This dog just won’t hunt…

Every time I want to sit down and write a little bit about how rural folks can better use the internet, someone in the US congress proposes a bill that just reinforces how little they understand about how the online world works. Here is the case in point: the Protect IP bill in the Senate (S968) and the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House. These two bills were introduced as methods to stop the piracy of intellectual property, mostly movies, online. Unfortunately, they are written so very broadly, that they subject casual social media users (yes, that’s your grandmother posting those baby videos) to prosecution and jail time and endanger the very stability of the internet itself.

I agree that intellectual property needs protection. Much of the value of business in the US involves IP in one way or another. However, these bills are not the way to go. Rebecca MacKinnon, writing for the New York Times, says, “While American intellectual property deserves protection, that protection must be won and defended in a manner that does not stifle innovation, erode due process under the law, and weaken the protection of political and civil rights on the Internet.”

To better understand this proposed legislation, see the video on the site. To see what’s happening since these bills were introduced, see Matt Cutts’ blog entry. (Scroll down past the video for more fun facts.) He has an interesting graph showing the amount and type of funding going into these bills.

For rural folks, this legislation could have some serious repercussions. I think the most serious side-effect would be the fear created. Would you post anything on Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter if you could potentially be prosecuted for it? I’ve quoted lines from TV shows in previous posts, mostly as an homage to them. Would I have to pull those or risk going to jail? Would a small business, such as a farm, be willing to use these online tools with that level of risk? Censorship could happen to anyone accused, (not convicted, but only accused) of posting content that might infringe on IP rights. Something as simple as quoting a popular song or submitting an outdoor video that had a logo or background music in it could get you censored or jailed. Any social media company that didn’t actively censor every posting could be shut down.

We would, essentially, become China. I don’t know about you, but I like my hard-won civil liberties.

Okay, can I get back to talking about rural geek things now?

The Open Internet and Rural Broadband

On April 8th, (yes, that was just this last Friday during the big budget debate) the House passed   H. J. RES. 37 concerning the openess of the internet. This is what the bill says, in its entirelty: 

    Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That Congress disapproves the rule submitted by the Federal Communications Commission relating to the matter of preserving the open Internet and broadband industry practices (Report and Order FCC 10-201, adopted by the Commission on December 21, 2010), and such rule shall have no force or effect.

So, what does that mean? Here is the text of Report and Order FCC 10-201. It is concerned with the limitiations that internet service providers are allowed to place on users and content. It significantly curtails “the ability of broadband providers to favor or disfavor Internet traffic to the detriment of innovation, investment, competition, public discourse, and end users.” In other words, it keeps the internet open and accessible. H. J. RES. 37 would kill the FCC’s ability to keep the internet neutral.

The Senate version is S.J.RES.6. and has not been passed yet. Need I mention that this may indeed be the perfect time to contact your Senator to ensure that this resolution not be passed?

In other congressional news, a new bill, HR 1083 – Rural Broadband Initiative Act, introduced March 15th, amends the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 to establish in the Department of Agriculture (USDA) the Office of Rural Broadband Initiatives. Is the USDA the right department to handle rural broadband? Truly, I don’t know, but somebody needs to ensure that broadband reaches us. Frankly, rural broadband is not going to happen if we merely encourage private enterprise to provide it. It’s going to take another act like the ones that brought electricity and telephones to every house in the country.

The bill I really like is Maria Cantwell’s S.74: Internet Freedom, Broadband Promotion, and Consumer Protection Act of 2011. It ensures net neutrality by amending the Communications Act of 1934 which regulates common carriers. Someone has to because corporations won’t.