Monday, December 29, 2003


John Perry Barlow discovers a new telecom experience

John Perry Barlow writes:
Joi [Ito] and I were typing at each other over the Net using Apple's iChat AV. I've never liked Internet chat. I don't like having to type that fast. So, at a certain point, I asked him whether he'd used the audio capacities that are built into iChat AV. I hadn't. A moment later we were conversing by voice through our computers. Despite the fact that Joi is presently in his country house outside of Tokyo and I'm at my condo in Salt Lake, it sounded like he was in the room with me. There was no discernible latency or loss of fidelity.

For awhile, we talked as though we were on the phone, and I marveled at being able to conduct a zero-cost trans-Pacific call. (Of course, there's nothing particularly new about voice over IP. But it's never been so stupidly easy to set up, in my personal experience, as it is with iChat AV. Also, it never sounded this good before.)

The really interesting shift occurred as we drifted back to what we'd been doing before we started chatting, leaving the audio channel open as we'd did so. We could hear each other typing. One of my daughters entered the room and spoke to me. Joi heard her and said hello. They had a brief conversation, their first since she was a little girl. Joi and I returned our e-mail. I wanted to set up an account on Technorati and broke in to ask him how to do it. He walked me through the process. There were other occasional interjections. I could hear the sounds of construction going on.
Add this to Michael Powell's "I knew it was all over when I downloaded Skype."

We may not be at the tipping point yet, but the telcos' end of the teeter-totter is getting lighter.

Thursday, December 25, 2003


Intellectual Property Day at (Reg. U.S. Pat. & Tm. Off.)

The United States Patent and Trademark Office officially registered the mark No. 2,788,689 on December 2, 2003. I've begun to use the "circle R" on the domain.

In addition, I've begun to use a Creative Commons license with my blog and website. Cory Doctorow recently explained to me why using a Creative Commons license is a good idea. He explained that a general statement like this
Redistribution of this document, or any
part of it, is permitted for non-commercial purposes,
provided that the two lines below are reproduced with it:
Copyright 2003 by David S. Isenberg -- -- 1-888-isen-com
probably protects my work from uses I wouldn't want to see, but a Creative Commons license goes further, because it (a) publicizes the idea that you can reserve SOME rights, and (b) contains machine-readable code that registers my works as belonging to this larger body of works that do not have ALL rights reserved.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003


Kevin Werbach on Network Openness

Werblog says:
Openness isn't some abstract principle invented by Larry Lessig to justify new regulation; it's a particular technical and policy framework that is deeply embedded in the Internet and existing FCC rules.
These openness rules are the unusual case, the case that Powell doesn't talk about. Openness rules (that is, rules mandating nondiscriminitory connection to existing networks, aka Common Carrier Rules) actually help competition (at higher layers), help the new entrant and the clueful (application-oriented) incumbent. Openness rules punish the obsolete value proposition and the big company where the whole is less than the sum of its parts. No wonder openness rules are controversial.

COMMENT -- Russell Nelson (nelson at crynwr dot com) writes:
Openness *doesn't* help competition. Why would anybody invest in infrastructure that they are required to sell to their competition? That's insane.
Right. I missed a key detail. I should have made what I was trying to say clearer -- that openness at Layer 1-3 promotes competition at layer 4-7. I've added words to that effect above (in parentheses).

Russell continues:
Openness in the blogging world would be forcing you to publish every email sent to, even from people who are promoting a smart network (cough, Verisign, cough).
I am not calling for openness at the app level! I support the right of app providers to keep their work closed, and to reserve the right to choose what to publish and what to ignore.

That said, the policy of is to publish articulate dissenting comments that it receives -- be they from Verisign, from advocates of the intelligent network, etc. I'll still discriminate, but the discriminandum will be degree of articulateness and relevancy.


