The great deregulator speaks on net neut

Alfred Kahn deregulated airlines and trucking in the US, and he’s not feeling the love for net neutrality regulations:

Some 25 years ago, I thought it was logical to try to prevent cable television companies, as beneficiaries of exclusive territorial franchises, from discriminating against unaffiliated suppliers of programming in favor of their own by prohibiting broadcasters holding a financial interest in the programs they carried. I eventually recognized, however, the public benefits from the especial incentives of the several broadcasters to produce programming of their own, as well as to bid for independent programming, in competition with one another; and that that competition sufficiently protects independent providers from discrimination or exploitation. If Google and eBay depend upon the telephone and cable companies for reaching their audiences, that dependence is mutual: what would happen to the willingness of subscribers to sign up for DSL or cable modem service if one or the other of those suppliers decided not to carry Google or eBay?

Demonstrably, those broadband facilities have to be created by investments — especially huge ones by the telephone companies — and applications requiring priority transmission can entail lower priority transmission of others. Except as broadband service is subsidized by governments — a possibility I do not exclude — those costs must be collected from users — subscribers to broadband services, on the one side, providers of programming or content on the other, or some combination of the two — just as in the case of newspapers or television stations.

Why all the hysteria? There is nothing “liberal” about the government rushing in to regulate these wonderfully promising turbulent developments.

If you’re interested in the Internet’s future, read the whole thing, it’s a comment on the Progress and Freedom Foundation’s blog.

Microsoft out of It’s Our Net, for now

Broadcasting and Cable has this statement from Microsoft about that company’s dropping out of the ironically named “It’s Our Net, Not Yours” regulatory coalition:

“Microsoft has withdrawn its name from the It’s Our Net website for the pendency of the AT&T-Bellsouth merger proceeding based on a company decision not to engage the proceeding,” the company said in a statement. “However, we continue to support and will pursue other opportunities to obtain meaningful Network Neutrality policies.”

Google and its minions are trying to use the Justice Department to advance their anti-democratic net neutrality program, and even for Microsoft that’s going too far. Let’s hope they never re-join.

Scott Cleland and PFF had noticed Microsoft’s name was gone from the It’s Our Net website, and this is why.

Does the Internet need saving?

Doc Searls is writing a follow-up on last year’s Saving the Net piece and he wants your suggestions:

So I just decided I’ll run a first aniversary follow-up on the piece, over at Linux Journal. But first I’d like to hear from the rest of ya’ll. Tag your posts savingthenet and I’ll find them.

Mine is simple: what makes us think the Internet needs saving? All the empirical measures say it’s thriving: there are more users than ever before, more web sites, more blogs, more broadband, lower prices, and more ways to get broadband thanks to EVDO, public WiFi, and WiMax (coming soon to an ISP near you).

The biggest and only threat to the Internet is the misguided attempt to regulate ISPs in order to prevent the imaginary threat to the imaginary principle of net neutrality, but it’s unlikely to go anywhere, even if the Dems take back the Senate.

I’d be looking at things like terrorist and criminal uses of the Internet, including spam and phishing, because we’re more likely to see a real encroachment on personal freedom of expression over the Internet in response to the real abuses of bad actors than for any other reason.

But the bottom line is that the Internet is fundamentally healthy, and anybody who tells you otherwise probably has a personal agenda because the only way to sustain the “Internet at Risk” argument is to give more weight to the future than to the present. And as we’ve been hearing “Internet at Risk” arguments for ten years (if not longer) and nothing of that nature has come to pass, it’s simply crying wolf at this point, so get back to me when you have evidence of harm and not just imagination.

Linux in trouble

Crazy Richard Stallman’s temper tantrum over GPLv3 threatens to split Linux into two warring camps. has the skinny:

Despite that utopian anticapitalist bent, Linux and the “open-source” software movement have lured billions of dollars of investment from IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Red Hat and other tech vendors, plus corporate customers such as Wall Street banks, Google and Amazon and Hollywood special-effects shops. IBM has spent a billion dollars embracing Linux, using it as a counterweight to the Microsoft Windows monopoly and to Sun Microsystems’ Unix-based business.

Now Stallman is waging a new crusade that could end up toppling the revolution he helped create. He aims to impose new restrictions on IBM and any other tech firm that distributes software using even a single line of Linux code. They would be forbidden from using Linux software to block users from infringing on copyright and intellectual-property rights (“digital rights management”); and they would be barred from suing over alleged patent infringements related to Linux.

Stallman’s hold on the Linux movement stems from the radical group he formed in 1985: the Free Software Foundation. The Boston outfit, which he still runs, is guided by a “manifesto” he published that year, urging programmers (hackers) to join his socialist crusade. The group made Stallman a cult hero among hackers–and ended up holding licensing rights to crucial software components that make up the Linux system.

