Net Neutrality: Did We "Win" A Battle, Only To Possibly Lose The War?

FCC logo

Friends don't understand why I'm not jumping for joy after the FCC's "Network Neutrality" decision yesterday.  After all, they've been hearing me passionately argue for years about how we need to wake up and pay attention to the choices we have to make for the future of the Internet.  They've heard me rail against the Internet access providers here in the US who seek to be the new gatekeepers and require people to ask permission or pay to get new services online.  They've heard me strongly say that "The Internet Way" is for services to be "decentralized and distributed".  They've seen me write about "permissionless innovation" and the dangers we could face.  In fact, I'll be in Austin, TX, next week speaking at the NTEN conference about "Our Choice of Internet Futures"

They know that I joined the Internet Society in 2011 specifically to fight for the open Internet - and that a large goal in my life is to be one of the voices helping advocate for the open Internet and ensuring that my children have the same "Internet of opportunity" that I've been able to have.  Friends could hear in the closing words of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler many of the same phrases and words that I have been so passionately advocating about over many years.  
 
Why, then, am I not dancing in the streets?
 
Two reasons.
 
1. What Is In The FCC Order? - Seemingly lost in all the media euphoria yesterday was a basic fact:
WE DON'T KNOW WHAT THE FCC ACTUALLY VOTED ON!
No one outside the FCC Commissioners and their staffs have seen the actual "Order" that the FCC voted on yesterday.  Sure, we've heard all the lofty rhetoric and seen the summaries... but the rumors are that the actual document is over 300 pages and full of details.
 
Perhaps I’m just cynical, but the telecommunications industry in the United States employs hundreds of lawyers in Washington, DC, to influence and shape legislation and regulations in ways that benefit the telecom industry - and they've been doing so for over 100 years.  And so while some of the companies may line up to file lawsuits against this FCC Order, odds are very good that their lobbyists and specialists have been hard at work attempting to shape these new regulations. I know some people at the FCC who are strong open Internet advocates and who I'm sure are trying to do the right thing... but I also know that 300+ pages has a whole lot of room for things to slip in.
 
My greatest fear is that when we actually see the full text, we may find that while there are some provisions we like, there are many others we don't - and there may be loopholes big enough to drive an entire residential network through.  

    
"The other problem with rules is that they are brittle. Teams of lawyers will comb through whatever the FCC finally publishes and find any loopholes. There will be defined bright lines going forward and, make no mistake, ISPs will now get as close to those lines as they can. Whatever the Internet's rough consensus of "acceptable" was before, it's about to be thrown out in favor of a set of rules written by lawyers. Ironically, that may end up resulting in a regulated network that is less neutral than what we have today."
 
2. The Internet Is Not (or WAS Not) The Telephone Network - For so many years (in fact, decades for some people), we who are advocates of the open Internet have said at every chance we could one simple fact:
The Internet is NOT the telephone network.  The Internet is NOT the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network).
 
And therefore the Internet should NOT be regulated like the traditional telecom network.  The Internet should not fall under traditional telecom legislation and regulation.  The Internet should not be regulated by the traditional telecom authorities and telecom regulators.  
 
You cannot apply the old rules of telecom to the new world of the Internet.
 
The Internet is something new.  The Internet is NOT telecom.   Again and again and again and again we've all said this.  Going back many, many years.
 
If you remember back to 2012 and the whole World Conference on International Telecommunication (WCIT) where so many were concerned that the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) was going to try to assert authority over the Internet, millions of us around the world rallied together to encourage our advocates in governments and organizations to say at WCIT that: 

The Internet is NOT telecom.  You cannot apply the old rules of telecom to the new world of the Internet.
 
And the outcome of WCIT was that the Internet was left alone and was recognized as being outside the scope of a treaty focused on telecommunications/telephony.
 
We all within the Internet have been saying this consisistently again and again:
The Internet is NOT telecom.  Those are old rules - we are living in a new medium.
 
But guess what?  
 
Yesterday's ruling by the FCC says (as best we understand it) - the Internet does fall under telecommunication regulations.  Internet service providers should be classified under Title II just like all the other telecommunications service providers.
 
The FCC has effectively said: 
The Internet IS telecom.  The old rules DO apply.
I am not sure that is something to celebrate.
 
Many countries around the world have followed the lead of the US in treating the Internet lightly - but now that the FCC is effectively declaring the Internet to be like the telephone network, what is to stop those countries from doing the same?  Indeed what is to prevent the ITU from now using this action to justify a larger role for it in regulating the Internet?  After all, it's just telecom now.
 
