Monday, May 31, 2010

4G wireless: It's fast, but outstripped by hype

Cell phone companies are about to barrage consumers with advertising for the next advance in wireless network technology: "4G" access. The companies are promising faster speeds and the thrill of being the first on the block to use a new acronym.
But there's less to 4G than meets the eye, and there's little reason for people to scramble for it, at least for the next few years.

Sprint Nextel Corp. is the first carrier to beat the drum for fourth-generation wireless technology. It's releasing its first 4G phone, the EVO, this week.

In the fall, Verizon Wireless will be firing up its 4G network in 25 to 30 cities, and probably will make a big deal of that. A smaller provider, MetroPCS Communications Inc., is scheduled to introduce its first 4G phone around the same time.

So what is 4G?

Broadly speaking, it's a new way to use the airwaves, designed from the start for the transmission of data rather than phone calls. To do that, it borrows aspects of the latest generation of Wi-Fi, the short-range wireless technology.

For consumers, 4G means, in the ideal case, faster access to data. For instance, streaming video might work better, with less stuttering and higher resolution. Videoconferencing is difficult on 3G and might work better on 4G. Multiplayer video games may benefit too.

Other than that, it's difficult to point to completely new uses for 4G phones — things they can do that 3G phones can't.

Instead, the upgrade to 4G is more likely to enhance the things you can already do with 3G, said Matt Carter, president of Sprint's 4G division.
"View it as the difference between watching regular TV and high-definition TV," Carter said. "Once you've experienced high-definition TV it's hard to go back to standard TV. It's the same sort of thing here."

So the improvement from 3G to 4G is not as dramatic as the step from 2G to 3G, which for the first time made real Web browsing, video and music downloads practical on phones. The introduction of 3G started in earnest about five years ago, but it isn't complete — AT&T Inc. and T-Mobile USA still have little rural 3G coverage, for instance.

There's an important caveat to the claim that 4G will be faster, as well. It will definitely be faster than the 3G networks of Sprint and Verizon Wireless — about four times faster, initially. But the other two national carriers, AT&T and T-Mobile, are upgrading their 3G networks to offer data-transfer speeds that will actually be higher than the speeds 4G networks will reach this year or next.

That means that rather than focusing on real speeds, Sprint and Verizon will try to frame their marketing around the "4G" term, said Dan Hays, who focuses on telecommunications at management consulting firm PRTM.

"It's a terrible story from a consumer standpoint, because it's tremendously confusing," he said.
AT&T and T-Mobile are able to upgrade their 3G networks because they use a different 3G technology than Verizon and Sprint, which have maxed out their 3G speeds. Taking the step to 4G is natural for Verizon and Sprint, especially because they have new chunks of the radio spectrum that they want to take advantage of.

The fact that Verizon Wireless and Sprint are adding fresh spectrum may be more important than the fact that they are using it for 4G service. No matter if used for 4G or 3G, new spectrum means the companies can accommodate more data-hungry devices such as smart phones.

AT&T's network is already staggering under data congestion caused by the iPhone in New York and San Francisco. The carrier has made relieving the congestion a top priority this year, and its 3G upgrades are part of that process. (As an aside, there is a lot of talk of a coming "iPhone 4G." Apple Inc. will most likely release the fourth generation of the iPhone for AT&T's network this summer, but it's virtually certain that it will not be able to use a 4G wireless network. It likely won't be called the "iPhone 4G" either.)

There's another, more subtle benefit to 4G. While it's not always faster than the best 3G when it comes to helping you download a big file in less time, it is definitely faster in the sense that it takes less time to initiate the flow of data to you. What that means is that 4G is faster for quick back-and-forth communications. You wouldn't notice this when surfing the Web or doing e-mail: We're talking delays of 0.03 second rather than 0.15 second. But it could mean that 4G will work better for multiplayer gaming, where split-second timing is important. Even phone calls could benefit from shorter audio delays.

Sprint and Verizon are taking different routes in 4G. Sprint owns a majority of Clearwire Corp., which is building a network using WiMax technology. Once seen as very promising, WiMax looks set to be a niche technology, and WiMax devices like the Sprint EVO phone won't be able to use networks built using the dominant 4G standard, called LTE, for Long Term Evolution. Verizon and MetroPCS plan to use LTE, as does AT&T, starting next year. T-Mobile says it will probably use LTE eventually. Even Sprint hasn't ruled out using LTE eventually, because the technology has huge momentum.

In five years or so, many phones are likely to have 4G capabilities, but they'll complement it with 3G. Rather than a sudden revolution, consumers are likely to experience a gradual transition to the new technology, with increasing speeds. But for now, 4G is no magic bullet.

"It's an important thing for the industry," said Bill Davidson, senior vice president of marketing and investor relations at wireless technology developer Qualcomm Inc. "It's absolutely needed. ... But I just think some of this has gotten a bit ahead of itself in terms of expectations for consumers."

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Long lines in Europe, Asia to buy Apple's iPad

Technophiles mobbed Apple Stores in Europe and Asia on Friday in a quest to snatch up the hottest gadget of the moment - the iPad.
Long lines snaked down streets in London, Paris, Frankfurt and Tokyo as eager buyers vied to wield their credit cards. Screams and cheers rose from the crowd in central London as students, professionals and self-proclaimed computer geeks clutched boxes containing the slim black device.

"If I was a music fan, it would be like the launch of a Lady GaGa album in the U.S.," said comedian Stephen Fry, known in Britain as a champion Tweeter.

Apple Inc., based in Cupertino, California, said earlier this month that it had sold 1 million of the devices in the United States in just 28 days. The company started taking orders for the iPad abroad on May 10 after pushing back its international delivery target amid extreme demand at home.

The computer looks like a larger version of Apple's iPhone and can be used to send e-mails, draw pictures and play games. It is also seen as a potential savior of the struggling newspaper industry, because it can be used as an electronic reader.

Publishers have seized upon the device as an opportunity to finally make large numbers of readers pay for online content.
In hopes of better times, Britain's Financial Times newspaper launched its iPad version at a swank press event at a hotel overlooking Lake Geneva in Switzerland, claiming the app has already been downloaded over 100,000 times in the United States.

Rob Grimshaw, managing director of said 20 percent of new digital subscriptions to the paper came from iPad users last week.

"I think it's going to be an extremely lucrative device for us," he said.

In Britain, prices for versions of the iPad range from 429 pounds to 699 pounds ($624 to $1,017).

But the rollout has not been without its problems. A string of suicides at a Chinese factory that churns out iPads and other high-tech items has raised concerns about conditions for workers who face tremendous time pressures and harsh discipline for mistakes.

In response, Apple issued a statement expressing commitment to ensuring that conditions "throughout our supply chain are safe and workers are treated with respect and dignity."

The bad publicity did not hurt launches in Europe and Asia. Besides Britain, the device was being unveiled Friday in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain and Switzerland.

