Items relating to media ownership

Comcast/TWC Merger Explained By Taiwanese News Animation

I will, eventually, have more to say about the Comcast’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable (TWC). My first reaction, I will admit, was pretty visceral. “My God! Aren’t you already freakin’ BIG ENOUGH Comcast?” But then, I realized that I needed to actually calm myself, and recall that bigness is not necessarily —

OH MY GOD!! YOU COMCAST PEOPLE HAVE NO LIMITS! YOU’RE LIKE SOME GIANT, COAX-TENTACLED CTHULHU-BEAST THAT KEEPS PROMISING TO DEVOUR US ALL BETWEEN 8 A.M. AND NOON BUT DOESN’T ACTUALLY GET AROUND TO DEVOURING US UNTIL AFTER 3 P.M. BECAUSE YOU GOT ‘STUCK IN TRAFFIC’ AND A PREVIOUS DEVOURING RAN LONGER THAN EXPECTED . . . .

Breathe, Harold, breathe. Think policy. [pause for calm] Several folks have posted excellent policy analysis, starting with my Public Knowledge colleague Jodie Griffin in this blog post here to this excellent piece by David Karr to this more general expression of antitrust concern by Paul Krugman

COMCAST IS ALREADY BUYING A POWER COMPANY! A FREAKING POWER COMPANY!!! YOU ALREADY ARE DOMINATING VIDEO, DATA AND VOICE AND YOU ARE BUYING A POWER COMPANY AND RUN ALARM SYSTEMS AND ARE PROBABLY GOING TO IMPLANT CHIPS IN OUR BRAINS SO WE CAN STREAM XFINITY DIRECT TO OUR EYEBALLS AND —

As you can see, I’m still having a bit of trouble getting over my visceral reaction to the shear size and scope of this deal. So while I am calming down and getting ready to write my Insanely Long Field Guide To the Comcast/TWC Merger, I will simply let the good people at Taiwan’s fine Tomo News capture the moment. Because nothing really says “Comcast/TWC” better than giant robots and tasers.

Stay tuned . . . .

Also posted in Cable, I Fear These Things, Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Tagged , , , | Comments closed

CNET, CBS and the Newspaper/Broadcast Cross-Ownership Rules

I don’t do much by way of media ownership these days, but the recent mess of CBS meddling with CNET’s decision to award a ‘Best In Show’ to DISH’s new Hopper DVR constitutes another little reminder as to why we care about media cross-ownership in a consolidated world. Given that the FCC appeared at one point poised to significantly relax the rule, this reminder bears highlighting.

More below . . .

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Also posted in Censorship Public and Private, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Comments closed

This Is Why Policyland Is Complicated

Yesterday, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski circulated a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to address the problem of high phone rates charged to inmates and their families.  For those unfamiliar with this issue, many state prisons team with telecom providers to charge outrageous phone rates, sometimes exceeding a dollar a minute, for inmates to call family. Since these calls are collect, the burden falls on the inmates family, who are often poor. For too many, the weekly or monthly choice is whether to pay to talk to a son or daughter (or spouse, or father or mother) behind bars or whether to have enough to eat or pay for needed medication. This phone gouging is not only cruel, it is also bad policy. Just about all research on preventing recidivism shows that the more contact and support someone in jail receives from their family and community, the less likely they are to return to crime. So from a societal standpoint, we would want to do everything to encourage prison inmates to stay in tough with family.

As you might imagine from the above, I regard the current practices as cruel and abusive of the most helpless. This is literally a case where, as the Bible commands us, “suffer not the oppression of the widow, the orphan, the stranger or the poor.” (Zach 7:10). If ever there was an “unjust and unreasonable rate or practice” this surely qualifies. I cannot praise Genachowski enough for acting on this.

Also yesterday, Genachowski circulated a draft order to conclude the pending review of media ownership. He proposes to entirely lift the television/radio cross-ownership limits and to permit newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership in the top 20 markets.

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Also posted in How Democracy Works, Or Doesn't, Life In The Sausage Factory, Tales of the Sausage Factory | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Could Verizon/SpectrumCo Create Gaping New Loophole In Media Ownership Rules?

Few people would imagine that the Verizon/SpectrumCo deal, now heading rapidly for conclusion, could potentially have huge impact on traditional broadcast ownership rules. Unfortunately, unless the FCC takes action, the deal is likely to create a new and powerful loophole in traditional media ownership rules involving something called the “attribution rules.”  While I do not think the participants themselves are aware of this problem, or intend this outcome, allowing the major cable companies and Verizon to participate in a Joint Operating Entity (JOE) without certain precautions creates a means by which these parties, if they wished, could coordinate their video offerings in a way that Congress and the FCC have traditionally found antithetical to our media policy of viewpoint diversity.

