News Archive: January 2007
1/29/07 - FCC Enforcement Bureau Gives 2006 Overview [link to this story]
At its monthly meeting in January the FCC heard year-end reports and "strategic plans" from each of its primary bureaus and offices. Enforcement Bureau chief Kris Monteith reported that out of some 3,300 field investigations undertaken in 2006, the Bureau claims to have shut down "approximately" 85 pirate radio stations. If each station is counted as its own investigation, and the Bureau's claims are assumed to be accurate, less than 3% of the Bureau's field-time is spent on unlicensed broadcast enforcement.
Notably, this month saw the Bureau rule on some petitions for reconsideration with regard to fines issued to pirates in the last few years, which gives a better sense of the agency's speed and effectiveness of enforcement. For example, one ruling knocked a $10,000 fine down to $600, three years after its issuance; another $10,000 claim issued in 2003 was subsequently knocked down to $1,000 in 2004, and was just further successfully appealed to $250.
These cases highlight instances of negative productivity in the enforcement process: the FCC spent much more in resources (personnel-time and travel, to name two) than it will recoup from the punishment meted, provided the five-year statute of limitations on each case doesn't run out before the agency makes an effort to actually collect the fines.
Unfortunately, the Enforcement Bureau didn't lay out much of a strategic plan, other than to note that it would "look to the future while not forgetting the past," for what that's worth. Response to the report from the Commissioners themselves was pretty benign, though Jonathan Adelstein did nudge Monteith to work more diligently on investigations into radio payola and the proliferation of video news releases.
1/26/07 - Turning Reporters Into Informants [link to this story]
Visit Defend the Press and learn how the U.S. Army is attempting to force a journalist into helping chill the speech of conscientiously-objecting soldiers and the coverage of their statements. The case of Lt. Ehren Watada itself stands to clarify the boundaries of what is considered acceptable public speech for those in uniform - but in no way should a journalist be hauled into court to substantiate this persecution.
I had the opportunity to interview Sarah Olson during the National Conference for Media Reform in Memphis earlier this month, and was proud to be her first signatory to the coalition seeking to keep her free to report such important stories, and journalism in general free from fear of being drafted.
1/25/07 - Mashups Explained in 8 Minutes [link to this story]
The kicker, though, is the narrative Bob weaves in by Sue Teller. Word, indeed!
1/23/07 - Calvary Satellite Network Lawsuits Near Settlement [link to this story]
The Phoenix Preacher blog reports that discussions between Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, CA (the founding church of the Calvary Chapel phenomenon) and Calvary Chapel of Twin Falls, ID may avoid acrimonious litigation and instead end with a partial breakup of CSN. The scuttlebutt says the Idaho-based operation will end up keeping the network's uplink, several full-power FM stations, and an undetermined number of FM translator repeater-stations.
There is no word about how the network's finances, valued in the tens to hundreds of millions of dollars, will be split, nor whether the more "ungodly" allegations (involving both financial and sexual matters) will be handled, though there are signs that the victims, as is too often the case, will get the shaft.
The Los Angeles Times is supposed to publish an overview of this saga when it is concluded. Unfortunately, one of the settlement's conditions will most likely involve the signing of confidentiality agreements all around, so we may never find out the full story behind it.
1/21/07 - Enforcement Action Database Cracks 1,000 Actions [link to this story]
Just caught up on the FCC's last two months of activity. It's been a busy winter: 274 enforcement actions for 2006 and counting.
This includes fines, or threats of fines, of $10,000 against the transmitter-hosts of both microstations in San Diego, though escalating the enforcement process up to that level of severity remains mostly outside the FCC's standard protocol (in related news, the agency's Inspector General is planning an audit of its regulatory fee-collection process, something not done since 1999).
However, field agents do appear to be making more visits to suspected pirate stations, and the turnaround-time between initial visit and warning letter seems to be shrinking: some field offices are now "escalating" cases within a week of first contact.
No matter how you slice it, though, 2006 goes down in the books as the busiest pirate-hunting season in the agency's history by far. California, New York, Florida and New Jersey are the hottest states in the nation, though cumulatively there can be no doubt that microradio is alive and well and coast-to-coast.
1/17/07 - The State of Florida v. Rayon Payne, pt. ∞ [link to this story]
Late last October, Rayon Payne was tooling along the highway in a friend's car when the po-po rolled up and pulled them over. Both men were searched, and the cops found a loaded gun on Payne's person. Payne was arrested and charged with carrying a concealed weapon. He wrote me shortly after it happened but I neglected to further publicize the incident - not like the man needs any more negative spin to his life's story.
