Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Net Neutrality and the Value-Chain

A concept that seems to be hard for the carrier execs and Richard Bennett to grok is that of commoditization. Throughout history, lower-value functions have become commoditized. Those organizations that can successfully move up the value-chain survive. Those that can't... don't.

Billions in Lost Opportunities

The giant railroad companies didn't realize they were in the transportation business - not the railroad business. They subsequently ignored the nascent airline industry altogether.

Likewise, the telcos never figured out that they were in the communications business. They weren't in the phone business -- they never were. They provided infrastructure to allow people to communicate with other people. That's it. Moving bits around. Even when their network was pure PSTN, that was their business. They just hadn't realized it: AT&T thought of itself as "the phone company". They weren't. They were in the business of transporting bits from one device to another in the form of a switched, analog phone call.

Because they didn't realize that their business was really moving information around for customers, they ignored -- and, for the most part, continue to ignore -- the real value-creation opportunities represented by the Internet.

Consider all of the billion-dollar business opportunities that the telcos ignored. The opportunities jumped up, waved their arms, shot off signal flares, did everything but bite them on the butt. Ask yourself: did the telcos meaningfully innovate and/or partner in any of the following areas to the tune of billions of dollars?

Domain registrars like Network Solutions? Nope. Certificate authorities like Verisign? Nope. Search engines like Yahoo or Google? No. E-commerce solutions like PayPal? No. Online auctions like eBay? Nada. VoIP offerings like Vonage? No. Open-source communications projects such as Open H323? No. Video distribution tools like BitTorrent? No. Telephony solutions like Skype? No. Online retail? No.

The carriers studiously ignored the multitude of value-creation opportunities that were popping out of the ground like moles in a slow-motion whack-a-mole game.

The Telco's Alternative Strategy

Instead, the telcos seemed to expend energy on lobbying Congress, suppressing last-mile competitors such as municipal wireless, and building out plumbing: the layers 1-3 infrastructure that makes up the backbones and last-mile loops of U.S. communications infrastructure.

Their plan was to gain control of all last-mile infrastructure. And, once that was accomplished, to erect tollbooths on the Internet to extract every drop of revenue from the application providers that had built fortunes on their networks.

Remember H.R. 2726, the "Preserving Innovation in Telecom Act of 2005," introduced by Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX)? If enacted, the bill would have prohibited any municipal government from offering a telecom facility "in any geographic area" that might intersect with a telco's footprint.

How about H.B. 699, a cable franchise bill that "takes local control... [from municipalities] and transfers it to the state level because it would be more convenient (that is, more profitable) to a single large corporation if local governments could be neutered." Easier to lobby a single state government than thousands of cities and towns, I suppose.

The list goes on. In short, the telcos spent (and continue to spend) a lot of time, energy, and money on inhibiting last-mile competition.

Even the network buildout was questionable. Some sources assert that the telcos gamed taxpayers and never built the high-speed networks they had promised. Of Bruce Kushnick's book, "The $200 Billion Broadband Scandal," attorney Harold Feld wrote:

...[it] meticulously documents how the incumbent telcos have used the promise of broadband to win subsidies and regulatory goodies. The pattern Bruce describes is a fairly straightforward one. Bell companies go to [name state] legislature and promise to provide fiber networks (which will bring high-speed internet access, video services, jobs, education etc. to [name state]. All the telco asks in exchange is deregulation of prices, deregulation of competitive obligations (such as opening the network to rivals), and subsidies or tax incentives to reach the areas where it is not profitable to deploy. Then take the goodies, make some high profile efforts to deploy, then quietly forget about it while enjoying deregulated monopoly and tax subsidies. Don't worry, state legislators and the public will forget about it as well, and will accept the current state of the universe as the best possible world that can be achieved.

While apparently lifted from today's headlines, Kushnick traces this kind of behavior back to the early 1990s. His book asserts that this behavior has cost the U.S. tax payers over $200 Billion, at a minimum over the last ten years. Lest one ask “how could the Bells ever get away with such a thing?!?!” I will observe that what Kushnick documents are no secrets. Rather, like the purlioned letter, each broken promise, terminated project, absorbed tax incentive, and regulatory bonus happened in plain sight...

In short, the telco strategy appears to have been suppression of last-mile alternatives, strengthening lobbying ties to appropriate governmental officials, and investing in low-value-added (and very, very high profit-margin) plumbing.

Last-mile plumbing

As it stands today, last-mile infrastructure is a natural monopoly. How many water lines would you want running into your house? Sewer lines? Power lines? Network fiber lines? In fact, it makes little economic sense to build more than one high-speed fiber loop in a given geographic area.

Think about the germination of the power or water utilities. They were heavily regulated because, in fact, they were natural monopolies.

Susan Crawford believes that the carriers must be forced to unbundle their last-mile infrastructure:

The only standard that will keep the architecture of the internet optimized on innovation (instead of billing) is to ensure that all broadband pipe providers (cable as well as telco) are required to unbundle their facilities so as to promote competition...

While this will almost certainly result in a litigious, regulatory morass -- consider the nightmarish stream of local- and long-distance cases ignited by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 -- it is a far preferable scenario than the alternative.

Of the seven Baby Bells formed after the breakup of Ma Bell in 1984, only four remain. The old AT&T, Southwestern Bell, Ameritech, SNET, Pacific Bell, and BellSouth are now collectively “AT&T.” Similarly, GTE, Nynex, Bell Atlantic, and MCI have joined together to form Verizon. Two Baby Bells, the new AT&T and Verizon, control telco access around the country. The vast majority of Americans have at most two choices of broadband provider wherever they are, and competition between these providers is not intense. Prices have stayed high and speeds have stayed low. In effect, the industry is re-monopolizing.

If the carriers' track record is any indication, re-monopolization bodes poorly for the Internet.

Moving up the value chain

In the auto industry, imagine if GM hadn't decided to manufacture and integrate radios, air-conditioners, small motors for power-windows, and the like. In other words, the "applications" that make automotive infrastructure more usable. Had they ignored those innovations, they'd have been swept into the dustbin of history decades ago.

In the software industry, plumbing layers invariably became commoditized. The Trumpet TCP/IP Stack used to be an add-on to early versions of Windows. Microsoft began incorporating its own TCP/IP stack (OSI layers 3 and 4) and Trumpet was no more.

In recent years, open-source software (OSS) commoditized lower levels of the software stack. If you're a web-hosting provider, you can choose to license Microsoft operating systems as your defult offering or you can use Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP (otherwise known as the LAMP stack) for free. Most hosting providers use LAMP as a default stack.

EAI products, application servers, email clients, browsers, security software, and many other types of offerings represent lower layers on a value stack. The lower layers invariably become commoditized. Vendors must relentlessly move up the stack. Or they die.

Microsoft recognizes this. They've branched out from the core OS and language business in a major way: they acquired Great Plains Software in order to move up the software stack. They branched out into gaming, telephony, cable distribution, and other areas.

In order to compete, successful businesses must find ways to move up the value chain to differentiate themselves and to find profitable niches.

For whatever reason, the carriers haven't bothered to play at higher levels of the network stack: layers 5-7. They haven't moved up the value-chain. Instead, they remain in their comfort-zone, primarily layers 1 through 3. In order to bring more money in, they've proposed killing off network neutrality and -- essentially -- erecting tollbooths all over the Internet. The tollbooths are ostensibly there for video and other streaming, "real-time" content. But, in effect, if you listen to AT&T chieftan Ed Whitacre, anyone might have to pony up to get prioritized treatment. Search engines, auction sites, booksellers, you name it.

Given the telcos' history of lobbying, suppression of competition, and questionable build-out of fiber infrastructure, the risks of "trusting them on this one" are far too high.

America's technological leadership position (and, by extension, its national security) hang in the balance. The value-creation machine that has been the net-neutral, democratic Internet also sits on a precipice. Go to Save the Internet today. And take action.

Net Neutrality and Commoditization: a new concept for the carriers

This article has been superceded by this one. Apologies for any inconvenience.

