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Fast, reliable broadband … it’s now a key selling point for house hunters | Broadband

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It used to be that demand for homes centred on the proximity to good schools, or how close they were to a nice restaurant or pub. Now, before they sign on the dotted line, homebuyers want to ensure they can download a film quickly, or check their work emails without interruption.

Access to reliable and fast broadband is one of the key priorities as working from home looks set to become a more permanent arrangement for many. And a surge of interest in people wanting to move to the country has been coupled with demand for good internet in areas that might otherwise have weak connections.

“One of the most frequently asked questions we receive is related to the speed of the broadband,” says Julia Robotham, of Knight Frank’s country department.

“We have even seen a number of telecoms companies arrange to visit properties, prior to exchange, to discuss ways in which they can make working from home more effective.”

The big shift: working from home makes it new priority

Research from online estate agency Purple Bricks found 41% of people rank internet speed as an important priority when buying a home, more than how close they are to a school, or being near somewhere good to eat, up significantly since 2016.

Separate research by Knight Frank found that almost two thirds of people think it is even more important than having outdoor access, being near a tube station or having the ability to extend.

Ernest Doku of comparison site uSwitch says: “The shift has seen broadband repositioned in the homeowner’s mind as being an essential utility – as one would view gas or electricity, due to the fact that we need to work from home.”

But getting access to proper functioning broadband is not always simple, especially the further away from urban centres you get.

Making next-generation gigabit broadband available across the country by 2025 was a key promise of Boris Johnson’s election manifesto, but the ambitions were watered down to 85% coverage.

Last year, the telecoms regulator Ofcom said there were almost 200,000 “forgotten homes” across the UK, left behind in the government’s digital revolution, and unable to get broadband speeds deemed the minimum to meet a modern family’s needs.

Of these, 119,000 were in England, 34,000 in Scotland, 18,000 in Wales and 19,000 in Northern Ireland.

While most of the country has access to high-speed broadband in theory, the reality is that available speeds vary considerably between areas and even on the same street, and are dependant on how close a home is to a broadband cabinet.

Dan Howdle from comparison site Cable.co.uk says that once a property is about 800 metres away from a cabinet, the speed deteriorates. Up to that point, homes will be able to get the average advertised speed.

He says: “The further you are from the nearest cabinet with the current technology, the less speed you are going to get,” he says. “That is why you get a lot of situations where you have villages or towns served by fibre broadband, but those who live further out from the centre, or where the nearest exchanges are, still have slow broadband, regardless.”

There can even be significant differences in houses on the same street because some parts may be serviced by one cabinet and another by a different unit which is further away, says Howdle.

Figures from Ofcom show the fastest average speeds are in Molescroft, near Kingston upon Hull in Yorkshire and the Humber, where almost 98% of homes received over 30Mbps. The slowest were in Braintree, Essex where just under 50% of households have been found to have speeds under 10 Mbps.

If you are buying a home, you can work out how good the broadband connection is using an online speed checker. These are available through uSwitch, Ofcom and Cable.co.uk, among others. Entering a postcode on one of these websites will quickly reveal the area’s broadband speed.

Beware of running a speed test on your phone when connected to wifi in a property, as this may be interfered with by other wifi connections in the area and will not give the full picture as to how fast a land connection will be.

How do I improve my connection?

“You are at the mercy of the line going into your house,” says Howdle. But that is not to say that all is lost if you have a slow connection. Look around to see if other providers can give a better performance. Doku says that some people may be stuck on a “stock product” but that there will be alternatives, possibly faster.

Another option is to use a 4G or 5G router. This way you can be connected via a mobile phone signal.

Some areas with poor broadband may have a good mobile signal. Three is advertising a 4G hub for £22 per month, and a 5G for £29, and promises next-day delivery.

EE has a 5G router for £50 a month with a £100 upfront cost and a 4G option from £13 a month.

If your dream new home is on a hillside in the Highlands, with no options for broadband or mobile connection, you could opt for satellite broadband. This involves the installing a dish, similar to those used for satellite TV. This will connect to a satellite that will send a broadband signal.

Comparethemarket puts the price at between £20 and £87 a month with steep set-up costs that can come to £600.

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NFT trader OpenSea bans insider trading after employee rakes in profit | Non-fungible tokens (NFTs)

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A non-fungible token (NFT) marketplace has introduced policies to ban insider trading, after an executive at the company was discovered to be buying artworks shortly before they were promoted on the site’s front page.

OpenSea, one of the leading sites for trading the digital assets, will now prevent team members buying or selling from featured collections and from using confidential information to trade NFTs. Neither practice was previously banned.

“Yesterday we learned that one of our employees purchased items that they knew were set to display on our front page before they appeared there publicly,” said Devin Finzer, the co-founder and chief executive of the site.

“This is incredibly disappointing. We want to be clear that this behaviour does not represent our values as a team. We are taking this very seriously and are conducting an immediate and thorough third-party review of this incident so that we have a full understanding of the facts and additional steps we need to take.”

