Category Archives: Stifling

Why SOPA and PIPA are bad

SOPA and PIPA are not dead, as Mikki Barry reminds us. She points at an excellent writeup on why we should care.

Tom Evslin wrote on Fractals of Change at some unknown data, SOPA and PIPA are Bipartisan Bad Policy, Really Bad Policy

In China you can’t get to some Internet sites: no Facebook, no YouTube, no Twitter. Search engines can’t find the “Falun Gong” or “Tiananmen Square massacre”. We would never do that kind of blocking here in the US, you say. Well, not so fast. If either House bill SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) or Senate bill PIPA (Protect IP Act) or something in between passes both houses of Congress and is signed by the President, Internet censorship, unreachable websites, and forbidden searches will be the law of this land.

The Arab Spring has been enabled by the inability of some governments to block Internet communication. SOPA and SIPA both require that Internet blocking tools be developed and deployed here. Maybe we trust our own government not to misuse these (I don’t!); but do we really want to be responsible for the proliferation of censorship and blocked communication?

Why, you ask, would our Congresspeople want to impose censorship anywhere? Why would they want to slow down the most vigorous parts of the US economy?

The answer, at least, is simple. These are bills that Hollywood wants to protect its movies from online piracy, and Hollywood makes mega-campaign contributions and even gives Congresspeople bit parts in its movies. There is nothing partisan about campaign contributions.

Why? The DC lobbying revolving door banana republic, of course, made even worse by the SCOTUS Citizens United decision.

As for the Arab Spring, the powers that be here don’t want that here. Remember who propped up Mubarak all those decades.

When even Patrick Leahy pushes PIPA, something is seriously wrong with the U.S. government. SOPA or PIPA or something watered down that their pushers can claim isn’t as bad will pass unless the people stand up and stop it.


Eyes on their lobbyists’ bank accounts

The plutocrats and their bought politicians don’t care about Internet free trade, but we should.

Scott Bradner almost gets it about the opposition to net neutrality in Eyes in their ankles: The congressional view of network neutrality:

If you work at a company that uses the Internet to sell to customers or to buy from suppliers you should care about the net neutrality discussion.
You should, but you probably don’t have the money to buy some politicians to do something about it, and unfortunately the biggest companies do, and they’re busy doing just that: Continue reading

Movie King of the Internet: Bad Idea

kong_iup2.jpg Andrew Odlyzko asks what if the duopoly gets its way and completely does away with net neutrality:
But what if they do get their wish, net neutrality is consigned to the dustbin, and they do build their new services, but nobody uses them? If the networks that are built are the ones that are publicly discussed, that is a likely prospect. What service providers publicly promise to do, if they are given complete control of their networks, is to build special facilities for streaming movies. But there are two fatal defects to that promise. One is that movies are unlikely to offer all that much revenue. The other is that delivering movies in real-time streaming mode is the wrong solution, expensive and unnecessary. If service providers are to derive significant revenues and profits by exploiting freedom from net neutrality limitations, they will need to engage in much more intrusive control of traffic than just provision of special channels for streaming movies.

The delusions of net neutrality, Andrew Odlyzko, School of Mathematics, University of Minnesota Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA Revised version, August 17, 2008

Why is that?
But video, and more generally content (defined as material prepared by professionals for wide distribution, such as movies, music, newscasts, and so on), is not king, and has never been king. While content has frequently dominated in terms of volume of traffic, connectivity has almost universally been valued much more highly and brought much higher revenues. Movies cannot be counted on to bring in anywhere near as much in revenues as voice services do today.
The Internet isn't about Sarnoff's Law (broadcast content like TV, radio, and newspapers) or even about Metcalfe's Law (1-n connectivity, like telephone or VoIP): it's about Reed's law, 2n-n connectivity, such as blogs, P2P, and facebook). That's my interpretation; Odlyzko probably wouldn't agree.

Anyway, that video content such as movies is king is one of the primary delusions Odlyzko addresses in this paper. The other is that movies need to be streamed in realtime. It is mysterious why people continue to believe that in the face of the massive evidence BitTorrent and other P2P services that deliver big content in chunks faster than realtime. I can only attribute this second delusion to a bellhead mindset that still thinks in terms of telephone, which was realtime because nobody knew any other way to do it back in the analog-copper-wire-connection day.

As Odlyzko sums it up:

The general conclusion is that the story presented by service providers, that they need to block net neutrality in order to be able to afford to construct special features in their networks for streaming movies, is simply not credible. If lack of net neutrality requirements is to be exploited, it will have to be done through other, much more intrusive means.
So why let the duopoly force a policy on everyone else that won't even work to the advantage of the duopoly?

One way to get net neutrality would be to let the duopoly have its way, and wait for it to implode. However, given that for streaming video to have any chance of succeeding, the duopoly would have to clamp down on everything else to eliminate any competition, I shudder to think what this would mean. The Internet as a source of real news and opinion would go away. Given that the vestigial traditional news media in the U.S. (TV, radio, newspapers) provide so little news, there's a very good chance that most people in the U.S. wouldn't even know how bad they had it as the country sped its slide into parochialism and irrelevance. How many people even know now that the U.S. has slid from #1 to #23 or whatever the latest number is in broadband uptake? If the duopoly is given its head, even fewer would know.

