Tagged: Electronic Frontier Foundation

And Then They Repealed Net Neutrality

Today, as expected, the Federal Communications Commission has voted to repeal its own net neutrality rules along partisan lines, by a vote of 3-2. And that wasn’t even the biggest news story in US media industries. Earlier today, Disney agreed to buy the movie and television assets of 21st Century Fox for over $66 billion in cash and stock. This deal has now pared down Rupert Murdoch’s one labyrinthine News Corp. media empire to a bunch of broadcast TV stations, the broadcast television network, and several cable TV networks. These moves have emerged in a climate of technological change but also of deregulatory moves ushered by Donald Trump’s FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

Net Neutrality Rules Repealed

As I’ve mentioned before in a series of posts on this site, this is one of several deregulatory measures that this FCC, led by Chairman Pai, to give broadcasters and Internet service providers more power at the expense of consumer protections and the interest of the public.

Repealing the FCC’s net neutrality rules will make it possible for Internet service providers—your “beloved” cable and telephone company—to turn the Internet to something that could look like what we had with AOL in the 1990s: a closed network with curated content with limited access to the open Internet. The latter is what doomed AOL and its 2000 merger with Time Warner.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that AT&T is attempting to acquire Time Warner and its vast library of media properties and content. With net neutrality rules out of the way, a provider like AT&T can realize its vision to dominate the Internet. Tim Wu, who coined the term “net neutrality” predicted as much in his 2010 book The Master Switch. Wu writes:

it doesn’t take a genius to realize that if AT&T and the cable companies exercised broad discretion to speed up the business of some firms and slow down that of others, they would gain the power of life and death over the Internet.

The telecommunications companies can do this because repealing net neutrality rules reclassifies broadband Internet service providers from common carriers to information services. The days of Internet-as-we-know-it might be numbered. At worst, it will be something like AOL in the 1990s. Or it will be something like cable TV and its curated 500-channel universe. Both were information services.

Centralize All Broadcast Activities

But it’s not just the Internet that Chairman Pai’s FCC has given over to the major corporate interests; he’s also cleared the way for broadcast station owners to expand their reach through out the United States.

Back in April, Chairman Pai led the FCC to restore the UHF discount rule, allowing owners of all-UHF stations to reach as much as 78% of all US households. As I wrote earlier, the UHF discount rule was developed in an era when US TV households mostly watched VHF channels 2-13 over UHF channels 14-69. The Obama-era FCC eliminated that discount on the grounds that the rule was deprecated. There is no difference in terms of VHF and UHF stations in today’s multichannel TV environment.

Also today, at the same Commissioners meeting to vote down the net neutrality rules, the FCC voted to review eliminating the 39% TV station ownership cap rule. This rule, designed to keep one station owner from reaching too many people through broadcasting, was already a relaxed version of the FCC’s original seven-station rule. But Chairman Pai apparently wants to allow broadcast station owners to reach even more American households and further reduce the diversity of voices using the public airwaves.

Both the UHF discount and the give Sinclair Broadcasting and the “New Fox” the opportunity to grow the number of broadcast TV stations they can own and expand their reach to US households. Not only could this have some competitive implications, it also forebodes some chilling ideological consequences. It’s not unlike what the Nazi’s chief propagandist Joseph Goebbels wrote in 1933:

Above all, it is necessary to centralize all radio activities to place spiritual tasks ahead of technical ones, to introduce the leadership principle, to provide a clear worldview, and to present this worldview in flexible ways.

Both Sinclair’s and Fox’s owners are both staunch conservatives and supporters of Chairman Pat’s boss Donald Trump and their news coverage has consistently supported Trump’s policies.

