Sunday, December 17, 2006

What's wrong with this picture?

Okay, short post. I went to Dell's website to price two versions of the same product, the Latitude D520 laptop. I just wanted a low-end laptop that will work as a Linux test station.

If I price a base configuration laptop with Windows, it's $599.

If I price the same laptop with Free-DOS, it's $699.

Why exactly am I paying $100 more for a computer *without* Windows?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Free Software

For the last 15 years, Linux has slowly been on the uptake, building and refining, filling the gap where Microsoft left off. You know, in places like security and reliability. It started with just one man, Linus Torvalds. I won't bore you with the details, but suffice it to say it is now a world class operating system for computers. Linux supports more hardware than any other operating system in the world. Linux runs in all manner of devices from cell phones to supercomputers. And adoption has been growing at double-digit rates for several years now.

The thing I like about Linux is that it is built by enthusiasm and competence. The men and women who contribute to Linux are essentially show-offs. I say this because their programming code is there for all to see. That is one of the requirements for software licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL). The 4 basic rights of the license are: 1) you can use the software for any purpose you desire; 2) You are free to copy the software; 3) You are free to modify the software and; 4) You may redistribute the software as long as you include the source code you contributed with the binaries.

Source code is human readable code that programmers write. When the programmer is finished writing, he uses a compiler to process the code, and the result of that process is a binary file that computers can understand. When a programmer writes software, he creates source code with comments, little notes that tell him and others what that part of the software is doing. It can also contain copyright attribution, too. When the source code is compiled, the comments are stripped out leaving a clean binary executable file for the computer. Hence the power of free software: everyone can share, reproduce and improve your work if you share it with others under the GPL.

There are a number of reasons why the GPL is so popular. Evidence of it's popularity can be seen at, where more than 60% of the projects hosted there are licensed under the GPL. Programmers like it because the source code can stay public for all to see. Many programmers have had the experience of watching a great idea get shuttered by the corporation they were working for. The GPL keeps their project alive. And it prevents the project from being subsumed by a corporation for it's private use within a proprietary product. But I think the most impressive thing about it is the resume. A programmer can point to the project and the change log of the project and say, see? I'm there. That's called credibility. But wait, there's more.

Remember, people who love Linux are show-offs. It's a badge of honor to find a bug in Linux and report it. Credibility comes when you report a bug, and offer a solution, *and* the solution is accepted for inclusion in the source code. For a programmer, he'll be floating for weeks on that good feeling of making the computer world a slightly better place and knowing that he will get credit for it. That looks mighty good on a resume, too.

For at least the last 10 years, Linux has been competing with Microsoft in one way or another. People wanted an alternative and they got one. But lately, things haven't been so good. A few years ago, The SCO Group initiated a baseless lawsuit against IBM claiming breach of contract for contributing intellectual property to Linux. IBM had a software license with AT&T, the creator of UNIX. That agreement was eventually sold to several other companies, and eventually to SCO. For more than 20 years, things were fine until SCO decided that it couldn't make money at the UNIX game anymore. So they began to sue, and sue big. IBM wouldn't settle. SCO has been dragging out the lawsuit now for 3 years with hardly any evidence to support their claims. The full story can be found at

There have been a couple of big hits lately against Linux distributors. First, there's Oracle. Oracle has decided to use Red Hat's source code to create their own version of Linux. Sure, this is always a danger. But supporting someone else's code is a lot different than taking their code and changing it and redistributing it and supporting *that*. I sense that Oracle may have bitten more than it can chew. Red Hat has been working with and refining their source code for years and they really know their product. Oracle will have to catch up to Red Hat. I think eventually, Red Hat will prevail, but for now life hasn't been easy.

The biggest hit against Linux is the deal between Microsoft and Novell. Microsoft says that it will work with Novell to improve interoperability between Windows and Linux. Yeah, right. Like Microsoft has ever been a big fan of interoperability. When Microsoft was a little company, interoperability was a big deal. But once they established their dominance, they differentiated their products to prevent interoperability. That's called "vendor lock-in".

