Some thoughts on network neutrality

Yesterday, Ben Thompson wrote a post called “Why Ajit Pai is Right”. Ben Thompson is a well regarded analyst and I respect his insight on the tech industry quite a lot. Mr. Pai is the current FCC chair and has made it his mission to roll back the current regulatory framework established to protect network neutrality so broadband providers in this country may not discriminate how content flows over their network.

Ben’s post proposes that the government needs to roll back to the previous law of the land and provide a light touch to ISPs in the form of lighter regulations.

My thoughts:

1. To regulate or not regulate.

Business and capital markets have a hard time with regulation to be sure. They see regulation as an obstacle to providing the very best returns to their shareholders. Ben cites the regulatory hassle of opening an restaurant in San Francisco. Well, as an investor in a SF restaurant (Alta CA, lovely place by the way), I can tell you that regulations are not the biggest issues restaurants face. It’s not even on the top 5.

More importantly we the public need regulation. If we allowed business to operate without regulation, it does not take a lot of imagination to consider the cleanliness of the restaurants kitchens or child worker laws in factories or minimum wages in retail stores or how banks operate. Yes, capitalists have issues with regulations and their associated overhead costs — but they serve a valuable purpose to it’s citizens. So let’s avoid making regulations the boogeyman in this debate.

2. The cost of Tittle 2 to ISPs

Ben does a great job describing the current regulatory framework and how Tittle II reclassification works. From his post:

The net effect of this reclassification would be the elimination of FCC rules restricting the ability of ISPs to block or throttle sites or apps or offer paid prioritization of any Internet content. That is certainly a worthy goal! Who could possibly be in favor of ISPs picking-and-choosing what sites you can visit based on what you are willing to pay?

That last statement isn’t quite what you may think if you continue to read the rest of this post. It’s meant to serve up a rationale on why we need to take back this heavy handed regulatory cost to ISPs because this regulatory decision has a cost.

Ben continues:

Any regulatory decision — indeed, any decision period — is about tradeoffs. To choose one course of action is to gain certain benefits and incur certain costs, and it is to forgo the benefits (and costs!) of alternative courses of action. What makes evaluating regulations so difficult is that the benefits are usually readily apparent — the bad behavior or outcome is, hopefully, eliminated — but the costs are much more difficult to quantify. Short-term implementation costs may be relatively straightforward, but future innovations and market entries that don’t happen by virtue of the regulation being in place are far more difficult to calculate

But here’s the thing. Ben never offers up a concrete answer to the title of his post and how Comcast and other ISPs are hurt by Title 2. Clearly they are operating under the law right now and just look at their last two quarterly results. Profits are soaring. They are investing in their network. I just got an email from Comcast offering me 150Mbps. That is a 50 percent increase in bandwidth than what they offered me just a short period ago. Not too shabby.

3. The internet needs to be open.

Comcast and other ISPs are interested in controlling how content, services and applications are delivered to their subscribers. They seek to create a fast lane/slow lane model whereby third party content and services pay to get better treatment. But the internet is not a walled garden. It shouldn’t be controlled by the pipe provider. It’s flourished because of it’s openness. And the “trust us” argument doesn’t hold up given their track record (some examples: here, here, here, here).

I’ll end this post with a question. To those opposed to the current network neutrality regulations: can you please tell us, what is it, precisely, that ISPs want to do and can’t do under the current law.

We deserve to know.

Super quick initial thoughts on iPhone X

My iPhone arrived first thing this morning. I got the white model. 

So I’ve only been using it for a few hours but here are some super quick initial thoughts. 

This thing feels so small. Even with a case it feels tiny compared to my iPhone 7 Plus. 

This new edge to edge OLED screen is stunning.

Developers will have to modify their apps to take advantage of the iPhone X display and the much written about “top notch”.  Naturally, Apple has updated their stock apps. Many of my favorite apps by big companies have updated their apps for launch day (Twitter, Uber, Slack, Tumblr, YouTube, Dropbox). I’m super impressed that so many of my favorite indie developers have already done so, including Overcast, Dark Sky, Fantastical, 1password, Todoist. There are still plenty of important apps that will have to update their apps — I’m looking at you Spotify, Trello, Google Maps & Google iOS, I’m optimistic this will happen in short order. 

I already adore FaceID. It’s crazy fast and feels like a game changer. 

Okay, that’s all for now. Feel free to send me tweets @bijan if you have any questions. 

Update, Nov 6: So my only real gripe with the iPhone X is the vibrate mode is way too soft for my taste. It feels like a soft version of the Apple Watch tap feature. Almost makes owning a watch essential now if you tend to turn your iPhone to silent mode and want to feel incoming texts. 

Less is still more

As the mobile app market has developed and matured, I’m seeing more startups create apps that are overly complex and loaded up with feature after feature.

The thought is basically that users are more sophisticated these days, expect more and can handle it.

I disagree. 

Yes, your users are smart. But they want to be delighted. Too many features can feel noisy. It’s like the app is screaming at you or suffering from an identify crisis. 

I would rather see the team put a stake in the ground before the data starts messing with you vision

As yourself, what do you want your product to do — and just do that. 

Some thoughts on Facebook, Google and Twitter and the election of 2016

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary committee demonstrated their significant concern about the FB, Google & Twitter’s impact on the 2016 election. 

The questions and concerns are reasonable and I think all three companies learned a lot during the campaign and election and will make signficant investments to address fake news, fake accounts as well as our foreign adversaries influence on our national elections. There is no silver bullet, rather it will be an ongoing fight that these tech companies will have to deal with. Just like spam and other security threats.

However I would like to point out a few things worth considering. 

First, it appears fake news, bots and secret Russian ads were running for all of 2015 and 2016. It’s unclear to me much influence all of this had in the big picture when Clinton substantially leading in the polls throughout the campaign until FBI Director James Comey sent a letter to Congress on October 27th, just a week before the election. At that point the hyper right wing (Fox News, Breitbart, Infowars, Sinclair) went into warp drive. The Comey concern was latter proved to be a non issue legally but the damage was done. 

Second, speaking of right wing media, lawmakers need to take a close look at Rupert Murdoch & News Corp. News Corp has a massive influence on voters in the United States. They own & control Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and the NY Post. All three took a coordinated and active position on Monday pushing for the firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller who is leading the investigation on Russian interference. To have one man (Murdoch) push his clear agenda in this way and with this much reach warrants clear investigation. Imagine if the CEOs of the tech industry decided by hand what posts are on the home page each day. 

And third, as I earlier stated, I understand the Senate Judiciary Committees concern with our tech companies. But they need to address the elephant in the room: the President refuses to acknowledge the central fact that Russia interfered with our election. The White House denied and continued to deny their campaign worked with the Russians. Yet, have continued concrete evidence to the contrary — campaign advisors pleading guilty, Donald Trump Jr emails making it clear he was seeking Russian assistance, and additional indictments clearly are coming.

The Committee will spend more time looking at Twitter, FB and Google I’m sure. But in my view this line of investigation is a second order bit.