Posted on Techdirt - 7 March 2014 @ 6:36pm
A few years ago we noted how there appeared to be a growing belief among some chefs that taking photographs of their dishes when you're in their restaurants is somehow "taking away their intellectual property." We've discussed a few times about how restaurants are just one of many industries where a lack of copyright protection has actually helped innovation flourish (read: an industry that shows that there can be great creativity without saddling the entire apparatus down with copyright, such as magic or stand up comedy).
While many chefs seem to simply think that foodies and patrons photographing their food is a sign of respect or just begrudgingly tolerate it, others seem to have succumbed to copyright maximalism disease, whereby one believes that you're allowed to "own" things you're clearly not entitled to. Despite the idea being rather groundless, it appears that it has recently caught on among a smattering of chefs overseas:
"Gilles Goujon, from the three-starred L'Auberge du vieux puits in the south of France, has stated in an interview with news website France TV that foodtography is not only poor etiquette but he believes that when his dishes appear online, it takes away "a little bit of my intellectual property". Another chef in La Madelaine-sous-Montreuil has also included a "no camera" policy on his menus for this reason."
While kicking people out of your restaurant is certainly your prerogative (and there certainly are people who are so in love with their smartphone that dining with them is annoying), why would you want to punish paying customers for appreciating your work? The end result would likely hurt your brand long before it managed to protect any personal acumen in your stated craft. Other chefs lament that not only are you stealing their IP, you're doing a really crap job of it because you're probably a bad photographer:
"US chef RJ Cooper, from Rogue 24 in Washington DC, has made similar claims...: "They publish food photos without your consent, which is taking intellectual property away from the restaurant. And also, generally, the photographs are terrible. "If you're publishing something in a public forum without written consent, that's problematic."
That seems about as logical to me as the superstition that taking photographs of an individual leeches away a tiny part of their soul
. Just because I take a photo of your meal, does that mean I'm somehow magically also stealing what is probably a complicated recipe? So what you're saying essentially is you "own" the IP of laying several strips of beef just so
and dribbling the entire concoction with sauce in a particular way? It's quite a bit of nonsense, and fortunately for patrons, no lawyer appears to have been interested in testing this theory, even if it's starting to seem like only a matter of time before one does.
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Posted on Techdirt - 7 March 2014 @ 5:32pm
Overseas there has been a growing push to draw in more Facebook and Google users by making it so select Facebook or Google content doesn't count against your mobile data plan. From the Philippines to Kenya, you can see these efforts exemplified by services like Facebook Zero and Google Free Zone. Facebook Zero, for example, allows you to browse Facebook almost as normal, though you'll be charged normal data rates if you try to download something like photos and video, or in some cases if you travel to any other website.
Now, news has emerged that Facebook is spending $60 million to acquire drone-manufacturer Titan Aerospace. The idea is that Facebook could use these drones to provide fly-over connectivity for lower income nations. While it makes for good headlines whether that ever actually happens is pretty dubious, given there's a long history of mixed results when it comes to providing broadband by aircraft, whether that's via hot air balloon, Santa sleigh or drone. Really, when it's all said and done, it's an effort to grab a larger chunk of potential ad eyeballs under the pageantry of purported altruism.
Here in the States, we haven't experimented with the idea of free gateway access yet much, though companies like T-Mobile prepaid brand GoSmart have hinted at the idea. Speaking at the Mobile World Congress trade show this week in Barcelona, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated that he'd really like to see his expanded free ambitions take off further in additional countries:
"Zuckerberg said that Internet.org, which Facebook and other partners announced last year, is designed to create a reliable program to help "on-ramp" those customers to the Internet by offering a free tier of service, much like 911 on the wired telephone network. "We want to create a similar kind of dial tone to the Internet," Zuckerberg said...Facebook's work with wireless carrier Globe in the Philippines has doubled the number of people there accessing the Internet. He said in that program Globe is making access to Facebook free and then charging for access to other sites. In a separate effort in Paraguay, where Facebook is working with operator Tigo, the number of people using data has jumped 50 percent, and the number of people using it daily jumped 70 percent, by offering free access to Facebook."
Usually, these statements are followed by citing a lot of studies about how improved Internet penetration helps developing nations (studies focused on actual
Internet access, not Zuckerberg's definition of it). Critics contest these users aren't really being connected to the actual Internet and all that entails. They're being connected to bizarre new walled-garden universes where privacy doesn't exist, connectivity is fractured, and they themselves are the product. Is this helpful if you step back and take a longer view? Folks like Susan Crawford don't seem to think so
"For poorer people, Internet access will equal Facebook. That's not the Internet—that’s being fodder for someone else’s ad-targeting business," she says. "That’s entrenching and amplifying existing inequalities and contributing to poverty of imagination—a crucial limitation on human life."
I honestly find myself quite torn between thinking that any connectivity is better than none (it depends entirely on the implementation of the effort), and the idea that we're establishing a painfully-low baseline of expectation in developing countries in terms of what the Internet is supposed to be. How different is what Facebook is doing from AT&T's sponsored data idea
when you strip away a few layers, and if people are introduced to the Internet as a fractured, distorted walled garden at their first encounter with it, what does it evolve into for them down the road?
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Posted on Techdirt - 7 March 2014 @ 3:33pm
While the assumption was that AT&T's attempted takeover of T-Mobile was shuttered simply because it eliminated a needed competitor from the market, one of the biggest, under-stated reasons was simply AT&T's immense, blistering hubris, forged by decades of being pampered by the government. AT&T didn't just push for the T-Mobile merger, they lied aggressively and at every possible opportunity about the deal's benefits, believing themselves to be impervious to repercussions. They lied in claiming the deal would create 100,000 jobs. They lied about needing to acquire T-Mobile or their network would implode from lack of spectrum. They lied in claiming that eliminating a competitor would somehow magically improve competition.
And they didn't just lie -- AT&T was loud about it. Via lobbyist, consultant, think tanker, and anyone else on the payroll, AT&T lied using every manner of lobbying trick in the book, from paying an army of third party groups to parrot merger support, to running an onslaught of constant full page advertisements repeating the same, easily-disproven lies ad nauseam. At the end of 2011, Cecilia Kang at the Washington Post penned what was essentially an obituary for the AT&T T-Mobile deal, with an overlooked paragraph that explained precisely why the deal became too much for regulators to swallow:
"The letters from third-party groups raised eyebrows at government agencies and on the Hill, where people began wondering why groups with no obvious ties to broadband were writing in. News reports emerged showing that many of the groups had financial ties to AT&T. Then there were the ads that staff members at the FCC said they couldn't avoid when they opened a newspaper, fired up their iPads or watched TV — all touting the merger's ability to put thousands of Americans to work. But who had ever heard of a big company merger creating rather than destroying jobs?"
The Post noted that instead of all this noise and fury helping to get approval, it actually caused regulators to take a closer look at claims where otherwise they wouldn't have. The sheer volume of nonsense coming from AT&T actually worked to amplify media and political pressure where it might not have existed otherwise. The end result was regulators actually doing their jobs and digging into the promises more deeply, only to find AT&T's arguments lacking:
"AT&T's blitzkrieg of ads, which claimed that the promised expansion of broadband would create 100,000 jobs, wasn't helping either. A deal's impact on jobs is not typically part of an evaluation by antitrust officials, but this time regulators thought AT&T's campaign had forced them to take a closer look. They found holes. For one, the company refused to divulge how many jobs it would eliminate in the merger."
