Exploring the impact of broadband and technology on our lives, our businesses, and our communities.

Lost AirPods: A First World Problem

According to this story, so many New Yorkers are losing AirPods in the subway that it has become a major issue for subway maintenance workers, who are often called to retrieve them from the subway rail tracks.

The tiny cordless ear buds apparently fall out of a user's ears easily in the sweaty hot environment of the subway. One woman bought a broom and duct tape to create a make shift "sticky stick" to retrieve her AirPods.

The first time I saw AirPods, my immediate thought was, "Those are going to be too easy to lose or misplace." And apparently I was right. One person in the article claims they have lost "ten pair" of AirPods. That is somewhere between $1600 and $2000, depending upon what model he has been buying.

The over-use (yes, over-use) of ear buds is really dangerous. On the way home from work last night, I encountered someone jogging along my side of the road, back to oncoming traffic, with earbuds plugged in. Not only should they have been on the other side of the road, but they could not hear oncoming traffic. And in this college town (Blacksburg), I constantly see students riding bikes with earbuds--ditto on not being to hear traffic around them. For these people, has listening to music become more important than their own life? Apparently so.

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Who is listening?

Without providing personal detail, I have had two incidents this week where an email and a separate conversation both resulted in emails the next day from Amazon suggesting that I guy products related to the email and the conversation.

The email was sent to several people, and two of them were Gmail accounts, so I think it is logical to assume that Google is scanning all gmail messages and passing stuff on to Amazon--Google has admitted as much.

The conversation had to be overheard by an iPhone, which is far more creepy. Apple likes to tout their commitment to privacy, but they are apparently still allowing third parties to activate the microphone and listen in to conversations.

There is really no escaping this, and I have very reluctantly come to the conclusion that a solution probably requires Federal legislation. These technology companies appear to have no shame at all about completely destroying personal privacy.

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Are reforms to Form 477 coming?

Broadband Breakfast has a story on the FCC's proposed changes to the way broadband availability data is collected on what is known as Form 477.

ISPs complete a Form 477 every year, but the data has often been unreliable for several reasons, but the biggest problem has been that if a single address in a census block is "served" by an ISP, then every address in that census block is deemed served. In many rural areas, this cuts off large areas from being eligible for Federal and state grant funds.

The proposed changes include requiring ISPs to indicate where they have service, and eliminating the use of census blocks. Crowdsourcing data (e.g. self-reported speed tests) have also been proposed.

The changes are badly needed, and will benefit many rural communities.

Gig fiber was and is a big part of Danville, Virginia's renaissance

James Fallows writes in The Atlantic about the amazing success of Danville, Virginia. Fallows identifies Gig fiber as of several key factors in the renaissance of the city. Other factors included a local foundation that took a long view of community revitalization and the opportunity to tap Virginia's tobacco settlement funds to build infrastructure like the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research.

Design Nine worked closely with City officials to help develop and build the Gig fiber network, and in my view, another key factor was a small group of City and regional officials that were determined to make a difference--true visionaries. In 2006, when we first began working with the City on developing the fiber network, it was not at all common for municipalities to make fiber broadband investments. And it was even less common to build a municipal open access network. Danville was the first muni open access network in the country (multiple providers offering offering a wide range of competitive services).

Give us a call if you want our help bringing that kind of success to your community.

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I'm back

The Technology Futures Web site has been moved to its own domain (technologyfutures.info) and has been upgraded. The old news site was using very old blogging software that needed substantial upgrades and security improvements. I've been blogging for nearly twenty years, and it turned out that safely moving thousands of news articles was by itself a major effort.

I will resume writing more regularly now.

Best regards,
Andrew Cohill

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Finally, a home assistant that protects privacy

Someone has finally identified the market opportunity to sell a home assistant that protects your privacy. Devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home are sending everything that happens in your home to the Amazon or Google mothership: what music you listen to, what you are talking about, what programs you watch, what you buy....everything. Apple's HomePod also sends everything to Apple for processing, but Apple has a much stronger commitment to protecting customer privacy than Amazon and Google (the latter two don't really promise any privacy protection).

