August 27, 2013

Larry’s Picked An Interesting Fight [8:59 pm]

Online lecture prompts legal fight on copyright: Harvard’s Lessig, Australian record company battle over use of song [pdf]

But that is exactly what Australian record company Liberation Music did when it threatened to sue Lessig, a leading scholar of Internet law and an advocate for fewer copyright restrictions, for allegedly violating its rights by using music from the hit song “Lisztomania” by French pop band Phoenix during a lecture.

Liberation Music claimed to own the license for the 2009 song, which became so popular that fans, college students, and choruses from around the world made their own dance videos to the music and posted them on YouTube, creating something of a global Internet phenomenon.

Lessig used the phenomenon and excerpts from the dance videos in a 2010 lecture that he recorded and also posted to YouTube, prompting the legal warning from Liberation Music.

Now, Lessig is fighting back with his own legal action.

So, an interesting challenge, in that there is, first, the overall “fair use” doctrine — a nice idea, but one that means that a definitive finding of fair use, should there be a disagreement, requires an adjudicated review; second, there is legislation ensuring fair use in academic use, thus taking some of the transactional costs of adjudication off the table; and, third, there is an open question on what happens when one digitizes and distributes academic material containing copyrighted materials whose use in that context would ordinarily be considered to be covered under fair use.

It’s been a challenge for academic institutions moving instruction online, and should be a great fight, since Larry has been passionate about this.

Finally, it’s worth thinking about the distinctions between this approach to tackling copyright injustices and that of Aaron Swartz.

Later: When even John Sununu takes time out from using his guest Tea-Party-rousing-columnist role at the Boston Globe to agree with Larry, you know that Liberation Music has really stepped in it: Music dinosaurs pick a bad fight [pdf]

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February 11, 2013

Something For Fans of Ken Oye’s “Uncle Fred” Story [7:30 pm]

Tests in Mice Misled Researchers on 3 Diseases, Study Says [pdf]

The paper, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, helps explain why every one of nearly 150 drugs tested at huge expense in patients with sepsis has failed. The drug tests all were based on studies in mice. And mice, it turns out, have a disease that looks like sepsis in humans, but is very different from the human disease.

[...] The researchers found some interesting patterns and accumulated a large, rigorously collected data set that should help move the field forward, said Ronald W. Davis, a genomics expert at Stanford University and a lead author of the new paper. Some patterns seemed to predict who would survive and who would end up in intensive care, clinging to life and, often, dying.

The group had tried to publish its findings in several papers. One objection, Dr. Davis said, was that the researchers had not shown the same gene response had happened in mice.

[...] The study’s investigators tried for over a year to publish their paper showing that there was no relationship between the genetic responses of mice and those of humans. They submitted it to the publications Science and Nature, hoping to reach a wide audience. It was rejected from both.

Science and Nature said it was their policy not to comment on the fate of a rejected paper, or whether it had even been submitted to them. But, Ginger Pinholster of Science said, the journal accepts only about 7 percent of the nearly 13,000 papers submitted each year, so it is not uncommon for a paper to make the rounds.

Still, Dr. Davis said, reviewers did not point out scientific errors. Instead, he said, “the most common response was, ‘It has to be wrong. I don’t know why it is wrong, but it has to be wrong.’ ”

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December 28, 2010

What Hath US News and World Report Wrought? [3:24 pm]

Surprisingly, the use of application screening rate in the US News and World Report ranking of colleges is not implicated in this Boston Globe article: Student’s résumé was full of errors, unlikely claims [pdf]

In hindsight, there were other red flags that raise questions as to how closely Harvard’s staff scrutinized Wheeler’s application, and whether the failure to catch simple errors and too-good-to-be-true claims played a greater role in Wheeler’s admission than his own ingenuity.

“Not to take responsibility from what he did, but Harvard has to own up to what it did by letting him in,’’ said Steven Sussman, Wheeler’s attorney. “There were substantial irregularities with the Wheeler application that should have raised red flags that were ignored.’’

Harvard spokesman Jeff Neal declined to comment on Wheeler’s application but said the university has taken steps to improve its process for screening applicants.

