Technology Liberation Front
“While we are accepting Bitcoin donations,” the post says, “EFF is not endorsing Bitcoin.” (emphasis in original)
They’ve been using dollars over there without anyone inferring that they endorse dollars. They’ve been using various payment systems with no hint of endorsement. And they use all kinds of protocols without disclaiming endorsement—because they don’t need to.
Someone at EFF really doesn’t like Bitcoin. But, oh, how wealthy EFF would be as an institution if they had held on to the Bitcoin they were originally given. I argued at the time it refused Bitcoin that it was making a mistake, not because of the effect on its bottom line, but because it showed timidity in the face of threats to liberty.
Well, just in time for the Bitcoin 2013 conference in San Jose (CA) this weekend, EFF is getting on board. That’s good news, but it’s not as good as the news would have been if EFF had been a stalwart on Bitcoin the entire time. I have high expectations of EFF because it’s one of the great organizations working in the area of digital liberties.
The International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) has been running some terrific guest essays on its Privacy Perspectives blog lately. (I was honored to be asked to submit an essay to the site a few weeks ago about the ongoing Do Not Track debate.) Today, the IAPP has published one of the most interesting essays on the so-called “right to be forgotten” that I have ever read. (Disclosure: We’ve written a lot here about this issue here in the past and have been highly skeptical regarding both the sensibility and practicality of the notion. See my Forbes column, “Erasing Our Past on the Internet,” for a concise critique.)
In her fascinating and important IAPP guest essay, archivist Cherri-Ann Beckles asks, ”Will the Right To Be Forgotten Lead to a Society That Was Forgotten?” Beckles, who is Assistant Archivist at the University of the West Indies, powerfully explains the importance of archiving history and warns about the pitfalls of trying to censor history through a “right to be forgotten” regulatory scheme. She notes that archives “protect individuals and society as a whole by ensuring there is evidence of accountability in individual and/or collective actions on a long-term basis. The erasure of such data may have a crippling effect on the advancement of a society as it relates to the knowledge required to move forward.”
She concludes by arguing that:From the preservation of writings on the great pharaohs to the world’s greatest thinkers and inventors as well as the ordinary man and woman, archivists recognise that without the actions and ideas of people, both individually and collectively, life would be meaningless. Society only benefits from the actions and ideas of people when they are recorded, preserved for posterity and made available. Consequently, the “right to be forgotten” if not properly executed, may lead to “the society that was forgotten.”
Importantly, Beckles also stresses the importance of individual responsibility and taking steps to be cautious about the digital footprints they leave online. “More attention should instead be paid to educating individuals to ensure that the record they create on themselves is one they wish to be left behind,” she notes. “Control of data at the point of creation is far more manageable than trying to control data after records capture.”
Anyway, read the whole essay. It is very much worth your time.
Frontline relied on the DOJ foreclosure theory to predict that the lack of eligibility restrictions in the 700 MHz auction would “inevitably” increase prices, stifle innovation, and reduce the diversity of service offerings as Verizon and AT&T warehoused the spectrum. In reality, the exact opposite occurred.
The DOJ recently recommended that the FCC rig the upcoming incentive auction to ensure Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile are winners and Verizon and AT&T are losers. I previously noted that the DOJ spectrum plan (1) inconsistent with its own findings in recent merger proceedings and the intent of Congress, (2) inherently discriminatory, and (3) irrational as applied. Additional analysis indicates that it isn’t supported by economic theory or FCC factual findings either.
The Phoenix Center published a paper with an economic simulation that exposes the fundamental economic defect in the foreclosure theory underlying the DOJ recommendation. The DOJ implicitly recognizes that the “private value” of spectrum (the amount a firm is willing to pay) equals its “use value” (derived from using spectrum to meet consumer demand) plus its “foreclosure value” (derived from excluding its use by rivals). In its application of this theory, however, the DOJ erroneously presumes that Verizon and AT&T would derive zero use value from the acquisition of additional spectrum – a presumption that is inconsistent with the FCC findings that prompted the auction.
The Phoenix Center notes that all firms – including Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile – derive a foreclosure value from the acquisition of spectrum due to its scarcity. When considering the benefits to consumers, it is the comparative use value of the spectrum for each provider that is relevant. If the use value of the spectrum to Verizon and AT&T exceeds that of Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile, economic theory says Verizon and AT&T would maximize the potential consumer benefits of that spectrum irrespective of its foreclosure value.
