A New Kind of Television Dawns in the USA

July 9, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

By Adil James, MMNS

box-angle

As Tracy Thompson-West explains it, Talfazat and its sister stations, TV-Desi, and Kylin TV, were born from the union of NeuLion (whose specialty is in IPTV), and JumpTV (whose specialty was Arabic programming).  Ms. West is the Chief Executive of International Business for NeuLion, Inc. The marriage has led to the birth of several discrete and independent television networks, serving discrete niche markets–the Arabic, Chinese, and Desi markets.

Like NeuLion and JumpTV, Ms. West has an impressive resume, having worked for 20 years in the US and European satellite industry–where she had a hand in building Dish’s industry leading collection of international channels.

IPTV is still a mystery to most American consumers–in fact IPTV television providers in this country are far behind their counterparts in Europe.

Even the television services that are available via IPTV are not defined as such–Netflix, AT&T’s U-verse (still with fewer than 100,000 customers), and now JumpTV and its subsidiaries–usually refer to themselves as sources of television, alternatives to satellite and cable. 

In Europe however, the largest IPTV service provider (France’s Iliad) had over 1,000,000 customers as of January of 2008.  Its nine closest competitors, none of whom are American, all have more than 100,000 customers each.

The Talfazat box is simply a set top box (STB) that plugs into the internet and your television.  It uses proprietary technology developed by NeuLion to transfer video signals through the internet to your TV, and is controlled by an ordinary remote control.

talfazat logo shadow The technology is impressive.  NeuLion provides professional business-to-business display of major sports.  The pedigree as listed by Ms. West is simply unimpeachable–NFL, NHL, AHL.  If those guys trust NeuLion, you know their product is top-of-the-line. 

The box that you install in your home speaks over the internet with NeuLion’s servers and accesses the content you want to watch.  It needs a connection, according to Ms. West, of only one Mbs, and a 2 Mbs DSL connection nowadays is pretty standard.  With upcoming improvements in the internet network in the United States, especially for Fiber optics (like Verizon FIOS, for example), speeds ten times as fast will become very standard. 

Talfazat offers about 30 Arabic channels, including as far as I can tell all of the ones offered by Dish Network–with perhaps the exception of Dubai Sports.  The news channels are all available, including Al-Jazeera, Al-Jazeera English, and Al-Arabiya.

control Kylin offers, according to Ms. West, about 40 channels of Chinese language content.

TV-Desi is offered in several discrete packages, each tailored to a particular language group.  Their are Hindi, Bangla, and Pakistan-focused channels.  The channel list includes some news channels however some of the major Bollywood blockbuster movie websites are still missing, although Ms. West of JumpTV indicated to me that JumpTV was working in the direction of making those channels available in the future.

Potential future pitfalls with the technology include the increasing rumors and movements of internet service providers towards limiting bandwidth.  This controversy, frowned on by major net presences like Google, businesses that benefit and in fact need people to access the internet freely, is known by the name “net neutrality” and is increasingly coming up in legislative debates at the federal level–although until now it is unclear whether the movements toward bandwidth caps by ISPs AT&T and Comcast will later be widely implemented.

Asked about this potential problem, Mr. Alyas Ali of Talfazat explained that one of his Canadian customers, whose ISP is Rogers, faced bandwidth overages (which come into effect after 60 gigabits) and was charged for them.  Yet the total maximum fee charged by Rogers for those overages, even when added to his Talfazat bill, is still less than what he would have to pay for Bell ExpressVu Arabic channels.

The Roku box may be the most similar single service.  Roku offers access to Netflix.  You pay $99 and your payments to Roku are finished forever, but you get to enjoy Netflix instant views as long as you have a subscription.

There are free online IPTV sources, but the most professional services that provide IPTV are formed as walled gardens.  Explains Alyas Ali of Talfazat, “We want to provide a clean product that people are willing to pay for.”

