20 August 2010

Cable Map

If you have been following this blog, you know that I am interested in gathering information about undersea cables (especially costs and capacities). Some sites, like Thus, I found this site interesting, as it contains a comprehensive, clickable map. The sidebar contains links to each cable's home page, so it would be relatively straight-forward to gather comprehensive cable data.

Also, if you're interested, I found this article over at Amazon that is related.

18 August 2010

Should Congress mandate FM receivers in all handheld devices?

This item over at Ars Technica is an interesting discussion and commentary around the proposed legislation that would require all handheld devices to contain FM receivers. This has been done before with UHF television, but in that case it was to encourage the development of the then new TV band. In this case, it is to support an existing technology either toward the end of its life (if you follow TechDirt) or at least one that is finding a new niche. As Ars points out, FM still has a wide listenership, but it is suffering from a thousand cuts, from MP3s to HD-Radio to the economic downturn. It is also true that adding FM may not be very costly: chips are cheap and, in fact, the FM functionality may be a software feature rather than a hardware one (depending on the nature of the device).

To me, the central question is: Is this an appropriate role for government? The argument for government mandates in the UHF case was fairly clear, as there was a first-mover (aka chicken-and-egg) problem that had to be solved. To me, the arguments for government mandates in this case are much less clear. Handheld devices could have included FM radios if consumers had demanded them (or if there was a clear business model for including them). Except for some MP3 players, FM radios do not appear to be an important adjunct to many handheld devices, so what is the public interest rationale for government action?

06 August 2010

What ever happened to ... Verizon Wireless and their "open" network?

With much fanfare, Verizon Wireless announced a plan to open their network in November 2007 (see this). A podcast I was listening to today lamented that Google's Nexus One has become a GSM-only developer phone (despite the success of the Android platform on CDMA). This caused me to wonder about what happened to device portability on CDMA ... I have seen or read precious little about this project since then.

So was the Nov 2007 announcement a public relation stunt to appease regulators? Was it more difficult to implement device portability on CDMA more difficult than they had imagined? Did consumer interest in portability not materialize?

05 August 2010

WU v. Bell -- Orton v. Hubbard

In doing some research for my last blog post, I came across this article, which was quite interesting. In it, Prof. Carlson describes the relationship between William Orton, who was President of Western Union in the 1870s and Gardiner Hubbard, who was a backer (and father-in-law) of Alexander Graham Bell). The conventional wisdom is that Orton turned down the opportunity to purchase the telephone patent because he did not see its business potential. As this article points out, the situation was far more complicated and was rooted in a longer term relationship between these two men who had vastly different visions of what the communications industry should be.

In a nutshell, Orton was heavily invested in the business model that was extraordinarily profitable to Western Union (and its shareholders) because he had a large role in building it. Hubbard, a Boston lawyer who was new to this industry, was deeply skeptical about the wisdom (from a public policy perspective) of allowing a critical infrastructure like telegraphy to reside in private hands under monopoly control. He was interested in a re-thinking of the communications industry; for him, this meant placing telegraph stations in post offices in addition to railway stations. This, he reasoned, would make telegraph more accessible, drive down prices, and thus allow the telegraph to be used for social as well as business purposes. He proposed that Congress would fund this new network. This did not succeed, largely due to the efforts of Orton, but Hubbard continued his pursuit of technologies that would enable communications be more accessible, which led him to support Bell. In the end, Orton's dislike of his rival of many years may have contributed to him turning down the telephone patent, though his (Orton's) decision made business sense in the short term.

It is ironic that the technology backed by Hubbard would end up being the next great private infrastructure monopoly. I wonder if that outcome would have Gardiner Hubbard spinning in his grave ...

To me, there are parallels here with today's broadband environment. Was Hubbard like the advocates of subsidized broadband?

Verizon + Google = Western Union + Associated Press

This report of talks between Verizon, who operates one of the largest Tier 1 ISPs, and Google,arguably the largest provider of Internet content, is eerily reminiscent of the deal between Western Union and the Associated Press. You can read the background here, but the basic story outline is as follows:

1) As early as 1846, newspapers saw the economic benefit of sharing the cost of gathering and sending news from different locations. Instead of having one reporter for each newspaper in each location, they needed only to have one reporter in each location.

2) As telegraph emerged as an important information transmission medium, newspapers saw the advantage of using this to distribute news more quickly

3) Telegraph became economically concentrated (as infrastructure industries tend to do) and the economics of newsgathering also led to concentration

4) By 1870, WU was a de facto monopoly and AP was the dominant news gathering agency

5) WU, with agents in every town, had the infrastructure to enter the newsgathering business, and AP generated enough traffic to sustain a private or even rival telegraph network.

6) Instead of entering each other's markets, they basically entered into an exclusivity and non-compete agreement. WU would not get into newsgathering, and AP would not build or use another telegraph system (see this for the gory details)

Now, substitute "Verizon" for "WU" and "Google" for "AP", change the dates, and do you now get something like the NYT story cited above?