Friday, May 30, 2008


Another Reason Not To Teleconference(!)

Continental Airlines took out a half-page ad in today's Financial Times (page 3) that reads:

"BusinessFirst. Another Reason Not To Teleconference . . . you'll enjoy a comfortable sleeper seat, gourmet food and wine . . . warm cookies, and a made-to-order sundae . . ."

Then there's the the no-humor zone, the war against more than 3 ounces of any one moist substance, the inane announcements, the border-crossing bullsh*t, the takeoff and landing delays, the absence of Internet connectivity, the lost and damaged luggage, and the crying baby two rows back . . . not to mention the escalating prices and the obscene carbon footprint . . .

Teleconferencing must be getting pretty good for the airlines to be advertising against it! In fact, it is.

The host of my recent trip to New Zealand just tried Cisco's high-end telepresence system and he raved, Telepresence is just AMAZING! I tried it too a couple of months ago, and it was superb -- the eye contact was perfect (how'd they do that?), the resolution was great, the delay was imperceptible, and all-in-all it was like being there.

"Gourmet" food notwithstanding, if I had a meeting overseas with people I knew already, and I could telepresence instead of BusinessFirst, I would.

And if I could buy telepresence futures as a hedge against the next pandemic, or even against radical price increases for airplane tix, I'd do that too.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008


Computerworld covers my Wellington NZ speech has just posted their story entitled,
"Telcos a threat to online security, claims author;
Network intelligence is the enemy in 'nightmare scenario'"

on my TUANZ talk in Wellington ten days ago. An excerpt:
Then there is the most plausible of nightmares — the one concerning traffic prioritisation. “In my nightmare, once the telephone company has some applications that generate more revenue, because they’re subject to ‘management’, and others that don’t the former get all the newest, fastest, shiniest network upgrades, while the latter languish on what soon becomes yesterday’s network.

“Innovations that don’t yet have a revenue-stream are consigned to second-class service or subjected to other barriers that keep them off the network. In my nightmare, all but the most mundane innovation dies.”

Much of this supposed need for “management” will be based on the myth of bandwidth scarcity, Isenberg says.

Snip . . . whole story here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Quote of Note: Saudi King Abdullah

"I keep no secret from you that, when there were some new finds, I told them, 'No, leave it in the ground, with grace from God, our children need it'."

Abdullah, King of Saudi Arabia, addressing the prospect of Saudi oil production increases, quoted in The Financial Tims, May 20, 2008, page 9, column 3.

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Monday, May 19, 2008


Podcasting hits new highs

So whadaya want for audio entertainment? Captivating music? "Tap your feet and wiggle" funk? "Heckuvajob Brownie" political relevance? Historical awareness? Artistic mastery?

You got it!

If we had a few of these every week, broadcast mainstream media would be way more dead. No wonder they hate the Internet.

Like jazz? Like rock n roll? Like folk? Like MUSIC? Listen here.

Artful. Relevant. Get down and stomp.

[Big tip of the chapeau Francais to Benoit Felten!]

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Friday, May 16, 2008


Fibre link 'could insure against post-oil isolation'

Here's the angle on my NZ talk that picked up . . .

Fibre link 'could insure against post-oil isolation'
By JON HOYLE - The Dominion Post | Tuesday, 13 May 2008

A high-speed fibre-optic network connected to the rest of the world would partly insure New Zealand against the isolation it will face after the final oil shock.

Technology analyst, author and former AT&T executive David Isenberg says New Zealand needs to forget about tinkering with Telecom's relatively low-speed copper network and build a high-speed open-access fibre network, one not controlled by telecomms firms.

At the Tuanz Telecommunications Day conference in Wellington last week he had words of warning about telecommunications companies.

Where networks were owned by the companies and not open to all service providers, the common message from companies was that bandwidth was scarce and consumers had to pay high prices.

This message was a myth, he said. Current affordable technology meant capacity was not scarce.

