Inventing the Future

I predict a mini-rapture

For $40/year, this service will send an email to your loved ones after believers disappear in the coming rapture. There’s a deadman switch that will send the messages automatically if three of the five owners don’t log in every three days.

I guess I’m a believer, because I’ll bet those guys are going to disappear mysteriously. The site doesn’t say what happens to the money.

It might be kind of interesting to do this properly: let the designees of each individual account be notified if the account-holder doesn’t log in. Might be useful for journalists, abused wives, bloggers, and other folks in fear for their lives from governments and wackos.

Posted in Inventing the Future, Memology | Tagged , , , | Comments closed

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Why Jonathan Adelstein Totally Rocks!

It’s no big deal for a Commissioner of the FCC to go to a major trade show like NAB or the CTIA. It’s not even a surprise when Commissioners or their staff take the time to come to meetings of important constituency groups or proven political powerhouses. But who takes the time to show up to speak to a bunch of geeks and policy hackers from around the world of no particular political or financial importance? I mean, hearing about how folks in Northern India or Serbia or the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago are using unlicensed spectrum to massive improve the quality of life of their communities is nice and inspiring and all, but life is busy and time is short.

Which is why Jonathan Adelstein and his wireless advisor, Rene Crittendon, totally rock. Commissioner Adelstein and Crittendon came down yesterday to the Fourth International Summit on Community Wireless going on here in Washington D.C. You can read the gist of Commissioner Adelstein’s remarks here. I should add that I thought Adelstein’s speech as delivered was brilliant. He deftly drew together the important themes of wireless broadband, connecting people, human rights, and the benefits of digital inclusion. (If I can get a link to the speech or the audio, I will post it.)

After the speech, Adelstein stuck around to take questions and talk to folks. All in all, I think he and Renee ended up spending about two hours down here.

I have often lamented that policy makers in Washington rarely manage to get together with real people who are doing things. Even when folks come to town, it is a carefully managed “field trip” designed to maximize the effectiveness of presentation. It’s important, but it’s not the raw, unvarnished and not always polite perspective of scruffy tower-climbers and local community organizers.

No major policy initiatives, no big announcements. Heck, hardly a whisper of press coverage. But it means a lot when an FCC Commissioner and his advisor take two hours out of a busy day to come down and have an open conversation about things that people passionately believe matter.

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in Life In The Sausage Factory, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

'Scuse Me Whilst I Pause to Savor the Irony — Wall St. J Writer Blames Kevin Martin For Slow Broadband

So Wall St. Journal Technology Review Walt Mossberg blames Kevin Martin for our ridiculous slow broadband speed.

Here’s the dialog:

Mossberg: “You are the head of the FCC. How have you allowed this to happen? I AM DEAD SERIOUS. HOW HAVE YOU ALLOWED THIS TO HAPPEN?

Martin: “I am not sure I am solely responsible. I am also not sure the charts capture the whole story. I think you do have to put in the context some of the demographics of the United States and some of the countries we are competing against.

Mossberg: Does that explain why we pay $12.50 per megabit in the United States as opposed to $3.09 in Japan and $3.70 in France? Why are we paying four times as much?

Martin: Yes it does. Because it costs a lot more to build out in more rural areas and people who live further apart… We have a history of averaging some of the cost to make it affordable for people in Montana.

I find this ironic on two levels. First, I have a memory that goes back far enough to remember the Wall St. Journal editorials absolutely crucifying Kevin Martin when, as a Commissioner, he tried to stop Michael Powell’s full-bore deregulation of broadband and the local telephone loop because only a completely laissez faire non-regulatoy approach could get industry to invest and do its job. Ditto the editorials on why C Block open device conditions because any sort of government mandate is bad bad bad BAD and can never, ever, ever be good.

Yes, I know that the Wall St. J. prides itself on having an ironclad fire wall between the reporting function and that editorial function. So I am not saying that Mossberg is being inconsistent or hypocritical in any way. But it is still ironic that reporters dismayed at the current state of affairs blame Kevin Martin for failure to act, while the folks on the Editorial Page routinely pillory Martin for even thinking the word “regulation” without puting a “de” in front.

