by Mike Masnick
Wed, Jul 23rd 2014 11:57am
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Jun 10th 2014 2:54pm
from the because-of-course-they-didn't dept
"You go down the Latino people, the deaf people, the farmers, and choose them.... You say, 'I can't use this one--I already used them last time...' We had their letterhead. We'd just write the letter. We'd fax it to them and tell them, 'You're in favor of this.'"This seems to be standard practice for the big broadband companies. We highlighted how AT&T got "The Latino Coalition" to speak up in favor of their attempted (and eventually failed) merger with T-Mobile. Meanwhile, Comcast recently got the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to come out in favor of Comcast buying Time Warner Cable. And, of course, the dirty secret in all of this is that the way this works is the big companies toss a bunch of money at these organizations to get them to "support" whatever positions the companies want them to support. For example, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce received $320,000 from Comcast.
We recently wrote about the latest round of astroturfing groups that the broadband players were supporting, and who were out arguing in force against net neutrality. Lee Fang, at Vice, who wrote the original report that was based on now has a followup, talking about how many of the organizations listed as "members" of the astroturf group "Broadband for America" claim they have no idea what that is and did not choose to sign up.
Bob Calvert, the host of TalkingWithHeroes.com, a radio program listed as a Broadband for American member, told us that he is not familiar with the net neutrality debate. "My program is a non-political program supporting our men and women who serve and who have served our country and their families," said Calvert, in response to an inquiry from VICE.Some directly say they disagree with Broadband for America's position on net neutrality.
Another Broadband for America member, the Texas Organization of Rural & Community Hospitals, said it had joined only to support broadband access in rural and underserved areas, not on issues relating to net neutrality or the classification of broadband as a utility. "We will reexamine this endorsement and make a determination whether to continue supporting the coalition should we find that the current policies they are proposing would undermine the original goal of greater access for all Americans," said Dave Pearson, president of the group, which represents rural hospitals in Texas as the name suggests.
There's more in the original article. But it's pretty straightforward: many of the named members either had no idea or thought they were signing up for something very, very different. And yet now they are "supporting" policies they either don't know about or don't support. But this is how things are done in the cynical corners of Washington DC. You get support in any way necessary, no matter how ridiculous.
Don Hollister, the executive director of the Ohio League of Conservation Voters, said he was unaware of his organization being listed as a Broadband for America member. After our inquiry, Hollister wrote to us to share a message he sent to Broadband for America:
"The Ohio League of Conservation Voters does not endorse your position on broadband. This is not a policy area that we take positions on. Why are we listed as a Broadband for America member? I am unaware of Ohio LCV taking any position on broadband issues and I have been Executive Director since 2011. The Ohio LCV is not a member of Broadband for America. Remove us from your listing of members."
Other groups we contacted were simply confused. "I'm not aware of them and I pay all the bills. I've never heard of Broadband for America," replied Keith Jackson, an accountant with the Spread Eagle Tavern & Inn, a cozy bed and breakfast in Ohio that is listed as a Broadband for America member.
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Jun 2nd 2014 7:29am
from the a-bit-more-on-target dept
And, finally, he has an amusing call to action for "internet commenters" who he suggests have been training their whole lives for this moment, when the FCC has asked people for comments on its proposal. It's just too bad he pointed them directly at the confusing FCC.gov site, rather than the EFF's much better interface at DearFCC.org.
Either way, it's great to see Oliver take on this issue in an amusing way -- and hopefully it will spur more people to speak up on the issue.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, May 21st 2014 12:07pm
from the dead-dead-dead dept
One of these days, it would be nice if Congress actually took real leadership and did what was right, rather than worrying how some abusive companies will react.
Wed, May 21st 2014 9:04am
from the shifting-tides dept
I disagree. Ironically, the purely political nature of so much of copyright policymaking makes it vulnerable to potentially dramatic change. What has been politically made can be politically unmade. And perhaps sooner than we think.
The current US maximalist position on copyright and intellectual property was politically constructed through some savvy lobbying in the 1970s and 1980s by the copyright and IP industries, as documented by scholars such as Susan Sell, and Peter Drahos and John Braithwaite. Since then, US copyright policymaking has been subject to a classic case of regulatory capture, with tight linkages, for example, between the Office of the United States Trade Representative and the content industries.
That said, it's worth remembering that the explosion of (politically relevant) public and corporate interest in user rights and the like is a very recent phenomenon. There have always been groups interested in pursuing copyright balance, but it's only recently that the heavy hitters – Internet companies like Google, and the public at large – have begun to make themselves heard.
Remember the 1990s, when Silicon Valley made a virtue of not being interested in Washington's political games? As recently as 2008, when I was in DC to interview people for this book, I couldn't even find Google's Washington lobbyist. In 2003, Google ranked 213th in terms of spending on lobbying, according to the Washington Post. In 2012, it was in second place.
