Category Archives: Internet

Internet Regulation Is Being Regulated

This past week, two important developments in the way the internet will be maintained and regulated occurred. The first was when the FCC announced it will not conduct a study on how news organizations, well, cover the news. The second was the FCC’s decision to create new rules ensuring that no matter who your internet provider is, it will not affect the service they are supposed to provide. While both decisions have different implications, both will have a great effect on the way people around the country are able to watch their favorite shows/movies and receive information.

Lets take a look at the news survey first. We all know that there are not many issues that receive bipartisan support in Congress, but not one out of 535 members spoke up about the need to ensure that American citizens receive all the information they need to live their lives. The  “Critical Information Needs” study was supposed to be conducted by the FCC every three years with the goal of ensuring new or smaller news organizations were able to compete with the bigger names like The New York Times. But because someone inside the FCC decided to include questions on editorial content, instead of what the purpose of the survey was for, the entire thing was nixed.

Under any other circumstances common sense could have prevailed, where someone would have said “just take the questions about editorial content out of the survey”, like what Chairman Tom Wheeler originally proposed. But this happened in Washington DC, where all too often loud noise drowns out any logic that comes from people who might actually know what they are talking about.

One of the controversial questions reported by the Washington Post was  “Have you ever suggested coverage of what you consider a story with critical information for your [viewers, listeners or readers] that was rejected by management? And: “What was the reason given for the decision?” As someone who has pitched many stories to reporters and editors, I can tell you there are many reasons as to why publishers would not consider something newsworthy. Sometimes it does not go with the branding for their target audience, there is not enough information for it to be reported on, or they do not want to run it because it was not given to them as an exclusive. Point being: a rejected story is not always about politics.

News outlets, no matter how big or small, need to have a stable growing audience that will keep them in business. Despite what political leanings the CEO or Board of Directors might have, they care more about people buying their product than whether they voted Democrat or Republican in the last election.

The example given above also had nothing to do with politics. National news outlets dedicated to politics 24/7 do not nearly account for the 280 news outlets which the survey was supposed to cover. Not to mention the fact most American’s do not watch MSNBC or Fox News, while local outlets are much more popular, and dare I say trusted by Americans.

After unsuccessfully searching for a full list of questions the FCC wanted to ask, I can only determine that this whole thing was an overreaction to something most people had little information about. This made it much easier for politicians to be against the survey than for it and it was not a fight worth taking on.

The FCC is an independent agency and part of their job is to make sure that American citizens are able to receive and have access to all the information critical to their quality of life. That is why they require public service announcements when selling air rights to radio and television providers and have worked to expand broadband access across the country. Asking what drives the news does not obstruct freedom of speech, but understanding why some information is spread while others is not is important to maintaining it.

If the survey found that subjects like public health, transportation, and the environment (as it was reported the survey was meant to cover), were not being properly covered for the American people, that would have been known when the FCC’s findings were reported to Congress. Those who could have lost the most is this information came out were the big media conglomerates, who do not want an unbiased report out there saying they are not doing their job.

The FCC’s new rules are also an important step to ensuring the everyone has access to the internet. One rule proposed by Chairman Wheeler is to enhance competition. With big companies like Time Warner Cable and Comcast threatening to merge (which would mean one company would have control over access the internet for millions of American’s), it is even more important that the FCC has oversight of these companies to ensure there is competition, keeping the rate internet providers charge is low.

But more competition is what threatens those who are already at the top. That is why it is worth it for Facebook to spend $19 billion on WhatsApp, why it was a victory for internet providers when it was ruled that the FCC could not regulate how internet traffic is delivered, and large media conglomerates looked at the “Critical Information Needs”  survey as competition, and did not want to give their critics any more ammunition.

I’m not going to argue that all regulation is good, but when it comes to the internet and other major forms of communication, the United States has gotten it right. It would be a shame to see it all go away because of information that businesses refused to release because they cared more about their bottom line than reporting information that affects their quality of life.

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Three Reasons Why Internet Regulation Is Necessary

With the Cyber Information Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) failing to pass Congress this past week, it is just the latest internet privacy bill to be thrown into the trash. Technology companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have invested millions of dollars into lobbying Congress to make sure their companies are not regulated and are able to build products without having to deal with any red tape.

