Sunday, December 31, 2006


Ethopia bombs Somalia, and . . . ?

Talk about soundbite kulcha, NObody's saying what it means for Ethopia to be invading Somalia (failed state, Blackhawk down) except for Ethan Zuckerman, here and here. "Islamist" must be the dog-whistle word I'm not hearing.

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Blogosphere's buzzin on AT&T/BellSouth

Lots of links swirling around the blogosphere worth reading!

UPDATE: Harold Feld here.

Tom Evslin, here and here.

Gordon Cook, most importantly here, here, but also here and here.

Jeff Pulver here.

Tim Wu, in defense of the merger agreement, here. And some important writings by Ben Scott of Free Press that I wish I could blog, but can't because they arrived on a limited distribution mailing list.

My main question: What's the all-fired hurry? Why, all of a sudden is it so urgent for these elephants to dance? And why, especially, a stealth agreement released late on a holiday Friday afternoon when telecom reporters are home with loved ones, further obscured by an all-Saddam-all-the-time news day yesterday?

My fork says this one isn't done yet.

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Friday, December 29, 2006


Loophole watch in AT&T-BellSouth merger

We've come a long way, baby!

Our lobbying helped convince FCC Commissioner McDowell to honor his ethics commitment and remain on the sidelines for the AT&T BellSouth vote.

Then we got AT&T's Ed Whitacre to change his tune from, ”I’m not even sure what Net Neutrality means,” (also cf. Mike McCurry, What, exactly is the definition of Network Neutrality anyhow?) to today's clear, meaningful statement [.pdf] of how the merged AT&T/BellSouth would implement Network Neutrality, to wit:
AT&T/BellSouth will conduct business in a manner that comports with the principles set forth in the Commission's Policy Statement, issued September 23, 2005 (FCC 05-151). [aka the Martin FCC's Four Entitlements -- David I].

AT&T/BellSouth also commits that it will maintain a neutral network and neutral routing in its wireline broadband Internet access service. 15 This' commitment shall be satisfied by AT&T/BellSouth's agreement not to provide or to sell to Internet content, application, or service providers, including those affiliated with AT&T/BellSouth, any service that privileges, degrades or prioritizes any packet transmitted over AT&T/BellSouth's wireline broadband Internet access service based on its source, ownership or destination.
See! They do know what Network Neutrality means after all! And they were willing to write it down for the FCC -- and all the world -- to see. This is a huge victory. Woohoo!

But did ATT/BS have its fingers crossed behind its back when it "conceded" to network neutrality? Dave Burstein [link] and Susan Crawford have called our attention to a potentially important loophole. Crawford points out that the agreement specifically excludes the AT&T/BellSouth IPTV service, and that service is now named U-verse. And, she points out, in other documents describing the U-Verse offering, Internet access . . . "cannot be purchased separately -- purchase of AT&T U-verse TV required." And, she says, U-verse will be the product they'll push, not the weaker, 768 kbit/s (yes **K**bit/s) wireline broadband service in the pre-merger agreement [.pdf].

Also, the fine print of the agreement says that the Network Neutrality provisions apply
. . . from the network side of the customer premise equipment up
to and including the Internet Exchange Point closest to the customer's premise . . .
Notice ". . . the NETWORK SIDE of the customer premise equipment . . . " Why would a telco care about the PREMISES SIDE? Why indeed. It would care because the customer's equipment (router, set-top box, etc.) (a) can be locked to the network service provider, (b) can contain discriminatory middleware downloaded by the service provider, thus (c) can be the very instrument of traffic discrimination -- even when the access network itself is neutral!

So, in summary, we have a service, U-verse, that is exempt from Network Neutrality (and specifically, that is exempt from the "Freedom (or entitlement) to attach legal devices of our choosing," AND we have the customer's set top box exempt from the scope of the agreement, we have provided AT&T/BS the means to render the proposed Network Neutrality condition on the merger violable, and, if Susan's interpretation of U-verse is correct, so weak as to be meaningless. Unless, of course, the telco is a good guy, obeys the spirit of the agreement, and would never use the loopholes it engineered into the agreement against the agreement's spirit.

The agreement is, indeed, a great victory. We just need a few words fixed. How about removing the IPTV restriction, for starters. Or including the customer premises device in the Network Neutrality provisions, so we can, truly, attach any legal device.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006


Is Global Warming Strengthening The Power Of Hurricanes?

