Take reports of Montana’s terrible broadband speeds with a grain of salt

Some news outlets have reported this week that Montana’s Internet access speeds are the worst in the country and that this could leave our rural areas “economically crippled.” While I do not dispute the fact that we have some slow Internet access statewide, I would like to remind everyone to take such pronouncements with all due consideration.

The speed news comes from November 2010 data published by Speed Matters where Speed Matters says, in bold red type, that Montana ranks last in the country in Internet speeds. Its data shows that Montana’s median download speed is 0.4 mbps and that our average is 1.2 mbps — they also note that the FCC defines “broadband” as at least 4 mbps down and 1 mbps up.

Let’s be clear about one thing. If you go to the Speed Matters website and visit the interactive map of Montana’s speed test results, you’ll see that the website lists how many tests were conducted in each county.

The majority of Montana’s speed data comes from counties where fewer than two dozen people have taken the Speed Matters test. Continue reading “Take reports of Montana’s terrible broadband speeds with a grain of salt”

Privacy advocates want the “right to be forgotten”

The Technology Review reports that there is a growing movement, especially among European legislators, calling for some sort of “Internet erase button,” a way to permanently and completely remove any bit of information from the Web.

MIT's Technology ReviewSupporters argue that such a method for removing information from the Web would be useful in the cases where youngsters post things they later regret or where people have willingly submitted information to websites and want to revoke their permission to publish that information.

On its face, the notion is absurd. How on earth can you stop the free dissemination of information across the Internet? That is what the Internet was designed for: resiliency. It was designed to be mirrored and backed up and distributed so that no one threat (of whatever kind) could harm the whole of the data.

It looks like the methods for creating such an Internet erase button would involve tracking software on websites that users would have to opt-in to. Then, the information’s spread could be tracked and the data could be, with some effort, deleted.

There are all sorts of arguments against this, including the idea that the erase button would stifle the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press worldwide. Technology Review author David Zax settles himself squarely on the fence, saying that “Maybe we don’t need to forgo the pen entirely in favor of the pencil—but in some cases, at least, we ought to be able to choose which tool we’re writing with.”

Increased regulation and more numerous rules come with the “civilization” of any frontier, and the Web is no different. The fact that people could support this idea is more evidence that the Web is no longer a new, unexplored, unfathomed thing. It is settled, populated and now needs governance.

That doesn’t mean I have to like it, but we’re going to see more and more of these sorts of plans emerge in the coming years — see the entire net neutrality debate for another example. When there is real money to be made somewhere and when that somewhere is open to the multitudes, there will be calls for regulation.

I don’t like this idea. I’m a fan of the free and unfettered spread of information and the idea that our notions of “privacy” need to evolve. That doesn’t mean that my opinion will stop anything, but it does mean that I’ll be looking to light out for the next new frontier soon. I’m just waiting to see what it will be.

Government mistrust hampering reverse 911 efforts in Ravalli County

Map of Montana highlighting Ravalli County
Image via Wikipedia

The good people of Ravalli County don’t much like “Big Brother,” which could be a problem should a widespread emergency strike the area.

The county’s emergency management people are trying to get residents to sign up for a reverse-911 system that would sent alerts to cell phones in the case of an emergency.

The Associated Press reports that only about 250 out of the county’s 40,000 residents have signed up for the program, which county officials say could save lives and property.

County dispatchers say that residents refuse to give their numbers because they are concerned about receiving marketing calls and because they are worried about “government intervention,” the AP reports.

The reverse 911 system has a particular urgency since many people are moving away from land lines to cell phones. A Ravalli County official told the AP that 80 percent of the 911 calls it receives are from cell phones.

Yes, we are giving away an iPad 2

Ipad 220 wideIf you read my other blog, you already know that the Bozeman Daily Chronicle is deep into a competition with its sister papers in the Pioneer Newspapers chain. The goal: gain as many fans on Facebook as possible by the middle of April.

In the spirit of that contest, we have decided to give away an iPad 2 to one of our fans on Facebook.

All the details are available on our Facebook fan page. You have to become a fan in order to enter the contest, but that’s not really such a hardship, is it?

More importantly, this contest has forced us to innovate on Facebook. We got by for more than a year on simply posting links to stories and the occasional extra photo and video. People seemed to like it — about 2,000 people anyhow.

But that was no reason to keep things the same. Facebook is a pretty robust platform for developing customapplications, and we have decided to try it out.  So, in addition to our regular Facebook content, you will soon see:

  • Obituary listings pulled straight from the company that hosts them for us (already live on the page)
  • TV listings (already live on the page)
  • Contests and giveaways (such as the aforementioned iPad giveaway)
  • Content directly from our website

The last one is the one I’m particularly excited about. We developed a new template for our website that, when applied to pages we create in our CMS, allows us to easily embed them onto Facebook as iframes. That means that, soon, you’ll be able to get things like headlines and even live updates of MSU games right on Facebook.

I think it’s pretty cool, and I hope you do too.

Oh, I should probably mention something else we’re working on that you’ll be seeing soon: Android and iPhone apps. Stay tuned for details on that topic.

Tester appeals to FCC chairman on behalf of rural broadband

Jon Tester
Jon Tester, U.S. Senator from Montana
Image via Wikipedia

Montana Sen. Jon Tester has sent a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, asking that plans for encouraging broadband growth in America do not harm programs that are already in place specifically to help rural areas. He is concerned primarily with the Universal Service Fund, which the Montana Democrat says has “a long history of successful investments in rural telephone systems.” The FCC’s proposed broadband plan would phase out portions of the USF.

Below is the letter Tester sent to Genachowski:

The Honorable Julius Genachowski
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20554

Dear Chairman Genachowski:

We write to you regarding the FCC’s current efforts to reform the Universal Service Fund and intercarrier compensation system. We support modernizing these programs, including making them more accountable and broadband-focused to meet the goal of providing affordable and comparable communications service to all Americans. However, we also encourage the development of a support mechanism framework that does not jeopardize current or hamper future private sector and federal lending program investment.

Over the last three decades, communications carriers in rural areas have invested millions of dollars in communications networks supported not only by universal service, but also by private investment and federal telecommunications and broadband loan programs. As part of the ongoing reform effort, the FCC now proposes a number of new program restraints, benchmarks and formulas intended to make universal service more efficient and implement a new intercarrier compensation system. Telecommunication providers will be expected to adapt and manage their investments and businesses to those new standards and rules. Consequently, we believe these reform proposals must strike a balance to protect the investments that have already occurred and the need to overhaul the programs.

We believe strongly robust broadband networks will lead to increased adoption, job creation and economic opportunity. However, as the regulatory reform effort moves forward, we must also ensure new rules and regulations do not have unintended consequences and hamper our investment in our rural communities. Thus, we request that you seriously consider these concerns.

We look forward to working with you to address these matters.