Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Fuck jurisprudence

No, that's not an imperative, it's a description of a new area of law explored in a recent law journal article.

(Hat tip to John Lynch at stranger fruit.)

The Abstract Factory on net neutrality

"Cog" at The Abstract Factory has a good, thoughtful post on net neutrality--and gets hit by astroturfing shills in the comments who almost seem to be trying to change his mind. (He comments further on the shills, a few of which have appeared in the comments at this blog, here.)

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Scientologists pay another web visit

As I noted in my "Scientology Sampler" post on March 4, my web sites still get periodic visits from Church of Scientology IP addresses, at that time most recently on January 1. They just came by again on May 22, attempting to look at my online copy of Russell Miller's biography of L. Ron Hubbard, Bare-Faced Messiah, as well as the article I co-authored with Jeff Jacobsen, "Scientology v. the Internet," and my skeptical links pages on Scientology. Here's an example web log entry:
[Mon May 22 11:42:00 2006] [error] [client] client denied by server configuration: path deleted/03.3.jl-jj-scientology.html, referer:
Then, yesterday afternoon, this blog got a visit and a comment (from a brand-new Blogger account) on my post on Arizona legislators accepting trips from the Church of Scientology in return for sponsoring bills for Scientology's front group the Citizens Commission on Human Rights. This poster, asking why I don't support Scientology's mental health efforts, came across the entry by Googling for "CCHR":
Time of Visit           May 29 2006 4:49:43 pm
Last Page View May 29 2006 4:59:42 pm
Visit Length 9 minutes 59 seconds
Page Views 4
Referring URL
Search Engine
Search Words cchr
Visit Entry Page http://lippard.blogs...ponsoring-bills.html
Visit Exit Page http://lippard.blogs...ponsoring-bills.html
Out Click a number of Arizona legislators have been sponsoring bills
Time Zone UTC-6:00
This individual's source IP, however, is an Ameritech/SBC IP out of Springfield, Illinois (not a big Scientology stronghold like Los Angeles or Clearwater, FL). Illinois is, however, the location where Scientology won a battle to get an exhibit that compares psychiatry to Nazis put back on public property in the Thompson Center--so it looks like the CCHR Chicago has a bit of pull.

Anyway, this is a good opportunity to recommend reading Janet Reitman's "Inside Scientology" from Rolling Stone magazine from February, an excellent overview and introduction to Scientology's beliefs and history.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Children detained at Guantanamo Bay

The London Independent reported yesterday that more than 60 detainees at Guantanamo Bay were under 18 at their time of capture, including some boys as young as 14. One child prisoner, Mohamed el Gharani, was accused of involvement in a 1998 al Qaeda plot in London, even though he was 12 years old at the time and living with his parents in Saudi Arabia.

British officials say the UK had been assured that juveniles would be held in a special facility called "Camp Iguana," but only three juveniles were treated as children.

A senior Pentagon spokesman says that no one being held now at Guantanamo Bay is a juvenile, though London lawyers say there are at least 10 still being held who were 14 or 15 when captured. (Those statements are not contradictory.)

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Dishonesty from Paul Nelson

Paul Nelson, who has usually been known as one of the few honest major advocates of intelligent design at the otherwise disreputable Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, has fallen temptation to make his case stronger by being deceptive about what one of his opponents said in a debate. Ed Brayton gives the full account.

UPDATE (May 30, 2006): The discussion continues, with Paul Nelson's involvement in the comments, here.

Wine shipping in Arizona to become legal

Despite the attempted astro-turfing by beverage distributors, Arizona Senate Bill 1276 has passed. Actually, the wholesalers agreed to a compromise--the bill only allows shipping by wineries that produce less then 20,000 gallons of wine per year (and which obtain an Arizona domestic farm winery license and pay state taxes). The fact that the wholesalers agreed to a compromise based on wine production shows that they didn't really believe their own arguments that this created a new risk of underage drinking.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

More on last-mile options in Phoenix

I've posted this as an update on the original post, but it's also worth bringing out as a separate posting. I've made a few minor changes here (e.g., to insert the point about Cable America that is made elsewhere in the original post).

Douglas Ross (directorblue) has called this list "bogus" and claimed that only two of the options (Qwest and Cox) actually count. He rightly dismisses Cable America from the list on the grounds that Cox entered into an agreement to acquire them in January of this year--I grant his point and that reduces the number of broadband providers by one.

He dismisses Covad because it uses Qwest last-mile wires, but goes on to say, inconsistently, that he would count other cable resellers if the Brand X decision had gone the other way and providers like Cox were forced to enter into relationships like Covad has with Qwest. My observation is that if those reseller relationships exist and the reseller provides access to its own Internet network, then that is enough to foster a competitive environment. It doesn't matter whether it's government-mandated, it matters whether it exists.

Doug rejects all the wireless options out of hand on the grounds of Verizon's EVDO terms-of-service. (His section about why WiMax isn't viable doesn't actually discuss WiMax at all, only EVDO terms-of-service.) He misses the point that Sprint Broadband and Sprint EVDO are *two different services*--he doesn't actually give a reason to reject Sprint Broadband.

He says he doesn't understand why I put the City of Tempe's municipal WiFi network in the list--I did so because Tempe is right in the middle of the Phoenix metropolitan area (and noted Chandler's metro WiFi in-development, which is just south of Tempe, for the same reason). These are real options for people moving to the Phoenix area and for anyone who is willing to move to get different broadband service. (And certainly broadband options in an area are an important factor in choosing a place to live.)

Finally, he rejects HughesNet because it is unsuitable for VOIP or P2P. At least he doesn't say that HughesNet should be mandated to change the laws of physics in order to provide those services under net neutrality.

Doug's position on net neutrality appears to be that nothing counts as broadband unless it supports every application he wants to use. But it's important to note that the net neutrality bills in Congress *do* count all these options and place regulations on them--they count anything as broadband that is greater than 200kbps in one direction, whether wired or wireless. I don't see Doug volunteering to exempt things he doesn't count as valid broadband options from broadband net neutrality restrictions.

It appears to me that Doug's position is that whoever builds an infrastructure capable of supporting what he wants has to provide it to him, without recovering the costs of that infrastructure by charging any third parties. But I bet he also is unwilling to pay an unsubsidized rate to use such a service.

(UPDATE: I was just looking at Doug's blogroll, and he's pretty strong evidence that net neutrality positions don't necessarily correlate with political positions. Doug's political blog links include Michelle Malkin, Little Green Footballs, and the dishonest nutcases at "Stop the ACLU.")

Friday, May 26, 2006

Dave Siegel on QoS and net neutrality

Dave Siegel has given a very brief introduction to QoS (with some specifics about how it's engineered into Global Crossing's network today) and chimed in on the net neutrality debate.

A bit more detail about how QoS has been a problem in some networks but successfully engineered into Global Crossing's network can be found in this presentation by Dr. Xiao Xipeng of Alcatel, "The Elusive QoS" (PDF). Xiao Xipeng was one of the designers of QoS for Global Crossing and is the author or co-author of numerous IETF standards for QoS.

Good Math, Bad Math blog on Dembski's "Searching Large Spaces"

I'm about a month late in linking to this, but Mark Chu-Carroll has done a good job of debunking the Dembski's "Searching Large Spaces: Displacement and the No Free Lunch Regress." He shows that Dembski's use of the NFL theorems is dishonest and inappropriate (even after he's repeatedly been told that, even by the discoverer, David Wolpert), involves jargon-filled misdirection, and proves nothing.

Save the Internet: Fighting astroturf with astroturf

As the InOpinion blog has pointed out, Save the Internet-generated form letters have been published as letters to the editor here, here, and here. This is ironic given their complaints about astroturf by "Hands Off The Internet."

