Inventing the Future

Brothers

I’ve admitted that I didn’t immediately get the point of the One Laptop Per Child project, but now I’m now very excited about the ideas behind this non-profit effort to build a $100 mesh-network computer to be owned by children in the developing world. This essay captures a lot of what I feel and wonder about it, including some fears of dystopian unexpected consequences.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

AT&T Net Neutrality Condition: Win, Lose or Draw?

Unsurprisingly, in an area as complex as this, opinion has split on what the merger conditions mean. Some, like Tim Karr and Columbia Law Professor Tim Wu, and Matt Stoller hail the conditions as an important victory. Others, such as Cardozo Law Professor and ICANN Director Susan Crawford, Jeff Pulver, and Dave Burstein think AT&T has cleverly played us for dupes by giving us conditions with loopholes that render the conditions meaningless. While others, like Dave Isenberg, strike a middle ground. Others, pointing out that the conditions only last two years,

What do I think? As I observed in July, when we got got some conditions out of the Adelphia transaction, evaluating wether you won or not in opposing a merger is a tricky business. But I reject the idea we got taken for a ride. To the contrary, anybody who thought this merger was going to provide the answer to the net neutrality issue, or eliminate the need for national legislation, does ot understand what was going on or what we were trying to accomplish.

And no, this doesn’t make a bad merger good. I certainly would have preferred seeing the FCC reject the merger. But given broad hints from Dingell that he never wanted the Ds to go that far, and given the fact that McDowell could have decided to come off the bench in June if the merger was still pending (since the Ds could not get a majority to vote to refer the matter to an Admin Law Judge), I don’t think a rejection was realistic to expect.

More detailed analysis below.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Tonight, a Dramatic Conclusion for the AT&T/BellSouth Telenovella!

In the dramatic penultimate episode of the telecom world’s favorite Telenovella Death Star Reborn: The AT&T-BellSouth Merger, the forces of Network Neutrality and competition win a dramatic victory!

AT&T has submitted a new 20-page letter outlining the conditions it will accept for the merger. Unlike the previous concessions in October, which amounted to little more than a joke and a promotional offer, this set of conditions is quite thorough. The breadth and scope of the conditions leaves me positively breatheless. To mangle Woody Gutherie for a moment:
You shall be neutral, in all your networks
From the first tier backbone, to the retail last mile,
from special access, to the U-N-Es
You shall not leverage market power!

I need a couple of different posts to really cover the implications. But here are the headlines:

1) Network neutrality is required in its fullest form. AT&T cannot prioritize or degrade service based on third party payments or affiliation anywhere between the peering point and the residential “last mile.” So not only has the definition of network neutrality been solidified consistent with that advocated by Save Our Internet and others, but it has been extended from the last mile to the vertically integrated backbone.

2) Residential fixed WiMax is included in the definition of “last mile.” This is the first time net neutrality has ever been applied to a wireless network.

3) AT&T must divest the 2.5 GHz spectrum it would acquire from BellSouth. This addresses a concern raised by Media Access Project and others that AT&T/BS would have an overwhelming spectrum advanatage against other wireless players.

4) AT&T has an agressive build out schedule to provide DSL at 768 KBPS for $19.95/month throughout its coverage area.

5) AT&T agrees to numerous conditions that amount to a return to tariffs and price caps for telecom and DSL resellers and special access (commercial) customers. AT&T can no longer lock competing local exchange carriers (CLECs) or DSL resellers in non-disclosure agreements.

Bonus: AT&T agrees to “repatriate” 3,000 jobs BellSouth had shipped overseas and locate at least five hundred of these “repatriated” jobs in New Orleans.

In tomorrow’s concluding episode, expect the FCC to release the final Order on Friday December 29 and the deal to close immediately thereafter.

Roll credits. Special thanks to Commissioners Copps and Adelstein, for their amazing tenacity and skill. Free Press, Consumers Union, CFA, and the rest of the public interest community that fought like Hell. The tens of thousands of people who filled comments. And Commissioner Robert McDowell, for his amazing act of ethical fortitude.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Inventing the Future

Evocative Performance vs. Information Transmission

An interesting thing happens when a medium has enough bandwidth to be a “rich medium.” It crosses a threshold from merely being an informational medium to being an evocative medium.

