Monday, March 31, 2008

The Wireless Third Pipe, Net Neutrality, and Everything

Brett Glass runs a wireless ISP in Laramie, Wyoming. He's presenting a "lightning round" to flesh out the open wireless session. You can access his presentation online.

Suw Charman offers a better report on this session in Corante's Strange Attractor.

Open Wireless: Rich Miner

Rich Miner serves as group manager of open platforms (Android) for Google.

I'm group manager of mobile products. We announced an open handset alliance, roughly 34 partners working with Google to build Android, a Linux-based mobile platform. We also announced a software platform that allows third-party developers to build applications. It was a huge shout by Google about openness in the mobile landscape.

I'll talk a little about the handset space. Most of us carry mobile phones. Today, they have roughly the equivalent of the power that a desktop computer had in 2002. If we look at our mobile phones today, they fall far short of what we could do in 2002 online. There's a huge gap between the capabilities of the hardware and what the industry is offering in terms of software. There's a stifling of innovation because the ecosystem is a closed one.

The platforms we use to operate mobile handsets are closed. Symbian is cleared as an open platform because it has an API. But if you're trying to develop applications, openness by publishing APIs isn't as open as you'd like it to be. It doesn't allow you to choose what applications ship with that handset. It doesn't allow you to find a bug and fix it.

There are other kinds of control and lack of openness. If you're a developer, you can't just go to a consumer and let the consumer download your app to their handset. There are huge hurdles you have to get through. Your destiny is controlled by an operating carrier who's going to make an arbitrary decision.

It's the same with content. On the Web, it's all based on best in quality or the moment, right place right time. In the mobile industry, there are barriers, huge walls. If you look at the number of PCs shipped every year, 200 million PCs, there are about a billion mobile phones shipped every year. If Google wants to make the world's information easily accessible, mobile phones are strategically very important.

The process to develop our mobile apps, the process of distributing those apps, the model's a bit broken. For the last three years, we've made a pretty big investment on the mobile platform Android. We hope it results in significantly more innovation. That's why we built the SDK.

There are a lot of initiatives looking at open source in the mobile industry, but not one of them was looking at allowing you to build a complete phone. We're building a platform that we're open sourcing and giving away. We hope the manufacturers and carriers build a lot of phones on it.

We want to break down the closed mobile platforms and open up the world to a more open handset experience. We're working with carriers to understand the benefits of openness and want openness. The world we envision is more openness on the handset side and then breaking down the walls of innovation.

I've mentioned that it’s open. I've mentioned it's Linux. To just say you're going to take Linux and build a mobile phone probably isn't the right way to do it. It's not the best consumer desktop experience. You need to put a bunch of dedicated software layers on top of Linux to make it a consumer product. When you stack up the architecture diagram, you'll see Linux at the bottom and then a bunch of software that Google or somebody else – like Packet Video – has written. It's a rich stack.

Another thing we thought about was the choice of licensing. We don't want to discourage innovation or limit Sony. We're using the Apache 2.0 software license, which is a very good license when you want to encourage people to make derivative products but don't want to open source everything. Once we ship the first handset, we'll open source the platform. At that point anybody will be able to license the software stack and add their own value.

The pitch to the carriers – and carriers look at Google as competitive – is that we can help make them lots of money but also that they can take this platform and build as tightly branded handset as they'd like. They don't have to build open phones.

This message of openness is starting to resonate throughout the industry. Google feels comforted by that fact. It'll be uncomfortable for carriers if they deliver very closed phones. In general, smart phones should be smart. They should be open. That's our goal.

Suw Charman offers a better report on this session in Corante's Strange Attractor.

Music to My Ears

One of my favorite things about Isen's events is the musical entertainers he enlists. This year (like last year, when I wasn't here), the musician in residence is Howard Levy, whom I first encountered on Bela Fleck and the Flecktones's 1990 eponymous album. Levy's been alternating between the harmonica and keyboard, and he's joined by guitarist Chris Siebold, who's also sung a couple of numbers. Good stuff.

Open Fiber: John St. Julien

John St. Julien: The name of this session is open fiber. I'm of two minds about this open thing. One side of me, the geek and the wonk think it's about open systems and that it'll all work itself out. The other part of me is the historian and activist. These two guys don't get along, so I've segregated them. You get the historian and activist.

What is this open fiber thing? We're not citizens of the Net, we're clients. We're little better than serfs. A key element of any feudal system is that the lord of the manor controls access to the land. Think about your terms of service with AT&T and Cox. This is roughly your condition. They can kick you off for next to no reason. They don't have to follow their own rules consistently. They give themselves an amazing level of structural arrogance. That's what's driving us toward some kind of geekish and wonkish solution. But I don't think that's what we want. We want to be full citizens.

In medeival times, they did the Enlightenment, and then they did a revolution. They overthrew the old order. As soon as they realized there was something better, they went after it. We don't believe that that's possible. Tim is the perfect case of the counter-example. Of course it's possible. We can own our own network.

Lafayette, Louisiana, is a place in which we've done just that. This is a very hopeful thing, more hopeful than wiring up all of Vermont because Lafayette is one of the most conservative cities in one of the most conservative states. It's an oil town. It thinks Houston takes second stage in purity. But it's really something they want to do. How could it happen in Lafayette?

Back in the day, there was a bunch of malcontents that convinced a group of economic leaders it'd be a good idea to put in fiber just for government. There was all sorts of opposition to that. It was from the lords of the manor, who acted like it was outrageous. They did it anyway, and there was basic resentment that built up from that. Then they said this is crazy; we should provide retail service to every home in the city.

