Thursday, May 15, 2003

Wireless Internet Cri de Coeur

Way back in 2000, I had a (circa) 128kbps wireless internet connection for an all-you-can-eat price of about $70 a month. It was the late, lamented, Ricochet service which is back in operation in a few cities after being bought for a pittance after Metricom's bankruptcy (August 8, 2001). One would think that after three years I would easily be able to buy an even faster, more widely spread, and more convenient wireless internet service -- but one would be wrong.

Every time I've checked since August 8, 2001, my Ricochet modem shows 3 or 4 poletop radios still going strong. Still sucking juice. Someone could easily have made $1470 from me since then just by enabling my connection and charging me $70/month (I had two accounts). I still look at the poletop units around my office and at the end of the street where I live. But I can't use them.

Current services from the major wireless voice companies are expensive, slow, and inflexible. They expect you to use them on your phone. All of the wireless modems are PC Card devices. The thought that you might like to use your desktop machine with a wireless internet service hasn't occurred to anyone. (Ricochet had USB modems available.) The companies don't promote these services and you have to dig deeply even to figure out what they are called. One has to hunt around on web sites (usually on the pages targeted at business users) to find anything.

Why can't anyone supply a wireless network that's:

- widespread,
- fast enough (128kbps+),
- cheap enough (>$50/month flat rate),
- easy to use (multiple connection PC card, USB, or Ethernet),
- usable with handheld, laptop, and desktop computers, and
- actually marketed (so people know about it)?

For the benefit of the 2 readers of this blog, and to give me an easy place to click, here are the current names, urls, prices, and speeds(ha!) of the major services. I'm ignoring equipment costs and only listing the monthly cost of the plan that lets you send and receive the most data.

Mobile Internet
$99.99/month for 100MB ($0.0010/KB thereafter) - $49.99/month Unlimited for their Blackberry service

Express Network
$79.99/month Unlimited
Speed - 40kbps -140kbps

T-Mobile Internet
$99.99/month for 200MB ($2.00/MB thereafter)

PCS Vision (PCS Vision for Laptops and PDAs)
$80.00/month Unlimited
Note: You actually have to look at the bottom of this page to get a hint that Sprint offers genuine mobile internet service.

Monday, May 12, 2003

Free Those Vectors!

Re Jacob Levy's latest on the topic:

[John Derbyshire] may not advocate sodomy laws, but his obsessive denigration of gay folks surely rivals that of the most devoted Leviticus-thumper. But still.

Then along comes a clear reminder that there are people it's simply indecent to even be in a broad-tent coalition with, that even in 2003 the most unreconstructed kind of southern racism is still out there. There are bounds of decency to be observed in every political direction; and everyone who hopes to be effective in politics has to engage in complicated and probably-unsatisfactory balancing acts.

Jacob Levy seems to spend a lot of time criticizing people as homophobic or racist. Is this useful politically? Since neither of those views is inconsistent with libertarianism (in the absence of the initiation of force), wouldn't it make more sense to criticize the views of people who believe in things like government schools, taxation, or even vector control districts? Those ideas are inconsistent with human liberty and more dangerous than racism, sexism, bigotry, homophobia, ageism, ad infinitum.

And Prof. Levy replies in a nice long juicy Volokh Conspiracy post:

... [F]irst of all, I don't measure my writing against the standard of whether it's useful politically in some general way. (Useful to whom?)

Second of all, I do think that it *matters* for political effectiveness that one draw some boundaries. ...

Third: extended argument about the rights and wrongs of one or another kind of state action require, well, extended argument. ...

The mainstream conservative movement learned this a long time ago; William Buckley knew that conservatism couldn't be effective without drawing clear lines between itself and, say, the John Birch Society. ...

[P]reserving some bit of shared common ground about decent public discourse has some priority. For similar reasons, procedural norms have a priority in politics that they don't have simply morally. Everyone in politics has an obligation to monitor their own side as well as the other side for rulebreakers, violators of procedures, those who pose some threat to the stability of democratic institutions or to the rule of law, and to take action against such rulebreakers-- ...

Read the whole thing it's worth it.

In the course of quoting my original note, Prof. Levy queried my use of the phrase vector control districts [?? JTL].

I can't tell if the question was "What's a VCD?" or "Why put VCDs on a list with taxes and government schools?"

It was on the list for humorous juxtaposition.

As libertarians, it's important to note the exact design of our chains. A VCD is a local agency that controls disease vectors (rats, skeeters, etc.). It's one of those classic public goods that people are always beating up libertarians about not supplying in their social non-designs.

Later, in a follow-up post Prof Levy discussed his correspondence on the subject:

[Jacob Levy, 9:04 AM]
"Vector control districts": Several people have written in to tell me that "vector control districts" are Californian administrative districts that have as their purpose the controlling of disease vectors, i.e. rats, mosquitoes. Some correspondents thought of them as yet another in the endlessly-proliferating number of pesky, slightly-intrusive, slightly-expensive Californian agencies and levels of government. Others thought their services obvious public goods. My original correspondent, the one who had listed them alongside taxes and state schools, writes: "It was on the list for humorous juxtaposition."

Residential Picketing

Eugene Volokh:

Cities are also constitutionally allowed to bar even peaceful residential picketing (the Supreme Court so held in Frisby v. Schultz (1989), which involved anti-abortion protesters), but to my knowledge Los Angeles doesn't have such an ordinance.

Isn't this misleading?

Doesn't Frisby v. Schultz (1989) just permit ordinances that bar "focused picketing" in front of the target's house. As long as picketers march up and down the block they can't be banned completely.

"We reject this suggestion. Our prior holdings make clear that a public street does not lose its status as a traditional public forum simply because it runs through a residential neighborhood. In Carey v. Brown - which considered a statute similar to the one at issue here, ultimately striking it down as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause because it included an exception for labor picketing - we expressly recognized that "public streets and sidewalks in residential neighborhoods," were "public for[a]." 447 U.S., at 460 -461. This rather ready identification virtually forecloses appellants' argument. See also Perry, supra, at 54-55 (noting that the "key" to Carey "was the presence of a public forum")."


"The First Amendment permits the government to prohibit offensive speech as intrusive when the "captive" audience cannot avoid the objectionable speech. The resident is figuratively, and perhaps literally, trapped within the home, and because of the unique and subtle impact of such picketing is left with no ready means of avoiding the unwanted speech. Thus, the "evil" of targeted residential picketing, "the very presence of an unwelcome visitor at the home," is "created by the medium of expression itself." Accordingly, the Brookfield ordinance's complete ban of that particular medium of expression is narrowly tailored. "

As to your comment:

"To my knowledge Los Angeles doesn't have such an ordinance."

Counter demos and armed householders are self-help options that are easier for targeted individuals to employ than obtaining protective legislation would be.