BusinessWeek likes CDT’s middle ground on Net Neutrality

Submitted by Danny Weitzner on Fri, 2006-07-07 10:45. ::
BusinessWeek likes CDT’s middle ground on Net Neutrality

The original appearance of this entry was in Danny Weitzner - Open Internet Policy

BusinessWeek technology columnist Stephen H. Wildstrom writes about The War for the Net’s Future. He describes the simplistic nature of the current debate (currently in a summer hiatus with the anti-neutrality side at a big advantage):

Like most policy debates, the Washington argument over “network neutrality” is thoroughly uninformative. Both the cable and telephone companies on one side and big Internet companies like Google (GOOG) and Microsoft (MSFT) on the other claim to be protecting consumers. But there’s a danger we users could get trampled in this fight among elephants.
The problem is that everyone wants to get into the business of on-demand video — phone companies, cable companies, and players such as Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo! (YHOO).

[..]

Fortunately, there’s a middle ground: We must acknowledge that public networks for everyone can exist alongside premium, private ones, and that these two types of networks can live by different rules. The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), a think tank on tech issues, argues for an approach that preserves the open nature of today’s Internet while creating space for premium networks. This solution truly serves the interests of consumers and most businesses.

CDT’s position paper describes the details of their position. I’m happy to have been able to contribute to CDT’s views through my paper: The Neutral Internet: An Information Architecture for Open Societies. (Full disclosure: I’m on CDT’s Board of Directors and founder of the organization, so I’m biased toward their way of approaching Internet issues.)

Net Neutrality is the ‘toughest issue’ in the US Senate’s telecommunications bill

Submitted by Danny Weitzner on Tue, 2006-06-27 17:44. ::
Net Neutrality is the ‘toughest issue’ in the US Senate’s telecommunications bill

The original appearance of this entry was in Danny Weitzner - Open Internet Policy

According to Reuters, the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee has said that ‘Net Neutrality’ is the toughest issue facing Senators, and that there is not yet sufficient support in the Senate for the bill that Stevens has proposed. ‘Net Neutrality’ will be the subject of committee votes tomorrow with various proposals being offered for the committee to consider.

Sens. Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican, and Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, plan to offer an amendment that would prevent broadband providers from giving priority to any individual company’s content. Snowe said that the debate would likely spill out of the committee and on to the Senate floor. “It won’t be the end of it, it will be the beginning,” she said.

The contention about the issue is, I believe, a positive sign. The committee has recognized that this a high priority but nonetheless complex issue.

Net Neutrality: This is serious

Submitted by timbl on Wed, 2006-06-21 16:35. ::

( real video, download m4v )

When I invented the Web, I didn't have to ask anyone's permission. Now, hundreds of millions of people are using it freely. I am worried that that is going end in the USA.

I blogged on net neutrality before, and so did a lot of other people. (see e.g. Danny Weitzner, SaveTheInternet.com, etc.) Since then, some telecommunications companies spent a lot of money on public relations and TV ads, and the US House seems to have wavered from the path of preserving net neutrality. There has been some misinformation spread about. So here are some clarifications. ( real video Mpegs to come)

Net neutrality is this:

If I pay to connect to the Net with a certain quality of service, and you pay to connect with that or greater quality of service, then we can communicate at that level.
That's all. Its up to the ISPs to make sure they interoperate so that that happens.

Net Neutrality is NOT asking for the internet for free.

Net Neutrality is NOT saying that one shouldn't pay more money for high quality of service. We always have, and we always will.

There have been suggestions that we don't need legislation because we haven't had it. These are nonsense, because in fact we have had net neutrality in the past -- it is only recently that real explicit threats have occurred.

Control of information is hugely powerful. In the US, the threat is that companies control what I can access for commercial reasons. (In China, control is by the government for political reasons.) There is a very strong short-term incentive for a company to grab control of TV distribution over the Internet even though it is against the long-term interests of the industry.

Yes, regulation to keep the Internet open is regulation. And mostly, the Internet thrives on lack of regulation. But some basic values have to be preserved. For example, the market system depends on the rule that you can't photocopy money. Democracy depends on freedom of speech. Freedom of connection, with any application, to any party, is the fundamental social basis of the Internet, and, now, the society based on it.

Let's see whether the United States is capable as acting according to its important values, or whether it is, as so many people are saying, run by the misguided short-term interested of large corporations.

I hope that Congress can protect net neutrality, so I can continue to innovate in the internet space. I want to see the explosion of innovations happening out there on the Web, so diverse and so exciting, continue unabated.