You can't win if you don't play. Public Knowledge has become one of the most prominent voices in favor of user rights in Washington; their first submission to the Special 301 process was only in 2010, as far as I can tell. And, of course, the 2012 SOPA protests proved that millions of Americans can be mobilized on digital-copyright issues.
This is just a thumbnail sketch, but what it suggests is that it's been less than a decade since the copyright debate got real. And while regulatory capture is a real thing, it will be difficult for any US governmental agency to ignore the potent combination of new players with cash and votes. Anyone with money and influence can play the regulatory-capture game.
I'm not arguing that a user-rights, content-is-free utopia is right around the corner. For one thing, the interests of a for-profit business like Google are very different from those of the average citizen. As a business, Google has proven to be more than willing to make private deals with copyright owners to limit user rights. Businesses, after all, crave stability over everything.
However, the interests of Google (to take only the most prominent of the digital-economy companies) on copyright are sufficiently different from those of the copyright industries currently driving Washington policy that it's reasonable to expect that the current US copyright position is not politically sustainable in the long run. And if digital copyright remains a mainstream political issue, then the prospects of significant long-term reform – in the United States and abroad – are even greater.
Blayne Haggart (@bhaggart) is an assistant professor of political science at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario. His first book, Copyfight: The global politics of digital copyright reform was just published by University of Toronto Press.
by Tim Cushing
Tue, May 20th 2014 4:14pm
Congressional Reps Signing Sympathy-For-The-Cable-Industry Letter Received More Than Twice As Much Funding From Cable Lobbyists
from the the-original-'pay-for-play' dept
As the ongoing net neutrality/internet fast lane issue continues to be debated by the FCC and many other interested parties, it's always helpful to know where your representatives stand on issues related to this battle.
One of the issues being considered by the FCC is the reclassification of internet service as a public utility under Title II. This sort of regulation is obviously opposed by major internet service providers, who aren't exactly smitten with the idea of being held accountable on price or service quality by a government agency.
Maplight.org has researched the political contributions flowing to the 28 Congressional representatives who signed letters opposing this particular part of the FCC's proposed rule changes and found that -- surprise! -- cable companies put far more money into the pockets of those who side with them on this issue.
The 28 representatives signing letters to the FCC against Title II reclassification of the internet as a public utility, a position allied with the cable industry, have received, on average, $26,832 from the cable industry, 2.3 times more money than the average for all members of the House of Representatives, $11,651.Republicans seem to be asking for more in return for sympathetic letter-writing.
Republicans signing the letters against Title II reclassification of the internet as a public utility have received, on average, $59,812 from the cable industry, 5 times more than the average for all members of the House, $11,651.In fact, Maplight notes that the top five recipients among letter signers are all Republicans. Evidence indicates that the spendthrift lobbyist may be better off contributing to Democrats.
Democrats signing the letters against Title II reclassification of the internet as a public utility have received, on average, $13,640 from the cable industry, 1.2 times more times more than the average for all members of the House, $11,651.Maplight also points out that there's an additional layer of self-interest at play as well. According to its research, 29 members of Congress own stock in Comcast, making it the 25th most popular stock in the Congressional market.
The letter warns that this additional regulation will "stifle innovation" and "halt job creation." Comcast's FCC filing is even more succinct in transparent self-interest:
Title II would spark massive instability, create investor and marketplace uncertainty, derail planned investments, and slow broadband adoption.I'd love to hear more about Comcast's "planned investments" that don't include funneling funds into politician's pockets or swallowing another large cable company, but the filing contains none of these insights. Like the infamous "fiber-to-the-press-release" announcements, any claim of "instability" or curbed "investments" tends to be nothing but enraged puffs of hot air.The company's true aim still seems to be figuring out how it can make more while doing less.
by Mike Masnick
Mon, May 19th 2014 3:34am
from the history-repeats-itself dept
Oh, that revolving door. Helping patent trolls. Also, note that everything fell apart just as... Intellectual Ventures ramped up its political contributions. I'm sure that's just a coincidence, right?
According to a tech industry source, Leahy has changed his position in part as a result of pressure from the Coalition for 21st Century Patent Reform, a lobbying group whose law firm Akin Gump recently hired Leahy’s long time chief-of-staff. The source added that Leahy is prepared to let the reform bill founder, and then draw political cover by casting blame for the failure on committee members’ inability to produce a suitable compromise. Meanwhile, the bill’s momentum has also been sputtering as a result of the trial lawyer bar pressuring other Senate Democrats to slow the bill.
