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Friday, April 11, 2008

BobF at 4:47 PM [url]:

Interview in the May 2008 issue of Linux Journal

The May issue of Linux Journal features Doc Searls' interview with me. I plan to post a pointer to the interview itself as soon as it is available to nonsubscribers. If I can I'll also post a copy of interview itself

In the meantime, alas, I'm tethered to paper.

Friday, September 07, 2007

BobF at 12:44 AM [url]:

If There be Pirates There be Heroes

I wrote this in response to a small ISP who was lamenting Bit Torrent because it was an abuse of the small amount of capacity he was reselling – calling them pirates. But who are real pirates and who are the real heroes?

Piracy is indeed a big problem – or perhaps I should use the term privateers – those that the government has deputized as legitimate raiders who willfully hold capacity off the marketplace and then blame the users. Companies like ATT force you to use an entire multimegabit copper wire for a single bit and then blame those who use a thousandths of the real capacity (via modems) for tying up whole wire? Yes, these are pirates and we must put an end to such games.

Please, don't aid and abet their piracy by saying that those who make effective use of the existing abundant resources are abusers – no, they are the heroes who are using effective protocols in order to exchange information past the pirates' blockades.

Efficiency is a measure against assumptions. FTP using TCP is a fine protocol if you assume a publisher distributing content to consumers over an expensive network. But we're talking about exchanging information and we want to be good citizens so we use protocols that are more distributed and tolerant of network variations so that we can use the existing resources instead of requiring profligate spending on networks for video distribution while starving us of vital connectivity for all others purposes.

Let's accept being forced to beggars sharing our misery while the abundant and inexpensive capacity of our infrastructure lies fallow behind the pirates' blockades. Let's demand our inalienable rights.

I used Bit Torrent to copy 36GB of video lectures from MIT using both my broadband connections and taking advantage of MIT's local peering. Does that make me a pirate? I call it being responsible. Of course it happens to be a good way to share video and we have a fetish about video as if it was the Silicone Hills not Silicon Valley that drove the economy.

So we seek to vilify and punish those who innovate and create capacity. Companies like Meraki allow us to easily add capacity at the edge. Are you going to call all the heroes who innovate in using the smidgen of capacity made available to them pirates? Are those who use less than 1% of the real capacity pirates or are those holding more than 99% of the capacity aside the real pirates?

Yeah – people share video though much of the incentive to create the technology was driven by a desire to watch the movies while Hollywood seems to feel it is far more important to infest every nook and cranny with DRM no matter how much damage is done and thus HDTV is being adopted only slowly. Who are the heroes and who are the pirates? Of course don't forget that Hollywood itself was created to get past Edison's stranglehold on technology. And the RIAA killed the sheet music business.

Join us in enabling the future rather than preserving an arbitrary past. Perhaps the problem is that there isn't a role for an ISP as a gatekeeper in such a world. ISPs need to be *SPs without relying on doling out scarce Internet as their primary source of added value.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

BobF at 2:51 PM [url]:

First Square Mile is not the Last or First Mile: Discovery not Just Choices!

The term "last mile" highlights the fact that we are the consumers at the end of a broadband "pipe". Saying "first mile" is a little better but the Internet is not a pipe to or from somewhere else. It's about what we can do locally and then what we can do when we interconnect with other neighborhoods. It's better to describe our neighborhood as the first square mile. Telecom is about selling us services; the Internet is about what we can do ourselves locally and then interconnecting with others everywhere. In writing the First Square Mile – Our Neighborhood essay which I just posted I came to better understand the fundamental difference between the world of telecom which is about giving you choices and the Internet which provides opportunity to discover what we can't anticipate.

By taking a constructive approach we avoid having to fix problems with network neutrality and don't have to wait for that last mile of broadband. As we become more adept at doing our own networking we will no longer need ICANN to manage a Procrustean naming system – the DNS – nor will we have to get an IP address assigned. Today's Internet will have served its purpose in giving us a hint of what we can do if we aren't dependent upon others to do our networking.

I've been surprised by the number of times I've been told that 500 channels of television is real choice – but it's not about choice – it's about discovery. YouTube is not a different kind of television – anyone can contribute as well as choose. The real significance is that YouTube itself was created outside of telecom. You don't know who will create the next Web, Yahoo, Google, YouTube or whatever. The odds are a million to one but those are very good odds when many millions have the opportunity to try.

