In 1998, Congress passed the Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA), which placed a ban on taxing internet access. The bill was temporary, and every few years had to be extended by Congress to stop attempts to add taxes to the cost of your internet access. For a long time, there's been a push to make the ITFA permanent, and Congress finally did that yesterday, when the Senate approved such a bill (the House approved its version last summer). As Senator Ron Wyden noted in response to this passing, this inevitably saves the public a lot of money on a vital service. He notes that mobile phone service is taxable, and average consumers pay a 17% tax on such service. The President still needs to sign the bill, but it would be a surprise if he vetoed it.
The reason it took the Senate so long to actually vote on this was because a bunch of brick-and-mortar retailers have been trying to sabotage it, by tying the approval of the permanent ban on access taxes to a totally unrelated bill that would force e-commerce providers to charge a sales tax. This is a fight that's been going on for years. Historically, mail order and e-commerce shops didn't have to pay sales tax unless they had a physical presence in a state. This made sense, as the taxes were supposed to be to support local services that those companies relied on. However, brick-and-mortar retailers have been claiming that this is some sort of evil "loophole" because it creates an excuse for why people like shopping online rather than in their stores. So they've been demanding that increasingly onerous tax regimes be placed on online retailers, and insisted that such a bill must be approved in conjunction with the permanent ITFA.
However, in the end, that strategy appears to have failed -- at least for now. The retailers could only get an agreement that Congress will take up the retail sales tax issue later this year, rather than tying the two directly together. Still, it will be worth watching what happens on that issue in the coming months. Expect a full court press of misleading stories about a horrible "loophole" in the coming months, as these stores look to increase the taxes on things you buy online.
It's still somewhat strange to me to see how badly some companies react to basic competition. Yes, sometimes that means companies lose, but it doesn't automatically make any and all competition unfair. An online map company, StreetMap.Eu sued Google a few years ago, claiming that Google's entrance into the online mapping world, and specifically including maps in search results, was unfair competition. However, the UK High Court has now, rightfully, rejected such a claim. The basis of the ruling seemed rather straightforward:
But the judge ruled that the introduction by Google of the new-style Maps OneBox in 2007 was "not reasonably likely appreciably to affect competition in the market for online maps".
The judge added that, in any event, Google's conduct was " objectively justified".
StreetMap's director Kate Sutton, however, is insisting that the company will appeal and says the whole thing is "unfair."
"The decision is unfair for small businesses," Sutton said, and added that StreetMap would attempt to appeal against the judgment, which found that Google's search dominance had not directly harmed competition in the UK's online mapping market.
I'm kind of curious what Sutton thinks is the appropriate remedy here: that no larger company should ever be allowed to offer services useful to consumers, which might somehow be "unfair" to smaller competitors? I'm a huge supporter of more competition in innovative services, but that should be driven by what's best for consumers, not what's best for small companies. Besides, plenty of small companies figure out how to innovate and take on large companies. The fact that her company has chosen not to do so is not Google's fault. Hell, Google itself, when it showed up entered a very crowded market and was laughed at for being such a small player in a market dominated by established companies. And what happened there?
We've written a few times about the copyright status of the Diary of Anne Frank lately, mainly because it's pretty clear that the original work was supposed to enter the public domain in Europe on January 1st of this year, as it was 70 years after Frank's tragic death. However, the copyright holder, The Anne Frank Fonds organization in Switzerland has been trying to claim that the work is still under copyright, and that Anne's father, Otto Frank, is a co-author of the work. Either way, the work is not in the public domain in the US, because the US (ridiculously) grants copyrights for an even longer term than Europe.
We took this action to comply with the United States' Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), as we believe the diary is still under US copyright protection under the law as it is currently written. Nevertheless, our removal serves as an excellent example of why the law should be changed to prevent repeated extensions of copyright terms, an issue that has plagued our communities for years.
Specifically, Wikimedia notes that, as a US company, it's under the jurisdiction of US law, and the DMCA includes a provision on "red flag" knowledge, that says if you are aware of infringing material, and you do not take it down, you may be liable. Thus, it removed it, even though it did not receive a specific DMCA takedown notice.
