Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Asus EeePC looks interesting!

I'd like to thank Brian for alerting me to the Asus EeePC. Looks like a very nice package. [wikipedia, hothardware] for $400 or so.

In related news, Reuters persists in saying the One-Laptop-Per-Child XO will be delayed. This time, Reuters says v 1.0 of the software won't be ready until December 7. But they seem to have backed off on saying that the hardware will be delayed. (See my previous post on this.)

I have not seen the Asus EeePC subject to anywhere near the same scrutiny. Minor delays and price adjustments happen all the time in tech. Wonder what's Reuters' real beef with OLPC?

Also, let's remember that you can buy two OLPC XOs for the price of one Asus EeePC.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007


Quote of Note: Mitch Bowling

"We're not blocking. We are managing the network."

Mitch Bowling, Comcast senior vice president and general manager for online services, quoted by Vindu Goel in the Mercury News here.

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Finally a computer you can read outdoors!

With the proliferation of outdoor Wi-Fi, you might think somebody would build a display optimized for viewing in the sunshine. Finally there's such a computer on the way . . . the One Laptop Per Child XO!

David Pogue, in the NYT, writes,
Speaking of bright sunshine: the XO’s color screen is bright and, at 200 dots an inch, razor sharp (1,200 by 900 pixels). But it has a secret identity: in bright sun, you can turn off the backlight altogether. The resulting display, black on light gray, is so clear and readable, it’s almost like paper.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007


Quote of Note: Farooq Butt

"Increasingly what it seems we need is 'One Internet Per Earth' not just 'One Laptop Per Child.' A major issue is the provision of connectivity and not just computing. I know the OLPC has a network connection... but where's the network?

Farooq Butt, Vice President Worldwide Business Development & Strategy at Dell, in posting to Dave Farber's IP list. [link]

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Friday, October 26, 2007


What I want for Gift Giving Season

This Hanukkah, I'm asking Santa Schmanta for a Linux driven, low-power-consumption, Wi-Fi connected, Give-1-Get-1 XO Laptop by One Laptop Per Child. Only $399, and not only do I get one, but somewhere on the planet a child who can't afford a computer will get one too. How wonderful!

The Give-1-Get-1 for $399 program starts November 12. You can sign up for a reminder email here.

NEW INFO: The OLPC promotion only lasts two weeks!

MORE RECENT UPDATE (10/29): Brian reveals himself to be Brian Kane. He writes to me,
I have now made my e-mail address visible in my Blogger profile so that you can contact me directly. Your willingness to make wild assumptions about me and my motives for commenting on your website are seriously disappointing.
My apologies, Brian, but I had no way of knowing before this email. He writes further,
I have absolutely NO affiliation with Asus or OLPC in any way. My intent in commenting on your post was merely to point out that there are alternatives to the OLPC laptop . . .
and he points to this Reuters article about production delays. I view Brian's comments in this new light; my own suspicions about his motives have been allayed.

Negroponte also cited the same Reuters article in his email to me, but indicated that his information superseded Reuters. Negroponte's interest in OLPC, of course, is strong and transparent.

IMPORTANT UPDATE (10/28): In a comment below, "Brian" throws FUD on the One Laptop project, citing a production delay, saying that Asus has a computer priced, "about the same price as the OLPC promotion." In other words, you can get ONE Asus computer for the price of two OLPC laptops. Brian says, ". . . buy the Asus, give some cash to OLPC and everybody wins."

My counsel is Don't Do It. Stay with OLPC!

The thing that first made me go, "Hmmm," was Brian's statement, "Everybody wins." Right, everybody wins, especially Asus. I tried to do a bit of research on "Brian," but his blogger profile is non-public, and there's no occurrence of Brian on the Asus web site. I think this lack of transparency -- and Brian's failure to indicate his material interest in OLPC or Asus, or lack thereof, is a breach of blogger ethics.

[By the way, my interest is strictly as a bystander who knows a good idea when he sees one.]

I wrote to Nicholas Negroponte, the originator of the OLPC idea and the head of the project, to track down this production delay rumor. He wrote back,
There is no delay. In fact, each week we advance it, from November 19th, to the 12th, to the 5th, now to the 2nd. Mass production will most likely start a week from today, much sooner than I expected and we had planned internally.
Negroponte cites David Pogue's OLPC column in the NYT, which has nothing but high praise.


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Thursday, October 25, 2007


Quote of Note: James Carlini

"If your municipality isn’t looking at creative ways to develop new strategies that include having a state-of-the-art network infrastructure to support economic growth and development, they will be stagnating your property value and quality of life in your area . . . Simply put, the three most important words in real estate ('location, location, location') have turned into 'location, location, connectivity.'"

James Carlini in Midwest Business [link].

via Casey Lide at Baller-Herbst.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Porter Stansberry's dinner with Ann Coulter

My friend, investment newsletter publisher Porter Stansberry, with whom I have had, um, ah, vigorous discussions on peak oil, global warming, the role of government and other issues, had dinner with Ann Coulter and one mutual friend a few days ago. In his "Stansberry and Associates Digest," dateline today, he reports

I thought, regardless of her rabid political views, surely Ann Coulter is an intelligent, curious, well-read person who has insight into the world...

