What folks are saying about the FTC’s review

Since we announced last Friday that the FTC is reviewing our business practices, there’s been a lot of commentary about what it all means. We thought we’d share just a few of those views.

Search Engine Land’s Greg Sterling wrote:
“...the notion of limiting or regulating what Google can show on its [search results pages] is a bad idea. Antitrust law is not supposed to protect companies from competitors but protect the marketplace in general and consumers in particular. Right now there’s no evidence that Google has harmed consumers. And the booming startup market suggests that innovation hasn’t been adversely affected by Google’s rise.”
Advertisers are weighing in. Covario, a San Diego-based search engine marketing firm, writes:
“Our position then, as it is now, is that there is no antitrust case in paid search due to the way pricing is set in the market for paid search keywords. Google acts as market facilitator, not market enforcer. [...] [Google is] quite transparent when it comes to how they determine Quality Score, and advertisers who do not benefit from this understanding either have not put in the work, or are simply unhappy with the result (they are bidding on irrelevant keywords, which hurts quality score, which raises price – those are the publicized rules of the auction – play or don’t play).”
Antitrust attorney and former FTC official David Balto wrote in Huffington Post:
“The proponents of an antitrust investigation of Googles suggest Google is inhibiting competition by setting up barriers harming consumers. But a close examination of Google's entry into multiple consumer markets illustrates the opposite – that where Google competes, consumers benefit.”
And Tom Lenard and Paul Rubin of the Technology Policy Institute wrote in Forbes:
“While the FTC may know things we don't, there is thus far no evidence in the public domain that Google is guilty of violations similar to those of which Microsoft was convicted a dozen years ago. [...] Google's market position was earned precisely because it found a way of ranking search results that is more useful for consumers, and it will quickly lose that position if someone can find an even better ranking algorithm.”

Examining the impact of clean energy innovation

(Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog.)

At Google, we’re committed to using technology to solve one of the greatest challenges we face as a country: building a clean energy future. That’s why we’ve worked hard to be carbon neutral as a company, launched our renewable energy cheaper than coal initiative and have invested in several clean energy companies and projects around the world.

But what if we knew the value of innovation in clean energy technologies? How much could new technologies contribute to our economic growth, enhance our energy security or reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions? Robust data can help us understand these important questions, and the role innovation in clean energy could play in addressing our future economic, security and climate challenges.

Through Google.org, our energy team set out to answer some of these questions. Using McKinsey’s Low Carbon Economics Tool (LCET), we assessed the long-term economic impacts for the U.S. assuming breakthroughs were made in several different clean energy technologies, like wind, geothermal and electric vehicles. McKinsey’s LCET is a neutral, analytic set of interlinked models that estimates the potential economic and technology implications of various policy and technology assumptions.

The analysis is based on a model and includes assumptions and conclusions that Google.org developed, so it isn’t a prediction of the future. We’ve decided to make the analysis and associated data available everywhere because we believe it could provide a new perspective on the economic value of public and private investment in energy innovation. Here are just some of the most compelling findings:
  • Energy innovation pays off big: We compared “business as usual” (BAU) to scenarios with breakthroughs in clean energy technologies. On top of those, we layered a series of possible clean energy policies (more details in the report). We found that by 2030, when compared to BAU, breakthroughs could help the U.S.:
    • Grow GDP by over $155 billion/year ($244 billion in our Clean Policy scenario)
    • Create over 1.1 million new full-time jobs/year (1.9 million with Clean Policy)
    • Reduce household energy costs by over $942/year ($995 with Clean Policy)
    • Reduce U.S. oil consumption by over 1.1 billion barrels/year
    • Reduce U.S. total carbon emissions by 13% in 2030 (21% with Clean Policy)
  • Speed matters and delay is costly: Our model found a mere five year delay (2010-2015) in accelerating technology innovation led to $2.3-3.2 trillion in unrealized GDP, an aggregate 1.2-1.4 million net unrealized jobs and 8-28 more gigatons of potential GHG emissions by 2050.
  • Policy and innovation can enhance each other: Combining clean energy policies with technological breakthroughs increased the economic, security and pollution benefits for either innovation or policy alone. Take GHG emissions: the model showed that combining policy and innovation led to 59% GHG reductions by 2050 (vs. 2005 levels), while maintaining economic growth.
This analysis assumed that breakthroughs in clean energy happened and that policies were put in place, and then tried to understand the impact. The data here allows us to imagine a world in which the U.S. captures the potential benefits of some clean energy technologies: economic growth, job generation and a reduction in harmful emissions. We haven’t developed the roadmap, and getting there will take the right mix of policies, sustained investment in technological innovation by public and private institutions and mobilization of the private sector’s entrepreneurial energies. We hope this analysis encourages further discussion and debate on these important issues.

