Friday, June 30, 2006

Net neutrality fight goes to the Senate floor

Let the folks over at USA Today summarize Ted Stevens' proposed telecom legislation. The Senate bill does not provide strong protections for net neutrality. In addition, the bill would:

• Pre-empt state consumer protection laws on wireless services. [Ed: presumably written in by telco lobbyists, who probably want to centralize the lobbying spend at the Federal level]

• Make permanent a ban on taxes on Internet access.

• Allow TV and radio broadcasters to place copyright protection technology in their programs.

• Reform the system of universal service fees, which subsidize phone service in rural areas. Broadband and Internet-based phone services would have to pay into the fund. [Ed: presumably written in by telco lobbyists, who seek to suppress any innovative, IP-based voice services such as Skype, Vonage, etc.]

• Let cities provide their own high-speed Internet service.

Ben Scott, Policy Director of the Free Press writes:

The issue of Net Neutrality will continue to gain speed as the full Senate takes up a bill that will determine the fate of Internet freedom.

The voices of millions of average citizens are just starting to break through the misinformation and lies being peddled by the big phone and cable companies who want to erect tollbooths on the Internet. Across the country, people are catching on to these companies’ plans, and they won’t forget which leaders stood up for the public interest...

How could such a thing happen? Well, consider Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) -- recipient of major telco funding ($71,250 in this year's cycle, according to and -- coincidentally (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) -- major backer of this legislation. Let's listen in on Stevens as he elaborates on his rationale for backing the telcos in this fight:

...We're using the Internet for personal communication. We're not using it for commercial purposes...

...We don't know enough to turn the Net into a two-tier system, which is exactly what Net neutrality would do...

...An internet was sent by my staff...

This clown idiot dunce esteemed politician knows as much about the Internet as one of the crustaceans swimming around at Red Lobster. Only he has a little less charismatic of a personality.

Letting rockets scientists like Stevens guide the future of the Internet is like having Britney Spears and K-Fed babysit your newborn child. There'll be lots of smoke and crying following all of the bad decisions.

I sent an Internet to him to complain. You can go to Save The Internet and make a series of calls to the Senators in question. Make your voice heard over the ringing of the lobbyists' cash registers in the Senate.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Bush-Rumsfeld Plan for WWIII

Thus sayeth Kevin Murphy:

The Bush-Rumsfeld Plan for WWIII

Step 1: The US does everything possible to create a multilateral alliance to stop Iran from getting nukes.

Step 2: At the last minute, France vetoes the whole thing in exchange for oil drilling rights.

Step 3: All the other countries back out of the alliance, since it is no longer multilateral without France.

Step 4: Bowing to unrelenting international pressure, the US declines to go it alone.

Step 5: Israel warns that an attack on them would be met with an unimaginable response.

Step 6: Iran nukes Tel Aviv...

Step 6.001: Israel nukes Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, the UAE and Iran some more, using about 100 hydrogen bombs. A hundred million die.

Step 7: Everyone blames Bush and Rumsfeld.

Shhhhh... no one tell the New York Times.

Behold The New York Times: Then and Now

Three days after 9/11, a New York Times op-ed piece demanded that the Bush administration use every available means to track the terrorists' financial networks. The words 'duplicitous' and 'hypocritical' come to mind; and they aren't nearly strong enough. I think the word 'prosecution' should also be involved (hat tip: Sweetness & Light via LGF):

Organizing the hijacking of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon took significant sums of money. The cost of these plots suggests that putting Osama bin Laden and other international terrorists out of business will require more than diplomatic coalitions and military action. Washington and its allies must also disable the financial networks used by terrorists.

The Bush administration is preparing new laws to help track terrorists through their money-laundering activity and is readying an executive order freezing the assets of known terrorists. Much more is needed, including stricter regulations, the recruitment of specialized investigators and greater cooperation with foreign banking authorities. There must also must be closer coordination among America’s law enforcement, national security and financial regulatory agencies.

And yesterday, the Times ran another op-ed the stammeringly attempts to explain its exposure of the perfectly legal, yet classified, SWIFT terrorist-tracking program. No, the paper explains, it's not at war with the Bush administration:

It is certainly unlikely that anyone who wanted to hurt the Bush administration politically would try to do so by writing about the government’s extensive efforts to make it difficult for terrorists to wire large sums of money.

From our side of the news-opinion wall, the Swift story looks like part of an alarming pattern. Ever since Sept. 11, the Bush administration has taken the necessity of heightened vigilance against terrorism and turned it into a rationale for an extraordinarily powerful executive branch, exempt from the normal checks and balances of our system of government. It has created powerful new tools of surveillance and refused, almost as a matter of principle, to use normal procedures that would acknowledge that either Congress or the courts have an oversight role.

Patterico uses everything but tasers and cattle-prods in disciplining the partisan hacks of the Times. He translates this silly suite of sentences:

Nobody could possibly think we’re trying to get the Bush Administration by revealing the Swift program. After all, the Swift program shows Bush is fighting terrorists, so it’s not as though the Swift program reflects badly on the Bush Administration.

But Good Lord, the Swift program sure does reflect badly on the Bush Administration!

Just when you think the Times has hit rock bottom, they break out the pick-axes and start digging a new sub-basement.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Issue #1 of PC Week (1984)

I've got a lot of old computer magazines that I've been given or saved over the years. Some original Dr. Dobbs Journal from the Seventies (cover story: "6502 or 8080: which should you choose?"). Some old IEEE Spectrums, PC Tech Journals, computer catalogs, and Byte Magazines.

And this gem: issue #1 of PC Week (currently called eWeek). I don't have a scanner big enough to handle these oversized pages, so I took a few snapshots. I know: the quality is poor. But I thought these were fun nonetheless.

Cover of PC Week #1: don't be fooled by the Volume 1, Issue 9 caption; note the story at left. This has been confirmed by Ziff-Davis as the first issue.

Software Pirates Take Notice; More Companies Officially Prohibit Copying; Spencer Katt #1. One of the biggest problems facing the software industry in '84 was illicit copying of floppy disks (sound familiar?). The solution -- at least for a time -- was anti-copying technology that hackers quickly found ways to circumvent.

Portable Trends - check out the laptop. Yes, this was state-of-the-art mobile computing technology.

Sweet mouse: Microsoft Mouse double-page ad (left-side)... yes, Microsoft was in the hardware business before the Xbox.

Microsoft Mouse double-page ad (right-side).

There are some additional -- and very interesting -- op-ed pieces including one columnist who argues that "Windowing systems" (remember Windows was probably in pre-1.0 infancy state then) were fads. And Jim Seymour visited the IBM labs and proclaimed them the upcoming kings of PC software. Hmmmm.

Interestingly, one of the few companies (besides Microsoft) that is still around today is good old Alpha Software. They had a full-page ad and some additional news coverage in the first issue.

I'll try and post more of this if I can improve the quality and make it a bit more readable.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Doctorow on Net Neutrality: Don't let the telcos commit neutricide

The articulate Cory Doctorow speaks truth to power on the topic of net neutrality. Read it all.

It’s a dumb idea to put the plumbers who laid a pipe in charge of who gets to use it. It’s a way to ensure that incumbents with the deepest pockets will always be able to deliver a better service to the public, simply by degrading the quality of everyone else’s offerings. If you want to ensure that no one ever gets to creatively destroy an industry the way that Amazon, eBay, Google, Yahoo, and others have done, just make paying rent to a phone company a prerequisite for doing business.

