Check out my New Blog

I’ve got a new technology blog called High Tech Forum where I publish news and analysis of technology developments that affect networking and communications.

It’s a multi-user enterprise, so I’m happy to run articles by others, regardless of point of view, as long as they’re informative. It’s not a policy-oriented blog, it’s a “just the facts, ma’am” blog. So far I’ve got articles by Larry Roberts and Chuck Jackson, so you could be next.

Explaining the Price Gap

This is old news to those of you who read the other sources of broadband politics news on the new-fangled world wide computernet, but the esteemed Saul Hansell (a sometime reader of this blog) has released the second part of his analysis of American broadband, addressing the pricing issue. Broadband is cheaper in other countries due to subsidies and differences in demographics, but also because of unbundling, the practice of requiring carriers to offer wholesale access to their customers:

Unbundling can be seen as a slightly disguised form of price regulation. Profits dropped. Many of the new entrants have found it difficult to build sustainable businesses, while margins for the incumbent phone companies have been squeezed as well.

It’s not exactly clear, however, that this approach is in the public’s long-term interest. Phone companies have less incentive to invest and upgrade their networks if they are going to be forced to share their networks.

Some argue that this is the main reason that there is little investment in bringing fiber to homes in Europe. “Investing in fiber is a huge risk,” Kalyan Dasgupta, a London-based consultant with LECG, wrote me in an e-mail, “and the prospect of taking that risk alone, but having to ’share’ the rewards with other players, is not a prospect that most rational businesses would consider.”

Britain, which has been the biggest proponent of line sharing, has decided to deregulate the wholesale price BT can charge for fiber, so long as it doesn’t favor its own brand of Internet service.

Like any form of price control, unbundling produces short-term gains in access diversity at the expense of long-term investment. Adopting this approach ultimately requires the government to bear the cost of infrastructure improvements, as it ceases to be a rational use of investor dollars to build out enhancements that don’t produce substantial returns in a non-monopoly market. Many of the folks seeking net neutrality regard broadband as a utility, and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we treat it that way, that’s that it becomes.

Just as our electric utility networks include less-efficient generating plants that belch excessive amounts of CO2 into the air because the regulators won’t approve rate hikes to pay replacement costs, so too will price-capping broadband stifle innovation in transport networks.

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Debunking the Broadband Gap

Today we learn, via Saul Hansell at Bits Blog, that the US isn’t as far behind the Rest of the World with broadband as was previously thought:

Even without any change in government policies, Internet speeds in the United States are getting faster. Verizon is wiring half its territory with its FiOS service, which strings fiber optic cable to people’s homes. FiOS now offers 50 Mbps service and has the capacity to offer much faster speeds. As of the end of 2008, 4.1 million homes in the United States had fiber service, which puts the United States right behind Japan, which has brought fiber directly to 8.2 million homes, according to the Fiber to the Home Council. Much of what is called fiber broadband in Korea, Sweden and until recently Japan, only brings the fiber to the basement of apartment buildings or street-corner switch boxes.

Actual download speeds are more important that raw signaling rates: The United States has an average speed of 5.2 Mbps, Japan is 16.7 Mbps, Sweden was 8.8 Mbps, and Korea averaged 7.2 Mbps. There’s a gap alright, but it’s not nearly as large as we’ve been lead to believe.

In fact, the gap is entirely consistent with population density and the extent of government subsidies.

I’ll see you at eComm

I’ll be speaking at the eComm2009: Emerging Communications Conference in San Francisco next week:

The world’s leading-edge telecom, Internet communications and mobile innovation event built to both showcase and accelerate innovation; and to explore radical new opportunities – together.

eComm deals with the Telco 2.0 world in which telephony is software and networks are multi-purpose and agile. A lot of great minds and influential movers and shakers will be converging in this space, including Martin Geddes, Doc Searls, Brough Turner, Brad Templeton, and Rick Whitt, so I highly recommend it.

Brough is moderating my panel, called Spectrum 2.0, on the move to release more unlicensed spectrum. I suspect we’ll touch on the 802.11y-style spectrum sharing etiquettes since Peter Ecclesine is on the panel, and the White Spaces issue since Whitt will be there as well.

