The choice between bad and worse might get bigger

In the last several days a flurry of postings about a new company called piled up in my email box. Technorati finds 163 new posts on the subject. Google's Blogsearch finds 329. (As of 4:30am Friday morning, which is when I'm writing this.) The pile will get a lot higher before M2Z gets off the ground. Or buried under it.

M2Z puts VC heavies (Kleiner Perkins, Charles River, Redpoint) behind two heavies in the Internet buildout field: Milo Medin, who deserves the primary credit for getting Internet service to work over cable systems; and John Muleta, the former head of the FCC's wireless bureau. Medin is an especially auspicious participant. Here's a historic article from Wired (in January 1996), which tells how of Kleiner Perkins recruited Milo personally to work with @Home, which was a wild technical success, even though it failed ultimately as a company. , "Milo, last time I saw him, was parked inside Charles River's offices and was tooling around with Myth TV. Who knew he was cooking up yet another big network." MythTV is a Linux project, by the way.

Go to the , and you'll be greeted by warm and fuzzy Flash-animated quotes from notables (e.g. President Bush, FCC Chairman Martin) calling for ubiquitous Internet access, under the less warm but equally fuzzy slogan "Freedom. Innovation." The only link leads to a .pdf of the company's audacious application to the FCC for spectrum, at no cost, with which the company proposes "to rapidly make available free, high speed broadband access to nearly every consumer, business and non-profit and public safety entity in the United States..." Later, it adds, "The mission of M2Z is simple -- to make affordable broadband available throughout the United States of America. While M2Z is a for-profit entity, on of its core principles is that it can thrive financially while significantly advancing the public interest. The proposal before the Commission is the perfect marriage of commercial passions and public commitment."

On an offline mailing list, one alpha geek whose smarts I respect says "Forget farting around with rate structures and local regulatory regimes. *This* is how to make the telco monopoly irrelevant." He adds, "We should be backing M2Z's application 110%"

But I have my doubts. M2Z looks to me like an obelisk painted to look like a rocket.

There are too many signs that, for all of its founders' accomplishments and smarts, M2Z is, at its heart, another carrier, with the same one-way, top-down controlling agenda.

Starting with that .pdf. I can understand publishing the application on the Web in that format, since the company would want the public to read exactly what was proposed to the FCC, in the same WYSIWYG way. But why not also make it available in HTML, or plain text? That's what the FCC does with most of its own documents. (Though they don't make it easy. You have to substitute .txt for .pdf in the URL to get the plaintext version.) Worse, why disable the copy function? I had to transcribe the above quotes, because copying was disabled, presumably by M2Z. For me that raises a big red flag that says "Command and control", not "freedom and innovation".

Then there's the text itself. A search for the word "freedom" in the application document brings no results. I get seven results for "innovation".

A search for "filter" (which also brings up "filtering", "filtered" and "filtration") brings twenty-seven results. Plus nineteen results for "indecent" or "indecency". Specifically, there is this (man, I hate having to retype this):

Mandatory Filtering of Indecent and Obscene Material. M2Z commits to mandatory filtering of indecent and obscene material for the National Broadband Radio Service. This will be accomplished through a compulsory setting on the service that will utilize state of the art filters, taking every reasonable and available step to block access to sites purveying pornographic, obscene or indecent material. Like the free service itself, M2Z's content filtering will be "always on." Moreover, National Broadband Radio Service customers will be unable to alter the filters as they constitute an essential element of that service.

What was that about freedom again?

M2Z, of course, will require new "Affordable Customer Premises Equipment".

There will be two levels of service: free and premium. For the free service, the proposal says,

First and foremost, M2Z will ensure a robust level of broadband service is provisioned, with asymmetric engineered data rates of at least 384kbps down and 128 kbps up, free of airtime or service charges, to all U.S. residents.

The premium service offers "faster data rates, access to additional content and/or special service offerings on a subscription basis" Also, five percent of its revenues will be kicked back to the federal government. Oh, and indecent material filtration is optional.

In sum, M2Z appears to be a private, low-speed, non-standard, asymmetrical filtered subset of the Internet for "consumers". In other words, TV 2.0.

As a potential customer of M2Z's premium services, I see nothing in the company's proposal that looks half as promising as what customers can already get today over Sprint/Verizon's or Cingular's services, both of which use cellular systems already in place. (From what I gather, it's easier to deploy EVDO than EDGE on Linux laptops right now. I'm a Cingular customer, and yesterday a guy at the local Cingular store said, "Linux? We're not even supporing EDGE on Macs." Which is why I may shortly become a Verizon or a Sprint customer.)

Speaking of which, if I were a cellular carrier, I'd accuse M2Z of asking for free spectrum to set up a new nationwide cell service, behind a "free Internet" ruse. But then, I'd be making that accusation entirely within the Regulatorium, which M2Z promises only to make bigger.

