In the following video, economist Hal Singer quickly and simply debunks the FCC’s claim that annual set-top-box rental fees are $231.  Spoiler alert: The “calculation,” initially created by Senator Ed Markey, overscores its analysis by disregarding the pricing practices of three of the largest cable providers, making the number appear 60% larger than it really is.  The more accruate figure is closer to $150 a year.  But, heck, what’s a a few billion dollars difference when you have a story to tell.

Yet another example of the FCC’s “economics-free zone.”

Another look: How the FCC made set-top-boxes appear costly, with Hal Singer from Mike Wendy on Vimeo.


‬The new proposal.

The new proposal.

The new proposal.

Article, after article, after article says it. Heck, even FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler calls his new set-top-box proposal newly proposed rules.

But it’s weird. He and his partisan FCC already proposed STB rules in March, seeking to realize the two-decade-old “dream” of unlocking the customer’s cable box from the underlying video services. Version 2.0 – the new proposal – works toward the same goal, but, significantly, departs from the initial proposed rules by requiring pay TV providers and programmers to offer their shows via free apps for Roku, Apple iOS, Windows, Android, etc. And, to “help” this along, the FCC would then set up an independent body to license those apps to third-party “device makers,” such as Google.

In particular, the proposed licensing body has the content community up in arms, undermining, they feel, their ability to negotiate the terms that control their creations. It’s so controversial, in fact, that even one of the Chairman’s most steadfast allies – Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel – has publicly questioned whether the FCC has the authority to set up and guide the body. Members from both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate have voiced similar concerns, too. So has the Copyright Office.

All might be fine (regarding the process, not the idea) if the Chairman’s new proposal followed the normal order of things – as in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), with weeks to digest and then comment upon its proposals. But, as I noted above, that’s already happened. The initial STB NPRM was published in March, and comments and reply periods came and went in late April and May respectively.

V 2.0 is, um, new. The Chairman unveiled it less than two weeks ago. Not only has it not been digested by all stakeholders, no one possibly could because no one but the Chairman, Gigi Sohn (and, likely, Public Knowledge) has yet seen it publicly in detail. All we’ve got is an FAQ. Not an NPRM, as is ostensibly required by law.

Problem is, the vote on the set-top-box Order – which creates law – will be held next week. V 2.0 has somehow (I say illegally) stepped into the shoes of the initial proposal. But now that is the vote.


This is the hallmark of Star Chamber “governance.” Due process, who needs that? The Chairman’s got an FAQ. It’s covered. It’s reminiscent of Nancy Pelosi’s famous Affordable Care Act quip, “We’ve got to pass the law before you can see what’s in it.”

America’s content producers / providers deserve better.

Simply, the FCC should avoid this mess by delaying the vote on the Order / new proposal so that stakeholders can better grasp (see) it and then comment on it. Or, better yet, issue a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to fully and more properly vet the complex new ideas.

What it must not do is go forward as if everything is OK. It ain’t. Administrative law, which guides agencies like the FCC, already is an affront to our civil liberties. Unelected officials, beholden to no one, pass laws, not Congress. The least this FCC could do is take the time to get this rule right and fair. What’s the rush? For two decades, the FCC has missed the STB boat, frustrated by marketplace developments and technology. It can’t deliberate another couple of months?

One hopes the Chairman sees a new way to address his new proposal.


The following op-ed, penned by me, appeared in Morning Consult, September 15 2016:

Time Has Come for Spectrum Coexistence in U.S.

Over two-thirds of Americans have a smartphone. This affordable, powerful and convenient technology has revolutionized how we communicate with the world like no other technology before it. But its popularity has put tremendous pressure on the wireless networks that make those phones (and other mobile technology) work, too.

You see, mobile technology is limited by finite, wireless spectrum over which its services ride. Yet, unlike other resources, access to that spectrum is strictly controlled by the federal government. And, Uncle Sam jealously guards that resource like his life depends on it.

This must change if our networks are to evolve to meet near ceaseless demand. And it can – that is, if regulators are smarter about unleashing spectrum, including even sharing it with commercial providers when appropriate.

There are nearly 380 million wireless subscriptions in America. Over 230 million of these are for data-hungry smartphones. And, boy, are they busy. A single smartphone can generate nearly as much traffic as 50 traditional cellphones. By 2019, projections show that mobile data traffic, caused in no small measure by smartphones, will have increased seven-fold over 2014 volumes. All agree this growth trajectory will not abate. It will be driven by new users (including “things”), more connections per user and increased demand for higher speeds to accommodate data-hungry apps such as mobile video.

Consequently, by 2019 America will need more than 50 percent more licensed broadband spectrum than what’s currently out there to keep our wireless networks working smoothly.

But, usable “greenfield” spectrum is hard to come by. [click to continue…]


Labor Day - 8 jobs into 1 via my small, portable broadcast center.

Labor Day – 8 jobs into 1 via my small, portable broadcast center.

The picture above reflects the state of my current “broadcast studio” – a couple of portable boxes filled with equipment, computers and software.  When I worked as a union news technician 25 years ago, eight or more people could be involved in any given broadcast. There had to be a lighting tech, a sound tech, a cameraman, a producer, a writer, a sound editor, a video editor, a master control tech, etc.

Now, I do it all with this equipment…

…and the Web.

Labor Day means doing more with less – powered by cheap and powerful IT.


FCC Finally Admits Its 706 “Preemption Power” Is Fallacious

August 30, 2016

Earlier this month, a Federal Court overturned an FCC order which sought to preempt the state laws of North Carolina and Tennessee and how they manage the expansion of municipally-provided broadband networks. On Sunday, the New York Times – not the FCC’s press office or the Agency’s official website – reported that: “The F.C.C. does […]

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Obfuscation. Delay. Excuses.

August 29, 2016

The following piece, penned by me, appeared in The Hill (Congressionl Blog) on August 18, 2016. The original article can be found at: Obfuscation. Delay. Excuses. It’s frankly the Google and Big Cable way to slow-roll the progress of consumer-oriented technology they don’t like. Case in point: The proposed deployment of LTE-Unlicensed (LTE-U). LTE-U […]

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Google Fiber Gets Constipated – Why Build What the FCC Can Steal for You?

August 15, 2016

The Wall Street Journal reports today that: “Google parent Alphabet Inc. is rethinking its high-speed internet business after initial rollouts proved more expensive and time consuming than anticipated, a stark contrast to the fanfare that greeted its launch six years ago… “…Now the company is hoping to use wireless technology to connect homes, rather than […]

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Appeals Court Rejects FCC’s Preemption Overreach

August 11, 2016

Yesterday, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out a controversial FCC order which sought to preempt taxpayer protection laws in North Carolina and Tennessee that checked the expansion of muni-provided broadband networks in their states. In short, the 6th Circuit said the FCC lacked clear authority from Congress to preempt core state functions via […]

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Wi-Fi Playdates

August 7, 2016

My youngest daughter’s playdates often have a good mix of IT in them. She and her friends usually end-up (or remain on, depending on the weather) one of our 10 Wi-Fi connected devices, gaming, watching YouTube, or creating things with each other. They can spend hours laughing, sharing and playing on those devices. The other […]

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The FCC’s Unctuous Privacy Proposal

August 2, 2016

I’m on the coupon patrol again. I came across this interesting coupon (below) from a purchase I made at Safeway today. I bought only food items – not motor oil. Oddly (or, perhaps not so), I got my car fixed at NTB last week. And then this coupon materializes at the supermarket. Whatever the relationship […]

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