Tales of the Sausage Factory

Evaluation of the Comcast/BitTorrent Filing — Really Excellent, Except For The Gapping Hole Around the Capacity Cap.

After Comcast surprised me with their filing on Friday, I really wanted to believe they had turned a corner. Not to anthropomorphize too much, but I had hoped that Comcast had gotten such a bad public relations disaster out of this that they were determined to work so hard to be good little puppies that even a Democratic Congress, Democratic President, and Democratic FCC would believe that the we no longer needed rules. And I would be totally down with that (their behaving that is, we still need rules). I love it when companies learn their lesson and stop misbehaving. Remember, public policy is (IMO) all about result. If swatting Comcast on the nose like a naughty puppy gets them to stop pooping on their customers, then they deserve a pat on the head and a tummy yummy treat when they behave.

But I’m having a “Columbo moment” here. For those who did not grow up in the 1970s and therefore do not recognize the reference, Columbo is a television detective who every episode goes to talk to the chief suspect about the circumstantial evidence, and the chief suspect always has a fully prepared and perfect alibi. On the way out, apparently as an afterthought, Columbo will turn around and say: “there’s just one thing that bothers me.” This question on a minor inconsistency turns out to open a gaping hole in the suspect’s alibi and — in classic television fashion — allows Columbo to solve the crime by the end of the show.

I do not pretend there is any mystery here left to solve. Comcast’s filing very neatly explains their past practices, how we reached this point, and how Comcast intends to change its practices. It includes benchmarks for performance and a plan for informing its subscribers. It looks exactly like what the Commission ordered.

There’s just one thing that bothers me. Footnote 3 of Attachment B. Comcast stresses in footnote 3 that its 250 GB per month cap is not a network management policy, is not a replacement for its current network management practices, and therefore is not actually a proper subject of this disclosure report. Now why did they go out of their way to say that?

If you will excuse me, sir, while I adjust my raincoat, a bit more analysis below . . .

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Posted in Censorship Public and Private, Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

Econoklastic

The Best Senator Money Can Buy

The mainstream media is finally picking up on the real story behind Senator Jay Rockefeller’s (D-WV) push for immunity for the big telecom companies for cooperating with the Bush administration in illegally surveilling the communications of U.S. citizens: the huge spike in telco contributions to Rockefeller in 2007, particularly from AT&T and Verizon executives. According to today’s Washington Post, AT&T and Verizon have given $47,350 in 2007, up from $5,000 in 2006 and $7,000 in 2005.

AT&T attributes the increase to Rockefeller being a senior Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee up for reelection in 2008. However, the contributions from all other major telecoms companies belie this excuse: $4,000 in 2005, $4,900 in 2006, and $5,250 in 2007. The rest of the telecoms industry raised their contributions to Rockefeller by 7.14% in 2007; AT&T and Verizon increased their contributions by 847%.

I’d say the difference has more to do with Rockefeller chairing the Senate Intelligence Committee and shepherding legislation which would free AT&T and Verizon from roughly 40 pending lawsuits which charge the telcos with violating the privacy rights of U.S. citizens by cooperating with the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance programme.

The story of the AT&T and Verizon contributions was broken by Ryan Singel on Wired’s Threat Level blog.

This is one more example of why progressives need to treat the Democratic Congress with the same skeptical eye that they did the Republicans. Rockefeller has sold out to the telcos and progressives should respond by refusing to support his reelection. It’s better to see real enemies in office than false friends who can be bought to betray you; it would be even better to see real progressives in primary challenges to Democrats who are bought by corporate interests.

Posted in Econoklastic, General | Also tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

The Verizon/NARAL Flap And Lessons for NARAL (and all the rest of you advocacy orgs out there)

It seems like every time I go away, something fun happens on Net Neutrality. I go on vacation and AT&T accidentally censors Pearl Jam. I go away for Sukkot and Verizon makes a major faux-pas by blocking NARAL’s text messaging campaign.

