Friday, January 30, 2004


Dean Campaign Hires Bellhead

Howard Dean, the erstwhile "Internet candidate," urgently needs to explain to his core Nethead constituency why Joe "Nethead" Trippi is out and Roy "Bellhead" Neel is in. Neel was president of the US Telecom Association (USTA) in the late 1990s when it was the voice of the Big Baby Bells calling for an end to FCC enforcement of the 1996 Telecom Act's competitive provisions. In a USTA op-ed in 2000 (no longer on the USTA Website, but cached here) Neel said,
America’s local phone companies are poised to compete head-on for consumers if only the FCC reduced or eliminated outdated regulations.
The outdated regulations he spoke of in 2000 were the pro-competitive provisions of the 1996 Act. He believes that the FCC is, "requiring [the telcos] to give away their networks, facilities and equipment." What he meant was that he wants TELRIC eliminated. (TELRIC is an FCC pricing formula for unbundled network elements that is already so slanted that CLECs find it almost impossible to compete.) He says,
These burdensome regulations shackle the local phone companies’ ability to deploy broadband services like digital subscriber lines (DSL).
Those poor big baby incumbent telcos.

That's not all. In 1999, in a confusion symptomatic of failure to separate content from conduit, Roy "vertically-integrated-networks" Neel declared before the U.S. Congress that USTA was "in strategic alliance" with Jack Valenti's MPAA.

If Roy Neel declares support for Dean's Internet Principles, he alienates his oldest friends. It'd be like Dick Cheney marching against the war.

David Corn points out that Dean campaign slogans about, "taking our country back from Special Interests," ring dark and hollow under Neel. "You have the power." Really?.

I've always believed that the Communications Revolution was not represented in either Democratic or Republican parties, and I've found occasional allies in both. My nettiest friends in the Dean Campaign almost convinced me that Dean "got it." Now I am not sure at all.

I am grateful that Dean has opened up the dialog on the war, health care and the economy. I am dismayed, but not surprised, by the Dean media lynching recently blogged by John Perry Barlow. But now, unless the Dean campaign does something immediate and heroic to shore up its Nethead core, it is time to "Move On."

Tuesday, January 20, 2004


Adam Thierer's latest blast -- incompetent or dishonest?

You should read Adam Thierer's essay entitled Collectivism In, Property Rights Out. Argument aside, it is noteworthy for its language.

Larry Lessig quotes Howard Rheingold saying, “[Thierer's essay] is either intellectual incompetence or intellectual dishonesty." David Weinberger votes for "intellectual incompetence." He calls it "One of the sloppiest pieces of thinking I've ever seen from an organization named after a Roman." Lessig, on the other hand, avers that Thierer is quite intellectually competent.

I agree with Lessig. Look at Thierer's language. Or should I say, "language"? You can discredit something just by putting quotes around it. I could make a case, or I could, "Make a case." Such a phrase without quotes says what it means straightforwardly. In quotes, the same phrase imputes something unsaid, something sinister, or maybe something merely incompetent. Is Thierer a Libertarian or a "Libertarian"? I'm just reporting. You decide.

Thierer uses the quotes ploy at least ten times on phrases like, "democratic rule," "commons," "nondiscrimination," and "openness". It keeps him from having to explain why, "democratic rule", for example, is a bad thing. Or why it is a bad thing when used by FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, Stanford Professor Larry Lessig, underdog Presidential Candidate Howard Dean or the New America Foundation.

Which brings us to the second of Thierer's rhetorical devices. He spins three or four individual views into an on-the-fly axis. He asserts that there's a unified view, then chooses statements from the most convenient individual as if it represent the whole. For example, Thierer suggests that, "They want to water down IP rights and greatly expand fair use rights and the public domain." Lessig points out that Copps didn't say anything like that, nor did the Dean Campaign stake out any such position, so he concludes, "I guess this one is for me."

Thierer's third device is excessive hyperbole. If he were presenting a rational argument, he would not need so many emotionally loaded terms like, "concocted," "master plan," "heavy dose," "crusaders, " preaching," "lambaste," and so on. He could have used, "assembled" instead of "concocted," and "plan" instead of "master plan." The essay needs what John Perry Barlow once self-effacingly called a hyperbolectomy.

I think Thierer knows what he's doing. His underdeveloped sense of shame shows briefly in his penultimate paragraph, where he leaves himself a big out. He says, "The commons crowd would be quick to respond that this mischaracterizes their argument . . . they see markets and property rights as a means to an end that must be tempered with a [] dose of collective decisionmaking."

