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
email: steve@tvstrategies.com

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).