net neutrality – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 What to Make of the Historic Net Neutrality Win Wed, 11 Mar 2015 14:20:19 +0000  

Tom Wheeler, Jessica Rosenworcel, Jessica RosenworcelThe FCC has done what even a few months ago seemed to most totally unthinkable: they delivered real net neutrality policy, putting in place strong regulations to protect fairness in internet access. After a decade-long policy battle, net neutrality advocates got nearly everything we’ve been calling for: clear-cut Open Internet rules that prohibit broadband network operators from blocking, throttling, or prioritizing internet content and services, that apply to both wired and wireless networks, and— the most wonky, yet most important, point— are based in Title II of the Communications Act. In other words, the FCC can now stop broadband providers from restricting your internet traffic or charging extra for exclusive internet “fast lanes,” whether your connection is to a personal computer or a mobile device, all rooted in a long-standing regulatory tradition of “common carriage” that protects openness and equality for essential two-way communications infrastructure. (For more details, you can check out my previous coverage of net neutrality here on Antenna, where I’ve written about the importance of Title II and the politics of policy that led to this point. For more on what net neutrality even is, you can check out my explainer for the Media Industries Project.)

Overall, the FCC’s new Open Internet rules represent a major come-from-behind victory for net neutrality advocates and a significant achievement for more democratic communications in the US. So, what should we make of this landmark FCC decision? How in the world did this actually get done? And what exactly happens now? Let me mention a couple of quick points along these lines.

The first and perhaps most important point is that a resilient social movement succeeded in getting a meaningful progressive victory in communications policy— an affirmative victory to enact good policy, not a defensive victory to stop bad policy. This success came even on a seemingly arcane and technical regulatory issue of invisible infrastructure, within a policy arena where corporate discourse and dollars dominate. I’ve spent the last eight years following net neutrality and, while I remained cautiously (if, as many told me, irrationally) optimistic throughout that it could get successfully put into policy, even I have to admit that it was quite a long shot to get rules this good from the FCC. Net neutrality policy has a long history of half-steps forward and large tumbles backwards, on a policymaking playing field heavily tilted in favor of the large corporations that set the terms of engagement there. Nonetheless, a strong coalition of media reform and civil rights activists, legal and technologist advocates, and online creators and startups pushed net neutrality forward in the policy sphere and the public sphere. They mobilized millions of citizens to engage with the FCC in its Open Internet proceeding— a powerful popular force in support of net neutrality that made it more than good policy, but also good politics. Some cynical defeatists are content to ignore the real difference made by everyday people’s voices and actions, instead emphasizing the role of the tech industry in lobbying for net neutrality in service of its economic interests. This perspective is not only demeaning and disempowering in terms of activist strategy, but also not very accurate: Google, Amazon, and other tech heavy-hitters mostly sat it out this time around, while smaller outsider tech firms (the likes of Etsy and Kickstarter don’t exactly have much sway inside the Beltway) worked better with the activist coalition.

The second point is this: even though this is a historic victory that should be celebrated, the fight is far from over. This is true in an immediate sense of challenges to the Open Internet rules. Broadband network operators and their allies in Congress are already seeking to block the new rules. The FCC will also surely be sued as soon as the Open Internet rules go into effect, kicking off yet another long legal battle over the agency’s ability to regulate internet infrastructure. It’s worth noting, though, that Comcast and AT&T both have potential mergers being considered by the FCC currently and Verizon’s appeal of the much weaker 2010 Open Internet rules backfired pretty bad on them, making theses corporations perhaps a bit more lawsuit gun-shy than usual (the cable and wireless lobbies look most likely to sue). Regardless, because this time the Open Internet rules are built on the strong and appropriate statutory foundation of Title II, we can be confident that the rules will stand up in court.

But the fight is also not over in a bigger picture sense: as consequential a victory as this is, it is ultimately just one step on a longer journey toward more equitable media structures. On the internet infrastructure front alone, there is much more to be done to ensure faster, more affordable, more inclusive broadband network access (although the other FCC action that same day— to overrule state restrictions on municipal broadband networks— opens a door toward a more promising future of public internet infrastructure for more cities). Having net neutrality meaningfully enshrined in communications regulations, and having FCC policy moving toward treatment of internet access as an essential utility, is huge, but net neutrality has proven a resonant discourse that can speak to critical social justice goals and can be employed more widely. Net neutrality could ultimately end up most historically significant, then, for the powerful discourse and movement that advocates put together around it— if we can build on this success and use this momentum to push forward for more victories like this one.


“Hope” for Net Neutrality? Thu, 13 Nov 2014 15:00:36 +0000 On Monday, one more voice was added to the millions that have already urged the FCC to protect net neutrality (the standard that all users and uses of the internet should receive equal treatment from network operators like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T). This comment was particularly notable, though: it came from President Obama.

Obama’s statement calling on the FCC to implement the strongest possible net neutrality regulations in its Open Internet policy proceeding is significant for many reasons: how unusual it is for a sitting president to dive so deep into the weeds of communications regulation, the influence it can have on the policy the FCC actually adopts, and (amazingly) just how right on the President is in his plan. Obama’s net neutrality statement is also especially important, though, for what it signals about the politics of media policy: a legitimate social movement is pushing for fairness and equality in internet access by engaging in historically corporate-dominated policymaking processes and strategically “boring” regulatory discourses to successfully bring undoubtedly arcane yet crucially political media policy issues to the front and center of the national political stage. Simply put, the President wouldn’t jump this far into this fight with powerful phone and cable corporations and their allies in the incoming Republican-controlled Congress (and perhaps even the FCC Chairman he appointed) if it weren’t for wide public pressure to act boldly on net neutrality. The FCC is an independent agency that doesn’t have to answer to the President, so it remains to be seen if any of this is enough to shift the Commission’s current direction in Open Internet rule-making— right now toward a (likely untenable) attempt at compromise through a “hybrid approach”— but at the least it is heartening to see such prominent attention to obscure issues like paid prioritization (known as internet “fast lanes”) and Title II reclassification (somewhat misleadingly being called “utility regulation”).

