FCC Can’t Even Figure Out How To Stream Its Own Meetings Properly

by on August 27, 2009 · 21 comments

You’d think that in 2009, when global networks are handling exabytes of data in a single day and OC192 fiber optic connections crisscross the planet, the FCC — the most important communications agency in the United States — would at least be able to use modern technology to stream its own public meetings.tlf image realplayer

Nope. The FCC is still streaming its webcasts with RealPlayer, a horrendous and arguably obsolete application that fell out of favor with techies years ago and has since been overtaken by superior streaming platforms like Adobe’s Flash Media Server.

Today’s big tech news item is the FCC’s “three-pronged probe” of the wireless industry, which was set to be announced today at this morning’s Open Commission Meeting.

Want to watch the FCC’s meeting and see what our “public servants” in Washington are up to? Good luck. The FCC’s streaming video server only supports 200 simultaneous connections.

In a nation of 270 million wireless users, why not offer, say, 1000 or even 10000 connections? Given the agency’s $339 million dollar budget that’s not too much to ask, is it?

It’s especially ironic that the FCC still struggles with streaming webcasts given that the FCC is launching an investigation of alleged “anti-competitive” practices in the wireless industry. Why isn’t the FCC investigating its own inability to accomplish relatively simple tasks, like stream live video or run a halfway decent website?

The FCC doesn’t just use RealPlayer for Open Commission Meetings. Even the FCC’s “Broadband Workshops” — which are supposedly going to guide the future of broadband deployment in America — are using the same tired streaming platform.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, the platform the FCC uses for streaming video isn’t all that important. But it is a much-needed reminder that bureaucrats in Washington aren’t very good at keeping pace with modern technology. Unfortunately, many seem to have forgotten this fact.

ADDENDUM: Turns out the FCC does use a modern platform for streaming open commission meeting, Cisco Webex Webinar (accessible via www.broadband.gov) but only offers RealPlayer streams on the official FCC.gov website. Also, once meetings are finished, they are available online exclusively in the Real video format.

  • dmarti

    There's no way that accepting either the Real or Adobe EULA should be a condition of hearing a public meeting. That's like giving TicketMaster the exclusive contract for a courthouse.

  • Ryan Radia

    Agreed. FCC should definitely offer its streaming video in an open format, though I think it'd be OK if the FCC were to also offer it in a proprietary format.

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    I totally agree with Ryan here, good pick.

  • DB

    I've been trying to access the archived audio all day with no luck. Connection keeps timing out.

  • http://www.techliberation.com Adam Thierer

    But at least the FCC has a very user-friendly document retrieval service… oh, wait, strike that.

  • http://techliberation.com/author/berinszoka/ Berin Szoka

    It's really hard to say which is worse: EDOCS or ECFS.

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  • dylanoliver

    except that flash player is free, doesn't charge usurious 'convenience charges', and 99.1% of browsers on the web in the US have flash v9. perhaps you can offer a better solution for actually making these proceedings available to the largest possible audience (live)?

    ps i hear that adobe holds a few seats on the death panels

  • brettglass

    Actually, RealNetworks and Microsoft both have CODECs that are superior to Flash Video, which is known to be a bandwidth hog and also extremely sensitive to jitter and dropped packets. RealNetworks, for all their faults as a company (their player is both nagware and spyware), actually has very good technology. None of the free stuff comes close.

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  • dmarti

    Then let Adobe or some service that licenses their software subscribe to the public, open-format content and stream it, or podcast it, or archive it, or whatever. Putting public information in a place or format where you have to be a party to some company's EULA is unaccountable, privatized regulation, and an unjustified subsidy for one vendor's network effects.

  • tdk

    Also, there are several key distinctions you are missing: One, it is the Real (or Helix) Streaming Media Server that the FCC is using, NOT the RealPlayer client. Two, the FCC is not required to stream media using the RSMS in RealVideo format. The RSMS also supports H.263/H.264, MPEG-4, and other formats. Three, the RSMS does not require the use of a RealPlayer client (unless certain proprietary Real Networks extensions are used). You can use the Windows Media Player, MPlayer, VLC and most other clients to receive most kinds of streams from RSMS.

  • tdk

    Also, there are several key distinctions you are missing: One, it is the Real (or Helix) Streaming Media Server that the FCC is using, NOT the RealPlayer client. Two, the FCC is not required to stream media using the RSMS in RealVideo format. The RSMS also supports H.263/H.264, MPEG-4, and other formats. Three, the RSMS does not require the use of a RealPlayer client (unless certain proprietary Real Networks extensions are used). You can use the Windows Media Player, MPlayer, VLC and most other clients to receive most kinds of streams from RSMS.

  • tdk

    Also, there are several key distinctions you are missing: One, it is the Real (or Helix) Streaming Media Server that the FCC is using, NOT the RealPlayer client. Two, the FCC is not required to stream media using the RSMS in RealVideo format. The RSMS also supports H.263/H.264, MPEG-4, and other formats. Three, the RSMS does not require the use of a RealPlayer client (unless certain proprietary Real Networks extensions are used). You can use the Windows Media Player, MPlayer, VLC and most other clients to receive most kinds of streams from RSMS.

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