AT&T / BellSouth Merger Must Require Net Neutrality

March 6, 2006

We had this to say about the merger talks:

"The merger of AT&T and BellSouth makes it imperative that the principles of Net Neutrality be included in any merger approval from government agencies and in any telecommunications legislation passed by Congress.

"Both AT&T and BellSouth have been forthright in their statements about their desire to exert greater control over the Internet. It is up to those who make public policy to make certain that the principles of an open Internet continue through this greater consolidation of the telecommunications industry. It is vitally important that the Internet remains open and accessible to consumers and to service providers and remains the source of innovation it has been over the past two decades."

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CNBC’s Net Neutrality Piece starring Gigi

March 3, 2006

We finally got yesterday's CNBC excerpt posted. You can find the video here (still working on getting a Google Video one posted--check back here soon).

CNBC seemed to base their segment on this Wall Street Journal article, entitled "Consumers could see new web rates: Use More, Pay More". The problem with both is that they've framed the issue incorrectly--it's just too simplistic. The policy implications of net neutrality are not limited to price structuring--what services consumers can get for their buck. It's about the structure of the Internet: how consumers and businesses access, participate, consume, and provide services on the network.

We've said it many times before, but the network providers want to act as artificial gateways to both a consumer's access to content and services, and a business' access to customers. I say artificial, because one's connection to the Internet is all one ever needed to have access to its entirety. They're acting like we're all not already paying (a lot!) for our Internet connection. The truth is, we all pay (too much?) for our access to the 'net--consumers and businesses alike.

So to simply call this a raise in consumer prices for "new services" is totally missing the point. Right now, a DSL or cable broadband subscription means that you get access to everything--web pages, email, im, voip, and video--all at limited speeds.

Both the CNBC segment and the WSJ article seem to ignore this openness of the Internet, and how fundamental a principle it is to person-to-person communications and developing and conducting business, today.

A pay-as-you-go broadband connection is a radical step backward for consumers and businesses. We all have to make sure that net neutrality is the status-quo for future of broadband--otherwise, why bother subscribing?

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Net Neutrality Letters

March 3, 2006

There’s a lot going on in the telecom world. Here’s a recap of the past few days:

First, a group of 64 organizations sent a letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee expressing their concern over issue of net neutrality. A PDF can be found here. The letter reads:

March 1, 2006

Dear Chairman Barton, Ranking Member Dingell and Members of the Committee:

We are a broad based group of Internet consumers, content providers, service, device and application companies that believe that unless Congress acts, the Internet is at risk of losing the openness that has made it an engine for phenomenal social and economic growth. We are writing to urge that Congress take steps now to preserve this fundamental underpinning of the Internet and to assure the Internet remains a platform open to innovation and progress.

Specifically, as Congress considers legislation to update the nation's telecommunications policy, it must recognize that the Internet's open architecture and the pre-existing legal framework that created the Internet should not be just "hoped for" in a broadband world. The essential elements must be guaranteed by a meaningful and enforceable net neutrality requirement.

The open architecture of the Internet has always let providers, as well as individual innovators, share, offer and create the content, devices, applications, and services that the marketplace desires. Consumers in the marketplace, and not network operators, should decide what content and services succeed or fail. The end-to-end design of the Internet was made possible by the non-discriminatory framework that has long been the bedrock of U.S. telecommunications policy. It is this framework that has prevented gatekeepers on the Internet and guaranteed the innovation and economic success that has driven the American economy over the past decade.

While it is appropriate for Congress to develop new legislation to promote competition among broadband networks, it must also ensure that consumers and providers continue to have the right to use those networks to send and receive content, and to use applications and services, without interference by network operators. As Internet pioneer Vint Cerf said, the Internet is, and must remain, 'innovation without permission".

We stand ready to work with you to pass legislation that will continue the successful legal policies that are essential to allowing the broadband Internet to thrive.

Aegon Direct Marketing Services, Inc.
Adaptive Marketing LLC
American Association of Libraries
Association of Research Libraries
Circumedia LLC
Consumer Electronics Association
Consumer Federation of America
eBrands Commerce Group
Electronic Retailing Association
Entertainment Publications
Free Press
Hawthorne Direct
Home Shopping Network
Iceland Health Inc.
InPulse Response
Interactive Travel Services Association
Media Access Project
Media Partners Worldwide
Mercury Media
Merrick Group
Product Partners LLC
Public Knowledge
Sling Media Inc.

The second letter comes from U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo from California, again to the House E&C Committee. You can find the PDF scan of the letter here. In the letter, Congresswoman Eshoo writes:

We all support the possibility of additional consumer choices and competition among broadband providers, but I believe that as we consider new regulatory “rules of the road” for broadband providers we should not enable them to stifle competition in the provision of Internet content, applications, and services. Franchising relief should not be considered by the Committee without due consideration of the terms by which these carriers will make content available to consumers. It’s appropriate and necessary for the Committee and Congress to ensure that the non-discriminatory framework that has allowed both the Internet to thrive and competition on the Web to flourish is preserved.

