петак, 04. октобар 2013.

FCC looks to fine TracFone and others $14 million for cheating Lifeline program

The FCC is proposing fines of more than $14.4 million for five companies accused of defrauding the federal Lifeline phone subsidy program. The benefit program helps cover the cost of monthly telephone service for low-income consumers. Federal guidelines permit one subsidized wireless subscription per person, but TracFone Wireless, Icon Telecom, Assist Wireless, Easy Wireless and UTPhone allegedly cheated the system by giving multiple subsidies to "thousands" of individual customers. In a statement (issued just hours before the US government shutdown), acting FCC chairwoman Mignon Clyburn says the practice is illegal, and that the underhanded tactics "divert resources from legitimate users of the program." "It must stop," Clyburn added. Last year the FCC introduced cost-saving measures aimed at cutting back on rampant waste and abuse of the 25-year-old program. Clyburn reiterated those goals in the announcement. "Ultimately, our objective is to eliminate fraud, waste and abuse, while preserving and promoting the availability of communications services to those in need," she said. Some members of Congress insist stronger oversight is necessary, with others arguing that cutting mobile phone service from the program could put a quick end the ballooning costs.

Qualcomm joins Power Matters Alliance, hopes to 'harmonize' competing wireless charging standards

Will we ever be able to simply place a phone on a table and have it automatically charge? It's hard to say, but Qualcomm wants to be a part of that future, no matter which standards body wins the wireless charging war. As of today, the company is part of no fewer than three different competing standards bodies, including the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP) it helped found last year. Two weeks ago, it joined the rival Wireless Power Consortium (WPC), and today it has joined the rival Power Matters Alliance (PMA) as well. The takeaway is pretty much the same as it was two weeks ago: there are still three competing standards bodies, and the fact that Qualcomm has a finger in each pie doesn't mean that the company intends to change that, or even that the company has the power to do so. However, Qualcomm might indeed be able to help unify one important piece of the puzzle. "It is Qualcomm’s belief that the other entities can leverage the work in resonant wireless charging that has been completed by the Alliance for Wireless Power," a representative told The Verge. Two types of wireless charging Qualcomm's expertise in the space is in resonant charging, which works a little bit differently than the inductive charging standards that the WPC's Qi and PMA's Power 2.0 presently use. It works over a slight distance, so you don't need to place a device in a particular spot and orientation on a precisely sized charging pad. At the Power Matters Alliance, the company will co-chair a group (along with Witricity) working on a "dual-mode" specification that lets devices use both inductive and resonant charging, and thus be cross-compatible with either type of charger. "This is the beginning of the healing process," PMA board member Daniel Schreiber told The Verge. If by working behind the scenes at all three groups, Qualcomm could at least unify the resonant part of the equation, it could make compatibility easier in the future. That might be another battle, though. Resonant charging is also under development by a number of disparate companies, including Witricity, PowerbyProxi, and Intel, each of whom pledge allegiance to a different wireless power standards body right now. Each has an incentive to make their own intellectual property crucial to the standard that will win out. While Qualcomm tells us it looks "towards harmonization across wireless power standards," harmony isn't here yet, and companies may continue to hold off on adopting wireless charging until the industry can finalize its specifications and shake out a winner.

Checking email now means breaking the law for many federal workers

The hundreds of thousands of US federal employees furloughed by Congress' failure to appropriate funds for the 2014 fiscal year are legally required to turn off their work phones. If they check their work email they can be fired and may face civil or criminal penalties. Government shutdown procedures vary by agency. Some, like the Committee on House Administration told non-essential personnel that it "strongly recommend that you turn your BlackBerrys off for the duration of the furlough," while others mandate employees to hand in their work-provided cellphones, reports Politico. "We strongly recommend that you turn your BlackBerrys off for the duration of the furlough." Why are agencies so strict about making sure furloughed employees don't do any work during the government shutdown? It all goes back to an obscure law passed in 1884 called the Antideficiency Act. The statute prohibits the government from agreeing to financial commitments using money that it doesn't have. It also bars the US government from accepting voluntary services. The law was originally designed to stop the executive branch from reaching around Congress by making financial contracts without specific approval from the legislature — effectively forcing senators and representatives to provide funds at risk of reneging on agreements. Thankfully the Antideficiency Act provides for the government to accept volunteer services in emergencies that "imminently threaten the safety of human life or the protection of property." Those staff involved in "essential functions" — a term that's been are allowed to work with the promise of future pay once Congress passes an appropriations bill. The Atlantic has much more on the intricacies of the act, but it all leaves one intriguing problem: how do agencies tell furloughed employees when to go back to work? As the White House Office of Management and Budget warns, employees "should not rely on mobile devices or home access to work email for providing notices of when to return to work." It's likely they'll instead need to keep an eye on the news; or wait for a personal phone call, email, or, possibly, a tweet or Facebook update.

