SkeptiSys

June 11, 2008

Is this the end of our internet?

Filed under: law, News, politics — Tags: , , , , , — skeptisys @ 12:35 pm

media ownership corporate

Time Warner Cable has announced that, as an ISP, it has begun charging for total bandwidth used, starting in Beaumont, Texas.  This is an effort to destroy competing video and audio companies like Netflix, Itunes, and youtube.  Time Warner cable sells tv, movie, and radio stations through their digital cable service and have found competing internet companies able to provide cheaper and more extensive services than Time Warner.  Instead of reducing their prices to compete, they found a way to use their monopoly to charge a surcharge on higher bandwidth internet services, Time Warner has found a creative way to use their area monopoly to increase the price of their competitors.  This latest act may stop new innovative technologies from being developed.

People are encouraged to contact their government representatives, and representative hopefuls like Obama, to help end this latest action of illegal and unfair trade practices.

By using their influence on government officials, companies like Time Warner and Verizon have already caused American internet access quality and quantity to become very poor, as measured by speed and cost compared to the rest of the world.  In the past, Time Warner has used their influence to avoid paying taxes at all, on their billions of dollars in income.

Even though internet access in America is already relatively expensive, ISPs are beginning this new vile attack on their users to drain even more money, in addition to crushing any competition.  Time Warner has introduced an additional cost for content, in addition to speed. If this is successful, you will pay for content either by type or by size.

This decision will affect almost all internet users in a negative way.  I will not be able to list all ways here, but want to touch upon as many as I can.

1.  Argument of ‘bandwidth shortage’ is false.  Time Warner argues that we are running out of bandwidth because some people are using too much.  However, when too many large files are transferred at once, the transfers are placed in a queue, slowing down the connection.  The speed returns during off peak times.  If we were currently at or near the peak usage (as argued), we would see remarkably slow connection.  We aren’t close to that period yet, and if and when we do – Americans have already paid mightily in taxes that went to ISPs for ‘innovation’.

2. The bandwidth limit is unreasonably low. Time Warner lists between 5GB and 40 GB as the maximum total allowable monthly internet transfer before a $1 per GB additional charge is levied.  At the current purchased rate, that total can be reached within only a few hours.  At 20mb/s, the 40 GB limit will be reached in less than 4 hours (limit also includes upload).  These limits do not match what the companies have been advertising and selling to us for years.  Time Warner admits only 5% even come close to using the bandwidth they paid for.  When I checked my internet connection, I was surprised how much bandwidth my software updates, email, and other ‘idle time’ automatic activities were taking up.

3. Users can’t control the limit of bandwidth used. Much of the email received is unsolicited containing unpredictable file sizes.  The content of websites (flash, streaming audio and video) can’t always be controlled by the user.  Spyware and adware takes up bandwidth and has been used by the American government, including by ISPs – that can neither be controlled nor detected by the average user.  Software now tends to have automatic downloads and update checks.  These also take up bandwidth.

4. Main uses of the internet will become too expensive. Here are some types of internet services that will need to be avoided by the user, unless they want to go over their limit: Youtube, Netflix, and all streaming video.  Sites with pictures or digital images, or unknown content.  Email is unpredictable (people always send photos of family members and friends) – I’ll wait until next month to check email.  Ecards and cute cat photos will be risky.  Movie trailers – no more.  Software updates?  Um, no thanks – mail me a new CD.

5. Computers will be more insecure. “I will not spend my money downloading necessary OS or antivirus updates.  Maybe next month when the kids are at camp.”

6. People will hesitate to start or test new technology. Youtube or Skype would never have started if this limitation was in place.  Neither would peer to peer.  Streaming games would never have made their mark.  Many new technologies rely on high bandwidth to start, and this will prevent them from taking hold.

7. Artists and nonprofits or small companies threatened: People who create their own pictures, photos, movies, or music rely on high bandwidth transfering technology like email, peer to peer, or streaming sites like youtube.  Nonprofit websites designed for discussions of art or politics can be destroyed by this action.  I would not be surprised if the RIAA and MPAA were supporting this decision.

8. Free speech will be curtailed.  The internet allows for people to express themselves freely.  If companies are unable to distribute free blogs, these voices will be stifled.  Mass communication helps people find out the problems around the world that need attention, like earthquake victims, out of control police, or if Time Warner is trying to destroy your rights.

9. Future of few affording new technologies.  Technology has and will continue to increase file sizes and bandwidth needed as more realistic images and video becomes available.

10. Science and other intellectual/medical content compromised. Real time information is vital for medical and scientific information, but the transfer of ECG images and other test results take up tremendous bandwidth, as do the various databases.  Contractors in this area will be hit very hard, resulting in a downturn of the medical and scientific industry.

11. No working from home.  Working from home saves expensive gas, and saves the company resources.  This will make it more expensive to work from home, and transfer files back and forth, or use some virtual desktop application.  People may not be able to join long net meetings from home.

Graph at top from Democratic Underground:  Also from their site:

“Time Warner is the largest media conglomerate in the world, with holdings including: CNN, the CW (a joint venture with CBS), HBO, Cinemax, Cartoon Network, TBS, TNT, America Online, MapQuest, Moviefone, Netscape, Warner Bros. Pictures, Castle Rock, and New Line Cinema, over 150 magazines such as Time, Cooking Light, Marie Claire and People.

