SciTechBlog
October 28, 2009

A world without Net neutrality?

Posted: 06:34 PM ET
*click to view full chart

Net neutrality is a complex issue, but this user-generated chart posted on Reddit does a great example of illustrating a worst-case scenario.

The chart envisions a future without Net neutrality, where Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are allowed to adopt pricing models similar to cable television. Consumers pay subscription fees for individual slices of the internet that ISPs package into tiered pricing plans.

This pricing model is a far cry from the freedom most ISPs currently offer. Rather than charging for individual Web sites you probably purchase a "dumb pipe" of information from your ISP, and are free to use this data however you wish. But Net neutrality supporters claim without strong neutrality regulation ISPs could change their behavior and consumers will suffer.

Do you believe Net neutrality regulation is required to prevent this chart from becoming a reality or is free-market competition enough to ensure consumers' best interests?

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Filed under: computers • Internet • online news • technology


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Netflix movies come to your PlayStation

Posted: 11:46 AM ET

Netflix and the PlayStation 3 gaming console have joined forces to allow movies and TV episodes from Netflix to be streamed free of charge through Sony’s entertainment system.

While Netflix movies can also be streamed through the Xbox 360, it requires a gold account with Microsoft at a cost of $49.99 per year. This new deal with the PS3 requires no additional charges and is available to all PS3 users.

“Our goal is to rapidly expand the devices that stream to our members,” Netflix CEO and co-founder Reed Hastings said. Netflix claims it has 11.1 million U.S. subscribers.

Sony says it has sold close to 9 million units of the PS3 system in the United States. A free Blu-ray disc from Netflix is required to download and watch the movies and is expected to be available next month.

“The PlayStation 3 system has always been about more than just gaming,” said Jack Tretton, president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America. “Whether you want to watch content on Blu-ray disc and DVD, download it from the PlayStation Network’s video delivery service, or stream videos instantly from Netflix, the PS3 system is the only solution that offers it all.”

Last week, a Microsoft spokesperson said the company has no plans to introduce a Blu-ray drive for the Xbox 360.

- Larry Frum

Filed under: Movies • video games


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October 27, 2009

Google Voice without the Google number

Posted: 10:10 AM ET

Google's phone service prides itself on simplicity. You get a Google phone number and then Google Voice forwards calls to your Google number to your home, office or mobile phone.

One number. One business card. Pretty simple.

But that approach creates another issue: To use Google Voice, you had to change your number.

On Tuesday, Google announced on its blog that that's not the case anymore. You can sign up for Google Voice with most any number you choose. One of the biggest advantages is that Google will - for free - transcribe your voicemail so you can read it online or in text messages. That way you don't have to listen to ramble-on info when all you want is the call-back number.

Here's a video that explains how Google Voicemail works.

There are still a few catches, though. The first is that you can't access all of Google Voice's features when you're using a non-Google number. That means you can't have calls forwarded from that number to other phones. And, for now, Google Voice is available by invitation only.

What do you think? Is Google Voice without the Google number useful? Do you think this will catch on in a big way? Let us know in the comments below.

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Filed under: Google • Google Voice • mobile phones


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October 26, 2009

UN sets universal standard for cell-phone chargers

Posted: 01:03 PM ET

I have a box in my home office that is full of cords and changers - those for phones, laptops, cameras and all kinds of other gadgets.

It's a total mess. But some news out of a UN tech group may help me clean up my act.

The International Telecommunication Union, a branch of the United Nations, recently passed a universal standard for cell phone chargers - those cords that connect your phone to an electrical socket. In addition to reducing consumer headaches, the ITU expects the approved connectors - which will be in the micro-USB format - to reduce e-waste and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 13.6 million tons per year, according to an ITU news release.

Here's the statement from Malcolm Johnson, director of the ITU’s telecommunication standardization bureau:

This is a significant step in reducing the environmental impact of mobile charging, which also has the benefit of making mobile phone use more straightforward. Universal chargers are a common-sense solution that I look forward to seeing in other areas.

As CNET and the BBC point out, it's unclear how many mobile phone makers will adopt the standards since the recommendations are not mandatory.

And, as a colleague of mine noted, this all may be moot in the not-to-distant future if wireless charging devices become more of a reality. Those lose some efficiency, though, so it will be interesting to see which line of thinking prevails in the charger world: efficiency or convenience.

The ITU says its standards require chargers to be about three times more energy-efficient than unrated chargers.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

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Filed under: cell phones • climate change • greenhouse gas • ITU


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October 23, 2009

Hulu to charge subscription fee

Posted: 12:23 PM ET

Popular online video service Hulu will start charging subscription fees sometime next year, says News Corp. Deputy Chairman Chase Carey.