As one might expect, faster than you can say “crap, it’s a Democratic Congress these days,” Verizon went into immediate damage control. It reversed its decision and issued a statement that this was all a big mistake based on an antiquated policy that Verizon had now fixed. Heck, I even believe Verizon that this was an accident. Unlike Comcast or AT&T, Verizon has no prior history of such censorship (although they apparently did play ball with NSA when it came to spying on American citizens). But I make my usual point that I don’t want my free speech dependent on the good will of megacorps, enforced with non-stop vigilance and the ability to raise a great virtual cry every time wrongdoing occurs. The First Amendment is too damn important to depend on getting a front page story because somebody directly blocks access, even if it is an accident. I want my freedom to communicate protected as a matter of right, not as a matter of grace and political pressure.

No, I shall let my more eloquent colleagues like Susan Crawford and Tim Karr make the usual arguments. Instead, I direct my comments to NARAL and other organizations on both the left and the right with potentially “controversial” messages.

Scan this list of organizations, businesses and individuals that are part of the Savetheinternet.com coalition. Are you on it? I don’t see NARAL, or NOW, or a whole bunch of other orgs (left or right) that should care about this stuff — preferably before they get bit in the butt on it. And it’s not just Savetheinternet.com. It’s also about stopping big media and corporate censorship by opposing further media consolidation. Think NARAL will be able to buy ads in the Wall St. Journal after Rupert Murdoch buys it? Heck, the good folks over at the United Church of Christ can’t even get their church advertisements shown on major networks because they might possibly in two frames hint that they accept gays and therefore (by implication) support gay marriage. So you would think that folks with so much to lose, on both the right and the left, would jump on this campaign.

But sadly, they don’t. It is the unfortunate truth that far too many organizations that should support these campaigns “do not play well with others.” They fret about “expending their political capital.” They distrust working with others where they cannot “Control their name and message.” They refuse to participate in coalitions or causes with certain others including people on the same side, because of accumulated bad blood that began with an incident so long ago no one even remembers what it is about. But most fundamentally, they don’t see how issues of network neutrality and media concentration impact them or their core issues.

Hopefully, the recent Verizon/NARAL flap will serve as a wake up call not merely to NARAL, but Second Amendment Sisters, GLAD, and anyone else with a potentially controversial message. YOU NEED TO CARE ABOUT THIS STUFF! Really. Yes, I know you’re busy on a gajillion other things, you hate half the people listed on Savetheinternet.com list, whatever. If you don’t get your rear ends in gear and start dealing with Network Neutrality and media concentration, then it won’t matter what your actual issue or message is, because no one else will freakin’ hear it, see it, or care about it. Because your ability to get your message out and communicate directly with your membership will depend entirely on hoping you can suck up to/brow beat/bribe a handful of megacorps into letting you communicate with your members and the rest of the world, because you will have no legal right to force them to do so.

If that’s the world you want to live in, then keep doing as your doing. Decide that you “don’t have the resources to get involved,” that this “really isn’t your issue” and you don’t want to “dilute your name or spread yourself too thin.” I’m not sure exactly what you’ll do with all your horded “political capital” when you can’t actually get your message out, but clearly that’s not a concern of yours.

Or you can take two whole minutes and sign up on Savetheinternet.com to join the campaign.

Your choice. But if any members of any of these orgs are reading this, you might want to ask your home offices why they can’t take two minutes to fire up the old web browser and go to Savetheinternet.com to join the campaign.

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in Censorship Public and Private, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Is Copyright the Administration’s Next Domestic Spying Tool?

According to this report on CNET, the Administration has suddenly discovered intellectual property as an issue. They propose that Congress consider The Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2007 (IPPA).

Among other things, the IPPA would create a new crime of “attempted copyright violation” (Section 4(a)) and criminalize cross border (or attempted cross border) copyrighted material even where the shipment is between individuals and not for public distribution. The Act would also expand the scope of the Economic Espionage Act (Section 7) and the forfieture penalties of the Digital Millemium Copyright Act (Section 6) while likewise including a new crime of “intent” to violate these existing statutes. The statute also enahnces penalties if the infringing material “knowingly or recklessly causes or attempts to cause serious bodily harm” (Section 12(a)).

