Thursday, May 31, 2007


Insight on Organizational Culture

Mark Buchanan, who blogs behind the paywall at the New York Times' Times Select, had a really good posting a couple days ago. In part, it says,
People who engage in corrupt acts often do not see them as such. This much has emerged from studies of corporate scandals and fraud at places like Enron or WorldCom. In a study two years ago, for example, business professors Vikas Anand, Blake Ashforth and Mahendra Joshi concluded that most fraud within institutions takes place through the willing cooperation of many otherwise upstanding individuals with no psychological predisposition to be criminals.

Whether embezzling money, undermining product safety regulations, or even selling completely fake products, the perpetrators rationalize away their responsibility. They deny that they actually had any choice, saying that “everyone was doing it.” Or they deny that anyone really got hurt, so there really was no crime: “They’re a big company, they can afford to overpay us.”


All of this isn’t so surprising, actually, when you realize that we like to feel good about ourselves and about those with whom we work, and that our brains have immense talent for producing reasons why we should. People engaged in corruption, the academic researchers suggest, create a kind of psychological atmosphere in which what they’re doing seems normal or even honorable . . .


But the psychology of rationalization is only part of the story. The other element in all such cases seems to be a chain-like linking together of individual actions that can undermine social norms with surprising speed – or keep them safe, sometimes if just a single person remains strong.


the fragility of social outcome, its potential sensitivity to the actions of just one person, brings home the profound importance of individual responsibility. Everyone’s actions count. The laws and institutional traditions we have were put in place precisely to help us avoid these social meltdowns, and to give people the incentive not to step over the line, especially when lots of others are doing so already.

I've done so much snipping above because Buchanan is trying to relate these observations to Bushco scandals, but I think his remarks have much wider generality!

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Michael Fraase on Sustainable Network Neutrality

Author Michael Fraase has posted a very good summary of SMART Letter #100 here.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Quote of Note: Sean Gonsalves

"For the record, I didn't see, nor do I intend to see, 'Inconvenient Truth.' I was never subjected to any 'save the earth' curriculum that my kids now receive. I do not belong to any environmental organization and, frankly, the upper-class, granola-bar-eating, healthier-than-thou, eco-fundamentalism characteristic of some 'liberals' is about as attractive to me as growing up female under the Taliban.

"I'm not a scientist -- just like most people reading this right now. But like Bertrand Russell said: 'Clearly, if you are going to believe anything outside your own experience, you should have some reason for believing it. Usually, the reason is authority... . It is true that most of us must inevitably depend upon (authority) for most of our knowledge.' When it comes to global warming I make Pascal's Wager and put it on. It's better to believe the warnings of global warming scientists and adhere to the "precautionary principle" than not believe and suffer the consequences."

Sean Gonsalves, syndicated columnist,

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Bret Swanson on Structural Separation

I used to be more in tune with the George Gilder camp when the separation of content and carriage was front and center. Gilder protégé Bret Swanson, writing in the Discovery Institute's technology blog, disses the idea of structural separation, sneering, "Too bad [Isenberg's] stupid network is no longer an ironic figure of speech."

It never was a figure of speech. It meant that the network did not have services or know what it was carrying! It just delivered the bits, stupid.

Swanson is right when he says that, "Digital technology and abundant bandwidth is pushing in this direction [structural separation] over the long term . . . All industries undergo waves of vertical integration or disaggregation, depending on the economics of the era's technology." But what he doesn't say is that this can be facilitated or retarded by investors, governments, telcos and/or netheads.

[Note: the Discovery Institute crowd invokes similar rhetoric on climate change -- hey the climate of the Earth changes and it always has -- but then the Discovery explanation stops, implying that humans didn't cause the current emergency (What emergency?) and can't do anything to stop it.]

Then Swanson says, "Imposing the rigid end-result of 'structural separation' on such a dynamic, evolutionary, and tricky business environment as the Internet via blunt legislation from Washington would yield catastrophe. It would stop much-needed fiber-optic and wireless investment in its tracks . . . "

If he had understood my story about Unbundled Network Elements, he might have come to the opposite conclusion: when a regulatory intervention opens a market opportunity, investment dollars **rush** in! And, conversely, when market opportunities close, investment dollars disappear.

The same forces that closed UNEs are at work to close the Internet to the Petri dish conditions that gave birth to Utube, Second Life, Facebook, MySpace and your blog.

Swanson has the temerity to use the word, "evolutionary" without caveats. When somebody from the Discovery Institute says that, watch out!

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Quote of Note: Cindy Sheehan

"Our brave young men and women in Iraq have been abandoned there indefinitely by their cowardly leaders who move them around like pawns on a chessboard of destruction and the people of Iraq have been doomed to death and fates worse than death by people worried more about elections than people . . . when I started to hold the Democratic Party to the same standards that I held the Republican Party, support for my cause started to erode and the "left" started labeling me with the same slurs that the right used. I guess no one paid attention to me when I said that the issue of peace and people dying for no reason is not a matter of 'right or left', but 'right and wrong.'"

