Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Unlocking Technology Act of 2013

In late January, unlocking your cellphone technically became illegal after the Librarian of Congress removed it from the DMCA exception list last year. It remains legal for you to jailbreak your phone, but you can't unlock it unless you get your carrier's permission. Several bills have since been introduced that would make unlocking your phone legal again, but none seriously reform the DMCA, and most are considered band aids.

The Unlocking Technology Act of 2013 (introduced by Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), and Jared Polis (D-CO)) is being heralded as the first bill that tackles this problem seriously:

Here’s how this bill really is different from the others: It would allow all consumers to circumvent the digital locks on their mobile devices. Anyone could access and modify software on their devices, in the same way they already modify and repair hardware. Importantly, it would also protect the engineers and entrepreneurs who create tools that allow consumers to unlock their phones. This is a particularly huge distinction and major departure from other bills. Most people don’t write their own software. If you need to unlock your phone, odds are you’d go online and download a software program that does it for you.

So what's the over under these days on an intelligent and pro-consumer bill to survive the legislative gauntlet these days?

Read the rest here....

Bill Could Make Unlocking Your Phone Legal Again

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

VoIP Explained...Our Infographic Tells You What You Need to Know

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Saturday, August 24, 2013

You Didn't Need That DSL Line, Right?

As I've been discussing a lot lately (because it's the most important issue facing the broadband sector right now), both AT&T and Verizon are in the process of gutting regulations that require they continue offering copper landlines -- and by proxy DSL -- to tens of millions of Americans. Both companies insist that they're simply interested in "modernizing regulations" and ushering us into an "all IP age." In reality, both companies simply want to exit the fixed-line market in areas they're unwilling to upgrade.

That's a move that has serious repercussions in the form of increased broadband coverage gaps, higher prices, stronger cable monopolies and lower-quality service. What happens to these users is part of one of the biggest shifts this industry has ever seen. The FCC this week simply noted that they'd be taking a closer look at this transition, in the form of "Pilot programs" that can study the transition from the copper PSTN to wireless and/or VoIP.

This modest proposal outraged AT&T, who'd very much like to sever tens of millions of in-use DSL lines nobody wants to buy -- and they don't want to upgrade -- without anyone studying the way this would impact you. In a piece over at CNET, contributor Larry Downes channels this bogus carrier outrage in a dubious piece that trots out all the industry's usual bogeymen, such as the well-worn yarn that the government simply studying an issue stifles network investment:

The notice was disappointing to advocates who see the IP transition as a potential catalyst in connecting more Americans to the broadband ecosystem, a goal far more likely with the switched network definitively shut off in favor of native IP technology. According to Fred Campbell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a former bureau chief at the FCC, Friday's notice is "more likely to discourage future investment in Internet infrastructure than to accelerate it."

Yes, nothing "connects more Americans to the broadband ecosystem" quite like killing off regulations requiring they keep providing DSL and POTS lines. Downes also apparently didn't get the memo that AT&T and Verizon have largely shelved next-generation fixed-line investment plans (excluding regulatory obligations), and any remaining much-ballyhooed expansion plans remaining will be rather puny in scope. Downes is undaunted by the reality that these moves could cause more coverage gaps, not less, and parrots carrier claims that this shift to "all IP" is somehow a magical panacea for everyone:

Eventually, perhaps soon, nearly every American will have made the leap to better and cheaper IP technologies, leaving the carriers to operate and maintain legacy wireline networks for only a few holdouts.

Gosh, that sounds magical! Except people still on DSL aren't a "few holdouts," they're tens of millions of people -- many with no other options. Nobody wants to keep them, nobody wants to buy them, and nobody wants to upgrade them. Despite what carriers claim, wireless is not a supplement for fixed-line data services -- and severing their copper lines and insisting wireless is good enough is not a story that ends well.

Downes, like carriers, also happily conflates the shift to IP services with the shift away from copper, even though services like AT&T's U-Verse is an IP product that runs over copper (derp). The conflation allows carriers to pretend that what they're doing is progress. Like in Kentucky, where AT&T lobbyists are outright lying to locals -- claiming that gutting regulatory oversight over POTS will result in a phantom U-Verse expansion that simply doesn't exist.

To sell this narrative on national scale as lobbyists worm their way state to state, the phone companies have been paying their usual assortment of think tankers, astroturfers, fake consumer advocates, payrolled academics and policy mavens to spin yarns (note any similarities in this piece by Steve Forbes?). Said flacks are paid to argue that gutting all regulation -- in a sector dominated by incumbent anti-competitive carriers -- somehow magically results in telecom Utopia.

Neither Downes or CNET discloses that Downes, as a consultant, takes any money from companies with a vested interest in this deregulation. As such, the fact that his logic almost perfectly mirrors AT&T and Verizon talking points (and a string of carbon copy editorials paid for by said companies) surely must be pure happenstance. Downes continues:

Why do we even need trials when the transition is happening anyway, without any help from federal and state regulators?The answer is that by doing nothing while an organic IP transition takes place, the FCC is skewing the process and needlessly slowing private investment.

