Influencing the political process for advancment of technology

Ken Camp is an interesting guy. He recognizes that net neutrality is a “fabricated issue” but he still wants to advise “netheads” to make more influential contributions to the political process:

That isn’t the only place the Bellheads win. Look to political process. I’ve oveen wondered about our own ranks. Jeff Pulver. David Isenberg. Tom Evslin. Several others. Leading voices fighting the battle from without rather than stepping into the political fray of politics to redirect the system from within. If we’re going to win some measure of control away from the Bellheads, there is only one way. The political power base needs to shift. Netheads have to become the influeinfluencerslicy, something we are clearly not today.

Why help them?

Allow me to digress. I don’t like the distinction between Bellheads and Netheads. I’ve worked with people from the Bell companies who’ve made heavy contributions to the networking standards and protocols that we all use today in and around the Internet. One example is the twisted-pair Ethernet standards, which started with something called StarLAN that initially came from AT&T IS. The bellheads understand networking – how to move data through the tubes efficiently – much better than the netheads, who are mainly concerned with what to put in and what to take out.

The people he mentions – Jeff Pulver, David Isenberg, Tom Evslin – are actually quite naive about the operational dynamics of packet processing, forwarding, queue management, error recovery, routing table management, and the other crucial aspects of network operations. They’re marketing people, not engineers.

They approach politics in the same way they approach network engineering, by formulating fanciful simplifications and then trying to influence the process as they would like it to be rather than as it is.

And that’s fortunate for all of us, because the worst nightmare for users of the Internet would be to subject it to the whims of philistine, dilettante regulators.

Network engineering is a tough subject that requires a great deal of study to crack. Political lobbying isn’t nearly as hard, but it takes a lot of time to perfect, as politics is largely based on trust. Developing relationships takes a long time and a long attention span, and that’s a good thing as it weeds out most of the people who shouldn’t be involved in it. I learned that the hard way, by lobbying my state legislature a weekly basis for three years while holding a full-time job. with a major supplier of networking equipment.

5 thoughts on “Influencing the political process for advancment of technology”

  1. Richard, didn’t know if you’d make it back to see my response to yout thoughtful comments or not, so I dropped over here. I’ll copy my comment from those comments back here. I confess that I don’t often talk to people I feel really understand the nuance of all the technical, social and political issues surrounding the evolution of telecom-related technologies. As a result, I often shoot from the hip, and my thoughts don’t come out fully developed or quite as intended. The post you commented on is surely one of those. Anyway, here’s what I said over there.

    First to Netheads and Bellheads. I agree the terms both carry negative connotations. But they’re well understood. I could have said circuit-switchers and packet-switchers, but that’s less valid. I could have said “telecommuncations industry” (even using legacy) and ISPs, but that’s not really valid and overlooks all the CLECs crushed by the telcos. I picked those terms because they create a specific perception, although you’re right, I could have done better.

    Interesting also because I don’t know which I am 17 years with AT&T living through divestiture firsthand. Really odd because I built and managed the largest StarLAN anyone had ever seen on the planet for a time. Yes, 1 Mbps coaxial. Back in the day. I’ve been a system architect for voice and dat netwotrks, packet and circuit. I full appreciate Erlang-B traffic measures, the busy hour and the nuance of voice systems, but I’ve designed global packet networks too. In a sense I am neither Bellhead or Nethead, or some hybrid of the two in some fashion.

    I agree that today the people I mentioned, Jeff Pulver, David Isenberg and Tom Evslin are as much mouthpieces and marketers of a cause as anything else. Although David did work in a technical role in Bell Labs years ago. I use them as examples of voices crying out for change. And I feel they sometimes cry out too much rather than bring about change by engaging in the process. That was my real point.

    Technologist who view the big picture and see through the sham of net neutrality and such, need to be encouraged to act as influencers in the politics of the telecommunications environment more. The telcos of old know how to influence politics to their benefit. They do it every day. The “other side,” (are they the progressives of technologoy with the major telcos being the fundamentalists?), seems too often to try and influence change by talking louder. We, the “Netheads” for lack of a better term, doa lousy job of teaching courting, and leading the political power base where we want them to be. It seems to easy to stand on the sidelines of politics and shriek “you just don’t get it” in their direction. Easier than engaging and changing how they think.

