Saturday, September 22, 2018

The impact of Internet-enabled gerrymandering: North Carolina

The Supreme Court sidestepped the North Carolina gerrymandering case and the 2018 congressional election will be biased there and in several other states. What is Judge Kavanaugh's position on the constitutionality of gerrymandering?

Charles and David Koch
Every ten years, after the census, states redraw the borders of their congressional districts. In most, but not all, states politicians -- the state legislature and governor -- control that process. The number of congressional districts in each state is a function of its population. For example, California, the most populous state, has 53 representatives in Congress while the seven smallest states have only one each.

Partisan gerrymandering is drawing district boundaries so as to give the controlling party in a state an unfair advantage. A gerrymandered map packs opposition party voters into one or a few districts so the controlling party has a small but safe advantage in the remaining districts. Gerrymandering is nearly as old as our country, but it was imprecise and difficult to do before the rise of the Internet. By 2010, the Democrat and Republican parties had compiled extensive voter databases, which mapping software could use to generate district maps favoring their party.

After the 2010 census, the Koch brothers and other wealthy Republican donors realized that if they controlled state governments, they could control redistricting and therefore the US House of Representatives so they increased their support of state elections and at the same time, the Democratic National Committee moved in the opposite direction -- focusing on the national election.

The Republican strategy worked. In the 2010 election cycle Democrats took five governorships from the Republicans while Republicans took 11 governorships from the Democrats and Republicans netted 721 state legislature seats, giving them control of both houses in 25 states -- up from 14 before the election.

Before and after 2010 gerrymandering (red=Republican control of both
houses, blue=Democrat, yellow=split). Nebraska is non-partisan. (Source)

The Republicans drew gerrymandered maps in key states and it paid off. In the 2012 election, 1.4 million more Americans voted for Democrats than Republicans for Congress, but Republicans won a 33-seat majority in Congress. A 2017 Brennan Center for Justice study concluded that "Republicans derive a net benefit of at least 16-17 congressional seats in the current Congress from partisan bias."

The Brennan Center uses three different tests for significant partisan bias in a state and they found consistent high bias in 8 states, four of which were found to be biased using all three of their measures.


There have been a number of court challenges in these states, most recently in North Carolina where a panel of three federal judges ruled last month that the state's congressional map is an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander that favors Republicans. It is easy to see how they reached that conclusion.

North Carolina voter registration numbers from 2010, before gerrymandering, to 2018 are shown below.

North Carolina voter registration (source)

Democrats outnumber Republicans in each year, but what about Libertarians and unaffiliated voters? If we adjust, by assuming that all of the Libertarian and half of the unaffiliated voters favor Republicans over Democrats, we get the following breakdown:

Adjusted registration percents

Before gerrymandering, there were seven North Carolina Democrats in the 111th Congress and six Republicans. That dropped to four Democrats after gerrymandering and then to three.

Note further that the Republicans have not tried to hide their bias. David Lewis, senior chair of the North Carolina House Redistricting Committee, and Robert Rucho, senior chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee, who were responsible for developing the redistricting plan, engaged a well-known Republican redistricting consultant Thomas Hofeller to draw the map.

Dr. Hofeller testified that Lewis and Rucho instructed him “to create as many districts as possible in which GOP candidates would be able to successfully compete for office” and he complied, seeking “to minimize the number of districts in which Democrats would have an opportunity to elect a Democratic candidate.” Lewis also confirmed their intent in the following television interview:

 Clip1 Clip2                                                    Representative David Lewis

Using common sense and tests like those employed by the Brennan Center, it is easy to identify gerrymandering after the fact, but harder to generate agreed-upon impartial districts when new census data is gathered. There are guidelines like having about the same number of people in each district, making districts contiguous and compact and recognizing political subdivisions like city and county boundaries, but these are not hard and fast criteria. There is also an inherent tension between the desire to avoid gerrymandering and compliance with the Voting Rights Act that prohibits racial discrimination in voting -- districts must be drawn so as to give representation to minorities.

People move around, so it is reasonable to redistrict every ten years and there is no way to get consensus on a redistricting algorithm, but it is clear that partisan politicians should not have redistricting authority. The Brennan Center study found one political party had sole control (legislature and governor) in each of the seven states with high levels of partisan bias while maps drawn by commissions, courts, and split-control state governments exhibited much lower levels of bias, and none had high levels of bias persisting across all three of the elections since 2010. You can read their recommendations here.

The North Carolina gerrymander was struck down by a Federal Court, but that was appealed to the Supreme Court. The lack of precise gerrymandering criteria led the Supreme Court to sidestep the case and send it back to North Carolina, where it was again found unfair, but there was not enough time to redraw the map before the election. The gerrymandered map will be used in the 2018 election. (The Pennsylvania State Supreme Court redrew a gerrymandered map this year).

If partisan gerrymandering persists, cases like that of North Carolina will continue to be appealed to the Supreme Court and they will eventually make a precedent-setting ruling. Today's Supreme Court is clearly politicized and a decision on gerrymandering would be more central to our democracy than rulings on important issues like DACA or abortion. What is Judge Kavanaugh's position on the constitutionality of gerrymandering?

For more on Internet-enabled gerrymandering see these posts and visit The Gerrymandering Project.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Might CubeSats provide broadband Internet connectivity one day?

It's hard to believe that the capability of the satellites companies like OneWeb and SpaceX are contemplating might one day fit in a CubeSat, but think about the phone in your pocket.

In November, 2016, SpaceX filed a request for approval to launch 4,425 Internet-service satellites using the Ku and Ka frequency bands. The satellites were expected to measure 4 x 1.8 x 1.2 meters. In February, 2018 SpaceX launched two Internet-service test satellites -- TinTin A and B -- that measured only 1.1 x .7 x .7 meters.

Why the size difference?

