Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Advertised vs Realised Download Speeds

A recent report by the BBC raises a good question. Advertised vs Realised download speeds have been a discussion point for me, but the subject does not seem to get much traction in the media.

When an ISP advertises download speeds, it usually says something to the effect of 'download speeds up to'. To cover itself in case the download speeds do not reach the advertised speeds. I have found this to be an incredibly dubious practice by ISPs. My own ISP has advertised download speeds between 12-15Mbps, which is true part of the time. I can understand how cable modems work and their networks operate, but consumers should have a garuntee that their ISP will provide them with the advertised download speed. This would of course need to take into account system repairs and so forth and give allowances for unforeseen issues.

There is nothing more frustrating than paying for a service and not getting your monies worth from the service provider. Of course we should also look into why the pricing for broadband Internet access is higher in the US for smaller bandwidths, than in other countries. I thought cable competition was supposed to be high and save consumers money. (That is a commercial a local cable company is running in my area).

On a side note, my ISP actually does a very good job of providing the 12-15Mbps download speeds. I would say around 95% of the time.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Latest FCC meeting shows need for better data collection

The FCC decided that in order to make an informed decisions further data was needed on the penetration and access of cable television services in the US. Apparently the cable service providers have 60 days to provide the FCC with this information. This recent need for better data on communications penetration and access shows how important bills such as the H.R. 3919, Broadband Census of America Act of 2007.
Though H.R. 3919 is geared towards showing broadband Internet access penetration, the same methods can be used to obtain cable television data.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Entertainment drives Internet innovation, desire for speed

Bruce P. Mehlman wrote an intersting tidbit on the Internet Innovation Allicance blog this week. In his post Mehlman comments as to the leading driver of broadband Interenet adoption; entertainment.

This is a statement that I don't believe many can refute. I had not even really thought of the use of the Internet in such a manner. It is available to me and I use it, that is the extent to my thought in how the Internet is used. The Internet is also a hybrid system of entertainment and work. Sure, I play hours of my favourite online game, EVE. However, I also spend a lot of time searching, waiting on files to download, and connecting to different databases. All the while wishing the Internet was faster for my ever growing impatience.

Does the matter that the Internet is mostly used for entertainment mean that we should not develop or increase broadband penetration? Of course not. If anything the realization that the Internet can fulfill several roles of instruments of entertainment and work, should push the penetration for broadband Internet further.

So how does this statement by Mehlman change my view of the Internet? It does not alter my perception that we still lack and need an ICT policy in the US which promotes the penetration of broadband Internet access and the training needed by peoples to use all the technologies available to them.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A shared view of sorts...

Susan Crawford had an excellent post on her blog. Though I think my favourite portion of her post was only a secondary point to freedom of speech/net neutrality, it is a very powerful and important point that needs to become clearer, in my opinion at least.

Society has treated electricity and water as a public utility available to every person. In a similar way telephone communication has transitioned into the same 'utility' view. Our next step is to transition highspeed Internet access to a similar position of a public utility.

In the past the US has transitioned first potable water, then electricity, and then the telephone as utilities with great efforts to spread availability across the country. Many politicos have told us repeatedly that the Internet is the future and that it is vital for American jobs and so forth. Why is it that the US, with all of this political rhetoric, still had not transitioned into thinking that highspeed Internet Access is a utility?

There are many points that I do not understand fully. However, I am sure one of the cons in transitioning to this view is the need for regulation. The last time I tried to research communications regulations, read as FCC publications etc, the regulatory body seemed quite capable of the task. One of the FCC's duties is to promote the best interests of the public. If everyone agrees that the Internet acces is almost mandatory for a prosperous life in the US, why has the FCC not helped to foster an environment of highspeed Internet diffusion or for that matter the rest of the US government?

