How Moldova’s Academic Community Prepares Students for the Internet Age – An Interview with Dr. Victor Besliu

On 2 Feb 2011 we met with Dr. Victor Besliu, Chairman of the of Automation and Information Technology faculty at Moldova Technical University.  Dr. Besliu is a graduate of the Moscow Technical University, and has many strong ideas and recommendations for how Moldova can make students and graduates more competitive not only in the Moldova ICT community, but also the global community.

The interview was conducted mainly in Romanian language, with translation done by Ion Stanciu.  You can listen to the entire audio recording of the interview in Romanian HERE.

Main topics discussed during the interview included;

1.  His opinions on Moldova’s eReadiness

  • He conducted extensive research on the topic during 2005 and 2009
  • Moldova still has only a couple of universities with curriculum focusing on ICT (information and communications technologies)
  • Moldova Technical University (MTU) does offer a major in computer science
  • MTU has around 500 graduates from the program each year
  • Moldova currently has approximately 1500 professional, qualified ICTR specialists working in government and private industry
  • He considers the quality of Moldovan graduates quite high, as most are actually being recruited to work in foreign countries following university

2.  His opinions on how well Moldova is meeting the needs of children, preparing them to function and succeed in an Internet and computer-enabled world.

  • Children at a young age need access to ICT tools, and are able to quickly absorb the technology
  • If children are given access to computers and Internet too early, they could run a risk of slipping into a virtual world, and not being able to function correctly in social environments

3.  On distance education and eLearning

  • Moldova currently has no legal framework for eLearning, meaning formal credits towards degree programs are not available through online education
  • The academic community has begun discussion and planning to consider the question of incorporating eLearning into the curriculum, however that is still an open topic
  • There has not historically been a culture of lifelong learning in Moldova
  • Historically paper (degrees and diplomas) has been given higher status and more respect than experience or knowledge
  • Some face-to-face interaction in the education process is important

4.  On adult education

  • In the old days of the Soviet Union, there were age restrictions on persons entering degree programs (35)
  • Today, in Moldova, there are no age restrictions, allowing any person with prerequisite qualifications to apply for formal university programs
  • Many students from foreign countries apply to, and are accepted, into Moldova’s university system

5.  On how to make the Moldova education system more capable in meeting the needs of all students

  • Politicians must understand the role of communications, computers, and ICT education in the future of Moldova
  • Increase educator salaries and benefits to the level being a teacher in Moldova is an attractive profession
  • Many instructors are already working in private companies part time, allowing them to not only increase their income to the point of survival, but also to keep on top of new and emerging technologies
  • They are changing the university curriculum every 2~3 years based on technology and emerging ICT trends
  • Provide more opportunities for student internships in local companies to give them more practical knowledge of the concepts and theory learned in classrooms
  • Continue tracks within the ICT faculty that allow students to take courses to the degree level taught entirely in a foreign language, including French and English
  • Continue to emphasize beginning Internet and computer exposure into education system from the beginning – young students need to develop tacit knowledge of this technology and become computer/Internet literate not only to function in the workplace, but also in normal society

On a positive note, Dr. Besliu acknowledged many of MTU’s graduates are now well-positioned in Moldova companies, and that trend is expected to continue.  In addition, Many Moldovan expatriates are now returning home, further reinforcing Moldova’s ability to support development of a knowledge economy.



Please check Moldova technical University’s website for more information on their programs and activities.

Audio file for entire interview (in Romanian language) HERE

A Look into Moldova’s ICT Community with Ana Chirita

We first met Ana Chirita while surveying ICT companies in Moldova for a national cloud computing project.  As Executive Director of the Moldovan Association of Private ICT Companies, Ana provided introductions to local companies, industry background, and aggressive follow-on support to our project.  As an advocate and evangelist for her community, Ana plays an important role in developing Moldova’s ICT industry.  You can listen to the entire interview on audio here.

John Savageau: This morning we have Ms. Ana Chirita who is the Executive Director of the Moldovan Association of Private ICT (information and communications technology) Companies. Good morning Ana!

What I’d like to do is just have you start out and describe the purpose and the role of the Moldovan Association of Private ICT Companies. What is it?

Ana Chirita: It is an association formed of 29 companies, and we are comfortably growing. The main reason to have this group of companies come together is in a way, to have a common vision of how the ICT sector should be developed. And, in a way achieve the main goal up front, which is growing the ICT sector and having it be the main driver for the whole economy of the country.

So basically what we do is represent our company’s interests through constructive dialog. With government we also do promotion of our companies. We try to reach certain levels of education and HR development that can help our companies grow. Because, one of the key issues they have put in their strategy is to help out the industry through investments in education and having good specialists that can work for them (the member companies).

We also focus on opening markets, market development – both locally and internationally. So we do a whole range of activities that help our companies get more visible, grow their revenues, and become viable partners.

John Savageau: And how did you find your way into the association?

Ana Chirita: it was very interesting in a way… I received an email from the current deputy minister (Dona Scola, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Information, Technology, and Communications). By then, Dona was working at Chemonics on a project. That was about a year and a half ago.

I just received an email, “would you like to apply for a job?” “Please send me your CV.”

I did not know Dona by then, so I did not know what the job was for, what it was about, what should be done, what I was supposed to do, … So I just send my CV in and said “OK.” The I called for an interview, not even know for what kind of a job! That was quite fun.

I entered the room and there were six men, the current board of directors of the association, and Dona helping out the board.

Then they started asking a lot of questions. I was like, “what?…” The interview took about one hour, I’d say, or an hour and a half. In three, four languages or so. Everybody talking their own language – Romanian, French, English… Then I got out of there and said “oh my gosh… what was that? I didn’t know what I was coming for… I didn’t know what I was supposed to do – just so many questions. ”

In two hours I received a call, “we want to hire you.” So basically that’s how it started. I had my first meeting, we signed a contract, and that was my way into the ICT Association.

John Savageau: It seems like you’ve done pretty good getting 29 companies into the association. Do you have any examples of specific benefits the ICT community members have gained from participating in the association?

Ana Chirita: Yes, I’d say the first thing is they get exposure with, and get dialog with the government. Which means they will know everything that is going around that is in the ICT sector, and what the government wants to do. That is strategy, it means different laws, it means different aspects of that kind of which they can benefit from.

For example, let’s say the fiscal policy. The government was changing the fiscal policy last year, and they got an intervention. Like author rights. The government was changing the law on author rights – we got an intervention.

So basically it is exposure, information, and being able to contribute, to a certain extent, for the benefit of the companies.

Other things that I would like to mention are they (members) get various possibilities to work in a consolidated model. For example if we have campaigns with the universities, or training, or seminars, they get to work as a group, which means lowering their internal resources (costs), because when you do something alone it is one amount, when you do things in a group it is a completely different amount. Basically it is lowering the expenses.

The other thing is that all the training and certifications they get, they get with discounts through the association, which is up to 50% discount. For example, CMMI, for certifications and training in project management, human resource development – whatever it is they always get it for a discount.

All the initiatives on expert promotions. Many companies participate either for free or at reduced costs. (including) various events and business missions, which is considerable for those who are considering export.

Other things, what we are launching now and what we are trying to kind of change within the association is to create new services as a cluster approach that the companies can benefit from, the companies that are in the association can participate, and at the same time benefit.

There are several projects in the concept phase, which in mid-March may be launched or find partners, and be able to get on the market.

So even if we are not able to act as a service provider, we will try to foster that, anyway. So besides lobby, discount – we started the discount program again now. Like 29 companies, that’s about 2000 employees, maybe more. And they can get better prices, lowering their budgets (OPEX/CAPEX) and internal costs by participating in a group.

That makes it reasonable why to pay membership fees (to the association), if they pay, because in a way (paying the fees) it helps in reducing your budget, and makes it less expensive (to operate).

But the main thing of course, lobby and dialog with the government, which can enable the business environment for them to make business or do business easier.

John Savageau: Do you have any major success stories from association members?

Ana Chirita: Depends on which side…

If we talk about the certification side we have six companies certified in IT Mark, basic IT Mark, going for CMMI Level 2.

If we talk about exports we have companies that through the activities we do have gained contracts. If we talk about lobbying we are present in at least five or six working groups in various ministries and agencies and we have been able to get into the position where our opinion is being taken into consideration.

