NetAction Notes

Published by NetAction Issue No. 90 January 27, 2003
Repost where appropriate. See copyright information at end of message.


Action Alert: Stop SBC
The Virtual Activist In Spanish
When WiFi Is Wide Open
About NetAction Notes

Action Alert: Stop SBC

Contents of this alert:

1. Stop SBC's licensing fee demand
2. Why SBC must be stopped
3. Talking points
4. Who to contact
5. More background

1) Stop SBC's licensing fee demand

Apparently not satisfied with monopolizing local phone service and DSL, SBC Communications, Inc. is now going after the Internet; specifically, web site navigation. NetAction is urging Internet users to speak out now against this latest monopoly grab by SBC.

According to a letter that SBC recently sent to, SBC owns two patents for a web site navigation feature called a structured document browser that relies on frames or tabs to give web sites a consistent look from one page to another. SBC has begun demanding licensing fees from web sites that use this type of navigation. Hundreds of thousands of web sites could be effected if SBC's patent claim is upheld, including many web sites operated by nonprofit organizations and grassroots activists.

2) Why SBC must be stopped

SBC's attempt to collect licensing fees from web sites that incorporate frames or tabs in their navigation is just the latest example of the company's efforts to re-monopolize telecommunications and technology. SBC has fought efforts to promote competition in both telephone and broadband Internet service ever since Congress enacted the Telecommunications Act of 1996. One of the keys to increasing competition was the Act's requirement that the remaining Bell monopolies, including SBC, open their networks to competitors. That requirement enabled competition to develop in the DSL market, which has led to wider deployment of affordable broadband Internet service.

But the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently considering rules that would deregulate the Bells by eliminating the requirement that they share their networks with competitors. If the FCC changes the rules, competition will diminish and the Bells will operate as unregulated monopolies. SBC's demands for licensing fees might be the least of our worries if that comes to pass. SBC and the other Bells will be free to operate as they please. The cost of phone and broadband Internet service could skyrocket, and the quality of service could deteriorate, and there would be nothing consumers could do about it.

That's why it's important for Internet users to speak out now. Contact the FCC, your representatives in Congress and - most importantly - the media. Call their attention to SBC's licensing fee demand and remind them that there were good reasons for the rules Congress included in the 1996 Act.

3) Talking points

- SBC is now claiming it has patents on web site navigation features that are so common they are used by hundreds of thousands of web sites.

- Even more absurd than the patent claim is the company's attempt to enforce it by harassing web site operators into paying licensing fees.

- SBC's behavior makes it clear that if the FCC goes forward with its plan to deregulate the Bells, competition will diminish and companies like SBC will be free to demand monopoly rates for broadband and other telecommunications services.

4) Who to contact

- Federal Communications Commission

Informal comments can be submitted online. Select the "Broadband by telephone company" category and click "continue" to obtain the online comment form.

- Congress

Phone, write or fax your Representative and Senators at their district or Washington office.

If you don't know who your representatives are, you can look them up by typing in your zip code. (NetAction recommends *not* communicating with Congress by email because it is less effective than phone calls or letters.)

- Media

See NPAction's  media locator to obtain contact information for your local media. Send a brief letter to the editor by email.

5) More background

SBC's licensing demand letter to

"Patently outrageous? SBC claims patent on framelike browsing."

"Stupidest. Patent. Ever."

The Virtual Activist Reader In Spanish

We are pleased to announce that the Association for Progressive Communication (APC) has translated NetAction's Virtual Activist Reader into Spanish. The Spanish-language version is available as a downloadable Word file.

We have also posted a link to the Spanish version on NetAction's web site.

Many of the APC's excellent Internet activism resources are available in several languages. The English version includes links to available resources in other languages.

When WiFi Is Wide Open

Rooftop and neighborhood wireless networks that allow broadband connections to be shared among many users are increasingly popular, despite efforts by some broadband providers to shut them down. Commonly referred to as WiFi, wireless networks make use of unlicensed radio spectrum to connect computers over short distances. In many communities, technically-adept Internet activists who view WiFi as a community service are setting up wireless "hot spots" that can be accessed for free by anyone who has the necessary hardware installed in their computer (a wireless networking card).

But as WiFi use has increased, so too have concerns about its security vulnerabilities. NetAction recently researched the privacy risks of WiFi for discussion at a meeting of privacy advocates organized by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). Since this information may be of interest to our readers, we've briefly summarized the WiFi privacy risks below, and provided a link to detailed information on the risks and practical tips on how such risks can be reduced.

"The Unofficial 802.11 Security Web Page" includes a lot of very technical information, which we've summarized in the following three non-technical points:

Matthew Gast offers a slightly less technical explanation of the risks in an article entitled "Seven Security Problems of 802.11 Wireless," published by The O'Reilly Network. The risks include:

  1. Easy access
  2. "Rogue" access points
  3. Unauthorized use of service
  4. Service and performance constraints
  5. MAC spoofing and session highjacking
  6. Traffic analysis and eavesdropping
  7. Higher level attacks

If you're already using WiFi, or contemplating doing so, see "Safe & Sound in the Cyber Age: Wireless Network Security," on the NewsScan web site archive for Jan. 24, 2003.

About NetAction Notes

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