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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Hazlett on the iPhone, walled gardens, and innovation

In his latest FT.com article, Tom Hazlett, professor of law and economics at George Mason University, points out that despite all the talk about the need for mandatory "openness" or wireless Net neutrality, Apple's "walled garden" i-Phone model has spawned some serious innovation. He argues:

"One million customers bought iPhones in the first 79 days; analysts project 4.5m units sold in the first year. Hosting this Apple party is a curious way for carriers to lock out innovation. It is even more remarkable that critics could configure Apple's entrepreneurship as an attack on creativity. They claim that only a device that is optimised for any application and capable of accessing any network is efficient.

They are wrong. What works best for consumers is a competitive process in which independent developers, content owners, hardware vendors and networks vie to discover preferred packages and pricing. When decision-makers compete for customers and answer to shareholders, a sophisticated balance obtains. The alternative proposition, business models voted on by regulators, is a recipe for stasis."

Continue reading Hazlett on the iPhone, walled gardens, and innovation . . .

posted by Adam Thierer @ 8:11 PM | Commons, Innovation, Interoperability, Spectrum

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New Online Safety Bills

I just released a short new paper about "Two Sensible, Education-Based Legislative Approaches to Online Child Safety." The paper focuses on S. 1965, the "Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act," and H.R. 3461, the "Safeguarding America's Families by Enhancing and Reorganizing New and Efficient Technologies Act of 2006," or "SAFER NET" Act. These bills wisely adopt an education focus to online safety concerns instead of the same old regulatory approach that members of Congress usually recommend.

Both bills would require that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC):

Continue reading New Online Safety Bills . . .

posted by Adam Thierer @ 7:53 PM | Free Speech, Online Safety & Parental Controls

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

WSJ on why free Wi-Fi is failing

In today's Wall Street Journal, Ben Charny has an article discussing why "Free Wi-Fi [is] Still an Elusive Goal." He notes:

The same forces slowing development of single-city wireless Internet networks are now overwhelming their supersize versions that cover thousands of square miles and scores of municipalities. A telling example of the malaise can be found in Silicon Valley, where plans to provide free, high-speed wireless Internet access to 42 cities in an area of more than 1,500 square miles have come to a standstill, says Russell Hancock, the man in charge of the effort.

It was once thought that municipal wireless networks of all sizes could be supported through the sale of advertisements that appear during the free Internet sessions and the small fee paid by those who want a faster, ad-free Internet service. However, many cities with wireless networks say that there's been little demand for their premium services and that technology issues have limited the networks' reach. Moreover, while businesses were willing to invest in advertising on these single-city networks, they complain about very little return on their investment.

So, once again, we see that demand counts when it comes to broadband diffusion. That's been a point that many of us made in the past when critiquing grand plans for muni wi-fi nirvana that all seemed to be premised on the "if-you-build-it-they-will-come" theory of economics. We're now realizing the cost of that hubris. It's one thing for private companies to be forced to eat the expense of over-estimating demand, it's quite another when taxpayers might be on the line for the mistake.

posted by Adam Thierer @ 10:31 AM | Broadband, Municipal Ownership, Spectrum

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Monday, September 24, 2007

The Power of New Media

Back in 2005, I wrote a book called Media Myths and one of the myths I attempted to debunk in the book dealt with the power of new media outlets and technologies relative to the old mass media. Specifically, I made the argument that, contrary to what many media critics claimed, new media could provide both a credible alternative to many traditional mass media providers as well as a powerful check on them and their power.

That argument was certainly harder to advance back in 2005 when the general public was just beginning to gain an appreciation for the power of the Internet, blogs, and so on. Today, however, I think most people "get it." I remember back then how many people would stare at me funny when I explained to them how I started my day by reading Google News and checking my Bloglines account for updates to my favorite blogs. But now I seem almost old fashion when I say that to an audience as many have moved on to even more sophisticated ways of gathering news and information daily.

And with each passing week, I continue to discover new and exciting ways that new media outlets and technologies are shaking things up and providing a credible alternative to old media. Last week, for example, provided us with two powerful examples:

Continue reading The Power of New Media . . .

posted by Adam Thierer @ 9:34 AM | Innovation, Internet, Mass Media

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

More on Metering Broadband

Last week I posted another installment in my ongoing series about the possibility of metering bandwidth in the future ("Why Not Meter Broadband Pipes?") Make sure to read the comments to that post over on the TLF because the essay provoked an interesting discussion and some outstanding suggestions from readers.

