Technology, Thoughts & Trinkets

Touring the digital through type

Month: December 2010 (page 1 of 2)

Distinguishing Between Mobile Congestions

by Simon TunbridgeThere is an ongoing push to ‘better’ monetize the mobile marketplace. In this near-future market, wireless providers use DPI and other Quality of Service equipment to charge subscribers for each and every action they take online. The past few weeks have seen Sandvine and other vendors talk about this potential, and Rogers has begun testing the market to determine if mobile customers will pay for data prioritization. The prioritization of data is classified as a network neutrality issue proper, and one that demands careful consideration and examination.

In this post, I’m not talking about network neutrality. Instead, I’m going to talk about what supposedly drives prioritization schemes in Canada’s wireless marketplace: congestion. Consider this a repartee to the oft-touted position that ‘wireless is different’: ISPs assert that wireless is different than wireline for their own regulatory ends, but blur distinctions between the two when pitching ‘congestion management’ schemes to customers. In this post I suggest that the congestion faced by AT&T and other wireless providers has far less to do with data congestion than with signal congestion, and that carriers have to own responsibility for the latter.

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Publication – Digital Inflections: Post-Literacy and the Age of Imagination

Earlier this year I was contacted by CTheory to find and interview interesting people that are doing work at the intersection of theory, digitality, and information. Michael Ridley, the Chief Information Officer and Chief Librarian at the University of Guelph, was the first person that came to mind. I met with Michael earlier this year for a face-to-face discussion, and our conversation has since been transcribed and published at CTheory. Below is the full introduction to the interview.

“… [O]ne of the things about librarians is that they’re subversive in the nicest possible ways. They’ve been doing the Wikileak thing for centuries, but just didn’t get the credit for it. This is what we try to do all the time; we try to reduce the barriers and open up that information.”
— Michael Ridley

Self-identifying as the University’s Head Geek and Chief Dork, Michael Ridley leads a life of the future by reconfiguring access to the past. As Chief Librarian and Chief Information Office of the University of Guelph, Ridley spends his days integrating digital potentialities and the power of imagination with the cultural and historical resources of the library. Seeing the digital as a liminal space between the age of the alphabet and an era of post-literacy, he is transforming the mission of libraries: gone are the days where libraries primarily focus on developing collections. Today, collections are the raw materials fueling the library as a dissonance engine, an engine enabling collaborative, cross-disciplinary imaginations.

With a critical attitude towards the hegemony of literacy, combined with a prognostication of digitality’s impending demise, Ridley’s position at the University of Guelph facilitates radical reconsiderations of the library’s present and forthcoming roles. He received his M.L.S. from the University of Toronto, his M.A from the University of New Brunswick, and has been a professional librarian since 1979. So far, Michael has served as President of the Canadian Association for Information Science, President of the Ontario Library Association, Board member of the Canadian Association of Research Libraries, and Chair of the Ontario Council of Universities. He is presently a board member of the Canadian Research Knowledge Network and of the Canadian University Council of CIOs. He has received an array of awards, and was most recently awarded the Miles Blackwell Award for Outstanding Academic Librarians by the Canadian Association of College and University Libraries. Ridley has published extensively about the intersection of networks, digital systems, and libraries, including “The Online Catalogue and the User,” “Providing Electronic Library Reference Service: Experiences from the Indonesia-Canada Tele-Education Project,” “Computer-Mediated Communications Systems,” and “Community Development in the Digital World.” He has also co-edited volumes one and two of The Public-Access Computer Systems Review. Lately, his work has examined the potentials of post-literacy, which has seen him teach an ongoing undergraduate class on literacy and post-literacy as well as giving presentations and publishing on the topic.

Read the full conversation at CTheory

iPhone Promiscuity

Photo credit: Steve KeysI’ve written a fair bit about mobile phones; they’re considerable conveniences that are accompanied by serious security, privacy, and technical deficiencies. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Apple’s iPhone has received a considerable amount of criticism in the press and by industry because of the Apple aura of producing ‘excellent’ products combined with the general popularity of their mobile device lines.

In this short post I want to revisit two issues I’ve previously written about: the volume of information that the iPhone emits when attached to WiFi networks and its contribution to carriers’ wireless network congestion. The first issue is meant to further document here, for my readers and my own projects, just how much information the iPhone makes available to third-parties. The second, however, reveals that a technical solution resolves the underlying cause of wireless congestion associated with Apple products. Thus, trapping customers into bucket-based data plans in response to congestion primarily served financial bottom lines instead of customers’ interests. This instance of leveraging an inefficient (economic) solution to a technical problem might, then, function as a good example of the difference between ‘reasonable technical management’ that is composed of technical and business goals versus the management of just the network infrastructure itself.

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Rogers, Network Failures, and Third-Party Oversight

Photo credit: Faramarz HashemiDeep packet inspection (DPI) is a form of network surveillance and control that will remain in Canadian networks for the foreseeable future. It operates by examining data packets, determining their likely application-of-origin, and then delaying, prioritizing, or otherwise mediating the content and delivery of the packets. Ostensibly, ISPs have inserted it into their network architectures to manage congestion, mitigate unprofitable capital investment, and enhance billing regimes. These same companies routinely run tests of DPI systems to better nuance the algorithmic identification and mediation of data packets. These tests are used to evaluate algorithmic enhancements of system productivity and efficiency at microlevels prior to rolling new policies out to the entire network.

Such tests are not publicly broadcast, nor are customers notified when ISPs update their DPI devices’ long-term policies. While notification must be provided to various bodies when material changes are made to the network, non-material changes can typically be deployed quietly. Few notice when a deployment of significant scale happens…unless it goes wrong. Based on user-reports in the DSLreports forums it appears that one of Rogers’ recent policy updates was poorly tested and then massively deployed. The ill effects of this deployment are still unresolved, over sixty days later.

In this post, I first detail issues facing Rogers customers, drawing heavily from forum threads at DSLreports. I then suggest that this incident demonstrates multiple failings around DPI governance: a failure to properly evaluate analysis and throttling policies; a failure to significantly acknowledge problems arising from DPI misconfiguration; a failure to proactively alleviate inconveniences of accidental throttling. Large ISPs’ abilities to modify data transit and discrimination conditions is problematic because it increases the risks faced by innovators and developers who cannot predict future data discrimination policies. Such increased risks threaten the overall generative nature of the ends of the Internet. To alleviate some of these risks a trusted third-party should be established. This party would monitor how ISPs themselves govern data traffic and alert citizens and regulators if ISPs discriminate against ‘non-problematic’ traffic types or violate their own terms of service. I ultimately suggest that an independent, though associated, branch of the CRTC that is responsible for watching over ISPs could improve trust between Canadians and the CRTC and between customers and their ISPs.

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