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May 2010 (previous | next)
 

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Mr. Scott Goes to the State Department

Broadcasting & Cable reports that Ben Scott is leaving the radical outfit, Free Press, for the (hopefully not so radical) U.S. State Department. There, he will advise the State Department on "innovation policy."

Hmmm...

Of all the times I have read or heard him speak, the one moment that sticks out in my mind most was an odd exchange five years ago with Senator Byron Dorgan on S. 2686 (regarding this), the 109th Congress' attempt to impose stultifying Net Neutrality mandates on network providers. I say odd only in that, if you don't know how hearings work, questions are scripted. Senators pitch softball questions to favorable witnesses to back up the truths asserted by the inquisitor. For the Democrats on hand, Scott was the "home team" during a hearing run by Republicans (they still had the Congress and could control the hearing agenda).

Continue reading Mr. Scott Goes to the State Department . . .

posted by Mike Wendy @ 3:09 PM | Broadband, Capitalism, Capitol Hill, Copyright, IP, Innovation, Internet, Net Neutrality, Open Source, Regulation, The FCC

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Video Games, Media Violence & the Cathartic Effect Hypothesis

David Leonhardt of The New York Times penned an interesting essays a few days ago entitled, "Do Video Games Equal Less Crime?" reflecting upon the same FBI crime data I wrote about earlier this week, which showed rapid drops in violent crime last year (on top of years of steady declines). Crimes of all sorts plummeted last year despite the serious economic recession we find ourselves in. Downturns in the economy are typically followed by upticks in crime. Not so this time. Which leads Leonhardt to wonder if perhaps exposure to violent media (especially violent video games) could have played a positive role in tempering criminal activity in some fashion:

Video games can not only provide hours of entertainment. They can also give people -- especially young men, who play more than their fair share of video games and commit more than their fair share of crimes -- an outlet for frustration that doesn't involve actual violence. Video games obviously have many unfortunate side effects. They can promote obsessive, antisocial behavior and can make violent situations seem ordinary. But might video games also have an upside? I'm willing to consider the idea.

Go Back to the Greeks
What Leonhardt is suggesting here goes by the name "cathartic effect hypothesis" and debates have raged over it for centuries. Seriously, the fight goes all the way back to the great Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle. And, as with everything else, Aristotle had it right! Well, at least in my opinion he did, but I am a rabid Aristotealian. While Plato thought the media of his day (poetry, plays & music) had a deleterious impact on culture and humanity, Aristotle took a very different view. Indeed, most historians believe it was Aristotle who first used the term katharsis when discussing the importance of Greek tragedies, which often contained violent overtones and action. He suggested that these tragedies helped the audience, "through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of these emotions." (See Part IV of Aristotle's Poetics,) Aristotle spoke highly of tragedies that used provocative or titillating storytelling to its fullest effect:

Continue reading Video Games, Media Violence & the Cathartic Effect Hypothesis . . .

posted by Adam Thierer @ 11:05 PM | Free Speech, Video Games & Virtual Worlds

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The Inherent Paradox in the FCC Media Ownership Rules & Latest NOI


There's an inherent paradox in the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) media ownership regulations and the new Notice of Inquiry that the agency has just launched looking into those rules. Like everything else the FCC has been doing lately, this NOI poses hundreds of questions about the topic at hand. In this case, the agency is interested in knowing what the impact of its byzantine regulatory regime for media ownership has been. Complicating matters even more is that fact that the FCC wants people to provide detailed answers about the impact of these rules on amorphous values like "diversity" and "localism." So, the agency asks, what has been the impact of the local TV ownership rule, the local radio ownership rule, the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule, the radio/TV cross-ownership rule, the dual network rule, and so on, on the marketplace, competition, diversity, localism, etc.

But therein lies the fundamental paradox of the FCC's inquiry and the media ownership regulations in general: So long as the rules are preemptive and prophylactic in character, we will never get clear answers to the questions the agency poses. By definition, the agency's media ownership rules make experimentation with new business models illegal. It is per se criminal to enter into combinations that the agency has presumptively divined to be counter to "the public interest," whatever that means. Thus, we can never get definitive answers to the questions the agency poses when "the marketplace" isn't a truly free marketplace at all. It is a regulatory construct artificially constrained in countless ways.

