Exploring the impact of broadband and technology on our lives, our businesses, and our communities.

Rep. Boucher leads reform of DCMA

Congressman Rick Boucher (D) of southwest Virginia has a broad coalition of industry and consumer rights groups for his
reform of the DCMA law
.

Boucher's proposal to fix the worst excesses of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act would legalize the distribution and use of descrambling utilties and circumvention of copy protection schemes as long as no copyright violation takes place. Put another way, consumers would be no longer arrested for breaking and entering simply because they possess a crowbar, which is the way the current DCMA is written.

Boucher also wants to give the FTC broad new powers to police the labeling of CDs, DVDs, and other digital media. Currently, some CDs and DVDs have copy protection schemes that limit the buyer's ability to make copies, but the CDs are not always labeled to indicate that. This part of Boucher's plan is more controversial, since it expands the government's role in the entertainment industry.

It will be interesting to see how this effort progresses in Congress. The entertainment industry will likely spend heavily to defeat this bill, but the DMCA, as it stands, has limited innovation and dramatically curtailed the rights of consumers (i.e. voters) while giving enormous power to a few corporate conglomerates (which do not vote but donate a lot of money to political campaigns).

Technology News:

Rep. Boucher leads reform of DCMA

Congressman Rick Boucher (D) of southwest Virginia has a broad coalition of industry and consumer rights groups for his
reform of the DCMA law
.

Boucher's proposal to fix the worst excesses of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act would legalize the distribution and use of descrambling utilties and circumvention of copy protection schemes as long as no copyright violation takes place. Put another way, consumers would be no longer arrested for breaking and entering simply because they possess a crowbar, which is the way the current DCMA is written.

Boucher also wants to give the FTC broad new powers to police the labeling of CDs, DVDs, and other digital media. Currently, some CDs and DVDs have copy protection schemes that limit the buyer's ability to make copies, but the CDs are not always labeled to indicate that. This part of Boucher's plan is more controversial, since it expands the government's role in the entertainment industry.

It will be interesting to see how this effort progresses in Congress. The entertainment industry will likely spend heavily to defeat this bill, but the DMCA, as it stands, has limited innovation and dramatically curtailed the rights of consumers (i.e. voters) while giving enormous power to a few corporate conglomerates (which do not vote but donate a lot of money to political campaigns).

Technology News:

Successful SpaceShipOne flight opens the Space Economy

Scaled Composite's SpaceShipOne successful suborbital space flight today is a record for the history books, and as time passes, will likely mark the beginning of the Space Economy.

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When cameras are everywhere....

The always thoughtful Dan Gillmor has an article about Sprint's move to make the popular Treo handheld phone/PDA without a camera. Apparently corporate buyers don't want their employees using them to steal company secrets.

Gillmore raises an important point--how do we behave in a world where there are cameras wherever we go? In Blacksburg, nearly every streetcorner with a light now has a traffic camera that can be reconfigured quickly to become a surveillance camera, and Blacksburg is not a special case. These cameras are being installed all over the country and throughout the world.

Even places like lockerrooms now require rules about cameras, since a person can easily take photographs surreptitiously in a locker room now. Camera manufacturers are responding to criticism by having the phones make an audible "shutter" click to alert others.

Here we have a clear case of technology outstripping the rules and mores of civil society. Our leaders need to lead by encouraging thoughtful discussion and debate about what is appropriate.

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The Space Economy starts on June 21st

December 17th, 1903 was one of the most significant dates of the twentieth century. It was, of course, the day the Wright Brothers flew their airplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The event made the otherwise obscure Kitty Hawk become one of the best known places in the country.

Just a few days from now, on the 21st, the virtually unknown spaceport at Mojave, California may achieve the same status as Kitty Hawk. On that day, Bert Rutan's SpaceShipOne will take off, carry two people into suborbital space, and return for a landing on the same spot, the same day. Two weeks later, Rutan will have to duplicate the feat to win the $10 million X Prize.

Why might this become as significant as the Wright Brother's first flight? Because this will be the first flight by a private company into space, without the support (and high costs) of government-sponsored programs. Teams from all over the globe have been building spaceships for the X Prize, but it's likely that a U.S. team will once again be first, and the U.S. will lead the global Space Economy into the future.

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WiFi phone

Here is just one of several new phones that are WiFi only. These wireless Internet phones allow you to make voice phone calls anytime you are in a WiFi hotspot--yet another reason to sprinkle WiFi hotspots around your community.

I found this particular phone on the BroadVoice site, yet another Voice over IP startup that has inexpensive phone rates. Like Vonage, you get a little adapter box that you plug into your Ethernet hub/switch, and you plug a normal telephone into the adapter box--instant Voice over IP phone. You can take the box with you when you travel and make phone calls from your own phone number anywhere you can connect to the Internet.

One of the key drivers of VoIP technology will be this last feature, which is true number portability. In the future, we won't need to keep track of cellphone numbers and home phone numbers, or cell numbers and business numbers. We'll have a true portable phone number that we carry with us in our pocket, literally.

Are we witnessing cyberterrorism?

An attack yesterday on Akamai servers disrupted service for some of the biggest sites on the Internet, including Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Google.