Michael Powell on the Communications Revolution

Chairman Mike sure sounded good at UCSD on December 9. The audio/video stream is here. Juxtapose what Commissioner Copps said in the previous article with Powell's words here:
I have never fought so hard for something in my life as I fought for UltraWideBand to get commercialized. Over the objections of the Defense Department, over the objections of a lot of people who had very deep concerns about this stuff, some established providers, incumbents who would have loved to see that technology get killed in its grave or kept out of the competitive sphere. *snip* It is like planting dynamite charges, you don't have to blow up the whole bridge, you can put one charge on the right span, and it will come down. And that's what I think a lot about: 'Is VoIP the thing, that put on the right span, is going to bring this thing down in a way that's constructive? Is WiFi? Is UltraWideBand?' And that's the way we think about it, so it looks little sometimes at the start, but when you extrapolate, you realize 'Oh my God, this is huge', like 'if this is right, the whole thing is coming down.' *snip* When I knew it was over was when I downloaded Skype [], when the inventors of Kazaa are distributing for free a little program that you can talk to anybody else, and the quality is fantastic, and it is free. Its over. You can pretend it is not, you can fight these fights, but it is over.
So Powell believes that market forces and technological progress will trump a regulatory approach. And Copps believes that common carrier (non-discrimination) regulations at the transport layer are critical for net openness. Neither addresses the validity of the other view.

Later in the discussion, Powell says
The idea that pro-regulation is somehow pro-entrant or pro-consumer is often dramatically exaggerated. What it is usually about is protecting the vested interests of the incumbent.
However, he doesn't address the exception, rules that guarantee open access, for example. Copps, on the other hand, pays lip service to what made the Internet great, but he takes its greatness as given; he does not actually address the technological miracles that made it what it is today.

Thanks, Peter Ecclesine, for links to Powell conversation!

Thursday, December 18, 2003


Warning on Future of the Internet

Basic freedoms are at stake here. Freedom to speak. Freedom of the press. Watch carefully.

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps writes in Monday's Mercury News:
Proponents of eliminating non-discrimination rules claim that allowing dominant broadband providers to build walls around the Internet is just "deregulating'' and "letting the market reign supreme,'' deploying the rhetoric of Libertarianism to serve decidedly parochial interests.


Think about what could happen if your broadband provider could discriminate. It could decide which news sources or political sites you could view. It could prevent you from using children's Internet filtering technology that it didn't sell or that filtered out its own Web sites. It could prevent you from using spam-jamming programs to block its spam. It could impose restrictions on the use of virtual private networks by telecommuters and small businesses to keep them as paying customers of the public network. It could limit access to streaming video to protect its core content business. Sound far-fetched? It's already beginning to happen.

If we continue down this path, the basic end-to-end openness that made the Internet great will be gone. Control will have been turned over to those who control the bottlenecks, just like Ma Bell controlled them in the heyday of its monopoly.
Right on! On the other hand, Copps is also the guy at the FCC's VOIP hearing who said, "Leave no stakeholder behind," which, to me, translates into, "Make sure that the incumbents get theirs."

I think Chairman Powell's heart is in the right place, and I wish I had a warm and fuzzy feeling when he talks about market forces. But I don't. Talk about "market forces" implys that there's a market, and it may not be possible to have a market in Layer 1 connectivity. A duopoly is not a market. Today, where markets exist at all in the Layer 1 telecom infrastructure, they are vulnerable and small compared to monopoly power and the distortionist forces of regulation.

I do not think that any of the Commissioners have a clear line on Internet openness. We're going to have to watch this very closely and work hard to understand what's going on in our names.

Essential further reading:
Everything by Lawrence Lessig
Steve Levy's recent Newsweek essay.
John Walker's Digital Imprimateur


Moment of truth in Iraq

Thomas Friedman in today's New York Times:
"We have entered a moment of truth in Iraq. We are now going to get the answer to the big question I had before the war: Is Iraq the way it is because Saddam was the way he was? Or was Saddam the way he was because Iraq is the way it is - ungovernable except by an iron fist?"
Thanks to Elliot Cook for the link.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003


Straw Poll: Stratton Sclavos: (a) cluelessly megalomaniacal or (b) tragically ignorant?

