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December 7 2013

December 9, 2013

7 December 2013



At many agencies, fears of an exodus

Hundreds of thousands of feds can retire today

Dec. 1, 2013 – 02:31PM | By SEAN REILLY


Across the federal government, only one out of every seven full-time employees is currently eligible to retire.

But that overall 14 percent ratio masks gaping disparities across agency and organizational lines. At one NASA organization — the Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley — the proportion of retirement-eligible employees stands at almost 28 percent, according to Office of Personnel Management statistics released at Federal Times’ request.

The statistics show that some agencies are far more vulnerable to a retirement-driven exodus than others.

“Yes, it is a concern to us,” said Karen Newton Cole, deputy chief human capital officer at the Housing and Urban Development Department, where almost a quarter of the workforce can immediately retire — the highest percentage of any Cabinet-level department. “If everybody suddenly decided to take a walk, it would cripple the agency.”

Although unsure of the reason for the high ratio of retirement-eligibles, Newton Cole saw it as a positive reflection of employee commitment to the department’s mission. Whatever the cause, HUD is updating its departmentwide succession plan and taking measures — such as cross-training workers for more than one job — to prepare for a smaller workforce, she said.

At the Federal Aviation Administration, a much larger agency where 22 percent of employees are retirement eligible, the cause isn’t hard to find. A large chunk of FAA’s workforce is made up of air traffic controllers hired after 1981 when President Ronald Reagan fired their predecessors in response to a strike. Unlike most federal workers, those controllers face mandatory retirement at age 56. In the past five years, the FAA has made more than 6,660 new hires to help replace about 3,000 controllers who retired over the same time, spokesman Hank Price said in an email.

But sequester-related budget cuts that took effect in March largely shut down that pipeline. The FAA had planned to hire more than 1,200 controllers in fiscal 2013; because of a sequester-related hiring freeze, only about 550 were brought on board, said Doug Church, spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

Although hopeful that the funding outlook will improve this year, the broader demographic trend means the situation is “probably going to get worse before it gets better,” Church said.

For agencies with a large number of employees eligible to retire, a phased-retirement option is one tool “to mitigate that risk,” said Adam Cole, a senior director at CEB, a member-based advisory firm in northern Virginia. Congress approved that option last year; the Office of Personnel Management is drafting rules to implement it.

Some entities have the opposite problem. At the Patent and Trademark Office, a branch of the Commerce Department that has been rapidly hiring to reduce a backlog of patent applications, less than 7 percent of the workforce can retire. At the Defense Contract Audit Agency, the figure is 10 percent.

Navy Cmdr. Bill Urban, a DCAA spokesman, attributed the relatively low number to hiring that has boosted the size of the total workforce by more than 700 employees in the last four years.

Among federal organizations with more than 1,000 employees, NASA’s Ames Research Center had the highest proportion of retirement-eligibles: More than one out of four of its 1,200employees are able to retire immediately. That percentage is well above other NASA agencies. At Ames, the staff is “very energized” by its work on aeronautics and space applications, Associate Director Deborah Feng said in written answers. In addition, she said, employees often leave to take jobs at local companies, only to return later on to Ames’ benefit.

But, while the center has a succession plan, Feng said, “limited hiring flexibility” is hampering its ability to prepare for “the departure of a large share of our seasoned workforce.”


Background check contractor at risk of suspension, experts say

USIS faces fraud claims in lawsuit

Nov. 3, 2013 – 06:00AM | By SEAN REILLY


The government’s top contractor that performs security clearance background investigations appears to be scrambling to head off suspension or debarment as it comes under increased fire for allegedly defrauding the government.

Last week, the Justice Department joined in a False Claims Act lawsuit filed against USIS of Falls Church, Va.. The firm performs almost two-thirds of the background checks for security clearances that are extended to millions of federal employees and contractors, according to one lawmaker.

The case, unsealed last week, was filed in Alabama two years ago by Blake Percival, a former director of fieldwork services at the company, who alleges that USIS systematically submitted background investigations to the government that were incomplete or not properly reviewed, which, if true, would constitute fraud.

“We will not tolerate shortcuts taken by companies that we have entrusted with vetting individuals to be given access to our country’s sensitive and secret information,” Stuart Delery, head of DOJ’s civil division, said in a news release. “The Justice Department will take action against those who charge the taxpayers for services they failed to provide, especially when their non-performance could place our country’s security at risk.”

The department is mulling whether to proceed with its own complaint.

In his suit, Percival charges that the firm defrauded the government by forwarding cases to the Office of Personnel Management that had either not undergone a contractually required review or “had not been investigated at all.”

The practice, known as “dumping,” aimed to pump up revenue because USIS is paid about $1,900 for every investigative report turned in to OPM before the next-to-last day of the month and just 75 percent of that amount thereafter, Percival alleges. When Percival refused to order his employees to continue dumping, he was fired in June 2011, according to the suit.

USIS, which became aware of the allegations 18 months ago, has cooperated with the investigation, said the company’s spokeswoman Brandy Bergman. She declined comment on whether the company has had any discussions with OPM about the possibility of suspension or debarment. By press time late last week,an OPM spokesman had not responded to the same question.

The company, owned by the investment firm Providence Equity Partners, came under scrutiny earlier this year because it performed the background checks both for Edward Snowden, the one-time National Security Agency contractor who has leaked details of classified programs to the media, and Aaron Alexis, a former Navy reservist who gunned down a dozen people at the Washington Navy Yard in September before being killed by police. In the latter case, OPM has said that it believes that the check on Alexis was complete and fully complied with investigative standards.

Federal contractors faced with charges of serious wrongdoing typically respond by bolstering their ethics programs and removing problem executives as a way to demonstrate they are “responsible” companies that can continue to be entrusted with federal work.

USIS has revamped its senior management team and hired an independent integrity officer reporting directly to the board and CEO, according to Bergman. “We have acted decisively to ensure the quality of our work and adherence to OPM requirements,” Bergman said in a statement. Of the three USIS employees accused by Percival of participation in the dumping scheme, none is still with the firm.

Bob Meunier, a former suspension and debarment official with the Environmental Protection Agency who is now a consultant, said it appears that USIS — formerly known as U.S. Investigations Services — is trying to avert a cutoff of government business.

“In this day and age, you would be a fool to do nothing if you knew you were under investigation,” Meunier said, stressing that he had no direct knowledge of the case.

Jessica Tillipman, a contracts law specialist and assistant dean at George Washington University Law School, also sees USIS at risk of suspension or debarment. While any federal suspension or debarment official would likely take that option more seriously after the Justice Department intervened in a False Claims Act suit, the outcome would hinge in part on what steps the company does “to remedy the issue,” she said.

Since January, the company’s CEO has been Sterling Phillips, who in 2010 was brought in to lead tech firm GTSI in a shakeup after that company was briefly suspended from federal contracts for allegedly gaming set-aside programs.


USIS is the largest of three contractors that do background checks for OPM and other agencies, handling about 65 percent of the total, according to Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

At the Senate hearing last week, Elaine Kaplan, OPM’s acting director, said her agency continues to have “some level” of confidence in USIS, citing its management changes since Percival’s suit was filed.

“Rely, but trust, but verify,” Kaplan said, according to a transcript.

The Government Accountability Office has urged OPM to create yardsticks to measure the quality of background investigations. Brenda Farrell, a GAO director for defense capabilities and management, said at the Senate hearing that several years ago OPM had an agreement with the defense and intelligence communities to move forward, “but at this time, all we know is that that plan has fallen apart.”



More Chinese Air ID Zones Predicted


Dec. 1, 2013 – 04:18PM   |  



TAIPEI, SEOUL AND TOKYO — China’s establishment of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) last week over the East China Sea has given the US an unexpected challenge as Vice President Joseph Biden prepares for a trip to China, Japan and South Korea beginning this week.

The trip was scheduled to address economic issues, but the Nov. 23 ADIZ announcement raised a troubling new issue for the US and allies in the region. China’s ADIZ overlaps the zones of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

Sources indicate China’s ADIZ could be part of its larger anti-access/area-denial strategy designed to force the US military to operate farther from China’s shorelines.

China might also be planning additional identification zones in the South China Sea and near contested areas along India’s border, US and local sources say.

China’s ADIZ might be an attempt by Beijing to improve its claim to disputed islands in the East China Sea also claimed by Japan, sources said. These islands — known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China — are under the administrative control of Japan.

Mike Green, senior vice president for Asia and Japan chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said this is part of a larger Chinese strategy beyond disputes over islands.

“This should be viewed as a part of a Chinese effort to assert greater denial capacity and eventual pre-eminence over the First Island Chain” off the coast, he said.

Green, who served on the US National Security Council from 2001 to 2005, said China’s Central Military Commission in 2008 “promulgated the ‘Near Sea Doctrine,’ and is following it to the letter, testing the US, Japan, Philippines and others to see how far they can push.”

June Teufel Dreyer, a veteran China watcher at the University of Miami, Fla., said “salami slicing” is a large part of China’s strategic policy. “The salami tactic has been stunningly successful, so incremental that it’s hard to decide what Japan, or any other country, should respond forcefully to. No clear ‘red line’ seems to have been established,” Dreyer said.

The Chinese refer to it as “ling chi” or “death from a thousand cuts.”

For example, China’s new ADIZ overlaps not only Japan’s zone to encompass disputed islands, but South Korea’s zone by 20 kilometers in width and 115 kilometers in length to cover the Socotra Rock (Ieodo or Parangdo). Socotra is under South Korean control but claimed by China as the Suyan Rock.

Seoul decided to expand its ADIZ after China refused to redraw its declared zone covering the islands. Seoul’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) and related government agencies are consulting on how to expand the South Korean ADIZ, drawn in 1951 by the US military, officials said.

“We’re considering ways of expanding [South] Korea’s air defense identification zone to include Ieodo,” said Wi Yong-seop, vice spokesman for the MND.

During annual high-level defense talks between Seoul and Beijing on Nov. 28, South Korean Vice Defense Minister Baek Seung-joo demanded that Wang Guanzhong, deputy chief of the General Staff of the Chinese Army, modify China’s ADIZ.

“We expressed regret over China’s air defense identification zone that overlaps our zone and even includes Ieodo,” Wi said after the bilateral meeting. “We made it clear that we can’t recognize China’s move and jurisdiction over Ieodo waters.”

Amid these growing tensions, South Korea’s arms procurement agency announced Nov. 27 it would push forward on procurement of four aerial refueling planes. Currently, South Korea’s F-15 fighter jets are limited to flying missions over Ieodo for 20 minutes. New tankers will extend that time to 80 minutes.

“With midair refueling, the operational range and flight hours of our fighter jets will be extended to a greater extent, and we will be able to respond to potential territorial disputes with neighboring countries,” a spokesman for South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration said.

In the southern part of China’s ADIZ, which overlaps Taiwan’s ADIZ, Beijing was careful not to cover Taiwan’s Pengjia Island, which is manned by a Taiwan Coast Guard unit.

“The exclusion of the Pengjia Islet indicates that mainland China respects our stance,” said Chinese Nationalist Party legislator Ting Shou-chung. Relations across the Taiwan Strait have been improving over the past several years.

“We’re all waiting for the other shoe to drop,” said Peter Dutton, an ADIZ expert and director of the China Maritime Studies Institute at the US Naval War College.

“We’re looking to see how China will now behave,” he said. “Hopefully, they will not try to fly inside the airspace over the Senkaku Islands, since that is under Japanese sovereign administration and would therefore be a highly provocative act.”

Dutton downplayed fears of another civilian airliner being shot down, as was the case in 1983, when a Soviet Su-15 fighter shot down a South Korean airliner that strayed into Soviet airspace, killing 269.

In 1988, a US Navy Ticonderoga-class cruiser, the USS Vincennes, shot down Iran Air Flight 655 over the Arabian Gulf, killing 290. The Vincennes mistook the airliner for an Iranian F-14 Tomcat fighter jet.

“For civilian aircraft, this is really not a major issue,” he said. “Those aircraft almost always file flight plans in advance and follow the directions of ground controllers. This means that their route through the ADIZ would already by pre-approved, and this is not a problem for the Chinese.”

Dutton said the real concern is the freedom of military flights.

“But both the US and Japan have said they do not intend to alter their behavior or to abide by the ADIZ procedures, no matter what they are, for military flights,” he said.

