The High-Tech Texan Blog

Friday, February 29, 2008

Say It Ain't So. Houston Getting Back in City WiFi business?

Just when we thought the City of Houston learned its lesson from trying to unwire the city from the tangled cables of the Internet, it looks as if they are giving it another try.

Less than six months removed from the unraveling of the Earthlink deal, the City's Digital Houston Initiative has released a Request for Information/Interest to prepare for a competitive solicitation to expand the current municipal wireless network. This RFI was released without the fanfare of the original muni-wireless RFP back in February 2006.

Earthlink was ultimately selected to build out a 600+ square mile area of ubiquitous wireless Internet access. Before one router was installed, the company decided spending $40 million+ on a service that very few people would use that they would kill the Houston project and get out of the muni-wireless business altogether.

Earthlink paid the City over $5 million due to a smartly written agreement by Mayor White's consultants. It is my understanding the City spent some of this money to build-out and beef-up its downtown wireless presence being used for public safety and public service.

So here we go again. Buried in the City's Bids & RFP's Formal Documents web page is an RFI that was sent to "vendors in the US network managed services, Internet service provider, and Wi-Fi Hotspot services market." See the full document PDF.

Here is the meat of the RFI:

6.0 Service Offerings

The City of Houston seeks Information from suitable providers for:
1. Network Operations Services - approaches for providing network operational support for the a “mixed use” municipal wireless broadband network. The objective is to identify options for providing back-office network operations for municipal broadband public safety, public service, digital inclusion, and ISP wholesale customers.

2. Hotspot
Network Services - This RFI seeks options to extend Hotspot amenity services to venues and business establishments in designated high traffic areas across the city. The City intends to consider the opportunity of extending free WiFi access to Houstonians and visitors, provide venues and business with competitive services, and monetize excess network capacity using ad-based hot spot business models.

Today, the Houston downtown business district has ubiquitous WiFi network coverage that was primarily implemented to support the electronic parking meter payment system. This network has significant excess capacity that could be extended to the public through downtown venues and business establishment Hotspots.

3. ISP and Open Access Wholesale Management
Services - to provide undeserved Houston communities with competitive broadband services by extending excess capacity in the municipal broadband network through a wholesale open access services to multiple retail service providers.

Internet applications and services such as VoIP, video, music and e-learning are raising the bar on the minimum symmetrical speed and QoS required to access popular applications. Most under served communities do not have affordable broadband service options that sufficiently support a wide range of applications, including video.

Do we really need a citywide network with more Hotspots popping up at affordable costs or even free access (i.e. AT&T/Starbucks)? Are consumers and businesses willing to pay for not-so-speedy access?

I doubt the City will put up any of its funds to build and operate such a project since they initially found a third-party company in Earthliuk to put up the money. Though that process slowed down the Digital Houston Initiative by a few years it seems Mayor White still wants to leave a legacy of wireless Internet and bridging that digital divide.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Breaking News...Sheila Jackson Lee Available For Radio Interviews!

I received this email today from Hillary Clinton's campaign staff. Apparently Hill is so busy she has her husband stumping for her in Houston at a Fiesta parking lot and Sheila Jackson Lee ready and waiting for any radio outlet to interview her.

Since when does SJL need to send a press release to the media letting us know she is available to do interviews? And how can listeners see her red dress?

Note to Clinton campaign: spend less than time on redundant emails and find two more capable people to speak on your candidate's behalf.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Apples In Abilene

This may be the only reason my kids would go to another college than UT. At least they would still be in Texas.
Schools and universities are often big fans of Apple products, which usually translates to labs and laptop carts full of Macs....and now Abilene Christian University in Texas is getting into the act as well. But rather than handing out MacBooks, the university will be distributing iPhones and iPod touches to all incoming freshmen.
Here is the full article from Ars Technia. Hmmmm, wonder who pays the AT&T bill on those iPhones?

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Monday, February 25, 2008

I Got An HD-DVD Player!