The malcontents lost that, but people heard the argument. People remembered the argument, but they forgot who said it. We got a new mayor who was really naive. He asked the incumbents if they would do this for him. They said no in such insulting terms that they offended him. So he went to the mat. The malcontents immediately jumped in and got on board. They got a big grassroots movement.

The assumption was that there'd be a group of old-money guys who'd run the thing. They'd do expensive polls, a big TV campaign. Their opposition faded. They weren't there. More power was handed to the grassroots operation. We won two to one, a clear, stunning victory.

Did we get what we wanted from it? We just wanted to be treated with some respect. We're going to get a network that's basically one huge intranet. Average speed citizen to citizen will be 100 Mbps. They'll offer it for 20% less than the incumbents were offering it. We'll have our own stable, static IPs to work out of. We'll have a wireless network hanging out that. Because we have fiber running down every street, it won't have to be meshed. You can do what you want with that much wifi.

We're also exploring a different kind of digital divide issue. What the current plan is is to use every cable box to provide wireless Internet as well. What you end up with is a whole swath of people having access who never had access before.

The question isn't so much the technical issues when we talk about openness but whether you want to own it in the long run. If you don't own it, you don't get the right to make those choices.

Open Fiber: Tim Nulty

Tim Nulty: I have a career in telecommunications in which I have steadily sunk in the system. I retired in Vermont, and I was inveigled to help Burlington bring back a ubiquitous fiber to the home network. The initial financing for the real network was signed in December 2004. We broke ground in 2005. We signed up our first customer in 2006. And in 2007 we went cash flow positive for operations. Covering our debt and being profitable will happen in about 2009. That's stunning for a very capital-intensive telecommunications operation.

The foundation of that was (a) be universal, design to cover everybody, (b) it's open access; I don't mean we don't offer services – if you don't do that, you'll go broke – offering retail services means we make money, but open access for us means we have an almost infinite resource, and (c) be financially self-sufficient. In much of Europe, the foundation is in some form taxpayer. That's fine. That's great. Good idea. In the United States, that won't happen. In some states, including Vermont, it's illegal to build it with taxpayer funds. (d) Be future proof. Forget DSL, cable modem, and all that nonsense. We all know that won't last 10 years. You need to build something to last a long time.

I resigned from Burlington telecom in November because we were getting so many calls from all over saying, that's great, but can we do it? I want to see if we can take this model into two places that were substantially different than Burlington. Can you bring it to genuinely rural America? None of these towns is big enough to do it on its own. The biggest town is 11,000 people. Can you do it with an assembly of 35 towns? Can you organize that? It's really more of an organizational question.

We do expect to do this. We've had votes in all the towns in March. They were about 95% in favor. The worst was in the capital, Montpelier, where we had about 80%. We're doing a presubscription now, and some of the towns are 47% presubscribed.

The bottom line is that this vision can work in a practical way in the United States in really rural areas. The network we built is one generation more modern than than the FIOS system. We're just a little more modern than Verizon.

Open Fiber: Adam Peake

Adam Peake: What is the Japanese broadband miracle? 28 million is about 55% of households. That's a good number of people. We have it. In the United States, you don't. In Japan, this can be traced back to the language of the 1996 act. A good number of you came over to tell us what a good broadband policy would be. We've really been involved in watching the Internet grow.

In the early 2000s you had an incumbent who decided that IP networks were good and something they should embrace. That’s important. We talk about speeds. Here I have a brochure for a housing development in Japan. It's overlooking the fish market. And they advertise that the mansion building has 1 Gbps to the basement. You don't have 1 Gbps to your home, but you have access to that technology.

Randy Bush is one of the people who's driven the Internet around the world for the last 20 years. He's got fiber to his home, it's 100 Mbps, and he can tweak it so he gets maybe 80 Mbps out of it. Don't be misled by that. You won't get it. But you will get extremely fast service, and extremely affordable service.

Fiber, fast DSL will be about $35 a month. You can get 100 Mbps with telephone and the Internet for under $70. That's quite good.

The open access model can work if the conditions are right. We've adopted many of the ideas from the 1996 act. What are the conditions that allowed Japan to get where it is today?

The first difference is that we don't have a major cable television industry. It's all about telephony and opening up the incumbents' networks. The legal system is also not litigious. That means the NTT didn't spend its time going to court and fighting this. They accepted it, and that's how Japanese business works. They also had a regulator who stood by it. The goals were set at the national level.

We're moving to an information society. It's more than broadband. How do you use this in society? We have 100 million mobile subscribers. 85 million of those are 3G. 87 million of those have an Internet contract. 40 million have contactless payment cards in them already. 20 million of them are digital televisions. Very sophisticated set of uses. The end result is a ubiquitous networked society.

Japan doesn't really have a particularly good broadcasting industry. It's somewhat moribund. The programs aren't particularly good. They don't even have a popular sport. Think about the United Kingdom, where BT says there are no commercial opportunities for the them to bring fiber to the home. That's because they have BskyB, subscription satellite television to the home.

I hope that gives some idea of the background of where Japan is. It's important to think about what the problems are and what the future might bring. There are two issues, really. One is the Japanese view of network neutrality. It's important all around the world. In November 2007, the ministry responsible for communications accepted an amendment that was similar to the four principles of network neutrality, but they made them rules that should be followed.

IP networks should be easy to access and easy to use. They should be accessible to any terminal and support end-to-end communication. Users should be provided with equality of access at a reasonable price. Those are the principles. And they're meaningful principles people will adopt and follow.