That's certainly one approach

There's security. And then there's "security":

In a rare discussion about the severity of the Windows malware scourge, a Microsoft security official said businesses should consider investing in an automated process to wipe hard drives and reinstall operating systems as a practical way to recover from malware infestation.

eWeek: Microsoft Says Recovery from Malware Becoming Impossible

Monday, May 29, 2006

Net Neutrality All-Star: Tim Berners-Lee

From the Amherst Times:

Sir Tim expects that there are great Internet innovations yet to come, many involving video. He believes people at the scene of an accident — or a political protest — will one day be able to take pictures with their cellphones that could be pieced together to create a three-dimensional image of what happened. That sort of innovation could be blocked by fees for the high-speed connections required to relay video images.

The companies fighting net neutrality have been waging a misleading campaign, with the slogan "hands off the Internet," that tries to look like a grass-roots effort to protect the Internet in its current form. What they actually favor is stopping the government from protecting the Internet, so they can get their own hands on it...

Sir Tim argues that service providers may be hurting themselves by pushing for tiered pricing. The Internet's extraordinary growth has been fueled by the limitless vistas the Web offers surfers, bloggers and downloaders. Customers who are used to the robust, democratic Web may not pay for one that is restricted to wealthy corporate content providers.

"That's not what we call Internet at all," says Sir Tim. "That's what we call cable TV."

Go to Save the Internet now.

Movie review: Unleashed 

Unflinching, offbeat and intriguing action film

UnleashedTrained from childhood to become a killing machine for a mobster (Bob Hoskins), Danny (Jet Li) is literally a caged animal. When bills need to be collected upon, the gang brings Danny along. If payment isn't made, they release him from his steel leash and Danny becomes a barbaric war machine of unspeakable fury, using lightning-quick hands, feet, elbows, headbutts, and any other appendage in staccato blasts. The gang always gets paid.

But when his boss crosses the wrong crew one day, Danny suddenly finds himself wounded badly, bewildered and homeless. With no social skills whatsoever, he staggers back to the scene of one of his recent battles, where a piano and a blind piano-tuner (Morgan Freeman) had briefly captured his attention. Bleeding profusely, Danny collapses at Sam's feet.

Recognizing that Danny has special needs, Sam and his adopted daughter nurse the youth back to health and begin to integrate him into polite society. Danny becomes a set of eyes for Sam, helping with chores like shopping and escorting Victoria back and forth to school. Over a period of weeks, Danny becomes an adoptive member of the family. It is on a typical daily shopping sojourn that one of the old gang spots Danny. It turns out that Bart, the boss, has survived to live another day. And he wants his old enforcer back in the fold. This is where things get really ugly.

Li, Hoskins and Freeman all do fine work here. Hoskins obviously has the part of Glasgow mobster mastered and you probably couldn't find a more convincing actor to play the role. Freeman is, well, Freeman. He's convincing without being overwhelming and is the warm, stable center of the film. And Li is not only a gifted fighter, he's also convincing as a human being raised in unspeakable living conditions. All told, the film is far more than a cookie-cutter action flick. It's enjoyable, escapist fun with some pretty fine acting to help drive the story.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Book Review: Lee Child's The Hard Way 

A top-shelf thriller from start to finish

The Hard WayEnigmatic drifter Jack Reacher is minding his own business in Manhattan, sipping an espresso in a coffee-bar patio, when a man crosses the street in front of him and drives off in a Mercedes. The Benz contained one million dollars worth of ransom money. With that simple act, Reacher is dragged into the life of Edward Lane, the man who paid the money. Lane, who runs a highly profitable mercenary operation for any government that can afford his fee, is willing to pay any price to get his family back.

And an ex-military investigator like Reacher seems to be just the man Lane needs. Soon Reacher is tracking a sadistic kidnapper through the gritty streets of the Big Apple. And, along the way, Reacher begins to discover that Lane has some secrets of his own. But now that he's in the middle of the kidnapping, Reacher has to see it to the finish. And that finish will be anything but peacable.

By my count, Child is ten for ten. Read all of the Reacher stories -- in any order -- for a sure-fire adrenaline rush. Child's thrillers are so good you'll find yourself agitated when you hit the last page. It's just a shame he isn't cranking them out faster or, at the very least, getting some of them on screen.

Consumer broadband last-mile "competition" in Phoenix

The Lippard Blog, in its qwest (get it?) to demonstrate that consumer choice exists for broadband, resorts to the most tortured example possible: the Phoenix metro area. In Phoenix, Lippard writes, nine (9) separate choices exist for last-mile services to consumers. Nine? Wow, I'm excited! Let's dissect his list:

* Qwest - the RBOC formerly known as US West offers primarily DSL service to consumers. So far, with the current state of net neutrality in place, Qwest is unable to block the use of VoIP, P2P, video streams, and other legal IP applications. We'll give Lippard credit for this one: that's 1.

* Covad - is a DSL provider that, by Lippard's own admission, uses Qwest's last-mile infrastructure. Uhm, that's not another choice for last-mile, that's a reseller who has just rebranded the RBOC's service. That's still 1.

* Cox Communications - is the incumbent cable provider. And, thus far, with net neutrality in place, Cox is unable to block services like VoIP. So this is a valid alternative and we're up to 2.

* CableAmerica - is an alternative cable provider listed by Lippard. A tiny player in cable, it has only 75,000 cable subscribers in 3 states. Oops - and it looks like Lippard missed the fact that Cox acquired CableAmerica months ago, including all of its Arizona operations! Nice try, but we're still stuck at 2.

* Sprint Broadband - offering high-speed, EVDO wireless service. Bzzzzt. That's not a valid alternative, since EVDO providers ban or block usage of many useful applications (e.g., Vonage, BitTorrent, YouTube, etc.) - see Wi-Max: not a viable last-mile option, below, for a full description. We're still at 2.

* Alltel - a reseller of Sprint's EVDO service. Uhm, nope, for the same reasons of banned EVDO services, we're still at 2.

* Verizon - another EVDO provider who either bans or blocks services. And... yes... we're still at 2.

* HughesNet - a satellite-based wireless provider. Latency and upload speeds have always been a problem for satellite-based IP, making it a non-starter for VoIP, video collaboration, peer-to-peer and related tasks. According to Wikipedia, "Upload speeds are limited by one's dialup modem, and latency is high, as it is for any satellite based Internet." Because of these limitations and especially the inability to run VoIP or bi-directional video service, satellite is not a credible broadband alternative. Another data-point: companies that require converged voice-and-data WANs would not consider satellite a viable option. And no one is suggesting streaming HDTV HDTV over IP (corrected per Richard Bennett) using satellite. Sorry, we remain at 2.

* Municipal wireless broadband - the city of Tempe's muni wi-max offering is listed by Lippard and I have no idea why. Muni wi-max isn't available yet in Phoenix except in a choice couple of locations (as of May 9, 2006). If you're in the airport, it's an option. If not, you're probably out of luck. Uhm, we're still stuck at 2.

That's it. In fact, Lippard's list is revealing and a powerful argument for net neutrality. And it highlights the lack of consumer choice for true broadband IP services. Broadband to the home is truly a natural monopoly:

In the long run there will be only one full-blown fiber optic network in any locale. For all natural monopolies (like electrical utilities, like water service, like fiber) building out two extremely expensive competing sets of infrastructure to serve every home with a cheap commodity simply doubles the cost the community must pay to provide the service.

Wi-Max: not a viable last-mile option

If you're looking for freedom to use your bandwidth, Wi-Max isn't an option. The high-speed wireless service called EVDO is a vivid example. The terms of service for EVDO make it clear that when it comes to IP, well, maybe users just get the P:

...Unlimited NationalAccess/BroadbandAccess services cannot be used (1) for uploading, downloading or streaming of movies, music or games, (2) with server devices or with host computer applications, including, but not limited to, Web camera posts or broadcasts, automatic data feeds, Voice over IP (VoIP), automated machine-to-machine connections, or peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing, or (3) as a substitute or backup for private lines or dedicated data connections...