Second, it’s ironic because, while I will be the first to say that Martin has not done nearly enough for my money (let’s start with not adopting mandatory wholesale as we at PISC recommended for half the auctioned 700 MHz spectrum last year, and the painfully slow pace of Universal Service Fund Reform), he has done more to foster the development of better broadband at faster speeds than any other member of the Bush Administration. Unlike, say, former NTIA Administrator John Kneuer, who explained last year how everything in American broadband was just ducky and we just need to stay the course, Martin has acknowledged that we need to do better and have higher expectations (although, again, not going nearly far enough IMO). This includes not merely making a show of reforming the FCC’s impossibly lame broadband study and report, but actually making some substantive improvements.

Mind you, I’m not defending Kevin Martin’s record on broadband here. And I will readily acknowledge that he’s been a good soldier for the Bush Administration on a number of key issues (I do not hold my breath to learn if AT&T and Verizon broke the law when they cooperated with NSA on domestic spying). But I cannot let the double irony of a Wall St. J. columnist blaming Kevin Martin for our wretched national broadband situation go unpassed, when the Wall St. J. editorial board has been in the vangaurd of pillorying Kevn Martin any time he actually tries to do something.

Again, I know Wall St. J. takes great pride in keeping its editorial board and reporting functions separate, but it’s still delightful. At least, for those of us in the progressive movement who have always been utterly consistent in blaming Kevin Martin and the rest of the Bush Administration for not nearly going far enough. That’s why next week at National Conference on Media Reform, the Martin-bashing won’t be ironic. It will be heartfelt, sincere, consistent, and deeply passionate Martin bashing. Well, actually it will be ironic then, too; but for entirely different reasons I will post about next week.

But for the Wall St. J. and its fellow worshipers of the Gods of the Marketplace, I can only smile and say “what, you don’t like the world the Gods of the Marketplace have made? Then I guess you better pray harder — or perhaps consider a different faith.”

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in Life In The Sausage Factory, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

My Thoughts Exactly

Onward Christian Soldiers (and airmen, marines, sailors. . .)

Over in Fallujah, Iraq, according to the Associated Press, United States Marines are handing out coins bearing Christian messages, especially that old fundy call sign, “John 3:16”, to anybody who wants one, and to lots of people who don’t. That’s not going over too well with the Moslem locals, as you might imagine. But at least our guys are consistent, harassing atheist soldiers more than they do Iraqis. Meanwhile the United States Air Force academy has been taken over by James Dobson’s crew. In fact, there’s a lot of evidence that the whole G-d blessed US military aparatus has been taken over by what I shall tactfully euphematize as “crackpot christofascist nutjobs with napalm and nukes.”

Looks like the plans to immanentize the eschaton and hasten Jesus are proceeding apace. Maybe it’s time for me to repent.

Posted in Memology, My Thoughts Exactly | Tagged , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

It's Nice WhenThe FCC Listens — Sorta. Why I like The Proposed Resolution Of Comcast's Complaint Against Verizon But Why Some Of It Makes Me Uneasy.

Back in February, I blogged about Comcast’s complaint against Verizon for its “retention marketing” practices. That’s Verizon’s practice that, when they get a request from another carrier to terminate voice service and transfer the phone number of a customer who is switching from Verizon (a practice called “porting” the number), they make one last run at trying to persuade the customer to stay. At the time, I observed (as I have for well over a year now, since I first made this argument at the at the Federal Trade Commission’s 2007 workshop), that if we are going to rely on competition, then we cannot have rules that privilege one side over another. To cancel video service, you have to call the cable operator, who then gets a last chance to pitch you hard to stay and makes it as difficult as possible to terminate service. But to change telephone provider, the cable company can ask the telco provider and the telco provider isn’t allowed to try to keep the customer — but must wait to pitch the customer until after the customer has already switched. That’s crazy. It needs to be consistent, or it puts the telcos at a serious disadvantage against the cable cos.

Well, back in April, the Enforcement Bureau issued a recommended decision that adopts this same argument. (I’ve been a shade busy, or would have blogged on this earlier.) It strongly recommends that the Commission commence a notice of proposed rulemaking designed to harmonize the rules for switching video and voice. No surprise, as this also tracks a Verizon Petition for Declaratory Ruling — as noted by the Bureau in a footnote.

Needless to say, I wholeheartedly approve of such harmonization, having supported this approach for well over a year. So why does the recommendation make me uneasy?

