Researchers sifted through a whole lot of AT&T mobile phone data to find out who’s talking to who—or, really, where’s talking to where. The Connected States of America, as the project is called, has produced some amazing maps showing clusters of communication, from the surprising—neighboring states like Oklahoma and Arkansas pair off, chatting mostly with each other—to the expected: the flood of continent-spanning calls between New York and San Francisco.
What’s the News: Libyan rebels can put away their semaphore flags and pick up a cell phone again, now that a group led by a Libyan-American telecom executive has hijacked the nation’s downed cell phone network and restored service to part of the country. Colonel Moammar Qaddafi cut off access to the network a month ago in an effort to hamper rebel organization, which it did quite effectively: “We went to fight with flags: Yellow meant retreat, green meant advance,” said Gen. Ahmed al-Ghatrani, a rebel commander in Benghazi. “Gadhafi forced us back to the stone age.” (via WSJ)
The rebel phone network went live on April 2, and rebel leaders are using it to communicate with the front lines.
What’s the News: Yesterday, AT&T announced plans to buy T-Mobile USA for $39 billion from parent company Deutsche Telekom, making the new behemoth the hands-down largest wireless company in the United States. Though AT&T touts this merger as good for everyone, some technology writers, such as GigaOM’s Om Malik write that “it’s hard to find winners, apart from AT&T and T-Mobile shareholders.”
What’s the Context:
Not So Fast: The company merger is still awaiting regulator approval. Some argue that the bigger AT&T will hurt smaller companies like Sprint and even larger ones like Google. “Sprint and T-Mobile often stood against AT&T and Verizon on a variety of regulatory issues, so if AT&T succeeds, Sprint will stand alone on special access and other issues,” writes Malik. With more power, it’ll be easier for AT&T to “impose its own will” on what services and apps are placed on Android smartphones. If the FCC or Justice Department agree that the acquisition will give AT&T too much power or lead to higher prices, they may veto the deal.
When you engage in a long cell phone conversation, a new study says, the phone radiation may increase the brain activity in regions nearest to the antenna. It’s the newest entry into the long-running debate about whether cell phones carry health risks, but the scientists behind the research in the Journal of the American Medical Association caution that they don’t know what this localized change in brain activity means—or even how it’s happening.
Many previous studies of cell phone safety have looked into the question of whether the phones’ radiation could cause cancer (there’s no solid evidence that it could) or looked at the effects of the heat that phones create. But Nora Volkow and colleagues investigated something else: The metabolism of the brain regions nearest to the phone—that is, how quickly they are burning energy. To do it, Volkow’s team recruited 50 people and subjected them to PET scans while an active cellphone sat next to their heads.
To blind the participants, the authors strapped two cell phones on their heads, one to each ear (the cellphone used in this work is a standard Samsung CDMA flip phone). Both were kept muted, and only one was activated by a call—the side that was activated was flipped in two different recording sessions. The calls started 20 minutes before a dose of radioactive glucose, and kept going for a half an hour afterwards to provide a long-term picture of metabolic activity. The data from one of the subjects ended up not being used because the cell company dropped the call. [Ars Technica]
As usual, Conan O’Brien may have said it best: “If you want people to stay at home and do nothing, you should turn the internet back on.”
The Egyptian government seemingly has learned that shutting down the Internet is no way to get protesters to be quiet, and today it turned the Web back on after protests succeeded in spite of the five-day blackout.
“Egyptian Internet providers returned to the Internet at 09:29:31 UTC (11:29 a.m. Cairo time),” said a blog post by Net monitoring firm Renesys today. Indeed, a variety of Egyptian Web sites, including the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, the Central Bank of Egypt, and the Egyptian Stock Exchange are available. And Twitter activity relating to Egypt is surging. [CNET]
Cell phones are coming back online for many people, too, though it’s not clear yet when everything will be fully restored.
In the end, the government’s attempt to kill the Internet proved a dismal failure. The world rallied to give disconnected Egyptians ways to work around the blackout, and the suppression of free speech fueled the fire of protest.
You know it’s getting serious when people aren’t using Facebook. The social networking giant now says it has noticed significantly reduced traffic from Egypt as a result of the Egyptian government’s attempt to shut down its country’s Internet this week to quash political protests. Though we’ve seen governments attempt to censor the Internet in times of uprising before (like during the 2009 Iranian election), Forbes says this is “the first time in modern history a major Internet economy is being shut down.”
