged the F.C.C.’s regulatory reach, could also undermine all of the F.C.C.’s efforts to regulate Internet service providers and establish its authority over the Internet, including its recently released national broadband plan.

“This decision destroys the F.C.C.’s authority to build broadband policy on the legal theory established by the Bush administration,” said Ben Scott, the policy director for Free Press, a nonprofit organization that advocates for broad media ownership and access.

The decision could reinvigorate dormant efforts in Congress to pass a federal law specifically governing net neutrality, a principle generally supported by the Obama administration.

While the decision is a victory for Comcast, it also has the potential to affect the company’s pending acquisition of a majority stake in NBC Universal.

Members of Congress have expressed concern that the acquisition could give Comcast the power to favor the content of its own cable and broadcast channels over those of competitors, something that Comcast has said it does not intend to do. Now, members of Congress could also fret that Comcast will also block or slow down customers’ access to the Web sites of competing television and telecommunications companies.

In a statement, the F.C.C. said it remained “firmly committed to promoting an open Internet.” While the court decision invalidated its current approach to that goal, the agency said, “the Court in no way disagreed with the importance of providing a free and open Internet, nor did it close the door to other methods for achieving this important end.”





FCC to toughen internet rules
By Maggie Shiels, Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley
Page last updated at 07:49 GMT, Friday, 18 June 2010 08:49 UK

Ethernet cable, Eyewire
The FCC wants all data to be treated equally

The stage has been set for what many predict will be an ugly fight over broadband plans for US citizens.

The Federal Communications Commission has taken the first formal steps towards tougher rules for broadband.

It asked for public comment on three different plans, igniting an expensive lobbying campaign by all sides.

The looming battle follows a court ruling questioning the FCC's right to regulate internet service providers after one throttled traffic to users.

That court ruling dealt a major blow to a central plank of the FCC's broadband plan called net neutrality which demands that all data traffic be treated equally.

The five commissioners on the FCC board were split 3-2 in putting the proposals towards adopting new regulations for the broadband industry out for public comment.

'Third way'

One of the three plans the public is being asked to comment on, and which is favoured by FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, is called the "third way".

This would involve reclassifying broadband so it went from being a lightly regulated service to one with more vigorously oversight.

Binary data on circuit board, Eyewire
The US is rated 15th in the world for high speed internet access

In return for this tightening up, Mr Genachowski has proposed the new classification would not regulate on how much people pay for their broadband. It would also shy away from overseeing internet content, services, applications or electronic commerce sites.

The other two options include leaving the existing regulatory framework in place or imposing the full force of stricter regulations.

ISPs, such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon, prefer the status quo and have come out against the "third way" proposal.

"This is impossible to justify on either a policy or legal basis and we remain confident that if the FCC persists in its course - and we truly hope it does not - the courts will surely overturn their action," said Jim Cicconi, AT&T's senior executive vice president for external and legislative affairs.

Verizon said the FCC's move was "a terrible idea".

By contrast, web giants such as Google and Amazon extol the value of free-flowing web traffic and an open internet.

"Broadband infrastructure is too important to be left outside of any oversight," said Richard Whitt, Google's telecom and media counsel in a blog posting.

'To the death'

The political dynamics of the FCC board, two Republicans and three Democrats, imply that the "third way" looks almost certain to be the plan it adopts.

Some suspect this will provoke more lobbying and may draw legal challenges.

"There is a very big fight brewing and it's the carriers versus everybody else," said Erik Sherman, analyst with BNET.com, part of CBS's digital business network.

Fibre optic cable
The FCC has said broadband was "the greatest infrastructure challenge"

"There is little doubt it's going to be a right data Donnybrook and I am not sure the consumers are winners in any circumstances. These companies are not fighting for the little guy. They are fighting for themselves and higher profit margins."

That view was echoed by Public Knowledge, a Washington based public advocacy group.

"It's a tough road ahead and the telcos are going to fight this to the death," communications director Art Brodsky told BBC News.

"AT&T in the first quarter of this year spent $6m on lobbying. That is one company. One quarter. Compare that to Google which spent $4m in the whole of last year."

The Computer and Communications Industry Association said the "third way" option is the only realistic option.

"Without deliberate FCC action, consumers, entrepreneurs, small businesses and non-profits will be left completely powerless against the corporate commercial interests of their unregulated internet access providers," said Ed Black, association president.

'Misguided'

A research paper released ahead of the FCC vote warned that net neutrality rules could cost hundreds of thousands of jobs in the USA .

The report argued that a 10% reduction in investment by broadband providers would cost more than 500,000 jobs before 2015.

"These regulations severely restrict the ability of network companies to manage their own network traffic, what technology and what techniques they will use to get a robust service and will close off important new business models in this new world we live in," Bret Swanson, president of technology research firm Entropy Economics told the BBC.

Fellow author Charles Davidson of the Advanced Communications Law & Policy Institute at New York Law School said: "With the US economy still in a fragile state, imposing restrictive regulation on one of the country's most dynamic sectors is misguided."


FCC claims power over Internet providers; Moves closer to 'neutrality'
Washington Times
By Kara Rowland
Friday, May 7, 2010

The head of the Federal Communications Commission said the agency has the power to impose new rules on Internet service providers in a move that lays the groundwork for "net neutrality" - a politically contentious proposal that bars providers from giving preference to some of the content flowing over their networks.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski pitched his approach Thursday as a middle ground that would "preserve the Internet as a powerful platform for innovation, free speech and job creation." But the agency's two Republicans said it goes well beyond the powers Congress has granted the commission and will leave businesses confused.

"It is neither a light-touch approach, nor a third way. Instead, it is a stark departure from the long-established bipartisan framework for addressing broadband regulation that has led to billions in investment and untold consumer opportunities," Republican Commissioners Robert M. McDowell and Meredith A. Baker said in a joint statement.

Supporters of net neutrality said they hope Thursday's move is the first step toward FCC regulation preventing Internet service providers from slowing down certain types of Web applications.

Mr. Genachowski announced his plan weeks after the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dealt the commission a huge blow by tossing out an order against Comcast Corp. on the grounds that the agency lacked the power to tell the cable firm how to manage its Web traffic. Undermining a marquee priority of the Obama administration's FCC, that ruling set off a political firestorm among Democrats and left-leaning activists who argue that "rules of the road" are necessary to prevent Internet service providers from prioritizing access to certain Web applications over others.

Responding to the decision Thursday, Mr. Genachowski, one of three Democrats on the five-member agency, said the commission should retool the way it classifies Internet services under the major statute from which it draws its authority. For years, the Internet has been classified as an "information service" and largely unregulated, unlike "common carrier" services, which - under rules dating back to the 1930s - subject the telephone industry to an extensive regulatory scheme.

The new approach would shift Internet services under the mantle of common carriers, but Mr. Genachowski said the commission would apply only a handful of those provisions to network providers and renounce its authority over the rest.

The decision added fuel to an already intense political fight, with lawmakers dividing along party lines.

"I have argued that under existing law the commission can and should find that it has the authority to write and enforce rules protecting consumers, the open Internet, and competition in the transmission of Internet communications through the wires and over the air. This change of classification is a moderate, pragmatic step necessary to ensure that the FCC can keep faith with its core mission," said Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and head of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee on communications, technology and the Internet.

Meanwhile, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner called the move a "government takeover of the Internet."

"The success of the Internet is a perfect example of what happens when entrepreneurship and innovation are allowed to flourish, but todays decision will undermine its success and hurt our economy," the Ohio Republican said.

Businesses also are divided. While Internet giants like Google Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. have been lobbying hard in favor of net neutrality rules, service providers have vehemently opposed them.

"We believe that the chairmans stated approach is legally unsupported. The regulatory and judicial proceedings that will ensue can only bring confusion and delay to the important work of continuing to build the nations broadband future," said Tom Tauke, executive vice president of Verizon, which has been challenging cable companies with its high-speed FiOS service.

At the other end of the spectrum, left-leaning media activists who have long been calling for the FCC to intervene said Mr. Genachowski's proposal would prevent Internet service providers from picking winners and losers, as Comcast was accused of doing to users of BitTorrent, a bandwidth-heavy file-sharing service.

Josh Silver, president of the nonprofit Free Press, lauded the commission for "charting a path toward a sensible broadband policy framework that will protect consumers and promote universal access."

Comcast, FCC take net neutrality dispute to court
YAHOO
By JOELLE TESSLER, AP Technology Writer
Fri Jan 8, 2010 3:50 am ET

WASHINGTON – The Federal Communications Commission staked out new ground nearly three months ago when it began drafting rules that would require Internet providers to give equal treatment to all data flowing over their networks.

Now the FCC hopes to use a dispute with the nation's largest cable TV and Internet provider to establish its legal authority to adopt such "network neutrality" regulations. The rules would aim to prevent phone and cable companies from abusing their control over the market for high-speed Internet access.

A federal appeals court was holding oral arguments Friday in Comcast Corp.'s challenge of the FCC's 2008 order banning the company from blocking its broadband subscribers from using an online file-sharing technology known as BitTorrent.

The commission, at the time headed by Republican Kevin Martin, based its order against Comcast on a set of net-neutrality principles it adopted in 2005 to prevent broadband providers from favoring or discriminating against certain types of Internet traffic. Those principles have guided the FCC's enforcement of communications laws on a case-by-case basis.

Formally adopting those guidelines as binding regulations is a top priority for the FCC's new Democratic chairman, Julius Genachowski. The agency voted in October to start writing those rules.

And now, with Comcast appealing the FCC order against it, one key question that could come up in the courtroom is whether the commission has legal authority to mandate network neutrality. A ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, expected this spring, could bolster the FCC proceeding if the agency prevails.

"Comcast and others have challenged the FCC's authority to take action to protect consumers and ensure their access to a free and open Internet," FCC General Counsel Austin Schlick said. "This case provides the court of appeals an opportunity to reject those arguments and confirm that the commission has the power it needs to accomplish those goals."

The policy dispute over network neutrality has pitted some of the country's leading Internet companies, including Internet search provider Google Inc. and the Internet calling service Skype, against the big phone and cable operators.  The Internet companies say that without such rules, broadband providers could become online gatekeepers and prioritize traffic for those who can pay extra, while degrading or blocking cheaper Internet calling services or online video sites that compete with their core businesses.

Indeed, BitTorrent, the online file-sharing technology blocked by Comcast, can be used to transfer large files such as online video, something that threatens Comcast's core cable TV business.

But broadband providers such as Comcast, AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. argue that after pouring billions of dollars into their networks, they should be able to offer premium services to differentiate themselves from competitors and earn a healthy return on their investments.  They also insist they need flexibility to manage their systems so high-bandwidth applications such as BitTorrent don't hog too much capacity and slow down the network for everyone else.

For its part, Comcast wants to keep its challenge to the FCC order narrow. It argues that the order is illegal because the agency was seeking to enforce mere policy principles, which don't have the force of regulations or law.  As a result, the Philadelphia-based cable company says, it never had clear rules to follow and was never given fair notice of what conduct was prohibited. In fact, Comcast insists, the FCC proceeding to adopt the 2005 principles as formal regulations underscores its point.

Comcast also maintains that because that proceeding is still in the early stages, it remains unclear whether the agency even has legal authority to mandate net neutrality obligations. This larger question, however, should be left for another day, Comcast says.  Yet that is exactly the question that the FCC hopes the court will address. The commission argues that a 2005 Supreme Court ruling upholding its move to deregulate Internet service gives it the jurisdiction it needs.

The high court upheld the FCC's decision to define broadband as a lightly regulated information service, which is not subject to the obligations traditional telecommunications services have to share their networks with competitors. But a 1996 federal telecommunications law still gives the agency authority to set rules for information services — including, the FCC now argues, net neutrality rules.

An appeals court ruling that accepts this argument would "strengthen the agency's hand ... and provide validation" in its broader net neutrality proceeding, said Ben Scott, policy director for Free Press, a leading advocate for net neutrality rules. Free Press brought Comcast's actions to the FCC's attention after The Associated Press ran tests and reported that the cable company was interfering with attempts by some subscribers to share files online.  But even if the court concludes that the FCC lacks authority to adopt such regulations, it would not necessarily be a devastating setback — just a delay — for the commission.

That's because Congress, with a number of key Democrats in support of net neutrality, would likely step in to give the FCC the necessary powers.  Either way, Friday's oral arguments could provide a road map. After all, even if the court issues a very narrow ruling, the FCC's upcoming net neutrality regulations are likely to face a court challenge, too.



A different view...here.
'Net neutrality' would slow the flow
Washington Times
Sen. John McCain
Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ronald Reagan once famously said, "Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it."

It appears that the former president foresaw the fate of the Internet. When the Internet first began to catch on with consumers as a new marketplace for purchasing books, clothes and music, state and federal legislators stepped in and attempted to tax Americans' Internet use.

Fortunately, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress came forward and stopped taxation of Internet usage before it could start. But as Internet use continued to grow, the government just couldn't resist not regulating the greatest modern invention since the light bulb (particularly once the ability to tax it was taken away.)

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission will vote on whether to regulate the historically open architecture and free flow of the Internet. The commission will seek to impose "net neutrality" rules that would rein in the network management practices of all Internet service providers, including wireless phone companies.

These new rules should rightly be viewed by consumers suspiciously as another government power grab over a private service provided by private companies in a competitive marketplace. Does this sound familiar? It should.

Earlier this year, the government moved to control much of the auto industry and the banking industry, so it should come as no surprise that the government now wishes to control the technology industry by regulating its very core: the Internet.

This government take over of the Internet will stifle innovation, which will in turn hinder job creation. The technology industry is the fastest-growing job market behind the health care industry.

In fact, the high-tech industry added over 77,000 new jobs in 2008 while most industries cut jobs due to the difficult economic times. Compare these 77,000 new (and generally high-paying) jobs to the 30,000 jobs the $787 billion, taxpayer-funded stimulus program has created or "saved," according to a report released last week by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board. Maybe a better stimulus package for this 21st-century economy would be an administration decision to keep the Internet free of government control and regulation.

However, the administration can't resist imposing regulations on the Internet - particularly since Google Inc. and other Internet content providers were promised the imposition of such regulations as these companies seek to control what consumers see and don't see on the Internet - despite the fact that these regulations will only serve to hurt consumers.

Last year, almost 75 percent of all Americans went online, and 55 percent of all adult Americans have a high-speed Internet connection in their home. All of these Internet users benefited from the "fundamental architecture of openness" that is the Internet, according to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

The light-touch regulatory approach toward the Internet that was put forth by previous administrations has brought Americans social networking, low-cost long-distance calling, texting, telemedicine and over 85,000 almighty "apps" for the iPhone. It also brought us Twitter, YouTube, Hulu, Kindle, the BlackBerry and the Palm. It allowed the Internet to change our lives forever.

The wireless industry exploded over the past 20 years, in part due to limited government regulation. Wireless carriers invested $100 billion in infrastructure and development over the past three years, which has led to faster networks, more competitors in the marketplace and lower prices in the United States compared to any other country.

Meanwhile, wired telephones and networks have become a slow-dying breed as they are mired in state and federal regulations, universal service contribution requirements and limitations on use.

Regulation kills innovation. Let's not kill the Internet. An open and unfettered Internet may be the real stimulus during these difficult economic times, and it comes without a $787 billion price tag that is passed along to taxpayers at a significant cost for future generations.


Hurdles remain as FCC ponders Internet data rules
YAHOO
By JOELLE TESSLER, AP Technology Writer -
Sun Oct 18, 2009 12:57PM EDT

WASHINGTON -

With Democrats in charge in Washington, supporters of so-called "net neutrality" rules seem poised to finally push through requirements that high-speed Internet providers give equal treatment to all data flowing over their networks.

These rules — at the heart of a five-year policy debate — are intended to guarantee that Internet users can go to any Web site and access any online service they want. Phone and cable companies, for instance, wouldn't be able to block subscribers from using cheaper Internet calling services or accessing online video sites that compete with their core businesses.  Yet making that happen is proving thorny — and it's likely that the courts and perhaps even Congress will ultimately get involved.

The Federal Communications Commission is set to vote Thursday on a proposal by the agency's chairman, Julius Genachowski, to begin crafting regulations to prohibit broadband providers from favoring or discriminating against Internet traffic.  Although Genachowski has the support of the other two Democrats on the five-member commission, his proposal has run into strong opposition from the large phone, cable and wireless companies that provide the bulk of U.S. high-speed Internet connections.

Broadband providers such as AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp. argue that after pouring billions of dollars into their networks, they should be able to operate those networks as they see fit. That includes offering premium services over their lines to differentiate themselves from competitors and earn a healthy return on their investments.  Genachowski's proposal has also encountered misgivings among Republicans on the FCC and in Congress, who fear network neutrality rules could discourage broadband providers from continuing to expand and upgrade their systems.

"The risk of regulation really inhibits investment," said Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell. Noting the agency's estimated price tag of up to $350 billion to bring broadband connections to all Americans, he added: "How do we pay for all that?"

One thing everyone agrees on is that the FCC will have to sort through some tricky issues as Genachowski's plan moves forward.  One question is how much flexibility broadband providers should have to keep their networks running smoothly by ensuring that high-bandwidth applications such as YouTube videos don't hog too much capacity and impede other traffic like e-mail and online searches. In other words, when does legitimate network management cross the line to become discrimination?

