Friday, January 25, 2008

Broadband solution for all of US

Broadband solution for all of US

California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency is urging the state government to issue bonds to finance the expansion and upgrading of California’s broadband infrastructure. In view of California’s horrific budget deficit, this is probably a nonstarter. However, what the agency is proposing is sound and it needs to be implemented urgently, in fact, not just in California but for the entire US.

Those who already have broadband services probably don’t realize this but due to the physical size of our country and the-public-be-damned corporate attitude of the like of AT&T and Verizon, there are innumerable areas in this country that are still being served by 56 kbps dial-up modems only, and those areas are often only a few miles from where most broadband users live.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made a blunder when it allowed AT&T and Bell South to merge two years ago. The only binding requirement to the merger worth noting was to stipulate that AT& T offer an inexpensive DSL broadband service that is affordable to low-income people. However, the requirement said nothing about whether those low-income people are presently being served with DSL capable AT&T infrastructure.

In other words, AT&T was not required to upgrade the existing non-DSL capable phone service to the one that is DSL capable. Needless to say, what the FCC should have done was to require AT&T to serve all of its customers with broadband service, say, within three years of the merger. Undoubtedly, it would have been expensive, but if AT&T wanted the merger bad enough (it did), it would have agreed.

Thanks to this FCC blunder, the public is being asked, as California is trying to do, to foot the bill to incentivize those very culprits who have been dragging their feet. This is like paying thieves not to steal. What is needed is not more public money thrown to the private sector but increased competitive pressure that can be brought about by new FCC regulatory measures.

AT&T and other phone companies in principle has no qualms about offering the best broadband service in the world, provide that the public pays for the cost of the upgrade upfront; otherwise, they are not going to do it with their own money. It is not that AT&T and other Baby Bells (Verizon, Qwest) don’t have the money for the infrastructural improvement, but they would rather spend the money buying up wireless spectrum to keep the competition out of their lucrative wireless phone business.

Undoubtedly, once the competition is out of the way, they will slam the public with expensive infrastructure upgrade bills. It will be almost like the old Ma Bell time: with virtually no competition, both the public and government will be at Bell companies’ mercy.

If a progressive state like California is unable to do the infrastructure upgrade for everyone equitably, who else can? Certainly not the big communications companies which are busy creating the inequitable situation, and definitely not the federal government which has its own huge budget deficit problem. What will then?

I propose that it is still the federal government. After all, it already owns valuable wireless frequency properties on which to build a nationwide broadband wireless system for all legal US residents to be able to access. The proposal outlined below is one such possibility that won’t bust the federal budget, and it might just be the ideal plan to give every US resident a secure, inexpensive wireless communications system that even the low-income people can access without depending on the whims of the private sector network providers.

First of all, currently Federal Communications Commission is conducting a spectrum auction of 700 MHz radio spectrum that is being freed up by the TV industry’s move to digital TV broadcasting. This frequency spectrum is known as the “beachfront property” because of its extended reach and the ability to penetrate walls, tall buildings, hills, and mountains. In other words, it is a near perfect frequency spectrum to build a wireless nationwide broadband communications network. This auction is a once in a lifetime opportunity for many companies looking to either start a new broadband service or lock up the airwave to keep their competition out.

One of the frequency spectrum blocks in the FCC auction is called D block spectrum, which is reserved for dual public safety and commercial use. In other words, whoever buys this spectrum block has to share it with public safety agencies, such as police, fire, ambulance and what have you. Now, just imagine yourself as a potential buyer for D block spectrum, and you can see how tricky this can be; after all, the bandwidth you are buying is limited in its capacity, and you really don’t know what the future need of the public safety agencies will be and how much bandwidth that will encroach on your share. Only thing you know is that you have to accommodate whatever their need is.

Worse, the wireless communications market is heading for continuous data transmissions that take up huge amount of bandwidth, such as music and video streaming. Any wireless broadband provider hoping to succeed in this business in the coming years has to have all the bandwidth it can get—and you have to share a big chuck of that with emergency public services? It sure looks like a nonstarter, but suppose if you can get the spectrum for a fire sale price? Then, of course, you can be like AT&T, offering broadband service that is spotty, haphazard, while whistling the-public-be-damned song, and blaming the problems on not having enough bandwidth.

