WhatsApp down on New Year’s Eve; some users still facing service outage

WhatsApp down on New Year’s Eve; some users still facing service outage

Facebook said some users were still facing issues while accessing its messaging service. “We appear to be having issues again,” a WhatsApp spokesman told Reuters. The company had earlier said it had completely restored the service.

WhatsApp, however, did not provide any details on what led to the outage, which began shortly after 4.30 p.m. UK time on New Year’s Eve. WhatsApp had said it was working to fully restore service, but the company hadn’t revealed the reason of the outage.  There is no word on how and when it started. Whatsapp, owned by Facebook has about 900 million global users.

Last year at roughly the same time, WhatsApp users sent out a total of 54 billion messages on New Year’s day as seen from the tweet below.

The outage was known only once people started complaining on Twitter and Facebook. It was later confirmed by sites such as Down Detector. However, all users weren’t affected. Now, New Year’s Eve isn’t a good time to face such an outage.

Mark Zuckerberg reveals 2016 plans for AI butler

Mark Zuckerberg reveals 2016 plans for AI butler

Mark Zuckerberg wants to build an artificially intelligent assistant in 2016 to help run his home and assist him at work, the Facebook founder and chief executive said.

Zuckerberg, who commits to a new personal challenge every year, revealed his plan in a Facebook post.

“You can think of it kind of like Jarvis in Iron Man,” Zuckerberg wrote, referring to an artificially intelligent butler who appears in the Marvel comic books and movies.

Zuckerberg will start the project by exploring existing technology, he wrote. He will then begin teaching the technology to understand his voice so that it will learn to control everything in his home, such as music, lights and temperature.

His plans also include teaching the assistant to let friends into his home by looking at their faces when they ring the doorbell, Zuckerberg wrote. The assistant will visualize data to support Zuckerberg at work, he wrote.

“This should be a fun intellectual challenge to code this for myself,” Zuckerberg wrote. “I’m looking forward to sharing what I learn over the course of the year.”

Other challenges Zuckerberg has taken on in recent years have included reading two books every month and learning Mandarin.

He also mentioned Internet.org that has faced a lot of criticism for violating net neutrality. “At Facebook I spend a lot of time working with engineers to build new things. Some of the most rewarding work involves getting deep into the details of technical projects. I do this with Internet.org when we discuss the physics of building solar-powered planes and satellites to beam down internet access,” he wrote.

Yahoo must face class action over text messages

Yahoo must face class action over text messages: US judge

Yahoo Inc was ordered by a Chicago federal judge on Monday to face a class action lawsuit accusing the Internet company of sending unsolicited text messages to Sprint Corp cellphone users in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. U.S. District Judge Manish Shah said the users could sue as a group over messages sent in March 2013 because their claims had enough in common.

Shah rejected Yahoo’s arguments that a class action could subject it to damages that were disproportionate to the alleged harm, promote “piecemeal” litigation covering other time periods and phone carriers, and thwart Congress’ desire that claims be brought individually in small claims court. More than 500,000 cellphone users could be part of the class, court papers show. The plaintiffs accused Yahoo of sending them automated “welcome” messages when other users sent them separate messages via the Yahoo Messenger service. They said the welcome messages constituted unauthorized advertising for Yahoo services, violating the federal TCPA and subjecting the Sunnyvale, California-based company to damages of up to $1,500 per message if the violations were willful.

The case was brought by Rachel Johnson, an Illinois resident who claimed to receive a welcome message from Yahoo after being sent a spam text message from another user advertising a means to reduce high-cost debt. Shah declined to certify a separate class of T-Mobile US Inc cellphone users for welcome messages sent in April 2014. He said the proposed plaintiff in that part of the case had consented to receiving welcome messages.

Yahoo did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Keith Keogh, a lawyer for Johnson, said: “We appreciate the court’s thorough analysis.”

The case is Johnson et al v. Yahoo Inc, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Nos. 14-02028, 14-02753.

