FCC OKs AT&T Merger w/ BellSouth

To the dismay of the FCC chair, some conditions on (*gasp*) “net neutrality” were part of the concessions (see below): FCC clears AT&T mergerpdf (WaPo’s AT& T Completes BellSouth Takeoverpdf)

The $86-billion deal gives San Antonio-based AT&T a third of the nation’s land lines, dominating local phone service in California and 21 other states. AT&T also becomes the nation’s largest provider of high-speed Internet access and gains full control of Cingular Wireless, the country’s biggest cellphone company, which was 40% owned by Atlanta-based BellSouth.

[…] Although the Justice Department unconditionally approved the deal in October, unusual circumstances gave the two Democrats on the Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission leverage to hold up final regulatory approval until AT&T made the concessions. Desperate to close the deal by the end of the year, AT&T caved in to the commissioners’ demands late Thursday.

[…] AT&T’s most significant concessions were to provide high-speed Internet access to customers for $19.95 a month without requiring them to purchase phone or other services; to lower and freeze for four years the fees it charges other phone companies to use its lines; to sell some of its wireless spectrum to promote competition for high-speed Internet access; and to treat all Internet content equally as it travels over its lines.

Those conditions came on top of earlier AT&T pledges to offer broadband service for $10 a month to customers with AT&T phone service, give free high-speed modems to customers now using dial-up service and to install at least 30% of its new broadband lines in rural and low-income areas.

Natalie Billingsley, a supervisor with the California Public Utilities Commission’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates, which advocates for consumer interests, said the new concessions improved the outlook for AT&T and BellSouth customers. But she said consumers would have been better off if the merger had not been approved and expressed skepticism that customer service would improve.

FCC announcement and statements: Martin & Tate; Copps; Adelstein; McDowell. From Copps’ statement (pp. 3-4)

The condition builds upon the four principles of net neutrality unanimously

adopted by this Commission and made enforceable in the context of the Bell mergers completed last year. In addition to the company’s compliance with these four principles, the condition agreed to by the merged entity includes a fifth principle that requires the company to maintain a “neutral network and neutral routing” of internet traffic between the customer’s home or office and the Internet peering point where traffic hits the Internet backbone. The company is prohibited from privileging, degrading, or prioritizing any packets along this route regardless of their source, ownership, or destination. This obligation is enforceable at the FCC and is effective for two years. It ensures that all Internet users have the ability to reach the merged entities’ millions of Internet users—without seeking the company’s permission or paying it a toll. The next Drudge Report, Wikipedia, Craigslist, Instapundit, or Daily Kos should not have to seek a massive corporation’s blessing before it can begin reaching out to the American public, and we can take considerable comfort from the fact that today’s condition prohibits such behavior. While I might have preferred a longer duration, prior mergers resulted in similar time periods for the net neutrality conditions and it is in my view sufficient to allow Congress to take longer-term network neutrality action if it chooses to do so.

Relatedly and importantly, the merged entity is required to continue to maintain the present number of Internet backbone peering relationships for the next three years. Thus the status quo in the Internet backbone market is preserved by preventing the merged entity from using its larger size and immense last-mile customer base to terminate the settlement-free peering relationships that are fundamental to the Internet as we know it. Read in conjunction with the network neutrality obligation, this peering provision will help to protect the Internet experience and the powerful opportunities it promises for the future.

The associated Slashdot discussion (citing a TechDirt piece) is less sanguine, citing loopholes galore: AT&T Offering Merger Concessions

Trade Secrets, Source Code and Voting

An unhappy turn in the Sarasota County voting fight: Disputed Fla. Election to Spill Into U.S. Housepdf

Jennings suffered a legal setback on Friday when a Florida judge denied a request by her and groups including the ACLU and People for the American Way Foundation to examine the voting machine hardware and software.

Florida Circuit Court Judge William Gary said no evidence had been provided of malfunctions and that granting access to the machines would “result in destroying or at least gutting the protections afforded those who own the trade secrets” associated with the equipment.

See also Source Code Access Denied in Disputed Race

From the WaPo article:

Jennings’s campaign vowed an appeal.

“It’s shocking that there is more concern for protecting a company’s profits rather than protecting our right to vote,” she said in a statement.

Some other links: ACLU FL; EFF site

Sohu.com Nailed

Well, fined anyway. China makes a move to make the WTO less unhappy. Web Portal Fined for Movie Piracy

A Beijing court has ordered the popular Chinese Web portal Sohu.com to pay $140,000 in damages for distributing Hollywood movies online without permission, the movie industry’s trade group said Friday.

Artists in the iTunes Era

Leads to a revisiting of the Audible Past, IMHO: Whole Albums in Concertpdf

Such shows tend to receive positive critical attention, but the current transformation of the music marketplace suggests that albums are being presented onstage because they’re becoming museum-ified relics. As digital downloading changes the way music is consumed, could the album be going live because it’s dead?

Maybe the album’s dead; but then, maybe it isn’t. It’s become a commonplace that albums are losing their authority as artistic entities as an increasing number of people buy music song by song via services like iTunes. So playing an album live helps artists regain a modicum of creative control. The experience is like listening to a playlist, but this time (as earlier) it’s the musicians and producers themselves who are devising it.

What’s curious is that the same changes in music consumption that are hurting the album are helping to keep it alive. As recorded-music sales decline in a digital era of single-track sales and outright piracy, concert revenues are robust and, while always crucial to the financial health of the typical band or musician, even more important now. Performing an album live, then, is a way to stand out. It’s “a way to get people to come in and buy a ticket in a very competitive market,” Jethro Tull’s front man, Ian Anderson, said.