Enter Comcast, who is busy trying to get regulators to approve their $45 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable. Renata Hesse, who was the lead FCC antitrust official during the AT&T T-Mobile deal, will be overseeing the Comcast review at the DOJ. While Comcast is using many of the very same strategies AT&T employed (like paying minority groups to parrot merger support
, and throwing money at everyone and everything
) they seem to have learned a few lessons from the AT&T T-Mobile deal, and have dialed back the volume on their nonsense just enough so that it vaguely-resembles subtlety
"Industry lobbyists familiar with both deals say they observe Comcast approaching this merger in a much quieter, more subtle way than AT&T did. Many of Comcas's lobbyists are staying silent about the deal altogether, and not just around reporters. Even at social gatherings and business functions where it might seem obvious to mention the deal to lawmakers or administration officials as a way of smoothing the way forward, Comcast's lobbyists have, in many instances, made nary a peep about it, according to sources. "The way Comcast is approaching this is very interesting,” said a veteran telecom lobbyist. "Everybody's writing the easy story about how many lobbyists Comcast has, but the way they're lobbying this, they're being very inside baseball, very surgical."
That's not to say Comcast isn't paying a ton of other people to make stupid, loud arguments for them
, but they're pretty clearly trying to tone down the rhetoric the public sees as having come from Comcast itself. Comcast's steering clear of unsubstantiated job claims, and seems intent on keeping any promises they do make vague (like arguing the deal is simply "pro consumer
"). Will a tiny bit of subtlety let Comcast fly under the regulatory M&A skepticism meter? Maybe. Comcast has proven pretty good at getting regulators to push for meaningless merger conditions
(though AT&T was pretty good at that too
). I'm going to bet you see deal approval; not because the deal is necessarily good, but primarily because AT&T taught Comcast an important lesson on the limits of bullshit.
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Posted on Techdirt - 7 March 2014 @ 2:37pm
Peter Maass, who I've been fortunate to meet and has had a pretty amazing career as an embedded war journalist, has penned a pretty fantastic read over at Glenn Greenwald's new The Intercept venture. In it, Maass points out that among the ocean of compelling bits buried in the Snowden documents is this strange little fact: the NSA has an advice columnist who routinely provides NSA employees with office politics and interpersonal advice under the pen name "Zelda." Her column, titled "Ask Zelda!," routinely appears for employees with adequate security clearance via the agency's intranet.
Many of the advice columns released via Snowden's document dump deal with perfectly ordinary office politics, like complaints about stealing sodas out of refrigerators, stinky co-workers, or bosses who can't be bothered to respond to e-mails. But Maass points out that one of the more entertaining columns involves complaints by an NSA worker who is concerned about their boss spying on them. In a column signed "Silence in SID," an employee writes in:
"Here's the scenario: when the boss sees co-workers having a quiet conversation, he wants to know what is being said (it's mostly work related). He has his designated “snitches” and expects them to keep him apprised of all the office gossip – even calling them at home and expecting a run-down! This puts the “designees” in a really awkward position; plus, we're all afraid any offhand comment or anything said in confidence might be either repeated or misrepresented."
The tension created by having an overly nosy boss has resulted, the employee claims, in workplace efficiency problems and a growing lack of trust in the establishment:
"We used to be able to joke around a little or talk about our favorite “Idol” contestant to break the tension, but now we're getting more and more skittish about even the most mundane general conversations (“Did you have a good weekend?”). This was once a very open, cooperative group who worked well together. Now we're more suspicious of each other and teamwork is becoming harder. Do you think this was the goal?
Zelda is quite-amusingly shocked by the boss's behavior inside of an agency of spies:
"Wow, that takes “intelligence collection” in a whole new – and inappropriate – direction. …. We work in an Agency of secrets, but this kind of secrecy begets more secrecy and it becomes a downward spiral that destroys teamwork. What if you put an end to all the secrecy by bringing it out in the open?"
So spying over-broadly on people you don't think should be spied upon destroys teamwork, fosters distrust and erodes overall efficiency, huh? Gosh, what if you took that concept and applied it to an entire planet? As Maass notes, at no point while giving advice on spying inside the NSA does Zelda seem to have awareness of the possible lessons that could be applied to spying going on outside
the NSA (at least that we get to see):
"Her response to “Silenced in SID” does not acknowledge the irony – or hypocrisy – of an employee at a spy agency complaining about being spied on. But Zelda directly addresses the long-lasting effects of inappropriate surveillance. “Trust is hard to rebuild once it has been broken,” she observes. “Your work center may take time to heal after this deplorable practice is discontinued."
So remember, dear readers: inappropriate surveillance erodes trust, destroys teamwork, damages the overall community, and creates a general downward spiral that's bad for everybody involved. Unless we're doing it to the general public, in which case -- who cares? Now get back to work!
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Posted on Techdirt - 7 March 2014 @ 1:05pm
There has been no shortage of social networking ideas that have come and gone, some being useful, some being silly, and some being downright stupid. But Reddit user MFLUDER recently directed my attention to a new social network app that only lets you enter and participate -- if you're drunk. The LIVR social network and associated app website claims the idea will launch launch sometime this Spring (assuming my gut is wrong about it being a viral hoax). To join, you've got to plug a breathalyzer device into your phone, and if your blood alcohol content is high enough you're allowed to enter. What could possibly go wrong?
The website claims LIVR users get to use a number of features once they've drunkenly stumbled through the virtual door, including getting to play "crowd-sourced truth or dare," maps that will highlight the other drunk nerds in your immediate vicinity, and the ability to randomly drunk dial another LIVR user. The website also promises users a "blackout button" that will erase all of your incoherent and inappropriate tirades at the end of the evening or the next day, giving users what the founders claim is encouragement to just "go nuts" and "be their true self" without worrying that said true self might result in joblessness, divorce, or worse:
"What Happens on LIVR Stays on LIVR
It's 4 AM. You've posted uncensored selfies. Flirted with Drunk Dial. Racked up Truth or Dare points. But you don't want your boss to see. Just hit the Blackout Button and all record of your night is permanently cleared. Relax. Be yourself. Your secret's safe with LIVR."
Right. Except the Internet generally doesn't work that way, and there's really no such thing as privacy online. The potential for abuse seems somewhat high for law enforcement, the NSA, stalkers, and in generally encouraging people to get the highest score when it comes to their BAC. Not that people don't generally do this stuff without the help of an app, but you have to imagine LIVR, if it's even actually real, is going to need some decent lawyers on retainer for the flood of lawsuits headed their way.
"I think some of our best ideas are found at the bottom of a glass," insists Brooklyn-based founders Kyle Addison and Avery Platz in a promotional video
for their unlikely-sounding new endeavor:
LIVR App from LIVR on Vimeo.
Says the website:
"LIVR isn't just another tired social network. It's an online party at all times… guaranteed. No baby photos. No puppies. Mom isn't here. Just a global network of similarly buzzed people looking to have a good time."