Aside from that, you're free to use it any which way!

Cable resellers - out of luck

And if you're hoping for cable resellers that could provide some pricing leverage to consumers, well, we're out of luck with the Supreme Court's recent "Brand X" decision. Fred Goldstein of Ionary Consulting puts it this way:

...the Supreme Court's Brand X decision... allowed cable modems to remain closed to third-party ISPs, the FCC allowed the Bells to do the same thing. So the owner of the wire - the incumbent local phone company - will soon have total control over the information content that flows over the wire... Broadband Internet service will no longer be freely competitive. It will be, for most Americans, a two-vendor choice. Use the Bell’s ISP, or the cable company’s ISP. No other ISPs need apply, unless they manage to string their own wire...

Lippard's bogus list demonstrates that there is virtually no competition for broadband IP services. You've got two choices: cable or DSL/telco. Giving these two incumbents control of applications transiting the Internet makes as much sense as teaching yourself skydiving by jumping out a third-story window. Only one thing is bound to happen - and, when it does, it's going to be really, really painful.

The carriers must be forced to abide by net neutrality. Go to Save The Internet and take action. Today.

Net Neutrality All-Star: Harold Feld

Excellent and detailed historical review pointing to the explicit need for net neutrality from attorney Harold Feld:

COPE... strips the FCC of any rulemaking authority. It limits the FCC to doing case by case adjudications on the principles...

Those of us familiar with the history of the industry and the FCC understand this is just nuts. Prophylactic regulation in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s made it possible for people to develop the internet. If an emerging Amazon found it needed to file a complaint with the FCC to show that phone companies were blocking traffic to its website unless it paid up, or because the phone company had partnered with Barnesandnoble.com, they would have died before staff got around to denying the complaint for want of evidence. No venture capitalist would have invested in web services anymore than they invest in cable channels. Blogs like this would not have happened, because no one would have bothered to develop them.

And we would never miss any of it, because we would never have known what we could have had.

As if stripping the FCC of rulemaking weren't bad enough, COPE also allows the cable and telco companies to charge third parties for “premium access” to subscribers, a behavior I call “Whitacre Tiering” after AT&T CEO Ed Whiatcre. As I've written before, I think Whitacre tiering would prove a disaster for democracy and a disaster for business (and, apparently, the banking and financial services industry are starting to agree)...

Whopper o' the day

From InternetNews, in the category of Least Effective Sour Grapes commentary:

AT&T spokesman Michael Balmoris added, "Net neutrality would effectively make it illegal to bring new video choices and innovation to consumers."

In related news, the authors of BitTorrent, YouTube, and Google Video were sentenced to prison terms. I'd call Balmoris' statement 'hyperbolic manure', but that would be unfair to real manure everywhere.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

News story from the future: a world without net neutrality

The first incident occurred only weeks after President Bush signed the new telecommunications bill into law. Critics had warned that the law's laissez faire   treatment of the carriers was rife for abuse. Because net neutrality protections had been omitted from the verbiage, critics claimed that the carriers could -- and would -- abuse the system.

In fact, some observers stated that telco lobbyists had prevented words like "block", "impair", or "degrade" from appearing within the new law despite the fact that those very words had played a prominent role in the carriers' PR statements.

The new law also limited the FCC's role to adjudicating complaints about unfair treatment of content-providers. Worse, as it turned out, the FCC was handcuffed by the law: it was explicitly forbidden from interpreting or codifying new rules around net neutrality.

An Exclusive Deal with NetReelz

In February, online movie provider NetReelz signed an exclusive high-speed video distribution deal with the two remaining telcos: BellWest and BellEast. The deal positioned NetReelz as the premier high-speed provider of online DVD delivery to consumers.

Only days after the new distribution arrangement began service to consumers, video giant BlockDuster filed suit in federal court claiming discrimination on the part of the telcos. In part, the complaint read:

...carriers are impeding delivery of claimants' best-effort video streams, which have worsened noticeably and significantly, resulting in lost revenue and other damages as specified in [Exhibit 33]. These performance claims have been verified by three independent reports [Exhibit 47] and have been described in dozens of unsolicited consumer feedback submissions [Exhibit 48]...

Within weeks, BlockDuster's market-share of DVDs distributed through the telco channel dropped from 38% to 16%. Its claimed damages ran into the billions of dollars.

Oddly, NetReelz soon sued the telcos as well, claiming predatory and collusionary pricing practices. Noting that pricing for the telcos' premium delivery services -- BellWest's Platinum-Band and BellEast's Titanium-IP -- were nearly identical despite vast geographic and infrastructure differences, NetReelz complained of price gouging and unfair business practices.

The Telco's New Search Engine

In the search engine market, Google and Yahoo had waged fierce battles in the years leading up to the new law. Neither could gain complete control of the complex and increasingly verticalized search market. Just as Google appeared to gain an edge, eBay and Yahoo executed a collaborative agreement. And when Yahoo appeared to reach critical mass, consumer products giant Procter & Gamble signed a massive advertising deal with Google.

This back and forth was interrupted by a startling development: BellWest introduced its new search engine. FindRay was neither revolutionary nor superior, according to experts. It did have the advantage, however, of prioritized carriage through BellWest's network.

Software executive Raymond Drai of TransparenSoft was an early user of FindRay. "One day Google worked wonderfully -- snappy, with very relevant results -- and the next it seemed to be slower than a turtle wading in molasses. Yahoo also seemed to be bogged down... results took forever to return. What was weird, I mean, at the time it seemed weird, was that BellWest's search engine (FindRay) was lightning fast."

Subsequent complaints from consumers and governmental groups fell on deaf ears. The FCC, which had aired grievances, was unable to take action as the carriers' attorneys executed stall tactics. A series of lengthy appeals prevented the FCC from punishing BellWest over behavior that seemed, at best, nearly criminal. Two related lawsuits -- one a massive class-action on the behalf of millions of users -- were later filed.

Vonage's bankruptcy

The turning point occurred, most experts agree, the day that Vonage filed for bankruptcy. Its IPO in 2006 appeared to point to an era where independent application providers could invent new methods of communication from whole cloth. That dream faded, however, when tens of thousands cancelled the service due to dropped calls, static, popping, and related problems.

Vonage senior executives cried foul, claiming that the carriers were to blame. The telcos' retort noted that more consumers were choosing premium VoIP service sourced by the carriers. BellWest spokesperson Chandree Fowler said, "as more consumers choose our premium VoIP services, third-party providers are bound to suffer. Consumer choice is causing these issues, not the telephone companies."

The FCC, tied up in several lengthy appeals processes, was unable to react quickly to Vonage's problems. Thus, the independent VoIP provider could not gain timely relief from the catastrophic decline in business. The company filed for bankruptcy soon thereafter. Multiple lawsuits are now wending their way through the courts.

The Law Brings Change to the Internet

"Much has changed since the new law took effect," said Dr. Marc Arnotti, chairman of the Joint Internet Freedom Organization (JIFO), "we've seen an increasingly balkanized Internet. That has resulted in a dearth of venture capital entering the Internet space and a sad drop in innovation here in the U.S."

Analyst Jeffry Ironton of Adams, Hill & Lester verifies that investment has stalled. "No one is willing to invest in Internet software business models without some protection from the carriers. We have seen investment drop from $2.4 billion in the sector last year to less than $300 million projected for this year. It's safe to say that other countries are picking up the slack. India and Israel are going gangbusters right now."

JIFO, an offshoot of the bi-partisan Save The Internet campaign, has led an increasingly strenuous attack against the carriers. Its political action arm has raised over $24 million in the last 12 months and threatens to "turn over 40% of the House" if net neutrality enforcement isn't strengthened before the mid-term elections.

Its technology group, in conjunction with SourceForge, has developed a new, secure browsing technology based upon Firefox. The FireFighter peer-to-peer (P2P) browser offers consumers encrypted and anonymous browsing technologies based upon the Tor Onion Router. Arnotti notes, "the carriers can't inspect packets, can't sense true source and destination, and can't do anything but cap bandwidth."