Take Action on Net Neutrality

Although I realize that the tone of this post is downright dreary, we the public can still take action to restore net neutrality rules. Basically, it comes down to fighting Chairman Pai on two fronts:

  1. We can lobby Congress to pass “net neutrality” legislation. Any action the FCC takes on classifying Internet service providers—as common carriers or information services—can be rendered moot through legislation. It might take until after the 2018 midterm elections to get this done, but legislation is the only way to guarantee an open Internet for the long term.
  2. Take the FCC to court. This is less than ideal because it must protect net neutrality rules within the current legal framework, which is not very specific about net neutrality. Nonetheless, Free Press plans to file a lawsuit against the FCC. I don’t know their legal strategy, but it might be on the grounds that the FCC has unlawfully abdicated its authority over the Internet. A lawsuit would likely lead to an injunction to keep the current net-neutrality rules in place. After that, prevailing in court could keep the Internet open, but as I wrote above, legislation is the best way to do it.

Now get going! It is only our freedom of speech and a robust marketplace of ideas that is at stake. Otherwise, we might as well be China.

Back to the Charity Stripe

At the risk of sounding like this guy, it’s worth remembering that this is not only the end of the year and the holiday season, this is also the end of the 2015 tax year. If you itemize your deductions, this would be a good time to evaluate your finances and donate some money to a cause or two. Or more.

Choosing where to donate money is challenging. Not only are there myriad worthy causes out there, there is a lot of pressure from just about every non-profit organization that you have ever patronized. If you subscribed to its email list, liked it on Facebook, or followed it on other social networking sites, you have undoubtedly heard its call for a donation. And since you’re a good person, it’s hard to say no to many of them.

Also, it’s not an exaggeration to say that these fundraising campaigns resemble holiday sales in their year-end “donate now” pleas.

Years ago, I heard an interview with someone who manages a large endowment that donates million of dollars to many causes. If you think your Facebook feed is crowded with pleas for money now, imagine what this this executive gets on a weekly basis. Rather than deciding on a case-by-case basis where to donate the money, she revealed that the endowment only grants money to organizations working on a set of specific, predetermined causes. In other words, they have decided in advance what causes are important to fund and donate only to those. It’s a sane approach for a multibillion-dollar endowment, it’s a sane approach for a millionaire one-percenter, and it’s a sane approach for someone with more limited resources, like you.

My own philanthropy is very limited, but I decided years ago I would focus on two causes very important to our lives: transportation and communication. In my estimation, access to transportation and to communication are human rights.

Some day, I’ll articulate my reasons for my thinking, but for now, I would like to offer my own list of worthy organizations and their Charity Navigator scores. Perhaps you will consider them worthy of a year-end charitable gift, too.

  1. Transportation Alternatives is a New York City–based organization that advocates for bicyclists and pedestrians. Over the last fifteen years, they have helped remake New York City streets from high-speed arteries for automobiles to a more “complete streets” design for a variety of transport modes. They are a big reason why New York City has so many more bike lanes that a decade ago. Motorists at first hate them, but they really shouldn’t because, with a bike lane, bicyclists will stay out of your way.

    Your locality likely has a similar organization advocating for more intelligent uses of roads and other transportation infrastructure. Support it!

    Charity Navigator: 4/4

  2. Electronic Frontier Foundation has been a mensch for computing and the Internet for over twenty-five years. They have been instrumental in the fight against unfair anti-circumvention laws, net neutrality, and many other causes.

    Charity Navigator: 4/4

  3. Wikipedia. Although you know that if everyone reading Jimmy Wales’s plea donated $3, their fundraising needs would be met in an hour. You also know that you’ve been seeing that plea for weeks, meaning that you’re going to have to pick up the slack.

    Charity Navigator: 4/4

  4. Internet Archive aims to be for the world’s largest computer network what the Alexandrine Library was for the ancient world: a collection of all the world’s knowledge. Don’t let a lack of funds do to this valuable resource what the Romans: destroy and cause an irretrievable loss of public knowledge.

    Charity Navigator: Unrated, Private Foundation

  5. Speaking of libraries, your local public library could use some money. Public libraries are not only organs of information for everyone, they provide space for scholars, children, and the inquisitive. The New York Public Library has been actively asking for donations over the last few weeks, but they have close to $700 million of hedge-fund billionaire’s money. Your local library probably doesn’t.

    Charity Navigator: 4/4 for New York Public Library

Incidentally, Charity Navigator is also a non-profit organization and is itself seeking donations.