Next, we have a more problematic situation. That's one of packet shaping and network congestion. One of the impacts of accessible broadband is that it pumps out a lot of bandwidth. This is a worry. Some companies have begun packet shaping on peer-to-peer traffic particularly.

There's a particular problem on an application called Winny, the national peer-to-peer application. It's extremely easy to share your whole hard disk. And prone to viruses. Winny is basically a pig, and there's no way anybody's going to defend it.

Open Fiber: Dirk van der Woude

Dirk van der Woude: I'm not an American, so I didn't learn how to present in public in kindergarten, so I need PowerPoint. I'll start to tell you more about why this meeting is important for the Netherlands, as well as American telecommunications and connectivity. You see, approved by Brussels.

I see people, children, walking around very proud. This is a campaign map of New Guinea in 1944. They came to a territory in which people were living in the stone age. The child you see is now, but her grandfather was born in 1920. In two generations, you can go from being in the stone age to being in the modern world. Yes, we can.

This is Europe. All of France is occupied except for this small, small village in Normandy. It's still fighting. This is how Amsterdam has felt for some time. All of the Durch old-fashioned incumbent telecoms are now owned by English and American corporations. Just a few percentage points are still owned by the Dutch. This is what it feels like to be a colony. Some people say we never should have given away the copper network, but we did.

In 2005, we started with a fiber network. What's the average citizen's perspective? Are we at the end of the last mile, or the first mile? We didn't want to be locked in.

In 1926, people started to think about highways. The highway was built. They started far before Hitler. The market had the vision, but it didn't have the long-term money. To head back to Amsterdam, you know we have canals. They bring in the tourists, and Americans complain about things being expensive. We have some paintings, and that's good essence. We have a harbor. It used to be the largest in Europe. We didn't take care of it, but it's still a lot of jobs in Amsterdam. We also have Schilpol Airport. And we have another harbor that's No. 1 in the world, the Amsterdam fiber exchange.

Because of that development, we started to think about whether today's networks are going to cut it. Or should we have another network? What we learned in Amsterdam is that you have to invest in infrastructure if you want to keep up with technological development.

It's not so much the backbone that's going to be the problem, it's the first mile. What's the state of the first mile at the moment? .2Mpbs per second is still counted as broadband. What to do about that? Do we want fraudband? The real world will have shared bandwidth.

Let's talk about fiber to the home in Europe. There's a great example in France. They decided to do the fiber thing, and it's 60 million Euros in subsidy. The most important thing is what happened in Germany. They were very slow, but suddenly, fiber started. In Cologne, two fiber networks were deployed in parallel. Now it's in Hamburg and Munich, where they've done 60-70% of Munich. In Germany, when they start something, they end it. This will be a big, big thing in Europe.

And in Amsterdam, we believe that a city with a great future is not a city without fiber to the home. We got the approval. We have three programs in Amsterdam. The fiber to the home program has 40,000 address. I can't say what we're doing for the other 400,000 homes. We also have fiber to the theater. The last theaters in Amsterdam are now provided with 1Gb/s. And 70% of all the children under 18 have parents and grandparents who weren't born in the Netherlands. So we're connecting the schools. We want them to connect to the theaters. And we want them to connect to the museums.

This is the network. We have a passive infrastructure that's 33% municipal shares and 20% municipal Euros. The wholesale operators sell capacity at 100% market terms. And the service providers are also market. The problem is that in the Netherlands, none of the ISPs are independent any more.

From a business perspective, the passive layer has a high CapEx but a low OpEx. The active layer has an average CapEx and a low OpEx. What do you get? One size fits all. 99% availability. I now myself have a 30 Mbps connection for which I pay 50 Euros. There are four Internet connections. One is for the Internet, and the other three are for whatever you want. Everything ends up in a utility cabinet in the home.

What are you going to do with it? Having ubiquitous broadband and this grid will also be good for wireless connectivity. It'll be green as well. Why do we do it? Economic growth. This network is going to bring in more economic profit than it's going to cost you.

In France, they had 18th century wifi – semaphore. 140 miles, 15 stations, 36 characters in 32 minutes, all records broken, a resounding success. There was this guy who said, can I have a portable one? That was Napoleon. He could. In 1845, someone said we should invest in a copper network. And that was that.

Open Fiber: Introduction and Jim Baller

This session was a series of presentations moderated by Jim Baller, who advocates for a United States national broadband strategy.

There were a number of participants. Dirk van der Woude works as program manager of Amsterdam's world-leading fiber to the home offer. John St. Julien is a grassroots champion of Lafayette, Louisiana's, fiber to the home network. Adam Peake serves as executive research fellow for GLOCOM, the Center for Global Communications of the International University of Japan. And Tim Nulty was formerly chief economist for the House and Senate commerce committees, and is a fiber to the home activist. Any errors are my own, and I welcome amendments and corrections.

Jim Baller: Let me begin by observing what these folks have in common. Each one has a hand in some of the most advanced efforts in the world in terms of fiber connectivity. Lafayette, Louisiana, decided it wanted to be one of the most progressive fiber cities in a state that was not. John will tell you about that project. Tim Nulty has an incredible background that I can't begin to summarize. Tom started a fiber project in Burlington, Vermont. His philsophy was do it conservatively step by step and those steps resulted in a coalition of 20-25 towns that want to do it as a group. Next over, we have Adam Peake, who has a catbird seat in Tokyo where he is with the International University of Japan. He's here to tell us how the Japanese have achieved their miraculous assent to being one of the leading countries in the world in communications. And a special hero of mine, Dirk van der Woude from the city of Amsterdam.

