Alphabet’s Project to Restore Wireless Service in Puerto Rico With Balloons Gets FCC Approval

Project Loon has already proven its real-world usefulness once this year.

The FCC has approved an experimental license for Alphabet, Inc’s Project Loon to attempt to restore wireless service to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico using its high-altitude balloons, according to FCC Chief of Staff Matthew Berry.

Though the Loon technology is not entirely proven, it could help speed the restoration of vital communications as the U.S. territory works to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

It could also help prove the business case for Loon, one of the experimental “moonshots” debuted as part of Google, and now housed under Alphabet subsidiary X.

More than 80% of Puerto Rico’s cellular towers are still out of service more than two weeks after the arrival there of Hurricane Maria, and nearly one-third of the island’s counties have no service, according to the FCC. Rebuilding conventional cell towers will be “a long road,” T-Mobile told CNN, thanks to challenges including not just the cost of construction, but, according to some wireless companies, theft and crime against their operations.

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Loon balloons, which carry communications equipment as high as 20 kilometers into the atmosphere, would circumvent those earthbound hurdles — at least temporarily. Loon recently rolled out internet and LTE service in Peru after flooding there, reportedly providing coverage for an area roughly the size of Switzerland. The balloons that were deployed in Peru, in fact, were launched from Puerto Rico.

However, restoring communications to Puerto Rico may be more challenging. Loon requires local partners to work, and in the case of the Peru project, relationships with wireless providers and other players were already in place. But in earlier statements to Mashable, a Loon spokesman said the Puerto Rico effort would be “a little more complicated because we’re starting from scratch.”

Contracting with governments for deployment in disaster zones could eventually become a revenue stream for Loon, which debuted in 2013. Alphabet has begun ramping up pressure for moonshots to generate revenue, partly in hopes of diversifying beyond the search-driven advertising business that still makes up the overwhelming majority of its profits.

Tech

Tax Reform Proposal Gets Mixed Reviews From Small Business Owners

The Republican-backed tax proposal announced last week addresses concerns of some small business groups but also raises questions that it could create a tax loophole for wealthy people.

The proposal would change the way some company owners — sole proprietors, partners and owners of what are called S corporations — are taxed. They report business income on their individual 1040 forms and under current law, can be taxed at a rate up to 39.6 percent. Many small business advocates have long objected to the fact that some of these owners pay a higher tax rate than corporations whose rates currently top out at 35 percent.

Under the GOP proposal, the tax rate on the businesses known as pass-throughs would be 25 percent. The corporate rate would be 20 percent.

Small business advocates were split over the plan. The National Federation of Independent Business welcomed it, but others objected.

“The current proposal leaves a disparity by offering pass-through entities a 25 percent tax on business income while dropping the corporate rate to 20 percent,” said Todd McCracken, CEO of the National Small Business Association. “We hope to work with tax writers to find ways to close that gap.”

The pass-through provision has already encountered criticism among Democrats who say it would enable wealthy Americans to structure their finances in a way that would dramatically lower their tax bills. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said it would allow hedge funds to “to convert ordinary income into low-rate pass-through income.”

The NSBA was happy with some other proposals, including an end to the estate tax, which can force the heirs of company owners to sell a business or place it in debt in order to pay the government.

The Small Business Majority said the plan would not help most small companies.

“The current top rate is paid by less than 2 percent of pass-through business owners. Nearly 9 in 10 businesses that pass through their income already pay at the 25 percent rate or less,” said the group’s CEO, John Arensmeyer.

The plan would simplify business taxes, encourage business investment and increase owners’ confidence, the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council said.

“High confidence will drive investment, risk-taking, bigger economic growth and wage growth,” said Karen Kerrigan, the group’s CEO.

The overall tax proposal faces an uncertain path through Congress although it has the backing of GOP leaders and President Donald Trump. Another provision in the overall plan that is being criticized is a proposal to eliminate the deduction for state and local taxes.

OPTMISTIC ABOUT TRADE

Small and mid-sized U.S. businesses that export their goods and services generally anticipate healthy growth in their overseas sales in the next five years. That’s the finding of a survey of 501 exporters released Monday by American Express.

Seventy-seven percent of the exporters who took part in the survey expect revenue from overseas sales to increase in the next five years, on average by nearly 30 percent. International trade is a significant part of their business — on average 36 percent of annual revenue comes from other countries.

Global economics and politics are a concern to these companies, with nearly 80 percent saying changing economics is a significant challenge. Thirty percent said Britain’s planned exit from the European Community will make them more cautious about international trade.

The survey, which questioned companies with total annual revenue between $ 250,000 to under $ 1 billion, was conducted in August.

PAID SICK LEAVE

Rhode Island has become the eighth state to require employers to give their staffers paid time off when they’re sick. Gov. Gina Raimondo signed a bill Thursday giving staffers at businesses with at least 18 employees three days of paid sick leave in 2018, four in 2019 and five in 2020. Workers can also use the time to care for ill relatives.

A growing number of states and cities have enacted laws that give workers paid sick leave, which is not required under federal law. Rhode Island’s neighbors, Connecticut and Massachusetts, also have sick leave laws, as do Vermont, California, Oregon, Arizona and Washington state.

