NDN Blog

The National Broadband Plan: Early Reactions

I got mine!So, the National Broadband Plan arrived in its full, 376-page glory yesterday, and the reception has been largely positive.  I got my hard copy (see enthusiastic photo at left), and am just beginning to make my way through it, but my first impression is that Chairman Genachowski and his team succeeded in offering ambitious but achievable objectives in expanding high-speed access to all Americans at reasonable prices.

The overall theme of the report-- as I understand it-- seems to be the right one: the FCC is setting an agenda for clearing the underbrush and clarifying the rules of the road to allow innovation, investment and competition to do exactly what they've been doing for the past 15 years.  As Blair Levin said at Brookings today, "Crises are caused by failing to act in the interstices," and the FCC is showing admirable leadership in anticipating the crises of tomorrow, and beginning to figure them out today. Many of the Plan's recommendations are dedicated to gathering data, clarifying rules, and creating policies and mechanisms that foster healthy competition and experimentation.  It's this kind of "brush clearing" that will allow the world's innovators to work in concert to maintain our progress.

In the coming days and weeks, I'll be commenting more on the Plan, particularly its recommendations for the seven "national purposes"-- health, education, energy & environment, economic opportunity, government performance, civic engagement, and public safety-- as this is a blog (and blogger) that likes to focus on the intersection of technology and the world.  For now, here are a few early reactions that have come in from around town:

- POTUS can't get enough.

- FAQ&A with Post Tech.

- Tim Karr at Free Press points out some unanswered questions.

- Jonathan Spalter of Mobile Future has his own take on the unanswered questions.

- Last, Chairman Julius sits down with YouTube and its constituents:


Sharing Content in the FUTURE

The internet is a very disorganized place. I think our children and grandchildren will laugh at us for (among many other things) even trying to bushwhack our way through this chirping, hissing, dripping jungle of data, media, networks-within-networks, and kittens doing adorable things. The next truly killer app will be the one that is able to organize content, suss out what matters and what matters to you, and deliver it to you on a silver platter (or on a lunch tray, or in the Stanley Cup, or however you want it served).

The big question that follows is how, exactly, will content-- written, visual, audio, etc.-- be sorted and organized? Who will be the decider? Will the New York Times editorial board bestow the label of true and important? Will Google's algorithms sort items based on myriad criteria to allow the relevant to rise to the top? Will billions of netizens vote and decide? Who knows.

Media JungleHere's what I do think is true: In dealing with the oceans of media and content, perhaps the most valuable validators will be our friends. They'll share links, photos, videos, blog posts, quotes, quips, and other stuff they like with you, their friend, and you will share back with them. We already do this of course, through e-mail and IM, status message and Tweet, RSS, Blog, Buzz, YouTube, Flickr and Facebook. But it's fragmented, it's disorganized, and it's not very well integrated.

A recent article by Marisa Meltzer at the American Prospect wrote about blogging/sharing platform Tumblr, which gives users a slick, easy way to share content-- original or not.  She aptly describes it as a tool for "curating" the web-- for picking out and sharing what matters to you, and ignoring the rest. I've experimented with a number of blogging platforms over the years, and Tumblr is the one that feels most relevant to the moment we're in now: distilling simplicity from the pandemonium.

So is Tumblr the future of content sharing on the web?  Well, no, not exactly. I think we're gravitating toward something that melds Tumblr's simplicity, ease of use and customizability with much of Google Reader's functionality, and then ties it together with Facebook's network. Google and Facebook are both working hard to develop the killer content-sharing platform, but Facebook still feels clunky, and Google Buzz is the worst of all worlds.

But it was just 25 years ago that the first .com was registered.  Fifteen years ago, Netscape changed the internet.  And five years ago, nobody had heard of a Twitter.  So I won't go any further in my speculation about how we'll be sharing-- or even what we'll be sharing-- five years from now.

Wed, March 24: Tom Tauke on Governance and the Internet Ecosystem

As a part of our ongoing series of events on the power of connective technology and the role of the global network in our world, NDN and the New Policy Institute are proud to host Tom Tauke, Executive Vice President of Public Affairs, Policy and Communications for Verizon. Tauke will deliver a major policy address on the future of the internet, which will be followed by a robust Q&A session.

Tom TaukeThe Internet has become the most important communications platform for America and around the globe. Media of all kinds – voice, video and data – can and are transmitted via the Internet. Increasingly the old policy framework that defined and in many ways enabled the communications and Internet technologies is eroding and becoming less relevant to today’s world. Policy adjustments and “fixes” have been adopted over time, but they are increasingly outmoded.

Tom Tauke has long been involved with communications policy, first as a Member of Congress and now as Executive Vice President of Public Affairs, Policy and Communications for Verizon. In his remarks and the ensuing discussion, he will lay out what he sees as a new policy framework for the Internet Ecosystem and why it is important to do the hard work of getting it adopted.

