Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Another Test of Checks & Balances

As expected, the FCC relaxed media ownership rules, and issued 42 permanent waivers allowing media companies to own newspapers, radio or TV stations in the twenty largest markets.

Congress - and not just the Democrats - is challenging the move, and it is likely to end up in Federal Court, as did the last attempt to relax ownership rules, in 2003.

Add Media Ownership to the long list of issues that are testing the US Constitution (First Amendment, 1789-1791) and the American system of checks and balances between the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of our government.

Right up there with Free Speech Zones (First Amendment), internal surveillance (Fourth Amendment), the right to a speedy trial (Sixth Amendment), international treaties (Article VI, Clause 2), declarations of war (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 11), illegal torture (Third Geneva Convention, 1949, Article 17), and habeas corpus (The Magna Carta, 1215, clauses 36, 38, 39, and 40). I'm sure I'm leaving something out...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

FCC report announced, and it's a whopper

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) releases a major report on video competition approximately once a year. The latest was announced at the end of November, although is not yet posted on the FCC Web site. The FCC press release and summary is available here.

One of the five FCC commissioners, Jonathan Adelstein (** see below), said: "I have been deeply concerned about increasing concentration in the cable industry. I simply can’t see how American consumers benefit when a handful of vertically-integrated media giants have so much control over so much content. This industry structure provides precious little space for the creative genius of independent content producers and artists. And it has led to prices that continue to rise far faster than inflation." Mr Adelstein's full comments are available here.

Another, Michael Copps, said: "Our job of ascertaining the facts was made more difficult because the draft cherry-picked only the data that justified the outcome desired, while suppressing other data. I believe that it is our obligation to ensure that our decisions are objective and based on the facts, not outcomedriven for political expediency. Much like our media ownership studies, which are outcome-driven to support the media consolidation agenda, there was an attempt to cook the books on this report." Mr Copps' full statement is available here.

** The FCC is run by five Commissioners, one of whom is the Chairman. When the US president is a Republican, there are three Republicans on the FCC - as is the case now. Adelstein and Copps are the two Democrats. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin was on the Bush-Cheney Transition Team after Bush was confirmed as the winner of the 2000 presidential election by the US Supreme Court. He was confirmed as an FCC Commissioner in 2001 and became Chairman in 2005. The FCC is one of the most political agencies in the US govt. Its rulings have a fundamental impact on American media.

I made several entries about the machinations of the FCC on this Blog in November 07.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Top PC tech innovations?

Tech Republic (CNET) posted a list of "Top 20 PC Technology Innovations." I agree with six of the twenty (below these 6 is my own list)

  • 4) NCSA Mosaic (1993) - The first Web browser that ushered in the graphical World Wide Web.

    • 7) Hayes Smartmodem (1981) - The gateway to the Internet in the pre-broadband era, although the real secret sauce was the Hayes command set

    • 11) MP3 (1991) - The ONLY universally supported music format to date.

    • 12) Mouse (1963) - From Xerox to Apple to the world, it revolutionized usability.

    • 13) 802.11b (1999) - The first successful move to totally wire-free adequate data transmission.

    • ... and I can agree with (1) USB (1996) - "Bought in several concepts such as drawing power, swapping of devices without shutting down PC, and to this day is the killer of port woes." - anybody that spent hours, days, weeks, during the 1980s, on the phone with a co-worker or a friend trying to get the start bits, stop bits and parity bits right will know what we mean. Anyone who doesn't, is fortunate not to know what he or she missed!

    And, although they are not specifically PC related, I would also add TCP/IP, the Web, AltaVista (the first great search engine, from the late great Digital Equipment Corp - pre-Google) and Apple's iPhone because all of them were disruptive. I don't think the next x86 or graphics chips qualify. Nor does the Sound Blaster, since it simply fixes a basic deficiency of early PCs. IMHO.

    But, since we're talking about personal computing, what about:

    1. Apple II (1977) - The Apple II was first consumer/pro-sumer personal computer and used the first consumer floppy disk drives (as opposed to tape) and Apple DOS, its disk operating system.

    2. BASIC (1963) - Although it pre-dates the microprocessor and the personal computer, the Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code made personal computers accessible to applications programmers that didn't want to learn machine language.

    3. CP/M Control Program/Monitor (1974) - First microcomputer operating system. CP/M was the model for MS-DOS and Microsoft's first casualty. The story of CP/M's inventor is sad indeed. But for years, CP/M and its multi-user counterpart MP/M were king.

    4. VisiCalc (1979) - The first electronic spreadsheet, which instantly transformed the personal computer from a hobbyist toy to a powerful business machine and propelled Apple to stardom. VisiCalc spawned an army of imitators, including Microsoft MultiPlan (later, Excel), Lotus 1-2-3 and SuperCalc

    5. Adobe PostScript (1983) - A mathematically-based page description language that made graphical electronic publishing and universal electronic document interchange possible.

    6. Adobe Acrobat (1993) - The standard electronic document interchange format, now used universally, worldwide. Also, "PDF" has become a verb - which is a sure sign that Acrobat has been pretty influential!

    7. Hypertext (1962) - The origin of hyperlinking on the Web, first commercialized in Apple's HyperCard in 1987.

    8. VisiOn (1983) - was the first graphical environment for the IBM PC. It preceded Apple's Lisa by a year, the Mac by two and Windows by nearly three.

    9. PageMaker (1985) - Developed by Aldus Corporation for the Macintosh, PageMaker was the first page layout program for personal computers. Coupled with Apple's LaserWriter and Adobe PostScript, PageMaker was a viable alternative to proprietary workstations costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. It was the spark that ignited the conversion of the entire publishing business from print-based to electronic and spelled the end of typesetting once and for all.

    10. Apple LaserWriter (1985) - Although H-P introduced the LaserJet a year earlier, the LaserWriter was the first PostScript-based laser printer for personal computers, while the original LaserJet PCL language was essentially a series of escape-code instructions to print text-only.

    11. Compaq Portable (1983) - First portable computer running MS-DOS

    12. WordStar (1978) - WordStar was the first mainstream microcomputer word processing software, designed to run under CP/M)

    13. Adobe Photoshop (1990) - Photoshop has become an entire industry. Like "PDF," "Photoshop" has become a verb.

    14. TeleCompaq (1985) - First personal computer with integrated telephony

    15. Grid Compass (1982) - First portable computer in a form-factor recognizable today as a laptop.

    The list of Great Imitators
    • Apple Macintosh PowerBook (1991) - Although it was preceded by the Mac Portable and the Grid Compass, the PowerBook was the first mass-market laptop.