Consider radio, which was initially used to carry Morse code over the wireless tracts between ships at sea and shore. The entire communications payload of a message could be perfectly preserved in notating the discrete dots and dashes. Like digital media, the informational content was completely preserved regardless of whether it was carried by radio, telegraph, or paper. But when radio started carrying voice, there was communication payload that was not completely preserved in the context of other media. The human voice conveys more subtlety than mere words.

Thus far, the Internet has been mostly informational. We do use it to transmit individual sound and video presentational work, but the Internet platforms in these situations are merely the road on which these travel rather than the medium itself. (My kids say they are listening to a song or watching a video, rather than that they are using the Internet or that they are on-line. The medium is the music and video.)

So, what happens when an Internet platform supports voice and video, both live and prerecorded, and allows individual works to be combined and recombined and annotated and added to and for the whole process to be observed? Do “sites” become evocative? Do presentations on them become a performance art? Do we loose veracity or perspicuity as the focus shifts to how things are said rather than what is said? Here’s a radio performance musing on some of this and more.

I think maybe this is the point where the medium becomes the message. If a technology doesn’t matter because everything is preserved in other forms, then the technology isn’t really a distinct medium in McLuhan’s sense.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

My Annual Shameless Self-Serving Plug for My Employer

As you all know, I do this blog in my own time as a labor of love and the firm belief that the World Needs My Wisdom. During the day, I work as Senior Vice President of the Media Access Project (MAP). The views expressed here are entirely my own, and I keep a strenous “Chinese Firewall” between my MAP work and my blogging.

But I’m still gonna use my wholly independent space here to make a special end of year appeal for for folks to contribute to MAP. Because while I love my job, I can’t have two labors of love.

To keep from compromising our advocacy, MAP does not rely on industry money. We get funded primarily by grants and by individual contributions (and the occassional attorneys fee from those clients who can afford to make a contribution to our work and advocacy). In 2006, we had major wins in Network Neutrality, Media Ownership, Munibroadband, Spectrum Reform, and a personal shout out for our work on the Adelphia transaction from Commissioner Adelstein. And I will now include a gratuitous link to a recommendation from a friend this past fall.

For 35 years, MAP has been kicking ass and taking names to protect the public’s First Amendment right to speak and hear information from a diversity of sources in the electronic media. We’d like to keep at it for another 35. I know MAP is competing with a hundred other worthy causes, and that it is late in the year to make a pitch for that last contribution in 2006 (MAP is a 501(c)(3), so any donations are deductible). But I’m going to ask anyway. If you can make any kind of donation, we’d all really appreciate it.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

FCC Last Call Part II: Cyren Call Sings Again

They should have named the damn thing Phoenix Call, given how often this idea keeps getting resurected. OTOH, it better suits the nature of the beast to name it for creatures whose enticing song lured sailors to their deaths than for one of my favorite characters in Harry Potter.

As I wrote before on the Public Knowledge Blog, Cyren Call wants the FCC to give it 30 MHz of spectrum for free from the returned broadcast analog spectrum set aside for auction. Technically, Cyren Call wants that 30 MHz allocated to a “Public Safety Trust” that would then partner with a private sector organization, but it amounts to the same thing. In exchange, Cyren Call promises to build a nifty national broadband network that would be available to public safety entities when they need it. In order to finance the network without raising taxes or imposing costs on the public safety community, Cyren Call would operate the remaining 99.999% of capacity as a commercial venture. What a bargain! Of course, Cyren Call would kep any profit over and above actual expenses, to give it incentive to run the network “efficiently.”

I wish I did so well from doing good.

You would think that when public safety entities would get suspicious of a proposal that sounds horribly like: “DEAR PUBLIC SAFETY ENTITY. I OFFERING TO YOU MANY MEGAHURTS OF SPECTRUM. CONGRESS RECENTLY PASSED A LAW TO MAKE SPECTRUM AVAILABLE TO COMMERCIAL SECTOR, BUT I THINK YOU SHOULD HAVE IT.” But while Cyren Call has encountered the harsh response from the incumbent wireless harpies, over 1300 “HONEST TRUSTWORTHY PUBLIC SAFETY ENTITY” commentors supported the Cyren Call proposal. Unsurprisingly, most supporting comments from public safety folks emphasized that the part of the proposal they really, really liked was the part about getting even more spectrum.