At a recent Red Herring conference, Verisign CEO Stratton Sclavos said:
"We have to move the complexity back into the center of the network and remove it from the edge."
Mitch Ratcliffe is dumbfounded.
Ross Mayfield is aghast.
Wendy Seltzer is scared.

How do you feel about Sclavos' remark?
(a) It is cluelessly megalomaniacal.
(b) It is tragically ignorant.

And I suppose I should add:
(c) It makes me feel warm and fuzzy and safe to think that some day the grown-ups might finally make the Internet a serious communications system instead of the toy that it is today.

UPDATE: Steve Crandall proposes to add:
(d) Mr. Sclavos is gunning for a position at a major telecom (AT&T has been losing execs lately).

Record your vote on a Diebold voting machine and send an image of the paper receipt it produces to isen-at-isen-dot-com.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003


Nice Comparitive Review of Ryze, Tribe, LinkedIn, Friendster and Live Journal

Christopher Allen has a nice review of all the friend-of-a-friend services. Myself I have not joined any of them since sixdegrees in 1996 or 7. I can't see what they offer that email doesn't -- unless you're single (which seems to be where such services get a lot of their whuffie). Christopher Allen says, "I still believe there is something useful in Social Software to learn that I just have to puzzle out." Me, I am more skeptical.

Whuffie? Google it.

UPDATE: Mitch Ratcliffe has a good discussion of social networking tools, including some frustration using Spoke to get in touch with Paul Krugman.

Monday, December 15, 2003


VoIP + regulation = same old same old

In previous writings, e.g., see Scenario #4 here, I've drawn a dystopic scenario for the future of telecom where the ILECS use their strongest remaining core competency -- regulation, legislation, and litigation -- to make technological progress "illegal". Implicitly, I included too-cumbersome and too-expensive under "illegal". SMART Person Matt Lucas, below, reminds me that this should be EX-plicit.
One of the hallmarks of the "telephony-classic" model is regulation. Taxation. Government revenue generation. You have noted the symbiotic yet dysfunctional relationship between telcos and government. One of the allures of IP and the public Internet is the freedom from regulation and taxation (to date).

There is a scenario in which the FCC or state PUCs decide that VoIP should be regulated and taxed like current "telephony-classic". In this scenario, government intervention renders VoIP impractical by artificially inflating its costs. We could end up with the same business models and entrenched providers even though we're using the Internet.

We know who benefits most from maintaining the telco-government symbiosis status quo. Government regulators, in order to exist, must have "something" to regulate. Chaos (or freedom) demands more government intervention than stability and order.

I'm not a far-right anti-government, conspiracy-manic militia member. Far from it. This is a left-leaning citizen suggesting that, in order to keep your assessments "fair and balanced" (or at least within reach of lip service), consider the rising specter of a national $1T (yes that's a T) deficit, near ubiquitous statewide financial crises ($38B in the hole here in CA), and the revenue generation capabilities the current telephony-classic model provides.
Thanks, Matt! You sound almost like a (moderate) Republican FCC Commissioner.

Thursday, December 11, 2003


Stupid Sex Filter

I spent time today trying to figure out why three SMART People (i.e. subscribers to The SMART Letter) didn't get their SMART Letter #91. All three work for a well known financial services firm. The bounce message said that my email, "was quarantined because it contained banned content."

The "banned content" turned out to be one word: SEX. The word appeared once in SMART Letter #91 where I used "talking about sex" as an analogy. When I sent one of these SMART People a test message with only the word "sex" in it, it bounced too. When I modified SMART Letter #91 so the word read "s--" . . . well, it hasn't bounced yet.

I wonder whether this financial services firm has correspondence with biotech or medical companies, and if so, which euphemisms for biological facts pass muster.

Boy, talk about a locus of stupidity!


