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Archive for the 'Politics' Category

Yay Broadband!


The New America Foundation and many other folks today put out what they’re calling “A National Broadband Strategy Call to Action.” I bring it to your attention because I think that they are right that making affordable high-speed broadband Internet available to everyone in the United States (not just Americans, btw) should be a top priority for the Obama administration. I even agree with many of their arguments:

“Too many Americans still do not have access to affordable broadband or lack the equipment or knowledge to use it effectively…Throughout our history, the United States has adopted policies to maximize the benefits of major technological advances.  In the 19th century, we promoted the development of canals, railroads, and electric power.  In the 20th century, we instituted policies to expand electric power and
national telephone and highway systems, and we transported people to the moon and back.  Now,
in the 21st century, it is time to adopt a National Broadband Strategy that builds on this tradition…  The federal government, in collaboration with state and local governments and the private sector, should play an
active role in stimulating broadband deployment, particularly in unserved areas.”

But, as those who know much more than I do have pointed out, the full Call to Action doesn’t  go nearly far enough. Several colleagues from the Berkman Center commented:

“It’s pretty good, all things considered, but I’d be a lot happier if it made some attempt (even with caveats like the “to the maximum feasible extent” language) to explicitly address net neutrality, non-discrimination, privacy, etc.”

“My only problem with the statement is that it punts on the hard issues, and thus says just about nothing except ‘Yay broadband!’
– The network management clause seems designed to allow for non-neutrality.
– It does not say a word about whether our current infrastructure is the right one for achieving the goals. Status quo? Throw the rascals out? Invest in new approaches? Go fiber? Go open spectrum? Private-public partnerships? Structural separation? (It does call for the “efficient use of spectrum,” but that could be taken as an argument for OR against white spaces, for example.) This is the opposite of a Bold Call to Action. Frankly, I’m hoping for more from the Obama administration. “

“Keep in mind that this is coming from a very diverse group, including AT&T and NCTA (Cable’s trade association).  About the best you could hope for out of that crowd is “Yay, broadband.”  So, yes, it’s pretty watered down and non-specific.

That being said, simply stating that broadband is important and is a priority is a good thing.  It is a call to action without specifying what exactly the action should be. I would certainly hope that the new Administration would be able to say something more concrete about their policy goals.”

So, New America Foundation and company – keep up the good work. There are lots of folks who need to hear this.

Obama tech team – we expect you to be BOLDER than a coalition of communications providers, high technology companies, manufacturers, consumers, labor unions, public interest groups, educators, state and local governments, utilities, content creators, foundations, and other stakeholders in America’s broadband future.

Image: Inside a broadband router (blueish general view)
Uploaded on March 30, 2007

by jepoirrier

Worth more than 1000 words


“Over the years I have tried to use images and ideas to cut through complacency and apathy while trying to raise consciousness about an array of social issues from discrimination and human rights, to health and the environment….” — Chaz Maviyane-Davies

Coming out of my own complacency and apathy about everything that isn’t the draft of my paper, catching up with my favorite blogs. Thanks to Ethan Zuckerman for pointing to a terrific site, CORRECTION: The site was started by Julia Zimmerman and Chris Thomas and INCLUDES the work of fine graphic designers such as Chaz Maviyane-Davies started by Chaz Maviyane-Davies: gives us a poster a day showing why to vote for Obama! The first one, (at left) by Maviyane-Davies, is pretty depressing but today’s features a more cheerful Margaret Mead quote:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

Interview Bounty


Great challenge for citizens or journalists – get Speaker Nancy Pelosi to explain in detail why she doesn’t think even one of the three dozen transgressions described by Denis Kucinich in House Resolution H. Res. 1258: Impeaching George W. Bush, President of the United States, of high crimes and misdemeanors is an impeachable offense. is offering a prize
of up to $1000 to the first person to get the answer on video or audio tape.

The timing is perfect – Pelosi’s headed out on a book tour. The only quibble I have is the stupidity of limiting eligibility to “progressive citizens or journalists,” which they define as “To qualify as a “progressive” citizen or journalist, you must be active with a known progressive group or news organization or website (including Your activity can be as limited as volunteering or posting comments.” Why would reporting by a right-wing, moderate or apolitical citizen not be worth having? For that matter, by this definition, posting an angry comment on complaining about this dumb rule would automatically make you eligible.

Thanks to Jay Rosen for tweeting this.

Image: Nancy Pelosi at 30th Anniversary of Silicon Valley Leadership Group, June 2, 2008.
By Orin via Flickr

There is a Creative Commons license attached to this image. AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works

Telling the FCC what I think


Actually, my talented colleagues Wendy Seltzer, Geoff Goodell and Steve Schultze did the very eloquent telling of the FCC that their proposal to give away spectrum to be used for “family-friendly” Internet, accomplished by network-level filtering of potentially harmful content, which I wrote about a few days ago, is wrongheaded on many fronts:

— it mistakenly treats the Internet like a broadcaster, which denies the Internet’s essential nature as a space for creation, collaboration and innovation;
— it will stifle both competition and innovation in important areas;
— it is in conflict with the FCC’s own policies promoting openness and neutrality; and worst of all,
— it violates the First Amendment (oh that!), suppressing large amounts of speech

That’s the supershort version, if you have time to be really enraged about this (and you should!) you can read the whole comment on the FCC website, in docket 07-195. And sign up for Berkman’s mailing lists, where news will surely be posted as it appears.

