Category Archives: Blog

FireChat Shows the Triumph of Technology Over Repression

What happens when you’re protesting in a place like China where the government stands ready to shut down Internet services or block social networking web sites?

Read more on The Huffington Post

How the Ferguson Protests Convinced Me We Don’t Need Cell Phone Kill Switches

California Governor Jerry Brown just signed a bill that requires all smartphones sold in California to come with mandatory “kill switches.” A few weeks ago, I thought the bill was a seemingly harmless piece of legislation that might decrease the number of smartphones stolen every year. I even wrote a blog post in support of the bill. I’ve since changed my mind.

The events in Ferguson, Mo. that followed the police shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown made me rethink my view.

Read the rest of the story HERE

Allow Municipalities the Chance to Build Broadband Networks

After all, who better to know what a community needs than a local government? If elected officials recognize a need for better broadband access in their state, shouldn’t voters have the final say as to who gets to build and maintain its broadband networks?

Every corner of the country deserves access to high-speed Internet.

Read more on The Huffington Post

 

Why tech will back S.F. minimum-wage hike

by Mike Montgomery

Will the Bay Area’s tech royalty back a big boost to the minimum wage in San Francisco? They should. And they will — once they see the numbers.

Let me explain. Until recently, the region’s tech stars have been able to portray themselves as the antithesis of the Wall Street folks, New Yorkers who tricked widows and orphans into taking out mortgages they couldn’t afford. Those were the greedy guys. And the bitter dysfunction in Washington, D.C.? That’s a town run by partisan ideologues.

San Francisco, meanwhile, is packed with entrepreneurs and engineers — problem-solving do-gooders who definitely pay attention to the numbers.

Read more in The San Francisco Examiner

How the Ferguson Protests Convinced Me We Don’t Need Cell Phone Kill Switches

California Governor Jerry Brown just signed a bill that requires all smartphones sold in California to come with mandatory “kill switches.” A few weeks ago, I thought the bill was a seemingly harmless piece of legislation that might decrease the number of smartphones stolen every year. I even wrote a blog post in support of the bill. I’ve since changed my mind.

The events in Ferguson, Mo. that followed the police shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown made me rethink my view.

Read the rest of the story HERE

Title II: How the FCC Can Save Net Neutrality and Still Ruin the Internet

Prolonged discussions of Federal Communications Commission regulations are typically about as stimulating as a fistful of Ambien — except when it comes to net neutrality.

With the FCC poised to issue new rules governing how Internet service providers manage and price the traffic that flows through their networks, Americans woke up and spoke up so loudly that they crashed the agency’s website last month. The million-plus comments from concerned citizens were the most the FCC has ever received during a proposed rule’s public comment period — and just a few hundred thousand shy of the number of complaints that poured in after Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction.” When we’re comparing tech regulations to Super Bowl nipple slips, you know we’re in a different kind of debate.

You probably haven’t had a chance to read all 1,067,779 comments. Neither have I. But most support an outcome preserving the wide-open Internet that birthed our current era of innovation, transformation and disruption. The question now is how to achieve this.

The debate so far has been oversimplified: Are you for net neutrality or against it? That reductive framing may lead us to embrace a solution that doesn’t solve the problem.

From where I sit at CALinnovates, representing tech companies dependent on the open Internet to survive, this debate is incredibly important. Disruptors like ride-share platform Sidecar and conference-call service Speek shouldn’t be forced to bid against deep-pocketed giants — or anyone, for that matter — for their share of bandwidth. Nor should they be forced to adapt to regulations that would suppress new ideas or hamstring the entrepreneurs who hatch them.

They, along with countless other startups and aspiring innovators, agree: We need an outcome that preserves the openness of the Internet.

Unfortunately, it’s not so simple. Let me explain. The leading proposal in Washington to achieve that goal is to reclassify broadband providers as “telecommunications services.” This would allow the FCC to regulate providers using authority granted it under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.

As you have undoubtedly noticed, the Communications Act of 1934 was passed in 1934. That means the FCC is gathering input as it considers adopting the same legislative framework for the Internet that existed back when “wireless” meant the hand crank on your grandparents’ AM radio.

Title II turned our nation’s telephone system — a single network operated by a single company, Ma Bell — into a highly regulated utility, just like water and electric companies. While they helped protect consumers from the excesses of a corporate monopoly, Title II’s restraints hardly made that phone network an innovative one.

Ask your parents: Under Title II, innovation in telecom meant being able to buy a different color of the same phone chosen by the monopoly at a price set by the government. This same law can’t accommodate today’s sprawling, bustling, magically fragmented Internet, a miracle of technology unimaginable in 1934 — or even in 1996, when the act was updated for the “modern” era.