In 2001, a Chinese J-8 fighter collided with a US Navy EP-3 Aries signals intelligence aircraft near Hainan Island. Bonnie Glaser, a China specialist at CSIS, said she does not expect China to “back down” from its ADIZ policy, and anticipates more intercepts by Chinese fighters of US reconnaissance aircraft.

“The risk of accident will undoubtedly increase, especially [with] fighters [flown at] Mach 1 by young, inexperienced pilots,” she said.

Alessio Patalano, a lecturer in the Department of War Studies, King’s College, London, said the Chinese move might have been prompted by the current tensions in the East China Sea, and recent discussions in Japan about how the military can deal with Chinese drones and manned patrol aircraft that intrude into Japan’s air defense space.

“Chinese authorities are seeking to force Japan to accept the existence of the dispute challenging Japanese control of the islands,” Patalano said. “The problem with this is that Chinese authorities are using military and paramilitary tools to force a change of status quo to what is a political issue.

“Of course, a more robust response could see the US and Japan deploy air assets in the overlapping areas of the ADIZ to challenge the Chinese position,” Patalano said. “US and Japanese aircraft flying together in the Chinese ADIZ would present a serious dilemma to Chinese authority.”

Green said the US should at least send a “joint US-Japan patrol into the area to prove the point that coercion does not work.”

The announcement of the ADIZ also affects the Chinese military, likely adding to the Air Force’s status over the traditional role the Army has played as national defender.




Defense Executives: Shortage of Engineers Is Not a Myth

By Sandra I. Erwin


U.S. defense executives are pushing back on suggestions that a shortage of science, math and engineering graduates is a fake crisis.

A deficit of STEM (short for science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skilled workers has been the conventional wisdom in Washington for years, but a crop of studies in recent months has poured cold water on the notion, embraced by defense industry, that a dearth of engineering talent poses a threat to U.S. industrial competitiveness and national security.

Industry officials want to avoid letting the STEM debate become, like climate change, a reality that gets challenged by deniers.

Defense executives were surprised to see a study published in April by the Economic Policy Institute that concluded there is no shortage of STEM workers in the United States. “Contrary to many industry claims,” the study said, “U.S. colleges and universities provide an ample supply of highly qualified STEM graduates.”

The EPI study sought to counter high-tech industry lobbying efforts to increase the number of foreign guest workers that are allowed into the United States on the premise that there are not enough qualified U.S. workers. According to EPI, “Our examination shows that the STEM shortage in the United States is largely overblown.”

These findings, which were widely reported by news media, muddy the waters for defense and aerospace firms that claim they have thousands of unfilled jobs because they cannot find qualified engineers. Industry CEOs also worry that a wave of baby boomer retirements in the coming years will dig a deeper hole.

The challenge for aerospace and defense companies is to not let broad generalizations obscure the facts, said Brian Fitzgerald, CEO of the Business Higher Education Forum, an organization of Fortune 500 CEOs and research university presidents.

“Data can be misinterpreted,” he said. A case in a point is a study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, which also cast doubts on the STEM shortage. It concluded that nearly half of the nation’s STEM graduates don’t go into STEM jobs. “The diversion of native-born STEM talent into non-STEM educational and career pathways will continue and likely accelerate in the future,” the Georgetown study said.

That trend should alarm defense industry because it means that, even if there is an ample supply of U.S.-born STEM graduates, many will choose to work in commercial, non-defense disciplines, said Fitzgerald. “Many STEM engineers go to Wall Street,” said Fitzgerald. “It’s a reflection of the value that the economy places on quantitative and analytical skills.”

He said defense companies should stop debating this issue and do something about it.

Many top U.S. defense contractors are taking action and becoming deeply invested in the STEM cause. They are pouring millions of dollars into education and training programs to help secure a skilled U.S.-born workforce. They fear that, increasingly, a majority of STEM graduates from U.S. universities are not American citizens and therefore are ineligible to work on sensitive military programs.

Executives point out that the United States has fallen way behind the power curve in STEM education, compared to other industrialized nations. The end of the Cold War and a dramatic decline in the Pentagon’s clout as a technology mover and shaker also play against defense industry recruiting, executive said.

The defense business just isn’t interesting enough for up-and-coming engineers, executives acknowledge. “Graduates have decided that aerospace and defense isn’t as sexy as it used to be,” said Peter Nicholas Lengyel, president and CEO of Safran USA, a subsidiary of France’s aerospace giant Safran Group.

In an interview, Lengyel said the company is not experiencing an engineer shortage, partly because of its internal programs that identify engineers with superior skills and promote them into senior positions. Safran does, however, have many unfilled jobs in high-tech manufacturing, he said.

In the defense sector, leaders have to counter the perception that the work involves dull, dirty factory jobs, said Linda P. Hudson, president and CEO of BAE Systems,

“When the general public hears the words ‘industrial base,’ they typically think of steel and grease,” Hudson said in a speech last week at the Atlantic Council.

“Young engineers, mathematicians, programmers, and cyber specialists rarely graduate today anxious to work in national security,” she said. “They have exciting choices: Google, Amazon, Instagram, Microsoft, McAfee, to name a few.”

Tens of thousands of skilled workers around the globe manufacture computer chips, she said. “But how about making radiation hardened microprocessors like our electronics business produced for NASA to power the Rover’s trip to Mars? Much of this talent is now being produced outside the United States,” she said. “But unlike Silicon Valley who can hire immigrant technology talent with an H1B visa, I need U.S. citizens to work on classified programs.”

Science, technology, engineering and math graduates, she said, “are the lifeblood of our industry. Unfortunately, we’re letting that blood spill away, and the supply is increasingly limited.”

In the race for top talent, Hudson said, “our industry is running with not just an arm tied behind its back, but a leg or two trussed up as well. … If we’re forced to forgo international talent, then we damned well better be doing something to produce that talent domestically.”

Hudson recognized that “our culture as an industry simply does not appeal to the incoming generation of workers. … We scare them away with our hierarchies, with our cubicles, with our gray walls and our red tape.”


How Did The U.S. Fall So Far Behind On UAS Integration?


by Patrick Egan • 3 December 2013

While it is no big revelation the FAA’s successive FAA administrators have been fiddling while the UAS/RPAS airspace integration Rome has burnt to the ground, but here we will examine how far ahead the rest of the world is and why?

The graphic aptly illustrates who is leading the way and how the U.S. as a country has fallen by the UA technology wayside to last place. All of this glory was accomplished with the political and bureaucratic prowess of some third world government. With all chagrins aside, it is only getting worse. If you’re not first… well, you get the picture.

Most folks don’t realize that this is the case as most reports paint a rosy picture of progress through diligence and hard work. Two limited type certificates hardly justifies all the public jubilation or even meritorious mention beyond a glaring watermark of a grossly ineffective agency. Smart guys are even getting bamboozled. Amazon’s Bezos will be delivering DVD’s packages by drone in 4 years. To be honest, he is a smart guy with the publicity stunt. Bezos has probably already made more money with drones than most other folks will dream of in a lifetime. All without having to deal with the FAA.

We’ve heard the same tired excuses over the last 10 years about manpower and budgets and why the FAA just can’t seem to move anything forward. “We need data” is definitely plausible, but has outlived its shelf life as there is tons of data folks have wanted to share. The unsophisticated ruse in the estimation of the rest of the world community has only produced absolute bewilderment. They’ve been asking for and denying data for that same 10 years all the while sanctimoniously crowing about leading the way. Worse, is the world’s largest advocacy group carrying the water espousing the same obtuse mantra. Credibility and public confidence in that baloney are lower than a proverbial snake’s belly and shame just doesn’t compute in proximity to the Beltway. The whole area could be recognized and designated a UNESCO world heritage scruple free zone. No new tale to tell here.

Silver lining alert…

It’s not all doom and gloom as the FAA has been effective at one thing, silencing critics (except one) by offering either special dispensation or fear of retribution. The old carrot and stick routine. They don’t even have to show the stick just allude to the carrot. Anytime there is carrot talk you can bet the rest of the community is getting the stick and usually the dirty end at that.

I had heard reports that in public FAA folks were saying they’re watching who’s doing what and will remember them when the regulations come out. Boy howdy, is that the textbook definition of representative government or what? Man alive it just makes me well up with inspiration and pride. Do you reckon the FAA’s current administration was cagey enough to hatch this plan in house? Nope, this one is straight out of the accomplish nothing and retire to the private sector playbook. For those outside of the U.S., it is all the rage right down to the city council level. Representative government has devolved into a state sanctioned stand and deliver rebrand with supposed customer service where they pick your pockets with a smile. The teleprompter matched with the right canned goods makes for a potent tool.

Look at the budgets and manpower afforded the FAA by Congress. Nearly a billion dollars requested for NextGen in the $18.5 billion FY 2014 budget, but no money for test sites or UAS NAS integration. Whoops must have slipped past someone’s watchful eye. Or, maybe their was/is no watchful eye watching managing the UAS integration project?? How many more billions of dollars will it take Mr. Huerta? Maybe if the staff traveled less, worked more, and had real oversight we’d of had or gotten some real progress? It’s all speculation as the sUAS News is still waiting on the UAPO/UASIO budgets and SOPs that were FOIA requested many months ago. Too busy planning the next working vacation in Europe or South America I suppose to get through the everyday paperwork.

On another side note…

Lets look at the rendering used in the DOT Budget Highlights PDF

Examine the rendering (in proximity to the Small Unmanned Systems Business Expo venue) looks very much like it was taken from a low altitude aerial photo. Possibly even shot from a drone. I can’t think of any tall enough buildings in that area where you get that shot.

Now, if we compare it to the budget (both manpower and money) at say the CAA U.K at 130,000,000 + pounds. They had a handful of people who certainly don’t have the budget to go on junkets all over the world. Sure, the air traffic isn’t the same scale either is the area and population, yet they were able to accomplish several stunning firsts in the vicinity of the 3rd busiest airport on the planet.

Disenfranchisement came early…

We, the small business stakeholder group, have been repeatedly and systematically disenfranchised from the public rulemaking process. Actually the process is designed and set up to disenfranchise people without lobbyists and or monetary means to stay in the public rule making process. For insurance, you install people that know as little as possible about the subject matter and drag it out for 5 to 10 years with no tangible results. Folks start falling by the wayside as they lose everything they have invested. Oh, and heaven forbid you bring it up… you should be happy to take your lumps or enjoy the fruits of the orchestrated debacle and suffer in silence.

The handwriting was on the wall over at RTCA. Things looked so bad after 7 years of reshuffled meetings with nothing to show that they had to scrap the whole 203 committee and start over. We are assured the 228 will get the support it needs to make progress. (I think the old script from 2005 was pulled out of the birdcage and trotted out as fresh ink.) But we have enough funding and manpower for this? Do we have a representative from the FAA that knows UAS from a can of Shinola. Or, do we have another new government person that will take 2 or 3 years to come up to speed? It could very well all be for naught. That effort may already be DOA as the scuttlebutt says the FAA isn’t going to support a public algorithm for ADS-B. Basically, that relegates ADS-B to a safety accessory. The Sky-king flight plan survives past 2020. Makes you wonder if that is at the behest of the AOPA. You need to get the “Administrator on the phone after hours” kind of clout. Yes, friends, they have that kind of pull.

He/she will have to take 6 months just to learn some of the acronyms. Then the vendors will all have to train them on the product lines that way when the integration hair shirt asks if they ever flown a UAS they can gleefully parrot… Wasp, Raven, Puma and sometimes ScanEagle. The later cost about $40,000 a head and isn’t as freely dispensed with as the interoffice musical chairs make a bad investment.

I can imagine that there is many an enterprising entrepreneur putting the business plan together. In the expenses column; training everyone in the UASIO, traveling to and fro D.C., following the staff around on the international junket circuit for the next 5 to 10 years. Then there are the dues and subscriptions to various associations, lobbyists, campaign contributions and all of the other trappings of the good old boy network. COA’s to fly out of public airports for commercial purposes don’t grow on trees Laddy. Actually, any and all special dispensation to play in this arena is going to cost you plenty of money. You start doing the math, and you realize real quick that your capital one card better come with an earmark-sized credit limit.

I knew it was all a sham prior to Margret Jenny (another beltway insider and company woman) who did not mention UAS when testifying to Congress about NextGen and what would be making the biggest impact on the NAS in the near future.

