Thursday, June 28, 2007


Precautionary Principle, the Cartoon

There's been some back-and-forth on this blog about the Precautionary Principle. My take is that Earth is the only planet we've got, why risk turning it into Venus? Cartooonist Ben Smith, the artist behind Fighting Words, weighs in:

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Transcript: John Kneuer at Supernova

I was part of a great interactive session at Supernova with John Kneuer, the head of NTIA that was grossly mischaracterized in The Register in an article entitled, Bush Official Goes Nuclear in Net Neutrality Row, and in other subsequent articles, e.g., this one.

I think the headlines exaggerated what actually happened. Kneuer stayed cool, for the most part, and made some very important and revealing statements in response to our concerns.

You can see what happened yourself from this video, which Stephanie Booth shot from the audience, which captures much of the back-and-forth. Here's my transcript of what's on her tape. Comments later!

Kneuer [to David Weinberger]: [Asking the government to set rates and conditions] is precisely what you're asking when you say, "Open Access." The outcome is exactly that. [Audience: vocal objections.] It is the exactly the issue in the unbundling of network architecture. [Audience: No!] Yes it absolutely was the outcome. It had to be unbundled and those terms were litigated and regulated. The government was setting rates, terms and conditions. It was litigated for a decade without any resolution on what those terms and conditions could be. The marketplace could not act efficiently. It was entirely focussed in Washington.

Weinberger: So the attempt to open up the lines so there could be genuine competition, open up the lines to competitors at fair rates to those who were providing lines . . .

Kneuer [speaking over Weinberger]: Fair rates as determined by whom?

Weinberger: . . . was regulated out.

Kneuer: Fair rates as determined by whom? Did the marketplace set those rates? When you've got multiple platforms . . .

Audience: There is no marketplace.

[Intervention by moderator Kevin Werbach]

Kneuer [with a "bring it on" gesture]: I'm ready!

Audience: applause, cheers.

Other Questioner [fragments due to unintelligible audio]: . . . you're suggesting that folks at the applications layer should participate in the access layer potentially through the 700 MHz spectrum auctions . . . what other alternatives you might be talking about . . .

Kneuer: What I'm talking about is, there is an opportunity to, if open access is a consumer good, if it is an efficient outcome, then the marketplace will bear that out, so if you want open access, if you think that is a viable business model, participate in the auction, build a network, offer open access, and consumers should flock to your door. If there isn't an underlying consumer benefit, what you're seeking is a regulatory arbitrage opportunity, which is massively inefficient. With the cable providers, incumbent landline providers, we've put spectrum available, not just 700 MHz but we auctioned 90 MHz just last year, which gave the opportunity for four nationwide wireless carriers to be broadband providers as well. We added 254 MHz in the unlicensed case, doubling the amount of spectrum for Wi-Fi. The entire objective is to have multiple carriers. With multiple carriers, [and? in?] competition in the access layer, if there is a consumer benefit, these carriers will introduce it as a comparative advantage and as a product differentiation. If there isn't a consumer benefit, if you can't make your case for the marketplace, and rely on Washington to make your case for you, I think you are going to find it is the innovative lawyers that beat the path to success, not the innovative software engineers and spectrum [hackers?].

Doc Searls: Two Questions. First, what were the rates, terms and conditions for Wi-Fi? And the second is, what would have happened if the Wi-Fi channels had been auctioned?

Kneuer: Well Wi-Fi [unintelligible] and it did auction the Wi-Fi spectrum making Wi-Fi spectrum available on an unlicensed basis.

Audience [I think this was me]: So much for the marketplace.

Kneuer: I'm not sure what that means. I am willing to take all of the challenging questions you have. It would be helpful if you would get up behind the microphone rather than shouting from [unintelligible].

Searls: [unintelligible] . . . seeking to understand here. What was auctioned in Wi-Fi, those three channels, for example [unintelligible] 2.4 GHz spectrum. What was auctioned there?

Kneuer: They weren't auctioned.

