Saturday, October 28, 2006


Further update on Dutch Parliament vote

Dirk van der Woude, bearer of the original news of the two Dutch Parliament resolutions writes,

On the intentions of the resolutions prime sponsor Martijn van Dam (born in Zoetermeer, 1 february 1978) is quite clear in his blog.
"These two resolutions must prevent that the telecom market develops itself further into a duopoly. When things go on like this the consumer ends up with a choice between KPN and cable. That's no market, that does not serve consumers. So we need more competition. These resolutions are helping, when executed. Maybe we 'll have difficult discussions with Brussels, but they ought to give us space to take these measures (there is no other member state where cable penetration is so high). That is the reason I morfe than a year ago proposed these resolutions and started negotiations with [leading government party] CDA to get their support. And I succeeded! It will take some time, but I do hope now that at last this is the decisive step towards competition on the MSO cable as well as honest competition in the telecom market. A step that we [PvdA] already wanted for many years.
(this is a translation of [the words in Martijn's blog "Deze twee moties moeten voorkomen (...) Een stap die wij al vele jaren willen zetten!")

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Alfred Kahn on Network Neutrality

UPDATE: The Kahn comment disappeared for about a day, and now it is back, but with non-standard html characters that indicate it was revised using Word (or similar). I do not know the details of its revision because I did not save the original. Hmmmm.

I've had the great good fortune to meet the man who guided the deregulation of the airlines and the trucking industry, Alfred Kahn, at the Silicon Flatirons Broadband Migration Conference last year and the year before. Thanking him for my $357 NYC-DEN-NYC plane ticket -- which included free first class upgrades in both directions -- was one of the highlights of my life.

Now Kahn has a long comment on Network Neutrality appended to Patrick Ross' otherwise predictable posting on Bill Kennard's recent op-ed on the Progress & Freedom Foundation blog.

Unfortunately, Kahn doesn't think much of Network Neutrality or its advocates. To open, he does a pretty good job of painting pro-NN people as kooks; in his first paragraph he's mustered up some of the most extreme hyperbole to form a "fair composite quote," on where he thinks the advocates of NN stand.

But Kahn is so distinguished, and he's created so much public good, that I am willing to suck in my pride and try hard to give him the benefit of the doubt. That said, I think he is confused on several key points. I observe that the airline and trucking industries that he deregulated were (a) well established industries in a very mature phase of development and (b) riding on public infrastructures, to wit, the airport and air-traffic-control systems and the roads, respectively.

Kahn begins by saying that competition, even duopolistic competition, works pretty well. He points out that 97 percent of the population has at least three providers competing for its business, and he is right as far as it goes -- he does not seem to distinguish between cable TV, landline telephony, mobile telephony and Internet service. Certainly 97 percent of the US public can give its money to as many as three companies at the same time for some kind of telecommunications service. Unfortunately, 97% of the US public does not have access to three broadband Internet access providers. That number, generously construed, is somewhere in the neighborhood of 30%. If we're talking Internet neutrality, then competition in Internet access should be the parameter we measure.

Then Kahn makes an interesting claim. He says
the most promising intensification of that competition is the tens of billions of dollars that the phone companies themselves are spending converting copper to fiber, which will enable them to offer video programming pervasively in direct competition with the cable companies.
Perhaps. But perhaps the investment in fiber might be simply for lowering operating expense. Remember Bell Atlantic CEO Ray Smith's early-1990s claim, "Fiber beats copper on truck-rolls alone." Or maybe the telcos' fiber push is anti-competitive, to ride the fiber-access exemption of the FCC's 2003 triennial order to exclude other Internet providers from their facilities. Or maybe, as one of my colleagues is fond of saying, what we're seeing is "Fiber to the Press Release." We shall see presently whether video programming competition develops. The Bells are notoriously bad at entering new businesses, and fiber by itself does not automatically mean cable TV competition.