Update: My fellow fellow Harry Lewis has a lovely post on the absurdity of the proposed rule.

Image: Free Speech
Uploaded on May 1, 2007
by mellowbox

There is a Creative Commons license attached to this image. AttributionShare Alike

Tags: FCC, pornography, censorship

1st Amendment? Never heard of it, says FCC


The FCC says they want to make it easy for someone to deliver wireless broadband for free. But, as we say here at Berkman, there is free as in beer, and free as in speech. And the FCC’s new idea is UNFREE as in speech. Why? Because the license for the spectrum they want to auction requires a mechanism that “filters or blocks images and text that constitute obscenity or pornography and…any images or text that otherwise would be harmful to teens and adolescents. For purposes of this rule, teens and adolescents are children 5 through 17 years of age.” As someone pointed out in a gathering here at Berkman just now, that puts the United States right up there with China. Further, the rule states, “should any commercially-available network filters installed not be capable of reviewing certain types of communications, such as peer-to-peer file sharing, the licensee may use other means, such as limiting access to those types of communications.”

The problem is the ruling makes the Internet like broadcast television or radio, where we still can’t use George Carlin’s seven words, when it really should be like the telephone, where it’s none of your @O#*$U# business what I want to talk about. I am neither a lawyer nor a technologist-philosopher (like David Weinberger who blogged it here), but I know this is BAD. I read the text (actually I just searched for the word “pornography” and read that bit) and then went here to tell the FCC how I felt. (The comments submission form is very tricky, the 2 relevant dockets are 07-195, and 04-356, but I found it rejected my attempts to put them in myself (got an error message after submitting) so I clicked on proceedings and search for them.

That’s the basic Internet freedom part.

There’s also the sleazy background part about the M2Z, the company that’s pushing this. Business Week points out that one of the two founders of M2Z is a former FCC official. The company’s site encourages visitors to send letters to Congress and the FCC tell them to support “free, family-friendly, nationwide broadband.” Wendy suggested they rename it the “free, family-friendly, FILTERband.”

See also Scott Bradner, David Weinberger, Wendy Seltzer

Tags: FCC, pornography, censorship

Media & governance 2gether 4ever (World Bank/Harvard conference redux)


I continue to ponder the interesting discussions at a 2.5 day conference put together by the World Bank’s CommGap (that’s COMMunication for Governance and Accountability Program, not “communication gap”) and the Shorenstein Center at Harvard Kennedy School. Definitely read Charlie Beckett’s thoughtful 5-part summary for a real roundup, I’m only highlighting a few things that struck me.
The focus was on international development, specifically on how to convince the good people who fund international development that media is important to good governance* which in turn drives human development. To this end, the organizers had gathered a great group of folks (present company excluded, I begged to come when I learned who would be there). There were three tribes: academics, World Bank people and then a motley group of “practitioners” that included people working in media, media development, and media for development.**

Finally meeting the terrific Sheila Coronel, whose presentation (do read the real thing) on the role of investigative journalism was thoughtful, historical, passionate and practical all at once. Conclusion: watchdog journalism is not always heroic or perfect, it can even be counterproductive sometimes and its effectiveness depends on many factors but we need watchdog journalism no matter what, in fragile states and stable, to remind us how democracy could and should work.

Learning (in the lunch breaks) about Media Tenor, a fascinating international media analysis group that’s been around for 15 years monitoring high-profile mainstream media, with all the data freely available. Only 30% of their work is done for paying clients; those fees support the other 70%, which is all available for free. CEO Roland Schatz explained that they do not hide this fact from their clients; everyone accepts it. (speaking of business models, Ethan!) Moreover, they are careful not to let any one client dominate their revenue so they can remain independent of any political or business agenda. Can’t wait to dig through their stuff.

Cheering on Warren Feek, head of the Communication Initiative Network, as he called on us to correct some of the limitations he saw in the papers and discussions. I hope he will post the slides he showed, meanwhile, my takeaways:

— remember that media is part of society: we need to understand its place in each country, which requires close collaboration with local experts in research, program design,
–get beyond traditional media either in the sense of delivery mechanisms or in the narrow paradigm of “objective” journalism. New media is playing a growing role, advocacy media is vital.
— rephrase our work more positively: we are promoting enhanced political participation, dammit, we are not the poor cousin

Listening to the presentation by Ibrahim al Marashi and (my long-time pal) Monroe Price of their work together with Nicole A. Stremlau on media in conflict societies. Their paper-in-progress, examining media in Iraq, Uganda and Ethiopia, is well worth your time. No simple soundbites here; as the conclusion says of the three cases: “Each is a messy, nonlinear project.” (I hope Ibrahim will post the riveting images from Iraqi TV he shared at the conference somewhere.)