    • Apple Macintosh computer and MacOS operating system (1984) - First mass market desktop computer integrated with a Graphical User Interface and operating environment. Yes, Apple's Lisa and Xerox' ALTO preceded it, but the Mac remains available today.

    • Microsoft Windows (1985) - From a financial point of view, Windows may be one of the most successful computing products ever, but it was a so-so overlay on top of MS-DOS and even now, 22 years on, it still doesn't work. And why, in 2007, do we need Wizards?

    • The IBM PC, Radio Shack TRS-80 and other desktops post-Apple II.

    • MS-DOS (1981) - Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen were in a battle against Gary Kildall, inventor of CP/M, to be the supplier of the IBM PC's operating system. Microsoft had nothing, so the boys bought QDOS from Seattle Computer Products and underbid Kildall to capture IBM's business.

    OK, the Top 100 list that this Top 10 quoted from did include the Mac, the Compaq Portable and Photoshop. But if they're including games, why did they miss Myst? And what's with DirectX and not OpenGL? Mosaic, and not the Web or Hypertext (and HyperCard)? Oh well...

    Tuesday, November 27, 2007

    How was I supposed to know?

    Fortune Magazine has selected Apple CEO Steve Jobs as the most powerful person in business, beating Rupert Murdoch and the founders of Google.

    I said that way back in August! TOLD you so!

    Sunday, November 25, 2007

    Telco immunity?

    During November, the battle intensified between the public (and Congress) and the Bush administration, to immunize the Telcos from possible liability arising from their cooperation with Pres Bush's domestic spying program. And finally, the US Congress has been pushing back.

    In my opinion, the Telcos are probably also worried about public awareness of CALEA. , a lesser-known domestic surveillance program that has been in place since 1994, and the potential that they could somehow be legally liable for cooperating with that as well.

    Public policy advocates cite domestic surveillance to demonstrate the Telcos' complicity in the continuing Federal push to weaken the US Constitution (in this case, the Fourth Amendment).

    I believe that the Telcos should be held to accountability. The Telcos could have "just said no" to the government's surveillance requests, but they have chosen not to. Once upon a time, the telephone company had a culture of public service, but just like Big Media, this culture of responsibility has withered and virtually died.

    This isn't the only reason to be vigilant of the Telcos. In recent months, both AT&T and Verizon have also been revealed as kicking people off of their networks for seemingly arbitrary reasons.

    Meanwhile, Voice-over-IP (VoIP) users who want to act on their own to reduce the potential that others can eavesdrop on their phone calls can use Zfone to encrypt their calls

    Saturday, November 17, 2007

    PBS Bill Moyers about the Nov 9 Seattle FCC Hearing

    Bill Moyers of PBS aired an informative segment about the FCC media ownership hearing and background about the process to date.

    As Mr Moyers says, "This story isn't over." Additional related Moyers segments about the FCC and the Media may be found here

    Remember to submit your comments to the FCC, by December 11.

    Tuesday, November 13, 2007

    FCC's Martin to America: "Drop Dead!"

    Back in 1975, when New York City's government went bankrupt, applied to President Gerald Ford for financial help and was refused, the New York Daily News ran one of the most famous newspaper headlines ever: "Ford to City: Drop Dead."

    Now, in 2007, just four days (96 hours!) after the FCC's sixth public hearing about Media ownership, during which four of the five commissioners of the FCC heard overwhelming opposition to further relaxation of media ownership rules, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin went ahead and recommended it anyway. During the Seattle hearing on November 9, Mr Martin's ennui could only be cut with a chain saw.

    The two Democrat commissioners, Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps, ripped Mr Martin's stand.

    According to Martin's November 13 press release, the public can still submit opinions to the FCC, until December 11, here, to Media Bureau Docket 06-121. Even if Mr Martin has no intention of listening, you can at least go on the record and feel much better.

    Congress can still thwart Big Media's er, ahem, Mr Martin's desires; Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) declared that Congress will respond.

    Saturday, November 10, 2007

    Debriefing - FCC hearing on Media Ownership, Nov 9, Seattle

    The FCC hearing was very interesting last night. If there was any single take-away from the event, it was that any change of media ownership rules that would result in further consolidation of the media and a further sidelining of localism in broadcasting and journalism, is a non-partisan issue. Republicans and Democrats alike came out strongly against it.

    Washington state Governor Christine Gregoire (D) opened the proceeding, followed by Washington state Attorney Genl Rob McKenna, and US Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA, via video) and other state and federal government figures from Washington state.

    Mr McKenna (R), US Representative Dave Reichert (R-WA) and Talk Radio-head John Carlson (R, and candidate for WA governor in 2000) all argued very eloquently AGAINST further consolidation and AGAINST relaxation of media ownership rules. Most of the attendees had decided ahead of their comments that none of them would take this position, and rudely tried to drown them out before allowing them to make their statements. When they did speak, many in the audience thought they had entered an alternate reality!

    Only a handful of corporate representatives argued in favor of relaxation/consolidation, including a representative of the Washington Association of Broadcasters (NAB).

    Then four of the five FCC commissioners made presentations. One of them, Robert McDowell (R), a telecommunications industry lobbyist before GW Bush nominated him to be an FCC commissioner, said (paraphrasing here): "I'm here to listen to you, Otherwise, I have nothing to say." This aroused cat-calls from the audience: "We want to hear what you have to say!" He demurred.

    Commissioners Michael Copps (D) and Jonathan Adelstein (D) both slammed FCC Chairman Kevin Martin (R), who was sitting between them, for calling this meeting with five business days' notice. Transcripts of their comments, as well as comments from Deborah Tate, the only absent FCC commissioner (R), are available via the FCC's Web site, here

    Mr Martin, who was a member of the Bush-Cheney transition team and Deputy General Counsel for the Bush campaignbefore being recommended for FCC chairmanship by GW Bush in 2005, was last of the four to speak, saying that his job is to uphold the laws passed by Congress (which means, the Telecom Act of 1996, passed by Gingrich's congress and signed into law by Clinton). So, essentially, he punted, verbally flipped off everyone in the hall and blamed Bill Clinton (for "forcing" him to allow further relaxation of the rules) all in a single sentence. He posted no written statement for the record, and he was difficult to hear.