For example with the fiscal policy, or with the author rights. So, we’re working on that now as well. And we hope that within 2011 we’ll achieve those results that we’ve worked for and made studies for.

So basically there are achievements that can be taken into consideration. If you like I can send the report of 2010.

John Savageau: Another question,… With Moldovan ICT companies is how competitive they are within Moldova. What is going to make Moldovan ICT companies more competitive in the global marketplace?

Ana Chirita: Better exposure. (Using) International standards, and because competitiveness is about the human resources, it is about the processes you have inside, it is about the things you follow, and how you follow, maybe a country positioning paper to understand where we’re heading to will help them do better.

But now I think that through those processes they are improving inside, like for some of the companies pursuing certain standards, they are already able to compete. Because many of them do export and compete in international markets.

John Savageau: Is there a role the Moldova government should play in making companies more competitive or to give them greater exposure to the international marketplace?

Ana Chirita: Definitely. I think the government should, first of all the government should identify its priorities in this area, and it will be able to enable. Because without the support of the government it’s like a “one man show.”

Many of the companies have developed themselves (independently) in a way without having certain benefits up to let’s say 2005, 2006 from the government.

The government should play a big role, such as to enable better education , better access to the markets, better positioning, better exposure.

The government is very important to have as a partner.

John Savageau: On import tariffs for things like ICT equipment, is the government supporting the ICT community with tax holidays or anything like that on (equipment) imports?

Ana Chirita: We are trying to work on that now., That’s one of the results we want to achieve, like we want to get a preferential rate on the import of equipment, on ICT goods.

And there is one thing we have in Moldova that we have never promoted in a way, is we have a fiscal facility for software development companies, from 2005. Which is an exemption from income tax. And it depends, up to 18% on physical persons – programmers mainly. And we want to keep that. It gives them a competitive advantage on the regional market for Moldova.

Otherwise we get to the same level as Romania, Bulgaria, and other countries in the region.

So for us it is important to keep these kinds of things (tax breaks), like a preferential regime for ICT, would be able to enable and help out (our competitiveness).

John Savageau: How about the education community in Moldova? Is the academic community adequately preparing graduates to enter the workforce or participate in ICT?

Ana Chirita: According to our studies, and the studies that certain USAID projects have delivered, for example the “Competitiveness Project,” the quantity (of graduates) that Moldova delivers is quite good – by numbers is enough. But the quality (of graduates) is still lagging behind in a way.

So there is a big need for investing in, and promoting, certain technical and soft skills. Because the company has to invest up to 3, 4 times more than the universities or the government gives to the students.

So in a way certain initiatives have taken place contributing vendor-based curricula, or in schools and universities they are trying to update the curricula, or there are private companies that actually hold classes within the universities. Like software engineering classes or quality assurance or something like that as optional or mandatory courses.

But that is a big effort, and that is not enough. There is a need to do more.

John Savageau: That’s an interesting statement you made, do you believe there is a space for private companies and the academic community to work as partners in developing a better ICT capacity?

Ana Chirita: We, as the ICT association are trying to do that in a way, but yes I think there is enough space to have more companies, with educational companies or other types of companies – or even ICT companies trying to work back-to-back with academia in order to reach the (required) level.

Because it’s not only the university level, it’s about the (primary) school level. Because a career in IT is not pursued as a nice thing. The people are not aware that a career in IT has a future. So actually you do not have to go out of the country, or emigrate. You can stay in the country, and have a decent salary.

John Savageau: I agree. And when you compare, perhaps people who are living in the countryside in Moldova, with students who are in Chisinau, or even comparing them to London or Los Angeles,… The ability of children who are growing up in the Internet age possibly could be different based on how much exposure they have to ICT tools that are available at a very young age.

Do you believe there is a risk in Moldova of not being able to compete in the digital community if children today are not rapidly given exposure to that type of environment?

Ana Chirita: it depends. Maybe yes, maybe no. it depends on what is our strategy.

I think we need to invest, and need to encourage getting children more and more involved in technical things and Internet. And being able to know how to use it wisely, and being to have various programs and different types of teaching – not only the traditional one (teaching method) to acquire the skills which are already not (just) a luxury, but a “must have” in the future.

So it’s knowing the basic things, like working with a computer is not a luxury like it would have been 10 years ago.

John Savageau: It’s part of life now.

Any last words you would like to give us on either the association, ICT in Moldova, or any other topics that are of interest to the community?

Ana Chirita: Let me think! You’ve been asking a lot of questions!

Basically I think that we, and I, am very thankful for what is happening now in Moldova. I think with common efforts we can reach better exposure, a more competitive country, and more competitive industry.

As an association we will work and hope the government will be more supportive. We’ll see that steps are undertaken in that sense.

So, that’s it!

John Savageau: That’s a very positive outlook, and we all certainly look forward to seeing how it is going to develop in the future. Thank you very much for taking the time this morning.


MICTMission, Vision, Goals

Mission:  Moldovan Association of Private ICT Companies promotes the development of the ICT sector in the Republic of Moldova through viable partnerships between the private companies, similar organizations, state institutions, international organizations in order to enhance the competitiveness and development of the sector and company capacities, enlarge the market, attract investments in the country and participate in the decision making and regulatory process on the national and international level.

Vision: The ICT sector will become an enabler of the Moldovan economy, and Moldovan Association of Private ICT Companies( further ATIC) will contribute to this process through its consultancy means in creating a better life and a better environment in terms of business and social needs. ATIC will get involved into the spheres of education, export, capacity building, competitiveness enhancement to have ICT lead the industry and become a part of any system and process to ensure its development.

Objectives:

  1. To raise the Moldovan ICT industry’s profile and image within the country and on International markets.
  2. To raise the level of co-operation and collaboration amongst members of the Moldovan ICT business community.
  3. To work with Government to improve the business context, legal framework and overall prospects for the sector.
  4. To collaborate with Moldovan Educational institutions to improve over time the quality and quantity of ICT trained graduates.
  5. To help improved levels of professional & management skills within ICT companies.
  6. To improve all aspects of investment opportunities for ICT enterprises in Moldova.

Managing Disasters with Ken Zita and Network Dynamics Associates

In the communications profession we find two categories of people.  Those who are well known, show up at the best conferences, events, and parties – and those who spend their careers behind the scenes doing the heavy lifting of planning, construction, installation, and operations.

Ken Zita falls into the latter category.  Starting his career as a journalist, then moving on to telecoms and international communications infrastructure, he has taken the “road less traveled” for most of his professional life.  A road that has taken him to more than 50 countries, most with names the average American cannot identify, spell, or locate on a map.

Ken spent a few minutes with Pacific Tier on January 19th to talk about disaster management and operations continuity.

AUDIO FILES:  You can listen to the entire interview with Ken Zita HERE online at Pacific Tier Communications

Pacific Tier: Ken, tell us a little about yourself and Network Dynamics

Ken Zita - Network DynamicsKen Zita:  Well, we came out of the telecom industry, and still work in it – well, I don’t really know what telecom is anymore…  but its something about information management and networks.

We design strategies, policies, and investment plans for all kinds of clients in nearly 50 countries around the world.  Lately we’ve been doing a lot of public sector, which means that we’re advising governments on national transformation strategies related to ICT.

Pacific Tier::  Well that’s exciting.  This morning we’d like to focus and concentrate on the topic of disaster management, and possibly a little bit about cloud computing since that’s a high interest item.

Tell me, how did you get started with disaster management, and what is Network Dynamic s doing with disaster management?

Ken Zita:  We got involved right after the Asian Tsunami.  Essentially what happened is the United States government allocated, the United States Congress allocated, $16 million for technical assistance for ICT systems and services to help the countries that were hardest hit to develop risk mitigation and disaster management strategies.

And the long and short of it is that we helped stand up the National Crisis Management Center in Sri Lanka, the Tsunami Warning Center in Thailand, and the National Disaster Management Planning Agency in Indonesia.

So I got very deeply involved in understanding the government politics, and different kinds of systems.  We actually saw something real get built, which are Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs) and downstream warning networks in those countries.

it was very satisfying, but that goes back a few years already, and since that time we’ve advised a number of countries on things like flood management systems, and we’ve also looked at municipal level incident management systems, or crisis management systems.

And if I might, I’ll tell you about two things I’m working on right now.

One is actually in China, where we’re looking at three large scale projects in the emergency management sector.  One of those is related to emergency medical services, meaning how do you design a framework for emergency response in the medical vertical.

