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Subject: [IP] more on Response to David Reed and Brett and the FRC

  • From: David Farber <>
  • To:
  • Date: Fri, 08 Sep 2006 15:28:49 -0700

Begin forwarded message:

From: Bob Frankston <>
Date: September 8, 2006 1:58:32 PM PDT
Cc:, Brett Glass <>
Subject: RE: [IP] more on Response to David Reed and Brett and the FRC

I’ve been mulling this for a while. The problem isn’t so much confusing a particular abstract model with reality as much as where the burden of proof lies. Imagine if the government proved that airplanes couldn’t fly and made any attempt illegal because it would interfere with balloon traffic and confuse the horses on the ground.

In 1927 the Supreme Court grudgingly accepted a compromise on First Amendment principles so as to allow the Federal Radio Commission to decide who was worthy of a license. Spectrum allocation was assumed but compromising the US First Amendment was not to be taken lightly.

Our understanding and technology has come a long way since then and examples like the 25 Watt Voyager which is able to send kilobits of data per second against the background noise of Jupiter and now all the way from the Kuipers Belt demonstrate the spectrum allocation isn’t the only coding system and, in fact, it would be difficult to find one that is more wasteful. It’s analogous to allocating cattle ranches into quarter acre plots to avoid risking any bovine getting more than its “fair” share.

The current system also assumes that you must reach any distance in a single hop – the aggregate capacity of 802.11 and even cellular systems is very large because we don’t need to shout – we can use packet networks far more effectively than DXing.

Given that the current system is requires an explicit exception to the First Amendment shouldn’t the burden of proof be on those who insist on maintaining spectrum allocation to demonstrate that it is still absolutely necessary? Of course existing analog radios may have problems if left unprotected but that isn’t sufficient grounds to maintain a ban on the all communications forever.

Even if one accepts the need for spectrum allocation why do we go to the extreme of having to prove no possible interference to the feeblest of radios – the analog ones that can’t get a clear signal anyway? It’s one thing to have a reluctant compromise of the First Amendment but it’s another to take advantage of the exception and go to any extreme without any need to justify such egregious restraints on our ability to communicate.

Longer term the cost of replacing all analog radio devices is negligible given today’s technologies and compared with benefits of alternatives. But if we’re using low power because we don’t have to shout those old radios will probably continue to work as well if not better than they used to because there would be less shouting traffic. The real reason to replace the radios is that a digital packet radio can “tune in” to the entire world. Emergency workers would have walkie-talkies that are not limited by manual relaying systems. Medical devices can call home. All sorts of exciting possibilities open up.

Free speech isn’t just a philosophical issues, it’s about the ability to create value and the ability to take responsibility for oneself.

Given the power of local packet communications, we have little to lose. I realize “power” is ambiguous – the physical power can be low but the power measured in terms of capabilities can be arbitrarily high. Today high power radio means one that can melt in your hand – it should mean one that empowers the user.

I know Brett is using packet radios as a bypass and he depends on relatively long distance connections compared with in-home use. One can argue whether or not there are better technical solutions to his problems but what is clear is that exclusive control of the wired transports is a problem. There should at least be some infrastructure option akin to roads – it would complement wireless connectivity. The idea of maintaining separate worlds for wired (tethered) and untethered packets is weird – it’s as if we had different rules for free speech depending on whether the medium was available in the 1700’s or not. Paper is afforded the same rights as TTA (Through the Air) speech but OTA (Over the Air) is not.

On the Internet we define relationships in terms of identifiers like IP addresses or DNS names. We then simply route the messages between the two points.

The problems of using single frequency non-redundant signaling is exacerbated by channeling them into assigned bands. That alone requires a system for policing its use. The problems are deeper -- the frequency regimen is fragile because the messages are not self- identifying so you must depend on others policing the bands on your behalf rather than taking responsibility for the relationships. There are many other consequences of this system – any change requires the intervention of congress and decades to effect. No wonder their flogging ten year old HDTV even as it’s lame compared with today’s screens.

Many of these problems are the result of the scarcity that is created by the use of spectrum allocation and that is then used as proof that you need to redouble the efforts to maintain the system – isn’t that a definition of madness?

So why do we need to prove that can’t do better than frequency allocation – it would be hard to do worse. Do we have to prove that everything we say and do will cause no possible harm? The regulatory gene, like the sickle cell gene, may have served a purpose at one time but all-to-often it causes more problems than it solves – it makes us deathly afraid of opportunity and that’s a fatal disease.

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