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March 31, 2005

[f2c] Municipal wifi

(After a morning with no women speakers or questioners, we now have a panel with a woman on it. Yay.)

J.H. Snider moderates. [Sketchy coverage follows...]

Varinia Robinson is in charge of Philadelphia’s municipal wifi project. You have to get your muni wifi in by Jan. 1, 2006, or else you have go to your local provider. This was done to protect “competition.” The city thinks it’ll cost $10.5M to build it and $1.5M annually to maintain it. It will cover 45 square miles and provide a mnimum of 1mb up and down. It’s an ubiquitous indoor network. To break even, they have to make it available indoors. They’re looking at providing broadband access at dialup prices. (Harold Feld points out that the incumbent got a $600M incentive for moving their hq downtown, yet they yelp about a $10M network.)

Dewayne Hendricks, who has a habit of providing telecommunications infrastructures in unregulated areas — Tonga, Indian reservations, etc.) is now working on providing wireless networks that cover hundreds of square miles. He’s hopeful that we’re going to keep matching wireless speeds with the speeds we need on our computers. He also talks about “smart dust”: Radios that are like grains of sand that mesh automatically. Dust Networks in the Bay area is already doing this.

Ben Scott: In state after state, there are grass roots efforts fighting the incumbents’ attempts to put through favorable legislation.

Harold Feld: Municipal wifi could be like taxis: You have the basic service available to anyone, but there’s room for higher-end services such as limos. [Technorati tags: ]

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Conference attendance parallelism

As far as I can tell, Andrew McLaughlin is the only person who has to been to all four of the same conferences I’ve been to this month: The Madrid conference on democracy, security and terrorism; O’Reilly Emerging Tech; Esther Dyson’s PC Forum; David Isenberg’s Freedom2Connect.

It’s been a total pleasure to get to spend some time with Andrew, but all I can say to him is: Andrew, you’re going to way too many conferences! [Technorati tags: ]

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Cluetrain remix

Scott Adams at Arkansas Tech has remixed Cluetrain for education, through “creative search and replace.” [Technorati tag:]

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[f2c] The Great Debate

[NOTE: This is live blogging. It is not close to a transcript, nor is it comprehensive. Finally, I'm hindered by having only a sketchy sense of what they're talking about.]

Charlie Firestone of the Aspen Institute moderates a debate. Resolved that the Communication Act’s stovepipe, vertical regime ought to be replaced by a horizontal regime.

Rick Whitt (MCI and author of “Taking a Horizontal Leap Forward“)
Tim Wu (U of Va law prof)
Randolph May (Progress and Freedom Foundation)
James Gattuso (Heritage Foundation)

Rick Whitt: The basics of the Net are at odds with the Communications Act: Layers, agnosticism of IP, transparency of the layers (= end to end). The CA views it vertically: Title II covers voice, Title II covers audio/video, etc. Vertical regulation stifles innovation. In fact, a packet is a packet and thus upsets the silo-ization: an audio packet is the same as a video packet. The horizontal approach regulates by layer: content layer, application layer, transmission layer, physical layer. [I'm not sure I've gotten this right] and an intermediate one is consistent with the architecture of the Net. It also gives you more granularity.

May: The horizontal approach is based on techno-functional capabilities. But tech changes rapidly, so you don’t want to lock in public policy framework based on technology? We’re not going to have agreement on the layers. Fundamentally, this is not worth overturning the stovepipes to move3 to this place. We need to be in a better place: A regime that would look at services offered by providers in a market and to see whether those providers have market power, and if so what type of reglation you would apply based on market power.

Wu: The layers model need not be complicated. The one we’re proposing is the same as the model in the heads of the best FCC regulators. It’s based on the distinction between transport infrastructure and applications. Contol over the physical infrastructure restricts market entry. People are upset about this because the layers approach would remove the incumbents’ ability to block market entry. We need to control the physical layer because that’s where the bottleneck,

Gattuso: We agree that there’s a problem. But the Layers approach is muddled; people disagree about it. The key factors that should drive regulation: Competition and choice. Layers can inform you about what the market might be, but it’s not definitive. Competition should be the key consideration. Public policy should look at the actual problems we’re facing, not as a secondary consideration.

Whitt: May, the CA is not techno-functional. Yes, tech will change over time, but the layers have survived for four decades. The point isn’t to replicate the OSI stack but to give regulators a way to think about this. What we’re proposing to Congress is a two-layer approach. The main dispute goes to the broadband layer: MCI belives there’s concentration of broadband suppliers. Even Michael Powell thinks there’s an issue.

May: When you have a model that leads things unclear, you’re inviting litigation. The FCC is trying to look at services to see if they’re in the same marketplace. That doesn’t involve a technical-functional distinction.