Maybe some functions were omitted from the test satellites -- for example, they may not have included inter-satellite laser communication capability -- but technical progress also steadily reduces the size of electronic devices.

Might the capability TinTin A or B one day be packaged in a CubeSat?

A CubeSat is a small satellite composed of one or more 10 x 10 x 10-centimeter cubes (units) that weigh under 1.33 kg each. For example, the 3-unit (3U) CubeSat shown below would be 10 x 10 x 30 centimeters (plus a little more for the frame holding the cubes) and weigh under 3.99 kg.

Assembling a 3U CubeSat

CubeSats were initially developed to support low-cost access to space for university research, but today they are being used in both commercial and research projects and many companies are manufacturing CubeSats and components.

Several startup companies are working on narrowband communication applications. Let's look at two examples.

SAS equatorial orbits (source)
Skyandspace (SAS) is off to an early start. They have three 3U CubeSats in an equatorial orbit and they have demonstrated instant messageing, voice calls, financial transactions and integration with public switched telephone network.

They plan to begin launching a 200-satellite constellation next year and to be fully operational in 2020. When complete, the constellation will serve the +/- 15-degree latitude region and provide personal voice calls and messages and connectivity for machine-machine communication and "Internet of things" applications.

SAS CEO Meir Moalem estimates that the "full constellation of the 200 nanosatellites will cost somewhere between $120 and $160 million,” which, he said includes "the production, launch, and operation of the constellation." They expect that that relatively low cost will enable them to replace 25% of the constellation each year, enabling them to constantly upgrade their technology. (APP Company Research used a figure of $150 million in an independent forecast).

SAS hopes to eventually provide global narrowband coverage with 1,000 satellites, but they are not talking about broadband service. On the other hand, "Internet in space" is the long-term goal of Kepler Communications.

Kepler KIPP (source)
Just over two years after the company was founded and a year after being funded, Kepler had KIPP, their first operational satellite, in orbit -- a testimony to CubeSat cost and development time.

KIPP, a KU-band, 3U CubeSat, is in polar orbit and providing high-speed, global store-and-forward service through their gateways in Inuvik and Svalbard. They are serving customers with latency-tolerant applications like bulk transfer of scientific and video data. (This is reminiscent of the first satellite Internet project I know of -- VitaSat -- which provided email and other asynchronous services in developing nations in the mid-1990s).

The next launches will be CASE, a slightly upgraded version of KIPP, which will add to their store-and-forward capacity and TARS, a redesigned 6U CubeSat that will be used for both store-and-forward and Internet of things applications. TARS will be the final service-demonstration satellite prior the early 2020 launch of the first 10 satellites of their 140 satellite constellation.

Both SAS and Kepler are small startups. SAS has issued stock and Kepler is venture funded. Kepler has also received In-Orbit Demonstration Mission funds from Satellite Applications Catapult, a non-profit company funded by Innovate UK which in turn is funded by UK Research and Innovation. (This sounds like an interesting public-private funding chain).

Like OneWeb (and unlike SpaceX), both work with partners in design and production of satellites, antennas, radios, etc. and both sound like fast-moving, innovative companies with a sense of purpose -- reminiscent of the early days of both personal computing and the Internet. The "careers" page of the Kepler Web site captures this feeling well. It offers the opportunity to "join the team that's building the Internet in space," recognizes that "a good cultural fit can oftentimes be more important than technical competency when building a company" and lists "indoor bike storage" as one of the perks of employment. I'm ready to sign up!

It's hard to believe that the capability of the satellites companies like OneWeb and SpaceX are contemplating might one day fit in a CubeSat, but think about the phone in your pocket. Also, as the following time-lapse video (1:54) shows, today's CubeSats are hand built -- what would mass-produced CubeSats cost and how many could a BFR launch at once?

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The impact of rising sea level on Internet infrastructure

A recent study predicts that rising sea level might result in as much as 4,067 miles of fiber conduit being under water and 1,101 nodes (data centers, Internet exchanges, cable landing points, etc.) surrounded by water in U. S. coastal cities in 15 years.

Paul Barford, professor of computer science at the University of Wisconsin, and his colleagues have been compiling data on the physical Internet and making it available to the research community at the Internet Atlas Web portal since 2011. The portal includes an interactive visualization tool that can be used to create maps of Internet infrastructure in order to inform the public and guide network architects and policymakers.

Barford and his colleagues have combined their infrastructure data with sea level incursion projections from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in order to estimate expected damage to U. S. Internet infrastructure due to sea level rise and, as you see below, the NOAA data shows that sea-level has increased relatively rapidly off the U. S. coasts in recent years.


That is history, but NOAA also models future sea level rise and you can see predictions for specific locations using their Sea Level Rise Viewer (SLRV), a cool visualization tool. The SLRV predicts sea level rise through the year 2100 and computes estimates of sea level rise for five different scenarios at a selected location. For example, predictions for Miami, Florida for the year 2030 are: Intermediate Low scenario: 0.49ft, Intermediate: 0.75ft, Intermediate High: 0.98ft, High: 1.21ft and Extreme: 1.35ft. (The assumptions underlying the scenarios are spelled out here)

For this study, Barford and his colleagues used NOAA's Extreme scenario estimate of a global mean sea level rise of one foot per 15 years through 2100 and concluded that in the U. S. 4,067 miles of fiber conduit will be under water and 1,101 nodes (e.g., points of presence, Internet exchanges, cable landing points, etc.) will be surrounded by water in the next 15 years.

National outage due to hurricane
Sandy (source)
The study concluded that Miami, New York, and Seattle will be the hardest hit U. S. cities, but don't think you are home free if you live in Kansas -- the Internet is global and we are all affected by outages.

They also noted that since much Internet infrastructure is located near the coast in large cities, much of the future damage will occur fairly soon. Even if we assume the Intermediate Low scenario, Miami sea-level will have risen by a foot by 2015.

