Monday, September 28, 2009


Happy Birthday Norton Buffalo!

Norton Buffalo, harmonica player extraordinaire, turns 58 today.

Not all that big a deal, except that he's just been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, and it has spread into his brain.

Norton has played with many of the great ones. Steve Miller (for 28 years), Roy Rogers, Bonnie Raitt, Johnny Cash, the Doobie Brothers, Elvin Bishop, Merl Saunders, . . . Some of Norton's most touching work is on The Vultures, an all-acoustic string-band-style sendup of sixties hits like Alley Cat, Stranger on the Shore and Moon River.

Here's one guy I'm going to miss when he's gone. Happy Birthday Norton!!!

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Friday, September 25, 2009


Quote of Note: Blair Levin

"Broadband is a way that people connect to the Internet."

Blair Levin, Executive Director, Omnibus Broadband Initiative, as interviewed by David Weinberger here.

Why I care.

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Flash!!! Global Crossing discovers Ethernet

I was going to leave a comment on the Global Crossing blog posting entitled The Safe Bet Seems to be Ethernet, but that blog's comments are temporarily disabled.

The post's author, Jeff Smith, Global Crossing's Senior Director Infrastructure Services EMEA (EMEA means Europe, the Middle East and Asia, a medium-sized market just north of The Bronx) writes,
Currently Ethernet is rapidly becoming the primary communications technology of choice for organisations of all sizes in the UK – and it makes complete sense. Most businesses already have Ethernet Local Area Networks (LAN)
It's 2009. I've been saying the same thing since 1998. In 2002 I wrote:
Today networks are losing their mystery -- we've solved the last hundred-foot problem with wired and wireless Ethernet. The next mile won't be so hard either -- technologically speaking. The entire network will become as simple as a LAN. Ethernet will be the any-distance protocol. Customers will connect their own networks to the competitive, networked, global economy.
For a telco, a decade late isn't bad. It beats never.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Just saying . . .

Net Neutrality will be small potatoes if the U.S. Supreme Court expands corporate personhood.

The carrier could become just-another-biased-intermediary rather than a trusted, neutral infrastructure.

There's a scary NYT editorial on this here.

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Monday, September 21, 2009


Making Network Neutrality Sustainable, Revisited

Today FCC Chairman Genichowski announced that the FCC's Network Neutrality Proceeding is entering the rule-making stage. This is a historic milestone, worth celebrating, but the milestone is on a road with hairpin turns. If you look directly above us, you can see we're in almost exactly the same place we used to be when the pro-competition provisions of the 1996 Telecom Act were intact and the distinction between telecommunications service and information service was meaningful, but now we are a lot lower.

Today the Internet connection provider sector renews its resistance. As long as there are no major structural changes in this sector, we can expect the resistance to last decades. We can expect it to spread from astroturf think-tanks to courts, to legislatures and state PUCs, and to Congress. We can expect it to enlist law enforcement, Hollywood, mainstream-media news, international bodies and established technology companies. We can expect today's gained ground to erode under our feet. We can expect to keep fighting a long time. Or we can use today's momentum to change the core of the entities driving the fight so it's simply not in their interests to continue it. The choice is ours.

I wrote an essay about this day sixteen months ago. It was early. Below I reproduce my essay in its entirety in the hope that now the timing is better.

by David S. Isenberg, May 29, 2007

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

Network Neutrality Movement vs. Carriers

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

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

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

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

How Carriers Understand the Internet Threat

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Carrier Business Model

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lesson of Unbundled Network Elements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Network Neutrality Dies

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

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

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

Making Network Neutrality Sustainable

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dilemma: The Internet Connectivity Providers Are the Anti-

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

We must resolve to persist until today's dinosaurs evolve into
birds. That is, we must face the fact that if the Internet is
to survive as a neutral network, sooner or later we will need
Internet access without carriers as we know them today. So we
need to decide whether we keep the neutral Internet or we keep
today's carriers, because we won't be able to have both.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009


OneWebDay, an excellent Op-Ed

The Op-Ed quoted below, in yesterday's Burlington (NC) Times-News, by Janna Quitney Anderson, hits the very core of the spirit of OneWebDay.

