Submitted by acohill on Fri, 08/04/2006 - 06:28
A bill has been approved by the House of Representatives that requires K12 schools and libraries that receive Federal funding to block social networking sites, so that minors cannot access them.
It is a kind of darned if you do, darned if you don't situation. In general, I oppose government meddling in what we look at online. But sites like Facebook and MySpace are filled with hardcore pornography, and I don't think our kids really need to be exposed to that in the middle school computer lab. Worse, it is easy for sexual predators to browse such sites and pick out likely victims--kids are putting pictures, their names, and even their phone numbers and street addresses on the sites.
It would be better if these bans were voluntary, developed by schools and library staff in cooperation with parents, as local standards, rather than having the heavy and often arbitrary hand of the Federal government. Pornography really is the scourge of the Internet, and it is hard to figure out how to protect our right to access what we think is important versus the need to protect children.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 07/28/2006 - 09:59
The FBI continues to lobby to try to force ISPs to snoop for the government. This is something the federal agency has been asking for for years, and has tried to get Congress and the FCC to go along with the plan.
What the FBI wants is for every ISP to provide private access to an ISPs entire network so that the FBI can just log in and snoop at its convenience. In theory, court orders would be required, just like wiretaps, but to have private backdoors is to invite abuse.
And if the FBI really believes they need access to the network of an ISP, they can get a court order today and go to the ISP and get whatever records they need. So it is not like they need the new regulations to get something they don't have. Even in a time of war, the FBI is asking for too much power.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/12/2006 - 06:45
USA Today has a useful summary of net neutrality, with a two column, side by side comparison of the issues and the players. Congress continues to squabble over this issue, with what appears to be a notable lack of understanding of what is involved. The current legislation is now opposed by nearly every single municipal and county professional organization that represents either local government officials or local government generally, which should be a signal to legislators that something is not quite right. But Congress has never minded stripping communities of decisionmaking and control in the past, so we can only hope the sausage factory we call Congress, in the end, makes something palatable to communities.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 07/03/2006 - 10:15
If it wasn't enough to be known as the Senator who wanted the bridge to nowhere, Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska has probably secured a permanent place in history, right along with Al "I invented the Internet" Gore, as the Senator who said this:
"They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the internet. And again, the internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a truck. It's a series of tubes. And if you don't understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and its going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material."
Senator "The Internet is a series of tubes" Stevens is fast becoming the laughingstock of the Internet with this remark, which sounds suspiciously like how a lobbyist might try to explain it to a lawmaker. There is a place for analogy (I like to use the roads analogy), but when you are making laws that will effect the work and livelihood of hundreds of millions of Americans, you have an obligation to take the time to truly understand the issues.
It is frightening to think this guy is a key lawmaker. Here is a Wired article with more on Stevens and his tubes, but there are already many thousands of comments and commentary on this. Oddly, Stevens may have done all of us a big favor by revealing his deep ignorance of the topic. It may now be much harder to get a pro-telecom bill passed.
And just to be clear, while multimedia does tend to slow things down under certain conditions, that problem does not require massive Federal legislative meddling to fix--Stevens wants to basically hand the keys to the Internet over to the cable and telephone companies. If he thinks the "tube" problem is bad now, wait until the "tubes" are managed by the telephone and cable companies.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 06/30/2006 - 09:11
This blog entry from Harold Feld is a little dramatic, but not much, considering how high the stakes are. Congress, with special attention to Senator "Bridge to Nowhere" Stevens from Alaska, has crafted a bill cleverly called the "Community Broadband Act of 2006." This little piece of wolf in sheep's clothing purports from its name to be pro-community, but basically prohibits communities from making direct investments in broadband.
I'm told by people that know a lot more about the politics of this bill that it will probably never get passed, but I'm somewhat less worried about it than many others, mainly because I think there are other options to complete municipal ownership. A regional nonprofit or broadband coop offers a lot of advantages, especially for communities that do not have a public electric utility.
What does concern me is the lack of attention that Congress has for the users of broadband. This bill is essentially a sellout, with a complete lack of balanced dialogue in Washington about the long term implications of the policies embedded in this bill. As my good friend Gene Crick remarked once about Texas ("...Texas has the best laws money can buy"), this bill represents the best law that money can buy. A short note to your elected representatives would be in order.
