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Carlo Longino

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Posted on Techdirt - 19 November 2010 @ 10:36am

US Risks Not Getting FIFA World Cup… Because It Won't Give FIFA Special Copyright Powers

The US is bidding on hosting the 2022 World Cup, and the decision will be made in a few weeks. Soccer’s governing body, FIFA, recently released its technical reports on all of the various bids, detailing things like the number of stadia available and what would need to be built should a country win, the availability of training grounds, hotel rooms, transportation and so on. The US scores very favorably on all of these accounts, but the bid has been labeled “medium risk” because

“the necessary government support has not been documented as neither the Government Guarantees, the Government Declaration nor the Government Legal Statement have been provided in compliance with FIFA’s requirements for government documents.”

Guess what that means? The US bid committee hasn’t secured a commitment from the US government that it will give FIFA the right to act as its own copyright cops and takeover the legal system so it can do things like criminalize wearing orange clothes. As the full FIFA report (PDF) puts it: “However, as the required guarantees, undertakings and confirmations are not given as part of Government Guarantee No. 6 (Protection and Exploitation of Commercial Rights) and mere reference is made to existing general intellectual property laws in the USA, FIFA’s rights protection programme cannot be ensured.”

It’s clear that FIFA expects carte blanche to set up its own special legal protection in any country that hosts the event; it gives the bid from Belgium and the Netherlands a black mark because it “contains no guarantees, undertakings or confirmations with legal effect beyond existing laws”. It also slates a number of countries for having “existing regulations… which adversely affect the free and unrestricted exploitation of media rights”. The report indicates that just three bids fully meet FIFA’s desire to have the ability to enact its own copyright and media laws: the human-rights hotbeds of Qatar and Russia, and the joint bid from Spain and Portugal.

Posted on Techdirt - 5 May 2010 @ 07:10pm

Sirius XM Not Happy With The FCC, Again

Satellite-radio company Sirius XM has never been the best of friends with the FCC, thanks largely to the molasses-like speed with which the Commission moved to approve the Sirius-XM merger and the silly restrictions it attached to its approval — measures which helped push the company into bankruptcy. The animosity is bubbling up again, as Sirius XM isn’t happy that the FCC may soon allow some radio spectrum that’s near the company’s spectrum to be used for wireless broadband services. The spectrum in question is in the 2.3 GHz range. One chunk of it was auctioned off to telcos in 1997, and it’s since been used for fixed backhaul transmissions for their networks, but the FCC (and the telcos) would like to see it used for wireless broadband services like WiMAX. An adjoining chunk is used by Sirius XM’s network of terrestrial repeaters that complement its satellite signal coverage, and the company is concerned about those repeaters being overpowered and interfered with. This is the typical sort of posturing that comes out of any company who has spectrum that’s “threatened” — like broadcasters seeking to use regulation to stifle any competition from new technologies. The interference issues are important, but the FCC knows that, and typically works to ensure that they aren’t a problem. What makes this objection from Sirius XM a little bit ironic, though, is that the the two companies have been cited in the past by the FCC because their terrestrial repeaters violated interference rules. Rules that allow for the more flexible use of spectrum — while respecting interference — are the best way forward for everyone, and like the NAB’s spurious arguments against the Sirius-XM merger, the satellite company’s objections should be rejected here.

Posted on Techdirt - 4 May 2010 @ 11:46pm

T-Mobile, Leap Move Take A Different Tack On Mobile Broadband

Lots of broadband operators around the world have been talking about how their networks can’t keep up with traffic demands, so they’ll have to shift back to usage-based pricing. In particular, US mobile operators AT&T and Verizon have led the rhetoric, even as they continue to launch the unlimited plans they say are such a problem. The head of one broadband provider in the UK recently said a switch to usage-based pricing, and away from flat-rate plans, was inevitable as soon as one operator in a market made the switch. He dismissed the idea that operators would seek to differentiate by sticking with flat-rate plans, or by taking any other pricing strategy than usage-based plans, ignoring the fact that consumers have grown accustomed to flat-rate offerings, and that the lack of clarity in usage, billing and pricing that per-unit plans are a big turnoff for them. Already, we’re seeing some signs that the operator landscape may not be dominated by such groupthink, as T-Mobile and Leap Wireless have made changes to their mobile broadband plans that are out of step with many other operators. The two companies have changed the way the caps on some of their plans work: for instance, on T-Mobile, when a user reaches their 5GB monthly cap, they don’t get hit with overage fees, the speed of their connection gets throttled, avoiding the uncertainty inherent in usage-based pricing. Perhaps it’s not a perfect situation, but it does show that some operators aren’t afraid to step out from the party line and explore different pricing models. It also builds some hope that when some providers do decide to regress to usage-based schemes, there will be some choices for consumers.

