The end of net neutrality?

August 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Recently mega companies Google and Verizon came out with a joint proposal on how to regulate the internet. The ensuing shock waves have swept across the internet in a torrent of blog posts, tweets, and comments as the online community has debated the pros and cons of the proposal. Here is a breakdown of what exactly is going on.

Verizon is an Internet Service Provider (ISP). The phone company owns a large portion the wires that make up  the infrastructure of the internet. When the average user pays to get online, they will be using Verizon’s service, or another company like them. Now a good business strategy for a company like that might be to charge extra to specific websites in order to provide preferential (faster) service. However, every attempt at the “tiering” of the internet by ISPs has been met with fierce resistance from the FCC and various online content providers. If paying for faster service becomes the standard, then many of the smaller websites that allow for such diversity on the internet will cease to exist.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt

Google is not an ISP. Their business strategy has always relied on net neutrality and they have been one of the key voices in keeping the internet open. In 2006 Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt helped shout down a House of Representatives bill that could have divided up the internet between ISPs. Now though, many are calling this new proposal a business partnership between Google and Verizon. With it, Google can ensure that the websites of their choosing receive high-speed service, while their competitors suffer. Verizon gets a major ally in their fight to “tier” the internet. Google vehemently denies any such agreement, but the murmurs persist. That is why their joint proposal with Verizon has created such a tempest.

The joint proposal, seen here, essentially proposes to keep wireline-based internet the same as it ever was. ISPs will not be allowed to speed up or slow down many of the services that exist today, and it even offers greater protection to some parts of net neutrality. The idea that has the blogosphere and the FCC up in arms, is that the proposal suggests removing those restrictions from wireless internet connections. The idea is that wireless internet is where all the real innovation is happening on the net and government restrictions on these companies would slow the rate of progress in the name of an ideal that would not be affected anyway.

Preston Gralla, a blogger for Computer World disagrees. In one of his many posts on the subject, he writes,

“Many people believe that eventually the wireless Internet will carry more traffic than the wired Internet. Google itself has said it expects to get more revenue from the wireless-based searches than wired searches. Exempting the wireless internet from net neutrality means that eventually net neutrality will be all but dead.”

Since the proposal is just a series of suggestions, normally it would not carry a whole lot of weight. The FCC is the federal regulatory body in charge of the internet and they have regularly come down on the side of net neutrality. Even President Obama has spoken of his support for net neutrality. Much of the fear stems from a recent court case. The FCC attempted to reprimand Comcast when they slowed service to a specific website that offered large downloads. Comcast took the FCC all the way to the Federal Court of Appeals in April of this year, and won a potential landmark decision which severely hampered the FCC’s ability to legislate. According to the court, the FCC does not have the legal standing to force ISPs to keep net neutrality.

In an effort to stem the backlash Google and Verizon have launched their own PR campaign including a joint letter to the Wall Street Journal from Google and Verizon CEOs Schmidt and Ivan Seidenberg respectively, and numerous posts on Google’s public policy blog. The federal government has also begun to take action. Four congressman have written a letter to the FCC urging action. One of the congressman, Ed Markey (D-MA) was the sponsor the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2009, an attempt to codify net neutrality as federal law.

As of this writing there have been no official steps taken, but the Google-Verizon proposal makes it clear that the private corporations will only wait so long. The chairman of the FCC, Julius Genachowski, has been meeting with a large group of internet service and content providers in an effort to find common ground since the court case went against them. The New York Times reported the group was close to releasing a draft compromise agreement, but now these negotiations have taken a back seat since the Google-Verizon talks went public however. It remains to be seen if the FCC can bring everyone back to the table.

Tonight the FCC is live streaming their hearing at 6pm.  Senator Al Franken will be there to discuss net neutrality and the Google-Verizon proposal. Click here to watch.


The Knight News Challenge

August 15, 2010 2 comments

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation recently announced the winners of their annual news challenge. Every year the foundation hands out millions of dollars to applicants who have come up with the most innovative ideas for advancing the distribution of the news. The only requirements for application are that is has to use digital, open source technology, it has to distribute news and information, and it has to be in a geographically determined community. This year the 12 projects selected received a total of $2.74 million to put their ideas into practice. Since the entry window for the next challenge opens in just a couple of weeks on September 1st, I’m going to blog about my idea here and see what you guys think of it.