Of course, determining the differing use values of spectrum to particular firms is what spectrum auctions are for, which brings the DOJ’s argument full circle: If government bureaucrats at the DOJ and the FCC could accurately assess the use values of spectrum, we wouldn’t need to hold spectrum auctions in the first place.
The circularity of the DOJ theory explains its reliance on an unsubstantiated presumption that Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile have the highest use value for the spectrum. If the DOJ had instead (1) conducted a thorough factual investigation, (2) analyzed the resulting data to assign bureaucratic use values for the spectrum to each of the four nationwide mobile providers, and (3) compared the results to determine that Verizon and AT&T had lower use values, the DOJ would have engaged in the same failed “comparative hearing” analysis that Congress intended to avoid when it authorized spectrum auctions. Given the Congressional mandate to auction spectrum yielded by the broadcasters, the FCC cannot engage in a comparative process to pick winners and losers, and it certainly cannot substitute an unsubstantiated presumption for an actual comparative process in order to avoid the legal prohibition.
FCC Factual Findings
The foreclosure theory and DOJ presumption are also inconsistent with the auction experience and current factual findings of the FCC. The DOJ foreclosure theory has been presented to the FCC before and has proved invalid by the market.
When the FCC was developing rules for the 700 MHz auction in 2007, Frontline Wireless sought preferential treatment using the same foreclosure theory as the DOJ. Frontline submitted a paper (prepared by Stanford professors of economics and management) that relied on the same types of information and reached the same conclusion as the DOJ – that Verizon and AT&T were dominant “low-frequency” wireless incumbents with “strong incentives” to acquire and warehouse 700 MHz spectrum, and that their participation in the 700 MHz auction must be limited in order to “promote competition” and prevent “foreclosure.” Frontline predicted that, if Verizon and AT&T were not prevented from bidding in the 700 MHz auction, it would “inevitably lead to higher prices, stifled innovation, and reduced diversity of service offerings.”
The FCC rejected Frontline’s foreclosure theory. The FCC concluded that, “given the number of actual wireless providers and potential broadband competitors, it [was] unlikely that [incumbents] would be able to behave in an anticompetitive manner as a result of any potential acquisition of 700 MHz spectrum.”
The last five years have proven that the FCC was correct. Though Verizon and AT&T acquired significant amounts of unfettered 700 MHz spectrum, the auction results have not led to the “higher prices, stifled innovation, and reduced diversity of service offerings” predicted by Frontline. In its most recent mobile competition report, the FCC reported that:
- Verizon used its 700 MHz spectrum to deploy a 4G LTE network to more than 250 million Americans less than four years after Verizon’s 700 MHz licenses were approved (i.e., it didn’t warehouse the spectrum).
- Mobile wireless prices declined overall in 2010 and 2011, and the price per megabyte of data declined 89% from the 3rd quarter of 2008 – a few months before Verizon received its 700 MHz licenses – to the 4th quarter of 2010 (i.e., industry prices decreased).
- The number of subscribers to mobile Internet access services more than doubled from year-end 2009 to year-end 2011 (i.e., industry output increased).
- Prepaid services are growing at the fastest rate, and new wholesale and connected device services are growing significantly (i.e., providers continued to provide new and diverse service offerings).
- Market concentration has remained essentially unchanged since 2008 (the population weighted average of HHIs increased from 2,842 in 2008 to 2,873 in 2011 – a change of only 1 percent).
Remember: Frontline relied on the DOJ foreclosure theory to predict that the lack of eligibility restrictions in the 700 MHz auction would “inevitably” increase prices, stifle innovation, and reduce the diversity of service offerings as Verizon and AT&T warehoused the spectrum. In reality, the exact opposite occurred. Verizon and AT&T did not warehouse the spectrum, industry prices decreased while output increased, diverse new service offerings exhibited the strongest growth, and market concentration remained essentially unchanged. And, while competition thrived, consumers reaped the benefits.
So, why would the DOJ make the same failed argument for the 600 MHz auction (other than crony capitalism)? Some might say, “Even the boy who cried wolf was right once.” But, even if one were inclined to give the DOJ the benefit of the doubt, the theoretical possibility that the foreclosure theory could adversely impact the 600 MHz auction must be weighed against the potential harm of limiting participation in the auction.
The harm is well documented and could prove particularly problematic in this auction. A paper coauthored by Leslie Marx, who led the design team for the 700 MHz auction when she was the FCC’s Chief Economist, demonstrates that excluding Verizon and AT&T would have even more severe consequences in the incentive auction than in previous auctions.
