Public Service Recognition Week

To celebrate Public Service Recognition Week (should’ve been a month), I watched Ikiru. In this film, Kanji Watanabe, an aging bureaucrat, notes three rules for bureaucratic success:

  1. Always be on time.
  2. Never take any vacation.
  3. Do no work.

He also poignantly sings

Life is brief
Fall in love, maidens
Before the crimson bloom
Fades from your lips
Before the tides of passion
Cool within you

With less than a year to live, Watanabe takes a vacation and works passionately and successfully to transform a mosquito-infested cesspool into a children’s playground.

Kanji Watanabe died a hero in public service. He received full bureaucratic honors in his funeral. May the memory of Kanji Watanabe live on in the public service of bureaucrats around the world!

rights to communicate using radio spectrum

An important trend in communications policy has been to give persons more freedom to communicate using radio devices. The U.K. Office of Communication (Ofcom) currently is consulting on new ways of defining licenses for communicating using radio spectrum. Ofcom proposes to specify in licenses spectrum usage rights. It proposes to define these rights by specifying geographic boundaries and about thirteen parameters relating to power flux density, including parameters relating to time and location density. Of course, many other parameters will be relevant to modeling and measuring these rights. Compared to the structure of parameters embedded in specific technologies and applications, this new structure of license parameters gives licensees more freedom to communicate using different radio technologies and for different purposes.

Adjudication of spectrum usage rights through an institution separate from the spectrum regulatory body would make spectrum usage rights less uncertain and more secure. The authoritative meaning of spectrum usage rights may not be clear. If the spectrum regulatory body adjudicates the spectrum rights that it issues, it can further specify or revise the rights it grants through the adjudicatory process. If an independent body adjudicates the rights, then the spectrum regulatory body cannot do this. Independent adjudication disciplines the public specification of spectrum usage rights. Similarly, the spectrum regulatory body might prefer at some future time to revise spectrum usage rights granted earlier. Having an independent institution adjudicate spectrum usage rights makes those rights more secure under subsequent changes in spectrum policy.

cities are important structures for internetworking

The growth of the Internet has emphasized functional rather than structural aspects of networking. The end-to-end principle, the concept of “the Internet,” and widespread concern about “bandwidth of connections to the Internet” push into the background ownership interfaces between networks and the geographic structure of interconnection. One result is that opportunities to innovate at the edges conflict with network “pipe” innovation, i.e. the paradox of the best network.

Major industry trends have major implications for network geography. Municipal networks, such as wi-fi networks or open-access municipal fibre optic networks, are a rapidly developing form of network infrastructure. From a regional or national perspective, municipal networks make cities important elements of network structure. If you just understand these networks to be providing Internet connectivity, you miss that they connect residents of a city to other residents of that city in a distinctive network organization.

Network geography significantly affects the cost of providing network services. If communication bandwidth cost is distance-senstitive, then local caching reduces the cost of distributing content. That effect is particulary important for high-bandwidth content such as video. Even if you believe that bandwidth costs will rapidly go to zero irrespective of physical distance, transaction costs associated with providing services are likely to remain distance-sensitive. At any given degree of infrastructure ownership consolidation, the number of ownership interfaces are likely to increase with distance. Ownership interfaces are a source of transaction costs. In addition, customer behavior and customer service have local components. Local knowledge allows a service provider to respond better to (local) customers’ needs.

The economic geography of internetworking is starting to attract more attention. In an interesting presentation at the recent Firstmile conference, Mike Hrybyk discussed BCnet transit exchanges in British Columbia (if you’re wondering, that’s in Canada). These transit exchanges provide a low-transaction-cost environment for the exchange of network services, including peering of local users and user purchasing of network services from a variety of carrier suppliers. Research and educational institutions seeking to foster local network development and to experiment with innovative networks have led the development of these transit exchanges.

The Internet is wonderful. Future forms of internetworking can be even better. Recognizing cities as important structures for internetworking can help to make the Internet better.

essential reading to prepare for the future

Ponder the possibilities for funding network infrastructure. Think about how to contact persons dispersed after a cataclysm. Understand the deep significance of exchanging a chicken. This isn’t highly successful fiction, or merely a fantasy game that you can enjoy from the comfort of your telecom fortress. If you’re not reading Telepocalypse, you really are gonna be left behind!

fortress telecom

spineless gene contributes to smell, taste, and color vision

As an FCC bureaucrat, I’m intrigued by a recent discovery about the spineless gene. I’m trying to understand better the demand for communications services, particularly across sensory modes. A leading researcher on the spineless gene in fruit flies explained:

“Spineless plays a key role in the antenna and maxillary palp, the two major olfactory organs of the fly,” said Ian Duncan. “It’s also important in mechanosensory bristles and in the taste receptors of the legs, wings, and mouth parts. There has been a sensory theme to the gene, and now we learn from Claude’s work that it plays a key role in color vision.”

