My Thoughts Exactly

Public Service Announcement for Public Knowledge

The great public interest advocacy group Public Knowledge (about which Harold might tell us more, if he feels like it), has issued an alert about efforts by lobbyists of the Hollywood and corporate-state varieties to insert nasty, scary language about “copyright filtering” into the stimulus bill.

I used the Public Knowledge website to register my objection. Here’s the version of the letter I sent to Senator Reid and Congressman Waxman:

Dear Representative/Senator,

It is my understanding that during the conference committee on the stimulus bill, your office may be asked to change the provision that deals with public grants to spur broadband deployment to allow for copyright filtering. This may be proposed as a “noncontroversial” change that would allow Internet Service Providers to inspect its subscribers’ Internet connections to filter out copyright infringement, under the guise of “network management.” Copyright filtering is outside of the capabilities of network management, would be a massive invasion of privacy and would prohibit my lawful use of copyrighted works — for purposes of education, criticism, and commentary.

Copyright filtering is very controversial and I urge you to oppose such changes to the stimulus.

As someone who depends on free downloads of my own copyrighted works for marketing and publicity, I consider copyright filtering not only unconstitutional, unAmerican, but also a threat to my livelihood. Please resist the temptation to go down this corporate-statist road. Nothing good will come of it.

Sincerely,

John Sundman

Please click on the link above and do the right thing.

Posted in "A Republic, if you can keep it", My Thoughts Exactly, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Something Nice About Comcast for a Change

Lest it be said that I refuse to acknowledge a virtue when I see it, allow me to voice my agreement with Mehan Jayasuriya over at Public Knowledge on Comcast’s efforts to track down problems on Twitter and elsewhere.

Mehan refers to this NYTimes piece, which discusses how Comcast customer service folks are looking for complaints about Comcast or its services on open blogs or social network sites and trying to reach out to disaffected customers. Frankly, I see nothing “creepy” about it. I actually think this is a pretty good idea for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, if I am complaining about the service I am getting, I would actually like someone to fix the problem. Most companies have laid off workers and have you go through endless phone trees before you can confirm for someone that yes, I’ve already tried the obvious and would like to get someone who can move past the script and help me with my actual problem. Even sending an email can take a few days for response. I had one incident where I was having difficulty with my cell phone service, sent an email, then resolved the problem, and got a call back two days later (at my work number as requested — they were not completely stupid, just way too slow). This is not useful response time for a service on which I rely pretty heavily.

So I think it’s actually a smart idea to have people monitoring publicly available info to see if you can reach out and solve problems. It may save the company major publicity headaches and help users get their problems resolved.

The other thing is I think it’s a good thing to remind users that what they write on social networking sites or blogs is open to everyone unless they take action to make it private. In this case, the reminder is harmless, perhaps even beneficial. But if you find it “creepy” that a Comcast customer care agent found your complaint about a billing glitch on your personal blog, consider what happens if your boss or coworker discovers your post about what you think of your current assignment and team workers. Heck, even a sophisticated Federal judge can sometimes be surprised with what goes public on the web.

My one caveat is that this works great as long as Comcast, or any other company, identifies itself honestly when making contact just as they do one the phone. For example, if I get a follow up call from my Saturn dealer after my nth gajillionth mile check up, the person identifies himself or herself as calling from Saturn and wanting to know how my service appointment went. From the article provided, it would appear that Comcast staff are identifying themselves as Comcast staff and generally offering help as Comcast customer service staff. Go them.

But it doesn’t take a genius to guess that folks may well begin to wonder whether they can start to use this for direct marketing. Perhaps when you gripe about Comcast on your blog the person that responds won’t be from Comcast but will be from AT&T, offering you a better deal. No problem with that, as long as you remember to change your defaults if you don’t want to be relentlessly market to in this manner. But the real problem is when folks selling products will disguise themselves or their identities. If the helpful commentor that points you to a promotional on DISH is actually working for DISH, but doesn’t identify himself or herself as working for DISH, it starts to get into some very dicey territory.

But again, Comcast actually seems to have a bright idea here. Good for them.

