wabson

part three of the ever-exciting adventure

Archive for Politics

Net Neutrality

I was horrified enough at Ed Vaisey’s terrible sentiments he expressed over Net Neutrality last week, to write to my MP on the issue. Hopefully Angie will be more responsive to letters from constituents than my last MP was. Still waiting for a reply on that one…

The letter’s based on Open Rights Group’s template, but I added my own Tory-friendly additions in bold. Sending a generic letter is better than none at all, but given you’re writing to an individual it’s clearly better to tailor the argument for them.

I’d strongly encourage you to do the same if you care about universal access to information.

Dear Ms Bray,

I am writing to ask you to sign the Net Neutrality EDM 1036 first signed by Tom Watson MP, Julian Huppert MP and Peter Bottomley MP.

http://edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=42025

Today the Coalition Government has taken a huge step towards increasing the transparency of Government by announcing the release of all central government spending data over £25,000 for the first time. You may have seen that the Prime Minister has stressed his support for this drive via a video posted this morning on the Number 10 web site.

This is a significant move which will help reduce the waste inherited from Labour and help drive the growth of an information industry which Francis Maude estimates could contribute up to £6bn to the UK economy. The work which his department has done over the last six months is making the UK a world leader in this field.

Last week however, Ed Vaizey, the Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, stated that the UK will allow Internet Service Providers to decide which websites and services can reach their customers at what speed.

This threatens the idea of free access to information to all. If traffic from established media operators is prioritised above others then this threatens the ability of independent organisations to help government find where inefficiencies exist in the system, using open data. It promotes centralism over localism and diversity in our information instructure and is a backwards step in Britain’s development.

The change – often called removing “net neutrality” or introducing ”network discrimination” has already led to complaints from companies including the BBC and Skype, an Internet telephone company, that their content may be slowed down by Internet Services Providers. ISPs, including BT, Sky and Virgin, provide TV and phone services which would give them a reason slowing down certain Internet services provided by competitors.

The danger is that, while some “traffic management” to prevent congestion may be reasonable, allowing ISPs to do what they want, with no checks other “transparency” to customers, will lead to significant market abuse and loss of innovation on the Internet. New services may not start up if they cannot be guaranteed fair access to UK Internet customers.

There are ways this problem could be prevented. One would be an industry agreement by major ISPs not to discriminate against competitors, such as has been put in place in Norway. Another would be to require “minimum service guarantees” including an Open Internet.

Please sign the EDM, and raise this issue with Ed Vaizey, as the Minister responsible.

Thanks,
Will Abson

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Seven Days to Stop the Bill

My second letter, with hyperlinks. Please feel free to use this as a template to contact your own MPs.

Dear Mr Sharma,

I wrote to you recently outlining my concerns around the Digital Economy Bill currently before parliament.

You may be aware that Harriet Harman MP announced last week that despite widespread criticism of some parts of this bill from across the creative and technology sectors, it will receive it’s second reading on Tuesday April 6, leaving only 90 minutes for the bill to be scrutinised by the House of Commons.

I hope you will agree that this is not acceptable for a Bill that seeks to define the technological landscape of Britain for the next generation. The Bill has undergone considerable scrutiny in the House of Lords and it is only reasonable to expect this same scrutiny from our elected representatives in the Commons.

I see from your web site that you have welcomed Ms Harman to the constituency on more than one occasion. I would therefore ask you to use your influence as the member for Ealing Southall to oppose the Government’s plans to rush through this Bill in the period before the election and that ensure the provisions receive proper debate and scrutiny in a new Parliament.

I am writing as one of 17,000 people who have also written to their representatives on this matter. I am sure you will have received many letters on this subject and I would ask you to take these views into account and make these known with ministers and party managers.

Yours Sincerely,
Will Abson

Building Britain’s Analogue Future

I tried to catch up on Gordon Brown’s surprise appearance today on Number10.gov.uk exclaiming the virtues of ‘superfast’ broadband and the semantic web, but sadly I was disappointed.

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Reading the transcript, perhaps I needn’t have bothered anyway. Aside from the release of the DfT NaPTAN data (which was made available to OSM some time ago) via data.gov.uk, and a promise to force transport operators to open up their timetabling information when their franchises come up (every 10-20 years) there wasn’t much news on the open data front.

Further justification for releasing data in this way probably wasn’t needed to convince most of the audience, but to illustrate how open data can be used to push the boundaries of innovation, Brown picked a New Labour favourite.

…Independent developers are using the information we’ve published for innovative new websites and mobile phone applications such as ‘asborometer’ – built by one person in just five days. It finds your position using GPS and tells you how many people have been served with an asbo in that area.

ASBOs? Seriously? Surely there must be better examples out there of how citizens have re-used public data to increase transparency, accountability and participation in government?

There was an announcement that @timberners_lee and @Nigel_Shadbolt will he heading up a new institute to study emerging web technologies, although no explanation of why our universities aren’t able to do this themselves (lack of funds, perhaps?). Also a new Digital Public Services Unit is being formed to advise departments on how to ‘transform’ their services for the web, with @Marthalanefox at the helm. Fortunately for her, she gets to keep the word ‘Champion’ in her job title.

The Digital Economy Bill was mentioned only once, in a section defending the 50p phone line tax and emphasising the importance of maintaining a strong regulatory presence in the form of Ofcom, the two parts of the bill most opposed by the Tories. So more electioneering than setting out a future policy vision.

There was no mention of the crippling effect of Clauses 17 and 18 of the bill, which threaten to cut off users and censor free speech on the Internet. The Government can invest as much as it likes in Public Services 2.0, but if individuals, families and businesses are unable to access them because their connection has been blocked then that investment is effectively useless.

