Tagged: Free Press

Net Neutrality, but with Hamburgers

Burger King produced an online video advertisement using the delivery of their signature Whopper sandwich to explain how an Internet service provider can discriminate against a non-preferred website or Internet service. You can watch the nearly three-minute video on YouTube.

In this ad, a Burger King location implements a tiered delivery system. One can buy a “premium” Whopper that comes with a higher Mbps, which of course for broadband means “megabits per second” but at this Burger King location means “making burgers per second.” When an irate customer questions the delay, a Burger King counter employee explains that Burger King prefers to sell chicken sandwiches and Chicken Fries (which are way less gross than I expected, by the way) so it offers those at a standard rate. However, if you want a Whopper, as many customers in this video want, you will either have to wait for it to come through the slow pipeline or have to pay an additional fee to have it prioritized.

The sandwich offerings at Burger King offer a clear, yet imperfect metaphor for the websites and Internet services that can be blocked or throttled by an Internet service provider. The chicken sandwich and Chicken Fries presumably represent the video content and websites owned by the ISPs or their parent companies. I previously explained that this is why AT&T is looking to acquire Time Warner’s vast media holdings and why Verizon and Comcast have already acquired content companies—Oath and NBC-Universal, respectively—over the last decade.

The metaphor falls apart somewhat because Burger King “owns” the Whopper as well as Chicken Fries, and, of course, they block access to other options. It’s not like you can walk into a Burger King and order a Diet Coke or a Big Mac. However, it’s not like there are places in the world where you’re stuck only ever going to Burger King or McDonald’s but never the other. You have a choice in fast food establishments (and other ways to procure calories), but you almost certainly don’t have a choice in your Internet service provider.

After a while, the customers in the video understandably get impatient, angry, and frustrated.

And some even get physical. A couple of customers grab and tug at the bag from the counter employee. As per Burger King policy, he is waiting until the arbitrarily imposed latency period on the Whopper has elapsed.

Basing a fast-food ad on a wonky communications policy, albeit one with significant real world consequences, seems counterintuitive and even unbelievable. Would anyone understand this? Would anyone get the jokes? Yes, of course. Burger King wouldn’t have bothered making this video if a lot of people wouldn’t understand it and wouldn’t get the jokes. Free Press’s Craig Aaron notes that the ad demonstrates just popular and widely know net neutrality is among young people. He writes, “right now Net Neutrality ranks high on the list of concerns of millennial voters — right up there with marijuana legalization. If nothing else, BK knows its target demo.”

A few months ago, I wrote about how Coca-Cola introduced OK Soda to expands it reach to customers who were presumably too jaded to drink Coke. In that post, I referenced a video and describes it as “postmodern.” While I preferred the term “self-referential” to “postmodern,” this ad uses the same technique. At the end of the video, there’s a self-referrential wink-and-a-nod to those in-the-know with when the King appears in the store’s parking lot and takes a drink from an oversized Reese’s coffee mug.

That’s a reference to Chairman Pai’s stupid oversized Reese’s coffee mug, which was featured in Last Week Tonight with John Oliver last year. Most people likely know about the mug as do about the impact of Title I versus Title II classification: that is to say, a lot of people know.

He often appears with this mug as a bit of “dad humor,” making himself seem jovial and self-deprecating, much like he did when he danced with a “wannabe Pizzagater” in a video published on a right-wing, junk news website. It is also an attempt to distract from his corporate friendly policies that threaten the public interest.

However, as I’ve regularly warned on this site, Chairman Pai’s regulatory actions, such as repealing net neutrality, eliminating broadcast ownership caps, and allowing right-wing ideologues to reach virtually every American household, are no laughing matter.

And Then They Repealed Net Neutrality

Today, as expected, the Federal Communications Commission has voted to repeal its own net neutrality rules along partisan lines, by a vote of 3-2. And that wasn’t even the biggest news story in US media industries. Earlier today, Disney agreed to buy the movie and television assets of 21st Century Fox for over $66 billion in cash and stock. This deal has now pared down Rupert Murdoch’s one labyrinthine News Corp. media empire to a bunch of broadcast TV stations, the broadcast television network, and several cable TV networks. These moves have emerged in a climate of technological change but also of deregulatory moves ushered by Donald Trump’s FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

Net Neutrality Rules Repealed

As I’ve mentioned before in a series of posts on this site, this is one of several deregulatory measures that this FCC, led by Chairman Pai, to give broadcasters and Internet service providers more power at the expense of consumer protections and the interest of the public.

