Net Neutrality; Climate

Chaos Manor View, Tuesday, March 17, 2015

St. Patrick’s Day

Netanyahu is claiming victory in the Israeli election. At the last moment he rejected the two-state policy favored by the US State Dept., and this promises interesting times. Many years ago I advised the Israelis to claim what they wanted, build a wall around it, and give the rest to the Palestinians. They did that, with their Security walls, and abandoned Gaza, taking with them reluctant settlers. The result was rockets and tunnels, and an Israeli incursion into what would have been Palestinian sovereign territory, with many Arab casualties. Since then I have had no advice to offer. I wish them well, but the situation is grave. I use the word advisedly.



FCC Open Internet Ruling: A First Reaction

By Alex Pournelle


The FCC finally released its “Net Neutrality” rules, a good three weeks after the vote. The ruling is over 300 pages, including commentaries and dissenting opinions (About which more later). There will be longer, more knowledgeable and in-depth commentary on the entire ruling; consider this my first take.

Officially titled “In the Matter of Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet, GN Docket No. 14-28”, the online version is here, download here. Unfortunately, a first read suggests it’s the full employment act for communications lawyers, a great opportunity for lobbying, lawfare and rent-seeking by large corporations, looking to gain unfair advantage—the very groups to be regulated.

In general, the FCC regulates best when it regulates least, and when a thousand ideas can elbow their way into the marketplace, then succeed or fail on their own merits. Let’s illustrate how.

AWS-3 and CMRS: (Mostly) Good Examples of Federal Regulation

The run-up to the FCC’s “Net Neutrality” ruling completely overshadowed Auction 97. Better known as the Advanced Wireless Spectrum 3 (AWS-3) auction, this was the biggest offering of radio spectrum in over a decade, with 31 bidders obtaining 1,611 licenses. AWS-3 was a big deal, and a good example of how government can work well, and not so well.

The Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act (CSEA) mandated the study and (seven years later) reuse/shared use of various radio bands, particularly for cellular-type services. Marketwatchers thought final proceeds from AWS-3 would be in the low billions, but final receipts hit almost $45 billion, for radio frequencies around 1700 MHz, formerly the sole domain of Federal agencies. Timing was good; wireless data usage was already exploding and projected to rise quickly.

The friction, regulatory burden and overhead of government compliance for AWS-3 has been quite low, by design. And it looks like these licenses will be put into use just as fast as the legal difficulties and spectrum-sharing (Some Feds will continue to be co-users) can be worked out. Cell sites will have more capacity to connect calls, surfers, texters and video uploaders.

Commercial Mobile Radio Service (“CMRS”) is the regulatory classification for mobile telephone services, consolidating PCS, cellular and most of SMR. This light touch also let innovation fly: CMRS licensees can (and have) implemented CDMA, straight GSM, WiMAX and LTE, as technologies improved and the market responded. It would have been very difficult or impossible for the FCC to respond to each signaling standard in depth, but fortunately it didn’t have to.

Not every product succeeded: Qualcomm thought they could broadcast television to handsets as a separate product (MediaFLO), discovered they could not, then sold the spectrum to AT&T, who now uses it as straight cellular spectrum. Qualcomm didn’t give up; it’s pushing LTE-Broadcast to, well, broadcast video to dozens or hundreds of simultaneous viewers, this time within the LTE standard, with help, and with live demos.

Market Forces, Market Innovation

None of these innovations could have happened (or not as quickly) with a much stricter, permissions-based governmental approval cycle, instead of the lassez faire regime for CMRS. Adam Smith’s invisible hand works on the Internet, and it works in RF re-use. (Arguably, it hasn’t worked in terrestrial radio, a discussion for another day.)

LTE-Broadcast did need approval, not by the FCC but the 3GPP. The 3GPP sets standards for LTE communications (currently in Release 13). But the 3GPP isn’t a governmental group; it “unites seven telecommunications standard development organizations”, developing worldwide standards without direct governmental involvement. Approval is less political and certainly more market-savvy than the bad, old, per-market RF technology approvals of the PTT era, or pre-Judge Greene AT&T. The sort-of open-market, engineering-centric approach of the various 3GPP working groups have served the public—both US and global—well.

And that’s the lesson: More freedom, particularly fewer governmental regulations, have allowed a rapid advance in communications standards, capital investment in cellular infrastructure, and the battle between Android and iPhone. This let-the-nerds-loose approach set the stage for such astounding improvements as Artemis’s claimed 35X more efficient pCell cellular demonstration, Alcatel’s lightRadio, and SpiderCloud Wireless, just to name three.