So if like the Labour government of the past, you believe that digital inclusion is more important than the BPI increasing album sales in 2011, write to your MP, contact your local paper or make your voice heard at this Wednesday’s protest.

Marthalanefox

My Digital Economy Letter

Turning into a political week, this one. With the Digital Economy Bill threatening to to take us back to an analogue age (oh, the irony), I’ve penned a letter to my MP highlighting the widely-held concerns that the Government look set to try to ram the thing through during wash-up.

If you’re reading this and you wish to continue using an open Internet where freedom of speech is not threatened, I would strongly urge you to do the same.

Virendra Sharma MP
Ealing, Southall

Friday 19 March 2010

Dear Mr Sharma,

I am writing to you concerning the Government’s Digital Economy Bill, which had it’s first reading in the House of Commons this week.

I have been following the passage of this Bill as it has progressed through its various stages in the Lords, and as a technologist myself I am mindful of the significance of the Bill in it’s potential to improve the way in which Britain uses information technology to it’s best advantage in an increasingly global and competitive age.

Like many others who work in the profession however, I have been alarmed by some of the clauses in the Bill, which seek to impose penalties on Internet users who are alleged to have engaged in copyright-infringing activities, with no legal recourse or right of appeal through the courts. This is especially concerning as recent cases in the news have highlighted the inaccuracy of methods used to identify wrongdoers.

Although there are many legitimate concerns around issues such as copyright and intellectual property which the Bill rightly seeks to address, in it’s current form the Bill risks damaging our economy by imposing unnecessary additional monitoring burdens on organisations as diverse as hotels, libraries and universities who provide Internet access, as well as the Internet Service Providers themselves.

As the member for Ealing Southall I hope you will appreciate the deep divide in access to technology that exists within our constituency. The Government has declared it’s intention to tackle such inequalities, but many of the provisions of the Digital Economy Bill will only hinder this, by increasing the cost of Internet access for families as ISPs seek to recoup the costs of monitoring users’ on-line activities, and others choose to stop providing public access altogether.

Further debate and scrutiny of the bill is required within Parliament to ensure that innocent families are not targeted or feel threatened by a flawed identification process, and that the cost of accessing information technology is not driven up unnecessarily in the current economic climate.

I would urge you to resist efforts by the Government to rush through this legislation before the General Election without the full oversight and scrutiny of the normal Parliamentary process, and in particular to vote against Clauses 17 and 18, which threaten to take us backwards, rather than forwards in our use of technology to improve the lives of local people.

Yours Sincerely,
Will Abson

Can Sweden teach us a lesson?

Interesting report on last night’s Newsnight over Tory “dreams” to bring a Swedish-style schools system to the UK, with independent groups receiving funding to operate within the state sector to increase competition and choice.

Radio 4 covered the same topic recently, interviewing actor Toby Young about why he wants to set up a new school here in Ealing. According to Young,

“Our parent group, which is about 250-strong, would apply to be the main sponsor of a new academy… Ours would be the first parent-sponsored academy.”

Doing a bit more digging, it seems Young kicked things off last year with an opinion piece in the Observer. The Ealing Gazette picked this up shortly afterwards and put a local twist on it and more recently, the Guardian and Newsnight re-opened the debate with their own further coverage on the subject.

Labour have taken us so far down the academies route, and (perhaps surprisingly) the juggernaut shows no sign of stopping.

But this is a scheme dreamt up in the heady days of the boom years. Underlying the academies scheme is a belief that the state (in combination with suitably wealthy donors) can play a central role in tearing down the old and replacing it with shiny new facilities, with scant regard for what is there already. Academies have done for the education system what the 1960s did for urban planning, to the extent that bodies like English Heritage now feel compelled to issue warnings.

In Education as in IT, the days of the all-enabling state are well-and-truly over. People have lost patience and the system has run out of money.

As Young’s example shows there are a huge number of people on the ground who think they can do it better and are motivated to do so. These are parents, teachers and others in the community who want to take back some of the control that’s been taken away from them over the last 60 years, first by central government and the LEAs and more recently by the academies. As Antony Seldon says in the Radio 4 piece:

“We’ve had a pretty state-run system for the last 100 years where schools have been run from the centre… and parents have been marched off to go to this school and it’s been pretty ordinary… We need to abandon the factory schools that served us so well in the 20th century and move towards a much more individualised system…”

The Newsnight report shows that the Swedish example is not perfect. Standards must be enforced (this being an ideal  role for the state) and non-profit status should be required for any organisation wanting to set up a new school, but bearing these in mind we can surely do things better by opening the process up further and allowing “individuals and organisations to flourish”.

Taxi for Galloway

The Guardian have a good article on George Galloway’s ejection from the Big Brother house last night, which made me laugh on the bus in to work this morning. Sadly, the online version of the related article about the Telegraph losing their libel appeal yesterday doesn’t have the photo of the fantastic “Taxi for Galloway” placard that appears on page 9 of today’s paper. This made me laugh even more.

As the article points out, Galloway’s interview with Davina last night was indeed very painful to watch. Throughout, he looked dumbstruck whilst he struggled to answer the questions that the lovely Davina (“…whose on-screen persona is that of a largely well-meaning friend who cannot quite conceal the fact that she thinks you are ridiculous.”) kept on hurling at him.

His answer to Davina’s question over why he thought he’d been evicted demonstrated particularly well how oblivious he seemed to the public’s mood (“Maybe people wanted me back out and on the road, travelling the country”). If he wants to stand any chance of keeping his seat now that he’s out, I think the only road he should be out travelling on is Bethnal Green Road. The Telegraph may have lost out, but there’s plenty of other vultures circling.