net neutrality

Barack Obama, John McCain and Net Neutrality

Change is coming. In fact, if you look over the past 15 years it's already here: the Internet. What it is now, with blogs and social networks, software-as-a-service and 'net-enabled applications, bears scant resemblance to what it was like in 1995. Think about how much it has changed just since you got on the net. No question: the Internet is evolving faster and faster. Do we know what it will look like in 15 years? Ten years? A year from now?

No. The Internet is changing too fast too fast.

Why Net Neutrality is important

The phrase "Net Neutrality" itself is unfortunate because, alliteration aside, it doesn't really have punch, but it's very important. Liza Sabater describes it as "digital civil rights." It's a clear concept when you talk about governmental control of the Internet. China, with the collaboration of its state-run ISPs and American search engine companies, has already demonstrated that control and censorship of the Internet is already possible.

Alistair Croll points out that ISPs have increasing capability to control what users can access:

There are a lot of bad things on the Internet: spam, child porn, malware, phishing and so on. Until recently, it’s been up to people to protect themselves, using security software or web site blocking. Lately, however, governments and legislators have been calling for service providers to limit where users can go, both to stop criminal activity and to protect naïve surfers from straying onto malicious sites. Recent advances in DNS may soon let carriers comply with such regulations.

In June, three major carriers agreed to purge child pornography hosted on servers their customers operate in their data centers. Having signed New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s Internet code of conduct, every major U.S. ISP has also agreed to eliminate access to certain newsgroups. It’s not just in the U.S., either: Australia’s hotly debated Plan for Cyber Safety blocks content that isn’t child-friendly. Subscribers can opt out, but they’ll still be blocked from content the government deems illegal.

What about in cases of control and censorship of Internet content by corporations for non-government-manded reasons?

Claire, of the Hawaii LRB Library, gives a thumbnail:

Network neutrality is generally the concept of ensuring "unfettered access to the Internet" by regulating owners of Internet networks. CRS notes that the two most common discriminatory actions against net neutrality are "the network providers’ ability to control access to and the pricing of broadband facilities, and the incentive to favor network-owned content, thereby placing unaffiliated content providers at a competitive disadvantage."

It's this latter part -- "incentive to favor network-owned content, thereby placing unaffiliated content providers at a competitive disadvantage" -- that explains the concern of every website owner who does not control a piece of the Internet backbone.

Alice Marshall puts it in the context of the tech economy:

Comcast buys a friendly (or sleepy) crowd

There's something seriously wrong about this.

Comcast — or someone who really, really likes Comcast — evidently bused in its own crowd. These seat-warmers, were paid to fill the room, a move that kept others from taking part.

[Update: Comcast admits to paying people to stack the room in their favor. Read the report.]

They arrived en masse some 90 minutes before the hearing began and occupied almost every available seat, upon which many promptly fell asleep (picture above).
MarkeyComcast’s sleeper cell

One told us that he was “just getting paid to hold someone’s seat.”

>> Listen to the audio

He added that he had no idea what the meeting was about.

If he was holding someone else’s seat, he never gave it up.

Many of this early crowd had mysteriously matching yellow highlighters stuck in their lapels.

Save the Internet: Click here

I am thankful

snow on branches in Colorado

[Cross-posted from BlogHer]

I am thankful for so many things. It's so easy to take them for granted, especially these days when it can seem like there's so much to fear, so much that needs fixing, so much tragedy in the world. And most of my day is spent focusing on what's next to be done, what problem needs to be solved, what challenge I want to undertake. So, at the risk of sounding self-indulgent, here I remind myself of the good things for which I can be thankful.

I am thankful to be alive and in reasonably good health. I am thankful for my family. I am thankful for my friends.

I am thankful to be living in a country where we can still enjoy the freedoms we have. I am thankful for the education I received. I am thankful for my upbringing. I am thankful that we haven't destroyed the world yet. I am thankful that most of us want to make the world a better place. I am thankful to be living in a time when we all have so much potential to effect so much change for the better.

And, being a geek, I am thankful for computers for they are changing everything. I am thankful for the internet and how it is helping us all connect in ways that were impossible before. I am thankful for net neutrality, such as it is these days.

I am thankful to be alive and involved in such an incredibly interesting field of interactive design and development, with so many untested frontiers, so few written rules, so much potential to change so many things for the better. I am thankful that I can make a living as a geek. I'm thankful for being able to do the work I do. I am thankful for the really great people I work with.

I am thankful for open source. I'm thankful that I've been able to make a living working in open source. I am thankful for the good fortune of having found Drupal. I am thankful for the amazing Drupal community. I am thankful that, years ago, Dries Buytaert saw fit to open source Drupal.

I am thankful for the hope -- the hope -- that we might be able to enjoy the benefits of open source voting.

I am thankful for One Laptop per Child and other initiatives like it.