From their ranking description — How U.S. News Calculates the College Rankings:

Student selectivity (15 percent). A school’s academic atmosphere is determined in part by the abilities and ambitions of the student body. We factor in the admissions test scores for all enrollees who took the Critical Reading and Math portions of the SAT and the Composite ACT score (50 percent of the selectivity score); the proportion of enrolled freshmen at National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes or in the top quarter at Regional Universities and Regional Colleges (40 percent); and the acceptance rate, or the ratio of students admitted to applicants (10 percent) [emphasis added]. The data are for the fall 2009 entering class. While the ranking calculation takes account of the SAT and ACT admissions test scores of all entering students, the table displays the score range for whichever test most enrolled students took

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August 31, 2010

The First Thing *I* Thought Of When I Heard The Decision [8:23 am]

I also think the challenge to his standing is what’s going to be the decision’s undoing, too. I’m not a fan of Alex Beam, so *I* didn’t give him this lead. I wonder who did — it’s definitely some Cambridge “inside baseball:” The researcher’s revenge [pdf]

If you have been following the latest stem cell brouhaha, you know that a federal judge just threw a monkey wrench into hundreds of million of dollars of ongoing research at MIT, Harvard, and across the country. Press coverage has been remarkably restrained in describing the prime mover behind this litigation, Dr. James Sherley, a researcher at the Boston Biomedical Research Institute in Waltham.

Sherley is portrayed as a “man of faith’’ who is opposed to human embryo stem cell research because the embryo is part of the chain of life. But I have another theory. I think it is quite possible that Sherley is a histrionic, aggrieved, and vengeful man who is striking back — successfully — at the academic biomedical complex that humiliated him just a few years ago.

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July 1, 2010

Broadband Policy [9:43 am]

I have to wonder how this is received at the FCC: Finland makes broadband a legal right

Finland has become the first country in the world to make broadband a legal right for every citizen.

From 1 July every Finn will have the right to access to a 1Mbps megabit per second broadband connection.

Finland has vowed to connect everyone to a 100Mbps connection by 2015.

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August 11, 2009

Necessity, Invention? [7:13 am]

Or gimmick? G.M. to Start Selling on eBay on Tuesday (pdf)

The program is one way for consumers to receive discounts on cars without dealing with the haggling often associated with buying cars through dealerships. The partnership with eBay is also a crucial part of G.M.’s effort to return to profitability after five years of heavy losses and to remain the new-vehicle sales leader in the United States.

Unlike a typical eBay sale, vehicles will not be auctioned to the highest bidder but rather listed at a “buy it now” price equal to G.M.’s supplier price. Shoppers also can submit a lower offer that the dealer can accept or reject.

“It’s very attractive to a core group of customers who don’t really care for the negotiating experience at a dealership but do want to negotiate,” said Mark LaNeve, G.M.’s vice president for United States sales. “Now they can do that anonymously online. So we think it’s going to give us some opportunities we didn’t have before.”

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July 24, 2009

Architectures and Advantage [7:25 am]

Designing institutions when market ideology meets technological advance: Traders Profit With Computers Set at High Speed (pdf)

Nearly everyone on Wall Street is wondering how hedge funds and large banks like Goldman Sachs are making so much money so soon after the financial system nearly collapsed. High-frequency trading is one answer.

And when a former Goldman Sachs programmer was accused this month of stealing secret computer codes — software that a federal prosecutor said could “manipulate markets in unfair ways” — it only added to the mystery. Goldman acknowledges that it profits from high-frequency trading, but disputes that it has an unfair advantage.

Yet high-frequency specialists clearly have an edge over typical traders, let alone ordinary investors. The Securities and Exchange Commission says it is examining certain aspects of the strategy.

“This is where all the money is getting made,” said William H. Donaldson, former chairman and chief executive of the New York Stock Exchange and today an adviser to a big hedge fund. “If an individual investor doesn’t have the means to keep up, they’re at a huge disadvantage.”

Later: a cautionary voice — Hurrying Into the Next Panic? (pdf)

So, is trading faster than any human can react truly worrisome? The answers that come back from high-frequency proponents, also rather too quickly, are “No, we are adding liquidity to the market” or “It’s perfectly safe and it speeds up price discovery.” In other words, the traders say, the practice makes it easier for stocks to be bought and sold quickly across exchanges, and it more efficiently sets the value of shares.