The other remarks will follow in a series of posts.

Politics, Democracy, and the Internet

This is a rough transcript of a panel discussion of sorts moderated by Micah Sifry, cofounder of the Personal Democracy Forum. Alec Ross is a tech policy advisor to Barack Obama's campaign. Matt Stoller is a political Net-roots activist and blogger for OpenLeft. And Donna Edwards is a candidate for Congress from Maryland. Any errors are my own. Amendments and corrections are welcome.

Micah Sifry: This is my third time here, speaking, and it's a thrill. David was the first person to invite me to a tech conference when I first got into this. I'm going to take a couple of minutes to introduce the session. Our topic is politics, democracy, and the Internet.

We are living in amazing times. We're still in a transition, but the old one-to-many system is being joined by a peer-to-peer, many-to-many, people-intensive system. It's not pretty, but these are exciting times for those of us who've been frustrated by how gridlocked our political system is.

I hope we spend most of our time looking at how we can change governance. That's the easy topic. The fun one is what happens when Net-centric thinking and policy enters the halls of power. We're going to start with Alec Ross, who's here in his capacity as an advisor to the Barack Obama campaign. He's going to talk a little bit about Obama's thinking about transparency. This does not imply an endorsement of any candidate, but the Obama campaign has some of the most interesting tech policy statements.

We're then going to segue to Matt Stoller and Donna Edwards. If the Obama tech policy is all about what we can do to change the executive branch, they'll dig into what we need to do to fix Congress.

I do a lot of work with the Sunlight Foundation. They're soft launching a new project today, We've drafted a detailed bill for transparency at all levels of government. You can read the draft bill, as well as comment and improve it. We're still lining up sponsors, so if you're interested in getting more involved, please talk to us. Why can more legislation be posted on the Web so people can get more involved?

Alec Ross: Before I talk about some of the specifics of Senator Obama's proposals in terms of transparency, it's important to consider the attitude and mindset of the candidate and the campaign.

The fact that Obama hasn't been in Washington for decades means that he feels more of a connection to people outside of the Beltway rather than within. The solutions to problems come from outside of Washington. What's become clear is not technology for technology's sake but how technology can play a unique role in connecting people to the process.

Obama's fluent in technology, but he's not a coder. When he started his campaign, he didn't have an organization or apparatus. He had to figure out how to organize his campaign very quickly. How he did it was using technology. It was a huge leap of faith.

Win or lose, one of the stories that will be told about this campaign will be about how he got power by giving up power. He used his Web site not as a way to raise money but to organize the campaign. Thousands of offline events have been held because of whats happening online.

The principles of using technology for openness have made themselves manifest in the campaign. He's brought a lot of people who aren't involved in the process into the process.

The specifics are where Obama's been most bold. Online, you'll see pretty deep proposals. Let's take all government data and make it accessible in machine-readable data. This is data you own and pay government agencies to figure out. If that content lives in the Department of Energy, let's put it on the Web so you can find out what the relative environmental safety in your community. Citizens with information can make decisions that are in their own self-interest.


When Barack Obama becomes president, people better be ready to get to work. We've shared some very specific ideas about implementing government transparency. We need to make sure congressmen are aware of those issues.

Sifry: Of those proposals, where do you expect the most resistance?

Ross: There are two. Making communications public. That basically means people getting their mail read. That will face some opposition. The other one is taking government data and making them machine readable so they're accessible. That can be done technologically, but people will ask whether we should spend tons of money to do so.

Our federal government does not have a chief technology officer. You get ridiculour siloing. Let's take clean technology. That would involve half a dozen government agencies. There's no coordinating body. There's a lack of coherence from the federal government.

Part of what the chief technology officer's role is to bring a level of organization to the federal government that doesn't currently exist. That requires a strong hand.

Matt Stoller: Can we open up government? Yes, we can, and yes, it's already happening. Politicians are getting more feedback than they've ever gotten before.

Congress is us. We elect these people to Congress. If we're so angry at these people, how do we take responsibility for that? We haven't connected the organs of the Internet to the organs of power. I want to share two stories about that. One is a success, and one is a failure.

I worked for John Corzine in New Jersey. I encountered one blog that was hyperlocal, why is the train so slow? There was an issue about why a local pool was so expensive, and one person said it was because there were too many lifeguards. People were debating that, and then the lifeguards got involved. It's really hard to be a lifeguard! That really changed the conversation. That's a success because it changed how people talk and relate to each other.

I was also involved in Legislation 2.0, which was hosted by a number of blogs, including my own. We had people discussing broadband policy. There were some really exciting people who came, but it went nowhere. It looked like we were really going to have a dialogue, but it didn't do anything. It didn't turn into new power for Senator Durbin. Somehow we failed to connect it to real political power.

How do you take social context and connect it to real political power? How do we create the bridging pieces? That's what I want to figure out.

Donna Edwards has a long career in public advocacy. She pairs toughness and sympathy. When she got elected to be the nominee for Maryland's fourth district, it was the first time the power of the Internet has been able to seat someone into an electoral position. At least we were one piece of that.

Donna Edwards: If I'm one of the most remarkable people Matt knows, he needs to expand his universe. I apologize for being late this morning. I might have to run in two more elections before I can run in the November election. I'm thinking about the Internet because we're going to have to toll up how we reach people online.

