Quality journalism is the lifeblood of democracy. There is no doubt that is true as the Founding Fathers believed that if they had to choose between a government without newspapers or newspapers without government they would choose the latter. An informed electorate is important. Communications too are important. Access to communications technologies like broadband, e-mail, SMS and cellular phones that allow us to quickly send/receive messages are crucial to all modern societies. Without a method to communicate to others it becomes harder for individuals to share information with each other. Even in the era of newspapers individuals had the ability to communicate their opinions to others in their community by writing a letter to the editor of their local paper. In a time before e-mail or the Internet such opinion letters had to be mailed to the newspaper’s station.
When an individual’s letter to the editor gets published in the newspaper everyone in a community with a copy of the paper could read the opinion pieces that were published. If someone read an opinion piece printed in the paper they could then reply to the piece and submit their reply for publication in the next issue of the newspaper. Of course individuals could even mail personal letters to one another. Private letters mailed from one individual to another can still be sent via U.S. Mail today but it was extremely crucial for communicating long distances before the telegraph, telephone, radio, or even the Internet were invented.
The U.S. Postal Service is still important today especially for people lacking broadband access who live in rural and remote areas to communicate messages with others. The mission of the U.S. Postal Service is to provide a universal mail service that no privatized mail carrier does which enables people in rural and remote areas to have mail service. Given the problems the U.S. Postal Service is having lately and the partisan attacks by Republicans in Congress against the Postal Service I intend to discuss what’s wrong with the Postal Service, possible reforms of the Postal Service that can allow it to still carry out its stated mission and save it from privatization in a future article. For now though I close with these words journalism is a public good that also needs defending.
Access to high-speed Internet services – also known as broadband – has become a basic public necessity like water or electricity. Yet despite its importance, broadband in America is far from universal. Part of the solution is improving digital literacy for all Americans so they can acquire the skills they need to connect to the Internet. However, that still leaves the competition issues I raised earlier unaddressed that will need addressing to bring down costs, provide consumers more choices and result in better service. It is my hope the competition issues will be addressed at some point in the near future by the FCC.
Now as for digital literacy as I have stated the FCC has proposed using some USF funds to foster greater broadband adoption through investment in digital literacy training. Broadband adoption is important as is broadband deployment and I am glad to see the FCC taking actions to help bridge the digital divide. It is my hope that the FCC’s rulings in broadband matters help the people that need it not cement the power of the monopoly phone and cable companies. The status quo on broadband is unacceptable.
The future of all media lies in the Internet. Think about that for a moment. This means all information, communication, commerce and entertainment is increasingly going online. Increasingly new technologies and telecommunications services like broadband will play a greater role in our economy. With employers looking for new workers increasingly advertising job openings on the Web job seekers will need both the skills to access the Internet and a broadband connection to apply for positions and remain competitive. That is why broadband competition and digital literacy are so important.
We need to decide whether like universal mail service or universal basic telephone service whether to make universal broadband a reality. That being said the decisions we make as a country will determine whether such service will remain a luxury marketed by monopoly cable and phone companies to the few who can afford their exorbitant prices and live in areas where they deploy access to broadband or like any public utility/telecommunications service be made universally available to all.
Part of the solution is improving digital literacy for all Americans so they have the skills they need to access the Internet. Already the National Telecommunications Information Administration in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Commerce has established the website digitalliteracy.gov and institutions of higher learning often conduct digital literacy workshops for their instructors so they can learn how to use new technologies in their classrooms. Digital literacy courses are often provided so students can also learn how to use new technologies.
Now as to whether the FCC has the constitutional authority to provide USF funds for digital literacy training I do believe they have authority and should use it. I encourage the FCC to vote in the affirmative on the proposal for advancing broadband availability through digital literacy training which the FCC is soliciting comments on at this time. In fact, I have provided the FCC my comments on existing digital literacy initiatives launched by educational institutions that have succeeded. Next post will cover the USF Transformation Order in more detail along with my thoughts on other FCC proposals affecting the future of the Internet.