On a related note, Mark Desautels, Vice President of Wireless Internet Development at the CTIA (the wireless industry's trade association) has an editorial in RCR Wireless News today entitled, "Paying for the Bandwidth We Consume." Mark poses a question that I have raised in some of my posts on this issue:

Much is made of the fact that consumers prefer flat-rate pricing because they know what it is going to cost each month, and that is understandable. But it also creates (potentially) huge subsidies between users. My question is: If consumers were aware of the amount of the subsidies they might be paying, would they be as opposed to paying for the bandwidth they actually use as is generally believed?

That really is an interesting question and the guys over as DSL Reports point out that there are tools that users can download to help us answer that question. They are also running a poll right now asking people how much bandwidth they use per month.

Continue reading More on Metering Broadband . . .

posted by Adam Thierer @ 9:37 PM | Broadband, Communications, Economics, Internet

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New Technology Meets Old Constitutionalism

Just in time for today's oral arguments in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the infamous Janet Jackson/Superbowl episode, PFF is releasing Harvard University Professor Laurence Tribe's keynote address from this year's Aspen Summit. His speech outlines why content regulation by the government, regardless of the intent, runs counter to First Amendment principles.

Using the current push to regulate violence on television as an example, Professor Tribe identifies 14 reasons why such regulations violate free speech. His conclusion:

The broad lesson of this discussion of television violence is the centrality of the First Amendment's opposition to having government as big brother regulate who may provide what information content to whom, whether or not for a price. The large problem that this exposes is that especially in a post-9/11 world, where grownups understandably fear for themselves and for their children and worry about the brave new world of online cyber reality that their kids can navigate more fluently than they can, it is enormously tempting to forget or to subordinate the vital principles of constitutional liberty. Even if, after years of litigation and expenditure, the First Amendment prevails, it can be worn down dramatically by having to wage that fight over and over and over.

And, for those of you really interested in the arguments today, unfortunately C-SPAN has been barred from televising the festivities.
However, audio is expected to be released at the end of the day.

posted by Amy Smorodin @ 9:30 AM | Free Speech

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Friday, September 7, 2007

Who Killed TV's "Family Hour"?

The Parents Television Council has a new report out this week about the supposed decline of the TV "Family Hour." The City Journal has just posted my response to that PTC report here. It begins as follows...

Who Killed TV’s “Family Hour”?

It’s not who you think.

by Adam D. Thierer
7 September 2007

The nonprofit Parents Television Council (PTC) released a report this week lamenting the supposed death of broadcast television’s “family hour.” Though neither the Federal Communications Commission nor Congress ever mandated it, 8 to 9 PM Monday through Saturday (Eastern time), and 7 to 9 PM on Sunday, have traditionally been devoted to family-friendly programming. But the PTC’s new report claims that these blocks of time are now “no place for children,” because “corporate interests have hijacked the family hour” and “have pushed more and more adult-oriented programming to the early hours of the evening.”

One might respond to this claim by questioning the PTC’s methodology, particularly its definitions of foul language. Simon Vozick-Levinson of Entertainment Weekly’s “PopWatch Blog” takes this approach, accusing the PTC of “cooking the numbers” to suit its cultural agenda. But I don’t want to engage in methodological nit-picking, since it quickly devolves into a subjective squabble about acceptable language and appropriate programming. Instead, I want to point out the fundamental flaw in the report’s premise. The family hour may well be dead—but parents, not broadcasters, were the ones who killed it.

... read the rest at the City Journal's website.

posted by Adam Thierer @ 2:30 PM | Free Speech, Mass Media, Online Safety & Parental Controls

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Once Again, Why Not Meter Broadband Pipes?

Well I apologize if I'm starting to sound like a broken record by asking this question yet again, but what would be wrong with metered pricing for broadband pipes? I have asked that question several times before, most recently in my post earlier this week on wi-fi piggybacking. I pose it again today in light of another article about a handful of customers apparently having their broadband connection cut-off because of excessive downloading.

