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December 31 2013

Four short links: 31 December 2013

  1. Toyota Manufacturing Principles (Joseph Cohen) — Jidoka: Automation with a Human Touch. The idea of jidoka is that humans should work with machines to produce the best possible outcome, leveraging the execution ability of a machine and the judgement of a human. We at O’R Radar have been saying for years that there’s gold in the collaboration between people and machines, about augmenting people and not simply replacing them.
  2. Twisterthe fully decentralized P2P microblogging platform leveraging from the free software implementations of Bitcoin and BitTorrent protocols. Interesting to see BT and BC reused as platforms for app development, though if eventual consistency and threading Heisenbugs gave you headaches then just wait for the world of Bitcoin-meets-BitTorrent….
  3. Free Uncopyrighted NDA and Employment Contracts — CC0′d legalware.
  4. Transcript of Glenn Greenwald’s Speech to CCC — the relationship of privacy to security, and the transparency of governmental positions on that relationship, remain unaddressed. NSA’s actions are being used to establish local governmental control of the Internet, which will destroy the multistakeholder model that has kept net architecture and policy largely separate from the whims of elected officials. The fallout of Snowden’s revelations will shape 2014. Happy New Year.

November 22 2013

Moby erlaubt kommerzielle Nutzung seiner kostenlosen Musik

Der amerikanische Musiker Moby veröffentlicht dieser Tage sein neuestes Album mit dem Titel „Innocents“ als kostenlos erhältliches „Bundle“ beim Datenverteildienst Bit Torrent. Dies allein ist für Branchenkenner nicht überraschend, da Moby seine Musik schon seit Jahren frei abgibt und dies auch propagiert. Doch nun erlaubt er auch explizit deren kommerzielle Nutzung. Darauf weist das US-Magazin Techdirt hin.

Bereits seit etwa fünf Jahren bietet Moby auf mobygratis.com kostenlose Stücke an. Die Webseite richtet sich in erster Linie an unabhängige Film- und Videoproduzenten: diese dürfen und sollen seine kostenlose Musik für ihre Arbeit nutzen – und die fertigen Werke dann (auch) auf seine Plattform hochladen.

Jetzt erlaubt der 48-jährige, der auch als DJ und Produzent aktiv ist, dass man seine Musik frei benutzen, bearbeiten und eigene Remixe dann auch verkaufen kann. Das zeigt eine Offenheit, die über den guten Willen der meisten seiner Musikerkollegen deutlich hinaus geht, die hier und da mal Tracks, mitunter auch Alben kostenlos ins Netz stellen.

In einem Interview mit dem Online-Magazin Mashable begründet er diese Herangehensweise damit, dass man seiner Meinung nach kulturelles Schaffen in der digitalen Welt durch Einschränkungen und Kontrollen nur ausbremse. Die „demokratische Anarchie“ der Online-Welt hingegen fördere das Schöpferische, sie wirke bereichernd. Seiner Ansicht nach haben daher jene, die Musik weiter bearbeiten und etwas Neues schaffen, es sich verdient, sich dafür auch direkt belohnen zu können:

„In the world of culture, it’s more interesting to err on the side of openness as opposed to the side of restriction. Imposing restrictions on content seems like a fool’s errand. It’s incredibly difficult and arbitrary. … My approach is to not try and control it at all. I really like the idea of not just giving people finished content. It’s giving them something that if they choose to they can manipulate and play with however they want. There’s absolutely no restrictions on it and that makes me happy. When people try to control content in the digital world, there’s something about that that seems kind of depressing to me. The most interesting results happen when there is no control. I love the democratic anarchy of the online world.“

Für Moby haben außerdem Streamingplattformen wie Spotify, Pandora oder Soundcloud – obwohl sie den Musikern nur sehr geringe Erlöse einbrächten – durchaus positive Seiten. Sie böten auf der einen Seite dem Publikum einen bequemen Zugang zu Musik, und machen auf der anderen Seite Musiker einem größeren Publikum bekannt. Das Jammern mancher Kollegen, wie etwa Thom Yorkes, der seine Musik kürzlich demonstrativ von Spotify zurückzog, könne er nicht verstehen:

„Every industry has been impacted by [changes in technology] in both negative and positive ways, but I feel like to complain is pointless. I love Thom Yorke, but when I heard him complaining about Spotify, I’m like, ‘You’re just like an old guy yelling at fast trains.’ I love anything that enables people to have more music in their lives.“

Grund genug für ihn, sich beim Branchenverband RIAA und im amerikanischen Kongress dafür einzusetzen, Streamingdienste nicht einzuschränken.

August 14 2013

April 24 2013

Four short links: 24 April 2013

  1. Solar Energy: This is What a Disruptive Technology Looks Like (Brian McConnell) — In 1977, solar cells cost upwards of $70 per Watt of capacity. In 2013, that cost has dropped to $0.74 per Watt, a 100:1 improvement (source: The Economist). On average, solar power improves 14% per year in terms of energy production per dollar invested.
  2. Process Managers — overview of the tools that keep your software running.
  3. Bittorrent Sync — Dropbox-like features, BitTorrent under the hood.
  4. Brython — Python interpreter written in Javascript, suitable for embedding in webpages. (via Nelson Minar)

February 27 2013

Four short links: 27 February 2013

  1. Open Source Cancer Informatics Software (NCIP) — we have tackled the main recommendation that came out of our June meeting with open-source thought leaders: Keep it simple. Make barriers to entry as low as possible, and reuse available resources. Specifically, we have adopted a software license that is approved by the Open Source Initiative (OSI) and have begun to migrate the code developed under the cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid® (caBIG®) Program to a public repository. Our goal in taking these steps is to remove as many barriers as possible to community participation in the continuing development of these assets. Awesome! (via John Scott)
  2. NPR’s Framework for Easy Apps — their three architectural maxims: Servers are for chumps; If it doesn’t work on mobile, it doesn’t work; and Build for use. Refactor for reuse..
  3. Random Junk in People’s Labs (Reddit) — reminded me of the contents of my “tmp” and “Downloads” and “Documents” directories: unstructured historical crap with no expiration and no current use. (Caution: swearing in the title of the Reddit post) (via Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi)
  4. Sync — BitTorrent’s alpha-level tech to “automatically sync files between computers via secure, distributed technology.” Not only is it “slick for alpha” (as one friend described), it’s bloody useful: I know at least one multimillion-dollar project built on their own homegrown implementation of this same idea. (via Jason Ryan)

January 14 2013

Four short links: 14 January 2013

  1. Open Source MetricsTalking about the health of the project based on a single metric is meaningless. It is definitely a waste of time to talk about the health of a project based on metrics like number of software downloads and mailing list activities. Amen!
  2. BitTorrent To Your TVThe first ever certified BitTorrent Android box goes on sale today, allowing users to stream files downloaded with uTorrent wirelessly to their television. The new set-top box supports playback of all popular video formats and can also download torrents by itself, fully anonymously if needed. (via Andy Baio)
  3. Tumblr URL Culture — the FOO.tumblr.com namespace is scarce and there’s non-financial speculation. People hoard and trade URLs, whose value is that they say “I’m cool and quirky”. I’m interested because it’s a weird largely-invisible Internet barter economy. Here’s a rant against it. (via Beta Knowledge)
  4. Design-Fiction Slider Bar of Disbelief (Bruce Sterling) — I love the list as much as the diagram. He lays out a sliding scale from “objective reality” to “holy relics” and positions black propaganda, 419 frauds, design pitches, user feedback, and software code on that scale (among many other things). Bruce is an avuncular Loki, pulling you aside and messing with your head for your own good.

November 19 2012

June 08 2012

Visualization of the Week: Global BitTorrent usage

This week's visualization comes from BitTorrent, the San Francisco-based company responsible for the peer-to-peer BitTorrent protocol.