A paper published by economists at Georgetown University’s Center for Business and Public Policy attempts to quantify the severity of these consequences. It estimates that excluding Verizon and AT&T from the auction could reduce revenues by as much as 40 percent ($12 billion) – a result that would jeopardize funding for the nationwide public safety network, reduce the amount of spectrum made available for wireless Internet services, and adversely affect more than 118,000 U.S. jobs. That is a steep price to pay for the privilege of seeing whether the boy is crying wolf again.
Timothy Ravich, a board certified aviation lawyer in private practice and an adjunct professor of law at the Florida International University School of Law and the University of Miami School of Law, discusses the future of unmanned aerial system (UAS), also known as drones.
Ravich defines what UAVs are, what they do, and what their potential non-military uses are. He explains that UAV operations have outpaced the law in that they are not sufficiently supported by a dedicated and enforceable regime of rules, regulations, and standards respecting their integration into the national airspace.
Ravich goes on to explain that Congress has mandated the FAA to integrate UAS into the national airspace by 2015, and explains the challenges the agency faces. Among the novel issues domestic drone use raises are questions about trespass, liability, and privacy.
- The Integration of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles into the National Airspace, Ravich
- Domestic Drones are Coming your Way, Brito
- Making airspace available for ‘permissionless innovation,’ Technology Liberation Front
As the “real-world” continues its inexorable march toward our all-IP future, the FCC remains stuck in the mud fighting the regulatory wars of yesteryear, wielding its traditional weapon of bureaucratic delay to mask its own agenda.
Late last Friday the Technology Transitions Policy Task Force at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a Public Notice proposing to trial three narrow issues related to the IP transition (the transition of 20th Century telephone systems to the native Internet networks of the 21stCentury). Outgoing FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski says these “real-world trials [would] help accelerate the ongoing technology transitions moving us to modern broadband networks.” Though the proposed trials could prove useful, in the “real-world”, the Public Notice is more likely to discourage future investment in Internet infrastructure than to accelerate it.
First, the proposed trials wouldn’t address the full range of issues raised by the IP transition. As proposed, the trials would address three limited issues: VoIP interconnection, next-generation 911, and wireless substitution. Though these issues are important, the FCC proposals omit the most important issue of all – the transition of the wireline network infrastructure itself. As a result, they would yield little, if any, data about the challenges of shutting down the technologies used by the legacy telephone network.
Second, the proposed trials are unlikely to yield significant new information. As Commissioner Pai noted in his statement last week, all three issues are already being trialed in the “real-world” by the industry, consumers, and state regulators.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, all three issues are already the subject of ongoing FCC proceedings and don’t raise any new issues (e.g., issues that would implicate FCC regulatory forbearance).
If the FCC truly wanted to accelerate the transition to all-IP infrastructure, why would it propose studies of three limited issues that it is already addressing? I expect the FCC was unwilling to propose a comprehensive trial that could jeopardize its assertion of regulatory jurisdiction over the Internet, especially its potential authority to impose Title II regulations if it loses the net neutrality case pending in the DC Circuit. The language in the Public Notice indicates it is no coincidence that the narrow issues the FCC intends to study do not implicate its forbearance authority or (at least directly) the scope of its jurisdiction. For example, the Public Notice states that VoIP interconnection involves, among other things, “pricing” and “quality of service” issues, and that the FCC wants to structure any trial to provide it with “data to evaluate which policies may be appropriate” for VoIP interconnection. This language clearly indicates that the FCC is contemplating Title II pricing regulation of VoIP interconnection.
The Public Notice also seeks additional comment on the more comprehensive approach to the IP transition originally proposed by Commissioner Ajit Pai in July 2012, but in a way that sends all the wrong signals to investors.
When Commissioner Pai proposed the establishment of a Task Force for the IP transition nine months ago, his intent was the removal of regulatory barriers to infrastructure investment, including unpredictability at the FCC. He suggested that the FCC send a clear signal that new IP networks built in competitive markets will not be subject to “broken, burdensome economic regulations” designed for monopoly telephone networks.
Last Friday’s Public Notice does just the opposite. It signals that even the worst excesses of legacy telephone regulation are still an option for the Internet. Specifically, the Public Notice “invites” telephone companies that are interested in comprehensive trials to submit a comprehensive plan listing, at a minimum:(1) all of the services currently provided by the carrier in a designated wire center that the carrier would propose to phase out; (2) estimates of current demand for those services; and (3) what the replacement for those services would be, including current prices and terms and conditions under which the replacement services are offered.