Skype provides us with another example of solving problems outside the network – it manages to make connections by finding its own path through the network. We don't have to wait for a network operator to provide a new feature. A Skype call looks just like a traditional phone call except that it can sound better and provide messaging and even video. But these features are not important in themselves – they are just examples of taking advantage of opportunities.

What Skype is doing is the equivalent of driving your own car to a train station and then using the railroad's network to get you near your destination and then driving yourself (in another car). But you don't have to take the railroad – you can find your own path. This is especially true locally. If two computers are on the same wire or share the same access point you simply drop the packet into the Ether and all computers can see it but only the one to which it is addressed will pick it up. As the network grows we may want to be a little smarter and remember some of the paths and prevent packets from going in circles but that's relatively simple. It isn't much different for a neighborhood network.

Today's inter-networking isn't really that simple – we have complex algorithms to assure efficient utilization of the entire network while minimizing what network operators have to pay each other. This is because we treat our local network as part of the vast Internet one or more miles away. The problem becomes simpler when we just need to worry about our local network and can take advantage of the abundance to focus on what we do rather than the operational details. We don't operate the networks in our homes – we just use them and it becomes easier as the software improves. Interconnecting these networks is simple when can take advantage of the abundant capacity that is currently locked up by service providers whose business models depend upon scarcity.

Once we have abundant local connectivity we can start discovering what we can do with it instead of waiting for a service provider to discover what sells to the most average (or meanest) users for the highest margin. I often use the example of an emergency bracelet for people who need medical monitoring. It's not a network service at all – it's just one of the many possible things we can do once we have a readily available transport without the complexity and overhead of doing it all ourselves. You can indeed do such an application using cellular technology and make arrangements with the carriers but we generally don't because every element in the service chain is a point of failure. Connectivity gives us many ways to succeed even if we don't have 100% coverage.

We don't need to beg for broadband or try to fix telecom; we can start in our neighborhood – that first square mile and act like owners rather than just consumers picking among what is offered.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

BobF at 1:17 AM [url]:

Whose Network is it Anyway?

In reading a Q&A with Verizon's Brian Whitten I found this striking Q and A:

Q. With a fiber connection being symmetric, many fiber providers such as Paxio (www.paxio.net) are providing symmetric connections such as 5Mbit, 10Mbit, 30Mbit. Why is Verizon keeping this arbitrary asymmetric limit with Fiber?

A. Our products are carefully crafted based on feedback we get from our customers. Indeed, our FTTP network can easily support a symmetric data service. As market dynamics change, we would re-assess the benefit to our customers of introducing a class of symmetric data services.

My reaction is "No thank you, I'd rather do it myself". To understand my reaction you need to recognize the difference between wanting to build my own bridge across a stream and asking why I'm not allowed to cross it myself using my own boat.

What more could we ask for than a company being attentive to its customers needs? Of course we have a right to be cynical because it is being nice to us so we'd buy more product but that's the way markets work. Competition keeps this process in check. You can't satisfy all customers but at least you can try to satisfy most. This is the marketplace at its best.

Yet if we are denied the ability to create our own solutions then this marketplace is dysfunctional. And this is the essence of the problem with today's telecommunications industry – those setting policy seem unaware of what we are being denied. Thus we fall into the trap of creating competition to give us more of what we already have while denying us the ability to do so much better. It's Hobson's choice rather than opportunity.

Perhaps the lessons of FiOSTV will make it clear that in making us dependent upon service providers we risk losing what we already have. This became very clear when I recently subscribed to Verizon's FiOSTV service and discovered that their Actiontec router kept failing because of the way I use my home network to connect with the rest of the Internet. In checking online I find that I am not alone. The Actiontec router is actually a very good router and probably works very well for most people but Verizon makes the naïve assumption that the Internet is just like the phone network and beholden to rigid specifications rather than part of an ongoing process of discovery.