Here is an update on the legislation from Feld, who is tracking this closely. Some changes have been made that move it a bit closer to what communities need (but not close enough, in my opinion).
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 05/29/2006 - 07:49
South Carolina legislators have passed a bill that creates statewide franchising. What distresses me is that two distinct issues have been mixed up together in this legislation. Franchise fees have been lumped together with right of way. Franchise fees, as originally conceived, no longer make sense when content providers don't have to have a physical presence in the community. But communities do need to have control over their right of way and over those companies that still want to place cable in community right of way. The bill is bad law not so much because franchise fees have been eliminated but because communities have had their rights taken away (the right to manage their own common/public property).
The only solution, in my opinion, is for communities to get busy and build their own, open access broadband networks. Doing so eliminates the overbuilding in community right of way.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 05/01/2006 - 08:07
Congress is at it again. Apparently our Federal legislators don't have enough to do, so they have cooked up a new bill that would require every service provider and Web site to maintain access records indefinitely. Sponsored by Colorado Democrat Diana DeGette, the bill is supposedly to fight child pornography. But the bill would give law enforcement officials unlimited rights to snoop everywhere that anyone has ever been online, forever.
This is the most egregious abuse of privacy Congress has yet managed to think up. Lest you think it applies only to the likes of AOL and Verizon, it would apply to anyone that runs a Web site, even the Ladies Garden Club.
In the real world, this would be like requiring local stores (e.g. your local hardware store or quick-stop) to make every customer sign in, record the time and date, and then make the book available to police and Federal officials whenever they wanted it, even fifty years from now.
It is a law enforcement dream come true, but a citizen and business nightmare. One little problem--the amount of data that sites would have to maintain (over years and years, remember) will create a boom in hard drive sales and would become a backup and data retention nightmare. Big sites with lots of traffic (e.g. CNN, ESPN, etc.) throw most of their data away very quickly because it is a storage problem.
Your tax dollars at work. Call or write your Congressional reps and tell them the DeGette bill is an invasion of your privacy and that you don't want businesses turned into police snoops.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 04/25/2006 - 06:20
Right of way issues are central to the future of communities. Right now, cable and telephone companies are trying to wrest control of right of way from local government. They want the Federal government and/or the states to control right of way, and they may well win if local officials don't get involved quickly.
The incumbent providers want to build de facto monopoly networks as quickly as possible, and one way to speed that up is to simply bypass any and all negotiations with local communities over right of way permits and franchise fees. The incumbents want "by right" access to any and all right of way without having to ask permission. They will simply pay a fee to the state or Federal government to gain access to local rights of way.
Communities lose big--they not only lose all the franchise fees, but they lose control over their own right of way--a scarce resource that can be used up quickly. Loss of right of way is an economic development issue, and economic developers should be arm in arm with local elected leaders fighting this one. Fights are brewing all over the country.
You might think that the Feds and state officials will help with this struggle, but you may want to think again. They see state and national franchising as a new source of revenue, and are going to claim this will help spread broadband more quickly, while happily taking all the franchise fees. It will only help spread the inferior, slow broadband we already have, rather than the fast, fiber-based systems we need to compete in the global economy.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 04/17/2006 - 15:31
A fight is brewing in Congress over COPE, a new telecom bill that seeks to create national franchise agreements for video. As the phone companies try to get into the video services marketplace, they are at a severe disadvantage--the cable companies have had decades to negotiate local cable TV franchises. For every community the phone companies want to approach with video, they have to negotiate a franchise, which can take six months to a year.
If you don't think about it very much, a national franchise seems to make sense; we all want more competition in the telecom marketplace, and so one way to achieve that is to reduce the amount of legal paperwork needed. But there are so many things wrong with this bill, on both sides, that it is hard to list them all. But I'll try:
Part of the confusion about all this is a stubborn refusal by Congress and state legislators to have an honest and informed discussion about the rights of communities to determine their own economic destiny. Telecom companies that want to use community right of way should pay the true cost of that service, so in that sense, I support franchise fees vigorously (but I think we need a new name for them).
But legislators often look for simplistic solutions to complex problems, or inversely cook up complex solutions to simple problems. There is a little of both going on here, and communities are being left out. National franchising will inevitably lead to national franchise fees, with a single check written to the Feds, rather than the community. This is bad, bad, bad. Communities will be forced by the Feds to provide right of way access but will likely see very little of the franchise fee. And we'll have a new Federal bureacracy--the Federal Bureau of Community Right of Way.
