Friday, January 28, 2005


This is what Democracy looks like

You've gotta read this from Lessig Blog.


The Palsied Hand

These nuggets, from the famous, recently hit my inbox:

We're ripe for someone to write a volume focused on telecom and unreflective free-market ideology. Working title: "The Palsied Invisible Hand: Economic Ideologues Meet Healthy Commons and other Horrors of Apostasy."

The combination of human nature, expectations, and network economics is a thicket -- one unlikely to be penetrated by the sort of thinking that believed that Eastern European cultures (or those in Arabia) could be summarily 'flash cut' to an alien free-market model after two generations of statism.

Displacing prevailing modes of thought when the evidence discredits them presents, I submit, almost an anthropological challenge. Traditional modes of thinking, under challenge both by technical evolution and, somewhat less visibly, by our broad national decline from postwar predominance (which tends to drive triumphalists into denial), still struggle to escape their cocoon. Much of the resistance must, I think, be understood in terms of human behavior, psychic distress, etc., as well as vested interests/rights in capital.


Used Telco for Sale Cheap

Rumors of AT&T's sale have swirled down Wall Street for years. Scott Moritz,'s intrepid telecom ace, reports:

Though reports by The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times have AT&T and SBC in advanced merger talks, sources familiar with the discussions say nothing is particularly imminent, and that no exclusive allegiances have been created.

One source familiar with BellSouth's discussions with SBC said he "doubted that AT&T and SBC could reach an agreement." He also said that BellSouth was "still very much in discussions with several potential merger candidates."

What would an incumbent local telco want with AT&T? Distance, the IXC's bread and butter commodity, is dead. Minutes from anywhere to anywhere can be bought in bulk for fractions of a penny. The AT&T physical network? No, maybe some of the buildings and rights of way have real estate value. Free cash flow? Check, but for not much longer. Business services expertise? Check, but increasingly it's something that any network-savvy third party can provide -- without the overhead of running an obsolete network. Brand? Once upon a time . . .

Even Kohlberg Kravis Roberts does not appear interested in scrapping AT&T for the value of its piece parts. We live in an era when six good programmers anywhere in the world can create a better service than any of the world's telcos ever produced.
The only entities who see substance in AT&T are those who still cleave to the telco mindset. Even these won't pay much.

Alas. So sad.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


Reliable Source: Martin to Chair FCC

Tim Horan, CIBC analyst, friend and reliable source says it's Martin for FCC Chair. In an email report on CIBC letterhead, Tim says:
Why is Kevin Martin the most likely Chairman?
President Bush rewards loyalty and we believe that Kevin Martin has showed
a lot of loyalty to the President.
• He was one of the first campaign volunteers to work in Florida during the
2000 Presidential voting problems.
• We believe that the White House’s FCC strategy was to prevent the
Democrats from making it a 2004 campaign issue. Kevin Martin’s stance
on UNE-P and other media issues greatly assisted this process.
• Kevin Martin’s wife has strong ties to the White House as an advisor to
the President on economic policy.
Because Commissioner Martin is already on the FCC board he will not have
to go through a potentially embarrassing congressional confirmation
Mr. Martin will probably have the least amount of industry criticism. The
long-distance companies and CLECs have viewed Commissioner Martin
positively in the past. The RBOCs believe that UNE-P is behind them and
would not want to disrupt the process at this point.
Commissioner Martin will probably leave if he is not appointed, meaning that
all three Republican Commissioners will be new creating a lengthy learning
curve from them.

Powell was one of the few smart spots in Washington. We couldn't expect another long tail appointment right away, could we now?


The New York City "Broadband Gap"

Jonathan Bowles, research director of the Center for an Urban Future, a non-partisan policy institute, details the NYC connectivity scene:

. . . there are still several commercial districts across the city—including a handful in Brooklyn—where many businesses still have great difficulty accessing a reliable broadband connection at prices they can afford.

It is virtually impossible to detail the true extent of the broadband gap, since city and state agencies collect scant information about business broadband subscribers. But based on interviews I conducted with numerous business owners, officials at local development corporations, real estate experts and officials at telecom companies, I found that businesses face extremely limited options for obtaining broadband in parts of Red Hook, Sunset Park, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, East New York, Williamsburg and Greenpoint.

In these areas, many businesses are too far from a Verizon central office to qualify for DSL. In other instances, DSL is available but the service is either of extremely poor quality or doesn’t allow the connection speeds that make the service worthwhile. Residential customers around the five boroughs who have problems with DSL almost always can turn to another moderately affordable option: a cable modem broadband connection. And while cable companies are increasingly making their broadband service available for small businesses across the city, they have mostly targeted businesses located in or around residential areas. Cable companies still haven’t extended their infrastructure to many commercial buildings in several of the city’s more isolated industrial neighborhoods.


