Tuesday, May 05
From the Sacramento Bee:
The good news is that 96 percent of California’s households have access to a high-speed Internet connection.
The bad news is that despite the good news, 45 percent of California residents – a number greater than the populations of all but five states – still don’t have broadband connections in their homes because of geography, disabilities, a lack of English language skills or poverty.
Now the promising news: The state is poised to grab as much as $1 billion in federal stimulus money for closing what’s referred to as a “digital divide” between Internet haves and have-nots.
With stimulus dollars still up for grabs, expect more states to try and get in on the action.
Monday, May 04
Amazon is about to release a third version of its popular Kindle, this time aimed toward newspaper and magazine readers.
Whether the device—which reportedly has a larger screen—will be a hit with dead tree diehards remains to be seen. But given the overwhelming cost of traditional printing, the future of journalism is definitely online.
Last week, the Obama administration announced it was venturing into social networking by joining sites such Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and Flickr. From the official White House blog:
In the President’s last Weekly Address, he called on government to “recognize that we cannot meet the challenges of today with old habits and stale thinking.” He added that “we need to reform our government so that it is more efficient, more transparent, and more creative,” and pledged to “reach beyond the halls of government” to engage the public.
While the government certainly needs shake off “old habits and stale thinking,” the move into social networking isn’t without concerns from privacy groups. As the New York Times “Bits” blog reports:
The privacy advocates’ biggest concern is that most social networks treat a government agency no differently than a former roommate. People might friend the White House on MySpace, for example, to indicate support for the president or to get messages about what the administration is doing. In doing so, however, they are agreeing that every party photo, love poem, and wisecrack from a friends that appears on their profiles will be visible to White House Web masters. And so far there are no guidelines that say whether those Webmasters might keep copies of any of personal information they see or send it to the government officials who could use it to get authorization to audit people’s taxes, keep them from boarding an airplane, tap their telephones or even arrest them.
In response to concerns, the White House had this to say:
“We are focused on opening government to the people (and not the other way around), and like with any other online friends, the individual users can still choose to keep information private using their privacy settings,” said Moira Mack, a White House spokeswoman in an e-mail. “The White House takes privacy seriously and we are engaged in an ongoing conversation with privacy advocates to ensure that we are aware of the latest concerns and issues.”
According to a new report from marketing research firm In-Stat, web-to-TV video streaming is about to explode—to the tune of 24 million households with five years.
This, obviously, poses a problem to traditional TV providers—and might explain why some cable companies have been making noises about metered broadband. Will cable companies turn to cap limits to make up for lost revenue?
Search engines have come a long way, but as The Independent reports, a revolution may be on the horizon:
The new system, Wolfram Alpha, showcased at Harvard University in the US last week, takes the first step towards what many consider to be the internet’s Holy Grail – a global store of information that understands and responds to ordinary language in the same way a person does.
Being able to make Internet searches more personable is cool and all, but Wolfram Alpha has something else up its sleeve:
The real innovation, however, is in its ability to work things out “on the fly”, according to its British inventor, Dr Stephen Wolfram. If you ask it to compare the height of Mount Everest to the length of the Golden Gate Bridge, it will tell you. Or ask what the weather was like in London on the day John F Kennedy was assassinated, it will cross-check and provide the answer. Ask it about D sharp major, it will play the scale. Type in “10 flips for four heads” and it will guess that you need to know the probability of coin-tossing. If you want to know when the next solar eclipse over Chicago is, or the exact current location of the International Space Station, it can work it out.
An Internet that not only stores information but can also work out problems? What could possibly go wrong?
The rural demand for broadband can be seen from the level of utilization for those who do subscribe. Rural households transfer more information on average than their urban counterparts. This may be because rural users turn to the Internet for products and services that they cannot get locally, whereas urban users have more options.
Peha, Jon M. “Bringing Broadband to Unserved Communities.” Part of The Hamilton Project, Advancing Opportunity, Prosperity and Growth. (Washington DC: The Brookings Institution) May 2008.
More facts about broadband and rural areas.
Friday, May 01
With the $7.2 billion in federal money approved for broadband deployment yet to be tapped, companies hoping to dip into the funds continue to jockey for position. Via the Wall Street Journal:
The National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative, which represents 1,500 rural utilities and telecom providers, recently announced a deal with WiMAX provider DigitalBridge Communications, which offers high-speed wireless broadband service in rural areas. The rural utilities cooperative is pouring $10 million in funding into DigitalBridge in hopes that the company will help its members offer more wireless broadband services in rural areas — and potentially win some of the broadband stimulus funding.
Grant proposal details are expected from Commerce and Agriculture Departments sometime this month.
Iran has perhaps the strictest online censorship program on the planet. But, as the New York Times reports, that’s not stopping many Internet users in the country from accessing banned content:
Last July, on popular sites that offer free downloads of various software, an escape hatch appeared. The computer program allowed Iranian Internet users to evade government censorship.
College students discovered the key first, then spread it through e-mail messages and file-sharing. By late autumn more than 400,000 Iranians were surfing the uncensored Web.
As it turns out, the censor-busting software has come from a surprising source:
The software was created not by Iranians, but by Chinese computer experts volunteering for the Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that has beem suppressed by the Chinese government since 1999. They maintain a series of computers in data centers around the world to route Web users’ requests around censors’ firewalls.
TechCrunch digs through the numbers and decides online advertising isn’t recession-proof:
With the four largest Web advertising companies (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and AOL) having reported March quarter financials, we can get a pretty good sense of how the sector did as a whole. If you add up the online advertising revenues of these four online advertising bellwethers, the total online advertising revenues for the quarter came to $7.9 billion, a 2 percent decline from a year ago and a 7 percent decline from the fourth quarter.
This is the first quarter in (its relatively short) history that online advertising has posted a decline in profits.
Thursday, April 30
With $7 billion waiting to be deployed for broadband expansion, connecting rural areas is getting a lot of focus. From the Wall Street Journal:
Rural communications networks that connect to major Internet arteries will be key investments that will come from the $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus money, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama said Wednesday.
“Investments in backhaul networks, particularly in rural communities, will likely be particularly helpful,” said Susan Crawford, a National Economic Council member and special assistant to the president.
Major carriers such as Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) and Sprint Nextel Corp. (S) and some cable operators have said Obama’s goal of blanketing the country with high-speed Internet can’t be accomplished without significant investment in so-called “backhaul” networks that stretch to hard-to-reach communities.
There is some debate, however, about whether those networks should be financed with government money or private-sector investments. Extending cable to rural communities can be prohibitively expensive for Internet carriers, which is why those areas tend to have few connectivity options.