Wu: Any telecommunications legislation will have classification. The point of layers is to minimize them and have them make sense. The vertical model muddles the question. Would a market or anti-trust approach be simpler? No, you have the same problem of market definition with anti-trust. It’s even more complex. Leaving it to anti-trust is just a way of saying that we should just leave the incumbents alone. Anti-trust courts rarely do anything.

Gattuso: Regulation ought only to look to whether competition is working. We’re actually talking about whether cable companies have market power over consumers. That’s what the discussion ought to be about. I worry that with Layers model in 15 years we’ll be arguing over the layers instead of over the real question which is whether consumers have choices. And when Rick says “it’s hard to imagine” that tech will change, that’s exactly the problem we’ve had with communications acts.

May: Rick may be coming over to our side. In his new handout he says that all entities should be free to compete within and across layers without regulation. I don’t think Prof. Wu agrees. If this is nothing but a market power test, that’s what James and I are saying.

Firestone: There’s agreement that: A. The existing regime is too restrictive. B. Extreme market power is bad and we want some kind of anti-trust. C. We want to get to a place where there’s more competition and consumer choice. Whitt says we should get there by changing the scheme so there are basically two layers. Gattuso wants a strict competitive approach, getting more competitors into the market.

Wu: If we all agree on an anti-trust framework and principles, then you realize that the Layered model deals with a repeated anti-trust issue, i.e., the abuse of the physical layer to restrict competition. It’s a way of dealing with a repetitive anti-trust problem. People who believe in anti-trust principles ought to be on our side.

Q&A

Frankston: Layers are a great talking point but there’s no reality to them. We’re starting with the assumption that regulation makes sense. Maybe we should recognize that provisioning bits isn’t a good business.

Whitt: The regulators don’t think about it as bit pipes. The Layers approach tries to shatter that way of thinking. It’s about political feasibility.

Tim Denton: If we put the four of you in a room, you could come up with the right legislation.

May: Yes, but our side wouldn’t put in language about layers.

Isenberg: Can Randolph and James put forward some simple principles to make sure we get the best network, given today’s reality of big honking companies that have captured the regulatory apparatus.

Gattuso: I’d make sure that one set of big honking companies can compete to provide alternatives; you want them to go after each other. I’d make sure people can get a foothold in the market; that may be in conflict with uniform connectivity and universal standards. I tend to favor approaches where the regulator is more general, e.g., Federal Trade Commission, not the FCC.

Richard Levine: In the European model, you define anti-trust markets and whether a single firm dominates; if so, then you do something about it. E.g., UK has a market called “broadband access” and British Telcom has a dominate position.

Joel Plotkin: The Baby Bells have privatized a public asset and are blocking competition.

Jerry Gleason: You’re talking about competition but you’re funded by the incumbents. [They disagree.]

Fred Seignor: How long will the layers model survive with Verizon buying MCI.

Wu: At a conceptual level, anti-trust and European model are attractive. The question whether practically they are excuses for doing nothing. The MCI 2-layer model is real legislation to combat abuse of the physical infrastructure.

May: If you believe that generally that competition is better than regulation, and that you have to provide incentives for people invest and innovate. You do that, you don’t take over their property. Just by calling them “incumbent,” that’s not a policy. [Technorati tags: ]

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Burningbird on WordPress’ link farm

Shelley has a considered piece on the discovery that WordPress, the open source blogging software, has been hosting a link farm on its site. ” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with people making money from their art,” she says. But, she adds, “I can also see that there’s been a dimming of the joy of this medium, as more and more people turn to these pages as a way to make a buck.” And she concludes:

Bottom line is: do you like WordPress? Do you like using WordPress? Can you still get it for free? Is it still GPL? Then perhaps that’s what should be focused on, and however or whatever Matt does with the WordPress page is between him and Google; because what matters is the code, not the purity of actions peripherial to the code, or its release.

It’s a forgiving piece — the final paragraph recounts how the Romans would make sure triumphant generals would remember they are mortals — which is great to read. We’re all human. But I don’t think the problem is that WordPress made some money. It’s the fact that link farms make one of our tools, Google, less useful. And it’s the lack of transparency. Of course, you can’t long host a link farm if you’re transparent about it, which is a reason for a legit site not to host one.

But why does WordPress owe us anything? In a legal and formal sense, it doesn’t. But, part of the joy of the Net — and I think Shelley is exactly right to use the word “joy” here — has been the forging of new, personal relationships with the companies that we engage with, whether they’re for free or for pay. I feel oddly connected to Firefox, Six Apart, TinyApps.org, and hundreds of others, large and small, free and commercial, because I feel that they’re doing something for the community first; they’re not in it only for themselves. I trust them to do the right thing for us. When they don’t, I feel betrayed. It’s not that big a deal, and I don’t go all binary on them. But the sense of betrayal demonstrates the depth of the bond.

