“Hanging Up” The Teabaggers On Net Neutrality

August 13, 2010

This post from The Hill tells us the following…

Tea Party groups are staking out an anti-regulatory position in the fight over net neutrality rules for phone and cable companies.

A coalition that included 35 Tea Party groups sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Wednesday urging the agency not to boost its authority over broadband providers through a controversial process known as reclassification.

The process could give federal regulators the power to impose net neutrality rules, which would prevent Internet access providers from favoring some content and applications over others.

The Virginia Tea Party Patriot Federation was among the groups that signed the letter. Jamie Radtke, the group’s chairman, said interest in net neutrality is rising in the Tea Party movement.

I am not surprised in the least to hear that, given their propensity for being on the wrong side of partly-corporate causes (and more’s the pity, I might add).

As noted here, what “reclassification” means is that the FCC “will seek to reclassify broadband as a transport service, opening up a way for the agency to enforce network neutrality recommendations and implement some aspects of the National Broadband Plan.”

And as Michigan Law Professor Susan Crawford tells us in the post…

…the FCC plans to forbear from rate regulation but ensure that the transmission portion — but not Internet applications and content — is subject to basic rules of the road. They still have a lot of work to do to develop the factual record that will support regulatory reclassification of transmission services, but courts will likely defer to their classification if they do their job right. I have every expectation that they will.

And at that point, things were progressing smoothly – that is, until this from earlier in the week…

Efforts to protect net neutrality that involve government regulation have always faced one fundamental obstacle: the substantial danger that the regulators will cause more harm than good for the Internet. The worst case scenario would be that, in allowing the FCC to regulate the Internet, we open the door for big business, Hollywood and the indecency police to exert even more influence on the Net than they do now.

On Monday, Google and Verizon proposed a new legislative framework for net neutrality. Reaction to the proposal has been swift and, for the most part, highly critical. While we agree with many aspects of that criticism, we are interested in the framework’s attempt to grapple with the Trojan Horse problem. The proposed solution: a narrow grant of power to the FCC to enforce neutrality within carefully specified parameters. While this solution is not without its own substantial dangers, we think it deserves to be considered further if Congress decides to legislate.

From what I can determine, the plan concocted by Google and Verizon features the following pitfalls (here)…

…the framework also contains two features that trouble many Silicon Valley start-ups and public-interest lobbyists.

First, it allows for a second layer of vaguely defined digital services in the future, a sort of gated Internet. These digital entities would have to be substantially different from services being offered now, such as 3-D video or medical monitoring, both heavy users of bandwidth.

Critics call this a first step toward a two-tiered Internet, creating a pay-to-enter private tier of premium services and a public Internet for those who can’t afford it. Might carriers like Verizon concentrate on delivering service to their premium customers and leave the Internet as we know it as a dusty relic that receives little attention or maintenance?

Google claims it plans to compete only on the open “public Internet,” including keeping its YouTube video service there. That provides some assurance for now, though company policy could change in the future.

The proposals also only apply to the “wired” Internet, through which most homes and businesses receive service today. The mobile wireless networks – companies such as Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless – would be left free to discriminate – say by offering faster speeds to websites that pay for the privilege, or slowing delivery from sites that compete with the companies’ own offerings.

Of course, leave it to the crowd wearing those funny hats and carrying their racist signs to interpret Net Neutrality as a government plot to censor the Internet, when in reality it assures a level playing field for all participants, with any “regulation” (or hierarchical content designation anyway) to be done by private entities.

I think there are two things we can do in response: 1) Learn about the Electronic Frontier Foundation, for anyone who hasn’t done that already (here), and 2) Sign Sen. Al Franken’s petition to support Net Neutrality (here).

I don’t really care much about the internet habits of the teabaggers, but I care very much about my own and those of a like-minded political view. And I’d like to make sure we don’t see a day when the telcos can roll out their fancy new apps with the exquisite streamlining of a Porsche 911 Carrera, for example, while humble blogger types such as yours truly do what we do with the speed, precision and reliability of a Yugo by comparison.