BitTorrent's visualization is a time-lapsed movie with some 60 million global clients logging in over a 24-hour period. Each frame represents six minutes of real time. "Each time a pixel lights up," writes BitTorrent's Kara Murphy, "it's a client (either BitTorrent or µTorrent) in that square of the world checking in with our servers."

The video (embedded below) was inspired by NASA's Earth at Night, where electric lights at nighttime highlight the highly populated and developed regions of the world.

The data for the visualization comes from GeoIP lookups from the company's access logs.

Found a great visualization? Tell us about it

This post is part of an ongoing series exploring visualizations. We're always looking for leads, so please drop a line if there's a visualization you think we should know about.

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More Visualizations:

May 18 2012

Publishing News: No dismissal for Apple, Macmillan and Penguin

gavel.pngThis week brought a couple of important updates in the lawsuits against Apple, Macmillan and Penguin. First, the antitrust lawsuit filed by 16 States' Attorneys General saw 17 more states jump in, and several new details came to light as previously redacted content was made public in the amended complaint. Laura Hazard Owen takes a look at the highlights over at PaidContent, including how the Big Five got holdout publisher Six to get on board:

"E-mails to Barnes & Noble: Once five publishers and Apple had enacted agency pricing, the complaint says the five publishers 'worked together to force' Random House to adopt it as well. On March 4, 2010, in an exchange also identified in the DOJ's filing, Penguin CEO David Shanks sent Barnes & Noble's then-CEO Steve Riggio an e-mail reading in part, 'Random House has chosen to stay on their current model and will allow retailers to sell at whatever price they wish ... I would hope that [Barnes & Noble] would be equally brutal to Publishers who have thrown in with your competition with obvious disdain for your welfare ... I hope you make Random House hurt like Amazon is doing to people who are looking out for the overall welfare of the publishing industry.'"

Jane Litte over at Dear Author has a thorough analysis of the amended complaint as well, and also covers the second important lawsuit update of the week: U.S. District Judge Denise Cote denied Apple, Penguin, and Macmillan's motion to dismiss the civil class action lawsuit. Litte offers highlights and analysis of both the amended complaint in the states' lawsuit and from Judge Cote's opinion. She says the emphasis on "windowing" — holding back ebook versions of hardcover books in order to sell more of the higher priced editions — is "genius of the DOJ/States' Attorneys General to argue because it sets a pattern of concerted behavior regarding price controls." Litte concludes:

"I think that the defendants (Apple, Penguin and Macmillan) have two options here. Settle now or take their slim chances to jury where I am convinced they will lose and hope that the 2nd Circuit slaps down Judge Cote's per se finding on appeal."

Litte's post is a must-read this week. She also will talk more about the DOJ/States' Attorneys General lawsuits with Kat Meyer on today's Follow the Reader discussion at 4 p.m. eastern on Twitter. You can join in at #followreader.

The future of publishing has a busy schedule.
Stay up to date with Tools of Change for Publishing events, publications, research and resources. Visit us at oreilly.com/toc.

The anti-piracy holy grail?

What if piracy on the Internet could be shut down? That's what Russian-based startup Pirate Pay is aiming to accomplish. The company, which was partially funded by a $100,000 investment from the Microsoft Seed Financing Fund, is targeting its technology at file sharing on BitTorrent. TorrentFreak reports:

"[Pirate Pay] has developed a technology [that] allows them to attack existing BitTorrent swarms, making it impossible for people to share files ... The company doesn't reveal how it works, but they appear to be flooding clients with fake information, masquerading as legitimate peers."

Company CEO Andrei Klimenko talked a bit more in-depth in an interview at Russia Beyond the Headlines:

"It was not so hard to do from inside an I.S.P.'s network. But to turn the technology into global service, we had to convince all I.S.P.s to acquire our solution. This is, what someone could call, mission impossible. So to create a global service, we had to find the way to do it from the cloud. So we needed money for development."