If you're still a global warming skeptic, and you tend to discount scientific evidence (or confuse science fiction and science), this video will not change your mind. But if you're concerned and want to learn more, it is an excellent presentation from three knowledgeable scientists, even if they are from Scripps.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Of Pharmas and Telcos

A truism circulating in the halls of Bell Labs in the 1980s and 1990s was that the pharmas and the telcos had higher operating profits than other business sectors because they both had huge upfront costs driven by research and development and long times between risk and reward.

The telcos got blind-sided by the Internet, and now they (and the cablecos, and soon the cellcos) are in a life or death struggle to bring the Internet under control via privatization, traffic discrimination, IMS, DRM, anti-competitive mergers and innovations aimed at law enforcement and emergency calling. Meanwhile, as the telcos embrace such sustaining legal and technological innovations, they fight other innovations that threaten them because they strengthen the public's access to the Internet. These most notably include the complete re-thinking of spectrum regulations and the growth of municipally controlled networks. The telcos point to economic imperatives while the Internet's proponents emphasize freedom to innovate and freedom of speech.

A recent article by Nobel Prize winner economist Joseph Stiglitz, points out a parallel struggle between Big Pharma and its beneficiaries. He writes
What would we think of a Scrooge who could cure diseases that blighted thousands of people's lives but did not do so? Clearly, we would be horrified. But this has increasingly been happening in the name of economics, under the innocent sounding guise of "intellectual property rights."
Stiglitz outlines the fact that generic drugs (e.g., for AIDS) can cost 100 times less than the same drugs that are protected by intellectual property rights, and many die as a result. He attacks Big Pharma's claim that such monopolization spurs big research spending by noting that drugcos spend more on advertising and marketing than they do on research, and they're far more likely to fund research on "lifestyle drugs" than on killer diseases that afflict poor countries.

Stiglitz notes,
We tolerate such restrictions in the belief that they might spur innovation, balancing costs against benefits. But the costs of restrictions can outweigh the benefits.
[See illustration -- David I]

The antidote Stiglitz proposes is a medical prize fund to reward the development of public-domain cures for low-profit-potential diseases like malaria. This, he says, could be one of several ways to promote innovation where it is needed.

The right organization to offer such a prize, I think, would be the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Hmmm. How could we motivate similar thinking about how to keep the Internet free in ways that transcend current telco thinking, to avoid the danger that the telco business model's restrictions on free speech and little guy innovation do not hang heavier than its economic benefits. Should there be a prize? If so, perhaps there's a Big Pharma tycoon out there who'd fund it.

Thanks to Rob Berger (via IP and DewayneNet) for the link to Stiglitz.

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Monday, December 25, 2006


Django, Stéphane and the Hot Club Quintette

I've never actually seen Django Reinhardt play before this video! I did once get to see Stéphane Grappelli (with Bucky Pizzarelli sitting in for Django) in about 1996 at the late, great Bottom Line. Grapelli was eighty six or so. He needed somebody to lean on as he made his way to a chair on stage. He could not move his elbow very far, but the music from his fiddle was amazing nonetheless. I told one of my musical friends that I wanted to see the legendary Grappelli before he died, and my friend said, "Yeah, I saw him a decade ago for the same reason."

Anyhow, here's the Quintette du Hot Club de France:

Thanks YouTube! Thanks to Hugh at gapingvoid for the pointer!

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Saturday, December 23, 2006


Timeline: A History of Information Processing

From Gutenberg to the Internet: A Sourcebook on the History of Information Technology is cool! Actually it goes back further than Gutenberg, to "paleolithic cave paintings and Cro-Magnon mobiliary art, including bones with talley marks," 30,000 BC.

Friday, December 22, 2006


The Person of the Year

Cheney. The elephant in the room for 2006. Isn't it obvious?

Thursday, December 21, 2006


Emergent Cooperation

Something important is happening here. It's all "The News" that China sees African nations as allies, subjects or investment targets of opportunity. Ethan describes a much more personal perspective on this story, nascent cooperation and mutual curiosity among Chinese and African bloggers. Project Hibiscus sounds exciting.

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Quote of Note: Reed Hundt

"The question was, 'Who's your constituency, the listener or the owner?' There was no question of who the Republican constituency was."

Reed Hundt, commenting on media ownership caps in 1995, quoted here.

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Blog Tag, Moi?

The Blog Tag begat: Glenn tagged David, who tagged Susan, who tagged Harold, who tagged me.

My mission, five things people don't know about me, then tag five more bloggers.