As I see it, the emergency public services are eventually going to end up paying for the bandwidth they use with whatever the new company it is going to be called. All bidders on D block spectrum anticipate this, so the buyer who is adept at pulling influence with Washington lobbyists should leap a huge profit on this purchase somewhere down the road, but the name of the game right now is to get the D block for a song first.

Consequently, as it stands, there appears to be little interest in bidding on D block at the FCC’s asking price. Why should there be? There is no need to be in a hurry, since the FCC isn’t going to stop offering it.

In short, there will be hardly any competitive bidding on this frequency block, and whoever bids on it at the rock bottom price might just get the spectrum. If the first round bids do not live up to the asking price, the FCC auction rule is to put the spectrum up again for the second round, presumably at a lower price, and the process will continue until the price is just about right for some company to afford a busload of lawyers and lobbyists for the next 10 years to make the public eventually pay for the cost of the bandwidth for public emergency use. If you don’t see it coming, you might as well buy a beachfront property in Bangladesh.

To be fair, The FCC is to be applauded for coming up with the idea of using the D block spectrum to make a nationwide broadband communications network for emergency use, but why a dual system shared with a commercial entity? Well, the answer is simple: the US government did not want to foot the bill for the anticipated 10 billion dollars in infrastructural investment, not even the Pentagon which might benefit by shifting some of its communications need by going to a more limited access government run network to give itself a little rest from fighting the armies of Chinese and Russian government espionage hackers trying to penetrate into the US government computers to steal sensitive information via the Internet every minute of the day.

The dual share system is a nonstarter, not merely because of various fickle factors that are intrinsic to the private sector business, but also the likelihood that it will be just another conduit to access the Internet by its customers, with all the consequential problems of the Internet riding along with the nation’s emergency communications system. Do we really want to introduce our emergency first responders to hackers, saboteurs, and electronic hecklers on the same network while in the middle of an emergency, regardless of how many safety measures we employ?

No. The only way to go is to tie the emergency function with the communications function of another government agency. Unfortunately, outside of the Pentagon, there is probably no other government agency that can come up with $10 billion to make it a reality—except the United States Postal Service (USPS).

Why the USPS? Well, it is already in the nationwide communications business by the mandate of the US Congress to permit all Americans to communicate by an inexpensive and universal means of communications, although the advent of the Internet is beginning to leave it behind in terms of the technology being employed. It is about time that the USPS upgrades itself to connect all Americans by the 21st century technology; that is, by a wireless communications network that can reach just about anyone, anywhere in this country.

The money for the upgrade can be procured from a temporary postage surcharge (say, 4 cents on the First-Class, and a quarter on all parcels) for the next several years, or, alternatively, a monthly $1 surcharge on all telephone accounts, both landline and wireless, until the infrastructure is built. Another possibility is to use the Universal Service Fund, which is currently going into the phone companies’ coffers without ever seeing it coming out on the other end to help the rural and low-income US residents.

It should also be pointed out that the wireless communications towers and other facilities required for the network can be build on the ground of existing US and state government facilities, which include the USPS offices as well as on other public emergency agency facilities, thus virtually eliminating the land acquisition costs and fees for the land use.

Without going on for another 10 pages of details, I believe such a communications network can be made more secure, universal, and income-independent (a low-income US resident gets basically the same service as a millionaire, just as with the current USPS service). And to avoid competing with the private sector counterparts, it would have to be configured for secure communications needs, such as email, ecommerce involving monetary transactions, educational and informational access, rather than for entertainment; that is, no heavy bandwidth activities involving extensive movie and music download or streaming, no voice communications capability except for emergency, and, of course, no adult contents.

The network would operate apart from the Internet with limited (filtered) Internet access capability. All accessible websites must be registered with the USPS and the websites and their servers must be physically located in the US (no out of reach websites run by overseas electronic swindlers). The user of this network must have positive ID before he or she is given an account and a permanent email address to access the network.

Each account must belong to a legal US resident, and it is to be obtained from the local USPS station that services the user’s residential address. The cost of the network should not be more than $10 a year per account (free for those who qualify on the account of limited income), and even if the account is inactive, it will not be removed from the network (just as the Social Security card number is not retired until the death of the account holder).