    Following this opening testimony, there were presentations from a moderated panel of media executives, followed by public commentary, then a second panel comprised of artists, then more public commentary. It was all excellent and noteworthy for the absence of "cranks." In fact, most of the members of the public were the senior "faces" of their organizations, including publishers, independent journalists, radio and TV stations, analysts and academics.

    A summary is available on the Web site of Reclaim the Media, an organization that all concerned citizens should join and make contributions to.

    The FCC should extend its Media Ownership commentary period

    The following is a letter I submitted to the FCC, for Docket 06-121. If you want to submit your own, instructions are posted here, on the FCC's Web site. Enter 06-121 in the "Proceding" field. You can upload a document containing your commentary or type it into the field provided.


    Honorable Commissioners,

    As you traveled the country to attend the FCC's public hearings about the proposed relaxation of media ownership rules, an overwhelming majority of public testimony was about how America depends upon a free and open media and how a diversity of voices gives the public the information it needs in order to make well-informed decisions, as they participate in our democracy.

    I propose that the FCC's vote in this matter be postponed, as proposed by Senators Lott, Dorgan, et al, in the "Media Ownership Act of 2007 (S.2332)," introduced on Nov 8, 2007, and also for reasons I describe below. I also propose that the FCC postpone its decision on media ownership, which appears to be targeted for December 18, 2007, or earlier.

    I make these proposals because I believe that the discussion should be expanded to include the upcoming 700mhz wireless auction and Net Neutrality. The 700mhz band is essentially a new form of "airwaves" and has the potential of being dominated by a small number of large communications carriers - analogous to the issue driving the media ownership discussion, because, potentially, powerful communications carriers will be in a position to stifle competition and to control the content brought to Americans.

    In 2003, communications carriers in the US were permitted by the FCC to build new networks without being obligated to rent them to third parties (counter to the original mandate of the Communications Act of 1996, which Chairman Martin pledged to uphold, in his comments at the Seattle media ownership hearing on November 9).

    By contrast, in Europe, this is not the case. In France, at least six companies compete side-by-side on France Telecom's network to deliver broadband TV (IPTV) - over France Telecom's network. This example of robust competition is no longer practiced in the US. These competitors carry some content in common but at least some of the content is unique to each of the service operators.

    Closed networks, on the other hand, be they fixed-line (copper or fiber), or wireless (but hopefully, not the 700mhz band), create the possibility of censorship. Already, it is a reality at AT&T, which has changed its subscriber contract to allow AT&T to kick subscribers off its network, who disparage AT&T. Other instances of carriers trying to control the content that their subscribers are putting over their networks are also being documented.

    So I encourage the FCC to consider the telecommunications carriers and the Net Neutrality issue in its deliberations over media ownership. The lengthening of the commentary period to 90 days, as proposed by S.2332, can and should be used by the FCC to reflect on these additional areas. For the FCC to make its decision on or before December 18 simply not allow enough time to consider these complex issues together.

    Thank you for your consideration of this proposal.

    Steven C Hawley

    IPTV News magazine

    Senior IPTV Analyst
    Multimedia Research Group Inc

    Principal Analyst and Consultant
    Advanced Media Strategies


    Tuesday, November 6, 2007

    FCC Public Hearing - Seattle - November 9

    The Federal Communications Commission is conducting a public hearing in Seattle on November 9th. Click here for the FCC's announcement, and here for the joint statement by FCC Commissioners Jonathan Adelstein (D) and Michael Copps (D). This is the third such meeting in recent Seattle history; the others were in 2003 and 2006.

    The hearing will be from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. at Town Hall, 1119 Eighth Street, downtown Seattle. If you have anything to say about consolidation of the media, or are interested in the topic - and are convenient to Seattle this Friday - you should go! I'll be there...

    According to Sen Maria Cantwell (D-WA)'s weekly newsletter to constituents (Nov 5, 2007), she and Rep Jay Inslee (D-WA) wrote to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin (R), on Friday to request public notice four (4) weeks prior to a public hearing on media ownership in Seattle. The same day, Martin announced that the hearing would occur on the 9th (one week's notice).

    Senator Cantwell and John McCain (R-AZ) are also to be credited for introducing The Local Radio Community Act of 2007 (S.1675), which was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee at the end of October.

    If there was any doubt that the American media is controlling the message (and who is controlling them?), did you know that one of the 2008 Democratic presidential candidates, Dennis Kucinich, introduced H.R.333 on Tuesday Nov 6 (election day!), a bill to impeach the Vice President of the United States? If you heard about it, you were probably reading a blog or watching CSPAN. None of the TV or radio networks covered it. The Washington Post ran a transcript of Kucinich reading the bill to congress. The Seattle Times actually ran a story. But of course, the Seattle Times is an independent newspaper and its publisher has been vocally opposed to consolidation of the media.

    Thursday, November 1, 2007

    The FCC, the public and media ownership

    In 1996, the Telecommunications Act made major changes in the regulation of the media and in 2003, the FCC further relaxed the rules governing media ownership. In 2004, the US Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit) placed a hold against those changes taking effect. A summary appeared on my blog in August: here.

    Now, once again, the FCC appears to be in a secretive, headlong rush to relax ownership rules "by Christmas," as detailed in this October 18th article in the New York Times. Thankfully, Senators from both parties appear inclined to hold the FCC at bay, according to this October 25 article in TV Week.

    Although the commentary window to respond to the FCC's recently released research studies on media ownership has closed, the FCC says that it will continue to accept public comments into rulemaking Docket 06-121, as "ex parte communications." The FCC also claims that these comments will be reviewed along with material submitted prior to the deadlines.

    The FCC explains the commentary process here and provides a link to submit inputs electronically, here. Select the button for "Media Ownership Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking - Docket 06-121" and click "continue."

    To put a fine point on why this is important, American democracy depends upon a free and open media that helps the public understand the issues of the day and to make informed decisions in elections, not to mention that the media has an impact on public safety. Yet, coupled with the elimination of the Fairness Doctrine in the 1980s, there is less and less assurance that the public will have the information they need. It's ironic that people have to access foreign sources like the BBC and the Guardian to find out what's happening here in the US.