Posted on Techdirt - 4 May 2010 @ 06:09pm

Kevin Martin Pops Up Again, And Surprise, Surprise, He's Going Against A Cable Company

The LA Times has a story about how former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is working for a number of different groups to oppose Comcast’s buyout of NBC Universal. It expresses surprise from some quarters that a former chair of the main regulatory body for the media, telecom and broadcast industry would take such a high-profile role, particularly in light of his bent for loosening restrictions on mergers. But buried deep in the article, four paragraphs from the end, is the nod to Martin’s past that might help explain things: he’s never appeared to like cable companies, compared to his telco buddies. In particular, he’s had a few head-butting moments with Comcast: he led the push for sanctions against it regarding its traffic-shaping policies, and he held Comcast to a completely different standard on net neutrality than he did AT&T. But perhaps the most telling moment of Martin’s past is how when it came to lifting regulations for telcos, he was all for it, while pushing for new regulations for cable companies — including power to limit their ability to merge. So while it may be unusual for a former FCC chairman to get involved in a case like the Comcast-NBC Universal deal, Martin’s position is completely consistent with his past, even if it has brought him some unfamiliar liberal bedfellows.

Posted on Techdirt - 4 May 2010 @ 12:30pm

Can Oprah Do What Driving-While-Yakking Laws Can't?

There’s been a big push by politicians across the country (and around the globe, as well) to enact laws that ban the use of cell phones while driving. While using your phone while driving isn’t a great idea, neither are these laws. They attack a very narrowly defined distraction, which is really just a small part of a bigger problem: overall unsafe driving. There are many other activities that are dangerous distractions to a driver, but going after each of them, one by one, is inefficient, when the real focus should be on making people more safe drivers in general. It also doesn’t really help that these laws may not be effective in making roads any safer, and that their real focus is revenue generation, not public safety. Now, Oprah has jumped into the fray, devoting an entire episode of her show to the issue, and pushing viewers to sign a No Phone Zone pledge that says they won’t drive while yakking or texting. So far, she’s collected more than 300,000 pledges, and while they certainly aren’t a guarantee that people will stop using their phones while they drive, that figure does illustrate Oprah’s broad reach and her ability to shine some light on issues. Building awareness through educational campaigns like this, that have the goal of actually changing behavior, may be much more effective in actually making the roads safer than narrowly targeted laws that punish behavior after the fact.

Posted on Techdirt - 3 May 2010 @ 07:36pm

Startup Still Clamoring For Free Spectrum To Build Out Wireless Broadband

Back in 2006, a startup called M2Z Networks asked the FCC to give it a sizable chunk of valuable spectrum for free, and in exchange, it would set up a nationwide wireless broadband network to offer free (and slow) “family-friendly” service and pay the government 5% of the revenues from a paid premium service also running on the network. We were skeptical of the plan because of its aggressive rollout schedule and the network’s slow speed (“512 kbps” — keep that figure in mind — for the free tier/3 mbps for the paid tier), but mostly because of the huge expenditure required to build out a wireless network covering 95 percent of the US population — expenditure which would be very difficult to recover from a free, slow service. The FCC wasn’t convinced, either, and rejected M2Z’s proposal in 2007, though that wasn’t the end of it. A congresswoman introduced a bill tailor-made for M2Z’s specs, but it went nowhere. Still, M2Z lives on, and it’s now looking for a chunk of stimulus funding to start building its network.

It doesn’t look like M2Z has updated its plan at all since 2006, doing nothing to address any of the concerns, beyond replacing the need for private investment with a second government handout, on top of its free spectrum. In particular, they don’t seem to have upped their targets for the speed of their network. What the company was proposing wasn’t exactly fast in 2006, is pretty pokey now, and will be even less attractive by the time its network would get up and running. In addition, it’s worth clarifying that the “512 kbps” M2Z talks about is arrived at by adding the 384kbps downstream speed plus the 128 kbps upstream speed they plan to offer. That’s a new trick we haven’t seen before, even in the world of “up to” broadband speed advertising.

Posted on Techdirt - 3 May 2010 @ 02:49pm

Apple To Face Antitrust Investigation Over Its iPhone Development Policies?

