Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The FCC national broadband plan -- can the Internet help?

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 directs the FCC to develop a national broadband plan within one year. This is reminiscent of the energy policy task force President Bush established during his second week in office. Bush's task force operated in secret, but President Obama has promised us an open and transparent administration, using the Internet as one tool.

It would be a shame if large, incumbent Internet service providers -- telephone and television companies -- dominated the FCC broadband planning process the way large energy companies dominated the formulation of the Bush energy policy.

Before deploying next generation access networks, we should consider new technologies and ownership and business models, but that will not happen if the incumbents write the plan.

Can the Internet be used to open the FCC planning process, to take it beyond the "beltway" and its lobbyists? The administration has established the Web site to inform us on stimulus spending. How might the FCC use the Internet to open its broadband planning process? -- fast, cheap, ad-hoc development on the Intenet platform

We have seen that application development and delivery platforms have evolved over the years, and have discussed the ease of building complex applications on the Internet platform. provides an excellent example. It was conceived of in a blog post by Jerry Brito, and volunteer programmers, who did not know each other, responded. They built the site using data from another site and existing Web services.

Brito posted his idea on December 11 2008, and the site launched February 2 2009. You can read more on this ad-hoc, decentralized development project here. is Web 1.0; is Web 2.0

The President has signed The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which includes $7.2 billion for broadband access. You can see a brief summary of the bill here.

As we have seen, the Obama administration hopes to use the Internet for transparent, two-way communication with the public. To this end, they have launched the Web site, which will be continuously updated, telling us "how, when and where" the recovery funds are spent.

As of today, is definitely a Web 1.0 site -- it summarizes the Recovery Act, requests comments using an email form, and asks us to check back frequently for data on spending. They don't even have RSS feeds.

Contrast that with, a Web 2.0 site. Stimuluswatch began by importing a database of "shovel ready" projects that was posted by the US Conference of Mayors. Users can search the database by city, keyword and project type, and view the project descriptions and estimated cost and number of jobs created.

But, the main purpose of the project database is to organize user input. Users who are familiar with a particular project can drill down to the project page and:

  • Make neutral, factual changes by editing its wiki page
  • State opinions and debate the value of the project by posting comments
  • Share comments with friends on Facebook
  • Vote on whether or not the project is critical
(Check this video for a more complete description of navigation and user input).

I checked my city, Los Angeles, and the results were sobering. The database includes 321 projects with a total estimated cost of $7.3 billion, creating and estimated 82,341 jobs. Of these, only 11 projects had more yes the project is critical than no votes, and they accounted for only 3% of the cost of all proposed projects. Obviously citizen votes are only one factor to consider in selecting projects, but this indicates that we need to be selective if we are to avoid ""

It sounds as though the administration plans to use to let us know what they have done, but could be used in deciding which projects should be funded. That could be done by extending the database to include requests for Federal grant applications that are actually submitted now that the stimulus package has been approved. was conceived of and built in under two months -- the administration should be working with them.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

100 YouTube tools and resources

If you make or watch YouTube videos, check out this YouTube toolbox . With over 100 tools and resources, there has to one you like.

If you particularly like one of these (or another that is not listed), let us know.

Berkeley report on obstacles to cloud computing

We discuss the trend toward Internet services as network speed, storage capacity and reliability improve.

While the case for running applications on the Internet -- "cloud computing" -- is improving relative to running them in house, there are also obstacles.

A UC Berkeley research team is studying and trying to overcome cloud computing obstacles. Their initial report is summarized here, and the full report is here.

You can write documents with a program like Microsoft Word on your PC or you can use a service like Google Docs on the Internet. What are the advantages of Word over Google Docs? What are the disadvantages?

Thursday, February 12, 2009 -- detailed information on legislation and legislators

We have talked about the impact of the Internet on elections and politics. is a site for those interested in following the actions of congress and individual Senators and Congress people.

For example, here is a page on the economic stimulus bill and all of its ammendments. There are links to the votes of each representative on the bill and each amendment, their floor speeches, etc.

Another page displays a side-by-side comparison of the House and Senate versions (a lot of difference).

Users can also use news feeds to track changes to a given bill or follow the actions of a given representative.

Would you come to this page to research a bill or the record of your representative? Do you feel this sort of information will be used by voters? By journalists and political analysts?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Learn Web development and Google mashups with dynamic examples

Many Web sites invite mashups by providing application program interfaces (API) to their services.

The API for each service is different, and often poorly documented. They generally require only basic programming skills, but figuring them out can be time consuming.

Google has made it a lot easier to learn their APIs by creating the Ajax API Playground, a very cool site for people who want to create mashups with Google Maps, Search, Feeds, Calendar, Visualization, Language, Blogger, Libraries or Earth.

The API Playground has over 170 examples, but they are not static, they are dynamic. Here is one of the examples -- the code is shown in the top pane and the resultant map below.

If f you change the value of the variable address, and click Run, the map will shift to the new address. Try it yourself.

The W3schools Web site offers similar dynamic examples of HTML, JavaScript and other Web development tools. Here is a simple HTML example.

Do you find these dynamic examples useful? Do you know of other dynamic example sites?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Interview of Nicholas Carr

We have seen that the Internet has made application development faster, cheaper and easier.

Well known author Nicholas Carr elaborates upon this point in his book The Big Switch, in which he predicts a move from entreprise data centers to network computing. Carr recently outlined his thesis in an 8-minute interview on National Public Radio. If you are in a rush, you can listen to this one minute excerpt, where he talks about how easy it is to establish a complex Web site.

If you like what you hear, you might subscribe to Carr's blog.

What are some of the key advantages and disadvantages of moving applications from an organization's data center to the Internet?

Monday, February 02, 2009

Let's slow down on broadband stimulus in order to consider ownership alternatives

The economic stimulus package is moving through congress. Republicans are fighting it on the grounds that more tax cuts are needed and we need more time to make sensible investments. I agree that we need to slow down on broadband stimulus to consider ownership alternatives. Here is the "elevator ride" pitch:

  • The current strategy of privatization with hope for competition under independent regulation has failed in many developed and developing nations. In the US, regulators have been unable to create competition and our infrastructure has suffered.
  • The large broadband incumbents have benefited from public subsidy, have failed to live up to commitments, and have used their power to defeat attempts to create competition
  • The US has little fiber in the access network today, but will have fiber to all urban and many rural homes and buildings in the long run. The question is not whether we are going to deploy new infrastructure; the question is “who will own it?
  • We should take the time to evaluate decentralized alternatives to near-total ownership by the incumbents. Local governments, cooperatives, small ISPs, and home and building owners might own parts of our next generation infrastructure.
  • This evaluation can be fast and cheap. The work of the National Science Foundation in designing and creating NSFNet and connecting universities, colleges and foreign networks provides an excellent example of a small government staff calling on experts from academia and industry to design a network and a strategy for deploying it, followed by procurement via competitive bid.
  • We need immediate economic stimulus, but that can come from tax cuts and investment in many sectors as well as broadband.
  • Nobel economist Paul Krugman acknowledges the need for rapid stimulus, but in this article he says we should downplay the “jump start” metaphor and focus on job creation through infrastructure investment over the next four plus years.
  • We will be living with the fiber and high-speed wireless infrastructure we build today for many decades. We will also be living with its owners.
Click here for a paper with details on the above.

Click here for a PowerPoint presentation on the above.