Posts about fcc

Post-postal

Imagine an America in which everyone has an internet connection, a device to use it, and a printer.

Ruth Goldway, the chairman of the U.S. Postal Regulatory Commission, imagined such a world when the head of the U.K.’s Royal Mail International asked at an industry conference a year ago what Google would do with the Postal Service. Goldway (who hadn’t read my book) replied, “They’d give every household a computer and a printer.” (And I’d add, of course, a broadband connection.)

Goldway was just speculating. As someone who believes in the Postal Service’s universal service obligation, it makes sense that she’d wonder about universal connectivity.

Now — as is my habit — I’ll take it farther — too far — and ask: When we all are connected, do we need a Postal Service? Or what kind of Postal Service do we need? What still needs to be delivered? What are the economics of that delivery — who’s being served and who should pay? Do we still need daily (let alone Saturday) delivery? Do we need to guarantee physical delivery to every address in America? How much could we save? Can the market take over delivery of things while the net takes over delivery of information and communication? What’s the impact on publishing and advertising, on retail, on education?

These are fascinating questions I’ve been tossing back and forth with a new friend, John Callan, a high-level consultant in the delivery industry. He did read my book (and gave Goldway a copy) and came to visit me to talk about the post office in the Google age. Callan, his colleagues, and I are thinking of holding an event to explore these questions and opportunities.

The Postal Service is forecast to lose $7.8 billion in 2010. A USPS presentation here reveals the dynamics: a 17% decline in volume from ’06-’09; a forecast 37% drop in first class ’09-’20. With its universal service obligation, the USPS has to deliver to 150 million addresses a day. With its post offices, it has 36,500 retail locations, more than McDonald’s, Starbucks, Walgreens, and Wal-Mart in the U.S. combined — and it’s not allowed to close offices for economic reasons. Its retiree health benefits alone cost $5 billion a year. Dropping Saturday delivery, as has been proposed, would save $3 billion a year — but that doesn’t solve the problem. Federal Times says the USPS is “officially in a panic” (not a bad thing, I’d say) because it could lose $250 billion in a decade.

The US Postal Service as we know it is, in a word, like much of the rest of the economy disrupted (or, if you prefer, doomed). I think it’s time to ask the radical question: Do we need it?

If all of us are connected, we don’t need the USPS to deliver letters; email is precisely the reason that first class mail is already plummeting. We consumers are, in my view, subsidizing the delivery of advertising because 71% of the USPS margin available to cover its costs comes from first class, only 21% from advertising. Yet in 2009, the USPS delivered an equivalent number of ads vs letters and by 2020 it will deliver far more ads (86 billion ads vs. 53 billion letters, according to the USPS projection). Should an ad-delivery service be the province of a government-anointed entity? I don’t think so.

So let’s zero-base the Postal Services’ services: Once more, information and communication can be handled electronically. Commercial delivery should be handled commercially. There will be an increase in parcel delivery as more and more retail moves online; that’s a profitable business the market should take over. Junk mail should pay full freight — if it is still delivered once mobile becomes a better, more targeted, and more efficient delivery mechanism for coupons and such (and if do-not-mail lists threaten to cut their volume). Magazines? Sorry, but I don’t really want to subsidize their businesses — and besides, tablet triumphalists insist we’ll be using iPads before you know it. Do we need six-day-a-week delivery to every one of 150 million addresses in America then? No; delivery of things is made on an as-ordered basis. What about out-of-the-way addresses (see: Sarah Palin)? Maybe that requires some subsidy, but that would be minimal.

What about the post offices? The USPS presentation shows far lower costs if these services were run through partners (e.g., other retailers), online, and self-service machines.

What about delivery of government paperwork? Well, it’s ludicrous that we’re not given the option to fill out the census online. We are shifting our taxes online.

Mind you, I have nothing against mailmen anymore than I have anything against pressmen. It’s just that they work in antiquated industrial structures and we can find not only efficiency but improvement of service thanks to digital — if we are all connected.

