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Broadband's Impact

Bob Frankston: From Net Neutrality to Seizing Opportunity for New Networks

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Network neutrality is an important issue. We mustn’t allow transport owners to limit our ability to communicate. But, network neutrality in itself positions the internet as a telecommunications service. We need to step back and recognize that the internet itself is part of a larger shift wrought by software.

I thought about this more when I found myself in my hospital room (after knee surgery) unable to open and close the shades by myself. But yet I could control the lights in my house!

A recuperation aided by carefully architecting home lighting to maximize existing technologies

It wasn’t simply that I built a one off special case but rather I carefully architected my home lighting control implementation to minimize the inter-dependencies while taking advantage of existing technologies.

For example, to the extent I could, I avoided depending on the accidental properties of silos such as Zigbee. I normalized any transport to simple packets. This is how the internet works – it normalizes the underlying infrastructure to IP, so I don’t care if a particular segment is asynchronous time-division multiplexing or cellular. I can use the same technique as in tunneling internet protocol through Bluetooth using the general serial protocols.

Software has given us the ability to stitch things together. In designing (and redesigning) applications we have also gained an understanding of the importance of (dynamic) architectural boundaries that minimize coupling (or entanglement).

Thus, with an IP connection I could insert shims (or workarounds, as long as they preserve the architectural integrity) such as network address translations or, indeed, treat the entire telecom system as a simple link. I can normalize this by overlaying my own IP connection on top of what I find, including existing IP connections (as we do with virtual private networks). This allows us to implement and then evolve systems as we improve our understanding.

Modern broadband networking is not like the old telecom paradigm

In the telecom paradigm I’d have to rely on the network to assure a path from my phone to a device in my house as a virtual wire. But in the new paradigm we have relationships that are abstract. We can represent the relationship “[a, b]” where a is the app element and b is the device (or virtual device).

It needn’t involve a physical wire. The network connection is not a layer but simply one resource I can use. It does require thinking differently and discovering what is possible rather than having rigid requirements. Though I avoid depending on a provider’s promises, I may be limited by policies that second-guess what I’m doing.

This is why neutrality is an important principle. That includes not doing me favors by second-guessing my needs and thus working at cross purposes as I innovate outside their design point. A better term is “indifference,” because the intermediaries don’t know my intent and thus can’t play favorites.

Paywalls and security barriers make it hard or impossible for open applications to work

More important is that it means that paywalls and security barriers may make it impossible for my application to work. I had to manually intervene to use the hospital’s Wi-Fi connection. I can do that in simple cases, so we assume that status quo is fine, but it is a fatal barrier for “just works’ connectivity.

As with any new paradigm it is difficult to explain because our very language embeds implicit assumptions. It also means that often those most expert in network architecture can get lost in their expertise. In the case of the internet I see this in the idea of end points identifiers being IP addresses assigned by network operators.

As one who takes advantage of the opportunities I find lying around, I view networks as just a means and try to program around limits. If the opportunities aren’t available, I can create my own.

The next version of internet protocol will provide new opportunities

One example is IPv6. Version 6 would make it easier to make a direct connection between two end points. But in its absence, I can cobble together a path using IPv4. This is one reason V6 adoption has been slow – we’ve been able to program around it, so it is nice but not necessary.

Of course, we do want to create opportunity. One such opportunity I call ambient connectivity – the ability to assume connectivity. This doesn’t mean there is always a way to connect but rather I separate out the problem of achieving connectivity from how we implement it.

It’s simple to think of providing connectivity using Wi-Fi but it’s not about Wi-Fi per se and it’s not about a mesh because it doesn’t matter how it’s implemented. Those are just examples. It’s about architecture and not the accidental properties of radios or wires.

It’s also about economics because the architectural separation means we can’t pay for the infrastructure by setting a price based on the value of the service because we just see raw bits out of context.

Devices and open interfaces remain a key part of the new networking equation

And it’s not just about networks. It’s about devices that have open interfaces. It’s about thinking about devices that can exist for a purpose but also have open interfaces that allow me – or you! – to use them as components. It is about devices and protocols that are smart but not so smart that they build in assumptions.

This is why Bluetooth is a problem: It is very tuned to use cases and protocols and limits me to a proximate relationship rather than factoring out distance.

It would be great to have a discussion of this new world that centers around relationships (binding) and software and creating reusable objects. We understand that meaning is not intrinsic. When we sit on a box it becomes a chair.

What is new is that we can use software to define (or redefine) what something is. A portable computing device is a telephone in the sense that it can run a telephony application. This is a sharp departure from the notion that a device is a telephone because it was built for that purpose.

Network neutrality will be increasingly hard to define when we aren’t using the services of network providers

Today’s internet is one byproduct in multiple senses. One is that we don’t need to build a physical network for one purpose. Another is that we don’t depend on networking as a service but simply ask for disparate facilities providers to help packets move ahead like a highway facilitates driving but doesn’t provide the rides themselves.

It’s also why we don’t apply common carriage to roads because they are inherently neutral in not knowing the drivers’ intent. It’s why network neutrality is a fine principle but is hard to define once we aren’t depending on network providers’ services.

It would be great to have a conversation about these big ideas. And part of it is also rethinking the internet. The particular protocols such as TCP are valuable, but we need to see them in context as means and not as rigid requirements.

The internet is just one example of what we can create when we have opportunity. Imagine what else we can do given opportunities.

Network neutrality is about networks. As I wrote in this space last December, we need to move on to just assuming connectivity as mundane infrastructure We can then shift our attention how to create and to what we do with the new opportunities.

Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent the views of BroadbandBreakfast.com. Other commentaries are welcome, at commentary@broadbandcensus.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. Read more at frankston.comhttps://rmf.vc/Bio and https://rmf.vc/InfraFAQ

(Photo of computer pioneer Bob Frankston by Dennis Hamilton used with permission.)

Digital Inclusion

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.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Doug Lodder, president of TruConnect

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 commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Broadband's Impact

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.

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Photo of Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colorado, during Tuesday's press conference

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.

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Health

Providers Call for More FCC Telehealth Funding as Demand Grows

‘I think obtaining funding from the Universal Service Fund would go a long way.’

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Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

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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