Tagged: Europe

Uncle Sugar continues to fall behind in affordable broadband

30up-broadband-master675

America’s slow and expensive Internet is more than just an annoyance for people trying to watch “Happy Gilmore” on Netflix. Largely a consequence of monopoly providers, the sluggish service could have long-term economic consequences for American competitiveness.

Downloading a high-definition movie takes about seven seconds in Seoul, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Zurich, Bucharest and Paris, and people pay as little as $30 a month for that connection. In Los Angeles, New York and Washington, downloading the same movie takes 1.4 minutes for people with the fastest Internet available, and they pay $300 a month for the privilege, according to The Cost of Connectivity, a report published Thursday by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute.

The report compares Internet access in big American cities with access in Europe and Asia. Some surprising smaller American cities — Chattanooga, Tenn.; Kansas City (in both Kansas and Missouri); Lafayette, La.; and Bristol, Va. — tied for speed with the biggest cities abroad. In each, the high-speed Internet provider is not one of the big cable or phone companies that provide Internet to most of the United States, but a city-run network or start-up service.

The reason the United States lags many countries in both speed and affordability, according to people who study the issue, has nothing to do with technology. Instead, it is an economic policy problem — the lack of competition in the broadband industry…

For relatively high-speed Internet at 25 megabits per second, 75 percent of homes have one option at most, according to the Federal Communications Commission — usually Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T or Verizon. It’s an issue anyone who has shopped for Internet knows well, and it is even worse for people who live in rural areas. It matters not just for entertainment; an Internet connection is necessary for people to find and perform jobs, and to do new things in areas like medicine and education.

In many parts of Europe, the government tries to foster competition by requiring that the companies that own the pipes carrying broadband to people’s homes lease space in their pipes to rival companies. (That policy is based on the work of Jean Tirole, who won the Nobel Prize in economics this month in part for his work on regulation and communications networks.)

In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission in 2002 reclassified high-speed Internet access as an information service, which is unregulated, rather than as telecommunications, which is regulated. Its hope was that Internet providers would compete with one another to provide the best networks. That didn’t happen. The result has been that they have mostly stayed out of one another’s markets.

Unforeseen consequences is often the excuse offered by the corporate pimps in government. Whether getting direct kickbacks – “campaign donations” – or being obedient little trolls while awaiting the promised job opening in private industry, ain’t much to be gained by working on behalf of us ordinary working folks.

New America’s ranking of cities by average speed for broadband priced between $35 and $50 a month, the top three cities, Seoul, Hong Kong and Paris, offered speeds 10 times faster than the United States cities. In my neck of the prairie I have the choice of two of the national ISP’s. One gets me 26mbps download max for $75 all in. Their “competitor” charges about half that amount – for 7mbps.

Competition American style.

Thanks, Mike

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UBS urges investors to join the renewables revolution


Click to enlargeVillage of Eitting near Munich, Germany

Big power stations in Europe could be redundant within 10-20 years as electric cars, cheaper batteries and new solar technologies transform the way electricity is generated, stored and distributed, say analysts at the world’s largest private bank.

In a briefing paper sent to clients and investors this week, the Zurich-based UBS bank argues that large-scale, centralised power stations will soon become extinct because they are too big and inflexible, and are “not relevant” for future electricity generation. Instead, the authors expect it to be cheaper and more efficient for households and businesses to generate their own energy to power their cars and to store any surplus energy in their own buildings even without subsidies.

In language more closely associated with green NGOs, the bank with assets of more than $1.5tn says it expects a paradigm shift away from large-scale conventional power plants. “Power is no longer something that is exclusively produced by huge, centralised units owned by large utilities. By 2025, everybody will be able to produce and store power. And it will be green and cost competitive, ie, not more expensive or even cheaper than buying power from utilities,” say the authors, who urge their financial clients to “join the revolution.”

“Solar is at the edge of being a competitive power generation technology. The biggest drawback has been its intermittency. This is where batteries and electric vehicles (EVs) come into play. Battery costs have declined rapidly, and we expect a further decline of more than 50% by 2020. By then, a mass [produced] electric vehicle will have almost the same price as a combustion engine car. But it will save up to $2600 a year on fuel cost, hence, it will begin to pay off almost immediately without any meaningful upfront ‘investment’. This is why we expect a rapidly growing penetration with EVs, in particular in countries with high fossil fuel prices.”