Similar services exist from other providers.  AT&T has launched their U-Verse plan, which offers roughly the same channels you would expect from Dish Network.  Unfortunately AT&T has done a really awful job of marketing U-Verse.  Nobody knows that it exists.  If people know about U-Verse, most of them think that it is actually AT&T’s satellite service through its partner (was Dish Network, now DirecTV). 

If you find out about U-Verse, you may not want to buy it because AT&T has priced it at the same level as Dish Network–which is already the most expensive satellite network and fast losing market share as a result.  What could they have been thinking? And on top of that AT&T is maintaining a partnership with their own competitor, DirecTV.

The wild web, however, has much to offer if you can winnow the wheat from the chaff.  Despite its many nonsense or bad-spirited or generally poor quality channels, many fun and interesting videos are available on Youtube.  Services providing free IPTV include Joost, Hulu, Justin.TV, ChannelChooser, and WWITV.  Of these, Hulu may be the most professional, although the focus of Hulu is more on mainstream American shows.  And it is possible to construct an imitation of the walled gardens but without losing the wild and free content–either by connecting a PC running Boxee (and thus indirectly also Hulu) or by hacking an AppleTV box to run Boxee (and thus Hulu).  Surely other hacks will emerge as time passes, but for now the $200 AppleTV (which you buy once and never again pay for) in connection with Boxee is the most cost effective means of accessing free IPTV content.

The price structure of Talfazat and her sisters is middle of the road–but by comparison with other services that are available it is at a fair market rate.  For $30 a month, you can have 30 Arabic channels piped into your house.  Compared to Dish Network this is pennies.  Compared to the freely available content via satellite perhaps it is a little bit expensive–but perhaps the difference in price is made up for in ease of access and professionalism of the end product.

Considering that the price for Dish Network’s foreign content is simply outrageous (on average you would have to pay about $15 for only one foreign channel on Dish), NeuLion is in a strong position to secure customers escaping from long contracts, or sometimes mediocre customer service, and perhaps will recapture some of the former pirates who have been chased away from Dish Network recently by its increasingly aggressive anti-piracy encryption.

DirecTV, Ms. West explained, has just cancelled all its Arabic channels–perhaps a concession to Dish Network, which in fact provides a very decent array of international programming.

The Indian channels available in a standard package from TV-Desi are rather minimal, only roughly four or five from each package–yet if you are from a foreign country and you have access to the four channels you used to watch at home that might be more than enough–especially when TV-Desi is poised to expand into other channels.

Another competitive point emphasized by Ms. West is the ease of installation.  The box is mailed to you, you unpack it, plug in an ethernet cord, a power cord, and turn it on, and you are in business.  Unlike a satellite or cable install, which might require you to stay home from work when “a satellite guy or a cable guy has to come into your house” and install it.

Talfazat and her sisters offer limited American channels–about 30 of the JV American channels including Fox News and Discovery, for a nominal fee.  They plan to expand their coverage in this area, as they do in their ethnic channel repertoire.

Customer service through Talfazat seems excellent.  In a brief call to explore the available service, I encountered excellent, knowledgeable and friendly customer service from an Arabic-speaking customer service representative.  This is a level of niche marketing that, even with some effort, Dish Network or your local cable company will be unlikely to find a willingness to compete with.

As far as quality of the picture, Talfazat is excellent.  Ms. West claims there is no buffering  if a customer has a pipe of 1 Mbs.  The box is HD-ready, although regional programming in HD is slim-to-none.  What looks like an S-Video jack in the back of the Talfazat box is actually a plug for a dongle that can accept HD-ready HDMI or component plugs to connect to your television. 

NeuLion did not discuss the potential impact of the higher quality picture on bandwidth, but presumably that will push them beyond their current 1Mbs. 

Presumably NeuLion are experts at providing HD content, since their expertise has been developed through years of servicing the sports leagues which thrive in large part based on their HD filming.

But the brilliance of the NeuLion team is not only in the quality and availability of their product, it is also in their clever marketing to an available niche, at a marketable price, through friendly customer service.

Note:  Talfazat is a valued advertiser in this newspaper.