So, IMO, WordPress made a mistake. The mistake definitely wasn’t making money. It was making money in a way that works against the interests of the Web community. As Shelley says, that doesn’t make the WordPress code any worse, and I may switch from Movable Type to WordPress at some point. Forgiveness is totally in order. Yet the abrading of joy does matter. [Technorati tags: ]


Matt’s response to the brouhaha is here.

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March 30, 2005

[f2c] Jeff Jarvis and Bob Corn-Revere

Jeff interviews Bob Corn-Revere, a first amendment lawyer, about the new threats to free speech. Bob says that the Democrats have been even more pro-regulation than the Republicans. The fines have gone way up: 4x the fines this year than in the total of the past ten years. We now have “obscenity light,” a vast expansion of scope and vagueness.

Jeff recounts his investigation of the 129 complaints that caused the FCC to issue it’s largest fine ever, $1.2M. Jeff found that they were written by 23 people and all but 3 were the same.

Bob says that the number of complaints is going up dramatically, but that they are being generated by particular web sites. The number of shows that receive complaints is declining. But Congress seems not to be interested in protecting free speech. So, Jeff asks, if this doesn’t get settled until it gets to the Supreme Court.

Bob: “It’s hard to predict.”

Jeff: Broadcasting now is multi-way. Bob replies that that’s what’s really different now. [Sorry for the crappy summary. It was more nuanced and wide-ranging than this.]

[Can we complain to the FCC that there isn't enough profanity on TV? After all, Janet Jackson's nipple slip was the most frequently replayed moment of the Super Bowl among people with TiVos] [Technorati tags: ]

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[f2c] Lafayette, LA

Terry Huval tells about the battle for Lafayette, LA, where a citizen desire for broadband access (via fiber to the home) was opposed by the incumbents who proposed legislation to maintain their monopoly. A judge finally ruled that the public ought to be able to vote on it. [Technorati tags: ]

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[f2c] Susan Crawford

Susan objects to the title of the conference because it acknowledges that someone can take the rightto connect away from you. We don’t need permission, she aays. “We are here to assert our freedom to connect.” We should be optimistic about the state of connection. “Things are flourishing.” The content guys, law enforcement and the telcos would like to control the future. We need to uncontrol it.

At what level of the protocol stack should the government intervene? To allow design mandates to be put in place by a sovereign is like thought control. To assert we have the right to connect without asking permission requires us overcoming our “inner demons,” e.g., our willingness to accept filters.

She suggests that we need to “route around” the regulation rather than redoing it. By “route around” she means push out devices that are impossible to regulate. [Technorati tags: ]

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[f2c] Lee Rainie

Lee Rainie of the Pew Internet group reports on his group’s recent studies. But first he fools us by pointing to the effects of this new technology, except it turns out to be from Elizabeth Eisenstein’s study of the effect of the printing press.

136M American adults now use the Internet. That’s 67% of Americans. 87% of teen-agers. 50% of home owners have broadband. In a typical day, 82M Americans will be on line. 71M of those use email…9x the number of people who use the postal system. 41M used a search engine. Broadband teenagers are more likely to get their news online. 14M did online banking, 5x the number who visited a bank. 4M googled someone they were about to meet; 1M googled themselves.

79M have participated in online support groups for a medical or personal problem. 7M have made political donations. 5-88M swapped files even as the Supreme Court was hearing the case.

There were 9 gaps. Only the gender gap has vanished.

Most important: Age.
Employment status: Students rule.
Education: More important than income as an indicator of Internet use
Disability: Only 38% of those with a significant disability use the Internet
Language: English is an indicator
Community type: Ruralites are less likely to be online than urbanites
Parental: Parented households are more likely
Income
Race and ethnicity: Less significant than other indicators.

How does connectivity change us?

People who use the Internet “grow their social capital.” People (especially women) use email to enhance their social networks. 84% of Internet users belong to online groups — that’s 115M people. “ePatients are creating a new healthcare model where the all-knowing, omnipotent, gate-keeping doctor is being replaced by a new model — online advice and support. (Half of the people doing medical research online are looking for info for someone.) And there is an increase in civic engagement.

He does point to a down side: Evidence shows heavy use of the Net can cause stress. Not to mention bad people doing bad things via the Net.

[Great talk.]

[Technorati tags: ]

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[f2c] Freedom to Connect

[f2c] Freedom to Connect

I’m at a Freedom to Connect, David Isenberg’s conference on why network connections are important and how we can get more of them. It’s a fantastic list of attendees.

David opens by arguing that freedom to connect is a political issue. The Democrats don’t like it because they’re in the pockets of Hollywood. The Republicans don’t like it because they’re in the pockets of the incumbent telcos. We need to get political, he says.

IRC here.

Audio stream here.

(By the way, Isenberg broke the “fuck” barrier eleven minutes into the conference.) [Technorati tag:]

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