The Fight to Provide You Internet in the Skies

Places on this planet where you cannot get an internet signal are becoming rare.  However, you can still find yourself unable to check email or Facebook while flying between internet imbued destinations.  The reigning king of wireless in the skies has been GoGo Inflight Internet, but Southwest Airlines internet provider Row 44 plans to downgrade GoGo’s seat.

Row 44 secured $37 million in funding to expand their service to other airlines, possibly ones that are currently customers of GoGo.  The primary advantage Row 44 will bring to the table is not how passengers will get their internet, but how the internet will get to the plane. 

Most airline internet providers--including GoGo--use ground-based antennae to bounce the internet into passing planes.  Row 44 will use its new capital to lease more time on Hughes Network satellites.  Not tethered to the ground, Row 44 will be able to beam internet access to any flight, even while over oceans.

Social Media Gets Turned Off

Social Media Gets Turned OffIf you’re a student at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, then you are unaware that your Facebook friends have harvested plants, gotten into Mafia battles, and checked in at the local grocery store.

The university has blacked out social media sites for the last week.

The experiment began on Monday as a way for students to begin seriously considering the way they spend their time on the Internet. It was recently reported that the average user in the US spends more time on Facebook than on Google.

Eric Darr said the experiment is not a punishment for students, but the hope is that their university students will seriously consider the way they are using their time. Darr also added that he can’t believe that this week has caused such controversy on Twitter, Facebook, and even late night talk shows.  Some have gone as far to accuse the school of infringing on people’s rights.

The hope is that the block will show students that stepping away from the computer can be a good thing for their overall grades and class attendance. Even Mashable is interested to see if the school reports any increase in attendance, but Adam Ostrow adds that he doesn’t think the blackout is feasible in the long term. “You really can’t disconnect people from it in the long run without creating some real inefficiencies and backlash.”

Students can still check via their smart phones and Darr is okay with that. “I want an honest reaction to the experiment.” The reaction has ranged anywhere from a typical “eh-whatever” college student reaction to those who are finding it difficult to coordinate their social activities without access to Facebook and Twitter.

While the blackout won’t last forever, it does open up some interesting questions, like what is the time we spend on social media sites taking away from?  Are we slaves to social networks? I’ve only recently started to make myself “go offline” for one hour a day, and frankly, towards the end of that hour, I’m really excited about checking out the latest status updates or Twitter postings.

As far as a university goes, maybe if they attendance increases while social networks are down, it could be something that any school might consider shutting down during critical weeks like finals week. The next question I would ask would be when it became a university’s responsibility to teach you how to manage your time and be a dedicated student.

No matter what universities decide to do, the social blackout has caused controversy and stirred debate about how we manage our time on social networks, and how this time affects our daily activities. 

Opening Salvos from Providers of Location-Based Apps

Opening Salvos from Proivders of Location-Based Apps

It took a little time for businesses to realize the opportunities of using Twitter and quite some time passed before Facebook became a powerhouse, but it seems like smartphones and their location-based, GPS apps were recognized for their potential as soon as they came out the gate.  And yesterday, Skyhook Wireless opened fire on Google for allegedly interfering with Skyhook’s sales contracts, as well as infringing on at least four patents vital to its checkin or location-finding software.

According to the lawsuit filed Wednesday, Skyhook claims Google contacted its customers, namely Motorola, saying that in order to make and sell the Google Android smartphone the manufacturers had to use Google’s location service and not Skyhook’s XPS program.  Skyhook said XPS had previously completed Google’s approval process.

Part of the vitriol behind this and similar struggles stem from the still developing location/mobile advertising market.  Controlling location data, checkin-style advertising, and other future uses of GPS smartphones is a huge opportunity now, even in the beginning stages.  And it appears to be only getting bigger.

Drunken Pilots Spark Concern Among Airlines

Drunken Pilots Spark Concern Among Airlines

A Delta pilot who was arrested just before takeoff in Amsterdam on Monday for being drunk has underscored an issue that appears more frequently than most travelers imagined.

According to USA Today, US pilots who blow over the legal limit for flying (.04 percent) crop up one time a month on average.

The FAA data shows that 12 commercial pilots, out of the 11,000 tested yearly, are found to violate the FAA standard each year.

The legal limit for driving is .08 percent in most states, and the airlines have become more rigid about legal limits for pilots, setting the limit at .04 percent after a few high-profile cases in the 90’s.

The most notorious case occurred in 1990 when three Northwest Airlines crew members, including the pilot, tested positive for alcohol after landing a commercial airliner in Minneapolis. The pilot blew over .10 percent.

Elaine Weinstein, former head of safety recommendations at the National Transportation Safety Board, told USA Today that she felt there should be a zero tolerance rule for alcohol and drug use by pilots.

“If a pilot is drinking before he flies, it raises the question in my mind about whether this person has a substance abuse problem,” Weinstein told USA Today.

