Category Archives: Internet

Online consultation on metered internet: Need we say more?

Now that the NDP, the Liberals, Green Party and Conservative Party(including the PM’s office and Minister of Industry) have all suddenly come out against the CRTC’s usage-based billing ruling, the CRTC has announced that they will be reconsidering and are seeking comments/submissions. Online.

It almost feels like I could end this post there, as conducting an online consultation about whether the public should be rationing their Internet usage is irony enough, is it not?

But I suppose I should post the consultation details:

  • Notice #2011-77 is here
  • It asks specifically for comments about the billing practices for wholesale residential high-speed access services, so they’re concerned here about the impact on small ISPs who get their bandwidth from the big guys, not necessarily on the impact on the public/consumer, libraries, Internet cafes, Netflix or innovation in Canada
  • In order to comment you have to register by Feb 22 and submit commenst by March 28.
  • This is what they’re looking for, in their own words:

Comments are invited on:

i.   How best to implement the following principles with respect to large incumbents’ wholesale services used by Small ISPs;

a.   As a general rule, ordinary consumers served by Small ISPs should not have to   fund the bandwidth used by the heaviest retail Internet service consumers.

b.   It is in the best interest of consumers that Small ISPs, which offer competitive alternatives to the incumbent carriers, should continue to do so.

ii. Whether the Commission should set a minimum threshold level for the sale of bandwidth by large incumbent carriers to the Small ISPs and, if so, what should it be;

iii. Whether it is appropriate to hold an online consultation as part of its review; and

iv. Whether it is appropriate to hold an oral public hearing as part of its review.

I encourage you to submit something. And to keep a copy, in case it gets lost the way my copyright consulatation submission did, because if you keep a copy it can get found the way mine did, too. Here’s the first example I’ve seen of someone (Jason Koblovsky) posting their UBB submission.

Technically you can submit comments via mail as well, but you have to dig to find out where & how. “Regular” people who might want to comment will presumably go the website and click on the “submit” button, fill out the online form, and be done with it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the CRTC went ahead with point iii above and held a full-on online consultation process, complete with streaming video from Nik Nanos et al.

Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about how much bandwidth uploading your submission will eat up. Yet.

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The metered Internet threat to innovation & access to information

Remember the early days of mass public access to the world wide web? Back when AOL was king, noisy dial-up modems were par for the course and having any graphics on a webpage was super-fancy? Remember in 1993 or so, when you’d connect to the Internet, download your email as quickly as possible, disconnect to read the text and write your responses, then connect and send your pre-written emails as quickly as possible? It’s the type of scenario today’s kids would find baffling and hilarious: clunky, unwieldy, expensive, and certainly not one that encouraged increased use of the technology.

Well, everything old is new again. The CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission), Canada’s telecom regulator that brought us nearly-neutrality rules just a year ago, recently issued a decision on “usage based billing” or UBB (Telecom Decision CRTC 2011-44). And the meter on your Internet may well be back on – albeit measuring bytes rather than seconds this time around.

A lot of reaction to this decision is coming out, and more analysis will follow in the coming days, I’m sure. OpenMedia.ca has a petition up, Canadian news outlets are covering the decision (and reaction) widely, and online content providers are understandably furious.

I haven’t gotten a chance to comb through the decision in detail yet, and I have to take a couple of boys to the science museum shortly, but there are a few points I want to make right off the bat. I may be back later to comment further or clarify these quick notes.

1) UBB is not the same issue as net neutrality (unless #2 applies)

The reason usage-based billing sounds so appealing, so normal,  is that we do pay per item/metered amount for a lot of goods. We pay for utilities like hydro (hydro = electricity for you non-Canadians) on a metered basis, and many areas also meter water (although that is not without controversy). Frankly, the UBB idea is a brilliant example of big ISPs hearing the pro-neutrality argument that Internet should be treated like a utility and running with that concept, turning it to their advantage.

A lot of the same folk who were up in arms over net neutrality are upset about this UBB ruling. And they have good reason to be outraged. However, in strict sense, UBB is not in contradition with net neutrality (where net neutrality = slowing down of selected content en route to the consumer). My understanding of the CRTC UBB decision is that it is supposed to be content-agnostic, and only size-based. Now, this doesn’t make a lot of sense, policy-wise, anyway (as I will discuss below), but it’s not necessairly non-neutral.

