The Switchboard: How billionaires are privatizing U.S. science


Musician Neil Young, founder and chairman of Pono Music, speaks during a featured session at the South By Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas, U.S., on Tuesday, March 11, 2014.  (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

Published every weekday, the Switchboard highlights five tech policy stories you need to read.

Billionaires with big ideas are privatizing American science. "American science, long a source of national power and pride, is increasingly becoming a private enterprise," reports William J. Broad at the New York Times. "This is philanthropy in the age of the new economy — financed with its outsize riches, practiced according to its individualistic, entrepreneurial creed. The donors are impatient with the deliberate, and often politicized, pace of public science, they say, and willing to take risks that government cannot or simply will not consider."

How Neil Young became the latest start-up success story. The Switch explains why everyone is suddenly talking about the singer-songwriter's Kickstarter for Pono Music, a service aimed at creating an "ecosystem" for higher quality digital audio.

How AT&T and T-Mobile may be overbilling their prepaid customers. "According to the Switch's hardware tests, as well as a formal complaint lodged with federal regulators, wireless companies are reporting longer call times than what a customer's device will show," Brian Fung reports. "In the case of one AT&T subscriber, the network added as many as 33 seconds to his call after he hung up, allowing AT&T to bill him for an additional minute of usage." The Switch's testing discovered a similar phenomenon with T-Mobile's prepaid phones.

U.S. to relinquish remaining control over the Internet. "U.S. officials announced plans Friday to relinquish federal government control over the administration of the Internet, a move that pleased international critics but alarmed some business leaders and others who rely on the smooth functioning of the Web," report the Post's Craig Timberg. "Pressure to let go of the final vestiges of U.S. authority over the system of Web addresses and domain names that organize the Internet has been building for more than a decade and was supercharged by the backlash last year to revelations about National Security Agency surveillance."

Popcorn Time service for pirated movies refuses to stay shut down. Last week, Popcorn Time hit the Internet, promising users a Neflix-style experience using pirated movie torrents. But its creators shut it down Saturday citing ongoing legal concerns. Nathan Ingraham at the Verge reports it's not quite dead: "the BitTorrent site YTS has decided to take over the Popcorn Time project and resurrect it  — beta builds for Windows, OS X, and Linux are being posted to GitHub here."

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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Andrea Peterson | March 16