Naturally, privacy is an issue if users wish to hide their identities, since they have to be who they are (no fake email identities) to use the network to send emails or receive them, but that is no different from the present USPS. The USPS pretty much knows whom it serves. That, actually, is the beauty of the current USPS when it comes to communicating with known persons or sending packages. With the current Internet full of fake personas and multiple email addresses, it is difficult, if not impossible, for the recipients of emails or the users of social networks to know who they are dealing with, which often lead to fraudulent activities, physical harm, even death.

Most of us are painfully aware of the case of Megan Meier, a 13-year-old suburban St. Louis girl who committed suicide after receiving vicious messages on her MySpace account. Had all the social network websites, such as MySpace and Facebook, been required to use positive ID email address that can be provided by the USPS electronic communications system being proposed here, Megan’s parents would have been able to obtain the true identity of the person who was masquerading with a fictitious identity. Thus, the establishment of positive ID system for electronic communications by non-private Internet entity such as USPS goes a long way in curbing the widespread fraudulent activities that are endemic on the Internet.

Needless to say, this is definitely not for people who want to mask their identity while using emails and other services provided by the Internet. For them, there will always be commercial alternatives, and it should be pointed out that opening an account with the USPS is not a requirement. One can easily choose not to use it, just as one can choose not to receive any mail from the current USPS. However, to prevent abuses by commercial entities, other than for email exchanges, social network uses, and emergency calls, the user’s identity should be masked while surfing the Internet so the websites they visit will not be able to identify the visitors without requesting first.

Undoubtedly, the issue of fraudulent activities probably will not be completely eliminated, but having a single network operator and stricter access rules for both the users and websites should allow a measurable improvement in securing the network. Needless to say, any undertaking of this magnitude definitely requires further studies before its full implementation.

The access devices for the network can be portable (basically a cellular phone type device with email and limited website access and emergency voice capability) or home based (accessible via TV screen possibly). In addition, those with Internet capable cellular phones should be able to access their USPS accounts by configuring the phones provided that the phones would be SDR (software defined radio) capable for multi-frequency access.

Heavy users of USPS email accounts would have to pay email postage over a certain monthly quota. This is to prevent commercial entities from spamming the system and at the same time provide the USPS with additional revenues. This is no different from the current USPS requiring postage to use its service.

In regard to improving public safety, the fact that this network is shared with public safety agencies will likely enhance the ability of these agencies to reach the affected citizens in case of natural disasters, mass evacuations, and other national emergencies via email or voice mail that can be sent out en masse to all account holders in the affected areas. Since the email addresses in the proposed USPS network are tied to the domiciles of the account holders, this is relatively easy to accomplish.

Other local agencies and government offices would also gain an invaluable means to reach their citizens electronically to inform them of the changes in local laws and ordinances. Local school systems can find ways to reach parents and students better, particularly when the schools are in recess. Furthermore, the federal government can implement more efficient way for the citizens to fill tax returns at no cost securely online, and the members of the Congress would be able to reach their constituencies more effectively at virtually no costs. If the public financing of political campaign ever becomes a reality, this ca be an ideal way for each candidate to reach potential voters also (only during a defined period for campaigning).

Regardless of the merit of the idea presented here, I believe the FCC‘s proposal to share the communications need of emergency public agencies with the commercial need of a private enterprise is a bad idea. If you agree, be sure to let your Congressional Representatives and Senators, as well as FCC Commissioners know before the D block spectrum gets sold for a song to a front company for a private equity firm, or the like of AT&T and Verizon which are mostly interested in buying up all spectrum blocks to keep the competition out.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Why Jesus’ Tomb?

The possibility of Jesus’ tomb is a difficult issue, if not impossible one, for most Christians who toe the line with various offshoots of Pauline and Johannine theological interpretations of the nature of Jesus that had won out over other competing theological interpretations several hundred years after Jesus’ crucifixion. After all, once a believer accepts the resurrection of Jesus from the dead as fact, then everything else concerning the matter is non-fact even if the evidence to the contrary is staring at one’s face.

Worse, once a believer accepts Jesus as the God, not just the Son of God (Pauline view, which is as far as St. Paul was willing to go) but the very God Himself (the Johannine view, developed in the Gospel of John), then the idea of the remains of God in an ossuary becomes, well, outrageous blasphemy. Indeed, many a Christian reacts to this type of talk as violently as any Moslem who would have no qualms about killing anyone who blasphemes against the Prophet Mohammad.