The Internet route from Cuba to Google

The Internet is, as its name implies, a network of networks. A data packet is sent from a particular computer on one network across the Internet to the receiving computer on another network. As the packet moves from network to network, it goes through special purpose computers called routers.

Traceroute is a simple utility program that comes with every Mac or Windows computer. It shows the path a packet takes -- the list of routers that handle it -- as it hops from network to network.

A colleague in Cuba recently ran Traceroute to see the path between his computer, which was on a dial-up link, to Google in California. He saw that the packet hopped through 20 routers:
These four-number addresses, called Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, identify each router on the path between Cuba and Google, and they reveal something of the network structure.

The prefix of the first four hops (192.168) indicates that they are within the ISP's local area network. The next three are on the network of ETECSA, the Cuban telecommunication monopoly. I saw that by querying the "whois" database that shows that the IP addresses that begin "200.0" have been allocated to:

responsible: Rafael López Guerra
address: Ave. Independencia y 19 Mayo, s/n,
address: 10600 - La Habana - CH
country: CU
phone: +53 7 574242
e-mail: nap@ETECSA.CU
The eighth hop is over a satellite link from the router at the edge of the Cuban network to the network of Newcome International in Miami. I know it is a satellite link because Traceroute reported that the time to reach from Cuba to the 8th router was much longer than from Cuba to the 7th router. Newcome routes packets across their network from Miami to Newark New Jersey and eventually to Google.

No secrets are revealed here -- this sort of information is widely available -- but it would be interesting to see how routes and timing (which we looked at in a previous post) change when the undersea cable is operational. If you are in Cuba and would like to share this sort of route and timing data, let me know.

Tips to help you shop safely online

Ten years ago, the vast majority of Internet users said they wouldn't use the Internet for any financial transactions. Today, more than 70 percent of Internet users access their credit card account via the Internet, and worldwide e-commerce spending is expected to exceed $1 trillion by 2013. And it makes sense why – the Internet provides not only vast product and service information, but also the opportunity to buy those goods right away.

For consumers and businesses to continue to benefit from online commerce, it’s important to keep it safe and secure. That’s why today we’ve posted a new Shopping Safety Tips page. Just as when you’re shopping offline, it’s vital to be a careful and informed buyer on the web.

We work hard to prevent fraud across our services and keep consumers safe online, including recent improvements to keep counterfeits out of ads. However, no individual or company can completely stop these activities on their own. Your help in reporting catch abuse and fraud are critical, and this page also provides links to where you can help us by reporting violations of our policies.

Google Ideas launches Summit Against Violent Extremism

(Cross-posted from the European Public Policy Blog.)

When Google decided to set up a think/do tank, we vowed to avoid the safe route.

Google Ideas seeks to bring the ideas of a wide range of thinkers to bear on the most vexing and intractable challenges of the 21st century. Some of these challenges are aligned with our core business and others with our philanthropic mission. Some are hugely important but few have been willing to tackle them because they are controversial. Given that technology has demonstrated it can be part of every problem, we want to make sure it is part of every solution. We hope to tackle the thorniest of issues.

