Howard Greenstein's Weblog (Random Thoughts)
The new home of the "Random Thoughts of HowardGr." It even has that "new home page smell..."


Subscribe to "Howard Greenstein's Weblog (Random Thoughts)" in Radio UserLand.

Click to see the XML version of this web page.

Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.




Thursday, January 09, 2003

Paranoia May Destroy Ya

dr. dr. help her please i know you'll understand
there's a time device inside of me i'm a self-destructin' man
there's a red, under my bed
and there's a little green man in my head
and said you're not goin' crazy, you're just a bit sad
 'cause there's a man in ya, knawin' ya, tearin' ya, into two  -The Kinks

[Note: I realize that by publishing this, some of my friends, and others in the future, may wonder if I've gone off the deep end with conspiracy theory. This article is intended only to spark a discussion. This can't possibly be true. Right?]

updated at the bottom (12:11pm EST)

Premise: What if the FCC's dissolution of the UNE-P rules that force the Bell phone companies to share their infrastructure with potential competitive new entrants into the phone or ISP business aren't being killed because of extensive lobbying on the part of the Bells. What if this is part of the plans around Total Information Awareness that our friends at Homeland Security are cooking up for us. I'm not the only paranoid on the block, as Declan McCullagh has proposed a whole list of things TIA wants to do. [link from

What if limiting the number of phone companies, and limiting the number of ISPs that provide Internet access is part of that plan. I'm crazy right? This is just bullshit, easily refuted. Read on.

On the bus this morning during my commute I was reading the chapter in Smart Mobs about how cooperative behaviour helped create, shape and develop the Internet.  There was a discussion about the End-to-End arguement put forth by Dr. Reed, that

suggests that functions placed at low levels of a system may be redundant or of little value when compared with the cost of providing them at that low level  ...The function in question can completely and correctly be implemented only with the knowledge and help of the application standing at the end points of the communication system. Therefore, providing that questioned function as a feature of the communication system itself is not possible.

Or, in more plain and less clear english, don't assume that you know how the users will use the network, just make the network work in the middle and let them figure out how to create the applications at the edges. A similar complimentary theory is put forth by David Isenberg's Stupid Network paper.

This has all been said before by folks smarter than me. The interesting part (hopefully for you) is that on another track in my mind I was thinking about why the FCC is limiting the access to Bell infrastructure, as described above. It doesn't make sense from an economic standpoint if you want in any way to encourage competition, increase the amount of broadband connections, and really bail out the industry. I can't (yet) back this up, but I bet that having lots of new local phone companies and ISPs in a post-telecom-boom world would help a lot of companies sell equipment, and stimulate our economy. Bruce writes that this proposal is deadly to thousands of small businesses. Why would a 'rational economic actor' cause this harm? Especially a regulatory agency that claims it wants to deregulate? It is obvious that the telecom wirelines are a natural monopoly, because until cell service gets a whole lot better, or wireless networking gets much more ubiquitous, we're stuck wtih it.  (Note: I'm aware rationality is in the eye of the beholder, etc.)

But there are a whole lot of people acting irrationally in this post-Setember 11th, terror driven world we live in. Or acting rationally within their world view with less concern about how their actions would potentially harm future generations. Any number of people can be added to this list from Bin-Laden to Bush and on and on.

But assume for a second that eliminating the UNE-P rule is being done for nefarious homeland security reasons. How many ways does that leave us to communicate? There are 5 major cell providers, where at least 2 that I know are majority owned by the Bell companies (Verizon Wireless and Cingular, owned by SBC and Bell South). There are about 7 major cable companies that have the majority of cable/broadband subscribers. There are (increasing the paranoia level) only a few major entertainment companies, some of which own cable companies and large amounts of dial-up and broadband access gateways (AOL in particular). In this shrinking universe of consumers' choices it is a lot easier for a government to tap communications. I've heard lots of arguements regarding the impossibility of gathering all the traffic at MAE-EAST or a similar net choke point. But limiting the number of points of entry to the Internet gives the paranoid gov't agent a way to track those terrorists/you and me at more local, simpler connections.

The way the Stupid Network/End-to-End-Argument world is designed, people can always make new applications like Napster that no one pre-supposed, and communicate in a way of which central authorities don't approve. A way to 'subvert the arguement' is by limiting how the network is used, and by trying to take control of something that has traditionally never been able to be 'managed' by a central body.

(By the way, as long as we're being really paranoid, limiting the number of carriers and applications benefits Hollywood and the Music Industry as well. In this case Verizon is being sued by the RIAA to turn over the name of a terrorist, um, I mean a peer-to-peer software user who was allowing access to 600 songs. If there are fewer network providers for the RIAA and MPAA to sue in order to stop us from using peer-to-peer services, this works hand in hand with the goal of keeping terror information from flowing while embedded in graphics, songs or other innocent looking files.)

So what Total Information Awareness goal does limiting the number of phone companies and Internet access carriers accomplish?

  • Fewer points to watch. Why did China close down 17000+ Internet cafes?
  • Potential to limit the way the "Stupid" Network is used by limiting choices of access, and ways that access can be used
  • Potential to control the uncontrollable Internet by limiting choices for users.

I realize this is only a very rough arguement with a million holes and lots of ways for it to be refuted. I'm only throwing this out in hopes that folks with more time to debate this (See people like Mitch, Kevin, Dan, Doc, David, David, Bruce (all of whom I've emailed) or you) can pick it apart, advance it, or help me cure my paranoia with the appropriate drug surreptiously added to my local water supply by secret government agents in black helicopters.

By the way, If I disappear or start acting differently, you'll know I was right. ;-) 

Kevin and Mitch reply in email that they don't believe this is the case, and that throwing this out confuses the debate about this issue.

Kevin: There was a lively debate post-9/11 about whether what happened in Lower Manhattan proved that we need to strengthen the monopoly local carriers (Verizon's argument) or just the opposite, because diversity of networks allowed for greater resiliency and faster disaster recovery (the CLEC argument).  It's important to continue fighting this battle.  But the arguments will get much less credence if they are couched in terms of the TIA bogeyman.  

A good response, which is why I asked in the first place.

9:50:26 AM    comment []

This is my new favorite commercial from Apple.
9:05:49 AM    comment []

Click here to visit the Radio UserLand website. © Copyright 2003 Howard Greenstein.
Last update: 4/27/2003; 9:46:03 PM.

January 2003
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 31  
Dec   Feb

This Blog is moving/has moved to Moveable Type at this same URL. This page is an archive.
My Other Blog: The Continuum Transfunctioner on Business, Tech and Politics
Daily Reading
Intelligent Thoughts
Stuff you should learn
FUN and Intelligent Reading

My Weblog Neighborhood
My Most Recent Posts
blogchalk: Howard/Male. Howardgr. Lives in United States/New York/Midtown and speaks English. Spends 40% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection.