Harper Government should consider NDP tech policies

That’s the title of my Slaw post for today.  It reads as follows.

For the record, I don’t support the NDP, and their fiscal policies are plain scary. But that doesn’t mean that their viewpoints on everything ought to be ignored. The NDP tech policies on issues such as net neutrality, usage based billing, and copyright are in many ways more compelling than the Conservative policies. Now that the Conservatives have a majority and don’t have to fight for their existence every day – lets hope they take a step back, take a deep breath, and take a fresh approach to tech issues.

The prosperous future of Canada is to a great extent dependant on the use of technology, the internet and wireless access, and all things digital. That is true for consumers, for business, and for innovators. It is important to have policies that foster that. That point will no doubt be made repeatedly at the Canada 3.0 Conference taking place today and tomorrow.

On the proposed lawful access bill for example. Either drop it all together, or take another serious look at it. Mr. Harper has said that the rights of ordinary citizens should be more valued than the rights of criminals. So recognize that individuals have privacy rights that ought to trump the ability for law enforcement to go on random warrant-less fishing expeditions into our digital lives. If that isn’t a good enough reason, recent data breaches should teach us that the easiest way to prevent a data breach is not to have the data in the first place. Don’t tempt fate by requiring service providers to retain information on customers that is not needed to provide their services. As well, requirements to retain data are in effect an additional tax on the tech sector.

Copyright reform has been a hot topic for years, with many controversial bills being drafted but never passed. One of the issues that concern many of us are provisions that support digital locks. Those provisions do more harm than good, and in essence turn copyright policymaking over to rights holders. There is also the appearance – reinforced by recent wikileaks documents – that too much consideration is being given to the pressures of foreign entertainment lobbies and governments. The NDP policy on copyright merits consideration when drafting the next bill, as it seems to take a more balanced made in Canada consumer friendly approach.

Net neutrality controversial topic

For the London Free Press – October 19, 2009

Read this on Canoe

INTERNET CONTENT: There’s considerable debate in Canada and the United States about how much control Internet service providers should have over content

Net neutrality is a controversial topic that causes concern for Internet activists.

Net (or network) neutrality essentially means that those who control the Internet (Internet service providers, or ISPs) shouldn’t favour one person’s content over another. Think of it as a code of ethics for fair operation of the Internet.

Sounds simple enough, but it’s a complex and controversial area.

Supporters of net neutrality are far-reaching and include prominent and influential members of the Internet community.

For some — particularly ISPs — it is an issue they would prefer would just go away. ISPs often take the position that a certain amount of control over delivery of Internet traffic is necessary for efficient operation of the ‘Net.

Net neutrality focuses on the concern that ISPs filter or degrade certain content in favour of other content. Proponents feel discrimination of Internet content should be prohibited.

The issue really shouldn’t be about traffic discrimination as a concept, but over when it is or is not acceptable, and how it is done.

The CRTC held hearings on Internet traffic management practices last summer. It has yet to render an opinion on the matter.

The net neutrality controversy in the United States became prominent in August 2008 when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ordered Comcast to stop blocking peer-to-peer applications.

Comcast went to court, arguing that the FCC could not order the company to treat Internet traffic in a specific way. That matter has yet to be heard.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski recently proposed wide-ranging rules for regulating how ISPs and wireless carriers can handle the subscribers’ traffic.

In the past, the FCC has provided guidelines on the prohibition of blocking certain traffic and pushing for net neutrality, but this was the first time actual rules were to be enacted.

The proposal was passed, but it will be months before final rules are be created.

U.S. President Barack Obama believes “well-crafted” regulations of the Internet would encourage investment and innovation.

Net neutrality proponents agree and want to protect the equal treatment of all types of data available to users on the Internet.

The proposed formal rules would ensure that Internet carriers cannot discriminate against certain Internet traffic by blocking service. Wireless carriers will also be subject to the rules.

But Republican senators disagreed. Such critics of net neutrality maintain the negative actions of one such carrier should not lead to such far-reaching consequences for the entire marketplace.

The Republican criticism is based on the fear of stifling investment incentives as the business of ISPs becomes hampered by government directives.

Critics also argue that the FCC decision prematurely draws conclusions about the effects of net neutrality and state that the “facts do not clearly demonstrate that a problem needs to be remedied.”