Lawrence Spiwak, president of the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal & Economic Policy Studies, a think tank that promotes free-market approaches, fears the FCC could hurt small, rural carriers that face higher costs to build out their systems. Without the ability to manage traffic, he said, these companies could be forced to make expensive network upgrades they cannot afford.  The FCC also needs to sort out how the rules would apply to wireless systems, which have less bandwidth capacity than wire-based networks and might have greater need for traffic management. AT&T, the exclusive U.S. carrier for Apple Inc.'s iPhone, already is running into capacity challenges given the popularity of the gadget and its scores of bandwidth-consuming applications.

"There could be unintended consequences of applying net neutrality to wireless," said Christopher Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs for CTIA-The Wireless Association, an industry trade group.

Genachowski's plan calls for the agency to formally adopt four broadband principles that have guided the FCC's enforcement of communications laws on a case-by-case basis. Those principles state that network operators must allow subscribers to access all online content, applications, services and devices as long as they are legal.

The FCC relied on those guidelines last year when it ordered Comcast to stop blocking subscribers from using an online file-sharing service called BitTorrent, which is used to transfer large files such as online video. Comcast is challenging the FCC ruling in court.  Genachowski also wants the FCC to adopt two more principles. One would make it clear that broadband providers couldn't discriminate against particular content or applications, either by blocking them completely or by letting other traffic jump ahead in the queue. The other would require providers to disclose network management practices.

He is also seeking to extend all six principles to wireless systems, which have been largely unregulated.

Thursday's vote will launch a proceeding to draft rules based on those principles and open them to public comment. The agency would likely adopt formal regulations by next summer.  Supporters of net neutrality regulations want to prevent broadband companies from becoming online gatekeepers by abusing their control over Internet networks. They warn that a startup like YouTube or Facebook might never have a shot if broadband providers can prioritize their own online services or those of business partners.

"If bandwidth is disproportionately consumed by those who can pay, it would destroy the Internet as a level playing field," said Ben Scott, policy director for the public interest group Free Press.

Colin Crowell, a senior counselor to Genachowski, described regulations as "sensible rules of the road to preserve a free and open Internet, which has been an economic and innovation engine for the nation."

But the service providers, along with many Republicans and even some Democrats in Congress, say the FCC chairman has not shown a need for more regulation given the few known examples of discrimination.  Besides Comcast's actions last year, the other major incident occurred in 2005, when a small telecom company in North Carolina blocked subscribers from accessing Vonage Holding Corp.'s Internet phone service. The company reversed course after the FCC stepped in.

"The FCC has a responsibility to prove a market failure before intervening in the market," said Rep. Cliff Stearns of Florida, the top Republican on the House subcommittee that oversees communications and technology. "I don't think they have proven that."

McDowell, the Republican commissioner, argues that antitrust laws — which aim to prevent companies from abusing their market power — already provide a clear framework to handle such incidents.

Meanwhile, looming over the entire FCC proceeding are questions of jurisdiction. In challenging the BitTorrent ruling, Comcast argued that based on the FCC's deregulation of Internet service in 2002 — a move the Supreme Court upheld three years later — the agency doesn't have authority to mandate nondiscrimination rules.

A decision in the Comcast case is expected next year and if the court rules in the company's favor, it could undermine the net neutrality proceeding at the FCC — forcing the agency to reverse course on deregulation or drawing Congress into the debate.


FCC chairman warns of `looming spectrum crisis'
YAHOO
By ELLIOT SPAGAT, AP Business Writer -
Wed Oct 7, 2009 4:01PM EDT


SAN DIEGO -

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission warns of a "looming spectrum crisis" if the government fails to find new ways to ensure there is enough bandwidth for mobile devices.

Julius Genachowski said at an industry conference Wednesday in San Diego that the government is tripling the amount of spectrum available to companies. The problem is that many experts predict wireless traffic will increase 30 times, because of video and other bandwidth-heavy applications.

The chairman called that gap between demand and supply "the biggest threat" to mobile services. He announced plans for a far-reaching review that addresses what to do about it.

The possibilities include reallocating existing spectrum that is now used for other purposes, and encouraging development of new technologies.




FCC begins probe of Google Voice
YAHOO
Joelle Tessler ASSOCIATED PRESS

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Federal regulators will look into complaints by AT&T Inc. that Google Inc.'s free messaging and calling service, Google Voice, blocks calls to rural communities where local phone companies charge high connection fees.

The Federal Communications Commission on Friday sent a letter to Google requesting information about its Voice service, which lets people sign up for one number that can route incoming calls to cell, office or home phones. The service also lets users place calls, including international calls, at low rates.

As part of a broader quarrel with Google, AT&T has complained that Google Voice blocks calls to phone numbers in some rural communities to reduce the access charges it must pay. So-called "common carrier" regulations prevent AT&T and other big phone companies from blocking those same calls.

Google Voice "has claimed for itself a significant advantage over providers offering competing services," AT&T said in a letter to the FCC last month. Those concerns were echoed in a letter sent to the FCC this week by 20 members of Congress who represent rural districts.

Among other things, the FCC is asking Google to explain how its Voice service works, whether it blocks calls to certain numbers and whether it informs users that it does so.

In a blog post Friday, Richard Whitt, Google's Washington telecom and media counsel, explained that Google Voice restricts calls to phone numbers held by companies that "charge exorbitant termination rates for calls" and "partner with adult sex chat lines and 'free' conference calling centers to drive high volumes of traffic."

He said Google could not afford to offer the service "if we paid these ludicrously high charges." Google also maintains that its Voice service should not be subject to common carrier laws because it is a free, Web-based software application, not a replacement for traditional phone service.

AT&T's complaint comes as the FCC prepares to vote Oct. 22 on "network neutrality" rules that would prohibit the big phone and cable companies from favoring or discriminating against Internet traffic flowing over their broadband networks.

That proposal has pitted Google and other Internet companies that support net neutrality against the big phone and cable companies, including AT&T, that want to be free of restrictions on what they can do with their networks.

AT&T's complaint to the FCC on Google Voice was an attempt to turn the tables on Google: AT&T claimed that Google Voice flouts net neutrality principles by blocking certain calling traffic.

But in his blog post on Friday, Google's Mr. Whitt said that "despite AT&T's lobbying efforts, this issue has nothing to do with network neutrality or rural America."

This is not the first time the FCC has looked at Google Voice. The agency has been investigating why Apple Inc. does not allow a Google Voice application to run on the iPhone - which is carried exclusively in the U.S. by AT&T.

That inquiry is ongoing, but it did prompt AT&T to reveal that under its agreement with Apple, Apple cannot enable any Internet calling applications that use AT&T's 3G network without AT&T's permission. AT&T reversed course on that rule this week.


I-BBC
Page last updated at 15:20 GMT, Monday, 21 September 2009 16:20 UK
Ethernet cable
Ethernet cable

US proposes net neutrality rules

The US has proposed new rules that would require internet firms to respect the principle of "network neutrality".

The head of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said that "all web traffic should be treated equally".

The new rules are intended to prevent firms throttling bandwidth-sapping web traffic such as streaming video.

Networks on both sides of the Atlantic have long argued for a two-tier system, where those that can pay are given priority over those that cannot.

"There are few goals more essential in the communications landscape than preserving and maintaining an open and robust internet," FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said in a speech at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

"It is vital that the internet continue to be an engine of innovation, economic growth, competition and democratic engagement."

It is the first time that the Chairman has spoken out on the issue since being appointed in June.

'Extraordinary platform'

He proposed two new rules to guide the FCC's approach to network neutrality.

The first would prevent internet service providers (ISPs) from discriminating against bandwidth-intensive web-content and applications by slowing or blocking it.

"They cannot block or degrade lawful traffic over their networks, or pick winners by favouring some content or applications over others in the connection to subscribers' homes," he said.

"Nor can they disfavor an Internet service just because it competes with a similar service offered by that broadband provider."

The second would mean that ISPs would have to be more transparent about how they manage network traffic.

The two new rules join four previous guiding principles of the FCC, which state that all consumers must be able to access "lawful" content, applications, and services, and attach non-harmful devices to the network.

"I believe the FCC must be a smart cop on the beat preserving a free and open internet," Mr Genachowski said.

"This is not about government regulation of the internet," he added. "It's about fair rules of the road for companies that control access to the internet."

President Barack Obama backed the concept of network neutrality in the presidential race. It also has the support of large companies such as Google, eBay and Amazon.

However, telecommunications firms on both sides of the Atlantic argue that carrying high-bandwidth content, such as video, puts an extra burden on their networks and costs them money.

They argue the cost should, in part, be borne by the websites or the consumers.

The new rules will be formally proposed at a meeting in October.


FCC chairman proposes `open Internet' rules
YAHOO
By PETER SVENSSON, AP Technology Writer
Mon Sep 21, 2009 11:14AM EDT

NEW YORK -

Wireless carriers shouldn't be allowed to block certain types of Internet traffic flowing over their networks, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission chairman said Monday in a speech that figures to provoke a fight with the industry.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said wireless carriers should be subject to the same "open Internet" rules that the agency has begun to apply to home broadband providers.

It's unclear how the rules would apply in practice to wireless data. For instance, carriers officially restrict how Internet-access cards for laptops are used, but rarely enforce the rules. The government also has been investigating Apple Inc.'s approval process for iPhone applications, but Genachowski isn't directly addressing manufacturers' right to determine which applications run on their phones.

Essentially, Genachowski wants to codify the principles the FCC has already been applying to wired Internet traffic — and extend them to wireless.

Last year, the agency sanctioned Comcast Corp. for secretly hampering file-sharing traffic by its cable-modem subscribers. In making that ruling, the agency relied on broad "principles" of open Internet access that hadn't previously been put to the test. The cable company filed suit, saying the FCC didn't have the authority to tell it how to run its network. The case is still in federal appeals court.

The chairman is now proposing to make it a formal rule that Internet carriers cannot discriminate against certain types of traffic by degrading service. That expands on the principle that they cannot "block" traffic, as articulated in a 2005 policy statement.

Internet service providers, both wired and wireless, are struggling with the question of how to distribute network capacity among their subscribers. Heavy users can easily overwhelm cellular toward and neighborhood cable circuits, slowing traffic for everyone. Wireless carriers are also likely to object to new regulation by pointing out that their industry is intensely competitive.

At the same time, consumer advocates and Web companies like Google Inc. want to safeguard what has been an underlying "Net Neutrality" assumption of the Internet: that all traffic is treated equally by the network. If the carriers can degrade or block traffic, they become the gatekeepers of the Internet, able to shut out innovation, these critics say.

Comcast has already changed its system to one that does not look at what types of traffic subscribers are using. Instead, it throttles back the speed of heavy users if there is congestion on the network. However, there are other companies that might fall afoul of the new principle. Cox Communications, another cable company, has been testing a system that slows traffic that it deems less time-sensitive, like file downloads and software updates, to keep Web pages, streaming video and online games working faster.

In his speech Monday in Washington, which was broadcast on the Internet, the FCC chairman also proposed to make it a formal rule that Internet service providers have to tell customers about how they manage traffic to handle congestion. Some companies might be managing traffic in subtle ways without notifying customers.

Do you think Panasonic laying off 15,000 workers and closing more than a dozen plants had something to do with this?
House Votes to Delay Switch to Digital Television
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 4:29 p.m. ET

February 4, 2009


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Congress voted Wednesday to give consumers four more months to prepare for the upcoming transition from analog to digital television broadcasting.

The House voted 264-158 to postpone the shutdown of analog TV signals to June 12, to address growing concerns that too many Americans won't be ready in time for the Feb. 17 deadline that Congress had set three years ago. The Senate passed the measure unanimously last week and the bill now heads to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The delay is a victory for the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress, who maintain that the previous administration mismanaged efforts to ensure that all consumers -- particularly poor, rural and minority Americans -- will be prepared for the switchover.

The Nielsen Co. estimates that more than 6.5 million U.S. households that rely on analog TV sets to pick up over-the-air broadcast signals still are not ready. People who subscribe to cable or satellite TV or have a newer TV with a digital tuner will not be affected.

"The passage of this bipartisan legislation means that millions of Americans will have the time they need to prepare for the conversion," the White House said in a statement. "We will continue to work with Congress to improve the information and assistance available to American consumers in advance of June 12, especially those in the most vulnerable communities."

Wednesday's vote came one week after House Republicans blocked the bill when it was in a special fast-track vote that required two-thirds support to pass. This time, the bill passed the House under a regular floor vote, which only requires a simple majority.


Broadband Link to U.S. Jobs Exaggerated: Experts
NYTIMES
By REUTERS
Filed at 4:13 p.m. ET
January 30, 2009

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A co-author of a widely cited forecast that nearly 300,000 U.S. jobs would be created for every percentage point rise in high-speed Internet use said on Friday these and similar estimates are "a gross overestimate."

"There is a great deal of overstatement in most of these studies," said Robert Crandall, a Brookings Institution economist and co-author of the frequently-cited paper with that estimate.

U.S. lawmakers are proposing grants between $6 billion to $9 billion and tax credits to encourage investment in high- speed Internet, as part of an economic stimulus plan winding its way through Congress costing up to $900 billion.  The 300,000 jobs estimate has been used in newspapers and cited by other publications advocating investment in high-speed Internet, or broadband.

The Brookings Institution study, published in July 2007, is not particularly relevant now because of differing employment and related migration trends at the time of the study, Crandall said.  Attempting to extrapolate it nationwide at this time is a "gross overstatement," he said.

Most the data on jobs and broadband is not relevant because it doesn't apply to underserved, mostly rural and high cost areas targeted in the stimulus package, said Shane Greenstein, a professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.

"The experience of Manhattan in 2005 has no relationship to the experience in West Texas," Greenstein said.

Chris King, an investment analyst at Stifel Nicolaus said the proposals targeting unserved rural areas are not enough to propel rural providers to invest in any event, largely because they do not address ongoing operating costs.

"We believe the current plans are unlikely to stimulate private sector investment in unserved areas," King said.

King, concurring with several Wall Street analysts, said tax credits for ultra-fast Internet speeds for underserved areas would likely only benefit Verizon Communications Inc and perhaps some cable companies.

To see the Brookings study, go to: http://www3.brookings.edu/~/media/Files/rc/papers/2007/06labor_crandall/06labor_crandall.pdf





FCC set to reconsider broadband regulations
YAHOO
By JOELLE TESSLER, AP Technology Writer
17 June 2010

WASHINGTON – Federal regulators are reconsidering the rules that govern high-speed Internet connections - wading into a bitter policy dispute that could be tied up in court for years.

The Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote Thursday to begin taking public comments on three different paths for regulating broadband. That includes a proposal by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, a Democrat, to define broadband access as a telecommunications service subject to "common carrier" obligations to treat all traffic equally.

Genachowski's proposal is a response to a federal appeals court ruling that has cast doubt on the agency's authority over broadband under its existing regulatory framework.

The plan has the backing of many big Internet companies, which say it would ensure the FCC can prevent phone and cable companies from using their control over broadband connections to determine what subscribers can do online.

"There is a real urgency to this because right now there are no rules of the road to protect consumers from even the most egregious discriminatory behavior by telephone and cable companies," said Markham Erickson, executive director of the Open Internet Coalition. The group's members include Google Inc., eBay Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and online calling service Skype Ltd.

But Genachowski's plan faces stiff resistance from the broadband providers themselves, including AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. They say it opens the door to onerous and outdated regulations that would discourage them from upgrading their networks.

"This FCC proposal could call into question the business assumptions underlying multibillion-dollar broadband investments," said Howard Waltzman, a former Republican staffer on the House Commerce Committee who is now representing telephone companies as a partner with Mayer Brown LLP.

Many Republicans and even some Democrats on Capitol Hill - as well as the two Republicans on the five-member FCC - oppose Genachowski's plan. At least one House Republican, Rep. John Culberson of Texas, has proposed blocking funding for the FCC if it pursues the plan.

The FCC currently defines broadband as a lightly regulated information service. But in April, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that this approach does not give the commission the authority it needs to adopt so-called "network neutrality" mandates, which would bar broadband providers from favoring or discriminating against traffic traveling over their networks.

Supporters of network neutrality say such rules are necessary to prevent phone and cable companies from blocking or degrading online calling services, Internet video and other applications that compete with their core businesses.

Indeed, the recent appeals court decision grew out of a challenge by Comcast Corp. to a 2008 FCC order directing the cable company to stop blocking subscribers from accessing an online file-sharing service. Comcast and other broadband providers insist they need flexibility to manage their networks and ensure that certain applications don't hog too much bandwidth.

The court ruling also undermines the FCC's ability to act on several key recommendations in its national broadband plan - another top priority for Genachowski - including a proposal to expand high-speed Internet access by tapping the federal program that subsidizes phone service in poor and rural areas.

Genachowski says his new regulatory framework would allow the FCC to move ahead on both fronts by placing broadband connections firmly within the agency's jurisdiction as a telecommunications service. At the same time, he has pledged to impose only narrow telecom rules on broadband providers, avoiding burdensome mandates such as rate regulations and network-sharing obligations. He has also stressed that his approach would not impose regulations on Internet content and services.

In outlining his proposal last month, Genachowski called it a "third way" that respects "investment and innovation" and protects consumers and Internet competition.

Thursday's vote will launch a proceeding to examine:

-Genachowski's proposal;

-the implications of leaving the existing regulatory frawework in place;

-and the implications of imposing the full array of traditional telecommunications regulations on broadband providers.

If the FCC ultimately adopts Genachowski's plan, it will almost certainly draw legal challenges from phone and cable companies that fear any shift away from the current deregulatory approach adopted under the Bush administration. That approach was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2005 and a battle over any attempt to overturn it could go all the way back to the high court.