Kahn emphatically points out that the FCC stepped in when Madison River Communications blocked Vonage VOIP service and says,
It is unthinkable that the regulatory or antitrust agencies would not strike down any other such discrimination by the telephone or cable companies against competing providers of content in favor of their own.

So what is Kahn's problem with a law prohibiting the unthinkable? After all, we're a nation of laws, not of humans. That's the theory, anyhow. I merely observe that the "unthinkable" of one FCC chairman can become standard operating procedure to another.

Then Kahn says
Newspapers charge advertisers for access to their readers—more for big ads than small ones— television and cable companies charge similarly for access to their audiences; and the charges vary widely depending upon the anticipated size of the audience. Why is that any different from the proposed additional fees for guarantees of the unusually rapid rates of transmission . . .
The difference lies in the fact that underneath the newspaper is an infrastructure of roads that allows the newspaper and other competitive newspapers to be delivered without discrimination. Undergirding television there is the public spectrum, and underneath the cable is the public right of way. These public infrastructures remain regulated for the public good. Indeed, when Kahn deregulated the airlines, the airports and the air traffic control system remained public. When Kahn deregulated trucking, the roads remained public. The Internet, that system of packet protocols that allows any network to inter-network with any other network, and the physical means that undergird it, are similar public infrastructures -- it should not be confused with the applications that ride upon it.

Another claim Kahn makes I heartily agree with. He writes:
If Google and eBay depend upon the telephone and cable companies for reaching their audiences, that dependence is mutual: what would happen to the willingness of subscribers to sign up for DSL or cable modem service if one or the other of those suppliers decided not to carry Google or eBay?

Bada-boom. Absolutely correct. If my cableco's Internet access didn't let me reach Google, I'd switch. No doubt. Unless, of course, my cableco was the only way I could get fast Internet access. Or maybe I'd have two providers of fast Internet access, one of which decided not to carry Google, while the other one didn't connect to Amazon and the New York Times -- then what would I choose?

Finally, with Kahn's long history of spurring competition in mature businesses, he does not once turn his commentary to the matter of innovative new business facing a discriminatory system of tiered prices. Indeed, Google and Verizon might agree that the two must have each other for either to succeed, but what about a nascent business with no market power and few demonstrable customers, a business like YouTube in early 2005, for example? Will Verizon (and every other Internet access provider in the world with customers that might want to sample the nascent business's wares) be free to demand a fee for these wares to be optimally rendered? I hope not.

I'm looking forward to meeting Alfred Kahn at next year's Broadband Migration Conference and asking him about all of this in person. He's a delightful person and an intellectual giant in his field, and I look forward to learning from him where I'm wrong.

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Update on Netherlands story

"Ton," who I don't know but who seems to have a handle on the Dutch situation, points out in comments on my previous posting,
a) The Dutch Parliament's voted 148/150 in favor of the first resolution (structural separation) and 150/150 for the second.
b) In response to my query asking why Parliament *invites* the Dutch government to draft these laws, Ton writes,
Invitation is just the polite way of saying 'strongly demanding' and 'instructing'. Both the cabinet as well as the parliament can initiate laws. When parliament does that it tells the government to draft the law, or proposes a draf itself. The former is called 'inviatation' In this case parliament instructed the cabinet to start drafting two laws. If the cabinet ignores it they can do so only at great political cost (including the fall of government) unless they can explain very convincingly why they did so. There is nothing optional about an 'invitation'.

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Friday, October 27, 2006


Netherlands resolves for Structural Separation

The Dutch Parliament this week passed two resolutions regarding communications infrastructure. The first
invites the government to propose within a year to parliament for changes in the Telecommunication law, by which the markets for infrastructure and services will strictly be divided by the introduction of a standing charge model as well as the prohibition of the conditional sale of network and services.
The second
invites the government to to propose within a year to parliament for a change in the Telecommunication law, leading to mandatory, open, non discriminatory access to all networks for all service providers.
This story, from Dirk van der Woude, a Dutch citizen and very knowledgeable observer, says both votes were unanimous. This story, from the International Herald Tribune, and several others too, says the resolutions passed by "a large majority."