This account of the Senate patent bill’s slow death is consistent with a source cited by Reuters, who said “It’s somewhere between sinking like a rock and air going out of it, like a balloon,”
And, of course, even if something does get squeezed out, much of the important stuff has already been wiped out of the bill. Late last year and earlier this year, most of our focus was on making sure that the covered business method provisions stayed in the bill, but we've been told they're long gone. This was the part of the bill that would allow the Patent Office to more quickly review business method and software patents to make sure they were legit. This already exists for certain financial patents, and it's been shown to be effective in tossing out bad patents. There is no reason to oppose this unless you have a bunch of bad patents... so of course, bad patent hoarders like Microsoft, IBM and Apple freaked out about it.
But even more basic ideas for stopping patent trolls are being stripped from the bill as well, according to Jeff Roberts over at GigaOm:
Staff members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who did not want to be named, said by phone that the hold up is due to disagreements over two new points of contention: a provision that would require patent plaintiffs to provide detailed descriptions of alleged infringement in the pleadings they file, and one that would alter the legal process known as discovery (in which each side has to produce documents and witnesses). The latter reform is important because patent trolls rely on the economic asymmetries of patent litigation — especially the threat of discovery, which is extremely time-consuming and expensive — to force their victims into settlements.If you've been following the patent reform space for more than a decade, you'd recognize this pattern. Back in 2004, Senator Leahy had introduced a semi-decent (not great, but not horrible) patent reform bill... and the trolls (and pharmaceutical companies) went apeshit over it, killing it. Every new session of Congress, a new version would be introduced that would be watered down to appease the pharmaceutical companies. Seven years later, the America Invents Act was finally passed... once it had been stripped of basically all useful provisions. It did absolutely nothing to deal with the problems of the patent system (and actually may have created a few new ones).
These proposed pleading and discovery reforms have until now been uncontroversial.
Unfortunately, it looks like we may have a few more years of this kind of crap, and no actual end in sight to patent trolling. It's pretty clear that companies that abuse the patent system are now abusing the political process to make sure they can extract more cash from those who are actually innovating. It's profitable to destroy our innovation economy, apparently, so why not spend it on buying politicians who won't stand up for what's right?
by Mike Masnick
Thu, May 15th 2014 10:56am
Lobbyists (And, Oh Yes, Everyone Else), Start Your Engines: FCC Opens The Floor For Comments On Net Neutrality
from the and-we're-off dept
After folks on Wheeler's own side threatened to revolt, combined with a lot of public pressure, Wheeler apparently did a last minute revising of the plans, to make it more explicit that he'd like the public to weigh in on paid prioritization and Title II reclassification. It also appears he's added in this vague concept of a "ombudsperson" who will supposedly try to make sure that we don't end up with ISPs behaving badly.
At this point, what we basically have is open season on lobbyists trying to influence the FCC one way or another, eventually leading to some sort of rulemaking, followed (inevitably) by a bunch of lawsuits from broadband providers who aren't going to be happy with any solution. And, of course, the potential (unlikely as it may be) for Congress to get involved.
Stacey Higginbotham over at GigaOm has the best rundown of the issues up for comment in the NPRM. If you're trying to understand what exactly people are really commenting on (beyond the broad claims of "net neutrality" "open internet" "fast lanes" "reclassification" "common carriers" and the like), that's a good place to start. I know folks like to view this on a more simplified yes/no level, but this isn't an issue that neatly fits into a series of simple yes or no options, in part because of two big reasons: (1) telecommunications law is a massive mess and (2) this is all a symptom of the real problem: the lack of meaningful competition.
And while Wheeler has suggested that the FCC is willing to knock down laws that block competition, we'll believe it when we see it in action. On top of that, Wheeler made it clear today that he still sees the interconnection issue as a separate issue, even thought it's becoming clear that that's where the real problem is. Oh, and while lots of people are calling for Title II reclassification, and there are many reasons to believe that may be the best solution, it's also exceptionally messy as well, because Title II has lots of problems as well. The FCC would need to deal with those problems, via forbearance, which creates a whole different set of headaches.
In short: this is a very messy process, and there are many, many places where it can (and likely will) go wrong.
But, that doesn't mean that everyone should just throw up their hands and go home to their (increasingly slow) internet. The broadband lobbyists will not be doing that. And, of course, they know quite well how to play the lobbying game and how to work the ins-and-outs of everything above. It is why it's going to become increasingly important to become much more informed on a variety of these issues and the true implications of the choices the FCC makes in the coming months. If you would like to weigh in, and I do suggest everyone seek to share their comments with the FCC, I would suggest first spending a little time more deeply reading through the full set of issues and what the pros and cons of different options may be. You can file comments directly with the FCC or via a very, very handy Dear FCC tool that the EFF put together.
Update: And... many hours later, the FCC has finally released the actual NPRM. Take a look.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Apr 17th 2014 2:29pm
from the war-on-all-fronts dept
And Eli Lilly flipped out.