So, what's the answer here? In a word: Antitrust. While I'm no fan of over-zealous antitrust regulation, it has one huge advantage over the media ownership regime that the FCC enforces: It doesn't preemptively seek to determine supposedly sensible market structures or ownership patterns. The threat of antitrust intervention can be a very dangerous thing, and wrecking-ball style antitrust interventions are rarely sensible, but at least the DOJ and FTC aren't turning the regulatory dials on a massive media marketplace industrial policy the way the Federal Communications Commission does with its media ownership regulations.

Continue reading The Inherent Paradox in the FCC Media Ownership Rules & Latest NOI . . .

posted by Adam Thierer @ 2:28 PM | Mass Media, Media Regulation

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Abolishing the FCC and Other Fun Thoughts

Just the other day, leaders from the House and Senate said they planned on updating the Communications Act. Maybe they've finally started listening to us - we proposed doing this back in 2005, with PFF's Digital Age Communications Act (DACA). Or, perhaps the FCC's so-called "Third Way" doesn't look like the "no-brainer" that the agency spun in its press releases. Well, whatever their intentions may be, it certainly couldn't arrive at a better time.

The framing is all important, of course. Art Brodsky of Public Knowledge (ostensibly one of the groups "writing" the next Act) says Americans shouldn't worry about the FCC's "Third Way." In his view - "The government is not taking over the Internet. What the government is doing is engaging in traditional consumer protection, traditional regulation of a telecommunications service that will get people to the Internet." PK seems happy with this model - whether done at the FCC, or at Congress' hands.

Hmmm...Getting people to the Internet? Traditional, simple stuff. Sort of like strolling to the store, or peddling to the park. Or, like in childhood, making a call from tin cans and string - which is what'll result if PK and their ilk have their way.

Continue reading Abolishing the FCC and Other Fun Thoughts . . .

posted by Mike Wendy @ 2:11 PM | Antitrust & Competition Policy, Broadband, Cable, Communications, DACA, Innovation, Internet, Local Franchising, Mass Media, Media Regulation, Net Neutrality, PFF, Regulation, Spectrum, State Policy, The FCC, The FTC, Universal Service, Wireless

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

PFF Event Recap: Nuts & Bolts of Online Privacy, Advertising, Notice & Choice

We had a great discussion yesterday about the technical underpinnings of the ongoing privacy policy debate in light of the discussion draft of privacy legislation recently released by Chairman Rick Boucher (see PFF's initial comments here and here). I moderated a free-wheeling discussion among terrific panel consisting of:


Here's the audio (video to come!)


Ari got us started with an intro to the Boucher bill and Shane offered an overview of the technical mechanics of online advertising and why it requires data about what users do online. Lorrie & Ari then talked about concerns about data collection, leading into a discussion of the challenges and opportunities for empowering privacy-sensitive consumers to manage their online privacy without breaking the advertising business model that sustains most Internet content and services. In particular, we had a lengthy discussion of the need for computer-readable privacy disclosures like P3P (pioneered by Lorrie & Ari) and the CLEAR standard developed by Yahoo! and others as a vital vehicle for self-regulation, but also an essential ingredient in any regulatory system that requires that notice be provided of the data collection practices of all tracking elements on the page.

Continue reading PFF Event Recap: Nuts & Bolts of Online Privacy, Advertising, Notice & Choice . . .

posted by Berin Szoka @ 8:53 AM | Advertising & Marketing, PFF Podcasts, Privacy

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Monday, May 24, 2010

More on Monkey See-Monkey Do Theories about Media Violence & Real-World Crime

I've had plenty to say here before about the "monkey see, monkey do" theories bandied about by some researchers and regulatory proponents who believe there is a correlation between exposure to depictions of violence in media (in video games, movies, TV, etc) and real-world acts of aggression or violent crime. I have made three arguments in response to such claims:

(1) Lab studies by psychology professors and students are not representative of real-world behavior/results. Indeed, lab experiments are little more than artificial constructions of reality and of only limited value in gauging the impact of violently-themed media on actual human behavior.