Those responses disturb me. Whenever the reply to a complex question is a stock and unconsidered one, it makes me worry all the more. Leaving aside the question of whether or not liquidity is necessarily a great idea (perhaps not being able to get out of a trade might make people think twice before entering it), or whether there is such a thing as a price that must be discovered (just watch the price of unpopular goods fall in your local supermarket — that’s plenty fast enough for me), l want to address the question of whether high-frequency algorithm trading will distort the underlying markets and perhaps the economy.

[...] Buying stocks used to be about long-term value, doing your research and finding the company that you thought had good prospects. Maybe it had a product that you liked the look of, or perhaps a solid management team. Increasingly such real value is becoming irrelevant. The contest is now between the machines — and they’re playing games with real businesses and real people.

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June 17, 2009

Another Legacy That Obama’s Making Little Headway On [1:31 pm]

E-Mail Surveillance Renews Concerns in Congress (pdf)

Representative Rush Holt, Democrat of New Jersey and chairman of the House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, has been investigating the incidents and said he had become increasingly troubled by the agency’s handling of domestic communications.

In an interview, Mr. Holt disputed assertions by Justice Department and national security officials that the overcollection was inadvertent.

“Some actions are so flagrant that they can’t be accidental,” Mr. Holt said.

Other Congressional officials raised similar concerns but would not agree to be quoted for the record.

Mr. Holt added that few lawmakers could challenge the agency’s statements because so few understood the technical complexities of its surveillance operations. “The people making the policy,” he said, “don’t understand the technicalities.”

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December 20, 2008

Tierney Raises Some Apt Issues [6:37 pm]

I like John Holdren (although I don’t really know him all that well), and I believe he’ll be a good science advisor, but I think that the issues that Tierney raises in this blog posting (Flawed Science Advice for Obama?) are ones that anyone involved in science & technology policy should always be mindful of — it’s why I assign Pielke’s papers in ESD.10.

Dr. Holdren is certainly entitled to his views, but what concerns me is his tendency to conflate the science of climate change with prescriptions to cut greenhouse emissions. Even if most climate scientists agree on the anthropogenic causes of global warming, that doesn’t imply that the best way to deal with the problem is through drastic cuts in greenhouse emissions. There are other ways to cope, and there’s no “scientific consensus” on which path looks best.

You can find quite a few of Pielke, Jr.’s papers here

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September 19, 2008

Uses of New Technologies [8:11 am]

Picture Taken by Cellphone Leads to Sex-Crime Arrest

She sensed the presence of someone too close to her on the stairs. She turned and saw a man peering into his cellphone. A passer-by confirmed her suspicion: The man had taken photographs under her skirt.

“I said I had to do something,” the woman said on Thursday. “Since he is taking pictures of me, I am going to take pictures of him.”

She said she followed the man onto the southbound No. 1 train, walked through several cars and found him on a seat. She prepared her cellphone camera. He looked at her and mumbled something. “And I told him ‘smile’ because I am going to the police,” she said.

She took a picture, e-mailed it to the police and filed a report. On Tuesday, an officer at the 110th Street subway station at Central Park West approached a man matching the photograph, the police said. [...]

On Sept. 9, the police started tapping into the ubiquitous technology by inviting people who witness crimes to take pictures with their cellphone cameras, if safety permits, and to send them along when they make 911 calls.

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September 8, 2008

What *Is* Reality? [7:18 am]

An instant reply system that, in fact, is only something like one — technological alienation/mediation enters yet another domain: Hawk-Eye Replay System a Hit at the U.S. Open

Overseeing it all is Paul Hawkins, the thin, sandy-haired, 30-something Englishman who had the crazy idea a few years ago to do for tennis what no other professional sport seems to have managed: create an instant-replay system that works.

“I have a technology background,” said Hawkins, who holds a doctorate in artificial intelligence. “I love sports. So I kind of had an opportunity to combine my two passions.”

The result was Hawk-Eye, probably the most successful instant-replay system in sports. Since its introduction at the United States Open three years ago, Hawk-Eye has won over fans, players and even officials.

[...] The big breakthrough, Hawkins said, was not relying on optical devices to determine where a given shot lands — a surprisingly difficult spot to measure accurately. Hawk-Eye uses a system of 10 cameras to track the speed and trajectory of a ball in flight, but that is only part of the magic. The rest is done exclusively through computer modeling.