FTTH in Morristown, Tennessee

Morristown, Tennessee, population 24,965, is building fiber to the home. According to an article in the Knoxville News Sentinel, the city responded to a doubling of commercial cable TV rates by chartering its municipal utility to build a fiber network. Morristown's first customers will come on line in June, 2005. The build will cost $18,000,000, or $720 per person, or $1400 per home. The article says

It makes sense for community utility companies to get into the cable and Internet business because they're already providing the customer service and network maintenance needed to maintain its utility infrastructure, said Michael Bowers, principal at Icon Broadband Technologies, the engineering firm Morristown hired to do a feasibility study on the project,.

"Municipalities that have electric utilities are very much customer-service oriented in the sense that if your power goes out, they're there to repair that kind of thing," he said. "(Broadband) really becomes a utility like they do all the time."
Once again, a tip of the linky hat to Jim Baller


F2C: Freedom to Connect, the latest info

There's a new summary of the speakers and panels we currently expect here.

Here's what the rest of the world is saying about F2C: Freedom to Connect

There's a lot more writing about the Freedom to Connect concept in SMART Letter #96, hot off the metaphorical presses today.

By the way, have you joined the SMART List?


Arrrrgh! Son of "Lather, rinse, repeat."

I know a replicable bug when I see one, and I like the Pulver/Lennon/McCartney dictum that the love you take is equal to the love you make. So when I tried three times to copy text from a certain Web page viewed in Firefox and paste it into email in the Mac's default mail client, and each time Firefox hung, requiring a force-quit, restart, I thought I'd be a good citizen and report it.

So I found bugzilla on the Firefox support page. I created an account - argh. I read the tutorial - arrgh. I entered the information using their guided bug reporting wizard. Then I hit the submit button, and it said "Error, Bugzilla failed due to blah, blah, blah. Submit your bug report to . . . " Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh.

If anybody would like to try to replicate this, try copying the last paragraph on this page.-- a pretty interesting story, btw, and paste it into an email you're creating. (The Firefox auto-copy feature was enabled, dunno if this matters.) Then call up somebody at Mozilla Foundation -- on the conventional, circuit-switched telephone system -- and TELL them.

Monday, January 24, 2005


Quote of Note: Jeff Jarvis on Michael Powell's tenure at FCC

Jeff Jarvis writes:
As critical as I have been -- justifiably -- of Powell, I know that that in his soul of souls, Powell understands the value of the First Amendment. His successor may not.


Costs of FTTH

I was being deliberately simplistic when I said that the cost of FTTH in Lafayette, Louisiana was $1078 per person. Palo Alto, California, muni fiber activist Jeff Hoel writes:

I don't think [$1078 per person is] the right amount . . . If the take rate were 100%, and the cost of things other than passing homes and connecting to homes (e.g., headend costs) were negligible, then you might estimate the cost to pass and connect to your home as $125M/52K, i.e., about $2400.

If the take rate were less than 100%, and if people who wanted to be connected had to pay their fair share of passing homes that didn't yet want to be connected, then your cost would be higher.

Palo Alto's consultants estimated that it would cost $759 to pass a home and $918 to connect to a home. I don't agree with these numbers, but let's use them as an example. If the take rate were 100%, then the cost to pass and connect to a home is $1677. If the take rate were 50%, then the cost to pass two homes and connect to one is $2595. Etc.

What can be said accurately and confidently is that under any reasonable estimate for construction costs and take rates, FTTH can be had for capex in the low thousands per installation.


The commons sine qua non

Those of us who worry about the Creative Commons, and what culture loses when great works are permanently privatized, would do well to pull our heads out of our screens once in awhile.

Energy use practices are jeopardizing the ability of our little blue marble, our habitat, to sustain us. The current Chairman of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), installed at the request of the Bush Administration to replace a World Bank moderate who was saying similar things, says
"Climate change is for real. We have just a small window of opportunity and it is closing rather rapidly. There is not a moment to lose . . . [we have] already reached the level of dangerous concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere . . . We are risking the ability of the human race to survive."
Current IPCC chairman, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, a man who former Vice President Gore called, "the let's drag our feet candidate," called for "very deep" cuts in pollution if humanity is to survive.