(2) Real-world data trends likely offer us a better indication of the impact of media on human behavior over the long-haul.

(3) Correlation does not necessarily equal causation. Whether we are talking about those artificial lab experiments or the real-world data sets, we must always keep this first principle of statistical analysis in mind. That is particularly the case when it comes to human behavior, which is complex and ever-changing.

What got me thinking about all this again was the release of the FBI's latest "Preliminary Annual Uniform Crime Report of 2009." The results are absolutely stunning. Here's a brief summary from New York Times:

Despite turmoil in the economy and high unemployment, crime rates fell significantly across the United States in 2009, according to a report released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Monday. Compared with 2008, violent crimes declined by 5.5 percent last year, and property crimes decreased 4.9 percent, according to the F.B.I.'s preliminary annual crime report. There was an overall decline in reported crimes for the third straight year; the last increase was in 2006.

Here are the percentage declines by overall crime category for the past 4 years, and more tables and charts depicting the declines for specific juvenile crimes can be found down below:

Continue reading More on Monkey See-Monkey Do Theories about Media Violence & Real-World Crime . . .

posted by Adam Thierer @ 11:07 PM | Free Speech, Video Games & Virtual Worlds

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Thoughts on Democratic Proposal to Update Communications Act

I was very pleased to hear this announcement today from leading Senate and House Democrats regarding a much-needed update of our nation's communications laws:

Today, Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, Rep. Henry A. Waxman, the Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Senator John F. Kerry, the Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, and Rep. Rick Boucher, the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet announced they will start a process to develop proposals to update the Communications Act. As the first step, they will invite stakeholders to participate in a series of bipartisan, issue-focused meetings beginning in June. A list of topics for discussion and details about this process will be forthcoming.

This is great news, and an implicit acknowledgment by top Democratic leaders that the FCC most certainly does not have the authority to move forward unilaterally with regulatory proposals such as Net neutrality mandates or Title II reclassification efforts.

I very much look forward to engaging with House and Senate staff on these issues since this is something I've spent a great deal of time thinking about over the past 15 years. Most recently, Mike Wendy and I released a paper entitled, "The Constructive Alternative to Net Neutrality Regulation and Title II Reclassification Wars," in which we outline some of the possible reform options out there. We built upon PFF's "Digital Age Communications Act Project," (DACA) which was introduced in February of 2005 with the ultimate aim of crafting policy that is adaptive to the frequently changing communications landscape. You can find all the white papers from the 5 major working groups here. I also encourage those interested in this issue to take a look at the video from this event we hosted earlier this month asking, "What Should the Next Communications Act Look Like?" Lots of good ideas came up there.

Anyway, down below I have included the video from that event as well as a better description of the DACA model for those interested in details about how that model of Communications Act reform would work. I think DACA holds great promise going forward since it represents a moderate, non-partisan approach to reforming communications policy for the better. I pulled this summary from the paper that Mike Wendy and I recently penned:

Continue reading Thoughts on Democratic Proposal to Update Communications Act . . .

posted by Adam Thierer @ 7:34 PM | Communications, DACA, PFF, The FCC

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Facebook Triggers Another False Alarm over Corporate "Censorship"

Leo Laporte claimed yesterday on Twitter that Facebook had censored Texas radio station, KNOI Real Talk 99.7 by banning them from Facebook "for talking about privacy issues and linking to my show and Diaspora [a Facebook competitor]. Since Leo has a twitter audience of 193,884 followers and an even larger number of listeners to his This Week In Tech (TWIT) podcast, this charge of censorship (allegedly involving another station, KRBR, too) will doubtless attract great deal of attention, and helped to lay the groundwork for imposing "neutrality" regulations on social networking sites--namely, Facebook.