The second is looking at dam and reservoir safety.  Because I think we can understand there are a lot of dams in China, and a lot of them are quite old.  And this leaves populations vulnerable if anything should happen to them.  So how do you manage those, and how does it effect the flood waters and rivers, and so on.

The third area, I think is really a growth topic, is a provincial wide environmental management system.  That is to say an emergency management system for environmental crisis.  So how do you manage and keep track of pollutants in the air, and heavy metals in the air,water tables and so on, so you can be prepared and ready as incidents may happen.

And they will (incidents), as we know with the environment in highly industrialized areas such as China.

So those are the China projects, and I’ll elaborate in a second.

Now the China projects – to some degree, and the early warning systems, are really more a systemic management of crisis situations.  There is a whole other realm of disaster management related to first response.  Because time has shown the most loss of life happens within the first 36 hours after a major event.  Like a tsunami, like an earthquake, or flash flood.

And, getting people out, or dispatched quickly is what its all about for the emergency responder subsector of disaster management..

So, in Asia-Pacific, which incidentally is where well over 90% of the fatalities in disasters happen world wide.  So when you think about the whole world with all the earthquakes and all the floods, and all the fires, and everything else, the most loss of life and loss of property happens in the Asia-Pacific region.

We are currently advising the United States Pacific Command, that’s to say the military out of Honolulu, and 22 other militaries throughout Asia-Pacific, a 22 country effort, for something called the Multi-National Communications Interoperability Program.  While this is a big long military name, it is commonly known as Pacific Endeavor.

What Pacific Endeavor is, is a way to use information technology of all sorts to improve interoperability among military forces for natural disasters.  So this is not about military stuff, it is not defensive exercises or strategic – its really how the can coordinate better with one another using ICT frameworks.

Our role specifically is to create a bridge between the military world and the non-military world.  Meaning the United Nations, large non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and industry.  So, all the big technology companies which are coming up with social network platforms, cloud computing platforms, multi-protocol radios, and so on.

We’re actually coordinating a lot of that. for Pacific Endeavor.

So a couple different thoughts.  The emergency response, disaster management, and how ICTs are being used to address these problems.

Pacific Tier::  Excellent.  Actually I have several different questions now related to government disaster planning in general, regional disaster management between governments, but one thing I am going to ask right off the top, when you talk about communications, recently – particularly in California where I live, social networking media has become a very important part of the disaster response and disaster management process.

Specifically things like Twitter when you have wild fires, as Twitter actually get to people faster than other notification method.  How do you feel about social media and the future of social media in disaster management and disaster response?

Ken Zita:  Well its hugely powerful, and its where our world is right now, where we’re shifting to this more real-time environment.  In general, we are moving toward real-time information flows among people.  And the challenge I think is knowing how social media affects each aspect of the response.So for people who have got to get out of their houses, having a Twitter feed, that’s really terrific.

But there is almost a parallel universe of the emergency responders themselves.  The police, fire, the National Guard, who don’t necessarily talk to each other either.  But they have these legacy systems, and they have legacy incident command systems.

The question is how to you put together, or match up the structured data of a hierarchical command and control system..  A traditional C4I* type of system, with the unstructured information flows that come through Twitter feeds or social media and other things (such as SMS, video email, etc).  It is possible to put together really interesting situational awareness, such as with a neighbor who has a cell phone camera for broadcasting.  That’s really, really powerful.

But the question is whether the incident commander has the bandwidth, both literal and figurative, to be able to look at all those kinds of feeds that might be sent to some source, in addition to do what they need to do to coordinate their own response.

I think there is a certain inflection point where I think, certainly in the US, where the response authorities know that this information is hugely valuable that shows a real pulse, on real life, and there is great situational awareness that can be obtained.  But then how do you design a framework for all that information flow to be manageable?

Including some of the stuff that may not necessarily be public.

Pacific Tier::  How do you feel the governments are doing in general?  Are they meeting the needs of the people, are they meetings the needs of a disaster management process? Or are there serious shortfalls that we both technically and organizationally need to overcome?

Ken Zita:  Well I think that a lot of people have the best intentions, and people try hard.  But its no secret that George W. Bush’s presidency collapsed not on the lunacy of the Iraq war, or the mis-management of Afghanistan, its more over the mis-management of Katrina.

it was a very important lesson, I think for other countries.  As I travel around, I think others have seen what happens when you sit back on your heels and don’t act.  So for example in China, which has its own internal political dynamic, after the Wenchuan earthquake, the president was there almost immediately.  He was there with a retinue of cameras, he was there with the Army, and looked very much in control of the situation.

So there is a perception if you don’t do something, following what happened during Katrina, you can really lose your job.

So I think the political awareness has gone way up.  Part of that can actually be attributed to something that the UN has formed.  it is call the UN International Strategy on Disaster Reduction (ISDR).  They have a permanent secretary in Geneva.

Basically they are trying to get governments around the world to agree to a platform for disaster reduction and disaster management.  And there are lots and lots of measure that they’re doing.  But suffice to say that there are governments all over the world that have signed on to this, saying “we think it is important,” increasingly having the prima minister and the president’s office saying “OK, this really matters.”

So that’s at the political level.

The you have to come down to the real-life level.  We all know from 9/11 the police and the fire were not talking.  We know about the debacle in the United States at the 700Mhz auction that was just a total boondoggle – poorly conceived and poorly executed.

I can point to examples all around to why it is not working.  Part of it is just because people don’t understand that its not just about technology.  You have to put together an organizational and leadership process to prepare people for what it takes to have an effective response.

So its kind of a blend.  The world is waking up to it.  But there is a lot of work to be done for consultants!

Pacific Tier::  Let me move on to a slightly different topic.  You had mentioned Indonesia, the tsunami, and the pain that caused.  Having worked in Indonesia extensively myself, one of the topics that  comes up frequently is the loss of data.  Particularly land management data and things like that in the Banda Acai area.

Due to the fact it wasn’t digitized, and wasn’t in a location where it could be backed up or put in a file in some other part of the country.  How do you feel about disaster management of data and the communication systems, and if I can make a transition and throw cloud computing as a current buzz word in there.. How do you feel about the digitization of data in countries and how that impacts the ability to  maintain continuity of a government in the event of a major disaster?

Ken Zita:  Well we don’t even have to limit it to disasters.  I’m a big proponent of the cloud-type metaphor, but you know there is a little bit of hype associated with cloud computing (as you well know…).

Vintage EarthquakeThe biggest challenge now for most low and middle-income countries is making the transition from paper to electronic storage of information.  There are lots of other problems, but basically they are being thrust from this traditional system where land records are done on a piece of paper and just jotted down, right?

Then into the world of what we can do.  Imaging, GIS, and other cloud-based applications and so forth.

So the questions is, “is this another leap frogging opportunity,” where its possible to help governments make this transition basically layering a whole scale solutions to digitization, rather than just doing vertical solutions.  A lot of times you have someone who does eGovernment solutions for land management, to use your example, someone else will do passports, or a healthcare system.  And its just taking forever, because you are really just shipping computers in (to the country).

And if you think in terms of continuity and resilience, as a product set, or product area for government .  Public sector continuity there is a huge, huge opportunity across the emerging markets. So I’m all for it.  It works like in an enterprise backup center, you just have to have the hot backup and shared facilities.

Pacific Tier:  One more question, and a very open-ended question.  how do you feel about the future of disaster management, government continuity, or even enterprise continuity?  Where do we go to from here?

Ken Zita: I’ll address that on a level I’ve been working most, kind of between the UN, industry, and the NGOs.  And I should add, the militaries.  So, kind of the institution of it.

There’s a lot of cool stuff that’s happening on the edge of the network, like the “crisis commons,” and the “boot camp.” The developer activity where you have a bunch of programmers who are trying to hack some new and exciting tools for social media, and for mobile phones, and for people.  That’s all very great.

There’s more of that to come .  But at the same time what I’m seeing is that there are the beginnings of some helpful collaboration, and some new tools that are being designed at the institutional level, and what I’m talking about is UN OCHA, which is the refugee organization of the UN, there is the World Food Program, the United Nations Development Program – they are actually starting to design architectures, web-based architectures, device architectures for mobile…

They are going to make things a whole lot easier between constituencies.  Because traditionally you have, each organization has its own data silos, its own hierarchy, and its own reporting structure.  And if we’re going to get to a point where the institutional players and the social media – where user data is really interchangeable, really interoperable, we’re going to have to develop kind of a next generation of portals for information sharing.