If you don't want to read this story in your newspaper a few years from now, go to Save The Internet. Take action. Do it now. You know you want to.

Online scams create "Yahoo! millionaires"

His real name is not Akin. He's 14 years old, has a brand, spanking-new pair of Adidas athletic shoes, a Rolex Submariner wristwatch, and a couple of pounds of gold around his neck.

Akin, who lives in Lagos, is one of a new generation of entrepreneurs that has emerged in this city of 15 million, Nigeria's largest... Call him a "Yahoo! millionaire."

Akin buys things online - laptops, BlackBerries, cameras, flat-screen TVs - using stolen credit cards and aliases. He has the loot shipped via FedEx or DHL to safe houses in Europe, where it is received by friends, then shipped on to Lagos to be sold on the black market. (He figures Americans are too smart to sell a camera on eBay to a buyer with an address in Nigeria.) ...

"The deterrent factor is not there at all," says Thomas Oli, a Lagos lawyer, citing the case of a former police inspector general who was convicted of stealing more than $100 million and got only six months in jail...

The scams perpetrated by Akin and his comrades are many and varied: moneygram interceptions, Western Union hijackings, check laundering, identity theft, and outright begging, with tall tales of dying relatives and large sums of money in search of safe haven. One popular online fraud often practiced by women (or boys pretending to be women) involves separating lonely men from their money...

CNN Money: Online scams create "Yahoo! millionaires"

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Bask in the genius of the vitriolic anti-net neutrality god!

It's time, children. Now, settle down, settle down. Kids!! Hush! It's time to bask in the genius of an anti-net neutrality icon:

* On the failures of Internet2 to implement QoS:

Internet2 has apparently gotten bogged down in religiosity and lost sight of the fundamentals of networking.

Yes, because a brain-trust of experts from 200+ universities and vendors like Cisco and IBM all lost sight of the fundamentals of networking... at the exact same moment, and it lasted for a period of years.

* On Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world-wide web:

[Tim Berners-Lee is] either an idiot or a fraud.

Yes, I'm pretty sure that's how the history books will call it.

* On Lawrence Lessig:

It’s always seemed to me that Larry Lessig had an unusual beef with authority, and now I know why: As head boy at a legendary choir school, Lawrence Lessig was repeatedly molested by the charismatic choir director...


Larry Lessig didn’t invent the Internet, and he’s proved to me that he doesn’t understand how it works in many on-line discussions, so let’s leave the poor old man out of the discussion.

It's a wonder Lessig could serve as professor of law at Stanford, founder of the Center for Internet and Society, former Harvard law faculty director, as well as former law clerk for Judge Richard Posner and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Poor old man doesn't understand concepts like freedom and the Internet, you see.

* On the irrelevance of the opinions of the Internet founding fathers -- Vinton Cerf, Bob Kahn, et. al. -- on the discussion of net neutrality:

Now it’s certainly true that the Internet that was designed back in the 70s by Cerf, Kahn, Clark, Postel and the others was simply a best-effort network that was mainly concerned with downloading files... But it’s also reasonably clear that TCP won’t be the protocol of the next 25 years, because it’s extremely poor for doing the things that people want to do on the Internet today...

Like search, perform bank transactions, buy stuff, and comparison-shop. You know, all of those things that don't work on the Internet today.

* On Internet founding father Vint Cerf in particular:

[The] Internet Evangelist takes all the credit... Vint Cerf’s letter to Congress on COPE displays some remarkable arrogance...

No snide remarks. Just: Wow.

* On the incipient demise of master blogger Glenn Reynolds (aka "Instapundit", one of the most popular blogs in the world) -- circa 2002:

Is Instapundit over? ...As the sixth-leading blog, Instapundit isn't exactly the king maker he was when he was the second-leading linker last November...

True, he's not a king maker. He's a blogging god.

* On Craig's List founder Craig Newmark:

Is Craig Newmark a big fat lying liar? The following would indicate that he is.

Big? Fat? Lying? Liar? That's world-class, Franken-esque vitriol!

* On (one must assume) the Christian Coalition:

...With Republicans getting on the grandstand and moronic religious nuts joining up, things are looking bad for the evolving Internet...

If looking bad means we get continued innovation at layers 4-7 without predatory gatekeepers, then sign me up!

* On technology blogger Paul Kapustka:

You're not a network engineer, are you Paul?

No, but he's a writer.

* On maintaining the status quo  of FCC-enforced
net neutrality:

...[it] would be nothing short of a disaster for all of us who create or use networks...

So far, about 99.75% of us haven't found the current state of net neutrality a disaster.

* On, well, little old me -- who asked why the words block, impair, or degrade (taken directly from AT&T's anti-net-neutrality website) could not be written into the COPE Act:

...you’re a shameless liar. This exact language* is in the COPE Act that was passed out of the Energy and Commerce Committee last week...

You can check the 'exact language' here. I've been accused of many things before -- some of them deservedly -- but 'shameless liar'? That's a first!

Bask in the genius of the vitriolic network god! Bask, I say!

p.s., I will say this for Mr. Bennett. He's smart, knows networking, and is passionate (on the wrong of this issue, though). But, oh snap, is he vitriolic! I will readily admit he is entertaining to read, however.

Internet2: "Why Premium IP Service Has Not Deployed (and Probably Never Will)"

After years of multiple failures to implement QoS -- using both reservation and priority-based (e.g., DiffServ, VLL) model on Internet2 -- I found this quote from the after-action report ("Why Premium IP Service Has Not Deployed (and Probably Never Will)") fascinating:

...in a Premium service world, making a customer that otherwise doesn't pay you directly switch from "free" (for transit customers) best-effort service to paid Premium service and have some money dribble through the payment system into your coffers seems too obvious a trick not to play... We expect that if Premium were deployed, providers would begin to treat the best-effort traffic of non-customers worse than the best-effort traffic of their customers.

The erosion of best-effort service would lead to a completely different world where all serious work gets done over Premium service and users are generally expected to make virtual circuit reservations for most of what they do...

That assessment -- dated well before the current debate and authored by very smart networking people -- should send us all running into the net neutrality corner as fast as our little legs will carry us.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Net neutrality: can't anybody play this game?

In my last article, I discussed the carriers' desire to prioritize packets, i.e., to establish multiple tiers of service. I raised a concern that tiering has never been proven in a public, multi-domain infrastructure. I suggested that, given this concern, one would hope that such a tiering model could be proven out before deploying it haphazardly on the Internet.

That may not be the only hurdle. On the broadband deployment front, DTVfacts notes that AT&T's TV servivce may already be running into problems ("Analyst predicts delays for AT&T's TV service"):

...ThinkEquity analyst Anton Wahlman is predicting [delays in AT&T's plans to bring 200-channel TV service to 18 million homes]...

…[AT&T] earnings were notable in part for what was absent—updates on AT&T’s Project Lightspeed fiber-to-the-node buildout or U-verse TV service, which is now in a San Antonio trial, were not even mentioned in the earnings release, and during the conference call Tuesday morning, seldom was heard a word about either.”

Lightspeed’s core problem, according to Wahlman: It’s too slow.

He believes AT&T needs to sharply increase VDSL2 bandwidth speeds if Lightspeed is to compete with cable. “AT&T is likely realizing that 25 megabits isn’t going to do the trick, but rather that it needs to plan for 100 megabits or more to the home today, with a path to Gigabit Ethernet to every home in the next five to 10 years at the most.”

Lightspeed’s hybrid transmission system of fiber and copper wire is called into question by Jim Carlini, an adjunct professor at Northwestern University.

If you’re going to go through all this redeployment, AT&T should be setting its sights higher on real broadband and long-term capabilities. Providing another flavor of DSL is shortsighted.

Put simply, not only is multi-domain QoS routing a potential stumbling block, but the actual last-mile technologies   being deployed by the telcos may be insufficient for the stated task: TV service.

With the telcos' record of Internet innovation over the last two decades, somehow I'm not surprised this whole mess is coming unravelled faster than Ben Johnson on a chemically-enhanced jaunt.

