I am not, nor should I be, in the business of making unilateral changes to the chosen business models of content publishers. As a reader I love it when publishers provide full-text, unencumbered feeds for all of their articles. I understand, however, that not all publications choose this route. When they don’t, I believe my responsibility as a reading service is to respect that choice.
An international group of graphic designers respond to the systematicity of Braun Design, each one of them notably minimalist, such as Experimental Jetset, Hey Studio, Ross Gunter, Antonio Carusone, Spin, Tomasz Berezowski, Spin and more.
It’s a big change to the way Twitter fundamentally works. Previously, when you uploaded a picture to Twitter it was public by default, which was why you couldn’t send them via direct message. Now if you want to send a photo privately, that only you and the recipient can see, you can do that from right within the app.
This will probably be spun as Twitter taking on Snapchat, but that doesn’t seem quite right. Twitter’s photo messages don’t expire like Snapchat’s do. In fact, they can be saved to a device.
But, here’s the thing: Twitter could add one measly little toggle to make the photo expire and, optionally, spin the direct messaging portion off into its own app, and they’d have an instant Snapchat competitor. Just add the “Ew, I didn’t need to see that.”
Also strange: these images don’t follow the standard Twitter image API, meaning that they’re not supported in third-party clients.
The truth of this was revealed to some Microsoft researchers, who in the early days of Microsoft Word asked lots of people to send them their configuration files. These were anonymous, because the researchers just wanted to find out what people actually preferred, so they could have those set as the defaults. To their amazement, they discovered that less than 5% had made any changes. At all.
A fantastic, infinitely-quotable article from the Economist:
Interestingly, though, Cisco is not one of the signatories to the letter. In fact, plenty of big tech companies are missing. The fact that only eight companies could be persuaded to sign may be revealing in itself. All of the firms that did sign are software houses. Hardware companies (like Cisco) are entirely absent, even though one of Mr Snowdens’ many revelations is that the spooks have been spending plenty of money and sweat trying to subvert their products. Big telecommunications firms like Level 3 and AT&T, whose fibre-optic cables the spies have been tapping, have not said anything either.
Another notable non-signatory: Amazon. Perhaps this is reading too much from their lack of participation — there are many simple answers for why a company wouldn’t sign the letter — but in a recent interview on 60 Minutes, Jeff Bezos mentioned that Amazon was building a version of their web storage database for the CIA. I don’t necessarily think that their non-participation is indicative of disagreement with the spirit of the letter, but perhaps they — along with Cisco, etc. — don’t want to lose their government contracts.
The uncommonly unified front — featuring companies, such as Google and Microsoft, that compete fiercely on business matters — underscored the deep alarm among technology leaders over revelations that the National Security Agency has collected user data far more extensively than the companies understood, in many cases with little or no court oversight.
In a letter to U.S. leaders published in several newspapers Monday, the coalition calls for an end to bulk collection of user information — such as e-mail, address books and video chats — and for the enactment of significant new protections when courts consider specific surveillance requests.
We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But this summer’s revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide. The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual — rights that are enshrined in our Constitution. This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It’s time for a change.
It’s an awfully complex issue for the reason cited above: governments should protect their people. This has been accomplished through clandestine means for millennia. Once upon a time, phone taps were required to be specific. Law enforcement was required to know the number before requesting a warrant to intercept the line. Now, it’s like all of our phones are being tapped and a warrant is required to access the data. Data which, by the way, has already been collected and an automated warrant tool which, frequently, requires barely any human interaction.
Let’s assume for a minute that these broad and repeated violations of our right to privacy have actually managed to save lives. How many prevented attacks are required for this to seem worthwhile? Would it be worth sacrificing our entire right to privacy to prevent the death of a single human being? That’s, understandably, a hard question to answer; I don’t necessarily think there’s a “correct” answer, or even a logical opinion for this one.