This is a hot time for the World Wide Web in North Carolina, and this week as we celebrate OneWebDay (an Earth Day for the Web each Sept. 22) it is a great time to look at where we are and where we are going.


Just like its inspiration Earth Day, OneWebDay is aimed at enlisting everyone in the protection of a key human network — the communications network — a vital social, political and economic ecosystem on planet Earth.

The annual OneWebDay is a time to express our thanks and support for the builders of and contributors to the amazing, ever-changing Web while also encouraging them and all of our leaders to be cognizant of rapid change, be vigilant about coming challenges and to ensure that the Web continues to evolve to serve the greater good.

This fall we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the first Internet connection. The initial computer-to-computer chat was a brief information exchange between two nodes — one at UCLA and the other at Stanford Research Institute — on Sept. 2, 1969. It is difficult now to remember the days when computers were not networked.


OneWebDay also serves as an annual wake-up call that helps us to focus our attention on key issues tied to the Web. We want to assure that anyone who desires it has open and fair access to sharing of information on the Web and the Internet.

It is difficult to overstate how much we have come to depend on the hyperconnected human network known as the WorldWideWeb. Most folks in developed nations count on it directly or indirectly every day, and growing numbers of people in our region of the world make their living working as the engineers, researchers, teachers, inventors, administrators and creative people who are helping it evolve.

We are blessed to have amazing new capabilities thanks to our communications networks. With these blessings come responsibilities. The Web presents new opportunities for upholding and advancing human rights, for example through enhancing access to knowledge and resources. It is vital that we build on and extend these opportunities while keeping the network of networks secure and open.
h/t to Nathaniel James, Executive Director of OneWebDay.
I'm proud to be a Member of the Board of OneWebDay!

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Friday, September 18, 2009


Are Colleges Obsolete?

Zephyr Teachout, of Dean Campaign fame, has an Op-Ed in last Sunday's Washington Post that builds an intriguing disruption scenario from several trends in college education. Her central claim is that
Undergraduate education is on the verge of a radical reordering. Colleges, like newspapers, will be torn apart by new ways of sharing information enabled by the Internet. The business model that sustained private U.S. colleges cannot survive.
She cites the redundancy of traditional teaching, the advent of low-cost on-line classes, take-it-yourself tests, the rise of for-profit degrees, the fact that half of all graduating seniors have attended more than one college, etc. She sticks close to the, "Colleges, like newspapers," story.

Basically it is a good story except for one key issue: Learning is not like reading a newspaper. When you read a newspaper, you're information gathering. When you attend college, (in all but the most recalcitrant cases) you're learning.

I'm not talking about college learning like how much beer we can drink or how sexual partnership works . . . well, maybe I am talking about that too . . . mostly I'm talking about the learning of academic subjects, and, ultimately, a profession.

Learning in isolation is fundamentally different from solo information gathering activities. You learn more standing around a water cooler with your colleagues than you do poring over a manual by yourself. The quiet parental faith of a teacher can be critical. Boisterous play with co-learners can give new handles to gathered information. Sometimes we don't even realize we're learning, 'cause it's so much fun.

A couple of decades ago, I set out to learn some oceanography. I read three really good books. My mind was . . . pardon . . . swimming in facts. Then, in an informal conversation with a real oceanographer, I suddenly realized that I'd failed to understand a keystone of physical oceanography, that there's more dissolved gas in colder water. Duh. My embarrassment inspired me to learn what I'd missed much more than a C on some quiz ever could. The oceanographer sensed my confusion and shifted into help mode. The conversation showed me what was important, how the facts I knew fit -- and didn't fit -- together, and gave a very fast remedial lesson.

I'm not saying that Professor Teachout is wrong. If the Internet survives in its current form, there's no doubt that the Academy will be as shaken as other institutions that thrive on information. And, if the Internet remains open to innovation, there's no doubt that its multi-modal, social, interactive uses that underlie real learning will become even more important.