The only folks who still think the skies are opening up for UAS in September of 2015 are the mayor of Toronto and maybe Lindsay Lohan. However, post rehab I’m sure the doubts are starting to surface.

After 7 long years, ASTM is publishing documents. We’re fast tracking now as the canned goods have to be out and vetted for the DoD guys to fleece the municipalities out of money they could never hope to have. These same companies call me and ask what are big markets and where/how to invest to hit the jackpot. On the front side, they can’t be seen as associated with me as it would raise the ire of the FAA. No one who’s spent millions of dollars working the system wants to fall into disfavor with the Lords and Ladies of the FAA court.

The new square game includes hedging your bets by working all sides of the triangle…

You’ll hear how the DoD guys are working selflessly to get you into the NAS. I say hogwash and folks buying that malarkey are so deluded or ill informed that they could be beyond the righting of an intervention or re-education. Most reading this tome would most likely chuckle and say, ” I know, who’d buy that hogwash at this point?” Well, you’d be surprised how many people are betting the farm.

This graphic illustrates the money influence dynamic..

And it goes like this…

“I spoke with so and so over at the FAA, or someone at ATSM (they usually can’t remember whom they spoke with or his name) and he/they said in a year or so… we’ll be flying.” After laying out the end game, I get the old “you’re painting a dark picture response and that sounds like a lot of work.” On many occasions, I get off the phone and wonder how does a guy get a job with no experience in the field?

And Congress isn’t much help…

One of the newer go forward plans is to spend $10,000 on a lobbyist that knows nothing about the industry or what it needs. It’ll get the word out that we’re here, and things should work themselves out. Yeah, and then I ask if they read the BBC story about the Predator King, Big Buck’s “Buck” McKeon.

Now it is estimated that Buck has been on the receiving end of close to $850,000 in campaign contributions from the Drone industry. Now before you go breaking out the checkbook, realize that all they’ve been able to accomplish is for the public entities (the same group that can currently get COAs now) will get to go first. Gee willlikers, what systems will they buy? Most likely those usual suspects on the DOJ/DHS approved vendor list. Oh, they got this deal sewed up so tight, and everyone wants you to believe it all just happened that way. When you hear it’s all about safety, there is some truth in that as it is all about job safety. Do no harm to my career.

A couple more bullets in the back should kill this industry for small business…

Well, what about advocacy, who’s watching out for my patch? Unless your company is bringing down part of the $5 billion dollars a year in government contracts, your concerns may only warrant a chuckle.… Hard to squeeze personal gain out of a small business.

It is up to you to start advocating for yourself. Tell the companies and groups that are making money selling products that you would like to see them quit acting like the DoD blood money guys and put some of those profits into advocating for the small business end-user community.

Ok, you’ve highlighted the problems, what do we do?

Demand (not ask for) accountability from the FAA for public rulemaking.

A sub 2 or 3 kilo bin that is administered by a community based group. This will give people without huge budgets a safe place to operate. A reiteration of some of parameters… Speed under 35 knots, frangible made primarily of wood, plastic or foam. 400′ AGL and 1500′ laterally with no observer with direct pilot intervention. No class 2 medical, or commercial pilot certification.

Demand that the people involved with the rulemaking from the government side must know the technology they propose to regulate.

Demand that the people representing the industry must have industry experience. Not just board members from the DoD vendors and members of the GA groups.

Advocacy groups need to support qualified people (with experience operating UAS and running businesses) represent us to the FAA, ICAO and the Congress. Far too many mistakes have been made due to inexperience.

These existing conditions have added years as well as a hurdle to the airspace integration process.


Federal Government Shackles Unmanned Aerial System Industry

by Press • 3 December 2013

By Pamela Barrett

Border Sentinel


The relatively new technology of modern Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs) inherently offers potentially great benefits to myriad facets of the U.S. economy. However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the lead federal agency responsible for policy, regulation, and oversight of UAS technology and integration outside the military, has been working this issue since the mid- 2000′s—with little or nothing to show for its efforts.

The delays, lack of viable action, and strict unnecessary limitations the FAA mandates are having, and will continue to have, will negatively impact UAS businesses, UAS professionals, and the economy as a whole. UAS applications in agribusiness alone could save farmers and growers millions of dollars annually if they could apply UAS water and pest technologies that are already available. Locating precious and rare earth metals and other natural resources using UAS technology would not only economically benefit the mining and energy industries, but pinpointed drilling, excavations, and locations for infrastructure would save wild lands and wildlife as well. And while the extensive financial impact is of great import, it pales in comparison to the effect the FAA’s folly is having on public safety and disaster relief initiatives. If the UAS community were allowed to germinate and grow safe, effective, innovative, and entrepreneurial UAS/public safety technologies, lives could be saved and property reclaimed and protected. Yet the actions of the FAA are stifling the capabilities of law enforcement, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel.

There are a number of significant concerns regarding the UAS roadmap recently released by the FAA, specifically regarding the timeline for regular access to the National Airspace System (NAS) and current procedures. According to Patrick Egan, author of “Are You Tired of Hearing Excuses From The FAA?” and Host and Executive Producer of the sUAS News Podcast Series, “The small UAS ARC [Advisory and Rulemaking Committees] put out their recommendations on April 1, 2009, yet we still haven’t seen the NPRM [Notice of Proposed Rulemaking]. The NPRM was to be released for public comment almost two years ago. Sadly, it appears that we will miss the December 2013 NPRM timeline we were told about this spring/summer.” He went on to say “…recommendations for the NPRM are disheartening as there is no small business stakeholder representation in, on, or around that committee.” It appears the committee and the FAA as a body lack representation from anyone with any significant UAS experience. This is a real tragedy because small businesses potentially have the most to lose financially.

Egan stated, “References made to ‘develop standards’ or ‘facilitate the development of standards’ for pilot certification and aircraft certification are ambiguous and disheartening for those of us safety-minded stakeholders and end-users trying to build a legal business plan.” The overall effect of the FAA’s lack of adequate response and action has had a chilling effect on the UAS industry in the United States. Amazingly, this lack of action is taking place at a time of a huge economic downturn. Also, it is not affording an industry which has the opportunity to increase employment and productivity the chance to safely and effectively do so. Egan continued, “Even more disconcerting are the Class 2 medical requirements for operators of smaller UASs and the [significant] standoff distances from airports. All of this, coupled with a very limited flight envelope [and] the lack of a public algorithm for ADS-B” [a replacement/supplement to traditional radar-based aircraft surveillance] will have the effect that the domestic UAS industry will be stillborn.” Egan went on to suggest the FAA examine “the pragmatic work done by some of the European countries like the United Kingdom…,” and seek input from this nation’s stakeholders who have significant UAS experience in safe and effective UAS operations. Rather than allowing bureaucracy and lack of expertise to stifle progress, the FAA should incorporate experienced UAS companies and their experts into the process, thereby helping create comprehensive capabilities to approach and solve issues.

Small business owner Brian Wimmer of Thompson-Wimmer, Inc., a UAS consulting and systems integration company in Sierra Vista/Fort Huachuca, Arizona is also frustrated by the limitations placed upon commercial and private-party uses of UAS technologies. Mr. Wimmer stated, “Our hands are tied. There are so many wonderful uses for UAS technology that could benefit not only the United States, but the world. The restrictions upon the industry will benefit no one other than the U.S. government. It’s preposterous. In a time when the people of this country need exciting technologies, economic opportunities, innovation, and a rebirth of the entrepreneurial spirit, we are hampered by red tape and nonsensical mandates by an agency that either doesn’t truly understand the industry, or that has an agenda that excludes the greater good of the American people.”


Underground drone economy takes flight

Alistair Barr and Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY 9:37 p.m. EST December 2, 2013


SAN FRANCISCO — CEO Jeff Bezos says in the future drones delivering packages will be as common as mail trucks. But for many entrepreneurs, the drone economy is already here.

“There are many people out there making extraordinary amounts of money,” says Gene Robinson, who uses drones to help authorities with search and rescue missions. “You can even get liability insurance to operate now.”

While the Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t yet drafted regulations for the futuristic unmanned devices and limits their commercial use, some players have already plunged in:

Real estate specialist Manie Kohn uses drones to video luxury properties. Terence Reis flies them to photograph surfers. Brad Mathson monitors farmland in the Dakotas, while Ryan Kunde uses a drone to improve production at his vineyard.

Bezos thrust drones into the spotlight when he talked about his plans to use them to deliver packages on 60 Minutes Sunday night. But thanks to drones’ ability to shoot aerial photos and video steadily and collect other data cheaply, they are already being used in many sectors, including movie making, sports, mining, oil and gas production and construction.

Most of the activity is outside the U.S. because of regulatory uncertainty. But there are a lot of U.S. drone operators who are either hobbyists, or who provide drone services for free or in return for donations. Business owners can also operate their own drones for their own benefit. And at times, money changes hands out of the FAA’s gaze.



Manie Kohn founder and CEO of Don’t Tell Me Show Me pilots his Quadcopter at a home in Hillsborough, Cali. on Wednesday, November 6, 2013. Kohn runs a business that uses a drone to make aerial videos of real estate.(Photo: Martin E. Klimek for USA TODAY)

“I walk down the street and see drone dollars everywhere,” says Patrick Egan, a drone consultant who heads the Silicon Valley chapter of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, or AUVSI, a lobbying group for the industry. “The potential is huge, and thousands of people are already flying them around the U.S. making money.”

Once the FAA drafts its drone regulations, integrating the devices into U.S. airspace could boost the economy by at least $13.6 billion in the first three years and the economic benefit may top $82 billion between 2015 and 2025, the AUVSI estimated earlier this year. It could also create more than 70,000 new jobs, including 34,000 manufacturing positions, in the first three years, the group forecast. In 10 years, it projects 100,000 jobs will be added.

Egan says those numbers don’t account for the impact of future regulation, focused on safety and privacy, which could increase the cost of operating drones and reduce the value of the technology.

Despite such uncertainty, the commercial potential of drones has attracted big investors.

Airware, which makes software and systems that control drones, raised more than $10 million this year from Andreessen Horowitz, a big venture capital firm, and Google’s venture capital arm.

“There will be a whole economy around it, with entrepreneurs creating technology for specific types of customers,” says Chris Dixon, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz who joined Airware’s board of directors. “There are a number of obvious applications, and lots of less-obvious applications that we haven’t even thought of yet.”

But a lot of the action involves individual entrepreneurs and small business owners who are using this new technology to either make more money from existing operations or branch out into new areas.

Drones have mostly been used by the U.S. military to shoot missiles at enemy combatants in countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, the cost of these unmanned aircraft has dropped precipitously in recent years, making them more affordable.

3D Robotics, a drone manufacturer run by former Wired magazine editor-in-chief Chris Anderson has already sold “tens of thousands” of drones and the company will soon launch a new model called IRIS, aimed at consumers and other individuals, that will cost about $750.

Drones cost millions of dollars just a few years ago, partly because the components needed to control them, such as global positioning systems, gyroscopes and accelerometers, were so expensive, according to Anderson. The boom in smartphones, which contain most of the same hardware, has increased production massively, lowering costs.

Says Anderson, “This is bringing technology from the military industrial complex within reach for lots of people.”



Manie Kohn, who works in the high-end real estate market of the San Francisco Bay Area, got his hands on drones for the first time about three years ago.

He used to use helicopters to shoot aerial photos and video of luxury properties for real estate agents who were willing to pay $20,000 for an extra service that could help win big commissions.

But helicopters were expensive, noisy and limited in how low they could fly. So Kohn started building his own drones to do the job and has spent at least $45,000 developing the machines, getting trained to fly them, accumulating certifications and lining up insurance.

It took Kohn about a year to track down an insurer that would cover his drone operation. Transport Risk Management now provides him with coverage that starts at $1 million and covers damage to property, people and the drones themselves. The cost of the policy depends on proficiency, so Kohn had to get official training and certification.

“There is an ever growing demand for this type of coverage,” Dawnell West, an insurance agent at Transport Risk Management, wrote in a recent e-mail to Kohn.



Terence Reis, a 54-year-old IT professional based in Oahu, started using a drone this year for his part-time business, KahiwaKiwi Media Productions, which shoots surfing photos and takes other photos and video of Hawaii ocean life.

Reis spent about $5,000 on parts and equipment. But it has helped him take better pictures and video from locations that he couldn’t have reached before.

