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Veteran tech political reporter Declan McCullagh determines Internet Safety Act would apply to everyone who runs a Wi-Fi network: The law imposes unheralded requirements for keeping records on who accesses a given network, something that governments want to track criminals (often citing child-pornography downloaders) regardless of the cost to individuals and businesses in dollars, sense, time, and privacy. Odd how the Republicans back this so strongly; it's the law-and-order thing. But Dems are behind a similar version of the bill.
The act would requires two years worth of data being stored for anyone providing "an electronic communication service or remote computing service." McCullagh's analysis is that this applies to basically every kind of network everywhere run for any purpose by anyone.
That sweeps in not just public Wi-Fi access points, but password-protected ones too, and applies to individuals, small businesses, large corporations, libraries, schools, universities, and even government agencies. Voice over IP services may be covered too.
It's unclear what this could possibly mean for home users and casual network operators like cafes. I'm sure larger firms, like Wayport (now an AT&T division), already had data-retention policies and have had to work with law enforcement in the past. But what would I, with my home network, have to do?
Some home Wi-Fi routers do keep internal logs by default, and would record the MAC addresses and timestamps of when access occurred. How about, however, if yours doesn't? Or it keeps one month of data and then dumps it?
I don't think this law's scope was well thought out, clearly, and one hopes that ISPs, consumer groups, and Wi-Fi gateway makers band together to force some sense into it.
Starbucks, AT&T biff day one of the card loyalty program: After several hours of occasional attempts to register my Starbucks Card (actually, two) with the company for free Wi-Fi and other rewards, seeing "Service Unavailable," long delays, errors, and a general failure to accept my card--now there's a message. "Due to overwhelming interest in Card Rewards we are currently experiencing difficulty accessing Starbucks Cards accounts. We are working to fix the problem and ask that you please try again later."
(Update: A Starbucks spokesperson called me in the late afternoon to let me know the site was back up and running. They had an excess of interest, shall we say. I checked: the site is working and I was able to register quickly and without a hitch.)
The Card Rewards program allows anyone with a Starbucks Card to register it with Starbucks for freebies, including Wi-Fi. There's an interesting choice (when it worked) where you can select whether to have freebies like free exotic milk options or brewed coffee refills by themselves or with Wi-Fi on top. If you choose Wi-Fi, you're redirected to SBC servers (for nostalgia's sake), at which point everything seems to fall apart.
Trying two separate cards, I was unable to set up an account and get the cards to take. The errors weren't clearly spelled out. Clearly, the system was neither designed to handle demand, nor designed to fail gracefully, blocking users until capacity was available.
For loyal Starbucks patrons, this doesn't come across very well at all.
Sprint seemed awfully clever when it navigated a public safety deal and gained new spectrum as part of its acquisition of Nextel: That's all unraveling now. The FCC and the courts are saying that a 26-June-2008 deadline for vacating its 800 MHz holdings in favor of public safety groups would hold even if the new users weren't on the band. The delays for new users getting on the band are reportedly Sprint's, given that it had the responsibility for this migration.
Nextel had splintered holdings in the 800 MHz band that were difficult to administer, and caused verifiable interference with (and vice versa) splintered public safety spectrum in that band. Sprint agreed to pay the estimated multi-billion-dollar cost of getting new equipment to public safety agencies in exchange for a hunk of spectrum that they wouldn't have to buy at auction from the FCC. The cost for a whole set of swaps, migrations, and givebacks was $4.8b, but there was technically no limit on how much Sprint would have to pay for public safety migration--as much as it cost is the true limit.
Last August, the Wall Street Journal did a lengthy update of the 2005 deal, explaining that the effort was vastly behind schedule, and was vastly underbudgeted, too. One county in Pennsylvania estimated that its costs could run $18.5m to $150m, with the low number far above Sprint's own estimates.
It would be seemingly unfair to allow Sprint's delays in moving fire, police, and first responders off the band to also delay Sprint's requirement in vacating the band. We'll see how the FCC chooses to respond. It could cost Sprint billions and further accelerate the loss of Nextel customers, because Sprint would lose a number of active iDEN sites.
They have no one to blame but themselves. Sprint's management has blundered through this merger for years. They kept separate Kansas and Virginia headquarters, failed to produce high-quality dual-network devices, gave few incentives for Nextel customers to move to Sprint's dominant CDMA network, bled employees, and botched this migration.
Now Sprint did have the problem of needing to help move incumbents in the 1.9 GHz spectrum it received and the 800 MHz spectrum it was giving up. The articles on this court decision don't note whether Sprint's 1.9 GHz network is free and clear, nor whether Sprint had been working for the last three years to get its Nextel users to get dual-band handsets that would work with the new frequency.
With the WiMax plan also on the table, Sprint was basically committed to building or rebuilding and supporting four network architectures: CDMA (for 2G), EVDO (for 3G), WiMax (for 4G), and iDEN (for 2G).
Sprint is in the position where it may variously be sold (to Deutsche Telekom to merge with its T-Mobile USA division, which would add both GSM and UMTS/HSPA to the mix!), sell off its Nextel division (to a public safety venture headed by Cyren Call), and/or spin off its WiMax division or form a broad venture with Clearwire to build and market it.
Update: Oh, yeah, and Qwest walks away from Sprint partnership, switching to Verizon Wireless as its partner. Qwest spun off its cell division years ago, and has no overlap in its wireline territory with Verizon.
This child-porn-over-Wi-Fi story baffles me from two fronts: From Minnesota, a person (I use the term lightly) in a town north of Saint Paul and east of Minneapolis decided to use free Wi-Fi at a Dunn Brothers coffeeshop to view child pornography. He apparently sat or crouched in an alley or hallway between the cafe and another business.
Here's what mystifies me. First, someone from the business he's crouching near spots him viewing the porn, and instead of calling 911, reports him to the cafe's manager. Then, the cafe manager shoos the guy away instead of calling the police. Only when the man returns three weeks later does the manager call police.