Problem is: it's just another false alarm in a long series of unfounded and/or grossly exaggerated claims. Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes responded:

The pages for KNOI and KRBR were disabled because one of our automated systems for detecting abuse identified improper actions on the account of the individual who also serves as the sole administrator of the Pages. The automated system is designed to keep spammers and potential harassers from abusing Facebook and is triggered when a user sends too many messages or seeks to friend too many people who ignore their requests. In this case, the user sent a large number of friend requests that were rejected. As a result, his account was disabled, and in consequence, the Pages for which he is the sole administrator were also disabled. The suggestion that our automated system has been programmed to censor those who criticize us is absurd.

Absurd, yes, but when the dust has settled, how many people will remember this technical explanation, when the compelling headline is "Facebook Censors Critics!"? There is a strong parallel here to arguments for net neutrality regulations, which always boil down to claims that Internet service providers will abuse their "gatekeeper" or "bottleneck" power to censor speech they don't like or squelch competitive threats. Here are just a few of the silly anecdotes that are constantly bandied about in these debates as a sort of "string citation" of the need for regulatory intervention:

posted by Berin Szoka @ 11:02 AM | Antitrust & Competition Policy, Free Speech, Neutrality, Philosophy / Cyber-Libertarianism

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More Zittrainian Nonsense about "The Death of the Open Web"

Since Jonathan Zittrain's ideas about the "generativity" have permeated the intellectual climate of technology policy almost as thoroughly as those of Larry Lessig, scarcely a month passes without a new Chicken Little shouting about how the digital sky is falling in a major publication. The NYT has had not one, but two such articles in the course of a week: first, Brad Stone's piece about Google, Sure, It's Big. But Is That Bad? (his answer? an unequivocal yes! as I noted), followed by Virginia Heffernan's piece "The Death of the Open Web," which bemoans the growing popularity of smart phone apps--which she analogizes to "white flight" (a stretched analogy that, I suppose, would make Steve Jobs the digital Bull Connor).

What really ticks me off about these arguments (besides the fact that Apple critics like Zittrain use iPhones themselves without a hint of bourgeois irony) is Heffernan'ssuggestion that, "By choosing machines that come to life only when tricked out with apps from the App Store, users of Apple's radical mobile devices increasingly commit themselves to a more remote and inevitably antagonistic relationship with the Web." To hear people like Heffernan (and others who have complained about Apple's policies for its app store) talk, you might think that modern smart phones don't come with a web browser at all, or that browser software is next to useless, so the fact that browsers can access any content on the web (subject to certain specific technical limitations, such as sites that use Flash) is irrelevant, and users are simply at the mercy of the "gatekeepers" that control access to app stores.

In fact, the iPhone and Android mobile browsers are amazingly agile, generally rendering pages originally designed for desktop reading in a way that makes them very easy to read on the phone--such as by wrapping text into a single column maximized to fit either the landscape or portrait view of the phone, depending on which way it's pointed.  In fact, I do most of my news reading on my Droid, and using its browser rather than through any app--although there are a few good news apps to choose from. In fact, I probably spend about 10 times as much time using my phone's browser as I spend using all other 3rd party apps (i.e., not counting the phone, e-mail, calendar, camera and map "native" apps). So I can get any content I want using the phone's browser, I certainly don't lose any sleep at night over what I can or can't do in apps I get through the app store. I'd love to see actual statistics on the percent of time that smartphone users spend using their mobile browser, as compared to third-party apps. Do they exist?

But however high that percentage might be, the important thing is that the smartphone browser offers an uncontrolled tool for accessing content, even if appson that mobile OS do not.

Continue reading More Zittrainian Nonsense about "The Death of the Open Web" . . .

posted by Berin Szoka @ 11:02 AM | Philosophy / Cyber-Libertarianism

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"The Rise and Fall of Information Empires" & Constant Growth of Regulation"The Rise and Fall of Information Empires" & Constant Growth of Regulation

Today's NYT piece by Brad Stone about Google (Sure, It's Big. But Is That Bad?) offers a superb example of how to use the rhetorical question in an article headlined to suggest that you might actually be about to write a thoughtful, balanced piece--while actually writing a piece that, while thoughtful and interesting, offers little more than token resistance to your own preconceived judgments. But perhaps I'm being unfair: Perhaps Stone's editors removed "YES! YES! A THOUSAND TIMES, YES!" from the headline for brevity's sake?

