Bob Frankston

Bob Frankston

Independent Internet Professional
Joined on August 26, 2003 – United States
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Thinking Outside the Internet

This is a talk I gave at Google in Cambridge January 6, 2014. Some may know this as Ambient or Borderless Connectivity, but I'm titling this post as "Thinking Outside the Internet." It builds on my Three Stages of Digital theme, outlining how we are shifting from a telecom-centric framing with meaning and value inside the wire to today's Internet in which meaning and value are no longer contained within channels. more»

Evolution and the Internet

Evolution isn't just about biology. Our focus on biology is part of the world-wide challenge in getting people to understand how systems evolve. Think of the resistance Galileo faced when he said that the universe didn't, literally, revolve round us. One reason people have difficulty accepting undirected evolution is that educators don't give people a good sense of why things "work". It's a difficult problem because we tend to look for a "reason" for why things are the way they are... more»

The Framing of "IP Transition" Fails to Come to Terms With Real Impact of the Internet

I keep seeing so many articles about the Internet and related policy issues that it's hard to know how to respond. The term "IP Transition" may be a good starting point since the term is an attempt to treat the Internet as a smooth transition rather accepting the idea that we are in the midst of a disruptive change. It seems that the FCC's approach is to simply substitute IP for old protocols and to preserve policies tied to the accidental properties of a copper infrastructure. This shows a failure to come to terms with the new reality. more»

The Internet: Missing the Light

Today's Internet is wonderful for solving hard problems such as connecting to Amazon to buy goods or for using Netflix. Amazon and Netflix, among others, demonstrate what is possible if you put in enough effort. Yet if we are to understand the Internet we need to look beyond those applications to the simplest application such as sending one bit of information from a light switch to a light fixture. more»

The Internet Is Designed for Surveillance

The current implementation of the Internet is hierarchical in that we get IP addresses from providers and then use a DNS that is rooted. We go even further in requiring that we conform to conditions on our intent (AKA our use) of connectivity in order to get a temporary lease on something so fundamental as our identity in the guise of a DNS name. We go further by accepting the idea that we communicate within pipes owned by service providers who can dictate terms in order to extract a rent. more»

Internet Connectivity: Toward a Sustainable Funding Model

I'm writing this in the midst of policy discussions between the Internet world (as embodied in ISOC) and the Telecommunications industry (ITU). The Internet and Telecommunications are very different concepts. The Internet allows us to focus on the task at hand. That's why it is so exciting. Historically telecommunication assumed value was created inside the network and this creates conflict with creating value outside the network. more»

The Internet Lost in Translation

In 1949 a Bell Laboratory researcher, Claude Shannon, published a paper on a new science of "Information". Bell Labs had sponsored the research with the goal of improving phone networks but was not prepared to embrace the full implications of the new science which made explicit the distinction between information in the information sense and information encoded in numbers or bits... more»

FiOS: A Reality Check

I wrote this in response to some interest in my experience with the reality of FiOS. The short summary is that there is no magic. Sure having Fiber is nice but it isn't that much different than my "cable" service. The bigger difference between Comcast and Verizon is in the nature of the businesses. Comcast is a content company trying to move on to it looks beyond the STB with its purchase of NBCU whereas Verizon seems to want to continue the 1990's vision of the STB as its entrée into the home. more»

Purpose vs Discovery and the Internet as a Dynamic

I'm writing this in response to the myriad discussions about how to make sure that the Internet continues to "work" despite P2P or whatever the current threat seems to be. Behind much of the discussion is the presumption that the Internet has a purpose in the sense of making some applications like video games and VoIP work. Yesterday we feared modems, today we fear P2P. more»

Ambient Connectivity: An Introduction

"Ambient Connectivity" is the ability to assume connectivity anywhere and anytime. Ambient Connectivity is the future of the Internet once we've removed the barriers we associate with today's telecom and extend the reach beyond the narrow confines of "broadband". The nuanced definition of Ambient Connectivity is that we can view connectivity as infrastructure but we need to take responsibility if we find ourselves disconnected. more»

Policy Beyond the Potholes

I cringe whenever I hear the arguments that we can't have community owned infrastructure for connectivity because local governments can't fix potholes. I wouldn't mind it so much if that argument wasn't used to shut off further discussion. We should be asking why we are denied the "dumb-pipes" that provide vital infrastructure and why we allow phone (and TV) companies to horde vital infrastructure. Instead we accept the "pothole" argument as a reason we can't be trusted to communicate on our own. more»

Achieving Connectivity vs. More "Broadband"