15003287537_b16bdc6d26_zIn Obama’s statement, he surprised nearly everyone by laying out in unambiguous terms an Open Internet policy plan that would deliver pretty much exactly what most net neutrality advocates (myself included) have seen as what has been needed all along: a clear-cut set of rules against blocking and discrimination that apply to both wired and wireless broadband providers and prohibit paid prioritization “fast lane” deals with online content providers, all based in a “common carriage” regulatory framework with legal authority from Title II of the Communications Act. (Yes, this is the super nerdy, but now increasingly central, terrain on which this battle is being fought!) This is a stronger set of rules than those proposed by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler this past spring and the rules that were previously adopted by the FCC in 2010 but struck down in court in January. As I explained in a post here in the aftermath of that case, the reason why the 2010 rules failed in court (and in enforcement) is that they were not implemented with appropriate legal authority to regulate openness and equal access and if the FCC wants to move forward with meaningful and sustainable net neutrality policy, it has to reclassify broadband. What the Commission needs to do— as called for by advocates for strong net neutrality, now including the President— is to implement Open Internet rules through Title II, where the Commission has authority to regulate essential infrastructure for two-way communications (which internet access clearly is).

This traction in the political debate around net neutrality comes as a result of a popular movement that has seen nearly 4 million public comments to the FCC’s Open Internet proceeding (a record-breaking total, of which up to 99% were in favor of net neutrality), protests and demonstrations both online (like the Internet Slowdown Day) and offline (like occupations of the FCC building and even Chairman Wheeler’s driveway), and John Oliver’s tour-de-force explanation and call to action. All of the public participation in the process (just like the President’s) may not even count for much to the FCC, but it has worked to shift the discursive terrain of the issue and, therefore, the range of possible policy action. Chairman Wheeler has backed away from his initial weak proposal and is now hinting toward wireless broadband regulations and at least partial reclassification.

Right now, though, the FCC is stalling while it decides what to do and its next move will come no sooner than 2015. For passing strong Open Internet protections, Wheeler has the votes at the Commission (with two pro-net-neutrality Democratic commissioners to make a majority with him) and now political support from President, but he may be waiting for more backup from the bigger tech industry players like Google and Facebook, which have been conspicuously quiet in this round of the fight. Strong public pressure will continue to be key to keep up this progress toward meaningful net neutrality policy.


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What Are You Missing? Jan 13 – Jan 26 Sun, 26 Jan 2014 15:00:00 +0000 Here are ten (or more) media industry news items you might have missed recently:

net-neutrality1) A federal appeals court in Washington D.C. has dealt a massive blow to ‘net neutrality’ rules, finding the FCC overstepped its authority by requiring broadband providers like Verizon and AT&T to treat all Internet traffic equally. While it is unclear how much authority the FCC will retain, it is clear the decision greatly decreases the FCC’s ability to retain several such rules. For much more information on this course case, it’s impact on the future of the Internet, and how you can help be heard, I highly encourage you to read Danny Kimball’s recent piece on Antenna.

2) The FCC may soon have another massive decision on its hands, as multiple names and companies have become revealed as potential buyers of Time Warner Cable, a move that would bring yet more consolidation to an already oligarchic system and thus would likely come with ‘bundles’ of strings from regulators. Original reports saw Charter Communication going public about plans to acquire TWC, with the company under the leadership of John Malone making a public plea to TWC investors after the company itself didn’t take original talks seriously. The proposed deal was originally for $61 billion, roughly $132.50 a share. Not long after these reports surfaced, new movement came out of a possible split-deal between Charter and Comcast for TWC, though the proposed deal is unclear of whether it means both buying the company together or Charter buying wholesale but selling particular regions to Comcast. The reports mostly end there, but the deal is clearly heating up and it seems something ought to give soon enough.

3) While we’re on the subject of “great things happening to undeserving cable providers,” Verizon this week announced it has agreed to acquire Intel Media, a broadband streaming video service from the technology company. While no precise amount has been released, the approximation based on earlier valuations put the deal around the $200 million mark. It is not entirely clear how or when Verizon plans to integrate the Internet TV service with its own broadband and FiOS network, but the over-the-top service is expected to launch before the end of 2014.

4) Big money is certainly on the table for the NFL’s Thursday Night Football, as Fox, CBS, ESPN, and Turner Broadcasting have all submitted bids, with NBC expected to join in as well. The NFL is looking for offers of 6 to 8 games in a package for a one-year deal. Despite bids from ESPN and Turner, the belief is the NFL wishes to land a network deal, ensuring higher ratings to in turn boost valuation when the bidding takes place again next year.

