Strategic Advisor in telecommunications, but interested in economics, education, gaming and occasionally politics.
4 stories
·
1 follower

ISEE-3

10 Comments and 33 Shares

Back in early March, I posted comic #1337, Hack, about a wayward spacecraft. ISEE-3/ICE was returning to fly past Earth after many decades of wandering through space. It was still operational, and could potentially be sent on a new mission, but NASA no longer had the equipment to talk to it—and announced that reconstructing the equipment would be too difficult and expensive.

ISEE-3 is just a machine, but it’s a machine we sent on an incredible journey; to have it return home to find our door closed seemed sad to me. In my comic, I imagined a group of internet space enthusiasts banding together to find a way to take control of the probe—although I figured this was just a hopeful fantasy.

I wasn’t the only one who liked the idea of “rescuing” ISEE-3. In April, Dennis Wingo and Keith Cowing Cowling put up a crowdfunding project on RocketHubto try to learn how the lost communications systems worked, reconstruct working versions of them, obtain use of a powerful enough antenna, and commandeer the spacecraft. It seemed like an awfully long shot, but I contributed anyway.

Well, yesterday, Cowing Cowling and his team announced, from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, that they are now in command of the ISEE-3 spacecraft.

Congratulations to the team, and good luck with your new spaceship! Watch out for hackers.

Read the whole story
popular
2228 days ago
reply
Share this story
Delete
9 public comments
Romanikque
2225 days ago
reply
holy cow. Awesome!
Baltimore, MD
ridingsloth
2225 days ago
reply
This is phenomenal, thanks for the share Christin. :D (plus: excuse to re-read an XKCD comic with a sweet Hackers reference, which totally made my morning)
lucasbfr
2227 days ago
reply
Awesome
Paris, France
reconbot
2227 days ago
reply
This is why we can have nice things
New York City
bogorad
2227 days ago
reply
Fuck yeah!
Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
growler
2228 days ago
reply
Awesome
habmala
2228 days ago
reply
+1
Sweden
jimwise
2228 days ago
reply
(!!)
kazriko
2228 days ago
Now they just need to figure out how to fire the engine to get it back on course.
CallMeWilliam
2228 days ago
reply
Clap!

Heartbleed Explanation

27 Comments and 116 Shares
Are you still there, server? It's me, Margaret.
Read the whole story
popular
2273 days ago
reply
Share this story
Delete
27 public comments
Jerom
2270 days ago
reply
Я больше шар не видел. Супер пост.
Moscow, Russia
tomazed
2272 days ago
reply
crystal clear
josephwebster
2274 days ago
reply
This is actually a very good explanation.
Denver, CO, USA
Tobiah
2275 days ago
reply
XKCD explains heartbleed
San Jose, California
Lacrymosa
2276 days ago
reply
good simple explanation of heartbleed
Boston, MA
jchristopherslice
2276 days ago
reply
Computer Science 101
Clemson, SC
expatpaul
2276 days ago
reply
The best explanation of Heartbleed I've seen.
Belgium
chrisminett
2276 days ago
reply
xkcd does it again!
Milton Keynes, UK
katster
2277 days ago
reply
Simple is good.
Sactown, CA
mitthrawnuruodo
2277 days ago
reply
Best explanation, yet.
Wherever
mrnevets
2277 days ago
reply
Heartbleed: a simple explanation. It affected a huge number of websites. Be safe and change your passwords!
macjustice
2278 days ago
reply
Best explanation yet.
Seattle
jkevmoses
2278 days ago
reply
Great explanation of Heartbleed that is causing internet security issues all over the place.
McKinney, Texas
srsly
2278 days ago
reply
You know I'm only sharing this because I've never seen a story this shared before. 56 people! 57 now.

I should get back to work.
Atlanta, Georgia
grammargirl
2278 days ago
reply
Clearest explanation I've seen by FAR.
Brooklyn, NY
smadin
2278 days ago
yeah, I think this does a very good job of making clear JUST HOW BAD this is.
glindsey1979
2278 days ago
reply
If you aren't a techie, this will explain the Heartbleed bug to you super-simply.
Aurora, IL
chrispt
2278 days ago
reply
Perfect explanation of how Heartbleed works.
37.259417,-79.935122
aaronwe
2278 days ago
reply
Perfect.
Denver
sfringer
2278 days ago
reply
In a nutshell!
North Carolina USA
JayM
2278 days ago
reply
.
Atlanta, GA
adamgurri
2278 days ago
reply
nice
New York, NY
bgschaid
2278 days ago
reply
You can’t explain it simpler and more to the point
bogorad
2278 days ago
reply
Умеет!
Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
Covarr
2278 days ago
reply
Ah, now I understand.
Moses Lake, WA
rohitt
2276 days ago
Yes. Clear as a day
revme
2278 days ago
reply
This actually makes it really clear.
Seattle, WA
teh_g
2278 days ago
reply
Alt text: Are you still there, server? It's me Margaret.
Roseville, CA