Searls: OK, why couldn't we do that in the 700 space somewhere?

Kneuer: [unintelligible] The unlicensed spectrum, whether it's Wi-Fi 2.5 GHz [unintelligible] is really the technical characteristics that drive that. 700 is really going to be a wide open green field space, so you're going to have [competitive?] lots of different people, more people wanting the use of it than can make use of it in an efficient way. So the way you resolve the competing applications, the competing interests is to put it out for auction. It's been enormously successful in bringing different cell phones to us, in bringing 3G and all the rest of it. [unintelligible] tech-neutral policies, the spectrum marketplace where the carriers who have the best business models prevail, let the carriers choose the most competing technologies, so we don't have a government mandated GSM standard. We've got a very messy, difficult CDMA versus TDMA versus GSM. All of these issues and the criticisms that we have around our current broadband policies which are to encourage a pro-investment, pro-innovation, very chaotic competitive environment. Those were the same principles that we received when we didn't choose a single standard for the air interface for digital systems. And the result was we have an environment here where there is massive investment in Wi-Fi, massive investment in OFDM and Wi-Max and others. That investment doesn't take place -- that innovation doesn't take place -- if there isn't an environment that says you're going to go in the market and you're going to take your chances.

Searls: Why not open up some of that higher spectrum that is long range?

Kneuer: Which spectrum is that? [unintelligible] adding 254 MHz to 5 GHz anytime there is, has been a technology component that says, I can come in and utilize that spectrum on a non-interfering basis [unintelligible].

Werbach: Can I jump in? [unintelligible] the idea at the FCC, whitespace underlay, the idea of some unlicensed low powered space within the 700 MHz band that [unintelligible] at the FCC right now.

Kneuer: I think that process is very similar to what we did in 5GHz, open up the white space to exactly the kind of efficient use of the spectrum you want to have to have a [unintelligible] technology to say there's spectrum lying fallow over here [?] various concerns, and I can demonstrate that I won't interfere, you ought to allow those innovators to access that spectrum. I think the important thing is doing the hard technical work to make sure it is not a promise of non-interference, but you can demonstrate it, you can do it in the lab, you can create it in the field, and you can test it. But those are exactly the kind of efficiencies that you want to gain. But it's exact . . . when it is an innovator that comes in and says, this is an otherwise unused resource, but with my innovation you can leverage that resource, that is precisely the kind of spectrum policy we should pursue.

Werbach: You want to make a comment David, and then I know you've gotta go.

Kneuer: I'll risk being late [unintelligible] red-eye.

Isenberg: The point the previous questioner was trying to make, I am not sure you addressed it. Wi-Fi isn't, wasn't auctioned. It isn't owned by any company any carrier, yet I think that everybody in this room, most people in this room, and perhaps yourself, would agree that Wi-Fi is the most . . .

[end of video]

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Monday, June 25, 2007


Quote of Note: Ken Livingstone

" . . . what it is sickening in this world is people who are venal little crooks like Tuttle, who gets treated with respect just because George Bush has rewarded him with an ambassadorship as a big kickback for contributions to his campaign."
Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, describing Robert Tuttle, the U.S. Ambassador in London, quoted here. According to news reports, Tuttle has ignored London's congestion charges, which now exceed 1.5 million UK pounds. After the U.S. Embassy, the next most prolific scofflaws are Nigeria and Sudan. BoingBoing points out that,
"In NYC, a country's national corruption index is a good predictor of the likelihood that its UN diplomats will rack up unpaid parking fines." Heckuvajob, Ambassador Tuttle, another brilliant Bushco appointment.

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Word of the Week: Fraudband

From the Double-Tongued Dictionary:

Fraudband n. low quality broadband Internet service.

The DTD quotes Azeem Azhar in the Guardian, June 14, 2001:
Broadband offers three advantages over vanilla modem connections.…But for the overwhelming majority, it doesn’t allow them to do much they could not do before. Perhaps fraudband would be a better term.