That's where Microsoft came in. In the interview, Klimenko describes the success of the group's first project, protecting the film "Vysotsky. Thanks to God I'm Alive" after its release in December:

"We used a number of servers to make a connection to each and every p2p client that distributed this film. Then Pirate Pay sent specific traffic to confuse these clients about the real I.P. addresses of other clients and to make them disconnect from each other. Not all the goals were reached. But nearly 50,000 users did not complete their downloads."

Whether or not the technology will continue to work in the long term is questionable. The BBC reports: "[University of Cambridge security researcher Richard Clayton], who blogs about such issues, said peer-to-peer networks would eventually adapt, sharing information about 'bogus' peers such as those reportedly utilised by companies like Pirate Pay."

"News you read is different than news you say you read"

In a post at at AdAge Digital, Steve Rubel mused this week on digital media, social sharing and news consumption. Inspired after an executive briefing at Fairfax Media's headquarters in Sydney, he writes:

"'News you read is different than news you say you read,' said Darren Burden, general manager-news and digital publishing for Fairfax, one of Australia's largest companies. The former is driven by what you want or need to know, and the latter by what you want your friends to think.

"Just like that, Burden nailed the psychology that drives subconscious and routine behaviors in the digital age. The media get it. They know that as social networks become a primary pathway to content, news that's crafted to find you must indeed be different from news that's intended for you to find.

"Few companies can execute both styles equally well, however, and the result is a stylistic continental divide as newsrooms tilt toward one or the other."

Rubel's analysis of how various brands are wrestling with the issue is an interesting read. He concludes that content producers are going to need to be "adept in both styles to create the resonance required to stand out in an age with too much content and not enough time."

Related:

December 12 2011

June 22 2011

Developer Week in Review: Start your lawyers!

Summer is here, so it's time to hit the beach and soak up some sun. You know, sun? That bright yellow ball that blinds you whenever you go out for Doritos and Mountain Dew in the middle of a 48-hour hackathon? I'm told it's actually quite pleasant to be around, once you get acclimated to it. Still, probably better to stay inside, avoid the evil day star, and see what's been happening in the World of Geek this week.

Get your lawsuits

Samsung and AppleIn the latest chapter of "As the Smartphone Turns," Samsung has accused Apple of fathering an illegitimate child with it when Samsung had amnesia, gotten as a result of being hit on the head by an old Motorola bag-phone while trying to save RIM from ending up destitute on the street.

Not really, but the realities of Samsung v. Apple are almost as bizarre. This week, a US district judge told Samsung that, no, you don't get to see previews of the iPad 3 and iPhone 5. This comes as Samsung continues to be Apple's largest supplier of semiconductor technologies. There must be some awesome screens set up to let Apple shovel money into Samsung's bank account while at the same time suing them.

Also in "Intellectual Property Gone Wild" news this week, Oracle is evidently asking for (cue Carl Sagan voice) billiuns and billiuns of dollars as penalties in their Java suit against Google, which means that Google might actually need to clean out the petty cash drawer and make a trip to the bank. And Apple has paid off Nokia to settle a long-running patent suit between the two companies. And BitTorrent came under attack this week when they were sued for violating a "submarine" patent on file distribution granted in 2007. Litigation, the growth sector of the American economy!

In related news, I got a notice this week that my own trademark application will be approved in three months if no one objects. Watch out world, I'm gonna have some IP soon, and I'm not afraid to use it!

Please remember to stretch before logging into your PC

Folks have been hacking the Kinect for a while now, hooking it up to all sorts of esoteric devices that aren't XBoxen (and just what is the group noun for an XBox? A Lanparty of XBoxes?). Now Microsoft has decided to make Kinect hacks officially supported, at least if you run Windows. With the release of the Kinect SDK for Windows, developers can finally make desktop users flail around awkwardly, just like their gaming counterparts.

With the release of the SDK, Windows hackers will gain access to a powerful vision recognition system, and it will be interesting to see what the first third-party Windows applications to come out will look like. Somehow, I suspect it'll have something to do with porn ...

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Where were you when the IPv6 turned on?