Obama to Select Genachowski to Lead F.C.C.
NYTIMES
By Stephen Labaton
January 13, 2009, 8:59 am

President-elect Barack Obama intends to nominate Julius Genachowski , an adviser on technology issues and longtime friend, to become the next chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, advisers to Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Genachowski, 46, was a major fund-raiser for the Obama campaign who also played a leading role in the campaign’s highly successful online strategy. He remains very close to Mr. Obama—both men went to Columbia College and Harvard Law School and the two served together on the Harvard Law Review. They also were basketball buddies.

During the campaign, Mr. Genachowski shaped many of Mr. Obama’s telecom policies. He advocated an open Internet in the debate over so-called “net neutrality,’’ and media-ownership rules that promote a diversity of voices on the airwaves.

People involved in the transition said that Mr. Genachowski was a top candidate for both the chairmanship and a new White House position overseeing technology issues that has not been fully defined yet.

If confirmed, one of his first challenges at the commission will be what to do about the problems plaguing the conversion to digital television. The Obama transition team has asked Congress to delay the conversion, set for Feb. 17, because millions of viewers have been unable to obtain coupons to pay for converter boxes that would enable their sets to receive signals once all broadcasters lose their analog signal. (The conversion will not affect viewers who subscribe to cable or satellite television services.)

The chairmanship of the F.C.C. has played a more expansive role in regulating the economy, particularly with the rise of the Internet and wireless communications over the last 20 years. Now, as the new administration plans to make the expansion of broadband and Internet services a significant part of its stimulus package, Mr. Genachowski, with his close ties to Mr. Obama, could wind up with an even bigger role than his predecessors in shaping economic policy.

After graduating from law school, Mr. Genachowski clerked for federal appeals court judge Abner J. Mikva after Mr. Obama turned down the same job. Mr. Genachowski then clerked for Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter. He was chief counsel to Reed Hundt, a chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, during the Clinton administration. He then worked for eight years as a senior executive at Barry Diller’s IAC/Interactive Corporation. He also founded an investment and advisory firm for digital media companies and co-founded the country’s first commercial “green’’ bank.


Mr. Obama’s Internet Agenda
NYTIMES Editorial
December 16, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama recently announced an ambitious plan to build up the nation’s Internet infrastructure as part of his proposed economic stimulus package. Upgrading the Internet is a particularly smart kind of stimulus, one that would spread knowledge, promote entrepreneurship and make this country more competitive globally.

The United States has long been the world leader in technology, but when it comes to the Internet, it is fast falling behind. America now ranks 15th in the world in access to high-speed Internet connections. A cornerstone of Mr. Obama’s agenda is promoting universal, affordable high-speed Internet.

Mr. Obama, who had notable success with online fund-raising and voter turnout, spoke during the presidential campaign about the transformative power of the Internet to improve Americans’ quality of life. He argued that it could, among other things, reduce health care costs, create jobs and make it easier for citizens to participate in government decision-making.

In a speech this month about his economic stimulus plan, he said that he intends to ensure that every child has a chance to get online and that he would use some of the stimulus money to connect libraries and schools. It is a critical goal. Children trapped on the wrong side of the digital divide are deprived of a fair chance to educate themselves and to compete for high-skill, high-paying jobs.

Mr. Obama has also been a strong supporter of “network neutrality,” the principle that Internet service providers should not be able to discriminate against any of the information that they carry. Net neutrality laws are necessary to ensure that Internet service providers do not block content they disagree with or give financial breaks to big tech companies, squeezing out smaller competitors and stifling innovation.

Mr. Obama will need to work with Congress — and fight against corporate lobbyists — to accomplish some of his goals. Some he can achieve on his own. With the right appointments to the Federal Communications Commission, he should be able to get good net neutrality regulations.

“This is the Eisenhower Interstate highway moment for the Internet,” argues Ben Scott, policy director of the media reform group Free Press. Restoring America to its role as the world’s Internet leader could be an important part of Mr. Obama’s presidential legacy.


Free Broadband Plan Stirs Debate on Filtering
NYTIMES
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 4:23 p.m. ET
December 14, 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) -- M2Z Networks' proposal to build a free wireless broadband network is not the only controversial part of its business plan. Just as contentious is its intention to filter the content delivered over that network to block any material deemed inappropriate for children.

Free-speech advocates on the left and right have expressed alarm at M2Z's plans to build a family-friendly network that would weed out objectionable sites by blocking particular Internet domain names.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin took up that idea in his proposal to auction off a chunk of spectrum that would be used in part to deliver a basic broadband service over the nation's airwaves. It would ultimately be up to the FCC to decide exactly how any filtering mandate would work, including whether the filters would be located on the network or on user devices.

M2Z co-founder John Muleta says any company that offers a free broadband service that is available to everyone must figure out how to protect children from illegal and unlawful material -- much as television networks must do with over-the-air TV broadcasts.

Yet this component of M2Z's plan has stirred a long-running debate about who should determine what constitutes ''appropriate'' content and about how effective content filters truly are. Critics say filters often make mistakes and block legitimate sites, including resources about health and sexual education.

John Morris, general counsel for the Center for Democracy & Technology, believes Martin's content-filtering rule would be unconstitutional because it would violate the First Amendment rights of people whose Web sites are blocked, and because parents already have access to a range of online tools to control what their children see on the Internet.

Indeed, the latter argument was one point cited by the Supreme Court in Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, a landmark 1997 ruling that struck down a federal law regulating explicit material on the Internet.

To address these concerns, Martin's spectrum proposal would require the winning bidder to allow adults to opt out of content filtering.

But this raises a different problem, according to Berin Szoka, a fellow at the Progress & Freedom Foundation. That's because one benefit of a broadband service open to all is that it offers the potential for anonymity. The only way to allow adults to opt out of content filtering, however, would be to have users authenticate themselves, Szoka said. And that, he said, would sacrifice anonymity.


Casting a Wider Net
NYTIMES
By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE
Published: June 25, 2008

Several leading lights of the Internet world believe that access to broadband is a civil right, like water, roads and sewage treatment, and have renewed their call for making such access a national priority. To further their goal, they have introduced a Web site, internetforeveryone.org.

They banded together Tuesday in New York to make their pitch to the media, saying that broadband access is so essential — to education, commerce and public discourse — that it is no longer a luxury but a necessity.

They want to raise awareness of the digital divide so that every home and business in America has access to high-speed Internet and they want to encourage competition among providers so that the price goes down.

The cause of universal Internet access is, of course, an old one, and over the last decade it has stirred little response among the powers that be. While it has languished, the United States has fallen further behind the rest of the world in making broadband available. Since 2001, the country has slipped from having the 4th highest percentage of homes with broadband per capita in the world to 15th.

Much of this has to do with the increasing price of broadband in the United States, where customers pay an average of $636 a year for a subscription.

Americans pay among the highest prices for some of the slowest speeds, and only about half the country is wired. The average broadband offering in Japan is 10 times faster than the average service available to Americans and at half the cost.

The telecommunications companies have resisted going into rural areas with small population densities and difficult terrains, according to a federal GAO report two years ago. They also point to the lack of “anchor” points around which to build broadband infrastructures, like a large government agency or health-care facility. In some cases, local municipalities have tried setting up their own wireless Internet access in areas not served by the big providers.

The advocates of internetforeveryone.org, who spoke Tuesday at the fifth annual Personal Democracy Forum, which was examining the intersection of technology and politics, included: Jonathan Adelstein, a commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission; David All, co-founder of Slatecard.com and TechRepublican.com; Brad Burnham, a partner with Union Square Ventures; Vint Cerf, chief technology “evangelist” for Google; Robin Chase, chief executive officer of Meadow Networks and the co-founder of Zipcar; Van Jones, president of Green For All; Lawrence Lessig, a law professor at Stanford; Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press; Michael Winship, president of the Writers Guild of America-East; Timothy Wu, a law professor at Columbia, and Jonathan Zittrain, a professor at Harvard Law School.

While they backed the cause, it was not clear what further action they might take to advance it.

Mr. Silver said that the group did not want to push any particular piece of legislation at this point but instead wanted to build political and popular will around four basic principles: providing every home and business in America with access to a high-speed, world-class communications infrastructure; ensuring that people have an array of choices in their broadband providers; fostering openness so that consumers can practice free speech and commerce when online, and promoting innovation so the Internet can create jobs and foster economic growth.

He said the group planned to hold four public forums across the country to gather information from consumers about what they want in a national broadband policy. (No dates have been scheduled, but they will be announced on internetforeveryone.org.)

Mr. Adelstein of the F.C.C. expressed some frustration with the lack of movement by the government.

“It’s clear what we’re doing in Washington isn’t working,” he said, noting that he had a stack of proposals on his desk for a national broadband policy. “What we’re lacking is the leadership to implement them,” he said. “We need coordination.”

He added that the F.C.C. hasn’t made “any effort to involve the public,” and that the majority of the commission doesn’t think a national policy is necessary. The commission is, however, considering freeing up a portion of the wireless spectrum to be used for free wireless services.

Mr. Lessig, of Stanford, who serves as a technology advisor to the presidential campaign of Senator Barack Obama, said it was no coincidence that the sluggish level of broadband penetration in the United States, relative to the rest of the world, had occurred during the Bush administration.

“The attitude of the last eight years has been, ‘let the private sector take care of this, we don’t have any obligation to do anything,’” Mr. Lessig said in an interview. “It was a hands-off attitude by the government, and the consequence has been, as predicted 10 years ago, radical increase in concentration over access to this essential infrastructure, and as concentration has gone up, price has gone up and quality has gone down.”

He added: “The existing companies that have the most power in Congress — telecomm being the most powerful — have a natural antipathy to types of government policy that would be necessary to build out and support the Internet.”

Internetforeveryone’s plan is to rally sufficient support among a broad range of interest, then perhaps seek legislation.

“This is a movement-building step,” Mr. Lessig said. “Once we have an administration that’s committed to doing it, then we can talk about the details.”

Here are some interesting factoids, supplied by internetforeveryone.org, about the digital divide:

• Not surprisingly, broadband access correlates closely with income: 82 percent of homes with household income over $75,000 are wired; only 19 percent of those with incomes below $15,000 have broadband.

• While rural Americans have equal access to telephone service and television, they do not have equal access to broadband. Nearly 20 million people live in rural areas that are not served by a single broadband provider.

• Of households in rural areas, 39 percent have broadband; in cities, 54 percent have broadband.

• The most-wired ethnic group in the United States is Asians (69 percent of households have broadband). Whites (non-Hispanics) are next, with 55 percent of households wired; next are blacks (36 percent); Hispanics (35 percent) and American Indians (30 percent).

• Broadband access in the United States is more expensive than in 21 other countries. The average monthly subscription in the United States is $53.06; Finland pays the least ($31.18).

• Broadband download speeds in the United States are slower than in 13 other countries (8.9 mbps, compared with 93.7 in Japan, the fastest).


Coalition seeks federal nudge for broadband 
DAY 
Published on 6/25/2008 

New York (AP) - One of the Internet's founding fathers and a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission joined forces Tuesday in renewing calls for the U.S. government to more actively expand broadband service.

They and other members of a new coalition promised hearings across the country and set up a Web site at InternetForEveryone.org to outline principles such as universal access and competition to ensure lower prices and faster Internet connection speeds.

But the group offered few specifics, including any proposed legislation. Josh Silver, executive director of the Free Press advocacy group, said that given the complexities of broadband policy, the new coalition was focusing on raising awareness and establishing ideas for the next administration to consider.

The United States lags behind South Korea and other nations in high-speed Internet access despite being the Internet's birthplace. In many rural areas, broadband services aren't available at all or come from a sole provider.

Vint Cerf, a Google Inc. executive who had co-developed the Internet's core communications protocols in the 1970s, said a nudge from the government would be crucial because the Internet's benefits are so broad.

Jonathan Adelstein, one of two Democrats on the five-member FCC, said the coalition was hoping to mobilize the public to force his fellow policy makers to act.

Otherwise, he said, many Americans would be denied opportunities to remotely attend classes at a distant universities, or access resources at larger libraries and museums. Doctors wouldn't be able to confer with specialists over the Internet, and employees wouldn't be able to save energy by telecommuting.

Other members of the coalition include leading Internet scholars Lawrence Lessig and Jonathan Zittrain; Michael Winship, president of the Writers Guild of America-East, which recently battled Hollywood over online rights; and Robin Chase, co-founder of the Zipcar automobile-rental service.   


Charging by the Byte to Curb Internet Traffic
NYTIMES 
By BRIAN STELTER
Published: June 15, 2008

Some people use the Internet simply to check e-mail and look up phone numbers. Others are online all day, downloading big video and music files.

For years, both kinds of Web surfers have paid the same price for access. But now three of the country’s largest Internet service providers are threatening to clamp down on their most active subscribers by placing monthly limits on their online activity.

One of them, Time Warner Cable, began a trial of “Internet metering” in one Texas city early this month, asking customers to select a monthly plan and pay surcharges when they exceed their bandwidth limit. The idea is that people who use the network more heavily should pay more, the way they do for water, electricity, or, in many cases, cellphone minutes.

That same week, Comcast said that it would expand on a strategy it uses to manage Internet traffic: slowing down the connections of the heaviest users, so-called bandwidth hogs, at peak times.

AT&T also said Thursday that limits on heavy use were inevitable and that it was considering pricing based on data volume. “Based on current trends, total bandwidth in the AT&T network will increase by four times over the next three years,” the company said in a statement.

All three companies say that placing caps on broadband use will ensure fair access for all users.

Internet metering is a throwback to the days of dial-up service, but at a time when video and interactive games are becoming popular, the experiments could have huge implications for the future of the Web.

Millions of people are moving online to watch movies and television shows, play multiplayer video games and talk over videoconference with family and friends. And media companies are trying to get people to spend more time online: the Disneys and NBCs of the world keep adding television shows and movies to their Web sites, giving consumers convenient entertainment that soaks up a lot of bandwidth.

Moreover, companies with physical storefronts, like Blockbuster, are moving toward digital delivery of entertainment. And new distributors of online content — think YouTube — are relying on an open data spigot to make their business plans work.

Critics of the bandwidth limits say that metering and capping network use could hold back the inevitable convergence of television, computers and the Internet.

The Internet “is how we deliver our shows,” said Jim Louderback, chief executive of Revision3, a three-year-old media company that runs what it calls a television network on the Web. “If all of a sudden our viewers are worried about some sort of a broadband cap, they may think twice about downloading or watching our shows.”

Even if the caps are far above the average users’ consumption, their mere existence could cause users to reduce their time online. Just ask people who carefully monitor their monthly allotments of cellphone minutes and text messages.

“As soon as you put serious uncertainty as to cost on the table, people’s feeling of freedom to predict cost dries up and so does innovation and trying new applications,” Vint Cerf, the chief Internet evangelist for Google who is often called the “father of the Internet,” said in an e-mail message.

But the companies imposing the caps say that their actions are only fair. People who use more network capacity should pay more, Time Warner argues. And Comcast says that people who use too much — like those who engage in file-sharing — should be forced to slow down.

Time Warner also frames the issue in financial terms: the broadband infrastructure needs to be improved, it says, and maybe metering could pay for the upgrades. So far its trial is limited to new subscribers in Beaumont, Tex., a city of roughly 110,000.

In that trial, new customers can buy plans with a 5-gigabyte cap, a 20-gigabyte cap or a 40-gigabyte cap. Prices for those plans range from $30 to $50. Above the cap, customers pay $1 a gigabyte. Plans with higher caps come with faster service.

“Average customers are way below the caps,” said Kevin Leddy, executive vice president for advanced technology at Time Warner Cable. “These caps give them years’ worth of growth before they’d ever pay any surcharges.”

Casual Internet users who merely send e-mail messages, check movie times and read the news are not likely to exceed the caps. But people who watch television shows on Hulu.com, rent movies on iTunes or play the multiplayer game Halo on Xbox may start to exceed the limits — and millions of people are already doing those things.

Streaming an hour of video on Hulu, which shows programs like “Saturday Night Live,” “Family Guy” and “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” consumes about 200 megabytes, or one-fifth of a gigabyte. A higher-quality hour of the same content bought through Apple’s iTunes store can use about 500 megabytes, or half a gigabyte.

A high-definition episode of “Survivor” on CBS.com can use up to a gigabyte, and a DVD-quality movie through Netflix’s new online service can eat up about five gigabytes. One Netflix download alone, in fact, could bring a user to the limit on the cheapest plan in Time Warner’s trial in Beaumont.

Even services like Skype and Vonage that use the Internet to transmit phone calls could help put users over the monthly limits.

Time Warner would not reveal how many gigabytes an average customer uses, saying only that 95 percent of customers use under 40 gigabytes each in a month.

That means that 5 percent of customers use more than 50 percent of the network’s overall capacity, the company said, and many of those people are assumed to be sharing copyrighted video and music files illegally.

The Time Warner plan has the potential to bring Internet use full circle, back to the days when pay-as-you-go pricing held back the Web’s popularity. In the early days of dial-up access, America Online and other providers offered tiered pricing, in part because audio and video were barely viable online. Consumers feared going over their allotted time and bristled at the idea that access to cyberspace was billed by the hour.

In 1996, when AOL started offering unlimited access plans, Internet use took off and the online world started moving to the center of people’s daily lives. Today most Internet packages provide a seemingly unlimited amount of capacity, at least from the consumer’s perspective.

But like water and electricity, even digital resources are finite. Last year Comcast disclosed that it was temporarily turning off the connections of customers who used file-sharing services like BitTorrent, arguing that they were slowing things down for everyone else. The people who got cut off complained and asked how much broadband use was too much; the company did not have a ready answer.

