The end of the floppy

Sony announced this week that it will discontinue manufacturing the ubiquitous 3.5in floppy disk. The portable storage medium has been around for 30 years, or as one might say, longer than many Broadcast Engineering readers have been alive! I know the latter statement is true for the majority of the editors at this magazine. They have probably never seen a 3.5in floppy disk, let alone depended upon one for storage.

Sony released the floppy disk in 1981 to replace the 5.25in floppy disk. Lest some of my young readers be mistaken, even the “five and one-quarter disks,” as they were called, were not the first popular portable computer storage format. That can be traced to the standard audio cassette. I recall loading programs into my TRS-80 computer via a small cassette player, fiddling with the volume control until the audio was just right for signal detection by the computer. Being the saver that I am, I still have my original RadioShack TRS-80 and plenty of cassettes loaded with software.

Few technologies have served as long and reliably as did the 3.5in floppy disk. Will I miss them? No, I have plenty at home.

Wireless doesn’t need broadcast spectrum

A just-released study from Cambridge Consultants says that TV white space could “fundamentally change today’s wireless provider model.” The report claims that new devices will be able to take advantage of frequency shifting to find an open channel to communicate. Such performance will permit more devices to find available frequencies. “The current status method of dividing up spectrum is inefficient and increasingly unaffordable,” said Luke D’Arcy, head of cognitive radio at Cambridge Consultants. He goes on to claim that demand by cellular and portable applications will far exceed the capability of 2.5G and 3G networks. Even next-generation networks like long-term evolution (LTE) will be insufficient, according to his company’s study.

Broadcasters are typically opposed to the use of white space, in part because of potential interference to wireless microphones. However, the report says that the wireless microphone industry will gain for a while because of the disruption the use of white space will cause. In addition, there may be increasing interference in urban areas from unlicensed devices.

The study concludes saying that widespread adoption of white space usage could radically reduce the number of WiFi access points needed to serve advertising-based municipal wireless networks. The study says this could reduce the cost of building free public wireless Internet systems.

A copy of the study is available through Cambridge Consultants.

Don’t believe all the FCC says

If you believe all the, ah-hem, news coming from the FCC, all the commission has to do in ignoring that nasty court ruling against its power grab against Comcast is to, well ignore the ruling. All the FCC needs to do, according to many in the media, is to wave its hands in the air and say something like, “Never mind what the court said, we’ve decided to change the rules anyway and regulate the Internet — all in the interest of establishing net neutrality.”

A well-known Obama and FCC supporter, Susan Crawford, said that the FCC can pretty much do anything it wants with regards to net neutrality. "The FCC can … pursue both network neutrality and widespread access to broadband by formally relabeling Internet access services as ‘telecommunications services,’ rather than ‘information services,’ as they are called now. All the commission needs to do is prove it has good reason.” What she’s referring to is reclassifying the Internet as a Title II (telecom) service. Wave a magic bureaucratic wand and presto change-o, the FCC can control the Internet. Hold on a minute.

First, one should realize that Crawford is not be an impartial viewer. She’s been highly involved with the Obama administration and Genachowski’s FCC. She runs a blog that regularly lauds everything the FCC and the president does. Impartiality might not be her strong point.

The Progress and Freedom Foundation’s Barbara Espin counters that Crawford is incorrect. Espin says, that “To impose Title II regulations on the Internet, the FCC would need to establish a rational evidentiary and sound legal basis to bring Internet service providers under its Title II authority through an act of regulatory ‘reclassification.’"

Such an action, according to Espin, would require the FCC to issue a NOI or NPRM to reverse four prior FCC orders, one of which has been reaffirmed by the Supreme Court; accept public comment on its proposal that supports the proposed change; and adopt a Declaratory Ruling or Report and Order giving a reasoned factual and legal basis for changing the classification and regulatory treatment for Internet services.

From what I’ve read, these would represent significant steps and are highly fraught with the likelihood of legal challenges. But, oh what the heck. That’s never stopped either political party or Washington bureaucrats from making up their own rules, has it?