Communities have to start today, build their own infrastructure, manage their own right of way, and take control before all is lost. Communities without a right of way and franchise fee strategy will be the biggest losers.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 03/20/2006 - 12:48
New Hampshire state senators voted 22-1 in favor of HB 653, which gives local governments in the state the authority not only to create and own communitywide broadband networks, but also to use bonding authority to pay for such networks, just as communities use bonds to build other municipal infrastucture like roads, water, and sewer.
I think this is one of several models we will see emerge as a standard way for communities to undertake these projects. Bonds are a time tested and well understood financial vehicle that communities have used for decades, to build systems much more complex and more expensive than fiber and wireless. Design Nine completed a telecommunications master plan for the northern half of New Hampshire in 2005.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 02/14/2006 - 10:32
Vermont legislators are debating legislation that would provide low interest loans to wireless providers that offer broadband in underserved areas of the state. And even better, the state lawmakers may waive onerous state-required impact reviews and red tape for new wireless towers if local communities have an approved review process in place.
This is exactly what government should be doing--making it easier and less expensive for the private sector to build out broadband infrastructure. The wireless tower changes recognize that broadband wireless towers are usually much lower and less obtrusive than cell towers, and don't require the same level of study and oversight.
Good for Vermont. Let's hope this bill breezes through the legislature and gets passed quickly.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/10/2006 - 08:00
In yet another vivid demonstration of why scissors and other sharp objects should be kept away from members of Congress, our esteemed lawmakers have passed a bill that *seems* to make being annoying illegal. A bill passed to protect women from sexual harrassment has language in it that was apparently added to address online harrassment as well (e.g. repeated unsolicited email). But according to this article, the language got watered down somewhere along the way and now seems to say just being annoying could be illegal.
Among Internet pundits, this is getting a lot of discussion this morning, and is likely to make a big splash in the mainstream press as well. There are conflicting opinions on the wording of the law, with some arguing that the statute is written narrowly enough not to be problematic. One issue being debated is just how one defines "annoying." I daresay many of us are annoyed whenever we get one of those happy talk emails from the CEO about "synergy" and "convergence of optimized customer relationships," but can we now have our boss arrested? Disclaimer: I'm a CEO, so perhaps I need to be worried.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 12/13/2005 - 10:04
BellSouth has somewhat humorously agreed that network neutrality is important in principle but the company then went on to say that no legislation is needed to ensure that because, "We're a big telecom company and would never do anything bad."
Okay, I made that last quote up--BellSouth did not actually say that in exactly that way, but read the article [link no longer available] and see what you think.
Network neutrality is the concept that your Internet access provider (i.e. your DSL or cable modem provider) cannot block services coming from other vendors. This issue is rapidly coming to a boil because the telephone and cable companies want to block third party VoIP providers. The telephone and cable companies want to sell that service to you themselves.
But there is something bigger at work in all this than clumsy efforts to preserve old-style monopolies. Our current system of charging for a broadband connection is badly broken. There is very little relationship between the fees we pay for broadband and the amount of bandwidth we actually use. And new services like VoIP and IP TV have turned the heat up. The current system is unsustainable.
Network neutrality is important, but it's awfully hard to make it work when some service providers get a free ride on part of the Internet, which is what happens now.
The solution is to make broadband connections free, but to charge for services, and to split those fees among the several entities that are involved in both providing the service and providing the infrastructure that the service uses. By doing so, the market forces prices to rise or fall based on demand for the service, rather than the made up cost of an empty or partially full "pipe."
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 11/03/2005 - 10:43
Congress is fighting over a bill that would protect bloggers from having to file onerous reports on their activities. Part of the fall out of the 2002 campaign finance law is strict regulations on campaigning and candidate support. The problem arises because the law is so vague that a private citizen with a lightly read blog who endorses a candidate for election would fall under the regulation of the Federal Election Committee.
Most of the original sponsors of the bill agree that they never intended to try to regulate the speech of private citizens, but instead were trying to limit the influence of well-organized groups. But the Law of Unintended Consequences kicked in on this one, as it seems to so often when legislators are involved.
