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Report: Broadband Stimulus National Townhall Webcast

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From BroadbandCensus.com Weekly Report

WASHINGTON, June 8, 2009 – The NTIA faces a choice between scoring broadband grants according to a common criteria, or meeting the manifold objectives of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, panelists said at the Broadband Stimulus National Town Hall Meeting on June 4.

Speaking at an event co-hosted by BroadbandCensus.com and TV Worldwide, Joanne Hovis of Columbia Telecommunications Corporation said that the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Agency and the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service must be cognizant of multiple objectives as they design their scoring system.

Scott Wallsten of the Technology Policy Institute said that it was as important to track projects that are not funded by the broadband stimulus effort as it is track those that receive funding. That way, researchers and policy-makers can have the most complete picture of the impact that stimulus spending has had on the broadband landscape.


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Deep Packet Inspection Here to Stay, Say Computers, Freedom and Privacy Conference Experts

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WASHINGTON, June 4, 2009 – The problems with so-called “deep packet inspection” are too big to ignore, a panel of broadband experts said on the third and final day of the Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference at George Washington University here.

“Every corporation has some form of DPI,” said Don Bowman, co-founder and chief technology officer of Sandvine, a technology company.

Bowman was skeptical of the long-term effectiveness of legislation that would attempt to regulate such packet inspection. Bowman said that DPI is necessary for internet capacity planning and prediction, and was also useful for quality experience measurement.

What is needed instead, said Bowman, are broad guidelines with specific goals.

Kyle Rosenthal, executive director of dPacket.org, spoke on the importance of deep packet inspection to internet usage, but also about the need to use it properly.

“A lot of networks need to know about the applications that are running over them, he said, adding that “there are already many multi-billion dollar markets built around DPI.”

He said that the market for this technology would begin to consolidate. Rosenthal emphasized the necessity of studying, addressing and monitoring consumer privacy and civil liberties – as well as ensuring transparency and adequate consumer privacy protections. When it comes to abuses of this technology, “it’s really important that we focus on [positive] use cases and not bad DPI,” he said.

Robb Topolski, of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative, agreed with Bowman and Rosenthal that banning DPI was not the way to go. One of the abuses of DPI is that some internet service providers block the applications of their competitors, said Topolski. Access to applications should be under the control of the user, he said.

Topolski said that an analogy could be made to wire-tapping. Although often a vilified word, wiretapping is frequently authorized for law enforcement purposes. “DPI can be treated in very much the same way,” he said.

Chris Riley from Free Press was slightly less optimistic about the uses of DPI. “From our perspective,” said Riley, DPI “can be used to monitor and control every aspect of the internet.”

One of the problems with internet service provider discrimination against certain competitors’ applications is that it hinders innovation by “discouraging the use of new applications for everyday users,” he said.

The solution, said Riley, is to establish internet neutrality and privacy rules, and to ensure that ISPs follow those rules. A hallmark of whether or not ISP action is reasonable is “whether or not they are willing to disclose what they are doing,” he said.

Ralf Bendrath, internet governance researcher for the Delft University of Technology, said that ISPs use deep packet inspection because it is cheaper than investing in more bandwidth.

Bendrath said that full disclosure should be given to consumers, plus the option of an unmanaged internet for those users willing to pay more. “DPI is here to stay, but it needs regulation,” he said.

But Topolski said that some type of regulation besides disclosure was necessary.

The most effective way to limit abuses is a combination of regulatory agencies, consumer education, best practice groups, and engineers providing input to regulatory agencies, said Riley.

Google and Microsoft Defend Practices at Computers, Freedom and Privacy Conference

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WASHINGTON, June 3, 2009 – Officials from Google and Microsoft denied that they were creating privacy-invading user profiles of internet users, speaking at the 2009 Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference at George Washington University here.

Online advertising and internet “cookies” designed to collect user data were center to this discussion at the conference. Google’s Jane Horvath said that the search engine giant is not “logging… or creating profiles at all,” when asked about data collection.

Mike Hintze of Microsoft said that Microsoft collects “similar data” to Google. When a consumer engages in internet search queries and “interacts with services we offer, … certain information is collected and certain demographic information is collected.”

But Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy decried the “global system [that] has emerged [and which] is designed to collect this data …whose goal it is to shape our attitude and behavior.” Chester said that Google and others are promoting and practicing techniques that may “bypass the conscious mind and work on the emotions” as it engages in online advertising.

It “goes back many, many, years before this was a hot issue,” Hintze said of targeted advertising. “It’s happened since catalogues and direct mail. Online is not all that different either.” He said that e-commerce was responsible for between four and 10 times as much revenue because of targeted advertisements.

Horvath says that Google and other search engines are not the only people who advertise. She challenged the audience to “clear all your cookies, go to The New York Times” and look at the cookies that the media giant placed on the user’s computer.