So collaboration right now is going from voice to voice, you have to get mobile radios to work with each other, into some very small degree of information sharing , we’ll get into more situational awareness and we’ll be getting into video.

And all that’s going to happen at a portal level so there will be an easier flow – and a richer exchange at the disaster site, and of course for the reconstruction process.

It’s kind of nuts, how its been done lately, where you’ve got all these different organizations with their own VSAT terminals, their own databases, their own reporting structure, so nobody is seeing what each other are doing.  That’s not healthy.

So, at the institutional level it is actually being worked out a bit.  And I think that when some of the bigger building blocks are in place that it will create a framework for the creativity  and innovation at the edge.  Meaning, the crisis camp type developers.

Its still a pretty murky area.  There’s not a lot of money committed to it.  There are a lo of people who want to do well by helping,  But its still, you know its one of these things like shouldn’t we have figured this out a long time ago – but at least the technology is here, and there is a lot of activity and energy (available) to try ands make something better.

Pacific Tier:  Those are great insights, and I certainly appreciate you taking the time this morning to talk with us about it, and hopefully sometime around the end of this year we’ll be able to follow up and see how you feel what progress we’ve made as an industry and institution.

Again, thank you very much for taking the time!

KEN ZITA, President of Network Dynamics Associates (www.ndaventures.com), specializes in opportunity definition, strategic marketing and policy formation at the highest levels of the technology, financial and government worlds.  He is widely regarded as a visionary on the strategic impacts of technology on national development; has deep, comprehensive and eclectic knowledge of the telecom and information services sectors; and has worked in nearly 50 countries worldwide.

*C4I stands for command, control, communications, computers, and (military) intelligence

AUDIO FILES:  You can listen to the entire interview with Ken Zita HERE online at Pacific Tier Communications

Concerns Grow as Violence Against Journalists Continues to Escalate

Local news stations monitored the situation on 1 May 2007 in Los Angeles’ MacArthur Park.  A peaceful May Day demonstration had moved into the park, and police had failed to correctly guide participants and marchers, and with a higher than anticipated volume of people began to lose control of the situation. 

The news caught the police response in real time, including the use of non-lethal force against journalists covering the demonstration.

The treatment of some members of the media raised questions about the training, discipline and understanding of the role of the media on the part of some of the officers in MacArthur Park that day. Some officers did not adhere to the guidelines required pursuant to agreements between the Department and the media…

…in the move to clear the park, some officers pushed and struck some members of the media to move them from the area, rather than allowing the media to move safely into a designated media viewing area. (From Final Report on MacArthur Park Incident, LAPD)

While shocking to the people of Los Angeles, with full media coverage the police simply could not ignore the outrage of a community which relies on police to provide for the safety of citizens, and enforce those laws determined by elected representatives of the people of Los Angeles, California, and the United States.

The Role of Journalists

Journalists document events, and present those events to the community as an informational message, or as a permanent  historical record.  Without journalists documenting events, the history of an event may be lost within a generation.

Journalists, when not used as a tool for misinformation or propaganda, record and present facts.  Those facts may later be used in independent or expert analysis of an event, but the raw record remains untouched.

Citizen journalism supplements traditional journalism with the purity of untouched records of events using modern technology available to a very high percentage of the global community, including cameras, mobile phones, and other common recording media.

This is all good, if the intention of journalism is to ensure events are recorded for immediate analysis, and future generations will have access to evidence needed to better understand how historical events have influenced the present.

So why are we constantly faced with news stories telling us of violence committed against journalists in both developed and developing countries?  What is it about creating a record of history that drives some governments and people to assault, kill, or prevent journalists from doing their jobs?

The Desire for Power and Illegal Activities

There are several groups sharing a common hatred of journalists.  The police, criminals, and repressive governments.  All have historically been the perpetrators of either human rights violations, or have a desire to ensure facts about events or incidents are never recorded or made available to the public.  In short, those organizations that need to maintain secrecy to prevent the public from being aware of their behavior or actions.

Not all police are bad, and not all governments are bad.  To protect operations, a high level of secrecy is often critical to the safety and success of a mission.  And there is certainly adequate justification for the protection of certain classifications of state secrets.

On the other hand, those immoral and unethical elements of our global community who bring themselves to power or success through illegal activities or use of brutality against those they strive to control public knowledge of their activities, as exposure will in most case bring swift retaliation or condemnation.

Oppressive regimes such as Iran, North Korea, Angola, and Kyrgyzstan exercise strict control over what can be recorded to reported mainly due to the reality their actions against the people are at a level of violence that the civilized world finds horrifying and repulsive.  And the result is international condemnation and economic sanctions against the regime.

Luanda – The Union of Angolan Journalists said it was worried about the recent rise in violence against reporters. One journalist was murdered and two others attacked over the past three months. No arrests have been made in any of a series of recent attacks against journalists in Angola, the oil-rich country that was recently ranked the 10th most corrupt in the world by watchdog Transparency International.

The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Kyrgyz authorities to immediately release independent journalists Ulugbek Abdusalomov and Azimjon Askarov, and to ensure the safety of other journalists working in southern Kyrgyzstan, which has been engulfed by interethnic violence since early June.

Concern is rising over attacks on the press in Iraq, following the recent deaths of journalists and media workers in a particularly bloody week for the profession, which raises questions of press freedom in the region. With reporters and media workers falling victim to both insurgents and US military action, and the interim government planning “stringent controls” on the media through a newly-created Higher Media Council, it has been asked whether it is possible to have a free press in Iraq.

The escalating violence against journalists in Mexico prompted an unprecedented demonstration of more than 1,000 people in ten cities, demanding an end to murders, kidnappings and disappearances

Journalist Amy Miller of the Alternative Media Centre was arrested over the weekend at the G20 protests in Toronto. She was held for 13 hours, during which time she saw multiple women strip-searched and was repeatedly threatened with rape.

An article in the police support site “Police One” expresses mixed feelings from a veteran officer discussing the use of police cameras – and citizen journalism on the behavior of police. 

While expressing concern that video of police behaving badly may only represent a snippet of a larger situation, there is still an acknowledgement that videos are helping hold police accountable. “My own view is that YouTube has done more to expose the reality of police abuse than all the blue-ribbon commissions combined,” said University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman, who has studied police brutality.

The LAPD incident during the 2007 May day rally in Los Angeles caught both overly aggressive police using force to break up a crowd, as well as the same level of force being used against journalists who were recording the action.

NOTE:  This is not an anti-COP blog.  While I have personally seen, and experienced completely unjustified violence and abuse committed by “bad cops,” I can also say that my own “home town” police in Long Beach (California) are among the finest law enforcement professionals in the world. If you look at the LA County Sheriff’s website, and count the number of violent incidents managed by deputies every day, it is clear they are under a tremendous amount of stress, and are doing absolutely the best possible job.

On the other hand, the Rodney King beatings, 2007 May Day Demonstration, and hundreds of other incidents do expose a level of abuse that simply cannot be allowed to exist in a free, democratic society.

The Long Term Impact of Technology and Citizen Journalism

If you live in a city, there are very few public locations left without some level of surveillance or video monitoring.  Nearly every mobile phone sold today has a camera embedded in the device, and even homes are now using video security.

This record of our lives is good and bad.  Bad in the context of losing nearly every last shred of privacy and anonymity, good in the respect incidents of crime and violence are much more likely to be recorded for review, evaluation, and use.

As in the recent elections in Iran, where citizen journalists caught abuses by the police and government on their mobile phones, and then transmitted the images at near real time to social media and file sharing sites around the world – governments and police will now have to look at not only the threat card-carrying journalists bring to their antics, but also will need to look at every person on the street, mounted security cameras, and the Internet as their enemy.

Journalists will also have access to much more public and private resource provided by technology and citizen journalists.  The true value in professional journalism will be reinforced as the ability to interpret raw facts and apply contextual relations and value to those facts – a skill most citizen journalists lack.

Those maintaining their positions of authority and power may not fall soon, but at least now there is a greater chance their abuses will surface and face the global judgment.

