Archive for content

Is there hope for pay-tv competition in Philadelphia?

Monopolia Comcasticus has dealt our campaign another blow. Comcast and Time Warner have effectively knocked satellite television out of the game by outbidding them in an auction for the largest chunk of our airwaves ever put up for sale.

It foils our plan because we were hoping that a satellite provider with SportsNet could be a viable option for television service in Philly. But a TV or “video service” provider without a broadband option with which to bundle and augment the TV is not viable in this day and age, so industry thinking goes.

DirecTV was hoping to use the new spectrum for wireless broadband. Without it, DirecTV’s owner, Rupert Murdoch has taken to calling the going-nowhere property a “turd bird.”

The Comcast-Time Warner venture, under the name SpectrumCo, spent $2,377,609,000 to foil our and DirecTV’s plans [pdf]. My bumper sticker-bar crawl pledge must have really spooked the big C!

The top bidders were T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless, which spent about $4 billion and $3 billion respectively. They say they’ll use the spectrum to send broadband video to your phones.

100 other companies won licenses for different parts of the spectrum in different parts of the country, but don’t think we’re about to see 100 flowers bloom. As I have done many times before, I refer you to the always-on-point Harold Feld for his analysis of the auction. (Here are the complete results.)

So where does this leave us? RCN, whose one-time offer to compete with Comcast was laughed out of City Hall, is out of the question. They’ve now been laughed completely out of business, unable to stand up to their larger competitors.

We are on our way to a towering duopoly. Thanks in large part to the FCC and Congress, we are being pushed into choosing the video-voice-data bundle from the formerly-just-voice (Verizon) or the formerly-just-video (Comcast).

Under current law, Verizon needs to strike a deal, called a franchise, with City Council to offer video service in the city. They’re trying to change that law in Harrisburg to let them get once franchise for the whole state, as well as through the Senate Bill 2686 that Free The Flyers is aiming at and that would give them a national franchise.

I wrote about the prospect of “state franchising” in April, when I posted my testimony to the House Policy Committee on the matter. (See the agenda from that hearing.) That testimony included a request to close the Comcast Loophole. The State Senate is also considering the matter. (Senate Bill 1247, House Bill 2880.)

You can get regular updates on these bills from Free Press. The House Consumer Affairs Committee held a hearing on SB 1247 today at 9:00 am in Bethelehem’s Town Hall. The State Senate Communications and Technology Committee held a hearing in Media, PA, on August 8.

The way state franchising generally breaks down, the phone companies and alleged free marketeers support it, while the cable companies, local governments (who would lose their franchising authority), and consumers generally oppose it.

It gets a little dicey, though, once the horse trading begins because the truth is we are dying for some cable competition, especially in Philadelphia. It’s just a question of whether that’s what Verizon and Harrisburg are offering us.

Here are the goals the local governments are hoping to achieve:

The coalition’s principles are . . . foster free competition; ensure good video customer service through service provider compliance with local regulations; require timely full build-out of community-wide video service; retain local governments responsibility and authority over the municipal rights-of-way; preserve franchise fee revenues and foster the development of public, educational and governmental channels; and, streamline the franchising process through innovative procedures that are consistent with these principles.

Beth McConnell, Director of PennPIRG, which is a member of the Grassroots Cable Coalition, testified at the August 8 hearing [pdf / text].

Like the local governments, she asked for “universal build-out” or some requirement that state franchisees provide service to everyone and not just the rich; provisions for public, educational, and governmental access channels; and maximum preservation of local authority, whether in franchise fee assessment or in controlling public rights of way where cable or phone companies run their wires. She also pushed for an open system through incentives for leased access to the video channels and net neutrality in broadband.

(The devil is in the details of those build-out requirements. Harrisburg has a track record of being extremely lax in enforcing buildout requirements on Verizon. We talk frequently about the municipal broadband restrictions in Act 183. But the main point of the bill was to erase from memory the deadline the Commonwealth had placed on Verizon to provide broadband throughout the its coverage area and give it a new deadline well into the future.)

