Room Enough For Everyone :: Canada On the Web

The Tyee is carrying Michael Geist’s succinct report about the upcoming hearings at the CRTC over the future of Internet regulation in Canada. Most of these proposals don’t make any sense – imposing Canadian content requirements on commercial Canadian websites is dubious at best – how would web content hosts respond to such a scheme? Move south? Sign up with godaddy instead of geohost? We would merely, in some roughshod form or other, reproduce the old Can-U.S. media order, with cross-border broadcasters, Canadian-edition web sites and services (the model of would extend into domains like, or worse, yuck), and we’d unnecessarily introduce barriers to communication in what is a global, low-barrier-to-entry medium.

About a year ago I was asked to give an opinion to SOCAN to help inform their proposal. I argued that the Internet is highly resistant to regulation by its technical design (summed up in my persistent “the internet is filesharing” slogan above). I actually agree with SOCAN somewhat – I do support an ISP tax to reward content creators – a levy collected and monitored in ways like SOCAN already does for radio, television, and live performance. Such a proposal would meet little resistance from the public (who cares about an additional 5 bucks on your 70 dollar a month broadband bill? especially if it permits one to download anything with impunity), and would install a theoretically fair (if fairly monitored and redistributed) royalty system by which artists (and the companies they sign their lives away to) get paid.

But this idea needs to be isolated from the wider proposals to reproduce Canadian content regulations which worked (albeit in a broken fashion) during one media epoch, but won’t work within our present media ecology. The Internet is not a scarce medium like broadcast, and so there is room enough for everyone.

But underscoring this point, carriers should not be free to dictate how users access the Internet, which has attained something of the status of a public utility in common understanding. If we want to make room enough for everyone, we need to build networks that are accessible by all, using whatever hardware or software, on an equal footing. This means a nationwide broadband and wireless strategy; this also means Net Neutrality. It also means government support for community wireless initiatives.

The battle for an open Internet that gets along with content creators’ desire for remuneration needn’t be that difficult here. It’s much worse in mobile (where there is a scarcity), as I’ve been saying all along.

Mobile Videobiking at Car Free Vancouver

As planned, yesterday, Roland and I strapped N-series phones to our bikes, pulled along a wi-fi/WiMAX equipped trailer, and performed Le Tour Des Car Free Fests. As my Sportstracker data indicates (in two segments), we managed to visit three of the four main sites for Vancouver’s Car Free Day.

Nokia Sportstracker routes came out in three segments, and the third segment either disappeared or NSB shut down in the middle of it.

We had severe connectivity issues throughout the ride, which meant that we only achieved a few minutes of live streaming video at a maximum. Roland has collected up most of the links for this material here, so I needn’t be redundant and repost it. The two remaining challenges for this sort of exercise (which had been identified during our last pretest on June 11, but not since resolved) are the annoying authentication page on Free-The-Net, and the limited upload speeds of WiMAX. Clearly, another solution, other than Rogers Portable Internet, is in order.

I must say, the Car Free day is a great event. I’m glad it’s expanded into other ‘hoods this year. Each one had a very different vibe. I’ll do a follow-up post on this dimension of the experience later. Today I need to actually spend some missed time with my daughter. The Father’s Day extended dub remix 12″, or something…

Car V Bike Pretest 0.2

Today we tested our live streaming video and GPS tracked bike commutes, this time using a third bike to pull the wifi mesh/wimax trailer.

I worked for about an hour this morning assembling the mounting clamps for the two phones on two bikes. Both worked very well and withstood many bumps. The angle and steadiness of the image is good (the lighting and resolution is not – see stream at right).

The most significant single problem is that our maximum upload bandwidth via WiMAX is just shy of 200 kbps, which means that our live streams only last a few seconds before they buffer. However, on the plus side, I don’t think we ever lost the WiMAX signal during the entire 10 kilometres we traveled.

There were also handset UI issues – everything in the phone must be set to “public” prior to attempting to stream or send GPS data, incoming phone calls put the N82 (and N95) camera on standby, interrupting the Qikstream, and whenever the wi-fi connection is interrupted (whether this was due to authentication issues with Free the Net, or due to me simply riding temporarily out of range of the mesh router), the stream is similarly paused while the Qik application uses Nokia’s EasyWLAN to find a new WAP.