If you ever see someone viewing images of clearly underage individuals engaged in sexual acts or having those acts performed on them, you call the police. There are times when it's unclear whether the images are against the rules of an orderly society in which we protect its weakest members, but I believe with most of this category of pornography, there is a bright line. There's not much subtle child porn, from the reports issued by the police.
The broader issue of whether one should ever look at images of consenting, legal age participants in naked gymnastics in public places is also pretty clear (no).
Schneier on leaving his Wi-Fi network open: Bruce Schneier is a security savant, and I usually admire his writing. In this case, he wrote something quite stupid for Wired. He explains that he leaves his Wi-Fi at home unsecured and wide open. He walks through technical and legal and practical reasons why closing the network isn't of interest to him. But he only mentions the most important bit in passing: ". If I configure my computer to be secure regardless of the network it's on, then it simply doesn't matter. And if my computer isn't secure on a public network, securing my own network isn't going to reduce my risk very much."
And how, Mr Security Guru, might I do that? Readers taking his advice without knowing that he's set up encryption for his computer's data across the open network--which is what I assume he's done--would be exposing themselves to risk. He's also wrong about risk profiles. The risk profile at a Wi-Fi hotspot is smaller because of the time dimension (how long someone might attack your computer) and the population dimension (how many people might attack your computer over time).
I don't advise opening your home network because securing your desktop computers and even laptops is so much of a hassle most of the time, that simply disabling local network access--over which more attacks can be launched because many firewalls consider the local network a trusted network and lower their defenses--is the lowest-hanging fruit for average users' protection.
Also, Schneier's discussion with "several lawyers" led to his summary that if someone misused your network, you might wind up plea bargaining over child porn suits or paying the RIAA thousands of dollars to settle, even if you're not at fault. But his conclusion: "I remain unconvinced of this threat, though." I do not.
Finally, Schneier dismisses concerns over ISPs who don't allow their networks to be shared. (Note that although he mentions Fon, he doesn't note their Roadrunner cable deal, which provides their private/public router service to a much larger potential audience with legal sharing ability.) Schneier writes, "But despite the occasional cease-and-desist letter and providers getting pissy at people who exceed some secret bandwidth limit, this isn't a big risk either. The worst that will happen to you is that you'll have to find a new ISP." He is unaware of the near-monopoly in many parts of the US, even in cities where a duopoly exists. In many cases, a cable firm that drops you can't be replaced by any other broadband provider.
Open networks constructed properly with good security are a great addition to the arsenal of access. Implicitly advising everyone to open their APs--not so good.
Sophos certainly did a great PR job: Dozens of articles have appeared in the last few days trumpeting Sophos's survey conducted for The Times of London. They found that 54 percent of those asked admitted that they've used someone else's Wi-Fi connection without their permission. What's strange about this is two things: The Times characterizes the question asked incorrectly and doesn't note the sample size. On Sophos's site, they provide both the precise question asked and the sample size, which was a meager 560 people.
The Times wrote, "It discovered that 54 per cent of computer users have secretly used someone else’s wireless broadband connection without paying for it." But the question asked according to Sophos was, "Have you ever used someone else's Wi-Fi connection without their permission?"
There's a vast difference, as I have written about for years. The question doesn't encompass whether someone hacked a network to use it--unlikely that very many people would do that at all--so we're talking about people accessing networks that aren't protected with some form of encryption. Some of these networks are open on purpose; many not. It's a very imprecise question, and worse in the Times's inaccurate restatement. We don't know that anyone stole access who answered this question; the Times assumes they did.
With this small a survey size, and no information provided on demographics, this reveals essentially nothing about people's behaviors. In the UK, accessing a network without permission is illegal; the Times notes just 11 people have been arrested for such actions. I'd like to see a sample size of 20,000 regular users of the Internet outside their homes. I expect the number is much higher than 54 percent. But it still doesn't really tell us much except that it's easy to use Wi-Fi when a network is intentionally or unintentionally left unprotected against access.
A Sophos manager has this rather specious soundbite, too: "Stealing Wi-Fi internet access may feel like a victimless crime, but it deprives ISPs of revenue."
After Verizon's recent settlement with New York State over its BroadbandAccess service's limits, I've been watching its terms of service (TOS) change: I've written about Verizon Wireless's TOS for cell data for a few years, because it's the most restrictive and most ridiculous in the industry. No longer. Partly as a result of the settlement with Andrew Cuomo's office in New York, and I think partly due to the competitive nature of services that don't impose the same limits, the TOS has morphed into something that offers relatively decent disclosure and full limits.
I used the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive to examine previous TOS's to compare. Back in January, the TOS had the terms I have poked fun at for years: unlimited service can only be used for Internet browser, email, and intranet access. Explicitly prohibited uses include running servers; continuous uploading or streaming of audio, video, or game content; and using the service in place of a dedicated line, like a DSL connection. Peer-to-peer uses were banned, too.
This TOS has the incorrect example that someone would use "more than 5 GBs in a month" if they used the service continuously for 10 hours a day, seven days a week. Actually, that would be more like 50 GB. Using the service at full capacity for an hour a day would hit 5 GB, so it's a very low limit. This TOS had the egregiously offensive line, "Anyone using more than 5 GB per line in a given month is presumed to be using the service in a manner prohibited above," which is part of what got them in trouble in New York.
(I had thought that Verizon barred VoIP, but a check with the company confirmed that that restriction was dropped by 2006.)
These TOS terms didn't change through August, when the Wayback Machine loses track, but they did change after the New York settlement. When I wrote about the New York settlement on 23-Oct-2007, the bad calculation was still in place. Two weeks late, on 05-Nov-2007, language about throttling appeared. When I checked a few days ago, it had changed even further: the bad calculation was gone as was a threat of cancellation. Gone, too, is the restriction about streaming, uploading, or downloading. They still treat the line as not a fixed broadband replacement, and they added descriptions of disruptive network activities that aren't allowed, even though one would expect that those would already be a problem.