The FTC and the DOJ are reportedly holding talks over which group will launch an antitrust inquiry into Apple’s policies regarding app development for the iPhone and iPad. Apple recently made a change to the terms of its iPhone SDK, barring developers from using third-party development tools. Apple claims it did this to ensure that iPhone apps are of the highest quality, but the real reason appears to be to push developers to only develop for the iPhone, and not other rival platforms. The behavior may be as annoying as it is unsurprising, but it’s hard to see how this warrants antitrust action and government intervention. Apple isn’t restricting access to that market completely, they’re just forcing developers to use certain tools in order to participate in it. While Apple is trying to throw its weight around for its own benefit, what its doing may not necessarily be illegal — but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea either. This policy seems likely to fail in the marketplace more quickly than any resolution through government intervention could take effect.

Posted on Techdirt - 29 April 2010 @ 06:21pm Upset That Other Dating Sites Cite Stats About Themselves, Like It Does

Online dating site sent a letter from its lawyer to rival last week, accusing it of citing statistics about itself and its members (like the fact that they’ll go on 18 million dates this year) that Match says can’t be supported. It then went on to “demand that [Plentyoffish] immediately cease and desist”… or provide Match with user data to back them up. Ever the friendly rival, Match’s lawyer said the company would be glad to sign a confidentiality agreement before taking a gander and Plentyoffish’s proprietary data. POF’s founder basically told Match to get lost, highlighting several figures that Match touts about its service, including one saying that an average of nearly 1000 people per day get married after first meeting on Match. To be honest, a lot of the figures cited by both parties are a little hard to believe, and sound like little more than attempts by the sites to sell hope to prospective users. But starting a fight over a rival’s claims — when all that’s likely to do is call attention to your own — may not be the wisest move for anybody in the online dating business.

Posted on Techdirt - 29 April 2010 @ 04:58pm

Apple: Closed, Proprietary Systems Are Bad (Unless They're Our Own)

Steve Jobs fired the latest salvo in the ongoing Apple-Adobe spat today, with his “Thoughts on Flash” posted on the Apple site. In short, he says that Adobe looking out just for its own interests in drawing developers to its “100% proprietary” Flash ecosystem while Apple supports a great, open standards-based world. But just as we pointed out a couple of weeks ago when Apple moved to block cross-platform development tools, regardless of what Apple says, its interest is locking developers into its Apple-controlled and dominated ecosystem. Nearly every accusation Jobs levels at Adobe and its products can be made about Apple and the way it seeks to control iPhone app development. Jobs brings up Apple’s support for open Web standards, but that’s really little more than a red herring to distract attention from how Apple wants to lock down developers into its own ecosystem. Jobs makes it clear that he has no interest in developers using any platform apart from the iPhone, and any tool that helps them do so is worthy of his scorn. So for him to talk about supporting Web standards — with the point being that they’re standards, available across platforms — is disingenuous when Apple’s strategy for apps is guilty of pretty much everything he accuses Adobe of. None of this, on a strategic level, is particularly reprehensible, they’re just business decisions (even if we don’t agree with the approach). But Apple’s apparent insistence on playing by a different set of rules to everyone else, and the hot air that accompanies it, grates just a little bit.

Posted on Techdirt - 29 April 2010 @ 02:48am

Does HP Buying Palm Promise To Solve Any Problems?

It’s been rumored for several weeks now that Palm was up for sale, with a number of different companies supposedly taking a look at it, but news has come through now that HP has picked it up for $1.2 billion. Palm’s business has been running downhill for a few years now; its worldwide market share has fallen from 3.5 percent in 2005 to 1.5 percent in 2009 — despite the relatively warm welcome its Pre device received. The Pre was the first Palm phone to run its latest operating system, WebOS, which was supposed to help the company compete in a revitalized and highly competitive marketplace against the likes of Android devices and the iPhone. But that hasn’t yet happened. The Pre (and the following device, the Pixi) hasn’t grabbed significant market share, which compounds Palm’s other problem: lack of a strong developer community for WebOS. That is actually sort of ironic, given that an older incarnation of Palm was probably better than anybody in the mobile space at cultivating a huge and loyal developer community, back in the days of Palm OS. So if scale and a lack of developers are the two biggest problems holding Palm back, does the HP deal actually do anything to help solve them? Maybe that’s looking at the situation the wrong way: perhaps the point of this isn’t for HP to fix Palm, but for Palm to bring something more to the table for HP. Like 1,500 patents.

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