5) Reorganizations are happening at Viacom, with two next units being announced in the past two weeks. One is a new Programs Acquisitions Group, a unified group that will control all aspects of the acquisitions process across all of Viacom’s U.S. media networks. The second change is a new ad-sales unit called Viacom Velocity that will create special content for advertisers using their various networks. Viacom executives referred to a recent campaign done exclusively on Comedy Central to promote Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World featuring the film’s Tom Hiddleston. Did I mention this story just so I could link to this video? You tell me:

6) Fox has once again been denied an injunction and even a rehearing of its case against Dish and their ad-skipping DVR  the “Hopper.”  Fox had petitioned for a rehearing after being denied the injunction last summer, and their goal of proving infringement in court looks slim. Fox might choose to try and take the case to the Supreme Court, but with the Aereo case already set to be decided their, it is unlikely the High Court would take such a similar dispute.

7) If you read “What Are You Missing” regularly, you are no doubt aware of the recent spat of musicians and artists filing lawsuits against their labels over missing digital royalties owed via various music streaming sites/services. The Counting Crows are now the newest addition to that growing list, which now includes artists as far ranging as Peter Frampton, George Clinton, and Rick James.

8) An interesting case out of an appeals court could change the way Internet gossip is seen and tried in future cases. The court found that Internet bloggers can in fact use First Amendment rights as a defense against defamation lawsuits, claiming the speaker does not need to claim status as a trained and employed journalist as long as the public importance and public image of the subjects in question is established.

9)  China is taking stricter measures to control online video and book publishing in order to help combat piracy and regulate content. The new regulations require posters of “microfilms,” a burgeoning market alternative to state-approved media, to submit their real names when uploading content to video streaming sites. While this could have much broader impacts, the language of the regulatory body’s announcement seems to indicate a more narrow focus on these microfilms, rather than the much larger swath of user-generated content.

10) The little guy is fighting back as an independent regional movie theater chain in the Southeast, Cobb Theaters, has filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against AMC, claiming the national chain as coerced film distributors to deny product to the smaller chains. The claim accuses AMC of contacting major film distributors and studios asking them to deny product to the regional chain, using its market control as leverage.


Net Neutrality is Over— Unless You Want It Fri, 17 Jan 2014 15:27:01 +0000 series_of_tubesOn Tuesday, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals tore out the heart of net neutrality. In the landmark Verizon v. FCC decision, the court struck down the FCC’s Open Internet rules— the hard-fought regulations passed in 2010 that prohibited broadband providers from blocking or discriminating against internet traffic. Without these protections, network operators like Verizon are legally empowered to not only interfere with the online activities of their users but alter the fundamental structure of the internet and change the terms on which users communicate and connect online. The court threw out the no-blocking and nondiscrimination rules but left intact the transparency provision, so now the company you pay to get on the internet can mess with your traffic as much as it wants, as long as it tells you so. The ruling is not a surprise, but not because the Open Internet rules were not legitimate or net neutrality is a bad idea. It comes down to this: broadband providers are common carriers but the FCC can’t regulate them as common carriers because they didn’t call them common carriers. (I’ll explain in a second.) So if we want net neutrality, what should we do? Well, tell the FCC to call broadband providers common carriers. It really is that simple— not easy, but simple.

First, what’s actually at stake here? Well, the end of the open public internet and the beginning of separate but unequal private internets, under the control of the giant phone and cable companies in possession of the pipes and airwaves we depend upon for access. The FCC’s Open Internet rules left much to be desired but they were minimum protections to count on and a significant beachhead in the net neutrality battle. Without them, what do we get now? A network where Verizon can charge extra to prioritize traffic and block any service that refuses to pay a toll to reach its users (that’s what it said it would do if it won this case). A network where Comcast can derail video distribution that threatens its cable television business (that’s what it did when it blocked BitTorrent and what it does in favoring its Xfinity service— even though it’s obligated to abide by net neutrality until 2017 as a condition of its merger with NBC-U). A network where AT&T can cut deals with the biggest content providers to exempt their apps from counting against monthly data caps but squeeze out the innovative startups that can’t afford to pay (which it just announced last week with its new Sponsored Data plans). Networks — with pay-to-play arrangements, exclusive fast lanes, unfair competition, and prepackaged access tiers— where that independently-produced web video series, that nonprofit alternative news site, or your own blog are left behind in favor of those that can pay protection money to network operators. In other words, a network that is not the internet as we’ve come to know it— an open network where users can be participants in the creation and circulation of online culture, rather than a closed content delivery system for corporate media. While net neutrality proponents’ rhetoric might seem a bit overblown, we are much closer to a “nightmare scenario” than most realize.

The DC Circuit’s ruling was not against net neutrality itself, but rather the twisted way the FCC attempted to enforce it. The majority opinion actually went out of its way to describe why net neutrality regulations are necessary to curb abuses of power by network operators. It ruled that the Open Internet rules themselves were sound— they were just implemented the wrong way. Coming into the case, the FCC’s authority to regulate broadband at all was in doubt, after the agency was handed its hat by the same court in the 2010 Comcast case. The FCC tried it again this time with a slightly different tack (“even federal agencies are entitled to a little pride,” the majority wrote— federal appeals court humor, folks) and, amazingly, the court bought it this time around (while Verizon called the FCC’s argument a “triple-cushion-shot,” the judges pointed out that in billiards it doesn’t matter how much of a stretch the shot is if you actually make it). However, even though the court affirmed the FCC’s legal ability to regulate broadband, it found that it can’t regulate it the way the Commission wanted to in the Open Internet rules.