InOpinion has a project to identify astroturf where it appears, which appears to be nonpartisan.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

35th Skeptics Circle

I've been a bit lax on reporting blog carnivals... the 35th Skeptics Circle is up at Skeptico's blog, and includes a contribution from Einzige.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Consumer broadband last-mile competition in the Phoenix metropolitan area

Net neutrality advocates claim that telcos (meaning the local telco providers) have a "virtual monopoly" on consumer broadband, or that they have a duopoly with the cable companies. In many regions, this is true, or nearly so (thus the "virtual" qualifier). (Note, however, that the statement becomes transparently false if it's not restricted to consumer broadband. There are far more options for Internet service for businesses, especially businesses that can put equipment into colo facilities.)

But if you look at the metropolitan Phoenix area, there are quite a few competing consumer broadband providers, e.g.:

* Qwest, the Regional Bell Operating Company formerly known as U.S. West, provides DSL services (as well as higher bandwidth wired connections from fractional T1 and up, and I think they still offer ISDN). This is one of the evil telcos that is enemy number one for many net neutrality advocates.
* Covad, a DSL provider that uses Qwest's last-mile network in Phoenix. In 2003 Covad acquired all of Qwest's business DSL customers, and it appears that they will or have exited the consumer broadband market--however, they can provide business-class DSL service to my residence (which is interesting because Qwest says they can't). Covad is also actively pursuing WiBro (wireless broadband, a Korean standard) and WiMax (wireless broadband, an Intel standard that will now be compatible with WiBro).
* Cox Communications, a cable company, provides cable modem services. (They also have higher speed connections for businesses.) Cox has done very well in recent years in taking away customers from Qwest for voice telephone services, as well as out-competing Qwest's DSL offering for consumer Internet access. I currently use Cox Business Services to my home.
* Cable America, a competing cable company, provides cable modem services in parts of the east Valley. (UPDATE May 27, 2006: As Douglas Ross (directorblue) has pointed out, Cox entered into an agreement to acquire Cable America in January 2006, so this doesn't really count as an independent broadband provider.)
* Sprint Broadband, a long distance and wireless provider, offers a point-to-point wireless broadband service (previously People's Choice, which Sprint acquired). Sprint also offers EV-DO mobile wireless service.
* Alltel, a wireless provider, offers EV-DO mobile wireless service (which is actually using Sprint's EV-DO network).
* Verizon Wireless, a wireless provider, offers EV-DO (3G) mobile wireless service.
* HughesNet, a satellite-based wireless provider (previously DirecWay, and DirecPC before that), offers satellite connectivity (with high latency as a drawback imposed by the laws of physics).
* City of Tempe municipal wireless service, provided and managed by NeoReach. Similar service is being deployed to the City of Chandler, also by NeoReach.

There are no doubt others I've missed--if you're willing to pay for business service, many providers can get that service to your home, which includes services like a T1 connection (where your provider, if not Qwest, will have to pay monthly local loop charges to Qwest and pass that along in your bill) and may include other sources of wireless service. When I had a Global Crossing T1 to my home, the local loop costs were slightly over $200/mo--consumer broadband, by contrast, costs substantially less for more bandwidth, at least in the downstream direction, when delivered to a residence. On the other hand, bandwidth costs in a colo facility can be as low as $10/Mbit/mo, in quantity, i.e., $1000/mo for a 100Mbps Ethernet port. You pay more per Mbit to get data to your residence because of the costs of getting the data out to all those residences and the overhead of dealing with a lot more customers whose individual bills are much smaller than those of a business, and who, on the average, need a lot more hand-holding and support.

Salt River Project, a power generation and transmission company (and a water delivery/irrigation company) that operates in Phoenix, also has about 1,000 route-miles of fiber throughout the city. It resells its excess capacity to businesses (including Qwest) from the entity SRP Telecom. I don't know if they would ever consider using their network to provide consumer services themselves, but there's clearly the potential for a consumer broadband provider to purchase capacity on their network in order to move data around the city.

In Phoenix, if one provider decided to start blocking access to or degrading certain kinds of services that their customers want, there are multiple alternative options. Any provider that engaged in such behavior would see an increase in churn, to the benefit of its competition.

UPDATE (May 27, 2006): Douglas Ross (directorblue) has called this list "bogus" and claimed that only two of the options (Qwest and Cox) actually count. He dismisses Covad because it uses Qwest last-mile wires, but goes on to say, inconsistently, that he would count other cable resellers if the Brand X decision had gone the other way and providers like Cox were forced to enter into relationships like Covad has with Qwest. My observation is that if those reseller relationships exist and the reseller provides access to its own Internet network, then that is enough to foster a competitive environment. It doesn't matter whether it's government-mandated, it matters whether it exists. Doug rejects all the wireless options out of hand on the grounds of Verizon's EVDO terms-of-service. (His section about why WiMax isn't viable doesn't actually discuss WiMax at all, only EVDO terms-of-service.) He misses the point that Sprint Broadband and Sprint EVDO are *two different services*--he doesn't actually give a reason to reject Sprint Broadband. He says he doesn't understand why I put the City of Tempe's municipal WiFi network in the list--I did so because Tempe is right in the middle of the Phoenix metropolitan area (and noted Chandler's metro WiFi in-development, which is just south of Tempe, for the same reason). These are real options for people moving to the Phoenix area and for anyone who is willing to move to get different broadband service. (And certainly broadband options in an area are an important factor in choosing a place to live.) Finally, he rejects HughesNet because it is unsuitable for VOIP or P2P. At least he doesn't say that HughesNet should be mandated to change the laws of physics in order to provide those services under net neutrality.

Doug's position on net neutrality appears to be that nothing counts as broadband unless it supports every application he wants to use (even though the proposed net neutrality bills count anything as broadband that is greater than 200kbps in one direction--they don't restrict it to wireline services), and that whoever builds an infrastructure capable of supporting what he wants has to provide it to him, without recovering the costs of that infrastructure by charging any third parties. But I bet he also is unwilling to pay an unsubsidized rate to use such a service.

Newmark vs. McCurry on net neutrality

Craig Newmark of Craigslist and Mike McCurry of "Hands Off the Internet" debate "Should the Net Be Neutral?" at the Wall Street Journal. I'm struck by a number of things that Newmark says:
Do you believe Yahoo should be allowed to outbid Google to slow down Google on people's computers? That's the kind of thing that the big guys are proposing.
In fact, nobody has proposed slowing down anything--the consumer broadband telcos have proposed adding new, higher-bandwidth physical circuits (fiber to the home) which contain virtual circuits dedicated to content with requirements for higher bandwidth and low latency and jitter, for which the primary application they have in mind is IP television. And they want to charge content providers to use those virtual circuits. Now, one can argue that dedicating bandwidth to new applications that content providers have to pay for will have a future consequence that Internet bandwidth will be consumed and not upgraded, leading to degradation for best-effort Internet services, but that requires argument to support the likelihood of that outcome in the face of competition from cable companies and wireless providers.
With all that empty fiber, bandwidth is not an issue. A bigger issue is that we're running out of [Internet protocol] addresses. The new net protocols, IPv6, address that, but the big telecoms are already very late implementing that. (Hey, I'm an engineer, and their engineers talk to me.)
Newmark is confusing Internet backbone bandwidth with last-mile consumer broadband bandwidth. I've addressed this confusion at length. BTW, IPv6 is rife with difficulties and not quite ready (or useful) for the average consumer, but my employer, Global Crossing, has been one of the first to make it widely available to its customers. (I run IPv6 on my home network via a tunnel to Global Crossing.)
No one's talking about "government lawyers and regulators engineer[ing] the future of the Internet," except, well, you, Mike. We're trying to prevent that, and trying to get Congress to maintain the level playing field we have right now, that the FCC just tried to ruin. We're just asking everyone to play fair.
I'm being completely straight: no one's interested in regulation in the sense you're thinking, we just want the existing level playing field to continue… Beyond that, we're not interested in mandating performance criteria, none of that stuff.
What we're looking for is just fairness, a level playing field, no regulation or stuff like that. In America we believe that if you play fair and work hard, you get ahead. We don't want the government to give special privileges to the big guys, particularly not at the expense of small business and consumers. We don't want more regulation and we don't need lawyers involved where the free market functions well. I guess we're for capitalism.
Here, Newmark is simply failing to recognize what's in the actual network neutrality bills in Congress, which have unintended consequences about how networks are engineered, what can be in acceptable use policies, what kinds of contracts network providers are permitted to enter into with their customers, and how they can charge for access to different services--rules that to date have not existed for Internet services.

