Technology

FCC can prevent crisis by moving on Spectrum now

Congress and the Federal Communications Commission are mired in a debate over how to free more spectrum for wireless broadband. Meanwhile, it’s been nearly two years since the White House and FCC promised to double the amount of spectrum we currently have for mobile broadband. It’s time for government to stop standing in the way of solutions to the looming spectrum crisis.

Americans are beginning to feel the spectrum crunch already in densely populated cities. While most may blame their cell phone company for slow or unresponsive service, the true fault is government. Wireless carriers spend over $20 billion dollars per year just to upgrade and maintain wireless networks. But maintaining roads only has a residual impact on traffic when what are needed are more lanes. With spectrum, the government has been slow to provide.

The last major spectrum auction was back in 2008. Yet, the FCC is sitting on spectrum it can auction today, including the D Block. Meanwhile, they helped kill the AT&T/T-Mobile merger aimed at using spectrum more efficiently to expand coverage and capacity. And they’ve slowed AT&T's purchase of Qualcomm spectrum. Here’s to hoping they don’t stall Verizon’s purchase of unused spectrum from cable companies.

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Spectrum delay is not an option

From connected cars, to pet-tracking tools, to cutting-edge advances in medical devices, last week's International Consumer Electronics Show was nothing short of dazzling in the diversity of the devices that were on display. Indeed, it seemed the one thing all the new devices shared -- along with the tens of thousands of innovators who came to Las Vegas to see them first-hand -- is a wireless Internet connection. In many ways, mobile technology and wireless connectivity is now the glue that is holding the dynamic centrifuge of American innovation together.

This increasing reliance on the wireless Internet holds great promise, not only for American consumers but also for the American economy. But progress can quickly be stalled -- or even reversed -- unless policymakers move immediately to free-up more mobile spectrum to meet exponentially growing demand.

We've no time to waste. The FCC has warned that unless we act now, spectrum capacity in the U.S. could exceed supply as soon as next year. For Americans, this will mean more than longer downloads and more dropped calls. It will mean missed opportunities, and slower innovation, and slower job growth.

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SOPA, PIPA: Pause and reset

For the leading industry backers of the House and Senate’s online piracy bills, this week must have been reminiscent of a Dean Koontz horror novel. First, the White House issued a blog post expressing grave concerns with both pieces of legislation. Shortly thereafter, several popular Internet websites conducted a temporary ‘blackout’ of their respective websites in protest of the two measures; which inspired a handful of high profile legislators to rather promptly withdraw their support for the legislation. Finally, the week concluded with a not so surprising announcement that any further consideration of the legislation had been indefinitely postponed.
 
On closer inspection, however, the recent political setbacks provide traditional media companies, along with their congressional supporters, with a rare opportunity for a fresh start. An opportunity to craft new legislation that shifts the the traditional role of enforcement as the primary means for protecting music and movies from online infringement, in exchange for embracing a more robust system of licensing that would reduce piracy and guarantee existing and potential online customers with more timely access to entertainment content.

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Anti-piracy battle reveals dysfunctional thinking

So, this last week dealt a few blows to supporters of new anti-piracy legislation. And today, websites around the world, including some biggies, have gone dark in protest of anti-piracy legislation. The guts of SOPA have been eviscerated to the point that Google and others can still profit from piracy; and many legislators and the White House show signs of bowing to public pressure as the contentious election year is upon us and Silicon Valley’s fear campaign has worked its magic -- especially on my fellow Democrats and artists. 

If SOPA and PIPA fail, or fail to pass in substantive form, it will indeed be a shame for American content creators and consumers, but the real shame is what this process reveals about the stagnation of governance in general.

Remember the healthcare circus? Instead of rational discourse about the underlying problems in a system that is clearly broken, we got diversionary scare tactics like “death panels” for the aged. My fellow Democrats and I wondered in frustration how anyone could believe such transparent fear-mongering; but now that the issue is online piracy, it is dismaying to realize that my ideological allies are just as easily sucker-punched as my ideological foes.

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Congress wants to censor you

China has long been a political target for members of Congress -- whether they criticize their government’s trade policies, or the way they regulate free speech. While members of Congress are quick to point fingers at China, they themselves are considering legislation that would do just as the Chinese government does – heavily regulate free speech, and hammer entrepreneurship on the Internet.

