Massachusetts Mayors Enter the Wiretap Fray

Mayors demand phone inquiry [pdf]

Four Massachusetts mayors are filing a complaint with the state department that oversees telecommunications companies, part of a national campaign by the American Civil Liberties Union to demand information on whether the nation’s largest security agency has gained access to private phone records.

[…] Massachusetts will play a prominent role in the campaign, because it is believed to be the only state where mayors can file complaints that require public hearings before the state Department of Telecommunications and Energy, said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.

The mayors of Newton, Somerville, Northampton, and Chicopee are requesting a public hearing with the department to question whether the companies violated the law. The ACLU has asked that the Federal Communications Commission and 20 state public utilities commissions take action.

“We’ve gone from, `Can you hear me now?’ to `Who can hear me now?'” said Mayor Michael D. Bissonnette of Chicopee.

StreamCast Suit Update

Morpheus makers file suit against eBay

StreamCast claims in a lawsuit filed Monday in the U.S. Central District Court in Los Angeles that Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, the duo who developed the technology behind companies Kazaa and Skype, of breaking an agreement to give StreamCast the first right to purchase their FastTrack peer-to-peer protocol.

FastTrack was the network on which Morpheus’ file-sharing application once operated and is also the technology foundation of Skype’s voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service.

Monday’s filing is an amendment of a suit first filed in January. The complaint now adds eBay to the 21 companies previously named as defendants and requests that the court force Skype, acquired by eBay last October, to halt sales of VoIP products. StreamCast is also asking for more than $4 billion in damages.

EMI Posts Profit Increase

EMI Annual Profit Up 14% [pdf]

After years of suffering from illegal downloads and competition from other forms of entertainment, the music industry is singing a new song: A rebound may finally be near.

On Tuesday, London-based EMI Group became the latest major record company to post significantly higher profit, as well as its first annual sales increase in five years. That follows recent upbeat releases by rivals Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group.

[…] EMI, which reports only annual results, said profit rose 14% to 86.1 million pounds ($162 million) for the year ended March 31. Revenue rose 4% to 2.1 billion pounds ($3.9 billion), thanks to strong-selling albums from Coldplay, Gorillaz and country singer Keith Urban.

[…] EMI was especially buoyed by growth in digital revenue, considered the industry’s future as iPod-like devices proliferate. It soared 135%, to 112.1 million pounds.

“In the next five years, digital downloads will increase sevenfold,” said Larry Haverty, who oversees a media portfolio at Gabelli Asset Management Inc. “Downloads have higher margins than physical CDs, they’re easier to sell and distribute — the industry is going to become more and more profitable.”

[…] As digital downloads increase, the industry has been frustrated with Apple, which sells 80% of digital music in the U.S., for resisting pressure to raise prices. Digital subscription models also have failed to take off, and although ring tones — the song clips that play on cellphones — have brought the industry more than $3 billion in revenue, other cellular products have failed to mirror that success.

ArsTechnica on HDMI-Less Consoles

Hollywood reportedly in agreement to delay forced quality downgrades for Blu-ray, HD DVD

According to German-language Spiegel Online, there is reportedly a behind-the-scenes, unofficial agreement between Hollywood and some consumer electronics manufacturers, including Microsoft and Sony, not to use ICT [Image Constraint Tokens] until 2010, or possibly even 2012. Without providing more details, the report suggests that Hollywood isn’t exactly happy with the situation, and could very well renege on the agreement, such that it is. But the agreement is there nonetheless, presumably to help the industry transition to HDMI. This could explain why the very same studios that pushed for HDMI and ICT have recently announced that they would not use it for the time being.

[…] If indeed there is an “agreement” of sorts between companies like Microsoft and Sony and the studios (including Sony’s own entertainment interests), this could certainly help to explain why these consoles are shipping today without HDMI support. But such unofficial agreements are gentlemanly in nature: at any time, all bets could be off. In the meantime, it appears as though Hollywood is playing it safe, hoping to keep the boogeyman of HDMI at bay while consumers weigh their options. Whether or not the strategy is ultimately about keeping users happy or lulling them into a false sense of security remains to be seen, but we’re fairly certain that ICT was designed to be used, and used it will be.

