We spent the Christmas week on the beach with family and friends. Our friends John and Diana were with us and we talked about a lot of the things that are in the news at the intersection of tech and society. John asked me to take that conversation onto his TV show, With All Due Respect, and I did that yesterday. Here is the segment.
Posts from policy
I’ve been talking a lot and writing a lot about mesh networking. I think it has the potential to wrest control of the last mile of the wired and wireless internet from the carriers who mostly control it around the world. Peter Kafka noticed yesterday that we had finally put those words to work with a mesh networking investment:
— Peter Kafka (@pkafka) December 2, 2014
We made this investment, in a neat company called Veniam that comes out of Porto Portugal, some time earlier this year but they finally got around to announcing it yesterday.
I had breakfast with Om in NYC earlier this year and told him about Veniam. Those breakfasts do pay dividends eventually. This is how Om describes that breakfast and what came of it:
Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson introduced me to João after a long, spirited discussion about network neutrality, new models of networks, and policies that will influence the future of the internet. As we walked back to our office (aka my favorite cafe), he said, “You should talk to this guy in Portugal that my partner Brad [Burnham] has been in touch with. He has some interesting ideas.” An email introduction with João followed, and we were soon talking to each other via Skype. He quickly came to San Francisco, and we met for coffee on the weekend and then again the next day. João likes to talk: It is his super power. And here we are.
So enough about all of that. What does Veniam do? They make a “stack” of wireless technology that lets moving objects (think buses, garbage trucks, cars, vans, etc) carry a wifi access point/router and mesh with each other and anyone else who wants to join the network. With enough density, buses driving around your city can provision a wireless mesh that anyone can use on their smartphone when they are out and about. It’s a big vision and will take a lot of work (and luck) to realize, but this or something like it is eventually going to work and we are going to have a better way to access the internet on our phones than we have today.
Here’s a video of Veniam’s technology in action in Porto. I suspect you will want this in your city too. I certainly do.
Damn. The President has done it twice in the past few weeks. He’s showing a new side of him and I like it very much.
Last night he announced a series of executive actions that “will shield up to five million people from deportation and allow many to work legally, although it offers no path to citizenship”, to quote from the New York Times.
It bothers me very much that the US, a nation of immigrants, a place where many (most?) new businesses are started by immigrants or the children of immigrants, a country that has historically welcomed others with open arms, has become closed minded when it comes to the issue of immigration. We have given a lot of time and money, and airtime here at AVC, in support of immigration reform and I have come to understand that the issue is hostage to the politics of our two main parties.
The Democrats want to remain the party of the immigrant and have been pushing for “comprehensive immigration reform” in search of a big win for its constituents. The Republicans don’t want to let tens of millions of likely Democratic voters into the voting booths in the coming years and have been against any path to citizenship and the voting booth. Both positions are understandable and rational in the context of politics. But caught in the middle are tens of millions of people who are in our country, have been in our country for a long time, and who provide much of the foundation of the hard work that gets done every day. This is not right. We must change it.
And so the President has thrown down the gauntlet and said “I’m going to do what must be done, regardless of whether you like it or not, and I have the legal right to do it.” Is this politically motivated. Hell yes. Is it the right thing to do. Hell yes. Now it is time for the Republicans to do the right thing to. Because they really have no choice.
Every once in a while good politics results in good policy. This is one of those times. Thanks Mr President.
The cable industry used the following model to build out the industry in the US:
1) cable operators were given local monopolies as incentive to build out the expensive last mile networks into every home in the market
2) cable operators leveraged this last mile monopoly to determine which cable channels to carry on their networks and which they would not carry
3) cable operators often required large free slugs of equity in the cable channels in order to agree to carry them on their networks
4) even with digital cable technology, cable systems rarely carry more than 1000 channels on their networks
The internet industry used the following model to build out the industry globally:
1) the internet was deployed on top of existing telecommunications infrastructure, initially dial-up modems that moved data over voice lines
2) no monopolies were given out as incentives to build out networks. entrepreneurs jumped in, financed by venture capital and other equity capital markets
3) anyone can put a server on the global internet and offer service to anyone. there are no gatekeepers
4) entrepreneurs don’t have to hand over slugs of their equity in order to get carriage on the global public internet
5) there are between 750mm and 1bn active domains on the global internet according to some estimates
These are two very different models but in one way they are converging. The last mile telcos and cable companies have taken over the internet access (last mile) market by virtue of the move from dial-up to broadband and today there is a duopoly in most local markets. It is very possible that these internet access providers could evolve the internet industry to the cable model.
And that is why Ted Cruz is wrong when he says this (at 3:50min in this talk):
This whole net neutrality thing is a fight between big boys, between gigantic companies on one side and gigantic companies on the other.
It’s actually a fight between the 1bn active domains and the roughly six or seven wired and wireless carriers who own the internet access market in the US. This is a David vs Goliath issue and the Davids don’t have the ability to go toe to toe in the market with the Goliaths. And that is why Net Neutrality is a conservative idea. Let’s keep the Internet industry operating on the Internet model and not allow it to be moved to a cable model. That is all that this is about. And I am going to do what I can to make that case to Ted Cruz and his conservative colleagues as soon as I get the chance.
The President did one of the gutsiest things he’s done in the six years he’s been in office yesterday. He came out in favor of treating access to the Internet as a basic and essential service that should be approached like phone calls, electricity, water, sewer, and the other utilities we have in our life. Politicians on the right like Ted Cruz immediately reacted negatively.
“Net Neutrality” is Obamacare for the Internet; the Internet should not operate at the speed of government.
