Amazon, Self-Driving Cars, Ride-Hail Service and the Franchise Four

mSSUtqe7OWRMI6imT7HmQ5AOn a shelf in my basement is a Hudepohl beer can from 1976 commemorating the Cincinnati Reds’ World Series victory that year over the New York Yankees. Somewhere else in the house (I hope) is a similar can that was issued when the Reds beat the Red Sox in 1975. In my basement, time remains somewhat frozen – the can on the shelf, a picture of Pete Rose being held at first in Crosley Field by Ed Kranepool of the Mets, a Wheaties box featuring Johnny Bench (the Reds would not win another series until 1990, when they went wire-to-wire in first place from the start of the season until the four-game sweep of the heavily-favored Oakland Athletics). And so it was somewhat jarring during last night’s All Star game to see Joe Morgan, one of Cincinnati’s “Franchise Four,” walk onto the field with cane.

This morning’s trade press offers additional images of how time marches on. First, Happy Birthday, Amazon! Amazon is celebrating its 20th anniversary by offering deals that are fancied to compete with Black Friday pricing. The “catch” is that buyers must sign up for Amazon Prime, but there is loophole there, too, that a user could invoke to avoid certain fees. Nevertheless . . . I have not purchased anything today, nor have I shopped for anything. What struck me, however, was how much Amazon has evolved from a bookseller to an electronics emporium to a place to buy Clorox wipes and camera chargers. And car parts. Of course, not everything for sale on Amazon is useful, or tasteful, and in this article from Wired, readers share some of the either more unusual, exotic, or simply useless things they have ordered on Amazon.

The other (second) news item that caught my eye was a concern that driverless cars will have a negative impact on municipal budgets that rely on traffic offenses revenues. Presumably, driverless cars won’t speed; hence, no speeding tickets (or, apparently, fabulous excuses for speeding). Some wonder whether this will affect the politics of driverless cars (or, more accurately, the politics of regulating them).

And, finally, a ride-hail service for the visually impaired. reports,

Most ride-hailing services, which connect passengers with drivers via a smartphone app, don’t have a feature for blind users. The world’s largest ride-hailing company Uber, which is in 250 cities in 57 countries, is currently being sued for allegedly denying rides to blind passengers with service animals. Gett, which is small compared to Uber — it operates in 50 cities worldwide — aims to distinguish itself by making its app accessible to visually impaired passengers.

Although phones themselves offer voice-activation controls, not all apps feature similar functions. Therefore, ride-hail services that rely solely on touchscreen interactions are often inaccessible to the visually impaired.

The new Gett app was launched last week in New York, the UK, Russia and Israel.


Will the Last Pay-TV Subscriber Please Turn Off the Set?

While things are hardly as dire for the pay-TV industry as my title might suggest, subscription numbers for the first quarter of 2015 are far from rosy. In fact, net pay-TV adds were the lowest they’ve been in ten years.

So says Leichtman Research Study Group in their most recent analysis of the pay-TV industry.

While the first quarter of the year has typically been the strongest for adding new subscribers (due, in large part, to holiday television gift giving), Leichtman reports that the top 17 cable and telephone companies added less than 10,000 net new video subscribers in the first quarter of 2015, compared to 250,000 adds in the same time period a year previous.

Phone companies were a bright spot among the top U.S. pay-TV providers, adding a combined 140,000 new customers in the first quarter of the year: Verizon FiOS added 90,000 subscribers, and AT&T U-verse added 50,000. DBS providers were down 74,000 subscribers, with DirecTV up 60,000 and DISH down 134,000. Cable companies were down 58,264 subscribers, with Time Warner up 33,000 and Mediacom up 1,000. Others more than counteracted these gains, however—Cable ONE was down 29,884 subscribers, Cablevision 28,000, Comcast 8,000, and Suddenlink 6,400. Read more

“In This Century, the Game Starts Over for the Countryside”

June 2015 162

His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General and Commander in Chief of Canada, delivers a keynote address.

Several weeks ago, I participated in the Intelligent Community Forum 2015 Summit in Toronto. I started the following post as I made my way back to DC, but held publication until I could pull certain of the data points raised in various panels. 

(Toronto) Twenty-four hours into the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) Summit and I have experienced the flip-side of preaching to the choir.

The ICF Master Class sessions are generally aimed at municipal leaders and are geared toward encouraging them to adopt and integrate broadband into more aspects of their community functions. If that sounds familiar, it is because a theme that is also promoted heavily at NTCA, particularly in the Smart Rural Community (SRC) initiative (applications, by the way, are due July 15). So, as various panelists and speakers have taken the stage here, I find myself nodding in agreement and thinking, “Finally, someone else see things through our lenses.” And, as importantly, articulates additional ways to explore and express the need for broadband throughout rural areas. Read more

If You Build It, They Will Subscribe

By deploying fiber further out into their networks, NTCA member companies are able to offer their customers higher broadband speeds than ever before, a recent NTCA member survey shows.

