Archive for at&t

Want to read my writing? Check People’s Production House

In order to simplify my life and give the company that pays me the full value of my work and energy, I will now be posting to my blog on the People’s Production House website. RSS feed coming soon.

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Two Steps Forward to an Open Internet

Note: This is my contribution to “Open Internet Week” on the Free Press Action Network. Anyone can join in and start posting on the site, so please do.

This is an auspicious week for champions of an open Internet in the United States. On Tuesday, Representatives Ed Markey (D-MA) and Chip Pickering (R-MS) introduced the “Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008” (HR 5353). And on Friday, Media Alliance and a strong cohort of Bay Area organizations are hosting the Oakland Digital Inclusion Summit (ODIS).

If you’re in the Bay Area and you care about the open Internet, you should absolutely come to Laney College on Friday for this summit. The event starts at 10:00am, goes to 6:00, and is free.

Sadly, for these steps forward, the Senate has taken a step back this week by passing a version of the federal eavesdropping bill that grants immunity to the telcos that broke the law to participate in the Bush administration’s illegal domestic spying. The House can still stand tall in conference committee, but time is running out.

The Internet Freedom Preservation Act would require the FCC to ensure net neutrality on the Internet. If I could take a pen to it, I would revise section 3(4) of the bill, which proscribes favoritism “based upon its source, ownership, or destination on the Internet” to include type of content. But I think that’s covered in other sections and overall it’s a wonderful and principled piece of legislation.

The bill mandates that the FCC hold at least 8 summits across the country over the course of the year to gather public input on Internet policy. The measure even specifies a 30-day advance notice for the summits so the commission can’t cheat its way around the public engagement.

As I said, the people of Oakland are not waiting for the FCC to come to them. And in contrast to an FCC hearing where the public submits testimony before the dais, tomorrow’s Oakland Summit includes a variety of formats to strengthen horizontal networks among the many local community-based digital inclusion efforts.

There are many measures that I hope will have their day in Congress in 2008. The Community Broadband Act would preempt state bans on government-funded, publicly-accessible broadband infrastructure. The Broadband Census Act, also from Rep. Markey, would greatly improve the federal government’s collection of data on Internet access (though Markey traded a specific 2 Mbps measure of broadband that was in the original draft in exchange for industry and bipartisan support, giving basic DSL service a reprieve).

I’m looking forward to 2009, when we might see the return of vital federal programs like the funding for Community Technology Centers (which Bush cut in 2002) and the Technology Opportunity Program (which Bush ended in 2004).

The potential downside to federal funding is that it could all wind up in the coffers of a single, dubious nonprofit like One Economy or Connect Kentucky that work in tandem with telco incumbents. To counter that, we need to educate lawmakers about the healthy variety of existing solutions, make the government grant process more accessible, and increase the capacity of community-based organizations to respond to requests for proposals (RFPs).

In using the “digital inclusion” framework, we are saying that we need to address the digital divide at the levels of Internet access or deployment, hardware provision, training and education, content production, and advocacy and organizing. And we are quick to demand that municipal broadband efforts facilitate or fund all of these areas. But our smaller organizations are only capable of one or two pieces of this work. And when we do collaborate, the tendency is to work within our specific discipline where we share a constituency, a culture, and funders.

We should be collaborating and interconnecting across disciplines, combining the best our community has to offer so we can offer a coherent, full-spectrum solution built on principles of efficiency, localism, and openness. We need to make the case that our locally-specific, community-based approaches are more effective than a top-down, industry-driven, cookie cutter solution.

Gatherings like the Oakland Summit are an important step towards making this happen. Such collaborations are the key to fulfilling the promises spelled out in the Internet Freedom Preservation Act and to laying the groundwork for more positive Internet policies in the coming years.

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The business of disregarding privacy

This article in yesterday’s New York Times, Wider Spying Fuels Aid Plan for Telecom Industry reminded me that I never posted a link to my last Gotham Gazette article on the current battles at the intersection of technology and policy.

The article grows out of what I wrote about here following my first GG article, the telcos push for immunity for participating in illegal spying, and the case of Warshak v US, which could for the first time apply the Fourth Amendment to remotely-stored emails and personal files.

One quick note on the topic of immunity for telco corporations that broke the law at the behest of the executive branch. I would almost be willing to accept the argument that they were just following orders and shouldn’t be liable for the government’s overreaching – if anyone in the government was being held accountable for the illegal spying. But the civil cases against the telcos are the best chance we have of bringing any of this to light, so we need to do what we can to see that they move forward.