However, metered use makes sense for goods for which we have  a finite supply, not for things like information, which do not require rationing. Economically speaking, information is a non-rivalrous good, meaning that my use of the good (say, a webpage, journal article or TV show) does not in any way prevent you from also using & enjoying the same good.

I know, I know, there’s that old argument about your pipes getting clogged because your neighbours are downloading too much big stuff all the time, but frankly Canadian ISPs have been given ample opportunity to show evidence of this overload, and none has materialised. In fact, the logs we did see during the net neutrality hearings showed the exact opposite of congestion, making it clear that this is just a cash grab. (I do want to make the point, however, that even if congestion were present – and eventually it may exist if ISPs fail to invest in their infrastructure – that does not mean that the correct response is to slow down Canada’s Internet in response. Other industries are required to upgrade their infrastructure over time as needs change or parts get old and fail.)

2) UBB is a potential neutrality workaround

While I think the intent of the CRTC  is allow metering of all Internet content equally within the same subscription plan, and to do otherwise is likely a violation of the still-untested CRTC net neutrality rules, there is a lot of scope here for ISPs to provide favourable conditions for content from which they benefit.

For example, an ISP may offer special promotional “exemptions” from UBB for content offered by their parent company – dinging, say, Netflix while exempting their own online TV/movie service. This isn’t throttling content in the “pipes” or charging a toll to content providers for content delivery, it’s charging a toll to users for content access. It’s throttling the consumer’s wallet.

3) UBB is a giant threat to access to information, and to innovation

Here’s where it gets really ugly. Imagine what it would (will?) be like when we are charged by the byte for information downloaded (and possibly also uploaded?) over our connections.

No one knows how much bandwidth they’re using so they minimize use, fearing fees. AJAX is no longer an asset; it is a liability and we disconnect from continuously refreshing websites to save bandwidth. The pressure is on for online content to be as compressed as possible, hitting the art community hard. Community wireless, such as building-wide wifi in co-op housing, becomes potentially pricey and hard to control.Schoolkids are no longer encouraged to post videos from the classroom to demonstrate and share learning. Employers start to police recreational Internet use more than ever. Coffee shops and other hotspots stop offering wifi all together, making life harder for freelancers, the self-employed, students and others without official workspaces.

Fearing the bandwidth limits on their personal subscriptions, the middle-class flock to libraries to do their downloading. Libraries cannot afford this. Libraries may not be able to afford current levels of bandwidth use, if metered, particularly academic libraries or those dealing with subject areas involving rich media (art, film, music…). I cannot over-emphasize the threat to public access to information via libraries here: libraries are currently THE places in society where anyone can access the Internet. If libraries have to limit this, ration it somehow, or lose this role, it will be a tragedy both for libraries and for the public who rely on library Internet. When public Internet access is limited or closed, public access to information, and therefore public participation in democracy, is seriously impinged. With the government increasingly moving to online-only forms, information, and dialogue with the public, how responsible is it to simultaneously move to meter Internet use?

We may move backwards in time, returning to network television for entertainment. Online course reserves could be pricier for the university than those old print custom course packages. We might actually revive the fax machine?!? Why would a country want to push its population back in time, when the rest of the world is jetting ahead with innovative multimedia content and new delivery systems? Hard to say. Just dumb policy-making? The cynic in my says it could be that those making the policy stand to benefit from old media technologies and fear the threat of the new. However we may drag our feet and try to slow things down within national borders, change and innovation are going to happen – if they need to happen elsewhere first, that will happen. Maybe the CRTC needs to attend Karen Schneider’s talk at MLA?

-Greyson

ETA – Well, that didn’t take long. The decision has already been appealed. Fasten your seatbelts!

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Filed under academic libraries, business, democracy, digitization, government information, inclusion/exclusion, Intellectual freedom, Internet, media democracy, net neutrality, privatization, public libraries, technology

House rules for kids & online gaming

One thing I learned when I became a parent is that there’s a big difference between being a non-parent who likes kids and being a parent. One of the ways this manifests, for me, is in advice. I’ve worked in a lot of family & children’s service programs over the years, and parents have often asked me for advice on various topics. The way I give advice has changed since I’ve had a seat on the other side of the table too. It’s a lot easier to give advice on many topics than it is to have to deal with the topic in real life.

Take kids & the Internet, for example. It was pretty easy to do projects in library school about why Internet filters designed to restrict children’s Internet access don’t work very well. However, I found it somewhat harder to conjure up something that *did* make me feel safe about my child’s online access.