Access to high-speed Internet services – also known as broadband – has become a basic public necessity like water or electricity. Yet despite its importance, broadband in America is far from universal. Broadband Internet Providers have been allowed to remain largely deregulated and to only market service in areas of they’re choosing. We need to decide whether like universal mail service or universal basic telephone service whether to make universal broadband a reality. That being said the decisions we make as a country will determine whether such service will remain a luxury marketed by monopoly cable and phone companies to the few who can afford their exorbitant prices and live in areas where they deploy access to broadband or like any public utility/telecommunications service be made universally available to all.
In order to do so though the FCC has to restore competition mandates on broadband providers by reclassifying broadband under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. Competition and investment not a weak Network Neutrality regime are what’s needed but this FCC has been unwilling to do so. That being said in Comcast v. FCC the courts already ruled that the FCC lacks ancillary authority even to enforce Network Neutrality rules. What can be done? Either the President should encourage the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to step in to enforce Network Neutrality rules on broadband providers as that agency has authority over information services or instruct the FCC to reclassify broadband to ensure it has the authority to regulate broadband providers.
Broadband reclassification would the best choice as it enables the FCC to set the competition mandates needed for broadband that have kept the dial-up Internet access market competitive. That being said as the U.S. State Department under the Obama Biden Administration has sought to promote Internet freedom abroad we must have regulatory policies firmly in place to protect and promote it at home. The FCC’s historic decision last October to transform the Universal Service Fund into a Connect America Fund for making universal broadband a reality while lauded by public interest groups also drew concern as well. Media reform and public interest group Free Press which runs SaveTheInternet.com asked its members before the FCC voted on the USF Transformation order to submit comments in the Connect America Fund proceeding (10-90) urging the Commission to reject the telecom industry’s ABC Plan. Free Press wanted to ensure the proposed reforms would not further enrich big telecom giants at our expense.
Indeed Free Press questioned whether the FCC’s USF Transformation order would amount to a rip-off for consumers or result in real reforms that benefit the public. Ultimately the FCC didn’t rubber stamp the ABC Plan written by AT&T and Verizon but it missed an opportunity to bring real pro-consumer reforms to a wasteful system. The question now is as the FCC seeks to implement the National Broadband Plan, and reform other parts of the Universal Service Fund like the Lifeline & Link Up programs how they will enact some of these reforms. Next post I’ll address the need for broadband competition and to advance digital literacy to improve broadband adoption in more detail.
As if the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act weren’t bad enough now Congress will be debating CISPA an online snooping bill pretending to be a cyber security bill. The Cyber Intelligence Sharing & Protection Act allows government and corporations to spy on our electronic communications making it easier for big businesses to intimidate us and threaten our ability to speak freely online. That is why this new dangerous legislation must be stopped now. Unfortunately some of SOPA’s biggest corporate opponents including Facebook support CISPA. You heard that right Facebook is supporting CISPA which violates our right to privacy. Also among CISPA’s corporate supporters are the tech giants Microsoft and Intel plus telecoms AT&T and Verizon.
CISPA is expected to head for a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives during the week of April 23rd which is why its so important for opponents to mobilize now to educate as many people as possible in advance what CISPA is and how bad this legislation is. If you haven’t heard of CISPA yet its no surprise these companies don’t want people to know about it. It’s reached a point that Facebook has reportedly started deleting public Facebook posts criticizing them for supporting CISPA. They don’t want Facebook users to know their pro CISPA or what CISPA is. If you haven’t already please visit SaveTheInternet.com and sign their petition to “Stop The Online Spying Bill” now. Then call your Representative and tell them to vote no on HR 3523 the Cyber Intelligence Sharing & Protection Act when it comes up for a vote. Also tell your friends about CISPA and urge them to take action also. We must spread the word whether its by sharing such actions via social networking accounts or e-mail but only share with people you know spam hurts the campaign.
If we mobilize now I know we can beat CISPA too and protect our civil liberties online but we must act now to do so. Tell Congress they cannot circumvent the law with vaguely defined cyber security threats. If CISPA passes any company can claim their privacy violations were for cyber security purposes. This is why CISPA must be stopped. We defeated Hollywood’s lobbyists and stopped the Internet Blacklist bills PIPA & SOPA and I know we can beat CISPA too.
