Open Tech Today - Top Stories

Friday, May 26, 2006

Net Neutrality FUDraker of the Day

... is Christopher Wolf, co-chairman of the Hands Off The Internet coalition. Chris wins for this fine piece of FUD:

“The fact is that Internet neutrality regulations would be a direct financial hit to consumers and stop cold the country’s progress in providing affordable high-speed options."

Fact? Interesting use of the word. Net neutrality would stop our country's progress in providing affordable, high-speed Internet access. Is that a fact?

Well . . . maybe in the US where a few companies essentially control broadband access for most Americans. But is it a "fact" in all countries? No. According to the OECD, there are 11 countries with greater broadband penetration than the US. Net neutrality has not been a problem for them, though it governs data packet delivery in all these countries. They have managed to invest in broadband (often delivering speeds much faster than available in US) and make it affordable for a higher percentage of their citizens.

OECD Broadband Statistics
December 2005

Country: Broadband Penetration (% of inhabitants)

Iceland: 26.7
Korea: 25.4
Netherlands: 25.3
Denmark: 25.0
Switzerland: 23.1
Finland: 22.5
Norway: 21.9
Canada: 21.9
Sweden: 20.3
Belgium: 18.3
Japan: 17.6
U.S.: 16.8
U.K.: 15.9
France: 15.2
Luxembourg: 14.9
Austria: 14.1
Australia: 13.8
Germany: 13.0
Italy: 11.9
Spain: 11.8

Source: OECD

For trying to blind people with his "facts," Chris Wolf is our FUDraker of the Day.

FUDrakers on Net Neutrality

I propose a new, honorary title for the purveyors of net neutrality FUD on behalf of the telco/cable companies -- FUDrakers. It refers to those who throw FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) into the net neutrality debate.

Today's top FUDraker ... Tom Tauke, Verizon's Executive Vice President of
Public Affairs, Policy and Communications.

Here's a choice sample of his FUD delivered while testifying yesterday before the Senate's Commerce Committee hearings on telecom legislation:
"Radical net neutrality proposals would chill the investment climate for broadband networks, deter and delay broadband rollout, and lock in today's Internet architecture and levels of performance ... Now is not the time to adopt new regulations that throw sand in the gears of the fast-growing and changing broadband marketplace."
Is there a single person not in the pay of a telco/cable company who believes that the Internet's development over the past 20 years--during which net neutrality has been the governing rule since Day 1--has been anything but rapid and endlessly innovative?

For that matter, other countries like Iceland, South Korea, Netherlands, Denmark and Switzerland have achieved much higher broadband penetration than the US. They are the world's Top 5 in broadband penetration according to OECD data. The U.S. is #12.

Think that's bad? In 2000, the US ranked #3. In 2001, it dropped to #4. At the end of 2005 it was #12, all according to the OECD.

Less penetration, but we're faster right? Wrong. Top cable modems in the US deliver five megabits per second. Broadband connections in countries like Japan and South Korea are often 20 times faster.

Net neutrality has not stopped these countries from bringing faster broadband to their citizens, at speeds much higher than commercially available in the US.

Do Korean companies simply have more money to invest in broadband than Verizon and AT&T? Or is there something else going on here?

Talk to me FUDrakers. I've got my digital FUDflap in place.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Net Neutrality Bill OK'd by House Committee

Breaking news ... the House Judiciary Committee approved the Sensenbrenner bill in a 20-13 vote -- 14 Democrats + 6 Republicans voted in favor. Roll call noted by Raw Story here. Full text of bill is here. Pertinent provisions:
Sec. 28.(a) It shall be unlawful for any broadband network provider--

(1) to fail to provide its broadband network services on reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms and conditions such that any person can offer or provide content, applications, or services to or over the network in a manner that is at least equal to the manner in which the provider or its affiliates offer content, applications, and services, free of any surcharge on the basis of the content, application, or service;

(2) to refuse to interconnect its facilities with the facilities of another provider of broadband network services on reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms or conditions;

(3)(A) to block, to impair, to discriminate against, or to interfere with the ability of any person to use a broadband network service to access, to use, to send, to receive, or to offer lawful content, applications or services over the Internet; or

(B) to impose an additional charge to avoid any conduct that is prohibited by this subsection;

(4) to prohibit a user from attaching or using a device on the provider's network that does not physically damage or materially degrade other users' utilization of the network; or

(5) to fail to clearly and conspicuously disclose to users, in plain language, accurate information concerning any terms, conditions, or limitations on the broadband network service.