I didn’t see any mention of the Comcast Loophole in her statement. However, she smartly points out places where the state could provide incentives or disincentives for certain actions even when it does not have the authority to require or ban them. This would be the same way it could deal with the loophole, though it’s hard to imagine that they would. It’s clearly not something Comcast is interested in negotiating away if they managed to hold onto it through the Adelphia merger.

The objectives Beth offers would probably provide the best results as far as consumers statewide are concerned, but Philadelphia is in a unique spot compared to the rest of the Commonwealth and the country.

Here are the characteristics that make us look at this issue of state and national franchising in a way that no one else does:

  1. We are the largest city without an active public access channel to preserve (though we could lose our claim on the ones we’re not using). That has been a major motivator for opposition from community media, but it doesn’t quote apply here, except out of love for Pittsburgh and Reading and places that do have it.
  2. Comcast has disproportionate influence over our local government. To the extent we preserve “localism,” which in principle I support, we consign ourselves to Comcast’s rule.
  3. We are the most monopolized television market in the country: Comcast owns our major venues, our local sports teams, broadcasts of the local sports games, cable television throughout the entire city, and the soon-to-be-dominant ticketing service… for starters. That makes us the least inviting to a new entrant into the market.

Comcast owns our major venues, our local sports teams, broadcasts of the local sports games, cable television throughout the entire city, and the soon-to-be-dominant ticketing service… for starters. That makes us the least inviting to a new entrant into the market.

The only thing that Philadelphians can care about when they look at these bills in Harrisburg is when will Verizon start offering a TV service that includes Comcast content to all of the neighborhoods of Philadelphia? We should support a bill that makes this more likely and oppose one that makes it less likely.

This may seem callous, especially to people in rural areas, but forcing a build-out to those parts will be tough under any circumstances. Were it able to offer broadband, satellite could be the solution for rural areas, but alas. As it is, satellite providers will probably have to content themselves with that market and they will be closed out of the Internet.

For Verizon to enter the Philly market, they would still have to strike a deal with Comcast for SportsNet – the deal DirecTV couldn’t strike – to make it worthwhile for them to offer video service here.

A Verizon FIOS subscriber in our area told me (FIOS is their branded service for fiber optic broadband and, where allowed, video) that a district manager guaranteed that Verizon would be offering video service in Philadelphia in the near future. The subscriber was skeptical, knowing what he knew about the Comcast Loophole, but the district manager promised that Verizon had deep pockets and would make it happen.

I’m not so sure. An industry analyst told me Verizon has said bluntly it does not intend to build here. Too many poor people for their tastes. Not enough “triple play” customers. That’s my assumption. Why attack the fort when there’s all this low hanging fruit in the form of small, wealthy municipalities?

So it’s not clear that closing the loophole would solve our problem even if they took care of it in Harrisburg or DC. It is still an egregious anticompetitive measure and a regulatory scheme that is particularly offensive to Philadelphians, so we should continue to publicize the issue and work to correct it.

But with the results of this wireless auction the terrain has clearly shifted. The problems run much deeper than SportsNet. We might have to rethink our strategy for getting access to the content we want.

In the meantime, it seems the State Senate Communications and Technology Committee will consider SB 1247 at its next meeting on September 26 and they may be making changes to accommodate the concerns of local governments.

You can contact the following State Senators before then and say that you oppose SB 1247 because it doesn’t close the Comcast Loophole and won’t actually impact my range of choices for cable:

Republicans
Senator Robert Wonderling, Chair: (717) 787-3110
Senator John Rafferty: (717) 787-1398
Sen. Gibson Armstrong: (717) 787-6535
Sen. John Pippy: 717-787-5839
Sen Bob Regola: (717) 787-6063

Democrats
Sen. Connie Williams , Minority Chair: (717) 787-5544
Sen. Vince Fumo: (717) 787-5662
Sen. Leanna Washington: (717) 787-1427
Sen. John Wozniak: (717) 787-5400

I will try to submit something in writing to them based on past Free The Flyers comments before then, but, as I said, it’s a busy week. 256 and counting, by the way.