Take for example, the Word document format. Open Office is a program created by reverse engineering the Word document format. People who work on the Open Office program have spent years looking at every detail of the Word document format so that they can recreate it. And open Word documents with something other than Word.

The other part of the agreement is a patent covenant between Microsoft and SUSE customers - NOT Novell, the owner of SUSE. All this means is that if SUSE Linux infringes on any Microsoft software patents, Microsoft will not sue Novell's customers. What they are trying to do is flout the spirit of the GPL. The GPL requires that when you distribute GPL software, everyone downstream gets all the rights you have. The problem with this deal is that only the people who purchase and receive software directly from Novell are protected. But if you're a Red Hat customer, well, , don't hold your breath.

Most people are confused about Novell's action to enter into this agreement. Novell is a party to a lawsuit with SCO over the copyrights to UNIX, which SCO claims to be the source of Linux. SCO is claiming that Linux is an unauthorized derivative work of UNIX, and that they own the copyrights. Novell has been in the fight against SCO for a long time. And they were arch enemies of Microsoft. So why the deal?

We don't really know enough yet to know why. But we do know that everyone who has ever gotten into bed with Microsoft, came away with a VD (Venomous Deal). There is a trail of corpses and scarred partners that goes back 20 years. Most if not all partners with Microsoft either died in litigation or went away feeling a lot lighter in the wallet and shut out of the market. The Groklaw website has a page devoted to litigation with Microsoft. It's a long, long page.

Red Hat is the top distributor of Linux by any measure. They compete directly against Microsoft and Novell. Hence, the enemy of the enemy is my friend. But they have some interesting things to say about the deal. And they quote and link to some very knowledgeable and influential people who can comment with some authority on it.

The questions that arise concern mostly whether the deal can work within the framework of the GPL. Most are cautious about that. Many see the divide and conquer tactics being employed by Microsoft and call foul. But here, I think that Microsoft has underestimated the size and power of their opponent. We're not talking about a single company. Or just one country. We're talking about people all over the world who want Linux to succeed. And they're determined to do it. And it's all based on an idea. Funny thing. During the revolution here, in America, the king of England noticed the danger of ideas and noticed that people were willing to fight for them.

Microsoft, likes to think of themselves as the Let Us Innovate people. Yet, they want to use patents to shut Linux down. They are so bent on driving down or eliminating competition, that they are willing to win at any cost. They are doing everything they can to influence governments and large corporations to use their products, exclusively. Here's an example, if you're looking for one. They are using Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) to prevent Linux adoption.

So, here's what I don't understand. Microsoft is the world's largest software company. They could do anything they wanted, really. They have the resources to make a superior product. They've had those resources for at least 5 years, very likely for 10 years. Yet, for at least the last 10 years, they've been using FUD to drive their business. They disparage the competition while talking with the customers of the competition. Remember that litigation page? Try reading some of the testimony from those pages. You'll read page after page of how Microsoft sales execs lied about the competition to their customers.

Why didn't they simply *make* a better product? Why do they need software patents to protect their product when they could just make a better product that people would be willing to buy?

The reason why is that money is the rule that Microsoft uses to measure prosperity. When I think of Microsoft sales practices, I think of Karl Rove, you know, Bush's brain. Karl Rove has been accused of using every dirty trick he could think of to get Bush to be president. Hey, it worked. But look at Bush now. Defeated. Laughed at. Lame duck. But that is another article.

The point is that MS lost sight of the goal: make better software. Instead, they used the government and the media to slow down or kill their competition, through contracts, lawsuits, or spin.

This latest deal with Novell is really about Novell and MS trying to establish an unfair advantage over the Linux competition. We already know what MS wants. But try thinking of Linux as a flowing river. When you try to put a river into a bucket, it's no longer flowing. They want to capture all that creativity and put a tax on it for their own benefit. How fair is that?