Yes an endless virtual "party" where half of the people are incoherently arguing over who is the most drunk, and the other half are busy pretending they're drunk by using mouthwash to trick the BAC meter. Who would possibly get tired of that? I still think it's likely a hoax ("Avery Platz," for example, has a strangely-nonexistent digital footprint
outside of the LIVR announcement for a Brooklyn developer that likes to drink and talk), but it's still a pretty damn good one.
: And, yep
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Posted on Techdirt - 7 March 2014 @ 9:19am
For years, HBO and Time Warner have refused to give people what they want and offer a standalone streaming video service, because they're afraid of shaking up their cozy, promotion-heavy relationship with the cable industry. Instead, HBO's Go streaming service has been made available on desktops and a growing number of devices, TVs, set tops and game consoles -- provided you log in with your traditional cable subscriber information. It's a half-measure, and availability to this day remains a little fractured.
Case in point: Sony this week finally made HBO Go available on the Playstation 3 (despite HBO Go launching in early 2010), but not the new Playstation 4. The new Playstation 3 version works for most cable operators in the country -- except for users on Comcast. Why not? Comcast doesn't really give an answer other than to say the massive (and soon to get much larger) company only has so many people available to ensure TV Everywhere authentication works on new devices:
"With every new website, device or player we authenticate, we need to work through technical integration and customer service which takes time and resources. Moving forward, we will continue to prioritize as we partner with various players."
Which might almost sound like a reasonable explanation -- until you realize that HBO Go on Roku hasn't worked for Comcast users since 2011, despite Roku being one of the most prominent Internet streaming devices available. Apparently, it's a matter of priorities? Comcast's argument for being allowed to acquire companies is always that these acquisitions make them bigger and more efficient. So apparently, getting simple TV authentication to work takes Comcast years longer than every other pay TV operator because Comcast is simply too big, efficient and fantastic
Now, Playstation 3 users have joined the Roku user chorus, asking Comcast in their official forums
why they can't use HBO Go, and are being greeted by the same silence Roku owners have enjoyed for years. I'm not sure you can get away with calling this a net neutrality violation (I think the term is mutated to the point of uselessness anyway), given HBO Go on Roku will work if you have Comcast broadband -- but get HBO from another pay TV provider like Dish. Still, it's fairly curious how Comcast's own Internet video and on-demand offerings
(which include HBO content) tend to take priority.
The problem illustrates once again how the TV Industry's "TV Everywhere" mindset fails because it winds up taking value away from the user, not delivering it
. It's also another shining example of how HBO should shake off its fears, embrace innovation, leapfrog the gatekeepers and release the standalone Internet streaming app everyone has been clamoring for.
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Posted on Techdirt - 6 March 2014 @ 4:35pm
Ever since first responder emergency communications failed back on 9/11, there has been a concerted effort to try and build some kind of wireless, national emergency communications network. In typical Congressional fashion, this included several years of yelling, screaming, disagreement, and general histrionics. After more than a decade, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 finally created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), which according to its website will coordinate the build of an 700 MHz LTE-based emergency broadband network that piggybacks on existing networks.
FirstNet was recently hit with a small scandal after Iowa Sheriff and board member Paul Fitzgerald complained that FirstNet had been hijacked by large carriers like Verizon and AT&T. According to Fitzgerald, FirstNet spent its first few years of existence with carrier-tied leaders conducting secret meetings, making decisions outside of the board room, hiring outside industry consultants with ties to industry, and elbowing out participants with actual security and emergency backgrounds.
Not to worry though, because FirstNet, whose GM is former Verizon executive Bill D'Agostino, investigated itself and declared that nobody broke the law. Granted, concerns were about conflict of interest, not violation of law, and an investigation is ongoing by the Inspector General of the Department of Commerce. While these accusations were being flung about, companies like Motorola were also rumored to be trying to scuttle the whole project, preferring to continue to make money off the scattered ad hoc selection of emergency communications services using their radio hardware.
Not too surprisingly, all of this appears to have resulted in little to no actual work getting done despite the $7 billion budget (which most agree will balloon handsomely before anything even gets built). According to a new report by a FirstNet State Point of Contact in the State of Washington, the entire project now appears to be stuck in neutral as agencies and companies scurry for their piece of the pie, with key staffing positions remaining left unfilled two years later, and the people who were hired getting paid handsomely with not much to show for it:
"I’ve heard – but cannot verify – that some of the contract staff hired in late 2012 and 2013 were paid $300 an hour...The contract under which the staff were hired expired in October 2013. Most of the existing 35 or so contracted staff (who were quite competent, by the way) were laid off. Three new contracts were established in October. But as of this writing – four months later - no technical contractors, and only a handful of public relations contractors, have been hired. How do you create a nationwide design and individual state-specific plans for a wireless network without technical staff?......key positions go unfilled, such as the CIO and CTO positions."
Two years into a $7 billion project and just 25 people have been hired, many of them focused on public relations. Worse, numerous existing communications networks that were being used were put on indefinite hold so this new network could be built, meaning in some areas emergency communications is actually worse
for our $7 billion. If that's not a fantastic start I'm not sure what is. Can the United States actually work cohesively together to build anything on a national scale anymore (OK, outside a total surveillance state)? Or are we really so broken, corrupt and incompetent that even providing emergency communications to the people who save our lives is a bridge too far?
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Posted on Techdirt - 6 March 2014 @ 3:34pm
As we recently noted, Dish has announced a new content distribution deal with CBS that's quite the double-edged sword. On one hand, Dish has agreed to cripple the ad-skipping feature on their Hopper DVR for ABC and Disney content for the first three days after a new episode airs. In exchange for Dish making their service less useful, ABC has agreed to drop their absurd lawsuit claiming that ad-skipping violates copyright. ABC has also agreed to loosen up restrictions on streaming content, allowing Dish to potentially offer an "over the top" Internet video streaming service sometime down the road.
This has, of course, resulted in the usual press hype from reporters who don't understand how difficult broadcasters make getting these types of services off the ground (just ask Intel, Sony, Microsoft, Apple, Google, and countless startups). Bloomberg, for example, right after telling readers it's too early to speculate on price for such a service, immediately proceeds to speculate on price for such a service -- claiming a new Dish Internet TV service would only cost users between "$20 and $30 a month."
There's still a lot of things standing in Dish's way -- assuming Dish is competent enough to craft a decent service in the first place. We can't read the contract, so we have no idea what restrictions Disney, ABC and ESPN are going to layer on this new licensing agreement to cripple it to the point of uselessness (oh hi Hulu, didn't see you standing there). Dish also needs to sign on a lot more broadcasters to flesh out a service catalog, something that's not going to be easy. Quickly proving that point, CBS CEO Les Moonves stated at an investor conference he's going to expect Dish to cripple Hopper much more severely if Dish expects a similar deal from CBS:
"Mr. Moonves, speaking at a Morgan Stanley investor conference, said the arrangement is "not quite enough for us." Several broadcasters, including CBS, say increasing numbers of viewers are watching TV shows more than three days after they air, via DVRs or on-demand services. Mr. Moonves has been among the executives pushing for the industry to shift to a model where advertisers pay for seven days of viewing instead of three. He said CBS's carriage deal with Dish expires this year, and he expects to take a different approach than Disney in the negotiations with Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen. "We are going to want to do some different things," he said, noting that Disney has different assets and priorities."
