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TR: The Week in Review

The Supreme Court looks at file sharing, the FCC looks at ISP regulation, and the FEC looks at blogs. What could possibly go wrong? And a brief look at Pope John Paul II’s legacy with technology.
April 5, 2005

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.

What they failed to realize is that, in the Web world, the term “paid ad” is a dubious thing. Specifically, does the term include a blog that supports a candidate, is contributed to by a candidate, and that might even be soliciting contributions for a candidate?

The FEC met again last Thursday to begin to sort these questions out. But they’ll have to be careful in their wording, lest they affect some of the more honest mutations of blogging, such as the new online website of the Greensboro, N.C., paper News and Record. The site is basically eleven blogs written by the news staff.

WEEE Apologize for the Delays

On Wednesday, the European Union told the U.S. Congress that it would need another year tacked onto an Oct. 26 deadline before it would be ready to start issuing passports with built-in biometric data.

The biometric passports will be required for all non-visa visitors to the United States under the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. VISIT program. It would be the second such extension granted. To make itself feel better, the EU pointed out that Japan was also behind.

But it’s not likely to be the only tech deadline that the EU won’t make. England is pushing back implementation of the EU’s Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) directive, which would require electronics manufacturers to recycle end-of-life products returned to them. The UK sites difficulties in setting up proper regulatory oversight.

Pope John Paul II

In the midst of the flurry of remembrances about Pope John Paul II, it’s seldom noted how the pontiff affected the fields of science and technology.

While an outspoken detractor of some research, such as that involving embryonic stem cells, the Pope always sought to emphasize that science and religion can be mutually beneficial pursuits – such as his 1995 address recognizing the validity of the theory of evolution.

It’s also noteworthy that, aside from being the most traveled Pope, he also embraced technology as a way to reach out to Catholics worldwide. While physically limited by illness in his latter days, the pontiff used video-conferencing technology to speak to followers and received tens of thousands of email messages through an address displayed on the Vatican’s website.

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