Sometimes, people don't even know an election is taking place. We were able to engineer a conversation about the race that was able to elevate it from the mire of all the other discussions.

Years ago, I was a systems engineer for Lockheed working on the space program. My job was developing and tested software and hardware. A lot has changed over time, but not a lot of communities have been able to be involved in that change.

Where I live, I have dial-up Internet service. Oh my god. Last night I was at home and I needed to do some work on the Internet. I couldn't get on, it was slow, and I just quit. The reason I have dial up is because Verizon says they provide broadband service. That's sort of true unless you live 200 yards away from where the service is routed. That's where my home is.

There are children who don't have access to a computer at home. Many of our most vulnerability communities lack the ability to jump into the technology age the way they should. That's shameful. Looking around this room, you don't look like some of those communities.

From a campaign perspective, what that means is that we can use the Internet to generate energy and communicate a vision for the future. At the same time, folks come up to me and say, please, can you just bring us a piece of paper? We can't get onto the Internet. That seems extraordinary.

We have to operate in two worlds, one in the 20th century and one in the 21st century. In terms of public policy, we're not at a time when we can hope that the technology service providers will just do right. We have to legislate and mandate that kind of stuff. Some of us will have access, and some won't because it's not efficient for those companies to reach out to those vulnerable communities.

How do we develop technology policy that works for our most vulnerable communities? Matt forced me sometimes to blog about the campaign. I was being interviewed by the Washington Post, and an editor asked me if I couldn't answer my questions more quickly. "You don't have to think about it so much." I thought thinking about my answers was a good thing.

We want to have the ability for legislators to have contact with a wide range of people, but I'm not sure I want to put all of that into email. I don't know if that's the best way to judge whether someone's engaged in effective policy making.

The importance of having the Internet and open access to the Internet is that I don't want anyone else deciding what's good for me. Let me add it. We have way too many gatekeepers. Our communities and the vibrancy of the Internet require us to limit and put a kibosh on the gatekeepers. We're pretty smart people.

Technology can work to build all of our communities. It can be useful for us without getting in the way. I'll be blogging when I'm in Congress, too.

Connect with Freedom to Connect

If you use Quicktime, you can watch the event streaming live. You can also join the backchannel chat via Campfire. (To sign up for a Campfire account, use this link.

Paying Per Packet? Don't Be Selfish

Brad Templeton serves as chairman of the Electronic Freedom Foundation and is a blogger. What follows is a near-realtime transcript of his remarks. If you have any additions or amendments, let me know.

I am the chairman of the EFF. It's not saving the Internet that's hard, it's audio visual. We got into a battle in this town against the president of the United States, suing AT&T for letting everyone wiretap. I want to talk about the history of regulation in data communications. I'm also involved in BitTorrent Corp., but I'm not speaking officially on behalf of that today.

Most of the people here are in favor of an open network. The Net was created as a peer-to-peer environment. This allowed people to come up with the concept of the end-to-end or stupid network. It's a great thing, and hopefully we have a choir here.

But the real invention of the Internet wasn't a technological invention. Believe it or not, the thing that made the Internet great was it's pricing model. It was an economic invention. It's pricing model didn't involve money. I pay for my line in the middle, you pay for your line to the middle, and we don't care about what happens in the middle. We don't sweat the small stuff. That still involves paying for things but enabled a whole bunch of applications.

Paying per packet means that every application on the network had to be justifiable. Network providers are run by bean counters. One of the earliest Web sites was a video camera trained on a fish tank. That would have been shut down by the network. But some of the best applications aren't financially justifiable. Paying per packet also leads to a network of timid users. The cost of books shouldn't matter to us. But how many of you see a book that's $1 more than it should be? Paying money on an incremental basis has a psychological cost.

There's a bit of a monster hiding in the pricing model. Everybody oversells their Internet capacity now. They really want to sell you shared access to a pipe they don't intend you to use. They sell you oversaturated pipes. They advertise unlimited use. Is that a business? Whose bandwidth is it? Do they sell the bandwidth to the customer, or don't they? There's a dissonance.

Meanwhile, the upstream component goes unused most of the time. That got exploited by peer-to-peer publishing tools. Peer-to-peer file distribution is the best technology for publishing a file cheaper. It's no surprise that people who want to do copyright infringement pick the best technology to do it. It's used for both honest distribution and otherwise.

There's always going to be some application that's a bandwidth hog. There's always going to be one that uses more bandwidth versus less bandwidth. We don't want to beat down the winner. Right now, peer-to-peer is the villain, but if you get rid of that, there will be another one.

I'm going to go in the opposite direction when it comes up with coming up with a law for Net neutrality. I'm going to make a rather bold statement that's not entirely true. All the telecom regulations have actually caused more harm than good. They all turn sour in the long run. They do some good in the early days, but before long, they go bad.

Simply having paperwork and asking raises an effective barrier. Even if it seems like you're not asking for too much. Solving Net neutrality is like putting out a fire with corn-based ethanol, which is itself the result of activity by the corn lobby. We've got the telcos in a briar patch. Br'er telco is more nimble in the briar patch than br'er fox. We're br'er fox.

It subsidizes phone service for poor people. Long ago, maybe that helped. Years ago, a friend and I decided we'd drop a phone booth in the middle of the Black Rock Desert. You can actually bring wireless to the rural user cheaper than you can put in an urban landline. Two guys could do that. If you need to subsidize something, just subsidize it.

