Inventing the Future

Olivia’s Balls

Olivia, the Worlds Cutest DogHow often have I felt that I had to create Z, but before doing that I had to build Y. And of course before doing either, I really needed to find out how X affected either. This evil has many forms: feature creep, analysis paralysis, and so forth. I know it’s crap when other people do this, but every single time it comes up for me, I’m absolutely certain that this time it really is Important And Necessary to do all this other stuff first before the task at hand.

I’m as dumb as my dog.

That is, I’m every bit as steadfastly earnest in my insistence that it really does all have to be done, and I’m just as wrong.

Olivia is, by all accounts the world’s coolest and cutest English Cocker Spaniel. I’m confident about this because the title used to be held by our previous English Cocker Spaniel, Oliver.

It was hot this week. My daughter selected a few dozen of the balls that Olivia had carefully secreted under and within the couches, chairs, and china cabinet. My daughter then threw them into the pool, all at once. Olivia jumped in and got the first ball. She nestled it in her ample lips, looked with her Cocker’s eyes at the edge of the pool, and then swam with the first ball earnestly to the second. On reaching the second, she carefully spit out the first — leaving it where she could find it, right there in the pool — and took the second one in her mouth. A sound plan. She swam with the second to the third, and with consideration offered the second ball to that spot in the water before depriving that space of the third ball. Then she went to the fourth ball…

I think Olivia has shown me the single most common and important danger in all creative enterprises.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

AT&T and XM/Sirius to Get More Spectrum Online? And What Does It Mean for LTE In The U.S.

Every now and then, spectrum licensees do something so sensible it actually seems possible that Coase was right about all that rational actor stuff.   So it is with AT&T’s recent joint submission with XM Sirius on how to resolve the long-standing interference fight between the Satellite Radio licensees (“SDARS,” for reasons we won’t get into now), and the “wireless communications Service” (WCS) licensees. You can read a general summary over here and the AT&T/XMSirius letter here.

Briefly, the deal protects XM Sirius from possible interference by sacrificing some spectrum right next to it. This will mostly shaft a company called Nextwave. But AT&T is taking enough of a haircut on its theoretical spectrum rights to deflect the argument that it is trying to benefit itself solely at the expense of others. And while Comcast (also a licensee here) might try to slow things up as a favor to its new BFF VZ Wireless, that seems unlikely. Since this plan appears the only path forward for getting this spectrum into productive use, I expect the FCC will approve it. Hopefully the FCC will approve it quickly, because it will take a lot of work to develop equipment for the band.

AT&T deserves credit for working with XMSirius on this and coming up with something positive and pragmatic rather than continuing the endless cycle of blame between satellite radio and WCS licenses. On the other hand, like the current AT&T effort to refarm its 2G spectrum for 4G, AT&T had to be pushed into it kicking and screaming by denying it the right to buy out T-Mo. This should also emphasize the next direction for the wireless industry: more efficient multiband radios. The Future of LTE is a multiband future (with the exception of Verizon Wireless). Robust technologies like the TV White Spaces will, as predicted by TVWS advocates, play an increasingly important role in licensed technologies as well.

More below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The ITU, WCIT and Internet Freedom

Very few people ever heard of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) until recently – and with good reason. For more than 100 years, the ITU managed quite nicely serving as the forum for countries and telecom carriers to coordinate insanely-technical-mind-numbingly-boring-but-really-really-important stuff related to making the phone network work internationally, distributing satellite slots, and trying to harmonize what frequencies countries allocate to what services. But now the ITU has suddenly become very interesting. Why? Because the ITU members will hold a rare meeting — the World Conference on International Communications (WCIT) – where the 193 member countries will vote on whether to amend the current ITU rules (“ITRs”) that set the framework for all this extremely important boringness.

Unclear for now – especially in the pre-game – is whether and how the WCIT represents a potential threat to freedom of expression online. I recently had an argument with Professor Milton Mueller (see the comments section of this post on the IGP blog) about this. Milton’s central thesis is that the recent hysteria about the ITU “taking over the Internet” is overblown and that this is just about how carriers negotiate payments. This has been interpreted by some to mean that civil society organizations concerned with free expression online ought to stop fretting about fleets of UN black helicopters seizing the DNS rootservers and relocating them to ITU Headquarters in Geneva.

