Back-dated, Scriptified, Testing

I've been working on some video-blogging techniques to show people what some of the malware and malicious activity that we write looks like on screen. Here is an example:

Time Warner Cable Supports "Broadband for America" But Demands $20,000 Per Mile to Deliver

If you are one of the tens of millions of Americans who can't get broadband Internet because it is just not available where you live, and you have looked into the problem of why this might be, you may have encountered This is an organization that sounds like it might be promoting greater broadband access for Americans, but look a little closer and you will see it is really a bunch of telecommunication and cable companies (telcos) trying to avoid any requirements to provide broadband that might be imposed by local, state or federal government.

That's right folks, it's not a group of people out to help rural communities that can't get anyone to bring them broadband, it's a bunch of corporate and union lobbyists. Indeed, if you read their slogan carefully it says:
Brought to you by over 200 companies and organizations dedicated to expanding the discussion of BROADBAND for AMERICA
They are NOT about expanding the DELIVERY of BROADBAND for AMERICA, they're just about talking about the topic of broadband. And a lot of that talk is just plain nonsense.

Check out the 200 companies and organizations that make up BROADBAND for AMERICA and you will see that they include TWC (Time Warner Cable). As we have previously reported, TWC recently offered to deliver broadband to a rural New York customer for the sum of $100,000. Apparently TWC is happy to expand the coverage of BROADBAND for AMERICA as long as you have $20,000 per mile to give them.

What companies like TWC and the other corporate members of BROADBAND for AMERICA really want is to prevent any kind of universal service requirement for broadband. Such requirements exists in many Western countries and it exists in America in terms of telephone service. That's right, our forefathers in this great land had the foresight to realize that telephone service needed to be universal, available to everyone from big city businesses in New York to farmers and ranchers out on the prairies of North Dakota (after all, it is these farmers who supply the food that the city dwellers consume).

There were and are numerous good reasons for universal service, not least of which is the fact that telpehone companies need to run their wires and beam their signals through rural states in order to connect large population centers. I think most Americans would agree it's not really fair to do that without providing service to the people whose land and air you are using in order to make a profit.

And we are all for making a profit. Even if Time Warner Cable can't run cable for less than $20,000 per mile it would still make, over time, a decent profit from the paying customers it would acquire from doing so. But no, serving Americans who are not immediately and hugely profitable does not appeal to telcos. Sure, they love the federal tax dollars and the free passage they get from states and counties whom they by-pass, but service? Service at anything other than a huge profit is apparently not in their vocabulary.

So, whatever you hear BROADBAND for AMERICA say, in emails and in TV ads (yes, they are using TV ads to try and persuade Americans that 20th century Internet standards are just fine for 21st century America) you should probably regard it with more than a pinch of salt. In fact, why not regard it with about $20,000 worth of salt per word.

Time Warner Cable Wants $20,000 Per Mile to Serve Rural America

That headline is not a typo, we recently discovered that Time Warner Cable is quoting $20,000 per mile to bring broadband Internet service to unserved rural areas. Here's how we found out: We conducted an experiment in rural broadband access.

We went to the Time Warner Cable Business Class website. We wanted to show the company we were serious about buying a big chunk of their service (for the record, we were willing and able to pay any reasonable fees for business class service, indeed we still are). We submitted a request for a quote via the website on May 29. This quote included some heavy duty broadband plus TV plus phone service to a location in rural New York state about 50 miles from the capital, Albany.

As background we should point out that this area produces a lot of the milk and other dairy products that are consumed in cities like Albany and New York (a lot of people don't realize that the state of New York is America's third largest when it comes to producing dairy products).

We got an email confirmation of the website quote right (click the image for a larger view).

A few days later we got a phone call from a nice lady at TWC. She discussed our order and actually got the price down to $199 per month for a 36 month contract, confirmed in an email on June 2 (click the image for a larger view). We were delighted!

(While $199 doesn't match those $89 per month Verizon FIOS deals that city dwellers get in places like Manhattan, this figure is way less than the amount that people in this part of rural New York state are required to pay to get very inferior service. For example, landline + long distance + 238Kbps satellite Internet capped at 350Mb of downloading per day + satellite TV = $285 per month.)