In terms of excessive use, they simply state now that using more 5 GB per billing period (which lasts a month) could result in them throttling your maximum download speed to 200 Kbps. They also provide reporting of your current usage, so you can see where you're at.
Now, as a consumer, you can read this and decided whether paying $60 to $80 per month for unlimited service is what you need. Sprint Nextel and AT&T both have less restrictive language, and apparently a lower level of enforcement. T-Mobile, with its 2.5G EDGE network, has generated no complaints I'm aware of from customers accused of misuse of the 100 to 200 Kbps unlimited service.
Part of my interest with mobile WiMax is whether restrictions are lifted on even more categories of use. Clearwire intends their service to be used as a wired broadband replacement--that's been their model all along. If WiMax costs the same, has faster speeds (as I found in my testing this last week with the Clearwire PC Card), and fewer restrictions than cell data, there's an audience that might make an informed decision about which network to choose.
Haw haw: Verizon Wireless agrees that advertising what I have called its "unmetered" cell data plans as "unlimited" is not the right term, and will change it due to action by the New York State Attorney General's office. The company will refund $1m to customers and pay $150,000 in penalties and costs to the state. They didn't admit any wrongdoing. The investigation found that 13,000 people nationally had their accounts canceled between 2004 and April 2007 for excessive use. In April, Verizon agreed to stop canceling accounts, and allow "common Internet uses."
I've been writing about this issue for years and years. Read this BoingBoing post in which I chimed in back Nov. 2005, for one instance. A service advertised as unlimited, but which is actually limited, is not unlimited. NY AG Andrew Cuomo said in the press release, "When consumers are promised an ‘unlimited’ service, they do not expect the promise to be broken by hidden limitations."
Their revised terms of service spell more out about what a reasonable limit is, including actual numbers, as well as providing examples of what they allow and don't allow. The word unlimited has disappeared.
But they do the math wrong, as I've noted before. They note, "A person engaged in prohibited uses continuously for one hour could typically use 100 to 200 MB, or, if engaged in prohibited uses for 10 hours a day, 7 days a week, could use more than 5 GB in a month." No. That's one hour a day, seven days a week--not 10 hours a day--to reach 5 GB. 10 hours a day would hit 50 GB. Technically, "more than 5 GB" is accurate, but it's about as accurate "unlimited" was in the past.
Update, 05-Nov-07: Verizon updated its TOS again to note that if you exceed 5 GB per month, they could throttle you to 200 Kbps. They could still cancel your account but at least they're spelling out penalties, and providing the potential of continuous service even if they have a bone to pick with you.
Getting closer to actually serving the customer. They better watch out: they might actually do something in our best interests.
Update: 2008-09-24: It has come to my attention that links to this post are attempting to paint me, after the fact, as being wrong about everything because I said Starbucks wouldn't offer free Wi-Fi in 2008. This requires me to set the record straight.
In the post below, I spell out why Mike Elgan was incorrect about Starbucks planning to give Wi-Fi away for free. I stand by that logic. What happened, rather, is that Starbucks switched its provider from T-Mobile to AT&T, and both firms are giving away service--but not quite at no cost.
AT&T is offering free Wi-Fi to all its DSL subscribers and fiber-optic customers. They receive monthly fees from those users, and turned on the Starbucks tap (along with 10,000 McDonald's locations they purchase access to from their services partner Wayport) as a way to reduce churn. It's a marketing expense, and not very expensive. It's not free--it's free to AT&T high-speed subscribers. Starbucks isn't paying for that "free" service.
Likewise, Starbucks isn't giving away access; they're rewarding loyalty. Again, it's a marketing expense. You have to make a purchase every 30 days on a Starbucks Card to obtain two continuous hours of access each day for the following 30 days. That's a bonus, but it's not precisely free.
In both cases, the companies get a windfall from providing a service at no extra charge. Elgan and others were speculating that Starbucks would go entirely free: no purchases, no loyalty, no cost. Didn't happen.
As I note in the conclusion below, Starbucks would have had to pay millions to T-Mobile to offer a no-cost network; instead, the deal with AT&T is clearly more favorable. Starbucks may have negotiated some or no payment for its own loyalty program, but over 12m AT&T subscribers were brought onboard by that firm, which certainly was a motivating factor for Starbucks to change over.
I don't mean to be picky, but free Wi-Fi at Starbucks? Ha. It. Didn't Happen.
Mike Elgan, who, please note, I like and have worked for and with in the past, so don't take this wrong, is bloody foolishly wrong: Elgan predicts that Starbucks will drop its fees for access in the next year. Ain't. Gunna. Happen.
Let's get to facts about who operates this network first. Elgan says that Starbucks offers Wi-Fi along with partners T-Mobile and HP. Now, I don't know how HP wound up getting its name inserted in there--Compaq had a multi-year supplier deal with Starbucks that HP acquired in the merger--but T-Mobile is the Wi-Fi provider; Starbucks is its customer, perhaps branded as a "partner," because Starbucks remains the single largest tenant on the T-Mobile USA HotSpot network, and a significant customer in Europe, too.
Elgan says we get free Wi-Fi of a sort already: with the right gear, you can buy songs from Apple via iTunes over a Starbucks-located T-Mobile hotspot. Right. And I can drink my own coffee in Starbucks, too, as long as I purchase it from them. Not really the same as free Wi-Fi when it's simply an alternate retail delivery channel for digital media--not Internet access.
The reason that Elgan thinks that Starbucks might go free is because of McDonald's: the two giant chains now compete in some categories, with McDonald's providing pretty good coffee and Starbucks offering things that resemble upscale Egg McMuffins.
