Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde and Privacy on the Web

jhEver since Netscape started storing cookies in its browsers, there has been a Jekyll-and-Hyde nature to the web. The Jekyll web promised a more personalized experience, with sites serving ads for products and services that you would actually be interested in — ads that are more like useful information and less like glaring interruptions. The Hyde web wanted sites to stalk you, recording little bits of data about your online life until they knew more than you’d be comfortable sharing even with some friends.

Internet media companies have long grappled with that contradiction inherent in targeted ads, and have had, at best, mixed success at resolving it. But it’s looking like they’ll need to solve it soon — or regulators will do it for them. Read More about Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde and Privacy on the Web

Marvel Moves Beyond Motion Comics With More Web Video

Look out, true believers, Marvel Entertainment (s MVL) is making a big push into the world of online video with more original programming, licensed content and even some gems from the wayback machine. With more than 5,000 characters, including established brands like Spider-Man, Iron Man and the Hulk, the push into web video is helping position it for life beyond comic books.

Much has been made about Marvel’s foray into motion comics, with both Astonishing X-Men and Spider-Woman launching in the second quarter of this year. But almost under the radar, Marvel has been churning out other video, like its podcast-y Weekly Watcher and One on One series for awhile, and last month it launched Marvel Super Heroes What the –?!, a Robot Chicken-esque spoof show. “What The–?! is something for our hardcore fans,” said Rubenstein, “We have the ability to create a lot of short, fun content at an economical price.”

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Broadband Stimulus Package Nears Finish Line

The House and Senate held a pre-Valentine’s Day love fest last night and produced a compromise stimulus package; the two houses must now approve the conference bill, after which it would be sent to the president. For details on the full $789 billion plan, you can check out the legislation. We’ve outlined what the $7.2 billion million devoted to broadband funding will buy (if you’re looking for the tax credits, they’re no longer there): Read More about Broadband Stimulus Package Nears Finish Line

Telcos to Congress: More Money Please

[qi:004] An association of small telecommunications providers, some of them rural, has taken a look at the broadband dollars in the stimulus bills making their way through both houses of Congress and said, “Please sir, can I have some more?” What’s more disturbing (although just as predictable), is they want to lower the speed requirements to 1.5 Mbps downlink.

The stimulus bill that passed Wednesday in the House offers $6 billion in grants for providing broadband (much of that in rural areas), but required speeds of 5 Mbps down and 1 up. The companion bill moving through the Senate has the same speed requirements on the low end, and offers $9 billion in grants. But The Independent Telephone and Telecommunications Alliance along with Qwest Communications (s Q) tells the Wall Street Journal that the money isn’t enough and the speeds are too high, given that reaching rural areas with broadband is already expensive. Faster speeds only add to the cost.

It is expensive to reach rural areas with fat pipes, but it’s far more expensive to build out infrastructure today that will be obsolete in a few years. We shouldn’t cave on speed requirements to rural areas if we really want to offer the economic benefits of broadband access. For those seeking more money, members of President Obama’s team have indicated that the stimulus bill is only a part of his plan for universal broadband.

Senate OKs DTV Delay, Still Needs Money for Coupons

istock_000005015948xsmallThe Senate late Thursday night agreed on a bill that would delay the transition from broadcasting analog to digital television signals by four months. It will vote on that bill next week. Meanwhile, the House this week approved the $6 billion in broadband funding offered under President Obama’s economic stimulus package, which includes another $650 million to fund the coupons aimed at offsetting the costs of buying digital converter boxes. The Senate is expected to circulate its own drafts of the stimulus bill in the next few days as the House debates the DTV delay.

Obama has supported the delay because the program offering $40 coupons to offset the costs of a converter box ran out of money and stopped issuing coupons. This leaves about 6.5 million consumers who will see their televisions go dark if the delay goes through (we are assuming all of them are going to pick up coupons). That makes the DTV coupon funding important, because until that money is allocated, the main reason driving the DTV delay cannot be addressed.

So in order for the delay to mean something, the coupon program needs funding in time to help consumers ready themselves for the new June 12 DTV transition deadline.  As part of the DTV bill, the Senate version gives station owners the option to switch to digital if they no longer want to broadcast analog signals. However, it’s unclear if those stations want to risk alienating their audience — which may still be using analog televisions — by going dark too early.

Automakers Tally Wins, Losses in $825B Stimulus Plan

The economic stimulus proposal revealed yesterday by House Democrats includes some big wins for the auto industry: $2 billion for battery research, $300 million to retrofit or replace older diesel engines and vehicles, and $1 billion for federal, state and local governments to buy alternative fuel vehicles. Indirect help for crumbling car companies could also come from infrastructure projects, which can drive demand for pick-up trucks.