E911 is another example. If you want help in an emergency, you don't want to say that something that looks like a phone is the means to it. $1/use/month kills… Let's look at CALEA. Why didn't we learn more from 80211?

If I were put in charge, I would replace the FCC with three words, "Don't be selfish." Don't interfere with others. Don't be overly sensitive to interference.

The one regulation I would say is somewhat successful is the one we're suing AT&T over. Back in the '70s, there was a president that Congress decided wan't trustable. He did wiretaps. So they made a law that said phone companies couldn't allow wiretaps on all traffic without warrants. We sued them under that law. So the president got the Senate to pass a law. The House hasn't passed it. Thank you, House.

Technology changes so quickly in telecommunications, that any policy should automatically sunset. The time they change from good to harm is remarkably short. Be careful what policies you have. Review all policies every few years. It's the monopoly, stupid! There's no need for a natural monopoly. We've created these monopolies and allowed people to use them. We need to get in there and use the dark fiber.

There's plenty of bandwidth. If we really open this up, I'd like to see people able to go into small electronics stores to install small networks in their neighborhoods by just burying the fiber in their yards. Make a technology mass market, and lo and behold, it's $20 at Fry's in just a few years. This technology is possible.

People say the Internet can't scale for video. That's totally wrong. IP multicasting can work if we want it. Peer-to-peer also scales up. It can provide the ability to distribute vast amounts of data. What's popular only goes over the line one or two times, and then it's in the local cloud. A lot of people who built these networks made the assumption that everybody would be a consumer.

Comcast did a deal with BitTorrent on Thursday or Friday. What Comcast did was sort of sly. They didn't do that much interference with BitTorrent. They put detectors on the network to see what people had finished downloading. Then you become a seed, and other people can access it. If you were seeding, and if you were seeding people who weren't on Comcast, that's when they went in and decided they wanted to stop you. The thing that got them in trouble was putting in synthetic packets that would say that the person on the other end had hung up.

The network rose up about that. There was regulatory threat. Comcast realized that, crap, we can't even do this. They've agreed now that they're going to be protocol agnostic. They're going to balance bandwidth. They'll put more upstream in the network. They'll do new research so there's more local caching. And they're going to be more transparent about what they do.

The best lessons in the network come from the edge, both in technology and network neutrality.

The Music of Countervailing Stories

Susan Crawford is founder of OneWebDay, an ICANN board member, and a blogger. This is a partial transcript of her remarks. If you have any amendments, let me know.

Life is short. We might as well tackle some big questions while we're here. What makes a life significant? Life contains an inner ideal. There's some aspect that's intellectual and conscious. These ideals need to be joined to will. They have to be accompanied by action.

My father's life is drawing to a close. The ideal for him is to sit and listen to music. The ideal is pure human expression in music. As his body gives up on him and his brain decays, the music remains.

We spend a lot of time talking about network operators. The logic of it is constrained and controlled by companies we call network operators. There's inadequate competition. We're paying a lot for slow speeds. These companies aren't monopolies. This is an oligopoly. There are a few sellers acting with consideration for the industry as a whole. The prices themselves don't signal the ebb and flow of user desires. It's not a monopoly, but it's not competition. It's something in the middle.

Instead of ruinous price competition, there are lots and lots of ads showing us the differences among these operators. Oligopolists have power similar to monopolists, but there are few actors. What's the solution to this? Is it anti-trust? That would undermine the very fabric of the American economy. We have a lot of oligopolists. They're not working together to keep prices high. They're acting in deference and knowledge of how the entire industry is doing.

We get stuck on the idea of competition. We need to think differently. This is where music and John Kenneth Galbraith comes in. Galbraith suggests that in a oligopolist economy, restraints come from the retail level or consumers or users. You have oligopoly and then countervailing power. Let's look at the retailers. We've got an integrated market.

We need to find a way to make the user power aggregated, present, visible, organized in a way that would make restraints on the oligopoly real. If there were adequate power coming from users, we could draw them together. We can be as smart as we want to be, but without votes, we're nowhere. The Net neutrality movement isn't always connected to people who vote.

The source of countervailing power needs to be user stories, not gadgets or technology. The story of being enabled to further your life purpose can be connected to this policy debate. We need to simplify the message and make it as human as possible – as musical as possible.

John Kenneth Galbraith, our friend with the theory of countervailing power, always went to a new year's party. He always led the singing of Auld Lang Syne.

If I die tomorrow, I want to make sure I've talked to you about my efforts to bring these stories together via OneWebDay. The purpose of OneWebDay, which is Sept. 22, is to globalize a constituency that cares about the future of the Internet. It's a way for us to all tell stories and teach about our connection to this network. This constituency will provide the countervailing force.

I ask you today to do something to make the Web real for the community around you. That's my message. We need a countervailing force. Competition isn't going to do it.

Suw Charman also offers a transcript via Corante's Strange Attractor.

Welcome to Freedom to Connect 2008

I'm going to take a stab at confblogging this year's Freedom to Connect. Here's host David Isenberg's opening remarks (he emailed me his talk, so these notes are practically exact):

I am honored to be among so many remarkable people. We have to be remarkable people, because we have a hell of a job to do. The Internet has been given to us. It is a miraculous gift, and a boon to our lives . . . at least in part because it accidentally matured outside the purview of profit and loss. Now the money has arrived. If you want to see what happens when the money arrives, look at Nigeria or Venezuela or Russia or Iraq.

