Tales of the Sausage Factory

White Spaces Lurches Forward Again. OET Issues Good But Weird Proposal.

Over a year ago, the FCC took a major leap forward on deployment of broadband and rethinking our national spectrum policy by voting to open the unused broadcast channels for unlicensed use (aka the “broadcast white spaces”). The Order left a bunch of questions unanswered, such as who would run the proposed database of available frequencies for white space use. Petitions for Recon got filed, lots of requests for revision and modification of the rules got made, and then nothing happened.

In fairness to OET, it’s been a busy year. First there was a change in administration, then it was “all DTV all the time” until the magic June 12 deadline. Then it was bringing on a new FCC Chair and two additional new Commissioners. Then it was “National Broadband Plan all the time.” But still, it was with a tremendous sense of relief that the process had not utterly vanish off the FCC’s radar screen that I saw the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology release a Public Notice on the database. At last! We can get moving on this again, and hopefully move forward on the most promising ‘disruptive’ technology currently in the hopper.

And move we are, in a very peculiar fashion. Rather than resolve the outstanding questions about how the database provider will collect money, operate the database, or whether the database will be exclusive or non-exclusive, the Public Notice asks would-be database managers to submit proposals that would cover these issues. Further, parties have until January 4, 2010 to submit proposals. The FCC will take comment from members of the public on the proposals a month later.

I label this approach “good, but weird.” On the one hand, this seems to my non-engineering and well ordered mind to be totally backwards. How the heck can anyone tell if they want to manage the database when they don’t even know what the requirements are. On the other hand, this basically accomplishes the same thing by having would-be operators that have been pestering the FCC to resolve the matter and trying to get the FCC to adopt rules that favor their own technology/business model a chance to stop pretending that these rules are neutral and the opportunity to make their pitch directly to the FCC. It also cuts down on the number of steps until we actually have a functioning database and can start deploying the technology. Finally, having just gone back and looked at the 2008 Order, the FCC was fairly explicit (Par. 221) that this was always the plan.

And, as usual, I really wish the FCC would not sit around taking months to decide things and then want an immediate response out of us poor public interest folks with our limited resources.

But on the whole, I’m very happy indeed.

More below . . .

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Posted in Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Fragmentation Games: Playstation Gets “Boxeed,” TV Anywhere Gets More Content.

In the latest twist in the broadband fragmentation games driven the overlap of MVPDs and broadband access providers, users of PlayStation 3 can no longer access Hulu. As some may recall, Hulu tried a similar trick with Boxee.tv, resulting in a good old fashioned tech arms race wherein Boxee camouflaged itself as browser and Hulu responded by encrypting html.

Now Hulu has shut off the spigot to Playstation 3. Why? As I noted when Hulu pulled this on Boxee in the spring, the people who make money off the existing video subscription model (both the cable operators like Comcast and the content holders like NBC Universal) really dislike the thought of streaming media actually competing with them. As long as video stayed on the laptop and occasionally stopped to buffer, it didn’t really threaten the established business models. But make it possible to watch streaming media on your regular TV, with a quality practically equal to what you get on cable, and it becomes a very disruptive technology.

Playstation 3 and other game consoles are obvious candidates to disrupt the existing business model. They already plug into your television set, you are very familiar with the controls, and the manufacturers are always expanding the capabilities of the units to make them more “media centers” and less “game centers.” Like Boxee, they represent a real threat by making it possible for me to stream online content effortlessly on my TV and watch in exactly the same way I watch anything else.

Meanwhile, Time Warner and Comcast have found lots of other content networks eager to join the “Entitlement Program.” This initiative appears to be gathering critical mass very rapidly, which is not too surprising. While some of the bigger folks like Disney may hold out to see how they can maximize their return, the midsized players anxious about possible changes to the business model are likely to want to get in while the getting is good.

To conclude, what we have here is not anything obvious or dramatic. It is a few more ripples in the pond, indicating where the big fish swim. Any one of the “fragmentation games” incidents I’ve discussed, for example the ESPN360.com business which has been slowly ratcheting up to include more ISPs, is not necessarily significant on its own. Taken together, however, I see a pattern emerging that tells me where the fun and games will happen over the next few years. Heck, at this point, I’m not even sure what policy prescription I would offer. I just know that I’m seeing a bunch of ripples that might be nothing. Or it might be bunch of salmon and a great place to cast a line. Or it might be a school of piranha and I need to be very careful before wading in.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Inventing the Future

Low res or no res?

I sometimes get asked about Croquet for computing devices with lower graphics capability, such as today’s phone/PDA/iPods. I think the train of thought is that there’s so much in Croquet that could be valuable independently of the immersive 3D environment, so shouldn’t that part be available on lesser machines?

I feel it is only worthwhile to initially build Croquet – all of Croquet and only one Croquet – on machines with the best commonly available graphics capability and also on those with no visual capability whatsoever!

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Posted in Brie, Inventing the Future | Also tagged , | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Tales of the Sausage Factory: CUWIN Makes Cool Device

The good folks at the Champaign Urbana Wireless Network have just relased a very cool open source program that, when attached to a device built with components you cna buy in any electronic store, become a node in a mesh network. For less that a grand, you can “unwire” a whole neighborhood. Their press release is reprinted below.

The great significance of this from a Sausage Factory point of view is that federal policy in this area is completely unprepared for the ability of a few folks ona shoe string to develop a new, disruptive technology. Spectrum policy is usually about big companies or well financed start ups. The “two guys in the garage” model is not usual in spectrum, because it is so tightly regulated. That unlicensed spectrum and open source free people to do this sort of thing is yet another good argument for more unlicensed spectrum.

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Inventing the Future

Inventing the Future: shared persistence

The real-time collaboration in Croquet is cool. It provides a very different way of structuring applications that will allow things that nothing else can. The croquet team is working hard on this aspect. But we’re just begining to consider the implications of shared persistence. I think this is just as radical in itself, and will inspire truly extroadinary software when combined with Croquet’s other aspects.

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Posted in Inventing the Future | Also tagged | 2 Comments (Comments closed)
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