Showing posts with label telecommunication regulation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label telecommunication regulation. Show all posts

Thursday, September 2, 2021

SDNY rules against Locast, knifes beleaguered free TV

[UPDATE: At 9:47 a.m. today, Thursday, Sept. 2, I received word that Locast is suspending operations, effective immediately.]  

Locast, an online retransmitter of broadcast television, and the American public together suffered a major blow on August 31, as the federal district court in New York handed partial summary judgment to ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC in the networks' copyright infringement lawsuit.

Locast has irritated me, but only for not expanding fast enough.  Where I live, near Providence, R.I., the service is not available.  It is available in New York to the south and Boston to the north, but access is strictly geo-fenced.  As a result, my family cannot see free broadcast TV without springing for an expensive subscription to a cable service or streaming-channel consolidator.

That's not really Locast's fault.  Broadcasters have reduced their power over the years, making free TV incrementally more difficult to access.  I live just nine miles from the broadcast towers that serve the Rhode Island state capital, but I cannot receive any signal with an interior or window-mounted antenna.

Indeed, the networks seem to want out of the broadcast game altogether.  Kickbacks from online consolidators such as Hulu Live and YouTube TV, and the networks' profits from their own services, such as Paramount+ (and Hulu Live, in part), are more lucrative than broadcasting and come with no FCC regulatory strings attached.  Local affiliates, including vital broadcast news outlets, fall through the cracks, wreaking further havoc in our information market, but that's no matter to the bottom line.  Locast threatened to breathe life back into the corpse of free TV, so the networks pursued the service with a vengeance. 

Locast is a non-profit, and its "business" model is simple.  It sets up a technology hub in a place such as Boston and converts local broadcast signals to online streams.  Home cord-cutters thus have their access to free TV restored through the internet service they already have, no antenna needed.

On the face of it, of course, this business model would constitute copyright infringement for copying and redistributing the broadcast signals.  But Congress, in a rare showing of commitment to the public interest rather than to the profit margins of our corporate overlords, built an exemption into the Copyright Act.  Governmental or nonprofit organizations are permitted to retransmit "without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage, and without charge to the recipients of the secondary transmission other than assessments necessary to defray the actual and reasonable costs of maintaining and operating the secondary transmission service."

Locast is freely available and supported only by voluntary donations.  But streaming is interrupted at 15-minute intervals by 15-second pleas for donations.  Like the ad-free versions of pay-TV services, Locast offers absolution from these interruptions in exchange for a minimum "donation" of $5 per month.  The $5-donation model proved sufficiently successful that Locast was able to cover its operating costs and use the excess to expand to new markets.

And that, expansion, was Locast's sin, in the eyes of the district court.  Judge Louis L. Stanton opined that Congress could have written "maintaining and operating and expanding" into the statutory exemption, but did not.  So Locast's dedication of additional accounts received to expansion was fatal to its claim of copyright exemption.

I find the court's reading of the statute exceedingly cramped.  Locast plainly is spending money to do precisely what Congress intended: making free TV available to people who cannot receive it without hiring a contractor to install an antenna tower.  That the books must balance within each micro-market rather than across live markets, in the utter absence of evidence that a dime has been diverted to any other objective, absurdly splits hairs.

Locast lawyers, joined by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, say they are examining the ruling.  Locast announced yesterday that it is for now ceasing streaming interruptions requesting donations. 

There are ways that Locast can work around its current predicament, I reason. Locast has been supported by some major corporate donors who are not old-school TV insiders, such as AT&T, which contributed $500,000.  Internet service providers such as AT&T benefit from Locast, because retransmissions are streamed into homes, rather than broadcast.  With more careful balancing of the books, it should be possible, if cumbersome, to parse operations between discrete markets and to raise capital to support expansion directly.

It's a shame that such gamesmanship should be required for what is clearly a public service.  And a bigger problem might remain for American information and entertainment consumers in the ongoing, if prolonged, death throes of free TV.  We might hope that Congress would obviate the fray with bold measures that would reinvigorate the landscape of electronic expression by enhancing public-interest limitations on digital intellectual property and guaranteeing access to the internet for all Americans.

We also might hope to see pigs take flight.

The case is American Broadcasting Cos. v. Goodfriend, No. 1:19-cv-07136 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 31, 2021). I bet Judge Stanton is one of those people who has both cable and Fubo and can't use either one unless someone helps him with the remote.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

While U.S. Congress ponders Big Tech oligopoly, Uruguay Supreme Court upholds TV football for all

While our powers-that-be in Congress wring their hands over trying to reconcile allegiance to our corporate overlords with antitrust in the tech sector, a court decision in Uruguay is worth noting.  The Supreme Court of Justice in the country of La Celeste held constitutional a law that compels the free live broadcast of some national soccer and basketball games.

