I was quite pleasantly surprised when the Obama administration responded quickly for allowing cell phone users to unlock their phones.
There has been some misunderstanding about what unlocking a cell phone means. It basically only means that you can prevent the phone from being carrier-specific as they are manufactured and released to be. This actually has very limited application, however, because in the United States, the carriers are generally incompatible with one another anyway. That’s one of the reasons that despite the current prohibition against unlocking, most of the carriers will let you do it anyway. Most Verizon phones cannot be unlocked to run on AT&T. No AT&T phones can be reworked to get onto Verizon’s network. Really, of the four major carriers, only T-Mobile plays really nice.
Derek Khanna, the GOP wonderkind who was fired from a thinktank for advocating a reworking of copyright laws and who initiated the petition, wrote a follow-up in The Atlantic stating that allowing the unlocking and jailbreaking/rooting* of phones is not enough.
Currently there is an exception for personal jail breaking (allowing individuals to install unapproved applications by altering the OS), but developing, selling, trafficking, or discussing the underlying technology is still illegal and there is no personal exceptions for tablets or other devices. This is unbelievable, especially when according to @Saurik, 23 million iOS devices are running a version of Cydia – a rough barometer of the number of devices jail broken. Until recently, personal jail breaking was illegal as well – meaning that all of the owners of those devices could be criminally liable. Unlocking new phones, as previously explained, is now illegal in all circumstances.
Accessibility technology has received an exception, but it is so narrow that it is nearly useless for persons who are deaf or blind. This exception was not the one requested on behalf of persons who are deaf and blind. And like the jail breaking, while there is a narrow exception for personal use — developing, selling, trafficking, or discussing the underlying technology is still illegal. What use is an exception for accessibility for personal use, if no one can develop the tools?
Technology to backup legally purchased DVDs and Blu-Ray discs for personal use is widely available and widely used but is completely illegal (in the US) – thus making millions of Americans criminals for a what most would consider non-infringing activity (if they own the content).
I agree with every one of his recommendations. I would, however, go a step further. The biggest problem in limiting legitimate smartphone usage is untouched by allowing jailbreaking, rooting, and unlocking. Namely, it’s the degree of control carriers exert over the phones in the first place. Daily Dot touches on it:
There’s another reason why Congress needs to step up to the plate: Open mobile devices and networks are key to future innovation. We’ve seen this before: In the 1960s policymakers finally put a stop to this kind of corporate nonsense in the landline market by allowing customers to attach their own devices to the network. The FCC’s “Carterfone” decision in 1968 ended AT&T’s practice of squelching attempts to innovate on its network or the devices that connected to it. The decision forced AT&T to allow unapproved devices to connect to its network—in this case, a device that helped increase the reach of rural telephone networks. More importantly, the move unleashed a wave of innovation in the U.S. and around the world. Telephone handset prices plummeted, answering machines and cordless phones became commonplace and computer modems were invented, ushering in today’s Internet era.
Once upon a time, I had a job that involved working on prototype smartphones. I primarily worked with devices that were under development from two sources. Both are names you would recognize. Both had a good product. Some of us preferred one, some of us preferred the other. Only one of these two companies would you associate with smartphones. The company that had the phones I preferred never released it in the United States, despite the fact that it was a fully operational device when I tested it. Why did one of these highly successful companies succeed in becoming a fixture in the smartphone world while the other remains just another electronics company? Because one of the companies got their devices onto the carrier networks. The other didn’t. So it wasn’t a question of which one made the better phone. It was a question of the carrier playing favorites.
To some extent, this is unavoidable. Carriers cannot endorse every every phone made by somebody somewhere. Even if they mean well. Except our carriers don’t. Unless you’re Apple, your phone only gets picked up by a carrier if it meets certain requirements that benefit the carrier and not the customer.
But companies that depend on the carriers are forced to play along — and as a result, they’re not allowed to compete on equal footing with giants like Apple and Samsung. The HTC One X is a high-end flagship device designed to compete squarely with the iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy S III, but Verizon and Sprint aren’t carrying it: instead, Sprint offers a variant called the Evo 4G LTE, and Verizon is selling a downgraded device called the Droid Incredible 4G that simply doesn’t match up to higher-end competition. How is HTC to compete for Verizon customers with a weaker device? Why should HTC depend on struggling Sprint to market and sell a custom phone when it could just leverage its existing One X campaigns to take on Apple directly?