Thus, like Time Warner, Comcast is considering a form of Internet metering that would apply to all online activity.

The goal, says Mitch Bowling, a senior vice president at Comcast, is “ensuring that a small number of users don’t impact the experience for everyone else.”

Last year Comcast was sued when it was disclosed that the company had singled out BitTorrent users.

In February, Comcast departed from that approach and started collaborating with the company that runs BitTorrent. Now it has shifted to what it calls a “platform agnostic” approach to managing its network, meaning that it slows down the connection of any customer who uses too much bandwidth at congested times.

Mr. Bowling said that “typical Internet usage” would not be affected. But on the Internet, “typical” use is constantly being redefined.

“The definitions of low and high usage today are meaningless, because the Internet’s going to grow, and nothing’s going to stop that,” said Eric Klinker, the chief technology officer of BitTorrent.

As the technology company Cisco put it in a recent report, “today’s ‘bandwidth hog’ is tomorrow’s average user.”

One result of these experiments is a tug-of-war between the Internet providers and media companies, which are monitoring the Time Warner experiment with trepidation.

“We hate it,” said a senior executive at a major media company, who requested anonymity because his company, like all broadcasters, must play nice with the same cable operators that are imposing the limits. Now that some television shows are viewed millions of times online, the executive said, any impediment would hurt the advertising model for online video streaming.

Mr. Leddy of Time Warner said that the media companies’ fears were overblown. If the company were to try to stop Web video, “we would not succeed,” he said. “We know how much capacity they’re going to need in the future, and we know what it’s going to cost. And today’s business model doesn’t pay for it very well.”




Coming down from the cloud?

Pay TV industry loses record number of subscribers
YAHOO
By PETER SVENSSON - AP Technology Writer
10 August 2011

NEW YORK (AP) — The weak economy is hitting Americans where they spend a lot of their free time: at the TV set.  They're canceling cable and satellite TV subscriptions in record numbers, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of the companies' quarterly earnings reports.  The U.S. subscription-TV industry first showed a small net loss of subscribers a year ago. This year, that trickle has turned into a stream. The chief cause appears to be persistently high unemployment and a housing market that has many people living with their parents, reducing the need for a separate cable bill.

But it's also possible that people are canceling cable in favor of cheap Internet video. Such a threat has been hanging over the industry. If that's the case, viewers can expect more restrictions on online video, as TV companies and Hollywood studios try to make sure that they get paid for what they produce.

In a tally by the AP, eight of the nine largest subscription-TV providers in the U.S. lost 195,700 subscribers in the April-to-June quarter.  That's the first quarterly loss for the group, which serves about 70 percent of households. The loss amounts to 0.2 percent of their 83.2 million video subscribers.

The group includes four of the five biggest cable companies, which have been losing subscribers for years. It also includes phone companies Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc. and satellite broadcasters DirecTV Group Inc. and Dish Network Corp. These four have been poaching customers from cable, making up for cable-company losses — until now.

The phone companies kept adding subscribers in the second quarter, but DirecTV and Dish combined lost them, a first for the U.S. satellite TV industry.

The AP's tally excludes Cox Communications, the third-largest cable company, and a bevy of smaller cable companies. Cox is privately held and does not disclose subscriber numbers.

Sanford Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett estimates that the subscription-TV industry, including the untallied cable companies, lost 380,000 subscribers in the quarter. That's about one out of every 300 U.S. households, and more than twice the losses in the second quarter of last year. Ian Olgeirson at SNL Kagan puts the number even higher, at 425,000 to 450,000 lost subscribers.

The second quarter is always the year's worst for cable and satellite companies, as students cancel service at the end of the spring semester. Last year, growth came back in the fourth quarter. But looking back over the past 12 months, the industry is still down, by Moffett's estimate. That's also a first.

The subscription-TV industry is no longer buoyed by its first flush of growth, so the people who cancel because they're unemployed are outweighing the very small number of newcomers who've never had cable or satellite before. Dish CEO Joe Clayton told analysts on a conference call Tuesday that the industry is "increasingly saturated."

But like other industry executives, Clayton sees renewed growth around the corner. Though his company saw the biggest increase in subscriber flight compared with a year ago, he blamed much of that on a strategic pullback in advertising, which will be reversed before the end of the year.

Other executives gave few indications that the industry has hit a wall. For most of the big companies, the slowdown is slight, hardly noticeable except when looking across all of them. Nor do they believe Internet video is what's causing people to leave.  Glenn Britt, the CEO of Time Warner Cable Inc. said the effect of Internet video on the number of cable subscribers is "very, very modest," in fact, so small that it's hard to measure.

SNL Kagan's Olgeirson said the people canceling subscriptions behind, or never signing up, are an elusive group, difficult to count. Yet he believes the trend is real, and he calls it the "elephant in the room" for the industry.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that young, educated people who aren't interested in live programs such as sports are finding it easier to go without cable. Video-streaming sites like Netflix.com and Hulu.com are helping, as they run many popular TV shows for free, sometimes the day after they air on television.  In June, The Nielsen Co. said it found that Americans who watch the most video online tend to watch less TV. The ratings agency said it started noticing last fall that a segment of consumers were starting to make a trade-off between online video and regular TV. The activity was more pronounced among people ages 18-34.

Olgeirson expects programmers to keep tightening access to shows and movies online. A few years ago, Olgeirson said, "they threw open the doors," figuring they'd make money from ads accompanying online video besides traditional sources such as the fees they charge cable companies to carry their channels. But if looks as if online video might endanger revenue from cable, which is still far larger, they'll pull back.

"Are they really going to jeopardize that? The answer is no," Olgeirson said.

Already, News Corp.'s Fox broadcasting company is delaying reruns on Hulu by a week unless the viewer pays a $8-a-month subscription for Hulu Plus or subscribes to Dish's satellite TV service. Other subscription-TV providers may join in the future. TV producers and distributors want to discourage people from dropping their subscriptions.  Moffett believes it's hard to separate the effect of the economy from that of Internet video. Subscription-TV providers keep raising rates because content providers such as Hollywood studios and sports leagues demand ever higher prices. That's causing a collision with the economic realities of American households.

"Rising prices for pay TV, coupled with growing availability of lower cost alternatives, add to a toxic mix at a time when disposable income isn't growing," Moffett said.


Cable Prices Keep Rising; Customers Keep Paying
NYTIMES
By MATT RICHTEL
Published: May 24, 2008

Americans discouraged by higher gas prices and airline fares may decide to spend more vacation time at home, perhaps watching television.  But that, too, will cost them more than ever.

Cable prices have risen 77 percent since 1996, roughly double the rate of inflation, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this month.

Cable customers, who typically pay at least $60 a month, watch only a fraction of what they pay for — on average, a mere 13 percent of the 118 channels available to them. And the number of subscribers keeps growing.

The resiliency of cable is all the more remarkable because the Internet was supposed to change all things digital. Technology has led to more choices and lower prices for news and music as well as cellphone and landline minutes — not to mention computers, cameras, music players and phones themselves.

Yet here is a rare instance where Silicon Valley has failed to break a traditional media juggernaut. And not for lack of trying.

Technology companies keep insisting they will provide new low-cost ways to get video into the home, but so far their efforts have created more black boxes to stash under the TV, not real competition for cable that could bring prices down.

“A couple of years ago, there was a thesis that we were at the twilight of Comcast as the gatekeeper,” said Craig Moffett, a cable industry analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Company. “That thesis still titillates some. But technologically and economically, it’s probably not going to happen.”

So why hasn’t technology had a bigger impact? One answer is the alliance between cable companies and Hollywood producers of content to sell channels in bundles, rather than letting consumers pay only for the channels they want.

The producers of cable television content share $15 billion to $20 billion a year in fees from cable subscribers, roughly equal to the $20 billion they receive in advertising revenue, Mr. Moffett said.

Without those fees, the cable companies say, prices would go up.

“If each channel depended on individual consumers electing to pay individually for it, this would slash potential viewership and seriously hurt the ability of most channels to attract their current level of advertising dollars,” said Jenni Moyer, a spokeswoman for Comcast. “Lost ad revenue would have to be replaced by higher license fees.”

The industry says the digital era has brought its customers better image quality, more on-demand services and solid value through packages that combine cable, phone and Internet service. It also says consumers are actually getting more viewing value for their dollar, at least relative to inflation. The National Cable & Telecommunications Association says that from 1998 to 2006, the price consumers paid for each viewing hour was essentially flat.

The chief economist of the Federal Communications Commission, Gregory S. Crawford, disagrees, saying the industry is not factoring in the real cost of the programming that subscribers are watching. By his analysis, the increase has been around 50 percent from 1997 to 2005.

The F.C.C. and some politicians have been in a pitched battled with the cable industry, trying to get it voluntarily to offer so-called à la carte pricing. But cable companies insist that this is not economically feasible.

Kevin J. Martin, chairman of the F.C.C., said in an interview that since 1996, when Congress increased competition in telecommunications, prices have dropped for many other services.

“We’ve seen the opposite occur in the cable industry,” he said. “The dramatic increases in pricing we’ve seen are one of the most troubling issues from a consumer point of view.”

In 2007, average monthly revenue for each Cablevision subscriber was $75, up from $65 in 2005, according to SNL Kagan, a research company. At Time Warner it was $64, up from $54.50.

The cable industry has never felt the pricing pressures the music industry is feeling. The most obvious reason is that Internet speeds have not been fast enough to permit easy downloading of movies and other video material.

That is changing, though. People are viewing millions of videos online each month — albeit mostly short video clips, and not Hollywood movies. At the same time, the use of file-sharing tools like BitTorrent to download illegally popular movies and television shows is growing.


Another factor helping the cable industry is the difficulty of getting video from the computer onto the TV. That may not be a deterrent for those who have grown accustomed to watching movies on their laptop. But the last thing many consumers want to do is hook up wires or program a new box before sitting back to relax and watch TV.

In that sense, the lure of cable appears to have a sociological component. In a stress-filled life, cable television is easy to use.

“I work eight hours a day facing a computer. When I come home, the last thing I want to do is mess with another computer,” said Eric Yu, 24, a college student in San Francisco who pays around $80 a month for cable.

Mr. Yu said he watches only a handful of channels, including some in high definition like National Geographic. But to get them, he has to pay for a premium package. “I just pay the bill and try to forget about it,” he said. “It lessens the pain.”

Evelyn Tan, 22, a friend of Mr. Yu, takes a different approach. She pays Comcast $33 a month for Internet access and does not get cable television — but she does watch TV programming.

In fact, she watches ABC shows like “Desperate Housewives” and “Gray’s Anatomy,” which are free on the Web. When she wants to watch shows or movies that are not readily available online, she says she easily pirates them. “I would not pay for cable TV at all,” she said.

Broadcast networks like ABC, NBC and Fox are starting to put their programming on the Internet. But most cable channels do not because they depend on subscriber revenue.

Albert Cheng, executive vice president for digital media at the Disney-ABC Television Group, said the industry was trying to prepare for an era in which more video is watched on computers.

“It wasn’t lost on us what happened to the music industry,” Mr. Cheng said. Even though the audience is growing for ABC shows online, he said, this is supplementing, rather than undercutting, the television audience.

Enter Silicon Valley. It is trying to marry the content people want with their preferred setting for viewing it. There is a host of new set-top boxes and consumer devices aimed at bringing video and other content from the Internet to the TV.

Apple’s iTunes store offers 20,000 episodes of some 800 shows at typically $1.99 or $2.99 an episode, effectively creating an à la carte option. But consumers must either watch on their computers, wire the computer to the television or get an Apple TV.

This week Roku, a Silicon Valley start-up, began selling a $99 box that streams movies from Netflix straight to the TV. And this summer Hewlett-Packard is expected to introduce a device called the MediaSmart Connect, a sleek box connecting computer and TV that lets users watch Internet videos as well as rent or buy some 6,000 movies through CinemaNow, an H.P. partner.

But the box will also demonstrate how much of a gap still separates the computer screen and the TV screen.

Carlos Montalvo, vice president for marketing of connected entertainment at H.P., said the MediaSmart Connect and similar devices would not offer much of the programming provided over cable, or even programming that content companies allow to be delivered over the Internet to computers. The reason, he said, is that this content is licensed to be shown only on a computer, not delivered via computer to a TV.

“Simply because the technology is there doesn’t mean that the large opus of content — both television and movies — that is available on the two-foot screen can move automatically to the large-screen TV,” he said.



Rell, Blumenthal push to assure Internet privacy

Stamford ADVOCATE
By Brian Lockhart, Staff Writer
Published December 29 2007

Gov. M. Jodi Rell and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal want to make Internet privacy a priority in the 2008 legislative session.

The officials are proposing separate initiatives they hope will protect residents' personal information from being posted online for anyone with computer access.  Rell announced she wants to create a registry residents could join to remove some or all of their private information from Internet search sites, credit card solicitations and direct mail lists.

The registry would be modeled on the state's Do Not Call List, established in 2001 for residents seeking to limit unwanted telephone solicitations.

"Anyone who goes to white-pages.com or 411.com will find personal information published that many people may want protected," Rell said in a statement. "With a few clicks of the keyboard, anyone can find the age and gender of a person, where they live, where they work, birthdates and other identifying information. This is a safety and security issue - particularly for our elderly citizens who too often are targeted by scam artists."

Sites such as whitepages.com also provide links to sponsors who, for a fee, conduct more exhaustive searches, such as reunion.com and ussearch.com.

Rell said she was prompted to make the proposal in response to several complaints from concerned constituents.  State Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, whose Judiciary Committee is likely to view any proposal, said it is worth considering but questioned whether Rell's goal is realistic.  Web sites typically obtain personal data from public documents, he said.

"Voter registration cards have a lot of this information," McDonald said. "This presents some challenging legal hurdles that I'm not certain the governor has researched or resolved."

Rell spokesman Christopher Cooper acknowledged that the governor has asked the Department of Consumer Protection to research her proposal and has not secured a legal opinion.

"We're exploring this," he said. "There are a lot of public documents where that information always would be available."

Cooper said Rell is concerned that Internet companies may combine the information to create a one-stop profile.

"I think the real key thing is giving the individual some control over the kind of information out there about themselves," he said.

McDonald said he also wonders how Connecticut could legislate the activities of Internet sites managed in other states. 

University of Connecticut professor David Atkin, who has a background in communication technology and its impact on society, gave Rell credit for making Internet privacy a priority.

"I think probably (residents') hair would curl if they did see how much is out there," Atkin said. But he also questioned how far Connecticut could go to protect residents in the computer age.

"I don't know if it's a bit quixotic - like sticking a finger in a rising floodgate," Atkin said.

He said Rell's proposal could face some First Amendment hurdles because she is looking to restrict Internet access to public information.  Blumenthal agreed.

"There would have to be a great deal of care and attention to detail in this proposal," he said. Rell's plan is "vague on exactly what information she has in mind or how she would prevent it from being distributed and who would be prevented (from distributing it)," Blumenthal said.

He proposed allowing residents to join a registry to ban the tracking of their visits to Internet sites.

"There are means that are used to note sites people visit, where they make purchases and where they get information to see their spending habits and other characteristics. Marketers very much prize that information," Blumenthal said. "It is as if someone followed you from one store to another in the mall and then compiled that information and sold it without your consent."

He said his proposal, modeled on one used in Canada, will face far fewer legal hurdles than Rell's.

"It's not absolutely black and white, but one involves use of public information and the other involves creation of information as a result of shadowing or tracking someone on the Internet," Blumenthal said. "Tracking, following or monitoring someone without their consent raises many fewer free speech issues, if any."

Atkin said he hopes the proposals raise public awareness about issues pertaining to personal privacy and the Internet.

"Although concerns like 'identity theft' are now beginning to attract attention in the media, my sense is that the public is generally unaware of the extent to which their movements - financial and otherwise - are tracked in cyberspace and in the larger information society," Atkin said. "People need to be more militant about questioning private as well as public operatives about the need to record personal information from one's driver's license, etc. as part of any routine transaction."




Comcast blocks some Internet traffic

By PETER SVENSSON, AP Technology Writer
October 19, 2007

NEW YORK - Comcast Corp. actively interferes with attempts by some of its high-speed Internet subscribers to share files online, a move that runs counter to the tradition of treating all types of Net traffic equally.

The interference, which The Associated Press confirmed through nationwide tests, is the most drastic example yet of data discrimination by a U.S. Internet service provider. It involves company computers masquerading as those of its users.

If widely applied by other ISPs, the technology Comcast is using would be a crippling blow to the BitTorrent, eDonkey and Gnutella file-sharing networks. While these are mainly known as sources of copyright music, software and movies, BitTorrent in particular is emerging as a legitimate tool for quickly disseminating legal content.

The principle of equal treatment of traffic, called "Net Neutrality" by proponents, is not enshrined in law but supported by some regulations. Most of the debate around the issue has centered on tentative plans, now postponed, by large Internet carriers to offer preferential treatment of traffic from certain content providers for a fee.

Comcast's interference, on the other hand, appears to be an aggressive way of managing its network to keep file-sharing traffic from swallowing too much bandwidth and affecting the Internet speeds of other subscribers.

Comcast, the nation's largest cable TV operator and No. 2 Internet provider, would not specifically address the practice, but spokesman Charlie Douglas confirmed that it uses sophisticated methods to keep Net connections running smoothly.

"Comcast does not block access to any applications, including BitTorrent," he said.

Douglas would not specify what the company means by "access" — Comcast subscribers can download BitTorrent files without hindrance. Only uploads of complete files are blocked or delayed by the company, as indicated by AP tests.