44% of the SUSE Linux distribution is owned by the Free Software Foundation. They are planning on taking all that software to GPL v.3. And in the new version of the license, they are going to write it so that any benefit from a patent covenant that is intended for just one group will automatically be extended to anyone who receives the software. And if you can't comply, you can't distribute under this license.

I like the way Pamela Jones has been covering this debacle. She is making a very good case for conversion of property in this deal. People seem to think that the GPL does not respect copyrights or property rights. Quite the contrary. The people who wrote the code still hold the copyrights to their own code. They have licensed it under the GPL for distribution. Microsoft seems to have forgotten that minor point. I guess Microsoft is really upset that so many people disregard their licenses, too.

As the majority of the software in Linux distributions moves to GPL v.3, so will the majority of the developers, leaving poor Novell to fend for themselves with software that takes time and effort to maintain, distribute and support.

So there. Those are my latest thoughts on the state of free software. You know, Richard Stallman has been quoted to have said, "To understand free software, think of free as in freedom, not free as in beer."

Scott Dunn

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Vietnam and the WTO

Last summer I visited the country of Vietnam. I found it to be a fascinating place. There are many things to like about that country. Food grows everywhere, so if you're one of the lower primates, you're going to have an easy time finding something to eat. The climate is beautiful (yeah, I made my peace with hot and sweaty days). And the people are beautiful (Okay, I love Asian women).

But I think that country needs a lesson in international civics before they can join the World Trade Organization (WTO). They are currently a member of the United Nations, and have been since 1977, but they don't seem to think much of the Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations.

For example, lets look at Article 13 (2):

Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Clearly, this is a no-brainer for human rights. But in practice, Vietnam is very strict about who can leave and who can go. It's easy for me to go there since they have a pretty good idea that I have no immediate plans to move there. In fact, they'd really like me to go there to spend my money there. They may even want me to teach English there, you know, the language of commerce.

On the other hand, if someone from Vietnam wants to visit another country, it had better be somewhere like The Philippines, Thailand, Korea or some other developing country. They seem to have a real problem with granting visas to people who just want to visit the United States. Of course, if you have a business, a fat bank account, or you own property in Vietnam, they feel better about letting you leave because you have a compelling interest in returning soon.

Absent those things, you're going to be hard pressed to get a simple travel visa to travel for pleasure. I know after talking with people from that country. It's very hard to bring a friend from Vietnam to the US. Of course, they don't state this explicitly in their rules governing visa applications, but there is some helpful if not interesting language here.

"Any information helpful in showing your ties to Vietnam, such as information about your employment, education, social or family relationships, and possessions, that you wish the consular officer to consider."

Ok, call me stupid if you want, but I don't see how possessions should have any bearing on a visa application. We're talking traveling for pleasure, right? All of the items above relate to status. Wait. Vietnam is a communist country. And communists just love the idea of a classless society. Yet, right here, they are making status a condition of travel. That means someone else couldn't buy a Vietnamese citizen a ticket to fly here unless she's loaded at a bank somewhere in Ho Chi Minh City.

I don't know. I'd have to say that based on the evidence I see, Vietnam is clearly in violation of Article 13, subsection 2. Lets have a look at another section:

Article 7.

    All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Hmmm. So unless you're rich, you can't leave the country. But that would be in violation of Article 7 to deprive the right of travel based on status, right?

With me so far?

With admission to the WTO, Vietnam is bracing itself for a nice surge in tourism. Oh, wait. That's only if you want to visit Vietnam. If you want to leave, forget it. They're really worried you might not want to come back. It must have something to do with the 5,000+ political prisoners there. Ooops. They were released in September of this year. How nice. Or maybe they just don't treat their people fairly and quite a few of them would like to leave. It's nice to see Bush actually trying to help here.

So if you think I'm wrong, I'd really love to hear from you. I want to hear good news that says it's easy to get a travel visa for someone I might know.