This past summer I entertained a growing awareness that it was time to formally talk with the kid about his use of the computer & Internet. He’s had limited, highly supervised, computer privileges for a while now, but he’s getting old enough to have more responsibility and less micro-management on my behalf.

I was surprised to find myself at a bit of a loss as to what exactly our house rules should be! I’m a librarian, I thought. I’m the one who gives other people advice on these topics! Yet I wasn’t exactly sure what to do in my own home. Oh dear.

After having my moment of humility, I asked myself what I’d recommend to another parent who asked me for advice on the topic. Well, of course I’d send them to the ALA website, as I knew they had a bunch of resources on online safety. Wow, are some of those resources:

  1. seriously out of date,
  2. very US-American, and
  3. rather paranoid.

That said, some of the links were useful as inspiration. Feeling somewhat unsatisfied by my ALA website experience, I turned to an online parenting community of which I’m a part and asked for advice from other parents. Surprisingly few of them had specific rules or contracts with their kids governing Internet use either.

In the end, I ended up creating our own house rules for computer/Internet use. Some of the rules were negotiated with the kid, others were non-negotiable in my book, still others the kid came up with himself. We typed them up together, printed them out, and then I shared them with my online parenting community.

And now I’m going to share them with you. Why? Not because I think the rules in your house should be exactly the same as the rules in my house, but because they are up-to-date and might give you a template or some ideas for either your own house or the next time a parent asks you for advice.

I’m out of the youth services loop these days, so I’m not sure how common it is for children’s librarians to produce sample house computer/Internet use rules lists, but given recent news that kids are gaming online more than their parents know,such resources are worth considering.

If anyone reading this knows of really good sites with other guidelines/rules, or thinks there are rules that should be added to the above to make a suggested list, please leave a comment.

Greyson’s Computer Use Rules

(For context, these rules were made for/with a 7-year-old/grade 3 child who can read & type independently, likes to play Club Penguin and Super Mario, and has his own blog to which only I know the password.)

TIME:

In one day, you can have: 1 30-minute computer time OR 2 20-minute computer times with least 20 minutes in between

Computer time cannot carry over from one day to another.

PLACE:

Family computers can be used in the living room.

Other locations only by special arrangement.

INTERNET:

You can go to pre-approved websites on your own.

You have to have a grown-up with you to surf the net/search for new sites.

Nothing you have to pay for, without parental permission.

You never give out personal information online (phone #, address, what school you go to, pictures of you, etc.)

You never give your passwords to anyone, even friends, and if someone finds one out you tell us asap so we can help change it.

Agree to share any passwords to any sites with us (Gmail, Club Penguin…) and not change these without telling us.

Be polite online like in real life.

Never download anything without our permission.

On Club Penguin, you can add buddies without specific permission

GAMES:

No shooting games without specific permission to play that game

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Filed under Internet, public libraries, school libraries, technology, tips and tools, youth

Internet Linking is Analogous to Citation

Everyone with whom I have discussed the issue of Internet linking agrees that Internet hyperlinks are a form of citation. But the subset of the population with whom I discuss these issues is not representative of the entire world, clearly. There are 2 schools of thought that I’ve encountered thus far that substantially differ from the above:

  1. The folks who think you need to obtain permission to link to another website, and
  2. The folks who think the author/owner/host/ISP of a webpage are responsible for any content accessible via hyperlinks on that site.

Neither one of these perspectives makes a whit of sense to me, seeing as I conceive of hyperlinks as akin to footnotes or citations, not republication of the material to which the link directs. Republication would be copying content on one webpage and posting it (in a manner beyond that permitted by fair dealing/fair use) on another page.

Because I can’t really understand how a hyperlink could actually be considered republication rather than citation, I am dumbfounded by people who adhere to – and sometimes threaten legal action in accordance with – either of the above two viewpoints. I actually find myself a bit stymied when pressed to defend my stance that hyperlinking is citation, because the alternative is so ludicrous in my mind. I need to work on this, which is why I’m posting this here.

1. Permission to Link

I have encountered a few individuals who have adamantly insisted that their websites were their property and thus they had the rights to dis/allow linking to their web content. I have actually been threatened with legal action from a blogger (with a PhD – which led me to expect that she’d at least be able to research the actual law) who insisted that I not link to her weblog from a password-protected site, which I found incredible! (In this specific case, although I knew she didn’t have a legal leg to stand on, I removed the link because I liked her writing and didn’t really want to make her mad, and also because I didn’t want to sink energy into a fight, but stopped following her blog lest I accidentally post a link she didn’t approve again.)