Repealing the FCC’s net neutrality rules will make it possible for Internet service providers—your “beloved” cable and telephone company—to turn the Internet to something that could look like what we had with AOL in the 1990s: a closed network with curated content with limited access to the open Internet. The latter is what doomed AOL and its 2000 merger with Time Warner.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that AT&T is attempting to acquire Time Warner and its vast library of media properties and content. With net neutrality rules out of the way, a provider like AT&T can realize its vision to dominate the Internet. Tim Wu, who coined the term “net neutrality” predicted as much in his 2010 book The Master Switch. Wu writes:

it doesn’t take a genius to realize that if AT&T and the cable companies exercised broad discretion to speed up the business of some firms and slow down that of others, they would gain the power of life and death over the Internet.

The telecommunications companies can do this because repealing net neutrality rules reclassifies broadband Internet service providers from common carriers to information services. The days of Internet-as-we-know-it might be numbered. At worst, it will be something like AOL in the 1990s. Or it will be something like cable TV and its curated 500-channel universe. Both were information services.

Centralize All Broadcast Activities

But it’s not just the Internet that Chairman Pai’s FCC has given over to the major corporate interests; he’s also cleared the way for broadcast station owners to expand their reach through out the United States.

Back in April, Chairman Pai led the FCC to restore the UHF discount rule, allowing owners of all-UHF stations to reach as much as 78% of all US households. As I wrote earlier, the UHF discount rule was developed in an era when US TV households mostly watched VHF channels 2-13 over UHF channels 14-69. The Obama-era FCC eliminated that discount on the grounds that the rule was deprecated. There is no difference in terms of VHF and UHF stations in today’s multichannel TV environment.

Also today, at the same Commissioners meeting to vote down the net neutrality rules, the FCC voted to review eliminating the 39% TV station ownership cap rule. This rule, designed to keep one station owner from reaching too many people through broadcasting, was already a relaxed version of the FCC’s original seven-station rule. But Chairman Pai apparently wants to allow broadcast station owners to reach even more American households and further reduce the diversity of voices using the public airwaves.

Both the UHF discount and the give Sinclair Broadcasting and the “New Fox” the opportunity to grow the number of broadcast TV stations they can own and expand their reach to US households. Not only could this have some competitive implications, it also forebodes some chilling ideological consequences. It’s not unlike what the Nazi’s chief propagandist Joseph Goebbels wrote in 1933:

Above all, it is necessary to centralize all radio activities to place spiritual tasks ahead of technical ones, to introduce the leadership principle, to provide a clear worldview, and to present this worldview in flexible ways.

Both Sinclair’s and Fox’s owners are both staunch conservatives and supporters of Chairman Pat’s boss Donald Trump and their news coverage has consistently supported Trump’s policies.

Take Action on Net Neutrality

Although I realize that the tone of this post is downright dreary, we the public can still take action to restore net neutrality rules. Basically, it comes down to fighting Chairman Pai on two fronts:

  1. We can lobby Congress to pass “net neutrality” legislation. Any action the FCC takes on classifying Internet service providers—as common carriers or information services—can be rendered moot through legislation. It might take until after the 2018 midterm elections to get this done, but legislation is the only way to guarantee an open Internet for the long term.
  2. Take the FCC to court. This is less than ideal because it must protect net neutrality rules within the current legal framework, which is not very specific about net neutrality. Nonetheless, Free Press plans to file a lawsuit against the FCC. I don’t know their legal strategy, but it might be on the grounds that the FCC has unlawfully abdicated its authority over the Internet. A lawsuit would likely lead to an injunction to keep the current net-neutrality rules in place. After that, prevailing in court could keep the Internet open, but as I wrote above, legislation is the best way to do it.

Now get going! It is only our freedom of speech and a robust marketplace of ideas that is at stake. Otherwise, we might as well be China.

The Lapdogs Have Centralized All Broadcasting Activities

As expected, Chairman Pai’s FCC overturned the ownership regulations for broadcast stations that were instituted to curb a single voice from dominating the information landscape in radio, in broadcast television, and in print.

I wrote about these ownership regulations last month. The two regulations in question were:

  • the newspaper-broadcasting cross ownership rule that prevented a single company from owning a leading newspaper and a broadcast station in the same market
  • the duopoly rule that prohibited a single company from owning two TV stations in the same market, outside of the four largest markets where there are at least eight separate entities in that market.

