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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Stop The Slow Lane

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The FCC is proposing new rules to allow Internet providers to discriminate based on content to provide separate and unequal connection speeds.

This effectively creates “fast” and “slow” lanes for the Internet which means that website owners and entrepreneurs may be forced to pay an arbitrary fee to ISPs like Comcast and Time Warner if they want their visitors to be able to access their website at regular speeds – or at all.

Last week I wrote a post titled Dear Internet: Let’s Demo The Slow Lane. What you are seeing on my site for the rest of this week is the demo. Don’t worry, you’ll only have to endure that popup and slow down once, unless the FCC does something like what they are proposing with these new rules.

#StopTheSlowLane is an initiative to raise awareness about this issue. At its core is a simple JavaScript widget, an animated GIF like the one below, or a WordPress Plugin for your website or blog that will inform your visitors about what’s going on and empower them to easily contact Congress and the FCC about the issue.

The call to action, js code, and WordPress plug in for #stoptheslowlane is available for you to put on your site if you want to demo this for your users. The GitHub repo fightforthefuture/stoptheslowlane has the full source code in case you want to modify / add to it.

Help us send a message that a slow lane on the Internet isn’t acceptable.

Support The Open Internet

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Just now Fred Wilson posted an Open Internet Letter to the FCC that my partners and I at Foundry Group signed on to. It came together in the last 24 hours and was driven by our friends at Union Square Ventures.

If you are a VC and are interested in signing on before we file this formally with the FCC, please send me or nick [at] usv [dot] com an email.

Help us avoid the fast lane / slow lane / no lane problem on the Internet that the new FCC proposed regulations may create, which we strongly believe will stifle innovation, inhibit competition, and limit interest in new startup activity.

Dear Internet: Let’s Demo The Slow Lane

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Yesterday when we were having Comcast issues in downtown Boulder, I thought about how slow the Internet speed at my office was. For several hours, it was 0 Mbps down and 0 Mbps up (0/0) until I gave up and tethered my iPhone to my computer and used Verizon LTE for the rest of the afternoon.

When I got home, Pandora had trouble starting up on my CenturyLink connection, which Speedtest showed was 2/0.5. So I switched over to my other ISP at home, Skybeam, and got 9.5/2.5. This morning CenturyLink is showing up as 8.5/0.75. Recognize that this is my actual speed, not what I’m paying for and could theoretically get. For example, on Skybeam I’m paying for “up to 15/3.”

At my office, on Comcast, I usually get 75/25. But even that feels slow after hanging out at my Google fiberhouse in Kansas City and getting 800/? (I don’t remember what the upload speed was.)

And yes – as a consumer, I’m spending a ton of money for all of this Internet connectivity.

Fred’s post from yesterday - The Fast Lane, The Slow Lane, and The No Lane - got me thinking. When the SOPA/PIPA issue came to a head, the most effective way to help people understand the potential implications was to blackout the Internet for a day.

What if we did the same by Demoing the Slow Lane for a day. Algorithmically, all sites could slow themselves down dramatically, demonstrating what performance might look like over a 1/1 pipe. Or even a 0.5/0.5 pipe. I’m no server expert, but it looks like Apache has a setting called mod_ratelimit that does bandwidth throttling for client connections. And I’m sure some intrepid readers could quickly come up with elegant solutions to this.

Let the world see “Waiting for”, “Connecting”, and “Buffering” show up in their browser continuously throughout the day. Explain what is going on. Then click a button to bypass the Slow Lane and get normal connectivity.

Instead of everyone getting tangled up in the legal question of what “net neutrality” means, consumers can see what could happen if / when ISPs can decide which companies get to use their fast lanes by paying extra and who is relegated to the slow lane.

Compromise vs. Problem Solving

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I spent all day Sunday at Silicon Flatirons’ Digital Broadband Migration Conference. This is a key national conference held in Boulder at the intersection of technology and public policy with a particular focus on the Internet. This year’s conference subtitle was “The Challenges of Internet Law and Governance.”

I was pondering something all morning that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. My close friend Phil Weiser (who is now the Dean of the CU Law School and hosts the conference) kicked it off and then handed things over to Vint Cerf (now at Google and one of the original architects of the Internet). A great panel full of engineers titled Tech Tutorial Backdrop: An All IP Network and Its Policy Implications came next, followed by a talk from Colorado Senator Michael Bennet.

I’m a supporter of Michael’s and even though he originally co-sponsored PIPA, he eventually understood that it was flawed legislation and got behind the effort to oppose it. As a co-sponsor he had plenty of influence in the background on the process and I’m glad that he spent the time to listen to the tech community, understand why it was bad legislation, and take action. It was great to see him at this particular conference given its national perpective on a key intersection of technology and policy.