Stallman hopes to use that licensing power to slap the new restraints on the big tech vendors he so reviles. At worst it could split the Linux movement in two–one set of suppliers and customers deploying an older Linux version under the easier rules and a second world using a newer version governed by the new restrictions. That would threaten billions of dollars in Linux investment by customers and vendors alike.

It seems to me that the Forbes article is fundamentally correct. Stallman is a nutcase, and he’s trying to force the Linux community to do things his way, on penalty of losing the GNU tools. Stallman is trying to impose his concept of DRM on the Linux community, and a heck of a lot of very important people aren’t buying what he’s selling. So this will inevitably lead to a split between Stallmanized code and non-Stallmanized code.

It’s unpleasant to think about this, but it’s very likely to happen. Nobody can get Stallman under control, and he has enough fanatical followers to cause a serious split.

H/T IP Central.

A system of exploitation

I wish I’d said what Nicholas Carr said about Web 2.0:

Web 2.0’s economic system has turned out to be, in effect if not intent, a system of exploitation rather than a system of emancipation. By putting the means of production into the hands of the masses but withholding from those same masses any ownership over the product of their work, Web 2.0 provides an incredibly efficient mechanism to harvest the economic value of the free labor provided by the very, very many and concentrate it into the hands of the very, very few.

Damn that’s good.

But what do I know? Professor Lessig says Carr is stuck in the 20th century, which sounds sort of painful.

Dirty Money

The Guardian reports that Google has set up a PAC and a high-dollar lobbying arm to protect its network subsidies:

While Google would not be hit directly by a two-tier net, its recently acquired online video site YouTube would, and Google fears that splitting the internet could hamper the creation of other innovative businesses.

“Net neutrality is the most obvious issue for us,” says Reyes, who worked at the US state department before joining Google. “But … Congress and the government are going to take on a whole range of issues that affect us on technological fronts, on legal fronts. This is our effort to play in that game.”

Google has an impressive list of players on its team. As well as counting Al Gore among its senior advisers, Google’s Washington office was set up about a year and a half ago by Alan Davidson. A well-known Democrat sympathiser, he served for eight years as associate director of the Centre for Democracy and Technology, a thinktank that opposes government and industry control of the web. Alongside him is Robert Boorstin, a former Clinton foreign policy aide from the Centre for American Progress, as Google’s communications chief in the capital.

Google’s PAC will be run by a five-person board of directors who will be guided by the recommendations of an advisory committee made up of Google employees. It will raise its funds through voluntary donations from staff.

But judging from the fact that in the past Google employees have been involved with leftwing groups such as, it will be very interesting to see where that cash is headed.

Towards the end, they tick off some of the search monopolist’s more dubious practices. Is this “don’t be evil?”

Dirty corporate money is a cancer on our political process, no matter who it comes from, folks. Google’s influence-buying operation is bad for freedom.

Building a better Internet

The Boy Scouts are on the outs with all right-thinking and decent people for their intolerance of gay scoutmasters, although all the shrieking over Mark Foley would almost make you think they were just unfashionably ahead of the curve. In case anybody’s wobbling, there is something to set you straight. The Boy Scouts are oppressing pirates with a new “activity badge” discouraging illegal file sharing:

A Boy Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, etc., etc. If he’s in the Los Angeles area, he also respects copyrights.

Tens of thousands of Boy Scouts here will be able to earn an activity patch for learning about the evils of downloading pirated movies and music. The patch shows a film reel, a music CD and the international copyright symbol, a “C” enclosed in a circle.

The movie industry developed the curriculum as a way of emphasizing the ills of piracy to a generation that has grown up finding free music and video clips on the Internet.

That’s got to be very upsetting to such leaders of the Pirates’ Rights lobby as Larry Lessig, the Stanford law professor who argues that illegal file sharing is central to enlightened democracy. As if poor Lessig doesn’t have enough on his plate, what with being made into a non-entity by former FCC chief William Kennard in the New York Times last Saturday.

Kennard had to the gall to frame the idiotic network neutrality debate as a battle between Super-Wealthy companies such as Google and Amazon and Merely-Rich cable and telephone companies:

Unfortunately, the current debate in Washington is over “net neutrality” — that is, should network providers be able to charge some companies special fees for faster bandwidth. This is essentially a battle between the extremely wealthy (Google, Amazon and other high-tech giants, which oppose such a move) and the merely rich (the telephone and cable industries). In the past year, collectively they have spent $50 million on lobbying and advertising, effectively preventing Congress and the public from dealing with more pressing issues.