Related: a look at concert sales in Oldies but goodiespdf

It all added up to another growth year in the concert business, whose total revenue in North America increased 16% over 2005, to $3.6 billion. The number of tickets sold for the Top 100 tours was 37.9 million, an increase of 4.4%, and the average ticket price rose 8%, to $61.45.

Wired for Sound

A look at cognition and music from tomorrow’s NYTimes: Music of the Hemispherespdf

“Listen to this,” Daniel Levitin said. “What is it?” He hit a button on his computer keyboard and out came a half-second clip of music. It was just two notes blasted on a raspy electric guitar, but I could immediately identify it: the opening lick to the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar.”

Then he played another, even shorter snippet: a single chord struck once on piano. Again I could instantly figure out what it was: the first note in Elton John’s live version of “Benny and the Jets.”

Dr. Levitin beamed. “You hear only one note, and you already know who it is,” he said. “So what I want to know is: How we do this? Why are we so good at recognizing music?”

[…] Dr. Levitin is singular among music scientists for actually having come out of the music industry. Before getting his Ph.D. he spent 15 years as a record producer, working with artists ranging from the Blue Öyster Cult to Chris Isaak. While still in graduate school he helped Stevie Wonder assemble a best-of collection; in 1992 Dr. Levitin’s sensitive ears detected that MCA Records had accidentally used third-generation backup tapes to produce seven Steely Dan CDs, and he embarrassed the label by disclosing it in Billboard magazine. He has earned nine gold and platinum albums, which he tucks in corners of his lab, office and basement at home. “They look a little scary when you put them all in one place, so I spread them around,” he said.

Who Thinks Up These Reassuring Names?

Justice Dept. Database Stirs Privacy Fearspdf

The Justice Department is building a massive database that allows state and local police officers around the country to search millions of case files from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal law enforcement agencies, according to Justice officials.

The system, known as “OneDOJ,” already holds approximately 1 million case records and is projected to triple in size over the next three years, Justice officials said. The files include investigative reports, criminal-history information, details of offenses, and the names, addresses and other information of criminal suspects or targets, officials said.

[…] [C]ivil-liberties and privacy advocates say the scale and contents of such a database raise immediate privacy and civil rights concerns, in part because tens of thousands of local police officers could gain access to personal details about people who have not been arrested or charged with crimes.

[…] In an interview last week, [Deputy Attorney General Paul J.] McNulty said the goal is to broaden the pool of data available to local and state investigators beyond systems such as the National Crime Information Center, the FBI-run repository of basic criminal records used by police and sheriff’s deputies around the country.

By tapping into the details available in incident reports, interrogation summaries and other documents, investigators will dramatically improve their chances of closing cases, he said.

“The goal is that all of U.S. law enforcement will be able to look at each other’s records to solve cases and protect U.S. citizens,” McNulty said. “With OneDOJ, we will essentially hook them up to a pipe that will take them into its records.”

[shudder]

Slashdot discussion: OneDOJ to Offer National Criminal Database to Law Enforcement

An Interesting Slashdot Discussion: What Would You Ask An RIAA “Expert?”

Slashdot | What Questions Would You Ask An RIAA ‘Expert’?

In UMG v. Lindor, the RIAA has submitted an ‘expert’ report (pdf) and 26-page curriculum vitae (pdf), prepared by Dr. Doug Jacobson of Iowa State University who is the RIAA’s expert witness in all of its cases against consumers, relating to alleged copyright infringement by means of a shared files folder on Kazaa, and supposed analysis of the hard drive of a computer in Ms. Lindor’s apartment. The RIAA’s ‘experts’ have been shut down in the Netherlands and Canada, having been shown by Prof. Sips and Dr. Pouwelse of Delft University’s Parallel and Distributed Systems research group (pdf) to have failed to do their homework, but are still operating in the USA. […] Both Ms. Lindor’s attorney (pdf) and Ms. Lindor’s son’s attorney (pdf) have objected to the introduction of these materials, but Dr. Jacobson’s document production and deposition are scheduled for January and February, and we would love to get the tech community’s ideas for questions to ask, and in general your reactions, thoughts, opinions, information, and any other input you can share with us. (In case you haven’t guessed, we are the attorneys for Ms. Lindor.)

Here We Go Again

Media, tech firms probe possible high-def DVD hackpdf

The companies behind an encryption system for high-definition DVDs are looking into a hacker’s claim that he has cracked the code protecting the new discs from piracy, a spokesman for one of the companies said on Thursday.

[…] If the encryption code has been cracked, then any high-definition DVD released up to now can be illegally copied using the Muslix64 “key,” according to technology experts.

Jeff Moss, organizer of Defcon, the world’s largest hacking convention, said in an interview that Muslix64 appears to have found a real breach in the encryption system.

Slashdot’s discussion: HD-DVD and Blu-Ray AACS DRM Cracked; see the YouTube movie here

Later (2007-01-01): Studios’ DVDs Face a Crack in Security

Later (2007-01-26), confirmation: AACS confirms hacks on high-definition DVD playerspdf

A Cable Cut, A Channel Congested (or Closed)

Some fascinating vignettes in The Day the Pixels Froze: When a Digital World Was Stopped by a Natural Disaster

People awoke Wednesday to find themselves without e-mail or the Internet and, in some cases, without telephone connections, cut off from the rest of the world.

The earthquake ruptured undersea cables that are part of a communications fabric that circles the globe.

Coming on the second anniversary of the Asian tsunami that killed 230,000 people, it was a reminder of the world’s increasing dependence on communications technology.

See also Asian Quake Disrupts Data Traffic