Net Neutrality—that all-important political Internet fight that few folks grok. The concept popped up in the context of the "Advanced Telecommunications and Opportunity Reform Act," a piece of legislation essentially written by the Telcos to allow them to start offering you television over your phone line, thus opening up "competition" between them and the cable and satellite services. That might be a minor positive for us dear ol' consumers, as it could mean that the phone company will offer you a bundle of DSL, TV and phone service for $3 less than the cable company offers that same bundle. Yippie.
But buried in the bill was language that makes it possible for Internet service providers—meaning those same telephone and cable companies, plus some dead-enders like Earthlink—to offer priority access to Internet sites willing to pay for the privilege. The concern is that the net effect (get it?) will be a two-level Internet, where big players get their stuff to your computer faster than small sites can, thus relegating blogs, personal sites and small businesses to a second tier that's squeezes through a smaller pipe.
An amendment to the bill to guarantee "net neutrality"—meaning all sites get the same pipes to go through—failed to get through the Senate's Commerce Committee on an 11-11 party line vote. Since then, Republican senators have been getting an earful from constituents, including neutrality supporters like Microsoft, Google and eBay. Save the Internet (http://www.savetheinternet.com) is tracking your senator's position on net neutrality, offering petitions, linking to online debates between old Internet gurus—and displaying clips from "The Daily Show" that make fun of the whole thing.
Microsoft got smacked so silly by the EU in past weeks that something has gone terribly wrong with the monopolistic giant—it's actually trying to do the right thing. Microsoft announced last week that it will go beyond its various consent decrees to open up the APIs and Windows, Office and other Microsoft apps, making it possible for third-parties to add items to the desktop, write compatible apps that compete with Microsoft's and making it easier for vendors or end-users to remove Windows components or blow the OS off their machines completely. Analysts suggest that one reason they're doing it is so that they get to it before the rest of the world's governments try to do it for them. See http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/newsroom/winxp/WindowsPrinciples.mspx
Speaking of other operating systems, Apple announced high 3Q profits driven by sales of its Intel-based Mac computers, particularly laptops, surprising analysts who tend to focus their Apple prognosticating on the iPod. And for good reason—Apple now derives about half its $17 billion annual income from music products, a nice addition for the Mac maker that was annualizing revenue of about $6 billion when Steve Jobs took back the helm in 1998. During the teleconference with analysts that followed Apple's announcement, CFO Peter Oppenheimer dropped hints that Apple may, indeed, be working on an "iPhone" product (one part phone, one part iPod) that could arrive in an early 2007 timeframe.
Todd Stauffer is the publisher of the Jackson Free Press, progenitor of Mac Blog, and author or co-author of three dozen books on the Internet and computing. His latest is "The PowerBook and iBook Field Guide" with co-author Dennis Cohen.