This week, the US Senate passed a bill making the unlocking of personal cellular devices legal. This bill does not include any conditions that would allow for bulk unlocking, or the ability for someone else to unlock your personal device for you. This language, which was making passing the bill nearly impossible, was included in the House version of the bill, but removed to get it passed through the Senate. Once the bills are identical, it will be sent to the President.
These bills come after the expiration of an exemption to the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which allowed for unlocking of personal devices, expired in 2013, making the practice illegal once again. By passing this as a law, as opposed to the odd Library of Congress exemption that was granted before, we do not have to worry about it expiring in the future.
The important question here is how will this affect the lives of wireless phone owners? Well, the short answer is, for most people it will matter very little. Here's why; the exemption and now the law are targeted to allow people to take their existing phone and change carriers with it. Unfortunately, that isn't entirely the way the industry works, mostly because of the way spectrum is handled in the US.
Let's take, for example, the
Samsung Galaxy S5, offered by most major carriers. The phones for all carriers are nearly identical, with one glaring difference: the spectrum on which they run. The CDMA version, offered by Verizon and Sprint, shares almost no bands with the GSM version, offered by AT&T and T-Mobile. This means that if you wanted to switch from AT&T to Verizon, you still could not keep your phone, no matter how much you complain to the carrier or Congress.
Now, this is not to say there is zero benefit to handset unlocking. If you are a Sprint customer and want to switch to Verizon, this bill would allow you to unlock the handset and accomplish that goal. It would not, however, allow you to transfer to AT&T or T-Mobile. So, while it does not eliminate the handset silos, it does shrink the quantity for a dozen or so to about 2. This, theoretically, increases your options, but not by as much as it might seem.
Sprint has allowed transferring of handsets to and from their subsidiaries several times in the past, never with much interest. They have even offered the ability to take your handset to compatible carriers
dating back to 2007. This option was also never really used, bringing us back to the question of why. It would appear that this is either a bill created to make people feel good about a Congress that has accomplished very little in the public's eyes, or a bill created by a group of people who didn't take the time to research it before bowing to the public pressures of other people who don't understand what they are asking for.
Either way, if this bill does become law, it will change very little for the general population. It will, however, make the lives of those who like to alter their devices significantly easier.
If you didn't catch the memo from earlier in the week, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella laid out a plan to
cut 18,000 jobs from the corporation. Most of the layoffs, of which is the largest in tech history, will be from the Nokia merger. However, not specifically listed in the note was the purge that will unfortunately be coming out of the Xbox Entertainment Studio.
Microsoft's venture into original programming is coming to an end in a weird kind of way. Santa Monica's Xbox Entertainment Studios will be closed, with 200 employees likely to be finding new lines of work. From our understanding it is being said that there are no "new" projects being started up. The
Halo, Quantum Break and Atari projects will all remain intact and will be completed.
There is no word yet on former CBS exec and head of XES Nancy Tellum's status. And, the only thing we had in writing from Nadella was kind of dancing around the Xbox commitment.
The single biggest digital life category, measured in both time and money spent, in a mobile-first world is gaming. We are fortunate to have Xbox in our family to go after this opportunity with unique and bold innovation. Microsoft will continue to vigorously innovate and delight gamers with Xbox.
Luckily, Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft Studios and Xbox, sent out an official statement, confirming the closure of the studio, the retention of the current projects and the future of the Xbox brand.
As part of the planned reduction to our overall workforce announced today and in light of our organization's mission, we plan to streamline a handful of portfolio and engineering development efforts across Xbox. One such plan is that, in the coming months, we expect to close Xbox Entertainment Studios. I would like to take this opportunity to recognize the accomplishments from the entire team in XES. They have built an impressive slate of original programming and pioneered interactive entertainment on Xbox, such as the innovative reality series 'Every Street United' that succeeded in uniting audiences around the globe during the recent World Cup. I am pleased that Nancy, Jordan and members of the XES team remain committed to new, original programming already in production like the upcoming documentary series 'Signal to Noise' whose first installment takes on the rise and fall of gaming icon Atari and of course, the upcoming game franchise series 'Halo: Nightfall,' and the 'Halo' Television series which will continue as planned with 343 Industries. Xbox will continue to support and deliver interactive sports content like 'NFL on Xbox,' and we will continue to enhance our entertainment offering on console by innovating the TV experience through the monthly console updates. Additionally, our app partnerships with world-class content providers bringing entertainment, sports and TV content to Xbox customers around the world are not impacted by this organizational change in any way and remain an important component of our Xbox strategy.
In the end, it comes down to Xbox really being great at putting out a platform in which media can be contained and consumed, but it made less sense for them to develop original programming for the platform. So Spencer aligns with Nadella's vision on remaining committed to the Xbox brand as a whole, while agreeing that perhaps its own TV studio might not be the best fit. Microsoft execs understand that having internal hardware is a great idea, and especially a console that still remains the center of all entertainment in a family's living room.
We hope for the best for the laid off employees and are still really looking forward to the handful of endeavors that will still come out of the now defunct Xbox Entertainment Studios.
Combining data sources to produce interesting results has become a popular trend in software lately. It is a great way to experiment with development without having to create your own data. There have been lots of mobile apps created, some by talented developers and others by hacks, that take advantage of other people's data to produce unique results.
One such example is the
@parliamentedits Twitter bot. This account monitors anonymous edits to Wikipedia that originate within the British Parliament's IP addresses. The system was created using the popular IFTTT platform for reacting to data. Based on this idea, another developer, Ed Summers, has created a full platform for monitoring IP addresses and posting their results.
The Twitter account is
@congressedits, and this bot does almost the same thing, only by monitoring US Congressional IP addresses. Since Congress's IP range is significantly alrger than that of Parliament, this meant that IFTTT was not possible. Summers posted on his own blog,
The simplicity of combining Wikipedia and Twitter in this way immediately struck me as a potentially useful transparency tool. So using my experience on a previous side project (Wikistream, a Web application that watches Wikipedia editing activity), I quickly put together a short program that listens to all major language Wikipedias for anonymous edits from Congressional IP address ranges… and tweets them.
While nothing career-ending has happened as of yet, there are a couple of interesting changes. For example, one page had the political affiliation changed. Another changed the term "corporate lawyer" to "attorney." Both of these are, most likely, about public opinion. Another edit, however, seems to be a Congressional staffer with a love for both grammar and terrible movies, making a
fairly benign edit to the page for the film Step Up 3D.
Whether or not this will ever turn up any scandals, it has certainly inspired many others to produce similar projects. Based on his code, which he posted on GitHub, there are now accounts for Australia, Germany, Berlin specifically and many others. If you are interested in following the odd edits from Congress, or want to create your own watcher, head to the source link and join the fun.