My paper on Internet Neutrality

Submitted by Danny Weitzner on Mon, 2006-06-19 23:48. ::
My paper on Internet Neutrality

The original appearance of this entry was in Danny Weitzner - Open Internet Policy

I’ve just posted a paper on the ‘Net Neutrality’ issue, entitled “The Neutral Internet: An Information Architecture for Open Societies [PDF]. This paper argues that it is important for Congress to enact legislative protection for the essential non-disciminatory and neutral aspects of the Internet.

The United States Senate is likely to take a key vote on the issue this week, so it’s an important time to pay attention and make your voice heard.

The paper identifies four key aspects of the Neutral Internet that must be protected:

  1. Non-discriminatory routing of packets
  2. User control and choice over service levels
  3. Ability to create and use new services and protocols without prior
    approval of network operators
  4. Non-discriminatory peering of backbone networks.

I suggest that:

These principles taken together constitute the social contract among Internet service providers that has been indispensable to its great openness and success. They are equally important regardless of whether the service is broadband or narrowband, wireless or wireline, fiber optic, copper pair or coax. Understanding the Internet requires taking this holistic view of the Internet as a set of business, technical and social arrangements. While traditional telecommunications policy thinking divides the world into ‘facilities’ and different bandwidth levels, these are not the appropriate categories within which we should regulate or de-regulate the Internet. Indeed, the very foundation of the Internet is its ability to connect efficiently a broad array of quite different networks, allowing a publisher of information to reach a global audience without regard to which or what kind of network the recipient is on. To allow the nation’s leading Internet access providers to upend this fundamental global understanding would be to undermine the Internet itself.

There are those who argue that it’s dangerous to ‘regulate’ the Internet and therefore there should be no non-discrimination rules enacted. Some network operators are simply self-serving and want the freedom to take advantage of the tremendous wealth that the Internet generates without playing by the simple, common rules that make it so economically powerful and socially useful. Other well-meaning friends of the Internet worry that getting the FCC involved will risk mendlesome regulation and lead to unintended consequences. I worry about this too, but think that Congress should be able enact Internet Neutrality protections (for example by creating a right to complain against discriminatory conduct at the FTC or FCC) without too much risk. Think of regular old telephone service, whose cornerstone has been for more than 100 years basic commn carriage non-discrimination. True, many countries, including the US have all but eliminated the prices regulation aspect of common carriage. But we still maintain the prohibition against content discrimination simply because it’s vital to the way the telephone system works. This doesn’t result in burdensome regulation, but rather reminds everyone of the importance of maintaining an open voice telephone system.

At the same time, I suggest that some of the Net Neutrality proponents have actually distorted the debate (and hurt our changes to protect the Internet) by trying, intentionally or not, to extend Internet non-discrimination principles to other broadband services such as cable television. The paper explains:

By distinguishing between Internet Neutrality and more general NetNeutrality, it is possible to establish basic non-discriminatory neutrality requirements that will preserve the neutral aspects of the Internet that have brought commercial and non-commercial benefits to hundreds of millions of people around the world. At the same time, policy makers should carefully monitor the evolution of new broadband networks and services. As long as those new networks operate in a manner that does not actively interfere with or unfairly compete against Internet services, policy makers should allow the private sector a freer hand in designing and operating new broadband infrastructure.

I’d welcome comments on the paper and will likely write more about this in the coming days.

Update: Associated Press coverage of the paper: “All Online Traffic May Not Be Equal, 20 June 2006.

Exporting databases in the Semantic Web with SPARQL, D2R, dbview, ARC, and such

Submitted by connolly on Fri, 2006-06-02 16:55. :: | | |

The developer track at WWW2006 last week in Edinburgh was really cool; you had to show up on time or you couldn't fit in the room! One of the coolest talks was D2R-Server - Publishing Relational Databases on the Web as SPARQL-Endpoints.. I see D2R Server is released now. Cool.

Yes, storing RDF in a SQL database using 3-column tables (or 4 or 5 or 6...) is cool as far as it goes, but I'm gland we're finally seeing more work on taking existing SQL databases (whose schemas are not designed with RDF in mind) and exporting them as RDF.

TimBL wrote a design note on Relational Databases on the Semantic Web in 1998. In 2002, I wrote dbview.py, a couple hundred lines of python that implements parts of it. Rob Crowell picked it up and the 2005/2006 version of dbview.py now does foreign keys and backlinks.

D2R gets points for using RDF for their configuration/mapping info. The slides showed turtle/n3. Why are the dbin brainlets in XML but not RDF? I wonder.

