About Net Policy News

NPN was planned in 2012 when I thought ITU/WCIT might change the rules of the net. As I learned more, I wrote that nothing of substance would be achieved in Dubai. Amid lots of rhetoric, nothing of substance did occur. On a near-trivial symbolic item, the U.S. said "fuggedaboutit" and blocked consensus. I've since attended the ITU Plenipot in Busan and as many other events I can afford. 

    The battle between the "Incumbents" and the "Want Change" faction at ITU is colorful but ultimately one of the least important issues in net policy. Making the net affordable for all is my primary goal, and nothing at ITU, ICANN, of the rest of the acronyms will make a big difference. Rules on spectrum, patents & royalties, competition, who builds infrastructure and many are far more important than any of the diplomatic rhetoric. I'll do my best to report widely.

    I've been on the U.S. State Department International Telecom Advisory Committee for nearly a decade. I'm often in a small minority in the group. 

 Let me know how I'm doing. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 


Dave Burstein, Editor and Publisher

This is the news of the fast net, always looking to get closer to the truth.

Dave Burstein, editor and publisher. daveb (at) dslprime.com

Jennie Bourne, online editor

Contributing Editors: Charles Hall, Danny Burstein. 

I've had a lot of fun since I started DSL Prime in 1999, which gradually morphed into Fast Net News and the rest. I'm still learning.

The boom was unbelievable. I reported the limousines three deep in front of the Plaza, as the Masters of the Internet Universe compared their billions. I reported a million, then 10 million, then 100 million homes connected. Video over the net was called "streaming media" and lost billions before they discovered not many people wanted to watch boring, small, jerky videos on the net. Then the cost of web delivery fell and we all know what's happened. Covad, Rhythms, and NorthPoint were worth $20B at the peak, then bankrupt 18 months later. The U.S. had the lead, and then it switched to Korea, Japan, China and France. I hate that the U.S. has fallen to an also ran on the Internet, but delighted with what I'm learning from the French, Germans, and Koreans as I travel.

A surprising percentage of people in the English-speaking part of the industry are subscribers, as well as many in government, academia, the press and Wall Street. 

Our stories have been picked up, with credit, in The New York and Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, The San Francisco Chronicle, Forbes, Business Week, and many others. We've also been cited in many government reports and independent studies.

I found myself deep in engineering, finance, and policy, although I'm not formally trained. I developed some surprising friends in high places, and got startled one day when a bureau chief called me "the conscience of the FCC." Wall Street analysts made me their pet geek. I discovered I could walk up to a CEO with 200,000 employees. He'd answer my questions if they were interesting enough.

I was mostly a curious geek trying to imagine how to be a reporter. There were no rules for Internet journalism, so we made up the rules as we went along.

The biggest favor you can do a journalist is to point out errors.

 The financial side is crucial in this capital-hungry business and is an essential part of reporting and analysis.  Looking at the ratio of depreciation to capex makes it clear, for example, that medium-sized U.S. carriers are strip mining their companies and will happily sell. Several have already sold out and others might. Huawei's nearly unlimited line of credit with government controlled banks allows them to finance customers freely. That's won them major customers from Africa to Latin America.

Smart executives don't lie when they talk to wall street, so I listen closely. Information is currency on the street, so I get invited to events where the waiters have better suits than I do. I seem to be the pet geek of wall street, which turns out to be a great role for collecting information. For example, I've had great confirmation that SBC/AT&T can provide near universal DSL service using $200 repeaters and was ready to do so. I asked CEO Ed Whitacre in 2005.  Their pr people weren't happy I announced before they did, but couldn't deny the facts their President had mentioned to investors. Qwest in 2008 told the street that they are reducing costs effectively while telling Colorado their costs have gone up so much they need a large price hike.  

This is not a financial publication. We do not pick stocks. Really. We are looking at very different issues than the market does, and the market often moves against our analysis. That's experience, not modesty. I've often seen market moves I didn't expect. That's partly because the price of stocks has only a modest connection to the underlying financials of the company. Pro traders only incidentally look at the substance of a company's prospects, and pay far more attention to what their peers believe than the facts. Graham and Dodd are paid lip service, but rarely followed. In addition, hard as this is to accept, randomness has a major impact on stock moves. In 2008 I wrote stock prices reflect even more of a short term outlook than usual, forcing companies to cut capex beyond what's rational for earnings. Dividend increases and buybacks have been the way to get stock prices up. Since stock prices have been going up with dividends, analysts demand more of same. Companies respond and pull so much cash out of the business profits will drop a few years later. A few years later doesn't count, until it does. This cycle will one day reverse, the smartest guys on wall street believe, but seven years later this is even more true.

