July 28, 2014

Study finds Iowa among slow states for internet connections

Internet router A study finds Iowa is improving but is still among the slower states in terms of Internet connections.

The study by the Communication Workers of America tested the speed of the last mile of Internet users’ hook-ups, what tends to be the slowest mile.

Annie Hill, the C-W-A’s executive vice president, says Iowa ranked 35th in the U.S., which is up from 43rd last year. Hill says Internet speed is vital to a state’s development.

"There’s actually real-time examples when you look at how it improves rural economies," Hill says. "The U.S.D.A. just put out a report that says rural areas that adopted broadband have a much stronger economic background than those that didn’t." She says the C-W-A’s " Speed Matters " test is reinforcing the emphasis on the importance of increasingly-faster Internet connections to bolster economic growth, education, medical research, and more.

Hill says Iowa’s at something of a disadvantage, being such a rural farm-based state. "The states that are the fastest are the ones that are the most densely populated," Hill says. "It’s where businesses that deploy broadband Internet often make decisions to focus on not only dense population areas but especially metropolitan areas. We look at the upper East Coast that has the fastest. The further south you go and the further west you go, states don’t tend to do as well."

The fastest three states on the survey are Delaware, Rhode Island and New Jersey, while the slowest are Idaho, Alaska and Montana. Hill says Iowa’s speed -did- show a marked improvement in the past year, which is key for the state’s many industries, especially for agriculture.

"A lot of farming has become more technological and people rely on weather reports, information on soil conditions, they use it to check prices on whether they’re selling grains or animals," Hill says. "Having access to the Internet is very important to running a farm in the 21st century.

"Hill says the United States as a whole ranked 28th in the world for Internet connectivity. The U.S. average download speed is four times slower than the number-one nation, South Korea. ".

Parents urged to keep close eye on kids’ social networking

A federal agent says Iowa parents should be involved in virtually all aspects of their kids’ lives, especially when it comes to the Internet. Robert Georgai, a white collar crime specialist with the F-B-I, says with the growing popularity of social websites like MySpace and Facebook, parents need to be especially aware of what information their kids are sharing online.

"If they’re going to put online, ‘Hey I’m going to go see the Harry Potter movie tonight at midnight,’ well, it’s not that hard for a bad guy to figure out exactly where that child’s going to be," Georgai says. "Be careful about that kind of information and we always encourage parents to be actively involved in their kid’s lives." An Omaha police officer was arrested last week on charges he used the Internet to lure what he thought was a 14-year-old girl for a sexual encounter. Georgai says predators are out there, lurking.

He says, "The most important thing a child can do is make sure they’re not revealing too much information about themselves and they have to be pretty cautious about who they allow on their friends list." He says moms and dads need to get online routinely to keep an eye on what their kids are telling the world. "We always recommend to the parents that they actively check their child’s profile, that they actively become a member of their (child’s) social networking site," Georgai says. "If a child knows that their parent is part of their FaceBook team they might not put out the exact same information that they would if they thought their parents weren’t looking." 

Georgai says it’s unfortunate, but on websites like FaceBook, the number of friends a person has is a status symbol, which encourages them to continue giving access to people who may not have good intentions. Clarinda Police Chief Keith Brothers reminded residents of an Arizona crime in which a home was burglarized by someone who learned the home would be vacant on Twitter.

 

Use caution with "secret shopper" offer

Iowans are being warned about a "secret shopper" scam which may have its roots in Nebraska. Authorities in both states are investigating the scheme in which people are recruited to patronize certain businesses, report on the experience and get paid for it.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning says people in Iowa and elsewhere are being approached through the U-S mail and through e-mail. "The trick here is what’s being provided is a check for training," Bruning says. "Well, the check is a fake check."

Bruning says consumers receive the training check, they’re asked to cash it, then send or wire money back to the business. He says about 300 people have already fallen victim to the scam, but he couldn’t say how many of them were in Iowa.

"The checks have been two-to-three-thousand dollars and they put a new twist on this," Bruning says. "There’s a phone number and they appear to come from a Nebraska bank."

Bruning says the check looks very legitimate but he warns, Iowans should not fall for the trickery and the promise of easy money. He says, "There’s a phone number on the checks and indeed, if a bank locally, if you try to cash, you follow up, there’s somebody on the other end of the call who’s keeping track of these fraudulent checks that have been sent out."

Iowans are urged to contact the Iowa Attorney General’s office of consumer protection if they get such an offer — by mail or email.

Attorney General urges tougher penalties for internet predators

Attorney Genearl Tom Miller (file photo) Iowa’s attorney general is urging state lawmakers to adopt tougher penalties for internet predators who target kids.

Tom Miller has twice introduced legislation that makes it a felony to sexually solicit a minor on-line.

Miller warned a legislative committee Thursday that on-line solicitation is on the rise, but the penalty is so lax that law enforcement agencies hesitate to invest the manpower to catch the predators.

"Among the leaders in this have been Black Hawk County, the sheriff’s office and other enforcement agencies. They were getting about six charges every three months," Miller said. "But when it could only be a misdemeanor, in terms of their resources, they’ve cut back. So we really need that change."