(b) If a broadband network provider prioritizes or offers enhanced quality of service to data of a particular type, it must prioritize or offer enhanced quality of service to all data of that type (regardless of the origin or ownership of such data) without imposing a surcharge or other consideration for such prioritization or enhanced quality of service.
We now have a turf battle within Congress between different committees, all claiming jurisdiction over the net neutrality issue, and all keen to keep themselves in the game on an issue whose political profile is rising.

The driver for the Judiciary Committee's effort is the antitrust impact of removing net neutrality, which has defined the Internet for the past 20 years. Net neutrality has been the status quo for the Internet, and has proven to be highly pro-competition as witnessed by the endless websites, e-commerce, P2P communities, blogs and e-services that now exist.

In the beginning, there was net neutrality. And it was good.

Can anybody seriously argue that net neutrality has not been a key element of the growth and competitiveness of Internet activity?

FUD Master or Fool?

As readers of this blog know, I rarely if ever get personal or confrontational about the technology issues discussed here. But occasionally an exception is needed to prove the rule ...

Today that exception is Steven Titch, Senior Fellow for Information Technology and Telecom Policy at the Heartland Institute (another one of those manipulative, Orwellian, heart-rendering names).

Mr. Titch writes about The Dangers of Dictating Procurement for the June issue of IT&T News, a newsletter on technology issues targeting state legislators and regulators.

Titch begins by describing Massachusetts' decision about OpenDocument Format as a decision about "open source software format." He then proceeds to talk almost exclusively about the evils of open source software. Sadly, he stubbornly repeats the mistake here just yesterday. All of which begs the question: Is Steven Titch a fool or merely a proliferator of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt)?

Simply put: Mr. Titch, do you know the difference between a standard and software?

In its decision about OpenDocument Format (ODF), Massachusetts was addressing the choice of document formats, and chose to migrate to an open standard for them. This is a decision about standards, not software. It is not a decision that dictates open source software over proprietary software. Massachusetts is not mandating any kind of software.

In a nutshell, the difference is that open standards are a technical specification (or blueprint) while open source refers to software (which uses those blueprints, like other software can). It isn't that difficult. Anyone, any company, any solution can use a truly open standard. That is the point of having an open standard.

There are serious issues to debate on standards, and ODF and Microsoft's XML format. This blog has not been shy to highlight weaknesses, for example, of ODF here.

It is worrisome that decision-makers within state governments are getting such awful, misleading and short-sighted advice from a so-called "analyst."

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Net Neutrality and FCC Politics

To date, what little authority exists behind net neutrality has been held by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). However, the FCC is a political creature, and net neutrality is tangled up in its politics.

Right now, the FCC is evenly divided between Democrat and Republican commissioners. By political necessity, companies needing FCC approval for mergers must negotiate with both sides of the FCC, and net neutrality has been at issue. Last year, approval of the SBC - AT&T and Verizon - MCI mergers included a requirement that net neutrality remained in place ... for two years. Why only 2 years? Verizon lobbied aggressively to ensure that net neutrality would sunset after 30 months.

Now we start to understand why this year telco/cable CEOs began signaling their intent to eliminate net neutrality and begin discriminating among content, delivery and pricing in Internet services. Next year they will be free of their net neutrality "chains."

Other than adding limited net neutrality conditions to merger approvals, the only other FCC "authority" behind net neutrality is a set of non-binding principles. Hardly comforting since FCC Chairman, Keven Martin, disfavors regulating the issue.

That cold comfort gets downright frigid when you consider industry statements. While certain cable/telco CEOs pledge not to block or degrade content, other telco representatives argue that those sunset provisions were only meant to address "anomalies" arising during the merger. Translation: net neutrality has been an anomoly that will be "corrected" shortly.

So where does that leave net neutrality at the FCC?

Many suggest letting the FCC deal with the issue on a case-by-case (merger-by-merger?) basis. But the FCC has thrown net neutrality only a 2-year life line. And time is running out, as the telco/cable companies intended.

