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I had the sad honor of being invited to make a few remarks at Aaron Swartz’s memorial gathering in New York City yesterday. Aaron hung himself rather than face a future labeled as a felon for liberating a bunch of academic articles that he believed belonged to humankind. Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing, and Larry Lessig at LessigBlog2.0 and DemocracyNow! and a dozen others that Google will find have told the details and the context.
My job was to introduce a video of excerpts from Aaron’s speech at F2C: Freedom to Connect 2012. Here are my remarks, more or less as I delivered them:
I can’t even remember the first time I met Aaron. He was just there in the same community I was. This community.
I got joined to this community when I was at AT&T Bell Labs in the mid 90s and I wrote an essay called “The Rise of the Stupid Network.” The essay tried to tell AT&T that the Internet would shift control of the network from them — the telephone and cable companies — to us. The essay “went viral on the Internet” before most of us knew what “going viral” was. Soon “The Rise of the Stupid Network” was such an embarrassment to AT&T that I lost my job.
Over the next few years the telephone companies and cable companies and their allies got what I had been trying to say. They waged war to thwart regulation, beat down competition and distort the law to keep the Internet — which is to say the shift of control from them to us — from happening. Aaron died in that war.
In 2004 I organized a conference to give voice to our side of this war called F2C: Freedom to Connect. Last year I invited Aaron to speak at F2C: Freedom to Connect. He asked me what what to talk about. Knowing Aaron, I told him, “Anything you want.” But I told him, “Really work on it. Give the speech of your life.” As you will see, or maybe you’ve already seen the speech he gave on line, he did that.
A few days before last year’s F2C: Freedom to Connect, Aaron briefed me on what he was going to say. I was surprised that he didn’t mention his own JSTOR fight. I said, “Aren’t you going to talk about that?” And he said, “No.”
No. Aaron wanted to talk about the big fight to make the world a better place. I am afraid Aaron’s legacy will be dumbed down to “hacker” or “copyfighter” the way the media dumbed down the SOPA fight to “Google versus the telephone companies.” Let’s not forget that Aaron fought the bigger fight, the fight for access, for justice, for democracy, for us. And not just for us in THIS community, but for all of us.
Here are some excerpts of his F2C: Freedom to Connect speech. As you’ll see Aaron actually says it better than I could, so over to you, Aaron.
DO NOT rest in peace Aaron. May your memory, and the work you’ve done so far continue to give ‘em hell.
Yesterday I announced that F2C: Freedom to Connect would convene on March 4 & 5 in Washington DC. Registration is open too, and deeply discounted Early Bird prices are in effect through mid-January only.
The agenda addresses three core topics:
The first is an open infrastructure owned or controlled by and responsive to the community it serves and whose resources it depends upon. This will be addressed by Joey Durel (Mayor of Lafayette LA), Terry Huval (Director of Lafayette Utilities System), Pat Kennedy (founder, Lit San Leandro), Chris Mitchell (MuniNetworks.Org), James Salter (Atlantic Engineering Group), Catharine Rice (President, SEATOA) and others to be announced.
The second is a publicly specified set of Internet protocols open to all who meet its specifications.This will be address by Vint Cerf (Internet Evangelist, Google), Peter Cochrane (former Chief Scientist, BT), Dan Gillmor (Founding Director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University) and other speakers to be announced.
The third is the use of the Internet to promote government of, by and for the people, and to counteract autocratic government power. This topic will be addressed by Ed Bender (Executive Director, National Institute on Money and State Politics), Darcy Burner (Candidate for US House of Representatives, 2006, 2008, 2012), Lisa Graves (Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy), Ben Huh (founder, Cheezeburger.com), Alexis Ohanian (co-founder, Reddit & instigator of the Internet 2012 Bus Tour), and Alec Ross (tentative)(Senior Advisor for Innovation, US State Department).
Of course, many of the speakers will address two, or all three of these profoundly interrelated topics.
More speakers will be announced over the coming weeks.
Technorati Tags: Freedom to Connect
[This post, originally posted at 4PM on 11/8/12, is now revised as of 6:40 AM 11/9/12. The revision includes some factual changes thanks to EPB's Danna Bailey, and a bit of rewriting for flow and clarity by yours truly. I've indicated the factual changes. Overall, the original hastily posted piece wasn't too bad, if I say so myself, but the revised one below is substantially stronger. -- David I]
With hundreds of thousands of households in the Northeast United States dark and cold for over a week from Hurricane Sandy, and with and many more thousands newly dark from this week’s snowstorm Athena, we could learn a thing or two about electrical power restoration from Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Last July 5, a severe windstorm ripped through Chattanooga without warning. A boat flipped in a nearby reservoir killing two. Trees fell on cars and houses. The storm was captured in many dramatic Youtube videos.
