NDN Blog

Ford's Ubiñas on Universal High-Speed Internet Access

Luis Ubiñas of the Ford Foundation has an excellent editorial in the current Journal of Philanthropy under the headline "Why Foundations of All Kinds Should Promote Internet Access." He makes the case that promoting internet access cannot be the exclusive domain of media or technology philanthropies, but that high-speed, universal access had to be the objective of any modern foundation.  He writes:

UbinasToday the Internet is fundamental to every issue we care about. Efficient and low-cost health care, for example, will soon depend on high-speed access to online medical and diagnostic tools. Some 77 percent of Fortune 500 companies accept job applications solely online, according to one study. And digital classrooms that use high-speed Internet are already connecting students with a vast new world of ideas and information.

In brief, he argues that every foundation risks inadvertantly ignoring a substantial "information underclass" if they fail to include universal, high speed web access as a core objective. He goes on to also make a strong case on the need to fight censorship and anti-competitive behavior by ISPs. The Ford Foundation is committing $50 million to support these objectives over the next five years.

It's great to hear this level of support for expanding web access. Monday's ruling by the DC Circuit Court against the FCC put some of the big objectives outlined in the National Broadband Plan-- particularly those aimed at universal access-- into hazy legal territory. This goal is one that nearly everyone can agree on (including Google and Verizon CEOs Eric Schmidt and Ivan Seidenberg), and I couldn't agree more with Ubiñas that universal, high-speed internet access needs to be a priority for everyone seeking a better America.

Censorship & China, Technology & Freedom

The NY Times had a great article yesterday on censorship in China.  While much of the focus here has been on the relationship between Google and China, the Times smartly distinguishes between China's censorship of unwanted foreign content-- which it does comprehensively and successfully-- and the censorship of domestic content-- which is a heckuva lot harder to do, but a far more pernicious evil. From the article:

Today, China censors everything from the traditional print press to domestic and foreign Internet sites; from cellphone text messages to social networking services; from online chat rooms to blogs, films and e-mail. It even censors online games.

That’s not all. Not content merely to block dissonant views, the government increasingly employs agents to peddle its views online, in the guise of impartial bloggers and chat-room denizens. And increasingly, it is backing state-friendly clones of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, all Western sites that have been blocked here for roughly a year.

CensorshipThe government’s strategy, according to Mr. Bandurski and others, is not just to block unflattering messages, but to overwhelm them with its own positive spin and rebuttals.

The government makes no apologies for what it calls “guiding public opinion.” Regulation is crucial, it says, to keep China from sliding into chaos and to preserve the party’s monopoly on power.

For anyone wanting to begin learning about China's censorship practices, this article is a great place to start.

And for anyone interested in how connection technologies-- like the internet, mobile phones, social media, etc.-- are both promoting freedom and enabling suppression around the world, I'd encourage you to come to our offices on Monday for a speech from Alec Ross, Secretary Clinton's Senior Adviser on Innovation.  Ross has been one of the forces behind State's 21st Century Statecraft Initiative, and has been a leader in State's new focus on internet freedom. On Monday, he'll be giving a talk on the role of connection technologies in open and closed societies.  Please RSVP here, click here to watch the webcast, or here for more information.

In 2007, NDN published a paper co-authored by Ross and Simon Rosenberg called A Laptop in Every Backpack, which contained one of the first public calls for universal access to the global communications network to be a major domestic and foreign policy priority of the United States.

For more of our work on internet & information freedom, take a look at this backgrounder, and come back to visit Global Mobile for regular commentary on the role of connection technology in promoting freedom around the world.

Twitter and Us

A few weeks back, I wrote about how we'll share content-- video, music, photo, text, etc.-- as social technology evolves, and I made the point that among our primary validators will be our friends.  I'd like to expand that a little, to say that, already, our primary validators-- the people who we let tell us what's worth looking at-- are individuals, rather than institutions.

In the past, for example, newspapers editors were the people who decided what was important, and it was the brand of the newspaper that lent credibility to their recommendations.  In the online, socially networked world, in which we all have incredible new capabilities to personalize the content we see, the validators are increasingly individuals, and it's the individual's brand that people are drawn to.  You might read Ezra Klein, but not the Washington Post; you might follow Alec Ross on Twitter, rather than reading what's being written about the State Department; and you might hang on Ashton Kutcher's every musing. It's all about individual people.

All this is to say: my Twitter handle, @GlobalMobileNDN, has felt increasingly irrelevant and out of step.  So I'm switching exclusively to my personal Twitter handle, @swdp. I've done a little switcheroo, so if you follow @GlobalMobileNDN, you'll now be following @swdp.  If not, I hope you'll become a follower!

