It is truly remarkable that we have a president of the United States who used the word, “phishing,” and didn’t mean going out to the creek on the ranch and throwing a line in the water. He used it in the proper way for that spelling, referring to online scammers soliciting information from unwary Internet users.
Even beyond the news value of President Obama’s cybersecurity speech, the change in zeitgeist is stunning. We haven’t seen such a tech-savvy group of public officials since the Clinton years, and even then it was largely Vice President Al Gore and his staff who were driving the tech policy for (still) tech illiterate Bill Clinton in the early days of the development of the online world – that virtual stimulus project then known as the Information Superhighway.
And beyond even the phishing and the worms and the botnets and malware references, Obama’s speech encapsulated the duality of the Internet. Like any technology, it can be harnessed for good, or for evil. As Obama put it: “It's the great irony of our Information Age — the very technologies that empower us to create and to build also empower those who would disrupt and destroy. And this paradox — seen and unseen — is something that we experience every day.”
In order to fulfill the promise of economic development and combat the threat to that development, Obama outlined a comprehensive cybersecurity approach. Despite the gravity of the situation, Obama defended and made clear his position on keeping the Internet free:
“Let me also be clear about what we will not do. Our pursuit of cybersecurity will not — I repeat, will not include — monitoring private sector networks or Internet traffic. We will preserve and protect the personal privacy and civil liberties that we cherish as Americans. Indeed, I remain firmly committed to net neutrality so we can keep the Internet as it should be — open and free.”
The White House’s 60-day review of cybersecurity recognizes the complexity of issues, by including not only a commitment to Net Neutrality, but also to civil liberties and privacy.
This speech was the second time in recent days that a top Administration official (and really, you can’t top the president), came out for an open Internet. In his report to Congress, Bringing Broadband to Rural America: Report on a Rural Broadband Strategy,” Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps made the same point: “The value of open networks is not a novel concept, but the Commission must act to ensure that the genius of the open Internet is not lost.” Copps, too, cited the importance of an open Internet to economic development
While it’s great to see the Administration out front on protections of a free and nondiscriminatory Internet, it’s also not clear at this time if anyone is listening, or preparing to follow the Administration’s lead.
Some Democratic legislators are sympathetic to an open and neutral Internet, but aren’t particularly eager to take on the political fight necessary to get it done. Perhaps if the issue were viewed not only in the non-discrimination sense, but also in terms of increasing competition to benefit consumers, a little more will might be found.
Some in the Media Mogul camp as well appear to be a tad oblivious of the Administration’s goals. Or, if not oblivious, they don’t particularly care. Zillion TV, the mystery company of Silicon Valley is one candidate. The company claims to provide a better TV watching service, having made deals with Sony, Warner Brothers, NBC/Universal and Disney. On its web site, the company claims: “Without getting too technical, we work with your Internet service provider to make sure you can get the richest, creamiest programs playing right on your TV.” It won’t disclose which Internet Service Providers are part of this arrangement, or where it’s available but the Web site says the service is “rolling out across the U.S.”
Also on the attention-deficit list is Time Warner. The company tried, unsuccessfully, to push through the North Carolina legislature a bill to hamper municipalities which were fed up with the service they were getting from commercial companies and wanted to offer their own. Instead, the company resorted to that old hack, the Terms of Service. (Hat Tip to Stop the Cap! for catching this one.)
Under the new TOS, the non-guaranteed throughput rate “may be affected by Network Management Tools, the prioritization of TWC commercial subscriber traffic and network control information, and necessary bandwidth overhead used for protocol and network information.” Part of that commercial traffic is Time Warner’s own digital phone service, which is separate from the normal Internet service that would carry, say, a competitor like Vonage of Skype. In the TOS: “ HSD (High Speed Data) Service does not include other services managed by TWC and delivered over TWC’s shared infrastructure, including Video Service and Digital Phone Service.”
Even though the company said publicly it was abandoning its attempt to meter and to cap usage, its small, small print lays the foundation for the return of the caps: “If the level or tier of HSD Service to which I subscribe has a specified limit on the amount of bytes that I can use in a given billing cycle, I also agree that TWC may use technical means, including but not limited to suspending or reducing the speed of my HSD Service, to ensure compliance with these limits, and that TWC or ISP may move me to a higher tier of HSD Service (which may result in higher monthly charges) or impose other charges and fees if my use exceeds these limits.”
Administration support for an open, non-discriminatory and competitive Internet is wonderful. It will be even more wonderful when the Administration goes phishing for some Congressional support for that Internet.