    Let's look at a few instructive cases where the media stopped telling the story and became the story:

    • As you watch the 2008 round of presidential debates, have you wondered why only the front-runners are being questioned?

    • When the Space Shuttle Columbia broke up in February 2003, small market radio stations were broadcasting feeds from centralized locations far away. When rural Texas farmers called their local stations, wondering what was falling through the atmosphere, they got voicemail.

    • Speaking of space, did you know that the Chinese launched a moon mission on October 23

    • American newspapers and news magazines, including Time, ran stories about the British judge who recently found "nine significant errors" in Al Gore's movie, An Inconvenient Truth. But they didn't tell the entire story. In fact, the UK's Observer reported that the case was brought by Stewart Dimmock, who was supported by the unknown "New Party" of Scotland. The New Party's head, a mining executive, co-authored a 2004 report attacking climate change, with a secretary to Tony Blair and with the George C Marshall Institute, funded by Exxon Mobil. This puts the case in a different light.

    • "Fair and balanced" Fox admits right-wing bias. Most people don't know that Fox president Roger Ailes has been a consultant to the Republican party and advisor to all Republican presidential administrations since the 1970s.

    As media companies consolidate, the number of voices in the media declines. As these corporations look for ways to maximize profits, it is well documented that news operations have been consolidated or eliminated altogether. No longer does the media feel an obligation toward public service. The tombstones of the media are dated 1987 (the end of the Fairness Doctrine) and 1996 (with the passage of the Telecommuncations Act).

    Thursday, October 4, 2007

    Why telecom-related activist causes are worth paying attention to

    A good friend of mine told me about a once-independent Earthlink subsidiary in the Northwest having to release a percentage of their employees. In my humble opinion, this is emblematic of a broader change, that the days of the independent ISP may be numbered. In fact, five years from now, Earthlink and AOL will both be gone, as will most of the independent ISPs not directly associated with Telcos or cable operators.

    Anyway, on to the personal impact of Earthlink, since I'm an Earthlink subscriber. I began to wonder what will happen when they are acquired or go under? The ISP alternatives for me are Qwest and Comcast, and then there are all the other ISPs that could travel to my home over the top of Qwest or Comcast.

    As it stands at this moment, Qwest isn't an option: their speed is up to 1.5mbps, which is inadequate for my needs. Plus Qwest's partnered ISP is MSN.

    So, because Qwest broadband is so slow, we take broadband access from Comcast, and therefore, we *could* use Comcast's ISP service (which we already pay for as part of the broadband subscription, but don't use because we have Earthlink).

    The other ISPs include AT&T, Verizon and a bunch of others, but I don't see them as being particularly appealing either.

    But this is part of yet a still-larger picture: service providers that offer Triple
    Play (TV, voice, broadband access/isp) services. I don't particularly like those choices either, which are Qwest, Comcast and potentially Dish/Echostar.

    I suppose we could go to Comcast for Triple Play, since we already take broadband access from them. Plus Comcast offers VoIP and (well, DUH!) TV service.

    For reasons above, Qwest is not a triple-play option, plus Qwest's current TV offer is a bundle with a different satellite provider (DirecTV). [ Although there's hope: the Qwest technician that ran phone lines in my house last week said that all fibre-fed DSLAMs in this area will be upgraded to ADSL2+ or VDSL2 (which means only one thing: Video - although Qwest has made no announcements, they are well known to be out with RFPs for IPTV infrastructure and middleware) ]

    This leaves Dish Network satellite TV, which currently provides TV in my home, but because they are satellite, they lack phone and data services. There's rumbling that AT&T might buy Echostar (Dish) - which would give AT&T a triple-play, although the broadband part of the equation falls short (it would still be AT&T's ISP and VoIP services over Qwest's lines). AT&T can't offer its U-Verse IPTV service here, since AT&T is not the incumbent Telco.

    I never thought I'd be making decisions about my communications services would be so complicated. Being in the industry, my first thought was that "sometimes one can know too much!" But it's more important than that: the average consumer has no idea what all is at play here, and it's not just about getting broadband or Triple Play services in my home!

    To me, it's why the whole Net Neutrality issue is so important. AT&T can apparently kick people off their service for disparaging AT&T. Plus, both AT&T and Verizon (and probably Qwest) are believed to be wiretapping American homes on behalf of our
    federal government.

    What our era will be remembered for, 500 years hence

    Sherman, set the way-back machine to 1957. October 4th.

    First day of the space age, with the launch of Sputnik. 50 yrs ago. I actually remember (as a 4 year-old) my dad giving me a "Sputnik" made of a balloon and four straws, before going to my grandparents' place for dinner. You blew up the balloon and taped on the straws. The balloon had the innards of the Sputnik printed on it. I also remember how the straws broke off as I tried to rotate the thing.


    PS - Now the US has a next-generation moonshot/moon base effort underway. With all the hype about the war, I bet you, dear reader, are not aware of it! Thankfully, the original Website is archived. Maybe NASA is trying to distance itself from it.

    Thursday, September 27, 2007

    Qwest IPTV?

    As a telecommunications consumer, I'm actually just as much a throw-back as I am an advanced user. On one hand, I need multi-megabits so I can look at video via the Internet and also for transfer of large files with clients. On the other hand, we need regular old fixed-line voice-over-copper telephone service.

    So imagine the surprised look on the face of the Qwest installer when she saw that we wanted three analog POTS lines to our house. But that's what we have: one for my business, one for my wife's and one as our "regular" home phone (which we don't give out anymore because we're more reach-able via our business or mobile lines, but that's another story).

    Anyway, after she finished the installation ("I haven't done one of these in more than six months!"), she commented that Qwest was going to begin upgrading the switches in neighborhoods of our town, Issaquah (Washington).

    Technician: "They're going to start with the fiber-fed switches first, so your neighborhood will be early."

    Me: "So what's our available bandwidth now?"

    Tech: "About 1.5mbps, but it's going up to at least five."

    Me: "What kind of switch do we have down the hill?"

    Tech: "AT&T? No - Lucent!"

    Me: "Stinger?"

    Tech: "Yes, that sounds right"

    Me: "ADSL? ADSL-2? ADSL2+? Pair-bonded? ..."