Our problem isn't the lack of capacity -- it's our inability to achieve simple connectivity. We have abundant capacity but can’t use it because we have gatekeepers who set a price on our ability to communicate and innovate. If we were able to take advantage of what we already have we would find ourselves with a wealth of opportunities rather than having to pay billions to "stimulate" the gatekeepers into letting us create new value. more»

With the New US CTO, Why Not a New OCA: Office of Connectivity Advocacy

We need a positive strategy for assuring connectivity. Instead of trying to fix telecom we should be working to take advantage of what we have and build vital, even if mundane applications like telemedicine and broaden our access to information while empowering communities. By realizing the value in our existing infrastructure and encouraging the creativity we can provide immediate benefits to our economy and our safety. We need a "Connectivity Strategy" with a champion... more»

Carriers Are Trying to Take Back Control of the Home Network

With all the focus on neutrality in the provider networks we must not lose sight of what is happening in our own homes. As with some of the efforts to make the networks work better (as measured in the providers' paternalistic) view, their attempt to retake the home is about serving us better by reducing the operators' costs. "Better" is of course in terms of the operator's own measures. It's not quite the same as in 1995 when providers opposed home networks and want to charge us for each machine... more»

First Square Mile is not the Last or First Mile: Discovery not Just Choices!

The term "last mile" highlights the fact that we are the consumers at the end of a broadband "pipe". Saying "first mile" is a little better but the Internet is not a pipe to or from somewhere else. It's about what we can do locally and then what we can do when we interconnect with other neighborhoods. It's better to describe our neighborhood as the first square mile. Telecom is about selling us services; the Internet is about what we can do ourselves locally and then interconnecting with others everywhere. In writing the First Square Mile - Our Neighborhood essay which I just posted I came to better understand the fundamental difference between the world of telecom which is about giving you choices and the Internet which provides opportunity to discover what we can't anticipate... more»

Whose Network is it Anyway?

In reading a Q&A with Verizon's Brian Whitten I found this striking Q and A: "Q. With a fiber connection being symmetric, many fiber providers such as Paxio are providing symmetric connections such as 5Mbit, 10Mbit, 30Mbit. Why is Verizon keeping this arbitrary asymmetric limit with Fiber? A. ...Indeed, our FTTP network can easily support a symmetric data service. As market dynamics change, we would re-assess the benefit to our customers of introducing a class of symmetric data services." My reaction is "No thank you, I'd rather do it myself". To understand my reaction you need to recognize the difference between wanting to build my own bridge across a stream and asking why I'm not allowed to cross it myself using my own boat. more»

Today's Carrier Networks as Trollways?

As I keep pointing out -- there is indeed a viable alternative of a real marketplace not a fake one. Today's system is a fake because it depends on capturing the value of the application - communications - in the transport and that is no longer possible because with the Internet the value is created OUTSIDE the network. One example of the collateral damage caused by today's approach is the utter lack of simple wireless connectivity. Another is that we have redundant capital intensive bit paths whose only purpose is to contain bits within billing paths. more»

It's About Connectivity Not The Internet!

I've been trying to avoid writing about the Internet as such. With as "At the Edge" I'm looking at larger issues but can't escape writing more directly about the Internet. It seems as if everyone wants a say in Internet policy without distinguishing between technical and social issues. Today the term "The Internet" or, for many simply "Internet" is more of brand than a term for a specific technology and its implications. It has become too easy to talk about the Internet in lieu of understanding. We also see the converse -- a failure to recognize "Internet" issues. more»

Rediscovering the Internet

I wrote a guest column for ZDNet last month on the importance of IPV6. I fear that the Internet has been devolving into a recreation of the old smart networks with a lot of perverse complexity in the infrastructure. The latest calls for protection from all that bad stuff only adds to my concern since the problems attributed to the "Internet" will encourage people to seek more meddling. Unfettered connectivity has been a necessary precondition for allowing innovation to thrive on the Internet. It worked because the same openness allowed those at the edges to protect themselves against the errors whether malicious or just problematic. In fact, the so-called Internet revolution was triggered by the key concept of the browser -- treating other systems with suspicion but leaving it to the end points to decide how much to trust each other. more»

Ye Olde DNS

I've been writing about the intrinsic problem with the use of the DNS as both a technical mechanism and as a source of unambiguous meaning and authority. The problems are much worse than most of the posters seem to note. The current approach assures that the Internet will unravel and worse, that URLs become perversely reused. The commercial terms of service associated with the use of ".com" names exacerbates the problem by imposing arbitrary social policies into the plumbing of the Internet. more»