Several panelists objected to this sort of cookie-tracking activity.

“Most people don’t realize what’s being taken, how it’s being used, who has access to it, or how long is it being kept,” said Amira Fazlullah of USPIRG. “There is a value to privacy that’s priceless,” says Fazlullah.

Said Jessica Rich of the Federal Trade Commission: “consumers don’t really know what’s happening with their data.”

Chester said that the ignorance to the power of advertising of this sort represents a “truly…frightening vision.”

Growing developments to ensure consumer privacy involve “opt-in” and “opt-out” privacy practices. The more well-known and well-practiced “opt-out” features are currently in place by Google, said Horvath.

Microsoft deployed “layered privacy notices,” or a privacy mode on its web browser Internet Explorer, said Hintze. Hintze says that “as we develop into third party [advertising] networks,” Microsoft attempts to keep privacy issues in mind.

Some on the panel decried the “opt-out” approach, particularly as it relates to the use of software cookies. A universal “opt-in” was discussed, but it might mean that consumers would have to take the initiative if they wanted to receive advertisements to them.

Google criticized this because the company “would have to authenticate users to have an opt-in service” – and that might involve further invasions of privacy, says Horvath.

Chester said drastic changes were necessary in the online media marketplace. It is “not just about advertisements. Social media marketing… is really about social media surveillance.”

The FTC’s Rich said that she personally takes the approach of a “privacy pragmatist,” and said: “I am not particularly bothered myself, [although] I know many people that are…. I do engage in avoidance.”

Securing New Infrastructure Will Require Watchful Eye, Experts Say

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WASHINGTON, June 2, 2009 – Balancing privacy and security will require a delicate approach as the internet becomes more pervasive in the lives of everyday Americans, said a panel of national security policy experts on the first day of the Computers Freedom & Privacy conference at George Washington University.

The curtain is the most privacy enhancing technology in the world, said panel moderator Ryan Singel, but it also allow citizens to do what they want without being watched, and this decreases security, “but there’s no law against curtains.”  This is a balance between individual privacy rights and the government’s rights to come into your house, he said.

There is “a lot more transparency” between today’s government and the people when it comes to privacy in today’s political environment, said BT chief security technology officer Bruce Schneier. But increased transparency does not always come with a fair exchange, he warned.

While increased access to government data can promote liberty, Schneier added that voluntary disclosure of information can allow more government control – requiring a delicate balancing of both parties’ interests.  “Security is liberty plus privacy,” he said.

Schneier referred to data and its secondary uses as the modern equivalent of pollution in the information age.  The best way to maintain security is through oversight, he said. And increased use of networks can have the negative effect of opening up new vulnerabilities, Cato Institute director of information policy studies Jim Harper said:  “The democratization of technology “creates more opportunities for people to use it in a way that’s not good for society.”

Because the pace of new technology development is unpredictable, Schneier agreed that absent a watchful eye, online resources American use for ordinary purposes — including social networking sites like Facebook — might “creep up on us” and become “critical infrastructure,”

But Stewart Baker, a former general counsel for the National Security Agency, took issue with both Harper and Schneier’s jabs and worries about the exercise of government power in the name of security. Distrust of government in cyber security is often misdirected against those who defend – not the attackers who deserve it, he said.

Tech Policy, Broadband Still at Top of Obama's List, Says Crawford

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WASHINGTON, June 2, 2009 – Just 133 days into the Obama administration, technology policy and broadband deployment are issues “at the heart of this administration’s plans for the future,”  Special Assistant to the President for Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Susan Crawford said Tuesday during opening remarks at the Computers, Freedom, Privacy conference in Washington.

Broadband deployment remains a linchpin of the Obama agenda, particularly for the nation’s short and long term economic health. The nation’s broadband connections are “slow and expensive” compared to the rest of the world, Crawford said.

“We are not falling behind,” she warned. “We are definitely behind.”

High speed networks can bridge economic, racial and cultural divides, Crawford said. Even the homeless now need access to the internet, Crawford said, referencing a recent article in The New York Times.

“We’re talking about…the human need to connect,” she said.

More importantly, broadband will be key to the nation’s economic recovery and future stability. “The president cares deeply about [broadband],” she said. “Without adequate high speed connections, we will miss opportunities.”

The Federal Communications Commission’s forthcoming national broadband strategy will be a key tool to help aid the recovery effort, even after the stimulus programs have ended, Crawford said.

“We have to focus on creating jobs after the stimulus,” she said. Network neutrality will almost certainly be an important element of that plan to encourage economic prosperity, she suggested.

But no matter the specifics of the FCC plan, Crawford was emphatic about the importance of a coherent national strategy.

“[The plan] is not about national pride…but about economic competitiveness for the future.”

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