High Noon in North Texas

Now here’s a great story:

Verizon is setting up a Wild West-style telecom showdown by expanding its FiOS network further into territory traditionally held by rival AT&T, says a new report from Information Gatekeepers.

According to IGI, a telecom consulting firm, Verizon’s recent FiOS expansion into areas of northern Texas could mark the first time that one carrier has directly competed with another in its own franchised territory for residential wireline Internet services. Traditionally, Verizon and AT&T have competed with each other primarily for wireless voice and data services, as the companies’ landline businesses have been dependent on architecture that each company has purchased over the years from the original “Baby Bell” companies formed in the wake of AT&T’s breakup in 1984.
Windows Vista: Necessity and Opportunity: Download now

But with Verizon now offering video, voice and data services over its fiber-optic network in AT&T’s home state, IGI says that the telecom industry could be “drastically” changed. In particular, IGI says that Verizon’s decision to “overbuild” its facilities into AT&T’s franchise areas could spark AT&T to begin overbuilding as well, thus turning competition for building out services into a potential “nationwide phenomenon.”

More to come as I dig into the details, but this has the potential to be the story of the decade.

One of the great insults

Brzezinski says to Scarborough: “You have a such stunningly superficial knowledge of what went on it’s almost embarrassing to listen to you.”

I know just how he feels. Larry Lessig’s opinion in Newsweek about a government ministry to make sure “innovation” happens is along the same lines. “Innovation”, which is neither good nor bad, happens when it has to, and the best way for a government to stimulate it is probably to burden businesses with more redtape and mindless regulations, but that’s not good for more reasons than I can count.

Re-naming the FCC isn’t likely to accomplish a great deal, and that’s about all that Lessig actually recommends.

The People’s Movement (for Google)

I did a podcast with the folks at The Technology Liberation Front on Google’s edge-caching system:

This week we saw a new kerfuffle of sorts develop over the revelation in a Monday front-page Wall Street Journal story that Google had approached major cable and phone companies and supposedly proposed to create a fast lane for its own content. What exactly is it that Google is proposing, and does it mean – as the Wall Street Journal and some others have suggested – that Google is somehow going back on their support for Net neutrality principles and regulation? More importantly, what does it all mean for the future of the Internet, network management, and consumers. That’s what we discussed on the TLF’s latest “Tech Policy Weekly” podcast.

Google’s genius at creating a citizen’s movement to boost their bottom line needs more praise, but this is a start.

Holy Moly

Hilda Solis is Obama’s labor pick:

WASHINGTON (AP) — A labor official says Rep. Hilda Solis of California will be nominated as labor secretary by President-elect Barack Obama.

The Democratic congresswoman was just elected to her fifth term representing heavily Hispanic portions of eastern Los Angeles County and east L.A. She is the daughter of Mexican and Nicaraguan immigrants and has been the only member of Congress of Central American descent.

I had the pleasure of working issues with and against Solis when she was in the California State Senate back in the day. Her speciality was “women’s issues” such as child custody and support, the marriage tax, domestic violence, affirmative action, and health care, so this comes as a bit of a surprise. She will be the first cabinet member of my personal acquaintance. Now if she owes me a favor…

Virgin Media serves the people, not the pirates

The Register broke a story today about the plan by the UK’s cable company, Virgin Media, to dump neutrality and target BitTorrent users

The UK’s second largest ISP, Virgin Media, will next year introduce network monitoring technology to specifically target and restrict BitTorrent traffic, its boss has told The Register.

The move will represent a major policy shift for the cable monopoly and is likely to anger advocates of “net neutrality”, who say all internet traffic should be treated equally. Virgin Media currently temporarily throttles the bandwidth of its heaviest downloaders across all applications at peak times, rather than targeting and “shaping” specific types of traffic.

Virgin Media’s CEO Neil Berkett has previously described net neutrality as “a load of bollocks*,” a sentiment that I can relate to if not specifically endorse.

