Posted on Techdirt - 19 November 2010 @ 10:36am
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
and takeover the legal system
so it can do things like criminalize wearing orange clothes
. As the full
(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.
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Posted on Techdirt - 5 May 2010 @ 7:10pm
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.
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Posted on Techdirt - 4 May 2010 @ 11:46pm
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.
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Posted on Techdirt - 4 May 2010 @ 6:09pm
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.
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Posted on Techdirt - 4 May 2010 @ 12:30pm
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.
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Posted on Techdirt - 3 May 2010 @ 7:36pm
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.
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Posted on Techdirt - 3 May 2010 @ 2:49pm
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.
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Posted on Techdirt - 29 April 2010 @ 6:21pm
Online dating site Match.com sent a letter from its lawyer to rival Plentyoffish.com 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.
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Posted on Techdirt - 29 April 2010 @ 4:58pm
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.
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Posted on Techdirt - 29 April 2010 @ 2:48am
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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Posted on Techdirt - 28 April 2010 @ 4:11pm
The RIAA's blog is an endless source of fun, and its latest post is touting some figures showing the success of the recent "Record Store Day". Record Store Day is a yearly event started by a group of indie record stores that's grown over the last couple of years, and is marked with some festivities as well as the release of a lot of limited-edition records, CDs and other products available only in hard copy in certain participating shops. This year, there were 175 such products, and they helped boost the sales of indie shops. In particular, sales of vinyl albums were up 119 percent over the previous week, and vinyl single sales grew by 529 percent. But this isn't proof that the "we must sell music" mantra is correct; the sales increased not because people were buying music, they increased because they were buying an attractive, scarce physical product, like special vinyl picture discs or limited-edition prints. Record Store Day is a great example of how the packaging of a product that happens to contain music can drive people to buy it. The value consumers were paying for was in that packaging, not necessarily the content within it. Whether they know it or not, the stores and bands have given customers a reason to buy.
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Posted on Techdirt - 27 April 2010 @ 3:06pm
Small patent holding firm Klausner Technologies has sued HTC for infringing the patents on visual voicemail it says it holds, adding the phone maker to a long list of companies that have been attacked with the overly broad patent. Just as in the previous cases, it's not clear how this system actually helps anybody that's doing any actual innovation; the company with the patent, but which has never apparently done anything to actually bring it to market, gets to assess an innovation tax on companies doing the actual legwork. Meanwhile, the idea underlying the patent -- displaying voicemail info on a screen -- really isn't much more than a foreseeable progression of technology. So carry on, patent system, holding back innovation and misaligning incentives.
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Posted on Techdirt - 26 April 2010 @ 8:35pm
The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has put up a pretty interesting chronology of data breaches (via Guardianista) detailing leaks in the US since 2005 that resulted in the loss of people's personal info. They've totaled up the figure over the past five and a bit years, and it's a staggering 358.4 million records lost. Keep in mind that 358.4 million is just a minimum, since there are plenty of leaks that have lost an unknown number of records (like the one from a closed-down Hollywood Video store in Nevada, where customer records were thrown in a dumpster then scattered by the wind). Still, you may be thinking that you don't hear about record-breaking data breaches much these days, but that's not because they've stopped -- it's just that they happen so often, they're really not all that newsworthy any more. A lot of lip service gets paid to clamping down on fraud, but it really doesn't seem like much goes on to stop data leaks, since the penalties for the leaks are toothless and are cheaper than any real prevention.
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Posted on Techdirt - 26 April 2010 @ 2:13pm
If you were anywhere near a techy site on the internet last week, you probably noticed the sensational story of how a prototype of a forthcoming iPhone got left behind in a Silicon Valley bar, and eventually ended up in the hands (and on the pages) of gadget site Gizmodo. Given Apple's history of cracking down on new product leaks, it wasn't too surprising to see the company ask for the phone back, nor to hear rumors that police were looking into the matter. However, it was a little surprising to read today that California police have seized computers and other gear from one of Gizmodo's editors, breaking down his door in the process. The COO of Gizmodo parent Gawker Media alleges that the search was illegal, as the editor is protected under California's shield law, which protects journalists from revealing their sources. Gawker founder Nick Denton says the case should let us find out if "bloggers count as journalists", but that's not completely clear. The shield law exists to protect unnamed sources, not to let journalists commit crimes (such as receiving stolen property) and then cover them up under the guise of their work. So while the case may not settle if bloggers are seen as journalists in the eyes of the law, it should settle once and for all that age-old question of whether or not an iPhone prototype left in a bar by an Apple employee constitutes stolen property.
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Posted on Techdirt - 26 April 2010 @ 12:47pm
A couple of weeks ago, Netflix announced that it had reached a "deal" with Fox and Universal movies studios, in which it agreed to delay the release of their DVDs to its subscribers by 28 days. Netflix did the deal in order to maintain its access to movies for its streaming service, and the studios think it will help them sell more DVDs. The studios tried to get DVD rental service Redbox over a similar barrel by threatening its access to their DVDs. Redbox had already caved to Warner Bros., and has now done a similar deal to Netflix's, with Fox and Universal. And, just like all the earlier deals, this one's pretty stupid on the part of the movie studios. Let's go over why.
Redbox offers two main benefits to its customers: convenience and price. Its machines are everywhere these days, and its $1 per night price capitalized on the widespread consumer displeasure with Blockbuster and other rental chains' high prices and late fees. The Redbox customer is price sensitive; so is it really very likely that delaying the release of a movie by a month is going to get them to decide to shell out $15-$25 per movie to see it immediately after it's released? The same goes for Netflix subscribers. If they're already paying for their subscription service, why would they run out to buy a new release -- particularly when they already have to wait to get some new releases anyway. The studios think they can force customers to change their behavior by controlling access to new movies. All this plan is going to do is to illustrate to them that the part of the market they're aiming for with these delays really doesn't care enough -- or cares about other factors more -- to behave any differently.