The event will be held at our offices on Wednesday, March 24, at 10 a.m. We hope you'll be able to join us-- either here at our offices or via live webcast-- for this speech. Please RSVP, as we expect this event to fill up quickly!

Conservatives Level the Playing Field in Political Technology

NDN and the affiliated New Politics Institute, have a long history of talking, thinking, and writing about the role of technology in politics. Indeed, that's how we got into this Global Mobile space way back in naught-six.  And all the "New Tools" papers NDN & NPI published back in the day are actually still an incredibly valuable resource for a campaign worker trying to figure out how to guide their candidate through a jungle of new technology: mobile, cable, blogs, search, social networking...

One of the assumed truths about technology in politics was that it inherently favored Democrats. Many early bloggers had a progressive bent, Silicon Valley has always been a lefty hotbed, and disruptive new technologies generaly seem to favor the party that is looking forward to a better future, rather than back at a better past.  Whatever the reason for the Dems' early advantage, it's quickly disappearing. As I've said before, all these tools are just that-- tools-- and they don't tend to take sides in any fight. 

Last week, the Dallas Morning News ran "Gov. Rick Perry's campaign is more text than talk." Perry, the incumbent in the Texas gubernatorial race, is skipping the yard signs, the phone banks, and pimply teenagers knocking on your door in favor of Twitter, e-mail, and pimply teenagers sending you Facebook messages. With more Millennials coming into the electorate and a growing number of Hispanics in the Texas population who are better reached via mobile web than landlines or door-knocking-- it only makes sense to run a tech-savvy campaign, and it was only a matter of time before the Republicans began to figure it out.

In the U.K., similar things are happening.  David Cameron's insurgent Conservatives are reaching voters via Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and other web apps, and, as our friend James Crabtree wrote in the FT last week, they're mastering search, e-mail, and databases-- all perhaps even more powerful than the aforementioned social networking tools. At an NDN/NPI/Global Mobile event a few weeks back, Crabtree explained how the Conservatives' very progressive-- even radical-- open government and open data proposals are leading the way and forcing Labour to keep up. And if you've got access to Wired UK, Crabtree has a 6,000 word bohoemoth that looks deep into the Conservatives' digital strategy.

All this is just to say-- the playing field is now flat.

The Dazzling Future of mHealth

Dr. Eric Topol of Scripps Health and the West Wireless Health Institute spoke on the Hill last year, at an event co-hosted by CTIA and NDN.  His amazing presentation was a look into the future of wireless technology in healthcare. He showed off devices and applications-- not so far removed from the iPhone apps of today-- that will be able to track vital signs, monitor chronic diseases, and collect data about our bodies: about sleep, about pregnancy, about disease, and about just about everything else.

Dr. Topol gave a talk at TEDHealth last fall, and the video gives a good picture of the (amazing) near-future in mobile Healthcare.  Enjoy:

Social Networking Against Violence in Ciudad Juárez

Ciudad Juárez, just across the border from El Paso, may be the most violent city in the world; the spectacular murder rate and the uncounted headless bodies are attributable primarily to the drug trade that plagues the entire border region. Back in October, a State Department Tech Delegation to Mexico City kicked off a collaborative effort to allow citizens of the border region to offer the police anonymous tips via free text message whenever they witness violence.

But that's not all that's going on in Juárez to combat the pandemic of grusome violence. A bottom-up movement organized by one librarian has been holding protests, vigils, and speaking out against the violence in their city. Daniel Cruz Batista was fed up with all the violence in Juárez, so he started a Facebook group called “Ya Basta de Violencia en Juárez!!” (Enough With the Violence in Juárez).  He gained 6,000 followers within a week, and now has more than 9,000. Another Facebook group, “Jóvenes Por Juárez” (Young People For Juárez), has 4,000 members, and has similarly acted as a forum for citizens to connect, share information, and organize.

In an essay I highlighted a few days ago, Ethan Zuckerman offers three theories of how internet access can change closed societies. Two of those theories can, I think, be applied to a place like Mexico's border region, where the problem isn't government oppression, it's that average people are powerless in the face of violent crime syndicates. The first, which Zuckerman calls the "Twitter Revolution Theory" is the idea that if people have web access, they'll be able to use that connectivity to communicate and organize with like-minded people. The second, the "Public Sphere Theory," holds that the web provides people a place to think, speak, and express themselves freely, and to create a "parallel public sphere" to empower social actors.

The problem in Juárez is, on its face, a problem of law enforcement's inability to stand up to a powerful criminal element. But it runs deeper to a weak local government, and, at its root, a civil society that lacks the power, cohesion, or capability to stop the violence.  While social networking tools like Facebook are clearly not the whole solution to this kind of a problem, they are a crucial step, through the mechanisms described by the above theories. Via two Facebook groups, begun by average citizens, the rational, peaceful, law-abiding majority is able to communicate and organize, and then, ultimately, build a civil society that is strong enough and cohesive enough to stand up for security, stability, and justice in Juárez.