True to form, the state's case has fallen apart: all charges have been dropped, perhaps because Payne had a permit to carry his weapon. The department which confiscated his gun is refusing to give it back, so Payne's filed a lawsuit for the return of his property and false arrest, putting his well-honed self-taught legal skills to constructive use.
I know at least one person who's made a decent living out of nose-thumbing the authorities. Says Rayon, "[with] the lawsuit maybe I'll [win] a few million and buy a legal station....Now that would be funny... using there (sic) money." Delicious irony indeed.
1/10/07 - NCMR '07 Ahoy [link to this story]
This week the 2007 National Conference for Media Reform kicks off in Memphis, Tennessee. More than 2,500 folks are expected to converge and discuss the future of media over what should be a grueling but fruitful weekend.
The day before the official start of the NCMR, a media policy pre-conference is taking place, hosted by the Social Science Research Council. I'll be presenting on the dangers of digital radio. The rest of the weekend I expect to be running around, mic and portable recorder in hand, to gather soundbites of notables for special daily editions of Media Minutes.
One of these years I hope to be more participant than observer....
1/9/07 - The Merger of AT&T and BellSouth: Thanks for (Almost) Nothing [link to this story]
Right before the new year, without the benefit of a public meeting or vote, the FCC approved the corporate marriage of AT&T and BellSouth. With this $85 billion deal, Ma Bell is basically just two mergers away from being fully-reconstructed.
Harold Feld of the Media Access Project has already compiled an excellent summary of reaction to the deal, though his own perspective is much more optimistic than mine. I understand that AT&T's commitment to the preservation of network neutrality is key concession made for the deal, but their 24-month pledge to the principle is six months shorter than the initial acquiescence it made when the FCC merger negotiation-debate began months earlier.
Secondly, I am suspicious of the relative weight of symbolic political victories. Network neutrality as a governing principle of how everyone on the Internet communicates with each other is otherwise known as "common carriage" and is fully-enshrined in law for other forms of interstate commerce. But in the case of the Internet it has been dismantled piecemeal by a series of FCC and court decisions over the course of several years. Mobilizing 1.4 million people to give a sh*t enough to engage incrementally to stop a disaster (no conditions on the merger) is a far cry from transforming communications policy more generally into something resembling democratic constructiveness.
The Save the Internet coalition recently constructed a clever graphic to show what we must do, as media activists, to restore the principle of network neutrality to the telecom sector for the long-term. Unfortunately, it ends with Congress actually passing legislation to make network neutrality an explicit point of law again. I realize that this is the first time the Democrats have had (nominal) control of Congress in 13 years, but I don't trust the Democrats to reject the big money of the largest spenders of campaign cash on Capitol Hill and accomplish anything meaningful on the issue. I hope my skepticism can be proven wrong.
While network neutrality is the only merger condition that's gotten the most significant press, there are others, like AT&T's promise to offer low-cost, stand-alone broadband DSL access at discount prices for a limited time. This is probably the second-most important merger condition assented to.
Unfortunately, AT&T can't deliver.
The week before Christmas I decided to cancel my local phone service with AT&T, but desired to keep my DSL connection. AT&T said this would not be a problem; I'd lose broadband access over a weekend while they reconfigured my line to be a "dry loop" (DSL-only), but by Monday I'd be back in business.
It never happened. First AT&T told me that they discovered that the particular wire-loop I'm on which connects me to my central office was not properly configured for DSL-only service. Then it discovered that all of the switchers in said central office couldn't handle residential dry loops, and would try to connect me through some sort of patch with another switching point in its network "elsewhere in Illinois." After that failed, my service order was mysteriously marked "fulfilled" within AT&T's tracking system, and trying to restart the service order involved some AT&T office sending another various e-mails, which never got answered. This lasted for a week.
That's when I decided to leave AT&T completely and jump to my local cable broadband provider, Insight. Faster service, cheaper price, and with people I can call on who actually live here when there's a problem.
I may live in a relatively small town, but it's got a major research university in it. If AT&T can't separate dialtone from DSL signals here, I have a hard time believing they have the capability to do it on any widespread basis. That's a pretty f*cking sad state of affairs.
I never imagined I'd cut from "landline" telephone service completely, and when broadband access first became available DSL providers had the price/performance edge over cable systems. Over the last few years, cable systems have leapfrogged past the phone company in terms of capacity per dollar, and increasing the size and dominance of AT&T won't turn this around. It may make it actually worse.
That's because my own experience shows that size, especially in the telecom sector, has a negative impact on service quality. How-the-phone-company-sucks jokes will be coming back into vogue for sure. I recently saw an AT&T billboard that boasted how it gains a new customer every 11 seconds. It's definitely not because they're choosing to. Here's hoping for a positive backlash.