Food for thought for the telcos: increase spending on R&D; decrease spending on lobbyists. Dare to dream.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Net Neutrality: is Tiering reasonable?

The carriers desperately want to support tiering of network services, ostensibly to provide video services to consumers. The big financial win for the telcos is to supplant cable providers as the premier provider of television services. Using a tiered delivery system, IPTV promises to offer a rich, lustrous landscape of integrated Internet, television, and telephony.

But this is a very different approach to the public Internet as it has historically operated. All packets are treated equally in the current network architecture. Each is given the best treatment available ("best effort"), but no one packet is given special priority over any other. Thus, a video packet is treated the same as a chunk of a web page, or a piece of a streaming radio broadcast. Packet discrimination is forbidden, whether based upon the type of packet or the source of the information. That is the concept generally termed, "net neutrality": all packets are created equal.

The carriers tell us that their new, advanced services require "tiering", or segregation of packets based upon priority. In this scheme, each packet must be inspected to determine its raison d'etre  -- its reason for being. With this model, important packets are accelerated through the system, while lesser packets are permitted to queue. An HDTV packet, for instance, might get high-quality treatment ("QoS" or quality-of-service) while a routine web server response could get second-class treatment.

That sounds entirely reasonable. But there are at least a couple of important questions that we must ask ourselves:

1) Will tiering work (and has it ever worked)?
2) What are the risks of allowing the carriers to tier without regulation?

Will tiering work? Has it ever worked?

The best example of a next-generation, high-speed network is probably Internet2's Abilene network. Abilene, supported by a consortium of industry and academic institutions, provides a backbone that supports 10 gigabits per second and a stated goal of offering up to 100 megabits per second between every workstation. Stated goals of the network are to create revolutionary new Internet applications and to disseminate new services and applications to the broader Internet community.

With 207 participating Universities, a fiber backbone provided by Qwest, hardware from Cisco, and many other industry participants, the Abilene network should have been a perfect test-case for tiering. In fact, Internet2's QoS working group was formed years ago to advance network applications through IP traffic differentiation.

What happened? Internet2's QoS and tiering efforts failed:

The utter simplicity of the best-effort service model is one of the essential reasons for the success of the Internet. It has allowed IP to be implemented over every conceivable link-layer and has... enabled a fast, dumb, cheap, and wildly scalable internet.

The greatest challenge for internet QoS is to find lightweight traffic differentiation schemes that add value without adding significant additional operational complexity or endangering the principles that have made the Internet so successful...

...After several years of experience attempting to deploy an interdomain, EF-based, virtual wire service in the Internet2 environment, the Internet2 QoS working group has concluded that any reservation-based form of QoS faces prohibitively difficult deployment obstacles...

Put simply, the best and brightest -- culled from industry and academia -- failed to implement a QoS/tiering scheme.

Wouldn't it make sense to get tiering to work in a controlled environment first, before trying to deploy it on a much more diverse and challenging Internet landscape?

What are the risks of allowing the carriers to tier without regulation?

If there were competition for last-mile services to consumers, one could argue that permitting packet discrimination might make sense. But 98% of Americans have two or less choices for broadband. The potential for abuse is therefore present, according to Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who notes, "...this virtual duopoly creates an environment that is ripe for anti-competitive abuses."

What evidence do we have for that? For one, the history of the carriers' behavior related to net neutrality is not proud. Columbia's Tim Wu points out that before net neutrality was enunciated and enforced by the FCC:

* AT&T warned customers that using wireless home networking equipment was a 'federal crime'.

* Cox Cable disciplined users of virtual private networks.

* Comcast blocked Internet VPN ports, which prevented Washington state workers from telecommuting.

* In 2004, North Carolina ISP Madison River blocked their DSL customers from using any rival Web-based phone service until disciplined by the FCC.

* In 2005, Canada's Telus blocked customers from visiting a Web site sympathetic to the Telecommunications Workers Union during a labor dispute.

* Also in Canada, Shaw Communications levied a $10-per-month tarriff on the Vonage telephone service, which competes with Shaw's own VoIP offering.

If we revisit the COPE Act, which is the legislation the carriers are backing, the words block, impair, and degrade are nowhere to be found.

Yet, AT&T's policy website states:

We will not block, impair or degrade access to any legal web site, application or service, nor will we intentionally degrade the customer experience or the service delivery of content or application providers.

We must ask: why are those very important words omitted from the COPE Act?

The FCC must be empowered to instantly detect and eradicate this type of anti-competitive behavior on the part of the carriers. Otherwise, the entire Internet revolution may be endangered.


Let's ignore, for the moment, the failures of tiering in controlled network situations such as Abilene.

When the carriers -- and not consumers -- get to discriminate between packets, what happens to ventured-funded innovation, startups, and America's technological leadership position?

The two guys in a garage — who can’t afford to pay the tiering tarriff to each and every telco and cable company — won’t invent the next  Google.

And those four nerds down the street, the ones with a brand-spanking new AJAX-enabled Web 2.0 auction service? Well, they’ll never get any venture funding because eBay can afford to pay the tarriffs and effectively block upstarts.

Oh, and that peer-to-peer company that came up with a new VoIP alternative to challenge Vonage and Skype? Well, they’re dead in the water because that treads on the telcos’ turf.

Until there is true competition for last-mile services, the carriers should be forced to abide by network neutrality. And let's let Abilene or a similar controlled, experimental network prove that tiering is feasible... before unleashing it on the value-creation machine that is today's Internet.

Go to Save The Internet today and take action.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Net Neutrality All-Star Team: Ethan Zuckerman

Ethan Zuckerman, writing in Inc. Magazine:

The principal of maintaining the Internet as a single, interconnected network with no preference for one type of bits over another--what geeks call "network neutrality"--is under assault. Foreign countries have led the charge. Saudi Arabia blocks content that runs counter to the clerics' interpretation of Islam. China bars its citizens' access to sites created by, among others, practitioners of Falun Gong. What results is the fragmentation of the Internet...

...[and it's] not just repressive regimes that are trying to turn the Internet into the Internets. Customers of the Canadian cable company Shaw will find that Vonage runs slowly on that network. In fact, Shaw warns users of all VoIP services that they may experience connection issues unless they pay a $10-per-month enhancement fee. It shouldn't surprise you to know that Shaw offers a competing digital service.

...American entrepreneurs and consumers, and the politicians who represent them, may want to think very carefully before they embrace a world of many Internets.

Net Neutrality All-Star Team: Jeff Kaplan

Jeff Kaplan, in a recent blog post:

Net neutrality is how the Internet has worked since Day 1. All that innovative content--websites, blogs, P2P, community spaces, photo sharing, search, streaming videos, news feeds--was created under the umbrella of a net neutral Internet. It is not new. It is not a government imposed "regulatory mess." It is the status quo, and it's worked brilliantly.

Enforcing Net Neutrality with a Two-by-Four

HR 5417 is the Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006, a bill introduced in the House Judiciary Committee, which could offer meaningful legal protections for the concept of Network Neutrality.

HR 5417 is a credible bi-partisan effort to rein in the carriers. It is sponsored by House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and a gaggle of Democratic leaders. Citing government statistics ("98 percent of Americans have at most two choices for broadband service"), Sensenbrenner righly notes that such a "virtual duopoly" is ripe for anticompetitive abuse. Thus, "a clear antitrust remedy is needed."

Yesterday's Journal -- in an utterly misguided op-ed -- blathered away with a nearly fact-free diatribe. Even its title was off-base: "The Web's Worst New Idea", when it's the Internet and not just the web everyone's discussing. Its content was likewise odiferous, possessing all the intellectual honesty of Pinnochio on a losing streak at the track:

...Enter Net neutrality, which has so far found its only official expression in a nonbinding policy statement issued by the FCC last year. The FCC statement says, "consumers are entitled" (our emphasis) to the "content," "applications" and "devices" of their choice on the Internet. They are also "entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers."

