Queen's Speech promises compensation for any household unable to get at least 10Mbps broadband
The government has outlined plans in the Queen's Speech for every household in the UK to have "the right" to high-speed broadband and automatic compensation for those that get left behind.
The plans were outlined by the Queen in the State Opening of Parliament today. She said that the government's proposed Digital Economy Bill will "make the UK a world leader in digital provision", in which the country would be "ceaselessly" transformed by technology.
"Legislation will be introduced to ... make the United Kingdom a world leader in the digital economy," the Queen said.
The broadband promises will be underwritten by a new Broadband Universal Service Obligation which expects minimum UK broadband speeds to be 10Mbps initially. The Bill would also, however, deliver direct power to Ofcom to "review the speed over time to make sure it is still sufficient for modern life".
Ofcom will also be given the power to release data on customer complaints and actual broadband speeds to help customers better navigate the market. Automatic compensation is also promised for when things go wrong with a broadband service.
The Bill lays out welcome developments for UK customers still suffering from poor quality connections, especially in low bandwidth areas, while certain government ministers regularly tout their own apparent success with fast broadband rollouts.
However, the so-called "new" nature of the Universal Service Obligation is slightly strange in that 10Mbps has been the government's supposed service standard since prime minister David Cameron's speech on the matter in November.
Cameron also spoke at the time of access to superfast broadband as a "right".
Ofcom laid out its own spin on the plans on 12 May, mentioning an idea to harness a sub-band in the 5GHz frequency range (most routers currently use the 2.4GHz frequency) while ensuring protection for other users, such as satellite services.
The government seems to be presenting old promises as new, but it is encouraging to see realistic broadband provision in rural and other ‘notspot' areas of the UK to counter the ongoing bluster of politicians.
However, 10Mbps per second still seems a low target for a rural UK filled with such digital promise.
Paul Evans, CEO of internet speed boosting company Boosty, is also concerned that the UK's infrastructure isn't robust enough to support such changes in the timeframes envisaged by the government.
"Realistically, even if the government's plans are pushed through, it could still take up to five or six years to roll out superfast fibre broadband," he said.
"By then the broadband infrastructure may not be sufficient to support a new generation of digital services."
Almost two-thirds of people aged over 75 have never gone online, suggest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Despite this, net use among this group is growing with the numbers trying the net doubling since 2011, it found.
It also revealed that 25% of disabled people have yet to use the net - a figure campaigners called "shocking". About 88% of all UK adults, about 46 million people, used the net in the last three months, it said.
High cost The ONS bulletin on net use in the first three months of 2016 revealed that 91% of people living in London went online regularly. By contrast, in Northern Ireland only 82% of people are regular users of online sites and services.
Pete Lee, from the ONS's surveys and economic division, said the statistics revealed some significant changes in usage and exposed those sectors of the population where net use remained low or patchy.
Net use among women aged 75 and over had grown by 169% since 2011, it found. However, it found that a significant number of older people who start using the net did not do so consistently. About 5% of those aged 75 or more had stopped using the net in early 2016.
"While we have seen a notable increase in internet usage across all groups in recent years, many older and disabled people are still not online," said Mr Lee.
Mark Atkinson, chief executive at disability charity Scope, said it was "shocking" that 25% of disabled people had not used the net as it created a significant digital divide.
"Digital access has the power to make life cost less," he said. "Many people go online to compare the best consumer deals and offers."
"Life costs more if you are disabled, from higher energy bills to specialist equipment. Scope research shows these costs add up to on average £550 per month," he added.
The BBC has reportedly been encouraged by the UK government to launch an online subscription service that could rival Netflix and Amazon Prime.
The publicly-funded British broadcaster has held talks with competitors, including ITV and NBC Universal, about collaborating to build the new service, according to reports in The Telegraph and The Guardian.
This suggests that the online streaming service, which is reported to have the working title "Britflix," would also include content not produced by the BBC, making it a direct competitor with Netflix.
The BBC and ITV declined to comment, while NBC were not immediately available for a response.
UK culture secretary John Whittingdale told The Telegraph: "We’re moving into a different world where more and more content is going to be made available on demand. Collaboration with other broadcasters and other production companies we think is important. If they want to explore that kind of thing, we’d encourage them."