Because no tennis court is exactly flat and no line precisely straight, before the tournament. Hawkins’s team takes thousands of precise measurements of the dimensions and contours of each court, which are then converted into a three-dimensional computer model. Hawk-Eye’s virtual world takes into account other real-world factors that can affect accuracy, like the amount a ball compresses when it hits the court and even the temperature of the court.

“During warm days, the court actually changes size as it heats up or cools down,” Hawkins said.

When the ball flight data is fed into the computer model, the result is a system that is so precise it’s difficult to measure.

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August 25, 2008

A “White Space” Proponent Profiled [8:08 am]

Sharing Unused Airwaves (pdf)

An engineer, Mark A. McHenry litters his speech with dizzying terms like gigahertz and cognitive radio. But on one topic in the national news he is plain-spoken: the claim by the broadcast networks, the NBCs and CBSs of the world, that a new technology to provide Internet service over the air will interfere with TV viewing.

“They’re wrong,” says McHenry, the chief executive of Shared Spectrum, a Vienna technology company.

[...] “The prototype tests up to this point have consistently shown failure,” said Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters. “That doesn’t give us a whole lot of comfort when there’s a potential of thousands or millions of these devices operating without any protection to ensure that our broadcasters are able to get clear picture to our viewers.”

McHenry disagrees. But he also chides the tech giants who are pushing for access to white spaces for not asking for a strong enough signal to make a real difference in rural areas and across long distances. Others find merit in that argument.

“The truth of the matter is, if this were a straight engineering consideration, you could do substantially higher than” what’s being asked for, said Ed Thomas, a former FCC official helping the alliance of tech companies. “This is a political situation as well as the question as to what is comfortable for the FCC.”

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August 12, 2008

OT: Why I Get Up In The Morning [7:22 am]

Handle With Care

Ethical and philosophical issues have long occupied biotechnology, where institutional review boards commonly rule on proposed experiments and advisory committees must approve the use of gene-splicing and related techniques. When the federal government initiated its effort to decipher the human genome, a percentage of the budget went to consideration of ethics issues like genetic discrimination.

But such questions are relatively new for scientists and engineers in other fields. Some are calling for the same kind of discussion that microbiologists organized in 1975 when the immense power of their emerging knowledge of gene-splicing or recombinant DNA began to dawn on them. The meeting, at the Asilomar conference center in California, gave rise to an ethical framework that still prevails in biotechnology.

“Something like Asilomar might be very important,” said Andrew Light, director of the Center for Global Ethics at George Mason University, one of the organizers of a conference in Charlotte, N.C., in April on the ethics of emerging technologies. “The question now is how best to begin that discussion among the scientists, to encourage them to do something like this, then figure out what would be the right mechanism, who would fund it, what form would recommendations take, all those details.”

But an engineering Asilomar might be hard to bring off. “So many people have their nose to the bench,” Dr. Arkin said, “historically a pitfall of many scientists.” Anyway, said Paul Thompson, a philosopher at Michigan State and former secretary of the International Society for Environmental Ethics, many scientists were trained to limit themselves to questions answerable in the real world, in the belief that “scientists and engineers should not be involved in these kinds of ethical questions.”

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April 21, 2008

A Question of Harm [2:55 pm]

This Friday I went to see Jonathan Zittrain give a talk at Harvard about his new book, which I have not yet finished reading. Jonathan was his usual incredibly diverting self and he gave gave good precis of the book (at least, consistent with what I have read to this point.

During the Q&A John Palfrey asked the closing question, a classic question to a presenter, which could be roughly phrased as “of all the questions you’ve gotten on this talk, which was the hardest to answer that hasn’t already been asked today.” Jonathan pointed to one of the key questions that have continued to come up in these talks, which is essentially, “why won’t the market just take care of this problem?” Jonathan admitted that, at this point, he really doesn’t have a compelling proof, just a strong conviction.