Mobile phone networks have reportedly been disrupted, leaving millions without access to text messaging or phone calls. The country’s key Internet Service Providers are also off the air, says James Cowie, the chief technology officer of Internet monitoring firm Renesys on his blog. “Virtually all of Egypt’s Internet addresses are now unreachable, worldwide. [Forbes]
Indeed, Cowie says, this is something new compared to other government internet censorship:
Similar demonstrations and Web outages are occurring in Tunisia, though Cowie noted that the Egypt Internet downtime “is a completely different situation from the modest Internet manipulation that took place in Tunisia, where specific routes were blocked, or Iran, where the Internet stayed up in a rate-limited form designed to make Internet connectivity painfully slow.” [PC Magazine]
Thoughts of a government being able to just “turn off the Internet” has people in other countries frightened, but it was particularly easy to achieve in Egypt.
UPDATE: Today (Tuesday) the FCC voted to pass the net neutrality regulations mentioned toward the bottom of this post. The rules include the provisions that wireless and traditional Internet be treated separately, and generally made everyone unhappy. However, expect a fight in Congress to either overturn the rules or strip the FCC of its authority in this sphere.
Behind closed doors, wireless providers are talking about a future that’s a net neutrality advocate’s worst nightmare.
Last week the tech companies Allot Communications and Openet, which provide products for large carriers like AT&T and Verizon, demonstrated new products in a web seminar, some details of which have leaked out. The PowerPoint slides detail a plan to monitor your online behavior and charge you for your use of certain applications. For example:
In the seventh slide of the … PowerPoint, a Vodafone user would be charged two cents per MB for using Facebook, three euros a month to use Skype and $0.50 monthly for a speed-limited version of YouTube. But traffic to Vodafone’s services would be free, allowing the mobile carrier to create video services that could undercut NetFlix on price. [Wired]
We brought you the good. It’s time for the bad.
Two weeks ago the Federal Communications Commission approved the opening of the “white spaces”—unused frequencies between the TV channels that became available when TV converted to digital. There’s certainly cause to be excited: This could lead to “super wi-fi,” or “wi-fi on steroids.” The new range is in a lower frequency than current wi-fi, which could allow it to penetrate walls and travel longer distances than our current networks, and it can be used without a license.
But there are also plenty of challenges that could keep super wi-fi from being super, at least in the short run.
1. It’ll be clogged up in the city
I spoke this afternoon to Mubaraq Mishra from UC-Berkeley, who studies all kinds of angles about how the white spaces will be used. The first problem, he says, is that while these newly opened areas could greatly improve Internet speeds in rural areas, people packed into cities won’t see as much benefit.
Mishra’s analysis of white space availability versus population density shows the Internet speed difference clearly. There are relatively few people scattered across Nebraska, and so relatively few TV channels, which means less bandwidth to which TV signals possess priority access. But in New York there are lots of people and lots of TV channels, meaning there will be high demand for the few white spaces available. “The raw availability will just be a lot lower in Manhattan,” Mishra says.
States enact laws against texting while driving, hoping to reduce accidents. In the time after those laws go into effect, the number of accidents in those states doesn’t decline. So are the laws a bad idea?
The question arises from a report out this week by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), a division of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The study looked at accident rates in Minnesota, California, Washington, and Louisiana before and after those states enacted their texting-while-driving bans. The authors found no reduction in the number of crashes, and actually saw increases in three states. (They also compared those states to others in their regions without bans to ensure that the numbers they’d found weren’t part of a larger trend.)
So what gives? For the IIHS, this is proof that texting laws aren’t doing any good, and might even be doing harm.
Skyhook, the tiny Massachusetts company that created the location software in your iPhone, sued Google this week (pdf). David is charging Goliath with trying to keep its software out of Google’s Android mobile software platform in favor of Google’s own location service, and with encouraging Skyhook’s partners to break contracts.
In other words, Google is leveraging its OS market share to push its own affiliated products and snuff out competitors — kind of like Microsoft did with Internet Explorer on Windows 15 years ago. Yikes. [Wired.com]
Google says it hasn’t had the opportunity to review the legal action, so it has yet to comment.