    Tech: "Well they were talking about doubling up the feeds from the line cards."

    Me: "That might deliver enough for video."

    Tech: "That's what I'm hearing."

    Me: "MPEG-2? MPEG-4? HDTV?..."

    Tech: "I haven't heard those terms..."

    So I guess it will be awhile before they train up their field personnel, but it might be soon. Now that she's gone, I kick myself for not asking "when?"

    Still, this is more than I probably would have heard from a Qwest executive. Promising. I hope it's soon - I can't wait to dump our surly cable company (from whom we DON'T take TV).

    Right now, we have (I counted them) nine communications service providers: Qwest (local phone), Comcast (broadband/data/Internet), Dish (TV & PVR), Sprint (Long distance), T-Mobile (mobile phones), Go Daddy (my wife's Web host), 1 & 1 (my Web host), Earthlink (personal email) and eFax (digital fax service).

    I think we'd become a triple-play customer in a NY minute, given the opportunity. Plus, given the business I'm in, I'm sorta pre-disposed to favoring the Telcos.

    The other lesson? Always talk with the technicians. They're your friends!

    Wednesday, August 8, 2007

    The most powerful person in the media...

    On August 7, Digital Media Wire posted a survey, which asks: "Who is the most powerful player right now in media, entertainment and technology?"

    The choices are: Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, Satoru Iwata, Rupert Murdoch, Google's Larry Page and Sergey Brin, or write-in.
    Considering the choices one by one (in my opinion)....

    Saying Jeff Bezos is powerful is like saying Meg Whitman is powerful. Both of them preside over important Internet properties (Amazon and eBay respectively) that created powerful new business models (and got rich from them). But that doesn't make them the most powerful players in the media.

    Same for Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Google may have unleashed an incredible search-driven advertising machine that's the raison d'etre for all of the company's other businesses (YouTube included) but again, that doesn't make them the most important player in the media.

    As for Satoru Iwata, same. Nintendo changed the face of gaming, but not the face of the media.

    That leaves Murdoch and Jobs.

    The forces that Rupert Murdoch channels through News Corporation's Fox television properties are the personification of political power. But the media has always been seen as a creative force and so much of politics, particularly today, is destructive. So yes, Murdoch may be a very powerful guy, but I wouldn't call him the most powerful in the media.

    Even though Disney begat Snow White, I'll always remember people saying "the Mouse has fangs." But that was Michael Eisner's Disney, not Steve Jobs' Disney (Jobs is the biggest stockholder of The Walt Disney Company, which owns Disney pictures, theme parks, the ABC TV network, ESPN and much more). You don't hear much about Apple being evil. Just that it's a closed society. If I ran Apple, which holds some of the world's most coveted intellectual property, I'd run a tight ship too.

    Apple has changed the music business by partnering with it. About twenty six years ago, Apple and Visicalc changed business computing. In 1983, Apple commercialized the graphical user interface with the Lisa. In 1985, in partnership with Aldus and Adobe, Apple changed the publishing business. Later, with Adobe and other software partners, it changed movie production. It owns the media player category. It is king of human factors engineering. Between Apple, Disney and Pixar, Mr Jobs is as much a contender as Murdoch. All three companies are icons of creativity.

    Given Jobs' hand in traditional media, new media and the tools of creativity, I'd give him the prize.

    Saturday, August 4, 2007

    FCC releases a library of Media Ownership studies

    On July 31, the FCC released ten research studies on media ownership. The agency is in the process of reviewing media ownership policies.

    Comments may be posted to MB Docket 06-121. The FCC closes this commentary period on October 1st. The commentary filing process is on the FCC's Web site

    As obscure as this may seem, a healthy and diverse media is central to the health of American democracy, which depends upon a well-informed citizenry. Columbia Journalism Review maintains a Web site listing the holdings of the major American media companies.

    When an overwhelming majority of the media in America is owned by just a handful of companies - and therefore, is captained by just a handful of powerful executives - there should be cause for concern. The largest are The Walt Disney Company, General Electric, News Corporation, Time Warner, Viacom and Sony. Click the company names to view a listing of each company's holdings.


    On June 2, 2003, the Federal Communications Commission relaxed the rules that regulate media ownership in the United States, as follows:

    • National TV Ownership: A single TV broadcast group would be able to reach up to 45% of the national audience, up from 35%; a limit that had been in place since 1941

    • Cross-media Limits: A single media company could own print (newspaper) and broadcast outlets (radio and TV) in the same market; even if the market has 3 or fewer TV stations (by obtaining an FCC waiver)

    • Local Radio Ownership: Depending upon market size, the same media company can own up to eight radio stations in a single market

    • Local TV Multiple Ownership: A single company can own two stations in a market with five stations.

    • Dual Network Ownership: There can be no mergers among the top four national broadcast networks (unchanged from previous rules).

    In November, 2003, the White House and US Senate leaders compromised on a TV ownership cap of 39 percent. Two major media companies were already near that level prior to the FCC ruling.

    In June, 2004, the US Court of Appeals (Third Circuit) ruled to continue blocking the 2003 ownership changes from taking effect, saying that the FCC had not sufficiently justified its revised numerical limits.

    Friday, July 20, 2007

    The 700 megahertz auction

    When television goes to digital in 2009, the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum currently used for analog television broadcast will become available for other uses. Om Malik posted an educational summary about the situation.

    The best proposal I've seen so far, to govern the use of this 700 mhz territory, is "The four Opens" proposed in a letter filed on July 18 by Google, Skype & a number of policy advocacy groups. They are:

    * Open Devices
    * Open Applications
    * Open Services
    * Open Networks

    Personally, I find it sad that few people outside the activist community are talking about this 700mhz auction in terms other than financial.

    When any large media company, Internet portal provider or carrier succeeds in asserting "ownership" over any spectrum, it further diminishes the availability of the electromagnetic spectrum as a public resource that benefits modern democracy.

    After all, the lower part of the 700 mhz spectrum is already used by QualComm and others for mobile communications and video - in effect, making it unavailable to others.

    "700mhz" is another face of the "low power FM" and "net neutrality" discussions. In my opinion, public resources ahould not be handed over to private ownership.

    And if the current US government hadn't spent our treasury surplus into oblivion, this auction wouldn't feel so much like a bake sale.

