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Response to Hurricane Katrina: Less Finger Pointing…More Rebuilding and Recovery

I have read much about the US government response to Hurrican Katrina. Many government officials are getting pummeled for their lack of support for funding to shore up the levees in New Orleans in the years running up to this massive natural disaster. Some government officials say they could never have predicted such a disaster. The facts seem to point that such a disaster actually had been predicted – years ago and as recently as 30 hours before the hurricane hit.

What’s my point?

I think my main point is that everybody is angry, hurt and disappointed at the government response to the hurricane and this could be a logical argument, but (and I’m no psychologist) it seems there is also a desire, nay, NEED to point fingers at somebody for all of this death and destruction. We cannot point it at Mother Nature. It seems a bit too tangential to point it at global warming, although it seems likely that more studies may be funded in this area – at least privately. We can’t point the finger at the founders of New Orleans for building a city below sea level. We can, however, point the finger at government. We expect goverment to do better…to be better…to take care of us when we need to be taken care of…to defend us when we need to be defended.

However…and here’s the rub…nobody seems to want government in their lives until they actually need it. “Our taxes are too high” is a common refrain of many. These taxes, of course, are the taxes that pay for the Army Corps of Engineers to build and shore up the levee system around New Orleans. Those taxes pay for the National Guard and the police force to secure New Orleans and make it safe. Those taxes pay for the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA coordination efforts. We expect the government to step in and take control and make us safe and make the pain go away. We all want this in times of disaster, but we want it to happen with as few tax dollars as possible and with as much expertise, speed and professionalism as is humanly possible. Is this too much to ask? Perhaps.

As much as government may be derided at times…we need it. We need it strong and we need it open 24/7. Nobody is perfect all of the time and it seems that the general consensus is that the goverment did a lackluster job at initially responding to the Katrina disaster. However, let’s pause from the finger pointing…recognize that the government is made up of people, just like you and me full of human frailties and short-comings…and be secure in the knowledge that all is being done by the government, by volunteers and by friends around the country and world to get Louisiana and Mississippi re-built. Mistakes were made, but let’s focus on getting back to normalcy before we point fingers at what could/should have been done better. Life is clearly too short to waste arguing when rebuilding needs to be done.

Stream of Consciousness…18 years from now…

So, my boss brought her newborn son to work today, and being that this three-month old was making his debut at Cisco, it made me think what that little guy’s life would be like…technologically speaking. Utilizing Moore’s law and going out to his 18th birthday in 2023, how different it will be is anyone’s guess. It is interesting to think, however, that the internet as his communications and information platform will be pervasive and prevalent in his life…from his mom and dad sending out his baby pictures to friends and relatives to anytime, anywhere wireless access to information, computation and converged media. Will he have text books in school, for example…or just a wireless connection and a laptop or computer tablet? Will he ever make a phone call on a PSTN line or just use VoIP? Will his first job be at a central office location or will he just be connected virtually to work? Will his first car be gas-driven or cold-fusion driven or flux-capacitor driven? Will he need to learn to speak Chinese in order to be in the business world? Oh, I have a lot of questions (and no answers), but his life will certainly be different than mine or yours.

The one thing I do know is that he wailed as soon as he was thrust into my arms. The ol’ “let’s make the guy hold him and see how uncomfortable he is” trick…that trick probably won’t change in the next 18 years…at least we have that knowledge going for us…

WHAT is Broadband in the U.S.?

In a previous blog entry on the state of broadband penetration in the US I lamented the fact that according to the ITU we have fallen in broadband penetration in the past year as measured by broadband per 100 inhabitants. We are, in fact, the largest broadband nation in the world by number of subscribers NTIA chief Michael Gallagher reminded us at a Cisco conference yesterday. He also said that broadband is the second fastest adopted technology in the US other than color television. I didn’t have a chance to speak with him after his talk, but the question I have is: are we still measuring broadband at 200kbps? That was the latest FCC definition of broadband. In my humble opinion (I am not a technologist, but an avid user of all things broadband), 200K and $1.50 will get you a cup of coffee. 200K definition comes from FCC’s 4th report “Availability of Advanced Telecommunications Capability in the United States” to Congress (issued September 2004), which you can read here…or here: (Page 12)

LET’S RAISE THE BAR!! I understand that to those without connectivity 200Kpbs would seem acceptable, but to those of us who generally live in the “truer” broadband world 200K is embarassing to measure as broadband. Sure, we have to keep up with the Jones’ (or Swedes or Koreans or Japanese, etc.) in terms of measurement with broadband…we’re #1 or we’re #16 and falling or whatever, but let’s measure true broadband or “next generation” broadband or whatever you want to call it as well. Let’s measure 10Mbps or 100Mbps or both! Let’s see where we really are in terms of getting broadband access out there at speeds that are meaningful. Internet access is a step, so too is 200Kpbs, but the real step is when you are talking multiple megabits. Let’s redefine broadand and see where we really are in true broadband penetration…IMHO…I vote for “next generation” broadband being defined at 10Mbps (which, truth be told, would be standard in some of our “competitor” nations). I’ll even throw out a “fast” broadband measurement of 100Mbps. Where are we on these speeds that truly matter?