John Sidgmore Dead at 52

Scott Moritz at The Street.Com reports Ex-WorldCom Exec Sidgmore Dies Kidney failure related to pancreatitis. John was (briefly) the last techie head of a large telco, and maybe the only nethead to serve in such a position.


Good Notices on MetaFilter

thedailygrowl posted a piece on MeFi mentioning and Telepocalypse.

Over at Telepocalypse, Martin's also pointing out why VoIP is not the incumbents' salvation:
My personal view: the incumbents have no real commitment to VoIP roll-out, and the key motivator is to undermine those who try by pulling the bottom out of the VoIP market. The lack of spin-offs explicitly motivated to undermine the legacy business talks louder than a thousand press releases. Any VoIP upstart inside a legacy telco has to face a negative ROI according to traditional cost accounting; it requires irrational resource allocation to compete against other projects.


Destroy my Business Model? Yawn.

The other story in SMART Letter #91, is "Destroy my Business Model? Yawn."

But I shouldn't have to tell you -- if you were on the SMART List you'd have seen it yesterday.


The Story Under the VoIP Story -- SMART Letter #91

SMART Letter #91 is up. Here's a teaser:
The Story Under the VoIP Story
by David S. Isenberg

These days there's a flurry of newspaper stories about VoIP
(Voice over Internet Protocol) every few days, as if VoIP
is going to save the telecommunications industry -- or
maybe the entire tech investment sector. The stocks of
Net2Phone and VocalTec and DeltaThree are surging. Today
Verizon's going to do it. Yesterday, Time Warner telecom
announced expansion of recent VoIP trials to all 18 million
customers. Last week Qwest announced VoIP in Minnesota.

But the larger story is not "new life for the telecom
sector." Quite the opposite. Because while VoIP will
probably be good in the long run for the tech sector as a
whole, VoIP will hasten the end of telephony-classic.
Read the whole thing here.


VoIP still needs breathing room -- Jeff Pulver

Jeff Pulver on CNET News says VoIP still needs breathing room:
"Officially, the FCC says it is just taking these actions to 'gather public comment on the appropriate regulatory environment' for Internet calling. The FCC seems to be rushing to judgment.
Forgive me for being skeptical, but there is just too much potential at stake.
One person who does not have the slightest doubt that the FCC is ready to begin choking this promising technology in federal regulation is Reed Hundt, the commission's former chairman. Earlier this month, speaking to a convention of wireless Internet users, he issued a stark warning that the federal government had Internet calling in its sight. 'I ran this agency,' Hundt said. 'I know you should be suspicious.' "
Seems to me that the right regulatory move is forbearance. Jeff has petitioned the FCC for his free VoIP app -- Free World Dialup -- to be classified as an information service. Both options are relatively low-reg paths.

Friday, December 05, 2003


The Birth of "The Metaweb"

I think blogging plus RSS is a whole new thing altogether. Nova Spivak's essays, Every Revolution Needs a Name, the Metaweb, and The Birth of "The Metaweb" -- The Next Big Thing -- What We are All Really Building agree, amplify, extend.

One thing that Nova dances around, but does not quite hit squarely on the head: Blogging-plus-RSS is the first winner app of XML.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003


Defending SecDef on unk-unks

Rumsfeld recently won a "Foot in Mouth" award for saying :
Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know.
This is unfair bashing. The media is getting all worked up unnecessarily. These three kinds of knowledge -- knowns, known unknowns, and unk-unks -- are perfectly good categories. Distinguishing among them is important for planners and strategic thinkers.

The Rum-speak that I object to is the kind where he knows some true thing but says something that obscures or denies that truth. Technically, this is called a "lie".

UPDATE: David Beckemeyer writes:
Now David, walk me through this. I don't understand how one could classify anything in the unk-unk bucket. You have things you know and things you don't know. How can you knowingly categorize something as something you don't know you don't know, you know?
I reply, "What will be the cause of your next surprise?"


