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May 28, 2006

Why Net-Neutrality Matters to Cleveland and the Nation

Earlier this week, I took the story of an innovative university and its commitment to work to develop a 21st century connected community on the road (again). The presentations about Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland's OneCommunity were well received. Both in Boston at the Kennedy School of Government's Executive Education program and in Tucson at a 275 person public sector summit organized by Cisco the question of Cleveland's OneCommunity "position" on net neutrality came up from the audience. In response, I think I managed to say something fairly innocuous.

Then I started to do some thinking and research. I was surprised at how little of the so-called debate on net neutrality has been framed in meaningful ways that allow mainstream netizens to get their arms around this critical public policy issue. I've organized some thoughts that are outlined below. The preview of my conclusion comes down to this: legislative attempts to re-engineer the core anatomy of the Net are an ill-conceived agenda. This agenda is advanced by a handful of powerful, short-sighted private corporate interests. Their proposed actions advanced, by powerful politicians, will have both intended and unintended consequences. Monopoly-like pricing (and profits) are the intended consequence of this legislative agenda on next generation network services. The unintended consequences of their actions will further erode any semblance of a national broadband policy, further eroding our capacity to leverage broadband to address real social policy goals, including supporting research and development and the redevelopment and economic sustainability of our cities. Indeed, in the end, another unintended consequence will likely be the demise of the telecommunication and cable players who are advancing this very policy agenda. I conclude that net neutrality, embodied in Cleveland's OneCommunity initiative, is very important to us here in northeast Ohio, especially if we imagine a future for our region. My reasoning follows ....

There's a real battle brewing in Washington D.C. On the face of it, this one appears to have little to do with peace in Middle East, homeland security, hurricanes, or immigration policy. Even though it's not grabbing front page headlines (although the PD did have a very good editorial position), the debate over something called 'Net Neutrality' may be viewed by future generations as the most important public policy decision made by the Congress in 2006. Indeed, in our connected world, the beltway discussion about net neutrality has everything to do with domestic and foreign policy, global competitiveness, and emergency preparedness. Finally, the debate over net neutrality is at the very heart of the most important economic development strategy left for cities like Cleveland and regions like northeast Ohio. So, while we may believe that somehow we are not touched by other domestic and foreign policy issues net neutrality is really about our very future.

Here is the legislative angle. Congress is overhauling the telecommunication act in what will be known as the "Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006 (HR 5252)." It is sponsored by Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas), Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Rep. Charles Pickering (R-Miss.) and Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.). Over the last decade, a coalition called SavetheInternet has sought to include language in this new legislation to keep open, network access to all services on the Net. Others, like the "handsofftheinternet" have responded by suggesting that "Network neutrality regulation would threaten to slow the massive new broadband investment that telephone and cable companies have just recently begun to make in preparation for offering a vast array of new video and data services to consumers." What these interests and their supporters want is the right to have legislatively guaranteed rights to segment the available network capacity on terms, other than, one interoperable protocol for all. And so the battle lines are drawn.

In the beginning, as Vint Cerf, American engineering icon and internet architect (now Google evangelist), might say ... "the remarkable social impact and economic success of the Internet is in many ways directly attributable to the architectural characteristics that were part of its design. The Internet was designed with no gatekeepers over new content or services. The Internet is based on a layered, end-to-end model that allows people at each level of the network to innovate free of any central control. By placing intelligence at the edges rather than control in the middle of the network, the Internet has created a platform for innovation." This was Cerf's message during his visit to Cleveland earlier this month.

In the beginning, commercial network operators were an afterthought because the Net, as we knew it, was independent infrastructure supporting research, experimentation, and defense communication needs. Of course, over the past nearly two decades, and certainly since the 1996 revisions to the Telecommunications Act, commercial network operators are very much central to the way in which the consumer and most businesses in the United States have experienced the Internet.

So, how did we get from there to here? And why are we on a collision course?