I would have personally been far happier if the U.S. Congress had come up with new legislation that enshrined the principles of the open Internet in a new form  of legislation that didn't carry with it all the legacy baggage of 100 years of telecom regulation. Yes, the legions of lawyers might have made it a hard fight, but it would have at least been something new - and at least we would have known more of what was actually being voted on. But that didn't happen - and so here we are today.
 
The "devil is in the details", as they say... and now we have to wait to see what exactly the FCC actually did yesterday.  I'd like to be wrong and just be cynical and jaded.  I fear that I am right.
 
I applaud FCC Chairman Wheeler for the lofty language he and the other commissioners used yesterday.  It is a huge victory to have the heads of the FCC saying publicly so many of the things that so many of us have been advocating about for so many years.  It is also a huge victory to have so many millions of people, not just in the US but all around the world, rise up and pay attention to these issues as a result of this whole issue here in the U.S. That is HUGE.  We've needed something like this to wake people up to the choices we have to make.
 
But I do worry that in "winning" this victory yesterday, we may in fact be setting ourselves up to lose the larger war to keep the Internet open.


Google Finally Kills Off GoogleTalk and XMPP (Jabber) Integration

GoogleTalk is dead, Jim!

By way of a comment to a post I wrote back in May 2013 about Google seeming to kill off XMPP/Jabber support in Google+ Hangouts (spoiler: They did!), I learned from a friend that the GoogleTalk API was officially deprecated as of February 23, 2015. I confirmed this by finding a Google+ post from Google's Mayur Kamat.

Now, this is not a surprise. Google has been clear that Hangouts was the replacement and also that Hangouts does not support XMPP:

Googletalk end

Still, I'm sad to see the XMPP integration die off. It is just a continuation of the descent of messaging services into walled gardens ... a topic I've been writing about for many years.

UPDATE: Please see the post "No, it’s not the end of XMPP for Google Talk" on the XMPP Standards Foundation site. The XSF notes that XMPP is still used inside of Google and that XMPP federation can still occur with a third-part XMPP client. However, because Google does not support the secure use of XMPP via TLS, many public XMPP servers will not connect to its server. I join the XSF in wishing that Google would embrace secure messaging and better federation. However, given that their product direction is for Hangouts, which does NOT support XMPP, I'm skeptical that we'll ever see any better federation at this point.

On that note, it was really no surprise to see the media reports about Microsoft killing off Google and Facebook chat support in its Outlook.com service. Microsoft made this Google integration available back in May 2013, but today Microsoft really has no choice:

  • Google has killed off XMPP integration with Hangouts.
  • Facebook has killed off XMPP integration with their new v2.0 API.

And so Microsoft can only offer Outlook.com its own proprietary walled garden... Skype!

Goodbye GoogleTalk and... sadly... goodbye XMPP integration!


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Wire 1.4 on iOS Tweaks The Display And Adds Avatars To Chats

Today the team at Wire rolled out a new version 1.4 of their iOS app. As they say in the release notes visible in the AppStore, the changes are:
  • Added avatars and blurred background in conversations for improved readability.
  • Added colored background images in the conversation list
  • Improved tutorial hints
  • 1Password support
  • Bug fixes and improvements

More to the point, the Wire team outlined the thinking behind these changes in a blog post on February 2, 2015. At the time they indicated the changes were available right then on Android and it apparently took this long for Apple to approve the new version for iOS (depending upon when Wire did in fact submit the new version to Apple).

I'm admittedly in a bit of a mixed mind with regard to the evolution of the chat interface. Here is what a Wire chat looked like on my iPhone 5s before (left) and after (right) the upgrade to Wire 1.4 (click/tap the image for a larger view):

Wire 1 4 avatars

On the plus side, I do find the avatars helpful as visual identifiers that help you easily see who is writing what in the chat window. Particularly if people use the same avatar image as they do on other networks and messaging systems, it becomes easy to rapidly identify who is writing.

On the negative side, I did like that the previous version used the full width of the screen and also had a slightly larger font size.

I've just started using the new version so don't yet have much experience with the other new features. The change in the display was quite noticable, though.

What do you think? If you're using Wire, do you like the new changes?