The expected 50% reduction in the cost of batteries by 2020 will not just spur electric car sales, but could also lead to exponential growth in demand for stationary batteries to store excess power in buildings, says UBS. “Battery storage should become financially attractive for family homes when combined with a solar system and an electric vehicle. As a consequence, we expect transformational changes in the utility and auto sectors,” it says. “By 2020 investing in a home solar system with a 20-year life span, plus some small-scale home battery technology and an electric car, will pay for itself in six to eight years for the average consumer in Germany, Italy, Spain, and much of the rest of Europe…”

By 2025, falling battery and solar costs will make electric vehicles cheaper than conventional cars in most European markets. “As a conservative 2025 scenario, we think about 10% of new car registrations in Europe will be EVs. Households and businesses who invest in a combined electric car, solar array and battery storage should be able to pay the investment back within six to eight years,” UBS says. “In other words, based on a 20-year technical life of a solar system, a German buyer should receive 12 years of electricity for free.”

But the bank does not expect power companies or the grid to disappear: UBS says they have a future if they develop smart grids which manage electricity demand more efficiently and provide decentralised back-up power generation.

But, hey, your SUV is running OK. Cousin Ernie’s Chevy pickup truck does everything it should do. If our public utilities need to be modernized – well, that’s what we have state legislatures and regulatory commissions to take care of. Right?

Leading Americans in the direction of renewable, cheaper, cleaner sources of electricity is probably as unnecessary as eventually converting the Affordable Care Act to a single payer system. This all may save money and improve our quality of life; but, isn’t it all a little too foreign for Americans to adopt?

ReWalk exoskeleton gets FDA approval for home use

Following multiple clinical studies, the Food and Drug Administration has cleared the way for the ReWalk to be sold for personal use in the US. This makes the ReWalk the first motorized exoskeleton designed for people with lower body paralysis due to spinal cord injury to be cleared for personal use in the US.

ReWalk consists of a wearable brace support worn outside clothing, a computer-based control system and motion sensors to enable paraplegics to sit, stand, walk and even climb stairs with a little motorized help. Until now, the ReWalk technology has only been available in the US at rehabilitation clinics in the form of the ReWalk Rehabilitation system. This version is designed specifically for use in a clinical rehabilitation environment and as such can be adapted to fit users of different sizes and weights.

The ReWalk Personal System, on the other hand, is customized to suit a specific user and is designed for daily use in a range of environments, including outdoors and on a variety of surfaces and terrains. It was first cleared for personal use in the UK in 2012 and has been available there and throughout Europe since that time. Now those in the US have the chance to take home their own ReWalk with the FDA issuing a marketing clearance for the device.

For a change, we’re only 2 years behind other Western nations in providing a revolutionary prosthesis.

We live in a technological era when the combinations of engineering materials and miniaturized, powerful computer processors open doorways for amazing numbers of the disabled. Now, we just need the social and political advancement to bring our nation up to match the capabilities of our scientists and technologists.

China planning a high-speed rail network to link Asia/Europe


The world’s fastest trains ready to roll — Click to enlarge

China is in negotiations to build a high-speed rail network to India and Europe that would make a trip from London to Beijing last just two days.

The network would begin in London and extend to India, Pakistan and Beijing. It could eventually carry passengers from on to Singapore, a trip that would last three days, according to project consultant Wang Mengshu, as reported in the Telegraph (UK).

A second line would extend from Beijing northward, through Russia to Germany, linking with the European railway system.

A third line would extend southward, connecting Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) and Malaysia…

“We are aiming for the trains to run almost as fast as aeroplanes,” said Mr Wang. “The best case scenario is that the three networks will be completed in a decade,” he added.

According to the Telegraph report, China is in negotiations with 17 nations for the massive project, which would effectively open the Central, East and Southeast Asia to Europe (and vice-versa).

In a way, it’s the Silk Road 2.0: the rail lines would allow China to transport raw materials more directly and efficiently.

According to the report, the system wasn’t China’s idea — it was the other nations, such as India. But it took Chinese know-how and tech to get it done.

China is in the midst of completing a $735.6 billion, five-year domestic railway expansion project consisting of almost 19,000 miles of new railways.

The nation unveiled the world’s fastest train, the Harmony Express, last year. The train has a top speed of almost 250 miles per hour, and will be used between the cities of Wuhan and Guangzhou.

High speed rail isn’t unique, nowadays. Except, of course, if a system was built in the United States. We’d rather wrestle with concrete highways especially as we let them fall apart from lack of maintenance.

We should be able to count on Republicans and Blue Dog Dems to stand around next to the last crumbling interchange and bridge complex and take credit for all the money they’ve saved taxpayers over the years. While food prices triple and our stature in the world of manufacturing moves to last place.