I am thankful for astonishing medical advances we're seeing these days.

I am thankful for not living under the Communist boot. (Ahem.)

I am thankful for bloggers who make me laugh or cry out in rage or both.

I am thankful for coffee and tea and bagels, and wine and cheese and avacados. I am thankful for sushi. I am thankful for hot water from the tap. I am thankful for my kitty, who comforts me when I'm over-stressed.

I am thankful to be able to write this here.

I am thankful for how truly lucky I've been. Luck is a lot of it. I feel blessed. I am thankful for all these things, and so many more, that help make being alive now a pretty great thing.

Thank you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Department of Justice argues for an internet more like the post office

The Department of Justice has weighed in against Net Neutrality:

The Justice Department said imposing a Net neutrality regulation could hamper development of the Internet and prevent service providers from upgrading or expanding their networks. It could also shift the "entire burden of implementing costly network expansions and improvements onto consumers," the agency said in its filing.

Such a result could diminish or delay network expansion and improvement, it added.

Are these the same network providers who already were paid huge government stipends and tax breaks to expand and improve broadband internet?

The agency said providing different levels of service is common, efficient and could satisfy consumers. As an example, it cited that the U.S. Postal Service charges customers different guarantees and speeds for package delivery, ranging from bulk mail to overnight delivery.

You gotta love that. Really, the USPS as a success story? Tell that to all the dead trees that are mailed every day straight through your mailbox into the garbage can (or, hopefully, recycling bin).

"Whether or not the same type of differentiated products and services will develop on the Internet should be determined by market forces, not regulatory intervention," the agency said in its filing.

This is a disingenuous argument, as people already are paying varying rates for varying levels of service. If you want a fast connection, you pay more. If you have a website that has a lot of media files to serve, you pay more.

What the DOJ seems to be arguing is -- to use their analogy -- much like having the USPS tell you that you cannot get mail from Chicago, but you can get similar mail from another sender in Atlanta. The telecoms who were paid by the taxpayer to build the backbone and make it stronger and faster now want to control the content on that backbone. This does not serve competition. In fact, undermining net neutrality would have the effect of undermining the free market. Not when individual access to information is choked off and controlled by middleman companies who are playing for the big contracts.

I'm very disturbed by this development, but I have to confess I'm not that surprised. We live in a political and business climate that is suspicious of individual expression and freedom of speech -- or at least places very little value on it.

Cyberbullies and Community Standards

It has taken me a few days to recover from the intense energy and excitement of attending, participating in and speaking at the OSCMS 2007 (and sundry adjunct events of equal intensity and delight), and so I've been publicly quiet so far about the obscene and possibly illegal cyberbullying that has happened in the past several days regarding one of my favorite bloggers, Kathy Sierra.

If you've somehow had your feedreader in the sand this past week, here's a brief snippet of what Kathy wrote about it on Monday:

We all have trolls--but until four weeks ago, none of mine had threatened death. (The law is clear--to encourage or suggest someone's death is just as illegal as claiming you intend to do it yourself).

At about the same time, a group of bloggers including Listics' Frank Paynter, prominent marketing blogger Jeneane Sessum, and Raving Lunacy Allen Herrel (aka Head Lemur) began participating on a (recently pulled) blog called At first, it was the usual stuff--lots of slamming of people like Tara Hunt, Hugh MacLeod, Maryam Scoble, and myself. Nothing new. No big deal. Nothing they hadn't done on their own blogs many times before.

But when it was my turn, somebody crossed a line. They posted a photo of a noose next to my head, and one of their members (posting as "Joey") commented "the only thing Kathy has to offer me is that noose in her neck size."

The horror gets worse. For more background on this, I refer you to Kathy's own post on the thing, and these various excellent posts on BlogHer here, here, here, here, here and here.

On a couple of email lists, I've expressed the feeling that to respond to trolls is to feed them -- to give them the validation they so crave. They're online terrorists, in effect, who behave the way they do to get attention, and in general I believe it's counterproductive to elevate their status to some sort of Public Enemy, for that gives them exactly what they want, and has the unfortunate effect of elevating them to your status. My sense was that with regard the Mean Kids garbage, the best response was to respond by ignoring these depraved individuals, encouraging the prompt deletion of such content, and moving on.

Mine was not the popular sentiment. In fact, there has been an incredible groundswell of push-back against the Mean Kids trolls, to the point of declaring today, March 30th, as Stop Cyberbullying Day. For better or worse, and I prefer to think it's for the better for now, what has happened to Kathy, and untold other women and men who've been subjected to this kind of online abuse since USENET days, cyberbullying has become the topic of the day.

It's an essentially important subject in this "web 2.0" world of online communities. How do we "police" (for the lack of a better word) such patently offensive and possibly illegal behavior while at the same time while keeping the internet free?