At the Apple Store in Frankfurt, Germany, hundreds lined up - including a few who arrived as early as 3 a.m. Some said they'd arrived so early not because they wanted to own it first - but simply to get an iPad at all.
By 8 a.m., some 450 people squealed as Apple employees inside lowered a black curtain and began applauding. The glass doors swung open and people who had been given numbered tickets while waiting in line were let in by security to buy the device.

"I'm a bit embarrassed to be part of the masses, but the thing is, tonight it's going to be sold out," one man, who was not identified, told AP Television News.

In Tokyo, where the love of gadgetry reigns supreme and consumers have devices more sophisticated than those available in the U.S., about 1,200 people lined up in the Ginza shopping district. They chanted a countdown ahead of the Apple Store's 8 a.m. opening and then gushed over the tablets, saying they couldn't wait to start using them.

One Madrid store sold out its iPads in less than three hours but would not say how many had been delivered.

Araceli Sanchez in Madrid was attracted by the iPad's clean, smart appearance and some of its applications, "particularly the one that lets you see the stars and constellations in the sky wherever you are."

In Paris, at the Apple Store in the commercial gallery underneath the Louvre, Cara Garisch, 26, a software developer from South Africa, said she planned to use it to read newspapers and surf the Web.

"It's magic," she said. "Even my mom can use it."

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Facebook overhauls privacy controls

Facebook is overhauling privacy controls in the face of a barrage of criticism that it is betraying the trust which has made it the world's biggest social network.
"It's been a pretty intense few weeks for us, listening to all the feedback coming in from all the changes we've made," Facebook's 26-year-old founder Mark Zuckerberg said Wednesday as he announced simplified privacy controls.

"Our teams internally have been cranking for the last couple of weeks."

Facebook unveiled a redesigned privacy settings page to provide a single control for content and "significantly reduce" the amount of information that is always visible to everyone.

Facebook also said it is giving users more control over how outside applications or websites access information at the service.

"This is a pretty big overhaul to the system we already have," Zuckerberg said while outlining the changes during a press briefing at the social network's headquarters in the California city of Palo Alto.

"Now we are making it so there is less information that has to be public. People want a simple way to control the way information is shared with third parties, so that is what we are doing," he said.

The revamped privacy controls will roll out in the coming days.

Facebook last month sparked criticism from privacy and consumer groups, US lawmakers and the European Union by adding the ability for partner websites to incorporate data regarding members of the social-networking service.

"Facebook has heard the call of its users and realizes that much greater privacy protections are needed," said US Senator Charles Schumer, who was among the legislators urging scrutiny of privacy at the service.

"This is a significant first step that Facebook deserves credit for. We will be monitoring this carefully," the Democrat from New York said.
Schumer was among critics urging Facebook to make all user information private by default and then let people designate what they want to share case-by-case in an "opt-in" model.

Facebook has rejected such a model, saying the service that boasts more than 400 million members worldwide is based on a premise that people want to connect and share with friends.

"People want to stay connected with family, friends and the people around them; that is a core thing about what we do," Zuckerberg said.

"We really do believe in privacy and giving people control," he said. "There is a balance and more and more people want to share information as long as they have good controls over that."

The new privacy controls will apply to future features, including location-based services that Facebook is working on, according to the founder.

"Despite all rumors to the contrary, privacy is not dead, it is on its way to a comeback in the form of simplified controls and better policies," said Center for Democracy & Technology president Leslie Harris.

"While more work still needs to be done, these changes are the building blocks for giving people what they want and deserve."

The hubbub about privacy controls at Facebook has not resulted in hordes abandoning the service, according to Zuckerberg.

"We are making the changes because we think there is a right thing to do," he said. "We listened to the feedback and we agree with it."

Facebook privacy controls have had nothing to do with pumping up advertising revenue, according to the founder.

"The notion that we made changes for advertising is a misperception," Zuckerberg said. "Anyone who knows me knows that is crazy."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) welcomed the Facebook changes but said they don't go far enough.

"We're winning, so let's keep pushing," ACLU director Anthony Romero said in an emailed statement.

Romero urged people to sign an online petition urging Facebook to fully protect members' privacy. The petition has more than 80,000 signatures, according to the ACLU.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Color Kindle `still a long way out'

A color version of Inc.'s Kindle e-reader may come eventually, but it won't be soon.

Speaking Tuesday at the online retailer's annual shareholder meeting in Seattle, founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said that adding color to the Kindle's "electronic ink" display is a difficult technical challenge and that a color screen is "still a long way out." Bezos said he's seen things "in the laboratory" that are "still not ready for prime-time production."
Tablet computers such as Apple Inc.'s iPad and some e-readers sport LCD displays, which can show color. But those are harder to see in sunlight and consume much more power than e-ink displays.

As usual, Bezos did not detail how many Kindles Amazon has sold since the product launched in 2007, except to say customers have bought "millions" of them.

Also Tuesday, Bezos said that Amazon Web Services, which sells Web hosting and data-storage services to other companies, has the potential to be as large as Amazon's retail business eventually. He called the overall market for such services a "very, very large area" that is generally not being done efficiently.

"Whenever something is done inefficiently, that creates an opportunity," Bezos said.

For now Amazon's Web services division has a long way to go. It is part of a group that had $188 million in revenue in the first quarter, while Amazon's retail operations brought in nearly $7 billion.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Nokia to run Yahoo's maps in global partnership

Nokia Corp. will run mapping and navigation services for Yahoo Inc. in an acknowledgement that the slumping Internet company hasn't kept up with rival Google Inc. in the increasingly important area of location services.
Yahoo will, in turn, provide e-mail and instant messaging services on Nokia phones, as part of the worldwide partnership announced Monday.

Yahoo has been working to focus on its core businesses — creating and licensing content, selling online ads and providing messaging services — while turning to partners to run some of its other offerings.

"It just allows us to deliver better experiences than everybody trying to do the same thing," Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz said in an interview.

Partnerships, she said, are increasingly becoming a part of Yahoo's DNA. Last year, the company entered a 10-year Internet search partnership with Microsoft Corp. in an effort to whittle away Google's leadership. On Monday, Yahoo said it will drop its Yahoo Personals brand for its dating service and partner with, a standalone dating website owned by IAC/InterActiveCorp.

The maps deal with Nokia, the world's No. 1 maker of mobile phones, covers both phones and computers.

Bartz said Yahoo has "chosen to invest in other areas" in recent years. That put the company's navigation services well behind Google, which has continued to innovate.

Google was the first, for example, to offer the now-common feature of letting users move their location on an online map by dragging it with a mouse, rather than repeatedly clicking arrows and waiting for the pages to refresh. More recently, it offered free software that provides spoken-aloud, turn-by-turn directions on phones running its Android system.

Yahoo and Nokia wouldn't disclose financial details of the deal, but they both stand to benefit from the other's reach and expertise.

The services will be co-branded, with Yahoo's navigation services and maps "powered by" Ovi, Nokia's brand of software and services. Nokia's Ovi Mail and Ovi Chat will likewise be "powered by" Yahoo. The services will start to become available later this year and will be offered worldwide in 2011.
Bartz said location is becoming increasingly important as people want to know where they are, where their friends are and what is around.

