Have you seen these tweets (pictured below) urging legislators to urge the FCC to “Unlock the Box.” They’ve clogged the @FCC twitter feed making it virtually useless these past couple of days. They follow a similar pattern – three or four tweets in a row, many from apparent Twitter newbies, all using the same cut-and-paste text, demanding the shackling of cable providers with new, heavy-handed set-top-box regulations.

Twitter newbies decry stuff for blackbox special interests.

Twitter newbies decry “stuff” in an organized campaign for blackbox special interests.

Are these tweets from real people instead of some robot algorithm out of Mountain View?  Who knows? Some appear real, some appear not-so. Whatever their origin, though, they certainly look fishy. As in an expensive paid-for campaign, designed to present an “authentic grassroots face” so the FCC decides a certain way (the “grassroots'” way, that is) on an open docket.

The administration and its agencies see social media as a powerful tool to amp their messaging and drive the movement of their policies. Late last year, the President used YouTube to instruct the FCC to regulate ISPs as public utilities, which the agency dutifully did. He exploited YouTube again last month with his “unlock the cablebox” plan, which now sits before the FCC for decision. Both generated a firestorm of activity (for restrictive rules) on the Net.  The newbie Twitter campaign noted above seeks to launch off of, and add more heft to, the President’s latest efforts at distorting the markets for Silicon Valley (Google). We’ll see if the FCC obliges them (probably).

With the rise of Internet organizing groups like Move.org, unsurprisingly this FCC (as well as other government agencies since the beginning of the present administration) consider Internet comments as real, and use them to shape their rulemakings. Unlike talk radio, which is dominated by right-of-center commenters, Internet “community activists” (like MoveOn, or, in the tech sphere, FFTF) and their legion are dominated by progressive voices, making that a clear tool to employ if one wants to demonstrate support or “prove” the need for a given left-of-center rule. The administration and the progressive Internet campaign organizers have become de facto partners.

No doubt, it’s important for the Commission to hear from those who are concerned about its current and pending rules. And, the Internet does promote that. But, as the “UnlockTheBox” twitter campaign seemingly hints at, perhaps something more nefarious is going on here.

Just last week, the FCC noted that 74,000 comments were backlogged in a queue, waiting to be posted for all to see and use – amounting to a shutdown of its electronic filing system. 2,200 of those that were held up were from a market-based group called Protect Internet Freedom.  They were upset, their public voice being throttled during a tight filing deadline and a correspondingly small window of opportunity to message on the matter.  The FCC blamed the backlog on its receiving a flood of comments – approximately 200,000 – in recent weeks, which pushed its resources to failure.

Oddly (or perhaps, not so), FFTF filed nearly 80,000 such comments / complaints during that same time period.

In April, FFTF reportedly brought the copyright office’s electronic filing system down to a halt with thousands of comments it was filing in a then, soon-to-be-closed docket. It actually boasted about it.

And, right before the FCC was to close its Net Neutrality comments in September of 2014, FFTF choked the FCC electronic filing system with thousands of cut-and-paste filings that it had pre-packaged for robo-posting, shutting the system down.

Is all of this a coincidence? Who knows? The FCC doesn’t verify this stuff (because if it did, it might find that the “truths” it seeks to assert by trotting out these “authentic grassroots faces” is based on fictitious computer code, and nothing more).

Regardless, these unverifiable, blackbox campaigns have the effect of DoS attacks, which are designed to shut down service and limit access to the unconnected / un-community organized.  With one side muted (e.g., namely, the anti-regulation, market-based crowd ), the narrative is commandeered by the DoS-ers and their government partners, and then “truth” born, spread and perpetuated by others who do not have the time, resources or inclination to bother finding out the real facts.

Perhaps more disturbing is the concern that if more and more of our democratic process is built on these blackbox ops – which seems to be the case – they present a serious challenge to our self-governance, it being willy-nilly undermined by computer programs wielded by special interests, which are seemingly designed to disenfranchise real citizens and inhibit due process.

__________

The robo-comment campaigns / schemes aren’t about promoting open dialogue on the open Internet. Rather, they’re a purposeful tactic to shut it down.  The FCC would do well to distance itself from that activity. Otherwise, one might reasonably think that it’s biased, or worse, working in earnest to keep those who don’t agree with it on the sidelines, out of the debate.

Of course, that could never happen, right?

