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e-Democracy update - 11/1/06

11 January, 2006
By Daniel Macpherson

Aussie broadband doubled but still lagging

Australia now has double the broadband users they had a year ago but critics warn we are still behind the rest of the world.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission recently reported that over 1.2 million new customers signed up for high-speed broadband in the last year.

"As with the results of the previous quarter, this represents an increase of over one million customers, or 98 per cent, over the preceding 12-month period," ACCC commissioner Ed Willett said.

"This outcome continues the growth of broadband take-up that was stimulated by a more competitive broadband market that emerged during 2004-2005."

However, experts say the speed of Austalian broadband falls behind leading countries.

Industry specialist Paul Budde says Australia defines speeds such as 256 kilobits per second as broadband, which is 16 times slower than speed in other nations.

"What is happening in other countries is a move to much faster broadband speeds and that's where we are now lagging behind," Mr Budde says.

"While the rest of the world is now enjoying internet telephony and TV, we are still to make that leap to higher speeds."

New US law to stop e-annoyance

US president George W Bush has signed a law preventing anonymous people from posting "annoying" web messages or e-mails.

The new law is a part of the Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005 and states:

"Whoever...utilizes any device or software that can be used to originate telecommunications or other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or in part, by the Internet... without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person...who receives the communications...shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both."

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) legislative counsel Marv Johnson says the use of the word "annoy" is problematic.

"What's annoying to one person may not be annoying to someone else," Mr Johnson says.

If passed this law would presumably affect the operation of many blogs, forums and chat rooms as well government consultations.

Florida Attorney's spam carries warning for Australian politicians

One group in Australia is exempt from Spam laws - politicians. But woe betide any politician who doesn't abide by them nevertheless. As this story from the US illustrates, voters won't buy the argument that political speech ought to be exempt.

Florida's Attorney General Charlie Crist has spoken out against spam in the past.

"Spam is an annoying, intrusive form of e-mail that almost all of us receive but few of us want," he said in May 2005.

"Much of it is just clutter, but some of it can be downright offensive."

However, citizens of Florida have accused Mr Crist of spamming them after he sent unsolicited e-mails asking for contributions for his gubernatorial campaign.

Postal worker Dorothy Butler says Mr Crist is not "living up to his own standards" after she received campaign e-mails from his office.

"To me that is spam because I never asked for any of his political stuff," she says.

Investment advisor Joe Spooner also received unsolicited campaign e-mails from Mr Crist's office. He tried to unsubscribe from the mailing list five times until Mr Crist's office eventually removed his e-mail address from it.

Crist's campaign manager Arlene DiBenigno says the e-mails are not spam.

"It's political speech," she says. "We're not selling anything, we're not being deceptive. We love the First Amendment, and there's nothing more powerful than political speech."

US Senate candidate widens campaign with e-participation

A Utah senate candidate is enlisting voters in making his policy through the use of a wiki. His blog also contains interesting advice about how to use the Internet in campaigns.

Computer entrepreneur and Democrat senate candidate for Utah Peter Ashdown plans to take down incumbent Republican Senator Orrin Hatch through an open platform to all Utah citizens.

Most recently, Mr Ashdown received over 3,000 visitors to his site through a Slashdot article.

"The residual effect of Slashdot was remarkable," Mr Ashdown said on his blog.

"At first a flood of vandals hit the wiki and left their messes about. Almost instantly, a larger group of new volunteers came in and cleaned it up. Within 24 hours, these same volunteers went about reorganizing and contributing to wiki in ways that were utterly amazing to watch.

"The wiki is now stronger and better than ever."

Microsoft blocks Chinese blogger

Microsoft has removed a Chinese journalist's blog from its MSN Spaces site due to their policy of adhering to country-specific laws.

A Microsoft spokesperson says they blocked the blog by Zhao Jing from MSN servers to comply with Chinese laws.

"MSN is committed to ensuring that products and services comply with global and local laws, norms, and industry practices. Most countries have laws and practices that require companies providing online services to make the Internet safe for local users. Occasionally, as in China, local laws and practices require consideration of unique elements," the spokesperson says.

Investigative journalist and former CNN reporter Rebecca Mackinnon, who reported the censorship, noted in her blog that MSN blocked the blog and not the Chinese government.

Microsoft's in-house blogger Robert Scoble says he disagrees with the decision and will allow Zhao Jing to blog through his own site.

"Guys over at MSN: sorry, I don't agree with your being used as a state-run thug," he says.

"It's one thing to pull a list of words out of a blog using an algorithm. It's another thing to become an agent of a government and censor an entire blogger's work," says Scoble.

Canadian political sites lack e-participation

A new report shows websites of major Canadian political parties act mainly as "lawn signs" and do not engage users.

Government relations organisation Hillwatch released their report "Political Web Sites: Strategic Assets or Virtual Lawn Signs?" in the last few days.

The report shows such websites do not connect politically active users together despite new features such as blogs, podcasts and newfeeds.

The report also says the US leads the way in politically motivating people online at a grassroots level.

Download a full copy of the report here.

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