The court ruled that the FCC’s net neutrality policy treated broadband providers as common carriers, but that it couldn’t do that because it didn’t have those services classified in the common carriage portion of its legal framework. Basically, it all goes back to the FCC using the term “information service” rather than “telecommunications service” to define broadband starting in 2002. That’s it— this is a case where the importance of discourse, and the power to dominate discourse in the policy sphere, could not be more plain.

Net neutrality is essentially an update to common carriage, the centuries-old principle of openness and nondiscrimination on publicly essential infrastructure for communication and transportation. The FCC has regulated general purpose networks of two-way communication as common carriers since its inception with the 1934 Communications Act (at that time the focus was telephone service). Beginning in the 1980s as part of its influential Computer Inquiries and legally formalized in the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the FCC distinguishes between these basic networks, defined as Title II “telecommunication services” (think pipes), and the content made available over those networks, defined as Title I “information services” (think water flowing inside those pipes). Under this framework, the FCC regulated internet access (the connectivity) as common carriage to ensure equality and universality, but could not regulate the internet itself (the content). As telecommunications services, internet access providers’ job is to pass communications back and forth to the internet, while the information services on the internet are publishers with editorial rights to control content. This all changed during a deregulatory binge at the FCC in the 2000s: cable companies called their broadband connections “information services” (pay no attention to their actual cables), conspicuously not subject to regulation, and then-FCC-Chairman Michael Powell was happy to define broadband that way, too (he’s now the head of the NCTA, the cable industry’s trade group, by the way).

Now, because broadband internet access is not classified as “telecommunications,” it cannot be regulated as common carriage. This means that, as the DC Circuit recognized, since net neutrality is basically common carriage, it cannot be implemented as long as broadband is still defined as an “information service.” So, even though broadband is now the essential general purpose communications infrastructure of our time, there can be no openness and nondiscrimination protections for it until the FCC is willing to change the label it has applied to it in its regulatory terminology. The answer, then, is reclassification: the FCC just needs to call broadband the telecommunications service that it is before we can have enforceable net neutrality policy. The policy really is that simple— it’s the politics that are difficult. The reason that the FCC built the Open Internet rules on legal quicksand is that it lacked the political will to go through with its reclassification proposal amidst a firestorm of pressure from the telecom industry and its allies in Washington.

If we want net neutrality, we should put our own pressure on the FCC. We don’t have the money and the lobbyists that the telecom industry does and we can’t count on the clout of any big corporations whose interests overlap with the public’s on the issue— Google already sold out to Verizon and other big online content providers are now backing away from it (the Amazons and Facebooks of the world have deep enough pockets to dominate the payola market of the future, so they seem willing to play ball at this point). It’s up to us, then, to push the FCC to do net neutrality right this time.


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Why Verizon v. FCC Matters for Net Neutrality— and Why It Doesn’t Fri, 06 Sep 2013 12:00:42 +0000 internet_openThe battle over net neutrality (the vital principle that internet access providers should not interfere with what users do online) is heating back up. The FCC’s 2010 Open Internet rules ostensibly established net neutrality principles in policy (we’ll get to how effective it has actually been in practice…) but Verizon has been seeking to overturn the regulations. On Monday, September 9, the DC Circuit Court will hear oral arguments in Verizon v. FCC, focused on whether the FCC has the legal authority to implement the Open Internet rules.

This post will give you some background on the Verizon case and what’s at stake in it. Whether the FCC’s Open Internet rules stand or not is pivotal for net neutrality and the future of the internet— but also isn’t. While net neutrality protections are essential for internet users, the FCC’s Open Internet rules in particular are quite problematic. In some ways net neutrality would be better with these rules and in some ways could be better without them.

Here’s why Verizon v. FCC matters:

1. The rules prohibit the most egregious net neutrality violations. The FCC’s Open Internet rules are based in a deeply compromised version of net neutrality and are far from the strongest protections we could hope for (they were essentially written by Google and— ironically enough— Verizon). In spite of this, though, they are definitely better than nothing. The Open Internet rules bar wired internet access providers from blocking online content, services, applications, and devices or unreasonably discriminating in internet traffic. For instance, this stops Comcast from making disappear from your browser (or redirecting it to for that matter) and from throttling Netflix’s video streams. The Open Internet rules can be actually stronger than they immediately appear and have potential to be robust safeguards if enforced by the FCC properly.

2. The rules are an important foothold against total deregulation. Underlying the fight over the Open Internet rules is whether the FCC can regulate broadband at all. During a wave of deregulation in the 2000s, the FCC removed almost all of its oversight for internet access and now the agency is left with a shaky legal foundation for the Open Internet rules— what Verizon asserts is not enough authority. The Open Internet rules are important, then, because striking them down would eliminate virtually the last remaining public interest protections for internet access. Beyond that, though, if the courts buy Verizon’s argument in its Open Internet challenge, it would set a very troubling precedent for enforcing net neutrality in policy: the telecom operator says that it has a First Amendment right to “edit” the internet as it sees fit. If the free speech rights of “corporate persons” are allowed to trump the free speech rights of actual people, it doesn’t bode well for the future of the online public sphere.

And here’s why Verizon v. FCC doesn’t matter:

1. The rules haven’t been very effective. Even if the Open Internet rules are allowed to stand, they’re weak enough to allow a lot of net neutrality violations anyway— and for just the sort of activities especially key to the future of the internet. Most glaringly, most of the rules don’t even apply to mobile broadband (which is poised to soon become the dominant means to access the internet and already is primary among the underprivileged). This is why we see AT&T allowed to block FaceTime on the iPhone. Further, the rules don’t apply to “specialized services” (such as IPTV or any other managed service a network operator provides over broadband that isn’t regular internet access). Comcast calls Xfinity a “specialized service,” supposedly separate from the “public internet,” so it’s allowed to favor its own video streaming service by not counting Xfinity-on-Xbox traffic against users’ data caps. In other words, there are many net neutrality abuses not covered by the Open Internet rules.