Wrong. Dead wrong.

Ann Coulter is stunningly ignorant of the issues outside of constitutional law (she is a lawyer) and politics. Thus, in her view, politics is both the cause of all of our problems and the only possible solution . . . Ann Coulter had never heard of the gold standard. She didn't believe us when we told her that in 1933 FDR seized all of the privately held bullion in the country, then devalued the dollar – probably the greatest financial crime in history. She didn't even know it was illegal for citizens to own bullion up until 1974. Bretton Woods? Coulter thought we were talking about tennis rackets.
Put one more item in the "we agree" column.

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Anti-Neuts agree Comcast out of line

Timothy B. Lee, who wrote this anti-Network Neutrality piece for the New York Times, doesn't particularly like what Comcast is doing or how they're explaining it. He observes,
I can’t see any reason for routers to be mucking around at the TCP layer, when throttling can perfectly well be accomplished in a protocol-neutral manner at the IP layer.
Lee concludes
. . . it seems to me that while Comcast’s behavior is far from laudable, it’s far from obvious it’s a serious enough problem to justify giving the FCC the opportunity to second-guess every ISP’s routing policies.
Worth reading! Also check out this piece by Jerry Brito, not exactly a member of savetheinternet, and the ensuing discussion.

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Comcast's degrading hurts us all!

Several of the comments on my posting, Comcasts President, Interactive Division, lies about BitTorrent discrimination argue that she's not lying when she says that 0.1% of users are affected because only a small number of subscribers use applications like BitTorrent that Comcast is impairing and degrading.

Sorry folks. Impairing and degrading the Internet hurts us all. To borrow from Pastor Martin Niemöller:

First they impaired BitTorrent, but I didn't speak out because I didn't use BitTorrent.
Then they impaired VOIP, but I didn't speak out because I didn't use VOIP.
Then they impaired IM, but I didn't speak out because I didn't use IM.
Then they came for my connection, and there was no way for me to speak out because the Internet we once had was destroyed.

There's another way to understand how Comcast's actions destroys value for all of us:

Only a small number of automobile drivers "floor" their accelerator, right? So it is OK to put a brick underneath people's accelerator pedals, right? Wrong. We don't use *all* the horsepower of our vehicle very often, but we spend extra for a powerful car because we want the power to be there when we need it.

In similar manner, we buy 20 megabit connections not because we run apps that require 20 megabits but because we want the option to use 20 megabits occasionally, when we need it.

We use the Internet every day in ways we never imagined five years ago, because the Internet is flexible and open. We may well need to use a Peer-to-Peer application tomorrow, if, that is, today's ISPs keep their Internet access sufficiently open that P2P can continue to develop.

If the Internet access providers block P2P, it hurts us all because it closes our options.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007


My Lifetime Top Ten

In alphabetical order -- you want me to choose which of my children I like better?

Anthem of the Sun, Grateful Dead
Cowboy Calypso, Russ Barenberg et alia
Cowboyography, Ian Tyson
Old Friends, Mary McCaslin
Perpetual Motion, Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer
Safe Sweet Home, John Miller
The Vultures, Joe Weed
This World is Not My Home, Perry Lederman
Unfinished Business, Steve Goodman
Waltz of the Whippoorwill, Joe Weed

Abbey Road, The Beatles
American Beauty, Grateful Dead
Bach Cello Suites, Savely Schuster
Beatle Country, The Charles River Valley Boys
Broken Promises, Mary McCaslin
Buena Vista Social Club, produced by Ry Cooder
Camptown, Joe Craven
Highway 61 Revisited, Bob Dylan
Jug Band Music, Jim Kweskin & The Jug Band
Live, Anthony Molinaro & Howard Levy
Mara, Runrig
Me & My Guitar, Tony Rice
01 Byte, 10 Cordas, Hamilton de Holanda
River Suite for Two Guitars, Tony Rice & John Carlini
Seargeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles
Stardust, Willie Nelson
Stories, Maura O'Connell
The Teluride Sessions, Strength in Numbers
The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death, John Fahey
Tone Poems I, David Grisman, Tony Rice

I've been meaning to do this list for years. Many of these works have been on my record player, cassette player, CD player and iPod for 30 years or more. The test of time is that they get better with each listening.

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A Comcast "One-Percenter" Speaks!

I got email from Christine Metzner that says, unedited:
I was going to comment on your blog but I didnt know how?...Anyway I am one of those 1% people [Comcast said it was 0.1%, but who's counting? David I] comcast is referring to. I am in touch with a man by the name of Matt Moleski, he is the manager of Comcast "Excessive Usage Security Dept". The only reason this man is talking to me is because I contacted my local news station regarding the "Comcast Call". I was called by one of his staff and told that this would be my 1 and only warning. I had to cut my bandwidth drastically or when they ran their next Audit the first week of November and I came up on it again They would disconnect my service for a minimum of 1year without notice. I was confused when I received that call. I had no idea that my unlimited home networking package (up to 5 computers) was restricted for bandwidth consumption. So I contacted the local news station and that same day they did a story on it. needless to say 1hour before the story was to air I was contacted by the VP of our local comcast office. She wanted to work with me on this situation. that is how I ended up on Matt Moleski's desk. He told me that even if I upgraded as the VP of our local office told me to do..I would still be disconnected for using too much bandwidth. There is no set number on the usage you are allowed in fact if i use the same amount as someone in a busier neighborhood I was still breaking the Excessive Usage Policy. Matt is going to get my records for the past few months (which I was origianly told do not exist as comcast doesnt keep records of their customers usage) and call me if my name comes up again in Novembers Audit.

