iPhone, youPhone, we all phone for iPhone

Have you heard that Apple is releasing a phone today?
When the first iPod was released, six years ago, the first Slashdot reaction read, “No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame.” The early reviews of the iPhone are in and they’re very positive for Apple’s contribution. The device itself, despite some flaws, is brilliant. But the critics are not quite as generous towards AT&T’s contribution– the voice and data cell network. Here’s a handy scorecard from Valleywag
In the WSJ, Walt Mossberg writes, “The iPhone has a major drawback: the cellphone network it uses. It only works with AT&T… it uses a pokey network called EDGE, which is far slower than the fastest networks from Verizon or Sprint that power many other smart phones.”
The NY Times’s David Pogue: “Then there’s the Internet problem. When you’re in a Wi-Fi hot spot, going online is fast and satisfying. But otherwise, you have to use AT&T’s ancient EDGE cellular network, which is excruciatingly slow. The New York Times’s home page takes 55 seconds to appear; Amazon.com, 100 seconds; Yahoo. two minutes. You almost ache for a dial-up modem.”
But I’m not sure what the big problem is. After all, under the FCC’s definition, AT&T’s 300 kbps EDGE network qualifies as broadband. For the last 12 years, the Commission has continued to define a broadband connection as one capable of 200 kbps or more in one direction.
A new report released this week from the Communications Workers of America finds that the US has fallen out of the first tier of connectivity. “The median download speed for the 50 states and the District of Columbia was 1.9 megabits per second (mbps). In Japan, the median download speed is 61 mbps, or 30 times faster than the U.S. The U.S. also trails South Korea at 45 mbps, Finland at 21 mbps, Sweden at 18 mbps, and Canada at 7.6 mbps.”
If upload speeds (which is what individuals use when speaking, sending and publishing to the rest of the internet) were averaged in, the US would fall even further behind, as most cable and DSL broadband connections are asymmetrical. The median upload speed for internet users in the US is 371 kbps– only 19% as fast as the median download speed. Broadband connections in the US are deployed for consumption, not speech. If the FCC definition were modified to require the paltry 200 kbps connection speed in both directions, many US broadband connections would no longer be classified to be broadband.

Broadcasting, flagged

Today, the D.C. Circuit held oral arguments in ALA v. FCC, the court challenge to the FCC Broadcast Flag requirement. Briefly, the broadcast flag is a technoligical mandate that would require all hardware capable of receiving a DTV signal, including general purpose computers, to include circuitry that would prevent the redistribution of any digital broadcast flagged as protected.
Susan Crawford argues that the broadcast flag case is just as important as Grokster: “Like the Grokster case, the flag situation raises this question: can one industry force another to constrain new general purpose technologies in the name of copyright protection? Like the CALEA dispute (prompted by the demands of another great industry — law enforcement), the flag represents an attempt to have high-tech innovators ask permission before innovating.”
The ALA brief offers three challenges to the regulations:

  • The FCC lacks authority to regulate the design of television receivers and therefore lacks the authority to impose a broadcast flag requirement, goes beyond Congressional intentions to limit the Commission’s authority over television design.
  • The Braodcast Flag regime impermissibly conflicts with Copyright law
  • The standards the FCC used to determine that the broadcast flag would solve a problem was arbitrary and capricious.

GWU 2L blogger LuminousVoid attended today’s oral arguments and provides a report of the proceedings.
Declan McCullagh reports on the arguments for News.com Court questions FCC’s broadcast flag rules: “Two of the three judges on the District of Columbia Circuit panel said the FCC never received permission from Congress to undertake such a sweeping regulation, which is intended to encourage the purchase of digital TV receivers that curb Internet distribution of over-the-air broadcasts of programming such as movies and sports.”
The NY Times previewed the oral arguments and discussed one potential effect of the case: Federal Effort to Head Off TV Piracy Is Challenged: “If content creators refuse to provide digital programming because of piracy concerns, consumer demand for digital television will be low, which means a slower transition to all-digital broadcasts. And that, in turn, would mean no revenue for the government from spectrum auctions.”
Ed Felten replies: “P2P infringement gives broadcasters a powerful incentive to offer higher-quality, higher-resolution content. High-res content makes legitimate broadcast service more attractive to viewers. P2P versions can’t match these increases in resolution because doing so would make P2P files much bigger, clogging P2P systems with enormous files and making downloads much slower. If broadcasters have to “compete against free” their best hope is to actually compete, by improving their product — especially when the competitor can’t match the improvement.” Broadcast Flag in Court.
HDNet’s Mark Cuban urges the FCC to call the broadcasters’ bluff and find out whether or not the broadcast licensees can broadcast HD content without a broadcast flag: “We dont need the broacast flag. It accomplishes absolutely nothing other than to set a precedent that the content industry can intimidate the FCC….”
The AP reports on Congressional efforts to speed up the transition to DTV: House Looks at Ways to Speed Digital TV

The December 2006 date isn’t a hard deadline; according to law it could be pushed back until 85 percent of homes in a market can get digital TV. Nationally, only 12 percent of homes have digital sets, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.
Two leading House Energy and Commerce Committee members – Reps. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the chairman, and Fred Upton, R-Mich., said they might introduce legislation that would eliminate the 85 percent provision in order to speed the transition.