Scott Dunn

Sunday, October 29, 2006

All the news that's fit to print

By now, you might have heard that Google is being sued by an association of newspapers in Europe known as Copiepresse. The reason? The plaintiffs think its great that Google has indexed their news stories in the regular search engine. But as soon as they created a news portal out of several thousand newspapers that publish their work on the web, Copiepresse decided to take action. Here are a few links to get you going:

Greed is Suicide for Belgian Press

Copiepresse Upset Ruling On Google Wasn't Visible Enough

Here they go after Microsoft, too.

And then, there's the Register for their pointed commentary.

One thing that really bothers me about this suit: they want to be paid for indexing. To paraphrase, "we don't mind being in their search engines, but when they present themselves as a news portal with our news, we have a problem." I guess they're upset that Google doesn't show any advertising on their news portal. It seems schizophrenic. They want it but they don't. They can't really decide. Google has already stated flat out that they don't pay for news. Perhaps they're in a better position to bargain than Copiepresse. You think?

My fear is that news organizations will use this to force search engines to only show news stories that are politically acceptable. Yes, that's right. I think it is yet another veiled form of censorship. They just can't wait for us to accept their own custom utopia (you know, the Road to Serfdom). Better that we don't get any countervailing news. Never mind that the purpose of journalism is to question the prevailing wisdom.

Of course, the article in the Register, like many others, have pointed to a standard that is more than a decade old: robots.txt. This is just a tiny little text file letting robots (and people) know if they can index the article and/or cache it (store it locally on disk at the server where the robot returns the information it collects). Copiepresse refuses to use this tool. They believe that if they choose to exclude robots from their website, they will be excluded from the search results. But if they don't use this tool, then they will be included in the search results and in news portals such as Google's. They believe there is a better solution than choosing between death and life. There must be a middle ground.

Well, I don't know. They want to be in search engines but they don't want to be in a news portal that drives traffic to their sites. Lithium anyone?

My hope is that if news associations decide that they're the final arbiters of what search engines can show and be included in search indexes, that this will give rise to a large wave of people who want to get the news out - independently. Bloggers will fill the void like never before. I don't think bloggers will mind showing up on the news portals.

Copiepresse is being irrational. Copiepress got what they wanted - Google stopped indexing. But now they are upset because they've been shut out. Oh, you can still find them if you already know their website address. And then maybe you can search their website locally with their own search engine. But they have already noticed a significant decrease in traffic to their sites. Get ready for their screams of bloody murder when Yahoo and Microsoft avoid them like the plague, too.

A lawsuit was already tried here in the US. The plaintiff was found to have not used the robots.txt tool intentionally so that search engines would crawl his site with their robots. Then he had planned to sue for copyright infringement all along. The court found in favor of the defendant with the reasoning that he could have used the robots tool but refused to do so. Something about the clean hands doctrine.

One other thing they don't seem to anticipate: the search organizations could get together and start de-listing Copiepresse as a whole. Perhaps then, Copiepresse may see reason. When that happens there will be another lawsuit forcing the search engines to give them equal time. Not.

Censorship is already a problem as it is. Why can't these nuts just be happy with the way things are?

Scott Dunn

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Price of Liberty

It was Ben Franklin who said, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." We are "they", aren't we? How many liberties have we given up to the terrorists and to our government? Who *asked* us to do this? Who said that the security we enjoy now is permanent? The people who were screaming for the security the most - those who have the most to lose.

I point you now to the Bush Administration. I see that Bush thinks the Constitution is just a goddamn piece of paper. He's really hot on the trail of terrorists and though there are a billion Muslims, he's determined to find every last Muslim terrorist (and no, not all Muslims are terrorists). And he'll do that much better if we'd just give up a little more freedom this year. And next year. Remember, it's for your own good.

I find it interesting how politicians love to talk about their grand ideas in general terms. Like, when they talk about terrorists. They talk about apprehending terrorists and treating them as if they don't have any rights as a good thing. Sure, they're terrorists and we already know that, they say. So don't give them access to lawyers, charge them with a crime, or show them the evidence against them.

