A Little More China

From the Economist: China and the internet | The party, the people and the power of cyber-talk [pdf]

Six years ago Bill Clinton described China’s efforts to restrict the internet as “sort of like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall”. But as China’s web-filtering technology has grown more sophisticated, and the ranks of its internet police have swelled, some have begun to wonder. A report in 2003 by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace suggested that, despite the difficulties the internet posed to authoritarian regimes, it could also be used to fortify them. China, the authors concluded, had been “largely successful at guiding use” of the internet. At a congressional hearing in February on American companies involved in internet business in China, a Republican congressman, Christopher Smith, said the internet there had become “a malicious tool, a cyber sledgehammer of repression”.


Research by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences suggests the scale of the government’s task. Over 20% of people surveyed in five Chinese cities last year said the internet had increased their contacts with others who shared their political interests—a far higher proportion than found in a similar survey conducted in America (8.1%) by collaborators in the investigation. Nearly half of the respondents said going online increased their contacts with people who shared their hobbies, compared with less than 20% in the United States (networked role-playing games, growing fast in popularity in China, may partly account for this). And nearly 63% agreed that the internet gave them greater opportunities to criticise the government.

“China is changing, it’s improving,” says Jack Ma, head of Alibaba, which last year took over the running of Yahoo!’s Chinese operations—for, despite an early start in China, Yahoo! has been elbowed aside by domestic rivals. “Ten years ago, 20 years ago, in Chairman Mao’s time, if we came here to talk about these things [government censorship],” he begins. Then he puts an imaginary pistol to his head and, with a grin, fires it. That, of course, was when power just grew out of the barrel of a gun. Now it also grows out of the infinite, albeit virtual, barrels of the internet.


Recording and Motion Picture Industries Launch New Anti-Piracy Effort Targeting Colleges and Universities

In letters mailed today [April 27], the two industry associations alerted 40 university presidents about local area network (LAN) piracy problems on their campuses and encouraged immediate action to stop and prevent theft by such means.

According to the two groups, the majority of illegal copying and distribution of music and movies occurs over the public Internet on peer-to-peer (“P2P”) file-sharing systems.  But students at colleges and universities increasingly have been using programs like Direct Connect (DC++), MyTunes and OurTunes to engage in such activity on campus LANs without using the broader public Internet.  The perceived security and privacy of these campus LANs give many students incentive to engage in activity they have otherwise learned is illegal and unacceptable.

“We are appreciative of our partners in the university community and all they have done in recent years to tackle the problem of digital piracy at campuses across the country,” said RIAA President Cary Sherman in a prepared statement.  “Despite the progress achieved by our collaborative efforts, this remains an ever-evolving problem.  We cannot ignore the growing misuse of campus LAN systems or the toll this means of theft is taking on our industry. As we prioritize our focus on campus LAN piracy in the coming year, we hope administrators will take this opportunity to fully evaluate their systems and take action to stop theft by all means.”

The Backchannel Talk At The Workshop

Trying to catch up on what appears to have been the big topic of the day; heard only on the backchannel during the workshop I’m attending: Net neutrality provision voted down

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, during debate on a telecommunications reform bill, rejected an amendment that would write so-called net neutrality provisions into U.S. law. Backers of a net neutrality law want Congress to prohibit U.S. broadband providers from blocking or slowing their customers’ connections to Web sites or services that compete with services offered by the providers.

The committee rejected the amendment, on a vote of 34-22, largely along party lines, with all but one Republican opposing the net neutrality amendment offered by Representative Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat.

The committee voted 42-12 to approve the telecom reform bill, largely focused on allowing telecom carriers to offer television services over IP (Internet Protocol) in competition with cable TV. The bill, which now goes to the full House for a vote, would create a national franchising system, instead of requiring that new television providers seek local franchises across the U.S.