Cindy Sheehan, resigning today from being "the face of the anti-war movement."

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Quote of Note: Cindy Sheehan

"Our brave young men and women in Iraq have been abandoned there indefinitely by their cowardly leaders who move them around like pawns on a chessboard of destruction and the people of Iraq have been doomed to death and fates worse than death by people worried more about elections than people . . . when I started to hold the Democratic Party to the same standards that I held the Republican Party, support for my cause started to erode and the "left" started labeling me with the same slurs that the right used. I guess no one paid attention to me when I said that the issue of peace and people dying for no reason is not a matter of 'right or left', but 'right and wrong.'"

Cindy Sheehan, resigning today from being "the face of the anti-war movement."

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The War is a Lie -- Not Obvious to Washington DC Yet.

Apparently the lies on which the US invasion of Iraq is based are only obvious to 70% of the American public. Most of the Democrats in Washington are in the other 30%. Cindy Sheehan has taken her ball and gone home. Shame on the non-anti-war Democrats.

When "Reassess in September" is "conventional wisdom" even among the congresshawks, just a bit of leadership could tip the balance to get us out now.

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Making Network Neutrality Sustainable: SMART Letter #100

After 14+ Months, a new SMART Letter! -- David I
SMART Letter #100 - May 29, 2007
Some Rights Reserved by Creative Commons License - "Still Stupid After All These Years" -- -- 1-888-isen-com
********* at *********


Quote of Note: Paul Romer
A Word to the SMART
Creating Sustainable Network Neutrality
Will there be More SMART Letters?
Creative Commons License Notice


"Human history teaches us . . . that economic
growth springs from better recipes, not just
from more cooking . . . every generation has
underestimated the potential for finding new
recipes and ideas. We consistently fail to
grasp how many ideas remain to be discovered
. . . possibilities do not merely add up;
they multiply."

Paul Romer, Stanford Professor of Economics, "Economic Growth"
in Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, David R. Henderson, ed.,
2007. [.pdf]


SMART People,

Ten years ago on Memorial Day weekend, I wrote "The Rise of
The Stupid Network." It was a fortunate crystallization of why
this new Internet thingy was so much better than previous
networks. At the time, though, I missed an important fact,
that the Internet was disruptive technology. Clayton
Christensen's book, _The Innovator's Dilemma_ had not yet
appeared. I mistakenly compared the Internet to the Boeing 757
and the next Intel CPU. Boy was that a blind spot!
Fortunately, Don Norman had read an early Christensen draft;
he wrote immediately to point out my mistake. My subsequent
writings have profited from Christensen's new meta-recipe.

Telcos took longer to apprehend the discontinuity. When the
New York Times announced, "Long Distance Telephone Calls Are
Coming Soon to the Internet" on March 14, 1995, the monster
stirred. The Chairman of AT&T came down to Bell Labs -- for
the first and only time, to my knowledge! The Chairman, like
the sailing captain who "got" steam power so he put a steam
engine on his foredeck to raise the anchor, left reassured
that Bell Labs could do Internet telephony too. Yawn, back to

In the early 2000s, the carriers finally grasped that the
discontinuous nature of the Internet threatens their own
continuance. Gradually they mounted a fight for survival.
It was couched in terms of competition. (Ironically, the
telephone companies never learned marketplace competition!)
Carriers saw the Internet not as a grand new invention, not as
a social benefit, not as a Petri dish of innovation, but as a
competitor that could destroy them. As long as the Internet
did telephony without special-purpose telephone networks and
video without special-purpose cable TV networks, they were
right. The Internet indeed has the potential to destroy the
business entities the carriers perceive themselves to be.

Today's struggle over Network Neutrality embodies what I've
been saying in my stump speech for the last five years:
Netheads want to change the telcos and cablecos
to preserve the Internet.
Carriers want to change the Internet
to preserve themselves.
If the carriers win, (a) the citizens of carrier-land will be
poorer and less free, and (b) countries where carriers do not
control policy will, per hypothesis, leap ahead. Neither (a)
nor (b) will be stable outcomes. If we win, we must figure
out how to get Internet services without today's legacy
carriers; a more sustainable outcome and a job I think we
already know how to do.

The battlefield is a chasm. Small steps will not get us to the
other side. My essay below is my attempt to explain why this
is so. Ten years after The Stupid Network, we've made Network
Neutrality a household word. I've tried to write down what
SMART People must understand next.

