iPhone Canada: Pay me now, or pay me later

If you’re an Apple fan who has been waiting for the iPhone — or at least an “official” version of the iPhone — for lo, these many months, your heart probably leaped at the word from Rogers Communications supremo Ted Rogers this morning that he has signed a deal with Apple to launch a maple-flavoured version of the world’s most sought-after handset. If you have ever had a cellular data plan from Rogers, however, your heart probably leaped a little less high, and may even have let out a small sigh or shrugged its heart-shaped shoulders.

Why? Because as more than one person has pointed out, the fact that the iPhone is coming to Canada isn’t really the important thing. It’s important, of course, but everyone knew that it was going to arrive eventually. The *really* important thing is what it’s going to cost when it finally arrives — and not so much the phone itself, but the data plan. Will the word “unlimited” be used in conjunction with the word “data?” And if it is, will it actually mean “unlimited,” or will it mean something else that only appears in that special Rogers’ dictionary?

The nightmare scenario is that the iPhone comes, but the costs for service are so prohibitive — not so much for phone calls, but for data charges, Web surfing and so on — that it makes it ridiculous for anyone but a movie star or possibly a dentist to actually afford. Rogers and Bell are notorious for adding charges that boost even the most normal cellular bill into the stratosphere, especially when the user goes onto that thing called the “Internet” and does stuff with a regular app as opposed to the crippled WAP browser that most devices come with.

These are just the kinds of activities that iPhone users tend to engage in, of course — which is why Ted and the gang are so excited about getting them here, and even more excited that they will only work on the Rogers network. For me, I’d be a lot more excited if there was a reasonable data and Web-surfing plan attached to it.

The cable cuts: Get out the foil hats

I’ve been watching the “undersea cable-cut conspiracy” gathering steam over the past few days, and it’s almost comical to see some of the hoops people will jump through to suggest — with all kinds of provisos and assurances, of course — that there is something mysterious going on. So I’m glad to see that saner heads are prevailing in some posts, in particular one from O’Reilly that quotes a passage from Neal Stephenson’s piece in Wired magazine about undersea dangers.

It sometimes seems as though every force of nature, every flaw in the human character, and every biological organism on the planet is engaged in a competition to see which can sever the most cables.

The Museum of Submarine Telegraphy in Porthcurno, England, has a display of wrecked cables [and] each is labeled with its cause of failure, some of which sound dramatic, some cryptic, some both: trawler maul, spewed core, intermittent disconnection, strained core, teredo worms, crab’s nest, perished core, fish bite.

Robert Graham at a site called Errata Security is also pounding the “no conspiracy” drum, and points to security expert Bruce Schneier’s blog as one of those muttering darkly about how all of these cuts just have to be more than a coincidence. But as Robert notes, the reports of something dastardly at work mostly just highlight what he calls:

the human psychology of computer security: people are apt to see patterns where none exist. Outages in undersea cables are a common occurrence. They usually go unreported. However, once a major outage is reported, minor outages that would normally be ignored now become reported as well.

As it turns out, the reports that Iran was completely cut off were false. And at least one of the “cuts” (which makes it sound like Dr. Evil sent sharks with frickin’ lasers to destroy Iran’s Internet access) appears to not be a cut at all, but a previous repair that failed. As the O’Reilly piece points out, this may say something about how much of our access to broadband depends on a relatively small number of cables, but it doesn’t say much other than that, unless your tinfoil hat is on too tight.

TW wants to have cake, eat it too

As several outlets are reporting, HBO plans to launch a trial project called HBO On Broadband, in which subscribers can watch the channel’s programs — such as the highly acclaimed series The Wire — on their computers for several weeks after they air. Of course, the programs can’t be downloaded or transferred to another device, and they eventually expire, but it’s still a step forward, if only a limited one.

As the Hollywood Reporter notes, however, an interesting twist to this particular offering is that HBO is a subsidiary of Time Warner, the media giant that has confirmed its cable subsidiary is rolling out metered Internet access. In other words, one part of the TW empire is giving you more content to watch — content that sucks up the gigabytes — and the other is planning to charge you by the gigabyte.

That may fly with the boys in finance, but if I were a Time Warner cable subscriber and an HBO fan, I would feel like I was getting squeezed between a rock and a hard place. Cynthia Brumfield of IPDemocracy doesn’t think it’s really that big a deal, but I think it’s a sign of the conflicting pressures that media conglomerates like TW find themselves under. Steve Bryant of Reel Pop has more on the HBO deal.

Smackdown: Andreessen on The Economist

As most of us know too well, the end of the year brings a deluge of “best of” lists and predictions for the coming year (in part to fill the pages of newspapers and magazines that have little or no actual news to print, but still need to put something in to keep the ads from bumping into each other). The Economist has come out with a look at what we can expect from the Internet next year, and one of those things — according to the respected periodical — is that the net will slow down.

Apparently, all the new devices and video and applications are causing a traffic jam on the “information superhighway” (used ironically, I hope). There’s just one problem with the Economist’s vision of the near future: Most of it is just wrong. I was really looking forward to dismantling some of the assumptions in the article, and then I discovered that Marc Andreessen had already done that — and better than I likely would have. And he’s a lot nicer about it than I would have been too 🙂

U.S. gets Google, we get Ottawa

So the worst-kept secret in the mobile-phone industry is finally out: Google has confirmed that it plans to bid for new spectrum in the 700-Mhz auction that is to be held early next year. One of the requirements of the spectrum auction is that whoever wins must allow users to download whatever applications they want to their mobile devices, which would fit with Google’s Open Handset vision. Google CEO Eric Schmidt said:

“Consumers deserve more competition and innovation than they have in today’s wireless world. No matter which bidder ultimately prevails, the real winners of this auction are American consumers who likely will see more choices than ever before in how they access the Internet.”

Meanwhile, Canada is planning a spectrum auction of its own, and also hoping to increase the amount of competition in the mobile sector — which is currently held hostage by an oligopoly consisting of Bell, Telus and Rogers. Canada being what it is, of course, we don’t have a Google bidding for spectrum and promising competition, we have the government setting aside spectrum and blocking Bell, Telus and Rogers from bidding on it.

The hoped-for upshot of both moves is more competition, and as a result more features and lower prices (Om Malik doesn’t think Google is in it to win it). Will that be the actual outcome, or will it just mean higher handset prices and more attempts to lock customers into long-term contracts? Stay tuned.