December 30, 2006

FCC OKs AT&T Merger w/ BellSouth [3:33 pm]

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

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

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Trade Secrets, Source Code and Voting [2:37 pm]

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

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

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OT: Dahlia’s Depressing Top Ten of 2006 [11:48 am]

Read ‘em — don’t forget ‘em. The 10 most outrageous civil liberties violations of 2006.

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Sohu.com Nailed [11:27 am]

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.

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Artists in the iTunes Era [11:22 am]

Leads to a revisiting of the Audible Past, IMHO: Whole Albums in Concert - pdf

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 goodies -pdf

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.

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Wired for Sound [11:17 am]

A look at cognition and music from tomorrow’s NYTimes: Music of the Hemispheres - pdf

“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.

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