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WheezyJoe writes Verizon agreed to a $5 million settlement after admitting that it failed to investigate whether its rural customers were able to receive long distance and wireless phone calls. The settlement is related to the FCC's efforts to address what is known as the rural call completion problem. Over an eight-month period during 2013, low call answer rates in 39 rural areas should have triggered an investigation, the FCC said. The FCC asked Verizon what steps it took, and Verizon said in April 2014 that it investigated or fixed problems in 13 of the 39 areas, but did nothing in the other 26.
"Rural call completion problems have significant and immediate public interest ramifications," the FCC said in its order on the Verizon settlement today. "They cause rural businesses to lose customers, impede medical professionals from reaching patients in rural areas, cut families off from their relatives, and create the potential for dangerous delays in public safety communications." Verizon has been accused of letting its copper landline network decay while it shifts its focus to fiber and cellular service. The FCC is working a plan to protect customers as old copper networks are retired.
69 comments | 3 hours ago
RogueyWon writes: For the last several days, some users of Ubisoft's uPlay system have been complaining that copies of games they purchased have been removed from their libraries. According to a statement issued to a number of gaming websites, Ubisoft believes that the digital keys revoked have been "fraudulently obtained." What this means in practice is unclear; while some of the keys may have been obtained using stolen credit card details, others appear to have been purchased from unofficial third-party resellers, who often undercut official stores by purchasing cheaper boxed retail copies of games and selling their key-codes online, or by exploiting regional price differences, buying codes in regions where games are cheaper to sell them elsewhere in the world. The latest round of revocations appears to have triggered an overdue debate into the fragility of customer rights in respect of digital games stores.
369 comments | yesterday
WheezyJoe writes: As the FCC considers the merger between Comcast/Universal and Time-Warner Cable, which would create the largest cable company in the U.S. and is entering the final stages of federal review, politicians are pressuring the FCC with pro-merger letters actually written by Comcast. According to documents obtained through public records requests, politicians are passing letters nearly word-for-word written by Comcast as their own. "Not only do records show that a Comcast official sent the councilman the exact wording of the letter he would submit to the FCC, but also that finishing touches were put on the letter by a former FCC official named Rosemary Harold, who is now a partner at one of the nation's foremost telecom law firms in Washington, DC. Comcast has enlisted Harold to help persuade her former agency to approve the proposed merger."
Ars Technica had already reported that politicians have closely mimicked Comcast talking points and re-used Comcast's own statements without attribution. The documents revealed today show just how deeply Comcast is involved with certain politicians, and how they were able to get them on board.
170 comments | yesterday
Vigile writes Over the weekend NVIDIA sent out its first official response to the claims of hampered performance on the GTX 970 and a potential lack of access to 1/8th of the on-board memory. Today NVIDIA has clarified the situation again, this time with some important changes to the specifications of the GPU. First, the ROP count and L2 cache capacity of the GTX 970 were incorrectly reported at launch (last September). The GTX 970 has 52 ROPs and 1792 KB of L2 cache compared to the GTX 980 that has 64 ROPs and 2048 KB of L2 cache; previously both GPUs claimed to have identical specs. Because of this change, one of the 32-bit memory channels is accessed differently, forcing NVIDIA to create 3.5GB and 0.5GB pools of memory to improve overall performance for the majority of use cases. The smaller, 500MB pool operates at 1/7th the speed of the 3.5GB pool and thus will lower total graphics system performance by 4-6% when added into the memory system. That occurs when games request MORE than 3.5GB of memory allocation though, which happens only in extreme cases and combinations of resolution and anti-aliasing. Still, the jury is out on whether NVIDIA has answered enough questions to temper the fire from consumers.
109 comments | yesterday
PvtVoid writes Virgin Galactic, following an aggressive schedule to build a replacement for the Spaceship Two which crashed in October, is doing so without partner Scaled Composites, according to the Los Angeles Times. Kevin Mickey, the president of Scaled Composites, confirmed this week that his company would no longer be involved in testing. He said Scaled would still work as a consultant to Virgin Galactic.