Actually no, we need trials because as we are seeing with Sandy victims in Verizon territory, the services being used (Voice Link) to replace DSL are less useful, glitchy, don't show callerID names, won't work during a power outage, and don't provide data services. Users used to uncapped DSL who want data suddenly face heavily capped wireless lines with $15 per gigabyte overages -- assuming they can even get cellular signal in their neck of the woods. For many these will be costly downgrades, not upgrades. Not quite the fantasy scenario Downes hallucinates.

Thanks to these kinds of editorials, what should be an intelligent conversation about our transition away from the PSTN and toward next-generation connectivity, is awash in bunk carrier logic, conflated technologies and empty promises. In ten years, when the public wakes up and wonders why they now only have the choice of an over-priced cable competitor or an absurdly-capped wireless line -- they can thank guys like Larry Downes and Steve Forbes for helping AT&T and Verizon usher forth this magical "all IP transition."

Read the rest here....

Death of Copper Editorials All Sound Oddly Familiar

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

27 IP Phones Compared

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IP Phone Comparison Chart

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

What It Looks Like When Barney Fife Is Your Telecom Regulator

It is very quickly becoming clear that if you want the FCC to avoid enforcing their network neutrality rules, all you have to do is throw some half-assed, vague-sounding technical jargon at the agency to bog them down in inactivity indefinitely. With yesterday's news that AT&T is blocking yet another video chat application in order to drive users to more expensive data plans, it's rather clear that the FCC lacks the stomach to actually enforce the rules they designed.

The FCC's net neutrality rules already weren't worth much, given they were based on an outline designed by Google and Verizon. As such, they are filled with all manner of carefully engineered loopholes aimed at protecting the potential billions both were making via their mobile partnership.

However, the rules are worth even less with an FCC that's too timid or incompetent to enforce them.

While the FCC is clearly on shaky legal ground given Verizon's lawsuit to overturn the rules, that doesn't prohibit the FCC from at least publicly singling out and commenting on poor carrier behavior when it happens. The agency's inaction is tacit approval of the use of gatekeeper power to behave anti-competitively.

You might recall that back in September of last year FCC boss Julius Genachowski addressed AT&T's Facetime blockade, promising that if good faith negotiations "doesn't lead to a resolution and a complaint is filed, we will exercise our responsibilities and we will act."

A complaint was filed, no action was taken, and Genachowski's now on his way out the door for a new career in think tank life, about to be replaced by a former lobbyist for the wireless industry.

With only consumer groups and blogs standing in their way, yesterday AT&T made it clear they thought it would be fun to block yet more useful application functionality. You need intelligent, tough regulators that know when to stand pat, and when to kick a little ass. What the United States has is Barney Fife.

AT&T's Hangout and Facetime video blockades, while obnoxious, aren't even the worst violations consumers have seen.

For the last year Verizon has been able to block Google Wallet in order to give their own mobile payment platform, Isis, a leg up in the marketplace. That should technically violate not only the agency's neutrality rules, but the "carterfone" conditions attached to Verizon's 700 MHz spectrum. Yet all Verizon needed to do to dodge both is to give a bogus technical explanation regarding Wallet's use of the secure element to keep the FCC bogged down in paperwork and ineptitude for almost a year. Update: T-Mobile, also an Isis partner, has now joined the fun as well.

Google can thank themselves; it was their painful waffling on neutrality principles that helped create weak net neutrality rules nobody is willing to even enforce in the first place. That decision has since come home to roost.

Read the rest here....

AT&T Hangout Block Highlights a Timid, Incompetent FCC

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

How To Select A Conferencing Solution

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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Verizon Handed Over AP Data, No Questions Asked

Earlier this year the government came under fire for hoovering up the personal call logs of more than twenty lines belonging to the Associated Press. Initially Uncle Same claimed the snooping and violation of press rights was due to an immediate and pressing life-risking investigation, but as the week rolled on it became clear the government was simply embarrassed by internal leaks and annoyed an AP story stole some public relations thunder. It has also since been made clear that Verizon Wireless was the company that handed over the data without a second thought:

When the feds came knocking for AP journalists’ call records last year, Verizon apparently turned the data over with no questions asked. The New York Times, citing an AP employee, reported Tuesday that at least two of the reporters’ personal cellphone records "were provided to the government by Verizon Wireless without any attempt to obtain permission to tell them so the reporters could ask a court to quash the subpoena."

I contacted Verizon Wireless for comment, querying whether the AP incident may prompt the company to change its policy regarding how it responds to such requests. Spokeswoman Debra Lewis said Verizon Wireless complied "with legal processes with regard to requests from law enforcement" but wouldn’t comment on specific cases. In regard to a change of policy, Lewis said she was “not going to speculate on what may or may not happen in the future."