I challenge you to expand the discussion over the next two days. Our planet is in danger of becoming hostile to life. I'm not talking about the flooding of Miami and New York and Bangladesh. I mean that because of the carbon we humans put in the air, Earth could become Venus, a place where life can't live. So I believe -- and I put this forward as a hypothesis -- I believe that we can use the Internet to conserve more atmospheric carbon than its infrastructure generates. Furthermore, I believe we can use the Internet for global participation that transcends tribalism and nationalism to end war . . . for discussion!

We're a remarkable group. We've come from Japan and New Zealand and the Netherlands, from England and Canada and California. We're from 23 states, and two provinces.

We're innovators and activists, academics, investors, lobbyists, lawyers, regulators, reporters, builders of networks and a man of the cloth. Among us is a Son who brought his Father to Freedom to Connect, and a Mother who brought her Daughter. This is good -- saving the Internet *should* be a family affair.

Some of us are here because they don't think the Internet needs saving . . . or if it does, it needs saving from people like me, who are dissatisfied with what the telcos and the cablecos and the Bush-Martin FCC have been doing. I welcome them, because too often we only talk with our friends. I honor Richard and Scott and John and Brett for having the courage to be here. I have no illusions that anybodys minds will change, but I look forward to their contributions to the discussion, and perhaps to some degree of mutual understanding.

The story we will tell in the next two days is not widely told.
It is a story of telephone companies and cable companies, and the disruptive power of the Internet.

It is a story many of us wrote. Some of us wrote it in networks strung across neighborhoods and nations. Some of us wrote it in blogs. Some of us wrote it in C code. Some of us wrote it in The Federal Register. Some of us wrote it in a checkbook. Some of us wrote it in wrinkles on our faces and hands.

It is a story we will not find in the mainstream media, because it would be the story of their own Internet-wrought disruption . . . or even destruction.

It is a story of A Telephone Company that I loved, and hated, and worked for, and tried to save, called AT&T. That AT&T doesn't exist anymore. AT&T created the digital switch, but failed to understand that when digital switching matured, it would make AT&T's business obsolete.

It is the story of a Goliath composed of a thousand Davids. I am one of them. AT&T shaped me. It made me who I am today. Like Barack Obama, I'm of mixed heritage . . . half BellHead, half NetHead.

AT&T had other Davids too, who not only invented the digital switch, but also the transistor, stereo recording, photovoltaics, Information Theory, digital signal processing, C, Unix, DSL and the Cable Modem.

It is also a story of managers who didn't understand technology so they sent consultants to Bell Labs rather risk displaying their ignorance in a personal visit.

It is the story of a corporate culture so deeply rooted
that its assumptions were not only un-questioned
-- they were unquestionable.

It is a story of a system that couldn't possibly be merit-based, because managers had to rise through eighteen layers of management in a 20-some-year career. It is the story of an AT&T CEO that said the Internet was a toy. It is the story of an executive who drove AT&T's computer business into failure, then he presided over AT&T's NCR's failure, and then he was promoted again. It is the story of a failed credit card business, a failed cable business, millions of dollars of failed Silicon Valley partnerships, and a cell phone division that would have failed over and over if it had not been tied to such a large mother ship.

It is a story of a telephone company called Qwest, that built a transcontinental fiber-optic network of unprecedented capacity, and then sold twelve fibers to create competition so capable that the competitor almost put Qwest out of business.

It is a story of hundreds of facilities based competitors that were created with the stroke of a President's pen in 1996, and then -- just a few years later -- these same companies were put out of business by a million tiny pen strokes by the Courts and the FCC .

It is a story of a nation that passed a law mandating competition as a substitute for regulation, and then competition was destroyed.

It is the story of the rise of a neo-conservative economics that correctly notices the market-signalling power of money, but mistakenly denies that non-financial signals are meaningful. By this mistake, the Neo-Econs reject an 800 year old principle of common law that when you offer public services, you have public duties.

It is a story of people struggling to be free. When every major record label abandons DRM, this is a victory! When when one third of iPhones are unlocked, this is a victory. When Verizon Wireless says it will accept any device, this is a victory. When Comcast abandons network management by packet forgery, this is a victory. The Neo-Econs say these are responses to market forces, but they're WRONG. These are victories -- our victories!

The struggle to keep the Internet free is just like the struggle to have our vote count, just like the struggle to control the size of our family, just like the struggle to work a 40 hour week, and just like the struggle to end stupid wars. We win, AND can't stop fighting. Nobody's going to say, "Hey have some more rights." If we want a free Internet, we have to take it!

The story we will tell in the next two days is the story of the future of the Internet.
It is an unfinished story. We are writing it. But we do not know how it will end.

But let me show you some technology that illustrates what is possibile.

This cable has 864 fibers.

Each fiber carry 160 different wavelengths, each wavelength can carry 10 Gigabits.
The technology to do this has been in the marketplace for at least five years.
This 1.6 terabit signal can go from Washington DC to Chicago without active regeneration.

How big is a gigabit? One gigabit can carry the entire conventional telephony load of a city of 100,000 people. So one fiber can carry 1600 Gbits, or 160 million people -- two or three fibers would carry the conventional telephony of the entire United States.

Here's another way to see this cable. If all 6.5 billion people on earth had a telephone, and if they were all off-hook, generating 64 kilobits a second, and all those conversations were routd to this cable, there would be 100 fibers still dark.

Now imagine this running down your street. Imagine that each house could have two or three fibers, more bandwidth than a telco in each house.

In other words, the problem is completely mis-framed. Comcast and Verizon -- and even Net Neutrality Advocates -- are are talking how to manage scarcity. We should be talking about how to achieve abundance.