But instead of analyzing how it might mischaracterizes the argument, he pulls out yet another rhetorical device when he goes on to say, ". . . they make it clear that they are not advocating the overthrow of the capitalist order and the empowerment of the proletariat, or any other neo-Marxist nonsense." By the same token, I am glad to report that Thierer's essay does not advocate torturing innocent babies.

I'm not addressing the content of Thierer's essay. That was eloquently done by Lessig and Weinberger. I'm just pointing out that Thierer's language is emotional language. It is not crafted to appeal to logic. It addresses more primitive forms of "reasoning".


The Latest on "What WTF Means"

The newest Bogus Contest entries for What WTF Means has 20 entries so far (some multiple).

The newest:

WTF's the Future (GNU's Neighbor Unit)
Where's the Financing?
Whacky Telecom Forum
Worthless Telecom Forum
Whacky Telecom Folks
Wierd Telecom Fun

These join:

> >> + Where Telecom Fails
> >> + Watching Telcos Fail
> >> + World Telecommunications Forum
> >> + World Telecommunications Future
> >> + Wildlife Telecommunications Forum
> >> + World Telecom Farce
> >> + Welcome the Fun
> >> + When's the Future?
> >> + Wise to the Fallacy
> >> + Welease The Facilties
> >> + What's the Fuss
> >> + Welcome to Filibuster
> >> + What Terrific Fun
> >> + Wireless Terminal Fiends
> >> + We're Tired of the FCC
> >> + Where's the Fiber?
> >> + Why Trench Fiber?
> >> + Why Think Fiber?
> >> + Will Travel (of my own) Freewill
> >> + When to Fold
> >> + What to Forget
> >> + Wisdom, Truth, Freedom
> >> + We're The Fringe
> >> + Who to Furlough
> >> + Welcome to Freedom

Did I miss your entry? If so, apologies. Please resend.
David I --

Friday, January 16, 2004


CBS = Censor Brave Stories?

First CBS refused to run "The Reagans". Then Move-on had this great contest -- create a 30-second anti-Bush commercial -- and now CBS is refusing to sell Move-on a slot during the Super Bowl to show the winner. (Have you seen it?)

Now CBS News-distortion is at it again. I'm a pilot. I fly a harmless little sky-volkswagen. When hijackers crashed flying ten-thousand gallon fuel tanks into buildings, my 40-gallon airplane was grounded for three months. The ten-thousand-gallon guys were flying again in days. Last Wednesday, CBS News re-hyped the terrorism-general-aviation "connection." Phil Boyer, the President of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which represents pilots like me, is a moderate, mainstream, executive-type guy who works well with Congress, the FAA and the public. But he called the CBS story, "slanted, incomplete, factually erroneous, and salaciously inflammatory." An article in the most recent AOPA ePilot points out that CBS's:
. . . irresponsible reporting techniques included . . . failure to mention a wide range of security initiatives--developed by AOPA and other organizations in concert with the FAA and Homeland Security--that are now in practice across the country," Boyer wrote the head of CBS News, Andrew Heyward. Boyer said that the "security expert" in the story was in fact a public relations consultant with grief counseling experience at the NTSB. The other "expert" was a real estate agent.
In my experience, small airports are communities where everybody knows everybody (and if not, they find out). When an engine starts up, the neighbors' window shades go up -- not from nosiness, but because the beginning of an airplane flight is a genuinely exciting experience. People on airports want to share the experience of flight and know their neighbors. (I met one of my best friends because he tied down his plane next to mine.) At airports that are too big for this kind of community interaction, stricter security measures are in place. And from my experience, pilots tend to be right-of-center patriots. Many learned to fly during military service. They'd be more likely to stop a potential terrorist than the Nail Clipper Police.

But all this assumes that light aircraft are potential terrorist weapons, and they're not. If the Feds want to "do something," they might want to focus on the gazillions of uninspected containers that enter the country every day. Or the gajillions of eighteen-wheelers on the road. Ultimately, the most effective thing the Feds can do to deter terrorism is to make the United States admired instead of feared.


Why 'Bottom Up' is on its way up

David Kirkpatrick's CNN story captures what we're trying to do at WTF2004. Thanks to Tom Goetz at Wired for the link.

Thursday, January 15, 2004


WTF: people prefer Apr 2-4 in Westchester

I've received about 40 "definitelys" and about 35 other "probablies" and "provisionals". Only
about 4 people have a preference for the ACE Center near Phila. Many more people state that they prefer the Edith Macy in Westchester.

So the next steps are:
a) Solidify a contract with the Edith Macy.
b) Figure out a method of payment, that is, become a credit card merchant, or use PayPal, or something.
(Experience based suggestions on (b) will be especially welcome.)

Also, there are a LOT of great suggestions for what WTF means. I'll set up a vote for the ten best in due course.

