Jim Fallows on the Great Firewall

In the March Atlantic: “The Connection Has Been Reset” (pdf)

They’ll likely be surprised, then, to notice that China’s Internet seems surprisingly free and uncontrolled. Can they search for information about “Tibet independence” or “Tiananmen shooting” or other terms they have heard are taboo? Probably—and they’ll be able to click right through to the controversial sites. Even if they enter the Chinese-language term for “democracy in China,” they’ll probably get results. What about Wikipedia, famously off-limits to users in China? They will probably be able to reach it. Naturally the visitors will wonder: What’s all this I’ve heard about the “Great Firewall” and China’s tight limits on the Internet?

In reality, what the Olympic-era visitors will be discovering is not the absence of China’s electronic control but its new refinement—and a special Potemkin-style unfettered access that will be set up just for them, and just for the length of their stay. According to engineers I have spoken with at two tech organizations in China, the government bodies in charge of censoring the Internet have told them to get ready to unblock access from a list of specific Internet Protocol (IP) addresses—certain Internet cafés, access jacks in hotel rooms and conference centers where foreigners are expected to work or stay during the Olympic Games. (I am not giving names or identifying details of any Chinese citizens with whom I have discussed this topic, because they risk financial or criminal punishment for criticizing the system or even disclosing how it works. Also, I have not gone to Chinese government agencies for their side of the story, because the very existence of Internet controls is almost never discussed in public here, apart from vague statements about the importance of keeping online information “wholesome.”)

Depending on how you look at it, the Chinese government’s attempt to rein in the Internet is crude and slapdash or ingenious and well crafted. When American technologists write about the control system, they tend to emphasize its limits. When Chinese citizens discuss it—at least with me—they tend to emphasize its strength. All of them are right, which makes the government’s approach to the Internet a nice proxy for its larger attempt to control people’s daily lives.

Related: China plays victim for its audiencepdf

Just a Pipedream?

Hopes for Wireless Cities Fade as Internet Providers Pull Out

“All these cities had this hype hangover late last year when EarthLink announced its intentions to pull out,” said Craig Settles, an independent wireless consultant and author of “Fighting the Good Fight for Municipal Wireless” (Hudson Publishing, 2006). “Now that they’re all sobered up, they’re trying to figure out if it’s still possible to capture the dream of providing affordable and high-speed access to all residents.”

EarthLink announced on Feb. 7 that “the operations of the municipal Wi-Fi assets were no longer consistent with the company’s strategic direction.” Philadelphia officials say they are not sure when or if the promised network will now be completed.

Billy Bragg Doesn’t Understand His Own Industry?

Hard to believe. I have to believe that what he means is that the compulsory license is acceptable to the composer, even though the implication as written seems to be that the performer is getting paid by the radio station. Or did the “digital” get dropped from the “radio” part? Bad editing on the part of the NYTimes? The Royalty Scam

What’s at stake here is more than just the morality of the market. The huge social networking sites that seek to use music as free content are as much to blame for the malaise currently affecting the industry as the music lover who downloads songs for free. Both the corporations and the kids, it seems, want the use of our music without having to pay for it.

The claim that sites such as MySpace and Bebo are doing us a favor by promoting our work is disingenuous. Radio stations also promote our work, but they pay us a royalty that recognizes our contribution to their business. Why should that not apply to the Internet, too?

The Only Way It’s Going To Get Traction

A Push to Limit the Tracking of Web Surfers’ Clicks

AFTER reading about how Internet companies like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo collect information about people online and use it for targeted advertising, one New York assemblyman said there ought to be a law.

So he drafted a bill, now gathering support in Albany, that would make it a crime — punishable by a fine to be determined — for certain Web companies to use personal information about consumers for advertising without their consent.

And because it would be extraordinarily difficult for the companies that collect such data to adhere to stricter rules for people in New York alone, these companies would probably have to adjust their rules everywhere, effectively turning the New York legislation into national law.

Of course, that last paragraph just means that the federal government will pre-empt whatever they come up with. But it’s a start.

The Emerging Consensus on the FCC’s Latest Auction

It didn’t work, at least not from the perspective of getting new competitors in the game — Verizon, AT & T win big in airwave auctionpdf

“It was the only place on the wireless spectrum where you could possibly have a third pipe, and they didn’t get that. That’s a big failure,” said Ben Scott, Washington policy director of Free Press, a nonprofit group opposed to media consolidation.

Industry experts said it was hardly a surprise.

“It amazes me that people think that when you have networks already in the ground, new companies can just come in and have a chance,” said wireless researcher and consultant Andrew Seybold.