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Video: VUC 528 Provides An Update On Matrix.org And Wire

Vuc logoLast Friday's VUC conference call / podcast / hangout provided some interesting updates about the ongoing work at Matrix.org to build services for scalable, distributed and federated collaboration systems as well as some discussion of Wire, the app I've written about here. Guests included Matthew Hodgson and Amandine Le Pape from Matrix.org, as well as the usual cast of characters and a couple of live demonstrations, too.

You can view the episode web page and listen to the show here:

I joined the show about mid-way through and naturally wound up talking about IPv6, the Internet of Things (IoT), ICANN, DNS and other topics.

FYI, some good info about Matrix.org can be found in their FAQ. Back in November 2014, there was also another VUC episode focused around Matrix.org.

It was an enjoyable show and I'd encourage you to give it a listen.


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Congratulations To Alec Saunders On His Move To Microsoft

Alec saundersCongratulations to Alec Saunders on his new role working with Microsoft Ventures in Canada! Alec's been a long-time friend and fellow blogger dating way back to the mid-2000's when he was proposing his "Voice 2.0 Manifesto". When he was leading Iotum a group of us were doing the daily "Squawk Box" podcast that was a lot of fun. Alec and I used to see each other all the time on the VoIP / Unified Communications conference circuit (which is where I took the photo that he now uses on his blog). Back in September 2011 I wrote about his joining Blackberry and then a year later when he made rock music videos with Blackberry.

And now he's returning to his roots! He was one of the first product managers for Internet Explorer at Microsoft... and now he's back at Microsoft again! As he says in his post:

As of last Monday, I’ve rejoined Microsoft in the role of Principal Technical Evangelist. My beat is Canada – not just Kitchener-Waterloo. My boss is Microsoft Chief Evangelist and Corporate Vice President for Developer Experience, Steven “Guggs” Guggenheimer. I’m part of the global Microsoft Ventures team. And we run programs, like the Microsoft Ventures Accelerators, that are focused on helping early stage companies achieve their full potential.

I've long been skeptical about Microsoft and frustrated with many of their products and services. In particularly I haven't been pleased at all with the lackluster evolution of Skype (or really lack thereof) under Microsoft's watch... but the list of other products that have frustrated me can go on.

BUT... I'll admit that they've been doing some interesting things lately - and their new leadership seems like they have a clue. It's probably a great time for dynamic people like Alec to re-join Microsoft. The role sounds perfect for him... using so many of his different strengths!

I'm looking forward to seeing what he does in that role ... and if my travels bring me back up to Canada I'll look forward to catching up with him somewhere in all the madness.

Congrats, Alec!


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Seeing IP Phones In Hotels, Banks, Offices...

"Hey, that's a Mitel IP phone... I remember when that handset was introduced. It was very different from the previous one but had better 'shoulderability' ... it created a bit of a stir among customers, though. Hmmm... I wonder what model IP phone that is......"

All of this was running through my head during a routine visit to my bank this morning while waiting at a counter talking to someone. He had to call another office so there I was looking at his desk phone.

It happens to me all the time!

Even though I left Mitel way back in 2007... and really left IP telephony when I left Voxeo in 2011... IP telephony hasn't left me!

I'll be at a hotel... and I am checking out their phone system. A bank... an office... Wherever! There's a Cisco IP phone... there's an Avaya... there's a Mitel... a snow... a I-have-no-clue...

I guess it's just an occupational hazard of having been a product manager for IP phones during my time at Mitel... or maybe just the 6 years I spent there learning about IP telephony... but I just always see the IP phones. :-)

Seeing IP Phones In Hotels, Banks, Offices...


Aswath Rao Says I'm Wrong About VoIP In India

Whatsapp logoAs a follow-up to my post yesterday about how Indian telcos are complaining to the the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) about WhatsApp's plans to launch VoIP, long-time VoIP blogger Aswath Rao took issue on Twitter with one particular sentence in my article:
India has NOT been a very friendly place for VoIP historically, and so we'll have to see what happens here...

In a series of tweets Aswath pointed out that the TRAI has in fact been very supportive of IP-to-IP VoIP services and has left them unregulated. The regulation has all been around VoIP services interconnecting to the Indian PSTN. Aswath's tweets: https://twitter.com/aswath/status/548681349344034818

You are mistaken when you say "India has NOT been a very friendly place for VoIP historically". And I have pted it out many times.
https://twitter.com/aswath/status/548681697227980800
From the get go, TRAI has regulated only IP to Indian PSTN. IP/IP & IP to foreign PSTN have been unregulated
https://twitter.com/aswath/status/548687939862290432
My point is that TRAI has been very enlightened in its ruling. Even after 11/26 attack & pressure it has not reg IP/IP

Given that Aswath has been very involved in VoIP in India for many years, I'll defer to his opinion on this one.