I think more ppl need to be informed that they are being targeted and lyed to by a huge company for services they pay for. That 1% Comcast refers to... in my opinion will get to be a much larger number after they have disconnected us and target the next set of customers. We are not cost effective for Comcast to keep as customers on their Sub-Par network. The only places that upgraded the networks are where FIOS has come to town. I dont know how my story will end but i do know that the bottom line is unless I cut my bandwidth usage drastically I will be disconnected the first week of December.
So I wrote to her and asked if I could put her letter in my blog and she replied:

by all means!! I need ppl (ordinary users) to know just how serious this is... I consider myself pretty computer savvy... but now I feel like I am a naive person.. I had never heard of this until I got that phone call!! and then to find out that customer service reps aren't even privy to this information... they don't have a clue if you call them to ask about "the Comcast call" Sorry I am rambling this has me so upset!!
I asked her what she was using all that bandwidth for and she said,

My husband and I are on a file sharing program that uses DC++ we share files shn and flac and I also buy download and burn from also movies on demand now from netflix I also use gotomypc to help my 5 kids in Vermont ... I am in Florida... when they are having computer issues and I usually grab current pictures and file from them while I am on ... but I think that he was torrenting that month and that's what set off the red flag...because we never got a call before and we have been using DC++ for over a year?
And I asked her for more details on how much bandwidth Comcast thought was too much and how much Comcast wanted to cut her usage by and she wrote:

I asked the [General Manager for Naples/Ft. Myers] . . . Barbara Hagen, I asked the first woman who called me (didnt get her name) oh my god i have the news story on my computer i recorded it with my camera while it aired. everyone on DC++ has uploaded it lol. cause the news lady called them and asked that question on air!!
They will not under any circumstance give a number... it is based purly on your neighborhood usage according to Matt Moleski...So if bob in Sarasota usese 400 gigs and I use 250 my neighborhood is smaller and less users than his he is ok and in the clear and i am not Barbara Hagen wanted me to talk to the VP here in Port Charlotte.. i have her on the email cause i asked her to email me and she didnt like that one bit lol
Their answer was to drastically cut it....thats it

And that's the news from Lake Woebegone, folks.

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Wiretaps are Telco Profit Centers!

Scrape my jaw off the floor.

The price list is $1000 for the first month of a wiretap and $750 for each additional month. No wonder the telcos (except for Nacchio's Qwest) don't ask for a warrant before they agree to do it . . . ! [link]

via DewayneNet Technology List & Ken DiPietro

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ETel 2008, Uncancelled

Will the longest lasting contribution of Tim O'Reilly's conferences to the tech community be the spinoffs the organization refused to host?

First there's Bar Camp, a series of seat-of-the-pants conferences that sprang on the scene when some people got irritated that they were not invited to FOO Camp. Foo stands for Friends of O'Reilly, and it's a one-way deal; *he* has to like *you*. There are FOURTEEN Bar Camps in North America between now and the end of November, plus one in Brazil, two in France, one in Germany, one in Italy, one in the UK, one in NZ, two in India and one in China.

Now Lee Dryburgh is working to single-handedly revive ETel, which O'Reilly summarily cancelled a few weeks ago. [UPDATE: Lee objects to "single handed". He prefers, "Working with the former ETel community. He says "There are so many folks helping behind the scenes and I do not want it to be a "lee conf" LOL.] He's calling it EComm 2008 [also see Lee's EComm Facebook page]. Will it work? At some level it has to . . . the community around ETel is way enthusiastic. If Lee pulls this off, I'll probably go.

Disclosure: I've approached the O'Reilly organization twice about partnering on conferences, but it seems I'm "bar" . . .

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I've had more hits on Comcasts President, Interactive Division, lies about BitTorrent discrimination than usual thanks to Cory's kind mention in BoingBoing. And there have been more comments than usual too.

I've had to reject two comments because they felt slimy or ad hominem. So it is a good time to remind readers that has a firm policy on comments.

UPDATE: No, moderating your comments is not the same as violating network neutrality!!! I don't operate an infrastructure, I don't have market power, and if you want to switch to another blog, your switching costs are low. Also, my motive to discriminate is not based on the twisted economic notion that I can use discrimination to increase my profits at the expense of everybody else's welfare.

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Monday, October 22, 2007


Comcast Censors Bible

Comcast blocked the Bible when it messed with BitTorrent.

Matt Stoller, over at savetheinternet, points out that we've buried the lede by our focus on packets and protocols. Indeed!

When Comcast blocks BitTorrent (and other "file sharing" protocols) it screws up legitimate uses of the Internet for everybody.

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Quote of Note: Russell Shaw

"According to Electronic Frontier Foundation testing, Comcast is not only forging BitTorrent packets, but Gnutella and even Lotus Notes packets. And Lotus Notes is a core application, not something you swap copyrighted music or movie files with . . . Now I want you to read this report from the EFF and tell me how the hell the free market solves this issue."

