Should Italians really be ‘cautiously optimistic’ about the state of their superfast broadband?

Will Italy will be able to reach the goals set by the Digital Agenda for Europe (DAE)?

It may come as no surprise to those familiar with the state of Italian broadband that this verdict from the most authoritative of sources — the country’s digital champion Francesco Caio — is not at the country’s current pace of investment and innovation, and not without more government intervention.

Caio bad been examining Italian telcos’ investment plans in light of the coverage and penetration targets for superfast broadband set by the EU as part of the DAE.

The verdict on how the two match up was revealed in Caio’s long-awaited report on Italian broadband, published on 30 January. His view of the situation is nuanced but ultimately tough: although carriers’ ongoing broadband investments are a good starting point, more needs to be done to meet the EU’s deadlines, with the state called to play a greater role in the process.

Falling short

The report — which was co-authored by ParisTech professor Gerard Pogorel and former FCC advisor J Scott Marcus — says it expects 50 percent of Italians to have access to 30Mbps broadband by 2017. The spread of such broadband is likely to be advanced by investments announced by three of country’s main telcos: Telecom Italia (€1.7bn), Fastweb (€0.4bn) and Vodafone. These investments “in contrast to the recent past”, the report concedes, “seem credible”.

It’s enough for the study to express “cautious optimism”, but no more than that — Italy will nonetheless have face times ahead in order to comply with EU’s deadlines.

The DAE, for instance, stipulates that 100 percent of households should have access to superfast broadband (with speeds of at least 30Mbps) by 2020, but this target, Caio’s study says, is not likely to be achieved by the Boot given the current rate of carriers’ investments. With the EC’s own numbers for 2012 showing only 14 percent of Italy’s population have access to any broadband at all, 70 percent coverage for 30Mbps broadband by 2020 instead seems more feasible, although far short of Europe’s expectations.

Even worse is the country’s outlook for another DAE goal — 50 percent of households to have subscribed to 100Mbps connections by 2020. According to the report, 60Mbps to 80Mbps should be considered a “more realistic” outcome and that’s just in the most densely populated areas of Italy.

If you add in the fact that many consumers are unlikely to be interested in, or able to afford, such speeds, the picture looks even more sombre and the “cautious optimism” quite optimistic in itself.

“Even if most lines were able to provide 100Mbps service,” the report says, “there are problems with consumer demand that would need to be addressed in order for the adoption target to be achieved.”

Government as saviour?

It is no surprise, then, if in such a context the report calls for “committed, energetic and sustained attention by the Italian government”, which should start with a monitoring process to make sure that operators deliver the level of investment they promised.

Such a process could “highlight differences between what was planned and what was achieved” and “justify more direct forms of intervention if the announced plans are not being realised as expected”.

A second suggested action entails the launch of national broadband initiative to finance, with the help of the new European structural funds, the development of superfast networks in areas not covered by the operators’ plans.

On top of that, the government should promote the sharing of investments and network infrastructure to speed up the geographical spread of superfast broadband.

Last but not least comes the suggestion to step up the efforts to spread digital literacy since Italy sports a low rate of broadband access by European standards and has, as the report says, “more elderly citizens than most member states (who are less likely to subscribe to internet services)”.


Italy’s prime minister Enrico Letta was quick to voice his agreement with the conclusions of the report. “When it comes to broadband, Italy is late and it needs to speed up,” he said, adding the government will put together a checklist and a timeline based on the plans the operators have announced, and will monitor step by step how they progress in the actual implementation of the plans.

According to experts, more activity from the communications watchdog might be really the key to boosting the country’s broadband. “The idea of monitoring the progress of operators’ plans is the true innovation brought about by the report,” Maurizio Decina, professor of telecommunications studies at Politecnico di Milano and former Italian telco authority commissioner, told ZDNet. “It eventually puts the carriers’ promises under the microscope, a break with Italian governments’ traditional unconcerned attitude towards the matter.”

As for the other recommendations in the report, they are not new, Decina added, but are in line with the broad consensus shared by industry watchers and policy analysts on what measures are necessary. “Italy’s slow progress on superfast broadband is well-known, just like the fact that a 30 percent of the country won’t be covered without some form of help from the state. Let’s see what practical solutions they will come up with.”

More on Italian broadband

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Facebook-phone and app maker Inq quietly shuts up shop

Inq, the UK-based company behind early Facebook smartphones which failed to take off, has shut up shop.

