Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Threats to equality on the internet

There are currently two bills before the US House of Representatives that could greatly impact the continuation of egalitarian communication on the internet.

The first is Michael Fitzpatrick's (R-PA) Deleting Online Predators Act, which would create a Federal mandate that schools and libraries "prohibit access by minors to commercial social networking websites", which are websites that "allow users to create web pages or profiles that provide information about themselves and are available to other users and offer a mechanism for communication with other users."

Basically, if this law worked perfectly, this would block minors from viewing any commercial website where a regular person can add content, and where users create accounts and user's pages. In reality, schools and libraries will probably be error on the side of caution, and end up interfering with web-use by adults, and also block sites that are non-commercial. This would impact almost every interactive part of the web, including Blogger, Wikipedia, and community sites like Daily Kos. A person who relies on a library or school computer for internet access would be limited to static websites that are created and maintained by those with immense financial resources, or the random junk that "regular folk" are able to post on the web somewhat independently.

This legislation is a major over-reaction to the problem of online predators for two reasons:
  1. This can be handled directly by schools and libraries. Washington should only provide guidance and tools such as software.
  2. This can be handled without blocking websites. A simple solution is to turn off "cookies" on the computers' web browsers, such that users are not able to log-on to their accounts, and consequently can't receive messages sent to them or add personal information.

For more info and discussion, see: Freedom Democrats

Update:
  1. Fitzpatrick is being challenged by Patrick Murphy in November 2006
  2. American Library Association opposes DOPA (from CountSwackula)

The second bill opposes the adoption of content discrimination by internet service providers. John Conyer's (D-MI ) Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act, would mandate "Net Neutrality"--that ISPs cannot discriminate among content providers. Without this provision, ISPs would probably provide preference to content providers who are able to shell out the big bucks for fast data transmission. I doubt consumers would even be aware of the reason why some sites are faster than others, and would just stop using the slow sites, assuming that it's a server problem.

I'm not thrilled about restrictions like this, but I think it would be a good idea to place a moratorium on any content discrimination, in order to allow consumers some time to figure out how to deal with this. If ISPs are going to discriminate among content-providers, they should be limited to doing it in situations where they are providing the consumer with a free connection, or they are explicitly telling the end-user that a particular connection is slow because the ISP chose to give that connection a lower priority.

For more info and discussion, see: Freedom Democrats

Update: A bunch of links for discussion on this issue:
  1. ALA supports Net Neutrality (from CountSwackula)
  2. A neutral panic (against Net Neutrality, via Kevin Carson)

3 comments:

CountSwackula said...

Being a librarian in addition to a regular person, these topics really freak me out. Social networking and blogging sites get a lot of discussion on library listservs and in the "biblioblogosphere" and some librarians seem to think libraries should all have myspace accounts. For some views and contact-your-elected-rep type info from the library world, check out
http://blog.librarylaw.com/librarylaw/2006/05/action_against_.html
http://www.onlineadvocacy.net/
The net neutrality issue reminds me of the way people (although not people like me...) pay for cable television service and are then subjected to huge numbers of commercials on the service they bought, although it's creepier because it's more obscured. Shudder.

CountSwackula said...

So today I was scanning some posts from PBS's MediaShift which included both an interesting post summing the Net Neutrality debate:
http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2006/03/should_the_government_regulate.html
and then a follow up post about whether comments on the first post opposing N.N. legislation were legit:
http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2006/05/sock_puppetryare_telcos_employ.html

Kevin Carson said...

That first item is really horrible. It would without question result in corporate-government enclosure of the internet for anyone relying on a public computer. All you could get at a library would be the "official happy talk" propaganda sites of large organizations.

Fitzpatrick's must have the same copy of the Tenth Amendment that Bob Dole used to carry: you know, the one with loopholes for the ADA, food stamps, and gasohol.