By Dave Parrack
November 28, 2009
Just a week after it emerged that the U.K. could be on the verge of rolling out free, city-wide wireless Internet connectivity, comes news that could prevent the whole project getting of the ground. A pub landlord has been fined £8,000 ($13,000) because a customer was alleged to have been caught downloading pirated content.
Wi-Fi connectivity in public places is a hot topic right now. Some coffee shops in New York insisted their customers keep buying drinks rather than spend a whole day nursing one to take advantage of the free Wi-Fi. But that is a minor irritation compared to what happened to a British pub landlord.
According to ZDNet, Graham Cove, MD of Wi-Fi hotspot provider The Cloud reported the incident though refused to name the pub in question. A customer of the pub was found to have downloaded copyrighted material from the Internet over the wireless network in the pub. Rather than go after the individual, the unnamed rights holder brought a civil case against the owner of the hostelry.
This is reportedly the first time a provider of a Wi-Fi hotspot has been successfully sued for their part in the downloading process. At least in the U.K.
This seems a bizarre use of the law and could have dire effects on the number of businesses providing free Internet connections. Why would they want to risk being sued for something one of their customers may have done on the premises?
This news comes on top of the the Digital Economy bill that the British government is trying to bring into law. This is the controversial law that aims to crack down on the problem of illegal filesharing by bringing in a 'three strikes and you're out' rule for persistent offenders. If this case is anything to go by then it would only take three customers doing anything illegal on a business' premises for it to have its Internet cut off completely.
Smart Meter announcement
We suspect that these are just remote reading meters and not proper "smart" meters to help control electricity demand
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New laws to target texting
Already, young drivers on graduated licenses are prohibited from using most features associated with cell phones while at the wheel. Adult drivers still will be able to talk on the phone, but texting could land you a $100 fine plus court costs.
"When you're texting, you have your brain and your hand and your eyes all off the road at the same time," said Arthur Goodwin , a senior research associate with the UNC Highway Safety Research Center. "Texting is about one of the most dangerous things you can do while driving."
Studies have shown that talking on a cell phone while driving increases the risk of having an accident nearly fourfold because it makes drivers split their concentration between the conversation and the road. Goodwin likened that risk to someone driving drunk.
Although there hasn't been as much research on texting, Goodwin said, studies have suggested the risk of an accident goes up 32 times for a driver who is texting.
In one study, Goodwin said, texting drivers not only had slower reaction times to emergencies but also were more likely to cross out of their lanes or cross double-yellow center lines.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, seven states and the District of Columbia ban the use of handheld phones while driving, and 14 states ban texting. New bans are scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1 in four other states.
In October, President Barack Obama signed an executive order banning federal employees from texting while driving when they are conducting government business. It includes the use of personal and government-provided cars and cell phones.
Still, Goodwin said, such laws can be difficult to enforce. A police officer might have trouble determining whether drivers are holding mobile devices or what they're doing with them.
"It seems like it's largely going to be a self-enforcing thing," Goodwin said.
Crash victims seek crackdown on texting drivers
November 29, 2009, 6:02AM
DOVER -- David and Linda Kubert remember everything from that September day.
They'd been out together on their Harley, riding along a winding road in Morris County.
They can picture the curve ahead, the pickup truck coming toward them. They can see the young driver through the windshield, his elbows on the steering wheel, his face angled down toward what police would later determine was his cell phone.
"The next minute we were on the ground," Linda Kubert said.
Both she and her husband lost a leg in the crash. The teenage driver received three tickets that could result in a fine.
Nearly a dozen surgeries later, the Kuberts have begun a campaign to put more teeth into penalties for motorists who flout New Jersey's ban on using cell phones without hands-free equipment.
The Dover couple, both 56, say they're particularly troubled by what they consider the weak punishment for those who text-message behind the wheel, an activity shown by research to be far more dangerous than driving drunk.
"You take somebody's life or you hurt someone, I think you should go to jail," Linda Kubert said. "We're in jail, kind of. We're prisoners here, basically."
