At the Consumer Electronic Show two weeks ago, Netflix announced that it would block consumer access to high definition and 3D movies (HD) for customers of Internet service providers (ISPs) that Netflix disfavors. Netflix’s goal is to coerce ISPs into paying for a free Internet fast lane for Netflix content. If Netflix succeeds, it would harm Internet consumers and competition among video streaming providers. It would also fundamentally alter the economics and openness of the Internet, “where consumers make their own choices about what applications and services to use and are free to decide what content they want to access, create, or share with others.”
Ironically, Netflix’s strategy is a variant of the doomsday narrative spun by net neutrality activists over the last decade. Their narrative assumes ISPs will use their gatekeeper control to block their customers from accessing Internet content distributed by competitors. Of course, ISPs have never blocked consumer access to competitive Internet content. Now that the FCC has distorted the Internet marketplace through the adoption of asymmetric net neutrality rules, Netflix, the dominant streaming video provider, has decided to block consumer access to its content.
Written by Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.
It had the makings of a shockingly reasonable legislative bargain: Two outdated federal privacy statutes would be reformed together, removing some unnecessarily stringent restrictions on sharing video records while finally imposing a clear warrant requirement for government searches of e-mail and other private files stored in the “cloud.” Then Congress, perhaps in homage to Darth Vader, decided to alter the deal: A bill weakening the Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988 has been sent to the president for his signature, but without the corresponding badly-needed reforms to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986.
Three rings for the broadcast-kings filling the sky,
Seven for the cable-lords in their head-end halls,
Nine for the telco-men doomed to die,
One for the White House to make its calls
On Capitol Hill where the powers lie,
One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them,
One ring to bring them all and without the Court bind them,
On Capitol Hill where the powers lie.
Myths resonate because they illustrate existential truths. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythical tale, the Lord of the Rings, the evil Lord Sauron imbued an otherwise very ordinary ring – the “One Ring”– with an extraordinary power: It could influence thought. When Sauron wore the One Ring, he could control the lords of the free peoples of Middle Earth through lesser “rings of power” he helped create. The extraordinary power of the One Ring was also its weakness: It eventually corrupted all who wore it, even those with good intentions. This duality is the central truth in Tolkien’s tale.
It is also central to current debates about freedom of expression and the Internet.
Given the rate at which telephone companies are losing customers when they cannot raise prices as a regulatory matter, it is preposterous to continue presuming that they could raise prices as an economic matter.
Today, the United States Telecom Association (USTA) asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to declare that incumbent telephone companies are no longer monopolies. Ten years ago, when most households had “plain old telephone service,” this request would have seemed preposterous. Today, when only one in three homes have a phone line, it is merely stating the obvious: Switched telephone service has no market power at all.
The FCC already knows that plain old telephone service is no longer a “dominant” service (“dominance” is more likely when a service has a market share exceeding 60%). Last year, the FCC’s Technological Advisory Council found that the legacy, circuit switched telephone network “no longer functions as a universal communications infrastructure” and telephone service “does not provide anything close to the services and capabilities” of wired and wireless broadband Internet access services.
Honorable mentions go to New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission for driving out Uber’s online taxi-hailing service and to automobile dealers’ groups in four states for trying to have Tesla dealerships declared illegal. But the grand prize in this week’s unexpectedly heated competition for most creative use of government to stifle innovation has to go to Minnesota.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the state has decided to crack down on free education, notifying California-based startup Coursera that it is not allowed to offer its online courses to the state’s residents. Coursera, founded by Stanford computer science professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, partners with top-tier universities around the world to offer certain classes online for free to anyone who wants to take them. You know, unless they happen to be from Minnesota.
Yesterday evening, the House — acting a day earlier than scheduled — passed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) in the face of opposition from the White House and a skeptical Internet community:
The House on Thursday approved cybersecurity legislation that privacy groups have decried as a threat to civil liberties.
The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA, sponsored by Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Michigan) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Maryland), passed on a vote of 248 to 168.
Its goal is a more secure internet, but privacy groups fear the measure breaches Americans’ privacy along the way. The White House had weighed in on Wednesday, threatening a veto unless there were significant changes to increase consumer privacy. The bill was amended to provide more privacy protections, but it was not immediately clear whether the Senate or the White House would give the amended bill its blessing.
After the unprecedented protests throughout the internet, one might think that Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) would figure out that perhaps folks take the internet pretty seriously. One might think that…but they would apparently be wrong.
