September 2007

I was frank about Google miscontruing privacy the other day. I’ll be frank about DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff likewise missing the mark in his recent Leadership Journal post, “Privacy and Security.”

Like Google’s Peter Fleischer, Chertoff calls privacy a “right” – in this case, a “fundamental right.” (Two data points is a trend!: People call privacy a “right” just before they drop it in the blender.)

Unlike Fleischer, Chertoff edges up to Orwellian: “Our efforts to secure our homeland need not harm our privacy. Rather, in many cases they can actually strengthen it.”

I’m dubious. How so?

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The real consumption of music seems to be up.”

Time to Reform the FCC

by on September 27, 2007 · 0 comments

Minor abuses at the FCC, such as the one mentioned in my last post, warrant at least investigating how the FCC assesses fines, if not looking for ways to reform the FCC’s governance of broadcasting. But when we look at the incredible distortion created by the central planning of broadcast spectrum the case of dramatic and rapid reform becomes very clear.

More specifically, the FCC is now placing caveats on the 700Mhz auction–perverting the one reform, auctions, that have worked to replace bureaucratic preference with market forces. The XM/Sirius Satellite radio merger is also a symptom of the disease of FCC regulation. Satellite spacing requirements, spectrum allocation, and the inability for terrestrial firms to sell their spectrum assets and move skyward are all standing in the way of more competition in satellite markets.

This squandering of a natural resource has inspired many FCC reform projects–the predecessor of all this work is Coase’s “The Federal Communications Commission” from the Journal of Law and Economics (one of the most cited papers of all time), but more recently the FCC itself has released working papers mapping out the road to markets. There have also been broader plans like CEI’s Communications Without Commissions as well as highly informative work coming out of Cato on the stumbling blocks that might be encountered in the process of privatization.

The intellectual work has been done on this issue, but for reform to actually occur, the issue of the FCC and its inefficiency and threat to American competitiveness needs to be pushed to the forefront of the public debate. CEI is working on a paper outlining the litany of abuses that have come out of the FCC and just how much of the communications potential of the United States goes unused because of the lack of markets in spectrum. Others need to join the fight as the XM/Sirius and 700Mhz issues move forward. If the road to reform is obvious and the benefits made known, Congress might act, but not until we force the issue.

Indirectly, anyway. They are members of the Information Technology Association of America, which continues to plead lamely for federal funding of the REAL ID Act, the United States’ moribund national ID law.

I’d been considering writing about an opinion poll purporting to favor REAL ID that ITAA has been touting this week, but mostly thought it should remain obscure. The headline of a Washington Technology article by Alice Lipowicz was too good to pass up, though:

ITAA to Congress: Cut a Check for REAL ID Now

I’ve long thought highly of the ITAA – they’ve taken many sensible pro-innovation and anti-regulatory positions over the years – but it’s embrassing to watch their slavish begging for federal dollars – all to build infrastructure that attacks the nation’s values.

A trade association representing the interests of its members in Washington is one thing. A gaggle of lobbyists that fishes around the Beltway for federal money – that’s quite another. I don’t think the people and companies in the tech industry are well represented by an organization that tries to promote a national ID, given the surveillance and tracking that attends it.

Take a look at their membership list for companies you’re familiar with. Indirectly, they’re supporting the REAL ID Act too. You could let them know what you think of that directly by contacting them or indirectly by withdrawing your patronage.

Seems as though the FCC can’t get enough fining done within the bounds of its legal fining regime and is now fining arbitrary 3rd parties related to broadcasts. According to Yahoo! News:

The Federal Communications Commission is proposing a $4,000 fine against Comcast Corp. for airing a pitch for a sleep aid without telling viewers that the spot was financed by the maker of the product.

The story goes on to point out that:

The fine, while small, is significant for another reason: It is being assessed against a cable company. Comcast Corp. says cable programming is not covered under the statute cited by the FCC.

This remind me of the Onion story from either years ago that reported “Aging Pope ‘Just Blessing Everything In Sight.‘” It seems that now the FCC is ‘just fining everything in sight’ and spreading its ‘blessings’ just as capriciously.

A new survey shows that “OPEN SAUCE developers are staying away from the latest GPLv3 licence in droves.” Well, sort of. The survey says that six percent of developers are using the license now, which actually seems like a reasonable number given that the license was released less than three months ago. More ominously for the FSF, almost half of the developers surveyed do not plan to ever adopt the license.