1. Seeing Peter Pan, the musical with Mary Martin flying overhead on an invisible wire, in a park in St. Louis when I was between first and second grades, was intensely formative for me. Today (2.) I can fly (private pilot's license, 1988), (3.) I'll never grow up (well, still actively resisting the process), and (4.) I think pirates, especially the real ones e.g., those that attack merchant vessels and yachts near the Strait of Malacca, are scary but intensely interesting.

5. When I travel, I can always talk to (or IM) my wife, but I really miss my boy cat, Lucky.

I hereby tag Aaron Swartz, Rebecca Mackinnon, Martin Geddes, Steve Crandall and Martin Varsavsky.

[6. I never wanted to be "it" when we played tag as kids.]

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006


FCC: Why stop at spectrum?

David Weinberger, whose Salon article, The Myth of Interference, tops my must-read list for anybody who wants to know the impact of new wireless communications technologies, now proposes tongue in cheek that the FCC should auction not just spectrum frequencies, but also exclusive rights to points, lines, shapes, objects, time and other dimensions.

If the FCC licensed points, would it limit their use to pairwise distance measuring?
Anybody want to buy a square? Whadaya mean, tetrahedron piracy?

Somehow, I don't think the NPRM will issue anytime soon . . .

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Robert M. McDowell does the right thing

FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell, decided to recuse himself from voting in the AT&T-BellSouth merger. Reading his statement [.pdf], it doesn't even seem like a close call.

Here's the bottom line:

We must never lose sight of the fact that the ultimate shareholders in every endeavor we embark upon are the American people. In this vein, it is incumbent upon every public servant to do all that he or she can to earn the public’s trust in the integrity and impartiality of their government.

In light of these factors, I find that I have no choice but to abide by the terms of my Ethics Agreement, heed the independent advice of OGE and my personal ethics counsel, and, ultimately to follow my own personal sense of ethics. Accordingly, I disqualify myself from this matter.

And here are a couple more highlights:

I have [] tried hard to encourage some of my colleagues on the Commission to negotiate in good faith – sadly, to no avail.

[Prior to my Senate confirmation] FCC’s Office of General Counsel (OGC) prepared on my behalf an Ethics Agreement, which states, “upon confirmation, Mr. McDowell will resign his position with COMPTEL and will for one year following his resignation disqualify himself from participating in any particular matter involving specific parties in which COMPTEL is a party, or represents a party.”
Then, despite this, FCC Chairman Martin directed FCC General Counsel Samuel Feder to consider whether the Government's interest would be served by permitting McDowell to participate in the merger vote. McDowell describes Feder's response thus:

. . . the Authorization Memo is hesitant, does not acknowledge crucial facts and analyses, and concludes by framing this matter as an ethical coin-toss frozen in mid-air . . . I expected the legal equivalent of body armor, [but] I was handed Swiss cheese.
McDowell's statement [.pdf] is a remarkable document. I think he will make a fine Commissioner.

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Monday, December 18, 2006


Skype: 27 billion C2C minutes in 2006

Bruce Meyerson, writing for AP, says

"TeleGeography estimates that Skype users are on track to make over 27 billion minutes of computer-to-computer calls this year, with about half of them used for international long distance (all free). While that sounds like a lot, it still represents just 4.4 percent of total international traffic in 2006, up from 2.9 percent in 2005."

Even if most of these minutes are new minutes that are only there because C2C Skype is free, this is impressive -- in part, because with new computer devices, e.g., open WiFi phones, it is getting hard to distinguish a C2C call from a Phone-to-Phone call. In addition, the new computerphones are erasing the ease-of-use factor that keeps us glued to RJ-11.

Hmm. If $27 billion minutes represented 27 billion unspent dimes, presto: the price eBay paid for Skype. At a more realistic penny-a-minute, it's still a price-to-opportunity cost ratio of 10. Viewed through such opportunity cost colored lens, wouldn't it have made more sense for a telco to have bought Skype?

Hmm. The growth factor for International minutes, 1.5, isn't bad either. A naive projection (the only kind I know to do) would give Skype 100% of the International voice traffic in about 7 years.

[Thanks to Kevin Taglang and the Benton Foundation for their most excellent daily telecom headlines list for the pointer to Meyerson's article.]

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Sunday, December 17, 2006


Time gets it partly right

Time Magazine's person of the year is, "you." Clearly, time meant each individual, as in you and you and you and . . .

That's partly right. It'd have been better if it used you, plural. It's us.

UPDATE: Jeff Jarvis agrees. It has always been us, he says.