38 comments | yesterday
WheezyJoe writes Responding to the FCC's proposal to raise the definition of broadband from 4Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream to 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up, the lobby group known as the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) wrote in an FCC filing Thursday that 25Mbps/3Mbps isn't necessary for ordinary people. The lobby alleges that hypothetical use cases offered for showing the need for 25Mbps/3Mbps "dramatically exaggerate the amount of bandwidth needed by the typical broadband user", referring to parties in favor of the increase like Netflix and Public Knowledge. Verizon, for its part, is also lobbying against a faster broadband definition. Much of its territory is still stuck on DSL which is far less capable of 25Mbps/3Mbps speeds than cable technology.
The FCC presently defines broadband as 4Mbps down and 1Mbps up, a definition that hasn't changed since 2010. By comparison, people in Sweden can pay about $40 a month for 100/100 mbps, choosing between more than a dozen competing providers. The FCC is under mandate to determine whether broadband is being deployed to Americans in a reasonable and timely way, and the commission must take action to accelerate deployment if the answer is negative. Raising the definition's speeds provides more impetus to take actions that promote competition and remove barriers to investment, such as a potential move to preempt state laws that restrict municipal broadband projects.
252 comments | yesterday
The New York Times reports that Cablevision Systems plans to announce on Monday the start of a low-cost mobile phone service that will use Wi-Fi for connectivity rather than standard cellular networks, the first such service to be introduced by a cable operator. Called Freewheel, the service will offer unlimited data, talking and texting worldwide for $29.95 a month, or $9.95 a month for Cablevision’s Optimum Online customers — a steep discount compared with standard offerings from traditional cellular carriers. Freewheel customers initially must use a specific Motorola Moto G smartphone, which is being sold for $99.95. The service goes on sale next month, and no annual contract is required. (Reuters carries a similar story.)
42 comments | yesterday
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that In an abrupt U-turn, the California Department of Motor Vehicles late Friday retracted its finding that drivers for ride-hailing services like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar must obtain commercial license plates. That determination — based on a 1935 state law — ignited a firestorm of criticism from the San Francisco startups and their supporters as stifling innovation. Commercial licenses are cumbersome to obtain, meaning they could impede the companies’ growth, which relies on getting new drivers, many of whom work just part time, into service quickly. And commercial registration probably would have necessitated that drivers get commercial insurance, which is significantly more expensive than personal auto insurance. Republican Assembly members threatened legislation over the “nonsensical” interpretation if the DMV didn’t reconsider its stance before Feb. 17. Now the department says it will do just that. That doesn't mean drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft can expect to be left alone by the DMV, though, which according to the article "will meet with regulators and the industry to work through the issue."
203 comments | 2 days ago
theodp writes Maybe Bill Gates' Summer Reading this year will include The Art of R Programming. Pushing further into Big Data, Microsoft on Friday announced it's buying Revolution Analytics, the top commercial provider of software and services for the open-source R programming language for statistical computing and predictive analytics. "By leveraging Revolution Analytics technology and services," blogged Microsoft's Joseph Sirosh, "we will empower enterprises, R developers and data scientists to more easily and cost effectively build applications and analytics solutions at scale." Revolution Analytics' David Smith added, "Now, Microsoft might seem like a strange bedfellow for an open-source company [RedHat:Linux as Revolution Analytics:R], but the company continues to make great strides in the open-source arena recently." Now that it has Microsoft's blessing, is it finally time for AP Statistics to switch its computational vehicle to R?
104 comments | 2 days ago
itwbennett writes They of the square jaws and famous dispute with Mark Zuckerberg over the origins of Facebook, are also believed to be among the largest holders of Bitcoin in the world. Now they want to launch a regulated Bitcoin exchange—named Gemini, of course. To bolster confidence, they said they have formed a relationship with a chartered bank in the state of New York. "This means that your money will never leave the country," the twins wrote in a blog post. "It also means that U.S. dollars on Gemini will be eligible for FDIC insurance and held by a U.S.-regulated bank.
