Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Another Work in Progress--Lock Down on the Third Screen: How Wireless Carriers Evade Regulation of Their Video Services

Set out below is the abstract for another work in progress that considers whether wireless carriers should evade regulation of their "third screen" video services. The paper will appear in a future edition of the Berkeley Technology Law Journal; a darft version is available at:

Wireless handsets increasingly offer subscribers a new optionfor accessing the Internet and video programming. The converging technologies and markets that make this possible present a major regulatory quandary, because the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) seeks to maintain mutual exclusivity between regulated telecommunications services and largely unregulated information services.

Many existing and emerging services do not easily fit into one or the other regulatory classification, nor can the FCC determine the appropriate classification by extrapolating from the regulatory model applied to existing or discontinued services. By failing to specify what model applies to services appearing on cellphone screens, the FCC has failed to remove regulatory uncertainty. Cellular telephone service providers may infer from the Commission’s inaction that any convergent service eventually will qualify for the unregulated information service “safe harbor” despite plausible arguments that government oversight remains essential to achieve consumer protection, national security, fair trade practice, and other safeguards.

This article will examine the regulatory status of wireless carrier-delivered video content with an eye toward determining the necessary scope and nature of government oversight. The article reports on instances where the FCC deemed it necessary to promote video programming competition and subscriber access to wired cable television content, and concludes that wireless subscribers deserve similar efforts in light of wireless carriers’ incentives and abilities to blunt competition. The article concludes that the FCC must balance the carriers’ interests in finding new revenue centers to pay for next generation network upgrades with subscribers’ interests in maximizing their freedom to use handsets they own.

Work in Progress-Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics: Developing a Clearer Assessmentof Market Penetration and Broadband Competition in the United States

Set out below is the abstract for a current work in progress on the dodgy world of broadband market penetration data collection. The work will appear in an upcoming edition of the Virginia Journal of Law and Technology. A current draft is available at:

Depending on the source one can conclude that United States consumers enjoy access to a robustly competitive and nearly ubiquitous marketplace for inexpensive broadband Internet access, or they suffer the consequences of a tightly concentrated industry offering inferior service at high rates. On one hand, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”), the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”) and some sponsored researchers offer a quite sanguine outlook, possibly influenced by their appreciation for the political and public relations dividends in compiling positive results.

On the other hand, other statistical compilations and interpretations show the U.S. behind in terms of market penetration and price, even trailing some nations that have similarly unfavorable geographical and demographic characteristics. In the light of the extraordinary global success achieved by domestic ventures in information and communications technology (“ICT”), it would appear counterintuitive for some current broadband statistics to show the United States lagging other nations in terms of favorable access to next generation networks.

The FCC has used evidence of robust market penetration and competition in broadband markets to support an aggressive deregulatory campaign. Advocates for even more deregulation regularly cite the Commission’s statistics as evidence that the unfettered marketplace can achieve broadband access and affordability goals. Both the Commission and many stakeholders assume the frequently cited statistics present a true picture of the marketplace. A recent NTIA document concludes that the United States has achieved the goal of “universal, affordable access for broadband technology by the year 2007” articulated by President Bush in 2004.

This paper will examine the United States broadband penetration and pricing statistics with a critical eye, in light of other contradictory compilations by credible organizations including the International Telecommunication Union and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Additionally the paper will compare and contrast the FCC’s identification of broadband options in the author’s home zip code with what actual options the author could identify.

The paper concludes that the FCC and NTIA have overstated broadband penetration and affordability by using an overly generous and unrealistic definition of what qualifies as broadband service, by using zip codes as the primary geographic unit of measure and by misinterpreting available statistics. Additionally the FCC includes as competition services lacking any true cross-elasticity with other services based on substantial price differences.
The paper concludes that credible calculations, using better calibrated measures, show a mixed outcome based on different geographical focus. Some U.S. residents, particularly in urban locales, enjoy comparatively excellent broadband service, while rural residents may have ample access options, albeit at comparatively high prices in light of limited price competition. The paper concludes that the absence of robust price competition among many facilities-based broadband operators in many areas of the nation challenges many of the assumptions built into recent FCC policy initiatives that seek to abandon consumer safeguards. The paper also concludes that a statutory mandate to promote universal access to advanced telecommunications capability requires the FCC to collect and disseminate credible statistics on next generation network deployment.