Challenges such as violent extremism.

Why does a 13-year old boy in a tough neighborhood in South Central LA join a gang? Why does a high school student in a quiet, Midwestern American town sign on neo-Nazis who preach white supremacy? Why does a young woman in the Middle East abandon her family and future and become a suicide bomber?

In order to advance our understanding, Google Ideas is today convening the Summit Against Violent Extremism, bringing together former gang members, right-wing extremists, jihadists and militants in Dublin for three days of debates and workshops. All these "formers" have rejected violence and are working for groups recognized by governments and law enforcement that fight extremism. Extremists have taken advantage of new Internet technologies to spread their message. We believe technology also can become part of the solution, helping to engineer a turn away from violence.

We're also inviting survivors of violent extremism who are engaged in some of the most important activism around this issue. They will remind us of the horrors and loss associated with the challenge of violent extremism. Representatives from civil society, along with a stellar group of academics, will participate and provide additional texture.

Our partners in this venture are the Council on Foreign Relations, which will look at the policy implications, and the Tribeca Film Festival, which emerged out of the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the the World Trade Center and which will explore the role of film and music on and in fighting extremism.

Together, we aim to initiate a global conversation on how best to prevent young people from becoming radicalised and how to de-radicalise others. The ideas generated at the Dublin summit will be included in a study to be published later in the year. We are undertaking this project without preconceptions. We aren't expecting quick answers or "silver bullets." Instead, we're looking to increase understanding of a critical problem and find some new approaches to combat it. Stay tuned as we attempt to marry ideas and action.

Supporting choice, ensuring economic opportunity

(Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog.)

At Google, we’ve always focused on putting the user first. We aim to provide relevant answers as quickly as possible—and our product innovation and engineering talent have delivered results that users seem to like, in a world where the competition is only one click away. Still, we recognize that our success has led to greater scrutiny. Yesterday, we received formal notification from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission that it has begun a review of our business. We respect the FTC’s process and will be working with them (as we have with other agencies) over the coming months to answer questions about Google and our services.

It’s still unclear exactly what the FTC’s concerns are, but we’re clear about where we stand. Since the beginning, we have been guided by the idea that, if we focus on the user, all else will follow. No matter what you’re looking for—buying a movie ticket, finding the best burger nearby, or watching a royal wedding—we want to get you the information you want as quickly as possible. Sometimes the best result is a link to another website. Other times it’s a news article, sports score, stock quote, a video or a map.

Instant answers. New sources of knowledge. Powerful tools—all for free. In just 13 years we’ve built a model that has changed the way people find answers and helped businesses both large and small create jobs and connect with new customers.

Search helps you go anywhere and discover anything, on an open Internet. Using Google is a choice—and there are lots of other choices available to you for getting information: other general-interest search engines, specialized search engines, direct navigation to websites, mobile applications, social networks, and more.

Because of the many choices available to you, we work constantly on making search better, and will continue to follow the principles that have guided us from the beginning:
  • Do what’s best for the user. We make hundreds of changes to our algorithms every year to improve your search experience. Not every website can come out at the top of the page, or even appear on the first page of our search results.
  • Provide the most relevant answers as quickly as possible. Today, when you type “weather in Chicago” or “how many feet in a mile” into our search box, you get the answers directly—often before you hit “enter”. And we’re always trying to figure out new ways to answer even more complicated questions just as clearly and quickly. Advertisements offer useful information, too, which is why we also work hard to ensure that our ads are relevant to you.
  • Label advertisements clearly. Google always distinguishes advertisements from our organic search results. As we experiment with new ad formats and new types of content, we will continue to be transparent about what is an ad and what isn’t.
  • Loyalty, not lock-in. We firmly believe you control your data, so we have a team of engineers whose only goal is to help you take your information with you. We want you to stay with us because we’re innovating and making our products better—not because you’re locked in.
These are the principles that guide us, and we know they’ll stand up to scrutiny. We’re committed to giving you choices, ensuring that businesses can grow and create jobs, and, ultimately, fostering an Internet that benefits us all.