The above is, of course, under the assumption that the United States is always under threat of attack. To what extent is that true? I wouldn’t be surprised if the US sees more potential external threats than, say, Belgium. But perhaps the US also faces many more internal threats which cannot be neutralized because the NSA swears — hand on heart — that it doesn’t monitor US communications. This is, of course, because they ostensibly abide by the Fourth Amendment, which protects against search and seizure without a warrant. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights have been held up as an example of human rights affordances and protections, to which I ask: “So why are non-American humans undeserving of being protected according to these rights? Shouldn’t the US be strong enough to treat others in accordance with their own laws?”.
These are all questions which I wish there were answers, easy or hard. I don’t necessarily think there’s any way to simplify this issue, though. I think this is tricky. That’s why I’m interested in the outcome of these eight major tech companies unifying against these surveillance capabilities. Perhaps it will continue the dialogue to create the meaningful reform that’s so desperately needed. I am optimistic.
Ratio is the result of pondering coffee makers for several years. After listening to many customers complain about flimsy plastic parts, complicated programming steps, and overall inelegance, I decided to draw together a team of talented designers, engineers, and creatives to build a new company that is devoted entirely to coffee machines of unmatched beauty and quality.
This is an object of inspiring quality and craft. It combines the wonderful taste of a Chemex with the ease of a drip coffee machine. The $395 sale price tag (regular $480) is a little steep for me, especially considering how much I love my AeroPress, but this is a piece of kitchen equipment to admire.
Sharp’s PN-K321 4K Ultra HD LED monitor, which displays images at a 3840 x 2160 pixel resolution, is on sale for €3,999 (US$5,444) through Apple’s U.K. and other European online stores. The monitor is not yet listed on Apple’s U.S. online store.
This is particularly intriguing in the wake of Dell’s announcement of a 4K display which they say will be affordable:
The Dell UltraSharp 32 Ultra HD Monitor (UP3214Q) is available globally starting at $3,499. The Dell UltraSharp 24 Ultra HD Monitor (UP2414Q) is now available in the Americas, starting at $1,399. It will be available worldwide on December 16. The Dell 28 Ultra HD Monitor (P2815Q) will be available in early 2014. […]
The Dell 28 Ultra HD Monitor will be available in early 2014. Offering the same incredible Ultra HD screen performance as the Dell UltraSharp 32 and Dell UltraSharp 24 Ultra HD Monitors, but priced at under $1,000…
All three of Dell’s displays are being offered for far (far) less than Sharp’s; it isn’t the result of retail markup by Apple, either. Oh, and remember that UK pricing is egregious; the Sharp sells for around $3,500 in the US. If you think all of these displays are expensive, by the way, remember that the 30-inch Cinema Display was first priced at $3,300 in 2004, which is $4,079.95 in 2013 dollars.
I bet Apple’s sale of the Sharp display is a temporary measure until they release a 4K Thunderbolt Display, though. And, yes, I want one.
The implications of iBeacon go beyond Apple stores. One day, commuters might get information on subway delays as they stand on the platform, while museum visitors might get details on the painting they are standing in front of. Other retailers will be also able to offer deals or track which aisles shoppers linger in the longest.
There are huge implications beyond retail. What Apple is rolling out right now is only scratching the surface, and is probably the least interesting (at least, to me) implementation of iBeacon. If this takes off, transit authorities won’t have to spend hundreds of dollars per bus stop to install LED displays, for instance. For smaller cities, that’s not a big deal; in Calgary, we have 5,874 bus stops, which could potentially mean a large cost savings.
Or consider some of the things which NFC is used for today which could be migrated to iBeacon. The possibilities are more open and adaptable because the technology doesn’t require hardware beyond Bluetooth 4.0, which has been seen in most major smartphones since about 2011. NFC, on the other hand, has seen a poor adoption rate, even though it was rolled out sooner.
This is a much smarter way of creating augmented reality. Instead of holding your phone up and using its camera-and-display combo as a sort of augmented window into the world, iBeacons allow for similar functionality in a much subtler way. My biggest question is whether this technology will be easier for Muggles1 to understand and use.