That is why I wish the FCC broadband plan went farther faster (as is happening elsewhere in the world), assuring everyone a high-speed connection quickly. This examination of the Postal Service is just one example of the impact universal connectivity would have on the economy. Some of that impact is painful — lost jobs, severance cost, unused real estate, mothballed trucks. But much of that impact is positive — improved service, reduced costs, reduced environmental impact, new opportunities, new entrepreneurship, new innovation. New companies would emerge to take up the opportunities this change presents, creating new jobs and value.

That’s why I was so impressed with Chairman Goldway’s answer to the WWGD? question: Rather than trying to paddle against the flood, she was at least willing to at least wonder about going with the flow.

I’ll ask: What happens if we spend capital not on money-losing, dying institutions (repeat: $250 billion losses over a decade) but on subsidies to get every American connected? If we fully examine the opportunities that presents, it could have a profound impact on policy, budgeting, and many sectors ofsociety. Let’s model that impact on the economy.

So Callan and company and I would like to get together both incumbents and entrepreneurs to imagine the near-future world of delivery after digital ubiquity. I’d like to continue the discussion with other sectors: newspapers and media, obviously, but also education (how would it change if every child were connected and equipped?); retail; real estate (what happens when all that retail leaves its brick-and-mortar stores?); financial services (why the hell are banks still building branches?); government; and on and on. That is what should inform the policy debate over broadband policy: Let’s map out all the opportunities — for entrepreneurial innovation and growth, for savings, for improvements in life, for export value — and let that inform the resources and speed we put into universal broadband.

What do you think?

Cablevision sucks

Well, but that’s not news, is it? Everybody knows that.

But that hit home – again – tonight when I returned after three days away to find our internet not working. I called Cablevision and after a few obvious steps, I’m told they can’t see the modem and they offer to send someone out … in three days.

Three days?!?

I’ll spare you the Dell Hell details. But what ensues is amazing, even to me. When I said I wanted someone here tomorrow because I’m paying for service and it’s not working, the tech, “George” – I assume they use phone names – told me they have lots of customers without phones, internet, and cable ahead of me. Well, I said, that’s shocking: lots of customers waiting days to get their internet, phone, cable. I asked him point blank and three times whether if I had my phone service with them they’d also make me wait. Seems so. He asked me why I think I should get service tomorrow and get ahead of a 90-year-old lady without a phone. I asked him why he thinks that lady shouldn’t have had her phone fixed long since!

I got a supervisor, “Marc with a c.” I told him that I’ve had to have a vice-president come to my aid before to get service, that I used to work with Cablevision and his boss, Chuck Dolan (back when I had the misfortune to be around at the start of News 12 NJ), that I saw Dolan at a meeting a few weeks ago (where TiVo’s Tom Rogers, who does fix customer problems, was speaking with a small group), and that I planned to call his office in the morning to report the quality of service I was getting from his people.

“Marc” replied, “I don’t see you listed as a VIP.” I can’t believe he said it either. So you only give decent service to VIPs? He said he was going to tell his management that I was calling myself a friend of Dolan’s. Friend? I said I was going to call the boss to tell him about your service. Maybe I should be his friend. Every customer should be. I tweeted: ” In any good company, there are no VIPs. All customers are VIPs. Not Cablevision. All its customers are prisoners.”

I also said I planned to call Verizon as soon as they finish cabling my street so I can switch. Cablevision didn’t seem to give a damn.

When I had problems with Dell, I waited weeks and then resorted to a blog post. Now is the age of Twitter. So I vented my frustration there (using my iPhone and its AT&T connection, not my Cablevision wifi, of course; that’s how I’m writing this).

Here’s the funny part: Cablevision didn’t answer my tweets. So I tweeted: “Hey @comcastcares, is there a @cablevisioncares? Ha! What an oxymoron.” And two minutes – I swear, two minutes – later, Frank Eliason, aka @comcastcares, tweeted. He said he’d just been emailing with an EVP/CFO of Cablevision on something else and that he’d email him about my problem. Get that: Comcast doing a better job at Cablevision service than Cablevision. Too bad Comcast couldn’t come out to fix my internet. Eliason later tweeted: “I think you & I agree that social media will force that to change for companies, & service by all must improve in the new world.” Amen, but how long will it take companies like Cablevision to learn that?