While speaking at a recent Broadcasting & Cable summit Carey announced his plans for Hulu: “I think a free model is a very difficult way to capture the value of our content. I think what we need to do is deliver that content to consumers in a way where they will appreciate the value. Hulu concurs with that, it needs to evolve to have a meaningful subscription model as part of its business.”

Hulu.com has attracted a large online audience by offering commercial-supported TV shows and movies from NBC, ABC, Fox, and other networks since 2007. However, the addition of a subscription fee may send most of Hulu's users searching for alternatives.

I use Hulu frequently to watch everything from Comedy Central's "Daily Show" to Fox's "Family Guy." I stomach the commercial interruptions in exchange for the high-quality streaming content, but I certainly won't be pulling out my credit card if the service puts up a subscription pay wall. And I doubt many other customers will be happy to start paying money for a service they previously received for free.

The move to a fee-based business model is a decision that will still have to be approved by the Hulu board, and I hope someone has the sense to blackball this idea. But common sense doesn't always prevail in the entertainment industry -  if it did, we might still have "Arrested Development."

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Filed under: HDTV • Hulu • online news • online video


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October 22, 2009

Civilization game is coming to Facebook

Posted: 10:26 AM ET

The ultimate time-consuming game is joining forces with the ultimate online time-wasting tool. "Civilization" and Facebook will combine to make a new game for the social-networking site.

Creator Sid Meier announced on Facebook that Firaxis Games is working on a new game called "Civilization Network." Meier said he expects the full game to be available in 2010, but he is seeking beta testers to help work out the bugs.

"Civilization" is well known for its turn-based strategy as the player guides a civilization from infancy to world domination. Created in 1991, the PC-based game has undergone 13 different transformations (including expansion packs and spin-offs) with the latest, "Civilization Revolution," launched in 2008 for gaming consoles.

Meier said the game will offer everything you enjoy in Civ in a fully persistent environment – you can play as much as you like, whenever you like, and it’ll be free.

Reactions among gamers range from excitement - and promises of joining Facebook just to play the game - to frustration that Firaxis isn’t developing the next version of "Civilization" for consoles.

Players who want to get involved in the closed beta will need to join Sid Meier’s Civilization Network on Facebook for more details.

- Larry Frum

Filed under: Facebook • video games


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October 21, 2009

Apple's new multi-touch Magic Mouse

Posted: 11:15 AM ET

Riding the wave of new Apple products announced yesterday is a new gesture-based, multi-touch mouse.

The Magic Mouse continues Apple's war on buttons by removing all those pesky clickers. What's left is an aluminum base topped by a smooth white touch-sensitive polycarbonate panel.

Apple was criticized for the single button hamburger shaped mouse that shipped with the original iMac. Many Mac and PC users favor the greater control that a dual-button mouse with scroll wheel provides. In response, Apple released the Mighty Mouse in 2006 that incorporates four functional buttons and a trackball.

The new button-free Magic Mouse signals a return to minimalism while including all the functionality of multiple buttons. Gizmodo thinks it's a welcome change:

The Magic Mouse is undoubtedly the best mouse Apple's made in years. They've taken their knowledge in trackpad finger gestures and one-piece manufacturing and made this delicate, yet sturdy, bridge-shaped mouse.

The Magic Mouse will be included with new iMacs or can be purchased alone for $69. Currently the Magic Mouse is only compatible with Mac OS X, but broad support, including PCs, is likely to happen soon.

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Filed under: Apple • consumer tech • gadgets • technology


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October 19, 2009

Internet service provider fights copyright law

Posted: 08:39 AM ET

A proposed law could force UK Internet service providers to disconnect users who repeatedly share copyrighted files, but TalkTalk, a British ISP, doesn't want to become a copyright cop.

UK Internet service provider TalkTalk CEO Charles Dunstone

UK Internet service provider TalkTalk CEO Charles Dunstone

TalkTalk's CEO Charles Dunstone is openly critical of legislation that will force ISPs to disconnect a user if their IP address is connected to illegal downloads:

If you try speed humps or disconnections for peer-to-peer, people will simply either disguise their traffic or share the content another way. It is a game of Tom and Jerry and you will never catch the mouse. The mouse always wins in this battle and we need to be careful that politicians do not get talked into putting legislation in place that, in the end, ends up looking stupid.

A recent demonstration by the ISP highlights cracks in the proposed legislation. For the stunt, TalkTalk sent a security expert into the streets of Stanmore, Middlesex to connect to open or easily hacked WEP-secured wireless networks. The expert first obtained permission from the wireless access point owners before connecting and downloading several songs.

