Verizon T-Mobile Deal Appeasing FCC To Allow SpectrumCo Swap

According to the rumor mill Verizon’s proposed AWS spectrum swap with T-Mobile and their 700 MHz divestitures are appeasing the FCC into accepting the SpectrumCo swap but the DOJ is still worried about the JOE with the cable companies. Whether the FCC is intent on approving it its reported they won’t do so without DOJ support as well. This is good news for consumers and competition especially if reports are accurate that the DOJ might oppose these sweetheart deals.

Opposition to Verizon’s cable deals continue from public interest groups and consumers wanting to ensure sufficient broadband and mobile broadband competition continue despite the agency resale and joint operating entity agreements
between these companies. Since a Comcast executive has admitted this is an integrated transaction both the DOJ and FCC should be examining both aspects in combination. The fact is as bad as both the license transfer and JOE are individually they are far worse together for consumers. The Consumers Federation of America has even spoken out that the JOE ends the 1996 Telecommunications Act’s competitive promise for consumers by turning competitors into partners so they can divy up the spoils of the Internet market by dividing the Internet amongst themselves. These deals must not be allowed to proceed at least not with the JOE. The license transfer must either be conditionally approved and the JOE denied or both rightly denied.

Advancing Broadband Availability Through Competition & Digital Literacy

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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.

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.

Sixteenth Blog Entry Sun Sept 4th

Previously, I have written extensively about the Justice Department’s decision to use its authority to mandate competition and protect free markets with antitrust law from monopolies to block AT&T’s T Mobil merger. Now I want to write a bit more though on Network Neutrality. Network Neutrality rules of nondiscrimination are essential to maintaining the free and open Internet as a level playing field for new startups to compete, innovate and succeed or fail on their merits. In an Open Internet small businesses can grow to become big businesses and don’t need permission to innovate. My next post will describe Network Neutrality in further detail.

Don’t let big cable and phone companies succeed in redefining Network Neutrality a government takeover of the Internet. It is an absurd and false argument to trick individuals into opposing what are in fact protections for the Open Web that prevent these corporations from discriminating against us online. As I said my next article will discuss this in more depth but for now just know that Network Neutrality are a set of nondiscrimination rules preventing unfair ISP discrimination. ISPs should not be able to exempt their own services from unnecessary and unfair bandwidth caps they place on user’s Internet connections to make using competing applications and services on the Web inconvenient. So please spread the word and prevent the telecommunications industry from distorting Network Neutrality.

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Fifth Blog Entry Wed Aug 17

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Today I would like to share some potential good news for consumers concerned about media consolidation and reduced competition in the broadband market for high speed Internet access. After AT&T accidentally posted public comments to the FCC proving that it’s merger with T Mobil USA was really about reducing competition and consumer choice, firing workers and raising prices opposition to Ma Bell‘s proposed merger that would set consumers and the wireless market back 30 years is growing. For most of the twentieth century AT&T had a monopoly over wire-line communications in the market for telephone service but its Ma Bell monopoly was fortunately broken up in 1984 by the US Department of Justice Antitrust Division to increase competition and provide consumers more choice. Unfortunately in the 2000s the FCC and US Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division chose to revisit that decision and made a historic mistake when they allowed AT&T to reconstitute Ma Bell by re-merging with two of the original Baby Bells SBC Communications and Bell South that had been part of the Ma Bell system. Now if the mergers involving AT&T Mobility, T Mobil USA and Qualcomm were to proceed it would set consumers and the telecommunications market back another 30 years with AT&T and Verizon Wireless controlling nearly 80% of the wireless market. Effectively AT&T and Verizon Wireless would have a near duopoly of the wireless market for post-paid cellular phone services and the mobile broadband market. Today the wireless market is already an anti competitive oligopoly and the wire-line broadband market for fixed high speed Internet access is a duopoly of big cable and phone companies that has gotten worse with Qwest acquiring US West and now merging with CenturyLink. To allow more consolidation in either the wireless or fixed wire-line markets will result in even fewer consumer choices, higher prices, reduced investment and the potential for more market abuse and ISP discrimination online.