Here's where things go off the rails. Elgan writes that with UK McDonald's offering free Wi-Fi over the coming months, that the quick-service restaurant franchiser and owner will "gradually roll out Wi-Fi at restaurants in other countries--including in the U.S." Mike, sorry to tell you this: McDonald's has Wi-Fi at over 8,000 locations in the U.S., with Wayport providing the service. McDonald's uses it for internal purposes, AT&T resells it for $0 to $2 to its DSL customers as part of AT&T WiFi, Nintendo DS users access it for free (since 2005), and so on. (McDonald's has over 15,000 restaurants unwired worldwide.)
This rollout started in 2004 after a heated competition among Cometa, Toshiba, and Wayport. Wayport won. Toshiba exited the business. Cometa shut down. Man, I wrote a lot about that back then. How soon we forget.
Also important to recall that McDonald's is organized into national divisions, and it's unlikely that a directive would spread worldwide for something like Wi-Fi access, which intersects with culture and technology in each country. Ditto, T-Mobile, which has a separate U.S. organization, and sells hotspot access on a separate basis in the U.S. from its European operations. (There's a roaming deal that's purely on a metered basis between T-Mobile's European and U.S. Wi-Fi customers.) In the UK, hourly charges for Wi-Fi are ridiculously high (several pounds an hour isn't unheard of), and there's a countervailing movement to bring more free Wi-Fi to the front, as well as inexpensive unlimited plans; thus, McDonald's UK hopping on that trend.
I have never had a conversation with T-Mobile about its hotspot network in which it wasn't made clear that they were perfectly happy, if not occasionally ecstatic, about the usage, its growth, and the resultant effect on their segment of the corporate bottomline, even though I've never been told dollar figures. Occasionally, T-Mobile releases usage numbers, and they're awfully good. That's partly because T-Mobile's network is designed to reduce churn and retain customers. Customers who pay the $30 per month as voice subscribers for unlimited EDGE and unlimited Wi-Fi must be fairly happy--and they're not paying $6/hour to use a Starbucks Wi-Fi network, either.
If Starbucks went free, T-Mobile would lose a large portion of its customers paying it for unlimited Wi-Fi. And their churn would increase. And they'd lose the portion of walk-up dollars, which is probably a decent amount in the several airports they cover. Thus Starbucks would need to pay T-Mobile a fairly significant amount of money, perhaps tens of millions of dollars a year, if that money could begin to cover long-term customer retention on top of real revenue.
So. Ain't. Gunna. Happen.
Meraki has changed its pricing and feature model for its mesh networking system, angering early users: Exiting its beta, Meraki has changed its pricing and service model, while requiring the display of advertising and a piece of the action for handling billing. This abrupt change, announced quietly last week, has resulted in a nascent networker revolt. It may be that early infrastructure builders abandon Meraki because to continue expanding networks, their cost structure has gone way up while control has gone way down.
The two basic nodes that Meraki sells, Indoor and Outdoor, were priced at $50 and $100 during the beta. The beta flag is gone from their site, and while you can still buy the nodes at that price, many features formerly included raise the price to $150 for Indoor and $200 for Outdoor. These prices move them into the range of what used to be much higher-priced metro-scale hardware.
Meraki's system works by having little intelligence built into nodes instead relying on an Internet-hosted administrative system to handle the heavy lifting. Adding nodes requires just some configuration via a Web site. Each node auto-discovers existing networks allowing their addition. Each gateway to the Internet added to a Meraki network increases the bandwidth pool.
The change puts tiers into effect. The Standard edition with the cheaper pricing doesn't allow billing nor user authentication, nor does it offer a custom splash page (a logo is all). Even the network name gets Meraki branding on it ("Free the Net" precedes a local name). Standard does offer a private WPA-protected network for the owners, but without any granular access control. This means that a group that wants to change small amounts for access or control access by user cannot use the entry-level version. According to the forums, this includes a lot of early networks. Standard networks also can't "whitelist" more than a handful of devices, which means that devices that lack the ability to display a Web page for authentication purposes can't even access the network. So no Xboxes, VoIP phones, and so on.
The Pro edition bypasses these limitations, essentially adding a $100 per node license for advanced control and the ability to bill. However, because several of the Pro features were previously in the only version Meraki sold during its beta, many networks had build their business model, their pitch to cities and communities and businesses, and their financing on $50 and $100 nodes. The Pro version ups the ante while taking away some of what these network builders need, according to the forums. (A Carrier class version, with no pricing disclosed, allows a tie-in with existing user authentication system, and allows more of a private-label version.)
So-called Legacy networks, ones that were built before this last week, can continue to run as they do or be upgraded to Pro status at no extra cost. But once upgraded, all the Pro limitations are in effect. Any new nodes added to a Legacy network must be Pro nodes, too; there's no option to add Standard nodes. This is part of what's causing ire on the Meraki forums. (One of these networks, Kokua Wireless, was praised in an editorial in today's Honolulu Star Tribune; someone from the network noted on Meraki's forums, "It'll be hard to build a business even @ the Pro level knowing Meraki can make such drastic changes." One network operator has already flashed his Merakis with alternate firmware.) Update: Meraki says it's been talking to all the operators and groups that have problems with their new model; I'll have more details Monday.
In this formal release, Meraki now displays advertising on every page using what they variously call Community Messaging, Community Messaging & Advertising Platform, and Messaging Platform. It's often euphemistic. In effect, Google ads--Google is a Meraki investor--will appear on every page in a special toolbar that requires no installation. Which means that it's inserted using some technique--probably frames--that might cause other problems, too. Network operators can insert localized messages, but to a limited extent. There's no option for Standard and Pro users to disable advertising or the messaging bar. There's no disclosure on what revenue, if any, Meraki splits with the network operator. If Meraki handles billing for Pro users, they keep 20 percent of gross revenue.
I had to check the Web site after being alerted to this change, assuming that senior management--largely a bunch of MIT grad students who turned RoofNet into this clever commercial offering--had been fired or shuffled, and a new carrier-oriented CEO was hired. As far as the site shows, it's the same gang. Which surprises me, given how open the group was about communicating, and how interested in community building. This is a huge stumble, when the community tells me that they were unaware of the changes to come until the Web site started to have new information on it.
