FCC to probe exclusive handset deals, enhance diversity in the radio business

Posted on June 22nd, 2009 by bile
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Likely Federal Communications Commission chair Julius Genachowski has promised Senator John Kerry (D-MA) that he’ll give due attention to a petition asking the FCC to investigate exclusivity arrangements between handset manufacturers and wireless carriers. The most famous of these is AT&T’s deal with Apple for the iPhone. The White House’s pick to run the Commission also pledged to take action if the agency concludes that these arrangements hurt consumers.

The long standing request for action on this issue came from the Rural Cellular Association (RCA), which charges that they shortchange rural areas. “Yes, if confirmed, I will ensure that the full record on the RCA petition is reviewed, and act accordingly to promote competition and consumer choice,” Genachowski declared in a set of formal responses to questions posed by Kerry.

Genachowski also responded to four other questions posed by Kerry, albeit with circumspect answers that probably stem from a desire not to commit to too much, too soon. To a query about addressing the “shocking lack of minority voices in media markets today,” he promised to develop (take a deep breath here) “constitutionally permissible strategies to ensure that there is a wide dissemination of licenses so that women-owned, minority-owned, and small businesses have ample opportunity to compete, innovate, and contribute their voices to the national and local media marketplace.”

The nominee did agree with Kerry that the agency should, as part of its National Broadband Plan, conduct a comprehensive inventory of all available spectrum and the ways that it is currently being used. Kerry has introduced a bill that would make a survey of spectrum use between 200MHz and 3.5GHz a requirement of the Communications Act. And, while Genachowski didn’t sign on to Kerry’s proposal to extend the Universal Service Fund’s “Lifeline” program to broadband, he called it “an idea that I am very interested in learning more about.” At present the fund only subsidizes telephone service.

Kerry’s Lifeline question acknowledged that there is “considerable disagreement” about how the White House’s $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus money should be spent, specifically whether it should allocated to broadband rollout in rural areas, or to “demand side” programs (such as Lifeline) that encourage more consumers to buy high speed Internet.

“My concern is that we are funding projects that are sustainable beyond the 2 year window of funding availability—” Kerry told Genachowski, “the worst thing we could do is pour this money into projects that 2 years from now will not be viable.”

Putting the unanswered questions aside, no one should be surprised that RCA is quite happy about Genachowski and Copps’ comments regarding exclusive handsets.

“It is RCA’s expectation that the FCC will find that there are significant consumer and competitive harms caused by such deals,” Todd Lantor, the group’s attorney told us. “It is RCA’s hope that the Commission will move promptly on this item and ultimately decide that banning exclusive handset agreements is what the public interest dictates.”

Iterfering with contract, monopolizing the radio spectrum, treating people differently due to their class, being successfully lobbyed by small companies looking to interfere with volunary actions of other companies, advocating wealth redistribution. Can they stop pussyfooting around and just roll out the socio fascist red carpet? This bloodletting of anything resembling freedom is painful.

Dean Baker suggests government spending on FOSS to help stimulate the economy

Posted on January 14th, 2009 by bile
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5) Funding for Writers/Artists/Creative Workers

In the New Deal there was both a federal arts project and a federal writers project. These programs employed thousands of young artists and writers. A creative stimulus package can extend this idea for the Internet Age. Suppose that President Obama made $10 billion a year available for state and local governments to support various types of creative and artistic work. This could include music, movies, writing books, even journalism. The one condition for support is that all material be made freely available in the public domain. (Better yet, it could have copyleft protection.)

This funding would be sufficient to employ 200,000 people a year at an average of $50,000 each. This would put an enormous amount of creative work in the public domain that people all over the world could download at zero cost. In the first year or two, we could have this program administered through public agencies, but in later years we can have people choose for themselves which work they want to support through a tax credit. The cost would be approximately $10 billion a year.

6) Funding for the Development of Open Software

In the same vein, the government can spend $2 billion a year to develop open source software. This money can be used to further develop and simplify open source operating systems such as Linux, as well other forms of free software. The payoffs from this spending would be enormous. Imagine that every computer buyer in the world would be able to get a computer for which the operating system was free, as was almost all the software that they would ever use.

This would surely save consumers an average of at least $200 per computer. With sales at close to 20 million a year, the savings in the United States alone could easily exceed the cost of supporting software development. Adding in the benefits (and presumably some contributions) from the rest of the world, we will be way ahead by going the route of publicly funded open software open software. The cost would be $2 billion a year.

