Policy and regulation

HD radio: Boon or Bane?

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 06/23/2004 - 09:05

Day by day, new technologies add more and more complexity to our lives while simultaneously making things better.

Internet radio has extended the reach of many local stations to literally, a worldwide audience. Expatriates can listen to hometown programming and news from anywhere in the world. The radio stations benefit from a broader audience, which allows them to raise advertising rates. Advertisers are happy because Internet radio provides better information on how many people are actually listening to the radio.

So what's the problem? HD radio (High Definition), or digital radio, both broadcast over the air or over the Internet, offers higher fidelity. But the music industry is flummoxed because as HD radio becomes more common, it will be possible to make excellent, high quality recordings off the air (which you can do now with any good FM signal, but most people don't bother).

If that is not enough to give record company officials nightmares, the thought of having listeners then use filesharing to "share" all those recordings over the Internet is about to send them right over the edge.

This situation has been building since CDs first became popular twenty years ago, but the Internet, giving music lovers the ability to share music, has made it worse. Amid the smoke and heat of the discussion, there is a legitimate issue about what constitutes fair use. Unfortunately, we have two polarized points of view. The recording industry wants to take back fair use rights consumers have had since Edison started making recordings. In their ideal world, we'd have to pay every time we listen or watch anything (not a good thing). On the other side a a group of mostly college age music listeners who think there is nothing wrong with sharing copyrighted music with the whole world (also not a good or thoughtful thing).

In the middle are a lot of people who think that the music industry is going to have to face the fact that the world has changed, and how record and movie companies make money will have to change along with the world. In the meantime, the entertainment industry is trying furiously to buy the best laws they can afford. Some Congressional reps and Senators, desperate to fill campaign coffers, are all to eager to help out.

Rep. Boucher leads reform of DCMA

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/22/2004 - 08:50

Congressman Rick Boucher (D) of southwest Virginia has a broad coalition of industry and consumer rights groups for his
reform of the DCMA law
.

Boucher's proposal to fix the worst excesses of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act would legalize the distribution and use of descrambling utilties and circumvention of copy protection schemes as long as no copyright violation takes place. Put another way, consumers would be no longer arrested for breaking and entering simply because they possess a crowbar, which is the way the current DCMA is written.

Boucher also wants to give the FTC broad new powers to police the labeling of CDs, DVDs, and other digital media. Currently, some CDs and DVDs have copy protection schemes that limit the buyer's ability to make copies, but the CDs are not always labeled to indicate that. This part of Boucher's plan is more controversial, since it expands the government's role in the entertainment industry.

It will be interesting to see how this effort progresses in Congress. The entertainment industry will likely spend heavily to defeat this bill, but the DMCA, as it stands, has limited innovation and dramatically curtailed the rights of consumers (i.e. voters) while giving enormous power to a few corporate conglomerates (which do not vote but donate a lot of money to political campaigns).

Rep. Boucher leads reform of DCMA

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/22/2004 - 08:21

Congressman Rick Boucher (D) of southwest Virginia has a broad coalition of industry and consumer rights groups for his
reform of the DCMA law
.

Boucher's proposal to fix the worst excesses of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act would legalize the distribution and use of descrambling utilties and circumvention of copy protection schemes as long as no copyright violation takes place. Put another way, consumers would be no longer arrested for breaking and entering simply because they possess a crowbar, which is the way the current DCMA is written.

Boucher also wants to give the FTC broad new powers to police the labeling of CDs, DVDs, and other digital media. Currently, some CDs and DVDs have copy protection schemes that limit the buyer's ability to make copies, but the CDs are not always labeled to indicate that. This part of Boucher's plan is more controversial, since it expands the government's role in the entertainment industry.

It will be interesting to see how this effort progresses in Congress. The entertainment industry will likely spend heavily to defeat this bill, but the DMCA, as it stands, has limited innovation and dramatically curtailed the rights of consumers (i.e. voters) while giving enormous power to a few corporate conglomerates (which do not vote but donate a lot of money to political campaigns).

When cameras are everywhere....

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 06/21/2004 - 09:14

The always thoughtful Dan Gillmor has an article about Sprint's move to make the popular Treo handheld phone/PDA without a camera. Apparently corporate buyers don't want their employees using them to steal company secrets.

Gillmore raises an important point--how do we behave in a world where there are cameras wherever we go? In Blacksburg, nearly every streetcorner with a light now has a traffic camera that can be reconfigured quickly to become a surveillance camera, and Blacksburg is not a special case. These cameras are being installed all over the country and throughout the world.

Even places like lockerrooms now require rules about cameras, since a person can easily take photographs surreptitiously in a locker room now. Camera manufacturers are responding to criticism by having the phones make an audible "shutter" click to alert others.

Here we have a clear case of technology outstripping the rules and mores of civil society. Our leaders need to lead by encouraging thoughtful discussion and debate about what is appropriate.

Are we witnessing cyberterrorism?

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/17/2004 - 11:00

An attack yesterday on Akamai servers disrupted service for some of the biggest sites on the Internet, including Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Google.

Akamai servers are located throughout the US and overseas and help speed up major Web sites by locating some of the content closer to users. According to the article, an Akamai representative characterized the attack as a "large scale international attack on the Internet infrastructure."

There is a lot of speculation about why it was done, but one possibility to be considered is terrorism. A handful of sites in the world attract a very high percentage of Web traffic (over 90%). If a persistent, determined attack degraded service on major Web sites for an extended period of time, it would have major economic impacts, and the values of many kinds of IT stocks would likely experience significant losses.

Terrorists don't have to do much--they just have to attach a few high visibility targets, and fear, uncertainty, and doubt will do the rest.

Time for the FCC to go?

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/08/2004 - 09:50

Declan McCullagh, the chief political correspondent for Cnet, has an excellent article that questions the need for the FCC.

The article is well worth a read just to review the long list of head-shaking mistakes and blunders that the FCC has made dating back more than fifty years. Among the FCC initiatives McCullagh lists as problematic is the 1956 decision by the FCC to keep Americans from owning their own telephones, apparently believing that it was better to have customers pay AT&T a monthly lease fee for years after the cost of the phone had been amortized.

Like so many government initiatives that were started with the best of intentions but never seem to "finish" the job, the FCC is now trying to regulate things that don't seem to need any regulation, like Voice over IP services. In general, the FCC has seemed to favor the large incumbent providers. If there is any sense in that approach, I think the FCC thinking seems to be to avoid turbulence in the market place and to avoid disruption of services to consumers.

But at some point, as technologies change, disruption is impossible to avoid without permanently vesting obsolete systems and technologies. Currently, the FCC seems to be trying very hard to prop up the incumbent telephone and cable providers. This keeps the marketplace stable, but at what cost? That kind of policy makes it more difficult for low cost competitive providers to enter the marketplace, and denies to consumers the choice to trade stable service for lower prices and/or access to more and different kinds of services.

At worst, the FCC is taking a dim view of consumers and businesses and their ability to sort out these issues. Why not assume that customers, over time, have the capacity to figure this out on their own, and give local communities and governments more flexibility to invest appropriately to ensure that

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