Which brings me to this little news item, elements of which have been percolating for some time. It seems to me that dealing with the market question ultimately brings us back to two classic policy questions - (1) where’s the harm and (2) is the harm (and thus its remedy) external to the market? So, keeping those two questions in mind while reading this (and pondering appropriate remedies) might be helpful — because showing the harm is not easy, IMHO, but it’s the necessary step before you even get to discussing remedies: HD enthusiasts crying foul over cable TV’s crunched signals (pdf)

As cable TV companies pack ever more HD channels into limited bandwidth, some owners of pricey plasma, projector and LCD TVs are complaining that they’re not getting the high-def quality they paid for. They blame the increased signal compression being used to squeeze three digital HD signals into the bandwidth of one analog station.

The problem is viewers want more HD channels at a time when many cable and satellite providers are at the limits of their capacity, said Jim Willcox, a technology editor for Consumer Reports magazine.

“They have to figure out a way to deliver more HD content through their distribution networks,” he said.

Compressing the signal is cheaper than costly infrastructure upgrades to increase capacity. Satellite TV providers — including DirecTV Group Inc. and Dish Network Corp. — also have the option of launching satellites to boost the number of HD channels on their systems.

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April 16, 2008

Anthropology and Product Development [8:36 am]

Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty?

[Jan] Chipchase is 38, a rangy native of Britain whose broad forehead and high-slung brows combine to give him the air of someone who is quick to be amazed, which in his line of work is something of an asset. For the last seven years, he has worked for the Finnish cellphone company Nokia as a “human-behavior researcher.” He’s also sometimes referred to as a “user anthropologist.” To an outsider, the job can seem decidedly oblique. His mission, broadly defined, is to peer into the lives of other people, accumulating as much knowledge as possible about human behavior so that he can feed helpful bits of information back to the company — to the squads of designers and technologists and marketing people who may never have set foot in a Vietnamese barbershop but who would appreciate it greatly if that barber someday were to buy a Nokia.

[...] This sort of on-the-ground intelligence-gathering is central to what’s known as human-centered design, a business-world niche that has become especially important to ultracompetitive high-tech companies trying to figure out how to write software, design laptops or build cellphones that people find useful and unintimidating and will thus spend money on. Several companies, including Intel, Motorola and Microsoft, employ trained anthropologists to study potential customers, while Nokia’s researchers, including Chipchase, more often have degrees in design. Rather than sending someone like Chipchase to Vietnam or India as an emissary for the company — loaded with products and pitch lines, as a marketer might be — the idea is to reverse it, to have Chipchase, a patently good listener, act as an emissary for people like the barber or the shoe-shop owner’s wife, enlightening the company through written reports and PowerPoint presentations on how they live and what they’re likely to need from a cellphone, allowing that to inform its design.

[...] This is when I voiced a careless thought about whether there might be something negative about the lightning spread of technology, whether its convenience was somehow supplanting traditional values or practices. Chipchase raised his eyebrows and laid down his spoon. He sighed, making it clear that responding to me was going to require patience. “People can think, yeah, monks with cellphones, and tsk, tsk, and what is the world coming to?” he said. “But if you wanted to take phones away from anybody in this world who has them, they’d probably say: ‘You’re going to have to fight me for it. Are you going to take my sewer and water away too?’ And maybe you can’t put communication on the same level as running water, but some people would. And I think in some contexts, it’s quite viable as a fundamental right.” He paused a beat to let this sink in, then added, with just a touch of edge, “People once believed that people in other cultures might not benefit from having books either.”

[...] As a joke, Chipchase sometimes pulls out his cellphone and pretends to shave his face with it, using a buzzing ring tone for comic effect. But there’s a deeper truth embedded here, not just for people in places like Kenya or Buduburam but for all of us. As cellphone technology grows increasingly sophisticated, it has cannibalized — for better or worse — the technologies that have come before it. Carrying a full-featured cellphone lessens your needs for other things, including a watch, an alarm clock, a camera, video camera, home stereo, television, computer or, for that matter, a newspaper. With the advent of mobile banking, cellphones have begun to replace wallets as well. That a phone might someday offer a nice close shave suddenly seems not so ridiculous after all.

See earlier posting from 2004 on a similar topic; see also The Merchants of Cool.

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February 19, 2008

New Kid On The Block [6:19 pm]

Renowned legal scholar to join Harvard Law facultypdf

Legal scholar and political theorist Cass Sunstein is joining the faculty of Harvard Law School.

Harvard Dean Elena Kagan calls Sunstein “the pre-eminent legal scholar of our time.”