Holding up a length of fibre-optic cable, he said if the world's 6.5 billion people picked up a phone simultaneously, all of the conversations would take up only 88 per cent of the cable's capacity.


Whole article here.

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My NZ interview with Adam Gifford

Adam Gifford, business reporter for the NZ Herald, did an interview with me when I came to NZ in 2003 to help launch the Auckland fibre network now known as Vector. A visit to kiwidom would not be complete without a chat. He can get me to say stuff that seems smarter than I have a right to seem. Here's a snip of my interview a couple weeks ago:

[Gifford] asked [me] what had changed since he was here two years ago.

"The big thing I didn't predict, and I see as huge danger to the stupid network, is the emergence of deep packet inspection and other forms of traffic classification and the telephone companies' attempts to build consortiums around UMS (unified messaging), IPsphere and basically trying to, if not put the toothpaste back in the tube then build a new tube around the toothpaste," Isenberg says.

"They want to get back into the value chain and now they are pushing the technical and protocol initiatives to do it.

"I see it as a huge danger. It threatens to make barriers in the middle of the network, barriers to innovation. So if a new application comes along without a revenue stream but it [needs] the latest, newest, fastest internet, it does need to make some kind of deal with the telephone companies.

"That threatens the old idea of two guys in a garage trying something out, or three guys in Estonia inventing Skype. It will make it harder for disruptive innovation to occur."

And despite the telephone companies' insistence they know what their customers want and can deliver it better than Google or Yahoo or some other provider on the edge of the stupid network, Isenberg says the customers are saying something different.

"The mobile space is starting to look interesting. There are reports that a third of iphones are unlocked, which is amazing given they are taking them out of the Apple upgrade stream so they don't get bricked, and they forced Apple to release its developer toolkit," he says.
"Then there is [open source phone project] Openmoko, which cuts the carrier out of the direct value chain."

His answer on how to achieve internet leadership is fibre - lots of it, especially to the home.

Whole article here.

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Digistan, the antidote to NGN

There's a new initiative to counteract NGN, IMS, IPsphere and other industry initiatives that would regularize, complexify and lock down the Internet. It is called Digistan. It is designed to promulgate Free and Open Standards, which are defined by a key property . . . "that a free and open standard is immune to vendor capture at all stages in its life-cycle. Immunity from vendor capture makes it possible to freely use, improve upon, trust, and extend a standard over time."

Digistan's Web site starts with a critical insight into standards and markets:
Without open standards, we get fragmented markets in which vendors do not truly compete, customers do not have free choice, and large parts of our technology stacks are proprietary and closed. Lock-in, not competition, becomes the main strategy from established vendors. New small vendors with innovative solutions and advanced technology are prevented from competing. This creates niche markets which may be individually large but are overall insignificant compared to the potential market size.
The Digistan Web site is chock full of wisdom about vendor lock-in and the virtues of openness. In places, it sounds like it is taken from the pages of The Cluetrain Manifesto, e.g.,
. . . almost forty years ago, Steve Crocker and his team wrote RFC001 and launched the networks that built the Internet using a different model based on older human values of sharing and cooperation. His vision, and that of other Internet pioneers, was of a digital world built on simple, interoperable standards, accessible at zero cost to even the smallest teams. Largely, their dream is coming true. Today we're used to an Internet of open software, open content, and open development.

While most agree, not everyone likes it . . . many of the old industrial businesses, instead of adapting, are fighting back. The fight is intensifying because the stakes are growing. Free and open source software, open content, and open communities are together worth trillions of dollars. The key to controlling these rich ecosystems is to control the digital standards they depend on. [
link to source page]
I'm the 354th person to sign the Digistan declaration, which explicitly links open standards to human rights. You can sign it too . . . there are five days before the declaration's official May 21 launch!

Check it out. If we don't work for the Internet we want, we'll have to live with the broadband lockbox that's designed for our "Customer Experience."