But there’s another punch line. I got a tweet from John Czwartacki (@cz), Verizon’s policyblogger who tweeted: “Jeff, Verizon is ready when you are! DM or reply and i’ll get things rolling Monday morning. Hope we earn your biz!” A few DMs later, and he’s checking with his colleagues to get my street lit and get my business. Another Verizon person, Laurie Shook, also asked for my business: “Hey Jeff, Verizon is listening. Would love to hook you up on FiOS.” Now that’s the spirit. That’s business.

Comcast cares. Verizon cares. Cablevision doesn’t. But then, that’s not news.

(P.S. If somebody from Cablevision actually does anything tomorrow, I’ll send a free copy of What Would Google Do? to my good buddy, VIP Chuck Dolan. For his convenience, just because he’s important, I’ll put a bookmark on the Dell Hell story.)

: LATER: I tweeted that I had been invited to meet the new head of the FCC this afternoon but couldn’t because of work in New York. Oh, if only I had. I’d have bent his ear about how fine administration goals of broadband for all will get us nowhere if the future of our technology, innovation, communication, and entrepreneurship can be railroaded by companies such as Cablevision. I’d also have bent his ear about the need for customers – not just business customers but all customers – to have service-level agreements with cable and phone companies, guaranteeing us response time and repair (except, perhaps, in the cases of natural disaster), with penalties to back them up. (Here’s today’s Wall Street Journal report on FCC Chair Julius Genachowski’s mission of “making affordable high-speed Internet available to all Americans.”)

: LATER STILL: Oh, just got email from someone at Cablevision who saw the discussion 12 hours ago. He works in media relations. Hint to all companies: Now that we’re all in media, everybody in a company is in media relations.

: FOLLOWUP: A technician arrived yesterday morning. The amplifier on the street didn’t work. He fixed things that would affect other people on the street. It works now. I don’t know whether the 90-year-old lady has her phone back. She should.

Now the FCC cares about journalism

First John Kerry and then the FTC fretted about journalism and what government should do and now FCC Commissioner Michael Copps is swinging his worry beads. CNSNews.com (I hadn’t heard of it before) says Copps is circulating an internal Notification of Inquiry (a step toward rule-making) about journalism and TV hinting at requirements for stations to provide journalism in the public interest and at possible government support.

Journalism and TV: an oxymoron? Well, not always. But often. Local TV news has sucked for years – that horse is out of the barn, over the horizon, and in the glue factory already. Fluff and fires, that’s most of local news on TV. So what is Copps lamenting?

The local broadcast business is going the way of newspapers, only a bit behind and more slowly and without all the attention of self-obsessed print reporters. So what’s to protect?

Local TV news still has, amazingly, the trust of its audience. And it still makes money. So there is a business there. Too bad there’s just so little journalism there.

So I say that Copps shouldn’t be protecting the incumbents or goading them to make more of the same. If he wants to do anything, he should be encouraging new players to compete with local TV and grab some of their attention and dollars.

Scratch that. I don’t want the FCC to do anything that has anything to do with journalism, news, and speech. It’s a bad idea.

The one thing the FCC could do that would encourage more creation of content online, more audience to use it, and thus a better business model would be to get ubiquitous broadband throughout the country. That is the FCC’s job. So, Commissioner, get on with it, please.

Broadband nation

I’ve been offline in a UK castle with wi-fi only in the basement (but I suppose that’s a miracle) and then in a Holiday Inn (what a fall) with gawdawful and gawdawfully expensive so-called broadband so I’ll take this opportunity while sitting in the Apple store (bless it) to just join in the chorus of celebration that Barack Obama pledged to fix our gawdawful broadband status in America. Now let’s speculate about just how ambitious we can be.

At the conference I just attended (a few posts on that later, when I can be online for more than two minutes) there was talk of trying to tax broadband providers here to subsidize (or some would say compensate) content creators. I think that’s bassackwards.

If we wanted subsidy, there could be none better than assuring that the entire nation is on broadband. Then all consumers, all content, all advertisers could meet there. It would fast-forward the inevitable. It would spark innovation and jobs and trade and education.

To hell with public-service broadcasting. How about public-service connectivity?

In good hands

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!