The Obama administration has named two of the greatest brains online to its FCC review team: Susan Crawford and Kevin Werbach. And there are few agencies that need review so badly. Bravo!
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Tom Evslin is celebrating the FCC’s decision to open up the white spaces between old TV channels to unlicensed use (to create, for example, “wi-fi on steroids,” as Google’s Larry Page has put it).
This is hugely important. It could provide the means to connect more of America. It could provide the competition that assures us both reasonable prices for access and open and unfettered access (for, in a competitive marketplace, the provider that limits our use will be the provider that loses). This will bring more innovation. It will lead to new businesses. It will help educate people. It’s a big deal. Tom’s list of benefits:
* Within a year there could be new, cheap radios and commercial services that make mobile broadband available with greater bandwidth than cable offers today AND at lower prices.
* Mobile phones on these frequencies will be much cheaper to use AND will have much better data capability than they have today.
* Since the US is the first country to make so much desirable spectrum available for open unlicensed use, the door is open for a wave of innovation here and the invention of products and services which will eventually be used around the world.
* Much of the concerns many of us have had about tollgates on the Internet and an end to open interconnection will evaporate since the barrier to providing Internet access will be much lower and the power of the existing cable-telco duopoly diluted.
Note this historic moment: I’m praising the FCC.
(Here is my op-ed on opening up the white spaces.)
And here is my essay for the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on the internet as a right:
The internet is a right. We have reached the point at which enabling and assuring open, unfettered, and universal access to the internet should become a hallmark of civilized societies. The Global Agenda Council stands in a position to make this the goal of nations.
In civilized societies, universal education is a right. In some nations, health care is a right. Some other services provided in the common good may require payment but in developed nations are nonetheless considered rights: access to clean water and electricity. In the United States, even telephones are a right, as users pay fees to subsidize the cost of getting lines to all people. In the United Kingdom, television is a right insofar as the government levies a tax to support it. Such rights may be met publicly or privately.
Access to the internet – and open, broadband internet that is neither censored nor filtered by government or business – should be seen, similarly, as a necessity and thus a right. Just as we judge nations by their literacy, we should now judge them by their connectedness.
It is in societies’ enlightened self-interest to enable such access. The WEF Global Agenda Council can demonstrate this to nations by cataloguing, quantifying, and demonstrating the many benefits that will accrue with universal access:
* In business: Jobs will be created. New and higher skills will be learned and used. Companies can find new efficiencies. Entrepreneurism will be fostered (and using web 2.0 tools, less capital – in a capital-starved time – will be needed to start new companies that create jobs and wealth). Innovation will be sparked. With access, jobs may move into once-isolated areas of the world. Businesses can, at the same time, reach worldwide markets.
* In education: Simply making the world’s digital knowledge accessible to and searchable by anyone in a nation is a huge step forward in informing and educating a people. Encouraging popular use of the internet is also a magnet drawing people toward literacy. Connecting whole populations enables anyone connected to become educated. Schools can become disaggregated and reaggregated so students can find classes anywhere and classes can find students anywhere.
* In government: Connectivity will connect citizens with more services and can bring more transparency to government as citizens come to expect accessible and open information. Citizens will become more involved in politics and will be able to coalesce and act around issues and needs.
* In society: We can only speculate on the long-term effect of universal connectivity on society, but creating more ways for more people to connect with each other over greater distances and periods of time will surely have a positive impact on understanding and even friendship.
Though it might seem a bad time to propose such an aggressive goal – in the midst of a financial meltdown – it can also be argued that this is precisely the right time. As governments spend funds on infrastructure to stimulate economies, the financial and societal benefits of building and extending the digital infrastructure – over, for example, roads and airports – would be great. Favoring digital over physical assets will also have the environmental fringe benefit of favoring online communications and collaboration over travel.
Part and parcel of this discussion must be an examination of the definition of openness. The internet is itself an embodiment of free speech: the First Amendment brought to life. By its openness, we may judge a society’s freedom of speech. Gating access against content, applications, and uses must be discouraged. At the same time, there needs to be an acknowledgment of the economics of access: If you use more water, even if having access to it is a right, you pay for it. In some nations, on the other hand, there is no practical limit to the free education one may receive. So what should the economics of a universal and open internet be? There also needs to be a discussion of security for users and for the internet itself.
(See also a very good discussion about this notion here.)
I have an op-ed in the NY Post today supporting Google’s call to free up the white spaces between TV channels for, in the words of Larry Page, “wi-fi on steroids.” Snippet:
The government shouldn’t be protecting the entrenched interests and faltering business models of legacy industries like broadcast, cable and phone. Instead, the FCC should be encouraging competition in the marketplace and sparking innovation – especially in an arena so critical to the strategic health of the American economy.
And shouldn’t the FCC be standing up for the consumer, helping to get everyone better service at a lower cost? I vote with Google on this.
In fact, why don’t we just hand the government over to Google? It’s already organizing our knowledge and taking charge of whole industries. It’d likely do a better job of governing than all the bureaucrats in Washington.
Yes, the country sure has fallen to hell since 2003 wouldn’t you say: naked people on the street, wild sex everywhere, young children sold into sexual slavery in once-quiet suburbs. Yes, we were corrupted as a country back then by the nanosecond flash of a breast and a butt.
Good God, I hate the FCC and its interference in speech and culture.
They’ve gone and done it again with a fine against ABC for a flash of T&A on NYPD Blue five years ago.