I don't know how the legislative process works in the Netherlands. What's this about Parliament "inviting" the government to propose laws?

All the articles, including the AP's and this one from TeleGeography, seem to indicate that the European Commission will have a say, too, before the law goes into effect.

The first resolution is especially important to the US because, in my opinion, the only sustainable way to have enforceable network neutrality is to give force of law to the separation between operating the network and operating the services that the network carries. Otherwise, the temptation to gain advantage (.pdf) by tying certain services to the network is so great that US telcos and cablecos are spending an estimated $1.5 million per week to lobby for the privilege. And, unless there's clear and forceful separation, as per the Dutch resolution above, US telcos and cablecos will spend more lobbying, litigating and legislating against any compromise language about treating different applications differently, or about "deliberate" or "anti-competitive" discrimination.

The network carrier should be prohibited legally from knowing or caring what's carried on network -- the Dutch Parliament has proposed one way to do it.

I know that the de jure "standing charge" provision in Resolution #1 will draw the wrath of the market pricing folks. I am sympathetic. I'd prefer to simply mandate separation, and make it illegal for network operators to have any financial interest in service providing entities.

Thanks to Gordon Cook, without whom this news from the Netherlands might never have reached the US.

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US Freedom of the Press tanks

Forget broadband penetration. The US has sunk to 53rd on the Reporters Without Borders measure of Freedom of the Press.The US was 17th in 2002, the first year of the measure, and it slipped nine places in the last year.

Japan, at 51, fell 14 places last year, even further than the US.

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A Hint for Sprint

Sprint lost 188,000 customers on annual plans in Q3. It's Average Revenue per user dropped 5.5%. Analysts blame Sprint's handling of Nextel customers, but my experience holds a different story.

I was a high-value Sprint customer for eight years, but I switched carriers when I lost my phone. I was shocked to find that store-front Sprint dealers were not authorized to give me a good deal on a replacement phone. I was dismayed that Sprint Customer Service didn't offer to fedex me a free or cheap phone overnight.

I wonder how many people lose their phone each year, or take it for an unintentional swim, or otherwise wreck their handphone. I betcha it's a major cause of churn.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Brodsky on Kennard on Net Neutrality

Art Brodsky, of Public Knowledge, gives yet another perspective on Kennard's NYT Op-Ed. He writes:
As the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) during the Clinton Administration, Bill Kennard often tried to do the right thing in the face of daunting odds. That’s why it was tremendously disappointing to see him on the pages of the New York Times taking a swipe at Net Neutrality.
Brodsky continues

. . . what makes Net Neutrality so important [is that] If network operators, including that $2 billion-a-quarter profit machine AT&T, can dictate the terms of the last mile to application and service providers, then affordable broadband will be rendered meaningless.
Exactly. If you specify broadband without saying Internet . . . well, digital TV is the only non-Internet broadband service those innovative network operators have come up with so far.

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Monday, October 23, 2006


Fighting Words on Network Neutrality

Reprinted thanks to 'toonist Ben Smith.

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Picture > 1k Words


Quote of Note: Nick Carr

"By putting the means of production into the hands of the masses but withholding from those same masses any ownership over the product of their work, Web 2.0 provides an incredibly efficient mechanism to harvest the economic value of the free labor provided by the very, very many and concentrate it into the hands of the very, very few."

Nicholas Carr, in his blog [link].

I am not sure if I agree. See Lessig's reply to Carr's posting.

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Edelman, Walmart and Weinberger

I used to buy the Walmart PR about using IT to take the cost out of transactions, but then the wool came off my eyes -- they were taking costs out of the hide of their employees too -- when I watched the Robert Greenwald's Movie on it. Several contemporaneous news stories reinforced this impression. So I had major cognitive dissonance when my friend David Weinberger revealed he was involved with Walmart's PR agency, Edelman. I wanted to think good of Edelman and Weinberger, but their relationship with WalMart made me feel anxious and unresolved. Now, I am gratified to see that Weinberger is struggling with his relationship with Edelman over the WalMart issue. I empathize with Weinberger's angst. But I'm glad he's struggling with it.