Nandan Nilekani’s formula is wrong; the state must stay clear of offering internet sops

Free Basics: Nandan Nilekani’s formula is wrong; the state must stay clear of offering internet sops

In all the hoopla over Free Basics, the consumer’s wish-list has already been pre-ordained by self-proclaimed saviours of the internet. Why? Because, currently, about a quarter of India’s population is estimated to have access to internet and the number is set to grow by leaps and bounds in the coming years and decades. Everyone, of course, wants a share of the pie and has huge stakes involved.

Thankfully, much has changed since April last year. Then, it was more or less a one-sided debate on net neutrality with Flipkart and Airtel forced to abort their zero-rating plans. This time, Facebook is at least putting up a fight. It has published advertisements, asked people to give missed calls, send in letters to TRAI informing it of their opinion.

Zuckerberg himself has reached out by penning a piece for an influential daily. True, those clamouring for Zuckerberg’s head may have legitimate concerns and fears. What was the need to change the name from Internet.Org to Free Basics? Why did Facebook change its privacy terms now and not then? Why is Facebook not giving free data instead? Why does it still have the option to reject websites and apps to be available on its platform unless they meet its terms and conditions? What is in it for Facebook to become altruistic and provide access to internet to millions? Why does Facebook not want to explore other alternatives?

There may be much to be cynical about Facebook and its ambition, but then it is a corporation whose sole motive, in all probability, is profit making.

But then what do we expect from the current discourse?

That such a complex issue has been broken down for the majority by a bunch of comedians and musicians is nothing but ridiculous. That most of us are sharing these videos is even more comical. That policymakers in Delhi could be influenced by such means is dangerous and worrying.

That such an important debate remained one-sided for so long says more about us than about those who are preaching us morality and teaching us economics. In their own language, all of us just got roasted.

It is hardly surprising then, that someone as respected as Nandan Nilekani has proposed analternative to the Free Basics plan in the form of a government-backed Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT) scheme for consumers.

He feels the government should offer a free data pack of 120MB annually by linking people’s SIM cards to their Aadhaar numbers. While it is true that the government may be able to afford the scheme, the larger question is why involve the government at all when private entrepreneurs are willing to do it themselves?

Someone needs to urgently remind Nilekani of the telecom revolution in India, which was brought about by private companies and not by the government. The fact that about 800 million people in India own a mobile phone with one of the lowest calling rates in the world is a testimony to what entrepreneurs can do, provided the government provides a competitive, balanced and a stable ecosystem.

Of course, issues such as call drops or internet speeds do bother us on a daily basis. And these problems exist primarily because of the limited spectrum that the government offers up for auction and the fact that we haven’t further opened up the sector to greater competition. Our demands should revolve around this and not on more government intervention.

Nilekani accuses Free Basics of “going against the spirit of openness of Internet in the guise of being pro-poor”.

Free Basics, first, is an option and not a compulsion on any consumer.

Second, there is no threat, at least for now, that it will block, throttle or create fast/slow lanes. If and when there are competition issues, any individual or a company is free to approach the Competition Commission. Nilekani is, in fact, undermining the role of CCI, which has full authority to decide on any anti-trust issues. But, to not allow any legitimate business model to operate just because we fear consumer interests “might” be harmed, is doing a great disservice to the consumer himself.

Nilekani further asks the government to enact laws protecting Net Neutrality. Fortunately, he stops short of pushing for a Constitutional amendment to include the Right to Internet as a Fundamental Right.

Nilekani is behaving like a true soldier of the Congress. In all seriousness, the Internet is dynamic and constantly changing. Nobody, least of all the regulators, can foresee what business models or circumstances might come up in the future, and such laws may only end up harming those it seeks to protect, namely, the consumers. History is a decent source of information where restrictions and regulations have only been detrimental to the industry at large.

Nilekani, himself an immensely successful entrepreneur and now one of the top angel investors in start-ups, should allow the market to play its role. There are choices that consumers may make that can surprise each and everyone. And consumers will have more choices at their disposal through the market and not through the government.

This objective of “equal and open” Internet should be replaced by a policy whose sole aim is consumer welfare. And such zero-rating or differentiated pricing plans, as long as they are not anti-competitive, deserve a chance.