My idea is to create a search engine that is constantly compiling and sorting news stories from outlets across the internet. The key is that the topics of the stories will be drawn from various message boards and social communities. Based on the trending topics on twitter, the like application on facebook, the bookmarks on delicious, and numerous others my search engine, the Informed Opinion, will sort all the news stories on those relevant topics by a series of factors including, but not limited to, relevancy, geographic location, news or opinion, type of media outlet, location of outlet, and popularity.

Then from the search engine results, I would create a widget that each site could install, so that every popular conversation would have a quick link right along side to a list of all the important and current news stories on the subject. What this would do in addition to distributing the news and driving traffic to media websites, is to create a basic level of knowledge on each topic across the internet. Ever came across someone who espoused opinion as fact and needed a quick link to shut them up? This project would create a more informed environment in all web-based communities and far more valuable conversations as a result.

I came up with it during a particularly long search for exactly what a Lede tweet was about. Before being able to digest his take on the subject, I first had to understand what it is he was talking about. Then I thought back to all the seemingly interesting conversations I had to bow out of due to a lack of knowledge and time to to do the necessary research. Informed Opinion would provide a quick and simple way around that.

Let me know what you think. Here is a link to my official Knight proposal.

Cover it Live

August 6, 2010 4 comments

Hey followers,

Comerica Park

I’m trying out a new doo-hickey tonight as I use the Cover it Live platform to report on Tigers game tonight. Full disclosure, I have been a Tigers fan my whole life, so my coverage, while as unbiased as I can keep it, will probably tread that line.

Detroit has the Los Angeles Angels coming into town as they try to turn around a league worst 5-17 stretch since the all-star break. For those of you scoring at home, they were 48-38 heading into the all-star break, so yeah… its been rough. The nice thing about baseball though, is the absurd number of games in a season, so the Tigers still have time to turn it around. Tonight their ace, Justin Verlander is on the mound so it is as good a time as any. Head on over to my posterous page and join in as I cover it live.

Los Angeles at Detroit live coverage link

Robert Mackey’s The Lede is a must

August 1, 2010 3 comments

Robert Mackey

The New York Times is often thought of as, depending on who you ask, either the last great bastion of journalism, or the behind-the-times monolith that doesn’t understand how to use the web. Obviously both of those are exaggerations, but to claim that the Times has no expertise or presence in the online world is to be flat-out mistaken.

The Times hosts several blogs on its website, all with different beats, all very capably handled, but one in particular always catches my eye. That would be the Robert Mackey authored blog, the Lede.

Mackey has been running the Lede out of the NY Times newsroom since 2008. He has shown ample technical ability embedding videos and uploading photos on his site, building up followers on twitter both for himself and the self-titled account for the blog, and linking frequently to the online sources of his information.

Mackey is also an excellent news writer, managing to dance a fine line between the formal traditional style of a newspaper man, and the casual and more interactive style of a modern-day blogger. He switches from funny to informative quickly and with ease. Some of that is thanks to his experience as he has written around the world in a variety of settings. According to his NY Times profile, Mackey has written for a range of impressive outlets including the Guardian, Slate Magazine, and the AP. Mackey was even a field producer for the UN during the Bosnian and Croatian wars.

The most impressive thing for me about Mackey, is his ability to write authoritatively on almost any subject. The Lede, while primarily an international news blog, routinely publishes sports stories, social media stories, and even pop culture stories, and then manages to tie it all in to the blogs main theme. Mackey wrote this inspiring piece about a Tour de France rider who gets back on his bike after a crash, and infused it with a very human feel and a touch of humor. Then later on the same day, author a straight news piece about rape cases in Israel being influenced by racism. Meanwhile on twitter, in addition to posting updates, he is able to actively engage with his readers and encourage them to participate across a variety of social networks.

Mackey is a terrific writer who brings a new, well-researched look to the big stories, writes about interesting human interest pieces, and tremendously improves the online profile of the largest remaining newspaper. If the NY Times and its standards for journalism are to survive, Mackey and the Lede will be a large reason why.

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Lake Lansing Park North

July 22, 2010 2 comments

Park North Trail

I love going to parks. I am an avid camper, and I have traveled to several national parks around the country. All of that started with Lake Lansing Park North.

I grew up roughly 100 yards from the entrance to Park North. I have walked my dogs there, played tag, and hide and go seek. I learned to cross-country ski, and play basketball there among many other things. Park North is a lovely series of trails that played a large part in my childhood and needed a wikipedia page.