Nothing Like Stating It Nakedly

A Company Promises the Deepest Data Mining Yet

Amid debate over how much data companies like Google and Yahoo should gather about people who surf the Web, one new company is drawing attention — and controversy — by boasting that it will collect the most complete information of all.

The company, called Phorm, has created a tool that can track every single online action of a given consumer, based on data from that person’s Internet service provider. The trick for Phorm is to gain access to that data, and it is trying to negotiate deals with telephone and cable companies, like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, that provide broadband service to millions.

Phorm’s pitch to these companies is that its software can give them a new stream of revenue from advertising. Using Phorm’s comprehensive views of individuals, the companies can help advertisers show different ads to people based on their interests.

“As you browse, we’re able to categorize all of your Internet actions,” said Virasb Vahidi, the chief operating officer of Phorm. “We actually can see the entire Internet.”

Of course, the question is not seeing it, but how clearly it is seen.

NJ eVoting Investigation Request

NJ clerks call for e-voting investigation

A group representing county clerks in New Jersey has asked the states attorney general to step in and investigate voting discrepancies observed in e-voting machines used in last months presidential primary election.

[…] Clerks from a half-dozen New Jersey counties reported discrepancies in the voting tallies generated by approximately 60 of the state’s Sequoia Voting Systems AVC Advantage e-voting machines during last month’s election. In most cases the discrepancy involved a one- or two-vote difference between the paper tape logged by the machine and the number of votes stored in the computer’s memory cartridges.

Sequoia blamed the discrepancy on pollworker error and said the problem could be fixed with a software update, but state clerks wanted a third-party investigation.

[…] Last Tuesday, Dressler’s group asked Princeton computer science professor Edward Felten, a critic of e-voting systems, to examine the Sequoia machines. That plan was abandoned, however, after Sequoia threatened legal action against Felten and the county that offered to provide the systems, saying that such a review would violate the company’s licensing agreement.

“Competition? We Don’t Need No Steenking Competition!”

Or maybe we do — Competition Fuels Broadband Use in Europe

Fierce competition from new providers has pushed the level of broadband subscriptions in eight European countries above the levels in the United States and Japan, according to figures to be released Wednesday.

[…] “We have four countries that are world leaders — Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Finland,” said Viviane Reding, the European telecommunications commissioner. “We have eight countries which have higher penetration rates than the U.S. and Japan. We are not doing badly at all.”

In addition to the three Nordic countries and the Netherlands, four others — Britain, Belgium, Luxembourg and France — had surpassed the United States by July 2007. By January 2008, Germany had also done so.

[…] In an interview Tuesday, Ms. Reding vowed to press ahead with an effort to give regulators powers to force the so-called incumbent telecommunications companies to run their businesses in a way that would make it easier for new competitors to enter the market. In countries like Germany and France, former state monopolies have fought fiercely against such a move.

Spectrum Auction Results (updated)

Wireless Spectrum Auction Raises $19 Billion

The spectrum licenses are being surrendered to the government by broadcasters as they complete their conversion to digital television by early next year. The licenses are coveted because they will provide the winners with access to some of the best remaining spectrum — enabling them to send signals farther from a cell tower with far less power, through dense walls in cities and over wider territories in rural areas that are now underserved.

[…] While Google was not expected to post a winning bid, it has already achieved an important victory by influencing the auction rules. The commission forced the major telephone companies to open their wireless networks to a broader array of telephone equipment and Internet applications. It remains to be seen whether a variety of technical and regulatory issues can be resolved to make the promise of more open networks a reality.

Something else to quiz the presidential candidates about.

Later: Verizon and AT&T win big at airwave auctionpdf

Verizon Communications Inc and AT&T were big winners in the U.S. government’s auction of wireless licenses that raised a record $19.59 billion, the Federal Communication Commission said on Thursday.

Verizon Wireless, a joint venture with Vodafone Group Plc, won the nationwide “C” block of the auction, giving it control of a major piece of the airwaves being vacated by television broadcasters as they move to digital signals in early 2009.

AT&T won 227 licenses from among the “B” block of regional licenses, but Internet leader Google Inc, while it submitted a serious bid for the C block, in the end won no licenses, the FCC said.

Think Different

Apple talking to labels about unlimited music: reportpdf

Apple Inc is in talks with major music companies to offer customers free access to its entire iTunes music library in exchange for paying a premium for its iPods and iPhones, the Financial Times said.

Citing people familiar with the talks, the paper said the negotiations hinged on a dispute over the price Apple would be willing to pay for access to the labels’ libraries.

The FT article — Apple in talks to sell iPod and iPhone with unlimited musicpdf

Later: The LATimes’ article — Apple may offer music subscription servicepdf