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Posted on Techdirt - 23 April 2010 @ 2:46pm
There's been an almighty kerfuffle in British historian circles the last couple of weeks, after some people noticed a couple of reviewers on Amazon were talking up one historian's work while trashing books written by others in the same field. The author in question was named Orlando Figes, a professor at London's Birkbeck College. One of the pseudonyms used on Amazon was "orlando-birkbeck", so it wasn't too difficult to assume who was posting the reviews. Word started getting around and was picked up by some newspapers, leading Figes' lawyer to deny his involvement and demand corrections be run, suggesting Figes could be entitled to damages. Then, the lawyer issued a statement blaming Figes' wife (herself a lawyer) for the reviews. Not surprisingly, Figes has now admitted he wrote the reviews, and he's very sorry. This isn't the first time authors have been caught giving themselves good reviews, and generally, most attempts to do this sort of thing end badly. You'd expect by now that most reasonably intelligent people would understand that, and figure out that the potential downside of getting caught far outweighs any positive benefit the fake reviews could deliver. Then again, you'd also expect that most reasonably intelligent people wouldn't fall for 419 scams, either.
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Posted on Techdirt - 22 April 2010 @ 11:13pm
For years, there's been conflicting research on the health risks posed by mobile phones. For every study that found a link between the radiation from phones and cancer, there was another that didn't. Part of the problem is that the health issues that could be caused by phones can take years to emerge, and since mobile phones are relatively new -- and have changed significantly over the past 10 or 15 years -- so definitive research is a long and difficult task. But now, some researchers in Europe are embarking on a large-scale, 20- to 30-year study to examine just how phones affect people's health. They're looking at cancer, but also other issues commonly tied to phones, such as brain diseases, headaches, tinnitus, depression and sleep disorders, and will also be examining radiation emitted by other devices, like baby monitors and cordless phones. It will be great to have some more definitive answers as to exactly what risks we're subjecting ourselves to by putting mobile phones up against our heads, so be sure to check back in a few decades.
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Posted on Techdirt - 22 April 2010 @ 8:11pm
Skype has been one of the louder voices in pushing for broadband providers to be forced to keep their networks open. One of the company's execs has taken to its blog supporting net neutrality regulations in the EU, making some useful points about how it's services like Skype that sell broadband subscriptions and, specifically, mobile data plans. But how does that reconcile with Skype's mobile moves in the US, where it appears to be pushing exclusive deals with operators over "open" access? So, on the one hand, Skype doesn't want to have to pay telcos for access to its customers. But then on the other, it looks like Skype wants to charge telcos to be able to offer its service to their customers. This makes it look like Skype is okay with pay-to-play systems, but only when it's on the receiving end. Certainly Skype is free to use whatever business model it likes, but it certainly appears it's trying to have the best of both worlds here.
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Posted on Techdirt - 22 April 2010 @ 2:44pm
Wanderlust wrote in to point out the rumors doing the rounds today that Hulu is getting ready to launch a paid subscription service, something that's popped up before. Apparently Hulu is looking to offer the five most recent episodes of a show for free, then will charge $10 a month for access to older episodes. There aren't a ton of details, so it's not clear exactly how the plan will play out. But we can say this: unless Hulu is adding some real value for users, and not just putting currently free content behind a paywall, it's doomed to failure. It's pretty clear that some of Hulu's corporate overlords think all of its content should be behind a paywall. But erecting a paywall will simply drive Hulu users to unauthorized downloads and streams, delivering those content providers absolutely nothing. All too often these paywalls are based on the idea that once users have nowhere else to go, they'll start paying; the reality is, though, there's always somewhere else to go.
Hulu's success thus far has been by attracting users with a good choice of content presented in a good interface, reflecting something of an understanding that the way to compete with free, unauthorized content is to offer users something better. It's already started to undermine some of its success by blocking certain browsers in an attempt to force users to only access its content (and its advertising) through means of which it approves, and the paywall represents yet another step towards replacing a product that's better than unauthorized content with one that's worse. In any case, when online streaming TV shows are already pulling in some high ad rates, does it make any sense at all for Hulu to start throwing up paywalls?
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Posted on Techdirt - 22 April 2010 @ 11:59am
One of US telcos' favorite talking points is the "free ride" that Google and other content providers get on their networks. It's fundamentally wrong, since Google and others obviously pay their bandwidth bills, but it's also conceptually flawed, as telco execs seem to think it's their networks, rather than the content which travels over it, that consumers value. The stupidity isn't bounded by this country's borders, though, with the head of a UK broadband-via-satellite provider saying that "Neither consumers or providers are bearing the cost" of data traffic over broadband networks. With that, we'd like to extend our usual challenge to the exec: if neither consumers or content providers are paying, how about paying their bandwidth bills for a month?
The exec contends that broadband providers will all eventually move to usage-based pricing, and in a letter to the Financial Times, says that when they do, "content free loaders will suddenly find that demand falls dramatically". Perhaps it's just a typo, and he meant to say "broadband providers will suddenly find that demand falls dramatically"? Once again, the exec fails to understand that people don't buy network access from his company just for the sake of it, they buy it for access to content. If he, or any other provider, starts putting walls up between consumers and the content they want to access, whether through walled gardens or usage-based pricing (really just a code word for "much higher fees"), they will reduce the value of their customers' connections, and subsequently what they'll pay for it. So if the end result of a shift to usage-based pricing is decreased usage -- and subsequently no real change in providers' revenues -- what good is the shift?
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