"It's sort of the anchor for all services," she said.

While advertising was not part of Monday's announcement — both Nokia and Yahoo said their ad strategies haven't changed — by upping the ante on its location services, Yahoo should benefit from advertising based on it.

"On the PC side, any of the mapping services by definition give us, especially in the local arena . a good platform for advertising," Bartz said. "And as mobile increasingly becomes important for advertising, the same thing will happen in the mobile application."

Nokia CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo said the deal brings Yahoo's services to more people around the world, including those whose first Internet experience is through mobile.

And it increases the Finland-based company's visibility in the U.S., where its phones are not as popular as they are in the rest of the word. Although Nokia devices dominate worldwide, it's overshadowed in the U.S. by Apple Inc.'s iPhone and Research In Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry.

Standard and Poor's analyst Scott Kessler believes the Nokia and deals will help Yahoo expand its mail and messenger footprints, enhance its offerings and improve the profitability of its dating services.

"We are a little disappointed there is no pact to sell Personals ... but think these deals will add value," he said in a note to investors.

Shares of Yahoo rose 22 cents to $15.70 in afternoon trading. U.S.-traded shares of Nokia slid a penny to $10.06.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Customers' revenge: Cable providers to play nice

For far too long, cable customers fumed as they waited in vain for the cable guy to show up. When he did come, sometimes it took multiple visits to fix outages. Some customers grappled with billing mistakes that took months to resolve. And cable prices went up every year.
Now it may be the cable customer's turn for revenge.

Cable TV operators are trying to treat their customers better. Consumers now can get a 30-day money-back guarantee from at least two major cable companies. Soon subscribers might set specific times for technician visits and get their orders confirmed in writing.

These sound like simple or even obvious steps, but they address longtime complaints about the cable TV business.

Cable companies are forced to do it because of intensifying competition from satellite TV and phone companies that offer video — and from people disconnecting subscription TV services altogether to watch videos online.

And people are leaving. In 2006, cable TV companies had 68.5 million video customers. The number fell to 63.3 million in 2009, according to research firm In-Stat.

"People have a bad opinion of their customer service," said Mike Paxton, principal analyst at In-Stat. "Until (cable) started losing customers, there was no pressure."

It won't be easy to change a poor reputation that was captured in a 1996 "Seinfeld" episode in which Kramer retaliates against his cable company by telling the technician he'll be home between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. but then doesn't show up. In 2007, a Virginia woman was so upset at Comcast Corp.'s customer service that she smashed a keyboard with a hammer in a Comcast service center.
Cable's customer satisfaction ratings have been among the worst of any industry. In the American Customer Satisfaction Index, based on surveys of U.S. households, the four largest cable TV providers — Comcast, Time Warner Cable Inc., Cox Communications Inc. and Charter Communications Inc. — have averaged 59 on a scale of 1 to 100 since 2004, even with some improvement in this year's figures. In the last comparable rankings, cable TV came in below airlines, a business with byzantine fare rules, new fees for baggage and horror stories of passengers trapped for hours on planes.

First cable TV companies tried appealing to customers with discounts. Although overall cable service prices were rising, the companies offered bundles of TV, Internet and phone plans, and threw in some freebies and other promotions. But that only slowed customer defections and didn't halt them.

Now cable companies are trying to do more.

Comcast, the nation's largest cable TV provider, is making incremental changes that it hopes will collectively improve its reputation. It's offering a 30-day money-back guarantee on all services to unhappy customers and a $20 credit if the technician shows up late, even if he had called to say he'd be late. It also is testing a service that lets customers call to get the technician's estimated time of arrival.

Embarrassing snafus such as the hammer incident prompted Comcast to undergo a top-to-bottom assessment of its customer service. Tina Waters, who was named Comcast's first senior vice president of human performance last November, says one-quarter of service agents' performance reviews are now devoted to customer feedback.

Cox, the country's third-largest cable company, is testing the idea of letting customers set service appointments at specific times rather than two-hour windows. The trial is limited to New England and only for the first appointment of the day, at 8 a.m. If successful, the service will be rolled out nationally and eventually to cover the entire day.

This year, Charter Communications Inc. will start giving customers a written confirmation of their orders by e-mail, upon request. The e-mail will spell out the cost of the order, explain the installation process and describe other services. Usually, customers wait for their first bill and hope they don't have to dispute charges.

"No more scribbled notes on a pad by the phone," said spokeswoman Anita Lamont.

That would be welcome news to Marc Pachtman, a lawyer in Boothwyn, Pa., who tussled with Comcast for about 10 months over several issues, including charges on his bill that were higher than the cable package he thought he ordered.

Pachtman said he was charged $51 for cable TV and $46 for Internet after being told it would be $45 for TV and $35 for Internet. He also paid $42 a month for phone service, but Comcast got that right. Eventually, after several calls to Comcast, he got a refund and a six-month promotional plan that combined TV, Internet and phone services for $94 a month, down from around $140 he had been paying.

"I had to do a lot of jumping up and down," Pachtman said. "If they would be forced to confirm things in writing, it should standardize their programs to the point so there's no variation to what customer representatives can say."

It doesn't help that while there are Federal Communications Commission standards for cable customer service, other cable regulations vary based on who is enforcing them. Depending on the location, that could be a state commission, a city council or another body.

Such inconsistent standards, and a near-monopoly on TV service in the areas that cable companies serve, have let them get away with treating customers indifferently for years. The FCC requires cable companies to tell customers if their rates are going up — but that can come in a notice in a local newspaper.

"Practically speaking, nobody reads that stuff," said Ken Fellman, president of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, which represents local officials.

Recently, though, cable companies such as Comcast, Charter and Time Warner Cable have been reaching out to customers through Twitter and other social networking sites to find complaints and resolve problems.

That impressed Steve Curtin of Denver, who tweeted about his Comcast Internet service conking out last spring before calling the cable company. A cable agent reached out to him and got him back online within half an hour.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Facebook tuning privacy controls to appease critics

Facebook on Saturday said it plans to simplify privacy controls at the popular social-networking service to appease critics.
"We?ve spent the last couple of weeks listening to users and consulting with experts in California; Washington, DC, and around the world," Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said in response to an AFP inquiry.

"The messages we?ve received are pretty clear. Users appreciate having precise and comprehensive controls, but want them to be simpler and easier to use."

Facebook contended that members like new programs rolled out at the California-based Internet hotspot but want easy ways to opt out of sharing personal information with third-party applications or websites.

"We?re listening to this input and incorporating it into innovations we hope to announce shortly," Noyes said.

Facebook has been under fire from US privacy and consumer groups, US lawmakers and the European Union over new features that critics claim compromise the privacy of its more than 400 million members.

The features introduced last month include the ability for partner websites to incorporate Facebook data, a move that would further expand the social network's presence on the Internet.
Four US senators, in a letter to Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, said they were worried that personal information about Facebook users is being made available to third party websites.

The senators also expressed concerns that "Facebook now obligates users to make publicly available certain parts of their profile that were previously private."