Eli Lilly has sued Canada for $500 million claiming "lost profits." How is this possible, you ask? Well, it's those corporate sovereignty provisions that are finding their way into various trade agreements lately. They're usually called "investor state dispute settlement" (ISDS) provisions, because supporters know that such a phrase will bore most people to death and they won't realize what's happening. Eli Lilly is arguing that Canada's decision to check to see if a drug is actually useful somehow violates its international agreements. And thus that a sovereign decision by Canada not to patent drugs of questionable benefit is not just a violation of trade, but stomping on Eli Lilly's expected profits.
Lilly is now raising the stakes. Not only has it asked the USTR to put Canada back on the wacky "Special 301 list" of "naughty countries" that don't bow before American corporate demands, but it's convinced 32 members of Congress to out themselves as corporate shills for Eli Lilly by demanding that the USTR follow through on this request.
Eli Lilly seems to have no shame about this, happily admitting that it's behind this effort to have the US punish Canada for daring to judge whether or not a drug is useful. As he told the Wall Street Journal:
“We’ve been unsuccessful in bringing about change by other means,” said Lilly chief executive John Lechleiter. “It’s an issue right at our back door. And unfortunately, we’re afraid it can lead to other countries attempting to undermine intellectual property.”No, not "undermine intellectual property." It's about actually making sure, before giving you a decades-long monopoly right, that your drug is actually useful. Of course, if the USTR actually follows through and puts Canada on the Special 301 list, it will just cement what a complete joke the Special 301 list really is. For years, the USTR -- at the behest of Hollywood -- put Canada on the Special 301 list. Each year Canadian officials would specifically state that they "don't recognize" the process of the Special 301 list as being legitimate (because it's not) and then proceed to do nothing. Eventually, though, with a new government in place, Canada did change its copyright laws, and was "downgraded" on the Special 301 list. Upgrading them back up to a "pirate" nation will just highlight why Canada (and every other country) should totally ignore the nearly entirely arbitrariness of the list.
Meanwhile, shame on those 32 members of Congress for supporting such a blatant attempt by a company to interfere in the sovereignty of Canada and its crazy idea that drugs should actually be useful to deserve patent protection.
Tue, Apr 15th 2014 11:27am
from the sneaky-sneaky dept
It turns out that trying to stifle people's ability to simplify their own lives and file their taxes for free wasn't all that great for the old public relations department, however, so Intuit has instead decided to go the sneaky route and get a bunch of unwitting mouthpieces to do it for them.
Over the last year, a rabbi, a state NAACP official, a small town mayor and other community leaders wrote op-eds and letters to Congress with remarkably similar language on a remarkably obscure topic. Each railed against a long-standing proposal that would give taxpayers the option to use pre-filled tax returns. They warned that the program would be a conflict of interest for the IRS and would especially hurt low-income people, who wouldn't have the resources to fight inaccurate returns. Rabbi Elliot Dorff wrote in a Jewish Journal op-ed that he "shudder[s] at the impact this program will have on the most vulnerable people in American society."So you're wondering where the problem in all of this is? Well, it turns out these folks didn't just independently decide to write the same op-eds. It would appear that they were approached by groups affiliated with Intuit and asked to write them. The folks targeted weren't informed of the connection, either.
Rabbi Dorff says he was approached by a former student, Emily Pflaster, who sent him details and asked him to write an op-ed alerting the Jewish community to the threat. What Pflaster did not tell him is that she works for a PR and lobbying firm with connections to Intuit, the maker of best-selling tax software TurboTax.You think? What once appeared to be some kind of grassroots campaign by the concerned public towards what might be a real issue suddenly has devolved into a public relations blitz undertaken through dishonest means by corporate interests. In other words, it's the same message we got last year, and from the same source, but that source is hiding behind unwitting accomplices. The underhanded deeds weren't over, however.
"I wish she would have told me that," Dorff told ProPublica.
The website of Pflaster's firm, JCI Worldwide, had listed Intuit among its clients, but removed it after ProPublica contacted them. Pflaster said Intuit had been listed by mistake....That's quite an error to make and quite a coincidental time for that error to be "corrected." And, while Intuit's only comment on the matter was some general mumblings about how they use multiple avenues to improve "tax empowerment" of the public, it's a special kind of shady that refers to demonizing an entirely optional and free government service as empowerment of the public. Meanwhile, of course, Intuit has lobbied heavily on bills related to free-filing.
In the end, there may indeed be flaws in the government's free-filing program and process. Actually, it'd be a bit of a shock if there weren't flaws. But it's voluntary, and the solution to those flaws is most certainly not subterfuge and dishonest attempts to coerce a public through their religious leaders.