The Independent reports
His comments rocked the Bush administration - which immediately tried to slap him down - not least because it put him in his post after Exxon, the major oil company most opposed to international action on global warming, complained that his predecessor was too "aggressive" on the issue.
The article goes on to recount the accumulating evidence, including dying coral reefs, the loss of 20% of ice cap area, etc.

The Independent article concludes:
. . . levels of carbon dioxide (the main cause of global warming) have leapt abruptly over the past two years, suggesting that climate change may be accelerating out of control . . . because of inertia built into the Earth's natural systems, the world was now only experiencing the result of pollution emitted in the 1960s, and much greater effects would occur as the increased pollution of later decades worked its way through.
Thanks to George Woodwell for this.

Sunday, January 23, 2005


Quote of Note: Mike Stagg

"Whoever builds a fiber to the home network is going to have a monopoly - whoever builds it. As a practical matter, I am opposed to monopolies. But I would much rather have a monopoly that I can touch and see and feel and affect, which is [Lafayette, Louisiana municipal utility operator] LUS."

Mike Stagg, co-perpetrator of the Lafayette Pro-fiber blog, quoted here.

Saturday, January 22, 2005


Come to DC for Grokster, stay for F2C

Wow, the end of March is going to be busy in Washington, DC. Boingboing reports that the Supreme Court will, um, entertain oral arguments in MGM v. Grokster on March 29. And, of course, F2C: Freedom to Connect is March 30-31.

Grokster is important. The Supreme Court might well overturn our right to use copying technology, which was affirmed in 1984 by that Court's Betamax decision.

Friday, January 21, 2005


Powell quits FCC!

We're losing a true frienemy . . .


Looking for gigs Down Under

I've been invited to Australia at the end of July, but I can't go unless I can find a couple other reasons to go. Spell that rea$ons. I just can't be out of the office and income-less that long unless . . . any ideas anybody?


Rumors of Truce in Battle of Lafayette

This article from Jim Baller, is way interesting for several reasons.

First, it looks like Cox and BellSouth might sense that their opposition to Lafayette, Louisiana's municipal utility system to build fiber to the home is a losing cause. The national attention from Leslie Cauley's USA Today article, and the following USA Today editorial supporting Lafayette's initiative seems to have helped. The current article quotes BellSouth Louisiana President Bill Oliver saying, “I think when grown people sit down and talk that all things are possible."

Second, how about this!
Local BellSouth representative John Williams says the company recently sent out a memo requesting that their employees no longer take company time to solicit signatures for a petition to hold a public vote on the LUS issue.
Hmmm. Company time.

Third, already some customer owned network action is starting:
Lafayette Utilities System’s existing fiber optic loop is now allowing its wholesale partners to expand into the telephone market. Hamilton Medical Group, which consists of 18 physicians over six different specialties, has just launched a new internal communications network that carries voice over Internet protocol phone service through LUS’ fiber.
Fourth, I have one friend in Lafayette, Biker Bob Guilbeau, owner of world famous Prejean's cajun restaurant. The article cites project engineer Kirk Guilbeau for finding a way to make the above VOIP phone service possible. Any relation? [Update: Biker Bob says he doesn't know Kirk, but all Guilbeaus in the U.S. are "coozans."]

Finally, the price tag on the project is $125 million. The population of Lafayette is 116,000. That's $1077.59 per person. Would you pay $1100 once to have fiber in your town forever after? N.O.B.R.A.I.N.E.R.


Riverbend makes war's effects personal

She's such a good writer. Reading Riverbend is like hearing from an old friend -- one who is going through some very hard times . . .
Now we're being 'officially' told that the weapons never existed. After Iraq has been devastated, we're told it's a mistake. You look around Baghdad and it is heart-breaking. The streets are ravaged, the sky is a bizarre grayish-bluish color- a combination of smoke from fires and weapons and smog from cars and generators. There is an endless wall that seems to suddenly emerge in certain areas to protect the Green Zoners... There is common look to the people on the streets- under the masks of fear, anger and suspicion, there's also a haunting look of uncertainty and indecision. Where is the country going? How long will it take for things to even have some vague semblance of normality? When will we ever feel safe?
Terror isn't just worrying about a plane hitting a skyscraper…terrorism is being caught in traffic and hearing the crack of an AK-47 a few meters away because the National Guard want to let an American humvee or Iraqi official through. Terror is watching your house being raided and knowing that the silliest thing might get you dragged away to Abu Ghraib where soldiers can torture, beat and kill. Terror is that first moment after a series of machine-gun shots, when you lift your head frantically to make sure your loved ones are still in one piece. Terror is trying to pick the shards of glass resulting from a nearby explosion out of the living-room couch and trying not to imagine what would have happened if a person had been sitting there.
. . . as long as I don't think about the fact that my country is the proximal source of her hard times.

