The Right Question: What Should We Do, Internationally, for the Billions Not Online

Imagine how much more effective the U.S. lobbying at the ITU would be if we had a concrete plan for connecting the 4 billion people without broadband.
Marc Cooper at the Columbia CITI event confronted the nay-sayers who believe ITU and WCIT essentially shouldn’t do anything. We all know getting governments involved can muck things up, but is doing nothing a viable alternative?

“We hear about this incredibly successful space. Last century, the PSTN was a complete disaster for 80% of the people on this planet. 84% of the people on this planet do not have broadband. They have been left behind. They don’t want to regulate the Internet. They want to participate. The economics won’t get to these people in the timeframe they want. What are we going to do with it in the international space?” Marc, a tireless advocate, startled me with this. It’s so obvious, but hasn’t been part of the discussion.

Should we have a Marshall Plan or Kennedy-style Alliance for Progress? Instead of saying what not to do, can we demonstrate some American ideas that could really make a difference? Can corporations like AT&T and Google taking such strong positions “against” find positive contributions they can make?

Ambassador Terry Kramer currently is Dr. No, shooting down the substance of the ITU advances. That puts him in a dark corner of “non-negotiable” demands. NTIA Director Strickling’s comment “We will not accept,” is dangerous. Does the U.S. want to cut itself off from an International consensus on the Internet?

Here’s some ideas:

From the corporations:

Lower Internet costs by placing servers locally.
Google is already doing this aggressively because it improves performance and generally brings down costs. Netflix has an informal policy of providing a server at no charge to any U.S. ISP who wants one and can extend that policy as it expands in Latin America. Servers can be simple $5,000 boxes so needn’t be expensive. Google, Akamai, and AT&T/Verizon as they expand in the contnet delivery business can set a policy of serving locally at any country’s Internet Exchange Point.

Create a small core of experienced executives available to smaller carriers and regulators. No one understands networks better than the people building them. I’ve always listened to the carrier engineers, whom I consider my prime source for the engineering. Verizon executives like the recently retired Dick Lynch and Mark Wegleitner or BT’s Mick Reeves have enormous practical experience to share. Cisco already does this, essentially providing Robert Pepper’s expertise to worldwide regulators. Pepper was the brains of the U.S. FCC when we were at our most creative. He’s now informally called on by everyone from Carlos Slim to the Chinese, as well as the ITU itself.
The ITU sees standards as a way to ensure that the less experienced operators don’t get misled by vendors into the wrong technology. Well-meaning, but the standards process typically is too slow and political to serve that function well.

Be open to academics and international groups seeking to provide “best practice guidelines,” especially standard costs.
The U.S. Broadband Plan did this effectively, determining (with massive help from people in the industry) how much it really costs to reached the “unserved.” There’s no good reference for industry standard costs, partly because the companies keep the data so close. Australia’s NBN is wildly over-priced, compared to what I know Verizon and peers have spent on similar projects. That’s a good test of the competence of the management. I’ve acquired some cost data over the years, taking advantage of comments that come out during financial presentations and the like. But well-sourced cost information, probably anonymously aggregated by an academic or non-profit, would be enormously helpful. An AT&T or Verizon could move this process.

Research and advance white spaces and other sharing technologies that expand wireless capacity
Google, led by Rick Whitt, has played an important role in the regulation of white spaces, the most promising way to open more spectrum to efficient shared use. Google’s Motorola, as well as Alcatel, Ericsson, Huawei and the other manufacturers, have good business reasons to invest in the needed R & D, A white space radios should eventually cost little more than WiFi access points, Jim Carlson tells me. But first we need chips designed and volume production. Bringing down costs from nearly $1,000/connection to about $100 is practical and would be a major boon to delivering broadband in less developed areas.

Governments could

Aggregate and simplify loan and aid programs.
Hamadoun Touré isn’t looking for increased government handouts. He believes that the successful projects are inspired by finding profitable market opportunities, not charity. But there clearly is some good in existing programs, most of which are so cumbersome to use they rarely achieve their objectives. Much of the “mobile miracle” in Africa has been facilitated by Chinese government loan programs and World Bank loans I believe have been important in bringing fiber. U.S. AID provided a kickstart for some Kenya mobile.
Ambassador Terry Kramer will be far more convincing going to Dubai with “Here’s how we can help” as part of his presentation.