More updata: Time puts a mirror on its cover. If the "you" Time were thinking about were plural, a better metaphor would have been a mesh, perhaps with a little dot of a mirror on one node.

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Making broadband as accessible as telephones

Doc's got a good point! He calls B.S. on an Op-Ed by Cisco's Charles Giancarlo that says that a U.S national broadband plan should (in part), ". . . develop federal policies to make broadband as accessible as telephones . . . " Then Giancarlo says, "We also cannot tie the hands of the Internet through additional regulation, such as 'net neutrality . . .'''

Giancarlo fails to note that telephones became "as accessible as telephones" under a policy of Common Carriage. Today's attempt to preserve some vestige of Common Carriage is called Net Neutrality.

Giancarlo then says that Net Neutrality rules would, "eliminate[] the ability of the Internet to support new applications." Whew. Really, Charlie? Eliminate? Isn't it obvious that NN rules preserve Internet based discovery of whole new classes of app, as I wrote here? Wouldn't it be good for Cisco if we discovered whole new classes of Internet applications?

Doc also notes that Giancarlo fails to credit the job municipal networks have done or appreciate the telco-driven legal barriers in their way.

Hey, Cisco needs the carriers as customers. Further, Cisco sees the complexification of Net Discrimination as a selling point that keeps the commoditization monster at bay. Charlie G saw the hot water John Chambers got into by repeating that voice would be free until Verizon's execs lost patience, and he's not going to make the same mistake. OK. But . . .

The battle is between those who would change the carriers so the Internet survives and those who would change the Internet so the carriers survive. Wouldn't it be better for Cisco to have dogs on both sides?

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Saturday, December 16, 2006


Joi Ito to Chair Creative Commons

SECOND LIFE, December 16, 2006 . . . At a meeting of the Creative Commons board of directors here today, CC founder and outgoing chair Lawrence Lessig passed the torch to new CC chair Joi Ito. Lessig remarked, "CC's got to be a movement, and a movement has to have leaders, with an 's', and [there is] nobody who I think can [chair CC for the next four years] better than Ito-san." Lessig will continue as CC's CEO.

Following the torch passing, Wikipedian Jimbo Wales presented Lessig with a "lawyer-readable plaque" commemorating Lessig's term as first chair of CC.

The presentation of the plaque, while Joi holds the newly-passed torch is depicted above.

Creative Commons will issue a press release Monday.

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Quote of Note: Jeffrey Sachs

"We can realistically foresee the end of poverty in our time."

Jeffrey Sachs, Director, Earth Institute, Columbia University, in this remarkable video [.ram (RealMedia)].

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Paul Romer on Economic Growth

If stuff is valuable, and ideas about how to make better stuff are more valuable, and ideas about how to generate good ideas are even more valuable, then Paul Romer's writings are priceless. Romer has distilled a lifetime of thinking about how economic growth works into four and a half pages of language simple enough for any English-speaking high school graduate to read. If you are into increasing returns, read this.

Want a quote? OK.
The one safe measure that governments have used to great advantage has been to use subsidies for education to increase the supply of talented young scientists and engineers. They are the basic input into the discovery process, the fuel that fires the innovation engine. No one can know where newly trained young people will end up working, but nations that are willing to educate more of them and let them follow their instincts can be confident that they will accomplish amazing things.
It's not a representative quote. Reading the whole thing will take 10 minutes.

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Toons 4 Net Neutrality

Over the past several months I've published six pro-Network Neutrality cartoons. I'd like to thank toonists Scott Kurtz at Player-vs-Player, JD Frazer at UserFriendly (also see this one), Ben Smith at Fighting Words, Jen Sorensen at Slowpoke, Tom Briscoe at Small World, and Matt Wuerker who drew one for ItsOurNet. They did their part to defeat Barton and Stevens bills.

[Update: link to UserFriendly fixed, better late than never. Thanks, Anon for the catch.]

I'm a big fan of toon power, for example, this one (off topic, but succinct and poignant anyhow).

Did I get all the NN cartoons? If you know of one I've missed, please let me know. If I don't have artist's permission, I would at least like to have the link.

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How to fight a $1.5 M/week lobbying effort

Adam Green has compiled an excellent list of events, documents, articles, videos, blog postings, flickr photos, etc. that were signposts on the path all of us blazed along the way to defeating the Stevens and Barton bills. Nice work, Adam!