DC Circuit Court Rules Against FCC in Net Neutrality Case

In a ruling that will seriously limit the Federal Communications Commission's power over broadband providers, the DC Circuit Court ruled today in support of Comcast's claim that the FCC had overstepped its authority by ordering Comcast to treat all internet traffic equally.

The case dates back to an incident in 2007, in which several subscribers to Comcasts's broadband service realized the company was slowing their access to peer-to-peer shared content. The FCC intervened, ordering that the internet service provider had no right to discriminate between the kinds of content users sought over their network. The decision today undermines that intervention, and undermines the FCC's ability to regulate the networks of ISPs including Comcast, AT&T and Verizon.

From the conclusion of the decision issued by Judge Tatum of the DC Circuit Court:

It is true that “Congress gave the [FCC] broad and adaptable jurisdiction so that it can keep pace with rapidly evolving communications technologies.” It is also true that “the Internet is such a technology,” indeed, “arguably the most important innovation in communications in a generation.” Yet notwithstanding the “difficult regulatory problem of rapid technological change” posed by the communications industry, “the allowance of wide latitude in the exercise of delegated powers is not the equivalent of untrammeled freedom to regulate activities over which the statute fails to confer Commission authority.” Because the Commission has failed to tie its assertion of ancillary authority over Comcast’s Internet service to any “statutorily mandated responsibility,” we grant the petition for review and vacate the Order.

So, what's next? The FCC has not yet offered their own next steps, but in a statement today said they remained committed to the principles of a "free and open internet" (an objective everyone seems to agree on), and would base their policies on a solid legal foundation.

According to net neutrality advocates such as Free Press and the Media Access Project, that legal foundation should include reclassifying internet services under the more stringent "Title II" regulation framework, instead of the "Title I" framework that has been in use.  This would give the FCC clear, firm control over the ISPs.

Most internet service providers, on the other hand, would probably rather see the question referred to Congress, as Verizon EVP Tom Tauke argued in a speech here at NDN two weeks ago. Congress would be able to either clarify the FCC's role in internet access, or give the authority to another agency.

Just about everyone seems to agree that a clearer regulatory regime is necessary, if we are to achieve the objectives of an open internet and universal access.  For now, it's back to the drawing board.

Likes I Link, Links I Like

A Tanzanian political party registering members via text message.

The Boston Globe on several students of my dear alma mater and their work with Ushahidi aiding Haiti's recovery.

The best smartphones for global development. (h/t mevans)

XKCD compares the speeds of seismic waves and Tweets:

XKCD on Seismic Waves

Connectivity in Hard-to-Reach Places

Global Mobile is on vacation this week, but I felt I should share the below:

Trans-Canyon Telephone Line

In 1867, John Wesley Powell became the first white man to explore the Grand Canyon, filling in the last "UNKNOWN" blank spot on the maps of America.  A few decades later, in 1935, connectivity came to the bottom of the Canyon, as the CCC constructed the Trans-Canyon Telephone Line.  As you can see above, the telephone line covers some pretty hairy terrain, but FDR and the CCC knew the power of connectivity, and knew the value in connecting tourists and rangers to the world outside the Canyon.

Now, of course, we're canyoning in a more high-tech world-- America's forest rangers, for example, are plugging their smartphones into the AnaBat, a small piece of hardware to help them hear, count, and identify the bats that call the Grand Canyon home. Meanwhile, the FCC, rather than the CCC, is working to connect all Americans, bringing broadband to even the most hard-to-reach parts of our country.  Plus ça change...

Verizon's Tom Tauke on the Future of Internet Policy

At NDN this morning, Verizon Executive Vice President Tom Tauke delivered a pretty big speech on how the internet should be governed in the years ahead.  The speech has gotten some coverage in the Post, the Hill, in some trade publications, and by advocates on the various sides of the issues he addressed.

To very quickly summarize the talk, Tauke argued that the internet has thrived as a competitive marketplace in the past few decades, but that the governance system regulating the net is unclear and based on older, different technologies. A failure to clarify the regulatory system may stifle continued investment and innovation. Tauke called on Congress to clarify which agency has the authority to regulate the internet, but did not specify which agency it should be-- whether the FCC, the FTC, or another.

He proposed building a fresh architecture for governance of the net, and offered four principles to guide the construction of that architecture: First, consumers should be free and empowered to use any legal device to access any legal content.  Second, consumers must feel safe under uniform and consistent security laws. Third, consumer access and adoption should be a priority for the government.  Fourth, the government's role should be to protect consumers and ensure a smoothly functioning marketplace.

Most analysts agree that the 1996 Telecom act needs to be revised, and a clearer system for regulating the net needs to be adopted. Not everyone agrees with Tauke's ideas, but his recommendations are a serious contribution to a serious debate over how to build the new architecture of internet governance, and well worth everyone's consideration.  The full text of his speech can be found here, and you can watch video of the address below.