So how should those of us who are not encumbered by the traditional Christian theological interpretations of Jesus, but still have tremendous respect and love for Jesus, in this acrimonious and often emotionally charged, irrational milieu, approach the possibility that Jesus was a human being, with blood relations, who died as human being?

From the perspective of Christian orthodoxy, which essentially hinges everything on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, as Paul did, the humanizing of Jesus would kill his divinity, thus depriving him of his power to grant grace to his believers. But this is an erroneous view; after all, Christian theological development could have followed a different pass from the winning view, which was extracted at the cost of the lives of millions upon millions of so-called heretics, while still preserving Jesus’ divine nature and, more importantly, his power to grant God’s grace.

Take Buddhism, for example. No mainstream Buddhists believe that Gautama Buddha is the God; in fact, they cheerfully accept the fact that he was once a human being, who had a wife and a son, and who departed from this world thorough the decay of his material body. At the same time, most Buddhists have no qualms about praying to the Buddha to intercede on their behalf, because the Buddha, once freed from the earthly bound and its karma, had become a fully divine being, capable and willing to respond to the need of those who call upon him.

To such view, Christians are taught to retort that Jesus is God whereas the Buddha is not, thus the Buddha is incapable of helping and saving people, but that’s like saying that the only doctor that can save your life in a medical emergency is the CEO of the hospital. It’s a ridiculous view but that is essentially what the preachers of Christian orthodoxy want their followers to believe.

In truth, there are many ways to slice a pie, while still getting the same taste. Much of Christian (and Moslem) inflexibility and intransigence in regard to religious dogmas comes from the Christian insistence that there is only one way to slice a pie, and theirs is the only cut that gives a taste.

To make the matter worse, there are many New Testament scholars and biblical archaeology researchers whose unspoken motive for being in their professions is to defend the Christian faith and denounce and discredit any and all studies and discoveries that do not agree with their Christian dogmas and literal truth of the New Testament.

Can we really do scientific research and scholarly investigations under such inflexible presumption and dogmatic adherence to the researchers’ vested interest? No, and that is why doing clear-headed studies and impartial investigations of New Testament times is like driving a car on a road where all the bystanders are tossing nails and digging potholes in front of your car.

There is no question that some of the claims made by the directors of The Lost Tomb of Jesus seem intended to pander to the hidden history and conspiracy theory aficionados with their overarching attempt to connect the discovery of the tomb to Freemasonry, Knights Templar, and the main thesis of Dan Brown’s book, The Da Vinci Code. This is truly unfortunate since those unwarranted claims exposed the entire theses advanced by the film to widespread ridicules and condemnation.

Nevertheless, the film did achieve one thing that was necessary; that is, reviving the interest in this tomb which, in spite of a concerted effort by many biblical archaeologists and New Testament Scholars to dismiss it as an insignificant find, is actually a rather unusual tomb with many remarkable aspects that make it far from an insignificant, run-of-the-mill first century Jewish family tomb.

There is also a troubling report from the Jerusalem Post that seems to indicate that this concerted effort by Israeli archaeologists and other biblical experts to debunk the idea of Jesus’ tomb was motivated not by sound science but by political considerations. In the future postings, I hope to construct a plausible scenario of what might had actually happened in those few fateful years prior and after the death of a man called Jesus, once the son of man, then the Messiah and the Son of God, and finally the God Himself.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Jesus' Tomb Found?

The Jerusalem Post and time magazine report that the widow of the Israeli archaeologist Yosef Gat, who discovered a controversial first century family tomb in Jerusalem's Talpiot neighborhood in 1980, is now telling the world that her husband believed the tomb was indeed Jesus’ tomb, but he chose not to make his view known for fear of a widespread anti-Semitic backlash that the discovery might trigger.

Mr. Gat’s reluctance and fear is quite understandable, for when the Discovery Channel aired a documentary, The Lost Tomb of Jesus, based on the discovery last year, calling attention to the possibility of the tomb being the family tomb of Jesus, there was a huge outcry against the documentary by the Christian community fearful that the ancient Christian belief in Jesus’ bodily resurrection was being seriously challenged with archaeological evidence. In fact, if the discovery turns out to be credible, the impact of the discovery might be as damaging to the traditional Christian theology as Darwin’s theory of evolution. As a consequence, the film was only shown once by the Discovery Channel, and Great Britain’s Channel 4 cancelled the airing of the film.