“Before, I would shoot from a helicopter, which was very expensive — about $300 to $400 an hour,” he says. Helicopters also could not get low enough and they vibrated a lot, which meant the images had to be edited heavily. Reis’s drone is steadier, which sometimes means no editing is needed.

“It gives a different dimension to my footage,” he added. “It’s opening up new doors to new clients.”



The biggest opportunities, at least initially, may be in agriculture, because big farms do not have many people on them, reducing the risk that wayward drones might cause injuries if and when they crash.

Dakota Precision Ag Center is using drones that cost about $3,000 to collect agricultural data that helps farmers produce more by monitoring crops and cattle and guiding watering and fertilizer application.

Using traditional methods, about 100 to 300 acres of farmland can be monitored a day, but using drones that number can rise to 2,000 or 3,000 acres a day, according to Brad Mathson, assistant director of the Dakota Precision Ag Center.

Ryan Kunde of DRNK Wines uses a drone to keep an eye on how grapevines are growing in his vineyard in Sonoma, Calif.

Kunde flies the drone over the vineyard, takes photos and uses software to stitch together a map of the area. By comparing maps at the same time of the season each year, he can spot which grapes are developing quickest, which helps to decide where to harvest first. The same drone images help with estimating crop sizes, giving Kunde more time to line up the right number of grape buyers.

“Any time I want to fly, I can get the drone in the air the same day,” he says. “Satellites and helicopters need booking in advance and the drone can fly lower and capture better images.”



The Motion Picture Association of America has been lobbying the Obama administration to let filmmakers use drones, arguing that putting a camera on an unmanned aircraft can be cheaper, safer and more useful than relying on a helicopter or a crane to get a difficult shot.


The effort has not borne fruit. But drones are already being used in making movies, TV shows and advertisements, according to Gus Calderone of IsisCopter LLC, which makes drones and related equipment.

Drones with rigs costing $25,000 carry cameras in Hollywood that weight about 15 pounds and are worth $30,000 to $40,000, he explains.

“This is a major underground market,” Calderone says. “Some people are hiding. Others are in plain sight, and it’s happening way more than people know.”



Gene Robinson runs his search and rescue service through a non-profit called RP Search Services, which uses drones with high-resolution cameras and infrared sensors to track down missing people and help authorities obtain access more safely to dangerous areas.

Gene Robinson launches a Spectra flying wing platform which can be configured to carry most any sensor and operate in just about any environment.(Photo: rpflightsystems)

RP Search Services receives donations and gets other payments to cover its costs, but it does not get any money beyond that, Robinson says, adding, “That would get us into trouble with the FAA.”



The FAA said in 2007 that drones, or Unmanned Aircraft Systems, cannot be flown commercially. And so much of the world’s commercial drone activity is happening outside the U.S.

The regulator aims to have regulations in place by 2015, and an FAA spokeswoman says it plans to propose a rule for small drones next year. It is also expected to pick six test sites by the end of this year.

The FAA is likely to come out with tiered regulations, according to Chris Anderson of 3D Robotics. Small drones may be regulated lightly, while heavier, faster drones that fly higher may face much stricter rules. Drone flights in very lightly populated areas will probably get cleared earlier than activity in urban areas, he predicts.

“This has the huge potential reshape the landscape of industries and the economy, but if drones are improperly deployed that would cause more harm than good,” he says. “I’m not surprised the regulatory process is involved and lengthy.”

Still, some commercial drone experts worry that the FAA is taking too long, giving a valuable head start to other countries such as Japan, Canada, the U.K., France and Australia.

“People are using this technology in a much more widespread way outside the U.S., especially in Australia, which supports commercial applications,” says Jonathan Downey, founder of Airware. “If the U.S. takes too long and the regulations are too restrictive, it will just be used in other countries, and the technology will be developed in other countries as well.”

In France, Delta Drone has been training drone operators in its own school for about a year. The course takes roughly a week and then another three days to learn techniques for specific industries. Once trained, Delta Drone signs service contracts with companies, mostly in the mining industry currently, then brings the operators in as sub-contractors.

So far, 69 drone pilots have graduated and 80 should be trained by the end of 2013.

“It’s growing very fast,” Delta Drone co-founder Fabien Blanc-Paques said.



Pentagon Disconnects iPhone, Android Security Service, Forcing a Return to BlackBerry for Some

By Aliya Sternstein

December 3, 2013


Some military members who were working off Apple and Android-based smartphones and tablets now must return to using older model BlackBerrys because of a security service switchover, according to an email obtained by Nextgov and confirmed by Pentagon officials.

The Defense Department is building a new mobile device management system to monitor government-issued consumer smartphones on military networks, but it’s not yet ready for prime time.

Employees within at least one Army organization were forced to disconnect iPhones, iPads and Android devices from their existing security service, Good Mobile Messaging, because the Pentagon is deploying a new departmentwide system by Fixmo, states an email that appeared in an Army listserve.

Army personnel “have been told that between now and whenever this ‘fixmo’ is online, their Droids and iThings are simply to become useless,” the email said. The Defense Information Systems Agency is in the midst of transitioning smartphone users in each military component to the full $16 million system.

“The victim, er organization under migration offered their [Good] licenses and servers and expertise to DISA, but were told no, don’t want it,” the email continues. “Expectation is that Droid and iThing users will be deviceless until March 2014 at earliest, and they can either do without or go back to a BB 9930,” an older model BlackBerry smartphone, “So…..once again, we are going to save money through consolidation no matter how much it costs.”

After a proposed buyout of BlackBerry collapsed last month, Pentagon officials emphasized efforts to wean service members off reliance on the company’s devices. But officials on Monday night acknowledged BlackBerry will retain its position in the department’s mobile computing arsenal for now.

“DISA will support BlackBerry devices with the existing [Blackberry Enterprise Server]. During the transition period, DISA is not provisioning new iOS/Android users on the existing server,” Pentagon spokesman Damien Pickart said in an email. “We are delaying provisioning of those devices until the [mobile device management] environment is ready in Jan 2014. We will provision new devices as rapidly as possible starting in January 2014.”

The aim is to hook up 100,000 military personnel and their government-furnished Apple, Samsung, BlackBerry and other consumer devices to the security service by September 2014.

Some defense contract analysts say the more popular commercial devices may not meet battlefield security standards.


Ray Bjorklund, a longtime procurement specialist who now serves as president of BirchGrove Consulting, speculated that “there may be a more fundamental issue of device suitability among the major manufacturers and OS versions.”

According to DISA approval documents, only BlackBerry phones and Playbook tablets have an “authority to operate,” or ATO, on Defense networks — not Android, Apple or any other device lines.

Bjorklund returned to the question raised by the listserv email, about the short-term sacrifices Defense is making to potentially control long-term costs.

“At what cost consolidation? I am quite certain the DoD has completed some semblance of a business case for this program. However, I know it’s often difficult to rationalize business cases in the military based on some future horizon,” he said. The rationale of “spend money now to save money later” is a “stretch rationale in daily government operations. I hope the disruption is worth it.”


UPS and Fedex Are Also Working on Drone Delivery Systems

By Christopher Mims

December 3, 2013


Amazon’s next-day shipping miracle is possible only because it relies on companies like UPS to deliver its goods. So the news that UPS is experimenting with its own drone delivery system, reported today by The Verge, is an implicit endorsement of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s announcement at the weekend of Amazon’s own drone delivery plans. FedEx founder Fred Smith too has plans to deliver packages by drone, but it won’t be the small, quadcopter kind favored by Amazon. Instead, Smith wants the giant planes FedEx has criss-crossing the country to be replaced by unmanned aircraft because, he told Wired four years ago, a plane that doesn’t have to carry any people can be designed quite differently, with a lot more space for cargo.

Both efforts also seem to be about eliminating humans from the supply chain. A self-driving UPS truck that rolls onto the block, cracks open like a Decepticon and spews a small fleet of drones that fly out to drop packages on front stoops would go a long way towards reducing the company’s huge—and unionized—workforce. FedEx’s plans would eliminate airline pilots, who aren’t cheap either.

What’s stopping Amazon, UPS and FedEx is a combination of technological and regulatory issues. In the US, the Federal Aviation Administration wants to be able to certify drones as safe before it will allow them to fly autonomously, which means engineers have to figure out how to program drones to avoid human beings and each other. It’s the same thicket of problems faced by self-driving cars, and resolving it means trusting machines to a degree unprecedented in human history. Or in other words, it could happen any day now.



Drone-Delivery Expert on Amazon’s Plans

By Alexis Madrigal

December 3, 2013


Two and a half years ago, Andreas Raptopoulos founded Matternet, a company devoted to creating a network of drones that could deliver lightweight packages. It’s starting with medical applications, with plans to extend from there to “bring to the world its next-generation transportation system.” To hear Raptopoulostell it, when the histories are written in a few decades, people will think: electric grid, road infrastructure, telephone lines, Internet, mobile phones, and … tiny flying drones. 

“We think about it not just as a point-to-point delivery, but as a network. What can you do if you have many stations of these flying drones?” Raptopoulos said. “What can you do with a system like this in the developing world, in our cities, in our megacities? We’re convinced that it’s going to be the next big paradigm in transportation.”

Of course, last night, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos revealed Amazon Prime Air, his company’s plans to use drones at some point in the future to deliver packages to customers. 

It all sounds a little crazy. And we can all think of many objections to drone delivery networks. They won’t have enough range! People will shoot them down! What if they crash! They can’t operate in places where you can’t get a steady GPS signal! 

Given that Amazon seems unlikely to give real answers to these questions, I contacted Raptopoulos, who has spent the last several years deeply engaged with these problems since working on a project at Singularity University in 2011.

First off, why create a network of flying drones at all? 

“You have the technology that can help the most difficult part of delivery: The last-mile problem. You have a lightweight package going to a single destination.You cannot aggregate packages. It’s still way too complicated and expensive. It’s very energy inefficient,” Raptopoulos said. “UAVs or drones deal with the problem of doing this very efficiently with extremely low cost and high reliability. It’s the best answer to the problem. The ratio of your vehicle to your payload is very low.”

Part of the argument is that our current last-mile delivery system can seem kind of ridiculous, at least from an energy efficiency point of view. 

As Raptopoulos put it: “In the future, we think it’s going to make more sense to have a bottle of milk delivered to your house from Whole Foods rather than get in your car and drive two tons of metal on a congested road to go get it.”

Of course, we could also build walkable neighborhoods that don’t require driving as often as we do, but walkability requires density—and even places like San Francisco sometimes balk at the sorts of buildings that entails. And we’ve got a lot of low-density infrastructure in place that isn’t going away anytime soon. 

How quickly could this all happen?

The technology is getting there. It is not as good as people assume. There is a lot of hype around what drones can do today.

Amazon has said their timeline is dependent on rulemaking for civilian drone flights by the Federal Aviation Administration. “We hope the FAA’s rules will be in place as early as sometime in 2015,” their website contends. “We will be ready at that time.”

But even Raptopoulos, a booster of the technology, is skeptical of that timeline.

“It’s not going to happen in the U.S. in the next two or three years. Even if you’re optimistic, it’s not going to happen before three to five years,” he said. “Our assumption is that this may happen in other places in the world first. It may happen in the global south in countries that are developing and don’t have alternatives. There, it’s not about cost reduction but giving access when you don’t have access at all.”

Is this technology anywhere close to ready for mass deployment?

“The technology is getting there. It is not as good as people assume. There is a lot of hype around what drones can do today. We see it in biotechnology. We see it in robotic technology in particular,” Raptopoulos said. “We need to resolve a lot of things before we can get to the point where it is reliable or effective.”

Matternet has developed half a dozen drone prototypes and tested them in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. “The next step is to operate a network for a month in a real location where it solves a real problem,” Raptopoulos said. “The next big item on our calendars is how we can get that trial—and we think it’s going to happen in the first half of next year.”

But what about the range of the technology? The batteries aren’t good enough, are they? 

“We started at 10 kilometers and got to 20 kilometers. Even without assuming a battery breakthrough, we see a 5x increase in the range. If you factor in some advancements to battery development, you might see another 3x increase to 300 kilometers,” he contended.

In the near term, Matternet is still trying to get to 100 kilometers by optimizing their system and subsystems. But Raptopoulos is optimistic that itwill happen. “There are quadcopters out there that can do 50 kilometers a day, but they cost 10x what our target cost is,” he said. “How can you get the technology better while keeping the cost down? Technology is pretty good at that. It’s inevitable it’s going to happen.”