Los Angeles in 15 years
You can use the SLRV to check the situation in your local area using the scenario that best fits it. For example, this is what the coastal region of my city, Los Angeles, is projected to look like in 15 years using the Extreme scenario. The blue areas (on a green background) show expected sea level rise inundation and the dark green lines are fiber conduits.

Don't forget that Barford's analysis assumes the most aggressive of NOAA's scenarios and at the historical rate of sea-level rise we would predict less than 2 inches in the next 15 years.

On the other hand, Barford used the mean global extreme scenario estimate and North American cities have historically seen above average sea level increases.

Furthermore, he does not consider storm damage and this report shows that when hurricane Sandy hit the east coast in 2012, outages in New York and New Jersey led to a doubling of the national Internet outage rate. (You can read more on the impact of Hurricane Sandy on the Internet here).

Hurricane Katrina also damaged the Internet when it struck New Orleans in 2005. You can get a feeling for what it was like by listening to Doc Searle's interview of Sigmund Solares, then CEO of the DirectNIC data center. Solares describes the flooding and the extreme effort required to keep DirectNIC online.

(Note that the posts on Sandy and Katrina are at the Internet Archive since the original copies were no longer online).

Some people believe global warming is God's will -- it's good that He also endowed us with free will.


Thursday, July 19, 2018

Trump's "would/wouldn't" comment on Russian meddling in context

Whether he meant to say "would" or "wouldn't," trump clumsily tried to dodge the question of Russian interference in our election by falsely attacking the FBI and taking a shot at Hillary Clinton and a "Pakistani gentleman."

The news has focused on Trump's response when Associated Press reporter Jonathan Lemire asked whether he believed Putin or "every U. S. intelligence agency" on the question of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump and the media have focused on this quote:

I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server.
The next day, Trump claimed to have misspoken, that he meant to say "wouldn't" instead of "would," but let's look at that sentence in context. It turns out he tried to artfully dodge the question by attacking the FBI. Here is his answer:
So let me just say that we have two thoughts. You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server. Why haven’t they taken the server? Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee? I’ve been wondering that. I’ve been asking that for months and months, and I’ve been tweeting it out and calling it out on social media. Where is the server? I want to know, where is the server? And what is the server saying?

With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. My people came to me — Dan Coats came to me and some others — they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia.

I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server. But I have — I have confidence in both parties. I really believe that this will probably go on for a while, but I don’t think it can go on without finding out what happened to the server. What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC? Where are those servers? They’re missing. Where are they? What happened to Hillary Clinton’s emails? Thirty-three thousand emails gone — just gone. I think, in Russia, they wouldn’t be gone so easily. I think it’s a disgrace that we can’t get Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 emails. (Source).
He used the word "server" nine times and managed to attack Hillary Clinton and a "Pakistani gentleman" along with the FBI.

We know what he was getting at when he mentioned Hillary Clinton and "the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC," but what about the server?

I listened to the press conference live and was struck by his rambling reference to servers. I didn't know what servers he was talking about and also wondered whether he knew what a server is. (It turns out he repeated the word nine times).

I did a quick search and it turns out that the fact-checking site Politifact has concluded that "Donald Trump's 'missing' server comments get all of the details wrong" and the Pakistani gentleman is Imran Awan, who emigrated from Pakistan as a youth, has been a U.S. citizen since 2004 and did not work for the DNC.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Telecommunication in ancient Greece

The Greek historian Polybius (c. 200 – c. 118 BC) documented two methods for communication at a distance -- telecommunication.

The first was an analog hydraulic system. The terminals consisted of identical vessels filled with water. The sender signaled the receiver with a torch when he was ready to transmit and they both let water out of their vessels until the end of transmission torch was raised. If the amount of water drained from both vessels was the same, the height of the water in the receiver designated the message.


This method was imprecise and could only transmit one of a number of pre-defined messages. The second, digital method could transmit any written message. It used a 5-bit representation of characters to send messages using torches. Messages were transmitted one character at a time by raising torches in two of five positions.


The operators had identical tablets showing the letters and the torch positions (1-5) designated the column and row of the letter being sent. If this tablet were used:


the message 22, 51, 13, 13, 45 would spell out ΗΕΛΛΩ.

Note that messages could be encrypted by changing the tablets.

(If you find this interesting, check out Claude Chappe's French telecommunication system).

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

How about opening a YouTube video production space in Havana?

YouTube has video production spaces in Los Angeles, London, Tokyo, New York, São Paulo, Berlin, Paris, Mumbai, and Toronto -- how about opening one in Havana?

In 2015 I wrote that Cuba was well positioned to produce Spanish-language entertainment and education content and suggested that they open a YouTube production space in Havana.

The idea of opening a production space in Havana makes even more sense today than it did in 2015.

Google Global Cache (GGC) servers are now installed and operating on the Island. That means Google content can be viewed and uploaded faster than in 2015 and the result is that YouTube has made substantial gains since GCC went online last April:

YouTube gains since GCC went online (source)

There is also a growing, enthusiastic community of young Cuban YouTubers, several of whom are profiled in this YucaByte article and you can "meet" a few others in this short (5:36) video from Periodismo de Barrio:


(The YucaByte article also contains a short video sampler showing enthusiastic YouTubers).

Not exactly being a millennial myself, I am not likely to become a follower of these youthful YouTubers, but they are inheritors of a rich history of Cuban music, cinema and education.

Google executives and Senator Jeff Flake just met with Cuban president Diaz-Canel and former Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt who said “We already have an agreement signed that allows easier access to data. We would like to do more.”

How about opening a YouTube video production space in Havana?

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

SpaceX Starlink test -- good news but unanswered questions

Last week, Elon Musk was asked on Twitter how the Starlink tests were going and he replied that the two test satellites, TinTin A and B, are connecting at "high bandwidth" with 25 ms latency.