After Michael came a panel I was on titled The Digital Broadband Migration in Perspective. David Cohen (EVP of Comcast), Larissa Herda (CEO of tw telecom inc.), and I were the loud mouths on this one. David and I had very different perspectives on many things which reached a head when he asked what my reaction to all of the major TV and cable channels blacking out for three hours and putting up messages that said “this is what TV would be like without SOPA/PIPA” (basically – the opposite of the Internet blackout that occurred on January 18th). While he asserted this would be an abuse of corporate power and responsibility, implying that the Internet companies participating in the Internet blackout where behaving inappropriately, my response was that “it would be fucking awesome – they should do whatever they want – and better yet no college kid in the world would notice.”  There was plenty more in that vein, but this was tame compared to what came next.

The panel after lunch was a debrief on what just happened with SOPA/PIPA. Mark Lemley (Stanford Law Professor) and Gigi Sohn (President of Public Knowledge) explained things from an anti-SOPA/PIPA perspective; Jonathan Taplin (Annenberg Innovation Lab, University of Southern California) and Michael Fricklas (General Counsel of Viacom) took a pro-SOPA/PIPA perspective, and Michael Gallagher (CEO of Entertainment Software Association) and Judge Stephen Williams (U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit) took a third perspective that I couldn’t quite parse. After everyone got a chance to give a 7 – 13 minute presentation, the conversation degenerated quickly into a very polarized argument where, in my opinion, facts were left at the doorstep by several of the participants. As the fact vs. fiction dynamic escalated, emotions ran hot and the discourse degenerated to a point of near uselessness. With every moment, the conversation became even more polarized, even though the anti-SOPA/PIPA folks would say things like I’m not going to defend SOPA/PIPA as it was bad legislation, we need to solve the problem of … in reaction to the pro-SOPA/PIPA folks saying If you assert that there are only 50 bad sites that represent 80% of the illegal content in the world, and we already have tools too take those sites down, what exactly are you talking about.  While there were hugs and handshakes after the panel ended, it definitely felt like there was plenty of grinfucking going around.

After this panel I ducked out for an hour to go meet Julius Genachowski (chairman of the FCC). We’ve crossed paths a few times but never spent any thoughtful time together. We had a nice 30 minute meeting where we talked about the dynamics going on at the conference and in Washington DC. He gave me one phrase which caused me to stop, ponder it for a minute, and respond with “that’s exactly right.” He said:

“What you are observing is the difference between compromise and problem solving.”

My brain is an engineers brain. I’m focused on learning and solving problems. Over the past few years I’ve been completely baffled by my experience interacting with politicians and their staffers. When I present a solution to a problem (e.g. the Startup Visa) I immediately watch a negotiation begin to ensue. Three years later, even non-controversial, obviously beneficial things like Startup Visa are still stuck in a discussion.

When I talked to folks about how bad the SOPA/PIPA legislation was, they would respond “what’s the counter proposal?” My first response was usually “What do you mean? It’s horrifyingly bad legislation that shouldn’t even be considered.” The response to this was “Yes, but if I am going reject it, I need to come with a counter-proposal.”

Julius explained to me that Washington runs on a compromise mentality. You propose something and then begin negotiating from there. Innovative companies, where I spent almost all of my time, run on a problem solving mentality. You have a problem – you solve it. When I reflected on the panels during the day, the engineers and engineering heavy panels were problem solving and the policy / lawyer heavy panels were fighting over polarized positions which, if they converged, would be a convergence based on compromise rather than problem solving.

This generated a breakthrough insight for me. I’ve been increasing frustrated with politics and public policy discussions that I’ve been part of. It’s because I’m in a problem solving mode. While some of the folks I’m interacting with are also in this mode (which causes me to stay engaged), many are in a compromise mode. They don’t care whether or not we actually solve the root cause problem – they just have an agenda that they want to get into the mix legislatively and are negotiating for it with the goal of reaching a compromise.

We ended the day with a wonderful talk from Senator Mark Udall. I’m a huge fan of Mark’s – he’s one of the most thoughtful people in government I’ve gotten to interact with. Colorado is lucky to have him as he listens to his constituents here and acts on their behalf, rather than some other agenda. He discussed his views on innovation and PIPA (which he opposed early) and then made a strong appeal for the Startup Visa, increased STEM education, and a long term focus on innovation as the base for job creation. He then took another 90 minutes to meet with a smaller set of entrepreneurs and public policy folks from the conference to hear what was on their mind. Mark definitely was listening and trying to understand what issues he should be looking out for that had similar negative impacts like PIPA.

We need a lot more problem solvers like Mark in the mix, especially in positions of power in government. And, the problem solvers should insist that the path is problem solving, not compromise.

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