So stand by. This thing looks like it is on!

David I

P.S. If you are reading this on, you might consider joining the WTF2004 group at

David S. Isenberg, inc. 888-isen-com (inside US) 203-661-4798 (direct line)
-- The brains behind The Stupid Network --

Monday, January 12, 2004


An instant, bottom-up meeting? -- SMART Letter #92

SMART Letter #92 was released today. In part, it says:

This is not your usual SMART Letter.
*I* am asking *you* . . . (and we're going to have to
hustle to make the idea, which you are about to co-create,

Let's take seriously the assumption that Intelligence is at
the Edge. That is, let's *really* suppose that we're
SMARTer than the people "at the top" and "in the center".
Let's act on the maxim, "Nobody knows as much as all of

Here's the idea -- an instant, bottom-up meeting. WTF.
Let's get together face to face. Let's talk about the end
of telephony and the beginning of communication, about the
end-to-end principle and its enemies, about smart people
and dumb companies, intellectual property and creative
commons, digital democracy and info-surveillance, e-
commerce and the war against customers, and whatever else
is on our minds. Let's get to know each other, learn from
each other, exchange ideas, frustrations, tools, toys and
hacks. And let's see what happens from there. WTF --
it'll be lots more exciting than talking corporate heads
behind podiums.

Q1: Does this sound like a good idea to you?

I propose that we spend the better part of three days
together (e.g., arrive on the afternoon of Day One and stay
until late PM on Day Three). I propose that we do it in
early April sometime. I've talked to a couple of
conference centers in the Northeast U.S. that might host
such a gathering, and they can do it -- meals, lodging,
meeting room, A-V, etc. -- for about US$500 double
occupancy or $700 single occ. (Note: At these prices I'll
cover costs but won't make money -- this will be your

Q2: Would you come?

Read the whole thing here.
Better yet, subscribe to the SMART Letter here.


"A very unsettling 'aha' moment"

Gary Hughes-Fenchel, a long-term AT&T/Lucent employee who recently "retired," writes:
[I recently had] a very unsettling "aha" moment. The future is already cast in stone. The stupid network has won. I work now for a financial company. Lots of bandwidth. Someone who knew I used to work for Lucent decided to tease me at a meeting: they suggested we add a few servers and become a telephone company. I suddenly realized that once broadband comes into a home there is absolutely no reason (other than reliablity to dial 911) to connect to such a specialized network as a telephone company. The functionality is a subset of my internet.

Switching is dead and cannot be revived.

Voice over IP removes any need for a telephone except for emergencies. And my cell phone (at home, where I can be sure of a signal) probably gives me that. *snip* [Even] wireless telephony is dead. A telephone is really just a small special-purpose computer. (Boy, just wait until some worm/virus/adware/other malware brings down THAT network. Hmm, software to prevent that could be valuable ... been there, tried that.)

*snip* I remain interested in telecom, but the interest is academic. It is difficult to see how I can be employed back in that sector.
Gary continues:
I tried to be a big-picture person. I was far less sucessful at it than you. While you were putting together the stupid network article, I was warning about the demise of big switching because of PC-compatible line cards & switches. I failed to see the end of switching, although I did see the current business model heading into a brick wall. It (fortunately) kept me nervous enough to push me to develop skills marketable outside of telecom. *snip* As for my new career, I really miss the engineering. I want to get back to it ...
Gary has made the transition, which is success, at least economic success. He continues:
I'm very troubled with what has happened to my co-workers. Some - very few - were died-in-the-wool BellHeads. But most would have been fine if [telco] management had just pointed their noses in a different direction . . .
This all came home to me several years ago when I went to an amateur pilot's fly-in. Extrordinary people with ordinary jobs -- clerks, plumbers, firemen, etc. -- had spent years building the most extraordinary airplanes in their garages and basements. Such talent. We are a nation of under-employed people.


Aw, shucks, 't weren't nuthin

Phil Schelinski writes:
Special congrats to you on predicting the need for a paradigm shift in circuit based telecommunications in this country. Of course it cost you your job at Bell Labs but opened up a whole new career. Today's Chicago Tribune says, "Verizon announces their rollout plan for a true packet network." SBC follows with their new projection and Nortel stock shoots up! Maybe Tellabs can make a comeback!
Thanks, Phil, but I wouldn't get prematurely optimistic. I am happy to see Verizon and SBC making bold predictions that drive up 'quipment share prices, but I still think that the old guys will not invent the new telecommunications business model. Remember 1993 and the Interactive TV fad? The telcos made lots of big optimistic projections then too. But the "order pizza" TV was not good business, and today voice, even IP voice, is not good business. The telcos have not been making money on data, even DSL, so after voice, what's the business model? And who's the disruptor?