But -- and there is a big but here -- All of this transmission capacity takes energy. And this is a problem. Global computing and communictions uses as much energy as the airline industry. We Netheads have a social duty to reduce the energy our infrastructure uses. I believe that we can go much further -- I think we can use the Internet to manage energy, to cut traffic congestion, to reduce travel, to actually conserve more energy than we use. We'll devote almost all of Tuesday afternoon to discussing this hypothesis . . .

How will the Internet story end?

Will a few of the smartest telephone companies, such as BT and Verizon who have the wisdom and foresight and courage to sponsor Freedom to Connect, evolve to be the abundant Internet access providers of tomorrow?

Or will the biggest telcos corporatize and homogenize the Internet in the image of Clear Channel?
Will they lock it down so that personal expression and innovation are driven into an isolated ghetto accessible to only a small minority, where people must devote their lives, like monks, to gain its benefits? Will an oppressive government make the Internet so invasive that nobody creative goes there anymore?

Or will new entities, maybe cities or non-profits,
but maybe new forms of organization made possible by the Internet itself,
arise to build and operate the infrastructure we must have.

Or will other countries, such as Japan and the Netherlands, or maybe China or Brazil, show the way, assuming the United States is capable of seeing what they put in front of our collective face?

Welcome to Freedom to Connect. I can't wait to see how the story of the Future of the Internet evolves over the next two days!

Not all of my confblogging today will benefit from the speakers' notes. If anyone has any corrections as the day progresses, let me know.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Learning Kicks A$$

But what I love most about SXSW is this.

You have an idea. You meet someone. You share said idea. And magic happens.

I described an idea I had to John from Metanotes, and he made it happen. The result: Everything I Know About X, I Learned from Y.

We're going to find a proper place to host this (right now, it's a gift), and we'll see what happens.

For now: What have you learned... from whom?

South by Southwest Trip Report

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of participating in the 2008 South by Southwest Interactive festival. I flew down Friday evening and stayed at a hotel about three miles south of downtown, just off I-35. And even though I wasn't in the thick of things, things were thick enough.

This year's festival was probably 50-100% (my gut sense) larger than last year's, and I heard that attendance capped out at almost 8,000 people. That's too big. Last year's felt a little too big, but this year was big enough that I didn't -- and couldn't -- run into everyone I wanted to catch up with randomly in the halls like I've been able to in previous years. So the reunion aspect of SXSW might be effectively over.

That said, I did see some long-time friends (Harper! Kyle! Thomas! Srini! Larry!), attended a couple of great parties (including one hosted by Threadless, Etsy, and Moo -- and DJ'd by Flosstradamus), made some new friends, ate some good food, went to one of my favorite record stores, and moderated one awesome panel.

The subject was Online Advertising for Newbies, and we had a stellar lineup. Darren Rowse, Wendy Piersall, Jim Benton, and Rett Clevenger all stepped up to share what they've learned in terms of the earliest stages and steps of adding ads -- and otherwise monetizing -- blogs and small- to medium-sized Web sites. It was a standing-room only audience, with more than 100 people in the room. And if you're interested, Tris Hussey of MapleLeaf 2.0 liveblogged the session. SXSW should offer a podcast of the proceedings soon.

It was a great trip, and I hope SXSW makes it past the growing pains well!

Products I Love XXIV

Do you know how much water you use when you shower? Do you know how long your average shower lasts? Chances are, you use more water than you need to -- and that you shower for longer than you need to. I know I do!

Not long ago, C. and I got a shower timer from Envirosax. It attaches to your shower wall with a suction cup, and it's basically a four-minute hourglass that spins around in the holder. When you start your shower, turn it around to start the grains (ours are coral pink) flowing. And when they've run out, you're done.

Or you should be. I've found that if I shampoo but don't use conditioner, I can shower in four minutes or less. But if I condition, I have to go a little longer. Sometimes, C. will turn off the water and stop the timer in order to conserve water.

It's an interesting challenge -- and a good thing to be mindful of. Also helps you get ready faster in the morning.

Green Frog from Kyoto

Before heading out for the laundromat this morning, I sorted through some piles on the kitchen table. In one, I found a small plastic bag with a tiny porcelain frog figurine inside. We're talking smaller than your fingernail. I've had this for years and never really looked at it closely -- always figured it was a knickknack too small to display anywhere. But this morning I opened it up and found this little slip of paper:


In Japanese, the word "kaeru" means both "frog" and "return." It is said that anyone carrying this frog in a coin purse will have the good fortune of having his money returned to him.

The thing has utility! So we dropped it in my coin purse, a yellow Puwawa coin purse from Sanrio, oddly enough.

Do you have any talismans that you carry with you? Does anyone know anything more about this green frog from Kyoto?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Happy Birthday, E-Commerce

The 25th anniversary of online retail almost slipped by me quietly and unobserved. Thanks to Alex Randall, a professor of communication at the University of the Virgin Islands, these birthday wishes are belated. I would have had no idea of the importance of Tuesday, March 4, 1983, were it not for an email Randall sent the Air-L discussion list.

25 years ago yesterday, the proprietors of Boston Computer Exchange -- including one Alex Randall -- sold a computer online via Delphi, a BBS of the time. The buyer was dialed in from Chile.

While it's arguable whether this was the first online sale -- surely, sales had been arranged via email -- the date could very well mark the first time a database of products was synchronized with an online network. And that's notable.

You can watch Randall tell the tale himself.

Any other notable online business milestones? This is fascinating stuff.