"Britflix" is also expected to charge viewers to watch a back catalog of programs that were broadcast more than 30 days previously. Currently programs that were aired within the last 30 days are free to watch on the BBC's catch-up service iPlayer.
The new service may also include original content. However, existing shows are not expected to be put behind a pay wall. At this stage, there are no details for how the premium streaming service will look.
The chart shows that Netflix had more than 4.3 million UK subscribers in Q1 2015.
BBC talks with ITV and NBC have been ongoing since at least March, when The Guardian first picked up on it. However, last Thursday Whittingdale announced a raft of proposed changes to how the BBC is governed.
Within the whitepaper, the government said it welcomes "the BBC’s commitment to develop and test some form of additional subscription services."
"Licence fee payers will not be asked to pay for ‘top-up’ services for anything they currently get," according to the proposal.
The UK's Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency is working on a smartphone version of its driving licence.
Chief executive Oliver Morley tweeted a photo showing a "prototype" using Apple's Wallet app on an iPhone. He says it will be an "add-on" to the plastic card rather than a replacement.
Wallet already stores boarding passes and credit, debit, gift and discount cards. Payment information is encrypted end-to-end and authorised with the user's fingerprint or passcode.
CCS Insight analyst Ben Wood said: "Security has taken a significant step forward to support digital payments on phones, so the framework is in place for other secure applications, such as a digital driving licence. "There are not many people in the UK that do not carry a smartphone with them every day, so it is a logical next step." Chris Green, technology analyst at the business consultancy Lewis, said digital wallets were "a massively underrated and under-exploited resource". "People are getting more and more used to the technology because of e-ticketing," he said. "People are far more comfortable with the concept of keeping key information on their smartphone."
Paperless passes DeLaRue, which prints British banknotes and passports, has already said it is working on a paperless passport. And the NHS has announced a £4bn plan to move to a "paperless" platform.
British passport Morpho Trust, a US security company that provides driver's licences, has been piloting a digital licence product in Iowa since August 2015.
It says it:
allows users to change their address, details, and whether or not they are an organ donor without visiting the state's motor vehicle agency makes it easier for residents to have their licence updated when they reach the legal drinking age of 21 And in Australia, the New South Wales government has announced the introduction of digital licences, which it says will eliminate the need for a physical card.
The first licences issued under the new system are for fishing, the purchase of alcohol, and responsible gambling. A driver's licence is due to be available in digital format by 2018.
The UEFA 2016 Championships kick off in just under a month with the opening match between France and Romania in Paris.
And just as the coaches and players gear up for the big event, hoping that their tactics and training will lead them to glory, so do the teams behind the scenes, not least those in the IT function who play a vital role in delivering the event.
V3 spoke to Daniel Marion, head of ICT at UEFA, to find out more about how the organisation has prepared for the event and how much has changed since 2012.
“In 2012 we were just seeing the rise of tablets and mobile content. This has obviously grown massively in the last four years so we’ve upgraded lots of our apps for mobile devices,” he said.
“Four years ago people were accessing content on their phones but not for long periods of time. But that’s changed now as people can spend hours on their phone. So we design a lot of what we offer for the mobile first.”
Marion explained that this work is not just for fan services that provide information on matches and player stats, but for staff, such as for match day volunteers and event staff so they know their shift times and where they will be based.
He added that it has proved a lot easier to provide this information via apps on iOS and Android devices than on old desktop-based platforms.
“When you have a tablet or phone app it’s very easy for staff to get accustomed to using it, far easier than back-office software, so that’s a real change from last time ,” he explained.
UEFA is also set to trial a technological first for the UEFA Championships during the event by allowing fans in Lyon and the Stade de France in Paris to order food and drinks from outlets directly from their phones or tablets.
UEFA uses a private cloud environment to host these services, which is maintained by Interoute via data centres in Geneva backed up in Amsterdam.
“Working in this way gives us the flexibility we need. We are more comfortable with our own private cloud platform [than public] and we can still allocate resources as we need,” Marion said.
One development in the relationship between Interoute and UEFA since the last tournament has been the ability to ‘scale’ the service level agreements on certain aspects as and when required.
