A little less than two decades ago, in a bid to stoke competition and create more choices for consumers, Congress rewrote the law that governed telephone and cable TV communication. It was a difficult, bipartisan, multi-year effort as we weighed the advice of policy experts, listened to competitors’ concerns and looked for the best way to serve consumers. That focus and a lot of hard work created a landmark accomplishment that stimulated competition and consumer choice in the local telephone, long-distance and cable television markets.
In classic Beltway fashion, the government has introduced a bill to pick winners and losers in the marketplace with a name implying the exact opposite. The Marketplace Fairness Act, introduced by Senators Michael Enzi (R–Wyo.), Dick Durbin (D–Ill.) and Lamar Alexander (R–Tenn.), would force online stores to collect sales taxes on behalf of other states, regardless of the web company’s physical location.
Under current law, states can only collect taxes from businesses that have a physical presence in the state. Buyers are supposed to track their own purchases and pay a “use tax” to their state at the end of the year. However, states rarely enforce payment of the tax, since most buyers don’t even know about this requirement.
Representatives of some of world’s most respected human rights and humanitarian organizations are gathering in London today to launch the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. “We’re serious,” says the tagline of their Twitter feed, anticipating potential disbelief.
Indeed, a future of proliferating autonomous armed robots able to chase down, select and fire on human beings is closer to reality than we might like to think.
This week Verizon released the 2013 Data Breach Investigations Report, its sixth comprehensive annual report of the state of cybersecurity. The DBIR adds important factual information to the increasingly public debate over the consumer privacy, national security and economic issues around cyber crime and how to prevent it.
Apple appears to be a company in crisis as the stock closed at $392.05 Thursday, down a whopping 44% from its lofty heights in late September 2012. The only people happy about this move are the short sellers who are having a field day. Many have forgotten how fickle consumers can be about technology and brand loyalty is incredibly difficult to sustain. Michael Dell can attest to that.
There have been ominous signs of trouble for some time now though. Leap Wireless and their Cricket brand made a huge gamble with their purchasing commitment for $900 million of iPhones but consumer demand has been soft for the iPhone 5 and the company is likely to lose millions. Consumers have simply decided that the differences between their iPhone 4S and a newer model are rather insignificant or that better deals are to be had with the popular Samsung Galaxy line, which reached a milestone of 100 million units sold by the end of last year.
So where did it all go wrong for a cash-rich company with so many Apple converts worldwide? A recent apology by Apple CEO, Tim Cook, to China, was indicative of Apple’s recent frustration with slowing sales and perhaps missed opportunities in the most rapidly expanding nation. Business penetration has been extremely lacking, which is quite surprising given the superiority of their server technologies. Moreover, in terms of security, the iPhone is arguable superior to just about any Android smartphone and the latest encryption technologies found on Macs can stand up to just about any computer.
In case you've been in a cave for a while, there is a fair amount of (not unreasonable) anxiety these days about rules of the road for cyberspace. Controversial topics include: privacy for electronic records, location tagging of devices, tracking Internet history for online advertising, mining of "big data" for all sorts of business, government and research purposes, perpetuating "too much information" on social media, remote computing and storage in "the Cloud," transferring personal data across international borders, hacking for all sorts of nefarious purposes, denial of service attacks against major financial institutions, monitoring communications for law enforcement and national security, and commanding cybersecurity protections for critical networks and company secrets. And all of that before we even have ubiquitous deployment of powerful facial recognition technology, omnipresent domestic drones, pervasive online gambling, powerful computing eyewear, and of course the next new thing.
In the past few years, broadband providers have begun shifting toward tiered service plans (sometimes known as usage-based pricing) that offer customers a fixed amount of data each month for a fee. On average, less than 2 percent of users exceed the most commonly-used tier of 300 GB; nearly 80% of consumers never exceed even 50 GB per month.
Nevertheless, some critics such as Public Knowledge and the New America Foundation are concerned that this trend may bring higher prices and reduced service. Most recently, NAF analyst Benjamin Lennett asked whether tiered service plans are a plot by cable companies to eliminate Internet-based competitors such as Netflix, which alone generates one-third of all North American download traffic.
The Internet has given anyone with the power of an idea the opportunity to launch a small business that can reach customers from coast to coast – driving growth, creating jobs, and empowering small business owners. Consumers have reaped the benefits of greater choice, lower prices, and more convenience.
But where some see progress, tax collectors see opportunity.
Officials in cash-strapped states across the country are looking for new ways to plug budget holes – and they’re asking Washington for help. They see online businesses as an irresistible source of new tax revenue – and they want to cross state lines to get it.
For several years, the prevailing narrative across the country is that our nation’s Capital has gone from bad to impossible, with each side willing to cut off its nose to spite the other’s face. But after spending time recently with congressional leaders and the president, the tech sector sees reason for cautious optimism that progress is possible. In our discussions last week, there were encouraging signs that both parties recognize the magnitude of the challenges facing the country and are willing to take the first tentative steps toward solutions that advance our national interest.
It’s often said that success has a thousand parents, but that failure is an orphan. But in today’s strange political climate, it seems failure also has plenty of paternity.
The political right wants to ape European-style fiscal austerity to cure our national debt – a policy that has been disastrous in Europe – while some on the very far left want to adopt the European Union’s (EU) policies on the broadband Internet. And while both are wrong, the dangers of the EU broadband Internet approach are slightly less obvious.