Billionaire investor Carl Icahn pushing Tim Cook for a $150 billion buyback of Apple stock

Now that billionaire "activist investor" Carl Icahn has stopped trying to defeat the $25 billion Dell buyout (that finally became official today), he's turning his attention fully to one of the biggest companies in the world: Apple. Last month, Icahn revealed that his firm had made a significant investment in Apple, and today he took to CNBC and Twitter to reiterate his desires for the company to enact a major stock buyback. "Had a cordial dinner with Tim [Cook] last night," Icahn casually tweeted earlier this morning. "We pushed hard for a 150 billion buyback. We decided to continue dialogue in about three weeks." Had a cordial dinner with Tim last night. We pushed hard for a 150 billion buyback. We decided to continue dialogue in about three weeks. — Carl Icahn (@Carl_C_Icahn) October 1, 2013 Icahn went into more details in an interview on CNBC and made it pretty clear that he wasn't planning on leaving Apple alone any time soon. "I can't promise you the stock will go up and I can't promise you they will do the buyback," Icahn said. "But I can promise you that I'm not going away until they hear a lot more from me concerning this." He went on to call his proposed $150 billion stock buyback a "no-brainer" and said that "makes no sense for this company... not to do a major, major buyback." The stock market appears to be responding to Icahn's remarks, just as it did back in August when he first spoke out about Apple — as of this writing, the company's stock price is up 2.35 percent today.

Google updates Chrome with one-click image search, adds new gestures to Android version

Google is bringing some small but useful improvements to Chrome today. First, it's making image search simpler and faster than ever on the desktop. Beginning this week, you'll be able to right-click on any image within Chrome and immediately initiate a Google search for matching or similar photos across the web. Chrome for Android is picking up three new gestures to speed up your mobile browsing. Swiping horizontally across the top toolbar will now quickly jump between your open tabs, and a downward swipe from the toolbar will bring up Chrome's tab switcher view. The last gesture lets users drag down from the menu to open the menu and select an item without needing to lift any fingers away from the display.

Jeff Bezos officially takes over as owner of The Washington Post today

Two months ago, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos surprised the newspaper by announcing he planned to purchase The Washington Post for about $250 million. Now, as of today, the transition is complete — Bezos formally took over as owner today, ending the 80-year reign of the Graham family at one of the nation's most prominent newspapers. Bezos now has his work cut out for him — like much of the newspaper industry, the Post has been losing readers and money for several years. At the time of Bezos' announcement, the Washington Post Company reported an operating loss of $49.3 million in the first six months of 2013, compared to a $33.2 million loss for the same period a year earlier. Despite the difficult financial situation, the employees of the Post appeared energized by their new boss when he met with them in September — particularly when he noted that the paper likely couldn't survive further layoffs. Instead, Bezos plans to provide a "financial cushion" while the paper experiments to try and find a successful strategy. It looks like the arrival of Bezos has investors energized, as well. The Washington Post Company's stock closed the day at $628.54, up 2.8 percent, marking a five-year high. As for Bezos' future in the newspaper business, he told The Verge last week that he wasn't interested in purchasing any additional papers beyond the Post.

Ford CEO Mulally sidesteps rumors that he could become Microsoft's next chief

Alan Mulally is known for turning companies like Ford and Boeing around while at the helm, but while Microsoft may be hoping he can do the same thing again after its CEO Steve Ballmer steps down sometime within the next year, Mulally isn't speaking to the possibility just yet. According to USA Today, Mulally denies that he's already planning on making the jump over to Microsoft from his current position as Ford's CEO. "I love serving Ford and have nothing new to add to [my] plans to continue serving Ford," he tells USA Today. Mulally has reportedly also mentioned that he will stay on at Ford until at least 2014. But Microsoft is apparently considering him nonetheless. Bloomberg is now backing up an earlier report from Reuters, saying that Microsoft's board is looking at Mulally as a potential replacement for Ballmer. The board's considerations are reportedly still very early, however, with a decision far from being made. With Ballmer admitting to Microsoft's struggles in the mobile market, finding a CEO who can change the company's prospects may well be an important one. The company should have plenty of other choices though — including Nokia's outgoing CEO, Stephen Elop — but whoever it chooses will find a company amidst what's likely to be a complicated transition into bundled hardware and services.