To learn more about our business, please visit www.google.com/press/competition.

Applauding the 2011 Knight News Challenge winners

(Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog and the Google News Blog.)

Over the past few months, we’ve announced $5 million in grants to be distributed by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the International Press Institute—two non-profit organizations developing new approaches to journalism in the digital age—and we’re pleased to congratulate the first initiatives that have been selected as part of that funding.

Today at M.I.T., the Knight Foundation showcased 16 projects selected as the winners of the 2011 Knight News Challenge. Now in its fifth year, this media-innovation contest included $1 million in support from Google. As you’ll see in the full list of winners, these initiatives come from organizations large and small and are reminders that entrepreneurship can be sparked anywhere. Here are just a few examples of the creative ways the journalism community around the world is merging traditional skills with an online landscape:
  • At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, OpenBlock Rural will use its seed money to work with local governments and community newspapers across the state to collect, aggregate and publish data.
  • In Virginia, the Miller Center Foundation’s State Decoded will serve as a platform to display state codes, court decisions and information from legislative tracking services to make government more understandable to the average citizen.
  • The Chicago Tribune will collaborate with the Investigative Editors & Reporters organization and The Spokesman-Review on a set of open-source, web-based tools that make it easier for journalists to use and analyze data.
  • Liverpool, U.K.-based ScraperWiki will bring its experiences with public data to journalism camps in 12 U.S. states.
  • Chile’s El Mostrador will develop an editorial and crowdsourced database to bring greater transparency to potential conflicts of interest.
  • Ushahidi will build off its past crisis efforts to improve information-verification across email, Twitter, web feeds and text messages.
Other winning proposals tell rich multimedia stories, bridge the gap between traditional and citizen media and further improve the utility of data to journalists. Our sister program in partnership with the International Press Institute is also well underway. The entries in that competition are now in and the winners will be announced later this summer. We look forward to seeing the impacts these initiatives have on digital journalism and hope they encourage continued experimentation and innovation at the grassroots level.

A great moment for the free flow of information

International organizations are stepping up in defense of protecting and advancing the free flow of information online.

A high-level United Nations representative has issued a clarion call promoting freedom of expression. In a report released earlier this month in Geneva, the UN’s Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue argued that restricting the flow of information via Internet blackouts violates human rights.

For the developing world, the UN’s Special Rapporteur sees access to the Internet as a crucial tool for fighting back inequality and spurring economic growth. The Special Rapporteur argues that governments should strive "to make the Internet widely available, accessible and affordable to all." At the same time, he urges resistance to attempts by powerful governments to block Internet access.

In the developed world, the UN report opposes “three strikes” Internet laws, which are designed by governments to discourage Internet file-sharers. For instance, France and the United Kingdom are trying to employ new laws that would allow authorities to get users’ Internet unplugged permanently for illegal downloads.

We look forward to approval of the report by the United Nations General Assembly when it meets in September.

The report is already generating positive momentum in Europe and elsewhere. A group of UK Parliamentarians have put forward a motion demanding that the government review its website blocking plans.

The UN Special Rapporteur also has joined with representatives from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Organization of American States, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to issue a ringing joint declaration in defense of free expression on the Internet. The declaration sets out several important principles, including:
  • Freedom of expression applies to the Internet, as it does to all means of communication. Any restrictions are acceptable only in the rarest of occasions when prescribed by law and if in compliance with international standards.
  • Internet service providers that provide the platform for free expression cannot be held liable for illegal or harmful content generated by third parties.
  • Mandatory blocking of websites or IP addresses represents an extreme measure, analogous to the prohibition of a newspaper, radio, or television station.
  • The “single publication rule” should be respected. It holds that damages can be recovered only once for any single piece of content.
Mr. La Rue toured Europe recently to build support for his report. When he visited The Hague, the Dutch government offered strong support and announced plans to host a global Ministerial Conference on online Freedom of Expression in the Netherlands in the fall. So watch this space for updates on the battle to keep the Internet open for a free and open exchange of ideas and opinions.