Update 8/17/10: What mcjoan sez here…


Try Driving To Stay Alive Instead

July 22, 2009

cellphoneOver the last few days, the New York Times has provided extensive coverage on the issue of driving while talking on a cell phone (hands-on or hands-free) and texting (Matt Richtel is the author of the thorough reporting on this issue, particularly last Sunday but today also).

Last Sunday’s report featured the following information…

A 2003 Harvard study estimated that cell phone distractions caused 2,600 traffic deaths every year, and 330,000 accidents that result in moderate or severe injuries.

Yet Americans have largely ignored that research. Instead, they increasingly use phones, navigation devices and even laptops to turn their cars into mobile offices, chat rooms and entertainment centers, making roads more dangerous.

A disconnect between perception and reality worsens the problem. New studies show that drivers overestimate their own ability to safely multitask, even as they worry about the dangers of others doing it.

Device makers and auto companies acknowledge the risks of multitasking behind the wheel, but they aggressively develop and market gadgets that cause distractions.

Police in almost half of all states make no attempt to gather data on the problem. They are not required to ask drivers who cause accidents whether they were distracted by a phone or other device. Even when officers do ask, some drivers are not forthcoming.

The federal government warns against talking on a cell phone while driving, but no state legislature has banned it. This year, state legislators introduced about 170 bills to address distracted driving, but passed fewer than 10.

Five states and the District of Columbia require drivers who talk on cell phones to use hands-free devices, but research shows that using headsets can be as dangerous as holding a phone because the conversation distracts drivers from focusing on the road.

Oh, and as noted here (and as Richtel tells us today), the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration recommended in 2002 and 2003 that cell phones not be used except in emergencies. However, as the story tells us, “that recommendation was kept from the public, partly over worries that members of Congress and other public officials would consider the proposal a move by the NHTSA that ‘crossed the line into lobbying,’” The New York Times reported, according to MSNBC (as noted here, the NHTSA administrator at the time was Dr. Jeffrey Runge).

(Bushco, working to screw you over, as always – even though they’re gone, their wretched legacy lives on).

The Times’ Sunday story began with the tale of Christopher Hill, a good driver and a good person by all appearances who experienced a horrendous lapse in judgment when talking on a cell phone; he ran a red light in his Ford Ranger pickup truck and didn’t notice Linda Doyle, a driver in a small sport utility vehicle, until the last second. As the story tells us, Hill hit her going 45 miles per hour (and) she was pronounced dead shortly after the accident.

The story also tells us that David Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah and a leading researcher in the field of distracted driving, said “we’ve spent billions on air bags, antilock brakes, better steering, safer cars and roads, but the number of fatalities has remained constant…Our return on investment for those billions is zero (because) we’re using devices in our cars.”

And the story also tells us that that goes for hands-free phones also (echoing today’s findings), which also demands more of our time behind the wheel than we can spare when trying to avoid accidents on the road.

Also…

Some states have overcome opposition to pass restrictions. Joe Simitian, a state senator in California, managed to get his hands-free legislation, an effort he began in 2001, passed in 2006. He argued, based on data collected by the California Highway Patrol, that drivers using cell phones caused more fatalities than all the drivers distracted by eating, children, pets or personal hygiene.

In each previous year, the bill was killed — after lobbying by cell phone carriers, including Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile. Mr. Simitian said that in the first two years, he would visit the offices of his colleagues on the Transportation Committee on the day of the vote and “find three cell phone industry lobbyists sitting in the legislator’s office,” Mr. Simitian said. “They’d just smile.”

He said they fought him even though their brochures said that distracted driving was dangerous. The exception was Verizon Wireless, which supported his efforts from the start.

Opposition gradually eased, and his bill requiring use of headsets while driving took effect in July 2008. In the first six months the California law was in effect, a preliminary California Highway Patrol estimate showed that fatalities dropped 12.5 percent — saving 200 lives. Mr. Simitian said it was too soon to determine whether the law or other factors caused the drop.

Mr. Simitian said one reason political opposition eased was that fellow legislators saw the dangers firsthand. “They’d come to me and say: ‘You may be bringing me around. I almost got creamed at the corner,’ ” he recalled.