Logistics? Who cares in the GOUSA besides UPS?

Thanks, Mike

Netherlands #1 for plentiful, nutritious, healthy and affordable food

The Netherlands is No. 1 in the world for having the most plentiful, nutritious, healthy and affordable diet, beating France and Switzerland into second place. Chad is last in 125th spot behind Ethiopia and Angola, according to a new food database by worldwide development organization Oxfam.

European countries occupy the entire top 20 bar one – Australia ties in 8th place – while the US, Japan, New Zealand, Brazil and Canada all fall outside. African countries occupy the bottom 30 places in the table except for four – Laos, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India are there too.

Oxfam’s “Good Enough to Eat” index [.pdf] compares 125 countries where full data is available to create a snapshot of the different challenges people face in getting food. Oxfam’s GROW campaign is calling for urgent reform to the way food is produced and distributed around the world to end the scandal of one in eight people going hungry despite there being enough to feed everyone. The new index looks at whether people have enough to eat, food quality, affordability, and dietary health…

The countries whose citizens struggle for enough food, with the worst rates of malnourishment and underweight children, are Burundi, Yemen, Madagascar and India. On the other side of the table, Cambodia and Burundi are countries that score better by having among the lowest levels of obesity and diabetes in the world, while US, Mexico, Fiji, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia score most poorly with high rates of obesity and diabetes.

Iceland scores a perfect mark for the quality of its food, in terms of nutritional diversity and safe water. Iceland’s obesity and diabetes levels push it down the table, to 13th spot. Similarly, unhealthy eating pushes the US down to 21st place.

Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said: “This index lays bare the common concerns that people have with food regardless of where they come from. It reveals how the world is failing to ensure that everyone is able to eat healthily, despite there being enough to go around.”

“Poverty and inequality are the real drivers of hunger. Hunger happens where governance is poor, distribution weak, when markets fail, and when people don’t have enough money and resources to buy all the goods and services they need,” she said. “Having sufficient healthy and affordable food is not something that much of the world enjoys.”

RTFA for a snapshot of the report and a modicum of detail. Go on to the .pdf report in depth on 125 countries.

The first thing that jumps out at me is the unity between a sound diet and exercise. The pairing that makes extra sense for health in the Netherlands – and probably the opposite for Iceland in my meager experience. A lot of exercise in Iceland is the same as Scotland, e.g. elbow-bending.

Fact remains, this sort of knowledge helps any of us at the individual level. You won’t be doing yourself any harm by comparing your own lifestyle with the models appropriate to the nations doing well. Especially if you fit the failed model of nations like the US.

Congress and the White House keep Huawei out of the USA – so, now, they’re adding 5,500 jobs in Europe

Chinese telecommunications equipment maker Huawei plans to create 5,500 jobs in Europe within five years as the company expands its services in the region, state-owned newspaper China Daily said on Saturday.

Huawei, the world’s second largest maker of telecoms communication equipment, is to offer information technology solutions to European businesses, Patrick Zhang, president of marketing and solutions at Huawei Enterprise Business Group, told the newspaper…

Zhang said Europe offered more growth potential than the United States, where a congressional report last year found the company posed a security threat and essentially blocked it from the market.

Our expansion progress in Europe is different from that in the U.S., where we have encountered access difficulties due to some groundless reasons given by the American side,” Zhang said.

Huawei representatives said last week that the company expected to have its revenues expand by 10 percent annually over the next five years, thanks largely to consumer devices and enterprise services.

Isn’t there something your grandma said about cutting off your nose to spite your face?

Europeans have had beefs with Huawei in the past over prices – the usual excuse when you’re not competitive. However, their corporations and governments have no problems using Huawei communications systems, products – aiding Huawei on their path towards number 1 in that market in the world.

Uncle Sugar and the Cold Warriors in Congress and the White House think they will somehow protect investments in out-of-date and uncompetitive designs from American companies by blocking foreign competition. And the United States may as well drop the fear of eavesdropping ploy about foreign governments. There’s one area where we definitely lead the world.

The beer fridge that only Canadians can open

molson-passport-fridge

A fridge full of free beer sounds like a great thing to find sitting on a street corner, but what if you needed a Canadian to open it? That was the puzzle posed by the Rethink advertising agency on behalf of Canada’s Molson brewery. This northern spring, Rethink set up red fridges at various locations around Europe that would only open if a Canadian passport was inserted.

