2015-12-19 The Command Line Podcast

old-newspaper-350376_1280This is an episode of The Command Line Podcast.

I will be attending SCALE in the latter half of next month if anyone else planning to be there wants to meet up.

I am also thinking about attending this year’s LibrePlanet, in March. Please consider donating to their scholarship fund to help attendees who might not otherwise be able to go to join the event and learn more about Free Software and the community that uses and supports it.

This time, I chat about some recent news stories that caught my attention, including:

You can subscribe to a feed of articles I am reading for more. You can follow my random podcast items on HuffDuffer too.

You can directly download the MP3 or Ogg Vorbis audio files. You can grab additional formats and audio source files from the Internet Archive.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

2015-12-05 The Command Line Podcast

old-newspaper-350376_1280This is an episode of The Command Line Podcast.

This time, I chat about some recent news stories that caught my attention, including:

You can subscribe to a feed of articles I am reading for more. You can follow my random podcast items on HuffDuffer too.

You can directly download the MP3 or Ogg Vorbis audio files. You can grab additional formats and audio source files from the Internet Archive.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Video About the EU Hackathon

I shared this already on my social networks but thought I’d take a moment to highlight it here as I’ve mentioned in my recent travel updates my trip to Brussels last week. This is a seven and a half minute video about the EU Hackathon, event on which I worked as a speaker and organizer. Thanks to the hard work of my fellow organizers and the awesome efforts of the participants, the event far exceeded everyone’s expectations.

The crew responsible for this video did a great job capturing the purpose, outcomes and experience of being involved with this first group of hackers to anchor a hackathon in the halls of the EU Parliament. They produced a couple of accompanying videos focusing on the start and end of the hackathon, both of which were the portions that took place within the Parliament building in Brussels.

As Caroline de Cock explains in the video, the hackathon was organized around two goals, internet quality and government transparency. I helped organize the work on the former, working to select the participants and staying up as much as I possibly could through the 24 hours of hacking and attendant activities to offer my expertise on the source code of the network measurement experiments hosted by Measurement Lab. (Yes, that is the project I’ve mentioned as being a large focus of my current day job.)

We are already talking about next year. Stay tuned, there may be related activities between now and then working on these same two fronts, sponsored and organized by those of us behind the EU Hackathon.

Join PK’s “Internet Strikes Back” Campaign

The current rules the FCC is pushing for network neutrality are far from ideal. I am not even entirely settled on what makes the most sense in terms of outcomes and how to reach them. However, I disagree with the current movement in Congress to strip the FCC of its ability to make and enforce these rules.

On Friday at the annual Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference, Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) railed against Net Neutrality as “basically the fairness doctrine,” “nationalization of the Internet,” and “regulating political speech” and promised to overturn it.

This is far from a constructive, critical response and I happen to agree with Public Knowledge that it requires a response. A legitimate debate about network neutrality needs to be kept alive, not utterly derailed by this subjective, partisan rhetoric. The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will be holding a hearing on this very subject this Wednesday. Public Knowledge is organizing a calling campaign for Thursday in response.

I urge you to read through their announcement and consider signing up. Network neutrality isn’t an unalloyed good, to be sure, but we need to move past loaded rhetoric to building the tools and policies necessary for an empirical understanding of what is at stake and how to arrive at the most desirable outcomes in terms of free expression and innovation.

The Internet Strikes Back to Save Net Neutrality, Public Knowledge

Rushkoff Rejects the Net Neutrality Debate

Media theorist Douglas Rushkoff has a thoughtful and thought provoking post on Shareable today. In the midst of escalating rhetoric fueled increasingly by the maddening dissolution of whatever spine the FCC once had, he asks whether fighting for network neutrality is even worth the effort.

The moment the “net neutrality” debate began was the moment the net neutrality debate was lost. For once the fate of a network – its fairness, its rule set, its capacity for social or economic reformation – is in the hands of policymakers and the corporations funding them – that network loses its power to effect change. The mere fact that lawmakers and lobbyists now control the future of the net should be enough to turn us elsewhere.

