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March 31, 2009

[f2c] Kevin Werbach and Dan Gillmor

[Note: Live blogging with all the suckiness and unreliability that that entails] Kevin Werbach was co-chair of the Obama FCC transition team, among many other things. Dan Gillmor is interviewing him:

Q: What does a transition team do?
A: You get to participate in a quasi-hostile takeover of a $14T organization. We reviewed the FCC to find out what was going on.

Q: What was going on at the FCC?
A: It’s no one thing. Commissioner Martin ran the agency in a closed, politicized way. He was very distrustful of the staff.

Q: What was broken?
A: I can’t discuss details.

Q: What would you do if you were Chairman?
A: If I told you, I’d ensure I could never have that job. The real opportunity for the FCC is to get ahead of the curve. What will the world be like in 20 years? What will be requirements of the iPhone in 20 years?

Q: Are we going to get to lots more open spectrum?
A: Chairman Powell was thinking about the future of spectrum. That got shoved aside by Martin.

Q: How real is this change, then? Will we see deep change?
A: There will be tremendous change. But people on the outside should keep pushing the Administration to do better. It really matters who wins the election.

Q: What some things that could be done that couldn’t be reversed?
A: Successes are the things that are hard to reverse. The telcos understand that they need to evolve to something else.

Dan opens up the Q&A to the audience.

[harold feld] What’s achievable with spectrum policy with this Admin?
A: NTIA just got its head, so it’s early. The FCC and NTIA need to coordinate. We need to know how spectrum is being used. Do an inventory.

Q: Can you start blogging again…?
A: I’d love to, but it takes too much time. So I’ve started tweeting (

Q: Smart grids. What’s going on between the FCC and other bodies in trying to set new standards?
A: I don’t know what’s going on in that, but it’s important. I have a law review article coming out that argues that standards are a form of regulation.

Kevin asks Dan: What would you do as FCC Chair.
A: Resign.

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[f2c] Tim Denton

Tim Denton is commissioner of theCanadian Radio and Television Commission. They held a hearing recently on broadcasting in new media. Can Canadian content be measured when TV is delivered over the Net? Should they be taxing ISPs to create a fund that would go into Canadian programming? Many entertainers testified in favor of the tax. “Not a single group raised the issue of free speech across the Internet.” Tim can’t imagine this being the case in the US.” Tim can’t announce the CRTC’s decision…

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[f2c] Grids and muni nets

Geoff Daily introduces a panel at Freedom to Connect. [Note: Live blogging. Unedited. Uncorrected. Incomplete. Flat out wrong. Thanks for playing.]

James Salter talks about the Smart Grid. The biggest problems on earth: Over-population and global warming. The second is a subset of the first. James at first thought Al Gore was a hypocrite, but now he’s convinced of the truth of what AG says. (James is a proud Republican.) American residential electric usage has tripled in the past 50 years, and the efficiency has gone down. (Efficiency = peak usage over average usage.) 40% of carbon comes from coal-fired power plants and 33% from cars. Obama says we should get greener by building windmills, etc. But the effective thing he’s doing is installing smart meters. Smart meters are networked. There are 140M lectric meters in the use. Only 6.7M are smart meters so far. He estimates it’d cost $2,500 per house — including fiber to the house — to lower the load factor significantly.

Q: Is fiber required for a smart grid?
A: Nope. But the apps will need more bandwidth over time.

Terry Huval of Lafayette, Louisiana tells about broadbanding the city. In 1998, the Lafayette Utilities System put in fiber for its utilities. In 2000, they were authorized to “establish a wholesale and governmental retail network.” Companies were allowed to resell access to private folks. In 2004, the city proposed fiber to home and business as its fourth utility. But then the “Local Government Fair Competition Act” passed, a bill favoring the incumbents. The Governor stepped in and negotiated a compromise. Then the private telcos successfully sued. In 2005, the public voted 62% in favor of the project. “It was looked upon as a huge benefit to local businesses.” It was viewed as being like electricity. Then, in 2006, tow unknown citizens filed suit. 2007, State Supreme Court ruled 7-0 in favor of the project. The whole process cost $3.5M. In 2009, they’ve started providing retail telecommunication services to residential and smaller business customers, at 20% less than the standard competitor. But the vision is to provide much more than basic TV and phone services. They provide the triple play for $85. For $138 you get 250 channels (including HD) and 30MB up and down Internet. Customers can build their own bundle. E.g., unlimited long distance for $31. Five cents a minute to reach much of the world. He stresses that they’ve listened to the community. So, they’ provide 100Mbps for peer-to-peer, free. “We think it opens up doors for all our citizens and businesses.” They enable Net access through your TV if you don’t have a computer. It’s limited, but they can Google… People love the service overall and consider it, proudly, to be “ours.”