At $150 and $200 for managed nodes, Meraki has now lost some of its edge against companies like Tropos Networks, the most likely comparison. While Tropos, Cisco, BelAir, Motorola, Strix, and SkyPilot typically charge $2,000 to $5,000 for their nodes, with the more expensive ones including 5 GHz backhaul radios, those prices are heavily discounted, several sources have told me recently. Tropos nodes can cost EarthLink, its biggest customer, under $1,000, I have it from multiple parties outside the service provider.
While $1,000 is clearly five times $200 for a similar outdoor piece of gear, that belies several factors. Tropos is using enormously high-powered radios, capable of producing up to the maximum legal signal strength in 2.4 GHz. Tropos has a sophisticated back-end that allows integration with many popular management and authentication systems. Using Tropos or other vendors' network gear is substantially less trivial than building one from Meraki pieces, but with enormously larger coverage areas relative to cost now, Meraki has moved itself towards that equipment range without bringing the robustness needed.
The system and hardware has gotten rave reviews for the simplicity in building a network in bits and pieces. But the good will may have just flown out the window. I have just sent a query off to Meraki's PR firm, but it being Sunday morning, I don't expect to update this post until Monday.
Unlimited means unlimited, except in the cell world: Apple signed on to the embarrassing doublespeak of the cellular telephone industry yesterday in its launch with UK cell carrier O2 of the iPhone in Britain. O2 added Wi-Fi to the mix via The Cloud's 7,500 locations as part of the included price in any of three reported plans for service, which start at £35 for 200 minutes of calls and 200 SMS messages. The data plans for EDGE and Wi-Fi are "unlimited" not unlimited. The footnote on O2's information page says that unlimited "fair usage" is included. But that's just garbage.
Just like Verizon's definition of "unlimited BroadbandAccess" meaning "about 5 GB a month regardless of your use, and we'll pretend you're using it illegitimately if you exceed that amount even if you're using it for purposes we define," O2 is playing games. It's not unlimited. It's a limited, unmetered service. You are not paying per byte, but they have a number in their systems, which the company head defined at a press event yesterday as "no more than 1,400 Web page downloads" per day.
Examining O2's site, I can find no specific mention as to what fair usage constitutes for an iPhone. The BlackBerry plan includes just 75 MB per month as part of unlimited fair usage. A special "1024" plan includes 1 GB per month in that definition
The lack of a definition, and the weasel-like nature of redefining a perfectly straightforward word to create market confusion and deception, in which customers are incapable of knowing what's meant even after they sign up for service, is despicable.
Apple should know better.
I would like to call for a set of consumer complaints against the misuse of this term. Any time you see the word "unlimited" used with a proviso or asterisk, write your national regulator or advertising standards board and complain. There's misuse of unlimited privileges, which I can understand: someone using a service in contravention of reasonable terms. But that's not what cell companies mean. They mean, whatever you're doing, however reasonable, we set the limit in unlimited.
AT&T continues to baffle me: The firm dropped the $1.99 per month charge for access to about 10,000 hotspots, mostly McDonald's, that they charged their broadband users for the highest speed DSL subscriptions. That saves people a whopping roughly $24 per year. But despite the fact that the iPhone is mentioned in this brief article, there's still obviously no mental connection inside the company between the AT&T Consumer division (which made this announcement) and the wireless arm that's handling the iPhone. So much for integration.
Clarins! Take me away: Cut to scene of woman with skin like Scarlett Johansson lounging in tub, surrounded by cell phones, Wi-Fi gateways, and uranium. "I'm 75, but you would never know it. Until now, I've spent 23 hours each day in a lead-lined bathysphere, miles below the earth to keep my skin silky smooth. But now I have Clarins Expertise 3P, specially formulated to protect me from artificial electromagnetic waves. While I always try to use natural electromagnetic waves, spending days at a time in the Van Allen Belts and consuming a healthy diet of charged particles created by nature, you know that in this modern age, artificial electromagnetism is all around me. Fortunately, Expertise 3P invisibly shields my skin through a formula that's as natural as can be,i including phenooxyethanol, biosaccharide gum-4, and sodium chloride--ordinary salt! So the next time you need to leave your lead-lined chamber and visit the site of a recent nuclear test or just walk under an artificial light, try Clarins Expertise 3P. Only $40 for a 3.4-ounce bottle."
(The science: "When exposed to 900 megahertz waves--the type most commonly used in communications--skin's free radical production increased, its protective barriers deteriorated and cellular renewal slowed by 26%.") [link via Leslie Schroeder, pictured on her all-natural yak]
I can't make this stuff up: "The San Francisco Neighborhood Antenna-Free Union (SNAFU) is a grass-roots, city-wide coalition of individual residents and neighborhood organizations that works to prevent the placement of wireless antennas on or near residences, schools, health care centers, day care centers, senior centers, playgrounds, places of worship, and other inappropriate locations in the City and County of San Francisco." That is, everywhere in the city.
If the group is successful in their effects to force a unique environmental review of the Wi-Fi network, a review that hasn't been required by any other wireless provider--oh, and remember that electrical lines produce RF as do wired networks! and equipment people buy for their homes!--it could delay the network construction by a year.
See their list of usual suspects. See their list of only studies and "evidence" that supports their position (omitting hundreds of studies that don't). I know, I know: that's advocacy. But it's intellectually bankrupt.
Their press release notes: "San Francisco is already immersed in a sea of electromagnetic radiation from sources such as 138 transmitters on Sutro Tower, over 2,500 licensed cell phone antennas at 530 locations throughout the City, thousands of WiFi
hotspots in cafes, shops and homes, and hundreds of thousands of cellular phones. No systematic attempt has been made to determine what current cumulative exposures to this radiation are and what the 2,200 proposed Google/Earthlink antennas would add."
