Have you found yourself texting people instead of calling them? Sure. Have you stopped to debate whether texting is a form of “telecommunications” or an “information service?” Chances are the answer is “no”.
California’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is betting you haven’t either — and the difference matters because the commission has jurisdiction over telecommunications, which includes telephone calls. What’s more, it wants to extend an existing tax on calls to include text messages, the Mercury News reports.
Should it get its way, then Californians may soon be taxed on every text they send from their cell phones.
Gather round, millennials and Generation Z, to learn about the landline era, when the U.S. federal government and states established so-called Public Purpose Programs. These programs charged all users of telephone services a surcharge that subsidized programs for lower earners. They also apply to other utilities such as electricity and natural gas. During the rise of the Internet, however, the telecoms industry managed to get an exemption for “information services” such as web browsing and email.
As mobile phone users have shifted their usage patterns away from voice calls, voice call revenues for PPP have dropped by about a third, while the budget for subsidizing poorer users has risen by almost half. So California’s PUC is exploring its options and, as texts share infrastructure with voice calls — even if the medium is different — it estimates it could raise $ 44.5 million a year with the change. Applied retroactively it could amount to a bill of more than $ 220 million for California consumers.
In response, the telecoms industry is filing complaints arguing that texting is an email-like “information service” and should be exempt from PPP. The FCC is meeting today to address the issue.
Of course, even texting is going out of fashion. Chat apps that route messages over the Internet, such as WhatsApp and iMessage, would be exempt and already represent almost triple the volume of texts, an industry group says.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States Postal Service should have more flexibility to raise rates for packages, according to recommendations from a task force set up by President Donald Trump, a move that could hurt profits of Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) and other large online retailers. The task force was announced in April to find ways to stem financial losses by the service, an independent agency within the federal government. Its creation followed criticism by Trump that the Postal Office provided too much service to Amazon for too little money.
FILE PHOTO – A view shows U.S. postal service mail boxes at a post office in Encinitas, California in this February 6, 2013, file photo. REUTERS/Mike Blake/Files
The Postal Service lost almost $ 4 billion in fiscal 2018, which ended on Sept. 30, even as package deliveries rose.
It has been losing money for more than a decade, the task force said, partially because the loss of revenue from letters, bills and other ordinary mail in an increasingly digital economy have not been offset by increased revenue from an explosion in deliveries from online shopping.
The president has repeatedly attacked Amazon for treating the Postal Service as its “delivery boy” by paying less than it should for deliveries and contributing to the service’s $ 65 billion loss since the global financial crisis of 2007 to 2009, without presenting evidence.
Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos also owns the Washington Post, a newspaper whose critical coverage of the president has repeatedly drawn Trump’s ire.
The rates the Postal Service charges Amazon and other bulk customers are not made public.
“None of our findings or recommendations relate to any one company,” a senior administration official said on Tuesday.
Amazon shares closed down 5.8 percent at $ 1,669.94, while eBay (EBAY.O) fell 3.1 percent to $ 29.26, amid a broad stock market selloff on Tuesday.
The Package Coalition, which includes Amazon and other online and catalog shippers, warned against any move to raise prices to deliver their packages.
“The Package Coalition is concerned that, by raising prices and depriving Americans of affordable delivery services, the Postal Task Force’s package delivery recommendations would harm consumers, large and small businesses, and especially rural communities,” the group said in an emailed statement.
A mailbox for United States Postal Service (USPS) and other mail is seen outside a home in Malibu, California, December 10, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Most of the recommendations made by the task force, including possible price hikes, can be implemented by the agency. Changes, such as to frequency of mail delivery, would require legislation.
The task force recommended that the Postal Service have the authority to charge market-based rates for anything that is not deemed an essential service, like delivery of prescription drugs.
BAD NEWS FOR AMAZON
“Although the USPS does have pricing flexibility within its package delivery segment, packages have not been priced with profitability in mind. The USPS should have the authority to charge market-based prices for both mail and package items that are not deemed ‘essential services,’” the task force said in its summary.
That would be bad news for Amazon and other online sellers that ship billions of packages a year to customers.
“If they go to market pricing, there will definitely be a negative impact on Amazon’s business,” said Marc Wulfraat, president of logistics consultancy MWPVL International Inc.
If prices jumped 10 percent, that would increase annual costs for Amazon by at least $ 1 billion, he said.
The task force also recommended that the Postal Service address rising labor costs.
The Postal Service should also restructure $ 43 billion in pre-funding payments that it owes the Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund, the task force said.
Cowen & Co, in a May report, said the Postal Service and Amazon were “co-dependent,” but that Amazon went elsewhere for most packages that needed to arrive quickly.
Cowen estimated that the Postal Service delivered about 59 percent of Amazon’s U.S. packages in 2017, and package delivery could account for 50 percent of postal service revenue by 2023.
The American Postal Workers Union warned against any effort to cut services. “Recommendations would slow down service, reduce delivery days and privatize large portions of the public Postal Service. Most of the report’s recommendations, if implemented, would hurt business and individuals alike,” the union said in a statement.