You know, people who don’t read Daring Fireball, TechMeme, or yours truly. ↩
We all know Android devices aren’t supported for as long as iOS devices; “Fidlee” has put together a chart which demonstrates the speed at which they lose support.
It’s a little more complicated than the chart makes it out to be, though: not all devices in either ecosystem necessarily support all of the features of each version of the OS. My iPhone 4S does not support AirDrop because it lacks the hardware for it, while a friend’s iPhone 4 doesn’t support all of the iOS 7 blurring, because it can’t be rendered quickly enough. But enough of the APIs are supported for developers on all devices that they can require the latest version of iOS for an app and still have a broad user base.
…six days ago. I should pay attention to my Vimeo feed. Scott Simpson’s talk is very funny, while Sebastiaan de With’s is insightful, and Jonathan Rentzsch’s has a lot of consonants in a row. Christina Warren’s talk is absolutely one of the most honest and significant of the year, though. Every year, the conference seems to produce some of the best talks in the indie software/Mac user/nerdy conference space. You weren’t doing anything tomorrow, right?
I’ve been a little quiet lately because I have been preparing for an exhibition I curated. It’s called “Departures”; here’s an excerpt from my curatorial statement:
These sundry works have been selected from a much greater pool of works by [Teresa] Tam, and have been arranged in an open but deliberate narrative. By placing older works in context with more recent ones, parallels are revealed in the aesthetic and formal choices despite years and mediums of separation. Further exploration reveals that this is not a simple retrospective, but rather a more complex commentary on the mediums’ influences on each other. There are analog “glitches” in the Polaroids which are reflected in the digital glitches created in the videos, for example.
Due to their arrangement in the gallery, the individual works are given new context and meaning; collectively, they form an entire work unto itself, which I have titled “Departures”.
I try not to self-promote here, but I wanted you to understand my absence. This has been a huge amount of work, and I look forward to showing you a little more very soon.
Ben Thompson, as is typical for him, nails why a China Mobile iPhone is kind of huge. I mean, you’d expect the launch of an iPhone on the world’s largest carrier would be big, but not this big. It’s really big.
[Microsoft's Julie] Larson-Green explained the original aim of Windows RT: “Windows on ARM, or Windows RT, was our first go at creating that more closed, turnkey experience [like the iPad], where it doesn’t have all the flexibility of Windows, but it has the power of Office and then all the new style applications. So you could give it to your kid and he’s not going to load it up with a bunch of toolbars accidentally out of Internet Explorer and then come to you later and say, why am I getting all these pop-ups. It just isn’t capable of doing that by design.
“So the goal was to deliver two kinds of experiences into the market, the full power of your Windows PC [on the Surface Pro], and the simplicity of a tablet experience that can also be productive. That was the goal. Maybe not enough. I think we didn’t explain that super-well. I think we didn’t differentiate the devices well enough. They looked similar. Using them is similar. It just didn’t do everything that you expected Windows to do. So there’s been a lot of talk about it should have been a rebranding. We should not have called it Windows.”
Maybe calling it “RT” wasn’t a good idea, either. Who knows what a runtime environment is, anyway?
But, to her credit, Larson-Green says exactly what everyone else (including yourstruly) has been saying for a long time: the lack of differentiation between the two nearly-identical versions of Windows which did wildly different things. Customers aren’t stupid, but trying to understand the myriad differences and nuances specific to each version of Windows is a waste of their time.
The sputtering launch of Healthcare.gov is something I’ve been watching from a distance, but it’s troubling. On the one hand, a comparison of its reliability against other large websites is perhaps unwarranted, given the time those websites have had to ramp up to meet demand (and, let’s not forget that downtime still occurs for large web services — Twitter, anyone?).
