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Twitter: Just Trust Our Algorithm

So I was out at the movies the other night, one of millions who have been enjoying the new Black Panther movie. We got there early, in time to be indoctrinated by the pre-show entertainment. One of the ads surprised me – it was for Twitter. Ads promoting social media platforms are not really that common. But even more surprising was the basic message of the ad – trust our algorithm. The ad, titled Signing Up for Twitter, starts off in the upstairs bedroom of a man who is clearly in distress. He is pacing his bedroom floor, talking worriedly to himself. “I don’t know what to do! I don’t understand this!” We see police vehicles and a gathering crowd of curious neighbors Read More ›

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 STELA is redundant and outdated.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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Nothing to fear from pricing freedom for broadband providers

The airline would not let coach passenger Susan Crawford stow her viola in first class on a crowded flight from DC to Boston, she writes at Wired (Be Very Afraid: The Cable-ization of Online Life Is Upon Us).

Just imagine trying to run a business that is utterly dependent on a single delivery network — a gatekeeper — that can make up the rules on the fly and knows you have nowhere else to go. To get the predictability you need to stay solvent, you’ll be told to pay a “first class” premium to reach your customers. From your perspective, the whole situation will feel like you’re being shaken down: It’s arbitrary, unfair, and coercive.

Most people don’t own a viola, nor do they want to subsidize viola travel. They want to pay the lowest fare. Differential pricing (prices set according to the differing costs of supplying products and services) has democratized air travel since Congress deregulated the airlines in 1978. First class helps make it possible for airlines to offer both lower economy ticket prices and more frequent service. Which is probably why Crawford’s column isn’t about airlines.
For one thing, Crawford seems to be annoyed that the “open Internet protections” adopted by the Federal Communications Commission in 2010 do not curtail specialized services — such as an offering from Comcast that lets Xbox 360 owners get thousands of movies and TV shows from XFINITY On Demand. As the commission explained,

“[S]pecialized services,” such as some broadband providers’ existing facilities-based VoIP and Internet Protocol-video offerings, differ from broadband Internet access service and may drive additional private investment in broadband networks and provide end users valued services, supplementing the benefits of the open Internet. (emphasis mine)

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Federal broadband loan program hopelessly duplicative

A hearing tomorrow in the House Subcommittee on Rural Development, Research, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture will examine duplicative rural development programs. The subcommittee should pay particular attention to the Broadband Loan Program administered by the Rural Utilities Service of the Department of Agriculture. Audits have uncovered serious shortcomings and the agency has resisted needed reforms for years. The time has come for lawmakers to brush aside rosy assurances from agency officials and wind the program down. Testifying in February of last year, the Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General briefly summarized a shocking set of audit findings from 2005 that included waste, fraud and abuse, and noted that most of the issues had still not been resolved satisfactorily . Of the Read More ›

Private Company Could Pay Off 8 EU Nation’s Debts

John Cook, of Seattle-based GeekWire, reports that Apple has enough cash reserves to pay off eight EU countries’ debts–if it wanted to, which, of course, it doesn’t. This story, based on an infographic from MBA Online the day before, puts Apple’s big quarter in prospective. GeekWire characterizes their revenue as “Three Yahoos, two Googles and a Microsoft”. It’s also interesting, and worth noting, that 2/3 of it is stored overseas. Here we have a company that makes trinkets, bought voluntarily by free people, produced willingly by free people. Yet even after giving billions of dollars to the governments they labor under, they still make more money than even the most irresponsible governments can lose. Consider: Governments take money from people Read More ›

Creative destruction in online advertising

An item in the Wall Street Journal by Emily Steel notes how software application developers could radically alter the online advertising business that has allowed firms like Google and Facebook to prosper. Consumers are downloading independently-produced apps which allow them to customize their Facebook page or optimize their Google search results. In the process, these consumers begin to see ads that do not originate from Facebook or Google. On Facebook, for instance, big splashy ads appear along the border and in the middle of the pages, pushing content–and the advertising actually sold by Facebook– further down the page. The applications can similarly interfere with search results, placing new sets of ads above the ones bought, say, by Google advertisers. This Read More ›

Stop Online Piracy Act scrutinized

Testifying today before the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives, Google’s copyright counsel, Katherine Oyama, made a number of useful observations about the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (H.R. 3261). For example, she claimed that the bill could require U.S. Internet and technology companies to monitor Web sites and social media for infringing content. It would make no sense to make companies like AOL, eBay, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Twitter, Yahoo! and Zynga responsible for the content that their customers link to or post on the Web. On the other hand, it would also not make sense for these companies to remain free to ignore obvious copyright infringement. Say the owner of a copyright notifies these companies about infringing Read More ›

Senate to vote on net neutrality

Tomorrow the United States Senate will vote on S.J.Res. 6, a joint resolution disapproving the rule submitted by the Federal Communications Commission with respect to regulating the Internet and broadband industry practices. An identical resolution (H.J.Res. 37) has already passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 240-179. Today Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) explained why Congress should protect the Internet from unnecessary government regulation — because regulation inhibits investment and innovation. If the Senate adopts the resolution, the President will use his veto to block the will of the people as expressed through their Congressional representatives, according to reports.

Will Ga. PSC protect consumers or corporations?

At next week’s administrative session, the Georgia Public Service Commission will consider a proposed order from the Public Interest Advocacy Staff concerning the applications of three small telecom service providers for subsidies from Georgia’s Universal Access Fund. The companies are: Chickamauga Telephone Corp., Public Service Telephone Co. and Ringgold Telephone Co.
According to Kristi E. Swartz, writing in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in August,

The Public Service Commission held two days of hearings this week on three requests of more than $1 million each. Opponents took particular aim at executive and owner compensation.
Ringgold Telephone, which serves northeast Georgia, paid five executives more than $950,000, according to testimony and documents filed with the PSC. Public Service Telephone, which operates in Middle Georgia, doled out $2 million in dividends to its three private owners, according to testimony and documents filed with the PSC.

We are talking about government-mandated subsidies, which force urban and suburban telecom consumers in Georgia, without regard to individual economic circumstances, to pay inflated prices for wireline telephone service for the purpose of subsidizing telephone service in rural communities. Will rural consumers really be cut off from the rest of the World without these subsidies, or do the subsidies mainly benefit richly compensated executives and owners of legally-privileged telecom service providers? It is hard to tell. “Because the rural companies are private,” notes Swartz, “much of their financial information is undisclosed.”

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Antitrust for me, not for thee

You gotta love this guy. Or do you? Referring to the Department of Justice’s challenge to the AT&T + T-Mobile USA merger, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse (mug shot to the right} claims, I don’t believe that what the DOJ said in any way, not even a little bit, should be viewed as we want to keep four [major telecom carriers] …. My view is [the DOJ] would look at other consolidation very differently. What is he saying? According to another report, Hesse believes, [Y]ou could make a very, very strong argument, I believe, that if you have two value players that, let’s say, got together, that gave them more scale and a better cost structure to compete with the twin Read More ›