February 2005

FoxSports.com reports today that the FCC has once again received complaints about the Super Bowl. This time the complaints were about boredom. Seems some people were pretty disappointed with Paul McCartney (formerly of “Wings” and another band), compared to the excitement of Janet Jackson last year.

Of course, Fox goes on to disclose that only two such complaints were actually received. So it’s less than representative of the country as a whole. But then again, the same might be said for the thousands of FCC complaints ginned up by the Parent’s Television Council last year. Getting censorship right just isn’t as easy as it seems.

FCC Budget Increases Again

by on February 7, 2005

The President’s Budget includes $304 million for the FCC in fiscal year 2006. That’s an increase from $281 million appropriated for this year. Number from past years (using FCC Change Analysis data):
2004 – $274 million
2003 – $268 million
2002 – $245 million

So if this budget amount goes through, we will have a 24% increase in the FCC budget from five years ago. The FCC’s press release lists some run-of-the-mill reasons why an increase is needed for FY2006 – salaries, benefits, office space, enhancing electronic filing systems. But it also mentions one reason that should ruffle the feathers of policy folks – “to fund additional staff to assist with program oversight associated with USF audit activities.” Of course this oversight funding is needed to counteract the fraud within the universal service program, especially E-Rate fraud, and to pay for the salary of Mark Stephens, who last week was named Special Advisor for Universal Service Fund Oversight in the Wireline Competition Bureau’s Telecommunications Access Policy Division (TAPD). As Universal Service grows out of control, so does the budget needed to administer it….

Colossally Flawed Spam Study

by on February 4, 2005

The Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland has released the 2004 Technology Readiness Survey. The headline they’ve chose for it is National Survey Finds 22.9 Million Hours a Week Wasted on Spam.

The headline should be National Survey Finds How Badly You Can Mess Things Up By Asking Consumers To Self-Report Online Behavior.

The methodology was to ask 1000 people various questions, including how many spam e-mails they receive and how much time they spend deleting e-mails. The average person reports receiving 18.5 e-mails, and the average person reports spending 2.8 minutes in a typical day deleting spam.

Now do the math.

According to this survey, the average person spends 9.08 seconds deleting each spam they receive.

Try looking at a spam e-mail for nine seconds. You can’t do it. You know it’s spam in the first second – the first two if you’re slow. You can delete it in another second – another two if you’re slow.

My guess – just a guess, not the product of expensive, useless survey research – is that they have overestimated the impact and cost of spam by at least 100%.

Until they come up with a more reliable survey method, we know nothing more about the cost of spam than we did before this survey was done.

The Internet’s absence from the President’s State of the Union address, noted here yesterday, didn’t escape our friends at the Progress and Freedom Foundation either. In comments yesterday, PFFer Kyle Dixon mused hopefully that “the speech did not quite vow to continue such policies as the FCC’s efforts to promote investment and innovation in digital technologies by minimizing regulation. But it did not rule out those policies either.”

It’s only February, but Kyle gets my vote already for “Glass Half Full Statement of the Year.”

Actually, Kyle makes some good points, even if he himself admits he is stretching far for good news. See his full piece here.

While much of the rest of the world is privatizing state-owned enterprises, there’s a growing movement here in the U.S. for local municipalities to get into the business of broadband. This is a testy issue that draws visceral responses over the proper role of government, property rights, and democracy itself. But the focus of my contribution to the publication released by the New Millennium Reach Council concludes that public sector competitors have a form of “home field advantage” that discourages entry from private firms.

I didn’t include a discussion on the hybrid municipal approach in the report but I wish I did. Some municipalities take a hybrid approach – they build the networks and sell wholesale access to private firms or they outsource to firms that then manage the customer relationship. But these are still a second-best solution.

Utah’s government-backed multi-city fiber project, UTOPIA, has promoted its model of private competition combined with public ownership of facilities by analogizing it to an airport.

Continue reading →

Did anyone else notice that the Internet didn’t come up at all in the President’s State of the Union speech last night? Not a mention. Nada. Of course, you can’t mention everything in one speech. Presidents that have tried to do so end with speeches that are forgettable political laundry lists. Still, I would have hoped that somewhere the President could have mentioned the technology that is changing our lives, and his policies toward it.

Making things worse, Dem Senate leader Harry Reid did mention the Internet in his response–but only to give the government credit for “creating” it in the ’70s.

President Bush, of course, will have plenty of other opportunities in the coming months to show that he recognizes the critical role of Internet policy, starting with the selection of a new FCC chairman. Its not Iraq, but nonetheless an area where some bold thinking would help.

Some Virginia officials want to reform telecom taxes. Good idea. To get that much-needed job done they are considering “leveling the playing field” by imposing the exact same tax on all new forms of communications and information services. Bad idea.

Continue reading →

Forget paying for Iraq. Apparently, Congress is still worried about paying for that pesky Spanish-American War in 1898. In a report released last week, the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation suggested that the current three percent federal excise tax on telecommunications–originally imposed as a way of paying for the Spanish-American War–be expanded to all communications services to end user, including Internet access, VOIP services, and the telecom portion of cable and satellite telephone service.

The JCT proposal is, thankfully, only an “option” for taxation listed among many other options, and doesn’t necessarily mean Congress is going for the idea. Still, its telling that repealing this senseless tax was not listed as an option. Seems we need to keep an eye on this “anti-tax” Congress.