    That's my $0.02 (=£0.01)

    Saturday, July 14, 2007

    An "Out of Box" Experience

    This week, I bought an Apple MacBook Pro, to replace my 3+ year old PowerBook. Anyone who has purchased a Mac recently can attest to its ability to transfer everything from your old computer to your new one via FireWire. It works as advertised: everything - from my files, to my software licenses, to my applications, even my desktop wallpaper - transferred over automagically.

    But a couple of days into my new computer, I launched Entourage, the Mac equivalent to Outlook, in Microsoft Office for the Mac. Suddenly, when trying to send email, I got a "Sorry...." error message. Then, the program crashed and offered me the option to "Rebuild the Database." Ominous indeed. So I did, and it didn't solve the problem. I thought: "Oh no! It was too good to be true. That's six years of my business, all the correspondence with my clients, all my contacts... I'm (in big trouble)!"

    So I got onto Microsoft's Mactopia web site, which directed me to Microsoft Office support newsgroups (ironically, they are on Google). Several people made suggestions (including two Microsoft support engineers), but alas I ended up solving the problem myself.

    As it turned out, Apple ships the Mac with a trial version of Microsoft Office pre-installed. It had interfered with my licensed version and had hosed-up all my settings. After reinstalling MacOS X and fully deleting and reinstalling MS Office (both the trial and my licensed version), and then, re-installing all the updates (by using Microsoft's Office Auto Updater and Apple's Software Update), it worked fine.

    Lesson 1: you have to be vigilent of even the smartest technology.

    Lesson 2: you can't assume that I'm going to bash Microsoft in my blog. They must be credited for watching their support newsgroups and for supporting the Mac

    Lesson 3: Microsoft must be credited not only for their Mac efforts (which, in my opinion are better then their Windows efforts), but also for believing in their unique IPTV system and sticking with it. A senior person at T-Online France emailed me yesterday that their Club Internet IPTV service is scaling and is about to cross 100,000 subscribers.

    Monday, July 9, 2007

    Apple Benz, BMW iDrive - I'm So Confused

    In a recent post, I waxed poetic about Apple's real product: Human Factors Engineering. Now, in the ongoing battle of the German "Über Cars" (BMW, Mercedes and Audi), it looks as if at least one of them is finally waking up to its value: Mercedes-Benz has gone right to the source, to co-develop a new driver navigation system.

    While BMW has touted its iDrive as being elegant (and I'd bet that BMW put the 'i' in front of the name because it wanted to have an unspoken association with a cool brand), the automotive press has called it unusable for years. (I should ask my friend Xero to rate that feature in his car)

    You saw it here second...

    Friday, July 6, 2007

    What about Microsoft?

    Yesterday, I posted an entry about AT&T's U-verse IPTV service. No discussion that has "AT&T" and "IPTV" in the same sentence can overlook the years of delays associated with AT&T's deployment of the Microsoft TV middleware platform, which uses a combination of Microsoft technologies and requires System-on-Chip (SoC)-based set-top boxes. In fairness, Microsoft has had to deal with significant external dependencies, including the volume availability of SoC chips, availability of development tools from the SoC vendors, and as a result, the set-top boxes themselves. Other dependencies have been the implementation of features by Microsoft and of the platform by third-party integrators.

    It's within the realm of conjecture that AT&T could "suspend" U-verse (over copper access) and offer DBS (to copper subscribers, in its place) in the short term. Pursuing such an option would allow AT&T to save face while scrambling to replace both Microsoft and copper access with something else over fiber (AT&T is already running fiber for greenfields). But AT&T has invested a lot of pride and effort into defending both their Microsoft relationship and their Fiber-to-the-Curb/Copper-to-the-home access strategy, so, we'll see.

    In any case, all of this is my OPINION, not to be confused with any actual plans afoot at AT&T. But in the meantime, look at Verizon, which just crossed 500K FiOS TV (ie: over -> FI <- ber) subscribers, as AT&T labors away...

    Also, Microsoft is hardly alone in the middleware game. According to "Multimedia Research Group Inc (MRG)", the largest IPTV deployments in the world run on Thomson SmartVision TV (formerly from Thales/Grass Valley), Cascade QualiTVision (developed internally by Hong Kong's incumbent, PCCW), MiView TV (developed internally and deployed by Telefonica in Spain and Chile and marketed worldwide by Alcatel-Lucent despite A-L's Microsoft relationship), UTStarcom RollingStream (several >100k in China, plus SoftBank in Japan) and Myrio with two midsized incumbents in Europe, an operator in Thailand, plus over 80 IOCs. Then there are Minerva Networks with over 100 (including a large incumbent) and Orca Interactive with number of mid-sized deployments of their own.

    (This information is current as I write this, as I just completed a 350 page report on IPTV middleware for MRG, for which I had in-depth discussions with all of the major platform companies, and obtained details of their deployments, technologies, products and roadmaps; during the first and second quarters of this year).

    Meanwhile, Microsoft just re-branded the platform formerly known as the "Microsoft TV IPTV Edition," to "Microsoft Mediaroom". In my own opinion, Microsoft did this for two reasons. First, to make a clean break from past criticism by showing evidence that the platform has progressed (Microsoft did demo some new applications for the platform at NXTcomm in June). Second, because both Comcast and Verizon retreated from their full-on deployments of the Microsoft TV Foundation Edition. Without a "Foundation Edition," why would they need an "IPTV Edition" or any other edition? So let's re-name the platform altogether...

    (c) Steven C. Hawley
    Contact for permission to use

    Thursday, July 5, 2007

    What about U-verse?

    A friend asked me for comments about "AT&T's U-verse IPTV service", for an article he's writing. Soon, I was asking myself "which comments does he want?" So I sent him all of these, plus a few that don't merit repeating here.

    It took a lot of pent-up frustration, not to mention a lot of guts, for AT&T to get up in front of investors, the industry, God and everyone else, to admit delays and blame its platform vendor for its woes, as "AT&T's former CEO Ed Whitacre did this past January".

    But don't cry for AT&T, Argentina, because U-verse is just part of the interesting portfolio of converged services that AT&T is building. At the June 2007 NXTcomm conference, AT&T launched " Video Share", which allows (guess what) consumers to share videos between mobile phones without interrupting calls; in three test markets. They also have HomeZone, a satellite TV service augmented by the Internet, and they partner with MobiTV to send video the PC, and Akimbo for VOD. Oh, yes, AT&T is also a reseller for this little company that makes jewelry - Apple I think they're called?

