Thursday, August 9, 2012

Government of Uganda proposes Internet blacklist

The executive director of NITA proposed the implementation of an Internet blacklist during a presentation made at the Uganda Internet Governance Forum on Tuesday. He stressed that his purpose was only to gauge public sentiment. He did not openly state a position or mention implementation plans. According to his presentation, the system would initially block child pornography, copyright infringing sites, and terrorist content.

I thought the term "terrorist content" seemed a little vague. I expressed this fear at the meeting and was pleasantly surprised to hear fellow audience members concur. One woman even said she did not want the government parenting her children.

The Ugandan government has, on multiple occasions, shut down radio stations and newspapers for political reasons. They have also attempted (unsuccessfully) to block websites like Facebook and "Tweeter" during periods of social unrest. In other words, the definition of "terrorist content" could easily be stretched to include political speech.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Net Neutrality: Knee-Deep in the Internet

Orange (France Telecom) now offers free (i.e. zero-rated) access to Wikipedia for mobile data users in 20 countries. It's not perfect; users only get free access to the mobile version of the site which lacks the functionality required to contribute, however a vast archive of human knowledge is now significantly more accessible to tens of millions of people. Excellent news indeed!

Or, is it? While free Wikipedia for the masses might sound like a good idea, I argue that it does more harm than good; that it undermines one of the Internet's greatest long-term benefits to society: the level playing-field.

The Internet, by design, is decentralized and neutral; everyone on the network can connect directly to everyone else. Thus, the Internet allows anyone who uses it to quickly, cheaply, and easily experiment with new ideas, technologies, and business models at an extremely large scale. This is why Amazon was able to compete with Walmart from a home in Seattle; why Google was able to compete with Yahoo from a garage in California; and why Facebook was able to compete with MySpace from a dorm room at Harvard University.

Now, before I talk about how this all starts to break down when certain services are given preferential treatment, you need to understand how the Internet really works (watch the short video):

You also need to understand how the Internet is sold and why:

Internet service providers have traditionally sold customers all-you-can-eat monthly access plans differentiated by speed. Why? Because packets of data are not a very scarce resource. There's a nearly infinite supply as their entire life-cycle occurs within electronic devices. The only meaningful constraint is the transmission rate (i.e. the speed at which they can be sent and received).

Despite this, many Internet service providers have started charging customers not by the speed of their link, but for each individual packet of data they send or receive (i.e. data bundles). Why? Well, they say it's the only way to effectively manage bandwidth in this brave new world of bandwidth-hungry services and mobile devices. However, studies have shown this to be false.

What this new billing model most definitely does do is give Internet service providers the ability to interfere with everyone's ability to interconnect. For example, they can now charge more for some websites and less for others; offer sponsored data services; sell tiered access plans similar to television's Bronze, Silver, and Gold packages; or even offer free access to a related online businesses while charging for access to the competition.

It's important to note that currently established content providers also have a strong interest in promoting this model. After all, if Facebook is free, who's going to pay to use the competition?

Internet service providers who engage in this type of behavior undermine the neutral design of the Internet by affording wealthy and powerful entities the ability to buy or gain preferential access to the network. As this behavior becomes more prevalent, it will have an increasingly negative impact on start-up companies and new technologies which cannot afford or are otherwise denied preferential access. The end result is a centralized, fragmented, monopolistic Internet with few or none of the social and economic benefits that it's renowned for.

But don't just take my word for it; listen to Vint Cerf, inventor of the Internet:

Or Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web:

So, what does all of this mean for Uganda? We talk a lot about Internet penetration rates and World Bank statistics, but we don't talk a lot about what kind of Internet we're deploying. What hope do Ugandan entrepreneurs and innovators have if wealthy corporations are allowed to monopolize the Internet?

How will the next Wikipedia launch from Makerere, or the next Facebook from someone's pocket in Karamoja, if the Internet does not remain neutral?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

IPv6: A 128-bit platform for innovation

Orange Uganda just announced the availability of IPv6 for their corporate customers.  While this is a huge step in the right direction, I'm here to report some even better news:

I asked the Orange executive team about their IPv6 plans during the press conference at last years Orange Expo. Aside from announcing their 2-year roll-out plan, they publicly stated that they intend to issue public IPv6 addresses to all mobile devices. I don't know how all of the journalists in the room missed this, but it didn't seem to get reported anywhere.

If Orange gives public IPv6 addresses to mobile phones, it means they can act as servers on the Internet. This could have a greater positive impact on the Internet and society than the advent of mobile Internet itself. Facebook was originally developed and hosted in a college dorm room. If mobile devices get public IPv6 addresses, the next iteration could be developed and hosted in someone's pocket in Karamoja.

That's assuming, of course, that the Internet remains neutral...

Saturday, May 19, 2012

You have yourself a deal, sir.

I've always been a big fan of robbing people blind, so I'm happy to announce that I've discovered a bug in Skyrim which allows the player to attain an extremely large amount of gold by doing just that.

The bug appears during the Blood on the Ice quest-line once the player has acquired the Strange Amulet from Hjerim in Windhelm. To exploit the bug, simply sell the amulet to Calixto Corrium then pickpocket it back -- then sell it to him (again), then pickpocket it back (again) -- over, and over, and over. He'll give you 500 gold each time.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

So I've decided to write a blog...

I'd like to thank Ashis Brahma and the Marabou Stork that crapped all over me a few moments ago for inspiring me to create this blog.