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Tech at Night: USF Reform Reactions, We must stop SOPA and PROTECT IP censorship

Tech at Night

Last week I noted that the FCC is officially moving ahead with its new subsidy program. The administration will convert the Universal Service Fund – currently taxing the public and handing it out to rural telephone carriers – into a grab bag of Internet subsidies. The rural phone companies are unhappy, and everyone else is racing to get a cut. C Spire, apparently serving many rural southern customers, says the order “runs counter to the administration’s goal of promoting broadband deployment.” The Tech/Users Coalition, a group that includes Obama allies Google and Sprint, calls the USF “antiquated” and cheers the reform effort, while pressing for as much subsidy of Internet connectivity as possible. IIA also supports the effort.

Look, I don’t blame any business for looking to get a cut here. The money’s there, it’s perfectly legal, and that’s the way it is. Nobody squawked at the rural carriers collecting checks all these years. But that said, I hope Republicans will look to repeal all of this in 2013.

The other big story from last week, and the one I expect will be looming over our heads a while, is the House version of PROTECT IP. I was seeing it referred to by two names, but SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) appears to be the one everyone’s using, so let’s use that. Whatever the name, it’s a scary plan to have the US Government write lists of domains to confiscate and censor, which all ISPs will be mandated to obey, much like they do in China and non-free countries. This is a move that threatens, rather than protects, property rights, and also threatens America’s Internet and tech leadership.

Net Neutrality is bad. SOPA is much, much worse. DMCA put a lot of people online under pressure. SOPA omits key protections even DMCA gave people, such as a safe harbor framework for providers.

More fundamentally, SOPA seems to operate under an implicit assumption that US law should apply worldwide on the Internet, and that if the entire world does not obey US law, then we must cut off America from the Internet. SOPA wants to turn America into an ostrich. This runs counter to the principle of a free society.

Then there’s the point that Regulation only hinders, rather than helps, tech innovators with genuine interest in working with copyright holders.

And now a little AT&T/T-Mobile. AT&T brutalizes Public Knowledge, the George Soros-funded firm working with Sprint Nextel and the Obama administration to try to prevent T-Mobile from selling out to AT&T, putting industrial policy and the principle of a command economy over property rights and the principle of free enterprise. I don’t normally associate corporate statements with strong language like this, but here’s how the post starts:

Yesterday, we were the recipient of another Public Knowledge nasty-gram. You know the drill. PK latches onto some straight-forward fact, misrepresents it to some extreme and lashes out with a press release or blog containing reckless and unfounded allegations.

There’s a lot of inside baseball there, but to summarize: AT&T is offering to sell redundant resources, including spectrum, after merging with T-Mobile. Public Knowledge is playing a cheap gotcha game and claiming that this offer to sell spectrum contradicts AT&T’s claim that it needs T-Mobile’s spectrum to deploy 4G high speed Internet to almost every American.

Well, it turns out that if you actually follow the subject at hand, not all spectrum is actually suitable for 4G LTE Internet, or even for AT&T’s current 3G network. But it could be useful for someone else, so AT&T is offering to sell it.

Yes, the proponents of government action (they sell themselves as opponents of the merger, but the actual question here is whether government will block the merger, therefore these people are pushing the big government, command economic position) again and again prove themselves ignorant of the technologies involved. And they say conservative Republicans are backward.

It wouldn’t surprise me if, before the end, the LightSquared/GPS fight features somebody throwing a trident. It’s getting ugly.

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