David I

by David S. Isenberg, May 29, 2007

Executive Summary: Network Neutrality
as currently conceived requires changes
in carrier behavior that are contrary to
their corporate culture and business model,
so we can expect their active opposition
even after Network Neutrality becomes law.
If carrier resistance prevails, the
Internet stands to lose its key success
factor. The Network Neutrality movement
can learn from history; the demise of
Unbundled Network Elements (UNEs) and the
ensuing collapse of telephone and Internet
competition provides an parallel.
The solution is strategy that is more
ambitious and more patient, that addresses
industry structure rather than carrier

Network Neutrality Movement vs. Carriers

I'm proud to be part of the Network Neutrality movement, which
raised the prohibition of, "any service that privileges,
degrades or prioritizes any packet . . . based on its source,
ownership or destination," from an unknown issue in 2005 to a
cause célèbre in 2006. It achieved this victory despite a
press blackout so complete that Project Censored named Network
Neutrality its #1 most under-reported story of 2006! The
Network Neutrality movement is leading a struggle for the
Internet's essence; the Internet would not be the everyday
necessity it is today, or hold promise for tomorrow, if it
were not neutral.

At the same time, I've grown concerned that Network Neutrality
rules and regulations based on constraining carrier behavior
are not sustainable as long as the carriers -- the telephone,
cable and mobile companies -- whose behavior these rules would
constrain, continue to operate according to their legacy
business model. And I've seen signs that some of the Network
Neutrality movement's leaders don't seem to take account of
how the carriers' vertically integrated business model and
special-purpose networks have shaped carrier culture. Just as
understanding the cultures of Iraq might have guided the U.S.
to a different course there, so might understanding the legacy
that motivates telephone, cable and cellular companies help us
make a neutral Internet sustainable.

The task is urgent, because as I write carriers are trialing a
new infrastructure called Internet Multimedia Subsystem (IMS)
that will embed discrimination in their entire Internet access
infrastructure. When IMS is deployed, it will effectively
prevent the return to a neutral Internet.

However, before I launch into this exploration of carrier
culture, carrier business models and how we can make the
Internet's neutrality stable and lasting, let me clearly
emphasize two things, lest my message be distorted by Network
Neutrality's opponents:
1. Network Neutrality as currently conceived is a good thing
and an important step forward.
2. The leaders of the Network Neutrality movement are heroes
who have devoted their careers to the creation of good
technology policy and who made miracles in 2006.

How Carriers Understand the Internet Threat

In the waning hours of 2006, during the FCC'S negotiations on
AT&T's merger with BellSouth, Network Neutrality advocates
fought hard and won several very important concessions.
However, in post-negotiation discussions, they adopted a
"talking point" to the effect that Network Neutrality would
not hurt the giant merged telephone company's business
interests. One of the movement's negotiators said, "The
conditions placed on this merger will show irrefutably that
Network Neutrality and phone company profits are not mutually
exclusive." Another said, "The fact that AT&T reported nearly
$2 billion in profits, up 17% from a year ago, double-digit
growth in earnings per share, growth in residential lines
should put to rest any concerns that Network Neutrality
requirements will harm AT&T's growth now or in the future."

At best, the talking point is inaccurate, because we have not
yet seen systematic Internet Discrimination or its effects on
carrier profits, but I think it points to deeper
misunderstanding. Carriers don't spend $1.5 million a week as
they did in 2006 lobbying against Network Neutrality unless
they believe they will be harmed by it! I think the carriers'
belief is correct; Network Neutrality rules strong enough to
keep the Internet neutral will indeed weaken their business.
(I don't think that's a bad thing provided we can figure out
other ways to provide Internet access.) I've been saying for
a decade that the Internet is incompatible with telephone
companies in their current form
Then I warned (with David Weinberger) that there's an
untenable paradox when carriers that are built on a legacy of
special-purpose networks sell plain, neutral Internet
connectivity . In 2002, many of my
colleagues and I wrote to the FCC urging that it should avoid
propping up incumbent carriers and let them fail fast so new,
more Internet compatible operating models might emerge The conclusion of
this work for carriers is that the neutral, stupid, end-to-end
Internet is such disruptive technology that they must denature
it or face the risk that it could weaken them and ultimately
put them out of business.

A decade ago the big telephone companies were complacent about
the Internet. Now they see Internet applications beginning to
have revenue impact on their core businesses. Skype, for
example, is an Internet telephony application that is capable
of better voice quality than telephony, with useful features
impossible for a conventional telephone company to deploy. It
isn't tied to the telephone company's network and it can run
on any Internet connection. In a similar manner, video
applications such as Vuze provide disruptive Internet
alternatives to conventional cable-based video services, and
wi-fi appliances using Voice over Internet Protocol promise to
disrupt the mobile telephony sector.