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Legalize Freedom

Net neutrality has always been about freedom, especially First Amendment rights, no matter what HandsOff says. Now I would not express myself in the terms Henry Rollins uses in the video below, but I'd defend with my life his right to use them on the Internet.

Caution! NSFW, profanity ahead!

Now is there any doubt about what Henry really means?

Thanks to Lee Dryburgh for the pointer!

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Net Censorship does too violate Network Neutrality

Our friend HandsOff, in a comment here, continues to claim that Censorship and Net Neutrality Violation are completely different animals. She writes,

Discrimination occurs when one packet is given preference over another because of its origin/destination or the type of information it contains, but not the content per se. Censorship occurs when a company like Google collaborates with a country like China to block specific search results that are counter to the political and ideological ideals of that country.
OK . . . what's the defining difference? Taking HandsOff's scenario above at face value, in one case a company is impeding non-preferred content, in another case a company is blocking content. Suppose in the first case the impediment is so strong it amounts to blocking. If so, then we've found out what it is and we're simply negotiating how strong it has to be.

Net Discrimination is discrimination based on origin, destination, type of content, contents of content, originating and/or destination application, et cetera. It is much worse when it is deliberate discrimination. Whether a government does it or a company.

Update: HandsOff's subtext implies that Google's the main company in cahoots with China. There are several U.S. companies abetting Chinese censorship. Rebecca MacKinnon has written the definitive article on this IMHO.

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Quote of Note: François Bayrou

"The only space for completely free speech is now the Internet."

French presidential candidate François Bayrou at LeWeb3, quoted here.

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Monday, December 11, 2006


Quote of Note: G. Keith Cambron

"New networks are born with a simplicity that gives them a natural advantage to serve the changing nature of traffic. To achieve unification and meet new traffic demands, designers, often with different objectives, begin to make changes to expand the base technology, and thereby increase the complexity of the new network. As each change is made, the network begins to be weighed down by its own success. Every design choice removes a degree of freedom, solving an immediate problem but eliminating potential solutions to other problems that lie in the future. Then, once again, the nature of traffic changes, and the entropy of the network makes it brittle and incapable of flexing to meet the new end. The ageing next-generation network is recast as a legacy network, only suited to old traffic types."

G Keith Cambron, president and CEO of AT&T Labs, Inc., who calls such a force of network transformation, network entropy. Source: IEEE Communications magazine, Oct 2006. I've reproduced this post in entirety. [Beautiful! -- David I] Hat tip to Martin Geddes for the pointer.

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Moral Mazes

If you're curious about why individuals in big corporations behave differently than they do as individuals, you've gotta read Moral Mazes, by Robert Jackall. I found it when I was at AT&T trying to figure out how the culture worked. The closest thing I had at the time was Dilbert. And my own discordant experience. After a long search for something more analytic, Phil Agre, an expert in the ways of institutions, pointed me towards Moral Mazes (1988, Oxford). It was so on-target I became an acolyte. My 1999 review of Moral Mazes is still on line. Lately I've convinced myself that MM is about more than bigcos, its lessons apply to organizations from AARP to zoning boards.

My previous post was about empirical study, this one is too. Jackall is the Margaret Mead of the modern unreconstructed American Corporation. He was rejected by thirty-six corporations before he found one that would let him come observe who decided, who got the credit, who got promoted, and why. He went. He saw. He wrote.

I'm delighted that my friend Aaron Swartz has found Moral Mazes "one of my very favorite books". Aaron has just blogged two of the most instructive nuggets in Moral Mazes. He says the book explains, "precisely how [a corporation] operates, with the end result of explaining how so many well-intentioned people can end up committing so much evil."

Recently Jackall, who I've befriended in recent years, sent me a review of the book that recently appeared in some British business journal. (Aside: The digital document he sent me was so DRMed I couldn't cut and paste, and with warnings about reuse emblazoned on every page that I dasn't include the journal's name.) The thrust of the piece was that Jackall's book, 20 years old next year, is an under-recognized classic. Uh huh.

Now go read Aaron's posting.

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BellSouth-AT&T Merger: Empirical Evidence

Will the BellSouth merger be good for America? The evidence says, "No!"

Merger proponents say that the BellSouth-AT&T merger is "in the public interest" because the merged entity is more efficient, more innovative, and "capable of accelerating and expanding the delivery of high quality advanced technologies and services to all classes of customers, large and small." They also say that this merger will "solidify and secure the nation’s status as a world leader in telecommunications and that it will strengthen national security." Are these claims true?