Who knows what kind of demands CBS is going to make, but it's pretty clear the demands will include making the Hopper DVR even less useful, while saddling any streaming agreement with just enough restrictions to prevent it from actually being disruptive. On one hand it could make sense for Dish to tell CBS to go to hell, as the broadcasters losing in court would set precedent that protects ad skipping from copyright claims. On the other hand, doing that would mean yet another over the top disruptive Internet TV service would die in the cradle thanks to myopic, terrified broadcasters.
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Posted on Techdirt - 6 March 2014 @ 11:34am
As we just got done discussing, AT&T, Verizon and Sprint recently were able to dodge a long-running lawsuit alleging the companies have been dramatically overcharging the government for wiretaps for more than a decade. The lawsuit was filed by former New York Deputy Attorney General John Prather, who spent thirty years in the AG's office (and six years on the Organized Crime Task Force in NY) helping to manage wiretaps and invoices for wiretap provisioning. Prather filed the suit on behalf of the U.S. government, but telco lawyers were able to have the suit dismissed by arguing that Prather couldn't technically sue the telcos under the False Claim Act as a whistleblower, because he filed the original complaint while working for the government.
Now it appears that at least one of the telcos is being focused on for round two, with the news that the government is suing Sprint for overcharging for wiretaps under CALEA. Under CALEA phone companies are allowed to recoup "reasonable expenses," but the lawsuit claims that Sprint overcharged the government to the tune of $21 million, overinflating charges by approximately 58 percent between 2007 and 2010. The Prather case claimed the telcos overcharge for taps in general, but have historically dodged culpability by simply hitting the government with large bills that don't itemize or explain why a wiretap should magically cost $50,000 to $100,000.
Sprint appears to have been specifically nabbed by the Justice Department’s Inspector General because it wasn't clever enough about passing on the costs of modifying its network to adhere to CALEA back to the government, something the law prohibits:
"Despite the FCC’s clear and unambiguous ruling, Sprint knowingly included in its intercept charges the costs of financing modifications to equipment, facilities, and services installed to comply with CALEA. Because Sprint’s invoices for intercept charges did not identify the particular expenses for which it sought reimbursement, federal law enforcement agencies were unable to detect that Sprint was requesting reimbursement of these unallowable costs."
It should be interesting to see if AT&T and Verizon face similar lawsuits down the road, or if their lawyers and accountants were simply better at obscuring overbilling. It's kind of a lose-lose scenario for you and me either way. Not only do we get to be spied on, we likely paid for these wiretaps both on the taxpayer side and on the telco side as the companies passed on both real and imaginary wiretap costs to you.
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Posted on Techdirt - 6 March 2014 @ 9:31am
As we recently discussed, Keurig is busy making plans to embed new technology in their new "Keurig 2.0" line of coffee makers that will reject unsanctioned (read: less expensive, competing) coffee pods. The technology would also presumably prevent the use of manual re-usable filters, which are usually found for between five and fifteen bucks online. Keurig's CEO announced the plans to reject "unlicensed pods" last fall, but somehow nobody seemed to really notice the effort until an annoyed competitor pointed it out in a lawsuit (pdf).
Needless to say, Keurig users and the general public weren't particularly enamored of Keurig's plans to lock down their brewing options, with countless users taking to Twitter to complain. The company didn't seem prepared to handle the media reaction to their plans for java-based "DRM." Nor did they seem prepared to give anybody a straight answer, even though their own CEO already confirmed the pod-blocking functionality. As such, Keurig simply started insisting to anyone that asked that the new technology delivered "interactive-enabled benefits":
As you might be able to tell, it appears the company is unwilling to directly acknowledge the fact that they're locking out competitors' less expensive pods. More creative attempts to get Keurig to explain these advanced interactive benefits also proved fruitless:
After a few days and clearly a few meetings, Keurig released a public statement
that attempted to flesh out their non-answer. While still refusing to admit something their own CEO already acknowledged, Keurig decided to push the mystery added benefits angle a little harder, even going so far as to claim that blocking you from getting cheaper competing product is about your safety
"To make brewing a carafe possible, and to continue to deliver everything Keurig lovers already enjoy – high-quality beverages, simplicity, and variety – our new Keurig 2.0 system will feature specially designed interactive technology allowing the brewer to read information about the inserted Keurig pack. With this interactive capability, Keurig 2.0 brewers will “know” the optimal settings for the inserted Keurig pack, for a perfect beverage every time, whether a single cup or a carafe. It’s critical for performance and safety reasons that our new system includes this technology. For those of you who currently own our K-Cup or Vue systems today, we are so happy to have you as part of our family. Rest assured that your brewers will still function as they always have and that your favorite beverages will still be available."
In other words, we must be able to lock competitors' pods (and manual refill units) out of the market to keep you safe from the dangers of potentially lower costs and dreaded coffee-related injury. It's also impossible for us to embed this obnoxious technology in older units, so those will continue to function as you prefer them to -- without us interfering in your purchase options. Sure, you're losing purchase options and will have to pay more for coffee, but isn't the security of knowing your family is safe from the dangers of coffee-related hazards worth it?
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Posted on Techdirt - 6 March 2014 @ 8:28am
As Comcast pushes for regulatory approval of its next major merger (the acquisition of Time Warner Cable), the company is pointing to its last major merger (the acquisition of NBC Universal) as an example of how tough regulators and meaningful merger conditions will keep the company honest as it grows ever larger. In an FCC filing (pdf) the cable giant pats itself on the back for over-delivering when it comes to meeting conditions placed upon the company after acquiring NBC. According to Comcast, it's "simply indisputable that we have honored – in fact, over-delivered – on our commitments."
The catch? Comcast created most of the NBC merger conditions itself, knowing full well it would meet them during the ordinary course of doing business. Still, in many cases even those conditions proved to be too much for the company.
Most of the NBC conditions involved promising modest broadband coverage goals by certain dates, goals the company was already on the cusp of completing (or in some cases had already completed) anyway. Other merger conditions, like offering $10, 1.5 Mbps broadband to families that qualify for the National School Lunch Program (you can't owe Comcast money -- which the poor usually do, and can't have existing Comcast broadband service), was something Comcast planned to offer much earlier but withheld to get the FCC to sign off on the deal. Comcast's "over delivery" on that condition resulted in protests on the streets of its home town of Philadelphia by people who claimed the option had too many restrictions and was intentionally designed to be difficult to sign up for (the company has since bumped the speed to 5 Mbps and extended the length of the offer indefinitely to help ease the Time Warner Cable deal).