Papau Struggles to Level the Internet Playing Field

Papua-NetThe Warnet** was full. Students and adults shared a few old computers running the Windows XP operating system, connecting to Facebook, MySpace, Gmail, and other social networking sites. A few looked at web pages from universities scattered around the world, and a few simply indulged in the escape of online gaming. This is Jayapura, Papua, Indonesia. The provincial capital of Indonesia’s eastern-most province, just a couple of miles from the international border with Papua New Guinea.

Internet access is accomplished via satellite connections, mostly provided by the national PTT Telkom Indonesia through their “Speedy” Internet DSL service. However “Speedy” should be best considered a simple branding term – unrelated to the reality of Internet access that is limited by around 83 Mbps satellite capacity serving the needs of a city totaling more than 350,000 people. That is not likely to change any time soon, as the Palapa fiber optic ring is still on the drawing board, and satellite coverage and capacity over the Papua region is limited.

Connecting to Skype via the hotel WiFi connection (Aston Hotel in Jayapura), you can get a relatively decent video call – depending on the time of day (normally between 0100 and 0700). Not HD quality, but movement is good, and audio quality is good. You wouldn’t want to be downloading files via email, or web surfing on high density pages, however if the computer is basically idle, and the network not heavily in use, you can get the call.

Other Internet access is available through PT Indosat and the mobile carriers, however each have their own limitations, whether it be by location, cost, or services offered to users.

Moving to West Papua

Manokwari, the provincial capital of West Papua, is a different experience. Internet bandwidth to the city is very limited, to the point getting any level of Internet access is considered good. However, while in Manokwari, sitting outside the Blue and White Warnet at 0500 in the morning, connecting to a prepaid WiFi access point – I was able to call home using Skype. Lots of clipping and echo, a few rounds of “hey, say that again, the connection is not very good,” and a bit of frustration, but at 0500 I called home.

papua-blue-whiteThe Blue and White Warnet is probably among the best public access points in Manokwari. It also serves as a mini community center, hangout location for young people, and café. For young people with dreams of a successful, happy life, the Warnet provides a healthy opportunity to explore other parts of the world. They can build their dreams of education, job opportunities, and travel to parts of the world which seem like a science fiction novel compared to their surroundings of jungle and poverty.

Whether it is Jayapura, or Manokwari, or any other remote area in this huge country, the message is clear – “we need more, better, and faster Internet.” Students and young people understand their global competition is children from cities like Sunnyvale or Seoul, where access to the vast world of Internet knowledge and opportunity is taken for granted, at speeds to papua-wifiindividual homes exceeding the entire access capacity of their province.

But yet a crowd gathers at the Blue and White Warnet every day and evening. And students continue to squeeze every bit of value from their low speed Internet connections possible, continuing to grasp at threads of dreams they may someday become full members of the connected global community.

As mentioned in earlier posts on the Warnet culture in western Indonesia, the Warnets in general have no problems with users accessing pornography or trying to hack – most users are genuinely trying to use the resource to learn more, and get a brief glimpse into a better life.

Palapa Ring – East

Bringing the Palapa Fiber Optic Ring to eastern Indonesia is an essential key to connecting the major islands back to western Indonesia and the rest of the world. While satellite capacity begins to run dry, the hope of bringing a high performance fiber system to the shores of Papua would enable bandwidth needed to bring modern eGovernment, education, and capacity for private industry to fully join the global economy, subsequently improving quality of life for all citizens.

As a neutral cable, Palapa Ring – East will also promote competition among Indonesia’s carriers and service providers to extend their networks to Papua and West Papua bringing better price competition, quality of service (including customer service), and variety of services. An Internet Exchange Point (IXP) in the major cities will boost local content and communications performance, without having to make the trek from Papua to Jakarta to Papua for accessing locally hosted content.

That is the good news. The bad news is that Palapa Ring east only exists on Powerpoint slides and meeting discussions. A great idea, which everybody appears to want, but no schedule, and no solid plan for the project. It will happen someday, we just do not know what day that might be.

The Developing World Needs Access

Whether Burma, Laos, North Korea, Somalia, or any other developing region, Internet access is best considered a human right withheld by the government, or limited by technical capability shortfalls within the country. With a child growing up in a city such as Burbank (California) having global Internetworking technologies and applications diffused into their lives from nearly the time they can walk, the digital divide in 2010 has continued to expand to new extremes.

While those hanging out at the Blue and White café are able to use Facebook, some eLearning applications, Twitter, chats, and email – 20 miles into the jungle is a completely different story. The access is cut off, and for hundreds of villages located throughout Papua, Internet is simply not available.

Within the city center in cities such as Jayapura, you do have a scattering of good buildings, and within some of the new settlement areas outside of the city better infrastructure is being produced.  However for the most part, people struggle everyday to learn, to earn, and to meet the most basic requirements in Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. 

papua-jayapuraImagine if you were sitting in Costa Mesa (California) and you could not connect to the Internet. Imagine that it is simply not available in your area. Hard to imagine. Today each child born and raised in Papua and West Papua is burdened with an environment that simply does not give them the intellectual tools to compete with children in Jakarta, Burbank, or any other wired city.

And in Burbank we consider it a crime if our cable TV provider has less than 100 HD channels available, or every sporting event on planet available in real time.

Instant communications, instant access to information, instant access to thousands of applications and utilities that make life better – a right of all citizens. in reality no immediate communications during disasters, no support for people when they are sick or injured, no WebMD, Wikipedia, or Yahoo Answers. Just “not available here.” As an Internet user, sitting in a hotel room where Internet is simply not available, and my next opportunity to connect is 0500 tomorrow morning – and having lived in a wired world for most of the past 25 years – this is a very strange experience.

An experience that is considered normal for everybody in Manokwari.


NOTE: Wireless access is available through companies such as Telokomsel. They have deployed 3G services to both cities mentioned in this article using flash modems, although the services are more expensive than most can handle for any level of large data transfer, not to mention the cost of user equipment (handsets and mobile/laptop computers). Again, expensive satellite connections must be paid for, and as always the end user carries the cost. But it is a step forward.

**Warnet = A Warnet is similar to an Internet Café.  However it is normally a small room, with around 10 small computer workstations connected to the Internet.  in many locations in Indonesia, the Warnet is the only location people can access the Internet, as most cannot afford their own computer, or in their area Internet access is simply not available.

We should also note that mobile telephony is available nearly everywhere in Indonesia, with the exception of remote villages within the interior of locations such as Papua.  As 3G wireless technology continues to extend into more and more remote locations, the potential of handsets becoming the dominant Internet access device is a high probability, with the only real limitation being the connection will ultimately be completed using satellite links.

John Savageau

From Manokwari, West Papua, indonesia

Social Networking through Disaster – Exercise24

A massive earthquake hits the California coast near Huntington Beach between San Diego  and the Baja Peninsula. Of course it was not real, it was an exercise managed by San Diego State University’s VisCenter and InRelief.Org called Exercise24.   Exercise24  was planned as “an open, ‘no fault’ environment for nations, organizations and the global community to explore collaborative technologies and develop solutions to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief challenges,” wrote George Bressler, SDSU adjunct faculty member and lead coordinator of X24.

The Role of Social Media in Disasters

TweetingWe’ve looked at the use of Twitter and other social media tools in previous articles on fires in Santa Barbara, Haiti, Chile, and preparing for the non-event tsunami in Hawaii.  As a tool, instant one-to-many and many-to-many real-time interactive messaging  has tremendous value.  Where broadcast media and law enforcement have shortfalls in the lag time between and event and notifications, instant messaging can give real-time, “as it is occurring” updates to a wide audience.

Exercise 24 (X24) was an attempt at gaining a greater understanding of how to more effectively use tools such as Twitter and Facebook during emergencies.  Objectives included:

Objective One

Utilize the computing cloud to rapidly converge geographically dispersed global experts at the onset of a simulated international incident, deploy a foundation of guidance in concert with community leaders in a manner that empowers community members through education and smart technologies to support mitigation, response, recovery, and a resumption of societal normalcy at a level of functioning an order of magnitude higher than existed before.

Objective Two

Leverage smart phones, ultra-lights (United States), and unmanned air systems (Mexico) for rapid threat/damage assessment of a simulated seismic event that generates a significant oil spill off the coast of Southern California and Northern Baja California, as well as damage to critical infrastructure inland that necessitates mass sheltering of displaced community members.

