Blog - Page 13

Net neutrality dead?

Amy Schatz of the Wall Street Journal reports that Republicans on Chairman Henry A. Waxman’s Energy & Commerce Committee declined to support his net neutrality proposal. Which is not a big surprise. And that the proposal was opposed for different reasons by members of his own party. Waxman apparently acted completely honorably in search of middle ground. Yet, it is now more clear than ever that net neutrality is nothing more than a left-wing fantasy. Moderate Democrats don’t really care. Republicans oppose it, of course. We now know it cannot pass in a House of Representatives with a significant Democratic majority. Chairman Waxman says, “If Congress can’t act, the FCC must,” according to Schatz. That’s very amusing. If the FCC Read More ›

Waxman to the rescue?

Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) of the House Energy & Commerce Committee is floating draft legislation that would ensure the Federal Communications Commission can, for two years, intervene if broadband providers block or unreasonably interfere with access to lawful content, applications, services, or devices utilizing the Internet. Although Waxman drafted his proposal without significant Republican participation, sources report he dialogued with all stakeholders and acted fairly and transparently to fashion a compromise that might end the stalemate — at least for the time being — and possibly pass a floor vote. The Waxman proposal deserves a look for two reasons. One, it is a vehicle for elected officials rather than unelected bureaucrats to establish high-level policy that has a significant Read More ›

Tax online sales?

For years state and local officials have claimed that online sales will erode the sales tax since online merchants are only required to collect sales taxes in jurisdictions where they have a physical presence. The tax collectors are gearing up to pressure Congress once again to change the status quo (“Main Street Fairness Act,” H.R. 5660). Why are some online purchases but not others exempt from sales tax? For one thing, the compliance burden would be ugly. The Supreme Court observed (Quill Corp. v. N. Dak., 504 U.S. 298 (1992)) that requiring out-of-state merchants to collect the applicable state and local tax on all purchases regardless of physical presence might “unduly burden interstate commerce” since there were 6,000-plus taxing jurisdictions Read More ›

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Umbrella with rainbow colors. Colorful background.

Google a “Monopolist”?

If more than 70% of all ad-supported queries flow through Google’s search engine, does that make Google a “monopolist” and a legitimate target of antitrust enforcement? Of course not. According to the late Professor Joseph Schumpeter, almost all monopolies are transitory, unless buttressed by public authority. Antitrust “remedies” typically ensure there will be no winners or losers among the commercial entities that currently inhabit a commercial ecosystem. And that can be deadly to investment and innovation. In the real world, businesses have to navigate a minefield of of unforeseeable opportunities and challenges, such as shifting consumer preferences and new technologies. The Internet that Google appears to dominate in fact is a highly dynamic platform. Consider the following observation (Wired archive) Read More ›

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Colorful Trails

WIRED Weirds Out

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For the latest doomsday dispatches from the front, catch the September issue of Wired–the lustrous eye-blasting pink one with the Chris Anderson-Michael Wolff grafitti declaring “The Web is Dead.”
Though Wired is the belwether of the nerd-herd, (“whither thou wire us, we will wierd out”), for the real futurist bonanza you should start with Andy Kessler’s arachnoid Grumby, pouncing on the web-weary wanderer with an injection of his pharmic toxin of uproarious wit and invention.

grumby cover 170.jpgThe thrust of the mind-bending but brain-bent Anderson-Wolff pieces is the eclipse of the web by walled content. As conceived by Tim Berners-Lee, the World Wide Web specified the HTML mark-up language for the creation of standard web pages that could be read on a browser on any computer attached to the net. Transmission across the net was accomplished by HTTP (hypertext transport protocol). Berners-Lee was concerned less with the network at layer 3 than with the desktop experience and linkage to other pages.

Coming later was TCP-IP (transport control protocol-Internet protocol) from Bob Kahn and Vin Cerf. These organized the network-addressing URLs and the try, try, again until you get an acknowledgement method of layer 4 TCP.

Anderson’s thesis is that the layers 3 and 4 TCP-IP comprise the Internet and it will continue to thrive while Berners Lee’s Web will continue to wane with the rise of the new off-web networks and video streams.

