Global Mobile

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

Shop... And Make the World a Better Place

Having totally disrupted American politics with the election of President Barack Obama, America's youngest and largest generation, Millennials (born 1982-2003), are about to overturn the rules of retailing with equally dramatic implications for the country's economy. Underpinning this shift is the deployment of broadband speed mobile services that take full advantage of the capabilities of America's favorite new toy-- smart phones. But just as Millennials transformed the Internet from a libertarian tool for individual action to one that provides a new capability for connecting everyone through social networks, these new broadband services will be put to work in ways that reflect the values and beliefs of Millennials, especially their fondness for doing good while doing well.

The FCC's recent announcement of a National Broadband Plan, almost exactly a decade after President George W. Bush announced he was thinking about having one, establishes some very ambitious goals for the deployment of a faster broadband infrastructure for the country. The plan's first goal is to provide at least 100 million U.S. homes with affordable access to broadband download speeds of 100 megabits per second by 2020. But the plan's second goal is even more ambitious, suggesting that the United States should lead the world in mobile innovation, with the "fastest and most extensive wireless networks of any nation." This will be accomplished by freeing up vast swaths of spectrum, currently owned by older media, that these new broadband speed mobile networks will need to operate.

As NDN fellow Rob Shapiro recently pointed out, the economic benefits of this kind of infrastructure deployment can lead to the direct creation of 500,000 new jobs over the next five years. But many times more jobs will be created by the way "that a basic infrastructure such as broadband stimulates additional economic activity, much as highways and railroads once did. Building out these networks creates a platform for the development of thousands of new applications," and that's where Millennials' behavior and use of technology come into play.

A recent Nielsen study of generational shopping habits found that Millennials make the fewest trips of any generation to any and all retail settings-from big box stores to the local drugstore-but really enjoy in-person shopping on those relatively fewer occasions when they engage in it. "On a typical mission, they know how to find what they need and are less likely to shop the entire store," the report concluded, reflecting the generation's penchant for going online to research their purchases before they take offline action. But once they have a smart phone in their hands, and about one out of every three Millennials already owns one, this distinction between virtual and physical buying behaviors will blur almost to the point of extinction.

About half of all mobile phones in the US today are smart phones. The iPhone alone now has eight times the number of users as AOL and is enjoying the fastest adoption rate of any Internet service, eclipsing the record set by the Netscape browser in the mid-90s by a factor of five. (pdf) Almost every smart phone comes with a camera and a GPS or location identification application that, unlike PC Internet access, enables the network to know where you are at any moment in time. This combination of capabilities enables new "location-based services" or applications that takes the information about where you are and provides you with information you might find helpful based on your location. So, for instance, you will soon be able to use your phone's camera to take a snapshot of a square-shaped bar code on a particular piece of merchandise and send that information to a service provider who will tell you where you could find that item for less money at a store nearby or perhaps even where to find it in the color or size you need. That rather mundane use of the technology may make the retailing industry even more efficient than it is today, but that's not what will soon transform this key engine of economic growth.

The real dramatic changes will occur when retailers link the Millennial Generation's constant use of mobile phones with its penchant for helping causes. Already, Millennial entrepreneurs are building social network sites to link their generational cohort's desire to improve the world with opportunities for doing so. Chris Golden and Nick Triano's website recently won $25,000 in the PepsiRefresh challenge to help them expand their beta site that connects service volunteers with each other and with local opportunities to help. Chris Hughes, one of the founders of Facebook, and the creator of, just announced plans for that will do similar things for those wanting to make a more global impact. With Facebook and YouTube becoming the preferred destinations of mobile users accessing the Net, it is only a matter of time before sites like these will attract Millennials on their cell phones in record numbers as well. This same type of connection between where you shop and what cause you want to support has just become a newly popular app on smart phones.

The capability is being accessed today by each of the three hundred thousand iPhone users who downloaded the "CauseWorld" application in its first two months of availability. Users earn "Karma points" by visiting retailers who have registered with the service in order to get Millennials to "check in" to their store. By letting the iPhone's GPS service know you are physically in the store, each visit generates more points that can ultimately be traded in for a contribution to one of seventeen selected charities, paid for by the service's corporate sponsors. "Scanning for Karma" becomes a great way to multi-task for Millennials with more time than money. And for retailers it moves the decision on where someone shops away from price comparison models of services such as "ShopSavvy" toward a more powerful generational motivation to shop at companies that support causes Millennials believe in. The application's popularity is just the latest demonstration that, in a Millennial era, the brand is political.

The technological brilliance of the Obama presidential campaign was the way it focused its "Hope Factory" organizational efforts on moving online interest to offline action. Now that same strategy will be deployed to change shopping to an activity that helps make the world a better place. Those retailers and carriers that take advantage of the opportunity broadband internet mobile computing provides will soon be rewarded with victory in their sales campaigns by a generation committed to creating change it can believe in.

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.

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.

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