For instance, the SLA on its main website can be scaled to the top-level platinum on match days when maintaining availability is critical, before scaling it back to gold or silver during non-match days and the evenings.
However while UEFA prefers the use of a private cloud for its core systems, front- and back-end, it is experimenting with a public cloud for a new ticketing software-as-a-service platform run from a public environment.
Marion added that UEFA is not averse to using a public cloud in other ways in the future, although only when it is comfortable with integrating it into the organisation's operations.
“We don’t have the experience of running our core systems in that way, so it may be more for training and staging for development that we can use [public cloud] more," he said.
Another notable change in 2016 is that the tournament has been extended from 16 to 20 teams. This means using 10 rather than eight stadiums, adding more sites for the ICT team to maintain.
Marion said it has not proved too much harder in terms of time and effort, but has increased the need for skilled staff who are not always easy to find, a common problem for all organisations.
“Having two extra venues does make it more challenging because we need good people and they are scarce, so this was a challenge to find them because we have to be as resilient as possible,” he said.
However, everything is on track for the big launch, and when football fans turn to their TV, tablet or phone, or appear at the match itself, it'll be thanks in no small part to the efforts of the UEFA ICT team managed by Marion.
Tens of millions of usernames and passwords for Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo email accounts have been hacked and details traded online, according to a security expert.
Data from around 97 million accounts have been stolen as part of a huge cyber attack that is thought to affect around 272.3 million users worldwide, said Alex Holden, founder and chief information security officer of Hold Security.
In one of the biggest data breaches in years, the information is being traded in Russia’s criminal underworld for next to nothing, it has been claimed.
It is thought that credentials from around 40 million Yahoo Mail accounts, 33 million Hotmail accounts and 24 million Gmail accounts have been accessed.
But the majority of the usernames stolen are from Russia’s most popular email service Mail.ru
Holden, who was speaking to Reuters, has previously uncovered huge data breaches affecting millions of users at at AdobeSystems, JPMorgan and Target.
His latest discovery is said to come after researchers found a young Russian hacker bragging in an online forum that he had collected and was ready to give away a far larger number of stolen credentials.
Mysteriously, the hacker asked just 50 roubles – just over 50p – for the entire trove, but gave up the dataset after Hold researchers agreed to post favourable comments about him in hacker forums, Holden said.
He said his company’s policy is to refuse to pay for stolen data. ‘This information is potent. It is floating around in the underground and this person has shown he’s willing to give the data away to people who are nice to him,’ said Holden.
‘These credentials can be abused multiple times.’
A Microsoft spokesman said stolen online credentials was an unfortunate reality. ‘Microsoft has security measures in place to detect account compromise and requires additional information to verify the account owner and help them regain sole access.’
Yahoo and Google did not respond to requests for comment.
A Mail.ru spokeswoman said it was checking whether the email combinations match those still actively in use.
Launched out of his i.am+ business, musician-cum-entrepreneur will.i.am has unleashed his Dial “smart band” on the UK market. Impressively, it works independently without the need for a mobile to be connected – ideal for on-the-go leaders.
The reliance smartwatches have on connecting to smartphones to work, like the Apple Watch and iPhone, has been a common complaint for users.
As such, it’s meant that growth of that particular wearable sector has been stunted with people claiming they’re unsure there’s a need for an extension of their phone.
will.i.am is looking to change that with his Dial wearable, which is dubbed a “smart band” rather than the commonly used term of smartwatch. Fitted with its own sim card, Dial provides the ability to make calls, text, send emails and so on without a mobile in the vicinity.
Available to pre-order exclusively from Three, the gadget comes complete with a music streaming service boasting over 20m tracks. Not only is the platform ad-free, there isn’t an extra charge attached to accessing it in the same way that there are costs for Spotify, Tidal and so on.
Additionally, the mobile network says all music streaming and downloads on Dial plans will be free of data charges.
The band has been designed to blend wearable technology with fashion and comes complete with artificial intelligence (AI) feature AneedA, which has been produced to recognise usage so responses can be tailored to customers.
Functions supported by AneedA include track selection, playlist customisation, news updates, restaurant discovery, social media, taxi and flight bookings, photos and more.
The particular feature would probably be of interest to Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg, who is eagerly working on developing tech witnessed in the Iron Man films from Marvel.
