In the News

Published April 1, 2007

More Voters Rely on the ‘Net

Roughly 15 percent of Americans used the Internet as their “primary” source of news during the recent midterm elections, more than double the 7 percent reported four years ago.

According to a newly released study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, the findings were credited to the growth of broadband in the United States.

“The growing importance of the Internet in the nation’s political life is tied at least in part to the spread of broadband connections in American homes,” Pew said. It estimates only 17 percent of Americans had broadband connections at home at the time of the 2002 midterm campaign, a number that had risen to 45 percent by November 2006.

According to the report, in addition to just reading about politics, 23 percent of those who used the Internet for political information also “actually created or forwarded online original political commentary or politically related videos.”

Twenty percent of campaign Internet users said they got political news and information from blogs, while 24 percent said they visited issue-oriented Web sites. Pew also found Internet usage does not skew by party: Republican and Democratic voters were equally likely to say the Internet was their main source of election news.

Cable Companies and Wireless

In an attempt to answer competition from telephone companies, cable TV companies are forming partnerships with wireless companies in order to bundle cellular phone service with cable and Internet telephone offerings.

Bright House Networks, Comcast, Cox Communications, and Time Warner Cable have been rolling out wireless services in partnership with Sprint, under the Mobile Access brand, in a number of their markets.

The agreements are another example of the shifting competitive landscape in telecommunications. Until now, wireline telephone companies were perceived to have an advantage in that they owned or controlled wireless operations. Through their joint venture with Sprint, the cable companies hope to eliminate that edge and effectively offer consumers a one-stop shop for cable, Internet, landline, and wireless phone service.

TiVo, Amazon Partner

TiVo and have partnered to allow movies and television shows downloaded from the Internet to play on household TV sets. The agreement further blurs the difference between on-demand cable TV programming, which is regulated and subject to municipal franchise fees, and on-demand Internet video, which is not.

Typically, consumers must watch Internet video downloads on a PC screen. Advances in both consumer hardware and software are making it easier for users to move video files from PCs to TVs.

In a deal struck in early February, Amazon announced a new way for consumers to watch movies and TV shows they purchase and download from Amazon’s Unbox site using their TiVo set-top digital video recorders (DVRs). For TiVo, the service represents a key competitive differentiator as the company, first to introduce DVRs to households, now faces an increasing number of rivals.

States Seek Open Software

Minnesota and Texas may become the second and third U.S. states to mandate the Open Document Format (ODF) for XML as the standard file format for government documents, forcing state agencies to end their use of Microsoft’s Office 2007 software suite.

Two separate bills up for legislative consideration in each state propose to mandate the use of an open, XML-based file format that is “interoperable among diverse internal and external platforms and applications; fully published and available royalty-free; implemented by multiple vendors; and controlled by an open industry organization with a well-defined inclusive process for evolution of the standard,” according to the Minnesota House of Representatives bill, as reported by IDG News Service.

Proponents say use of ODF assures documents created today will be compatible with any future software. Critics say the ODF campaign is largely directed by Microsoft competitors who are seeking to use legislation to create a market for software that is having a hard time establishing itself in the commercial sector.

ODF, a standard supported by the International Standardization Organization (ISO), is available for free and is supported by several vendors in their office suites, including IBM, Sun, and Google.

Steven Titch ([email protected]) is senior fellow for IT and telecom policy at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of IT&T News.