The Broadband Internet (COMN 4520)

Joi Ito from Inbamura, Japan / CC BY

THE ELECTRONIC INFORMATION NETWORK MARKETPLACE

COMN 4520: Summer 2020

  • Instructor: David Ellis, PhD
  • jdae (at) yorku (dot) ca

“Just deliver the bits, stupid.” —David Isenberg, 1998

Course description

This course is devoted to understanding the global public Internet and the role it plays in our daily lives. We examine the subject from two main perspectives: the technologies that make the Internet run; and the social issues that arise from our increasingly heavy reliance on networked services and content.

Our approach is evidence-based. We consider factual and quasi-factual information from a range of sources, such as technical reports, survey research and market forecasts. One main goal is to develop a critical framework for assessing the competing claims of actors in the communications industry, including vertically integrated incumbents, edge providers, public agencies and consumer advocates. The other main goal is to better equip students to understand the benefits and risks that accompany a life lived online. The course follows current events closely. No prior technical knowledge is required — just a willingness to work hard at understanding new material.

By taking this course, you can expect to:

  • Learn how the Internet works as an engineering and social marvel
  • Keep up with trending events in the consumer tech industry
  • Pay closer attention to the growing risks to your online privacy and security
  • Become a more critical consumer of online services especially home Internet access 
  • Understand the limits of your knowledge as a so-called “digital native”
  • Appreciate the advantages of learning without electronic distractions

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Course resources

Full syllabus: July 7, 2020/ v.2.0

Instructions for ISP report: June 28

Student WhatsApp group here

Student Google Docs page here

Style documents for written work 

Class slidedecks…

Severance slidedeck: TCP/IP (ppt)

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Weekly Outline & Reading Schedule

Mon May 11 (#1) — Orientation: connectivity, course structure, grading scheme

Wed May 13 (#2) — How the pandemic blew up the Internet — or didn’t (1/2)

Reading (R1): Charles Fishman (May 6, 2020), “The System That Actually Worked,” The Atlantic

Mon May 18 — Victoria Day — No Class

Wed May 20 (#3) — How the pandemic blew up the Internet — or didn’t (2/2)

  • Reading (R2): Sandvine (May 2020), The Global Internet Phenomena Report: Covid-19 Spotlight (pdf) — UPDATED
  • Reading (R3): Pew Research Center (April 30, 2020), “53% of Americans Say the Internet Has Been Essential During the COVID-19 Outbreak” (pdf)

Mon May 25 (#4) — Digital literacy: living in a fool’s paradise 

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Part 1. The global public Internet: how it works and what you need to know

Wed May 27 (#5) — The TCP/IP protocol suite (1/2)

Reading (R7): Charles Severance (2012), videos #1-3 – Overview (25 min), Link layer (10 min), Internetwork layer (38 min)

Mon June 1 (#6) — The TCP/IP protocol suite (2/2)

Reading (R8): Severance videos #4-6 – Transport layer (15 min), Security layer (23 min), Application layer (26 min)

Wed June 3 (#7) — The engineering culture wars (1/2)

Reading (R9): Steve Steinberg (1996), “Netheads vs Bellheads,” Wired

Mon June 8 (#8) — The engineering culture wars (2/2)

Reading (R9): Steve Steinberg (1996), “Netheads vs Bellheads,” Wired

Wed June 10 (#9) — Broadband access: your ISP and the last mile (1/2)

Reading (R10): Kevin Werbach (Jan 2015), The Development of Fixed Broadband Networks, OECD, pp.1-29 (pdf)

Mon June 15 (#10) — Broadband access: your ISP and the last mile (2/2)

Reading (R10): Werbach, The Development of Fixed Broadband Networks, pp.1-29

Wed June 17 (#11) — Global trends in network traffic, connectivity & devices (1/2)

Reading (R11): Cisco Systems (2020), Cisco Annual Internet Report: 2018–2023, pp.1-23 (pdf)

Mon June 22 (#12) — Global trends in network traffic, connectivity & devices (2/2)

Reading (R11): Cisco Annual Internet Report, pp.1-23

Wed June 24 — Reading Week — No Class

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Part 2. The Global Crisis in Privacy & Security

Mon June 29 (#13) – Breaking news on privacy & security

Reading (R12): Current Benton Headlines

Wed July 1 — Canada Day — No Class

Mon July 6  (#14) – Survival tools for online life (1/2)

Reading (R13): Wikipedia entry for Virtual private network

Wed July 8 (#15) — Survival tools for online life (2/2)

Reading (R14): Wikipedia entry for Virtual private network

Mon July 13 (#16) — Strong encryption: law enforcement vs the public interest

Reading (R15): Wikipedia entry for Encryption

Wed July 15 (#17) – Pandemic’s tech fallout: the Zoom security fiasco (1/4)

Reading (R16): Citizen Lab (April 3, 2020), “Move Fast and Roll Your Own Crypto: A Quick Look at the Confidentiality of Zoom Meetings

Mon July 20 (#18) – Pandemic’s tech fallout: the Zoom security fiasco (2/4)

Wed July 22 (#19) – Pandemic’s tech fallout: 5G is the killer, not Covid-19! (3/4)

Reading (R19): Harold Feld (Dec 2018), Tales of the Sausage Factory, Why ‘Wi-Fi 6’ Tells You Exactly What You’re Buying, But ‘5G’ Doesn’t Tell You Anything

Mon July 27 (#20) – Pandemic fallout: is surveillance good for your health? (4/4)

Reading (R20): STOP (May 7, 2020), “Beware, Bluetooth Ahead: The Civil Rights & Privacy Dangers of Deploying Bluetooth to Track COVID-19 Exposure” (pdf)

Wed July 29 (#21) – The dystopian Internet, starring Google & Facebook (1/2)

Reading (R21): Amnesty International (2019), Surveillance Giants: How the Business Model of Google and Facebook Threatens Human Rights, pp.5-26 (pdf)

Mon Aug 3 — Civic Holiday — No Class

Wed Aug 5 (#22) – The dystopian Internet, starring Google & Facebook (2/2)

Reading (R22): Amnesty International (2019), Surveillance Giants, pp.27-56

Mon Aug 10 (#23) – Privacy & security wrap-up

Reading (R23): Current Benton Headlines

Wed Aug 12 (#24) – Exam review, course evals, housekeeping

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