But, on the other hand, it’s clear that it’s a complete mess. It might be because I’m outside the US, but if I try to visit Healthcare.gov, I am only able to see the default Apache “It works!” page — and, yes, I wholly appreciate the irony of this.
Because the procurement process is such a headache, agencies often lock in contractors for longer periods. This speeds things up, but it also gives preference to Beltway insiders and excludes smaller companies. As a result, new programming frameworks and development methods take a long time to reach the government. A company that has already bagged a 10-year contract has little incentive to innovate.
Instead of trying to repeal the law, if the government should be spending time revisiting how it purchases and deals with IT. If that can’t happen, more than just healthcare will suffer in the future.
It seems like the procurement process was a nightmare in the pre-IT days; with the speed at which technology moves now, it’s even worse. This isn’t a problem with the Affordable Care Act, but rather a larger problem of how government contracts are awarded. The worst thing that could happen now is for the process to remain the same.
Spotify on Tuesday unleashed a load of data, revealing that each time a user listens for a song, rights holders are paid between $0.006 and $0.0084. Over the course of 2013, the company says it will have paid $500 million in royalties, representing half of the $1 billion Spotify sent to rights holders since setting up shop in 2008.
This is at odds with the extremely low payouts reported by bands such as Grizzly Bear or Galaxie 500. My guess is that the discrepancy is between Spotify paying “rights holders” and the artists reporting what they were actually paid; “rights holders” sounds like it describes what is paid to the combination of artist, record label, songwriters, and so forth. There’s also the chance that these royalty rates may have been adjusted since the first wave of these stories broke several years ago.
If you use an Android phone — and I know a few of you do — this is a must-download. VSCO Cam is undoubtably my favourite photo editing app for iOS, and I’m sure it’s just as great on Android.
Update: I’ve seen a few complaints about the UI, especially its reliance upon symbolism. It’s a little tricky to get used to; it isn’t as easily-discoverable as, say, Snapseed or Analog. But if you’ve ever used Lightroom or Aperture, the symbols will all feel similar to you. It’s very powerful once you get the hang of it.
I am perhaps not the best person to review an iPad. My iPad history is short: it began with an iPad 2, which was replaced with a third-generation model. That’s it. I have not spent substantial time with a fourth-generation iPad, a first-generation Mini, or an iPad Air, so I lack any point of comparison to recent models. Therefore, this won’t, can’t, be a review which compares the Mini against the other offerings out there and establishes the benefits and drawbacks of owning this against those. Rather, this will be a review of why I moved from a third-generation iPad (iPad 3 from here on) to an iPad Mini, and my experiences with this product in that context.
This iPad Mini, then.
I bought a space grey 16 GB WiFi iPad Mini. Its 16 (ish) gigabytes of storage are plenty for me, as I don’t keep a local media library on the iPad. It is WiFi-only because my 3G plan includes tethering and I don’t want give my cell carrier any more money than I already do. I chose space grey because it looks badass.
My last new iOS device was a third-generation iPad, so I haven’t really experienced the enormous leaps Apple has made in build quality, aside from brief glimpses in an Apple Store. This iPad Mini is built so well that it seems as if it isn’t made, but sort of birthed in a fully-formed state. Every time I think the bar for build quality cannot be raised any higher, Apple proves me wrong. It’s a wonderful product to hold and to use.
It’s also extraordinarily thin and light. Apple says that it’s slightly thicker than the first-generation Mini, but it’s pretty thin any way you look at it. It’s obviously lighter than my iPad 3; what I was surprised by is just what that weight difference does to the device. When I got my iPad 3, I explained why I didn’t mind the weight increase:
Of course, Apple would rather they reduced weight with each generation of any of their portable products. But I would prefer to keep the battery life the same and increase its weight than preserve the weight of the iPad 2 and lose even an an hour of power. That’s exactly what they’ve done. Despite my heavy usage during the first weekend, battery life was never a concern.