I could add a few definitions:

Fraudband: the fast Internet access they promised yesterday in return for rate relief and tax breaks but never delivered, and meanwhile the telco's dividend went up by exactly raterelief+taxbreaks.

Fraudband: fast wireless Internet access but only for email or Web surfing, but not "p2p" or Internet telephony or video ('cept for their video).

Fraudband: Of course you've got broadband competition, there are 18 providers of broadband in your Zip code.

Fraudband: Universal affordable broadband in every corner of the United States by 2007.
Thanks to Matt Oristano for this!

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Monday, June 18, 2007


Delays Pay in Lafayette Fiber Project!

Opposition has made Lafayette, Louisiana's fiber network cheaper and better!

Last Tuesday, June 12, 2007 was a landmark day for Lafayette, Louisiana. The $110 million dollar bond issue to finance its Fiber to the Home project was officially authorized after three years of vehement opposition by the local telco (BellSouth, now AT&T) and cableco (Cox). Cox and BellSouth forced an unnecessary popular vote on the bond issue (but Lafayette's citizens overwhelmingly endorsed the project). Then they prosecuted a lawsuit that went all the way to the Louisiana Supreme Court! Again Lafayette won.

The city won thanks to heros such as Mayor Joey Durel, who assembled the city's bipartisan support for the network, and Terry Huval, head of Lafayette Utility Services, the city agency that will build and operate the network. Huval expects first service in 18 months, and completion of the build-out in less than four years.

The kicker is that the cost of the delay, including $1.1 million in legal fees, have been more than offset by technology improvements in the last three years that lower the cost and make the buildout faster.

One article quotes Mayor Durel saying,
" . . . the lawsuit saved us $6.9 million because the cost of the technology and hardware dropped."
Another article says:
. . . in the three years since the project was first proposed, the cost of technology has fallen, LUS Director Terry Huval said. That will all make it easier for LUS to meet its goal to provide its bundled services at 20 percent below what its competitors charge, Huval said.
A new technology has become widely available that allows the fiber-optic cable to be more quickly connected to each home or business. That technology has helped LUS trim what was initially expected to be a three-year build-out to two years, Huval said.
Meanwhile, Cox (wanting to avoid bad PR) delayed a rate increase for its Lafayette customers by two years, saving Lafayette citizens another $3.1 million.

Heh! It's worth some extra celebration when incumbent opposition helps what they're opposing. (Of course, we will never know the cost of not having the network in place three years earlier.)

Lafayette officials expect to build fiber to just about every home in the city with fiber, regardless of the economic makeup of the neighborhoods, and there's been talk of helping the city's poor with subsidized service. In contrast, a commercial build out would be motivated to build in "good" neighborhoods where the return on investment is more certain. But cities, unlike for-profit companies, build networks to help citizens rather investors, so the footprint of muni nets is certain to be larger.

What next? I will be surprised if Cox and AT&T give up; Lafayette is too visible a model. I expect they'll be watching carefully for opportunities to throw more monkey wrenches into the works.

But meanwhile, it looks like the Lafayette fiber project is on a fast track. Congratulations to Joey, Terry, Biker Bob, John St. Julien and all my other friends in Lafayette! And to Jim Baller, who had more than a passing interest!

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It wasn't the moose's fault!

Fairfield County is in the southwest corner of Connecticut, close to New York City. On Tuesday, June 5, a moose ventured into Fairfield County and collided with a car, sending its driver to the hospital with serious injuries to her face and head. That's what you read in the news.

The headline should have read, "Organizational Stupidity Injures Driver." But you'd have to have read the fine print of an article on Page A14 of the weekly Greenwich Citizen to get this angle. The article, titled "Death of a Moose in New Canaan Angers Many," seems to have been removed from the paper's Web site! [But see the two letters about the incident, the third and fourth letters down on this page.]