So Toshiba announced last week it is discontinuing its production, support and everything else it put into the HD-DVD format. What did I just do? Me gots me a Toshiba HD-DVD player.

No, I did not graduate from Texas A&M.

As I was preaching on my radio program last weekend, HD-DVD players and discs will now be discounted as retailers want to move them off their shelves to make room for the "winning" format -- Blu-ray. And if you see a really good deal on a HD-DVD player that once cost upwards of $500, then it may be worth getting one. Here's why:
  • These players can play your current collection of DVDs. And if connected to a TV/monitor in the proper way, the video quality will be enhanced than your current DVD player.

  • Players can also play audio CDs, CD-R/-RW, DVD-R/-RW and a few other formats.

  • There are currently around 350 movie titles on HD-DVD with more still to be released over the next few months due to studio contractual obligations. Retailers will be having fire sales on these discs and you can probably pick them up for a very cheap price.

So I'm wasting time at Circuit City this afternoon and sure enough they have all of their HD-DVD players on sale. I got there at the right time and picked up a Toshiba HD-A30 for $59.99. It was also a bonus deal that came with two HD-DVD discs (The Bourne Identity and 300). Plus I got a rebate coupon for 5 more titles.

To recap...a new HD-DVD player, 7 HD-DVD flicks, 60 bones plus tax.

The manager of the Galleria-area Circuit City said that all HD-DVD players will continue to be discounted at all CC stores. The Blu-ray player prices were standing pat. Lemme know if you find a good deal so we can share with others.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

BBQ, Blu-ray, Cell Phones, WiFi and LOST

A potpourri of topics for your mid-February listening pleasure. Saturday's radio program begins right on time at 11am and we kick it off with a little BBQ. And why not? The world's biggest and greatest BBQ cookoff is next week here in the Reliant parking lot. If you see a big cloud hovering over the Dome late next week you now know why.

No doubt the biggest tech topic of the week is HD-DVD's white flag. But now be the best time to go buy one of these son-to-be-obsolete machines; we'll discuss why.

Lots of confusion is in the air about the digital TV conversion next February. According to a report, Houston will be one of the biggest cities that will be freaking out about receiving analog signals due to the number of people, TVs and lack of knowledge. I will do my best to help with the latter.

Expect an interesting conversation with the local heads of AT&T's home and wireless divisions. I'll get their thoughts on the DTV conversion (no worries with their U-verse service), their new WiFi service at Starbucks and the new $99 all-you-can-talk per month rate on their cell service.

And who's jaw didn't drop during the last scene on Thursday's LOST?

Tune in on The 9-5-0. Log on to watch and be seen. Call in at 713-212-5950.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Nothing like being woken up in the middle of the night by a phone call telling you that Toshiba officially announced the end of HD-DVD. Thanks KTRH. Now throw away my phone number.

But I did do an interview early this morning with thoughts on why Sony's Blu-ray format outlasted Toshiba's HD-DVD. The Japan electronics maker will end its HD-DVD business by the end of the month.

Not that I preferred either format but it good news for consumers. Instead of waiting to see which format emerged as the last one standing, now everyone can go out and get a Blu-ray player, Blu-ray discs and watch movies until they are blue in the face.

Even Fidel Castro is excited. He up and resigned so he could spend time in his media room.

If you have an HD-DVD player watch out for fire sales on discs for your machine. Best Buy, and other stores will almost be giving them away.

Several readers have asked for more details. Here is the press release from Toshiba. Don't count them out of the industry just yet as they look to be latching their energy and money onto movie downloads. That, as we have discussed before, may be the new and better way of getting movies rather than buying a Blu-ray player and discs.

[In related news, Universal Studios Home Entertainment just announced it will drop its support of HD-DVD. Really? Watch out for that iceberg we just hit, Captain!]

Speaking of downloads, Microsoft and Netflix seem to be snuggling up to each other as the rumors persist of a partnership. Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, was put on Microsoft's Board of Directors last year so you knew something would happen. Look for an announcement at the Game Developers Conference later this week. Could be that movies from Netflix could be downloaded onto an Xbox via Xbox Live.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

3 Hours of Radio Love Saturday

No college bball games will interrupt my show this Saturday so tune in for a packed show...a lot of tech news happened this week and we'll yap about it all.