Apparently U.S. Judge Richard Posner also did or does think that permission to link to a webpage should be the law. In this blog post from last year, he states that:

Expanding copyright law to bar online access to copyrighted materials without the copyright holder’s consent, or to bar linking to or paraphrasing copyrighted materials without the copyright holder’s consent, might be necessary

in order to save the newspaper industry (from the competition of free news aggregation sites). While I have great sympathy for the difficult times the newspaper industry is experiencing in this era of digitization, the above suggested curtailing of fair use/fair dealing is appalling.

My understanding is that nothing has been legally established in Canada about permission-to-link, but in the U.S. there is a bit of case law establishing that (in the absence of other factors such as defamation or violation of – in Canada – moral rights) as BitLaw states,

“there would appear to be no legal means for preventing someone from including a link in one page to another”

2. Liability of Link-maker

SO, the Supreme Court of Canada has apparently agreed to hear Wayne Crookes’ appeal of a 2008 BC ruling (an appeal that was dismissed from BC Supreme Court) that linking to websites that contain allegedly defamatory material is not in and of itself defamation. Vancouver-based Crookes has sued a bagload of folk for libel based not on things they wrote on their websites but on thinks written on sites they linked to, or sites those sites linked to.

Whoa. Similar to how ISPs should not be responsible for the content of their customers, web authors should not be held responsible for the content on pages they link to! Citing something, in traditional publication, is hardly the same thing as agreeing with it, let alone authoring it. Hyperlinking is like citing – a pointer, a reference.Hyperlinking is not – as I think I clearly distinguished above – republication of content.

Hopefully the Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear this in order to set precedent (in accordance with the BC courts decisions) and thus stop the free-expression chill that such SLAPPs create. The alternative is just too ludicrous, right?

Right?

-Greyson

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Filed under censorship, copyright, digitization, Intellectual freedom, Internet, IP, Other blogs, publishing

Online drug advertising & the regulatory challenge

Between the (minor!) bike accident , the kid’s birthday, and being out of town for a bit, blog posting has gone a bit by the wayside the past few weeks. However, something that’s been much on my mind lately, and which I’d like to discuss here, is drug advertising online.

I’ve written various posts before about DTCA – direct to consumer advertising of prescription drugs – which is legal in limited form in Canada, and in much greater form in the US. I think prescription drug promotion of all sorts is a big social justice issue, and that DTCA is a significant and oft-overlooked consumer health info issue that librarians should have on our radar. When we talk about the Pew research on online health info seeking, social media, and “e-patients,” we cannot forget that profit-motivated companies are as interested in our patients’ online information behaviour as we are, just for very different reasons.

The Canadian “freedom of expression” lawsuit on this matter has been indefinitely adjourned, but I’ve come to wonder if perhaps debating the merits and perils of television and magazine ads may be rather passé in light of the Internet’s growing centrality as an advertising medium. Maybe CanWest was not just throwing in the towel on a lawsuit that was destined for failure (b/c the FOE argument was pretty weak), but also strategically abandoning old media. Nah, actually, I think CanWest is still pretty wedded to old media, but the rest of us aren’t. And we are the target audience for DTCA.

Now, I know some people (lots of them) still watch TV on TV, even with all this digital conversion business. But will they in a decade? Not so sure. Hulu has been such a huge success in the US, spawning constant rushes of hordes of international viewers to one proxy setup after another in order to see the latest episode of their favourite shows. It’s only a matter of time before online TV is de rigueur in any region with decent bandwidth & reliable connectivity.

The unofficial rules for online drug advertising have, to this point, basically been an extension of the TV advertising regulations. It’s debatable whether this is appropriate or not. I’ll take on whether the Internet is more like TV or more like the telephone in a separate post (soon! I promise!), but I think we can all agree that it’s not *exactly* like TV.

Many online ads, for example, require some active selection on the part of the reader/viewer, and are not necessarily as time limited as TV ads (and thus able to provide fuller information). Typical online drug ads today appear as advertisements in the margins of a website, and attempt to entice the reader into clicking them to go to a website with fuller information on whatever the condition/drug may be.