Right. So. Uh. If you don't turn all those off, how do we decide if there's an effect, especially if you ignore the scientific and theoretical evidence that doesn't support your position? When a handful of scientists worldwide take the stance that more research is needed, but don't see a smoking gun? When no cancer clusters or other disease clusters have emerged inexplicably in areas that have had the greatest coverage for the greatest period with the greatest number of users (San Francisco and the Bay Area, notably, with Metricom, cell data, Wi-Fi, and other technologies deployed in the greatest concentration for the longest period)?
I'm calling this right now: EarthLink and San Francisco are going to walk away from their Wi-Fi network deal. This latest group's work will probably put enough of a wrench into the deal coupled with the other delays, and the lack of certainty of a board of supervisors go-ahead, that this network is dead.
This appears to be a news article, but it's got a strong slant towards monitoring: The article presents a sensational opening! Child porn being downloaded! A warrant! Pounding on a door! But it's only an elderly lady, and she's not even stealing music. No, we get the specious fact that the police are powerless to apprehend a villain because the elderly lady is fiendishly operating an unprotected Wi-Fi access point. "Perhaps one of those neighbors, authorities said, was stealthily uploading photographs of nude children. Doing so essentially rendered him or her untraceable," the reporter writes. Not so much: Traditional police work coupled with an exact geographic location should have provided enough clues.
But apparently open Wi-Fi is a huge danger because this reporter hasn't heard of anonymizer and randomizer services that allow anyone at any public terminal--Wi-Fi, college campus, or even, gasp, at a workplace--to be used in a fairly untraceable manner. In fact, probably more untraceably than hopping on a free or open Wi-Fi location and abusing it, assuming security through security.
This quote is rather telling in the same manner: "Unsecured networks are a treasure trove for neighbors," said John Sheehan, program manager of the CyberTipline at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "Those looking to access illegal content obviously feel they have anonymity" and can get away with it.
Again, if neighbors are gaining access, then it's easier to trap those neighbors through monitoring. They may "feel they have anonymity," but they have quite a bit less because of proximity.
And here's a nice piece of opinion right smack in the middle of the article: "Open wireless signals are akin to leaving your front door wide open all day -- and returning home to find that someone has stolen your belongings and left a mess that needs cleaning."
No, it's more like having an endless pot of coffee that you're willing to let anyone pour a cup from, even though you're paying for the electricity. The coffee is essentially free, because you're paying a fixed amount for unlimited java. The "front door wide open" argument applies when you intend to close your network and fail to; don't understand that your network can be closed (and if you did, would prefer to); or you're an incumbent Internet service provider arguing that bits aren't bits: one set of bits must be paid for differently than another, and sharing access is theft.
(I don't think that every ISP must allow sharing, and I do agree in following the terms of service agreed to. But given that the terms for broadband are essentially coercive due to the effect in the US of having no nondiscriminatory access by competitive providers for wireline access to homes, that means that the market hasn't decided that not allowing sharing is a reasonable way of doing business.)
The reporter also notes, "Closing cases is more difficult if the IP address originated from a wireless signal because it often leads back to the owner of the network instead of the criminal." That's only true if you're thinking about abusers has working from single locations. The writer notes that with an increasing number of open access points, the problem will get worse. Again, that assumes that you have thousands of people roaming across extremely wide areas to gain access. It's more likely that people act within a relatively small distance from their home, making a pattern of abuse easier to track down: "Hey, that guy downloaded child porn here, here, and here, so he probably lives about here."
The interesting point here is not that this story is biased towards a particularly naive view of law enforcement or the idea that there must be millions of people engaged in illegal activity over open Wi-FI networks; nor that open Wi-Fi networks are de facto bad and/or unintentional; or that this story has been told better, with greater balance, in other publications over the last couple of years.
No, what's interesting is that more and more home networks are being locked down. In informal and formal surveys by myself and companies involved in monitoring this sort of activity, an increasing number of home networks are locked down with strong WPA security, making them more or less impenetrable to even determined access. (WPA isn't perfect, but it takes a fair amount of effort to break a weak WPA passphrase--too much effort for a casual "anonymous user.")
So I would have cast this story as--how will law enforcement adapt when people can connect from anywhere at high speed and get on and off networks fast? How will individuals and companies who want to share access, whether from home or in a coffeeshop or even at an entire airport (Las Vegas, Phoenix, etc.) cope with law-enforcement demands? What's the rate of change for securing home networks against easy access? Those questions would probably have interesting answers.
Breathlessly reported worldwide, Apple has been said to be planning to charge $5 for the 802.11n updater for their Core 2 Duo Intel Macs. Pshaw: Everyone's looking for previously unreported news angle on Apple, and a story that seems to have started at iLounge on Jan. 10 seemed to spread across the globe in a day. The item is that Apple will charge $5 for an updater for 802.11n on machines that can be updated. The claim from unnamed "Apple representatives" was that the Sarbanes-Oxley Act will require a fee to be charged to enable features in a product that's already shipped to avoid restating earnings on that product.
Which seems insane to me as the logic for the fee. But as the newsgroup posters say, IANAL (I am not a lawyer), and thus perhaps there's an SEC memo on this that I don't know about. (Post in comments if you have more knowledge.)
All but one Intel Mac model shipped in 2006 that contain Core 2 Duo or Xeon processors can be upgraded using what Apple dubs an "enabler"--a firmware patch coupled with updated AirPort software for Mac OS X--that will be on the CD that comes with the new AirPort Extreme Base Station with 802.11n that's scheduled to ship in February. (Some reporting incorrectly states that Apple said only Core 2 Duo models can be upgraded.)
I asked Apple if the $5 fee was correct. In some limited cases, Apple has charged a fee, often as high as $20, to ship new operating systems discs or an updater that was otherwise available for download. An Apple spokesperson declined to comment on "rumors or speculation," but reiterated that the enabler would ship with new AirPort Extreme Base Stations next month.