Meanwhile, I wish David Weinberger would tell us who, specifically, he thinks is "foaming at the mouth partisan" in the network neutrality debate! I asked him directly who, on any side, he thinks is foaming at the mouth, and he could not name a single person. Without such specifics, remarks like this tend to minimize the entire network neutrality debate.

[Disclosure: I have a lot invested in my friendship with Weinberger, and I greedily want the value of my investment to rise.]

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Sunday, October 22, 2006


Bill Kennard misses the cluetrain

UPDATE: Tim Karr, in the savetheinternet blog, writes that if Kennard had acted more forcefully from the FCC chair, we might not be here now. Karr writes:

Kennard’s argument conveniently ignores the past eight years — under a regulatory regime created in part by Kennard’s decisions . . . Had [the Kennard FCC] explicitly defined broadband as a common carrier (and hence formally subject to nondiscrimination requirements) and had the FCC produce an iron clad record to support that position, it is quite probable that we would never have opened the opportunity for the network operators use Kennard’s loopholes . . .

UPDATE: Lessig replies to Kennard's Op-Ed. A snippet:
. . . there’s something unseemly to me when an FCC Chairman moves to the boards of the companies he used to regulate, and then uses the op-ed page of a paper on whose board he now sits, to argue for the poor by pushing the agenda of the “merely rich.” (How can a paper that obsesses to pretend its most brilliant writers have no opinion of their own not wonder about the weirdness here?)
Back when Bill Kennard chaired the FCC, I asked him whether he was a dynamist or a stasist. (These were Virginia Postrel's terms, from her book, The Future and its Enemies. He and I had just heard Postrel speak at Vortex.) It was hip to be a dynamist, it was square to be a stuck-in-the-mud lover of the status quo. But Kennard, unflappable, said, "I'm a regulator so I guess I am a stasist." Fair enough.

Now Kennard is many Internet-years gone from the FCC. Today he's a telecom financier at The Carlyle Group. You'd think he'd spend a little time on the dynamic side of the street. But no. He looks at the Internet-of-the-future and sees television.

Nobody's going to punch his cluetrain ticket for his Op-Ed in yesterday's New York Times. Check out this paragraph:
Unfortunately, the current debate in Washington is over “net neutrality” — that is, should network providers be able to charge some companies special fees for faster bandwidth. This is essentially a battle between the extremely wealthy (Google, Amazon and other high-tech giants, which oppose such a move) and the merely rich (the telephone and cable industries).
The fight is not between, "the extremely wealthy . . . and the merely rich," it is between us, who want to choose how we use our Internet connection and Internet providers like Verizon, Comcast and at&t, who want to choose for us.

Let me explain where Kennard fails to. Without Network Neutrality, Internet access providers intend to use these special fees to discriminate -- to charge Yahoo for a fast connection but not Google, for example -- so an Internet access provider like Verizon or Comcast can effectively choose their customers' search engine. Without Net Neutrality, Verizon or Comcast can influence where we get our news, who we choose as our financial institution, what entertainment we listen to and watch, and what on-line communities we belong to.
By painting the Network Neutrality debate as between "the extremely wealthy . . . and the merely rich," he disses the distinction between the rising superstars of today, the fruit of the Internet's fertility, and the dying telco dinosaurs of yesterday, between new companies whose financial star is rising and old ones in their twilight years. More importantly, he fails to acknowledge the link between the Internet's, "vast interactive world of limitless content," and the hundreds of millions of users who post photos and video clips, participate in MySpace and Facebook, inhabit online virtual worlds like Second Life and World of Warcraft and otherwise generate the Internet's limitless content.