Being reminded by the Open Society Foundation’s Marius Dragomir about the importance of broadcasting through his research on the many incarnations of “public broadcasting.”

The more I learn about what’s happening in new media in the “developed” world, the more eager I am to integrate it with the work in other countries, to the benefit of both.

Image: Glowing Globe,
originally uploaded by Trooper3d

* The term “democratic governance” turned out not to be popular with all the World Bank’s partner-states.

** “Media Development” is when people support the creation or improvement of local media as a good in its own right. “Media for Development” is  when media is used as a vehicle to promote other aspects of human development, through ads promoting condom use or radio dramas about the free market. In recent years, the two tribes have forged an uneasy peace.


Miserable broadband in US – why is this not a big story?


If you don’t haz broadband you don’t haz convergence, duz u? Thanks to the still-young site Ground Report, I came across the Communication Workers of America Speed Test. Try it out, it’s a great way to drive home what my fellow fellow David Weinberger pointed out earlier this week: the US is in 15th place (out of 30 developed countries) in broadband penetration and far from the top in any number of other measures.

The US? In 15th place in something as important to our economy as broadband? Naturally the mainstream media everywhere are abuzz with this story, demanding answers from our elected officials, etc. Um, NOT. Searches on Yahoo and Google News turned up exactly TWO articles on the sites of general interest publications (not counting BusinessWeek and several computer/tech publications): The San Francisco Chronicle covered it on its Tech Chronicles blog, and the Capital Times, in Madison, WI ran an article, with an actual byline. Bravo, Capital Times! Both quoted the media reform folks at Free Press.

So will participatory media pick up the slack? So far, doesn’t look like it. (I would love to be proven wrong) Isn’t this a perfect issue (geeky and political and yet ultimately affecting Joe Couch Potato too) that “the” blogosphere (or rather, a couple of the multitude of blogospheres) should be up in arms about, forcing traditional media and ultimately politicians to pay attention? Where is a celebrity blogger when we need one? (If you are one, the OECD data is here; interesting resources also at the Information Technology & Information Foundation.)

I shall be supporting the Communications Workers Speed Matters campaign while waiting for the public outcry to start.

Photo: Darren Hester for CC:Attribution-NonCommercial

tags: OECD, broadband, Free Press, Communications Workers of America

We’ve got a long way to go sisters (and brothers)


Does this graphic make you giggle?

Thanks to PRX‘s excellent BallotVox project, which is identifying some really interesting election coverage from unusual sources, for highlighting a disturbing video about sexism in the campaign.

(As an Obama supporter) I don’t think that blaming Obama is really the point. It’s more revealing to me how easily it is for all of us to let things slide. Try mentally replacing every sexist insult in the anti-clinton visuals with an equivalent racial slur and imagine your reactions.

Or imagine reading this sentence in the NY Times: “A majority of those polled — both whites and blacks — said they thought Mr. Obama would be an effective diplomat, suggesting he has made headway in diminishing concerns that his race would impede him from dealing with with white world leaders.”

Impossible, right? Try this one:

“A majority of those polled — both women and men — said they thought Mrs. Clinton would be an effective commander in chief, suggesting she has made headway in diminishing concerns that her sex would impede her from leading the nation in wartime.” Women Supportive but Skeptical of Clinton, Poll Says

If media only reflect the society they serve, maybe it’s time for all of us, men and women, black and white, to look in the mirror?


Librarians Rock!


(but you knew that, right?)
Thanks to Christine Gorman and her Global Health Report for sharing the inspiring story of librarians on a couple of mailing lists breaking a great story about some over-zealous folks at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health/Center for Communication Programs (Mike Bloomberg, take back that donation!) had decided that US government funded Popline, the self-proclaimed “world’s largest database on reproductive health,” should not allow people to search on the term “abortion.” The story then got to blogosphere and from there to the traditional media (in this context more than ever not to be called the MSM for “mainstream media”)

The saddest thing is that this was classic self-censorship, the Popline folks decided on their own to do this, presumably in hopes of avoiding angering the administration that brought us the Global Gag Rule.

Naughty Librarians’ Convention 2008
Originally uploaded by cheesebikini victory good for everyone!


ibrattleboro logo
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

Living up to his title, Vermont judge the Honorable David Howard has ruled to release from a libel lawsuit that aimed to hold the site responsible for comments posted by a reader. This is an important affirmation of the special protections put into the law to protect online publishers from being held responsible for audience-contributed material. It’s a wonderful outcome.

My erudite colleagues at the Citizen Media Law Project have explained the legal issues better than I can and co-founder Chris Grotke has a very readable post explaining the case to readers.

So, if you have a site where people comment or submit material, be grateful, do not be intimidated and make sure you know your rights.