Comments off

Today’s FreeTheFlyers Announcements

Yesterday I told you that I was relaunching the Free The Flyers website, now directing comments to Senator Arlen Specter.

So this morning, I sent the following email to all of the people who used the Free The Flyers site to submit a comment to the FCC.

(Out of nearly 200 people who did, only one is outside of the Philadelphia area, so this is a very local issue.)

I’m writing to you because you used the FreeTheFlyers.com website to submit a comment to the FCC saying you wanted to be able to watch Phillies, Flyers, and Sixers games on satellite TV. About 200 of us asked them to close the Comcast Loophole as a condition of approving our local cable giant’s merger with Adelphia.

Well, the FCC approved the deal a few weeks ago, so I wanted to give you an update. I have some good news and some bad news and some good news.

The good news is that the FCC did make it a condition of the merger that Comcast has to share its sports programming with its competitors.

The bad news is they made a specific exception for Philadelphia. I couldn’t believe it, but it’s true. They called it a “carve out.” All I know is it’s got more to do with Comcast’s clout in DC than what’s fair for Philly.

The good news is Congress could still do something about this. There’s a piece of legislation in the Senate that would radically change the way we get our television.

The bad news is it originally had a provision in it that would have closed the Comcast Loophole, but after Comcast VP David L. Cohen told the Senate that they shouldn’t be concerned with the matter because it only affected people in Philadelphia (he really said this), they took it out. See what I mean by clout?

There are other problems with the bill. For one thing, it would close the Internet to make it more like cable television than the open system we know and love. Imagine if you had to be a Comcast subscriber to be able to get to phillies.com.

The good news is I’m relaunching FreeTheFlyers.com today and directing our comments to Senator Arlen Specter asking him to oppose or amend that bill. He should be doing more to make sure we get what we paid for as tax-paying sports fans and TV watchers.

Please spread this around. Forward this email (with some further explanation) to your friends and family and ask them to fill out the form at http://freetheflyers.com

If you used the old FTF site to send a comment to the FCC, you don’t need to fill it out again. Once we get 300 more people to fill out the form, I will put all of our statements together and take them to Senator Specter’s office myself. So spread the word!

If you have any questions or suggestions or want more information, just respond to this email. If you don’t want me to email you again, that’s fine, too, just let me know. No one is paying me to do this – I’m just a sports fan who knows the deal when it comes to communications law. So I don’t plan to write often. The next time you’ll hear from me will be with an invitation to join me at Specter’s office.

Thanks!

Your fan,
Josh

And I sent this press release to some local media:

SEPTEMBER 7, 2006

****** FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE ******

contact: Joshua Breitbart
Free The Flyers!
www.freetheflyers.com
fan@freetheflyers.com

Philly Sports Fans Relaunch Campaign to Close the Comcast Loophole

Rebuffed by the Federal Communications Commission, a group of nearly 200 Philadelphia sports fans are today calling on Congress to end Comcast’s withholding of local sports programming from its competitors.

They are using a website <www.freetheflyers.com> to send emails to Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) asking him to oppose Senate Bill 2686 unless it is amended to close what the fans call the “Comcast Loophole.”

The letter to Senator Specter reads, in part, “The recent merger of Comcast and Adelphia has given Comcast a monopoly over Philadelphia cable television and excessive control over the national market. Comcast was already dismissive of my concerns as a consumer: constantly rising prices and poor customer service. Now the problems with my local TV will be even worse. But I don’t want to switch to another pay TV provider because I want to be able to watch my local sports teams.”

Current law requires broadcasters to share with competitors any programming they transmit through satellite, but exempts programming transmitted through wires. Cable companies like Comcast use this loophole to withhold “must have” programming from competitors, in effect creating a monopoly.