During the last Congress, Sen. McCain introduced a bill in the Senate to speed the transition to DTV.

American Detained Over VoIP in Belarus

In Belarus, an employee of the Soros Foundation Open Society Institute was detained for causing damage to the country’s telecommunications providers and for “working as an entrepreneur without registration or permission. Interfax reports: U.S. citizen suspected of causing $100,000 damage in Belarus

U.S. citizen Ilya Mafter, who was detained in Belarus, is believed to have caused about $100,000 in damage to the country’s communications providers, sources in the State Security Committee’s information center told Interfax on Tuesday.

The damage to the communications providers? Possibly routing around them by using VoIP. Ethan Zuckerman: Arrest over VOIP in Belarus

I find myself wondering whether his alleged fraud of VELCOM (the national cellphone company) was his use of Skype to make phonecalls home, or to his office. Ilya is a Skype fan, and I can imagine how the twisted logic of the Belarusian KGB could turn demonstrating Skype to a Belarusian NGO into “damaging” the national infrastructure, by showing people how to avoid absurd call charges.

Courtroom Technology

ACSBlog: The Gradual Digitalization of Our Courtrooms

Over the past couple of decades, computer technology has progressed from being the playthings of geeks to the necessities of neophytes. Despite this rapid-fire growth, our judiciary system has remained somewhat sheltered from the effects of the digital age. Courts around the country — and indeed, around the world — are slowly incorporating the technology into courtroom proceedings.

VoIP, eh?

In the Toronto Star, Michael Geist contemplates the potential of VoIP regulation in Canada: No need for Dickensian approach to voice-via-Web

While most industry observers seem convinced that VoIP is the wave of the future, the regulatory framework surrounding the emerging technology remains uncertain. This week the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) will hold three days of hearings on VoIP regulation

Regulating VOIP

Yesterday, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee passed a Voice Over Internet Protocol Bill.
VOIP Regulatory Freedom Act of 2004 (S. 2281) regulates VOIP at the federal level and preempts state law with three major exceptions. States may still enforce laws and regulations of general applicability, including consumer protection laws and prohibitions against fraud and unfair trade practices. States and local governments may still require 911 and E911 services. States may still regulate transmission facilities and require VOIP providers to pay compensation to incumbent carriers for the use of facilities and contribute to the universal service fees. The bill does not affect VOIP telephony providers obligations under CALEA.
The bill requests a report from the GAO in order to assess:

  • technical capability of law enforcement to intercept and analyze IP transmissions
  • problems encountered by law enformcement when intercepting communications over the Internet or using IP
  • assessment of options for law enforcement agencies to acquire the skills and equipment necessary to analyze Internet communications
  • assessment of the first 10 years of CALEA implementation, compliance along with a cost-benefit analysis.

From the FCC, the bill requires a study assessing the first 10 years of CALEA.
Thomas: Bill Summary and Status
News.com: Senate panel embraces state VoIP taxes

ut in an unexpected twist, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., persuaded the committee to adopt an amendment that permitted states to regulate VoIP services in two ways: levying taxes to pay for universal service and for compensating traditional telephone companies for the use of their phone lines through so-called access charges.

Law Practice Today: Everything You Need to Know about VoIP

Push to wiretap

News.com: Pushing to wiretap ‘push to talk’

U.S. cell phone service providers are willing to wiretap “push to talk” phone calls, but only one has the technological capability to do so, according to sources familiar with the situation.
“The current technology to tap these calls doesn’t exist,” said a representative of Verizon Wireless, which this week told the Federal Communications Commission that it believes wiretapping laws apply to push-to-talk, a service that lets cell phone customers talk with the push of a button, like a walkie-talkie. “But being able to (wiretap push-to-talk calls) is different from believing we shouldn’t be bound by law to do it.”

Pornographers Lead the Way

USA Today reports that the online porn industry is moving to adopt new technologies, like DRM, faster than mainstream entertainment and media companies: Online porn often leads high-tech way

Porn’s recent tech tinkering could have sweeping implications for the music and movie industries, which are trying to protect digital content from being stolen and traded. Each day, millions of video clips and photos are filched from for-pay porn sites and traded, forcing the red-light districts of cyberspace to find novel ways to protect digital content.

FCC considers VoIP

NY Times: Thorny Issues Await F.C.C. on Internet Phones

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission is set to consider approving a notice of proposed rulemaking, the first step in a lengthy process of writing regulations for Internet-based phone services. The commission is also set to issue a final decision on a petition by one of the new Internet phone companies, Pulver.com, which has asked the commission to rule that it does not need to pay interconnection access fees to phone companies for any calls made and received between computers through Internet connections.