The description of the scene by the FCC is more lewd and lascivious than the scene itself; it is written as if by a dirty old man:
[A] woman wearing a robe is shown entering a bathroom, closing the door, and then briefly looking at herself in a mirror hanging above a sink. The camera then shows her crossing the room, turning on the shower, and returning to the mirror. With her back to the camera, she removes her robe, thereby revealing the side of one of her breasts and a full view of her back. The camera shot includes a full view of her buttocks and her upper legs as she leans across the sink to hang up her robe. The camera then tracks her, in profile, as she walks from the mirror back toward the shower. Only a small portion of the side of one of her breasts is visible. Her pubic area is not visible, but her buttocks are visible from the side.
The scene shifts to a shot of a young boy lying in bed, kicking back his bed covers, getting up, and then walking toward the bathroom. The camera cuts back to the woman, who is now shown standing naked in front of the shower, her back to the camera. The frame consists initially of a full shot of her naked from the back, from the top of her head to her waist; the camera then pans down to a shot of her buttocks, lingers for a moment, and then pans up her back. The camera then shifts back to a shot of the boy opening the bathroom door. As he opens the door, the woman, who is now standing in front of the mirror with her back to the door, gasps, quickly turns to face the boy, and freezes momentarily. The camera initially focuses on the woman’s face but then cuts to a shot taken from behind and through her legs, which serve to frame the boy’s face as he looks at her with a somewhat startled expression. The camera then jumps to a front view of the woman’s upper torso; a full view of her breasts is obscured, however, by a silhouette of the boy’s head and ears. After the boy backs out of the bathroom and shuts the door, the camera shows the woman facing the door, with one arm and hand covering her breasts and the other hand covering her pubic area. The scene ends with the boy’s voice, heard through the closed door, saying “sorry,” and the woman while looking embarrassed, responds, “It’s okay. No problem.”
This is the FCC’s “analysis:
As an initial matter, we find that the programming at issue is within the scope of our indecency definition because it depicts sexual organs and excretory organs – specifically an adult woman’s buttocks.” Although ABC argues, without citing any authority, that the buttocks are not a sexual organ, we reject this argument, which runs counter to both case law and common sense.
I’d say that the buttocks are not an organ. I’ll cite this definition from Oxford American: “a part of an organism that is typically self-contained and has a specific vital function, such as the heart or liver in humans.”
What’s offensive about this is the sexism of it: A woman’s butt is dirty and corrupting. A woman’s breast is obscene.
When will the women of America stand up and protest?
What is the moral difference between this and making women wear burkas?
But what’s really fun about this is that by calling the buttocks a sexual organ, as the FCC does, they are acknowledging that anal sex is sex.
The FCC says it received “a number” of complaints about this. They don’t even both saying what the number is anymore since that’s been shown (by me) to be meaningless. Though at least this time the FCC admitted that it received “letters from members of various citizen advocacy groups.” First Amendment spam, that is.
The government — no government — should be involved in restricting and regulating speech in any medium. Period.
Well, I came that close to agreeing with the head of the FCC.
In today’s Times, Kevin Martin argues for a loosening of the rules prohibiting cross-ownership of newspapers and TV stations to help save newspapers from financial doom. But he loosens them only so much, fearful, I’m sure, of unlocking the antimedia rage genie that bit his predecessor, Michael Powell, so badly.
A company that owns a newspaper in one of the 20 largest cities in the country should be permitted to purchase a broadcast TV or radio station in the same market. But a newspaper should be prohibited from buying one of the top four TV stations in its community. In addition, each part of the combined entity would need to maintain its editorial independence.
He doesn’t go nearly far enough. I say the ban should be lifted entirely and that cross-owned companies should be allowed to merge entirely and for more reasons that Martin gives. First, I agree with him that enabling newspaper and TV companies to join together in a market will give them both efficiencies that will help extend the limited life of the print business model; it buys them time and if that means time for development — instead of time to milk the old cow before she keels over — that’s good.
Media consolidation is a boogeyman we don’t need to be afraid of anymore. Clear Channel, the great consolidator, had to go private because the market wouldn’t support it anymore. Tribune Company, the wunderkind of cross-ownership with a paper, TV, radio, online, and a sports franchise in the Chicago market, has been taken over by a builder. Giant Knight Ridder fell into the hands of giant McClatchy, which just took a huge write-off against its plummeting value. Consolidation today is no longer about conquering the world. It is, as I’ve said here often, about huddling together against the cold wind of the internet. Let them huddle, I say, or they’ll die sooner. Martin apparently agrees.
But there’s another reason to allow — no, encourage — cross-ownership: multimedia literacy. Here I am arguing that newspaper people need to learn how to make radio and TV and the internet and that TV people need to learn to tell stories across all media. And so wouldn’t it be good for the journalists in both tribes to merge and learn each others’ ways? Couldn’t (notice I said ‘couldn’t’ not ‘wouldn’t') that improve the journalism on both sides? Isn’t there a chance that a wisely managed, larger newsroom could waste less resources matching each other on commodity news and go out and report real news?
I’m not so optimistic or foolish to believe that every consolidated, cross-owned, converged newsroom would operate with such strategic wisdom. Some would just use the merger as an excuse to reduce staff so as to squeeze out a last drop of milk. But you can’t regulate and legislate smart management.
Why not give them a chance to invent new ways to gather and serve journalism across all media and all distribution channels? Somebody might do it right and that somebody probably wouldn’t be in a top 20 market — the only ones Martin wants to free up — but in a smaller market. That somebody would show the way for others as a few — too few — newspapers and TV stations are doing for each other now.
Let the dinosaurs join together and lay their last eggs.