Without reading between the lines, it's pretty clear that Apple implicitly told me the enabler won't be restricted. Why? Because by including the enabler on a CD and not stating any limits on upgrades--a system admin could upgrade 100s of Intel Macs with a single enabler--there's way to prevent that enabler from instantly being spread via BitTorrent, email, and so on. They'd have to install some kind of serial-number-based registration system, a tracking methodology via the Internet, and other customer support.
If Apple is interpreting Sarbanes as requiring a fee, they're also going to make it very simple to avoid that fee.
More likely, I suspect that Apple is readying a Mac OS X 10.4.9 update, the final minor release for Tiger, and that the timing of the release of the 802.11n enabler and the updated AirPort Extreme will be tied to 10.4.9. It would make sense that 10.4.9, incorporating newer AirPort software for managing the connection, would be required to use 802.11n.
Culver City proudly announces content filtering: Their free Wi-Fi network, according to analysis by the company that was trying to sell a service, had illegal downloads and porno passing across it. Fortunately, Audible Magic stepped in to help poor Culver City protect its most important residents--three movie studios. The press release notes that P2P isn't being blocked. They're only blocking "illegal or pornographic" transmission. Because we know that filters are 100-percent accurate all the time in every case.
Preemptive efforts to cleanse networks results in people employing simple workarounds. A VPN, f'r'instance, would block any ability for the local network to filter traffic. Not that I'm suggesting one go out and then illegally trade copyrighted media or view porn. The latter being a legal activity (depending on content). Rather, Culver City is being fairly proud about snooping on its citizens. And, remember, this isn't about "the kids" or viewing material in inappropriate places that other laws would already cover.
I'm all in favor of legitimate use of copyrighted materials. The trouble is that the balance of power is entirely on the side of those with lobbying power and lawyers who use lawsuits to bludgeon the innocent and the weak.
How soon does Culver City plan to shut down their network entirely in the face of acting as a government-sponsored viewer and censor? Calling EFF, EFF to the front desk, please.
FCC says that its in charge of unlicensed spectrum (PDF): Today's ruling is a crushing defeat for the contradictory and shifting statements made over the last two years by Massport, the operators of Boston-Logan airport, in their attempt to control the use of Wi-Fi in their facility. Continental wanted to offer free Wi-Fi using their own equipment in their membership lounge. Massport tried to prevent this, but it's been clear that the FCC's broad and clear statements over the last few years--including this one in particular back in July 2004--said that only the FCC may control the unlicensed spectrum and that landlords have no rights in free airspace.
The FCC reiterated that language today: "Restrictions prohibited by the OTARD [over-the-air reception devices] rules include lease provisions (as is the situation here), as well as restrictions imposed by state or local laws or regulations, private covenants, contract provisions, or homeowner’s association rules." The order notes that this is the first time a Part 15 device has been involved in the application of the OTARD rules, so this decision has remarkably broad standing in clarifying any future disputes. (Part 15 governs most consumer and commercial devices used without a license in the 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz, and 5 GHz bands, although there devices operating under other rules and under licenses in those bands as well.)
The Continental petition to get a ruling against Massport received 2,300 comments, 2000 of which were "brief, single-paragraph responses" from individuals, "many of whom identify themselves as frequent passengers of Continental." A number of large organizations filed comments in favor of Continental, including T-Mobile (long-time operator of airport-lounge Wi-Fi), the Consumer Electronics Association, and six public utility commissioners. The FCC notes that the Airports Council International as the only organization supporting Massport, though individuals did send positive comments as well.
Paragraph 12 of the order says Massport's lease restrictions are overly restrictive, without even addressing the specific installation. Paragraph 15 dismisses a specious reading of the "user" of the antenna, in which Massport had tried to state that end-users were the ones who would have to be leaseholders for OTARD rules to apply. Paragraph 17 dismisses Massport's specious reading of a "commercial signal." Paragraph 18 dismisses Massport's specious reading of fixed wireless signals. Paragraph 19 says that Massport misunderstands the FCC entirely in regards to OTARD rules. That, in fact, the rules exist to promote competition in a manner that Massport would like to suppress.
Paragraphs 23 and 24 note that Massport's lease contains unenforceable terms. Paragraph 25 is precious; read it, along with paragraph 26. In part: "The OTARD rules were adopted to enable access to competitive services – a delay of nine months and an offer triggered only by an antenna user pursuing its legal remedies countervails the overarching policies of the OTARD rules and existing legal precedent, amounts to an effective denial of competitive access, and is thus an unreasonable impairment of antenna use for the purposes of OTARD."
On the issue of safety, where Massport maintains that public safety officers, such as the state police, will rely on Wi-Fi, the FCC delivers this body blow starting in Paragraph 28: "Massport misreads the purpose of the safety exception in our rules, and misconstrues the applicable regulatory framework governing the operation of Part 15 devices, such as Continental’s Wi-Fi system, the airport Wi-Fi backbone, and Wi-Fi systems operated by other airlines at Logan Airport....The safety exception addresses potential dangers to the physical safety and health of the public and not interference to other radio device users." Massport, is down for the count, struggling to get off the mat.
Citing law going to back to the founding of the FCC, the order notes, "the safety exception concerns health and physical safety and is simply inapplicable to complaints of potential RF interference with other radio devices...Even if the OTARD safety exception did apply to RF interference issues, the safety exception would still not apply here because the Wi-Fi device that Continental is using in the President’s Club operates as permitted under Part 15 of our rules." That's gotta hurt.
The final chunk, starting in Paragraph 32, dismisses Massport's attempt to get an exemption because the OTARD rules haven't been enforced in government buildings. The FCC says that a house built upon sand cannot stand. Without providing specific reasons for recourse, the order won't allow an exemption because none is required. There now follows a more intricate set of issues about whether the FCC can apply its OTARD rules, here's all you need to know (Paragraph 49): "In sum, no arguments that Massport has made give us reason to change our earlier conclusions that the Commission has statutory authority in these circumstances." There's more about this, too, but of only academic interest.