That's good news but it leaves a lot unanswered. For example, he did not mention the speed and reliability of the phased-array handoffs between the satellites and ground terminals and he said nothing about tests of the inter-satellite laser links.

While we have experience with radio links between satellites and the ground, inter-satellite laser links are new so I'm more curious about those tests. What sorts of speeds and latencies are they seeing on transmissions between TinTin A and B and how well are they doing at creating and maintaining links between the satellites? Fast inter-satellite switching and transmission speed are critical to overall performance of the constellation grid, particularly on long-distance links.

Click here for a survey and updated progress report on SpaceX Starlink and other potential LEO-satellite based Internet service providers.

Friday, May 25, 2018

SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell on synergy among Musk companies and Starlink profit

Source
SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell gave a recent interview in which she said that SpaceX is profitable, but she predicts a much larger market for the Starlink Internet service. (As we see here, a January 2017 Wall Street Journal article made the same point).

Shotwell also spoke of synergies among Elon Musk's companies: Tesla cars will be online via the Starlink Internet service; Tesla battery technology has been leveraged for the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft and Boring Company technology will be used in housing construction on Mars. They have also learned manufacturing techniques from Tesla and will be able to produce one rocket engine per day and two complete Falcon 9 rockets per month.

She also said they remain on schedule to take people to Mars in 2024, and, when asked about Elon Musk, she said he spends about half his time on SpaceX and half on Tesla and that he is an inspirational leader.

Click here for a survey and updated progress report on SpaceX Starlink and other potential LEO-satellite based Internet service providers.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Telesat begins testing low-Earth orbit satellite Internet service

SpaceX and OneWeb get a lot of publicity and have ambitious plans, but Telesat is the first low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite Internet service provider to begin testing with potential resellers.

Last January, Telesat launched a demonstration satellite and it is now ready for testing. Maritime connectivity provider OmniAccess and Australian ISP Optus had committed to testing the system previously and this week they were joined by in-flight entertainment company Global Eagle Entertainment.

Global Eagle CEO Josh Marks said he was persuaded to collaborate with Telesat by their planned coverage over oceans, polar regions and high-latitude routes and their "open architecture" business model. In addition to testing, they "will collaborate with Telesat on both the technology and commercial model for their new LEO platform.”

OneWeb and several airlines have formed the Seamless Air Alliance, which is developing standards for in-flight Internet connectivity through LEO satellites. I wonder whether Telesat and Global Eagle will join the alliance or go their own way.



Click here for a survey and updated progress report on Telesat and other potential LEO-satellite based Internet service providers.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Elon Musk tells what to expect from the Block 5 Falcon 9 rocket

The ability to launch 30 Falcon 9s per year at a cost of $5-6 million per launch, would be a big plus for SpaceX's Starlink Internet service.

On May 11, SpaceX launched a Bangladeshi satellite using their Falcon 9, Block 5 rocket. This was the first production flight for the Block 5. The day before the launch, Elon Musk participated in a call with reporters and the following are some of the points he made. (You can read more analysis and read a full transcript of the call here)

SpaceX accounted for over half of US launches in
2017 and expects to double their launch rate.
In 2017, SpaceX had 18 successful launches and Musk stated that they were on track to double their launch rate this year, implying a rate of 3 launches per month. He said that "if things go well, which is a caveat, then SpaceX will launch more rockets than any other country in 2018."

There will not be a Block 6. Musk said that after 8 years of upgrades, the Block 5 will be the last major version of the Falcon 9 before their next rocket, the BFR.

Musk expects the Block 5 "to be a mainstay of SpaceX business," and there will be 300 or more Block 5 flights before it is retired in favor of the BFR.

The Block 5 is designed for rapid-turnaround reusability. It is "designed to do 10 or more flights with no refurbishment between each flight — or at least not scheduled refurbishment between each flight. The only thing that needs to change is you reload propellant and fly again." He also said that "the Block 5 boosters are capable of on the order of at least 100 flights before being retired."

Musk has set a goal of demonstrating "two orbital launches of the same Block 5 vehicle within 24 hours, no later than next year."

The Block 5 was designed "to be the most reliable rocket ever built." They have exceeded all of NASA's human-rating requirements and have met "all of the Air Force requirements for extreme reliability."

Reliable reusability will cut cost dramatically. Musk broke down launch cost as follows: booster about 60 percent, upper stage 20 percent, fairing 10% and the launch cost 10%. If they are able to reuse all three rocket elements, they would be able to "reduce the cost for launch by an order of magnitude ... to $5-6 million per launch." Musk pointed out that getting to this point had taken "16 years of extreme effort" (and a lot of learning from failures).

The ability to launch 30 Falcon 9s per year at a cost of $5-6 million per launch, would be a big plus for SpaceX's Starlink Internet service.

Friday, March 30, 2018

FCC approves SpaceX Starlink's Internet-service constellation -- now there are four

On February 18, 2018, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai endorsed the SpaceX application for a constellation of low-Earth orbit (LEO) Internet service satellites and on March 29, the FCC approved their application to "construct, deploy, and operate a proposed non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) satellite system comprising 4,425 satellites for the provision of fixed-satellite service (FSS) around the world."

That makes SpaceX the fourth company with permission to operate an LEO Internet service constellation in the U. S.

The first was OneWeb on June 22, 2017. OneWeb received permission to deploy 720 LEO Internet-service satellites, subject to an important constraint that they "need to accommodate in-line interference avoidance and spectrum sharing with other NGSOs in the future." That cleared the way for spectrum sharing among all operators.

The applications of Telesat and Space Norway were both approved on November 2, 2017. Telesat was granted permission "to access the U.S. market to provide FSS using a proposed constellation of 117 NGSO satellites" and Space Norway was granted permission to "to access the U.S. market to provide FSS using a proposed constellation of two NGSO satellites." (Space Norway is planning coverage in the area north of 65 degrees N latitude, which includes northern Alaska).