The iPad 3 weighs 650 grams; the iPad Mini I’m holding weighs just 331 grams. Truth be told, the iPad 3 isn’t actually that heavy; I’m pretty scrawny, but it’s not an effort to use with one hand. But when devices shrink to this size, every extra gram feels substantially greater. As a result, the iPad Mini doesn’t feel like it’s half the weight of the iPad 3 — it feels like it’s a quarter of the weight, or even less. It’s crazy light.
Unlike the iPad 3’s hot and expensive A5X chip, the iPad Mini uses the A7 SoC; so, unlike the iPad 3, it doesn’t get warm to the touch. After using the Mini for even a day, I picked up my iPad 3 and it felt large, cumbersome, and heavy. The improvements of the Mini are extremely noticeable in such a positive way. In simple terms, this means you get a Retina display without the compromises you’d expect, such as those in the transition from the iPad 2 to the iPad 3. And, oh, what a display.
The Retina display in this year’s iPad Mini has the same 326 pixel-per-inch density as an iPhone, so it comes as no surprise that it’s tack-sharp and looks like a printed page. The reason I didn’t buy an iPad Mini last year is because I do an awful lot of reading on my iPad; the display in the model sitting right in front of me absolutely solves that issue. While it isn’t laminated to the glass like the iPhone’s display is, it sits close enough that there’s no noticeable distortion or aberration. If you thought the previous generation iPads were like a touch screen magazine, this is even closer.
On paper, the Mini should have a better-quality display than my iPad 3 does1 — it has the same number of pixels in a smaller space. In practice, however, the difference between those pixel densities is negligible: I can’t see individual pixels on either model unless I look very closely at, say, an uppercase “A” or “V”. Both displays have such a high pixel density that it’s hard to tell them apart.
All of this amazing display tech hasn’t come without a few hiccups, though. The earliest iPad Mini recipients reported significant image retention, similar to that of some of the first Retina MacBook Pros. Sure enough, I got worried when my iPad Mini arrived and — after going through the initial setup steps — I was presented with the “Connect to iTunes” screen, which has a white line drawing of a Lightning cable on it. After connecting, the screen changed, but the ghost of a Lightning cable remained for several minutes.
However, since then, I haven’t seen any retention at all. My guess is that either the winter delivery or the high contrast of the “Connect to iTunes” screen were to blame. I ran Marco Arment’s retention test and my iPad passed. In day-to-day use, I haven’t seen any issues whatsoever, even in places like the barely-changing status bar area.
One point of contention has cropped up with regard to this display, though: its colour gamut is relatively small. DisplayMate compared the iPad Mini against Google’s Nexus 7 and Amazon’s Kindle Fire HDX 7, and concluded:
[T]he iPad mini with Retina Display unfortunately comes in with a distant 3rd place finish behind the innovative displays on the Kindle Fire HDX 7 and new Nexus 7 because it still has the same small 63 percent Color Gamut as the original iPad mini and even older iPad 2. That is inexcusable for a current generation premium Tablet.
A damning critique of what should be the iPad Mini’s preeminent feature.
In his review, Anand Lal Shimpi came to a similar (if less strongly-worded) conclusion:
The difference is small but apparent, particularly if you’re used to panels with full sRGB coverage like the iPad Air or any of the rMBPs/iMacs. The biggest deviations are in reds/blues and magenta in between as you can tell from the CIE chart above. […]
Compared to the previous generation mini we’re obviously talking about a much better panel. But for those of you on the fence between the mini and Air, the Air does still hold a display advantage.
My iPad 3 very nearly has the full sRGB gamut. In a side-by-side test, the iPad Mini’s colours don’t pop quite as much, but it’s genuinely — hand on heart — fine. I browsed through the Atlantic’s selection of entries in this year’s National Geographic photo contest on both iPads and my calibrated Thunderbolt Display. The Mini was noticeably weaker than the others but, while I wish it had a full sRGB gamut, the difference isn’t as egregious as DisplayMate makes it out to be. It’s somewhat disappointing when comparing it to the (much cheaper) Amazon and Google units, but it was not a large concern. If it wasn’t pointed out, I likely wouldn’t have noticed.