In the early 2000s carriers began to understand the threat.
Carrier executives started speaking publicly about it several
years before Ed Whitacre's famous complaint about how popular
Internet applications are using "his pipes" for free. In
2003, for example, AT&T CEO Dave Dorman complained, "Email is
a feature that nobody pays for," and called for the
restoration of "network resident" applications. Coincidentally, 2003
marked the first of three carrier milestones that rolled back
their obligations to provide a neutral Internet. These were
the FCC triennial order of 2003 (which lightened key public
obligations on the installers of local access fiber), the
Supreme Court's Brand X decision in 2005 (which lightened many
public obligations of cable owners) and the subsequent FCC DSL
order (which lightened the public obligations of DSL

Viewed against these milestones, Network Neutrality is a come-
from-behind tactical reaction that only arose after the legacy
of common carrier obligations had been hollowed out, after
critical distinctions between infrastructure and information,
carriage and content, and basic and enhanced services had been
defined into fragmentary meaninglessness, and after the
competition envisioned as better than government regulation by
the Telecom Act of 1996 had devolved to a grunch of giants.

Accordingly, we need more than legal policy if a neutral
Internet is to endure. We must address the non-neutrality of
the carriers' technological infrastructure, core business
model and, indeed, their self-concept.

The Carrier Business Model

Carriers are slow to act, but once they do, they're
relentless. Their next step, the introduction of Internet
Discrimination, is likely to take a decade, maybe two. It is
an economic imperative to them. Discrimination is built into
the special-purpose networks that are the foundation of their
business model.

For 130 years, if you wanted telephony on a telephone network,
you used the telephone company's telephony application. There
were no alternatives. Application discrimination was
automatic. Now, in contrast, on a neutral Internet connection
you can run Skype or Vonage or Gizmo or CallVantage or dozens
of other Internet telephony applications. But on Verizon's
conventional telephone network you can only run Verizon
telephony. These facts may seem obvious, but they're
important because tying the application to the underlying
network is the cornerstone of the carrier business model.

In other words, until the Internet arrived, carriers have
always sold the application and used application revenues to
operate the underlying special-purpose network. So, for
example, a cable company's core business is selling video
entertainment it chooses rather than connectivity, via its
cable, to anything, including other video entertainment! The
Internet breaks the special-purpose network based carrier
business model.

Carrier executives are now scared. In private, when I talk
about Network Neutrality with them, they talk about capital
expenditure, incomplete amortization, the loss of traditional
customers and the growing strength of application-based

It is extremely difficult for established companies to adopt a
new business model. It is not clear how companies build
successful new business models in the first place, but Eric
Beinhocker in The Origins of Wealth suggests that successful
models may come more from trial and error than from insight
and intent. Clayton Christiansen's Innovator's Dilemma
describes how businesses actively suppress innovation; at
budget time when there's a decision between improving an
established product or developing a young, risky, marginally
profitable one, it's a no-brainer. In addition, Robert
Jackall, in his study corporate culture published as Moral
Mazes, observes that under Management by Objective, bottom-up
innovation causes pain for one's boss, which, in turn, reduces
one's promotability with predictable effects on innovation.
In all cases, the larger the change, the more likely that
change will be suppressed. A new business model based on a
nondiscriminatory Internet would be difficult and risky at

Carriers see themselves as providers of telephony, video
entertainment and mobile telephony. These applications have
shaped their corporate culture, their way of doing business
and their physical infrastructure. Carriers see Internet
access as a new, supplemental business. They see their road to
profitability paved by Internet Discrimination, because
Internet Discrimination casts the Internet in terms that are
congruent with their historical, established business model.
So the carriers are intent on rolling back the legal
prohibitions against Internet Discrimination.

In addition, they're developing and testing a new network
architecture that tracks packets across the network and
enables differential packet-by- packet treatment and charging.
It is called Internet Multimedia Subsystem, or IMS. IMS is to
be the technological realization of the carriers' plan to cast
the Internet in terms consistent with their legacy business
model. Indeed, IMS will only have value to them if Internet
Discrimination is legal.

The Lesson of Unbundled Network Elements

Network Neutrality advocates should learn from history about
how the carriers work. Take, for example, their persistent
campaign to neutralize the idea of Unbundled Network Elements
(UNEs). UNEs were created under the Telecom Act of 1996 to
enable new competition. Specifically, the problem UNEs were
created to solve was that a new Competitive Local Exchange
Company (CLEC) or facilities-based Internet Service Provider
(ISP) that wanted its own network would need a massive chunk
of capital, then a period of network construction, before
seeing revenue dollar #1. So UNE rules were introduced
whereby incumbent telcos (ILECs) would make elements of their
network (elements such as local loop, switching, etc.)
available to new CLECs at prices that would allow these new
companies to offer services and earn revenues from them.

The theory was that new CLECs would build their own physical
network facilities gradually as business revenues grew. The
ILECs owed their success to their privileged role as a
monopoly with guaranteed profits because they provided a
public good, rather than to technological superiority or
competitive prowess. So the framers of the 1996 Act saw UNEs
as a reasonable way to re-distribute that public good to
introduce competition.

