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CISPA and protecting your personal online freedom

During the SOPA / PIPA debacle, Internet denizens came out in droves to beat the bills back and protect our collective online rights. We, as in the Internet at large, said that the battle was won but the war would continue. The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act is the latest attempt at an affront to your online freedom.

CISPA hits the senate floor for voting in early June having already passed the US House of Representatives. If passed by the Senate, the last hope to get CISPA sent back to the proverbial drawing board would be a White House veto.

If passed, CISPA would provide broad authority to government organizations to collect and pass information between agencies. “Cyber threat information,” as the bill puts it. Ostensibly, CISPA is intended as a response to cyber security threats from hackers, terrorists or criminals. CISPA would give broad allowances for government agencies to pass our private information and communications between themselves. Currently, doing so leaves said agencies open to lawsuits from private citizens. Perhaps more disturbing, it allows (or could force) private organizations to pass information to government agencies under the same provisions.

The language in CISPA is in some cases so vague that it would be too easy to put to ill use. The powers afforded are too broad and would allow the government and private corporations like Facebook, Google et. al. to pass private information freely, with impunity. All under the guise of protecting against a “cyber threat.” The language explaining what exactly constitutes a cyber threat is also too broadly and loosely defined (see page 15 of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act) and potentially sacrifices too many of our personal freedoms.

Our issues with CISPA are many. As concerned Internet citizens, we worry about what it would mean for personal online privacy—both yours and our own. As an Internet company that takes your privacy very (very) seriously, we worry about our ability to protect your online privacy, for our part, will be severely compromised.

If you feel, as we do, that CISPA is an ill conceived and too loosely defined a bill, please make your voices heard.

At Tucows and Ting, we feel that the Internet—whether accessed on your computer, on your smartphone or via any other vehicle—is vitally important. CISPA is a very serious threat to the freedom and privacy we take for granted online.

4G, LTE and Ting: What is 4G LTE and How Does it Affect Ting?

What is 4G LTEThe Ting / Sprint 4G LTE network upgrade will begin rolling out in earnest in mid-2012. Starting with Baltimore, Kansas City, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. Currently, Sprint (and hence, Ting) offers 4G running on the WiMAX standard radiating outward from major centers across the US. To see if your area is covered, check out the Ting coverage map. Check the Data box, enter your city and state and hit Map It. Darker orange areas are covered with 4G WiMAX.

What is 4G LTE and How Does it Affect Ting?

4G and LTE network rollouts can be a confusing topic. Especially when some carriers seem to use the two terms as one (“America’s Largest 4G LTE Network,” for example) or even interchangeably. We’ll try to break it down…

What is 4G?

4G is the fourth generation of mobile communications. In cellular’s relatively short time at the fore, we’ve gone through several distinct generations starting with 0G, 1G, 2G, 3G and now (you might see a pattern developing), comes 4G. Things have gotten a little more confused with some carriers claiming 2.5G, 3.5G and other non-standard standards under the larger whole.

In short, all “4G” is not LTE… but all LTE is considered 4G.

What is LTE?

LTE stands for Long Term Evolution. At its core, LTE is a much faster mobile data technology with speed approaching or even besting your home DSL or cable connection. That’s only part of the story though.

LTE’s biggest mission, as the name suggests, is to provide room for mobile to continue to grow and evolve over, you guessed it, the long term. Long term in mobile really means about a decade.

LTE can service as many as 10 times the number of users on a node so if all the equipment on a cell tower is upgraded to LTE and all phones connecting to it are LTE, 10 times as many people can use the tower without issue. It’s a more efficient use of the mobile spectrum. That’s good.

When will Ting offer LTE?

As an MVNO using the nationwide Sprint network, Ting will offer LTE alongside and in the same places as Sprint. That means the cities mentioned off the top of this post (Baltimore, Kansas City, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio) will be first, receiving LTE capability mid this year. Next, as Sprint rolls out the LTE network to other major city centers, Ting will be able to offer LTE in those locations at the as well.

We have several LTE devices including datasticks, mobile hotspots and some pretty spiffy smartphones in-bound to coincide with the launch of the LTE network. More news as we’re able to share it.

What about WiMAX?

WiMAX is a 4G standard that gave early adopters much faster 4G data speeds. The Sprint (and hence Ting) WiMAX 4G network is pretty robust and radiates out from major city centers. Sprint brass aren’t planning any further roll-outs of WiMAX beyond 2012 though the support team has expressed they will continue to maintain and look after the WiMAX 4G network “for the next several years.” Gizmodo has an interesting and enlightening post on Sprint’s WiMAX and LTE plans moving forward.

Rest assured that 4G smartphones and data sticks / hotspots that run on the faster 4G network will continue to work as expected. While Sprint has stopped adding new 4G WiMAX cell tower equipment, it will continue to maintain and support the network. Where 4G WiMAX is unavailable, devices step down to the near ubiquitous 3G network with its up to 3.1 Mbps peak and 600 Kbps to 1.4 Mbps download speeds. In other words, even if the 4G WiMAX network were decommissioned entirely, 4G WiMAX devices would continue to work as 3G devices.

