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

Florida pokes a hornet's nest

I've been writing for some time about the looming battle over local and state telecom taxes. As more traditional telecom services move to the Internet, the telecom taxes that localities and the state have become so fond of just disappear. I've yet to talk to an elected official who A) understands this, or B) has a plan for dealing with it.

Florida state officials have knocked a telecom tax hornet's nest off the tree, and are about to start poking it with a stick, unless someone comes to their senses.

You need to read the whole article in Wired to get the full story, but briefly, an old telecom law enacted well before the Internet allows the state to tax business telecom networks. It was intended to collect taxes from businesses with their own PBX, but is so broadly written it applies to home business networks as well, and beginning in July, state tax officials may start taxing home-based businesses for having a desktop computer, a laptop, and a printer on a local network.

Aside from the fact that many small business taxes are inherently unfair (for example, in Blacksburg, a home based business gets taxed by the town on gross revenues, but a next door neighbor with a salary of the same amount pays nothing), home-based businesses are one of the fastest growing parts of the economy, and small business generally is creating between 75% and 90% of all new jobs, depending on who you ask. So a strategy of layering more taxes and paperwork on your economic development engine is probably not a good idea.

Technology News:

HD radio: Boon or Bane?

Day by day, new technologies add more and more complexity to our lives while simultaneously making things better.

Internet radio has extended the reach of many local stations to literally, a worldwide audience. Expatriates can listen to hometown programming and news from anywhere in the world. The radio stations benefit from a broader audience, which allows them to raise advertising rates. Advertisers are happy because Internet radio provides better information on how many people are actually listening to the radio.

So what's the problem? HD radio (High Definition), or digital radio, both broadcast over the air or over the Internet, offers higher fidelity. But the music industry is flummoxed because as HD radio becomes more common, it will be possible to make excellent, high quality recordings off the air (which you can do now with any good FM signal, but most people don't bother).

If that is not enough to give record company officials nightmares, the thought of having listeners then use filesharing to "share" all those recordings over the Internet is about to send them right over the edge.

This situation has been building since CDs first became popular twenty years ago, but the Internet, giving music lovers the ability to share music, has made it worse. Amid the smoke and heat of the discussion, there is a legitimate issue about what constitutes fair use. Unfortunately, we have two polarized points of view. The recording industry wants to take back fair use rights consumers have had since Edison started making recordings. In their ideal world, we'd have to pay every time we listen or watch anything (not a good thing). On the other side a a group of mostly college age music listeners who think there is nothing wrong with sharing copyrighted music with the whole world (also not a good or thoughtful thing).

In the middle are a lot of people who think that the music industry is going to have to face the fact that the world has changed, and how record and movie companies make money will have to change along with the world. In the meantime, the entertainment industry is trying furiously to buy the best laws they can afford. Some Congressional reps and Senators, desperate to fill campaign coffers, are all to eager to help out.

What can we do? We need to talk to our own elected leaders--local, state, and Federal, and make sure they are knowledgeable about the issues. We all have a lot to learn, and avoiding all these issues makes the problem worse--ignoring the problems won't make them go away. It's just life these days--fast-paced, complex, interconnected, and all part of a global marketplace. Is it the end of the music industry? Not really, if they are willing to adapt. Apple's iTunes sold 800,000 songs in the first week in Europe--16 times more songs than the number two music download service. People are quite willing to pay for music, if the licensing and digital rights is done correctly.

Technology News:

Rep. Boucher leads reform of DCMA

Congressman Rick Boucher (D) of southwest Virginia has a broad coalition of industry and consumer rights groups for his
reform of the DCMA law
.

Boucher's proposal to fix the worst excesses of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act would legalize the distribution and use of descrambling utilties and circumvention of copy protection schemes as long as no copyright violation takes place. Put another way, consumers would be no longer arrested for breaking and entering simply because they possess a crowbar, which is the way the current DCMA is written.

Boucher also wants to give the FTC broad new powers to police the labeling of CDs, DVDs, and other digital media. Currently, some CDs and DVDs have copy protection schemes that limit the buyer's ability to make copies, but the CDs are not always labeled to indicate that. This part of Boucher's plan is more controversial, since it expands the government's role in the entertainment industry.

It will be interesting to see how this effort progresses in Congress. The entertainment industry will likely spend heavily to defeat this bill, but the DMCA, as it stands, has limited innovation and dramatically curtailed the rights of consumers (i.e. voters) while giving enormous power to a few corporate conglomerates (which do not vote but donate a lot of money to political campaigns).

Technology News:

Rep. Boucher leads reform of DCMA

Congressman Rick Boucher (D) of southwest Virginia has a broad coalition of industry and consumer rights groups for his
reform of the DCMA law
.

Boucher's proposal to fix the worst excesses of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act would legalize the distribution and use of descrambling utilties and circumvention of copy protection schemes as long as no copyright violation takes place. Put another way, consumers would be no longer arrested for breaking and entering simply because they possess a crowbar, which is the way the current DCMA is written.

Boucher also wants to give the FTC broad new powers to police the labeling of CDs, DVDs, and other digital media. Currently, some CDs and DVDs have copy protection schemes that limit the buyer's ability to make copies, but the CDs are not always labeled to indicate that. This part of Boucher's plan is more controversial, since it expands the government's role in the entertainment industry.