Thanks to Michael Shiloh, the "community interface" of the OpenMoko project for bringing Digistan to my attention. Excellent interview with Michael here.

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Monday, May 12, 2008


Musings of an Ignorant Economist, continued

In my TUANZ talk in Wellington last week, I guesstimated that NZ could pass almost 100% of homes (ignoring only homes where the density is below 10 per road-mile) with fiber (and offer a triple play package) for $4.2 Billion (plus another $2 B to build 1000x NZ's current interntional connectivity). I just found a 2008 NZ Institute study [.pdf] that proposes to pass 75% of NZ's homes for between $4 and $5 B. I think they could do it in five years, while the NZI study says 10 years. The NZI figure includes upgraded international links, while my "study" had that as an extra -- this trades against the 75% vs "almost 100%".

The NZI study and my guesstimate are remarkably aligned. (Maybe NZI is ignorant too!)

Except for the cost of the study . . . dunno what their 24-viewgraph study cost, but the study has the flavor of McKinsey-mold consultants, so I shudder to think.

Maybe this ignorant economist, AKA Prosultant(sm), is so ignorant of economics as to underprice his services.

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Don't know much about history . . .

. . . don't know much economy!

I'm driving "angry economist" Russ Nelson -- in his own words -- batty.

He says,

Unfortunately, David doesn't know much economics.
He also says the same thing about Allen Sinai. I'm flattered, Russ.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008


Archives of my Wellington NZ visit

Small fish, but New Zealand is a beautiful and delightfully manageable pond.

NZ Herald Story: Isenberg's Internet Nightmare, Why NZ Broadband Sucks

Here's the report from the TUANZ blog.

Here's a video of Ernie Newman and Sarah Putt, my gracious, inimitable TUANZ hosts!

And here's a transcript of a Radio NZ story on the TUANZ trouble I tried to stir up:

MARY WILSON: A telecommunications expert says the economic benefits from putting in ultra fast fibre network into every home and business would be enormous, despite a $6 billion-plus price tag. Speaking at the Telecommunication[sic] Users Association conference in Wellington today, David Isenberg told the audience it could be completed in five years, but the Government says that's unrealistic.

Rachel Askew has more.

REPORTER: David Isenberg says splitting Telecom into three parts - network, wholesale and retail - is a good first step. But, he says, that's not good enough if New Zealand wants to be among the world elite. He estimates it would cost $4.2 billion to install fibre to New Zealand's 1.3 million homes, plus another $2 billion to upgrade the undersea cable that links the country to the rest of the world. He also says bringing fibre to homes could be closer than people think.

DAVID ISENBERG: Now, there's no reason why New Zealand can't complete this in five years. Japan did it in five years; Amsterdam did it in five years; Stockholm did it in three years a decade ago.

REPORTER: However, the Government says that's unrealistic. The Communications Minister David Cunliffe says, within the decade is a more reasonable time frame. But, he says, even then, the rollout of fibre needs to be affordable for households and firms.

DAVID CUNLIFFE: Fibre to the home should not be made at any cost, particularly if the cost of such investment is higher prices for all end users, reduced competition and the entrenchment of a possible monopolistic practice.

REPORTER: Two weeks ago, the National Party Leader, John Key, said a National Government would invest $1.5 billion to help part fund an ultra fast fibre network. But speaking at the conference, the Deputy Leader, Bill English, warned a National Government would want a return on its investment.

BILL ENGLISH: The problems of how you make money out of high capital investment with low, variable costs is just the same whether the Crown is there or not. And we will want to make sure that the fundamental economics are what - are driving our decisions, not just day-to-day political pressures.

REPORTER: He says any government contribution has to lead to measurable increases in service.

For Checkpoint, Rachel Askew.


Four Paths to NZ Internet Leadership

Here's the text of a talk that I presented in Wellington NZ yesterday at the the TUANZ annual NZ Telecom Day conference.
Like other Americans before me, on whose shoulders I stand, I have a dream.