The spineless gene also produces certain random structures apparent in the eye:

“Nobody knew what controlled this random pattern,” said Dianne Duncan. “Now we know it’s spineless.”

This discovery may provide an important insight into the evolution of the communications industry.

fruit fly

For more information and images of invertebrates, check out this month’s Circus of the Spineless at Burning Silo.

law review article distorts reality

A forthcoming Michigan Law Review article on J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series indicates that these books present a “scathing portrait of government”:

a Ministry of Magic run by self-interested bureaucrats bent on increasing and protecting their power, often to the detriment of the public at large.

The author, a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, explains that Rowling’s critique of government:

is also particularly effective because, despite how awful Rowling’s Ministry of Magic looks and acts, it bears such a tremendous resemblance to current Anglo-American government.

This is mere fantasy. It’s self-interested scholarly attention-seeking that makes little contribution to public knowledge at large.

los burocratas

innovative broadband project in India

All of the 21,000 villages in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh will soon have 100 Mbps Internet service. The state government sought private-sector bids for the project, contributed about 14% of project equity, provided free right-of-way permissions, and signed on as an anchor customer (40,000 government buildings connected for a fixed annual fee). The total cost of the network: about US$90 million.

Connections within villages to residences and business are left to competing local cable companies. Such cable companies have brought cable TV to about 40% of residences in Andhra Pradesh. The state-wide network is required to make available at the village points-of-presence (POPs) wholesale video distribution, telephony, and internet services at agreed prices. This makes the business plan for village networks simple: bring the services available at the village POPs to individual customers for a mark-up. This seems like a practical implementation of decentralizing local connectivity while standardizing wide-area service distribution (pdf).

Competition among network service provides can have large costs (pdf) relative to the cost of the network infrastructure itself. Government initiatives that promote a good structure for competition can help to make broadband services widely accessible at low cost. The Andhra Pradesh Broadband Project promises to do just that. Other innovative broadband projects, such the Singapore National Broadband Network and municipal broadband projects, have different institutional structures. More comparative institutional analysis would be helpful for informing communications policy.

Randeep Sudan, now at the World Bank, helped put together the Andhra Pradesh Broadband Project. He described the project in a recent presentation at the FCC. With his permission, I have posted his slides here.

end your morning with citizen journalism

Democracy depends on an active, informed citizenry that is not continuously angry, frustrated, or depressed. Citizen journalism, open source journalism, grass-roots journalism, the fifth estate, pajamas media — whatever you want to call it — has many potential public benefits. Not often recognized, but most importantly, it is a vital defender of public good humor. Serve the public interest as a citizen journalist!

ARPUR: a business performance metric for presence in communication services

The largest share of value in communications services is the value of presence. How can communication services providers measure their performance in capturing this value?

Average Revenue Per User’s Relation (ARPUR) is a practical measure of presence value. ARPUR is Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) divided by some measure of user’s interaction with other users (relations). Such a measure might be the least number of users who account for in total at least 50% of the given user’s communication sessions, time, or revenue. The higher the ARPUR, the more the communication service is creating value through presence.

Persons typically value most highly the presence of family and friends. Limitations of time and attention, which good communication services can help to relax, constrain the number of family and friends that a person can sustain in daily interaction. The value of communication with the family and friends that persons do sustain is typically high and enduring. A good business plan for communication service providers is to capture a large share of this value. ARPUR is a metric of success in doing this.

While not often recognized as such, telephone service is a quintessential presence business. A study in the U.S. in the 1970s found that 50% of residential calls go to a set of five numbers. I think this has been roughly true for personal telephone service in most places throughout the history of telephone service. Creating more value in these relations creates value in this kind of communication service. It’s a presence business.

For contrast, consider an anti-presence communication service: telemarketing. Telemarketing involves mass distribution of information of interest only to a small number of persons. The telemarketer typically does not know any of the persons whom she contacts and does not typically repeatedly contact them. Moreover, most of her contacts probably wish that they did not know that she existed. A good communication service for telemarketing users might have a high ARPU. But its ARPUR would be near zero. It’s not a presence business.

ARPUR might help a new communication service provider steer its business between the imperatives of viral marketing and the long-term value of presence. Viral marketing, like infectious diseases, propagates most rapidly with some highly promiscuous agents. A communication service that wants to succeed virally needs to enable promiscuous agents. On the other hand, promiscuity is inconsistent with large presence value. The business challenge might be to manage change from low initial ARPUR to strongly rising ARPUR.

Suggested analytical exercise: Consider ARPUR for portraiture over the past 500 years. Take the user relation to be the gift of a picture of oneself to another person. What has been the trend in ARPUR? What has been the trend in total portraiture industry revenue? For relevant information on the economic history of the photography business, see Photographs and Telephone Calls in Sense in Communication.

Take-away message for busy communications executives: Get out of the telecom toilet and get your business purring. Stop sniffing ARPU and start making ARPUR!