Advancing Broadband Availability Through Competition

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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.

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Stop CISPA The New SOPA

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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.

Stop Verizon & Big Cable’s Shenanigans

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 antitrust.complaints@usdoj.gov 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.

Mobile Flash Discontinued AT&T Abandons T-Mobil Takeover

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.

Is WebM or H.264 The Future For Web Video?

Adobe Flash Player

Looks like the future of web based video just got a little more interesting. Apple has been supporting a technology called H.264 for HTML 5 video on all of its devices and in its QuickTime Player software. However, earlier this year Google announced the launch of a royalty free open source codec called WebM for HTML 5 video. Then Google ironically decided to drop compatibility for H.264 altogether in their Chrome web browser opting exclusively to use their WebM codec citing its open nature while at the same time continuing support for Adobe Flash. So on the one hand Google Chrome has dropped its compatibility with H.264 video a proprietary HTML 5 video codec opting to exclusively implement their WebM codec but is supporting the closed Adobe Flash plugin.

Meanwhile Microsoft is surprisingly supporting both formats in Internet Explorer 9. Clearly Google knowing all too well of Apple’s dislike for Adobe Flash and their refusal to allow it on their iOS devices has chosen to continue supporting Adobe Flash while also pushing their WebM technology for HTML 5 video. H.264 is clearly the industry leader for HTML 5 video and was even before WebM’s launch but its worth wondering how competition from WebM will affect H.264?  Some speculate this may hurt Google others think it will help them. I have no insights to offer on whether it harms or helps Google to drop H.264 but one thing is clear. That is going forward Google Chrome will only support HTML 5 web videos using Google’s WebM (VP8) codec or the open source Theora codec.

If H.264 becomes the industry standard for HTML 5 web video this would not bode well for Google. Imagine for a moment if all or most of the HTML 5 videos on the web are made compatible with the proprietary H.264 codec that is now incompatible with Google Chrome. H.264 is even used for Blu Ray and Apple uses it in all of their entertainment devices and software. So I repeat the question was dumping H.264 completely in Chrome a smart idea of Google’s or a bad idea?

An interesting article discussing the problems with traditional education in today’s society that compares it to the filter bubble problem.

User Generated Education

The Filter Bubble warns that a potential downside to filtered searching [learning] is that it “closes us off to new ideas, subjects, and important information”[7] and “creates the impression that our narrow self-interest is all that exists.”[1] It is potentially harmful to both individuals and society. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filter_bubble


Criticism towards the traditional education model typically revolves around its focus on maintaining an industrial model of education.  I believe that related to this, and possibly even more damaging, is that the traditional model also creates a filter bubble of learning.  Although the filter bubble is used to describe how the Internet algorithms are limiting searches to personal and confined interests, these ideas can also be used to describe traditional education.  Some of the characteristics of traditional education as a filter bubble include:

  • Students are grouped by age and typically similar cultural demographics as they are from the same neighborhoods.
  • Students…

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How Facebook & Twitter Comments Are Changing Commenting On The Web

For those of you familiar with WordPress.com you know for sometime now the website has been allowing readers to comment on online articles using their Facebook and Twitter accounts.  For Facebook commenting this was made possible by integrating the Facebook Comments plugin with their website. Posting comments on an article via Twitter was made possible in a similar manner using a separate plugin enabling Twitter users to post comments. These features allow users to post comments on articles across the Web.

These features certainly make online commenting a simpler process but for those who may think there is nothing wrong with the Facebook Comments feature letting users comment on online articles there are those who would argue it is not as innocent sounding a feature as some would think. You see Facebook has a real name policy that worries privacy advocates and some consumers. The lack of anonymity for users commenting on online articles via their Facebook accounts is a cause for concern. Twitter doesn’t care what your real name is though so using Twitter to comment on online articles is not as worrisome as using Facebook.

It’s also worth pondering what if any impact Facebook Comments may or may not have on the filter bubble phenomenon critiqued in Eli Pariser’s book “The Filter Bubble: What The Internet Is Hiding From You” that I’ve discussed in the past. So far I’ve found no problems using Twitter to post comments on a WordPress.com article or other online article but using Facebook Comments certainly has its risks. Of course you don’t have to use Facebook or even Twitter to comment on articles there are other options to do so but for users of these social networks they will certainly be the two simplest ways for doing so.