But we have been bought out and brought down by so much fear that it has become fashionable, noble and even patriotic to stand up against Facebook.

Of course Zuckerberg is no saint, and is behaving just as any pragmatic businessman would. He is doing it for his own company and not for his love of India. As long as its competitive and legally contractual, Facebook will only help connect low-income consumers to internet, even if it does end up making substantial money.

But we have bowed down to online activism, which has allowed us to overestimate what Facebook can do, and underestimate what our own domestic start-ups/companies can do. That Facebook will be able to capture the entire market without any stiff competition is undermining our own entrepreneurial capabilities and strength.

So, in essence, you do not trust the private industry because you feel they will divide and fragment the Internet only for their pursuit of profit.

You do not trust credible institutions (CCI) because you feel it may not be able to prevent the creation of a monopoly on Internet services.

You do not trust the consumer because you feel he/she may be duped by various commercial interests.

You do not trust domestic entrepreneurs or start ups because how can you compete with a global giant? Your only hope is the government which may come out with another set of restrictive rules that limits competition and retards innovation. This is nothing but populism at its worst.

But then, in a country where majority of its politicians, administrators and even voters are either on the left or the right of Mao, it is exactly the kind of direction our debates around policies would take. And in that respect, it is not difficult to pick who the winner will be in this debate.

Mark Zuckerberg and Mahesh Murthy both of you are wrong

Mark Zuckerberg and Mahesh Murthy both of you are wrong

The problem with the current debate on Free Basics of Facebook and net neutrality is that its contours are determined by biased parties. The challenge in this is that it curtails the discussion to issues which matter to the biased parties leaving the big picture and impact out. Each one has an axe to grind and they do not represent the will or choice of the people.

Let’s understand the contours or the parameters first, Mark Zuckerberg founder of Facebook wants to be the gatekeeper for internet. He has realized the potential that India has with its vast population offers. While, others see a digital have and have nots, he sees an opportunity. A opportunity to bring millions of Indian online in an interesting manner. His ambition is not limited to just adding numbers for Facebook, he wants to create an ecosystem of internet partners by offering them free to internet users. It’s not a new strategy, when valuation are derived from users and not revenues its best to get them on board even if you have to pay for their access. Bhatia of Hotmail.com used it well in the late 90’s by offering free emails to Indians and boosting his valuation several fold. It shows Zuckerberg’s ambition.

So Facebook’s Free Basics allows telecom operators to give free access to Facebook and its partners, a conditional access. Thatcreates precedence for differential charging of data for specific websites. Creating an access barriers for startups.

This is being argued by venture capitalist Mr Mahesh Murthy as against the tenets of net neutrality a concept that says the access for the internet should be the same for all.  The argument isTelecom Service Providers should not be allowed to have differential pricing for data usage for accessing different websites, applications or platforms.

Murthy says, “I’m a net neutrality activist …. we are a small group, working unpaid, taking breaks from our regular jobs, and we’ve always been happy to tell you anything at all you wanted to know.” As a venture capitalist investing he is also very interested in keeping a level playing field between a startup and a Facebook. So the lobby against Facebook is made up of Indian and foreign internet players, who either don’t have enough cash to burn for giving free access or do not want to do it.

So it’s become a Facebook versus all the other internet players in India. The arbiter, referee and the regulator here is Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, a telecom regulator as free access is provided by telecom operator. TRAI in its infinite wisdom has issued a consultative paper and list of questions for citizens.

In regulatory speak the paper outlines the issue which would be impossible for a common man to understand. As not only is it written in legalese but it uses terms that only the internet industry understands. The questions that it has asked citizens to answer look like they have been drafted by a committee and cannot be understood.

For instance, to explain, where the TRAI derives its power, read this sample of explanation. “Non-discrimination” as defined in Clause 2(k) of the TTO is that service provider shall not, in the matter of application of tariffs, discriminate between subscribers of the same class and such classification of subscriber shall not be arbitrary. Clause 10 of the TTO provides that no service provider shall, in any manner, discriminate between subscribers of the same class and such classification of subscribers shall not be arbitrary. The provisions of TTO (33rd Amendment) inter alia provides that whenever differential tariffs are offered, it shall be the responsibility of the operators to define in a transparent and unambiguous manner, the eligibility criteria for availing such differential tariff. The Authority would consider such criteria to assess their consistency with the provisions of TTO relating to the non-arbitrary classification of subscribers.”

