Netflix neutrality

In the net neutrality debate, a rarely mentioned aspect is the widespread practice amongst ISPs of over-subscribing bandwidth. Before streaming video became readily available and popular, this was viable, even reasonable, since few users managed to actually saturate their links for extended periods of time. Now that customers are suddenly demanding to get what they were sold, the ISPs find that they simply cannot provide this while keeping current prices. Continue reading

Troll spirit

Last week’s announcements from the White House of steps being taken to begin fighting back against patent trolls, along with legislation passed in Vermont for the same purpose, are worthy of praise. Whether they prove effective or not, they are a sign of the problem finally having been recognised by the highest authorities. That said, only one aspect of the issue is addressed, that of non-practising entities or trolls. Little effort is being made to stymie troll-like behaviour from otherwise legitimate actors. While a stake is driven through the heart of the troll, its spirit remains free to roam the corporate world, and like a demon of darkness it possesses companies, compelling them to engage in the very practices we seek to eradicate. Continue reading

Trolls in trouble

Life as a patent troll is hopefully set to get more difficult. In a memo describing patent trolls as a “drain on the American economy,” the White House this week outlined a number of steps it is taking to stem this evil tide. Chiming in, the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (where patent cases are heard) in a New York Times op-ed laments the toll patent trolling is taking on the industry, and urges judges to use powers already at their disposal to make the practice less attractive. However, while certainly a step in the right direction, these measures all fail to address the more fundamental properties of the patent system allowing trolls to exist in the first place. Continue reading

Neutral net or neutered

In recent weeks, a number of high-profile events, in the UK and elsewhere, have been quickly seized upon to promote a variety of schemes for monitoring or filtering Internet access. These proposals, despite their good intentions of protecting children or fighting terrorism, pose a serious threat to fundamental liberties. Although at a glance the ideas may seem like a reasonable price to pay for the prevention of some truly hideous crimes, there is more than first meets the eye. Internet regulation in any form whatsoever is the thin end of a wedge at whose other end we find severely restricted freedom of expression of the kind usually associated with oppressive dictatorships. Where the Internet was once a novelty, it now forms an integrated part of modern society; regulating the Internet means regulating our lives. Continue reading

Hung out to dry

Outrage was the general reaction when Google recently announced their dropping of XMPP server-to-server federation from Hangouts, as the search giant’s revamped instant messaging platform is henceforth to be known. This outrage is, however, largely unjustified; Google’s decision is merely a rational response to issues of a more fundamental nature. To see why, we need to step back and look at the broader instant messaging landscape. Continue reading