Today, many Internet providers have acceptable use policies that prohibit spam, going beyond the requirements of the relatively weak federal CAN-SPAM law. Under all of the net neutrality bills I've seen, providers must permit customers to send or receive any "lawful content," which forces them to reduce their AUPs to the lowest common denominator of whatever is prohibited by law in the jurisdictions where they provide service. These bills prohibit providers in the United States from setting the conditions of contract with their customers regarding activities they consider abusive which are not codified in law. The "pink contract" would thus become a government mandate.

UPDATE: FCC Commissioner Michael Copps and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas back up McCurry's statement in this debate that the FCC already has authority under Title I to prevent anti-competitive discrimination without the need for new statutory powers from Congress.

McCurry at the WSJ:
And doesn't the FCC have authority already (under Title I) to step in and act if necessary?
The Federal Communications Commission has authority under current law to ensure that broadband-access providers -- currently mainly cable and phone companies -- do not discriminate against Web-based providers of content, search services and applications, FCC commissioner Michael Copps said Tuesday.
“The [FCC] remains free to impose special regulatory duties on facilities-based [Internet-service providers] under its Title I ancillary jurisdiction,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in National Cable & Telecommunications Association vs. Brand X Internet Services.
This means net neutrality advocates who support the bills in Congress don't think this is enough, and owe an explanation of specifically what powers they want to add to the FCC, what rules they want the FCC to make, and how those rules will be enforced.

"Net Neutrality" expands to absurdity

Jim Durbin writes that he supports net neutrality because of fears about companies blocking access to certain websites at the enterprise. In his opinion, apparently, net neutrality not only means that ISPs can't block access to lawful content, neither can employers. No net neutrality bills would take away the ability of enterprises to restrict corporate Internet access to business-related content and use products like web proxies, but it's a symptom of the fuzziness of "net neutrality" that Mr. Durbin thinks this is a reason to advocate it. What's next, a claim that the use of firewalls is contrary to net neutrality principles?

Durbin approvingly links to an article by Glenn Harlan Reynolds about employees using pirate WiFi or resorting to bringing in personal equipment with EVDO cards in order to get their Internet or blogging fix at the workplace. Reynolds and Durbin both seem to think that companies should have no right--or at least no ability--to ban such things from the workplace unless they have "big trade-secret issues" or involve national security. Now, there's a big distinction between pirate WiFi (connecting an unauthorized device to a company's internal network, most likely exposing its internals to the outside world) and using your own equipment over a wireless connection to a provider that you pay for yourself. In the former case, it's making unauthorized changes to the company's own network and security mechanisms, while in the latter the issue is more an issue of whether you're doing the job you're being paid to do. But none of this should have anything to do with the "net neutrality" debate.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Hillary Clinton and Net Neutrality

Adam Thierer of the Cato Institute expresses his bafflement over why people have such faith that instituting government regulations to enforce net neutrality will result in beneficial protection for free speech, when historically Congress has shown little support for the principle. He points out the irony of Hillary Clinton calling for net neutrality in the name of protecting free speech, when she has on multiple occasions called for and supported government restrictions on free speech, including on the Internet. She supported the Communications Decency Act, most of which was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court as unconstitutional. She supports regulation of video game content. She pushed the V-chip.

Does anyone really believe that the regulated Internet Hillary Clinton wants to see won't ultimately result in any new restrictions on freedom of speech? Especially since the net neutrality bills propose giving regulatory authority over the Internet to the FCC, the same agency that is more aggressive at fining broadcasters for "indecent" content than addressing telemarketing fraud?

David Siegel, Global Crossing: telco blog pioneer

Martin Geddes has interviewed my co-worker Dave Siegel, and the results are up at his blog, Telepocalypse.

Botnet interview on the Security Catalyst podcast

I did an interview over the weekend with Michael Santarcangelo of the Security Catalyst about botnets. Part I of that interview is available now as a podcast (you can subscribe via Yahoo or iTunes).

UPDATE: Part two is here.

Bush administration on NSA suit: Courts have no right to address the issue

Ed Brayton points out a paragraph from an AP story that says:
The Bush administration has urged a judge to dismiss a similar case, saying it threatens to divulge state secrets and jeopardize national security. The government argued in briefs that the courts cannot decide the constitutionality of the president's asserted wartime powers to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants.
As Ed observes,
If the courts cannot decide the constitutionality of such programs, then we might as well not have a constitution or courts at all.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Net Neutrality and Fair Use

Larry Lessig has posted an interesting blog article comparing net neutrality to fair use, and asking whether there's a problem in consistency on the part of those who favor one but not the other. As someone who more strongly supports laws recognizing fair use than regulated net neutrality, I agree with the reasons given by several of the posters (including Kevin Farnham, Jeremy, Cory Doctorow, three blind mice, and poptones). It seems that some of the better reasons to question creating a regulatory regime for net neutrality are present in these comments--I'm pleasantly surprised to see that the comments appear to be dominated by net neutrality skeptics.

Some of the highlights:

* Fair use is a limitation on rights pertaining to intellectual property, while net neutrality is a limitation on rights pertaining to physical property--Lessig's own excellent book Free Culture points out that intellectual or creative property is different from physical property in significant ways.
* The burden of proof on a fair use claim is on the person claiming fair use, not the copyright owner; in net neutrality the burden is on the property owner.
* Fair use is really a limitation on a government regulation (copyright), while net neutrality is a regulation that's a limit on business models, contracts, and technology.
* Net neutrality advocates have not been clear about what they would require and prohibit, how violations will be detected/measured, and what the enforcement mechanisms will be. (I don't trust Congress to tell network engineers how to do their jobs.)

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Dirty Politician: William Jefferson

Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA)'s Washington office was raided last night, and the FBI has disclosed portions of recorded conversations last year between Jefferson and an informant. The informant had paid Jefferson $100,000 in $100 bills (caught on videotape by the FBI) to be delivered to an official in Nigeria. In a telephone conversation on August 1 which the FBI has partially disclosed, Jefferson and the informant spoke to each other in code about the bribe money, which was recovered from Jefferson's freezer during a police search on August 3. In that conversation, the informant asked about the status of "the package." Jefferson replied that "I gave him the African art that you gave me and he was very pleased."

Jefferson apparently had the objective of getting work in Africa for a communications company, and getting his children a cut of that deal.

Via Talking Points Memo.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Yglesias on McCurry

Matthew Yglesias, covering for Joshua Micah Marshall at Talking Points Memo, writes of Mike McCurry's battle with bloggers over net neutrality:

People disagreed with McCurry about the net neutrality issue because people disagree about issues. People got so mad at him precisely because of this kind of patronizing attitude. He was peddling flimsy arguments as if it never occurred to him that the blogosphere is full of people who know a lot about the internet and could handle a grown-up argument (see a non-flimsy, though ultimately unpersuasive, anti-neutrality piece if you're interested).

One of the most neglected aspects of the blogosphere, in my opinion, is that precisely because it's (mostly) composed of people who aren't professional journalists, it's composed of people who are professional doers of something else and know a great deal about what it is they "really" do. Consequently, the overall network of blogs contains a great deal of embedded knowledge. The consensus that emerges from that process can, of course, be mistaken but even though the most prominent people expressing that consensus may not be experts in the subject at hand (the most prominent bloggers tend to be generalists), the consensus will almost always be grounded in some kind of well-informed opinions. If you want to push back on that, in other words, you'd better know what you're talking about and not treat your audience like a pack of mewling children.

While I agree that McCurry was occasionally patronizing in what he posted, at least he hasn't gotten his facts as wrong as Matt Stoller at MyDD, Adam Green at the Huffington Post, the "Save the Internet" Coalition, or Art Brodsky at Talking Points Memo. These guys don't know the difference between net neutrality and common carriage, don't understand who or what common carriage applies to, don't understand how or why network service providers interconnect, don't understand the utility and current uses by providers of QoS, don't understand the unintended negative consequences of bills like HR 5417, and have a naive faith that the FCC will act only as a force for freedom and goodness.