Q: [bob frankston] Among the triple play, which funds what?
A: TV is the driver.

Q; [Todd of the Utopia project in Utah] Will you wholesale access to the network so that others can be ISPs.
A: No. At least not until our bonds are paid off.

Q: [brett glass] Where does Lafayette get its backbone connection?
A: AT&T and Quest, about $50-60/Mbps. It’s an over-subscription-based model. You assume you won’t have all of your sources using all of your resources at the same time.

[Terry now plays Cajun fiddle and sings. Awesome.]

Geoff Daily makes a quick announcement of a new alliance: “All Americans deserve equal access to the best broadband. The best broadband is fiber.” [I couldn’t get the URL. Sorry.]

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March 30, 2009

[f2c] Politico-Regulatory talks

[Note: Live blogging. Sloppy. Incomplete. Unchecked. Wrong. Flee! Flee!]

Chris Savage talks about “The Re-Birth of Intelligent Regulation and the Chicago School.” The Chicago School overemphasizes the value of individual thought (= “revealed preference theory”). When people make choices, that’s the best way to know what’s good for them (Chris says). But how can people know which wireless plan they want? “Empirical studies of decision making show that people don’t know what they want.” They don’t act rationally. They have trouble when there are too many alternatives, need to assess risk, etc. But, if you can’t assume that people know what they want, there’s no reason to think that the results from markets are good results. Hence, we need to regulate. If there’s no factual basis to think open competition will lead to the best outcome, regulators may have a role in shaping the outcome. But, timing matters and now is the time to make a “more citizen-friendly regulatory system.”

Derek Slater, a policy person for Google (and a former Berkman Fellow). He’s going to talk about MLab. We have all asked “WTF?” he says, especially when an app starts running badly. We don’t know what’s going on. We don’t have the tools to get the data that would help us understand that. Broadband policy needs data. mLab provides end-user testing tools. (It’s not just a Google project.) “We call it beta but that’s only because most people don’t now what alpha means.” Thirty-six servers at the moment.

John Peha, chief technologist of the FCC, talks about the “Mythology of Rural Broadband.” Myth 1: There’s less interest in broadband in rural areas. Nope. The percentage of US households with Internet overall and rural are almost the same, but rural has less broadband. They probably don’t like their Internet slow. About one third of rural households have no access to broadband of any ttype (except satellite). Myth 2: Customers are unwilling to pay the cost of the buildout. But there are spill-over benefits, affecting the community and not just the individual subscribers. Myth 3: Rural communities may not gain from the broadband they don’t have access to, but it doesn’t hurt them. Nah. “Reducing the size of a network harms those who remain.” Broadband is becoming the norm, hurting those who do not have it. Myth 4: “Government involvement in infrastructure always helps.” Nope. No “one size fits all” solution. We shouldn’t have the gov’t replicate solutions the market is doing well already. We shouldn’t assume that the market solves all problems. We’re getting some more spectrum in 2009 as the switch to digital TV kicks in, and there’s a new national broadband plan under development.

Q: [tim denton, CRTC commissioner] Expand on your point that we don’t know what market conditions will work, Chris?
Chris: We don’t know. It’s important for people, esp. regulators, to remember that.

Q: How can regulators make policy and maintain technological neutrality since technologies offer different capabilities?
Jon: Tech neutrality is a good thing to aim at.
Chris: I want to challenge that. We’re not neutral about houses that have electricity or not, or cars with airbags or not. The market won’t figure this out correctly, necessarily.
Derek: We need to set the goals and look at the data at what different technologies bring to the table.
Jon: The setting of the goals is the key part of that.

[amy wohl] I am a recovering Chicago economist. When the gov’t tries to fix market mistakes, it often introduces a lag that can create a new mistake. How can we help the gov’t make good decisions?
Chris: Elect the right people.
Derek: Infrastructure is special. That’s the message we need to be building on.
David I: Say more …
Audience: Because infrastructure is being built now but not being designed. [Tags: ]

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[f2c] Muni Wifi

[Note: All of these conference bloggings are rough notes, wrong, incomplete, poorly paraphrased, full of spellping errors, etc.]

Esme Vos begins by saying that municipal wifi is far from dead. The companies that failed at it generally failed not because they were doing muni wifi (e.g., Earthlink). She talks about some cities where it’s working. E.g., Riverside, Minneapolis, Cleveland. Philadelphia is now succeeding; they got some muni “anchor applications” and is expanding from there. About 50% of logins to the Philadelphia system are Apple products; the Phila project is not a failure. Esme also talks about Lompoc CA, which had been considerd to be a failure, but it’s been turned around.