Stay tuned . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Stop the Auction! Congress and the FCC Must Investigate D Block Allegations Before Proceeding.

This is a reprint of a piece I just posted on the Public Knowledge Policy Blog.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Martin Gets the Ball Rolling On “Blocking” Investigation: What Does It Mean And What Happens Next?

As always, I am impressed with the ability of so many people to hate whatever Kevin Martin does, and for so many different reasons! At CES, Martin announced that the FCC would investigate allegations of blocking content and determine whether they violated the FCC’s four broadband principles. Comcast pledged to cooperate in any investigation (although, unsurprisingly, Comcast representatives — along with supposed object of Martin’s affection AT&T and other big telcos and cablecos — said at CES they would restructure or eliminate FCC altogether).

As I said in my PK blog post, while details remain unclear, I am “cautiously optimistic” that this will be a good thing. But it did not take long for the folks in the “Martin is a bastard 24/7 crwd” to express themselves. DSL reports doubted this would go anywhere, while the “why ya gotta hate on cable” crowd at Techdirt opined that Martin would never investigate if it were a telco rather than a cable co.

So we flash forward to yesterday, when new developments began to percolate out of the FCC. Of significance:

1) The FCC issued a public notice asking for comment on our Petition for Declaratory Ruling that Comcast’s “network management practice” of messing with BitTorrent uploads violated the FCC’s “Broadband Policy Statement,” which includes a principle that network operators may not block or degrade content or applications. In a separate public notice (but as part of the same proceeding), the FCC also seeks comment on the Vuze Petition for Rulemaking on how broadband access providers handle and shape IP traffic generally. (Copy of Vuze Petition here, copy of our Petition here).

2) Separately, the FCC issued a separate public notice seeking comment on a Petition filed by Public Knowledge and the usual suspects asking the FCC to declare that wireless carriers cannot deny short codes or block text messaging. This goes after Verizon’s high profile “oopsie” of denying a request by NARAL for a short code. Although, as we pointed out in the Petition, the more likely and pernicious problem is with plain old anticompetitive blocking, such as denying a short code to VOIP provider Rebtel.com and denying applications to major banks offering competing services.

3) Comcast confirmed that the FCC has lanched a formal inquiry into whether it violated the FCC’s broadband policy statement. Comcast reiterated that it will fully cooperate with the FCC, and expects any investigation to show that Comcast did not block content and has engaged in legitimate network management practices.

Not bad for a commitment made a week ago. But what does it mean and where will it go from here? Analysis below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Put Up Or Shut Up At the FCC on Net Neutrality “Principles”

When the FCC deregulated broadband by declaring it an “information service,” it also adopted four principles that purported to give broadband subscribers a right to “access lawful content of their choice,” “run applications and services of their choice,” “connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network,” and enjoy “competition among network providers, application and service providers.” All subject to “reasonable network management,” of course. So when a bunch of us in 2006 pressed Congress to pass a network neutrality law, a lot of folks claimed we didn’t need one because the FCC already had the authority to deal with any problems that might arise. And, when questioned on this very subject at his confirmation hearing for a second term, FCC Chairman Martin said the FCC had ample authority to deal with any violations of the four principles that might arise.

Thanks to Comcast and their decision to “manage” their network load by degrading BitTorrent,it’s put up or shut up time at the FCC. My employer, Media Access Project, along with Free Press and Public Knowledge, just filed a formal complaint against Comcast and a general Petition for Declaratory Ruling asking that the FCC hold that deliberately messing with a customer’s application while refusing to admit doing it when asked pint blank violates the FCC’s “four principles” and does not constitute a “reasonable network management practice.” This will also press the FCC to find out exactly what the heck Comcast is actually doing (since some folk remain uncertain). Given that Comcast initially denied the very idea as “internet gossip,”, instructed their line staff to lie to customers about it, and are still maintaining that nothing of interest is going on, it looks like the only way will actually find out what the heck is going on and why is to have the FCC pry it out of them.