This section says that tariffs including zero tariffs cannot discriminate and if they do then TRAI has the power to step in to correct. But it loses readers in the first sentence itself.

Therefore, the survey by TRAI has got nixed with Facebook submitting its own version of citizen data. The most important question that TRAI asked was this :  Is there any other issue that should be considered in the present consultation on differential pricing for data services?

This is the question which captures the enormity of this debate and takes the issue beyond the biases. While the proponents of ‘Open Internet’ believe that the internet should be non-discriminatory and all websites should get the same access.

This is not the reality today, Internet has to be seen like any other large media platform and it needs its own regulation and control. When companies like Facebook that run a walled garden on the Internet talks about ‘Open Internet’ it is funny. Or when a payment site or e-commerce site or micro-blogging site uses the tenets of ‘Open Internet’ its not even funny it is ridiculous, hypocritical and insults the intelligence of this country.

Trolls, abuses, pornography, ISIS, terrorists, and a distracted generation is what has come out from following the ‘ Open Internet’ policy.

The most important first, neuroscientists have shown that the digital generation is a distracted one. Due to the millions of distractions there capability to focus and function is getting reduced. Does Digital India, that promises free wifi wants to create a digitally distracted generation.

One that is addicted to video feeds, likes, shopping and pornography. Will the government of any country able to forgive itself if in the name of Free Internet, Free Wifi it creates a generation like this.

Therefore the answer to the question that TRAI has asked about differential pricing is yes. For content that is of value, useful and appropriate for the coming generation should be charge differently. Other content can be commercially charged.

Net neutrality does not mean that all kinds of apps, platforms or websites should have the same access rights when the government is offering free internet. We have a case study for it Doordarshan gives a free Dish does it allows all kind of content. NO.

Mr. Zuckerberg and Mahesh Murthy have to revise their definition of open Internet and Net neutrality to take into account the future of internet access.

Nandan Nilekani believes India can come up with better free internet schemes

Free Basics: Nandan Nilekani believes India can come up with better free internet schemes

As of now there are those who hate the idea of Facebook’s Free Basics and those who do stand for it. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is fed up of the comments as well. It recently asked all those who were supporting Facebook’s Free Basics to be specific and not go with set template that social network has been automating for its users to support its initiative. But now there seems to be other ideas emanating from the whole Free Basics discussion.

Nandan Nilekani, Indian entrepreneur, bureaucrat and politician, is now the newest to oppose the Facebook Free Basics campaign. And he doesn’t just stop at complaints, but provides some valuable solutions as well.

In a recent post  in the Times of India blog, Nilekani pointed out a simpler and leaner idea that will not just get a few million on board the internet, but give them the freedom to choose what they want to access. The idea works perfectly with the net neutrality debate and according to his calculation, will benefit the millions who are currently offline and at the end of it all keep everyone including the Government happy.

Penned down in his article along with Viral Shah, the gent claims that his idea is ” based on the success of LPG DBT or Pahal, where over 100 million families receive LPG subsidy in their bank accounts.”.

He went on to explain how the government could offer a similar Data Pack Direct Benefit Transfer(DBT) scheme wherein that offers 120MB of data annually to every subscriber with the first 10MB free every month.

He goes on to show that how it makes every bit of sense as well, “Even with all existing 400 million data users plus 400 million new data users being offered a free Data Pack DBT, the cost to the government would be 30/user x 800 million users = 2,400 crore a year. People may buy multiple SIMs for free data, but this problem is easily solved by linking mobile numbers to Aadhaar numbers (now held by 950 million people) so that one person can get access to only one Data Pack DBT.”