 

As the attribution rules apply to broadcast media, the mechanism for circumventing the attribution rules set in this case would extend to radio and television broadcast ownership as well. In other words, it’s not just about Comcast and VZ, or even Comcast and TWC, sharing programming info such as what they are paying for ESPN or what tier they plan to place Tennis Channel or EPIX. Approval of the deal in its current form also creates a mechanism whereby broadcasters such as News Corp and CBS could get together to coordinate news coverage on things of mutual interest, such as whether Congress should adopt SOPA.

 

Fortunately, the DOJ proposed final judgment lays the groundwork for addressing these concerns. But the FCC has to actually focus on this and act. It doesn’t make a difference for the current deal, but it makes a huge difference for the future of media ownership.

 

I explain below . . .

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Also posted in Cable, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Comments closed

VZ/SpectrumCo Update: Actually Pretty Good, Except For That ‘Cartel’ Thing.

I have been doing some analysis of Verizon’s latest move in the VZ/SpectrumCo transaction, the announcement VZ will engage in a series of AWS spectrum swaps with T-Mobile. Between this and Verizon’s commitment to sell off its Lower 700 MHz A&B block licenses, I am almost happy — except for that whole cartel thing with the major cable companies. But if we ignored the cartel thing, this deal now becomes the rare bird that actually enhances both Verizon’s position in the market and that of a prospective competitor. This is not quite a triumph for Coasian market efficiency, since it took the threat of agency action to nudge Verizon in the ‘right’ direction. I also need to point out that when we start out with a fairly dismal market structure, it does not take much to improve things. Giving spectrum to T-Mo is good, but it does not address all the competition problems created by our unfortunate means of distributing spectrum, which still ends up concentrating it in the hands of a very small number (i.e. 2) of companies. So ‘happy’ is a relative term.

As a result, the transaction needs a few minor conditions to make it complete: a data roaming condition to keep competition afloat (and in case the data roaming rule does not hold up in court) and accelerated build out/use or share to ensure rural communities see a 4G network before the end of the decade, but otherwise this looks pretty good (even with AT&T likely to snarf all the Lower 700 MHz B block licenses). Mind you, it reenforces the need to get interoperability and special access reform done if we want to see real competition — but we have rulemaking proceedings on those.

Unfortunately, there is that whole “cartel” thing with the major cable operators. And despite all the positive aspects of this transaction as now configured, they cannot outweigh the negative of creating an anti-competitive cartel at the center of our communications infrastructure.  But let me set that aside for the moment to focus on the spectrum side of things.

 

More below . . . .

 

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Also posted in Cable, Series of Tubes, Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Comments closed

The Supreme Court Does Not Want To Revisit Constitutionality of Broadcast or Cable Regulation, Get Over It And Get On With Life.

Remember how conservatives just could not get over the fact that neither Chris Christie or Mitch Daniels — or anyone else they liked better than Mitt Romney — would run for President? Remember how this collective fantasy actually acquired a factesque quality, so no matter how often and emphatically they said “I’m not running,”, hardcore true believers kept saying it would totally happen? As a result, this collective fantasy actually kept impacting reality, with Mitt Romney forced to spend real time and real money persuading potential supporters that their choices really were Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, or Ron Paul. Really.

I bring this up because we have our own version of this in telecom policyland. Here, a hardcore group of people in telecom policyland believe that the Supreme Court is positively lusting to overturn the two cases that form the mainstay of the FCC’s authority to regulate broadcasters and cable operators: Red Lion and Turner Broadcasting. The rock solid belief that the Supreme Court cannot wait to get its collective hands on these cases cases to overturn them is an article of faith among so many in the telecom world that it influences behavior. Those who favor regulation of things like media ownership and program access live in mortal terror of any change to the rules that might give rise to a cause of action. By contrast, broadcasters, cable operators, and other opponents of any regulation of Big Media keep trying to generate lawsuits so they can strike down what they see as a vile restraint on the First Amendment.

This past term, the Supreme Court had the opportunity to review both Red Lion and Turner. It opted not to do so.  In May, the Supreme Court quietly declined to hear an appeal by Cablevision that would have allowed the Court to revisit the Turner case. In June, the Court not only refused to reconsider Red Lion in the context of the Fox Broadcasting indecency case, they refused to hear the broadcaster appeal of the FCC’s media ownership decision. These cases presented the cleanest, most clear-cut opportunities for the Court to re-examine the constitutionality of either cable or broadcast regulation in years, and the most obvious opportunities for years to come. If the Court were lusting to take on either Red Lion or Turner, surely this presented the perfect chance for them to do so.

But they didn’t. And, just as even the most avid Romney-haters needed to wake up to the fact that Chris Christie wasn’t playing hard to get, folks in Policyland need to deal with the fact that regulation of media ownership and cable remains constitutional for the foreseeable future.

More below . . . .

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Also posted in Cable, Tales of the Sausage Factory | 2 Comments (Comments closed)

My Insanely Long Field Guide To The Verizon/SpectrumCo/Cox Deal.