Violence can be a force as oppressive as authoritarianism, violating rights to life, liberty, and security of person. Fortunately, tools of connectivity have the potential to be as powerful in standing up to drug lords as they can be in standing up to dictators.

VIDEO: Open Government in the U.S. and U.K.

We hope EVERYONE was able to tune in on Friday for our event on open government with Andrew McLaughlin and James Crabtree, but we realize some of you may have had lunch dates that, at the time, seemed more important.  Not to worry!  We've got the whole show recorded and prepared for your viewing (below).  Also, in the block at right, you can check out a version of the video edited down to just McLaughlin's talk on the Obama Administration's Open Government Initiative.

For future event notices, sign up for our weekly newsletter, or keep a close eye on our RSS feed.

Vodafone Unveils the $15 Phone

At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Vodafone unveiled the world's lowest-cost mobile phone-- a handset that costs less than $15.  The Vodafone 150 will be capable of voice and SMS services, with five hours of talk-time, and room for 100 contacts. More importantly, by virtue of its SMS service, it supports the mobile payment systems that are spreading around developing world, as well as the many mHealth initiatives that are taking root across Africa and elsewhere.

It will launch in India, Turkey, Eastern Europe and a bevy of African countries. But don't take my word for it, here's Vodafone's charming Patrick Chomet:

As mobile ownership climbs toward five billion this year, the pool of potential new subscribers will continue to shrink, and it will become increasingly important-- for purely business reasons-- for mobile companies to market to low-income people around the world.  Hats off to Vodafone for living, as always, on the bleeding edge of mobile development.

The Practical Quesitons of Internet Freedom

Well, I just wrote a long blog post and then accidentally deleted it. But it's probably just as well, since it was basically a less-good summary of Ethan Zuckerman's recent essay about the merits and limitations of circumvention technologies-- tools that allow people in repressive states like China and Iran to get around their censors by using a remote server to mask their identity-- and, more broadly, about how we will actually go about the business of promoting internet freedom around the world.

Point is, go read the post.  But I will quote here a couple of my favorite passages. Here, he lays out the case for internet freedom in deeply convinving language:

I think much work on internet censorship isn’t motivated by a theory of change – it’s motivated by a deeply-held conviction (one I share) that the ability to share information is a basic human right. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” The internet is the most efficient system we’ve ever built to allow people to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, and therefore we need to ensure everyone has unfettered internet access. The problem with the Article 19 approach to censorship circumvention is that it doesn’t help us prioritize. It simply makes it imperative that we solve what may be an unsolvable problem.

And then, at the end, Zuckerman offers a few ideas that begin to answer the question of how we can actually support internet freedom. These three struck me as particularly right, and you may hear me riffing on these themes in coming weeks:

- We need to shift our thinking from helping users in closed societies access blocked content to helping publishers reach all audiences. In doing so, we may gain those publishers as a valuable new set of allies as well as opening a new class of technical solutions.

- If our goal is to allow people in closed societies to access an online public sphere, or to use online tools to organize protests, we need to bring the administrators of these tools into the dialog. Secretary Clinton suggests that we make free speech part of the American brand identity – let’s find ways to challenge companies to build blocking resistance into their platforms and to consider internet freedom to be a central part of their business mission. We need to address the fact that making their platforms unblockable has a cost for content hosts and that their business models currently don’t reward them for providing service to these users.

- The US government should treat internet filtering – and more aggressive hacking and DDoS attacks – as a barrier to trade. The US should strongly pressure governments in open societies like Australia and France to resist the temptation to restrict internet access, as their behavior helps China and Iran make the case that their censorship is in line with international norms. And we need to fix US treasury regulations make it difficult and legally ambiguous for companies like Microsoft and projects like SourceForge to operate in closed societies. If we believe in Internet Freedom, a first step needs to be rethinking these policies so they don’t hurt ordinary internet users.

YouTube Essays

My dear Alma Mater has always been tech-savvy, so it doesn't come as a surprise that it's still pushing the cutting edge, but still, it was good to see that Tufts University is now accepting minute-long YouTube videos as part of undergraduate applications. 

About 1,000 of the 15,000 applicants submitted the optional video, and, from the sampling posted by the NY Times, they're about evenly divided between people who will definitely get in because of their videos, and people who will definitely be rejected because of their videos. So, it seems like a pretty useful medium for the Admissions office to allow high school seniors to either shine or, well, not shine. (I'll let you decide who's who.)

While I don't think the good, old-fashioned standardized tests and admissions essays will be going away, I imagine other schools will follow in Tufts's wake by allowing applicants to use new media to make their case.

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