A Cautionary Tale from the 'Broadband Cowboy'

By Alex Goldman

June 27, 2008

Wireless broadband pioneer, Dewayne Hendricks, warns that the Internet is being redefined for the benefit of a few powerful special interests.

David Isenberg introduced Dewayne Hendricks at the Freedom to Connect conference this spring as the guy doing the conference network, serving bandwidth to over 100 attendees with just three Linksys routers.

"He's responsible for all of the good stuff on the network here and diagnosed at fixed the bad," said Isenberg. (The routers had erupted in a packet storm, a known issue, it turned out, that was solved with a firmware update.)

To ISP-Planet readers (and readers of Wired magazine), Hendricks is known as the Broadband Cowboy, the man who, when told by the FCC that wireless broadband wouldn't work, left the U.S. and did it in Tonga.

The real Internet

First, Hendricks talked about the conference Internet. He said that many users were not accustomed to facing the Internet without some firewall protection between them and it.

"You're seeing the real Internet here, one you don't see at most conferences. Kudos to David on this. It's a static IP, no firewalls, and 8 Mbps of bandwidth. Maybe we should have warned you at badge pickup that you're entering a real Internet zone," he said. He said the conference's name, "Freedom to Connect," is no accident.

"David's really into the freedom to connect, but freedom comes with problems and responsibilities. Each year, the system is a little different," said Hendricks.

He said that each year, running the conference's Internet connection teaches him a lot about the bandwidth and apps that people are using. Given the heavy usage this year, the conference may attempt to have a 100 Mbps pipe next year.

The redefined Internet

Hendricks said he's getting out of the U.S., and that the biggest problem for small ISPs in the U.S. is regulation.

"The problem I see as an ISP—you don't see people like me at conferences, and you don't see the Internet like we do—is that when I hear something like 'net neutrality' my head starts to throb because you guys haven't seen the real Internet for years. At the hotel here, I have apps that don't work because of port blocking. Net neutrality? That horse left so long ago it's gone to Europe by boat," he said. 

Harold Feld commented, "I'm not ready to give up on the U.S. just yet, for both practical and personal reasons. There's plenty to be done. I will be very sorry if folks like Dewayne sart moving overseas."

In the back channel, Glenn Strachan, who has unwired Macedonia and Montenego, added, "Unfortunately, overseas is where countries understand the connection between economic growth and the need for broadband access."

The backbones are pricing small ISPs out of the market. "I need tier 1 access cheap, but my costs are going up. I by it by the megabit. If you buy it in bulk like I do, you can get about $10 per megabit per month," he said. 

But the backbones are working together. He warned that the Internet will be changed completely. He warned that the carriers of the world are working together to the exclusion of regular businesses in a consortium called the IPsphere Forum.

Hendricks warned that the IPsphere Forum is working with Hollywood to produce specifications for an Internet with deep packet inspection and filters, crippling it in the name of copyright protection.

The Forum's member list is here.

The Forum says that it will attempt to create a standards process to deliver API-based integration with content providers so that service providers can earn revenue from premium voice and video services. Presumably, services that don't pay will be marginalized. Keep an eye on this. We will.

Article adapted from ISP-Planet where Alex Goldman is Managing Editor.

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