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.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Support Low Power Radio: Call Your Representative Today!

Low Power FM is a non-commercial service authorized by the FCC in 2000. the National Association of Broadcasters and, to its eternal shame, National Public Radio lobbied Congress immediately thereafter to kill this potential competitor. While not successful in killing the service, the incumbents did manage to get the “Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act of 2000” passed, which severely limited the number of available LPFM licenses. You can get some more background and links at this old blog post of mine.

Today, July 19, 2009, the Prometheus Radio Project is asking everyone who cares about encouraging local, non-commercial radio — as well as anyone who cares about greater opportunities for folks to use the electronic media, to take part in a day of action. Please call your Representative and ask him or her to support the Local Community Radio Act of 2009, which would repeal the RBPA and restore the original rules to LPFM. This would create hundreds of new opportunities for local communities to once again enjoy locally-produced non-commercial radio programming. giving a very different perspective on life, news, art, and entertainment.

Details here.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

NAB/MSTV Embrace Radio Pirates, Make Up Engineering Data, And Do Whatever Else It Takes To Kill White Space Devices.

I gotta admire the broadcasters (as represented by their trade orgs, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and the Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV)). Even with the facts completely against them, they never give up trying. Sadly, they all too often succeed through a combination of heavy duty lobbying power (what politician doesn’t suck up to his or her local broadcaster?) and the fact that most decision makers don’t know squat about engineering and regard the whole thing as black magic. Heck, it worked to hamstring low-power FM (LPFM) radio, despite a subsequent independent government report showing the broadcaster interference claims were unsubstantiated bologna.

But embracing radio pirates by proposing to expand the availability of wireless microphones in the broadcast white spaces for their political allies and tacitly agreeing to amnesty for illegal wireless microphone users? Even I never thought they would go that far.

So let me get this straight, NAB, a million unauthorized mobile wireless microphone users operating “dumb” transmitters at higher power don’t cause interference. But smart devices, identical to those relied upon by the U.S. military to share frequencies with unlicensed devices, operating at much lower power and required to use a geolocational database, do cause interference? Wow, that makes so much sense. I can see why NAB and MSTV did not include any actual engineering analysis with their comments.

Personally, I think that if spectrum sensing and “smart radio” is good enough to protect the lives of American soldiers, we can trust it to protect viewers of American Idol. But I do not expect the broadcasters to let a piddly little thing like reality stop them — especially when using false interference claims and blatantly bogus evidence made it possible to clip the wings of the fledging low-power FM (LPFM) radio service back in 2000 (more details on the Prometheus Radio website LPFM fact sheet).

Still, I never thought I would actually lie to see the day the NAB would embrace unauthorized users, utterly reverse everything it ever said about the need to restrict access to the broadcast bands, and walk away from the more than 1 million unauthorized users in the band. Mind, you’d think that after a five year proceeding marked by such shenanigans as giving themselves free air time to push bogus interference concerns onto the public, adorable made up videos that purport to be real like Your Neighbor’s Static (aka “white spaces Reefer Madness), and the ”experiment we refuse to explain so you can’t check the results,“ the NAB would have already shot its credibility beyond all hope of recovery. But since no one not obsessed with this proceeding pays much attention to it, the NAB and friends gets to rerun the same bogus claims over and over and over again.

On the plus side, I hope my friends at Prometheus Radio are taking notes for when they make another run at Congress next year (or even this year in a lame duck session) to get the Local Community Broadcasters Act passed and get the shackles based on the broadcasters’ bogus ”interference concerns” lifted. After all, if the NAB doesn’t give a rat’s patootie about interference from unauthorized users anymore and is willing to embrace unauthorized operators, Congress should take them at their word.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Broadcasters Leverage Monopoly on TV Channels to Push Vacant Channel FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt)

It’s always nice when you can give yourself free advertising time on television. So no surprise the National Association of Broadcasters has launched a major advertising campaign in the DC Area to persuade members of Congress that allowing unlicensed use of the broadcast white spaces will mess up the transition to digital television. Indeed, the NAB has made this into a grand campaign, including a new website called “Interference Zones” complete with adorable graphics of “Wally, the Unlicensed Wireless Device” messing up the “pristine digital television signal” to your “beautiful new digital TV.” I particularly like how they got Wally’s fun-loving but malicious grin rendered so “pristinely.”

And, in case you missed it the first time, the site also contains a link to the Association for Maximum Service Television classic “educational” video Your Neighbor’s Static. “Your Neighbor’s Static” is as realistic a portrayal of the effects of white spaces devices on TV as Reefer Madness is a balanced documentary on the pros and cons of medical marijuana.