...the FCC's guidelines were just that -- guidelines. Increasingly, and with the backing both of the Moveon.org crowd and "Don't Be Evil" Google, a movement is afoot to give these entitlements the force of law. Congressman Ed Markey has introduced a bill to "save the Internet" by codifying Net neutrality principles in law. The FCC would be charged with enforcing "non-discrimination" and "openness" rules...

"Don't regulate what isn't broken."

In essence, the Journal hoists up the oft-used telco straw man: that protecting Internet freedom (i.e., preserving net neutrality) is somehow new and different. No, protecting consumers and innovation from potential abuse requires only that the FCC remains equipped with a two-by-four and a set of principles to enforce.

Obviously, the Journal op-ed authors and editors require a little history lesson. Sherman, let's spin the controls on the way-back machine and dial up 1996.

The carriers' illustrious history of discrimination

About ten years ago, as the Internet soared in popularity, consumers and businesses began to attach new devices and create new services for the network. The reaction of the broadband carriers was decidedly ugly*:

- AT&T warned customers that using Wi-Fi home networking equipment was a 'federal crime'
- Cox Cable disciplined users of virtual private networks
- Comcast blocked Internet VPN ports, which prevented Washington state workers from telecommuting

These early discrimination cases prompted a broad outcry. FCC Chairman Michael Powell -- who, unfortunately, is no longer in power -- publicly enunciated net neutrality provisions in the form of "four freedoms": to access content, run applications, connect devices, and to enjoy a competitive landscape.

The FCC brings down the hammer

The FCC subsequently adopted a policy statement adhering to, in essence, these principles. Grudgingly, the carriers succumbed to the pressure. In 2005, with the Madison River case, the FCC bludgeoned a telco into submission with fines when it blocked a third-party Voice-over-IP (VoIP) service.

So let's recap. When faced with innovative services like wi-fi, VPNs, and VoIP, the broadband carriers simply tried to shut the services down until the FCC rode to the rescue. Michael Powell stated, "The industry must adhere to certain consumer protection norms if the Internet is to remain an open platform for innovation."

Powell soon exited the FCC, however, and the stage was set for the monied carriers to exact revenge.

The Carriers strike back

Hoping to return to the days when they could freely block VoIP, prevent the attachment of new-fangled devices to the network, and eradicate other packets they hadn't foreseen, the carriers launched a counterattack.

To get a sense of what occurred, you first need to picture yourself in the halls of power in DC. Now imagine lobbyists walking the corridors with leaf-blowers, each of which is spewing currency at roughly the speed of sound. Now you've pretty much got the picture. In short, the carriers engaged in a multi-pronged lobbying effort to get the keys to the Internet:

To prevent any competition in last-mile service to the consumer, the telcos engaged in heavy lobbying against municipal broadband as well as various legal activities against cities and towns trying to build muni fiber loops.

To grease the skids for deregulation, the telcos, through "USTelecom, began a reported $30-million-to-$40-million, multiyear lobbying and media campaign," according to NJ Telecom Update.

And to combat the baying and whining of the "little people" (basically everyone except the Journal's Op-Ed Editors and the carriers' lobbyists), they subsequently spent another million a week on a TV campaign to drum up some "populist support". That basically resulted in the Journal op-ed piece, I would guess, and not much more activity.

Now that I think about it, the leaf-blower analogy probably isn't sufficient. Perhaps one lobbyist simply drove a Brinks truck around while the other used a show shovel to plow the cash out the back door.

Network-neutrality: a value-creation machine

With your help, the carriers' funds will go for naught. The Save The Internet campaign, a bi-partisan effort to harness the blogosphere -- has collected over 600,000 signatures and directed thousands of phone-calls and letters to Congress.

Think, for a moment, what would have happened had the carriers succeeded in suppressing wi-fi, VoIP, VPNs, and the like. Would there be a Skype or a Vonage? How about a Netgear or a YouTube? Would Google Video or GoogleTalk exist?

In other words, how much value would have been destroyed by allowing the carriers to control the gates to the Internet? How much innovation would have been suppressed?

And how would America's technological leadership -- and, by extension, its national security -- have been impacted?

Does it strike anyone else as odd that the carriers -- who have yet to create any noteworthy Internet application -- want the keys to application-land? Why not just give some teenagers a convertible, some rapid-fire paintball guns, and a case of Jim Beam? That sounds like less trouble to me.

And if the carriers truly were interested in non-discriminatory routing, why are they fighting so hard to prevent Congress from codifying non-discrimination rules?

The answer is as obvious as it is brazen. The carriers appear ready to return to the days where they can block or degrade innovative services, pick and choose winners among application providers, and set up additional tollbooths on the Internet to line their pockets. No value creation will come out of these attempts. Innovation and America's Internet leadership position will be decimated instead.

Giving the "virtual duopoly" this kind of power -- without strengthening the FCC's enforcement rights -- makes as much sense as sending your kids to binge-drinking classes.

Pay a vist to Save The Internet. Take action. And tell your friends.

* Columbia University's Tim Wu wrote a 2005 paper entitled, "Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination", which described these and other incidents of network discrimination by the broadband carriers.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Hardware firms oppose Net neutrality laws

This morning, the online news publications are trumpeting the hardware vendors' party line: they oppose net neutrality.

Some of the largest hardware makers in the world, including 3M, Cisco, Corning and Qualcomm, sent a letter to Congress on Wednesday firmly opposing new laws mandating Net neutrality--the concept that broadband providers must never favor some Web sites or Internet services over others...

Gee, that's surprising. I wonder what kind of hardware Cisco anticipates selling to the carriers?

For a quick answer, simply look at the Cisco Service Exchange Framework (SEF), whose marketing literature basically runs out and high-fives the reader over its ability to rein in third-party content providers like Google or eBay.

Here's a small taste of of the SEF recipe:

One of the most significant risks that broadband service providers face is the threat from “nonfacility” service offerings... [these] services typically ride on a best-effort network and may not benefit from the same QoS as managed ... services. Nevertheless, nonfacility operators can provide an adequate user experience with comparatively lower operational expenses and a larger addressable market, making them formidable competitors...

...The Cisco SEF allows service providers to efficiently and equitably identify nonfacility service traffic streams for billing, auditing, and guaranteed performance...

It doesn't take much in the way of creative thinking to figure what this kind of hardware could do for the carriers. Want to hamstring Google's performance because the carrier's introducing a new search engine? Can do. Want to to degrade eBay a skosh to promote the carriers' brand new local auction service? No problem.

Giving Cisco SEF to the telcos is like handing a loaded Glock and a twelve-pack of Corona to each person leaving prison. A lot of things will probably happen: and all of them are bad.

Go to SaveTheInternet and act: http://www.savetheinternet.com.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

IEEE: Not just net neutrality; net symmetry also needed

I've cut some fascinating snippets from the May/June 2006 issue of industry journal IEEE Internet Computing . The focus of the article is promoting innovation not simply through net neutrality, but also via bandwidth symmetry. That is, any node on the network could theoretically provide innovative new services using symmetric upload and download speeds.

First, a little history of tiering is described:

The RBOCs already offer consumer tiering, but in their promotional material, they often tout data rates that aren’t uniformly available. For example, AT&T’s basic DSL service advertises download speeds of “up to 1.5 megabits per second (Mbps)” in introductory advertising; in slightly more detailed product information, that service is described as being from 384 kilobits per second (Kbps) to 1.5 Mbps downstream and 128 to 384 Kbps upstream. But in one suburban SOHO, the incoming data rate has never gone above 384 Kbps in a two-year period...

Yes, that certainly gives us a warm-and-fuzzy. The carriers seem to be just the folks we want cutting backroom deals with content providers.

But what could be happening in other countries that are building out new fiber networks? Are they implementing multi-track networks?

Gary Bachula, vice president of Internet2, enumerated yet another new broadband project in Europe — Vienna’s plans to install a 1-Gbit symmetrical fiber network, with equal access to established service providers, as well as pioneering ventures in areas such as healthcare. The most compelling part of the Vienna announcement might be its intention to make its fiber network symmetric, letting new services flourish from any machine at any location on the network. In comparison, the debate in the US is still centered on content delivery to entire videos to its members, and Itiva, which relies on a modified streaming peer-to-peer (P2P) network.