While the songs in this demonstration were downloaded legally, the stunt shows just how easily an innocent account holder could be targeted based on evidence collected from their IP address.

However, the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) claims the law will not target innocents. BPI spokesman Adam Liversage says, "The responsibility for ensuring that an internet account shared throughout a household is not being used for illegal file-sharing clearly lies with the account holder."

What do you think? Are hacking victims or those who choose to openly share their wireless network responsible for third-party illegal file-sharing? And should ISPs like TalkTalk be required to police their networks and report illegal activity?

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Filed under: file sharing • Internet • online news • piracy


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October 16, 2009

Will Net neutrality end unlimited bandwidth?

Posted: 09:48 AM ET

Net neutrality policies that prevent Internet service providers (ISPs) from managing network traffic based on content may end the age of unlimited Web use. Without the ability to intelligently manage their networks, ISPs are increasingly using data caps, often as low as 5 GB per month, to preserve bandwidth.

A year ago the FCC was breathing down Comcast's neck for throttling Internet traffic related to BitTorrent, the file-sharing protocol. With the threat of Net neutrality regulations looming, Comcast and other ISPs, agreed to drop BitTorrent traffic-management programs and generally treat all Web traffic as equal.

However, the Net neutrality concession wasn't free for consumers. AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner all rolled out monthly data caps shortly after the agreement.

Without neutrality, ISPs are allowed to manage network traffic by restricting content. They may do so intelligently, or they could slow streaming video, disrupt P2P services and even block rival Web sites - which would be highly anti-competitive. Though frustrating, the data caps allow ISPs to conserve their limited bandwidth without relying on network-management techniques that violate net neutrality.

Now the FCC has its sights on mobile broadband providers. FCC Chairman Julian Genachowski is a strong supporter of net neutrality and believes it should also apply to mobile providers. But with much less bandwidth available in the wireless spectrum, net neutrality could mean sluggish speeds and far more restrictive data caps.

In a Washington Post interview, Carnegie Mellon Computer Science Professor David Farber argues net neutrality isn't practical: "We've always said the Internet has infinite bandwidth, but the economics of running a network don't allow you to do that."

Net neutrality policies haven't crippled terrestrial Internet in the way Farber fears, but mobile broadband is not as plentiful. Wireless carriers may have trouble complying with neutrality regulation.

If every smartphone customer suddenly began to take advantage of his unlimited data plan with bandwidth hungry applications like VoIP calls or streaming video, and wireless carriers are not allowed to manage this sudden demand for content, the network would suffer.

Gizmodo thinks net neutrality will eventually cause smartphone users, like those with the iPhone, to lose their unlimited broadband:

You will pay for every ounce of data that you use. And if you're "crowding" the network by downloading a bunch of stuff, you're gonna get slowed down because that's the easy "net neutral" way to keep users in check. How much better is that, really?

Proper network management would be ideal, but there is no guarantee ISPs will manage our internet traffic effectively and fairly. So are you willing to give up your unlimited bandwidth for Net neutrality, or do you trust your internet provider?

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Filed under: computers • Internet • iPhone • online video • smartphones


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October 15, 2009

Tweet it through the grapevine: Twitter is making wine

Posted: 05:45 PM ET

Twitter may lack a business strategy, but it does have a wine strategy - and it does not come in 140 grapes.

The microblogging service, valued at $1 billion and known for its 140-character "tweets," announced Thursday it's launching a wine label: Fledgling Wine. Twitter is partnering with Crushpad, a custom winemaking service in San Francisco, to produce the wine; a portion of the proceeds will go to Room to Read, a non-profit supporting reading programs and libraries in Asia and Africa.

Twitter co-founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams wrote on the Fledgling blog, “The Fledgling Initiative embodies two things that are at the core of Twitter's mission: providing access to information and highlighting the power of open communication to bring about positive change.”

The first two wines, a Pinot Noir and a Chardonnay, will be released in August 2010 and can already be pre-ordered online. Each bottle will cost $20; Room to Read will receive $5 per bottle. The grapes, picked by the Twitter staff, are being fermented.

Crushpad executive Noah Dorrance is bullish about the new label and has ordered extra grapes. When asked if each bottle will have only 140 grapes, he laughed and said, “I wish! There are approximately 800 grapes per bottle.”

Twitter on Thursday also launched a Japanese edition, its first foray into tweeting in a foreign language. No word yet on whether sake is next on the Twitter drink menu.

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Filed under: Twitter


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Are you a gadgethead? Do you spend hours a day online? Or are you just curious about how technology impacts your life? In this digital age, it's increasingly important to be fluent, or at least familiar, with the big tech trends. From gadgets to Google, smartphones to social media, this blog will help keep you informed.

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