But the package is not everything U.S. automakers had hoped for — and according to a new study from the Boston Consulting Group, its middling support for electric vehicles could even thrust the industry into deeper financial trouble. Researchers with the firm say the U.S. government would have to invest about $70 billion in engineering, manufacturing and consumer incentives for hybrid and electric vehicles to achieve a meager 28 percent market share by 2020. Anything less, and clean cars could remain out of reach for a vast majority of buyers — leaving automakers with the same problem they have today: High production costs and too many cars that no one wants to buy. CNNMoney spoke with study author Xavier Mosquet and has details on the report:

Providing loans rather than grants, as the U.S. government has done, puts an unfair burden on the companies, [Mosquet] said. It assumes the companies will make money on these vehicles in the near future, which they will not, he said.

So what else might manufacturers complain about? Industry groups representing U.S. and Japanese automakers have called for legislators to double funding for the Department of Energy’s Advanced Vehicle Technology Manufacturing program, which has already attracted more than 70 applicants for $25 billion in loans and guarantee, and expand its focus beyond hybrid and electric vehicle development.

Also absent from the plan is funding for a so-called “cash for clunkers” program, envisioned as a way to encourage drivers to upgrade their vehicles. As the Detroit News explains, the idea is to offer as much as $4,500 to drivers who replace older cars with newer, more fuel-efficient models — helping automakers and dealers move inventory while phasing gas-guzzlers out of the national fleet. (California, Texas, and France have adopted similar voucher programs.) According to Reuters, some lawmakers still plan to squeeze that incentive into the final bill, which has to get through debates in the House and Senate before reaching the White House.

Congress Launches Two YouTube Channels

Move over Judson Laipply and Tay Zonday, there’s a new crop of YouTube stars gunning for you. Their name? The United States Congress. In conjunction with the 111th session of Congress kicking off today, YouTube is launching channels for the Senate and the House of Representatives. From the YouTube Blog:

“[M]any of your elected leaders are starting their own YouTube channels. They’re posting videos direct from their Washington offices, as well as clips of floor speeches and committee hearings alongside additional behind-the-scenes footage from Capitol Hill.”

Here’s an intro video featuring congressional leaders struggling to read a teleprompter to explain the new service.

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Key Telco Legislator, Net Neutrality Champion Jumps To Energy

markeyCongressman Edward Markey, a key proponent of net neutrality and online privacy, will leave his position on the committee that deals with telecommunications regulation to chair the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment. House watchers had expected Markey to remain on the Commerce Committee, where he would direct the telecommunications agenda.

Instead, that role will be taken by Congressman Rick Boucher, who takes on the chairmanship of the Communications, Technology and the Internet Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Boucher has been a supporter of municipal wireless efforts, has co-sponsored a bill to direct Universal Service Funds for broadband deployment (and require VoIP providers to pay into the USF), tried to amend the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to provide more protection for fair use, and appears to favor government intervention to deliver rural broadband access.

Image courtesy of Congressman Ed Markey.

Feds Could Have Saved $25.9B Since 2001: Report

Federal agencies including the Department of Energy, Department of Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency could have saved nearly $26 billion over the last eight years had they implemented more than 13,000 recommendations from the Inspectors General. That’s the finding in a new report released yesterday by the Congressional oversight committee.

The Department of Energy alone could have cut costs by more than $835 million, according to the report. In a time when the U.S. faces a potential record deficit of $1.2 trillion, and companies are lining up for DOE loans, grants, and guarantees to push ahead with electric vehicles and energy storage technology, that extra dough would have come in handy.

“If someone told me that I was losing change from a hole in my pocket and instead of mending it I kept losing money, shame on me. But that’s what has happened over the past seven years,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, who worked on the report with Rep. Henry Waxman and Rep. Edolphus Towns. “It’s time to finally get out some needle and thread.”


What About a “Manhattan Project” for Detroit?

“If we are lucky, we will come out with a bill next week that nobody likes.”

With those words, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chair of the House Financial Services Committee, wrapped up two days of testimony from auto executives intended to be something like a truth commission for the incompetent but ending up more like sado-masochism in bespoke suits. It leaves one wondering what happens if we aren’t lucky — and generally not looking forward to this week.

It also raises a question. What kind of solution would everyone like?

Enter Chad Holliday, CEO not of a Detroit automaker, but of Delaware’s DuPont (s DFT). It shows just how far the U.S. auto industry has fallen when it’s getting schooled by a guy who makes freon and spandex. DuPont gets a fifth of its revenue from its automotive division, so Holliday urged executives at a luncheon in Detroit’s storied Book Cadillac Hotel to consider a “Detroit Project” — a new Manhattan Project with all the innovations and none of the bombs.
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