Exactly. The same telcos who have yet to create an innovative Internet application are focused on a 1980's business model - competing with the cable companies. Here's a radical concept for the carriers: try spending a little more on R&D and a little less on lobbyists. It might actually benefit your businesses in the long run.

...veteran industry observer Doc Searls, senior editor of Linux Journal, says failing to envision every user as a possible provider of services is a long-term strategic loser. In his SuitWatch newsletter, Searls calls for the extension of “Net neutrality” beyond the current widely publicized borders of well-known content providers versus carriers. “Symmetricality has to be on the table, or Net neutrality is largely meaningless,” he says. “Asymmetricality is the non-neutrality we already have. Getting rid of it will open the market to countless new businesses and business opportunities for everybody.”

Giving the carriers unfettered access to the core plumbing of the Internet -- while simultaneously neutering the FCC -- makes about as much sense as hiring MC Hammer as your investment adviser.

Get over to Save The Internet now... and do your part.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Book Review: Holes by Louis Sachar

A captivating story that is built to last

Amazon - Holes, by Louis SacharEver since its publication in 1998, my kids have been after me to read Holes. Winner of the John Newberry Medal, Sachar's tale is an adventure story, tall tale, and coming-of-age saga wrapped into an elegant, symmetric package.

Stanley Yelnats is an overweight geek whose family has had a run of bad luck... for the last four or five generations. So it only seems inevitable that Stanley is wrongly accused and convicted of theft -- for a pair of sneakers, no less -- and immediately given the choice of jail or Camp Green Lake, a juvenile correctional facility. Stanley picks the latter; after all, it's a camp and what could be more fun than that? Alot, it turns out.

To call Camp Green Lake poorly named is an understatement of hysterical proportions. It has neither a lake, nor anything green, and is about as much fun as getting zapped with a taser. Each day, in blistering heat, every camper is required to dig a hole measuring exactly 5 feet deep and 5 feet wide. But far from being a meaningless forced labor effort, Stanley begins to realize that the warden is really trying to find something. And that something is very valuable.

You'll quickly become immersed in Stanley's journey to make sense of the camp, his fellow prisoners, and his family's decades-long run of bad luck. Is it a classic? Let's just put it this way: don't be surprised if your grandkids want you to read it to them... even if that's fifty years from now.

Net neutrality word search

Here's another fun game I just made up. I call it "Word search on the COPE Act and related documents". The carriers and their backers claim that the COPE act will "protect" the freedom of the Internet by enforcing the current state of net neutrality.

Before we start, let's recall the text of AT&T's anti-net-neutrality marketing site - “…[we] will not block, impair or degrade access to any legal web site, application or service, nor will we intentionally degrade the customer experience or the service delivery of content or application providers.”

Here's the salient point: why can’t all of the carriers' lobbyists, lawyers and horsemen codify that single sentence into the law of the land? Telco apologist Richard Bennett claims that 'exact language' is in the COPE act.

I'm excited. Let's start playing. Fred, please cue the Jeopardy music while we search for each of the key words...

block - 0 occurrences
filter - 0 occurrences
degrade - 0 occurrences
impair - 0 occurrences

Hmmm. I'm mystified. I would have thought I could've found at least one of those words in the COPE Act -or- the Broadband framework.

Maybe it's just my copy, though (** shakes e-Book **). I could've sworn I was called a 'shameless liar' for saying those terms were AWOL.

Handing Cisco's Service Exchange Framework to the carriers -- the same crew who hasn't created an iota of value since the premiere of Hogan’s Heroes , seems as logical as giving the keys to a Porsche Turbo and a fifth of Jose Cuervo to a 16 year-old boy.

The COPE Act, which claims to protect the current state of net neutrality, appears instead to have been authored by the telcos' attorneys for the express purpose of neutering the FCC. Hitch a ride on over to Save The Internet today and take action.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Dvorak: Microsoft Search Tar Pit

Writing in PC Magazine, the always-controversial-and-interesting™ John Dvorak has some noteworthy observations about Microsoft's stated direction. Most intriguing: that thick-client software (e.g., Microsoft Office) is far from dead:

Microsoft and the entire computer industry have been convinced by boneheads that Microsoft Office in particular and perhaps the Windows OS were short-term products that would eventually stagnate and die. In fact it is generally believed that all shrink-wrapped software is a short-term phenomenon. I think I first saw shrink-wrapped software back in 1976. So this is the 30th year of shrink-wrapped software. The total sales of shrink-wrapped software have never been higher. But according to the experts, it's dead. And apparently it died around 1996. Reports of its death are greatly exaggerated...

...it's interesting to note that nearly all the executives at Sun and Oracle use PowerPoint, don't they?

Actually, I'm not sure that they do anymore. When Novell does corporate presentations, they use SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) and OpenOffice Impress (the PowerPoint-replacement) exclusively. That doesn't detract from Dvorak's overall advice, however.

His counsel regarding where Microsoft should be concentrating is probably sound. He advocates that MSFT stick with what they do best: delivering mass-market software. He asks, for instance, why dilly-dally around with search and advertising when Vista is running so late?

Let's examine another corporate behemoth who, instead of fighting Google and open-source software, was instead fighting Johnson & Johnson and Kimberly-Clark.

If we look at P&G's resurgence since its Durk Jager days (circa 1999), it was spearheaded primarily by laser-focusing on expansion of core brands, not trying to invent new brands. Jager's initiatives were exactly that: high-risk, cash-sucking efforts to build new brands. The Swiffer dust mop and Fit fruit & vegetable wash were classic examples of his strategy. Anyone use Fit these days to wash apples?

Jager's replacement, A.G. Lafley, quickly changed the corporate focus to renewing and expanding the core brands: Crest, Tide, Pampers, Olay, etc. That strategy -- combined with aggressive acquisitions such as Gillette -- has reinvigorated P&G, which is a newly resurgent and utterly dominant force in CPG.

Methinks there may be a lesson there for Microsoft.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Top 10 Strangest Watches

I ignore most of the top ten lists on Digg, but this one was really quite remarkable: a photo gallery of exotic watches. There's a Linux-powered watch, a Morse Code watch, an ultra-violet watch... and more. Guaranteed to raise your eyebrows.

Techeblog: Top 10 Strangest Watches

NY Sun: Iran has already declared War

The New York Sun has a slightly different take on Ahmadinejad's letter to President Bush: it's a declaration of war.

[the letter], widely interpreted as a peaceful overture, is in fact a declaration of war. The key sentence in the letter is the closing salutation. In an eight-page text of the letter being circulated by the Council on Foreign Relations, it is left untranslated and rendered as “Vasalam Ala Man Ataba’al hoda.” What this means is “Peace only unto those who follow the true path.”

It is a phrase with historical significance in Islam, for, according to Islamic tradition, in year six of the Hejira - the late 620s - the prophet Mohammad sent letters to the Byzantine emperor and the Sassanid emperor telling them to convert to the true faith of Islam or be conquered. The letters included the same phrase that President Ahmadinejad used to conclude his letter to Mr. Bush. For Mohammad, the letters were a prelude to a Muslim offensive, a war launched for the purpose of imposing Islamic rule over infidels...

That may or may not be the case, but let's recall some recent public statements from Iran's leadership:

We have a strategy drawn up for the destruction of Anglo-Saxon civilization... we must ...strike at this front by means of our suicide operations or by means of our missiles...


We are in the process of an historical war between the World of Arrogance [the West] and the Islamic world, and this war has been going on for hundreds of years... ...Is it possible for us to witness a world without America and Zionism? ...you had best know that this... goal [is] attainable...

