Category Archives: telecomm

Obama’s FCC pick

Obama has appointed Julius Genachowski to head the FCC, which I think is pretty good. Genachowski is on the record as supporting network neutrality. Also, there’s a fair amount of eco-friendliness and tech-savviness in his background — he headed up the Obama team’s internet campaigning, and also worked on Obama’s tech plan.

And, to boost his media credentials, he has worked with “Common Sense Media”, a media group that “believe[s] in media sanity, not censorship. … [S]ince we can’t always cover our kids’ eyes, we have to teach them how to see.” That last bit’s a little airy-fairy, but I like the strong first sentence. When investigated a little further, it still mostly looks pretty good:

Five Internet Challenges for Parents:

1. Keeping up is hard to do.

The Internet gets more portable every day, which makes it easier for our kids to be online more of the time. Today your kid may go online from a computer or even a mobile phone. But tomorrow? Who knows! It could be via something not yet invented. New sites appear and become “hot” overnight, replacing old ones. Parents need to help their kids learn about safe and appropriate behavior, not just safe and appropriate sites. Because teaching them about the dangers of one site or form of access today will be outdated information tomorrow.

….

4. … We need to help our kids think critically about what they post, read, and see online. ….

And then there’s also a lot of “Hey parents! Those crazy kids nowadays, huh? We may not always understand ’em, but they sure do need us!” I find this sort of thing patronizing, personally, which is a little ironic for a site targeting parents about parenting. But, anyway, I love the media literacy bits, which, when all is said and done, is what this whole 5-point “Internet challenges” boils down to: “Teach them media literacy because it’s more effective.” Which I can totally get behind.

The Obama tech plan that Genachowski worked on includes a significant broadband access component, which the FCC will play a significant role in.

Some trivia: Interestingly, I note that he was on the board of TicketMaster, which I mostly think of in context of their various attempts to stifle database harvesting (e.g., Ticketmaster v. Tickets.com (C.D. Cal. 2003). Of course, it seems unlikely that he would have had any input or interaction with that particular business decision. I can’t help that my first association with TicketMaster is this sort of thing. My second association — annoying ticket fees and the memory of feeling ripped off by their high-priced stadium rock concert tickets back in the day — isn’t much better.

Some other trivia: His wife is a documentary filmmaker. Score one for content re-users! Take that, cell phone ring tone incidental capture cease-and-desist senders!

And — I love this — “He worked on the select committee investigating the Iran-Contra Affair”.WP Ah the glory days when Congress investigated executive wrongdoing — even before they felt safe in the knowledge that the wrong-doing president & his party had been ousted in ignominy from governance. Seriously, this is probably my favorite part of his resume. I love a good Iran-Contra investigator.

h/t: bradfox.com

see also: Washington Post 3/3

yaay EFF & Georgia senatorial candidate

Of course, it’s never surprising when the EFF takes on the most challenging issues in technology law, but it was particularly gratifying to see them arguing to overturn the odious telecommunications immunity passed last year. The Machinist at Salon — a blog I’ve been appreciating more and more lately — has a great summary & recap of the issue.

And two for two for Salon.com today, because Glenn Greenwald, who now also blogs for Salon, highlighted today something that did surprise me: Georgia Democratic Senatorial candidate Jim Martin’s principled critique of that legislation.

Go figure. Political candidates can surprise me with something other than the depths of their ignorance and/or pandering and/or willingness to lie outright.

Recording industry in England

John Naughton had a nice column last week in The Observer (at the guardian) trashing the British Phonographic Industry. Triggered by their spokesperson’s statement that “For years, ISPs have built a business on other people’s music,” Naughton awarded it “Fatuous Statement of the Month” and went on to excoriate their arrogance and the legislation they’re pushing to mandate ISPs to deal with copyright infringement. And properly Naughton pointed out that “ISPs have indeed ‘built a business’. They’ve done it by providing an internet connection for upwards of a billion individuals and businesses across the planet.”