Despite the successful advertisement campaigns run by Facebook and Google, ensuring that they are cool and hip, the fact remains they are working to protect their brand just like any other company. But there are real reasons why the internet needs to be regulated in order to ensure the millions of people who use it for their personal and business lives are protected.

1) Online Credit

Forget about sending a check in the mail to pay the rent, insurance, or even using cash. Technology companies are making it easier to use a card or online banking wherever you go. That means more people will have information relating to your finances. Technology companies building these products are not banks who have government bureaus setting rules and regulations on what they can and cannot do, but will still have sensitive information that can be stolen and ruin your credit.

It is important to note that just because they have this information does not mean they are going to give it out. In fact, they most likely would not as it would be bad for business. That being said, there are laws forbidding banks from giving it out anyway for those instances where it does, and it doesn’t seem to interfere with them making billion’s of dollars each year.

It also seems to make sense that technology companies should be obligated to have the latest security software to protect the financial information people must give to them.

2) Big Brother’s Watching

It is not just about the products themselves but the way they develop them. Facebook, Google, and Twitter, all put out new ways for people to share information, while at the same time they track the way people are using them. The most controversial instance was when the story broke about how people who had an iPad or Android device were essentially being followed, using the GPS inside the equipment. The reason for the companies doing this made perfect sense, they needed to know how people were using their product so they can improve it and make it more popular so others would use it as well.

Of course, no one knew they were being followed and technology companies saw no reason to tell them. As far as they were concerned, with as many people using their technology as it was, it was best for the consumers that they do this. While no one is being followed around anymore, maps are still a popular feature on Apple and Google products, Four Square and other “check in” applications are becoming more popular with people and restaurants/bars who offer deals using them, and cameras are being placed on all the new gadgets people are buying. Without any rules forbidding these practices from taking place, there will still be plenty of ways for companies to track what an individual’s habits are, whether you like it or not.

3) Business Is Business

Microsoft and Google already fight over patents and sue each other over any antitrust legalize their lawyers can think of; which means it is only a matter of time before there is a lawsuit over one company using a tech companies products.

It seems more and more likely that cloud computing will be an important part of how people do business. There is technology that allows people to record the call they are on, share documents that make it more efficient to work with multiple people in the office, and even talk to people across the world. Right now, non-profits can use most of these products for free or at very little cost. But what happens when a for-profit company, that had to pay a tech company to use its product, makes something that is worth a lot of money?

Many of the lawsuits we see today are hit or miss shots taken by lawyers who have nothing to lose. But what if, for example, a cure for the common cold is created by a pharmaceutical company using Google documents? Should Google have a right to the patent because the scientists combined their efforts using a Google product they paid for? This scenario may not happen in the near future but as the internet continues to become a common use for the way businesses operate, it is likely that one day it will.

That means other companies outside of Silicon Valley will be lobbying against Microsoft, Google, and Facebook, so they can protect their products as well. One fight has already taken place with the film industry when their lobbyists could not push a bill through Congress that would have protected films from being stolen overseas.

With bills like CISPA being put aside, millions of people, small businesses, and future entrepreneurs, will not get the protection they need to go about their everyday lives, without worrying about someone stealing their credit information, something they created, or someone tracking their habits. We know no law is perfect, but there are common sense regulations that can be implemented that will make life easier for individuals and companies alike.

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The World’s City is Becoming the Widest Net

Have you ever been stuck in the rain, in a rush, wet, miserable, and not sure what the quickest way to get to your destination is? Well, there’s an app for that! For the past few years Mayor Michael Bloomberg has joined Twitter, hired the city’s first Chief Digital Officer, and has made a push for New York City to become a major player in the online development community.