Practically everyone agrees on this. Only the carriers oppose it, and their opposition is so lame it’d be funny if it wasn’t so scary. The core argument from the carriers is that Google and other Internet companies get a ‘free ride’ on their pipes. AT&T and others take the position that if you look up a search result or stream a video from Google using your DSL connection, Google profits, but the carriers don’t get a share of the proceeds...

There are few industries that owe their existence to regulation as much as the carriers. These companies are gigantic corporate welfare bums, having received the invaluable boon of a set of rights-of-way leading into every basement in America. Phone companies have a legal right to force you to provide access to your home for their pipes. Try calculating what it would cost to get into every U.S. home without a regulator clearing your path, and you quickly realize that the carriers should be the last people complaining about the distorting effect of regulation on their business.

The Bells and cable companies owe their existence to governmental largesse, and, while they’re profit-making private firms, they are, in effect, quasigovernmental organizations. A Bell that wants to get rid of regulation is about as practical as a cotton-candy cone that wants to get rid of sugar. Bells are nothing but a thin veneer of arrogance wrapped around a regulatory monopoly.

Uhm, one word. Wow. Go to Save the Internet and take action.

STI: Protecting the Web from Corporate Welfare Bums

Oh, that mainstream media!

From the Media Research Center:

The federal deficit is shrinking, unemployment has fallen, and America has seen more than two straight years of job growth. But broadcasters have been describing the economy as “dicey,” “volatile” and “slow.” A Free Market Project analysis of economic stories on network evening news shows since President George W. Bush’s second inauguration showed negative news prevailing 62 percent of the time (71 out of 115 stories). That number was deceiving, however, because even good news often was portrayed as bad. In 40 stories classified as good economic news, journalists undermined the good news with bad 45 percent of the time.

Good news was relegated to short reports, or briefs, 68 percent of the time, while bad news was treated with full stories. When briefs on both sides were excluded, the comparison of full-length news stories showed an overwhelming ratio: negative stories outnumbered positive ones almost 4-to-1.

And from a research paper, entitled, "Is Newspaper Coverage of Economic Events Politically Biased?":

When GDP growth is reported, Republicans received between 16 and 24 percentage point fewer positive stories for the same economic numbers than Democrats. For durable goods for all newspapers, Republicans received between 15 and 25 percentage points fewer positive news stories than Democrats. For unemployment, the difference was between zero and 21 percentage points. Retail sales showed no difference. Among the Associated Press and the top 10 papers, the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Associated Press, and New York Times tend to be the least likely to report positive news during Republican administrations, while the Houston Chronicle slightly favors Republicans. Only one newspaper treated one Republican administration significantly more positively than the Clinton administration: the Los Angeles Times' headlines were most favorable to the Reagan administration, but it still favored Clinton over either Bush administration.


Monday, June 26, 2006

Bonfire of the ATMs

I experienced my first major Bank ATM failure last Saturday. I was preparing to leave on vacation and drove through a branch office near my house. Flicked my card in and requested $300 out of a savings account.

The ATM started counting money -- I could hear it -- and then froze. The screen instructed me to remove the money. One problem: the black metal door that controlled access to the funds had never opened. And the ATM user interface itself was completely frozen. I sat there, stunned, for a minute or so.

I pressed "Cancel" and every other button on the screen. Nothing. I even tried some creative [Ctrl]+[Alt]+[Del] key combinations in the hope of striking a magic reset sequence. Nada. The screen sat there mocking me, telling me to remove the bills from the machine. Real amusing.

I got out the trusty BlackBerry 8700G and Googled the bank's customer support number. While sitting at the ATM, I called customer service on my cell phone. After navigating the ever-irritating IVR system, I got a live person on a line. The rep went to investigate and put me on hold while she called ATM support.

The timer on the BlackBerry indicated I was on hold nearly ten minutes. Coincidentally, about the time she returned to the line, the ATM coughed up my card along with the inscrutable message, "Transaction timed out." No money, no receipt, just the card.

The rep was back on the phone. She indicated that the $300 had been withdrawn from the account - in other words, I'd been docked the money but received absolutely nothing in return. Not a good thing. She asked whether I wanted to contest the withdrawal. Uhm, that would be "Yes!". She indicated that a "provisional credit"would be provided to the account, pending some sort of adjudication process.

Apparently, a secret ATM panel regularly meets to discuss and review disputed ATM transactions every so often. She felt confident that, by Tuesday, some sort of provisional credit would be issued.

On Thursday, from the beach, I checked online. Of course, no credit of any kind had been issued. Just two withdrawals of $300 (I'd driven to another bank branch and withdrawn the money I'd needed). So I was still out the first $300 withdrawal with nothing to show for it.

Online, I wrote an email to customer service... once again explaining the situation. The following email arrived in response:

Thank you for the opportunity to be of service through [Bank name]'s online service.

Upon review of your account, I show that a dispute was filed on 6/17/06 to research the $300.00 withdrawal at the [Branch Office location] ATM.

Per Federal guidelines, the bank does have 45 calendar days to fully resolve the claim.

However, if we have not completed it in 10 business days, you will receive a provisional
credit from the bank. You will receive written notification of the results of the investigation.

Please complete any paperwork you receive from us and return promptly as instructed so we can complete the investigation for you. If we do not receive the paperwork back from you, the investigation will be closed and the provisional credit will be removed from your account.

I apologize for any confusion or inconvenience this may have caused you.

Thank you for choosing [Bank name] and we look forward to assisting you with your banking needs.


[Name removed]

Well, since I'm on vacation, receiving and filling out paperwork will be a problem.

Furthermore, I find it difficult to believe that an ATM audit trail doesn't exist. Such an audit trail would track any of the following: (a) a sensor that notes whether the currency door actually opened or not; (b) a picture from the ATM's camera showing the cash getting dispensed or not; (c) an extra $300 showing up in the cash wipe drawer inside the ATM.

This isn't exactly rocket science. You, my dear and valued reader, will be the first to know whether the the bank does the right thing here.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Look Out, Pyongyang? Rail Gun in the Works

The folks over at DefenseTech cover the Navy's new destroyer and its electromagnetic railgun platform. The claim? Two DDG1000 destroyers should have the firepower of an entire, 640-person artillery battalion:

...[it relies] on electromagnetic fields to shoot projectiles [at] almost six kilometers/second... With an electromagnetic rail gun pushing the rounds out so quickly, the number of rounds fired per ship would jump from 232 to 5000, Navy planners believe...

Because they travel so fast -- nearly Mach 7 -- the destructive force those rounds deliver would more than double, from 6.6 megajoules to 17. And they would fly almost five times farther -- up to 300 nautical miles. That's enough to put 100% of targets in North Korea "at Risk" from a single battleship, a Navy briefing notes...

Will 'Dear Leader' receive a long-distance love letter sometime soon?

DefenseTech: Look Out, Pyongyang? Rail Gun in the Works

Saturday, June 24, 2006

WinFS is dead?

The word has come down from on high: WinFS -- the long-anticipated "relational filesystem" from Microsoft -- won't be delivered as a stand-alone product. A Digg submitter writes:

The official word from the dev team is that WinFS will no longer be developed as a relational filesystem, and all future betas are cancelled.