Hey, if we're asking the FCC for free market solutions, how about asking them to free up some damn spectrum?

Look at what the free market got with just a few little channels of short-range unlicensed wi-fi spectrum. Wouldn't we rather see the backers of M2Z go for that? With a swath of nationwide open spectrum, free markets for countless new offerings could bloom, raising a vast tide of economic activity that would surely benefit every citizen. And M2Z would, presumably, have a first-mover advantage there.

Instead, M2Z is asking the feds to give them land for building out a nationwide walled garden for captive customers -- one where "consumers" could also roam at no cost but with limited freedoms and unlimited exposure to advertising.

One extra choice between bad and worse.

This post is an update of yesterday's Suitwatch newsletter.


Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal


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It sounds like M2Z

bj's picture

It sounds like M2Z anticipates the defeat of Network Neutrality and that they're trying to position themselves to take advantage of the resulting windfall to broadband providers . . .

More "freedom" from the boys at M2Z...

anonymous's picture

Just so you know. The .pdf is password protected now...

Just in case you'd like to know

Anonymous's picture

If you want to copy text from that PDF or similar in future, simply use Evince or another PDF viewer instead of Acrobat. I can copy and paste the text just fine (from page 4):

"M2Z Networks, Inc. (“M2Z

Not free, but still not clear what's worthwhile

Anonymous's picture

The FCC filing doesn't ask for free spectrum. It asks for a franchise, essentially. Five percent of gross revenue for getting the license, subject to terms that M2Z supplies which are fairly onerous. if they fail, they lose exclusivity or the license.

Now the thing I'm wondering is why, in 2008, would 384/128 down/up be interesting to anyone? Yes, it's better than dial-up. Yes, by using TDD + OFDMA + modern antenna arrays, they'd get efficient use of that 20 MHz (possibly by using 1.25 MHz for free and 5 Mhz for three channels following potential profiles for 802.16-2005 fixed/nomadic/mobile WiMax).

By 2008, I expect that cell operators, incumbent telecoms, cable, and competitive wireless operators will have blanketed even rural areas with a variety of service at a variety of cost. M2Z's unique aspect is the free part. And I would guess just as long distance has become essentially near zero cost with a little effort, so, too, will low-speed mobile access for personal use become effectively free by then.

EDGE on GNU/Linux

Anonymous's picture

It's not very difficult to get EDGE working on GNU/Linux if you use your phone as a modem. Bluetooth is slower than edge, but if you have the right Nokia or Motorola phone you can use a cable.

Why is common sense in such a short supply?

X-Nc's picture

You know, John Nash won a Nobel Prize for showing that business does not have to be a zero sum game. You can make a boat load of money and still not have to crush the world and destroy any reasonable concepts of freedom. Greed is not a virtue. Ultimate control is not a public service.


Sit@Home's picture

liked your comments.

looks like m2z is a free land grab by kleiner perkins and charles river ventures under the guise of public good.

we don't need government subsidized access given just to one company -- it is not fair for capitalism, the market, or consumers who will be stuck with what will be sub-par speeds in a few short years

the issue of free access is best served by local communities who are accountable to local citizens.

what m2z is asking is to be the public utlity for wireless access

that is not free and we as citizens should not allow our spectrum to be given away for free to a private concern

a bidding process is one solution -- have multiple potential providers all bid and the highest bidder meeting our needs wins

but i am more in favor of leaving the market forces alone and not granting m2z or any one company a free advantage that is for commercial and equity gain for just one company: m2z, with the sole goal of making the limited partners of kpcb wealthier from a free government 'cheese' day of bandwidth

this is comparable to

Anonymous's picture

this is comparable to broadcast TV vs cable. Broadcasters have to abide by the FCC decency standards because it is freely available to all Americans over public airwaves. Cable providers don't have to abide by the same standards because people pay for the paying they as actively seeking the service rather than passively receiving it...and so the govt rules are different. That's why m2z is volunteering the filters upfront.

This is definitely about making the old cable companies obsolete. If you attended D in San Diego a few weeks ago, you would have heard just how much those guys want to stifle the freedoms of the internet. You think net neutrality has any hope of surviving? You're nuts. As long as there is no true competition, as long as cable companies and phone companies own all the pipes and all the spectrum, there is no hope for net neutrality to live on. With this new KP play, those old ILECS and CLECS and whateverLECS are going to have to compete to survive. True broadband will then become around $20/month instead of $50 (BTW, anyone notice how the new "naked" DSL in the Bay Area by PacHell/SBC/AT&T is only ONE DOLLAR less than DSL bundles with phone service. What a crock. They agreed to offer naked DSL as a condition of some deal with the Feds, and now we all get a SINGLE DOLLAR discount.

I for one hope m2z puts 'em all out of business for good.