A Recap of the Implications of Changing from Copper to Fiber

Although the question seems to have been framed as “how much competition is enough to satisfy public policy goals?” it might be appropriate to consider why this question isn’t being asked instead — “can there ever actually be such a thing as too much competition?” Telecom Changes Put Competition on the Linepdf

The telephone giants — once part of the Ma Bell monopoly that started laying copper lines in the late 1800s — are currently required to lease their copper and limited parts of their fiber-optic networks to rivals to encourage competition. But as they invest in the newer fiber-optic networks, Verizon is asking regulators to eliminate requirements to share their networks with competitors in several major markets.

Qwest Communications International and AT&T are also replacing some copper lines but are leaving a portion so that copper lines can be used along with new fiber lines.

Ed Shakin, a lawyer for Verizon, said network-sharing requirements are no longer needed in certain cities now that cable companies and other competitors have rolled out Internet and phone service. “What competitors want are artificially low prices,” he said. “It comes down to a fight about price, not availability.”

But this week, 22 companies, including XO in Reston, Cavalier Telephone in Richmond and RCN in Herndon, countered Verizon’s argument in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission. Competition is not sufficient to justify Verizon’s request not to lease its network to smaller companies in six major cities, the companies said in asking the commission to deny the request.

Another Try at eBooks

Envisioning the Next Chapter for Electronic Books — Personally, I’m with Michael Gartenberg, I just don’t see the value proposition for most book applications. Granted, I’m an old guy, but I think most people understand the problems not only associated with the degree to which ebooks are encumbered by things like DRM, but also with the fact that the technology moves so fast that there’s no guarantee that the ebook they buy today will even be readable a decade from now — not really a problem with books, at least on that time horizon!

“Books represent a pretty good value for consumers. They can display them and pass them to friends, and they understand the business model,” said Michael Gartenberg, research director at Jupiter Research, who is skeptical that a profitable e-book market will emerge anytime soon.

“We have had dedicated e-book devices on the market for more than a decade, and the payoff always seems to be just a few years away,” he said.

A Look at the FCC’s Process

FCC’s methods leaves public in the darkpdf

It’s odd for an agency that has the word “communications” as its middle name, but the Federal Communications Commission routinely leaves the public in the dark about how it makes critical policy decisions.

[…] On April 25, the agency issued a “notice of proposed rulemaking” that laid out the general framework for what would be included in the rules and it requested comment from interested parties.

Flash forward to July 10: In a front-page newspaper story, Martin previewed his proposal for the auction rules. He said his proposal would promote a “truly open broadband network — one that would open the door to a lot of innovative services for consumers.”

[…] FCC rules say the “content of agenda items” — such as draft proposals — are “nonpublic information” and “shall not be disclosed, directly or indirectly, to any person outside the Commission.”

Employees who break the rule can be terminated.

Martin made his media push before his proposal was circulated among the other four commissioners, a move criticized by former FCC General Counsel Henry Geller.

“In my day you couldn’t treat the other commissioners that way,” Geller said. “It’s kind of a fait accompli.”

Of course, they still have to satisfy the APA, but it’s interesting to see the public arm-twisting being played in addition to the usual processes.

NBC Finds A New Distributor

Amazon head-to-head with iTunes: NBC in Deal With Amazon to Sell Shows on the Web

The media conglomerate, part of General Electric, said yesterday that Amazon had agreed to give it something that Apple would not: greater flexibility in the pricing and packaging of video downloads. As a result, NBC Universal said it had agreed to sell a wide variety of television programming on Amazon’s fledgling Unbox download service, including the drama “Heroes” and the comedies “The Office” and “30 Rock.” Episodes will be available on Unbox the day after they are shown.

While Amazon is still working to determine pricing, Unbox typically charges more for newer releases than for older ones. Unbox also gives consumers more options, including whether to rent a movie for $3.99 or buy a download for $14.99. Amazon agreed to offer promotions, including a 30 percent discount when buying full seasons of television shows.

Apple sells episodes of television shows for a flat $1.99, with movies priced at $9.99.

Last week, NBC Universal became the first television and movie company to publicly challenge Apple’s pricing as too low, saying it would not renew its contract with iTunes without a change in its pricing. Apple retaliated by saying it would not add new episodes of NBC shows to the iTunes inventory.

What *Is* Reality?

A dispatch from Second Life: Virtual Bernanke guides ‘Second Life’pdf

On July 25, the company controlling “Second Life” announced that it would no longer allow gambling. Economic activity was cut by nearly half as gambling halls shut down.