As with the other public utilites, time was needed to make the transition from viewing electricity and water from amenities to necessities. My hope is that the time required for the US to take step of transition will not be too much longer. The US is slipping further down the OECD rankings and if we do decide to act, it may be too late to catch up to other societies.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

House Resolution 4137

The contents of HR 4137 are interesting. Specifically the following amendment; SEC. 494. CAMPUS-BASED DIGITAL THEFT PREVENTION. The amendment, my interpretation, stipulates that colleges and universities take on the role of intellectual property police. In short, the amendment requires that colleges/universities provide information on copyright and the illegal downloading of intellectual property. It also says that colleges/universties should develop a to provide alternatives to illegal downloading of intellectual property and peer-to-peer sharing of protected materials. Further, it specifies that colleges/universities should plan to explore a technology-based deterrent to illegal downloading.

An interesting point is that the resolution seems to treat colleges/universities as both Internet end users and Internet service providers. This resolution seems to present a deviation from earlier cases of illegal downloading of intellectual property. Not only can the college/university loose funding with non-compliance, but the college/university has to provide an alternative to the illegal downloading of intellectual property. This sounds like a gift to the recording industry. Make colleges/universities subscribe to some service in order to prevent illegal downloads of intellectual property? Why not simply allow the college/university to stop illegal downloading of intellectual property by technology-based tools? Who will pay for the alternative downolad system too? That would be you and I the students and taxpayers.

A secod point that needs to be discussed is how the colleges/universities will distinguish between downloads protected by fair use and illegal downloads of intellectual property?

There are more questions than solutions in the resolutions current form. Perhaps if it makes it way to becoming a bill, the resolution will evolve to answer or solve some of these points here?

So you think you are writing a thesis

Recently I have begun my journey into the hectic world of writing a thesis. Thus far these are some points that I have learned. I offer them up to anyone in hopes that they may have a less hectic journey.

First, pick your topic as early as possible. For me my topic, CIPA, was related to my interest in Information Policy and ICT Policy, so I had a 'leg up' with some materials. The earlier you choose your topic, the more reading and research you can conduct. That is within the boundaries of my second point.

Point two is to know the rules of the Institutional Review Board, the Graduate College, and department/school in which you are studying. All three of these entities have a different area of coverage. Probably the most unhelpful, or waste of time for me, what the Institutional Review Board. (Here is my rant at least as it pertains to my institution's IRB). Though some of the material is relevant to all researchers, most of the training materials provided and tested over for the IRB is completely irrelevant to many researchers that do not conduct research on children or in a medical area. (I am one of those researchers) It took me a few hours each day for a week to complete the incredibly overly dramatic and majority irrelevant information in the IRB training. (End of rant).

Along with beginning your thesis as early as possible, you should already have in mind who will be your advisors. Though my advisors think I will be doing all the work, I think that their assistance in being objective and constructively critical of my work is just as important as my portion. My advisors, in our first meeting, said it is 'your thesis', but with all the advice and information they provide it is more a concerted effort. So choose advisors that are interested in your topic, can be active in the project, and who are nice to you! Always be nice to your advisors, they will be 'life savers' and 'therapists' when you have issues.

Time management. An extremely important concept in any thesis. Just last week I began to work on my scheme for my thesis. Unfortunately, the best laid plan is wasted as soon as a variable changes. In my overzealous or naive attempt at scheduling I overlooked the fact that my advisors have lives outside of advising me on my thesis. The audacity of my advisors to have lives, when I have none. Now, I can laugh about this, because it seems so incredibly strange that I did not think of this variable. I even considered snow days and holidays in my scheme/schedule. So no matter the plan, be prepared for changes. One other thing, is to be sure you solicit for dates when your advisors will not be available to participate. (I have learned Time management the hard way recently). Remember those different entities, the IRB, Graduate College, Department/school, well they will all have different due dates for many different aspects. Take those dates and put them all on one single calendar, preferably your thesis scheme/timeline.

My last piece of advice as of now: STAY POSITIVE. No matter how bad it seems, you can 'KBO', keep buggering on. (Thank you Sir Winston Churchill for that)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Google Policy Fellowship

For those that are able, unfortunately I will be in the final stages of my thesis, this sounds like a great opportunity. The Google Policy Fellowship information.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

U.S. Broadband Map

H.R. 3919 , Broadband Census Act of America of 2007, sets out to map out the service areas of broadband Internet access across the U.S. In the current language of the bill, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the Department of Commerce would collect data down to the 9-digit zip code or census tract level. The bill would also survey consumers as to several aspects of broadband service in their area.