Time Warner services 17.9% of all cable subscribers, gaining 3.5 million subscribers from its joint acquisition of Adelphia with Comcast. Time Warner now has 14.4 million cable customers (plus 1.5 million held in partnership with Comcast).”

April 22, 2008

Internet users have reasonable expectation of privacy, holds New Jersey Supreme Court

Filed under: law, News, politics — Tags: , , , , , , , , — skeptisys @ 9:49 am

Uncle Sam america 4th amendment internet email privacy

All personal information on the internet, no matter how trivial, is protected from warrant less search and seizure, says the New Jersey Supreme court.

The Supreme Court of New Jersey, in a unanimous 7 judge decision, ruled that internet users have the same expectation of privacy. “just as New Jersey citizens have a privacy interest in their bank records stored by banks and telephone billing records kept by phone companies.”  Quote from Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, writing for the court.

The ruling can be found here (PDF format).  The ruling referenced both U.S. Constitution fourth amendment, and New Jersey Constitution in making this ruling.  The case dealt initially with IP addresses and other private and/or personal information necessarily sent to a 3rd party (ISP, in this case Comcast).  However, the ruling was much more broad, encompassing ‘all information, no matter how trivial’.  The ruling quoted from a law review article on the laws,

“[informational privacy] encompasses any
information that is identifiable to an
individual. This includes both assigned
information, such as a name, address, or
social security number, and generated
information, such as financial or credit
card records, medical records, and phone
logs . . . . [P]ersonal information will be
defined as any information, no matter how
trivial, that can be traced or linked to an
identifiable individual.”

This ruling was expected, as “Federal case law interpreting the Fourth Amendment has
found no expectation of privacy in Internet subscriber information.”

In the case at hand, “The trial court properly suppressed the subscriber information obtained.”

privacy is not a crime t-shirt

March 18, 2008

RateMyCop is pulled over and tasered

Filed under: law, News, politics — Tags: , , , — skeptisys @ 12:54 pm

censor1.jpg

A website, RateMyCop, was taken off the internet after the site received criticism from police organizations. The site, whose stated purpose was to allow the public (including the police) to post information and opinions on individual police officers, was taken down by their ISP GoDaddy, and and has remained unavailable since (more than 1 week so far). The site apparently used only public information, and violated no laws. The main objection by the police is that posting their names would “put law enforcement in danger.” Given their names are already public information, I have no idea how it would put them in further danger.   I think these police organizations are making incorrect assumptions, and the website would actually be beneficial to the police officers.

The police would be able to post direct responses to any potential criticism on the site, which is more difficult when that speech is not open or organized.   Many people in America believe the police do not protect and serve them; that they protect and serve the very elite and rich and view all others as dangerous potential criminals.  If this assumption is not true, the police would be able to use this site to smooth over bad feelings, making them in fact safer.  If it is true, they can work with the public to help move the discussion forward, making the police safer.  Either way benefits society greatly.  With America having over 1% of adults in prison, the relationship between the police and the people needs all the help it can get.

The police organizations are assuming the feedback will all be negative, but that can’t be the right assumption. The police work for the public, and some of the police do know it and try their best. I know someone who lost their husband, and was helped by an officer during that rough time. They would have shared that information to everybody if RateMyCop were available.  I have known cops who were great people, pleasant and fun to hang out with at a barbecue.   One personal ‘cop saved my life’ story is worth a lot more than 10 ‘jerk gave me a ticket’ story.

Of course, the police have the right to voice their concerns, accurately or not, about having their names posted on a website, and the website has the right to have this online forum.  The concern I have is that the website was quickly and efficiently censored, in a country that claims ‘freedom’ on its brochures.   This censorship was done in the typical American way, which is more subtle than force, but quite effective.  The people who run the website lost their large audience.

RateMyCop’s original ISP quickly took the site offline without notice – initially claiming they didn’t like the content, then due to the high traffic. The site was even willing to pay the extra fees requested, and did prepay for another ISP – who nonetheless withdrew the option.  The effect is that ISPs, as large corporate entities, can control and censor web content – by first raising the cost of exercising your freedom of speech online to a level that restricts it to only the rich and powerful; and second by simply refusing to host your site.  This case shows the ISPs will enact this extreme censoring action in collusion with other ISPs, and for the benefit of the official U.S. government.  The resulting self-censorship is gigantic. People will hesitate to speek freely about the government, police, and the corporations they work for, in fear of potential harassment.  That is the complete opposite of America’s original way of life.

If the United States is to regain its reign as greatest and most free country in the world, we have to prevent large companies from this type of control.  When large companies use their power to abuse people’s constitutional rights, it is the government’s ability and responsibility to fine, restrict, dissolve, or criminally punish the offending company. In the United States, corporations were for many years restricted to only temporary limited entities due to the fundamental belief that they would become too large and powerful, abusing American way of life.  Shame on the ISPs for censoring their user, and shame on Congress for not taking appropriate actions to protect their constituents.  If Congress wants to know why they are so disliked (latest 19% approval rating) they need not look any further than their refusals to do their job upholding the constitution, just so a handful of large companies can make even more obscene short-term profits.  Shame on congressional Republicans and Democrats alike.

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