For almost 20 years, AT&T, Verizon and the other big players have collected hundreds of billions of dollars through rate increases and surcharges to finance that ambitious plan, but after wiring the high-density big cities, they now say it’s too expensive to connect the rest of the country. But they’d like to keep all that money they banked for the project.
In 2010, the Federal Communications Commission announced the National Broadband Plan, which promised to provide 100 million American households with high-speed cable by 2020. Verizon has been expanding FiOS in major markets, and AT&T has been expanding its U-verse service. And now, instead of spending that war chest digging up streets and laying fiber cable, the cable and telephone companies have invested in a massive and very successful lobbying push. They are persuading state legislatures and regulatory boards to quietly adopt new rules—rules written by the telecoms—to eliminate their legal obligations to provide broadband service nationwide and replace landlines with wireless. This abrupt change in plans will leave vast areas of the country with poor service, slow telecommunications and higher bills.
This is good news if you own stock in Verizon, but very bad news if you have a small business that’s not in a city already wired up.
The federal government’s official broadband map shows vast areas of America still have little or no service, and many areas will never get it under the current plan. “Small business customers, people who work at home and rural communities across the country need to wake up before it is too late,” says Regina Costa, telecommunications research director for the Utility Reform Network in California. “Verizon and AT&T are aggressively moving to dump a large percentage of their landlines and force customers to wireless networks [that] are expensive, restrictive, incompatible with medic-alert services, less reliable for 911 calls and will not hold up during power outages—and in a lot of places wireless just won’t work.”
[It ought to be criminal, but it’s nothing if not corrupt. I’m not a big fan of the Feds taking on projects, but this is one they should. Take the money back form the telcos that aren’t interested, and like the rural telephone work, get the whole country wired with fiber. Probably can be done with a rounding error off the budget… how stupid can we be?]
I found the bizarre attribution of meaning to events which didn’t seem to have meaning more and more intrusive. I also found it incongruous to have an American journalist from the WSJ offering her own interpretations; I thought it was an article of faith in that trade to get someone else to express your opinions – just choose carefully so they’re the ones you wanted to express anyway. But hardly any experts are quoted in the whole book; a pity, as they could have provided a narrative framework.
More to the point, didn’t any of Kane’s 200 interviewees or her time on the WSJ team reporting on Apple uncover anything about the tension inside the company about the iPhone 5? It simultaneously changed the screen size and dumped the 30-pin connector it had used since 2003, replacing it with a thinner 8-pin one that was incompatible with hundreds of millions of third-party boom boxes. For third-party developers, it meant rewriting their apps just to fit the iPhone 5 screen, which was longer but not wider. For makers of music players, it meant redesigns and inventory headaches. Would Steve Jobs have done that? Post-Jobs Apple did, with the same lack of compunction with which Jobs used to hand out mandates. Does that mean it’s haunted by the spirit of Jobs (would he had done it)? Or not?
[Clearly… not a fan.]
Indeed, ever since Snowden provided reporters with a trove of top secret documents, we’ve been subjected to all sorts of NSA word games. And the word “collect” has a very special definition, according to the Department of Defense (DoD). A 1982 procedures manual (pdf; page 15) says: “information shall be considered as ‘collected’ only when it has been received for use by an employee of a DoD intelligence component in the course of his official duties.” And “data acquired by electronic means is ‘collected’ only when it has been processed into intelligible form.”
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper likened the NSA’s accumulation of data to a library. All those books are stored on the shelves, but very few are actually read. “So the task for us in the interest of preserving security and preserving civil liberties and privacy,” says Clapper, “is to be as precise as we possibly can be when we go in that library and look for the books that we need to open up and actually read.” Only when an individual book is read does it count as “collection,” in government parlance.
So, think of that friend of yours who has thousands of books in his house. According to the NSA, he’s not actually “collecting” books. He’s doing something else with them, and the only books he can claim to have “collected” are the ones he’s actually read.
This is why Clapper claims — to this day — that he didn’t lie in a Senate hearing when he replied “no” to this question: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”
If the NSA collects — I’m using the everyday definition of the word here — all of the contents of everyone’s e-mail, it doesn’t count it as being collected in NSA terms until someone reads it. And if it collects — I’m sorry, but that’s really the correct word — everyone’s phone records or location information and stores it in an enormous database, that doesn’t count as being collected — NSA definition — until someone looks at it. If the agency uses computers to search those emails for keywords, or correlates that location information for relationships between people, it doesn’t count as collection, either. Only when those computers spit out a particular person has the data — in NSA terms — actually been collected.