By turning the Internet into a utility, we’ll bleed tech innovation with a thousand paper cuts. Would we even know what an iPhone is if Steve Jobs had to run his pricing models past the FCC? Would Twitter be fomenting revolution if Jack Dorsey needed to check with regulators about what kind of data can be shared online and by whom?

It sounds far-fetched, but that’s how it would work. Under Section 214 of Title II, common carriers have to ask for approval before discontinuing nonperforming platforms or launching new ones.

Shoehorning Internet companies into Title II won’t just slow Silicon Valley down to Beltway-at-rush-hour speed; it will also render impossible a great many things that have become part of our daily routines, like using on-demand services from location-based smartphone apps.

Under Section 222 of Title II, companies have a duty to protect the confidentiality of customers’ proprietary network information. Sounds benign, right? Well, it means wireless location data could no longer be shared with Internet companies for mapping or advertising. Location-based companies would be limited by, in the regulators’ lyrical stylings, the “use or disclosure” of “call location information concerning the user of a commercial mobile service.” In plain English, that means companies like dating service Tinder, car navigation service Waze and ride-sharer Uber could soon become relics of the past. At the least, they would have far higher hurdles and costs in launching and attracting investment capital.

The big losers in all this would very likely be startups and the consumers they seek to serve. For large, established digital companies, these new regulations would probably just be an inconvenience. For startups that don’t have the resources to fight Title II classification, or the in-house legal teams to interpret the new requirements, the rule changes would be a death knell.

Before we trade the devil we know for the devil our grandparents knew, we should pause to ask ourselves whether legally defining the Internet as a utility will keep it both open and innovative — or act as a drag on creativity and growth.

I’m pro-net neutrality, but anti-1934-style strangulation. Where does that leave me? According to the approaches under consideration, I may soon be a man without a country. Good thing the Internet, at least for now, doesn’t require a passport.

 

Mike Montgomery is the executive director of CALinnovates, a San Francisco-based non-profit advocacy concern whose members include high-tech companies, political and thought leaders, and entrepreneurs.

This piece originally ran in The Huffington Post

We Need Net Neutrality Policy, but ‘30s Regs Aren’t the Way to Do It

Old School Regs Aren't the Way Forward

I like the Internet.

Cat Vids ← It brings us cat videos.

And baby photos. And memes.

It also brings education to the masses, health care to the hard to reach, and drives California’s economic engine.

The Internet does all these things (and more!) because it is an open platform. The principles of “Net Neutrality” (NN) and the open Internet are bedrock beliefs for innovative companies in California and around the country who are delivering the innovations and applications that power our lives.

More than a decade after NN was defined, it’s back on the front burner with everyone from talk show satirists to dog walkers discussing the importance of keeping the Internet open. The issues around NN are not new. The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) has been struggling to create a legal framework to preserve and protect these core principles of openness for a long time, and I applaud FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler’s recent efforts to craft a sensible solution.

I’m convinced that a common sense solution exists, while at the same time hopeful that we’ll make sure there’s water in the pool before we dive in headfirst. I say that because I’m a little concerned about the desire by some to impose 1930s style telephone regulations on the Internet.

These old rules, also known as Title II, if you’re wondering, refer to a section of the Telecommunications Act that Congress first passed in 1934 to regulate telephone service. Not surprisingly, things are dramatically different now than they were 80 years ago, so when you take regulations drafted in the era of the rotary phone and apply them to the era of the smartphone, one has to wonder if this is a square-peg, round-hole solution.

Applying these old telephone regulations would essentially treat the Internet like a utility such as water or electricity. But when is the last time you saw innovation in your water pipe? “

If the Internet had been regulated like water or gas, I highly doubt we would have seen the advent of things like Google Fiber or connected cars,” said Jack Crawford, general partner at Velocity Venture Capital.

Eighty years ago, do you know what went through your water pipe? Water. And I bet that is what will go through it in 80 years. But do you want to guess what will flow through our broadband networks in 80 years? Do you want to guess the bandwidth requirements, the necessary speeds, or the possible services that future networks will need to support? I asked Crawford to answer the same question in the event that broadband is treated as a utility. His response:

“I don’t have a crystal ball, but in 80 years I think regulated broadband would look a lot like it does today. Let’s not veer down that path.”