What probably happened: the folks from the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, according to the article, were chasing the moose, " . . . hoping to shoot him with tranquilizers," and apparently chased the moose onto the busy Merritt Parkway, where the collision occurred. The "authorities" from the DEP were described as Keystone Kops by one letter writer.

Another local paper's story confirmed that the moose was struck, ". . . after eluding police and DEP officials."

The "authorities" should have had the brains to chase the moose away from major highways. And the newspapers should have led with the incompetence story -- on Page 1, not Page A14! But a search of current news reveals lazy dog-bites-boy headlines, worthy of Page A14.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Quote of Note: Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

"The President cannot eliminate constitutional protections with the stroke of a pen by proclaiming a civilian, even a criminal civilian, an enemy combatant subject to indefinite military detention. Put simply, the Constitution does not allow the President to order the military to seize civilians residing within the United States and detain them indefinitely without criminal process, and this is so even if he calls them 'enemy combatants.'"

Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in the case of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri v. Commander S. L. Wright, USN, June 11, 2007 [Link .pdf].

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Monday, June 11, 2007


Stacked Deck at 700 MHz Hearing

On Thursday the Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on how to re-purpose the 700 MHz (Analog TV) spectrum. While there are several good people testifying (most notably Phil Weiser, from University of Colorado, Paul Cosgrove, NYC's Commissioner of IT and Telecom, and Jim Barksdale, Reed Hundt's partner in Frontline Wireless) there will be NOBODY representing the public's interest in putting one or two channels into Part 15 (or similar) to capitalize on what we've learned from the unprecedentedly awesome success of Wi-Fi.

I wrote to Senate Commerce staffer James Assey to recommend that Harold Feld testify (check his blog posting on 700 MHz), but I'd also be very happy to see J.H. Snider or Michael Calabrese from the New America Foundation, Tim Wu (Columbia Law School), David P. Reed (HP and MIT Media Lab) or any of a number of public spirited spokespeople who know a lot about the uses of spectrum. None of these people will be heard unless the agenda, announced today changes. The facts the Committee learns have already been selected.

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Saturday, June 09, 2007


Wine and Life

My father died in Corvallis, Oregon in September, 1984. When my sister and I converged on the family house to sort through our family's artifacts so it could be sold, we found a case of French wine in the cellar that my father had put aside for my sister's wedding in 1971, when she was sixteen. She didn't get married on his schedule and the wine had passed its prime. We opened three or four spoiled bottles before we found a good one, which we drained while we sat on the cellar's cement floor. We opened more bottles until we found another good one, and we drank most of that too. I've never found a more appropriate time to get drunk, or a more appropriate beverage to do it with. Or, considering the circumstances and the beverage, more appropriate company.

After my sister went home, I found myself wandering down the wine aisle of the nearby down-home market looking for a local treat. I bought a bottle with a hand-drawn-looking label and a grape I'd never heard of, Maréchal Foch, from Serendipity Cellars in Monmouth. I took it to my empty family house and opened it. It poured black. It clung purple to the sides of the glass. It tasted astringent and rich, as if it would age well. I bought a couple more bottles and threw them in my suitcase.

A dozen years later I opened the oldest wine in my crawl space to complement a meaty dinner. The Maréchal Foch was lighter in color. It had developed fruit and depth and finish. Right away I called the number on the bottle to order a case. The woman who answered took my order. When I gave my shipping address she asked, "Were you in my class at Corvallis High School?"

I admitted that I had spent a year at Corvallis High School. She got her yearbook and said, "There you are right next to Bruce Ito!" Cheryl Frad had married a guy from a nearby Willamette Valley town, they had kids and built a family vineyard and winery. I ordered a case of the 1993.

The next year I ordered case of 1994 Maréchal Foch. I was on the Serendipity Cellars mailing list. It announced tastings and tours and awards their wines had won. It had occasional personal snippets that indicated that number one son was not very interested in the family vineyard. A few years later the newsletter announced that Serendipity Cellars was closing. I never visited Serendipity Cellars. I never heard from Cheryl again.

