Net Neutrality Wins the Day

This is a historic day in the life of the Internet in America.

Media Council Hawaii applauds the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) vote for an open Internet in America by classifying broadband service as a public utility. The new "net neutrality" rules, which were approved by a 3 to 2 vote along party lines, will prevent providers of high-speed Internet access from blocking websites they do not like or creating fast lanes to those who can afford it and slow lanes for those who can't.

The New York Times quoted Chairman Tom Wheeler as saying that the FCC will use "all the tools in our toolbox to protect innovators and consumers" and preserve the Internet's role as a "core of free expression and democratic principles."

The Free Press, a public interest advocacy group in Washington, D.C., called it an "incredible victory" in the face of major opposition from corporate cable and phone companies. Free Press praised the grassroots effort that led to this decision, but warned that cable and phone companies such as Verizon and Time Warner Cable will be "relentless in their efforts to knock it down."

So be prepared to fight like hell to protect this victory and for the strongest possible policies to protect a free and open Internet. As Free Press puts it, "this isn't the end. This is the start of something huge."

House Appropriations Subcommittee to Block FCC’s Political Ad rule

The House Appropriations subcommittee voted to block disclosure of political TV ad buyers online, The Hill's Erik Wasson and Brendan Sasso reported this morning. Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.) offered an amendment to strip out the language blocking the ad rule according to Wasson and Sasso,  but his amendment lost the vote, 4 to 8. In the report, committee member, Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) said,

“It is obvious what this is all about and it is embarrassing, frankly. It looks like you are trying to cover up the fact that these fat cats are coming into these elections and they don’t want their names known.”

Following this decision, in an email from FreePress, Tim Karr wrote,

With their bottomless reserve of lobbyists and money, broadcasters are betting they can muscle their way into Congress and reverse a victory that tens of thousands of us fought hard to win....And their bet has just paid off.

Included in the email is a link to  this letter  demanding that Congress "serve the public and not media lobbyists."

"In the post-Citizens United era," wrote Karr, "we can't let broadcasters hide their political profits."

NYT report - Different Channels, Same News - Sound familiar?

Today, Brian Stelter has an interesting article in the New York Times today that highlights the pitfalls of new content among shared services agreements (SSAs). If you watch television here in Hawaii, you may be aware of these concerns seen in the SSA that lives here. While it's unsettling to see the same exact content across channels like a hall of mirrors, the FCC's reaction is particularly troubling. The government office apparently doesn't have complete data on the number of such agreements across the country. Thankfully, the NYT sources University of Delaware Professor, Danilo Yanich's research as we have done elsewhere in the blog.


Community Broadband Efforts Compete with Corporate Services

http://youtu.be/jWcBftCOxEc The FreePress' Save the Internet initiative covered a new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) today and shared the video above. Josh Levy of the FreePress reported, "Bristol, Va., Chattanooga, Tenn., and Lafayette, La.— built next-generation broadband networks that deliver a faster, more affordable Internet than their corporate competitors."

Christopher Mitchell, Director of ILSR’s Telecommunications as Commons Initiative said that all three cities offer gigabit service throughout the community. Additionally, “these publicly owned networks have each created hundreds of jobs and saved millions of dollars,” said Mitchell. The full text of the ILSR report can be found here, as well as more information at the Community Broadband Networks initiative.

On Oahu, Kokua Wireless is smaller version of community broadband. It describes itself as "a private network that has joined forces with the City and County of Honolulu and Private Business sponsors, to create free access to the internet via Wifi across the island." There is also a map of where the service can be accessed, and at what data rate. Statewide, the Hawaii Broadband Task Force is using their own broadband map to collect data on usage and areas in need of service.


Problems Implementing Public Files Online

Today, the New York Times reported that the FCC is following it'd due diligence by fining broadcasters without properly kept public inspections files, by delivering justice to the Columbia University radio station seven years late. NYT's Ben Sisario reported "WKCR, the radio station of Columbia University, has been fined $10,000 by the Federal Communications Commission over a lapse in its record-keeping from 1998 to 2005." The Times also sourced David Oxenford, a lawyer familiar with this area. “There are some big station owners who get hit with these fines,” he said, “but by and large,

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the bulk of these are small stations that have small staffs, and this obligation just gets overlooked.” Last Friday, Honolulu's Civil Beat took the public file inspection to task with this report, where the intrepid reporters visited stations and obtained the files. They're 'intrepid' because getting these files isn't always so simple, as some Cleveland-area college students recently found out. While the FCC recently mandated broadcasters in the top 50 markets to make the public files data available online, Honolulu is just outside of the top 50. CB reporters share sympathies with ProPublica's similar effort on the issue called 'Free the Files.' Daniel Victor and Justin Elliot are covering this issue, and have recently noted that formatting problems won't allow the public file data to be easily searchable. It seems like the FCC is headed in the right direction on this, but at the moment they're a just a few steps behind the times.