Slashdot article: Pact Not to Use Image Constraint Token Until 2010?

Privacy and Digital Identity

This Washington Post editorial takes the federal government to task, completely ignoring the fact that the business of digital identity is far more pervasive and intrusive, yet almost certainly equally inept at managing anything like meaningful security for those whose identities are their stock in trade: Digital Incompetence

IT’S NOT as though identity theft is a new worry. Last year companies such as Time Warner Inc. and Citigroup Inc. were in the news for losing computer tapes with sensitive personal information. The Bush administration has created something called the President’s Identity Theft Task Force. Virtually every discussion of this subject makes a basic point: Although some data theft is inevitable in a digital society, institutions that collect people’s names, birthdays and Social Security numbers must at least try to avoid losing them. Don’t ship unencrypted computer tapes by UPS and then say you’re sorry if the parcel goes astray. Don’t let employees take sensitive files home, where they may be lost or stolen.

This may sound obvious, but it apparently must be said again [….]

The article giving rise to this editorial — Personal Data on Veterans Is Stolen; also NYTimes’ Vast Data Cache About Veterans Is Stolen; later Veterans Chief Voices Anger on Data Theft

ZDNet Net Neutrality Roundup

Net neutrality field in Congress gets crowded

Called the “Internet Freedom Preservation Act,” the bill was introduced on Friday by Maine Republican Olympia Snowe and North Dakota Democrat Sen. Byron Dorgan and enjoys support from six other Democrats. The nine-page measure (click for PDF) contains a detailed list of obligations for all broadband service providers.

Specifically, they would generally not be allowed to “block, interfere with, discriminate against, impair or degrade” access to content or to prevent users from attaching devices of their choosing to the network. Network operators would also be barred from making special deals with content providers to ensure speedier delivery or improved quality of service and would be required to offer all Internet material on an “equivalent” basis.

Upcoming Senate Commerce Committee Hearing: Communications Reform Bill Hearing II on S.2686

More on M2Z

Free Broadband for the Masses [pdf]

Muleta, former head of the wireless bureau at the Federal Communications Commission, wants to offer free wireless broadband to consumers across the U.S. So he has launched a new company called M2Z Networks, which has raised an undisclosed amount of money from three major venture-capital firms, including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Charles River Ventures, and Redpoint Ventures.

M2Z aims provide a basic advertiser-supported service at no cost to consumers. It would charge fees for premium services, such as faster connection speeds. “The model here is broadcast TV,” said Muleta, referring to free over-the-air TV, which is supported by ad revenue. He founded the company with Milo Medin, founder of the @Home Networks broadband service.

But what may sound like a straightforward plan won’t be easy to put into practice. M2Z’s biggest obstacle is gaining access to the radio airwaves over which wireless signals travel. […]

[…] Muleta wants to bypass the auction process altogether. He’s hoping to strike a deal that would give him a preset block of underutilized spectrum in the range of 2155 megahertz to 2175 megahertz. The government has designated the spectrum for high-speed wireless services. Rather than fork over the up-front payments associated with auctions, M2Z wants to give the government 5% of annual sales.

Not if the wireless industry has anything to say about it. Wireless executives who declined to be identified said Muleta is trying to trade on his government background, using President Bush’s aim to provide universal broadband by the end of next year as a way to make a buck. “It’s crass,” says one wireless executive. Wireless industry trade group CTIA-The Wireless Assn. opposes the proposal, too. “We don’t see a need for the FCC to revisit their decision to allocate and auction this valuable spectrum for advanced wireless services,” says Joe Farren, a spokesman for the group.

From the NYTimes: Company Asks U.S. to Provide Radio Space for Free Internet