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 | Also tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

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 . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

A Must Attend for Community Wireless Networking

Below the surface, where policy makers rarely go, live the community wireless networkers. They don’t have billions in capitalization, they don’t lay miles of fiber, and they don’t have spectrum licenses. Heck, most aren’t even commercial organizations. Many of them are collections of volunteers, or non-profit organizations. The commercial ones are usually small businesses, embedded in their comunities, trying a run a business in a responsible manner rather than dreaming of huge IPOs.

But the community wireless networks (CWN) change people’s lives every day. They bring broadband connectivity to neighborhoods that can’t afford it and the rural areas that the big boys ignore. They are the development lab of innovation for networking. From open source mesh to solar powered transmitters to “cantenna”-type reuse and recycling of available parts, you can find folks playing with these in community wireless networks.

The Third International Summit for Community Wireless will take place in Columbia, MD at Loyolla Colege on May 18-20. It represents an unparalleled oppotunity to find out what is going on not just here in the U.S., but in other countries as well. This is the place to find out how people confronting the “digital divide” in the trenches are finding solutions in places that the largest companies don’t want to service. Whether it’s how to keep cows from knocking down your towers or how to make sure a local project stays local and sustainable, you’ll find people talking about it here.

I plan to be there. I know a lot of great people listed in the press release reproduced below plan to come as well. If you’re smart, you will as well.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Inventing the Future

Inventing the Future: connectivity and freedom

My dear friend John, whose generosity and interests drive this site, has said something in comment to this entry, which I just have to call him on:

“The more everything ties together the more we are open for invasion. But the Paris Hiltons of the world seem to embrace the great borgification, the assimilation into the overmind, in which notions such as autonomy and privacy are not so much quaint as incomprehensible.”

Whoa, there buddy! You’re going to have to explain why tying stuff together makes it more open to invasion. Ever try to invade a strawberry thicket? There’s good design and bad design (with respect to various desirable or undesirable effects), but I see no reason that a good interconnected design is any more pervious then a bunch of isolated stuff. In fact, in my admittedly limited understanding of military and tech. security history, the concepts of “defense in depth” and “divide and conquer” suggest to me that interconnected stuff (if done right) may be inherently safer.

Besides, I’m touchy-feely enough that I just plain like the idea of interconnectedness (done right) being not only safer, but freer and more open and enabling, not more oppressive. Croquet architect David Smith just attended the International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security in Madrid. They have produced a document that begins to articulate how I happen to feel. It is called The Infrastructure of Democracy.

I had a conversation with someone at the University here about architecting Croquet – or a class of Croquet applications – so that the infrastructure can be centrally controlled. By the University, by a consortium of universities or what have you. “This is wrong,” I thought. If you design it so that the whole thing – the very infrastructure — can be controlled by you, then it will be controlled, but not by you. Either Croquet will be a success or it won’t, and if it is a success, then the Elephant in the Hallway, Microsoft, will come along and control their version. Or some government, or terrorists, or whatever bad guys haunt your anxiety closet.

I’ve recently learned from some folks in the tech security community that security is weakened when you rely on prohibiting that which you cannot prevent. Systems fail, so design your system to fail gracefully. Connectivity is abused, so design your systems to respond to it. Openness and interconnectivity are powerful tools for dealing with the attacks we cannot prevent.

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