It’s all just the usual fun and games here in DC, and a fine example of why the broadcasters have so much power as a lobby.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

NAB Turkey of A Report

As reported at Consumers Union Hearusnow.org blog The National Association of Broadcasters has done its best to show that owning broadcast stations loses money. Unsurprisingly, they recommend relaxing local ownership rules to allow owners to chase the happy, mythical synergy rainbow that has proven such a winner for Clear Channel, Tribune, Viacom and growing list of companies that absorbed profitable businesses and turned them into failing operations ladden with debt.

We shall leave aside the absurdity of the NAB’s arguments for the moment to get to something even sillier, the absurdity of the NAB’s math. Not since fictional Fundamentalists supposedly redefined Pi as 3 has ideology so distorted the basic precepts of mathematics. Worse, these are not accidents or “fudging.” I count no fewer than two major errors in methodology or presentation per page as well as many major methodological errors that impact the paper overall.

How bad is this paper? It is so bad that you would expect it to appear in the “April Fools” edition of Econometrica. It is so bad that I would expect its author, Theresa J Ottina, to be banned for life from meetings of the American Economic Association. It is so bad that every professor of economics and statistical analysis should download it and give it to their class as a final exam question to see if the class can spot all the errors as a kind of economics “Where’s Waldo” of mistakes, gaffes, and deceits. It is such a botched attempt at a lie by statistical analysis that I have half a mind to file a complaint with the FCC requesting they sanction NAB and Ms. Ottina for violating the FCC’s requirement that submissions reflect an honest effort to provide true information (a certification NAB made in its filing).

What makes it so bad? And why does the NAB submit such a piece of obvious crap?

See below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

LPFM Documentary THIS SUNDAY on the Hallmark Channel

On Sunday, November 5, at 7 a.m. ET/PT, the Hallmark Channel is rerunning a documentary on the Low Power FM service. If you have an interest in citizen activism against mainstream corporate radio, including the potential of citizen power against the super lobbying power of the National Association of Broadcasters (shamefully assisted by National Public Radio), then I highly recommend this film.

If you have an interest in supporting Low Power Radio, then support the Prometheus Radio Project. And, I can’t help but add, if you want to support the legal efforts to help LPFM fulfill its promise, support my employer Media Access Project.

If you don’t already know about LPFM, or why you should care, see below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

What the FAA?

How the heck did the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) get into regulating the wireless industry (both licensed and unlicensed)? The FAA has proposed requiring pretty much any wireless service with an antenna to fill out a form for every antenna and antenna change. Right now, only services with big antennas (like broadcasters) near airports fill out FAA paperwork.

As the FCC gently points out in its own filing, the FAA does not seem to understand just how much this would increase paperwork for the industry — and for the FAA to process. Given that the FAA does not seem to have any reason to think that these antennas will cause rampant interference and bring planes out of the sky, maybe the FAA wants to rethink this?

Other industry groups, such as the National Association of Broadcasters, the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, and various professionals have all stopped by to politely sugest to the FAA that, perhaps, the FAA HAS LOST ITS BLEEDIN’ MIND AND DOES NOT KNOW WHAT THE HECK IT IS TALKNG ABOUT.

What’s interesting for me is that this is yet another demonstration of how the various components of the Bush administration just don’t seem to ever speak to each other. During Katrina, the FCC outshone just about every other federal agency in the competence department. But as the FCC’s Katrina Report (and testimony from my friends in the wireless community who came down to help in the crisis) shows, there were huge problems getting the other government agencies to respect FCC authorized damage control teams and FCC licensed services. Meanwhile, we have the Patent and Trademark Office negotiating a major overhaul of broadcaster rights at a WIPO treaty, with apparently no involvement from the FCC or any other potentially impacted agency. The Chair of the Federal Trade Commission has announced it will set up its own task force on net neutrality — again without any apparent involvement of the FCC.

And that’s just the stuff in my own little corner of the world. Look around Washington these days and you see little effort by the Bush administration to require any kind of cooperation among the various agencies. We get overlap, paralysis and turf wars galore. But we don’t seem to be getting much done.

It’s not all bad, of course. Traditional relationships, like between the FCC and the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) appear to be working just fine. But something is seriously wrong when the FAA just decides to issue a notice about all antenna structures in the United States, and apparently does not even think about picking up the phone first and calling someone at the FCC and saying “Hi there, we’re thinking of doing a rulemaking on stuff that impacts industries you closely regulate; can we get together and chat first so we don’t horribly embarass ourselves?”

Stay tuned . . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Tales of the Sausage Factory: Goodies for the Broadcasters, Zip for the Public

Only in Washington would the Clear Channels of the world, those great champions of efficiencies and deregulation, declare that their monopoly on local content must be protected with regulation. And only in Washington would the deregulatory anti-big-government Republicans lap it up with a spoon. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) has petitioned the FCC and Congress to prohibit the new satellite radio competitors from providing local content (mostly traffic and weather). Of course, this is moving at hyperspeed, while the effort to impose real public interest obligations on the broadcasters moves at one quarter impulse. Still, I can’t help stirring the pot at the FCC and seeing what bubbles up.

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