Government Rules, Corporate Shenanigans

On the other side: Government regulation. During AWS-3, bidder DISH Network used tiny subsidiaries to obtain small business discounts for their bids, a clever bit of regulatory jujitsu that did not go unnoticed by their competitors.

That bit of rent-seeking illustrates the bigger problem: Corporations, especially in markets with large sums of money at stake, will use every tool they have to gain unfair advantage. They’d much prefer spending a few million on lobbying to a few billion on competition, which is not good for consumers. The more opportunities in the law, the more they will. There are many in this ruling, especially compared to the truly light regulation under CMRS.

That’s the key issue with the FCC “Open Internet” ruling: If a camel is a horse designed by committee, the FCC Trojan Camelid clearly is nosing open the tent flap. The FCC forbore certain regulations on the Internet, but claims the power to regulate as they see fit under Title II. Many commentators have, incorrectly, said “over 700 rules [under Title II] aren’t going to be applied.” That’s incomplete and inaccurate. The current commissioners cannot bind future ones; what’s to say future commissioners—or the bureaucracy—will stop forebearing?

I’m not the only one to say this—there have been many and many a counter-argument made. FCC Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly voted against the proposal for good reasons. Pai’s legal objections are summarized here; his policy objections here. Verizon released a “Throwback Thursday” response in Morse code, and another one from a vintage 1930s typewriter, in protest to using old law in this brave new world. There has even been buyer’s remorse (Sort of) from Netflix. Frontier Communications (Who’s buying Verizon’s wireline services in three states) says it’s happy with the reclassification, but that was before the regulations were published. It’s also unsurprising, coming from a company used to (Or maybe counting on) Title II regulation for wireline services. Remember, AT&T was perfectly happy with the regulatory climate before divestiture; it took a big sledgehammer to crack open actual telecom competition.

The Big Show Continues

This is just the first inning. There will be lawsuits, stays, further arguments and court cases. In a future article, I’ll dig deeper into what I see as the fundamental flaws in this ruling (including some I don’t see others discussing). I’ll discuss the “Bright line” rules against blocking, throttling and paid prioritization. I’ll suggest better remedies (Spoiler: Competition) and two Modest Proposals for improving the current Internet. I also welcome your thoughts.

Alex Pournelle works daily to arrange Internet access and utility to major shows, sporting events, etc.


We will continue the discussion, and Alex will continue his essay.


: Is our Climate Self Regulating?


I can think of a valid reason for being worried about what might happen if the Earth gets too warm and it has nothing to do with rising Oceans, melting Polar Ice or other Warmest visions of catastrophe.

What if the Earth’s Climate is self regulating, but with a primitive thermostat that can only control temperature within a band of plus or minus 50 degrees F.

When average temperatures rise above a certain point there is more evaporation from the Oceans creating more cloud cover. This in turn creates more precipitation. Some of this precipitation falls as snow. Snow cover, being white, reflects more solar energy reducing temperatures creating larger areas of snow cover. If this happens to coincide with a Solar Minimum, After a few years, we have the start of the next Ice Age.

Since this has been going on for several million years it might be prudent to look at sources of warming that are not connected to Human activities. We do know that Solar output is variable and that there are many outlets for the heat if the Earth’s molten core both above and below sea level.

What to do? If Earth’s Climate is set up to stop warming by starting an Ice Age and the mechanisms of the warming are beyond our control, perhaps we should be looking at ways to stop an Ice Age. For starters, how about spreading Carbon Black on the snow fields to allow the absorption of Solar Energy rather than reflecting it.

Bob Holmes

Since we are here, it is clear that Earth’s climate is to some extent self-regulating: human activities cannot have had much to do with it until recently. Slash and burn peoples don’t have that much effect on forest fires. It is also evident that at least for the past half million years or so, the trend has been to the cold side, with the present period being Interglacial. It’s a long Interglacial Period, but it seems that the “Normal” state of the Earth is ice well into what we call the Temperate Zones, at least in the Northern Hemisphere where much of the land is.

Obviously we have the technology to affect this greatly. A law requiring white roofs everywhere in the US would make significant climate changes – with unpredictable results, of course. The models aren’t that good, and must satisfy a number of political restraints if they are to retain their funding.