I've always wondered about the rationale for this type of next-generation "file system". As I saw it, a file system is nothing but a high-speed way -- but conceptually kid-simple -- to create, read, update and delete blocks of bytes within the constraints of foldering, files and basic permissions.

As originally described, WinFS would revolutionize the file system, providing SQL-like query capabilities and other search-focused characteristics that would make retrieval of data a snap.

Guess what? There are plenty of applications that already do this. Apps like Google, that layer incredibly sophisticated applications on top of a brute-simple file system. And apps like, yes, SQL Server... that does much the same.

So I've always wondered why the file system had to be so sophisticated that it could perform some of the application's work for it.

I guess I have my answer now.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Light Posting Alert

This week will be light from a posting standpoint. A much-needed hiatus, in the form of an all-expenses-paid respite, is the culprit. The venue? Choose from:
  • Grand Caymans

  • Toledo

  • Xenia
The person submitting the winning answer will receive a year's supply of weasel grease, courtesy Dan's Discount Weasel Grease®.`

Saturday, June 17, 2006

MicrosoftWatch: Gates' Top 10 Flops

The esteemed Mary Jo Foley, writing at Microsoft Watch, discusses Bill Gates' legacy. It's not all sweetness and light, as she provides a list of Microsoft's Top 10 Flops. Yes, you could probably guess most of these:

1. Microsoft Bob (and Clippy)
2. Windows ME
3. Table PC/Pen Computing/eBooks
4. SPOT watches
5. Microsoft Money
6. DOS 4.0
7. Microsoft TV
9. LiveMeeting web conferencing
10. No Microsoft Linux!

The most intriguing from my perspective is #10. Gates, of course, had watched and learned from IBM's inability to adapt to the dynamic world of PC software. He had, in numerous articles and interviews, vowed that Microsoft would never ignore a similar threat. MSFT has therefore aggressively pursued smaller form-factors, telephony, cable television, IPTV delivery platforms, and gaming consoles.

But Gates has ignored the biggest threat to the cash cows of Microsoft Office, SQL Server, and Windows Server: open-source software. This year, MSFT has begun grudgingly acknowledging the impact of open-source:

  • Just days ago, it lobbied the open-source community against the use of the GPL and for more "compatible" licenses like BSD

  • in April, it announced that its high-powered virtualization engine -- Virtual Server 2005 -- would support Linux

  • in February, it announced its collaboration with the LAMP-based sales-force tool SugarCRM
But that pales in comparison with, say, offering Visual Studio for Linux, SQL Server for Linux, or a host of other products that could certainly help dampen the cannabilization of its profit-centers.

I also have my own top three list of MSFT gaffes:

#3) Browser Helper Objects - the invisible IE extensions that have likely been the launching-point for more adware, spyware, and zombie PCs than any other single cause. If your Mom has ever expressed concern about popup windows that AdAware can't cleanse or a dreadfully slow machine, odds are a BHO is behind it.

#2) The registry: an easily co-opted hive of nefarious startup settings, COM objects, GUID's, forgotten clutter, and other tripe. The lowly configuration file -- a Linux stalwart -- has proven infinitely superior from the standpoints of maintainability, transparency, and security.

#1) The winner: the Microsoft Press book entitled "Writing Solid Code", possibly the single most egregious culprit for the litany of horrific security vulnerabilities, blue-screens, and other reliability-destroying characteristics of MSFT code. Ostensibly a best-practices guide, it instead laid the blueprint for vast KLOC's of unreliable and insecure code. Click here for an obscenity-laced rant regarding this outrageous effort. Actually, there are no obscenities -- I was kidding about that -- but watch for plenty of harsh invective.

Stuff MSFT has done right? Plenty. They know how to keep after something until they get it right. Xbox 360. SQL Server. Visual Studio (er, not VS 2005, though). Exchange.

But I think Foley has nailed it: the era of Linux and open-source is beginning to leave MSFT behind. Think: IE7 playing catch-up with Firefox... IIS falling behind Apache... ASP/.NET getting body-slammed by LAMP's popularity... the rise of MySQL and Postgres... SugarCRM and Drupal... the list keeps getting larger and larger.

Will MSFT survive? Sure. Will it thrive? Absolutely. But, in my opinion, it will have to stop ignoring OSS and start selling into its market. Plenty of closed-source packages -- Visual SlickEdit and many Novell offerings come to mind -- get sold on Linux today. Adding MSFT products to the mix would only help. I won't hold my breath, though. Maybe after Gates leaves in '08.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Book Review: A Touch of Death

Classic pulp fiction at its pulse-pounding best

A Touch of Death (Hard Case Crime) (Mass Market Paperback) by Charles WilliamsFrom the instant Lee Scarborough spotted Diana James sunning herself sans bikini top, he should have known she meant trouble. The ex-football star was trying to sell his car to pay rent money. Diana James just happened to live in the same building as a prospective buyer. And she recognizes a useful pawn when she sees one: the healthy, athletic Scarborough has all the tools she needs to pull off a caper.

Diana invites him up to her apartment, tests her mark, and then lays out what seems like a simple plan. A banker had embezzled $120K of currency and then hidden it in his estate home... just before turning up up dead. Diana knows the embezzler's wife and intends to take her on a drinking binge on the gulf coast while Scarborough enters the home and locates the dough. Scarborough and James agree to split the $120 grand after they pull off the caper.

Soon Scarborough finds himself in the dark and cavernous home, scrounging around for the bankroll. One little problem: the widow, Madelon Butler, is in the home, drunk as a skunk. And, to complicate matters, someone else is also in the house...

As the tale unfolds, you'll find yourself startled and impressed with the crafty Ms. Butler -- who plays all of the characters around her like fiddles. Charles Williams has created an elegant, captivating story of exceptional quality: built like a Swiss watch, the plot just keeps unwinding... along with Scarborough's life. This is a tremendous story and one that should be optioned into film, just like Williams' Hot Spot.

Scoopt connects bloggers with publishers

Intriguing new offering for bloggers (hat tip: Springwise):

Scoopt, the world's first commercial citizen journalism photography agency, just launched ScooptWords to help bloggers find a commercial market for their writing.

Scoopt strongly believes that many bloggers produce content as good as or better than what appears in newspapers and magazines, and Scoopt aims to bring that content to larger audiences.

The process is simple: ScooptWords members place a "buy this content" button on their blog...

Scoopt - connecting bloggers with publishers

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Killing Net Neutrality = Killing Internet Investment

Inspired by a comment at TechDirt, the following reflects -- with almost uncanny prescience -- what will happen to Internet investments should the telcos succeed in their efforts to neuter the FCC and kill net neutrality:

As providers of first-round funding to Internet startups, without the guarantee of net neutrality (NN), we believe our USD5MM to USD15MM investments could suffer. Now that the House has passed the HR5252 bill without language guaranteeing net neutrality, the risk on our present investments has increased. Given the timeframe on the Senate decision, we will make no further Internet startup investments until the decision-point. If the decision is against NN, then no longer will we fund Internet start ups. The lack of net neutrality shifts the build-out cost of (previously incentivized) high-speed networks to investors such as we. However, unlike the reasonably calculable costs of network build-out, the costs our startup investments may face can't be calculated for the foreseeable future. We do not require "free" broadband access, rather we require "neutral" access. Otherwise we just can't calculate the risks of investing in the Internet startup class.