    The cynic in me says AT&T is doing all of this to hedge their bets for "when" U-verse fails (See my July 6 blog entry, which I had initially published here), but in reality, it's because AT&T wants to do what telecom operators going back to AT&T v1.0 have always done: provide a like range of services to all subscribers; and if one access network can't do it, use another.

    A very interesting competitive dynamic is emerging, where in many larger and midsized markets, you'll have the local cable TV operator, one or more direct-broadcast satellite ops (like Sky, Dish or ExpressVu), over-the-air/digital terrestrial TV and one or more IPTV providers.

    In large to mid-sized markets, the IPTV competitors will be AT&T and/or Verizon and/or the local ILEC and maybe even the local municipality. In small to mid-sized markets, the local IOC may see competition from Verizon or AT&T. In rural areas, it will remain the IOC vs the non-Telco competitors; maybe even the county PUD or a consortium of suburban communities.

    But then, cutting a big gaping red swath through all of them is Internet TV, to anyone that has broadband access. Internet TV will be the interesting wild card in all of this, as some incumbents embrace it, others try to limit and manage it, and still others ignore it as if it didn't exist (to their peril).

    (c) Steven C Hawley
    contact for permission to use

    Wednesday, June 27, 2007

    Apple's iPhone - only one reason why I won't (until...)

    Apple's iPhone will be to mobile devices as the Mac is to personal computing.

    Like most people, I've had a bunch of different mobile devices over the past 10 years or so. At first, they were just phones, but now? I like the basics, so I have an old Nokia 3220 - just about as basic a phone as you can get today. I use it as a travel alarm and I make phone calls with it. It has a camera, which I use mostly to create wallpaper for the phone. No PDA. It works anywhere in the world.

    I also have £19.95 mp3 player that I bought at Heathrow Airport. I can drag and drop music to it from the iTunes player (or the O/S), record face-to-face interviews using the built-in microphone, digitize music with it via stereo line-in or record music from the built in FM radio. Way more than the iPod, for way less money (when will Apple put encoding into the iPod?!).

    Simplicity rules my computing experience also. When it comes to my computer, I find Windows totally unusable. Windows does not accommodate the user - the user has to accommodate Windows. As close as it gets to helping is when it says something like "You don't seem to have an Internet connection - would you like to use the connection wizard to find it?" OK. So why the blank do I need to give this little wizard guy (which looks more like a dialog box than a wizard) my "permission" to find an Internet connection?

    In contrast, when I first opened my 3 year old Powerbook G4 and hit the power switch, it fired up and asked me whether I was using DSL, cable or some other connection. When I answered the question, the next screen asked me to register the computer. It had automagically found the Internet. It didn't ask me if I had the drivers for the third-party wireless router in the house. In about two minutes, I was using my computer. Later, using Firewire, the new computer transferred everything from the old computer, including all my software, files, preferences, serial numbers, everything. If this were Windows, I'd probably still be transferring files (and why does Windows still have a file manager?!). By the way, it has crashed only a couple of times since 2004, when running Microsoft Office.

    So simplicity and minimalism have always driven my technology decisions. Back in the '80s, computer-savviness would win arguments and impress your friends, but nobody really cares now (unless they are insufferable geeks, which is OK, but let's keep that in its place).

    My take on "devices" is that they're supposed to make you more powerful while simplifying your life, not make you feel small and weak for not understanding their commands or make your life more complicated.

    This is EXACTLY why I would consider an iPhone. The fact that the iPhone doesn't have some of the features that non-iPhones have (like GPS) doesn't matter to me. The whole "missing features" discussion misses the point altogether. As for GPS, if I needed directions I'd use the Web (it's an iPhone, for Pete's sake) and get a map.

    So here is the point: Apple's real product isn't computers, phones, set-top boxes or media players. It isn't even hardware or software, although it is intellectual property.

    Apple's REAL product is HUMAN FACTORS ENGINEERING. Not "usability engineering." The latter is what Microsoft does. If you've ever been subject to a Microsoft usability study, you know that Microsoft spends lavishly on usbility. Their studios are to make a product manager drool (I know: as a product manager, I've conducted usability studies). But Microsoft's usability testing makes sure that people understand the tasks that their software puts you through. It doesn't promote the kind of 'out of the box' thinking that true Human Factors Engineering does.

    So yes, I would buy another dose of Apple's peerless Human Factors Engineering, in the form of an iPhone. Except for one thing. They signed an exclusive with AT&T. I will never, ever buy another product or service from AT&T. Ever again. In my life. Why? Because, over the course of thirty years, inept management turned one of America's greatest companies into a shell of its former self.

    I think that Divestiture was right, but in the years subsequent, it seemed that the company did everything it possibly could do - wrong - by failing in virtually every business it stayed in, while spinning out is successful ones. Until finally, AT&T was so weak and clueless that it allowed SBC, the predatory champion of "Revestiture" (thanks to Gary Arlen for inventing that term) to ingest its bones and take over its name.

    So yes, it's now a different AT&T, but between its former cluelessness and its current arrogance, I won't buy from them. And I won't even get into how AT&T allowed itself to be used by Bush's NSA to spy on Americans.

    So, if Apple ever signs with Deutsche Telekom, maybe I'll buy an iPhone in Europe and bring it home, where I can use it with my existing T-Mobile account. Hopefully they don't hit me up for roaming.

    Wednesday, June 13, 2007

    Net Neutrality - Comment to the FCC by June 15th

    Net Neutrality is a big public policy issue, and the FCC is accepting public comments until June 15.

    Common Cause posted a petition to submit comments to the FCC for you (as have other activist groups, including

    But I thought "why should I have them do it, if I can submit one to the FCC directly" - that is, until I tried. It isn't easy to find any information about this on the FCC's Web site, let alone find the online comment form (how's that for public service). So for your convenience...

    Here is the FCC's online comment submission form. You can upload a document containing your comments, or, you can enter your comments directly into the online form. Once you've done that, you will be presented with a confirmation screen, with a confirmation number. You can search for your entry later by going here.