Russell Shaw, on his ZD Net blog [link]

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Saturday, October 20, 2007


Quote of Note: Comcast Terms of Service

"We reserve the right to refuse to upload, post, publish, transmit or store any information or materials, in whole or in part, that, in our sole discretion, is unacceptable, undesirable or in violation of this Agreement."

Comcast terms of service

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EFF replicates Comcast discrimination via TCP spoofing

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has replicated the AP's finding that Comcast is sending TCP RST messages in direct violation of the Internet's end-to-end principle. Seth Schoen of EFF reports:
The TCP RST packet forging seems to be protocol-specific: as AP reported, it at least sometimes happens directly in response to specific BitTorrent protocol events. This contradicts Comcast's statement to us that their network management does not target or discriminate against particular protocols. The timing of the injected packets suggests that something on Comcast's network understands the BitTorrent protocol and treats it differently from other protocols.
He lays out the methodology quite explicitly, and concludes
. . . we repeated the experiment with two different Comcast connections (one in San Francisco, and one in Oregon) and saw the RST packets appear in both cases.
This gives further evidence that Comcast Interactive's President, Amy Bance, was lying or clueless when she said that only 0.1% of customers were affected by Comcast's network management.

Thanks to Bob Frankston for this pointer.

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Comcasts President, Interactive Division, lies about BitTorrent discrimination

An Information Week article yesterday describes Comcast's president of its interactive division explaining why Comcast discriminates against BitTorrent and other "P2P" applications. The article says:
Banse defended Comcast's use of management technology, reported Friday by the Associated Press, to reduce the impact users of file-sharing networks, such as BitTorrent, eDonkey and Gnutella, have on overall traffic on the cable company's pipe. While these users make up a small percentage of Comcast's subscriber base, they account for a large majority of the traffic, Banse said.

"There is the hyperbole and the reality of what we call excessive use," Banse said. While 99.9% of Comcast customers get access to the Internet without interference, the 0.1% that fit into the category of excessive use have to be managed. "In the (course) of our management of that excessive use, we call the customers and offer them the commercial service," she said.
If that's correct, then the AP would have had to do 1000 trials to get one instance of discrimination. In fact, the AP tests found two out of three tests blocked, with the third one severely degraded (started after a 10 minute delay). Then further (unspecified number of) tests were also blocked. That's waaaaay more than 1 in 1000.

So Banse is lying. Or totally clueless, which in her position is not excusable.

And there's waaaaaaaaaaaaaay better ways to handle "long tail" bandwidth hogs. (Uh, transparent, pre-announced, known usage caps, and tiered usage plans for starters.)

Thanks again to Dirk van der Woude for alerting me to this article.

UPDATE: If you're commenting, you might want to take a little peek at this blog's Policy on Comments.

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How the AP tested Comcast's network

Here's the story!

. . . An AP reporter attempted to download, using file-sharing program BitTorrent, a copy of the King James Bible from two computers in the Philadelphia and San Francisco areas, both of which were connected to the Internet through Comcast cable modems.

We picked the Bible for the test because it's not protected by copyright and the file is a convenient size.

In two out of three tries, the transfer was blocked. In the third, the transfer started only after a 10-minute delay. When we tried to upload files that were in demand by a wider number of BitTorrent users, those connections were also blocked.

Not all Comcast-connected computers appear to be affected, however. In a test with a third Comcast-connected computer in the Boston area, we were unable to test with the Bible, apparently due to an unrelated error. When we attempted to upload a more widely disseminated file, there was no evidence of blocking.

The Bible test was conducted with three other Internet connections. One was provided by Time Warner Inc.'s Time Warner Cable, and the other came from Cablevision Systems Corp. The third was the business-class connection to the AP's headquarters, provided by AT&T Inc. and Cogent Communications Group Inc.

No signs of interference with file-sharing were detected in those tests.

Further analysis of the transfer attempt from the Comcast-connected computer in the San Francisco area revealed that the failure was due to ''reset'' packets that the two computers received, carrying the return address of the other computer.

Those packets tell the receiving computer to stop communicating with the sender. However, the traffic analyzer software running on each computer showed that neither computer actually sent the packets. That means they originated somewhere in between, with faked return addresses.

In tests analyzing the traffic received by a computer on Time Warner Cable that was trying to download a file from a large ''swarm'' of BitTorrent users, more than half of the reset packets received carried the return addresses of Comcast subscribers, even though Comcast's 12.4 million residential customers make up only about 20 percent of U.S. broadband subscribers. It was the only U.S. Internet service provider whose subscribers consistently appeared to send reset packets (which are occasionally generated legitimately).

Thanks to Dirk van der Woude for the pointer!

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Why a Net Neutrality law is not enough

Once we decide that Network Neutrality is a good thing to (re)enshrine in law, then we need to ask how to do that effectively. One way would be to pass a law saying, "Thou shalt not discriminate." That's the current approach. But network operators will say that they must manage their network, and if, in the course of network management, they were to disadvantage some source, destination, application, service or content, they might be accused of violating the law.