I have a dream that the Internet becomes so capable that I am with you as intimately as I am right now -- but without leaving my home in Cos Cob Connecticut. For starters, today's best attemot to do telepresence -- which, in my opinion is Cisco's high-end telepresence system -- this means about 20 megabits per second, guaranteed, in each direction.

I have a dream that the Internet is so capacious that Kiwis no longer feel like they're dangling at the end of a 12,000 kilometer long cable. That ADSL loses its "A" and becomes truly symmetrical -- upload speeds of 128 and 256kbit should be New Zealand's national shame. (and I'm American, so when I say "national shame" I know what I am talking about).

(I actually did the arithmetic: when you divide the one terabit of Southern Cross by 4 million kiwis, you get 250 kilobits per second per person.)

I have a dream that DSL loses its DSL too, because, DSL is all about copper. , and let's face it, fiber, the all-optical network, is the end game.

I have a dream that the Internet becomes so omnipresent and useful that we will think of the people in Accra or Caracas as "us" not "them" much as we think of the people of Auckland and Christchurch.

I have a dream that a cornucopia of new and wonderful applications, some of which we can't even imagine today, will make our lives even more satisfying and productive tomorrow.

I have a dream that one day the climate change problem, which today threatens to turn our Earth into an orbiting cinder, will be a thing of the past thanks, in part, to the Internet and trillions of smart vehicles, heaters, refrigerators, air conditioners connected to the Internet so as to mediate real-time auctions for energy, urban access and carbon credits.

I have a dream that the two billion human beings who live on less than dollar a day today will use the fiber optic cables that connect them to the rest of the world to connect them to food and water and medical care, to connect to transparent, democratic governance, to connect to customers, suppliers, markets and innovative ideas.

I have a dream that one of these two billion is already so smart as to be another Einstein, that another is so compassionate as to be another Gandhi, that another is so diplomatic as to be another Mandella . . . and that someday soon we will discover them on Technorati, leave comments on their blog, and subscribe to their flickr photo stream and their twitter tweets.

But I also have a nightmare . . .

In my nightmare, the telephone company has convinced us that it needs to know the nature of every Internet transaction, so it can -- quote-unquote -- manage -- what it calls "my pipes".

This might happen in any of several ways. Maybe it says it needs to stop terrorism, or protect the children, or serve blind and deaf people, or protect authors and performers from theft of their work. Or maybe there's a genuine emergency -- a pandemic or a nuclear attack or a 9.0 quake that wipes out San Francisco and LA at once, and causes the network we have to overload.

In my nightmare, whatever the excuse -- or the precipitating real-world event -- once the telephone company gains the ability to know which apps are generating which packets, it begins charging more for applications we value more.

In my nightmare, this becomes a form of blackmail, because if you tell, say, a bank, that there's a secure transaction service, and it doesn't use it, and there's a security breach anywhere for any reason, under US law, the bank becomes liable because by not choosing the so-called "secure service," it demonstrated that it did not take *all* the precautions that were available.

In my nightmare, once the telephone company has some applications that generate more revenues because they're subject to management -- and others that don't -- the former get all the newest, shiniest, fastest network upgrades, while the latter languish in what soon becomes Yesterday's Network.

In my nightmare, new innovations that need the newest fastest network, but don't yet have a revenue stream, are consigned to second class service. Or they're subject to lengthy engineering studies and other barriers that keep them off the market. In other words, in my nightmare, all but the most mundane innovation dies

In my nightmare, the telephone company and its henchmen log every Internet transaction that reveals what I buy, what I search for, where I am, what I'm doing, what I want to do tomorrow, what I can afford, what my medical condition is, who my heros are, and who I aspire to be. Then commercial entities use these aggregated clues to assess the surplus value of that transaction to me and charge accordingly.

In my nightmare, the post-Google search company is NOT guided by a pole star that says, "Don't be evil." The temptation to steer by a star of profit or power will be irresistible.

