Net Neutrality Could Actually Help ISPs

23 11 2010

CEO of Diffraction Analysis Benoît Felten released a blog post on Nov. 18th arguing that Internet Service Providers actually have more to lose from net discrimination practices than they have to gain.

Felten believes that his ISP clients have never “looked at the economics” behind net neutrality, and assert that the major cardholders are the biggest online content providers: Google, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc. This comes as something of

Benoît Felten, CEO of Diffraction Analysis and advocate for an open Internet.

a surprise, given that ISPs have actually attempted in recent years to assert their First-Amendment rights to charge for prioritized access.

Felten defends his logic by saying, “if Google was to refuse a toll to access the AT&T network and discontinued its services over the AT&T network as a consequence, who would suffer the most? I think it would be AT&T, and I think it would have very quick effects on their customer churn.”

He says of the net neutrality debate, “Net-discrimination is a typical case of a lose/lose scenario: network operators have nothing to gain, content and application providers have nothing to gain, and customers have everything to lose. Defending net neutrality is important for a lot of reasons, I just wish that those opposing it knew how little net-discrimination will serve them.”

Felten’s YouTube channel, like his blog, is “fiberevolution;” here he is discussing how “open access makes economic sense:”




Free Expression Has Its Limits On Xbox Live

23 11 2010

We champion our First-Amendment right to free speech as a protection of our right to be who we want to be. Our choices reflect our values, and manifest themselves physically as representations of who we are.

Call of Duty: Black Ops allows its players to do just that; using a new feature called the Playercard Editor, users can choose between 480 images which can be layered on top of each other, with the options of coloring, moving, rotating, flipping, or resizing each image to create a unique and individualized graphic emblem.

Some of the many emblems Black Ops players can choose from to make their individualized playercard.

I’m frankly surprised that it took this long since the game’s release (two weeks) for someone to invoke Microsoft’s wrath on the subject of offensive emblems. Twitter user “JohnJohnson39923” questioned Xbox Live Director of Policy and Enforcement Stephen Toulouse whether or not it would be alright to use a swastika as a Call of Duty emblem “not to offend,” but because he/she “like[s] the design.”

Toulouse replied via Twitter, “Seriously dude?,” going on to say that any users using a swastika as an emblem will be banned from the Xbox Live network. Unfortunately for Toulouse, this statement brought out a caravan of the Internet’s anonymous warriors for free speech, citing what Toulouse referred to on his blog as “contrarian” viewpoints on the swastika and other well-known symbols.

Toulouse said the commentators suggested he should “apply ethical relativism to all symbols on Xbox Live” because under “niche interpretations” symbols such as the Star of David and the Christian cross can be considered as vile as the swastika.

It’s too bad for those “Internet pundits” that Xbox Live is not a community to which United States free speech laws apply; it is a virtual community owned and operated by Microsoft Inc. It is therefore this organization that sets and enforces the rules by which members of the Xbox Live community abide.

Toulouse considers the policy “fundamental respect,” rather than political correctness. While he believes it’s “great” to have society reevaluate the swastika symbol, he wrote on his blog, “Your Xbox LIVE profile or in game logo, which doesn’t have the context to explain your goal, is not the right place to do that.”

Time for USCG to “shit or get off the pot.”

21 11 2010

Federal Judge Rosemary Collyer just put the kibosh on the US Copyright Group’s five-year plan to sue over 16,000 people for copyright violations incurred through sharing films online. While such copyright claims filed against online users are nothing new, the USCG has two huge, gaping holes in its litigation: to date, it hasn’t been able to provide the identity of a single individual user whom they are suing against (only users’ IP addresses), and it subsequently requested five years from the federal courts to do so.

This request was to be applied to the USCG’s cases for the films Far Cry and The Steam Experiment. Originally, Judge Collyer set the deadline to name defendants to July 2010, which was extended to November 18th; this time, the USCG requested 58 months time to name defendants in its cases. The extensive time frame comes at the behest of Time Warner, who as an Internet Service Provider complained about the cost of having to perform so many lookups for the USCG, and had a federal judge reduce its workload to 28 lookups a month, split between each case..

Judge Collyer responded by calling the request, “patently unfair and prejudicial to all John Does who have been identified by an ISP,” and gave the USCG until December 6th to come up with identities of those users included in its claim; any other IP addresses without names are exempt from the case.

A lawyer representing file-sharing defendants told Ars Technica that the order was “what it looks like when a judge starts to lose her patience,” and that Collyer wants the USCG to “shit or get off the pot.”

