Touring the digital through type

Tag: Network Neutrality (Page 1 of 3)

Publication: Is Your ISP Snooping On You?

Internet_TreeI’m happy to let my readers know that Marita Moll’s and Leslie Shade’s (eds.) The Internet Tree: The State of Telecom Policy in Canada 3.0 is now available for purchase. The book interrogates how Canada’s digital future does, and should, look in coming days by discussing present policies and proposing policies to enhance Canada’s position in the digitally connected world. The editors have done an excellent job in contacting academics, advocates, and solicitors from around Canada to develop an exciting and accessible edited collection on Internet and broadband in Canada. It includes scholars such as Dwayne Winseck, Michael Geist, Catherine Middleton, and Richard Smith, along with contributions from Steve Anderson (Open Media), Michael Janigan (PIAC), and a host of graduate students and researchers.

The book is published through the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives (CCPA). The publisher and editors describe that book as a collection in which:

… committed public interest advocates and academics present primers on provocative digital policy issues: broadband access, copyright, net neutrality, privacy, and security, along with a consideration of structures of participation in policy-making and communication rights.

Contributors to The Internet Tree argue for a digital economy strategy that casts a winning vote for openness, broadband as an essential service, and community engagement and inclusion.

The Internet Tree is available for just $14.95 and is supportive of digital economy strategies that are guided by the principles of openness, broadband as an essential service, community engagement and inclusion, national sovereignty, and digital literacy programs. My own contribution (“Is Your ISP Snooping On You?”) explains the technical and social concerns raised by deep packet inspection to someone who doesn’t know a coaxial cable from a fibre node, with other authors similarly working to explain issues to the layman while offering suggestions to alleviate, mediate, or overcome the challenges facing Canada’s digital ecosystem. It’s got a great set of authors and I’d highly recommend it as a complement to Open Media’s recently published report on digital networks in Canada.

Review: Network Nation – Inventing American Telecommunications

Image courtesy of Harvard University Press

I spend an exorbitant amount of time reading about the legacies of today’s telecommunications networks. This serves to historically ground my analyses of today’s telecommunications ecosystem; why have certain laws, policies, and politics developed as they have, how do contemporary actions break from (or conform with) past events, and what cycles are detectable in telecommunications discussions. After reading hosts of accounts detailing the telegraph and telephone, I’m certain that John’s Network Nation: Inventing American Telecommunications is the most accessible and thorough discussion of these communications systems that I’ve come across to date.

Eschewing an anachronistic view of the telegraph and telephone – seeing neither through the lens that they are simply precursors to contemporary digital communications systems – John offers a granular account of how both technologies developed in the US. His analysis is decidedly neutral towards the technologies and technical developments themselves, instead attending to the role(s) of political economy in shaping how the telegraph and telephone grew as services, political objects, and zones of popular contention. He has carefully poured through original source documents and so can offer insights into the actual machinations of politicians, investors, municipal aldermen, and communications companies’ CEOs and engineers to weave a comprehensive account of the telegraph and telephone industries. Importantly, John focuses on the importance of civic ideals and governmental institutions in shaping technical innovations; contrary to most popular understandings that see government as ‘catching up’ to technicians post-WW I, the technicians have long locked their horns with those of government.

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Review of Telecommunications Policy in Transition

Image courtesy of the MIT Press

This first: the edited collection is a decade old. Given the rate that communications technologies and information policies change, this means that several of the articles are…outmoded. Don’t turn here for the latest, greatest, and most powerful analyses of contemporary communications policy. A book published in 2001 is good for anchoring subsequent reading into telecom policy, but less helpful for guiding present day policy analyses.

Having said that: there are some genuine gems in this book, including one of the most forward thinking essays around network neutrality of the past decade by Blumenthal and Clark. Before getting to their piece, I want to touch on O’Donnell’s contribution, “Broadband Architectures, ISP Business Plans, and Open Access”. He reviews architectures and ISP service portfolios to demonstrate that open access is both technically and economically feasible, though acknowledges that implementation is not a trivial task. In the chapter he argues that the FCC should encourage deployment of open access ready networks to reduce the costs of future implementation; I think it’s pretty safe to say that that ship sailed by and open connection is (largely) a dead issue in the US today. That said, he has an excellent overview of the differences between ADSL and Cable networks, and identifies the pain points of interconnection in each architecture.

Generally, O’Donnell sees interconnection as less of a hardware problem and more of a network management issue. In discussing the need and value of open access, O’Donnell does a good job at noting the dangers of throttling (at a time well ahead of ISP’s contemporary throttling regimes), writing

differential caching and routing need not be blatant to be effective in steering customers to preferred content. The subtle manipulation of the technical performance of the network can condition users unconsciously to avoid certain “slower” web sites. A few extra milliseconds’ delay strategically inserted here and there, for example, can effectively shepard users from one web site to another (p53).

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Lesson Drawing from the Telegraph

By David DuganIn the domain of telecom policy, it seems like a series of bad ideas (re)arise alongside major innovations in communications systems and technologies. In this post, I want to turn to the telegraph to shed light on issues of communication bandwidth, security and privacy that are being (re)addressed by regulators around the world as they grapple with the Internet. I’ll speak to the legacy of data retention in analogue and digital communicative infrastructures, congestion management, protocol development, and encryption policies to demonstrate how these issues have arisen in the past, and conclude by suggesting a few precautionary notes about the future of the Internet. I do want to acknowledge, before getting into the meat of this post, that while the telegraph can be usefully identified as a precursor to the digital Internet because of the strong analogies between the two technological systems it did use different technological scaffolding. Thus, lessons that are drawn are based on the analogical similarities, rather than technical homogeneity between the systems.

The Telegraph

The telegraph took years to develop. Standardization was a particular issues, perhaps best epitomized by the French having an early telegraph system of (effectively) high-tech signal towers, whereas other nations struggled to develop interoperable cross-continental electrically-based systems. Following the French communication innovation (which was largely used to coordinate military endeavours), inventors in other nations such as Britain and the United States spent considerable amounts of time learning how to send electrical pulses along various kinds of cables to communicate information at high speed across vast distances.

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