So any Network Neutrality law must have a Network Management Exception.
(Of course, we know from the work of Andrew Odlyzko [e.g. this paper] that most congestion is caused by a few bottlenecks, which, in general, are cheap and easy to replace. But we can't mandate that the network operator manages congestion by building more capacity. We don't want the government in the network management business!)

Currently Comcast is impeding BitTorrent uploads [AP story, my post]. Susan Crawford has an incisive analysis of the Comcast affair. At the end of it, she calls for Structural Separation. Below, I attempt to explain why.

Comcast could claim that BitTorrent were a major bandwidth hog that it must "manage" to protect its network. In fact, it appears to be doing just that -- a Comcast spokesman says
''We have a responsibility to manage our network to ensure all our customers have the best broadband experience possible . . . This means we use the latest technologies to manage our network to provide a quality experience for all Comcast subscribers.'' [link to AP article]
Contrarily, other reasonable observers could claim that Comcast were deliberately discriminating to protect its main-line video entertainment by blocking or degrading a popular method for sending video. In other words, a Network Management Exception cuts both ways.

If a law specified explicitly what constituted reasonable network management, the motivation for a network operator-cum-apps-provider to game it to favor the network operator's own applications would be overwhelming. We've seen telecom laws gamed, undermined and picked apart in the past.

If, instead, we had a law that said, "Network operators must not have a financial interest in any of the content carried by that network," we could be assured that any network operator's network management would be for the sole purpose of running the network. Such a law would keep government out of the network management business. Enforcement would be via financial audit. Such a law is called Structural Separation.

Then the network operator could manage its network any way it wanted, and we would be assured that it was not gaming the system to favor its own apps, services or content, because it would own no apps, services or content. And we would be assured that any innocent consequences of network management that inadvertently disadvantaged some other app, service or content were indeed innocent and would be quickly remedied.

Furthermore, once unencumbered by the need to use their network to advantage their own applications, network operators would be free to discover what Odlyzko found and what Internet 2 discovered [.pdf] -- that the best way to manage congestion is simply to build more capacity!

(There would need to be one minor exception to Structural Separation to allow network operator web sites for customer interaction, service ordering, network status display, etc. This would be much simpler than a NN Law's Network Management Exception, and much easier to enforce.)

In my humble opinion, the simplest, most sustainable way to ensure a neutral, non-discriminatory network is with a Structural Separation law.

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Comcast Violates Network Neutrality

The Associated Press has confirmed by its own testing that Comcast is blocking BitTorrent uploads. Susan Crawford reports that
Comcast [is] slapping an RST flag [this is a TCP protocol element -- David I] on your packets. And any packets crossing the Comcast network that were coming from the “outside” but were part of this conversation were also having the RST flag slapped on them as they crossed into Comcast territory. Neither user had any idea this was happening. They could just tell that things were moving really slowly and then stopping, as both machines politely agreed to reset themselves - thus cutting the conversation off.
This is a clear violation of the Internet's end-to-end principle [.pdf] in its most basic form. It is direct interference with the TCP protocol, which is designed to be between two endpoints. In other words, Comcast is spoofing the uploader's endpoint.

Here's what's important: BitTorrent is widely used to carry video objects. Comcast's main business is providing video. By blocking BitTorrent, Comcast is keeping its customers from accessing disruptive technology dangerous to its main business.

Note: this is not the first time Comcast has been accused of messing with upstream packets in a discriminatory manner! I reported this and this in March of 2006. Also see this and this.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Quote of Note: Nicholas Economides

"This paper considers the incentive for non-price discrimination of a monopolist in an input market who also sells in an oligopoly downstream market through a subsidiary. Such a monopolist can raise the costs of the rivals to its subsidiary though discriminatory quality degradation. I find that the monopolist always, even when it is cost-disadvantaged, has the incentive to raise the costs of the rivals to its subsidiary in a discriminatory fashion . . . "

Abstract of "The Incentive for Non-Price Discrimination by an Input Monopolist" by Nicholas Economides, April 1997, link.

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Effective unbundling key to broadband leadership

A press release from the European Commission says that over half of DSL lines (55.4%) are "either fully or partially unbundled." And, contrary to the U.S. telco propaganda at the height of the telco's campaign against U.S. unbundling, the report says, "Alternative operators also increasingly invest in their own networks compared to services based on the incumbents' infrastructure."

Also notable: Denmark, which has the highest broadband penetration in Europe (37%), also has the fastest growing broadband penetration (7.7 lines per hundred in the calendar year 7/2006 to 7/2007).

The report focusses on Europe's digital divide. In contrast to Denmark, Bulgaria has less than 6% broadband penetration. The EC report cites, " lack of competition and regulatory weaknesses," as the main determinants of lagging broadband. Hmmm . . . sounds familiar.

Thanks to Esme Vos for the pointer!

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Saturday, October 13, 2007


WaPo: NSA Illegal Spying == Big Time Corruption

The Washington Post has a very important story today that says

(a) The NSA was doing illegal spying before September 11!

[Qwest CEO Joe] Nacchio's account, which places the NSA proposal at a meeting on Feb. 27, 2001, suggests that the Bush administration was seeking to enlist telecommunications firms in programs without court oversight before the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon. The Sept. 11 attacks have been cited by the government as the main impetus for its warrantless surveillance efforts.