D2R Server has a mapping layer; dbview assumes that will be handled with rules. The choice of URIs for column names is interesting. D2R uses jdbc:mysql://127.0.0.1/wordpress#users1, but dbview is all about embedding a SQL database in HTTP space, so we use URIs like http://db.example/orders/customers/custno/1#item. In dbview, the decisions about when to use / and when to use # are made so that the result is browseable. In D2R, the default URIs don't matter as much because it's expected that they'll be mapped to a more well-known ontology/schema like foaf.

dbview is still just a few hundred lines of python; we haven't integrated the SPARQL parser that Yosi developed for cwm, nor integrated EricP's work on federated query.

Speaking of federated query... on Wednesday at the conference, I saw Tim Finin in the poster session. He showed me something the swoogle folks are cooking up: you give it a SPARQL query, and it looks at the terms used in your query and suggests documents you should put in your SPARQL dataset to run your query against. I hope to hear more about that.

Somewhere in EricP's work is one of the several SPARQL-to-SQL rewriters out there... oh... I thought the HP tech report, A relational algebra for SPARQL was another one, but it seems to be by Richard Cyganiak, one of the D2R guys.

Benjamin Nowack's Feb 2006 item announced a SPARQL-to-SQL rewriter for his ARC RDF store for PHP.

Hmm... maybe it's time for a ScheduledTopicChat on SPARQL, SQL, and RDF? If you're interested, suggest a couple times that would be good for you in a comment or in mail to me and a public archive.

WWW2006 in Edinburgh: Identity, Reference, and Meaning

Submitted by connolly on Fri, 2006-06-02 14:40. :: | | | | |

I went to Edinburgh last week for WWW2006.

I spent Tuesday in the workshop on Identity, Reference, and the Web (IRW2006). I didn't really finish my presentation slides in time, but I think my paper, A Pragmatic Theory of Reference for the Web is mostly coherent. Each section of the workshop got an entry in a semantic wiki; mine is the one that started at 12:00.

The IRE formalism presented by Valentina and Aldo was though-provoking. I think their proxy-for is like foaf:topic (modulo the way they mix in time). And exact-proxy-for is like foaf:primaryTopic. Very handy. I wonder if foaf:primaryTopic should be promoted to its own thing, separate from all the social networking stuff in foaf.

Ginsberg's talk hit on one of the most important questions: "Do I commit to a document just because I use one of its terms?" His answer was basically to reify everything; I think we can do better than that. Peter Patel-Schneider's talk basically gave a 'no' answer to the question. I don't think we should go that far either, though from a standardization point of view, that's sorta where we're at.

Steve Pepper's talked about published subjects and public resource identifiers; I can sympathize with his point that we have too many URL/URI/URN/IRI/XRI/etc. terms, but when he suggests that the answer is to make a new one, I'm not sure I agree. He argues to deprecate all the others, but as URI Activity lead at W3C, I'm not in a position where I can overrule people and deprecate things that they say they want. I agree with him that the 303 redirection is too much trouble, but he doesn't seem to be willing to use the HashURI pattern either, and as I said in the advice section of my paper, that's asking for trouble.

On Thursday, I was on a panel about tagging versus the Semantic Web: Meaning on the Web: Evolution or Intelligent Design?. Frank started by debunking 4 myths about the Semantic Web. I gotta find Frank's slides. "I'll hold up one finger whever anybody says myth #1, and so on." As the the other Frank was talking about tagging, Frank held up 2 and 3 fingers, and the audience pointed out that he should have held up 1 finger.

I talked without slides. I think I got away with it. I said that I don't expect symbolic reasoning to beat statistical methods when it comes to the wisdom of crowds, but who wants to delegate their bank balance or the targets of their mail messages to the wisdom of crowds? Sometimes we mean exactly what we say, not just something close.

I suggested that GRDDL+microformats is a practical way to get lots of Semantic Web data. And I brought up the problem with iCalendar timezones and noted that while timezones data should be published by the government entities that govern them, Semantic Web data from wikipedia might be a more straightforward mechanism and might be just as democratic.

So much for philosophical discussions; stay tuned for another item about SPARQL and databases and running code.