UPDATE: Wired Blogs reports Virgin is denying the veracity of El Reg’s story, but read the world’s finest tech pub tomorrow for the real story. In the meantime, a quick perusal of Virgin’s traffic policy indicates that they already reserve extensive traffic shaping powers.

Blogger Tom Evslin has jumped on the story with some instant analysis. The problem this story causes for American Liberals is cognitive dissonance: Britain is a virtuous European nation with a National Health Service, a leftwing government, and a commitment to the Kyoto Protocol, yet they permit more traffic shaping than the FCC will allow Comcast; this sort of contradiction causes my friends on the left to drink heavily, or to blog obsessively.

*American translation: BS.

My Google piece in The Register

Thanks to the miracle of trans-Atlantic collaborative journalism, here’s my quick take on Google’s caching scheme:

Network Neutrality, the public policy unicorn that’s been the rallying cry for so many many on the American left for the last three years, took a body blow on Sunday with the Wall Street Journal’s disclosure that the movement’s sugar-daddy has been playing both sides of the fence.

The Journal reports that Google “has approached major cable and phone companies that carry Internet traffic with a proposal to create a fast lane for its own content.”

Google claims that it’s doing nothing wrong, and predictably accuses the Journal of writing a hyperbolic piece that has the facts all wrong. It’s essentially correct. Google is doing nothing that Akamai doesn’t already do, and nothing that the ISPs and carriers don’t plan to do to reduce the load that P2P puts on their transit connections.

A lot of questions remain about Google’s public policy flexibility and how wise their server farm strategy has been, and we’ll deal with them as Google answers our questions.

Google Gambles in Casablanca

I’m shocked.

Google has been caught red-handed negotiating deals with ISPs to host servers inside the building, just like Akamai does. The semi-technical press thinks this is some sort of a game-changing event:

The celebrated openness of the Internet — network providers are not supposed to give preferential treatment to any traffic — is quietly losing powerful defenders.

Google Inc. has approached major cable and phone companies that carry Internet traffic with a proposal to create a fast lane for its own content, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Google has traditionally been one of the loudest advocates of equal network access for all content providers.

At risk is a principal [sic] known as network neutrality: Cable and phone companies that operate the data pipelines are supposed to treat all traffic the same — nobody is supposed to jump the line.

Oh my goodness, where do I begin? Google already has a fast lane to most Internet users today thanks to their network of mega-data centers around the world, which I’ve written and spoken about at some length. These systems are wired directly to public Internet exchange points in high population areas and effectively move Google’s traffic to a higher priority than all but three competing routes: Akamai’s servers hosted inside ISP premises, Limelight’s private network wired directly to ISP networks, and the ISPs’ own content. Google’s desire to host servers (or routers, it could be either) inside ISP networks is a move calculated to improve on the ROI on the existing network of server farms and to blunt the Akamai advantage. It makes more sense to wire directly to the ISPs through private arrangements than to stress the public Internet infrastructure any further.

One thing that this deal doesn’t do is change the Internet infrastructure. Arrangements like this already exist, predating the kerfuffle over fast lanes created out of thin air by public interest advocates three years ago.

The Internet is not a network, it’s a complex set of agreements to interconnect independently owned and operated networks in various ways. There is no standard agreement, and this story doesn’t report on a new one. What it simply shows is that money buys performance in the technology space, and that should come as no surprise to anyone. Google has to do something like this to avoid being clobbered by ISP-friendly P4P as well as by Akamai.

Yes, Virginia, network neutrality is a myth, and it always has been.

UPDATE: Google’s response to the WSJ piece does nothing but muddy the waters. Net Neutrality advocates have insisted on a wall of separation between content and infrastructure, and this deal, if it happens, brings down that wall. I’m happy with that, because I don’t see the prohibition on expedited delivery as a good thing. But Google should admit they’ve come around to my way of thinking about the Internet instead of insisting nothing has changed. See my write-up in The Register.