Another vague condition prohibited Comcast from discriminating against channels that compete with its own content. Comcast struggled do that as well -- the FCC had to scold Comcast for holding Bloomberg news away from core news channels so it wouldn't hurt Comcast's CNBC (when singled out the company tried, unsuccessfully, to claim its First Amendment rights were being attacked). Another core "tough" condition Comcast cites as example of its over achievement was the promise to offer a 6 Mbps standalone broadband tier for $50 for a few years. From the filing:
"Requirement to provide BIAS on a standalone basis and to offer a new 6 Mbps down service at no more than $49.95 per month: Comcast continues to offer, on a standalone basis and at reasonable prices, any tiers of BIAS that it offers on a bundled or multi-product basis. Comcast also offers its “Performance Starter” tier, a 6 Mbps down standalone BIAS service, priced at $49.95 per month. Pursuant to the Broadband Consent Decree entered into with the Commission on June 27, 2012, Comcast will continue to offer Performance Starter at least through February 21, 2015."
Offering 6 Mbps for $50 is already pretty unimpressive on its face, but becomes even less impressive when you learn that the FCC had to fine Comcast $800 million
(while extending the condition) because Comcast hid the option for consumers. Think about that: offering a paltry speed at a high price was too difficult to achieve
, yet Comcast would like you to know it's an over achiever. After extending the condition, the FCC patted itself on the back for being so damn good at protecting consumers
"The unprecedented merger condition extension, significant voluntary contribution, and robust compliance plan send a clear message to the American public and the communications industry that the FCC will vigorously enforce its merger conditions, to the ultimate benefit of consumers."
The message that FCC warning actually
sent was that the government is historically only engaged in theater when it comes to most merger conditions. All too often, the "tough" conditions are either volunteered by the target company (because they're easy to meet or even already met), they're specifically designed to be meaningless (as we saw with AT&T's acquisition of BellSouth in 2006
), they're conditions prohibiting the company from doing something it would never in a million years do (like block websites outright), or they are very selectively enforced. Like the FCC's dedication to broadband competition, the majority of merger conditions are simply a stage play put on for consumers and consumer advocates.
What does it say when you can't even meet merger conditions intended to be largely theatrical in nature? What does it say when you have trouble meeting merger conditions you yourself proposed? Clearly it says you're a fantastic, immensely-trustworthy overachiever.
This obviously raises the question of what conditions Comcast will urge regulators to impose on its acquisition of Time Warner Cable. Top Comcast lobbyist David Cohen appears to be pushing the promise that Comcast will spin off about three million of the acquired subscribers to form a new cable company
. Comcast already expected to have to divest around three million of the acquired customers to another company like Charter (while keeping around 8 million), but spinning those three million users off into a new company would be more tax efficient. That new company wouldn't compete with Comcast, but you can expect that condition to be presented as Comcast being "forced" to improve market competition.
I'd expect the FCC to approve this merger, given deals have to be a unique, skull-rattling type of obviously awful and
see unprecedented public outcry (read: AT&T T-Mobile) to prompt the FCC to action. Comcast doesn't directly compete with Time Warner Cable, and both the FCC and Comcast will paint legitimate worries about vertical integration, monopsony power
, scale and content leverage as theoretical in nature. Such nuanced concerns are simply easier to take the bullshit bulldozer to in the media. As such, it's not clear what new, meaningless conditions Comcast and the FCC are currently cooking up to pretend to protect consumers from a larger, more powerful Comcast. Perhaps the company should be required to water the office plants? Strict oxygen inhalation and exhalation requirements? The options are limitless.
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Posted on Techdirt - 6 March 2014 @ 5:22am
As recently noted, Candy Crush Saga maker King recently decided to back off their absurdly broad trademark on the word "candy." Instead, King chose to be obnoxious in other adventurous ways, recently acquiring an older, more specific trademark for the phrase "candy crush" that they're now using to bully other game makers for little to no coherent reason. The company is busy continuing their trademark abuses of the word candy over in the EU, and they're also continuing to bully Stoic, makers of the strategy-RPG The Banner Saga, for simply using the word saga.
We've also explored how some game makers have been creatively trolling King to bring greater attention to the absurdity of King's behavior. Like the indie developers behind the game Candy Jam, in which users are encouraged to create any sort of game with the word candy in it. But the award for most creative trolling attempt now has to go to the makers of Trademarkville, a game in which you're forced to decipher a King-lawyer crafted labyrinth of absurd trademark-constricted language for points. The game describes itself as such:
"In the magical town of TradeMarkVille every uttered word is instantly trademarked by the King's wizard-lawyers and banished from language. People are forced to devise increasingly bizarre ways to express their thoughts. Ordinary communication becomes a puzzle, prose becomes poetry. Will a new sense of understanding prevail against the sorcery of intellectual property?"
I'm not very good at it, but that appears to be the point makers Molleindustria
and Mikhail Popov were trying to make about the royalmonarchnobodylikes.
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Posted on Techdirt - 6 March 2014 @ 3:14am
The UK government has spent years trying to impose its version of morality upon the Internet, demanding that ISPs impose mandatory opt-out porn filters, even if those filters have since been easily bypassed and often block entirely legitimate websites. Worse, the UK government has seemed intent on throwing itself face-first down the slippery slope of censorship, with plans to expand these filters to block arbitrarily-defined "extremist" content. Prime Minister David Cameron has repeatedly and loudly proclaimed to anyone who'll listen his sole mission is to "protect the children" from the beasts that dwell in the "darkest corners of the Internet." In the process he's blamed nearly everyone, including Google and Yahoo, for not doing enough to thwart child porn.
Apparently, people who live in glass houses should not throw thermonuclear warheads (I think that's how that saying goes). Reports have emerged that top Cameron aide Patrick Rock -- who helped draw up proposals for the country's Internet porn filters -- has been arrested on suspicion of possession of child pornography. There seems to be some heated criticism pointed Cameron's direction for keeping the issue quiet, with several UK news outlets also suggesting Rock was given a little extra time between his dismissal and his arrest:
"Mr Cameron's official spokesman has confirmed that No 10 was first made aware of the alleged offence regarding child abuse imagery on the evening of February 12. The matter was immediately referred to the National Crime Agency (NCA) and Mr Rock resigned his position as deputy head of the policy unit. In the early hours of the morning of February 13 he was arrested at his home in London."
So if this timeline is correct (and the Guardian
seems a little murkier on those specifics
) the government was made aware of Rock's offense on February 12, Rock "resigned" on February 12, but he wasn't arrested until February 13 after the government contacted the NCA. Presumed innocent and all that, but it seems a touch hypocritical and inconsistent to whine like a screaming banshee for years about how everybody else
isn't doing enough to protect the children, while your own staff member and architect of your porn filters is storing child porn on his PC. It's of course notably worse if it's found the government gave Rock a little extra time before law enforcement came calling (though perhaps the NCA just moves slower
when it's higher ranking officials).
Regardless, I think it's time for UK ISPs to begin developing sophisticated algorithms capable of filtering out David Cameron's bad ideas from the public discourse.
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Posted on Techdirt - 5 March 2014 @ 3:19pm
Not long ago, Dish Networks introduced a new DVR called Hopper that tries something rather unique: it actually offers features that make users happy, such as the ability to automatically skip ads (something users were doing anyway). Once again claiming that giving consumers what they want would destroy the TV universe as we know it, broadcasters quickly responded by suing Dish and claiming that Hopper's ad-skipping technology violated copyright. The cases haven't been particularly successful for broadcasters, who've found themselves swatted back by the courts on several key issues.
