Telecoms are evolving.

The other day I said that telecom companies weren’t going away anytime soon. And here to corroborate my point of view is CNET with an item about Verizon and Qwest letting customers drop local phone service without losing DSL service. Qwest has seen the number of DSL subscribers rise as a result. While local phone service is extremely profitable, increasing in usage of things like cell phone service means that other services are becoming larger parts of the total revenue.

Go ahead. Share.

The Boston Globe has an article about how illegal downloading actually increased sales for a Boston-based band. Jim Infantino of Jim’s Big Ego says that giving music away under a Creative Commons license hasn’t hurt their sales. According to the article, their latest release “They’re Everywhere” has already dramatically outsold any of their previous releases. Their license allows the public to copy, distribute, perform, and sample from the songs as long as it isn’t for commercial purposes, the author is given credit, and any derivative works are distributed under an identical license.

Sorry. Gas prices are too low.

Courtesy of Marginal Revolution comes a pointer to the fact that Minnesota’s Commerce Department is fining gas stations for selling gas too cheaply. According to state law, gas stations cannot sell gas without taking a minimum profit, about eight cents per gallon at this time. Murphy Oil apparently broke the law at its ten stations, all of which are located in Wal-Mart stores.

It isn’t clear from the article why the magic number is eight cents, but it seems unreasonable to treat gasoline any different than any other product in this situation. Stores use products like milk, bread, and eggs as loss leaders to bring people into the store. Why not gasoline?

Telecoms aren’t dead yet.

Slashdot refers to a piece by Robert X. Cringely about how Linux and cheap wireless access points combine to form a disruptive technology that wil eventually eliminate telecom companies’ control of the market by making everyone an ISP, capable of providing Voice over IP (VoIP) service.

Now VoIP is certainly a disruptive technology for its ability to potentially eliminate long distance toll charges. However, we are all accustomed to instant dialtone, stable service, and general capacity of the phone network. Local and long distance are called “Regulated Services” because they are regulated by the FCC, with penalties if the service levels are not met. I’ve been an internet user for far too many years, yet none of my providers have ever guaranteed my service. Those services are called “Unregulated Services” meaning that there is no guaranteed quality of service. I don’t know about you, but if someone I know is having a heart attack and I call 911, I’d hate to have my service provider tell me their network is down.

Also, you still need that broadband connection, which isn’t available everywhere, but if you have one then there is a good chance you’re paying that same telecom company $40+ dollars every month for that service, still unregulated. Telecom companies aren’t stupid either, and companies like BellSouth have diversified so that a good deal of their revenue comes for things like entertaiment. They will certainly be offering VoIP as well.

It’s great that technologies like VoIP and even Skype can save me some money, but I wouldn’t count the telecoms out yet. And I would certainly be pushing somebody to think about ensuring some quality of service requirements on these technologies that my life may soon depend on.

The way the music died.

Frontline on PBS is airing a show called The Way the Music Died online on May 29, 2004. In it David Crosby talks bluntly about how the music industry has changed. He says:

“When it all started, record companies — and there were many of them, and this was a good thing — were run by people who loved records, people like Ahmet Ertegun, who ran Atlantic Records, who were record collectors. They got in it because they loved music.

The internet is a quiet place.

Search engines today search primarily text, and ignore rich media like audio and video. So National Public Radio (NPR) has a plan to convert their broadcasts into text so that it can be searched. Unfortunately the current language detection technology is only about 80% accurate, but this will still allow a functional search of the audio content. NPR also labels their audio file with a great deal of relevant metadata.

I wouder if it would be possible to index phonemes in audio in the same way that words are indexed in text. A text to speech engine could render the search text as a string of phonemes and the search engine could compare the strings. This should also work for multiple languages. This is similar to the concept of Latent Semantic Indexing where the relationships between different words is mathematically developed to allow searching later. That technology is essentially language independent. Could audio indexing work the same way, with phonemes being grouped into words?

They’re only in it for the money.

Slashdot has an item about a Microsoft executive who sas that Linux is a waste of money and that governments adopting open-source software will damage their own economies.

Chris Sharp, who used to work for Red Hat, also said of companies such as Red Hat and IBM, “They are not for the greater good of the community; they are also after the money.” He didn’t specify Microsoft’s goals.

Now this is piracy.

Since the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) can’t really afford to sue all of the people it would like to, Senators Lamar Alexander (TN) Orrin Hatch (KY), and Charles Schumer (NY) are co-sponsoring a bill to authorize the Attorney General to spend your tax dollars to sue citizens to protect civil copyright.

Better still is the fact that, as Jessica Litman, a law professor at Wayne State University, points out in this article, the principle of double jeopardy does not apply. This means that an individual sued by the Justice Department can also be sued by the RIAA for the same offence.

Basically this amounts to the Attorney General using tax dollars to act as the legal arm of the RIAA, and there isn’t a lot you can do about it. Now that really sounds like piracy.