Category: Technology and Regulation

Karl Bode at Broadband Reports accuses various free-market think tanks of inconsistency and even hypocrisy in their approaches to the question of broadband internet regulation: “Wouldn’t banning towns and cities from offering broadband be regulation? And wouldn’t it be ‘un-necessary regulation’ considering companies like AT&T have discovered they can simply compete in the muni-wireless sector? Strange how such rabid fans of a free-market aren’t interested in allowing market darwinism to play out,” he observes (HT: Slashdot).

It seems to me not to be the case that the advocates of the municipal broadband compact aren’t in favor of competition. They simply want to guard against the unfair advantage that municipal and city governments would enjoy if they entered the internet provider business.

“While incumbent providers have every right to declare an area unprofitable, they should not have the right to then ban these communities from wiring themselves. These broadband black holes were created by the providers. They should either fill them or get out of the way, taking their cadre of subjective experts with them,” says Bode.

Actually, these “broadband black holes” have always existed…they just haven’t been noticeable until broadband was invented and the market began servicing surrounding areas. It’s not as if cable internet providers have taken away access these places previously had. Presumably their economies have not yet developed to the point where they can utilize this kind of technological innovation in a sustainable way.

But Bode doesn’t really understand the economics of markets: “Fans of a free market should be eager to see the organic free-market at work. If these municipal broadband operations are such a flawed idea: let them fail.”

It’s hard to put it any simpler than this: government-run services are not part of “the organic free-market at work.”

Despite Bode’s claims, there’s no real inconsistency here. And the fact that a current area may not be a profitable market for broadband provision does not mean that it will not be so in the future…but cities and municipalities wiring themselves and providing internet service on their own removes the possibility that these communities will ever be serviced by the market.

Update: Thanks to Broadband Reports for the equal time, noting my contrarian blog post along with a few others (all of which agree substantially with the original piece).

I also owe them thanks for noticing that I misspelled “noticeable” (corrected above), although, in due course, they mis-identified the Acton Institute as the “Action” Institute, a la “Action” Jackson, not Lord Acton.

Further Update: I’d also like to clarify that I’m not necessarily in favor of a federal-level restriction on the actions of city governments in this area. This may not have been obvious from my original post. I do think it is unwise for cities and municipalities to provide wireless access, but from this it does not follow that such should be outlawed. I was simply trying to clarify some of the reasons to oppose government provision of internet access and am not interested in defending the “municipal broadband compact” in detail.

Another one for the “is there anything they won’t try to regulate?” file:

Not every idea that sprouts in Brussels is good for you…

THE Government is seeking to prevent an EU directive that could extend broadcasting regulations to the internet, hitting popular video-sharing websites such as YouTube.

The European Commission proposal would require websites and mobile phone services that feature video images to conform to standards laid down in Brussels.

Ministers fear that the directive would hit not only successful sites such as YouTube but also amateur “video bloggers” who post material on their own sites. Personal websites would have to be licensed as a “television-like service”.

Viviane Reding, the Media Commissioner, argues that the purpose is simply to set minimum standards on areas such as advertising, hate speech and the protection of children.

But Shaun Woodward, the Broadcasting Minister, described the draft proposal as catastrophic. He said: “Supposing you set up a website for your amateur rugby club, uploaded some images and added a link advertising your local sports shop. You would then be a supplier of moving images and need to be licensed and comply with the regulations.”

Not that this is a big surprise; the European Union is practically synonymous with bureaucratic over-reach and hyper-regulation. But still, shouldn’t common sense kick in at some point?

Blog author: jballor
Monday, September 11, 2006
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In a recent issue of Business 2.0 magazine, we are told that X Prize founder Peter Diamandis is expanding his X Prize Foundation to address new areas of innovation. The first Ansari X Prize included a $10 million purse for the first private spaceflight. The X Prize Foundation website notes that the group is “actively researching the feasibility of new prizes in space, energy, genomics, education, nanotechnology, and prizes in the social arena,” but Business 2.0 gives us some more particulars on three new X Prizes:

  • First, the X Prize Cup, awarded for the most innovative amateur rockets. Diamandis’ interest in rockets extends to his involvement with the advent of the newly-formed Rocket Racing League. Information about additional X Prizes appears in a box inset within this story, “Move over, Nascar — here comes rocket racing.”

  • Another X Prize of $10 million will be awarded for the invention of a “sequencer that maps an individual’s DNA in a matter of hours for less than $10,000.”
  • And finally, there is the Automotive X Prize, which will include a cash award in excess of $10 million, for the creation of a “mass-market car that ‘significantly exceeds’ 100 mpg.”

Also, be sure to check out the details of the X Prize Foundation’s Lunar Lander Challenge.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, September 7, 2006
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An interesting debate is going on over at Mere Comments. The main thread has to do with the morality of the Bush Administration’s approval of over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill and the implications for Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race. Leaving those issues aside, I was struck by a comment from “Daniel C.”, claiming that the problem really presents an “excellent case for dismantling the Food & Drug Administration.”