U.S. FTC Concerned by AT&T Mergers FCC Investigating

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Even before the U.S. Department of Justice filed its antitrust lawsuit to block the anti competitive, anti consumer jobs killing AT&T T Mobil merger apparently the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission had serious concerns about the deal and the proposed transaction for AT&T to also acquire Qualcomm’s spectrum.  In fact the Federal Communications Commission has launched a joint investigation of both proposed mergers since it rightly decided to combine its review of both deals. If you too are rightly concerned by the possibility for greater abuse by AT&T if either merger or both mergers were approved suggest emailing a letter to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s Competition Bureau via antitrust@ftc.gov.

If you do so I would suggest your letter to the FTC include your name, mailing address and a daytime telephone number. Also suggest submitting any critical comments of either or both of AT&T’s proposed mergers in the FCC’s docket regarding the proposed AT&T T Mobil merger (11-65) asap. You can also write the Federal Communications Commission via e-mail. Each Commissioner has their own email address. The Chairman’s is julius.genachowski@fcc.gov, Commissioner Michael Copps can be emailed via michael.copps@fcc.gov, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn’s email is mignon.clyburn@fcc.gov, and Commissioner Robert McDowell’s email is robert.mcdowell@fcc.gov. You can also email comments to the FCC at info@fcc.gov and/or fccinfo@fcc.gov. Finally even though Justice has already filed its antitrust lawsuit and a trial date has been set for next February (2012) suggest consumers opposed to either or both mergers email the US Justice Department’s Antitrust Division if they haven’t done so already via antitrust.complaints@usdoj.gov and emailing the US Justice Department directly at AskDOJ@usdoj.gov.

Personalized News: Only News Tailored For You Fit To Print

With the New York Times and Washington Post flirting with personalization despite readers disliking it I thought I’d explain why personalized news is bad. The fact is personalized news is filtered to only show information companies think are personally relevant to us. Only the news they think is personally tailored to us would be fit to print leaving out news and information that we might not be interested in but need to know about because it challenges or broadens our world view.  Now its worth pointing out that some filters on the Web are acceptable like Amazon.com using filters to determine what products its customers might like to buy next based on their previous orders. However, personalized news should be and is in my opinion unacceptable. In fact in my previous post I mentioned a blog post on TheFilterBubble.com that cited a study that while newspapers were embracing personalization their readers were not doing so. Obviously readers aren’t overwhelmingly accepting personalization and as I’ve stated before that’s a good thing.

Again its also worth pointing out that personalized news is not good for readers and its not good for democracy. As citizens we have a civic duty to be informed so we can make informed choices in society and participate in our democracy. So lets ramp up the pressure on these newspapers. Ask them why are they pushing personalization when their readers don’t want it. Now websites with news having social media integration letting users share articles they like on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc is perfectly fine but beyond that for these companies to launch personalized news services that filter our news and information for us is just wrong. Don’t use personalized news services. If you want to use a social network to get breaking news use Twitter which is unfiltered. Let’s reject personalized news!

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Washington Post Social Reader Facebook App Adds To Filter Bubble

Among the announcements at Facebook’s recent F8 conference was the launch of the Washington Post’s new Social Reader app. Don’t fall for the hype of a social news application built on sharing this is after all going to contribute to the filter bubble. What we need is unfiltered news and information. In a blog post  dated May 14th, 2011 “Newspapers embrace personalization readers not so much” on TheFilterBubble.com  it was reported that newspapers like The Washington Post and The New York Times have been embracing personalized news but that they should put personalized news services on hold as a study recently released revealed that readers aren’t all that interested in personalized news tailored to them.

So I’m not very keen on using this app . While I might out of curiosity access it to see how it works I would not depend on it as my main source for news. For one thing its biased in the way it presents news. In the next post will go into further detail on why personalized news is not good for users, and the implications of what personalization means for news companies. While some personalization might be acceptable personalization of our news is something we should not accept and based on the study mentioned in the blog post I discussed above it seems readers aren’t embracing personalization and that’s a good thing. Hopefully these news companies will wake up and realize with readers opposing news personalization that they should stop embracing personalization.

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