In my nightmare, I discover that the ruling party is monitoring my aggregated Internet activity to find out if I like its war, if I agree with its energy policy, if I've detected that its cronies are on the take, and if I accept its version of the truth.

(You Kiwis need not be smug because you've got a good ruling party. The Internet is global. Any ruling party that wants to reach out and abridge your rights threatens us all.)

In my nightmare, I break into a cold sweat because they've discovered exactly when I'll be at the record store or the supermarket or the airport. A car pulls up, and there's a man holding each of my elbows . . . "come with us, sir, just a few routine questions" . . . I step into the car, I feel a prick in my arm and the world goes dark . . . and I wake up in an orange jumpsuit in a windowless room that is completely disconnected from the Internet, from geography, from information, from law, from time, from my wife, from everything that makes me human. I break into a cold sweat, I try to scream, I struggle to wake up . . .

Then my wife is shaking me, asking "Darling are you having that Internet nightmare again?

So? Which will it be, the dream or the nightmare?
We have a choice. That the choice is now.

Now let's talk about our reality.

In our **reality**, the Internet came into being as a network of networks. It exists because we needed a network that would just deliver the bits. It arrived because DECnet wouldn't talk to HP, and Starlan would not understand ATM features like "constant bitrate", and call waiting/callerID were just a pain in the ass when we dialed an on-line service. Network specific features, even features that added value to a specific network, lost their value when networks were Inter-networked. Intelligence in the middle of the network became impossible -- the entire value creation process migrated to the edge.

So today, we have an Internet protocol that makes specific features of any proprietary subnet irrelevant. Today, the Internet delivers the bits wrapped in stone-simple Internet packets. Today, the Internet is a stupid network.

It is this property that makes the Internet the huge success -- and the daily necessity -- that it is today. It is not digitization -- else other digital networks like ATM and X.25 and GPRS would be as prevalent. It it the fact that anybody can connect into the cloud, and reach anybody or any service or any content without barriers. It is this fact -- intelligence at the edge -- that let one individual in a physics lab in Switzerland create The Web. It is this fact that let a Pez dispenser collector create eBay. It is this fact that let a couple of Stanford undergrads create Google.

I know you know all this. But it is important to re-iterate it, because the telephone companies are now proposing to change the very essence of the open Internet.

It was the open nature of the Internet -- and value creation at the edge -- that made it possible for three programmers in Estonia to invent Skype, which now threatens to disrupt the trillion-dollar-a-year global telecommunications industry.

By accident, this trillion-dollar global industry is the same industry that supplies our Internet connections. No wonder they want to radically alter the very nature of how our Internet works.

And now, suddenly, they have the technology to do it. Suddenly they have deep packet inspection that works at up to OC-48, and probably faster. Suddenly they have IMS, which would re-establish an application's dependence on underlying network services, and IP-Sphere, which would put machinery into the network to coordinate inter-carrier services. Suddenly, all around the world, telephone companies and their equipment suppliers are furiously creating machinery to put the value creation process back into the middle of the network.

They can do this because what was once an Inter Network of heterogeneous, diverse networks has become "The Internet." Beware of homogeneity. Beware of optimization. Beware of telephone companies bearing new, centralized capabilities that would manage scarce capacity.

Here's another fact that they don't want us to know: Capacity is not scarce. We have the technology -- the affordable technology -- to never be bandwidth-limited again. New Zealand has to abandon its talk about the copper loop.

Let me illustrate:

This cable has 864 fibers.

Each fiber can carry up to 160 different wavelengths, each wavelength can carry 10 Gigabits.
The technology to do this has been in the marketplace for at least five years.
This 1.6 terabit signal can go from Russell to Dunedin, (and perhaps, if you'll allow an ignorant extrapolation, even from Auckland to Sydney) without active regeneration.

How big is a gigabit? One gigabit can carry the entire conventional telephony load of a city of 100,000 people. In other words, four wavelengths on one fiber could carry New Zealand's entire conventional telephone traffic. No wonder the telephone companies are worried.