Hawaii's First Sunlight Foundation Chapter Meetup

Great first meeting of the @SunFoundation Honolulu community!... on Twitpic Last night, shortly after their show on HPR, Ryan Ozawa and Burt Lum, lead the first Sunlight Foundation Hawaii Chapter meet-up. The Sunlight Foundation is a"non-profit, nonpartisan organization that uses the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency, and provides new tools and resources for media and citizens, alike." The meet-up came on the heels of the state's Office of Information Management and Technology of their strategic plan release. In particular, conversation and dialogue from the chapter meet-ups will be added to the OIMT's public forum on how to better their services.

In other government offices, the City & County of Honolulu's recent work with Code for America and the CityCamp are examples practical, day-to-day data usage. The Honolulu 311 and Da Bus smartphone apps are indicators of this work to make public data available and put to work for citizens. Since the bar has been raised by the city, now it's time for the state to reach up and raise it.

A goal of the Hawaii chapter is to work with with government agencies to make their public data sets more easily accessible and searchable online. While a number of government documents exist online, scanned PDF files are difficult to extract data from, or translate into a usable format for data collection and public comprehension. For example, making the Campaign Spending Commission data more easily available online, has allowed programmer Jared Kuroiwa to create an innovative campaign donor database. With infographs and clean search quires, users are able to see which organizations are funding candidate campaigns, and possibly influencing policy decisions.

The Media Council's interest in the Sunlight Foundation Chapter stems out of our efforts to get broadcast political Ad data online and with greater availability to the public. The Sunlight Foundation is studying this area, as Pro Publica's Justin Elliot mentioned in last week's episode of On the Media. Elliot cited specific problems with the FCC's recent decision to require broadcasters to put this information online:

There was an analysis by the Sunlight Foundation looking at where the top 50 broadcast markets are compared to the swing states, and they found that in some markets in Virginia, some markets in Pennsylvania that are expected to see a lot of political advertising, they don’t fall into the top 50. Those political ad files are still gonna be stuck in paper files at the stations until 2014, when all stations around the country have to come into compliance.

Hawaii is both not in the top 50 markets, and something of a swing state during elections, allowing our broadcasters the ability to evade this rule until the next election cycle. We're currently developing a methodology to collect this data from local broadcasters and share it. We'll keep you posted on this project and our involvement with Sunlight Foundation Chapter. Also, if you'd like to participate in our station visits and data collection efforts, please let us know.


Michael Copps Tells Readers Four Things to Expect from New FCC Commissioners

Former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps wrote an outlook today on the FCC's future that's a bit more optimistic than he was at the end of last year. In his second paragraph, Copps already begins to speak well of the new Commissioners:

The two new Commissioners, Jessica Rosenworcel and Agit Pai, bring a wealth of experience, expertise and collegiality to their posts. I know Jessica best because she worked in my office as Senior Legal Advisor during part of my tenure there. She brings a depth and breadth of telecommunications knowledge perhaps unprecedented in scope for a new Commissioner. Both new Members hold great promise for distinguished service at the FCC.

Read the rest of his entry here at Benton Foundation.

FCC Uses 'Common Sense,' Approves Plan for Online Database of Political TV Ads

Just as the sun was rising in Hawaii, Brian Stelter of The New York Times, broke the news with his report. The FCC has approved a plan for broadcasters to upload public files data to the web.

The information about ad sales is already contained in so-called public files, which stations are required to store at their offices. Moving the files online was described by the commission’s chairman, Julius Genachowski, as a “common sense” step toward transparency.

This is considered a victory to many such as FreePress, ProPublica, and former FCC researcher Steven Waldman. Though, as Stelter reported, there is still some dissent from the National Broadcast Association. They said,

“By forcing broadcasters to be the only medium to disclose on the Internet our political advertising rates, the F.C.C. jeopardizes the competitive standing of stations that provide local news, entertainment, sports and lifesaving weather information free of charge to tens of millions of Americans daily.”

Keep an eye on the FCC.gov page for updates on when the information will go live.

Ninth Circuit Appeals Court Launches SuperPAC Ad Rocket at PBS

Aside the news of North Korea's fireworks show failed rocket launch, a recent ruling in political advertising is threatening regime change in sovereign American. The New York Times reported that the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed an old ruling "that public television and radio stations could not be prohibited from broadcasting paid political advertisements."

The ruling would allow organizations like SuperPACs, to begin advertising on public TV and radio stations. On the three-judge panel,  the justices were split, reported David Lieberman of Deadline New York. "Judge Richard Paez said, in a dissent, that 'for almost 60 years, noncommercial broadcasters have been effectively insulated from the lure of paid advertising.'”

In Reuters' report, American Enterprise Institute scholar Norman Ornstein, is quoted saying, the decision could "fundamentally change the character of public television and radio." The FreePress has already begun an effort urging supporters to sign a petition to stop "polluting public programming with these misleading and negative ads" by SuperPACs.