[Note to potential critical commentators who seem to come whenever I quote Riverbend: if your comments feel slimy to me I will delete them. Disagreement is OK but slime is not. Some evidence you're a regular reader, not a trolling Riverbend basher, would help. If you'd like some guidelines, check here, but even this is not a complete taxonomy. In the end, it is my blog and I'll decide. If it feels slimy it goes. -- David I]

Wednesday, January 19, 2005


Speaking of Orwell again

Ben Smith (the cartoonist himself) points out that this is an even more recent toon from Fighting Words' "Orwell Period"

Science fiction writer Bruce Sterling correctly calls the current U.S. political attitude towards science Lysenkoism.


Voter registration weirdness

updated 1/20/05

My wife and I each got an official letter from the town Registrar of Voters today. On the envelope it says, "DO NOT RISK YOUR RIGHT TO VOTE." Inside it has a very formal form to fill out in English or Spanish. The header says, "NOTICE OF CANVASS IMPORTANT! THIS CONCERNS YOUR RIGHT TO VOTE."

If there's no change, you check a box labeled, "My residence is at the address shown above." It doesn't say, "No change," or "My address is correct." The rest of the form is similarly indirect, obtuse and might be seen as carrying an implied threat.

Who do you think might look at this form and say, "Woah! I'm not filling this out."? Some people who absolutely, totally qualify to vote might be discouraged by such language. Pre-election, I heard one of the Fox News talking heads describe such people as "marginal voters." Lessee, wrong gender? Don't own property? Skin too dark? Can't read the fine print? Confused by deliberately confusing ballots? Need to go to work so you don't have time to wait in a long voting line? Have the same name as a possible felon? You are probably a MARGINAL VOTER!

If we don't fill out the form just so, are we marginal voters too? Come to think of it, there is an implied threat in there.


DSL: DC First, Delaware last

This story, from Jim Baller, complains that Delaware has fewer DSL lines than anywhere in the U.S. Even Mississippi has more DSL per capita (18 per thousand) than Delaware (13 per thousand).
Here's the DSL numbers (DSL per thousand) from the article.
District of Columbia 80
California 65
Georgia 61
Connecticut 58
Florida 53
Washington 48
Illinois 46
Colorado 44
Texas 41
Missouri 41
U.S. average 40
Delaware 13

Presumably these are the top ten, then the U.S. average, then Delaware. (anybody know how to do tables in Blogger?)

OK, Delaware, you can do this yourself! I know you are tired of small state jokes, but wouldn't about six WiFi hotspots cover the state?


Announcing F2C: Freedom to Connect

If you liked WTF, you'll want to check
into F2C: Freedom to Connect

F2C is face-to-face

We need sponsors, attendees and speakers.

Speakers, please write and make your case.
In addition to relevance, we most prefer
demos, then debates, then panels, then talks.

Stay tuned to this developing story.


The People Who Owned the Bible

. . . Jimmy Joe Jenkins's DNA proved he was the primary descendent of the translators of the King James Version of the Bible . . . Some translators claimed their work was based on older versions and should therefore be exempt, but none of them could afford to fight Jimmy in court . . . the churches grumbled and paid Jimmy his tithe, except for the Mormons, Christian Scientists, Seventh Day Adventists, Quakers, and Unitarian Universalists. Jimmy said their teachings hurt the commercial value of his property and refused to let them use the Bible. All of those groups dissolved, except for the Unitarian Universalists, who didn't notice a change . . . [then] Congress extended copyright for an additional two thousand years, and the WIPO followed their example. Jimmy had to pay every dollar he had made to the Catholic Church . . .

Link thanks to Technology Liberation Front

Tuesday, January 18, 2005


Speaking of Orwell

Ben Smith, perpetrator of Fighting Words Comics has a whole series of Orwell/1984 cartoons; here's the most recent one (#7):
Reprinted by permission of 'toonist. Thanks, Ben.


Orwell was just a few years ahead of his time

Security expert Bruce Schneier, writing in Dave Farber's IP list, points to Students for Orwell. The web page has an excellent list of real stories to document how War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength.

Monday, January 17, 2005


Million Dollar Baby

Went to see Million Dollar Baby the other night. It is flawless. Hilary Swank and Clint Eastwood are giants.