Hey, maybe they are telling the truth. But the FCC is in a much better position to know whether Comcast is deliberately lying to its customers and, if so, why. Because while my friend and opposite number Jim Harper at Technology Liberation Front may be content to see if the market punishes Comcast for its “lack of transparency”, I see a lot of bad consequences in letting Comcast throttle traffic as a network management tool and then lie (or, at best, mislead) about it when asked about it point-blank by their customers.

At any rate, whether folks think we should regulate this kind of behavior or not (and I recognize that a number of smart folks not employed by cable operators feel we shouldn’t regulate this even if everything bad said about Comcast is true), we deserve to know whether the FCC has the authority to regulate this behavior, and the willingness to do so on an enforcement basis. Because if the cable and telco companies that swore up and down that we didn’t need new rules now come in and say the FCC has no authority to take complaints about their behavior after the fact or no authority to order any remedies, then we should know that. And if the FCC is going to leave us high and dry when broadband providers start degrading applications, then we should know that. Because while some folks may think that lying to your customers is an acceptable network management technique, or even an acceptable technique for managing elected members of Congress, I think most Americans would disagree. And I certainly want to know that by November ’08.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Lessons of the Google/Moveon/Collins Dust Up: My Other Shoe Drops and It Fits Quite Nicely

For those wondering about the dust up over Google dropping Ads from Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) because she used Moveon’s trademark in her ads, I reproduce below my post on the Public Knowledge blog. I don’t usually to that kind of “repurposing” of my blog content, but this one seemed reasonably important.

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Posted in Fighting the IP Mafia, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Public Knowledge And the IP3 Awards

Once again, Public Knowledge is calling for nominations for its IP3 Awards. These awards honor people who have made valuable contributions in the fields of intellectual property, information policy, and internet protocol. Nominations must get in by September 14. Send nominations to IP3nominees@publicknowledge.org.

To quote from the PK announcement:

These are individuals who over the past year (or over the course of their careers) have advanced the public interest regarding one of the three kinds of “IP.” While these increasingly overlapping policy arenas pose important challenges for us, they also create important opportunities for creative individuals in each of the three underlying fields to advance the public interest.

Normally, this is where I would insert a rather broad hint that the labor of yr hmbl obdnt blogger and others in the realm of open spectrum would make me an excellent candidate for nomination. Fortunately, you are spared this outrageous and self-serving spectacle by the fact that I am actually judging the nominations this year. Accordingly, nary a word of encouragement that might suggest bias on my part shall pass my lips or make it to this public page.

Instead, I’ll just urge everyone to send nominations in by September 14. Remember, send your nominations to IP3nominees@publicknowledge.org.

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in General, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Microsoft Screws Up the White Spaces; or, Why Citizens Movements Are Citizen Driven — the Latest Example

As most of you may have heard by now, the case for using the television “white spaces” for unlicensed use hit an unfortunate snag when the prototype submitted by Microsoft and the tech allies did not perform according to spec. MS and friends now claim that the FCC managed to break the prototype when they took it out of the box. Meanwhile, of course, the broadcaster are making the most of this opportunity to repeat that unlicensed use of the white spaces can never work (ignoring that the the Philips prototype worked perfectly in the lab and that New America Foundation submitted its own, independent engineering data in support of sensing technology).

I have blogged extensively about this on my Public Knowledge blog. Briefly, while an annoying political set back, it means very little from an engineering perspective. There is plenty of evidence from both the Philips proptotype, the New America Foundation data, and other relevant technologies (such as the sharing of the 5.3 GHz space with military radar) to prove the essential soundness of the concept. While important work needs to be done in terms of actually setting appropriate standards and then building devices that will perform to spec, we know it can be done — assuming Microsoft’s blunder doesn’t create enough political noise to kill or cripple the project.

Which is why I bother to blog again about it here. To underscore yet again the importance of making sure citizen’s movements are citizen driven and that we do not allow ourselves to let corporate allies do all the heavy lifting. It’s nice to have big friends like Microsoft and Google. They sure as heck open a lot of doors and can bring a lot of resources to the fight. But never, never, NEVER make the mistake of letting them handle the driving of an issue when the public interest is at stake.