But what I thought was funny was the spectacle of the phonographic industry, which represents record companies, complaining about someone else “building a business on other people’s music”. The irony kills.

the state of free wireless in boston

while I’ve been sad to see some cafes that previously offered free wireless moving to a pay model or restricting their network for other reasons, i’ve been seeing more and more free wireless popping up in other places.

today at a restaurant for lunch there were three: one called “[person’s name]’s computer”; one for the name of the restaurant; and one called “fuck comcast”. heh.

wireless isn’t the problem; authentication is

In a recent article bemoaning the difficulties faced by business travelers of getting Internet access in their hotel rooms, not once did the writer ever describe the real problem. The problem isn’t access to the network; in almost all instances, the problem is authentication to the network, because the network employs some proprietary network authentication protocol. If they just gave it away for free then I’d bet 90% or more of their problems would go away. (As would a lot of the costs tied up in these weird service / helpdesk plans, too.) They could even do some network authentication using WEP passwords, although, really, what’s the point.

net neutrality provision fails in the House

we knew this, right? that legislative attempts to do something positive for consumers were likely doomed? [nyt 6/9]

consumers, if you get Internet service from a phone or cable company, do you think you pay enough to have service already? do you think your broadband provider ought to be able to charge you more for getting email from a non-corporate-licensed listserve, or using Google? you might want to consider calling & explaining that you already pay them to deliver a particular service–not to spend millions of dollars in lobbying to ensure their “right” to double-bill you for Internet access.

Save the Internet and Public Knowledge are the places to go on this one. Go now, while you’re not being charged double for the privilege.

stuff i’ve been reading – information edition

  • The sad story of PearLyrics is being widely reposted [See alandwilliams, sideshow, boingboing.] I’m just sorry that I didn’t hear about it before the designer responded to the C&D by taking down the code.

  • Dan Gillmore (12/3) on telcos attacking the open web: basically, carriers would like to become editors or distributors, content selectors, rather than mere carriers ….

  • Washington Post is letting itself be remixed. I may have to move the Post to the top of my MSM queue (ahead of the NYT).

  • The Royal Society is kvetching about PLOS & open science. [link via BoingBoing & Open Access News]

  • Doc Searls has written “Saving the Net”, discussing, among other things, the “intellectual property” metaphor. [link via boingboing]

download legally … somewhere

I saw this on 125th St. in Harlem the other day:

RIAA Ad, Seen in Harlem on 125th St - Feed a Musician, Download Legally

The RIAA has begun their new ad campaign (leading a new front group called “Music United”). Apparently it’s important for the RIAA to pump money into promoting a trend that is already happening even without ads. (Could it be … that legal downloading is finally happening just because the friggin’ recording industry finally started licensing its catalogs with semi-reasonable terms and price points?)

I found it particularly ironic given the relative dearth of wireless in Harlem. Starbucks and McDonald’s offer the usual paid access, but otherwise, Harlem is still essentially a wireless dead zone — just as it was in 2002 when Elisa Batista surveyed Manhattan.

Hey, RIAA, I bet the kids in Harlem would like to download legally! Why don’t you get behind some of the community wireless initiatives to help them do it? That might be a little more useful than promoting something people are already doing in a neighborhood where they have relatively few opportunities to do it.

update 2005/8/15: The RIAA campaign has sparked a lot of annoyance out there in the blog-o-sphere. Here’s a sampling: The vitriolic monkey says that The RIAA Wipes Its Dick On The Curtains. I don’t know what that means but it sounds icky. Xeni Jardin at BoingBoing snapped a couple of shots of posts in LA and posted on Flickr; a few other commentators have added other spotted locations. Jason Schultz posted on Flickr a couple of altered posters in SF. (“Fair Use Has a Posse”, which, while I must surely be counted among the members of whatever posse fair use has, I must admit just doesn’t ring quite as well as Andre the Giant or Charles Darwin.). Reasoner notes the Sticker Wars with the RIAA in San Francisco, and points out “the unfortunate truth … that many of the major record labels are screwing over all but the most ‘successful’ musicians”. Terminally Incoherent saw the same from BoingBoing and described it as RIAA Brainwashing Continues. … But in all of this I still haven’t seen any other new poster snapshots, which makes me sad. Surely more people out there are taking snapshots of these posters?

first amendment monopolies for broadcasters

A few months ago (how did I miss this?) CoCo (Constitutional Code in the Realm of Culture) posted about an FCC paper that basically kills the scarcity doctrine, thereby significantly undercutting the rationale for FCC regulation of broadcast airwaves.

CoCo correctly points out that this has both a big potential plus and a big potential minus: (a) first, the plus: the government has less justification for federal obscenity & decency regulations; but (b) the minus: broadcast owners have more justification for trying to ditch things like must-carry rules, the fairness doctrine (if it existed anymore), and other aspects of state regulation in the public interest. (I distinguish between obscenity/decency regulations and the public interest but it must be said that some folks would put both items together, in either the plus or minus columns depending on their politics. I’ll call them both “public policy” regulations, reserving the right to distinguish between good and bad public policy regulations.)

But the so-called First Amendment rights of broadcast corporations stem from the government-granted monopoly they have over particular chunks of the airwaves. So, yes, a dead scarcity doctrine undercuts the rationale for the public policy regulations. But it also undercuts the rationale for the government-granted monopolies in the first place.