As if the “inevitable” AT&T T-Mobile merger rightly killed by federal regulators wasn’t bad enough now Verizon Wireless and a handful of big cable companies want to enter into anti-competitive marketing agreements to divide up the Internet amongst themselves. The agency resale and joint operating entity agreements are part of an anti competitive spectrum licensing transfer filed by SpectrumCo (a consortium of cable companies including Comcast NBC, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks) and Cox Communications. If this sweetheart deal between Verizon Wireless and Big Cable is approved what little broadband competition still exists in the fixed wire-line market would disappear with Verizon Communications expected to discontinue expansion of their land-line FIOS Phone, Internet and TV services into new markets if it does not abandon FIOS service altogether. There’s no way to sugarcoat it these deals would be a disaster for consumers, competition and violate the intent of Congress when they passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
The good news is public interest groups have convinced the FCC in examining whether to approve the license transfer or not to request the companies involved provide them more information on their marketing agreements. As such the FCC must review the commercial agreements and the spectrum transfer in combination even if its review of the marketing agreements are part of a separate proceeding.
After all Comcast’s Executive Vice President David Cohen has admitted that the deals are part of an integrated transaction. There was never any discussion about having the spectrum sale without the commercial agreements. Both the Justice Department and the FCC are examining the deals in combination which public interest groups say should be denied anyways because of the massive spectrum concentration that would occur should the deals be approved. After all both Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility have plenty of existing spectrum compared to smaller rivals in both the national post-paid and pre-paid market(s) and the regional post-paid/pre-paid market(s) like Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile USA, MetroPCS, Leap Wireless (Cricket) and C-Spire Wireless.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to comment yet on the proposed transaction(s) please e-mail the U.S. Justice Department’s Antitrust Division at email@example.com or file comments with the FCC at their website using docket 12-4. Also contact your member of Congress including your Representative and your U.S. Senators urging their opposition to the transactions. The U.S. Senate recently held an antitrust subcommittee hearing on the proposed deals where Verizon Wireless and Big Cable faced strong criticism. Let’s keep up the pressure and stop Verizon & Big Cable from carving up the Internet amongst themselves.
First off would like to wish all my readers a Happy New Year 2012. Secondly I know I’ve not updated my blog in a while as I’ve been kind of busy lately but hope to keep it more up to date in the new year. Since my last post Adobe announced they would discontinue mobile Flash development and AT&T has given up on merging its wireless business with T-Mobil. This decision from AT&T came after both the U.S. Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit to stop the merger and the Federal Communications Commission Chairman proposed sending the case to an administrative law judge. Now one of the commenters on my previous posts about the AT&T T-Mobil merger made an interesting point stating that mergers in the current economy seem like a necessary evil stating that if big companies are going to go under it would be more beneficial for them to merge. However, the commenter replied in agreement that consumer choice though is being sacrificed particularly in the market for telecommunications. This comment was very well said and I do indeed worry about telecom and media consolidation. In the following passages will discuss how both the discontinuation of mobile Flash development and AT&T’s abandonment of the T-Mobil merger affects the mobile Internet.
When Adobe announced it would be discontinuing mobile Flash development after it had begun developing HTML 5 authoring tools critics of Flash began proclaiming the death of Flash and saying Apple’s late and great CEO Steve Jobs was right to exclude Flash from iOS devices including the iPad tablet computer and iPhone line of smartphones. However, let’s not get too carried away on the talk of Flash’s demise. Adobe Flash is not dead yet it lives on for desktop computer users and in the world of notebook computers. That being said it is true Adobe is ending mobile development of its Flash Player which Apple criticized as a buggy and insecure program. Despite what you think of Adobe’s Flash Player Apple in their criticism of Flash made some hypocritical remarks. In the open letter Steve Jobs had written against Flash he talked about how it was a proprietary and closed development platform as opposed to HTML 5. The truth is that Apple products are also proprietary and while they use some open source technologies in some of their products their hardware and software is just as proprietary.
