Plotnikoff: Hong Kong raid tosses Net for a loop
By David Plotnikoff
LIVING at Net-speed means being mentally steeled for any and all weirdness that may come down the wire. With the digital frontier being made and remade by the hour, one comes to expect regular doses of the irrational, the outrageous and the downright not-so-nice. You navigate each conceptual loop and move on, unshaken. Nevertheless, there are some recent developments that just flip my surge protector . . .
To wit: I logged on last Saturday morning to check my e-mail and learned that Hong Kong was unplugged.
Now I'm used to local service nodes and even whole networks unexpectedly heading south on me. But the global Net community woke on Saturday to learn one of the world's largest cities had been taken off-line overnight. Why was the British crown colony's collective phone off the hook? It wasn't a natural disaster; it was a government-issue calamity. The police and telecommunications authorities had raided seven of the colony's eight Internet providers, carting away hardware and files. The first sketchy reports over the weekend said it was a dragnet search for hackers. This week, follow-up stories indicated it may actually be a dispute over government licensing of Net providers. (The largest, most established service-provider was the one left untouched. The young, aggressively priced upstarts were the targets of the raid.)
This rip-out-the-wires-and-askquestions-later approach is what we'd expect to see in some B-movie melodrama. It's the last thing I expected of a community that's both a bastion of free-market capitalism and the most advanced on-line market in Asia.
THE NET WAKES UP TO THE EXON BILL: While we're on the subject of outrageous government behavior, we should note that Senate Bill 314, the so-called ``Communications Decency Act of 1995'' is not going to scoot through committee without at least a modicum of organized opposition. For those of you just tuning in, the bill, introduced Feb. 1 by Sen. James Exon, D-Neb., would make service providers -- from the Big Three consumer services to the smallest bulletin-board hobbyist -- criminally liable for any indecent, lewd or threatening content accessible over their systems. The bill, which would put communications carriers in the business of policing every byte of information that flows through their pipes, is currently before the Senate Commerce Committee. It may move forward as part of a larger telecommunications bill in a matter of weeks.
Eight public-interest and civil-rights organizations -- from the ACLU to People for the American Way -- have hastily banded together in a Net-wide effort to lobby against the bill. The anti-314 forces, led by Voters Telecommunications Watch (firstname.lastname@example.org) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (email@example.com), are mounting what may be the largest petition-drive and grass roots lobbying campaign in the history of the Net. For discussion of the bill, check the Usenet newsgroups comp.org.eff.talk, comp.org.cpsr.talk and alt.privacy. There's also a gopher page -- gopher://gopher.panix.com/11/vtw/exon -- with the full text of the bill, plus legal analysis.
GOOD MANNERS AND GOOD BUSINESS: Virginia Shea's wonderful and oft-quoted pocket classic, ``Netiquette,'' is now for sale in its entirety on the World Wide Web, through a joint venture between Albion Books and the Bookport Web site. The launch is an important first for the infant field of commercial Web publishing because the material isn't downloaded to the user's home machine. Instead, customers go to the site -- http://www.bookport.com/Albion/ -- and pay a small fee ($6.95 versus $19.95 for the paperback) to unlock the entire hypertext volume on-line -- one page at a time. This way, the unlicensed-copy problem that had made many publishers wary of the Web is all but eliminated.
FIRST THE WEB-BROWSER AND NOW . . . E-MAIL: Prodigy members will be cheered to know that their service has taken yet another bold step into the modern world. As of March 29, they'll no longer have to pay a one-cent-per-kilobyte fee for e-mail. Also, next month, members with Windows machines will get their first taste of e-mail that can handle attached photo and sound files. Finally, Prodigy's e-mail link to Congress is truly an e-mail link -- tied in to the Congressional Net gateway. Up until now, constituent missives were printed out and delivered to Capitol Hill the old-fashioned way. For info on reaching your legislators, see JUMPWORD: WRITE TO WASHINGTON.
ROCKIN' THE WEB: If you've been relishing the Warner Bros.' 10-hour ``History of Rock 'n' Roll'' mini-series this week (in the Bay Area it continues through Sunday on KBHK, Ch. 44) be sure to dial into the companion Web site -- http://www.hollywood.com/rocknroll/ -- where you'll find downloadable interview transcripts, sound-bites and photos galore. And if you can't get all the goodies at once, don't sweat it. The site will be up for several more weeks.
THE INITIAL NETHEAD OFFERING: Spring Street Brewing, a New York boutique brewery, decided the most economical way to reach millions of potential investors with the firm's intial public offering was to post it on the World Wide Web. The 2-year-old company, which is currently offering 2,700,000 shares direct to investors at $1.85 per, can be reached at http://www.interport.net/witbeer.
WHERE IN THE WORLD ARE YOU? This week's fad gadget comes from the nice folks at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) -- the same folks who brought you many of the innovations that go into today's graphical interfaces for personal computers. Their Map Server, on the Web at http://pubweb.parc.xerox.com/map, has you start with a map of the world and then zoom in, screen-by-screen, to any destination you choose. If you like a particular view, you can save that set of coordinates in your Web-browser memory for handy future reference. The rather rough maps are not going to put the Delorme Street Atlas CD-ROM out of business any time soon, but for a project still under development it's definitely worth a look.
Write David Plotnikoff at the San Jose Mercury News, 750 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose, Calif. 95190; phone (408) 920-5867; fax (408) 920-5244; or e-mail Plotnikoff@sjmercury.com Mercury Center
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