David Isenberg, a former 12 year employee at AT&T Labs in a largely overlooked entry makes a series of very insightful deductions that help to provide insight on the culture and deep business DNA of the telecommunications companies. His work also helps us understand why the telecommunication companies are trying, again, to aggressively advance what I would call a "containment strategy" in both attempting to protect an outdated business model and impose order and hierarchy on the Internet (which as Cerf points out does not recognize nor accede to hierarchy or order).

According to Isenberg, the classic telephone company value proposition, embodied in today's telephone network, holds:

* that expensive, scarce infrastructure can be shared to offer premium priced services,
* that talk - the human voice - generates most of the traffic,
* that circuit-switched calls are the "communications technologies" that matter, and
* that the telephone company is in control of its network.

Telephone companies still behave as if these assumptions hold despite:

* up to several thousand-fold declines in key infrastructure costs over the last two decades,
* a 20 year double-digit annual growth rate in the volume of data traffic, so that the volume of data traffic is now overtaking the (also growing, but more slowly) volume of voice traffic,
* the many different data types that now travel over the telephone network (despite the fact that the network is not optimized for all these data types),
* the many different types of "communications technologies," from television to Ethernet, that are not part of telephone network architecture, and
* the Internet, which, because it makes the details of network operation irrelevant, is shifting control to the end user.

The Intelligent Network, as the telephone companies call the old central switch world, is a straight-line extension of the four assumptions above - scarcity, voice, circuit switching, and control. Its primary design impetus was not customer service. Rather, the Intelligent Network was a telephone company attempt to engineer vendor independence, more automatic operation, and some "intelligent" new services into existing network architecture. However, even as it rolls out and matures, the Intelligent Network is being superseded by the Internet, which is, in general terms, a Stupid Network,

* with nothing but dumb transport in the middle, and intelligent user-controlled endpoints,
* whose design is guided by plenty, not scarcity,
* where transport is guided by the needs of the data, not the design assumptions of the network.

This is exactly how Cerf and his colleagues designed the Internet and places it in to direct and unavoidable conflict with the so-called Intelligent Network design. When asked about his take on the debate, Cerf said, “(e)nshrining a rule that broadly permits network operators to discriminate in favor of certain kinds of services and to potentially interfere with others would place broadband operators in control of online activity. Allowing broadband providers to segment their IP offerings and reserve huge amounts of bandwidth for their own services will not give consumers the broadband Internet our country and economy need.”

How would you like to have a 1 Gigabit/s connection from your home to the Internet for $100/month? How about 60 channels of IPTV for $7.26/month or 20 Mb/s DSL for $17.93/month or pervasive VOIP (81%) at costs 50% less than in the U.S. or mobile phone plans averaging under $15/month. Some free market fantasy? No, this is the story in France and Sweden, two of the most “big” state economies of Europe. Their story is informed by a public commitment to a national broadband policy and then placing incentives that move both entrepreneurs and force the larger competition to respond. The result is a framework for public policy innovation and solutions that provide consumers with value and opportunity.

Of course, we do not have the same public policy environment as Europe. In the case of both Sweden and France however, most of the changes in IP services have come to pass since 2000. There is a high probability that the United States will have no united, integrated broadband policy anytime soon. The alternative is a different public policy framework. The future of advanced networks and application development and deployment is at the “edge” of the network. National networks like Abilene and NLR are critical transportation services for education and research. Regional providers like the pacific northwest gigapop and the third frontier network in Ohio are vital to carrying traffic between geographically connected population centers and of course connecting our public higher education institutions. These networks and their peering relationships connect to nearly any point on the globe. Both national and regional optical networks are critical and both make innovation possible. However, there are real limits to the tradition and heritage of these next generation networks. They are all offerings developed for and by and limited to, in large measure, the needs of (higher) education. While the multiplexing technology of optical networking allows for dozens of networks on single network infrastructures, most national and even regional stakeholders owner/cooperatives do not have a vision on how to extend their networks. Indeed, from my experience, the intra-organizational politics and governance challenges within the higher education community are sufficiently complex and arcane that most find it difficult, if not impossible, to imagine extending the network to other traditional silos. On the issue of net neutrality these networks are all squarely lined up in favor of net neutrality. Good thing they are. The future of advanced, visual learning and research environments will need massive amounts of experimental, research, and production capacity so as to provide opportunities for national collaboration. From a global competitiveness perspective, no legislative agenda should be implemented that leads to trade off between the future of our nation’s R&D and the profits of our private telecommunication providers.