Based on email discussions sent to the Wikimedia Foundation at legal[at]wikimedia.org, we determined that the Wikimedia Foundation had either "actual knowledge" (i in the statute quoted below) or what is commonly called "red flag knowledge" (ii in the statute quoted below) that the Anne Frank text was hosted on Wikisource and was under copyright. The statute section states that a service provider is only protected by the DMCA when it:
(i) does not have actual knowledge that the material or an activity using the material on the system or network is infringing;
(ii) in the absence of such actual knowledge, is not aware of facts or circumstances from which infringing activity is apparent; or
(The rest applies when we get a proper DMCA takedown notice.)
We believe, based on the detail and specificity contained in the emails, that we received that we had actual knowledge sufficient for the DMCA to require us to perform a takedown even in the absence of a demand letter.
There is, admittedly, a fair bit of controversy over the whole "red flag knowledge" concept, with different courts ruling different ways. However, you can understand why Wikimedia might not want to take the risk when there's a very real chance a ruling could come down against them. Even if you disagree with the appropriateness of the whole "red flag knowledge" concept or its application here, you have to respect Wikimedia's decision not to set itself up to be a sacrificial lamb in a case that it could very well lose.
However, it does give Wikimedia a chance to rail against ridiculous copyright term extensions, especially those that are retroactively applied or which are used on foreign works that should be in the public domain:
However, in the United States, the Anne Frank original text will be under copyright until 2042. This is the result of several factors coming together, and the English-language Wikipedia has actually covered this issue with a multi-part test on its non-US copyrights content guideline.
In short, there are three major laws that together make the diary still copyrighted:
In general, the U.S. copyright for works published before 1978 is 95 years from date of publication. This came about because copyrights in the U.S. were originally for 28 years, with the ability to then extend that for a second 28 years (making a total of 56). Starting with the 1976 Copyright Act and extending to several more acts, the renewal became automatic and was extended. Today, the total term of works published before 1978 is 95 years from date of publication.
Foreign works of countries that are treaty partners to the United States are covered as if they were US works.
Even if a country was not a treaty partner under copyright law at the time of a publication, the 1994 Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA) restored copyright to works that:
had been published in a foreign country
were still under copyright in that country in 1996
and would have had U.S. copyright but for the fact they were published abroad.
Court challenges to the URAA have all failed, with the most notable (Golan v. Holder) resulting in a Supreme Court ruling that upheld the URAA.
What that means for Anne Frank’s diary is unfortunately simple: no matter how it wound up in the United States and regardless of what formal copyright notices they used, the US grants it copyright until the year 2042, or 95 years after its original publication in 1947.
Under current copyright law, this remains true regardless of its copyright status anywhere else in the world and regardless of whether it may have been in the public domain in the United States in the past.
It's unfortunate that this is what the law is and that the chilling effects this has is hiding away an important piece of cultural history. But, at the very least, let it be yet another reminder that copyright reform requires a major change to copyright terms, and retroactive expansion of copyright terms is a concept that should never have been allowed.
For years now, broadcasters have waged legal war on Dish network for giving consumers what they want: namely a DVR that automatically skips advertisements users weren't watching anyway. Fox, CBS and NBC Universal all sued Dish back in 2012, claiming that the ad-skipping technology embedded in its "Hopper" DVR violated copyright. Most of the lawsuits were packed with hilariously baseless claims, like Fox ignoring the Betamax case to breathlessly insist that merely recording the entire prime time lineup was making "bootleg" copies of Fox's broadcasts.
Disney and CBS' lawsuits were settled in 2014, with Dish agreeing to hamstring Hopper's skipping functionality in exchange for not only an end to legal hostilities, but access to streaming video rights for its Sling TV service. Fox however continued to push its luck in the courts with decidedly mixed results; losing on many of the copyright claims, but winning on a few contractual issues. For example, the courts agreed that Hopper's ability to download recorded content to mobile phones violated contract restrictions against the copying of programming for use outside the home.
With the arrival of 2016, however, comes word that Dish and Fox have finally ended their protracted legal battle. According to the companies' statement, Dish has, as it did with CBS and Disney, agreed to further cripple its DVR's ad-skipping functionality:
"Fox Networks Group and Dish Network L.L.C. have reached an agreement resulting in the dismissal of all pending litigation between the two companies, including disputes over Slingbox technology and the AutoHop, PrimeTime Anytime and Transfers features,” Dish said in the statement. "As part of the settlement, Dish’s AutoHop commercial-skipping functionality will not be available for owned and affiliated Fox stations until seven days after a program first airs.”