Wal-Mart just announced it will stop selling HD-DVDs this summer. Toshiba and its HD-DVD backers will soon sit shivah for this format which looks pretty much dead.

We are almost exactly one year away when the FCC shuts down the analog TV airwaves. Feb. 17, 2009, is not too far and some politicians say the switch to digital TV may be a cluster **** if more consumers and retailers aren't made aware of the change.

Speaking of analog, this Monday marks the date when AT&T Wireless and Verizon Wireless shut down their analog networks. If you have an old brick-type cell phone and can't make a call next week, you now know why.

Blackberry service went down for a few hours on Monday. Yahoo turned down $44 billion. WHAT IS THIS WORLD COMING TO??!??!

I'll straighten everything out from 11a-2p on The 9-5-0. After that I will head over to Reliant Center for the Texas Home & Garden Show. Come by from 3p-4p when I'm on stage answering your questions and giving away goodies. AT&T will have a booth showing off their U-verse service. I'll probably hang around there after that.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Nothing Says VDay Like Free Software

Here's an unlikely combination.

Right now if you buy flowers from, you could get free software from This is part of a Valentine's Day promotion to wise geeks up to the aphrodisiac merits of floral sharing.

Some of the titles you can get with the roses include Spyware Doctor 5.5, McAfee Virus Scan Plus and WinZip 11.1. Alas, no Victoria's Secret UnZip (I made that one up but me would likey!)

Go to's Valentine subsite to cash in on all the love.


Monday, February 11, 2008

HD-DVD stands for Hovering Death

The referee is standing over HD-DVD and the count is 9. The Toshiba-backed format most likely won't last another round. The heavyweight champ of the high-def format war looks to be Blu-ray.

Lending an assist to this inevitable studios which backed the format and retailers who didn't see the need to stock both formats. Two large movie retailers announced today that they will start carrying only Blu-ray DVDs. And when Netflix and Best Buy make statements like this it maybe time for HD-DVD backers to throw in the towel.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each format but we all knew it was a matter of time until only one player was left standing. When Warner Bros. made the announcement last month - on the eve of the CES show in Las Vegas - that it was backing Blu-ray, all bets were off that HD-DVD would be the victor.

Netflix and Best Buy follow the lead that Blockbuster took last year when it decided to go Blu-ray only.

This isn't the final straw but it could be only a matter of time until HD-DVD players join the list of "wrong product, wrong place, wrong time" objects like the Betamax player, the Ford Edsel, the McDLT and grape-flavored Tang.

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Blackberry Service Down

Stop emailing me! Yes, I know Blackberry email service has been down for a few hours. It must have been hard finding an actual computer or laptop - and using that big keyboard - to send me emails. You're used to banging messages out on that little RIM device.

Research In Motion notified customers this afternoon of a "critical severity outage." In other words, back away from the windows and rooftop ledges people. This is just a technological blip that will soon get resolved.

This happened to RIM last April when several hundred thousand customers across North America experienced a Blackberry blackout.

I just got word from my contact at the company's Canadian headquarters that the issue has been resolved. It may take several hours for devices to be fully opertational due to the backload of undelivered messages.


Yahoo Poo Poos MS Offer, Starbucks Drinks In AT&T

Classic negotiation tactic. Deal Making 101.

As expected Yahoo rejected Microsoft's offer of $31 per share. Not to worry that the offer was 62% above Yahoo's market value at the time, right?

What? You think Yahoo was going to take the first offer? Hells no. They are either buying more time to look for another suitor, er partner, like AOL or Jerry Yang & Co. want to right the online ship themselves.

Personally I would not want to play chicken with Steve Ballmer. Microsoft's next move may be to take the $44.6 billion offer directly to Yahoo shareholders.