Here's another way to see this cable. If all 6.5 billion people on earth had a telephone, and if they were all off-hook, generating 64 kilobits a second, and all those conversations were routed to this cable, there would be 100 fibers still dark.

Now imagine this running down your street. Imagine that each house could have two or three fibers, more bandwidth than a telco in each house.

So I've done a back-of-the-envelope study of what it would cost for New Zealand to lose its scarcity and retain its open network.

A friend of mine is building rural fiber build for a consortium of 20 towns in rural Vermont. The largest town is 10,000 people. He figures his business case on about 12 homes per mile of road and a 50% take rate. He figures it will cost about $6000 per home. If he pays this off over 20 years, debt service is about $500 a year. OP-EX is another 5 or 6 hundred. So for 1200 a year, or $100 a month, the most rural Vermont farmer can get the full triple play -- TV, Telephone Service and screaming, uncapped 100 Megabit Symmetrical Internet service. This includes initial build, initial startup (where take rate is temporarily way below 50%), truck rolls for installation and early maintenance, TV programs, telephone interconnection, the works.

In town, it costs a lot less. I visited Lafayette LA two weeks ago. Lafayette is a city of 110,000, or about 40,000 households. They're building a municipal fiber network to every house in the city, rich and poor, black and white, for about 300 million, or about $2000 a house at a 50% take-rate. If you factor in OPEX and everything else, their cost will be about $50 a month. They plan to charge $70, for TV, telephone and 100 Mbit/s Internet.

So if you take New Zealand's 1.3 million homes, let's say that 30% are rural. That's 400,000 homes at $6000 == $2.4 Billion. The other 70%, 900,000 homes at $2000 == 1.8 Billion.

So for about $4.2 Billion, you can fiber up every house in the entire country.

But with 4 million Kiwis uploading at 100 megabits a second, Southern Cross, at 256 kbit/s per Kiwi, won't do. I guesstimate that Southern Cross cost around $1 Billion, and the technology is probably a decade old. So I'd guess that for another $2 Billion, you could get 1000 times the capacity.

There's no reason New Zealand can't build this network in five years. Japan did it. Amsterdam did it. Stockholm did it a decade ago.

Originally, when Sarah Putt asked me for a title, I told her it would be "Four Paths to Kiwi Internet Leadership."

I was going to discuss various scenarios for functional separation and local loop unbundling. But in my studies -- and in my conversations over the last day -- I've become convinced that the current policy initiatives are like "lite" cigarettes for smokers who want to quit. Objectively, smokers who switch to "lites" aren't actually improving their health, but they are admitting they have a problem, and changing their behavior. So perhaps the current policy initiatives are a way of opening the door.

Meanwhile, I've got a better guess at what the "Four Paths to Kiwi Internet Leadership" actually are --
Open Fiber,
Open Fiber,
Open Fiber,
Open Fiber.

One more thing. You should ban two words from polite conversation about future telecoms policy. Kilobit. And Copper.

Thank you!

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008


Pic>1kword: Hillary


Friday, May 02, 2008


Silicon Valley Policy Forum

Harold Feld wrote to me yesterday to let me know about an initiative he's working on.

Harold works for the Media Access Project in Washington DC. Media Access Project is organizing a much-needed initiative to bring more policy discussions to Silicon Valley. The two California events coming up look like they're going to be very worthwhile.

The first -- entitled The Future of Content and Control -- will be on May 12 at eBay HQ. It features folks from Microsoft, Skydeck and AT&T, as well as friends like Mike Godwin (now at Wikipedia) and Harold Feld (my MAP contact).

The second -- Open Access and the New Net Neutrality -- will be on June 12.

There will be a third event in this series on June 25, but it will be held in Washington DC.

For more info, see Media Access Project's
events page. Or contact Brooke Rae-Hunter at MAP -- 202-454-5686 or

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