The fans had used their website <www.freetheflyers.com> to submit comments to the FCC as it considered Comcast’s proposed merger with the bankrupt Adelphia Communications. They asked the FCC to place a condition on the merger requiring the nation’s largest cable company to share its regional sports programming with competitors before allowing it to grow even larger.

The FCC placed precisely such a condition on the deal when they approved it last month, but established an exception for Philadelphia. Philadelphia is now the only market in the country where a cable company is allowed to withhold its sports programming from other television providers.

“The FCC sold us out. We’re hoping Congress won’t do the same. As our Senator and the Chair of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Specter should be doing more to make sure we get what we paid for as tax-paying sports fans and TV watchers,” said Joshua Breitbart, a Philadelphia resident who loves the weekends because it’s the only time he gets to see Phillies games on TV.

Once they have gathered 500 statements through the website, the fans plan to deliver them directly to Senator Specter.

More information: www.freetheflyers.com

Comments (1)

The Relaunch of FreeTheFlyers.com

As you may already know, Comcast’s deal with Time Warner to take over the bankrupt Adelphia was approved by the FCC in mid-July and completed later in the month.

Having convinced about 200 of my fellow sports fans in Philadelphia to submit comments through FreeTheFlyers.com asking the FCC to use this as an opportunity to close the Comcast Loophole – also known as the terrestrial loophole that allows the cable giant to withhold sports programming from other TV providers in the city – I was keen to see what conditions would be placed on the deal.

Harold Feld has an excellent, cogent, comprehensive, and entertaining analysis of the deal. Here’s what he has to say about the Comcast Loophole and regional sports networks (RSN): They kept the Philly carve out… Eagles, Sixers, and Phillies fans — sucks to be you!

Yes, that means what you think it means. They forced Comcast and Time Warner to share their sports programming in all other cities, but made a special exception for the city of brotherly love. Not too different from the “special gift” that Jeff Gelles described on his blog. It does suck to be us.

As Jeff also reported, a provision in Senate Bill 2686 (a.k.a. the Stevens Bill; a.k.a. the Telecommunications Act of 2006) that would have closed the Comcast Loophole was removed following Comcast VP David L. Cohen’s testimony.

So I am relaunching FreeTheFlyers.com to urge Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter to oppose the bill unless that provision goes back in. As Chair of the Judiciary Committee, he should be in a position to wield considerable influence over the process.

However, given Comcast’s clout and the fact that it was already taken out, I think it is a long shot that it would go back in. So we’ll add our voices to the chorus of boos on the Stevens Bill and in the meantime let our senior senator know that we care about media issues.

S2686 is bad on a lot of fronts. It’s main impact would be to shift authority for franchising video service providers (VSP) away from local municipalities and to the federal government, making it easier for now-phone companies like Verizon and AT&T to offer television over their new fiber optic lines. This would effectively screw public access in larger cities.

The bill also fails to preserve the open internet.

Net neutrality notwithstanding, though, since Philly doesn’t have a public access station and is caught in the vicelike grip of our incumbent, hometown VSP, this bill might do more good than harm for our city in the short term, if it closes the Comcast Loophole. Without that, any potential competitor, whether Verizon or DirecTV, will remain on the margins.

Long term, a Verizon-Comcast duopoly is about as bad as a Comcast monopoly. It doesn’t change the fundamental us-them imbalance of the system, it just tweaks the them-them balance. And without an open internet, it’s all just whistling past the graveyard.

I would love to be able to articulate an amend-but-oppose strategy for Philly sports fans as Prometheus Radio did so fantastically for low-power FM proponents, but we Freers of the Flyers might be a little more single-minded than that group.

I think it would be really difficult to make the argument based on public access (again, just a dream in Philadelphia), but Ruby Legs offers a good explanation of how the Comcast-hating sports fan logic applies to net neutrality. In short, it’s all about leverage: it’s our content and we want it our way.

Keep our Phillies.com free!