If we let King Kong Telco and T Rex Cableco battle it out to be Movie King of the Internet, where does that leave poor Fay Wray Public?

FCC, FTC, Congress, executive, and courts, not to mention the public, should all read Odlyzko's paper, and should all refuse the duopoly's demand for special privileges that won't even produce profits for the duopoly. Then all of above should legislate, enforce, and maintain net neutrality so we will all profit and benefit. Yes, even the duopoly can win with this.


Kevin Martin’s Bottle: Weak Ruling Against Comcast Guarantees Court Challenges

The FCC recently ruled that Comcast has to stop throttling P2P. On the surface, that's a good thing. That Kevin Martin wanted it makes me wonder.

For once I agree with a net neutrality opponent:

By instituting this weird, weak, and barely legal regulation, Kevin Martin will get ‘net neutrality regulation bottled up in the courts for – what – the next five years?

Game, Set, and Match: Martin! by Jim Harper, Technology Liberation Front, 6 Aug 2008

Harper goes on to predict that meanwhile real competition could develop. And pigs could fly, but that's not the point.

This is the point:

The paragraph prior to the provocative line suggesting regulation of universities contains this sentence: “Allowing some Internet service providers to manage P2P traffic – much less to engage in complete blocking of P2P traffic – while prohibiting others from doing so would be arbitrary and capricious.” This is an administrative-law term of art – “arbitrary and capricious.” The use of it tells us that NCTA or Comcast will challenge the FCC’s decision to regulate only one provider of Internet access without regulating all similarly situated.

But Comcast is under a different regulatory regime!, says Harold and the others. Not in an enforcement of this “broad policy statement” thing-y. The FCC is claming free rein to regulate – not authority based firmly in statute – and if it can throw that rein over cable ISPs, it can throw that rein over universities, over Starbucks, and over the open wi-fi node in Harold’s house.

Now, given the free rein that the FCC is asserting, there is a darn good argument that it’s arbitrary (and “capricious”) to regulate only cable ISPs or commercial ISPs in this way. The FCC has to regulate the whole damn Internet this way if it’s going to regulate Comcast.

This is not just theoretical. Fox News recently refused to pay an FCC-imposed fine, saying it was "arbitrary and capricious". Fox cited a previous case in which a federal court slapped down the FCC for fining a show for swearing, saying it was "arbitrary and capricious".

All that plus if a court rules the FCC's recent decision is "arbitrary and capricious", that will be used as a precedent to require universities to regulate content on their networks in favor of big copyright holders, as elements in Congress have been trying to do for about a year now.

I think net neutrality advocates underestimate Kevin Martin at their (and our) peril.


Comcast: P2P Stifling Fail! Says FCC Chair

princques.png Maybe attacking Kevin Martin’s vanity is the way to get net neutrality, or at least that seems to have backfired on Comcast:
Remember how Comcast this week told us that 1) the FCC's "Internet policy statement" (PDF) had no legal force and 2) that the agency might not have the authority to enact such rules even if it wanted to? Those theories will soon be put to the test, as Republican FCC Chairman Kevin Martin now says he wants to rule against Comcast in the dispute over the company's P2P upload throttling. Score one huge, precedent-setting win for net neutrality backers.

Martin stands up for "principles"

Martin broke the news Thursday evening by way of the Associated Press, telling them that "the Commission has adopted a set of principles that protects consumers' access to the Internet. We found that Comcast's actions in this instance violated our principles."

Comcast loses: FCC head slams company’s P2P filtering, By Nate Anderson, ars technica, | Published: July 11, 2008 – 01:30AM CT

Oh, wait:
The decision could be an historic one, but not for its actual effect on Comcast. The cable company has already announced plans to transition away from the current throttling regime to something that looks more at overall bandwidth use rather than particular applications. Trials in Pennsylvania are currently underway on the new system, set to be deployed by year’s end. Martin’s order would therefore not require the company to do anything new, but it would have to provide more detail about past and future practices.
Lots of sound and fury signifying…?

I’d say it’s a bit too early to say Scott Cleland was wrong when he said enforcement of the FCC’s net neutrality principles was “preposterous”.


Hamlet in DC: To Legislate or Not to Legislate, That is the Question

EdwinBoothasHamlet.jpg The U.S. Senate takes up net neutrality again, to legislate or not to legislate:
At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing entitled “The Future of the Internet” on Tuesday, Democratic politicians argued for passage of a law designed to prohibit broadband operators from creating a “fast lane” for certain Internet content and applications. Their stance drew familiar criticism from the cable industry, their Republican counterparts, and FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, who said there’s no demonstrated need for new rules, at this point.

Net neutrality battle returns to the U.S. Senate, by Anne Broache, C|Net, 22 April 2008

Some of the senators seemed to think the Comcast debacle indicated there was need for legislation:
“To whatever degree people were alleging that this was a solution in search of a problem, it has found its problem,” said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). “We have an obligation to try and guarantee that the same freedom and the same creativity that was able to bring us to where we are today continues, going forward.”