The fact that this bill is now being introduced is a positive step. Positive in that such a broadband inventory can encourage competition by ISPs. The identification of underserved potential customers or wholly ignored areas open to new development could provide a catalyst for increasing broadband Internet access. When broadband Internet access saturation occurs, a broadband map will prove useful to identify further markets open to competition based on prices and speeds available to consumers and businesses.

The bill can also provide information for new residents about services. I know that before I move, typical transitory college student, one of the first questions I ask a landlord is whether broadband Internet access is available. Many times they do not know, and I am left with the duty of going to all the various big name ISPs to see if they offer service in which area. With such a map, a person could cut down the time spent researching for an answer to this question and at the same time see pricing and speed options. (At least the current information for when the map and survey were last conducted, which is to be annually).

Another use for this map is to provide data concerning broadband accessibility, geography, and demography. The data could be used in many imaginative ways. One could be the correlation between broadband accessibility and population income or whether remoteness and low population density are underlying characteristics of communities that do not have access to broadband Internet connectivity.

I would urge that the bill define broadband in terms to the current accepted use of the word. Instead of using the Federal Communication Commission’s 200Kbps speed, I would suggest that a minimum speed in the Mbps, perhaps 5Mbps, be used as a defining characteristic with a separate notation for non-broadband access, say through dial-up access in which speeds are slower than 5Mbps. Of course the 5Mbps was picked at random, but with 10Mbps speeds available in my area, I think 5Mbps would be a nice speed as a minimum.

Monday, October 8, 2007

First wireless nation: Macedonia

It appears that an unlikely award has been bestowed upon a Mediterranean nation this year. Macedonia has been able to install a wireless network across the nation. Though this feat was not done alone, it is a marvelous step for Macedonia.

In the U.S. it seems to be the policy of the federal government and its agencies to allow for the market to spread Internet access across the nation. That is why in the U.S. there are 'pockets' of broadband connectivity. Usually these 'pockets' are in proximity to locations of denser population. The reason, in order for the communication company to make profits it must be present in areas with potential to create profits. In short it is more profitable, thus doable, to connect a city of 500,000 people for broadband connectivity than a town of 5,000. Gradually as market saturation increases in the larger population locations, broadband connectivity will filter out to less populated, less profitable areas of the U.S.; thus is my understanding.

The confusing point of this post centers on why monies and support from USAID was used for what is not done in the U.S.? Why is it that the U.S. can instigate a national broadband policy, however indirectly, in Macedonia, but not in the U.S.? Yes, the U.S. is much larger and perhaps better off with regards to infrastructure to support Internet connectivity, but why would USAID sponsor the development of high speed connection of schools, rural governments and populations in Macedonia, but not the U.S.? Maybe the US is using Macedonia as a testing ground for a national broadband policy? Congratulations are in order for Macedonia, for becoming the first nation with universal Internet access.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study 2006-2007

Over the weekend I finally found the time to read the very interesting "Library Funding & Technolgy Access Study 2006-2007". Yes the title sounds a bit drab, but within this study is a great deal of information. Especially information that is pertinent to persons interested in ICT Policy and Telecommunications Policy.

In the ICT arena, the study highlights the shortcomings that public libraries are encountering with budgets and physical infrastructure of buildings. In addition to the lack of information professionals for support and improvment of ICT that is already in place. This is occuring when the use of public libraries is increasing, ICT equipment is becoming outdated, bandwidth is beoming maxed out, and budgets are decreasing for public libraries.

The Telecommuniations Policy is brought into the fold with the introduction of bandwidth limits at public libraries. Granted some of the bandwidth limitations are in place voluntarily, but my focus here is that there are some that cannot obtain greater bandwidth due to insufficient infrastructure in the geographical region. This introduces the topic that the U.S. needs a Telecommunications policy that benefits everyone, not only those people that reside in areas where telecommunication companies can make a profit.