The ILECs saw UNEs differently. UNEs were against their
interests. UNEs enabled their competitors. Thus the ILECs
framed UNE's as an unfair taking of their private property.
And they behaved accordingly.

The ILEC influence on initial UNE rules was so heavy that even
AT&T, then a long-distance-only company, was not able to
launch a viable UNE- based local telephony business. The
conditions under which the ILECs were to offer UNEs (known in
the trade as "necessary and impair") were sufficiently
ambiguous as to be subject to endless litigation. An ILEC
could simply out- lawyer, out-appeal and out-wait new
entrants. Hundreds of small CLECs (here CLEC includes
facilities-based Internet Service Providers, or ISPs) sprang
up between 1996 and 2000 planning to use UNEs to offer network
services and grow. Virtually all of them went out of business
over the following few years as the entire UNE concept was
worn away by a constant trickle of seemingly minor technical
FCC and court decisions.

The ILECs survived even as they continued to complain that
they were selling "their" network elements, "below cost."
They had other fiscal troubles due to (a) the rapid adoption
of dial-up Internet access, (b) the equally rapid abandonment
of dial-up Internet access as customers switched to cable and
then DSL too, (c) a parallel adoption and abandonment of fax
machines, and (d) the rapid shift to mobile phones. The ILECs
were left battered but standing. The CLECs were wiped out.
In the end, some two trillion dollars in market capitalization
was destroyed.

UNEs were not the only cause of the CLECs' demise, to be
sure. Overspending, irrational exuberance, bad growth
projections, ILEC-friendly regulators, incompetent management
and even criminal behavior played a role. But the demise of
UNEs was a major and under-recognized strategic means of

In 2003, the FCC essentially eliminated UNE rules for
broadband networks. The competition envisioned by the Telecom
Act of 1996 was dead.

When Network Neutrality Dies

There is a clear parallel between UNEs and Network
Neutrality. Like Network Neutrality, UNEs were envisioned as
a fair, public-spirited means of ensuring competition. Both
ideas are actively opposed by the telcos because they are
contrary to their business interests. In other words, just as
the telcos saw UNEs as using "their" infrastructure to enable
their competitors, so do telcos and cablecos see Network
Neutrality as enabling application providers to offer "their"
applications. Like UNEs, Network Neutrality is, at inception,
already a weak compromise, and like UNEs, we can be sure that
the telcos will exploit every ambiguity, litigate every "and,"
"but" and comma, in every Network Neutrality rule and
regulation, and will not rest until Network Neutrality has
been rendered totally ineffective.

Then, just as the demise of UNEs spurred the collapse of the
entire CLEC sector, so would the collapse of Network
Neutrality gut the now- vibrant Internet applications sector.
If Network Neutrality collapses -- and history teaches us that
policy alone is not a strong enough bulwark against carriers
defending their legacy -- our carrier will stand between us
and our Internet searches, us and our private correspondence,
us and our medical information, us and our travel plans, us
and our financial transactions. When Network Neutrality goes,
eBay, Amazon, Yahoo and Google will need to fight for their
lives, and a thousand lesser- known apps and services, will be
captured, neutered, destroyed or forced into some inaccessible
corner. The walls enclosing quasi-public services like
MySpace and FaceBook will grow higher. My blog and yours will
be shoved into a "free speech zone" in some barbed-wire corner
of the Internet.

The above scenario may not play out exactly like this, but the
vector of carrier opposition to Network Neutrality is
obvious. We can expect the carriers' push against Network
Neutrality -- even after rules and regulations go into effect!
-- will be relentless.

Making Network Neutrality Sustainable

If it is to succeed, the pro-Network Neutrality campaign must
be as persistent and forward- looking as the carriers'.

I am skeptical about the long-term viability of simply
prohibiting Internet Discrimination. The occurrence of
discrimination might be hard to establish, and carriers might
see penalties as just a cost of doing business. More likely,
exigencies will arise -- terrorism, copyright violations, et
cetera -- that are manipulated to make broad-daylight Internet
Discrimination seem acceptable and moot even the strongest ex
ante rules and deterring penalties. So whether or not we
succeed in making Internet Discrimination illegal, we should
also take initiatives like the following:

1) We should put the concept of structural separation back on
the table! If 1.6 million save-the-Internet petitioners can
understand Network Neutrality enough to realize it applies to
them, they can understand the idea that NETWORK OPERATORS MUST
CARRY. This is a bright line. It will be obvious if carriers
cross it or obfuscate it. But instituting it will be a long-
term, come-from-behind strategic effort. It should begin now.

2) We should expand the coalition of Internet customers to
*all* users of the Internet. As Internet customers, Boeing
and GE and Monsanto, and the AFL-CIO and AARP and United
Health Care, share more interests with citizen Internet users
and Internet companies than they do with carriers. This too
must be a long-term persistent effort.