Other news stealing headlines today from Amy Winehouse include an announcement from Starbucks that it is dropping T-Mobile as its in-store WiFi provider. Regional AT&T Chief Ed Cholerton gave me a heads up last week that they were going to be the coffee chain's new WiFi partner. I must have been too stoked up on caffeine to report it here.

The good news for consumers about this move is that AT&T will offer many users free service. Got U-verse or DSL? You'll be spending time at Starbucks with your laptop and free access. AT&T remote business access services members are also set as are Starbucks prepaid card holders.

Worse case scenario is that you can pay AT&T $19.99 a month for access and use the WiFi service not only at 7,000+ U.S. Starbucks but also at 17,000 more AT&T hot spots in the country. Between McDonald's, Barnes & Noble and now Starbucks, who needs citywide WiFi?

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sinatra's MySpace

Here is the link to the Sinatra "My Way" parody I played during Saturday's show. Ol' Blue Eyes would be rolling over in his grave if wireless iPod speakers could penetrate six feet of dirt.

I'll be in Orlando mid-week to participate on a panel for GE's Ecomagination homebuilding program. This event coincides with the International Builders Show. Will try some remote blogging, Twittering and Uttering.

Because I just looooove convention centers I will giving a home technology seminar this Saturday, Feb. 16, at the Texas Home & Garden Show. 3-4pm at Reliant Center.

Other random ramblings this weekend:
  • I actually watched most all of the Pro Bowl game. Not sure why but the 3:30pm CT start time may have been better than the 7pm start times like they used to have. Nothing like NFL All-Stars banging into each other at 10:30am local Hawaii time.
  • Is anyone watching the Grammy's (an hour into it as I type this)?? Tina Turner's face has been frozen since 1984. My high-def TV tells me that Beyonce may have had a little work done herself. But as I've always said she needs to work on those thighs a bit. Seriously.
  • Amy Winehouse has already won like a dozen awards. Think she realizes she won?
  • TV highlight of the year so far...Morris Day and The Time playing together for the first time in 15 years. My son was watching this and ddn't understand how big a deal this was for me. Jimmy Jam has gained some weight since the mid-80's but he can still swing. Mirror-holding Jerome looks as young and fit as he was back in the day of stage sliding. But why did they have to bring out Rihanna during set? Someone please find this on YouTube for me.

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Friday, February 08, 2008

Earthlink Selling Its Muni WiFi Division...

...but thanks for the $5 million.

It seems like only last year we were reporting regularly on the city's deal with Earthlink to build the largest WiFi network in North America. We now know that Earthlink pulled out of its deal with the city after a new CEO took over the Atlanta-based ISP.

Not only does municipal WiFi seem so 90's now, Earthlink has finally realized that building $50 million+ networks for wireless Internet access is akin to offering dial-up Internet connections (wait, they still do that). 0-for-2, Earthlink. The company is selling its muni WiFi business. Any takers?

In a conference call Thursday evening Earthlink also said it is no longer investing in Helio, a cell phone service targeting tech-savvy kids. Kiss 300 or so million dollars goodbye. 0-for-3.

Hey, who wants to meet me at Downing Street Pub for a stogie and free WiFi. Imagine that.

More on this during Saturday's radio show, 11am on The 9-5-0.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Apple and Beer

Apple kept itself relevant by releasing news about new products today. A 16GB iPhone (whoop-tee-doo. I haven't come close to filling up my 8GB) and a 32GB iTouch. That's a nice large capacity for a flash drive gadget. And a nice large price at $499.

I'm still detoxing from the Super Bowl and the post-hype. It was the most-watched Super Bowl with 97 million people tuning in. And here is another after-the-game "ad" that hilariously recaps the in-game TV spots. Score one for Miller Beer:

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Super Duper Birthday Bowl

Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Vista and every other tech-related thing can wait for now. America just took a collective breath after one of the most entertaining Super Bowls played. For the record I celebrated with a Chip Off The Old Block cake with XLIII candles (thanks Dessert Gallery).

Like I said on Saturday, take the Giants plus the points. In hindsight, just go ahead and take the Giants on the money line - you would have won about $400 for every $100 you bet.