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

O3b satellite Internet -- today and tomorrow

I have written a lot about the potential of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites for Internet service, but have not said much about medium-Earth orbit (MEO) satellites -- until now.

O3b (other three billion) is an MEO-satellite Internet service provider. Greg Wyler founded the company and it was subsequently acquired by SES, a major geostationary-orbit (GSO) satellite company. (Wyler moved on to found future LEO Internet service provider OneWeb).

O3b's MEO satellites orbit at an altitude of around 8,000 kilometers, complementing the SES GSO constellation, which orbits at around 36,000 km. Because of their altitude, the GSO satellites have large footprints and are good for video broadcast and other asynchronous applications, but their latency can cause noticeable delays in applications like telephony or browsing modern, complex Web sites which may have many elements -- images, text, video, programs, etc. -- each adding transmission and error-checking overhead.

The International Telecommunication Union says that if one-way latency is less than 150 milliseconds, users of most applications, both speech and non-speech, will experience essentially transparent interactivity. I've never used an O3b link, but they promise a round-trip latency of under 150 milliseconds, so I assume they work well for voice calls, where GSO satellites would introduce a perceptible delay. However, an MEO link might be noticeably slower than a LEO link while browsing modern Web sites.

O3b launched four satellites last week and they plan to launch four more early next year. That will bring their constellation to 20 satellites and enable them to continue expanding their current business of serving relatively large customers like mobile phone companies, government organizations, and cruise ship lines. For example, they serve Digicell which has over 40,000 LTE accounts in Papua New Guinea.

There is a growing market for O3b's current service, but their next-generation satellite-communication system, called mPOWER, will be much improved and will compete in some applications with terrestrial fiber and, in the future, with LEO constellations. The initial mPOWER constellation of seven satellites was designed and will be manufactured by Boeing. While today's O3b satellites have 10 steerable edge-terminal beams, the mPOWER satellites will have over 4,000 steerable beams that can be switched under program control giving the constellation over 30,000 dynamically reconfigurable beams and over 10 Tbps capacity. The highly-focused beams will address single terminals, not wasting power on locations with no users. The constellation will be launched in 2021.

Seven satellites, each with over 4,000 steerable, fully-shapeable beams

O3b has also contracted with three customer-edge terminal manufacturers ALCAN, Isotropic Systems and Viasat. I don't know the prices or capabilities of these terminals, but it is probably safe to say they will utilize different, novel antenna technologies and have different prices and characteristics for different applications. I am guessing that ALCAN is working on a low-cost, flat-antenna terminal using their liquid crystal technology; Isotropic is working on antennas based on their optical beamformer modules and Viasat is working on a terminal with a more expensive phased-array antenna that can communicate with both SES GEO and mPOWER MSO satellites.

In the press conference announcing mPOWER, SES Networks CEO emphasized that these were smart terminals -- computers that happened to have antennas. They will be continuously connected and monitored and able to download software updates and new applications. They will be parts of an integrated system comprised of edge terminals, terrestrial POPs and gateways, SES GSO satellites, existing O3b and future mPOWER satellites and terrestrial fiber and wireless networks. The network will be dynamically configured under program control as a function of applications and cost.

Applications for flat-panel edge terminals (source)

The first seven mPOWER satellites will be in equatorial orbit and cover nearly 400 million square kilometers between + and - 50 degrees latitude. Once mPOWER is up and running, SES plans to retire and not replace two of their GSO satellites and they will add to the initial seven-satellite constellation when the capacity is needed. They will still market to customers like governments, ISPs, mobile phone companies and ship and airlines, but will be able to serve many more and smaller organizations.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I have been covering LEO Internet-service satellite projects for some time, and the two leading contenders are SpaceX and OneWeb. SpaceX launched their first two test satellites last month and they plan to start launching operational satellites in 2019. They will begin offering commercial service in the 2020-21 time frame and complete their first global constellation by 2024. OneWeb plans to begin offering service in Alaska in 2019 and to cover all of Alaska by the end of 2020. By 2025 they expect to have 1 billion subscribers.

O3b mPOWER will be up and running before SpaceX and OneWeb complete their global constellation -- they may even have launched their second batch of satellites.

June 4, 2018

The four satellites that were launched in March are now in orbit and operational, bringing the total number of MEO satellites in the O3b fleet to 16. Four more are scheduled to launch in the first half of 2019. That will be the last of their current generation satellites and they plan to launch seven next-generation, m-Power, satellites in 2021. At that time, they will have an integrated system of two generations of MEO satellites plus their geostationary satellites, positioning them to compete well in non-consumer applications like long-distance and maritime links and cellular backhaul. (The US Department of Defence just signed on as an O3b MEO customer).

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Courts can combat gerrymandering with gerrymandering tools

Gerrymandering -- defining voting districts to favor one party or candidate -- has been with us for years, but it was difficult to do and imprecise. Mapping software using Internet voter data have made it precise and easy.

Gerrymandering is in the news because a panel of federal judges ordered North Carolina to redraw its gerrymandered congressional map.

The panel struck down North Carolina’s congressional map, saying it was unconstitutional because it violates the 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection. Judge James A. Wynn Jr., in a biting 191-page opinion, said that Republicans in the North Carolina legislature had been “motivated by invidious partisan intent” as they carried out their obligation in 2016 to divide the state into 13 congressional districts, 10 of which are held by Republicans.

The ruling will be appealed directly to the Supreme Court, which is also hearing Wisconsin and Maryland gerrymandering cases. The Wisconsin and South Carolina cases are both based on the 14th amendment and are pro-Democratic while the Maryland case challenges the redrawing of a single district, is based on the 1st Amendment and is pro-Republican.