Kerry is one of the backers of a bill called the Internet Freedom Preservation Act, chiefly sponsored by North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan and Maine Republican Olympia Snowe, which resurfaced at the beginning of 2007 but has gotten little attention since. A similar measure failed in a divided Commerce Committee and in the House of Representatives nearly two years ago.

Unsurprisingly, Martin says he doesn’t need a law to enforce, because he can make it up as he goes along: Continue reading

ISPs Escalate Ignoring FCC

comcast.jpg Fox started the trend of ignoring the FCC when it does something they don’t like. Now the duopoly has gotten up to the same trick:
Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and cable research company CableLabs were all invited to participate several weeks ago, but declined, Martin said. The commission again reached out to Comcast after the announcement this week that it would develop a P2P bill of rights with Pando Networks, but they again sent their regrets, he said.

ISPs Give FCC Cold Shoulder at Internet Hearing, by Chloe Albanesius,, 04.17.08

You may recall at the previous hearing, at Harvard, FCC chair Kevin Martin couldn’t hear the difference between participant and consumer, while Comcast hired shills off the street to take up seats so people with things to say couldn’t. Now the duopoly is painting the FCC as unduly critical of themselves, and the press is going along with that, including the hometown Silicon Valley newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News, which should know better: Continue reading

Subpoena for Comcast from NY State

New_York_state_seal.png As I’ve been predicting since October:
“We have requested information from the company via subpoena,” Jeffrey Lerner, a spokesman for Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, said Tuesday.

Comcast said it was co-operating with the AG’s office.

New York subpoenas Comcast on traffic shaping, Associated Press, February 26, 2008 at 4:08 PM EST

So far it’s just a subpoena. We’ll see if it turns into a full-fledged lawsuit. And maybe Comcast could start cooperating with its own customers….


PS: Why did the New York Times pick up this story only a day after the Canadian Globe and Mail?

WSJ Fears Innovation: Net Neutrality As Internet Wrecking Ball

andy_kessler_color_headshot_small.jpg Apparently this WSJ opinion writer couldn’t actually argue with Ed Markey’s net neutrality bill, so he made up a straw man:
Imagine a town that has all sorts of gasoline pipelines running by it but only one gas pump. Rationing is inevitable. So are price controls.

Everyone gets equal amounts, except of course first responders like police and ambulances, which should get all the gas they want. And, well, so should the mayor. And if you can make a good business case that you work 60 miles away, you can file paperwork and perhaps pull some strings for more gas. How about those kids hot-rodding around town who can’t drive 55? They get last dibs, and maybe we can sneak in some gas thinner to slow down their engines and not waste gas.

Internet Wrecking Ball, By Andy Kessler, Wall Street Journal, February 25, 2008; Page A15

What’s especially amusing about this strawman is that it’s what the duopoly is planning as they do away with net neutrality, except it’s not first responders or governments that will get favored bandwidth: it’s Hollywood. Meanwhile, Markey’s bill doesn’t say any of that. It doesn’t include any regulation at all.

Kessler invokes Orwell:

This is the essence of the Ed Markey’s (D., Mass.) Orwellian-named Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008, which would foist network neutrality on the wild and woolly Internet.
Kessler maybe wasn’t around in the earlier days of the Internet, or he would know that net neutrality is what we used to have, until it got chipped away starting in about the year 2000, as the FCC failed to enforce the Unbundled Network Elements (UNE) of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and reclassified cable modem access as an information service in August 2002, wireline broadband in August 2005, and wireless broadband in March 2007. The FCC stripped common carriage status from Internet provision, something never done before in the U.S. So what Markey’s bill is actually trying to do is to preserve the freedom the Internet used to have before the present administration and the duopoly systematically tried to do away with it. That’s the opposite of Orwellian: that’s the plain truth.

If Kessler did know Internet history, or had been around when we were making it, he would know not to write things like this: Continue reading

Internet Freedom Policy Act

markey-photo.jpg Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Chip Pickering (R-MS) have introduced the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008, which will amend Title I of the Communications Act of 1934 to say Internet freedom, commerce, innovation, participation, and speech are the policy of the United States. It’s interesting what this bill does not say. It doesn’t specify any regulations, so that those who oppose net neutrality don’t have a leg to stand on when they say net neutrality is all about regulation. It doesn’t say “net neutrality”: it says “freedom”, “marketplace”, “innovation”, and other positive benefits. (I think I’ll take a cue from Commissioner Copps and start referring to Internet freedom.) It doesn’t say “consumers” except a few times, including once where that word is immediately qualified by
(i) access, use, send, receive, or offer lawful content, applications, or services over broadband networks, including the Internet;
Let’s see, if “consumers” can send their own content, applications, and service, they’re not really consumers in the traditional sense, now are they?

This is all very nice, in that Markey and Pickering apparently get it about what Internet freedom is about. However, why does this bill have no teeth, unlike Markey’s bill of last year or the Snowe-Durgan bill before that? Continue reading