While it seems as though the USCG is just another bumbling, clumsy copyright troll, it allegedly knows a majority of the names behind the Far Cry and Steam Experiment cases; should this be true, those names will be given in court on December 6th.

Limegate Update: Revival at the Hands of “Piratical Monkeys”

15 11 2010

Yeah, this one is almost as insane as it sounds. In one of last week’s posts, I covered how LimeWire LLC was court-ordered to end its operations and shut down its peer-to-peer file sharing network. This was depressing news to many users (including myself) who have relied on LimeWire to handle our circumventive file acquisition needs over at least the last five years.

While I suggested in my post that BitTorrent technology may provide safe haven for those users that have no interest in paying $30 for a 1080p rip of James Cameron’s Avatar, a media liberation cyberpunk known only as “MetaPirate” led to the revival of the file sharing system by releasing LimeWire: Pirate Edition. According to Nate Anderson at Ars Technica, “LimeWire Pirate Edition builds on the old LimeWire codebase, but it removes LimeWire’s use of some centralized servers, the toolbar, in-app advertising, and software backdoors. It also enables all the features of the “Pro” version that LimeWire LLC used to sell as a premium product.”

The coders behind LimeWire’s rerelease described it as, “A horde of piratical monkeys climbed aboard the abandoned ship, mended its sails, polished its cannons and released it FREE to the community to help keep the Gnutella network alive.”

LimeWire Pirate Edition, courtesy of Ars Technica.


In an email correspondence with Ars Technica, MetaPirate described his/her motives as, “Speaking for myself, the motivation is to make RIAA lawyers cry into their breakfast cereal… I hope the other monkeys have nobler intentions.” Believing in the perseverance of LimeWire as a symbol of free file exchange, MetaPirate says, “You can spend years and millions of dollars knocking something down, and it will just get back up. Not an equivalent, not a replacement, but the exact same thing. The Pirate Bay has really demonstrated the importance of that.” Fittingly, the tagline for the new software is, “You can’t keep a good app down.”

The LimeWire Pirate Edition site hosts a plethora of locations from which users can download the new software for Windows, Mac, and Linux, ensuring no user platform has to go without LimeWire’s services. The site’s “About” section claims, “LimeWire Pirate Edition is free, open source P2P software. It does not include any adware or spyware, and it cannot be remotely monitored or shut down.”

A Step Toward Closing The Digital Divide

11 11 2010

Ars Technica contributer Matthew Lasar recently posted a piece, “Would you like some broadband with those food stamps?” The eye-catching title led me to coverage of one of the latest government attempts to close the digital divide (that being the divide between those Americans who have access to broadband Internet, and those that do not).

Described in an FCC news release (click for PDF), the planned reforms aim to help lower-income families obtain access to phone service, and eventually broadband Internet access. The Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service, the group that designed these proposals, ambitiously urges the FCC to encourage automatic enrollment in Lifeline and LinkUp when families apply for food stamps and other federal assistance programs.

Lifeline and LinkUp are components of the FCC’s Universal Service Fund (which also provides public libraries and rural hospitals with federal telecom subsidies); Lifeline allows consumers up to $10 in monthly subsidies toward phone bills, and

South Dakota's Public Utilities Commission promotes the Lifeline and LinkUp services.

LinkUp provides up to $30 toward broadband.

The news release also mentions that the FCC had additionally asked the Joint Board for “suggestions regarding the most effective approaches to addressing potential waste, fraud, and abuse in the program while also improving its efficiency and reach.”

Such recommendations from the Joint Board include:

  • “Encourage automatic enrollment, triggered when low-income families sign up for other benefits, such as food stamps.
  • Adopt minimum standards for states and carriers to use to verify a participant’s eligibility, with stricter standards allowed, in order to prevent potential waste, fraud, and abuse.
  • Seek comment on establishing a centralized national database for certification and verification of eligibility to eliminate duplicative claims and speed enrollment, and address potential waste, fraud, and abuse.
  • Seek comment on increasing eligibility for the program by allowing households earning 150% or less of the federal poverty guidelines to participate, up from the current 135%.”

Lasar’s article also mentioned the problem of unforeseen costs, should subscriptions to the Lifeline and LinkUp services increase; I would hope that the government finds a way to provide for the program, rather than be forced to trim it down as a consequence of its own success. While the FCC would have a harder time passing a subsidy-creating tax bill through the newly Republicanized Congress, perhaps we can count on an executive signoff on a subsidy directly from the federal budget.