The Internet Censorship bills (SOPA & PIPA) currently being debated in Congress could give the government the power to turn off parts of the Internet. If anyone uploads copyrighted material to a site like YouTube or on a blog, the website in question could be punished by being removed from search engine results, banned from online advertising networks, and blocked from payment processing networks. 

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Obama's choice: Regulator or Innovator

When President Obama walks the center aisle of the House of Representatives and takes the podium from Speaker Boehner on January 25th, he will carry with him a heavy burden. The state of our economy will obviously join him at center stage. Both the companies that create jobs and the Americans who desperately need them will be listening. So will a Congress divided to the point of debilitation.

In this extraordinary challenge lies a singular opportunity presented to every American president—the opportunity to reframe the public debate and to buoy a nation. As is tradition, presidents often look to their predecessors as they take pen to paper for these historic occasions. In recent speeches, President Obama has displayed a fondness for President Theodore Roosevelt and his notion of a “New Nationalism” in which a strong federal government ensures social justice.

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Rogue sites: Compromising safety of first responders

The Internet: perhaps the greatest technological invention in our generation – one that has leveled the playing field for many countries in a global economy and dramatically changed how people in every social/economic stratum goes about their lives.
 
Every day, we see incredible benefits derived from this technology.  Whether in the medical field, the travel industry, our schools or in our homes, the benefits are ubiquitous.
 
However, as we all know, the Internet has also been used for purposes that do not always bring about positive change.
 
Foreign-owned, rogue websites are increasingly selling counterfeit products to U.S. consumers. The United States economy loses an estimated $58 billion annually due to copyright theft, including an estimated $3 billion in tax revenues to federal, state, and local government.

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Online piracy bills are flawed

The music industry has a long history of telling artists to “shut up and sing.” Which is why the internet has been so important in amplifying the voices of musicians of every conceivable background. It’s also why artists should be wary when powerful entertainment conglomerates push for polices that could undermine free expression, all the while claiming to speak for creators.

Congress is currently considering a pair of well-intentioned but deeply flawed pieces of legislation that threaten to fundamentally change how the internet works. Hollywood and the labels back these bills, which are rightfully being questioned by the broader arts community, from artists and managers to writers and performers.

The bills in question — PROTECT-IP (PIPA) in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy ACT (SOPA) in the House — have the stated goals of making it more difficult for Americans to access websites that traffic in unauthorized U.S. intellectual property. There’s no doubt that foreign-based sites selling MP3s and movies without permission need to be dealt with. The question is how. These bills are the digital equivalent of hazardous tuna nets, except in this case it’s speech, and not dolphins, that risk being ensnared.

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Avoiding the looming spectrum crisis in 2012

In early December, I wrote an article asking how the FCC can avoid the looming spectrum crisis that’s coming at us faster every time someone buys a tablet computer or downloads a video. As it turns 2012, the question is even more urgent: Now what? What does the government propose to do about spectrum?

From a tech perspective, one of the strongest arguments in favor of the proposed AT&T-T-Mobile merger was the complementarities of the two companies’ spectrum. In simple terms, it meant the merged company would have been able to efficiently use the combined spectrum to handle more calls, data, and video than is currently possible. Still, even with the most skilled network managers, only so many bits can fit onto one strand of spectrum. It’s one of the reasons smartphone connections drop, or video downloads stall, or e-mail experiences delay on your mobile phone – there’s a limit to how much space is in the airwaves.

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Refusing to answer to policy reasons

A number of passionate opinion pieces have been written recently charging proponents of copyright enforcement measures with changing the way the Internet works without bothering to understand it.  It’s easy to make such charges stick in Washington when they’re made by engineers with Internet pedigrees, but they’re fundamentally unsound in light of the current state of the bills.
 
The Internet is not only a platform for socially beneficial innovations, it’s also a boon to those bent on anti-social, criminal pursuits. The group who commented on S. 968 (PIPA) and H.R. 3261 (SOPA) on this blog admit as much, and one of them has devoted considerable effort to ensure that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) possess the means to hide criminal web sites from their customers. This system, known as “Response Policy Zones” (RPZ,) was the inspiration for the Domain Name Service (DNS) response filtering in PIPA and SOPA.

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