Monthly Archives: July 2007

AT&T U-Verse Considered as Cable TV

jbarterton.jpg In case it wasn’t obvious why the telcos want local TV franchise laws repealed:
A federal judge has thrown up a roadblock in front of AT&T as it attempts to roll out its new U-Verse IPTV service in the state of Connecticut. In an opinion issued yesterday, Judge Janet Bond Arterton ruled that AT&T’s U-Verse IPTV service is a cable television service like any other and is therefore subject to local franchising agreements.

Federal judge: AT&T U-Verse == cable TV, By Eric Bangeman, ars technica, Published: July 27, 2007 – 10:44AM CT

But isn’t it different from cable if it’s carried over IP? Continue reading

Universal Slush Fund

tstevensmain.jpg The regulatorium in action:
A decade-old telephone tax intended to help bring affordable service to rural areas has instead turned into something quite different: a bottomless and politically protected well of cash for cell phone companies that do big business in rural America.

Over the past four years, there’s been nearly a tenfold increase in government subsidies paid to a handful of so-called “competitive” providers — cellular phone companies paid by the fund to offer service in rural areas where an existing carrier already receives a subsidy.

The Universal Service Fund has collected $44 billion over its 10-year lifetime from a surcharge on the phone bills of nearly every American.

Regulators and lawmakers have long viewed the fund as inherently flawed. Even a member of the federalstate board that runs the program calls it “bizarre.” But efforts to change it have been derailed repeatedly by companies that benefit from the largess, and by supporters in Congress who represent sparsely populated states.

Federal fee on phones is windfall for cell firms, By John Dunbar, ASSOCIATED PRESS, Updated: 07/29/07 6:37 AM

The article goes on to say wireless telephone companies benefit the most because they can connect rural customers at much less cost than landline telcos can. But that’s not all. Continue reading

Crack Google?

robberbarons.jpg Cringely gets anxious over Google’s floor bid for 700Mhz. After pointing out that Verizon and AT&T coming around to Kevin Martin’s leaked counterproposal of watered down “open access” rules, he says:
Look who Google is up against — all the largest Internet service providers in the U.S. Google will not win this even if they win the auction, because the telcos and cable companies are far more skilled and cunning when it comes to lobbying and controlling politicians than Google can ever hope to be. The telcos have spent more than a century at this game and Google hasn’t even been in it for a decade. And Google’s pockets are no deeper than those of the other potential bidders.

Is Google on Crack?: Eric Schmidt bets the ranch on wireless spectrum, Robert X. Cringely, Pulpit, 27 July 2007

Cringely is missing the point about who Google is up against. These outfits have not been the largest ISPs for more than a century. They’ve been telephone companies for more than a century. And being around for a long time isn’t necessarily a sure win. Look at the Vatican; it’s been around for two thousand years, and it’s managed to lose most of its traditional heartland of Europe. Sure, Google is fragile, in some senses even more fragile than Microsoft, as Cringely points out. But even Microsoft is losing market share from IE to an open source browser, Firefox. Google, as a proponent of open source that actually understands it, has a fair chance here. The incumbent duopoly telcos aren’t really in the Internet business; Google is.

Maybe Cringely’s right that Google alone couldn’t win the auction. But Google and Sprint possibly could. Sure, Sprint is a phone company, too. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to side with the rest if it scents profit. Maybe with a little help from Apple.

Let’s hope that’s what Google is really up to, rather than expecting to get Martin to change the rules and then wait for AT&T to deliver another striped bass.

I also don’t think Cringely is taking into account the stakes here. Continue reading

Internet Robber Barons

krugman_paul.jpg Paul Krugman examines how far behind the U.S. is in every metric of Internet speed and broadband uptake, and why:
What happened to America’s Internet lead? Bad policy. Specifically, the United States made the same mistake in Internet policy that California made in energy policy: it forgot — or was persuaded by special interests to ignore — the reality that sometimes you can’t have effective market competition without effective regulation.

You see, the world may look flat once you’re in cyberspace — but to get there you need to go through a narrow passageway, down your phone line or down your TV cable. And if the companies controlling these passageways can behave like the robber barons of yore, levying whatever tolls they like on those who pass by, commerce suffers.

The French Connections, Paul Krugman, New York Times, 22 July 2007

Krugman reminds us that as recently as 2001 the U.S. was far ahead. And then he gets specific. Continue reading

The Internet As a Market: Al Gore and Reasoned Discourse

al-gore.jpg So I’ve been wondering what to say about Al Gore’s book, The Assault on Reason. A story in The Economist helped me out. After lauding Gore for calling Mr. Bush’s risky schemes well before most people, for denouncing the invasion of Iraq back in 2002, for his Oscar, and for being “the man who changed the climate of opinion climate change”, it then ridicules the book’s core thesis:
But he does not stop there. He worries about America’s money-saturated politics. He lambasts television for infantilising the electorate.

He sometimes comes across as eccentric—as when he lambasts television for killing public discourse, then celebrates the internet as its potential saviour. A few minutes online, reading the zealots on either the right or the left, should have been enough to explode that illusion.