It is rare to have good studies of real-world data that bear directly on policy decisions. When it happens, it deserves our attention! That's why comments [.pdf] by Professor Sumit Majumdar filed at the FCC three weeks ago are so important.

Professor Majumdar, of UT Dallas, told the FCC details of his study, which analyzed all US LEC mergers in the fourteen year period 1998-2001. The professor's methodology is best described by the technical term hairy. Yet Professor Majumdar seems to have done a careful, workmanlike job of analyzing the difficult data, controlling for all the external variables he could get his hands on, et cetera. [If you're an economic statistician, please take a look and let me know what you think.]

Majumdar says his work is "the only empirical evidence on the question that we are aware of," [my emphasis -- DI]. Majumdar, who teaches competitive analysis and telecom policy, wrote that the LEC mergers he studied . . .
. . . have not created the expected synergy effects . . . No sales volume growth is noted; hence the revenue increases are due to likely price increases. No cost efficiency gains are noted at all. In fact, the most important measures of operational performance have deteriorated in the post merger period. Under investment [in] technology, especially broadband [my emphasis -- DI], is observed following merger activities. Expectations that mergers will lead to increased investments and upgradation of the communications infrastructure, and for technological progressiveness of the US telecommunications infrastructure, have been vitiated.
Professor Majumdar concludes . . .
We find that the approval of the mergers in the past have clearly led to welfare losses for the American consumer. The approval of the ATT&T and SBC merger will lead to further substantial negative economic consequences for hundreds of millions of American consumers. Approval of the merger is not in the public interest.
Until now, I've been fairly quiet on the subject of telecom mergers. I've seen up close the maladaptive behavior of giant corporations enough to believe that small is beautiful. But I didn't know enough to complain about telecom mergers per se. I thought they were, in Susan Crawford's words, the huddling together of the Mastadons as the climate changed.

But now the first evidence is in. What's the hurry, BellSouth? Why rush, AT&T? What's the big emergency, FCC? If you want to do what's good for the United States, you'll pause to consider the new evidence in front of us.

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Friday, December 08, 2006


Awesome Music in NYC Tonight!


Howard Levy, probably the best harmonica player in the world, and a pretty damn good pianist too, is playing a solo concert in NYC tonight.

Klavierhaus, 211 W. 58 St, NY, NY.8pm.212.245.4535 -- tix available.

Howard says that rhythm is just a slightly slower frequency than melody. If you agree that 19/8 just might be the new 4/4, c'mon down.

I'll see you there?

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Censorship, the ultimate violation of Net Neutrality

I've just posted a comment on my previous post by "HandsOff" who says,
" . . . government censorship and network neutrality are completely unrelated."
Oh yeah? What is Net Discrimination if not the differential delivery of Internet information based on content (or origin, destination, application, business relationship, etc.)?

"HandsOff" goes on to say,

" . . . the Chinese government can censor a neutral net just as easily and freely as a non-neutral net . . . "
Sure. And Ed Whitacre can charge for "his" pipes on a neutral net too. But the instant he does it becomes non-neutral.

I wonder how "HandsOff" defines his or her way around the problem. I have a suggestion --REAL NN violations result in more telco/cableco profits. False NN violation is when it is done for ideological purposes.

C'mon "HandsOff," what's YOUR definition?

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Thursday, December 07, 2006


Net Discrimination in the rest of the world

So what's wrong with a little Net Discrimination? In some countries, it is about more than "my pipes" and how's a carrier gonna make a buck. It is about "my ideas" and how's a government going to keep control. Ethan Zuckerman, in an article I blogged already, but which I'm blogging again because it is now available on line, reminds us
The principal of maintaining the Internet as a single, interconnected network with no preference for one type of bits over another--what geeks call "network neutrality"--is under assault. Foreign countries have led the charge. Saudi Arabia blocks content that runs counter to the clerics' interpretation of Islam. China bars its citizens' access to sites created by, among others, practitioners of Falun Gong.
It's different here, right? It can't happen here, right?