Business analysis of Net Neutrality

Submitted by Danny Weitzner on Fri, 2006-06-02 14:20. ::
Business analysis of Net Neutrality

The original appearance of this entry was in Danny Weitzner - Open Internet Policy

There’s an interesting view on Net Neutrality posted on Dave Farber’s Interesting People mailing list. Someone who has a background as a technical executive at several (now bankrupt) telecom companies goes through an analysis of the cost of operating an Internet backbone network and then asks:

Why shouldn’t telecom develop a QoS overlay network to the bulk rate
internet? Its akin to FedEx and the Post Office. If there are
applications/services that need better QoS why would we not want to
have them? If AT&T invested the capex into the network, Shouldn’t it
cost Yahoo more per unit to ship QoS than AT&T? How does AT&T recover
their investment and make margin on the capacity Yahoo uses if they
don’t get to charge them more? Why shouldn’t AT&T seen an advantage
from investing the tons of cash it’ll take to roll this out? So what
the fiber is in the ground? Everything above that layer costs money
too…

The rest is worth reading, too.

The commentor, however, confuses the question about charges in my view: it’s not about whether the network operators can charge for a service, but about whether those charges are discriminatory and whether the fee structure changes from one in which everyone pays individually to reach the Internet cloud, versus a radical view that ISP A (AT&T, for arguments sake) can charge anyone who is served by another ISP for the privilege connecting to ISP A’s customers. Quality of service standards are a great idea and people should pay for them, but there’s no need to disrupt the basic flow of fees (everyone pays their own ISP) to do that.

Dow-Jones/Factiva leader: Search not a good use of time

Submitted by Danny Weitzner on Wed, 2006-05-24 04:45. ::
Dow-Jones/Factiva leader: Search not a good use of time

The original appearance of this entry was in Danny Weitzner - Open Internet Policy

At a keynote panel at the WWW2006 conference, “The Next Wave of the Web,” Claire Hart, Exec. VP of Dow-Jones and former CEO of Factiva (before it was acquired by Dow-Jones) said “search is waste of business people’s time. They should be analyzing information not looking for it….” She went on to say business needs information organized into ontologies with Semantic Web techniques in order to make efficient use of information. She did add that “general search engines are fantastic and will always have a place in business.”

Hart cited studies by a research firm called Outsell which made these findings public in Businessweek:

Outsell’s research shows that the amount of time that employees who work with information such as market research, financial reports, and technical documentation spend on searching for what they need is actually on the rise.

SEARCH TIME UP. Surveys conducted at the end of 2004 and 2005 show notable increases in overall information-related task time for workers in academic, corporate, government, and health-care enterprises. Across all enterprises, the average time spent increased 1.1 hours per week per employee, growing from 10.9 hours to 12.0 hours.

Worse yet, the overall portion of their task time spent on information gathering increased on average by almost 1 hour per week, making up the bulk of the overall increase in task time.
Businessweek Online, MAY 15, 2006

Needless to say, there’s a bias here between mass market advertiser funded search versus fee-based enterprise search, but the contrast is striking nonetheless.

“don’t be evil” an albatross around Google’s neck, plus a great discussion of Web censorship in China

Submitted by Danny Weitzner on Mon, 2006-05-08 09:54. ::
“don’t be evil” an albatross around Google’s neck, plus a great discussion of Web censorship in China

The original appearance of this entry was in Danny Weitzner - Open Internet Policy

I just can’t resist blogging this one: Andrew McLaughlin, Google’s wise and experienced senior policy counsel, said at today’s Computers Freedom and Privacy conference roundtable on China, that Google’s slogan — “don’t be evil” — was developed as a lighthearted slogan to help geeks at Google express their corporate values, has now become an albatross around Google’s neck. In all seriousness, the panel discussion that followed was fascinating and underscored the deep importance of evolving a global support for the free flow of information on the Web.

Sharon Hom, Executive Director of Human Rights in China amplified Andrew’s point with a very thoughtful comment on how good vs. evil extremism has degraded politics in the United States. When we simply issues using rhetorical models such as: “either you’re with us or against us” or “xyz position is evil” you end up with a political culture that is unable to deal with or make progress on difficult, nuances issues which require a long-term view of how to create more openness in China.

Andrew went on to state a set of principles that Google seeks to follow

  1. transparency to users: including an indication of what’s blocked
  2. transparency to the world: letting everyone else know what Google blocks and, where possible, why
  3. protection of customer information
  4. insistence on rule of law and due process (Andrew points out that this will only work when enough companies with sufficient combined market share demand this. Fred Tipton from Microsoft adds to this that this list of companies must be broadened beyond just companies in the Internet market.)
  5. Shareholders in companies (especially minority shareholders) should insist on compliance with openness principles.

