SIGGRAPH PUBLIC POLICY
Vol.34 No.1 February 2000
Domain Names, Digital Television, CFP2000, ACM Book on Intellectual Property and Third On-Line Survey
February 00 Columns
This column begins with a highly personal view of a solution to the problems associated with Internet domain names. SIGGRAPH Public Policy Committee member Myles Losch then provides an update on some important issues related to digital television. Our plans for participation in the Computers: Freedom and Privacy 2000 (CFP2000) conference are described. And I’ll close with a brief mention of a new ACM Press book that may be of interest to SIGGRAPH members, and an update on plans for our third Web-based survey.
- Bob Ellis
Domain Name System (DNS) Considered Harmful
Many of you are probably aware of the issues associated with ownership of Internet domain names and the problems the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) (www.icann.org) is having satisfying the interests of all stakeholders.
My personal view is that the problems stem primarily from the need to register (which implies some sort of ownership) the alphanumeric domain names. My view, and there are a few others who agree with me, is that the DNS system should be abandoned in favor of the use of strictly numerical IP addresses.
Many people view this as a step backward, but I argue that in many cases domain names are not at all obvious. Quickly, what is the domain name for Gateway Computers: gateway, gatewaycomputers, gateway-computers? Actually it’s gateway2000. Also, most of us who use any significant number of URLs store them in a bookmark file where we can associate them with any meaningful (to us) name, so the actual addresses might as well be numeric.
There’s a system with strictly numeric addressing which has been used for years: the telephone. For some reason, some think that this is archaic, but I find dialing a number to be a lot faster than using letters. Basically I remember a few key telephone numbers and use speed dialing or a personal directory for the rest. Some have pointed out that there’s intense competition for alphabetically meaningful telephone numbers. That may be, but the registering authority doesn’t have to care because they are making assignments on a strictly numerical basis. The use of alphabetic equivalents for telephone numbers is one of the most frustratingly time consuming processes I’ve ever encountered.
Finally, DNS name servers present a single point of failure in the Internet that would be eliminated by the use of IP addresses.
Update on Digital Television
In Computer Graphics Volume 33 (4) November 1999, this column noted two standards disputes that could hurt the U.S. consumer market for digital television (DTV). On both of these fronts, further developments have taken place.
Radio Signal Format for Terrestrial DTV Broadcasting: Nearly half of all U.S. TV stations have now expressed support for Europe’s COFDM standard, in preference to the 8-VSB format adopted by the U.S. FCC. But TV set makers are fighting back, and argue that new signal processing technology will greatly improve the DTV performance of indoor receiving antennas. Further details are at the website.
Copy Protection for DTV Programs: Under FCC pressure, TV set makers belatedly reached a partial agreement with the cable television industry, whereby cable-ready DTV sets will support anti-copy protocols favored by large movie studios. But set makers refused to require such DTVs to include IEEE 1394 set-top box interfaces sought by cable operators.
This omission is apparently related in part to a long-running controversy over consumers’ digital "fair use" of copyrighted video content. One result is continuing uncertainty about how new DTVs will connect to IEEE 1394-equipped digital camcorders, and to future DTV-capable video recorders and DVD players.
Bob Ellis and Myles Losch
We have commented on the Computers: Freedom and Privacy Conferences before in these columns (May 1998, August 1999). These conferences are an excellent opportunity for technical people, policy makers and advocates to get together and discuss issues of mutual concern. The problem from SIGGRAPH’s perspective is that their focus on freedom and privacy issues has made them an awkward forum for presentation of our own issues.
For CFP2000, which will be held in Toronto April 4-7, 2000, we have jointly submitted two session proposals. Both are on issues related to high speed Internet access capabilities such as cable modems and DSL (Digital Subscriber Line). We view impediments to the timely availability of these services as putting the practitioners of computer graphics in a second rate position in Internet use by the general public.
Two critical issues with these services are the lack of ISP choice (usually) and increased concerns over security and privacy. Consequently we have submitted session proposals for two panels: "Freedom and Choice in Broadband Internet Access" and "Security and Privacy in Broadband Internet Services."