As chairman of the F.C.C., I put into place many policies to bridge the narrowband digital divide. The broadband revolution poses similar challenges for policymakers. America should be a world leader in broadband technology and deployment, and we must ensure that no group or region in America is denied access to high-speed connections.

We are falling short in both areas. Since 2000, the United States has slipped from second to 19th in the world in broadband penetration, with Slovenia threatening to push us into 20th. Studies by the federal government conclude that our rural and low-income areas trail urban and high-income areas in the rate of broadband use. Indeed, this year the Government Accountability Office found that 42 percent of households have either no computer or a computer with no Internet connection.

One thing’s for certain about the net neutrality regulations offered by Congressional Democrats and rogue Republicans: they’re not exactly going to stimulate faster build-out of fiber to the home, whatever their other virtues may be.

So where does that leave the heroic few like Lessig who’ve jumped aboard Google’s bandwagon in demanding new regulations on the business models of broadband carriers? Annoyed, mainly:

It’s funny, I hadn’t realized I was a Google tool. I had thought we were pushing to reverse a failed policy because we wanted to enable the next Google (that was my point about YouTube). I thought we were angry because the “merely rich” had yet to provide broadband as broadly as in other comparable nations. And I thought we were fighting the efforts of the “merely rich” to further reduce competition, either by buying up spectrum that would enable real wireless competition, or by getting state laws passed to make muni-competition illegal. I had thought these were important issues for the new economy — keeping the platform as competitive as possible, to keep prices and quality moving in the direction they move in the rest of the developed world.

Once again, Lessig presses his case on virtue grounds. He, and the others on his side who want our regulators to go where no regulator has gone before, are insistent that you see them as the Good People, who appeal to your sense of virtue and fair play, simply because they oppose the Telcos, the Bad People. And you’re to know that the Telcos are the Bad People because, well, that’s the way it’s always been. And you’re to believe that net neutrality regulations are good because, well, that’s the way the Internet has always been. This is not exactly a highly sophisticated argument.

In fact, it’s wrong in just about every way an argument can be wrong: logically, factually, intellectually, and emotionally. The Internet has not historically had regulations on how to treat router queues, and even if it had we would be under no obligation to honor them in all future telecom regulations. The Internet is a part of our society that was devised by engineers to meet a set of objectives, not a perfect essence that descended directly from the Almighty into Bob Kahn’s head in 1981. In the beginning, we wanted it to be a plaything for academics, and now we want it to be much, much more. So we’re thinking about how to regulate it and how to stimulate it to make it grow into the kind of network we all want it to be. The argument from historical essence is garbage.

Kennard is right when he says we should be debating what it’s going to take to get real broadband penetration into American homes, schools, libraries, and businesses. The better the network, the more useful it is, whether we have content taxes or not. Look at this video conferencing system from Cisco with HDTV and “telepresence:”

One industry analyst described Cisco’s system — which the company calls “telepresence” — as far superior to other video conferencing products, typically accessed or run over the Internet.

Chambers has touted the new technology as so lifelike that it could replace corporate travel, saying that Cisco will cut $100 million in expenses by reducing travel 20 percent in the next 12 months.

The system uses software the company created and runs on a network powered by the company’s own routers and switches. The pictures are displayed on a 60-inch plasma screen with 1,080-pixel screen resolution, which is four times better than the standard television and two times better than a high-definition television.

They’re saying this product has the potential to re-shape Cisco, but it would be illegal to operate under the regulations proposed by Lessig’s warriors (the system almost certainly prioritizes packets and may require extra-spiffy service from ISP or NSP to perform properly, and that’s forbidden under Snowe-Dorgan and Markey.)

One might say, somewhat simplistically, that this net neutrality thing boils down to whether you want to protect downloads from a content tax or have a system of fees and regulations that permits us to cut corporate travel and wire both rich and poor homes with superior broadband.

That’s not a difficult choice. Of course, the issue is more complicated, but not much more, so there you are, choose.

And you can also see Matt Sherman for a reasoned critique of Professor Lessig’s latest.

UPDATE: Super-excitable intellectual property attorney Harold Feld is very upset with the Boy Scouts, but he blames the MPAA, all better to imagine dark conspiracies. Feld is one of my heroes.

Progress and Freedom Foundation honcho Patrick Ross liked this humble piece, but Google scholar Richard Brandt didn’t. You can’t please everybody, and I don’t even try. Check Brandt’s photo, it’s a scream.