A fool-proof plan indeed, but certainly sounds a lot better than what Facebook is rooting for. Clearly, the biggest problem with Free Basics is not what its up to, but what it disguises in its promotions that seems to be annoying everyone. That would essentially be a closed internet with plenty of filters and boundaries. Indeed, everybody needs to read between the lines before they stand for or against it.

BSNL to set up 40,000 Wi-Fi hotspots; claims it’s faster than 4G

BSNL to set up 40,000 Wi-Fi hotspots; claims it’s faster than 4G

Public sector telecom major BSNL said on Monday it is working on setting up 40,000 Wi-Fi Hotspots in the country to counter its inadequacy in providing 4G data services.

“We are at present neither a 4G service provider, nor do we have the relevant spectrum to launch this service. But to deal with this challenge, we are working on a scheme to set up 40,000 Wi-Fi Hotspots in the country, as it (Wi-Fi Hotspot) is faster than 4G services,” BSNL CMD Anupam Shrivastava told reporters.

Shrivastava said under the scheme, 500 Wi-Fi Hotspots have been set up in the country, and the company plans to increase them to 2,500 in the current financial year.

He apprised that in order to improve its telecom service, the BSNL would be setting up around 25,000 mobile towers in the country, with an investment of Rs 5,500 crores.

On the issue of call drops, he said the problem is aggravated due to people’s misconception that the radiation emitted by the mobile towers has an adverse effect on their health, owing to which many such towers have been removed from residential areas.

The BSNL CMD further said that in FY15, the company achieved an operating profit of Rs 672 crores, and expects it to reach Rs. 1000 crores by the end of the current fiscal year.

He said, “We are not just satisfied by increasing our operating profit, but we are also working on taking the company to a net profit position. We expect to reach that position by FY19.”

Verizon launches auction to sell data centers

Verizon launches auction to sell data centers: Sources

Verizon Communications Inc has started a process to sell its data center assets, hoping to fetch more than $2.5 billion, people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday, as the U.S. telecommunications conglomerate focuses on its core business. A sale would represent the latest effort by Verizon, the No. 1 U.S. wireless carrier, to streamline its portfolio following a divestment last year of a chunk of its landline business and a portfolio of wireless towers.

It would also mark a reversal of its strategy to expand in hosting and colocation services after it acquired data center operator Terremark Worldwide Inc in 2011 for $1.4 billion. The so-called ‘colocation’ portfolio up for sale includes 48 data centers, and generates annual earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization of around $275 million, one of the people said. Citigroup Inc is advising Verizon on the possible sale of its data centers, the people added.

The sources asked not to be identified because the auction is confidential. Verizon and Citigroup declined to comment.

Verizon initially explored a sale of a larger portion of its enterprise business, including the former MCI assets, but could not reach an agreement with a buyer. It held discussions with wireline provider CenturyLink Inc last year for its enterprise business, Reuters reported in November.

The enterprise telecommunications industry has had to adapt in recent years to corporate customers seeking more sophisticated and cheaper offerings to manage their data. Verizon joins a host of its rivals in telecommunications who are shedding their data centers.

AT&T Inc has been exploring a sale of its data center assets since last year, while CenturyLink announced in November 2015 that it was exploring strategic alternatives for its data centers. Windstream Holdings Inc also sold its data center business for $575 million to TierPoint last year.

Verizon has been facing stiff competition from companies such as T-Mobile US Inc TMUS.N and Sprint Corp, which have been offering deep discounts on cellphone and data plans.

Netflix set to tap Bollywood-mad India in pursuit of global viewers

Netflix set to tap Bollywood-mad India in pursuit of global viewers

Netflix Inc’s global expansion is set to reach movie-mad India, industry executives said, where high-speed Internet connectivity is rapidly spreading among a vast population used to paying pennies for their latest Bollywood fix.

Slowing growth at home in the United States has put pressure on video-streaming service Netflix to grow internationally and India, where a fifth of the country’s 1.3 billion people are online, is widely seen as a likely next step in Asia.

Netflix declined to comment on its plans but industry executives told Reuters they expect an India announcement as early as this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where co-founder and Chief Executive Reed Hastings is scheduled to talk about the company’s international expansion.

