Democracy and Technology Blog

Pennsylvania repeals a hidden phone tax

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) last week voted 5-0 to reduce intrastate access charges for long distance carriers by an estimated $50 million. This is significant because continued subsidies for dial tone diverts private investment needed for broadband.
Pennsylvania historically has been at the forefront in promoting competition in telecommunications and reforming rates to advance broadband. Today, virtually every telecom carrier in the state is providing broadband. But broadband facilities will be constantly challenged to deliver more data at faster speeds.
Broadband providers will need to spend $350 billion in the next few years to make 100 megabits-per-second broadband service available to all Americans, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

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Trashing Google

No surprise here: the Federal Trade Commission is investigating Google. The company is wildly successful. There is anxiety both amongst its competitors and also Web sites who aim to be top destinations. For example, seems to be worried that in exchange for a fee Google will deliver search results that give competitive travel vendors precedence over Kayak. “We believe there’s a very compelling case that Google is abusing its dominant position in search to stifle competition and to extend its control over how information and commerce flows over the Internet,” says Robert Birge, Kayak’s chief marketing officer. Birge offers an example. Say you want to go to Tahiti. “I think what would happen if you search for hotels from Read More ›

Apple’s Orchard, an Act of Design Excellence

Steve Jobs, who grew up in Cupertino, CA, has blessed his home town with a proposed new campus for Apple that is spectacular in its vision, as well as in its optimism about the company’s future. In a matter-of-fact presentation to the Cupertino City Council Jobs presented plans that were received with stolid approval, but that justified celebratory balloons and a town band. That’s because the new scheme is a design breakthrough. The new headquarters Jobs wants to build will transform land that once was apricot orchards and is now a sprawl of undistinguished high tech office buildings into a spectacular single building that will house up to 13,000 people in a kind of donut shape of glass, steel and Read More ›

Broadband non sequitur

There are 9.2 million households unserved by broadband today, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Accordingly, the commission has erroneously concluded that broadband is “not being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion to all Americans.” If the commission finds that broadband is not being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion, then Sec. 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 provides that the FCC “shall take immediate action to accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure and investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market.” The Sec. 706 provision was touted at the time as evidence that the 1996 law was in fact deregulatory, despite the law’s size and complexity, and the Read More ›

China and the Internet

China is creating a State Internet Commission. The actual title is “State Internet Information Office.” The department, known as the State Internet Information Office, will direct, coordinate and supervise online content management and handle administrative approval of businesses related to online news reporting, it said. The office will work to implement the policies of Internet communication and promote legal system construction in this field, it said. It will direct the development of online gaming, online video and audio businesses and online publication industries, it said. The office will be engaged in promoting construction of major news websites and managing government online publicity work. It is assigned the duties to investigate and punish websites violating laws and regulations. It will oversee Read More ›

Wisconsin considering telecom reform

WI capitol iStock_000006601106Medium.jpgLegislators in Wisconsin got set this week to deliberate telecom reform. Next week two committees will conduct hearings on Assembly Bill 14 and Senate Bill 13, which would

  • Exempt Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and data services from state utility regulation,
  • Repeal price regulation, and
  • Require large incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) to reduce intrastate switched access rates to mirror their interstate rates within five years. Small ILECs — who charge the highest rates — would be exempted for four years, after which PSC authority to order rate reductions would be restored. Meanwhile, for some reason, new entrants would be required to charge identical rates for both intrastate and interstate access beginning immediately.
  • Telecom providers would be allowed — although not required — to file tariffs, which would take effect immediately.
  • Programs supported by the state’s universal service fund would be limited to essential telecom services.
  • ILECs would be allowed to provide basic voice service through an affiliate or through the use of any available technology or mode until April 30, 2013, after which none of the bill’s basic voice service requirements would apply.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel cites one critic, who complains

The legislation would strip away 50 years of consumer protection for landline telephone subscribers, said Barry Orton, a University of Wisconsin-Madison telecommunications professor.

Much has changed in telecom in the past 50 years. Fifty years ago, phone service was provided by monopolies in possession of exclusive franchises issued by government. Congress authorized competition beginning in 1996. Today, nearly all consumers have a choice of providers, and a cable company, Comcast, is the nation’s third largest phone services provider.