Gerrymandering is not new -- Patrick Henry tried to defeat James Madison in 1788 by drawing an anti-federalist district. He failed because he did not have good data and computers, but today's politicians have geographic information system software and the data they need to automate efficient, precise gerrymandering. (The term "gerrymandering" was coined in 1812 when Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry reluctantly approved a map in which one district resembled a salamander).

The Republican party has used Internet-enabled gerrymandering to gain a congressional advantage. The Democratic party might be tempted to fight fire with fire, but that would be slow and undemocratic.

The North Carolina judicial panel has a better solution. They gave the legislature until January 24 to present a “remedial plan” and the court will institute its own map if it finds the new district lines unsatisfactory. If that happens, the court can use use the same sorts of tools and data that have been used to produce gerrymandered districts. Instead of using the technology to optimize in favor of either party, they will seek maps that equalize district populations, minimize geographic perimeters, respect natural boundaries like rivers, maximize racial diversity, etc. In general, courts are more likely to be non-partisan than legislatures.

=====
Update 1/19/2018

Pennsylvania county results, 2016
The U. S. Supreme Court granted a stay in the court order requiring North Carolina lawmakers to produce a revised congressional voting map within two weeks. This temporary delay probably means the current map will be used in the 2018 election.

In a related case, the Pennsylvania state supreme court is currently hearing a gerrymandering case which could result in the redrawing of their district map in time for the 2018 election.

Republicans won 13 of Pennsylvania's 18 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2016 in spite of the fact that Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by only 44,292 (.75%) votes.

=====
Update 1/30/2018

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has decided that the Republican-drawn district map violates the State Constitution and ordered that it be redrawn by February 9th.

Republicans hold 72% of Pennsylvania's 18 seats in Congress and only carried the state by .75% in the last election. That imbalance raised a red flag, but there are no hard and fast rules for determining whether oddly-shaped districts or disproportional representation are due to intentional gerrymandering or other factors like compliance with the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination, or people choosing to live in homogeneous neighborhoods.

A "legitimate" district
In a sense, the judges had to decide the intent of the Republicans in drawing their district map and the following exchange during the hearing may have led them to rule that the intent was to gerrymander:
Justice Max Baer: “if you took the Democratic areas of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and connected them via the Pennsylvania Turnpike, that’s okay?”

Jason Torchinsky, a lawyer representing the Pennsylvania Republican party: "yes.“
That would be an extreme example of "packing" -- putting all of Pennsylvania's urban Democrats into a single, overwhelmingly Democratic district. A Democrat would win the packed district in a landslide, thereby "wasting" many Democratic votes. Our Electoral College voting system also disenfranchises voters in predominantly Republican or Democratic states, thus giving inordinate power to a handful of competitive "swing" states in national elections.
Illinois District four
While the hypothetical Pennsylvania example is blatant, an unusually shaped district could also be the result of compliance with the Voting Rights Act. For example, Illinois District four has two areas connected by an uninhabited stretch of land along Interstate 294, creating a Hispanic-majority district.

For a funny and informative discussion of the difficulty of drawing fair district maps and another blatant example of partisan bias, watch the following video, but be forewarned that it includes some adult content.



=====
Update 2/12/2018

Last Friday, Pennsylvania Republicans submitted their proposed district map to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The governor says he will review the map and decide whether or not to recommend that the Court accept it by February 15th. If he rejects the map, the Court will impose its own map on February 19, in time for primary elections.

In rejecting the current map, the Court noted that in the three elections held after the last redistricting, Democrats won the same five seats and Republicans won the remaining 13 seats every year, in spite of the fact that the Democrats won between 46 and 51 percent of the statewide popular vote in each election. Furthermore, in 2016, Democrats won their House seats with an average of 75 percent of the vote, while the Republicans' victory margin averaged only 62 percent. The Court concluded that the Democrats had been packed into five districts, "wasting 25 percent of their votes," and the Republicans were spread out among the remaining 13 districts.

This map shows the packing of the seventh district:

Source

The Court found that the evolution of the district from a compact, contiguous region at the time of the 83rd Congress (1953-5) to today's map indicated illegal gerrymandering:

Source

The stakes are high. If redistricted, Pennsylvania might end up with nine Republican and nine Democratic representatives and that could make the difference between Democratic or Republican control of the US House of Representatives.

=====
Update 3/24/2018

Map redrawn by the Supreme Court
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected the redrawn map submitted by the Legislature, substituting the map shown here which has:
  • 10 Trump 2016 districts
  • 8 Clinton 2016 districts
  • 1908 district border miles
  • 13 county splits
As compared to the old map which had:
  • 12 Trump 2016 districts
  • 6 Clinton 2016 districts
  • 3047 district border miles
  • 28 county splits
A dozen Republican members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives have filed impeachment resolutions against the five Supreme Court judges who are Democrats, arguing that they had violated the State Constitution.

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, a Republican, released a statement calling the impeachment resolution "an attack upon an independent judiciary."

Two New York Times staff members drew the following map to demonstrate the ease with which partisan redistricting is achieved using mapping software with data available on the Internet. They did it using Dave's Redistricting Service -- you can try it for yourself.

A blatantly partisan, hypothetical district map drawn using an Internet service

It is easier to spot gerrymandering and state the problem than it is to come up with an equitable, constitutional solution, but we should do our best to keep partisan politics out of the process and legislators are nearly all members of a party. Having courts draw up maps, as was done in Pennsylvania, or allowing states to establish independent redistricting commissions like the one in California seem like imperfect steps in the right direction.

=====
Update 9/3/2018

In June, the Supreme Court sidestepped the question of when extreme partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional on technical grounds. They acknowledge that gerrymandering is a threat to democracy, but seem uncertain on technical issues like the lack of an operational definition of gerrymandering, deciding whether a political party or a voter is harmed by gerrymandering, whether challenges have to be to a specific district map rather than an entire state, etc. They have left the door open for future action.