We’ll keep you posted as LTE developments allow. We’ll update the Ting blog and help.ting.com as more information becomes available. You can also catch us on Facebook and on Twitter as TingFTW.

EDIT: We’re offering regular device updates here on the Ting blog. Previously, we didn’t want to talk about our device lineup efforts before they bore fruit for fear of disappointing you. We’ve since realized that wasn’t very Ting of us. Please take these device update posts for what they are: an update on our efforts to get the latest and greatest devices. Not a set in stone device roadmap. With that said, please do take a look if you’d like to know what we’re working on on the device front.

Google Play Updates and Bug Fixes

Google Play logoIt wasn’t long ago that Google rebadged the Android Market as Google Play, without much fanfare and with some user confusion.

Since this update and rebadge hit, you may have noticed some little bugs that weren’t quite ironed out before the Google Play Android app was released into the wild. Stuff like apps getting stuck in an update cycle and other assorted (though small scale) weirdness.

In addition to bug fixes, version 3.5.15 of the Google Play app brings a new tab where you can see every app you’ve downloaded. In the All tab you can also check to see if you have the latest versions for all your apps and can re-download any apps you’ve uninstalled.

Another welcome addition is the improved user reviews where, in addition to other tweaks, you can see the type of device the reviewer is using. You can also filter reviews by your device type to get an accurate idea of how an app will perform on your hardware.

You can manually install the Google Play update to 3.5.15 by following the link from DroidLife. Otherwise, sit tight and await the over the air update which is rolling out now.

Check which version of Google Play you’re currently running by opening the app, tapping the Menu key and choosing Settings. At the bottom of the settings screen, you’ll see your “Build version.”

Understanding Mobile Phone Taxes and Regulatory Fees

Taxes and regulatory fees on your mobile phone plan have the mark of government all over them. That is to say they’re a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.

Cell phone regulatory fees vary from state to state, from county to county and in some cases, city to city. These taxes and regulatory fees are nigh on impossible to predict. It’s frustrating for you and it’s frustrating for us too.

Understanding Mobile Phone Taxes and Regulatory FeesFirst, let’s be as clear as possible on what taxes and regulatory fees you’ll pay with Ting. To quote the sign in a little shawarma shop near Ting HQ; we don’t charge tax, we collect it. Ting only collects what we are legally required to collect… and what we’re required to collect varies widely depending on a number of factors. Things like state, county and city factor in. So does overall usage. 911 access charges vary widely. Some states charge Telecommunication Relay Service (TRS) fees, some charge Public Utility Commission (PUC) fees. Some charge neither. Some both.

Contrary to the industry norm, Ting does not charge any recovery or administrative fees. We figure these taxes and fees are already high and complicated enough.

Current data on cell phone service taxes and fees is inexplicably hard to come by. The latest data is in KSE Partners LLP’s A Growing Burden: Taxes and Fees on Wireless Service, compiled by Scott Mackey.

The national weighted average tax burden is about 16.25 per cent. For ease of calculation, tack that much onto your usage estimates. To get a more accurate idea of what you’ll pay, take a look at the exhaustive tables that Mackey has compiled, detailing all the taxes and fees charged by each state, broken down by county where appropriate, in the Taxes and Fees on Wireless Service study.

The top-five most heavily taxed states for mobile service are:
(combined federal and state)

  • Nebraska at 23.69%
  • Washington at 23.00%
  • New York at 22.83%
  • Florida at 21.62%
  • Illinois at 20.90%

The five least heavily taxed states are:
(combined federal and state)

  • West Virginia at 11.28%
  • Montana at 11.08%
  • Idaho at 7.25%
  • Nevada at 7.13%
  • Oregon at 6.86%

To see where your state / municipality falls in the grand scheme of taxes and regulatory fees, see the list on Table 2 in A Growing Burden: Taxes and Fees on Wireless Service.

For a more detailed breakdown of each of the fees, levies, taxes, charges and other synonyms too numerous to mention, wade through table four of said document.

We’re sorry the answer isn’t simpler or more definitive, but we will keep trying (here and on everything else) to give you as much visibility as we can so your payments are as clear and predictable as possible.

50GB of Free Cloud Storage for Android Users from Box.com

Box logoBox recently announced that anyone downloading the Box Android app before Friday, March 23 2012 will get 50GB of free cloud storage in their account. This is not an introductory offer; the 50GB stays for the lifetime of the account.

This offer is open to both new and existing Box users. Even if you already have the Android app installed on your phone, grabbing the update will automatically bump you up to a generous 50GB of free cloud storage.

50GB of storage in a Personal level Box account would normally cost $19.99/mo.. However, you’re still stuck with the 100MB maximum file upload size. In short, you might be hard-pressed to put those 50 gigs to good use.

Still, it might be worth trying to talk your Dropbox-using friends and colleagues into making the switch.