For evidence, Anderson opens his article with a chart showing video in 2010 as 51% of the net, peer-to-peer (also mostly video) as 23%, “Other” at 3%, and the “Web” down to a mere moribund 23%, with mostly textual email dwindling to negligibility as a traffic source. Anderson and Wolff claim that these numbers mean some kind of revolutionary “Death of the Web”, which is now measured at less than a quarter of the bits and “shrinking”.

But in fact the Web is far from shrinking; it is growing massively. All the Wired numbers actually portend is the death of television, with video moving onto the net from the old broadcast channels and thus diminishing the Web as a share of the total. The Web meanwhile is more dominant than ever in the information economy, regardless of whether it is accessed by a browser or by various pushy special purpose apps (which function much as your favorites list on a browser).

Also going, going, gone, so they say, is the Google empire with its open sesame search and insecure swampfest of YouTube, its long queues of tedious ads, its often thin gruel of profits outside Google Corporation advertizing revenue, and its compost heaps of wikiware, crawlspace, and semi-pilfered “News,” books, and bimbos, all blithely “free”.

“Free?” says Anderson, that’s so then, like HTML, HTTP, and even presumably Anderson’s own last book by that title. (Chris, I always wondered how that “free” stuff would work for you at Conde-Nast).

What’s now is the Wired new world of freemiums (giveaway gotchas), together with paid subscriptions, paid apps, windmills, and XML (the standard data markup language). Just joking about the windmills, though Wired and Google aren’t. But in the articles no one explains how browser friendly XML, near kin after all to HTML and ubiquitous across the web is somehow a post web avatar.

But let it pass. Hot stuff on the new now Wired off-web are sites like Pandora programmable music and Twitter text tweets, and humongous new imperial force is Facebook, where 500 million virtual souls live and link and poke lost loves and beget billionaires on Farmville. Video from Netflix, Roku and Tivo is said to blow away our browser, and the iPad is assumed to be way more now than the dim web streams on our homely Dell lap or HP netbook. All these non-web video flows are seen as relegating Berners Lee’s invention to the trash bins of digital history.

May I be so bold as to contradict my old friends at Wired? I would suggest that they have the picture wildly upside down. What is dying is not the Web but television and the Internet. The onrush of video bits as a share of traffic is irrelevant to the prospects of the web, which is measured not by bulk traffic but by information entropy: by impressions, transactions, and servers. The video flood, however, is deadly to the Internet with its ungainly TCP aks-naks, buffers and security patches, multi-layered latency and dropped links. It is the Internet that must die as a result of the dominance of video traffic.

Video will kill the cumbrous, porous seven layer Internet model just as the rise of voice killed the old best efforts, asynchronous, non-deterministic telegraph network. As my friend Henry Gau ingeniously explains, the rise of voice communications with their needs for deterministic synchrony required a new Bell infrastructure to replace the old Western Union tap-tap. Similarly video’s needs for deterministic synchronous delivery precisely parallel the previous demands of voice streams when they became the prevailing form of traffic early in the last century with the rise of telephony.

Who will build this network remains in question but the floods of video all the way down from the server through the living room to the desktop to the handset cannot be handled by some Microsoft, Symantec, or Cisco patch on the old Internet.
As for Google, its goofier-than-Gore postures against life giving CO2 and bizarre drive for a network neutrality litigation carnival in Washington make it easy to make fun of. But contrary to all Wolff and Anderson’s disparagement of the company and its allegedly obsolescent open Web model, Google is becoming more central than ever to the new era and is emphatically on the right side in the wars over the future of the Internet.

While Wired touts the end of the Web, Google is unleashing a program to mash all TV and other video onto the Web. It is producing ingenious end-of-TV software that transforms any Android or iPhone into a Web browser remote control for capacious big screens or even uses the Android or iPhone screens themselves (and soon their onboard projectors). Its new Native Client software, already manifest in its Chrome browser and coming OS, trumps Apple’s Objective C language (Jobs’ mandatory apps legacy from his old NeXt machine), that Wired trumpets a super now force on wireless phones. Thus Google promises to fulfill at last my Life After Television dream of a teleputer in every pocket (or bioslot), with access not to a hundred channels but to a 100 million interactive sites on any display.