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Iran: Rafsanjani Poised to Outflank Supreme Leader Khamenei

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Eurasianet

khatami-rafsanjani

Former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani shown here voting with reform leader former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.

(Photo: Amir Kholoosi / ISNA)

Looking past their fiery rhetoric and apparent determination to cling to power using all available means, Iran’s hardliners are not a confident bunch. While hardliners still believe they possess enough force to stifle popular protests, they are worried that they are losing a behind-the-scenes battle within Iran’s religious establishment.

A source familiar with the thinking of decision-makers in state agencies that have strong ties to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said there is a sense among hardliners that a shoe is about to drop. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani – Iran’s savviest political operator and an arch-enemy of Ayatollah Khamenei’s – has kept out of the public spotlight since the rigged June 12 presidential election triggered the political crisis. The widespread belief is that Rafsanjani has been in the holy city of Qom, working to assemble a religious and political coalition to topple the supreme leader and Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“There is great apprehension among people in the supreme leader’s [camp] about what Rafsanjani may pull,” said a source in Tehran who is familiar with hardliner thinking. “They [the supreme leader and his supporters] are much more concerned about Rafsanjani than the mass movement on the streets.”

Ayatollah Khamenei now has a very big image problem among influential Shi’a clergymen. Over the course of the political crisis, stretching back to the days leading up to the election, Rafsanjani has succeeded in knocking the supreme leader off his pedestal by revealing Ayatollah Khamenei to be a political partisan rather than an above-the-fray spiritual leader. In other words, the supreme leader has become a divider, not a uniter.

Now that Ayatollah Khamenei has become inexorably connected to Ahmadinejad’s power grab, many clerics are coming around to the idea that the current system needs to be changed. Among those who are now believed to be arrayed against Ayatollah Khamenei is Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the top Shi’a cleric in neighboring Iraq. Rafsanjani is known to have met with Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani’s representative in Iran, Javad Shahrestani.

A reformist website, Rooyeh, reported that Rafsanjani already had the support of nearly a majority of the Assembly of Experts, a body that constitutionally has the power to remove Ayatollah Khamenei. The report also indicated that Rafsanjani’s lobbying efforts were continuing to bring more clerics over to his side. Rafsanjani’s aim, the website added, is the establishment of a leadership council, comprising of three or more top religious leaders, to replace the institution of supreme leader. Shortly after it posted the report on Rafsanjani’s efforts to establish a new collective leadership, government officials pulled the plug on Rooyeh.

Meanwhile, the Al-Arabiya satellite television news channel reported that a “high-ranking” source in Qom confirmed that Rafsanjani has garnered enough support to remove Ayatollah Khamenei, but an announcement is being delayed amid differences on what or who should replace the supreme leader. Some top clerics reportedly want to maintain the post of supreme leader, albeit with someone other than Ayatollah Khamenei occupying the post, while others support the collective leadership approach.

To a certain degree, hardliners now find themselves caught in a cycle of doom: they must crack down on protesters if they are to have any chance of retaining power, but doing so only causes more and more clerics to align against them.

Security forces broke up a small street protest on June 22 involving roughly a thousand demonstrators who had gathered to mourn the victims of the government crackdown two days before. Also on June 22, a statement issued in the name of the Revolutionary Guards demanded that protesters immediately stop “sabotage and rioting activities,” and threatened to unleash “revolutionary confrontation” against anyone who took to the streets.

Such a showdown could come later this week. One of the country’s highest-ranking clerics, Grand Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri has declared three days of mourning for those who have died in street protests. Grand Ayatollah Montazeri’s declaration could bring thousands of Tehran residents back out into the streets starting on June 24.

Meanwhile, the Guardian Council, an unelected state body with election oversight responsibilities, announced June 21 that it had found numerous irregularities connected with the June 12 presidential vote. A council spokesman, for example, admitted that the number of votes cast in 50 cities throughout the country exceeded the number of registered voters in those locations. The Guardian Council indicated that there may be as many as 3 million suspect ballots, but stressed the suspected cases of fraud were not such that it could have influenced the outcome of the vote. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Ayatollah Khamenei has repeatedly characterized the election as a “divine assessment” of Ahmadinejad’s popularity.