For its part, the cell phone industry trade group said it had dropped its objection to restricting cell phone use by drivers — it now is neutral on the subject — because it decided the industry should play no role in trying to shape public policy on the issue. “The change came after we had an epiphany that, if you will, we’re in the business of providing service, and how they use that service is at their discretion,” said Mr. Walls, the industry spokesman.

But Mr. Windsor from Nationwide Mutual and others are skeptical of the cell phone industry’s explanation. They believe its position changed because its business has changed to rely less on total minutes that people spend talking. Cell phone companies’ growth is coming more from customers surfing the Internet, downloading games and using other data services — things that people typically do less of behind the wheel.

Mr. Simitian believes that a ban on talking on cell phones while driving would save even more lives. But he hasn’t proposed one, and has no plans to. “It’s a political nonstarter,” he said. “It’ll be a cold day in hell before people give up their phones altogether in cars.”

At this point, I need to share the following observation. We recently drove the Doomsymobile to the Jersey shore and back as well as to the Phillies game and back on Monday and counted about half a dozen people playing with their cell phones looking to retrieve messages, check a contact list, or God knows what else. And they were doing this both while stuck in traffic and trying to maintain their speed on the highway (and I’ve lost count of the number of distracted drivers I have to share the road with who are engrossed in cell phone conversations).

(I don’t know if anyone else out there besides me is old enough to remember this, but back when high schools offered driver education – I don’t know whether that has been chopped from school budgets or not, but if it has, it should be reinstituted – a requirement of the training was to watch this horrendously scary short film called “Signal 30” I believe, which shows the aftermath of an auto accident. As far as I’m concerned, this should be required viewing for anyone attempting to receive a driver’s license.)

Now that I’m finished with my rant on this subject, I’ll provide this link to a post with extensive information on PA cell phone legislation, and this tells us of a cell phone driving bill that was recently defeated in the PA State House by a narrow margin (and yes, people do a whole host of nutty things behind the wheel, and I’ll admit that I haven’t exactly been a “saint” either at times, but the amendment offered by Rep Chris Ross concerning “changing the CD in a car, eating or drinking while driving, shaving, putting on makeup and driving with your pet animal on your lap” is just a bit of overkill).

I realize that, ultimately, what we are trying to do here is legislate good behavior (a quixotic effort at best, I know), particularly given that the whole “gadgets” biz cares only about feeding our perceived need to endanger our lives while we entertain ourselves (and a spot-on column by MoDo today amplifies that point also).

What we need, however, is a “push back” of common sense in response (and let us all hope and pray for no more lost lives before that day finally arrives).


A Cell Phone Conundrum And The Wireless Wrangle

January 5, 2009

angry_cell_phone_user_1_t250I found this item in Parade Magazine yesterday, which tells us what many have known for some time; namely, that for all of the invention and entrepreneurship that went into the development of the Internet and personal computers in this country, the exact opposite has happened in the area of cell phone technology…

Cellphones in the U.S. transmit data more slowly than phones in Europe and have fewer features than those in Asia, where you can make calls on the subway or use your handset like a credit card. According to Kent German of Cnet.com, a technology website, “The U.S. is going to be behind for a long time.”

Why? Competition. Carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM, a network that works in a completely different way from CDMA, the one used by Sprint and Verizon. Phones are not compatible across networks, and customers can’t roam between them. Because Europe and many countries in Asia decided years ago to adopt a single cellular network, GSM, their infrastructure works with all kinds of phones, and developers can add more bells and whistles.

German also tells us that, because there was no standard network agreed upon by Sprint and Verizon, it will be harder to develop across platforms than upon a single environment.

All of this makes me scratch my head a bit as I read the following from Larry Magid, the technology correspondent from CBS News, who tells us here that…

Even though most phones from (Sprint and Verizon) are configured to access cellular networks that are totally incompatible with the GSM (Global System for Mobil) networks used in Europe, Australia, parts of Asia, Africa and much of the rest of world, both companies do offer phones that are also capable of accessing GSM networks overseas.