Though it's not indicated by the companies' announcement, the settlement likely also involves some broader access to Fox content for use in Dish's Sling TV service, so the deal's probably not a total evolutionary wash. Still, the end result is one of the most popular and innovative DVRs on the market being crippled just to make legacy broadcast executives feel more comfortable as their empires face earth-shaking disruption on every front.
With the exception of Comcast NBC Universal (which, not coincidentally, directly competes with Dish as a cable provider), all of the original 2012 lawsuits have now been put to bed -- but at the cost of innovation and customer satisfaction.
So... you may recall that, back in December, we received and responded to a ridiculous and bogus legal threat sent by one Milorad "Michael" Trkulja from Australia. Mr. Trkulja had sent the almost incomprehensible letter to us and to Google, making a bunch of claims, many of which made absolutely no sense at all. The crux of the issue, however, was that, back in November of 2012, we had an article about a legal victory by Mr. Trkulja against Google. The issue was that when you searched on things like "sydney underworld criminal mafia" in Google's Image search, sometimes a picture of Trkulja would show up. His argument was that this was Google defaming him, because its algorithms included him in the results of such a search and he was not, in fact, a part of the "underworld criminal mafia."
Either way, back in 2012 we wrote about that case, and Trkulja was upset that a comment on that story jokingly referred to him as a "gangster." Because of that, Trkulja demanded that we pay him lots of money, that we delete the story and the comments and that Google delist all of Techdirt entirely. Immediately, we pointed out in our response: the comment is not defamatory, the statute of limitations had long since passed if it was defamatory, as an American company we're protected by Section 230 of the CDA, and even if he took us to court in Australia, we're still protected by the SPEECH Act. Finally, we suggested that perhaps he chill out and not care so much about what an anonymous person said in the comments of an internet blog over three years ago -- especially when many people consider it a compliment to be called "a gangster."
Either way, it seemed fairly clear that there was no actual "harm" to Mr. Trkulja, given that he didn't even seem to care about it for over three years.
We had hoped that this would be the end of it, but apparently it is not. A few weeks back, we received the following, absolutely bogus legal threat from an Australian lawyer by the name of Stuart Gibson, who appears to work for an actual law firm called Mills Oakley. The original threat from Mr. Trkulja could, perhaps, be forgiven, seeing as he almost certainly wrote it himself (again, it was incomprehensible in parts, and full of grammatical and typographical errors). Our response was an attempt to educate Mr. Trkulja against making bogus threats.
However, now that he's apparently wasting money on a real lawyer like Gibson, we will address the rest of our response to Gibson: Your letter is ridiculous, censorious and not even remotely applicable. Going to court over this will make you and your client look extremely foolish. But let's dig in, because Mr. Gibson seems to think that blustery bullshit will scare us off. He's woefully misinformed on this.
First off, if you send a legal threat and say "NOT FOR PUBLICATION" at the top, it's tough to take you seriously, because such a statement is meaningless. We have no contractual agreement not to publish such information, and if you send us a bogus legal threat, we are damn well going to publish it:
And now on to the crux of Gibson's argument: we said mean things about his client and somebody's feelings may have been hurt.
If you can't read that, it says:
The matter that you have published conveys false and defamatory meanings including (but not limited to) the following:
Our client is a gangster;
That our client by virtue of his legal claims is incompetent and unfit to be a litigant;
That our client by virtue of his legal claims is a ridiculous litigant;
That our client is a criminal and a participant in organised crime;
That our client is unfit to be a litigant
None of these meanings is defensible. Our client is not a criminal and has never been a gangster nor associated with such persons. Accordingly there is no factual basis for the imputations published.
Let's go through these one by one. First off, we never said that Mr. Trkulja is a gangster. In fact, in both of our previous stories about him, we noted that his concern was over being called a gangster when he was not one. To claim otherwise is Mr. Gibson lying in his threat to us. As a suggestion, lying in your legal threat letter is not a very good idea.