The fact is that most of the material being posted by bloggers in favor of net neutrality regulation is by people who are not experts in how the Internet works--while there are certainly advocates of net neutrality among those who operate Internet networks (and I myself am supportive, with qualifications, of the four principles in the FCC policy statement), my perception is that most of them favor keeping government out of it as much as possible and agree with the additional six principles advocated by McCurry's organization, "Hands Off the Internet."

Bad unintended consequences of HR 5417

(I should preface this by saying that I am not a lawyer, only a relatively well-informed layman who has demonstrated the ability to win lawsuits against telemarketers without using an attorney.)

Some network neutrality advocates are promoting James Sensenbrenner and John Conyers' HR 5417 as a step in the right direction for putting network neutrality into law. But HR 5417 is a badly written bill with some serious negative implications. (There are a bunch of other network neutrality bills in the works, which I haven't yet examined.)

First, it turns all NSPs and ISPs into "broadband network providers" even if they don't provide any residential consumer services. All that matters is whether you provide two-way Internet at speeds of 200 kbps or greater.

Second, it prohibits preventing anyone from sending or receiving traffic that is legal. This means ISPs cannot have acceptable use policies against spammers that go beyond what is required by the federal CAN-SPAM law except in states which have stricter laws, and they have to sell service to known spammers who comply with CAN-SPAM, and you can't kick adware companies off your network until and unless the specific abusive actions they are taking are made illegal.

Third, it says that if you provide a custom service like IP Video or VOIP interconnection at a higher class of service, you must allow your customers to connect to that "type" of service to any other provider of IP Video or VOIP, regardless of location, whether those providers are customers of yours or not. But if you don't provide those services over the Internet, who is supposed to bear the costs of interconnection to providers who aren't customers?

Fourth, it prohibits all restrictions on what devices users can connect to the network except on grounds of physical harm or degrading the service of others. But what if you offer a specialized service that only supports some vendors' equipment, and has to have a particular configuration to function properly? This seems to say that you have to let customers configure unsupported or incorrectly configured equipment to the network.

This bill is a nice example of bad unintended consequences.

(Also see Richard Bennett's Original Blog.)

Misinformation from "Save the Internet"

The little cartoon movie from "Hands Off the Internet" (an organization funded by member organizations that include major telcos and equipment vendors) has led to a response from "Save the Internet" (advocates of net neutrality funded by and others).

"Save the Internet" claims that the cartoon is "a clever piece of industry propaganda that is riddled with half-truths and outright lies." It then quotes a few passages from the cartoon and offers responses. Unfortunately, it is "Save the Internet"'s response that contains misinformation, and it fails to point out any alleged lies.

In what follows, I'll quote directly from the "Save the Internet" response (including the quotes from the "Hands Off" cartoon they are responding to) and then respond to each point.
The big telecom companies say: "Is the Internet in Danger? Does the Internet need saving? It keeps getting faster. We keep getting more choices."

The truth: Right now AT&T and others want to take away your choices and control what you can do and watch online. They're on their best behavior while trying to convince Congress to hand over the Internet. But if their high-priced lobbyists get their way in Washington, the Internet as we know it will be gone. Network Neutrality has always curbed the control of the network owners, invited competition and encouraged innovators. It's what made it possible for entrepreneurs and creative thinkers to prosper online. None of the big ideas that made the Internet the innovative engine it is today came from the cable or telephone companies.

Notice that there's no evidence supplied to support the claim that "AT&T and others want to take away your choices and control what you can do and watch online." What the telcos want to do is build new last-mile consumer services by installing a new fiber-to-the-home infrastructure, over which they can offer services in addition to and distinct from the public Internet, just as they currently offer voice telephony as a service separate and distinct from the public Internet. Specifically, they want to offer digital television services and potentially new services which they control, following the model of the cable industry. The telcos' real desire is to compete with the cable industry and be regulated in much the same way. They further want to be able to charge content providers to be able to provide services over this new fiber, because they know that consumer fees alone are not sufficient to recover their costs in rolling out this new infrastructure. (BTW, my opinion is that just as the cable companies lost leverage over content providers as a result of competition from direct broadcast satellite, telcos will lose or fail to gain leverage over content providers using new services over fiber-to-the-home, as a result of competition from wireless broadband providers, as well as from cable companies.)
The big telecom companies say: "Building the next generation of the Internet is going to take a lot of work and cost a lot of money. And some big corporations can't wait to use it.... They're going to make billions. But they don't want to pay anything. Instead they want to stick consumers with the whole bill."

The truth: Nobody is getting a free ride on the Internet. Any Web site or service you use on the Internet has already paid these providers to reach you -- just like you pay to send e-mail and download files. In fact, total expenses from major content and service providers to expand network capacity totaled about $10 billion last year. But the cable and phone companies want even more -- forcing content providers to pay protection money to get a spot in the fast lane. Who do you think will pay that bill? You will … big time. The costs will be passed directly to consumers. If Net Neutrality is so bad for consumers, why do ALL the major consumer groups support it and ALL the major phone companies oppose it? Who do you trust more to defend your Internet rights? Without meaningful protections of Net Neutrality, there will be less choice on the Internet and higher prices, at a time we're already falling far behind the rest of the world.

It's true that content providers are paying Internet providers today to reach the "eyeball customers" of the telcos and cable companies. But they are reaching them over today's best-effort Internet, not over the new infrastructure they want to build out. Now, here there is a real issue, but it's one that advocates of net neutrality have tended to obscure rather than illuminate, and that is that today, telcos are required to allow other Internet providers to provide service over their last-mile consumer broadband (DSL) circuits, and the courts recently ruled that this will no longer be required, putting the telcos on the same footing as the cable companies, which have never been required to share their networks. The difference between the two is that the telcos were given free rights-of-way to build their networks, were given monopoly status for local telephony status, and received huge tax breaks and subsidies in the form of universal service fees collected from long distance providers; this form of public funding justified the common carriage requirements that made them allow their networks to be used by other players that compete with them. The cable companies, by contrast, got none of these benefits and have to pay a portion of their revenues to local municipalities as part of their franchise agreement in an area. The cable model actually seems to be a better model and to be more competitive, though I think both are far from ideal. In any case, the empirical evidence is that the more competition there is for broadband Internet services, the lower the costs to consumers and the more innovation we see.

The big telecom companies say: "These corporations are asking Congress to create volumes of new regulations to control how content is delivered over the Internet. Should politicians and bureaucrats replace network administrators? It will be the first major government regulation of the Internet and it will fundamentally change how the Internet works. These big corporations and the SavetheInternet campaign want the government to take control of the Internet."

The truth: There's nothing new about Net Neutrality. It has been a fundamental part of the Internet since its inception. As a tenet of communications policy, it goes back some 70 years. Only last year did the Supreme Court uphold a bad decision by the Federal Communications Commission to do away with the rules that forced cable and phone companies to open up their networks to competitors. Those rules protected Internet freedom by ensuring lots of competition (think of all the choices you've had for long distance service or dial-up Web access). In fact, these rules still protect the Internet under a temporary FCC ruling. All a Net Neutrality law would do is maintain the even playing field we've always enjoyed -- by preventing big cable and telephone corporations from taking over as gatekeepers.

Now here's where "Save the Internet" goes completely off the rails. Net Neutrality has not been "part of the Internet since its inception" nor does it go back 70 years. This is a confusion about common carriage requirements on telco's networks vs. Internet services. When other DSL services use telco last-mile circuits to reach their customers, they are providing their own Internet services, not the telcos. They aren't using the telco's Internet networks at all. ISPs have never been classified as "common carriers" or required to connect anyone to their networks. Rather, they've been classified as information services or enhanced services, and exempted from common carriage requirements. Internet interconnection is governed by peering arrangements which are arranged either privately between two ISPs or network service providers, or by connecting to a public peering point and governed by the rules of the organization managing that peering point (itself a private, not government, organization).