Day to day use of the iPad Mini is sublime. At the very first iPad introduction, Steve Jobs described how exciting it was to hold the internet in your hands; with this iPad Mini, it feels like that to an even greater extent. This is due to a combination of the weight, size, and display quality. Nothing I’ve ever seen or used comes close to this browsing experience. It’s small and light enough to comfortably sit in one hand, so it’s a casual but very powerful way to work or to relax.
I did mean work, by the way. Even though it’s quite narrow on the long edge, you can still type on the onscreen keyboard with ease. Unlike a 10-inch iPad, it doesn’t feel like a full-sized keyboard, but I found it very comfortable to type on. As a bonus, it’s certainly easier to thumb type in portrait orientation. And because it’s pretty much the same as an iPad Air underneath — the processor is clocked at an imperceptibly lower rate, everything else is identical — it runs every application with aplomb. Numbers and Pages were as zippy as you’d like. Keynote was pretty great as well, though it did struggle when opening a 200 MB media-heavy presentation which I previously created on my Mac. But, hey, it takes a while to open that on my Mac, too; it’s a big presentation.
My biggest complaint with the iPad Mini is, as ever, that Apple hasn’t put enough RAM in it. Tabs in Safari are routinely dumped, even if there are only a few open, and apps are very likely to have been terminated in the background when switching between them.
Safari tabs suffer most from the low RAM, particularly when a tab has a form of some kind. There is no nastier surprise than switching to another tab to check something and then switching back to find that the page will refresh and the form contents have been cleared. It’s not as if every tab is playing loads of GIFs or anything, either — this happens on a regular basis with almost wholly text-based pages.
I see three ways in which this could be mitigated:
User-entered content should always be preserved if the system needs to dump an app from memory.
The memory consumption of the operating system could be reduced.
iPads could ship with more RAM.
Way One is relatively straightforward, while Way Two is incredibly difficult — it isn’t as if Apple is being cavalier with the system’s memory usage as it is. Both have the advantage of being backwards-compatible, though. But I don’t see memory consumption going down in the future, so Way Three seems necessary as well.
My only other complaint has to do with the Smart Cover. For the most part, it does its job admirably, but the tri-fold arrangement makes it awkward to deal with. The old four-fold version could fold back on itself and felt much sturdier. The tri-fold version can’t fold back on itself, so if you unfold it and hold the iPad with your left hand, as I do, it kinda flops around on the back. It also feels less study: I tend to use my Smart Cover in the landscape keyboard-friendly orientation (as opposed to the nearly-vertical orientation) and, though I’m not a heavy typer, the magnetic connection has occasionally given out underneath my fingers.
Despite these quibbles, however, this iPad Mini is one amazing product. If the iPad Air is like a magazine, this is like a novel. Indeed, I’ve spent a lot of time reading on this iPad in just the first couple of weeks I’ve owned it (including guiltily digesting “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls“). But, despite its size, I’ve also produced a fair amount of stuff as well — a number of posts on Pixel Envy, including some of this review, were written on it. It’s super light and tiny, so you can toss it in pretty much any bag and bring it everywhere with you. If you have a hankering for a sub-10-inch tablet, the iPad Mini is truly wonderful. It absolutely feels like the future.
It’s interesting to look back at pre-release rumours which pondered how Apple would market an apparently superior display at a lower price point. The answer is obvious: the “Retina” brand encompasses all displays of high-enough density so the pixels cannot be seen. From a customer’s perspective, there is no difference. ↩
Fascinating article by Ralph Langner, for Foreign Policy:
Three years after it was discovered, Stuxnet, the first publicly disclosed cyberweapon, continues to baffle military strategists, computer security experts, political decision-makers, and the general public. A comfortable narrative has formed around the weapon: how it attacked the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz, how it was designed to be undiscoverable, how it escaped from Natanz against its creators’ wishes. Major elements of that story are either incorrect or incomplete.