–The Associated Press

Tech

In France, Snap's Discover news feature gets 10 million monthly users

(Reuters) – Snap Inc, searching for ways to reinvigorate a slowing growth rate and increase advertising revenue for its Snapchat messaging app, said this week it has racked up 10 million users for its Discover news and video feature in France a year after launching there.

The figure, which has not previously been reported, is equivalent to about 15 percent of the country’s population.

Internationally, the Snapchat app has 173 million daily active users, the company said in August, while rival Instagram, owned by Facebook Inc, said this week it has 500 million daily users.

Snap’s partners in France such as Le Monde and Cosmopolitan, which supply video and news for the Discover feature, were getting “significant” revenue from ads, Nick Bell, Snap’s vice president of content, told Reuters, without giving an exact figure.

Snap, which generates revenue from advertisers, shares that revenue 50-50 with its publisher partners.

The company has yet to turn a profit since its messaging app launched in 2012. Since its initial public offering in March, its shares are down almost 18 percent, to around $ 14 per share.

France was the first international launch of Discover. It has also been released in Germany, the Middle East and North Africa, but the company is taking a slow, deliberate approach to expansion as it works at developing strong partnerships with publishers, said Bell.

Reporting By Jessica Toonkel; editing by Anna Driver and Rosalba O’Brien

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Tech

IDG Contributor Network: No IPO, debt funding instead. Intacct gets some fuel

Cloud ERP vendor Intacct last week announced that it has secured debt funding by way of a $ 40 million facility from Silicon Valley Bank. This comes at the same time as Intacct announced year-on-year new bookings increasing by some 34 percent.

Intacct has an interesting job in front of it — it is a mid-market vendor and therefore fills the space between tools designed for small and mid-sized businesses (QuickBooks and Xero, for example) and more enterprise-focused tools such as NetSuite, SAP, and Oracle. The mid-market space is a difficult one — customers have a plethora of different requirements and often the complexity, if not the budgets, are similar to those of larger enterprise organizations.

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IBM Watson’s A.I. gets smarter

IBM is adding new smarts to its Watson artificial intelligence system, including the ability to scour photos on social networks to see what you’ve been up to.

Watson began life as a hardware system built to win the TV quiz show Jeopardy, but it’s evolved into more than a dozen cloud services that developers can use to add cognitive capabilities to applications.

IBM says there are now more than 100 commercial applications making use of Watson, and at an event in San Francisco on Thursday it will showing new computing services to encourage more developers to get on board.

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Adobe gets creative with new data visualization product

VB INSIGHT:

Adobe is a strong and active player in the marketing tech landscape. We’ve studied their solutions in market across marketing clouds, mobile analytics and acquisition tools, and marketing automation tools at VB Insight. Frankly, with so many digital marketing solutions across so many areas — audience targeting, campaign management, social media, etc. — the company has to have a sturdy analytics platform integrating those disparate, but related marketing functions. Today, the company is introducing Analysis Workspace in Adobe Analytics, a reporting and data visualization tool to better help companies communicate what’s happening across all of these channels.

Data analytics is really tricky for most companies. But it’s a critical means to an end. You can’t have great marketing — social marketing, online advertising, even customer service — without great analytics. And since marketing is increasingly becoming wildly data dependent while taking on more responsibility for the overall customer experience, the use of data analytics across any organization simply needs to proliferate.

Except there’s one big, hairy problem there.

From VentureBeat

Most companies don’t have the skills in house to make sense of all the data. McKinsey is projecting that by 2018, demand for data scientists may be as much as 60 percent greater than the supply. Suffice it to say, companies are struggling to fill this gap with adequate data talent.

In our own recent report on marketing analytics, we asked over one thousand marketers two questions on this topic:

  • How effective is your marketing organization at generating insight?
  • How effective is your greater organization — outside of marketing — at translating that insight into action?

Unfortunately, for most marketers, this confidence level falls somewhere between “somewhat” and “not very” effective.

Adobe is hoping its new visualization product, now available to all customers using Adobe Analytics suite, will mind that gap and help companies create better dashboards with broad business appeal — stitching together disparate data sources into a single view that makes sense for multiple lines of business — to more than just data analysts.

In a demo of the Analysis Workspace product yesterday, I saw a dashboard that’s flexible, can be built by non-data analysts, and could meet endless marketing insight functions for a business.

Above: Sample Adobe Analysis Workspace

Analysis Workspace — Highlights:

  • Simple, Photoshop-inspired Workflows: Analysis Workspace lets users simply drag and drop dimensions, metrics and segments to create any type of report.
  • Intuitive Data Visualizations: After dragging relevant components into an Analysis Workspace table, visualizations are applied to the table data set in real time. These visualizations can be easily manipulated, allowing users to resize, rename and swap between different charts and graphs with interactive elements — while introducing new sharing functions to better communicate insights.

Marketing dashboards are a dime a dozen. With over 800 tools in market supporting marketing data analytics, and plans for companies of all sizes to massively increase spend on analytics, one can’t overstate the importance of making sense of all this data. Adobe is hoping its latest product will help the non-data scientist come up to speed with marketing data.

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