More notes on this later; I’ve got spreadsheets to work on…

Car V. Bike pre-test :: Nokia Sportstracker and Qik

Today Roland and I mounted our Nokias (running Qik and Nokia Sportstracker Beta) on our bike helmets and rode around False Creek (see this map of our route, and see my Qikstream here). Due to rain, Scott (who was to supply our connectivity on a third bike, pulling a trailer containing a wifi mesh router connected to a WiMAX modem) bailed, but we took the trip anyway (for those who have no idea why we did this, click here and here for some back story)

The handsets (an N82 and an N95) both crap out after 25 minutes of Qik video recording (the phones store the video in RAM I believe), and with nowhere to upload the video to (no wi-fi, no data plan), the video cameras simply go into standby.

I used a velcro strap designed for the iPod Nano to secure my N82, and we used a combination of grip tape and duct tape to affix Roland’s N95. IMHO this gives an excellent POV, which is more or less shock resistant (as it’s got that wonderful spinal thing helping keep everything fluid [good thing I got some kundalini in yesterday], but makes the cameras impossible to operate. So you have to get apps running first, then lock the keypad, then mount it in the helmet without locking up the camera or obscuring the lens. A better alternative would be to use Gorilla Pods (or some homemade facsimile), which I think we’ll have to do next week.

Roland’s Nokia sportstracker data uploaded without a hitch (the map link above) over EDGE, while mine has been experiencing issues for a few days now over wi-fi. Any pointers on how to get past the “uploading to service” hang in NSB would be very helpful. Update – I managed to get around it – see comment below, and see my map here.

I see I’ve angled my camera too far down – it’s actually angled the same as Roland’s, but my handlebars are racing style, so my head actually leans down more than his. Chalk that up to first time glitches.

Also of note – the N82 survived about 20 minutes of moderate rain. It got soaked and kept on ticking.

Anyway, check back for an update when we’ve tested out the WiMAX setup. You can also tune into the Car v Bike event next Sunday, June 15, here.


freethenet.caOct 2 (7 PM):

An update on the activities of Vancouver’s free community wi-fi initiative. I’m in the meeting right now – we’re talking tech, project visioning, and media messaging for the project. It’s an energetic group, and you can view the all confabbing in the image at right. The project is alive and well, yet not without its technical/political/economic challenges … which all seem to be rolled up into one giant challenge right now…


Below right is a pic of one of the Meraki units in the process of being hacked. We’re having some issues digging in – something to do with proprietary cables and other issues outside of my expertise.


Update (Oct 4):

Later that evening we got to the elephant in the corner issues, such as dealing with home ISP connections, User Agreements, and security of the mesh. We’ve since had more media coverage on some neocon pundit show or something like that, and the momentum is still very strong.

Another Update (Oct 4):

There appear to be some changes going on with Meraki’s administration packages. Meraki is changing price points and feature sets around, which might mean that our initiative (and many others around the world) will have to “shift gear”. The MIT Roofnet project may serve as a model for us, but we’re looking into solutions achieved in other cities without the use of Meraki (or using successfully hacked Meraki) units.

Of course, all of this rests on the assumption that Meraki might offer something better to the many groups who’ve invested heavily in their hardware in recent months. It’d be a shame to see so many initiatives get throttled, especially given all the positive press Meraki has received in many cities, not to mention here, in the blogosphere…

Vancouver Free the

Meraki minis and outdoor units for the Vancouver mesh network. Image courtesy of Boris Mann.I’m involved in the Vancouver Free the initiative (though there may be disagreement over whether “initiative” is the appropriate word to describe it). VanFreetheNet is setting up ad hoc mesh networks in various parts of the city, partly in response to inertia and other issues related to the City of Vancouver’s municipal wireless plans.

We’re using the Meraki units (above right, thanks to Boris Mann for the image) – which look really simple to configure and manage, and only cost $70. Best of all, after this one time cost, each person or business owns the wi-fi node they’ve set up – whether it’s connected to the wider Internet or not. It’s community owned community infrastructure.

Kris Krüg has got a map of mesh connectivity around the city – that I think is being updated regularly. I’ll be adding at least one node to the Commercial Drive area, and hopefully I can mobilize interest among others in the neighborhood (cafés offering free wireless and schools in the area – I’m looking at you…). If anyone’s got a business, organization, or other broadband connection they’d like to share, get in touch with Kris at Bryght (kriskrug at gmail dot com) to buy one and get it set up.