Nevertheless, today human interaction is still more powerful when it's face-to-face, in meat-space, than it is on the Internet. We prove that almost every time we travel. It's not likely anytime soon that the sales person on-line will make the sale as effectively as the sales person in your office. Th Internet still has a ways to go. As long as informal interaction is a key to learning, it'll be key to college. The anticipated disruption may take a lot longer for colleges than for newspapers.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009


We're #37 -- in Health Care


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Verizon throws 18 states under the progress train

I am a happy Verizon FIOS fiber-to-the-home customer in Connecticut, I admire the long view Verizon took to build its FIOS infrastructure, and I appreciate the substantial punishment that Verizon took from Wall Street until it became obvious that FIOS would be a huge success.

But Verizon is not building FIOS in all of its territories!

Verizon is unloading land lines in eighteen states because they don't want to keep building FIOS there. It would be a huge commitment of Verizon's money and time to give these states FIOS. In fact -- and this, I believe, is THE key issue -- the financial benefits of deploying FIOS in these states probably would not accrue until after the current crop of senior Verizon executives retire. Almost certainly, Verizon bean counters have calculated that their books -- and, most importantly, senior management bonuses -- would look better in the short term if they spun out states that are harder to fiber up.

In other words, Verizon is sacrificing the long-term interests of their customers, the best interests of eighteen of our United States, and the long-term interests of their shareholders on the altar of the quick buck.

The first Verizon spin-outs are already deep in doo-doo trouble. Hawaii Tel is bankrupt. FairPoint Communications, which acquired Verizon land lines in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont was just hauled before an unprecedented joint meeting of the ME, NH and VT PUCs for non-performance only seven months after their Verizon deal closed. The FairPoint CEO is talking Chapter 11 only seven months after the deal closed. (Note: Seven months is a picosecond in telco planning time. In other words, anybody who had looked when the deal closed would have known exactly what the situation would be in seven months. I wonder who told what to who . . . and in return for what?)

A recent article on the Maine-New Hampshire-Vermont joint PUC hearing on FairPoint's problems cited
. . . widespread e-mail problems in February and March, and continuing regionwide service problems such as bills issued after service was canceled and months-long waits to get new phone lines . . .
FairPoint's operational problems even affected customers trying to complain to Vermont regulators. According to John Burke of the Vermont Public Service Board,
“For the first three business hours of the day today, if anybody tried to call the Public Service Board, they got the following message: ‘You have dialed a nonworking number, please check this number and try it again.’ ”
Here's another article on the ME_NH_VT joint PUC hearing.

There's an $8.6 B deal in the works to spin Verizon landline assets to Frontier in some 14 states; Arizona, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin, plus some California assets. But this deal is stalled in Ohio because regulators see what's happened in Hawaii, Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire.

This situation has only been reported regionally.

The State Journal (WV), in a recent, quite comprehensive article, explains the big picture like this:
. . . the payoff for Verizon is it cannot only make money selling off its assets, but it can take advantage of a federal tax loophole that allows tax-free mergers between companies. The smaller companies are left saddled with debt and, as a result, can't make the necessary upgrades to existing infrastructure, turning off customers and ultimately leading to work force reductions as dissatisfied customers turn somewhere else.
The State Journal quotes Keith Fulton, president of Verizon West Virginia saying that the land line business . . .
. . . is a declining business for many.
Another 'paper, the Dayton (OH) Daily News, reports Phone merger of Frontier, Verizon should be rejected, counsel says. The article says that the Ohio Consumers' Council cites
. . . the lack of consumer benefits and potential pitfalls . . .
of the merger, and says
The lack of specific benefits for consumers fails to make this merger in the public interest.
A current Google News search returns regional stories but ZERO significant national coverage of Verizon's "throw rural America under the train" strategy.

This video is another good piece. [I could not get an embedded version working.]

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Texting & Driving, Killer App!

Are cellcos complicit in our nation's 42,000 traffic deaths and 2,500,000 injuries every year? Let's talk about the Last Mile . . .

This morning's "News" story on the local Disney-GE-Time-Warner-Fox-TV channel said there was New Evidence on Cell Phones and Cancer. Yeah, right. The cancer scare is a distraction, another cover-up for the real problem, talking -- and, even more dangerously, texting -- while driving.

