Tales of the Sausage Factory

Censorship — Ur Doin It Wrong. And That's Why A Mandatory Filiter For AWS-3 is a BAD IDEA!

I am, of course, the last person in the world to tell other people what they should or shouldn’t advocate for and how they should or shouldn’t filter themselves. Thus, I have no quarrel with the decision of the American Family Association and how they choose to display the news (provided they comply with all relevant laws pertaining to copyright, defamation, etc.) True, I most vehemently disagree with their choice of “pro-family” agenda. I personally think families will benefit more from resolving the pay gap, better laws on paternity leave, and family friendly work policies than focusing on the behavior of consenting adults. But hey, that’s what the First Amendment is all about, so we can have these debates.

So the fact that AFA apparently thinks “gay” is too nice a word and has its news reader automatically replace it with the word “homosexual” does not raise any issues for me — I’m even willing to defend this as a fair use alteration of the text for political speech. But as the good folks at People for the American Way noted (and captured on their own website — ain’t the First Amendment grand?) it can have some humorous and unintended consequences. In this case, the accidental “furtherance of the homosexual agenda” by substituting the word “homosexual” for the proper last name “Gay,” which is a problem now that “Tyson Homosexual” is breaking speed records. Man, I always knew Homosexual could run the distance! What champion.

This would merely be an amusing little anecdote were it not for the fact that the FCC has proposed mandatory network-based indecency filtering as part of the AWS-3/M2Z proposal now out for public comment. For those just tuning in, this is the proposal to create a the equivalent of a free wireless DSL line supported by advertising and a premium service the FCC has out on public notice (comments due July 9).

I promise to try to get a much longer post out on the AWS-3 proposal, but let me focus for a minute on the mandatory filtering (which is not mentioned in the text of the FCC Notice, you have to actually read through the rules). As we can see from this relatively harmless example, filtering is a blunt instrument that often does more harm than good. Even with the increase in computational power from Moore’s Law, blah, blah, no automated filtering system can even come close to making the sort of contextualized judgments of what constitutes indecency that the Constitution demands. Heck, even human beings can’t agree on what makes something indecent and what makes it art. Whenever social networking sites or search engines or whatever get pressured into breaking out the broom in the name of the children, it invariably wipes out cancer support groups, rape survivor groups, and a bunch of unrelated stuff like chess.

And the FCC wants to require that the free network, accessible to every American, will also judge whether a future headline such as “Gay Doping?” is a discussion of a possible Olympic sports scandal or an advertisement for a same-sex rave?

I can laugh about the American Family Association and their personal filter follies that harm no one but those who chose to use their news service. But I shudder to think this may be the fate of our national broadband safety net.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

SCOTUS Gets Down & Dirty with Indecency!

The Supreme Court just agreed to hear the FCC’s appeal on the indecency case. This case involves whether the FCC acted correctly when it changed previous precedent and held that even a “fleeting utterance” of certain words (in this case, the “F-word”) can qualify as “indecent.” Previously, the FCC had a rule that it would take the entire context of the use of an obscenity into account, and that a mere “fleeting utterance” in the context of live television (especially of a newsworthy event) would not constitute indecency.

What’s at stake? See below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

FCC Last Call — Part I: Cable

The FCC sure had a busy day a its last open meeting on December 20, 2006. In addition to the oral argument for the indecency cases in the 2nd Cir., the FCC also had its last open meeting of 2006. While it is impossible to provide a thorough analysis until the FCC releases the full text of the orders it adopted, below find some brief impressions based on the what we know so far about the FCC’s cable franchising order, cable rates report. Later, a post on the surprise Return of the Incredibly Awful Cyren Call Proposal.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Tiering, It's Not Just For Telcos Anymore

Years ago, I used to spend a lot of time in ICANN-land. Happily, my contacts these days are pretty much limited to the occassional post-cards from friends.

But a recent contretemps caught my eye. Apparently new registry contracts will now allow price-tiering for names. As Milton Mueller at ICANNWatch observes, this raises similar worries as tiered internet access.

This is why Sascha Meinrath’s & Victor Pickard’s new paper on redefining net neutrality is important. Meinrath and Pickard make the very good point that the openess of the Internet rests on more than just residential access providers. Those concerned with the current fight to maintain net neutrality — as narrowly defined as preventing the last-mile access provider from defining the internet experience — should be aware of the need to protect other potential bottlenecks from emerging.

And, for us old timers, there is a certainly irony. Back in ye ancient days, when the “destroy the evil tld monopolist Network Solutions” [now Verisign the registry, not NetSol the registrar] crowd were backing ICANN, one of their great boogeyman arguments for ICANN regulation of registries was it would prevent tiered pricing of names. Some of us tried to explain how things like “agency capture” work, and that therefore such policies could change unless we inserted suitable checks and balances in ICANN to maintain accountability, but we were just lawyers and other useless policy types and they were the engineers who built the domain name system, so what did we know? (Bitter? Me? Why do you think I no longer spend time in ICANN-land?)

What I love most about reality, is how it will always turn around and bite you in the rear end if you decide to ignore it. Reality soooo does not care that you chose to be ignorant of things like economics and political science, any more than it cares when idiots in poli-sci decide they can dictate technology and try to make idiotic rules about blocking net gambling or blocking indecency or outlawing peer-2-peer. Reality doesn’t care. It just is.

Gotta love something that democratic.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Buffy Not Indecent, Says FCC

I will confess, I found the entire 6th Season indecently bad. But for those worried that the FCC’s indecency craze will wipe out hot Vampire/Slayer sex in reruns, you may take comfort from the FCC decision located (in PDF) here. For those interested in the FCC tea leaves, I observe it’s a 5-0 decision. Copps and Martin, the most aggressive on indency, appear happy with the idea that suggestive television does not rise to the level of indecency.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Tales of the Sausage Factory: Update on Loh

A quick update on the indecency fight at KCRW, the station that fired Ms. Loh for her unfortunate use of the F-word. Not a big deal, but the station feels Ms. Loh has unfairly turned on them. Read the press release here.

Stay tuned . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Tales of the Sausage Factory: Some Indecent Collateral Damage?

UPDATE: A somewhat clearer explanation of Ms. Lo’s commentary and what happened is now available from Time Magazine online here. As a result, I’ve modified my comments a bit.

Radio Commentator Sandra Tsing Lo got fired from her public radio spot for using a swear word in a pre-recorded piece that went unedited onto the air. You can hear her commentary on her experience and suddenly finding herself in solidarity whith Howard Stern here. My commentary below.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Tales of the Sausage Factory: Will Janet Jackson's Bosom Baring Kill Comcast/Disney Deal

Granted its a cute headline, but what the heck am I talking about? Comcast and Disney had nothing to do with Ms. Jackson’s little “costume malfunction” and besides, isn’t this just a case of standard election year pandering by legislators on a nothing issue? Welcome, dear readers, to Washington Land, an E-Ticket Ride in the funhouse where surface appearances are very decieving . . .

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