The Eli-to-Tyree 4th quarter catch probably will go down as the greatest grab in SB history. I'll probably remember that as long as my memory of Jackie Smith dropping the easiest possible TD catch in SB history. (greatest Verne Lunquist quote..."Bless his heart, he has to be the sickest man in America!")

I kind of paid attention to the halftime show. The guitar-shaped stage looked cool and I wish Vegas had a line on the number of those kids in the fake audience who knew who Tom Petty was (Over/Under was probably 24). He looked old. And where were the other two remaining Wilburys?

No in-game commercials stuck out in my mind as being great. I liked the E-Trade baby throwing up on the keyboard and the Amp nipple-car charging spot was kind of amusing. The interesting thing to note is that these aired in the 4th quarter, usually a time for ho-hum commercials.

The best TV spot of the entire weekend began airing this morning after the big game. Reebok filmed two spots with several of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins. The setting was in front of a home in "Perfectville - Pop. 1 - Founded 1972." A Giants Courier truck rolls up the driveway and Dolphins outspoken running back Mercury Morris signs for the package. In it is a gift wrapped football with a note from Eli Manning. The note reads "A gift from the NY Giants. Enjoy it for one more year."

The spot works on so many levels. What I would really like to see, though, is the alternate ending they would have aired had the Patriots won the game. Probably Morris delivering a note to a house next door with "Welcome to the neighborhood, Patriots."

The ubiquitous "I'm going to Disneyworld" ad also started airing early Monday morning. Eli actually looks so young he likely would be questioned riding Space Mountain. One Houston note...Texans PR man Tony Wylie can be seen in this spot right next to Eli. All NFL teams send their PR staff to volunteer the Super Bowl. Apparently Wylie's duty was to corral the game's MVP. He looked like a deer caught in the headlights. (Note to Wylie - I'd give you more props if you would ever grant me a freakin' media pass to cover a Texans game. I talk more about sports than technology on my radio show and I still can't get a pass. So have your staff stop questioning my allegiance to the superior Cowboys).

Biggest winners of the day:

Eli Manning. Maybe he'll have a shot of coming close to his brother's marketing appeal.
Oreo. I don't really like the TV ad but what was the last spot to have the last two Super Bowl MVP's in the same spot?
The '72 Dolphins. Still the only undefeated team which means $$ at autograph appearances.
Justin Garfield. My 12 year-old son had 7 (Giants) and 3 (Pats) in the square pool. $50 bucks


Friday, February 01, 2008

Big Show This Saturday

Who needs the Super Bowl when we have an action-packed, information-filled radio show this weekend like we always do?

If you have worries about viruses, trojans, malware or just an Internet meltdown, tune in near the top of the show to hear about an exciting new company with - apparently - the strongest possible protection to our computers, our government security and maybe even our cholestrol levels (OK, I made that cholestrol thing up!).

Scott Copeland from Houston-based startup Exobox will be my guest to tell the story how he developed the software that could be the end-all, be-all protection for the IT industry.

The fun starts at 11am CT this Saturday. Listen and watch online.

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Yodeling Paperclips

That could be the new icon for Microsoft if its proposed offer of $44.6 billion to buy Yahoo goes through. That news is rattling the Left Coast this morning from Seattle to Silicon Valley along with Wall Street.

The cash-and-stock bid was said to be unsolicited by Yahoo but it should not come as a surprise to the search engine's CEO Jerry Yang. Since he took over the reins last year from ousted leader Terry Semel, young Mr. Yang has been trying to make Yahoo as relevant when he and his partner founded the company in the mid-90s.

Both Microsoft and Yahoo - technology leaders in their respective categories for many years - have been losing ground, revenue and buzz to Google. This merger could be the only way that Microsoft finally catches up to Google with Internet traffic and ad revenue.

Yahoo stock was up over 51% to $28.96 in pre-market trading Friday. Microsoft stock is holding steady around $32.60.

No doubt we will keep a close watch on this story.

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