GT Spectrum

Reports from the IT Horizon

by / February 14, 2003
Bell Canada Turns Pay Phones into Wireless Internet Hot Spots

TORONTO -- Bell Canada started work in mid-December on a pilot project to make wireless Internet more available to Canadians.

Throughout the three-month pilot, Bell said it converted a number of high-traffic pay phones, and other locations in Toronto and Montreal, into wireless Internet access points.

During the pilot, users with 802.11b enabled devices gained free access to Bell's AccessZone service in busy locations, such as Toronto's Union Station, the departure area at Montreal's Dorval International Airport and the Calgary International Airport.

The pilot is expected to run until spring 2003.

As long as users are within a 50-meter to 200-meter radius of an AccessZone Wi-Fi access point, they can use Bell's public, wireless broadband network services. Bell officials said the company will finalize its competitive pricing structure based on the pilot's results and other factors.

The service is currently offered free of charge with no time restrictions.

AccessZone is a secure service when used with a virtual private network (VPN) client and a firewall, Bell officials said, although AccessZone will not provide additional security for end-users during the pilot.

The company said sporting facilities, universities, libraries and municipalities have also expressed an interest in AccessZone.


Internet Filters: Finding the Right Setting

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- A comprehensive new study of Internet filtering software finds that libraries, schools and parents can bar access to pornographic Internet sites without blocking access to important health information. But the findings -- based on a study of six filtering packages by University of Michigan researchers -- found that effectiveness of the software depends largely on its configuration.

"In general, we found that filters were remarkably good at distinguishing between health information and pornography when set at the least restrictive setting," said lead author Caroline Richardson, M.D., a lecturer in the university's Department of Family Medicine. "But at highly restrictive settings, almost a quarter of health sites were blocked -- though there was little improvement in porn-blocking over the least restrictive settings."

Researchers tested which health and pornography sites the different filters blocked -- or allowed -- depending on how software controls were set. The study compared the filters' performance in Internet searches based on 24 health search terms and by allowing access to 586 preselected "recommended" health sites for teens. Researchers used a specially designed Java computer program that conducted Internet searches and stored the results in a database.

The team started with unfiltered searches for 24 health and sexuality terms, and six pornographic terms, using six search engines popular with teens -- Yahoo, Google, America Online, MSN, Ask Jeeves and AltaVista.

Some of the health terms were unrelated to sex (diabetes); others involved sexual body parts (breast cancer). Some were related to sex (birth control) and some to controversial health topics (abortion).

Researchers then tested whether access to the sites was permitted by several software packages: N2H2, CyberPatrol, Symantec Web Security, SmartFilter, 8e6 and Websense. All are widely used by schools, libraries or both. More than 3,000 health and 500 pornography sites were used to test the filters.

At the least restrictive setting, designed to filter out only pornographic pages, the filter software blocked an average of 1.4 percent of health information sites and about 87 percent of porn sites.

At moderate settings, designed to filter pornography and a few other categories such as nudity and information on drugs and weapons, the filters blocked an average of 5 percent of health sites and 90 percent of porn sites.

At the most restrictive settings, which barred a broad range of categories, the blocking of health sites reached an average of 24 percent, but porn-blocking only increased to about 91 percent.

Even at the least restrictive settings, certain search terms resulted in much more blocking -- about 10 percent of health sites found by searches using the terms "safe sex," "condom," and "gay" were blocked.

Also using those terms, the percent of sites blocked at moderately restrictive settings was even higher; and at the most restrictive blocking setting, several of the more controversial search terms had blocking rates above 40 percent. -- University of Michigan


Underwater Cables Destroy Coral Reefs

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Cable lines strung across Florida's southern coast are severely damaging coral reefs, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

Fiber-optic cables, used to connect central and Latin American phone and Internet service with state residents, destroy the brittle reef structures as they swing back and forth underwater, according to a PEER study conducted during the summer of 2002. This is the first research to document how fiber-optic cables continue to damage reef structures long after their initial installation. The study, focusing on the state-regulated waters off Broward County, shows that boat anchor snags, wave surges and coastal currents cause the cable lines to repeatedly batter the fragile structures.

Covering less than 1 percent of the planet's surface, coral reefs are the world's most biologically diverse marine ecosystems. Living among Florida's corals are sponges, crabs, turtles, lobsters and nearly 600 fish species. Because many coral reef organisms can tolerate only a narrow range of conditions, reef communities are highly sensitive to environmental or human-caused damages.

PEER said Florida's coral reefs, estimated to have taken between 5,000 and 7,000 years to develop, are rapidly diminishing from a variety of man-made sources, including offshore dredging, increased turbidity and global warming.

"The state's plan to install even more underwater cables lacks a realistic understanding of the damage already done," said PEER General Counsel Dan Meyer, noting that cable lines could be installed above the Oculina Bank, which is the northernmost point of Florida's coral reefs. "These ancient structures may be gone forever before Florida realizes the consequences of today's actions."

Meyer also said the state-owned underwater property is leased to fiber-optic companies at cut-rate prices. Florida is one of only three coastal states that do not collect a fee based on fair market value, according to PEER, and fiber-optic cables can generate a profit of more than $5,000 per minute to operators.

Florida, however, treats fiber-optic cable companies as if they were state-regulated public utilities even though the industry has long been deregulated -- with cable access awarded to the highest bidder. -- Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility


Getting Connected

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The number of high-speed lines connecting homes and businesses to the Internet increased from 12.8 million to 16.2 million -- 27 percent -- during the first half of 2002, according to the FCC. By comparison, the amount of broadband connections increased 33 percent -- from 9.6 million to 12.8 million lines -- during the last half of 2001.

Of the 16.2 million high-speed lines in service at the end of June 2002, 14 million served residential and small business subscribers -- a 27 percent increase from the 11 million reported six months earlier.

Additionally, the FCC said that in June 2002, 10.4 million lines provided advanced services at speeds exceeding 200 Kbps in both directions -- an increase of 41 percent during the first half of 2002.

At the end of June 2002, broadband services were present in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. And 84 percent of the nation's ZIP codes had broadband services, compared to 79 percent six months earlier.

With respect to delivery methods, the FCC found that DSLs in service increased by 29 percent during the first half of 2002 -- from 3.9 million to 5.1 million lines -- compared to a 47 percent increase during the preceding six months, from nearly 2.7 million to 3.9 million lines.

Cable modem service increased by 30 percent during the first six months of 2002 -- from 7.1 million lines to 9.2 million lines. This increase was lower than the 36 percent increase during the second half of 2001.

In the June 2002 raking of ZIP codes by median household income, there was a 98 percent high-speed subscriber presence in the top one-tenth wealthiest ZIP codes, and a 69 percent presence in the least affluent tenth.

The comparable figures one year earlier were 96 percent and 59 percent, respectively.
Shane Peterson Associate Editor