Monday, September 24, 2007

Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study 2006-2007

Over the weekend I finally found the time to read the very interesting "Library Funding & Technolgy Access Study 2006-2007". Yes the title sounds a bit drab, but within this study is a great deal of information. Especially information that is pertinent to persons interested in ICT Policy and Telecommunications Policy.

In the ICT arena, the study highlights the shortcomings that public libraries are encountering with budgets and physical infrastructure of buildings. In addition to the lack of information professionals for support and improvment of ICT that is already in place. This is occuring when the use of public libraries is increasing, ICT equipment is becoming outdated, bandwidth is beoming maxed out, and budgets are decreasing for public libraries.

The Telecommuniations Policy is brought into the fold with the introduction of bandwidth limits at public libraries. Granted some of the bandwidth limitations are in place voluntarily, but my focus here is that there are some that cannot obtain greater bandwidth due to insufficient infrastructure in the geographical region. This introduces the topic that the U.S. needs a Telecommunications policy that benefits everyone, not only those people that reside in areas where telecommunication companies can make a profit.

There is also so much more information contained in the study, that I would urge even the lonely librarian to devle into its massive 200+ pages. However, many of those pages are charts and graphs.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Net neutrality: my view

Well I have completed reading a lot of information in favor of Net neutraily and oppossed to Net neutrality. As well as the very dry FCC and FTC information. Government documents, what should I have expected.

I think it might be helpful to sum up the fears that both sides to the argument have.
For proponenets of Net neutrality, the fear is that information could be censored or delivered in an untimely manner due to network restrictions on access. I must say that I am also afraid this might happen.

Opponenets to Net neutrality are firm in their belief that Net neutrality will hamper development and innovation as well as the ability of broadband companies to recoup investments. I can see both of these points as well.

An underlying issue for the opponents to Net neutrality is a view that the bandwidth and resources of the Intnernet are approaching a zenith. And from what I have learned from reading the only way to avoid this limitation is to either add bandwidth to the networks connected to the Internet or provide another means to compress and/or prioritize different types of information( i.e. cramming more information into the same cable). Of course the additional bandwidth to networks is expensive since the netowrk cables and devices would need to be upgraded over a larger area and in several more locations. However, if prioritization were allowed, the upgrade could be done in a fewer number of locations and without the expensive additional cables.

Something that I do not understand is that since the emergence of broadband under the Net neutrality system, broadband companies seem to be doing quite well financially with an increasing number of subscribers. Then again, if the growth of devices attached to the network of networks increases, the potential for network shortages of bandwidth are present.

Opponents to Net neutrality have also brought up the point of quality-of-service, QoS. The idea behind QoS is that without Net neutrality, QoS can be implemented and provide better service to the end user. My concern with QoS is that there is no mention of a definition of acceptable QoS standards. For instance I currently pay for the highest tier of download capacity my ISP offers. Yet, when my download speeds drop to 25% of what the potential download speed could be there is no recourse. There is also no way for me to recoup or ask for credit for only partial service. In fact the only time I have gotten credit for network outages, was when Insight Communications' network went down in Illinois. Even then I had to spend several hours on the phone.

For me is the opponents to Net neutrality want to introduce QoS, then the end user needs to have some assurance and recourse when the ISPs are not able to maintain QoS to the end user. Herein is my solution for the Net neutrality debate. Allow the users to have QoS standards, with recourse for violations of those standards. When that is achieved, then allow Net neutrality to fade out for a set period of time. When the time has expired, a reevaluation of the system would need to be conducted if whether the non-Net neutrality Internet is acceptable or not.

During this period of time, as the opponents to Net neutrality hope, the network of networks can be improved and additional bandwidth implemented. One of the key points of opponents to Net neutrality is that Net neutrality will limit investment, innovations, and limit the ability of ISPs to recoup financial investments. This set period of time will allow the ISPs to recoup the investments and also experiment with a U.S. Internet free of Net neutrality.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Broadband Access: Right or service?

Lately my research into information policy has lead me to an old hobby of mine. Trying to obtain broadband access for the masses of rural America. Where I came from broadband access was very late in arriving on the scene. To this day, there is only one choice in broadband ISP, no I will not divulge the company's name.

Suffice to say, as my friends all over the country and some not so far away, 15 miles away at most, were getting broadband Internet access my house and little town of 5,000 people were left out clutching onto our unshielded twisted pair wires to the telephone company.

I am a strong proponent for widespread diffusion of broadband technologies, but I would like to find an answer to the following question. Is broadband Internet access a right or service?

Depending on who you discuss the topic with, it could be either. I myself believe it to be a service, but a necessary service. Broadband Internet access can be likened to such things as potable water, electricity, and education. The U.S. has, in the past, made great strides in all three categories, why should broadband Internet access be any different. If the country would have relied upon the 'market' to spread electricity, potable water, and education among the rural communities of the country we might find a very different countryside.

Yet my question of whether broadband Internet access is a right or service has not been fully answered. The answer is that broadband Internet access is only a service, but a necessary service like electricity, potable water, and education that should be made available to everyone.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Free Wi-Fi for all...or not?

An interesting arrest in London has recalled the debate of whether using unsecured Wi-Fi networks is ethical or not? See story here. Piggybackers are described as individuals that 'piggyback' onto unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Some for good other for more nefarious purposes.

Though this case is in London, similar cases have been seen across the United States. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is the typical law used to prosecute piggybackers. Is piggybacking wrong? Legally it is wrong in the United States. What about ethically?

Here is a parallel. I drop a dollar on the public sidewalk outside my home. I, for the purpose of this parallel, do not notice the dollar and keep walking. Is it stealing if a person were to pick up the dollar? My opinion is no. However, it appears that wireless signals constitute a different body of thought.

In the current legal framework the wireless signals of a Wi-Fi network remain private. Why is it that Wi-Fi signals necessitate a seperate law? WiFi signals are nothing more than electromagnetic waves eminating from a source. Why does this medium have different ownership privelages?

The questions abound in my mind about the ethics surrounding the piggybacking of WiFi signals. Though I understand the potential business loss to ISPs if wireless signals were shared, I do not see the harm that is caused to the ISP's subscriber. At least in most cases in the United States, ISPs charge Internet fees based on access speeds, not on data amounts transmitted. Thus the piggybacker would not cause any direct financial loss. But may circumvent paying the ISP for Internet access.

With the right and privelage to use Wi-Fi signals also comes a responsibility to use those signals responsibly. In my opinion, if the Wi-Fi signals and network are not responisbly secured to prevent unauthorized access, then the individuals that piggyback onto the Wi-Fi network should not be prosecuted.

There is no simple answer to the ethical question. Though a way to stop the situation from arising would be to require that Wi-Fi signals be secured when the wireless device is installed. Another method to mitigate piggybacking is to require that Wi-Fi access points be secured by default from the factory.