Another take on Smart Networks and Stupid

I don't know Brian at bmoeasy, but thanks to Doc and Jorge Ortiz I found this, which says, in part:
In the future - say, this afternoon - the stupid network will be peopled exclusively with bright people and the smart network will be peopled exclusively with stupid people. *snip* I am of the stupid. And I love a good hierarchy. I really don't like to think for myself. Turn the key and go. I like that. I'm lazy and stupid. Tell me what to do. I'm a good soldier. I'm not proud of that, I'm just saying. I just like to get from point A to wherever without thinking about it. "
Here's a picture of Brian, courtesy of The New Yorker:

UPDATE: Brian writes, "I don't know if I'm the guy on the right or the guy on the left."

Brian shouldn't give up on stupid networks just because thinking is difficult or painful. More and more of the intelligence will be in the *devices* at the edge of the network. The user will still be able to watch mind-numbing content without thinking about it. If he wants to. He'll also be able to get more enlightening input if he wishes. The important thing that makes a stupid network better is that the choice will be entirely his, not the network provider's. Is choice painful? Again, don't give up -- if there's a market for it, somebody will write software to make your choices for you.


FCC VoIP Hearing: Kevin Werbach on insider "forbearance" conversation

Kevin Werbach writes:
The panelists didn't understand what was going on when Martin asked the question about forbearance and Powell made his followup comment [saying that it is not so easy to forbear -- David I]. It was FCC-insider shorthand for a very specific legal issue.

If the FCC wants to avoid regulating VOIP, it can either declare it an "information service" or it can "forbear." Calling it an information service means making a determination that it fits the requirements of that term as defined in the Communication Act. If it does, none of the rules governing "telecommunications service" apply. (Some other rules might apply, but the FCC has fairly wide latitude.) On the other hand, the FCC's decision that the service fits the definition could be challenged in court. This is what happened with cable modem service. Powell pushed through an order calling it an information service (meaning no open access requirement), but the 9th circuit reversed the FCC, saying that it was telecommunications.

On the other hand, the FCC can forbear. "Forbearance" has a particular meaning under the 1996 Telecom Act. It doesn't just mean they do nothing, contrary to what Tom Evslin said. They have to make a set of affirmative findings that satisfy a legal test in the statute, and they probably have to do so for each rule they forbear from applying. So, they would likely have to do an order that has dozens or hundreds of pages explaining why, for example, they don't apply section 251 to VOIP, then why they don't apply section 254, and so forth. All of which is also subject to court review. Powell thinks this course of action is a longer and more difficult one than just calling it all an information service. Martin isn't so sure.

Again, none of this means they will come out a particular way on the overall issue. The clear point is that there is sufficient desire and support at the FCC to pre-empt the states. But on what happens to "phone-to-phone" services, it's still an open question.


FCC VOIP Hearing: thoughts two days later

I would like to take the opening remarks of Chairman Powell at face value, but I think his later comments, such as the one about how difficult it is to, "Just forbear," are likely to be more indicative of how the NPRM will turn out.

Where were the incumbents? Totally invisible at the hearing, but beware. I betcha they're crowding into the elevators up to the Eighth Floor as I write this. I bet they're telling the Commissioners that only an ILEC can do Universal Access, CALEA, 911, Homeland Security, Access for People with Disabilities, et cetera, at the "five nines" level that "the American People expect."

Copps said, "Leave no stakeholder behind." and from his prepared remarks, he means telcos. How the *hell* is the FCC going to make round holes for round pegs so the square ond telcos will fit?

Powell's remark later in the day, that it is not easy to forbear, might shape the soon-to-come NPRM more than his earlier remarks.

The Dec 1 hearing was the pig. Nice pig, should make good sausage. But what will they but into the grinder on the Eighth Floor when the suits from telcoland come calling?

There could be an NPRM by February. We'll be watching.


FCC VOIP Hearing References

Here are some essential refs to the December 1 FCC hearing on VOIP:

The VoIP Forum home page.

The audio/video stream of the meeting itself.