If I got a bill (for " . . . delivered . . ." ) from every Internet access provider with one or more customers that read my blog, would I think twice about having a blog? Would you?

Kennard juxtaposes this limitless content against TV's "vast wasteland," but he completely misses the root cause of the waste. We now see that TV content is no better with 500 channels than it was with twelve. The thing that is different about the Internet is not "more channels," it is the locus of control. The fight against network neutrality is a fight to keep the choice of how to use the network at the edges, where it belongs. The new vast wasteland begins when our choices dwindle.

Kennard treats network neutrality as a mere botheration on the way to franchise reform. He says,
Policymakers should rise above the net neutrality debate and focus on what America truly requires from the Internet: getting affordable broadband access to those who need it.
The problem is that "access" is not simply one-way like it was in the telephone era that ended about when the Kennard FCC did. Today "access" is a two way street. But Kennard still thinks that "access" is TV-with-a-buy-button. He fails to understand that Network Neutrality is about access too -- your access to this writing is jeopardized if your telco might charge me to deliver it to you.

Unfortunately, I don't think Kennard is standing on the platform where the train I'm talking about stops.

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Garry "Doonesbury" Trudeau in the Wash Post!

Gene Weingarten has written a profile of Garry Trudeau in today's Washington Post. An excerpt:
[Trudeau] hunkered right down in front of the soldier, eye to eye, introduced himself and proceeded to ignore every single diplomatic nicety.

"So, when were you hit?" he asked.

"October 23."

Trudeau pivoted his body. "So you took the blast on, what . . . this side?"


Brian Anderson, 25, was in shorts, a look favored by most of the amputees, who tend to wear their new prostheses like combat medals. His legs are metal and plastic, blue and knobby at the knee, shin poles culminating abruptly in sneakers.

Trudeau surveyed Brian's intact arm. "You've got dots."

"Yeah." Dots are soldier-speak for little beads of shrapnel buried under the skin. Sometimes they take a lifetime to work their way back to the surface. At this, Brian became fully engaged and animated, smiling and talking about the improvised explosive device that took his vehicle out; about his rescue; his recovery; his plans for the future. Trudeau, it turned out, had given him what he needed.
Yeah. The Marriott Hotel where I stayed for F2C:Freedom to Connect last April served as lodging for Iraq War vets who were customers of nearby Walter Reed Hospital. They were getting their shiny, springy, Delrin-and-stainless computer controlled prostheses tuned up, and for other work that didn't require hospitalization. They were young enough that the hotel was a novelty. Some sprang around as if they were showing off new roller skates. Some had jigsaw puzzle scars where their face was stitched back together. I watched them frankly with admiration and empathy, but didn't interact as artfully as Trudeau.

I edited out "long" and "thoughtful" from my description of the Trudeau profile. It is a revealing glimpse, for sure, but how many ways can you say a man is humble and publicity-shy? Somehow it doesn't penetrate past the surface of Doonesbury's restrained bitter repartee. I was hoping for more. But, if Doonesbury speaks to you like it has to me for decades, it's certainly worth your time to read it.

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Great Cognitive Biases Wikipedia Article

A friend says he prefers the newspaper in paper form because he's more likely to find serendipitous articles, i.e., to spot stuff he would not usually read, that way. I think this is more about scanning a large surface than it is about the availability of serendipitous information. (In the first place, the stuff in a newspaper is limited by the editorial filter.)

On the Internet, if you go searching for serendipity you'll find it. One of the fastest routes is by dipping into the awesome blogrolls of David Weinberger or Doc Searls. Click a link any link, round and round and round she goes . . . and today's lucky number is . . . Rebecca Blood's delightful blog. And the serendipitous morsel in her blog is Wikipedia's List of Cognitive Biases.

The list of biases may seem obvious to you, and if it does, you could have Hindsight Bias, or the 'I knew it all along' effect. [Right now, some joker has added the 'I forgot it all along effect' to the main list -- the link goes nowhere. Hopefully the Wikipedia Volunteers will clean this up.]