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Deliberate discrimination: intent is key

My friend Martin Geddes, always thoughtful and provocative, in a comment on Framing Network Neutrality Right, writes:
1. I change the queueing algorithm in my routers in a way that causes more jitter. Murder, manslaughter, or not guilty? ["Class of service discrimination"]

2. I'm an Australian ISP, but my cheapest route to New Zealand is a double trans-pacific trip adding lots of latency -- although my IMS+QoS VoIP service goes direct. Murder, manslaugher, or not guilty? ["Class of destination discrimination"]

3. I'm an ISP and I distribute DSL modems whose default firewall settings block port 25 to anywhere but my own mail relays. Murder, manslaugher, or not guilty? ["Edge device/retail channel discrimination"]

My first reaction is that questions like this distract us from the main deal. When Telus blocked its union during its telephone strike, the violation of Network Neutrality was public and clear. When Verizon won't sell me DSL unless I already have voice service, that's openly deliberate anticompetitive discrimination too. When China blocks certain Web sites, or Iran takes down certain blogs, or Cablevision blocks Yankees games, it's no secret and it's not subtle, either. Internet access providers oppose Net Neutrality laws specifically so they can discriminate openly. Looking at specific detailed examples is useful -- we need to understand how Net Discrimination works, and we need to develop a body of case law to help us figure out where the lines are -- but it's not the main show.

My second reaction is that we need to know why these things were done.

For (1), (a) why would a provider deliberately *increase* the jitter? (b) Does that service provider have an interest in a VOIP service that's not subject to the same jitter? Unless the provider has a really good answer to (a) -- I can't imagine one -- and the answer to (b) is a resounding "no" it's First Degree Neutricide.

For (2) I'd want to know why double-trans-pacific is cheaper than direct -- I *can* imagine circumstances that'd make it cheaper, but I'd want to follow the money carefully -- who owns what and how are prices set? Then I'd want to know how IMS+QOS VOIP service is offered to the end user customer, as a telephony service or as Y.A. Internet Application. If the latter, then is IMSQOSVOIP offered to all comers under the same terms? And I'd also want to know whether IMS+QOS is offered to all comers for other apps. I'd want to look into the defendant's eyes. I'd want to probe for anti-competitive intent. Not enough information.

For (3) Port blocking, except by the end user itself, is a crime, in my opinion. But I'd still want to know why is the Internet Access Provider (I presume it is an access provider and not primarily a provider of applications e.g., email or voip services) blocking Port 25? Is it supposedly to control spam? Is it supposedly to block naive customers from using other email providers? Does the provider make unblocking easy? Like with other crimes, "everybody else does it," is no defense. Indict on First Degree Neutricide and send to trial; be prepared to accept Netslaughter as a reduced charge for mitigating circumstances.

Maybe I should end with a hearty "IANAL".

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Internet2 Research: Idiot Savant Behaviors Not Needed

In a comment on the previous article, loyal opposer Richard Bennett says:
In The Rise of the Stupid Network the author describes something called "idiot savant behaviors" which allow the network to tailor transport services to the needs of applications. This is a sort of "discrimination" and a violation of Strict Stupidity.
I have change my view on this.

In June of 1997, when I wrote the essay, it seemed reasonable (to a Bell Labs guy steeped in telco tradition) that a stupid network might incorporate low level behaviors analogous to taxis or tropism to automatically adapt to the needs of the data. But research results from Internet2 [.pdf] now show that network upgrades to accommodate even extremely demanding applications, such as Hi-Def video conferences, can be achieved more effectively, cheaply and reliably by simply adding more capacity.

These findings even contravened the Internet2 researchers' initial assumptions, but in the light of their own facts-on-the-ground they changed their views. I, too, have changed my views.

Let me say this another way: Read my lips, no new taxis.

[Extra credit: The Rise of the Stupid Network was wrong on another point, a point that was made amply clear by writings that appeared subsequently . . . What was this point?]

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Framing Network Neutrality Right

As a proponent of Network Neutrality, I cringe when I hear, "We do not even know what Network Neutrality means." We DO know. Such statements are true ONLY in the sense that we don't know the precise dividing line between a shelf and a table, or that we can't say precisely how a tree grows, or that there's sometimes fuzziness in whether a death is a murder.

It is in the telcos' and cablecos' interest to keep Network Neutrality amorphous and undefinable. If we don't even know what it is, we can't pass a law against it, right?

We DO know what Net Neutrality is. There are several excellent definitions of Network Neutrality, e.g., by the Annenberg Center, by savetheinternet [.pdf] [disclosure: I work as an unpaid volunteer with the savetheinternet folks], and, perhaps the clearest statement of all, since it is stated as proposed legislation, by Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA) [actual 2006 Bill here .pdf].

The unifying element is the prohibition of deliberate discrimination.

If you really want to know what Network Neutrality is, you have to read the work of the people who WANT to define it, not the people who object to defining it, or who stand to make more money if it is not defined.