Me, Myself and I: Helping to manage your identity on the web

In recent years, it’s become easier and easier to publish information about yourself online, through powerful new platforms like social networking sites and photo sharing services. One way to manage your privacy on these sites is to decide who specifically can see this information, determining whether it is visible to just a few friends, family members or everyone on the web. But, another important decision is choosing how you are identified when you post that information. We have worked hard to build various identity options into Google products. For example, while you may want to identify yourself by name when you post an answer to a question in a forum so that readers know the response is reputable, if you upload videos about a controversial cause you may prefer to post under a pseudonym.

However, your online identity is determined not only by what you post, but also by what others post about you -- whether a mention in a blog post, a photo tag or a reply to a public status update. When someone searches for your name on a search engine like Google, the results that appear are a combination of information you’ve posted and information published by others.

Today we’ve released a new tool to help make it easier to monitor your identity on the web and to provide easy access to resources describing ways to control what information is on the web. This tool, Me on the Web, appears as a section of the Google Dashboard right beneath the Account details.

Savvy web users may already have used Google Alerts to set up notifications for mentions of their name or email address in websites and news stories. If you haven’t set up alerts yet, Me on the Web makes it even easier to do so and even automatically suggests some search terms you may want to monitor.

Me on the Web also provides links to resources offering information on how to control what third-party information is posted about you on the web. These include common tips like reaching out to the webmaster of a site to ask for the content to be taken down, or publishing additional information on your own to help make less relevant websites appear farther down in search results.

This is just one of our first steps in continuing to explore ways to help make managing your identity online simpler.

Ping time from Cuba to the US

Ping is a simple utility program that comes with every Mac or Windows computer. Ping records the time it takes to send a data packet across the Internet and to receive an acknowledgement of receipt from the remote computer. A colleague in Cuba recently ran a ping test from his computer, which was on a dial-up link, to Google in California. The results were:
Pinging www.l.google.com [] with 32 bytes of data:
Reply from bytes=32 time=701ms
Reply from bytes=32 time=751ms
Reply from bytes=32 time=707ms
Reply from bytes=32 time=683ms
His computer sent four 32-byte packets to the Google computer with the Internet protocol address When the computer at Google received each packet, it sent back an acknowledgment, and the computer in Cuba recorded the time it took from sending the packet to receipt of the acknowledgement.

In this case, the first packet took 701 milliseconds, and the other three 751, 707, and 683 milliseconds respectively. The average of the four was 710 milliseconds.

Well, 710 milliseconds is only 7/10s of a second, which sounds pretty fast for a 5,100 mile round trip, but it is too slow to support many applications. For example, you would not be able to carry on a conversation using Skype. The length of the ping times and their variability (from 683 to 751 milliseconds) would make conversation impossible. Web surfing would also be very slow because modern Web pages do not come all at once -- they require many separate connections to get all the words, pictures, audio and video as well as behind-the-scenes links to computers that track your actions and insert ads.

The majority of the Ping time was due to the slow satellite connection between Cuba and the outside world. What about the time to reach another computer within Cuba? My Cuban colleague pinged a computer that was on the same ISP local area network as his:
Pinging ved-as-2.enet.cu [] with 32 bytes of data:
Reply from bytes=32 time=112ms
Reply from bytes=32 time=126ms
Reply from bytes=32 time=101ms
Reply from bytes=32 time=103ms
The average time has been reduced to 110 milliseconds, but the variability remains high. This speed would support a Skype call and, since Cuban Web pages are on the average much simpler than elsewhere, Web surfing within Cuba would be much less frustrating than international surfing. However, the dial-up link to the ISP, coupled with relatively slow equipment in the ISP network, leaves speeds far short of those in many nations.