This old, resuscitated TV story might have clued me to predict the contents of today's New York Times, to wit, the editorial entitled Texting to Death citing . . .
. . . growing evidence that texting creates a greater risk of crashing than even drunken driving.
In 2002 I wrote,
. . . along with more short text messages I'm expecting more car crashes. Message retrieval; a REAL killer app.
In 2004 I wrote,
drv n txt = crsh!
Today's New York Times editorial calls for stricter laws and steeper penalties. Ineffective. Unimaginative. Boring. Do they write these editorials in their sleep?

Glenn Fleischman, in his Wi-Fi Networking News in 2004, had a deeper thought. He reasoned that as long as cellcos are selling minutes, they're not motivated to join any campaign to stop use of their services while driving. He wrote:
When cell operators finally switch to unlimited monthly plans, they'll want people to talk less . . . you can bet we’ll see a 100-percent full-court press on restricting talking at all while driving.
Cellcos are even more motivated to allow their customers to text -- didja see how much they're raking in? Texting is the cellcos' newest money machine!

Unlimited monthly packages -- there's an idea. Of course the cellcos will resist because they won't be able to get away with selling many of the little 100%-profit extras they now sell.

There are three other approaches -- in addition to safer pricing plans -- we (as a nation) could explore:

1) Speech-to-text is fairly good these days. It's an open research question whether texters could dictate text messages with less distraction than they type them. Research, I repeat, research. Since lives are on the line, such research should be generously and rapidly funded. Any remediation would depend on the data . . . but let's get going. (Same for studying retrieving messages using text-to-speech.)

2) Today's cell phones have location mechanisms built in. The first derivative of location is speed. If a cell phone were traveling over ten miles per hour, the cellco could brick it! Of course, this approach has problems. First, it would tar passengers with the same brush as drivers. Passengers in private automobiles are rare enough, but it would also punish train and bus passengers. (Also, location information should have strong privacy protections.) Aggressive, active study, please.

3) The overriding problem is the automobile itself. In 2007 there were some 42,000 US traffic deaths and some 2,500,000 injuries. We don't even need to count hours wasted in eight lane parking lots. Or pollution. Or the petro-distortion of foreign policy. We should begin a major, long-term, systematic, persistent national push to get people out of cars and onto public transportation. No research needed; this would absolutely reduce the numbers of dead and injured due to travel.

There's no surprises here. We've seen this coming for a decade. Why are we still sleepwalking in search of solutions?

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Monday, September 14, 2009


Ai Wei Wei, censorship, earthquake, protest, police brutality, surgery, the press, trust, not necessarily in that order

Was Ai Wei Wei, the awestriking artist from mainland China I met at the DLD conference in 2007, beaten by Chinese police for protesting the deaths of thousands of school children in Chengdu when shodily-built schools collapsed in an earthquake on May 12, 2008? Is Ai Wei Wei undergoing surgery in Germany for brain damage? Is the alleged brain damage a result of the alleged beating? How do you find evidence you trust?

Ethan Zuckerman plays it right down the middle, aiming at each nuance of the might-be story as if it were a reflector bump separating the lanes of a dark highway on a foggy night. We know that Ai Wei Wei's blog is gone, with this picture in its place, which is, in turn,
a reference to a dirty joke about Chinese censorship so complicated that [Ethan has] to lead you to a whole other blogpost to explain it.
Ethan concludes
I still don’t know whether Ai Weiwei is having surgery today, or whether the surgery is connected to his police treatment. I pray that he’s okay.
Even before the current set of (possible) incidents, Ai Wei Wei appeared to me as a mythical presence more than as a human being. The art, the architecture, the vision, the feats of installation, flowed out of him. Of course I hope he's OK. But, in some other sense, he's Paul Bunyan. Of course he has a pet blue ox. Of course he cut down the biggest tree in the forest. Of course he avenged the deaths of five thousand school children. Of course it took a hundred Chinese cops to subdue him. Of course an ancient, secret society spirited him to Germany for surgery. Of course the best brain surgeons in the world restored his extrasensory powers. Of course he'll live.

