SuperTuesday is coming up in less than a week, and many people, (including myself,) are chomping at the bit to talk about politics.
Don’t get me wrong; this is a blog focused on issues that affect network performance in enterprise (read: business) environments, and politics and vendor blogs go together like potassium chlorate and gummi bears – a whole lot of heat, sparks, and violent reactions that take forever to die down. But, if nothing else, U.S. technology policy affects U.S. technology companies. Network neutrality and broadband policy will affect those companies hoping to roll out SAAS solutions, H1B visas will affect the tech job market and innovation, and of course there are the fundamental questions about data security and privacy that have become issues over the past decade.
Among the tech blogosphere there were two politics-related events that may be of interest to our readers. The first was that Michael Arrington of Tech Crunch interviewed Mitt Romney. Arrington focused on technology growth policies in the U.S., Internet taxes, H1B visas, venture capital tax issues, and renewable energy, and it’s an interesting read if you’re a Republican currently mulling which candidate to support in the primaries.
The second, from a stranger source, came from Randall Munroe, the author of the technology focused webcomic, XKCD, who used his public forum to endorse Barack Obama, because of Obama’s association with copyright-reformer Lawrence Lessig, his support for network neutrality, among other reasons.
(This may not seem significant, but Munroe is not just any comic artist. XKCD focuses on high tech issues – including a few editorial cartoons regarding technology and science policy – and it is one of the most popular on the Internet, rivaling Penny Arcade. Because of this, Google invited Munroe to speak last month as part of their Authors@Google series of lectures, an honor shared with Paul Krugman, Michael Bloomberg, and Tom Brokaw, among others. In less than two years, Munroe has become the pre-eminent technology editorial cartoonist – all with a few crudely drawn stick figures.)
Whether or not Munroe’s endorsement will carry any weight is yet to be seen, but that doesn’t mean that technology issues aren’t real and considerable, and if the guys who actually know something about technology don’t speak up, well, then we’re left with the talking heads on cable news shows who have trouble understanding even basic computer concepts, let alone subtle computer issues.
During the main election season, technology issues will probably not be the foremost on voters’ minds, so primary elections are extremely important for those who believe that a solid technology policy is important to U.S. national prosperity. While we’d feel uncomfortable (and kind of icky) endorsing any particular candidate, we’ve put together a list of the top ten current technological controversies which you should consider before voting.
1) Intellectual Property Laws
There is not one portion of the tech industry that is untouched by the intellectual property laws, both current and proposed. First, any company that makes software, either for resale or in-house, has to be aware of their rights under copyright law to preserve their own products. Any company that uses – in whole or in part – open-source software needs to be aware of how open-source licenses work – that is, open-source code remains under the copyright of the author, who may be very specific about who may or may not use the license.
Additionally, the current entertainment industry crackdown on pirated materials affects enterprise networking in a number of ways. First, there’s the question of liability of an end-user on the corporate network uses it to distribute material when they do not have the permission of the copyright holder – while traffic is a consideration, it’s also a consideration that if you aggressively patrol your network for copyright violations, you can find yourself liable if a copyright violation gets through the tracks. This leaves enterprise networking in a precarious position – police the network and assume the legal liability, or take sanctuary in “safe-harbor” provisions and allow the traffic of illicitly traded files to clog up your network.
There is a middle ground where certain types of traffic can be prevented from taking up bandwidth necessary for business applications – without looking at the individual files in deep packet inspection, using QoS policies, and that seems to be the best solution right now. However, any changes to copyright law would have a profound effect on the ways that companies do business, and that is why everyone in IT should be keeping an eye on this issue.
2) Broadband Penetration/Infrastructure
American broadband infrastructure is simply not quite up to the standards of other countries. Japan, Korea, and France are often touted as having much better broadband than the U.S., with various explanations given regarding U.S. having a lower population density. However, it seems dubious because there’s little correlation between population density and broadband penetration when you look at actual states.
The U.S. population density may be 31/km^2 compared to France’s 113/km^2 or 337/km^2 for Japan, but a lot of that is Alaska and Texas and whatnot. California has a population density of 90.27/km^2 – rivaling France – yet does not have France’s broadband speed – and considering that California is one of America’s technological “bread baskets,” this is a serious problem. On the other coast, New Jersey has a population density of 438/km^2 – and New Jersey’s broadband is not better than the rest of the nation. Additionally, even considering that nationwide population density number, Norway, Sweden, and Finland, have lower population densities and both faster broadband speeds and greater household penetration.
Just as the highways developed by the Eisenhower administration helped to foster America’s post-war manufacturing boom, better broadband infrastructure can help foster America’s technology industry. An ubiquitous, high quality broadband can mean more applications can be run as a Web service out on the Internet instead of the WAN. More bandwidth for everybody means that the bandwidth for your company becomes cheaper and they can afford more of it, which means that existing apps will run faster (presuming there aren’t other network performance problems) and that you’ll be able to run high-bandwidth apps such as Cisco Telepresence.
Even if your company is sitting on more dark fiber than a bowl of NinjaBran™, every company relies on smaller companies as vendor product makers, as distributors, as customers – and those smaller companies are relying more on SAAS solutions. In the grand scheme of the business world ecosystem, communications infrastructure policy can have far-reaching effects.
3) Spectrum Regulation/Allocation
When people think of bandwidth, they often think of bits traveling down pipes. The other type of bandwidth is just as important; the bandwidth of the electromagnetic spectrum. Because you can’t run two different signals on the same frequency (they would interfere with each other,) the FCC allocates which frequencies are going to be used for which purpose – and some frequencies are better suited towards different purposes.
For example, currently, there is an auction for the 700MHZ band – a slice of the electromagnetic spectrum which can penetrate through walls, and can cover a very wide area. This made it very desirable for the television stations which now control the bandwidth, and also very desirable for cell phone companies currently bidding for the bandwidth when the television stations must return the bandwidth to the FCC as part of the analog/digital TV switchover in 2009.
Anything that deals with broadcasting of any sort – wireless networking, WiMax, even telecommunications ownership – goes through the FCC, making it one of the most important and powerful Federal commissions. Decisions made by the FCC can affect any rollouts your company makes regarding wireless networking or cellular technology.
4) Network Neutrality
If you haven’t been keeping up on this one, it’s a doozy, and you might want to check out the very informative Wikipedia page on the subject. The possibility of network neutrality legislation – or the actions of big-business players in the absence of network neutrality legislation, can mean fundamental changes in the way that bits travel over the wire.
We won’t get into a rundown of issues here, but while you can plan for a neutral Internet or a non-neutral Internet, it is much harder to prepare contingencies while this matter remains up in the air.
Some candidates have expressed support for network neutrality legislation, others opposition, and still others ambivalence – and depending on which position is the best for you and your company, it may be something to consider.
We’ll cover Telecom Immunity and Privacy, Open Government Initiatives, Energy Policy, and Immigration and Education in Part II of this series tomorrow. In the meantime, feel free to leave a comment below to discuss these issues.