On Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission released its long-awaited National Broadband Plan, which has become shorthand for a comprehensive set of new policies the agency plans to promote. The plan encompasses everything from digitizing medical records to telework, distance education, a nationwide emergency-responders communications network and, perhaps most importantly, a drive to spur competition in the broadband ISP sector, increase access and median data-transfer speeds nationwide, and lower prices in the process (making us, one day, perhaps on par with more advanced European and Asian countries). For a very superficial overview of the plan’s high points, check here.
It’s difficult, even for me, to wrap my head around the scale and scope of the merger-in-progress between Comcast and NBC/Universal. I’ll leave it to Harold Feld, who comprehensively (and in eminently-readable fashion) analyzes the implications of this deal.
Quoth Feld, “In ideological terms, it is rather like Vatican City joining the Arab League.” Distinctively, it’s the first merger where historical enemies in the Big Media marketplace are now combining. The implications are massive; Comcast’s promises of the merger’s benefits clearly ring hollow.
I know that one of the prime adages of the media reform movement goes something like that if your first issue-of-interest is not “fixing the media,” then it should be your second. Can that sometimes work the other way around? With respect to recent developments in the auto industry, I would argue yes.
Since 1997, the year I started writing online, I’ve been the (somewhat) proud owner of a Saturn SC2. Not the most perfectly-built car (at least it looks fast). I just flipped the 108,000 mile-mark on it this weekend; I drove it off the lot with just 215. It’s the first and, perhaps, the only brand-new car I’ll ever own. Now, General Motors has gone into bankruptcy, and as a part of this move it’s spun Saturn off to a third party (so at least I’ll still get parts and service). That’s nice. It’s the rest of GM I worry about.
By now, you’ve all heard about the FCC slapping Comcast’s wrists for engaging in data discrimination; it’s simply been required to disclose its current and future “network management” practices, under penalty of…nothing, really. Both Comcast and those who called for the FCC to act on its shady attempts at subverting network neutrality are appealing the FCC’s decision.
We’ve already covered Comcast’s history of opaque and unreliable service, especially when it comes to crippling your e-mail. Comcast’s initial response to the FCC ruling has been the announcement of a 250 gigabyte per-month usage cap on all residential users, effective next month, with extra-special throttling on the most intensive users at any given time (to be determined at Comcast’s discretion).
What a difference a weekend makes.
Last week, Congress passed a bill retroactively legalizing and expanding the surveillance of the communications of U.S. citizens. This bill may have unintended and negative effects on the campaign to re-instill the principle of network neutrality as a point of law.
Shortly after Congress’ action, two developments took place: both the Electronic Frontier Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union filed lawsuits against the FISA Amendments Act, challenging its constitutionality on a number of levels. Notably, none of the principals of the media-reform movement have signed onto these legal efforts as of yet.