The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Sunday, December 01, 2002

Yesterday I sneered that the San Jose Mercury News calls itself the newspaper of Silicon Valley, though it can't get it's web site to work worth a shit. The real problem is that the Merc does not understand technology at all. As evidence, see this editorial. The money quotes:

PICTURE yourself surfing the Internet at high speed in search of your favorite pizza joint,, and up pops a window that says ``site not found.'' Worse, you get redirected to, a cross-town competitor.

The crust at Tony's isn't at all to your taste and you'd never set foot in the place. But it turns out that Tony's cut a deal with your high-speed access provider to be its exclusive pizza partner. You are out of luck.

Maybe you think this is no big deal. Already when you visit a site like Yahoo, it will steer you to its retailing partners. Yet it's easy to get around that and click over to your favorite retailer.

The pizza scenario is different. It's your access provider, not a content site, that's doing the blocking, and there is no way around it. It's as if you couldn't dial United because your phone company cut an exclusive deal with American.


Some companies already prohibit cable modem customers from downloading movies, for fear of competition with their own pay-per-vew offerings. They could easily speed up music downloads from a partner's site, while slowing down those of a competitor. Worse, they could selectively ban content they don't like.

Okay, my first complaint is the vague statment, "Some companies already prohibit cable modem customers from downloading movies"? What kind of companies? Movie studios or the cable providers? And which ones? Why not name them? You're a newspaper, for Christ's sake! Would it be too much trouble to provide your readers with information? To write clear, unambiguous sentences?

If this really is happening, then about a thousand geeks should be screaming about it on Usenet, and there should be information on the Web too. So I Googled:

  • Usenet, past year, cable prohibit download movie: 3 hits, nothing
  • Usenet, past year, cable prevent download movie: 67 hits, scanned the 25 or so that looked likely, nothing
  • Web, past year: cable prohibit download movie: Many hits; nothing in the first 100
  • Web, past year: cable prevent download movie: Many hits; nothing in the first 100

But let's be charitable towards the Merc and assume that their statement is correct. If it's movie studios prohibiting downloads, you can hardly blame them for trying to prevent piracy of their content. If they try to prohibit specifically cable customers from downloading movies, there is an easy workaround: Use a proxy, like (While doing my Googling I found that movie companies were withdrawing their movies from the web; I don't think there's anything cable-specific about such efforts.)

If cable companies are trying to prevent movie downloads, there are also easy workarounds. The only way to tell if a file is a movie is by its size, or its extension, or patterns in its content. Movie swappers can split, rename, or encrypt their files.

Anyway, regardless of the technical limitations and workarounds -- and I could be wrong on specific points and would welcome corections -- absolutely no one is going to stand for an internet service that doesn't deliver URL's properly. The minute I figure out my provider is preventing me from seeing, I am going to pick up my phone and cancel the service. There are other alternatives to cable, such as DSL and satellite service.

We do not need to be protected from cable providers by the government. We do need to be protected from government writing regulations for cable providers; if customers do find that they cannot download movies, it will be because of some government regulation inserted at the behest of some media-bought politician like Fritz Hollings.

"The internet sees censorship as damage and routes around it." All geeks know that, but of course the Merc doesn't.



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