The sentence about the Supreme Court upholding a bad FCC decision "to do away with the rules that forced cable and phone companies to open up their networks to competitors" is just mistaken in its inclusion of cable companies. Cable companies have never been required to open up their networks to competitors.

(UPDATE May 21, 2006: Timothy Karr of Save the Internet says that the "goes back some 70 years" remark does not refer to common carriage, but he hasn't yet told me what it is referring to. I'll update this entry when he does.)
The big telecom companies say: "The net neutrality issue is a fundamental question about who should control the Internet: The people or the government? And it's a fight about who's going to pay: multi-billion dollar corporations or you?"

The truth: Who should control the Internet? Now that's a good question. But the real choice we face is whether we're going to keep the good government policy that has protected Internet freedom, created a truly free market in content and services, and encouraged free speech to flourish online -- or let predatory companies like AT&T and Comcast rewrite our telecommunications law and place their chokehold on online content and services. For the entire history of the Internet, Web sites and online ideas have succeeded or failed on their own merit based on decisions now made collectively by millions of users. Getting rid of Net Neutrality will hand these decisions over to a cartel of broadband barons. Do we really want Ma Bell and the Cable Guy picking the next generation of winners and losers on the Internet?

This repeats the false claim that net neutrality has been a government policy in force all along, when in fact what "Save the Internet" is advocating is the introduction of new laws which give the FCC the power to regulate the Internet. What "Save the Internet" fails to recognize is that the telcos are an extremely powerful lobbying force in Washington, D.C., and that giving the FCC this power will not change that. Further, the FCC is run by commissioners who want to do more to regulate content for "indecency," and, if given the power to regulate the Internet, that would likely not be far behind. If they have the power to say that ISPs must allow service to X, they're probably also going to have the power to say that ISPs must not allow service to Y. But those are decisions that should be left in the hands of the ISPs, in a competitive environment where the consumer has the power to switch ISPs.

"Save the Internet" tends to avoid spelling out specifically what they are asking for, which is the biggest problem with "net neutrality" advocates. The term seems to mean different things to different people, and a lot of people interpret it to mean prohibition on certain kinds of contractual arrangements and services between providers of network services and their customers that are already common and extremely useful today (e.g., paying for different classes of service).

If you want a better understanding of the issues in the "net neutrality" debate, I can't recommend a better source than the Stifel/Nicolaus analysis, "Value Chain Tug of War" (PDF). Read it, and whichever position you argue for will be better served.

(UPDATE May 20, 2006: Here's a much better commentary on the "Hands Off" cartoon from a net neutrality advocate, Harold Feld, though he also gets some facts wrong. For example, he says that at the time of "Computer Proceedings I" (1971) AT&T was "the only telephone company." It was by far the major player and had attempted earlier to acquire the rest, but this was put to a stop in 1913 via anti-trust action when it tried to acquire Western Union. It was required to allow the remaining independent local telco players to interconnect. These included Rochester Telephone in NY (which was my employer when it was called Frontier). In 1971 AT&T had 100 million subscribers and the independents had 25 million.)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Late 1990s NSA program

The Baltimore Sun has reported on a shelved 1990s NSA program to collect and analyze phone records which had the following features:
*Used more sophisticated methods of sorting through massive phone and e-mail data to identify suspect communications.

* Identified U.S. phone numbers and other communications data and encrypted them to ensure caller privacy.

* Employed an automated auditing system to monitor how analysts handled the information, in order to prevent misuse and improve efficiency.

* Analyzed the data to identify relationships between callers and chronicle their contacts. Only when evidence of a potential threat had been developed would analysts be able to request decryption of the records.

Perhaps this program was brought back after 9/11? If such records were maintained with phone number and caller information encrypted until needed, and decrypted only with appropriate legal authorization, would that enable Verizon and BellSouth to truthfully deny having supplied the records to the NSA? I don't think so, unless the system was in the possession of the phone companies and didn't release data to the NSA until legal authorization was obtained. But would such a system be objectionable? So long as the controls genuinely prevented abuse and legal authorizations were really obtained for each use, I don't think it would be. (Via Talking Points Memo.)

BTW, in a New York Times story in which Verizon denied turning over records to the NSA (which BellSouth has also denied), Tony Rutkowski of Verisign is quoted suggesting that the NSA may have collected long-distance phone records rather than local calls. The article notes that Verizon's denial seems to leave the door open to the possibility that MCI, which Verizon recently acquired, had turned over data. Verisign, it should be noted, has been attempting to develop a business where it acts as a third-party manager for subpoenas and wiretapping for phone companies. While the telcos have strongly attempted to block attempts by the government to expand its wiretapping capabilities into the VOIP and Internet arenas (in part on the grounds that the CALEA statutes do not cover them, and also because the infrastructure expense is placed entirely on the telcos), Verisign has supported the government's efforts, as these filed comments with the FCC make clear (red means support for expanded government wiretapping capability, blue means opposition).

You'll note that Verisign is uniformly supportive of the government, and of the three telcos that have come under fire for giving data to the NSA, two are uniformly opposed (BellSouth and SBC (now AT&T)) and one is partly opposed and partly supportive (Verizon). I'm happy to note that my employer, Global Crossing, is not only on record as opposed, but filed comments which addressed more of the issues than most of the other filers.

(UPDATE May 19, 2006: Apparently the 1990s program was called ThinThread.)

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Cory Maye's new attorneys file legal brief

Radley Balko at The Agitator is on top of it:
If you’ve read anything at all about this case, I’d urge you to take a look at the brief. I realize that a brief’s legal effectiveness is a very different thing than its general pursuasiveness, particularly briefs filed in almost perfunctory post-trial motions like this one. Since I’m not really qualified to comment on its legal merits, I’ll keep my comments limited to its general pursuasiveness.

To that end, it’s devastating. The difference between the top-notch legal representation Cory Maye has now and the minimal representation he had at trial is striking (and frightening, given the stakes). I can’t see anyone reading this thing through and still believing that Maye is the slightest bit guilty, much less that he should be executed. At worst, you could perhaps make the case that Maye acted recklessly, and might have been tried for manslaughter. I wouldn’t agree. But I probably wouln’t be making trips to Mississippi to investigate, or blathering endlessly on my blog, either. Of course, I still think the guy should not only be released from prison, but compensated.
The brief, from Bob Evans, Orin Kerr, and attorneys at D.C. firm Covington and Burling, is here (PDF). There's also a forensics review here (Word doc), and a review of the autopsy report of Officer Jones here (PDF).

I've had the pleasure of meeting and briefly working with some Covington and Burling attorneys in the past (though none of the ones who worked on this brief), and found them to be incredibly bright and professional people. They also won a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against, which makes them good guys in my book.

Net Neutrality and the Pace of Innovation

Some advocates of net neutrality have advocated nationalization of "the Internet backbone" (see, for example, the comments of Paul and Frank at Richard Bennett's Original Blog). The idea that there is such a thing as "the Internet backbone" is itself a confusion about what telcos contribute to the Internet, but what was the pace of innovation when telephony was a highly regulated government monopoly in the United States?

Touch-Tone was developed in the late 1950's.

It was promoted at the Bell System Pavilion at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, as can be seen in this fascinating short film, "21st Century Calling" (a bonus feature on the DVD of the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 episode, "The Killer Shrews"). Other features promoted in the film include call forwarding and three-way calling.

Bell Labs officially announced Touch-Tone as a feature (PDF) in 1964.

Touch-Tone was rolled out to consumers in the 1980s as a feature which consumers had to pay extra for, even though it cost nothing more to provide. The SS7 electronic switching infrastructure costs were covered by consumer fees such as the monthly fee for Touch-Tone service, and then used to roll out new services to businesses, subsidized by consumers.

Time from innovation to deployment: over two decades.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

VA Hospital Spiritual Assessments

Mark Vuletic at the Secular Outpost reports on the Freedom From Religion Foundation's lawsuit against the Department of Veteran's Affairs for conducting "basic spiritual assessments" as part of admissions procedures. The "spiritual assessments" are used to determine whether patients require treatment for "spiritual injury or sickness."