2. Overturning the rules could actually lead to getting better ones. Paradoxically, there is a possibility that having the Open Internet rules struck down could be for the best in the long run— blowing up the whole thing and starting from scratch may be the only way to get truly effective net neutrality policy. Specifically, if the courts find that the FCC did in fact deregulate itself into oblivion and no longer has any statutory authority to address broadband, the agency could be forced to re-regulate broadband if it wants to actually remain relevant. (To get policy wonky: what the FCC needs to do is reclassify broadband as a “telecommunications service” under Title II of the Communications Act, where it has more authority to implement “common carriage”-based rules like net neutrality than on Title I “information services” where broadband is now). Counting on this outcome is very risky, though, because it’s impossible to know what the FCC will be like under incoming Chairman Tom Wheeler (an enigmatic figure who has inspired both hope and disgust from public interest advocates).

So, protecting net neutrality isn’t as simple as just upholding the FCC’s Open Internet rules— net neutrality could be better off with or without them. It really depends more on what the FCC does— and, crucially, what we as citizens push them to do— after Verizon v. FCC.


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SOPA: Just Say NOPA Thu, 22 Dec 2011 16:07:28 +0000 Whatever you’ve been doing on the internet in the last few weeks, chances are you ran across something about SOPA. Whether it was in blacked-out tweets and status updates, at the top of Reddit, or ‘blocked’ access to Tumblr, online protests in opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act that is being debated in the US House of Representatives have been all over the internet recently. And for good reason— SOPA is a big, big deal and it deserves the attention and action of anyone who cares about the future of the internet. In fact, SOPA— along with its companion bill in the Senate, the PROTECT IP Act— might just be the most dangerous internet legislation the US government has ever considered.

So what’s the big deal? What makes this bill so much worse than all of Congress’s other “anti-piracy” measures? Well, it would put in place an entire system of internet censorship that would empower the US government and corporations to block any website. The Department of Justice would have a blacklist of foreign “rogue sites” which fit a vague definition of enabling intellectual property infringement and would block American users from accessing these sites, in addition to cutting off the sites’ revenues from US-based advertising services and payment processors. All of this would happen within five days of the accusation of infringement, without any judge, any two-sided hearing, or any due process for the accused site. In fact, it further encourages pre-emptive “voluntary action” by offering immunity for internet service providers, browser producers, and search engines that block sites without even any infringement claims.

SOPA’s corporate backers in the recording and film industries focus on overseas sites that they refer to as “dedicated to intellectual property theft,” despite the fact that, for instance, targeted one-click file-hosting services like Rapidshare have been found legal in both American and European courts. In addition to plowing over such “rogue sites” that actually have substantial non-infringing uses, SOPA would also ensnare domestic sites that link to any infringing material or any “rogue site”— and would block the entire domain for even one link on one page. This means that any social media platform that hosts user-generated content— everything from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to Reddit, Tumblr, and Wikipedia— would become liable for everything their users post. SOPA, then, would overturn over a decade of precedent for internet law in the “safe harbor” provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that protect internet intermediaries from liability for what users do (an example of how prior copyright expansion legislation at least included some reasonable limitations).

SOPA would have a huge impact on freedom of expression, creativity, and innovation online. Doing away with safe harbor protections would place a massive burden on online services to police their users and more actively censor what they do online. This would have chilling effects on the free expression and creativity of users by encouraging self-censorship and would stifle innovative new start-ups with limited resources. Further, if whole platforms disappear from US access, the free expression of all other users becomes collateral damage. Of course, these very powerful tools for shutting down online activities hold great potential for abuse— especially when held by industries with a long history of using the law to expand their control and protect them from disruptive innovators.

Further, SOPA flies in the face of the principles of net neutrality and internet freedom that the US government evangelizes everywhere else around the world. While the US extols the virtues of free and open internet connectivity globally, SOPA would institute the same technical censorship system as China, Iran, Syria, and similarly repressive regimes. The only difference is that the American censorship system would instead be used to protect corporate profits— intellectual property now trumps all other rights. In addition to undermining American credibility in calling out authoritarian states’ internet censorship, SOPA would also set a precedent for other liberal democracies to further filter and block internet content. On top of all this, SOPA involves mucking around with the fundamental technical workings of the internet, with serious consequences for the stability and security of critical internet resources like the Domain Name System. By interfering with the connections between site addresses and the servers they are designed to connect to, SOPA’s blocking system would undermine the next-generation DNSSEC system being developed by the US government’s own internet security experts and all other internet protocols that depend on it working universally consistent.

SOPA is now in markup in the House Judiciary Committee, where the hearings have been laughably lopsided and the representatives have openly admitted their ignorance of the constitutional, economic, and technical implications of what they’re proposing. The bill’s sponsors were rushing for a vote before the holidays, but, after some last-minute jerking around with on-again-off-again sessions this week, it has now been delayed until some time in the new year. (PIPA has already made it out of committee and will be coming to the Senate floor in the new year.) This is a positive development: they weren’t able to ram it through committee around the holidays while fewer people are paying attention. However, SOPA’s supporters are surely counting on the large opposition effort losing momentum. If you find any of the above scary— if you don’t want to see your Facebook feed blacked out for real soon— you should help keep the pressure on Congress to stand up for freedom online.