But with "peer-to-peer" technology, users exchange files with each other, and one person's upload is another's download. That means Comcast's blocking of certain uploads has repercussions in the global network of file sharers.

Comcast's technology kicks in, though not consistently, when one BitTorrent user attempts to share a complete file with another user.

Each PC gets a message invisible to the user that looks like it comes from the other computer, telling it to stop communicating. But neither message originated from the other computer — it comes from Comcast. If it were a telephone conversation, it would be like the operator breaking into the conversation, telling each talker in the voice of the other: "Sorry, I have to hang up. Good bye."

Matthew Elvey, a Comcast subscriber in the San Francisco area who has noticed BitTorrent uploads being stifled, acknowledged that the company has the right to manage its network, but disapproves of the method, saying it appears to be deceptive.

"There's the wrong way of going about that and the right way," said Elvey, who is a computer consultant.

Comcast's interference affects all types of content, meaning that, for instance, an independent movie producer who wanted to distribute his work using BitTorrent and his Comcast connection could find that difficult or impossible — as would someone pirating music.

Internet service providers have long complained about the vast amounts of traffic generated by a small number of subscribers who are avid users of file-sharing programs. Peer-to-peer applications account for between 50 percent and 90 percent of overall Internet traffic, according to a survey this year by ipoque GmbH, a German vendor of traffic-management equipment.

"We have a responsibility to manage our network to ensure all our customers have the best broadband experience possible," Douglas said. "This means we use the latest technologies to manage our network to provide a quality experience for all Comcast subscribers."

The practice of managing the flow of Internet data is known as "traffic shaping," and is already widespread among Internet service providers. It usually involves slowing down some forms of traffic, like file-sharing, while giving others priority. Other ISPs have attempted to block some file-sharing application by so-called "port filtering," but that method is easily circumvented and now largely ineffective.

Comcast's approach to traffic shaping is different because of the drastic effect it has on one type of traffic — in some cases blocking it rather than slowing it down — and the method used, which is difficult to circumvent and involves the company falsifying network traffic.

The "Net Neutrality" debate erupted in 2005, when AT&T Inc. suggested it would like to charge some Web companies more for preferential treatment of their traffic. Consumer advocates and Web heavyweights like Google Inc. and Amazon Inc. cried foul, saying it's a bedrock principle of the Internet that all traffic be treated equally.

To get its acquisition of BellSouth Corp. approved by the Federal Communications Commission, AT&T agreed in late 2006 not to implement such plans or prioritize traffic based on its origin for two and a half years. However, it did not make any commitments not to prioritize traffic based on its type, which is what Comcast is doing.

The FCC's stance on traffic shaping is not clear. A 2005 policy statement says that "consumers are entitled to run applications and services of their choice," but that principle is "subject to reasonable network management." Spokeswoman Mary Diamond would not elaborate.

Free Press, a Washington-based public interest group that advocates Net Neutrality, opposes the kind of filtering applied by Comcast.

"We don't believe that any Internet provider should be able to discriminate, block or impair their consumers ability to send or receive legal content over the Internet," said Free Press spokeswoman Jen Howard.

Paul "Tony" Watson, a network security engineer at Google Inc. who has previously studied ways hackers could disrupt Internet traffic in manner similar to the method Comcast is using, said the cable company was probably acting within its legal rights.

"It's their network and they can do what they want," said Watson. "My concern is the precedent. In the past, when people got an ISP connection, they were getting a connection to the Internet. The only determination was price and bandwidth. Now they're going to have to make much more complicated decisions such as price, bandwidth, and what services I can get over the Internet."

Several companies have sprung up that rely on peer-to-peer technology, including BitTorrent Inc., founded by the creator of the BitTorrent software (which exists in several versions freely distributed by different groups and companies).

Ashwin Navin, the company's president and co-founder, confirmed that it has noticed interference from Comcast, in addition to some Canadian Internet service providers.

"They're using sophisticated technology to degrade service, which probably costs them a lot of money. It would be better to see them use that money to improve service," Navin said, noting that BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer applications are a major reason consumers sign up for broadband.

BitTorrent Inc. announced Oct. 9 that it was teaming up with online video companies to use its technology to distribute legal content.

Other companies that rely on peer-to-peer technology, and could be affected if Comcast decides to expand the range of applications it filters, include Internet TV service Joost, eBay Inc.'s Skype video-conferencing program and movie download appliance Vudu. There is no sign that Comcast is hampering those services.

Comcast subscriber Robb Topolski, a former software quality engineer at Intel Corp., started noticing the interference when trying to upload with file-sharing programs Gnutella and eDonkey early this year.

In August, Topolski began to see reports on Internet forum DSLreports.com from other Comcast users with the same problem. He now believes that his home town of Hillsboro, Ore., was a test market for the technology that was later widely applied in other Comcast service areas.

Topolski agrees that Comcast has a right to manage its network and slow down traffic that affects other subscribers, but disapproves of their method.

"By Comcast not acknowledging that they do this at all, there's no way to report any problems with it," Topolski said.


Dodd To Block Bill That Would Protect Telecoms;  Senator Says AT&T, Others Are Complicit In Spying Programs 
DAY
By Ted Mann     
Published on 10/19/2007 


Sen. Chris Dodd announced Thursday that he will block a Senate bill aimed at reforming the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, saying he is concerned that the measure grants immunity to telecommunications companies that participated in a federal warrantless-surveillance program.

Dodd, a Democrat of Connecticut and a candidate for the party's presidential nomination, made the announcement just hours after the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee reportedly reached a deal with the Bush administration on the bill.  The compromise would shield telecom companies from civil liability for their participation in administration surveillance programs on the grounds that they believed them to be legal. Critics of the warrantless surveillance, including Dodd, have questioned the program's legality.

“The president has no right to secretly eavesdrop on the conversations and activities of law-abiding American citizens, and anyone who has aided and abetted him in these illegal activities should be held accountable,” Dodd said Thursday in a written statement. “It is unconscionable that such a basic right has been violated, and that the president is the perpetrator.

“I will do everything in my power to stop Congress from shielding this president's agenda of secrecy, deception and blatant unlawfulness.”

Dodd announced his intention to block the FISA reform using a power afforded to individual senators, and often used in secret: the placement of a “hold” that blocks a full Senate vote on a bill until it is lifted.  The senator alerted Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., of his decision in writing on Thursday, his office said, even as the Intelligence Committee prepared to begin a markup of the FISA bill. The bill must clear both the Intelligence and Judiciary committees before reaching the Senate floor.

The move set off another constitutional showdown between President Bush, who has threatened to veto any bill that does not include liability protection for the telecom industry, and Democratic lawmakers who are concerned that the administration's surveillance practices erode civil liberties.  Rather than wait until the measure hit the floor, as is customary, Dodd went on the offense and sent personal e-mails announcing his intention to thwart the bill — despite support for the measure from his own party.

By blocking the bill, Dodd said he was making good on his promise to restore constitutional safeguards he believes have been eroded since Bush took office.  Dodd's hold may not even be necessary to stop the bill, as Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, also criticized the compromise with the White House Thursday.

Discussing the FISA reforms during confirmation hearings for Michael Mukasey, Bush's nominee for attorney general, Leahy said that “the Intelligence Committee is about to cave on this,” The Hill newspaper reported.

The administration's leaders knew their surveillance programs were “illegal conduct,” the paper quoted Leahy as saying, “and that there is no saving grace for the president to say, 'Well, I was acting with authority.' Otherwise there wouldn't be so much pressure on us to immunize illegal conduct by either people acting within our government or within the private industry.”

Top Republicans predicted that the telecom industry would ultimately win legal protection from lawsuits for helping the administration track terrorists.

“I predict Congress will give them immunity,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, which has oversight over the bill in that chamber. The telecommunications industry should be applauded for helping intelligence agencies protect the country, Smith said.

But Dodd won instant praise from civil liberties groups, which have alleged in federal courts around the country that AT&T, Verizon and other telephone companies violated the privacy rights of customers by participating in the surveillance program without a court warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, as required by law.

Groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy-rights group based in San Francisco, and the American Civil Liberties Union say the telecom giants illegally participated in the president's warrantless-eavesdropping program at the expense of the public's constitutional rights.

“Senator Dodd is clearly on the right side of this issue,” said Caroline Fredrickson, executive director of the ACLU's Washington legislative office. “It would be wrong for the Senate to legalize warrantless surveillance of Americans on American soil. It would be wrong for the Senate to let administration officials off the hook for illegally spying on Americans. It would be wrong for the U.S. Senate to let telecom companies off the hook for selling private information to the government.”


Information superhighway indeed!  More like "power play?"
Agency urges caution on net neutrality
Associated Press
June 27, 2007

WASHINGTON - The Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday urged policymakers to proceed cautiously on any regulation of high-speed Internet traffic.
 
The agency issued a report addressing the controversial subject of network neutrality, which is the notion that all online traffic should be treated equally by Internet service providers.

The issue pits consumer groups and content providers such as Google Inc. against large telecommunications companies, such as AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp. The latter group wants the option of charging customers more for transmitting certain content, including live video, faster or more reliably than other data.

FTC Chairwoman Deborah Platt Majoras said that without evidence of "market failure or demonstrated consumer harm, policy makers should be particularly hesitant to enact new regulation in this area." The Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice have jurisdiction over high-speed Internet access, while Congress has considered legislation that would mandate network neutrality.

The agency also said that certain practices that would discriminate among Internet traffic, such as prioritizing some data or providing exclusive deals to content providers, "can benefit consumers."




PRISM TIMES FOR LEAKERS???  N.S.A. seen through the "prism" of newsreports;
CAUCASUS MILITARY ATTACK AND THE ATTACK OF THE BOTNET BEGINS...OTHER MILITARY THREATS;  SPAM AT FIRST THEN IT GETS POLITICAL; Crooks and Pirates....
The types of Internet attack, according to I-BBC report:  Denial of service, hacking, espionage (China) and online financial fraud (Brazil).  Some compromised locations (click here).
How about "Anonymous?"  Trial over for former Pfc.


No Johnny Depp, he.
Snowden to Brazil?
RIO DE JANEIRO — National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden wrote in a lengthy “open letter to the people of Brazil” that he’s been inspired by the global debate ignited by his release of thousands of National Security Agency documents, and that the NSA’s culture of indiscriminate global espionage “is collapsing.”

In the letter, obtained on Tuesday by The Associated Press, Snowden commended the Brazilian government for its strong stand against US spying.

He said he’d be willing to help the South American nation investigate NSA spying on its soil, but could not fully participate in doing so without being granted political asylum, because the US “government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak...”  From the NTPOST 12-17-13.


N.S.A. Phone Surveillance Is Lawful, Federal Judge Rules
By MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT and ADAM LIPTAK, NYTIMES
December 27, 2013

WASHINGTON — A federal judge in New York on Friday ruled that the National Security Agency’s program that is systematically keeping phone records of all Americans is lawful, creating a conflict among lower courts and increasing the likelihood that the issue will be resolved by the Supreme Court.

In the ruling, Judge William H. Pauley III, of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, granted a motion filed by the federal government to dismiss a challenge to the program brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, which had tried to halt the program.

Judge Pauley said that protections under the Fourth Amendment do not apply to records held by third parties, like phone companies.

“This blunt tool only works because it collects everything,” Judge Pauley said in the ruling.

“While robust discussions are underway across the nation, in Congress and at the White House, the question for this court is whether the government’s bulk telephony metadata program is lawful. This court finds it is,” he added.

A spokesman for the Justice Department said, “We are pleased the court found the N.S.A.'s bulk telephony metadata collection program to be lawful.” He declined to comment further.

Jameel Jaffer, the A.C.L.U. deputy legal director, said the group intended to appeal. “We are extremely disappointed with this decision, which misinterprets the relevant statutes, understates the privacy implications of the government’s surveillance and misapplies a narrow and outdated precedent to read away core constitutional protections,” he said.

The ruling comes nearly two weeks after Judge Richard J. Leon of Federal District Court for the District of Columbia said the program most likely violated the Fourth Amendment. As part of that ruling, Judge Leon ordered the government to stop collecting data on two plaintiffs who brought the case against the government.

In his ruling, Judge Leon said that the program “infringes on ‘that degree of privacy’ that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment,” which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.

While Judge Leon ordered the government to stop collecting data on the two plaintiffs, he stayed the ruling, giving the government time to appeal the decision.

Judge Pauley, whose courtroom is just blocks from where the World Trade Center towers stood, endorsed arguments made in recent months by senior government officials — including the former F.B.I. director Robert S. Mueller III — that the program may have caught the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers had it been in place before the attacks.

In the months before Sept. 11, the N.S.A. had intercepted several calls made to an Al Qaeda safe house in Yemen. But because the N.S.A. was not tracking all phone calls made from the United States, it did not detect that the calls were coming from one of the hijackers who was living in San Diego.

“Telephony metadata would have furnished the missing information and might have permitted the N.S.A. to notify the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the fact that al-Mihdhar was calling the Yemeni safe house from inside the United States,” Judge Pauley said, referring to the hijacker, Khalid al-Mihdhar.

Judge Pauley said that the “government learned from its mistake and adapted to confront a new enemy: a terror network capable of orchestrating attacks across the world.”

The government, he added, “launched a number of countermeasures, including a bulk telephony metadata collection program — a wide net that could find and isolate gossamer contacts among suspected terrorists in an ocean of seemingly disconnected data.”

The main dispute between Judge Pauley and Judge Leon was over how to interpret a 1979 Supreme Court decision, Smith v. Maryland, in which the court said a robbery suspect had no reasonable expectation that his right to privacy extended to the numbers dialed from his phone.

“Smith’s bedrock holding is that an individual has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information provided to third parties,” Judge Pauley wrote.

But Judge Leon said in his ruling that advances in technology and suggestions in concurring opinions in later Supreme Court decisions had undermined Smith. The government’s ability to construct a mosaic of information from countless records, he said, called for a new analysis of how to apply the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable government searches.

Judge Pauley disagreed. “The collection of breathtaking amounts of information unprotected by the Fourth Amendment does not transform that sweep into a Fourth Amendment search,” he wrote.

He acknowledged that “five justices appeared to be grappling with how the Fourth Amendment applies to technological advances” in a pair of 2012 concurrences in United States v. Jones. In that decision, the court unanimously rejected the use of a GPS device to track the movements of a drug suspect over a month. The majority in the 2012 case said that attaching the device violated the defendant’s property rights.

In one of the concurrences, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that “it may be necessary to reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties.”

But Judge Pauley wrote that the 2012 decision did not overrule the one from 1979. “The Supreme Court,” he said, “has instructed lower courts not to predict whether it would overrule a precedent even if its reasoning has been supplanted by later cases.”

As for changes in technology, he wrote, customers’ “relationship with their telecommunications providers has not changed and is just as frustrating.”


Federal Judge Rules Against N.S.A. Phone Data Program
NYTIMES
By CHARLIE SAVAGE
December 16, 2013

WASHINGTON — A Federal District Court judge ruled on Monday that the National Security Agency program that is systematically keeping records of all Americans’ phone calls most likely violates the Constitution, and he ordered the government to stop collecting data on two plaintiffs’ personal calls and destroy the records of their calling history.

In a 68-page ruling, Judge Richard J. Leon of the District of Columbia called the program’s technology “almost Orwellian” and suggested that James Madison, the author of the Constitution, would be “aghast” to learn that the government was encroaching on liberty in such a way.

“I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary’ invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval,” Judge Leon wrote. “Surely, such a program infringes on ‘that degree of privacy’ that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment.”

Judge Leon stayed his injunction “in light of the significant national security interests at stake in this case and the novelty of the constitutional issues,” allowing the government time to appeal it, a matter that he said could take some six months.

Vanee Vines, a spokeswoman for the N.S.A., had no immediate comment on the ruling by Judge Leon, a 2002 appointee of President George W. Bush.

The ruling is the first successful legal challenge brought against the program since it was revealed in June after leaks by the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden. It was brought by several plaintiffs led by Larry Klayman, a conservative public-interest lawyer. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a similar lawsuit in the Southern District of New York.

In a statement distributed by the journalist Glenn Greenwald, who was a recipient of leaked documents from Mr. Snowden and who wrote the first article about the bulk data collection, Mr. Snowden hailed the ruling.

“I acted on my belief that the N.S.A.'s mass surveillance programs would not withstand a constitutional challenge, and that the American public deserved a chance to see these issues determined by open courts,” Mr. Snowden said. “Today, a secret program authorized by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans’ rights. It is the first of many.”

Though long and detailed, the ruling is not a final judgment, but rather a preliminary injunction to stop the data collection while the plaintiffs pursued the case. It turned on whether there was a substantial likelihood that they would ultimately succeed and whether they would suffer substantial harm in the meantime.

But Judge Leon left little doubt about his view.

“The question that I will ultimately have to answer when I reach the merits of this case someday is whether people have a reasonable expectation of privacy that is violated when the government, without any basis whatsoever to suspect them of any wrongdoing, collects and stores for five years their telephony metadata for purposes of subjecting it to high-tech querying and analysis without any case-by-case judicial approval,” he wrote. “For the many reasons set forth above, it is significantly likely that on that day, I will answer that question in plaintiffs’ favor.”

In laying out his conclusion, Judge Leon rejected the Obama administration’s argument that a 1979 case, Smith v. Maryland, meant that there is no Fourth Amendment protections for call metadata — information like the numbers called and received and the date, time and duration of the call, but not the content.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which secretly approved the N.S.A. program after hearing arguments from only the Justice Department, has maintained that the 1979 decision is a controlling precedent that shields the program from Fourth Amendment review. But Judge Leon said the scope of the program and the way people use phones today distinguishes the N.S.A. data collection from the type at issue in that case.

