Wednesday, February 04, 2009

When Running Code in Filipino Part 1: The Blue and The Red Pill

About a decade ago, in the mid-1990s, just about the time when this post-communist euphoria was beginning to wane, there emerged in the West another “new society,” to many just as exciting as the new societies promised in post-communist Europe. This was the Internet, or as I’ll define a bit later, “cyberspace.” First in universities and centers of research, and then throughout society in general, cyberspace became a new target for libertarian utopianism. Here freedom from the state would reign. If not in Moscow or Tblisi, then in cyberspace would we find the ideal libertarian society.

The catalyst for this change was likewise unplanned. Born in a research project in the Defense Department, cyberspace too arose from the unplanned displacement of a certain architecture of control. The tolled, single-purpose network of telephones was displaced by the untolled and multipurpose network of packet-switched data. And thus the old one-to-many architectures of publishing (television, radio, newspapers, books) were complemented by a world in which anyone could become a publisher. People could communicate and associate in ways that they had never done before. The space seemed to promise a kind of society that real space would never allow—freedom without anarchy, control without government, consensus without power. In the words of a manifesto that defined this ideal: “We reject: kings, presidents and voting. We believe in: rough consensus and running code.”

- Lawrence Lessig, Code 2.0

This is an awakening. Since the first packet traversed the Internet, a debate has raged between norms prevailing between Cyberspace (that ethereal “place” between fiber optic lines, and wifi, where the Internet exists) and how such universe relates to Real Life. Often, the Ethos of Online Life finds itself disjointed with Real Life. As a sub-genre Netizen of The Internet, Filipinos in all strata of Real Life are awakening. Quite naturally, they’ve woven threads online, asking questions of what the Internet is, and what it means for them. Threads like what blogging is, and what New Media is, notwithstanding, are just some of those questions. This search for an Interface between what is acceptable online and what is acceptable in Real Life requires an elusive Rosetta stone.

Take for example how the Philippine Government and its Law recognizes the Network and all the gifts associated with it is likewise being debated and its implication for the future of what the Internet means to the Filipino is equally diverse and more so important.

The National Telecommunication Commission on 22 December 2008 issued a draft memorandum circular that pertained to GUIDELINES ON THE PROVISION OF CONTENTS, INFORMATION, APPLICATIONS, AND ELECTRONIC GAMES all in pursuant to RA7925, Executive Order (EO) No. 546 series of 1979:

WHEREAS, the 1987 Constitution fully recognizes the vital role of communications in nation building and provides for the emergence of communications structures suitable to the needs and aspirations of the nation;

WHEREAS, the promotion of competition in the telecommunications market is a key objective of Republic Act No. 7925 (RA7925, for brevity), otherwise known as The Public Telecommunications Policy Act of the Philippines, which mandates that “a healthy competitive environment shall be fostered, one in which telecommunications carriers are free to make business decisions and interact with one another in providing telecommunications services, with the end in view of encouraging their financial viability while maintaining affordable rates.”

WHEREAS, RA7925 further defines the role of the government to “promote a fair, efficient and responsive market to stimulate growth and development of the telecommunications facilities and services”;

WHEREAS, the provision of contents, information, applications, and electronic games to the consumers creates demand for telecommunication networks and services – the development of contents, information, applications, and electronic games should therefore be encouraged and facilitated;

WHEREAS, the entry of more contents, information, applications and/or electronic games providers in the market will result to lower prices benefiting the consumers;

WHEREAS, to further encourage the development of contents, information applications and electronic games, the prevailing access charge regime between the contents, information, applications and electronic games providers and the networks providers which is revenue sharing should be replaced by fixed access charge;

WHEREAS, in the power sector the consumers can purchase their power requirements from independent power producers – power producers are not subject to nationality requirement;

I humbly submit that this proposed guideline is contrary to the stated goal that the National Telecommunication Commission (NTC) hopes to achieve. The implication of this broad and sweeping scope that the NTC wishes to engage in, whether intentional or not, will not be limited to telecommunication companies and the content provider businesses for those telecommunication companies. It encompasses multiple industries and genres the NTC may or may not be aware it is threading on. It tramples upon cultural norms of Online Life. As such, this broad and sweeping scope would be detrimental for the Filipino and places a roadblock to further the Filipino dream of going beyond poverty. It will dampen innovation and competition in the market place. It will lay added burden on the lowliest content creator, stifle free speech and expression and chain the creativity and intelligence and culture of the Filipino.

This isn’t to say that the NTC has no role, rather it is going about it the wrong way. Neither is it to say that there isn’t any sort of control or regulation governing Online Life.

There exist already a salient Law serving as a foundation to answer many questions the Filipino has, and how to couple real life and the Internet, and that law is Republic Act 8792 or The Electronic Commerce Act of 2000.

For example, RA 8792 has already defined what data and document is. What is data and document but an aging term for content? What is content if it does not embrace not just New Media but Applications too? Surprisingly we find Law such as the Electronic Commerce Act of 2000 which has already defined what the network is, and what devices exist that is part of the network. Particularly, Section 6, subsection (f) states that:

“Information and Communications System” refers to a system for generating, sending, receiving, storing or otherwise processing electronic data messages or electronic documents and includes the computer system, or other similar device by or in which data is recorded or stored and any procedures related to the recording or storage of electronic data message or electronic document.”

Clearly this law intended to include the mobile phone, the network associated with it and all content and application made for that phone. The law is quite clear on what constitutes a network and what data is and who should govern it and penalties for those who hack the network.

Perhaps the NTC doesn’t understand with the Internet, telecommunication has changed. It is a genie that cannot be put back in the bottle save perhaps a catastrophic and global collapse of The Network.

