Federal court rules against FCC enforcement of net neutrality

8 04 2010

To think this all started with a group of people downloading some large files off of BitTorrent. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously shot down a cessation order sent by the FCC to Comcast for showing preference for customer access to the Internet all the way back in 2008.

It’s important to keep in mind that the court did not rule that the idea of net neutrality is not what was deemed illegal, rather, the enforcement of it on the part of the FCC is what the ruling pertained to. The FCC itself, through spokeswoman Jen Howard, has acknowledged this, saying that its implementation of net neutrality will have to change, not its devotion to the ideal.

What’s done is done, and though the FCC may appeal the decision, the ground upon which they stand on the matter has been shaken up. Though the fallout will take time to settle, there are several immediate implications from the court ruling.

  • Preferential treatment based upon individual Internet providers looks to be more probable, with the possibility that Internet providers can eventually hold bandwidth hostage, in a way, demanding fees from either independent companies or users for faster access. Customers may, for example, find that their access is bundled into packages similar to those currently used for cable. If an individual wants high-speed access to ESPN and MLBTV, for example, they’ll have to pay an additional $5 per month, with the benefit being easier streaming, greater allowance for downloads from those services, etc.Or, and this could work in conjunction with the customer packaging plan, firms like Comcast could put their foot down and demand that Google or CNN pay them in order for their sites to have greater speeds.
  • The FCC will need to find a way around the court ruling if it wants to remain relevant in managing information technologies. With television and traditional phones becoming increasingly more marginalized by Internet technologies, the ruling places a major damper on the commission’s future purview. One idea currently gathering steam is for the Internet to be legally placed under the telephones, which would subsequently recoup the FCC’s lost powers.
  • Sites that are built upon torrents and similar services (Rapidshare, Mediafire, etc) may be increasingly marginalized by limitations on their bandwidth. Internet providers like Comcast now have legal precedent behind them if they choose to restrict access to said sites in the future, whether it be for reasons tied to network management, piracy concerns or any number of other premises.
  • In time, all of this could be rendered irrelevant if Google’s experimental fiber network, with incredibly higher speeds than the current competition and a company doctrine that supports net neutrality, succeeds and eventually sets the standard for the marketplace. If Google can capitalize on the continued stagnation of the services provided by the likes of Comcast, and if said companies move to restrict consumer access to the Internet, then not only would a sizable chunk of material on the Internet be accessed through Google, but the entire web itself could go through them. Which, of course, comes with its own set of implications.

For more information on speakers, topics and details of the FutureWeb conference, visit the FutureWeb site. To register for the conference, click here.

By Morgan Little

MIT students create wireless mouse gloves for class project

8 04 2010

Step aside, iPad. The wireless glove mouse might just be the next big trend in computer technology.

Pop culture first introduced us to this futuristic concept in the 2002 action thriller, Minority Report, in which Tom Cruise uses simple hand movements on an advanced computer interface to call up information, shift it and manipulate it.

Thanks to cutting-edge research from MIT, the idea is no longer limited to science fiction cinema. In 2008, MIT students Tony Hyun Kim and Nevada Sanchez tackled a digital electronics class project last year in which they developed mouse gloves. They created an interface where they could merely wave their gloved hands in their air in order to navigate, zoom and manipulate a map on the screen. Their project used basic equipment that cost them less than $100.

Kim and Sanchez took their glove mouse invention one step further in March, making the device wireless. The duo says the addition of wireless capabilities adds the convenience of moving around more freely.

Watch the video demonstration of the wireless glove mouse:

The technology works through an LED located on the back of the gloves’ index fingers. It can then be picked up by a low-resolution webcam, allowing it to function as a cursor on the screen. There are buttons located under the index and middle fingers that can be activated by the thumbs in order to select specific areas.

Still, don’t expect this technology to be available to mainstream audiences any time soon. The pair of MIT students has no current plans to commercialize their invention, which they say was “really just cool to actually build in real life.”

Another MIT product, by a team led by student Pranav Mistry, was demonstrated by well-known technology researcher Pattie Maes at a TED conference in February 2009. The Sixth Sense is a wearable device with a projector – made for just $350 with off-the-shelf products – that also paves the way for the type of interactions seen in “Minority Report.”

Click here to view the Sixth Sense demonstration.

To learn more about developing and future technologies involving the Web, register for the FutureWeb conference.  More details about the conference schedule and speakers can be found on the FutureWeb site.

By Ashley Dischinger