Sharing personal information should be an "opt-in" procedure in which a user specifically gives permission for data to be shared, privacy advocates argue.

Coming Facebook refinements are not expected to include a shift to an opt-in model.

Facebook vice president of global communications Elliot Schrage has been adamant that online privacy is taken very seriously at the company.

"These new products and features are designed to enhance personalization and promote social activity across the Internet while continuing to give users unprecedented control over what information they share, when they want to share it, and with whom," Schrage said.

MySpace on May 17 announced plans to simplify its privacy settings as it seeks to differentiate itself from social network rival Facebook, which has eclipsed the News Corp-owned social networking service.

"The last few weeks have been fraught with discussion around user privacy on social networks," MySpace co-president Mike Jones said in a blog post without directly mentioning Facebook by name.

"While MySpace at its core is about discovery, self expression and sharing, we understand people might want the option of limiting the sharing of their information to a select group of friends," Jones said.

Jones said MySpace, which was bought by News Corp. in 2005 for 580 million dollars, is "planning the launch of a simplified privacy setting for our user profiles.

"While we've had these plans in the works for some time, given the recent outcry over privacy concerns in the media, we felt it was important to unveil those plans to our users now," he said.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Hackers Can Delete Facebook Friends, Thanks to Flaw

A bug in Facebook's Web site lets hackers delete Facebook friends without permission.

The flaw was reported Wednesday by Steven Abbagnaro, a student at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. But as of Friday morning, Pacific time, it had still not been patched, based on tests conducted by the IDG News Service on a reporter's Facebook friends list.
A malicious hacker could combine an exploit for this bug with spam or even a self-copying worm code to wreak havoc on the social network, Abbagnaro said in an interview.

He's written proof-of-concept code that scrapes publicly available data from users' Facebook pages and then, one by one, deletes all of their friends. For the attack to work, however, the victim would first have to be tricked into clicking on a malicious link while logged into Facebook. "The next thing you know, you have no friends," Abbagnaro said.

The security researcher is not going to release the code used in his attack until after Facebook fixes the flaw, but he says that technically competent hackers could figure out how to pull off the attack.

That's because Abbagnaro's code exploits the same underlying flaw that was first reported by M.J. Keith, a senior security analyst with Alert Logic.

Last week, Keith discovered that Facebook's Web site was not properly checking code sent by users' browsers to ensure that they were authorized to make changes on the site.

Called a cross-site request forgery bug, the flaw is a common Web programming error, but Facebook has had a hard time eradicating it from the site. After Keith first reported the issue, Facebook thought it had fixed the problem, only to discover that it could still be exploited to make users "like" Facebook pages without their consent.

Similarly, Facebook appears to have missed Abbagnaro's delete-friend vector as well.
"I am just blown away that this keeps happening," Keith said in an e-mail interview.

Facebook representatives couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Facebook's security team has been under siege lately, with worm attacks and site flaws popping up on a regular basis. These security issues come as the social network has been hit with intense criticism for not adequately protecting users' privacy, and inappropriately sharing user data with advertisers.

Users have been quitting the social network and a campaign proclaiming May 31 as Quit Facebook Day has gained some traction.

Despite all of its other problems, Facebook should have fixed this latest flaw by now, Abbagnaro said. "I'm not sure why they haven't fixed it yet because it is pretty serious."

Friday, May 21, 2010

Google, partners hoping people want their Web TV

Google Inc. believes it has come up with the technology to unite Web surfing with channel surfing on televisions.

To reach the long-elusive goal of turning TV sets into Internet gateways, Google has partnered with Sony Corp., Intel Corp. and Logitech International. They unveiled their much-anticipated plan for a "smart" TV on Thursday, and Intel CEO Paul Otellini predicted the effort will be "the biggest improvement to television since color."
"Our goal is to make the same impact on television as the smart phone has had on the mobile phone market," said Rishi Chandra, the Google product manager who is overseeing the smart TV project.

The TVs are expected to go on sale this fall in U.S. Best Buy stores, with prices to be announced later in the year. Sales will expand to other countries next year.

Other companies have tried to promote Internet-connected TVs with little success during the past decade.

"I have seen this movie before," Gartner Inc. analyst Ray Valdes said of Google's ambitious plans. "They are going down a road littered with failed initiatives like this."

But Google and its partners believe they have developed a system that will make Internet TV simpler and more appealing. They are also counting on various websites to build news applications tailored to run on the Internet TV; they believe that would persuade more couch potatoes to begin interacting with their sets instead of just watching them.

Many households already have been connecting their TVs to the Internet, mostly to watch video through set-top boxes, video game consoles and Blu-ray players. Web-connected TVs are expected to account for about 19 percent of the U.S. sales of flat-panel models this year, with the share projected to rise to 46 percent in 2013, according to ABI Research.

Three of Google's biggest rivals — Apple Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. — also have been trying to bring more Internet video and services to televisions.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs once described his company's device for tethering TVs to the Internet as a "hobby." Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey expects Apple to become much more serious about its efforts now that Google is expanding into TV.
"The whole game for Google is to become the (operating system) for the living room and make sure Apple doesn't," McQuivey said.

Google, which made the bulk of its nearly $24 billion in revenue last year from Internet ads displayed on computer screens, wants to turn televisions into giant monitors for Web surfing so it can make even more money. The company estimates that television accounts for $70 billion in annual advertising in the U.S. alone.

Google has been trying to sell ads for regular television programming for the past three years, but analysts say that has yielded paltry dividends so far.

Thursday's demonstration of the Internet TV technology didn't go smoothly at a Google conference for about 5,000 software programmers.

So many people in the audience were using the conference's wireless access network that Google ran into repeated problems showing how its technology is supposed to toggle seamlessly between the Web and television programming. Google finally had to plead with the attendees to disconnect their smart phones from the network.

"Perhaps that was an omen of things to come," Valdes said.

Once it got enough bandwidth, Google was able to conduct a series of Internet searches in a drop-down box that appears at the top of television programs. The search results pointed to Internet videos and other content related to the television program on the screen.

A telecast of a sporting event can be shrunk into a small "picture-in-picture" box so a viewer can look at statistics or other material about the game on TV.

Viewers will also be able to make search requests by speaking into a remote that runs on Google's Android operating system.

And of course, users could simply use the entire screen for surfing.
Google CEO Eric Schmidt raved about the potential of the Internet TVs, although he acknowledged it might be difficult for some consumers to grasp at first. That's one reason he said Google decided to team up with Best Buy, which offers a "geek squad" to deal with complex technology.

"You have to actually see (the Internet TV) to get excited about it," Schmidt said after Thursday's preview.

Consumers who already have splurged on flat-panel TVs will be able to plug into the new technology by buying a set-top box made by Logitech or a Blu-ray player from Sony. Both devices will contain the same software and microprocessor as the new TV sets.

Sony will make the TVs, giving it a new product that could stand out from other flat-panel sets on the market. It will use microprocessors from Intel, which is hoping to reduce its dependence on personal computers; the Atom chip design that will serve as the brains of the smart TVs so far has mostly been used in inexpensive, lightweight laptops known as netbooks.