Last month, a Federal Court found that North Carolina’s congressional districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor Republicans over Democrats and said it may require new districts before the November elections; however, it now appears there will not be time to redistrict the state. This will taint the outcome of the election and could conceivably determine the Congressional majority.

This article presents analysis showing that the current districts are stacked in favor of Republicans and, lest one conclude that this was a fluke, quotes State Representative David Lewis as saying: "I propose that we draw the maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and three Democrats because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.”

In the Federal Court ruling, we read that when Dr. Thomas Hofeller was engaged to draw new districts Mr. Lewis and State Senator Robert Rucho instructed him to “to create as many districts as possible in which GOP candidates would be able to successfully compete for office.” Dr. Hofeller testified that he complied, seeking “to minimize the number of districts in which Democrats would have an opportunity to elect a Democratic candidate.”

How do these people sleep at night?

=====
Update 9/6 2018

The same panel of judges that opened the possibility of redistricting before the November election has concluded that the current, radically gerrymandered map must be used this year because there is not enough time to revise it before the election. The citizens of North Carolina have been denied democracy for the last three elections. Let's hope that the fourth time will be the last.


The effect of gerrymandering in North Carolina (source)





Thursday, December 14, 2017

Eighteen posts on low-Earth orbit satellite Internet service

The internet is unavailable to and/or unaffordable by about 50% of the world population. The situation is worse in, but not confined to, developing nations where the service is typically sub-standard when it is available.

Percent of homes with Internet connectivity (source)

Geostationary satellite connectivity is available globally, but it is slow and expensive because the satellites are high above the Earth. Low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites can deliver speeds comparable to terrestrial links, but constellations of many satellites would be needed to serve the entire planet.

The first project to attempt a LEO constellation failed in the 1990s, but rocket, electronic and communication technologies have made great strides since that time. Today, five LEO satellite-Internet projects that hope to provide global, affordable, high-speed Internet are underway. If they succeed, we will see early LEO connectivity in some places (like Alaska) in 2020 and by the middle of the next decade homes, schools, libraries, businesses, ships at sea, Internet-connected devices, etc. will be online. While mobile connectivity is growing rapidly in developing nations, high-speed fixed connectivity would enable the use of personal computers, a qualitative improvement for content creators.

I've watched LEO satellite connectivity since the 1990s, but technological progress has led to renewed interest and investment in recent years, leading me to follow the developments in my class and on our class blog.

The following are annotated links to 18 blog posts written since June 2014. The listed dates show when the post was first published, but each has been updated several times since publication. (For example, I updated the posts on Boeing and OneWeb's projects this week). The posts are illustrated with around 80 images and include 15 videos of important talks and events. When appropriate the posts link to other posts within the collection, creating a document that can be read sequentially or as a hypertext. Regardless, I would suggest starting with the most recent post. There are also hundreds of links to external sources.

  • An example of effective government support for new communication technology. (November 2017)
  • From the Morse telegraph through the Internet, government and industry have collaborated on the development and deployment of communication technology. A recent hearing by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee continued that cooperation by seeking suggestions for helpful legislation from four satellite industry representatives. The constructive, non-partisan tone of that hearing stands out in the current era of polarized, dysfunctional government. For more on the testimony of witnesses from SpaceX and OneWeb, see: SpaceX and OneWeb.

  • Telesat -- a fifth satellite Internet competitor. (November 2017)
  • Telesat hopes to achieve global coverage rapidly and at low cost by deploying a small, hybrid constellation with both polar and inclined-orbit satellites connecting to the terrestrial Internet via ground stations they already own in the far north. Like OneWeb, they are working with outside vendors for launch services, satellite and antenna design and manufacture. This and the size of their constellation will keep initial capital costs relatively low.

  • Will low-Earth orbit satellite Internet service providers succeed? (October 2017)
  • There is good news and uncertainty/bad news. Teledesic failed as a satellite ISP, but since that time we have seen vastly improved technology and changes in the terrestrial Internet industry, market and executive experience. These changes are generally positive, but the new satellite companies also face unique technical, political and business roadblocks and unknowns. The future is uncertain, but increased Internet service competition would benefit us all.

  • The BFR and its role in SpaceX's satellite Internet service. (October 2017)
  • This post is based primarily on a talk (with an excellent slide deck) that Elon Musk gave on their forthcoming Big Falcon Rocket (BFR). He outlined its specifications, for example, ten times the payload capacity of the current Falcon 9, and the ways it will be used for inserting satellites in orbit and establishing a base on Mars. The Falcon 9 will be used to launch SpaceX's first two prototype Internet-service satellites early next year, but in 2019, when they begin launching operational satellites, their next rocket, the Falcon Heavy, will be available. The BFR will be available before their first Internet constellation is complete in 2024. Musk suggested that, in addition to launching terrestrial satellites and travel to Mars, the BFR would be used to retrieve spent satellites and second stages and for long-distant terrestrial travel.

  • Non-terrestrial spectrum sharing. (October 2017)
  • Satellites and terrestrial Internet service providers rely on radio communication and must avoid interference when transmitting near each other at a given frequency. Historically, this has been achieved by granting exclusive licenses to use specific frequency bands, but this is not practical or efficient with thousands of satellites at different altitudes and in different orbits. Fortunately, modern communication technology opens the possibility of dynamically sharing frequencies among many providers -- terrestrial and satellite -- but cooperation and standards are needed. The satellite Intenet companies embrace frequency sharing and are willing to cooperate.

  • Can constellations of Internet-routing satellites compete with long-distance terrestrial cables? (September 2017)
  • Packets on routes between distant points are relayed through multiple routers and each inter-router "hop" takes time. Generally speaking, satellites, which can see far over the horizon and make straight-line connections to other satellites, require fewer router hops than fiber links between distant points. Furthermore, laser transmission in space is faster than in fiber. For these reasons, Elon Musk has set a goal of having "the majority of long-distance traffic go over this (satellite) network" and Leosat is focusing on high-end fast, point-point links.