Second, at no point did we state that Mr. Trkulja was incompetent or unfit to be a litigant. We merely published his own words -- admittedly including his misspellings, grammatical errors and general confusion -- and our responses to them. If Mr. Gibson thinks this implies that his client is unfit to be a litigant, perhaps he should check his own biases.
Third, again, Mr. Gibson seems to be assuming the claim. We did say that the threat against us was ridiculous -- an opinion we stand by. But we did not say he was a "ridiculous litigant." Also, "ridiculous" is a statement of opinion and even in nutty Australia, "honest opinion" is not defamation. And it is our "honest opinion" that the threat is ridiculous.
Fourth, this is a repeat of the first claim. It was false the first time, and it's still false. Repeating a false claim may allow Mr. Gibson to add to his billable hours, but doesn't seem like particularly good lawyering.
Fifth, this is a repeat of the second claim. See point four above. And point two above.
So let's be clear: we did not say that Mr. Trkulja was a gangster. We said, in our honest opinion, that he won a lawsuit the results of which we disagree with, and that his legal threat to us was ridiculous. This is all perfectly reasonable and protected free speech. Second, we posted Mr. Trkulja's own words which, again in our honest opinions, do show the "ridiculousness" of his threat to us in that it was filled with grammar and spelling errors and was, at points, (again, in our honest opinion) incomprehensible gibberish.
Mr. Gibson, then suggests that arrogance is somehow defamatory:
If you can't see that, it says:
Moreover your commentary that still resides on your website is an arrogant, false and poorly researched piece for the following reasons:
The reference to "gangster" is not "totally innocuous". The reference is grossly defamatory and indefensible. One could not conceive a more defamatory reference than that. It may be a throwaway line in the United States but it is certainly not in this jurisdiction.
Judgments against US companies especially those resident in California are enforceable particularly monetary judgments.
You are not protected by the Speech Act.
This firm has enforced numerous judgments against corporations in your jurisdiction.
Your reference to "free speech" is absolute nonsense. Speech may be free but it is also actionable.
You did publish the comment. Under Australian defamation law, you have a duty as a moderator to moderate third party comments. If you do not and refuse to take action when given notice, you are liable.
First off, I may not be an expert on Australian defamation law, but I can tell you I find it difficult to believe that "arrogance" or "poorly researched" information is defamatory there. It certainly is not defamatory in the US, and, furthermore, Mr. Gibson, you are wrong that it was poorly researched. It was well researched and backed up with a great amount of detail -- details I will note your own threat letter to us appears to be lacking. And I'm sorry if we come off as arrogant to you, but we're allowed to speak our minds.
Next, Mr. Gibson, you "could not conceive a more defamatory reference" than calling someone a gangster? Really, now? Because I'm at least moderately familiar with some Australian insults and many of them seem way, way worse than "gangster" -- which, again I will remind, you we never called your client (and, in fact, correctly noted that he was upset at someone calling him a gangster). And, yes, it is innocuous. No one cares that someone anonymously in a blog comment jokingly called your client a gangster. It was harmless as is fairly clearly evidenced by the fact that your client didn't even notice it for over three years.
Next, I'll note that for all your talk of enforcing Australian monetary judgments in California, you don't name a single one. And, you're wrong, because the SPEECH Act absolutely does apply, and you'd be exceptionally foolish to test this, though of course that is your decision to make. The text of the SPEECH Act is pretty explicit, first about when defamation rulings are enforceable in the US and (clue time!) it doesn't count if the statements wouldn't be defamatory in the US:
a domestic court shall not recognize or enforce a foreign judgment for defamation unless the domestic court determines that the exercise of personal jurisdiction by the foreign court comported with the due process requirements that are imposed on domestic courts by the Constitution of the United States.
Second, the law is also explicit that a service provider, such as us (in reference to comments published by readers on our site), if protected by CDA 230 in the US, would be similarly protected from foreign judgment:
a domestic court shall not recognize or enforce a foreign judgment for defamation against the provider of an interactive computer service, as defined in section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 230) unless the domestic court determines that the judgment would be consistent with section 230 if the information that is the subject of such judgment had been provided in the United States.