“Put simply, people in 2013 have an entirely different relationship with phones than they did 34 years ago,” he wrote. “Records that once would have revealed a few scattered tiles of information about a person now reveal an entire mosaic — a vibrant and constantly updating picture of the person’s life.”

Judge Leon also emphasized that he was unpersuaded by the government’s claims that the program served the public interest, pointedly noting that it failed to cite “a single instance in which analysis of the N.S.A.'s bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack, or otherwise aided the government in achieving any objective that was time-sensitive.”



From the NYTIMES - accurate, we hope...

The dread pirate (Johnny Depp) Roberts?
...The question is, can anyone really stamp out the Dread Pirates? Like the rest of the Internet, the Dark Web is being shaped and reshaped by technological innovation.

First, there was Tor, short for The Onion Router, a suite of software and network computers that enables online anonymity. Edward J. Snowden used Tor to leak government secrets, and the network has been important for dissidents in places like Iran and Egypt. Of course, drug dealers and gunrunners prefer anonymity, too.

Then there is bitcoin, the cryptocurrency that has been skyrocketing in value lately. Bitcoin is basically virtual cash — anonymous, untraceable currency stuffed into a mobile wallet. The kind of thing that comes in handy when buying contraband...FULL STORY HERE.


The N.S.A. May Have Your Address Book
By ANDREW ROSENTHAL, NYTIMES
October 15, 2013, 12:46 pm

I long ago lost track of the number of times the Obama administration has assured everyone that its vacuum-cleaner approach to electronic surveillance does not threaten the privacy or the rights of Americans. In her column today, Sylvie Kauffman of the French newspaper Le Monde, one of our new Op-Ed contributors, recalled this quote from President Obama: “With respect to the Internet and e-mails, this does not apply to U.S. citizens and it does not apply to people living in the United States.”

But each new disclosure, most based on the trove of documents leaked by Edward Snowden, makes assurances like that increasingly hollow.

Bart Gellman and Ashkan Soltani wrote today in The Washington Post about a previously undisclosed program in which the National Security Agency’s Special Source Operations Branch (a wonderfully le Carré-ish name) is sweeping up hundreds of millions of contact lists from e-mail and instant messaging accounts around the world each year.

The article said that the “collection takes place overseas” — the usual flimsy excuse the spy agencies use for conducting surveillance on pretty much anyone they choose — but “two senior U.S. intelligence officials acknowledged that it sweeps in the contacts of many Americans.”

On a single day in 2012, The Post said, the N.S.A. “collected 444,743 email address books from Yahoo, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33, 697 from Gmail and 22,811 from other providers.” In other words, if you email or chat with someone outside the United States, the chances are pretty good that your contact list has been swept up in the dragnet.

Spokesmen for the eavesdropping organizations reassured The Post that we shouldn’t bother our heads with all of this. They have “checks and balances built into our tools,” said one intelligence official.

Since the Snowden leaks began, the administration has adopted an interesting definition of that term. It used to be that “checks and balances” referred to one branch of the government checking and balancing the other branches – like the Supreme Court deciding whether laws are constitutional.

Now the N.S.A., the C.I.A. and the White House use the term to refer to a secret organization reviewing the actions it has taken and deciding in secret by itself whether they were legal and constitutional.

The Post quoted an official who said that analysts “may not search within the contacts database or distribute information from it unless they can ‘make the case that something in there is a valid foreign intelligence target in and of itself.’” But the article pointed out that the N.S.A. mostly has to make that case only to itself or other parts of the executive branch. Sometimes, it goes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — in secret, at hearings with no opposing argument.

So assurances that Americans need not worry about their contact lists being sucked up into the N.S.A. computers because officials would never think of abusing that vast database to violate our rights are about as believable as James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, telling a Senate committee last March that the intelligence agencies were “not wittingly” collecting vast amounts of data on Americans’ phone calls and Internet communications.

Mr. Clapper said later that it was the “least untruthful thing” he could have said, but formally apologized to the Senate because his statement was just flatly false.


C.I.A. Warning on Snowden in ’09 Said to Slip Through the Cracks
By ERIC SCHMITT, NYTIMES
October 10, 2013

WASHINGTON — Just as Edward J. Snowden was preparing to leave Geneva and a job as a C.I.A. technician in 2009, his supervisor wrote a derogatory report in his personnel file, noting a distinct change in the young man’s behavior and work habits, as well as a troubling suspicion.

The C.I.A. suspected that Mr. Snowden was trying to break into classified computer files to which he was not authorized to have access, and decided to send him home, according to two senior American officials.

But the red flags went unheeded. Mr. Snowden left the C.I.A. to become a contractor for the National Security Agency, and four years later he leaked thousands of classified documents. The supervisor’s cautionary note and the C.I.A.’s suspicions apparently were not forwarded to the N.S.A. or its contractors, and surfaced only after federal investigators began scrutinizing Mr. Snowden’s record once the documents began spilling out, intelligence and law enforcement officials said.

“It slipped through the cracks,” one veteran law enforcement official said of the report.

Spokesmen for the C.I.A., N.S.A. and F.B.I. all declined to comment on the precise nature of the warning and why it was not forwarded, citing the investigation into Mr. Snowden’s activities.

Half a dozen law enforcement, intelligence and Congressional officials with direct knowledge of the supervisor’s report were contacted for this article. All of the officials agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity because of the continuing criminal investigation.

In hindsight, officials said, the report by the C.I.A. supervisor and the agency’s suspicions might have been the first serious warnings of the disclosures to come, and the biggest missed opportunity to review Mr. Snowden’s top-secret clearance or at least put his future work at the N.S.A. under much greater scrutiny.

“The weakness of the system was if derogatory information came in, he could still keep his security clearance and move to another job, and the information wasn’t passed on,” said a Republican lawmaker who has been briefed on Mr. Snowden’s activities.

Mr. Snowden now lives in Moscow, where he surfaced this week for the first time since receiving temporary asylum from the Russian government over the summer. On Wednesday night, he met with four American whistle-blowers who have championed his case in the United States and who presented him with an award they said was given annually by a group of retired C.I.A. officers to members of the intelligence community “who exhibit integrity in intelligence.”

In a television interview, one member of the group, Jesselyn Radack, a former Justice Department official, said that Mr. Snowden “looked great.”

“He seemed very centered and brilliant,” Ms. Radack said. “Smart, funny, very engaged. I thought he looked very well.”

Another of the whistle-blowers, Coleen Rowley, a former F.B.I. agent who testified before the Senate about missteps in the agency’s investigation of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said, “We talked about prior examples of great people in history that had themselves been under this kind of pressure, and he’s remarkably centered.”

On Thursday, Mr. Snowden’s father, Lon, arrived in Moscow to see his son after assurances from Mr. Snowden’s legal aide that there would be “no complications” in organizing a meeting with his father. But in a telephone interview later in the day, Lon Snowden said he had not yet been able to meet with his son.

“I can’t tell you the where and the when,” the elder Mr. Snowden said. “I have no idea. I hope something happens.”

It is difficult to tell what would have happened had N.S.A. supervisors been made aware of the warning the C.I.A. issued Mr. Snowden in what is called a “derog” in federal personnel policy parlance.

“The spectrum of things in your personnel file could be A to Z,” said Charles B. Sowell, who until June was a top official in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence working on improving the security clearance process. “There’s a chance that that information could be missed and might not be surfaced.”

Mr. Sowell, now a senior vice president at Salient Federal Solutions, an information technology company in Fairfax, Va., emphasized that he left the government before Mr. Snowden’s disclosures became public.

Intelligence and law enforcement officials say the report could have affected the assignments Mr. Snowden was given, first as an N.S.A. contractor with the computer company Dell in Japan and later with Booz Allen Hamilton in Hawaii, as well as the level of supervision he received.

The electronic systems the C.I.A. and N.S.A. use to manage the security clearances for its full-time and contracted employees are intended to track major rule-based infractions, not less serious complaints about personal behavior, a senior law enforcement official said. Thus, lesser derogatory information about Mr. Snowden was unlikely to have been given to the N.S.A. unless it was specifically requested. As a result of Mr. Snowden’s case, two law enforcement officials said, that flaw has since been corrected and such information is now being pushed forward.

The revelation of the C.I.A.’s derogatory report comes as Congress is examining the process of granting security clearances, particularly by USIS, a company that has performed 700,000 yearly security checks for the government. Among the individuals the company vetted were Mr. Snowden and Aaron Alexis, who the police say shot and killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard last month.

“We have a compelling need to monitor those trusted with this sensitive information on a more regular basis and with broader sets of data,” said Kathy Pherson, a former C.I.A. security officer who belongs to an intelligence industry task force that is expected to issue a report on the matter by year’s end.

While it is unclear what exactly the supervisor’s negative report said, it coincides with a period of Mr. Snowden’s life in 2009 when he was a prolific online commenter on government and security issues, complained about civil surveillance and, according to a friend, was suffering “a crisis of conscience.”

Mr. Snowden got an information technology job at the C.I.A. in mid-2006. Despite his lack of formal credentials, he gained a top-secret clearance and a choice job under State Department cover in Geneva. Little is known about what his duties were there.

Mavanee Anderson, who worked with Mr. Snowden in Geneva and also had a high security clearance, said in an article in The Chattanooga Times Free Press of Tennessee in June that when they worked from 2007 through early 2009, Mr. Snowden “was already experiencing a crisis of conscience of sorts.”

“Anyone smart enough to be involved in the type of work he does, who is privy to the type of information to which he was privy, will have at least moments like these,” she said.

Later, Mr. Snowden would tell the newspaper The Guardian that he was shocked and saddened by some of the techniques C.I.A. operatives in Geneva used to recruit sources. “Much of what I saw in Geneva really disillusioned me about how my government functions and what its impact is in the world,” he told The Guardian. “I realized that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good.”

There were other signs that have since drawn investigators’ attention. In early 2009, someone using Mr. Snowden’s screen name expressed outrage at government officials who leaked information to the news media, telling a friend in an Internet chat that leakers “should be shot.”

“They’re just like WikiLeaks,” Mr. Snowden — or someone identified as him from his screen name, “TheTrueHOOHA,” and other details — wrote in January 2009 about an article in The New York Times on secret exchanges between Israel and the United States about Iran’s nuclear program.

He later told The Guardian he was disappointed that President Obama “advanced the very policies that I thought would be reined in.”

“I got hardened,” he said.

Michael S. Schmidt contributed reporting from Washington, and Andrew Roth from Moscow.


Beating NSA at its own game: Tips for avoiding government scrutiny
DAY
By RAPHAEL SATTER Associated Press
Article published Jun 23, 2013

London - Phone call logs, credit card records, emails, Skype chats, Facebook message, and more: The precise nature of the NSA's sweeping surveillance apparatus has yet to be confirmed.
But given the revelations spilling out into the media, there hardly seems a single aspect of daily life that isn't somehow subject to spying by the U.S. agency.
Here are some basic tips to avoid having your personal life turned into an intelligence report:

ENCRYPT YOUR EMAILS

Emails sent across the Web are like postcards. In some cases, they're readable by anyone standing between you and its recipient. That can include your webmail company, your Internet service provider and whoever is tapped into the fiber optic cable passing your message around the globe - not to mention a parallel set of observers on the recipient's side of the world.

To beat the snoops, experts recommend encryption, which scrambles messages in transit, so they're unreadable to anyone trying to intercept them. Techniques vary, but a popular one is called PGP, short for "Pretty Good Privacy." PGP is effective enough that the U.S. government tried to block its export in the mid-1990s, arguing that it was so powerful it should be classed as a weapon.
Disadvantages: Encryption can be clunky. And to work, both parties have to be using it.

USE TOR

Like emails, your travels around the Internet can easily be tracked by anyone standing between you and the site you're trying to reach. TOR, short for "The Onion Router," helps make your traffic anonymous by bouncing it through a network of routers before spitting it back out on the other side.

Each trip through a router provides another layer of protection, thus the onion reference.

Originally developed by the U.S. military, TOR is believed to work pretty well if you want to hide your traffic from, let's say, eavesdropping by your local Internet service provider. And criminals' use of TOR has so frustrated Japanese police that experts there recently recommended restricting its use. But it's worth noting that TOR may be ineffective against governments equipped with the powers of global surveillance.
Disadvantages: Browsing the web with TOR can be painfully slow. And some services, like file swapping protocols used by many Internet users to share videos and music, aren't compatible.

DITCH THE PHONE

Your everyday cell phone has all kinds of privacy problems. In Britain, cell phone safety was so poor that crooked journalists made a cottage industry out of eavesdropping on their victims' voicemails. In general, proprietary software, lousy encryption, hard-to-delete data and other security issues make a cell phone a bad bet for storing information you'd rather not share.
An even bigger issue is that cell phones almost always follow their owners around, carefully logging the location of every call, something which could effectively give the NSA a daily digest of your everyday life. Security researcher Jacob Appelbaum has described cell phones as tracking devices that also happen to make phone calls. If you're not happy with the idea of an intelligence agency following your footsteps across town, leave the phone at home.

Disadvantages: Not having a cell phone handy when you really need it. Other alternatives, like using "burner" phones paid for anonymously and discarded after use, rapidly become expensive.

CUT UP YOUR CREDIT CARDS

The Wall Street Journal says NSA is monitoring American credit card records in addition to phone calls. So stick to cash, or, if you're more adventurous, use electronic currencies to move your money around.
Disadvantages: Credit cards are a mainstay of the world payment system, so washing your hands of plastic money is among the most difficult moves you can make. In any case, some cybercurrency systems offer only limited protection from government snooping and many carry significant risks.

The value of Bitcoin, one of the better-known forms of electronic cash, has oscillated wildly, while users of another popular online currency, Liberty Reserve, were left out of pocket after the company behind it was busted by international law enforcement.

DON'T KEEP YOUR DATA IN AMERICA OR WITH AMERICAN COMPANIES

U.S. companies are subject to U.S. law, including the Patriot Act, whose interpretations are classified. Although the exact parameters of the PRISM data mining program revealed by the Guardian and The Washington Post remain up for debate, what we do know is that a variety of law enforcement officials - not just at the NSA - can secretly demand your electronic records without a warrant through an instrument known as a National Security Letter. Such silent requests are made by the thousands every year.

If you don't like the sound of PRISM, National Security Letters, or anything to do with the Patriot Act, your best bet is to park your data in a European country, where privacy protections tend to be stronger.
Disadvantages: Silicon Valley's Internet service providers tend to be better and cheaper than their foreign counterparts. What's more, there's no guarantee that European spy agencies don't have NSA-like surveillance arrangements with their own companies. When hunting for a safe place to stash your data, look for smaller countries with robust human rights records. Iceland, long a hangout for WikiLeaks activists, might be a good bet.

STEER CLEAR OF MALICIOUS SOFTWARE

If they can't track it, record it, or intercept it, an increasing number of spies aren't shy about hacking their way in to steal your data outright. Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker, warned the Guardian that his agency had been on a worldwide binge of cyberattacks.

"We hack everyone everywhere," he said.

Former officials don't appear to contradict him. Ex-NSA chief Michael Hayden described it as "commuting to where the information is stored and extracting the information from the adversaries' network." In a recent interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, he boasted that "we are the best at doing it. Period."

Malicious software used by hackers can be extremely hard to spot. But installing an antivirus program, avoiding attachments, frequently changing passwords, dodging suspicious websites, creating a firewall, and always making sure your software is up to date is a good start.

Disadvantages: Keeping abreast of all the latest updates and warily scanning emails for viruses can be exhausting.

SO WILL ALL THIS KEEP MY DATA SAFE FROM SPYING?

Safer, maybe.

Using anonymity services and encryption "simply make it harder, but not impossible for a dedicated investigator to link your activities together and identify you," Ashkan Soltani, an independent privacy and security researcher, said in an email.

"Someone can always find you - just depends on how motivated they are (and how much information they have access to)."



While N.S.A. Leaker Stays in Hiding, Russian TV Builds a Pedestal for Him

By ELLEN BARRY, NYTIMES
June 28, 2013


MOSCOW — While Edward J. Snowden has remained mysteriously hidden from sight during his visit to Russia this week, Russian television has been making him a hero.

On programs that were hastily arranged and broadcast on the two largest federal channels, he was compared to the dissident Andrei Sakharov, to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and to Max Otto von Stirlitz, a dashing fictional double agent from Soviet television. He was described as “the man who declared war on Big Brother and got stuck in the transit zone,” and as “a soldier in the information war, who fights, of course, on the side of Russia, or maybe the side of China.”

For as long as he remains here, one program’s host said, “the pulse of world history is beating here in Moscow.”

Since Mr. Snowden landed in Moscow on Sunday, the likelihood that he will remain in Russia has steadily crept up.

Though President Vladimir V. Putin said this week that “the sooner he chooses his final destination, the better for us and for him,” Mr. Snowden shows no sign of leaving.

The chance that Russia will turn him in has all but vanished, as evidenced by Thursday’s television programs, which were almost certainly produced under Kremlin orders and have a powerful effect on public opinion. Officials here have signaled an openness to granting him political asylum, and each passing day would seem to narrow Mr. Snowden’s options, giving the United States time to negotiate with Ecuador and Venezuela, other countries that may grant him asylum.