To enable GSM, you need a Subscriber Identity Module (or SIM) Card. All GSM-compatible phones have a slot for this card, as Magid tells us.

However, get a load of this (in the third paragraph)…

Sprint’s world phones are unlocked, which means you can buy a SIM card in the local country and pay much lower rates. In some cases, it costs as little as 10 or 15 cents a minute for outgoing calls and nothing for incoming calls.

The Verizon phone is locked, but upon request Verizon can provide an unlocked code. There are also third parties and Internet sites that, for a one-time fee, will unlock most but not all locked GSM phones or provide you a code to unlock it yourself. I’ve used, an independent cell phone dealer to unlock phones that I and family members have used when traveling overseas.

When you’re using a SIM card you buy abroad, callers have to dial into the country where you bought the card. So if you bought a SIM card in Spain, callers would have to dial a Spanish phone number to reach you. If you then traveled to France and bought a French SIM card, they would have to dial a French number.

However…

Another option, especially useful if you plan to travel to different countries, is to purchase a global SIM card. Sim4Travel.com and GoSim.com sell cards that can be used in most countries at rates starting at about 60 cents a minute to call back to the United States. It may not be as inexpensive as buying a local SIM card, but you get to use the same number in each country and it’s cheaper than paying international roaming rates through your U.S. carrier.

For the purposes of disclosure, I should point out that I don’t do a lot of travelling in my job, and it has not involved overseas travel to date. I imagine that a tech-savvy traveler can figure out how to negotiate using a wireless device across multiple countries and continents. But, as a third-party observer to this situation, I think having to buy a SIM card in each country I happen to visit is pretty damn silly (and the “workaround for a nominal fee” of buying the global GSM card sounds to me like something else you shouldn’t have to pay for).

With this in mind, I’ll defer to Wall Mossberg of the Murdoch Street Journal here, who, though he seems to summarize this situation nicely, blames the wrong people for the problem…

…it’s intolerable that the same country that produced (all kinds of innovative PC and web-based technologies) has trapped its citizens in a backward, stifling system when it comes to the next great technology platform, the cellphone.

A shortsighted and often just plain stupid federal government has allowed itself to be bullied and fooled by a handful of big wireless phone operators for decades now. And the result has been a mobile phone system that is the direct opposite of the PC model. It severely limits consumer choice, stifles innovation, crushes entrepreneurship, and has made the U.S. the laughingstock of the mobile-technology world, just as the cellphone is morphing into a powerful hand-held computer.

Oh, right, I forgot; we’re talking about the Murdoch Street Journal here, so it’s imperative that “government” be blamed for the greed and short-sighted ignorance of the carriers who are supposed to be the technological innovators in this scenario.

And as long as the Journal has spoken out so eloquently about the importance of PC and web innovation in this country by helping to foster “one of the greatest technological revolutions in human history, as well as one of the greatest spurts of wealth creation and of consumer empowerment,” you would think they would be equally dedicated to the cause of Net Neutrality, wouldn’t you?

Well, as Tim Karr, campaign director for SaveTheInternet.com told us here a couple of weeks ago…

We are now on the cusp of making history for an open Internet. But don’t tell that to the Wall Street Journal, which today published an article that portrayed the movement for Net Neutrality as losing steam.

Say what?

Contrary to claims of the Journal that Net Neutrality forces are receding, we are actually closer now than ever before to victory. We have arrived at the moment when Net Neutrality has its greatest appeal, clearest need, and best chance of becoming law.

Our opponents will try to divide and distract us. But now is not the time to retreat but to move forward.

Yep, true to form, the Journal, in its best “concern troll” mode, wants to help propagate the lie that the forces in favor of Net Neutrality are all but ready to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, as it were, by (as Mossberg did) giving a pass to the parties truly at fault, as others have done concerning the telcos and their stifling of cell phone technology in this country by failing to adopt the GSM standard already used throughout much of the world.

Government isn’t innocent, I know, but it also isn’t responsible for the technology itself. However, you can bet that they will be blamed by Mossberg (a tech-savvy guy otherwise) and his brethren all the same.


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