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February 11, 2007

Opening Up Another Network? [3:26 pm]

Get ready for a real battle — should be an interesting Wednesday at the FTC: A Call To Let Your Phone Loose - pdf

Until federal regulators issued a landmark ruling in 1968, Americans could not own the telephones in their homes, nor attach answering machines or other devices to them. Now, a growing number of academics and consumer activists say it’s time to deliver a similar groundbreaking jolt to the cellphone industry, possibly triggering a new round of customer options and technical innovations to rival the one that produced faxes, modems and the Internet.

Wireless carriers, which limit what customers may do with their phones, say the move is unnecessary and potentially harmful. But in articles, blogs and speeches, a number of researchers are asking why the companies are allowed to force consumers to buy new handsets when they change carriers, pay a specified carrier to transfer photos from a camera phone, or download ring tones or music from one provider only.

This is about the 2007 Broadband Connectivity Competition Policy Workshop, being held Feb 13-14 in DC; the agenda; note that this is largely focused upon the notion of network neutrality. The WaPo article speaks specifically of one panelist:

Activists who share his view are seizing on an article circulated by Columbia University law professor Tim Wu, an authority on telecommunications issues. Wu, who plans to present the paper Wednesday at a Federal Trade Commission hearing on Internet access, writes that wireless carriers are “aggressively controlling product design and innovation in the equipment and application markets, to the detriment of consumers. Their policies, in the wired world, would be considered outrageous [and] in some cases illegal.”

The paper is Wireless Network Neutrality; its abstract is:

Over the next decade, regulators will spend increasing time on the conflicts between the private interests of the wireless industry and the public’s interest in the best uses of its spectrum. This report examines the practices of the wireless industry with an eye toward understanding their influence on innovation and consumer welfare.

This report finds a mixed picture. The wireless industry, over the last decade, has succeeded in bringing wireless telephony at competitive prices to the American public. Yet at the same time we also find the wireless carriers aggressively controlling product design and innovation in the equipment and application markets, to the detriment of consumers. Their policies, in the wired world, would be considered outrageous, in some cases illegal, and in some cases simply misguided.

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The Perils and Promise of Unsecured WiFi [2:42 pm]

And what solutions are the author of this article trying to promote? WiFi Turns Internet Into Hideout for Criminals - pdf

Detectives arrived last summer at a high-rise apartment building in Arlington County, warrant in hand, to nab a suspected pedophile who had traded child pornography online. It was to be a routine, mostly effortless arrest.

But when they pounded on the door, detectives found an elderly woman who, they quickly concluded, had nothing to do with the crime. The real problem was her computer’s wireless router, a device sending a signal through her 10-story building and allowing savvy neighbors a free path to the Internet from the privacy of their homes.

[...] “We’re not sure yet how to combat that,” said Kevin R. West, a federal agent who oversees the computer crimes unit in North Carolina’s State Bureau of Investigation. “Free wireless spots are everywhere, and it makes it easy for people . . . to sit there and do their nefarious acts. The fear is that if we talk about it, people will learn about it and say, ‘I can go to a parking lot, and no one will catch me.’ But we need to talk about it so that we can figure out how to solve it.”

If you think I’m overstating the problem, look at this terrible metaphor from the article:

Open wireless signals are akin to leaving your front door wide open all day — and returning home to find that someone has stolen your belongings and left a mess that needs cleaning.

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The Things Recyclers Have To Worry About [2:19 pm]

Old PCs put recyclers in expansion mode - pdf

Lewis will take in just about any type of castoff electronics — he has been known to pull over and pick up TVs left beside the road — but he draws the line at household waste such as batteries. To ease concerns about identity theft, SoCal Computer Recyclers will erase the data from the hard drives of all PCs before they are disassembled or resold.

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