The rewards of Prosultingsm

As a Prosultantsm. I take jobs as much for love as for money. Sometimes client companies change, and their new people don't understand. With my heart on my sleeve it can hurt. Fortunately, a slave with many masters is a free man. And fortunately, sometimes I get letters like this:
Dear Mr Isen;


It is not often that I am compelled to write to someone to thank them for taking the time to contribute toward a publication, but I must certainly say that I was thoroughly impressed, and in complete agreement with
the answers you provided in the 20/20 section of the most recent Telcommunications Magazine.

A long time ago, when Mr. Gary Kim was editor of Phone+, he wrote an aricle called "near zero pricing and the demise of the long distance company". I am sure that it sent shivers up the spines of many of my colleagues, and his, but he was (a) honest, and (b) correct in his assesment of the industry. My company saw that as the writing on the wall and got out of the Long distance industry, into another segment of the business entirely. [Gary Kim, clearly one of the good guys, now honchos
Fat Pipe -- David I]

While I am not sure how many people, with their ego- and mono-dimensional-driven methods of operating their current communications companies, will take heed to the particulars of your contributions toward the editorial, I think they better had.

You are absolutely right when you wrote, "... makes it into just another app on a dollar-a-day network"... boy, you sure nailed that on the head - a sleepless night for anyone who understands the implications of the testament to the future upon which you reflect... Although in reading the other articles, I don't think that people quite "get it."

Thank you, once again, for your insightful and HONEST essay that you contibuted. You're quite clearly a visionary, even if it is certainly not the popular approach within the industry that likes to stick its' head in the ground and hide from the continued oncoming onslaught of hyper-commoditization.

Aaron Woolfson
President, TelSwitch Inc.

TelSwitch seems from its Website to do shrink-wrap or turn-key third party Operations Support System software aimed at "lite" network operators like small CLECs, enterprises and owner-users. No wonder Woolfson totally gets what I'm saying; he's probably already there.

On every post that uses "Prosultin
g" or "Prosultant" a lawyer once advised me to say:
"Prosulting" and "Prosultant" are service marks of, LLC.
I'd like to change this, so people who act as Prosultants can use the term more easily. I'd like them to be able to do so without diluting it as a brand. None of the Creative Commons licenses seem to address trade and service marks, which are different in important ways from works of authorship. Anybody have any ideas?

Sunday, January 16, 2005


A Changing Fast Suddenly

Gary Chernipeski writes:
I just bought a local phone number [from] in three Canadian cities (Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver) with unlimited long-distance and local calling in those cities for Canada and the USA at approx $50/month that delivers calls to and makes calls from a LinkSys router with a RJ-15 POTS port which accepts any POTS telephone.

The box uses 50k of my Internet bandwidth during calls. (I get in excess of 800k here for $30/month from the cable provider). So far (because of the small northern town I work in) the sound quality is better than both my cell phone and the local phone service. In other words, the QOS on the VOIP unit is better than the local phone company is providing.

Things are a changin fast suddenly.
Gary doesn't use Skype because most of his friends are (a) not computer geeks and (b) reachable on a 7-digit dialing plan. Nevertheless, "a changing fast suddenly" still applies.


Picasso or preschool?

Telecommunications Magazine's first issue of 2005 was called Painting Telecom's Future Network. It asked
If you could paint a picture of the network of the future, what would it look like? . . . We asked that question to a dozen of the industry’s visionaries — people that are shaping those networks of the future. Were their answers Picasso or Preschool?
I was honored to be chosen as one of Telecommunications Magazine's dozen visionaries. Editor Sue O'Keefe's deft rendition of the slapdash prose I sent her sounds more lucid than I coulda done myself:

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


Intel supports Muni Broadband!

With municipal broadband efforts under attack in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Louisiana and elsewhere, Intel is throwing its weight behind muni initiatives. This article says
In a speech [today?] at the Wireless Communications Association in San Jose, Calif., Intel Executive Vice President Sean Maloney is expected to encourage commercial service providers and public agencies such as city governments and municipalities to work together in building out new broadband infrastructure.
In the same article, a source close to Intel says,
"Sole responsibility, either from government or a single carrier, of a city's wireless network is not the best solution for growing the market . . . A sharing of responsibilities is what will encourage broadband adoption, and that will be a key point in Intel's policy proposal."
This is big news. Cisco, Microsoft and other equipment makers should take note!

via Jim Baller!


Quote of Note: Les Vadasz

On Dave Farber's IP List, Les Vadasz writes:

. . . [The United States] did not get where we are by making excuses for difficult tasks. On the contrary. It was by creating opportunities that solved problems. That has differentiated us from the rest of the world.

