About Net Policy News

NPN was planned in 2012 when I thought ITU/WCIT might change the rules of the net. As I learned more, I wrote that nothing of substance would be achieved in Dubai. Amid lots of rhetoric, nothing of substance did occur. On a near-trivial symbolic item, the U.S. said “fuggedaboutit” and blocked consensus. I’ve since attended the ITU Plenipot in Busan and as many other events I can afford. 

    The battle between the “Incumbents” and the “Want Change” faction at ITU is colorful but ultimately one of the least important issues in net policy. Making the net affordable for all is my primary goal, and nothing at ITU, ICANN, of the rest of the acronyms will make a big difference. Rules on spectrum, patents & royalties, competition, who builds infrastructure and many are far more important than any of the diplomatic rhetoric. I’ll do my best to report widely.

    I’ve been on the U.S. State Department International Telecom Advisory Committee for nearly a decade. I’m often in a small minority in the group. 

 Let me know how I’m doing. [email protected] 


Dave Burstein, Editor and Publisher

This is the news of the fast net, always looking to get closer to the truth.

Dave Burstein, editor and publisher. daveb (at) dslprime.com

Jennie Bourne, online editor

Contributing Editors: Charles Hall, Danny Burstein. 

I’ve had a lot of fun since I started DSL Prime in 1999, which gradually morphed into Fast Net News and the rest. I’m still learning.

The boom was unbelievable. I reported the limousines three deep in front of the Plaza, as the Masters of the Internet Universe compared their billions. I reported a million, then 10 million, then 100 million homes connected. Video over the net was called “streaming media” and lost billions before they discovered not many people wanted to watch boring, small, jerky videos on the net. Then the cost of web delivery fell and we all know what’s happened. Covad, Rhythms, and NorthPoint were worth $20B at the peak, then bankrupt 18 months later. The U.S. had the lead, and then it switched to Korea, Japan, China and France. I hate that the U.S. has fallen to an also ran on the Internet, but delighted with what I’m learning from the French, Germans, and Koreans as I travel.

A surprising percentage of people in the English-speaking part of the industry are subscribers, as well as many in government, academia, the press and Wall Street. 

Our stories have been picked up, with credit, in The New York and Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, The San Francisco Chronicle, Forbes, Business Week, and many others. We’ve also been cited in many government reports and independent studies.

I found myself deep in engineering, finance, and policy, although I’m not formally trained. I developed some surprising friends in high places, and got startled one day when a bureau chief called me “the conscience of the FCC.” Wall Street analysts made me their pet geek. I discovered I could walk up to a CEO with 200,000 employees. He’d answer my questions if they were interesting enough.

I was mostly a curious geek trying to imagine how to be a reporter. There were no rules for Internet journalism, so we made up the rules as we went along.

The biggest favor you can do a journalist is to point out errors.

 The financial side is crucial in this capital-hungry business and is an essential part of reporting and analysis.  Looking at the ratio of depreciation to capex makes it clear, for example, that medium-sized U.S. carriers are strip mining their companies and will happily sell. Several have already sold out and others might. Huawei’s nearly unlimited line of credit with government controlled banks allows them to finance customers freely. That’s won them major customers from Africa to Latin America.

Smart executives don’t lie when they talk to wall street, so I listen closely. Information is currency on the street, so I get invited to events where the waiters have better suits than I do. I seem to be the pet geek of wall street, which turns out to be a great role for collecting information. For example, I’ve had great confirmation that SBC/AT&T can provide near universal DSL service using $200 repeaters and was ready to do so. I asked CEO Ed Whitacre in 2005.  Their pr people weren’t happy I announced before they did, but couldn’t deny the facts their President had mentioned to investors. Qwest in 2008 told the street that they are reducing costs effectively while telling Colorado their costs have gone up so much they need a large price hike.  