For example, I pinged Google from my home in Los Angeles:
Pinging www.l.google.com [] with 32 data bytes:
Reply from bytes=32 time=18ms
Reply from bytes=32 time=17ms
Reply from bytes=32 time=19ms
Reply from bytes=32 time=17ms
The average time is 17 milliseconds and there is only 2 millisecond difference between the slowest and fastest transmission. This connection is fast enough for viewing complex Web pages and phone chats.

The bottom line is that since the Internet in Cuba is slower than the US, Cuban applications are less varied and sophisticated. (Don't let that go to your head if you are in the US because other nations have still higher speeds, enabling them to develop and deploy more sophisticated applications than we do. For more along those lines see these posts).

Will the situation change when the undersea cable between Cuba and Venezuela is operational? If your ISP or organization network is not connected to the cable nothing will change. Whether or not you can connect, is both a political and an economic question.

If you are allowed to connect through the cable, expect about 600 milliseconds to be cut out of that Ping time to Google. That will be good news, but, if you are connected using the current dial-up, ISDN or slow DSL infrastructure, you will still be significantly worse off than I am in Los Angeles.

Energy data access for consumers gaining momentum

Studies show when people have more direct feedback on their electricity consumption, they make simple changes that save them energy and money. Take Tom Tassi from Kenosha, Wisconsin, for example. He cut his monthly electric bill from $300 to $85 – more than $2,500 per year – by using a home energy monitor to immediately see what was using the most power in his home and changing fixtures and bulbs. Making better energy information widely available could result in billions of dollars in savings by consumers and businesses. It can also provide a foundation for innovation as new technologies and apps are developed to help people manage energy.

With that in mind, last year Google joined more than 45 companies and other organizations in calling for consumers to have more ready access to their energy data.

We’re excited to see that momentum continue. This morning the White House announced a series of measures aimed at making energy data accessible to consumers. Part of a national effort to modernize the nation’s electricity grid, the plan calls for ensuring people can access their energy data in "consumer-friendly and computer-friendly formats" and includes measures to track progress, assistance to states to implement data access policies, and funds for supporting smart grid innovation.

Today's announcement comes on the heels of bipartisan legislation introduced by Senators Mark Udall and Scott Brown that would ensure consumers can access digital information generated from "smart" electricity meters.

We hope these recent developments will help unlock energy information and ensure that everyone can use that data to save energy and cut their power bills.

Helping government officials connect with constituents on YouTube

From Congressman Ryan explaining his budget plan through data visualizations, to Governor Christie posting responses during Town Hall meetings, to national leaders participating in the “It Gets Better” campaign, government officials at all levels are using YouTube in interesting and innovative ways. Check out these recent examples:

To help more government officials create and distribute great videos like these, we recently launched youtube.com/government101. This site provides advice on what types of videos are most engaging to constituents, how Google Moderator can be used to solicit questions and suggestions, and more.

We’ll be showcasing some of the most creative government uses of YouTube on our CitizenTube blog and via our twitter account, @YTPolitics. Which officials do you think have been most innovative on YouTube? Let us know in the comments.

Thoughts on the Commerce Department’s new cybersecurity paper

The Internet has brought considerable social and economic benefit to world, but today faces a broad range of security challenges. It’s important that governments and industry continue to work together to meet those challenges.

That’s why we’re encouraged by the paper released today by the Department of Commerce, “Cybersecurity, Innovation, and the Internet Economy.” The report emphasizes the need for a new designation for businesses that are important to our lives and the economy, yet fall outside the realm of critical infrastructure (for example, providers of online services and content, cloud computing firms, and social networks). It also challenges those businesses to come up with best practices for sharing information about online threats. These proposals could help improve the security of the Internet while preserving the rapid innovation that has characterized its growth and success.

We’ve long supported the Department of Commerce’s efforts in this space, including submitting comments to the notice of inquiry that led to the drafting of this paper, and we hope all stakeholders continue to participate in this process.

What is CubaNews afraid of?