[How broken is a system that allows people to hide behind lies of omission rather than demanding common use, or explain their definition. Sad.]
Putting aside the particulars of Bitcoin, the potential it represents is absolutely a very big deal.
Bitcoin and the breakthrough it represents, broadly speaking, changes all that. For the first time something can be both digital and unique, without any real world representation. The particulars of Bitcoin and its hotly-debated value as a currency I think cloud this fact for many observers; the breakthrough I’m talking about in fact has nothing to do with currency, and could in theory be applied to all kinds of objects that can’t be duplicated, from stock certificates to property deeds to wills and more.
That’s not the case with Bitcoin though. Anticipating the amount of power that would be thrown at mining Bitcoin, Satashi Nakamoto built in a simple escalator that ensured new Bitcoin would be released about every 10 minutes no matter the amount of power being applied to mining/verification. This has effectively locked Bitcoin miners into a zero sum contest wherein greater and greater computing power serves only to steal opportunity from fellow miners; there is no corresponding increase in Bitcoin to be had.
[I remain unconvinced of Bitcoin as currency. But the uniqueness is interesting…]
Last year, Ars Technica gave three experts a 16,000-entry encrypted password file, and asked them to break as many as possible. The winner got 90% of them, the loser 62% — in a few hours. It’s the same sort of thing we saw in 2012, 2007, and earlier. If there’s any new news, it’s that this kind of thing is getting easier faster than people think.
[It’s not going to get easier for a while…]
My brain almost exploded when I realized this. While 5G is a big leap in performance from existing 4G technology, it doesn’t provide any fundamentally new capabilities to us. Wireless power, though would be a total game-changer. What would the implications be?
- Consumer electronics that never need to be plugged in again – phones, tablets, laptops, televisions could all be powered wirelessly in the home and office.
- With transmission towers spaced every kilometer along major highways, electric cars would not need massive, expensive batteries. Everyone could afford a Tesla, and the demand for oil would drop.
- With transmitters on a few rooftops in a city, you could have drones and quadcopters delivering groceries and mail, again without heavy batteries that limit their flying time.
- You could build an electrical grid that’s a wireless mesh network, especially in developing countries, and have excess power from solar panels beamed to other locations which need it.
There are probably a slew of other ideas that I haven’t even considered – readers, please comment below!
[A potentially amazing new technology, even if all it allows is streaming of 4k programming. If Verizon wants to get involved in wireless over fiber (don’t be fooled, they serve different needs) let’s see them roll out some of this in an aggressive game changing way.]
Whatever amount Verizon did spend on FiOS — and obviously it was a not insignificant amount — would therefore appear to have come out of the standard construction budgets that were supposed to be used to upgrade the lines that most Americans are still using for their phone service: the Public Switched Telephone Networks, or PSTN. It would seem that customers, including seniors, low income families, minorities and municipalities have been funding the construction of a cable service through the hefty monthly fees they pay for a dialtone and ancillary services. In some states this is actually illegal.
If Verizon did actually spend $23 billion, then it appears to have come at the expense of the traditional maintenance and upgrades of the utility plant — and the PSTN got totally hosed. At the very least, prices for basic phone service should have been in steep decline as one of the major costs, construction, was dramatically lowered.
Instead, Verizon was also getting rate increases specifically to pay for FiOS. For instance, Verizon persuaded New York officials to increase rates for “fiber optic investments,” where the only service that could use the fiber optic service was Verizon’s FiOS.
For instance, when New York State Department of Public Service Commission Chairman Garry Brown announced the approval of a $1.95 a month rate hike for residential phone lines in 2009, he said “there are certain increases in Verizon’s costs that have to be recognized.” He explained: “This is especially important given the magnitude of the company’s capital investment program, including its massive deployment of fiber optics in New York. We encourage Verizon to make appropriate investments in New York, and these minor rate increases will allow those investments to continue.”
Of course the states weren’t told that everyone would be charged extra for a service that only some people were going to get. In New Jersey, for instance, Verizon made a firm commitment to rewire the entire state with fiber optics — capable of 45 Mbps in both directions. It was supposed to be 100 percent completed by 2010. Instead, Verizon claims to have “passed” 1.9 million homes, representing 57 percent of the households in its territories — but “passed” may or may not mean that they can actually get service.