But what about reliability? 

“We need to design these vehicles to make sure they don’t represent a public risk. If we’re able to do that, we’re ready for primetime,” Raptopoulosresponded. “The way to unlock regulatory approval is to show with really good data, 99.9999999—seven nines—percent reliability. Then, of course, you’ll have regulatory approval.”

So far, he doesn’t think that any of the burrito or pizza delivery stunts qualify as anything close to a real solution to the delivery question.

“People saying, ‘We’re doing this kind of delivery in China.’ Or talking about burritos, pizza, tacos, whatever. All this stuff is BS. In order to get the deliveries working as a system, the drones need to be reliable. Cars are reliable. Planes are reliable.”

He continued, “There are three things you’re trying to optimize for reliability: time, development, and keeping the cost per vehicle down. The more time and money and cost per vehicle you allow, the better the reliability. For Amazon’s application to make sense, the vehicle cost should be below $20,000. If its $100,000, it’s not cost-effective anymore.”

But he saw reliability as far from an insurmountable problem. “It’s the same thing we have with every technology. We know we’ve been able to build much more complex machines. A 777 has thousands of moving parts, versus eight for a quadcopter. But the question is how quickly, for what level of money, for what reliability. These are the competing factors.”

But won’t you get sued if one crashes?

His company’s plan, too, is to start deploying in places where the regulatory and litigation risks are lower. “The application changes your requirement of reliability,” Raptopoulos said. “The FAA may require another level than authorities in Haiti. If you lose a vehicle in Palo Alto, you may be sued for millions of dollars. If you lose a vehicle in Haiti, you may not be sued at all. ”

But maybe, Raptopoulos contends, there are ways to integrate drones into the airspace that would present a lower risk to everyone. “Maybe there is a way to fly these things on routes where you don’t risk anything where you lose them. It will take that kind of innovation. [To us] it makes sense to start this first in rural places and maybe in the third world. Then once we figure out how to do this at scale, we can bring it here.”

What are the specific things that can be done to increase reliability?

“There are a lot of octocopters and a lot of quadcopters, but how do you design one that has the right redundancies? Should the vehicle have a parachute so when it has a catastrophic failure, it doesn’t just fall out of the sky? If you have one failure, can you diagnose and get it to a landing spot?”

Some of those problems may be solved by increasing the sophistication of the analytics they have on each drone. “How well can we predict failures? If we’ve flown 2.5 thousand hours and we have this kind of telemetric data, I might know I should retire the vehicle.”

And each environment brings its own challenges.

“You have to worry about specific problems in specific environments. In Haiti, you have to worry about dust. If you want to work in San Francisco, you have to have worry about GPS signals being lost because of the terrain.”

Assuming you can work out the technology, why won’t people just shoot them out of the sky?

“They fly at 400 feet between 45-65 kilometers an hour and they are very small. At that height, you can barely see them. You cannot hear them. It’s like a tiny dot moving in the sky. That’s the practical aspect of the question. It’s not going to be a bunch of kids doing it for fun,” Raptopoulos said, raining on every kid’s parade. 

“The second point is that it’s illegal,” he said. “The reason we’re not shooting other moving things with guns is because it’s not something that’s legal. It is more challenging to rely on that framework in a place like Haiti or Kenya or Mali. The risk there is higher.”

But couldn’t the drones get taken out when they land?

“As you pointed out, the vulnerable part of the mission is when they come down,” he responded. “In our case, they do a vertical descent and then they go out again. And those locations need to be protected.”

Thinking about the developing world contexts where Matternet is working, he continued. “You need to have them owned by people who use the system, and then you tap into the social dynamics. We’re not planning to set up the networks in local places. We’re just providing the technology. So, they have to be owned by people in the developing world that have the right social status,” he said. “It would be people on the ground who understand how their location works. Those people are the experts on the ground. They know how to read the country and protect their assets.”

What do you think of the regulatory hurdles in the U.S.?

“We’ve just had a public statement from a big company they want it to happen. Public acceptance goes hand in hand with regulation. There are many reasons that the public will see these as the wave of the future,” he said. “But we cannot [make that case] that if we cannot guarantee to the public that this is a safe thing to be flying over our heads and our children.”

So, let’s say you can fly a few drone deliveries, does this actually work as a big business, the way Amazon seems to be imagining?

“Scale is a challenge in itself. For Amazon to do this, they don’t get to do 10 or 100 deliveries a day, they get to do thousands or hundreds of thousands of deliveries a day. How you resolve the scale issue is a question,” Raptopoulos said. “But we’re pretty good at solving those challenges as a technical civilization.”




Flying hacker contraption hunts other drones, turns them into zombies

by Press • 4 December 2013

by Dan Goodin


Serial hacker Samy Kamkar has released all the hardware and software specifications that hobbyists need to build an aerial drone that seeks out other drones in the air, hacks them, and turns them into a conscripted army of unmanned vehicles under the attacker’s control.

Dubbed SkyJack, the contraption uses a radio-controlled Parrot AR.Drone quadcopter carrying a Raspberry Pi circuit board, a small battery, and two wireless transmitters. The devices run a combination of custom software and off-the-shelf applications that seek out wireless signals of nearby Parrot drones, hijack the wireless connections used to control them, and commandeer the victims’ flight-control and camera systems. SkyJack will also run on land-based Linux devices and hack drones within radio range. At least 500,000 Parrot drones have been sold since the model was introduced in 2010.

Kamkar is the creator of the infamous Samy worm, a complex piece of JavaScript that knocked MySpace out of commission in 2005 when the exploit added more than one million MySpace friends to Kamkar’s account. Kamkar was later convicted for the stunt. He has since devoted his skills to legal hacks, including development of the “evercookie,” a highly persistent browser cookie with troubling privacy implications. He has also researched location data stored by Android devices.

SkyJack made its debut the same week that Amazon unveiled plans to use drones to deliver packages to customers’ homes or businesses.

“How fun would it be to take over drones, carrying Amazon packages… or take over any other drones and make them my little zombie drones,” Kamkar asked rhetorically in a blog post published Monday. “Awesome.”



Posted on Thu, Dec. 05, 2013

Obama to feds: Boost renewable power 20 percent

Associated Press

Saying the government should lead by example, President Barack Obama is ordering the federal government to nearly triple its use of renewable sources for electricity by 2020.

Obama says the plan to use renewables for 20 percent of electricity needs will help reduce pollution that causes global warming, promote American energy independence and boost domestic energy sources such as solar and wind power that provide thousands of jobs.

Obama announced the plan Thursday as part of a wide-ranging, second-term drive to combat climate change and prepare for its effects. A plan announced in June would put first-time limits on carbon pollution from new and existing power plants, boost renewable energy production on federal lands and prepare communities to deal with higher temperatures.

The directive on renewable energy applies to all federal agencies, civilian and military. The Defense Department had previously set a goal that 25 percent of its energy needs should be supplied by renewable energy by 2025.

Federal agencies have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by more than 15 percent since he took office in 2009, Obama said, but the government can do even better.

The federal government occupies nearly 500,000 buildings, operates 600,000 vehicles and purchases more than $500 billion per year in goods and services.

The government currently has a goal of using 7.5 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, but Obama said recent increases in renewable energy supplies make the new 20 percent goal achievable by 2020.

His order says the government should use renewable sources for 10 percent of its electricity in 2015 and gradually increase that amount to 20 percent by 2020.

The order also requires agencies to install energy meters and water maters where appropriate to monitor efficiency and to publicly disclose energy performance data through the Energy Department.

The White House did not provide an estimate for how much money, if any, the proposal would save over the next decade.

The order on renewable energy is one of several steps the administration is announcing this week on energy efficiency.

On Tuesday, officials announced a plan to cut energy waste at multifamily housing such as apartments and condominiums and released a 2014 fuel economy guide to help motorists choose fuel-efficient vehicles.

As part of the administration’s push to expand renewable energy, the Pentagon last year committed to deploying 3 gigawatts of renewable energy on Army, Navy and Air Force installations by 2025 — enough to power 750,000 homes. 

Read more here:

Posted on Thu, Dec. 05, 2013

Obama to feds: Boost renewable power 20 percent


Associated Press


President Barack Obama speaks about the new health care law during a White House Youth Summit, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington.

Saying the government should lead by example, President Barack Obama is ordering the federal government to nearly triple its use of renewable sources for electricity by 2020.

Obama says the plan to use renewables for 20 percent of electricity needs will help reduce pollution that causes global warming, promote American energy independence and boost domestic energy sources such as solar and wind power that provide thousands of jobs.

Obama announced the plan Thursday as part of a wide-ranging, second-term drive to combat climate change and prepare for its effects. A plan announced in June would put first-time limits on carbon pollution from new and existing power plants, boost renewable energy production on federal lands and prepare communities to deal with higher temperatures.

The directive on renewable energy applies to all federal agencies, civilian and military. The Defense Department had previously set a goal that 25 percent of its energy needs should be supplied by renewable energy by 2025.

Federal agencies have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by more than 15 percent since he took office in 2009, Obama said, but the government can do even better.

The federal government occupies nearly 500,000 buildings, operates 600,000 vehicles and purchases more than $500 billion per year in goods and services.

The government currently has a goal of using 7.5 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, but Obama said recent increases in renewable energy supplies make the new 20 percent goal achievable by 2020.

His order says the government should use renewable sources for 10 percent of its electricity in 2015 and gradually increase that amount to 20 percent by 2020.

The order also requires agencies to install energy meters and water maters where appropriate to monitor efficiency and to publicly disclose energy performance data through the Energy Department.

The White House did not provide an estimate for how much money, if any, the proposal would save over the next decade.

The order on renewable energy is one of several steps the administration is announcing this week on energy efficiency.

On Tuesday, officials announced a plan to cut energy waste at multifamily housing such as apartments and condominiums and released a 2014 fuel economy guide to help motorists choose fuel-efficient vehicles.

As part of the administration’s push to expand renewable energy, the Pentagon last year committed to deploying 3 gigawatts of renewable energy on Army, Navy and Air Force installations by 2025 — enough to power 750,000 homes.




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Government shutdown had remarkably broad impact across U.S., survey finds

Wed, 2013-12-04 04:29 PM


The 16-day shutdown of the U.S. Government in October 2013 had widespread business and personal impacts that reached far beyond the federal sector and well outside the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, according to findings of a survey released today by ORI, a market research and strategic business intelligence firm.

“When the shutdown began, the supposition was that impacts would be localized and concentrated on the federal community,” said Kathleen Benson, president of ORI. “But our survey found that the shutdown hit checkbooks and pocketbooks within and outside the D.C. region equally hard, while damaging the perception that government cares about the interests of the business community.”

Key findings of the ORI survey include the following:


From the inability to work on federal contracts to the lack of access to federal business services, the shutdown affected a large cross-section of the economy. Nearly four in 10 organizations (37%) said they were unable to receive services they needed from the government during the shutdown, which explains, in part, why the shutdown was so widely felt. As a result of the shutdown, nearly one-third (31%) of respondents’ organizations delayed or canceled conferences or events, while one quarter decreased staff hours (24%) and delayed or canceled hiring decisions (23%). These disruptions were significantly higher among federal agencies.

The governing climate that led to the shutdown has severely undermined business optimism. A large majority thinks the gridlock in Washington has become a drag on the economy with three-quarters (74%) believing that the governing climate will make strong national economic growth less likely in the next year.

Government contractors were more optimistic than others about the prospects for their own businesses, but pessimism about the economy prevails. While nearly eight in 10 contractors (79%) said U.S. economy was unlikely to see strong national economic growth in the next year, 44% projected their organization’s revenues to increase in the next year — a significantly higher percentage than any other sector. “This suggests that many contractors continue to see rich opportunity for government spending in the next year, despite the ongoing budget cuts from the sequester,” said John Kagia, ORI’s director of strategy and insight.

Alarm about the shutdown mobilized business leaders into action. Three quarters of business owners and senior executives (75%) contacted a member of Congress during the shutdown. At the same time, fewer than 5% of senior executives were optimistic that the government would address priorities that were important to them. “This underscores the extent to which business leaders feel that Washington’s priorities are not aligned with their interests,” said Kagia.