Maybe you think cognitive biasses are for other people, and you don't have them. If so, you might have a bias blind spot.

If you look for evidence confirming what you already believe, you've got a case of confirmation bias, and if you don't try to test other hypotheses, you've got congruence bias too.

Then there's the Von Restorff Effect [link].

The list is long, and most of the entries seem well-grounded in empirical and experimental cognitive psychological studies. What fun!

Don't forget the serial position effect.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Does Senator Stevens have 57 votes?

I've been asked a couple of times where I got the 57-vote number in the preceding posting, and I don't remember. It is my general impression -- from the press and blog postings last July (like this one or this one) that followed the June 28 Commerce Committee vote -- that 57 was the number.

One article mentions the following Republican hold-outs who think a vote for the Stevens bill (S. 2686) might burden their chance for re-election, but might vote for the bill after the November 7 election: Rick Santorum (R-PA), Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), Mike DeWine, (R-OH), Ben Nelson (D-NE), and Jim Talent (R-MO). A Daily Kos piece suggests that Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) are votes in play. lists 29 senators as pro-net-neutrality with 14 opposed, 53 unknown and 4 "waffling." A pro-neutrality vote is very different than a pro-telecom-bill vote. There are 39 Republican "unknown's" on the savetheinternet list. All of these are likely to vote for S. 2686. Add these to the fourteen anti-neuts and that's 53. If there's 4 wafflers, that's 57 -- but this includes Joe Lieberman.

I could be wrong about the 57. And things could have changed since July! I'm digging through the archives. If you can help me, please leave a comment, send email (isen at isen dot com), or hit me on Skype, AIM or Y!chat -- it's david_isenberg on all three.

The thing that makes me nervous is that Lieberman says he looks forward to considering S. 2686 in this congress! To do that, Stevens would have to have 60 votes. Does Lieberman know something we don't?

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Monday, October 16, 2006


Joe Lieberman Sells Out the Internet

I just got a letter from my senator, Joe Lieberman, dated Oct. 6, that indicates that he's completely flaking on network neutrality and other key telecom reforms. The letter says that he supports the principle of net neutrality, but underneath the letter's tricky language he's saying that he will vote for the telecom industry's telecom bill (S. 2686), the bill approved by the Senate Commerce Committee last summer without any net neutrality provision. Moreover, it shows that Lieberman is not willing to wait a year to see if his (former?) party wins a majority in one House of Congress so maybe the country can get a more balanced law.

Commerce Committee chair Ted Stevens (R-AK) has been scrambling to find the 60 votes needed to stop the filibuster promised by Senator Wyden, Senator Kerry and others who believe that the Stevens bill is anti-democratic and an industry give-away. To date, Stevens has lined up about 57 votes, and now with Lieberman and perhaps other swing senators falling Stevens' way, passage of the Senate telecom bill looks more likely than ever before.

If the Senate passes S. 2686, the worst-case scenario turns ugly. The House has already passed a similar telecom bill so there will be a House-Senate conference committee -- with all Republicans, held in secret, in "lame duck" session where voters will have no way to hold outgoing Senators and Representatives responsible for their actions -- where the *real* bill will be written. This bill is likely to limit our use of the Internet, to bolster the ability of Verizon, Cablevision or whoever our Internet access provider might be, to choose the content and services we use, and to extend the FCC's ability to regulate our speech.

Lieberman's beard -- that he supports the principle of net neutrality -- is bogus to the max. Once the telecom bill becomes law, there will be no impetus to bring the Snowe-Dorgan Net Neutrality Bill to the Senate floor, to the House, et cetera. The telcos will already have everything they want!