Thanks, Aswath, for challenging me on this sentence.


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To No Surprise, Indian Telcos Want to Block WhatsApp OTT VoIP

Whatsapp logoTo the surprise of absolutely no one, telcos in India are objecting to plans for WhatsApp to launch VoIP and complaining about it to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). So reports The Hindu Business Line that includes this glorious quote from a representative of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI):
“Allowing the use of VoIP/ Internet telephony at such massive scale without licensing regime would lead to a significant disruption in the existing business of TSPs and can substantially derail their investment capability”

Gee... allowing a new innovative entrant into the market would lead to "significant disruption in the existing business" of the existing telcos.

Yes. Exactly.

And the representative further pointed out that this could lead to a "significant loss of revenues" for the government in the form of taxes.

Yes. Exactly.

This is the nature of Over-The-Top (OTT) applications and services. In providing better services for customers they very often DO cause "significant disruption" to existing businesses.

This is the nature of innovation.

This is the value of the "permissionless innovation" that has made the Internet the amazing tool for communication, collaboration and creation that it is today.

The folks at WhatsApp don't need to ask anyone to roll out VoIP, as articles seem to point to them being ready to do soon. (See also this AndroidWorld.nl article in Dutch.)

They just do it.

And... of course... the legacy telcos fight back using every tool in their formidable arsenal, which includes of course legislation and government lobbying such as that shown in this article.

India has NOT been a very friendly place for VoIP historically, and so we'll have to see what happens here...

[UPDATE: Aswath Rao says I'm wrong with this last sentence and that India has been friendly to pure IP-to-IP VoIP systems.]

... but while they can attempt to throw up as many roadblocks as they can... in the end my bet would be on the OTT services and applications to win.

They provide the services the customers want... and can probably do so at a much more reasonable cost... and in the user experience that the customers want.

A classic example of "disruptive telephony"...


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Congrats to the Wire Team for TNW Apps of The Year Selection

Congratulations to the Wire.com team for having Wire be selected as one of The Next Web's "Apps of the Year"!

Tnw app of year wire

TNW's Napier Lopez talks about how beautiful Wire is and how much it is a platform that he wants to use... and suddenly he is the one asking people to join him.

Many of comments mirror my own opinion of how much I enjoy using the app. It's just a pleasure to use for communication.

Napier Lopez does, though, hit Wire's real challenge:

Still, I mentioned earlier that I started using other messaging platforms because my friends made me, and therein lies the crux with Wire, or any new messaging platofrm, really: you need to get users on the platform.

This is indeed the "user directory problem" that I wrote about at great length. And I, too, hope that the Wire team - and we all as Wire users - can find ways to help bring people to the platform.

Meanwhile, congrats to the Wire team for this recognition - and I look forward to seeing what may be coming up next in the app!

P.S. I notice a version 1.2 for iOS just appeared in the AppStore and it includes the ability to invite people to join, so that's a start....


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Skype Translator Looks Intriguing

While it is only a "preview" release and is only available to people using Skype on Windows 8.1, Microsoft's new Skype Translator announced on Monday looks very cool! As they state:
The preview program will kick-off with two spoken languages, Spanish and English, and 40+ instant messaging languages will be available to Skype customers who have signed-up via the Skype Translator sign-up page and are using Windows 8.1 on the desktop or device.

The very well-done video shows the real potential, though:

I think many of us have always wanted the Star Trek Universal Translator and while this "preview" from Microsoft is not yet near that sci-fi ideal, it's definitely a very intriguing step along that direction. I like the idea that it can do both speech and text translation. Given my travel to different parts of the world, the idea of being able to whip out my smartphone and be able to translate to and from another language is definitely welcome.

I'm told the Windows 8.1 restriction is because it is based on Microsoft's Cortana 'personal assistant' technology. Given that I have no Windows 8.1 devices nor expect to anytime soon, I won't personally get a chance to check out this Skype Translator preview. (Although obviously I would expect Microsoft is hoping that perhaps this may help drive some people to use Windows 8.1.)

On a macro level, I think it's great that Microsoft/Skype is undertaking this kind of research and development. Certainly anything that can help bridge communication challenges is welcome in this global age!


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