We are not doing that in broadband deployment, and it will bite us. There will be an economic price to pay that will affect our standard of living. The negative imacts will come in some doses, and it will be hard to measure. The cumulative impact can be huge.

Les was Intel's third employee and towards the end of his Intel career, he headed Intel Capital, the largest venture capital fund in world history. Now Les is retired, so he has time for things like reading Dave Farber's IP List.


Saturday, January 08, 2005


Modern Day Communist

So Bill Gates calls us creative commons types Modern Day Communists.

Reminds me of the time my fifth grade teacher called me and my friend Kenny Communists because we weren't standing in a straight enough line. Petty.

Microsoft dominates the edge but kowtows towards the center. If the Microsoft edge were not only smart but also wise, Microsoft might have been a company we all looked up to, a company that did the right thing instead of the rich thing, a company we could love. I know Bill Gates has a sense of shame, albeit well hidden, and that he can change. Would building a great, wise, lovable company be sufficient incentive? Or is money the only valid measure of Gates' success?


Zipf's Law made real, and fun too.

Wordcount is a visual representation of how often the words of English are used. Very cool.

Thanks danah! (doesn't she come up with the most interesting sites?)


A Dan Gillmor pearl

The last sentences of this post are precious:
Bill Gates knows that markets fail. That why he's putting so much money into his philanthropy to help improve public health, especially in the developing world where markets have not worked. I greatly admire his commitment in that area.

Friday, January 07, 2005


Another 9-1-1 story

At CES the other day, one of the speakers in Jeff Pulver's Consumer VOIP Summit told this story:

He and his wife were home and their house was broken into. They heard the burglar downstairs.
He called 9-1-1 and seconds later his wife hit the panic button on their home security system.
The home security system seized the line, cutting off the 9-1-1 call to dial the alarm company.
Plus it triggered sirens and lights . . . and the burglar apparently fled.

But the 9-1-1 PSAP trapped the Caller ID, and seconds later the PSAP attendant called back.

Another "false alarm" -- in that the problem had resolved without the call.

Also bad engineering on the part of the alarm company. And bad coordination between
the two "defenders."

This was another one of those emergencies that is perfect for 9-1-1. And to a first approximation,
the system "worked." But not well.

The burglar had been chased away by the time the 9-1-1 operator called back.

Also, it is easy to imagine the situation going downhill fast -- the call might have further panicked
the burglar, hostages, sirens, stand-off, etc.

Isn't there a better way? Aren't there better ways?


I just dialed 9-1-1!

Returning home from an errand just now, I came upon a car crash that had just happened.

At a busy intersection, a man was sitting in a red convertible with a smashed side. It was up on the grass pointed in the wrong direction. Around the corner, a woman was standing by a big old Lincoln, also smashed.

I jumped out and asked the man if he was OK. He said, "I think so," and reached for his leg. "Don't move," I said. (I saw on TV how you're supposed to tell accident victims, "Don't move.")

"Has anybody called the cops?" I asked. "No," he said. So I whipped out my cell and dialed 9-1-1. I told them, "Auto accident with possible injuries. In Cos Cob, Connecticut." I was careful to e-nun-ci-ate Connecticut because my cell phone has a New Jersey area code and I don't know where the 911 Public Service Access Point (PSAP) operator might be.

"City streets or Interstate 95?" asked the attendant. "City streets," I said. "Transferring you to Greenwich Emergency," he said.

I knew that the next voice would have local knowledge. But while I was saying, "Corner of Mead and Route 1," I heard the first siren. And then he said, "We've already got it, they're on their way," as the ambulance pulled up and two police cars blazed in from different directions.

So somebody else had called already. And good for them.

I wonder how many redundant phone calls an accident like that generates. And what each of those calls costs.
(And, of course, there's a trade-off. I can imagine an emergency system with such high calling barriers that nobody
calls in a real emergency.)

This kind of accident is exactly the kind of situation that the 9-1-1 system was designed for, but it still didn't work optimally. The system worked just fine, but still didn't . . .

We're not even talking about a tsunami or a September 11-type situation or a tornado or a flood or an electrical outage or . . .


Torture with a fountain pen

Yesterday on TV, the talking heads were blithering about the Alberto Gonzalez hearing. They were debating whether or not the Geneva Convention applies to the people in Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and other more secret U.S. dungeons. That is, is it OK to torture them?

It says in black and white in The Geneva Convention (Blogrolled on your right):
Article 4:
A. Prisoners of war, in the sense of the present Convention, are persons belonging to one of the following categories, who have fallen into the power of the enemy:
1. Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces.
So what part of "militias or volunteer corps" doesn't Alberto Gonzalez understand?