According to the film, The Lost Tomb of Jesus, produced by James Cameron and Canadian journalist Simcha Jacobovici, it appears that there were 10 funeral ossuaries, 5 of which bore inscriptions relating to the familiar New Testament Jesus clan names, such as “Jesus son of Joseph,” “Joseph,” “Mary,” “Jose” (name of a brother of Jesus), and “Mariamne” (inscribed as “known as the master”). The names such as Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were quite common in the time of Jesus, but having all those names in a family tomb together, along with the name of one of Jesus’ brothers, Jose, is quite remarkable, if not incredibly so. It should also be noted that Mariamne “know as the master” matches the description of another Mary (Mary Magdalena?) in the Gospel of Mary, a short account found on a fifth-century papyrus codex, who taught Jesus’ disciples the teachings of Jesus that were not revealed to them while he was alive.

The tomb might just be the real thing, and here is how it could have been.

It is significant to note that an ossuary of James, the brother of Jesus who became the head of “Jerusalem Church” (Jesus Movement) sometime after the death of Jesus, was not found with the other ossuaries. This actually makes sense since James was murdered by the High Priest Ananus about 4 years before the Jewish revolt of 66 A.D.

Immediately after the execution of James, it is highly likely that Ananus initiated persecutions against the followers of James, which probably prevented the followers, including James’ remaining brothers, Jude and Simon, from giving James the appropriate burial in the family tomb. After they had been driven out of Jerusalem, the survivors of the persecution probably never had the opportunity to return to the tomb of Jesus clan, as Jerusalem and its surrounding areas were completely destroyed by the Romans in the revolt of 66 A.D. Those followers who managed to stay in Jerusalem probably perished with the rest of the population of Jerusalem when the Roman general Titus sacked the city and destroyed the Herod’s Temple in 70 A.D.

One question that needs to be answered is, why in Jerusalem, not in Galilee? Jesus clan appears to be from Galilee, not from Jerusalem, and it is generally assumed that Joseph was already dead at the time of Jesus’ ministry. So why didn’t Jesus clan have the family tomb in Galilee, rather than in Jerusalem? My guess is that the clan did have a family burial place and Joseph and Jesus were initially buried in Galilee.

One New Testament Scholar, James Charlesworth, professor of New Testament language and literature at Princeton Theological Seminary, dismisses that the tomb is the final resting place of Jesus by claiming that the ossuary could not have been used by the followers of Jesus because they would not have dared putting the remains of their messiah “in such a horrible ossuary.” I believe, on the contrary, that is exactly what would have happened if Jesus were buried in his family burial place in Galilee by his poor carpenter family, not by his followers.

When James moved to Jerusalem to take over the nascent Jesus Movement (the Primitive Church) by the request of Peter, then its leader, it is possible that the remaining clan members also moved with him. From the elaborate appearance of the tomb, whoever owned the tomb must have been fairly well-off. A carpenter clan probably could not have been able to afford this type of tomb, but James could have, due to his position in the Jesus Movement.

James, some years after becoming the leader of the Jesus Movement, probably moved the ossuaries of Jesus and Joseph to the new family tomb in Jerusalem from Galilee. And as his clan members, such as Mary and Jose, died in Jerusalem, they were buried in the tomb. The presence of Mariamne’s remains in the clan tomb is a mystery. She might have been an unmarried sister of Jesus (sisters were mentioned in the New Testament but not by name), or possibly a wife of one of the Jesus clan members, even of Jesus (Mary Magdalene?).

Why didn’t Jesus’ family tomb become a focal point of Jesus Movement then? My guess is that James never told his followers that Jesus was buried there--in other words, a family secret. Why? Because it was James and his brothers who took the body of Jesus back to his family tomb in Galilee after Jesus’ crucifixion.

If you were James, would you tell? Well, I shall leave that as one of the answers to the mystery of the tomb for now, but it might just be that it is James’ silence that made the Pauline and Johannine theology of Christianity, to which most Christians today still subscribe, possible.