Objective Three

Leverage the power of NGOs, faith-based groups, rapidly responding government and corporate groups, international groups, social networking communities as occurred in Haiti, and other resilient networks to locate and notionally send aid to Southern California and Baja California

Additional objectives included stressing connections and capacity of social networking sites and Twitter to determine network and capacity load limitations, as well as the ability to filter “noise” from valuable information if needed to ensure the delivery of information and requests for help could be both understood and managed.

Do you remember CNN and the other major news outlets carrying real-time interviews with citizen journalists via Skype immediately after the Chilean Earthquakes?  A laptop computer with a camera and audio kit, and the world was getting on-the-scene reports from Conception as events unfolded – hours and days before news crews could get on the scene.

ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR:  “Indeed, we will have more breaking news coverage of this Chile earthquake, as you would expect. We are going to check on next what’s happening on the Internet. We have social network sites busy talking about the disaster. We’re going to of course bring you what they’re saying.”

We hope to ultimately ‘connect the dots’ for data fusion and pattern recognition in homeland security and homeland defense” said Eric Frost, director of San Diego State’s Immersive Visualization Center (VizLab).

 The Future of Social Networking in Disasters

There are a few obvious problems we need to get through before twitter, or any other instant messaging service such as SMS, eMail, or other means of interactive and non-interactive messaging are completely suited to the task.

Messaging systems require access to network.  Without 3G, LTE/4G, WiFi, or terrestrial Internet access the systems won’t work.

Until every man, woman, child, and automated tripwire has access to a messaging-enabled wireless device, we will still have some shortfalls.

Look how thoughtfully this training simulation has been designed. There are reasons why Californians survive their turbulent environment.” (from Wired Magazine review on X24)

Yes, this is true.  The more prepared we are, the more effectively we can respond, and recovery from disasters.  The more tools available, both intellectual and mechanical, the greater our chances of survival and recovery.

Keep your eyes on organizations such as InRelief.Org, and participate in upcoming disaster response exercises as able.  Maybe trite, but in reality, the life you save might be your own or a loved one.

Celebrating Independence in Moldova

Americans like to stress the fact we declared independence from England in 1776, and have been celebrating that event on the 4th of July ever since. No American remembers the struggles our country endured in securing our independence, and for the most part the day represents a great excuse to head to the park and barbeque hamburgers or hot dogs – topped off by a short fireworks display in the evening.

At the Independence Day Celebration in ChisinauIn Chisinau, Moldova, independence is an event everybody over the age of 20 experienced. August 27th marks the 19th year of independence from the Soviet Union. As a newly democratized state, Moldova has faced challenges, whether it is from politicians attempting to understand the dynamics of a democratic state, communists desperately trying to retain some snippet of control, or corruption by leaders who wish to capitalize on the chaos Moldova overcomes while rebuilding their society and economy.

Most Moldovans look to Europe, and their ethnic roots to Romania as a model and direction to build Moldova’s future. European Union flags fly beside Moldovan flags, and automobiles from around the EC routinely fill Chisinau’s streets. It is an exciting and scary time. Like starting a new job in a company that has a different culture and objectives – but a great reputation in its industry, Moldovans welcome the opportunity to make their country and quality of life on par with the rest of Europe, and the world.

But Now it is Time to Celebrate

The streets of Chisinau are filled with Moldovan flags, and you can see people on the street wearing makeup in the shape of Moldovan and Romanian flags on the side of their faces. An enthusiasm for their country, an indulgence On stage at the Chisinau independence day celebrationin celebrating their national identity. Walking into the center of Chisinau the main street is blocked off to accommodate a huge stage, with performers singing Moldovan folk tunes, rock songs, ballads, and anything else that makes young and old well up with pride in their country.

Americans and other western nations will find it a bit foreign to see the energy radiating from people on the street, but then again, we have not recently experienced 70 years occupation by an oppressive government. A government whose army is still entrenched along Moldova’s border in Transnistria, which is internationally recognized as part of Moldova, but in reality is an uncontrolled region that is part Moldovan, part independent, and part occupied by Russia. Unless you were present at Pearl Harbor in 1941, for an American the taste of foreign military encroachment on our own soil is an abstract.

Those over 30 years old will remember that at the time of independence, there was bloodshed, there was a human cost of freedom and independence that is still fresh in the mind of all Moldovans. And a deep-rooted desire to celebrate the sacrifices and courage of their family members and friends who paid the price of freedom.

And celebrate they did. While a large police force was clearly visible throughout the city center during the concerts and festivities, most appeared slightly jealous they could not strip off their uniforms and join in the indulgence of national identity. Others merely focused their energy on ensuring the safety of the people. No incidents such as you would see in Los Angeles or New York such as policeman kicking cyclists off their bicycles, threatening citizens, or trying to intimidate – just keeping it safe.

A Long Way to Go

20 years ago the nation was an infant desperately trying to get to its feet, now, while among the poorest countries in Europe, it is a comfortable place to live and work. While a large percentage of the population lives on a very small income, the GDP is growing at a steady rate, and there is always hope for the future.

Telecoms and Internet access are a very pleasant surprise. As in many developing countries, nearly every man, woman, and child has a mobile phone. On one street in central Chisinau you can find up to four separate Orange distributors on one city block (Orange claims they have more than 2400 distribution points), and most have a line of people waiting to get a new phone.

Wireless Internet is available throughout the city, and in the central park many park benches are filled with professionals and young people accessing the Internet on laptop computers. Orange Telecom claims they have complete national coverage with 3G, and offer wireless access speeds up to 21mbps.

Now, I sincerely wish I could get that performance in Burbank, California. Maybe when Verizon eventually gets around to implementing LTE or 4G…

NOTE: I was able to pick up an Orange prepaid phone in about 2 minutes, for about $20 and 600 minutes. I picked up a wireless internet account at the same time – about $15 for 2 weeks wireless access, and have been averaging just over 1.2mbps download speeds – quite enough to watch my Los Angeles TV stations with very high quality over Slingbox.

Moldova PrideHowever, on the bad side, Moldova has no energy resources within the country, and is completely dependent on Russia and other countries for fuel, natural gas, and power. While relatively self-sufficient on food, energy availability is at the will of Russia, and Moldova holds the same risk as Ukraine and other countries which have had resources throttled due to political issues with Russia.

But today is a celebration. I am almost jealous at the enthusiasm and level of pride Moldovans have for their country. Americans show pride by tying yellow ribbons around a tree in their front yard to show support for soldiers on military duty in a foreign land, we take pride in our economic and industrial achievements, and we show a lot of pride in our ability to show leadership in many ways around the world. Slap an American flag on your pickup truck – and you are a patriot.

But we have lost the scars of revolution, and lost the physiological sensation of emerging from oppression to taking on the challenge of democracy.

Moldovans have not. Happy Independence Day Moldova!

Managing Disasters with Internet Utilities

Fire season is here. Southern California fire departments and forestry services are urging residents to cut back brush on their properties and create “defensible space” Burbank is in a High Risk Period for Wildfirebetween the dry chaparral and their homes. Local news stations have spooled their resources to bring fire-related journalism to the population. And, we have already seen extreme technology such as DC-10s and 747s dumping insane amounts of Foscheck and water to quickly knock down fires which have popped up early in the season.

Southern California has fires, just as Kansas has tornadoes and Florida has hurricanes. Disasters are a natural part of nature and life. How we deal with natural disasters, our ability to survive and overcome challenges, and how we restore our communities defines our society.

Technology tools in place or being developed are having a major impact on our ability to react, respond, and recover from disaster. In the early stages of any disaster, communication is key to both survival and response. As nearly every person in the world is now tethered to a wireless device, the communication part isDefensible space to avoid brush fires becoming much easier, as even the most simple handset will support basic features such as text messaging and voice communications.

Getting the Message Out

Over the past 25 years the world has adopted Internet-enabled communications in a wide variety of formats for everything from email to citizen journalism. It is hard to find an event occurring anyplace in the world that is not recorded by a phone camera, YouTube video, blog, or real time broadcast.

In the 2008 Santa Barbara Tea Fire students from UC Santa Barbara used Twitter to warn fellow students and local residents to get out of the fire’s path as it raced through 2000 acres and more than 210 houses within the city limits. While it is not possible to put a statistic on the value of Twitter on evacuations and emergency notification, interviews following the fire with students revealed many had their initial notification through Twitter lists, and indicated they were able to get out of areas consumed in the fire (while screaming the heads off to others in the neighborhood to get out) before public safety officials were able to respond to the fire.

