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After 14 years, FCC Tries Again To Bring Competition to Cable Access

SAN FRANCISCO, October 14, 2010 — As expected, the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday ordered cable companies to make their programming more accessible to device manufacturers so that consumers have more reasons to buy innovative gadgets that can more seamlessly access cable television programming and content on the web.

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SAN FRANCISCO, October 14, 2010 — As expected, the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday ordered cable companies to make their programming more accessible to device manufacturers so that consumers have more reasons to buy innovative gadgets that can more seamlessly access both cable television programming and content on the web.

The order means that consumers should be able to self-install cable cards, and high-definition set-top boxes won’t need the cards at all.

The order comes after a regime implemented by the FCC in 1998 called CableCARD failed to take off. It was supposed to allow third party consumer electronics manufacturers to access the programming more seamlessly by providing consumers with the ability to insert the card into devices to access the programming.

So far, only one percent of cable subscribers use CableCARDs, according to statistics cited by the Obama Administration in its National Broadband Plan, which the administration published this March. And only two device manufacturers, TiVo and Moxi, sell the CableCARD-enabled set-top boxes through retail outlets.

Innovators such as Apple, Boxee, Google, Roku, Sezmi, SonyPlayStation 3, XBox 360 and others have tried to cobble together alternative devices, but “their devices often cannot access traditional TV content that consumers value,” and “without the ability to seamlessly integrate internet video with traditional TV viewing, internet video devices like Apple TV and Roku have struggled to gain a foothold in U.S. homes,” noted the authors of the plan.

The order is the FCC’s latest attempt to fulfill the requirement in the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which seeks to bring competition to a new market in consumer electronic devices that can access cable television services.

As such, it’s an interim measure until it considers new rules that would enable consumers to buy smart video devices that would enable them to change cable companies without having to buy a new device.

The deadline for that proceeding, as suggested in the National Broadband Plan, is the end of the year.

Consumer electronics manufacturers, a digital rights group, and the cable industry itself approved of the way the commission approached the issue in its order.

“We agree with the Commission that implementing these changes – including increasing options for self-installation, providing more transparency and properly equipping technicians – will assist customers who use retail devices that rely on CableCARDs,” said Kyle McSlarrow, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s president and CEO.

“It has been 14 years since Congress responded to consumer frustration and required cable to allow cable boxes to be sold competitively,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association. “We have felt like Lucy holding the football with every cable industry failure to support competition in the set-top box marketplace.”

“Now, consumers will be able to install their own CableCards provided that manufacturers include instructions and, importantly, the Commission will limit the ability of cable systems to subsidize their own boxes with service costs, which puts competitive devices at a disadvantage,” said Harold Feld, Public Knowledge’s legal director.

Photo courtesy of: Angel Raul Ravelo Rodriguez

Big Tech

Proposed Antitrust Legislation Not the Way to Regulate Big Tech, Panelists Say

Legislation currently before Congress will hurt American tech’s global competitiveness, event hears.

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Screenshot from the Foreign Policy event on Thursday

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2022 – Critics at a Foreign Policy magazine event blasted the efforts of the Federal Trade Commission and lawmakers to crack down on Big Tech, saying legislative efforts could impact America’s global competitiveness in the tech industry.

On Thursday, panelists were divided on how Washington should approach antitrust legislation proposals, referencing six antitrust bills introduced to Congress in June 2021 that target big tech companies. Those bills – including the American Choice and Innovation Online Act, H.R. 3816, Platform Competition and Opportunity Act, H.R. 3826, Ending Platform Monopolies Act, H.R. 3825, Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act, H.R. 3849, Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act, H.R. 3843, and State Antitrust Enforcement Venue Act, H.R. 3460 – aim to rein in the power of Big Tech through anticompetitive measures, new merger and acquisition review, and providing government enforcers more power to break-up or separate big businesses.

Sean Heather, senior vice president of international regulatory affairs and antitrust from the U.S. Chamber of Congress, criticized current antitrust laws saying it will hurt U.S. competition in the global world. He said “the answer is not to do it through antitrust” or implementing “sweeping judgement” that puts all businesses under one rubric. Instead, he suggested “targeted legislation” that would address individual issues of each business.

