Blackberry posts $5.9bn loss; Facebook buys UK drone firm; India’s C curse

1 Blackberry posts $5.9bn loss (BBC) Troubled smartphone maker Blackberry has reported a net loss of $5.9bn for its latest financial year. However, in the three months to 1 March it recorded a smaller-than-expected loss of $423m, compared with a loss of $4.4bn in the previous quarter. The company said it was pleased with its fourth quarter performance, and that it was on “a path to returning to growth and profitability”. Boss John Chen said the firm was moving to a “sounder financial footing”.

Blackberry devices have recently lost out in the high-end smartphone market to Apple’s iPhone and phones powered by Google Android operating system. As part of its turnaround plan the firm is focusing on its services arm, and is also putting renewed emphasis on its keyboard devices. Mr Chen was appointed as interim chief executive in November 2013. “The guy is on the move fast,” said Colin Gillis, an analyst at BGC Partners. “He can control expenses but you can’t magically make revenue happen.”

2 Facebook buys UK drone firm (Juliette Garside in The Guardian) Facebook has bought a Somerset-based designer of solar-powered drones for $20m as it goes head-to-head with Google in a high-altitude race to connect the world’s most remote locations to the internet. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, has unveiled plans to beam broadband connections from the skies, using satellites, lasers and unmanned high-altitude aircraft designed by the 51-year old British engineer Andrew Cox.

Facebook is building its Connectivity Lab as a direct challenge to Google’s Project Loon, which is launching high-altitude balloons over New Zealand and hopes to establish an uninterrupted internet signal around the 40th parallel of the Earth’s southern hemisphere. The race to put the first man on the moon was led by the US and Russian governments, but today it is private companies – the cash-rich digital corporations of Silicon Valley – that are driving the sub-space race. The ambition is to connect the billions of people who currently have no access to the world wide web.

“Our team is actively working on building our first aircraft now,” Zuckerberg said. “Key members from Ascenta, whose founders created early versions of Zephyr, which became the world’s longest flying solar-powered unmanned aircraft, will be joining our Connectivity Lab to work on these aircraft. We expect to have an initial version of this system working in the near future.” With 1.3 billion users, Facebook has already reached a large number of the estimated 3 billion people who use the internet. Connecting the other 4 billion will hugely expand its potential user base.

In what the website describes as “one of the greatest challenges of our generation”, engineers are trying to solve the problem of beaming fast, responsive internet signals to and from the Earth’s surface from heights of 20,000 metres. Facebook is exploring the potential of two types of craft – satellites, which could be used in remote rural locations from the Highlands of Scotland to the Amazon basin, and drones, which would fly over suburban areas.

Just 16% of Africa’s population used the internet last year, compared with 75% in Europe, but the drones and balloons being sent into space could soon bring it to areas where individuals do not yet have electricity or computers. Even in areas where there are no masts, however, the mobile phone is nearly ubiquitous. One in five people already own a smartphone.

3 India’s C curse (N Janardhan in Khaleej Times) India’s chaotic political, social and economic system is a victim of the C malaise — corruption, casteism, communalism, Congress, communism, crime, consumerism, Central Bureau of Investigation, crass capitalism (now, crony capitalism), and ‘chamchagiri’ (favouritism and nepotism) among others!

An old joke is that India grows when the government sleeps! The only saviour in recent years, ironically, is another C — courts, the Supreme Court in particular, which has served as the conscience of the nation. The worst of the Cs is corruption. A Lowy Institute poll in late 2013 revealed that 96 per cent Indians felt that graft is the biggest factor holding back the country. This links with another C — the Congress party. Time magazine in mid-2011 rated India’s telecom licence scandal second in the “Top 10 abuses of power” list, after the 1974 Watergate scandal in the US.

Moving on to a third C, it is time to initiate a debate on whether corruption or communalism has been the bigger threat. For those arguing that communalism undermines the constitution, the counter-argument is: Does the constitution sanctify corruption? What alternatives lie before us? Communism? Sadly, the greatest contribution of leftist ideology in India has been its intellectual and rhetorical input to political and secularism values and debates, and, sometimes, to the cerebral world of media and academia. Even communists have been remained untouched by capitalism and corruption, which was evidenced when a member of parliament from Tripura was found lying on a bed of currency notes in 2013.

Citizens, not just the government and the corporate sector, are equally culpable. For decades, the politically knowledgeable but indifferent middle class ranted and raved but did not vote. The youth particularly kept anything political at an arm’s length. But this is beginning to change. Consistent improvements in voter turnouts indicate that Indian democracy is reinventing and adjusting itself to changing times. The middle class, youth and even the rural masses are stating their preferences and claiming their due.

Historian and author Ramachandra Guha said a few years ago that he desired a political dispensation with the Congress but without the Gandhis, and the BJP without the Sangh Parivar. The new developments include the Anna Hazare anti-corruption movement and Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that has captured the imagination of people, especially in the urban areas. The AAP — notwithstanding the 49 days of turbulence in Delhi — could still evolve into a viable alternative after the election and serve as an antidote to some of India’s C curses.


About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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