SMART Letter #53
PRESERVING INCUMBENT ADVANTAGE
March 19, 2001
SMART Letter #53 -- March 19, 2001
Copyright 2001 by David S. Isenberg
isen.com -- "impossible to circumvent"
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> Preserving Incumbent Advantage
> Quote of Note: Face Recognition at the Superbowl
> The First Internet Earthquake
> Father Unlike Son: Forebear Forswears Forbearance
> Quote of Note: ITU Discovers Metcalfe's Law
> Consultants to Patrimonial Bureaucracy: A Clarification
> Quote of Note: Courtney Love Takes Big Music to Court
> Quote of Note: Don Michael, in memoriam
> Conference on my Calendar
> Copyright Notice, Administrivia
PRESESERVING INCUMBENT ADVANTAGE
by David S. Isenberg
Bob Pepper, a senior FCC staff member, points out that voice
telephony used to be integral to the physical telephone
network, but now the Internet has made voice telephony yet-
Pepper's analysis suggests a way to think about how Big Music
is reshuffling the protocol stack. Like voice telephony,
music used to be tightly tied to physical media -- first to
the instruments of sound creation, the musical instruments
themselves, then to vinyl records and analog magnetic tape.
The computer and then the 'net decoupled music from its
Here the astute reader would comment, "Like, duh." Indeed,
John Perry Barlow pointed this out in about 1994.
Here's the anti-duh: the Digital Millennium Copyright Act
(DMCA) re-couples the information to the physical layer. But
the coupling is de jure, not de facto. In other words,
yesterday it was *physically* impossible to separate the words
from the paper and the sound from the squiggled vinyl; today
it is becoming *legally* impossible.
Similar re-tyings are beginning to crop up. For example,
police and spies used to "tap" telephones with no-tech
alligator clips. But when voice and voltage go separate ways,
alligator clips don't work. So the police asked the U.S.
Congress for CALEA (the U.S. communications assistance for law
enforcement act). CALEA replaces alligator clips with
technology specified by law.
So Big Music and Big Brother, unable to maintain their
incumbent advantage in the face of technological progress, are
making it illegal for others to take them out of the loop.
QUOTE OF NOTE: Thomas Colatosti
"[The facial recognition technology used on 72,000
football fans at Super Bowl 2001] was a significant
technological feat that's been widely acknowledged in
the law enforcement community as a success. Yet,
amazingly, instead of being hailed as a boon to public
safety . . . it was criticized as a threat to privacy."
Thomas Colatosti, CEO of Viisage Technology, the company that
created the face recognition technology, speaking on a panel
at Computers, Freedom, and Privacy 2001, quoted on
[Amazing that some people don't want to live under state
surveillance. -- David I]
THE FIRST INTERNET EARTHQUAKE
by David S. Isenberg
The Seattle earthquake of February 28, 2001 was the first
Internet earthquake. The Internet stayed up when the cellular
network overloaded and emergency 911 service went down. And
the story "broke" in several Internet sources before the major
news organizations had it.
When Bellheads are on the defensive, they talk about the
reliability of the phone network. If they're really cornered,
they use emergency 911 service as if it were the hidden gun
strapped to their ankle. ("OK, you've got me, but (bending
down) let me pull up my socks before you take me in.") Well,
we're wise to that trick. The day-after-earthquake story
below, from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, excerpted below,
drives the point home.
"One 66-year-old Burien woman died of a heart attack that
she suffered during the earthquake. Her husband called
911, but was unable to get through. He went to a local
fire station and retrieved paramedics who were unable to
revive her, authorities said.
"After the ground stopped shaking, so many people tried
to use their cell phones that the region experienced Ash
Wednesday's equivalent of the Mother's Day effect --
communication systems temporarily crashed. That left
some people feeling even more cut off from the rest of
"In Snohomish County, the phone went down, but customers
at Caffine.com, a cybercafe, never lost their Internet
connections. 'The chat screens just lit up,' said Don
Davidsen, 'with 'Wow! Did you feel that?''"
From the Seattle Post Intelligencer, March 1, 2001
Users of metafilter.com made each other aware of the quake
(and were bragging to themselves about scooping the big news
organizations) hours before the majors had the story, see
FATHER UNLIKE SON: FCC FOREMAN'S FOREBEAR'S FUNCTIONARY
"A competitive market requires a regulator that is
free from political pressure and is able to take
vigorous enforcement action against competitive abuses.
[Broadband services] are new services, and evolution can
go either two ways. The domination of the monopoly
carrier can dominate broadband [sic], or it can be an
opportunity for new types of carrier services."
Unnamed State Department Official at U.S. Embassy in Tokyo,
from "U.S. calls on Japan to increase telecom deregulation"
by Reed Stevenson, Reuters, cited in Total Telecom Asia, March
[Father Colin Powell's State Department draws a hard line
against monopoly telecom incumbents -- when they're in Japan.
