SIGGRAPH PUBLIC POLICY
Vol.33 No.4 November 1999
Public Policy Committee Activities
November 99 Columns
Once again our column is multi-topic. First, I present my annual summary of public policy activities at SIGGRAPH 99. Then Myles Losch and I update information in the "Last Mile" bandwidth survey which appeared in the May 99 column. We noticed that in our original report we did not stress security and privacy issues which may be a problem with these technologies. Also in the May report, we provided a reference for a group working for open cable access, but did not provide a reference to a group for the opposing side; we correct that here.
Then Myles presents recent controversies which have not been widely reported, regarding FCC technical standards for digital TV (DTV). These concern copyright protection for content, and radio signal formats for broadcasting. Either issue, if not resolved soon, could weaken DTV’s appeal to consumers.
David Nelson and Laurie Reinhart summarize the results of our two on-line surveys. They present the final report for the first survey which asked about policy issues related to computer graphics. They also present a report on the second survey which asked questions about important problems in computer graphics which in some way remain unsolved. The second survey was our contribution to the forward looking material presented at the 30th anniversary of SIGGRAPH celebration. As you can see from the relatively small number of respondents, the surveys represent the opinions of only a very small subset of the computer graphics community. We welcome any suggestions on ideas for getting a larger response. As usual, we must caution that these surveys are not a valid representation of the computer graphics community because, in part, the respondents are self selected.
Finally, watch for our third on-line survey which will appear on siggraph.org sometime this Fall or Winter. It will focus on soliciting your positions on key policy issues.
Public Policy Activities at SIGGRAPH 99
We held our annual committee meeting which is the only time our committee meets face to face. Seven committee members were present as well as the newly elected SIGGRAPH Chair (Judy Brown) and Vice-Chair (Alan Chalmers). We were fortunate to have ACM President Barbara Simons as our guest. Barbara was previously the Chair of USACM, the ACM’s U.S. public policy organization and continues to have a strong interest in policy activities. She was able to give us some insight into her plans for ACM policy activities and, I hope, gain a better appreciation for our SIGGRAPH policy activities. Some details of recent ACM policy work can be found at www.acm.org and at www.icannwatch.org/archives.
We reviewed our past year’s activities which included several strong columns in Computer Graphics, completion of our first two on-line surveys, participation in the SIGGRAPH 30th anniversary celebration, organization of a session at CFP99 and participation in a USACM Congressional briefing. Our plans for the coming year were discussed including greater visibility for policy activities in CACM and Computer Graphics, continued strong Computer Graphics columns, proposed sessions for CFP2000, our third on-line survey which will focus on policy issues, studies on computer graphics research directions, working with USACM on possibly expanded activities and possible new white papers. My assessment of our accomplishments is that we are doing well on providing information to SIGGRAPH members and the technical community, but providing information to U.S. policy makers requires stronger ACM presence in Washington. Our international activities have remained implicit in our other activities.
Our second event was our annual SIG meeting. This year we presented and advertised a program and had a record breaking attendance: four committee members and six guests! The low attendance numbers are not surprising considering the competition we get from the conference. We were fortunate to have two attendees from the U.K. and one from France.
For the program Myles Losch reviewed the material in our May 99 column on high bandwidth Internet connections and Bob Mcclain from Covad presented the perspective of a non-telco DSL provider. Our European visitors gave us impromptu presentations of the situation in their countries. My interpretation of their remarks is while the details are different than in the U.S., the situation is quite similar: the incumbent telecommunications providers are facing increased competition and are trying to figure out how to meet it. One difference is that cable providers are not as strong or pervasive as in the U.S. and are not yet providing much competition in the area of high speed Internet access.
Finally, I provided my annual, in person update on policy to the SIGGRAPH Executive Committee (EC) at their meeting on the Saturday following the conference. I covered the items from our committee and the SIG meetings. I also admitted that there were a couple of things we didn’t do. I always plan for a white paper working meeting but because we didn’t do a white paper, we didn’t have such a meeting. I also plan to invite someone from outside the committee to our committee meeting, but this didn’t happen either, although Barbara Simons’ presence partially qualified. The EC received this information with interest. They suggested a useful activity would be to provide information on the use of intellectual property materials for SIGGRAPH contributors and provided a pointer to a person who was expert in this area. I believe that this would make an interesting topic for a Computer Graphics column, and I’m always looking for contributors!
Security and Privacy Issues with High Speed Internet Connections
Bob Ellis and Myles Losch
There are two issues we didn’t stress in our May report. Because most knowledge and experience is with DSL and cable modem service, we will restrict our discussion to those services. First, the "always on" (except if you turn off your computer!) means that you are connected to the Internet for potentially long periods of time with a static IP address. This means that "cracking" programs have ample opportunity to break into your system. In fact we know of a number of technically sophisticated home computer users who implement a firewall computer separate from the computer they use for processing. Such users report break-in attempts several times per hour. Given the low level of network security of the typical home computer, this means sooner or later such a break in attempt will succeed and possibly compromise the operation of and files stored on the computer.
A partially mitigating situation is the fact that most DSL providers assign a floating IP address each time you do reconnect. So if a cracking program has found something interesting on your computer, it will find a different computer after a new IP address is assigned. It is unclear to what extent cable TV Internet providers may adopt similar practices.
