Tales of the Sausage Factory

Broadcast Flag Through The Back Door — Yet Another Episode of “Outsourcing Big Brother.”

The Motion Picture Association of America has asked the FCC to give it a waiver of something called the “selectable output control” rules for cable boxes. As usual, this apparently minor request for a waiver of an obscure FCC regulation of unknown origin, governing a highly-technical and mind numbingly boring set of rules about cable set-top boxes, hides a bold power grab designed to rip off every owner of a Tivo, VCR, or other perfectly legal recording device available to consumers to engage in the legal practice of recording television programs to watch them later (“time shifting”).

For details on this latest effort to circumvent limits on government by outsourcing the process to an industry cartel, aka “outsourcing Big Brother,” see below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Stevens Mark Up — Results

A tie on NN, which translates as a procedural loss (Stevens, as chair, got to break the tie and reject the NN amendment) but a political win. A surprise win on Low Power FM. A surprise minor win on media ownership. No changes on Section 1004, broadcast flag, munibroadband, or white spaces.

Despite the telcos advancing the ball forward, the 11-11 vote has made it very uncertain the bill the will advance to a full floor vote. You can bet the telcos will mount a full court press during the July 4 recess, so intensifying public input remains critical to killing the bill.

Details below.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Stevens Bill Score Card Pre-Mark Up

And what a mark up it will be! Senators have proposed hundreds of amendments (more than 250 at one point, but now down to something over a hundred as deals get done). Meanwhile, the Stevens Bill itself has undergone significant rewrite. You can find the final pre-mark up draft at Jim Baller’s site here. For comparison, you can read about the Democratic substitute here (and my brief summary of same here).

Below, a brief score card on some issues I singled out previously: Opening broadcast white spaces (still in, but facing a “poison pill” amendment from DeMint (R-SC)), program access (dropped by Stevens); Broadcast flag (sadly alive and well); Munibroadband (much improved, thanks in no small part to Jim Baller and the coalition of tech folks, muni orgs, and public interest folks put together by Jim Kohlenberger); and, of course, net neutrality (brought up to COPE levels, with some flavoring added to try to buy off the Christian conservatives).

Most importantly, the telcos have inserted a very nasty joker in the deck, known as “Section 1004.” This Section is designed to rig any post-legislation appeal by giving the D.C. Circuit exclusive jurisdiction over all things FCC. This would be a catastrophe not merely for network neutrality, but for media ownership and just about any other provision of law (and therefore merits a post of its own).

More details below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Much Better Senate Draft from Democrats

The Democrats of the Senate Commerce Committee have begun circulating this draft revision of the wretched Communications, Consumer Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006 (aka “The Stevens Bill). Not only is the Democrat draft a lot shorter (a big plus), it:

(a) Eliminates the really bad munibroadband provision in the Stevens Bill with good language similar to the McCain-Lautenberg Community Broadband Act.

(b) Eliminates the excruciatingly awful net neutrality provision in the Stevens Bill and replaces it with the good language from the Internet Freedom Preservation Act sponsored by Snowe, Dorgan, and Inouye.

Happily, the Democratic Draft also contains the good stuff from the Stevens Bill: opening up the broadcast spectrum ”white spaces” and limiting cable market power over regional sports programming. (Although the Democratic draft is not quite as strong there as in the Stevens bill. Ah well.) Sadly, the Democratic draft also contains a broadcast flag provision.

It’s still a draft, of course. But it shows how the momentum on critical issues continues to shift in the right direction now that the public has started tuning in and speaking up. Last month, the telcos and the cable cos were enjoying a victory march reminiscent of Sherman’s march to the sea. Now, the telco/cable push to get Net Neutrality eliminated by Congress is looking a lot more like Napoleon’s march on, and subsequent retreat from, Moscow.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Stevens Bill Part II — The Bad Stuff (Broadcast Flag).

Like the thin cows of Pharoh’s dream devouring the fat cows, the bad parts of the Stevens Bill overwhelm the good parts. (My, I’m feeling biblical today. Perhaps because this legislation feels like such a prelude to Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash.)

Leaving aside the video franchising provision, which I leave to my friends at Free Press, Saveaccess.org, and Alliance for Community Media, I find the damage the Stevens Bill would do to municipal broadband and network neutrality, combined with the broadcast flag mandates, make this bill a “must kill” in its current form.

Again, because there is just so much bad stuff here, I need to break it up into different chunks. First up, just when you thought you could buy a new TV in peace — THE RETURN OF THE BROADCAST FLAG!

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Stevens Bill Analysis Part I — The Good Parts (Unlicensed Spectrum and Program Access)

Senator Stevens (R-AK), Chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, has introduced a massive telecom bill. The ten sections of the Communications, Consumer Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006 (helpfully broken down into separately named acts) covers a variety of material from subsidies for troops calling home to Return of the Broadcast Flag. As a consequence, I’ve broken up my analysis into a bunch of different postings.

Below, I talk about the two good things in the Stevens Bill, “The Wireless Innovation (WIN) Act of 2006,” (Title VI of the stevens Bill) and the “Sports Freedom Act of 2006” (Title IV Subtitle A).

In Part II, I will hit the really awful stuff on municipal broadband, network neutrality and broadcast flag.

This skips a bunch on local franchising, PEG, universal service, interoperability of emergency equipment, telephone rates for military personnel deployed abroad. I may come back to these if I can, but other folks, such as Saveaccess.org are doing a good job covering these issues and I also need to do my day job.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Legal Cell Phone Blocking? Cell Phone Blocking Paint and the FCC.

TMCnet reports that a company called NaturalNano has developed a paint that blocks radio waves. The paint contains nanotubes with copper cores that block radio waves of all frequencies. The article says they will market it as a cell phone blocker, but one blogger has already suggested that those anxious about leaking wifi access paint their homes with it.

But is it legal? My first reaction was “yes.” But now I’m not so sure.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Memo to RIAA: It's not the “piracy” — your music sucks

For about five or six years now, I’ve been hearing the music industry folks piss and moan about how downloads are killing their profits. My usual response has been to observe that (a) while true that CD sales declined in 2001-2004, those were also years of general economic recesion and it was no surprise sales dropped (the music industry has been pretty quite about this since the CD market rebounded along with the economy in 2005); (b) if you put out an over-priced crappy product, the market will respond.

The problem is that most executives in the entertainment industry have enjoyed their monopoly status for so long that when the market finally responds, they get caught completely by surprise and usually enter a state of denial. (This is equally true for broadcasting and movies and cable, al of which have spent the last ten years or so busily consolidating and producing predictable products. Eventually, sales and ratings decline. And these guys are are surprised and looking for some regulatory fix they can plug to solve their “problem” — like broadcast flag or limits on satellite radio.) As a result, they don’t want to hear that they need to stop abusing their customers and work for a living.

A recent poll provides one more piece of evidence which I predict the music ndustry and their lap dogs in Congress will continue to blissfully ignore. A recent poll shows that most music fans don’t “steal music” and are very happy to pay for quality products — particularly things like downloading that really suit their needs. But music lovers are tired of being treated like trained seals expected to buy whatever the music industry offers at whatever price they chose to sell it in whatever format the music industry insists on providing.

Why this trend is so shocking in the music industry when we see it in a variety of other industries (have YOU driven a Ford lately? Probably not, because they offer crappy behemoth-class cars instead of better fuel efficient ones) I have no idea. I guess being a cartel gives you such a sense of security you forget about that whacky free market you’re always praising in Washington.

Stay tuned . . . .

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