Sascha Meinrath says his role these days is “to translate geek into wonk.” He says we need “alternative media dissemination and through these networks institute fundamental changes to civil society before it collapses under the weight of its own inequity.” [approx] Public-private partnerships have placed communities in subservient relationships to corporations. “Our very lexicon” about muniwifi revolves around ROI instead of fostering a 21st century civil society.

Ken Biba of Novarum talks about “Municipal Wireless 2.0.” His company measures wifi. What went wrong with 1.0? There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Fantasy business models and overhyped products. What went right? When there was skin in the game, it worked It worked for things like public safety, parking meters, and internal municipal communications. Wireless works as an extension to wire. (Wifi 802.11n is beginning to beat Wimax for bandwidth, he says. Wimax is about as good as 3G. [I’m probably getting this wrong.]) He says “Cellular data has doubled in the last two years.” Now getting 1000-1500kbps download via cellular.

L. Aaron Kaplan (who gave a Berkman talk last week) is giving a presentation on Funkfeuer and community wifi networks in Europe. He shows maps of mesh networks in Vienna, highly scaled, 240 roofs. Repeated in Graz, Bad Ischl, Weinviertel. The longest links are 30km. It’s also happening in Barclona, Djursland, Berlin Freifunk, Athens, Paris Sans Fils, czfree nework.

Dewayne Hendricks says the biggest barrier to wireless is the regulatory environment. “The tools make the rules,” he says. E.g., if you have smart radios, they’re better able to tell what’s going on than rules written on tablets. Look at what’s happening at the grassroots level. What if we went back to the original vision and made the entire spectrum open? Reality is making it harder to stop this movement. The facts are on its side. Remember Metricom? They spent a billion dollars to deploy, and where it was deployed, it was great. They put their radios on light poles. But when muniwifi 2.0 started, no one went back and learned from Metricom’s efforts in getting permits.

Q: [harold feld] How can we talk about these things that doesn’t make it sound like you have to turn a profit in a year?
Esme: Cities like Rock Hill N. Carolina said that they’re installing a wireless meter-reading service, or some such…a muni service. It was easier to get the network in…
Ken: Someone has to pay for it. Find an app where you can show real economic return.
Sascha: I’m business-model agnostic. We just need to get this done.
Isenberg: From the chat: Why don’t we use Verizon or Sprint, etc., to provide muni services, i.e., in police cars or for public safety??
Ken: It’s too expensive.
David Young (Verizon): We’re looking at new pricing models for low-capacity networks.

Q: Will the telcos resurface as worthy adversaries?
Ken: The need for video surveillance is driving the creation of high-capacity networks. You can’t do that on cellular; there’s not enough bandwidth.

Q: What about privacy?
Ken: Once you move into an Internet-connected world, you’re doomed.
L. Aaron: If you import hardware from, say, China, how do you now it’s a secure? The only solution is to build it on your own.
Sascha: Privacy and security are not mutually inconsistent, but there are problems when companise are privatizing your identity and data.
Ken: You could do end-to-end encryption now, but no one chooses to do so. [Tags: ]

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[f2c] Eva Sollberger

Eva Sollberger talks about, about being “stuck in Vermont” videos. The videos don’t make the newspaper a lot of money but it does help “brand” Vermont and Burlington. Shes done 122 of them over the past two years. Highly edited. Highly viewed. One person, a bunch of videos, making a difference.

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[f2c] Telehealth Project

Check this project: DocBox sits on top of a tv and provides 2-way connectivity so seniors can exercise together under the eye of a trained person

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[f2c] Politics

Tim Karr, campaign director of Free Press, moderates a small panel: Nathaniel James ( Media and Democracy Coalition) and Ellen Miller (Sunlight Foundation).

Tim: We’re in a period of turmoil, torn between “two distinct value systems”: Mass media and social media. Now is the crucial time for making the right policies. We’re seeing a perfect alignment of three movements: media reform, free culture, and open government. The principles of the unity of these three movements: Openness (neutral, nondiscriminatory net), transparency, innovation (through copyright reform), privacy, access.

Ellen: As Andrew Rasiej says, technology is not a slice of the pie, it’s the entire pan. (Ellen talks about the origins and current projects of the magnificent Sunlight Foundation.)

