Thursday, February 28, 2008

Carriers Provide Broadband Access, not 'Internet Service'

Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, gave an address at a meeting convened by the Federal Communications Commission at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, MA on Feb. 25, 2008 concerning Net neutrality.

Markey is a long-time advocate for Internet freedom, fighting with big telecom companies over commercialization of the Internet since its inception, supporting flat-fee pricing to encourage competition, growth and open use.

In his address, Markey points out that the Internet belongs to all of us--both the carriers and the users. A key point he brings out is that the job of the carriers is to provide broadband access to the Internet, not Internet service.

"Much like the policy debate over access charges on information services at the FCC two decades ago--the key question for safeguarding the Internet is recognition that the nature of the Net is really not about services provided by carriers themselves. They don't provide 'Internet services'--they provide broadband access to the Internet."

By administering network management tools, carriers constrain broadband access to the Internet--the very thing thing they are licensed by the FCC, and being paid by customers, to provide.

He agrees that problems may arise until bandwidth increases sufficiently to address the needs of the users. Yet, stifling use is not the answer. Broadband competition is necessary to promote affordable, high-speed Internet access.

"Perhaps if we had multiple competitors or super-high bandwidth to residential consumers this wouldn't be an issue. The problem today is that we have neither sufficient competition nor affordable, truly high-speed access to the Internet. I fully support and celebrate efforts by industry participants to deliver ever higher bandwidth speeds to consumers and have battled in Washington to ensure that policies are in place to make sure these key infrastructure assets are deployed over time to all neighborhoods in a given community."

"If the lack of bandwidth is plaguing network operations and posing policy issues needlessly, then the Commission would do well to re-examine broadband policies with a goal of jump-starting competition. Through broadband competition, consumers can reap the benefits of lower prices, higher speeds, and enhanced service quality. Certainly, wireless policy, universal service mechanisms, and other tools can also promote high-speed broadband deployment and affordability, but I continue to believe that competition should be our preferred policy for alleviating the current broadband policy issues of speed and affordability."

Markey urges the Commission to evaluate broadband policies to encourage competition. He also stresses that the Commission should examine corporate intent and practice of the 'reasonable measures' implemented to solve broadband dilemmas to determine whether carriers intend to utilize these measures temporarily or make them permanent for commercial advantage.

In closing, he reminds us that the Internet is still evolving and that Net freedoms should be consumer-centric. The Net is the promise for the future.

"The promise for the future is the Net's ability to enhance education, health care delivery, celebrate free speech, mitigate against the problems caused by concentration in traditional media, foster innovation, job creation, and spur economic growth."

To read Representative Markey's speech, go to:
Feb. 25, 2008--Markey: Broadband Deployment, Internet Freedom Go Hand-in-Hand

Rep. Markey supports a Net neutrality bill, the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008, recently introduced in congress, which will promote freely accessible content, applications, and services, and will force carriers to provide standalone as well as bundled services.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Global Seed Vault to Protect Seeds from Around the Globe

In a stunning global achievement made possible by the Global Crop Diversity Trust, an organization with the mission "to ensure the conservation and availability of crop diversity for food security worldwide," on February 26, 2008, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, nicknamed the 'Doomsday Vault' officially opened.

Located within the Arctic Circle on Spitsbergen Island, 620,000 miles from the North Pole, in an area that is completely dark 4 months out of the year, deep underground beneath thick layers of permafrost and encased by thick rocks, in specially sealed boxes and held at a temperature of minus 18 degrees Celsius, up to 4.5 million seed samples, representing agriculture biodiversity from around the globe, will be held in what is being called the 'ultimate safety network' for preserving crop diversity and securing the promise of restarting agricultural growth in the case of disaster, climate change, war, disease, or human mismanagement.

The Vault was built to withstand earthquakes and nuclear attacks, and even in a worse-case, global warming scenario, would remain frozen for 200 years.