And because success in the wireless marketplace can only come with carrier support, innovation is stunted as companies design their future products around what they think carriers might want, not where the market or consumer behavior is heading. “Companies build phones that the carriers ask for instead of taking risks and testing new concepts in the marketplace,” says Vizio’s McRae. “The result is a collection of handsets that are fairly homogenous from a small number of brands.”
It’s worth noting here that not all carriers are equally closed. T-Mobile plays nice, by and large. AT&T is also at least somewhat flexible (though it’s tougher to get one with 4G connectivity from a non-approved device). On the other end, Verizon will not let any phone onto their network that isn’t branded for them and they place significant demands on what they’ll activate.
In addition to the innovation issue, there is also the customer freedom angle. Which is to say that the carriers are erecting their own barriers-to-exit. Even if I relocate to an area where T-Mobile is an option, as a Verizon customer I will have to replace all of my phones and tablets to make the transition. That’s a bigger barrier than any contract I’ve signed. It’s not just that my specific phone cannot work with AT&T’s network, but that I couldn’t purchase – and Samsung couldn’t make – one that would allow me to do so. Now, maybe in a competitive market such phones still wouldn’t exist, but cross-network compatibility is not a novel concept and it’s the carriers that have a lot of incentives to prevent it from happening. It doesn’t matter whether T-Mobile plays nice if nobody else does. An open phone is just a T-Mobile phone by default, or a crippled AT&T one.
There are a couple arguments against forcing carriers to open their networks to non-approved phones. The first is one of free markets, the second one of quality assurance.
The free market argument goes that if T-Mobile is playing nice, but Verizon isn’t, if this is important to consumers they will flock to T-Mobile. The market will work itself out. Or, alternately, the government simply shouldn’t get involved because it’s simply not the government’s place. The problem with both of these arguments is that we are facing a natural (though government-assisted) oligopoly. The capital costs are prohibitive for a new entrant to set things right. T-Mobile is open in part because they lack the capital costs to be a technically competitive network. Their policies are, I suspect, borne more of necessity and desperation than actual goodwill. Since we’re stuck with only four carriers, there is a public interest argument for disallowing competitive behavior that is made more strong by the fact that they exist on the shoulders of government-assigned frequency spectrum. It’s hard for a really free market to exist in this sort of environment.
The quality assurance argument is relatively weak and ultimately can be worked out. The argument here goes that Verizon disallows unauthorized phones because it reflects poorly on them if someone buys a cheap phone and thus gets crappy service. This is true, but only to an extent. This, however, applies to a whole bunch of areas where we do trust consumers to know the difference. If I buy a crappy television and DirecTV’s signal looks poor, that may reflect negatively on DirecTV but we wouldn’t allow DirecTV to demand that only their approved TV sets can be used with their service. If they tried to do that, we would probably respond to them the same way we responded when landline telco tried to do that.
I am sympathetic to Verizon et al demanding that phones they don’t approve of can’t be branded with their name. I’d even support some limitations on how those phones can be advertised (perhaps the requirement of a disclaimer stating that while the manufacturer makes the claim that it works on Verizon’s network, Verizon makes no such claim).
There is a third argument, but it’s a non-starter. That argument goes that if people can take their phones from one carrier to the next, it will kill the subsidization model where people pay a steeply discounted price for a phone with the condition of a two year contract. If only this were true! I hate the subsidy model. There are better ways even for cash-strapped customers who cannot easily afford the full price of a new phone. But the primary stick of the carriers is not locked phones, but rather early termination penalties. All they need is for those to reflect the subsidies, or go the T-Mobile route and have people purchase the phone in installments (all payments due upon service termination).
The solution, as far as I am concerned, is that the providers must provide handset makers the technical specs for compatibility with their network and are forced to either rely entirely on a SIM card for operability, or alternately that they have an automatic registration system for devices.
Lenovo is looking at entering the American market. Lenovo is the current maker of ThinkPad computers, of which I am a devotee. Whether Lenovo can succeed here on its merits is an open question. The ThinkPad brand is better known than the Lenovo brand and other computer makers – such as HP and Dell – have tried and failed in the North American market. But whether they succeed or fail should not depend on the customers, not the cooperation of four corporations here.
* – Unlocking means breaking the lock that connects a specific phone to a specific carrier. Often confused with unlocking, jailbreaking and rooting a device removes the barriers that prevent people from making unauthorized customizations of the device, ranging from installing carrier’s software to installing unauthorized or system-modifying software.
I have activated Akismet. I have deactivated the math problems for now, to see how well Akismet works. It may be back.
Unfortunately, the most successful of the math plugins was the original one, which suddenly stopped working at some point but then started working again. I fear that if I go back to that one, it will stop working again.
