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Don’t Tread on Me

Advocates of file sharing were swapping kudos last week as the Supreme Court Justices’ initial reactions to the MGM Studios vs. Grokster case centered on their concern for protecting technical innovation – inferring that the entertainment industry’s idea of copyright law would have 86’ed the Xerox machine and iPod.

At the heart of the case is whether a purveyor of a technology is responsible for how people use that technology. According to estimates, 90 percent of the content transferred via the file-sharing software Morpheus and its ilk is pirated. A fact the justices say they won’t overlook in their final decision due sometime this summer.

But that wasn’t the only e-turf war hearing for the day. The Justices were also presented with Federal Communications Commission vs Brand X Internet Services.

The FCC currently insists that local phone companies can’t deny customers access to the Internet services of their choice. For example, the FCC recently forced a DSL provider to carry VoIP services. However, if a cable company wanted to cut off VoIP services, the cable regulations would allow it.

Brand X says that this isn’t fair and the FCC agrees; however, the commission wants the cable regulations upheld so that it can give DSL service providers the same freedoms.

The commission seems to be moving in that direction anyway, with its recent decision to stop making phone companies provide “naked DSL.”

How this plays out is still up in the air.

Cable companies say that a win for Brand X will mean that there won’t be any financial incentive to further tweak cable lines for broadband use, since competitors could take a free ride on the improvements. If the FCC wins, it will probably mean that the big boy Internet Service Providers will boss around broadband customers until the next regulation question posed by distributed WiFi.

Of course, after that there’s WiMax, which will pose its own difficulties because of the need for towers very similar to those used in cellular networks. The issue with these towers will be further complicated by the highly probable integration of WiMax services and cellular networks.

A Blog by any Other Name

On March 23, the Federal Election Commission ruled that the only Internet communications they are interested in regulating are paid ads.

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