“Inq has done some exciting and innovative things over the past few years, but we’ll be closing our doors on 31st January 2014,” the company said in a short note on its website.

The company also made apps, and Material, its content discovery app and would-be rival to Flipboard, will serve its final edition on January 28. Meanwhile, Inq’s SO.HO social media widget won’t be receiving any further updates.

As noted by Android Police, both apps have disappeared from Google Play, leaving only an update app for its phones.

Inq launched two Facebook-focused Android smartphones in 2011, the Cloud Touch and Cloud Q, which brought Facebook apps and features to the fore of the interface.

Inq’s devices emerged following rumours that 
Facebook would be making its own phone had been put to rest. Some of the features of the Cloud Touch were four Facebook-related buttons on the homescreen, Facebook friends integrated with contacts, and a prominently featured real-time News Feed of Facebook activity.

Inq, a subsidiary of Hutchison Whampoa, killed off its hardware initiative fairly quickly to focus on apps instead, reportedly because it didn’t have the scale to compete with other smartphone makers. According to Fierce Mobile, Inq claimed to have sold 1.5 million of its phones before the range was retired in 2012.

Despite Material attracting some positive reviews, it launched in early 2013 to a crowded market, drawing comparisons between established news apps, like Flipboard, Pulse and others. It would have faced competition from erstwhile partner Facebook, which just launched its own ‘Flipboard killer’, Paper.

Inq was founded in 2008 and according to Crunchbase had 40 staff in the UK and Italy.

More on Inq

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Simple innovation could keep lights on for Indians, render Inverter redundant

If you’ve ever lived in India for even a brief period, you’re probably familiar with a device that is as much part of the lives of Indian families as the frothy Hindi television soap opera—namely the Inverter.

In a perennially power-starved India, the Inverter and accompanying batteries prevent Indian houses from simmering in darkness during one of the innumerable power shortages the country tends to face, thanks to stalled new power projects and bankrupt state electricity boards. Your average inverter can run a certain number of fans and lights as well as your television depending on the number of batteries that have been tacked on. And now a bunch of professors from the temple of Indian engineering, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), inadvertently plan to render the inverter redundant thanks to a simple innovation.

The brainchild of IIT-Madras director Prof Bhaskar Ramamurthi and electrical engineering professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala also from the Indian Institute of Technology in Chennai, this new technology will deliver 48 volts of direct current to select homes in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala as part of a pilot project. Once proven successful, it will be rolled out to the rest of the country.

A dedicated 48V low-power direct current (DC) line will snake its way from the sub-station to houses and the current will flow through a separate meter to power three lights, two fans and a mobile charger. Brushless fans and light emitting diode (LED) lights that can work on direct current will be powered using this DC power.

This means that during regular blackouts, homes can get uninterrupted power from the grid. Instead of completely shutting down the grid, which is what happens when demand exceeds supply, the Discom will merely shift its supply to the 48V line which will deliver power at a small fraction of the original and at a different voltage.

Considering the regularity of power outages in the country, the growing gap between demand and supply of power and the number of families who have to swelter in the dark because they can’t afford a battery-powered inverter, this service could impact  millions of people’s lives. Other beneficiaries would be the vast education and healthcare landscape that are most affected when the lights go out.


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Worst pitch of the month: Katy Perry and the ‘social media experience’


Plenty of PR story and product pitches that end up in my inbox tend to be needlessly over the top.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: you don’t need to write cover letters, short stories, or stalk Twitter accounts to see where journalists had their last cup of coffee for an easy (and cheap) introduction.

Not only is there just not enough time to sift through all that fluff, but the nuts and bolts of whatever being pitched tends to get buried.

In the following two cases, we have examples of where the flacks lost focus altogether.

Here’s culprit number one, as forwarded to me by my colleagues over on the CNET Reviews team:

———- Forwarded message ———-

Date: Tue, Jan 21, 2014 at 11:50 AM
Subject: The Katy Perry Social Media Experience


Here is a terrific social media story from none other than the most followed person on Twitter…. Please take a look – I can provide further info. if you would like to cover (for which I would be ever so grateful, of course).

Imagine you’re Katy Perry’s biggest fan.  And she’s asking for your help.

What would you do?

Her 100 million+ social followers recently had an opportunity to rise to the challenge. When tasked with the best way to announce her Prismatic World Tour, Perry didn’t opt for an easy tweet or a flashy press conference, but instead found a way to involve the fans – to make them the stars.  She took to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and asked Katy Cats everywhere to lend a helping roar.

