Bandwidth Hogs Get Butchered

The Skinny is Keach Hagey's take on the top news of the day and the best of the Internet.

Has your Internet been molasses-slow lately? You may want to blame the download-addicted teenager down the block. And if you happen to be that teenager - or someone with his voracious appetite for mp3s and movies acquired online - you may want to watch out.

The Washington Post reports that Comcast has punished some of its more bandwidth-greedy customers by cutting off their Internet service. The company argues that excessive downloaders hog Internet capacity and slow down the network for other customers - but it won't tell anybody just how much is too much.

For now, only Comcast customers have reported getting cut off, but analysts say such caps could become more common as Internet service providers try to keep up with the demand for increasingly sophisticated online entertainment.

Cable companies in particular could end up with a critically short supply of bandwidth, since several hundred subscribers often share an Internet connection and one high-traffic user could slow down the rest of the neighborhood's connection. Phone lines are run directly to each home, so a single bandwidth hog will not slow connections.

To trigger a disconnection notice, analysts say cable customers would have to be downloading the equivalent of 1,000 songs or four full-length movies a day. But Comcast wouldn't confirm it's cut-off point.

One disconnected user said he just used his Internet connection to watch YouTube videos, listen to Internet radio stations and chat using a Web camera.

Companies have argued that "if strict limits were disclosed, customers would use as much capacity as possible without tipping the scale, causing networks to slow to a crawl."

"A Blistering, Scalding Indictment Of The TSA"

Here's a fun fact to remember next time you're standing in the airport security line, bare feet sticking to the grimy floor, frantically removing your belt and watch as you prepare to be groped and probed in front of a few hundred cranky and impatient fellow passengers: According to USA Today's lead story today, "Only a small percentage of cargo put on passenger planes is physically inspected."

In fact, a new government investigation shows the Transportation Security Administration's program for keeping bombs out of airplane cargo holds is "riddled with holes that leave passenger planes vulnerable to attack," the paper reports.

The Homeland Security Department inspector general said the TSA has too few cargo inspectors, an ineffective database to track violations and "vague regulations" for screening cargo being put on passenger planes. One congressman called the report a "blistering, scalding indictment of the TSA."

The TSA claims it's already made some improvements since the investigation. John Sammon, a TSA administrator, also defended his agency by suggesting that "terrorists are less likely to use a cargo bomb because it's not certain the explosive will make it on to a passenger plane," the paper reports.

According to this defense, we are apparently expected to believe that it's more likely that a terrorist will whip up a bomb cocktail on the fly in the airport bathroom out of ingredients he smuggled into his carry-on luggage. Or that he'll create a massive explosion using something stashed in the sole of his flip-flop.

OK, fine. But until we get this sorted out, can we please bring shampoo on airplanes again?

Starbucks Brings Its Coffee (And Laywers) To Russia

Starbucks opened its first Russian coffee shop in a mall near Moscow yesterday, signifying a victory for the corporation in its three-year fight with a trademark squatter, the New York Times reports.

The Seattle-based coffee giant first registered its trademark in Russia in 1997 but did not open any shops because of the economic crisis of 1998. Then in 2002, as the Russian economy was picking up, former car alam salesman Sergei Zuykov filed a request with Russian authorities to cancel the chain's trademark because it had not been used in commerce in Russia. He then registered Starbucks in the name of a Moscow company he represents as a lawyer.

Zukyov defended his stake on the name Starbucks for three years, saying that if Starbucks would pay $600,000, he would abandon his registration. The company refused to pay. He lost his case in 2005, as Russia stepped up its bid for membership in the World Trade Organization and hewed closer to international standards for the protection of property, the Times reports.

And how will Russians reap the benefits of this victory over trademark extortion? By lining up for the privilege of shelling out the $8.96 for a venti mocha, the Times reports. And yes, even the Russians are being forced to call the small coffees "grande" - which must make even less sense to them than it does to us.

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