Tag Archives: Internet

As airfare soars, transpacific data prices plummet

Anyone who has watched airfare prices between the United States and East Asia in recent years has noticed a pronounced rise. A year ago, this correspondent found it more affordable to fly from Beijing to Istanbul and then Istanbul to New York instead of a direct flight.

Data prices from Singapore, Hong Kong, and Tokyo to Los Angeles have dropped significantly over the last year:

Data from TeleGeography’s Wholesale Bandwidth Pricing Database reveal that trans-Pacific circuit prices have plummeted over the past two years. Between Q2 2009 and Q2 2011, the median monthly lease price for a 10 Gbps wavelength from Los Angeles to Tokyo fell 63 percent, from $98,500 to $36,000. Prices are tumbling on other trans-Pacific routes, too: Over the past 12 months, median 10 Gbps wavelength prices from Los Angeles to Singapore fell 33 percent, while Hong Kong-Los Angeles 10 Gbps prices declined 39 percent.
Median Trans-Pacific 10 Gbps Wavelength Prices, Q2 2010-Q2 2011

A key driver of falling trans-Pacific circuit costs has been the construction of three new undersea cables since 2007: The Asia-America Gateway (2008), Trans-Pacific Express (2009),[1] and Unity (2010) cable systems. The construction of these cables introduced both new capacity and a host of new competitors.

For selfish reasons, I would prefer airfare to drop as well. But for environmental reasons, and for the purposes of a faster and more reliable transpacific internet experience, I’m glad to see this infrastructure coming online.

[1] The Trans-Pacific Express was originally slated for completion before the 2008 Olympics, but it is notable as a direct U.S.–China link, which required FCC approval.

The internet entrepôts of China: back to the 19th century?

For centuries, and especially since the mid-19th century, entrepôts have been important sites of communication—both information and goods—between China and the outside world. Now, many of the same cities are sites of the grand digital switches that connect China to the global internet.

I’ve noted before the interesting work of TeleGeography, a firm that produces maps and other information on telecommunications infrastructure. This year, their world undersea cables map has been released as a huge JPEG image, and it shows us something about China’s communications with the outside world.

Clipped from TeleGeography. Click for their map.

Shanghai, Hong Kong, Qingdao and Shantou. And soon, Fuzhou. These are the connection points for the People’s Republic of China, and they were all treaty ports, where foreign areas of control existed and international trade grew.

The analogy to the treaty ports has been suggested by several writers. One, Han-Teng Liao, noted Aihwa Ong’s notion of variegated sovereignty and proposes the idea of “special speech zones.” These “SSZs” are cites of informational interchange. The difference is that the SSZs are not geographically bounded; rather, they reside in online spaces where relatively free speech is possible.

As Ella Chou recently noted (in her very interesting contribution on cybersecurity), China only has a few ports between China and the outside internet—nine at last report in 2008, she writes. These choke points, one speculates, could allow for a government-directed shut-down of most international online communication.

This leverage points out a key difference with the entrepôts and treaty ports of the 19th century: Back then, the foreign influence was inscribed in physical space, with exclusive areas of control and entrenched foreign populations. Sure, expatriates are numerous in many Chinese cities today, but they do not live in autonomous zones. The potential for increased control in a crisis seems clear here.

That’s all from me. But look at that map.

Internet and society resources at University of Washington

As a new graduate student at the University of Washington, I’ve been hunting around for the various projects, professors, centers, departments, etc., that deal with internet and society issues. I’m going to make a list of links here and update them from time to time. If you find this post and I’m missing something, drop me a line at gwebster [/a/] uw [/dot/] edu or leave a comment.

This may change in the future, but I’m keeping it alphabetical for now.

Last Updated 9 October 2010

  • Change – “ICTD at the University of Washington” affiliated faculty: Beth Kolko, HCDE; Chris Coward, iSchool; Gaetano Boriello, CSE; Ricardo Gomez, iSchool; Richard Anderson, CSE. – Holds regular events and has student, grad student, faculty, and other associates.
  • Information and Society Center – Information School. Projects on information literacy, etc.
  • Prof. Philip N. Howard – Department of Communication
  • Project on Information Technology and Political Islam – UW Department of Communication. Prof. Philip N. Howard. Associated with the World Information Access Project.
  • Technology and Social Change Group – “The Technology & Social Change Group (TASCHA) at the University of Washington Information School explores the design, use, and effects of information and communication technologies in communities facing social and economic challenges.”
  • World Information Access Project – Directed by Prof. Philip N. Howard.

Mapping China's international internet business

At Mobinode, Piet Walraven has published the results of some research into Chinese internet companies forming partnerships with overseas entities, and there’s a map.

chinese_internet_globalizingWalraven describes the map:

It is a summary of all overseas operations organized in two categories: ‘partnerships, licensing, and co-production’ and ‘self operated or wholly owned overseas initiatives’. Through these two distinctions we can see that the dashed lines that each represent an action in the ‘self operated foreign initiatives’ category, have a relatively low representation which indicates that not many Chinese Internet companies are enrolled in true wholly-owned international operations yet.

Full-size PDF here.

The results represent a first round of work, and give an interesting view of a geography of business collaboration.

The straw man of Internet-fueled civil discourse

Just because people are online doesn’t mean they engage in civil public discourse. This simple idea has emerged as one thread of conventional wisdom in recent years, especially in the context of the People’s Republic of China. In an open letter to U.S. President Barack Obama, Rebecca MacKinnon reinforces the idea:

Back in 2001 a U.S. spyplane made an emergency landing on Hainan island after a collision with a Chinese fighter jet which crashed into the sea. If people in the Chinese Internet chatrooms had gotten their way, the U.S. crew would be in a Chinese jail today. In a recent interview with The Atlantic’s James Fallows, the President of the China Investment Corporation Gao Xiqing pointed out that his P.R. department is inundated with public comments calling for him to sell U.S. dollar assets.

This sort of argument, parallel to the idea that the United States might not like what it sees if some states hold truly democratic elections, has become so common  that I wonder whether MacKinnon can still reasonably say, as she does in the letter, “Americans tend to think of the Internet as the medium that will inevitably free the Chinese people of authoritarian rule.” Maybe my reading diet has become more isolated, but I don’t hear that argument anymore except as a foil. Is the narrative of a liberalizing Internet medium becoming a straw man?