Cisco/China “Ruckus”

A comment on a previous blog entry asked for a comment on the “Cisco/China Ruckus.” What that “ruckus” is: several bloggers and columnists have accused Cisco of selling equipment to the Chinese specifically designed to build their Internet censoring capability, their so-called “Golden Shield” project. I will copy directly from my learned and esteemed colleage, Terry Alberstein, head of PR for Cisco’s Asia/Pacific region, who sent the following to one of the bloggers:

“As one of the worlds leaders in Internet networking technology, Cisco Systems has played an important role in the growth of the Internet globally. Cisco has also played an important role in the development of the Internet in China. Today the Internet in China has over 100 million users, one of the largest Internet populations in the world, and continues to grow rapidly.

The networking hardware and software products that Cisco sells in China are exactly the same as we sell in every market in the world. And it is our users, not Cisco, that determine the applications that they deploy.

Beyond basic Internet protocol (IP)-based data, voice and video connectivity, Cisco’s products provide important network management functions, such as preventing unauthorized access to networks, helping to prevent and mitigate denial of service attacks, and protecting intellectual property. Cisco technologies also address important security functions such as blocking viruses from infecting a network, preventing hackers from stealing credit card numbers, protecting access to confidential medical information, helping Internet service providers administer billing, and allowing public libraries and parents to block young childrens access to particular websites.

Cisco is not in violation of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act. The act in question requires export licensing from the U.S. Department of Commerce for specifically designed policing equipment like shotguns, police helmets and handcuffs. Networking products from Cisco and our competitors are not covered by this legislation. A full list of these items can be found at the Department of Commerce link below:

Cisco Systems does not participate in the censorship of information by governments. Moreover, Cisco complies with U.S. Government regulations, which prohibit sale of our products to certain destinations; or to users who misuse our products or resell them to prohibited users.

Cisco does sell networking equipment to law enforcement agencies around the world, including in China, in compliance with U.S. Department of Commerce regulations. Our products offer benefits through the networking of computing devices that aid in the effectiveness and timeliness of law enforcement. We also sell our products to many public sector organizations like universities, municipal governments, utilities, etc. Additionally, the market for networking products in China is highly competitive – we have strong competition in that market from French, Japanese, Canadian, Korean and Chinese competitors.

With respect to service and training of our products, all Cisco customers globally have access to Cisco training and support. We provide service and support, either directly by Cisco or, in many cases, through systems integration partners for our equipment. However, these services do not entail the day to day management of networks. Our service and post-sales support is designed to replace faulty or defective products, and to provide training for the proper operation and configuration of network hardware.”

Hope that helps clarify the official Cisco position.

Aspen Summit: Progress and Freedom Foundation (PFF)

I just returned from several days in Aspen from PFF’s 10th annual Aspen Summit…PFF is a think tank that advocates free-market approaches over government regulations. The theme of this year’s conference was “Building a Digital Ownership Society – The Place for Property and Commons.” My overall thoughts on the conference were that the keynotes were particularly interesting and semi-provocative while the panels were generally love fests with some disagreement on the issues around the edges.

“Aspen, what a boondoggle,” everybody said to me upon my return. Wish that it were true. Aspen IS beautiful, but the interior of a hotel in Aspen is very similar to the interior of a hotel anywhere. Although the hotdog cart in “downtown” Aspen stays open 24 hours which can come in handy.

Webcasts of the keynotes and panels will be available in full…some are posted already… Here are some of my personal thoughts on the keynotes:Keynotes posted: – SUN President Jonathan Schwartz’ announced a new, free DRM solution (which sounded eerily similar to one that former Cisco-ite and former/current SUN-er Andy Bechtolsheim pitched while at Cisco.) I’m still pulling for this type of solution and Bechtolsheim is one of the smartest individuals I have ever met, so I’m sure this solution would work if implemented.- Edgar Bronfman, Chairman and CEO of Warner Music Group, gave a compelling address about technology and content industries working together…notable, because he sounded sincere. He also said that the battle between consumers and the music industry has already been waged. “We lost,” he said.- My mom taught me that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all, so I will let you view Intuit CEO’s Steve Bennett address for yourself.- Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour’s address delivered the oft-heard message to technology companies in the room: “government doesn’t know what you do.” He did say that technology companies should reach out to governors on both side of the aisle as they were more likely to be quicker in working with technology companies on the policy issues that matter to them. You can view the aforementioned addresses here.

Those keynotes that aren’t yet posted, but worthwhile to view when posted are: – William Owens – CEO, Nortel – Called on U.S. policymakers to develop a better vision for broadband deployment. News Story.– Tom Perkins, Founder, Kleiner Perkins – Gave a bit of a history of venture capital as well as railed against SOX and stock option expensing. Tidbit that I did not know about him: he used to be married to Danielle Steele. Proudest company he helped fund: Genentech (KPCB funded them 100K and got a 33.3% stake – for those of you keeping score at home, that 100K investment would be worth $30B+ today).

For you fact hounds, also published and now available is PFF’s treasure trove of data, Digital Economy Fact Book (7th edition). FULL of great information and stats.