Forever Pregnant / Start Making More Babies

Today's Washington Post reports (via Donna Woodka's blog):

New federal guidelines ask all females capable of conceiving a baby to treat themselves -- and to be treated by the health care system -- as pre-pregnant, regardless of whether they plan to get pregnant anytime soon.

Among other things, this means all women between first menstrual period and menopause should take folic acid supplements, refrain from smoking, maintain a healthy weight and keep chronic conditions such as asthma and diabetes under control.

And, as Stephen Colbert pointed out on last night's Colbert Report, Fox News' John Gibson on May 11 advised his viewers to get busy making more babies:

Make more babies. That's the lesson drawn out of two interesting stories over the last couple days.

First, a story Wednesday that half the kids under 5 years old in this country are minorities. By far, the greatest number are Hispanic.

Know what that means? Twenty-five years and the majority population is Hispanic.

Why is that? Hispanics are having more kids and others, notably the ones Hispanics call gabachos — white people — are having fewer.

Now in this country, European ancestry people — white people — are having kids at a rate that sustains the population, even grows it a bit.

That compares to Europe where the birthrate is in the negative zone. They're not having enough babies to sustain the population.


To put it bluntly: We need more babies. Forget that zero population growth stuff of my poor, misled generation.

Why is this important? Because civilizations need populations to survive.

So far we're doing our part here in America, but Hispanics can't carry the whole load.

The rest of you: Get busy. Make babies.

Or put another way, a slogan for our times: Procreation not recreation.

That's My Word.

(Note that the full context of his remarks is not blatantly racist, as it appeared on The Colbert Report.)

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Even more serious Diebold voting machine flaws

Harri Hursti of Black Box Voting has released a report (PDF) on yet more flaws (on top of others reported back in December) in Diebold TSx and TS6 Direct-Recording Electronic (or DRE) voting machines. Having a few minutes of physical access to a machine makes it possible to install software, using simple, easily available tools, which will completely compromise the machine in such a way that it will be impossible to tell whether future software updates are successful or not.

Ed Felten and Avi Rubin give more detail at Felten's blog, Freedom to Tinker, and question whether it makes sense to build voting machines based on commodity hardware and operating systems due to these risks. This certainly seems like an application where you'd want hardware-enforced verification of a stripped-down trusted computing platform.

Hursti's report says that there are three layers of software in the Diebold machines: a boot loader, an operating system (customized Windows CE), and an application program (the voting software). Each of the three layers has backdoors which allow bypassing security controls. The report states that "Different files on the system carry various subsets of the following features: Signature check, mode check, and integrity check. None of these can be considered security features against tampering. For example, the integrity check is [redacted]. This check can be equated to a very crude spell-checker. It is effective against accidental typing errors but not deliberate attacks."

The redacted portion, based on the description, is apparently a weak checksum such as CRC (cyclic redundancy check), rather than a cryptographically stronger checksum like MD5 or SHA1 (both of which have weaknesses of their own).

The Hursti report describes how an attacker could exploit the weaknesses at multiple levels to prevent the removal of malicious code. One such flaw (the details of which are redacted from the report) is that inserting a standard PCMCIA memory card into the machine containing a file with the appropriate name will cause the boot loader to reflash itself, installing the code in that file as the new boot loader on the system. As Hursti points out, "Due to the fact that the boot loader is the primary mechanism for its own reprogramming, if the boot loader is compromised with a deep attack, using the boot loader itself to install a known clean version of a boot loader is no longer a viable option as a recovery path to clean the system."

The report goes on to show similar flaws in replacing the operating system image, and points out a voter-accessible hidden button (labeled "battery test") that could be exploited by malicious code as a trigger for an attack.

The recommended defense against attacks is to physically protect the machines--as a machine can be compromised with less than five minutes of physical access, chain of custody evidence must be maintained from the machines' origin to final use, with no unsupervised access.

$5 billion lawsuit filed against Verizon

Two New Jersey attorneys, Bruce Afran and Carl Mayer, have filed a lawsuit in federal court in New York City against Verizon regarding its sharing of call-detail records with the NSA without a subpoena. The lawsuit charges that Verizon has violated a number of federal laws, including the 1986 Stored Communications Act (28 USC 2701), which provides for $1,000 in statutory damages for each violation. Some reports have quoted a $50 billion figure based the potential of one violation regarding the information of each of 50 million people, but the suit as filed asks for $1,000 per violation, or $5 billion if certified as a class action.

The Stored Communications Act is a confusingly-written piece of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act that covers both content records (such as email) as well as non-content records (such as log information and subscriber information). One of the exceptions in the law for when a provider can supply non-content information to a governmental entity without a subpoena is if (quoting from a commentary by law professor Orin Kerr) "the provider reasonably believes that an emergency involving immediate danger of death or serious physical injury to any person justifies disclosure of the information." This seems like a defense that Verizon will be likely to use to justify a program that's supposed to be used to identify and stop terrorists.

Verizon claims that it "does not, and will not, provide any government agency unfettered access to our customer records or provide information to the government under circumstances that would allow a fishing expedition."

RCN, a telecom and Internet provider (its assets include the former Erols Internet) based in Herndon, VA, has issued a press release stating that it, like Qwest, has not disclosed customer information except when required by legal process.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

NSA call monitoring details revealed, blocks Justice Department investigation

USA Today has reported that the NSA has been collecting a database of call detail records from data provided by AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth (no word on whether SBC or other ILECs and CLECs have participated). Qwest is noteworthy for having refused to participate in the program.

The collected CDRs include records of calls which both originate and terminate within the United States (i.e., completely domestic calls).

The NSA's goal was allegedly "'to create a database of every call ever made' within U.S. borders," which is out of scope for the NSA's mission.

Arlen Specter of the Senate Judiciary Committee says that the telcos will be questioned about their participation.

In other news today, the NSA managed to kill an investigation by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility into whether Justice Department attorneys violated ethical rules with regard to the NSA's domestic spying. They did this by denying requested security clearances to OPR investigators.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Abramoff's visits to the White House

Judicial Watch obtained records of Jack Abramoff's visits to the White House from the U.S. Secret Service, but they are demonstrably incomplete. At least three other visits known to have occurred were not included, as presaged by Scott McClellan's statement that the records were incomplete. The released documents record two visits, one on January 20, 2004 (from 10:42:20 to 11:29:34) and another on March 6, 2001 (from 16:23:35 to 16:49:50), in a format that differs from the format of White House visit records Judicial Watch previously obtained from the Clinton administration, which gave more information such as the name of the individual being visited. These records appear to be reports pulled directly from a badge access control system. (Via TPM Muckraker.)

The documents can be found here (PDF).

UPDATE (May 17, 2006): These logs are the only ones the U.S. Secret Service has--the logs that are needed for a complete record are in the possession of the White House.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Net Neutrality and Last-Mile Connectivity: An Analogy

Suppose we live in a world with no private automobiles. There are still airports, bus stations, and sea ports, and these are places with diverse carriers and services, giving you many options for traveling long distances to other locations. But to get from your home to these travel hubs, your options are limited to between one and three cab companies; most people have access to two, RBOC Cab and Cable Cab. Both cab companies own all of their own cabs, but RBOC Cab has been legally required to allow independent operators to rent their cabs. Those independent operators have been permitted to repaint the cabs, furnish the interiors differently, and offer additional services to customers within the content of the cabs, but the cabs are owned by RBOC Cab and are of the same size, and the radios are standard equipment owned and maintained by RBOC Cab. Cable Cab, by contrast, has never been required to allow independent operators to use its cabs, and has never done so. (UPDATE 11 May 2006: This is because Cable Cab pays 5% of revenue to local governments as part of their franchise agreement, while RBOC Cab, by contrast, has had government monopoly protection until 1996, has free access to rights of way, and receives government funding via "universal service" fees in order to provide service to rural areas. While Cable Cab funded its own purchasing of cabs and infrastructure, RBOC Cab built its infrastructure without risk as a result of the government support.) They initially didn't come with radios at all, but have recently furnished their cabs with radios.