UPDATE 2: The spin that Google’s supporters are producing around this issue is a marvel for those of us who appreciate the major league curveball. This subtle piece of nuanced distinction by Dave Isenberg deserves some sort of prize:

The concern of Network Neutrality advocates is not with access but with delivery. The fear is that Internet connection providers would charge for expedited delivery of certain content to the end user, and in so doing would put themselves in the business of classifying which content gets enhanced delivery.

Wow. Caching speeds up delivery, otherwise there would be no reason to do it. Google has paid for expedited delivery of its content in effect, regardless of the spin. What counts is bits on the wire, and Google is out to ensure theirs are better situated than yours are.

Don’t be fooled by the spin, this is a distinction without a difference.

Technorati Tags: ,

Bye bye G1

After suffering with the Google phone for 4 weeks, I took it back to T-Mobile yesterday (the contract says you only have 14 days, but I live in California where the time limit on an upgrade return is 30 days.) Jeff Turner describes the G1 appropriately: Like Windows 2.0, it’s good enough that you can tell it’s going to become the standard some day, but it’s not really usable in its present form. The main gripes I had with it are, in no particular order: poor battery life, dropped calls, a crappy Bluetooth implementation, unusable e-mail, a pathetic keypad, and a dearth of applications. My previous phone was a Blackberry Curve, which did everything that it did extremely well; if the Curve could do 3G I’d have got a replacement for the one I lost in London. But it doesn’t, so I’ve gone to a Sony Ericsson TM506, a feature phone that does phone things extremely well, has a built-in GPS (that doesn’t seem to work very well) and may possibly be used as a modem to tether a laptop to the 3G network (that feature seems to be controversial as Sony Ericsson supports it and T-Mobile may not; see update below.)

It’s basically a stop-gap until there’s a competent Blackberry for T-Mobile’s 3G network, which unfortunately uses oddball frequencies in the US.

The G1 has a high return rate owing to the generally pathetic implementation of Android by HTC. And I also don’t like sharing all the information about my personal life that Google wants. But that’s another story.

It’s clear the the iPhone has changed the game for mobile devices and the entrenched cell phone suppliers are struggling to catch up. I don’t doubt that Apple will continue to dominate the mobile device space for at least the next year or two, so I may just have to accede to reality and jump on that bandwagon.

UPDATE: Tethering works, I get close to 800Kbps at home, the Bluetooth limit, but the quota is pathetic: 100 MB/mo, and that’s not going to last long. Presumably, it downgrades to EDGE when the 3G quota is exhausted. The phone doesn’t have a standard USB connector, so I tethered over Bluetooth using the very nice PC Suite from Sony-Ericsson. It guides you through the Bluetooth hookup and makes accessing the Internet through the phone a point-and-click operation, even on a Mac.

It’s nice to use stuff that’s well engineered, isn’t oversold, and actually works, (except for that GPS, which must be defective on my phone.) including the GPS.

The 100MB/mo quota for $20 for the TM506 makes no sense compared to the 10GB/mo they sell for $25 to G1 customers unless Google is paying a subsidy to T-Mobile. If they are, Steve Jobs must be laughing all the way to the bank.

Why Kevin Martin was throwing things and cussing today

A cable guy saved a few lives today:

When Jorge Rivera saw thick, black smoke force a woman to drop a young girl from the top floor of a Silver Spring apartment building, he did not hesitate to act. The Comcast repairman pulled over, yanked the ladder off his truck and ran to rescue those still trapped by the fire.

By the time firefighters arrived, Rivera had helped about six people escape the blaze, which injured two people and displaced a dozen families yesterday morning. “It was nothing,” Rivera said. “I got two kids at home. If they were somewhere burning, what would you do?”

After the obligatory press interviews, he continued on down the street to hook some people up. Harold Feld then resigned from the Media Access Project.