Currently, when an undercover decoy poses as a minor on-line, the solicitor can only be charged with attempted enticement. That’s an aggravated misdemeanor which can result in jail time but no prison term. Miller says it should be a felony. "I think in most states it is a felony and it really needs to be," Miller said.

"It’s a serious attempt to try and harm a young person." The state public defender’s office and American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa have objected to increasing the penalty, arguing it could lead to entrapment. 

Google facility opened in Council Bluffs

About 650 invited guests gathered at the Google facility in Council Bluffs late Tuesday afternoon to mark its official opening. Chris Russell, manager of Google’s Council Bluffs Data Center, says construction of the facility began about two years ago.

"A data center is a place where Google locates all of its computers that run Google services — Google search, Gmail, Google maps," he says. "All of those services require computers behind them to make them run and a data center is where Google puts those things." Russell, though, is careful about disclosing details of the data center — like how many people are working there.

"I can’t say how many are right now," Russell says. "But we plan on having about 200 once we have it up and running and have it filled." Guests at Tuesday’s event, for example, were not allowed inside the facility to see how many computer servers or people were inside, for example.

"There are lots of competitors who’d like to know how we run a data center and would like to know the things we do to run a data center as efficiently as we do," Russell says, "and the number of employees is one of those metrics that they’re really interested in knowing." Google was founded in 1998 by two Stanford University students.

Today, there are Google operations in Europe and Asia as well as North America. The State of Iowa offered a package of incentives to lure Google to build in Council Bluffs, including a big break that means Google will not pay taxes on the electricity it buys to run the facility.

"There are lots of reasons that we came here including a great local base of employees, great power availability, good cost of living, the availability of network bandwidth," Russell says. Russell, who has settled in the Council Bluffs area, says he finds it "refreshing" to have a short commute to work.

Among the crowd of 650 who gathered outside the data center yesterday afternoon were about 200 local residents who entered an on-line drawing to get a chance to see the Google site. 

Author warns students about presenting bad image on-line

That picture of you doing double-fisted whiskey shots may seem funny on the website facebook, but it might not be so amusing if your would-be boss sees it prior to a job interview.

Students in central Iowa will hear from author and attorney C.L. Lindsay this weekend in a talk called, "What You Do Online Can Come Back to Haunt You.""Students, both college and high school, are getting themselves into all sorts of trouble online and what this program will cover is bascially how to stay out of that trouble," Lindsay says.

Three main topics will be covered: downloading music, online plagarism, and online privacy — which includes postings to websites like facebook and MySpace, and the new issue of sexting, or sending explicit pictures via cell phone.

Lindsay says high schoolers might appreciate knowing about one in ten college admissions offices do background checks of prospective students by mining social networking websites. "Seventy-five percent of recruiting firms say they look at a potential candidate on MySpace or facebook before they engage them and help them to get a job," he says.

"Forty-percent of employers say they do and 45-percent of both say they’ve refused somebody just by something they’ve found online." Lindsay says people are wrong to think the pictures, videos or comments they put online will only be read by their friends. "You just have to assume that one of the first things somebody might know about you is something they found out about you online," he says.

"Think of the offline equivalent and if you wouldn’t do it offline, don’t do it online and that’s no where more true than in an interview. You wouldn’t print an eight-by-ten glossy of yourself doing something really stupid and hold it out doing the interview, but by putting stuff up online, that’s essentially what you’re doing." Lindsay is director of the Philadelphia-based Coalition for Student and Academic Rights, or CO-STAR and he’s the author of "The College Student’s Guide to the Law."

He’ll speak Sunday at 2 P.M. at Webster City High School.

Grassley on top list of "Twitterers"

The website The Politico ranks Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley as one of the top ten "Most Influential Twitterers" in the nation’s capitol. Twitter is a high-tech means by which information, in 140 characters or less, can be zapped from one person to thousands, even millions.

Grassley, who’s 75, says he’s quickly adapted to the new mode of mass communication and swears it’s himself, not a staff member, making the posts. "I do it through my Blackberry and I carry my Blackberry with me all the time and I don’t have staff with me much of the time and so what you see is Chuck Grassley," he says. "I do know how to spell but I use short cuts. Once in a while, I hit the wrong key and I don’t correct it."

Grassley says he was surprised to hear that he ranks seventh on the top ten Twitter list, alongside other political powerhouses like Barack Obama, Karl Rove, Al Gore and Newt Gingrich.

"I do it because it’s possible for me to give an instantaneous impression or thought that I have to other people that might be interested," Grassley says. Today, for example, he’s Twittering about being on CNBC and some people might want to take a look.

Yesterday, Grassley says, he posted some thoughts about things Iowans brought up during a series of town hall meetings last week. Politico-dot-com says Grassley’s "tweets" are "personal in an Iowan way: friendly but dry." Grassley says he tries to latch on to ways that help him keep in touch with the people who elected him.

Grassley says: "It helps me to make the process of representative government work. I’m one half of that process. My constituents are the other one-half. Anything I can get them to think about the governmental process I think strengthens our system of government." If you’d like to be included in Grassley’s next post, log on to: " www.twitter.com/chuckgrassley ".