I recognize that you're an Australian lawyer, not a US one, but I would suggest doing at least a tiny bit of research into the caselaw on Section 230 in the US. You will quickly learn that we do qualify as a service provider and that, no, we are not liable for statements in the comments. And, hell, even if we were, and even if the comments were defamatory under US law (which they're not), the statute of limitations on those original comments is long past anyway.
And, yes, in case you still have not read the SPEECH Act, the legal burden will be on you here:
The party seeking recognition or enforcement of the foreign judgment shall bear the burden of establishing that the judgment is consistent with section 230.
Good luck with that.
In case you still decide to ignore the actual text of the law, you can also go digging through the legislative record on the SPEECH Act, in which it was made explicit that the law was designed to protect against such forms of "libel tourism."
The purpose of this provision is to ensure that libel tourists do not attempt to chill speech by suing a third-party interactive computer service, rather than the actual author of the offending statement.
You can claim the law doesn't apply, but you are wrong. The text is clear. You can claim that you have won judgments or monetary awards in the past. And perhaps you have, but if you try to move against us, you will be facing the SPEECH Act and you will lose.
So, given all of the above, we will not be undertaking any of your demands. We will not apologize as we have nothing to apologize for. We will not retract anything, as we did not make any false or defamatory publications. We will not remove anything from our website. We will not pay your client anything, whether "reasonable costs" nor "a sum of money in lieu of damages."
Instead, we will tell you, as we did originally, to go pound sand and to maybe think twice before making bogus legal threats that you cannot back up.
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Remember the Senate Intelligence Committee's massive CIA torture report, that details how the CIA conducted a vast program of torturing people, which had no actual benefit, and then lied to Congress (repeatedly) about it? The same report that, when the heavily redacted executive summary was released, ex-CIA officials insisted would result in attacks on America that never actually happened?
This was also the same CIA torture report that the CIA vehemently disagreed with. Even prior to the (again, heavily redacted) executive summary being released, CIA Director John Brennan had responded to the report, insisting that it was full of lies and misleading claims. That initial response, which happened in the summer of 2013 took issue with many of the claims in the report. When the redacted executive summary of the report was finally released, the CIA apparently publicly posted a "correction" about its claims concerning the report, in which it noted that many of the statements the CIA had made in attacking the torture report were actually... not true.
And here's the real kicker: while the CIA "released" this "correction" on its website as a "note to readers" it didn't actually tell anyone about it. Instead, just as everyone was talking about the release of the executive summary of the terror report, and claiming that the CIA was contesting a bunch of key findings in the report, the CIA had actually posted a document on its own website detailing how its own denials were basically wrong. And some of them were big denials -- including about the effectiveness of the torture program on Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KSM). A key part of the Senate's report was that KSM was repeatedly tortured, but didn't cough up anything particularly useful. The CIA vehemently denied this and insisted that what KSM gave them was useful. But in this "note to readers" (again, which was never revealed to anyone), the CIA admits that it clearly overstated the value of KSM:
Rather than "the individual managing the plot," we should have written "the
individual who was in a position to advance the plot." This terrorist had raised Canary Wharf as a
potential target and was tasked by KSM to conduct surveillance of Heathrow Airport's security, but the
plot was shelved after KSM's arrest....
... Instead of "KSM provided information on an ai-Qa'ida
operative named Zubair. .. ," we should have written that "KSM provided information that led us to
understand the significance of a Jemaah lslamiya operative named Zubair." We acknowledge that in
various representations, including President Bush's 2006 speech, CIA introduced a sequencing error
regarding Majid Khan's arrest/debriefings, and KSM's arrest/debriefings. We repeated that error here
and on page 26 of Tab C (see next erratum). However, despite that error, our description of the impact
of the information acquired from KSM in the Hambali case remains accurate. It was the combination of
information from both terrorists that caused us to focus on Zubair as an inroad to Hambali....
... In our review of this case, we correctly acknowledged that CIA allowed a
mistaken claim that KSM played a role in Majid Khan's capture to appear in the Inspector General's 2004
Special Review, and we correctly wrote that this claim was a one-time error. However, our effort to
provide an example of a more accurate "typical representation" of the relationship between KSM's
information and Khan ran afoul of the sequencing error noted in the previous erratum. Although
information from KSM was used to elicit further details from Khan, by then Khan already had provided
the information that, together with what we learned from KSM, enabled us to advance our search for
...We incorrectly stated that KSM's information preceded Majid Khan's
information. We stand by our overall conclusion regarding the value of KSM's information.