Finding qualified staff to support strategic initiatives is a key challenge in the federal community, but recruiting the best and brightest could be a challenge. Approximately half of the federal respondents (55%) and government contractors (45%) indicated that finding qualified employees would be important to their organizations’ success in the next six months. However, as a consequence of the shutdown and surrounding governing climate, two-thirds of all respondents (and a striking 75% of federal staff) believe that qualified candidates will be less likely to want to work for the government. Said Kagia, “This indicates that the shutdown and surrounding debate significantly undermined the perceived stability and security that have been hallmarks of working in the public sector.”

The ORI study, with a sample size of 665, was conducted online from October 15 to October 25. The margin of error is ±3.8.



IEEE Spectrum

The Rise and Fall of Australia’s $44 Billion Broadband Project

Why Australia decided to abort an ambitious fiber-to-the-home plan


By Rodney S. Tucker

Posted 26 Nov 2013 | 15:00 GMT


In April 2009, Australia’s then prime minister, Kevin Rudd, dropped a bombshell on the press and the global technology community: His social democrat Labor administration was going to deliver broadband Internet to every single resident of Australia. It was an audacious goal, not least of all because Australia is one of the most sparsely populated countries on Earth.


The National Broadband Network (NBN), as the project is known, would extend high-speed optical fiber directly into the homes, schools, and workplaces of 93 percent of Australians. The remaining 7 percent, living out of fiber’s reach in rural areas and remote pockets of the vast outback in the middle of the continent, would be linked to the Internet via state-of-the-art wireless and satellite technology.

Governments and telecom carriers in other countries, such as Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea, have similarly embarked on endeavors to deploy widespread fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) networks. But those countries are much smaller and more densely populated than Australia. The country has roughly the landmass of the contiguous United States but only 7 percent as many people—fewer, in fact, than the state of Texas. To lay a nationwide fiber footprint, the government would need armies of workers and unprecedented access to rights-of-way, utility poles, and underground ducts.

And indeed, the NBN’s estimated cost was high: The latest figure was AU $45.6 billion (US $44.1 billion). It would be one of the largest, most pervasive FTTP rollouts any government has ever attempted. But although the price would be great, so would the impact: The network would bring broadband access to underserved areas, but it would also raise standards of living everywhere by driving innovations in telemedicine, remote education, e-commerce, and e-governance. A government-funded report released this year by Deloitte Access Economics concluded that the NBN would provide job opportunities, time savings, and other benefits worth, on average, AU $3800 (US $3600) per household per year by 2020, when construction would be nearly complete. In addition, fiber’s enormous bandwidth capacity means that transmitting and receiving equipment could be upgraded indefinitely at low cost, allowing the NBN to keep pace for decades with the incessant demand for higher data rates.

Yet despite these benefits, some conservative politicians and media outlets vehemently opposed the plan. In the campaign leading up to a national election this September, the fate of the NBN was vigorously debated. Although polls showed that the majority of voters supported the project, they nevertheless rejected the Labor Party and ushered into power an alliance of moderate conservative parties known as the Coalition, whose leader and now prime minister, Tony Abbott, promised to drastically scale back the national network.

So now, after three years of planning and construction, during which workers connected some 210 000 premises (out of an anticipated 13.2 million), Australia’s visionary and trailblazing initiative is at a crossroads. The new government plans to deploy fiber only to the premises of new housing developments. For the remaining homes and businesses—about 71 percent—it will bring fiber only as far as curbside cabinets, called nodes. Existing copper-wire pairs will cover the so-called last mile to individual buildings.

Such issues are not unique to Australia. Enthusiasm for near-universal broadband was once widespread, and it is still being pursued in the countries mentioned above, among others. But the ardor has cooled in recent years as legislators in many parts of the world move to cut government spending. Unfortunately, as is so often the case with technology, the public debate is beset by misunderstanding, misinformation, and a general lack of technical knowledge. A rare opportunity for growth and development is about to be lost, and disappointingly few people fully grasp the implications of that loss.

For example, in Australia, the Coalition is pursuing a fiber-to-the-node (FTTN) strategy because it would be much cheaper in the short term—about two-thirds the price of the original NBN. But that calculus overlooks the longer-term realities. Copper links simply lack the capacity to support the massive growth in data consumption that analysts predict. Eventually, Australians will have no choice but to replace those links with fiber, probably before the end of this decade. At that point, upgrading to an FTTP network will add to the cost of the FTTN rollout, increasing the total investment beyond the price of installing that fiber today.

And in delaying the deployment, Australians will have passed up a unique chance to become leaders in the global digital economy—an opportunity they may not get again.


Australia in the Slow Lane

Global ranking     Average connection speed (Mb/s)

1 South Korea     13.3

2 Japan     12.0

3 Switzerland     11.0

4 Hong Kong     10.8

5 Latvia     10.6

6 Netherlands     10.1

7 Czech Republic     9.8

8 United States     8.7

9 Sweden     8.4

10 United Kingdom     8.4

43 Australia    4.8

Global Average:    3.3 Mb/s

Source: Akamai Technologies

Today in Australia, as in much of Asia, Europe, and North America, commercial carriers own and operate competing landline networks. Such an arrangement normally encourages carriers to stay at the forefront of technology. However, it can have disadvantages as well: In a thinly populated country such as Australia, carriers may cherry-pick customers in the few dense urban centers where they know they can make the most profit. Consequently, progress is slow to reach the vast majority of people living in rural and suburban areas.

It’s not surprising, then, that among developed countries, Australia is notable for its paucity of fiber-optic links. The highest rates are in Japan and South Korea, densely populated countries with small landmasses, where fiber accounts for more than 60 percent of broadband lines. In larger, more sparsely populated countries, such as the United States and Canada, rates are much more modest. In Australia, the rate is less than 2 percent.

Today, more than two in three Australian households have fixed broadband subscriptions. Most of those connections still use digital subscriber line (DSL) technology, which transmits data packets at higher frequencies than do analog voice signals, enabling Internet traffic to travel over telephone lines at relatively high bit rates. In a DSL system, twisted copper pairs, also known as loops, connect each customer to a central switching office. There, a rack of modems known as DSL access multiplexers, or DSLAMs, link the local loop to the backbone networks of various Internet service providers.

The problem with relying on DSL for broadband service is that many modern applications, including ultrahigh-definition videoconferencing and 3-D television, already require faster transmission speeds than these lines can provide. The biggest bottleneck is the copper itself. Due to the electrical properties of the metal, signals distort and weaken considerably with distance and can interfere with signals traveling through neighboring wires. This severely limits the bit rate of connections, particularly long ones. While customers close to a central office can receive rates as high as 24 megabits per second (using a common standard known as ADSL 2+), more distant customers experience much slower speeds. In Australia, where loops can be quite long and where some users opt for low-speed plans, the average Internet connection is just 4.8 Mb/s. And because the upload rate for DSL rarely exceeds more than one-fourth the download rate, the service doesn’t work well for high-bandwidth two-way applications such as videoconferencing.


Broadband Far and Wide: The original conception for Australia’s National Broadband Network would have given all citizens high-speed data connections—93 percent of them fiber. The country’s large landmass and sparse population made this controversial plan unprecedented and hugely ambitious.

The leaders of the Labor Party weren’t the first Australians to recognize the need for a faster, more inclusive network. Telecom carriers and federal advisory groups have been kicking around proposals for a national broadband network since about 2003. But it wasn’t until December 2007, after the Labor Party won majority power, that the government committed to the venture.

At first, Labor representatives thought the new network should use an FTTN architecture, which would require removing DSLAMs from central offices, located kilometers from customers, and installing new ones in nodes as close as a couple of hundred meters. The nodes would connect to the central offices via fiber and relay data to and from each customer’s premises using very-high-bit-rate DSL, or VDSL, the highest-speed DSL standard available at the time. These shorter copper loops would boost average speeds considerably—to as high as 50 Mb/s, depending on the distance between the node and the premises. The resulting FTTN network wouldn’t be nearly as fast as a full-blown FTTP grid, but the anticipated cost seemed more reasonable.

The government also assumed that the best way to build the network was to award the job to a commercial carrier through a bidding process. It would grant the winner a monopoly license and pitch in AU $4.7 billion to subsidize the cost of construction. Six carriers, including the market leader Telstra, submitted proposals by November 2008. To evaluate them, the government appointed an expert panel; I was among its seven members.

After studying the proposals, we agreed on two key points. First, we found that the global economic recession, sparked by the bursting of the U.S. housing bubble in 2006, was preventing Australia’s carriers from raising enough capital to fully fund the construction of a national network. In fact, none of the bidders came up with a viable business model. It was clear that unless the government bankrolled the majority of the cost, a commercial network would not likely succeed.

Our second observation was that an FTTN layout would be a bad idea. Using VDSL, a home connection could theoretically deliver 50 Mb/s, but only if the node sat very close to the house—a mere 100 meters or so away. Since the panel disbanded, a newer standard, VDSL2, has emerged. When combined with a novel interference-reduction technique called vectoring, it can provide download speeds up to about 100 Mb/s over short distances. And now an even faster standard known as is in the works, which promises download rates up to 1 Gb/s, but again, only for very short connections. For customers on longer loops, telecoms would be able to guarantee only about 50 Mb/s.

Market analysts project that data usage from a single family or small business could easily surpass that rate by 2020, and to meet this demand, Australia would need an FTTP network. Laying a cheaper FTTN footprint first would make little sense because it’s not a necessary step toward realizing an all-fiber system. In fact, an FTTN network requires special equipment and infrastructure, including nodes, that would have to be removed and discarded during an FTTP upgrade. An interim FTTN rollout would consequently end up costing Australians more in the long term than simply investing in FTTP technology today.

For these and other reasons, we recommended that the government itself create a national FTTP network. Incredibly, it accepted our advice.

In April 2009, following Prime Minister Rudd’s landmark announcement, the Australian government established NBN Co to build and operate the future National Broadband Network. The governmentowned company would be responsible for connecting every home and business to more than 100 hubs, called points of interconnect, around the nation. These are places where commercial Internet providers and other content-delivery companies, called retail service providers, would hook into the network. To reduce some of the cost of laying fiber lines, NBN Co would pay commercial carriers to access existing underground ducts and pits and decommission copper telephone lines and DSLAM equipment. Telstra currently owns the vast majority of this infrastructure, and the government had agreed to pay AU $11 billion to access it.

As the sole owner of the new national network, NBN Co would run what’s known as a Layer 2 network. It would offer commercial providers a choice of speeds at set prices (from AU $24 per month for 12 Mb/s downloads and 1 Mb/s uploads to AU $150 per month for 1 Gb/s downloads and 400 Mb/s uploads). It would route the data to and from the providers’ customers using Ethernet protocol. The providers would add on the remaining layers, including data packaging, encryption, and error correction, and bill customers directly. Although NBN Co alone would manage the physical infrastructure, including the modems in people’s homes, providers could still compete, based on the type of content they offered and the quality of their service.

To construct the network’s fiber web, engineers opted to use passive optical network (PON) technology, a standard approach for FTTP networks. In NBN Co’s PON system, a single fiber would ferry data from a central office to a small curbside cabinet, where a beam splitter would divide the signal, guiding the light through up to 32 branching fibers, each leading to a separate premises. Unlike active optical networks, which electronically switch data at the cabinet in order to route it to its final destination, PON systems broadcast to all premises on a splitter. They rely on electronic switches at each customer’s terminal to weed out the neighbors’ traffic and encrypt the data to prevent eavesdropping. PON systems also tend to be cheaper, use less power, and are easier to maintain than active ones because they don’t require engineers to install and tend to switching equipment in outdoor cabinets.

When construction began on the NBN in 2010, the fastest equipment available for transmitting data on a PON network relied on an industry standard known as gigabit PON, or GPON, which can send 2.4 gigabits per second to each splitter. This overall capacity would be divided among all of the premises on a splitter. However, if several customers in a neighborhood opted for fast services, NBN Co would simply install more splitters at the cabinet—a quick, 20-minute job. This way, NBN Co could guarantee that every fiber-connected Australian who wanted the maximum 1 Gb/s rate could get it.

Inevitably, though, some people would fall outside this fiber footprint. About 7 percent of Australians live in rural communities or remote outposts where wired broadband access is technically or economically unviable. NBN Co would connect about half this population via fixed wireless towers equipped with standard 4G LTE technologies capable of delivering download speeds up to 25 Mb/s and upload speeds up to 5 Mb/s to each customer. The other half would be served by two new high-bandwidth geostationary satellites due to launch in 2015, which would provide similar data rates.