The blatent weakness of current net neutrality guarantees is now recognized in Congress. Witness the bi-partisan bills on net neutrality in the House and the Senate. Apparently, it is also dawning on some at the FCC that net neutrality is a serious issue of fair competition. Yesterday, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps pubicly stated that the FCC should issue enforceable regulations guaranteeing net neutrality. Copps called net neutrality rules "essential." Former FCC Chairman, Reed Hundt, agrees.

Net neutrality looks like an antitrust issue. Is bundling content with Internet service delivery (when content providers cut exclusivity deals with Internet service providers) so different from Microsoft bundling its browser with its Office Suite?

Both effectively squash competition. For the Internet, other content will still be delivered, but much slower. In the Microsoft case, other browsers could still be used (maybe), but they would not work as well or as fast.

Tomorrow, the House Judiciary Committee will vote on a bi-partisan bill that would punish net neutrality violations under federal antitrust laws. We shall see how far net neutrality has come since the last Congressional committee vote on the subject.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Is Your Technology Dying?

It's often a bad bet that the technology you rely on will be around in 20 years. True, good technology can last a long time. Typewriters. Record players. They lasted, even dominated, for a long time. But they're gone now. Floppy disks and cassette tapes -- not quite as long. Betamax and 8-track tapes. Hardly at all. For that matter, how much longer will VCRs be around?

The point? New content keeps coming. But the technologies, especially the formats, for transmitting it come and go. Something that has seemingly been around forever is suddenly gone, obsolete, unusable (or unrepairable).

Although it does not speak about formats for documents generated on computers (a topic I blog about regularly), this article from Wired does remind us of the issues and often impermanence of the things we create, and the formats we create them in ... despite what Microsoft and Apple and Sony might want us to believe.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Is Tim Berners-Lee Crazy?

If you believe the telco/cable cabal, he must be. Why? Because Tim Berners-Lee supports net neutrality.

Tim Berners-Lee is no government bureaucrat, politician, rock star or cable company CEO. He is simply the creator of the World Wide Web. His words on "net neutrality" are worth hearing:
Twenty-seven years ago, the inventors of the Internet designed an architecture which was simple and general. Any computer could send a packet to any other computer. The network did not look inside packets. It is the cleanness of that design, and the strict independence of the layers, which allowed the Internet to grow and be useful. It allowed the hardware and transmission technology supporting the Internet to evolve through a thousandfold increase in speed, yet still run the same applications. It allowed new Internet applications to be introduced and to evolve independently.

When, seventeen years ago, I designed the Web, I did not have to ask anyone's permission. The new application rolled out over the existing Internet without modifying it. I tried then, and many people still work very hard still, to make the Web technology, in turn, a universal, neutral, platform. It must not discriminate against particular hardware, software, underlying network, language, culture, disability, or against particular types of data.

Anyone can build a new application on the Web, without asking me, or Vint Cerf, or their ISP, or their cable company, or their operating system provider, or their government, or their hardware vendor.

It is of the utmost importance that, if I connect to the Internet, and you connect to the Internet, that we can then run any Internet application we want, without discrimination as to who we are or what we are doing. We pay for connection to the Net as though it were a cloud which magically delivers our packets. We may pay for a higher or a lower quality of service. We may pay for a service which has the characteristics of being good for video, or quality audio. But we each pay to connect to the Net, but no one can pay for exclusive access to me . . .

To actually design legislation which allows creative interconnections between different service providers, but ensures neutrality of the Net as a whole may be a difficult task. It is a very important one. The US should do it now, and, if it turns out to be the only way, be as draconian as to require financial isolation between IP providers and businesses in other layers.

The Internet is increasingly becoming the dominant medium binding us. The neutral communications medium is essential to our society. It is the basis of a fair competitive market economy. It is the basis of democracy, by which a community should decide what to do. It is the basis of science, by which humankind should decide what is true.

Let us protect the neutrality of the net.
Telco/cable companies (and the pundits and politicians in their pockets) tell you that supporters of net neutrality are crazy or intellectually dishonest. But you never see them explain their rationale for eliminating the Internet's current net neutrality in plain english. All they give you are ad hominum attacks, empty labels or populist jingoism.

Ask them to answer one simple question: Has the Internet operated under net neutrality since Day 1?