UPDATE: Apparently Ai Wei Wei was beaten, did suffer brain trauma, did have the surgery in Germany and is recovering nicely. [source]

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Saturday, September 12, 2009


BTOP Reviewer Isn't a Reviewer Yet

There's a new blog in town, BTOP Reviewer, by Mike O'Connor that documents his experience as he applies to be a reviewer for the NTIA's Broadband Technology Opportunity Program. As a reviewer, he would read and judge about seven of the 2200 applications to spend the $4.2 billion in stimulus money that Congress has aimed at broadband.

So far, Mike has applied to be a reviewer -- an unpaid position -- and he's waiting. The process is on a very short fuse. The program is designed to distribute the money rapidly, to pump money into the economy and stimulate constructive, job creating projects.

Despite the short fuse, he's waiting.

And he's waiting.

And he's getting discouraged.

And now, despite his very obvious eagerness to help, it looks like he's not going to be chosen to be among the first reviewers.

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Friday, September 11, 2009


FairPoint to renege on deal

The Concord (NH) Monitor reports:

FairPoint Communications told regulators yesterday that it will not meet its commitment to expand broadband internet access to 75 percent of its access lines by the beginning of October . . . FairPoint Communications bought Verizon's landline network in the three states in April 2008. In a settlement that allowed the sale to move forward in New Hampshire, FairPoint agreed to expand its broadband reach from 62 percent of access lines to 75 percent within 18 months of the sale, 85 percent within two years and 95 percent within five years. That commitment to invest in the infrastructure was a major selling point. The company could be fined $500,000 for every percentage point it falls short, according to the settlement agreement.
Seven months is a blink of an eye in telco planning time (which is the opposite of Internet time). In other words, they had to have known seven months ago where they'd be now.

[FairPoint] Executives faced some stern words from regulators.
Oh, my goodness, stern words.

[FairPoint] CEO David Hauser said he would not "set an arbitrary deadline of when something's going to be fixed without knowing the amount of work to go into it." He also declined to set service benchmarks, saying too many metrics create confusion.
. . . strange, now that Fairpoint has violated the original "arbitrary deadline" when it promised a specific "amount of work to go into it."

I wonder what Verizon thought it was selling in April 2008. I wonder what FairPoint thought it was buying. I wonder if anybody in Maine, New Hampshire or Vermont, said, "Oh goody goody, we'll love our phone company now."

The article continues:

Eyebrows raised among union representatives when, asked about company morale, Hauser said employees are "very excited about this business" and its potential.
The article continues:

[Fairpoint CEO Hauser] was open in talking about the possibility of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. He said it would be in no one's interest to liquidate the company because FairPoint has a steady stream of revenue with which to repay its lenders over time.
Note: There is cellular telephony in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, but FairPoint doesn't have any cellular offering. "Steady stream of revenue," my anatomy.

The article continues:

FairPoint admitted to falling short on at least three other criteria laid out in the settlement agreement. It has not added a resident of northern New England to be a member of the board, set up a trust to pay for the medical benefits and life insurance of its New Hampshire retirees, or fully staffed a call center in Littleton.
The article concludes by quoting Hauser:

"Northern New England is what makes or breaks FairPoint, now or tomorrow or next week or as far as I can see," he said.

No further comment needed.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009


Highly unusual meeting . . .

Forbes reports

[Yesterday there was] a highly unusual joint meeting of the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission, the Maine Public Utilities Commission and the Vermont Public Service Board. The goal was to give regulators an update on FairPoint's efforts to stabilize its troubled operation systems, as well as organizational changes and financial matters.

FairPoint, which is based in Charlotte, N.C., owns and operates phone companies in 18 states, but its largest holdings by far are in northern New England, where it bought Verizon Communications ( VZ - news - people )' landline telephone and Internet business last year. The company officially took over the system seven months ago and has been beset with problems ever since.
Seven months ago. Problems ever since. You think Verizon had any idea what it was selling? Did the PUCs of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont have any idea what their states were getting? Nah, this was probably a big surprise to everybody.

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