NOTE: I was driving through Santa Barbara (along the ‘101) during the initial phase of the fire, and can personally verify the fire moved really, really fast through the city. It looked like lava streaming out of a volcano, and you could see houses literally exploding as the fire hit them and moved through… I wasted no time myself getting through the city and on the way to LA.

Houses in Burbank's Verdugu MoutnainsThis article will not review all the potential technologies or software becoming available for emergency notifications, however we will look at the basic utility enabling all the great stuff happening to keep our citizens safe. The Internet.

Internet’s Utility is Now Bigger than Individuals and Companies

We all remember the infamous interview with Ed Whitcare, former CEO at AT&T.

Q: How concerned are you about Internet upstarts like Google, MSN, Vonage, and others?

A: How do you think they’re going to get to customers? Through a broadband pipe. Cable companies have them. We have them. Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain’t going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there’s going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they’re using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?

The Internet can’t be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment and for a Google or Yahoo or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!

This statement, clearly indicates many in the internet network and service provider business do not yet get the big picture of what this “4th Utility” represents. The internet is not funny cat videos, porn, corporate web sites, or Flickr. Those features and applications exist on the Internet, but they are not the Internet.

Internet, broadband, and applications are a basic right of every person on the planet. The idea that two network administrators might have an argument at a bar, and subsequently consider the possibility of “de-peering” a network based on personalities or manageable financial considerations borders on being as irresponsible as a fire department going on strike during a California wildfire.

From http://www.wired.com/autopia/2009/09/evergreen-supertanker/As a utility, the Internet has value. Just as electricity, water, or roads. The utility must be paid for either before or after use, however the utility cannot be denied to those who need the service. When a city grows, and attracts more traffic, residents, and commerce, the intent is normally not to restrict or control the process, you build better roads, better infrastructure, and the people will eventually pay the price of that growth through taxes and utility bills. The 4th Utility is no different. When it gets oversubscribed, it is the carrier’s responsibility to build better infrastructure.

Disputes between network administrators, CFOs, or colocation landlords should never present a risk that SMS, Twitter, email, or other citizen journalism could be blocked, resulting is potential loss of life, property, and quality of life.

Communicating in the Dangerous Season

Fire season is upon us. As well as riots, traffic congestion, government crackdowns, take downs, and other bad things people need to know so they can react and respond. The Internet delivers CalTrans traffic information to smart phones, SMS, and web browsers to help us avoid gridlock and improve our quality of life. Twitter and YouTube help us understand the realities of a Tehran government crackdown, and Google Maps helps guide us through the maze of city streets while traveling to a new location.

We have definitely gone well past the “gee whiz” phase of the Internet, and must be ready to deal with the future of the Internet as a basic right, a basic utility, and essential component of our lives.

Net neutrality is an important topic – learn more about network neutrality, and weigh in on how you believe this utility should be envisioned.

The Utility and Pain of Internet Peering

In the early 1990s TWICS, a commercial bulletin board service provider in Tokyo, jumped on the Internet. Access was very poor based on modern Internet speeds, however at the time 128kbps over frame relay (provided by Sprint international) was unique, and in fact represented the first truly commercial Internet access point in Japan.

The good old boys of the Japanese academic community were appalled, and did everything in their power to intimidate TWICS into disconnecting their connection, to the point of sending envelopes filled with razor blades to TWICS staff and the late Roger Boisvert (*), who through Intercon International KK acted as their project manager. The traditional academic community did not believe anybody outside of the academic community should ever have the right to access the Internet, and were determined to never let that happen in Japan.

Since the beginning, the Internet has been a dichotomy of those who wish to control or profit from the Internet, and those who envision potential and future of the Internet. Internet “peering” originally came about when academic networks needed to interconnect their own “Internets” to allow interchange of traffic and information between separately operated and managed networks. In the Internet academic “stone age” of the NSFNet, peering was a normal and required method of participating in the community. But,… if you were planning to send any level of public or commercial traffic through the network you would violate the NSFNET’s “acceptable use policy/AUP” preventing use of publically-funded networks for non-academic or government use.

Commercial internet Exchange Points such as the CIX, and eventually the NSF supported network access points/NAPs popped up to accommodate the growing interest in public access and commercial Internet. Face it, if you went through university or the military with access to the Internet or Milnet, and then jumped into the commercial world, it would be pretty difficult to give up the obvious power of interconnected networks bringing you close to nearly every point on the globe.

The Tier 1 Subsidy

To help privatize the untenable growth of the NSFNet (due to “utility” academic network access), the US Government helped pump up American telecom carriers such as Sprint, AT&T, and MCI by handing out contracts to take over control and management of the world’s largest Internet networks, which included the NSFNet and the NSF’s international Connection Managers bringing the international community into the NSFNet backbone.

This allowed Sprint, AT&T, and MCI to gain visibility into the entire Internet community of the day, as well as take advantage of their own national fiber/transmission networks to continue building up the NSFNet community on long term contracts. With that infrastructure in place, those networks were clear leaders in the development of large commercial internet networks. The Tier 1 Internet provider community is born.

Interconnection and Peering in the Rest of the World

In the Internet world Tier1 networks are required (today…), as they “see” and connect with all other available routes to individual networks and content providers scattered around the world. Millions and millions of them. The Tier 1 networks are also generally facility-based network providers (they own and operate metro and long distance fiber optic infrastructure) which in addition to offering a global directory for users and content to find each other, but also allows traffic to transit their network on a global or continental scale.

Thus a web hosting company based in San Diego can eventually provide content to a user located in Jakarta, with a larger network maintaining the Internet “directory” and long distance transmission capacity to make the connection either directly or with another interconnected network located in the “distant end” country.

Of course, if you are a content provider, local internet access provider, regional network, or global second tier network, this makes you somewhat dependant on one or more “Tier 1s” to make the connection. That, as in all supply/demand relationships, may get expensive depending on the nature of your business relationship with the “transit” network provider.

Thus, content providers and smaller networks (something less than a Tier 1 network) try to find places to interconnect that will allow them to “peer” with other networks and content providers, and wherever possible avoid the expense of relying on a larger network to make the connection. Internet “Peering.”

Peering Defined (Wikipedia)

Peering is a voluntary interconnection of administratively separate Internet
networks for the purpose of exchanging traffic between the customers of each network. The pure definition of peering is settlement-free or “sender keeps all,” meaning that neither party pays the other for the exchanged traffic; instead, each derives revenue from its own customers. Marketing and commercial pressures have led to the word peering routinely being used when there is some settlement involved, even though that is not the accurate technical use of the word. The phrase “settlement-free peering” is sometimes used to reflect this reality and unambiguously describe the pure cost-free peering situation.

That is a very “friendly” definition of peering. In reality, peering has become a very complicated process, with a constant struggle between the need to increase efficiency and performance on networks, to gaining business advantage over competition.

Bill Norton, long time Internet personality and evangelist has a new web site called “DR Peering,” which is dedicated to helping Internet engineers and managers sift through the maze of relationships and complications surrounding Internet peering. Not only the business of peering, but also in many cases the psychology of peering.

Peering Realities

In a perfect world peering allows networks to interconnect, reducing the number of transit “hops” along the route from points “A” to “B,” where either side may represent users, networks, applications, content, telephony, or anything else that can be chopped up into packets, 1s and 0s, and sent over a network, giving those end points the best possible performance.

Dr Peering provides an “Intro to Peering 101~204,” reference materials, blogs, and even advice columns on the topic of peering. Bill helps “newbies” understand the best ways to peer, the finances and business of peering, and the difficulties newbies will encounter on the route to a better environment for their customers.

And once you have navigated the peering scene, you realize we are back to the world of who wants to control, and who wants to provide vision. While on one level peering is determined by which vendor provides the best booze and most exciting party at a NANOG “Beer and Gear” or after party, there is another level you have to deal with as the Tier 1s, Tier 1 “wanna-be networks,” and global content providers jockey for dominance in their defined environment.

At that point it becomes a game, where personalities often take precedence over business requirements, and the ultimate loser will be the end user.

Another reality. Large networks would like to eliminate smaller networks wherever possible, as well as control content within their networks. Understandable, it is a natural business objective to gain advantage in your market and increase profits by rubbing out your competition. In the Internet world that means a small access network, or content provider, will budget their cost of global “eyeball or content” access based on the availability of peering within their community.