In fact Apple uses H.264 a proprietary web codec for HTML 5 video in a number of its products including QuickTime. While H.264 is the current industry standard for HTML 5 video as it is also supported by Blu Ray Disc Players and associated media Google has developed the royalty free and open source WebM codec for HTML 5 video. Google has also dropped support for H.264 in its Chrome web browser since producing WebM which is supported by the Mozilla Foundation, Opera and a number of organizations in the free software movement. Now some have speculated on why Apple opposed Adobe Flash in the first place from being run on iPhones, iPods and iPads noting that Apple probably wants to protect sales of mobile apps in its App Store from competition via web apps developed for use with Flash.
Of course when the iPhone & iPod Touch were first launched there was no App Store and Apple told developers who wanted access to Apple’s devices to make mobile web apps using HTML 5 which some certainly did and today users have a choice between those web apps or the native apps included in Apple’s App Store. Don’t like the selection of apps in Apple’s App Store and their lock-in you can jail-break your devices to run non Apple approved apps from Cydia and other app stores but you run the risk of voiding your warranty. That being said another reason why Apple may have chosen to prevent users from running Flash besides protecting App Store sales/profits is the fact that when Adobe Flash arrived it may have cut into Apple QuickTime’s market share for in browser web streaming. Also Google as noted earlier chose an open royalty free specification for HTML 5 video with the development and launch of their WebM codec. Google decided to support mobile Flash since Apple wasn’t and at the same time support an HTML 5 video format Apple didn’t and hope to be able to undercut Apple using Flash along with its own HTML 5 format.
As for AT&T’s abandonment of the T-Mobil merger in a way this is very good news for consumers. First the future of the mobile internet as an open platform which would have been seriously threatened by this merger is looking brighter. However, even without the merger there is insufficient competition in the wireless market. Big carriers continue to claim a spectrum shortage to justify monopolistic takeovers when it is the smaller carriers with insufficient spectrum. In the case of the AT&T T-Mobil merger after AT&T tried to justify the merger by claiming it faced a spectrum shortage they proved otherwise when the Justice Department filed its suit against the merger asking regional carriers like MetroPCS and Leap Wireless to buy some spectrum to save the T-Mobil deal. So which is it AT&T? Do you lack spectrum in which case you couldn’t afford to sell off spectrum or do you have sufficient spectrum? You can’t have it both ways. Fortunately the Justice Department and FCC saw right through Ma Bell’s deception. FCC licensees are required in their filings to be transparent and to not deceive the Commission. As a penalty for doing so licensees can have their licenses revoked. However, the FCC tends to only do so for smaller companies that lie. This double standard should be stopped. If AT&T willfully and purposely lied to the Federal Communications Commission they should have their licenses revoked.
Also the fact that the Communication Workers of America (CWA Union) supported the merger was rather unsettling. It figures they supported the merger because by their calculations the merger could lead to more union jobs but overall the record revealed a net loss in overall American jobs post-merger. Moreover regulators correctly recognized that T-Mobil was responsible for many industry firsts like being the first carrier to offer Google Android smartphones and for being a low cost innovator. Without T-Mobil in the market prices for wireless phone service could skyrocket and the market would have been a near duopoly with just 2 companies AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless controlling 80% of the market. Today’s Twin Bells would become Twin Cells with Ma Bell (AT&T) erecting a Ma Cell over the wireless market. Sprint Nextel which would have become a distant third in the market would be substantially weaker and could easily be bought up by one of the remaining big two carriers leaving the post-paid national wireless market with only 1 or 2 national carriers remaining. Ever since the Federal Communications Commission classified broadband via cable modems in 2002 as a Title I information service competition in broadband has begun to decline. Worse still was the 2005 ruling extending that status to telecom companies with DSL modems supplying broadband. Today there is more competition for slow dead-end dial-up Internet access than there is for broadband or mobile broadband. What’s needed are competition mandates for broadband providers. Next time will discuss Verizon Wireless’s non compete agreement with cable companies in exchange for buying unused wireless spectrum that could spell the death knell for FIOS services.