Comments (1)

Shout outs… and what I’ve learned about blogging

Two of the bloggers I respect the most, Browfemipower and Nubian from blac(k)ademic, both of whom participated in the 2006 Allied Media Conference, have both moved their blogspot blogs to their own, self-hosted sites. That’s awesome.

It affirms a piece of advice I’ve shared with a couple of friends who recently started blogging: omnicrisis, and Zapagringo: start out with an independent url. It only costs $9 from godaddy.com, which offers free redirects. That way, when you’re ready to leave your mass-host behind, you will already have a separate identity. And you won’t be advertising your host as much in the meantime.

I haven’t been blogging for very long, though I have been supporting online journalism for quite a while through Indymedia (global, US, and NYC) and such. Before this blog, I was a writer for RNCwatch and CounterRecruiter.net (thanks to Mike Burke) but those were issue blogs, which is kind of different than finding a personal voice. Nevertheless, I’ve learned a few things and the first is that you share what you know as soon as possible because if you hold onto your knowledge it will just become outdated.

In addition to those two points – independent urls and say it now – here are some other things I was told or learned myself:

  1. your voice is more unique than you think (Steve)
  2. self-promotion (it is America, after all)
    – syndication (as through Indyblogs, NYC IMC, Philly IMC, and Philly Future)
    – linking: give and ye shall receive (remember to link to your own previous posts)
    – commenting: same thing; comments on a blog are like testimonials on Friendster
    – email. Some people send out a first notice to all of their contacts right away. I would wait until you’ve been at it for a while. Then send out a link to a particularly hot post and let people find the other good stuff on your site. If there is a person or group/listserv you want to read a particular article, send it out just to them.
  3. regular readers will use RSS readers, so make sure your feed(s) are easy to find
  4. post at least once a week (Sascha); don’t be afraid to take a break, but then get back into it
  5. work on multiple posts at the same time, save drafts
  6. if you finish a post after noon, save it and publish it in the morning
  7. you already write more than you think; turn your IM chats or your email exchanges or your drunken rants into posts
  8. do something to stand out and stay on target (Jed)
  9. having an independent host is easier than you think (Steve)
  10. having a platform of any kind obligates you to speak out on the most pressing issues of the day
  11. don’t be afraid to say something that’s been said, especially if you were the one who said it; repetition is the lifeblood of blogging (but give credit with links, especially if you were the one who said it)
  12. the digitization of the public sphere is the new jim crow (Antwuan, Brownfemipower)

Building on that last point, it’s important to support other people finding their own voice and platform. If all you see around you is dudes starting up blogs, you gotta do something about that. Don’t censor yourself. As I used to say when people complained that too much of Indymedia’s content was from the US, don’t push for less of the content you don’t want, push for more of the content you do want. In the scheme of things, we’re all still censored compared to corporate media and wealthy people.

On the other hand, some people might actually have something better or just different to do, even if they’re good writers, like Kat and Hannah. (I love it when they do post, though.) If blogging doesn’t float your boat or serve your long-term interests, I understand why you wouldn’t bother. So don’t push anyone too hard to do it.

But when someone does get started, give whatever support you can. I don’t get much traffic (maybe 50 visitors a day on average and 35-40 feeds), but every bit helps. So here are some more shoutouts:

  • Becca writing about her life and her work at ILSR, including our collaborations on municipal wireless
  • Kate, from whom I have already learned so much about Irish American politics
  • and blixx, sharing his DJ sets, recipes, and thoughts on the wars

I think all three of them started using WordPress on my recommendation and I stand behind that. I’ve used Typepad, though not as an owner or administrator. Blogspot blogs all look the same to me, with the white on black. I like WordPress. It’s the newest, seems to promote popular control of the platform (if not open source in general), and has a very friendly interface. It’s easy to find your syndication feed, and they even make it easy to have feeds for different categories. I’ve encountered some bugs, but mostly all the functions are smooth.