79 comments | 3 days ago
alphadogg writes SkyMall, the quirky airline catalog, looks as though it may be grounded before long. Parent company Xhibit has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and seeks to sell its assets. In an SEC filing, Xhibit explains that it has fallen victim to an "intensely competitive" direct marketing retail industry that now includes the likes of eBay and Amazon.com. Smartphones and tablets are largely to blame for SkyMall's downfall, according to the SEC filing. "Historically, the SkyMall catalog was the sole in-flight option for potential purchasers of products to review while traveling. With the increased use of electronic devices on planes, fewer people browsed the SkyMall in-flight catalog."
65 comments | 3 days ago
WheezyJoe writes: If you've been holding out hope that FiOS would rescue you from your local cable monopoly, it's probably time to give up. Making good on their statements five years ago, Verizon announced this week it is nearing "the end" of its fiber construction and is reducing wireline capital expenditures while spending more on wireless.
The expense of replacing old copper lines with fiber has allegedly led Verizon to stop building in new regions and to complete wiring up the areas where it had already begun. The fiber network was profitable, but nowhere near as profitable as their wireless network. So, if Verizon hasn't started in your neighborhood by now, they never will, and you'd best ignore all those ads for FiOS.
195 comments | 3 days ago
An anonymous reader writes: Local Motors solicits design ideas through crowdsourcing, allows anyone to use open source software to contribute ideas, and then 3D prints car bodies according to the chosen specs in a matter of days. To prove they mean business, Local Motors 3D-printed a car on the floor of the Detroit Auto Show last week. "It took 44 hours to print the Strati’s 212 layers. Once 3D printing is complete, the Strati moves to a Thermwood CNC router—a computer-controlled cutting machine that mills the finer details—before undergoing the final assembly process, which adds the drivetrain, electrical components, wiring, tires, gauges, and a showroom-ready paint job."
Here's another big difference from the current auto industry: "Customers can also bring their vehicles in at any time for hardware and software upgrades, or they can choose to melt their vehicle down and, for instance, add a seat. Because Local Motors uses a distributed manufacturing system to make only what is purchased, it doesn't stock inventory. Anyone can come into a Local Motors microfactory, use its design lab, and work on a vehicle project free of charge."
122 comments | 4 days ago
HughPickens.com writes Stomp on the gas in a new Ford Mustang or F-150 and you'll hear a meaty, throaty rumble — the same style of roar that Americans have associated with auto power and performance for decades. Now Drew Harwell reports at the Washington Post that the auto industry's dirty little secret is that the engine growl in some of America's best-selling cars and trucks is actually a finely tuned bit of lip-syncing, boosted through special pipes or digitally faked altogether. "Fake engine noise has become one of the auto industry's dirty little secrets, with automakers from BMW to Volkswagen turning to a sound-boosting bag of tricks," writes Harwell. "Without them, today's more fuel-efficient engines would sound far quieter and, automakers worry, seemingly less powerful, potentially pushing buyers away." For example Ford sound engineers and developers worked on an "Active Noise Control" system on the 2015 Mustang EcoBoost that amplifies the engine's purr through the car speakers. Afterward, the automaker surveyed members of Mustang fan clubs on which processed "sound concepts" they most enjoyed.
Among purists, the trickery has inspired an identity crisis and cut to the heart of American auto legend. The "aural experience" of a car, they argue, is an intangible that's just as priceless as what's revving under the hood. "For a car guy, it's literally music to hear that thing rumble," says Mike Rhynard, "It's a mind-trick. It's something it's not. And no one wants to be deceived." Other drivers ask if it really matters if the sound is fake? A driver who didn't know the difference might enjoy the thrum and thunder of it nonetheless. Is taking the best part of an eight-cylinder rev and cloaking a better engine with it really, for carmakers, so wrong? "It may be a necessary evil in the eyes of Ford," says Andrew Hard, "but it's sad to think that an iconic muscle car like the Mustang, a car famous for its bellowing, guttural soundtrack, has to fake its engine noise in 2015. Welcome to the future."
