Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Christmas Day, media outlets carried stories of the phaseout of many analog wireless services on February 18, 2008. Some bare-bones cell phones more than five years old may not work, and some car communication systems (some older TeleAid or Onstar systems on GM, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, or Saab) may stop working without being upgradeable (some were factory installations), and some home security systems that are a number of years old. An AP list was printed in the Washington Post on Dec. 21, "Gadgets Affected by the Analog Shutdown," here. The full AP story by Peter Svensson is here.
Onstar 's own account (dated back to Jan. 2007) of the Analog to Digital transition is here.
The FCC advisory is here.
This has nothing to do with the digital conversion for cable television that becomes mandatory in February 2009.
However, the issue shows the importance of other kinds of networks besides those most familiar to average Internet users. Automobile communications networks can advise car owners of potentially expensive maintenance problems, and medical communication is obviously important, as in eldercare. In principle, network neutrality legislation should not inadvertently interfere with upgrading the efficiency and speed of these specialized networks.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
Two stories in The New York Times this week by Stephen Labaton discuss the intricacies of trying to regulate cable and "telephone" companies as they offer essentially competing services.
On Wednesday Nov. 28 (p C1, Business Day) the story was "Cable Industry Wins Compromise on F.C.C. Plans," link here.
Some of the story dealt with the supposed 70/70 rule.
On Thursday, Nov. 29, same place, "Size Limits for Cable Look Likely", link discusses regulatory measures to control the growth of Comcast, at a time when Verizon has voluntarily announced measures to make its network more versatile for consumers.
There has been a lot of controversy about "a la carte" programming, which Comcast says could fail because the smaller shows cannot hold their own without being propped up by the larger shows in a free market.
Update: Dec. 3, 2007 on spot interferences with internet traffic
Electronic Frontier Foundation has released a report about Comcast and other companies alleged to have interfered with users abilities to use P2P, BitTorrent, and the like. Allegations like these may be motivating the FCC to want to limit the possible monopolistic potential of some telecom companies. The news story is "EFF Releases Reports and Software to Spot Interference with Internet Traffic
Related Issues EFF "Test Your ISP" Project: Technology Rights Group Addresses the Comcast Controversy" and the link is here.
Report 1 "Packet Forgery by ISP's"
report 2 (PDF) "A Report on the Comcast Affair"
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
An AOL story today by Terrence O'Brien "Verizon Wireless To Let You Use Any Phone On Its Network" reports that Verizon will allow connection with any device that meets its standards on its network. The standards will be published in early 2008. Apparently they will not allow T-Mobile, AT&T and iPhone. The company may charge a fee to test attached devices. Apparently the move satisfied FCC auction requirements and does not relinquish a lot of "control." The link is here here (aol subscription might be required).
A similar story by Kim Hart appears on p D1 (Business) of The Washington Post today, Nov. 28, "Verizon To Open Its Wireless Network: Move Gives Users Increased Choices" here.
One disadvantage of the policy change is a greater risk of malware appearing on a cell phone, since Verizon no longer controls all the software that can be loaded.
Verizon as a company has been moving aggressively into the consolidated communications market with fibre-optic packages to offer all services.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Some postings on Microsoft's own corporate site establish the company's support for Network Neutrality legislation.
One such example is on a page called "Policy Agenda: Issues Vital to the Future" with the link here. The subheading is called "Economic Opportunity: Preserving Consumers’ Internet Freedoms (Net Neutrality)." Microsoft claims that there are two core ideas that should be part of the legal system. These are: (1) preserve the ability of consumers to access and use lawful Internet sites, content, services, applications, and devices of their choice; and (2) ensure that network operators will not unfairly or inequitably interfere with the ability of online companies to deliver their products to consumers over the network operators’ local facilities.
Microsoft has detailed Congressional testimonyby Craig Mundie from March 2006 on rural broadband access here,
Sunday, November 11, 2007
FCC trying to fine-tune behavior of large cable networks, to increase competition and expand unaffiliated programming
On Saturday, Nov. 10, The New York Times ran a story (on p A1) by Stephen Labaton, “F.C.C, Set to Issue Rules to Opening Cable Market,” link here.
A related story appeared Monday Nov. 12 in The Washington Post, p A07, by Frank Ahrens, "FCC Moves to Place Restrictions on Cable TV: Companies Push Back Against Plan to Cap Ownership, Reduce Costs for Programmers," here.
