Archive for December, 2005

TXU tackling ’smart grid” for high-speed Internet

TXU Electric Delivery is teaming with a Maryland company to create a “smart grid” that could improve electric service to Waco customers and give them access to high-speed Internet.

TXU and Current Communications Group announced Monday that Current will design, build and operate a grid to serve more than 2 million homes and businesses in the TXU service area.

That area includes Waco, but exactly when local residents would see high-speed Internet service from Current Communications is not clear.

Officials said the Dallas-Fort Worth area likely would have it by the second half of 2006.

“D-FW will be the first area we serve,” said Bill Berkman, chairman and co-founder of Current Communications Group, based in Germantown, Md. He refused during a teleconference Monday to say exactly when other communities would be added.

“Waco is an important part of our service area,” said Chris Schein, a media spokesman for TXU. But he said the decision on when and where to provide broadband Internet capability rests with Current Communications.

Under the terms of the agreement, TXU will pay $150 million over 10 years to use the smart-grid network that Current creates in Texas.

TXU also will acquire equity in the company, whose shareholders already include Cinergy Corp., EnerTech Capital, Goldman Sachs Group, Google Inc. The Hearst Corp. and Liberty Associated Partners, of which Liberty Media Corp. is a limited partner.

Current Communications calls itself the nation’s leading provider of broadband over power line (BPL) solutions. It can use this technology to hook up customers to the Internet using electrical outlets in homes.

But TXU is interested in using the technology to improve its efficiency.

Schein said with this technology, TXU can more effectively detect problem areas and prevent or repair power failures. It also can have an automated system for meter reading, eliminating personal visits to homes and businesses.

“At the beginning of the year,” Schein said, “we said we wanted to improve our reliability performance and do so in a cost effective manner.”

Instead of pursuing that goal by placing more people in the field, Schein said, it pursued an agreement with Current Communications to create a smart grid.

It just so happens that the same equipment needed to provide smart-grid technology also can be used to provide broadband Internet service over electric wires.

Schein said he believes the grid will provide economic development benefits to communities, including Waco, served by TXU Electric Delivery.

“As recently as a decade ago, you judged the quality of power by turning on a light switch,” he said. “In today’s high-tech world, with all the computers out there, you have to have much higher quality. You can’t have fluctuations in voltage because even a short outage is detrimental to business. That is something relocating businesses will look at.”

As for high-speed Internet service, officials with Current said they could not say exactly how much the service would cost. In Cincinnati, where Current has partnered with Cinergy Corp. to track Cinergy’s power grid, Current has a multi-tiered system charging customers anywhere from $19.99 to $44.99 a month, said spokeswoman Melissa Kresse.

“This is just another business getting into high-speed Internet. It’s the consumer’s choice,” said Stacy Schmitt, spokeswoman for Time Warner Cable in Waco. It offers high-speed Internet service for $44.95 a month through RoadRunner.

From The Waco Herald-Tribune.

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Businessman wins e-mail spam case

A businessman has won what is believed to be the first victory of its kind by claiming damages from a company which sent him e-mail spam. Nigel Roberts, who lives in Alderney in the Channel Islands, took action against Media Logistics UK over junk e-mails in his personal account.

Under new European laws, companies can be sued for sending unwanted e-mails.

The Stirlingshire-based firm has agreed to pay £270 compensation to Mr Roberts, who runs an internet business.

Three years ago the EU passed an anti-spam law, the directive on privacy and telecommunications, which gave individuals the right to fight the growing tide of unwanted e-mail by allowing them to claim damages.

Mr Roberts received unwanted e-mail adverts for a contract car firm and a fax broadcasting business and decided to take action against the company.

The company filed an acknowledgement of the claim at Colchester County Court but did not defend it and a judge ruled in favour of Mr Roberts.

In an out-of-court agreement Media Logistics agreed to pay Mr Roberts damages of £270 plus his £30 filing fee.

Mr Roberts said he had limited his claim to a maximum of £300 in order to qualify to file it as a small claim.

