Democracy and Technology Blog

How Much Tax?

As I and others have recently noted, if the Federal Communications Commission reclassifies broadband Internet access as a “telecommunications” service, broadband would automatically become subject to the federal Universal Service tax–currently 16.1%, or more than twice the highest state sales tax (California-7.5%), according to the Tax Foundation. Erik Telford, writing in The Detroit News, has reached a similar conclusion. U.S. wireline broadband revenue rose to $43 billion in 2012 from $41 billion in 2011, according to one estimate. “Total U.S. mobile data revenue hit $90 billion in 2013 and is expected to rise above $100 billion this year,” according to another estimate. Assuming that the wireline and wireless broadband industries as a whole earn approximately $150 billion this year, the Read More ›


Tax Consequences of Net Neutrality

Would the Federal Communications Commission expose broadband Internet access services to tax rates of at least 16.6% of every dollar spent on international and interstate data transfers–and averaging 11.23% on transfers within a particular state and locality–if it reclassifies broadband as a telecommunications service pursuant to Title II of the Communications Act of 1934? As former FCC Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth notes in a recent Forbes column, the Internet Tax Freedom Act only prohibits state and local taxes on Internet access. It says nothing about federal user fees. The House Energy & Commerce Committee report accompanying the “Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act” (H.R. 3086) makes this distinction clear. The law specifies that it does not prohibit the collection of the 911 Read More ›


Study shows credit card companies collect millions for cyberlockers that infringe copyright laws

A report by NetNames for the Digital Citizens Alliance has found that the “overwhelming use of cyberlockers is for content theft.” At least 79-84% of sampled files on 30 of the most popular online file sharing destinations infringed copyright, according to the analysis.
The report also estimates that the sites generate profit margins of 88-96% on combined revenue of over $95 million per year. The primary sources of income are premium account subscriptions enabled by payment processors such as VISA and MasterCard, and advertising.

Every cyberlocker that offered paid premium accounts to users provided the ability to pay for those subscriptions by Visa or MasterCard, with only one exception. Only a single cyberlocker accepted PayPal.

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First Sale in the Digital Age

The House Judiciary Committee examined the “first sale” doctrine at a recent field hearing in New York City as part of the committee’s comprehensive review of copyright. The first sale doctrine made perfect sense during the Industrial Age, but in some respects it’s problematic for the Digital Age. Consumers have the right to give away, lend or sell a book that they own, thanks to a 1908 Supreme Court decision that was subsequently codified by Congress at 17 U.S.C. ยง109(c). There’s no dispute that “[p]hysical copies of works in a digital format, such as CDs or DVDs, are [covered] in the same way as physical copies in analog form.” However, consumers with an Internet connection are downloading more and more digital content from remote servers pursuant to license agreements. And the first sale doctrine does not apply to digital files that are transmitted from machine to machine, according to the Copyright Office, because transmission results in two copies (one on each machine).

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Son’s Criticism of U.S. Broadband Misleading and Misplaced

Chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son of SoftBank again criticized U.S. broadband (see this and this) at last week’s Code Conference. The U.S. created the Internet, but its speeds rank 15th out of 16 major countries, ahead of only the Philippines. Mexico is No. 17, by the way. It turns out that Son couldn’t have been referring to the broadband service he receives from Comcast, since the survey data he was citing–as he has in the past–appears to be from OpenSignal and was gleaned from a subset of the six million users of the OpenSignal app who had 4G LTE wireless access in the second half of 2013. Oh, and Son neglected to mention that immediately ahead of the U.S. in Read More ›


Copyright Alert System successfully launches

Over 1.3 million notices of alleged copyright infringement were sent to users of peer-to-peer (P2P) networks suspected of illegally sharing copyrighted material over a ten month period beginning in late February 2013, according to the Center for Copyright Information (CCI).
The Copyright Alert System, a voluntary private sector initiative of the CCI that is “based on the premise that most consumers will take corrective action if alleged copyright infringement involving their Internet account is brought to their attention,” generated the notices.
P2P networks are monitored on behalf of recording artists and music producers, filmmakers, and creators and distributors of movies and television shows, and notices of alleged copyright infringement are generated through the use of publicly available IP address data. This information is shared with Internet Service Providers (ISPs), who then deliver up to six separate alerts (for repeat violations) to the corresponding account holders without sharing any personally-identifiable information about their customers.

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The Gravest Threat To The Internet

Allowing broadband providers to impose tolls on Internet companies represents a “grave” threat to the Internet, or so wrote several Internet giants and their allies in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission this past week. The reality is that broadband networks are very expensive to build and maintain. Broadband companies have invested approximately $250 billion in U.S. wired and wireless broadband networks–and have doubled average delivered broadband speeds–just since President Obama took office in early 2009. Nevertheless, some critics claim that American broadband is still too slow and expensive. The current broadband pricing model is designed to recover the entire cost of maintaining and improving the network from consumers. Internet companies get free access to broadband subscribers. Although the Read More ›


Can NSA Force Telecom Companies To Collect More Data?

Recent reports highlight that the telephone meta-data collection efforts of the National Security Agency are being undermined by the proliferation of flat-rate, unlimited voice calling plans. The agency is collecting data for less than a third of domestic voice traffic, according to one estimate. It’s been clear for the past couple months that officials want to fix this, and President Obama’s plan for leaving meta-data in the hands of telecom companies–for NSA to access with a court order–might provide a back door opportunity to expand collection to include all calling data. There was a potential new twist last week, when Reuters seemed to imply that carriers could be forced to collect data for all voice traffic pursuant to a reinterpretation Read More ›


Industry combating online piracy

The Digital Millenium Copyright Act‘s notice-and-takedown safe harbor is rapidly becoming obsolete. The safe harbor, aka Section 512 of Title 17 of the U.S. Code, is the subject of a hearing tomorrow in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet.
The safe harbor limits the liability of online service providers for copyright infringement if they remove infringing content upon receiving notice from the copyright owner. Safeguards are built into the law to protect against the possibility of erroneous or fraudulent notifications.
The problem is the safe harbor was designed for the Internet as it existed 15 years ago, before broadband. Most people did not access video over the Internet when Congress enacted the DMCA in 1998. As the Federal Communications Commission concluded at the time,

Due to bandwidth and other limitations, this method of video distribution does not yet produce programming that is comparable in length, quality, or convenience to broadcast video. Before Internet distribution of video becomes competitive in the video distribution marketplace, significant improvement must be made in this form of delivery.

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Repeal Satellite Television Law

The House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will soon consider whether to reauthorize the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) set to expire at the end of this year. A hearing scheduled for this week has been postponed due to weather.
Congress ought to scrap the current compulsory license in STELA that governs the importation of distant broadcast signals by Direct Broadcast Satellite providers. STELA is redundant and outdated. The 25 year-old statute invites rent-seeking every time it comes up for reauthorization.
At the same time, Congress should also resist calls to use the STELA reauthorization process to consider retransmission consent reforms. The retransmission consent framework is designed to function like the free market and is not the problem.

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