In a general way, the FCC is said to be moving in a direction counter to the usual Bush practice of deregulation. The FCC will assume new administrative law powers over cable companies that become too big and have sufficient penetration in given markets (the “70/70 rule”), and may be able to prevent acquisitions and force them to work with unaffiliated companies that offer specialized programming.
This cuts both ways. We don’t like to see the government preventing ownership alliances (like movie distribution and movie theaters) in some cases, because intervention could hamper efforts of independent artists to get their work distributed. In other cases, though, intervention might seem necessary to prevent media companies from squashing competition for consumers. (This sounds like the “Chinese Wall” concept, which supports the idea of separation of functions among separately owned entities to prevent one entity from having unfair influence in proportion to its means.) Generally, with an open Internet and worldwide audience for individual speakers, it is much harder to predict what the effect of regulation will be in practice, which is why the network neutrality debate is so difficult in practice to unravel.
In the Washington DC area, there has been controversy because Comcast has not yet seen fit to offer programming from the Logo (GLBT) network, although much Logo programming (such as the Democratic candidate debates) has been available over high speed Internet directly (or DirectTV).
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
There is a four-minute film “Save the Internet” on YouTube, in animation, made by SavetheInternet.com. Celebrities such as Bill Moyers appear. The film does make the point that the Internet has allowed “the smallest person to reach every other person in the world” (that includes me!) and the film claims that this capability could be lost if telecommunications providers were allowed differential pricing for access to their hardware. The link is here.
YouTube also has videos of Ted Kennedy and Senator John Edwards speaking about the issue.
It would have been nice to include a film like this (maybe longer and a little stronger in details) in a documentary film festival or shorts festival, such as discussed on my movies blogs.
There is also a "Blogger Buzz" story today that individual blogs have been good in raising money for education and charity. The story is “DonorsChoose and Your Blog” here. So, when you combine this with the network neutrality debate, the implication is that individuals can be as important voices in fund raising as established “K Street” style organizations.
Network Neutrality presumably helps some individual entrepreneurs earn a living on the net.
The potential "power" of individual blogs was discussed on a report tonight (Nov. 7, 2007) on NBC4 in Washington in a report by Manuel Almaguer. He discussed Heather Armstrong, famouse for her Dooce site, and Jacob Greer, who makes some money writing for three sites (they showed his blog "Smell the Coffee") on practical matters.
AOL’s Weblogs Inc. was also presented on the show. That site has a panel to apply to blog for one of about 90 networked sites. Marty Moe was interviewed, and there is a 2006 "Red Herring: The Business of Technology" news story about him “AOL Adds Financial Blogs” here, Presumably, the applicant would need to be a subject matter expert in one of the areas presented by one of the sites. But again, all of this shows the democratization of the Internet and is underneath the network neutrality debate.
Monday, October 22, 2007
The claims that some companies are interfering with selected internet traffic continue. On Oct. 19, 2007, the AP ran a story by Peter Svensson, “Comcast Blocks Some Internet Traffic.” The link is here.
The article, quite detailed, apparently refers to how BitTorrent P2P is allowed to work with large files on this ISP. Apparently some large uploads do not work well, which means to other customers that some downloads will not work well. This appears to be related to a need to balance traffic with all customers and possibly a lack of a pricing policy that can penalize excessive use with fees. These problems have been noted on this blog Sept. 29 and Sept. 7.
I got an unsolicited copy of the AP story today (Monday Oct. 22, 2007) in my AOL inbox from the “Judicial Accountability Initiative Law News Journal” (“J.A.I.L.”), with the email titled “Companies seek to undermine Internet.”
PIFR Paper link:
Lauren Weinstein has a white paper (10/2007) "Breaking the Internet Network Neutrality Deadlock" at PIFR (People for Internet Responsibility) here. More details about his ideas will be forthcoming.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Things are pretty schizophrenic right now on the deregulation (and tangentially “net neutrality” debate), where terms are getting thrown around like pasta. Today (Thursday Oct. 11, 2007) The Washington Times had an op-ed by Hance Haney, “Broadbandits revenge,” to the effect that a soon-to-occur FCC decision on re-regulation could essentially force individuals and small businesses to foot the bill for preferential treatment for large companies. This is the “liberal” net neutrality argument in reverse. The link is here.