The one-day IPv6 lovefest earlier this month didn't seem to break anything significant, but on the other hand, it didn't seem to do much to promote the adoption of IPv6 either. Unless you happen to be one of the 12 people on the planet whose ISP allocates and routes IPv6, the only way to know that anything had happened at all was if you had an IPv6 tunnel set up with a broker such as Electric Hurricane.

With the IPv4 space "officially" exhausted, you'd expect there would be more urgency about this issue, but business seems to be proceeding according to the normal human emergency protocol (that's the one where you ignore a problem until it becomes a crisis, then run around like a chicken with it's head cut off). In the meanwhile, there are still quite a few active class A subnets lying around, each with 16 million addresses (here's a list). One must wonder how long it will be before pressure starts to be applied on entities such as HP (which owns two!) to start freeing them up for the good of the net.

Got news?

Please send tips and leads here.



Related:

April 15 2011

Getting your book in front of 160 million users is usually a good thing

Last week, Megan Lisa Jones launched a promotion for her new book "Captive" in a (seemingly) unlikely forum: BitTorrent, a space commonly associated with "piracy." At about a week into her two-week promotion, I checked in with BitTorrent to see how it was going. In an email interview, BitTorrent spokesperson Allison Wagda said that as of 10 am Tuesday, "Captive" had been downloaded 342,242 times.

Though the environment may feel like a strange bedfellow for publishing, the impressive level of exposure for a new book release can't be denied. The marketing appeal of BitTorrent, Wagda said, is two-fold:

The technology and the audience. For larger downloads, BitTorrent is the fastest, easiest way to distribute and download a file to lots of people. And there's no infrastructure cost. Since we have a built-in massive audience, publishers and creators gain a unique ability to engage with users.

For more on how a platform like BitTorrent could be used by publishers, I turned to Matt Mason, director of innovation at Syrup and author of The Pirate's Dilemma. Our interview follows.

What advantages can be gained by staging a promotion through a platform like BitTorrent?

Matt Mason: The real problem for most authors, to quote Tim O'Reilly, isn't piracy, but obscurity. There are millions of books on Amazon, and the average book in the US sells around 500 copies a year. A lot of authors, including Cory Doctorow, Seth Godin, Paulo Coelho and myself have had success by giving away electronic copies of our books as a way to promote the books. It can spread the message of the book further, boost sales of physical copies, boost ebook sales, and stimulate other opportunities like speaking and consulting engagements.

The great thing about BitTorrent is you are talking to a massive audience — more than 160 million people use it. Research has shown that people who use file-sharing sites are more likely to spend money on content. Whatever you're trying to promote, 160 million people who are big consumers of all kinds of media is a huge opportunity.

Do you think this is a viable promotion/distribution model?

Matt Mason: Absolutely, and it will become more widely used as content creators and distributors wake up to the benefits of BitTorrent. It is quite simply the cheapest and most efficient way to share digital information, because the audience is the server farm. It's way to create a giant repository of content with no servers. It has a huge user base and it is growing every day. It's not about giving something away for free, but about distributing it in the smartest possible way. In the next five years, I think we'll see all kinds of publishers waking up to this.

What are some of the obstacles environments like BitTorrent face as promotion platforms?

Matt Mason: One of the biggest problems peer-to-peer technologies like BitTorrent have is the stigma of piracy, but P2P is actually a new and better way of distributing information. Piracy has been at the birth of every major new innovation in media, from the printing press to the recording industry to the film industry — all were birthed out of people doing disruptive, innovative things with content that earned them the label "pirate" (including Thomas Edison).

I think of piracy as a market signal — it signifies a change in consumer behavior that the market hasn't caught up with. If an ecosystem like BitTorrent grows to 160 million users, it's not a piracy environment, it's just a new environment. Media is an industry where the customer really is always right. If people are trying to get your content in a new way, the only smart thing to do is to find a sensible way to offer it to them there.