— Senator Ted Cruz (@SenTedCruz) November 10, 2014
What Ted Cruz does not understand is that the Internet in the US already operates at “the speed of government.” Going slow is a feature of government, not a bug. The same is not true of something as essential and important as access to the Internet. Here are global average download speeds by country:
Our communications policy in the US is backward. We have allowed the telcos to capture the regulators and they are spending their dollars lobbying and buying off congress instead of investing in their networks.
The telcos argue that they cannot afford to invest in their networks and yet Verizon makes $23bn in net after tax income, AT&T makes $28bn in after tax income, and Comcast makes $7bn in net after tax income. Maybe if they were investing in their networks so we can have the 100Mbps that people in Hong Kong get, I’d be a little more sympathetic to their argument.
But this isn’t really about download speeds anyway, Ted Cruz just thinks it is because he hasn’t done his homework yet to understand the issue. I hope he will.
This is about something more simple and more important. It is about making sure that the Internet remains open and free for innovation. It is about recognizing that the last mile of the wired and wireless internet is a natural monopoly/duopoly where scale creates massive advantages, just like the electrical grid and the water system. It is about making sure that the massive companies that operate these last mile monopolies don’t use their market power to extract rents from the entrepreneurs, developers, and companies that must go through those networks to reach their customers.
This is about keeping the Internet the way it has been operating for the past twenty years. This is a conservative idea. Don’t change something that has worked so well for so long. Don’t allow the telcos to start inspecting each packet and prioritizing some over others. Because that is what they want to do, and are doing, and we as a society cannot allow that to happen. Thankfully the President understands this issue. My hope is politicians like Ted Cruz will step back and take the time to really understand this issue because it is a conservative and pro business idea. This is something the GOP should get behind instead of fighting. And I’m happy to come down to Washington and explain it to anyone who is willing to listen.
Last month, my partner Brad Burnham went down to DC and testified on the subject of Net Neutrality. Here is his testimony:
When you come to AVC for the first time today, you will be met with a “modal” that shows the site loading slowly. This is my way of participating in a day of protest to send a message to the FCC and others in government that I don’t want to see an Internet where some sites can pay to load more quickly than others.
We’ve discussed this issue so many times at AVC that it’s old hat to most of us. Many of you don’t see things the way I do. I understand and respect that. But today, I am showing solidarity with everyone who sees it my way.
The modal will be gone tomorrow in case it annoys you.
We’ve talked a lot here at AVC about Net Neutrality. I hate that term because it’s got so much baggage now that it is essentially meaningless to me. What I want to see is a framework that everyone agrees to (application developers, bandwidth providers, last mile access providers, and the regulators) that says you can’t prioritize one bit over another in the last mile access network and you can’t charge application developers to deliver their bits to the end user.
This issue is coming to a head at the FCC as the comment period is ending and some sort of decision will be made this fall. So next Wednesday, September 10th, is the Internet’s opportunity to stand up and be heard.
If you are with me on this issue, please consider joining the Internet Slowdown campaign next Wednesday. There are all sorts of ways you can do this. You can change your avatars on your social media profiles, you can send push notifications if you operate a mobile app, you can put a slow loading graphic on your blog or website (there are WordPress widgets if you are on WordPress like I am).
And if you still aren’t convinced, please read Chad Dickerson’s piece in Wired this week on why this issue is important to businesses and everyone who uses the Internet to reach their customers and/or audience.
It seems like every week I read another article about a mobile carrier offering some incredible deal to eat the mobile data costs you rack up using certain apps.
The most recent was the news that Sprint will sell at data plan that “only connects to Facebook and Twitter”.
Many on the Internet are up in arms about “net neutrality” amid concerns that the wireline carriers will discriminate between or block applications on their networks. I’m a supporter of net neutrality regulations, but it’s worth pointing out that wireline carriers haven’t done a lot of discriminating and blocking on their networks over the past 20 years of the commercial internet.
And yet in mobile data, there is discrimination and blocking all over the place. The main kind of discrimination is called “zero rating” in which a mobile carrier makes a deal with certain applications to eat the mobile data charges a user racks up when using certain apps. A good example of that is T-Mobile’s deal with a bunch of music apps announced back in June.
The pernicious thing about zero rating is that it is marketed as a consumer friendly offering by the mobile carrier – “we are not charging you for data when you are on Spotify”.
But what all of this zero rating activity is setting up is a mobile internet that looks a lot more like cable TV than our wide open Internet. Soon a startup will have to negotiate a zero rating plan before launching because mobile app customers will be trained to only use apps that are zero rated on their network.
I strongly encourage policy makers, policy wonks, internet activists, and anyone who cares about protecting an open internet for all to take a hard look at zero rating. Like all the best scourges, it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
The politics of Net Neutrality (ie preventing the creation of fast lanes and slow lanes on the Internet) in Washington is pretty simple. Democrats are largely for Net Neutrality. Republicans are against it. The reason is simple. Net Neutrality has been sold to Washington by the telecommunications lobby as a regulatory overreach. And in that context, the politics are simple.
But if one thinks of the way the commercial Internet has operated for roughly 20 years, it has operated as a level playing field where everyone’s bits are treated the same. So Net Neutrality is just embracing the way it has always been.
Another way to look at this debate is that big corporate interests (Verizon, ATT, Comcast, etc) have been lobbying for the right to build fast lanes on the commercial Internet for almost as long as the Internet has been around and that investment is finally paying off. They have effectively bought their way into the halls of government and are now looking for their payday.
And the GOP, particularly its Tea Party wing, should find that abhorrent. As Dave Brat, who beat Eric Cantor, said:
I’m an economist. I’m pro-business. I’m pro-big business making profits. But what I’m absolutely against is big business in bed with big government. And that’s the problem.
I am headed to DC today to meet a few people and make this point. Wish me luck.