Broadband Finally Arriving?

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The United States is still lagging behind much of the world in implementing broadband and providing wide range access for citizens. In a significant shift, the Commission has decided to broadly expand the definition of acceptable broadband service.

The minimum broadband speed has been raised to 25Mbps from 4Mbps, reflective an evolution away from dial-up and (hopefully) toward gigabit access. Minimum upload speeds have also been increased from 1Mbps to 3Mbps. The change will more than triple the number of US households without minimum-standard broadband. In effect the move is a bold commentary on the sad state of our digital infrastructure, as bold as you can get from a regulator anyway.

More shockingly, with the new standard over half of all rural Americans lack access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps service. The divide is still greater on Tribal lands and in U.S. territories, where nearly 2/3 of residents lack access to today’s speeds. And 35% of schools across the nation still lack access to fiber networks capable of delivering the advanced broadband required to support today’s digital-learning tools.

Private providers are likely to get riled up from the new standards, but the Commission doesn’t seem to be backing off. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel believes the broadband threshold should be 100 Mbps. Raising speeds to that level would merely put the US on par with many Asian countries like Japan and Korea, and not even in the top spot. (Still feeling like a world superpower?)

Commissioners have also remarked on the requirements of forward leaning technologies like 4K, which require even greater base broadband speeds. The new definitions could play a role in the upcoming net neutrality vote which is scheduled for February 26.

Moving the Dial at CES

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It’s CES time in Las Vegas….the great and the good of consumer electronics get together and announce larger screens, newer gizmos and tech trends. This year there is much hullabaloo around two areas which I don’t think will impact most people and one which will. Let’s dive in.

The Internet of Things has been a hot topic in the investment space for a few years. The idea here is hooking up the devices which surround us to the web and make them smart. If you are running low on milk your fridge could message your smart watch or car to remind you to stock up.

Wearables are the other hot topic. Our clothing is in danger of getting smarter and  our watches are becoming mini computers. Both of these areas are interesting and over time they will no doubt become much more widely adopted. At the moment both suffer from several key handicaps:
  • They are typically on the expensive side….certainly above the price point where they will be adopted wholesale by budget conscious kids.
  • They can be clunky to use and fragile….battery life is an old school problem which dogs these new school products.
  • They lack the killer application which will drive mas adoption…I’m a tech-aholic and I’m not particularly driven to adopt either. I already have a computer in my pocket already and if I need milk I’ll remember…or not.

The announcement which I am super excited by is the announcement by dish that for $20 a month they will enable you to stream things like Hulu and Netflix and a bunch of cable mainstays like CNN and ESPN. It doesn’t include the broadcast giants CBS, NBC, ABC or Fox…but it is interesting to note that both ABC and ESPN are owned by Disney so that may foreshadow future developments. I live in a modern very efficient house with solar and pretty much my most expensive utility bill is for Verizon Fios. I have sons who are in college or early into careers and the hundred bucks a month most households shell out for cable TV has been a very intractable bill for them. Users will still have to get internet service to the house which is widely available for about $15 a month. Add in Sling from Dish TV (which can run on pretty much any streaming device including smart TVs and for $35 many households (especially younger cable cutters) may well be satisfied. That’s a huge saving and the cable giants are going to have a fit.

Did the US Shut Off Internet for North Korea?

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North Korea’s connection to the public Internet went down Monday, after U.S. officials promised a “proportional response” to the nation’s alleged cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Matthew Prince, chief executive of Cloudflare, a network and security company that monitors global Web access, said it’s conceivable. His engineers confirmed North Korea started losing its Internet connection to the outside world early Monday East Coast time, and was still down at mid-day.

Dyn, which monitors Internet performance, said its tests found North Korean Internet addresses unreachable since 11:15 a.m. ET. But Prince said there are more likely scenarios. Here are three:

Option One: North Korea shut off its own Internet access. Sounds crazy by U.S. standards but tightly controlled regimes, such as Syria, have a history of severing connections during tense moments on the world stage. Doing so would prevent the few North Koreans with Internet access from reading about the current crisis over the Sony hack and would block any incoming cyberattack from the U.S. or its allies.