And, if I may make some pointed remarks to my friends in the open software and GNU Radio movement. Some time back I linked to this excellent piece urging techies to spend more time making the mechanisms of government work and less time merely bitching about how government keeps coming up with the wrong result. Here is an excellent opportunity to step up to the plate and provide some open source prototypes (or even simply additional test data) that demonstrate proof of concept. No, this is not a simple project. It requires an investment of time and resources. But the payoff is potentially huge. I’m making a standing offer for techies who want to contribute some real science and engineering know-how to the cause of open spectrum: if you have something you want submitted, contact me and I will work with you to get it in the record (or explain to you why it is not as useful as you thought and how you can improve it). Because I can tell you from experience that the engineers at the FCC are actually very eager to get as much data as possible and to get the engineering right on this.

Because freinds, this is like anything else in our democracy. If you don’t participate, then you’re just bleeting sheep. But if you come play, you can make a difference. As Ben Franklin once said: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner. Liberty is a well armed lamb protesting the vote.”

Time for us to see if we have enough well armed lambs, or if the techno-herd would rather see Microsoft do the fighting.

Stay tuned . . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Dr. Rose Proves It Was Spectrum Co. In The Kitchen With the Candlestick . . .

My good friend Dr. Gregory Rose has released two studies on last summer’s AWS Auction. I just bloged about them at length over at the Public Knowledge policy blog. So rather than repeat myself, I will merely say:

I argued after the AWS auction that cable companies and wireless incumbents had used the auction to kill DBS as a competitor. Rose proves that in his first report,
How Incumbents Blocked New Entrants In The AWS-1 Auction: Lessons For The Future.

Rose’s second report, Tacit Collusion In The AWS Auction: The Signalling Problem, looks at the use of bids to communicate. Again, as I’ve argued before, only by adopting anonymous bidding rules can the FCC stop bidders from suing the auction process to signal each other.

For the rest of my commentary, check out my PK blog.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

RIAA v. XM — Hard Cases and Clueless Judges Make for a Dangerous Mix

[Update: I’m aware the Audio Home Recording Act does not apply to video recordings. See my more detailed update here]

It’s an old cliche in Lawland that “hard cases make bad law.” To which I will now add: “and when you throw in clueless judges, the mix becomes positively toxic.”

Case in point, the recent decision by Judge Deborah Batts to deny XM Radio’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit by the RIAA for copyright violation. This case turns on the rather difficult interplay between the sections of the Copyright Act that provide a license for satellite radio, the immunity granted to equipment manufacturers under the 1992 Audio Home Recording Act, and the nature of the service offered by XM. It doesn’t help that, at the “motion to dismiss” phase, we gave the complainant (here the RIAA) the benefit of every doubt. To win, XM Radio would need to persuade Judge Batts that there is no set of provable facts under which the RIAA has a case.

Contrary to some of my colleagues (such as the eloquent and brilliant Art Brodsky in this post on the Public Knowledge website), I don’t think this was a slam dunk for XM. I actually think there is a complicated legal question here that needs to go forward for further analysis. That’s why I’m hiding over here on Sausage Factory for this one (if you check the Technorati rating for PK v. that for TotSF — you’ll understand what I mean by “hiding”).

Unfortunately, the language of Judge Batts opinion has — IMO — really, really, really bollixed things up badly. It calls to mind the awful results driven analysis in Jews for Jesus v. Brodsky when judges didn’t know squat about the internet and domain names, but sure knew they didn’t like these evil “cybersquatters” and boy were they gonna show ’em a lesson! The devil with the actual law or understanding the technology — we got us a heapin’ gavel of JUSTICE to whack you’re ass!

Batts opinion reads rather the same way J4J did. She doesn’t understand the technology and doesn’t feel any need to do so. All that matters is that someone seems to be making money that she thinks should go to the music mafia instead, and by God is she gonna get ’em! So she fixes on the wrong details and creates potential havoc for the likes of Tivo or anyone else making a PVR integrated into a receiver that picks up a subscription video or audio service.

The real issue in the RIAA v. XM case, and where Batts goes horribly, tragically, gut-churningly wrong, below….

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Posted in Fighting the IP Mafia, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)
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