Monthly Archives: March 2007

GSA Awards Three

U.S. General Services Administration awards a record contract:
Dealing a significant blow to Sprint Nextel, the government on Thursday awarded the largest-ever federal telecommunications contract _ a 10-year deal worth up to $48 billion _ to its rivals AT&T, Qwest Communications and Verizon.

The three contract winners will split $525 million, but beyond that they will have to compete with each other for the business of dozens of federal agencies needing to enhance the quality and security of voice, video and data technologies, the General Services Administration announced.

Phone Deal Goes to Qwest, AT&T, Verizon, By DIBYA SARKAR, The Associated Press, Thursday, March 29, 2007; 5:54 PM

At least there’s an element of competition (with three providers rather than two in previous incarnations of the contract). On the other hand, Sprint had had the contract for 20 years, and losing it means Sprint is less viable, so that could mean one less big telco, and less competition longterm. We’ll see. Meanwhile, there’s another GSA award of similar size coming in May that Sprint expects to win.

Leaving aside Aristotelian conflict for a moment, there’s also the question of content: can any of these telcos provide real fast broadband?


High-Tech Hillbillies

As Bruce Sterling says:
It’s Official: The Once High-Tech USA Has Been Reduced to Luddite Hillbillies
Here’s the more stodgy summary:
European countries and Singapore have surpassed the United States in their ability to exploit information and communication technology, according to a new survey.

The United States, which topped the World Economic Forum’s “networked readiness index” in 2006, slipped to seventh. The study, out Wednesday, largely blamed increased political and corporate interference in the judicial system.

U.S. Loses Top Spot in Global Tech Study, By BRADLEY S. KLAPPER, Associated Press Writer, 28 March 2007

Remember, this happened while U.S. telcos were busy reconsolidating into Ma Bell, rather than deploying real broadband (countries such as Japan and Korea have speeds 10 times faster than in the U.S., and available to everbody).


FCC Changes Rules

The FCC has modified the terms of the AT&T and Bellsouth merger:
AT&T is required to offer a reduced rate to other phone companies that use its networks to connect calls. That means former Bell phone companies Verizon and Qwest, which use AT&T networks in some U.S. regions, would also pay the lower rate.

AT&T had previously agreed to cut the rate on the condition that Verizon and Qwest do the same, incurring the wrath of Verizon and Qwest and raising questions among some lawmakers.

US FCC agrees to changed AT&T/BellSouth condition, Reuters, March 27, 2007; 2:56 PM

On the one hand, this seems to level the playing field somewhat. Continue reading

Net Neutrality Would Promote Infrastructure Improvements

The telco party line as expressed by Mike McCurry is:
McCurry argued that letting regulators “engineer the future of the Internet would “dampen investor interest in building bigger, faster, smarter pipes.” Instead, Congress and the Federal Communications Commission should sit on the sidelines and see what competition could do.

Study: Net neutrality law would spur infrastructure improvements, By Eric Bangeman, Ars Technica, March 11, 2007 – 05:39PM CT

I’d say we’ve already seen what competition with the few big telcos does: it results in lawsuits and competitors shut down. But what if there were net neutrality? Continue reading

FCC Looking for Violations

The FCC is investigating whether there are any current violations of net neutrality on the part of U.S. broadband operators:
Advocates of such laws, proponents of what is known as Net neutrality, also don’t claim to have widespread reports of discriminatory Internet practices. “For the most part, the industry is on its best behavior,” says Art Brodsky, communications director of Public Knowledge, an advocacy group and supporter of Net neutrality legislation. “If there is a cop sitting behind you, do you floor it and go 90? Not if you are smart.”

The issue for Net neutrality advocates isn’t so much what the broadband providers are currently doing—though they do point to a few instances where Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) Internet telephone providers, such as Vonage (VG), were blocked by smaller service providers. Their main concern is what the telecommunications companies may do in the future to make more money from the high-speed cable and telephone networks they have and are building.

Without any specific problems to investigate, it’s unclear what the FCC’s investigation will ultimately do. In a statement, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said the purpose of the inquiry was to be fully informed. “Gathering this information will allow us to better monitor this market,” says Martin.