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January 9, 2008

An eVoting Machine Proposal [12:41 pm]

A Paper Trail for Voting Machines

But what other options are there? Paper ballots aren’t perfect. Ballot boxes can be stuffed or lost. Indeed, because of Florida’s paper-ballot mess in 2000, electronic voting is probably here to stay.

Fortunately, there is an elegant solution that lets us use modern technology while assuaging the growing fears about voter fraud. Ronald L. Rivest, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer scientist, and Warren D. Smith, a mathematician and voting reform advocate, have proposed an ingenious method that would combine paper ballots and a Web site to achieve greater ballot security than is possible with paper or software alone.

Their basic idea is to allow each voter to take home a photocopy of a randomly selected ballot cast by someone else.

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November 5, 2007

Commissioner Copps Profiled [8:31 am]

Copps, a liberal voice on the FCC, knows how to get his message outpdf

Everything about Michael J. Copps screams bureaucrat — until he opens his mouth.

Copps, a Democrat whose crusade against media consolidation has helped make him Hollywood’s public-policy enemy No. 1, is more proselytizer than pencil pusher.

The public airwaves, he says, are filled with “too much baloney passed off as news.” The Republican-led FCC is so lax that “unless you’re a child abuser or a wife beater, it’s a slam-dunk” to renew a TV station license. “Our country is paying a dreadful cost for this quarter-century fling with government abdication and media irresponsibility,” he said this year.

Copps’ ability to distill the complexities of media ownership into plain English and fire up crowds like a revivalist preacher helped derail an industry push in 2003 to loosen restrictions on owning broadcast stations.

Now, as the FCC prepares to tackle the volatile issue again, with Chairman Kevin J. Martin proposing a vote on new rules by the end of the year, the 67-year-old former history professor is reemerging as a hero to the firebrands fighting media consolidation.

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October 18, 2007

OT: A Draft ESD (Meta) Elevator Speech [2:05 pm]

It’s been a surprisingly busy term, and I’ve seen my blog postings decline in frequency accordingly. Teaching a core TPP class, developing another course and my usual research and administrative responsibilities have taken their toll.

Which is not to say that I’m planning to stop, of course. But it does mean that the frequency of off-topic postings might increase from time to time.

Today is one of those times. The MIT Engineering Systems Division has a new director, one who is striving to shape a more coherent, and cohesive, message about what it is to “do” engineering systems. This is the text of a first stab at an “elevator speech” about what ESD is and since I put as much time into it as I did, it seemed only appropriate that I put is somewhere than into an email. So, here it is:


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October 17, 2007

Living With Moving Targets [7:43 am]

  • House votes to extend ban on Internet taxespdf

    Fear about future tax revenue shortfalls at the state and local levels helped derail a congressional push Tuesday for a permanent federal ban on Internet access taxes. Instead, a nearly unanimous House voted for a more modest four-year moratorium.

    With the current moratorium set to expire at the end of the month, the House voted 405 to 2 to extend the politically popular exemption until 2011. Although there is a strong bipartisan consensus that Internet access should be tax-free, the length of the extension remains controversial as the types of services available online continue to evolve. That threatens to stall the legislation in the Senate.

  • L.A. City Council places phone tax on ballotpdf

    Hoping to keep up with changing telephone technology while salvaging the city’s budget, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to put a $243-million telephone utility users tax on the Feb. 15 presidential primary ballot.

    Worried that a pending court ruling could eliminate the 40-year-old tax, the council agreed to ask voters to preserve it and, to ward off future lawsuits, grant the city the power to tax telephone services that have not yet been invented.

See also the Washington Post editorial: The Web Grows Uppdf

A four-year extension is a more than fair deal for an industry whose claim to special tax treatment is tenuous at best. The Internet is not in danger of being stifled by a few extra dollars tacked on to subscribers’ monthly bills. The latest justifications for treating Internet services differently from clothing, food or numerous other goods and services that states and localities choose to tax is to spur the build-out of broadband access and reduce the “digital divide,” the gap between the rich and poor when it comes to Internet access.

These arguments are bogus. [...] It is quite a stretch for providers that have fought the development of broadband networks by municipalities now to claim to be agitating on behalf of the underserved poor.

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