I saw presentations from Blogspot, Typepad, and WordPress at the Webzine 2005 conference, all of whom gave me Indymedia flashbacks by saying they wanted to make it possible for the whole world to publish to the Internet. There are also Friendster, MySpace, and LiveJournal blogs, but those platforms all seem to want to be bigger than the sum of its users.

I got the best vibe from Matt‘s presentation (Matt is the lead developer of WordPress) and they were offering beta access to their then-new hosted service, so I signed up. I didn’t do much with it until the National Summit for Community Wireless, when Steve gave me some encouragement and I realized I knew some things about Philly’s plans that no one else knew and that this very specific community was interested in.

It’s been fun to write more, especially with the encouragement of friends like Ibrahim, Chris, Hannah and especially Kat. Thanks!!!

Comments (11)

A much-needed Party of Pirates

Here’s a fun thing to cheer up your Monday: a new political party is in formation in the United States. The Pirate Party of the United States is part of an international response to the crackdown on the sharing of intellectual and creative products.

I wrote about this issue briefly in June, but the main catalyst for the Pirate Party was the US-MPAA-backed Swedish raid on the file-sharing site The Pirate Bay back in the spring. Support for piracy and filesharing was already very high in Sweden – the Pirate Party already existed there – but this gave it a huge boost.

Apparently, the barriers to entry for a political party are very low in Sweden and the Pirate Party seems to be on the verge of actually capturing seats in the parliament, which could give it some leverage in shaping the government there.

They’ve also inspired allies to launch parties in Belgium, France, and Italy. There is also an international pro-piracy lobby.

The situation is very different in the US, of course, where third parties are relegated to the margins. It makes one question if that is the best way to build a movement around this issue here. On the other hand, one can imagine how this issue could energize young people here the way it does in Sweden.

The Bush administration is moving in the opposite direction, towards a more repressive online environment. Congress recently ratified the Convention on Cybercrime, a really bad treaty that basically requires the US to enforce other countries’ Internet laws. They’re on the verge of passing DOPA, the Deleting Online Predators Act, which would ban social networking sites (as defined by the FCC) in schools and libraries. These changes are in addition to the corporate-sponsored closing of the Internet that we know of as the loss of net neutrality.

The Pirate Party is focused on copyright reform, privacy, and net neutrality. This has the potential to be a very popular and radical undertaking if they can articulate their message in a plain and compelling way. It’s not easy and I don’t have any reason to assume that they will be able to do this, but I find an issue-based party more compelling than, for example, the Green Party, which just wants to be more progressive in general than the Democrats. I think issue-based third parties have historically had more impact on US politics, too.

Defending the Internet might just be enough to get this party off the ground – at least in Second Life.

Comments off

It’s not about you, Star

There was a spike in traffic to the most heavily-trafficked post on my blog a few days ago. Star, whose given name is Troi Torain, was back in the news: a judge more or less let him off on charges of child endangerment and weapon possession. (They’ll be dropped in six months.)

Now it looks like Star is trying to keep it personal by suing the Councilman that brought his verbal assault to light. I’d prefer he sue Clear Channel, just come out and say they hired him to do a job and he did it.

Council Member Liu, for his part, is mixing it up, calling him both a pedophile and a stooge. (See the press release below.) I hope at his press conference later today he mentions Clear Channel in some context other than “Mr. Torain was subsequently terminated by…”

The No Hate Radio comment engine is still up. Fill it out if you support license redistribution as a step towards remedying the problem of corporate content and Clear Channel’s concentration of over 1300 licenses.

*** Media Advisory *************************************************
TROI TORAIN TO FILE FEDERAL LAWSUIT AGAINST CM LIU;
CM LIU TO AWAIT PAPERS AT CITY HALL;
CM Liu: “He’s Still a Pedophile Loser Radio Stooge”
**********************************************

CITY HALL, NY – Troi Torain, disk jockey fired from Power 105 radio, will file a lawsuit tomorrow against Council Member John Liu in United States District Court, Southern District of New York.