Last night I slow cooked a batch of spicy ribs on the barbie. I went down to the cellar to find the oldest bottle of wine that would stand up to the ribs. I still had a bottle of the 1993 Maréchal Foch and a bottle of the 1994.

I opened both of them. The 1993 had mellowed and complexified nicely. The 1994 was a tad sharper, but also excellent. My wife tasted them both. She liked the 1993 better but said, "These aren't such a big deal." I told her I liked them because I understood where they came from. Both bottles stood up to the ribs. The fruit gushed off the top to complement the meat's spice and charred edge.

A day later, they're both still drinkable. The 1993 is a little bit sour. The 1994 is even better than it was yesterday with tastes of cinnamon, dark chocolate and new leather.

There's no serendipitous moral here, just a guy looking at a couple of almost-empty wine bottles on a one-way trip that's decidedly not off-the-shelf.

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Friday, June 08, 2007


Hot Comments

Whooo boy! Are my ears ringing, feet stinging, brain singing, from the last three comments that came over the transom.

The first one, by Dr. David Hill, the Chief Executive of the World Innovation Foundation Charity, a comment on my posting entitled Guardian smears Wikipedia, Wikipedians, Peer Production, takes Wikipedia to task for not including an article on his charity. If what he says is true, it *does* sound small-minded, but I betcha those who have been there done that have their own interpretation of this incident. Not that Wikipedia doesn't have problems. But I am still slack-jaw amazed that it has worked as well as it has. Is Dr. David Hill's org listed in Britannica?

The next two, on this article, are (IMHO) stupid slams of The Precautionary Principle by "Russell." In one of his more printable comments, he writes, "Okay, but more accurately, the 'precautionary principle' says 'I got mine, I'm comfortable, screw you if you want yours.'" Really? Does Russell stop when the light turns red? If so, he's probably applying the Precautionary Principle. When he dices an onion, does he use a cutting board or does he hold the onion in his hand while cutting it? I don't know, but my guess is that he applies the Precautionary Principle and uses a cutting board.

I like Russell, but I came real close to deleting his comments; the reason I didn't was that I applied the Precautionary Principle against the outside chance that he might have been saying something of value that I just didn't understand.

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Friday, June 01, 2007


Treating Different Types of Communications Differently

A friend who read my Creating Sustainable Network Neutrality paper wrote to say, "Help me understand what is so bad about treating different types of communications differently."

That's a really good question! My answer:

1. If you want to offer vertically integrated services on special purpose networks, such as video entertainment or pager service or telephony, I do not have a problem with that, provided you don't use your market power to impede Internet applications that offer competing services. (In fact, many of these are extremely useful; consider for example the Cisco technician who deals with router outages, you don't want to depend on the Internet to reach her, because the Internet service at her location is by definition on the blink, but instead you'd better use a non-Internet-dependent pager or cell phone.)

2. On the Internet, you don't need to treat different types of communications differently. In every case, simply adding more capacity is more cost effective and more reliable in getting the packets where they need to go than treating different types of communications differently. This is a conclusive finding dating back to Andrew Odlyzko's work at Bell Labs in the early 1990s. So if carriers want to treat different types of Internet traffic differently, they must be doing it for other than operational reasons -- e.g., because discriminating different kinds of traffic is more consistent with their business model.

3. On the Internet, treating different types of communications differently is anti-innovative. One of the strengths of the Internet is its stupidity, that is, its ability to carry all kinds of traffic without "asking permission" for special kinds of carrier services. So we have this great Internet thingy that you and I can use for our own private application, where we can be as inventive as we want without having to pay for some special service, without waiting for clueless execs to approve anything, without having to fit our new service into some pre-existing category, etc.

4. On the Internet, if you treat different types of communications differently, it is a slippery slope. Once the machinery for treating different types of communications differently is in place, the people in charge of that machinery might want to give their financial partners an advantage. Or they might want to give ideologies they like an advantage, and suppress the ones they think are dangerous.

There's more, but I think these are the high-order bits.

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