The Geneva Convention continues:
Should any doubt arise as to whether persons, having committed a belligerent act and having fallen into the hands of the enemy, belong to any of the categories enumerated in Article 4, such persons shall enjoy the protection of the present Convention until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal.
All of the above assumes that the prisoners of U.S. dungeons are, indeed, active enemies. Non-participating civilians, up to 90% of the Abu Ghraib detainees by one account, are subject to a higher standard.

"Some will rob you with a six-gun and some with a fountain pen," wrote Woody Guthrie.
Alberto Gonzalez is torturing with a fountain pen.

The pain resulting directly from Alberto Gonzalez words -- which stretch the Geneva Convention
beyond recognition -- is real. The screams are real. The devastated lives are real.

No torture. No torture. No torture.
No torturer for U.S. Attorney General.

Thursday, January 06, 2005


Indian Ocean Info-disaster

Kevin Maney points out in USA Today that the Indian Ocean Tsunami surely would have been less deadly if the information had jumped the old hierarchical, official channels. He writes
With plenty of time to save thousands of lives, seismologists working in Hawaii, Harvard University, Australia and Thailand . . . tried calling officials in affected countries but didn't have the right phone numbers, or no one picked up.

Charles McCreery, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's center in Honolulu, told Reuters: "We don't have contacts in our address book for anybody in that part of the world."

Phone calls! Address books! How sad is that? Even if somebody answers, telephones are one-to-one communication — a terrible waste of time in an emergency.
Finland -- a couple days late -- found one way to spread the word. Maney writes:

Days after the tsunami, Finnish mobile phone providers agreed to broadcast a text message that hit every Finland-registered cell phone in Thailand (about 6,000). The message contained information about two evacuation centers for Finnish citizens. Finland then did the same in Sri Lanka.

"As a result of these improvisations, we now have a system in place that enables us to issue a warning to customers of Finnish mobile operators in any region of the world with 30 minutes' notice," [a Finnish official] says.
Kevin adds his voice to a growing chorus of calls (a few of which are aggregated here) for alternate warning plans.

Meanwhile, in dictatorial Myanmar, aka Burma, (where it is illegal to own an unregistered modem) the official attitude is, "No disaster here, nothing to look at, move along folks." Ethan Zuckerman documents this info-travesty.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005


The Battle of Lafayette, Louisiana

The battle for Lafayette's Fiber to the Home network focusses the issues nicely. Public utility authority, Lafayette Utilities System wants to build FTTH to serve every neighborhood of the city. The incumbent cable system (Cox) and the incumbent telco (BellSouth) want to make money, so they'd like to focus on the 20% of the city's customers that will create 80% of the revenue.

The telco/cableco incumbents cry foul. They say that a city's ability to raise tax free municipal bonds gives munis an unfair "anti-competitive" advantage.
"The reason that we oppose LUS doing that is the approach of using taxpayer dollars to go into competition with private industry," says Danny Wilson, regional director for BellSouth. He says that BellSouth's prices are competitive and adds, "We want to compete with anybody. We will compete with anybody." Link
Should a government, especially a government "of, by and for the people," have the right to say what sectors of its community should be served?

Assume the answer is Yes. Then that government must either dictate to telcos and cablecos where it should build, or it must build the network itself. Assuming the answer is Yes, are there any other alternatives? (Honest question, feedback, please!) But if the answer is yes, then the cablecos and telcos cry, "deregulation" in the first case and "anti-competitive" in the second case.

Assume the answer is No. Now we know who's making the decisions, and it ain't the "of, by and for" people. Certain areas are underserved, the poor ones and the ones that it is expensive to serve. So the town incurs penalties like having two classes of schools, wired and unwired, and two kinds of neighborhoods. The circle could well become vicious; for example, which neighborhood do new jobs gravitate towards?

Now there's a pro-LUS blog and an anti-LUS blog (with links to the Progress and Freedom Foundation for the Preservation of ILECs).

You can BET there'll be lots more on this. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


USA Today on U.S. Broadband Wars

A pretty good article by Leslie Cauley in USA Today today (hear here) outlines some of the reasons why the U.S. is falling behind the rest of the world in broadband. She covers the Philadelphia story and the heroic struggle of Lafayette, Louisiana against BellSouth and Cox to build municipal fiber. She writes:
Just a few years ago, the Bells had pledged to run fiber straight to homes. In return, they wanted the FCC to rule that they didn't have to lease their fiber to rivals who could then turn around and use it to deliver competing services.