The problem is not in the router itself but in the fact that I don't have an alternative if I am to use the broadband TV service. Fortunately, for now, I can pay extra to buy my video from Comcast while still being able to use Verizon's basic FiOS Internet connectivity. But broadband policy doesn't assure that this will remain true because the Internet is a service defined by the carriers' rather than the users as it was when we used modems. If you look at the broadband specifications it is obvious that it is indeed a service delivery system controlled by the carriers in their role as privileged service providers but is equally clear that they are not competent. According to http://www.mocalliance.com, the Internet was designed for data not video and that's why they need to install their own old-style cumbersome coax in my house. And yet they use it to run the same Internet protocols – huh?

A more realistic explanation is that they must control the network in order to assure that change is managed. While the network in my house went from modem speeds in the early 1990's to gigabit speeds while costing nothing to operate, DSL went from a few megabits in 1987 to a few megabits in 2007. As long as we must rely on a service provider we are assured that there will be little innovation.

By having full control they can use the most expedient solution which has the added bonus of making us entirely dependent upon them thus undermining the key dynamic that has enabled innovation. The end-to-end principle assures that we create solutions outside the network itself thus we are not dependent upon a provider's choice of services and the price demanded for using these services. Understanding how and why this works is central to understanding the nature of the Internet and the dynamic that has given us so much. It is this ability to find solutions ourselves that has enabled demand to create supply. We can choose any transport and are not limited to the high priced choices of a single service provider.

This is the essence of the hyper-growth we associated with Moore's Law.  We might fashion solutions despite broadband but, as I've explained, we can do far more if we didn't have to work so hard just to get past today's gatekeepers. Are we sacrificing our future for the sake of ringtones and some 1995 vintage HDTV??

The question is not whether or not Verizon is acting responsibly, the problem is they are in the role of gatekeeper and we know we can do much better. Broadband Policy forces us to ask "may I? Please?" while denying us the ability to create our own solutions. The tragedy is that we can do it better ourselves. But instead we ask for more of that broadband because that's the way we misspell "Internet".

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

BobF at 4:25 PM [url]:

Homeland Insecurity—911 vs the concept of the Internet

Now that I can quickly post I might as well take advantage of it to quickly respond to Senators mull new taxes to fund 911 Net upgrade. Once again we have a fundamental failure to understand the basic concepts of Internet and instead assume there is a magical thing called "telecommunications" which provides us with the one solution to all problems. I keep point out that we are confusing the conversation (communications) with the transport of bits (the tele part). The absurdity should become obvious when we try to fund an emergency response system by charging for things we call "telephone calls" shows a far deeper failure to understand. Of course today we use the telephone to request assistance but we also use the telephone for just about any conversation. It's as if we taxed dictionaries because that's where words come from. I do need to control myself – there are simply too many bad analogies like putting a 5¢ tax on email to pay for postal mail or taxing yellow point to subsidize corn farming – nonsequitars like taxing phone calls to pay for 911 are funny once you see the absurdity.

It's bad enough that the 911 system itself is an ancient relic. We would do much better if we took advantage of the basic concepts of the Internet to use a common transport for many purposes rather than focusing all emergency services on a single phone number and a single responder. The article mentions IP-enabling the system but gatewaying VoIP calls doesn't change the basic chokepoint model of 911. And, even worse is the proposal to concentrate all emergency services into a single band on the radio spectrum at about 700 Mhz!

I've written about this topic a number of times so you can look at my previous posts for more details. But it's frustrating to see the same misunderstandings arise again and again and it's worrisome that we are redoubling our efforts to implement failed ideas and leaving us more vulnerable. The big lie is that we call this "homeland security" when it leaves us so vulnerable.

BobF at 3:49 PM [url]:

Forget about it and Oyffice 2k7

I feel compelled to try out the new blogging capability in Office 2007. While the new version is pretty I'm still trying to get back to where I was – it seems as if it has more built in capabilities but it's not at all obvious how to do many of the things my way. This includes blogging – it's nice that it's easy to go to "blogger" but how do I post to http://www.frankston.com instead of http://www.satn.org.

I presume I'll get used to the new version but it's also a reminder that this is a very late stage product that is creaking along with new features bolted on the side. This becomes very apparent when I try to use Word while running Outlook. It seems as if I Word goes deaf while Outlook is polling! Putting in locks to prevent bad interactions is a way to prevent failures but it is also a sign of an architectural problem that should be addressed. But in a late stage product with many interacting elements that can be problematic.