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What Are You Missing? Sept 11-24 Sat, 01 Oct 2011 14:24:11 +0000 Ten (or more) media industry news items you might have missed recently:

1. With bookstores dying, chains and independents alike, many have great expectations for digitization. Thankfully, libraries might still matter in such a world, as indicated by Amazon making Kindle books available to libraries, even allowing you to make saveable margin notes and highlights. Amazon also has a Netflix-style e-book rental service in the works.

2. Amazon was also in the news for awful warehouse conditions, its Appstore quietly going international, and being targeted by new Internet retailer tax legislation in California. Cloud computing services are about to make the latter even more complicated. Also likely to get even more complicated is the Net Neutrality issue, which might see new rules go into effect on November 20, but those will likely be challenged in court. Meanwhile, we can all look at this cool infographic and lament that Eastern Europe and a lot of other countries are leaving the US in the dust when it comes to internet speeds.

3. You’ve heard all about Netflix’s rough times lately, but you may not have seen this handy chart of the company’s diving stock value or heard about its headquarters lawsuit. A possible future threat looms in the form of the studio-backed cloud service UltraViolet, which Wal-Mart might get on board with, while the indie world is watching SnagFilms and Prescreen with interest.

4. Oscar season might have more serious dramas in the mix, thanks especially to Sony, and it will also have some new publicity party rules, though those might mean nothing in the end. Serious drama of the non-fictional sort continues to play out in Iran, where the co-director of Jafar Panhi’s This is Not a Film has been arrested. The British apparently prefer serious drama on screen to real life, as a BFI report found that the British public considers cinema to be more worthy of their attention than world news.

5. DreamWorks might expand production into China, while Paramount is expanding in its own back yard. Stephen Spielberg regrets expanding digital effects for an earlier release of E.T. and says he won’t do it again, but you can plan to see (or not see) an expansive version of Top Gun in 3D, while James Cameron doesn’t think just anybody should be able to make films in 3D.

6. Nielsen released a comprehensive report on social media use, including a person-shaped infographic; with a mere silhouette stance, it clearly signifies hipster. (Bonus international social media use infographic!) It was only a little over five years that us hipsters started using Twitter, though it was called Twttr then (slogan: “If you have a cell and you can txt, you’ll never be bored again…E V E R!”). And now any hipster who wants to can join Google+; nearly 50 million already have (though according to my feed, only about five are regularly posting).

7. In Japan, the Tokyo Game Show was packed, but the Microsoft Kinect booth wasn’t. In the US, video game makers are enjoying big tax breaks, and GameFly professes not to be worried by Netflix’s move into video game distribution. And online, YouTube is a frequent destination for gamers, and online gamers might help to cure AIDS.

8. Spotify is now open for business to all Americans, but it’s also dealing with significant dissension and defection from indie labels over low royalty payments. Spotify argues it’s being fair, and you can compare for yourself via this handy primer on how much money a band earns from various outlets. The streaming competition is about to get even thicker; unfortunately, users seem to prefer ownership to streaming.

9. This headline deserves its own entry: “Actually, there really isn’t that much porn on the internet.”

10. Some of the finer News for TV Majors (@N4TVM) post from the past two weeks: Lost History, Facebook and Social TV, Making the Daily Show, Blockbuster Streaming, Farewell to AMC, Louis on Louie, The V-Word, CBS Likes Reverse Comp, Top Chef Transmedia, Downton Breaks, Netflix & Qwikster, TV Changers, SpongeBob’s Effects, TV Everywhere Campaign


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What Are You Missing? April 17-30 Sun, 01 May 2011 13:22:33 +0000 Ten (or more) media industry news items you might have missed recently:

1. Facebook’s Like button is a year old, and while a Dislike button apparently won’t be coming around, you can look for Send and also Deals. Facebook content you used to see might not be there anymore due to bogus DCMA claims (and possibly homophobia). Don’t bother looking for your old Friendster content, because after May 31 it’s gone forever. And there are scary rumors that Twitter will make TweetDeck go away forever (please don’t take my TweetDeck away!).

2. Amazon’s cloud went poof last week (but is fixed now), and apparently we can all learn a lot from this. But some might be scared away from cloud services because of it, especially once they hear that some data lost during the outage may not be recoverable. In other weboopsies, Gawker’s redesign fail shows how mistakes can kill traffic, and the new owners of Delicious hope to rectify the old owners’ mistakes.

3. According to a Freedom House report, as more people across the globe use the internet, more governments are clamping down on internet freedom, none worse so than Iran (sorry Burma, you came up just short), which has inspired Anonymous to strike. The US is the Wild West by comparison (only Estonia ranks as freer in the report), though broadband caps are arriving this week, while within the European Union, net neutrality legislation has been nixed.

4. Netflix is really rolling, yet it isn’t standing pat, as the company plans more original programs, family plans with separate profiles, and international launches. It can also count on rising content costs, plus many new competitors, as Wal-Mart, YouTube, Dish, and perhaps even Spotify (coming to America soon!) plan Netflix alternatives.

5. Though consumers are still clinging to DVDs in significant number, they’re simply not embracing Blu-ray, and Netflix sounds pretty happy to dump discs altogether whenever we’re ready (right as competitors might find shipping them to be cheaper). Search engine stats from Google show that users seek out Netflix info far more than DVD info, and Netflix Instant may be putting a crimp in illicit file sharing activities too. Meanwhile, China is shredding DVDs, though just as a piracy PR stunt.