Because of the legal reasoning around the facts of the instant complaint. The Bureau recommends a finding of no violation because number porting is not a Title II telecom service and cable providers offering voice over IP (VOIP) are not providing Title II services. Which means that the FCC can flit back and forth between Title I and Title II at will, depending on its policy needs of the moment. It also means that Title II telecommunications service has now been reduced to only the voice component of plain old telephone service. And even critical elements of POTS, like managing the phone number systems, no longer count as telecommunication services under Title II.

I’m even more queasy about this because it is probably right under the enormous deference shown to FCC definitional hair splitting thanks to the combination of the Brand X decision and the D.C. Circuit’s decision on CALEA in ACE v. FCC. Well, Scalia warned the Brand X majority, but they didn’t listen. And Michael Powell, by trying to put broadband services beyond the reach of FCC regulation, ended up enormously expanding the power of the FCC to regulate services on a whim.

More on what I’m talking about and what this means for the future (if adopted by the Commission) below . . .

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Posted in Life In The Sausage Factory, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments (Comments closed)

Inventing the Future

Da5id's Vision

In January, 2005, David Smith was on stage at Kyoto University, speaking in a panel on the future of Croquet. Slouched in his chair, he pulled an iPod from his pocket and threw it on the table, along with his old-fashioned styled spectacles. “In twenty years, that will be the computer. Maybe earlier. Wearable computers and micro-projection display already exist. Virtual Croquet worlds will be layered onto the physical world around us.”

At the same time, in San Diego, CA, author Vernor Vinge was wrapping up “Rainbows End,” a novel set in 2025 in which the common person’s view of the world is augmented by wearable computers overlaying virtual worlds onto contact lenses. The central denizen of the worlds in the story is a troublesome white rabbit, which also happens to be a common avatar in the Alice In Wonderland themed Croquet worlds.

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Posted in history: external milestones and context, Inventing the Future | Tagged , | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Leased Access Reform Hits A Major Speed Bump.

I had hoped to be able to tell all my friends at the National Conference on Media Reform in the beginning of June about the fantastic opportunity to put independent progressive programming, minority-oriented programming, and local programming on cable when the new rates and improved rules for cable leased access became effective June 1. Unfortunately, due to a decision by the Federal Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit granting the cable request for a stay pending resolution of the challenges to the rules, that won’t happen. While not a total loss (the Sixth Circuit rejected the NCTA’s motion to transfer the case to the D.C. Circuit) and not preventing programmers from trying to take advantage of leased access now, this is a serious bummer for a lot of reasons — not the least of which is the anticipated crowing by the cable guys (ah well, we all endure our share of professional hazards).

But mostly, I am disappointed that the cable operators will continue to withold the real rates under the new formula. As part of the stay request to the FCC (and subsequently to the 6th Cir.), the cable operators had submitted affidavits claiming that under the leased access rate formula adopted by the Commission, the new rate would be FREE!!! and they would have to drop C-Span and any other programming you like as a result. Since the cable operators always claim that the impact of any regulation is that they will need to charge higher rates, drop C-Span, stop deploying broadband, etc., etc., I am not terribly inclined to believe them this time and had looked forward to either their releasing real rates or putting programmers on for free. But since cable operators uniformly refuse to make the new rates available before the new rules go into effect (another reason I disbelieve the “the rate will be zero” claim), and because they control all the information relevant to the rate calculation, I can’t actually prove they are blowing smoke. Now it looks like we will have to win the court case (which will likely take a year or more) before we find out the real leased access rates.

Mind you, leased access had already hit a few roadblocks, owing to the inexplicable delay in sending the rules to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Although the rules were approved in November ’07, released on February 1, 2008, and published in Fed Reg on February 28, the order was not sent to OMB for the mandatory review under the Paperwork Reduction Act until April 28. I might almost think the cable folks in the Bureau were less than enthusiastic about supporting leased access reform. OTOH, since it also took the broadcast enhanced disclosure rules a a few months to get to OMB, it may just be the natural slowness of the process. After all, by federal law, the carrier pigeons used to take the text in little scraps from FCC across town to OMB can fly no more than two flights a day.

But to return to the critical point, what does the court ruling mean for leased access reform and the hope that local programmers, progressive programmers, minority programmers and others could have an effective means of routing around the cable stranglehold on programming?