I am not as skeptical of the ability to manage a useful commons on the kind of public-private partnership the actual ownership of network infrastructure now requires. I take his points though as more fuel for thought on whether the private half of such partnerships will ever concede to the balance of rights that would support any sort of true commons. After all the ISPs pretty much to a one have been fighting to keep their management practices opaque and routinely raise the bugbears of network congestion and insufficient capacity to keep this cloak drawn tight.

There is a certain appeal to Rushkoff’s call to just build something else that better incorporates the principles network neutrality is meant to preserve. The problem, which he only touches upon, is it would need to be funded on infrastructure that is truly citizen owned or genuinely able to route around attempts at censorship or both.

So let’s get on it. Shall we use telephony, ham radio, or some other part of the spectrum? Do we organize overlapping meshes of WiMax? Do we ask George Soros for some money? MacArthur Foundation? Do we even need or want them or money at all? How might the funding of our network by a central bank issued currency, or a private foundation, or a public university, bias the very architecture we are trying to build? Who gets the ability to govern or limit what may spread over our network, if anyone? Should there be ways for us to transact?

Even if you are far less optimistic about our technical abilities to pull of this trick, I think it is an excellent thought experiment. Certainly entertaining it could lead to better policy decisions around future technologies, like wireless networking via television spectrum white spaces, that might make future debates about openness, fairness, and freedom somewhat less fraught.

The Next Net, Shareable

FCC Passes Network Neutrality Rules

The dilution of strong network neutrality continued yesterday with the FCC approving the draft plan as released earlier in a three to two vote. Matthew Lasar at Ars Technica has a good summary of the proceedings, including initial reactions from those supporting network neutrality.

Even before today’s vote, some reform groups expressed their disappointment with the mildness of the decision; for instance, here’s a dispatch from the Media Access Project.

“MAP respects and admires the work of Commissioners Michael J. Copps and Mignon Clyburn on this important issue, but MAP cannot support the watered-down, loophole-ridden option that the FCC appears to have chosen,” the group’s statement last night declared. (Note that Chairman Genachowski doesn’t share in this admiration.) “The inadequate protections for wireless technologies are especially troublesome, as wireless services provide an onramp to the Internet for many of the nation’s poor and minority citizens.”

Cellular internet is to be held to the weaker, partial standard already mentioned. So-called special services are still granted a troubling exemption except for some vague notions of monitoring for anti-competituve behavior. For the most strictly regulated wired internet, loopholes abound in the form of allowances for “reasonable” network management where the measure of reasonableness isn’t clearly defined.

Ryan Singel at Wired, with help from Sam Gustin, has some more supposition on how we came to this lamentable pass, namely the nigh unstoppable lobbying power of AT&T. He at least concedes that part of the reason for the weakness of the new rules stems from the commission’s unclear authority in the wake of the ruling against it in the Comcast case over the cableco’s throttling of BitTorrent traffic.

What we’re left with is undoubtedly a long chain of future case law to try to pin down the shape and size of the various loopholes in this plan. Meanwhile, ISPs and carriers will no doubt get a pass to pretty much carry on as usual. Like many others, I am left wondering why the commissioners who supported Title II re-classification didn’t push harder. That too would have led to any number of court cases but would have been far more fruitful, in the meantime, and in the process of whittling down a coarse but strong set of rules would have been far more certain to yield a final set of compromises giving as much weight to public interest as to the unending rent-seeking of the ISPs and carriers.

More on Level 3 and Comcast

I saw in @radar‘s Twitter stream a re-tweet from @acroll that linked to a piece at GigaOM. Stacey Higginbotham gives Comcast much more the benefit of the doubt.

