WaPo has the story:

Sources close to transition officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Genachowski had been recently meeting with key Democratic lawmakers to see if the role of CTO would have policy-making authority and decided against taking the job when he realized the definition of CTO would not include a strong regulatory role. Instead, Genachowski expressed interest in the FCC post.

Why do I find it hard to believe that Genachowski didn’t realize that the CTO post would not have regulatory authority?


WSJ + Net Neutrality = Mess

December 15, 2008

This just in, the Wall Street Journal’s story on Net Neutrality is a disaster. Google hates it, Lessig hates it, and it even appears to get a bunch of technical details wrong.

Steve Schultze (a colleague at the Berkman Center) has the details of the story on Managing Miracles (his blog) where he’ll be following it as it unfolds.

I suggested yesterday that Comcast would do well to apologize to its customers for punishing them for perfectly legal and standard web-use practices.

I must have been confusing them for a company that cared about its public image.

Instead, the folks running Comcast have decided that it’s better to keep threatening customers with slow connection rates.

Awesome strategy, folks.

(h/t raw story)

The FCC has published its order directing Comcast to stop its “discriminatory network management practices” (currently the announcement is at the top of the FCC homepage).

The short version (as we already knew) is that the FCC has now stated unequivocally that “This practice [of interrupting peer-to-peer traffic] is not ‘minimally intrusive’ but invasive and outright discriminatory.”

The order goes into more detail about what Comcast needs to do now that should produce some interesting results in the next month:

Specifically, in order to allow the Commission to monitor Comcast’s compliance with its pledge, the company must within 30 days of the release of this Order:  (1) disclose to the Commission the precise contours of the network management practices at issue here, including what equipment has been utilized, when it began to be employed, when and under what circumstances it has been used, how it has been configured, what protocols have been affected, and where it has been deployed; (2) submit a compliance plan to the Commission with interim benchmarks that describes how it intends to transition from discriminatory to nondiscriminatory network management practices by the end of the year; and (3) disclose to the Commission and the public the details of the network management practices that it intends to deploy following the termination of its current practices, including the thresholds that will trigger any limits on customers’ access to bandwidth.246 These disclosures will provide the Commission with the information necessary to ensure that Comcast lives up to the commitment it has made in this proceeding.

I look forward to learning more from these disclosures in the coming weeks.

Also, as a  current Comcast customer and a user of p2p networks, I would love to see the company do a little outreach to apologize directly for these practices. The FCC didn’t mandate that, but it seems like it would be in the firm’s interest to do a little damage control.

(H/T – SS)

Following up on its more industry-centric work in the Wireless Innovation Alliance, Google is heading up an effort to solicit signatures via a new site called Free the Airwaves intended to generate public pressure on the FCC to open up more wireless spectrum.

If the US is ever going to escape the current failed market duopoly for network service provision and carriage, efforts like this need to succeed.

Who opposes opening spectrum to increase competition, innovation, and access? Incumbent telecommunications firms with dominant market shares and well-entrenched advantages over their competitors.

Here’s the National Association of Broadcasters’ (NAB) FUD-spewing website featuring “Wally the Unlicensed Wireless Device.”

Once you untangle the actual ideas from the pretty pictures and high-flown rhetoric, the NAB’s call to retain strict oligopolistic control over the airwaves is based on the underlying assumption that “networks need an owner” – some firm(s) to be accountable for its failure, maintenance, and improvement.

Problem is, the Internet as a whole has already de-bunked this half-baked argument. Well-designed and implemented protocols (or standards) can overcome the hypothetical tragedies of the networking commons. Governments and large private firms play a crucial role in preserving the Internet, but one of the reasons ithe Internet has spawned so much creativity, wealth, and participation is that the underlying protocols are basically device-agnostic (although U.S. ISP’s like Comcast are trying to undermine that too). The Internet does not care if you are using a desktop, laptop, PDA, etc or if you are sending an email, a chat message, voice data, pictures, music or movies.

Returning to the wireless spectrum case, though, it’s important to note that existing government concessions to large telecommunications firms in the U.S. have stifled broadband speeds and access as well as the growth of wireless communications as a whole.

This market needs more competition, not less. The sooner the FCC (and other firms in this market) can recognize that, the better.

Sign the petition or visit the site to take action.

(H/T JW, SS, and other Berkman Center Fellows)

Update: Check out Lessig’s video contribution to the Free the Airwaves campaign – he elaborates further on the idea that the history of innovation on the Internet provides a useful example for thinking about the future of spectrum.

On Thursday, Matt Stoller at Open Left posted a chart revealing that “every major Senate Democratic challenger”  supports the free and open net.

This bodes well for Internet freedoms in an election year when Democrats are positioned to strengthen their control of Congress and possibly win the White House.

Perhaps we can finally begin to look forward to some legislation that increases the standards of openness, privacy, digital freedom, and data neutrality as opposed to the half-baked alternatives being peddled (and silently implemented!) by the telco’s.

As the FISA debacle illustrates, none of this is a done deal even in the hands of a Democratic majority or a Democratic president.

(H/T Lessig).

So much for the rule of law.

Here’s coverage from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the BBC, and The Guardian.

Also, stories by KagroX and mcjoan over at Daily Kos.

(Note: I did not include a link to AP coverage of the story in protest against its ridiculous pay-per-word plot against bloggers)

The Electronic Frontier Foundation reports on what looks like an imminent congressional compromise on FISA legislation that would give telecommunications firms retroactive immunity.

This would be crap if it goes through – the telecoms don’t deserve immunity for their role in unlawfully spying on innocent Americans. Follow the link to contact your representative.