Option Two: China shut off North Korea’s Internet access. North Korea gets its Internet access through China Unicom, the mainland telecommunications giant, in Shenyang, China. U.S. officials have said they are reaching out to China to pressure North Korea over its alleged involvement in the Sony hack.

Option Three: Someone is interfering with North Korea’s Internet traffic. Since North Korea has just one main connection to the global Internet, it would be possible for an outsider such as a foreign government or mischievous hackers to overload North Korea’s broadband connection with malicious traffic.

What do you guys think happened to North Korea’s internet access?

The Pirate Ship May Float On

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In the late hours of Tuesday night, the Pirate Bay abruptly disappeared from the Internet, the result of a surprise raid on the site’s servers by Swedish police in Stockholm.

But forget the big-picture questions of Internet freedom or intellectual property. The real problem, for millions of Internet-users, is how am I going to watch TV?

The Pirate Bay is as much an idea and an orientation to entertainment media as it is/was a torrent-tracking site. Sure, the Pirate Bay technically indexed torrents, a peer-to-peer file format popular for sharing movies, music and other oversized files. But since its launch in 2003, the world’s “most notorious file-sharing site” has done something a bit more significant, and a bit more permanent, too: It’s made digital piracy a casual, inarguable part of the mainstream.

During just one month in 2013, more than 340 million people tried to download illegal content, an industry report claimed. In North America, Europe and Asia — the regions where most infringement comes from — that averages out to one in four Internet users.

It wasn’t always this way, of course. Before the birth of the torrent protocol in the earlier parts of this century, sharing big files, like TV shows or movies was virtually impossible. But even then, an American guy named Bram Cohen invented, essentially, a new way for computers to communicate data and named it BitTorrent. Less than two years later, in November 2003, just as BitTorrent was starting to gain steam, a little-known group of Swedish activists launched a site to help people find and access these shared BitTorrent files.

Pirate Bay wasn’t the first torrenting site, by any means — but it quickly became the largest, and the one that stuck around. (It’s no coincidence that the popularity of the phrase “torrent download” grew, in lockstep, with the profile of Pirate Bay.) It helped, probably, that Pirate Bay was initially operated by Piratbyran, a sort of pro-piracy think tank, which lobbied extensively against intellectual property law and wanted to popularize torrenting for “moral and political” reasons. In other words, they had the courage of conviction on their side.

Even when The Pirate Bay split off from Piratbyran shortly after its founding, administrators for the site remained involved with the group, circulating petitions, hosting rallies and publishing on “the practical, moral and philosophical issues of file sharing.” And even when law enforcement and industry groups began going after the Pirate Bay — the site was first raided in 2006, and its founders arrested and charged with aiding copyright infringement three years later — the site stayed online, moving frequently to new domains and changing to a more secure, cloud-based infrastructure in 2012.

And yet, despite all these threats, torrenting — on Pirate Bay, the largest torrenting portal, and off it — has only become more popular and more entrenched. Between 2011 and 2013, for instance, unique users on torrenting sites jumped 23.6 percent. There are now tens of millions of people accustomed to getting their “Game of Thrones” and “Breaking Bad” and “Walking Dead” illegally, online. In fact, more people watch “Game of Thrones” by torrent than watch it on HBO — a figure that, more than any other, should hammer in how well-entrenched this whole digital-piracy thing is.

Pirate Bay could very well come back online soon; there’s certainly no evidence, at this juncture, to suggest that it won’t, and the site has bounced back from several such hurdles before. But even if TPB doesn’t return, the politics and the conventions it advanced — that content should be free, and if you torrent, they can be! — will be very difficult to eradicate.

You may be able to shut down Pirate Bay, but good luck raiding the Internet that Pirate Bay created.