Amazon, FedEx Corp (FDX.N) and United Parcel Service Inc (UPS.N) did not return requests for comment.
Reporting by Diane Bartz and Jeffrey Dastin; editing by Bill Berkrot
In 2011, biologists Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier published a landmark paper introducing the world to Crispr. The arcane family of bacterial proteins had a talent for precisely snipping DNA, and one of them—Cas9—has since inspired a billion-dollar boom in biotech investment. Clinical trials using Cas9 clippers to fix genetic defects are just beginning, so it will be years before Crispr-based cures could potentially reach the world.
But Crispr tech could actually be showing up in your doctor’s office way sooner. Not to treat what ails you, but to diagnose it.
Today, Doudna joined with researchers from her lab at UC Berkeley and bioinformaticians from Stanford to launch the first commercial Crispr platform for detecting disease-causing DNA. Called Mammoth Biosciences, the startup is developing point-of-care diagnostic tests that work by using Crispr to pick up bits of genetic material circulating in your blood, spit, or urine—say, a few copies of Zika virus left behind by a mosquito, or some mutations in a cancer cell shed from a tumor.
They’re not the only scientists working on this new Crispr capability, but they are the first to finance a company for its use. “There are these really amazing biosensing properties of Crispr that people hadn’t realized for a long time,” says Trevor Martin, Mammoth’s CEO and one of its five co-founders. “Billions of years of evolution have given us these incredible proteins, which science is just beginning to characterize.” Their goal is to use those properties to design diagnostics for the frontlines of outbreaks and in hospital emergency rooms, places where patients don’t have days to wait to send samples off to labs for testing.
One of those incredible proteins is Cas12a, formerly known as Cpf1. In a paper published in Science in February, Doudna and two other Mammoth co-founders, Janice Chen and Lucas Harrington, showcased how Cas12a could accurately identify different types of the human papillomavirus in human samples. Like Cas9, Cas12a latches on to a DNA strand when it reaches its genetic target, then slices. But then it does something Cas9 doesn’t: It starts shredding up any single-stranded DNA it finds.
So the researchers decided to hack that hunger for nucleotides. First they programmed Cas12a to chop two strains of HPV that can cause cancer. They added it, along with a “reporter molecule”—a piece of single-stranded DNA that releases a fluorescent signal when cut—to test tubes containing human cells. The samples that had been infected with HPV glowed; the healthy ones didn’t.
Martin wouldn’t disclose which Crispr systems Mammoth would be using, saying only that the company is confident in the technology it has exclusively licensed from UC Berkeley. And because patent applications are secret for the first 18 months after they’re filed, there’s no good way to know exactly which Crispr system Mammoth is working with. But with Chen and Harrington and Doudna all coming on board, all signs point to Cas12a.
That could potentially present a problem, since the Broad Institute’s Feng Zhang filed gene editing patents on Cas12a back in 2015, and licensed them to Editas Medicine for its work pursuing human therapeutics. Any potential dispute may come down to the protein’s intended use. In the ongoing conflict between Berkeley and Broad over Cas9, the US Patent and Trademark Office has ruled that using Crispr to detect DNA, rather than edit it, constituted a separate, valid claim. In 2016, the office issued a Cas9 patent for detecting nucleic acids to Caribou Biosciences in Berkeley, which was co-founded by Doudna as a Crispr tool developer and has also filed Cas12a patents of its own. Why it wasn’t a good fit for building a new diagnostics platform is unclear. (Doudna declined to answer any questions for this story).
But there are other signs that a patent war over Crispr’s diagnostic capabilities may never come. Zhang’s group has been hard at work on using another protein—Cas13—to detect disease. They reported last year in Science that their system could pick out multiple viruses, such as Zika and dengue, in one sample simultaneously. And they moved beyond fluorescence to something more practical: disposable paper strips. Dip them in the prepped sample and a red line shows up if there are viral genes present, no lab instruments or electricity required.
The Broad says it is exploring a licensing strategy that will make the tests—which cost only a few dollars to make—widely available, especially in the developing world where the need for field-based diagnostics is most urgent. Another research group at the institution, led by virus hunter Pardis Sabeti, plans to begin validation and benchmarking trials of the tech later this year in Nigeria, where an outbreak of Lassa fever has infected hundreds of people since January. If those go well, the hope is to eventually set up the infrastructure to test people when they first start showing symptoms, to help public health officials better track and contain the virus.
“We’ve done a lot of sequencing of Lassa in the last few years to understand its evolution, and now we’re at a stage where we can use all that information to design these really cool, really discriminating tests,” says Cameron Myhrvold, a systems biologist at the Broad who’s helped develop the protocols for making the Cas13-based diagnostics work without any fancy instrumentation. “Those genetic resources are really what has allowed us to go beyond the standard antibody tests, which need to be done in a lab.”