This ruling may have little effect in airports outside of Boston-Logan, because I am unaware of any other situation in which the airport authority set up an adversarial approach to the extend of spending what must have been hundreds of thousands of dollars pursuing action on the public's dime against privately owner airlines, which are also the airport authority's tenants. In the airports I know something about, the development of a comprehensive Wi-Fi system was undertaken with the involvement of airlines and other tenants to provide the right services in the right places. In some airports, different entities, including airlines, run their own distinct systems without any conflict that's been documented.
More generally, however, the broad reaffirmation of these rules should provide a way to avoid petitioning the FCC and litigating against landlords (or tenants) when unlicensed airwaves are involved.
Update: Oh my goodness, read what the Associated Press heard from Massport: "A spokeswoman for MassPort said the airport had not decided if it would appeal the ruling. 'We're very disappointed in the ruling, but reviewing it carefully and weighing our options moving forward,' said spokeswoman Danny Levy."
Yes, the options include throwing oneself on the floor, bursting into tears, pounding the ground, and shouting, "No! No! No! No! No!"; or sucking it up, guys, rather than spend millions of dollars of taxpayer money and potentially several years appealing a foregone conclusion.
And I may be wrong on the impact. The AP quotes the trade group for major airlines as stating that other airlines might now choose to operate their own Wi-Fi networks in airports.
Helio says 160 MB of usage per month is "excessive or abusive": The new 3G/Wi-Fi combo plan from Helio, called Hybrid, offers "unlimited" Wi-Fi and EVDO service. Except that their definition of unlimited 3G is the most restrictive I've seen. I asked the company days ago for their terms and services so I could compare what they considered reasonable use.
They first sent me back this statement:
"The Helio Hybrid is meant to be a roaming service and we expect our members to utilize the product in that way. This is not meant as a source to run a web commerce site over the 3G network, that's not an efficient or optimal use of that network. Also, as the Helio Hybrid mixes Wi-Fi and 3G access, we expect consumers to have a more optimal user experience as they are able to seamlessly move between Wi-Fi and 3G access to best performance route - this is a new case study for wireless access utilizing a new category of converged services."
I replied that this is a marketing position, not their terms and services, and a very nice PR person has been trying to get me the specifics since. I had looked on their site, but not in the right place. A colleague pointed out a paragraph in the online T&S that's titled "Chapter 10: Unlimited Does Not Mean Unreasonable." (All the titles in their T&S are friendly ones, at least, like "Chapter 12: The Other Legal Stuff.")
They start with Verizon Wireless language on approved uses of their "unlimited" 3G service: Internet browsing, e-mail, and intranet applications. They then proceed into more Sprint/Cingular language which defines specifically excluded applications as those that turn computers into servers or drive heavy traffic. They exclude computer-to-computer applications wholesale, which is tricky because servers are computers, too, and their definition is overly broad.
But read the last line for the kicker. As the Washington Post pointed out in a column a few days ago, Verizon Wireless says that using more than 5 GB of data transfer (1 hour a day at 400 Kbps downstream) is unreasonable usage. A spokesperson tried to tell the Post reporter that the approved uses (email, Web, intranet) didn't count, so 5 GB wasn't a limit for those purposes. However, the Post reporter noted that Verizon's sign-up conditions state that using more than 5 GB a month was de facto proof of the use of unauthorized applications.
Helio's goes much, much farther. "Generally, excessive or abuse usage is characterized by monthly data usage of 160 megabytes or more." 160 MB. That's about 1/30th, oddly, of Verizon's acceptable use. One might suspect a typo. (While this appears to refer to all data usage, Helio told me it's 3G only that's restricted, not Wi-Fi. Some readers have suggested these limits apply just to 3G phones; Helio confirmed they apply to the Hybrid 3G service as well.)
But I also reject the tortured logic of Helio and Verizon. If you're going to put 5 GB in place as a hard and fast limit, do so. Charge excess fees above it. Warn users and allow an account setting that disables usage if the user doesn't want to pay overages. Stop playing games. If you're going to accuse people of abuse, you can't do it by implication. You need proof. And if you're not going to establish proof, then set reasonable limits and enforce them with good policies that make approaching the limit transparent.
And, by the way, stop advertising these services as unlimited.
Update: Helio doesn't advertise Hybrid as unlimited. In fact, nowhere on the site does it mention how much service you're allowed with Hybrid, except in the terms and services--where it uses the phrase unlimited. That's almost reverse marketing, isn't it?
I'm embarassed to say that I assumed the Zune could use its Wi-Fi connection for all the usual purposes: But Engadget actually, you know, reads blogs, and found that a Zune engineer had posted a short list of what a Zune can do, and by implication what it can't. When the Zune ships, despite using standard 802.11g, it won't be able to connect to the Internet. You heard me! And it won't be able to sync with a PC wirelessly, either, only via a USB sync cable. By extension, since it can't use Wi-Fi to connect to either a network or a PC, all songs must be downloaded onto a PC and then transferred by USB to the Zune.
So this is a barely wireless player, with its only Wi-Fi features being the exchange of certain kinds of media with certain restrictions among Zune devices using ad hoc networking.
I know that the joke is that Microsoft takes until version 3.0 of any product to get it right, and 4.0 or 5.0 to make it work well, but this is somewhat ridiculous. This now guarantees that if Apple believes Wi-Fi is a worthwhile feature, we will see an iPod with a full-blown, well-implemented Wi-Fi connection before Microsoft can upgrade its firmware for Zune to do more than ad hoc.
For reference, the tiny firm MusicGremlin, was able to release their Wi-Fi music player months ago with full Wi-Fi features and a subscription-based service. Yes, you can connect to the Internet with it. Yes, you can sync wirelessly. Yes, you can exchange music with other subscribers. Its big problem at the moment is its low branding value relative to Microsoft and Apple, and its $300 cost with just 8 GB of hard disk storage. It also doesn't support WPA encryption, which makes it a non-starter for me, since that should be just a software update--and should have been included with its first release.