3) We should clearly frame the current telco industry
structure as monopolistic. After the mergers of MCI, AT&T and
BellSouth, US telecom competition is all but dead. The only
thing worse than a monopoly is an unregulated monopoly. Even
worse is a monopoly that sees its business threatened by
freedom, innovation, competition and technological progress
afforded by an open, neutral Internet.

4) The Network Neutrality movement should frame its advocacy
in Congress, at the FCC and in the States in terms of a
national telecommunications policy to unify what now might
seem to be independent projects, including advocacy of faster
access at lower prices, community and municipal Internet
access networks, progressive CALEA, 911 and universal service
policies that are not weighted against new competitors,
explicit and clear terms of service, regulations that permit
using any device on mobile telephone networks, and the
harmonization of U.S. spectrum policy with technological

Dilemma: The Internet Connectivity Providers Are the Anti-

The largest providers of today's Internet infrastructure are
also the strongest opponents of Network Neutrality. If their
profit stream diminishes, which it must if the Internet is to
remain neutral, stupid and open, then we weaken the
infrastructure for that which we value. This is not a new
thought, see The Paradox of the Best Network What is new is that the opposition of
the telcos and cablecos has now crystallized in a full-on
assault on the Internet's neutrality. Their end game is a
corporatized Internet that stifles freedom, democracy and
innovation incidental to reifying the telco-cableco business
model. Ultimately, the vision of the Network Neutrality
movement must encompass more than the circumscription of
certain carrier behaviors; it must be structural.

We must resolve to persist until today's dinosaurs evolve into
birds. That is, we must face the fact that if the Internet is
to survive as a neutral network, sooner or later we will need
Internet access without carriers as we know them today. So we
need to decide whether we keep the neutral Internet or we keep
today's carriers, because we won't be able to have both.
The author thanks Rob Berger, Mike Godwin, Peter Kaminski,
Katrin Verclas, David Weinberger, Rick Whitt and Tim Wu for
their comments on earlier drafts.


I don't know! (Why'd you ask such an embarrassing question?
I feel guilty enough about letting 14 months (!!) go by
since SMART Letter #99!) I'd like to think there will be,
but I can't promise.

However, if you miss The SMART Letter and don't read
blogs yet, pleeeease start! You can start here, but please don't stop there.
Blogs (and podcasts, and video blogs) -- plus RSS! --
provide a big hint about the next stage of old-media


Redistribution or reuse of this document, or any part of it,
is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-
NonCommercial-ShareAlike License. To view a copy of this
license, visit or send a letter to
Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California
94305, USA. Attribution must include the following three
Copyright 2007 by David S. Isenberg
Some Rights Reserved under Creative Commons License -- -- 1-888-isen-com


[To join The SMART List, to leave The SMART List or to change
your email address, go to
If you are an existing SMART List member, your EMAIL ADDRESS
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[for past SMART Letters, see ]

[Policy on reader contributions: Write to me. If you're
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so, but I'll exercise my judgment in ascertaining your intent.
I'll probably edit your writing for brevity and clarity. If
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sources as vigorously as any reporter.]

David S. Isenberg, LLC 888-isen-com 203-661-4798
-- The brains behind the Stupid Network --

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Sharon Gillett new Massachusetts Telecom/Cable Dept. Head!

My friend Sharon Gillett has just been appointed Head of the new Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Cable! According to the Mass Governor's Press Release,

. . . the Department of Telecommunications and Cable is an agency of the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation and falls under the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development . . . Commissioner Gillett will exercise regulatory functions involving rate setting, licensure, quality of service and safety and will ensure that consumers and businesses throughout the Commonwealth have access to state of the art telecommunications and broadband technologies at reasonable prices.
Congratulations, Sharon!

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Saturday, May 19, 2007



The Worth1000 photoshopping contest "If Hackers Ruled the World" is more than amusing. It's literally LOL, for me anyhow. Cory at BoingBoing likes this one, but here's my favorite:

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007


New 419 scam

It's not Nigeria anymore folks. Another corrupt government is awash in cash and rumors of cash, buckets of cash (and swarms of scams) sloshing out of the US involvement in Iraq.

I just got email from a Colonel in the U.S. army, "unfortunately implicated" in "the prisoner abuse scandal" and under house arrest in Germany, who has $21.7 million that he'd like to share under "the fairest ratio we shall both agree on as a settlement."

Remember the 419 parody last year, "I am George Walker Bush, president, and the son of former president George Herbert Walker Bush . . . "?

There's no sign of parody in this one. Looks real. Maybe I'll write to the guy, hey, ya never know.