Related:


April 30 2010

Four short links: 30 April 2010

  1. Exploiting Privacy Threats in BitTorrent -- INRIA researchers were able to identify big seeders and big downloaders and find downloaders' IP addresses through Tor. (via Slashdot)
  2. Google on Internet Censorship -- text of a speech to the UN Human Rights Council. I won’t talk at length about the Global Network Initiative, but it’s something that our company and Microsoft and Yahoo have come together with human rights groups to put together, and we have in essence written a code of conduct for how information technology companies should operate in repressive regimes. It’s quite complex, it took a long time to do, you can imagine what it was like to putting those people in a room for two years together, but we have succeeded.
  3. Facebook's Privacy Timeline (EFF). Must read--little editorial needed, it speaks for itself.
  4. Cinder C -- a new C++ framework created by The Barbarian Group for programming graphics, audio, video, networking, image processing and computational geometry. Cinder is cross-platform, and in general the exact same code works under Mac OS X, Windows and a growing list of other platforms — most recently the iPhone and iPad.

April 15 2010

Four short links: 15 April 2010

  1. Is Making Public Data Available a Threatening Act? (Pete Warden) -- Imagine a thought experiment where I downloaded the income, charitable donations, pets and military service information for all 89,000 Boulder residents listed in InfoUSA's marketing database, and put that information up in a public web page. That's obviously pretty freaky, but absolutely anyone with $7,000 to spare can grab exactly the same information! That intuitive reaction is very hard to model. Is it because at the moment someone has to make more of an effort to get that information? Do we actually prefer that our information is for sale, rather than free? Or are we just comfortable with a 'privacy through obscurity' regime?
  2. BioTorrents: A File Sharing Service for Scientific Data -- described in a PLoSone article. BitTorrent for bio datasets. (via Fabiana Kubke)
  3. The Open Knowledge Conference -- Saturday 24th April 2010 in London. Check out the programme, killer topics and people.
  4. Library of Congress to Archive All Tweets -- Twitter is handing the archive of all public tweets to the Library of Congress, with a search interface. I like this new slant on national libraries' roles as repositories of nationally and historically important digital text.

April 06 2010

DC Circuit court rules in Comcast case, leaves the FCC a job to do

Today's ruling in Comcast v. FCC will certainly change the
terms of debate over network neutrality, but the win for Comcast is
not as far-reaching as headlines make it appear. The DC Circuit court
didn't say, "You folks at the Federal Communications Commission have
no right to tell any Internet provider what to do without
Congressional approval." It said, rather, "You folks at the FCC didn't
make good arguments to prove that your rights extend to stopping
Comcast's particular behavior."

I am not a lawyer, but to say what happens next will take less of a
lawyer than a fortune-teller. I wouldn't presume to say whether the
FCC can fight Comcast again over the BitTorrent issue. But the court
left it open for the FCC to try other actions to enforce rules on
Internet operators. Ultimately, I think the FCC should take a hint
from the court and stop trying to regulate the actions of telephone
and cable companies at the IP layer. The hint is to regulate them at
the level where the FCC has more authority--on the physical level,
where telephone companies are regulated as common carriers and cable
companies have requirements to the public as well.




The court noted (on pages 30 through 34 of href="http://pacer.cadc.uscourts.gov/common/opinions/201004/08-1291-1238302.pdf">its
order) that the FCC missed out on the chance to make certain
arguments that the court might have looked on more favorably.
Personally and amateurly, I think those arguments would be weak
anyway. For instance, the FCC has the right to regulate activities
that affect rates. VoIP can affect phone rates and video downloads
over the Internet can affect cable charges for movies. So the FCC
could try to find an excuse to regulate the Internet. But I wouldn't
be the one to make that excuse.

The really significant message to the FCC comes on pages 30 and 32.
The court claims that any previous court rulings that give power to
the FCC to regulate the Internet (notably the famous Brand X decision)
are based on its historical right to regulate common carriers (e.g.,
telephone companies) and broadcasters. Practically speaking, this
gives the FCC a mandate to keep regulating the things that
matter--with an eye to creating a space for a better Internet and
high-speed digital networking (broadband).