Call me slow, but I'd say Iran has been declaring war on the United States for years.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Paean to the Telcos

Let's lift the lid on the COPE Act, which ostensibly "protects" network neutrality:

...The Commission shall have exclusive authority to adjudicate any complaint alleging a violation of the broadband policy statement and the principles incorporated therein. The Commission shall complete an adjudicatory proceeding under this subsection not later than 90 days after receipt of the complaint. If, upon completion of an adjudicatory proceeding pursuant to this section, the Commission determines that such a violation has occurred, the Commission shall have authority to adopt an order to require the entity subject to the complaint to comply with the broadband policy statement and the principles incorporated therein...

Ooooooooh. They can... adopt procedures! And... adopt an order!

Yes, nothing strikes fear in the telco attorneys' hearts like the dreaded "strongly-worded memo".

Further, the FCC is strictly limited to adjudicatory authority. Notably, this title of the bill does not give the FCC authority to write rules implementing or expanding any of the provisions in this policy statement.

Now consider some of the key network neutrality provisions in COPE:

To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network.


The principles we adopt are subject to reasonable network management.

Put in simple terms, the carriers can easily violate the principles of neutrality by claiming either harm to the network ("You're using too much bandwidth running that Gnutella client, Smithers, so we're turning that service off") or "reasonable" network management.

Put simply, COPE is the lifetime employment act for telco lawyers. It renders the FCC utterly harmless to the carriers. Here's the formula: the carrier simply claims harm to the network or reasonable network management. The resulting complaints and appeals will wend their way through the courts for decades.

COPE is a paean to the telcos, plain as day.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Book Review: The Last Templar

Not your typical Da Vinci Code   knockoff

The first half of The Last Templar is a rip-roaring and unpredictable page-turner that begins with four armed horsemen invading a Vatican exhibit at New York's Museum of Modern Art. The foursome, dressed as Knights Templar, are not after gold or riches. Instead they abscond with a fascinatingly complex encryption device from the era of the Crusades. The pursuit of the device and its meaning forms the crux of the plot.

The order of the Templar arose in the 12th century to protect travelers to the Holy Land. Their wealth and reputation were unassailable until 1307, when the King of France and the Church destroyed the remaining Knights. Their intent was reportedly to absorb the Templars' vast fiscal treasures. But, in what has perplexed scholars for centuries, no such treasure was ever found. The resulting aura of mystery has followed the legend of the knights ever since.

After the raid on MoMA, FBI agent Sean Ryan and archaeologist Tess Chaykin embark on an increasingly desperate hunt. Who were the four horsemen? What was the encoding device? And who is behind the apparent resurgence of the order?

Khoury is at his best educating the reader. The history lessons, woven throughout the characters' dialogue, is educational without being the least bit dry. But what purport to be action sequences are truly the crunchy bits, to the extent that I started skipping pages near the end of the book because of the formulaic conclusion. In short, worth reading, but only if you don't have something better at hand.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Google Trends

The real rocket scientists over at Google (and, yes, this time I'm using it as a real compliment) have introduced a true innovation related to search. Google Trends lets anyone see trending data on search terms...

Google Trends

AT&T: Suddenly Flummoxed (Updated!)

On one of its public relations web sites, AT&T describes its position as it tries to kill off network neutrality:

...[we] will not block, impair or degrade access to any legal web site, application or service, nor will we intentionally degrade the customer experience or the service delivery of content or application providers.

Sounds pretty good, right?

Now stop and ask yourself the following question. Why can't all of the King's lobbyists, lawyers and horsemen codify that single sentence into the law of the land?

Could it be because they don't intend to keep their word? Sometimes these guys are so transparent you can see through them on a sunny day.

Update: Pro-carrier blogger and anti-neutrality zealot Richard Bennett calls me a "shameless liar" and claims, "This exact language is in the COPE Act that was passed out of the Energy and Commerce Committee last week."

What Richard fails to mention is that the COPE Act renders the FCC impotent to render decisions and "lessons-learned" rules around neutrality. Title II of the COPE act -- rather than giving the FCC enforcement power -- would instead handcuff it (pg. 43):

"...the Commission’s authority to enforce the broadband policy statement and the principles incorporated therein does not include authorization for the Commission to adopt or implement rules or regulations regarding enforcement of the broadband policy statement and the principles incorporated therein, with the sole exception of the authority to adopt procedures for the adjudication of complaints, as provided in paragraph (3)."

An unenforceable law is as good as no law at all. COPE disintegrates the FCC's ability to slap down misbehaving carriers and is nothing more than an unsubtle homage to the telcos' lobbying power.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

TorPark threatens to enforce net neutrality

The new TorPark package combines two open-source efforts -- a portable Firefox browser and the Tor onion router -- into a single platform that threatens to enforce net neutrality whether the carriers like it or not. TorPark provides a secure, portable and anonymous package for web browsing that prevents packet inspection, filtering, and blocking.

In early February, I predicted this very confluence of packages -- i.e., the fact that combining Firefox and Tor (or OpenVPN, SSL VPNs, etc.) provides an almost insurmountable challenge to the telcos and cable companies who threaten to perform deep packet inspection on consumers' traffic. They can't say I didn't warn 'em.

And TorPark will only get better when Google and Yahoo bring their developers to bear.

Dear Carriers:

Don't hate the players. Hate the game.

Sincerely, TorPark

read more

Monday, May 08, 2006

Killing Skype and Vonage

From all appearances, the telcos and cable companies appear bound and determined to eradicate network neutrality. The resulting chaos is simple to predict: innovative services like Skype and Vonage would be left to die, unless they could pony up "prioritization tarriffs". And the next Skype, the next Vonage, the next innovation would never see the light of day. What investor would bother funding a startup that the telcos could kill off as easily as flipping a light-switch?

Verizon warns Financial Services Firms

The latest salvos: Verizon warned financial services firms that they, "may not get the secure networks" they need if net neutrality continues to be levied. The reason? The financial firms are getting antsy that the carriers' plans will dramatically escalate their costs. They are right about that - and, in fact, the carriers could enter or dominate any market they so choose.

And Verizon's argument is simply a rudimentary straw-man: net neutrality is enforced today by the FCC. Oh, and guess what? SSL/TLS -- the primary method of encrypting B2C network traffic -- is utterly, completely, and absolutely secure. Therefore, the VZ prediction has all the legitimacy and accuracy of Miss Cleo's Psychic Hotline.

No relief from Cable

In other news, Mediacom Communications -- a cable provider I've never even heard of -- crushed the hopes of consumers who thought that cable might provide competition for the telcos by offering a net-neutral environment. Instead, Rocco Commisso, CEO of the company, noted, "I don't think the government should be coming and telling us how we can work that infrastructure, simple as that... Why don't they go and tell the oil companies what they should charge for their damn gas?"

Perhaps, Rocket Scientist Rocco, because "last-mile" fiber into the home is a natural monopoly. Over the long haul, there will be only one fiber last-mile network in any town or city. Building out two or more expensive and competing sets of fiber loops will needlessly and dramatically increase consumer costs. Like electric power, water, and sewer systems, fiber networks are examples of natural monopolies. In other words, it makes no sense to build redundant last-mile fiber infrastructure.

Thus, as a natural monopoly, last-mile fiber must join the ranks of regulated infrastructure. In this case, the regulated framework is no more onerous than what exists today: an FCC-mandated state of net neutrality.

Anti-American Rhetoric

Put simply, these blathering excretions are anti-American rhetoric that threatens innovation and investment.

Let me get the carriers' arguments straight: erecting tollbooths on the Internet and suppressing those upstart Internet companies (responsible for the creation of a trillion or more in market-cap) is a good thing?

The carriers' intentions are so transparent that you can probably see through their business plans when you hold them up to bright light. I believe they seek to kill or control Skype, Vonage, YouTube, and any other service that threatens their antiquated business models.

For one, the hardware that Cisco markets to the carriers is downright ominous in its capabilities: the marketing lit almost comes out and giggles over the fact that carriers can meter, filter, degrade or even block third-party network traffic.

And instead of investing in layers 4 through 7 (applications or content), the carriers seem to invest mostly in lobbyists. In fact, I can't think of one innovative Internet application introduced by the carriers -- ever. That, by itself, tells me all I need to know.

Hitch a ride on over to Save the Internet and take action. Today.