SSPS And No Pollution

There is always pollution. For the SSPS the pollution is heat. The heat comes from the transmitted power lost to the atmosphere, that which is lost in distribution, and from the dissipation of the remaining energy upon its use. In the end, every single extra watt of power collected and transmitted to the Earth will end up as heat in the environment.
I will admit that this is a far cleaner pollutant than CO2, mercury, uranium, sulphur, nitrous oxide, etc. that we currently pump into the environment in pursuit of energy, but it is a pollutant none-the-less.
Looking at 2013, the U.S. alone consumed 35.9 quadrillion BTU of energy. Per capita, that comes to 143.6 million BTU. Spread that over 7.5 billion people and we get 1.074 quintillion BTU. Those 7.5 billion people actually used 550 quadrillion BTU in 2013, so having them all use as much energy as the average American raises world consumption by a factor of 1.958, which is spitting distance to a doubling. So that is twice as much heat trapped in the environment every year, which is, by definition, global warming.
The question is, how much global warming? It may well be negligible and most likely is right now. SSPS would be a huge step in the right direction for world energy production. I bring up the pollution issue because, ultimately, there will be a limit to how much heat we can add to the planet without fundamentally changing the environment. If we do not think about this, then we will be as remiss as every prior generation who gave no thought to the impact of the wastes they produced. We will be as myopic as all prior generations who looked at the world as being infinite in extent and therefor infinitely capable of dissipating our wastes.
We are smarter than that.

: Kevin L Keegan

SSPS can intercept heat that would come to the Earth anyway; no additional heat regardless of the efficiency of the operation. It can also gather energy from sunlight that would otherwise not come to Earth, if the concern is cooling. Yes; this takes time and planning. So does carbon tax.


Energy and Environment

California could power itself three to five times over with solar

By Puneet Kollipara March 17 at 9:00 AM

Workers install solar panels on a rooftop at a home in Palmetto Bay, Fla. California could supply enough solar power on or near developed infrastructure to meet the state’s power needs up to five times over, new research suggests. (Kerry Sheridan/AFP/Getty Images)

Deserts and remote fields are popular spots for building vast arrays of solar panels, which generate dramatically more energy than individual homeowner rooftop installations. These areas are rich in sunlight while offering plenty of clear, flat land to work with. But what if we didn’t always have to go all the way out to these remote and potentially ecologically fragile areas? What if we could simply drive down the street and make use of the buildings and lands in areas we’ve already developed?

A new study suggests that such a strategy could work in a state like California, which is working aggressively to boost its renewable energy use. And it could provide a lot of power. There’s enough space suitable for solar power on or near land that humans occupy in the state to power three to five of today’s Californias, researchers report in Nature Climate Change today.

California is a clean energy trailblazer on a number of fronts. It’s a part of a carbon emissions trading program with other Pacific states, and has also set a goal of supplying one-third of its electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind by 2020, and cutting its carbon dioxide emissions 80 percent by 2050.

Of course, no energy source is perfect, and solar is no exception. Not only does it work only at certain times of the day, but it also requires a lot of open, flat land to generate solar power at the scale of power plants. As a result, a lot of solar power projects are undertaken in deserts and other remote areas where open land is plentiful.

But some of these lands could host delicate ecosystems that might become more difficult for creatures to live in if they’re covered with solar panels. Also, these sites can be far from where power is actually needed; in these cases, miles of transmission lines have to be built to deliver that electricity to consumers.

So to reduce these problems, it might behoove us to take as much advantage of open spaces in developed areas as we can, whether on roofs or on the ground. Rebecca Hernandez and Christopher Field at Stanford University and the Carnegie Institution for Science decided to see how feasible that would be in California, given the state’s aggressive push for clean energy.

[The best idea in a long time: Covering parking lots with solar panels]

They focused their attention on the two main forms of solar power generation: photovoltaic cells, which generate electricity by absorbing sunlight directly, and concentrating solar power (CSP), which involves using arrays of mirrors to focus sunlight into one area where it can be converted into electricity (though these projects require more area to operate than the smallest photovoltaic projects do).

The researchers assessed California’s land to see how suitable it would be for solar power projects of either type, whether on scales suitable for powering individual homes and businesses or for powering entire communities. The most “compatible” places, they said, found in just around 8.1 percent of the state’s land, would be in areas that humans have modified or developed in some way, and it would have enough open and mostly-flat space to work with. These places might include not just the rooftops of homes, businesses, warehouses and other buildings, but also parking lots, farmland, grassy fields and golf courses.