Slashdot makes mention that he predicted the housing collapse and current economic issues. Well la-de-da. That’s like congratulating a 12 year old for being able to tell the difference between a blue circle and red square. Baker is hardly an economist I have much faith in. His work, The Conservative Nanny State, was an abomination in regards to solutions for proclaimed problems. He sees some of the problems… some of the truths in the modern conservative movement but just wants to rearrange things how he’d like to see them rather then looking for economically viable and efficient solutions. That is supporting private property and the free market.

This story particularly annoys me because being that I’m both an ancap and a big supporter of FOSS this guy was so off in his understanding of the FOSS culture and human tendency in general. In chapter 4, Bill Gates — Welfare Mom, How Government Patent and Copyright Monopolies Enrich the Rich and Distort the Economy, he says:

Copyrights on computer software vastly increase the cost of computers, and make many software applications quite costly, when they could be transferred at no cost over the Internet. Can there be mechanisms for publicly financing software development that allow new software to be distributed cheaply or free? There would be enormous gains to the economy if software were freely available and the price of computers was no longer inflated by royalties on operating systems and applications. The savings from eliminating copyright and patent protection on software would be in the neighborhood of $70 billion to $100 billion a year. In addition, the process of software development would almost certainly be more efficient if all software was placed in the public domain where anyone was free to work on it. As with publicly financed prescription drug research, a large body of public domain software would eliminate the incentive to make duplicative programs and applications that were not qualitatively better than existing programs and applications.

This guy has obviously not looked into FOSS at all. There is more duplication in FOSS then commercial software. Everyone has their own itch to scratch and their itch often isn’t working on some other guy’s code in some other guys coding style in some other language. FOSS generally is less featureful with regards to GUI apps especially with particularly esoteric features.  Even complex applications like operating systems are all over the place. Dozens of mainstream Linux distros, OS X, AIX, OpenVMS, Solaris, Windows, BeOS… all the embedded systems. As for quality… he’s also wrong. Look at AIX, OpenVMS, Solaris, zOS, etc. They are still light years ahead of ground up FOSS. And all many of the major advancements in Linux have come from closed source venders. And most of the major FOSS contributors are employed by software shops that are or were closed. And lets not forget that most of the money spent on software is in fact support and not per unit costs. Companies pay millions for support… not for software. Don’t forget too that the few hundred per home computer you see is the shelf price. They discount heavily for preinstalled systems. A copy of Vista on a $400 desktop is not the $130 shelf price.

And even though there are lots of free (beer and speech) apps which do the same job as many you’d pay for… millions and millions of customers still pick up Apple and Microsoft products.

Clearly he doesn’t understand what he’s talking about.

I have a commentary on The Conservative Nanny State from when this blog first started that I never finished. Perhaps I could dig it up and finish it off.

Federal Trade Commission to scrutinize gaming DRM

Posted on January 7th, 2009 by bile
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Ars Technica reports that the FTC is getting ready to take a hard look at gaming DRM, setting up a town hall meeting to be held on March 25th. They’re currently recruiting panelists, and they say the meeting will, in part, “address the need to improve disclosures to consumers about DRM limitations.” The controversy over DRM came to a head in 2008 with the release of Spore and the multiple subsequent class-action lawsuits focusing on the SecuROM software that came with the game. Ars Technica says the town hall meeting will also look at “legal issues surrounding DRM” and “the potential need for government involvement to protect consumers.”

What horse shit. DRM is in no way something the government needs to be involved in. There is no protecting necessary. No one is harmed by DRM. DRM isn’t cutting people’s throats or stabbing their pets or stealing their Blu-Ray player. If the customer doesn’t want the product they don’t have to purchase it. Part of the product is the sellers attempts to restrict copying of the information stored on the CD, DVD, etc. Caveat emptor.

It is clear that this whole DRM thing is failing where it actually effects customers in a significant way. In fact it’s likely a vocal minority that’s actually leading to DRMs failure. Look what happened to the videogame Spore. Look at what Apple just announced yesterday. Many if not all of the providers of the music which they provide through their iTunes service have agreed to remove DRM from their songs. Most iTunes users however couldn’t care less. Seems fairly obvious given the populatity of iTunes and Apple products which must have been used (unless the DRM is broken) to play the purchased songs upto this point.

Until complete end to end solutions are created DRM will fail. Even with end to end solutions crackers and hackers will likely break the systems which they care about. The Xbox360 security is pretty good but a bug in the hypervisor allowed experts to break into the system. Blu-Ray, even with a dynamicly changing DRM system, has been continuously cracked.

While I disagree with patents, copyrights and trademarks and dislike DRM I fully support the property rights of the producer. If they wish to offer a product and that include methods to limit it’s use then so be it. The customer is fully in their right to not purchase it or purchase it and attempt to break those restrictions without fear of government interference.