In a somewhat impressive attempt to be proactive (?), the FDA (US drug regulator) held a couple days of public hearings last month on the topic of online drug advertising. The 5-page list of speakers (pdf) was heave on pharma and health tech investors, followed by representatives of online services both general and health-specific, ranging from Google to WebMD. So that pretty much covers the people who want to advertise, and those who want the money from said advertising. Of note, there were reps of specific social marketing units within pharmaceutical companies on the docket, so Pharma is well aware of the stakes here (e.g. Sanofi-Aventis has a rep, and then the Sanofi-Aventis social media working group had a rep as well). Unfortunately, I could pick out only a very few advocacy/public interest groups, such as the Consumers Union.

To backtrack a bit, this hearing didn’t come out of nowhere, although it was not terribly well publicized.Back in April, the FDA issued warnings to some 14 pharmaceutical companies over their “misleading” online advertising. At issue was failure to fully disclose risks, and these letters focused on search engine ads (aka “sponsored links” in some search engine displays).

November’s hearings, however, were broader in scope, touching on not just search engine advertising, but also ads on websites, and – perhaps most significantly – in social media. This is excellent news, as we know that social sites are an ideal location for what I called “embedded DTCA with a social environment created to reach vulnerable and isolated populations” in my post about the “patient support” site RareShare a year ago.

So what? Where is this going? What does the Internet mean for drug advertising and patient protection?
Well, there some very interesting threads to watch as this policy story unfolds:

  1. The Internet doesn’t do super well with national borders. If laws on DTCA are different in different countries, do they have to appear differently based on site host location? IP address of the end user? How? DTCA on television has taken advantage of lack of political will to enforce existing laws to broadcast US drug ads across the Canadian border. Will the Internet do any better? (Personally, I am doubtful.)
  2. The Internet, however, does allow for end-user participation on a scale unprecedented by other media. Some people have voiced optimism regarding the potential for commenting and annotation to temper, force transparency upon, and generally “culture jam” drug advertising. Google’s SideWiki has received a lot of attention in this regard, but it remains fairly unwieldy to use and market saturation is quite low.
  3. The whole net neutrality debate applies here, and the way this debate influences our view of the Internet will influence the way we feel about things like online advertising. Is the Internet a media for entertainment or communications? Is it a utility, which should be neutral and allow for participation from all, or is it a medium for consumption? We would feel quite different about picking up the phone and hearing an ad than we do about a commercial break from a TV show.
  4. Social media can really blur the line between non-profit advocacy and for-profit promotion in a nasty way. It’s one thing to regulate what can or must be said inside a little “ad” box in the margin of a website. It’s quite another to regulate embedded personalities within a social media site, who are planted there to promote certain products. I will be quite surprised if these hearings/this process even touches on this issue, but variations on hidden advertisements are a phenomenon that’s well-known in the blogging world, maybe less recognized in some other social media fora (Facebook, where everyone is supposedly using their “real name”?)

-Greyson

p.s. During composition of this post I cheked the CBC news online, and lo and behold there was an example of DTCA right on the site. So I snapped a screenshot, of course, to stick up here. This is an example of a currently-legal “disease awareness” ad for erectile dysfunction, from the Health News page of the cbc.ca:

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Filed under government, Health, Internet, net neutrality, privatization

ICANN’s non-Latin domain approval

I’ve been wanting to say something about the ICANN non-Latin script domain approval move for a bit now, but found myself unsure of what to say. “Yay,” seemed trite, and “It’s about time,” is just more of my usual snark.

I think it’s a no-brainer for people with any sence of global justice issues to agree that the US government should not be “running” or “ruling” the Internet. The details get a little hairy, but really, this is the Internet folks. The world wide web made possible approzimately a gazillion-and-eight things no one thought were possible before, so pretending that figuring out how to make right-to-left and left-to-right scripts play together is beyond all the world’s geeks today is rather silly.

Further, fretting that you might have to actually learn some multilingual skills just makes you look like an ignorant American, so please just stop embarrassing us both. (as I did grow up as an ignorant American and am now an only-slightly-less-ignorant Canadian-American trying to foster a considerably-less-ignorant next generation)

I’m optimistic about the (slightly) increased distance between the US government and ICANN. I’m really interested to see where this goes, and what kind of representation non-Eurpoean countries (besides Japan) end up getting.

Finally, if you missed it, Xeni from Boing Boing did a great brief interview on this topic (the ICANN non-Latin domain ruling) on the Rachel Maddow show, and I encourage you to watch it (and not just b/c Maddow is my smarter, slicker twin!). You can link to it from this boing boing post.

-Greyson

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