A wide ranging and confusing Congressional hearing on March 2 tackled the subject of "Global Internet Freedom." It was a tour de force of information technology (IT) and enterprise software buzzwords du jour. Cloud, ecosystem, open, hosting provider and many more not well defined terms--the most important of which is "Internet company"--were thrown around with various meanings.
What is an "Internet company?" Whatever it is, apparently some legislators want to regulate them.
Among diverse subjects such as pornography in China, an Italian court's February 2010 conviction of Google (GOOG) executives and seemingly conflating hacking and censorship, the most disturbing idea from the hearing seems to be U.S. Senator Richard Durbin's feeling that the U.S. Congress should pass a law forcing Facebook, Twitter, Skype and others to join an industry trade group called the Global Network Initiative (GNI). Microsoft (MSFT), Google and Yahoo (YHOO) are members. The other companies mentioned above don't seem to want to devote their shareholders' resources to this somewhat duplicative group despite Mr. Durbin's position.
In fact, based on testimony from a GNI founder, Senator Durbin has sent a "threatening" (my opinion) letter to the non-joiners. McAfee (MFE) was skewered by Durbin for not showing up at the hearing after initially saying it would testify. The GNI founder feels you as an investor should not invest in companies such as McAfee because they don't belong to GNI.
Another senator, former comedy writer Al Franken, who based his pre-hearing research on a Mad magazine serial known as Spy vs. Spy, also criticized Microsoft and Yahoo for not doing enough (of what is unclear) even though they belong to the GNI. Franken specifically called out Microsoft founder Bill Gates about Gates' opinion of Chinese censorship.
Another highlight of the hearing was that I learned that Youtube was banned in Turkey, which means I guess that they don't know about the overweight woman in Barnstable who keeps popping up on my screen because she lost 45 pounds by eating cherries.
I have written in the past that software has no nationality. Either does the Internet (depending on how you think about the facts that it was invented under contract to the U.S Department of Defense, made more open up by a scientist at the Swiss research facility CERN, and made more intuitive by work at NSCA at Urbana).
(NOTE: An Iranian dissident on the panel said a couple of times that Yahoo was not a member of GNI but according to the GNI web site Yahoo is a member.)
-- Dennis Byron