But no matter the type of access technology—fiber, wireless, or satellite—NBN Co would still charge commercial providers the same wholesale rates to use its pipes, ensuring equal and fair prices to all consumers regardless of location.

Many politicians and industry executives praised the NBN plan. Alan Noble, Google Australia’s head of engineering, called it “the greatest enabler of innovation.” Others said it was “a critical part in the evolution of the Internet” and “too good an opportunity to miss.” Nevertheless, the plan was controversial from the outset. Members of the conservative Coalition, concerned about rising costs and construction delays, have described the NBN as a “dangerous delusion,” a “white elephant on a massive scale,” and a “shockingly misconceived, wasteful exercise in public policy.”

Some of the early criticisms, particularly from media commentators, stemmed from technical misunderstandings. Opponents of the FTTP approach, for instance, often reasoned that the popularity of mobile gadgets is causing wireless technologies to advance so rapidly that they will eventually offer greater speeds than fiber, making the NBN obsolete.

The fallacy of this assumption is immediately apparent to anybody with a basic knowledge of wireless networks. Such connections will always be limited by the bandwidth capacity of a cellular base station, which must be shared among all its users. Even if one station could use all available radio spectrum to serve one customer, the bandwidth of frequencies that can be passed through an optical fiber would still be some 20 000 times as great.

What’s more, mobile systems may not be able to sustain their awesome growth without an extensive fiber network. Already, operators are deploying miniature base stations known as small cells in homes, businesses, and busy urban centers, to help expand capacity and bring services to places where traditional towers may not reach, such as indoors. The glut of data flowing through these cells will need to be hauled to and from an operator’s core network—a job that suits fiber very well.

Other critics of the Labor Party’s plan worried that giving NBN Co sole ownership of Australia’s physical network would stifle infrastructure competition, keeping prices high for consumers and slowing the adoption of new network technologies. This argument might be persuasive in more densely populated countries such as the United States, where high consumer demand usually ensures vigorous competition based largely on technology. Indeed, in the United States, Verizon began offering its FiOS FTTP service in 2005, and plans are now available to more than 18 million homes, 5 million of which have subscriptions, the company says.

But in Australia, providers have already demonstrated that a free market hasn’t produced good access options for most consumers. In the 1990s, for instance, Telstra and its competitor Optus strung separate hybrid fiber-coaxial lines, a faster service than DSL, to the same 2 million premises in some populous suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne. Meanwhile, millions more premises missed out on the upgrade.

By far the biggest concern about the FTTP model was, and still is, that the benefits won’t justify its high cost. The Coalition argues that an FTTN network, though less than ideal, would provide more value per dollar. But the numbers just don’t add up.

An FTTP network offering peak speeds of up to 1 Gb/s would have cost Australians about AU $3450 per premises, according to NBN Co’s cost analysis. By contrast, the new Coalition government estimates that each FTTN connection, capable of guaranteeing up to 50 Mb/s, will cost on average around AU $2320—a whopping two-thirds the cost of a vastly superior FTTP link. And if consumer data rates continue to climb as fast as analysts predict, many FTTN customers will probably want to upgrade to FTTP technology before 2020. To accommodate them, the Coalition government plans to offer “fiber-on-demand” service, in which a customer could choose to pay out of pocket for installing fiber from a curbside node to a home or business. These upgrades would likely add another AU $1000 to $5000 to the price of each connection, depending on the length of the fiber and the amount of labor required.

In the meantime, an FTTP network using GPON infrastructure could last well into the future. Upgrading it to the next-generation standard, called XGPON, which will support up to 10 Gb/s, would simply require replacing some of the equipment in central offices and the terminal modem at each customer’s premises—for a likely total bill of no more than AU $300 per connection. In the future, newer standards could provide even faster bit rates for a comparable cost.


It has been painful watching the formation of this “futureproof” network come to an end. I can’t help but think of the United States’ Interstate Highway System, championed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s, which paved the way, literally, for a booming transportation-based economy. In Australia, a fiber-based broadband highway could transform the country’s digital economy in much the same way.

Sadly, the new Coalition government seems impervious to these arguments and is determined to downscale the NBN. I am left clinging to the hope that Australians will realize the foolishness of abandoning the FTTP network and insist that their leaders reconsider or devise a new plan that’s not too far removed from the Labor Party’s revolutionary vision.



Microsoft Launches Cybercrime Center

Microsoft expands global role supporting law enforcement, government, and businesses fighting cybercrime.

December 4, 2013

Patience Wait


Microsoft has unveiled its latest effort to combat cyberthreats with the opening of its new Cyber Crime Center. The state-of-the-art operations facility, located on Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash., campus, provides specialists with an array of advanced tools to visualize and identify cyberthreats around the world.

The center is not simply for Microsoft, though. In addition to the technical experts who can track criminal activities, the center is working closely with law enforcement agencies, customers, and academics to develop ways to keep the public safe from cyber criminals. Microsoft is also including legal experts who can advise the best ways to navigate international law.

“The center provides an unprecedented opportunity to bring together people with different expertise — engineers, investigators, lawyers, etc. — and equip them with the best tools and technology available,” Bonnie MacNaughton, assistant general counsel for the Digital Crimes Unit (DCU), told InformationWeek.

The DCU team is made up of nearly 100 lawyers, investigators, forensic analysts, and business professionals all around the world. The company has established a dozen satellite offices or regional labs in major cities, including Beijing, Berlin, Bogota, Dublin, Hong Kong, Sydney, and Washington, D.C. It can provide the latest technology and monitor developments internationally — two aspects that can be challenging for US law enforcement.

Housed within the Cyber Crime Center, the DCU team brings cybercrime experts across the areas of IP, botnets, malware, and child exploitation under one umbrella, “so that when focus areas intersect … we can work better together to eliminate cyber threats to Microsoft’s businesses, customers, and the entire digital ecosystem,” said MacNaughton.

Many federal agencies are working on aspects of cyberthreats: the Department of Homeland Security’s US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), the FBI’s Cyber Crime division, the Secret Service network of Electronic Crimes Task Forces, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to name a few, do everything from tracking threats, to cyber forensics, to taking down internationally wanted criminals.

Almost every country has its own cybercrime program, not to mention Interpol, NATO, and other regional alliances.

Where does Microsoft’s center fit into this veritable galaxy of cyber law enforcement?

“The DCU understands that Congress has traditionally seen fit for private entities to protect themselves, and their customers, through legal action,” MacNaughton said. “Microsoft is very deliberate about pursuing disruptive measures through the civil judicial system, as the U.S. Congress envisioned when it created a civil component to the RICO and Lanham acts. By effectively leveraging these civil causes of action, Microsoft has sought to bring additional pressure against a determined and sophisticated adversary.”

But the company knows that only law enforcement agencies can really crack down on cybercriminals.

“[We work] closely with law enforcement to combat cybercrime, and whenever possible we use the evidence gathered in civil actions to refer cases to law enforcement for criminal prosecution,” MacNaughton said. “For instance, in the Rustock and Zeus botnet cases, after closing our civil cases we made a criminal referral to the FBI.” Those are two of seven botnets tied to criminal organizations committing consumer, financial, and advertising fraud, according to Microsoft briefing materials. The others include Citadel, Bamital, Nitol, Kelihos, and Waledac.

In another worldwide botnet investigation targeting cybercriminals out of Eastern Europe, Microsoft and financial services industry leaders affected by the Citadel botnet investigated and filed their own civil case, MacNaughton said. Then they worked with the FBI and coordinated a worldwide disruption of the Citadel zombie network and shut down nearly 90% of enslaved computers.

“When Microsoft seizes the command and control infrastructure of a botnet, it severs the connection between the cybercriminals running it and the computers they infected with that botnet’s malware,” she said. “These infected computers continue to try to check into the botnet command for instructions until they are cleaned of the malware. Every day, Microsoft’s system receives hundreds of millions of attempted check-ins” from infected computers.

The company shares data gathered by its Azure-based Cyber Threat Intelligence Program (C-TIP) with ISPs and CERTs, giving them better situational awareness of cyber threats.

Microsoft officials also noted that as a result of joint operations with Interpol, the FBI, ICE/HSI, Scotland Yard, and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), more than 20,000 illegal online pharmacies selling dangerous counterfeit drugs were identified through Microsoft’s SitePrint tool and subsequently taken down.


Microsoft lines up critical Windows, Office and IE fixes for next week

Year’s update total will be 28% higher than 2012’s

By Gregg Keizer

December 5, 2013 04:13 PM ET


Computerworld – Microsoft today said it will ship 11 security updates next week to patch critical vulnerabilities in Windows, Internet Explorer (IE), Office and Exchange, including one meant to stymie active attacks the company confirmed a month ago.

With the 11 slated for release on Dec. 10, Microsoft’s update tally for the year will reach 106, tying the record from 2010 and representing a 28% increase over 2012.

Five of the updates outlined in today’s Patch Tuesday advance notification will be marked “critical,” the top ranking in Microsoft’s scoring system; the remaining six will be labeled “important,” one step down in severity.

“IE is the ‘of course patch first’ update,” said Andrew Storms, director of DevOps at San Francisco-based security company CloudPassage.

The critical IE update will affect all currently-supported versions of Microsoft’s browser, from the aging IE6 to the just released IE11. The upcoming update means that Microsoft will have patched IE every month of 2013, a feat impossible prior to July 2012, when the Redmond, Wash. company applied fixes only on alternating months.

Microsoft will be forced to support the half-dozen flavors of IE through at least April, when it will finally retire IE6, the oft-derided browser that debuted more than 12 years ago.

“Talk about legacy costs,” said Storms in an instant message interview Thursday. “We think about the operational costs for IT departments to manage and maintain X number of old systems, [but] imagine Microsoft having to do the same for all their customers.”

Another critical update will patch one or more flaws in a combination of Windows and Office editions to shut down ongoing attacks reported to Microsoft by McAfee researchers in early November. Microsoft issued a security advisory on Nov. 5 that described the threat and offered a temporary fix.


Two of the remaining three critical updates will affect Windows, while the third will patch Exchange, the business-critical email server software that most businesses rely on for delivering messages.

Storms recommended that Microsoft’s customers immediately install the critical Windows updates, but hedged on the one for Exchange.

On one hand, the criticality of the Exchange update would seem to demand attention. But Storms pointed out that the decision may be tougher than at first glance, since IT staffs are often short-handed at the end of the year and leery of breaking email at any time.

“Taking the risk of patching and rebooting Exchange at the end of the year will surely create a lot of opinions inside meeting rooms,” said Storms, referring to discussions that will take place next week about whether to patch the email servers.

“If we get lucky, [the Exchange vulnerability] will be in Oracle’s Outside In, and there will be an easy mitigation,” Storms added.

Exchange relies on Outside In libraries to display file attachments in a browser rather than open them in a locally-stored application, like Microsoft Word. Microsoft has patched those libraries repeatedly, twice this year — most recently in August — and also twice in 2012.

Outside In was included in Oracle’s October patch collection, making it almost certain that the Exchange update will address that technology’s latest bugs. “Given Microsoft’s time to test patches, the timing of this does match up,” agreed Storms in a final instant message.

The six updates marked important will patch vulnerabilities in Windows, Office 2010 and Office 2013, SharePoint Server and Visual Studio Team Foundation Server 2013. If the updates are not deployed, criminals may be able to infect PCs with malware, steal information, acquire additional privileges that would let them run more threatening attacks, or bypass security features.

Microsoft will release next week’s security updates on Dec. 10 around 1 p.m. ET.


DoD begins cutting staff sizes, will reorganize policy office

Dec. 5, 2013 – 01:50PM |

By Marcus Weisgerber

Staff writer

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel put into action Wednesday plans to reduce his Defense Department staff by 20 percent, an effort he said will save the Pentagon $1 billion over a five-year period.

The changes involve eliminating civilian and contract workers, while reorganizing the oversight responsibilities of some of DoD’s senior officials. The plans also call for a major overhaul of the Pentagon’s policy directorate, including the elimination of one deputy undersecretary and four deputy assistant secretaries.

“This restructuring will better balance workload across policy’s assistant secretary of defense, sustain our emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region, space and cyber capabilities, and better integrate our focus on emerging threats with homeland defense efforts and strengthen our security cooperation efforts, while eliminating some senior executive positions,” Hagel said of the policy reorganization during a press briefing at the Pentagon on Wednesday.


