BitDepth#951 - August 26

Talking Net Neutrality
951-Net-Neutrality
Part of the audience at the start of last week’s discussion on Net Neutrality. 
Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

The Room 101 at UWI’s Engineering Building was surprisingly full for the discussion on Network Neutrality hosted by the Trinidad and Tobago Computer Society (TTCS), the Internet Society Trinidad and Tobago Chapter (ISOC-TT) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers Trinidad and Tobago Section (IEEE-TT).

The room number was also ironically appropriate for an event that set out to explore the importance of net neutrality by first creating a platform for understanding the concept. Disclosure: I was invited to moderate this panel discussion.


At it’s core, net neutrality posits that the underpinning of an open Internet should be the principle that service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication.


It was this idea that drove the explosion of the modern Internet after 1990 when steady increases in technology and most importantly, bandwidth, allowed the creation of ever more adventurous software and technology platforms.

The problem is that any commons is always going to be overgrazed, regardless of how idyllic it seems.

The conversation last Wednesday constantly hovered around the decision by Digicel to block access to selected Voice over IP (VOIP) software last month.

In announcing the block, Digicel accused the services of “bypass activity,” noting that, “Unlicenced VOIP operators like Viber and Nimbuzz use telecoms networks to deliver their services, but do not pay the requisite money for the privilege.”

The company blocked access to Tango, Viber, Nimbuzz and Fring, but never responded to questions regarding the status of Skype and MagicJack, which were not blocked.

Four days later, in the face of a growing negative reaction and the prospect of formal involvement by the Telecommunications Authority of T&T, DigicelTT reversed its ban on the services, though the ban remains in force in Haiti and Jamaica, the first countries to experience the communications blockade.

That very day, the TTCS
issued a statement on the matter in which it countered that the company’s arguments for instituting the block were technically “unsound.”
Specifically, “VoIP services do not present a significant load on the mobile data network and their current network does not allow them to prioritise data packets by content.”

The discussion emerging from that sequence of events followed the kind of arc you might expect. Digicel was out of sync with modern times. Blocking or attempting to prioritise data streams would destroy an open Internet.


What emerged most clearly was a disconnect between the Internet as a business and the Internet as a commons, both of which are necessary aspects of maintaining the most remarkable technological network ever built.


Freedom and openness encourage innovation and enterprise, the type of thinking that builds businesses like cunning VOIP systems as well as the deeply complicated code that expands and enhances our experiences on the web.


But business decisions drive the expansion of the hardware and infrastructure that’s needed to support an ever expanding and apparently insatiable need for bigger pipe for data streams and faster data packet responses to enable interactions that drift ever more inexorably toward real time.


It’s notable to remember that the single largest jump forward taken by Internet backbone technology was funded by the Dot Com Bubble, a time of wild and unsustainable spending on anything Internet that resulted in a massive buildout of backhaul architecture.


One contributor from the floor at the net neutrality discussion suggested that it might be best to “let the market decide.”

But this is one situation in which the market may not be sufficiently informed about the issues as it needs to be in order to arrive at the right decision.

The issue of net neutrality isn’t as simple as whether Digicel should be excoriated for taking drastic action to preserve revenue from its long distance calls or sneered at for not being more digitally enterprising in its approach to solving the problem.

It certainly isn’t going to be solved if service providers can’t engineer a business model that allows them to attract returns on their investments.

It is, in short, a
tragedy of the commons, with both service providers and customers seeking their own interests in a technology that was designed to facilitate the free transfer of information and which has proven resistant to efforts at monetizing old business models when they are transferred into bits.

Last Wednesday’s civil society discussion on net neutrality produced no answers, but raised a lot of questions that demand clarification. That kind of understanding won’t come if businesses cloud the discussions with PR driven obfuscations and users respond with perspectives inflamed by emotion.


A growing, thriving Internet must be paid for, but that coin is no longer denominated only in cash. Attention, access, reliability and excitement are growing currencies being traded in bitspace and everyone has to become both more familiar and more courageous about leveraging them to advantage.
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BitDepth#950 - August 19

The Pagliacci syndrome
950-Anthony_Seyjagat
Anthony Seyjagat photographed in costume, 1990. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

Robin Williams is dead. There. It's said.
I did not know the man, and even though he gave of himself in an abundance of riches in every medium he touched, I never confused those pleasures with any sense that I understood who he was.
At least part of that is because of Anthony Seyjagat, a talented physical actor, mime (of all things), and an awesomely effervescent personality.