Anyway, despite its one-sidedness, the piece is fascinating, offering a well-researched summary of the growing cacophony of cries for regulatory intervention against Google, and also a suggestion of where they might lead in crafting a broader regulatory regime for online services beyond just Google. In short, the crusade against Google and the crusade for net neutrality (in which Google has, IMHO unwisely been a major player) are together leading us down in intellectual slippery slope that, as Adam and I have suggested, will result in "High-Tech Mutually Assured Destruction" and the death of Real Internet Freedom.

Ironically, this push for increased government meddling--a veritable "New Deal 2.0"--is all justified by the need to "protect freedom." But it would hardly be the first time that this had happened. As the great defender of liberty Garet Garrett said of the New Deal 1.0 in his 1938 essay The Revolution Was:

There are those who still think they are holding the pass against a revolution that may be coming up the road. But they are gazing in the wrong direction. The revolution is behind them. It went by in the Night of Depression, singing songs to freedom.

That theme lives on in the works of those like antitrust warrior Gary Reback, an anti-Google stalwart whose book Free the Market: Why Only Government Can Keep the Marketplace Competitive Adam savaged in his review last year. Reback argues:
Google is the "arbiter of every single thing on the Web, and it favors its properties over everyone else's," said Mr. Reback, sitting in a Washington cafe with the couple. "What it wants to do is control Internet traffic. Anything that undermines its ability to do that is threatening."

Move over, ISPs! Search engines are the real threat! Somehow, I feel fairly confident in predicting that this will be among the chief implications of Tim Wu's new book, The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires, to be released in November, which his publisher summarizes as follows:

Continue reading "The Rise and Fall of Information Empires" & Constant Growth of Regulation"The Rise and Fall of Information Empires" & Constant Growth of Regulation . . .

posted by Berin Szoka @ 8:42 AM | Advertising & Marketing, Antitrust & Competition Policy, Philosophy / Cyber-Libertarianism

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Wireless Networks & Lemonade Stand Economics

posted by Adam Thierer @ 11:39 PM | Economics, Innovation, Net Neutrality, Wireless

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

FCC Wireless Report Punts - Effective Competition Actually Prevails

posted by Mike Wendy @ 10:25 PM | Antitrust & Competition Policy, Broadband, Communications, Innovation, Internet, Net Neutrality, Spectrum, The FCC, Wireless

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Takedowns and Daiquiris: Viacom v. YouTube Hosts a Grokster Reunion

posted by Thomas Sydnor @ 7:55 AM | Advertising & Marketing, Copyright, IP, Innovation, Intermediary Deputization & Section 230, Internet

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Constructive Alternative to Net Neutrality Regulation & Title II Reclassification

posted by Adam Thierer @ 8:02 PM | Broadband, DACA, Net Neutrality, The FCC

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FCC Wireless Report Should Conclude Market Competitive, But Will It?

posted by Mike Wendy @ 3:58 PM | Broadband, Communications, Innovation, Net Neutrality, The FCC, Wireless, Wireline

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Internet Gambling & the Hypocrisy of Focus on the Family

posted by Adam Thierer @ 10:30 AM |

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Shameless Self-Promotion: Vote for Me for DC Bar Computer & Telecom Section!

posted by Berin Szoka @ 10:58 PM |

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Government Transparency & Smarter Regulation through Standardized Data Use

posted by Berin Szoka @ 10:57 PM | Privacy, e-Government & Transparency

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PFF Hill Briefing 5/24 @ Noon: Nuts & Bolts of Online Privacy, Advertising, Notice & Choice

posted by Berin Szoka @ 10:50 AM | Advertising & Marketing, Privacy

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First Amendment Meddling Is Against the Public Interest

posted by Mike Wendy @ 9:38 AM | Capitol Hill, Free Speech, Mass Media, Media Regulation, Privacy, Regulation, The FCC, The FTC

