Archive for February, 2008

New legislation aimed at unlocking cell phones

New legislation has a chance at doing away with US wireless carriers’ practices of phone subsidies, long-term contracts, and steep termination fees. With provisions that would require clearer language from carriers and non-subsidized handsets and plans, even Apple could be forced to open up the iPhone to other networks.

The iPhone is at the center of yet another squabble over US mobile phone consumers’ rights. After “permanently inoperable” firmware updates, a class action targeting mobile phone locking practices, and even an unlocking exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA),

Only a draft called “Wireless Consumer Protection and Community Broadband Empowerment Act of 2008” (PDF link) for now, the bill is sponsored by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) and actually has some broad intentions: “To require the Federal Communications Commission to promulgate new consumer protection regulations for wireless service subscribers, to restrict State and local regulation of public providers of advanced communications capability and service, to increase spectrum efficiency by Federal agencies, and for other purposes.” (link)

VoIP customers to get “real” 911 services

All VoIP customers are one step closer to having “real” 911 services accessible to them, thanks to the Senate. The body passed the IP-Enabled Voice Communications and Public Safety Act last night, a bill that had been proposed by Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK). The legislation was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee last year, and will now go on to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

The bill will require all VoIP companies to provide enhanced 911 (E911) services to all subscribers. “Enhanced” means that subscribers who dial 911 will be connected to a local operator and their details (phone number, address, etc.) will be transmitted automatically. Compare that to what happened to one Minnesota Vonage customer, who dialed 911 when his house was on fire and got connected to Vonage’s own emergency services center that proceeded to put him on hold. Vonage says that about 70 percent of its customers have access to E911, but that still leaves a sizable percentage without it.

The FCC has been aware of this problem for years now, which is why it has been pressing VoIP services to support E911. The House had a provision as part of its Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act requiring VoIP to offer E911 to all customers too. So far, however, nothing has passed that would mandate such a thing. (link)

Death Star hotel in Azerbaijan

Skyscraper News

Awesome! How much does it cost per night and where do I park my X-Wing?

Apple sued by some guy over call display

The five-page complaint by Romek Figa, who does business in the eastern US state as Abraham & Son, claims that “certain Apple telephones” use technology at the heart of a 1990 patent that describes a system which displays both the phone number of an inbound call. The technique matches up phone numbers with a contact list stored on the phone, allowing the device to associate a name with any incoming calls.

At least superficially, Apple’s iPhone recalls the patent through its software database of contacts. Inbound calls to an iPhone from a number associated with a contact display the caller’s name. However, the patent also references 1990s-era technologies, including a two-line LCD as well as a separate receiver.

Figa, who created and continues to own the patent, says that he has contacted Apple about licensing the patent. The California company, however, has reportedly declined the request “on the terms offered,” though these are not mentioned in the lawsuit. (link)

PayPal/eBay and your money

Next month eBay intends to implement a controversial new policy that will entail holding payments sent through PayPal for up to 21 days for certain “high-risk transactions.”

Furious at the prospect of waiting to receive funds, sellers have been publicly speculating about how much money PayPal (and its parent company, eBay) makes off the accruing interest on funds under PayPal’s control – and whether a desire to retain those funds for longer spurred eBay’s holding plan.

However, company executives and industry analysts say the money PayPal makes off such payments has a negligible impact on its bottom line.

Any funds PayPal holds for dispersal are automatically deposited in a corporate bank account, which earns interest, according to Paypal representative Amanda Pires. The money is kept there until it’s ready for distribution. PayPal, which processes payments for eBay auctions as well as e-commerce transactions from elsewhere on the Internet, counts interest payments on those funds as one of its revenue streams. (link)

China apologizes? Has Hell frozen over?

“Photoshop Friday” isn’t just a fun event held on certain online forums—it’s also an attempt to try and quell the concerns of Chinese citizens over environmental issues. An elaborate scheme involving a doctored photograph of antelope has backfired on the state-controlled media, backed by the Chinese government, forcing them to issue a rare public apology over the incident.

It all started in 2006 when China neared completion of its massive, high-altitude, $4 billion Qinghai-Xizang railway that connects Tibet with “China proper.” Environmentalists had protested loudly against the railway as its launch drew closer because it threatened the native habitat of an endangered antelope in China called the chiru. Coincidentally, it was about that time when a photograph appeared in Chinese newspapers by Liu Weiquing, a photographer with the Xinhua news agency (which so happens to be controlled by the Chinese government).

This photograph, pictured below, showed the Qinghai-Xizang rail system with a pack of chiru roaming underneath and ran alongside a story entitled “Qinghai-Tibet railway opens green passage for wildlife.” It was then given an award for “photo of the year” by China’s state-run TV network CCTV, wherein Liu was interviewed about his experiences waiting for the antelope to pass. “I wanted to capture the harmony among the Tibetan antelope, the train, men and nature,” he said, according to the Wall Street Journal (subscription). (link)

Time to get a Mac

Apple MacBook remains price competitive too. In conjunction with MacBook Pro refresh, Apple also introduced its latest update to the low-end MacBook line, which also incorporates the multi-touch touchpad. While Apple did not change the form factor of MacBook, it updated the basic configuration to include faster processors and higher storage. In comparing the new MacBook to Dell’s (DELL) XPS line (we did not compare it with mass brands such as Dell Inspiron or H-P Pavilion) MacBook pricing was very competitive: 13.3-inch MacBook was priced at $1,099 compared to Dell XPS M1330 at $1,119 with Windows Vista Home Premium, although MacBook has a faster CPU but Dell XPS weighed slightly less. (link)

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