The response was immediate. More than 4,000 Insta-videos went up in within the first few hours. The eclectic submissions resulted in a tour announcement video that captures the diversity inherent to Perry’s fan base.

But it doesn’t end there. Once Perry tweeted out her announcement video – produced in a few breathless days – there was an exuberant roll-out of reactions that felt like a continuation of the video itself. Not limited to tweets and Facebook updates, a pair of fans actually Insta-videoed their reactions upon seeing themselves starring in Katy’s video. And then they tweeted the Instagram. And then Katy Perry re-tweeted the tweet of the Instagram video of the Instagram video. And, well, they probably just collapsed.

The video reflects the Katy Perry concert experience itself. The show is not simply about what is happening on stage – Katy’s charm lies in the way she adds the voices of the audience to her own. It is, in a word, Prismatic.

Citi® is the official credit card of THE PRISMATIC WORLD TOUR.  Citi® cardmembers have access to pre-sale tickets today through Citi’s Private Pass® Program.  For complete pre-sale details visit Tickets go on sale to the public on Monday, January 27 at 10:00 am local time. For more information please visit

In addition to embedding images here, I have attached the .jpg files. Please let me know if you have any questions!



With the exception of deriving that diehard Katy Perry fans must be colloquially known as “Katy Cats,” it is arduous to decipher what is really being sold here. The social media channels surrounding the Prismatic World Tour? The Citi card buried way at the bottom? Katy Perry’s own Instagram account?

Maybe one or all of the above. Regardless, the situation is such a hot mess that it’s not worth much more time. Moving on.

As an additional nugget, here’s a pitch that tries to get to the point quickly…but inexplicably forgets said point altogether:

Hi Rachel,

I wanted to reach out and see if you’re the right person to speak to? I represent Tongal, the top video crowdsourcing site. Co-founder James DeJulio created a community of creative workers to crowdsource videos for brands like Proctor & Gamble and LEGO. The idea was born from inefficiencies in Hollywood’s film industry, and it produces videos for a fraction of the traditional cost and time. Their model works- some commercials even landed the Super Bowl last year.

Let’s start with the first sentence: Right person to speak to about what? Then it just ends abruptly with nothing else to follow up on.

While I appreciate that there is no pandering about loving past articles, there’s also no reference as to what the angle might be here or any understanding about how this might relate to what we cover on ZDNet.

Image via Katy Perry/Instagram

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Day one with the Acer C720 Chromebook

I recently shared my reasons for purchasing the Acer C720 Chromebook so I won’t rehash that at this time. If you’re interested take a few moments to visit those thoughts, we’ll wait for you here. Now that you’re back, some of you may be wondering how the C720 works in the real world. Based on the correspondence I’ve received since tweeting the Acer had arrived, it’s clear there’s a lot of interest in this powerful $200 Chromebook.

Acer C720 Chromebook (Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

Specs of the Acer C720 Chromebook as purchased:

  • CPU: Intel® Celeron® Processor 2955U, (1.4GHz, 2MB L3 Cache)

  • OS: Chrome OS

  • Memory: 2GB

  • Storage: 16GB

  • Display: 11.6-inch, 1366×768, anti-glare

  • Camera: front webcam (1280×720)

  • Connectivity: Wi-fi a/b/g/n

  • Ports/slots: USB 3.0, USB 2.0, HDMI, SD slot

  • Battery: 3,950 mAh, 8.5 hours

  • Thickness: 0.75in

  • Weight: 2.76lbs

The first day with the Acer has been busy, and it’s handled everything I threw its way. It arrived late morning and I promptly unboxed it and set it up. That took all of five minutes from start to finish.

I logged into my Google account and the C720 created my preferred Chrome environment. This included getting all of my Chrome apps, my settings, Chrome extensions, and bringing in all of my browser bookmarks. That happened very quickly, the rest of the setup was spent with Chrome automatically updating itself to the latest version. That was followed by my optional restarting of the system to apply those updates, which took <10 seconds.

There are three versions of Chrome OS: the stable (standard) one, beta channel, and the developer version. I like to run the beta channel as it gives me an early look at new features in Chrome OS and my experience shows it to be stable. A quick visit to the settings screen let me download the beta version and apply it. A second restart activated the new version.