He said: “This may be a tiny victory but perhaps now spammers will begin to realise that people don’t have to put up with their e-mail inboxes being filled with unwanted junk.”

No-one from Media Logistics UK was available for comment.

A spokesman for the Information Commissioner’s Office, the watchdog who oversees the Data Protection Act, said it was the first case of its kind he had heard of.

He said: “What I can say is that I haven’t heard of anyone doing so and we haven’t taken a case under that legislation.”

From the BBC.

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Does faster broadband really matter?

Internet blogger Om Malik has written an interesting piece on the new, faster broadband connections that are now becoming available to US consumers. His premise is that the faster speeds are not that important, because they don’t translate into a significantly better experience for the end user.

The gist of his argument is that most online activities, like standard websurfing, are not significantly sped up by high-bandwidth connections, and the few that are, such as downloading, are not typically time-sensitive anyway:

Websurfing runs at only about a megabit per second, and nearly everything else except downloading is effectively throttled down at the source. Downloading turns out to have some natural limits as well; at 100 Mbps, you can download enough music for 24 hours of listening in only four minutes per day. The practical result, confirmed by high speed leaders like Masayoshi Son of Yahoo BB in Japan, is that the faster speeds yield only a extremely modest increase in real traffic demand.

He goes on to suggest that the push for faster Internet connections comes from the network operators themselves. With all the infrastructure already in place, it costs only a tiny bit more to offer a higher-speed connection, but the consumer can be charged a significantly higher amount for “premium” access. This is a fairly standard formula for most businesses. The concept of “super-sizing” fast food works in a similar fashion, for example.

The idea of those who do prefer a faster connection (for example people who like to watch streaming video from the BBC) paying for faster service seems at first to be relatively benign. However, when you look under the surface, it may in fact be part of a larger plan by the network operators that could end up creating a “two-tier” Internet. This plan may be the beginning of the end for “network neutrality.”

Network neutrality is the concept that no particular type of traffic on the Internet should receive preferential treatment for speed or access. It was the design for network neutrality that made the Internet possible in the first place. It keeps ISPs from becoming liable for the content that may pass through their systems.

However, an article by the BBC examines the fact that many service providers are starting to prioritize their own content at the expense of those from rivals. Many countries have started or are considering blocking Voice-over-IP (VOIP) traffic in order to protect the phone companies from competition. For example, this summer reports from Germany indicated that Vodafone had begun to block VOIP traffic, treating the popular Skype program as “inappropriate content.” On the other side of the coin, Canadian cable provider Shaw now offers a premium VOIP service that promises to prioritize Internet telephony traffic for a monthly fee. In some countries the government itself is getting involved in putting forth legislation to restrict certain types of traffic.

The implications for the consumer of this Balkanization of the Internet are scary indeed. In the guise of offering “premium” services, the networks are trying to set up a model where they can control what kind of content gets priority service for distribution, or even gets blocked completely. The implications for freedom of information are enormous.

By Jeremy Reimer, Ars Technica on Om Malik

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The World’s Broadband Market Grew by 10% Reaching over 187.8 Million Subscribers for the Third Quarter of 2005

World broadband market grows with almost 10 percent and the number of broadband subscribers in the third quarter soared to over 187.8 million with more than 15.6 million new subscribers since the second quarter of 2005. Asia-Pacific, with 5.55 million, followed by Europe, has been the biggest regions in terms of nominal subscriber gain followed by the Americas and Middle East- Africa. At the same time the region has registered the lowest relative quarterly gain compared to the other regions. Europe, with nearly 5.5 million net gains or 10.5 percent quarterly growth, is the second largest broadband market in the world.

More at Research and Markets.

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The speed of your broadband connection

Having top speed available when online is essential in the rich media environment of the Internet today. While the prices of broadband access have come down in recent years, Internet service providers still charge premium for their services.

So when paying hard earned money for broadband you want to make sure you get what you pay for. You want to take the Broadband Internet Speed test to find out if your actual download speed matches the theoretical one your ISP sells you.

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