6. The RIAA music shipment figures for 2010 are in, and both physical and mobile units plunged relative to 2009. But there was at least some nice sales news for independents and vinyl in the form of Record Store Day, plus people are still interested in investing in the music biz, and iTunes continues to post impressive sales figures. Amazon is trying to better compete with iTunes by lowering download prices, but Apple’s already looking to move on to cloud streaming and has the edge over Amazon there too due to label deals, such as with Warner Music.

7. You surely heard about the Sony PlayStation Network debacle (which will start to be resolved this week), but you may not have heard that with Wii console sales way down, Nintendo will unveil Wii’s successor at E3 in June, with retail release schedule for 2012. Also in June, Redbox will launch game rentals. Finally, the video game industry does better than anyone else at keeping minors from buying mature content, though it seems that a young gamer’s best odds are at Wal-Mart. (Not that I encourage the underaged to buy mature content. Just passing out news here, folks.)

8. The premium video-on-demand experiment has begun on DirecTV with Adam Sandler’s Just Go With It, and now Comcast wants in on the action, but it might be tough to determine how many consumers actually demand anything in the end. One thing we can all agree on is that there’s much disagreement over how this will affect the industry. In addition to theater owners, many directors and producers are against premium VOD, fearing the death of theatrical exhibition and much lost revenue. Meanwhile, new MPAA head Chris Dodd is just speaking vaguely about building bridges.

9. Some tough indie film news, as a drop in foreign pre-sales hurts, and the future of specialty theater chain Landmark Theaters is in question, with Mark Cuban putting it up for sale. But Harvey Weinstein at least foresees a very profitable 2011, other indie producers and distributors insist that smart choices and a solid libraries will carry the independent film business along, and streaming sites Fandor and Snagfilms believe that Netflix’s focus on television content boosts their fortunes for reaching indie film audiences.

10. Some good News for TV Majors links from the past two weeks: Royal Wedding Coverage & Wedding Ratings, Time Warner & Netflix, Geordie Shore, Spectrum Plan Illegal, Favorite Channels, Couric Officially Out, Bafta Awards, Upfronts Optimism, OVD Category, BBC Cuts, Who’s Back, Lucy Writer Dies, Dish TiVo Ruling, An American Family, ABC Boycott.


What Are You Missing? April 3-16 Sun, 17 Apr 2011 13:56:57 +0000 Ten (or more) media industry news items you might have missed recently:

1. Theater owners have responded angrily to the studios’ premium VOD plans, with AMC Theaters issuing vague threats and some predicting theaters would curtail in-theater advertising for films with VOD deals, which one investment bank says gives theaters a leverage edge (a intriguing issue to debate), plus theaters now have James Cameron on their side. Meanwhile, theaters are turning to other forms of entertainment to fill seats, plus some better food, but they’re also saying goodbye to projectionists.

2. Dish Network bought Blockbuster, for some good reason, I’m sure. Redbox says research shows that discs will still be the dominant home media format at least until 2015 (seems possible that legal issues with streaming will still be mired in legal arguments then too), and Best Buy says the DVD rental delay has helped sales. MG Siegler argues that Blockbuster’s problem wasn’t the decline of physical media but resting on its laurels as Netflix invaded, a lesson even the biggest of companies today need to heed. Comcast must have read that, getting up on its haunches amid claims that Netflix dominates digital movie distribution, while some indie studios are getting wary of Netflix’s treatment of their films.

3. AOL has once again been unceremoniously awful to writers, this time in gutting Cinematical, thus bringing about the end of an era. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences says it’s starting a new era with a revamped executive structure, with former Film Independent head Dawn Hudson installed as CEO. And conservatives are yet again trying to forge their own era within Hollywood, but Hollywood’s just worried about targeting the mere 11% of us who attend movies frequently.

4. We were told Guitar Hero was dead; apparently it’s not, it’s only mostly dead. GameStop is trying to keep from dying by forging new digital distribution options, while EA Sports is enabling cloud-stored profiles for all of its games. Also new in gaming is an MTV videogame division for tie-ins with Spike and Comedy Central shows (Colbert-Stewart Mortal Kombat!) and an entry point into the Grammy Awards for videogame music, though Alejandro Quan-Madrid questions the implications of this change (and other Grammys changes are being decried). Finally, the FBI has its eyes on gaming fraud, shutting down three major poker websites with indictments and raiding a college student apartment over virtual currency fraud that might even tie in with terrorism.

5. Music labels and services continue to argue: Amazon insists its cloud service will pay off for labels (and Amazom is totally reputable these days); Spotify has put limits on its free music, which it will similarly have to do once it comes to the US any day now; and Google’s just about ready to give up altogether. Maybe Perry Farrell can save us all. Meanwhile, music sales haven’t been quite as terrible lately, and the bids for Warner Music suggest optimism, but stats showing that kids don’t like to pay for their music are surely cause for concern. Bonus link: a Nielsen study on global music consumption.

6. Internet advertising had a record year last year, and search marketing is expected to grow this year. Bing is claiming an increasing share of the search market (apparently taking away from Yahoo and not Google), while check-in services may decline in 2011. And Congress has plans to meddle with the internet, including on net neutrality, internet sales taxes, and privacy. Looking back, Reuters takes an in-depth look at where News Corp went wrong with MySpace.