However, it seems to me like the press release omits some important information. For one thing, apparently “The Apache Foundation was identified as the organization having the best Open Source offerings.” The Apache Foundation, remember, uses a BSD-style license that allows code to be incorporated into proprietary software. In other words, it isn’t a copyleft license.

That suggests that a significant number of the open source developers being interviewed are not users of copyleft-style licenses in the first place. That they’re not planning to adopt GPLv3 is no more remarkable than if they’d conducted a survey that included a lot of Microsoft employees and discovered low enthusiasm for the GPL.

The important question is how many developers currently developing GPLv2 software are planning to switch to v3. The organization doesn’t appear to have released any detail about how their developer were chosen, so there’s really no way to tell the answer to that question from the information they’ve released.

Playspan dubs itself “The Game Industry’s First Publisher-Sponsored In-Game Commerce Network.” What does that mean? To put it more simply, welcome to Wall Street for World of War Craft.

In the pre-web world, what I like to call “The Before Time,” people’s puny brains used to be limited to thinking of products as physical objects or services to be performed in the physical world. No more! Commerce now extends into the virtual world and is no longer limited to our crude meatspace.

In all seriousness, it’s great that more people are becoming entrepreneurs, even if it is in the weird new business of selling shields, potions, virtual plots of land, or the occasional level 45 cleric. This should serve to remind us that there are markets in everything.

Online social networking sites are again in the news. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said on Monday his office is investigating Facebook for allegedly not keeping young users safe from sexual predators and not responding to user complaints. Cuomo joins fellow AGs Roy Cooper from North Carolina and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut among activist AGs parading the horribles of social networking websites.

Law enforcement and industry efforts are important, but what’s the single most effective way to keep kids safe online? Education. And at least one state AG gets it, as Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum has this to say on online safety:

“While it is certainly important to have stronger laws against Internet sex predators and child pornography, education for Internet users of all ages is paramount,” said McCollum. “Parents and children alike must be more aware of the dangers often encountered online and understand and employ basic safety tips for surfing the Internet.”

Students everywhere are back in their classrooms and beginning to tackle familiar subjects like math, reading, science and social studies. But how many students will receive classroom education about the importance of Internet safety? Hardly any—even in light of a growing concern about the safety of chat rooms and social networking sites.

Unlike summer breaks of the past, where kids would anxiously yearn for the social scene of classrooms and hallways, today kids can easily keep in touch online all summer long. Social networking websites such as Facebook, MySpace, and Xanga allow teens to stay in regular contact with their classmates during summer vacation. Ninety-six percent of teenagers use some form online social networking technologies, which also include instant messaging and chat forums.

Yet there’s a surprising lack of online safety education in our nation’s classrooms. Only a few states require that online safety education be taught in school. Last year Virginia became the first state to pass a law that mandates the integration of internet safety into their regular instruction. Yet over half of school districts pursue a prohibition—not an education—strategy by banning the use of social networking sites while on school property, according to a recent study from the National School Boards Association.

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In today’s Wall Street Journal, Ben Charny has an article discussing why “Free Wi-Fi [is] Still an Elusive Goal.” He notes:

The same forces slowing development of single-city wireless Internet networks are now overwhelming their supersize versions that cover thousands of square miles and scores of municipalities. A telling example of the malaise can be found in Silicon Valley, where plans to provide free, high-speed wireless Internet access to 42 cities in an area of more than 1,500 square miles have come to a standstill, says Russell Hancock, the man in charge of the effort.

It was once thought that municipal wireless networks of all sizes could be supported through the sale of advertisements that appear during the free Internet sessions and the small fee paid by those who want a faster, ad-free Internet service. However, many cities with wireless networks say that there’s been little demand for their premium services and that technology issues have limited the networks’ reach. Moreover, while businesses were willing to invest in advertising on these single-city networks, they complain about very little return on their investment.

So, once again, we see that demand counts when it comes to broadband diffusion. That’s been a point that many of us made in the past when critiquing grand plans for muni wi-fi nirvana that all seemed to be premised on the “if-you-build-it-they-will-come” theory of economics. We’re now realizing the cost of that hubris. It’s one thing for private companies to be forced to eat the expense of over-estimating demand, it’s quite another when taxpayers might be on the line for the mistake.

Here’s conservative Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee on the REAL ID Act:

. . . REAL ID, that’s a huge mistake. It’s putting a burden on a state that should not be the state’s function, which is to provide the frontline of national security defense at the hands of a DMV worker at a state office. That’s absurd. And then not funding it. That’s a real problem. If you’re going to have federal program then the feds ought to pay for it.