Every Three Years

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a sweeping piece of legislation passed in 1998, prohibits the circumvention of copyright controls, known as Technological Protection Measures (TPM). The aim of this prohibition is to prevent users from defeating TPMs to infringe on copyright. There are various measures in place, especially as newer media technologies emerged since 2000, and cracking them is not only difficult, it is actually illegal, even if you don’t infringe on any specific copyrights.

Every three years, the Librarian of Congress decides which uses are non-infringing and permits specific exemptions to the anti-circumvention provision. I first became involved with this triennial review on the eve of the 2006 rule-making process. At the time, media scholars and teaching faculty were legally hamstrung in extracting short clips and screen captures from copy-protected DVDs for teaching film and television classes at a college or university level. DVDs offered a better source than a film print or a videocassette for two major reasons: efficiency and fidelity.

  1. DVDs offered a convenient package for us to extract clips and frame grabs. With a DVD, we would use a computer’s optical drive to extract clips. We could easily skip to a scene and take what we needed in a short amount of time. In the few times I took frame enlargements from a 16mm print, the process could take as little as a few days but would often take over a week. It would also be expensive because I had to buy 35mm film, pay to have it processed and printed. With a DVD, I could grab what I needed in a matter of minutes at almost no cost.
  2. DVDs offered higher fidelity than what was available on videocassette and on some film prints. Not only does a DVD offer many more lines of resolution than a videocassette or look better than a beat-up film print, extracting a clip or a frame is an entirely digital process. We don’t have to resort to an analog conversion and the attendant generation loss. The image would look as sharp as it did on the DVD.

Well-written laws need to respond to their current historical moment. For example, college and university faculty have received an exemption from TPM on DVDs since 2006 for making clips, but today, most of us look online first for videos.1 We need to expand the exemption to allow us to circumvent online video, as a public interest group, documentary filmmakers, librarians, and educators have all argued.

Moreover, the EFF (aka the “good guys”) have filed several briefs on behalf advocating for additional exemptions. Most of these exemptions account for emerging technologies that seemed fantastic fifteen years ago at the dawn of the millennium but are very real today. Some of the exemptions the EFF is seeking to secure include:

  • Accessing onboard computers on vehicles for research and repair.
  • Creating video remixes from locked videos on disks and from streaming sites to upload onto video sharing sites.
  • Jailbreaking phones and tablets.
  • Modifying video games so that they need not “phone home” to an authorization server when the server is offline.

While it is cumbersome to constantly reapply for these exemptions, it is important to continually update our laws. They should not only keep up with new emerging technologies, but also with our own ever-evolving culture.


  1. We may have been exempt before then, but I was a scofflaw in this regard in 2006. 

Fool Me Once…

Today is April Fool’s Day. Since yesterday, I’ve been on high alert carefully scrutinizing anything that could be a prank. I usually forget about today—being too preoccupied with this, that, or something else, but this year, I was expecting it so I’ve been fully prepared. Although this heighten skepticism has taken most of the fun out of today, I did get a few choice pranks.

Make a Photo without a Camera

The folks at Lomography, makers of analog film cameras for the hip art-school set, has announced a new spray that will allow you to slowly expose an image onto a roll of film.

I fell for this one at first, partly because I saw it on March 31. It seems completely feasible until you read that it takes up to 24 hours for a decent exposure. I thought that was a typo. But the giveaway in this video was in the time-lapse sequence, where the guy stands with the roll of film in the dark. I’m no expert in Greek, but I know you need light to make a photograph.

Canon Wildlife Camera

Speaking of photography, I saw this announcement come across my RSS feed this morning from The Digital Picture, an expert website for Canon photographers.

Fake Canon 1D W (Wildlife) for April Fool's Day 2014

This is a very compelling prank. A camera like this makes some sense. However, as far as I know, no one has ever made a flagship (D)SLR camera specifically for one application. (Okay, fine, Canon has made two cameras specifically for astrophotography.) As I skimmed the article, I thought it was real, until I realized what day it was.