My next article, coming out this week, will look at the various wi-fi projects underway in New York City.

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Testimony from State Assembly hearing on net neutrality

I was finally able to post my testimony from last week’s State Assembly hearing on net neutrality. I’m working on an article about the hearing and will post more thoughts on it soon.

You can read the net neutrality advocates’ press release here.

Also check out Tim Karr’s article on the hearing.

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Get Omnibus: Weighing the New York Omnibus Telecommunications Reform Act of 2007

I’m heading up to Troy, NY, this morning for a “New York State Strategy Session for the Future of Community Media & Media Justice.”

Today’s get-together at the Sanctuary for Independent Media is a precursor to a larger event tomorrow called interAct Troy!, a community driven skill share and party. It’s a great chance to check out the Sanctuary, visit friends up there, and promote the Allied Media Conference.

There will also be the second round of the strategy session with Dee Dee Halleck, George Stoney, Michael Eisenmenger, and Steve Pierce, which is a not-to-be-missed combination of folks, especially if you care about New York and the future of public access television.

The focus of today’s discussion is the “Omnibus Telecommunications Reform Act of 2007,” sponsored by State Assembly Member Richard Brodsky. The bill is a mammoth one that would have extensive impact on the lives of every single person in New York who uses the Internet, telephone, or television.

This bill represents an interesting moment in the life of state franchising for video service. Last year, as you may recall, Verizon and AT&T spent tens of millions of dollars trying to pass national franchising legislation called the COPE bill through Congress. Simultaneously, they pushed similar legislation in a number of statehouses.

The telcos’ goal was to smooth their entry into the TV market and they did not mind clear-cutting local media in the process. Many cities in Texas have already lost their public access channels as a result of the state franchising legislation there.

From what I know, the idea of proactive, public interest-based state franchising legislation was initially put forward in Pennsylvania by Beth McConnell, then of Penn PIRG (now with the media reform umbrella group the Media and Democracy Coalition). Here’s Beth’s August 2006 testimony on a Verizon-sponsored state franchising bill:

While we do not believe state-level franchise legislation is necessary, we would support streamlining the franchise negotiation process by creating a strong, pro-consumer state agreement that could serve as a fall-back in instances where a local agreement cannot be reached in a reasonable period of time.

The idea emerged from the unique circumstances in Philadelphia, where I was briefly the coordinator of the Philadelphia Grassroots Cable Coalition that included Penn PIRG and others. TV watchers in that town were suffering under a Comcast monopoly.

The cable giant is based there and basically gets to write its own franchise agreement, with little oversight from the local government. It also controls all of the local sports programming, which it has historically used to its competitive advantage. (Much to the surprise of Free The Flyers followers, Verizon was able to ink a deal late last year for Philly sports programming on its FIOS system.) Philadelphia also has no active public access channels.

So, from that perspective, Philadelphia residents had nothing to lose and maybe a little to gain from a Verizon statewide franchise. I laid this out pretty extensively back then in a post called “Is there hope for pay-tv competition in Philadelphia?

Since the local franchising process was so clearly broken in Philadelphia, it would seem to make sense to seek redress in Harrisburg (where Verizon holds greater sway).

(The idea of a ‘good’ state franchising bill also has roots in the Alliance for Community Media’s pragmatic approach to the COPE bill. Vermont has a statewide franchise and a healthy public access system, but that comes from an earlier era and the state’s size makes franchise aggregation sensible.)

The main extra-legislative force behind the NYS bill is the Communication Workers of America, especially the New York Local. They think “The NYS Telecommunications Reform Act is the Best Thing Since Sliced Bread…

The fact that CWA wants the state to require and to subsidize telecommunications deployment is no surprise. But the bill contains provisions for net neutrality, which CWA has previously opposed. Seems like the influence of the Local may have had something to do with that.

Albany being Albany, there is no way to know what will happen to this bill (A03980 for those of you keeping score at home). Spitzer might try to kill it so he can push his own plan for broadband deployment in New York. Or telco lobbyists could try to rewrite the bill.

The CWA and Brodsky, along with media reform organizations like Consumers Union, NYPIRG, Common Cause, and Free Press, will be holding a press conference to tout the bill in Albany on Tuesday, the 15th. Stay tuned here for my thoughts on that, a report on today’s meeting in Troy, and a breakdown of the bill itself.