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Monday, May 14, 2007


Clues about the Future of TV

A recent article chronicles the telcos' slow start in cable TV. I don't think the telcos stand a chance of succeeding in cable TV. Instead, if they're to succeed at all, they'll probably buy or form alliances with existing cablecos. (Dale Hatfield put it most memorably when he said, "Duopoly is an optimistic assumption.") But they'd better start swimming, because the times are a changing; I think four things will make the video entertainment space different in the near future: new devices, RSS, faster than real-time downloads and the end of the Kontent Kartel. Here's an article I wrote last year for VON Magazine about that:

Title: Clues about the Future of TV
Author: David S. Isenberg
Citation: VON Magazine, Nov. 2006, p. 64.
Science students carried slide rules when I began college.
Calculators were mechanical. They weighed a hundred
pounds. When they did long division they sounded like a
Vespa with a bad crank. Electronic circuits with dozens of
transistors were not yet rolling off the line. Then the
transistorized calculator appeared; it could add, subtract,
multiply and divide, but it couldn't do tangents or
cosines, so slide rule makers felt smug. Then a couple of
years later, it could do tangents and cosines. The slide
rule was dead. Slide rule makers never saw it coming.

If telco and cableco executives don't pay attention to
blogs, they risk being slide-ruled out of the next
generation of TV. At one cableco I know, the senior
managers are all, "Blogs, shmogs, what's that Internet
hippie stuff got to do with us?" They don't keep a blog,
they don't read blogs and they don't listen to podcasts.
They don't understand how podcasts evolved from blogs, or
how this could have anything to do with them.

End-user Content and RSS

There are several aspects of blogging with lessons for the
future of TV. The first is end-user generated content. It
is easy to sample a few random blogs and scoff, "Who'd want
to read this?" But blogs like Engadget and BoingBoing are
good, hence popular, so they've risen to become primary
sources of news, entertainment and, yes, culture. Global
Voices bloggers in dozens of countries have become first-
hand sources. On-line security bloggers like Ed Felten,
Avi Rubin and Bruce Schneier outclass all the official
security sites put together.

The second aspect is RSS, Really Simple Syndication, a
protocol that creates a machine-readable description of
each participating blog article at a public Web site where
other machines can access it. These other machines collect
"feeds" you subscribe to (e.g. Bloglines) or search for
(e.g. Technorati) so you can scan blogosphere for the
information you want.

RSS is the engine behind podcasting too. Because the
Internet does not care what it carries, it carries audio as
easily as blog postings. Indeed, podcasts are little audio
blog postings consisting of music, speeches, dramatic
readings, chapters of talking books, newscasts, whatever.
If there's a particular audio-blogger you like, you
subscribe to her feed. When she publishes a piece, your
software discovers it via RSS and downloads it to your

Devices and Faster-than-real-time Downloads

Devices are a third critical aspect of blogging. I didn't
understand why podcasting was useful until I got my first

The fourth aspect that's critical is faster-than-real-time
downloads. It was a revelation that I could plug my iPod
into my computer for two minutes and snarf a couple hours
of audio -- audio I actually wanted to hear -- and then
listen to it anywhere anytime I wanted. By trial-and-error,
by asking friends and by judiciously using search engines,
I found feeds like "The Gillmor Gang" (a tech talk show),
"The Nashville Nobody Knows" and NPR's "On the Media."
It transformed what I did when I walked, drove and flew.
It made an immediate, major cut in my TV-watching time.
Adding the iPod to user-generated content, RSS and faster-
than-real-time downloading created an emergent, life-
changing new thing.

The Internet treats video like audio. Apps based on user
content, RSS, new devices and fast downloads are emerging.
YouTube is but one weak signal from TV's future. It's an
18-month old Web site that already attracts millions of
video viewers. It gets tens of thousands of new videos,
made by its users, each day. It features RSS subscription,
of course. The amateurish quality of most videos obscures
the fact that, like blogs, the good ones certainly rise to
the top. It is certain that the next Vidor, Hitchcock,
Kurosawa or Tarantino will soon understand the new video
medium in yet-undiscovered ways and can't be bothered by
how Hollywood used to work.

If you're somebody whose job depends on understanding the
future of TV, start a blog, get an iPod, get the fastest
home Internet connection you can, subscribe to some RSS
feeds and check out YouTube. When the future runs you
over, at least you'll know what hit you.
[Von Mag's link here]

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Friday, May 11, 2007


Personal Democracy Forum lineup looks great!

Technology is changing politics, and this year's Personal Democracy Forum program looks great! Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who was one of my heros way back when google just meant a very very big number, will keynote. He will join Larry Lessig, Seth Godin, Arianna Huffington, Josh Marshall, Thomas Friedman, and other distinguished, accomplished techno-pols for what promises to be a very lively program!

I've been to every PDF (all two of them) and I've learned a lot and had a great time at each. This year, My friends Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry, who produce PDF, have outdone themselves! I am very excited to be going!

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007



The ITU's World Telecommunications Day has been celebrated on May 17 since 1969. In 2006 it was also adopted as “World Information Society Day” by the World Summit on Information Society -- a world-changing decision by that august body.