Bryan, the site’s owner, even included a link to the B&H website so you can pre-order this camera. However, that link takes you to an “April Fool’s” page, revealing that you have been had!

Apple Buys iFixit

A good April Fool’s Prank is one that seems plausible and incredible at the same time. Apple buying the hub for online do-it-yourself repair manuals seems both plausible and incredible. The press release includes some very humorous details, admitting they sold out.

“Everyone has a number”, admitted Kyle Wiens, iFixit’s CEO. “I didn’t think there was a reasonable number that would make me say, ‘You know I was going to change the world with repair documentation but here’s a number.’” In the end, Apple gave us a number that we couldn’t refuse.

I saw this from the spoil-sports at MacRumors, who not only revealed this and other “stories” to be April Fool’s hoaxes, but admitted that they did not intend to “participate” in any prank news stories. That makes sense since some of the rumors they reference are a bit unbelievable, even if some are spot-on.

Hulu Announces New Spin-Offs

Hulu announced two new spin-offs of hit series available on the streaming service, including one where Hannibal gets a cooking show.

The other is, The Field, a spin-off of the critically acclaimed series Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which I haven’t yet seen (shame on me, yes, I know). 

Honestly, I figured out that these spin-offs were fake. However, I was very impressed that they went through the trouble to make two very good looking videos. 

Fake United Jeff’s Improvements for United Airlines

The Twitter account for the fake Jeff Smisek, CEO of United Airlines, is one of the few Twitter feeds I read like a blog, where I scroll back to each tweet until I read them all. Today, he’s been dispatching fake announcements to improve United Airlines, such as this one to solve the labor dispute between the airline and its two sets of pilots (former Continental and former United).

Some, however, are more sensible, so much so that you know that they’re fake.

I really hate the new logo, and I’m not alone.

EFF Reports that MPAA is to Update its Copyright Curriculum for Kindergartners

The Electronic Frontier Foundation sent out a “very special” issue of its newsletter, the EFFector. 

A few of the stories were pretty obvious pranks. For example, they mention an NSA program, IMPENDINGSLUMBER, that is designed to “intercept children’s bedtime stories.” But one was a little too close to reality to be an obvious prank. Here it is in its entirety:

Citing numerous psychological studies that indicate children under the age of eight respond primarily to fear-based cues, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is adding another character to its “Sharing Is Bad” copyright curriculum: the “Fair Use Creep,” a four-headed monster in a trench coat. “We think these children will respond well to characters like the Fair Use Creep,” said MPAA chief Chris Dodd in a press conference Friday. “And by respond well, we mean cower in fear.”

Doesn’t it seem a bit extreme for the motion picture industry to infiltrate children’s curriculum with lessons on copyright maximalism? This must be a joke, right? Sadly, it’s not.

Support the EFF

There are few organizations that I agree with everything they do, but the Electronic Frontier Foundation is one of them. They have been vigilantly defending our human and constitutional rights since 1990, three full years before the World Wide Web had graphics, including these issues:

  • your right to privacy and online security
  • your right to free speech
  • your right to remain anonymous
  • fighting government and corporate surveillance
  • protecting the public domain and fair use of copyrighted works

My membership just came up for renewal, and I was happy to throw a few Shekels their way. You should donate to the EFF, too.

2014-members-rec

EFF Activist Bundle – iFixit

The Fifth of November has been observed in England since the plot to bomb Parliament in 1605. Activists have reclaimed this day and Guy Fawkes to stand against unjust state and corporate power. Techies can commemorate this day and rebellious spirit with iFixit’s EFF Activist Bundle:

EFF Activist Kit

This 5th of November, iFixit is teaming up with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to empower technology users (AKA everyone) to take their digital stuff back from government interlopers and corporate money mongers.

What are we reclaiming? Common sense and fair use. iFixit is fighting for your right to repair your stuff. And the EFF is fighting to protect your right to use that stuff without the NSA—or anyone else—peeking over your shoulder.

For $60, start repairing your own digital gear. It’ll pay itself very quickly, as well as raising some funds for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.