Another day, another threat to internet freedom. According to International Business Times, beloved Texas Representative Lamar Smith is the author of a new bill that includes extreme surveillance provisions, and a name that will make opponents sound like criminals: H.R. 1981 (bump that last digit up three times for a more fitting title), or the ‘Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011.’
The new name has outraged many opponents of SOPA and other bills that could bring more government control to the internet, like PIPA and ACTA. It’s hard to imagine the whole world turning out against a bill with the words ‘protect’ and ‘children’ in the title, regardless of the actual contents of the bill.
In the words of Business Insider’s David Seaman, it’s “just a B.S. name so that politicians in the House and Senate are strong-armed into voting for it, even though it contains utterly insane 1984-style Big Brother surveillance provisions.” Ouch.
You know, letting corporations donate to political campaigns and have free speech rights will destroy the country. Giving corporations the right to speech, like us, is a monumental threat to democracy. They would make us all beholden to the 1%. They would buy campaigns, transform this country into a plutocracy or, worse yet, a full blown corporatocracy. Who knows what terrible things they could do to our country. Why, with their money and resources, they would be able to warp and corrupt public opinion, and turn them against the government. They might even lead a campaign to stop online censorship!
I find it somewhat amusing that the progressives who railed against Citizens United so furiously are now finding themselves the beneficiaries of that decision. Citizens United allowed corporations and such organizations as unions to spend money on political campaigns, though they could not be donated to political parties or candidates, and had to be spent separately. What else was the SOPA Strike Wednesday but a political campaign, with Hollywood on one end trying to use the political system to do away with due process in order to reap more profits, and tech companies and grassroots citizen-activists on the other trying to prevent such a mockery of law? I’m not a legal expert, but it would appear to me that if Citizens United hadn’t been decided the way it were, and the McCain-Feingold Act was still in place, this campaign might not have gotten off the ground, or if it did, it might not have been as wildly successful as it was.
Most times, petitions, protests, and the like to seem to have very little effect. People protested against the Iraq War, but we went in. People protested against TARP and the bailouts, but we bailed them out anyways. People protested against Obamacare, and it was passed anyways.
Today is different.
Judging from the news I’ve been seeing, it appears that the SOPA Strike is having an appreciable effect. I’ve already noted that Sens. Rubio and Cornyn, two sponsors, have switched sides on the bill. Declan MuCullough over at CNet reports that there is even more antipathy than I previously thought:
Rep. John Carter, [R-Mars? -Ed.] a Texas Republican who is listed as a SOPA sponsor, “reserves judgment on the final bill,” a spokesman told CNET today. “He’s certainly not saying pass the bill as-is — there are legitimate concerns in this bill.” (See CNET’s FAQ on the topic.)
The home pages of Craigslist and Google feature exhortations to contact members of Congress and urge them to vote against the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Senate version called Protect IP. Amazon.com and Yahoo’s Flickr have also joined in. (Craiglist’s snarky note: “Corporate paymasters, KEEP THOSE CLAMMY HANDS OFF THE INTERNET!”)
New York senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats who are Protect IP sponsors, sent CNET a joint statement saying: “While the threat to tens of thousands of New York jobs due to online piracy is real and must be addressed, it must be done in a way that allows the Internet and our tech companies to continue to flourish.” They said they believe “both sides can come together on a solution that satisfies their respective concerns.”
Welcome, United Liberty readers! Today we are solely focusing on the evil that is #SOPA and #PIPA, the two bills that are in Congress and aiming to destroy the Internet. Thousands of websites are going dark to protest, including such giants as reddit, BoingBoing, Mozilla, Wordpress.com, Scribd, and Wikipedia. Google is also joining in, though they aren’t going completely dark, they’re putting notifications on their front page, which will help the protest get a lot more attention.
If you’re new here, or you’re new to the whole SOPA and PIPA debate in general and want to know more about why these bills plainly suck, you’re in the right place. But rather than reinvent the blogging wheel, I’m instead going to give credit where credit is due, and direct you to Mashable’s Chris Heald, who has done an absolutely fantastic job dissecting these bills and showing you why they are some of the worst things that have ever been put before Congress (after the horrific NDAA, of course.)
The post is very long, because it dissects them so thoroughly. Here are some highlights I want to share with you, that I think are most applicable:
We’ll expand on this further down, but the really scary thing here is that there isn’t any qualification that the site be solely for the purpose of theft, only that it facilitate it. Since copyright violation is ridiculously easy, any site with a comment box or picture upload form is potentially infringing. Furthermore, DMCA Safe Harbor provisions are no defense. You, as a site operator, become liable for copyright infringement committed by your users, even if you comply with DMCA takedown requests.