At the same time, Facebook, a Website with no significant new technology, does not “control” the future as Wired imagines. Like AOL, MySpace, and Twitter, it will have its day in the sun before falling into the gap between a social playground and a commercial hustle.

The death of the Web? Apple uber alles? Giant monopolies closing off the world in a cutesy Farmville cartoon garden? That’s Weirdsville.

The flood of video will indeed require a simpler, synchronous, secure and deterministic replacement for the current Internet. But the Web will thrive for decades to come and if Google can break away from its silly medieval green politics, it may well lead the Web’s victory parade.

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GPS surveillance – Who should decide?

The New York Times has an interesting piece by Charlie Savage about the use of GPS tracking by police departments. It notes that last week, an ideologically diverse panel on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned a drug trafficking conviction because the evidence against the defendant included tracking data from a GPS receiver that the police hid under his sport utility vehicle without a warrant. “The device essentially recorded his whereabouts 24 hours a day for four weeks.” The real issue is not whether the police should be able to use this fantastic technology to catch bad guys. Of course they should. The issue is whether police should be able to hide these devices Read More ›

Gilder Laughs at Kessler Robots

(Note: Andy Kessler, hedge fund billionaire, meteoric success in Silicon Valley and at AT&T Bell Labs and author of four non-fiction books, has a novel out now: Grumby, a tale of the future of robotic intelligence. Gilder just read it.) by George Gilder Steve Jobs recoils in panic, pushing madly forth his inferior pods and paddles, ipups and ap-kits, Quicktunes and iTimes, before giving in to his disgrumbyment. Mark Zuckerburg wanders forlorn and friendless on Facebook, before finally matriculating at Harvard’s new Grumby school of transgendered robotics. Meg Whitman lifts weights and flees to the muscle bound beaches and bureaucracies of California politics, now entirely virtualized by Grumby. Bob Metcalfe propounds an ethereal power law of Grumbynets. Eric Schmidt gives Read More ›

Obama Names Tom Alberg to New National Council on Entrepreneurship

Tom Alberg, who helped found Discovery Institute in 1990 and was president of its Board for many years (and still serves as a Director), is one of the most innovative entrepreneurs around. He knows the importance of pro-growth economic policies and is keenly aware of the dangers of the present moment. So it is with delight that I note that he has been appointed by President Obama to the prestigious new National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The Council will operate under Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, former governor of Washington State. Alberg is a lawyer by background, who served as Sr. Vice President at McCaw Cellular when it was sold to AT&T. He was an early investor in Amazon Read More ›

Title II for broadband is desperate and ill-conceived

Julius Genachowski is in a hurry.
The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission is arguing that the commission must act quickly to “restore the longstanding deregulatory–as opposed to ‘no-regulatory’ or ‘over-regulatory’–compact” that governed broadband Internet access services prior to a recent court decision. Such an approach is urgently needed to “restore the status quo,” he claims.
If the FCC cannot regulate the Internet, it may die. The telephone and television industries are declining, whereas communications industries which the FCC monitors to some extent but does not regulate, e.g., the Internet backbone, broadband Internet access and wireless, are thriving.
Genacowski’s plan would reclassify broadband as a “telecommunications” service subject to blunt, onerous, industrial-era regulation under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 — which governs common carriers — and then forbear from enforcing most of Title II’s heavy-handed provisions.
Broadband services haven’t been subject to Title II regulation for several years, so reclassification would not restore the status quo. It would harken back to a bygone era.

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Is regulation better than competition?


Late last week the Federal Communications Commission voted along party lines to open a proceeding to “seek the best legal framework for broadband Internet access,” a process that could culminate in the imposition of stifling, telephone utility style regulations on America’s privately financed broadband networks pursuant to Title II of the 1934 Communications Act.
A statement by Commissioner Michael J. Copps explains in more detail than the rest why he thinks regulation is necessary for achieving this country’s “broadband hopes and dreams.”
The FCC has been deregulating communications services in response to increasing competition for years. Copps and others believe it is necessary to reverse course, although in his statement Copps doesn’t question the policy of deregulating a competitive market. He questions the facts, arguing that broadband is less competitive than it used to be. This is a misleading argument.

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