Anthony did traditional mime performances, but then he took it to another level in a seriously disturbing suite of pieces performed with Penelope Spencer at Raymond Choo Kong’s The Space at Bretton Hall.
Even after I’d begun wandering away from my ten-year flirtation with the local theatrical community, he kept in touch, constantly trying to get me involved with one project or another.

During that time, he also tried hard to mend a rift I'd managed to engineer with Raymond some years before.
After Anthony abruptly committed suicide, it became clear that he had spent weeks calling and visiting people having, what we all realised in retrospect at his wake, were not pleasant, out-of-the-blue chats but final conversations.
I was angry after I’d heard the news of his passing and when I was asked to speak at his funeral, I said so. Ultimately, we didn’t know Anthony Seyjagat at all.

When I heard that Robin Williams was dead, most likely by his own hand, I didn't think of Mrs Doubtfire or the Genie.
I thought of Anthony perched on a thin ledge, braced against a second story wall, for a promotional photo for the Baggasse Company’s Children's Storyworld.

I also thought of the unkempt bush around the rectangular mound in an Arima cemetery the last time I visited his grave two decades ago.
Creating is hard. It's so much easier to do work that passes muster than it is to do something that challenges or even defies expectations.

Being funny is hard. You can't really be funny without being a bit wicked and the best humour is downright nasty. Every joke has a butt and it’s often roundly kicked.
In the early 1980’s I wrote my first produced play, after a fashion. I wrote a play called Sno Kone and the Seven Douens as a possible sequel to the smash Christmas production that Helen Camps’ All Theatre Productions had staged the previous year, Cinderama.

It wasn’t really a sequel. It was a black comedy and very little of my original script made it to the stage after it had been workshopped with the cast and Roger Israel had written the music, just the general outline, a couple of songs I wrote lyrics for at the last minute and a few bits of dialogue here and there.

It was a dismal failure. People walked out halfway through, deeply offended at its bleakness. The ones who stuck it out to the end got a fake newspaper celebrating the death of all the heroes complete with a very Randy Burroughs kind of photo of dead bodies lying at the feet of the law.

It's impossible to create anything of any value without leaving some skin behind, and good comedy demands a regular pound of flesh from its author.
In a country with a distinctly immature funny bone, satire gets treated like gospel truth and bawdy fun rules.

Happiness isn't a default for most of humanity. It's something precious that must be continuously earned. I experience it as a frisson of pleasure on occasion, like a cool breeze aberrantly wafting through a stifling and damp mineshaft.
There is a price for seeing the world as it is, and the fee rises as you choose to share that understanding with increasing honesty.
People who do so tend to self-medicate, either to blunt their perceptions or worse, the consequences of expressing them.

There’s an old joke told about the protagonist of the opera I, Pagliacci that’s retold with brusque irony in
Alan Moore’s Watchmen, a bit of harsh wit that hearkens to the final line of the opera, “La commedia è finita!”
Of all those who dare to return with dispatches from the front lines of reality, funny people are the ones most at risk, because the reality they mine ruthlessly is often their own.

If art is truth reinterpreted, then the best comedy is the most dangerous of fun house mirrors, the reflection that is both honest and surreal, the guffaw that catches in the throat sourly.
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DigicelTT announces a ban on Voice over IP software, prompting a national discussion on net neutrality. Click here to read more...
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Steelcase introduces a new chair for the tablet and laptop user. Click here to read more...
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One. Then five to fifteen.

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Carnival conversation

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Microsoft announces a version of Office for the iPad. Click here to read more...
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Elitism or entrepreneurship?

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Copyright issues arise again during Carnival 2014 with no apparent solutions or common sense evaluations of the actual law in sight. Click here to read more...
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What the NCC should do

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Zorce on accreditation

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Yooz seeks more for its users

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TSTT introduces its first Gigabit Community to a gated housing project in Chaguanas. Click here to read more...
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The Gigabit Community

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BitDepth#919 - January 07

A few words of respect about Therese Mills on her passing. Click here to read more...
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