H.R. 5994

What a title, eh?  Well, that little title up there may impact how you use the Internet in the future..  H.R. 5994, known as the “Internet Freedom and Non-Discrimination Act of 2008,” is the latest attempt by the US Congress to get a handle on Internet access.  In short, this is another play in the Net Neutrality battle.  I’m no lawyer, but it seems that this is a pretty straightforward document.

H.R. 5994 is intended to be an extension of the Clayton Anti-Trust Act of 1914.  It is intended to “promote competition, to facilitate trade, and to ensure competitive and nondiscriminatory access to the Internet.”  The main theme, as I see it, is that providers can’t discriminate against content providers.  In other words, if they prioritize web traffic on the network, then all web traffic, regardless of origin, should be prioritized.

At first glance, this seems to be a positive thing, however there may be a few loopholes.  For instance, take a look the following from Section 28(a):

“(3)(A) to block, to impair, to discriminate against, or to interfere with the ability of any person to use a broadband network service to access, to use, to send, to receive, or to offer lawful content, applications or services over the Internet;”

From the looks of it, it sounds like you can’t prevent known “bad users” from getting an account, provided they are using the account for legal purposes.  As an example, you couldn’t prevent a known spammer from getting an account, provided, of course, that they obey the CAN-SPAM Act.

And what about blocklists?  Spam blocklists are almost a necessity for mail servers these days, otherwise you have to process every single mail that comes in.  3(A) specifically dictates that you can’t block lawful content…  Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to determine if the mail is lawful until it’s processed.  So this may turn into a loophole for spammers.

The act goes on with the following:

“(4) to prohibit a user from attaching or using a device on the provider’s network that does not physically damage or materially degrade other users’ utilization of the network;”

This one is kind of scary because it does not dictate the type of device, or put any limitations on the capabilities of the device, provided it “does not physically damage or materially degrade other users’ utilization of the network.”  So does that mean I can use any type of DSL or Cable modem that I choose?  Am I considered to be damaging the network if I use a device that doesn’t allow the provider local access?  Seems to me that quite a few providers wouldn’t be happy with this particular clause…

Here’s the real meat of the Net Neutrality argument, though.  Section 28(b) states this:

“(b) If a broadband network provider prioritizes or offers enhanced quality of service to data of a particular type, it must prioritize or offer enhanced quality of service to all data of that type (regardless of the origin or ownership of such data) without imposing a surcharge or other consideration for such prioritization or enhanced quality of service.”

Wham!  Take that!  Basically, you can’t prioritize your own traffic at the expense of others.  So a local provider who offers a VoIP service can’t prioritize their own and not prioritize (or block) Skype, Vonage, or others.  But, there’s a problem here..  Does the service have to use established standards to be prioritized?  For instance, Skype uses a proprietary VoIP model.  So does that mean that providers do not have to prioritize it?

Providers do, however, get some rights as well.  For instance, Section 28 (c) specifically states:

    `(c) Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent a broadband network provider from taking reasonable and nondiscriminatory measures–
    • `(1) to manage the functioning of its network, on a systemwide basis, provided that any such management function does not result in discrimination between content, applications, or services offered by the provider and unaffiliated provider;
    • `(2) to give priority to emergency communications;
    • `(3) to prevent a violation of a Federal or State law, or to comply with an order of a court to enforce such law;
    • `(4) to offer consumer protection services (such as parental controls), provided that a user may refuse or disable such services;
    • `(5) to offer special promotional pricing or other marketing initiatives; or
    • `(6) to prioritize or offer enhanced quality of service to all data of a particular type (regardless of the origin or ownership of such data) without imposing a surcharge or other consideration for such prioritization or quality of service.

So providers are allowed to protect the network, protect consumers, and still make a profit.  Of course, assuming this becomes law, only time will tell what the courts will allow a provider to consider “protection” to be…

It looks like this is, at the very least, a good start to tackling this issue.  That is, if you believe that the government should be involved with this.  At the same time, this doesn’t appear to be something most providers would be interested in.  From a consumer standpoint, I want to be able to get the content I want without being blocked because it comes from Google and not Yahoo, who the provider has an agreement with.  Since most consumers are in an area with only one or two providers, this can be a good thing, though.  It prevents a monopoly-type situation where the consumer has no choice but to take the less-than-desirable deal.

This is one of those areas where there may be no solution.  While I side with the providers in that they should be able to manage their network as they see fit, I can definitely see how something needs to be done to ensure that providers don’t take unfair advantage.  Should this become law, I think it will be a win for content providers rather than Internet providers and consumers.

And now, a brief intermission

This is a technical blog, and as such, I have endeavored to resist posting personal, religious, and political views that do not directly relate to technology.  I feel that, up to this point, I’ve done a pretty good job with this.  But, occasionally, there is something that I really want to share that makes me re-assess this decision and weigh it against the intended purpose of this blog.

I started this blog on a whim, as a way of getting information out there.  A way of offering my own view on technology, and maybe even helping someone out.  In the end, however, it is my blog, and it’s a place I can post my own thoughts.  And so, I’ve decided to share this with you.  Feel free to skip over it, it’s not technical in nature.  But it did get me thinking, and it has made an impact on me.


On March 18th, Barack Hussein Obama, currently running for the democratic presidential nomination, made a speech in Philadelphia, PA.  In it, he addresses the issue of race in America, but not in a way many people have heard it addressed.  He addresses both sides of the issue.  And then he brings them together and explains, in simple terms, the reason race is still such an issue today.