Finding the right layer

Comcast v. FCC combines all the elements of a regulatory
thriller. First, the stakes are high: we're talking about who
controls the information that comes into our homes. Second, Comcast
wasn't being subtle in handling BitTorrent; its manipulations were
done with a conscious bias, carried out apparently arbitrarily (rather
than being based on corporate policy, it seems that a network
administrator made and implemented a personal decision), and were kept
secret until customers uncovered the behavior. If you had asked for a
case where an Internet provider said, "We can do anything the hell we
want regardless of any political, social, technical, moral, or
financial consequences," you'd choose something like Comcast's
impedance of BitTorrent.

And the court did not endorse that point of view. Contrary to many
headlines, the court affirmed that the FCC has the right to
regulate the Internet. Furthermore, the court acknowledged that
Congress gave the FCC the right to promote networking. But the FCC
must also observe limits.

The court went (cursorily in some cases) over the FCC's options for
regulating Comcast's behavior, and determined either that there was no
precedent for it or (I'm glossing over lots of technicalities here)
that the FCC had not properly entered those options into the case.

The FCC should still take steps to promote the spread of high-speed
networking, and to ensure that it is affordable by growing numbers of
people. But it must do so by regulating the lines, not what travels
over those lines.

As advocates for greater competition have been pointing out for
several years, the FCC fell down on that public obligation. Many trace
the lapse to the chairmanship of Bush appointee Michael Powell. And
it's true that he chose to try to get the big telephone and cable
companies to compete with each other (a duopoly situation) instead of
opening more of a space for small Internet providers. I cover this
choice in a 2004
article
. But it's not fair to say Powell had no interest in
competition, nor is it historically accurate to say this was a major
change in direction for the FCC.

From the beginning, when the 1996 telecom act told the FCC to promote
competition, implementation was flawed. The FCC chose 14 points in the
telephone network where companies had to allow interconnection (so
competitors could come on the network). But it missed at least one
crucial point. The independent Internet providers were already losing
the battle before Powell took over the reins at the FCC.

And the notion of letting two or three big companies duke it out
(mistrusting start-ups to make a difference) is embedded in the 1996
act itself.

Is it too late to make a change? We must hope not. Today's court
ruling should be a wake-up call; it's time to get back to regulating
things that the FCC actually can influence.

Comcast's traffic shaping did not change the networking industry. Nor
did it affect the availability of high-speed networks. It was a clumsy
reaction by a beleaguered company to a phenomenon it didn't really
understand. Historically, it will prove an oddity, and so will the
spat that network advocates started, catching the FCC in its snares.

The difficulty software layers add

The term "Internet" is used far too loosely. If you apply it to all
seven layers of the ISO networking model, it covers common carrier
lines regulated by the FCC (as well as cable lines, which are subject
to less regulation--but still some). But the FCC has historically
called the Internet a "service" that is separate from those lines.

Software blurs and perhaps even erases such neat distinctions. Comcast
does not have to rewire its network or shut down switches to control
it. All they have to do is configure a firewall. That's why stunts
like holding back BitTorrent traffic become networking issues and draw
interest from the FCC. But it also cautions against trying to regulate
what Comcast does, because it's hard to know when to stop. That's what
opponents of network neutrality say, and you can hear it in the court
ruling.

The fuzzy boundaries between software regulation and real-world
activities bedevils other areas of policy as well. Because
sophisticated real-world processing moves from mechanical devices into
software, it encourages inventors to patent software innovations, a
dilemma I explore in href="http://radar.oreilly.com/archives/2007/09/three_vantage_p.html">another
article. And in the 1990s, courts argued over whether encryption
was a process or a form of expression--and decided it was a form of
expression.

Should the FCC wait for Congress to tell it what to do? I don't think
so. The DC Circuit court blocked one path, but it didn't tell the FCC
to turn back. It has a job to do, and it just has to find the right
tool for the job.

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