In other words, a bunch of things the CIA insisted were inaccurate in the Senates Torture Report were actually quite accurate, and it was the CIA that was being inaccurate. And, sure, the CIA "admitted" this in its "note to readers" but then failed to actually tell anyone about this "note to readers." In fact, while the document was available on the CIA website no one even seemed to notice it until a few days ago. And that includes the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The document, entitled “Note to Readers,” was not formally provided or flagged separately for the Senate Intelligence Committee, which only became aware of its existence in the last week — more than a year since the document was publicly posted.
The “Note” was also noticeably absent from the CIA website’s swath of December 2014 releases related to the Intelligence Committee study, and was not mentioned in either of the agency’s archived pressreleases on the subject.
Not surprisingly, Senator Ron Wyden, who has been one of the leading voices in getting this report out to the public, was not at all pleased to find out about all of this:
“The CIA justified this program by claiming that it produced otherwise unobtainable information. CIA officials have now admitted their go-to example was wrong,” Sen. Ron Wyden, a prominent Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, told BuzzFeed News.
“These are significant admissions by the CIA that should not have been hidden in an obscure endnote,” Wyden said. “Director Brennan has tried to insist that the CIA did not provide policymakers with false information about torture, but these corrections seem to be an admission that they did so, and did so repeatedly.”
It still seems worth asking why President Obama continues to allow CIA Director John Brennan to retain that role. He appears to have no problem letting him get away with lying and purposeful obfuscation over activities of the CIA to the Senate Committee that is in charge of overseeing the CIA.
For a while now we've been highlighting the problems of Europe's "Right to be Forgotten" concept as it applies to search results. The idea is that, rather than a search engine, Europe thinks of companies like Google as creating something of a "dossier" on individuals, over which they should be able to delete old or irrelevant "data." This means that, in the EU, people can apply to Google to "de-link" certain stories that they consider to no longer be relevant, even if those stories are 100% accurate and true. Not surprisingly, given a chance to "delink" yourself from truthful information has resulted in lots and lots of people demanding Google "forget" links about them. Google now has a process to go through these, and certainly has rejected many requests, but it still appears to accept many requests that appear to be obviously bogus attempts to hide information someone just dislikes.
Last summer, French regulators decided that Google wasn't doing enough, and that Google needed to not just censor links on Google's EU domains, but globally. Google responded, noting that this was highly problematic, given that the EU did not have jurisdiction over the globe, and France basically responded with a "shut up, do it anyway."
And now it appears that Google has gone back to the French regulators with a partial solution. While some have said it means that Google will, in fact, start "forgetting" links globally, that does not appear to be the case from looking at the details. Instead, it looks like Google will now try to block based on where Google thinks users are coming from, rather than which Google domain they're using. This is a subtle difference which, in most cases, may not be different at all. That is, when you visit Google from a variety of countries, Google already tries to geolocate you, and will often redirect you to the "local" version of the search engine -- such as Google.fr in France.
Under the current RTBF system, Google removes those links on the specific searches if you're on such an EU domain. However, if you're in France and you force your browser to visit Google.com, the same links would not be missing. So the "compromise" is that now Google will remove the links based on where it thinks you physically are, even if you force your browser to visit a non-local domain name. This will not really impact that many people -- just those who force Google to visit a different domain than their local domain. But, still, it's a further compromise and a move towards greater censorship of accurate link results. Of course, what's stupid is that basically anyone who knows enough to force Google to not use a local domain probably also knows how to use a VPN or proxy to appear to be coming from outside Europe.
Still, the big question now is whether or not French regulators will find this an "acceptable" compromise, or if they will continue to insist on global censorship over accurate information in an effort to suppress truthful information.
from the more-money-for-the-same-shitty-product dept
You can add CenturyLink to the growing number of ISPs charging more money for the same product thanks to limited broadband competition. The company told attendees of an earnings conference call this week that it would be following Comcast's lead and conducting a "trial" of broadband usage caps and overage fees sometime later this year. The company lost 22,000 DSL customers last quarter, and clearly believes that layering an already inferior product with new restrictions and higher prices will surely make its customers happy:
"...Regarding the metered data plans; we are considering that for second half of the year. We think it is important and our competition is using the metered plans today and we think that explore those starts and trials later this year is our expectation."