CM Liu will wait to be served with the lawsuit on the steps of City Hall tomorrow at 11:00 am.

CM Liu stated: “It’s great that this guy is now going after me instead of little girls. However, suing me doesn’t change the fact that he’s still a pedophile loser radio stooge. If this can help him with his self-esteem issues, then I’m happy to oblige.”

Over a five day period this May, Mr. Torain produced and broadcast comments over public airwaves expressing his desire to have sex with, ejaculate on, and urinate on a four-year-old girl. Mr. Torain also offered a large cash bounty to anyone with information about the girl’s school. Mr. Torain was subsequently terminated by Clear Channel on May 10th and then arrested by the NYPD’s Hate Crime Unit on May 12th.

See more of my articles on Clear Channel.

Comments off

The challenge of connecting ownership and content in an age of television on the Internet

I’ve been hearing more and more calls for a progressive framework for fighting indecency. This task will be more challenging in an era of TV on the Internet.

The government-directed, censorship-based approach moves us away from our goal of community-defined media. And it won’t work to pretend like there is no such thing as offensive content.

A recent article in The New Yorker on the spate of shootings in front of the Emmis Communications office put the blame on hip hop. There are plenty of reasons to take the writer to task, as other bloggers have done; New Yorker authors are more at home among the Pashtun than African Americans. I bring it up to say that this blame-the-individual approach is exactly what we were trying to avoid when we put out the No Hate Radio call, but it’s exactly what we’ll get if we don’t connect bad corporate content with bad corporate ownership.

On the Australian “Big Brother” show, which is broadcast 24/7 on the Internet when not airing on television, two men sexually assaulted a woman on the show. One man reportedly held the woman down while the other man rubbed his groin in her face. Though the men were booted, it seems like this is only slightly further than the show normally goes.

This strikes me as another example of the corporate media using violent sexism to gain attention. The response from the conservative government there has been to call for the show’s removal from television, even though the incident was broadcast on the Internet.

As broadcasters increasingly use it to distribute video, the Internet may become a place of greater regulation, with more restrictions on content. Without a connection between content and ownership, the burden of meeting that regulation could quash user-generated and community-based content. (Despite the knee-jerk perception that large corporations always want to de-regulate, they often favor complex regulations as a barrier to entry when faced with small-time competitors.)

That sort of regulation is in fact being proposed in Europe right now. As part of the EU’s “TV without frontiers” directive, the European Commission has suggested it would standardize regulation across all media for TV and “TV-like services.” (Check out the directive [pdf] and the accompanying press release. Read commentary with plenty of links from 463, which also tipped me off to the Aussie Big Brother brouhaha, and a summary from the free marketeers at the Progress and Freedom Foundation.)

In the US, the FCC already restricts the promotion of websites during children’s programming based on the commercial content of the sites (sales or advertising). That kind of direct connection between a broadcast TV show and web content makes sense to me, even if it’s not the kind of community accountability I would prefer.

However, it will get a lot more difficult to make that connection as the lines separating television and Internet and cell phones disappear. It’s one thing for the government to assert authority over your content if you’re using public airwaves or even rights of way; it’s another if you are just another video service provider on the Internet. (Remember, the open Internet is about having a level playing field among producers and disconnecting ownership of infrastructure from ownership of content.)

There is a wide open space on the other side of this technological revolution. That’s why we need to develop our own framework for content-regulation that meshes with our values and goals.

One approach that I know is wrong is combing air tapes for dirty words, which I recently learned the FCC has begun doing (thanks, Nan!). They’re going over sports broadcasts listening for curse words from enthusiastic fans. That’s just more random censorship.

It’s also a step towards ending live broadcasts. Interestingly, the EU directive seems to distinguish between “linear” and “non-linear” television, which could have the same effect. New regulations in Venezuela are also chilling live broadcasts. That’s not the future I want.

Comments off

« Newer Posts
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.