James Gatusso has a blog entry on this today (Oct. 11) on Technology Liberation Front, (“The FCC Faces a Deadline: Decisions on Special Access and Broadband Tonight?”)
as well as another entry to the effect that presidential candidates have backed off discussing this topic.
I’ll mention another blog to follow issues like this, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Blog: Cheering on Creative Destruction”, Angryblog. Tim Lee had a column in Brainwash in May 2006 “Save the net from what”? (here)in which he minimizes claims that companies naturally abuse freedom to censor users, although a couple of recent stories (on this blog Sept 29) complaining about Verizon and AT&T have occurred since then.
There is a lot more to unscramble here, as the language keeps changing.
Saturday, September 29, 2007
Today, Saturday, September 29, 2007, The Washington Post, on print page A17, ran a “free for all” LTE “The Point of Net Neutrality,” by Timothy Karr, campaign director for Free Press (link: and the SavetheInternet coalition . He denies a claim by Steven Pearlstein (discussed on the Sept. 9 entry on this blog) that net neutrality means people pay the same regardless of how much bandwidth they use.
Instead, what he says net neutrality aims is a large number of companies offering competitive pricing, so that a few companies don’t have the quasi-monopolistic “gatekeeper” control of content by pricing strategies.
His “Save the Internet” website claims that on Sept. 27 2007 Verizon “rejected Naral Pro-Choice America efforts to use Verizon’s mobile text-message program to communicate to its membership. “Verizon Blocks Pro-Choice Text Messaging,” link. However, in a story by Adam Liptak, The New York Times reports that Verizon reversed itself. He also claims that AT&T censored a Pearl Jam webcast criticizing President Bush, “AT&T Gets Caught in its Own Spin Cycle,” here. .
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Recently there have been many television ads encouraging consumers to contact their senators and representatives to extend the ban on Internet taxes. As with many advocacy ads, they appeal to emotion, warning that Internet users could be paying taxes to home states every time they surfed if the ban were not extended.
The concept is a bit misleading. S. 1453 is “A Bill to extend the moratorium on Internet access and discriminatory taxes on Interstate commerce imposed by the Internet Tax Freedom Act.” This is called the “ITFA Extension Act of 2007.” Here is a pdf copy online.
The Internet Tax Freedom Act of 1998 expires Nov. 1, 2007. While it prohibited taxes on Internet ISP services, it did not by itself prohibit taxes on Internet commerce. In practice, many sellers avoid sales taxes on Internet commerce by setting up shell companies for Internet sales that do not have inventory in the same states. In some states consumers are responsible for paying these taxes as “use taxes” which in practice are difficult for states to collect. Some vendors do charge and collect sales taxes on internet commerce. When I had my own “High Productivity Publishing” (before I started selling my books through a cooperative publisher) in Minnesota, I did collect sales taxes and paid in a manner in accordance with state law, although the actual amounts were small.
Bplans.com and Nolo Law have a good writeup on how taxes on Internet sales of goods works, here.
While this is not part of network neutrality legislation, it certainly fits into the “spirit” of the debate.
Friday, September 07, 2007
High speed Internet access through cable -- customers who overuse cut off: a symptom of US bandwidth practices?
On July 9, I commented on a news story about a telecommunications (Sprint) provider terminating service to abusive customers by calling customer service too much. Today, The Washington Post has a provocative story by Tim Hart, “Shutting Down Big Downloaders: Comcast Cuts Internet Service to Bandwidth Hogs,” on p A1, print, here.
The story reports that a few users have gotten letters warning them that their bandwidth use is excessive and implies that it can compromise neighbors’ service. (This sounds like New Testament concerns over neighbors and collective welfare, in a capitalist system). In a few cases, service has been terminated suddenly without warning later, even when customers claim they cut down use. The report indicates that acceptable bandwidth thresholds could be exceeded by downloading several commercial finds a day or a thousand songs a day, however legally from a copyright perspective because of newer lawful subscription services offered by various content companies (to prevent piracy). The problem is much more an issue for high speed Internet offered with cable television service than it is with fiber-optics or wireless. Cable companies have a physical topology analogous to the old “party line” paradigm for telephone service. Comcast is the only company reporting service cutoffs in the story, although other companies could do the same.