According to CenturyLink's "excessive use policy," the company has capped customers on 1.5 Mbps or slower lines at 150 GB a month. Customers on lines faster than 1.5 Mbps enjoy the luxury of a 250 GB monthly limit. And whereas ISPs used to provide bullshit justifications for such restrictions (the network congestion bogeyman! it's only fair!), as those excuses have been shown to be nonsense over the years, ISPs have just stopped offering any. Here's how CenturyLink's website justifies these glorified price hikes:
"CenturyLink is committed to providing an optimum Internet experience for every customer we serve. To accomplish this, CenturyLink needs to ensure that customers are on the rate plan that meets their data download requirements. Of the millions of CenturyLink High-Speed Internet customers, a very small fraction has exceeded the download usage limits provided with their monthly plan.
It is for this reason that CenturyLink has made the decision to place download limits on residential plans.
That's not really a reason, that's just words arranged to look vaguely like sentient logic. Of course the real reason is because they can.
In most markets CenturyLink enjoys either no competition at all, or they face a cable provider that also has usage caps in place. That's why with the exception of a few cherry picked markets in places like Seattle, CenturyLink users still enjoy speeds circa 2001 or so. And why not add insult to injury, and combine pathetic last generation broadband speeds (which cost very little to actually provide already) with aggressive restrictions and cutting edge, next-generation overage fees?
Like Comcast, CenturyLink calls this a "trial" to keep regulators at bay, since "creative pricing experimentation" sounds so much better than "price gouging uncompetitive markets and erecting unnecessary obstacles to innovation and streaming competitors." Given the FCC has yet to bat an eyelash at the practice, this logic appears to be working. The FCC's also apparently blind to the fact that nobody is confirming whether usage meters are accurate, or that ISP's are now exempting their own services from unfair competitive advantage.
So while you'll hear a lot of media hype about cherry picked gigabit broadband deployments paving the way to our glorious connectivity future, a lack of competition, usage caps and zero rating are ensuring that for broadband customers in most markets, the reality is going to look decidedly less futuristic.
Despite a few daring experiments in the space, the dark net (or dark web, if you prefer) is generally seen as a dangerous, frightening place inhabited by terrorists, pornographers and general ne'er-do-wells. That makes a report in The Guardian about drug dealers moving online unusual, because it shows how the dark net can also be beneficial to society:
Research into internet drug markets by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) suggested the self-regulation of online markets such as Silk Road provide a safer environment for users and dealers of illicit substances.
Feedback mechanisms similar to eBay mean customers are able to hold dealers to account for the service they provide, the report said, while remote access to the market almost eliminates the risk of violence that has long been an integral part of the black economy.
Moving online not only safeguards drug users from violence and theft when they buy drugs in the physical world, it provides a natural way for customers to provide feedback on the quality of the drugs provided. Just as with traditional e-commerce companies, drug dealers who go digital can no longer risk bad customer reviews by providing inferior or dangerous products, since their future sales are likely to suffer. As a result:
Drugs available through darknet markets tend to be of a higher purity than those available on the streets.
The new report comes from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, which is funded by the European Union, and, as usual, is accompanied by an official comment from the relevant EU commissioner. Unfortunately, Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, trots out the usual unthinking reaction to drug sales that has made the long-running and totally futile "war on drugs" one of the most destructive and counterproductive policies ever devised:
We should stop the abuse of the internet by those wanting to turn it into a drug market. Technology is offering fresh opportunities for law enforcement to tackle online drug markets and reduce threats to public health. Let us seize these opportunities to attack the problem head-on and reduce drug supply online.
That blinkered attitude ignores the important advantages moving drug sales from the physical world to the digital one brings not just for for users and dealers, but also for society as a whole, which does not have to deal with the social and economic consequences of violence on the streets, or with the long-term damage caused by poor-quality products. Along the way, his remarks inevitably and unhelpfully reinforce the view that the dark net is evil, and thus is something to be destroyed.