In order to keep pilots from consuming alcohol before flying the FAA conducts unannounced tests and trains flight attendants and co-pilots to disallow any drunk captain from get behind the controls.

Delta issued a statement concerning the pilot in Amsterdam, explaining that the flight was cancelled because the pilot appeared “unfit for duty.”

He was called in by a suspicious crew member. The passengers of the flight were put up in hotels near the airport and flew out the next day.

Rural Phone Companies Fight for Universal Service Fund

Rural Phone Companies Fight for Universal Service Fund

On Thursday, the House Communications Subcommittee will begin considerations about a bill to overhaul the Universal Service Fund.

For years, the USF has subsidized rural and high cost telephone service by charging end users a percentage fee on their bills.  In O ctober of 2008, these fees also began appearing on previously exem pt conference call service bills.

The Communications Subcommittee will consider both releasing more funds towards broadband services, as well as capping the service.

Broadband service providers welcome the changes, as technology is shifting away from “standard phone service” and the FCC as put the funding changes forward as part of the National Broadband Plan.

Rural phone providers are preparing testimony that warns that rural areas will end up being underfunded for service that is still considered “critical to overcome the economic challenges of deploying communication networks.” This comes from Shirley Bloomfield of the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association.

With movements like dropping the plan to provide national broadband and the C-Seeks-Tighter-Broadband-Oversight.aspx">FCC requesting greater broadband oversight, it comes as no surprise that the broadband providers would be the ones in favor of the new legislation. 

FTC Continued Focus on Online Privacy

The FTC has announced a plan to adopt new education and data collection restrictions to better protect the consumer’s privacy.

Senior attorney for the FTC, Loretta Garrison, admitted that consumers “..sort of know they are being tracked, but they don’t really understand the weather of information that’s being collected…”

What this means for consumers is that there’s a common sense element to knowing that our movements online are being tracked, but we don’t realize just how much information is being collected.

The FTC is sensitive to the members of Internet companies who fear that greater restrictions will limit them in a marketing sector that is rapidly growing. At the same time, the FTC feels like there should be a base of privacy protection should be available to consumers, similar to the “do-not-call” registry in place for telemarketers. Garrison also added, “There ought to be an element where if they don’t want to be tracked, they ought to be able to say ‘no.’.”

This fall, the FTC is planning to release a report of recommendations for companies and advertisers and web companies to provide specific concerns over certain practices and offer suggestions to protect their user’s privacy.

These guidelines will be an extension of their “self-regulation” policies, since without a Congressional act; the FTC cannot “force” companies to abide by these sorts of changes.

The concerns are spurned from recent concerns about privacy over Google street view and some of Facebook’s recent policy changes, prompting the FTC to express concerns about consumer’s online privacy.

While an “opt in” or “opt out” suggestion may not be feasible, due to the nature of online marketing, the FTC has raised concerns about how much is being collected from consumers as they browse their favorite web sites.

FCC to Open Wireless Across TV Spectrum

The F.C.C. will vote on Sept. 23 to make wireless Internet service available over airwaves, unlocking the potential of “Wi-Fi on steroids.”

If approved, the move will allow the white space portion of television broadcast spectrum to be used for wireless networks, which will do away with the need to find a wireless hot spot and will open the door to super powerful Wi-Fi networks.

The move will likely pave the way for a new suite of enhanced Wi-Fi devices capable of passing through walls and transmitting data over much greater distances than current technology. The stronger signals will bring wireless to rural areas, minimize dead zones, and help connect vast corporate campuses, hospitals and the like.

Furthermore, the FCC is doing away with the traditional practice of auctioning off the spectrum for revenues. The whitespace spectrum will be available without a license and for anyone to grab. The unused bands of television spectrum have been languishing all this time, but now, given the approval by the F.C.C. this month, start-up companies that have traditionally been unable to afford spectrum will be able to compete.

The idea is not without issue: broadcasters fear the new use of signals will interfere with their transmissions, and industries using microphones, such as theaters, stadiums and churches have objected to similar decisions in the past for fear of microphone interference.

 The F.C.C. tried to skirt these problems in the past by requiring new devices to include a feature that electronically searches for airwaves that are unoccupied. This failed to reconcile the problem, however, because the feature and the increased engineering intensity would have made devices more expensive.

As of the time of this writing, there is uncertainty regarding exactly how the F.C.C. plans to cope with the problem of interference, but analysts speculate that wireless microphones and broadcasts will be given certain transmission priorities.

According to CNET, the F.C.C. has mapped TV channels and major wireless microphone usage areas such as Broadway, and will require the devices using the white space to be configured around the frequencies of the mapped areas. Still, this posits the same problem as the previous ruling: developers may be unwilling to foot the hefty bill.