Lianne Norry, director of brand and marketing communications at Three, said: “We are really excited about the launch of dial and its new music service, is a step towards a new and exciting mobile experience for our customers.
“We pride ourselves in being ahead of the curve and identifying future mobile technology trends and felt that zero-rating all related music to this device gives our customers the freedom to enjoy music whenever they want.”
All devices come completed with Bluetooth-enabled EP headphones from i.am+, while other Dial features include 3G, WiFi, GPS, 1.63-inch screen, 2MP front-facing camera, and 32GB of storage.
On a 24-month contract, Dial prices start at £22 a month with a £49 upfront cost or £25 a month with a £19 upfront fee.
Should governments step in to regulate work emails and so rescue harassed staff from the perils of digital burnout?
The answer in France appears to be "Yes". President Francois Hollande's Socialist Party is about to vote through a measure that will give employees for the first time a "right to disconnect".
Companies of more than 50 people will be obliged to draw up a charter of good conduct, setting out the hours - normally in the evening and at the weekend - when staff are not supposed to send or answer emails.
Much mockery was made in the foreign press when the proposal was first mooted, with images of hawk-eyed work inspectors snooping on the industrious.
But the French government says the problem of permanent connection is universal and growing - and that intervention is needed. "All the studies show there is far more work-related stress today than there used to be, and that the stress is constant," Socialist
MP Benoit Hamon tells me. You're at home but you're not at home, and that poses a real threat to relationships Linh Le, management consultant "Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work. They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash - like a dog. The texts, the messages, the emails - they colonise the life of the individual to the point where he or she eventually breaks down."
The measure is part of a labour law - named after Labour Minister Maryam El Khomri - many of whose other provisions have sparked weeks of protests in France. The "disconnection" clause is about the only part on which there is consensus.
Few - in France or elsewhere - would disagree that work-home encroachment is a troubling by-product of the digital revolution. "At home the workspace can be the kitchen or the bathroom or the bedroom. We shift from a work email to a personal WhatsApp to a Facebook picture to a professional text - all on the same tool," says Linh Le, a partner at Elia management consultants in Paris. "You're at home but you're not at home, and that poses a real threat to relationships," she says. Le says the businesses she advises are increasingly aware of the dangers to staff. The most extreme threat is so-called burnout which she describes as "physical, psychological and emotional distress caused by a total inability to rest".
But apart from wishing to spare their suffering, companies also need employees to be creative. And this is less likely, says Le, without regular downtime.
She applauds a US insurance company that has given workers sleep monitors and pays them a bonus if they get 20 consecutive nights of good sleep.
"It shows how good companies recognise the importance of not harassing workers at home. "Here in France we speak of the two types of time, as defined by the Greeks: chronos and keiros. Chronos is regular, divisible time. Keiros is unconscious time… creative time.
"Keiros is essential for productive thinking, and good employers know they need to protect it."
At PriceMinister - an online marketplace run from central Paris - chief executive Olivier Mathiot has instituted "no-email Fridays", to encourage employees to resort less to digital messaging. Sales manager Tiphanie Schmitt says this idea is fine - it helps to get people to talk - but she would resist any government interference in the way she does her job.
In my company we compete with Indian, Chinese, American developers - we need to talk to people around the world late into the night
Gregory, software writer "I do sales. I like doing sales. It means I use email late into the evening, and at the weekend. I don't want my company preventing me from using my mail box just because of some law," she says. Similar views can be heard expressed at the Bowler pub near the Champs-Elysees, a hang-out for financial and computer workers. "I think [the right to disconnect] is wonderful for improving the human condition but totally inapplicable," says software writer Gregory. "In my company we compete with Indian, Chinese, American developers. We need to talk to people around the world late into the night. Our competitors don't have the same restrictions. "If we obeyed this law we would just be shooting ourselves in the foot." Olivier Mathiot of PriceMinister says the issue should be addressed by education rather than legislation. "In France we are champions at passing laws, but they are not always very helpful when what we need is greater flexibility in the workplace," he says. And according to Linh Le at Elia Consulting, the law will be very quickly made irrelevant. "In a few years' time emails will have ceased to exist," she predicts. "We'll have moved on to something else."