However, the true value of the network comes together as coalitions of local interests seeking to maintain, retain, improve, or attract talent and support innovation at the edge of the network. Twenty years from now, looking backwards, the difference between those who “make it” and those who do not will be highly correlated to how a community organizes to connect its public services, its commitments to democratic process, schools, colleges and universities, healthcare, museums, libraries, and centers of research, innovation, and economic development. Connecting communities with contiguous geographies becomes the work of regional networks and for them net neutrality matters to meet that mission. However, the real focus and value of the networked economy and society is positioning communities to compete from positions of strength within the global economy. It will be painfully obvious twenty years from now that instead of thinking that the competition was down the inter-state highway the reality is that both competition and cooperation are global in character. How we reach out and touch communities and local economies around the world that need our good, services, insights, and shared practices (and we there’s) is the single most important shift in our local (and statewide) paradigm if we are to succeed. Within communities like northeast Ohio, left to their own, there is a very low probability that national (global) telecommunication players will lead the coalition building and public policy development of a community that is ready to net. Indeed, if the telecommunication and cable providers think about the medium to long run (rather than quarterly reports to Wall Street), they too will realize the highly advantageous value of a community organizing and articulating its own interest in the information age. Growing the demand for technology-based adoption and applications from health care and education to commercial services and entertainment is the long term future of the Net. Anything that rate limits that activity by creating limits to the unfettered use of the internet is most unfortunate, especially now, especially in regions like northeast Ohio.

Former Shell Group Planning Head, Arie deGeus, in his master work, "The Living Company" (Harvard, Boston, 1997), examined thousands of companies to try to discover what it takes to adapt to changing conditions. He found that the life expectancy of the average company was only 40 years - this means that telephone company culture is in advanced old age. De Geus also studied 27 companies that had been able to survive over 100 years. He concluded that managing for longevity - to maximize the chances that a company will adapt to changes in the business climate - is very different than managing for profit.

Community networks, like OneCommunity, connected to regional and national fabrics of networks is the future of a public policy framework that has a chance to work in the United States. Indeed, it is the only likely framework that will lead to the repositioning of our competitive position in the world economy. Our ability to confront challenges on both the domestic and foreign fronts, both natural and those made by men and women are almost all going to be approachable in the 21st century by intelligent community-based activities to bring value to the so-called stupid network which should remain so without interference from either public or private interests.

Lev Gonick
Cleveland, OH
May 28, 2006

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May 24, 2006

Connecting the digital dots in NEOhio from College 360 to OSTN

President Thomas Chema's editorial in the PD on the efforts of College 360 is an important reminder that the pipeline of creative talent in our region is incontrovertibly connected to the future of the region itself. The appointment of Patrick Zohn to head up and manage the effort is very good news as the organization will now have dedicated, experienced, daily leadership in its effort to promote college to post-college opportunities.

Most, if not all of the universities and colleges in NEOhio are connected to or in the midst of being connected to Cleveland's OneCommunity network infrastructure. In effect, being connected to OneCommunity makes almost all of the faculty, students, and staff of the region connected on what is one the most advanced network infrastructures in the world.

So what? What's the connection? Cleveland's OneCommunity is unleashing a remarkable spirit of collaboration and cross boundary effort between the subscribers to the switched gigabit optical network. We have chronicled many of the early wins and there are a growing number of epiphanies that lead to "ah ha's" on a weekly basis.

I couldn't help but notice, that one of Cleveland's most prominent tech start ups, CampusEAI has been making huge press in the last couple of days around its Online Student Television Network. The platform for student to student (peer to peer) collaboration over OSTN across the nation is exciting and puts Cleveland at the epicenter of additional exciting, path breaking activity.

