Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet

International Week 2008 Tonight I attended a lecture as part of International Week 2008 on campus at the University of Alberta. The speaker was Jeffrey Sachs, who is probably best known as the Director of the UN Millennium Project. Unfortunately he was called away to a special meeting in Africa with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and so he sent a pre-recorded video message instead.

His talk was very high-level and lacking in specifics. I suppose the idea is that you attend the lecture to whet your appetite, then you buy his new book (which, btw, he mentioned at least a half dozen times). All joking aside, I probably will buy it. I read his book The End of Poverty and thoroughly enjoyed it. I think his message is really important, and he’s great at delivering it.

Because Sachs could not attend, the organizers invited two other guests to make remarks and answer questions. One was Andrew Nikiforuk, a Calgary-based journalist, and the other was Dr. Rick Hyndman, Senior Policy Advisor for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Nikiforuk presented after the Sachs video, and he delivered a great presentation with just some notes to refer to. Hyndman presented last, and he had a laptop with some PPT slides. There must be a law somewhere that if you’ve got two presenters and one uses slides, the person with the slides invariably has the crappier presentation! It just doesn’t flow as well, nor does it sound as convincing.

That said, Hyndman more than redeemed himself in the Q&A session, during which he was pretty much attacked. One guy who lined up to ask a question was wearing a bright green t-shirt with "Greenpeace" emblazoned on the front – how would you expect him to treat a representative of the oil companies!

The event tonight wasn’t long enough to delve into any details, but it definitely was an opportunity to think about some of the issues that Sachs is so passionate about.

Visit the U of A’s International Week 2008 website for more information.

Podcasters: act now to stop anti-podcasting treaty!

Post ImageSometimes people or organizations do things that just seem beyond comprehension. You just sit there, dumbfounded, shaking your head and asking “why?”. One example of this is what the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization is proposing:

The Broadcast Treaty is an attempt to force the world’s governments to give a new right to broadcasters, a right to control the use of works they don’t own. The Broadcast Right will allow broadcasters to stop you from copying or re-using the programs they transmit, even if those programs are in the public domain, Creative Commons licensed or composed of uncopyrightable facts.

It gets worse though, as Boing Boing explains. They want to create a “webcasting right” at the same time:

This is deadly to podcasters. The webcasting right will break podcasters’ ability to quote and re-use each others’ work (even CC-licensed works), and other video found on the net. It will allow podcast-hosting companies like Yahoo to tell people how they can use your podcasts, even if you want to permit retransmissions.

I guess a few letters have already been put together by EFF, signed by people like Mark Cuban, and sent to WIPO. Now they have put together another letter, and this one can be signed by podcasters everywhere:

If you are a podcaster — or better yet, a podcasting organization — sign onto this letter now! It will be presented Monday morning to the WIPO committee that’s creating the Broadcast Treaty in Geneva. This is your best-ever chance to be heard.

You can check out the letter and indicate that you want to sign it here.

Read: Boing Boing

Why the USA needs to cede control of the Internet

Post ImageThere is a potentially major split brewing over control of the Internet, and it has been coming for quite some time. Declan McCullagh has written a great article explaining the problem and what it could mean, so I suggest reading that for some background before you continue with this post. In a nutshell though, the US currently has complete control over the Internet’s root servers and a growing number of countries don’t like it – they think control should be given to an international body like the United Nations. I agree.

Whatever role the United States played in the creation of the Internet doesn’t really matter anymore. The fact that the US Department of Defense created ARPANET which became the Internet we know and love today is irrelevant. What matters most of all is that the Internet has become a truly global network, and it needs to remain that way if we want to continue reaping its benefits.

All we need to do is think about all of the ways in which we use the Internet, and how they would be changed or affected if a split occurred. Things like sending email, or instant messages. Sharing pictures with friends and family around the world. Buying and selling things locally and abroad. Sharing information with others and learning about far away places without the local spin. All of these things would be affected if a major split occurs. All of these things would be affected if the Bush government continues to express arrogance and jealously guard its control of the Internet’s root servers, and the countries that disagree and want more control decide to create their own, incompatible root servers. It could be disastrous.

Even though I support the UN taking over control, I know it isn’t perfect. Scandals like the oil for food program cast a dark light across the organization. At the same time though, I truly believe problems like the oil for food pogram in Iraq would have happened anyway, with or without the UN. And I would point to the many successes of the organization as proof that a UN-run Internet would be better in the long run than a US-run Internet. At they very least, there would be almost no chance of a split occurring.

Many people will be quick to point out that the US has done nothing wrong thus far, and has done a fairly good job of running the Internet – and that’s true. However, the US is very quickly becoming a smaller and smaller part of the Internet as countries around the world bring their vast populations online. They deserve a voice and a hand in how the Internet is governed.

We need to ensure that the Internet continues to function for all citizens of the world, and that is why the USA needs to cede control of the Internet to an international organization.