Here are the key passages of Lieberman's letter:
"Thank you for contacting me with regard to the issue of net
neutrality . . . The principle of net neutrality, which I support,
holds that data from all Internet content providers should be treated
equally, regardless of provider or content . . . Senator Ron Wyden (D-
OR) introduced a bill . . . [but] . . . I favor nonpartisan
legislation such as the Internet Freedom Preservation Act (S. 2917),
which was introduced by Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Byron
Dorgan (D-ND) . . . on June 28, 2006, the Commerce Committee approved
the Communications, Consumer's Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act
of 2006 (S. 2686) by a vote of 15-7. I strongly support efforts to
promote broadband deployment. However we must ensure that
congressional efforts to promote deployment by reforming
telecommunications law maintain the openness of the Internet. For
that reason, I support efforts to increase competition in the
telecommunications marketplace in order to achieve lower costs for
consumers. I look forward to the Senate's consideration of S. 2686
during the 109th Congress in the hope that there will be a
constructive debate about net neutrality."
These are the last weeks of the 109th Congress. Lieberman, "looks forward to consideration of S. 2686 during the 109th." And he supports S. 2686 "efforts to increase competition," i.e., to eliminate local control of cable franchises so Big Telecom -- Verizon and at&t are all that's left! -- can enter the video entertainment business. There it is. Get ready to kiss what's left of Internet freedom goodbye. Thanks Joe.

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Sunday, October 15, 2006


In memory of Gerry Studds

Representative Gerry Studds, D-MA, 1972-1996, died the other day. I was living in his district in 1983 when the news broke of his affair with a congressional page a decade previous. He came home and spoke forthrightly with his constituents about the incident. He came out. I went to one of those "town meetings," and was impressed with his candor and humanity. When I shook his hand, he looked into my eyes. We elected him again; he became the first publicly gay elected federal official in the U.S.

Some years later I attended another "town meeting" where Studds said that the rising tide of vicious right partisanship made Congress, "no fun anymore." And shortly after that, he declined to run again.

Studds authored the Striped Bass Conservation Act of 1984 with Warren Magnuson at a time when stripers were becoming scarce. Research had shown that stripers did not reach optimal fertility until they were much larger than 16 inches, which was the legal limit for keeping them at that time. Studds' legislation increased the minimum size of a legal "keeper" to 36 inches, and for a time nobody caught any keepers; "F&^%$ government regulation" was a common curse among fishermen. Then as striped bass became plentiful again, the limit was reduced to 32 inches, then 28. Today, catching a trophy-sized striper is relatively easy. Studds legislation has made striped bass fishing in the northeast US one of the best sport fisheries in the world. It is a triumph of wise government regulation, countering the right's trope that markets are always superior to regulation.

David Gadsby, John Christian and I caught these last week. The biggest (on the right) was 38 inches, 28 pounds. All but one that night were keepers. Thanks, Gerry!

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Thursday, October 12, 2006


Network Neutrality -- A "third way"?

Robert D. Atkinson and Phil Weiser put forth an essay last summer entitled, A Third Way on Network Neutrality that's worth reading for its analysis of the current rhetoric on both sides of the NN debate even though it is critically flawed by absence of vision on the one hand and absence of realpolitik on the other. This is an important paper, though, and it is being read by people trying to understand the NN debate on its merits (thanks Steve Guich!). Below I try to put it in context.

The essay misses the critical dichotomy, where Bellheads ask
How can we change the Internet so today's telecom industry survives?
while Netheads ponder
How can we change the telecommunications industry so the Internet survives?

The absence of longer term vision is evidenced by the paper's approach to the revolutionary changes promised by the Internet as if they were minor and incremental improvements. They do not see the Internet as a force that could sweep away yesterday's telecommunications companies. They address the current debate, not the underlying tectonic shift and the longer-term strategies of the players, so they advocate compromise and moderation, not creative destruction.