The rules have recently been changed so that RBOC Cab will no longer be required to allow independent operators to rent their cabs. They've stopped allowing new independent operators to rent cabs, or existing independent operators to take on new customers, and have announced that they will be ending all of the independent operator contracts.

RBOC Cab has also announced that they intend to build larger cabs, in which some of the additional space will be used to provide new services, such as a fully stocked bar, refrigerator, and high-definition television. They will supply all of the contents of the bar and refrigerator, as well as what is shown on the TV, by entering into arrangements with suppliers, whom they intend to charge a fee for the privilege of using the facilities to reach their passengers. Passengers will not be permitted to use the refrigerators to store items that they've supplied, though they will still be allowed to bring along their own cooler, snacks, or video equipment, provided that it fits in the remaining space in the cab (which will be more space than in previous cabs).

Both cab companies reserve the right to deny transportation for certain kinds of items that they consider harmful or dangerous, or which impact their ability to function--items that stink up the cab, that could catch fire or explode, etc.

Cab Neutrality advocates argue that the Department of Transportation needs to create additional regulations which require the cab companies to allow passengers to carry whatever items they want, to use the radios to listen to whatever stations they want (whether the driver likes it or not), to put their own items in the refrigerator, and to allow all snack, beverage, and video providers to make use of the new equipment that RBOC Cabs plans to put into their cabs. They also want to require that the cab companies send cabs at the same speed to every travel hub, regardless of the hub's size or amount of demand for its services (or what the passengers want), and that all costs should be borne by the cab company, not the hub. RBOC Cabs responds by saying that in order to fund the building of the new cabs, they need to be able to charge the snack, beverage, and video providers to use the new equipment (in addition to the fee charged to the passengers, which is not enough to cover the actual cost), but that passengers are still free to bring their own snacks. Cab Neutrality advocates worry that unless they are allowed to bring whatever items they want, they might be prohibited from bringing their own snacks, beverages, and videos. RBOC Cabs have also claimed that they need to be able to build these larger cabs in order to travel longer distances, and suggested that their ability to carry snacks, beverages, and videos over long distances is part of the costs they need to recoup (when, in fact, the long distance transportation of even their snacks, beverages, and videos is provided in the highly competitive environment of the multiple transportation hubs, where there are no issues of capacity and costs per mile are significantly lower).

This is not a precise analogy, but I think it captures the highlights. To make it more precise, I'd need to actually talk about the roads, perhaps making the last mile owned by HOAs that are analogous to RBOCs and cable companies, with the HOAs placing restrictions on the size and type of vehicles that can move on those roads and creating new lanes for their own vehicles, which they want to rent out to third parties or make available for higher priority services that might need them for emergencies.

What's right about "Cab Neutrality" is that passengers want to be able to get to every travel hub and they want to be able to choose what food, beverages, and entertainment they get on the way. But the specific proposals they make are too specific, go beyond these basics, and create limitations in what new services and business arrangements can be developed.

As I see it, the biggest problem here is limited competition among cab companies--a situation which was alleviated to a large extent by the requirement that RBOC Cab lease out cabs to independent operators--a requirement that should have applied to Cable Cab as well. (If we had a way to purchase or rent our own vehicles from competitive sources, all of the worries about what the cab companies might do would be eliminated.)

A requirement on the cab companies that requires passengers to be able to carry whatever they want would have the unintended consequence that some malicious or unthinking passengers would carry items that the cab companies want to prohibit for good reason--harmful and dangerous materials, materials which disrupt service for other passengers. (E.g., spam, malware, denial of service attacks.)

A requirement that all cabs must travel at the same speed means that if I have an emergency where I want to be able to pay more to get to my travel hub faster, I can't do it. Passengers carrying organs for transplant surgery don't get to travel any faster than passengers going on vacation.

A requirement that all costs must be borne by the cab companies (both for transportation to the hubs and for the new cabs and equipment within them) limits the possibilities of new business arrangements between third parties and the cab companies. There might be a possible business model where a travel hub pays a fee to get more frequent cab services, with a lower cost to the cab passengers, subsidized by the long-haul transportation services. Or where video providers can supply services at different costs, with lower-cost services subsidized by advertising revenue.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Misinformation in defense of net neutrality

Adam Green, responding to Mike McCurry, writes (following Matt Stoller at MyDD) that:

Lie #1: McCurry knows the Internet is not "absent regulation" yet he's willing to deceive the public if it helps his clients. As Matt Stoller points out on MyDD:

What McCurry did not tell the public was that during the Clinton years, the FCC actively enforced net neutrality -- the Internet's First Amendment -- against his telecom clients. Common carrier statutes have in fact been a bedrock principle of telecommunications law since 1934, and in 1996 Congress ratified that with a commitment to network neutrality.

Mike McCurry has a moral obligation to everyone who has ever respected him and looked up to him to answer this question: Do you stand by your statement that the Internet is "absent regulation?" Or do you admit that, like so many parts of our American economy, the Internet does have rules?

This is deceptive--ISPs are not common carriers and Internet services offered by telecoms are not bound by common carriage regulations. Internet services have been classified as information services or enhanced services, and thus don't have to collect fees for universal service or take anyone who comes along as customers. Common carrier means you have to accept everyone as a customer and not discriminate about what traffic that is carried (so long as it's legal), but ISPs can, do, and should set standards beyond what the law requires in order to (for example) keep spammers off their networks. Common carrier status has only an indirect relationship to the Internet and net neutrality--it is about physical interconnection, not about Internet interconnection.

Stoller goes on to describe the FCC regulatory change regarding DSL networks:

Yet less than a year ago, in August, 2005, the Clinton -Gingrich policy of enforced network neutrality was radically upended by the FCC:

The FCC said that phone companies such as Verizon, SBC, BellSouth, Qwest and other local telcos will no longer be regulated by traditional telephone rules when it comes to their DSL broadband services. The FCC agreed unanimously to classify DSL broadband as an "information service" rather than a telephone service. Phone companies will no longer be required open their broadband networks to access by third-party ISPs.

After a one-year transition period, the phone companies can arbitrarily end any agreements they were forced to make with independent ISPs. During the transition year, the ISPs can attempt to negotiate new deals, but the cards are all in the hands of the telcos.

In other words, you know all that nice Clinton-Gingrich policy that made the internet work? Yeah, after a one year transition period, that's gone, as a sort of sunset provision for the free internet sets. This is incredibly sneaky. What McCurry is doing is couching a radical change to the internet in the guise of the status quo.

Stoller makes it sound like this change has something to do with RBOCs' Internet services, but it doesn't. It has to do with other ISPs using RBOCs' last-mile networks to connect consumers to their own Internet services--those ISPs typically don't connect to the RBOCs' Internet services, but rather purchase IP transit from multiple backbone providers.

Contrary to Stoller and Green, there was no "Clinton-Gingrich policy of enforced network neutrality" that required any kind of interconnection between providers of Internet services--rather, there was a requirement that telcos provide the use of their last-mile networks to ISPs to use to carry their own Internet services.

That requirement seems to have been a good one for creating competition among Internet services, but it's important to be clear that we're talking about the last-mile telco networks and not their Internet services or their backbones, though the telcos have continued to try to present that as the issue and many net neutrality defenders have wrongly accepted that as the issue.

Last mile competition, unlike net neutrality, is a real issue, especially for consumer Internet access. It's less of a problem for businesses since there is wider competition available via colocation services, metro fiber networks, and wireless. In my opinion, the best long-term defense against a telco/cable duopoly will be wireless access solutions, though there will no doubt be some others like broadband over power lines.

It is distressing to see net neutrality advocates continue to get basic facts wrong in defense of their poorly thought-out positions. If you don't understand how the Internet works today (technologically, politically, and legally), then you are not in a position to be making proposals about how it should be regulated that are not going to have significant (and likely very bad) unintended consequences.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Is There Really a Housing Bubble?

To many, the housing bubble seems a foregone conclusion. Uncountable blogs devoted to the bubble give the impression that you must be crazy or stupid to not see it. In spite of this, I remain unconvinced. I’m not even sure I know what the “housing bubble” is.