Son Mike's FCC, here in the U.S. of A, is less inclined to use
words like "vigorous", "enforcement" and "action" in the same
sentence. Mike would rather forbear (refrain from, cease,
desist, avoid, shun, hold back, be tolerant in the face of
provocation). The unifying force behind this apparent
inconsistency is the business interests of incumbent U.S.
network service providers. -- David I]
QUOTE OF NOTE -- ITU Discovers Metcalfe's Law
"A network is only as valuable as the people it connects.
When additional end users gain access, it increases the
communications possibilities not only for that end-user,
but for every other individual and business connected to
ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) Report: Trends
in Telecommunication Reform 2000-2001: Interconnection
Regulation, (March 7, 2001).
CONSULTANTS TO PATRIMONIAL BUREAUCRACY
by David S. Isenberg
I got an unsettling response to "Accenture? Bullshient!" in
SMART Letter #52 (see http://isen.com/archives/010216.html)
from a respected friend who works with several consulting
companies that, he says, "are not deserving of this kind of
wrath, [where the people] are earnest, very smart, and deliver
real value in very concrete and testable form." Indeed, in my
experience, too, most consultants are bright and well
motivated, and working with them is usually fun and
In SMART Letter #52, I was trying to address the role that
consultants play in the distorted system of office behavior
that seems to be endemic in very large U.S. corporations.
Social anthropologist Robert Jackall named this pattern
_Patrimonial_Bureaucracy_ (see SMART Letter #22
http://isen.com/archives/990601.html). Jackall describes
corporations as "bureaucratic" because on the surface there
are rules and processes, and as "patrimonial" because behind
the procedural curtain, power and prestige are determined by
bonds of personal loyalty and reward that often contravene
stated procedure. Thus, belonging to the right country club
can be a stronger determinant of corporate success than having
a good idea or running a productive department.
In such a system, employees who have achieved several
promotions understand the de-coupling of merit from reward.
They are motivated to protect, and even obfuscate this
decorrelation in defense of their turf. They turn procedure
to serve patrimony. One result is that good work must filter
up one step at a time so each level's boss can own it. But
the filter can be severe -- good work must fit each boss's
personal agenda. As a result, good work and bright people
often remain unrecognized.
In a patrimonial bureaucracy, senior managers feel isolated by
the sycophants (yes-(wo)men) around them. So they hire
consultants, who, because they are outsiders, are freer to
take up a constructive agenda, quicker to find smarter ideas,
and more likely to engage in constructive criticism.
Furthermore, because they are outsiders, consultants tend not
to threaten the hard-won status of the covert aristocracy. So
consultants fill a useful role in a patrimonial bureaucracy.
However there are at least two things wrong with this picture.
First, consultants are tempted to aggrandize this advantage if
they are to be successful by their own metrics -- given
powerful entree they expand. Second, consultants tend to
bypass internal ideas, talent, and processes where these
interfere with their expansion -- they're less likely to say,
"You're already doing that, so you don't need to hire us for
the same thing." The result of such consulting, especially at
the hands of a large, successful consulting firm, is a weak,
Like lawyers, who perform many useful functions but take a bad
rap, consultants are an easily identified component of the
pathology of big company culture, but are just one component
of a complex syndrome. I should have set a more explicit
context in SMART Letter #52 -- when long-time readers of the
SMART Letter don't get where I'm coming from, it's my fault.
QUOTE OF NOTE: Courtney Love
"I could end up being the music industry's worst
nightmare: a smart gal with a fat bank account who is
unafraid to go down in flames fighting for a principle,"
Courtney Love Seeks to Rock Record Labels' Contract Policy, by
Chuck Philips in latimes.com, Wed Feb 28, 2001
QUOTE OF NOTE: Don Michael, in memoriam:
"[We have a] deeply engrained belief and expectation
that more information will reduce uncertainty because
it is the basis for control of things, markets, the
future, people, and even self . . . [But] it is no
accident, I think, that in Western mythology, humans
were forced *out* of the Garden of Eden by the first
information revolution -- when Adam and Ee ate of the
tree of knowledge. The bites continue, and reentry
From "Too Much of a Good Thing? Dilemmas of an Information
Society" by Donald N. Michael, in _Technological Forecasting
and Social Change_, 25, 347-354, 1984.
CONFERENCE ON MY CALENDAR
April 3-6, 2000, Sunset Beach NC. Corning CLEC Forum. I'll be
speaking on April 5. George Gilder, newly freed from the role
of stock-picker to resume his career as technology visionary,
will speak on April 4. I think you need to represent a CLEC
to attend. For more info contact Bob Whitman
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Copyright 2001 by David S. Isenberg
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