  • Boeing's satellite Internet project. (August 2017)
  • Boeing has been in the satellite business for many years -- they were the prime contractor for Teledesic's failed attempt at LEO satellite Internet in the late 1990s. They have applied for a license to launch 1,396 satellites within six years and another 1,560 within 12 years, but have kept a relatively low profile. They recently shortened the timetable on their Mars exploration project so the large Space Launch System rocket they are developing for Mars voyages may become available for launching Internet satellites. They may also be working toward collaboration with OneWeb

  • OneWeb satellite Internet project update. (August 2017)
  • This post outlines OneWeb founder Greg Wyler's background in the terrestrial and satellite Internet service business and presents the current status of their Internet project. Softbank is a leading partner and investor and Wyler gave a talk at the 2017 Softbank World conference in which he discussed their technology, major partnerships, anticipated timeline, goals and the advantages they enjoy. They plan to launch their first satellites in March 2018 and begin offering service in Alaska in 2019. They hope to cover all of Alaska by the end of 2020 and have 1 billion subscribers by 2025. Their prices will vary with regional incomes, so they hope to eliminate the global digital divide by 2027. The post includes a video of Wyler's talk at the Softbank conference and his testimony before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

  • SpaceX satellite Internet project status update. (August 2017)
  • Patricia Cooper, SpaceX Vice President, Satellite Government Affairs, testified at a productive hearing by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. She outlined SpaceX's plans and gave a rough timetable for two constellations -- one in low-Earth orbit and a larger constellation in very-low Earth orbit, which may position them to compete with terrestrial ISPs in densely populated urban areas and serve the so-called "Internet of things." (Tesla cars and solar roofs would be likely things to connect). Elon Musk has given a talk outlining the SpaceX timetable for establishing early settlements on Mars and giving some details on their future booster rockets, the Falcon Heavy and the Big Falcon Rocket (the BFR). The first Falcon Heavy is expected to be launched in January 2018 (the payload will be a Tesla Roadster). Musk did not say when the BFR will be ready, but it will be before their first Internet-satellite constellation is complete. He also said the BFR might be used to retrieve spent satellites. SpaceX has also trademarked "Starlink" as the name of their satellite Internet service.

  • Cool images and video of the latest, increasingly routine SpaceX soft landing. (May 2017)
  • SpaceX has made landing a 549,054 kg rocket that is 70 feet long and only 3.66 meters in diameter and has reached an altitude of 247 km and fallen at a speed of up to Mach 7.9 within .7 m of the target on a drone barge at sea almost routine. Recovering and reusing boosters and eventually, second-stage rockets and satellites will dramatically reduce cost and downtime. This post documents early failures and eventual success.

  • Two approaches to routers in space -- SpaceX and OneWeb (February, 2017)
  • SpaceX and OneWeb have the same goal, but their organizations are dissimilar. SpaceX is integrated -- building the rockets, satellites and ground stations themselves -- while OneWeb has a number of collaborators and investors, including Bharti Enterprises, Coca-Cola, Intelsat, Hughes, Totalplay Telecommunications, Virgin Galactic and Softbank. OneWeb attempted a merger with Intelsat, which would have given them international offices and access to geostationary satellites, but the merger failed.

  • Satellite Internet update -- Airbus will make satellites for OneWeb. (June 2015)
  • Airbus will make satellites for OneWeb in a joint-venture factory in Florida and Softbank has invested $1 billion. This post features an in-depth interview of Brian Holz, OneWeb’s Director of Space Systems, who speaks about the reasons for producing the satellites in the US and the factors in choosing a factory location, the cost of the satellites ($4-500,000 each), the need to have global participation in a global project, launch services, satellite reliability and plans for eventually deorbiting them, financing and the business case, the search for manufacturers of millions of user terminals and antennas, etc.

  • SpaceX is ready to test Internet service satellites. (June 2015)
  • SpaceX filed an application to launch two identical test satellites to validate the design of their broadband antenna communications platform using three broadband array test ground stations along the western coast of the US. OneWeb seems to be moving faster.

  • Greg Wyler reports OneWeb progress. (March 2015)
  • OneWeb has found major partner/investors and is developing a $250, user-installable ground station that will serve as a WiFi hotspot and a 2G, 3G or LTE cell station. Consider the possibility of a WiFi network with a low-latency, 50 Mbps back-haul link to the Internet in every school or rural clinic in the world.

  • Leosat -- a third satellite Internet company. (March 2015)
  • Leosat will focus on the high-end market, providing low-latency, high-speed, secure connectivity to government and business -- maritime applications, oil and gas exploration and production, telecom back-haul and trunking, large enterprises, etc.

  • Regulation of global satellite Internet service providers. (January 2015)
  • Would global Internet service providers require unique regulation and, if so, what should it be and who has the power to do it?

  • Elon Musk and Greg Wyler's plans for global satellite connectivity. (November 2014)
  • Greg Wyler first tried to bring fiber connectivity to Rwanda, but, when that proved difficult he turned to satellite, founding O3b, a medium-Earth orbit Internet satellite company with the goal of connecting "other three billion." Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, Tesla and other companies needs no introduction. (I am a Musk fan). Google invested in O3b and Wyler worked there for a while, then contemplated a low-Earth orbit constellation in partnership with Musk, but eventually formed his own company, OneWeb. This post covers the visions and early efforts of Musk at SpaceX and Wyler at OneWeb.

  • Can Google connect the "other three billion" in developing nations and rural areas? (June, 2014)
  • A survey of Google's early work with high-altitude platforms (Project Loon), low-Earth orbit satellites, medium-Earth orbit satellites and geostationary satellites