An election analysis released by the London-based Chatham House appeared to confirm that the official results, in which Ahmadinejad was said to have won with nearly two-thirds of the vote, could only have been achieved with massive vote-rigging. The report was based on voting patterns from previous national elections, and on a 2006 census.

“In a third of all provinces, the official results would require that Ahmadinejad took not only all former conservative voters, all centrist voters and all new voters, but also up to 44% of former reformist voters, despite a decade of conflict between these two groups,” said the report, which was prepared with the help of the Institute of Iranian Studies at the University of St. Andrews. The report also used statistical arguments to dispute the notion that Ahmadinejad was popular in rural areas of Iran. “That the countryside always votes conservative is a myth,” the report said.

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Kareem Shora Appointed

June 11, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

ADC Press Release

Kareem Shora was appointed by DHS Secretary Napolitano on Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC)

Washington, DC | June 5, 2009 | www.adc.org |  The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) is proud to announce that earlier today at a ceremony held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano swore-in ADC National Executive Director Kareem Shora as a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC).

Kareem_Shora HSAC members, limited by charter to no more than 21, are appointed by the DHS Secretary and are comprised of national security experts from state, local and tribal governments, first responder communities, academia and the private sector.  HSAC provides advice and recommendations directly to Secretary Napolitano on homeland security issues. ADC President Mary Rose Oakar said “This appointment is a great reflection on Kareem’s ability and the work of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. We are very proud of Kareem and believe his appointment will be very helpful in the protection of the civil rights of people with Arab roots as well as others”.

Other members of the HSAC include Lee Hamilton, former Congressman and President of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; Martin O’Malley, Governor of Maryland; Judge William Webster, former Director of Central Intelligence; Sonny Perdue, Governor of Georgia; Raymond Kelly, New York City Police Commissioner; Louis Freeh, former FBI Director and Senior Managing Partner at Freeh Group International; Frances Fragos Townsend, former White House Homeland Security Advisor; Kenneth “Chuck” Canterbury, National President of the Fraternal Order of Police; Manny Diaz, Mayor of Miami, Florida; Jared “Jerry” Cohon, President of Carnegie Mellon University; Leroy “Lee” Baca, Sheriff of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department; Clark Kent Ervin, former DHS Inspector General and Director of the Homeland Security Program at The Aspen Institute; Sherwin “Chuck” Wexler, Executive Director of the Police Executive Research Forum; Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Firefighters; and Joe Shirley Jr., President of the Navajo Nation, among others.

Shora, who joined ADC in 2000 as Legal Advisor, was ADC Legal Director before he was appointed to his current position as National Executive Director in 2006.  He is a recipient of the 2003 American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Arthur C. Helton Human Rights Award. He has been published by the National Law Journal, TRIAL Magazine, the Georgetown University Law Center’s Journal on Poverty Law and Public Policy, the Harvard University JFK School of Government Asian American Policy Review, the American Bar Association (ABA) Air and Space Lawyer, and the Yeshiva University Cardozo Public Law Policy and Ethics Journal. A frequent guest on Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera and numerous American television programs, Shora has spoken about civil rights, civil liberties and immigration policy with many national and international media outlets including the Wall Street Journal, Voice of America, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Associated Press, CNN and the Chicago Tribune among others. He has also testified before major international human rights bodies including regular testimonies before the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations Human Rights Commission. He is also a member of the ODNI Heritage Community Liaison Council.

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Attacks Commence

April 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dahr Jamail, Truthout

2009-04-21T201436Z_01_BAG200_RTRMDNP_3_IRAQ Everyone knows the analogy of the beehive. When it is goaded, countless bees emerge, attacking the tormentor. Right now in Iraq, the formerly US-backed al-Sahwa (Sons of Iraq) Sunni militia, ripe with broken promises from both the occupiers of their country and the Iraqi government that they would be given respect and jobs, have gone into attack mode.