FCC Probe: Net Neutrality Goose Chase? The regulator’s search for discriminatory pricing by broadband providers may turn up little—but that doesn’t mean the practice won’t ever occur, by Catherine Holahan, Business Week, 27 March 2007

Monitoring the market is good, and if that’s what the FCC is really doing, preparing to monitor the market longterm, that’s probably a good idea. However, given that the FCC-brokered agreement for the AT&T-Bellsouth merger said that the participants would not do anything against net neutrality for two years, that is, after 2008, discovering that there aren’t currently many violations could also prove useful for political purposes leading up to the 2008 elections. I guess we’ll see.


Participatory Fire Department

In participatory journalism, citizens combine their efforts to produce or display data that is otherwise unavailable. Well, it seems the Los Angeles Fire Department is doing something similar, in posting pictures from the scene. This is a little different, in that they’re not ordinary civilians, yet it provides many of the same benefits, plus they’re guaranteed to be on every scene. (I don’t know if they actually take pictures at every scene.)


PS: Seen on BoingBoing.

Outside the Crass Duopoly

As usual, Bruce Sterling says it more colorfully:
(((I’ve been doing a lot of video blogging on BEYOND THE BEYOND lately, which must be annoying to readers who don’t have broadband. But look: outside the crass duopoly of the USA’s pitifully inadequate broadband, digital video is gushing right through the cracks. There’s just no getting away from it. There is so much broadband, so cheap and so widespread, that the video pirates are going out of business. I used to walk around Belgrade and there wasn’t a street-corner where some guy wasn’t hawking pirated plastic disks. Those crooks and hucksters are going away, their customers are all on YouTube or LimeWire…)))

(((“Vernacular video,” folks. It isn’t just for theorists any more.)))

WIRED Blogs: Listening Post, by Bruce Sterling, in Beyond the Beyond, 23 March 2007

Yes, he said Belgrade. Serbia: former Yugoslavia. They have broadband that makes the pokey speeds and availability in the U.S. look like horse and buggy days. But, then, so do many other countries.

The U.S. could, too, if it wanted to.


Competition, Schmopetition

This is a story about Amanda Lee, a Comcast cable Internet user, who was warned by Comcast that she was using too much bandwidth:
Lee, who said she had been using the same broadband connection for years without a problem, was taken aback. But when she asked what the download limit was, she was told there was no limit, that she was just downloading too much.

Then in mid-February, her Internet service was cut off without further warning.

Not so fast, broadband providers tell big users, Firms impose limits even as demand rises, By Carolyn Y. Johnson, Boston Globe Staff, March 12, 2007

So the provider gets to decide what “too much” is without even telling the user how much that is, and to cut them off without any further warning. Sure, there are technical issues with the way cable Internet service works. Those wouldn’t be a problem if users had a number of choices. However, in most locations there are only one or two: telco or cableco. Let the market work it out? That assumes there is competition so that there are market forces. There aren’t. As the article points out, it’s not as if broadband were a luxury anymore, either: people increasingly depend on it for business and pleasure.

More competition would be good.


Chuck Berry Mashup

A Congressman gets it about how mash-ups (music that samples bits of other artists’ work) are not new, and maybe even beneficial:
‘I hope that everyone involved will take a step back and ask themselves if mash-ups and mixtapes are really different or if it’s the same as Paul McCartney admitting that he nicked the Chuck Berry bass-riff and used it on the Beatle’s hit “I Saw Her Standing There.”‘

Perhaps the Coolest Moment in the History of Congress and Why it Matters, by Sean Garrett, The 463: Inside Tech Policy, Technology policy trends, insight and news March 11, 2007

Who said that? Congressman Mike Doyle (D-Pittsburgh, PA), in a hearing on the “Future of Radio” of the House Telecom and Internet sub-committee, which was mainly about the recent Copyright Royalty Board decision to raise prices for music over the web. If there really is such value in mash-ups, perhaps that value needs to be somehow balanced with copyright.


Participants, Not Consumers

I don’t know Bob Pepper very well, but I did talk to him a few times while he was at the FCC, and he always seemed thoughtful and knowledgeable. However, when he says that:
Unfortunately, one key constituency often seems left out of this heated debate: the Internet consumer. This oversight is striking since it is end users who, each day, rely on the Internet to conduct their work and personal lives. What policies should be enacted to ensure their maximum choice and flexibility? Consumer empowerment is where the debate should begin — and end.

Network Neutrality: Avoiding a Net Loss By Robert Pepper, TechNewsWorld, 03/14/07 4:00 AM PT

I just have to say that he’s missing the point. Continue reading