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October 18, 2005

Salon on US Broadband Policy [8:39 am]

Free American broadband!

Next time you sit down to pay your cable-modem or DSL bill, consider this: Most Japanese consumers can get an Internet connection that’s 16 times faster than the typical American DSL line for a mere $22 per month.

Across the globe, it’s the same story. [...]

How did this happen? Why has the U.S. fallen so far behind the rest of its economic peers? The answer is simple. These nations all have something the U.S. lacks: a national broadband policy, one that actively encourages competition among providers, leading to lower consumer prices and better service.

Instead, the U.S. has a handful of unelected and unaccountable corporate giants that control our vital telecommunications infrastructure. This has led not only to a digital divide between the U.S. and the rest of the advanced world but to one inside the U.S. itself. Currently, broadband services in America remain unavailable for many living in rural and poorer urban areas, and remain slow and expensive for those who do have access.

[...] Like so many other challenges faced by the Bush administration, the response to the growing digital divide has been to redefine success and prematurely declare victory.

[...] Martin’s failure to confront the broadband problem becomes painfully obvious when you consider how his commission measures broadband availability and adoption. Instead of counting the number of subscribers in a particular area, the FCC considers an entire ZIP code as “covered” if at least one person living in that area has a broadband connection. This allows the FCC to make misleading boasts about how broadband coverage reaches 99 percent of the country.

[...] [T]he answer doesn’t lie solely in government either. What is needed is a truly competitive market, with many providers engaging in innovation that ultimately benefits all consumers. Government can play a role in making the market more competitive — both by deploying Community Internet projects and by requiring the cable and telephone companies to provide open access to their networks.

American innovation offers a solution to our broadband problem. It’s time for Congress, the FCC and the White House to stop protecting the corporate dinosaurs and start exploring alternatives that will foster a genuine free market in high-speed Internet services.

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MickeyD and Nintendo WiFi [8:23 am]

McDonald’s and Nintendo in Wi-Fi Deal

Nintendo of America is expected to announce today that it will offer free wireless Internet access for its Nintendo DS portable game system at McDonald’s restaurants. Customers will be able to play select DS games with other players around the world.

McDonald’s offers wireless Internet, or Wi-Fi, access to laptop users for a fee in 6,000 restaurants nationwide, but the free Nintendo arrangement will permit the DS machines to play without a laptop.

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Documentaries and IP [8:17 am]

Another look at chilling effects: The Hidden Cost of Documentaries

Michael Vaccaro, a fourth grader, had just left P.S. 112 in Brooklyn and was headed home with his mother. Two filmmakers were in front of him, their camera capturing his every movement on video, when his mother’s cellphone rang.

“It was such an indicator of today’s culture,” said Amy Sewell, a producer of “Mad Hot Ballroom,” the documentary that follows New York City children as they learn ballroom dancing and prepare for a citywide contest. “Michael’s mom had just asked him how school was, her cellphone rings, she answers it, and the look on his face says, ‘I don’t get to tell my mom about my day.’ ”

In addition, the ringtone was “Gonna Fly Now,” the theme from “Rocky,” and the neighborhood was Bensonhurst. “How perfect was that?” Ms. Sewell said.

Perfect, but a problem. Had the ringtone been a common telephone ring, the scene could have dropped into the final edit without a hitch, the moment providing a quick bit of emotional texture to the film. But EMI Music Publishing, which owns the rights to “Gonna Fly Now,” was asking the first-time producer for $10,000 to use those six seconds.

Ms. Sewell considered relying on fair use, the aspect of copyright law that allows the unlicensed use of material when the public benefit significantly outweighs the costs or losses to the copyright owner. But her lawyer advised against it. “I’m a real Norma Rae-type personality,” Ms. Sewell said, “but the lawyer said, ‘Honestly, for your first film, you don’t have enough money to fight the music industry.’ ” After four months of negotiating - “I begged and begged,” Ms. Sewell said - she ended up paying EMI $2,500. [...]

[...] “It’s not clear that anyone could even make ‘Eyes on the Prize’ today because of rights clearances,” Mr. Jaszi said. “What’s really important here is that documentary commitment to telling the truth is being compromised by the need to accommodate perceived intellectual and copyright constraints.”

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A Little IP Fight Brewing [8:15 am]

Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Hollywood Franchise

The book’s author, however, was not pleased about the prospect. Reached in Miami, Donald J. Sobol, the creator of Encyclopedia Brown, said he knew nothing of plans to bring his books to the big screen and wanted nothing to do with Mr. Deutsch.

[...] Mr. Sobol filed a lawsuit against Mr. Deutsch, among others, in 1983, contesting the rights agreement and demanding $20 million. The case was settled out of court and is covered by a confidentiality agreement, Mr. Deutsch said. Mr. Sobol declined to elaborate except to say that Mr. Deutsch now does have the movie rights but that they would eventually revert back to him.

“The rights are going to expire, and I will then take over,” Mr. Sobol said. “If someone starts to produce movies in a year, and I take back the rights, they’re going to be stuck.”

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Life in the Modern World [8:04 am]

From Sunday’s NYTimes Magazine: Meet the Life Hackers

Lots of people complain that office multitasking drives them nuts. But Mark is a scientist of “human-computer interactions” who studies how high-tech devices affect our behavior, so she was able to do more than complain: she set out to measure precisely how nuts we’ve all become. Beginning in 2004, she persuaded two West Coast high-tech firms to let her study their cubicle dwellers as they surfed the chaos of modern office life. One of her grad students, Victor Gonzalez, sat looking over the shoulder of various employees all day long, for a total of more than 1,000 hours. He noted how many times the employees were interrupted and how long each employee was able to work on any individual task.