So imagine this admittedly unlikely scenario: the FCC gets out of the licensing, as well as the content-regulating, business altogether. Be conservative and leave the FCC the role of standard-setting body, establishing broadcast ranges for this and that type of broadcast. What might the broadcast environment look like? Lots of broadcasters, competing with each other for the airwaves. Encrypted content delivered and decrypted by commercially available equipment. Cooperative groups of content providers? Imagine all the benefits of low power FM, cited by media activists, church groups, union organizers, and the like, but available to all. Sounds pretty good to me. If the FCC isn’t acting as procurer and police for large corporations, handing out and enforcing monopolistic control over chunks of the airwaves, then maybe we don’t have to worry so damn much about the so-called First Amendment rights of large corporate entities.

So, the scarcity doctrine is dead. Long live the age of plenty.

ip/speech round-up

  • two major networks who are permitted to broadcast their for-profit programming and advertisements, for free, over the airwaves, have decided that, in accordance with their “no advocacy” policy, they will reject ads from the Universal Church of Christ (UCC) which, according to them, is “advocacy”: The ads say: “Jesus didn’t turn people away. Neither do we.” NBC thinks that message “clearly implies that other people do [turn people away].”
  • City of San Diego v. Roe – First Amendment public employee speech case. [opinion, linked from & analyzed by Goldstein & Howe SCOTUS blog *] The Supreme Court held that a cop’s video of himself masturbating on eBay was not protected speech. Instead of just applying the Pickering test and finding no protection on the facts, the Court also continued to build up the “legitimate news interest” test. The new test seems to protect only speech that is of “public concern”, meaning “that which is of legitimate news interest; that is, a subject of general interest and of value and concern to the public at the time of publication.” Sigh.
  • Pew released a survey of artist attitudes toward online swapping. [link from ip news blog]

* This blog, otherwise quite helpful & informative, has an extremely annoying permalink function. … How annoying is the “link to this post” function on this weblog? Very. It unnecessarily replaces a built-in feature with a its own way of doing things. To copy the URL, you might think that you could do the ordinary — right-click [or CTRL-click if you’re not using a 2-button mouse with your mac] on the text labeled “Link to this Post” and select “Copy Link to Clipboard” from the menu. But no. On this blog, doing that pastes in a javascript function and the filename. The javascript function actually requires you to left-click on the “Link to this Post” text. This then displays a pop-up box with the URL. The pop-up box says “Hit CTRL+C to copy the URL below.” (Note to designers: You wouldn’t need instructions if you used standards that people already know — like the freakin’ default right-click menu!) Of course those instructions are platform-specific, so they actually confuse non-windows users. On macs, the copy command is apple+C [aka COMMAND+C]. But as a mac user you have to wonder: did they write a jscript to map to those keys? Or is this windows-specific? Sometimes requiring failed experiments. …

state of PA restricts cities from offering wireless

I’m sad. The state of PA passed, and the governor signed (12/1), a bill that prevents municipalities from offering wireless networks. Verizon lobbied for this legislation in response to Philadelphia’s plan to offer low or free wireless across the city. On the radio the other day, I heard an interview with a Verizon spokesperson who said they might let Philadelphia do it. How fucking kind of them.

Basically the bill lets Verizon get a right of first refusal if any municipality wants to offer its own service. Should Verizon say no, it then has to provide broadband to that community within 14 months. Of course at its own prices …

muniwireless.com has more.

info news

  • Sex research is stigmatized. [nyt 11/9] Yeah, not least because of the Bush Administration.

  • Microsoft settles antitrust suit by Novell for $536M. [nyt 11/9]

  • FCC asserts federal control over VOIP. [nyt 11/9]

    To subject a global network to disparate local regulatory treatment by 51 different jurisdictions would be to destroy the very qualities that embody the technological marvel that is the Internet.

    Hmm. “[D]isparate local regulatory treatment” … federalism.

  • Margaret Mitchell estate (Gone With the Wind) sues Project Gutenberg. [NYT 11/8]

    PG’s Australian affiliate posted GWTW on the Internet after it entered the public domain in Australia. Unfortunately, thanks to the copyright maximalists & the folks in Congress who just don’t care enough to figure out the issue, the CTEA extended copyright terms in the US, keeping GWTW out of the public domain. Of course the US is busily getting rid of various national public domains through bilateral trade agreements, such as the US-Australia trade agreement.

  • Iran continues censoring Internet speech and access to information, including sites relating to democracy and the rights of women. [NYT 11/8]