The success of the internet demonstrates that we now depend on network operators to assure that services like telephony work. The carriers are pushing back on neutrality because their business model is threatened by a level playing field. We should be encouraging innovative internet-native business models rather than working to preserve an industry threatened by innovation.
The debate over network neutrality is framed within traditional telecommunications policy. As such it considers the internet to be just another service like phone calls or cable television. The internet is different. When we used dialup modems we did internetworking as users. With DSL and cable modems the telecommunications (and cable) companies got into the business of providing “internet”.
Whether we used our own modems of dial-up or the carriers supplied the modems, raw packets themselves are a commodity whose value comes from entirely what we do with them.
France’s Minitel is about providing services, not just transport
Of course, the telecom providers wanted to use their facilities to provide valuable services. The regulators were properly concerned about the very real conflict of interest in having the facilities owners competing with their customers. The internet was shoehorned into this framework despite the fact that it wasn’t really a service.
France’s Minitel information service was one of the most successful efforts to provide smart services. The price (or rate) you paid was tied to the phone number for that service. It was very successful because it broke from tradition in its approach. But Minitel couldn’t compete on a level playing field with the internet and the web in particular.
Cable TV isn’t considered a network service like Minitel. But with everything becoming digital, cable content too, is increasingly moving to the open internet.
The carriers are left with just dumb pipes. With network neutrality they have little opportunity to earn money with the revenue from services in transit across those pipes. Not even a service so basic as more reliable delivery. Furthermore, there is no differentiation – all pipes are the same. This means competing pipes are like competing electric grids – it doesn’t make economic sense. We have a single grid that supports competition by providers of content – electricity – using a common infrastructure. There is also competition from other energy sources.
Everyone is increasingly adept at programming around the network
The problem, with or without, neutrality, is that we’re increasingly adept at programming around the network. The packets don’t depend on reserved paths or pipes – they can each take a different path and are assembled at the end points.
Instead of trying to bring back Minitel we need to look forward to expanding the level playing field.
It means understanding that we no longer need networking as a service. We simply need a way to get packets forwarded because we implement the services (like phone calls – as with Skype) in our own computers.
This “not-an-network” approach is also called the end-to-end argument. That means services can be implemented at the end points (outside the network) without depending on network operators along the path. And if we don’t depend on network operators, they can’t charge for services.
This profound change isn’t obvious because we still buy broadband services from a provider just like we did in the days of dial up modems. We even call them cable modems.
Internetworking Boston (home) with Seattle (Microsoft)
In 1995 I was at Microsoft, based in Seattle but was working from home in Boston. I had long been building my own networks using the same principles as the internet. I was fortunate to learn about the technologies as they developed and to work with some of the designers first hand. I knew that a local network wasn’t even a network. It was just a shared wire (or radios). The networking was done entirely in the connected computers.
But I didn’t want to just dial up and connect one computer to an online service. I wanted my home entire network to be interconnected with the rest of the internet (and to Microsoft’s campus network). At that time, you were supposed to get a separate account for each computer just like you did for each phone line. After all, that’s the way dialup modems worked. I took a different approach because I was interconnected to a network and all the computers would share a single connection.
At that time the term broadband was used for a fat pipe that the provider would use to sell services. This is why AT&T paid a high price for my local cable company – MediaOne. They expected to make money just as Minitel had. By selling phone calls, cable TV, meter reading and to gain a new revenue streams from ecommerce, meter-reading and whatever else they could offer.
By using the intelligence in my computers all I needed was one shared connection and all AT&T saw was just a jumble of packets that all looked the same. And because I was working at Microsoft I was able to get this capability built into Windows. Users no longer needed a network professional to setup a home network. They could just buy what they need at any computer store!
While I can’t claim all the credit I do assume that this contributed to AT&T being bought by SBC. Today’s AT&T is really SBC.
The business model of telecommunications and country’s needs for connectivity do not match
We have today’s regulatory system because the business model of telecommunications and the needs of the country for connectivity were not a good match. In the days of telegraphy and then telephony, the high capital costs and little differentiation required a regulatory agency to assure an orderly marketplace,
We start by recognizing that the moving of the intelligence outside of networks inverts the model. The internet is not something we get through a broadband pipe. Instead we turn the pipe around and originate the services from within our own homes (or offices). We use that broadband pipe and any other facilities as commoditized resources.
This means we need locally owned infrastructure that is more like sidewalks and roads than like train tracks. I’m careful to use the word infrastructure rather than utility to avoid the idea we’re consuming anything anymore than we consume sidewalks when we take a stroll. Water and electricity are metered by usage. It doesn’t make sense to talk about using up a supply of ones and zeros. There is no scarcity of “internet.”
We pay for sidewalks as a community; we should do the same for ‘ambient connectivity’
We pay for sidewalks as a community. We join together to pay for the paths in an apartment complex or as a city for paving the paths. Sidewalks are not strictly necessary. We have them because they facilitate walking and make the city a better place.