Welcome Brett Glass

The following post is from our new co-blogger, Brett Glass. Brett and I first crossed paths when we were working on the “Skywalker” token-ring project at Texas Instruments in the early 80s. Brett was part of the team in Houston doing the chipset, and I worked on a team on Austin doing a terminal server application for it. We both spoke at an ITIF event in Washington, DC, last spring on network management. He’s been a valuable commenter here for a while, and I’m very happy to have him contributing posts as well. Here’s his bio: Continue reading “Welcome Brett Glass”

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.

This blog is an INTJ

Via Andy Sullivan, I found a service that analyzes and types blog content, Typealyzer. Here’s what it says about my blog:

The long-range thinking and individualistic type. They are especially good at looking at almost anything and figuring out a way of improving it – often with a highly creative and imaginative touch. They are intellectually curious and daring, but might be pshysically hesitant to try new things.

The Scientists enjoy theoretical work that allows them to use their strong minds and bold creativity. Since they tend to be so abstract and theoretical in their communication they often have a problem communcating their visions to other people and need to learn patience and use conrete examples. Since they are extremly good at concentrating they often have no trouble working alone.

Sounds about right, but they do need some spell-checking.

Technology Liberation Front is the same type, but Harold Feld’s Wetmachine post on the FCC’s cable inquiry is an INTP:

The logical and analytical type. They are especialy attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.

Again, about right.

UPDATE: Harold’s Tales of the Sausage Factory is, in general, INTJ.

Obama transition team member Susan Crawford is ENTJ:

The direct and assertive type. They are especially attuned to the big picture and how to get things done. They are talented strategic planners, but might come off as insensitive to others needs and appear arrogant. They like to be where the action is and like making bold and sweeping changes in complex situations.

The Executives are happy when their work let them learn and improve themselves and how things work around them. Not beeing very shy about expressing their ideas and often very outgoing they often make excellent public speakers.

That public speaker thing is obviously correct; I met her when we were both speaking on the future of broadband at Kevin Werbach’s Supernova. Kevin, the other Obama FCC transitioner, is INTP.

Thirty Profiles

Dave Burstein of DSL Prime has posted profiles of 30 FCC candidates to his web site, including one transition team member:

Susan Crawford, now teaching at Michigan, also has enormous respect from her peers and would bring international perspective from her role at ICANN setting world Internet policy

The selection of Crawford to join Kevin Werbach on the FCC transition team has already gotten some of my colleagues on the deregulatory side pretty excited, as she has the image of being a fierce advocate of a highly-regulated Internet. And indeed, she has written some strong stuff in favor of the “stupid network” construct that demands all packets be treated as equals inside the network. The critics are missing something that’s very important, however: both Werbach and Crawford are “Internet people” rather than “telecom people” and that’s a very important thing. While we may not like Crawford’s willingness to embrace a neutral routing mandate in the past, the more interesting question is how she comes down on a couple of issues that trump neutral routing, network management and multi-service routing.

We all know by now that the network management exception is more powerful than Powell’s “Four Freedoms” where the rubber meets the road, but we lack any clear guidance to ISPs as to how their management practices will be evaluated. Clarification of the rules is as much a benefit to carriers as it is to consumers. The one way to ensure that we all lose is to keep lumbering along in the murk of uncertain authority and secret rules. Internet people are going to ask the right questions to their candidates, and anybody who can satisfy both Werbach and Crawford will have to be a good choice. Check Werbach’s web site for his papers. Unfotunately, the most interesting of them is not yet in print, “The Centripetal Network: How the Internet Holds Itself Together, and the Forces Tearing it Apart”, UC Davis Law Review, forthcoming 2008. Perhaps he’ll post a draft.

The question of multi-service routing is also very important. Crawford has written and testified to the effect that the Internet is the first global, digital, multi-service network, which is substantially correct. The Internet is not fully multi-service today, however, and can’t be unless it exposes multiple service levels at the end points for applications to use easily. The generic public Internet has a single transport service which has to meet the needs of diverse applications today, which is not really an achievable goal in the peer-to-peer world.
Continue reading “Thirty Profiles”