This sounds like it's a great idea doesn't it? So now lets drill down a little. Imagine for a moment, that it's your son. You haven't seen or heard from him for a few days. Then weeks. Two months go by and your family is in a panic. He's Latin and he has brown skin. And he's in Guantanamo with a lot of other men. Men who've been there for a year or more. Your son has disappeared. He has no access to a phone. He can't access a lawyer. No charges have ever been leveled against him. He'll be late for Christmas.

Is that what you call security? Maybe in East Germany. You know, that fallen communist country that no ever one really liked?

Now, lets say you're an activist politician. Then you're declared a terrorist. Your political career comes to a quick, if temporary end, once you're detained. Who knows, maybe when you get out, you can write a book about your experience, and then run for president. Okay, scratch that. Try for a talk show. Even Martha has one now.

Who is watching the watchers? How do we know we'll be treated fairly? How do we know if the action is motivated by politics, budgets or real safety?

Oh, and don't forget their religious agenda. You know, the one that says they are on a mission from god to impose, er... promote... the Christian Worldview. Hmmm. That's funny. Didn't they just spend the last 8 years emasculating the Environmental Protection Agency? This is an agency that was created under the Nixon Administration to protect the environment. And now they want to take it down, you know, for the economy. Never mind the fact that their god says that we are caretakers of the earth. What will their god say to them when they have to answer questions like, "So what did you do to your beautiful earth?" Well, we sold a hell of a lot of SUVs.

The funny thing about religious agendas is that they are operating on what they call the truth: a message from god to take action. Unfortunately, there's no scientifically objective way to verify the message. It could be anything. Say, remember how the 9/11 terrorists believed that they were on a mission from god, too? The similarities are eerie, aren't they?

How many people can still remember the press mocking President Bush for his terrible speaking skills? How many remember him as unable to pass a bill prior to 9/11? That was what he was afraid of. He's afraid of not being remembered. Oh, we'll remember him alright. We'll be looking out for others like him, too.

Now there was a man whom the press laughed at. And then, after 9/11, everyone shut up. Suddenly, it was time to be nice to Mr. President. Better to be with him than against him, eh?

Too bad Bush didn't listen to Winston Churchill:
"Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events."
Mission accomplished, right?

Given that we're not very good at picking political leaders, perhaps it's time to enlist the Psychopathy Checklist. This is a diagnostic checklist for subclinical psychopathy. I think it would be very handy to screen our potential politicians. For some reason, psychopaths from both dominant parties seem to rise to the top in our country. We could stop that rather quickly with this checklist. The best part about this list is that it is nearly impossible to fool since the impulses of psychopaths are hard for them to hide under the intense scrutiny of this checklist.

So I watched the news today. And as I did so, I recalled how we never heard a dissenting voice for 5 years on who, what, how and why of 9/11. At least, not if you read any papers, or watch TV.

But if you look at the internet, you will find a Google of dissent from people warning of the impending disaster and the other people trying to calm their collective nerves. Go ahead, do a search and see what you find for "9/11 conspiracy theories". It's interesting how network news doesn't talk about them.

It took nearly 5 years for Bush to admit there was not a single tie between Al-Quaeda (there seems to be a million ways to spell and pronounce that) and the dictator of the century, Saddam Hussein. Why did it take him five years? What else is he omitting from his press conferences?

Look around and you will see blogs and articles about why the World Trade Center towers fell straight down instead of falling over like a tree. That is one I want to know. Or how about explaining why President Bush sat in a classroom reading a story to children instead of excusing himself politely and handling the situation?

Whatever your feelings about Bush, consider this: why is it that the disbelievers are shut out of the press and being told to shut up? Why do they wind up unemployed, demoted, on paid leave, or transferred to Siberia? Why isn't there an honest, public debate on the subject on network television? No one would pay for the commercial time? Puh-lease!

It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong. That's why. So consider what we are doing here and why we are motivated to do it. If you support the president, have you questioned his motives, reasoning or accounting of the facts? Why can't we have an open discussion on the air, with the people who were there?