The first session includes a presentation by Canadian trade association and government representatives on that country’s cable television "open access" requirements and their planned implementation later this year. In 1998, Canada’s telecom regulators ordered cable TV operators to let their cable modem customers use any Internet service provider. Since then, the affected industries have worked with Cisco Systems to develop necessary technology for this innovative policy.
Another topic to be covered is future pricing of residential broadband Internet access (as debated by consumer and service provider representatives). The data rates and low-delay delivery needed by streaming multimedia, arguably comprise a new premium-grade service, which can be priced accordingly. But would that undermine the Universal Service principle in the U.S. 1996 Telecom Act?
A final set of issues for the session center on the degree to which commercial and architectural trends in today’s Internet may disadvantage small and non-profit speakers. Such trends include distributed content-caching for quick access to multimedia information from anywhere, and business partnerships between Internet access providers and online vendors of goods, services, information and entertainment. When these deals make some content easier and/or quicker to access, other content is arguably harmed in the "battle for eyeballs."
The security and privacy session takes advantage of the fact that tomorrow’s consumer Internet connection is likely to be broadband provided by either DSL or cable modem. Several characteristics of these services (‘always on,’ permanent IP addresses and the use of LAN technology for the computer interfaces) present increased security and privacy risks. In addition, the likely deployment of home networks means that there is both more at stake and an added complexity in providing appropriate security and privacy.
The ‘always on’ and permanent (or at least, long duration) IP address nature of these connections present a much greater level of vulnerability to ‘crackers’ than the more familiar dial-up connections with their relatively short connection times and pool assigned IP addresses. Unlike industrial and academic Internet users who have implemented substantial security measures, such as firewalls, the typical consumer has no knowledge or convenient means to implement such capabilities.
The use of LAN technology for the computer interface to these services presents another challenge to the usually network naive consumer. This problem is particularly acute for users of MS Windows which typically has the default network parameters set to ‘share everything.’ Several reports in the popular press recently have highlighted this situation with descriptions of neighbors having access to each other’s files and even printers!
After the session chair summarizes the issues, panel members representing providers will review their approaches to these issues. Then two knowledgeable experts will summarize what may be done to protect a system in a typical consumer environment. After the brief panel member presentations, we will have discussion among the panelists and questions from the audience.
As this is written we are working with the CFP2000 Program Committee to refine both of these sessions. CFP Program Committees typically are very much involved with those who propose sessions in combining sessions, adding and subtracting speakers, etc. For current details, please consult the CFP2000 website (www.cfp2000.org).
New ACM Press Book on Intellectual Property
It is probably the rare SIGGRAPH member who is neither a creator nor user of intellectual property (IP). As more and more material is available in digital format with the ability to make perfect copies, issues of the rights of both intellectual property users and creators have become more important. IP is an area in which the ACM’s U.S. Public Policy Committee (USACM) (www.acm.org/ usacm) has been very active.
A new book titled Intellectual Property in the Age of Universal Access (www.acm.org/pubs/ property) was recently announced. Quoting from the introduction: ‘... is a compilation of some of the most cited articles and commentaries on technology and the law published by ACM.’. Sample topics include trademark disputes, e-commerce laws, legalities of software reverse engineering, the law of digital libraries, privacy considerations, look and feel, fair use lawsuits, cryptography’s role, information licensing, digital signatures, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and database protection. Authors represented include such authorities as Pamela Samuelson, Peter G. Neumann, Barbara Simons and others.
This isn’t a book review (I haven’t read the book) but just a pointer to material which SIGGRAPH members may find useful.
Plan for Third On-Line Survey
As I write this, we are beginning to prepare our third survey. Hopefully, by the time you read this, the survey will be available on our website (www.siggraph.org/pub-policy). Again, committee members David Nelson and Laurie Reinhart will aid me in the implementation and analysis of the survey.
Our first two surveys were focused on technical issues in computer graphics. The third survey will be asking for your opinions on policy issues such as telecommunications, intellectual property, privacy, research support, etc. Look for it late winter/summer or early spring/fall, depending on the part of the world in which you reside.
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).
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