What hasn't happened, yet, is the attempt to connect the dots. One of the exciting opportunities is to form a student-based Northeast Ohio television production capacity generating programming of regional and national interest from among the 18-25 schools in the region who might uniquely collaborate in the effort. Student programming festivals, shorts, documentaries all with the College360 impromateur would continue to help shed positive light on the multimedia production opportunities in the region.

In addition, forming a College360 collab might also interest vendors who have thus far been sitting on the sidelines related to OneCommunity. I'm thinking about the Avid's, Apples, and Adobe all of whom lead the market place in advanced, high end media production and have asked me more than once how they can play in Cleveland/NEOhio.

Opportunity knocking!

Congrats to College360 and OSTN. We hope you meet each other --- soon.

Lev Gonick
Tucson, May 23

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May 22, 2006

Harvard Kennedy School Case on OneCleveland

Tomorrow, former Mayor Jane Campbell and I are leading an executive session at the Kennedy School of Government on the City of Cleveland and Case Western Reserve University's role in the formation and development of Cleveland's OneCommunity initiative.

There is a 20 page written case now completed and linked to an online case available at here.

In addition, we have just completed an IBM sponsored video testimonial on Cleveland's OneCommunity effort. It can be viewed here

Let me know your feedback on this new content...

Lev Gonick

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May 20, 2006

An Open Letter to Terrance C.Z. Egger

Welcome to Cleveland Mr. Egger. As the Cleveland Plain Dealer's new president and publisher yours is among the top 10 most important professional appointments in the past decade in Northeast Ohio. Make no mistake about it, while your appointment and announcement garnered relatively little fanfare even in our local press and even less across the nation and around the world, I am convinced that your success over the next 20 years will position you, the Plain Dealer, the City and the region to grab headlines far away from the windswept shores of Lake Erie.

The challenge for you and our community is what will constitute "your success."

Former executive editor of the Plain Dealer, Philip W. Porter, in his 1976 book, Cleveland: Confused City on a Seesaw makes the following important insight by way of context to my remarks below. "Newspapers in Cleveland in the last fifty years (LG: I would suggest the statement holds true to 80 years) have had an extraordinary influence on the politics and economics of the upsy-downsy industrial community on the lake.... and helped it always to look forward rather than backward. No tightly knit junta of tycoons called the shots... [a]nd the Plain Dealer ... had a strong civic conscience and motivation to make the city a better place to live and work."

Lest the point and the real challenge ahead not be clear, I found this short item from a Dec 14th, 1953 issue of Time Magazine, "In circulation, the morning Cleveland Plain Dealer (285,540) and evening Cleveland Press (310,858) run almost neck and neck. But in one other respect the Plain Dealer is no match for the Press; Press Editor Louis B. Seltzer is Cleveland's leading citizen, its biggest civic and political power, and an all-round asset to the Press which the Plain Dealer has never tried to match. Last week the Plain Dealer made its first try. As its new editor, the Plain Dealer named Wright Bryan, 48, tall (6 ft. 5 in.), civic-leading editor of the Atlanta Journal, to replace the Plain Dealer's ailing Paul Bellamy,...".

The PD and the future of the City and the region have been, and in all likelihood will remain intimately connected.

In 1995 paid circulation of the PD was north of 405,000. In 2000 it dropped to 372,000 and today, the number is probably closer to 340,000 on Monday-Friday (officially 343,000).

Of course, these numbers map the reality of the entire newspaper industry. Over the past two decades the number of adults reading the daily paper has dropped more than 20% in various of the top 100 newspaper markets. Indeed, of late, as reported by Audit Bureau of Circulation, the LA Times has seen a 1 year 5% drop and the San Francisco Chronicle a 15% drop in weekly readership. Of course, all of this while the population grows steadily (even in Ohio). Since 2000 the decrease in daily newspaper circulation has dropped 2.5 per year nationwide.