7. YouTube draws in more viewers than Netflix, but Netflix keeps them there for longer, and Mark Cuban insists that Netflix is hurting YouTube. Google is thus reorganizing YouTube into more a of TV viewing experience, fostering live streaming partnerships, adding a stage for live performances, and supporting new-generation studios. YouTube is also getting all schoolteachery with copyright violators.

8. Fortune digs deeply into troubles at Twitter, and others agree the service is headed for trouble, but Twitter’s co-founder responds that this is just the press finally getting around to a predictable backlash, and changes are being made, plus Twitter is still growing. A serious competitor may be on the horizon, though.

9. We’re not done with the Winklevii yet, as the twins lost an appeal ruling but vow to keep fighting. That other guy is still going after Zuckerberg for Facebook ownership too. Facebook is ignoring all of this, too busy with counting its increasing ad revenue and forging ahead with apparent plans to conquer China, but Kai Lukoff says Facebook needs to heed lessons from MySpace’s China failure.

10. Some good News for TV Majors links from the past two weeks: AMC & OLTL Cancelled, Women Changing Habits, Univision Plans, Fox Threats, Genachowski Speeches, Oprah Finale Rates, Development Buzz, Cord Shaving, Comedy Central Profile, Cable Mistake, iPad Court Battle, TV Show Complaints, Beck Exiting, Mad Men on Netflix, Couric Leaving.


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What We Talk About When We Talk About Net Neutrality Wed, 27 Oct 2010 18:04:00 +0000 It’s been one year now since the FCC opened up the official policymaking process for net neutrality regulations on internet access.  A lot has changed with the issue since then, but perhaps the biggest is what “net neutrality” actually means to many of those who talk about it.  Despite its reputation as a wonky and bewildering issue, net neutrality actually boils down to a pretty simple principle with wide support: the internet should remain open, allowing universal and equal access to whatever on the network users want.  It’s important to point out, then, that a lot of those who are talking about “net neutrality” these days aren’t actually talking about this.

A few major events have dominated the net neutrality front in the last several months.  The FCC’s policy proposal process was interrupted in April when the Comcast v. FCC case put the commission’s legal authority to regulate internet access at all highly in doubt (the legacy of Bush-era reregulation).  Over the summer, then, the FCC held meetings to negotiate a compromise on net neutrality regulations— meetings held behind closed doors with only representatives of the cable and telecom industries and internet content and service companies at the table.  Then, in August, Verizon and Google reached an agreement and announced their plan for how to enact net neutrality policy, as covered here on Antenna by Mark Hayward and here by Jennifer Holt.

Net neutrality as a term, while it has been translated different ways, ultimately has been articulated to a particular principle of openness and nondiscrimination— like common carriage, the public obligations of private infrastructure owners.  The concept of net neutrality is constructed discursively: while the term has absorbed different values and interests from various stakeholders, a common sense of its meaning has coalesced and it has become relatively stable as a discursive formation.  The term started its life as a technical principle, coined by Tim Wu to describe the most efficient network design to encourage innovation.  It has also been taken up by internet content and service companies like Google (pre-Googizon era) and Skype, mostly as an economic principle describing the most fair marketplace for their content and services to compete.  Public interest organizations like Free Press have used it to describe a civic principle of freedom of expression and democratic participation.  Despite the differing interests of these groups, they formed a sort of alliance that came together in support of a few basic tenets: infrastructure control should be kept separate from content control, so that internet access providers should not interfere with or give preferential treatment to any particular content, service, application, or device based on who owns it.

Now that one of its biggest “supporters” is Verizon and Google, once the loudest pro-neutrality voice, has committed itself to a very compromised position, what net neutrality actually means is changing very quickly.  This is evident especially in the recent (eventually shelved) net neutrality bill introduced into the US House by Rep. Henry Waxman and its resemblance to the Verizon/Google vision of net neutrality.  Judging from this, “net neutrality” means something very different now.  First, openness rules apply to the “public internet,” but there are no such requirements on “differentiated services,” which means that this “private internet” would become a de facto fast lane for only the content and services owned by cable and telecom companies (hello Comcast-NBCU) or those who can afford to cut deals with them (goodbye Antenna).   Further, there are no nondiscrimination rules at all for wireless internet access, which is especially troubling since it’s easy to see that mobile devices will very soon be the dominant way to access the internet.  Finally, the FCC is left to investigate bad actors only on a case-by-case basis and has no rulemaking authority over internet access, which is clearly an indication of how corporations like Verizon and Google can cut regulators out of the policymaking process altogether and just do it themselves.

Clearly, then, there is a difference between the principles behind net neutrality and the way it is now talked about– especially in the policy sphere where discourse has the power to shape the technical structures in question.  One undeniable reason for the progress that had been made toward enforceable net neutrality was the support of big internet corporations– especially Google.  However, the alliance that came together around the issue is beginning to splinter, as shown by Google moving away from the overlapping interests that once brought this alliance together and toward new interests, especially their relationship with Verizon in the mobile device market.  The compromise reached between “both sides,” then, is between two competing sets of corporate interests and the definition of the net neutrality situation is left up to those with the biggest profits to gain.  Like Bill Kirkpatrick detailed here on Antenna recently in regard to ACTA, this is yet another way of confusing the powers at play in making policy: when the party at the negotiating table in these policymaking issues that comes the closest to representing the public interest is just another big corporation and the public interest and the corporate interest inevitably split, then we’re all left out of the process.