It is an easily predictable outcome. An occupying power (the US) sets up a 100,000-strong militia composed of former resistance fighters and even some members of al-Qaeda, pays them each $300 per month to not attack occupation forces, and attacks decrease dramatically. Then, stop paying most of them and tell them they will be incorporated into Iraqi government security forces. Proceed to leave them high and dry as the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki begins targeting them – assassinating leaders, detaining fighters and threatening their families. Allow this plan to continue for over six months, unabated.

Not surprisingly, the Sahwa are fighting back against US forces and those of the Iraqi government.

2009-04-23T110151Z_01_BAG400_RTRMDNP_3_IRAQ While not all of these attacks can be attributed to Sahwa forces, I believe it is safe to say the majority of them are. A brief overview of the last few days in Iraq is informative, as it shows many of these attacks, as well as some of the ongoing attacks by government forces against the Sahwa:

# April 20: Suicide bomber wounds eight US soldiers in Baquba, 40 miles northeast of Baghdad. Dubai-based satellite TV channel al-Arabiya reports that three of the US soldiers were killed. The US military does not confirm the deaths. Iraqi officials tell the media the bomber was wearing a police uniform. This method is becoming increasingly common now. Sahwa forces already have police and military uniforms, as they have been working as security personnel for months now. In another attack in the same city, a suicide bomber kills two US soldiers, their Iraqi interpreter and two bystanders, although the US military has not reported on the incident. Overall, 16 Iraqis killed, 11 wounded.

# April 19: Gunmen kill an off-duty lieutenant-colonel policeman in his car in Baghdad. Mortar round wounds two civilians when it hits a power generator in the Zayouna district in east Baghdad. Police find the bodies of two Sunni Arab militiamen with bullet wounds in the head and chest in Hilla, 60 miles south of Baghdad. Gunmen kill two Sahwa members in separate incidents around Mussayib. Gunmen kill an Interior Ministry official in Nu’ariyah and another in Ur. The Interior Ministry is responsible for targeting the Sahwa leadership. In total, 14 Iraqis are killed, 28 wounded.

2009-04-23T124809Z_01_BAG202_RTRMDNP_3_IRAQ-VIOLENCE # April 17: Mortar attacks across Shi’ite-majority districts of Baghdad kill eight and wound 19.

# April 16: A suicide bomber kills 16 Iraqi soldiers and wounds another 50 after infiltrating an army base in Habbaniyah, on the outskirts of Fallujah, and mingling with a queue of soldiers at a dining facility. The bomber is wearing a military uniform. A Sahwa leader is killed when a bomb planted on his car explodes in Baquba.
In addition to the aformentioned, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of bombings and roadside bombs across Iraq recently. On April 20, two young girls were killed in Fallujah when a sticky bomb targeting an army officer exploded outside their home as he left for work. The same day in Basra, a roadside bomb targeting a US patrol detonated, but the military reported no casualties. April 19 saw a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol that wounded five people, including two policemen in the Zaafaraniya district of southeast Baghdad. That same day, another roadside bomb wounded four people in the Doura district of southern Baghdad, and the so-called Green Zone was shelled. On April 17, a roadside bomb wounded a policeman in Baquba, and three bombs were defused in Amara in southern Iraq.

There is a new kind of war on in Iraq – and it is spreading. Tit-for-tat killings between the Sahwa and government forces are increasing. Roadside bomb attacks and suicide strikes against US forces are also increasing in recent days. Meanwhile, there is no sign of reconciliation between the Sahwa and the Iraqi government, and of course little if any of this is mentioned in most US corporate media.

While the current trend still pales in comparison to previous levels of resistance in Iraq, if left unchecked, it will certainly continue to increase.

»Dahr Jamail, an independent journalist, is the author of “Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq,” (Haymarket Books, 2007). Jamail reported from occupied Iraq for eight months as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last four years.

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