So, what does success look like? I'm not a newspaper aficionado but I would venture to guess that advertising dollar, readership, prestige, and the tradition of the 5th estate as an investigative fearless pursuer of truth in the face of power are all part of the mix.

I'm going to offer an unsolicited opinion that real success in the newspaper world is about calculated risk and the ability to balance all of the traditional factors above with the leadership skill to take the Plain Dealer to the next level. And maybe, just maybe, help to be part of reinventing the collection and distribution of news and opinion in the information age.

A quick lesson from history: newspapers and disruptive technology

As I began gathering some thoughts together for this entry, I did a quick search of the relationship of newspaper industry, which was been around in this town since at least 1842, to other moments of disruptive technology. What came to mind was the advent of news radio in America in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Radio had big dance bands and celebrities like Jack Benny, Fred Allen, and Ed Wynn. In short order it also became clear that the newspaper "extra extra" editions were likely to be short lived. Radio, as it became a pervasive distribution network, could send out flashes faster than newspapers. Papers in New York, Chicago, Washington, and Los Angeles all bought radio stations and created a pipeline of distribution between the newsroom, the radio control room and the printing presses. Well before Imus in the Morning, reporters like Walter Winchell became personalities and opinion shapers.

Interestingly enough, in Cleveland the PD was the only Cleveland paper to buy a radio station, WHK back in 1934. But in tradition which I hope history does not allow to repeat, the PD management chose not to develop any cooperative programming. Even though the PD and other papers in town had stables of powerhouse writers none, not one became a radio personality.

The storyline outlined by Porter in his chapter called the Undercover Newsprint-Radio Deal helps to explain the great 25 year blackout. Porter basically argues that even though the PD had great advantages over its competition in town, and could have jumped on the innovation being pioneered by but a handful of calculated risk takers, it deliberately took a pass at the opportunity. According to Porter, the newspapers general managers of the PD and the Press colluded with the pulp and paper producer and distributor Scripps-Howard to pass along a 5% discount on the supply of newsprint in exchange for an agreement not to allow columnists and reporters to join the emerging creative class and radio economy of the 1930s.

Fast Forward: The PD, Cleveland's OneCommunity and the Future of the City... In search of leadership

Between 1992 and 2002, the number of full-time editorial employees at U.S. dailies fell by 8,438, almost 13 percent, according to Indiana University professor David Weaver, coauthor of The American Journalist in the 21st Century, due out this summer. By this year, about 1,200 more newsroom jobs at paid-circulation dailies had been cut, the American Society of Newspaper Editors reported.

This past week The Wall Street Journal in a story notes, "Many newspaper publishers have watched circulation decline for years, as readers, particularly younger ones, turned to newer media outlets, such as Web sites, blogs and 24-hour cable-TV news channels."

For the past 10 years, the innovators in the publishing world like former San Jose Mercury News Publisher Jay T. Harris supported newsrooms embracing new technology at the very moment that he moved to reorient the newsroom towards the priorities of the community and giving voice (in part through the power of technology) to those made invisible by the traditional newsroom. Many others in the publishing world saw the allure of the technology, if not the power of the technology to help address community priorities, and a race of the lemmings ensued to move to a parallel universe of newsprint and digital representations on the web.

I am not dismissing the importance of news portals like news.google.com, and the nytimes.com, guardian.co.uk, and of course cleveland.com. I do think, however, that more and more innovators in the news distribution world are realizing that the real opportunity is not the web, alone. The web is a presentation layer. It is a quick link between the producers and consumer of a story. The web in its current integration in the newspaper world is not an integrated economic system. Over the past 9-12 months a number of senior persons from news gathering organizations have approached Cleveland's OneCommunity effort. The common insight has been that Cleveland's community network model holds intriguing possibilities for creating a news story eco-system and economy for the 21st century. This insight is at its core the same impulse that has brought all too rare recognition from others to our city and region. It is the likes of Intel, Cisco, IBM, the Intelligent Cities Forum, ComputerWorld, CIO Magazine, Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and Ernst and Young to mention only the acknowledgements in the last 18 months, who see in Cleveland's OneCommunity the contours of a replicable model to help reinvent communities, the engines of economic growth and the capacity for story telling.