 

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Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee John Thune is highly exercised over Facebook’s reported left-tilt, anti-conservative bias in its influential “trending” section. So much so that yesterday Senator Thune sent Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg a sharp letter demanding some answers about the recent news reports.

My advice to the Chairman would be this:

Stand down, kind Senator. No lover of the First Amendment or free enterprise should entertain such a strong-arm tactic to “guide” free expression (we have the Administration and FCC for that, eh?).

Really, Facebook – and others with similar authoritarian leanings, like Twitter (with its left-dominated guidelines council) and Reddit (with its ban on “hate” and other “uncomfortable” expression) – should be free to do what they want with their presses. If they’re being hypocrites, let them fall on their own branding. Users will decide what works and what doesn’t.

Have at it, guys. Be as pro or anti-whatever as you want to be. Of course, you can spare us the lecturing on “diversity of viewpoints” when in fact you’re busy behind the scenes limiting viewpoints which you don’t like.

That’s your loss.

All systems of information exchange – from the public libraries, to the public schools, to NPR, to the New York Times, to private communications systems that comprise the Internet – demand and employ some form of editorial discretion or curation. Not only is it their right (especially for private actors, protected by the First Amendment), but it makes those exchanges better and more useful for others.

Owner of the press decides what gets published, not Uncle Sam.

The owner of the press decides what gets published, not Uncle Sam.

Yes, it’s disturbing that so many news / communications outlets seem to despise and then “censor” conservative points of view. But, heck, we can change the channel.

We must. The marketplace can handle this.

Or, would you rather Uncle Sam (or Senator Thune) doing it for you?

No way (isn’t Net Neutrality, etc., enough?).

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Google’s LTE-U FUD

by Mike Wendy on May 9, 2016

Last week, Google-sponsored New America Foundation hosted a “briefing” in New York City called “Fast and Free.” It featured an NYC official who outlined the City’s programs to wire its most marginalized communities to broadband. Turns out, a lot of those efforts depend on wi-fi. And, didn’t you know that a new technology – called LTE-Unlicensed – could interfere with that work and threaten it somehow?

Following her was a panel of industry reps, all of whom had a commercial stake in the matter, to “confirm” the official’s unsupported assertions, and thus decry just how awful supposed LTE-U interference is…

…or, rather, could, might or had the potential to be.

This is a classic public affairs technique to cause misdirection by bringing Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) into a debate. In this regard, Google has co-opted a sympathetic cause – e.g., the wi-fi commons used by NYC’s least fortunate – and then has pitted that against a made-for-TV, corporate antagonist – e.g., LTE-U – stating that the latter’s ostensible interference with the public’s wi-fi will bring harm to the very weakest in society. Even if that can’t be shown definitely, just the act of making those conditional statements, amplified by a New York City official standing behind them, makes it appear as truth, which must be addressed.

The hoped-for result of the FUD looks like this:

Policymaker 1: “Say, Johanna, what do you think about that up-and-coming technology called LTE-U, which could help alleviate the spectrum crunch, while also providing a robust and secure mobile broadband experience for consumers?”

Policymaker 2: “Well, Walter, did you know that the weakest among us will suffer if that service goes forward?”

Policymaker 1: “Gosh, no, that’s terrible. We outta’ make a law to prevent that.”

Policymaker 2: “I’ll say. In fact, I already have the Google, er, my text right here to solve that problem.”

Wi-fi, like other unlicensed communications offerings, evolved with only minimal government guidelines. They have exploded with popularity precisely because the FCC has stayed out of the picture. But, that no longer serves Google (and others), so we get the FUD. At the end of the day, Mountain View simply wants the FCC to intervene and “fix” the competition, er, situation. And, that means the Commission and its unelected bureaucrats designing what LTE-U may, or may not, do.

The companies working to introduce LTE-U have every interest to ensure that it plays nicely with the rest of the unlicensed commons. After all, they depend on it for a significant number of their offerings, too. Consequently, they are working overtime with other stakeholders to test and develop LTE-U so that it does.

The FCC – never part of this process in the past – should stay out. It worked then, and it is working now with LTE-U.

Google should go pound FUD.

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Last week it was reported that entertainment metadata provider Rovi will buy DVR maker TiVo for $1.1 billion.

These guys don’t make simple RJ-11 plugs that jack into your wall outlets to connect your landline phone to the telephone network. Nope. Rather, they make hardware and software solutions that, among other things, harvest data – yours – as you use your DVR, cable and other content providers’ connected services.