One wonders why cable companies don't price more precisely according to bandwidth use. (They do differentiate their television packages.) They say that if they did, too many customers would cut as close as possible. But they do have small business plans, which may be necessary for customers running web servers and having high transaction volumes.
ISP’s offering shared web hosting typically do have bandwidth limits (for visitors of their subscriber’s sites), after which steep surcharges would apply. But for most personal customers the limits are very generous and of no practical importance. However, it would be an issue for someone offering large video files. I have a four-minute movie that I made of a ceremony in Congress, and it takes 270 meg in high definition, so I cannot reasonably post it to be watched that way. I have a mathematics masters thesis in pseudo PDF format, made by photocopying at Kinko’s, and it takes 6 meg, again a little bit risky in a shared environment. My largest HTML files on my sites are 600 K, which is OK.
As I noted above, however, many customers want to watch movies or television on line, straining traditional cable Internet. Sometimes these are films offered by independent filmmakers, and often they are offered P2P, even legally. Other times, they are programs offered by traditional companies. NBC is canceling the soap “Passions” but offering it online (while DirectTV also offers it). The Logo network offered the Democratic candidates debate on gay rights on line, and I watched it that way because Comcast does not carry Logo (I would have gladly “paid” to watch it on cable). Many local governments offer their board meetings on line, and many think tanks offer symposiums online (like Cato). This practice is becoming much more common for the home user. Netflix offers its subscribers some movies online “free” (with subscription), but these tend to time out after a half-hour or so; perhaps Comcast (which I have) is limiting the use because of excessive demand and strain. So I wind up ordering the Netflix DVD’s anyway.
Cable high speed Internet was very stable for me until about two years ago, when it had occasional slowdowns. Partly these are due to extra use in the neighborhood (large homes) and the need to expand the broadband network. I also had technicians replace some splitters that were beginning to corrode, and in all honesty I have to admit that cable Internet speed improved for me when outdoor splitters were replaced (maybe with newer hardware). ABI Research has completed a report indicating that crackdowns on big users may increase (I could not find the report), and that cable companies need to participate vigorously in FCC auctions of additional broadband space.
This all brings up the question, as discussed a couple of postings ago on this blog, why Internet broadband performance in the United States lags by an order of magnitude behind some of Asia, especially Japan. This was discussed in the previous posting on this blog. The “network neutrality” legislative issue has become as convoluted as health insurance. Libertarians (and thinktanks like Cato) believe that cable companies will perform better in an unregulated environment where they face stiff competition and have the freedom to innovate, especially with offering differentiated pricing structures for different levels of service. Liberal democrats argue that Japanese Internet companies have done well in a regulated environment where competition and sharing is “forced.” This may be a bit like the airline deregulation debate going back to the late 1970s.
Update: Sunday Sept 9
On page F3 of the The Washington Post Business Section, Sunday Briefing, Steven Pearlstein writes in "Whiny Techies II" about network neutrality: "But lately the campaign seems to have morphed into a broader demand that all consumers should be able to pay the same monthly fee for using the Internet, no matter how much bandwidth they use or how much their movie downloads and video chats are slowing service to everyone in the neighborhood."
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
On June 26, I wrote a piece on this blog which suggested that the faster broadband speeds overseas, especially in Japan, could argue against network neutrality legislation.
Today, Aug. 29, 2007, Blaine Harden of The Washington Post Foreign Service has a provocative story “Japan’s Warp-Speed Ride to Internet Future.”
There is also a thumbnail picture there “In a Tokyo demonstration using high-speed broadband” that the visitor will find at the Post website by searching for the writer’s name.
The report says that broadband speeds are 8 to 30 times that in the U,S. Why? Some of it is physical. Japan is more densely populated and smaller geographically. In Japan, the copper wiring is newer and uses short loops. But a bigger reason seems to be public policy. The Japanese government has required telecommunications companies (such as Nippon Telegraph and Telephone, NTT) to open up their wires to smaller ISP companies. As a result of this “competitive” pressure, larger companies like NTT have been more aggressive in wiring residences (including using fiber-optic cables) for high speed broadband use.
Harden writes, “Yet the story of how Japan outclassed the United States in the production of better, cheaper Internet service suggests that forced government regulation can pay substantial dividends.”
