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The internet will be a utility – this is the first step

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced that the agency will vote on new rules governing the internet. His plan seems to align with the best case scenario for most consumer and internet freedom groups by reclassifying internet service providers under Title II, which would allow the FCC to treat internet connections similar to phone lines. This would allow the FCC to enforce net neutrality rules that prevent ISPs from charging money to give one company faster internet speeds (such as giving Netflix greater speed to your home than a new competitor).

Assuming everything goes through, and the rules are upheld in court, this is a huge win for consumers. Just huge. And one I think was not a sure thing. For a long time, the FCC sat on the sidelines while internet service providers offered poor service for high prices and refused to invest in improving either part of their business. Only about a week ago did the FCC finally upgrade what speed would define a broadband connection, a delay that has helped the U.S. lag almost every other rich country in terms of access to high speed internet.

Overall, this may be the most consumer friendly FCC and one that will help innovation and investment, not stifle it as ISPs like to claim. In fact, broadband investment has already been declining

 

This, of course, has happened because of a lack of competition. After the increase in minimum broadband rates, Comcast alone has 56% of the national market. And Comcast wants to merge with Time Warner, a company they already admit they don’t compete with (thanks to agreements that allowed they to split territory to avoid competition).

Hopefully the FCC will continue it’s amazing willingness to stand up to the industry’s fearmongering and push for a fairer market. Now how about overturning those bans on municipal broadband? Let cities build their own broadband if they want. The only reason these laws exist is to block competition.


Why net neutrality is only the beginning of a perfect internet

All eyes are on the FCC where a decision will be made on whether to regulate internet service providers or not.  If the FCC does decide to regulate Comcast and Verizon provide internet service, it will most likely be by reclassifying ISPs as telecommunication services under Title II, which has many pros and cons from a regulatory perspective. The biggest pro is that under Title II, the FCC can hold ISPs accountable for limiting communication over the internet, such as charging Netflix more to reach your computer. In theory, this would give the FCC power to enforce basic net neutrality.

Now, assuming the FCC passes the Title II reclassification and the reclassification withstands the certain court appeals, the United States will still be far away from a fair and optimized internet. Net neutrality itself is a symptom of the lack of competition in U.S. broadband markets. Even Comcast and Time Warner Cable admit, in their arguments for allowing the conglomerates to merge, they don’t compete with each other.

In most U.S. cities, consumers only have one choice for broadband provider. A lucky few have two choices at most. Rural areas have no choices and must rely on slower DSL, depressing productivity and economic development. Even for those with broadband options, they pay more for slower speeds in the U.S. than in almost every other advanced country. In Seoul, consumers can purchase 1 gigabit/sec connections for $30/month compared to $300 in the U.S. for half the speed.

For those that argue there isn’t a competition problem with U.S. broadband, compare the speeds and costs of broadband in cities with municipal ISP services. ISP lobbyists have trolled states, passing laws to ban municipal broadband, claiming that this increase in competition is bad for the cities because…reasons. In Chattanooga,Tenn., the municipal broadband cut user costs from $300/month to $70 and is well on track to pay back its bond financing. Cities are lobbying the FCC to also void the ban on municipal broadband in 20 states, which would allow cities to do what companies won’t – invest in better service. House Republicans are already proposing laws to block the FCC from voiding these anti-competitive laws.

Net neutrality is only needed because we lack broadband competition. In an ideal market, if one company was blocking Netflix, you could switch to another for better service. But instead, we have no choice and face an industry that prefers lobbying to investing.


Supreme Court outlaws Aereo because reasons

Furthering the perception that the Supreme Court and those in power are out of touch with the realities of technology and innovation, the Supreme Court issued a 6-3 ruling against the streaming TV service Aereo for violating the copyrights of broadcasters. This ruling rests on the mistaken interpretation that Aereo functions like a cable company, and thus must be a cable company when it comes to copyright law.

TV companies including CBS, NBC, and ABC took issue with Aereo charging customers $8-$12 to stream broadcast channels to their mobile devices without paying the channels re-transmission fees like cable companies do. Aereo established a very convoluted system to route around the understood copyright law. Aereo provided a micro-antenna for every individual user which was used to capture over-the-air video for streaming. This antenna functioned the same way rabbit ear antenna would work on your home television set, only this antenna was found miles away. The only channels available were ones already using the public airwaves, which are freely available without charge for anyone using their own antenna. The crux of Aereo’s business model stemmed from the Cablevision ruling that permitted Cablevision to offer a remote DVR service which functioned exactly like a personal DVR, except the hard drive was located outside your home.

For technologists, Aereo basically provided the same product of television, only with a really long cable. Because current copyright is so complicated and convoluted, their system for offering this service seemed complicated and convoluted. The Supreme Court seemed to take issue at how much Aereo attempted to cirvumvent copyright law with its technology, ignoring that avoiding breaking the law does make you guilty of breaking that law. The court says Aereo possesses an “overwhelming likeness” to cable companies, establishing the “Looks like a Duck” legal test for how to treat new technology.

