'Last-Mile' Bandwidth Issues Session & CFP 99 Review
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During the 1990s, the annual conferences on Computers, Freedom and Privacy (CFP)
have arguably become the most successful and widely reported meetings on the
intersection of information technology and public policy. (Though usually ACM-sponsored,
CFP is guided by an independent steering group.) While still much concerned with the
human-rights issues that its name reflects, CFP has broadened its scope to include such
themes as critical infrastructure protection, on-line copyright, computer abuse and
consumer protection. International participation has also grown markedly, paralleling the
Last-Mile Broadband Access Session
Noting CFP's effective outreach beyond the technical community (to the legal profession,
journalists, policy analysts, et al), Bob Ellis and I introduced, at CFP98, a new topic of
much concern to SIGGRAPH: broadband Internet access over the "last mile". For CFP99
this past April we further raised the issue's profile, with a lively parallel-track panel
session (which I chaired) on the dispute (sharpened by AT&T's move into cable TV) over
open access by Internet providers to broadband infrastructure they don't own.
The session's centerpiece was a face-off between open-access advocate Greg Simon of
the AOL-backed OpenNET Coalition and Rick Cimerman of the National Cable Television
Association, whose members say open access would sap the incentive to modernize cable
nets for data transport. Commenting from a consumer and public interest perspective
were panelists Andrew Schwartzman of the Media Access Project and Jeff Chester from
the Center for Media Education, who stressed the value of consumer choice as both a
spur to market competition and a safeguard for on-line diversity.
Providing 'bookends' for these varied positions were the panel's two technologists.
ACM's Prof. Ben Shneiderman, a noted user interface (UI) expert from the University of
Maryland, opened the session by demonstrating with examples from his research how
broadband access enables responsive, novel graphic UIs to boost user productivity. Last
to speak was the Federal Communications Commission's chief technologist, Stagg
Newman, a former Bellcore executive and Bell Labs researcher. Dr. Newman laid out the
FCC's vision of how high-speed access may evolve, emphasizing wireless as well as wired
options, and explained the agency's cautious view of its role at this early stage in the
evolution of 'last mile' broadband.
The session was well received, drawing several times the attendance of our 1998 evening
BOF (see May 98 column) despite strong competition. (CFP99's Washington, D.C. site
helped here, as good local speakers were abundant.) Since the topic is sure to remain a
prominent one for years, future conferences will likely offer additional opportunities to
educate the policy community about, and thus speed the growth of, broadband Internet
access. If so, it would be desirable to expand coverage of other new 'last mile'
technologies, e.g. ADSL/G.lite and 'wireless cable,' which have their own associated
policy issues (see May 99 column).
CFP 99 Review
CFP consists largely of single-track panels, which strive for cross-disciplinary appeal by
emphasizing societal concerns over narrow technical matters. One of this year's more
popular sessions featured researchers from Bell Labs, the Naval Research Lab and
elsewhere, presenting new software tools to protect on-line anonymity. Related
pre-conference tutorials dealt with anti-censorship techniques and cryptography.
More typical of CFP (and a magnet for the press owing to its timeliness) was a sulfurous
debate over MP3 and on-line copyright, with MP3.com CEO Mike Robertson, recording
industry lawyer-in-chief Cary Sherman, musician Henry Cross, publishers' lobbyist Carol
Risher et al. Piracy of digital content worries many SIGGRAPH members and implicates
recent copyright legislation, so the record companies' anti-MP3 efforts this year will be
closely watched. (Editor's note: For more information on a recent ruling on MP3 issues,
see these two articles from Wired.)
CFP99's core was, as usual, a strong group of sessions on many international and
domestic aspects of on-line privacy vs. surveillance, censorship vs. free expression,
encryption policy and related concerns. In a lively privacy debate, Columbia University's Eli
Noam faced communitarian scholar Amitai Etzioni.
Two prominent Congressional privacy advocates (Reps. Ed Markey, D-MA, and Bob
Barr, R-GA) separately presented legislative views of many policy issues. Other
noteworthy speeches were given by Federal Trade Commissioner Mozelle Thompson (on
E-commerce); W3C chief Tim Berners-Lee (on privacy concerns raised by his group's
technical standards); UNESCO official Henrikas Yushkiavitshus (on human rights in a
digital era); and by Internet pioneer Vint Cerf.
Rounding out the CFP99 program were still more panels on such diverse topics as Internet
access for the world's poor and oppressed regions and public access to government data
(using as an example the terrorist threat associated with the U.S.' database of
worst-case chemical plant disaster scenarios).
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) presents its annual Pioneer Awards at CFP. This
year's ceremony was at AAAS headquarters, after an evening reception where former
EFF chair (and interim ICANN chair) Esther Dyson joined other industry pundits and
celebrities. Awards went to IANA's late chief Jon Postel (accepted by SRI's Peter
Neumann); to Yugoslav math professor Drazen Pantic, an anti-censorship Internet
provider to that heavily propagandized nation; and to U.K. law professor Simon Davies,
who leads the group, Privacy International (PI).
Before the next evening's banquet dinner, PI responded with some comic relief for CFPers:
North America's first annual Big Brother Awards, bestowed symbolically on the most
privacy-invasive people and organizations in five categories. (Only Microsoft's award was
actually claimed, by a company manager.) For balance, two Brandeis Awards (named for
the late Supreme Court Justice and father of U.S. privacy law) were also given, one of
them to cryptographer Phil Zimmermann.
Evenings at CFP end with contributed BOF sessions, this year chiefly concerned with
international issues, and to a lesser extent with Y2K problems. Among the best was a
talk by noted cyberlaw expert (and UN consultant on Internet domain names) Prof.
Michael Froomkin, on the links among trademark law, WIPO and human rights.
CFP99 drew more than 500 people (excellent for such an event, though public policy is, of
course, among Washington's major products). Contributing to its success were the hard
work and strong local contacts of General Chair Marc Rotenberg (head of ACM's
Washington public policy office), and support from ACM President Barbara Simons (who is
both a computer scientist and a public policy specialist).