On the realpolitik front, Atkinson and Weiser put forth a "Moderate Proposal" that, like Democracy, or Christianity, or The Golden Rule, would be great if only somebody would try it. The proposal has three points -- Consumer Protection, Competition Policy and Government Financial Incentives (accelerated depreciation rules and tax incentives). The proposal fails to match the zeitgeist on the first two. On Consumer Protection, the FCC has moved away from Chairman Michael Powell's "Fourth Freedom" -- a plain language statement by Internet access providers of service parameters -- replacing it with an "entitlement to Competition." On the Competition front, again the movement is in the opposite direction, witness the at&t-BellSouth merger on the table, and the almost complete collapse in the U.S. of competitive local telephony and independent Internet access. The zeitgeist matches the third point but this is not necessarily a good thing -- these days liberalized accounting rules and corporate tax benefits are a lot of quid with very little pro quo. Atkinson and Weiser propose that companies qualify for the proposed financial benefits if they meet the FCC definition of "broadband," and they further propose that the financial benefits are, "contingent upon broadband providers providing the level of open, best-efforts Internet service as defined by the FCC." As if the FCC definition of broadband is capable of evolving! The authors themselves point out that the FCC definition of broadband is stuck at 200 kilobits per second while over half of U.S. high speed Internet connections download at 2.5 megabits per second. In summary, the three legs of the essay's "Modest Proposal" are broken, broken and lame.

The essay has other weaknesses, too. It completely ignores the Internet2 research finding [.pdf] that, rather than provide complicated discrimination mechanisms for Internet traffic management, it is "far more cost effective to simply provide more bandwidth. With enough bandwidth in the network, there is no congestion and video bits do not need preferential treatment, which resulted in an Internet2 that "does not give preferential treatment [while it does] streaming HDTV, hold[s] thousands of high quality two-way video conferences simultaneously, and transfer[s] huge files of scientific data around the globe without loss of packets."

This ignorance leads the current essay's authors to an erroneous starting point, to wit, "For starters, consider the fact that investment in broadband networks is an extraordinarily expensive undertaking." The Internet2 research showed that networking equipment that doesn't break the IP packet stream into TV, telephony and data services is ten times cheaper than equipment that does. Furthermore, today's "triple play" fiber service, Verizon's FIOS for example, costs less than $3000 per home in service. This investment, which could last a decade or more, is a smaller one-time expense than, for example, a very inexpensive bottom-of-the-line used car that would be unlikely to last a decade. Furthermore, wireless broadband architectures exist today where capital expenditure grows smoothly with number of users. In other words, broadband networks are not "extraordinarily expensive." And they're growing cheaper and cheaper as new technology evolves.

Finally, the essay leaves us with the idea that it is "moderate" that our Internet access provider, rather than us, ourselves, choose what we access and the speed and performance at which we do so. This is a radical proposal, not moderate at all. Intelligence at the edge made the Internet the unprecedented success it is today. If the access provider chooses what we have access to, and the quality of that access, then they will be answering the question, "How do we change the Internet so we, the telcos, survive." If we allow that, the Internet starts down the slippery slope of corporate control that has already all but killed radio, television, the town square and other former venues of expression that used to belong to the public.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006


New Bill Moyers TV Series

There's a tiny patch of fertile ground in the vast wasteland that is TV. Its name is Bill Moyers. Tonight (9PM in most places in the US) Moyers hosts a three part series, Moyers on America.

The first part (tonight) is on congress and money. The second (October 11) is on the environment, religion . . . and money. The third (October 18) is on the Internet . . . . . . . . . and . . . . . . . . you guessed it, money.

From one page of the Moyers on America Web site:
In 2005, lobbyists in the United States spent $2.3 billion-up from $1.5 billion just five years earlier-on behalf of their clients. But what exactly are clients buying? . . . A direct pipeline to power means a much better chance that when push comes to shove, the chips will fall in your favor.

I'll be watching this!

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Sunday, October 01, 2006


Quote of Note: Frank Rich

"In this war at this late stage, the devil can be found everywhere, not merely in the details."

From, So you call this breaking news? by Frank Rich, New York Times, October 1, 2006. Paid subscription requited, but see extended excerpt here.

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