Clete Willems, from the Atlantic Council’s geoeconomics center, said that many of the proposed antitrust laws are ineffective. He stated a major flaw of these bills is that they penalize big technology companies because of their size, instead of for abuses of market power in common business practices.

Willems said that the bills simply ban “big tech companies because they are big but are not tying it to abuse of market power. That to me illustrates the fundamental problem with this agenda.”

Some panelists echoed flaws presented by Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation in April, saying that antitrust regulation could hamper U.S. competition in the tech world or negatively hurt customers, as FTC Commissioner Noah Phillips said in May.

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Antitrust

‘Time is Now’ for Separate Big Tech Regulatory Agency, Public Interest Group Says

‘We need to recognize that absolutely the time is now. It is neither too soon nor too late.’

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Photo of Harold Feld, senior vice president at Public Knowledge

WASHINGTON, June 21, 2022 – Public Knowledge, non-profit public interest group, further advocated Thursday support for the Digital Platform Commission Act introduced in the Senate in May that would create a new federal agency designed to regulate digital platforms on an ongoing basis.

“We need to recognize that absolutely the time is now. It is neither too soon nor too late,” said Harold Feld, senior vice president at Public Knowledge.

The DPCA, introduced by Senator Michael Bennet, D-CO., and Representative Peter Welch, D-VT., would, if adopted, create a new federal agency designed to “provide comprehensive, sector-specific regulation of digital platforms to protect consumers, promote competition, and defend the public interest.”

The independent body would conduct hearings, research and investigations all while promoting competition and establishing rules with appropriate penalties.

Public Knowledge primarily focuses on competition in the digital marketplace. It champions for open internet and has openly advocated for antitrust legislation that would limit Big Tech action in favor of fair competition in the digital marketspace.

Feld published a book in 2019 titled, “The Case for the Digital Platform Act: Breakups, Starfish Problems and Tech Regulation.” In it, Feld explains the need for a separate government agency to regulate digital platforms.

Digital regulation is new but has rapidly become critical to the economy, continued Feld. As such, it is necessary for the government to create a completely new agency in order to provide the proper oversight.

In the past, Congress empowered independent bodies with effective tools and expert teams when it lacked expertise to oversee complex sectors of the economy but there is no such body for digital platforms, said Feld.

“The reality is that [Congress] can’t keep up,” said Welch. This comes at a time when antitrust action continues to pile up in Congress, sparking debate across all sides of the issue.

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Big Tech

Young American Views on Social Media Regulation Shaped by Use, Panelists Discuss

A March Gallup and Knight study found young Americans are less concerned about hurtful online discourse.

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Photo of Gallup Event

WASHINGTON, June 13, 2022 – Panelists at a Gallup event on Wednesday said young American’s use of social media primarily as an entertainment source shapes their views on tech regulation.

The view comes after a March study by Gallup and Knight said that young Americans aged 18 to 34 are less likely to stay within partisan boundaries about tech regulation. The study of 10,000 adults sought to compile American views on internet regulation and found that young adults are less likely to be very concerned about hurtful discourse online than adults 55 and older.

The report outlined a dichotomy between older and younger generations, with the report indicating that younger Americans are more motivated to participate in “traditional” civic behaviors like attending protests or donating to social causes as a result of social media than their older counterparts.

The older generation, on the other hand, generally use social media as a news source, the report claimed.

The study comes amid debate about what types of antitrust action needs to be taken by Washington on big tech companies with respect to content management. Some Americans are concerned that social media platforms allow for the spread of misinformation and hate speech. The study was conducted to better understand how U.S. citizens view regulation of online content and the responsibility for the internet’s governance.

The study developed six broad sample groups. One of these groups was “the unfazed digital natives,” characterizing 19 percent of the population. This group was the youngest of segments and favored, regardless of party affiliation, “individual responsibility and a hands-off approach by the government. Nevertheless, they support some degree of content moderation by social media companies.”

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