That’s because Stuxnet is not really one weapon, but two. The vast majority of the attention has been paid to Stuxnet’s smaller and simpler attack routine — the one that changes the speeds of the rotors in a centrifuge, which is used to enrich uranium. But the second and “forgotten” routine is about an order of magnitude more complex and stealthy.
Apple recently acquired social-media analytics firm Topsy Labs Inc. for more than $200 million, according to people familiar with the matter. […]
The company is one of a handful of Twitter Inc. partners with access to the so-called “fire hose”— the full stream of tweets since 2006, which now average roughly 500 million a day. Topsy then analyzes this information and resells it to customers. […]
If I had to hazard a guess, this might be related to Apple building out the relevancy engine of its App and iTunes Stores. Adding social signals to the search algorithms of its stores could help to improve the relevance of search results and help Apple surface apps that are hotter and more interesting to users. Tracking app trends across social networks would allow them to fine tune categories and collections of apps, and surface apps that are gaining steam more quickly.
Recommendations are only as good as the inputted data; if Apple increases the size of the data input, the output recommendations improve.
“We are also trialing a 250/50 Mbps tier using DOCSIS 3.0 in select markets to test consumer interest,” Comcast spokesperson Charlie Douglas told Ars. “The interest in these ultra, ultra high-end speed tiers is today still rather limited.”
Comcast’s data overage fees might put a damper on customer enthusiasm for speeds in the hundreds of megabits. Comcast actually does deliver a half-gigabit to home customers, but that offering relies on fiber to the premises rather than cable. The 505Mbps down and 100Mbps up service is available in some markets for $399.95 a month, nearly six times the price of Google Fiber.
At that price, no wonder interest is low. While some may scoff at an ultra high-speed connection, consider all of the things delivered over that connection: operating systems, applications, movies, and streaming music. All of these common uses would benefit enormously from a gigabit ethernet connection.
This egregious pricing isn’t entirely the fault of the providers, though. North American cities have a penchant for single-family low-density urban planning, so running fibre for miles to a hundred-home suburb becomes extremely expensive. More dense regions don’t solve the problem, either: they require much more robust infrastructure to cope with the traffic. And, as Brodkin explains, there are existing infrastructure reasons which limit the ability to upgrade some regions.
Even if all of the above hurdles were overcome, though, there’s still the issue of extremely limited choice. The simple reason why gigabit connections haven’t permeated and become cheap in most communities is because most communities have only two or three ISPs to choose from, if they’re lucky; in many markets, there’s just one ISP. When such a powerful industry is controlled by so few players, it becomes a consumer’s nightmare. To paraphrase Elliot Jay Stocks, ISPs have all the power of a utility, yet none of the responsibility.
Of course, in most cities, utilities are run by the local government — either at a municipal or provincial (state) level. So what about a more-or-less municipal ISP? Jon Brodkin explored that concept last week:
While businesses in the Bryan/College Station area pay $3,395 per month for 50Mbps download and upload, businesses only pay $99 for the same service in Chattanooga, Benham told Ars. Bryan/College Station officials are looking for affordable gigabit fiber for residents and 10 to 100Gbps for businesses, along with public wireless networks. The region includes Texas A&M and other institutions in a thriving research sector.
Chattanooga, Lafayette, and other communities have built their own fiber networks, with the utility serving as the Internet provider. Government-run networks aren’t for everyone, though—Louisville and the metro area of Bryan, Texas, and College Station are both hoping to attract private companies to build out a fiber network.
Perhaps a government-run network might not be your flavour; you may cite Eddy Snowden’s disclosures, to which I’d respond that if the NSA is tapping internet connections at high-level providers, what’s the difference? There are potentially other concerns with such a scheme, depending on where you live and your particular political bent. I’d welcome it as an option, at the very least.