These rules—if confusing—were once even simpler: no single entity could own more than seven stations each on AM radio, FM radio, and television. The intent of these rules was to prevent a single voice from dominating mass-media information flows in a given market and across the entire world. Without considering any public input, Chairman Pai’s broadcast-friendly FCC has eliminated these rules to allow a single company a larger and more widespread audience.

The obvious beneficiary of eliminating these rules is Sinclair Broadcasting. The right-wing owned broadcasting company is trying to acquire Tribune Broadcasting, and because Tribune owns so many broadcasting stations in the United States, the newly merged company would have been forced to sell some of those stations in order to comply with these rules.

Not anymore.

If you live somewhere where Sinclair does not have a presence, that is partly because of the FCC rules. The rules have worked to keep Sinclair from reaching the entire nation, thus (kind of) ensuring some kind of diversity in voices.

Not anymore.

It won’t be long until you start seeing those right-wing editorials—that are centrally produced by Sinclair—and inserted into every local newscast across the entire Sinclair chain as “must runs.”

Because the ownership rules are from a federal agency—not actual laws ratified by Congress and the President—they can instituted and rescinded with the will of the FCC Chairman and the president who appointed him. In this case, this is a gift that Donald Trump and his lapdog Ajit Pai have given to big business. As I noted earlier, Sinclair is a friend of Trump and his policies.

If you’re not concerned that a single voice will reach nearly every household in the US, you should be. Recall that the one of the first actions that the Nazi’s took when they came to power in Germany was to centralize broadcasting. As Joseph Goebbels wrote in 1933, “Above all, it is necessary to centralize all radio activities to place spiritual tasks ahead of technical ones, to introduce the leadership principle, to provide a clear worldview, and to present this worldview in flexible ways.”

If you want to take action to prevent this situation, I encourage you to contribute to Free Press’s Action Fund. Ten bucks should do. They plan to sue the FCC in court to stop these rules from being rescinded, likely on the grounds that they unfairly grant one company a presence in almost every US media market. The rules were implemented for this very reason, and they were in fact working.

Contribute to Free Press’s lawsuit against the FCC

Stop Chairman Pai’s Big Media Giveaway

Yesterday, I posted a lengthy article about the FCC rules governing broadcast station ownership that the FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is trying to weaken.

If you read my article and were convinced that these rules should remain in place, you might consider signing Free Press’s petition asking the FCC to not weaken these regulations. Because the FCC is headed by three business-friendly Republican commissioners and two Democratic commissioners, it’s almost certain that the FCC commissioners will follow Chairman Pai’s directive, vote along party lines, and weaken these rules.

While it might seem that this is a partisan issue, it really shouldn’t be. No reasonable person wants a small number of people controlling our broadcast media. A plurality of voices is something that, I think, we all should want, regardless of partisan identification.

This petition is one of the few ways that we can make our voices heard because the rules that the Commission is seeking to relax and rescind on November 16, are being considered with no input from the public. I told you that Chairman Pai is a shady character!

Sign Free Press’s Petition: Stop Chairman Pai’s Big Media Giveaway

Back to the Charity Stripe

At the risk of sounding like this guy, it’s worth remembering that this is not only the end of the year and the holiday season, this is also the end of the 2015 tax year. If you itemize your deductions, this would be a good time to evaluate your finances and donate some money to a cause or two. Or more.

Choosing where to donate money is challenging. Not only are there myriad worthy causes out there, there is a lot of pressure from just about every non-profit organization that you have ever patronized. If you subscribed to its email list, liked it on Facebook, or followed it on other social networking sites, you have undoubtedly heard its call for a donation. And since you’re a good person, it’s hard to say no to many of them.

Also, it’s not an exaggeration to say that these fundraising campaigns resemble holiday sales in their year-end “donate now” pleas.

Years ago, I heard an interview with someone who manages a large endowment that donates million of dollars to many causes. If you think your Facebook feed is crowded with pleas for money now, imagine what this this executive gets on a weekly basis. Rather than deciding on a case-by-case basis where to donate the money, she revealed that the endowment only grants money to organizations working on a set of specific, predetermined causes. In other words, they have decided in advance what causes are important to fund and donate only to those. It’s a sane approach for a multibillion-dollar endowment, it’s a sane approach for a millionaire one-percenter, and it’s a sane approach for someone with more limited resources, like you.

My own philanthropy is very limited, but I decided years ago I would focus on two causes very important to our lives: transportation and communication. In my estimation, access to transportation and to communication are human rights.