Both the Broad’s and Mammoth’s methods need more work to demonstrate their accuracy before passing regulatory muster. But once that happens, you could design a test for just about anything; it’s just a matter of programming the right genetic guide to get Crispr to its intended target. Imagine testing ER patients for multiple kinds of bacterial resistance before prescribing life-saving antibiotics. Or being able to afford to offer the test to every woman of childbearing age in a Zika-infected zone. Or upping cancer screenings to three, four, five times a year, all for the cost of a craft beer.
That last one is Mammoth’s first order of business; the company is focusing on finding partners in the liquid biopsy space, to bring paper-based tests into the exam room. But someday they hope to be more all-purpose, helping farmers track root rot in their fields or using DNA barcodes to trace the flow of fracking water into aquifers. Crispr-Cas9 might be the first in the family to cure a human disease, but its cousins might be the first to save a life.
DHAKA (Reuters) – Bangladesh’s finance minister said late on Saturday he wanted to “wipe out” a Philippines bank that was used to channel $ 81 million stolen from the Bangladeshi central bank’s account with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York last year.
FILE PHOTO: A security guard stands guard outside a branch of Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) in Paranaque city, Metro Manila, Philippines August 2, 2016. REUTERS/Erik De Castro/File Photo
Abul Maal A. Muhith was responding to questions from reporters about a Reuters story on Friday that said Bangladesh Bank had asked the New York Fed to join a lawsuit it was considering filing against Manila-based Rizal Commercial Banking Corp (RCBC) RCBS.PS seeking damages.
“The Bangladesh Bank has taken a decision (on filing a suit). They will let me know. We haven’t so far taken any steps as the Philippines government was taking care of it (investigating the heist),” Muhith said.
“But it seems Rizal bank has been playing delinquent. We want to wipe out Rizal bank from the world.”
Muhith did not elaborate. He did not respond to requests seeking comment.
FILE PHOTO: Commuters pass by the front of the Bangladesh central bank building in Dhaka, Bangladesh on March 8, 2016. REUTERS/Ashikur Rahman/File Photo
Unidentified hackers stole the money using fraudulent orders on the SWIFT payments system. The money was sent to accounts at RCBC and then disappeared into the casino industry in the Philippines.
Nearly two years later, there is no word on who was responsible and Bangladesh Bank has been able to retrieve only about $ 15 million, mostly from a Manila junket operator. (reut.rs/2jk1W74)
The Philippine central bank fined RCBC a record one billion pesos ($ 20 million) last year for its failure to prevent the movement of the stolen money through it.
RCBC has said it would not pay any compensation to Bangladesh Bank and that Dhaka bank bore responsibility for the theft since it was negligent.
RCBC did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment on a Sunday about Muhith’s comments.
Reporting by Serajul Quadir, Krishna N. Das, Ruma Paul and Karen Lema; Editing by Toby Chopra
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has been investigating allegations that more than half of the 21.7 million public comments submitted to the FCC about net neutrality used temporary or duplicate email addresses and appeared to include false or misleading information.
Schneiderman said the FCC agreed on Monday to assist in the probe. “We’re going to hold them to that – and, in the meantime, it’s vital that the FCC delay the vote until we know what happened,” said Schneiderman.
The 2015 rules changed the designation of internet service providers, or ISPs, usually big cable and telephone companies, so they were banned from blocking or throttling (slowing) legal content or from seeking payments to speed delivery of certain content, called “paid prioritization.”
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who opposes the net neutrality rollback, agreed that the vote should be delayed.
Last week, we heard Hugh Jackman lament that he’d probably keep playing Wolverine if he could show up in an Avengers movie. Well, turns out he’s not the only actor who’s been in a Marvel Comics movie that wants in on the success of Marvel Studios—Fantastic Four’s own villain has joined the line.
Adobe just released a concept video depicting an iPad user making simple edits to his photos by issuing voice commands. Hit the play button above to check it out. The tech shown in the clip isn’t particularly exciting, as it seems like you could probably achieve the same result much faster using the touchscreen. Plus, the voice-based system would either have to be sophisticated enough to understand a wide range of commands and synonymous ones, or you’d have to learn the exact terms to use for each function. It’s simpler to just pick tools and settings by looking at buttons…
Public clouds may promise a world of potential benefits, but for companies grappling with data sovereignty and other issues, the risks can loom large. Hoping to ease such concerns, Oracle launched a product on Thursday that effectively puts its public cloud behind the enterprise firewall.
Called Oracle Cloud at Customer, the new suite lets companies tap the Oracle Cloud as a fully managed service within their data center, giving them full control.
“We bring in a cloud machine, which is basically a replica of our public cloud services, and install it at the customer site,” said Amit Zavery, senior vice president for the Oracle Cloud Platform, in an interview on Tuesday. “Customers can get the infrastructure, the database, all the public cloud services, but behind the firewall.”
Yachts are for chumps. People who really know how to spend their money get submersible yachts from Migaloo, a mysterious company that offers five different models of underwater palaces. But true evil villains just go for the Migaloo’s crown jewel: Kokomo Ailand.