In fact, before we signed the contract we asked for clarification that this number was correct.

After that, things did not go so well. We were told the number was correct but "The problem at this point is that your address populated for the Albany district and you are not in their footprint so we now sent it to the CNY division to see if you are serviceable under that division.  I have not heard back as of yet.

And so we waited, and waited. One week, two weeks; and when we asked why it was taking so long, we were told, on July 6, that: "you are outside the TWC footprint and it would be over 100k to get the services to you.  I thought this was relayed to you and I apologize if they did not."

Over $100,000? The nearest Time Warner customer is only 5 miles from the location for which we requested service. That's at least $20,000 per mile, to string cable? And there are other businesses and homes all along those 5 miles, many of whom are ideal candidates for TWC service.

To add further context, the location for which we requested a quote is not along some season logging road but adjacent to a fully-maintained state highway which already has power lines and telephone lines running along it. (The route even has Verizon fiber optic cable along much of it, but apparently that's for inter-city communications and not for use by rural folk who just get to look at it.)

The target location is less than 5 miles from the nearest existing Time Warner customer in one direction and there is TWC service 7 miles in the other direction, and both directions are along state highways. There are lots of other businesses and residences along these highway, so if Time Warner just ran their cable down this 12 mile stretch of highway they could reach hundreds of eager customers. (Even if they only signed 85 customers at $199 per month; that's still over $200,000 in annual revenue.)

So why the quote of $100,000 to bring cable 5 miles down a road that could yield a lot more than one new customer? Was it just a number they dreamed up to make us go away? Or does it reflect a grossly incompetent mega-company that has such poor controls over its costs that it can't string cable for less than $20,000 a mile?

We don't know the answer those questions. But we do have more questions, like why does the State of New York allow Time Warner to cherry pick its customers? Why does Otsego County, home of Baseball's Hall of Fame, allow Time Warner Cable to criss-cross its lands with wires without serving its residents? And why does Time Warner Cable think it is an acceptable business practice to demand exorbitant fees from the communities that raise the cattle and corn that produce the food and milk that Time Warner's suburban customers buy at such affordable prices. We'd like answers because right now it sounds a lot like another case of little people who just don't matter to the big people.

FCC Finds 14-24 Million Americans Lack Access to Broadband

And we think it's even more than that. Even relatively rich states like New York have so far failed to map their broadband access, despite a succession of promises from a succession of governors. (Apparently the city dwellers don't want the people who supply their milk and eggs to be distracted by streaming video or cheap long distance calls). Here's more of today's report:
"In its newly issued Sixth Broadband Deployment Report, the FCC has found that between 14 and 24 million Americans still lack access to broadband, and the immediate prospects for deployment to them are bleak. Many of these Americans are poor or live in rural areas that will remain unserved without reform of the universal service program and other changes to U.S. broadband policy that spur investment in broadband networks by lowering the cost of deployment."
For more see

Zero Privacy: Thoughts on McNealy and Zuckerberg and “privacy statements”

In some of my recent posts about privacy, occasioned by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's apparently dismissive attitude to privacy concerns, I referenced the "infamous" privacy comment that Scott McNealy made in 1999.

At that time, McNealy was the CEO of Sun Microsystems, and Sun was hot. Java was cooking, so to speak. Anyway, McNealy was reported to have said, to a group of reporters, something like: “You already have zero privacy anyway, so get over it.” The rest of this post is what I wrote on this subject in my 2002 book on privacy (which you can always download, for free, if you feel like reading more) followed by a few fresh thoughts.
Light Down Under
When Scott McNealy addressed the National Press Club of Australia in September 2000 he explained what he meant by that zero privacy remark. Here is a verbatim transcript:
“If you get hit by a truck, you want somebody to have your medical records. If you cannot tell them the combination to your safe or where your medical records are kept, you have a problem. In effect you want your medical records to be available online out over the Internet. You want every ambulance driver to be able to unlock it. So that is a little risk you take. Every ambulance driver might be able to tap into your medical records. Get over it. That is better than getting hit by a truck and dying.”
That's not quite the same as simply saying: "You have zero privacy, get over it."