For another glimpse into a future without net neutrality, there's always this.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Haiku #129

days become decades
flashing smiles, leaves, tears, sand, earth
fleeting are the years

"Open source is more secure. Period."

Trend Micro, the antivirus vendor, claims that open-source software (OSS) is more secure than its proprietary cousin.

Antivirus vendor Trend Micro is claiming that open-source software is inherently more secure than proprietary software such as Microsoft Windows.

Trend said that one reason open-source software has fewer security issues is the variety of Linux distributions. Although they use the same kernel, if one distribution is compromised the same piece of malicious software may not work on a different distribution, the company said Monday.

"Open source is more secure. Period," Raimund Genes, chief technical officer for anti-malware at Trend, told ZDNet UK. "More people control the code base; they can react immediately to vulnerabilities; and open source doesn't have so much of a problem with legacy code because of the number of distributions."

Genes said open-source developers "openly talk about security," so patches are "immediate--as soon as something happens," whereas proprietary vendors with closed code have to rely purely on their own resources to push patches out.

Genes goes on to say that Linux boxes should be further hardened; at a minimum, the default security settings must be altered to ensure a truly deployable configuration.

A few months ago, I wrote about SE Linux and AppArmor, two Linux configurations designed to enforce mandatory access controls. More and more companies -- in industries ranging from financial services to telecommunications -- are using this type of hardened platform to minimize risk of compromise.

Postscript: InformationWeek columnist John Soat mulls over some IT career choices for his son in the latest IT Confidential column: "Database support? Network security? I've got it--Windows patch management. There's a secure career path."

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

When it's time to say goodbye... Say It With Bullets

Book Review - Hard Case Crime Series

Say It With BulletsThe jamoke in the UPS truck screeched to a halt in front of my house. He walked up the sidewalk carrying a box. There was a hint of menace in his saunter. By habit, I checked my shoulder holster to ensure it was in place. Anything could have been in the box. A severed head. Tickets to the Ice Capades. Wind chimes from Sharper Image. The driver tossed the box at my feet and vamoosed before I had a chance to question him.

I ripped it open only to discover an Amazon shipment of paperback Hard Case Crime books. They looked like they'd been lashed together by Shakey the clown during the last tornado. I grabbed this book first. I'd ordered it based on its title alone. In retrospect, it was a bigger mistake than hiring Tony Soprano as a financial advisor. The characters were paper thin, with a plot that was even thinner - aluminum foil-style. While the dialogue was snappy with the kind of metaphors that Raymond Chandler would have enjoyed, everything else suffered.

In all seriousness, I'm a huge fan of pulp fiction. But this particular effort was disappointing. Unlike some other veteran authors in the Hard Case series (e.g., Charles Williams), Powell had a better shot of replacing Ethel Merman in Gypsy  than getting this book classified as timeless. Apart from some clever phrasing and a decent hook, there isn't much to commend.

Net Neutrality Index

Herein one may find a compendium of hyperlinks to net neutrality articles, whether through purposeful intent or curious happenstance, elucidate upon the democratic principles of the Internet and regale the reader with the devastating consequences of the carriers' control of the content transiting their infrstructure.

2006-06-08ADSL2: "A good interim solution"
2006-05-10AT&T: Suddenly Flummoxed!
2006-03-30Barton shills for the telcos on net neutrality
2006-05-24Bask in the genius of the vitriolic anti-net neutrality god!
2006-05-05Bonfire of the Monopolists
2006-03-14Are cable companies targeting VoIP?
2006-06-27Consumer broadband last-mile "competition" in Phoenix
2006-05-12COPE: Paean to the Telcos
2006-02-25Email: another Network Neutrality Battle
2006-02-19End of the Internet: another fantastic deal from BellWest *
2006-05-20Enforcing net neutrality with a two-by-four
2006-03-23FCC Chief: AT&T can limit bandwidth
2006-05-03Financial sector awakens to net neutrality issues
2006-04-15Google/Earthlink team up to fight the Carriers
2006-02-15The hardware that Cisco is pitching the carriers
2006-05-18Hardwire firms oppose net neutrality laws
2006-06-09The House rejects net neutrality: sort of
2006-05-17IEEE: Not just net neutrality; net symmetry also needed
2006-02-16Internet2: is 'best effort' good enough?
2006-05-24Internet2: "Why Premium IP Service Has Not Deployed (and Probably Never Will)"
2006-04-28It's an election year... and the entire US wants net neutrality
2006-05-08Killing Skype and Vonage
2006-08-08Mike McCurry hits bottom, digs new sub-basement
2006-06-04Net Neutrality and Christopher Yoo's Paean to the Carriers
2006-04-06Network Neutrality: Condition Uh Oh
2006-02-22Network Neutrality: So Simple Even the Times Gets It
2006-06-03Net Neutrality and the Telcos' broken promises
2006-05-02Net Neutrality missing from Senate's Telecom Bill
2006-04-24Net neutrality not an optional feature of the Internet
2006-05-30Net Neutrality and the value-chain
2006-05-16Net Neutrality Word Search
2005-11-24Network Neutrality: Why it's a big deal
2006-04-20A new take on Internet telephony
2006-05-25News story from the future: a world without net neutrality
2006-03-30An Open Letter to Reps. Barton and Upton
2006-02-21Rewriting the Telecommunications Act of 1996
2006-02-16Technological solutions to the carriers' violations of net neutrality
2006-02-18Three simple questions for the carriers before they violate net neutrality
2006-05-22Tiering: is it reasonable?
2006-04-27The Tony Soprano model of networking
2006-05-09TorPark threatens to enforce net neutrality
2006-06-06Of Vonage, IPOs and net neutrality
2006-04-30We wouldn't want to stifle innovation, would we?
2006-02-14What network neutrality might mean to you *

*Includes cool, fake BellWest ads featuring the end of net neutrality!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Feld: Why COPE's net neutrality provisions stink

Harold Feld explains why COPE is next-to-worthless when it comes to enforcing net neutrality:

COPE contains a “network neutrality” provision that takes the FCC's existing “four principles” (“consumers” (i.e., us) have freedom to access legal content, run legal applications, attach any legal device to the network that won't harm the network, and are generally entitled to competition) and makes them law. So far so good. But COPE then goes on to strip the FCC of any ability to protect these freedoms by rules. Rather, COPE limits the FCC to adjudicating any claims of violation of the principles.

I think COPE's approach sucks for two reasons. First, prophylactic rules have worked for 30 years to prevent network operators from building all kinds of crap into their networks for the purpose of messing with content. The occasional attempt by cable or telco operators to block websites or rival services have been easy to address because the existing Computer Proceeding rules imposing network neutrality made these efforts stick out like sore thumbs. Shifting from a clear rule to a system that encourages network providers to push the limits until someone catches them, goes through the expense of an adjudication, and finally wins, seems to me an invitation to network operators to be as abusive as possible until they get pulled back. By that time, of course, the damage is done and what was once poo-pooed by opponents of regulation as “scare tactics” and “unsupported speculation” has become the new status quo. After all, why should the internet be any different from any other communications medium?