In response to a question about the details about what transparency would mean in practice, Andrew stated what the ideal is, in Google’s view, and the reality of what they believe is possible in China today. Google’s ideal can be seen in the way that they handle copyright and other type of takedown requests in democratic countries. When legally required to remove some part of a search result, they indicate that removal at the bottom of the search page, send a copy of the legal request or law that requires the remove to an independent site called ChillingEffects.org, and provide a link from the bottom of the search results page to the relevant order. For example, a search on google.de for B-J-E (a neo-Nazi, racists organization that is illegal in Germany, yields a page with the following statement at the bottom:

Aus Rechtsgrnden hat Google 1 Ergebnis(se) von dieser Seite entfernt. Weitere Informationen ber diese Rechtsgrnde finden Sie unter ChillingEffects.org.

Google does something similar for DMCA (US copyright-related) takedown requests.

The problem, according to Andrew is that Google can’t do this much in China because identity of sites filtered probably constitute a state secret (even though Google itself makes blocking decisions). Sharon Hom explained that any violation of state secrets law in China can result in a secret trial after which defendants tend to be sent to jail for a long time. She stressed that under Chinese law as it stands today, what constitutes a State Secret is determined after the fact and can certainly include data that isn’t even created by the government. Information that the Chinese government considers sensitive (the number of political prisoners, the number of protests, the number of abortions, etc.) will be classified as a state secret and those who discuss this information are subject to prosecution.

On the subject of traparency, Sharon when on to discuss the value of: Value of transparency varies significantly: Transparency can be used against NGOs (for example, Chinese government tried to require HR In China to disclose list of funders as a condition of participation in the WSIS process). Transparency isn’t very useful for Chinese users, who know that sites are being blocked anyway. However, transparency is important for NGOs who are trying to monitor freedom of expression and human rights from outside China.

My own view (see some slides from a talk I gave at the University of Southampton) of this issue is that the actions of China reveal a significant weakness in the global regulatory framework of the Internet and the Web. During the first decade of the global use of the Internet, we saw the Net spread and prosper largely through a deregulatory, hands-off model pushed by the United States through the work of Ira Magaziner. While this worked of a while, it left the Internet without any affirmative, globally recognized protections for the free flow of information. I believe we are coming to a point where we need more affirmative and binding international agreements in support of the free flow of information as a fundamental value for the Web around the world.

RDF, Microformats, and Javascript hacking in person at the 'tute

Submitted by connolly on Thu, 2006-05-04 16:14. :: | | | |

My regular schedule of working group meetings and conferences had a gap in April, and my list of reasons to chat with Ben was growing, and we're recruiting some UROPs to work on the tabulator project this summer, so I flew up for a visit to MIT.

I didn't have any particular appointments the first day, so I used the few spare minutes on the T between the airport and MIT to scare up contacts using my handheld gizmo. It turned out Aaron was in town and available for lunch in Harvard Square. We talked about life in start-ups, standards orgs, and research. He suggested layout stuff from Java and Apple should make its way into CSS and offered to write up a few details.

I spent much of Thursday with Ben working on javascript hacks to explore calendar data in RDFa. We did some whiteboard noodling about RDFa and microformats. He showed me the JavaScript shell, which is pretty cool... it gives a read-eval-print loop and tab completion in firefox... just like a lisp machine ;-) Elias dropped by and mixed in some javascript hacking he's been doing to connect SPARQL with the google calendar. Ben and I didn't get around converting my itinerary to RDFa like we planned, but we got pretty close; he sent out a New RDFa demo the next day. That same day, he came down to meet with me again, but I had to go work on a DARPA report, so we were trying to figure out next steps, and he came up with a cool idea and sent it out: Proposal: hGRDDL, an extraction from Microformats to RDFa. Elias and I did some whiteboard noodling too, in the neigborhood of JSON and templates and microformats.

Elias is learning more than he ever wanted to about calendars and timezones. It's like Dougal Campbell said to microformats-discuss:

My server is in timezone A, but I live in timezone B, but I'm posting information about an event that will occur in timezone C. Shoot me now.

On this trip, a Samsonite Dimension Notebook Case from SAM's replaced my aging W3C bag in my travel kit. I think I like all the little pockets and such, but I'm not sure; sometimes I miss the simplicity of one big compartment. I'm sure that I'm not happy that my Kensington K33069 Universal AC/Car/Air Adapter stopped working somewhere between MIT and MKE.

That's one of the reason that I always pack some light reading on dead-trees. I enjoyed escaping into Scott Lasser's Battle Creek on the way home. Baseball and fathers. Good stuff.