This is certainly a good topic for libertarian think tanks like Cato to ponder.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Late this week major media outlets reported that a New Jersey teenager, George Hotz, 17, had unlocked the applie iPhone, removing the SIM card, so that he could use it on T-mobile, as well as on AT&T, for which it was manufactured. The project involved some software and hardware (soldering) reverse engineering that left most of the other functionality of the device intact. Media reports vary that he took from 20 to 500 hours of work on this. Perhaps the reverse engineering for other networks would lead to a patentable invention and income.
The CNN transcript is here.
As far as everybody knows, this is totally legal. AT&T has not commented. Although not within the technical legal framework of network neutrality legislation, it fits the spirit of recent debates, that any device should work on any network, a topic of controversy during the FCC’s recent auction of broadband space.
I recall that in Minnesota I had a black Qwest cell phone, which did not work on Verizon when I moved to Virginia in 2003. Even though Qwest has a building in the Ballston region of Arlington (see picture) I had to get a Verizon phone in 2003. I don’t have an iPhone yet but I may retool a lot of things.
Mr. Hotz has a website was called "Lpahome" (URL now not working)
and related blog here
. He shows whimsical pictures of his “laboratory” that probably would not get printed in Better Homes & Gardens or Southern Living (Oh well, New Jersey is the north, after all.) It’s interesting to me how differently people feel about technical work space at home, which for many hobbyists is cluttered. (I recall a hi-fi hobbyist in Maryland in 1962; half the house was taken over). Other people feel that hobby or work associated "clutter" at home indicates a sense of domestic “failure".
He has appeared on several television shows, including CNN on Saturday. There is a YouTube video here that appears to be a demonstration by his brother.
It would be well here to review a couple of papers by Tim Lee on network neutrality, one referenced on this blog on June 8 2006 ("arguments against) and one referenced at here on Sept. 20.
One website "IPhonesfree" plans to offer unlocking software soon (website URL link now obsolete). Another such company seems to be Uniquehones. In 2006 the IS Copyright Office issued an administrative opinion to the effect that unlocking cell phones from any specific telecommunications carrier would not violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Update: July 2 2008
You can keep up with Hotz in his technical, well illustrated blogs (look at all of them, like "DLP Goes Down", on the Blogger profile) here.
Another account of this story appears on "Freedom to Tinker" with the caption, "Legal Battle Looming?" link here.
Update: July 29, 2011
CNN reports that Mr. Hotz now works for Facebook.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Major media outlets report that the Federal Communications Commission has approved open access of the airwaves for all devices. A typical story is Kim Hart, “FCC Aproves Airwave Use for All Phones: Wireless Network Opened to Options if Not Firms, page D01 print, The Washington Post, Aug. 1, 2007, here:
The airwaves will be auctioned in early 2008 and consumers will be allowed to use their cellphones and software in unbundled manners of their choosing.
ATT had opposed an amendment that would require the winner to resell some shares to third parties. There have been complicated discussions about how regulations, or lack thereof, would affect smaller providers and wireless access in remote rural areas, especially in western states.
There is also a provision that wireless carriers will share the responsibility for preferred public safety networks, which in theory sounds like a “public service” exception to the ideology of strict network neutrality.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Miguel Helft and Stephen LaBarton have an important story on page A1 of the Saturday July 21, 2007 The New York Times, (in Technology online, link here: (may require registration and purchase): “Google Pushes For Rules to Aid Wireless Plans”
The largest search engine company is advocating a plan in which a consumer, when buying a cell phone or mobile device, be able to connect to any telecommunications carrier. The report notes that the company could bid over $4.5 billion for a slice of the nation’s airwaves to be auctioned by the federal government – as long as there is a “neutral” environment for consumers and carriers. The company believes that ad revenue could pay for additional systems development and infrastructure for all carriers to allow this choice.
Major carriers have lobbied against this idea, calling it “corporate welfare” and claim that they need the flexibility to develop targeted products and services for different kinds of customers who might pay more when using certain specific items of hardware in order to have faster access. Arguments like this have come up in conjunction with certain industries, like health care and hospitals, where preferred access might have a valid justification
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Today there was an odd problem on the Internet on the East Coast. I subscribed to Comcast high speed Internet (part of the cable television service). First, I know that in my area Verizon fiber-optical cable may soon be major competition (and I wonder if Verizon will carry the gay Logo channel; haven’t checked yet).
