I don’t have a lot to add to the excellent overviews and insightful commentary the SOPA/PIPA debacle, but I thought I would round up a couple of thoughts as well as some of my favorite posts related to it.

SOPA and PIPA may be history for now, but you can be sure that they’ll be back in some form or another. As a result, the big question that interests me about this particular policy fight has to do with its implications for the distribution of political power around knowledge and technology policy.

The big story in this sense is that a quite substantial sub-population of the Internet’s most active users and most powerful organizations decided to blackout their sites on Wednesday. The blackout left Reddit, Google, Wikipedia, Craigslist, AND MORE at least partially disabled for the better part of the day.

This more popular activism has been matched by aggressive lobbying, testifying, wheeling & dealing on the Hill by a staggering coalition of Silicon Valley companies.

Both the majority of these companies as well as these large online collectives and communities have only begun to find their political voices. Moments like these – when groups coalesce around particular common causes and realize that they wield immense collective power can sometimes look really important after the fact when (say, twenty years from now) we’re living in a world where the MPAA and RIAA have continued to waste away and the bottom lines (and political arms) of the Googles, Facebooks, and Twitters of the world are likely to be doing even more heavy lifting in terms of national GDP and policy impact.

Will this be such a turning point? I think one of the biggest obstacles to long term transformation is the anti-political ideology that prevails among many Silicon Valley elites. By and large, many Silicon Valley companies would prefer to avoid public scrutiny even understand what it is they are trying to create (much less regulate it or use it effectively). This is an unfortunate reality because it means that it will take a very long time for the Valley to really catch Hollywood when it comes to political muscle.

There has also been very little overlap or effective attempts by Silicon Valley to harness the public opposition to Hollywood’s positions. Maybe the SOPA/PIPA experience can facilitate some organizational alliances and capacity building to fill that gap.

Read what other Berkman Center affiliates had to say about SOPA/PIPA this week.

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?


Haven’t written about ACTA in a little while, but I couldn’t help myself from responding to this piece on the Intellectual Asset Magazine website.

Taking a short-term perspective shared by many large IP owning firms, the author Joff Wild argues:

My view is that countries in which IP is a very valuable asset are perfectly entitled to get together to work out ways in which it can be better protected.

The problem with this argument, and with much of the ACTA proceedings thus far, is that the countries involved have not integrated the competing interests of stakeholders into the negotiation processes in an effective way.

Even if you, like Joff, are not compelled by the claim that ACTA will be bad for global governance, bad for developing countries, and bad for global equality (which it almost certainly will), it is crucial to recognize that many of the most important and innovative firms in the U.S. and Europe are also likely to suffer from this agreement.

Don’t take my word for it, though.

Check out this letter recently submitted by AT&T, Amazon.com, Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), Consumer Electronics Association, eBay, Information Technology Association of America, Internet Commerce Coalition, NetCoalition, US Internet Service Provider Association, US Telecom Ass., Verizon Communications, and Yahoo! Inc.

The letter is addressed to US Trade Representative Susan Schwab and leaves no doubt that these Telecom and IT giants do not appreciate the cavalier IP extremism on offer from the ACTA proponents thus far (all emphases are mine):

We appreciate your objective of protecting the intellectual property of American
rightsholders from infringement overseas. However…there is a very real possibility that an agreement that would require signatories to increase penalties for “counterfeiting” and “piracy” could be used to challenge American companies engaging in online practices that are entirely legal in the U.S., that bring enormous benefit to U.S. consumers, and that increase U.S. exports.

and later:

…because ACTA risks having such an adverse impact on intermediaries operating
in full compliance with U.S. law, the negotiating process should be as open and
transparent as possible

and last but not least:

…given the importance and complexity of the issues under discussion, we urge you
to proceed with the negotiations at a more deliberate pace
. It is critical that there be
sufficient time to ensure that the agreement is in the broad national interest.

Unless Schwab, the USTR office, and other negotiating parties recognize this reality soon, the results of their well-intentioned actions will be bad for the Internet economy, bad for innovative industries, and generally bad for society as a whole.

If, as Wild puts it, ACTA faces “a long and tortuous path to ratification” that might be the best news yet about this half-baked proposition.

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).