Over the last three years, I have had the pleasure to work with the FCC, the CPUC, and officials at every level of government to ensure that California’s startups have a voice in the regulatory process. We may not always agree, but these governmental decision makers are working hard to create and enforce rules that will protect consumers, incentivize investment, and grow our economy. It’s the trifecta we all want.

It’s a poorly kept secret, but government moves slower than startups. And the FCC is no different. In order to make a decision on an Internet Service, it’s a 30 day comment period followed by a 30 day reply comment period — and that’s before any ruling by the Commission can even take place. Not exactly the speed of innovation. According to Avetta’s Lloyd Marino, a process such as this would have a chilling effect on innovation.

“In this business, we’re iterating on the fly, A/B testing different features and changing pricing models frequently. I don’t have the time to wait patiently for the conclusion of a regulatory process that I frankly don’t understand and can’t afford.”

As with any heavy regulatory hammer, Title II will be felt by nearly every part of the Internet ecosystem because it will regulate Internet services.That potentially means any company in the business of transporting information from one corner of the Internet to another could be regulated under these rules. That could include the likes of Netflix, Amazon, Twitter, even Snapchat — heavy-hitters who rely on the free flow of data to meet the needs of their customers.

For startups especially, extreme regulation could easily become Armageddon. Since under the rule the FCC will have the same regulatory oversight over Internet services as it does basic telephone service. That means it will approve, or not approve, any changes in Internet service, pricing, terms, conditions, and infrastructure. “Without the freedom for people to innovate without government oversight — what’s known as “permissionless innovation” — it’s doubtful the Internet would be where it is today,” said Yo Yoshida, Founder & CEO of Appallicious, a San Francisco-based civic startup operating in the open government space.

Furthermore, this might also require the payment of regulatory fees. Any company deemed to be providing a “telecommunication service” would theoretically have to contribute to the Universal Service Fund (“USF”). Who picks up this 17% tab? Probably us — consumers. Adding lines of fees and taxes to our Internet bills isn’t on my Christmas list.

In answer to these very real concerns, some supporters of reclassification state the FCC could forebear (grant exceptions) on certain parts of Title II. This, they say, would keep innovation moving. But what this perspective underestimates is the uncertainty this will inject into the sector, the onslaught of litigation such an approach would create, and the institutionalization of distinct classes of the Internet — where some companies can innovate freely and others are left to seek permission every step of the way.

In a statement by Chairman Wheeler following a recent hearing, he said, “There is ONE Internet. Not a fast internet, not a slow internet; ONE Internet.” I could not agree more with that statement. In fact, back in 2012 I wrote an op-ed about the dangers of two Internets. The United Nations was engaged in a treaty process that had the potential to create two Internets through a misguided regulatory process favored by countries such as China, Iran and Russia, and I posited that we must vigilantly fight to preserve one open Internet for all across the world.

I feel the same way nearly 18 months later and echo the words of Chairman Wheeler. We need to protect the open Internet. Saying the Internet is of great benefit and utility is like saying water is wet. It’s a universal truth.

I am delighted to see a robust conversation developing around how to best preserve what makes the Internet great. I just hope we don’t leap into a regulatory framework without really understanding what it means. We can all agree that keeping the Internet open is vital and I’m confident we’ll arrive at a practical solution in time, but we need a modern regulatory approach for modern times — not the porting of a one-size-fits all old-school solution to modern-day challenges.

Mike Montgomery is executive director of CALinnovates, a coalition advocating on behalf of California’s tech community.

 

This article was originally published on Medium

California Passes Kill Switch Legislation

This week, the California Senate passed SB962, requiring all smartphones sold in the state on or after July 2015 to have “kill switch” software baked into the operating system. The law is aimed at reducing smartphone thefts by making it possible for users to remotely wipe their phones — and all their digital data — remotely if need be.

If you’re an iPhone user like me, you’re probably wondering why this is a big deal — or even a deal at all. The “Find my iPhone” app has been around for years now, after all. But surprisingly, the sensible idea of being able to self-destruct your phone if it’s stolen has yet to reach all smartphone makers. Though most companies have publicly embraced the idea of a “kill switch” for their devices, they have yet to make it happen.

The California law, while state specific, sends a strong message to would-be thieves (coughRussian mobcough) that curtailing smartphone theft is a priority. That’s good news for consumers – and therefore the entire mobile ecosystem – and bad news for crooks. The bill awaits Governor Brown’s signature.