So what’s the issue? Level 3 told the world that Comcast had hit it up for more money in order to deliver traffic from Level 3′s customers (such as Netflix) to Comcast’s 17 million broadband subscribers. Level 3 said Comcast’s demand for more dough violated the principles of the Open Internet, which is shorthand for net neutrality. On the other side, Comcast, said Level 3 was trying to sell itself as a CDN while not having to pay fees to Comcast as other CDNs do. In short Level 3, was calling itself a CDN to its customers and a backbone provider to Comcast. This (plus the fact that Level 3 owns one of the largest Internet backbone networks) enabled it to undercut its competitors in the CDN business because it didn’t have to pay the fees that Akamai or Limelight did to get content onto Comcast’s network.

Maybe she is unusually sympathetic to Comcast, taking their side of the story at face value. One of my readers, who admitted to doing some consulting for the cableco, offer a few links to consider: Comcast’s letter to the FCC which includes an explanation Level 3 engaging in the same practice years prior, ten myths about Comcast’s possible reaction to Level 3’s current complaint and some more information from them on peering. Superficially these bolster the first point Stacey makes except that what little is mentioned of prior history reads like back biting and the other two blog posts are very heavy on the spin.

I think Stacey’s read on this is correct, that a staid industry is under increasing pressure to change based on consumer demand. As unfair as the Level 3 desires are compared to how Comcast claims to treat peering and transit with other CDNs–we only have their word as the deals in question are under NDA–we have to think more clearly about outcomes.

In this instance favoring disruption would seem to foster more growth than clinging to the status quo. I don’t know that Comcast would completely refuse to carry Level 3’s data, they certainly are refuting that idea, but they don’t have the best track record with customer service and honest competition. While this argument between the two companies is going on, for instance, a modem maker has now leveled a complaint about the cableco’s anti-competitive practices, according to Matthew Lasar at Ars Technica.

Asking Comcast to provide more hard details about their backbone carrying arrangements seems like a sane place to start. I for one am getting tired of invocations of this policy or that standard in the absence of useful information. Maybe this is a network neutrality fight, maybe it isn’t. Either way, we need more than PR statements to avoid the risk of a market failure leading to information service gridlock.

Comcast Demanding Rents from Online Video Provider

Cecilia Kang at the Post was one of many to cover this story. Level 3 provides video streaming services, most notably to Netflix. They are complaining that Comcast is asking for unfair fees to carry their content to the cable co’s network access subscribers. Comcast is already acting to muddy the waters, disputing the claim.

Comcast disputed Level 3’s claims, saying its demand for fees is unrelated to the content that Level 3 wants delivered to consumers.

“Comcast offered Level 3 the same terms it offers to Level 3’s content delivery network competitors for the same traffic,” Joe Waz, Comcast’s senior vice president for external affairs, said in a statement. “But Level 3 is trying to undercut its . . . competitors by claiming it’s entitled to be treated differently and trying to force Comcast to give Level 3 unlimited and highly imbalanced traffic and shift all the cost onto Comcast and its customers.”

We have no way to verify Comcast’s basis for these feeds. ISPs adversarial to notions of network neutrality regulations haven’t been exactly forthcoming with empirical, verifiable data to back their claims of congestion, the justification for either outright discriminatory traffic shaping or additional fees or both. Nate Anderson at Ars Technica has some further remarks from folks at both Comcast and Ars Technica. These are worth reading before jumping on the anti-Comcast bandwagon as they suggest the argument may have greater legitimacy in the context of what is normative for peering arrangements, rather than last mile access.

Kang mentions both the discussions over Comcast’s proposed merged with NBC/Universal and the network neutrality rulemaking that is ongoing at the FCC. The silver lining of this story, regardless of who is right between the two parties, is that it will continue to draw focus to the concerns underlying the calls for an open and neutral network.

Level 3 accuses Comcast of unfairly using its clout as the dominant U.S. cable provider, Washington Post

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Following Up for the Weekn Ending 10/24/2010