    Ok,it’s still early here and I haven’t quite worked ou tmy thoughts. Need more coffee and have a meeting to run to. I want to think on this some more. One of these days I’ll articulate my thoughts more clearly.

    Thanks again for taking the time to comment and give me something to noodle around with. I really appreciate it.

  2. Over at NewsForge, James Glass offered a remarkable insight:

    It turns out that we have a privately owned and controlled network all around us, one that closely mirrors the technical functionality of the Internet, but where there has never been a requirement for net neutrality: the US cellular phone network.

    Almost all cell phones sold in the developed world have the ability to send and receive SMS (short message service) text messages. SMS is gaining popularity in the US, but only as a way to send quick messages to friends. So why aren’t there a wealth of amazing and interactive services available for mobile devices? Why is there no MySpace, Craigslist, Amazon, Flikr, or eBay accessible through this network? Why are cell phone payment systems and email systems nearly nonexistent? Why haven’t charities raised money or awareness of their causes through this system?

    It’s simple. Because the cell phone carriers control what services are allowed to use their networks. There is no net neutrality on the cell phone network.

    Preee-cisely. And that’s what the future holds for the American Internet should the duopoly get its way.

  3. Yeah, and I told him this:

    This article claims ISPs are required by law to treat traffic from all web sites the same, according to some mystical legal principle called “network neutrality”. This is a complete fabrication. While the FCC signed a consent decree forbidding DSL provider Madison River from blocking access to Vonage, and subsequently issued a set of “four freedoms” of broadband access, there is no requirement down at the packet level to treat all traffic the same. There is also no mention of anything called “net neutrality” in any of the RFCs or in the Federal Codes.

    As there is no such requirement today, there can hardly be a bill pending in Congress to make it go away. There is a pair of bills that actually codify the Four Freedoms and make it clear that the FCC can in fact regulate against blocking (and several other offenses) on pain of fines up to $750,000 per infraction, but net neutrality advocates oppose both measures (the Barton bill and the Stevens bill.)

    This article is no more credible than a Nigerian dictator spam.

    The apparent basis of this fantasy is the new status of DSL under law per the Brand X case and the FCC’s reclassification of DSL last summer. Cable Internet access, to the extent that it’s ever had a regulatory status, has been regulated as an information service, immune from open access requirements. The FCC ruled last summer that it made no sense for DSL to be regulated on a different basis, so it made them both the same. So the open access rule goes away for DSL in September, whether the Congress acts or not.

    Cable broadband has better market share, lower cost per unit of bandwidth, and higher top-end speed than DSL. That’s what de-regulation does for you.

    This Glass character is a phony.

    This pseudonymous writer is fibbing. The cellphone network’s functionality is vastly different from that the Internet.

  4. Ken, here’s the comment I left on your site:

    The StarLAN I worked with used telephone wire, I wasn’t aware of a coax variation. There was a big debate over wiring in the committee, and we desired to focus on twisted pair exclusively.

    I think most of the networking debates today are over the people who see the Internet as a black box or “magic cloud” that simply exists to support web sites, and those who see it as a network that can be engineered in principle to support any type of application. Isenberg and Farber aren’t really addressing the same questions.

    I wouldn’t say the webheads – my term for netheads – have been ineffectual in influencing legislation. They’ve managed to hold up the Stevens bill with a completely ridiculous set of objections and forestalled any reasonable consideration of the aspects of the bill that really do deserve more scrutiny. They’re affecting the system, but not in a good way.

  5. Thanks Richard. I don’t want to paste the response I just left back here as I feel like I’m spamming duplication. I just skimmed the comments about SMS and need to read them thoroughly and go check that other link mentioned.

    SMS is so interesting because in many ways it demonstrates how backward we are in the US, especially the adult population. When SMS takes off here, it wll be huge. It’s already a huge global market with revenues that the IM folks just won’t ever see.

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