Saturday, January 10, 2004


VoIP can be many things . . .

Here's a nice formulation from Yahoo News, FCC Tries To Defuse AT&T Internet Telephony Controversy:
". . . VOIP can be many things.

At one end of the scale is AT&T's use of its Internet backbone to deliver long-distance calls. Such calls could be dialed from an old black rotary phone by a Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ - News) customer in New York, converted by AT&T to digital packets and carried over its Internet backbone, and converted back again by AT&T in Houston, where it is received on another plain, old telephone by an SBC customer.

At the other end of the scale is's Free World Dialup. The service is available only to members, doesn't use phone numbers, and sidesteps the phone network entirely with special phones that communicate with each other over broadband Internet connections.

In the middle is Vonage Holding Corp. Customers make calls with a broadband connection, but Vonage can deliver the call to a conventional phone on the public switched network."

Friday, January 09, 2004


Intelligent Networks and the Stupid Companies that Run Them

Did you call me in the last six weeks and get "fast busy" or an "All circuits are busy, please try your call again later," recording? For over a month some friends have complained that they can't call me. Others have had no problem. If you've encountered either of those symptoms, it might or might not be fixed, so please call me again -- 203-661-4798 -- and tell me what happens (by email if necessary).

Here's the story:

One friend who's had this trouble lives across town. He's been trying repeatedly, getting "fast busy" every time. So he'd send me email and I'd call him. I began calling the trouble in to Verizon about the second time it happened. They found no problem. Lather, rinse, repeat -- for weeks.

Fortunately, my friend has two lines in his house. Last weekend after three "fast busy" calls on 203-531-abcd, my friend got right through on 203-531-wxyz. He tried abcd again and got "fast busy". Wxyz rang through. Again. Abcd "fast busy". Wxyz no problem.

I must have called this in to Verizon six times over the last six weeks. You know Verizon. They're the phone company that answers, "Hello, I'm Pat from Verizon and I provide excellent service." Over the last six weeks, Verizon reps have told me there was no problem; excellent, but wrong. They told me the problem was fixed. Excellent again, but bogus as a 45-minute Iraqui nuke launch. One rep said there was a short but I could still get calls because tip and ring were two different lines. Excellent nonsense. Another rep told me that excellent service had nothing to do with whether my problem got fixed. And she said that "the guy at the switch" would call me the next day." But he didn't.

The one thing that they all repeatedly said they COULDN'T do: escalate the problem.

Now, thanks to my friend across town, I had an experimental prep: 203-531-abcd couldn't reach me. 203-531-wxyz rang my phone. He was a Verizon customer. I was a Verizon customer. Verizon couldn't pull that old, "It's the other network," shuck. My friend called in the trouble too. I called one more time. Again, no action. The Verizon techs failed to fix the problem.

I got on the Internet and found "voice message" numbers for Verizon Chairman Ivan Seidenberg and Vice Chairman Larry Babbio. I left nice messages. I explained that I didn't want to bother them, but when I was at AT&T, I knew that the Office of the Chairman had staff that could kick butts, take names and get things done.

The next day (yesterday) I felt like the dog who caught the garbage truck. I was called. I was visited. My line was tested and tested. Maybe Seidenberg really *is* worth $13,000,000 a year.

A Verizon tech named Jim stopped by my house to explain. He said,
"I saw something like this a year ago. The customer had Anonymous Call Rejection and Caller ID. I discovered it by accident. I was working for the called party, and I ran into a colleague at the switch who was working a caller problem. As we talked, we found out we were working two ends of the same problem. We spent the rest of the day trying different customer account settings until we found it."
He said that I just had to call the business office and ask them to turn off Anonymous Call Rejection. I called. The Verizon Business Office rep said that I didn't have Anonymous Call Rejection. I called Repair and they instructed me that *87 would turn off Anonymous Call Rejection, and I'd hear a voice message. I hit *87 and got no voice message. Then another Verizon rep called and said that I did indeed have Anonymous Call Rejection, and that she had turned it off. Then I got another call from Verizon. The Caller ID came up "Private". The rep on the other end of the line pronounced my problem fixed.

I had one more chat with Jim that day. I asked him if he knew anything about how the conflict between Caller ID and Anonymous Call Rejection worked. He didn't. I asked him why my callers got "fast busy" or the Network Busy announcement instead of the Anonymous Call Rejection announcement, which explains how to complete the call (you dial *82+ the number). He had no idea.

My friend with the two lines must be out of town for the weekend. I can't reach him. I don't know if the problem is really fixed or not. If you've had a problem trying to call me in the past, please try your call again now. 203-661-4798. Or *82-1-203-661-4798.

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