Policy is boring but important, so I cover it as best I can. I've been surprised to make so many friends in policy; they really do prefer to talk with anyone other than the usual suspects saying the usual things. If you know what's really going on, they want to hear. Even honest lobbyists rarely have depth on what their own companies are doing in the field, much less knowledge of practices worth copying from other nations. 

I only succeed with help from readers and the industry. I want to hear from you. Contact Dave Burstein, the editor. daveb at dslprime.com.

Dave Burstein, Editor, DSL Prime, 420 West 119th St #51, NY NY 10027 


Online editor: Jennie Bourne jennie at dslprime.com

Conflict of Interest Note: Since 2015, Adtran, ASSIA, Calix, and Huawei have covered expenses to their events. Conferences have also paid our way. ASSIA paid a (modest) fee for attending their Advisory Board.  I freely accept consulting and reporting work and always report conflicts. You can see our advertisers; often, consulting/advisory work is part of the package. I welcome other consulting. July 2017 There's nothing interesting to report in 2016 or 2017. Previously, I've done extensive work for ASSIA and the Marconi Foundation.   

Jennie Bourne is the author of Web Video: Making it Great, Getting it Noticed and co-author of DSL: A Wiley Tech Brief she produces videos for the web. As a journalist Bourne wrote TV news, edited news film for ABC and NBC TV, and produced and anchored the Evening News at WBAI-FM. She produced Ecological Literacy, a documentary as well as many television segments. Bourne taught at Rutgers and NYU.  She is currently working on a documentary about Macintosh creator Jef Raskin.

The people who make decisions and buy products read DSL Prime and our new publications. That's makes it among the best places to advertise your products.

Bias: I have a strong consumer bias. It's my job to overcome any bias and report as close to the truth as possible. I believe any reporter who claims to be unbiased is lying to him/herself. I would rather not pretend.  I've also gone beyond that as an advocate for what I believe, including filing comments on FCC issues and pressing officials on issues I care about. In telecom, there are few knowledgeable people who aren't paid by the companies involved. I think it's important therefore to bring information I have to governments when I feel they are being misinformed. Readers will have to judge whether my reporting remains accurate despite my bias.

Press information: I have a press-friendly policy, and am happy to work with or share anything I have knowledge with other reporters. I like getting the ideas out and learn from other reporters in turn. Call or email Dave Burstein and I'll find a way to help you. Deadlines understood.

Editorial Integrity Policy and conflict of interest: Like most trade press, we accept advertising from the companies about which we report. Of course they push us to write stories their way. We believe we serve our advertisers best by independent reporting that attracts readers to their ads. Advertising packages generally include consulting or advisory work if desired. As an Internet-enabled business, we support our work with related income. We believe the ethical response is to make clear where our conflict of interests lie.

Jennie and I have written two books, one on DSL and one on Web Video. I've chaired three Fast Net Futures conferences for Pulver and two Web Video Summits for Meckler. We accept occasional work from companies in the industry, including briefing, presentations, seminars and similar, always disclosed. Amazon will pay us a commission if you buy books after following a link from our site. The MacArthur Foundation hasn't come calling, but my landlord has.

   We do accept meals from companies and small presents like notepads. We freely accept travel expenses from conferences, etc. Occasionally, companies have a legitimate press event and we accept travel. I turn down offers that don't pass the smell test. Jennie is still mad I passed on an all-expense trip to Israel for the two of us. The company was based there, but it was obviously a thank-you rather than an attempt to bring us there for reporting. 

Privacy Policy: We do not collect any information about visitors to our site. Period. We do not share our subscription list with anyone, although infrequently will do a mailing on behalf of a sponsor. Web site advertisers may use a service like Doubleclick to offer their ads, which tracks responders.


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" http://bit.ly/ManyNets

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 http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/21/nyregion/ultra-orthodox-jews-hold-rally-on-internet-at-citi-field.html . More from Noam http://bit.ly/ManyNets

Russia Orders Alternate Root Internet System http://bit.ly/RussiaDNS
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 http://bit.ly/RussiaDNS

ICANN Continues Excluding Russia & China From the Board http://bit.ly/CEOPromises
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,http://bit.ly/CEOPromises

Sorry, Ajit Pai: Smaller Telcos Did Not Reduce Investment After NN Ruling http://bit.ly/SorryPai
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 http://bit.ly/SorryPai

Elders Bearing Witness: Vint, Timbl, & Many More http://bit.ly/VintTim
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, http://bit.ly/VintTim