Second, anyone familiar with the FCC would laugh themselves silly over the notion that the FCC works efficiently by adjudication. To take a few examples, Senator McCain filed a complaint under the “sponsorship identification” rules relating to attack ads against him in the 2000 Republican Primary. The FCC has yet to rule on the complaint. Hopefully, they will get to it by 2008. The Commission also has pending before it a complaint filed in 2001 alleging that, contrary to the terms of the AOL-Time Warner Merger conditions, Time Warner cable has not negotiated in good faith to provide access to competing broadand providers. The Commission has before it an “emergency” complaint from the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, filed at the beginning of last year's baseball season, that Comcast has illegally demanded a share of ownership rights in exchange for carriage of Nationals games. A second baseball season has now started, with the FCC staff still sitting in the complaint.

As you can imagine, this track record hardly inspires confidence that the FCC will protect my “four freedoms” as COPE supporters maintain.

Read the whole thing™.

Yet another technological innovation for the telcos

The rollout of AT&T's IPTV over DSL appears to going swimmingly, just like their deployments of ISDN and last-mile fiber to the home.

...industry analysts are skeptical about [AT&T's] network, dubbed Project LightSpeed, and the TV service, called U-verse.

"This is a complicated product launch on a scale that is pretty much unprecedented," said analyst Adi Kishore of the Yankee Group research firm in Boston. "They're going to have problems, especially given the relatively tight time frame to get things done."

Experts question the wisdom of creating a network that's likely to be technologically out of date by the time it's complete. LightSpeed is designed to send data at an average of 25 megabits per second by extending high-capacity fiber optic lines to within 3,000 feet of homes. To cover the remaining distance, AT&T plans to rely on new DSL gear to send data humming over existing copper lines...

And these are the blokes that want to control the keys to the Internet.

SaveAccess: AT&T's Project Lightspeed

Net Neutrality All-Star: Rep. Ed Markey

From his testimony in Congress:

CONGRESSMAN MARKEY: Let me just make this point once again. The Bell companies had nothing to do with the creation of the Internet. The Bell companies had nothing to do with the development of the World Wide Web. The Bell companies had nothing to do with the browser and its development. In fact, AT&T was asked if they wanted to build the Internet, the packet-switched network in 1966. They turned the contract down when the government went to them. And so a company named BB&N, Bolt, Beranek, & Newman got the contract, a very small company - not AT&T. They had nothing to do with the development of the Internet, but now, at this late date, they want to come in and to create these bottleneck control points that allow them to extract Internet taxes, Internet fees from companies and individuals who have been using the Internet for a generation. It is this absence of non-discriminatory language in the Manager’s Amendment and in the bill to which I object.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Net Neutrality: Slashdot reacts to the COPE Act

The readers over at /. had some pretty interesting -- and diverse -- reactions to the passage of the COPE Act. Here are some highlights:

Regulate the Market

If there was perfect competition in the ISP market, then fine, let market forces rule! However, the 1st tier ISP market today is far more oligopolistic than [the] free market. You can bet that if there was perfect competition, this idea would not even have the slightest chance of gaining traction...

Historical perspective

...Ever since the development of Strowger's automated (as opposed to operator-driven) call switching, an underlying principle of telecommunications (long since codified into law) was the ideal that the switching system should not make routing decisions based on the content of the call. (It's considered fair-play for a carrier to, for example, route a over a satellite circuit vs. an undersea cable based on whether it is a FAX/DATA call, but not based on wether it's a business vs. personal call.) This is the fundamental basis behind the concept of network neutrality.

One could argue that without some concept of network neutrality, we can't really say we even have a telecommunication system. I'm not sure there's a good example of a system akin to what the Republicans are proposing here, which is a system where public rights-of-way are privatized into a handful of companies with monopoly control. The closest I can come-up with off-hand would be what was done in the era of the railroad tycoons. Not a perfect match, since in that age the railroads did not lead into every home, nor was the economy as dependent on them as ours is today in the Internet...

* The Carriers are dependent on public rights-of-way to build their networks, so it's not really fair for them to benefit more from that right-of-way than I do simply because they are in a position to use more of it than I. If we are in support of private ownership, I should be able to sell my private citizens portion of that right-of-way to the highest bidder in the same way that the Carriers are demanding to be allowed to do. (Not really fesible, but that's why we have things like Regulation).

* The Carriers are exploiting a natural monopoly and network effects to further their business model. If spectrum were limitless and if running fiber across long distances did not create an effective barrier-to-entry for new market participants, then the Carriers arguments about letting the markets decide might have some validity. But market forces are always distorted under monopoly conditions.

History (both railroad and telecommunications) tells us that when a single entity is in control of the network, evolution of that network proceeds slowly, and only in a way as to increase control and profitibility. Let us not forget; between automatic switching (circa 1890's) and the 1984 breakup of AT&T, the two big telephone company innovations were DTMF dialing and the... Princess Phone™.

The railroads fell only when an alternate infrastructure (the Interstate highway system and, to a lesser extent, commercial aviation) was built along side the existing network infrastructure. The Internet, as we commonly know it today, took-off as a result of the break-up of the Bell System monopoly and legislated network-neutrality. Prior to the 1996 Telecommunication Reform act, the Carriers were prohibited from offering data services (like AOL or CompuServe did) specifically to prevent them from favoring one provider over another. AOL, CompuServe, Earthlink, and the like, using modems and the fact that the telephone companies were required to carry these calls even though it prectically bankrupted many of them, were the impetus behind the creation of DSL, which in turn forced the cable television providers to convert their profitable one-way television broadcast model into a two-way Internet model.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe 150 years of telecommunications wisdom was wrong. Sadly, I suspect for the next 25-50 years we're going to find out.

The Death of Peering

Look at a traceroute some time... your packets could go through a half a dozen or so different entities. If any one of them hasn't been paid their bribe from Apple, your 'net performance suffers.

The way packets are routed on the internet, this will be a free-for-all of people trying to gouge a little extra money. The whole concept of peering -- since our packets travel over your network, and your packets travel over ours -- will all go to s**t. As packets get rerouted around individual places that aren't playing nice because they haven't been paid, all of your traffic will be sent through congested chokepoints.

The sum total will be an overall reduction in service and relibility for everyone.

Your downloads of Mozilla, or Linux, or iTunes, or things from sourceforge, Microsoft updates, or whatever -- all of them will be subjected to intermediate 'road tolls' by people who feel they should get a cut for reliably delivering your data. Every single one of them will be approached little-by-little to cough up or experience packet loss/delays. me, this sounds like... the beginning of separated, specialized networks. This is like travelling through some third world country where armed groups stop you and charge a fee to be allowed to continue.

And what of Common Carrier status?

In my opinion, any company who wishes to be able to charge certain sites for reliable bandwidth should immediately lose any and all common carrier status afforded to them. They are now liable for every single packet which travels over their networks; since they clearly need to identify the source of every packet for specific billing purposes.

A Free Market requires Competition

However, the Republicans are doing the right thing by their constituents by allowing the maximum freedom to these broadband providers and only seeking legal recourse if there is proof of anti-competitive actions.

I agree... but this philosophy only works when there is competition. The reason this thing is so bad, isn't because AT&T is going to go off and do something dumb... its because AT&T is going to go off and do something dumb, and the market can't punish them by allowing their customers to switch. For 99% of broadband customers, they only have one high-speed choice.