Without meaningful, enforceable “Net Neutrality” rules, we will be enabling network operators to fundamentally change the open nature of the Internet and allowing them to become gatekeepers for Internet users’ access to content.

Right-on. Sounds a lot like Gigi’s testimony before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee a short while ago.

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Sen. Ron Wyden today introduced the "Internet Non-Discrimination Act of 2006," to mandate net neutrality.

You can read about it in this New York Times article, where, on the issue of net neutrality, Gigi said:

"We're concerned that even if you have a robust basic Internet and higher-speed lane, they will only make it available to their favorite partners, and that's discrimination."

Look for a full analysis of the bill here soon.

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PK In the Know Podcast #12

February 28, 2006

We've just posted the audio version of our "In the Know" newsletter--this time, simultaneously. What a concept!

  • You can find the enhanced version of it here (contains "album art and sychronized URLs for your interactive listening pleasure).

  • You can listen to the mp3 version here.

  • And you can subscribe to the RSS feed here.

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Will Slingbox Be Blocked by Wireless Carriers?

February 28, 2006

The Slingbox is a box that attaches to your home TV that allows you to send whatever's showing to a remote device. Soon, these boxes will be sending their video to your mobile phone--that is, if wireless providers don't block it.

Forbes has an article on Sling Media's plight to be supported by wireless carriers.

According to the article, it's not so much that the network doesn't have the bandwidth or speed to support Sling's product, it's that the carriers have competing services. Sounds like a problem of net neutrality to me.

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The Best Debate Nobody Heard

February 24, 2006

From the desk of PK President, Gigi B. Sohn:

What if they gave a debate and nobody came? Yesterday, the National Academy of Sciences hosted a terrific debate between proponents and opponents of the WIPO Broadcast Treaty before an audience of about two dozen. The treaty, which was allegedly intended to protect broadcasters against signal theft, instead gives them a 50-year copyright-like right in the programs they transmit. Broadcasters already get a 20-year right in those transmissions under the Rome convention, to which the US is not a party. So it seems somewhat odd that the U.S. Delegation to WIPO is now endorsing the longer term of protection.

The other issue raised by the treaty is whether webcasters should be given the same rights as broadcasters under the treaty. Apparently, only the US delegation is promoting this point of view.

The one representative of the US delegation who was to speak, Michael Keplinger of the Patent and Trademark Office, did not show up. Nor did the broadcasters themselves. So the discussion was left to the other seven panelists. Representing the pro-side were Seth Greenstein and Jon Potter, both of the Digital Media Association (DiMA), which represents webcasters, and Fritz Attaway of the Motion Picture Association (MPAA has not taken a position on the treaty). For Greenstein, Potter and the webcasters, inclusion in this treaty is less about the rights granted therein and more about regulatory "parity." In their minds, there is little or no difference between broadcasting and webcasting, other than the means of distribution (spectrum versus Internet) While I have some sympathy with their desire for parity, it is hard to support them in their effort to obtain that parity in a bad and unnecessary treaty. Fritz Attaway's appearance was simply puzzling - as anti-treaty panelist Jamie Love said, copyright holders are not supportive of giving broadcasters a right over and above their copyrights, because it diminishes the value of the latter. Fritz also ditched his "broadcasting is special" meme that he adopts when talking about the broadcast flag in arguing for parity between broadcasters and webcasters.

Perhaps I am biased, but the anti-side presentations were just outstanding. First up was Jen Urban of the USC law school, who gave a terrific presentation detailing her concerns with the treaty and how it would not provide for the exemptions and exclusions under copyright law. She also talked about how, since webcasting was not necessarily limited to video, that data could be protected under the treaty, in contravention of this country's law banning the protection of facts. Jen was followed by an equally excellent presentation by Mike Nelson of IBM, speaking for the Internet Society, who gave a primer on how the Internet and distributed computing work. Mike also talked about how extending broadcaster rights to webcasters would raise a myriad of problems, such as the fact that anybody who sends streaming video over the Internet would be considered a webcaster under treaty. His thesis was that broadcasting and webcasting are different, and regardless of the substance of the treaty, should not be treated the same. Wrapping up was the International uber-advocate Jamie Love of the Consumer Project on Technology, who reiterated the lack of need for the treaty and that it was not accomplishing its intended purpose - signal theft protection. He also chided WIPO for always defaulting to increasing protection, even where it has not been shown to benefit creators or the public, particularly in third world countries. He argued that WIPO has other more pressing matters before it, including the development agenda, which seeks to develop IP policies that help, rather than hinder developing countries.

The final speaker was Jon Band, who was advertised as talking about a "third way." Jon stated that while he believed the treaty was unnecessary, the practical effect of the treaty would be very limited. He did have one major caveat to his overall lack of concern - that that exemptions and limitations on copyright, including fair use and first sale, had to be included in the treaty to protect the rights of the public to use these broadcasts.