See below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The Most Important Wireless Conference of the Year — IS4CWN '08

There are an endless number of conferences out there, many of them quite good. But there is one conference I never skip if I can possibly make it — the International Summit For Community Wireless.

Why? You won’t find billion dollar CEOs or announcements of major product releases or huge deals. This year, owing to its location in Washington D.C., there will be some very good speakers (such as FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein — one of the great friends of community wireless at the Commission). And I and fellow Washington public interest conspirators will be hatching our plots for the new Administration. But that’s not why this is, in my opinion, the most important conference I attend.

This conference is the biggest collection of people I know who do things — and talk about them without worrying about non-disclosure agreements. These are the folks providing wireless connectivity in urban neighborhoods were folks can’t afford DSL; or who have figured out how to store, share and tag local content on wifi network in a safe manner that transforms a hot spot from an access point to the internet to a source of rich local media. It’s where I can hear about the innovations in mesh or deployment that are taking place on a daily basis as people deploy systems and play with equipment and code. It’s where I learned about how a city in Chile is improving the efficiency of city services because they asked local people “what is your biggest problem that we can solve with a wifi network” and the answer was “empty the garbage dumpsters when they get full.” It’s a place to find out how people are changing lives with unlicensed wireless technologies, and coordinating better how to get that story told.

For me, it gives meaning to my work. Because what I do doesn’t mean jack unless it actually changes people’s lives. (You can see the speech I gave at the second Summit on Community Wireless here, and here the speech I gave last year here (feel free to skip the intro by Sascha, which contains reference to things that never happened and I was somewhere else at the time so it could not have been me anyway.) But for everyone else, whether you are a policy wonk who wants to see how spectrum policy changes people’s lives, or a technogeek looking for cool toys, or a venture capitalist scouting for the next Big Thing to come out of the weeds, this is the place to be.

Fourth International Summit on Community Wireless Networking
May 28-30
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
1200 New York Ave NW
Washington, DC 20005

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Inventing the Future

You Have Visitors!

I’ve been observing some automated testing of our virtual worlds, and my machine keeps dinging. My teenager said, “Someone’s getting IMs.” Sort of.

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Posted in General, Inventing the Future | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Cablevision’s WiFi Roll Out — A Wireless Plan B?

As I discussed in the context of the Sprint/Clearwire/Etc. spectrum menage (and discussed a bit more with Gordon Cook on his blog), the reality of the post-700 MHz auction world makes it necessary for cable operators to have some kind of wireless strategy if they want to meet the potential next generation competitive threat from either AT&T and Verizon or possibly from newly en-spectrumed DISHTV. At the same time, cable operators are desperate to avoid the downdrag on the their stock that would come from a heavy investment in wireless licenses and further nvestment in infrastructure — especially when analysts don’t give them a prayer of taking on the wireless carriers in what has become a reasonably mature market. How to resolve this difficult dilemma?

Those cable systems with the combination of resources and forethought to address this have opted for different solutions. Comcast, Time Warner and Brighthouse –through their new partnership with Sprint/Clearwire etc. — have flopped back to the old cable standard of joint ventures and strategic investment. (Anyone else remember @Home Network?) Cox went out and won its own set of licenses covering its cable service area, as did Charter parent Vulcan Enterprises (as have a few lesser systems, such as Washington Post owned CableOne, which captured a bunch of licenses in the AWS auction).

Cablevision tried twice to acquire its own set of licenses: first in the AWS Auction in 2006, and again in the 700 Mhz Auction. Both times Cablevision went home empty-handed, outbid by the wireless giants. With no new spectrum on the horizon, and apparently no invite into the Sprint/Clearwire Happy House ‘o WiMax partnership, Cablevision found itself in need of a spectrum “Plan B.” Happily for Cablevision, there is also such a thing as “unlicensed spectrum” which — as I and other boosters of the competitive power of open spectrum continually point out — is available to everyone and cheap to deploy (relative to building a licensed network from scratch).

Hence the recent Cablevision announcement that it will deploy a wifi network in conjunction with its cable network. As a Plan B, it has some real advantages over using licensed spectrum, as well as some potential disadvantages. But given Cablevision’s unique deployment situation — it is primarily located in New York City and Long Island which gives it incredible population density for its relatiely small footprint — this fall back position may work for it where it would not work for other cable companies.

A bit more analysis below . . . .

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