The Mycroft Mark II "Open Voice Assistant" is similar to the other devices in function, but the software uses open source code and more importantly, personal information is not uploaded to a corporate database.

I think we will see more "open" devices like this as people slowly begin to understand the extent of the data collection going on with the corporate devices.

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5G: Hype and disappointment

Here is a good, very readable article that tries to dissect the hype around 5G without dragging you down into the weeds with a lot of arcane technical data.

The short version of the article is perhaps summed up best by a quote from Former FCC Chief Michael Powell: 5G is "...25 percent technology, 75 percent hype."

Deploying "true" 5G is going to take a lot longer than most of the articles would lead you to believe, because it's not just upgrading radios on existing towers. To deliver 5G in a specific area and provide widely available service requires adding lots of small cell sites on shorter utility poles, lamp posts, and anything else the carriers can strap some ugly boxes to. And that takes time.

And as I have noted before. Most 5G cell sites require FIBER connections to enable the over-hyped, over-promised bandwidth. Fiber is the current and future king of broadband.

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Where is all the bandwidth going?

Our use of bandwidth has been doubling every two years since the commercial use of the Internet started in 1993. Depending on whose statistics you believe, it may be doubling every eighteen months. It can't keep doing that forever, but these days, the 25 Meg down/3 Meg up defined by the FCC as "broadband" is setting the bar quite low.

One of the problems is video advertising. Visit almost any Web site in the Internet that carries ads, and you are bombarded with self-playing video. Some of the video ads are embedded on the page, and you have to find some tiny little 'x' to stop them. But the worst are the pop-up videos that follow you from page to page on a site. If you read a three page news article, you might see six or more video ads.

If you don't keep clicking away to get rid of them, you might read a few kilobytes of actual content, while the video ads consume megabytes of data--orders of magnitude more data than the actual content you came to the site to see.

It's a mess, and more so in rural areas of the country where broadband service is very slow. And it is why wireless broadband, while critically important in the short term (the next five to seven years), fiber is the only thing that can tame the bandwidth monster.

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Xerox says, "To heck with customers..who needs them?"

Some years back, Xerox had outsourced all of their customer support to overseas call centers full of people who a)barely spoke English, and b)could only read from a canned script. The result was truly awful interactions if you needed to get a copier repaired or tried to order printer supplies.

But they seemed to figure that out, and for some time, if you called Xerox customer service, you got native English speakers who were delightfully helpful.

But the bean counters counter-attacked. At some point in the last couple of years, Xerox out-sourced all their copier and printer supply sales to CDW.

We have generally been happy with our Xerox printers and copiers, and have only bought Xerox supplies--pricey, but work well.

Recently, two very expensive color toner cartridges both failed within days of putting them in the printer. When we tried to return them to CDW, we were told that defective cartridges have to be returned within 30 days of purchase.

Which is ridiculous.

We always keeps spares on hand, so that if a toner cartridge runs out in the middle of an important customer print job, we have a spare. So we buy cartridges and they might sit on the shelf for two or three months before they are put into use.

So far, we have probably spent at least four hours arguing with CDW and Xerox without result. CDW's attitude is that policy is policy and it is Xerox's problem. Xerox "service" people just mindlessly repeat the policy.

So Xerox willfully sticks its customers with defective products and could care less.

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SportClips and the loss of privacy

SportClips has decided that it does not really want to cut your hair unless you give them your full name, your email address, your phone number, and your birthdate.

For a haircut.

Some months ago, they instituted an online scheduling system so that you can schedule your haircut. And of course, there's an app for that.

Technically, you can still walk in, but if you do that, you still have to sign in, and the system thoughtfully tells you that you have to get in line behind everyone that scheduled a hair cut, including people that have not even shown up yet. And so, if you walk in, you are usually told there is a very long wait.

The relentless solicitation of personal data like birth date (for a HAIRCUT!!) is not only tiring, it's an insult. Companies that do this, like SportClips, don't see us as customers anymore, they see us as data. The haircut becomes incidental to the data harvesting.

I now get my haircut at a new local establishment with wonderful service. The staff there are all former SportClips workers. They told me today that business is booming.

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