Similarly, the top executive at AT&T has said that in the absence of any “compelling evidence of problems or abuse,” the company would be disappointed if Washington enacted such rules.

CRTC network management hearings over – decision in a few months

Michael has a post summarizing his thoughts on the hearings.

I follow this subject from a distance out of interest – but it strikes me that one of the reasons we get such varied views and suspicions is that the facts are not always clear.  Of course, there will always be differences of opinion between those espousing the  fundamental theoretical philosophies of the internet, and the commercial interests of those that actually make the investments and provide connectivity.  But having an open, factual dialogue goes a long way to reach common ground.  Hopefully the hearings gave the CRTC what they need to do that.

CRTC network management hearings – congestion or competition?

The network management hearings continue.  And Michael’s coverage continues.  One of the interesting fundamental issues that has emerged is whether network management is about congestion or competition.  It seems that proponents talk about the need to deal with congestion, while opponents talk about the unfairness of using network management to provide a competitive advantage. 

Distinctions are also being made about management at the wholesale vs retail levels.   And whether the issue is that it happens at all, or whether its OK if it happens so long as the practices are disclosed.  Which leads to the arguement that disclosing means nothing if all the suppliers do the same thing.

It sounds like the quality of the submissions is high – so hopefully that will lead to a well thought out decision in the end.

CRTC network management – aka net neutrality – hearings underway

The CRTC’s network managemement hearings began yesterday.  A CBC article summarizes the scope of the hearing as:

“The CRTC is trying to develop guidelines for internet service providers on acceptable ways of managing internet traffic and congestion, taking into account both the freedom individuals to use the internet as they wish and the interests of ISPs to manage their networks.

The commission is focusing mainly on the questions:

  • What internet traffic management practices are acceptable and should any be considered as completely unacceptable?
  • Should ISPs disclose their practices and, if so, in what form?
  • Does the use of internet technologies for the purpose of internet traffic management raise privacy concerns?
  • Is the application of certain internet traffic management practices to wholesale services appropriate?
  • Is there a need for the commission to specify what practices are acceptable in relation to wireless service providers?
  • What analytical framework should the CRTC adopt in relation to internet traffic management practices and section 36 of the Telecommunications Act?

It will avoid dealing with its November decision to allow Bell to continue to continue throttling the customers of smaller ISPs that buy network access from it, as the decision is under appeal.”

For ongoing analysis, follow Michael Geist, who summarizes the first day’s hearing here.   If you want to follow this as it unfolds, Michael’s article has links to a liveblog and twitter feed.

For earlier information on this subject, search “crtc” and “network neutrality” on my blog.

CRTC throttling / network neutrality submissions

The CRTC refused to grant CAIP’s (Canadian Association of Internet Providers) requested interim injunction to stop Bell’s throttling of internet traffic, but has published a plan to consider the issue in detail. Anyone concerned about this issue has until Jun 12 to file comments.

The CRTC stated that they expect to rule by late September. The good news is that the CRTC is taking a serious look at the issue – which has the potential to affect how we all use the Internet.

If you are not familiar with this issue, take a look at previous entries under “network neutrality” in my tag cloud.

Read the CRTC letter

Read Michael’s take on this

Network Neutrality – traffic shaping – throttling

The issue of network neutrality has been simmering for a while in Canada, but as Michael Geist points out, recent events may bring more attention to this issue.

In particular, Bell’s traffic shaping policies. This issue has the potential to affect how we all use the Internet. Michael’s post is worth a read, along with a couple of his immediately previous posts. More info can also be found in some of my previous posts that can be found by clicking on “network neutrality” in my tag cloud.

Read Michael’s post

Is secret favouritism ruining Net?

For the London Free Press – January 14, 2008

Read this on Canoe

Net neutrality is a topic that continues to simmer and remain a going concern for some Internet activists, while for others, including Internet service providers (ISPs), it’s a non-issue and something critics and fear-mongers are espousing to create problems.

Net neutrality is a principle, or code of ethics, for the fair and open operation of the World Wide Web. It focuses on the concern that ISPs are filtering or degrading certain content in favour of others.