Between 2007 and 2011, Chattanooga’s electric company installed a smart grid with fiber optic connections to almost all most of its 170,000 electric meters in its 600 square mile service region, including 1200 automated electric power switches. [Ms. Bailey says that these are IntelliRupter PulseClosers and they’re made by S&C Electric Company in Chicago.]
From the severity of the July 5 storm, the electric company estimated that 77,000 customers would have been put out of service. But thanks to the smart grid technology, only 35,000 lost power for long enough to require a truck roll. The rest benefitted from Chattanooga’s fiber optics and automated switches, which either protected them against outages, limited outages to a few seconds, or otherwise allowed for automated restoration.
Chattanooga’s electric company, known as EPB, could then devote its trucks and crews to the other 35,000 outages. It finished its restoration in 3.5 days, saving an estimated day and a half and roughly $1,400,000 in restoration costs. Colman Keane, EPB’s Director of Fiber Technology, explained to me that the smart grid pinpoints outages, so crews can [more efficiently] address thousand-home outages first before they deal with power lines affecting three or four homes. In the old days, he said, crews would have to drive up and down looking at the lines. Now a dispatcher with a geographic information system directs crews to the most important faults first. [Even more importantly, Ms. Bailey adds, before the smart grid, technicians needed to go to the old switches to manually reroute power.]
[Ms. Bailey points to other benefits too, including fully automated meter reading and improved asset management.]
Without a smart grid, a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimates that outages would cost a Chattanooga-sized community $100 million a year (citation). EPB’s goal is to save about 40% or $40 million a year yearly by providing faster restoration. Indeed, the numbers from the July 5 storm are even better — some 55% of homes (42,000 of 77,000) survived or were automatically restored. A million customer outage hours were avoided.
In addition, its smart meters are resistant to electricity thieves — it’s impossible to bypass smart meters connected by fiber optics. This [is anticipated to] saves tens of millions of dollars annually in avoided theft. [Ms. Bailey says (a) EPB has not yet fully implemented theft management because not every meter is connected to fiber optics yet, and (b) the anticipated annual savings are around $5-6 million.]
It took Chattanooga only three years to build its 3900-mile smart grid. Its cost is estimated as some $300 million by independent fiber optic construction experts. Clearly, savings from faster restoration and theft avoidance could pay for the network in just a few years, whereas the useful life of Chattanooga’s smart grid is measured in decades.
But the smart grid’s benefits to Chattanooga don’t stop there. It is the first city in America to offer up to a gigabit to every home in the city, beating Google’s more famous Kansas City fiber project by several years. More affordable services are offered at 100 mbit/s and 250 mbit/s. These are symmetrical Internet connections that offer 100 or 250 actual megabits uploads and downloads. In contrast, typical telco and cableco connections offer speeds “up to” 4 megabits, 15 megabits, or if you’re really, really lucky to live in the right neighborhood, up to 100 megabits.
The business world has noticed Chattanooga’s reliable power and awesome connectivity. Amazon has opened a new distribution center in Chattanooga with some 1700 new jobs and it is ramping up with hundreds more for the Christmas season (citation). The local cardboard box company is happy, the local trucking company is licking its chops and the airport is expanding. Volkswagen recently opened an auto factory, and it is already expanding it again by some 800 jobs. Young entrepreneurs are moving in, and Chattanooga’s upwardly mobile young people are staying there and/or moving back.
For us in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, jobs are nice and fast Internet connections are nice, but having reliable electricity — and heat, which too often depends on electricity — can be a matter of life or death.
Smart grid is available today. It’s not hard possible to build, as Chattanooga has shown us. It pays for itself. It even makes money — EPB’s Danna Bailey says that fiber optic services have generated $17 million so far (in its first year or two of operation). It makes our grid more reliable as violent storms become increasingly frequent. And it makes our Internet connections awesome. What ARE we waiting for?