For a number of reasons, I strongly disagree with this assessment.  Even without the concern that the ITU will somehow “take over the Internet,” certain WCIT proposals advanced by a number of regimes that engage in Internet censorship threaten the future of free expression online. These proposals, from the Russian Federation and several Arab states, would for the first time explicitly embrace the concept that governments have a right to control online communications and disrupt Internet access services. This would reverse the trend of the last few years increasingly finding that such actions violate fundamental human rights – a valuable tool in trying to pressure repressive regimes to stop using such tactics.

More below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

FCC Special Access Reboot — And AT&T’s Somewhat Disingenuous Response

Good news, the FCC has decides to one again reboot its seven year old proceeding on “special access.” Given that I have been flogging the FCC since 2006 to do something about this, with occasional reminders since then, I am obviously pleased. AT&T, one of the chief beneficiaries of the current deregulated monopoly regime, is less pleased.  AT&T’s chief argument against the FCC denying it yet another rate hike and demanding AT&T and the other telcos fork over data critical to determining if they are charging monopoly rents is: “Why you bringing up old stuff?”

This is not exactly the pinnacle of legal reasoning or persuasive policy. But in AT&T’s defense, when it’s all you got you make the best of it. Bob Quinn does a masterful job of portraying this as being about legacy copper phone bits that don’t matter anymore and that somehow the FCC taking action here is distracting us all collectively from building the super cool uber fast Gigabit networks we need and would build if only the FCC would let us buy T-Mobile. Or something.

As I explain, however, this isn’t some musty old copper no one gives a crap about, but a rather critical bit of infrastructure generating between $18-20 billion annually and impacting pretty much every aspect of mobile communications and broadband access. And with the cable operators about to become total BFFs with Verizon, what little competition that exists in the special access market appears ready to disappear altogether.

I explain below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Turning Off The Phone System? What Do You Mean We’re Turning Off The Phone System?

A few weeks ago I went to a fascinating gathering of a few dozen academics, policy wonks, and others from the U.S.  and elsewhere to talk about the end of the phone system. While by no means a unanimous consensus, a very solid majority considered the phone system obsolete and ready for the scrap heap. This will come as a surprise to those of you who called home on Mother’s Day or who thanked God for a call center number when your broadband connection went down. But in fact, most of you are probably not using a phone service but a “phone service,” so we are half-way to shutting down the actual phone system anyway.

 

For about a year now, folks in the nerdiest, geekiest, obscurest reaches of Policyland and Wonkdom have been talking about how to turn off the phone service and replace it with “phone service.” For those of you enjoying “phone service” from the likes of cable companies or cell phone providers, you may wonder why this matters. Sure, Grandma may finally need to replace that princess phone, but other than that, who cares? As is so often the case, however, these technical issues matter quite a bit in the real world – but you won’t notice until waaaay too late to make a difference. (Unless you keep abreast of these things by reading this blog.)

 

In the best case scenario, we shift over to an all digital network free from antiquated laws and policies that stifle innovation and needlessly increase cost to consumers. In the worst case scenario, your phone becomes an utterly unreliable overpriced service that doesn’t guarantee that you can communicate with someone on another phone network because the two networks are having a “peering dispute” and won’t exchange traffic. What actually happens is anyone’s guess at this point, but the recent effort to totally deregulate “phone service” in California gives us something of a preview.

 

More below . . . .

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Inventing the Future

API Copyrightability in Oracle America [sic] v Google

Judge Alsup announced his findings on copyright as an order in the Oracle vs Google case. I’m surprised that I haven’s seen any discussion in my usual social channels. I can’t imagine why not.

The narrow conclusion is that the Java API is not protectable by copyright.

I found the judge’s order to be extraordinarily clear and free of legal jargon. I felt that he very much intended it to be read and understood by people in my field. You can read it yourself at Grocklaw

The principle seems to be that useful activity comes under the domain of patent law rather than copyright law.

  • Copyright asserts a monopoly for 95 years without any decision or action or finding by the government, but only applies to non-essential creative activity, and only to a single fixed expression of that creativity. It never covers the ideas behind that expression, methods of operation, or names.
  • Patent grants a monopoly for only 20 years, and only after an examination by a government agent, but it can cover useful methods of operation, beyond the specific embodiment being commercially protected.

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