Reporting for Ars Technica, Matthew Lasar describes how Google is still fighting many months after the 700mhz spectrum auction. Basically, it looks like Verizon is trying to screw Google out the hard-fought provisions for platform and device neutral spectrum. Fortunately for consumers, innovators, and other companies, Google has the financial and legal muscle to push back.

The lede quote is delightful and direct:

“The rule requires openness for ‘Any Applications, Any Devices’—not ‘Any Applications, Except on Verizon Devices,’ as Verizon would interpret it,” a small squad of Google attorneys told the FCC on Friday. “The Commission must ensure that Verizon understands that this license obligation means what it says: Any Apps, Any Devices.”

Love those Google lawyers – especially William Patry.

Here’s an especially informative moment re: Verizon’s tactics:

Since [last October], the wireless giant has contented itself with making comments that suggest that the company will obey the open platform rule—except when it won’t. Around the time that Verizon withdrew the lawsuit, Thomas Tauke, the telco’s Vice President for Public Policy, spoke at a Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco. There he unveiled what he called the “two-door concept” regarding the auction: “Door No. 1, in the rules as written, you can bring your own device and it’s open and you can get on the network,” Tauke explained. “Door No. 2 is for the customer who wants the kind of contract they have with Verizon today, where we provide the device and we guarantee the service quality and so on.”

Two Doors?! Who do these folks think they’re fooling? This is an obvious recipe for tiered service, throttled traffic, preferential packet treatment, and all the other tricks in the big telco’s baskets.

As the article goes on to point out, Google’s actions at the FCC indicate that it is indeed quite serious about its Android platform.

Representative John Conyers (D-MI) has put his reputation and committee authority behind H.R. 4279, the so-called PRO-IP Act (the acronym stands for: “Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property”).

The act was recently passed by Conyers’ judiciary committee and will now work its way onto the legislative schedule. It is backed by all the usual industry suspects (grouped together under the name of “the Copyright Alliance”) and is a potential disaster insofar as it threatens to impede fair use and balanced enforcement while increasing the criminalization of non-commercial infringement. H.R. 4279 would also create a new “Copyright Czar” within the federal government, a position that appears to be loosely modeled on the “Drug Czar” positions that have done so much to perpetuate the wasteful, expensive, and ineffective “war on drugs.”

While there is still the possibility that this bill could undergo substantive changes as it progresses through the house machinery, Internet users, civil rights activists, and technology consumers should be concerned about its current scope.

H.R. 4279 is bankrolled by multi-billion dollar corporate interests like Microsoft, News Corporation, and NBC, as well as industry lobby groups such as Business Software Alliance, the Motion Picture Association of America, and the Recording Industry Association of America. These organizations have made every effort to encroach on the rights and liberties of consumers through their efforts to limit legal file sharing, police Internet traffic, and conduct illegal digital surveillance. They represent an extremely regressive vision of the Information Age and have no qualms about imposing that vision on their customers by any means necessary.

As this analysis of the bill by the non-profit org. Public Knowledge details, there are many aspects of H.R. 4279 worth saving. Nevertheless, it advances a regressive IP agenda on a number of fronts. According to the summary, the bill would do the following:

Amends the federal criminal code with respect to intellectual property to: (1) enhance criminal penalties for infringement of a copyright, for trafficking in counterfeit labels or packaging, and for causing serious bodily harm or death while trafficking in counterfeit goods or services; and (2) enhance civil and criminal forfeiture provisions for copyright infringement and provide for restitution to victims of such infringement.

Establishes within the Executive Office of the President the Office of the United States Intellectual Property Enforcement Representative to formulate a Joint Strategic Plan for combating counterfeiting and piracy of intellectual property and for coordinating national and international enforcement efforts to protect intellectual property rights.

Directs the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and the Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to appoint 10 additional intellectual property attaches to work with foreign countries to combat counterfeiting and piracy of intellectual property.

The creation of these new positions and procedures are based on the warped world-view of the MPAA and the RIAA whereby copying=counterfeiting=crime. The networked digital environment is just not that simple and the law enforcement powers of the U.S. government should not be based on such a lopsided foundation. The Congress can do better.

More importantly, H.R. 4279 is not the kind of project a well-established, populist democrat like Conyers needs to get behind. And yet, his support reflects a troubling relationship with big-money telecommunications and culture-industry interests. Take a look at Conyers’ career campaign contributions on OpenSecrets.org. That’s right, AT&T, Time Warner, Sprint-Nextel, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, and the National Association of Broadcasters all appear in the top 20. OpenSecrets also reports that Comcast and Clear Channel Communications ranked high among Conyers’ donors during the 2006 election cycle. Dig a little deeper and we learn that (in addition to labor unions) big Telecom and Technology firms still represent the largest proportion of Conyers’ PAC donations during 2007-2008.

Whether or not a direct connection between these contributions and Conyers’ voting patterns exists remains to be proven. However, the point is that Conyers has made his career by standing up for transparency, civil rights and liberties against moneyed corporate interests (like Tobacco and Guns) and Republican cronyism.

Conyers was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, has been a strong voice against the Iraq war and a staunch critic of the Bush administration. As a result, he enjoys a reputation as a progressive bulwark. All the more reason he does not need to put his hands in the pockets of big telecom and tech corporations.

Instead of unconditionally supporting HR 4279 – a bill that threatens the freedom of the Internet and curtails innovation in the name of Big Business – Conyers should use his authority to re-shape the bill. He has a responsibility to his constituents and to other members of the Democratic Party whose interests do not lie with the Telecommunications and Software Industry giants. As a result, Conyers should not favor tougher enforcement of restrictive copyright laws. Unless it is radically transformed, HR 4279 will not support the citizens, consumers, or small-businesses who really need to benefit from the potential of digital technologies. John Conyers is exactly the sort of principled elected official who could change that.


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