(b) The [redacted] -- probably the NSA -- is handing out BIG money for contracts.

In a May 25, 2007, order, U.S. District Judge Edward W. Nottingham wrote that Nacchio has asserted that "Qwest entered into two classified contracts valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, without a competitive bidding process and that in 2000 and 2001, he participated in discussion with high-ranking [redacted] representatives concerning the possibility of awarding additional contracts of a similar nature." He wrote, "Those discussions led him to believe that [redacted] would award Qwest contracts valued at amounts that would more than offset the negative warnings he was receiving about Qwest's financial prospects."
(c) The NSA punished Qwest when it refused to take part in the NSA's illegal spying program.

In the court filings disclosed this week, Nacchio suggests that Qwest's refusal to take part in that program led the government to cancel a separate, lucrative contract with the NSA in retribution. He is using the allegation to try to show why his stock sale should not have been considered improper.
Wow, talk about corruption.

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Quote of Note: Steve Forbes

"Weather patterns have been constantly changing for eons, long before humans inhabited the earth. It is scientific hubris to conclude we truly know what fundamentally affects those patterns and how."

Steve Forbes, letter to George Woodwell of the Woods Hole Research Center, September 11, 2007.

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Lessig 2.0, the video

Larry Lessig has moved on from Copyright to Corruption. He explains:
I don't mean corruption in the simple sense of bribery. I mean "corruption" in the sense that the system is so queered by the influence of money that it can't even get an issue as simple and clear as term extension right. Politicians are starved for the resources concentrated interests can provide. In the US, listening to money is the only way to secure reelection. And so an economy of influence bends public policy away from sense, always to dollars. [Link.]
Lessig's first lecture on corruption is Must-See-TV! Do watch it. Or, at least listen to the audio.

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O'Reilly ETel cancelled

The ETel Web site is terminally terse:
Due to changed circumstances since ETel 2008 was announced,
we have decided not to move forward with the conference,
which was scheduled for March 3-4, 2008.
Thus ends one of the best meetings in the field! Does anybody know what caused O'Reilly to pull the plug?

Update: Lee Dryburgh's take on the cancellation:
It would be a complete understatement to say that I was extremely
disappointed when I heard earlier that ETel 2008 had been
cancelled. In fact I was utterly pi**ed.

MORE UPDATA: Lee Dryburgh is trying to put together a conference called EmergingComm to fill ETel's void. Target date March-ish.

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Friday, October 12, 2007


Screenshot >1k Words

[link to boingboing (your ad will vary), link to story]

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007


NMRC ad hominem attack on Kushnick

My friend Bruce Kushnick's heart is pure, but he is not the most detail-oriented guy in the world. For example, in his recent Nieman Watchdog article on telco-funded think tanks designed to influence public policy, Kushnick says that fifteen presenters at a recent FTC hearing on Network Neutrality "either worked or used to work for the phone or cable companies." He was attempting to marshall evidence that the FTC hearing was biased. But if I had testified, there would have been sixteen -- I was at AT&T for 12 years, but that doesn't make me a friend of the phone company. Elsewhere, Kushnick calls New Jersey's Ratepayer Advocate its "Consumer Advocate." Such minor mistakes make Kushnick an easy target.

Nevertheless, the general thrust of Kushnick's work -- that the think tanks he lists function as PR arms of the phone companies, that the phone companies fund them to advance their views and interests -- is solid.

In contrast, the "research" of the New Millennium Research Council (NMRC), which Kushnick criticizes, is cheesecloth.

The head of the NMRC, Matt Bennett, demanded space from Nieman Watchdog for a response, and posted a response full of ad hominem venom against Kushnick and Glenn Fleishman, a Wi-Fi expert and also a critic of corporate-funded think-tanks. Bennett's first paragraph includes such words as, " . . . incendiary . . . aspersions . . . firmly believe[s] that he alone has a monopoly on truth . . . an unfounded attack based upon his personal disagreements . . . " This tone persists throughout Bennett's piece.

Bennett's response fails to confront Kushnick's basic substantive claims except by invective. It concludes,
No doubt, at times organizations are paid to say things, and on other occasions organizations are paid because a contributor likes what they are saying. There is a huge difference between these statements that Mr. Kushnick needs to acknowledge. In fact, all the difference in the world lies in that causal chain.
But Bennett leaves it to the reader to conclude how NMRC's causal chain is jerked. Do the telcos pay NMRC because NMRC already holds opinions it likes? Or do the telcos pay NMRC to develop opinions it likes? Bennett does not say.

One thing is sure. Bruce Kushnick is poor because he is working for what he believes is right, regardless of where the money is.

[Glenn Fleishman rebuts some major points in Bennett's article in its comments section.]

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007


isen on Free Press Action Network

Josh Stearns, Free Press' Campaign Coordinator, asked to do occasional cross postings on the Free Press Action Network blog. My first posting, on my NATOA NN talk, is up, right under pictures of Jesse Jackson, Commissioner Adelstein, Senator Kerry and Representative Hilda Solis (D-CA). [Link to whole posting here.]