Google will provide the software, including Android and the company's Chrome Web browser. Logitech will supply a special remote control and wireless keyboard.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Study on cell phone link to cancer inconclusive

If there's one lifestyle tool that's ubiquitous, from American cities to remote villages of the developing world, it's the mobile phone.

Can they also be deadly?

The frustratingly unresolved debate erupted again this week with the release of a $24 million U.N. study spanning a decade and covering 13 nations that suggests frequent cell phone use may increase the chances of developing rare but deadly form of brain cancer.

Worryingly, since glioma has a potential latency period of a quarter century — longer than cell phones have been in widespread use — even the study's authors say there is no way yet to tell how big the risk is, if there is one.

Experts were nearly unanimous in saying the results of the study are inconclusive. But the fact that it turned up even some evidence of a cancer risk may have profound consequences for a device that people have become accustomed to seeing as extensions of themselves.

From farmers in Africa who rely on cell phones to check crop reports to hedge fund traders obsessively checking Blackberries at trendy restaurants to suburban American kids spending hours calling their friends — people around the world have come to rely on mobile phones as never before.

Cell phones send out radioactive energy in a form that's similar to the one used in microwave ovens, but at very low levels. There is no accepted theory to explain how or if these weak radio waves can affect the body, beyond heating it to a very small degree.

All the same, U.S. and European regulators already limit the energy cell phones can project into the body and today's digital phones radiate less power than the analog phones that dominated in the early '90s. Common advice for those concerned about the radiation is to use a Bluetooth headset, since these emit even less power.

The survey conducted from 2000 to 2010 of almost 13,000 participants — the biggest ever of its kind — found a 40 percent higher incidence of glioma among the top 10 percent of people who used their mobile phone most.

A lesser spike of 15 percent was observed with meningioma, a more common and frequently benign tumor.
Researchers ignored the time spend using handsfree devices, keeping the phone in a pocket or beside the bed at night because even a distance of 4 inches (10 centimeters) reduces the amount of radiation to the brain to almost zero.

But because cell phone use has boomed during the 10-year period studied, the researchers' definition of heavy use as 30 minutes of calls or more a day is now common.

"The users in the study were light users compared to today," said Prof. Elisabeth Cardis of World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC, which organized the study.

The highest risk found was for tumors on the same side of the head as users held their phone, particularly for tumors in the temporal lobe closest to the ear, Cardis told reporters in Geneva on Monday. "This is the region of the head which receives the most exposure."

Despite this evidence pointing to a link between cell phone use and tumors, the 21 researchers involved in the study disagreed on the conclusion, in part because of flaws in the way the surveys were conducted.

For example, the study appeared to show that casual users had a lower risk of getting cancer than people who didn't use cell phones at all, a result the researchers described as "implausible" and blamed on methodological problems.

The message? The researchers refused to rule out that cell phone use causes brain cancer but wouldn't say it does either.

"We can't establish without any doubt that there is no link," said Prof. Anthony Swerdlow of Britain's Institute of Cancer Research, another of the study's authors. But he added that "it seems unlikely that there are large risks that happen soon."

Handset manufacturers and network providers, who paid for about a quarter of the study, have seized on such conclusions as evidence their products were safe.

"The overall conclusion of no increased risk is in accordance with the large body of existing research and many expert reviews that consistently conclude that there is no established health risk from radio signals that comply with international safety recommendations," said Jack Rowley, director of research for the telecoms companies' association GSMA.
The Mobile Manufacturers Forum likewise welcomed the study and insisted their industry "takes all questions regarding the safety of mobile phones seriously and has a strong commitment to supporting ongoing scientific research."

But Christopher Wild, director of IARC, cautioned that the results related to a time when cell phones were much less common than they are now. "This investigation is a victim of the changing patterns of mobile phone use over the years," he said.

Critics contend the study also ignored several important factors such as the slow growth rate of most brain tumors, which can take up to 25 years to develop.

"It is simply too early to detect anything," said Graham Philips of the Britain-based anti-radiation campaign group Power Watch.

Prof. Bernard Stewart, a scientific adviser to Cancer Council Australia, said the study "tells us little about any risk associated with mobile phone use over decades."

"In particular," he said, "insufficient time has passed since mobile phones were introduced to determine whether there is a risk in children."

Cardis acknowledged that with X-rays and atomic explosions the spike in tumors could take up to 30 years to show up, but said it was unclear whether cell phones have the same effect on the body as those forms of radiation.

Most of the estimated 4.6 billion cell phone subscribers around the world today appear prepared to take the risk even without firm assurances that it's safe.

In Copenhagen, student Michaela Vinter, 27, said she wasn't worried about "all the studies" about the use of cell phone and cancer.

"I have heard about this for all the years that I have had a cell phone and I have never heard anything firm about the risk," she said.

The scientists involved in the study plan to publish a comprehensive overview of available research within two years. Separately, researchers are also examining whether cell phone use increases the risk of tumors in the ear's acoustic nerve and the parotid gland, where saliva is produced. Another study will look into the effects of cell phone use on children, who are believed to be more susceptible to the effects of radiation.

"Until stronger conclusions can be drawn one way or another it may be reasonable to reduce one's exposure," said Cardis. One way to do this would be to make calls using a handsfree device.

"It can't hurt," she said.

The IARC study, which was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, was compiled by researchers in Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden. Scientists interviewed 12,848 participants, of which 5,150 had either meningioma or glioma tumors.

There is no similar, large-scale study going on in the U.S., though here have been smaller studies which failed to show links between cell phone use and cancer. The federal government mandates that states collect data on benign brain tumors, at least partly in response to concerns about radiation.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sony signs Taiwan Internet sensation 'Little Fatty'

Sony Music has signed up a Taiwanese singer who became a Susan Boyle-like overnight Internet sensation after singing like Whitney Houston on a TV talent show.
"I still can't believe it's true," Lin Yu-chun, dubbed "Little Fatty" by Taiwanese media, was quoted as saying by a statement posted on Sony Music Taiwan's website.

Sony signed the 24-year-old at a press conference in Shanghai earlier this week and is set to release his first album featuring Mandarin and English songs in July, the statement said.

Lin followed the footsteps of the real Susan Boyle from Britain and other TV talent show stars such as Paul Potts and Kelly Clarkson to join Sony Music.

Formally a part-time shop worker, Lin shot to fame after his rendition of the song "I Will Always Love You" -- the Dolly Parton song made famous by Whitney Houston -- became a sensation on video sharing website Youtube in April.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Wireless users opt for service without commitment

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For wireless subscribers, commitment is out and short-term relationships are in.

This year, customers have been making a big shift away from two-year contracts toward "prepaid" cell phone service, which often costs less and does not require contracts. This is happening even though contracts are needed to get popular phones such as the iPhone and the Droid.

Now prepaid service looks like it will get even more attractive, with further price cuts. That's because wireless carriers have hit a wall when it comes to finding new customers who will sign contracts.