Akamai servers are located throughout the US and overseas and help speed up major Web sites by locating some of the content closer to users. According to the article, an Akamai representative characterized the attack as a "large scale international attack on the Internet infrastructure."

There is a lot of speculation about why it was done, but one possibility to be considered is terrorism. A handful of sites in the world attract a very high percentage of Web traffic (over 90%). If a persistent, determined attack degraded service on major Web sites for an extended period of time, it would have major economic impacts, and the values of many kinds of IT stocks would likely experience significant losses.

Terrorists don't have to do much--they just have to attach a few high visibility targets, and fear, uncertainty, and doubt will do the rest.

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Cellphone viruses

If there were not already enough to worry about, we now have cellphone viruses. A UK Web site has a story on a cellphone virus spread by the wireless Bluetooth protocol, which some newer phones have built in. Bluetooth is a short range wireless protocol intended to make it easier to sync cellphone data with your computer, among other uses.

The Cabir virus is harmless, and simply displays the word 'caribe' on your cellphone display. But it would be easy to design other virueses that wipe out contact information, change ring tones, and make other changes to the data stored on the phone.

Computer viruses remain a serious problem. The article notes that the Zafi-B worm is found in nearly 10% of all emails right now.

I think I'll keep my old, pre-Bluetooth phone a bit longer. Although it is two years old and has lately caused some twenty-somethings to wrinkle their noses in disgust when I pull it out, it works just fine, and is loaded with many useless functions that I have never had any use for. It's not clear to me why I need a new phone with more useless functions. My favorite useless function on my phone is the tip calculator; you type in the the amount of the bill and the percentage tip you want to give, and it figures it out for you. Strangely enough, I've always been able to do that kind of math in my head. If I really felt the need to apply technology to the task, I could also use the built in calculator, which will figure out tips with the same number of keystrokes as the tip calculator. What would we do without the IT industry?

Internet fatigue?

I am beginning to wonder if many of us are beginning to suffer from Internet fatigue. Over the past few months, I have observed the activity and discussion on most of the mailing lists I am on dwindle to near zero. Some of the Web sites and blogs I visit seem to have fewer and fewer comments and discussion.

This is in contrast to the late nineties and even a couple of years ago, when most of the mailing lists I was on were active, and I felt like it was difficult to keep up with the often rich and interesting discussions.

I think there are several things going on.

  • First, the novelty of the Internet has worn off. The Internet as a community, work, and civic phenomenon is now a decade old, and if you measure the real start of online community with the BBSes and FreeNets of the eighties, it is twenty years old. For most of us, it's now just a part of life. We don't feel the need to discuss it, anymore than we discuss other routine technologies that we use (e.g. the telephone, the microwave). We have successfully integrated the Internet and its communications services into what we do.
  • Second, we're busier than ever, and we have less time for activities that are not directly related to whatever it is we have to do today, tomorrow, or by the end of the week. The Internet has contributed, for better or for worse, to this common feeling of life being uncomfortably speeded up. By dropping out of peripheral activities like online discussions and mailing lists, we are taking back some control over a bit of our time.
  • Finally, we are worn out from spam, viruses, upgrades, bugs, glitches, printer jams, blue screens of death, reboots, and all the other timestealers that technology has brought to us over the past two decades. We want our lives back.

In a way, I see this as a good thing. We are putting technology into proper perspective. We are making more time for face to face relationships and spending a little less time chatting with, well, strangers.

What I do worry about is that we are finally just getting to the point where a lot of this technology is becoming truly useful, and we don't want to stop making the effort to learn and use this stuff just as opportunities and tools begin to emerge that actually help us work better and less.

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Mountain bikes and the Knowledge Economy

As far back as 1998, I was telling folks to pay attention to business park amenities like bike/hiking trails. I usually got blank stares. More recently, I've had a slide in most of my presentations about the importance of marketing to businesspeople who have mountain bikes strapped to the top of their cars on the weekend. I still get a lot of blank stares--not as many, but a lot of economic developers seem to have trouble relating.

This morning, the Roanoke Times has a major feature on the glacial pace of trying to develop a more coherent and connected set of hiking/biking trails around the city. The article relates that recently, a Colorado high tech company was considering relocating to Roanoke.

Did they ask about business parks and incubator buildings? No. Were they interested in water and sewer capacity? No. What they wanted to know about was the biking trails, and here are some of their questions.

  • Was there a fully interconnected trail between two major biking spots--Carvins Cove and Explore Park? (no)
  • Was there a connection from downtown to Mill Mountain biking trails? (no)

The paper notes that the company was willing to give up skiing to move to southwest Virginia, but ultimately decided to stay in Colorado.

That particular company was making a relocation decision, at least in part, based on quality of life, lifestyle options (like good biking trails), and a regional approach to recreation. Don't be tempted to think that bikers, hikers, and other small businesspeople with interests in recreation are all in their twenties. One of the leading bike trail advocates in Roanoke cheerfully admits to grey hair. In Blacksburg, the local cycling groups have large numbers of members over 40.

I find that many rural areas take their recreational amenities for granted--not only do they not market them as part of a comprehensive approach to economic development, many communities fail to fund and develop them at levels high enough to make them effective drivers of economic development.

And of course, don't forget--these small companies want one other thing--affordable broadband everywhere. Welcome to the Knowledge Economy.

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