There is an interesting show on KPFK here in LA. It's called Uprising. They are uncompromising liberals, and at least they are not afraid to say it. I don't agree with everything they say, but at least they are upfront about where they stand. They introduce the show by saying this: The purpose of journalism is to question the prevailing wisdom.

When was the last time you heard Tom Brokhaw, Dan Rather, 60 Minutes or perky Catie Couric question the prevailing wisdom?

People worry about the way Bush and his administration violate the Constitution on a daily basis. That is because most of us are asleep with our various addictions: work, sex, tv, coffee, gambling, name it. We've got it here. Those addicts sure know how to keep the economy going. Until we wake up from our collective sleep, a small minority will seek to impose their will upon the rest of us. The irony? They want us to believe as they do so that we'll be saved. Heh.

"I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it." --- Judge Learned Hand.

So when I think of my desire for security, I think of Alan Watts. In his book, The Wisdom of Insecurity, he shows that the more security a man has, the more he wants. And then there is never enough. So what does he do? He unplugs his computer, locks his door and curls up with a nice book in bed, hoping for the best. Bush appeals to the insecure among us. That's George W. (Wuss) Bush.

There are more books on the subject, but that book says more about the spirit of liberty to me than just about any other. Once we can have faith in our existence and the universal power, then security becomes a second thought. We rely upon the universe for what we need and nothing more. For our putative brains and our unaided will can be flicked from the earth at any time.

Remember to breathe and everything else will follow.

Mr. Scott
(sorry, transporter is out of order today)

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The End of the SSN

It seems that Congress is getting a little antsy about identity theft. They know that things have gone too far when people are selling SSNs for fun and profit. They know that the use of the SSN has gone too far when people can discriminate against you because you refuse to reveal your number. But when a treasure trove of identity information is found on a server on the internet, you know that Congress wants to cover their behind.

So they're writing legislation. It appears they now want to limit the sale and use of the SSN. How nice. Oh, wait. They also want to make it illegal for people to refuse to do business with you if you refuse to reveal your SSN. But only in certain cases. Still, it's a start.

Everyone has a number. And even though that number is required as a matter of survival in this country, it's required to be disclosed in so many places that often, it lands on public documents. On the Internet.

Now it looks like they are so bold as to stash huge stores of identity information on FTP sites. You may be familiiar with websites, but long before there was the web protocol, http (Hyper Text Transport Protocol), there was FTP (File Transfer Protocol). It appears that Webroot has found a hoard of stolen identities ready for sale. Where did all this come from?

It came from an army of zombie computers compromised to the point of being useless. And it came from careless users and programmers. First the programmers. It is well documented that Windows is running on 90% of the world's PCs. It is also well documented that Microsoft has long preferred to program for convenience over security. And now they're paying for it. And so are we.

The other half is users. Most users, without really being properly informed, are running as administrators on their machines. "Administrators?" There are essentially two classes of users in Windows (and linux): admins and users. Admins run the show. They can make any changes they desire to the computer. Users can't do squat. They can only create, manage, and modify documents. But they can only dream about installing software on your computer.

When you run as an admin and surf the web, malware (viruses, trojans, adware, spyware, etc.) can install itself on your computer without telling you. You may be prompted to click okay to install software, but it is unlikely you will get any warning. Then once it's installed, it's difficult if not impossible to remove the buggers.

Now if you run as regular user, and you run into something trying to install itself on your computer, you will be prompted to do so with administrators privileges. If you don't have this power, the virus, trojan, whatever, can't install itself on your computer and you get a warning that something is happening. In order to do so, privilege escalation has to occur. That means that the virus has to elevate its privileges from user to administrator. On most systems, remote privilege escalation is difficult if not impossible.

The point of this article is that sure, identity theft is a real threat to your well being, and yes, programmers need to do a better job of protecting your computer. Like Microsoft programmers. But what really needs to be done is better education of the people who use the computers in the first place. And if people do not actively seek out this information, in the end, they have to take responsibility for their own brains. Siimply legislating the problem away is not enough.