This is not a financial publication. We do not pick stocks. Really. We are looking at very different issues than the market does, and the market often moves against our analysis. That’s experience, not modesty. I’ve often seen market moves I didn’t expect. That’s partly because the price of stocks has only a modest connection to the underlying financials of the company. Pro traders only incidentally look at the substance of a company’s prospects, and pay far more attention to what their peers believe than the facts. Graham and Dodd are paid lip service, but rarely followed. In addition, hard as this is to accept, randomness has a major impact on stock moves. In 2008 I wrote stock prices reflect even more of a short term outlook than usual, forcing companies to cut capex beyond what’s rational for earnings. Dividend increases and buybacks have been the way to get stock prices up. Since stock prices have been going up with dividends, analysts demand more of same. Companies respond and pull so much cash out of the business profits will drop a few years later. A few years later doesn’t count, until it does. This cycle will one day reverse, the smartest guys on wall street believe, but seven years later this is even more true.

Policy is boring but important, so I cover it as best I can. I’ve been surprised to make so many friends in policy; they really do prefer to talk with anyone other than the usual suspects saying the usual things. If you know what’s really going on, they want to hear. Even honest lobbyists rarely have depth on what their own companies are doing in the field, much less knowledge of practices worth copying from other nations. 

I only succeed with help from readers and the industry. I want to hear from you. Contact Dave Burstein, the editor. daveb at dslprime.com.

Dave Burstein, Editor, DSL Prime, 420 West 119th St #51, NY NY 10027 


Online editor: Jennie Bourne jennie at dslprime.com

Conflict of Interest Note: Since 2015, Adtran, ASSIA, Calix, and Huawei have covered expenses to their events. Conferences have also paid our way. ASSIA paid a (modest) fee for attending their Advisory Board.  I freely accept consulting and reporting work and always report conflicts. You can see our advertisers; often, consulting/advisory work is part of the package. I welcome other consulting. July 2017 There’s nothing interesting to report in 2016 or 2017. Previously, I’ve done extensive work for ASSIA and the Marconi Foundation.   

Jennie Bourne is the author of Web Video: Making it Great, Getting it Noticed and co-author of DSL: A Wiley Tech Brief she produces videos for the web. As a journalist Bourne wrote TV news, edited news film for ABC and NBC TV, and produced and anchored the Evening News at WBAI-FM. She produced Ecological Literacy, a documentary as well as many television segments. Bourne taught at Rutgers and NYU.  She is currently working on a documentary about Macintosh creator Jef Raskin.

The people who make decisions and buy products read DSL Prime and our new publications. That’s makes it among the best places to advertise your products.

Bias: I have a strong consumer bias. It’s my job to overcome any bias and report as close to the truth as possible. I believe any reporter who claims to be unbiased is lying to him/herself. I would rather not pretend.  I’ve also gone beyond that as an advocate for what I believe, including filing comments on FCC issues and pressing officials on issues I care about. In telecom, there are few knowledgeable people who aren’t paid by the companies involved. I think it’s important therefore to bring information I have to governments when I feel they are being misinformed. Readers will have to judge whether my reporting remains accurate despite my bias.

Press information: I have a press-friendly policy, and am happy to work with or share anything I have knowledge with other reporters. I like getting the ideas out and learn from other reporters in turn. Call or email Dave Burstein and I’ll find a way to help you. Deadlines understood.

Editorial Integrity Policy and conflict of interest: Like most trade press, we accept advertising from the companies about which we report. Of course they push us to write stories their way. We believe we serve our advertisers best by independent reporting that attracts readers to their ads. Advertising packages generally include consulting or advisory work if desired. As an Internet-enabled business, we support our work with related income. We believe the ethical response is to make clear where our conflict of interests lie.

Jennie and I have written two books, one on DSL and one on Web Video. I’ve chaired three Fast Net Futures conferences for Pulver and two Web Video Summits for Meckler. We accept occasional work from companies in the industry, including briefing, presentations, seminars and similar, always disclosed. Amazon will pay us a commission if you buy books after following a link from our site. The MacArthur Foundation hasn’t come calling, but my landlord has.