And like sidewalks, “ambient connectivity” is free-to-use. Today each innovative application like medical monitoring requires a separate negotiation with carriers who don’t get much revenue from devices that generate little traffic. We avoid depending on relationships with a myriad of carriers just to assure connectivity. With Ambient Connectivity we get to “just works” and unleash major innovation.
Imagine communicating without a monthly fee merely to connect. That monthly fee will soon seem as strange as paying just to cross the street.
As we transition to Ambient Connectivity we can continue to use the existing telecommunications infrastructure as just another wire. And that’s the crux of the problem for the providers – they are indeed just another wire with all the value being in applications.
During this transition we do need network neutrality more-than-ever in order to assure that the carriers don’t fight the future by abusing their stewardship of our vital means of communicating.
Companies like Comcast, Time Warner and AT&T are now in the media business
This is harsh for them but, it’s just business. Companies like Comcast and Time Warner have moved on and are now in the content business knowing full well that the networks are no longer the focus of their business. Verizon and ATT are following along. They may or may not succeed in this strategy. Time will tell.
The battle over network neutrality is framed in the existing regulatory framework which treats the internet as just another telecom service rather than something new. We must look ahead not backwards. We must seize opportunity to add trillions to the economy. Just think about what would happen if we just reduced everyone’s internet and cellular phone bills by perhaps $100/month and returned nearly a thousand dollars a year to every family in America while providing a level playing field for new businesses.
Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent the views of BroadbandBreakfast.com. Other commentaries are welcome, at email@example.com.
Bob Frankston has been online and using/building computer networks since 1966. He is the co-creator of the VisiCalc spreadsheet program and the co-founder of Software Arts, the company that developed it, and is a fellow of the IEEE, ACM and the Computer History Museum. More at frankston.com, https://rmf.vc/Bio and https://rmf.vc/InfraFAQ
Doug Lodder: How to Prevent the Economic Climate from Worsening the Digital Divide
There are government programs created to shrink the digital divide, but not many Americans know what’s out there.
From gas to groceries to rent, prices are rocketing faster than they have in decades. This leaves many American families without the means to pay for essentials, including cellphone and internet services. In fact, the Center on Poverty and Social Policy reports that poverty rates have been steadily climbing since March. We’re talking about millions of people at risk of being left behind in the gulf between those who have access to connectivity and those who don’t.
We must not allow this digital divide to grow in the wake of the current economic climate. There is so much more at stake here than simply access to the internet or owning a smartphone.
What’s at stake if the digital divide worsens
Our reliance on connectivity has been growing steadily for years, and the pandemic only accelerated our dependence. Having a cell phone or internet access are no longer luxuries, they are vital necessities.
When a low-income American doesn’t have access to connectivity, they are put at an even greater disadvantage. They are limited in their ability to seek and apply for a job, they don’t have the option of convenient and cost-effective telehealth, opportunities for education shrink, and accessing social programs becomes more difficult. I haven’t even mentioned the social benefits that connectivity gives us humans—it’s natural to want to call our friends and families, and for many, necessary to share news or updates. The loss or absence of connectivity can easily create a snowball effect, compounding challenges for low-income Americans.
The stakes are certainly high. Thankfully, there are government programs created to shrink the digital divide. The challenge is that not many Americans know what’s out there.
What can be done to improve it
In the 1980s, the Reagan administration created the federal Lifeline program to subsidize phones and bring them into every household. The program has since evolved to include mobile and broadband services.
More than 34 million low-income Americans are eligible for subsidized cell phones and internet access through the Lifeline program. Unfortunately, only 1 in 5 eligible people are taking advantage of the program because most qualified Americans don’t even know the program exists.
The situation is similar with the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program, another federal government program aimed at bringing connectivity to low-income Americans. Through ACP, qualifying households can get connected by answering a few simple questions and submitting eligibility documents.
Experts estimate that 48 million households—or nearly 40% of households in the country—qualify for the ACP. But, just like Lifeline, too few Americans are taking advantage of the program.
So, what can be done to increase the use of these programs and close the digital divide?
Our vision of true digital equity is where every American is connected through a diverse network of solutions. This means we can’t rely solely on fixed terrestrial. According to research from Pew, 27% of people earning less than $30,000 a year did not have home broadband and relied on smartphones for connectivity. Another benefit of mobile connectivity—more Americans have access to it. FCC data shows that 99.9% of Americans live in an LTE coverage area, whereas only 94% of the country has access to fixed terrestrial broadband where they live.
Additionally, we need more local communities to get behind these programs and proactively market them. We should see ads plastered across billboards and buses in the most impacted areas. Companies like ours, which provide services subsidized through Lifeline and ACP, market and promote the programs, but we’re limited in our reach. It’s imperative that local communities and their governments invest more resources to promote Lifeline, ACP and other connectivity programs.
While there’s no panacea for the problem at hand, it is imperative that we all do our part, especially as the economic climate threatens to grow the digital divide. The fate of millions of Americans is at stake.