Around 10 AM this morning, I noticed that most news sited (most of all CNN, but also the Associated Press, The Washington Post, Reuters) would hang when I went to browse them. Other sites (like Amazon, IMDB, all of the blogger sites, and my own sites) worked normally. (Yahoo! was not affected.) The problem happened with both Mozilla and Internet Explorer. I tried to laptop, and got the same problem. Sometimes I got DNS errors, sometimes a timeout error. Then I dialed on to AOL through broadband, and found that in the AOL browser slot (which automatically uses IE on my setup), the sites would come up immediately. In other words, AOL has a different routing to these major news organizations, and some component in Comcast’s route was down. I sent an email to CNN technical support (by “dialing in” through AOL) about this. I tried to send an email to Comcast and found its email dialogue script not working properly (no send button).
All of this makes me wonder if there is experimentation going on for preferred services for companies that pay more, or it this is just a conventional router outage. Major news organizations would not want their content held up in any market-driven plan that gives bigger fish faster access to the Net, however. Nor would they want home users to have problems getting it.
Still, from network architecture and third-party networking companies used by ISPs and content providers, there would be plenty of opportunity to tweak delivery of content to willingness to pay prime rates. I’m not sure how this affects the big guys who got started in a era where “network neutrality” was legally driven.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Today, June 26, 2007, Leslie Cauley of USA Today provided a story that Internet access in the United States is much slower than in many other countries. The median US download speed was report to be 1.97 megabits per second, compared to 61 megabits per second in Japan.
A 10 megabit file will download in 15 seconds on a 5 megabit connection.
The article also compared states, with Rhode Island the best, and Iowa one of the worst.
Generally, I find that most downloads on Comcast cable are efficient. But it took 1.5 hours a year ago to download all of Microsoft Visual Studio Express, which measured in the hundreds of megabits. It would run quickly then slowly in bursts, at mid afternoon on a weekday. I have noticed that access in northern Virginia tends to slow in the late morning on weekdays, and sometimes stalls. This may be related to adding more customers without sufficient infrastructure. Verizon is now installing fiber-optic in my area.
The article would tend to argue against Network Neutrality legislation, if it gets in the way of offering improved connection speeds to clients (maybe like hospitals or law enforcement agencies, or large retailers) that have a real justification for them.
The recent book by Andrew Keen, The Cult of the Amateur, review here, tends to suggest that more established corporate interests ought to have higher connection speeds if they can show a concrete economic justification.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
I got an email this morning from Freedom Works, with a message that the deadline for public comments to the Federal Communications Commission is Friday, June 15, 2007. The link is here: There is a 500 word maximum for the individual's own public comment in the script box.
The email and associated links do point out that network neutrality legislation could interfere with setting up networks and communications services for specialized services (like health care and medical records) where they may be economic justification for preferred communications channels.
The email also says, “take action to stop moveon.org”. It is signed by Dick Armey
Monday, June 11, 2007
The Washington Times has an op-ed by Bill Steel (president of National Grange) “Limiting wireless access: Proposal threatens rural areas” on page A17 of the Monday June 11, 2007 paper.
Steel writes about a recommendation to the Federal Communications Commission by the Joint Board that the USF, or Universal Service Fund, provide much less assistance than before to providing wireless services in rural and remote areas. Here is the applicable reference at the NG site on FCC testimony. Another good summary is here.
The availability of technology infrastructure in rural areas, going back to rural electricification decades ago, has always been an issue. But, besides of the value of wireless to ranchers and farmers (especially after emergency situations like floods and tornadoes) the issue can become important to retirees, who might move to rural areas for lower housing costs but might need wireless in order to build their own Internet-related businesses.
Moving to the country is not always the personal and cultural change it was in the past, even though I remember the trips to Ohio in the early 1950s and noticing the difference in living standards, using well water instead of city water, and the like.
I put this on the network neutrality blog, even though it does not directly deal with the proposed net neutrality bills, because the underlying problem is the same—equal access to telecommunications services, which Al Gore discussed in detail toward the end of his recent book “The Assault on Reason.” The presidential candidates would do well to pay attention to this issue.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Al Gore, in his recent book The Assault on Reason, (review) does, starting on p. 265, provide a comprehensive account of his view for the need for legislated network neutrality.