According to NTCA’s recently released 2014 Broadband/Internet Availability Survey Report, 45% of those respondents currently deploying fiber serve at least 50% of their customers using fiber to the home (FTTH), up from 41% last year. As a result, 83% of respondents’ customers are able to receive broadband service in excess of 10 Mbps.

The overall broadband take rate for survey respondents was 70%.  The most popular speed tier offered was 10.0 Mbps and above, the choice of 34% of responding companies’ customers, a dramatic increase from 8.5% last year.

Thirty-nine percent of respondents’ customers are served by FTTH, while 31% are served by copper loops, 18% by cable modem and 12% by fiber to the node (FTTN).

Seventy-four percent of survey respondents indicated that regulatory uncertainty remains a barrier to fiber deployment, second only to cost (92%).  Read more

Cyber-Security Redux (Re-Three?): Day Ain’t Over Yet

6a0120a85dcdae970b0128776ffd8b970c-piHours after I posted the article about NIST, New York Times reported that the St. Louis Cardinals face Federal investigation for allegations that the team hacked the Houston Astros. Sports commentator Jeff Passan quipped the story has a “Zeitgeist” quality to it:  “The best franchise in baseball allegedly hacks a team that has lost 100 games in three consecutive seasons and steals scouting reports, trade talks, and other proprietary data.”

The New York Times speculates that the breach may have occurred when Cardinals officials examined lists of passwords that Jeff Luhnow, currently the GM of the Astros, used while he worked for the Cardinals; Luhnow left the Cards in 2011, and has been joined by former Cardinal employees.

The Cardinals officials are believed to have used those passwords to gain access to the Astros’ network, law enforcement officials said.

That tactic is often used by cybercriminals, who sell passwords from one breach on the underground market, where others buy them and test them on other websites, including banking and brokerage services. The breach on the Astros would be one of the first known instances of a corporate competitor using the tactic against a rival. It is also, security experts say, just one more reason people are advised not to use the same passwords across different sites and services.

While the news of the past several days (Uber, Federal government, Cards) may be less than novel to security specialists (although the Federal government hack is fairly audacious), the publicity surrounding the stories is free advertising to those in the network security field.

An Addendum to Cyber-Security

When I was installing a home security system several years ago, I discussed some redundancies with the technician. As we mapped the house, he explained that ultimately, all he could do was make things difficult enough to make someone want to go away, or at least next door. “But, if someone wants to get in badly enough,” he explained, “there’s nothing I can do.”

I was reminded of that conversation this morning when I received a link to this article, in which a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) official warns that total security in the Internet of Things may be unobtainable. The money line, quoting Ron Ross, Fellow in the Computer Security Division of NIST:  “[H[ackers will still ‘have a slice of that pie that will always be accessible because there are things that are off our radar due to their complexity. . .’”

His conclusion is not surprising; the sheer number of devices and avenues of connectivity render the prospect of securing all points daunting, at the least. Consider the access points for credit cards and bank accounts. Users increase security by establishing different log-in criteria for each account. That way, if one is compromised, the others presumably remain secure. Whether passwords are useful, at all, is a question that has been asked for several years. And, whether biometrics are the answer is another question: passwords must be exact, while biometrics must be “close enough.” This article explains the difference, raising the specter of false positives and accidental access.

For the purposes of this post (which was really to share the NIST-related article), the point may be the same as the alarm tech made to me several years ago – no method is guaranteed, but hardened deterrence can be a good defense.

At Least the Uber Hack Did Not Reveal Personal Indiscretions

About a decade ago I learned that the realm of government security clearances has a low threshold for humor. I was offered as a reference for someone who was trying to obtain security clearance for defense related work, and in the opening moments of conversation tried to break the ice with the interviewer. In retrospect, it was neither the time nor place for a quip about college room poker. In that necessarily serious world, even casual gambling could lead to debts that could lead to pressure or blackmail . . . and once the door is opened, the issue is (so I am told) not laid to rest until the answers to some harder and more intrusive questions offer sufficient assurances. At the time, I was probably a relatively low-level interviewee, being asked mostly to confirm residency and other presumably publicly-available information. Last week’s revelation of a wider hack of Federal government records, however, illustrates the depth of security inquiries and the scope of information that is now commonly thought to have been compromised. Read more

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