Uruguay v. Costa Rica in World Cup 2014
(Danilo Borges/Portal da Copa CC BY 3.0 BR)

The ruling, sentencia no. 244 de 17 de agosto 2020 (search "244/2020" here), doesn't cover many games.  Explaining the case in 2019, a representative of the appellant Uruguayan Football Association (AUF) told El Observador (Uruguay) that the law would cost the franchise only some of nine Uruguay football qualifiers in four years. AUF still insisted that its economic interests were meaningfully and unconstitutionally diminished by the imposition.

Notwthstanding the limited reach of the ruling, the Court's willingness to abrogate private economic rights to further the public interest is significant.  Accepting the rationale for the law, the Court wrote, "Recuerda y resalta la Corte que la selección uruguaya de fútbol, en función de las hazañas deportivas y copas obtenidas en campeonatos mundiales y juegos olímpicos, forma parte de la identidad nacional y es tópico actual y recurrente en la ciudadanía." ("The Court recalls and emphasizes that the Uruguayan football team, as a function of its sporting achievements and championships won in the World Cup and Olympic Games, forms part of the national identity and is a current and continuing subject among the people.")

The ruling, on article 39 of the Ley de Medios, No. 19307, is one in a series from Uruguayan high courts (e.g., Observacom, Aug. 15) in recent months examining constitutional challenges to a far-ranging 2015 package of populist telecommunication reforms.  Civil rights advocates have hailed the courts' rulings for upholding the constitutional framework of the media law overall.  But business challengers have succeeded in blocking some restrictions, such as a limitation on subscriber numbers for cable TV providers, as unduly burdensome of commercial freedom.  For further example of the mixed results, the Court upheld article 40, which licenses Televisión Nacional de Uruguay to broadcast a game if no other broadcaster bought the rights.  But the Court struck down a subparagraph of article 39 that gave the executive authority to convert matches to free TV by resolution recognizing the public interest.

The telecommunication reforms have been championed by "center-right" Uruguay President Luis Lacalle Pou, who came to power in March 2020 after a hard-fought election and contested run-off.  Upon a campaign theme of "Uruguay seguro, transparente y de oportunidades," President Lacalle Pou promised to push back against left-leaning policies of the previous fifteen years with a raft of reforms aimed at slashing spending, controlling crime, combating corruption, and realigning foreign policy.  Whether or not he could have delivered, he has been, like leaders around the world, hampered by the coronavirus crisis.

Hat tip at Observacom Executive Director Gustavo Gómez (Twitter) for reporting on the case.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Antitrust regulators need to up their game to meet challenges of media convergence, Argentine researchers write in UNESCO paper

Published by UNESCO, a new policy paper from Argentine researchers Martín Becerra and Guillermo Mastrini warns that antitrust regulation must adapt to the convergence of media, telecommunication, and internet to remain effective and preserve people's rights.

Prof. Mastrini

Becerra is a researcher with the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), an Argentine government agency, and holds academic appointments at the National University of Quilmes (UNQ) and the University of Buenos Aires (UBA).  Mastrini also serves on the UBA faculty.

The researchers reach the counter-intuitive conclusion that the internet's accessibility to new market entrants, and the ease with which new communication technology should facilitate the balkanization of media services, ironically has worked to concentrate property, revenue, and audience globally.  Thus the role of the regulator is more important than ever, while anachronistic regulatory approaches remain siloed in sectors of disparate expertise.

Prof. Becerra
Becerra and Mastrini rather articulate a "relevant market" approach to organize regulatory authority.  At the same time, they eschew a one-size-fits-all approach to the different problems presented by different entities, namely internet "giants," telecommunication conglomerates, and media companies.  Moreover, the researchers stress that values of access to culture, freedom of expression, and pluralism should be baked into the regulatory framework.

The report is La convergencia de medios, telecomunicaciones e internet en la perspectiva de la competencia: Hacia un enfoque multicomprensivo (my translation: The Convergence of Media, Telecommunication, and Internet from the Perspective of Competition: Toward a Multiple-Understanding Approach) and is published by UNESCO as no. 13 in the series, Discussion Notebooks on Communication and Information, ISSN no. 2301-1424 (2019).  The report is in Spanish and includes an executive summary in translation.  HT @ Observacom.


