The increasing frequency with which the Copyright Office has inserted itself into policy debates raises questions about the scope of its expertise and authority. An illustrative example of how the Office’s opinions can cause problems occurred earlier this year. During the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division inquiry into how performance rights organizations (PROs) ASCAP and BMI license songs with multiple authors where not every author is a member of the PRO (i.e., where either PRO represents only a ‘fraction’ of the ownership stake in the song), a member of Congress sought out the opinion of the Copyright Office, and the Office responded. Although it’s unremarkable for an agency to offer its opinion in response to a lawmaker request, it is remarkable for that agency to reach into unfamiliar areas of law, ignore basic public policy concerns in that area of law, and offer its own unqualified judgment on matters properly within the jurisdiction of another agency.
Some critics of the Federal Communications Commission's "Unlock the Box" proposal have suggested that the FCC ought to pursue a "no box" approach--that is, some kind of policy (or hands-off approach) that would let customers do away with the set-top box entirely, relying on apps instead, rather than introducing new competition in the set-top box market. The proposal put forward by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, AT&T, and others even calls itself "Ditch the Box."
Imagine you’re facing an emergency and you need a paramedic, fireman, or police officer, but don’t have a cellular phone available to call 9-1-1, or you do call 9-1-1 but don’t know or cannot communicate your location, and dispatcher cannot trace it. For many Americans this is a very frightening reality. Many low-income people cannot afford cell phones, and are unable to contact emergency services without a landline connection.
Beginning yesterday, T-Mobile is offering a limited-time promotion tied to the wildly popular augmented reality game Pokémon GO, in which the mobile data used by the game will not count toward a customer’s data cap. This is yet another form of zero-rating, a practice that can raise serious concerns about competition policy, net neutrality, and consumer choice. Amidst a global Poké-craze, we shouldn’t lose sight of what this may portend for the future of the open internet. So we want to take the opportunity to raise a number of questions about this promotion which would also be important to answer for any other zero-rating service proposal. Before concluding anything about this promotion or any similar plans that may be proposed, it is important to better understand their potential dangers and benefits.
Imagine receiving a text from a friend on a landline phone, or take a selfie on an old disposable camera. It can be done, but you somehow feel like there should be a better technology for this. Luckily for consumers, technological innovation naturally enables solutions to consumer frustrations. Except in the case of Cable’s ancient set-top box.