That’s a recipe for disaster in any economy, with job losses and a possible currency collapse, but the online world stayed on an even keel. That’s in part due to the fact that few people make a living there, but also to the firm grip on its currency market by “Second Life’s” equivalent of Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve.

It’s just one example of how economists and virtual worlds are teaming up, to mutual benefit. Outside “Second Life,” a game company just hired its first full-time economist. Another economist, coming from the academic side, believes that just as virtual economies need economists, so economists need virtual economies — to experiment with.

The “Second Life” equivalent of Bernanke is John Zdanowski. He’s the chief financial officer at Linden Lab, the privately held company that runs the world. Using “Second Life” software, he spoke to The Associated Press as an “avatar,” or 3-D representation, in Linden Lab’s virtual headquarters.

All I Have To Do Is Say Something Nice …

And I get a demonstration of why we have to be careful, even when we agree about why copyright matters: Control of Dances Is at Issue in Lawsuit

Choreographers associated with the New Dance Group, an activist-minded crucible of modern dance that flourished in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, based works on Woody Guthrie’s songs, the struggles of the Depression and the Spanish Civil War. Now one of those choreographers and the children of two others are embroiled in a very modern court battle over who has the right to perform their dances.

The three have sued New Dance, which now serves as a teaching studio and has a company, and its artistic director, Rick Schussel, seeking a legal ruling that only they can give permission for any performances.

“My main concern is that my mom’s dances get reproduced the way she wanted them reproduced,” Abigail Blatt said of her mother, Sophie Maslow, a prominent figure in the early years of modern dance. “What would happen if anybody could just take whatever they saw and copy it?” […]

Yes — what if?

Why Are Some Fights So Nasty? Because the Stakes Are So Small

This rhetoric has already been tried out in the realm of television — and don’t expect that the New York Times doesn’t have a stake in this outcome: Whiting Out the Ads, but at What Cost?

Likewise, in the larger scheme of things, Adblock Plus — while still a niche product for a niche browser — is potentially a huge development in the online world, and not because it simplifies Web sites cluttered with advertisements.

The larger importance of Adblock is its potential for extreme menace to the online-advertising business model. After an installation that takes but a minute or two, Adblock usually makes all commercial communication disappear. No flashing whack-a-mole banners. No Google ads based on the search terms you have entered.

From that perspective, the program is an unwelcome arrival after years of worry that there might never be an online advertising business model to support the expense of creating entertainment programming or journalism, or sophisticated search engines, for that matter.

More interesting has been the vituperative reactions from the little players in this space:

For now, the opposition to Adblock Plus has been led by small Web sites who want all Firefox users blocked from Internet sites in retaliation. One such advocacy site, whyfirefoxisblocked.com, taunts a Firefox user with the headline, “You’ve reached this page because the site you were trying to visit now blocks the Firefox browser.”

The page includes the following argument: “While blanket ad blocking in general is still theft, the real problem is Adblock Plus’s unwillingness to allow individual site owners the freedom to block people using their plug-in. Blocking Firefox is the only alternative.”

Mr. Palant, writing on a blog related to the project (adblockplus.org/blog/), lashed out at those kinds of arguments.

“There is only one reliable way to make sure your ads aren’t blocked — make sure the users don’t want to block them,” he wrote. “Don’t forget about the users. Use ads in a way that doesn’t degrade their experience.”

So, What Was Settled?

Google agrees not to harm American Blind, but otherwise, we have little information to go on here: Google Settles Trademark Suit

Google settled a lawsuit with American Blind and Wallpaper Factory, which had claimed advertisements on Google Web pages infringed trademarks.

The closely held American Blind, an Internet seller of home decorating materials, contended that Google’s AdWords program — advertising on Google’s Internet site that is linked to brand-name search results — illegally allowed competitors to buy the right to use search keywords like “American Blind” that are protected trademarks. A trial was scheduled for November.

Refining the Online Bookselling Experience

Amazon Drops Inventory Data, Irking Writers

“While quantity is certainly an interesting piece of data, that information did not help software developers drive traffic to Amazon.com,” said Drew Herdener, a spokesman for Amazon. “Customers could still make a choice on whether or not to buy a product without having to know how many are in stock.”

The inventory numbers had been available since 2006 and helped Web developers drive business to Amazon. Amazon pays a referral fee when a visitor clicks through from another Web site and buys the item.

Although the numbers were meant to help these sellers, the people who valued them the most were writers. Paul Aiken, the executive director of the Authors Guild, said the Amazon policy change makes the book-selling business “that much more opaque for authors.”