Never have I ever heard this explained in such as way as to make me feel that someone else truly understands my own frustrations with the state of this country.  I’m not racist, and I never have been.  But like so many others, I still find myself scared when walking in a neighborhood not dominated by others of my own color.  I find myself frustrated when jobs, benefits, and more are given to people based solely on their race, and not on their qualifications.  I find myself outraged when simple issues are blown out of proportion, simple because they involve a minority or possibly offended someone.

In this speech, Barack pinpoints and explains these issues, and brings them into the open for everyone to see.  He explains not only how, and what, but why.  I think he truly understands, and truly feels that he can make a change for the better.  And that is why I plan on voting for him.

This speech is incredibly inspiring.  It was written by him, not by an aide, or a staff writer.  These words are his own, and he says them with conviction.  So, without further ado, Mr. Barack Obama.

Voting in an electronic world

Well, I did my civic duty and voted this morning. I have my misgivings about the entire election process and the corruption that abounds in the government, but if I refuse to vote, then I really can’t complain, can I.

So, after waking up and getting ready for work, I headed to the local polling location to check out the Diebold AccuVote TSX system they wanted me to vote on. It’s a neat looking machine from afar, but once I got up close, I was sorely disappointed.

I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but these seemed to be very flimsy, rushed systems. The touchscreen didn’t feel right, tho it was presumably accurate, lighting up my choices as I chose them. There was a slight delay after I touched the screen, however, and that was annoying. The first time I tried to vote, it rejected the card I was given and flashed an error about being cleared. Well, I hope that’s what it said. Thinking back on it now, I’m upset that I didn’t take more time to read the screen. I’m honestly not sure if the error stated that the card was cleared, or that the machine was cleared. And when I returned the card for one that worked, the lady I gave it to mentioned that there were a bunch of cards she was having problems with. Not good..

On a positive note, the mechanism that held and ejected the voting card seemed to be well built. It worked well. I think that’s about the only piece that I thought was decent though. Kinda pathetic actually.

Speaking of the Diebold machines, I urge you to check out the HBO special, “Hacking Democracy.” The entire show is up on Google Video for your viewing pleasure. You can access the video here.

Think of the Children!

Wil Wheaton (Wesley from Star Trek) wrote an entry in his blog the other day about the current state of our government. This got me to thinking and I thought I’d toss out my thoughts as well. This is the first political statement I’ve made in this blog and I’m hoping it doesn’t become a habit..



I don’t much like politics and I try to avoid it whenever I can, but sometimes it’s necessary to dive in for a short time. Our country was founded on a few important principles. I’m sure you’ve heard them before, Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The first congress did everything in their power to create a stable, secure government. But, they knew that nothing is perfect and put in provisions to allow for changes to the founding principles. Since that time our government has been progressing ever forward towards the very form of government that we seek to eradicate.

The September 11th tragedy is being manipulated and twisted in ever more horrible ways as our government seeks to strip us of our liberties, all in the name of security. From illegal wiretapping to prisoner torture. And now they seek to make both of these things legal! For example, our illustrious president is seeking to have a bill passed to allow warrantless wiretapping. Thus far, this bill is intended to allow wiretapping only for suspected terrorist activities, but once the door is open… *sigh* With cries of “protect the USA” and “think about the children”, the government seeks to strip us of our rights and create what is essentially a police state

Other liberties are at risk as well. Are you aware that the government is currently seeking to pass a bill that forces ISPs across the US to keep detailed records of all internet activity? We’re talking more than just the standard radius records that are used to tie a user and IP together. This bill seeks to force ISPs to keep records of IM conversations, web browsing, email, and anything else they can use to “fight child pornography.” I work for an ISP and I can’t figure this out. They want this data recorded in advance of any wrongdoing. In other words, guilty until proven innocent. All they need is a warrant to go digging through all that data! I’m sure it will start out with a warrant that specifies exact IP addresses and time frames, but that will quickly change. I’ve had to deal with warrants that are very vague about what they want. In other words, give me EVERYTHING that deals with this IP between these two times. And, of course, if they find anything else out during their legal search then they can act on that. Imagine what can happen if they suspect a pedophile used your system between 1am and 4am on Saturday, but they don’t know the exact IP. And then they ask for everything between those times! Imagine the possibilities. Perfectly innocent people are at risk here!

“Well think of the children!” Yes, lets. I will agree that if the data is already available, it may be quicker to pull a predator off the streets. However, we’re dealing with child pornography here. Most of these cases deal with people downloading the porn. In that case, it’s safe to assume that they will do it again. Getting a warrant that asks the ISP to capture the data for a period of time is perfectly valid at that point. Besides, most ISPs retain logs for at least a week anyway. This is done purely for statistical and debugging purposes, but that should be plenty of time to get a warrant. Or, try this one out. How about creating something specific to the computer industry called a suspicion warrant. When served with one of these, the ISP starts collecting data. That data is not available to the police force until a “real” warrant is obtained via the court system. This at least gives the police a chance to save any data that may be rolled off after a period of time. Again, this is something I would be more than happy to do for the police if it helps get these predators off the street.


Well, enough ranting. The long and short is this. The government is trying to steal away our liberties, all in the name of good causes. And put that way, it makes you look like the bad guy if you don’t agree and fight against it. But please, if you truly care about this country and the freedoms you have, look hard at the issues. Vote in the next election and make your voice heard. I won’t tell you who to vote for, and beyond the above, I won’t even hint at it. Just get out there. Do a little research, and make your voice heard!