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While I was out: iPhone jailbreaking legalized, BlackBerry carries a Torch, Verizon and Google talk net neutrality

I've had a busy three weeks away from the office, but that didn't stop me from trying to keep up with tech news. (My failure to unplug from e-mail and the Web would be one indication that I was not on vacation, along with the disrupted sleep patterns, the change in the contents of our trash can and a lack of travel to anywhere interesting. Speaking of which, our daughter says thanks for giving me some quality time with her.)

So, here are my quick takes on a few of the bigger tech developments of the last few weeks:

iPhone jailbreaking: On July 26, Librarian of Congress James A. Billington released this year's list of exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's "anti-circumvention provisions." This yearly exercise hasn't yielded much in the past, but this time around Billington considerably expanded your freedom to use gadgets that you buy. He legalized using software to unlock a phone and install compatible software not allowed by the phone's manufacturer -- in other words, nobody can take you to court for jailbreaking your iPhone.


Billington's ruling came only a few days before the arrival of a site called JailbreakMe, which exploited a vulnerability in Apple's iOS (now patched) to defeat the iPhone's app-installation controls. I tried that site on a review iPhone 4 last night and found it remarkably simple: Within a few minutes, without a restart, the phone had a shortcut on its desktop to the Cydia unauthorized-app store.

Other highlights of Billington's July 26 announcement: It's now legal to decrypt DVDs to copy short video clips for criticism or commentary purposes, unlock usage-restricted e-books to make them accessible to people with impaired vision, and defeat plug-in "dongles" that limit your use of commercial software when nobody makes or services those gadgets anymore.

For further consideration: How many DMCA exemptions will it take before we all realize that it's a mistake to have such a sweeping ban on certain kinds of technology in the first place?

BlackBerry's new phone, software and controversy: On Aug. 3, Research in Motion unveiled its overdue answer to the iPhone and Android, the new BlackBerry Torch 9800, last week. This device, available only from AT&T in the U.S., combines a slide-out physical keyboard with RIM's new BlackBerry 6 operating system.

The Torch and the handful of older phones that will support an upgrade to BlackBerry 6 (which RIM identifies as the Bold 9650 and 9700 and the Pearl 3G) gain a much better Web browser, improved social-network integration and upgraded media playback. But RIM's App World program catalog remains a weak competitor to Apple's App Store and Google's Android Market.

Here's where I'd like to hear from those of you who have picked up Torches since they went on sale Aug. 12: How are you liking the phone and its new software? How would you rank it next to the iPhone and Android?

RIM has also been in the news lately after the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and a few other countries announced or considered plans to block its messaging service. They object to the encrypted nature of BlackBerry e-mail, which prevents them from monitoring the content of messages for security threats ... as defined by each government.

RIM may offer some sort of backdoor access to those countries, but it would be wiser to learn from history first. As the United States realized in the 1990s, it's useless to try to ban encryption on the open Internet.

Verizon and Google's net-neutrality proposal: Back in D.C., the debate over "network neutrality" -- the issue of whether the government should ban Internet providers from favoring or impeding some legal Internet uses -- took an interesting turn when Verizon and Google released a joint statement on the topic Aug. 9.

The two companies' proposal would allow the Federal Communications Commission to enforce net-neutrality rules on wired Internet services -- excluding a loosely-defined category of "additional online services" -- but would rule out such oversight on wireless broadband.

That is a loophole big enough to dispatch a fleet of Verizon Wireless trucks through: Wireless broadband is the only real hope for fast access in many parts of the country. That helps explain why Google lobbied hard and successfully to impose net-neutrality requirements on the blocks of wireless spectrum freed up by the digital-TV transition -- one of which Verizon Wireless bought and will soon offer 4G service on.

Google can defend this proposal all it wants, but it's hard to escape the thought that Verizon got the Mountain View, Calif., Web firm to negotiate against itself.

It's true that wireless networks do have capacity issues more severe than those of wired networks. But that's why most network-neutrality plans, including those the FCC has been working on since last year, allow providers to implement traffic restrictions that don't target particular sites, applications or services.

There are reasonable odds that I'll address this issue in Sunday's column. So here's your chance to inform that writing: Use the comments to make your best case for or against the Google-Verizon proposal -- or for your own solution or this issue.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  August 16, 2010; 11:45 AM ET
Categories:  Gadgets , Mobile , Policy and politics , Telecom  
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Thanks for the pictures......that's a million dollar smile on Laura's face.

Posted by: tbva | August 16, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Despite Google’s attempt last Thursday to more fully explain its joint proposal with Verizon, the priorities and beliefs of both companies that this is merely a “policy proposal—not a business deal” are off-base. What Google and Verizon are proposing can simply be explained as a pure business deal—one that makes sense from their perspective, but is rather short-sighted given the many advances in the social Web that now give consumers almost all of the control when it comes to the type of content they access, when and how fast they access that content and from what services and providers it is delivered.

We cannot simply turn back the clock on the Internet and magically rebuild a system whereby some websites, broadband access and types of content are given artificial priority over others.

The Web has morphed into an ecosystem where most consumers and businesses already give priority (often without acknowledging doing so) to great content easily found via other avenues outside of Google or even one ISP or broadband provider. Ultimately, the social Web will win — no matter how the pipes are controlled — and consumers will continue to have the upper hand in dictating which types of content they access and from where.

Jon Goldman

Posted by: JonGoldman | August 16, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

What would net neutrality do to Apple's ability to block the Flash player and to choose which apps can run on the iPhone?

Posted by: tomtildrum | August 16, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and using "RIM" and "backdoor access" in the same sentence seems a little naughty...


Posted by: tomtildrum | August 16, 2010 1:17 PM | Report abuse

What would net neutrality do to Apple's ability to block the Flash player and to choose which apps can run on the iPhone?

Posted by: tomtildrum
Nothing. What does software have to do with net neutrality? What do devices have to do with the network for that matter? Flash content on the iphone has nothing to do with net neutrality because the content is not being blocked on the NETWORK!

It is the software that is blocked on the device! The principle does not require that every device be capable of handling all content (including software) on the net.

Posted by: prokaryote | August 16, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

If you want a pro-Google/Verizon argument, look no further than your colleague Pearlstein. Personally I think he demonstrates complete ignorance of the technical realities of the situation.

Posted by: slar | August 16, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

Hey Rob,

How come your RSS feed keeps serving up stuff that is from weeks to 10 months OLD?

I've gotten stuff from Faster Forward (this week and last) that is dated as far back as 11/23/2009. If I delete the stuff--like "the cat"--it just comes back.

Not appreciated, I can tell you that!

Posted by: henwin | August 16, 2010 9:08 PM | Report abuse

What about iPhone's proximity sensor sucking?

Posted by: BO_____Stinks | August 17, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Maybe Al Gore didn't invent the internet by himself, but DARPA sure had a large hand in it through government taxpayer funding. Why should access to the internet commons be turned over to private oligopolists to operate as they please when it is owned by the public? Besides, we have a 650 year history of regulating common carrier access obligations, going back to medieval England (1500 years if you count Justinian law). Just as we strive to protect private property rights, we should also protect public property rights.

Posted by: BuddyK | August 17, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

As a corollary to BuddyK, back before Al Gore invented the Internet, it was a collection of peer-to-peer hosts exchanging data freely amongst themselves.

Now the carriers want to turn it into a one-way pipe to shove advertising and more of the same mediocre programming "content" to consumers that they have perfected on television. No, thanks.

Posted by: BoteMan | August 18, 2010 12:22 PM | Report abuse

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