There is also so much more information contained in the study, that I would urge even the lonely librarian to devle into its massive 200+ pages. However, many of those pages are charts and graphs.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Net neutrality: my view

Well I have completed reading a lot of information in favor of Net neutraily and oppossed to Net neutrality. As well as the very dry FCC and FTC information. Government documents, what should I have expected.

I think it might be helpful to sum up the fears that both sides to the argument have.
For proponenets of Net neutrality, the fear is that information could be censored or delivered in an untimely manner due to network restrictions on access. I must say that I am also afraid this might happen.

Opponenets to Net neutrality are firm in their belief that Net neutrality will hamper development and innovation as well as the ability of broadband companies to recoup investments. I can see both of these points as well.

An underlying issue for the opponents to Net neutrality is a view that the bandwidth and resources of the Intnernet are approaching a zenith. And from what I have learned from reading the only way to avoid this limitation is to either add bandwidth to the networks connected to the Internet or provide another means to compress and/or prioritize different types of information( i.e. cramming more information into the same cable). Of course the additional bandwidth to networks is expensive since the netowrk cables and devices would need to be upgraded over a larger area and in several more locations. However, if prioritization were allowed, the upgrade could be done in a fewer number of locations and without the expensive additional cables.

Something that I do not understand is that since the emergence of broadband under the Net neutrality system, broadband companies seem to be doing quite well financially with an increasing number of subscribers. Then again, if the growth of devices attached to the network of networks increases, the potential for network shortages of bandwidth are present.

Opponents to Net neutrality have also brought up the point of quality-of-service, QoS. The idea behind QoS is that without Net neutrality, QoS can be implemented and provide better service to the end user. My concern with QoS is that there is no mention of a definition of acceptable QoS standards. For instance I currently pay for the highest tier of download capacity my ISP offers. Yet, when my download speeds drop to 25% of what the potential download speed could be there is no recourse. There is also no way for me to recoup or ask for credit for only partial service. In fact the only time I have gotten credit for network outages, was when Insight Communications' network went down in Illinois. Even then I had to spend several hours on the phone.

For me is the opponents to Net neutrality want to introduce QoS, then the end user needs to have some assurance and recourse when the ISPs are not able to maintain QoS to the end user. Herein is my solution for the Net neutrality debate. Allow the users to have QoS standards, with recourse for violations of those standards. When that is achieved, then allow Net neutrality to fade out for a set period of time. When the time has expired, a reevaluation of the system would need to be conducted if whether the non-Net neutrality Internet is acceptable or not.

During this period of time, as the opponents to Net neutrality hope, the network of networks can be improved and additional bandwidth implemented. One of the key points of opponents to Net neutrality is that Net neutrality will limit investment, innovations, and limit the ability of ISPs to recoup financial investments. This set period of time will allow the ISPs to recoup the investments and also experiment with a U.S. Internet free of Net neutrality.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Broadband Access: Right or service?

Lately my research into information policy has lead me to an old hobby of mine. Trying to obtain broadband access for the masses of rural America. Where I came from broadband access was very late in arriving on the scene. To this day, there is only one choice in broadband ISP, no I will not divulge the company's name.

Suffice to say, as my friends all over the country and some not so far away, 15 miles away at most, were getting broadband Internet access my house and little town of 5,000 people were left out clutching onto our unshielded twisted pair wires to the telephone company.

I am a strong proponent for widespread diffusion of broadband technologies, but I would like to find an answer to the following question. Is broadband Internet access a right or service?

Depending on who you discuss the topic with, it could be either. I myself believe it to be a service, but a necessary service. Broadband Internet access can be likened to such things as potable water, electricity, and education. The U.S. has, in the past, made great strides in all three categories, why should broadband Internet access be any different. If the country would have relied upon the 'market' to spread electricity, potable water, and education among the rural communities of the country we might find a very different countryside.

Yet my question of whether broadband Internet access is a right or service has not been fully answered. The answer is that broadband Internet access is only a service, but a necessary service like electricity, potable water, and education that should be made available to everyone.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Free Wi-Fi for all...or not?