Various versions of the quote—and Mr. McNealy’s last name—rapidly populated articles and presentations about privacy, most of which made no mention of the original context. That context was frustration at announcing a new product, JINI, then having to field questions about the one thing it can’t do—guarantee absolute privacy of personal data—rather than the many things it can do, such as make vital data instantly available across a wide range of hardware, software, and networks.

A lot of people in business can relate to Mr. McNealy’s frustration with those who have turned privacy into an absolute. While the potential to abuse information technology such as Web sites and email is a genuine cause for concern, foolishly equating privacy with anonymity—somehow forgetting that you cannot participate in society unless you share information about yourself—does nobody any good. As I said in Chapter 1, the reason that privacy on the Web is such a big challenge is that nobody yet understands exactly what privacy means in the context of today’s highly interconnected, heavily computerized, data-dependent world. About the best we can say is that privacy in the information age is a work in progress.

Of course, if you are the sort of person who thinks corporate America is only out to steal people’s wallets and ruin their lives, you are unlikely to be swayed by my assertion that most businesses actually want to respect the privacy of their customers, particularly if that is what their customers want. The problem is that we, as a society, simply haven’t finished our homework on this one. In other words, we are not yet at the point where a significant percentage of consumers have articulated specific Web and email privacy demands that businesses have chosen to reject.

As Rob Leathern, a Jupiter Research privacy analyst recently observed, “Neither consumers nor businesses effectively address online privacy issues.” He was reflecting on a Jupiter Media Metrix report that found more than 80 percent of U.S. consumers would give out personal information in exchange for small rewards, while at the same time nearly 70 percent said they were concerned about their privacy online. They might be concerned, but 60 percent admitted that they did not read privacy statements before handing over personal information to Web sites (not helped by the fact that a lot more than half of consumers surveyed found online privacy statements difficult to understand).

Notes from 6/26/2010: A lot has changed since 1999, but a lot remains the same. As Facebook and Twitter attest, digital privacy is still very much a work in progress. And some things never change: CEOs do not have "freedom of speech" any more than their employees. A bank clerk can be fired for mouthing off about the company. A CEO can put his or her job in jeopardy by saying the wrong things in the wrong place, like in email that lives forever or in the presence of a reporter's microphone. What may be new is the extent to which we are all more closely watched, surveilled if you will, which adds a level of transparency to our society, the implications of which we don't yet fully grasp.]

AT&T Apple iPhone 4 Launch More Proof Big Companies Mess Up Big

Tried to pre-order an Apple iPhone 4 lately? I just went to the AT&T web site which proudly proclaims "iPhone 4 This changes everything. Again." Apparently it does not change the tradition of Apple messing up product launches and AT&T failing to deliver on its promises. There's a big button that says "Pre-order Now" but when you click it, you find you can't (the message is "Pre-orders for iPhone temporarily suspended").

Found! The Gyro-X Car on YouTube

Wow! Thanks to John Windsor for contacting me about his amazing find and waking up the Gyro Car Blog. John has the Gyro-X Car! See it running (although not on the gyro-ocntrolled system):

Here it is on YouTube!

Stephen Cobb
The Gyro-X Files

Found! The Gyro-X Car on YouTube

Wow! Thanks to John Windsor for contacting me about his amazing find and waking up the Gyro Car Blog. John has the Gyro-X Car! See it running (although not on the gyro-controlled system):
Apparently someone disabled or removed the gyro stabilization system and put two wheels on the back instead of the original one.

Stephen Cobb
The Gyro-X Files

The SPAM Rule: There is no SPAM in your email

The number of people and companies who abuse the word SPAM continues to amaze me (that's me speaking as someone who started ringing alarm bells about unsolicited bulk email about ten years ago).

I see everyone from well-meaning hi-tech startups to established email companies talking about avoiding email SPAM. The fact is, email SPAM does not exist. It is email spam. The word SPAM is a trademark of Hormel Foods, used for a meat product that comes in a can (and the SPAM on the can in the special font is a registered trademark).

If you want to be taken seriously talking about spam in email you need to follow the rules: There can be spam in my email inbox but never SPAM and seldom Spam. You can say "Remove Spam From Email" but not "Remove SPAM From Email." The only time the stuff in email is SPAM is when it's hanging with a bunch of other capital letters like SPAM IN MY INBOX.

Are we clear now? I hope so.