Hagel has also realigned the Office of Net Assessment, a strategic analysis organization, under the policy directorate. The organization, which is led by long-time strategist Andrew Marshall, was said to be on the chopping block during the review but survived.

Over the summer, Hagel asked former Air Force Secretary Michael Donley to look for places to cut Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), services, Joint Staff and combatant command headquarters staffs by 20 percent.

In 2012, OSD had nearly 2,700 civilian and military staff positions, according to Pentagon documents. There are about 2,400 military and civilian personnel in OSD today, according to a senior defense official. After the downsizing, there will be fewer than 2,200 people remaining, Hagel said.

Other changes ordered by Hagel include trimming DoD’s intelligence division by identifying “non-core functions and programs that may be transferred to the services or defense agencies,” and moving oversight of information technology resources from the Deputy Chief Management Officer to the Chief Information Officer, a fact sheet on the changes states.

Hagel also called for changes to the Deputy Chief Management Officer’s responsibilities “to better coordinate and integrate DoD’s business affairs by creating a leadership focused on management concerns and creating a single management, business oversight, and administrative organization within OSD and across DoD,” the fact sheet states. He also called for realigning oversight of business systems from the deputy chief management officer to the chief information officer.

“[E]very dollar that we save by reducing the size of her headquarters and back-office operations is a dollar that can be invested in war-fighting capabilities and readiness,” Hagel said. “Beyond these fiscal considerations, our goal is to use this opportunity to streamline OSD, making it more agile and responsive.”

More details of the initiative will be included in the Pentagon’s 2015 budget proposal, which is scheduled for a February release.

“These reductions are only a first step in DoD’s efforts to realign defense spending to meet new fiscal realities and strategic priorities,” Hagel said. “Difficult, but necessary choices remain ahead for the department, choices on compensation reform, force structure, acquisitions and other major parts of DoD.”


What are the top ten civilian uses of drones that don’t impinge privacy?

Jul 01 2013 by Matt Ball


Geospatial vendors in the United States wait rather impatiently as the Federal Aviation Administration works on regulations that will allow the use of drones or unmanned aerial systems for commercial applications. While research and development is ongoing, other countries stand to make a leap ahead where there are fewer regulations, despite the fact that much of the technology development has come about thanks to heavy use of these technologies by the American military.

There are a burgeoning number of aerial drone platforms, including a very active do-it-yourself community ( The machines are becoming more robust, with abilities to accommodate heavier payloads for longer flight times. There are also new sensors and systems that are being tailored for specific applications, taking away technical barriers by automating both the flight and data processing, and returning intelligence that can be acted upon.

Given the growing interest, and the ability for these tools to address new areas of application, it’s fitting to survey the top markets, the advantage, and the sensors that provide new insight in a wide area of application.

  1. Agriculture – The Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) reports that the agricultural use of drones could comprise 80% of the market. The reasons include the need to closely monitor crops to improve management and yield, the need to do this more regularly and cheaply, and the environment of private land with little threat to others. Near-infrared sensors can be tuned to detect crop health, letting farmers react and improve conditions locally with inputs of fertilizer or insecticide.
  2. Mines – Mining companies are already deploying drones worldwide with great efficiency and safety gains to accurately measure site conditions, inspect pit walls, calculate quantities, and measure and map in 3D. Photogrammetric techniques are used for 3D modeling to date, however more precise laser LiDAR sensors for UAV platforms will be developed in time.
  3. Construction Sites – The monitoring from above of construction project sites provides a new input during all phases of a project lifecycle. Aerial photography is done now for only the largest projects, however the input would be used more widely and more frequently if more readily accessible. The ability to quickly model from above in 3D with increasing precision will provide a check on projects with as-builts compared to plans, as well as the better coordination of materials on the job site.
  4. Infrastructure Inspection – From pipelines to powerlines, to towers, to processing plants, the inspection of complex infrastructure will benefit from regular aerial monitoring. The ability to sense in three dimensions, take thermal readings, and to detect metal strain will greatly improve infrastructure inspection. Small and unmanned platforms that can hover and get close and surround infrastructure, such as a bridge or plant, will provide a new level of detail to improve performance.
  5. Wildlife Research – Drones are being used internationally to monitor and track wildlife, providing new insight into animal behavior, as well as protection from poachers. With the ability to operate at night, and with thermal camera sensors, drones provide unprecedented protection.
  6. Prospecting – Mineral and oil and gas exploration is a natural fit for drones, with field prospectors extending their toolset with aerial sensors to confirm and expand their insight. Magnetometers on aerial platforms can be used to detect ferrous metals and gravitational fields, with less of a disturbance due to their size.
  7. Storm Tracking/Forecasting – Sending drones into hurricanes and tornadoes provides new insight into their behavior and trajectory. Unmanned systems are the best approach to these dangerous situations, and with specialized sensors to detail weather parameters, new insight becomes possible.
  8. Emergency Response – After a natural or manmade disaster, a drone provides a quick means to gather information, navigate debris with a portable and useful technology that doesn’t drown out cries for help, and that can be deployed by teams that are working a specific area.
  9. Environmental Monitoring – Drones fill a gap between manned aerial inspections and traditional fieldwork, monitoring hard to reach areas, or taking reading in contaminated areas where human health would be at risk. The ability to quickly deploy and capture an area of interest in concert with in-situ measurements, provides an advantage to contamination and reclamation work. Near-infrared sensors provide details of plant health to determine environmental health. The site-specific insight will greatly improve habitat restoration, environmental assessments, monitoring, and remediation.
  10. Search and Rescue – With thermal sensors, drones can quickly discover the location of lost persons, and are particularly useful at night or in challenging terrain. The search and rescue mission is a battle against time, particularly in harsh conditions, and drones become a powerful tool because of the ease of deployment.

Drones provide a paradigm shift for remote sensing, given their portability, low cost of operation, ease of use, and the automation of the analysis. It’s just a matter of time before regulations are lifted, and they are widely used. There are legislative efforts that could dramatically impact their utility, but with a focus on best-use, and with tailored sensor and platforms for these applications, their benefit will be broadly felt without repercussion to privacy.


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AV Week reveals new large flying wing the RQ180

by Press • 6 December 2013

Amy Butler and Bill Sweetman


A large, classified unmanned aircraft developed by Northrop Grumman is now flying—and it demonstrates a major advance in combining stealth and aerodynamic efficiency. Defense and intelligence officials say the secret unmanned aerial system (UAS), designed for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions, is scheduled to enter production for the U.S. Air Force and could be operational by 2015.

Funded through the Air Force’s classified budget, the program to build this new UAS, dubbed the RQ-180, was awarded to Northrop Grumman after a competition that included Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The aircraft will conduct the penetrating ISR mission that has been left unaddressed, and under wide debate, since retirement of the Lockheed SR-71 in 1998.

Neither the Air Force nor Northrop Grumman would speak about the classified airplane. When queried about the project, Air Force spokeswoman Jennifer Cassidy said, “The Air Force does not discuss this program.”

The RQ-180 carries radio-frequency sensors such as active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and passive electronic surveillance measures, according to one defense official. It could also be capable of electronic attack missions.

This aircraft’s design is key for the shift of Air Force ISR assets away from “permissive” environments—such as Iraq and Afghanistan, where Northrop Grumman’s non-stealthy Global Hawk and General Atomics’ Reaper operate—and toward operations in “contested” or “denied” airspace. The new UAS underpins the Air Force’s determination to retire a version of the RQ-4B Global Hawk after 2014, despite congressional resistance. The RQ-180 eclipses the smaller, less stealthy and shorter-range RQ-170 Sentinel.


Rasmussen Reports

What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls

Bottom of Form

Saturday, December 07, 2013

President Obama got some good late-week news with the drop of the unemployment rate to a five-year low and better-than-projected economic growth in the third quarter. It remains to be seen whether these trends continue and offset the damage done by Obamacare’s disastrous debut.

The president’s total job approval dipped four points to 45% in November. That’s down 11 points from last December’s recent high of 56% and is his lowest monthly approval in two years. In recent weeks, Obama’s daily job approval ratings have been at the lowest levels of his presidency

Positive views of the president’s economic leadership have fallen to their lowest level in 18 months. Just 32% of Likely U.S. Voters now give the president good or excellent marks for his handling of economic issues.

Twenty-five percent (25%) think the country is heading in the right direction. A year ago, 41% felt that way.

Despite assurances from the Obama administration that problems with the federal health insurance exchange website have been fixed, 59% of voters think it’s unlikely the current problems with the new national health care law will be fixed within the next year.

Since October 1, the law has begun forcing millions of Americans to change their health insurance coverage because it does not meet the standards set by the law and to buy more expensive policies in their place. The resulting political uproar has forced the president to delay implementation of that portion of the law. Voters who have health insurance overwhelmingly rate the coverage they have as good or excellent. Fifty-six percent (56%) of all voters now expect the health care system to get worse under the new law.

No wonder then that voters overwhelmingly want to change or repeal the health care law. Fifty percent (50%) want to scrap it completely and start over again.

By a 51% to 38% margin, voters oppose the law’s requirement that employers provide health insurance with free contraceptives for their female employees. But they remain closely divided when asked if a business should be allowed to opt out of such a mandate for religious reasons – the subject of the latest legal challenge of Obamacare now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Voters are almost evenly divided over how much influence the law will have over their upcoming vote. Thirty-eight percent (38%) say they are more likely to vote for a member of Congress who supports the health care law. Forty percent (40%) are less likely to vote for a supporter of the law. But perhaps surprisingly, 35% are not sure if their representative in Congress voted for it or not.

As the political fallout from the health care law continues, Republicans have jumped to a five-point lead over Democrats – 43% to 38% – on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot. This is the biggest lead the GOP has held since June 2012 and the highest level of support it has earned since just before Election Day in early November of last year. 

But the economy may be offering a little more hope these days. The Rasmussen Employment Index which measures worker confidence jumped five points in November after falling to a low for the year in October. An increase in the Employment Index generally suggests the upcoming government report on job creation will be stronger than the prior month’s report, and indeed it was.

The president on Wednesday declared that growing income inequality in the United States is “the defining challenge of our time.” The number of workers who consider themselves poor (18%) is at its highest point this year, but help may be on the way: The number who expect to be earning more a year from now (43%) matches its highest level in four-and-a-half years

Fewer workers than ever are willing to commit to their current job. Twenty-five percent (25%) of Employed Adults are looking for a job outside of their current company.  Sixty-four percent (64%) are not, but that’s the lowest finding in regular surveying since the spring of 2009. However, just 37% think their next job will be better than their current one.

The Rasmussen Consumer and Investor Indexes aren’t overly optimistic, though. At week’s end, 25% of consumers said economic conditions in the United States are getting better, but twice as many (50%) believe they’re getting worse. Investors share these views by a similar margin.

Speaking of consumers, 48% of Americans have begun their holiday shopping, and 14% are finished already. 

But 75% agree that most Americans need to cut back on credit card use and other borrowing. Nineteen percent (19%) say the bad economy is causing them to use their credit cards more. 

Only 39% think they personally need to cut back on their credit card use and other borrowing 

Most Americans (70%) are fairly comfortable using their credit cards on the Internet, but 24% say they have had credit card information stolen online 

The Obama administration recently changed long-standing military policy to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly. Thirty-four percent (34%) think this decision is good for the military, but nearly as many (31%) feel it’s bad for the military. Another 31% say it will have no impact. 

Forty-seven percent (47%) think the growing role of women in the armed services is also good for the military. Fifty-three percent (53%) believe women should be allowed to fight on the front lines and perform all the combat roles that men do, although that’s down six points from 59% in January.

In other surveys last week:

Sixty-eight percent (68%) of Americans held a favorable view of iconic South African leader Nelson Mandela when we asked in February 2011. Mandela died on Thursday at age 95.

— Vice President Joe Biden visited Beijing this week following the latest flare-up of tensions with China. Fifty-two percent (52%) of voters consider China a long-term threat to the United States, but 75% think that threat is economic rather than a military one. 

The United States spends more on defense annually than the next 10 countries combined, but more voters than ever (37%) don’t think that’s enough.  

— Seventy-one percent (71%) of Americans say they will decorate their homes this holiday season

— Sixty-six percent (66%) of Americans prefer signs in stores that say “Merry Christmas” rather than ones with “Happy Holidays.”  


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