Just a reminder, but my offer to give regular users an account still stands. A benefit of having it is being able to post if I put in a captcha that doesn’t work. And the ability to edit your own comments.
America’s latest export: For-profit universities.
I love the term “unexotic underclass.” I will start using it.
A look at Taiwan before its economic boom.
How to reform comment trolls.
One of my hope-beyond-hopes with regard to global warming is carbon capture. They’re testing it in Alberta.
Important: Tips on faking your own death.
I’ve gotten somewhat used to having yellowing-brown stains on my pants. Lain at a size when we can’t quite find the diaper that fits her perfectly, so we have leaks and blowouts.
I’ve been able to shrug it off because, well, most of my pants are getting kind of old anyway.
The problem is that they’ve gotten too old. They’re falling apart. Like, half of my pants developed holes in the knee last week. That’s not ridiculously coincidental, because I got these pants all about the same time (basically, once my waist-size went down to 38).
The only problem is that now is a really bad time to buy new pants. The washing machine does manage to get rid of the stains, or has managed to every time so far. But I can’t shrug off the possibility that they won’t because I will be dealing with a newer pair of pants.
Last night, when I let the dog out, she started chasing something. That’s not unusual, though instead of sprinting after a bunny she was doing… something else. I couldn’t figure out what.
After a bit of time, she was laying on the grass and was hard at work on something. I eventually went over to find out what it was. I used the smartphone flashlight and saw what it was she had been chasing.
Or, rather, I saw what was left of what she had been chasing.
I apparently own a rodent-hunter.
I don’t usually make a point of linking to Zero Tolerance Follies because they all tend to run together, but complaining that a deaf boy’s name sign looks too much like a gun is a new one.
Prairie voles in love…. thanks to a love drug. It’s fascinating to think about.
Inside Higher Ed has an piece looking at Asian-American support and opposition to affirmative action. They’re really the demographic to watch, as many of the strongest voices I’ve heard on both sides of the debate come from Asian-Americans.
I suppose it’s supposed to be telling that the government has a lot of different definitions of rural. But seriously? It’s all pretty relative and different definitions are appropriate, even if maybe we do have more than we need.
Given our lack of life insurance on Clancy and what a jam I would be in if something happened to her, I’ve put some thought into what happens if something happens to her. One of the possibilities is Midland, Texas, which isn’t pretty, but it’s productive.
PPACA comes with a slush fund.
Who in Brazil thought that a Happy Prostitute ad campaign was a good idea?
When considering policy for the safety of children, we can be quite selective in what we will consider.
How the government and its good intentions screwed up spectrum-assignment, one of the factors leading to our mobile phone industry being in the shape it’s in.
Gray wolves may be getting off the endangered species list.
How noise-cancelling signals could lead to a faster and more reliable Internet.
One of the first anime I got into was Ranma 1/2. It was all the rage at the time. The basic premise is that Ranma Saotome fell into an accursed spring and now he turns into a she any time he is exposed to cold water, and she turns into a he any time she is exposed to warm water.
Hijinx and hilarity ensue.
I didn’t realize, when I was watching this, that I was apparently taking part in a movement to undermine modern civilization. Ben Shapiro evidently thinks so of a superhero cartoon about a boy who turns into a girl.
Is this really what people are going to get up-in-arms about? Seriously? I recognize that outfits like Breitbart thrive on this sort of outrage-generation. To the extent that Hollywood cares, this amounts to playing a heel in Hollywood’s own PR production. I don’t happen to think that this is part of some gender-bending plot, but to the extent that it is? This encourages them to do it more, because they can get free publicity and making you look silly in the process.
To be fair, I wasn’t between two and 11 when I watched Ranma. In fact, I may not let my children watch it until they are over 11. The reason being, though, violence primarily (as well as some toplessness, usually coinciding with the humor). It would never occur to me that Ranma would be part of some nefarious plot to undermine gender roles.
(I would add an equal amount of eye-rolling to anyone who looks at this and thinks that it represents some sort of serious and substantive progress. It appears to be a cartoon about a superhero that tries to be funny. Heaven help it if it tries to be messagey, because then it probably will fail pretty spectacularly.)
The math plug-in apparently broke on last update, so I’ve disabled it for the time being.
Sorry for the inconvenience.
Update: Using a new plugin. Should work.
Some counties in Colorado are unhappy with the state’s leadership and are doing something about it:
If all goes well for the denizens of Weld County, Colo., come November, there will be an item on their ballots asking them to vote on a new brewing issue: seceding with eight other Northern counties from the state of Colorado and forming America’s 51st state, Northern Colorado.