Nathaniel mentions that he’s very involved in One Web Day. But his talk is about fighting for the freedom to connect. He says the process of providing access needs to include a diverse swath of the country. The Internet policy process ought to be as participatory as Internet culture itself. “Are we building programs that allow empowerment and peer to peer education?”

Q: Politically, what’s it look like with the new administration and Congress?
Tim: We’re more hopeful. “The more the public gets involved in the sausage-making, the more visionary and courageous our politicians become”
Nathaniel: The Dems and Reps are equally opportunity offenders in this area.
Ellen: When it comes to the new admin, “it’s a delight to be pushing on an open door.”

Q: [googin] We’re seeing an increase in bottom up business, not just in media.

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[f2c] First panel

At Freedom to Connect, the opening panel, moderated by Joanne Hovis, is on municipal wifi. [Note: Liveblogging. Missing stuff. Typing too fast. Not spellpchecking. No rereading. This is a terribly incomplete and occasionally wrong set of notes.]

Tim Nulty is the former head of Burlington Telecom, and is now the head of a consortium bringing fiber to rural Vermont. He says there are about 45 municipal wifi companies in the US. We pretty much know how to do that. It’s different in rural areas, where the average density is 13 residences per linear mile. About 60% have no broadband. Why should it be harder to replace copper wire with glass the second time around? Why is there this myth that it’s impossible? Because there are incumbents who have a financial interest in saying that it’s impossible because they don’t want to do it [because the margins are lower than they want, which would drive down their overall margins, even while increasing their revenue].

Dirk Van der Woude, program manager for broadband in Amsterdam. They provide boradband as a public service such as garbage collection.

Lev Gonick, founder of One Community, has a million institutional users, via a community network, a 501C3. It has about 4,000 route miles. The governance model is mayor-proof because the infrastructure owns the governance. The goal was not to build-up fiber optics but to enable and transform their communty.

Bill Schrier works on getting Seattle fibered. He says that they’re spending $4B on highway infrastructure, which is 8x what it would cost to bring fiber everywhere.

First Joanne question: Fiber vs. Wireless [which is the topic burning up the backchannel]. Dirk says he pays for fiber at home. Wifi works but is slow, he says. For wifi, you need access points with backhaul that is likely to be fiber.

Bill: What’s the killer app for a network? HDTV. Video teleconferencing.

Tim: Fiber is cheaper and more economic if you intend to be universal. Bringing fiber to his neck of the woods (1,000 sq miles) is $69M. Doing this through wireless, with 2.3 or 2.5gH Wimax, to get close to universality, would be $35M. It costs half as much but brings 1/4 the revenue. The capacity is 1% of what you get with fiber. The right thing economically to do is to put the Wimax on top of the fiber network, at which point it costs $10M, which makes it a great business.

Dirk: In Amsterdam, dwellings are stacked. Getting the fiber to move vertically is a problem.

Mark Cooper: Which comes first, fixed or mobile computing? For connecting the underserved, the killer app isn’t HDTV. It’s connectivity. We want wireless: 1. It gets you further. 2. Mobile computing is a twofer: Mobile computing and basic connectivity that meets the need for connectivity. 3. Mobile computing is future-proof. For this project [stimulus package?] wireless is the right thing to do. 4. Public accountability.

Tim: Rural fiber does not need public money. It can pay its own way. Rural wireless does not pay its own way.

Lev: This is a family dispute. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Let’s move ahead, be pragmatic, etc…

Bill: Wireless and fiber are synergistic, (David I. asks for a show of hands; everyone agrees.)

Q: Fiber is the foundation that supports wireless. Now: Go mesh!

Tim: Mesh is great for thin uses. But for carrying lots of data, it breaks down.

Bob Frankston: We need to change the dynamic. We’re stuck in railroads where you pay for each trip. We need to get to the point where assume connectivity at any speed. The question is the funding model.

Dirk: Cooperate with anyone who wants to cooperate with you, so long as you get the network you want…

Bice Wilson: “Designing the hidden public way,” i.e., the infrastructure of connectivity. There’s a vast network of services that needs connectivity to the entire community.

Lev: That’s what One Community is about.

Bill: In Seattle, that’s where we’re directing our efforts.

Roxanne Googin: Current status…?

Tim: The really important investment is in universal fiber.

Joanne wraps up reminding us of the sense of the room that we want universal connectivity and we want it yesterday. [Gross paraphrase] [Tags: ]

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Freedom to Connect stream

I’m at Freedom to Connect, David Isenberg‘s annual conference on building open, fast, dumb networks. If you go to the F2C site, there should be instructions about how to live stream the proceedings. The twitter hashtag is #f2c09. The room’s backchannel is here.

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