Here is a working definition:
…that housing prices have been pushed well beyond any semblance of reasonableness and the dictates of healthy market fundamentals due to excessive liquidity, extremely relaxed lending standards, a speculative mania, and the increasingly irresponsible "cheerleading" of vested interests.
Endless scary graphs,Click to enlarge like this one, which shows Phoenix appreciation rates over the past 30 years, seem to bear this out. Nonetheless, I am left with questions.

For example, who decides what price is “reasonable”? What standard should we use? Value is entirely subjective. Price, being a function of value plus ability to pay, can seem “unreasonable” to some, but “very reasonable” to others. The only one that matters, though, is the person who actually buys—and who, in so doing, reveals his opinion that the price is “reasonable.”

Where is the evidence of a “speculative mania”? You can’t simply point to the recent rapid appreciation rates and say, “See?”, because that’s assuming what you’re trying to prove. What evidence I’ve seen for this has been sparse and unconvincing, so far. Of course I could be wrong, and we could be on the precipice of the largest housing price decline in history. Unfortunately we’ll only know in retrospect.

The charge of “excessive liquidity” and “relaxed lending standards” also rings hollow to me. Now, it seems certain that the amount of borrowing taking place has increased significantly, but that could be caused by any number of things. Why does this automatically mean that lenders have become “extremely relaxed” with their money—which I presume means they’ve suddenly become willing to lend to any fiscally irresponsible idiot, as long as he has a heartbeat? This seems a testable hypothesis to me. If such an explanation were true, wouldn’t you expect to see foreclosure actions increase over time, as the bad debtors began defaulting on their loans?

When debtors default on their loans, lenders need to provide public notice of the impending sale of the property. These notices get recorded at the county recorders office, usually in the form of a Notice of Trustee’s Sale. In order for a lender to record a Notice of Trustee’s Sale, a borrower has to be at least 90 days late on her mortgage payments. Luckily, Maricopa County makes these records easy to obtain.

This graph shows data I’ve compiled Click to enlargefrom the Maricopa County Recorders office. The blue line is the number of Notices of Trustee’s Sales per month, over the past 11 years. The dotted red line is a 3-month moving average. What does this graph tell us? My first impression is that it’s easy to see evidence of the 2001 tech bubble, but, if anything, Maricopa County seems to have recovered from that, as the average number of notices has returned to 1996ish levels.

Admittedly this one graph is hardly a death-blow to the idea of the bubble, but I believe it’s important to take note of it, if for nothing else, then at least as a caution against our tendency to succumb to Chicken-Littleism and confirmation bias.

Friday, May 05, 2006

National Day of Prayer II

I went by the west lawn of the Capitol yesterday to see the set up for the National Day of Prayer event. There were a series of rotating speakers reading from the Bible to an audience of empty chairs (though I'm sure they filled them for their 5 p.m. event). We then had a scheduled private tour at the Supreme Court, and got to see the Justice House of Prayer/Bound4Life cult members praying in front of the steps--these are the "interns" who pay $500/mo or so (the fee details seem to have disappeared from their website, but it was $1500 for a 3-mo internship when I commented on them in December) for the privilege of praying the same 22-word prayer over and over in hopes that the Supreme Court will reverse Roe v. Wade. (I almost think such strategies should be encouraged. These interns aren't hurting anything with their "silent sieges," and it's keeping them out of other kinds of trouble they could be getting into or causing.)

We didn't make it back to the Capitol until later in the evening, instead choosing to eat an excellent meal in Chinatown with some friends.


Facts about Mexico's drug decriminalization

The new law (which Fox has now declined to sign, and has asked for one that appears more anti-drug) would have the following effects:

1. Allow local police as well as federal police to pursue drug-related crime. This is a strengthening of anti-drug laws.
2. Codify the specifics for amounts of drugs which, if possessed, do not result in criminal prosecution, but diversion to treatment programs. Currently, this is at the judge's discretion, requires some kind of evidence of being an addict, and is apparently a source of corruption (pay a bribe, get the charges dropped). This change seems to be relatively neutral.

It doesn't appear to me likely that these changes would have much effect on the availability or acceptability of illegal drugs in Mexico.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

National Day of Prayer

Today is the National Day of Prayer, an event made permanent (on the first Thursday in May) by Congress and signed into law by Ronald Reagan in 1988, six years after the National Prayer Committee started pushing for it. Presidents had previously been able to declare National Days of Prayer whenever they saw fit, a tradition that became annual starting around 1951. Presidents can still augment this with additional National Days of Prayer, as Bush added a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance on September 14, 2001.

As I happen to be in Washington, D.C., very near the Capitol building, I'd like to check out the event on the west lawn of the Capitol tonight (unfortunately a previous dinner commitment overlaps with the event) and see whether the participants are able to reconcile their activities with the Bible, let alone empirical evidence for the ineffectiveness of prayer. In Matthew 6:5-7, Jesus condemns the false piety of "hypocrites" who pray in public, and advises that his followers pray secretly in their closets and not engage in "vain repetitions"--it's one of the most ignored verses in the Bible.

As the Freedom From Religion Foundation has pointed out for years, "nothing fails like prayer."


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Negative review of Colbert

Tuesday's Examiner (a free daily in Washington, D.C.) has a column by Karen Feld ("The Buzz," a gossip column) that reports on Stephen Colbert's presentation at the White House Correspondent's Dinner:
President Bush's clever presentation with Steve Bridges as his "id" was a tough act to follow for faux talk show host Stephen Colbert. Many, including the president, thought the comedian's jokes were too edgy and in bad taste.
I thought they were hilarious, deservedly harsh, and the dumbfounded silence of the audience was itself quite amusing. "It's funny, because it's true." It's too bad that it takes comedians to say what needs to be said right to the president's face.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Unitary Executive Doctrine

I've seen several people forward or cite Charlie Savage's Boston Globe article, which starts:
President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.
Among the laws Bush said he can ignore are military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration services problems, "whistle-blower" protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research.
Legal scholars say the scope and aggression of Bush's assertions that he can bypass laws represent a concerted effort to expand his power at the expense of Congress, upsetting the balance between the branches of government. The Constitution is clear in assigning to Congress the power to write the laws and to the president a duty "to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Bush, however, has repeatedly declared that he does not need to "execute" a law he believes is unconstitutional.
Sheldon Richman points out the Savage article and also a Cato Institute publication titled "Power Surge: The Constitutional Record of George W. Bush" which says:
Unfortunately, far from defending the Constitution, President Bush has repeatedly sought to strip out the limits the document places on federal power. In its official legal briefs and public actions, the Bush administration has advanced a view of federal power that is astonishingly broad, a view that includes

* a federal government empowered to regulate core political speech -- and restrict it greatly when it counts the most: in the days before a federal election;
* a president who cannot be restrained, through validly enacted statutes, from pursuing any tactic he believes to be effective in the war on terror;
* a president who has the inherent constitutional authority to designate American citizens suspected of terrorist activity as "enemy combatants," strip them of any constitutional protection, and lock them up without charges for the duration of the war on terror -- in other words, perhaps forever; and
* a federal government with the power to supervise virtually every aspect of American life, from kindergarten, to marriage, to the grave.

President Bush's constitutional vision is, in short, sharply at odds with the text, history, and structure of our Constitution, which authorizes a government of limited powers.
Good readings for the week of "Loyalty Day."

Loyalty Day

This morning, while reading a thread about Stephen Colbert's wonderful performance at the White House Correspondent's Dinner, I learned that yesterday (and every May 1 going forward) has been officially proclaimed "Loyalty Day":

Loyalty Day is also a time for us to reflect on our responsibilities to our country as we work to show the world the meaning and promise of liberty. The right to vote is one of our most cherished rights and voting is one of our most fundamental duties. By making a commitment to be good citizens, flying the American flag, or taking the time to learn about our Nation's history, we show our gratitude for the blessings of freedom.

I spent most of my day yesterday at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. I'm happy to proclaim loyalty to principles of liberty, but that shouldn't be confused with blind loyalty to political leaders or governments.