Freedom To Connect (F2C) April 3 & 4

March 31, 2006

I'm heading down to D.C. this weekend to cover the Freedom of Connect Conference for the Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Daniell (Digital Bicycle) and I will also be posting observations during the conference at the Media Policy Blog.

Make sure to also check out AudioBerkman, on Monday and Tuesday, where I'll be posting audio from the conference including my interviews with Michael Calabrese (New America Foundation), Ben Scott (Free Press), and other conference participants.

Here's Daniell's post, on MPB, in preparation of the conference beginning on Monday:

"I just got back from a couple days of driving around my home-state of Michigan, a state whose past economic strength was largely derived from the auto industry. Now, I'm no economist and I'm a horrible historian but it seems to me that there is a direct connection between the rise of the automobile in America (and the economy in Michigan) and the development of the interstate highway system.

Though I absolutely hate the horribly overused 'Information Superhighway' metaphor, the more I drove through auto-country the more I thought about the role the internet has played in fostering innovation and economic growth around the entire country. This didn't occur because the companies who strung the wires, buried the fiber, and ran the switches created a super-intelligent system, but because the "Stupid Network" allowed for innovation not only in the center of the network but on the ends, where both smaller companies and individual consumers are able to shape the future direction of the internet.

It's because of this the internet has had the kind of impact on our economy, society, and daily interactions that it has, and it's because of this that we have so much to lose if the companies that own the pipes decide to start limiting how they are used for their own economic benefit (which is exactly what they'll do if given the opportunity…. see Barbara Van Schewick's excellent thesis: Towards an Economic Framework for Network Neutrality Regulation if you'd like proof of why this will happen if the broadband companies are not regulated).

All of this is a setup to explain why I think that the Freedom to Connect conference that's being organized by David Isenberg is hugely important. If network neutrality is going to have a fighting chance in the coming telecom legislation rewrite it's going to be because of the people speaking at, attending, and informing the dialogue of this conference.

While those of us in the world of Community Media spend a lot of time fighting for the retention of local franchising, we'd be foolish not to recognize the importance of network neutrality to our own future as content distributors. Because in a situation where network providers are allowed to decide which applications work on their network and which content providers are allowed to provide content to their customers, our Freedom of Speech is greatly entangled with our Freedom to Connect. If we retain our funding and channels but lose the guarantee that people will be able to access the content made by our citizenry without the permission (and/or payoff) of their ISP, we're as effectively neutered as if we had to screen every production before it went on the air.

Of course, I'm sure there are some who disagree with me on these (and many other) points, so I welcome them to confront me on this topic. If you're looking to do so, you can find me at the AFI Theater in Silver Spring, MD on April 3 and 4, or at the BarCamp that will directly follow F2C on April 4 and 5. Hope to see you there."


Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

March 30, 2006

Check out a new report by Common Cause about front groups lobbying for telecommunications industry giants like Verizon:

"March 28, 2006: Industries that would benefit from congressional action on telecommunications policy have invested in at least nine "astroturf" groups and other allies disguised as think tanks and non-profits, according to a new Common Cause report, "Wolves in Sheep's Clothing." The report profiles nine groups that purport to be authentic grassroots organizations or think tanks. But a closer investigation reveals them to be primarily funded by cable and telephone companies and their trade associations."

Read the whole report here

Join the debate on their blog

Embracing New Technologies for Media Education, Justice, and Reform

March 29, 2006

Here's my proposal for the ACME Summit. Looking for comments. The proposal deadline is Friday.

Title: “Embracing New Technologies for Media Education, Justice, and Reform”

Description: MySpace, Gather, and other social networking sites are bringing people and communities together online. But New Digital Media Titans (the Yahoos, Googles, and Amazons) are increasingly invading our online public and personal spaces through profit motivation at the expense of conversation, education, and civic participation. How can a new generation of critical media educators and activists push back against this influx of corporate digital media consolidation and work together through embracing new online technologies to benefit our students and communities?

In the spirit of the Free Culture movement, are media educators and activists willing to give up their personal ownership of ideas, skills, and knowledge for the benefit of their students and communities? How can media educators and activists embrace these new concepts and technologies to pave the way for a larger progressive movement fighting for racial, economic, and social justice against the backdrop of an increasingly corporate digital media system?

Congressman Ed Markey’s (D-MA) Response to Telecom Bill’s Failure to Preserve Local Access to Information and Services

March 29, 2006

The following statement can be attributed to U.S. Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Ranking Democrat, House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, regarding release of legislation by Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX):

"After several months of negotiations, I am disappointed that Energy and Commerce Commitee Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX) and Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) decided to walk away from agreements reached with Ranking Member John Dingell (D-MI) and myself on critical telecommunications policy issues in order to pursue their own separate legislation.

"The legislation they have proposed represents an extraordinary rejection of the competitive and universal service principles that have guided successful telecommunications policy for decades. The proposed bill permits a national franchise for cable service, yet has no service area requirement for providing such service. By failing to include a build-out provision to ensure service area parity between a Bell company entering a franchise area and the incumbent cable operator, it allows a national franchisee to use public rights-of-way in a community but serve only select neighborhoods within the community.