"I would love to have an iPhone. I just can't swallow the $70 or more bill that would come with it," said Jeff Finlay, a 45-year-old stay-at-home dad in San Antonio who uses a prepaid plan.

Unlike contract plans that bill subscribers each month for the services they used the previous month, prepaid services traditionally let subscribers buy minutes in advance for around 10 cents to 20 cents each. When the minutes are used up, people "refill" their accounts as needed.

For years, such plans were marketed primarily to people who did not have the credit to qualify for plans with contracts. About one-fifth of Americans with cell phones are on prepaid, according to the New Millennium Research Council, a Washington-based think tank.

But as the recession forced more people to cut costs, prepaid service appealed to a broader slice of the market, and prepaid services responded by offering better deals.

Now it's possible to make unlimited calls and text messages on a prepaid plan for $45 a month — half of what it costs a customer with a contract on Verizon Wireless. At Tracfone, the largest independent provider of prepaid service, customers pay an average of $11 per month.

The popularity of text messaging is also making some people move away from contract plans that provide a big bucket of monthly minutes that may not get used.

Finlay uses prepaid service from Virgin Mobile, a division of Sprint Nextel Corp., because he talks no more than 15 to 20 minutes on the phone each month. That costs him $5 per month. He sends and receives up to 2,000 text messages, so he tacks on an unlimited-texting option for $20 per month.
His sons, 13 and 18 years old, use their phones the same way, so they're on Virgin too. Finlay has even converted his parents to prepaid. They're in their 70s, pretty far outside Virgin's target market: 18-to-24-year olds.

Together, the seven largest U.S. wireless carriers expanded their contract subscribers by just 230,000 people in the first quarter. That's negligible compared to their entire customer base of 280 million.

Prepaid service, meanwhile, attracted about 3.1 million new subscribers to the seven largest carriers in the quarter. (That does not include an additional 1.1 million accounts that AT&T Inc. counts as prepaid but are serving devices that aren't phones, such as e-book readers.)

This marks a sharp reversal of trends. In the same quarter just two years ago, the comparable carriers added 3 million subscribers under contract, and 2.3 million to prepaid plans.

The carriers that rank third and fourth in the U.S. by subscriber numbers, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile USA, are losing contract customers. No. 1 Verizon Wireless and No. 2 AT&T are still adding contract customers, but at the lowest numbers in more than five years.

The prepaid market heated up in January 2009, when Sprint began offering a prepaid plan with unlimited minutes for $50 a month under its Boost Mobile brand. MetroPCS Communications Inc. and Leap Wireless International Inc., which both target low-income households, had been offering unlimited prepaid plans for a few years, but only in limited areas. Sprint's offer was good nationwide.

Tracfone, a unit of Mexico's America Movil SA, countered with Straight Talk, which provides unlimited calling for $45 per month on Verizon Wireless' network, sold exclusively by Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

MetroPCS and Leap, which sells service under the Cricket brand, have responded by eliminating add-on fees for taxes and roaming, effectively cutting prices.

Ronald Grandison, 56, switched four months ago to MetroPCS after seven years under contract with Sprint.

He said he was paying charges that he didn't understand and couldn't get explained. The bill for him and his wife sometimes rose above $400 per month.

"That was the last straw," said the Brooklyn law enforcement officer. "I felt bad to switch. I had been a customer for so long. But I get up for work at 4 a.m., and it's hard to make this money."

They now pay $84 for unlimited calls and text messages.

Because prepaying subscribers can cancel service at any time without penalty, carriers do not subsidize the cost of the phones as much as they do for contract-signing customers. (For instance, AT&T pays Apple close to $600 for each iPhone 3GS that costs a customer $199.) That has meant that phones available for prepaid service mostly have been basic models.

That, too, has been changing. It's now possible to buy BlackBerrys for prepaid, and carriers have signaled that they're looking to add more "smart" phones.

But don't expect a prepaid iPhone: AT&T, which carries it, isn't an aggressive player in prepaid. It and Verizon sell prepaid service at relatively high prices that haven't been gaining them many customers. Apparently wary of eroding their brand names, they've instead jumped on the prepaid bandwagon by selling network access to Tracfone.

On Thursday, Sprint and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced a trial of another prepaid plan: Common Cents, which is designed for people who don't use their phones much. Calls will cost 7 cents per minute.

"Through the recent difficulties in our economy, we've seen consumers say loud and clear that their phone was a must-have," said Greg Hall, head of U.S. entertainment and wireless sales at Wal-Mart. "But what we have seen is them really getting smart about getting that connection with the best value."

Friday, May 14, 2010

Adobe is firing back at Apple with love.

Adobe Systems Inc. is countering Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs' recent jab at Adobe's Flash technology for Web video and games. The company is running ads in newspapers and popular technology blogs saying "We Love Apple" — with a bright red heart in place of love.
Jobs had described Flash as outdated, unreliable and unfit for Apple's iPhone and iPad gadgets. In a detailed, 1,685-word offensive posted online two weeks ago. Jobs spelled out the reasons why Apple continues to ban Flash from its mobile devices, including "reliability, security and performance," and the fact that Flash was designed "for PCs using mice, not for touch screens using fingers."

But he said the most important reason is that Flash puts a third party between Apple and software developers. In other words, developers can take advantage of improvements from Apple only if Adobe upgrades its own software.

Adobe's ad — at 82 words — begins, "We love creativity," "We love innovation," "We love apps."

"What we don't love," it continues, "is anybody taking away your freedom to choose what you create, how you create it, and what you experience on the Web."

The full-page ads appeared Thursday in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and more than a dozen other newspapers. Online, they peppered tech blogs such as ArsTechnica, Engadget and TechCrunch, as well as and Wired.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cisco extends recovery, net income up 63 pct in 3Q

Cisco said Wednesday that its net income for the latest quarter rose 63 percent from last year, as the economic recovery gave customers the confidence to spend on big-ticket networking gear.
"We witnessed a return to strong balanced growth across geographies, products and customer segments that we haven't seen since before the global economic challenges began," CEO John Chamber said in a statement.

Cisco Systems Inc. said it earned $2.2 billion, or 37 cents per share, in the fiscal third quarter that ended May 1. That's up from $1.3 billion, or 23 cents per share, a year ago.

Excluding one-time charges and the cost of stock-based compensation, the world's biggest maker of computer networking equipment earned 42 cents per share.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected 39 cents per share. Cisco routinely exceeds those estimates.

Revenue rose 27 percent to $10.4 billion, from $8.2 billion. That topped Cisco's own forecast of $10 billion to $10.3 billion.

The San Jose, Calif., company's revenue has now recovered to the level of late 2008, when the economic downturn started in earnest. Cisco saw a steep drop in sales after that. The sharp revenue increase is a reflection of a bounce-back in spending, rather than sustainable growth from Cisco — its long-term target remains year-over-year growth of 12 percent to 17 percent. Also, this year's quarter was a week longer than last year's which added 4 percent to 5 percent to revenue.
Chambers said Cisco expects the recovery to continue at the same pace in the current quarter, with revenue up 25 percent to 28 percent from last year. That works out to a range between $10.7 billion and $10.9 billion, stretching above the average analyst estimate of $10.7 billion.