Apparently, they’re not bluffing. On Tuesday, Weld County’s commissioners raised the issue quite seriously at a bi-annual meeting of the state’s county commissioners. Sean Conway, one of Weld’s five commissioners, said the idea had first been raised about two to three months ago by a group of concerned citizens. [...]
When the group of voters first approached Conway and his fellow commissioners about seceding, Conway thought they were “a little out there.” But once he looked into it, he said secession began to look like a possibility.
There are between eight and thirteen counties, total, that are looking into this. Eight are listed in the article. If these eight cities formed their own state, it would be the 42nd largest state in terms of area (behind West Virginia, comfortably larger than Maryland). The population, though, would be 51st, with a little less than 3/5ths of the population of Wyoming.
Notably, three quarters of Northern Colorado’s population would be in Weld County, which is in Denver’s MSA.
With regard to the dissident county’s complaints, opinions will vary on their validity. The less interesting thing to me is whether I (or you) agree with Northern Colorado or Colorado proper on issues such as energy exploration and gun control, but the logistics of carving out a state from a state.
Getting the agreement of the seceding counties, the state of Colorado, and congress makes this rather unlikely. Such splits are difficult because it’s rarely the case that both parties are equally fine without one another.
Though not quite the same thing, San Fernando Valley sought to secede from Los Angeles and though their residents voted to make it happen, the city disagreed because, hey, SFV does some heavy lifting with taxes and who wants to let that tax-base go its own way?
What’s interesting about the Colorado case is that you could, theoretically, get both sides to agree to it. Michael Cain has commented that rural counties are a drain on state resources. So if the rural counties wanted to go, it’s not for-certain that the rest of the state would want to stop them. On the other hand, perhaps those states are bringing in NMLA funds that the state wouldn’t want to lose.
The biggest obstacle, other than the fact that this sort of thing just doesn’t happen anymore, is the US Senate. You might have a hard time getting congress to give 330,000 voters two senators and a congressman. There is already some resentment in Wyoming’s directions. On the other hand, Republicans might like it because it’s two free senators, and Democrats might be okay with it because it would probably shift Colorado out of competition.
Of course, there would be another potential solution to this. Northern Colorado is adjacent to Wyoming. If Northern Colorado were to become independent, you’d have two adjacent states with the lowest populations. Put them together, they’d be larger than a handful of states. Problem solved!
Except that Wyoming would have to agree. They have a pretty good deal at the moment, with NMLA funds being generously awarded to its sparse population. Spreading that money out among more people might not be a very appealing idea. It’s also the case that they wouldn’t be adding enough new voters to get a second congressperson. So they’d have mild representative dilution.
So, for a lot of the same reason that the most obvious solution to the Washington DC problem, retrocession to Maryland, wouldn’t work, neither would my Greater Wyoming plan work. More’s the pity.
Of course, it’s almost certain that nothing will come of this. This sort of thing just doesn’t happen. Just like the North/South California split won’t occur, nor the Texas Split.
They would have their own flagship university, however, with the University of Northern Colorado falling in Greeley, which is in Weld County. They wouldn’t, however, have any good postal initials, since NC is taken. They’d have to find a new name. Probably just better to call the whole thing off.
If 33% of STEM grads having to get a career outside of STEM is supposed to be an indication that there’s something wrong with STEM degrees, what do we make of it when half of college grads are working jobs that don’t need a degree?
A doctor in South Portland, Maine, has gone all-market with his services. With posted prices and everything.
The fascinating dispatches of a CIA whisteblower’s experiences in prison.
Australia is experiencing growing work-hour inequality.
If we ever want to get to Mars, we have to figure out a way to fix the radiation problem.
Mysteriously, Detroit’s delapidated old train station got five new windows.
Europe’s youth unemployment numbers are scary.
In investigating why America can’t be Sweden, Thomas Edsall lays down the case that in globalism, we’re sacrificing our poor for our wealthy and the wealthy and poor abroad, and that may just be how it has to be.
Starbucks is going smoke-free, within 25 feet of their locations. Their prerogative, of course. But e-cigarettes? Really?
Russia is joining the ranks of countries with smoking bans.
Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical (Ubuntu Linux) has closed Bug #1, Microsoft’s dominant marketshare of the OS market. Not that Microsoft lost its market position, but Shuttleworth says it no longer matters.
Captain T&T, the superhero of Trinidad and Tobago.
Ben Bernanke has some interesting thoughts on meritocracy.