National / International News
What Wall Street won't like about what President Barack Obama called "middle-class economics." Plus, chief executives from cities across the country gather in the nation's capital this week, as the U-S conference of Mayors meets in Washington ... amid an economic recovery that is boosting some but not all city budgets. And internet providers say its their equipment, so why shouldn't they be able to offer VIP fast internet to favored business partners? Supporters of network neutrality say all online content should be treated equal. But how the internet works has changed a lot in recent years, and as we find out, regulators aren't sure yet how to handle it.
In his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, the president said the economic recovery was taking hold and it was time to ensure more Americans were sharing in the benefits.
Republicans find Obama galling, in part, because he seems so blithe in defying them. To them, the historical page that is being turned at this moment is the one with Obama's face on it.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors meets this week in Washington to discuss the past and future of urban policy.
But while many urban centers are experiencing economic revitalization, hunger and poverty are also increasing in several major U.S. cities.
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For this year's Super Bowl halftime, while Katy Perry entertains a broadcast TV audience, YouTube will be, for the first time, live streaming its own halftime show starring its video celebrities.
Research shows YouTube stars are hugely influential among teens, and that is translating to billions in advertising revenues.
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It used to be, way back when — say, two years ago — that when you clicked on a Netflix video, it would take a winding journey from a server in one location, through wires owned by any number of companies, until finally it hit your internet service provider. These days, that journey is a whole lot shorter.
“A few feet,” says Richard Bennett, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
More often than not, Netflix just connects a wire from its server to boxes owned by ISPs like Comcast, Verizon or Time Warner. They’re generally in the same building.
This is called interconnection, and it’s how most of our internet traffic gets to us now. It’s more reliable and efficient. Think: less buffering. And, increasingly, content companies like Apple, Google, and, of course, Netflix are paying fees for this service.
This is where things get controversial.
“In America, where these very few ISPs have so much market power that they can extract payments, it's just like the mob,” says Susan Crawford, who co-directs Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. "Just say, 'you’re not going to reach our subscribers unless you pay us.'”
The Federal Communications Commission is getting more complaints about these deals. And, now, it has to decide what — if anything — to do about them. It’s not sure whether interconnection should be part of net neutrality regulations expected next month, tackled separately later on, or left alone completely.
That’s what many ISPs would like.
“We all get the services we want,” says Matthew Brill, a partner at Latham & Watkins who represents many big ISPs. “There’s a real danger that if government gets in the middle of those relationships, it will distort things in a way that ends up very harmful for consumers.”
But what if Netflix videos are basically unwatchable unless Netflix pays an ISP for a direct connection. Is that fair?
“Comcast could say, well, you’re using a third of our traffic, and we could say, well, we’re providing a third of the value your subscribers are getting, so you should pay us instead,” says Ken Florance, Netflix’s vice president of content delivery.
What Netflix really wants is to pay nothing. It will be up to the FCC or Congress to decide whether they have a role in these disputes.
There’s a new DIY robotics toolkit in town, and you don’t need to know anything about electronics or programming to use it. HandiMate, developed by researchers from Purdue and Indiana universities, lets children (or anyone else) build robots with cardboard, velcro, and other cheap, easily available materials. They can even control it wirelessly through hand gestures while wearing a glove that acts as a controller. And, according to Kylie Peppler, one of the researchers and an assistant professor at Indiana University, it’s also “gender neutral.”
“It can be whatever color you want it to be,” says Peppler. The idea is to use the kit to teach children concepts in a way that's fun and engaging. The play — the process of building the robot — lasts about 90 minutes, and in that time students use engineering principles that are typically taught in college.
Since the toolkit uses recyclable materials like cardboard, Peppler says it’s cost-effective and accessible for schools across the board.
She thinks the DIY approach is a great way to get kids to think on their own and innovate. During the research, for instance, they found that children often improvised with the kit to make their robots different — Like the 11-year-old who wanted to build one with legs, or the 14-year-old who wanted to mount his robot on a car.
“A more playful approach to learning gets us to redesign and rethink,” she says.