Does the Internet broaden or narrow one's viewpoint? We obviously have potential access to more information than ever before, but do we actually see more varied opinions?

Some of us narrow our exposure to serendipitous and challenging information by focusing our attention on Web sites and online communities that agree with us -- Democrats following Obama and Tea Party members following Palin. Eli Pariser argues that, even if we want to see challenging opinions, search engines send us biased results -- things we and our friends like.

Then there is good old fashioned censorship as exemplified by the CubaNews group on Yahoo. The CubaNews tagline is "News and information about Cuba today." It was established in August 2000, has 1,958 members, and is moderated.

When I started this blog, the CubaNews moderator, Walter Lippmann, read some early posts and attacked them. I responded and also suggested that he read a report I had written earlier in the year. I had fruitful exchanges with some of the CubaNews readers and in comments to posts on this blog.

Then someone sent me an email saying Lippmann had censored his post to CubaNews. When I asked Lippmann about that, he did not answer, and now he rejects my posts to CubaNews as well. He has sent me a few subsequent comments, and I have published them without hesitation. Critics of the Castro government accuse it of propagandizing and stifling free expression -- CubaNews' behavior lends support to that claim.


Update 7/15/2013

Ironically, all Cuban government publications are not as heavy handed as CubaNews. Isbel Diaz Torres of Havana Times has written a post on the varying degree of censorship on Government Web sites. For example, Granma does not allow comments, period, while Juventud Rebelde "offers a fairly broad space for comments by readers, who can express opinions that are diametrically opposed to those presented by the author of a given article."

The post discusses the comment-censorship policy of several other sites and I take the variation to be a good sign -- the site publishers have discretion.

Will China be helping with domestic Internet infrastructure?

As discussed in a previous post, China has played a major role in financing and installing the undersea cable between Venezuela and Cuba, but there has been little discussion of complementary domestic infrastructure needed to reach beyond the cable landing point.

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (shown here with Raul Castro) is leaving Cuba today after a three-day visit, where he announced a commitment to accelerate fast-growing economic relations between the two nations and committed to an estimated $6 billion investment in oil and natural gas.

The energy agreement was the big news, but, according to China Daily, there were also agreements on "cooperation" in other areas including digital television and telecommunications. There were no details, but perhaps these agreements will provide financing for the domestic infrastructure required to exploit the undersea cable.

Changes to the open Internet in Kazakhstan

(Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog.)

Update June 14, 7:40pm: After we published this post, the Kazakhstan authorities issued new guidance stating that the order no longer applies to previously registered domains. In practice this means we can re-launch google.kz. While we’re pleased that we can once again offer our users in Kazakhstan customized search results, we encourage the Government of Kazakhstan to rescind this requirement for all future .kz domains as well.

The genius of the Internet has always been its open infrastructure, which allows anyone with a connection to communicate with anyone else on the network. It’s not limited by national boundaries, and it facilitates free expression, commerce and innovation in ways that we could never have imagined even 20 or 30 years ago.

Some governments, however, are attempting to create borders on the web without full consideration of the consequences their actions may have on their own citizens and the economy. Last month, the Kazakhstan Network Information Centre notified us of an order issued by the Ministry of Communications and Information in Kazakhstan that requires all .kz domain names, such as google.kz, to operate on physical servers within the borders of that country. This requirement means that Google would have to route all searches on google.kz to servers located inside Kazakhstan. (Currently, when users search on any of our domains, our systems automatically handle those requests the fastest way possible, regardless of national boundaries.)

We find ourselves in a difficult situation: creating borders on the web raises important questions for us not only about network efficiency but also about user privacy and free expression. If we were to operate google.kz only via servers located inside Kazakhstan, we would be helping to create a fractured Internet. So we have decided to redirect users that visit google.kz to google.com in Kazakh. Unfortunately, this means that Kazakhstani users will experience a reduction in search quality as results will no longer be customized for Kazakhstan.