In an example used by many advocates in various forms, net neutrality has been compared to the follow scenario:

“It would be like calling Joe’s Pizza and having the phone company tell you that since Joe hadn’t paid for guaranteed connections to you, that you’d have to wait three minutes before they’d put the call though — but you can talk to a Domino’s operator right now if you’d like.”

The web activists are concerned that the smaller content provider’s quality and access are being degraded by ISPs in order to service larger clients, or to favour the ISP’s own competing service.

There is also a concern by some that certain areas of the Internet, or certain ports or access points, are being restricted, due to what the ISPs call bandwidth management, but what web activists see as interference and non-neutral conduct.

One promoter of net neutrality is the foundation called People for Internet Responsibility. They have started an online blog called Net Neutrality Squad, at www.nnsquad.org, where people are invited to discuss what net neutrality is, what needs to be done and what kind of conduct needs to be halted.

This foundation is comprised of prominent members of the online world, including Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist.com, and Vinton Cerf, who is sometimes referred to as the “father of the Internet.”

At the core of this issue is the discriminating practice of traffic flow, as illustrated in the Joe’s Pizza example.

The practice of degrading VOIP traffic while promoting the ISP’s, or a third party’s service creates a false market, in that customers are left with little choice but to go with the larger ISPs and the services the ISPs favour, to be guaranteed the quality and service customers want.

ISPs tend to say this is not an issue, and talk about the need to shape traffic for efficient Internet operation. They tend to talk around, not about, the discriminatory accusations.

There is an ongoing push to create legislation to prevent the practice that net neutrality proponents abhor. So far, attempts to legislate controls in North America have been unsuccessful.

The push has even met with some resistance from the Net Neutrality Squad, who say there needs to be a consensus about net neutrality online before legislators can move in and take control.

It remains to be seen what will happen, but this matter will keep on simmering until some kind of manageable solution is achieved for all parties.

Prediction: Copyright reform a hot button

For the London Free Press

Read this on Canoe

For this first column of 2008, I will hazard some predictions for the coming year.

The upcoming copyright reform bill will cause some heated debates. Expectations are that the bill will include reforms desired by entertainment industry lobby groups. That’s despite those types of laws proving to be ineffective in the U.S, and having a chilling effect on innovation.

The Supreme Court of Canada promotes a balanced approach to copyright that protects creator rights, but also looks at user rights and expectations. Recent studies show that music downloading may actually increase music sales. Ironically, the very reforms the powerful entertainment industry lobbies desire are probably not in their best interests.

The bill was expected to be introduced in December but was delayed following a groundswell of opposition, including a Facebook group against the bill that generated 20,000 members in its first two weeks.

On the privacy front, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) went through an extensive review process in 2007. It does not look like amendments will happen in the short term. That will disappoint those who want to make public notice of the loss of personal information mandatory.

Unfortunately, we will continue to see data security breaches for reasons ranging from lax governance and security measures to apathy and a fundamental lack of understanding by individuals of the ramifications of their actions.

Virtual worlds such as Second Life — where people join an online world with their own avatar or persona — will lead to more real world lawsuits and controversy as we struggle with how real world laws should apply to the virtual world. While this may seem bizarre, people invest real time and money in the virtual world. Rights to virtual property are no less important to many in the virtual world than in the real world.

There will be more debate as to what extent real world laws should apply to things done in virtual worlds that are not allowed in the real world. No one would suggest, for example, that one should face real-world repercussions for virtual world traffic offences. The debate will more likely be framed around offences regarding the exploitation of, or inappropriate behaviour toward, children.

The debates will also consider the responsibility those creating the virtual worlds have towards unacceptable or inappropriate behaviour. Who gets to decide what is unacceptable or inappropriate? Should the creator of the virtual world have a responsibility to control that? If they take actions to control that, are they subject to repercussions from those they control?

The network neutrality debate will continue, but probably not be resolved. Net neutrality deals with the ability of Internet service providers to control traffic in ways that might, for example, downgrade the performance of competing VOIP products compared to their own. Internet service providers tend to talk about the need for network efficiency, but downplay the tough questions about competing services and payments for prioritized traffic.

This is another one of those user versus provider/creator debates that tends to get mired in rhetoric, making it difficult to get to a principled solution.