“I think the main thing for him right now is to guarantee his security,” said Igor Korotchenko, a former specialist in Russia’s top military command who now edits the magazine National Defense. “Already he cannot live his former life. The United States of America will look for him all over the world in order to punish him as an example to potential traitors and so that the political elite in Washington will be satisfied. They want his blood.”

“Whose protection does he want: Ecuador, Venezuela or Russia? It is hard to judge right now,” Mr. Korotchenko said. He added, “In Russia, he will find a country capable of guaranteeing his security because I think in Latin America the United States would find much opportunity to solve the problem, so to say.”

So far, there is no consensus among Russian elites on whether Russia should grant Mr. Snowden asylum, a step that would advertise the country, cold-war-style, as a haven for Western dissidents. Russia’s upper house of Parliament has invited him to testify about the impact of spying by the National Security Agency on Russian citizens, and about the activities of giant Internet companies that may have shared information with the agency.

Though Mr. Putin has made it a central goal to challenge American dominance in world affairs, the potential cost of granting Mr. Snowden asylum has come into sharper focus over the past few days. Russia will host President Obama in September, and would be stung if the visit were called off. Powerful figures like Igor I. Sechin, who as chairman of Rosneft has struck a series of bold deals with Western oil companies, may also be worried about the potential repercussions. Mr. Putin and many of those around him are former intelligence officers, and they may see Mr. Snowden as a traitor, and an unpredictable player.

Igor M. Bunin, the director of the Center for Political Technologies in Moscow, said that by far the best solution for Moscow would be to send Mr. Snowden to another country, “to Ecuador, Venezuela, to Cuba, wherever.”

“Snowden is like a hot meat pie in your hands: even if you want to eat it very much, it’s very hot and maybe it’s better to throw it on the floor,” Mr. Bunin said. “To make a deal with America to turn Snowden over would be a slap in the face of public opinion because he is already a hero in Russia and part of the West. On the other hand, not turning him over destroys your relationship with America.”

Unlike Ecuador and Venezuela, Russia has avoided staking out a position on political asylum for Mr. Snowden, and in his remarks at a news conference on Tuesday, Mr. Putin said he hoped not to become personally involved.

But on Wednesday the Kremlin apparently decided to hastily arrange two hourlong talk shows devoted to the case. Each focused less on Mr. Snowden himself than on the flaws of the United States and the threat posed by its intelligence apparatus. Aleksandr I. Shumilin, a political analyst who was invited to appear, said he had turned down the request, sensing that the result would be a “mighty propagandistic blow: not a shot from a pistol, but a shot from a cannon.”

One program featured a panel of legendary counterintelligence agents, including a man famous for meeting with Lee Harvey Oswald a few months before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Their discussion often turned to the subject of American spying on Russia. Mr. Korotchenko, one of the guests, made the case that most of the major American consulting firms in Moscow were actually “structural units of American intelligence,” including the National Security Agency.

“The N.S.A. is a global electronic vacuum cleaner, which monitors everything,” he said “Look at the top two floors of the new building of the U.S. Embassy — it’s a huge antenna, which listens to the Moscow air.”

Similar themes were sounded a few hours later on Channel 1, when the pro-Kremlin analyst Vyacheslav A. Nikonov warned that the United States, through its dominance over the Internet, could “strongly undermine the security of other states.”

“The Internet is an invention of the U.S. Ministry of Defense,” Mr. Nikonov said. “Where is the Internet? Physically, it is in the United States. What is the Internet? It’s an American nongovernmental organization which is, of course, connected with the intelligence services of the United States.”

Many speakers argued that Mr. Snowden’s case should neutralize, once and for all, Western criticism of Mr. Putin’s domestic policies. Convincing Russian citizens of this point is especially crucial now, when Russian courts have brought serious charges against several dozen Russians who led or took part in a wave of antigovernment protests.

Aleksandr Prokhanov, a nationalist ideologue who has emerged as a leader in conservative thought, called Mr. Snowden “a soldier of the information war,” stripping the United States of its right to criticize other countries.

“For Americans, human rights is a powerful tool for influencing other countries,” Mr. Prokhanov said. “A country ‘violates human rights,’ and its president becomes a devil incarnate, the society destabilizes, the human rights issue is followed by attack planes, and the country is wiped out from the face of the earth.”

Others speakers, like Veronika Krasheninnikova, urged Russians to rally around Mr. Snowden, noting the 60th anniversary this month of the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, who were convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage.

“I remind you that the death penalty still exists in the United States, so it’s not something impossible,” Ms. Krasheninnikova said. “One has to remember it.”

Nikolai V. Zlobin, a political analyst and writer who often appears on Russian television to articulate an American perspective and was invited to appear on both shows, said he believed Russian leaders were weighing the cost and benefit of different outcomes to Mr. Snowden’s case. In the end, he said, they can secure a propaganda coup without the participation of Mr. Snowden himself, and without granting him political amnesty.

“What happens now doesn’t matter because public opinion in Russia has already been shaped. America is lying, dishonest, and has double standards,” Mr. Zlobin said. “It’s a Christmas gift. They are trying to find the most deft way to use it, but it is unexpected, and they don’t know how to handle it.”



N.S.A. Leaker Leaves Hong Kong on Flight to Moscow
By KEITH BRADSHER and ELLEN BARRY, NYTIMES
June 23, 2013

HONG KONG — The Hong Kong government announced on Sunday afternoon that it had allowed the departure from its territory of Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who has acknowledged disclosing classified documents about United States government surveillance of Internet and telephone communications around the world.

The government statement said that Hong Kong had informed the United States of Mr. Snowden’s departure.

A Moscow-based reservations agent at Aeroflot, Russia’s national airline, said that Mr. Snowden was aboard flight SU213 to Moscow, with a scheduled arrival there a little after 5 p.m. Moscow time. The reservations agent said that Mr. Snowden was traveling on a one-way ticket to Moscow.

Mr. Snowden’s final destination was unclear, but there were signs that it might be beyond Moscow. The Russian foreign ministry said that Mr. Snowden appeared to be making a connection in Moscow to another destination, but did not say where.

Russia’s Interfax news service, citing a “person familiar with the situation,” reported that Mr. Snowden would remain in transit at an airport in Moscow for “several hours” pending an onward flight to Cuba, and would therefore not formally cross the Russian border or be subject to detention. Someone close to Mr. Snowden later told Interfax that he planned to continue on to Caracas, Venezuela.

“He chose such a complex route in the hope that he will not be detained and he will be able to reach his final destination — Venezuela — unhindered,” the person said.

WikiLeaks, the organization that released extensive classified American diplomatic communications three years ago, said in a statement on its Twitter feed that it had “assisted Mr. Snowden’s political asylum in a democratic country, travel papers” and safe exit from Hong Kong, and said in a follow-up Twitter posting that, “Mr. Snowden is currently over Russian airspace accompanied by WikiLeaks legal advisers.”

The Aeroflot agent said that Mr. Snowden is traveling with one other person, with the surname Harrison, but the agent declined to release the other traveler’s first name, saying that she did not have the authorization to do so. The closest adviser to Julian Assange, who orchestrated the release of the Wikileaks diplomatic cables three years ago, is named Sarah Harrison, prompting speculation that she was the Harrison on the flight with Mr. Snowden.

His departure from Hong Kong was a setback for the United States, which had been pressing Hong Kong to surrender him to American law enforcement officials. The Hong Kong government said on Sunday, in its first detailed statement about Mr. Snowden, that the United States had made a legal request for the issue of a provisional warrant of arrest against Mr. Snowden, but that the Hong Kong government had concluded that the request “did not fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law.”

The statement said that Hong Kong had requested more information from the United States but had not received it. Because the government “has yet to have sufficient information to process the request for provisional warrant of arrest, there is no legal basis to restrict Mr. Snowden from leaving Hong Kong,” the statement said.

The United States consulate in Hong Kong declined to comment, referring questions to the State Department in Washington.

The statement also said that the Hong Kong government had written to the United States government to ask for clarification about media reports that Mr. Snowden had released documents showing that United States government agencies had hacked computer systems here, adding that the Hong Kong government, “will continue to follow up on the matter so as to protect the legal rights of the people of Hong Kong.”

Late Saturday, a Hong Kong newspaper, The South China Morning Post, reported additional details of the N.S.A.'s spying on Hong Kong and China, apparently based on an interview with Mr. Snowden on June 12. Mr. Snowden told the newspaper that the N.S.A. had tapped into Chinese mobile phone companies to read millions of text messages, hacked dozens of computers at Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University and other computers operated by Pacnet, a major telecommunications company with headquarters in Hong Kong and Singapore.

While there was no independent confirmation of the claims, all the operations described by Mr. Snowden are consistent with the N.S.A.'s aggressive monitoring of foreign communications. And the newspaper’s report could win Mr. Snowden more public support in China and Hong Kong.  In Moscow, Dmitri S. Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, said the Kremlin had not been informed of Mr. Snowden’s plans to travel to Russia.

“I don’t know if he is coming with a visa or without a visa,” Mr. Peskov said. “We are not tracing his movements. I am not sure if he is coming. If he is coming, we will wait and see.”

He said if Mr. Snowden applies for asylum in Russia, his application would be considered, adding that every application is considered.

“There is a procedure, and it will be applied,” he said. “If there is an application, it is going to be considered. If there is no application, we will do what is prescribed by law will be performed.”

Asked what the law prescribes in the latter case, he said, “you’d have to ask the police about that.”

He said Mr. Snowden’s case was not fundamentally a concern of the Russian government.

Mr. Snowden is reportedly carrying four laptop computers with a cornucopia of American intelligence documents that he downloaded to a thumb drive this spring while working in Hawaii for the National Security Agency as an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton. The Guardian newspaper of Britain has already disclosed a week ago that Mr. Snowden provided the newspaper with documents showing that during a conference in London in 2009, the United States was able to access the communications of Dmitri A. Medvedev, then the Russian president and now the prime minister — a disclosure that will almost certainly cause Russia to review its codes and other procedures for top leaders.

Dmitri V. Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, said he considered it likely that Mr. Snowden would remain in Russia, a country that is increasingly positioning itself as a protector of people like Mr. Assange, whom Western governments wish to prosecute.

“I don’t think there is any other country that would stand up to U.S. pressure, which will be tremendous,” Mr. Trenin said. “The Chinese don’t want to spoil their relationship with the United States. Russia is sometimes embracing conflict with the U.S.”

He noted that Russia Today, the state-financed English-language cable news channel, has become a platform for figures like Mr. Assange, who are unlikely to appear through mainstream Western news outlets.

“Russia is turning into a haven — virtually, intellectually and physically — for those who have an ax to grind with the West, who are whistle-blowers or have problems with Western authorities,” he said. “It’s the only country in the world that at this point can afford it, or thinks it can afford it.” Mr. Trenin said that even if Mr. Snowden transfers in Moscow and continues to another destination, like Havana or Caracas, Russia will still have played a central role in his flight from prosecution.

“The minute Aeroflot got the information that a certain person by the name of Snowden is about to buy a ticket, this information would be immediately transferred to the quote-unquote competent authorities,” he said. “It would be a political decision to give him a ticket or deny him a ticket.”

Mr. Snowden’s departure could limit any damage to Chinese-American relations from his sojourn here, although American officials are likely to press ahead with their inquiries into what role, if any, China may have played in his initial choice of Hong Kong.

For Hong Kong, his departure means that the city can avoid a painful tug-of-war over whether to surrender him, with the United States demanding him back while nationalists in mainland China and some human rights activists in Hong Kong were calling for him to be allowed to remain.

Regina Ip, a lawmaker and former secretary of security in Hong Kong, predicted that the United States would initially be annoyed with Hong Kong for letting Mr. Snowden leave. “I think your government will be upset for a while, but I hope that they will shrug it off, because our government acted in accordance with the law,” she said. “Our government officials can breathe a sign of relief.”

But even though Mr. Snowden left Hong Kong, he may still have handed China a considerable diplomatic and public relations coup. The state-run Xinhua news agency said in a commentary late Sunday morning, before news of his flight from Hong Kong, that Mr. Snowden’s disclosures had undermined the Washington’s argument that the Chinese government was guilty of widespread computer hacking.

His claims “demonstrate that the United States, which has long been trying to play innocent as a victim of cyber attacks, has turned out to be the biggest villain in our age,” the commentary said.

Keith Bradsher reported from Hong Kong and Ellen Barry from Moscow. Sarah Lyall contributed reporting from London.


Report published in NYTIMES "OP-ED" June 3, 2012 by the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Definitely worth reading!


“The attacks have changed from espionage to destruction...”


Chinese Hackers Resume Attacks on U.S. Targets
By DAVID E. SANGER and NICOLE PERLROTH, NYTIMES
May 19, 2013

WASHINGTON — Three months after hackers working for a cyberunit of China’s People’s Liberation Army went silent amid evidence that they had stolen data from scores of American companies and government agencies, they appear to have resumed their attacks  using different techniques, according to computer industry security experts and American officials.

The Obama administration had bet that “naming and shaming” the groups, first in industry reports and then in the Pentagon’s own detailed survey of Chinese military capabilities, might prompt China’s new leadership to crack down on the military’s highly organized team of hackers — or at least urge them to become more subtle.

But Unit 61398, whose well-guarded 12-story white headquarters on the edges of Shanghai became the symbol of Chinese cyberpower, is back in business, according to American officials and security companies.

It is not clear precisely who has been affected by the latest attacks. Mandiant, a private security company that helps companies and government agencies defend themselves from hackers, said the attacks had resumed but would not identify the targets, citing agreements with its clients. But it did say the victims were many of the same ones the unit had attacked before.

The hackers were behind scores of thefts of intellectual property and government documents over the past five years, according to a report by Mandiant in February that was confirmed by American officials. They have stolen product blueprints, manufacturing plans, clinical trial results, pricing documents, negotiation strategies and other proprietary information from more than 100 of Mandiant’s clients, predominantly in the United States.

According to security experts, the cyberunit was responsible for a 2009 attack on the Coca-Cola Company that coincided with its failed attempt to acquire the China Huiyuan Juice Group. In 2011, it attacked RSA, a maker of data security products used by American government agencies and defense contractors, and used the information it collected from that attack to break into the computer systems of Lockheed Martin, the aerospace contractor.

More recently, security experts said, the group took aim at companies with access to the nation’s power grid. Last September, it broke into the Canadian arm of Telvent, now Schneider Electric, which keeps detailed blueprints on more than half the oil and gas pipelines in North America.

Representatives of Coca-Cola and Schneider Electric did not return requests for comment on Sunday. A Lockheed Martin spokesman said the company declined to comment.

In interviews, Obama administration officials said they were not surprised by the resumption of the hacking activity. One senior official said Friday that “this is something we are going to have to come back at time and again with the Chinese leadership,” who, he said, “have to be convinced there is a real cost to this kind of activity.”

Mandiant said that the Chinese hackers had stopped their attacks after they were exposed in February and removed their spying tools from the organizations they had infiltrated. But over the past two months, they have gradually begun attacking the same victims from new servers and have reinserted many of the tools that enable them to seek out data without detection. They are now operating at 60 percent to 70 percent of the level they were working at before, according to a study by Mandiant requested by The New York Times.

The Times hired Mandiant to investigate an attack that originated in China on its news operations last fall. Mandiant is not currently working for The New York Times Company.

Mandiant’s findings match those of Crowdstrike, another security company that has also been tracking the group. Adam Meyers, director of intelligence at Crowdstrike, said that apart from a few minor changes in tactics, it was “business as usual” for the Chinese hackers.

The subject of Chinese attacks is expected to be a central issue in an upcoming visit to China by President Obama’s national security adviser, Thomas Donilon, who has said that dealing with China’s actions in cyberspace is now moving to the center of the complex security and economic relationship between the two countries.

But hopes for progress on the issue are limited. When the Pentagon released its report this month officially identifying the Chinese military as the source of years of attacks, the Chinese Foreign Ministry denied the accusation, and People’s Daily, which reflects the views of the Communist Party, called the United States “the real ‘hacking empire,’ ” saying it “has continued to strengthen its network tools for political subversion against other countries.” Other Chinese organizations and scholars cited American and Israeli cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities as evidence of American hypocrisy.

At the White House, Caitlin Hayden, the spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said Sunday that “what we have been seeking from China is for it to investigate our concerns and to start a dialogue with us on cyberissues.” She noted that China “agreed last month to start a new working group,” and that the administration hoped to win “longer-term changes in China’s behavior, including by working together to establish norms against the theft of trade secrets and confidential business information.”

In a report to be issued Wednesday, a private task force led by Mr. Obama’s former director of national intelligence, Dennis C. Blair, and his former ambassador to China, Jon M. Huntsman Jr., lays out a series of proposed executive actions and Congressional legislation intended to raise the stakes for China.

“Jawboning alone won’t work,” Mr. Blair said Saturday. “Something has to change China’s calculus.”

The exposure of Unit 61398’s actions, which have long been well known to American intelligence agencies, did not accomplish that task.

One day after Mandiant and the United States government revealed the P.L.A. unit as the culprit behind hundreds of attacks on agencies and companies, the unit began a haphazard cleanup operation, Mandiant said.

Attack tools were unplugged from victims’ systems. Command and control servers went silent. And of the 3,000 technical indicators Mandiant identified in its initial report, only a sliver kept operating. Some of the unit’s most visible operatives, hackers with names like “DOTA,” “SuperHard” and “UglyGorilla,” disappeared, as cybersleuths scoured the Internet for clues to their real identities.

In the case of UglyGorilla, Web sleuths found digital evidence that linked him to a Chinese national named Wang Dong, who kept a blog about his experience as a P.L.A. hacker from 2006 to 2009, in which he lamented his low pay, long hours and instant ramen meals.