The greater the peering opportunity, the greater the potential of reducing operational expenses. Less peering, more power to the larger Tier 1 or regional networks, and eventually the law of supply and demand will result in the big networks increasing their pricing, diluting the supply of peers, and increasing operational expenses. Today transit pricing for small networks and content providers is on a downswing, but only because competition is fierce in the network and peering community supported by exchanges such as PAIX, LINX, AMS-IX, Equinix, DE-CIX, and Any2.

At the most basic level, eyeballs (users) need content, and content has no value without users. As the Internet becomes an essential component of everybody on the planet’s life, and in fact becomes (as the US Government has stated) a “basic right of every citizen,” then the existing struggle for internet control and dominance among individual players becomes a hindrance or roadblock in the development of network access and compute/storage capacity as a utility.

The large networks want to act as a value-added service, rather than a basic utility, forcing network-enabled content into a tiered, premium, or controlled commodity. Thus the network neutrality debates and controversy surrounding freedom of access to applications and content.

This Does Not Help the Right to Broadband and Content

There are analogies provided for just about everything. Carr builds a great analogy between cloud computing and the electrical grid in his book the “Big Switch.” The Internet itself is often referred to as the “Information Highway.” The marriage of cloud computing and broadband access can be referred to as the “4th Utility.”

Internet protocols and technologies have become, and will continue to be reinforced as a part of the future every person on our planet will engage over the next generations. This is the time we should be laying serious infrastructure pipe, and not worrying about whose content should be preferred, settlements between networks, and who gives the best beer head at a NANOG party.

At this point in the global development of Internet infrastructure, much of the debate surrounding peering – paid or unpaid, amounts to noise. It is simply retarding the development of global Internet infrastructure, and may eventually prevent the velocity of innovation in all things Internet the world craves to bring us into a new generation of many-to-many and individual communications.

The Road Ahead

All is not lost. There are visionaries such as Hunter Newby aggressively pushing development of infrastructure to “address America’s need to eliminate obstacles for broadband access, wireless backhaul and lower latency through new, next generation long haul dark fiber construction with sound principles and an open access philosophy.”

Oddly, as a lifelong “anti-establishment” evangelist, I tend to think we need better controls by government over the future of Internet and Internet vision. Not by the extreme right wing nuts who want to ensure the Internet is monitored, regulated, and restricted to those who meet their niche religions or political cults, but rather on the level of pushing an agenda to build infrastructure as a utility with sufficient capacity to meet all future needs.

The government should subsidize research and development, and push deployment of infrastructure much as the Interstate Highway System and electrical and water utilities. You will have to pay for the utility, but you will – as a user – not be held hostage to the utility. And have competition on utility access.

In the Internet world, we will only meet our objectives if peering is made a necessary requirement, and is a planned utility at each potential geographic or logical interconnection point. In some countries such as Mongolia, an ISP must connect to the Mongolia Internet Exchange as a requirement of receiving an ISP license. Why? Mongolia needs both high performance access to the global Internet – as well as high performance access to national resources. It makes a lot of sense. Why give an American, Chinese, or Singaporean money to send an email from one Mongolian user to another Mongolian user (while in the same country)? Peering is an essential component of a healthy Internet.

The same applies to Los Angeles, Chicago, Omaha, or any other location where there is proximity between the content and user, or user and user. And peering as close to the end users as technically possible supports all the performance and economic benefits needed to support a schoolhouse in Baudette (Minn), without placing an undue financial burden on the local access provider based on predatory network or peering policies mandated by regional or Tier 1 networks.

We’ve come a long way, but are still taking baby steps in the evolution of the Internet. Let’s move ahead with a passion and vision.

(*)  Roger Boisvert was a friend for many years, both during my tensure as  US Air Force officer and telecom manager with Sprint based in Tokyo (I met him while he was still with McKinsey and a leader in the Tokyo PC User’s Group), and afterwards through different companies, groups, functions, and conferences in Japan and the US.  Roger was murdered in Los Angeles nine years ago, and is a true loss to the internet community, not only in Japan but throughout the world.

Google as the 5th Estate

Wikipedia lists the “5th Estate” as an ambiguous addition to the traditional “estates,” including the clergy (1st Estate), nobility (2nd Estate), commoners (3rd Estate), and the press (4th Estate). The term (according to Wikipedia)has been used to describe Max Headroom in Our Ethertrade unions, the poor, the blogosphere and organized crime. It can also be used to describe media outlets that see themselves in opposition to mainstream (“Fourth Estate”) media.

If you believe Larry Page, a co-founder of Google, their vision is to marry artificial intelligence with search engines so powerful they would understand “everything in the world.” A couple of years ago Google further stated a corporate vision to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

A very compelling and interesting vision, until you begin to understand the extent of that capability. On a positive note it gives us a way find and access codified knowledge we’d never gain exposure to under normal conditions (pre-Google and Internet “normal conditions”), but on the other end of the spectrum personal information and confidential information is also collected, indexed, and made available to anybody with access to a search engine.

Posting a blog entry may get you indexed within seconds, as would posting pictures of your family. Your tax records, home information, educational records, and other personal information, if not guarded with near military discipline (oops, forgot about wikileaks.com), will expose parts of your life never expected to the other 4.5 billion people around the world who may have a voyeuristic or nefarious interest in your life.

Going Nose-to-Nose with a Sovereign Nation

However, perhaps the most interesting step into uncharted territory with Google is in their recent conflict with China.

Google took issue with China’s censorship of search engine results, as well as cyber-terrorism it alleged was raged by Chinese government hackers, who obtained confidential information and email data from Google as well as at least 20 other private companies in what Google described “as a highly sophisticated attack.” (Red Herring)

The issue here is not censorship, the issue is the rights of a sovereign nation, versus the development of a global utility that transcends the control of a nation over its citizens. Kind of a new United Nations of Cyber managed by Google.

China is a good target, as self-righteous citizens of western countries reject the socialist political/cultural environment in the world’s most populous country. Of course those who believe in western conspiracy would note that Google has been linked to the CIA and other global intelligence agencies since inception (1), (2), (3), etc., by a variety of mainstream media and private websites.

But what does happen when a private company reaches a level of power that allows it to set both foreign and domestic policy in sovereign nations? Is there a point when the UK, must check with Google for approval before signing privacy or security policy into law? At what point does a private company “cross over the line” of providing a global utility and become a global “big brother?”

Max Headroom Returns to Our Ether

We’ve written about Max Headroom in the past, and he recently pop-p-p-p-ped up in conversations and magazine artiocles, including Wired Magazine. Max Headroom’s world, although brought to us in 1985, is almost creepy in its relevance to modern times. Just swap Television, studios, and TV with Internet and SEO ratings.

“In the post-apocalyptic future where television sets are more important than food, TV ratings are the all important currency of the nation. A new technique of preventing viewers from channel surfing proves somewhat detrimental to particularly sedentary couch potatoes. The top studio becomes concerned: dead viewers make for low ratings. Edison Carter, top news reporter, is sent to find out more. After a motorcycle accident, his mind is preserved by wizz-kid Bryce and becomes his wise cracking, computer generated alter-ego: Max Headroom, who manages to boost ratings above those of any live hosts to date…”

Is Google and Google SEO the new global currency? Is Google search engine placement more important to a company than Euros, RMB, or Dollars? Is Google the next Max Headroom, an omnipresent component of all aspects of our life, more important than our national or cultural identity?

Maybe it is Time to Change

Our lives are now wired with laptop computers, smart phones, Netbooks, Twitter, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and Internet. You cannot walk a block without being presented with license plates, billboards, handouts, or airplanes pulling banners or skywriting URLs flogging some Internet site or service. Part of every person’s life in our current world. And Bluetooth has drilled it into our heads with Skype and other applications transcending the government controlled communications infrastructure with packetized everything-over-IP applications.

Binding this together brings Facebooks and Googles into the basic infrastructure of the new world, almost to the point of transcending the value of fiber optics, wireless networks, routers, servers, and switches.

While uncomfortable to us 50-somethings, we are witnessing a harbinger of the future. The future is wired. The future is a global community with little respect for borders and culture. The wired world is the 5th Estate. Only question is if Google or Facebook will join the first four estates as individual companies as representatives of the 5th Estate.

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