It was unfortunate that so few attended this important and timely debate. It means that opponents of the treaty have a lot of work to do to educate the public, the press and policymakers. We can take some of the blame - our resources have not permitted us to be more fully engaged. But we hope that this will change very soon.

It's not posted yet, but hopefully soon you'll be able to view the webcast here.

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Pre-obsoleted HD Technology

February 23, 2006

If you didn't know by now, there are two new DVD formats arriving in the market, HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc. They're both high definition, with the ability to provide up to 1920 x 1080 resolution. Well, at least for some.

Those who are left out in the cold will be the early adopters of HDTV sets, and those who bought sets that only have analog component inputs. It's not that the HDTV sets can't view the high 1080 resolution, they can. It's not because the players for these formats can't output at that resolution, they can.

No, it's because copy controls on these new players will down-rez the analog output to 1/4 of the full HD 1920 x 1080 signal: 960 x 540 pixels. Ouch!

Anyone else view this to be a dumb move by the content industry? At least it's not mandated by law. Well, that's the next step(PDF).

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Two New Bills Promote Wireless Broadband

February 23, 2006

The American Broadband for Communities Act of 2006 (S. 2332) or ABC Act and the Wireless Innovation Act of 2006 (S. 2327) or WINN Act were introduced at the end of last week. They both are great steps forward to promoting broadband deployment, in this case, over wireless.

Both bills anticipate using radio spectrum in bands that, at least in part, are already being used by broadcast television. This television spectrum is what they call "beach-front property." Why? Well, first, they're carrying video signals, so they provide some high-bandwidth. And, as you know, TV signals can go through the walls of your home or office building. Imagine what it would be like if you didn't lose cell phone coverage when you walked into a building? Or if your WiFi carried consistent signal from your downstairs home office to your upstairs bedroom. The spectrum that TV runs over would negate those problems.

So now you'd probably be asking, "So, um, didn't you say that that spectrum is already being used by broadcast TV?" Yes, I did. But to be more precise, I should have said that the spectrum is being reserved for broadcast television. It turns out, there's a lot of that spectrum not being used, even though it's partitioned off by the FCC for the use of TV. It's those empty channels and the space in between the used channels that we're talking about here--also known as white spaces.

How much of these white spaces aren't being used? Well, in the rural state of Alaska, where Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens is from, the city of Juneau's white space consist of 74% of the digital broadcast spectrum(PDF). There's a lot of white space around--take a look at FreePress' analysis of it.

But just because these white spaces exist, that doesn't necessarily mean they can easily be used. Why? Because everywhere will have different white spaces. Think about it: the TV channels used here in DC are different than that of say, Ohio.

Great, so now what? Well, this is where it gets interesting. These bills promote policy that most likely will employ smart-radio technology (PDF)--a technology that is smart enough to not interfere with existing broadcasts. Off-roaders know the adage as: "Tread-lightly." So as not to interfere with radio signals, a smart radio "listens before it speaks." Additionally, because these wireless network devices are more likely to be shorter-distance radios (think how far WiFi goes in comparison to the signal from a TV tower), they don't have to speak as loudly, and will be that much less likely to interfere with other signals.

This sounds great, when can we get started? Well, there is one major concern. It doesn't have to do with technology or science behind providing broadband over these bands--that's doable, and it will clearly be a major boon to those in rural areas currently without fast Internet access. No, the problem is not a practical one, it's a political one. Namely, the television broadcasters are very protective of "their" spectrum, (or more correctly, "their" spectrum that they have been given by the FCC on behalf of the public). And even though the facts show that smart radios won't provide interference, you're soon going to see "studies" that call those facts into question.

Any guess who the funders of those studies will be?

We have a great opportunity to offer so many consumers a fast Internet connection by using spectrum efficiently. Let's not waste it. Give the following Senators a call and thank them for their leadership roles in bringing this subject to the forefront: Senator Ted Stevens (AK), Senator George Allen (VA), Senator John Sununu (NH), Senator John Kerry (MA), and Senator Barbara Boxer (CA).

But don't stop there, call your Senators today and ask them to support broadband over the TV white spaces!

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Net Neutrality and the Danger of Internet Payola

February 22, 2006

Late last week, ABC News had a show highlighting the latest goings on in the payola investigation conducted by the U.S. Justice Department and now the FCC. Payola is essentially pay-for-play without disclosure on the radio.

Explaining the scenario to my wife got me thinking: Do we have the same concern over payola as we do over net neutrality?

Actually, it's really more like payola in reverse. With traditional payola, record companies pay radio stations to promote their songs: content providers "bribe" distributors. In the absence of net neutrality, ISPs want content providers to pay for access to the end user: distributors "extort" content providers.

Does this description of why we need net neutrality make more sense to people?

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