There’s gold in them thar hills – DATA!

Anyway, you may know that TiVo is an outspoken voice in support of newly proposed FCC rules to “unlock” the cable navigation box. Interestingly, the news of the merger came just a week after that proposal saw the light of day. Was the proposal the catalyst? It’s true that the rule would help subsidize and protect Rovi-TiVo as it “competes” its data offerings against regulatorily-hogtied cable companies and ISPs.

But this is a risky bet, putting so many chips on just that rule. Moreover, it is highly likely that the proposal, if it ever gets enacted, will be rejected by the courts – it being outside of the FCC’s authority to issue, as well as being unconstitutional (among other infirmities).

I think the Rovi-TiVo merger (which is being mimicked elsewhere throughout the communications ecosystem in various forms) has been caused / aroused by something far bigger: The intentional industrial policy of the FCC.  Stated more precisely, this FCC’s anti-property, “open everything” to the edge efforts – from Net Neutrality, to throttling enforcement, to ISP-only privacy restraints, to unlocking the box, to ignoring Netflix’s malfeasance, to etc., etc., etc. – is the main catalyst driving the activity. Rovi-TiVo is simply a rational response to the massive subsidy the FCC has undertaken to the edge’s sole benefit.

Is that the FCC’s job to do? No. But, who’s going to stop ’em? Certainly not the companies that have business before the agency, or the present Congress. So, get used to more of this as companies seek rent, or arbitrage, or to defend themselves in a (far) less-than-free market “managed” by this FCC.

Competition? What’s that? I guess you’d have to ask the FCC. And, that’s just the way it wants it.

Consumers should reject that policy. They have a chance to come this November.

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Google Proxy Public Knowledge Reaps Windfall after Its Former Prez Gigi Sohn Goes to FCC to “Guide” Net Neutrality Rule, Etc.

April 25, 2016

Apparently it pays pretty handsomely to have well connected people in important places. Take, for instance, the “consumer activist” Google-front group Public Knowledge. Its two most recent IRS filings have quite a lot to say about connections. More specifically, since its former President, Gigi Sohn, left to go over to the FCC as Special Counsel […]

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Unlock the Box Is a Full-blown Open Access Regime without Congress’ OK

April 22, 2016

The other day, Public Knowledge’s Gene Kimmelman let slip that access and control of viewer data is the “dirty little secret” underlying the FCC’s so-called proposal to unlock the cable box. Well, duh. But it’s bigger than that, of course. The proposed rule – which compels providers to disaggregate program discovery, security and video programming […]

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FCC’s Inaction on Netflix Malfeasance Signals State-Sanctioned Open Season Against Consumers, Competition and ISPs

April 11, 2016

Tom Wheeler has been spinning quite a yarn of late on Netflix’s (and the Commission’s) anti-consumer throttling scandal. In a Reuters piece from March 31st, the Chairman exclaims: Video provider Netflix did not violate any U.S. regulations when it “throttled” the picture quality for AT&T and Verizon wireless customers and the FCC has no plans […]

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MediaFreedom Sends FCC Letter Urging Forceful Reprimand of Netflix to Protect Open Internet

April 5, 2016

(FCC-filed letter here) Chairman Tom Wheeler Federal Communications Commission 445 12th Street SW Washington, D.C. 20554 Dear Chairman Wheeler: In late March a WSJ story revealed that as the Net Neutrality debate swirled here in Washington, for five years Netflix intentionally throttled the video quality of the customers of wireless carriers AT&T and Verizon, while […]

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The Google Zero-Rating Rule

March 21, 2016

Last Thursday, Google’s Youtube announced it was okay with T-Mobile’s “zero-rating” service called Binge On. About a month ago, it was quite a different story.  Then, Google’s lobbyist Barbara van Schewick caterwauled: Binge On violates key net neutrality principles and harms user choice, innovation, competition, and free speech online…….[It] allows some providers to join easily […]

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5 Experts: FCC’s Edge-Centric Policy Is an Intentional (fill in the ______ )

March 15, 2016

This short video – which features industry analysts Fred Campbell, Scott Cleland, Steve Effros, Seton Motley and Mike Wendy – discusses the FCC’s intentional and distorting favoritism of Silicon Valley / the edge as seen in its Net Neutrality law, and in its AllVid / STB and CPNI / privacy proposals.   The video concludes […]

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