But Kevin Martin, who seems to be having a “celebrate the incumbent telco harpy” meeting this month, has thrown in an interesting apple of discord. The FCC proposes to create a system similar to Cyren Call, but on the 24 MHz already assigned to public safety rather than grabbing yet more spectrum (you can read the full Order here. In other words, the FCC seems to be saying to the public safety community “O.K., so do you all think this proposal is so wonderful when it doesn’t bring you another 30 MHz of prime spectrum?” Of course, it helps that this plan parallels a plan proposed by Verizon Wireless back in September, which is remarkably simlar to the Cyren Call plan but in the spectrum already allocated to public safety and inserting the words “Verizon Wireless” in every place you had the words “Cyren Call.”

More below . . . .

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Inventing the Future

What's the Matter?

My daughter has been studying “matter” in science. This is the unit that discusses physical changes between phases (arrangements of molecules,) versus chemical changes between compounds (arrangements of atoms). It also discusses electrons, protons, and neutrons.

She wasn’t getting it. It was all just so many meaningless words, and symbolic coding isn’t her forte. Not everyone learns the same way, and everyone can benefit from working with the same material presented in different ways. In dealing with this, it is necessary to use not just different words, but different input entirely, which are processed by different parts of the brain. My daughter thinks very geometrically, so we were able to construct a series of visual scenes portraying the material. Napoleon said, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” and Mindard’s famous map of Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia shows that a diagram can sometimes be worth a thousand pictures.

In the phase-change scene, we draw a bucket of water in the middle, a tea-pot on one side, and tray of ice cubes on the other. We drew labeled arrows from solid to liquid and liquid to gas, and back again. (“Melting,” “Evaporation,” “Condensation,” and “Freezing.”)

We also drew the classic old 1950′s nuclear energy picture, with angry-faced (negative) electrons in an elliptical orbit around smiling (positive) protons and neutral neutrons.

It worked.

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Inventing the Future

Tales of the Obermind

This description of the motivation and effect of digital rights management in Windows Vista is making the rounds. Probably not fair and balanced, but certainly scary enough for Wetmachine readers.

Posted in I Fear These Things, Inventing the Future | Tagged | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

FCC Last Call — Part I: Cable

The FCC sure had a busy day a its last open meeting on December 20, 2006. In addition to the oral argument for the indecency cases in the 2nd Cir., the FCC also had its last open meeting of 2006. While it is impossible to provide a thorough analysis until the FCC releases the full text of the orders it adopted, below find some brief impressions based on the what we know so far about the FCC’s cable franchising order, cable rates report. Later, a post on the surprise Return of the Incredibly Awful Cyren Call Proposal.

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Inventing the Future

The Shared Experience

< %image(20061217-Shared_TV.png|588|407|Shared Experience prototype: two people and TV feed.)%>

This is a picture of a three way iChat. My friend Preston Austin travels quite a bit with his business. Here we see Preston in the bottom display, cleaning bicycle parts in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. His wife is folding laundry in Madison, Wisconsin. A third computer has a TV tuner attached, providing a live feed from “Sex in the City.” Preston and his wife have watched movies “together” this way several times. He reports that the experience allowed for more rich interaction than just long video calls and certainly better than separately watching TV.

Preston has been emphasizing to me the value of the shared experience almost since the moment I met him. When he first told me about shared virtual movie theaters, I didn’t really get it. But now I see my kids gathered around the TV or the computer running a DVD, and talking to each other about what they’re seeing. Or they’re on the phone discussing the same TV show that they and their friends are separately and simultaneously watching.

I think the principle here is that every(*) experience can be enriched by sharing it. Regardless of where the solitary activity is in the range from passive to active, the activity becomes more active when shared. This has value for education, training, and entertainment.

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