All of this took about five minutes. That’s what is great about Chrome, as aptly described by my colleague David Gewirtz. It is the easiest platform to adopt for this reason.

I immediately started working with the C720 and quickly picked up where I left off weeks ago when I gave away my last Chromebook. Chrome OS is basically the Chrome browser so there is very little learning curve for those who use the browser on other platforms. It looks the same and works the same.

I worked with my normal setup of multiple tabs and everything functioned as expected. I experimented with touch gestures on the trackpad since the Acer’s is quite good. I wish the trackpad was bigger but then I’ve been spoiled by the huge touchpads on the MacBooks.

I don’t know if these gestures are a function of Chrome OS or the Chrome browser, but I’m finding them to be very useful. The first gesture is the 3-finger swipe from left to right in the browser to spin through the open tabs. You have to swipe slowly to move with precision or you can do so quickly to jump down the line of tabs.

Chrome task manager (Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

Another useful gesture is the 3-finger swipe up to invoke the graphical task manager. This shows all open apps in addition to the active tab in the browser. You can down swipe with three fingers to get back to the last active windows or tap a thumbnail to activate that app. This is useful if you run apps in a window as opposed to running in a browser tab. I run them in windows so the task manager is fully useful.

The last gesture I use a lot is the 2-finger swipe left/right to move through the previous/next web pages in the active browser tab. It cycles through visited pages just like hitting the prev/next arrow keys in the top row of the keyboard. I like the trackpad gesture as it’s easy to do and operates fluidly.

The work day with the Acer went swimmingly. The C720 is fast with the Haswell Celeron and the keyboard is very nice. The latter is important to me as a writer, and I have no complaints with the Acer keyboard.

A bit of photo editing was handled with Pixlr Editor; it’s evolved nicely since I last used it. The interface is well implemented and it was simple to do light photo editing using Pixlr.

I edited a Word document and an Excel spreadsheet using Google Drive. Both had basic formatting so I had no issues with the way Google Docs handled them.

I can see using the Acer C720 Chromebook heavily for my work going forward. The laptop is very portable and the 11.6-inch display is the perfect compromise of portability and usability. The screen isn’t high-res but it’s quite suitable for my work.

The quality of the C720 hardware is impressive given its low price. It’s quite a value to find a laptop of this caliber for only $199.

Additional Chromebook coverage: 

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Intelligence chief confirms Arab shift from U.S. over ‘policies on Iran, Syria and Egypt’

Special to

WASHINGTON — The U.S. intelligence community, in its first such assessment, has warned of a loss of America’s Arab allies.

The intelligence community said the Gulf Cooperation Council could be the first Arab allies to move away from the United States.

U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 29.  /AP

U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 29. /AP

In a report to Congress, the 16-agency community cited widespread opposition to Washington’s rapproachment with Iran.

“Some of the transitioning governments are more skeptical than before the Arab Spring about cooperating with the United States,” the assessment said.

The assessment, submitted to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Jan. 29, marked the first acknowledgement of an Arab shift away from Washington. Over the last few months, the administration of President Barack Obama has played down such warnings from Saudi Arabia, the leader of the GCC and Iran’s neighbor.

National Intelligence director James Clapper warned that Arab allies, resentful of Washington’s interference, could reduce security cooperation with the United States. Clapper said this could hamper counter-insurgency efforts to stop Al Qaida attacks from the Middle East.

“They are concerned about protecting sovereignty and resisting foreign
interference, which has the potential to hamper U.S. counter-terrorism and
other efforts to engage transitioning governments,” Clapper said.

“Additionally, the unhappiness of some Arab Gulf states with U.S. policies
on Iran, Syria and Egypt might lead these countries to reduce cooperation
with the United States on regional issues and act unilaterally in ways that
run counter to U.S. interests.”

Clapper said the threat of an Arab shift came amid an increasing
presence of Al Qaida in the Middle East, particularly Iraq, Lebanon and
Syria. He said Al Qaida was training thousands of foreigners to fight in
Syria, skills that could be employed to destabilize their native countries.

“It’s clear our collection capabilities are not as robust perhaps as
they were because they [Al Qaida] have generally gotten smarter about
[avoiding] how we go about our business and detect them,” Clapper said.

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Report: U.S. withdrawal left behind an Iraqi government unequal to the challenge

Special to

WASHINGTON — The Iraqi military and security forces remain ill-equipped to battle the Sunni revolt, a report said.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies asserted that Iraq lacked the army and police manpower to quell the Al Qaida-directed Sunni revolt in the Anbar province.

Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki speaks during an interview with Reuters in Baghdad January 12, 2014.  /Reuters/Thaier Al-Sudani

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki  /Reuters/Thaier Al-Sudani

In a report, the center said forces loyal to the Shi’ite-dominated government in Baghdad were not trained for counter-insurgency missions.

“As a result, the Iraqi security forces and police units remain overstretched and ill equipped to confront transnational terrorist operations, relentless low-level insurgency, violent skirmishes between local militias, and other threats currently operating inside Iraq,” the report, titled “Iraq In Crisis,” said.

Authors Anthony Cordesman and Sam Khazai said the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 imposed a heavy burden on Baghdad’s forces. They said the counter-insurgency threat was exacerbated by Iranian-sponsored Shi’ite militias as well as the authoritarian government of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki.

“Moreover, the risk of broader civil war is driven by a range of political crises at the national to the local level, and by the broad range of interacting sectarian and ethnic divisions that affect much of the country,” the report, dated Jan. 6, said.

The report said the Sunni revolt in Anbar represented a “massive popular
reaction” to Al Maliki. Cordesman and Khazai said Al Qaida forces,
particularly the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, were joined by Sunnis
who remained loyal to the Baghdad government.

“At least as of early January 2014, it was clear that at least some
Sunnis in the areas revolting against the Maliki regime still remained loyal
to the central government, and that many others want moderate and effective
government, were not religious extremists, and saw AQI/ISIS as a threat
along with the Maliki government,” the report said.

The report determined that Iraq was on the verge of civil war. The war
threatened to pit the dominant Shi’ite community against the Sunnis, along
with an additional conflict between Arabs and Kurds.

“This struggle has been fueled by actions of the Iraqi government that
many reliable sources indicate have included broad national abuses of human
rights and the misuse of Iraqi forces and the Iraqi security services in
ways where the resulting repression and discrimination has empowered Al
Qaida and other extremist groups,” the report said. “As a result, the very
forces that should help bring security and stability have become part of the

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Gulf states slash oil workers’ pay, Kuwait braces for strike, shutdowns

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ABU DHABI — Kuwait has been bracing for a shutdown of its energy sector.

Union leaders said they were preparing for a strike of Kuwait oil facilities.

A worker walks at Gathering Center 15 oil facility in northern Kuwait.  /AFP

A worker at Gathering Center 15 oil facility in northern Kuwait. /AFP

The union leaders said the 19,000 Kuwaiti workers would not tolerate a decision by the Gulf Cooperation Council state to slash their salaries, which average $19,400 per month.

“Trade unions of all oil companies have taken a decision to go on strike and authorized me to announce the date of the strike which will be determined within the next two days,” Kuwait oil workers union chief Abdul Aziz Al Sharthan said on Jan. 29. “After making a number of legal procedures, I will set the date of the strike which will be within two weeks.”

Over the last two weeks, the union has sought to reverse a decision by the state-owned Kuwait Petroleum Corp. to reduce salaries and benefits.

The decision to cut wages, more than four times those of the rest of the public sector, has been supported by both the government and parliament.

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Turkey launches air strike on Al Qaida convoy in N. Syria

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ANKARA — Turkey has conducted air strikes on Syria.

Officials said fighter-jets attacked Al Qaida-aligned targets in northern Syria.

Turkish F-4 Phantom fighter jet.  /EPA

Turkish F-4 Phantom fighter jet. /EPA

The officials cited a military strike on a convoy of Al Qaida’s Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

“A pickup, a truck and a bus in an ISIL convoy were destroyed,” the Turkish General Staff said on Jan. 29.

Officials said the late Jan. 28 attack was meant to retaliate for ISIL fire on the Turkish Army along the Syrian border. They also cited ISIL raids on ethnic Turkish communities in northern Syria, which sparked an exodus of thousands
to Turkey.

“Turkey has intensified deployment along the Syrian border,” an official said.

The Turkish attack came amid threats by ISIL to expand operations into the NATO state. Officials said the Turkish military and Gendarmerie have stationed troops and armored vehicles along a stretch of the 900-kilometer border with Syria.

In 2013, NATO raised concerns over Turkish support for Al Qaida-aligned
militias, including ISIL, in Syria. Israel has determined that Al Qaida
maintained three bases in Turkey.

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