Sunday, 10 May 2009

Aus High Speed Broadband: Barriers and Challenges

A response to the "Public Sphere" run by Senator Lundy on "High Bandwidth for Australia".
Previous comments on the National Broadband Network - about excess costs, poor design and addressing lost strategic opportunities.

Future posts will be linked from here.

Roger Clarke finished his presentation with a comment something like "the upside is obvious, the downside needs to talked about".

Without bringing down the tone, optimism and vision of the event, enumerating the Barriers and Challenges associated with roll-out and adoption of 'universal' High Speed Broadband (HSB) in Australia allows for generating better designs/options, avoiding 'surprises' and anticipating routes around and out-of "bear pits", "Forewarned is forearmed". Who knows, new insights may emerge from this viewpoint.

Alan Kay in his 2003 Turning Award speech identified the central importance of ICT:
"our field is a field that's the next great 500-year idea after the printing press"

Getting the transition into High-Speed right enough is important:
There is no way back.

Setting user expectations is very important:
Servers, not the network, will become the new bottleneck.

The central technical challenges are:
Usability, Performance, Security, Reliability/Robustness.
Scaling-up and scaling-out current solutions won't be easy, obvious or simple. Probably not cheap or quick either.

The "drop-dead" challenges are non-technical:
Social, Legal/Political, Regulatory, Cost.

User acceptance:
Social, Legal/Political, Regulatory, Cost.

Australia has a history of slow take-up of new technologies. It took until 1975 for Colour TV to arrive in Australia. This is counter-intuitive because Australians are well known innovators, inventors and scientists. Individually we embrace change, collectively reject it.

Some of the central problems & differences with The Net are:
  • universal & global access
  • Uncertain Identities - "nobody knows you're a dog"
  • non-physical, untraceable digital goods
  • The Permanent Digital Record

  • Libraries
  • Copyright, copying digital docs (c.f. photocopies & royalties).
  • Content: DRM, Protection, Enforcement, "free for domestic use", "Free for Mash-Ups"?
  • Creative Commons & shared content/resources
  • e-Commerce and Monetising Content:
    • Royalties: Registration, Recognition, Collection, Distribution
    • Definition, Usage Rights, Nr Plays, Time-shifting, Time-to-live & View-Time
    • 'Sharing'
  • Costs
    • $: up-front/install, on-going & operations, upgrade/variation, usage (Volume/Time/access), 'surprise' charges: excess-data, reverse-charging, malware induced
    • Damage and OH&S issues: e.g. RSI, eye-strain, ...
    • Availability: Regional, Speed, Filtering
    • User Time: Amplifying User Effectiveness, time cost of {Admin, Tools, machines}, Training, PC maintenance/modification/upgrade, Home Network {design, install, maint, upgrade}
    • Server Access: Free local on-net access, free home servers, Caching {Cost, access, copyright}
    • Security & Privacy: Admin, monitoring, repair
    • Time Shift Streaming:
  • "Acceptable Use Policies", Netiquette, defining & enforcing "Rules of Conduct" {email, IM/twitter, blogs, web pages}
  • Digital Divide: Socio-economic, Cultural, Geographic, Age, Disability
    • Digital Natives vs Gen X vs Baby Boomers vs Pre-boomers
    • Electoral Disenfranchisement through link/computer speed, proprietary file formats/browsers/utilities and codecs
  • Smart Networks vs "Too smart by half" - limiting and inflexible implementations/options
  • Power (Electricity), Mobility, Screen Sizes (iPhone, Kindle, netbook, laptop, desktop, Video)
  • "All About the Data": Guaranteed Open Standards and Open Access to Public Content. {Audit, enforcement, appeal}
  • Unintended Consequences: Recognition, Identification, Redress, Enforce/Change, Legal suits
  • Privacy and malicious content: Erasing 'leaks' and the untrue/misleading from The Permanent Digital Record.
  • High Performance networking: Video, Adult Content and Gambling.
  • SPAM, phising, malware, etc:
    • Cyberspace is a unique and different Legal Jurisdiction. Global approaches, like "The Law of the Sea", Intellectual Property and 'Post and Telegraph' are needed. A critical enabler is physical identification and tracking of maldoers and universal extradition: "nowhere to hide" has to be both a mantra and a reality.
      Bringing recalcitrant regimes into line shouldn't be hard: disconnect or rate-limit Internet to their country.
    • Digital Organised Crime and Digital Conspiracy are serious, global offences which are in dire need of addressing. Underpinning legal and properly funded policing frameworks are needed. Unlike the US "War on Drugs" and "on Terror", th
    • Identity Theft is a major crime & needs one international policing body, with an associated court and realistic penalties.
    • Falsified E-mail Identity, the basis of SPAM, is as illegal and serious as Mail Fraud. It needs to be treated so, with efficient detection and rapid response.
    • Theft of resources: bandwidth, CPU or storage, is as much theft as stealing Fax paper. There was a landmark case in the UK where adverts using unsolicited Faxes was successfully prosecuted. Internationally, the same precedent is urgently needed to control 'botnets' and other malware.
    • Stealing bank login details and so money is exactly Digital Bank Robbery. This is crime, pure and simple, already recognised by every jurisdiction. Why there seems to be no Political will to identify and rapidly bring-to-book these criminals I find astounding and indefensible. The mischief and damage possible through Digital Robbery is enormous - if ever fully realised, 'shock and awe' will be appropriate.
  • Government
    • The Net is a Distance and Time shifter: it changes the nature and style of public interactions with their elected representatives. Importantly, it changes representative accountability.
    • A single/integrated approach for all levels of Government (Local, State, Federal) is required for best results.
    • Public access to appropriate Bureaucrats requires both a role/positional Directory and 'ticket handling' systems like Helpdesks. The public have a reasonable expectation to prompt, efficient resolution of requests, complaint etc with Open and Transparent reporting of performances.
    • On-line anonymous venues are the perfect mechanism for whistle-blowers and other public-interest disclosures. Handling problems like the Rockhampton "Dr. Death" allegations or the "Butcher of Bega" sexual attacks, while avoiding false or malicious rumour is the key test.
  • Addressing Human Limits on Input & Output
    • John Mashey, creator of the MIPS chip, observed the disparate bit-rates for Human Input & Output. Typing is incredibly slow (30-40bps) speaking & listening relatively fast (10-32kbps), but we excel at inputting vision (10-100Mbps).