Prove out the power of sharing large chunks of spectrum
NTIA and FCC leaders in 2012 have come to understand what the technology community has been screaming at them for years: sharing creates far more capacity than exclusive use of spectrum. Throughput per megahertz on something like WiFi can be 3-10 times as efficient what AT&T or Verizon achieve with the same amount of spectrum, because the spectrum is reused locally. Spectrum monopolies have gone too far and no more should be created when spectrum is a scarce resource.
Supporting sharing is the greatest achievement of Larry Strickling’s NTIA, is essential to the White House PCAST report and is clear in the latest FCC speeches. But sharing is anathema to the large telcos breaking business plans dependent on scarcity. The discussion is obscure, referring to certain government bands and white space experiments.
Kenya and Rwanda know this, both planning to create 100 megahertz spectrum bands for greater capacity. 100 megabits in a shared deployment produces something like 30-50% more capacity than when broken into five 20 megahertz bands. The Africans (with Alcatel experts in support) are the international leaders here.

Go beyond corporate interests in technology training
The US has a large technology training problem in telecom, USTTI. But it’s severely compromised by its heavy corporate agenda. It’s got a board loaded with corporate lobbyists, lacking experts, independents, or civil society. Qualcomm, Verizon, Comcast, Intel, Murdoch’s News Corp, Verisign and similar lobbyists are unlikely to effectively see what’s needed in less developed countries. But that’s who is in charge.

Ideas welcome and important.

The world needs a good news source on Internet and telecom policy. I hope to create one. Catch a mistake? Email me please.  Dave Burstein


Professor Noam's "Many Internets"

Until about 2010, everyone agreed the Net was a "network of networks," not a monolithic entity. There was a central authority, ICANN, keeping track of domain names, but that was a minor administrative function.
Columbia Professor Noam suggests we might be better off accepting that some nations or groups might want to organize their networks differently. It's easy to see demand for an Internet with much more effective filters against material some think harmful to children. (Any 10 year old can easily find porn today. Many do.)
Internet translation is getting better very quickly. You might want an "Internet" that translates everything into your language. Google Chrome translation isn't perfect but I was able to research most of this story on Russian language sites. With a few more years progress, I might welcome an alternate that brings me everything in English, including caching for better performance.
De facto, Internet news is already split, as hundreds of millions only get their news from Facebook. Google AMP pages, including for news, also favor selected parts of the net
Centralizing the DNS doesn't prevent censorship, as the Chinese have demonstrated. There are many Jewish and Muslim fundamentalists who want to block what they consider blasphemy and limit free speech. See . More from Noam

Russia Orders Alternate Root Internet System
It's actually practical and not necessarily a problem.The Security Council of the Russian Federation, headed by Vladimir Putin, has ordered the "government to develop an independent internet infrastructure for BRICS nations, which would continue to work in the event of global internet malfunctions ... This system would be used by countries of the BRICS bloc – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa." RT
Columbia University Professor Eli Noam and then ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé have both said such a system is perfectly practical as long as there is robust interconnection.
Actually, the battle over ICANN and domain names is essentially symbolic. Managing the DNS is a relatively insignificant task, more clerical than governing. ICANN Chair Steve Crocker pointed out they had very little to do with policy.
Some will claim this is about blocking free speech but that's rhetoric. Russia doesn't need to fiddle with the DNS for censorship, as the Chinese have demonstrated. The wonders of the Internet will continue so long as the resulting nets" are robustly connected. The ICANN and U.S. policy goal should be to help create that system for interconnection.
I expect contentions that “The Russians are taking over our Internet” and “They are splitting the Internet.” The Internet is a “Network of Networks.” It is not a monolith so what would “splitting” it mean or do?
After the WCIT, China realized that ICANN and the DNS are side issues not worth bothering about. They have been building alternate institutions including the World Internet Summit in Wuzhan and the BRICs conferences.  The Chinese have put their main work where decisions that matter are made. Wireless standards are set by 3GPP, where nothing can be approved without China's consent.
The American battle at ITU is proving to be a historic mistake.
Why does Russia want an independent Internet?
They fear that Western sanctions on Russia could cripple the Russian Net. Communications minister, Nikolay Nikiforov, worries about, "a scenario where our esteemed partners would suddenly decide to disconnect us from the internet." I think that's highly unlikely but Nikiforov points out, “Recently, Russia is being addressed in a language of unilateral sanctions: first, our credit cards are being cut off; then the European Parliament says that they’ll disconnect us from SWIFT."
It makes sense for the Russians to be prepared for such a contingency as the Cold War has been warming up on both sides. "Britain's top military chief Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach just made headlines warning Russian subs "could CRIPPLE Britain by cutting undefended undersea internet cables." Much more