It is telling that none of these enumerated questions are aimed at the potential technical issues posed by the IP transition (which is a forgone conclusion economically). They are aimed at economic issues relevant to the FCC’s traditional Title II price regulation of communications services.
In the nine months since Commissioner Pai began leading the IP transition, the FCC has signaled nothing more than its intent to continue bureaucratic business as usual. As the “real-world” continues its inexorable march toward our all-IP future, the FCC remains stuck in the mud fighting the regulatory wars of yesteryear, wielding its traditional weapon of bureaucratic delay to mask its own agenda. There it will remain until the FCC has a Chairman with a vision for the future, not the past.
DISH Network gets another opportunity on Tuesday to plead with Congress for another Satellite Home Viewer Act reauthorization—ostensibly to protect consumers from unwarranted rate increases and program blackouts, but actually to preserve and expand DISH Network’s and DirecTV’s access to broadcast programming at regulated, below-market rates.
A couple minor provisions in the Act that have nearly outlived their original purpose are due to expire, but DISH Network is taking advantage of this opportunity to argue that “there is much more that Congress can do to expand consumers’ access to local programming…” DISH’s plea is an example of the narcotic effect of supposedly benign regulation intended to promote competition by giving nascent competitors a leg up. DISH Network, in particular, has become addicted to artificially low prices for broadcast programming, and will seize any opportunity to reduce its programming costs some more through regulation.One of the problems with betting your shareowners’ company on regulation is that in politics, nothing lasts forever. Another is that there are certain laws of economics, and they still apply. Shareowners really ought to be on high alert for the appearance of a Beltway, State Capitol or City Hall strategy—firms that can compete and win in the marketplace have no need for regulatory advantages.
When the Act was passed, broad-beam satellite technology meant that carriers had to transmit the same programming across North America. The carriers were given the right to retransmit distant broadcast signals from “superstations” (without first having to obtain the broadcaster’s consent) to households that could not receive an adequate over-the-air signal from any local station affiliated with a particular major network.
Spot-beam technology now allows the carriers to deliver local broadcast signals to each of the 210 corresponding local viewing areas. And as a result of significant investment by the satellite carriers, very few households are without access to major networks or local stations.
In that sense, the Act and its progeny can be viewed as a success. On the other hand, SNL Kagan estimates that, in 2013, programming fees received by broadcasters will represent a total of only $2.7 billion, compared to $31.5 billion for basic cable networks. This data suggests the possibility that broadcasters are not recovering the fair market value of their programming. If that’s the case, their ability to continue producing popular programming is in jeopardy.
DISH Network Chairman Charlie Ergen complains that broadcasters “cling to the status quo instead of meeting consumer demand and embracing new technologies and business models.”
But clearly, broadcasters are adapting to the fact that advertisers who used to underwrite the entire cost of broadcasting now have many more options that include cable networks. It’s unrealistic to pretend we were still living in the 1970’s, when broadcasters had market power.
The facts are: (1) broadcasters are competing for their lives, and (2) broadcasters are a potent source of competition in content and delivery. The last thing policymakers should be contemplating is forcing broadcasters to subsidize their competitors.
Under current law, satellite carriers will no longer be able to retransmit distant network signals to unserved households without first obtaining the consent of the broadcaster after Dec. 31, 2014. Nor will broadcasters be prohibited from engaging in exclusive contracts for carriage of their signals.
As content producers, broadcasters generally have an incentive to reach as many viewers as possible by any means. But there are exceptions. If both a professional ball club or a movie studio and a cable network or broadcaster, for example, believe it is in their mutual best interest to strike an exclusive deal, what’s wrong with allowing them to recover the full economic value of their collaborative enterprise?
If you are DISH Network and if reason prevails and your lobbyists cannot persuade Congress to prohibit exclusivity, there is a solution. You can become the exclusive supplier of must-see content.
Consumers are best served in the long run by an efficient economy that expands prosperity, not by unholy alliances between struggling firms and policymakers. Consumers benefit when a producer of something is permitted to obtain the full economic value of his or her product, because then they will produce more of it and look for ways to improve it.
So far, no one has demonstrated that consumers will be harmed if these expiring provisions—which are quite narrow in scope—are allowed to sunset. The reality is that satellite carriers pay market-based rates for cable networks but don’t want to pay market-based rates for broadcast programming. The simple fact is DISH Network is receiving a subsidy, and if Congress preserves it that is corporate welfare.