When Mark crunched the data, a picture of 21st-century office work emerged that was, she says, “far worse than I could ever have imagined.” Each employee spent only 11 minutes on any given project before being interrupted and whisked off to do something else. What’s more, each 11-minute project was itself fragmented into even shorter three-minute tasks, like answering e-mail messages, reading a Web page or working on a spreadsheet. And each time a worker was distracted from a task, it would take, on average, 25 minutes to return to that task. To perform an office job today, it seems, your attention must skip like a stone across water all day long, touching down only periodically.

Yet while interruptions are annoying, Mark’s study also revealed their flip side: they are often crucial to office work.

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Chilling Effects Exercise [7:36 am]

Barney: I sue you, you sue me

Barney’s lawyers at the New York firm of Gibney, Anthony and Flaherty sent stiff warning letters last week to Web sites displaying less-than-flattering images of the plump saurian.

“Your Web site depicts a plush Barney toy in a violent manner or position,” Matthew Carlin wrote Tuesday on behalf of Lyons Partnership, which owns the Barney trademark. “We are writing to request that you remove this violent content toward Barney on your Web site.”

[...] The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco civil liberties group providing legal representation to Frankel, dismisses the legal threats as nonsense. “I think that Barney is unfortunately looking like he’s becoming a recidivist in phony copyright claims,” said Cindy Cohn, EFF’s legal director.

Remember “Bert is Evil” and its fallout. (another mirror+)

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WiFi Deployment Business Models [7:23 am]

High-speed Internet among the onions [pdf]

While cities around the country are battling over plans to offer free or cheap Internet access, this lonely terrain is served by what is billed as the world’s largest hotspot, a wireless cloud that stretches over 700 square miles of landscape so dry and desolate it could have been lifted from a cowboy tune.

Similar wireless projects have been stymied in major metropolitan areas by telephone and cable TV companies, which have poured money into legislative bills aimed at discouraging such competition. In Philadelphia, for instance, plans to blanket the entire city with WiFi fueled a battle in the Pennsylania Legislature with Verizon Communications Inc., leading to a law that limits the ability of every other municipality in the state to do the same.

But here among the thistles, large providers such as local phone company Qwest Communications International Inc. see little profit potential. So wireless entrepreneur Fred Ziari drew no resistance for his proposed wireless network, enabling him to quickly build the $5 million cloud at his own expense.

While his service is free to the general public, Ziari is recovering the investment through contracts with more than 30 city and county agencies, as well as big farms such as Hale’s, whose onion empire supplies over two-thirds of the red onions used by the Subway sandwich chain. Morrow County, for instance, pays $180,000 a year for Ziari’s service.

Each client, he said, pays not only for yearly access to the cloud, but also for specialized applications, such as a program that allows local officials to check parking meters remotely.

“Internet service is only a small part of it. The same wireless system is used for surveillance, for intelligent traffic system, for intelligent transportation, for telemedicine and for distance education,” said Ziari, who immigrated to the United States from the tiny Iranian town of Shahi on the Caspian Sea.

It’s revolutionizing the way business is conducted in this former frontier town.

The Wired News APWire feed of this article from 2 days ago: Wi-Fi Cloud Covers Rural Oregon

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Nice Title [7:17 am]

What else would you call selling a defective product at full price? Ripped off? [pdf]

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s “Howl” is one of my favorite CDs released this year, yet I don’t listen to it nearly as much as I’d like to.

That’s because, like millions of others these days, I usually listen to music on an iPod — in the car, at work, or walking to the grocery store — and “Howl” is one of those exasperating CDs you can’t download to the wildly popular digital music player.

In an attempt to strong-arm Apple, makers of the iPod, and get the company to acquiesce to various demands, Sony BMG and EMI Music are releasing copy-protected CDs whose contents can’t be easily ripped, or copied, to a computer, then transferred to an iPod. (Oh, it can be done, but it’s a protracted process that may vex those who aren’t blessed with the patience of Job. More on that later.)

[...] Yet specifically designing CDs to snub iPod owners alienates music lovers, some of whom have voiced their displeasure on various bands’ websites.

In fact, many of the bands involved haven’t endorsed the content-protection policy. On his band’s official website, Switchfoot bassist Tim Foreman posted his discontent with fans’ inability to put the band’s latest album, “Nothing Is Sound” on their iPods. “It is heartbreaking,” he wrote, “to see our blood, sweat and tears over the past two years blurred by the confusion and frustration surrounding this new technology.”

[...] Still, the BMG support site derides Apple’s unwillingness to “cooperate with our protection vendors to make ripping to iTunes, and to the iPod a simple experience.” And there’s a link on that site to Apple’s feedback forum where customers can badger the company into compliance.

So far, Sony BMG maintains it has received a minimal number of customer comments about content-protected CDs. “Of 15 million protected discs released so far, just three-tenths of 1 percent of consumers have contacted us with some kind of query,” said the Sony spokesman, who asked not to be named. “And every single person who has contacted us about iPod compatibility has gotten the work-around” to bypass the content protections, he added.

On the other hand, see Apple steps up iPod ‘tax’ push

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