Nonetheless, Wi-Fi on steroids appears to be just around the corner as the F.C.C. seems poised on an affirmative vote. Early next year, certain Wi-Fi hotspots will be able to range for miles rather than half a football field.

Telecom Industry Outlook: Proliferation and Innovation

While the world economy lurches through an economic recovery that economists are now saying will take longer than predicted, the telecom industry is forecasted to be a flotation device, one of the major industries driving economic resurgence.

According to an analysis by TMC Net, overall dynamics seem to be shifting in favor of telecom, primarily due to it being needed both in developed and underdeveloped nations.

Another reason the telecom industry is predicted to be a boon is because of its sheer size.

“The telecommunications industry encompasses a lot of technology-related businesses. Besides the legacy local and long-distance wireline phone services, telecommunications also include wireless communications, Internet services, fiber optics networks, cable TV networks and commercial satellite communications,” reads the TMC Analysis.

The telecom industry remains buoyant for two reasons: a generally improving overall global economy, and the speed with which technological inventions are churned out, making even saturated markets profitable.

A clear example of the machinery allowing the telecom industry such flexibility amid hard times can be viewed in China. Since increased connectivity is an investment toward prosperity in the future, China devoted $586 million in government pump spending to telecommunications infrastructure. In doing so, China has grown its mobile supplier base to nearly 800 million—the majority of these subscribers coming during the recession.  On the other end, the US, which is nearly 90 percent saturated, remains a profitable market because of the continuous network product upgrades and invention by the industry players.

And the developing world isn’t far behind. China began to deploy its own 3G network this year, opening up a market opportunity of more than $10 billion for several telecom companies, from wireless providers to equipment suppliers.

As the world becomes more connected, the market becomes more saturated; therefore, the revenue stream of garnering new subscribers begins to dry up. However, the perpetual cycle of progress, spurred on my competition and inventiveness foretells a continuously robust future for telecom.

Soon, companies will be putting forth 4G networks, data downloading will completely supplant voice calls for revenue generation, and smartphones will become more ubiquitous than the already old-fashioned feature phone.

What’s next? Who Knows? The only thing that appears certain is telecoms continued prevalence.

Facebooking beats Googling as Internet Pastime

A recent ComScore study has found that Facebook has surpassed Google as the place to be.

While Google gets the most overall hits, the users do not spend as much time on Google sites (YouTube and Google News included) users are navigating to and spending their time on Facebook.

Since social media is a growing trend in the way we communicate with friends, family, and even our customers, Facebook has found a way to not only get users to their website, but to make them want to stay.  With the addition of Facebook Places in August, Facebook users can check into locations, feed their status updates to Twitter, and instant message other Facebook friends. Regardless of your opinions on Facebook privacy practices, they have put everything into one place.

Facebook has the numbers to prove it.  In August alone, Facebook reported 41.1 million minutes of logged in user activity and the closet competitor is Google, who captured 9.6% of total time.

For businesses and companies who have been considering using Facebook to connect, it means that your customers are on Facebook, and parking there for a while. I’m curious to see if the Google number will be lower next month due to the release of instant search, which was, as Google stated, to shorten the length of time it took for you to get where you want to be. Since, apparently, users want to be on Facebook, I wonder how Google will feel about that. 

Email Attack Causes Chaos

This morning, there was an email from my IT department warning me not to click on any PDF links and directing me to this ABC News story. A global virus attack was launched yesterday afternoon affecting the likes of Disney, NASA, and even ABC themselves.

Here’s how it works: You get an email with the subject “Here you have” and when you open it up there’s a short email about the “document you requested” and the PDF link to access it. Once you click on the link, the Trojan virus takes over your computer and sends out the email to all the people in your contact list. The tricky part is that the email would come from you. Everyone knows not to open emails that are from someone you don’t know, but this sets up a new problem where you have to be careful even if you know who the email sender is.

Last week, Secretary-General of the United Nations warned that these kinds of attacks could be the new form of war. Hamadoun Touré has urged that cyber security vulnerabilities could be the new wave of attacks, opening up a whole new kind of war.

The Department of Homeland Security and the US Emergency Response Team are looking into the problem, and Adobe has released a statement citing a “critical vulnerability” existing in Adobe Reader 9.3.4.

Here are some things you can do to add a little extra security in your email until this whole mess can be resolved:

  • If you did not “request” a PDF link, don’t open a PDF link.
  • If you don’t feel 100% certain about opening an email, don’t open it. Find the person it was supposedly sent from or send them a new email asking if they truly meant to send you something like this.
  • If you think anything is suspicious, go ahead and delete it right away. It’s best not to risk it.

This email has spread like crazy through inboxes around the world, infiltrating even government inboxes and accounts. Until Adobe can fix the errors, use caution when opening any email – because now that the people who sent it out know the security vulnerability is there, you better believe they will continue to exploit it until there is a fix.