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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The law that blacked out Wikipedia has New Hampshire network firm worried

David Brooks

EDITOR’S NOTE: Wondering why Wikipedia,, Boing Boing and other sites are blacked out today, and why Google has a big censored sign on its logo? This GraniteGeek column from December explains the concern: Proposed federal legislation to protect copyrights online that many tech folks, including an in-state network provider, say would cripple the Internet, as well as online freedom of speech.

New Hampshire’s two U.S. senators are co-sponsors of the Senate version of the bill, called PIPA. The two congressmen both oppose or have “serious concerns” about the house version, called SOPA, which has been tabeled.

Rep. Frank Guinta’s office said Wednesday that it has received “thousands” of emails about the issue, which are running “heavily, heavily” against the bill.


It takes an awful lot to get tech types to think about politics, let alone take a public stance on it.

So you know that Jeremy Hitchcock, local-boy-turned-Net-entrepreneur, is really alarmed about a proposed federal law known as SOPA.

“We think of ourselves as people who do plumbing, and nobody likes to call the plumber, so we like to stay out of the limelight,” said Hitchcock, CEO of Dyn (pronounced “dine”), an Internet services firm located in the millyard of his hometown, Manchester. “We haven’t really done too much on the political side.”

That changed recently when Hitchcock used the official company blog, generally home to discussions of trade shows and technical issues, to put out a blog post about a proposed federal law called the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would greatly expand the ability of the government, and some copyright-holding private entities, to shut down or penalize online sites and the firms that handle their connections.

The blog piece, titled “SOPA ... Why Dyn opposes it,” was picked up by the GraniteGeek blog, New Hampshire Business Review and many well-known technology sites. It draws parallels to the Chinese government’s crackdown on the Internet in that country through what is called the “Great Firewall of China.”

“Essentially, this bill would give the government more control into shutting down Web sites they don’t agree with in general. Anti-American sentiment promoted on Twitter, Tumblr or another one of our clients that promotes free discourse? Both the sites themselves and Dyn as their DNS provider could be penalized ... regardless of whether the source is based in the U.S. or not,” he wrote.

“The Great Firewall of America? Yep, kinda feels like that. SOPA is a shot across the bow of free speech ... we cannot endorse it in any way, shape or form.”

Dyn is hardly alone in its opposition to the proposed law, which will be take up again by Congress after the Christmas recess. Lots of tech companies (including many of Dyn’s competitors), personalities, Web sites, and international organizations like the Internet Engineering Task Force and ICANN, the domain-name organization, have said that the proposal would do more harm than good.

When one Web hosting firm, GoDaddy, came out in support of SOPA, so many customers threatened to remove their business that it changed its mind.

Hitchcock said one interesting thing about is that the issue is making the technology sector take the process of government a little more seriously.

“We can’t just say ‘they don’t understand the issues, and they’re wrong.’” he said. “This has created a nice healthy dynamic, with undertones of ‘we need to understand how laws are made, and we need to think about it.’”

The only other topic I can think of that has drawn so many geeks into the political process are the H1-B visas that allow tech workers into the country.

SOPA is the latest in a longer attempt of the legal system to cope with changes made by the online world, particularly through the process of altering the connections that make Web sites actually viewable by the public.

SOPA is being pushed not only by law-enforcement agencies who don’t like the way the Internet can spread bad stuff, but also by copyright-holders such as movie companies, who don’t like the way it lets people share stolen copies of their material.

Speaking as somebody whose paycheck depends on protecting original material, I applaud that sentiment. But judging from the opinion of those who know better than I, SOPA goes way overboard both legally and technically, leading to fears that it will really gum up the Domain Name System that is at the heart of the addressing method which lets people find Web sites.

“When people are thinking of making changes to a complicated system they don’t understand, there are unintended consequences,” said Hitchcock.

A follow-up from Dyn discussed how the law might damage the Domain Name System.

“The benefit of the Internet is you have the unique identifying system that can get you to places that you know you want do visit. If you start to introduce these different manipulative methods in different countries, it changes how the Internet behaves,” he said.

Regardless of what happens with SOPA, it will be interesting to see whether it will help the tech overcome its distaste of governance and politics, and take more of a role in a part of life they’re really rather ignore.

Hitchcock thinks his peers need to do this. “What’s frightening about the prospect of the SOPA is that it’s relatively the same bill we’ve seen in the past. ... If it doesn’t make it this time, it might just return in a year.”

Granite Geek appears Mondays in the Telegraph, and online at David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or