This is something, sadly, today's Republicans forget. They believe the solution to every problem is "the free market" when they forget that includes "competition".

Google's "free ride"

The chairman of AT&T has openly lamented during hearings that he gives websites like Google a "free ride". To his mind, Google is a service that should be paid for. That Google needs to apportion a percentage of its revenue into a general fund, because AT&T doesn't sell bandwidth to Google, but carries a lot of Google traffic. He specifically used Google in his example.

That's called revenue sharing, and you know who does stuff like that? Sports team owners. They divide up the revenue from tv rights equally, despite teams representing unequal market share. You know what the big ISPs want? They want that. They want to see Microsoft and Google, and anyone else THEY deem to provide some essential function to the net to pay into a revenue sharing pool.

You know the only time a free market can allow something like that to happen? When you have [an] oligarchy. And that's what the big backbones providers want. They want to consolidate the market, and start putting tarriffs in at peering sites. They want to exert influence outside the carrier market, and they see QoS as the first step to getting down the slippery slope. Pretty soon, some carriers decide to de-prioritize packets to Google. Maybe Google works, maybe it's really really slow...

Payment plan

Let me get this straight:

I paid once for taxes that created the internet and supported most of the phone system infrastructure.
I paid again for phone service and use of the lines.
I paid again for all the people who can't afford access to the lines.
I paid again for dsl.
I paid again for the USF (which gets paid to Verizon so that they can pay themselves for using there own lines, which I already paid to use twice.)

Yet the oposition to this bill wants me to think that someone needs to pay for [all] this service they're providing.

I'm generaly against government regulation, but something isn't right here. It makes me glad we also paid all that money to [break] up AT&T in the first place.

Bad for the Telcos

Yes, this is bad news for regular users, but its also bad for the big telcos. That's because if they start trying to sell traffic prioritization to people, they'll end up with egg on their face due to the very nature of the Internet, and everyone will lose. Regular customers will just lose first, but I think telcos will lose later.

The reason is that telcos think only in terms of their own networks, not in terms of the internet as a whole. For example, suppose I want to go to google video and so does Joe in Iowa. If Joe and I are both are customers AT&T, for example, and we both purchase some kind of fast streaming... video service from AT&T, and Google has direct uplink to AT&T, then we both will get faster video downloads. However, if Joe's traffic ever traverses another network like UUNet, then the fast steaming video service Joe paid for won't be so fast. Unless, that is, AT&T and Verizon/MCI (UUNet) have an agreement to honor each other's traffic prioritization.

Here's where it gets interesting. What if Verizon sells the same traffic prioritation to its customers? Are we to believe that Verizon will treat AT&T's 'prioritized' traffic with the same expediency as their own high-priority steaming video traffic? I think not. The interesting thing is that it doesn't matter if Joe is an AT&T customer or not - the chances of his traffic traversing non-AT&T link somewhere on the internet are pretty good, since there are... video providers all over the place, not just on AT&T's network.

The end result is that telcos may sell something to customers that they can't deliver, due to the nature of the Internet. What will happen in time, without 'net neutrality', is that telcos will try to re-engineer their networks to reduce the chances that their customers' traffic will ever traverse other provider's networks out on the internet.

Who will scream first will be business customers. They'll insist on SLAs when paying extra for 'prioritized' traffic, and SLAs nearly always include rebate clauses when things go wrong, and things will go wrong until the internet gets all partitioned up (and functionaly broken). My place of work hosts many hundreds of large commercial web sites, and I'll for sure enforce rebate clauses when the content we pay to have 'prioritized' doesn't move with the specified urgency. And, yes there are ways to determine how to measure whether or not traffic like... video is getting the performance promised in SLAs. I think what will happen is that big telcos will be at each other's throats for failure to honor each other's traffic prioritizations.

The Internet is an ocean, not a bunch of lakes. The telcos want to sell good weather and calm seas.

The only thing a 'tiered' internet will result in is poorer service to people who don't pay for 'prioritized' traffic - that you can bet on. Once that becomes apparent, of course people will start coughing up extra dough, and telcos will get a temporary boost to their bottom line. Of course, that is, until the internet starts to break down as telcos start to partition up the ocean into nice, managable lakes.

Well, it was interesting while it lasted.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Proof is in the pudding

Interesting excerpt from an interview with JBoss execs at the RedHat summit:

Q: In reference to a quote from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer about open source software and it being unreliable from a TCO perspective, how can we drive quality through open source development?

Crenshaw: When people ask this, I can't believe Microsoft is talking about reliability of open source software. Look to the FAA or to Orbitz or most of Wall Street and there is no doubt that open source is reliable.

What we must do now is shift from reliability to availability. Until today, highly available has always been in the domain of companies with the most money and the deepest development benches. But if you think about it, highly available is something that fits everybody. Our role is to provide that availability through virtualization, storage and clustering and then bring that availability to the masses. As far as TCO goes, the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] saved $15 million and two-thirds time by going with Red Hat. I say we let customer success speak instead of the analyst reports.

SearchOpenSource: Red Hat Summit: The trials and triumphs of open source

Friday, June 09, 2006

House rejects net neutrality - sort of

The House of Representatives voted 269-152 late yesterday to reject a net neutrality amendment to the COPE Act. COPE -- Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement -- is a rewrite of the 1996 Telecommunications Acts that appears to have been ghost-written by the telcos.

...broadband providers such as Verizon and AT&T, say it has sufficient Net neutrality protections for consumers, and more extensive rules would discourage investment in wiring American homes with higher-speed connections...

By golly, if Verizon and AT&T say it has enough protection for consumers, well, that's good enough for me!

Back in the little land we like to call reality, though, a vast public outcry over net neutrality and the telcos' checkered history of network deployments has arisen. Recent action around COPE has opened the door for some new players: specifically the House Judiciary Committee.

The bi-partisan committee, led by Rep. James Sensebrenner (R-WI), had raised enough of a ruckus about its ability to enforce antitrust violations, that a new amendment was proposed. It would preserve the Judiciary Committee's ability to slap the carriers down in the event that its activities required antitrust enforcement. Consider a Madison River situation, in which a carrier decides to block or degrade Vonage VoIP calls. The Judiciary retains the ability to position that activity as an antitrust enforcement action and act accordingly.

Once again, the telco lobbyists and apologists are crowing about their victory a bit too soon. After spending I-don't-know-how-many millions of dollars on lobbying, they didn't quite get the COPE Act they wanted. I wonder how’s that House Judiciary Committee's working out for them? The term 'seething' comes to mind.

After all of their spending and lobbying, their plans are coming apart faster than a five-dollar Taiwanese bicycle. The best is yet to come. They ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

ADSL2 Performance Reports: "Good Interim Solution"

This report from a broadband networking forum is interesting. It discusses achievable bandwidths with "next-generation DSL": ADSL2. This engineer calls it a "Good Interim Solution". The question for AT&T (and the other telcos) is this: will streaming HDTV over next-gen, DSL-based IP pipes suffice? Or we destined for another series of broken promises (e.g., ISDN, fiber rollouts to millions of homes, etc.)?

Based upon the telcos' track records, I think we can all surmise the answer to that question.