You won’t have broadband competition without regulation

1 Share

Tyler Cowen isn’t worried about the cable companies’ broadband monopoly. His argument, in a nutshell: if you can’t afford broadband, that’s not the end of the world: you can always go to the public library, or order DVDs by mail from Netflix. And if the cable companies’ broadband price is very high, then that just increases the amount of money that alternative broadband providers can potentially make in this “extremely dynamic market sector”. Indeed, he says, if regulators were to force cable companies to decrease their prices, then that would only serve to decrease the amount of money that a competitor could make, and thereby lengthen the amount of time it will take “to reach a more competitive equilibrium”.

The first big thing that Cowen misses here is television. Cowen knows that there’s more to broadband than watching movies on Netflix, but what he doesn’t really grok is that there’s more to Netflix than watching movies on Netflix. Netflix has moved away from the movies model (which was a constraint of the DVDs-by-mail model) to a TV model. And that makes sense, because Americans really love their TV. They love it so much that cable-TV penetration is still substantially higher than broadband penetration. As a result, any new broadband company will not be competing against the standalone cost of broadband from the cable operators: instead, they will be competing against the marginal extra cost of broadband from the cable company, for people who already have — and won’t give up — their cable TV.

If you’re a cable-TV subscriber, the cost of upgrading to a double-play package of cable TV and broadband is actually very low; what’s more, there’s a certain amount of convenience involved in just dealing with one company for both services. The result is the barriers to entry, in the broadband market, are incredibly high. Cowen talks about pCells and Google Fiber, but really they prove my point: pCells are untested technology which would surely cost a mind-boggling amount of money to roll out nationally, while it’s taking even the mighty Google a huge amount of time and money to bring its own broadband service to a relatively small number of mid-size cities.

What’s more, all of that effort is redundant and duplicative: we already have perfectly adequate pipes running into our homes, capable of delivering enough broadband for nearly everybody’s purposes. Creating a massive parallel national network of new pipes (or pCells, or whatever) is, frankly, a waste of money. The economics of wholesale bandwidth are little-understood, but they’re also incredibly effective, and have created a system whereby the amount of bandwidth in the US is more than enough to meet the needs of all its inhabitants. What’s more, as demand increases, the supply of bandwidth quite naturally increases to meet it. What we don’t need is anybody spending hundreds of billions of dollars to build out a brand-new nationwide broadband network.

What we do need, on the other hand, is the ability of different companies to provide broadband services to America’s households. And here’s where the real problem lies: the cable companies own the cable pipes, and the regulators refuse to force them to allow anybody else to provide services over those pipes. This is called local loop unbundling, it’s the main reason for low broadband prices in Europe, and of course it’s vehemently opposed by the cable companies.

Local loop unbundling, in the broadband space, would be vastly more effective than waiting for some hugely expensive new technology to be built, nationally, in parallel to the existing internet infrastructure. The problem with Cowen’s dream is precisely the monopoly rents that the cable companies are currently extracting. If and when any new competitor arrives, the local monopolist has more room to cut prices and drive the competitor out of business than the newcomer has.

In other words, the market in delivering broadband to the home is pretty much the opposite of the international text-messaging market which was disrupted so effectively (and so profitably) by WhatsApp. The initial impetus for WhatsApp came in Europe, where lots of people want to communicate with their friends across borders: from Germany to Austria, say, or from the Netherlands to Belgium. Text messaging across borders is expensive, both to send and to receive, and WhatsApp used those phones’ existing internet connectivity to be able to provide a better service at a price of zero. Since the mobile operators weren’t willing to bring their international text-messaging prices down to zero, they simply lost tens of billions of dollars’ worth of text messages to WhatsApp and other internet-based messaging services.

In broadband, by contrast, it’s the cable operators who could, if they wanted to, bring the marginal cost of broadband down to zero. (There’s no reason, in principle, why they can’t provide broadband for free to anybody with a cable-TV subscription.) Meanwhile, any would-be disruptor, needing to repay a massive capital investment, is going to have less ability to slash prices than the incumbents do.

So don’t count on competition to bring down prices in the broadband space. This is an area where the regulators — and only the regulators — can really be effective.