Now Dish has struck a new long-term programming deal with ABC that will lock down Hopper's ad-skipping technology so it can't be used on new episodes until three days after they air. In exchange, ABC will immediately agree to drop their lawsuit against Dish. It's unfortunate that Dish chose to buckle and make Hopper less useful to consumers, and restricting functionality only acts to make the TV viewing experience even more fractured and confusing than it already is. Which content will ad-skipping work on? Which online streaming service has locked down the exclusive contract for content I enjoy?
On the other hand, a statement by Dish indicates that the company didn't walk away empty handed; they appear to have used ad-skipping as leverage to get broader licensing for an online TV service that may or may not ever launch:
"The extensive and expanded distribution agreement grants DISH rights to stream cleared linear and video-on-demand content from the ABC-owned broadcast stations, ABC Family, Disney Channel, ESPN and ESPN2, as part of an Internet delivered, IP-based multichannel offering."
As we've covered at length, the highway of Internet TV innovation is littered with countless corpses of failed Internet TV efforts
, none of which could secure the licensing rights to make their ambitions work. While it's important that Dish has secured some Disney licensing rights, it's ridiculous that the company had to make useful hardware less useful in order to do so. Still, in a statement Dish CEO Joe Clayton slathered ABC with a heaping helping of platitudes:
"The creation of this agreement has really been about predicting the future of television with a visionary and forward-leaning partner. Not only will the exceptional Disney, ABC, ESPN entertainment portfolio continue to delight our customers today, but we also have a model from which to deliver exciting new services tomorrow."
Yes, nothing quite says visionary
like suing over a feature that simply helps consumers by automating something they were already doing. If Dish strikes similar deals with their new "forward-leaning" broadcast friends we'll never see the lame broadcast argument that ad-skipping violates copyright truly tested in court, preventing useful precedent for future cases. In that sense, Dish struck a short term deal they find useful, while potentially harming innovation long term.
As for this all being worth it because of Dish getting online streaming rights, we can't see the deal specifics, so it's unclear what kind of obnoxious restrictions ABC placed on the streaming content to prevent Dish's over the top service from being truly disruptive (like broadcasters have done repeatedly with Hulu
). There's also nothing that guarantees other broadcasters are willing to follow suit with similar deals, since most of them remain utterly terrified of over the top (OTA) TV. A Disney-only online streaming service would be highly limited, and all consumers got in exchange was a DVR that does less than it did before. Visionary, indeed.
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Posted on Techdirt - 5 March 2014 @ 7:17am
Aside from a now-traditional lack of enough live coverage, pretty awful commentary, a ridiculous over-abundance of a strangely limited rotation of ads, making Bode Miller cry and Bob Costas' double eye infection, NBC did a pretty good job covering the Winter Olympics, right? NBC certainly believes so, even though it seems that many Americans found NBC coverage so immensely annoying, they went to great lengths to install VPNs so they could watch Canada's version of the games instead.
What has NBC achingly proud, however, is the fact that the company cleverly worked with Olympics officials to prevent viewers from trying to access the games via non-sanctioned NBC streams and online outlets. According to NBC, the company worked to kill off some 45,000 videos of Olympics competition, and an estimated 5,000 live streams (they avoid showing their math or any historical context for those numbers):
"Officials estimate that 20,000 videos of Olympic competition were kept off YouTube, either through filtering technology that prevents them from being posted in the first place or locates and takes them down shortly after they are added. Another 20,000 were stopped from distribution on similar video-sharing sites popular elsewhere in the world, like Dailymotion in Europe or VK.com in Russia, NBC said."
Right, well, good job I guess. The problem is that while NBC was busy waging their proud war on Olympic videos, they were simultaneously engaged in practices that were driving users to those same viewing options. While NBC did offer some live streams on their website, they were largely restricted to customers that only pay for cable, as part of the industry's lame "TV Everywhere" mindset
(a mindset that increasingly doesn't seem to be doing much of anything for anybody
, including cable). Worse, even some paying TV customers, like those paying for Comcast's new HBO, basic cable and broadband bundle
, weren't allowed to watch the streams because they weren't buying expensive enough TV packages
To hear NBC tell it, this kind of absurd inconsistency in policy is all a perfect example of how when NBC and sanctioned friends work together to be inconsistent, it results in online perfection
"When all the players in the digital ecosystem cooperate and work together, it is possible to create an online environment in which legitimate commerce thrives, jobs are created and consumers receive content how, when and where they want it," said John McKay, NBC spokesman."
A real gold medal performance all around, NBC. You really stuck the landing.
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Posted on Techdirt - 4 March 2014 @ 10:09pm
As I've been noting, Comcast lobbyists have certainly fired up their sound wall of paid PR folk, consultants, think tanks, and other policy tendrils in a fairly weak attempt to convince everyone that an immeasurably larger and more powerful Comcast is going to be a good thing for everybody. Most of the arguments (correctly) focus on the fact that Time Warner Cable and Comcast don't directly compete so there's no harm, while ignoring that Comcast's ever-increasing size makes it easier for Comcast to bully disruptive Internet video companies using usage caps, restrictive licensing agreements, and peering relationships.
Most of the editorials are quite a lot of fun, like this one by Doug Brake of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. The ITIF, if you'd forgotten, was a big backer of SOPA and has championed all manner of IP maximalism, most recently through their support of the TTP agreement. They take money from broadband providers and the MPAA, not that Forbes or anybody else can ever bother to point this out. According to Brake, criticism of the merger is something that's being fabricated by "paranoid bloggers" and spreaders of "misinformation," whose "populist" thinking gives cable companies a bad rap:
"It is popular, especially in the blogosphere, to automatically distrust cable and telecommunications companies, a stance that often leads to inaccurate statements and misunderstandings."
Gosh, that distrust couldn't possibly
come from the fact that Comcast is among the lowest ranked companies for customer satisfaction in what's the lowest ranked industry
for customer satisfaction across all industries? Bi-annual rate hikes for channels never watched? Full-day technician visit windows that get bumped numerous times for no reason? Jacking up modem rental fees? Horrible customer support? Burying rate hikes misleadingly in below-the-line fees
? Any of this ringing a bell, Doug? It's worth noting that brand impression of Time Warner Cable has actually somehow gotten even worse
since the merger was announced, which is pretty impressive.
Brake stumbles forth valiantly to then argue that those worried about a larger Comcast needn't do so -- because competitive pressure from phone companies will keep Comcast executives honest:
"The broadband populists that dominate this conversation like to claim that DSL is not fast enough to be a competitor to cable. But some of DSL’s 31 million subscribers (compared to cable’s 51.5 million) might disagree. And there is good reason to expect DSL speeds to improve – new technology, called vectored DSL, promises 100 Mbps under the right circumstances. And of course, in 6 of the 19 metros, Verizon FIOS fiber service is a robust competitor."