"Moreover, the bill compounds the consumer risk when the omission of a service area requirement is considered in the context of an incumbent cable operator qualifying for a national franchise. Under the proposal, an incumbent cable operator may similarly seek a national franchise after the phone company arrives in a franchise area, even if the phone company is serving just one household in the franchise area. The lack of a service area requirement at the national level then means that the incumbent cable operator no longer has to serve the entire franchise either. In other words, the operator is free to skimp on service upgrades or withdraw service from any part of their historic service area within the affected community. The incumbent may also raise rates in areas of the community the phone company is not serving in order to cross-subsidize its offering in the part of town the phone company has chosen to serve. This represents a grave consumer protection flaw in the bill.

"The 'network neutrality' section of the bill represents a body blow to the Internet community. It removes FCC authority to establish any future rules needed to ensure that consumers and competitors can avail themselves of the Internet experience they enjoy today. U.S. global leadership in high technology stems directly from policies that ensured that telecommunications networks are open to all lawful uses and users. The Internet was enhanced by such policies and its open network architecture has provided low barriers to entry for web-based content, applications, and services. These policies have driven innovation, economic growth, and job creation. The bill's stunning reversal of these policies jeopardizes the successful policy of open networks and imperils the continuation of the Internet as an economic engine for the country and an unprecedented vehicle for our First Amendment freedoms.

"This bill ought to embrace open networks, competition in all markets, and a broadband vision which benefits everyone in the country. Instead, it does the opposite. In short, it favors the communications collosi at the expense of the public interest. For those fighting for a broadband vision for America which is inclusive, innovative, and openly competitive, this bill represents a giant step backwards."

New House Bill = Stripping Local Communities of Their Right To Access Information?

March 27, 2006

This Thursday at 10 AM, the House Subcommitee on Telecommunications and the Internet will hold a hearing on the newly proposed "Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement Act of 2006", to disuss how the bill would "make it easier for telephone companies like Verizon and AT&T to offer video and broadband Internet service in competition to cable and satellite by helping them bypass often-contentious local franchise negotiations." – Benton Foundation

"Both the old and new versions [of the bill] would allow Bell companies — such as AT&T and Verizon Communications — to offer video services nationwide without needing to obtain local municipal franchises, and without the need to 'build out' their television services to an entire geographic area. The cable TV industry has supported local franchises, under which it has traditionally operated." – National Journal

But at what expense?

By stripping cities and towns of their ability to negotiate their video franchise agreements with Telephone companies, there is no gaurantee that national franchise agreements will protect Public, Educational, and Government Access Television and "Universal Service" to all communities in a geographic region. It's yet to be seen what Verizon's proposal to the Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications, Energy, and Transportation will mean for access to informaion in cities and town across the state.

If the article from Friday's Long Island Business News, titled "Verizon Accused of Redlining in Long Island", is any indication, things are not looking so good for what's to come in our home state.

Media Activists in New Jersey "said that the proposal 'redlines' certain areas, including 'areas of color,' according to Rev. Chaucer McMillian of Operation Get Ahead, another community group.

'If they want to provide services, why not include all communities in Nassau County?' asked McMillian."

Without the ability for cities and towns in Massachusetts to ensure that "buildout" of Telephone companies' video services happens, through local video franchise agreements, how can we be ensured that not just the wealthiest communities across the state will benefit from the "promises" a new information age?

Will we just have to wait and see? I don't think so.

Verizon Pushing Its Way Towards National Video Franchising in Massachusetts

March 26, 2006

In an article titled, "Telecom tries to tweak TV rules" Andrew J. Manuse, reporter with The Metro Daily News, reports that Verizon "filed a petition with the state Department of Telecommunications and Energy (DTE) requesting a 90-day deadline for towns to accept or deny new franchise agreements. The DTE has yet to respond."

In this debate, is the question of whether or not telephone companies, like Verizon, entering the video service market should be held to the same standards as cable providers in negotiating video franchise agreements with cities and towns across Massachusetts.

Manuse reports Verizon Spokesman Cliff Lee "said the company sees franchising as 'a three-front effort — local, state and federal — in terms of trying to streamline franchising.'"

In Natick, another town dealing with video franchise negotiations, Hank Szretter, chairman of the Cable Advisory Board, tells Manuse, "'Any company that applies for a license, we expect them to have the same commitment to public access as our other license holders,' said Szretter. 'Verizon wants to operate under a different set of rules, but have the same benefits. It’s not a fair thing. Why should they get a better deal than the other providers?'"

"Szretter said about 5 percent of Comcast and RCN’s revenue from Natick goes back into services the town provides, such as its public cable access program."

"'Without it, it wouldn’t exist', Szretter said about the Pegasus system, which allows residents who are members of the nonprofit organization to make films or record public events and show it on TV."

On Newton's negotiations with Verizon, Mancuse reports

"'We require our current providers to support our cable access network and give seniors a discount,' said Jeremy Solomon, a spokesman for the city. 'There is some question whether a national or statewide franchising policy would enable us to include these elements that are important to us within a contract.'"

Manuse writes Verizon Spokeman, "'Lee would not respond to questions related to comments from town officials, saying the towns’ concerns would be dealt with in the public hearings for franchise licenses."

Read the entire article here.

Guest Media Policy Blog post on Free Press Newswire

March 26, 2006

I just came across this posting from March 13, "Telecom Legislation and Civil Rights"