Read the whole story
Share this story
Delete

Monopolizing bandwidth

1 Share

Paul Krugman makes a simple but powerful point about Comcast’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable:

One puzzle about recent U.S. experience has been the disconnect between profits and investment. Profits are at a record high as a share of G.D.P., yet corporations aren’t reinvesting their returns in their businesses. Instead, they’re buying back shares, or accumulating huge piles of cash. This is exactly what you’d expect to see if a lot of those record profits represent monopoly rents.

Broadband is the area which Krugman, and most other opponents of the Comcast-Time Warner tie-up, are most worried about. It can’t be a good idea to give a single company 37% of the market in broadband, especially when its real monopoly power would be much stronger still:

The reason this deal is scary is that for the vast majority of businesses in 19 of the 20 largest metropolitan areas in the country, their only choice for a high-capacity wired connection will be Comcast. Comcast, in turn, has its own built-in conflicts of interest: It will be serving the interests of its shareholders by keeping investments in its network as low as possible — in particular, making no move to provide the world-class fiber-optic connections that are now standard and cheap in other countries — and extracting as much rent as it can, in all kinds of ways. Comcast, for purposes of today’s public , is calling itself a “cable company.” It no longer is. Comcast sells infrastructure subject to neither competition nor a cop on the beat.

The argument from Comcast is, essentially, that it doesn’t matter whether it has a national monopoly, because it (and Time Warner Cable) already have local monopolies. If individuals and businesses don’t have any choice of broadband providers right now, then what difference does it make if the existing providers consolidate?

The argument does have a little bit of merit, if you believe that the main reason not to have monopolies is to encourage competition. But take a step back, and it’s abundantly clear that the US has something approaching a national broadband crisis on its hands.

_70717869_countries_with_high_speed_broadband.gif

In comparison with the rest of the developed world, the US has slower broadband speeds and higher broadband prices than just about anybody. When you do find exceptions, they always turn out to be cases of a very clear monopoly: Carlos Slim more or less owns broadband in Mexico, for instance, while a company called Southern Cross controls all of the bandwidth into New Zealand.

What’s more, in cases like Mexico and New Zealand, the rule of supply and demand at least still obtains. Broadband prices are high — but in large part that’s because the supply is constrained. The supply is constrained mainly because the monopolist sees no particular reason to increase it: they’re already charging monopoly prices, which means that they wouldn’t make more money by providing better service.

The US, by contrast, is unique in that it has very high broadband prices and an abundance of bandwidth. The country as a whole — or at least its urban centers — has no shortage of bandwidth at all. But if you want to connect your home or business to the major internet backbones, the cable-company gatekeepers will charge you an arm and a leg for doing so.

Farhad Manjoo has the explanation for why this should be. Internet service is very cheap for the cable companies to provide, and it’s also price-sensitive: if you reduce the price, more people will sign up. As a result, the cable companies would make more money from their broadband offerings if they reduced the price. So why don’t they? Because right now, 91% of Americans with broadband also have cable TV (I think, I can’t find the link for that right now), and the cable companies make their real money from TV, not broadband. The cable companies therefore have every incentive to price broadband as high as possible, so as to make the marginal extra cost of getting TV as well as small as possible.

In the US, cable TV rates are very high; as such, the best way to prevent cord-cutting is to ensure that broadband rates are also very high. That’s bad for broadband adoption, but it’s reasonably effective at keeping people paying very large sums for TV every month. In other words, high broadband rates are a bit like most newspaper paywalls: they’re not so much a way of making lots of money themselves, as they are a way of persuading you to pay lots of money for something else. (Physical newspaper delivery, or cable TV.)

If Comcast is allowed to buy Time Warner Cable, that model won’t change — but it will be reinforced. The cable companies will continue to price broadband at uneconomically high rates, in order to protect their cable TV cash cows. And as Krugman notes, they will have essentially no incentive to improve their own broadband infrastructure, since providing high-quality broadband is not how they make money. Instead, they will just continue to extract monopoly rents, which is good for their shareholders, but bad for everybody else.

There isn’t a market solution, here: there’s only a regulatory solution. The US government regulates the amount that the post office can charge, so that everybody has access to the mail; it also regulates the maximum amount that phone companies can charge for basic landline telephone service. Both of those regulations are beginning to look increasingly anachronistic, in an era where the internet has replaced both mail and telephony. But the obvious regulatory response — to mandate that utilities provide universal access to low-price, high-quality broadband — seems as far away as ever. If Comcast is allowed to buy Time Warner Cable, the current model will become even more entrenched. And the USA will slide ever further backwards in the global connectivity race.

Read the whole story
Share this story
Delete