Blogging, in principle, is no different than the pamphleteering that was so popular in the early days of the country. Tom Paine, one of America's greatest political writers and analysts, was a blogger. He wrote down his own thoughts, published them at his own expense, and distributed his thoughts to interested readers. That's blogging, and I don't think a Federal Commission should be telling us what we can and cannot write.
What baffles me is how this has become a partisan issues. Both conservative and liberal bloggers stand to lose from limits on free speech. It is almost always the case that if you seek to limit the speech of your opponents in the U.S., the laws come back around to bite you. What might look like clever political strategy today could be disastrous a year from now. More voices is a good thing, and I don't see the need for limits on speech. Right or left, the more the merrier--that is what America is all about.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 09/23/2005 - 10:40
In a perfect example of the Law of Unintended Consequences, a Federal campaign reform law has created confusion about whether or not it applies to blogs, which are normally written by just one or perhaps a handful of people.
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) officials don't even agree on what is correct. Some commissioners think bloggers and Internet campaigning generally are exempt, and others disagree.
Strictly interpreted, any time a blogger discussed politics, it would potentially generate paperwork and FEC reports, and taking political ads on a blog site would trigger more reporting.
Since bloggers generally don't make a full time living from their blogs, and most do it as a no-income or low-income sideline, any reporting requirements at all would force them to avoid any discussion of politics, abridging their right to free speech.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 08/12/2005 - 09:12
Unlike a lot of other folks, I'm not greatly worried that SBC and Verizon spent millions to influence some new laws in Texas. The Texas legislature, after a lengthy fight, has agreed to give the phone companies a statewide franchise to offer television content in Texas. This saves them the trouble of going to every community in Texas and negotiating individual franchises.
But let me also be perfectly clear--I don't like this, but--but--I'm not greatly worried by it. Two different things.
Here's why I don't like it.
First, it takes authority away from local communities and gives it to the state. This actually has nothing to do with telecom per se; I am always troubled when communities lose decisionmaking power.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 07/25/2005 - 09:59
Here is the second case of a person being arrested and charged for using someone else's wireless access. The perpetrator was caught deliberating cruising a residential neighborhood in the U.K. looking for open wireless access points (called wardriving).
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 07/18/2005 - 08:01
In what may become a milestone in the quest for broadband, a public referendum in Lafayette, Louisiana to use municipal bonds to fund a fiber network passed by a wide margin (62% of voters said "yes"). Lafayette's public electric utility wanted to offer fiber broadband to its customers a couple of years ago, and the city became ground central for a bitterly fought battle led by the telephone and cable companies, which spent millions to stop the initiative.
Lafayette was probably a poor choice to fight the community. In 1896, the town had to form the Lafayette Utilities Service because the big electric companies refused to provide service to the rural community.
The Lafayette vote is significant. It was held on a Saturday, and received a 27% turnout, which is pretty high for a single issue vote (it was the only item on the ballot). Politicians across the country will have to look more closely at broadband issues going forward, because the one weakness of the telephone and cable companies is that companies do not vote--but citizens do, and in Lafayette, the citizens spoke loudly and clearly on the issue. All the lobbyist money in the world can't offset citizens determined to make a change.
The city says the first customers will get their fiber connections in about two years, and it will take a total of three and a half years to get fiber to every home and business in the community. That's not bad, considering it took almost 40 years to get a telephone to most homes.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 07/15/2005 - 09:06
Introduced by Senators McCain (Arizona-R) and Lautenberg (New Jersey-D), the Community Broadband Act of 2005 would give communities the right to build out telecom infrastructure and/or offer telecom services to their citizens. The bill would prevent states from pandering to the incumbent providers by prohibiting local governments from getting involved in telecom.
This quote by Lautenberg shows that the senators have done their homework and actually are familiar with the history of public services in the U.S., something that most leaders, especially at the state level, seem woefully ignorant of:
Broadband might not be as essential as water, but it’s becoming increasingly important in our competitive global economy. Those who are left out of the high-speed revolution will miss out on opportunities for better jobs and education and a higher quality of life.
A century ago, there were efforts to prevent local governments from providing electricity to residents. Opponents argued that private businesses would suffer if they faced competition from cities and towns. But community leaders recognized that their economic survival depended on the availability of electricity, and they knew it would take both private and public investment to bring electricity to all Americans.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/05/2005 - 12:49
NRRI has a great summary of what is happening in individual states ontelecommunications deregulation, and there is a link at the top of the page to see the actual bills.
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