A conglomerate of businesses in the city called NYC Seed, has worked with the New York’s Economic Development Corporation to attract developers to the city. In a competition called SeedStart 2011, entrepreneurs competed to live in New York for a summer, plus a prize of $20,000 to work on their proposed project. Owen Davis, Managing Director of NYC Seed, told me they received hundreds of applications. When I asked him if New York could compete with the major companies in Silicon Valley, he said that it is a “silly” comparison and “New York has many substantial industries in it already “giving it an edge to attract start ups to work within the fashion, media, and advertizing industries. According to Davis, many developers are already doing so: “There’s a lot of startups coming to New York and it’s increasing so you have a good supporting system that is being built and will continue to be built.”

Many popular online features have already been created in the city such as Tweetdeck which was recently bought by Twitter for $50 billion. A lot of these start ups are located in the flatiron district where you can find large, open, spaces for $26 dollars per square foot. Tech companies are attracted to these types of offices because much of the work they do is collaborative and these areas make everyone in the office more accessible.

Under the title Government 2.0, a number of corporations and other entities have been trying to figure out ways office holders and public agencies can release information so it can be used to benefit the people they represent. Mayor Bloomberg has worked within this realm and initiated the BigApps competition. Over 350 data sets were released by city agencies for programmers to create smartphone applications. The prize was a dinner with the Mayor and $40 thousand dollars. The best part of the competition is that is has already solved the rainy day problem. In its second year, the top prize went to a iphone app called Roadify, which tells people the latest subway, bus, and driving conditions in real time.

There are other applications the city has put out, one of which is called Don’t Eat At. Using information from the city’s Department of Health’s grading system, you can check into a restaurant via Foursquare (also created in New York) and get an instant text message telling you whether the chef washes his hands before cooking. The MTA has also created an application where people can see where there are delays on the subway and bus routes, and in the future will tell people the exact time when a subway or bus will arrive.

As social media is slowly becoming a part of our everyday lives, it is important for office holders to enter this realm as a way to interact with their constituents and govern in a way where they are accessible. New York is already home to the largest amount of Twitter accounts with over 26 million people, making it only natural for the City’s mayor to get in on the game. “I think social media overall, especially Twitter, gives politicians a new and exciting way to connect to constituents in ways they weren’t able to do even a few years ago. And it has really changed the dynamic of how politicians are able to respond to the citizens.” Richard Robbins, the Marketing Director for Media Innovation at AT&T explained. But there is no filter for the internet, and being caught in a gaff online can be much worse than being committing one caught on TV. To conquer this problem, Robbins said politicians should think about social media as “a campaign event or a cocktail party where it’s an opportunity to go and meet with people. And the idea whether they’re running for office or in office, interacting with constituents, helping constituents bring their concerns, responding to them is all politics.”

Since creating his account, Bloomberg has held online town halls using the #askmike hashtag. While there were some serious questions about housing, crime, and other city matters, the Mayor was also asked to explain how magnets work. As an engineer he knew the answer, but probably did not know the question was actually referring to a song by the hip hop group Insane Clown Posse. Making yourself more accessible to constituents is of course important, but obviously some can pull it off better than others. As Microsoft’s Director of Innovative Social Engagement, Dr. Mark Drapeau emailed me “if the goal is to make government and its billionaire mayor seem more human and down-to-earth through Twitter, than Insane Clown Posse could be an appropriate discussion topic, even if the mayor doesn’t completely appreciate who they are. Some of his citizens do, and he’s doing his best to relate.”

When I told him about the BigApp competition Drapeau said “App contest are not strictly necessary, and many of them end up on the proverbial shelf not getting much use. But they also motivate the developer community into public service, show citizens and govies the art of the possible, and occasionally deliver a hit.” It can also be a good way to promote the start ups and build the community that will further drive New York’s economic engine into the future.

Robbins explained to me that all these efforts help grow the industry “there’s more capitol at the early stage, the city is behind supporting entrepreneurs, there’s very good investors who are experienced who are trying to deploy capitol. And all those things matter in terms of building a ecosystem, it’s not one beast that does it.”

But flip phones are going the way of the dinosaur and young people are some of the most computer literate people in the country. Having grown up with this technology, using new devices is more natural to them than their parents. But looking further, Facebook is not going to be all fun anymore. Not only do politicians need to go where their constituents are, but governments will have to upgrade their services to keep up with the increasing demand as this new technology becomes more prominent.

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