Internet Access as a right and the Egyptian Internet Shutdown

I’m not going to do any in depth analysis (I’ll leave that to my good friends at Renesys)- it’s everywhere – but unless you’ve been comatose for the last few days, you can’t have helped notice the situation in Egypt.

Being an internet geek, I’m still going to focus on the country’s decision to take itself offline – killing it’s Internet connectivity to the rest of the world.

Firstly, while it may have slowed down the ability for folks in Egypt to communicate rapidly with the rest of the world, and potentially organise demonstrations, it also seems to have managed to drive folk who might have otherwise stayed in front of their screens out onto the streets, where they can either generally protest at the Mubarak regime, or specifically protest about being isolated from something they now take for granted.

It certainly gives the Police something to do…

The “kill-switch” mechanism appears to have been pretty simplistic, and non-technical in implementation. It is highlighted from the Renesys, RIPE Labs, and other analysis that the main Egyptian ISPs seem to have been called on in turn by folks from the Mukhabarat (the Egyptian equivalent of the secret service) and instructed to shut down external connectivity – by taking down interfaces or BGP peers.

The lack of centralised technical measures required shows that it’s not necessarily difficult for any administration to do this – either using existing instruments in law, or just having enough agents and judges to churn out the court orders and pay folks a visit.

However, the other thing to consider is that some countries are now starting to treat the Internet as an essential service and almost fundamental right, like access to water and power.

I’ve just on the way from a visit to New Zealand (where I participated in the NZNOG ’11 conference). The NZ Government is currently embarking on a process of using Government subsidy – with the premise that this will get paid back over time – to bootstrap open access FTTH implementations in major urban areas in NZ, to the extent they should bring 75% of the country’s 4.5M inhabitants within easy reach of high-speed broadband.

The motivation behind such a move is that reliable high-speed internet access will be a cornerstone of economic growth, but that comes with the corollary that it becomes an expectation of the consumer, just like they expect the power or water supply not to go off unless it’s a genuine emergency (such as the flooding in Queensland, Australia).

However, it seems like the Government involvement could become a double edged sword, as they investment threatens to come with various regulatory strings attached – the change in funding, from a private, entrepreneurially-built infrastructure, means that the Government feels like it has a right to have a say. Remains to be seen how much of one yet, but there’s already dangerous talk of “mandatory peering”, and that sort of ilk.

As far as I can tell, there’s no talk of a massive comic-strip style busbar “kill switch” being built in NZ, and the NZ Government seem to appear like moderate and reasonable folk, but will the investment in UFB be brought to bear when the NZGovt want Internet providers to accede to their desires in blocking content or controlling access?

Back to the “Internet access as a right” for the closing few words: Flipping the question on it’s head, how would you feel if the Government shut the power off to your neighbourhood because they felt like it served their needs?

Finally, a touch of irony. I composed this blogpost from 37000ft over the Texas, thanks to the reliable and affordable in-flight internet access they provide on board Virgin America.

(While on board, I saw the announcement that Mubarak has appointed his Intelligence chief as Vice President. Says a lot, right?)

That’s how richly woven through our often already complex lives ready internet access has become. Think back a few years. People’s expectations are already changing.

Update – 31st Jan 2011

Vikram Kumar, Chief Exec of InternetNZ (the association that engages in technical and public policy issues on behalf of the NZ Internet community) has just blogged an article about the possibilities for a take-down of NZ’s external connectivity to the Rest of the World. Summary: probably unlikely.

Update – 2nd Feb 2011

Internet access in Egypt was restored in the last 12 hours, and there’s coverage of this on the Renesys Blog

Using Social Networking to build Corporate Kudos

Many companies hUAL's Twitter person jumps on report of problems...ave leapt on the Social Networking bandwagon as part of their marketing and public relations strategy. They have staff for whom posting on things like Twitter and Facebook is a major part of their day.

Why wouldn’t you? It’s an easier way of getting information out to, and interacting with, your customers (and potential customers).

Airlines have been fairly quick to catch on to this – it’s a great way of rapidly disseminating service info during disruption, and collecting rapid feedback from pax.

One of my industry colleagues recently tweeted at United Airlines because he saw something that he thought UAL HQ should know about. Obviously the stress of the weather-related disruption hitting the area was getting the better of both pax and airline employees alike…

“@UnitedAirlines your ground staff is yelling at an old man since 15 mins airport IAD gate D6 flight UA7599 Time Jan 27, 2011 1439”

UA’s Twitter person was responding within about half-an-hour…

“@mhmtkcn The Dulles manager will follow up. Today. Thanks for the heads up.”

Two things to take away:

1) Speed of contact and response – this was quicker than sending email, or probably trying to phone someone up in UAL to let them know this was happening. Getting the message to the right person isn’t always easy. The Social Media team can act as a rallying point for this info.

2) The positive response from the UA Twitter scribe – “This will be followed up today” – does a lot to show that someone in what could otherwise be percieved as a large, faceless, inaccessible, uncaring corporation, does give a damn, that the user can get their attention, and get something done.

This simple action shows how social networking can bridge the communications gap that often exists between large companies and it’s clients, and does a lot to raise UA’s kudos amongst those who saw the message.