NFTs are digital assets whose ownership is recorded and traced using a bitcoin-style blockchain. The NFT market boomed earlier this year as celebrities including Grimes, Andy Murray and Sir Tim Berners-Lee sold collectibles and artworks using the format. But the underlying technology has questionable utility, with some dismissing the field as a purely speculative bubble.

The insider trading came to light thanks to the public nature of the Ethereum blockchain, on which most NFT trades occur. Crypto traders noticed that an anonymous user was regularly buying items from the public marketplace shortly before they were promoted on the site’s front page, a prestigious slot that often brings significant interest from would-be buyers. The anonymous user would then sell the assets on, making vast sums in a matter of hours.

One trade, for instance, saw an artwork called Spectrum of a Ramenification Theory bought for about £600. It was then advertised on the front page and sold on for $4,000 a few hours later.

One Twitter user, ZuwuTV, linked the transactions to the public wallet of Nate Chastain, OpenSea’s head of product, demonstrating, using public records, that the profits from the trades were sent back to a wallet owned by Chastain.

While some, including ZuwuTV, described the process as “insider trading”, the loosely regulated market for NFTs has few restrictions on what participants can do. Some critics argue that even that terminology demonstrates that the sector is more about speculation than creativity.

“The fact that people are responding to this as insider trading shows that this is securities trading (or just gambling), not something designed to support artists,” said Anil Dash, the chief executive of the software company Glitch. “There are no similar public statements when artists get ripped off on the platform.

“If Etsy employees bought featured products from creators on their platform (or Patreon or Kickstarter workers backed new creators etc) that’d be great! Nobody would balk. Because they’d be supporting their goal,” Dash added.



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British home computer trailblazer dies aged 81 • The Register

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Sir Clive Sinclair died on Thursday at home in London after a long illness, his family said today. He was 81.

The British entrepreneur is perhaps best known for launching the ZX range of 8-bit microcomputers, which helped bring computing, games, and programming into UK homes in the 1980s, at least. This included the ZX80, said to be the UK’s first mass-market home computer for under £100, the ZX81, and the trusty ZX Spectrum. A whole generation grew up in Britain mastering coding on these kinds of systems in their bedrooms.

And before all that, Sir Clive founded Sinclair Radionics, which produced amplifiers, calculators, and watches, and was a forerunner to his Spectrum-making Sinclair Research. The tech pioneer, who eventually sold his computing biz to Amstrad, was knighted during his computing heyday, in 1983.

“He was a rather amazing person,” his daughter, Belinda Sinclair, 57, told The Guardian this evening. “Of course, he was so clever and he was always interested in everything. My daughter and her husband are engineers so he’d be chatting engineering with them.”

Sir Clive is survived by Belinda, his sons, Crispin and Bartholomew, aged 55 and 52 respectively, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. ®

A full obit will follow on The Register.

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UN human rights chief raises concerns over AI privacy violations in report

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‘AI tech can have negative, even catastrophic, effects if they are used without sufficient regard to how they affect people’s human rights.’

The UN’s human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called for a moratorium on the sale and use of artificial intelligence technology until safeguards are put in place to prevent potential human rights violations.

Bachelet made the appeal on Wednesday (15 September) to accompany a report released by the UN’s Human Rights Office, which analysed how AI systems affect people’s right to privacy. The violation of their privacy rights had knock-on impacts on other rights such as rights to health, education and freedom of movement, the report found.

“Artificial intelligence can be a force for good, helping societies overcome some of the great challenges of our times. But AI technologies can have negative, even catastrophic, effects if they are used without sufficient regard to how they affect people’s human rights,” Bachelet said.

“Artificial intelligence now reaches into almost every corner of our physical and mental lives and even emotional states,” Bachelet added.

Japanese multinational Fujitsu caused a stir when it announced plans to implement AI facial recognition technology to monitor employees’ concentration levels during meetings.

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The report was critical of justice systems which had made wrongful arrests because of flawed facial recognition tools. It appealed to countries to ban any AI tools which did not meet international human rights standards. A 2019 study from the UK found that 81pc of suspects flagged by the facial recognition technology used by London’s Metropolitan Police force were innocent.

Earlier this year, Canada banned Clearview’s AI facial recognition technology after the company violated Canadian privacy laws by collecting facial images of Canadians without their consent.

Bachelet also highlighted the report’s concerns on the future use of data once it has been collected and stored, calling it “one of the most urgent human rights questions we face.”

The UN’s report echoes previous appeals made by European data protection regulators.

The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) and the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) called for a ban on facial recognition in public places in June. They urged EU lawmakers to consider banning the use of such technology in public spaces, after the European Commission released its proposed regulations on the matter.

The EU’s proposed regulations did not recommend an outright ban. The commission instead emphasised the importance of creating “trustworthy AI.”

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