Using Outlook also reminds me of an endemic problem in Microsoft's applications and frameworks – settings don't get saved unless you properly shutdown applications. This may have made sense in decades ago when you'd run a program to completion to accomplish a task. It doesn't make sense when you have an ongoing system with interacting applications. You don't shut down applications or even the system – they may go quiet for a while but they don't get shutdown unless you have a system failure or forced restart. And when you recover you discover many of the setting changes were lost because the applications simply don't save them until they exit.

There is no reason for this – years ago in floppy based systems there might have been some overhead in saving settings but no longer. Outlook will save an entire document in case the system crashes but it won't save a simply change to its list of favorites.

Alas, these are the kind of details that get lost when you focus on what's "important". But these details are pervasive annoyances and thus they are important to me even if they don't make the top of the feature list. It's nice to have translucency but we also need transparency – if I change a setting I want to assume it has been changed. The application makes it look as if it did my bidding but in reality it hasn't and only will if I do everything just right and nothing goes wrooonng.

The new Office is user fawning but that isn't the same as doing my bidding the way I want it. The blogging feature is an example – when you go to Microsoft site for help it lists providers but it does not provide a pointer to how to create my own server. I presume I can eventually figure it out but where is the old Microsoft that treated all users like potential and real developers?

So much more to say but for now I'll just take advantage of the features I have rather than the features I want and post this …

But the post failed … now wait, there is no diagnostic information – just a big "can't"!

OK, got it to work by recreating the account. So obviously it was something simple but apparently Word doesn't want to bother my PLH (Pretty Little Head) with enough information to solve my problem but it doesn't provide enough for other to solve it. But maybe I should be fair in recognizing that this is a feature bolted on. Why else would the messages refer to a generic provider without even telling me which. It's as bad as using "this" in error messages that seem to appear with no context – another endemic problem.

I don't want to be too negative – at least in posting blogs Word actually did what I do myself – it removed the excess formatting and just left the basic text. In fact there are many positive aspects to these features but we shouldn't let that make us forget that we need the ability to create our own solutions rather than just waiting for them to be provided to us.

Now to see how I can append these comments – will I have to repost?

Wow – it actually updated the post! Well, enough for now – gotta do other stuff …

Monday, February 12, 2007

BobF at 11:25 AM [url]:

The Perspective of History

Reading though the two posted chapters of Daly’s book resonates with my new “Perspective” essay. The newspapers fought to escape the presumption that all power descended from the throne and the proper authorities. They established an independent voice. In the US the First Amendment to the US Constitution explicitly protected the rights of a free press.

What might not be obvious is that this attitude and the protection from prior restraint had a counterpart in giving new ideas and innovation the opportunity to vie for attention.

Unfortunately today’s world of telecommunications seems eerily like the world of the 1700 newspapers with the priority being on maintaining control rather than encouraging open communication and understanding. We’re still battling against prior restraint and against a Federal Speech Commission (AKA, the Federal Communications Commission) – both at the technical level of how we communication and the social level of what we communicate.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

DanB at 8:51 PM [url]:

Draft chapters of history of U.S. journalism book

Prof. Chris Daly of Boston University has posted drafts of two of the chapters from his upcoming book about the history of U.S. journalism. Readers of this blog will probably find the information in those drafts of interest because (in a very readable fashion) he shows how the covering of news, its legal status, and its dissemination evolved in the United States. Knowing the history at the level of detail that he provides should be helpful when discussing the current and desired future states of Internet communication. Too many people think the state we had the last few decades is the way that it always was and that any changes brought about because of new communications technologies or philosophies must be suspect. History shows that, for example, bloggers are much closer to what our founding fathers thought of as the "press". The telegraph had a major impact on journalism, etc.

The two chapters are part of the start of Chris' blog devoted to the book and the history of journalism. If there is enough interest and useful feedback, he'll probably post more of the chapters he's already completed. He still has a few more to go, including the one covering 1990 to the present for which he'd like input.

See www.journalismprofessor.com. For more about Chris and my feelings about this, see the post on my personal blog. Please send Chris any reactions to what he's written.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

BobF at 8:43 PM [url]:

Power Distribution to be like Telecom Distribution


Inspired the the success of faux-ATT in its BS acquisition the owners for the power generating companies including Niagara, Quebec, TMI and others have opted out of the shared power distribution agreements and will build their own local distribution systems. They have watched as the cable and telephone companies have benefited from control and will now do their own distribution systems.