Now it has been re-renamed. It is the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day. The theme this year is "Connecting the Young." As ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Touré says,
As we celebrate World Information Society Day, we invite all our stakeholders as well as international organizations, non-governmental organizations and public policy-makers to give children and young people around the world every possible assistance in accessing ICT. This is critical for the young as a means of learning, sharing information and knowledge, improving their health and nutrition, and communicating with other children and youth.
A holiday for the kids! I'm so excited. I've cut down a telephone pole and set it up in the living room. I'm decorating it with copper wires and flashing lights and piling ASR-33s and 2600 sets underneath it. The children are waiting for Sane Clause to arrive in his bucket truck to tell them if their on line activity has been bad or good . . .

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Monday, May 07, 2007


Comcast calls out Kings Horses and Kings Men

Will Comcast put Humpty together again?

Om Malik, reports, golly gee whiz,
"There is a growing realization on the part of carriers that companies like Yahoo and Google are the ones who have relationships with customers, and as a result have little or no loyalty to carriers. The prospect of being just a dumb pipe scares the carriers, so they are looking at current partnerships closely."
Are the carriers just now getting the message?

To bravely rebuild The Smart Pipe, Comcast will offer Zimbra email/voicemail to "all 12.5 million customers."

What don't I understand about this? If an application or service provider offered Zimbra enhanced email/voicemail, and it wasn't weighed down by its ties to a carrier, its addressable market would be 1,000 million customers. I know Bell-Headed thinking, so I suspect that Comcast is muddling towards its Zimbra offer, "to enhance the value of its cable plant." Well, if the Zimbra app is so durned valuable to 12.5 million customers, wouldn't it be 80 times more valuable if offered to 1,000 million customers?

Remember "synergy"? It was so much easier than thinking. If there's synergy here, what's the model?

Then Om writes:
. . . it is not difficult to imagine that in the near future, you could add to your calendar your desire to watch an on-demand movie, say next Friday. And you can turn your TV on, the movie is ready for you to go. That, however, is in the future . . .
What don't I understand about this? Why not watch an on-demand movie when you *want* to watch it? Oh, by the way, why (except for habit) do you need a special "cable" network to get video entertainment anymore? Got Vuze yet?

Hewlett Packard is the vendor selling Comcast this bill of goods. Like Comcast, HP yearns for the day when the network was vertically integrated and the Commoditization* Monster was not singing the hair on the back of its neck. Maybe HP and Comcast think that if they behave *as if* Internet apps could be re-integrated with Internet access, then magically it will be so.

If I were a Comcast shareholder, I'd sell on this news. Or, at least, I'd insist that Comcast management read -- or re-read -- The Rise of the Stupid Network.

Meanwhile, Om, how about a bit more critical thinking? You can do it, I know you can. Don't go all White-House-Press-Corps on us!

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Friday, May 04, 2007


Friday afternoon at the FCC

Interference temperature, the concept that would let frequencies be used by multiple modulation schemes, and would otherwise open the door to regulating the spectrum in accordance with 21st century technology, was scuttled this afternoon by the FCC.

Quoth the FCC:

Commenting parties generally argued that the interference temperature approachis not a workable concept and would result in increased interference in the frequency bands where it would be used.1 While there was some support in the record for adopting an interference temperature approach, no parties provided information on specific technical rules that wecould adopt to implement it. 2. Further, with the passage of time, the Notice and the record in this proceeding have become outdated. We are therefore terminating this proceeding without prejudice to its substantive merits.

Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED that, pursuant to Sections 4(i) and 4(j) of the Communications Act, 47 U.S.C. §§ 154(i) and 154(j), ET Docket No. 03-237IS TERMINATED, effective upon issuance of this Order.
Thanks to Dewayne Hendricks for this . . .

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Quote of Note: Ted Olsen

"The [DOJ] and its officials traditionally have been held to a standard of independence and non-partisanship not expected at other federal agencies . . . the president must never interject his personal or partisan political impulses into individual DOJ decisions. And it is one of the most important responsibilities of the attorney general to insist that the line between national policy and personal advantage never be crossed. Whenever that barrier has been breached in the past, whenever politics has permeated the decision-making or the atmosphere at the Department of Justice, as occurred in Watergate, the consequences for the nation have been grave."

Former Solicitor General Theodore Olsen in the ultra-right American Spectator, September 2000, via Balloon Juice, via Andrew Sullivan, via The Center for American Progress Progress Report.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007


Quote of Note: Henry David Thoreau

"It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience."

Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience.

Thanks to Danny Weitzner, via Dave Farber's IP list, for the reminder.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Word of the Day: Champerty

Champerty is the practice of taking a material interest in a lawsuit as a "third party" in order to share in the proceeds. It is legal under some circumstances and jurisdictions, and it is illegal in others.

If you're injured, and I say, "I'll give you $1000 right now if you'll assign me 50% of any future settlement," that's champerty.

Thanks to David P. Reed for this!

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