In many cases, Wikipedia is the best way to get up to speed on a new concept. But the Wikipedia article on Network Neutrality, as it currently stands, is positively confusing. It is an ideological battleground. Sometimes strong-pro and strong-anti do not add up to Wikipedia's famous NPOV (neutral point of view). In its first paragraph,
Network neutrality is a general principle of Internet carrier regulation requiring the network to satisfy all application needs equally. For example, a perfectly neutral network would not give better service to some web sites than others, and it is argued that it would likewise not favor web-surfing or blogging over online gaming or Voice over IP. It is also guided by the assumption that the public good is maximized by limiting Internet innovation to the edges, where things are often easier to change, rather than the core of the network.
I see at least three loaded words and four unnecessary ambiguities. Meanwhile the introduction misses the main point, deliberate discrimination (e.g., favoring a "partner" VOIP provider over another VOIP provider).

David Weinberger reports on a weekend gathering of progressive activists that was drawn into the "What does Network Neutrality mean?" discussion. He reports, "I recently spent a day . . . with a dozen people who understand Net tech deeply, going through exactly which of the 496 permutations would constitute a violation of Net Neutrality . . . The whole thing makes my brain hurt." Unfortunately, this found its way into the Wikipedia article, impelling Weinberger to Wikipedia's discussion page on Net Neutrality, where he says, "It . . . is used to make a point that it in fact does not support . . . I hope someone removes that paragraph." DW recounts the incident here.

I was not there, but I'll venture a guess that this gathering of activists unwittingly adopted the telco frame! What problem were they trying to solve? Were they trying to write a NN law? If so, they could have started with Markey or Wyden. Were they trying to be a model FCC (or court) enforcing a hypothetical law? If so, they should have considered some specific cases. (Maybe they did?) Or did they unwittingly succumb to the oppostion's framing and spend a whole day in fascinating, knowledgeable but off-base repartee?

It is possible that discussing Network Neutrality all day with, "a dozen people who understand Net tech deeply," is something like discussing murder with a cadre of physiologists. There are likely to be interesting debates, but the discussion does not bear on whether anti-murder legislation is worthwhile or how to get it.

Weinberger concurs, writing, " . . . it's challenging to work out the precise application of NN in some instances doesn't mean that the meaning of the principle itself is unclear."

So let's be clear. Network Neutrality in the first degree means No. Deliberate. Discrimination.

As for murder, we don't know what it really means and laws against it are demonstrably unenforceable, so, hey, let's deregulate it and let the marketplace decide.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006


What do we call the violation of Net Neutrality?

Net Discrimination is the deliberate tying of specific content, applications, devices or addresses to Internet access and transmission.

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Monday, December 04, 2006


FCC shopping for AT&T's Christmas present

UPDATE: Senate Commerce Committee Chairman to be Inouye, House Commerce Committee Chairman to be Dingell and House Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Markey have written to FCC Chairman Martin urging him to leave FCC Commissioner McDowell alone. More here.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has shown again how little he values Net Neutrality.

He says the FCC is at "an impasse" in the AT&T-BellSouth merger, because a vote today would be a 2-2 tie. (Commissioners Copps and Adelstein won't vote for the merger without guarantees of Net Neutrality.) Martin is asking the FCC's general counsel to rule that the fifth commissioner, Robert McDowell, does not have a conflict of interest in this matter. McDowell's previous job as Senior VP of Comptel involved him in anti-merger lobbying. Comptel definitely believes that small telcos are beautiful. So McDowell is wisely sitting on the sidelines to avoid even the appearance of a conflict. On the other hand, McDowell is a Republican; perhaps Kevin Martin knows that McDowell will vote for the merger . . . with conditions, maybe, but probably weaker conditions than Copps and Adelstein would insist upon.

This "impasse" is of Chairman Martin's own making. Martin could say that the United States does not need this merger -- and certainly no telecom customers are storming the FCC's gates demanding it! Or he could adopt a compromise position on Network Neutrality himself.

But Martin knows the merged ATT-BS will be much more valuable to its shareholders with Net Discrimination than without it. So when Martin says, "Impasse," what he's really saying is that his merger will come with permission for ATT-BS, in its sole discretion, to decide that its partners get full Internet performance while other Internet users suffer some form of degradation.

Martin would say he's simply following the dictum of the 1996 Telecom Act that says competition works better than regulation. He's right. The biggest competitors are winning.

The vote is likely to come at the FCC's December 20 meeting. AT&T head Ed Whitacre is looking forward to a merry Christmas. Netheads can anticipate lumps of coal.

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