Cisco shares fell 55 cents, or 2.1 percent, to $26.19 in extended trading, after the release of the results.

Cisco's products are used around the world, and its quarters end a month after most companies, making it a bellwether for trends in capital spending by corporations and governments. Chambers told analysts on a conference call that he hadn't seen any drop-off in demand from Europe in the last few weeks, even as the continent has been hit by the Greek debt crisis.

Chambers said Cisco hired a net 1,000 people in the quarter, and he expects the pace of hiring to speed up. It laid off about 2,000 people last year. It has about 67,000 employees.

During the quarter, Cisco closed the $3.4 billion acquisition of Tandberg ASA, a Norwegian supplier of teleconferencing equipment, but the closing happened to late to affect results substantially.

Chambers said the company's servers for data centers are selling well. The company entered that market last year, competing with Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM Corp., who are partners in other fields. The customer based doubled last quarter, and the pace of sales is now at $200 million a year, the CEO said.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Game sales strong for EA but outlook hurts shares

Video game publisher Electronic Arts Inc. said Tuesday that strong sales of games such as "Battlefield: Bad Company 2" and "Mass Effect 2" gave the company a quarterly profit above expectations. But its outlook fell short of Wall Street's forecast, and its shares slumped in after-hours trading.
Electronic Arts, which also has "The Sims" and "Madden" games, said it earned $30 million, or 9 cents per share, in the quarter that ended March 31, its fiscal fourth. In the comparable period last year it lost $42 million, or 13 cents per share.

Revenue rose 14 percent to $979 million from $860 million.

EA's adjusted earnings of 9 cents per share and revenue of $850 million handily surpassed Wall Street's expectations of a profit of 5 cents per share on revenue of $835.4 million. Adjusted results exclude special items and account for deferred revenue from games with online components.

EA indicated that many kinds of games sold well, from $60 titles for consoles to inexpensive games for Facebook and mobile devices. The quarter's star performer was warfare shooter "Battlefield," which is available for PCs, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, said Eric Brown, EA's chief financial officer. It has sold 5 million copies to date and exceeded the company's expectations.

It was EA's earnings forecast that gave investors pause.

For the current quarter, EA said it expects results in the range of a loss of 5 cents per share to a profit of 5 cents per share. On an adjusted basis, it is forecasting a loss of 35 cents to 40 cents per share on revenue of $460 million to $500 million.
Wall Street had been forecasting a loss of 33 cents per share and revenue of $516.8 million.

Shares of EA, which is based in Redwood City, Calif., fell 79 cents, or 4.2 percent, to $18.01 in after-hours trading. Before the earnings release the shares gained 3.1 percent to close at $18.80.

"Expectations perhaps got a little bit ahead of themselves," said Arvind Bhatia, an analyst with Sterne Agee. "The quarter itself was quite satisfactory. But some people would have liked to see a raise in guidance."

Along with other video game makers, EA has been increasing its focus on the online component of games, which include downloadable content to enhance games bought in packages. This "digital" category also includes games for social networks such as Facebook and mobile platforms like the iPhone.

On Monday, the company announced it will begin charging people $10 to play its sports games with others online if they rented or bought the games used. It includes the service at no extra charge for players who buy the games new.

Charging for online services is not new — it's how EA rival Activision Blizzard Inc. brings in a steady source of revenue from "World of Warcraft." But EA's new policy is a further sign the company is preparing for a future where games are offered online as a service, not just in a shrink-wrapped disc.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Twitter bug lets users fake followers

A Twitter glitch has allowed users to game the popularity contest by making it appear that celebrities had subscribed to read their mini-blog postings known as tweets.
The flaw, which Twitter said Monday it has fixed, allowed users to add anyone else as a follower of their tweets. Normally, the other person has to initiate such "following."

It's unclear how long the flaw existed and how many people took advantage of it. Twitter Inc. says it's looking at the issue.

A side effect of the fix was that for about an hour on Monday, Twitter users showed zero followers while the company fixed the problem.

People who exploited the bug got more than an ego boost from having famous people appear to be their fans. For a time, those celebrities really did become their audience and received the tweets from people who had fraudulently added them as followers.

Twitter recommends that users who were fraudulently added as a follower to someone else's account should click "unfollow" to take themselves off those lists.

The company emphasized that updates on accounts set with privacy restrictions weren't made public because of the bug. Information on such "protected" accounts is hidden from public view, unless the account owner approves specific people to view updates.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Chavez rockets to No. 1 on Twitter in Venezuela

President Hugo Chavez is tops on Twitter in Venezuela less than 2 weeks after launching his account, surpassing Internet-savvy foes who dominate the social networking site and use it to oppose him.
Chavez's account, "chavezcandanga," had racked up more than 237,000 followers as of Saturday morning — besting the 234,000 who receive tweets from Globovision, the only TV channel that remains critical of the socialist leader.

In recent televised appearances, Chavez has trumpeted the meteoric rise of his Twitter popularity while downplaying the critical, often disparaging messages he receives.

"Some criticize me, others insult me. I don't care," he said. "It's a form of contact with the world."

The president joined Twitter on April 27 in an attempt to counter adversaries who have actively used the site to make accusations of human rights violations, organize protests and — above all — ridicule Chavez.
He urged supporters to join as well, calling Twitter "a weapon that also needs to be used by the revolution."

With an average of about 20,000 people per day signing up to follow Chavez's tweets, the president says he has been overwhelmed by nearly 54,000 messages from supporters, critics and people writing to ask for help with a problem or lodge a complaint. On Thursday, he announced that a new team of 200 aides would help him manage the stream.

"I'm creating a team due to the avalanche of requests, and some grievances," he said.

Opposition lawmaker Juan Jose Molina said he was not surprised by Chavez's ability to attract a crowd in cyberspace, but he thinks the president should spend less time tweeting and more time working to reduce soaring inflation and violent crime.

"Nobody can deny that Chavez has leadership. But it's also true that nobody can deny his inability to govern," Molina said. "He should be more dedicated to solving the country's problems."

"I'm not thinking about following him (on Twitter) because I don't care about what he has to say," Molina added.

Chavez's foray into Twitter has also inspired U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley to sign up.

"With chavezcandanga entering the field, how could I resist?" Crowley tweeted May 3.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Eight great iPhone apps for Mother's Day

Is your mom addicted to social media? If so, check out the Mother’s Day Cards and Frames app ($1.99). This iPhone app let’s you create a custom Mother’s Day card by accessing your mom’s photos on her Facebook page or from your library. Then, you can post the card on her wall or print out the actual card. It’s really easy, so you can do it to honor all your family and friends who are mothers.
If you have more time on your hands, check out the ScrAPPbook app (99 cents) and build a virtual scrapbook for your mom, including photos, videos and sound. You can even share the scrapbook on her Facebook page. What better way to pay tribute to Mother Earth than by going green, and your mom by gifting her with memories?