Therefore I oppose Ma Bell’s plans to monopolize the Internet and all our communications technologies. I have seen through their empty rhetoric promising that if their allowed to merge it would magically result in increased consumer choice and that they would provide universal access to broadband. Ma Bell wants to create an anti consumer and anti competitive Ma Cell and they must be stopped before it’s too late.

I also have serious concerns about Time Warner Cable the nation’s second largest cable provider for high speed Internet and digital cable TV service buying Insight Communications the ninth largest cable provider of broadband and digital cable TV service in the country. Previously I have also spoken out against the Comcast NBCU merger that was unfortunately approved For it’s anti competitive and anti consumer harms. However, I am pleased because of it’s approval of that merger that the FCC despite opposition by cable companies is strengthening carriage rules.

I worry about not just telecom companies discriminating online but cable providers as well with cable companies setting up unfair bandwidth caps online to discourage consumers from using services from often smaller competitors providing alternative video related services online. The cable companies cannot offer cheap a la carte programming options nor can the satellite TV providers obligated by programmers to bundle channels by the major broadcast and cable TV networks making consumers pay for channels they may not even watch. To this end they might try two things that might be unfair for consumers. First of all since cable companies also provide broadband in addition to their basic and digital cable services they might discriminate against a la care offerings online by capping the bandwidth of users subscribing to their broadband services but exempt their own services unfairly from competitors. Second create proprietary online services for viewing video online and discourage consumers from cutting the cord by bundling online TV offerings with their paid TV offerings requiring consumers pay for bundled channels.

Already a number of paid TV providers to this end have launched TV Everywhere online services for video requiring authentication so only consumers who subscribe to digital cable or satellite TV that have bundled channels can watch TV online. In fact Time Warner Cable and satellite TV provider Dish Network have created native mobile applications for Apple’s iPad devices to stream live TV channels to Apple’s iPads so you can watch TV also on your iPad. However, since it is part of TV Everywhere you can only watch TV programs using their apps on your iPad if you pay either provider for their TV services. TV Everywhere providers are trying to create a walled garden where you can freely watch live TV streamed to an iPad or other devices as long as you don’t cancel your cable or satellite.

On the issue of broadcast retransmission I often side with the TV providers over the greedy programmers wanting the providers to pay them more each time their retransmission contacts are up for renewal. In fact I have supported Time Warner Cable’s Roll Over or Get Tough web campaign urging them to get tough with programmers as any increase in the fees they have to pay programmers would have to be passed on unfairly to consumers. I have even supported Time Warner Cable’s I Want My TwCable TV app web campaign telling greedy programmers wanting providers to pay them more letting consumers stream programs to an iPad that they should not be double dipping. Instead of price gouging providers and consumers the few greedy TV networks should join the supportive TV networks who are allowing their programs to be streamed by providers to iPads using apps like Time Warner Cable’s TWCable TV app and Dish Network’s DISH Remote Access for no additional fees. After all paying for TV even if you don’t have a DVR/HD DVR and video on demand and/or premium movie channels is still expensive because of bundled channels.

One thing I don’t like in the TV market is the lack of customization of digital cable boxes and satellite TV boxes as you cannot install your own software, change the user interface etc. I have been using Apple Macs with Front Row which was unfortunately discontinued for Mac users in OS X Lion but can continue to use it with my MacBook Pro running Mac OS X Snow Leopard and do plan to do so. I have chosen not to upgrade to Lion so I can keep using Front Row which in my opinion is the best media center software for the Mac available as it has a great user interface. I have also seen Windows Media Center which is more sophisticated than Front Row as it allows users with TV Tuners in their computers to record live TV via Media Center.

Personally I prefer an application called Virtual Dub though when using Windows PCs for capturing and editing TV programs. I like Boxee and the original Apple TV which let’s you sync content to the device as opposed to the new streaming only model of Apple TV. I think streaming is a great idea but the new streaming only modeI of Apple TV is more limited than the original model which I have. I would prefer syncing and streaming as opposed to the new model’s streaming only emphasis. Both the original Apple TV and the new streaming only model use a Front Row like user interface for navigating and accessing content.

I know Dish Network offers their subscribers Google TV but don’t know why anyone even using Dish Network that wants Google TV would pay Dish Network more for having Google TV when they can simply buy a set top box like the Logitech Revue that comes with Google TV software on their own and use it.