  • more...

The issue of seeding and supporting early adopters and leveraging their experience/skills into the general populace is central to the wide-spread adoption and use of the new technologies. "Who you gonna call?" when you need to know how to do setup/do something is a critical support mechanism.

Alan Kay has some insight in this problem as applied to Education, with additional comments on applying to adoption of new Computing paradigms. A feasible approach would seem small, focused communities of interest who support & reinforce one-another and who 'spread the word'. Something like the CRC program for Research.

Why are we doing this?

"Augmentation", an important concept, was mentioned by a later speaker. (James Delow?)

Doug Englebart, one of the early giants in Computing, ran SRI's Augmentation Research Centre.
In 1968 he and his group gave an extraordinary demonstration for the ACM - it included hypertext, interactive video and teleconferencing. Implementing this same demo forty years on would still be a challenge.

In 1945 Vannevar Bush, the inventor of Hypertext, designed a system, "The Memex", to augment/amplify a researchers ability.
Key to its use and value was the ability to share 'Associative trails'. It allowed "researchers" to identify and exchange exact lines of research - all the material in one place.

Do our current regimes of copyright and DRM support or hinder the widespread use of technologies like this?

Homo sapien has a need for freedom and meaning.
What marks us as unique is our thirst for knowledge, the need to 'understand' and to communicate. "Solitary Confinement" is an especial punishment.

We cherish stories and story-telling. Maslow even identified "self actualisation" as our highest need. We don't just learn, we record History and identify its Lessons - what works, what doesn't. We advance because we "stand on the shoulders of Giants".

High Speed Broadband is about Humans limitless need to Learn and Communicate.
It is the lastest, but not the last, technological means to facilitate our many needs.
Not the least, our daily work, trade and commerce.

Which segues to our individual and collective 'darkside'.
Creating a new tool/mechanism means creating effective non-draconian ways to keep it safe.
Taking the stance this brave new frontier should be Free and Unfettered is amazingly naive and self-serving. If it were this simple, there'd be no SPAM or malware. Much worse is waiting out there.

Alongside the technical and organisational challenges, we have to consider the Regulatory and Legal environment of what is acceptable behaviour and 'words'. Then figure out how to police and enforce those limits, without destroying the very thing we are trying to foster.

Universal access high-speed broadband isn't "just faster", it's a game changer in exactly the same way that motor vehicles redefined our societies. Megatropolis's are not possible without high efficient, high performance transport networks. Our advanced technologies aren't possible without those large conurbations, either.

"More of the same" thinking isn't adequate for this new technology.

A useful beginning is to ask the questions:
  • What do we need to do MORE of and
  • LESS of?
  • What do we need to STOP doing,
  • START doing, or
  • CHANGE/MODIFY what we are doing?
It's a Brave New World. We can try to get it off to a good start.

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