Owned by Norway's government, the Global Seed Vault was established as a service to the world to protect and ensure survival of what some consider the 'world's most important natural resource'.

In retrospect, establishment of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault may beome acknowledged as one of the most significant achievements of this century.

To learn more about the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, visit the Global Crop Diversity Trust website.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Should we use our right to 'fair use'?

This is an interesting question. I am a member of two writing groups, and copyrights, fair use and intellectual property rights have been topics of much discussion lately. While copyright and intellectual issues are complicated and confusing, the area of fair use is a downright muddled mess.

To see what I mean by this statement, go to Ivan Hoffman's website and read his articles on fair use: Fair Use and Fair Use: Further, Further Issues

The laws surrounding fair use are vague. There exist no fixed criteria such as a specific percentage of the body of work quoted or word count, and the courts decide each case based on individual circumstances. So, should a writer use a quote or snippet of another person's material in their work?

Members of both writing groups, many who are established, professional writers and publishers, strongly warn against this practice without getting permission from the copyright holder due to the risk of a lawsuit. As one individual pointed out, lawsuites are messy and expensive, thus, due to cost, the person sued loses even if they win the suit. One member pointed out that as a writer and journalist she uses quotes and bits from other's work constantly, and that this practice is both acceptable and legal under current laws. Another member gave an example of how his use of copyrighted material fell under the provision of fair use for educational purposes. However, even in these cases where the use clearly fell squarely within the defined limits of fair use, members within the group gave words of caution. The laws, thy pointed out, are just too unclear, the rulings of the courts too erratic.

How have we come to this point of having the right to use fair use, but do so with fear and uncertainty?

Neil Netanel has an essay titled, Why Has Copyright Expanded? Analysis and Critique, available in a free, downloadable PDF at
This essay delves into this issue, giving explanations on how powerful copyright holders have forced expansion of their rights through vigorous lobbying and by influencing legislation.

Bruce Kushnick has a fascinating article, located on Nieman Watchdog website, titled, How much of your state's legislation is being drafted by industry? Kushnick describes how the American Legislative Council (ALEC), a group funded by corporations, writes bills that serve the industry, gives donations and perks to legislators, and the legislators introduce and get the bills enacted. Yet, somehow, this is all legal, and since ALEC is listed as a nonprofit organization, taxpayers wind up footing the bill for the promotion of legislation which serves the corporations ALEC represent.

Copyright holder's power may increase a bit more. The House of Representatives recently introduced the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectural Property (PRO-IP) Act,H.R.4279. This act, if passed, will futher intensify enforcement of copyright, trademarks and patent laws and increase civil and criminal penalties and seizures for copyright infringement. A key issue in this bill is that this enforcement will target not only registered, but also unregistered intellectual property. I have to ask myself how the government intends to monitor intellectual property rights of everything unregistered. Will we see legal ISP filtering searching for, well, everything on the Net, registered and unregistered?

Going back to Neil Netanel's essay. He discusses how the current political course of associating the term 'private property' with a connotation of 'absolute right' is changing public perception of copyright to absolute right.

"The metaphors used to describe social practices and legal rules have a powerful impact on people's perception of them. For that reason, the copyright industry has assiduously promoted the notion that copyright is 'property' and that all who make unlicensed use of copyrighted material are 'pirates' or 'thieves'."

Nathanel points out that the lower courts are showing a trend toward treating intellectual property and physical property as equal. This line of thinking, he states, leads to a belief that copyright holders should have absolute control over copyrighted material and that any use of copyrighted material is a special circumstance.

Just today, in discussions in one writing group, one member made the statement that it was easy for people around the world to, "steal our copyrighted material". While there may be validity in his statement, the use of the word 'steal' indicated the brainwashing could be taking effect.

To quote Neil Nethanel:

"Copyright is meant to spur creativity and expressive diversity. When it has the opposite effect--when authors cannot freely build upon their predecessors' works in creating new expression and when copyright serves as a tool for entrenching media conglomerates--something has gone awry."