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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.

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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.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/35927402/Knight-Proposal-Application

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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