Granted the law muzzles most of the people to whom these requests are made, but that doesn't mean that carriers have to be quite so mindlessly compliant every time government knocks. We've seen repeated instances where time after time, carriers showed absolutely no independent intelligence or ethics when considering whether to help the government break the law. Only small carriers, like Sonic.net, have bothered to show anything resembling a spine.

In fact, instead of standing up to government, carriers often urge government to take domestic surveillance further. Numerous whistleblowers have pointed out that carriers not only gave the NSA a live feed to ALL data on their networks (both theirs and other companies), but in some cases actively counseled the FBI on how to best violate surveillance law. As Wired noted in 2010, AT&T even volunteered their time as intelligence analysts.

There's tens of billions of unaccountable government subsidies, tax breaks and contracts at risk if these companies don't comply, which should give you a clear indication of just how much your privacy is worth to them when the government calls.

Read The Rest Here....

AP Scandal

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Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Technology Gone Wild

Hunting For Technology presents Doctor Robert Parqinfarquer, better known as Dr Bob, a noted Technology Infestation Specialist in his first funny video entitled: Technology Gone Wild.

Dr Bob along with his teacher's assistant, Sparky, set off deep into the Sillycon Hills to observe feral tech and try to find proof of his theory...

That all feral Macintosh tech is ga... Well, let's just say they are very friendly to one another.

Dr Bob's surprising theory about social habits of feral Macintosh tech is based on his extensive career that spans 30 years of laboratory and field research.

Dr Bob will educate us on the many causes, effects and consequences of tech infestation in the wild. It is only through study and understanding of the problems we face can we hope to overcome them.

Dr. Bob's thesis has not been independently peer reviewed.

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Saturday, August 03, 2013

AT&T Still Blaming Government For Their Crappy Broadband Speeds

While there's absolutely no doubt that Google Fiber has been a positive thing for the industry, critics have singled out two problems with Google's ultra-fast offering. One, the company backed off of open access promises that would have allowed multiple companies to come in and truly compete over the infrastructure. Two, whereas old franchise models aimed for uniformity (the very reason many of you even have cable at this moment) Google's deployment model heavily celebrates cherry picking, or only deploying services to the most profitable areas.

Google countered this somewhat early on in Kansas City with Google Fiber "rallies" determined to help the community decide which areas got service first. Still, it soon became clear that lower-income communities still found themselves lagging for attention, with wealthier neighborhoods doing things like hiring their door to door salesmen to improve their chances. It's just a variation on the same problem of selective deployment.

For obvious reasons AT&T clearly loves cherry picking, CEO Randall Stephenson telling investors this week that they'd just love to offer 1 Gbps to people, but government requirements make that impossible (not true, but more on that later). Stephenson also argued that now that Google has made cherry picking more acceptable, deployment of 1 Gbps lines nationwide will surely pick up speed: "I think you are going to see that begin to manifest itself around the United States, and in not just AT&T and Google,” Stephenson said. “You will see others doing this because the demand for really high-speed broadband via gigabit-type fiber-based solutions on a targeted basis is going to be very, very high....The key is being able to do it in places where you know there is going to be high demand and people willing to pay the premium for those type services.

Blaming the mean 'ole government for AT&T's failure to deliver cutting edge broadband services is an excuse that simply no longer holds water.

There's a few problems with that scenario. To prepare for their entry into the TV business, AT&T lobbyists nearly a decade ago started going state to state passing new franchise "reform" laws that stripped away any build out requirements, as well as consumer protections. In many states the new laws, actually written by AT&T, even gave AT&T the upper hand at dodging eminent domain rules.

Given that regulatory capture has reached the point where AT&T is actively writing the laws governing their business operations in many states, there's nothing stopping them from offering 1 Gbps services, and blaming the problem on government restrictions is high comedy. AT&T could easily strike 1 Gbps deals with any number of eager towns at any time with the exact same perks Google is getting -- but didn't.

Long placing investor interests above customer satisfaction or product quality, AT&T has cut corners on fixed line network investment at every possible opportunity despite unprecedented deregulation on both the state and federal level. As a result, AT&T fails to even offer U-Verse speeds that match cable -- much less Google Fiber. Blaming the mean 'ole government for AT&T's failure to deliver cutting edge broadband services is an excuse that simply no longer holds water. The reason you're not seeing cheaper, faster speeds? A lack of serious competition that forces AT&T to do so. Full stop.

And while Stephenson is apparently already putting AT&T in the 1 Gbps club right alongside Google, there's still no indication that the company will deploy 1 Gbps speeds in any serious way. AT&T's recent promise to meet Google on the field of battle in Austin with 1 Gbps rang a little hollow, given the weaselly-worded announcement contained plenty of wiggle room, and was more show than substance. As a general rule of thumb you should believe in affordable 1 Gbps service from AT&T only when you're actually able to order it -- and not a second before.

Read the rest here....

AT&T Broadband Speeds

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