I can shed some light on the capabilities of newer DSL technologies. I am the network engineer for a small independent telephone company, and we are currently in the process of testing IP video over our ADSL2+ network. We have been pleasantly surprised by the speeds achieved with ADSL2+. Examples of real world speeds:

5k feet= 26400 down / 1408 up (ADSL2+)
5k feet= 23872 down / 2624 up (ADSL2+ Annex M)

14k feet= 10336 down / 960 up (ADSL2+)
14k feet= 8540 down / 1520 up (ADSL2+ Annex M)

17500 feet = 7240 down / 768 up (ADSL2+)

Loop bonding will double these speeds if needed. We are just beginning the video testing, but we have been assured that SD will consume 1.5-2.5 Mbps and HD will consume 6-9 Mbps using MPEG-4.

Let's do the math. My household might need three HDTV streams running simultaneously: me watching Fox News, my wife watching e-TV, and my kids watching MTV American Idol. Let's do the math: three times 8 megabits-per-second (what I've been told the average HD stream requires) = 24 Mbps. Oopsie. Looks like someone's going to have problems deploying this in the real world. In other situations, I'd be surprised. But seeing who is behind these deployments, I'll just suppress a giggle.

Broadband Reports Forums: Good Interim Solution

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Google goes for the jugular

I've been playing with Google Spreadsheets and it appears to be a pretty impressive offering. The hosted service is a completely collaborative workbook environment that can take XLS files, allow multiple users to edit them, and spit out XLS files on the back-side. GoogleTalk (its web chat facility) is integrated throughout the application, so that you can interact with other parties who might be updating the workbooks.

The user-interface is very impressive: Google is pushing the limits of AJAX to deliver column-width slider bars, cell merging, and a webby version of the Windows File menu.

On the down-side, the interface formatting options appear quite limited compared to Excel. For a collaborative environment, it doesn't seem to have the sophisticated security options of, say, a BadBlue, which offers read- and write-protection at granular levels for each user. The workbook also is limited in size - if you upload a workbook, you get a slightly larger "palette" to work with than the Excel file you started with. You can't just cursor down a hundred rows to begin a scratchpad experiment the way you can in the thick-client app.

All in all, though, it's a very impressive effort and one that Microsoft has got to be tracking at the highest levels of the organization. If there's a NORAD-style control center in Redmond, I'd bet Gates and Ballmer are barking at minions at this very moment.

Where does Google go next? My take is the same as it was in December. I believe Google will offer hosted versions of major Windows applications (remember the Writely acquisition, which gave Google a collaborative online version of Word?). Then, when you least expect it, watch for the Google Office Appliance - a bright yellow box that any company can buy, which will offer the same sort of functionality... while keeping files inside the firewall.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Of Vonage, IPOs, and the Extermination of Net Neutrality

The carriers and their apologists endlessly babble that technology has passed the Internet by. That TCP is decades-old technology that somehow doesn't map to the new world order of carrier last-mile fiefdoms. That Bob Kahn, Vint Cerf, Lawrence Lessig, and Tim Berners-Lee are harmless old coots who couldn't spot a modern network architecture if it fired off signal flares at the rest home.

The only problem for the carriers and their minions is this: context-less technical diatribes don’t stand up to the scrutiny of this little world we like to call "reality".

Internet phone provider Vonage has been sued in a class action lawsuit on behalf of shareholders who bought stock in the company prior to its IPO. Many observers believe that the risk of net neutrality’s demise has taken its toll on Vonage’s stock price.

That is what we call value destruction, an endemic, pervasive quality of handing a few juggernaut-sized corporations the keys to the Internet.

Here is all that I ask of the carriers and their lackeys: show me the business plans. Show me the forecasts of value-creation predicated upon last-mile gatekeeping.

Show me where IPTV works over Project-Lightspeed-quality last-mile lines (not on some carrier’s pristine backbone).

Illustrate for me with pie- and line-charts the carriers' customer-sat ratings.

Regale me with stories of the innovative IP services that have demonstrated the carriers’ net-savvy nature.

Tell me how Internet2 -- arguably the most advanced end-to-end network on the planet -- handled tiered architectures.

List for me all of the carrier's Internet deployment successes, ranging from ISDN to their promised fiber rollouts of the late 90’s.

Show me where the carriers have implemented tiered HDTV-over-IP over an end-to-end infrastructure… anywhere in a real-world situation with consumers involved.

I can show you a rich history of aggregate trillion-dollar market caps with the "old-model" Internet. That’s right - the one with net neutrality enforced by the FCC. Tell me how the carriers will do better by exterminating net neutrality. Let's start with opening up the telcos' business plans to public scrutiny.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Ten Highest- and Lowest-Radiation Cellphones

From CNet:

Ten highest-radiation cell phones (United States)

Manufacturer and model SAR level
1. Motorola Slvr L6 1.58
2a. Motorola V120c 1.55
2b. Motorola V265 1.55
4. Motorola V70 1.54
5a. Motorola C290 1.53
5b. Motorola P8767 1.53
5c. Motorola ST7868 1.53
5d. Motorola ST7868W 1.53
9a. Motorola A845 1.51
9c. Palm Treo 650 GSM1.51
9b. Panasonic Allure 1.51

Ten lowest-radiation cell phones (United States)

1. Audiovox PPC660010.12
2. Motorola MPx200 0.2
3. Motorola Timeport0.22
4. Qualcomm pdQ-19000.2634
5. T-Mobile Sidekick0.276
6a. Samsung SGH-S100 0.296
6b. Samsung SGH-S105 0.296
8. Sony Ericsson Z600.31
9. Mitsubishi G360 0.32
10. Siemens S40 0.33

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Net Neutrality and Christopher Yoo's Paean to the Carriers

The carriers and their apologists gleefully point to Vandy professor Christopher Yoo's recent paper as "academic" proof that net neutrality need not be regulated. His article, entitled "Promoting Broadband Through Network Diversity," argues that carriers should be permitted to "experiment" with various network architectures.

Ignoring the fact that the cable industry reportedly funded the paper (which should tell us all we need to know about its assertions), its flagship example should send chills down most readers' spines:

One of the best current examples [of network competition] is the manner in which direct broadcast satellite (DBS) provider DirecTV is using an exclusive programming package known as “NFL Sunday Ticket” to enhance its ability to compete with cable television. Indeed, it appears that exclusive access to NFL Sunday Ticket constitutes one of the major factors helping DBS emerge as a viable competitor to cable.

The frightening aspect to this is that Yoo's key example is a pay-per-view-style (PPV) offering, the content and delivery of which are controlled by enormous corporations and not at all relevant or analogous to the democratic platform represented by the Internet.

Yoo's grand idea is apparently just that: turn the Internet into a model proven out by the cable companies. This would give a handful of corporate leviathans control of which content is permitted to reach consumers. And, using Yoo's example, there are very few choices in last-mile television. If we're lucky and happen to live in an urban environment, we've got a single cable provider to choose from and several satellite choices.

One need not be an academician to contrast cable TV, where a select few choose the approved "channels", with the most democratic media dispersion instrument in history: the Internet.

But Yoo's not finished with that bizarre analogy. Here's another gem:

Broadband policy would be better served if such efforts were directed towards identifying and increasing the competitiveness of the last mile, which remains the industry segment that is the most concentrated and protected by entry barriers.