The good news is that Tuesday’s New York Times article by Brian X. Chen actually questions claims by the big cellcos — AT&T and Verizon mostly — that we’re running out of spectrum. It edges away from the easy analogy that electromagnetic spectrum is real estate.
The spectrum-as-real-estate analogy is so pervasive that we tend not to think about it. We talk about low frequency spectrum as “beachfront property,” because it is thought to be more valuable. (It is not much attenuated by walls, leaves and air the way higher frequency spectrum is.) We reify that a company can “own” a given frequency band the way we own — and buy and sell — real estate. We say spectrum is congested by increased traffic and we’re running out of space.
The pervasive misunderstanding of how we use — and could use — the electromagnetic spectrum was eloquently addressed in layman’s terms by The Myth of Interference, a 2003 Salon article by David Weinberger that I wish every reporter, legislator and wireless policy “expert” would read. The Myth charts a sensible path towards a physically veridical, technology based approach to the use of the electromagnetic spectrum. Central to The Myth’s argument is the fact that current policy, based on the licensing of frequency bands, was shaped by the technology of the 1920s. Today, as The Myth explains, the technologies of wireless communications are vastly expanded, but regulations are still stuck in the 1920s. And the incumbents want to keep them there.
The bad news is that the New York Times article doesn’t cleanly separate myth and analogy from physics and technology. The article mixes literal, physical reality with analogies that foster certain monopoly-preserving conclusions. The article fails to distinguish which is which. It talks about “slices of radio waves,” it confuses licensing with ownership and it treats Wi-Fi offload as if Wi-Fi were an alternative to the use of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Even the headline — “Carriers Warn of Crisis in Mobile Spectrum.” — isn’t what the story is about. A more accurate headline would have said, “Experts Question Carrier Spectrum Claims.” The lede is buried in the fourth paragraph: “But is there really a crisis?” The article misses key specifics, such as the fact that in the (now failed) 36 billion dollar T-Mobile merger with AT&T, the spectrum was valued at $6 billion, and the fact that only about 10% of cell towers have fiber optic backhaul, which means that cellular data capacity can be limited by old DS-1, DS-3 and microwave backhaul technology rather than by wireless electromagnetic receiver overload.
The result is journalism that’s (perhaps unconsciously) shaped by the industry the journalism purports to question. It is as if the cellcos claim 1+1=3, while a few dissident experts — Martin Cooper, David Reed and me — protest that it is 2, then the true answer must lie somewhere in the range between 2 and 3.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad that the Times is beginning to explore the idea that the spectrum-as-real-estate analogy is a regulatory fiction.
The core of the story is whether or not spectrum is a rival good. A rival good is something that when it’s used by one party can’t be used by another. The cellcos say it is. Current FCC regulation does too. But David Reed has repeatedly pointed out that physics — our understanding of physical reality — says otherwise. The article paraphrases him: electromagnetic spectrum is not finite. Not finite. In other words, infinite.
The article also paraphrases Reed saying, “Arguing that the nation could run out of spectrum is like saying it was going to run out of a color.” I explained to Brian Chen that spectrum is literally the exact same energy as light, not some far-fetched analogy. I explained that visible light is a subset of the electromagnetic spectrum. And that a frequency band is not *analogous* to a color, it is literally precisely the same electromagnetic energy as a color, only at a frequency that is outside of the capacity of our visual system. Some of this is captured in the 3.5 minute video that accompanies the article. The video also labels spectrum a public good. Yay!
In the end, the article misses the opportunity to do a “so what.” My so what would be this: Let’s totally rethink regulation in light of today’s technology. If the New York Times said it, I’d jump up and down in celebration.
I won’t belabor the article further. Given all the other reporting on the so-called spectrum crisis, it’s a net win for us reality-based folks. But I will observe that if the New York Times — the most respected news source in the United States of America today — is doing this kind of job on issues my colleagues and I actually do understand, we can be pretty durn sure what it is doing on the war, the economy, health care, education, crime, the climate; on all the big stories of our day. No wonder we’re in such deep shit.
[Note: NYT reporter Brian X. Chen also questioned carrier claims about caps on data usage a couple of months ago. He's doing a good job on a tough assignment in a harsh environment. When he calls, let's help!]
“We hope that others will join us in advancing a basic freedom for the Iranian people, the Freedom to Connect with one another and with their fellow human beings.”