It is hugely important that both federal and state governments work together in tackling the problem of the digital divide; the Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service are an excellent example of progressive thinking, focused on the well-being of the general population. What fuels the success of a democracy is the well-informedness of its citizens; ensuring that each American citizen has quality access to the vast network of information that is the Internet guarantees success in our country’s future.

Check out the FCC’s Lauren H. Kravetz discuss Lifeline Awareness Week:

In Simply Recognizing The Problem, We May Find A Solution

10 11 2010

Literate techie manifesto Ars Technica grabbed my attention by questioning whether or not the Internet is dead. Intrigued, I read on.

While I was disappointed to discover another passive aggressive plea for net neutrality, it highlighted to me a notion I hadn’t previously considered in the great debate of the open Internet’s future: the very fact that the FCC has considered the possibility of the Internet someday not being open is a tremendous step in propelling net neutrality legislation.

The article, written by Ars Technica contributer Matthew Lasar, features excerpts of a letter written to the FCC praising them for considering the implications of prioritized data servicing. The group, referring to the letter as the “joint reply comments of various advocates for the open Internet,” lists over 30 members, including Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak.

In December, the FCC wrote a proposal to supplement its Internet Policy Statement; said proposal included a provision banning Internet Service Providers from prioritizing traffic, as well as a transparency rule requiring ISPs to submit records of their network management practices. And that’s great.

However, the FCC still included in the proposal a section asking for comment on whether “managed or specialized services” should be allowed traffic prioritization. Such “specialized services” might include “telemedicine, smart grids, and eLearning applications,” but as Lasar also pointed out, it might include AT&T’s U-Verse.

The FCC also wanted feedback on whether or not prioritizing “specialized services” would stifle or stimulate investment in broadband technology, and whether or not traffic prioritization would leave enough bandwidth for the rest of user traffic on shared networks.

I think its fantastic that the FCC is contemplating these issues; don’t get me wrong. It confounds me though that when they have these provisions of the Internet Policy Statement already written and laid out, they insist on asking for feedback; it’s a sign of weakness and insecurity.

And now with the heavier Republican presence in Congress since midterms, the FCC canbe sure that their work with net neutrality is cut out for them.

However, Lasar manages to leave his piece on an optimistic note; he quotes excerpts from the letter addressed to the FCC, specifically such motivating bits like, “Transmitting packets without regard for application, in a best efforts manner, is at the very core of how the Internet provides a general purpose platform that is open and conducive to innovation by all end users,” and, “policy-making channels have not recognized the inherent value of the general purpose platform—and how this platform reflects the values of openness, free expression, competition, innovation and private investment.”

By highlighting these intensely American values represented by the idea of an open Internet, he describes the thought of net neutrality as “an intellectual time capsule.” Though it is bleak to think that net neutrality might be completely buried under the bullshit of today’s politics, it is at least positive to hope that it might be recovered and implemented by future generations with the knowledge they have of our times. Who knows, maybe it’ll be my generation.

The Data Cold War Gets Colder

9 11 2010

As TechCrunch chronicles the growing embitterment between Facebook and Google, users are left to ponder the future of contact data exportation.

Wait, what?

It’s so much more ridiculous than it sounds. When you sign up for Facebook, it allows you to import contact information (namely email addresses) from another web networking client (Yahoo!, Twitter, etc.). In the case of Gmail, Google decided to no longer allow Facebook to import contact data when a user signs up for a new account, in retaliation to Facebook’s policy against exporting its own user contact data into other services.

So, Facebook will accept other client’s data exports, but won’t export its own, and Gmail is pissed, and stopped exporting its contact data to Facebook. Especially after Digital Trends told him  in the cafeteria that Facebook was making out with Bing in the parking lot after the pep rally. The whole situation is high school, really.


And at this point, Google’s whole data blocking maneuver is useless. Facebook managed to create a loophole allowing Gmail users to upload their contacts via way of CSV file, making Google sad (in its own passive aggressive way).

To make this situation sound more mature (and I suppose it should, these are largely important entities in the expanse of cyberspace), TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington has referred to it as a “data war.” Given the dry exchange of banal antics between the two digital superpowers, I’d call it a data cold war (in Rocky terms, I wonder which one gets to be Drago).


"If he dies, he dies."


In all seriousness, I find this chain of events surprising, frankly. Google is the alleged champion of the open Internet, yet it is the one stifling users’ ability to communicate data. While this particular instance is a relatively unimportant conflict of policy, it casts a shadow of doubt on whether these titans of industry will continue to get along in the future. Judging by the outcome here, it will only be making life more difficult for the users.