Even cheerleaders such as the MP Benoit Hamon admit that the impact of the law will only go so far - as presently drafted there is no penalty for violating it. Companies are expected to comply voluntarily.
But almost everyone in France agrees that the subject of communications overload is one that needs to be on every employer's agenda.
Shrinking transistors have powered 50 years of advances in computing—but now other ways must be found to make computers more capable.
Mobile apps, video games, spreadsheets, and accurate weather forecasts: that’s just a sampling of the life-changing things made possible by the reliable, exponential growth in the power of computer chips over the past five decades.
But in a few years technology companies may have to work harder to bring us advanced new use cases for computers. The continual cramming of more silicon transistors onto chips, known as Moore’s Law, has been the feedstock of exuberant innovation in computing. But it looks to be slowing to a halt.
“We have to ask, is this going to be a problem for areas like mobile devices, data centers, and self-driving cars?” says Thomas Wenisch, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan. “I think yes, but on different timescales.”
Moore’s Law is named after Intel cofounder Gordon Moore. He observed in 1965 that transistors were shrinking so fast that every year twice as many could fit onto a chip, and in 1975 adjusted the pace to a doubling every two years.
The chip industry has kept Moore’s prediction alive, with Intel leading the charge. And computing companies have found plenty to do with the continual supply of extra transistors. But Intel pushed back its next transistor technology, with features as small as 10 nanometers, from 2016 to late 2017. The company has also decided to increase the time between future generations (see “Intel Puts the Brakes on Moore’s Law”). And a technology roadmap for Moore’s Law maintained by an industry group, including the world’s largest chip makers, is being scrapped. Intel has suggested silicon transistors can only keep shrinking for another five years.
The computers in our pockets will probably feel the effects later than other types of computing devices, Wenisch guesses. Mobile devices are powered by chips made by companies other than Intel, and they've generally been slightly behind in transistor technology. And mobile processors don’t make full use of some design techniques well established in more powerful processors for non-roving machines, he says.
“You probably have a generation or two more runway in mobile,” says Wenisch. However, many useful things that mobile devices can do rest on the power of billion-dollar data centers, where the end of Moore’s Law would be a more immediate headache. Companies such as Google and Microsoft eagerly gobble up every new generation of the most advanced chips, packed more densely with transistors.
Wenisch says companies such as Intel, which dominates the server chip market, and their largest customers will have to get creative. Alternative ways to get more computing power include working harder to improve the design of chips and making chips specialized to accelerate particular crucial algorithms.
Strong demand for silicon tuned for algebra that’s crucial to a powerful machine-learning technique called deep learning seems inevitable, for example. Graphics chip company Nvidia and several startups are already moving in that direction (see “A $2 Billion Chip to Accelerate Artificial Intelligence”).
Microsoft and Intel are also working on the idea of running some code on reconfigurable chips called FPGAs for greater efficiency (see “Microsoft Says Reprogrammable Chips Will Make AI Smarter”). Intel spent nearly $17 billion to acquire leading FPGA manufacturer Altera last year and is adapting its technology to data centers.
Horst Simon, deputy director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, says the world’s most powerful calculating machines appear to be already feeling the effects of Moore’s Law’s end times. The world’s top supercomputers aren’t getting better at the rate they used to.
“For the last three years we’ve seen a kind of stagnation,” says Simon. That’s bad news for research programs reliant on supercomputers, such as efforts to understand climate change, develop new materials for batteries and superconductors, and improve drug design.
Simon says the coming plateau in transistor density will stir more interest in redrawing the basic architecture of computers among supercomputer and data-center designers. Getting rid of certain design features dating from the 1940s could unlock huge efficiency gains (see “Machine Dreams”). Yet taking advantage of those would require rethinking the design of many types of software, and would require programmers to change their habits.
Whatever kind of computer you’re interested in, the key question is whether the creative avenues left open to computing companies can provide similar payoffs to Moore’s Law after it ends, says Neil Thompson, an assistant professor at MIT Sloan School. “We know that those other things matter, but the question is, are they of the same scale?” he says.
One reason to think they might not be is that companies will have to work together in new and complicated ways, without the common heartbeat that used to keep the industry’s product and R&D plans in sync.