“Netflix is entering India at the right time,” said analyst Tarun Pathak at Counterpoint Technology Research.

Most Indian Internet users go online via smartphones, which are increasingly capable of connecting to the latest, fourth-generation network (4G) which cuts streaming times considerably.

“We expect at least one in two mobile devices sold this year to be 4G equipped,” Pathak said. The challenge is convincing Indians to spend, analysts said. Netflix’s average revenue per user (ARPU) in the third quarter was $25.29 in the United States and $21.59 abroad.

In India, where a movie can cost 29 rupees (44 cents) and monthly subscriptions are as little as 200 rupees, analysts expect ARPUs to be a fraction of that.

MOBILE PARTNER

With most Indians getting online with smartphones, a telecom partner could speed Netflix’s market entry a year after Hotstar – from Twenty-First Century Fox Inc controlled Star Network – and three years after Singapore-based Spuul.

Netflix paired with SoftBank Group Corp for its Japan launch, piggybacking on the one of the country’s mobile network providers for its first foray in Asia in September.

Netflix’s U.S.-listed Indian rival Eros International PLC announced a partnership on Monday with Idea Cellular Ltd, the country’s third-biggest mobile carrier with 167 million subscribers.

For telecoms companies, streaming services increase data consumption which is more lucrative than telephone calls. Moreover, movie subscriber numbers are widely expected to jump with the large scale introduction of 4G services, led by the Jio network of Reliance Industries Ltd.

But in price-sensitive India, reaching new customers with big-budget content is likely to prove far easier than fending off the appeal of cheap, easily available pirated copies.

“In India our biggest worry is not Netflix,” said Michael Smith, chief technology officer at startup Hooq, backed by Singapore Telecommunications Ltd, Time Warner Inc and Sony Corp. “It’s the 20 cent copy of a movie that has just been released.”

Netflix finally comes to India; sign up to get a free one month subscription

CES 2016: Netflix finally comes to India; sign up to get a free one month subscription

Video streaming behemoth Netflix Inc. has finally launched its services in India. After a number of reports, the announcement was made at CES 2016 in Las Vegas where NetFlix  announced the availability of its services worldwide and the long list of countries (190 in all) includes India as well. The video streaming service is available both via desktop and on mobile and users will need to choose any of the three subscription packages and sign in.

More importantly, Netflix is even offering a one month free trial package where users can choose between any of the three monthly packages, Basic, Standard and Premium.

Netflix Plans India

The Basic package is priced at Rs 500, and will allow to stream unlimited video content from its servers to just one screen (device) at a time. The Standard package is package is priced at Rs 650 where you also get access to HD content with streaming to two screens (TV, desktop, tablet or mobile) simultaneously. The Premium package is similar to the Standard package with the only inclusion being the ability to stream to up to four devices at once (TV, desktop, tablet or mobile).

The free one month subscription will need you to sign-in with your email ID and password and then enter your card details to sign up. Both Netflix apps on Android and iOS support in-app purchases and you can change or cancel your subscription anytime you like.

At the CES 2016 launch, Netflix ushered in a new era of a new global Internet TV network, “Today you are witnessing the birth of a new global Internet TV network. With this launch, consumers around the world — from Singapore to St. Petersburg, from San Francisco to Sao Paolo — will be able to enjoy TV shows and movies simultaneously — no more waiting. With the help of the Internet, we are putting power in consumers hands to watch whenever, wherever and on whatever device.” said Co-founder and Chief Executive, Reed Hastings at the keynote.

Netflix is the world’s leading Internet television network with over 70 million members in over 190 countries enjoying more than 125 million hours of TV shows and movies per day, including original series, documentaries and feature films. Its plans for 2016 include releasing 31 new and returning original series, two dozen original feature films and documentaries, a wide range of stand-up comedy specials and 30 original kids series; all of which will be available to everyone everywhere in the world at the same time.

With all of that said, we think it’s finally time to say good bye to downloading torrents. But clearly, all of this depends on how smoothly the services are made available as millions worldwide will now be logging into Netflix’s servers.