The fallout of this ruling will be a stifling of innovation. TV companies have not been eager to innovate, either through new business models or new technology that makes the experience better (such as suing over the aforementioned DVR in its many iterations). Because the court’s ruling ignores what the technology does instead judging it for what they understand presents a cloud of uncertainty around new technology and startups. The ruling itself seems to desperately try to say it will not apply to other cloud technologies, but without providing a useful legal test for the rapidly growing sector to apply when building new businesses.

Aereo has suspended its service, already bringing an exciting new business to a close.


Net neutrality explained: Prevent cable company ****

On this past weekend’s Last Week Tonight, John Oliver awakened his viewers to the pressing issue of net neutrality. He highlighted what might be the biggest reasons cable companies are winning this fight: net neutrality just sounds boring. Instead of calling it net neutrality, Oliver suggests we “prevent cable company f**kery”.

Oliver is right on point. Net neutrality is incredibly important and affects every internet user.


Crowdfunding’s Potential as a Market Tester

Written for Clareo Partners

When launching new products, limiting risk can boost the chance of success. Crowdfunding on websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo has exploded as a funding source for everything from inventive, niche products to million dollar celebrity projects. The industry has grown to an estimated $5 billion with the leader, Kickstarter, funding $480 million over 19,000 projects in 2013.

For new ventures and new products, crowdfunding is almost risk-free. Launching a project on Kickstarter costs nothing upfront. If the project meets its budgeted goal, then Kickstarter charges a 5% fee plus payment processing. If the project does not meet its goal, neither Kickstarter nor the project creator takes any money. Crowdfunding presents an unmatched research resource for testing the market appeal for a new product.

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Risky new products have found great success on Kickstarter, revealing a vibrant proving ground with less risk and more reward than traditional funding methods. Alternative video game consoles Ouya raised $8.6 million on Kickstarter and proceeded to close a $15 million venture capital round, leveraging an already committed customer base. Virtual reality headset Oculus Rift raised $75 million in venture capital after its Kickstarter raised $2.4 million. Technology projects command 11% of Kickstarter’s succeeding dollars while only 2.7% of projects. Kickstarter provides an excellent forum to prove the market potential for these products, allowing them to acquire paying customers before expending all their resources on development.

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Project success can be predicted early on. Virality at the beginning of a campaign pays off as success snowballs. This momentum explains why successful projects on average raised 160% of their target goal. The average successful project reaches its goal before the halfway point. Measuring 10,000 projects conducted during 2012 reveals just how fast momentum for a successful project can set in. Four days into a 30-day project, 50% of successful projects have raised 28% of their goal while unsuccessful projects have only raised 1% of their goal. Raising a quarter of your goal by day four leads to an 88.7% chance to succeed. Projects can provide immediate feedback, well before the average 30-day project duration. This data can further inform how interested the potential market will be to the proposed product.

As a proving ground for innovation, crowdfunding is the new test market. Real customers pledge to make the dream a reality. This presents an opportunity to experiment with new product launches and engage with customers to help decide commercial viability

 


Geek Chic: Kicking the hobby habit

Addition is a serious issue, and geeks are grossly susceptible. Unfortunately for serious geeks, we can have several addictions, each costing about as much as something classy like cigarettes or cocaine. The problem is the hobby begins to feed itself – if you’ve been doing something for 10 years, why stop?

Case in point, I’ve been a compulsive action figure collector for years, amassing a solid 300 plus figures.  I open the boxes, display them in awkward positions, and have oodles of fun.  Recently, my interests, especially financial, have been more focused on video games leaving me less budget for action figures forcing me to prioritize – the new Marvel Legends or dinner.

The problem is my action figure collection is so large, it begins to feed itself.  I want to buy more figures just to justify the figures I already bought.  If I stop buying them, it makes the first 300 look like a waste of money.  And that would be silly.

The challenge is always time and money.  I now have more video games than I have time to play, more comic books than I have time to read, too many movies and TV shows to watch, and obviously no social life.  So it’s always a challenge when I want to buy something else, but can’t figure out where to fit it.

For action figures, I’ve slowed my purchasing, weaning myself off the addition.  I still buy figures I’ve had on my must list for a while like Ra’s Al Ghul and upcoming Despero.  Thankfully Hasbro’s take on Marvel Legends is so crappy otherwise this would be much more of a struggle.  Of course, new Battlestar Galactica figures are just too tempting.

So I’m not really one to help you cure the addictions.  Better to just come up with justifications.  Me, I promise to stop after the I get my life-size Lee Adama figure.


