AT&T Mobility since its T-Mobile merger was shot down is attempting smaller spectrum acquisition deals like the one they had with Qualcomm that was approved. Despite AT&T losing some AWS spectrum to T-Mobile as part of the breakup agreement they gained some licenses to 700 MHz airwaves from Qualcomm and now want more from 700 MHz LLC even if threatens any future hope of 4G LTE Interoperability (700 MHz Interoperability 12-69). To submit non-docketed comments/pleadings or confidential pleadings to the FCC regarding this application groups or individuals participating must have registered with the FCC to participate in Universal Licensing System proceedings. Once logged in a pleading for ULS File Number 0005262760 which is the file number associated with this application can be submitted. Petitions to Deny this application are due by July 25th, 2012 with Oppositions due August 6th, 2012 and Replies due August 13th, 2012. I have already participated in this proceeding myself submitting my concerns stating why the deal should either be conditionally approved or denied. As it is much smaller than AT&T T-Mobile merger and is purely a spectrum swap there are less competitive concerns than there were for that proposed merger but some concerns do exist that need addressing.
As noted above the transaction(s) at issue here could further derail or threaten any future hope for 4G LTE device carrier interoperability among carriers offering 4G LTE services and as such the FCC should carefully review and evaluate all the evidence submitted for or against the transaction(s) at issue here. The FCC as I will explain in an upcoming article should implement and enforce 700 MHz interoperability rules which will benefit smaller carriers and foster greater competition. This is because the Big 2 carriers AT&T and Verizon have benefited from a non interoperable wireless market even making devices on their own networks incompatible with each other’s network. So not only are devices on AT&T’s network incompatible with those pof smaller carriers including Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile USA, MetroPCS, Leap Wireless (Cricket), U.S. Cellular, C-Spire (Cellular South) etc but devices on AT&T’s network are also incompatible with those on Verizon’s network and vice versa.
Internet companies especially those rightly supporting Net Neutrality should worry about the potential of the job killing, competition and consumer choice reducing AT&T T Mobil merger. The merger which would likely result in higher prices would also give AT&T more market power and increased incentive to discriminate against innovators and users online. Nonetheless some technology companies like Facebook, Microsoft, Oracle, and Yahoo have unfortunately chosen to support the merger. Whether or not they are aware of the risks to the wireless market and chose to ignore them or naively chose to believe AT&T’s empty promises that if it wins approval for the deal it will expand mobile broadbnd access is unclear. One thing is certain though one web company Google is strangely silent on the issue of this merger.
Google which has been a longtime supporter of Network Neutrality at least up until last year when it reached a controversial deal with Verizon Wireless on a Network Neutrality framework exempting nondiscrimination requirements from wireless services has been silent on this telecommunications merger. Last year when they announced their pact with Verizon Wireless they were criticized by Facebook and a number of public interest groups and pro Net Neutrality activists.
On the issue of Microsoft’s support for the merger remember this is the same company taken to court by antitrust regulators in the US Department of Justice for trying to illegally monopolize the market for web browsing software. So Microsoft’s no champion of the Open Internet and their past history proves such. However, for Google a previous supporter of openness and nondiscrimination to have made that pact with Verizon Wireless was really outrageous. What’s more outrageous is their silence on the issue of the AT&T T Mobil and Qualcomm mergers as well as Facebook’s support of the merger.
The iPad as noted is just another TV screen now for consuming, accessing and viewing content. Therefore providers should not have to pay more in carriage fees to greedy programmers to stream TV programs to such devices using apps like Time Warner Cable’s TV app for iPad. Even though these apps use the TV Everywhere authentication scheme I support the providers right to offer these apps to consumers without having to pay additional charges to programmers for doing so. Let us make it clear to greedy programmers we do not share their views that it is okay for them to double dip and demand carriage fees be paid twice. Once for providers to enable customers to view channels on their TV and a second time so viewers can access the content on tablet computers like the iPad.
My next post will discuss Time Warner Cable’s web campaign in defense of their iPad app for streaming live TV. It may also discuss their web campaign to fight higher broadcast retransmission fees. Afterward will provide a post detailing alternative applications and services you can use even if you lose channels because of a broadcast retransmission fight by your provider and a programmer to still access such programing.
Having written about how broadcast retransmission fees and bundling drive up the cost of video programming for subscribers of cable TV or satellite and how cord cutting to get cheaper or free a la carte video programming online is convenient for some users I thought I’d reflect on another instance of programmers being greedy. Some programmers think providers should have to pay more in carriage fees to offer live web streaming of their TV channels to tablets like the iPad. Fortunately, some programmers are wise and reasonable enough to understand these tablets are just another screen consumers can use in their home to watch TV and aren’t as greedy as others. Nonetheless there are some greedy programmers and a fight has started between the greedy programmers and the providers over offering live web streaming of TV channels to iPads and other devices.
I for one am supporting the providers on this issue also but as noted am at odds with big cable companies and phone companies wanting to engage in ISP discrimination as I support rules to prevent them from doing so. I will continue the discussion of iPad streaming for the next few posts and then transition to a newer topic.
In my last post I described the controversial issue of broadcast retransmission and how greedy programmers who require providers bundle channels thus preventing consumers from getting the few channels they want a la carte more cheaply keep driving up prices when contracts are up for renewal. I mentioned how even basic cable for cable customers has 70+ bundled channels. Consider for a moment your cable or satellite TV bill and that even if you have a basic package the cost of the basic package might increase if the programmers who own channels in that basic package demand higher retransmission fees from your provider. That is even if you lack the top 100, top 200, or top 300 channels, a DVR and/or Video On Demand service your prices could still go up. This certainly would not seem fair for consumers and it is wrong for greedy programmers especially in an economy with high unemployment to try and gouge the providers and consumers for more money.
Nonetheless the programmers continue to do so each time contracts are up for renewal and providers have two options cave and raise prices on consumers to compensate for the higher fees they have to pay or fight and lose access to some channels their customers like. The only best case scenario is for them to reach a fair compromise that ensures the programmers are fairly compensated and providers don’t have to pay too many more fees that must be passed on to their customers.
Unfortunately programmers that is the broadcast and cable TV networks that own all the channels require providers who owns the pipes that carry/distribute their TV channels to bundle channels. Even in basic cable 70+ channels are bundled that you might not even want but still have to pay for. To make matters worse greedy programmers when broadcast retransmission contracts are up for renewal with satellite and/or digital cable TV providers pressure providers to accept higher retransmission carriage fees. As providers only get to keep a small portion of the revenues they earn as profit and must spend most of it to pay their employees, maintain and update infrastructure, and pay the providers these fee increases would have to unfairly be passed on to consumers. So providers often complain and try to fight back to hold down prices. They should certainly be commended for doing so but of course that does not excuse big cable companies that provide us with TV service from engaging in ISP discrimination online.
Nonetheless it is good of the providers to look out for their customers in these retransmission fights and it would be nice to see some government intervention sometimes in helping resolve these disputes and taking away power from programmers to outrageously jack up prices to prevent future disputes. Another posting will cover broadcast retransmission and place shifting issues in further detail.
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.