— Mike Montgomery

Fore! Velocity Venture Capital’s Entrepreneurial Drive Tees Off

The Serrano Country Club is 18 holes carved out of the El Dorado Hills. It offers stunning views and a par-72, championship course designed by none other than Robert Trent Jones, Jr. And on Monday, July 28, the course will play host Velocity Venture Capital’s Entrepreneurial Drive.
Aimed at shaking up the staid process of pitching investors, the Entrepreneurial Drive is a “Best Ball Scramble” with a twist. As investors hack their way across the course, tech startups are stationed at each green, waiting to deliver a 2-minute pitch of their idea. At the end of that pitch, the investors give the startups a score, then head to the next tee.
This may sound like a gimmicky way to bring startups and potential investors together — and it is — but it’s also an effective one. Pitching for investment dollars is an art form, and the 2-minute time limit and golf-focused investors makes the Entrepreneurial Drive a prime training ground for startups seeking funding. Get an investor interested in the middle of a round and you can pitch your idea in any board room.
The Serrano event is also a part of Velocity Venture’s month long “American Idol meets Shark Tank” contest, which will whittle down the list of companies taking part in this year’s Entrepreneur’s Showcase.
To register for the Entrepreneurial Drive, or to just get more info, hit Velocity Venture Capital’s website

Talking Disruption

 

By Mike Montgomery

I recently moderated a sold-out panel on disruptive tech at Runway, a San Francisco-based accelerator. Runway occupies a massive space next to Twitter on Market Street, home to more than 60 startups focused on, as you would expect, disruptive tech.

My panel consisted of three heavy hitters: Andy Grignon, Will Pryor, and Larry Downes.

Andy Grignon was a member of the team behind the first iPhone. He’s a great storyteller — one story involved the decidedly NSFW nickname Steve Jobs gave him, a nickname Grignon embraced. (If you’re curious what that nickname was, CLICK HERE. Post-Apple, Grignon founded Quake Labs, a startup focused on making simple programming available to the masses.

1st iPHONE

Will Pryor, a senior engineer at Skycatch, was sitting in for CEO Christian Sanz, who was mining — literally and figuratively — for more biz offsite with a new customer in the mining business. Why the mining business? Because Skycatch makes drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which can offer construction managers a safer, and less expensive, way to map, explore and monitor progress. It can also — as attendees of last year’s TechCrunch Disrupt can attest — deliver tacos a la the 2012 hoax you may remember called Tacocopter.

Tacocopter

Larry Downes, my third esteemed panelist, is an ahead-of-the-curve thinker on important tech issues. That description isn’t hyperbole. Downes wrote a book called Unleashing the Killer App, and he wrote it in 1998 — nearly a decade before the iPhone revolutionized our lives with its App Store. His new book, Big Bang Disruption, focuses on strategies for surviving and thriving in the digital era, whether you’re a startup or an incumbent.

Larry Downes

During the panel, Downes shared some of the pearls of his book, including how video games like Pong disrupted the pinball industry much like smartphones led to the downfall of the GPS and camera industries.

Via William Hunter

Via William Hunter

Some brief takeaways from the panel:

Downes told the audience that there are three defining characteristics of disruptive technologies — better, cheaper, more intimate — and how in the past, only two of those characteristics needed to be true. Today, however, all three boxes must be checked. The product, in other words, can’t just be better. It also has to be cheaper (read: free) and connect with consumers in a personal way.

Grignon killed it on the panel. But then, he has a built in advantage — having Apple on his resumé. Given the ongoing fascination with Steve Jobs and anything or anyone he touched along the way, Grignon’s tales of the iPhone development process left everyone yearning for more.

Apple

Looking ahead toward the future, I asked the panel what we’d be talking about 10 years from now if we reconvened to again talk about disruptive tech.  Pryor named embedded tech without hesitation. And he wasn’t just talking about clothing and contact lenses — he instead meant implants within our bodies. That certainly got the audience’s attention.

Also getting the audience’s attention was the question of who would own Uber in the future.  While Grignon thought an IPO was the most likely, Pryor and an audience member both thought Amazon wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.

Downes’ response to the Uber question was more thousand-foot, as he pointed out that the beauty of disruptive technology requires taking the “anything can happen” point of view. It was a fitting viewpoint for a panel focused on the constant earthquakes disruptive technology can have on long-established industries.

All in all, the panel discussion was enlightening, challenging, and often hilarious. My thanks to Grignon, Pryor, and Downes for disrupting (sorry, I had to) their busy lives to join me. Oh, and if you’d like to have a drone deliver a copy of Downes’ latest book, CLICK HERE to purchase it.

If you want to sign up for the cool stuff Grignon is making, CLICK HERE.

And if you want a better way to manage a massive construction process (or a taco), CLICK HERE.

 

Mike Montgomery is executive director of CALinnovates.