Tales of the Sausage Factory

“Will Comcast Join the NAB?” Measuring the Merger On The Trade Association Scale

Few rivalries in the media world match those of cable operators and broadcasters. Since the first cable regulation by the FCC to prevent cable operators from importing blacked out sports events and “distant signals” that threatened local broadcast content back in the 1960s, broadcasters and cable operators have constantly sought regulatory advantage over one another. Broadcasters once ruled video as its unchallenged masters. Then came cable, which became the dominant platform for delivery of video. But broadcasting continues to aggregate mass audiences and produce more popular programming. Despite all the yapping about how no one can tell broadcast and cable apart anymore, neither one can survive without the other, but both have radically different interests. As a result, the broadcasters and the cable operators, and therefore their trade associations, are constantly at loggerheads.

The fact that Comcast, after acquiring NBC’s broadcast stations, will be eligible to join the National Association of Broadcasters, underscores just how radically and completely the proposed Comcast acquisition of NBC extends Comcast’s reach into every sector of communication. In ideological terms, it is rather like Vatican City joining the Arab League. But that’s not the only powerful trade association Comcast would now be eligible to join. Comcast will also be able to join the MPAA. Depending on how it develops its broadcast spectrum and other wireless assets, it could join CTIA and other wireless trade associations. These, of course, join the already impressive list of trade associations Comcast already belongs to as the largest broadband access provider, one of the largest residential phone companies, purchasers of telecommunications equipment, etc.

So I propose a new metric for measuring antitrust impact of mergers, the uniquely Washington “Trade Association Scale.” How many trade associations will you qualify for after the merger. If the number is too high, that shows you are getting into far too many lines of business to be healthy, because you have too much influence on everybody else’s business. And on the Trade Association Scale, the Comcast/NBC merger ranks a 10 out of 10.

More below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Tiering, It's Not Just For Telcos Anymore

Years ago, I used to spend a lot of time in ICANN-land. Happily, my contacts these days are pretty much limited to the occassional post-cards from friends.

But a recent contretemps caught my eye. Apparently new registry contracts will now allow price-tiering for names. As Milton Mueller at ICANNWatch observes, this raises similar worries as tiered internet access.

This is why Sascha Meinrath’s & Victor Pickard’s new paper on redefining net neutrality is important. Meinrath and Pickard make the very good point that the openess of the Internet rests on more than just residential access providers. Those concerned with the current fight to maintain net neutrality — as narrowly defined as preventing the last-mile access provider from defining the internet experience — should be aware of the need to protect other potential bottlenecks from emerging.

And, for us old timers, there is a certainly irony. Back in ye ancient days, when the “destroy the evil tld monopolist Network Solutions” [now Verisign the registry, not NetSol the registrar] crowd were backing ICANN, one of their great boogeyman arguments for ICANN regulation of registries was it would prevent tiered pricing of names. Some of us tried to explain how things like “agency capture” work, and that therefore such policies could change unless we inserted suitable checks and balances in ICANN to maintain accountability, but we were just lawyers and other useless policy types and they were the engineers who built the domain name system, so what did we know? (Bitter? Me? Why do you think I no longer spend time in ICANN-land?)

What I love most about reality, is how it will always turn around and bite you in the rear end if you decide to ignore it. Reality soooo does not care that you chose to be ignorant of things like economics and political science, any more than it cares when idiots in poli-sci decide they can dictate technology and try to make idiotic rules about blocking net gambling or blocking indecency or outlawing peer-2-peer. Reality doesn’t care. It just is.

Gotta love something that democratic.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Susan Crawford's Five Good Question

Susan Crawford, a law Professor at Cardozo and a Board Member of ICANN supportive of Net Neutrality, asks and answers five good questions about Network Neutrality. Chris Yoo, a law professor at Vanderbilt and opposed to Net Neutrality, gives his answers (along with Susan’s) here. Harold Feld, not a law professor anywhere, gives his answers below.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Wyden Introduces Net Neutrality

Wyden (D-Ore) has pushed back against the wussiness of the Enisgn (R-NV) bill. The Ensign Bill has a provision that would require “neuterednet neutrality.” The broadband access provider could still favor its own content and could offer “premium” service to others.

The Wyden “Internet Non-Discrimination Act of 2006” requires real Net neutrality and has a serious enforcement mechanism. If the FCC sits on a complaint, it is deemed granted in 90 days.

Of course I’m partial to the Wyden bill from shear vanity. The bill references the muni broadband paper I wrote last year in the legislative findings.

Stay tuned . . . .

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