    In March, the FCC announced a Notice of Inquiry (right-click to download PDF) into: "...the behavior of broadband market participants, including: (1) How broadband providers are managing Internet traffic on their networks today; (2) Whether providers charge different prices for different speeds or capacities of service; (3) Whether our policies should distinguish between content providers that charge end users for access to content and those that do not; (4) How consumers are affected by these practices."

    And for your reference, Here (right-click to download) is the FCC's explanation of the matter, "In the Matter of Broadband Industry Practice - WC Docket No. 07-52."

    Good luck!

    Monday, June 11, 2007

    Thanks to Apple... Congratulations on 30 years

    Techcrunch posted a "30 years of Apple" blog entry a few days ago - Wow, the memories came flooding back! So I responded, and I re-post my response here. And there actually is an IPTV tie-in to all of this.

    I worked at an Apple dealer in So California (Computer City) in 1981-1986, managed its San Diego store for a few months. We carried Osborne, Grid, Altos, Vector Graphic, IBM, Apple, Compaq… Remember when the Apple ][ became the //e.

    Back when Apple had a rep firm instead of a sales force, we would get all excited on (i think it was Friday) when the rep would come in with a big wad of money and peel off hundred dollar bills for every Apple /// sold. A local accounting firm bought dozens of them, and I used the proceeds to put the earnest money on my first house and partially pay for my wedding reception! Those were the days when 23 point margins were the absolute floor for a sale, and you had to get permission from the owners to sell at lower margins. (”only if it’s more than 50 units..” - unheard of for a bunch of kids running a retail computer store! Heck, our technician was only 15 - we used to have to take turns giving him rides home because he was too young to drive)

    Then Businessland came into our market and lured many of us to sell to corporate accounts. We did pretty well there - must businesses were buying their first computers. But Businessland was not an Apple dealer and it was like pulling teeth to get a Lisa for a guy who used to buy from me at my old dealership and absolutely wouldn’t buy from anyone else. But he had to have his Lisa. I can’t imagine any computer mfr bending their channel marketing rules like that today!

    In the mid-late ’80s, the phone companies all tried to sell computers. The thought process being that if some little upstart like Businessland could be so successful selling toy computers, imagine how successful the Telcos could be selling computers AND phone systems! PacTel InfoSystems was started by the West coast RBOC, and Will Luden, of the Luden’s Cough Drop fortune, was put in charge. They had absolutely NO CLUE about computers - in fact, they refused to do any tech support on a PC because it was “outside the demarc” - meaning that it was customer premises equipment, not part of their network, and therefore outside their domain. The “telcos in the computer business” phenomenon was short lived, and probably accelerated the demise of the full=service computer dealer (who was already being undermined by low-margin clones).

    I was Northern Telecom’s (now Nortel Networks) alliance manager to Apple from 88 to 93, and wow we had fun. We had full access to Apple’s skunkworks (and I had a counterpart that had wide range in Northern Telecom and Bell Northern Research). One of our projects, “MacPhone,” was introduced commercially in 1990 as Meridian TeleCenter - basically a Mac hooked up to the RS232 port on the back of a Meridian PBX telephone set. The Mac ran a software program (developed by a bunch of guys at BNR in Ottawa and Mt View Calif) that worked all the features on the phone that nobody would learn how to use, such as conferencing people together - but it was all point and click. The Meridian PBX used an ISDN-like 2B plus 2D communications link, so it could send commands into the PBX.

    A year later, a third-party developer was hired to add a video codec board to the Mac, which added full duplex videoconferencing (H.261) and screensharing (over circuit-switched data) to "MacPhone" . We also got it to work over Switched-56. At one point, the product team had people in the US, Canada and Australia working on it.

    In 1992, it was the first third-party demo at Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference (WWDC). The Northern/BNR team wheeled in a whole PBX for the demo! It sold a lot of Macs for Apple, into universities and businesses, and a lot of switching equipment for Northern Telecom (but very few customers actually bought and used the product - it was mostly used as sizzle to sell the steak).

    The Northern Telecom sales people and their channel partners totally didn’t get it! And after about 1992, Apple lost interest in this kind of technology leadership as well. John Sculley left. The 90s were a dark time for Apple - it’s amazing that they survived (imagine if Sun had actually bought Apple, in a parallel universe).

    Apple refused to go to the clone business (well, they did for awhile, and Jobs shut it down when he returned to Apple in the 90s. In retrospect, he did absolutely the right thing). Apple’s full control of everything from its OS to its industrial design and its sales outlets was something we would never have imagined back in the 80s but it’s certainly a major key to their success now. Good for them!

    So, now the obvious question, since this is Steve's tvstrategies IPTV blog....

    What does ANY of this have to do with IPTV?

    For starters, Apple is one of the leading product designers in the world. As a product manager, I've been involved in usability research and one of the old adages of Web design holds doubly true today: "If it's more than 2 clicks away, you've failed." Apple understands this.

    Also, "convergence" is nothing new to Apple. They worked with Northern Telecom to get an edge in a new kind of communications called Local Area Networking (NT created the method that was standardized as IEEE 802.9), and the two were doing "convergence" before almost anyone else (except for the TeleCompaq in the mid-'80s).

    Every IPTV middleware vendor - including Microsoft, now that Steve and Bill are all kissy-kissy again - should take some guidance from Apple.

    All this shows how far the industry has come: the phone companies and computer companies are not only talking, but they are largely beginning to understand one another and what's more, they have become part of one anothers' strategic plans once again.

    Except this time, the stakes are much higher.

    Friday, June 8, 2007

    Why did I wait so long?

    Welcome to the tvstrategies blog.

    This entry is really to say "Gee, Steve, it's the early twenty first century - isn't it about time to get with the program?" Watch this space for entries relating to IPTV technologies, service and business models, service providers and content.

    On the opinion side, I'll occasionally comment about the consolidation and corporate control of the Media, which I believe represents a serious threat to American democracy.

    Fortunately, IP Video, interactive television and the Internet are beginning to help restore the balance between the individual and big media (and the powerful corporate and governmental forces behind them).

    These New Media technologies and service models are giving individuals a stronger voice, and the world is becoming a better place for it. It is that trend that attracted me to IPTV in the first place.

    I will try not to make this blog a vehicle for shameless self-promotion (see the Web site for my consulting practice, Advanced Media Strategies, for that).