CTIA, Day One: The Promise and Potential of m2m

If you've ever been to the CTIA conference, you know it can be a little hard to come away with much more than a tote bag full of tote bags and a gambling debt to rival your mortgage. This year, the big news (at least according to Twitter) has centered around the release of a new phone-- the first 4G phone-- from HTC and Sprint. It's pretty, and it'll sure be fast, and it may even serve as a WiFi hotspot for 8 other devices (cool!), but it's basically the next generation phone we knew was coming.

In the sessions/discussions/panels I've attended, and in my wanderings of the Wyoming-sized exhibit floor, a pretty clear theme has arisen around machine-to-machine (m2m) communications.  There are a number of companies exhibiting here that are working directly in the m2m space in one capacity or another, whether manufacturing modems that will feed information to a database, writing the software to govern the devices, or building the consumer products that will put it together.

Beyond that, the broader areas that seem to be host to the most activity are facing their greatest challenges-- and seeing their greatest innovation-- in the m2m space.  I'm thinking particularly of mHealth and the energy/smart grid spaces, both of which have a lot of people talking out here. 

In healthcare, the great promise of wireless in the U.S. is to facilitate remote monitoring of patients, and to collect data-- both on the individual patient level and on the broader, society-wide level. There's a great deal of innovation coming from all the big players and a number of smaller ones to craft devices that will monitor everything from your blood pressure, to your weight, to your heart rate and ECG in real time, wirelessly. These devices then feed the data they gather into a smart database capable of identifying health problems from what it gleans.  There are all sorts of issues with this-- backend compatibility, successful business models, and some mondo liability issues to start with-- but there is incredible opportunity here for these devices to do tremedous good, and I'm pleased to report that pretty much everybody is on it.

In energy, NDN/NPI fanatics already know about the potential of the smart grid, thanks to the work we've done on Electricity 2.0. A crucial piece of the smart grid-- part what will make it smart-- is broadband connectivity built-in.  Some of this connectivity will come from wireless, which will tie together the devices in our homes, let our smart meters talk to the other nodes on the grid.  In this, as in mHealth, there will be great reliance on smooth, secure, reliable m2m connectivity.  With an emphasis on the secure-- you don't want your health data getting lost in transit, or your neighborhood losing electricity.

The handheld devices and the hott new apps to run on them might still be what's sexy here at CTIA (so far as anything is really sexy here), but the real innovation to make life-- not just more convenient-- but truly different and better is happening in this machine-to-machine, data-gathering and analysis space.

Freedom in the 21st Century: Alec Ross to Speak on Internet Freedom

In recent years, connection technologies have played an ever-greater role in promoting freedom and openness around the world. In states such as Iran, China, and Egypt, people have been empowered by new tools: social media, mobile phones, the Internet, text messages, online social networks, and others. The Obama Administration has taken a leading role in protecting the exercise of universal freedoms including the freedom to connect, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and freedom of assembly on digital media, as outlined by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her historic speech on Internet freedom in January. The State Department has been working hard to use connection technologies to advance the causes of human rights and freedom in our increasingly networked and borderless world.

Alec RossOne of the leaders of this initiative is Alec Ross, Senior Adviser on Innovation to the Secretary of State. Before joining the State Department, Ross served as the convener for technology, media, and telecommunications policy for Obama for America and for the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition Team where he focused on technology, innovation, and government reform. In 2000, Ross co-founded One Economy, a non-profit, three-person basement operation which, until 2008, he helped lead and grow to the world's largest digital divide organization that connects low-income people to the tools of the digital age.

On April 12, at 12pm, the Global Mobile Technology Initiative, a joint project of NDN and the New Policy Institute, will host Ross as he delivers a speech on the role of connection technologies in open and closed societies. His address will focus on the tension between societies that are increasingly open by virtue of connection technologies, and societies that are increasingly closed by government suppression and manipulation of connection technologies and communications networks.

Please RSVP if you'll be joining us. If not, a live webcast of the event will begin at 12:15 pm.

Let's Tauke About the Future of Internet Policy

I'm out in Las Vegas this week at CTIA's annual Wireless conference.  Really cool stuff going on here.  Really cool, geeky stuff.  Actually, just really geeky stuff.  Anyway, I'm here so you don't have to be, and I'll be Tweeting and blogging up a storm.

Back at home base, NDN and the New Policy Institute are getting ready for a major event tomorrow.  We're hosting Tom Tauke, EVP of Verizon for Public Affairs, and he's going to be giving a big (trust me, big) talk on the future of internet policy. More info is here, you can RSVP here, or, if you can't make it in person, you can join me in watching the live webcast here.

Verizon will also be putting out a white paper covering much the same territory as his speech, which you'll be able to find at their public policy blog. I'll be summarizing it and offering my own take here at Global Mobile. If you're into internet policy (and I know you are, don't lie) it'll be an interesting read.

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