Posts by Kara Novak

There’s Information That Can Make Our Cellphones Work Better - And We Want to Use It

Consumers of cellphones and other wireless devices have a lot to look forward to in the next few years.  The FCC is working to promote wireless competition by improving the spectrum screen and free up more spectrum for device users through incentive auctions

But dealing with spectrum can be “really hard.” 

“Really hard” like taking that test in the class you most dreaded. But remember how those tests got easier when you knew the answers because you had a textbook filled with information and you actually studied it?  Well that approach should also work for the FCC and will work if it takes some steps to organize its data.

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Congress Wants More Spectrum (and Broadband) From the FCC

How can we meet demand for spectrum and spur innovation?

This question sums up what all the Representatives were asking at today’s FCC Oversight Hearing before the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology—and it’s a really good question.  It shows that Congress is aware of the importance of wireless and wired technologies in the lives of consumers and businesses.  It also shows that they are eager to improve these technologies to promote competition, promote job creation, and help make our lives easier.  

House Representatives asked thoughtful and insightful questions of all 5 FCC Commissioners on meeting the demand for spectrum, providing universal broadband service, promptly addressing issues, updating regulations to ensure competitive markets and innovation, and even the storms that have been sweeping the country. 

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Four E’s for Copyright Office Modernization: Easy, Efficient, Electronic, and Elimination

Copyright Office Procedures Are Outdated, Complex, and Slow

Say you find sheet music for 13 great songs and want to record them for an album.  Being copyright savvy, you know you need a compulsory license.  The sheet music has titles but no listed copyright owners.  You can’t find the copyright owners on the online copyright registry (works from 1978 to the present). Assuming you can’t stop by the Copyright Office, you pay $165 (or more) to have staff search pre-1978 registrations.  Since you still can’t find the copyright owners, you have to “file notice” with the Copyright Office in order to license the works.  But the Office provides neither a form nor an electronic system to file.  After creating your own notice form, lugging out your printer and paper, including a check for royalties, and trekking to the post office, you complete your mission to file notice for licenses. 

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EU Court: When You Buy Software You Own It

This is still controversial here in the US.

In the physical world something called the “first sale doctrine” is key to maintaining the free flow of goods.  Simply put, the first sale doctrine means that once you sell something you do not get to control it anymore—you have “exhausted” your rights to control distribution.  It is why there are important things like libraries and used record stores, and why you can buy art at garage sales.

The transition from physical to digital has introduced some ambiguity into the first sale doctrine.  Believe it or not, courts spend a lot of time considering the difference between software that was purchased as a download and software that was purchased on a CD or DVD.  A recent ruling by the European Court of Justice cuts through “how is it delivered” questions and focuses on what is important: was the software sold?


The Players

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Verizon/SpectrumCo: What a Tangled Web It’s Weaved

Today, Public Knowledge and some of our friends filed reply comments to Verizon Wireless and the cable companies’ opposition to our petition to deny the proposed spectrum transfer and its accompanying agreements.  While we believe the transactions will harm competition and consumer choice, what has emerged from the debate is how the agency, resale, and joint operating entity (JOE) agreements fit into the spectrum transfer. 

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Not Our Cup of JOE

One part of the anticompetitive Verizon/cable transactions that has received less attention is the companies’ plans to create a Joint Operating Entity (JOE) to allow them to collaboratively develop new technologies “that will integrate wired video, voice and high-speed Internet with wireless technologies” for a seamless user experience.  While we’re all for “developing new technologies,” recent experiences have shown us how technology licensing can be used as an anti-competitive weapon.

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Verizon/SpectrumCo: What’s the Deal?

The largest wireless service provider, Verizon, and the largest cable companies (Cox, and SpectrumCo, which is made up of Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Bright House) have proposed a series of transactions that will harm consumers, inhibit competition, and stifle technological innovation. The transactions would move spectrum away from the cable companies and to Verizon, already the largest wireless provider. But that’s not the worst of it —the companies are also proposing to divide the market and not to compete with each other by exclusively marketing each other’s products and jointly developing new technologies. Essentially, Verizon and AT&T get wireless; cable gets wireline; and consumers get nothing.

These sorts of cease-fire agreements—cartels, essentially—will leave customers unprotected from the whims of a few large companies by denying them the benefits of a fully competitive and fair marketplace.

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If Data Caps Lack Clarity, Then Data Hogs = Flying Pigs

AT&T started throttling the cell phones of some of its heaviest data users (sometimes referred to as “data hogs”) a few months ago. Reports from the field indicate that those heavy network using “data hogs” are not that different from anyone else. 

AT&T says it only throttles the smartphones of customers who use “extraordinary level[s] of data usage.”  It turns out that these “extraordinary levels of data usage” on unlimited plans are actually a lot lower than amounts offered by the tiered plan at the same price.  What does this discrepancy mean?

First, the most current definitions of “throttling” and “data hogs:”

Throttling (verb)

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FCC Says Goodbye to Waivers and Hello to a New Rule for Digital Cable Technology

For many years, consumers were able to save some money on their cable bills by simply subscribing to a basic tier of programming.  For additional programming, subscribers had to pay for a set-top box provided by the cable company.  This worked fine when cable companies transmitted the programming in an analog format.  But times, and technology, are changing.  Now even the basic tier, like the more expensive ones, is going digital, and that means consumers will have to pay for a box even if they didn't have one before.  In response to these events, the Federal Communications Commission proposed a new rule.  Public Knowledge applauds the FCC for proposing the rule in response to digital cable technology and protecting subscribers from being hit too hard as a result of the digital transition. 

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The Digital Public Library Of America: How Would You Like To Access Online Resources?

It was suggested that a Scannebago should be driving around the United States scanning public library works to make them available online. (I envision the Scannebago as a cross between a Winnebago, a Google Street View car and the pickup truck from Twister, but you might picture a more creative image.) Regardless of the process, many public libraries have scanned works over the past few years and now it is time to organize the digital works for public access across the country—and eventually internationally. Last year, the Berkman Center for Internet and Technology, with funding from the Alfred P.

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The Authors Guild Should Trust Universities and HathiTrust

“Going to the library was the one place we got to go without asking for permission. And they let us choose what we wanted to read. It was a feeling of having a book be mine entirely.” – Rita Dove.  Unfortunately, the Authors Guild, an authors’ advocacy group, does not want library patrons to access books without its permission.  The Authors Guild filed a lawsuit against five universities and the HathiTrust last week.  Although the reasoning in its complaint is flawed, the Authors Guild successfully prevented access to numerous literary works that were set for digital release.   

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