Scott Dunn

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality. That's the current buzzword these days. Most people are hardly aware of such a concept, though they hear it in the news. Internet Service Providers claim that companies like Google, Vonage, Microsoft and Yahoo are getting a free ride unless the ISPs can charge customers of those same companies, more money for their services.

What sort of services?, you might ask. Video, voice and streaming music communications. To take an example, lets look at voice. With voice communications, internet phone companies like Skype, Vonage, and Yahoo (yes, Yahoo offers voice service), help their customers setup and use voice communications over the internet. Users will purchase their own headset which plugs into a USB port, and then they run software that records the voice, breaks it up into little packets, and sends those packets to the recipient over the internet, encrypted and secure.

For many people this has been working well. Until now.

The link above is to a story about how the Vonage service was working great until Comcast got in the way and decided that their service was going to run better than any competitor's service running over their wire. See, Comcast has the ability identify the source and type of traffic going over their wires. They can selectively throttle the service for other competitors. Of course, they're going to deny it because they can. But the link above is just one point of proof.

Why is Comcast doing this? They believe they can make more money by charging for tiered services. Ladies and Gentlemen, tiered service is already here. Ever heard of a T1? T3? Oc-3 or OC-192? Those are fat pipes - really fat pipes - for data. Large internet companies have to buy this kind of bandwidth to provide access to their web servers.

They are not cheap, either. Sure, we all gripe about how we pay $30-50 per month for our broadband connection. Now the cable/phone companies want more. But only if you use a competing service for video or voice. You see, if you use *their* service, it will work better. You won't notice any delays or dropouts because the cable/phone companies can ensure more reliable service since it's their own network.

But the one thing that cable/phone companies aren't telling you is that they are common carriers. A common carrier is like a taxi. A taxi cannot refuse service to just anyone. Now if the customer is waving a gun in your face, then sure, you can drive away. But if he's peaceful and willing and able to pay the toll, then he gets a ride. No questions asked except "Where to, bub?".

So the next time you hear the cable companies bleat about how Google is getting a free ride, consider that Google is *already* paying for high speed internet access. The ISPs are trying to get you to pay more for it. Again.

So lets have a look at it another way. We pay a monthly bill. We only use our connection for a small part of the day. The ISP is overselling their service because they know that most of us have day jobs just so we can pay the bill. If everyone got on at the same time, we'd feel it. But most times, only a fraction of the subscribers are online. That is just one way they're making their money. Banks do this, too, but that is another story for another day.

If cable/phone companies have their way, they will balkanize the internet. That means that the internet will break up and fragment. No more easy access to the information you really want, unless you are willing to pay more than you already do.

You know how Congress regulations interstate commerce? They prohibit sales taxes between states to ensure free trade among the states. Congress needs to step in and do the same thing with net neutrality. Net Neutrality will help to prevent the fragmentation and balkanization of the internet. It will also prevent the IPS from using the perfect excuse for censorship: bandwidth use.

The ISP behavior towards net neutrality has prompted Google to start buying their own infrastructure. This is more evidence that the net is going to be fragmented unless a firm policy regarding net neutrality is adopted. Fortunately, there is competition afoot for the cable and phone companies. Ethernet over Power lines is the next big thing. People will be able to get their internet connection through a power outlet. The work is still ongoing, but it's only a matter of time before we see it everywhere.

And then there is wireless. WiMax is due to come out strong in 2007-2008. There are municipal networks popping up all over the country with the help of Google and Earthlink.

So the phone companies want stomp on net neutrality? The cable companies want Skype to run a little slower then their own, branded service? Welcome to the perfect excuse for municipal networks. Any city will be able to claim that the municipal networks became neccessary for the betterment of the general public because the dominant ISPs wouldn't play nice with others. We have roads, don't we? Just imagine what would happen if the cable companies owned the roads. *shudder*!!!

So get on the horn and write your CongressCritter. Send them an email so that they know you are personally affected, and that you have money to back up your words. Not that you will make a donation, but that you will vote with your pocketbook.

Whew. Sure glad I got that off of my chest. See you next time.

Scott Dunn