First, I'm not entirely sure in what world being a "populist" is an insult; the dictionary definition of populism
suggests someone who is looking out for the people (what a bunch of jerks). Second, if the argument is that the phone companies will keep Comcast honest as they grow, apparently Mr. Brake isn't aware of the fact that AT&T and Verizon are backing away from huge swaths of the fixed-line broadband market
because they don't want to upgrade them (as in, ever), which would leave the freshly-merged Comcast Time Warner Cable with less competition than ever before. In turn, Comcast will soon have a greater ability to impose the usage caps they've been busy testing in uncompetitive markets
without competitive repercussions. Brake then goes on to repeat another core merger supporter talking point -- Google Fiber will somehow keep Comcast honest:
"Let’s not forget another big announcement made on the heels of the merger proposal – Google has started early plans to expand its fiber build-out to nine new metro areas. The timing of Google’s release exposes a key flaw in Crawford’s arguments against the merger: immediately after Comcast’s announcement, many detractors dismissed Google fiber as a viable competitor to cable because it is in only a handful of cities."
Right, except that that Google Fiber announcement to "expand to nine new metro areas" never actually stated anything of the sort, something Brake would know if he'd actually read it
. Google Fiber, which currently only serves a handful of users in Kansas City and Provo, Utah, simply announced it would work with
cities in nine markets to examine improving infrastructure. One or two might actually see service sometime by 2015, but it's not keeping Comcast executives up at night anytime soon. This talking point that companies like Google Fiber and Hulu (which Comcast co-owns) will generate enough pressure to keep Comcast honest is laughable, but it keeps getting trotted out like an ugly show pony.
You'd think for the money Comcast is pouring into these think tanks annually, one of them would actually understand the industry they're writing about and be able to make coherent arguments in support of the merger. Surely there have to be some
legitimate benefits to letting Comcast get immensely more massive? Perhaps suggest that shiny new taxpayer-subsidized skyscraper Comcast is building in Philadelphia will scare away the foul shard devils from the vile astral plane of Kerithuth? Maybe suggest the combined new super Comcast will impact the earth's gravitational pull just enough to give us all super powers that could help us fight said looming cross-dimensional invasion? Surely these groups can do better. Paranoid populists everywhere demand it!
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Posted on Techdirt - 4 March 2014 @ 4:18pm
Whether it's music or games, we've seen countless examples of how the content you think you own can either be taken away from you entirely -- or can suddenly be greatly limited, often with little to no warning. The latest example of that is courtesy of Nintendo, which is informing users that the online components of a long list of titles for the Nintendo Wii, DS and DSi will no longer work after May 20 of this year. From Mario Kart Wii to Animal Crossing: Wild World, many of these titles will suddenly find themselves with a gaping hole where core gameplay mechanics used to be. Nintendo is telling these users that they appreciate user support of legacy systems, even if Nintendo won't support them themselves:
"We at Nintendo sincerely thank our fans for their continued support of our company’s legacy systems. Your enthusiasm for games made for these systems speaks to their longevity, and the passion of Nintendo fans."
Except if you really cared about fan enthusiasm for legacy titles, why not empower them to hack together solutions to help keep at least some core multiplayer functions in place? Because that would keep them from buying your latest hardware, even if they're perfectly happy playing older games. People have a right to worry that this phenomenon is accelerating as the newer generation of consoles become more tied to the Internet and the cloud than ever before
"Nintendo's decision to stop running Wii and DS servers feels like the leading edge of a big expansion of this problem, though, as the first full console generation with tightly integrated online play starts to get phased out. I give the Xbox 360 and PS3 two or three more years at most before Sony and Microsoft decide it's not worth supporting servers for the aging hardware anymore. Looking ahead even further, there will probably come a day when Titanfall is no longer playable on the Xbox One because Microsoft thinks it's no longer worthwhile to support it (in that case, the game won't even have a single-player mode to fall back on)."
PC users for years have hammered together online solutions for this problem (albeit not always glamorously), and it doesn't seem like it would be a particularly taxing thing for Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo to throw a little support in the general direction of core fans, making them more likely to buy your products in the future. The alternative is a path where titles keep going up in price, while the shelf-life on their full functionality continues to decrease. Now you'll excuse me if I take one last, teary-eyed lap around Moo Moo Meadows in Mario Kart Wii
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Posted on Techdirt - 4 March 2014 @ 2:01pm
Comcast's David Cohen is the company's most influential policy and lobbying guru, being described by the Washington Post in late 2012 as a "wonk rock star" in telecom circles. Cohen, whose official title at the company is simply Executive Vice President, has spent the last decade helping Comcast navigate a stream of significant mergers and acquisitions, most notably the company's 2011 acquisition of NBC Universal. In fact, Comcast's NBC acquisition went through largely thanks to a list of merger conditions that were proposed by Cohen himself, including the offering of $10 broadband to homes that qualify for the school lunch program (a program that resulted in protests in Comcast's hometown by folks who claimed the company made it intentionally difficult to actually qualify).
Cohen's a lobbyist in all the ways you'd expect a lobbyist to be, from hob knobbing with regulators and fund raising for President Obama, to penning a litany of awful editorials about bad policy in papers nationwide. Every month or so Cohen can be found busily pretending the U.S. broadband market is competitive, or pretending that the United States' mediocre showing in every meaningful global broadband stat actually means we're leading the world at broadband. Yet despite spending the lion's share of his time lobbying, Cohen doesn't have to follow the disclosure rules for lobbyists -- and hasn't since 2007 -- because he's able to simply pretend he doesn't spend much time lobbying:
"Only employees who spend 20 percent or more of their work on lobbying or related activities have to register in Washington. Comcast says Cohen, an executive vice president, doesn't reach that threshold as he puts in 18-hour days spread across a wide array of responsibilities....by not registering as a lobbyist, Cohen doesn't face limits on travel with lawmakers and doesn't have to file reports on his contributions to campaigns or lawmakers' pet foundations."
By technically not being a lobbyist while being a very obvious lobbyist, Cohen is also allowed to dance around Obama's rules prohibiting lobbyists from having close ties to the administration (rules we've long noted were rather toothless
). Comcast's top PR rep Sena Fitzmaurice points out that Comcast is just following the rules, but adds a little flourish in pretending that Cohen's really just quite a gifted fellow who wears many hats:
"There are very clear legal definitions of what is a lobbyist, and we check them for all of our people who make government contacts every quarter and comply accordingly," said Sena Fitzmaurice, Comcast vice president of government communications. Based in Philadelphia, not Washington, Cohen is responsible for government affairs, legal issues, communications, community investment, corporate real estate, and diversity, among other duties, Fitzmaurice said."David has a quite broad portfolio."
Yes, golly, David really is a jack of all trades, and also helps prune the rose bushes
, clean the cat's box, and occasionally can be found down in the motor pool giving tips on catalytic converters! Cohen's a walking, breathing example of the uselessness of current lobbying rules. The current rules allow you to self-report your time spent with nobody anywhere in government bothering to confirm if you're telling the truth or not. Cohen is almost certainly logging sixty-hour-plus work weeks pushing for Comcast's attempted takeover of Time Warner Cable but worry not -- the majority of that time is actually spent making copies, providing moral support to sad cable install technicians, and baking delicious cupcakes.