Their request went to the heart of U.S. telecom policy. That policy has long been based on the notion that the Bells were obliged to share their networks with all comers.

The rationale owed to the history of the Bells. Their networks were built over the course of a century using monopoly ratepayer money. Like the U.S. highways, the Bell networks have been regarded as a unique infrastructure that had to be open to others on terms that were fair.

But in 2004, in a nod to the changing nature of telecom, the FCC granted the Bells' request. That concession paved the way for the Bells to deploy fiber to homes.

That's when the foot-dragging began.

Instead of taking fiber to the home, BellSouth asked if it was OK to just take fiber to the neighborhood, relying on its existing copper for the final run from the curb to the house. But it still wanted to be free of the sharing obligation.

The FCC said OK. The agency noted that the Bells didn't need to let rivals use any line that wasn't set up for traditional phone service.

That led SBC to up the ante. Its argument: If it was OK to take fiber just to the neighborhood and not share it, then surely it was OK to take it just to the "node" and not share.
The article is marred by some unnecessarily erroneous descriptions of technology. "The node," for example is described as, "the stretch of copper between a central switching office and a home or business." But it is a pretty good summary of the recent action -- and its historical context.

Meanwhile, I wonder how long it will take people to notice China's IPv6 leadership. Korea, Hong Kong, Canada -- fuggedaboudit! China's ahead now.

Monday, January 03, 2005


China becomes IPv6 "First mover"

China turned up its nationwide IPv6 network last week.
"We were a learner and follower in the development of the first generation Internet, but we have caught up with world's leaders in the next-generation Internet, become a first mover, and won respect and attention from the international community," said Wu Jianping, director of the expert committee of the China Education and Research Network (CERNET) and a mastermind in the development of the next-generation Internet in China.
In the current Internet based on IPv4 technology, the United States controls 74 per cent of 4 billion IP addresses, while the amount that China has is only equal to a campus of the University of California, despite its 80 million Internet users . . . [but] . . . if an IPv4 address has a weight of one gram, the weight of all IPv4 addresses is one 76th of the Empire State Building in New York, but the weight of all IPv6 addresses will be equal to the 56 times that of the earth.
Kinda puts a new spin on "Internet governance," huh?

Link -- thanks to Bill St. Arnaud for the pointer.


How societies make disastrous decisions

Jared Diamond's op-ed for the New York Times over the weekend reminded me of another, more detailed piece that appeared on the Edge website in March 2003.

In that essay, Diamond outlines four simple reasons why societies make disastrous decisions:

He further dissects this list.

Reasons for failure to anticipate the problem include:

Reasons for failing to perceive a problem that has actually arrived include:

Reasons for failure to try to solve a problem that has been perceived are divided into "rational and "irrational" reasons, where "rational" and "irrational" are used in the economic sense. "Rational" reasons include:

"irrational" reasons include:

Reasons for failure to succeed in solving a problem that one does try to solve

Diamond concludes his March 2003 essay by saying:
All this may sound pessimistic, as if failure is the rule in human decision-making. In fact, of course that is not the case, in the environmental area as in business, academia, and other groups. Many human societies have anticipated, perceived, tried to solve, or succeeded in solving their environmental problems. For example, the Inca Empire, New Guinea Highlanders, 18th-century Japan, 19th-century Germany, and the paramount chiefdom of Tonga all recognized the risks that they faced from deforestation, and all adopted successful reforestation or forest management policies.

Thus, my reason for discussing failures of human decision-making is not my desire to depress you. Instead, I hope that, by recognizing the sign posts of failed decision making, we may become more consciously aware of how others have failed, and of what we need to do in order to get it right.
There are lessons for telecom policy here, I am certain.

Sunday, January 02, 2005


The neighbors are home safe and sound!

They were on the east coast of Thailand, which was unaffected by the tsunami and earthquake. Whew.


An FCC wish for the New Year

Dave Hughes, writing on the Cybertelecom list (and edited by me):

Hell yes, I have an FCC wish [for 2005]! I want the FCC to ALLOW schools and libraries to use the allocated $2.2 Billion a Year to buy and own digital wireless DEVICES and not be compelled to buy SERVICES from telcos or anybody else. Old Man Year Hundt, Kinnard, nor Powell seemed ever to GET IT! So how about the 2005 Baby FCC Brains get newly born to wake up to that perpetual, costly, stupid mistake made back in 1996.

NOBODY has EVER given me a cogent legal, economic, or regulatory reason why that rule has to remain fixed in concrete.
Here's a reason, Dave; to protect the poor ILECs from their REAL competition, User-Owned Networks.

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