California has 10,535 square miles (roughly the size of Massachusetts) and 2,422 square miles (roughly the size of Delaware) of this “compatible” land for photovoltaics and CSP systems, respectively, the researchers found. On these compatible lands, photovoltaics could provide about 14,600 terawatt-hours (or 1 billion kilowatt-hours) a year in power, and CSP systems could provide about 6,000 terawatt-hours a year. Compare that with California’s total energy use across all sectors, from residential to commercial to transportation and industrial, in 2011: 2,231 terawatt-hours.

All in all, depending on what combination of photovoltaics and CSP systems you choose to use on these lands, the resulting amount of energy would fall somewhere roughly between three and five times what California used in 2011. And that’s all before we’ve even discussed other places that aren’t ideally compatible but could still potentially host solar projects, such as federally protected lands.

That’s not to say that we can go all-in on solar power or abandon desert projects outright. People won’t want to cover every last parking lot or rooftop with a CSP system or solar panel, and other factors such as the availability of transmission lines serve as another limiting factor.

But the findings do drive home one point that’s often lost in the discussion over solar power: To get it, you don’t have to go to the desert or to that far-away, fragile ecosystem. You may just have to drive down the street.

For places like Southern and Mid California, where the sun shines most of the time and much of the power is used for daytime cooling, direct solar is a reasonable way to get power. It doesn’t kill birds, we have experience with its operation, and it’s fairly low maintenance—indeed much of the maintenance can be put off on residents and not State employees. Of course the Sun doesn’t shine at night, and is low in the sky for hours, but power demand is lower at those times. You need power storage and generation to get through winter, and rainy seasons, but that’s doable most places. Of course California unions have a say in all this.

For New England and the rest of the nation it’s not so clear. Much better storage is needed than we have at present; but there are signs that this is happening so that we may yet see Manhattan covered with solar cells…

Wonder battery announcement

Dr. Pournelle,
Being something of a skeptic [perhaps bordering on a cynic] it was with a jaundiced eye that I read the full article — In Battery Revolution, a Clean Leap Forward — in your 3.16.15 View.
The article in the WSJ was remarkably free of detail. I suspect the author, Christopher Mims, was regurgitating a press release, judging from the breathless style of writing. Readers might best refer to the comments after the article in the WSJ, for a better appreciation of the battery claims.
I would welcome battery technology that could drive a five-passenger car 300 miles, pulling a boat at 70 mph, and recharge in five minutes, but I won’t see it in my lifetime. The energy density of the Dyson investment would give me pause. We’ve already got Li-ion batteries spontaneously combusting.
Pete Nofel

Yes; but we also have evidence that Dyson is more than a dreamer. We watch, some with more confidence than others. I agree, energy densities matter, and safety is a great concern.

New Li-On Battery Lasts Twice as Long—and, Backed By Dyson, Could Sell

Rarely a week passes without the report of a new battery technology, but most appear destined to remain within the lab for years. Now, though, a start-up called Sakti3 has a li-on battery that lasts twice as long as most—and $15 million of support from Dyson to make it a reality.

Sakti3’s new batteries make use of a variety of new materials and processing techniques to increase their capacity, Technology Review reports. Perhaps chief amongst them is the fact that it embraces solid-state battery technology—meaning that the flammable liquid electrolyte that causes battery fires is swapped out for a solid material. In turn, that allows the company to use new high-energy storage materials that only work in a solid-state set-up. Those changes provides twice the energy density compared to normal li-on batteries.

The technology—the exact details of which remain under wraps—is compelling enough to have drawn the interest of James Dyson, who has now invested $15 million into Sakti3 to give its final push from prototype to market. Perhaps it’s the design philosophy of the company that appealed to the engineer: Sakti3 prepares its prototypes on standard manufacturing equipment instead of custom lab kit, in order to make it as easy as possible to make them commercializable in the future. Whatever the reason, Dyson claims said that “Sakti3 has achieved leaps in performance which current battery technology simply can’t.”

Of course, taking the technology from its existing prototype to market won’t necessarily be easy, even with Dyson’s support—but the partnership makes it far more likely. Perhaps your next vacuum cleaner will be powered by Sakti3. [Technology Review]


‘The only explanation they can conjure for the policy’s continued existence is bureaucratic: Maintaining the one-child regime now employs so many officials – in the hundreds of thousands, perhaps more – that China hasn’t been willing to put them out of work.’


Roland Dobbins

Das Buros steht immer.



Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.




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