Geek Chic: Worst geek dates, and how to make them great

There are many dates only geeks are geeky enough to suggest, and some of those are amazing even for non-geeks. But some geek dates aren’t welcoming to the non-geek crowd. But this doesn’t have to ruin the experience. These risky ventures to geek havens can be made enjoyable for anybody with some skill.

Sci-fi and comic book conventions

The sight of women dressed and aliens and fat men in spandex will scare any person, but those less familiar with our culture will be particularly put off. Make sure you dress normal, maybe even a little up (we’ve talked about sport coats as casual wear, this is the perfect event to wear one with a comic booky shirt). This way you show your fun and mature side at once. Spending your time will be challenging – you have to let your date pick what to do based on your suggestions. There should be no waiting on lines of any kind except for food or the bathroom. Unless your date is dying to meet Storm Trooper #6, make your way to the retailers and treat it like a geeky flea market.

Comic book store

I always consider it a right of passage for my serious relationships to see my comic store, mostly to see if it scares them away or worse, if they think Rob Liefeld art is good. If your comic book store is having some big event, like Free Comic Book Day, bring your date along for an innocent afternoon of pizza and geekery. Let them pick something out and buy it for them to try out. No pressure, but leaving a store with something always makes the experience more rewarding.

Gaming tournament

There is no way to make a date fun if you are competing, but if you’re just there to watch, the company can be welcome. Whether it’s tabletop or video games, watching anyone of skill can be impressive and this is the perfect time to talk down your skill and make your date feel better when they play games with you.

Geek movie

Can’t wait to see the biggest sci-fl flick of the weekend? I’d avoid bringing a date. You want to pay attention to the movie, not your date. That’s spells trouble if your date wants to pay attention to you. This is why I had to see Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow twice.


Geek-Chic: Organizing your geek life, part 2: RSS Readers

For the second week of organizing your geek life, I’m tackling RSS Readers after last week’s look at personalized homepages.  These helpful aggregators of all you love and enjoy can quickly become and overbearing chore.  You want to read everything, but all these damn bloggers just write too damn much (sorry).  I subscribe to more than 200 feeds, flooding me with posts by the minute and leaving great, but infrequent bloggers lost in the shuffle.  Here are some pointers on controlling the insanity.

The struggle with RSS readers is how to stay informed but also have fun – don’t stress about unread items and such.  The problem is I don’t want to have to mark each feed read, but I also don’t just want to mark everything read.  This is why organizing feeds by topic becomes unwieldy – it doesn’t prioritize reading.

The other challenge is preparing my reader for ideal mobile viewing.  I don’t want any partial feeds or aggregating sites like Digg.  This led to my somewhat complex tagging system that you can of course tweak as needed.

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Geek-Chic: Organizing your geek life, part 1

My life just wasn’t worth living before the internet.  I had to carry address and date books, buy and read five different newspapers, and put effort into keeping my files organizes.  The internet has removed all the work out of life because when it’s digital, it’s not real.  This series of posts will go over how the internet power user can use the internet to its fullest for work and play and live geekier by perfecting your desktop, news aggregators, social networks, and more.  I will explain various options while highlighting what I do (since it’s the best, obviously).

This week, I’ll begin where it all starts – your homepage.  Personalized homepages allow you control over the information you begin your surfing all conveniently accessible by the home button.

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Geek Chic: Photo themes for your cell phones

Most cell phones allow you to link an embarrassing photo with all your contacts.  Most of these pictures feature your friends picking their nose or shocked by the camera flash.  Those are the few you remember to actually get a picture of.  And if you’re a straight guy trying to get pictures of your other straight guy friends, well, weird.  Using this guide, you can put your geekiness to good use and come up with some creative pictures to use for all your contacts.

Star Wars

Only the geekiest of geeks can make put the Star Wars Universe to good use by humorously linking all their friends and contacts with the images of Jedis and CGI icons.  And best of all, if there are people you really don’t care about, there’s always Stormtroopers.

80’s cartoons

Some of your friends are Transformers, some might be Smurfs, and the best of them – Care Bears, of course.  If you have exciting friends, maybe spring for some G.I. Joes.  And cat-lovers are easy – Thundercats.

Super heroes

Why limit yourself to Marvel or DC.  Is one of your friend’s overly wholesome – you’ve got Superman.  Wisecracking class clown?  Spider-Man or Iceman.  Billionaire playboy?  Iron Man or Batman.  And also put him on speed dial, billionaires have all the fun.

Locations

Why do people have to represent people?  Animals can get a little insulting, so settings, whether real or fake can really speak to a person’s strength (and weaknesses) in ways only you know.

Politicians

Best for research nuts, there are 435 members of the House, 100 Senators, 50 governors, and presidents and candidates of all stripes (mostly white men) to pick from.  So get to screening for policy stances, beer drinking capacity, and skeletons in their closet.


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