Some day, I’ll articulate my reasons for my thinking, but for now, I would like to offer my own list of worthy organizations and their Charity Navigator scores. Perhaps you will consider them worthy of a year-end charitable gift, too.

  1. Transportation Alternatives is a New York City–based organization that advocates for bicyclists and pedestrians. Over the last fifteen years, they have helped remake New York City streets from high-speed arteries for automobiles to a more “complete streets” design for a variety of transport modes. They are a big reason why New York City has so many more bike lanes that a decade ago. Motorists at first hate them, but they really shouldn’t because, with a bike lane, bicyclists will stay out of your way.

    Your locality likely has a similar organization advocating for more intelligent uses of roads and other transportation infrastructure. Support it!

    Charity Navigator: 4/4

  2. Electronic Frontier Foundation has been a mensch for computing and the Internet for over twenty-five years. They have been instrumental in the fight against unfair anti-circumvention laws, net neutrality, and many other causes.

    Charity Navigator: 4/4

  3. Wikipedia. Although you know that if everyone reading Jimmy Wales’s plea donated $3, their fundraising needs would be met in an hour. You also know that you’ve been seeing that plea for weeks, meaning that you’re going to have to pick up the slack.

    Charity Navigator: 4/4

  4. Internet Archive aims to be for the world’s largest computer network what the Alexandrine Library was for the ancient world: a collection of all the world’s knowledge. Don’t let a lack of funds do to this valuable resource what the Romans: destroy and cause an irretrievable loss of public knowledge.

    Charity Navigator: Unrated, Private Foundation

  5. Speaking of libraries, your local public library could use some money. Public libraries are not only organs of information for everyone, they provide space for scholars, children, and the inquisitive. The New York Public Library has been actively asking for donations over the last few weeks, but they have close to $700 million of hedge-fund billionaire’s money. Your local library probably doesn’t.

    Charity Navigator: 4/4 for New York Public Library

Incidentally, Charity Navigator is also a non-profit organization and is itself seeking donations.

Charity Stripe

Today is the last day of the year, and, as such, it is the last opportunity to reduce your tax bill by donating to some worthwhile causes. Donate tomorrow and you likely won’t see any tax benefits until 2016.

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Here are some great charitable organizations I have supported this year, and I would encourage you to do the same.

  • Free Press is grassroots organization is ramping up to oppose the Comcast–Time Warner Cable merger and to promote Net Neutrality. As a media scholar, I can’t see any benefits that consumers and Internet users would see if we allow Comcast to acquire Time Warner Cable or if we don’t protect and promote an open Internet.
  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been protecting your rights on the Internet even before there was an Internet. I’m really excited about their role in deploying a new Certificate Authority to make encrypting the web much easier.
  • Transportation Alternatives has been instrumental in making the streets of New York more favorable for bicyclists and pedestrians. Please donate to make the bike lobby—not this one—all the more powerful.
  • The Brooklyn Greenway Initiative hosted an Epic Bicycle Ride this summer. Donate to these guys so they can someday realize a waterfront bicycle path. You could also donate to the East Coast Greenway to build a continuous path from Florida to Maine, a portion of which I rode in November from Brooklyn to New Haven.
  • Second to Wikipedia, the Internet Archive is one of the Internet resources I most frequently use for preparing lectures. Not only can you find old webpages, there there a treasure trove of old radio programs.
  • Light Industry is my favorite microcinema in New York City. Not only do they keep experimental film alive in New York City, they are conveniently located to me in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. While it is a bit frustrating that they don’t schedule film screenings on a regular basis, I imagine this ensures that they schedule something if it is worthwhile and logistically feasible.
  • Now that I moved to the other side of the Newtown Creek, I subsist mostly of take-out and the buffet at the Faculty lounge. But in my previous life, I used to get really excited about the greenmarket season to eat like an artisanal hipster. Grow NYC runs a bunch of programs that support community farmers to promote the city’s Greenmarkets. Donate $100 and get a cookbook.

In addition to feeling good about donating to these causes, some wealthy people are offering matching donations. This serves two purposes: it rallies would-be donors, and I would imagine, it reduces their own substantial tax bill. These matching donations are also great for these charitable organizations. For example, your one-dollar donation to Free Press and the Electronic Frontier Foundation mean they receive two dollars in support. And, in the case of Transportation Alternatives and the Internet Archive, they are due to receive $2 for every dollar they raise from individual donors. That means that your one-dollar donation yields three dollars in support.

But you should really give more than one dollar. Much more.