But in the weeks that followed, the group picked up where it had left off. From its Shanghai headquarters, the unit’s hackers set up new beachheads from compromised computers all over the world, many of them small Internet service providers and mom-and-pop shops whose owners do not realize that by failing to rigorously apply software patches for known threats, they are enabling state-sponsored espionage.

“They dialed it back for a little while, though other groups that also wear uniforms didn’t even bother to do that,” Kevin Mandia, the chief executive of Mandiant, said in an interview on Friday. “I think you have to view this as the new normal.”

The hackers now use the same malicious software they used to break into the same organizations in the past, only with minor modifications to the code.

While American officials and corporate executives say they are trying to persuade President Xi Jinping’s government that a pattern of theft by the P.L.A. will damage China’s growth prospects — and the willingness of companies to invest in China — their longer-term concern is that China may be trying to establish a new set of rules for Internet commerce, with more censorship and fewer penalties for the theft of intellectual property.

Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google, said Friday that while there was evidence that inside China many citizens are using the Web to pressure the government to clean up industrial hazards or to complain about corruption, “so far there is no positive data on China’s dealings with the rest of the world” on cyberissues.

Google largely pulled out of China after repeated attacks on its systems in 2009 and 2010, and now has its Chinese operations in Hong Kong. But it remains, Mr. Schmidt said, a constant target for Chinese cyberattackers.

David E. Sanger reported from Washington, and Nicole Perlroth from San Francisco.

Cyberattacks Seem Meant to Destroy, Not Just Disrupt
By NICOLE PERLROTH and DAVID E. SANGER, NYTIMES
March 28, 2013

American Express customers trying to gain access to their online accounts Thursday were met with blank screens or an ominous ancient type face. The company confirmed that its Web site had come under attack.

The assault, which took American Express offline for two hours, was the latest in an intensifying campaign of unusually powerful attacks on American financial institutions that began last September and have taken dozens of them offline intermittently, costing millions of dollars.

JPMorgan Chase was taken offline by a similar attack this month. And last week, a separate, aggressive attack incapacitated 32,000 computers at South Korea’s banks and television networks.

The culprits of these attacks, officials and experts say, appear intent on disabling financial transactions and operations.

Corporate leaders have long feared online attacks aimed at financial fraud or economic espionage, but now a new threat has taken hold: attackers, possibly with state backing, who seem bent on destruction.

“The attacks have changed from espionage to destruction,” said Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute, a cybersecurity training organization. “Nations are actively testing how far they can go before we will respond.”

Security experts who studied the attacks said that it was part of the same campaign that took down the Web sites of JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and others over the last six months. A group that calls itself the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters has claimed responsibility for those attacks.

The group says it is retaliating for an anti-Islamic video posted on YouTube last fall. But American intelligence officials and industry investigators say they believe the group is a convenient cover for Iran. Just how tight the connection is — or whether the group is acting on direct orders from the Iranian government — is unclear. Government officials and bank executives have failed to produce a smoking gun.

North Korea is considered the most likely source of the attacks on South Korea, though investigators are struggling to follow the digital trail, a process that could take months. The North Korean government of Kim Jong-un has openly declared that it is seeking online targets in its neighbor to the south to exact economic damage.

Representatives of American Express confirmed that the company was under attack Thursday, but said that there was no evidence that customer data had been compromised. A representative of the Federal Bureau of Investigation did not respond to a request for comment on the American Express attack.

Spokesmen for JPMorgan Chase said they would not talk about the recent attack there, its origins or its consequences. JPMorgan has openly acknowledged previous denial of service attacks. But the size and severity of the most recent one apparently led it to reconsider.

The Obama administration has publicly urged companies to be more transparent about attacks, but often security experts and lawyers give the opposite advice.

The largest contingent of instigators of attacks in the private sector, government officials and researchers say, remains Chinese hackers intent on stealing corporate secrets.

The American and South Korean attacks underscore a growing fear that the two countries most worrisome to banks, oil producers and governments may be Iran and North Korea, not because of their skill but because of their brazenness. Neither country is considered a superstar in this area. The appeal of digital weapons is similar to that of nuclear capability: it is a way for an outgunned, outfinanced nation to even the playing field. “These countries are pursuing cyberweapons the same way they are pursuing nuclear weapons,” said James A. Lewis, a computer security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “It’s primitive; it’s not top of the line, but it’s good enough and they are committed to getting it.”

American officials are currently weighing their response options, but the issues involved are complex. At a meeting of banking executives, regulators and representatives from the departments of Homeland Security and Treasury last December, some pressed the United States to hit back at the hackers, while others argued that doing so would only lead to more aggressive attacks, according to two people who attended the meeting.

The difficulty of deterring such attacks was also the focus of a White House meeting this month with Mr. Obama and business leaders, including the chief executives Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase; Brian T. Moynihan of Bank of America; Rex W. Tillerson of Exxon Mobil; Randall L. Stephenson of AT&T and others.

Mr. Obama’s goal was to erode the business community’s intense opposition to federal legislation that would give the government oversight of how companies protect “critical infrastructure,” like banking systems and energy and cellphone networks. That opposition killed a bill last year, prompting Mr. Obama to sign an executive order promoting increased information-sharing with businesses.

“But I think we heard a new tone at this latest meeting,” an Obama aide said later. “Six months of unrelenting attacks have changed some views.”

Mr. Lewis, the computer security expert, agreed. “The Iranian attacks have tilted private sector opinion,” he said. “Hence the muted reaction to the executive order versus squeals of outrage. Companies are much more concerned about this and much more willing to see a government role.”

Neither Iran nor North Korea has shown anywhere near the subtlety and technique in online offensive skills that the United States and Israel demonstrated with Olympic Games, the ostensible effort to disable Iran’s nuclear enrichment plants with an online weapon that destabilized hundreds of centrifuges, destroying many of them. But after descriptions of that operation became public in the summer of 2010, Iran announced the creation of its own Cyber Corps.

North Korea has had hackers for years, some of whom are believed to be operating from, or through, China. Neither North Korea nor Iran is as focused on stealing data as they are determined to destroy it, experts contend.

When hackers believed by American intelligence officials to be Iranians hit the world’s largest oil producer, Saudi Aramco, last year, they did not just erase data on 30,000 Aramco computers; they replaced the data with an image of a burning American flag. In the assault on South Korea last week, some affected computers displayed an ominous image of skulls.

“This attack is as much a cyber-rampage as it is a cyberattack,” Rob Rachwald, a research director at FireEye, a computer security firm, said of the South Korea attacks.

In the past, such assaults typically occurred through a denial-of-service attack, in which hackers flood their target with Web traffic from networks of infected computers until it is overwhelmed and shuts down. One such case was a 2007 Russian attack on Estonia that affected its banks, the Parliament, ministries, newspapers and broadcasters.

With their campaign against American financial institutions, the hackers suspected of being Iranian have taken that kind of attack to the next level. Instead of using individual personal computers to fire Web traffic at each bank, they infected powerful, commercial data centers with sophisticated malware and directed them to simultaneously fire at each bank, giving them the horsepower to inflict a huge attack.

As a result, the hackers were able to take down the consumer banking sites of American Express, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and other banks with exponentially more traffic than hit Estonia in 2007.

In the attack on Saudi Aramco last year, the culprits did not mount that type of assault. Instead, they created malware designed for the greatest impact, coded to spread to as many computers as possible.

Likewise, the attacks last week on South Korean banks and broadcasters were far more sophisticated than coordinated denial-of-service attacks in 2009 that briefly took down the Web sites of South Korea’s president and its Defense Ministry. Such attacks were annoyances; they largely did not affect operations.

This time around in South Korea, however, the attackers engineered malware that could evade popular South Korean antivirus products, spread it to as many computer systems as possible, and inserted a “time bomb” to take out all the systems at once for greatest impact.

The biggest concern, Mr. Lewis said: “We don’t know how they make decisions. When you add erratic decision making, then you really have something to worry about.”



27 March 2013 Last updated at 09:03 ET
Global internet slows after 'biggest attack in history'
By Dave Lee Technology reporter, BBC News

The internet around the world has been slowed down in what security experts are describing as the biggest cyber-attack of its kind in history.  A row between a spam-fighting group and hosting firm has sparked retaliation attacks affecting the wider internet.  It is having an impact on popular services like Netflix - and experts worry it could escalate to affect banking and email systems.

Five national cyber-police-forces are investigating the attacks.

Spamhaus, a group based in both London and Geneva, is a non-profit organisation which aims to help email providers filter out spam and other unwanted content.  To do this, the group maintains a number of blocklists - a database of servers known to be being used for malicious purposes.  Recently, Spamhaus blocked servers maintained by Cyberbunker, a Dutch web host which states it will host anything with the exception of child pornography or terrorism-related material.

Sven Olaf Kamphuis, who claims to be a spokesman for Cyberbunker, said, in a message, that Spamhaus was abusing its position, and should not be allowed to decide "what goes and does not go on the internet".

Spamhaus has alleged that Cyberbunker, in cooperation with "criminal gangs" from Eastern Europe and Russia, is behind the attack.  Cyberbunker has not responded to the BBC's request for comment.

'Immense job'

Steve Linford, chief executive for Spamhaus, told the BBC the scale of the attack was unprecedented.

"We've been under this cyber-attack for well over a week.

"But we're up - they haven't been able to knock us down. Our engineers are doing an immense job in keeping it up - this sort of attack would take down pretty much anything else."

Mr Linford told the BBC that the attack was being investigated by five different national cyber-police-forces around the world.

He claimed he was unable to disclose more details because the forces were concerned that they too may suffer attacks on their own infrastructure.

The attackers have used a tactic known as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS), which floods the intended target with large amounts of traffic in an attempt to render it unreachable.  In this case, Spamhaus's Domain Name System (DNS) servers were targeted - the infrastructure that joins domain names, such as bbc.co.uk, the website's numerical internet protocol address.  Mr Linford said the attack's power would be strong enough to take down government internet infrastructure.

"If you aimed this at Downing Street they would be down instantly," he said. "They would be completely off the internet."

He added: "These attacks are peaking at 300 gb/s (gigabits per second).

"Normally when there are attacks against major banks, we're talking about 50 gb/s."

Clogged-up motorway

The knock-on effect is hurting internet services globally, said Prof Alan Woodward, a cybersecurity expert at the University of Surrey.

"If you imagine it as a motorway, attacks try and put enough traffic on there to clog up the on and off ramps," he told the BBC.

"With this attack, there's so much traffic it's clogging up the motorway itself."

Arbor Networks, a firm which specialises in protecting against DDoS attacks, also said it was the biggest such attack they had seen.

"The largest DDoS attack that we have witnessed prior to this was in 2010, which was 100 gb/s. Obviously the jump from 100 to 300 is pretty massive," said Dan Holden, the company's director of security research.

"There's certainly possibility for some collateral damage to other services along the way, depending on what that infrastructure looks like."

Spamhaus said it was able to cope as it has highly distributed infrastructure in a number of countries.  The group is supported by many of the world's largest internet companies who rely on it to filter unwanted material.  Mr Linford told the BBC that several companies, such as Google, had made their resources available to help "absorb all of this traffic".

The attacks typically happened in intermittent bursts of high activity.

"They are targeting every part of the internet infrastructure that they feel can be brought down," Mr Linford said.

"Spamhaus has more than 80 servers around the world. We've built the biggest DNS server around."



Victory Spurs Speculation on Bharara’s Next Move
By AZAM AHMED and PETER LATTMAN, NYTIMES
June 15, 2012, 10:10 pm

With the conviction of Rajat K. Gupta, the United States attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, has now secured the biggest scalp yet in the government’s broad campaign against insider trading on Wall Street.

A victory in a case that relied almost entirely on circumstantial evidence is sure to embolden prosecutors in their pursuit of hedge fund traders and their tippers.

The government built its case against Mr. Gupta on evidence like the timing of phone and trading records, showing that incriminating wiretaps — like those used to powerful effect in the trial of Raj Rajaratnam, the hedge fund manager who received the tips from Mr. Gupta and who was convicted of insider trading last year — were not a requisite to convince a jury of guilt.

But after nearly five years of investigations and 60 convictions of hedge fund traders and corporate executives, a question looms for Mr. Bharara and his team of federal prosecutors:

Is it time to move on?

Several top prosecutors have done just that. Christopher L. Garcia, who helped lead the government’s widespread crackdown of insider trading, left in February. Jonathan R. Streeter, the lead prosecutor in the case against Mr. Rajaratnam, left earlier this year, as did Andrew Michaelson, who was crucial in bringing and prosecuting the Galleon case.

And the Gupta trial is expected to be the last for the prosecutor Reed Brodsky, who also prosecuted Mr. Rajaratnam.

Mr. Bharara himself appears to have shifted his focus — at least publicly — away from the prosecution of financial fraud. In recent months, cybercrime has become a top concern, with Mr. Bharara mentioning the subject with increasing frequency in articles and speeches, just as he had in past years with insider trading. Indeed, even as his office was busy trying Mr. Gupta, Mr. Bharara wrote an op-ed article in The New York Times, saying that he had “come to worry about few things as much as the gathering cyberthreat.” At a cybersecurity conference in January, he listed it as his top concern.

“Of all the issues I face as United States attorney — and there are many, many things that I have to deal with that are scary — cyberthreat in all of its breadth, variety and complexity is what worries me the most, the absolute most,” he told attendees.

So far, his office has brought just a handful of such cases, and not all have been home runs. In January, prosecutors charged two Russians with stealing personal and financial information from United States citizens through the use of computer programs. Last year, an appeals court vacated the conviction of a Goldman Sachs computer programmer accused of stealing trading programs from the investment bank.

It is unlikely, however, that insider trading investigations will grind to a halt anytime soon. Several cases remain outstanding, including the prosecution of Anthony Chiasson, a co-founder of the once-prominent hedge fund Level Global Investors. And examinations of other hedge funds continue, as the remnants and offshoots of the Rajaratnam investigation wend their way through the pipeline.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has also indicated there could be much more to come, potentially placing those inquiries at odds with Mr. Bharara’s office. Top investigators at the bureau recently said the agency could pursue insider trading for the next five years. After spending years to crack the surface of Wall Street, authorities say they have a vast network of sources embedded among the inner circles of high finance that they can tap for new leads.

At the same time, the Securities and Exchange Commission continues to bring civil cases, no matter how small. The agency recently charged a paralegal and her father in Montana who made $67,000 trading off confidential information.

The crackdown on insider trading in recent years has drawn some criticism from those who question why big bank executives have not been charged over their actions in the financial crisis. While federal authorities have started investigations of the large banks, few have materialized into major criminal cases. Mr. Bharara, who became the United States attorney in Manhattan in 2009 after serving as chief counsel to Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, has bristled at such criticism, arguing that while the banks may have been irresponsible, that does not make their actions criminal.

Whatever his plans now, insider trading prosecutions have served Mr. Bharara well during his tenure. When he arrived at the office, prosecutors were already preparing charges against Mr. Rajaratnam, the result of a sprawling, multiyear investigation into one of the world’s most prominent hedge fund managers. Many of the charges brought by Mr. Bharara have been an outgrowth of that case.

The successful prosecutions have created a glow of media attention around Mr. Bharara, who follows a long line of prominent people in the office, including Rudolph W. Giuliani. A Time magazine cover in February featured a close-up of Mr. Bharara with the headline “This Man Is Busting Wall Street” superimposed on it. The cover ruffled feathers among colleagues at the United States attorney’s office and at the F.B.I., who felt Mr. Bharara was taking too much credit.

Many inside the office do not expect Mr. Bharara to remain in his current position much longer. Some suspect he will soon follow his colleagues to a corporate law firm, where he would very likely command a multimillion-dollar salary. And there is speculation that he could find himself on the short list of candidates to replace Eric H. Holder Jr., the United States attorney general, if President Obama is re-elected and Mr. Holder leaves.

Mr. Bharara, for his part, has said that he has the best job in the world and intends to keep it.


U.S. seen as Iran ‘cyberarmy’ target
Specialists to testify about threat

By Shaun Waterman, The Washington Times
Wednesday, April 25, 2012

 Iran is recruiting a hacker army to target the U.S. power grid, water systems and other vital infrastructure for a cyberattack in a future confrontation with the United States, security specialists will warn Congress on Thursday.

"Elements of the [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps] have openly sought to pull hackers into the fold" of a religiously motivated cyberarmy, according to Frank J. Cilluffo, director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University.

Lawmakers from two House Homeland Security subcommittees will hold a joint hearing Thursday about the cyberthreat posed by Iran – as tensions over Tehran's nuclear program continue at a high level and as a possible Israeli strike against it looms.

The Washington Times obtained advance copies of witnesses' prepared testimony.

In his remarks, Mr. Cilluffo says that, in addition to the recruiting by the Revolutionary Guards, another extremist militia, the Basij, "are paid to do cyberwork on behalf of the regime, [and] provide much of the manpower for Iran's cyber-operations."

Both militias are thought to be under the control of Iran's clerical leadership, headed by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Two Revolutionary Guard leaders have been indicted by U.S. prosecutors in connection with a suspected plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States by bombing a prominent Washington restaurant.

"Over the past three years, the Iranian regime has invested heavily in both defensive and offensive capabilities in cyberspace," states testimony from Ilan Berman, vice president of the hawkish American Foreign Policy Council, in his remarks for Thursday's hearing.

Estimates of the skill level of Iran's hacker army vary, but Mr. Cilluffo points out that a veritable "arms bazaar of c