Zebra Mussels vs the Great Lakes

July 15, 2010 3 comments

In 1988 a small unique looking mussel was discovered in Lake St. Claire by Detroit. This seemingly innocuous discovery would slowly rewrite the ecological face of the Great Lakes over the next twenty years as it gradually took over in a Darwinian struggle.

Spread of zebra mussels

Zebra mussels come from Eastern Europe, originally in the Caspian and Black Seas. Scientists speculate that mussel larvae latched onto transatlantic ships and were carried over in the ballast water. Female mussels lay between 30,000 and 10,000 eggs a year, making them virtually impossible to eradicate once introduced to an ecosystem.

From 1988 on the mussels have slowly invaded every one of the Great Lakes, and from there spread to the Illinois, the Mississippi, and the St. Lawrence rivers. Zebra mussels latch on to everything from industrial piping, to boats and docks, and even to other wildlife. The Center of Invasive Species Research estimates that the US spends roughly $500 million a year to control the zebra mussel population in the Great Lakes area. The state of Michigan has attempted to poison the mussels through chemicals, introduce natural predators of the zebra mussel, and dry them out through water draw downs in reservoirs and aqueducts. Unfortunately, they are still spreading and slowly pushing out competing species. According to Sea Grant Michigan, zebra mussels have appeared in 255 inland lakes and 17 rivers in Michigan.

Lake Lansing

Zebra mussels aren’t the only invasive species to threaten the Great Lakes. Asian carp are a large species of fish that can grow up to 100 pounds. The carp were brought to the US to keep algae populations down on fish farms in the south. They have quickly traveled up the Mississippi, and despite efforts to keep them out of the Great Lakes, the species has been found in Lake Michigan.

Michigan’s fishing industry brings in around $7 billion a year according to Senator Debbie Stabenow. Asian carp pose a potentially devastating threat to that industry. Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox has unsuccessfully sued the Supreme Court twice to close the locks on the Chicago waterways, and is considering a third effort.

Both the carp and the zebra mussels are not entirely without benefits. Asian carp are known to be a delicacy, if difficult to cook, and zebra mussels tend to leave infested waters far clearer than before they arrived. The mussels absorb most of the nutrients in the water, allowing sunlight to reach the bottom and new species of plants to thrive. Stabenow and Cox say it is not worth the cost.

Read more…

The Warrior Gene

July 12, 2010 4 comments

Recently NPR reported a story on the advancing research behind monoamine oxidase-A, also known as the “warrior gene”.  The gene controls the levels of MAOA in the body. Those possessing  a specific form of MAOA have been linked with a predisposition to engage in, and commit violent acts.

In 2006 it was uncovered that Maori tribesmen from New Zealand often carry the gene. The New Zealand researchers claimed that roughly 60 per cent of Maori men appear to carry the necessary variant of the gene, while only 30 per cent of European men seem to carry it. The potentially racist implications of the discovery ignited a large controversy over the application of this research both at home and abroad. In the United States, as research continued and brain scans grew more accurate, the debate is beginning to shift into the justice system.

The Science Daily is reporting that a Florida State University study has discovered young men that carry the “warrior gene” have a greater tendency to join gangs, and to be one of the more dangerous members of that gang. A study done by King’s College in London mirrors thos results. The BBC reported that 12 per cent of the 442 young men in the study have the “warrior gene”, and that group committed 44 per cent of the violent crimes.

According to NPR reporter Barbara Hagerty, approximately 1,200 combined cases in civil and criminal courts in the US have admitted gene evidence on MAOA for consideration. While the general trend is that neuroscience studies are not admitted, there have been exceptions.

The end result of the increasing use of a not guilty by reasons of mental disease or insanity defense leads to a scary place for the justice system. Much of the US legal system is based on retributive punishment. People deserve the punishment they receive for their crimes against the community. What happens if science is able to prove that they are not actually responsible for their crimes?

Some experts are wary about the potential for MAOA to force the US to rethink is justice system. During NPR’s interview with Dr. Kent Kiehl, a neuroscience expert at the University of New Mexico, a youth treatment program in Wisconsin run by Michael Caldwell has been able to work around the “warrior gene” to some extent. Kiehl reports that Caldwell has been able to reduce violent recidivism by a rate of over 50 per cent. If MAOA can be worked around and overcome, then some responsibility will continue to rest with individual who commits the act.