November 2004

There’s a good ol’ political dust-up underway about whether Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum should have educated his children through the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School. He owns a house in the district served by the school, but his family’s main residence is in Virginia. He’s taken the kids out of the cyber school in favor of the home-schooling option.

One school board member’s demand that Santorum pay back $100,000 might be a little more revealing than she wants it to be.

It reminds me of a congressional junket I went on one time (sponsored by Qwest, if full disclosure interests you). In Southern Oregon, we visited all these companies that were using broadband to ramp up their efficiency and business processes. Then we visited a public entity – some kind of special school, I honestly can’t remember – that was using technology in similar ways. They went through all the great tech stuff they were doing and concluded with how important it was to be able to get funding for it all.

HOLD IT! Every place in the private sector, technology was bringing down costs while improving services. But in the public sector, technology was a new cost-center. It didn’t pass the smell test. Rather, it stunk. A bit of that aroma is on this story.

Santorum has five kids, and he might have been sending them to this school for a number of years, but cyber-education should be closer to free than $100,000.

Congress Daily (subscription-only site) is reporting that the Rev. Jerry Falwell and other television evangelists are opposing “a la carte” regulation (per-channel pricing) for cable and satellite television networks. Falwell, president of the Old Time Gospel Hour, said, “Though well-intentioned, the fact is that a la carte would threaten the very existence of religious broadcasting and the vital ministry conducted over the television airwaves.” The statement was released by the Faith and Family Broadcasting Coalition.

I always knew God was on our side when it comes to multichannel video regulation. From my old Catholic school days, I think I remember something in Deuteronomy that said, “The LORD your God goeth before you, he shall fight for you, and he shall strike down any wicked attempts by Cesar to tinker with channel tiering or pricing on cable or satellite video systems.”

Amen! Praise be the maker. God hates cable regulation.

(For a more serious treatment of this issue, see this. In the meantime, you regulators out there should go read your Bible. I’ve heard there’s some language in the New Testement about the evils of taxing the Internet.)

Should Michael Powell be the next NFL commissioner? It might make sense, given the amount of time the FCC has spent looking at football broadcasts lately. Only weeks after the commission fined CBS over showing a bit too much of Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl, ABC is now under the microscope for a somewhat tawdry segment aired at the beginning of Monday Night Football this week.

The video–which more people probably saw on cable news than on the actual show–featured a woman from the hit show “Desperate Housewives” dressed in only a towel in the locker room before the game, propositioning a Philadelphia Eagle. The towel drops at the end of the segment, definitely indicating some hanky-panky, although there’s no nudity.

The segment provoked outrage among many–including many conservatives, who found it out of bounds for prime time. Michael Powell dutifully tsked-tsked the segment, saying he found the segment “very disappointing,” adding “I wonder whether Walt Disney would be proud.” A better question might be whether Thomas Jefferson would be proud that federal bureaucrats increasingly decide what Americans get to see and hear.

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The FCC issued a press release yesterday that Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy will be chairing a conference of international regulators in December. The symposium will be hosted by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). It’s objective is:

“to achieve worldwide progress in promoting the development of low cost access to broadband and Internet connectivity. To this end, we are confident that the regulators at the Conference will work to reach consensus on a statement of Best Practice Guidelines to utilize in achieving this goal.”

Commissioner Abernathy is generally a friend of free markets. How will she hold up to a global crowd that will likely equate “promoting the development of low cost access” with a government subsidies or public works project?

The amazing “Mike” from TechDirt has trashed technophobia very nicely in a post about a group calling for regulation of camera phones. Technophobes wanted laws requiring cars to be preceeded by a person walking along waving a red flag. Technophobes want mandates that camera phones should flash or click. As if someone wanting to misuse a camera phone wouldn’t disable the flash or click.

There are a host of ways that society closes in around new technologies to distill their benefits and filter out potential harms. I suppose I tried to describe this in my paper on RFID, linked here so many times in the past. The privacy consequences of camera phones will be ameliorated, just like the privacy consequences of cameras were.

It’s easy to parade around the horribles of new technologies. It’s heavy lifting to ameliorate the harms, but we’re way better if we do so through natural societal processes than by hamstringing technology with government mandates.

Viva TLF!

Welcome Words from Twomey

by on November 16, 2004

“The internet is 200,000 private networks linked by private agreement.”

These are the words of ICANN chief executive Paul Twomey, according to a story in Australian News Interactive.

Most people working on “Internet governance” probably don’t realize the profundity of this statement. It’s a message to governments – all governments: “Hands Off!”

I, for one, look forward to the day when “Internet governance” is recognized as an oxymoron.

Now, governments can be extremely sticky. Even the U.S. government, which is one of the better ones, got its mitts on the Internet by just sort of declaring its right to assign governance to ICANN. If Twomey knows the consequence of his statement, he’s setting up a battle with the U.S. Department of Commerce in 2006. A victory there would be good, so long as all other pretenders to the mantle of Internet governor can be fended off, too.

If you want to know just how screwed up America’s universal service system is, take a look at this excellent report in today’s USA Today.

Author Paul Davidson documents some of the waste and abuse associated with the system and highlights just a few of the rural carriers that milk the system for all it’s worth.

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Former Catoite and GMU law student Jerry Brito notes that the LOC will be hosting a lecture series on “Managing Knowledge and Creativity in a Digital Context.” The series starts tonight and runs through March. C-SPAN will broadcast each lecture.

Like some regulatory Freddy Krueger, it looks like the FCC’s UNE rules just can’t be killed off. Earlier this year, it looked like the rules were doomed when the D.C. Court of Appeals struck down the regs–which require telephone companies to lease network elements to competitors. And only last month, the Supreme Court turned down requests to review the decision. It was widely assumed then that the rules, if not eliminated entirely, would be reduced to a minimal level. Recent news reports, however, now indicate that the Commission may in a few days adopt new rules that retain forced access requirements in certain circumstances, if there is not sufficient competition among telephone companies in a given area. That sounds reasonable, except that “competition” may be defined in an extremely narrow way–perhaps on a block by block basis. Thus, for instance, if there are a slew of competitors offering service on K Street, but none on L Street, the rules would be retained for L Street (even if competitors could easily expand into neigboring areas). Surprisingly, the new rules are being pushed by Chairman Michael Powell, usually seen as key defender of deregulation. We’re still awaiting details on what exactly the new rules will provide, but right now it looks like the UNE horror story will continue for some time to come.

Short piece by Norbert Michel and myself on the MPAA lawsuits, released yesterday by Heritage…

Hollywood, Values and P2P Lawsuits

If exit polls can be believed, issues of moral values were among the most important factors in last week’s presidential elections. Pundits are still weighing the meaning of that vote and what it means for public policy. Yet buried beneath the election news, the values issue was also raised last week in a much different context, the fight against the theft of intellectual property on the Internet. Ironically, the motion picture industry–rarely seen as a hotbed of traditional morality–is leading this fight. It announced that it will file lawsuits against individuals found illegally trading copyrighted movies over the Internet.

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