Finally, and most significant to me, the proposed Section 13 enhances the ability of federal law enforcement officials to engage in “interception of wire, oral or electronic communications” as part of an investigation of these crimes.

Perhaps it is only a coincidence of timing, but I find it interesting that the Administration chooses to put this proposal forward just as its efforts to ram domestic spying legislation through Congress in the name of the “War on Terror” is running into serious trouble in the new Democratic Congress. Yesterday, the House approved an amendment to the funding for intelligence activities clarifying that the Administration must follow the procedures set forth in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) rather than claim that other authority or exigent circumstances allow it to engage in wiretaps for surveillance purposes. This follows last week’s failed Administration effort to give telcos retroactive immunity for their role in Bush’s domestic surveillance program.

While the Dems have shown themselves much more concerned with protecting civil liberties in the name of the War on Terror then the Republicans, the Dems have a known soft-spot for the intellectual property mafia. In one of the delightful ironies of the politics of special interest, aggressive civil liberties hawks like Dianne Fienstien and Barabara Boxer turn into chearleaders for the most draconian measures imaginable when it comes to “fighting piracy.”

Has the Administration found a new way to expand its domestic spying program? A way that will not only neutralize opposition, but turn its most suspicious opponents into enthusiastic proponents? How hard do any of us imagine it will be to secure a warrant for domestic spying under the cover of “intent to infringe” with the possible penalty multiplier of “intent to cause bodily harm.” Any “person of interest” the Administration would wish to target posses the means to commit this new “intent to infringe” crime if he or she has a broadband connection or even a laptop with a wireless card. In the name of investigating possible “copyright crimes,” the Administration will have free reign to sieze computers, cell phones, and other devices that might arguably contain infringing material, or that even enable someone to infringe if they have “intent” to download a single ring tone or page of text.

Note that the Administration would not even have to show probable cause that it believes that the suspect has infringed someone’s work. They merely have to show that it is probable that the person in question has an intent to infringe. That’s a rather low standard at the best of times. Coupled with the willingness of the federal judiciary to regard anyone with a broadband connection and a computer as a pirate out to pillage our noble entertainment industry, and you have a recipie for a domestic spying program that avoids all the nasty protections that FISA imposes to protect civil liberties.

I wish I could dismiss such concerns as paranoid ravings. But five years ago, I wouldn’t have believed that the Administration and the telephone companies would work hand-in-hand to develop a secret domestic spying program to listen in on the private conversations of law-abiding citizens. I would never have believed that when exposed, not only would the Administration feel no shame, it would brazenly ask Congress to “correct” the problem by making such domestic spying legal — or that Congress might actually consider doing so.

So I have to wonder, why has the Administration suddenly become so all fired up about intellectual property? And just at the moment when its efforts to get generic broader domestic spying powers appear dead.

But mostly, I wonder whether the Democrats that have loudly proclaimed their love of civil liberties and their determination to resist domestic tyranny will sell us out for the benefit of their buddies in Hollywood.

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in Fighting the IP Mafia, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Tagged | 5 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

How The Conservative/Big Business Alliance Bankrupted Air America

Few things raised joyfull cackles among Republicans in the waning days of 2006. Many, however regarded the bankruptcy of Air America as a bright spot in an otherwise dismal fall. Talk radio, it appeared, remained part of the conservative “heartland” where such liberal voices as Al Franken meet a resounding silence.

However, as reported by the New York Times, the story may have a lot more to it then a tale of silly liberals who can’t run a business and have nothing interesting to say. It appears that 90 major national advertisers engaged in a boycott of Air America programming, to the extent that they wanted their advertising stripped out of syndicated material from other sources (here, ABC Radio Network). The interesting question, of course, is why would supposedly dissinterested companies with no motivation to interefere with domestic politics want to drive Air America out of business?

Hahahahaha…..I love it when I ask silly rhetorical questions like that. For a further specualtion on what apparently went on and why I think the new, Democratic Congress might want to do a little investigatin’ into the Case of Secret Boycott, see below….

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Posted in Censorship Public and Private, How Democracy Works, Or Doesn't, Media Ownership, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , | 3 Comments (Comments closed)
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