The more I look, poke and prod at the VZ/SpectrumCo/Cox deal the more convinced I am that this becomes one of the defining moments in telecom for 2012 – possibly for the foreseeable future. If AT&T/T-Mo represented the last stand for traditional antitrust , VZ/SpectrumCo represents the new frontier. Where AT&T was a frontal assault on antitrust by accumulating marketshare and spectrum, this hits antitrust up its blind side with collaborative agreements and fundamental questions about when can competitors decide to abandon entire markets to one another. Just about everything single issue in telecom – spectrum aggregation, video distribution, the nature of competition in the age of convergence, the interaction of antitrust and patent technology —  all come together in one package so amazingly complicated and wonky that average Americans will fall asleep while you explain it to them.

So, with the help of some incredibly lame innuendos to spice things up a bit, I attempt to explain below . . . . .

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Also posted in Cable, Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

PK Action Alert To Save the Future of Unlicensed Spectrum

Despite the obvious reliance on unlicensed spectrum by Americans every day in the form of everything from wifi to baby monitors to RFID, the current mania for spectrum auction revenues combined with lobbying from companies opposed to the TV white space has put the future of unlicensed spectrum at risk. This is particularly true under the discussion draft circulated by House Republicans last week. That draft would require that before the FCC could allocate any new spectrum for unlicensed use, it would first have to have an auction that would allow companies to buy the spectrum for exclusive use. Only if everyone collectively outbid AT&T or Verizon for unlicensed would the spectrum go to unlicensed use. As Stacy Higginbotham at GigaOm notes, this would have devastating impact on the future of unlicensed and the innovation that comes out of the unlicensed bands.

As if that were not enough, the proposed bill literally allows companies to buy their way out of FCC consumer protection regulation.

We are trying to stop this before it’s too late.  Public Knowledge has created an Action Alert asking anyone who cares about protecting unlicensed, or opposed to letting companies literally buy their own rules, then help us this Friday (tomorrow) by telling your member of Congress not to sell off our digital future or let companies buy their way out of public interest obligations. Sign up for the PK mobile Action Alert and you will get a text message tomorrow letting you directly contact your member of Congress so you can tell them why this bill is a really, really bad idea.

I reprint the PK Action Alert below.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Also posted in How Democracy Works, Or Doesn't, I Fear These Things, Life In The Sausage Factory, Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments closed

What the DoJ Documents Tell Us About the Comcast/NBCU Merger

In all the hoo ha about the Comcast/NBCU Merger, few folks troubled to read the Department of Justice Competitive Impact StatementComplaint, andConsent Decree. That’s rather unfortunate, as these documents sets forth a straightforward case under the antitrust laws for program access conditions for online competitors and for network neutrality. Here’s the short version:  Comcast pre-merger makes almost 30 times more money from providing cable service than from programming revenues. Even adding all of NBCU’s revenue, Comcast will still make more than twice as much from selling cable service ($34 billion) as from programming ($16.9 billion). Anyone who can do basic arithmetic would therefore conclude that yes, Comcast’s incentive to protect its cable business from erosion by online distributors (or even from traditional rivals) outweighs the potential gain from increasing programming distribution. As an added bonus, for those ideologically committed to believing otherwise, turns out Comcast’s own documents agree with the simple arithmetic and not the fun theoretical models their experts submitted. Which is why (among other reasons) DoJ continued oversight is not merely something extra. It really matters.

Lets break this out some below …

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Also posted in Cable, Life In The Sausage Factory, Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

After 10 Years of Struggle, Low-Power FM Will Give Thousands of New Communities A Chance To Get Their Voices On The Air.

Ten years ago, the FCC did a startling thing. It recognized that much of the rise in “pirate radio” came from frustrated demand for small, local licenses of the sort the FCC had simply stopped distributing many years before. So the FCC offered a deal to the “pirate” community: stop transmitting illegally and the FCC would create a low-power radio service. Despite fierce resistance by commercial broadcasters at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) (and, to their eternal shame, National Public Radio, which can be just as much of a bad incumbent as its commercial sisters), the FCC adopted rules to allow 100-watt radio stations to operate on a non-commercial basis. These stations would operate on a “secondary” basis to full power stations, required to protect these stations from any interference. To create space for these new community Low Power FM (LPFM) stations, the FCC would relax the “third adjacent” spacing requirement, a mechanical rule for spacing radio station transmitters far enough apart adopted in the early days radio to ensure no interference. The FCC studied the matter and concluded that relaxing this rule would not cause harmful interference to existing full-power stations.

Needless to say, the full-power broadcasters did not give up so easily. But neither did the supporters of LPFM. It’s a story worth celebrating not merely for the result, but for what it teaches us about staying in the struggle for the long-haul.

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Also posted in How Democracy Works, Or Doesn't, Life In The Sausage Factory, Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)
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