It never stops

George Lakoff, the Chomsky protege wannabe* who’s a big fave with Democrats these days, has a new book out urging leftish politicians to spin more. Steven Pinker is not impressed:

There is no shortage of things to criticize in the current administration. Corrupt, mendacious, incompetent, autocratic, reckless, hostile to science, and pathologically shortsighted, the Bush government has disenchanted even many conservatives. But it is not clear what is to be gained by analyzing these vices as the desired outcome of some coherent political philosophy, especially if it entails the implausible buffoon sketched by Lakoff. Nor does it seem profitable for the Democrats to brand themselves as the party that loves lawyers, taxes, and government regulation on principle, and that does not believe in free markets or individual discipline. Lakoff’s faith in the power of euphemism to make these positions palatable to American voters is not justified by current cognitive science or brain science. I would not advise any politician to abandon traditional reason and logic for Lakoff’s “higher rationality.”`

I’ve always been amazed that anyone takes Lakoff seriously, but he does have a following. Doc Searls, for example, practically worships him. Some Democrats, frustrated by a decade of Republican rule seek a magic bullet that will put them back in power, and Lakoff claims to have one. The Republicans are all set to relinquish the government this election regardless of what the Dems do, so Lakoff and his ilk will no doubt claim credit. It’s best for Republicans if Democrats believe Lakoff, but not so good for the Republic.

The ultimate issue is whether the Democrats have failed for the last decade because the public rejects their policies, or because they simply haven’t packaged them as well as the Republicans have packaged theirs. It’s seductive to believe it’s all matter of packaging, but ultimately wrong. The Democrats haven’t had a new idea since Roosevelt, but the world has changed substantially.

The Democrats are going to do very, very well in this year’s elections, but not because of better euphemisms, more blogs, or louder screams. They’re going to do well because the Republicans are corrupt and incompetent. This isn’t going to be an election about policy or language, it’s going to be decided by the public’s lack of patience with an endless string of failures and broken promises.

Don’t be deceived.

Here’s Lakoff’s response to Pinker.

*UPDATE: See commentary on the meaning the term “protege” and Nunberg’s complaints. For clarity, I’ve re-worded the first sentence. Chomsky and Lakoff disagree on some fine points of linguistic theory and political ideology, but from the layman’s perspective they’re essentially interchangeable.

Bill Moyers and the Mythology of the Internet

Bill Moyers is the ordained Baptist minister who was LBJ’s Chief Propagandist during America’s descent into the Viet Nam quagmire. He made a name for himself by pushing Joseph Campbell’s loopy theories about the alleged universality of mythology on PBS and giving a megaphone to voices on the lunatic fringe of American politics such as Noam Chomsky. He’s jumped into the Net Neutrality fray with both horns, airing a 90 minute ad for Bob McChesney’s Save the Internet campaign that trails off into odd conspiracy theories toward the end. PBS has set up a web page to promote it, where you’ll find this gem:

The future of the Internet is up for grabs. Last year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) effectively eliminated net neutrality rules, which ensured that every content creator on the Internet-from big-time media concerns to backroom bloggers-had equal opportunity to make their voice heard. Now, large and powerful corporations are lobbying Washington to turn the World Wide Web into what critics call a “toll road,” threatening the equitability that has come to define global democracy’s newest forum. Yet the public knows little about what’s happening behind closed doors on Capitol Hill.

Some activists describe the ongoing debate this way: A small number of mega-media giants owns much of the content and controls the delivery of content on radio and television and in the press; if we let them take control of the Internet as well, immune from government regulation, who will pay the price? Their opponents say that the best way to encourage Internet innovation and technological advances is to let the market-not the federal government-determine the shape of the system.

Kindly note that this goes beyond the usual refrain of “Big Telco is stealing the Internet and our Democracy will soon be lost” to assert a conspiracy of Big Telco and Big Media. In fact, the last 30 minutes of the show isn’t about the Internet at all, it’s about media consolidation, McChesney’s favorite hobby horse.

Is net neutrality a legitimate part of the media ownership debate, or simply a fear and smear campaign devised to enhance the influence of self-promoters like McChesney and his ilk?

You can probably guess what I think about that.

Turn out the lights

The party’s over*. The Rustbelt Puddy Tats keep on playing the same way they played all year, and Oakland, like the Yankers before them, are so severely affected by post-season hype they’ve forgotten how to do the things that Little-Leaguers do every day. Baseball is a simple game: you throw the ball, you hit the ball, and you catch the ball. Except when you’re so full of nerves that you don’t.

Jim Leyland has programmed his kids to tune out the noise and focus on the immediate task, and Ken Macha hasn’t. So that’s the way the season ends, not with a bang but a whimper.


*Technically, the Puddies have to win one more game, but it would take a miracle of epic proportions for the A’s to pull this one out; something like parting the waters of the Red Sea only bigger. Hope springs eternal, so maybe it will happen. I’d like for it to happen, don’t get me wrong. But I ain’t betting the farm on it. Or the car. Or even a stick of gum. I like my gum, by gum. Go A’s!