Like a lot of important consumer technology, the cellphone got its start as a luxury item for businesspeople who wanted the ability to take important phone calls while out of the office. But 40 years after its invention, the cellphone has become the single most important piece of consumer electronics in the world, acting not only as a communications device for voice calls but as a low-cost way for millions of people around the world to access the Internet without needing more expensive personal computers. As companies such as Samsung (005930), BlackBerry (BBRY), Nokia (NOK) and perhaps even Apple (AAPL) move more aggressively to bring low-cost smartphones to emerging markets, it’s easy to see how mobile phones have become the key to spreading Internet connectivity around the world and giving people access to vital information that had previously been much harder to come by. More →
Amazing but true — commonsense ideas are still capable of getting bipartisan support. A bipartisan coalition of senators this week introduced legislation that would lift the current ban on consumers unlocking their cellphones without permission from their carriers. The bill, which was proposed by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and cosponsored by Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), would let users unlock their cellphones after completing all service agreements with their wireless carrier. The proposed legislation comes less than two weeks after the White House signaled its support for an online petition urging the government to reverse a decision made by the Librarian of Congress last fall to deny consumers the right to unlock their phones and bring them to different carriers.
Just one day after the White House got behind efforts to make unlocking cellphones legal again, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D — MN) vowed to introduce a bill this week that will “get rid of the ban on unlocking cell phones.” Both Klobuchar and the White House were responding directly to an online petition that urged the government to reverse a decision made by the Librarian of Congress last fall to deny consumers the right to unlock their phones and bring them to different carriers. In announcing her new legislation, Klobuchar said that “consumers should be free to choose the phone and service that best fits their needs and their budgets” and that “we need to make sure consumers are getting a fair deal and today’s announcement is a welcome step towards implementing consumer-friendly policies in the wireless industry.”
Hurricane Sandy ripped through the East Coast this week, leaving millions without power and causing billions of dollars in damage. As traditional landlines and Internet connectivity began to die, users turned to their cell phones to contact loved ones and receive news updates regarding the storm. Many users were faced with poor service in the wake of Sandy’s destruction, however. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said on Tuesday that cell service could get much worse before it gets better. More →
The four major wireless providers in the United States have partnered with the Federal Communications Commission in an effort to curb cell phone theft, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday. The wireless companies will build a central database of stolen cell phones, which will track phones that are reported as lost or stolen and deny them voice and data service. The goal of the database is to reduce crime by making it very difficult to use a stolen device. Verizon Wireless and Sprint currently block phones that are reported stolen from being reactivated. AT&T and T-Mobile do not, although all four carriers have now agreed to be part of the new database. Members of Congress are also expected to propose legislation to make it a crime to alter a cell phone’s unique identification number, according to the report. Similar stolen-phone databases are already in place in the U.K., Germany, France and Australia. While crime hasn’t completely stopped, the number of incidents has apparently declined. Carriers will roll out individual databases within six months that will be centralized over a 12-month period, with smaller regional wireless providers expected to join the database over the next two years. More →
You may want to put down your cell phone if you’re planning on having kids anytime soon. According to an article in the latest Journal of Andrology, recent reports have suggested there is a “possible link between cell phone use and semen quality.” The author of the article, Dr. Sandro La Vignera from the University of Catania, refers to one 2008 report which studied 361 men in an infertility clinic, which concluded that there was a direct link to the “duration of cellular phone possession” and decreased semen quality. One study performed on rabbits found that those who were exposed to a mobile phone emitting at 800MHz for 8 hours a day over 12 weeks had a decrease in sperm concentration just six weeks into the study. Sperm motility, or how properly a sperm can swim towards can egg, began to falter in the tenth week. Similar results were found in rats and mice, too. Read on for more. More →
The city of San Francisco has approved an ordinance that will require cell phone retailers to warn customers about the dangers of cell phone radiation, the Los Angeles Times reported on Thursday. The ordinance, which was passed in a 10-1 vote, asks that phone retailers “post general warnings” about risks. It’s unclear what exactly will be required of the retailers, and researchers have flip-flopped on whether or not there are any real risks associated with mobile wireless devices. On May 31st, the World Health Organization published a report that said cell phones are “possibly carcinogenic,” but The Economist fired back shortly after and said there’s no way the devices cause cancer. A second group wrote published a separate report in an issue of Environmental Health Perspectives and argued there is evidence “increasingly against the hypothesis that mobile phone use can cause brain tumors in adults.” A similar law was passed last year that required cell phone makers to publish specific absorption rate (SAR) figures on boxes of cell phones, but the CTIA sued before the law took effect. More →
A new research study published by the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) suggests that cell phone use directly increases crash risk among U.S. drivers. The group studied 350 scientific papers that were published between 2000 and 2010 on highway safety. Distractions, which include cell phone use, are responsible for between 15% and 25% of all crashes, including minor fender benders all the way up to fatal accidents. The report also said that there is “no conclusive evidence on whether hands-free systems [are] less risky than hand-held use,” and that results of several tests “imply dialing a cell phone increases crash risk more for a short time while a cell phone conversation increases crash risk less for a longer time.” As you might expect, texting is an even larger risk since it requires that a user look at his or her phone for a longer period of time. “Despite all that has been written about driver distraction, there is still a lot that we do not know,” Barbara Harsha, a GHSA executive director. “Clearly, more studies need to be done addressing both the scope of the problem and how to effectively address it.”