It will be interesting to see how this effort progresses in Congress. The entertainment industry will likely spend heavily to defeat this bill, but the DMCA, as it stands, has limited innovation and dramatically curtailed the rights of consumers (i.e. voters) while giving enormous power to a few corporate conglomerates (which do not vote but donate a lot of money to political campaigns).

Technology News:

Successful SpaceShipOne flight opens the Space Economy

Scaled Composite's SpaceShipOne successful suborbital space flight today is a record for the history books, and as time passes, will likely mark the beginning of the Space Economy.

Technology News:

When cameras are everywhere....

The always thoughtful Dan Gillmor has an article about Sprint's move to make the popular Treo handheld phone/PDA without a camera. Apparently corporate buyers don't want their employees using them to steal company secrets.

Gillmore raises an important point--how do we behave in a world where there are cameras wherever we go? In Blacksburg, nearly every streetcorner with a light now has a traffic camera that can be reconfigured quickly to become a surveillance camera, and Blacksburg is not a special case. These cameras are being installed all over the country and throughout the world.

Even places like lockerrooms now require rules about cameras, since a person can easily take photographs surreptitiously in a locker room now. Camera manufacturers are responding to criticism by having the phones make an audible "shutter" click to alert others.

Here we have a clear case of technology outstripping the rules and mores of civil society. Our leaders need to lead by encouraging thoughtful discussion and debate about what is appropriate.

Technology News:

The Space Economy starts on June 21st

December 17th, 1903 was one of the most significant dates of the twentieth century. It was, of course, the day the Wright Brothers flew their airplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The event made the otherwise obscure Kitty Hawk become one of the best known places in the country.

Just a few days from now, on the 21st, the virtually unknown spaceport at Mojave, California may achieve the same status as Kitty Hawk. On that day, Bert Rutan's SpaceShipOne will take off, carry two people into suborbital space, and return for a landing on the same spot, the same day. Two weeks later, Rutan will have to duplicate the feat to win the $10 million X Prize.

Why might this become as significant as the Wright Brother's first flight? Because this will be the first flight by a private company into space, without the support (and high costs) of government-sponsored programs. Teams from all over the globe have been building spaceships for the X Prize, but it's likely that a U.S. team will once again be first, and the U.S. will lead the global Space Economy into the future.

Technology News:

WiFi phone

Here is just one of several new phones that are WiFi only. These wireless Internet phones allow you to make voice phone calls anytime you are in a WiFi hotspot--yet another reason to sprinkle WiFi hotspots around your community.

I found this particular phone on the BroadVoice site, yet another Voice over IP startup that has inexpensive phone rates. Like Vonage, you get a little adapter box that you plug into your Ethernet hub/switch, and you plug a normal telephone into the adapter box--instant Voice over IP phone. You can take the box with you when you travel and make phone calls from your own phone number anywhere you can connect to the Internet.

One of the key drivers of VoIP technology will be this last feature, which is true number portability. In the future, we won't need to keep track of cellphone numbers and home phone numbers, or cell numbers and business numbers. We'll have a true portable phone number that we carry with us in our pocket, literally.

Are we witnessing cyberterrorism?

An attack yesterday on Akamai servers disrupted service for some of the biggest sites on the Internet, including Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Google.

Akamai servers are located throughout the US and overseas and help speed up major Web sites by locating some of the content closer to users. According to the article, an Akamai representative characterized the attack as a "large scale international attack on the Internet infrastructure."

There is a lot of speculation about why it was done, but one possibility to be considered is terrorism. A handful of sites in the world attract a very high percentage of Web traffic (over 90%). If a persistent, determined attack degraded service on major Web sites for an extended period of time, it would have major economic impacts, and the values of many kinds of IT stocks would likely experience significant losses.

Terrorists don't have to do much--they just have to attach a few high visibility targets, and fear, uncertainty, and doubt will do the rest.

Technology News:

Cellphone viruses

If there were not already enough to worry about, we now have cellphone viruses. A UK Web site has a story on a cellphone virus spread by the wireless Bluetooth protocol, which some newer phones have built in. Bluetooth is a short range wireless protocol intended to make it easier to sync cellphone data with your computer, among other uses.

The Cabir virus is harmless, and simply displays the word 'caribe' on your cellphone display. But it would be easy to design other virueses that wipe out contact information, change ring tones, and make other changes to the data stored on the phone.

Computer viruses remain a serious problem. The article notes that the Zafi-B worm is found in nearly 10% of all emails right now.

I think I'll keep my old, pre-Bluetooth phone a bit longer. Although it is two years old and has lately caused some twenty-somethings to wrinkle their noses in disgust when I pull it out, it works just fine, and is loaded with many useless functions that I have never had any use for. It's not clear to me why I need a new phone with more useless functions. My favorite useless function on my phone is the tip calculator; you type in the the amount of the bill and the percentage tip you want to give, and it figures it out for you. Strangely enough, I've always been able to do that kind of math in my head. If I really felt the need to apply technology to the task, I could also use the built in calculator, which will figure out tips with the same number of keystrokes as the tip calculator. What would we do without the IT industry?

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