Here is the executive summary:

The converging qualities of information and communication technologies challenge classic regulatory frameworks when regulating audiovisual media activities, on the one hand, and telecommunications, on the other. The digitalization of communications causes a metamorphosis in the definitions of what each sector encompasses and the emergence of actors that provide products and services and develop businesses in convergent markets simultaneously and in increasingly vast geographical areas.

Regulatory approaches that sought to protect freedom of expression in the media, guarantee access to cultural and informational resources and sustain economic competition to avoid distortion of markets today are being reviewed in light of the new reality of progressive integration and of the growing crosscutting elements within the media, telecommunications and Internet ecosystem. In fact, there are limitations that prevent responding effectively and consistently to the problems raised with the consolidation of the digital revolution.

This policy paper provides analytical tools based on comparative law and inquires about antitrust policies and their relationship with the objective of having diverse and pluralistic communication systems that stimulate public debate in democratic societies. Therefore, it has a multi-understanding approach, since one of its objectives is to facilitate the dialogue of areas that until now have had fields of study, normative translations and institutional expressions separated from each other.

After consulting Latin American regulators in the area of defense of competition, specialists in the region in the field and presenting an updated state of the art of the debate about the relevance of economic competition approaches to seek clear answers for the new problems of a convergent environment in communications, the document makes recommendations with the aim of improving the design of public policies both in the field of information and communication services, and in those that serve economic competition, harmonizing fields and disciplines that were not conceived in an articulated way.

In this context, the policy paper is proposed as an input for public policies and a contribution to optimize the understanding of current phenomena with deep repercussions in the culture, information and communication of societies and individuals.

En español:
Las cualidades convergentes de las tecnologías de información y comunicación desafían los encuadres normativos clásicos a la hora de regular las actividades de medios audiovisuales,  por  un  lado,  y  las  de  telecomunicaciones,  por  otro  lado.  La  digitalización de las comunicaciones provoca una metamorfosis en las propias definiciones de lo que cada sector abarcaba y el surgimiento de actores que proveen productos y servicios y desarrollan negocios en los mercados convergentes de modo simultáneo y en ámbitos geográficos cada vez más vastos.

Los enfoques regulatorios que buscaron como objetivos proteger la libertad de expresión en los medios de comunicación, garantizar el acceso a los recursos culturales e informacionales y sostener la competencia económica para evitar la distorsión de los mercados hoy están siendo revisados a la luz de la nueva realidad de la progresiva integración y de los cruces cada vez mayores dentro del ecosistema de medios, telecomunicaciones  e  Internet.  En  efecto,  hay  limitaciones  que  impiden  responder  de manera eficaz y consistente los problemas suscitados con la consolidación de la revolución digital.

El presente policy paper provee herramientas de análisis basadas en el derecho comparado e indaga sobre las políticas antitrust y su relación con el objetivo de contar con sistemas de comunicación diversos y plurales que estimulen el debate público en sociedades democráticas. Por ello es multicomprensivo, dado que uno de sus objetivos es facilitar el diálogo de áreas que hasta el presente han tenido campos de estudio, traducciones normativas y expresiones institucionales separadas entre sí.

Tras consultar a reguladores latinoamericanos del área de defensa de la competencia, a especialistas de la región en la materia y exponer un actualizado estado del arte del debate académico y de divulgación acerca de la pertinencia de los enfoques de competencia económica para satisfacer con respuestas claras los nuevos problemas propios  de  un  entorno  convergente  en  las  comunicaciones,  el  documento  formula  recomendaciones con el objetivo de mejorar el diseño de las políticas públicas tanto en el campo de los servicios de información y comunicación, como en el de las que atienden  a  la  competencia  económica,  armonizando  campos  y  disciplinas  que  no  fueron concebidos de modo articulado.
En este sentido, el policy paper se propone como un insumo de políticas públicas y una contribución para optimizar la comprensión de fenómenos actuales con hondas repercusiones en la cultura, la información y la comunicación de las sociedades y las personas.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Dirty talk at SUNY Oswego


I had a profound privilege the week before last to visit and speak at SUNY Oswego.  I am indebted to the Political Science Department and the Pi Sigma Alpha (PSA) chapter there, especially Dr. Helen Knowles and PSA chapter officers Nicholas Stubba and Kristen Igo.  Oswego is a charming town, and the warmth of the people at SUNY more than made up for the lake effect snow.


Pi Sigma Alpha, the political science honor society, inducted a new class of members from among juniors and seniors, based on their coursework and academic achievement.  The students' faculty in the Political Science Department and friends and family joined the ceremony.  I made remarks on the subject of PSA's 1920 founding and similarities and differences in our contemporary political landscape as we approach the organization's 100th anniversary.