He claims that the Clinton-Gore administration’s policy as to “impose very few regulations on the Internet to encourage innovation, business, and political activity.” He says, “Today, this long-established policy of “nondiscrimination” has been redubbed “net neutrality.”
That’s an odd mouthful of words, because later his discussion implies that remaining hands-off would lead to discrimination by established corporate conglomerates. He explains that there is a tier of companies that provide the infrastructure of the Internet, and some of them (including search engine companies and major content providers) don’t want to pay extra for access to preferred hardware and telecommunications services run by what used to be the telephone (and cable) companies. These content-oriented companies are able to provide free or very low cost services to average users because they are not charged premium prices by the communications companies, but could be charged more without network neutrality legislation. That could some day effectively compromise the ability of ordinary people to participate meaningfully in two-way communication so essential to modern democracy. Gore explains that communications companies today, because of the communications technology innovation, feel pressured by bean counters to maximize their economic “economic rent” (as originally conceived by David Ricardo) on their facilities,
One can question how neutral the Clinton years were. After all, Internet censorship laws like the CDA and COPA passed, although they would be struck down. (Actually, a desirable portion [section 230] of the CDA that limits downstream liability to hosts was kept.)
Corporate America actually jumped on the bandwagon that encouraged ordinary people to have blogs, personal sites and social networking profiles, and even to publish books without the bureaucracy and bean counting of the traditional media world. It’s even getting into making movies (which Gore takes up as viewer-created content, or V2C, indeed an important communication and distribution innovation). There is a concern about the risks that all of this poses, as we have already seen with protecting minors in the CDA and COPA cases, as well as chat rooms, spam, scams, viruses, solicitations, and other security problems. Employers worry about the “motives” being personal postings of associates and fear that, like office gossip, they could distract customers or clients. Given these concerns, it is natural to wonder if the marketplace might in time demand that personal materials be able to generate revenue and pay their own way to stay up. Without economies of scale, individuals cannot compete with large companies when it comes to conventional models of profitability. What individuals do offer is variety and subtlety, at some social risk.
Even so, there does not seem to be much evidence to me that an unregulated pricing structure, with higher prices for specialized communications where they are really needed (like in medicine, military, some manufacturing, satellites, etc) would destroy productive access for ordinary users.
Picture: Horseshoe Curve in PA
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
A group called EDUCAUSE which appears to represent interests of universities and other educational institutions has provided some talking points in support of Network Neutrality legislation.
The two page paper (PDF) notes a couple of incidents that are disturbing. One cable ISP provider tried to prevent people working from home to log on to their employer’s VPN (virtual private network) without the employer’s paying more fees. A Canadian ISP prevented access to a website run by a labor union in a dispute with the ISP. SBC Communications (AT&T) reportedly considered not allowing large companies to access their broadband network without additional fees. And one company prevented its broadband customers from using Voice-over protocols because that could reduce phone revenue.
The paper, however, argues neutrality with respect to traffic has been important to the growth of the web.
EDUCause has further discussion here.
Dated May 8, 2007.
It does appear that the incidents reported are narrow in scope and would be covered by appropriate pricing plans in a free market.
Saturday, April 14, 2007
William McGeveran has an interesting commentary on the ideological debate about network neutrality at his Info-Law blog, “Yoo & Wu Deabte Net Neutrality”. Christopher S. Yoo, at Vanderbilt University School of Law, focuses on a moderate concept of “network neutrality” but Tim Wu of Columbia University Law School focuses on a careful definition of the regulatory environment to keep a level playing field. The Harvard law blog is at this link.
The Social Science Research Network (SSRN) has the full debate for download purchase here, Dec. 28, 2006. The general concern seems to be that a "market fundamentalist" approach, even if thoughtful, will leave many consumers lazy and disinclined to make the effort to shop for the best arrangements for them.
In the long run, it seems that the network neutrality debate could get connected to more recent concerns about the validity and notability of "amateur" content, as in the debates of wiki sites.
Thursday, March 01, 2007
Vince Vasquez has an interesting "Viewpoint" in the Feb. 28, 2007 DC Examiner, p. 17, "Getting all tangled up in government's 'net neutrality'", at this link.