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Monday, October 08, 2007


Quote of Note: Jim Hoffa

“What would happen if … workers decided to fight for better working conditions? Would they be able to list their grievances on a Web site? Just this week, AT&T updated its terms for Internet service. The company will now suspend or cancel Internet service to anyone who speaks out against the company in any way. When corporations control communications and the ability to appeal to the public for justice, workers will ultimately lose.”

Jim Hoffa, Teamsters President, here.

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My NATOA Talk on Network Neutrality

Last Friday morning I was part of a panel on Network Neutrality at the annual NATOA conference. NATOA is the "National Association of Telecommunications Operators and Administrators." Its members are mostly municipal employees who operate their town government's telephone systems, Internet systems and information systems.

My fellow panelists were Josh Silver, co-founder of Free Press, and Matt Wenger, President of The Americas for Packetfront. The panel was ably moderated by Ken Fellman, Mayor of Arvada, Colorado and long-time telecom activist.

Originally, Ray Gifford, former President of the Progress and Freedom Foundation, was to join us, but he had to cancel due to a client emergency to attend to. Another unfortunate last minute cancellation, John Kneuer, Assistant Secretary of Commerce and party to an energetic exchange at SuperNova that Doc, David W and I instigated [the Register story, my transcript, the video].

This left me and Josh without strong anti-Neuts to spar with, but Josh brought a picture of Ray Gifford to talk to, and I took on Kneuer's junk economics and junk history anyhow.

I was the first speaker. Here's what I prepared for Opening Remarks:

I'm delighted that the NATOA Board has taken a strong position for Network Neutrality [.pdf], which it correctly defines as, "non-discriminatory access by all users to all forms of communications services." And I'm gratified that the Board advocates a law to, "prevent communications providers from discriminating or prioritizing the transmissions of any communications services or products based on the content or source of such services and products."

(But if this becomes law, it could significantly weaken Matt Wenger's company, PacketFront. [Packetfront provides deep packet inspection technology as part of its product line. -- David I] So listen carefully when Matt says he favors open networks.)

The NATOA Board made this statement because open access is under attack. A wave of junk economics is sweeping over the United States. Its proponents believe that the marketplace will supplant the rule of law, morality, and concern for our fellow human beings. We've known this is false for about 800 years.

800 years ago a body of law emerged to prevent the abuses of an unregulated marketplace. This law was called The Doctrine of Public Callings. It was the fore-runner of Common Carriage. Under it, shipping networks and trades enabled by them, were **open**!

This openness meant that operators of facilities and trades had a duty to offer competent services to all comers at fair prices, and a duty not to withhold or degrade those services without reasonable cause.

Proponants of junk economics, like Assistant Commerce Secretary John Kneuer, who can't be here today, behave as if corporations exist as profit harvesting machines with no public duty.

Kneuer claims that Network Neutrality is New Law. But that's junk history.

Network Neutrality is Old Law -- 800 years old. But Network Neutrality has suffered three big attacks in recent years, and now it needs to be restored.

The first attack was the FCC Triennial Order of 2003, which removed a telephone company's duty to share its access lines if the access network had fiber-optics in it. The second attack was the Supreme Court's Brand X decision in 2005, which lightened the public duty of Cable-based Internet providers. The third attack was the FCC's DSL order, which came within weeks of the Brand X decision, which lightened the public duties of DSL providers. As a result, today discrimination is legal -- and that's New Law, Bad Law, and it must be overturned.

The 1996 Telecom Act envisioned that competition would supplant regulation. It had some strong pro-competitive provisions, but the Baby Bells and Big Cable mounted a systematic campaign to nullify every pro-competitive provision in The Act, from the Long Distance Entry checklist to TELRIC and Line Sharing. Unfortunately, they won.

Assistant Secretary Kneuer has said that the collapse of competition is the result of the Free Market at Work. This is false. There never was a Free Market. The pre-1996 telephone monopolies had Soviet-style hierarchical structures, ten-year plans, and lock-step thinking that would make a turning tanker look agile. They used their monopoly market-power momentum to Lobby, Legislate and Litigate the 1996 Act into meaningless mush. Now, after a brief moment we nostalgicly call "the Internet bubble" we're back to giant Soviet-style companies in a monolithic marketplace, undisciplined by meaningful competition **or** regulation, that have completely forgotten the Universal Service ethic of the Bell System and have lost any sense of mission, national pride or public duty.

As a result, the United States has a weak Internet with broadband penetration somewhere between 16th and 25th in the world, down from #1 in the late 1990s.

Now we're just beginning to see these unregulated, undisciplined, uncompetitive monoliths abandon all public duty. They decide which organizations can and can't put messages on their networks. They arbitrarily block access to competing services. They reserve the right to terminate service if they decide -- in their sole discretion -- that our use of their facilities "is objectionable for any reason, . . .", or if it, "damages their reputation," or even if we post "off topic messages" to newsgroups. They've announced plans to police the Internet for copyright materials, and they will decide -- in their sole discretion -- what to do about them. They've announced plans to create fast-lane services for Web sites they decide -- in their sole discretion -- that they like, and regular Internet service for the rest of us.

Our use of the Internet should be at **our** discretion, not **theirs**. The NATOA board correctly advocates restoring the law against such behavior.