Very true. Odd, then, that Yoo fails to mention the carriers' unceasing efforts to reduce competitiveness at the last-mile. Yoo carefully ignores: carrier suppression of municipal wireless roll-out efforts; heavy lobbying by the carriers to transfer local control of cable networks from municipalities to states; and the checkered history of the carriers' various promises of high-speed networks (that never seem to get fully deployed) in exchange for deregulation.

In other words, competition among last-mile offerings, which Yoo claims to endorse, has been hampered at every turn by a juggernaut he dares not mention.

Yoo also posits that investment in last-mile technologies won't be forthcoming if net neutrality is mandated:

In the process, network neutrality risks dampening incentives to invest in new last-mile technologies to the extent that it cements the existing last-mile oligopoly into place. Although such a policy might be justifiable if entry by alternative network capacity were impossible, it is indefensible when 3G, WiFi, WiMax, broadband over powerline (BPL), and other technologies are actively searching for capital to support their deployment and when what represents the state of the art in transmission is undergoing rapid technological change.

Funny, then, that all of these technologies have received significant and increasing investment over the last decade... all under the auspices of FCC-enforced net neutrality. Not much of a dampening effect, eh?

In fact, Yoo's paper strikes me as carrier-funded jibber-jabber that fails to address the most important components of the net neutrality discussion:

First, we have indisputable proof that the net-neutral Internet has created the most valuable and open communications architecture in the history of the world. Strike one: Yoo's paper fails to address this simple, irrefutable fact and instead points to cable as an aspirational example. That his paper was apparently funded by the cable industry is not the point. Does Yoo truly believe that cable is an examplar of network diversity principles when compared to the Internet? Presumably, he would permit tampering with this fragile value-creation machine for a model proven to reduce consumer choice.

Second, the carriers' efforts to suppress last-mile competition flies in the face of Yoo's core tenet. Strike two: Yoo's paper advocates last-mile competition and then studiously ignores its biggest stumbling block: the carriers themselves.

Third, last-mile investment has been on a massive upswing in spite of the carriers and the current state of net neutrality. The momentum for BPL, muni-wireless, content-provider wireless (e.g., the Google/Earthlink pairing), carrier wi-max, and related technologies has never been better. It will be quite a while before they are viable options for most Americans, but the pace of investment flies directly in the face of Yoo's assertion. Strike three: the mighty Yoo has struck out.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Net Neutrality and the Telcos' Broken Promises

I'm in the midst of reading telecom analyst Bruce Kushnick's book The $200 Billion Broadband Scandal  and it is chock full of broken promises. Documented in exquisite detail, most useful are the insights into the telcos' various visions of the future. In each case, the telcos talked a great game, but didn't quite deliver what was promised. And, for each debacle, kindly recall that these are the same corporate behemoths that want to eradicate net neutrality and control the keys to the Internet.

Southwestern Bell 1986 Annual Report:

At the forefront of new technology is ISDN. Scheduled for commercial availability in 1988, ISDN will revolutionize day-to-day communications by allowing simultaneous transmission of voice, data and images over a single telephone line… With ISDN customers will have the potential to access videotex, telemetry, alarm services, sophisticated calling features, teleconferencing much more economically than they can today.

It is interesting to point out that ISDN, the posterchild for all failed digital deployments and a technology that could have been rolled out in the 1980's, waited until the 1990's before any actual implementation occurred — and it was never fully deployed.

Yes, and we're all intimately familiar with the success story that was ISDN.

A more recent chapter in the story begins with Clinton-Gore administration. Their vision to create a high-speed network throughout the country was the ostensible blueprint for the telcos.

...the Bell phone companies claimed that instead of the government taking the lead role, the Bell companies would step up to the plate to rewire America’s homes and offices, schools and libraries with a fiber optic broadband network. It would replace the aging, 100-year old copper-based network with a glass-based fiber optic wire that could handle America’s broadband needs.

...What was promised? By 2000, according to the Bell companies' annual reports, press releases and state filings, about 50 million households should have been rewired... Alongside the annual reports, the Bell companies also filed with the FCC to offer "video dialtone" services over fiber optic wire. Over 9,787,400 households in 43 cities were supposed to be upgraded between 1995 and 1997.

None of this was DSL. DSL goes over the old existing copper wiring and could not
deliver “broadband”, as defined by the Bell companies... By 2005, if the Bell companies (including Verizon/GTE) had actually delivered on their broadband promises, approximately 86 million households would have had fiber optic based services. These state commitments also would have rewired schools and libraries, hospitals and government offices. And in most states, the plan called for ALL customers to be rewired equally, whether they were in rural or urban areas, rich or poor.

And where would all of that funding come from? I think you've guessed the answer already.

The local phone companies are regulated by the state public utility commissions... Remember, in the 1990’s there was no competition of any consequence, and so the phone companies had a guaranteed income. It is still guaranteed in that if their profits fail to please, they ask for a price increase.

The plan was to simply get all 50 states to remove this old "rate of return" regulation with “deregulation”, meaning the removal of regulation. In this case, it was also called “price caps”, or “alternative regulations”, or “incentive regulations”, all of which would give the phone companies more money to pay for these upgrades... For example, “Calling Features”, such as “Call Waiting” or “Call Forwarding”, can cost customers $3-$5 a month, and yet cost less than one cent to offer.

Now that's value!

So, what was the net effect of the various "deregulation" efforts? Why don't tens of millions of homes have last-mile fiber?

While each state has different laws, nationwide, we estimate that the Bell companies overcharged over $205 billion from 1992-2004 for these networks, including various financial perks - and that figure is growing. On average, we estimate that it was over $2000 per household...

...what happened was that because of the state and federal deregulations that were primarily written for the companies’ fiber optic service promises, local service became the Bells’ private cash machine. By dumb luck, the timing for deregulation couldn’t have been better. There was a massive increase in telephone services being purchased fueled by the Internet’s growth starting in 1995...

...We argue that the company made false statements that changed the laws and that those laws should never have been allowed to stand based on what the company delivered. The monies should be refunded or given to others, such as the municipalities, to do the work.

And these are the jamokes that want to control the Internet? Go to Save the Internet and -- if you want a shocking education into the mindset of the telcos -- buy Bruce Kushnick's book.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Navy Federal gets hammered by George Ou

The e-banking folks at Navy Federal have taken a nice beating at the hands of ZDNet blogger George Ou. Navy Federal commits what is, unfortunately, an all-too-typical gaffe: serving up many of their pages in clear-text rather than through a secure (SSL) link.

As Ou points out (and as I noted out in, "Making Phishers solve a captcha") the use of clear-text for banking application-serving is problematic. DNS cache poisoning and other DNS hacks are possible attack vectors for in-the-clear apps. Why not get the user accustomed to expecting a secure connection for each page, every page?

Navy Federal:
Signing on to secure sites from an unsecure page is a common industry practice, and not unique to Navy Federal. You may see this same functionality at other Web sites.

George Ou:
No you're not unique; you're just among the batch of ignorant American Banks that don't understand basic SSL server side authentication... do me a favor and run this portion of your answer past your legal department and ask them if "but your Honor, everyone else does it" will ever fly in a class-action lawsuit.

Banks should aggressively protect their customers' security. The financial impact of securing all pages with SSL is pitifully insignificant. Someone at the FDIC needs to knock heads together and make this a requirement for online banking applications.

ZDNet: Bank's defense of bad security: Everyone else does it