The evening after the induction, SUNY Oswego kindly hosted me to present my research on "dirty language" and censorship.  In the talk, titled "WTF? Proliferating Profanity Under a Conservative FCC," I examined indecency doctrine in FCC television and radio regulation, especially in the three most recent presidential administrations.  The talk was held in a beautiful conference room of the Marano Campus Center, with windows overlooking the campus ice hockey rink (above).  Faculty and students from various departments attended, including a journalism student reporter for the campus newspaper, The Oswegonian.






In the course of the visit, I had ample time to meet, and be impressed by, dedicated SUNY Oswego students, who don't let a little lake-effect snow keep them from class.  Here I am with Dr. Knowles and her civil liberties class.  They are lucky to have a seminar led by Dr. Knowles, an expert on various topics in civil rights, especially the jurisprudence of Justice Kennedy and the Lochner-era history of economic due process. She is the author of The Tie Goes to Freedom: Justice Anthony M. Kennedy on Liberty (2009, updated 2018) and co-editor (with Steven B. Lichtman) of Judging Free Speech: First Amendment Jurisprudence of Supreme Court Justices. She is at work currently on four more books, all under contract: Making Minimum Wage: Elsie Parrish v. The West Coast Hotel Company (U. Okla. Press), Lights, Camera, Execution! Cinematic Portrayals of Capital Punishment (co-authored with Bruce E. Altschuler and Jaclyn Schildkraut, Lexington Books), Free Speech Theory: Understanding the Controversies (co-edited with Brandon T. Metroka, Peter Lang), and The Cascadian Hotel (co-authored with Darlene L. Spargo, Arcadia Publishing).

Particular thanks to Mr. Stubba, who indulged my desire to brave the bitter wind and see Lake Ontario from the shoreline.  Watch how the ice undulates on the waves!


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Pai FCC net neutrality policy steers US wrong way

Today a political cartoon from my brother, Spencer Peltz, in AP Gov at Calvert Hall, where he is student body president.


Probably needless to say, I agree with the sentiment wholeheartedly.  India's Telecom Regulatory Authority is headed wisely in the opposite direction.  Read more at Global Net Neutrality Coalition.  Tiered access, a.k.a. internet censorship, is bad for social liberals and economic conservatives.  The only winner under the Pai FCC plan is corporate oligarchy, and that's not free-market capitalism.  Oh, there're other winners, too: people and commercial enterprise every else in the world, India included.  Guess whom that leaves as losers?


Friday, November 24, 2017

Fourth Amendment privacy case, set for oral argument Nov. 29, touches on US-EU data protection divide

I've published a short preview of Carpenter v. United States, 819 F.3d 880 (6th Cir. 2016), cert. granted, No. 16-402 (U.S. June 5, 2017) (SCOTUSblog), a Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2703(d), set for oral argument in the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, November 29.  Here's an excerpt; link below to the full article and the ABA publication in which it appears.

U.S. Supreme Court accepts cell phone privacy case with transnational implications

A privacy case headed to the U.S. Supreme Court will give justices an opportunity to examine “the third-party doctrine” in U.S. constitutional law. The doctrine manifests a central feature of American privacy policy, marking a divide that has flummoxed transnational data transfer negotiators.
*  *  *

The urgent problem on the transnational scene is that the secrecy paradigm is incompatible with emerging global privacy norms. In EU data protection, for example, privacy follows data downstream. A person can divulge information with strings attached, and the strings are enforceable against subsequent recipients, such as Internet retailers. Even in public places, a data collector, such as a surveillance camera owner, has affirmative obligations to captured subjects. This incompatibility goes a long way to explain the incongruence of European apoplexy and American nonchalance in reaction to global surveillance by the U.S. National Security Agency.
*  *  *

However suspenseful, Carpenter proffers bad facts to kill the third-party doctrine outright. As the Sixth Circuit observed, ordinary people know that cell phones communicate with nearby towers, and their location data are not as damningly precise as GPS. The privacy intrusion was therefore modest, and statute afforded some safeguard. What will be interesting to see in Carpenter is whether more justices lend their voices to the Alito or Sotomayor position, and whether the replacement of Justice Scalia with Justice Gorsuch unsettles the Court’s fealty to originalism.

Read the article at pp. 5-6 of the fall 2017 newsletter of the Privacy, Cybersecurity & Digital Rights Committee of the Section of International Law of the American Bar Association, available here in PDF