An interesting arrest in London has recalled the debate of whether using unsecured Wi-Fi networks is ethical or not? See story here. Piggybackers are described as individuals that 'piggyback' onto unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Some for good other for more nefarious purposes.

Though this case is in London, similar cases have been seen across the United States. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is the typical law used to prosecute piggybackers. Is piggybacking wrong? Legally it is wrong in the United States. What about ethically?

Here is a parallel. I drop a dollar on the public sidewalk outside my home. I, for the purpose of this parallel, do not notice the dollar and keep walking. Is it stealing if a person were to pick up the dollar? My opinion is no. However, it appears that wireless signals constitute a different body of thought.

In the current legal framework the wireless signals of a Wi-Fi network remain private. Why is it that Wi-Fi signals necessitate a seperate law? WiFi signals are nothing more than electromagnetic waves eminating from a source. Why does this medium have different ownership privelages?

The questions abound in my mind about the ethics surrounding the piggybacking of WiFi signals. Though I understand the potential business loss to ISPs if wireless signals were shared, I do not see the harm that is caused to the ISP's subscriber. At least in most cases in the United States, ISPs charge Internet fees based on access speeds, not on data amounts transmitted. Thus the piggybacker would not cause any direct financial loss. But may circumvent paying the ISP for Internet access.

With the right and privelage to use Wi-Fi signals also comes a responsibility to use those signals responsibly. In my opinion, if the Wi-Fi signals and network are not responisbly secured to prevent unauthorized access, then the individuals that piggyback onto the Wi-Fi network should not be prosecuted.

There is no simple answer to the ethical question. Though a way to stop the situation from arising would be to require that Wi-Fi signals be secured when the wireless device is installed. Another method to mitigate piggybacking is to require that Wi-Fi access points be secured by default from the factory.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Yahoo! have you gone yahoo?

As I was going through the news items of the day, a legal case against Yahoo! has been started. Now from my limited understanding of law, here are my thoughts.

The case alleges that Yahoo! is providing information to the People's Republic of China about user searches. As a result of this information some users may have been or are being punished. Yahoo! is contending that it must abide by local laws in order to conduct business in the People's Republic of China.

So here are my thoughts...

First, Yahoo! must follow the laws of the country it is conducting business. As much as Yahoo! complies with the laws for conducting business in the United States, it must similarly follow the laws of the People's Republic of China.

A precedent for such matters relating to Internet services was created in the LICRA v. Yahoo! case. In short, Yahoo! was required to block access to auctions selling Nazi paraphernalia. The precedent is that local governments can enforce there respective laws, regardless of the Internet companies base of operations. In this case the laws of France applied to Yahoo!, not the laws of the United States. As the United States allows the auctioning of Nazi paraphernalia.

So the question of whether or not Yahoo! must abide by local law has been somewhat answered. Yahoo! was following the local law of the People's Republic of China.

To close I do not think the actions or the law of the People's Republic of China is ethical, but what I think does not matter in so far as everyone must obey the law. The laws of one nation are not above or below the laws of another. I believe the word sovereignty might play a role in this case. The People's Republic of China has a sovereign right to create the laws that it deems necessary, just as the United States has the same right. However, one nation cannot enforce its laws upon another without violating sovereignty.

Of course I am not a legal expert and these are just my thoughts so far on the case. I wait in anticipation for further developments and the conclusion of this case.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Random beginning thoughts

The new semester has begun and the workload actually seems to be managable. However, there is always an exception. This semester I have actively started to work on my thesis.

In line with my interest in information policy I have decided to examine one particular policy. The Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) generated a large number of literature about its potential negative effects. Yet that is where the information about CIPA stops. No one has ventrued to discuss questions about the interpretation, implementation, and effects that CIPA has had on public libraries. That is the focus of my thesis, to find out how CIPA has affected information access at public libraries. Assuming of course that CIPA has had some influence on information access. Yet the questions do need to be answered in order to help understand the outcomes of information policies.