Letters to the editor: "Is Apple creating the FCC’s worst fear?"

Also: how do feds tap phone lines, clueless user stories

FCC’s worst fear?

Regarding Thomas Nolle’s column, “Is Apple creating the FCC’s worst fear?”: True, the IP service providers must have QoS capabilities anyway, since they're providing VoIP services. However, their point is that DSL has been very much a loss leader (relatively speaking) for them. Now that so many consumers behave as though high-speed Internet access were a constitutional right, they're in a position to leverage greater profit from the service; at least that's what one would think. The question is, will they do it by raising their prices to the end user; to the content provider with regard to the bandwidth they purchase; or as a "tax" or some combination thereof.

I don't see the video iPod being a detriment to this -- it only drives home the IP service providers' point. At a time when margins are slimming, demand is increasing which meets normal economic standards. The problem is that at this juncture, the upgrade and upkeep in response to that demand may cost the IP service providers more than their shareholders are willing to bear.

The difficulty lies in perspective. If we look at the Internet as a tollway and streaming video as a truck, who directly pays for the use of the tollway, the trucker or the recipient of the shipment? The trucker pays directly, of course. Unfortunately, that comparison isn't quite accurate due to the low-tolerance, continual-demand nature of VoIP (voice or video). It's more like a high-speed train, due to its regular and consistent nature, making the demand even higher and the lack of forgiving of the end user even greater. This only magnifies the IP service providers' predicament.

So, the question becomes, how does the IP service provider pay for all this? The technology community is demanding fiber to the curb -- no inexpensive prospect. The content providers are demanding mission-critical level QoS and service for the average consumer. This type of service is ordinarily reserved for business class DS1 and better. There's approximately a $450/month differential between those services and DSL. How will the IP service provider be compensated? Someone somehow must fund these upgrades in a manner that shows at least a reasonable ROI to the IP service providers. If we can agree the content providers are making a profit off of and driving the increased services, isn't it reasonable they fund a portion of that infrastructure development and maintenance?

Jonathan Rubin

Owner

heal my pc!

Schaumburg, Ill.

I read Thomas Nolle’s column, “Is Apple creating the FCC’s worst fear?” with bemusement, as I thought everyone had figured out that the days of broadcast TV were numbered. I hardly ever watch “live” TV these days -- either my computer disk, my ReplayTV DVR or the DVD player provide all my viewing enjoyment.

I thought the idea of giving every household 500 channels was pretty dumb when I first heard it a few years ago. I only need one channel – just switch whichever content I pick onto that one and I'm happy. My household probably needs 4 or 5 channels, and I can combine them on my picture-in-picture TV if I need to watch two shows at once.

It isn't the portable experience provided by the Video I-Pod that's the attractive part. It's the locally stored watch-as-I-want part that works. Some years go, AOL did a trial with Movielink (I think) and offered downloaded movies for $0.99. The Digital Rights Management deleted them off my computer after 24 hours, but it only took 40 minutes to collect the movie and I could watch it whenever I wanted. I thought it worked fine (I bought 4 or 5), and if more movies were available that way I'd probably upgrade my multimedia PC to a Media Center and hook it to the TV and 5:1 surround sound system.

My ReplayTV DVR (TiVos competitor, and superior in my opinion) is the preferred method of watching TV on a casual basis. There is always a show or two that it has recorded for me. Even live TV is watched via the ReplayTV box -- tune the show, pause it and come back in 10 minutes so you can skip the adverts. Who needs streaming video over high-speed fiber links?

When Replay came out with a new box a year or so ago it had an IP/LAN plug for automatic daily program guide updates, and they promised a new service where they would upload movies to the DVR on request for our viewing pleasure. (I guess Hollywood killed that idea.) Still, the concept and the system were/are in place. Microsoft's Media Center can do much the same thing.

If the movie owners would get off their duffs and figure out how to make the DRM work safely, the whole thing would just take off. I wouldn't mind if the DVR was a sealed box leased/rented from the network supplier, if that's what it takes to satisfy Hollywood that they can delete the movie after 24 hours. Just as long as it has at least the functionality of our present TiVo/Replay boxes.

I'm really looking forward to being able to go to National Geographic's Web site and asking for a rerun of the special on the flood potential on New Orleans, delivered to my DVR please before 8:00pm. I'll even pay for it.

And why do I have to keep track of what the big networks are broadcasting? If I miss one week's "American Idol" show, why can't I go to Fox's Web site and pay $0.99 for a rerun shipped to my DVR for 24 hours?

They just don't get it. We already have a digital household -- and we're ready to buy their shows!

Peter Thornton

Annapolis, Md.

The QoS "premium" is a moot point. It's the same as saying people will pay extra for cable TV or broadband Internet. The generations coming up now already know the technology exists and if suppliers want to satisfy them, the suppliers will have to use QoS and high bandwidth to make it pay off.

There's no "either/or" on this.

Rick Brown

Lakeland, Fla.

Tapped out

Overall, your article, “How do the feds tap phone lines?” was well done and informative. However, I take exception to the comments attributed to John Morris of the Center for Democracy and Technology. Carriers are and always have been protective of their equipment and cooperate with law enforcement on wiretapping to keep law enforcement’s hands off. Morris' comment that in the past law enforcement didn't need carriers' help is nonsense; nobody could "literally walk into the phone company's central office and tap into the copper wire with alligator clips."

How do I know? I was there. In the late 1960s, I was a network services manager for an office that served most of the embassies in Chicago. Later, I had a downtown Chicago district and my last field job was the division that included all the central offices in Chicago. This was back in the monopoly days when almost everything we did was defined by Bell System operating procedures. This is why I strongly suspect my experience was typical for the Bell System, which then had 85% of all the telephone lines in the U.S.

In 1968, when the FBI wanted a wiretap on a foreign embassy served from my office, I got a rush work order and my craftsmen quickly made the connections required, including a special red "doughnut" that circled the connection, warning others to leave those wires alone unless they had specific direction to change them in any way. Note: that is another reason it is nonsense to think any outsider could come in and make wiretaps. Our routine testing would detect them and they would be undone, unless our red doughnut marked them as off-limits.

In those days, we didn't know about or care about quarterly earnings. Our only focus, proven by many internal and external measurements, was customer service and we protected it any way we knew, from locks and code boxes at building entrances, to elaborate backup power systems so nobody lost dial tone during a power outage -- even if it lasted for days. We engineered our systems for peak days, so even on Mother's Day, virtually everyone could get dial tone and make a connection. Wouldn't it be great if we held today's cellular providers to such standards?

Steve Wood

Raleigh, N.C.

Get a clue

Regarding your article about clueless user stories: I had a user complain that his mission-critical system would not boot. I asked him to check and see if the power strip under his desk was tripped. He told me to wait because he would have to get a flashlight. I asked why he would need a flashlight; the power strip was right next to his desk. He told me that it was difficult to see because they had a power outage and all the lights were out. I said, "Are you telling me that the power is off in the building?" "Yes," the user said, “and I need to send out an e-mail to let everyone know that the power is off.” I hung up the phone.

Another time we wrote an update program and put it on a floppy disk. All the user had to do was power off his PC, insert the disk and power back on. We wrote a batch file that came on the screen and said, "Hit any key to install update." We got six calls asking where the "any" key was located on the keyboard.

Dave Meinert

South Park, Pa.

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