He makes the point that in the earlier days of the Internet, especially as many newbies like me got started building content-rich websites (like during the 1997-2001 period, roughly) traffic was lower, although it increased rapidly as search engines started getting much more efficient around 1998. In those days, a 56K modem, often on a second landline phone line, was a satisfactory way to maintain connectivity. Today, a high speed cable or wireless connection is necessary just to maintain all of the security updates that companies like Microsoft, Apple, Sun, and anti-virus vendors push automatically all the time.
Vasquex likens differentiated charges for extremely high volume providers (and that might include server farms run by search engine companies) is similar to charging turnpike tolls in the physical world. It is sometimes necessary. Remember the sign on the PA turnpike, "taxes don't pay for improvement; tolls do!" (And taking out those interesting tunnels is not necessarily improvement!)
The writer believes that the fiduciary responsibility of telecommunications providers will act as a practical brake upon their discriminating against small businesses in any unreasonable way. They will still have to answer to public opinion, even if the Internet Freedom Protection Act does not put them under the regulation of a politicized federal bureaucracy.
Scott Cleland has a similar op-ed on p A16 of The Washington Times (March 1), "America's Unique Internet success" in which he argues that net neutrality would force one bandwidth tier of internet service, subsidizing the big search engines.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
The February 2007 issue of the upscale Congressional Digest, expensive but available in public libraries, carries on the debate over proposed network neutrality legislation. The libertarian side insists that telecommunications providers have no intention of discriminating against small users and providers, and that a competitive environment would prevnet them. The "liberals" still insist that legislated neutrality is necessary so that ordinary bloggers can compete witn CNN and MSNBC. The relevant bills are now HR 5252 and S 2682 / S2683. Contributors include Sen Ron Wyden (D, OR), Rep Joe Barton (R TX), Ed Markey (D MA, who has his own amendment to the bill regarding bandwidth charges), Walter B. McCormick of the U. S. Telecomm Association, and Vinton G. Cerf of Google, who discusses "neural networks."
Google's own arguments
I still haven't decided much about this one.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Charles Babington has a story in The Washington Post Feb 20, 2007, "Network Neutrality ont he Net Gets High 08 Profile," at this location. Bloggers are pressuring political candidates to take positions on this deceptive issue.
Grassroots activists, however, have made bedfollows. Both on the Christian right and progressive left, bloggers fear that access to their political sites will be compromised if telecommunications companies can charge more for specialized commercial access. On the other hand, new higher quality information pipes with "turnpike tolls" would be important in many areas, like medicine, and could conceivably help control costs in some areas (like health care).
An earlier story on Feb 14, 2007 is by Christopher S. Rugaber, "FTC Urged to Boost Internet Oversight," The Washington Post, here. The story quotes Gigi Sohn, president of Public Law, as saying that the FTC should require cable and telecommunications companies to disclose the access speeds that they intend to sell.
Bloggers feel that access to conventional low-cost sites could even disappear. I think that is unlikely, and one factor that affects speed of access is site complexity. My static "simple HTML" sites (especially doaskdotell.com) generally load very fast, whereas my blogs from blogger.com tend to load much slower now because of their relative technical complexity.
Friday, January 26, 2007
Saying that the 110th Congress has re-introduced the Internet Freddom Preservation Act, a website called Freedom Works has sent out a email warning "Leftists Aim to Seize Control of Internet (Again)." Sponsors allegeldy include Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Barack Obama, and Barbara Boxer.
Here is the link that they provide.
Of course, this sort of adovacy by well-funded pressure groups contains a great deal of hyperbole. It doesn't exactly fit the idea of objective examination that I would want to see,
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Sen. Bryron Dorgan (D-ND) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) have reintroduced a bill calling for Network Neutrality into the Senate. Last year a similar bill died in the Senate Commerce Comittee, Deadlocked 11-11. The bills were S. 2686 and S. 2917. Other supporters include Hilary Clinton (D-NY) and Barack Obama (D-IL). The summary story appears on P 12 of the DC Examiner, Wed Jan. 10, 2007.
AT&T voluntarily agreed to some network neutrality expectations in seeking regulatory approval of a takeover of BellSouth.
Here is a discussion of the 2006 bill on C/net news "Senator wants to ban "fast lane" on web", by Anne Broache and Declan McCullagh. Another good link "Svgx" tracks last year's progress.