Measures that force Internet companies to choose between taking actions that harm the open web, or reducing the quality of their services, hurt users. We encourage governments and other stakeholders to work together to preserve an open Internet, which empowers local users, boosts local economies and encourages innovation around the globe.

A conversation with a Cuban telecommunication engineer

I asked for input and test runs from people in Cuba in a recent post, and I've had an interesting email conversation with a telecommunication engineer who says he has never worked in that field. He asked me not to share his name or email address.

We talked about Internet access. He says only foreign people with permanent resident visas, foreign students, and business with foreign capital can get Internet accounts, and that those dial up accounts have all ports open.

Enterprises throughout the country can get DSL connections, but they are limited to Web (HTTP) applications. He has also heard rumors that pro-government bloggers get DSL connections.

He told me that Cubans are not allowed to connect to the Internet from their homes so they pay an illegal fee of 1.50 to 2.00 CUC per hour to buy time from foreign students and others who have dial-up accounts. (One CUC = US$1.08 and the average wage is 20 CUC per month).

It is legal to buy a WiFi card (if you can find one in stock) and connect at one of a few hotels in Havana or Varadero with WiFi connectivity. They charge 8 CUC per hour for access to a 128 kb/s link that is shared by all of the hotel users at the time. The second legal option is to go to a Cyber-Café or hotel which charges 2 CUC for 15 minutes of access to PC with "veeery slow" connectivity.

Education centers like universities and medical schools are connected by fiber. Within the organizations they have 100 mb/s LANs behind NATs. He recalls a time when the university he attended (I won't say which one) had only 512 kb/s connectivity for approximately 1,000 PCs. That was eventually stepped up to 2 mb/s.

He is on point-to-point Ethernet connection to enet.cu, and is able to trace the route from his dial-up connection to Google via a Newcom International satellite link. Average ping time to Google was 683 ms. Ping times to other machines at enet.cu averaged 110 ms.

He did not want to run many tests, because he feared surveillance by CuCERT. Like their counterparts in other nations, CuCERT is charged with responding to network security incidents, but he characterizes them as being like "cyber-cops, who can enter your house, pick up your HDs and walk away without previous notification."

(I tried to reach cucert.cu, but could not from the US -- not sure if it is blocked or down or both).

He gave me the IP address of a university server that was running network monitoring software. I could see graphs of traffic on the links to the university, the internal Ethernet LAN, temperature, and disk utilization on several servers. I could also reach the help desk, but resisted the urge to submit a help desk ticket request :-). You see a sample traffic graph above (click on it to enlarge it). The green line is incoming traffic and the blue outgoing. As you see, the 2 mb/s link is pretty well saturated -- surfing must be slow.

It feels cool to see the graphs, and I bet they would be upset to know that they were visible, but they are not of much practical value except to the network administrators at that university. If one could get similar statistics from all Cuban universities, one could begin to stitch together a picture of the backbone networks.

He also confirmed that bootleg satellite TV from the US is common and found in almost all parts of the country. People buy a satellite receiver from a local supplier who gets an account from the US. Some of those people sell service to their neighbors using coaxial cable, although he thinks that activity is decreasing after several antenna seizures. The service costs around 10 CUC per month, and the viewers cannot change channels themselves.

There are "muyyyy" few people with HughesNet Internet links, and they are heavily prosecuted and can go to jail if caught. He said WiFi is everywhere, and is mainly used to share music and videos and play games. He said the government is concerned about that, but I don't understand why since WiFi is local, and I doubt that they are concerned with copyright violation on the music and video :-).

We talked a bit about the Alan Gross case. He thinks the trial and sentence were for political reasons, and the government hopes to do a prisoner exchange. Gross got a long sentence, but a Cuban could get 3-5 years for having a satellite link to the Internet. He said there are some people with satellite connection who provide service to others using WiFi access points and repeaters and homemade antennae, but, as mentioned above, that is risky business.

If you are in Cuba, how does your experience compare to what I've just described?