The other issue relates to the use of whatever local area networking software is commonly run on the subject computer to make the actual connect to the data service. This requires extra diligence on the part of the user to ensure that others on the local area net do not have access to the computer. Microsoft Windows is a particular problem in this respect because the default local area networking parameters are set to share everything. This means, for example, that the people you are sharing your cable Internet access channel may have access to your files and even your printers unless the default settings are changed. Indeed, there have been reports in the popular press describing just such situations.
Finally, in our May report we provided a pointer to the group No Gate Keepers (www.nogatekeepers.org) which advocates that cable Internet services provide access to any ISP who wishes to gain access to their networks. At the time, we mentioned that there were groups advocating the opposite position: that cable Internet services be allowed to continue to provide access only to self selected ISPs. One such group is NetAction (www.netaction.org). Note that NetAction’s position is related to their interest in seeing competition in all aspects of consumer communications: entertainment delivery, voice and broadband data services. Cable networks are typically designed for only the first of these and require costly upgrades to support the other services. In order for cable providers to do this, NetAction and others argue that it is reasonable to allow cable operators the freedom to provide non-voice services on their own terms. As you can see, this is a complex issue and thus broadband and other non-traditional cable services cannot be separated from telephony with its legacy of regulation.
FCC Digital TV Standards Update
Several years ago, SIGGRAPH’s Public Policy Committee and others in the computer industry worked with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ensure that U.S. technical standards for digital television (DTV, including HDTV) would support such computer-friendly features as square pixels and progressive (vs. interlaced) scanning of the video raster.
Now that DTV is available to consumers, two new technical standards issues have arisen at the FCC which, unless soon resolved, could hinder market acceptance of this new high-quality video service (and thus reduce its need for new computer graphics imagery). These issues are:
Radio Signal Format for (Terrestrial) Broadcast Stations
New tests in cities show that the FCC’s current standard for over-the-air DTV transmission performs much worse with indoor receiving antennas, than the comparable European and Japanese broadcast standards. Many urban apartment and condominium dwellers must use indoor TV antennas, in part because of FCC restrictions on outdoor antenna placement (shaped by landlords’ concerns about infringement of their constitutional property rights).
Some broadcasters, fearing a loss of economic value for their new DTV channels if fewer people could watch them, proposed that the FCC switch to a different radio signal format (though this would require the consumer electronics industry to buy back the tens of thousands of DTV receivers already in use).
As this is written, two chip vendors (Motorola and Nxtwave) claim to have new digital signal processing chips that, if added to future (but not existing) DTV receiver models, would largely solve the problem without changing FCC standards. These claims remain to be proven.
Copy Protection for DTV Programs
One workaround for the indoor antenna problem would be greater reliance on cable television for DTV delivery to urban residents. But cable operators’ ability to respond is limited both by channel capacity constraints in their networks, and by the demands of DTV program copyright owners (led by the major motion picture studios) that DTV sent by cable be heavily encrypted to restrict home recording.
Cable operators (and broadcasters) have agreed to this, but consumer electronics (CE) makers have not, arguing that it would nullify the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1984 Sony Betamax decision (464 U.S. 417) which legalized home recording. CE makers fear that, were they obliged to offer only ‘crippled boxes’ to record DTV, few would buy them, and DTV might fail commercially (as DAT and DIVX did). Some in the computer industry think that the longer such disputes persist among older players, the greater will be their own opportunity to develop the PC as a home entertainment platform.
Into this situation has stepped FCC Chair William Kennard, who initially demanded that all parties resolve their differences by last July 1 so that DTV could be carried via cable. When the inter-industry negotiations failed, a new target date of October 31 was set, overshadowed by Kennard’s threat to impose technical standards (which some guess would be more pro-consumer than copyright owners want) for sending DTV over cable, if the negotiators again fail.
Good online references for this issue include www.hrrc.org (a CE industry affiliated group) and www.dtcp.com (a pro-copyright site). CACM’s legal columnist Prof. Pam Samuelson has often addressed digital copyright issues in recent years, and those columns are also recommended reading.
David Nelson and Laurie Reinhart
Final results for both on-line surveys are included as bar graphs in this column.
Preliminary results for the first survey were included in the May issue, and the final results shown here are similar (see Figure 1).
Results of the second survey looking at future directions, as part of ACM SIGGRAPH’s 30th Anniversary celebration, were distributed at the conference, but a sizable increase in the number of responses has changed some final results (see Figure 2-5).
Robert Ellis is Chair of SIGGRAPH’s Public Policy Committee. When last gainfully employed (1993), he was Sun Microsystems’ representative on the Computer Systems Policy Project’s (CSPP) Technology Committee and also co-managed Sun’s external research program. Before that, Ellis held computer graphics software development and management positions with Sun, GE-Calma, Atari, Boeing and Washington University (St. Louis).
Figure 1: Online survey No. 1.
Figure 2: Modeling.
Figure 3: Rendering.
Figure 4: Interactive Techniques.
Figure 5: Computing Technology.
The copyright of articles and images printed remains with the author unless otherwise indicated.