Municipal Wi-Fi

Today’s WSJ reports efforts by the telcos to block municipal plans to offer Wi-Fi to their citizens in Pennsylvania. Verizon lobbied the legislature to block attempts by cities to offer free Wi-Fi.

My thinking on telco stupidity and avarice was formed by Charles Ferguson’s excellent polemic, “The Broadband Problem: Anatomy of a Market Failure and a Policy Dilemma “.

Ferguson, former CEO of Vermeer, the company that developed Frontpage, a WYSIWIG HTML editor acquired by Microsoft, is a research fellow at the Brookings Institute. I highly recommend the book.

While the role of municipal governments in granting utility monopolies to cable companies was hashed out in the 1980s — essentially awarding a town or city to a single provider to cut down on infrastructure disruption — Wi-Fi doesn’t involve ComCast trucks hanging devices off of utility poles, provides broadband to the masses in the spirit of POTS for all, and if anything, will goad the lazy Verizons of the world to get off their dark-fiber asses and start eating their profitable T-1 businesses.

I’m all in favor of broadband at all costs, especially in rural areas where broadband is every bit as much of an economic development incentive as roads without potholes. While I rather see the private marketplace do its economic magic, the cozy relationship between the Telcos and public utility commissions insures we’ll never see true free market capitalism at work.

Halo 2 Ships, Teen Productivity to Plummet

There was some after-school drama around the Churbuck household yesterday afternoon, the official ship date of Halo 2, the second version of the first-person X-Box shooter which has dominated the minds of my two sons for the past two years.

Having pre-ordered via Amazon the long delayed second version of the game for the two over a year ago, I have been receiving shipment updates, not from Amazon or the game’s developer – Bungie – but from my ten year-old who has been anticipating the game with the impatient anxiety that used to be reserved for Christmas. His reaction yesterday, the first official day the game was available, when he learned the game had not arrived in the daily mail was on the order of magnitude one would expect from the accidental amputation of a limb or the death of the hamster.

The eldest has already declared that he intends to shut the blinds and eschew college applications and all school work until he dominates the game and explores all of its dark corners. The two natter on at the dinner table about rumored new weapons, aliens, battle tactics and plots like CIA analysts going over satellite photographs.

The USPS package tracking site has been refreshed with the invoice number about a thousand times over the past 12 hours. The news that the disc has left Springfield, Massachusetts and is somewhere on the Massachusetts Turnpike, on its way to Cape Cod, was the cause of more teeth grinding this morning, with demands that if it does not appear in the Cotuit post office by the end of the school day that I will drive to the local game merchant and part with another $50 to get a copy into their sweaty palms by nightfall, before the commencement of tomorrow’s school holiday (Veteran’s Day).

I can find no historical parallels of anticipation and anxiety in my own adolescence. No movie, book, comic, or other entertainment event ever worked me into as much of a lather as this single game has foamed up my sons.

Anyone who has questions about the future of media and entertainment needs to understand the joys of walking around in a virtual world with a rocket launcher and blasting the stuffing out of a virtual sibling while screaming smack-talk.

Spam Ruminations

The conviction of two North Carolina brothers for spamming AOL users with a fraudulent “FedEx Return Processing” work-at-home scheme is welcome news. The sentence, which includes jail time, was decried by the spammer’s attorney as cruel and unusual, but may serve as the head on a pike for other would be e-morons.

The legal process is serving up a few prosecutions but according to Techweb, Can-Spam isn’t doing the job, citing data by MX Logic that compliance in July fell to less than one percent. Unlike the Do Not Call registry — which is turning into a more accurate representation of Americans than the Census — Can-Spam and various state initiatives to put the lid on spam are fighting the Sisyphean reality that most spam has, or will, move offshore.

The Russian lonely-hearts scam described in Tuesday’s New York Times is a classic.

For the past year I’ve subscribed to a spam filtering service called MessageFire which acts as a POP3 go-between. The service is remarkably good at nailing most spam, but is now commercially unavailable to new consumer subscribers following an acquisition that positions the product as a corporate solution. Still, it can’t filter image-spam – which for the most part is HTML-formatted GIFs of people bumping uglies.

The point of all this is that the arm of the law and the arms race of technology are never going to have an impact on spam. What will turn the tide in favor of the consumer is their rejection – as resoundingly ratified by the embrace of the Do Not Call Registry – of intrusive marketing tactics. Marketers who continue to view pop-ups, pop-unders, telemarketing, junk mail, and spam as statistical shotguns are doomed. Publishers who host such crap, who underestimate the intelligence of their audience, are condemned to irrelevance.