The fridges were set up in Canterbury, London, the White Cliffs of Dover, Cassel in northern France, Brussels, and somewhere in rural Belgium. Along with bottles of Molson beer, the fridge had a plexiglass holder with a spring-loaded catch. Inserting a passport told a computer to capture an image of the passport with a modified webcam. It read the image and if it matched the crest on a Canadian passport, it released the latch on the fridge.

While the stunt was part of an advertising campaign, we’re sure a few traveling Canadians also made some new friends as result of the promotion. That is, provided they were carrying their passports with them when called upon.

Promotional effort on behalf of vacationing hosers, eh?

Best place to be born in 2013 — Switzerland

Switzerland is the best country for a baby to be born in 2013, according to a new study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, which is based on both subjective and objective quality of life factors.

The variables include life expectancy, gender equality, political freedoms, and even climate, but because the study looks at where “to be born” not “where to live,” some of the factors look at what life will be like in those countries in 2030, when children born in 2013 reach adulthood.

Rounding out the top 10 are:

2. Australia
3. Norway
4. Sweden
5. Denmark
6. Singapore
7. New Zealand
8. Netherlands
9. Canada
10. Hong Kong

The report authors write:

Being rich helps more than anything else, but it is not all that counts; things like crime, trust in public institutions and the health of family life matter too. In all, the index takes 11 statistically significant indicators into account.

The United States didn’t crack the top 10 this year, because American “babies will inherit the large debts of the boomer generation,” the researchers write. Could have included mediocre education, crumbling infrastructure in that same sentence.

In the 1988 survey, the United States came in first, followed closely by mostly European countries and several high-performing Asian ones, such as South Korea and Japan…

Now, Japan and South Korea rank 25 and 19, respectively, perhaps because their economies have become more troubled in recent years.

Europe has also slipped in the rankings because the ongoing euro-zone crisis there has caused severe unemployment and “eroded both family and community life,” the authors write…Germany has dropped to 16 – a tie with the United States.

Disagree with the list? The full methodology can be found here.

The Economist is a magazine grounded in conservative economics. That’s conservative in the traditional sense, rather like the term used to be in the United States before today’s Republican Party started their outreach policy for governance by homophobes, religious nutballs, various and sundry bigots.

So, the list will be accused of being part of a mythic liberal conspiracy – regardless of credentials.

Widespread distrust of US extends beyond Middle East — even our closest ally thinks we are a bully!


Think this only showed on US television?

American influence on the world stage is being sapped by widespread distrust of US intentions, not just in the Middle East and south Asia but also among traditional European allies, according to a survey of global opinions.

Suspicion of America outweighed faith in its good intentions by large margins in the Arab world and Pakistan, and even its heavyweight European ally Germany was more sceptical than trusting, a YouGov survey found. British and French opinion was more positive but still deeply divided.

Negative Arab and Pakistani perceptions of America as overweening and untrustworthy clearly pose a daunting foreign policy challenge for the Obama administration. The fact that 78% of Pakistanis questioned by YouGov said they did not trust America to act responsibly underlines Washington’s serious lack of soft power in the region as it attempts to extricate itself from Afghanistan.

Attitudes towards the US in the Arab world were nearly as negative. Those respondents in the Middle East and north Africa who said they trusted America were outnumbered by more than two to one by those who said they did not, and 39% said they did not trust America at all.

Perhaps just as worrying for Washington is the lukewarm support among western European allies. More Germans questioned in the YouGov survey voiced misgivings than trust in the US. Perhaps surprisingly, in view of past wariness, French opinion was somewhat warmer: just over half of the French poll respondents trusted America, against 40% who did not.

The so-called special relationship between the US and Britain emerged from the survey as distinctly lopsided. There was widespread American affection for its close ally, but the sentiment was only partly requited, reflecting deep British ambivalence about America’s powerful role in world affairs…

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Europe’s newest tallest building, The Shard, unveiled in London


Click on photo to enlarge

Europe’s tallest building has been officially unveiled in central London.

The Shard’s tapered design and glass panelling have already made the skyscraper one of the capital’s most noticeable landmarks…Just yards from the banks of the River Thames in Southwark, it seems to pierce the sky as it shoots more than 1,000ft into the air.

The tower, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, has 72 floors which can be occupied, and will contain offices, exclusive residences, a luxury hotel, restaurants and a viewing gallery.

There are a further 15 levels which make up the “spire” – six of which have the potential to be used, with the other nine exposed to the elements.

The 1,016ft skyscraper was inaugurated by the prime minister of Qatar, Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani, and the Duke of York, Prince Andrew.

Can’t help myself. I love beautiful modern architecture. If I has anywhere near London I would be there in an instant to take the Cook’s Tour of the tower.