The prepared remarks of Chairman Powell. Caution! These are different than what he said, so for "the final word" (pun intended) watch the video! The "live" Powell is better than the written Powell. In the hearing, he said stuff like, "This is not your father's telephone," and "don't shove a round Internet into the square holes of older, more familiar services."

Jeff Pulver blogs that at least one news outlet picked up on his *prepared* remarks, even when he didn't say what he had written.

Monday, December 01, 2003


FCC VOIP Hearing: It's not easy to forbear

Powell says it is a very difficult thing to "just forbear". Commissioner Martin earlier expressed that there might be problems with "a light touch" given that the Ninth Circuit decision still has to work through the appeals process.


FCC VOIP Hearing: Universal Service funds will take a hit

Carl Wood, a Commissioner of the California PUC, says that California would lose half of their Universal Service monies by 2008. The states are looking at big hits. Again it boils down to, "How do we manage down the old network?"


FCC VOIP Hearing: Abernathy asks a good question

Commissioner Abernathy asks: Isn't there a train wreck coming (as the telcos lose revenue)? She points out that we'll still need the PSTN.

The panel addresses the future -- after all, it is a visionary panel -- but it doesn't answer her question. What happens when the 20% of the customers who acct for 80% of the revenue move off of the PSTN? What happens to the other 80% that still dials into the net, or that still uses Plain Old Telephone Service?

This will require some deep thinking, and some conscious public policy making. I think the people to address it are not at the table.

There are two ways to go on that. (1) You could encourage the transition or (2) you could prop up the legacy. Either is likely to require "subsidy" in some form.


FCC VOIP Hearing: Morning Panel

Kevin Werbach makes the idea of IP for Everything simple and elegant.
Charlie Giancarlo, from Cisco, makes the same point, focusing on future apps.
Jeff Pulver announces that the VON Coallition has a working agreement with NENA for 911 over VOIP, and he makes a plea for voluntary, not regulatory, solutions to the big issues like 911, privacy, directory, etc.
John Hodiluk -- UBS -- says that the economic basis of telecommunications is changing radically.
John Billock, Time Warner Cable, says that he's a facilities based alternatives to the ILECs, serving 7500 customers, mostly in Portland Maine area. (It is standard telephony over managed IP . . . zzzzzz)


FCC VOIP Hearing: Copps says "Leave no stakeholder behind."

Now this is pure cr*p. The telcos will need to die (or change so radically we won't recognize them), no matter how much stake they hold.


FCC VOIP Hearing: Dewayne is rebooting his network in California

I'm sitting in the FCC hearing next to Dewayne Hendricks, and he's rebooting his network in California. Used to be you needed a NOC to do that. Enter the pocket NOC. Remember when you needed one person to "do policy" and another person to "do operations"? Networks are getting so cheap and so easy to build and run that soon we'll all be building them and running them. Regulate THAT.


FCC VOIP Hearing: Powell speaks

FCC Chairman Powell:

(Note that he actually said the things in quotes, whether or not they're in his prepared remarks.)

"With all due respect to Oldsmobile, this is not your father's telephone."

"We must be careful that we don't shove a round Internet into the square holes of older, more familiar services."

"The FCC will decide, ". . . what regulation, if any, is warranted." (If you heard him say it, he spoke the words, "if any" in bold.)

Powell says we need to do: Universal Access, Public Safety, National Security, Consumer Protection, and Access for People with Disabilities. IMHO, these are

Announcement: Internet policy working group


At the FCC VoIP meeting

The room is full and the thing doesn't start for 10 minutes. You can get the streaming video here.

I don't know anything formal or informal, but buzz in the room is that the NPRM will propose that the FCC formally forbear -- that is, its rule-making will say, "Do nothing." Its effect would be to block the states from making their own patchwork of regulations.

Update: Standing room only -- I have never seen this room so crowded.

Update: My cell phone doesn't work here in the commission room, but because there's wifi, Jeff Pulver could dial dial out with his little wifi phone (once he hacked the ssid and his phone "registered" with the network).

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