Modern MomThe free Modern Mom app is a companion to the magazine and website of the same name. Started by an actress and mother of four, Brooke Burke, and a partner, the goal of Modern Mom is to help moms find balance, relevance and consciousness, and offer resources in one convenient location. The app is filled with videos and articles, as well as a Twitter feed filled with savvy info from modern moms everywhere
Apps for busy moms
Playground Pump The Workout - Chris RauchnotThe Playground Pump the Workout by Chris Rauchnot iPhone app ($2.99) lets busy moms get their workout done while the kids play. The app is filled with comprehensive workouts utilizing your own body weight and playground equipment. A handy tool to generate random exercise cards keeps your workouts fresh.

The Bank of Mom app ($1.99) gives moms with multiple children a way to keep track of allowances. Start an account for each child and enter in activities for which they earn more money or instances where they’ve spent their money. It’s a virtual allowance bank you can take with you wherever you go.

Intuition: Mom's Personal AssistantThe free Intuition: Mom’s Personal Assistant iPhone app is a really cool and interactive to-do list for busy moms on the go. Keep track of tasks by category including calls, errands, grocery shopping, wish lists, family activities and more. My favorite part is the "Tasks by Location," which shows you if you are near, say the dry cleaner, if you need to pick something up while you are out and about town. Never forget to pick up a kid from soccer practice again!

Apps for moms to be

Pimp My Ultrasound/Baby Picture--Entertainment 4 expecting mom (s) and dad (s)This app is a little silly, but it is worth downloading just to see the smile on her face. For moms-to-be, check out the free Pimp My Ultrasound app. Add a Dr. Seuss style hat, sunglasses and more to your unborn baby’s first picture. Then share it with the world on your Facebook page.

The free Hello Baby – Pregnancy Calendar iPad app by Pampers not only shows you the typical development of a baby by weeks, but also shows pictures of what her thriving fetus might look like at all stages. The cool part is you can hold it up to her tummy to get a look at what the baby looks like at different stages throughout her pregnancy.

Friday, May 07, 2010

FCC says it has compromise on key broadband rules

The head of the Federal Communications Commission thinks he has come up with a way to salvage his ambitious national broadband plans without running into legal obstacles that have threatened to derail him.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said Thursday that his agency has crafted a compromise in how it regulates high-speed Internet access: It will apply only narrow rules to broadband companies. The FCC chairman, a Democrat, said this delicate dance will ensure the agency has adequate authority to govern broadband providers without being too "heavy-handed."

But his plan likely will hit legal challenges from the big phone and cable companies and already faces significant opposition from Republicans at the FCC and in Congress.

The FCC has been scrambling to develop a new regulatory framework since a federal appeals court last month cast doubt on its jurisdiction over broadband under existing rules.

The FCC needs that legal authority for the sweeping national broadband plan that it released in March. Among other things, the plan aims to give more Americans access to affordable high-speed Internet connections by revamping the federal program that subsidizes telephone service in poor and rural areas and using it to pay for broadband.

Genachowski also needs this authority for his proposal to adopt "network neutrality" rules prohibiting phone and cable companies from prioritizing or discriminating against Internet traffic traveling over their lines. Internet companies such as Google Inc. and Skype Ltd. say these rules are needed to prevent broadband providers from becoming online gatekeepers and blocking Internet phone calls, streaming video and other services that compete with their core businesses.

Genachowski said his new regulatory framework will let the FCC move ahead with its plans and "support policies that advance our global competitiveness and preserve the Internet as a powerful platform for innovation."

The FCC currently treats broadband as a lightly regulated "information service." It had maintained that this framework gave it ample authority to proceed with its broadband plan and to impose net neutrality rules. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected this argument.

So now Genachowski is seeking to redefine broadband as a telecommunications service subject to "common carrier" obligations to treat all traffic equally. Similar rules apply to other networks that serve the public, including roads, electrical grids and telephone lines. But Genachowski said he will refrain from imposing more burdensome mandates that also apply to traditional telecom companies. For instance he would avoid requiring the broadband companies to share their networks with competitors.
The proposal is intended to strike a balance that can satisfy both Internet service providers that oppose new regulations and public interest groups that are demanding greater consumer protections. FCC officials stressed that they intend to regulate only Internet connections, not the online services flowing through them.

The FCC will soon seek public comment on Genachowski's proposal. It would have to be approved by at least three of the FCC's five commissioners, and Genachowski is expected to have the support of his two fellow Democrats.

Several public interest groups and big Internet companies, including Google, Skype, eBay Inc. and Inc., praised the proposal. So did Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., who sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees the FCC. "With this decision, the FCC will ensure that the agency remains the `cop on the beat,' protecting consumers and competition on the World Wide Web," Markey said.

But Republicans lined up against the plan.

The two Republican FCC commissioners, Robert McDowell and Meredith Baker, said the proposal would "shatter the boundaries" of the agency's authority and discourage broadband providers from investing in their networks. McDowell and Baker said Genachowski's plan would impose "burdensome rules excavated from the early-Ma Bell-monopoly era onto 21st century networks."

House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio called the plan "a government takeover of the Internet."

The battle is likely to land in court if the big phone and cable companies decide to challenge the new framework. The companies already oppose Genachowski's network neutrality proposal, warning that restrictions on what they can do with their networks will discourage them from investing in their lines.

Shares of phone companies Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc. slipped 2 percent Thursday. Cable stocks tumbled even more — reflecting the fact that cable companies have a larger share of the broadband market and no wireless operations to fall back on. Shares of Comcast Corp., the nation's largest cable company, lost 6 percent, while Cablevision Systems Corp. fell 7 percent and Time Warner Cable dropped 8 percent.

Tom Tauke, Verizon's top Washington official, said Genachowski's new approach to regulation is "legally unsupported" and "could ultimately harm consumers and inhibit the innovation and investment he wants to encourage." AT&T echoed that point.

Comcast said that while it is disappointed with the FCC proposal, it is prepared to work with the agency. But Comcast may be more open to compromise because it needs FCC approval for its plan to take a controlling stake in NBC Universal.
It was Comcast that helped set in motion the events leading to last month's court ruling.

The case centered on the company's behavior in 2007 when it interfered with subscribers using the online file-sharing service BitTorrent, which lets people swap movies and other big files. Comcast said the service was clogging its network, but public interest groups maintained that the company saw the swapping of video files as a threat to its cable business.

The FCC, then led by Republican Kevin Martin, ordered Comcast to stop blocking subscribers from using BitTorrent and based its decision on net neutrality principles it had adopted in 2005.

Comcast challenged the order in court. It argued that the order was illegal because the agency was seeking to enforce principles and not regulations or laws. That is one reason that Genachowski is now pushing the FCC to adopt formal net neutrality rules that would apply across the industry.

Comcast also had argued that the FCC lacked authority to mandate net neutrality because it had deregulated broadband by classifying it as an information service under the Bush administration. Now Genachowski's next move could reverse course on that approach.