Relying on precedents from the FCC they demand the right to place their own outlets in each home on an equal basis. To avoid confusion they will color code each outlet so soon you’ll see a line up of power outlets and can choose who to subscribe to merely by plugging into the appropriate outlet. The colors choices are to be selected from the palette provided by homeland security as to take advantage of existing technology and protocols.

They will also offer Internet – the new outlets will provide not just 110V but 100V+I with I being Internet but only to the extent you use their power. No free rides they say, if you want high speed connection then you better have a honking big refrigerator or air conditioner or heat your house with all those bits. Since they can’t make any money on the bits they’ll be free – provided you use enough electricity. If you want IPTV then you better go out and buy a big CRT with lots of tubes in the circuits, otherwise you won’t be able to pull in enough bits.

You will also get a faster connection if you stay within your color – a transition like Fuchsia-Crimson will require recoloring the bits and that’s slow and expensive and they won’t be able to assure quality or color.

They remind us that this is all for our own good – after all, we need real competition not just a choice.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

BobF at 7:45 PM [url]:

The FTC Must Look Beyond Broadband

This February FTC is going to host Workshop on Broadband Connectivity Competition Policy.

It’s good that the FTC is showing interest in this topic but the workshop is still framed within the FCC's fictional world in which electrons have intrinsic meaning. This should be an antitrust case rather than an attempt to tweak faux competition. We should be looking for a real marketplace not more micromanagement of a dysfunctional system.

The FTC should be asking a more fundamental question: Why is our vital infrastructure, our rights of way, owned by companies whose business is selling us services? It’s as if we had to lease back our streets from a delivery company like UPS or FedEx. Imagine if our sidewalks were owned by service providers.

The FCC’s rules, The Regulatorium, were defined in a time when analog signaling was the norm. Analog signals degrade and you need to be very careful in building your transport in order to preserve the signal while minimizing the cost. Digital signals don’t degrade and have given us abundant capacity and have allowed us to view the transports as simply bit transports independent of the contents and the services. Radios are simply part of the mix and no radio bits are not all special.

The FCC’s effort at preserving their service model has assured that we continue to pay third parties for a very limited kind of telephony. Voice over the Internet has demonstrated that we could do far better if we weren’t constrained by a turn of the century, 1900, not 2000, definition of telephony.

The Internet puts a lie to the service model by demonstrating how a fungible digital transport provides abundant capacity and how even voice traffic can “just work” at essentially no incremental cost.

It’s a classic folie á deux. The FTC is in the position to step back and reexamine the defining premises.

The industry is very aware that the new technologies create abundance. They are explicit about their need to assure scarcity in order to preserve their existing business model.

Broadband is very much in this tradition. Just as we used modem to communicate despite the carriers, we managed to repurpose a system designed for one-way television redistribution and use it to interconnect our local networks with the rest of the Internet.

With Broadband we are forced to pay for redundant infrastructure. It’s as if we still had competing light companies that each ran their own wires. That alone should indicate something is very wrong in the marketplace.

The legacy of service pricing is that we are paying for pieces of infrastructure out of context thus assuring high pricing and a lack of synergy. We cannot take advantage of connectivity as infrastructure if we can only lease what the carriers choose to provide.

Just as we own the wires in our homes, we should own the wires in our communities. We already paid them when we funded the "natural monopoly" and continue to do as the FCC continues to grant them control.

In the last ten years home networks have gone form nonexistent to gigabits over copper and hundreds of megabits without wires.

Yet to communicate with your neighbor you are limited to the capacity the carriers have chosen to provide and pay a price based on the value of services not the actual cost of the local transport.

Just as we know how to take advantage of the transport within our homes, we know how to take advantage of the abundant transport in our communities. It’s really our Internet—the Internet is not another television channel or service.

But we will only discover what is possible if the FTC examines the FCC’s Regulatorium and asks why it still exists in 2007.

Preserving a marketplace that is far far past its shelf life is more than a matter of price. It prevents the marketplace from renewing itself and it leaves us at the mercy of the carriers in times of crisis.

The FTC must insist on a real marketplace device in terms of a transport that creates real competition and gives each of us a chance to discover what is possible and create real value.

For more, see the Archive.

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