October 10, 2007

Another Net Neutrality Argument [7:19 am]

The “Internet use == speech” argument made in the LATimes today: Free speech could lead to online disconnectpdf

If you’re displeased with the way a company treats you, you’re free to air your feelings in public, right? Not necessarily if you receive high-speed Internet access from AT&T Inc. or Verizon Communications Inc.

Buried deep within both companies’ voluminous service contracts is language that says your Net access can be terminated for any behavior that AT&T or Verizon believes might harm its “name or reputation,” or even the reputation of its business partners.

[...] But the provisions highlight yet again the danger to free expression when a relative handful of private companies serve as gatekeepers to information networks. Whether it’s a rock star ranting against President Bush or a disgruntled customer griping about shoddy service, how free is free speech in the digital era?

“Not being able to speak your mind about something is contrary to public policy,” said Frank Tuerkheimer, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin who focuses on Internet-related issues.

But it’s apparently not illegal. The 1st Amendment, Tuerkheimer pointed out, doesn’t apply to private entities.

You have to wade deep into AT&T’s 14,000-word service contract to find the one-line disclaimer in which the company reserves the right to slam the door on any Internet customer who might bruise the company’s feelings.

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The Weak Dollar and Security [6:59 am]

And I predict that Mitt Romney’s going to see some fallout, somehow: Purchase of 3Com becomes showdown over free tradepdf

Bain Capital’s $2.2 billion agreement to buy networking equipment maker 3Com Corp. of Marlborough is shaping up to be a political showdown over free trade and national security due to the involvement of a major Chinese telecom company, Huawei Technologies.

Huawei, a company with close ties to the Chinese military, will get a 16.5 percent stake in 3Com if the deal goes through. But 3Com makes networking and data security products used by the US government, and critics say Huawei could provide the Chinese government with information that would make it easier to disrupt sensitive American computer and communications networks.

“This deal should not be approved,” said James Mulvenon, director of the Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis, a think tank that does consulting work for the US intelligence community. “I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

A statement issued by Bain Capital said the firm has requested that the deal be reviewed by a special federal organization, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

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October 3, 2007

Markey Sticks It To The FCC and Its Processes [7:52 am]

FCC accused of unfairly aiding some firmspdf

From giant phone companies to small consumer advocates, the Federal Communications Commission is supposed to treat every group equally. But congressional investigators have found some companies and trade groups have received special treatment.

FCC officials tipped them off to confidential information about when regulators planned to vote on important issues — a clear violation of agency rules that provided an unfair lobbying advantage, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office to be released today. Other interested parties — generally consumer and public-interest groups — did not get such favorable treatment, the report said.

“It is critical that FCC maintain an environment in which all stakeholders have an equal opportunity to participate in the rulemaking process and that the process is perceived as fair and transparent,” the report said. “Situations where some, but not all, stakeholders know what FCC is considering for an upcoming vote undermine the fairness and transparency of the process and constitute a violation of FCC’s rules.”

Markey’s subcommittee had a notable hearing yesterday: Digital Future of the United States: Part VI: The Future of Telecommunications Competition — Markey’s press release/opening statement (pdf) is certainly inflammatory:

It’s as if the FCC several years ago picked up a loose football on the field after a collision and started running with the ball full speed toward the wrong end zone. Our international competitors look on at what we’re doing and must be stunned. That’s because we started this Internet game ranked #1 in the world because we invented it and now we’re number 15th. People quibble with the methodology of the OECD rankings, but regardless of how you slice it – price, speed, percentage of subscribers – the U.S. is no longer in the top tier and we continue to drop.

Many other Nations took one look at our broadband situation, learned from our experience, and took the opposite approach. Japan and U.K. implemented the very policies that the FCC had gradually eliminated in recent years, such as local loop unbundling and broadband resale, which facilitate competition using the incumbent’s plant, regardless of technology. These foreign competitors are now enjoying broadband success stories.

The United States, however, continues taking the opposite approach. We’re digging ourselves a hole and we’re now in violation of the First Law of Holes, which is, if you’re in one, stop digging.

Local copy of the GAO Report: FCC Should Take Steps to Ensure Equal Access to Rulemaking Information

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September 6, 2007

Bush Administration DoJ Weighs in on Net Neutrality [1:52 pm]

Did you really expect that there would be another answer? Feds OK Fee for Priority Web Trafficpdf

The Justice Department on Thursday said Internet service providers should be allowed to charge a fee for priority Web traffic.

The agency told the Federal Communications Commission, which is reviewing high-speed Internet practices, that it is opposed to “Net neutrality,” the principle that all Internet sites should be equally accessible to any Web user.

Here’s the real stunner:

The Justice Department said imposing a Net neutrality regulation could hamper development of the Internet and prevent service providers from upgrading or expanding their networks. It could also shift the “entire burden of implementing costly network expansions and improvements onto consumers,” the agency said in its filing.

Really? Who’s paying for it now?

What’s really insidious about this kind of argument/rhetoric is the suggestion that you and I, for example, are “customers” while Amazon and Google are “providers.” Hasn’t the fundamentally radical aspect of the network been the fact that anyone who’s on the network has the option to be both a consumer and a provider of content? And isn’t the suggestion that there should be these two classes of Internet users antithetical to the things that have made the internet such an innovation engine? Augh!

The DoJ Press Release; a notice; and Ex Parte Filing In the Matter of Broadband Industry Practices (local PDF)

Reaction from Online Journalism Review: It’s up to Congress now to protect Net Neutrality

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July 20, 2007

A Look At The Ideologies of Science [9:15 am]

A little off-topic, but right in line for some of my other work, and an interesting challenge to the ways in which the public is exposed to science and technology — a museum review: Liberty Science Center - Museum - Review: Touch Me Feel Me Science

One characteristic of this reinvention is the message that for all the threat of cataclysm, nothing is as aggressive, or distressing, as the species actually shaping this exploratory enterprise. Humans create global warming “How much damage do you do?” asks an interactive video screen and destroy habitats they “pose the greatest danger” to the world’s most dangerous predators. In turn, they are regularly threatened by microbes. The arrivals and departures of pandemics are listed like plane flights — and flights, as a mock-up of a plane’s cabin suggests, really are potential incubators of communicable disease.

Ah, the difficulties of being human in the age of the new science museum! There was a time when such museums developed out of collections of objects that science created, used or studied. Science was an undertaking that required discipline and enterprise; it was somewhat imposing because it could seem so impersonal in its quest, and somewhat heroic because it was so full of mystery and possibility. Now everything is urgent and personal.

And, often, the personal is also political.

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