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Tonight: Public Forum on Media Ownership and Diversity

There will be a town hall forum on “the Future of Diversity in the Nation’s Media” tonight, October 19, at 6:00 pm at Hunter College’s Kaye Playhouse, located at East 68th Street between Park and Lexington Avenue.

In attendance will be the two Democratic members of the FCC, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein. M1 from Dead Prez is also scheduled to attend, thanks to the work of R.E.A.C.Hip-Hop, which is asking people to represent for hip hop at the forum by wearing red. And Betty Ellen Berlamino, vice president/general manager of WPIX-TV, New York, will be there.

(Does anyone else remember the Space Invaders-inspired contest WPIX used to host way back in the day where a lucky caller – usually a kid after school – made the spaceship fire by saying “pix” into the phone? Anyone who can tell me what the stakes of that contest were gets a one-year subscription to Clamor Magazine.)

I don’t know if there will actually be a chance for everyone to speak at the forum, but if you are looking for inspiration, you can browse the statements from the now-legendary 2004 FCC hearing in San Antonio.

Keep in mind that tonight’s event is a public forum, but it is not an official FCC hearing. That means, if you want your comment to count, you need to submit it to the FCC, regardless of whether you say it at the forum. StopBigMedia.com has helpful online tools for that and other actions.

The ownership debate comes in many forms. The focus of tonight’s discussion is the “ownership proceedings” in which the FCC will consider easing restrictions on cross-ownership of newspapers and raising the limits on how many broadcast outlets one entity can own in a single market.

More pressing, at least in terms of deadlines, is the proposed merger between AT&T and BellSouth, which the FCC is currently reviewing. The $78 billion deal would yield a communications behemoth that would control nearly half of all US telephones with 70 million phone customers. It would also own Cingular, the largest cell phone provider in the country, including the spectrum controlled by the wireless carrier. The new company would also be a close second to Comcast in the broadband market, with 9.1 million customers.

AT&T is trying to convince the FCC to approve the deal by promising things like $10 introductory rates for DSL service and free modems, which sound more like good marketing ploys than public interest concessions. Copps and Adelstein are pushing for more substantive conditions.

For a gripping and detailed explanation of the status of that merger, I refer you to Harold Feld, Senior Vice President of the Media Access Project and his Tales of the Sausage Factory. He includes instructions for how to comment on that deal.

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For God and the Phillies, both held hostage by Comcast

Looks like Catholic sports fans are getting it from both ends.

Last week, Comcast bumped the Catholic channel, which among other things broadcasts mass to shut-ins and the elderly, off of its basic tier and up to the more expensive digital tier. As with Comcast SportsNet, the cable giant is using must-have content to squeeze dollars out of its subscribers.

Sadly, at the end of my two-week run as the Philly Future Featured Blog, only 13 new people have signed onto Free The Flyers. Worse still, the Nationals have taken away the best reason for us all to meet up at a sports bar. But there are 263 of us, so we should do something.

Last week, I talked about the state franchising bill currently on the table in Harrisburg. Word is, the bill is stalled and might not make it through this session. The sticking point is “buildout,” with Verizon wanting to be able to choose where it builds and municipalities and consumer advocates wanting requirements to provide service to the rich and poor, urban and rural alike.

Verizon is still pushing like heck, though, so phone calls from constituents continue to be important and useful. Prometheus Radio Project, usually focused on issues of radio rather than TV, is hosting a page that explains who to call and what to say about Senate Bill 1247 / House Bill 2880.

Pondering how one might begin to compete with Comcast in Philadelphia, last week I ended a “meditation” with an imagined scenario in which News Corp purchased Earthlink.

I don’t want anyone to think I see that as any sort of fundamental solution. Choosing between a bundled wireless partnership and a monopolistic or even duopolistic triple play is not a choice that transforms our relationship to our communications infrastructure, at least not the way community ownership or even true open access does. But any competition would weaken Comcast and thereby strengthen other strategies for addressing its monopoly.

In fact, there are provisions in the contract Wireless Philadelphia negotiated with Earthlink that would give our city some protection in the event of a buyout.

Minneapolis, on the other hand, just signed a deal with a local Internet builder that needs a large up-front payment from its anchor tenant, the City itself, to afford the construction. Becca Vargo Daggett points out in her response to the contract that US Internet must seem like low hanging fruit to an AT&T just entering the wi-fi market or to the rapidly-expanding Earthlink. The contract offers no protection against a change in ownership.

Read more: Ownership Matters

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