800 comments | 5 days ago
harrymcc writes In 1973, an obscure company which had been making electronic cash registers looked for a new business opportunity. It ended up inventing the game cartridge--an innovation which kickstarted a billion-dollar industry and helped establish videogames as a creative medium. The story has never been told until now, but over at Fast Company, Benj Edwards chronicles the fascinating tale, based on interviews with the engineers responsible for the feat back in the mid-1970s.
60 comments | 5 days ago
DW100 writes In a bizarre public blog post the CEO of BlackBerry, John Chen, has claimed that net neutrality laws should include forcing app developers to make their services available on all operating systems. Chen even goes as far as citing Apple's iMessage tool as a service that should be made available for BlackBerry, because at present the lack of an iMessage BlackBerry app is holding the firm back. Some excerpts from Chen's plea: Netflix, which has forcefully advocated carrier neutrality, has discriminated against BlackBerry customers by refusing to make its streaming movie service available to them. Many other applications providers similarly offer service only to iPhone and Android users. ... Neutrality must be mandated at the application and content layer if we truly want a free, open and non-discriminatory internet. All wireless broadband customers must have the ability to access any lawful applications and content they choose, and applications/content providers must be prohibited from discriminating based on the customer’s mobile operating system. Since "content providers" are writing code they think makes sense for one reason or another (expected returns financial or psychic), a mandate to write more code seems like a good way to re-learn why contract law frowns on specific performance.
307 comments | 5 days ago
According to a report at The Verge, itself based on another at Deadline.com, Shaun of the Dead creator Simon Pegg is to co-write (along with Doug Jung) the next Star Trek film. Pegg is also signed on to play Scotty, as he did in both the Star Trek reboot and Into Darkness.
138 comments | 5 days ago
BarbaraHudson writes Business Insider is reporting that despite billions of sign-ups, almost nobody is publicly active on Google+. Analytics and visualization blogger Kevin Anderson studied data compiled by Edward Morbius, who says that just 9% of Google+'s 2.2 billion users actively post public content. "We've got a grand spanking total of 24 profiles out of 7,875 whose 2015 post activity isn't YouTube comments but Google+ posts. That a 0.3% rate of all profile pages, going back to our 2.2 billion profiles. No wonder Dave Besbris (Google+ boss) doesn't want to talk about numbers," Morbius writes. For those interested both his methodology and the scripts used can be found here.
209 comments | 5 days ago
Today, the conclusion of my talk with Jim Blasko (here's part 1), who encourages you to go start your own crypto currency, because it's a fun exercise and because every entrant adds new ideas to the mix. As you'd expect, he's bullish about both his own Unbreakable Coin and cryptocurrencies more generally; how any given given currency performs, though, is an open question: U.S. dollars, Euros, or Yen may not go experience any meteoric rises, but their stability, even with inflation, is a nice feature, and so is their worldwide convertibility.
Regulation, speculation, fraud, and cultural fashions all play a role in making new currencies risky; reader mbkennel yesterday asked an insightful question: "Are you up to loaning bitcoin or something less popular for 10 years?" Confidence in any given currency can be tested with the terms current holders are willing to accept to make loans payable in that same currency. (On the other hand, if large companies will accept it in payment, they've probably got an idea that a given currency will be around next month or next year.) If you've bought any form of crypto currency, what's been your experience, and what do you expect in 10 years? (Alternate Video Link)
39 comments | 5 days ago
An anonymous reader writes With the Ulbricht trial ongoing in a case over the original Silk Road, Homeland Security agents have made another arrest in the Silk Road 2.0 case more than two and a half months after the site was shut down. This time they arrested Brian Richard Farrell who went by the moniker "DoctorClu." From the article: "Homeland Security agents tracked Silk Road 2.0 activity to Farrell's Bellevue home in July, according to an affidavit by Special Agent Michael Larson. In the months that followed, agents watched his activities and interviewed a roommate who said Farrell received UPS, FedEx and postal packages daily. One package was found to contain 107 Xanax pills, Larson said. That led to a search on Jan. 2 that recovered computers, drug paraphernalia, silver bullion bars worth $3,900, and $35,000 in cash, Larson said."
126 comments | 5 days ago