It’s a question worth raising. I don’t know enough about the history or current practice of the FDA to judge definitively one way or the other, but I know that there exists significant discontent with its role as (ostensibly) the nation’s guardian of food and drug safety. For example:

1. It constructs unreasonable obstacles to the delivery of medical technology.
2. It stifles pharmaceutical innovation because regulators are biased toward caution as opposed to risk.
3. Its evaluation process is distorted by rampant conflicts of interest on the part of the experts it employs to evaluate new products.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
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Today’s WaPo has a story about Incident Commander, “a training simulator that gives players a lead role in managing crisis situations such as terrorist attacks and natural disasters.”

In “A Computer Game for Real-Life Crises: Disaster Simulator’s Maker Gives It to Municipal Emergency Departments,” Mike Musgrove writes about the video game software, which was used by an Illinois paradmedic just days before he was called into duty following Hurricane Katrina.

According to Musgrove, “Yesterday, on the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, game developer BreakAway Games Ltd. released the final version of Incident Commander free of charge to municipal emergency departments, part of an agreement with the Justice Department, which invested $350,000 in game development.” The game company itself devoted the remaining $1.5 million in money for the game’s development.

This is the latest installment of the trend toward the use of video games to increase skills in a variety of professions.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, August 24, 2006
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The editors of PC World magazine have done a little survey of how users around the world access the Internet, based on the responses of over 60 worldwide publications that “either carry the PC World name or are associated with us in some way.”

You can check out the piece here. Here’s a brief summary of some of the interesting findings:

Our colleagues report that many countries are substantially ahead of the United States in many respects.

For example, in the United Kingdom, you can buy DSL service with a download speed of up to 24 megabits per second. In Denmark, some people have fiber-optic connections as fast as 100 mbps. And in Italy and Spain, broadband service is cheap, and dial-up service is free (except for the cost of the local call).

Also in Denmark, “Broadband over Power Line (BPL) is available in some regions.” Check out the rest of the article for more information on specific countires. The article also links to this Wikipedia entry for more information on the rest of the world’s nations that aren’t dealt with in the article.

The Green Wifi Prototype

One of the concerns with the “little green machine” (discussed previously here and here) has been the issue of Internet connectivity. Little enclaves of mini-networks just won’t cut it…these computers need access to the global web.

Word out of the tech world is now that a couple of innovators, Bruce Baikie andMarc Pomerleau, who are “veterans” of Sun Microsystems, working on a solar-powered wi-fi access nodes, “which consist of a small solar panel, a heavy-duty battery, and a router, can be linked together to extend one internet connection into a larger network.” The progam is an undetertaking of a new non-profit, “Green Wifi.”

HT: Slashdot

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, July 13, 2006
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Ever since the popularization of the Internet, a debate has raged—within and without Christian circles—about the effect of the medium on human development and relationships. A serious and plausible charge against the Web came from those who thought its mode of disembodied communication would alter the form of human interaction for the worse. (See, for example, Quentin Schultze’s Habits of the High-Tech Heart, reviewed in the Journal of Markets & Morality by Megan Maloney.)

As is usually the case with new technologies, an accurate assessment of the effect of the Internet seems to be a weighing of tradeoffs. That’s the gist of an interesting interview on Zenit today (daily dispatch 7/12/06). Psychologist G. Alexander Ross summarizes the findings of various studies that gauge the impact of cyber communication on human relationships. Here’s one passage:

This limitation in the richness of communication has obvious disadvantages, yet research suggests some interesting compensations.

Social psychological research shows that physical attractiveness often has a more powerful influence on relationship formation than the deeper, more significant personal factors that we would prefer to influence friendship formation.

Although members of some of the cyber communities will share personal photos and other media as well as messages of text, the physical characteristics of the individual are not normally visible to the communicators. This can allow the deeper personal characteristics of the individual to be more salient in the interaction that occurs.

One interesting laboratory experiment found that subjects who met for the first time on the Internet liked each other more than those who first met each other face-to-face.

Today, too, Reuters has this story on telecommuting, which indicates that many potential in-home workers choose to go to the office because they “miss the social interaction.”

The verdict is still out on the long-term impact of the Internet, but early evidence suggests that it is not unlike other technological advances in its potential for both benefit and detriment. On social interaction in particular, there are surely limitations to distant and disembodied communication, but people are negotiating those limitations in diverse ways (by choosing not to telecommute, for example, or by using e-mail to initiate or sustain relationships that will end or began as face-to-face). The social nature of the person cannot be suppressed.

This from the official Google blog: “We’ve always recognized the importance of copyright, because we believe that authors and publishers deserve to be rewarded for their creative endeavors. And we specifically designed Google Book Search to respect copyright law – never showing more than two or three snippets around a search term without the publisher’s prior permission, which they can give through our Partner Program.”

The world’s largest prize for technological innovation was awarded this year to Professor Shuji Nakamura, curently at the University of California Santa Barbara, for his development of bright-blue, green and white LEDs and a blue laser. According to the prize website, “The world’s largest technology prize, now being awarded by Finland’s Millennium Prize Foundation for the second time, has a value of one million euros.” Prof. Nakamura’s advances “were things that other researchers in the semiconductor field had spent decades trying to do.”

Says Pekka Tarjanne, Chairman of the International Selection committee: “The lighting applications now made possible by his achievement can be compared with Thomas Edison’s invention of the incandescent lamp. In the course of time, energy-efficient light sources based on Shuji Nakamura’s innovation will undoubtedly become predominant.”

HT: Future Tense (RealAudio)