New Net Neutrality video explains it pretty well

[via Cory Doctorow who nods to Lawrence Lessig.] Still, the standard for net neutrality videos is set by the Ask a Ninja video embedded in this post.

We Are the Web (and never mind the tights)

[Flash video would not cache. Follow link below.]

More info here [Warning: This is one of those all-Flash "web 1.0-style" websites that starts talking at you by default as soon as the page loads, so you might want to turn down your speakers. Enjoy the cheese.]

Via Jeffrey Zeldman.

"Net Neutrality" loses in the House

Net Neutrality San Jose
["Net Neutrality San Jose", posted by jimiinc]

The news is not reassuring for anyone who counts on unrestricted and uncensored access to the internet.

Despite the flurry of phone calls, emails, videos and pleas from a wide base of passionate pro-Net Neutrality constituents, representing hundreds of thousands of people from all political persuasions and hundreds of consumer groups, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives crushed an amendment to safeguard an equal opportunity Internet.

After just 20 minutes of debate on the House floor, Rep. Ed Markey's proposed amendment to the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act (COPE), which subsequently passed without Net Neutrality provisions, was rejected by a vote of 269-152. While the voting appears to be largely partisan, with only 11 Republicans voting in favor of the amendment and a surprising 58 Democrats voting against, Net Neutrality, in its short time in the public eye, is an apolitical issue.

I think what jmiller means is that it has been a non-partisan issue, at least when it comes to the grassroots support of "net neutrality." He doesn't mince words:

But Congressional leadership was largely unconvinced by an idea embraced by a diverse list of organizations that would typically be swinging the political pendulum at each others' faces. Think MoveOn and the Christian Coalition. Think the American Civil Liberties Union and the Gun Owners of America. Think Parents Television Council and the National Coalition Against Censorship. Add their support to the very founders of the medium as Vinton Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee stand beside unlikely cohorts Moby and Alyssa Milano.

Even with a constituency like that, whose sudden unity should sound with exponential resonance within the ears of those who represent them, the US House of Representatives ignored it by siding with telecommunications and cable duopolistic entities. The ears of a dinosaur are difficult to reach, but his carrion is easy enough to see - it leaves droplets of green behind it.

Of course, the uproar over "net neutrality" has been largely restricted to the realm of lobbyists and (/vs.?) bloggers.

The mainstream media, especially television and talk radio, which will discuss something as benign as Brangelina's baby or something as polarizing as immigration reform, have been conspicuously silent on the matter, which may account for why the public seems largely unaware of it, as well as the apparent deafness of our representatives.

--Which only goes to show the importance of the internet.

Pamela Heywood on 7c marketing has a news rundown on the "net neutrality" nixing.

jules at tech whisperer looks at the technological trends, including something called IP Multimedia Subsystems ("IMS"), and worries:

With a coalition that includes ninja, anything is possible

It's not very often that you see, the Christian Coalition, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Gun Owners of America, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the American Library Association, and Craig Newmark of Craigslist on the same side of the political fences. (Where's the ninja? Read on....)

Today was a small victory:

The broad, nonpartisan movement for Internet freedom notched a major victory today, when a bipartisan majority of the House Judiciary Committee passed the “Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006″ — a bill that offers meaningful protections for Network Neutrality, “the First Amendment of the Internet.”

20 members of the Commitee (6 Republicans and 14 Democrats) voted for the bipartisan Bill, and only 13 against.

Today’s vote would have been unthinkable three weeks ago.

There's been some skepticism expressed here about "net neutrality." I hate to disagree with PHAT Mommy, but I don't really see how, by passing "net neutrality,"

Congress could actually hinder the development of new and exciting Internet technologies that we are not even aware of yet. Not to mention pave the way for {shudder} taxation.

As someone who works in what I, at least, consider very exciting new internet technologies, I consider the traditional neutrality of the internet as nothing but a help ... and certainly don't see how "net neutrality" is a gateway to taxation. Congress has refrained from taxing the neutral internet so far. If Congress wants to tax, it will tax. I see that as a separate issue.

The biggest opposition to "net neutrality" is organized under Hands Off the Internet, whose flagship members include the big telcos and cellular companies who want to be able to sell exclusive rights to your eyeballs. I'm much to decided on this issue to present their arguments, so I leave it to them to explain.

For what I think is the most amusing explanation of what "net neutrality" is about, Ask a Ninja!....

[Found via Table of Malcontents.]

For a more scholarly take, on MIT's website, timble offers some historical perspective:

Twenty-seven years ago, the inventors of the Internet[1] designed an architecture[2] which was simple and general. Any computer could send a packet to any other computer. The network did not look inside packets. It is the cleanness of that design, and the strict independence of the layers, which allowed the Internet to grow and be useful. It allowed the hardware and transmission technology supporting the Internet to evolve through a thousandfold increase in speed, yet still run the same applications. It allowed new Internet applications to be introduced and to evolve independently.


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