Gore in the balance, From The Economist print edition, May 31st 2007

That last would appear to be the sort of trivialized, perhaps even infantilized, reaction Gore is lamenting. The big advantage of the Internet is you get not just a few zealots at extreme ends of an arbitrary spectrum: you get all the shadings and colors and depth you can absorb. And you can weave your own strands in this home-made tapestry. Continue reading

Education Entertainment

EDUCAUSE is up in arms about a proposed amendment to the Higher Education Reauthorization Act that the Senate is supposed to be considering today. It basically makes the Secretary of Education an arm of the MPAA and requires institutions of higher education to police file sharing. I think this is the most interesting part of the amendment, where it’s saying it will:
(1) the 25 institutions of higher education participating in programs under this title, which have received during the previous calendar year the highest number of written notices fromm copyright owners, or persons authorized to act on behalf of copyright holders, alleging infringement of copyright by users of the institution’s information technology systems, where such notices identify with specificity the works alleged to the infringed, or a representative list of works alleged to be infringed, the date and time of the alleged infringing conduct together with information sufficient to identify the infringing user, and information sufficient to contact the copyright owner or its authorized representative; and

Text of Amendments, SA 2314, Congressional Record — Senate, 17 July 2007

So universities are supposed to keep lists of allegations against their students (or staff or faculty) and those lists can be used to determine their funding. Allegations, mind you, not convictions. This is once again the entertainment industry tail wagging the dog, in this case higher education. Hm, I suppose that’s a bad analogy, since the entertainment industry seems to only understand the big head, not the long tail….

And as if to demonstrate Republicans have no monopoly on horribly bad ideas, this amendment is proposed by the Senate Majority Leader, Democrat Harry Reid. Is the Internet really that hard to understand?


Google FCC Wireless Auction

Schmidt.jpg Google CEO Eric Schmidt wrote to FCC Chair Kevin Martin Friday saying Google will commit the reserve price of $4.6 billion to the 700Mhz wireless spectrum auction if it goes forward with four open access conditions Google proposed in a July 9 letter. The four conditions are:
  • Open applications: Consumers should be able to download and utilize any software applications, content, or services they desire;
  • Open devices: Consumers should be able to utilize a handheld communications device with whatever wireless network they prefer;
  • Open services: Third parties (resellers) should be able to acquire wireless services from a 700 MHz licensee on a wholesale basis, based on reasonably nondiscriminatory commercial terms; and
  • Open networks: Third parties (like internet service providers) should be able to interconnect at any technically feasible point in a 700 MHz licensee’s wireless network.
Google Intends to Bid in Spectrum Auction If FCC Adopts Consumer Choice and Competition Requirements, Press Release, Google, 20 July 2007 The Google 20 July letter actually says a minimum of $4.6 billion, so it will be interesting to see if Google bids up from there, not to mention who tries to outbid Google. Continue reading

Internet Radio: DRM Air

wexelblat.jpg Previously we saw a last-minute reprieve for Internet Radio. I read SoundExchange’s press release, but I didn’t catch this:
Under the new proposal, to be implemented by remand to the CRJs, SoundExchange has offered to cap the $500 per channel minimum fee at $50,000 per year for webcasters who agree to provide more detailed reporting of the music that they play and work to stop users from engaging in “streamripping” ­ turning Internet radio performances into a digital music library.

SoundExchange Confirms Minimum Fee Offer: Reminds Commercial Webcasters of Obligations to Pay New Royalty Rates, Press Release, SoundExchange, 13 July 2007

Alan Wexelblat explains that part about “streamripping”:
So it’s that simple. Become our agents in preventing people from recording Web radio streams or face the financial axe.

When is a Reprieve Not a Reprieve, by Alan Wexelblat , Copyfight, July 19, 2007

Continue reading

Russian Music Contracts

russian_music_instruments.jpg Fergie notes that a Russian court ruled for contract over copyright:
After the IFPI [International Federation of the Phonographic Industry] pressured credit card companies not to process payments to, the company sued in a Russian court, claiming that its credit card processing contract had been broken illegally. Now, despite the fact that AllOfMP3 is no more, the company behind the service has apparently won a judgment against Visa’s Russian agent.

According to CNews, a Russian technology site, the backers of AllOfMP3 have just won their case against Rosbank, the Russian company that does much of Visa’s processing in that country. The court ruled that Visa can only break its contracts with merchants are when they are found guilty of breaking the law; breaking those contracts after talking to business groups like the IFPI was ruled illegal.

The ruling means that Visa may be forced to start processing payments to sites like and MP3sparks, the AllOfMP3 replacement site, and Visa apparently does not plan to appeal.

Russian court rules that Visa must process payments for, By Nate Anderson, ars technica, Published: July 16, 2007 – 01:59PM CT

Will this last? Continue reading

Apple vs. AT&T

balsillie.jpg Apple has a reputation for “using its partners to its benefit”:
Blackberry Co-CEO Jim Balsillie sees the same thing happening with the recent launch of the iPhone.

Balsillie recently criticized Apple’s seeming willingness to commoditize the iPhone as an Apple product, rather than bringing AT&T Wireless in as an equal partner.

He also has issues with the iPhone being free of AT&T’s logo and with activation having to go through Apple’s iTunes music store rather than the AT&T Mobility site.“It’s a dangerous strategy,” says Balsillie.

“It’s a tremendous amount of control. And the more control of the platform that goes out of the carrier, the more they shift into a commodity pipe.”

Blackberry CEO Says Steve Jobs & Apple Screwing Over AT&T. CEOSmack 7 July 2007

Meanwhile, AT&T is still locking the customer into a 2 year contract, even though the customer is paying full price for the iPhone, unlike most other phones AT&T sells. So it would appear AT&T is using Apple to gain AT&T customers.

And maybe Apple didn’t want AT&T as a full partner because Apple perhaps is preparing to have iPhone work on other networks, as well? That would be a good thing.