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Posted on Techdirt - 4 March 2014 @ 7:14am
Australia has a long and proud history of seeing higher copyright infringement rates, thanks in large part to the country's failure to offer up legitimate, affordable streaming video options. With Netflix officially unavailable Down Under, many viewers there have taken things into their own hands and have started using VPNs to mask their location and subscribe to the service anyway. Cue the rising hysteria from both broadcasters and Australian Netflix competitors, who insist that something has to be done about this flagrant outrage. They're helped by regional paper The Australian, which suggests that these paying users are "pirates":
"Highlighting how the TV networks view these people, an article this morning in News Corp-owned The Australian went as far as labeling subscribers as “pirates”, even though they are paying for the service..."There is concern at local networks about the growing impact of the US company flouting international regulations by accepting payments from Australian credit cards, despite maintaining a geo-block that is easily bypassed by VPN manipulation or spoof IP addresses,” the paper said."
Granted, if companies were delivering what users wanted, this wouldn't even be an issue. In fact, that would seem to be a much easier solution to this "problem." Instead, broadcasters and Australian streaming provider Quickflix (HBO is an 8% owner) seem to think it would make more sense to force Netflix to ban the use of a very common technology that has innumerable uses well outside of just skirting regional limitations. Some users, for example, are finding that VPNs are one (albeit sometimes inefficient) way to bypass some of the annoying new peering feuds erupting here in the States
. Still, Quickfix thinks somebody really should force Netflix to start blocking VPNs
before the country starts falling apart:
"Quickflix chief executive Stephen Langsford has accused US online streaming service Netflix of turning a blind eye to copyright infringement in order to get a free ride in Australia, as competition heats up in the TV and movie streaming market..."The studios have licensed Netflix to distribute content on particular terms in the US and other larger markets, they haven’t licensed Netflix for Australia. I have no doubt that the studios are in discussions with Netflix about VPNs because it is blatantly in breach of terms and Netflix is essentially getting a free ride into Australia."
It seems like only a matter of time before proxies and VPNs see a renewed focus as public enemy number one by the entertainment industry. Most of the world's graduated response programs, including ours here in the States
, can't detect users who are using proxies and VPNs at all. With Australia now contemplating a graduated response program of their own
, you can expect the vilification of VPNs to ramp up quickly, even though any laws restricting their use would be met with swift and steep opposition.
Netflix hasn't stated why they've yet to head to Australia yet, but it's either because they want to prioritize larger international markets, or they're having a hard time securing content licensing from Australian broadcasters. Until Netflix does show up Down Under, Australian cable operators like Foxtel are engaged in the kind of brilliant anti-piracy maneuvers we've grown used to, such as locking down HBO's Game of Thrones in an exclusive streaming and download arrangement
. Surely that will stop copyright infringement of what's become the most pirated show on the Internet
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Posted on Techdirt - 3 March 2014 @ 3:59pm
AT&T has spent a massive amount of time the last few years harping on the need to speed up the "IP transition." On its surface the idea seems reasonable; the nation needs to begin migrating from older copper DSL and phone technology toward new IP solutions, such as wireless and fiber to the home, the former being easier to deploy to rural areas, and the latter having much lower maintenance costs while being able to deliver faster speeds. AT&T is going state-by-state insisting that if lawmakers gut consumer protections governing these older networks, newer, better networks will spring forth from the ashes to help forge a better tomorrow, as this charming video makes clear:
Aren't those little railroad men saddled with antiquated regulations and ancient technology adorable
The problem is that AT&T's version of the network of tomorrow for millions of users is going to mean significantly fewer choices and worse, more expensive service than ever before. While it's true many people are moving away from copper phone service, unmentioned by AT&T's video is the fact that millions of customers remain on copper-based DSL because it's the only choice they have and the only one AT&T offered. While AT&T has selectively upgraded some users to their faster but still not fiber to the home U-Verse VDSL platform (about half of their fixed-line network), tens of millions of AT&T and Verizon's DSL customers aren't going to be upgraded anytime soon. Instead, they're going to be hung up on or sold to smaller telcos with even less interest in upgrading them than AT&T did.
Enjoy the magic of tomorrowland, everyone!
While new DSL deployments and upgrades can be expensive (AT&T has always had the funds, they've just long placed investor returns well above offering quality product and support), existing DSL customers are perfectly profitable. They're simply not profitable enough
for impatient investors, whose eyes are squarely fixed on wireless with its low usage caps and per gigabyte overages, even if wireless is not (especially at AT&T prices) an adequate replacement for a fixed line. Refusing to upgrade fixed-line networks could almost be excused if it wasn't for the fact that, with their other hand, AT&T has long lobbied for protectionist legislation across multiple states banning towns and cities from upgrading themselves - - even in cases where nobody else will.
Once AT&T has gutted any remaining consumer protections and regulations on copper lines (which were over time quite heavily subsidized by taxpayers, but who cares, right?), they're going to walk away from many areas -- leaving users with either the choice of more expensive wireless (many rural users won't be able to get), or a suddenly emboldened and stronger cable monopoly. AT&T and Verizon are quietly ceding huge swaths of America's fixed-line broadband market to cable, who'll be sure to jack up prices in the face of less competition than ever. This before you even factor in the smaller ISPs that might have been using those telco lines to offer competing services (whoops, sorry!).
The use of "all IP" is also quite a lovely bit of conflation and misdirection, given the company's U-Verse and DSL users are already IP-based. You'll see the "all IP" rhetoric popping up in an endless series of editorials (like this one by Steve Forbes
) AT&T has been running nationwide to convince people they really don't need that DSL line they're using. Larry Downes at CNET recently informed readers
that AT&T's simply interested in "connecting more Americans to the broadband ecosystem." Nothing quite says connecting more Americans like disconnecting Americans.
The FCC recently started paying closer attention to this "IP transition" when Verizon's version of it involved refusing to repair east coast DSL customers after Hurricane Sandy. Instead, after waiting months for repairs, customers were given something Verizon is calling Voice Link -- a wireless service that locals complained was dramatically less functional and reliable
than their previous copper DSL and phone lines, failing to offer basic features or data, leaving Comcast (which had no problem financing coaxial repairs) as the only regional fixed-line broadband competitor in many of these areas. Verizon was using the storm as cover to back out of areas they no longer want to service, though they fell under criticism by the New York AG for violating PSC rules
To tackle the general technical
problems with the "IP transition" (will my home security system still work? Can I even get a reliable LTE signal in my basement? Will 911 work?), the FCC has proposed a series of observed technical trials. AT&T has announced that their version of these trials will involve migrating two tiny towns
to presumably LTE wireless and U-Verse over the next few years, after which AT&T and the FCC will likely proclaim the trial to be a smashing success. Ignored by AT&T, the FCC, and the press so far has been the fact that as AT&T and Verizon back away from DSL, they're going to be leaving an even less competitive broadband market than we have now -- at a time when everyone pays endless lip service to improving broadband competition.
The next time you read in the press about the "IP transition," (and you'll be reading about it a lot) notice how quickly everybody applauds the idea that copper is just so lame
, old fashioned and unnecessary
. Then notice how, buried under the pageantry, nobody seems to recognize that what's actually happening here is simply the lopping off of unwanted DSL customers that companies are refusing to upgrade. That in turn will lead to a stronger cable monopoly across half the country, resulting in cable companies -- like the freshly-merged Time Warner Cable Comcast -- feeling free to impose more draconian usage caps than ever before. Welcome to the "all IP" networks of tomorrow. Watch that first step.
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