Doug Lodder in President of TruConnect, a mobile provider that offers eligible consumers unlimited talk, text, and data, a free Android smartphone, free shipping, and access to over 10 million Wi-Fi hotspots; free international calling to Mexico, Canada, South Korea, China and Vietnam; plus an option to purchase tablets at $10.01. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.
Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.
Senate Bill Subsidizing U.S. Semiconductor Production Clears House, Going to White House
Bill aims to strengthen American self-reliance in semiconductor chip production and international competition.
WASHINGTON, July 29, 2022 – A $54 billion bill to subsidize U.S-made semiconductor chips passed the House Thursday on a 243-187, and moves to President Biden for his expected signature.
Dubbed the CHIPS Act for Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors Act for America Fund, the measure is expected to incentivize domestic semiconductor manufacturing and also provide grants for the design and deploying of wireless 5G networks. It also includes a $24 billion fund to create a 25 percent tax credit for new semiconductor manufacturing facilities.
Advocates of the measure say that it will also improve U.S. supply chain, grow U.S. domestic workforce, and enable the U.S. to compete internationally to combat national security emergencies.
The measure passed the Senate Wednesday on a 64-33 vote.
Congressional supporters tout benefits
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., voiced his support on the House floor, calling it “a win for our global competitiveness.”
The CHIPS Act of 2022 provides a five-year investment in public research and development, and establishes new technology hubs across the country.
Of the funds, $14 billion goes to upgrade national labs, and $9 billion goes to the National Institute of Standards and Technology research, of which $2 billion goes to support manufacturing partnerships, and with $200 million going to train the domestic workforce.
In a virtual press conference on Tuesday, Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennett said that America’s semiconductor industry has lost ground to foreign competitors. “Today, only 12% of chips are manufactured in the United States, down from 37% in the 1990s.”
He said relying on cheaper products produced in China and overseas for so long, it has caught up with the United States.
Bennet suggested to move manufacturing labs to Colorado, where it can support it due to the plenty of jobs in aerospace and facility and infrastructure space.
“We don’t want the Chinese setting the standard for telecommunications. America needs to lead that. This bill puts us in the position to be a world leader,” said Bennet. “We are at a huge national security disadvantage if we don’t do this.”
Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colorado, joined his Rocky Mountain state colleague in support: “There is a real sense of urgency here to compete not only to re-establish the U.S. to make their own chips, but to compete internationally.”
He said that semiconductor chips are vital to almost every business and product, including phones, watches, refrigerators, cars, and laptops. “I’m not sure if I can think of a business that isn’t dependent on chips at this point.”\
“This is a space race,” he said. “We cannot afford to fall behind.”
Industry supporters say measure is necessary
The U.S. has lost ground to foreign competitors in scientific R&D and in supply chain industry during a recent semiconductor crisis, said France Córdova, president of the Science Philanthropy Alliance, at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation event on July 19. The U.S. only ranks sixth best among other prominent countries in the world for research and development, she said.
“The CHIPS Act of 2022 and FABS Act are critical investments to even the global playing field for U.S. companies, and strategically important for our economic and national national security,” said Ganesh Moorthy, president and CEO of Microchip Technology Inc.
Bide expected to sign measure
With the Biden’s Administration’s focus to tackle the semiconductor shortage and supply chain crisis through the Executive Order made in February, the Biden administration has been bullish on the passage of the CHIPS Act, in a Wednesday statement:
“It will accelerate the manufacturing of semiconductors in America, lowering prices on everything from cars to dishwashers. It also will create jobs – good-paying jobs right here in the United States. It will mean more resilient American supply chains, so we are never so reliant on foreign countries for the critical technologies that we need for American consumers and national security,” said Biden.
Providers Call for More FCC Telehealth Funding as Demand Grows
‘I think obtaining funding from the Universal Service Fund would go a long way.’
WASHINGTON, July 26, 2022 – Health care providers in parts of America say they are struggling to deliver telehealth due to a lack of broadband connectivity in underserved communities, and recommended there be more funding from the Federal Communications Commission.
While the FCC has a $200-million COVID-19 Telehealth program, which emerged from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, some providers say more money is needed as demand for telehealth services increases.
“The need for broadband connectivity in underserved communities exceeds current availability,” said Jennifer Stoll from the Oregon Community Health Information Network.
The OCHIN was one of the largest recipients of the FCC’s Rural Health Care Pilot program in 2009. Stoll advocated for the need for more funding with the non-profit SHLB Coalition during the event last week. Panelists didn’t specify how much more funding is needed.
Stoll noted that moving forward, states need sustainable funding in this sector. “I am hoping Congress will be mindful of telehealth,” said Stoll.
“The need for telehealth and other virtual modalities will continue to grow in rural and underserved communities,” she added.
Brian Scarpelli, senior global policy counsel at ACT, the App Association, echoed the call for FCC funding from the Universal Service Fund, which subsidizes basic telecommunications services to rural areas and low-income Americans. “I think obtaining funding from the Universal Service Fund would go a long way.”
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