The crash that changed the Kuberts' life occurred Sept. 21 in Mine Hill, not far from their home. The Kuberts were on their motorcycle, with David in front. In the seconds afterward, David Kubert knew he was in desperate shape.
"My leg is off," he recalls crying out to his wife. Then, seeing her sprawled on the pavement, he struggled to crawl toward her.
They underwent more than six hours of surgery at Morristown Memorial Hospital. Doctors were uncertain whether David Kubert would live.
The driver of the pickup truck, 18-year-old Kyle Best of Wharton, was issued summonses by a Wharton police officer for using a cell phone without a hands-free device, careless driving, and making an unsafe lane change. Best did not return a call for comment, and the family turned away a reporter who knocked on the door Friday.
Authorities, saying the case remains under investigation, have not specified whether Best was talking or text-messaging at the time of the crash. Either way, the Kuberts contend, the teen was clearly distracted when he crossed the center line.
Their hope is that with stronger penalties in place, motorists will think twice before picking up the phone. The fine for texting or talking without a hands-free device now stands at $100. "One hundred dollars doesn't even pay for our medicine," Linda Kubert said, referring to the two dozen pill bottles that sit atop the refrigerator in the couple's home. "What's $100 to somebody these days?"
The Kuberts' campaign, like their recovery, is in its early stages. David Kubert has written a letter to state Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester), who is expected to become Senate president next year. Kubert said he plans to write to several more legislators, asking them to toughen the law.
"There have to be stricter penalties," David Kubert said. "That's the only thing that is going to stop it."
Researchers have long warned about the perils of talking on a cell phone while driving. More recently, attention has turned to texting, a far more immersive activity than speaking.
One study by the Transport Research Laboratory, a Britain-based group that examines road and vehicle safety, found that a driver's reaction time slowed 35 percent when text-messaging. By contrast, reaction time slowed 12 percent among motorists whose blood alcohol level was at the legal limit.
A separate study released in July by researchers at Virginia Tech found that motorists who text are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash or a near-crash than drivers who are not distracted.
New Jersey is one of 19 states banning text-messaging for all drivers, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, but only in Utah do penalties approach the punishment for driving under the influence.
Under Utah's law, which took effect in May, someone caught texting and driving faces up to three months in jail and a fine up to $750. If an accident causes injury or death, the penalty may be increased to as much as 15 years in prison, with a fine up to $10,000.
New Jersey law enforcement agencies issue an average of 10,000 citations each month for cell phone violations, said Pam Fischer, director of the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety. The problem, Fischer said, is that nearly everyone today uses cell phones in their cars.
And despite the dangers, many of them are texting. In a survey by the AAA Foundation, one in seven drivers admitted to texting behind the wheel. Another survey, released just last week, found the problem to be even worse among the youngest drivers.
According to the survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center, a quarter of teenage drivers admitted to texting, and almost half said they'd been passengers when another teen texted behind the wheel.
The Kuberts recognize the difficulty of forcing change, but they're approaching it with the same determination they've applied to their own recovery.
They are recuperating at a relatively fast pace, and doctors believe both will be able to walk again with the help of prosthetics. So far they have avoided infection.
Throughout the grueling process, they've learned how much they miss little pleasures.
"Taking a shower, you know," Linda Kubert said. "Getting up out of bed at night. You can't just get up out of bed. Chasing around my grandchildren. We can't go to the grocery store."
They know that time will come. David Kubert, a Verizon employee, said he plans to return to work. He's equally eager to get back on a motorcycle.
Both he and his wife are members of the North Jersey Legends HOG chapter, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle club. Over the summer, they rode through Maine, New Hampshire and Canada.
They say they look forward to the day when they can climb on a Harley together, perhaps knowing their advocacy work has prevented a lost limb or a lost life.
"Nobody thinks it can happen to them," Linda Kubert said. "We don't want to see this happen to someone else."
Star-Ledger staff writer Mark Mueller contributed to this report.