   We do accept meals from companies and small presents like notepads. We freely accept travel expenses from conferences, etc. Occasionally, companies have a legitimate press event and we accept travel. I turn down offers that don’t pass the smell test. Jennie is still mad I passed on an all-expense trip to Israel for the two of us. The company was based there, but it was obviously a thank-you rather than an attempt to bring us there for reporting. 

Privacy Policy: We do not collect any information about visitors to our site. Period. We do not share our subscription list with anyone, although infrequently will do a mailing on behalf of a sponsor. Web site advertisers may use a service like Doubleclick to offer their ads, which tracks responders.


Ben of Alcatel: Regulators Reducing Competition, Raising Prices

Under pressure from France Telecom, Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica and the ETNO gang. A First Look. CEO Ben Verwaayan of Alcatel told shareholders he believes European regulators are profoundly changing their priorities.He believes they will stop their efforts to reduce the cost of unbundling copper to the home and backhaul from smaller exchanges. This directly affects the costs of competitors and almost certainly consumer prices. In addition, he believes that the competitive rules on “next generation networks” – mostly fiber/DSL upgrades – will be modified.

This corresponds to how I read the contradictory statement below from EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes. Ben is glad, because he thinks the telcos will invest substantially more because they will be making more money through the higher prices and weaker competition. This may be true in the short run; the big telcos, starting with BT, have been holding off on deployments they need to make, partly as a means to put pressure on the regulator. But once that effect passes, both Kroes and Verwaayen are almost certainly wrong, based on the U.S. experience. Killing competitors has resulted in less fiber investment, as both Verizon and AT&T cut back their plans.

Increased income for telcos in the absence of strong competition is far more likely to go to shareholder dividends than to further investment. Investment is far more effectively induced by strong competition, which scares the carrier into a fear of going out of business if they don’t invest. Without that fear, carriers will use any available money for shareholders, not networks. This is especially true now that CEOs are being paid tens of millions in options and stock rights. That gives them enormous personal incentive to keep the stock price high and the public interest be damned. They’ll probably have moved on before the company feels the effects of underinvestment.

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Hamadoun Touré is an Africanist

Ban Kagame Slim Toure courtesy ITUHamadoun Touré is an Africanist both in public concerns and personal life. He is deeply committed to improving social conditions in Africa. He’s steered many ITU programs to paying special attention to African needs, including the new Conformance and Interoperability initiative. African technologists such as Joshua Peprah of Ghana often are recognized by ITU awards. He’s ahead of most of us; Africa in a few years will have more Internet users than Europe. There are 360M mobiles among Africa’s billion people, expanding at 15%/year. In the next few years most will upgrade and have an net connection. It’s time to start thinking about about a net with more Africans than Americans.

       Touré presents himself in the dignified suit of the Western businessman but has not been subsumed by Euro-American culture. His friends tell me he’s maintained a fierce pride about his African origins. He became neither Russian while studying in the Soviet union nor French-Swiss after a decade in Geneva.  He was born in the desert city, Timbuktu, 1953 in the French colony Mali as a new era approached.  His father was a civil servant and he was an only child who grew up in comfort.

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Good Government Work

Real Cash for Rural Grant Matching (U.S.)

Congress requires recipients of the broadband stimulus and most rural grant programs to pay a percentage of the cost, providing an incentive to keep costs down. In practice, instead of cash most recipients claim credit for “donations in kind,” such as the space in the library used for a community computer center. Telcos often “contribute” fiber or routers they already own, built or bought for other purposes. That makes a mockery of the original intent, of course. 

   Ken Kochno at the Rural Utilities service has just changed the game. “The new rule maintains the current program’s 15 percent matching requirement but clarifies that the match must be in cash and can also be used to fund operations of the project. http://1.usa.gov/Y2dDtX” 

   On the other hand, the new rules don’t require disclosure of what the money is being spent on with specifics. RUS should follow the example of NTIA, putting on the web detailed reports on how the public money is being spent. Public disclosure makes it harder to spend $20,000 on a router for a small library with a single terminal. That actually happened on a project in West Virginia. Sunshine is good. 


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