According to a front-page article in today's Washington Post entitled "Shutting Down Big Downloaders":

As Internet service providers try to keep up with the demand for increasingly sophisticated online entertainment such as high-definition movies, streaming TV shows and interactive games, such caps could become more common, some analysts said. It's unclear how many customers have lost Internet service because of overuse. So far, only Comcast customers have reported being affected. Comcast said only a small fraction of its customers use enough bandwidth to warrant pulling the plug on their service.

Continue reading Once Again, Why Not Meter Broadband Pipes? . . .

posted by Adam Thierer @ 9:46 AM | Broadband, Communications

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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Wi-Fi Piggybacking / Squatting Reconsidered

The Times of London recently reported that a London man had been arrested “on suspicion of illegally logging on to a wireless (Wi-Fi) broadband connection.”

Two officers saw the 39-year-old man sitting on a garden wall outside a home in Chiswick, West London. When questioned he admitted using the homeowner’s unsecured broadband connection from his position on the wall. He was arrested and the case was passed to the Metropolitan Police Computer Crime Unit. He was bailed to return in October and faces a fine or a jail term of six months, or both.

Detective Constable Mark Roberts gave warning that anyone caught illegally “hitching” or “piggy-backing” on to another’s wireless broadband connection could face arrest. “This arrest should act as a warning to anyone who thinks it is acceptable to illegally use other people’s broadband connections,” he said. “To do so potentially breaches the Computer Misuse Act and the Communications Act, so computer users need to be aware that this is unlawful and police will investigate any violation we become aware of.”

[The Wall Street Journal’s excellent business technology blogger Ben Worthen wrote about the case here and there are some really excellent comments following that story that you should check out.]

Over on the Tech Liberation Front blog, my blogging colleague Tim Lee has written about this issue before in an essay entitled “In Defense of Piggybacking.” In that piece, which he later turned into a New York Times editorial, Tim argued that:

"…there’s absolutely nothing wrong with connecting to an unprotected network. True, it’s rude to saturate someone else’s pipe with massive downloads. But for casual Internet use—web browsing, email, or instant messaging—the bandwidth used is trivial. While it might seem weird or creepy to people not very familiar with the practice, once they become more familiar with it, I think people will realize how harmless it is."

While I don’t believe anyone should be arrested for wireless piggybacking, I’m not sure I agree entirely with Tim’s view of things either since there may be some real harms that come to both users and service providers from uninhibited piggybacking / wireless squatting. Let me explain.

Continue reading Wi-Fi Piggybacking / Squatting Reconsidered . . .

posted by Adam Thierer @ 11:11 PM | Broadband, Communications, Innovation, Spectrum

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New Mobile Parental Controls

I've spent a great deal of time this year writing about the market for parental control tools. (Archives here). Eventually, all that writing gets plowed into my book, "Parental Controls and Online Child Protection: A Survey of Tools & Methods." And that book, which I update online regularly, just keeps growing longer and longer thanks to announcements like the one AT&T made today.

AT&T announced an expansion of its excellent "Smart Limits" parental controls service that will provide parents with state of the art monitoring tools. Beyond restricting access to inappropriate content, AT&T's new service lets parents set customized limits for each child according to age. Parents can also manage how and when kids use their phones, including limitations on the overall minutes used for messaging and downloads. They can even restrict who the child can contact with their phones.

The innovative new set of tools costs $4.99 per month. All the details about AT&T's new service can be found here.

This is great news for parents who have been wary about getting their kids mobile phones, especially younger children. With tools like these, parents can feel confident that their kids are both safe and in touch at all times.

Continue reading New Mobile Parental Controls . . .

posted by Adam Thierer @ 7:32 PM | Free Speech, Online Safety & Parental Controls

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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Deregulation that should have happened 10 years ago

posted by Adam Thierer @ 1:23 PM | Communications

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New Online Safety Bills
WSJ on why free Wi-Fi is failing
The Power of New Media
More on Metering Broadband
New Technology Meets Old Constitutionalism
Who Killed TV's "Family Hour"?
Once Again, Why Not Meter Broadband Pipes?
Wi-Fi Piggybacking / Squatting Reconsidered
New Mobile Parental Controls
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