When radio became all the rage during the great depression innovators facing tough economic prospects in the newspaper industry jumped, not just to provide columnists to the radio airwaves, not just to become pipeline feeders for newswire services to the newsrooms of the existing radio economy. The real innovation was among those who realized that they weren't actually in the "newspaper business." Rather the newspaper business was part of a distribution system in which stories, story telling, and the analysis of all manner of stories was its stock in trade. Others who had products and services to sell or were attracted to the newspaper as a distribution point for informing the public of events or opportunities as an appendage to the human interest and fascination with story telling. And while the newspaper industry as a whole "owned" the distribution pipeline for newsprint, newsroom, delivery trucks, and paperboys, not everyone made the jump during the radio era. Some chose to rent airwaves. Others chose to set up leasing arrangement for content for reselling of content. But in key markets, forward thinking leaders in the 1920s and 1930s developed innovative business strategies which led them to own radio stations as part of their porfolio of capacity to partner with "fellow travelers" and bring stories and advertising revenue to audiences and shareholders alike.

The analog and the lessons of history may be slightly off (as I've already confessed to not being a newspaper aficionado and I am also not a scholar on the history of radio). However, I think the interest in Cleveland's OneCommunity suggests that we're on to something. For nearly four years we've worked together to pique the interest of the Cleveland Plain Dealer in the OneCleveland project. Thankfully, Cleveland's OneCommunity project has now grown up under the leadership and guidance of Scot Rourke and Mark Ansboury. It continues to enjoy unprecedented community support from among and between institutional partners who otherwise and often times see no reason to collaborate. Under the skillful choreography of Nortech and the continuing support of Case Western Reserve University and the leadership from Ideastream, Cuyahoga Public Libraries, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Metro Health, the Regional Transit Authority, CSU, Tri-C, CMSD, the County, the Cities of the region and the dozens of other institutional subscribers )1C as we call it, is approaching a critical "take off" as communities, around the region, across the country and in countries all over the world are looking to get a hold of Cleveland's secret sauce. There are those at the PD who "get it" (as we like to say in tech-speak). They know who they are. What is less obvious perhaps to some is the opportunity that exists for the PD to not only report on Cleveland's OneCommunity but to actively and significantly join and help shape the future of the OneCommunity project.

OneCommunity is the 21st century analog to owning the radio airwaves. Not unlike the investments made to set up distribution eco-systems for newsprint, radio, and television, Cleveland's OneCommunity represents an opportunity by the Cleveland Plain Dealer to invest in and support the development of the 21st century most important distribution system. The PD can chose to rent space on someone else's distribution system. It can choose to simply lease some of its content to others who might want to redistribute it. Or, the Plain Dealer, the hometown incumbent player could take the bold move and be first among its peers to help build out the OneCommunity infrastructure. The goal is not to just to make Cleveland.com a better web site or capable of supporting real time readership feedback on web log entries (although that would be ok). Rather, it is my hope Mr. Egger that we can interest you in exploring with all of us how to position the Cleveland Plain Dealer as part of the owner-operator cooperative in building out next generation ultra-broadband, wireless services, interactive communications infrastructure, and to become "the" news organization in the country that attracts the best and brightest journalism and communications students who want to build with you (and us) a 21st century news and story telling organization using all the advanced technology tools we have today and the countless new and innovative breakthroughs that will appear over the horizon.

Back in 1971, Alan Kay, one of the true geniuses of the technology age said "Don't worry about what anybody else is going to do… The best way to predict the future is to invent it." Mr. Egger, we think we're doing some small part of that together here in Cleveland. There's room under the tent for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. We look forward to your leadership and your willingness to take calculated risks in helping to reinvent your profession and with it your success (and ours).

Lev Gonick
Cleveland, May 21, 2006

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