Telecommunication Companies are fast evolving into Internet utility firms in the same way as Power and Water are utilities and as telecommunication has always been. They provide the underlying infrastructure that connects the network. They are like Power and Water companies responsible for pipes and cabling.

The content, the data and documents that travel to and from this extensive infrastructure network is vast and transformative that to impose control and regulation as governments and as the Old Way know it, simply is detrimental to the very nature of the Internet and its ethos and utterly futile.

As Lessig in Code 2.0 points out, that isn’t to say there aren’t any new forms of control that uses the very code running on the network to shepherd packets, to identify who is who, to reduce anonymity online. Because the situation may require of it.

When once the Network was all about anonymity, with increased malware on the network, with electronic commerce, with the arrival of social networks, an open culture utterly requires a definitive identity online, when once chooses to be. We’ve built technologies that regulate the flow of information to how much privacy we want it to be.

Today’s netizen wants to be seen, wants to be known. He wants his name on top of a Google search. He wants to be a Twitter elite. She wants as many friends on Facebook and on Flickr, and millions of views on YouTube.

As much as this is happening, an increasingly number of people are going private with their lives online. No one wants to wash dirty laundry in public, do they? Suddenly, it isn’t such a good idea that everyone know everything there is to know about us. Who knows if a sex video might find itself in the hands of a potential employer?

That’s a form of self-regulation that governments need not impose.

It isn’t to say the original ethos has been destroyed. It simply has evolved. Take Blogger’s rights, and Coder’s rights, even the nature of Electronic Commerce, of Open Source Software design, of Social Networks, at their basic core, still have on their DNA what Stephen Levy wrote on Hacker Ethic. Hacker’s Ethic is all about sharing, openness, decentralization, free access to computers and networks, and general world improvement:

Access to computers and anything which might teach you something about the way the world worlds should be unlimited and total. That all information should be free.

That there should be decentralization where a free exchange of ideas and information is paramount.

Degrees, age, race, position are meaningless and that a system of meritocracy exist;

That art may be created on the computer;

That online can change your life for the better;

The profound changes the Internet has done for human civilization simply isn't limited to print, radio, video, or in how the world communicates. The Internet has had a profound affect on discovered and invented information and technologies most importantly in how they are applied. It has had transformative effect on how governments can communicate with their people, and more important with how much and how deeper people can communicate with one another. The changes are simply astounding and unquantifiable.

The Internet has a drastic affect in everything, from business to culture, from literature to every form of entertainment. It has hyper-enabled every discipline in academe, on research and development in universities and in corporations and brought this power to the basement and garage of every home in the world, immensely.

This beautiful and wonderful technological achievement is so nascent that we do not know how profound it would affect every person's life from here on out. This transformation in how we communicate has made the world closer as much as the jet engine has made the world a smaller place. The total cost of communication when once it took much money simply to call a person Manila to San Francisco has been drastically reduced. Today, anyone is a skype, google talk or yahoo messenger away. To further a point, the marriage of computer and the Internet is the first video phone that many had dreamt we would have mere decades ago.

Not since Gothenburg and the rise of the printing press has there been such an explosion of information and communication.

This beauty came about because of the End-To-End design of the Internet. Pragmatic, the underlying infrastructure is of end-to-end network design that an agency like the National Telecommunications Commission ought to understand. This design philosophy that brings intelligence away from the infrastructure and to a higher plane or applications level permeates life on the Internet. To make an analogy, the NTC is to the infrastructure as the Department of Trade and Industry is to Electronic Commerce running on top of that infrastructure. It is the Internet Engineering Task Force is to the infrastructure (Cyberspace) as the Rest of us is to the Internet running on top of that infrastructure or existing on Cyberspace.

Definition of Terms

For the sake of this discussion, we shall follow the same terms the National Telecommunication Commission uses:

  1. Content – refers to all types of contents delivered to or accessed by the user or subscriber such as music, ring tones, logos, video clips, etc.
  2. Information – refers to all types of information delivered to or accessed by the users or subscribers, e.g. road traffic information, financial information, visa application information, etc.
  3. Application – refers to all types of applications delivered to or accessed by the users or subscribers, e.g. mobile banking, electronic payments, point of sale service, etc.
  4. Electronic Game – refers to games played online except gambling.
  5. Contents Providers – are persons or entities offering and providing contents to the public for compensation through the networks, systems and/or facilities of authorized networks, systems and/or facilities providers.
  6. Information Providers – are persons or entities offering and providing information to the public for compensation through the networks, systems and/or facilities of authorized networks, systems and/or facilities providers.
  7. Applications Providers – are persons or entities offering and providing applications to the public for compensation through the networks, systems and/or facilities of authorized networks, systems and/or facilities providers.
  8. Electronic Games Providers – are persons or entities offering and providing electronic games to the public for compensation through the networks, systems and/or facilities of authorized networks, systems and/or facilities providers.
  9. Contents Developers – are persons or entities creating contents.
  10. Information Sources – are persons or entities providing information to Information Providers.
  11. Applications Developer – are persons or entities creating applications.
  12. Electronic Games Developer – are persons or entities creating electronic games.

To bring my point across, I shall try to use fictitious scenarios but before I do that, let me introduce a term: New Media:

“New media is a term meant to encompass the emergence of digital, computerized, or networked information and communication technologies in the later part of the 20th century.

Most technologies described as "new media" are digital, often having characteristics of being manipulable, networkable, dense, compressible, and impartial.[1]

- New Media on Wikipedia.

Does that term and its meaning sound overtly familiar? Does it not encompass all things that the NTC wants covered?

Simply put, Content and Application is the intelligence existing at the endpoints of the network. So what intelligence exist on top of the network infrastructure?

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