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

PFF TechCast #5: Concerns about the Boucher-Stearns Privacy Bill

posted by Berin Szoka @ 6:28 PM | Advertising & Marketing, PFF Podcasts, Privacy

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Google, Nexus One, Subsidized Handsets & Consumer Choices

posted by Adam Thierer @ 6:35 PM | Economics, Wireless

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

event reminder: May 20th - "Can Government Help Save the Press?"

posted by Adam Thierer @ 2:46 PM | Events, Mass Media, Media Regulation

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Cord-Cutting Continues; 25% of Homes Now Wireless-Only

posted by Adam Thierer @ 2:14 PM | Communications

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Old Wine in an Old Bottle: LimeWire and Mark Gorton Held Intentional Inducers of Massive Piracy

posted by Thomas Sydnor @ 11:54 PM | Copyright, E-commerce, IP, Innovation, Internet

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Will the Supreme Court Protect Kitten-Crushing Videos & Virtual Kid Porn but Not Video Games?

posted by Adam Thierer @ 1:00 AM | Free Speech, Supreme Court, Video Games & Virtual Worlds

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Monday, May 10, 2010

event video: "What Should the Next Communications Act Look Like?"

posted by Adam Thierer @ 9:49 PM | Broadband, Communications, Net Neutrality, The FCC

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List of Major Comments in FCC "Future of Media" Proceeding

posted by Adam Thierer @ 9:11 PM | Mass Media, Media Regulation, The News Frontier

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Will Brand X Really Save the FCC's "Third Way" Plan?

posted by Barbara Esbin @ 5:35 PM | The FCC

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Friday, May 7, 2010

The Comcast Decision, the FCC's Third Way and the Next Communications Act

posted by Barbara Esbin @ 4:04 PM | Broadband, The FCC

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

NPR Interview on FCC's Third Way

posted by Mike Wendy @ 3:31 PM | Antitrust & Competition Policy, Broadband, Capitol Hill, Communications, Cyber-Security, DACA, Internet, Net Neutrality, Neutrality, Privacy, Security, The FCC

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The Problem with Title II Reclassification of the Internet in a Picture

posted by Adam Thierer @ 10:24 AM | Broadband, Net Neutrality, The FCC

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

PFF's Mega-Filing in the FCC's "Future of Media" Proceeding

posted by Adam Thierer @ 2:44 PM | Free Speech, Mass Media, Media Regulation, The News Frontier

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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What's Yours is Mine: The Dangerous Implications of a "Right" to Free Credit Scores

posted by Berin Szoka @ 11:35 PM | Advertising & Marketing, Copyright, Privacy, The FTC

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FCC: Toothless Regulator or Cop on the Beat?

posted by Barbara Esbin @ 4:28 PM | Broadband, Net Neutrality, Neutrality, Regulation, The FCC

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Statement on House Privacy Discussion Draft

posted by Adam Thierer @ 3:59 PM | Advertising & Marketing, Privacy

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event: May 20th - "Can Government Help Save the Press?"

posted by Adam Thierer @ 10:16 AM | Events, Mass Media, Media Regulation, The News Frontier

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  Mr. Scott Goes to the State Department
Video Games, Media Violence & the Cathartic Effect Hypothesis
The Inherent Paradox in the FCC Media Ownership Rules & Latest NOI
Abolishing the FCC and Other Fun Thoughts
PFF Event Recap: Nuts & Bolts of Online Privacy, Advertising, Notice & Choice
More on Monkey See-Monkey Do Theories about Media Violence & Real-World Crime
Thoughts on Democratic Proposal to Update Communications Act
Facebook Triggers Another False Alarm over Corporate "Censorship"
More Zittrainian Nonsense about "The Death of the Open Web"
"The Rise and Fall of Information Empires" & Constant Growth of Regulation"The Rise and Fall of Information Empires" & Constant Growth of Regulation
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