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Florida telecom reform

FL capitol iStock_000005245210Medium.jpgThe Florida State Senate approved House Bill 1231 by a vote of 39-0 this week, following a vote of 110-4 in the House of Representatives. Among other things, the bill would

  • Remove the Florida Public Service Commission’s oversight of both local telecommunications services — including service quality and price regulation — and also intrastate interexchange services.
  • Remove the PSC’s authority to provide certain consumer education materials and to adopt rules concerning certain billing practices.
  • Promote the adoption of broadband services without the need for government subsidies.

A full analysis by legislative staff is available here.
The bill is now awaiting approval by Gov. Rick Scott.
If legacy telephone regulation is not reformed, the mostly private investment that will be needed to provide every household with an Internet connection of at least 100 megabits per second – a goal of the National Broadband Plan – could be at risk. Continued regulation jeopardizes competition by creating artificial competitive advantages and disadvantages for providers.
Nearly all consumers can choose between competing providers of voice services. Many Americans, regardless of age and income, are opting to discontinue landline phone service and rely instead on their mobile phone or voice service provided by their cable company.

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AT&T/T-Mobile merger debate

41802_11272407594_9840_n.jpgOver at Technology Liberation Front, several colleagues and I recently “debated” the proposed merger between AT&T and T-Mobile from a free market perspective. For a skeptical take on the merger, see the item by Milton Mueller. The rest of us are more optimistic.
The AT&T – T-Mobile Merger: Beyond the Arithmetic, by Larry Downes (Apr. 18, 2011)
Why I fear the AT&T-T-Mobile merger, by Milton Mueller (Apr. 18, 2011)
Open minded on the AT&T/T-Mobile merger, by Hance Haney (Apr. 19, 2011)
Information Control, Market Concentration, and the AT&T/T-Mobile Deal, by Ryan Radia (Apr. 20, 2011)
For The Last Time: The Bell System Monopoly Is Not Being Rebuilt, by Steven Titch (Apr. 22, 2011)

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End Time Follies

Does the rise of Facebook portend the end of the real world, the collapse of dictatorships, the fall of Google, and the rise of love and peace and network neutrality?
Do smart pods and pads and Edenic walled social networks mean the end of the Web?
From Money, Fortune, the Economist, and Technology Review to a galore of blogs and newsletters, pundits predict the collapse of the web. Last September, Wired put it all together behind a lustrous eye-blasting pink cover, with Chris Anderson-Michael Wolff grafitti declaring “The Web is Dead.” Many see Facebook, Twitter, and Apple’s mediacopia as bringing about the decline and fall of Google, the outbreak of world revolution, or the revival of the U.S. economy of innovation.
As an extension of policy based networking tools from the enterprise to the dating scene, Facebook has no security to speak of, and no significant new technology. Yet it is treated as both an answer to the decline of the U.S. economy of innovation and a threat to the existing networking industry. Twitter is seen as a threat to mullahs in Iran and on American TV news. Apple’s mobile pods and pads are said to portend an end to the old worldwide web and the ascent of fire-walled gardens of delightful earthly aps.
The nub of such mindbending but brain-bent observations is the eclipse of the web by walled content, which is media “controlled” by one menacing company, like Apple or Comcast or Newscorp. As conceived by Tim Berners-Lee, the World Wide Web, by contrast, was open to all. At CERN in Geneva, the Web inventor specified the HTML mark-up language for the creation of standard web pages that could be read on a browser on any computer attached to the net. Transmission across the net was accomplished by HTTP (hypertext transport protocol). Berners-Lee was concerned less with the network that delivered the bits and bytes on what is called “layer 3” than with the desktop experience and linkage to other pages.

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Netflix seeks piece of the action

Remember how network neutrality regulation was supposed to be for the limited purpose of preventing broadband providers (aka Internet Service Providers) from blocking or degrading access to unaffiliated web sites? Those of us who feared a “slippery slope” have been attacked as cynical, idiotic and hysterical. So now along comes Netflix. NN regulation won’t help Netflix, according to CEO Reed Hastings. The firm is not worried about being blocked or degraded. It’s worried about being charged for the huge volume of video traffic it hopes to deliver over the Internet in place of the DVDs it now sends through the mail. Netflix wants free access to the customers of the broadband providers. We don’t think ISPs should be able to Read More ›