Saturday, December 18, 2010

Dumb Is The New Smart

Quite a while ago I wrote a post called "Channelization" and predicted that carriers would attempt to slice-and-dice Internet access in a myriad of ways in an attempt to bilk customers for accessing web-based content and services available on the open Internet.  Carriers are chafing at being nothing more than "dumb pipes" which dutifully carry packets of information. Though they are paid to be the mail-carriers of the Internet, entrusted to deliver packets of information like the post office delivers any letter with a postage stamp, for some of these unscrupulous ISP's the temptation to discard or delay the packages they don't profit as much from, charge extra for receiving packages from your favourite senders (even though the postage has already been paid), and give preferential treatment to their own services is too much to resist.

This prediction is now getting a lot closer to reality, as outlined in the following article on Techdirt:
DPI Firms Trying to Turn Net Neutrality Satire Into Reality.

The basic idea is that your Internet and wireless providers would like to monitor everything you do online, and charge you extra every time you view a page on Facebook, watch a Youtube video, or stream a movie from Netflix.

This is a bad idea.  Most people realize this type of coercive monopoly, bundling and tying are  anti-competitive maneuvers that are sure to run afoul of competition law, provided the government hasn't completely sold out to Big Corp.

Indeed the FCC is set to vote on December 21st on guidelines to protect Net Neutrality (the notion that your Internet Service Provider shouldn't be able to block certain websites while giving preferential treatment to their own products and services).  Their proposal has drawn criticism from all sides, however, and comes with some caveats, particularly exemptions for mobile service providers. Even the UN is setting up a committee on Internet governance.  They've decided that only governments can have a seat on this committee, a decision that Google reasonably rejects.

So as this plays out, here's a new prediction:

"Dumb Is the New Smart".

Wireline and wireless carriers have a responsibility to deliver packets from a sender to a receiver in the same way that a mail carrier delivers letters.  The measure of a carrier, snail-mail, electronic, wireless or otherwise, should be how reliably, efficiently, impartially and cost-effectively they deliver the goods.

This type of discriminatory "channelization" is going to be a hard sell.  Carriers who choose to go down this path will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage to those who continue to offer unfettered Internet access.  In a competitive landscape defined by greedy nickle-and-dime service offerings and anti-competitive favoritism, the companies that come out waving a banner that says "We're A Dumb Pipe And Proud Of It!" are going to get the most customers.

The reason is that all the complaints carriers are making about the costs of carrying all that bandwidth is mostly BS.  There's lots of dark fiber in the ground - the bottleneck is the last mile.  The only reason they're getting up to these shenanigans is because its a money grab, and they think they're in a position to abuse their network monopoly.

In the next year or so watch for service providers to start offering net neutrality - unmonitored, unregulated open access -  as a competitive differentiator, regardless of whether or not their competitors have erected Internet toll booths.  See for example this page touting unlimited mobile browsing.  The bottom line is that once you've offered something to customers, it's very difficult to claw it back and try to slap a bunch of limitations on it.

The way forward for carriers is not through taking fair and open service and imposing restrictive, expensive policies on it.  I think the way forward will be to create value-added services that leverage their network infrastructure in ways that are independent of content delivery.  Its not about creating smarter pipes.  Its about creating better faucets.  Location, social awareness, convergence, and security hold potential in this area.

Update: Read Al Franken's post on The Most Important Free Speech Issue of Our Time.
It delves more into the spat between Comcast and Level 3 over Netflix traffic.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Cleaning out the bookmarks folder... random interesting stuff from around the Interwebs.
  • Cinder is a C++ library for doing some really cool graphical things.
  • Issuu - You Publish You can read different magazines online here.   Apple won't let them have their app on the iPhone.
  •  Pretty much anything you want to learn about, you can learn about in 10 minutes here.  Khan Academy rocks.
  • You can read all about the dirty secrets of Canadian conservatives at "Pushed to the Left".
  • Surprise, surprise, the US spies on their citizensA lot.  Moving along...
  • Sharebuilder from ING looks like a not bad way to get going with a stock portfolio for not a lot of cash up front.
  • Whoo hoo, an SSH port forwarding cheat sheet.  And here are 25 cool SSH tricks you can try at home!
  • Ever thought those cables at the electronics store are stupidly over priced?  They are.  Go here for cheap cables (in Canada).
  • If you haven't seen it yet, Arcade Fire has a cool HTML5 web video.
  • Aviary.  Cool online tools for creating art.
  • attempts to draw the connections between money and politics.  hmm...
  • Martin Bailey's photography podcast is great for photography buffs.
  • Stuck in your ways? A study finds people avoid views that contradict their existing ones.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

LynchMob 2.0

So, Amazon, Paypal, Visa and Mastercard cave in to pressure from the State Department and bypass due legal process altogether  by shutting down Wikileaks accounts.  No trial, judgement, no conviction, no nothing, they just get pressure from Lieberman and that's it.  Judge jury and hangman all in one.

Gizmodo just released a piece, "Why the reaction of governments to Wikileaks should scare the hell out of you".  It echoes my previous post, and it's nice to know there are other people who see things the same way.

Facebook and Twitter joined the lynch mob today by shutting down Anonymous, the decentralized hive mind who's Low Orbit Ion Canon has taken down Mastercard, just days after an unknown botnet targeted Wikileaks servers. Meanwhile a lot of people are wondering what's in the insurance.aes256 file, and when the key will drop.

(Picture of the "free speech zone" at the 2004 Democratic National Convention)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Secrets and Democracy

I've written at length about this before, but the furor over Wikileaks prompted me to write again.  I've been thinking over privacy, freedom, governance, responsibility, and transparency for a while and trying to come up with a nice model of how they work together.  That's still a work in progress, but it goes something like this:

As responsibility increases, so does the requirement for accountability and transparency.  For governments, who hold great responsibility, the need for accountability and transparency is high.  For individuals in a free democratic society, they are mainly responsible for themselves, and the need for accountability and transparency is minimal.   The more people you're responsible to, the more you need to be accountable and transparent to them.  In my mind, responsibility and privacy are on opposite sides of the spectrum.

Privacy belongs to individuals.  Your privacy is inseparable from your freedom in a democratic society.  On the other side of the spectrum, you have transparency, which is inseparable from accountability.  And responsibility for good governance in a democratic society needs accountability and transparency.

Governments should be transparent.  They shouldn't really have a whole lot of secrets to keep from the public.  Individuals, on the other hand, should have the right to privacy in order to exercise their democratic rights and freedoms.

This whole system has been turned upside down in the name of security.  The argument is that, in order to have security, you have to give up your privacy.  Now people are getting their phones tapped, their cards traced, and being sexually violated in airport security line ups.  And at the same time governments start screaming bloody murder over the Wikileaks pat-down they've received. They don't like it when people touch their junk.

Democracy isn't supposed to work that way.  When privacy is taken away from individuals and given to those in authority, the basis for democratic freedom is destroyed. This is what we're seeing in America today.

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."  - Benjamin Franklin

Further reading:
Why Wikileaks is Good for America
Wikileaks and the Long Haul

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Local Artists in the Glebe

This weekend two of my favorite local artists are exhibiting in the Glebe.

Jaya Krishnan
Exhibiting a new series of paintings at Morala in the Glebe.  Visit Jaya's web site here:

Bhat Boy
Exhibiting at Snapdragon Gallery in the Glebe through mid-December.  Visit Bhat Boy's web site here:

Productivity and Note-taking

I told a friend of mine that I wasn't really happy with the amount of time that gets taken up by Slack and "communication and sched...