ICANN Continues Excluding Russia & China From the Board
No wonder Russia wants an alternate root. Three years ago, ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé promised "a seat at the table" to Chinese Premier Li. ICANN welched and this year added two more Americans.
Almost all the ICANN board is from the U.S. and close allies; only about 4 of the 18 board members are from countries on the other side of the North/South divide in Internet policy.  Claiming ICANN represents the Global Internet is inappropriate. China is 1/3rd of the Internet but has no representation on the board.
I know many of the board members. They are all basically honorable but generally share a strong opinion on North-South issues.
Larry Strickling of the U.S. government knew just what he was doing with the IANA transition. He handed over to a board with similar positions as the U.S. government.
"The system is unsustainable while it excludes half the world," I have been saying since 2012. More, including the transcript of Fadi's statements,

Sorry, Ajit Pai: Smaller Telcos Did Not Reduce Investment After NN Ruling
Pai justifies his NN choice with the claim, "The impact has been particularly serious for smaller Internet service providers." #wrong (Actually, NN has minimal effects on investment, up or down, I’m convinced. Competition, new technology, customer demand and similar are far more important.)
The two largest suppliers to “smaller ISPs” saw sales go up. Adtran's sales the most recent nine months were $540M, up from $473M the year before. 2016 was $636M, 2015 $600M. Calix the last nine months sold $372M, up from $327M. The full year 2016 was $459M, up from $407M in 2015. Clearfield, a supplier of fiber optic gear, was up 8% in sales in the smaller ISPs.
There is nothing in the data from others that suggests an alternate trend. Anyone could have found this data in a few minutes from the company quarterly reports.
The results in larger companies are ambiguous. I can "prove" capex went up or went down by selecting the right data. The four largest companies' capex - two/thirds of the total - went up from $52.7B in 2015 to $55.7B in 2016. The result remains positive after making sensible adjustments for mergers and acquisitions. That's as close to "proving" that NN led to increased spending as the facts chosen to prove the opposite.
Actually, whether capex went up or down in 2016 tells us almost nothing about the choice on neutrality. Everyone knows a single datapoint could be random or due to other causes. Much more, including the source of the errors

Elders Bearing Witness: Vint, Timbl, & Many More
Vint Cerf, Tim Berners-Lee, Steve Wozniak and more than a dozen true Internet pioneers wrote Congress to protect Neutrality. The best Congress money can buy didn't listen but I wanted to reproduce their letter.
I hope they are wrong believing "is an imminent threat to the Internet we worked so hard to create." My take is the impact will be moderate in the short run.
From the letter:
We are the pioneers and technologists who created and now operate the Internet, and some of the innovators and business people who, like many others, depend on it for our livelihood. ... The FCC’s proposed Order is based on a flawed and factually inaccurate understanding of Internet technology. These flaws and inaccuracies were documented in detail in a 43-page-long joint comment signed by over 200 of the most prominent Internet pioneers and engineers and submitted to the FCC on July 17, 2017.
Despite this comment, the FCC did not correct its misunderstandings, but instead premised the proposed Order on the very technical flaws the comment explained. The technically-incorrect proposed Order ... More, including the full list,