Back at work down the mines for Ethernet Standards Developers…

The ink of the 100GE standard is barely dry, and the first releases of products are only just shipping. “Phew,” thinks the large network operator, “we’re good for another few years.”

Well, among the largest, probably not. They are already faced with needing to aggregate (run in parallel) multiples of 100GE interfaces in their busiest areas. This doesn’t come cheaply, if you consider a single interface – you’re talking about a high five-figure list price minimum for interfaces (Hankins, NANOG 50), potentially more.

Fortunately, having had a little bit of a break, some enlightened folk involved in the 802.3ba standard are getting on the case again.

John D’Ambrosia, who was chair of the 802.3ba Working Group, and whose day job is in the Office of the CTO at Force 10 Networks, is in the process of kicking off a “Ethernet Wireline Bandwidth Needs” assessment activity, under the IEEE Industry Connections banner, to steer the next steps for Ethernet, so it can keep up with what the network is demanding of it.

There’s not much else online about this as yet, the effort is very much new, so I’ll add some links once there’s more information available.

This is a much needed activity, as there were some criticsms during the last iteration of the standards process about whether the faster speed was really needed, and disagreements about how big the market would be, almost conservative, while at the same time others said it would be too little, too late, at too high a price.

Good to see the new approach being taken, laying solid groundwork for the next (Terabit? Petabit? Something more creative?) run at the standard.

Comcast-NBCU Deal Approved

Yesterday, the FCC approved Comcast‘s proposed purchase of the controlling stake in NBC Universal, but with some conditions – such as giving up the Board position (and control) in online video service Hulu, despite still owning a good share of it, along with other regulatory controls – limits on exclusivity of NBCU produced content and how it should operate according to the FCC’s Open Internet Principles – to try and keep a rein on what the merged entity can and cannot do, to try and retain a reasonably level playing field in the market (to the relief of other cable operators, online video distributors).

It looks like quite the regulatory straitjacket, which has no doubt also cost public money to develop, and will cost more to enforce.

Despite this, all I can hear in the back of my mind is the “thud, thud, thud” of the Stay Puft Marshmallow man‘s footsteps, coming to crush anything in it’s way under it’s squishy feet.

Another Conference Season is Upon Us…

So, the grand Internet Travelling Circus, sated by it’s Christmas and New Year libations and relaxations, takes to the skies, rails, roads, seas, etc., and heads off to locations exotic, and less so, for the next round of the conference season…

In the next three weeks, I’ll be attending:

  • UKNOF 18 in London (almost certainly less exotic…), where I’m helping organise the programme and help build the conference connectivity.
  • NZNOG ’11 in Wellington, NZ (more exotic, takes a day on a plane to get there, but likely to rain), where I’m speaking on regional peering initiatives, possible theories why they haven’t worked well in the UK, and how that might be different in NZ.
  • NANOG 51 in Miami, FL (warm, beaches, possible thunderstorms), where I’m going to help newcomers get a handle on the beast that is the NANOG meeting, and get the best out of it… namely: ask questions, drink, be sociable. All of these can be tough for the average introverted geek on the street. 🙂
  • I’ll also be passing through LA on the way to/from NZ and MIA. Long story, but happy to go for lunch/dinner/drinks.

This is then followed by Apricot in Hong Kong at the end of Feb, but I suspect I’m not going to that, instead choosing to stay at home in the UK and indulge myself playing with steam trains…

Huggers Leaves BBC FM&T

It’s reported that Erik Huggers is on the move from Auntie to Intel

I’d linked to a rather good article he’d penned in a post I’d made a couple of months ago on Net Neutrality.

Maybe Ed Vaizey’s opinions on Net Neutrality and the advent of BT Content Connect have made Erik think now is not the time to be in the content business?

Now, being a CTO-type currently at a loose end, running BBC FM&T might be just my bag, however a) Auntie, in her wisdom has seperated the “product side” (i.e. public facing content such as iPlayer) from the “technology side” (possibly a sensible decision as long as they don’t turn it all into an unmanageable hydra), meaning they don’t need a new boss of FM&T, and b) I don’t think I look anywhere near enough like Hugh Grant to pull it off.

World IPv6 Day

ISOC have announced the date for World IPv6 Day – mark it in your calendars now – 8th June 2011.

This will be the day that you will need extra support resources available to deal with the potential for brokenness which will ensue from folks with poor v6 implementations or incomplete v6 connectivity.

It may look a bit drastic to submit the Internet at large to this “experiment”, but I think this is an important and sensible move.

Folks such as Marco Hogewoning and Martin Levy (among many, many others, these are the first two which spring to mind if you mention IPv6 to me) have been demonstrating the various gotchas or downright brokenness which exists out there for some time now. Sadly, while the enlightened have no problem listening, some have been sat with their heads in the sand. The bad thing is that these are often the people we need to listen most – software and system vendors.

So, get the popcorn ready, be ready for the unexpected, and watch what happens.

In the meantime, you might want to check how IPv6-ready your network is… not just how much it claims to be.

Best of all, N(ew/A)NOG 52 meeting will be happening in Denver the following week, so we get to have a discussion of the aftermath in near real time. I’d love to link to it, but there’s nowhere to go.

At least it’s a Wednesday – no-one’s Friday is being ruined. 🙂