U.S. President Barack H. Obama, March 20, 2012, as shown in the video below at about 2:40. #F2C
As Joe Romm says on Climate Progress, “This powerful talk is for anyone who thinks the tar sands are just another source of oil — and that the only source of greenhouse gases from the tar sands come from burning gas and oil.” Photographer Garth Lenz explains.
Debt is an examination of the role of money, currency and debt in society. It is a long-view look at economics. I hesitate to call it empirical, but it is evidence-based on the anthropological record. It traces the evolution of economic behavior by observing evidence regarding the stuff of economics — goods, land, labor, resources, value, ownership, exchange, wealth, markets, commerce — throughout history in a wide variety of cultures on all the inhabited continents.
The first surprise is, well, you know that well-known theory that money was invented because Peasant A had 2 chickens and Peasant B had 6 cabbages, and B wanted chickens but A didn’t need cabbages, so they invented an intermediate token called money to represent the abstract value of cabbages and chickens? FALSE, according to Graeber. He reviews the literature to note that the key early economists (notably Adam Smith, but also others) treated this theory as so obvious that no evidence was needed.
Then Graeber went looking across time and geography for any evidence of barter societies that evolved intermediary tokens of value, i.e., proto-money. This led to the second surprise: he didn’t find evidence that a single primitive society even WAS a barter society that fit any of the presumptive models. (Barter sometimes occurred between tribes that were distinct (and often at war), but not within a tribe. Within a tribe the modal finding was that value was shared in small-c communistic ways . . . stuff belonged to the tribe as a whole rather than to individuals.)
So then Graeber went looking for where money first arose. Surprise number 3: Money arose (a) to pay soldiers and (b) so subjugated people could pay their conquerors for the privilege of being subjugated. Which they could not do, of course, hence debt — and its consequences.
I am eliding a lot of detail and missing additional key points. I am also unqualified to say whether Graeber is treating the evidence he recounts in a complete and even- handed way, and this is my biggest botheration as I read Debt.
However, I can report that Graeber’s key point is that money and debt were invented to be tools of militarism, power, kleptocracy, violence, subjugation and serfdom. Eyes wide open: these are the relationships of economics — the happy villagers eating, drinking and dancing in the market square on Saturday, not so much.
“Debt peonage” is alive and well today — it is no accident that David Graeber is also one of the intellects of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
As soon as I get done reading it, I’m going on a hunt for critical reviews. But meanwhile, I’m finding it quite mind-expanding to follow Graeber’s “everything you know about economics is wrong,” chain of evidence.
Confirmed keynote speakers currently include
One panel has been fully specified. It’s called “Big Enough to Succeed.” It provides four vital examples of a fourth way to Internet connectivity; small, entrepreneurial (non-Municipal) carriers that are leading the way to the future of connectivity. Confirmed speakers on this panel include John Brown, founder of CityLink Telecommunications, Ken Johnson, President and General Manager of Conneaut Telephone Company, Pat Kennedy, the founder of Lit San Leandro and Levi Maaia, VP of Full Channel.
Other panels will address issues such as . . .
- BIP, BTOP, UCAN, Gig-U, Google Fiber and other big pipe experiments
- Freedom and Connectivity from Alexandria, Egypt to Zuccotti Park, USA
- Surveillance, spying, and democracy
- Corruption, power and Internet progress
- and . . .
As in previous years, F2C: Freedom to Connect will feature great music, good food, and an awesome audience. Watch this space for further details.
F2C: Freedom to Connect is seeking sponsors and volunteers who are committed to an open, innovative, bottom-up Internet. Write to me — firstname.lastname@example.org
Technorati Tags: Broadband, BTOP, Censorship, CommonCarriage, Competition, Corruption, Democracy, DisruptiveTechnology, End-to-End, F2C, FTTH, Infrastructure, ItsTheInternetStupid, MunicipalNetworks, NationalBroadbandPlan, NetworkNeutrality, OpenAccess, ParadoxoftheBestNetwork, PublicGoods, Spectrum, StructuralSeparation, Stupid Network, Sustainability, VintCerf, WealthofNetworks
In a 2009 comment on this essay, I wrote:
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.
Today we’re fighting SOPA and PIPA. If we win, tomorrow it’ll be something else. The Internet will remain under attack, and the battles will continue, until the applications are separated by law from the infrastructure.
The fight for the freedom of the Internet knows no borders. I am delighted that Alexander has found it worthwhile to make Making Network Neutrality Sustainable accessible to a whole new language community.