But Caution! Telephone companies have a long history of manipulating the law for their purposes. My friend Bruce Kushnick wrote a book called
The_200_Billion_Dollar_Broadband_Scandal where he documents how telcos have gotten tax breaks and rate relief in return for promises of improved services that they don't keep. For example, they got at least $11B for promising that every customer in New Jersey would have 45 MBit symmetrical service by now. Today **no** household in New Jersey has 45 MBit service, but they kept the money.

Other scandals are brewing -- for example, AT&T
promised [.pdf] to offer DSL for $10 a month in its agreement to acquire Bell South, but you can't find their $10 DSL offer anywhere. Are they going to recind the AT&T-BellSouth merger as a result?

Finally, I remind you that the Bells systematically gutted each pro-competitive position even though the 1996 Act established that competition was the Law of the Land.

So I'm not optimistic that a law that simply mandates Net Neutrality will survive the depredations of the monoliths to actually BRING us Network Neutrality. I think we'll need to restore their sense of public duty too, and I'm not quite sure how to do that.

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Saturday, October 06, 2007


Is Apple missing the iPhone Market?

In Tim Wu's recent Slate article on unlocking the iPhone, he says that the unlocking process is something that only one in twenty people might feel comfortable with. Meanwhile, in other news, Bloomberg reports that as many as one iPhone in ten is sold to be unlocked.

Applying naive multiplication . . . could it be that Apple would sell 3 times more iPhones if they came unlocked out of the box?

That's crazy. But suppose by selling **and supporting** unlocked iPhones, Apple could sell, say, 50% more iPhones, and a bunch of cool Apple-branded iPhone apps, AND not be evil . . . well wouldn't it more than make up for the supposed benefits of shackling up with AT&T?

Well, wouldn't it? I think an unlocked iPhone would have been so good that Apple could have materially shifted the "ownership" of the value proposition from carriers to device makers in the same way they disrupted the music industry. I said this last January [see "Apple Blows It," 1/10/07], and the numbers above lead me to believe I'm still right.

UPDATE: Let's ask the question another way: How many people would say, "Wow, I love that cool AT&T mobile service sooooo much that I'd gladly buy an iPhone just to get AT&T"? How many would say the opposite? Now that should tell us where the value lies.

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Tim Wu unlocks his iPhone

Tim Wu lays out the legal case that unlocking an iPhone is legal and ethical in Slate:

. . . my [unlocked] iPhone works flawlessly. With my existing T-Mobile account, I get 1,300 more minutes of talk time than I would have received from AT&T for a comparably priced plan; I also now have a phone that I can take to Asia and Europe. I avoided a $200 termination fee, AT&T's activation fee, and having to wait for AT&T to port my existing number. On the downside, I don't have AT&T's visual voicemail, and I have to stay away from Apple's software upgrades, which might brick the phone. But it's easy to download third-party apps, like iPong. Best of all, my geek friends are impressed . . . Did I do anything wrong? When you buy an iPhone, Apple might argue that you've made an implicit promise to become an AT&T customer. But I did no such thing. I told the employees at the Apple Store that I wanted to unlock it, and at no stage of the purchasing process did I explicitly agree to be an AT&T customer. There was no sneakiness; I just did something they didn't like.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007


Quote of Note: Clear Channel

"In light of the audience composition and the tone of the commercial presented by "Vote for Vets", we cannot air the three spots requested for broadcast on WJNO AM during the Rush Limbaugh Show. Airing anti-Rush Limbaugh commercials during the Rush Limbaugh show on WJNO AM would only conflict with the listeners who have chosen to listen to Rush Limbaugh.

"As an alternative, we would propose airing the commercials during other dayparts on WJNO or on some of our other appropriate stations in the market, and would be happy to make advertising recommendations based on format and demographics to aid you in your station selection."

Clear Channel's response to VoteVets, which wanted to purchase air time on the Rush Limbaugh show to run this ad. [Source]

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My comment on Verizon Policy Blog

You can see the crow feathers around the lips of Verizon's Policy Blog these days. They *say" that they don't censor (and that's a very good thing!), even though Verizon's terms of service make it clear that they reserve the right to censor.

Here's my comment on this story which will appear in the story's comments section (at Verizon's sole discretion):

(UPDATE: Verizon did post it)
I'll believe that you "fixed" the problem and you won't screen political or other controversial speech when your Terms of Service replace all the legal weasel language with a clear statement of this guarantee. Right now your TOS won't let me criticize Verizon, post anything "that is objectionable for any reason," or even post an "off-topic" message to another newsgroup. The problem is that Verizon, in its sole discretion, decides what is disparaging, objectionable, and off-topic.

Once I read a Verizon TOS sheet that was much better -- it said, essentially, that bad stuff happens on the Internet, and that the user of Verizon's services understands that it is the user's responsibility to choose what that user's Verizon connection is used for. Now THAT'S the way to go! But I don't see language like that now.

How about a clear statement in your TOS that says, Verizon supports freedom of expression, no matter how controversial it might seem to some, and it is up to the user to decide how to use the Verizon connection.

NOTE: I'm glad that you don't enforce these anti-free-speech written policies, but you can't say the problem is fixed until your TOS shows it is fixed!

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