“One of the biggest benefits of Moore's Law is as a coӧrdination device,” says Thompson. “I know that in two years we can count on this amount of power and that I can develop this functionality—and if you’re Intel you know that people are developing for that and that there's going to be a market for a new chip.”
Without that common music to dance to, advances in computing power that benefit all kinds of companies, not just ones with mutually strong incentives to collaborate, could be less common.
The first of Amazon’s new private-label brands could start appearing online in the coming weeks.
Amazon.com Inc. in the coming weeks is set to roll out new lines of private-label brands that will include its first broad push into perishable foods, according to people familiar with the matter.
The new brands with names like Happy Belly, Wickedly Prime and Mama Bear will include nuts, spices, tea, coffee, baby food and vitamins, as well as household items such as diapers and laundry detergents, these people said.
The first of the brands could begin appearing on Amazon’s namesake site as soon as the end of the month or early June, said one of the people.
Amazon has been working to develop the new private-label lines for several years and had approached branding consultants and manufacturers including TreeHouse Foods Inc., The Wall Street Journal reported last year.
Consumers have warmed to private-label brands since the days of generically named products sold in plain white packaging. Today, retailers from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to Sephora to Dean & DeLuca sell a range of in-house brands that some may even view as higher quality.
Store brands reached $118.4 billion in U.S. sales last year, up about $2.2 billion from the prior year, according to the Private Label Manufacturers Association.
Amazon’s latest lineup is aimed at winning sales in niches with generally higher profit margins, as well as giving the Seattle retailer a potential edge in crafting new products ahead of its own vendors.
“Amazon is ‘carpet-bombing’ the market with new products,” said Bill Bishop, chief architect of brand consultancy Brick Meets Click. “Private label allows them to test out new prices and distinctive flavors with less risk.”
Mr. Bishop said private-label goods boast higher profit margins than name brands because companies save costs on marketing and brand development. And with Amazon’s rich trove of data, it may better predict which products will sell well to its customers.
Amazon only will offer the private-label products to members of its $99-per-year Prime membership, this person said, potentially giving the program a boost.
The retailer has been spinning out new private labels for years, including its Pinzon linens and towels and Elements baby wipes.
Its AmazonBasics line features hundreds of items such as cellphone cases, computer mice, batteries, dumbbells and dog crates. Recently, it has begun selling its own fashion lines such as Lark & Ro dresses and North Eleven scarves.
Amazon’s new brands will include the Happy Belly line of food stuffs including nuts, trail mix, tea and cooking oil, the people said. The Wickedly Prime brand will feature snack foods.
While the full lineup couldn’t be ascertained, Amazon previously applied for trademark protection for foods including pasta, granola, potato chips and chocolate, as well as razors and air deodorizers.
Amazon’s plans also include the Presto! line of household products such as laundry detergent and the Mama Bear brand for baby products like diapers, baby-food jars and gentle detergent, these people said.
It wasn’t clear how Amazon might price its new food and household goods products relative to brand names.
Food production carries particular risks. For its new brands Amazon will depend on manufacturers that may have varying quality controls. Any health-related recalls could damage Amazon’s reputation.
Amazon has stumbled in private labels before. Its Elements line, which promised greater transparency about where and how goods were made, initially included diapers, but Amazon pulled them weeks after launching in late 2014, citing design flaws.
It also has discontinued a tool line and cookware endorsed by a Seattle chef.
In a twist, Amazon may graduate some of its coming products to the Elements label based on a formula including ratings and sales, suggesting it plans to make it a premium line, one of the people said.
The Elements private label has been sold only through Prime since it was released in late 2014. Despite the restriction, its Elements wipes represent about 9% of all baby-wipes sales on Amazon.com, according to analytics firm One Click Retail.
Amazon occasionally designates some products for special discounts available solely to Prime members. For instance, some customers were surprised last month to find certain videogames such as Assassin’s Creed Syndicate could only be purchased by Prime members.
By some estimates, Amazon has 50 million or more Prime members. The company covets them because they spend more on the site on average and may watch streaming videos such as its “Transparent” TV series.
In addition to bolstering its Prime service, the new lineup of private-label products may feed Amazon’s Fresh grocery delivery business, which is available in several U.S. cities.