Lawmaker hopes to help rural cable users ease ‘digital divide’
by Steven Walters
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI)
Madison – A state senator from western Wisconsin will try to rewrite a controversial cable franchise bill to require AT&T, cable and other companies to contribute up to $7.5 million to a new “digital divide” fund to make sure rural areas get the same services as cities and suburbs. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) said she will try to make sweeping changes to the Assembly-passed cable deregulation bill, which is scheduled for a Senate vote on Thursday. She said her changes will be modeled on a law passed in Illinois.
Vinehout said the bill up for a Senate vote was written largely by AT&T, so it does not contain needed consumer protections and offers no assurances that rural areas – such as her part of Wisconsin – will get the next generation of telecommunication services “I’m representing the people that weren’t at the table” when AT&T, cable companies and a few legislators wrote the bill, Vinehout said in an interview… Vinehout said the changes she and Sen. Mark Miller (D-Monona) will offer would:
• Require AT&T and other large telecommunications companies to either make services available in at least 90% of Wisconsin or pay $7.5 million into a “digital divide” fund, which would be administered by the Public Service Commission. The fund would be used to make sure rural areas get access to new technology. Illinois created a $15-million fund, Vinehout said.
“We have a huge difference between access to technology in rural areas and urban areas,” said Vinehout, who said the only options available to her Alma farm are dial-up service or installing a satellite dish. “What we find increasingly is that the rural areas are left out.”
• Require telecommunication companies to pay 1% of their gross receipts to local communities to continue public-access channels, in addition to a maximum 5% payment specified in the Assembly-passed bill. Under that bill, funding for public-access channels would continue for up to three years. (If the Assembly-passed bill became law, Vinehout said Eau Claire’s community-access channels would lose more than half of their subsidy.)
• Specify consumer-protection requirements for cable and telecommunication companies in state law. (Under the bill up for a Senate vote, Vinehout said, “We would lose, or roll back, the consumer protection standards that exist now for cable companies.”)
• Require cable and telecommunication companies to continue to provide service to libraries and other public buildings. —>
CAT may get temporary budget in December
by Emilie Rusch
By January, Columbia Access Television could finally have more stable funding — for nine months. But once the fiscal calendar page flips from 2008 to 2009, the public access channel’s funding could be less certain. If the City Council continues on the course set in Monday’s work session, CAT will have to start competing for funding in fiscal 2009 with other public communication programs, including the educational and government access channels.
Allocating the increased cable franchise fee money could mirror the city’s yearly application process for community development and arts grants, which council members agreed was a fair way to disperse public funds. And while CAT is optimistic things will work out, it’s still frustrating news, CAT director Beth Federici said after the work session. “We can’t be expected to come back every year,” Federici said. “I can’t hire staff and say every year, ‘You’re going to have to defend your salary.’ We need funding that’s way more stable than a yearly application process to run a TV station.” —>
Access denied to some Dedham viewers
by Patrick Anderson
Daily News Transcript (MA)
DEDHAM – The town’s new independent cable access station has begun programming this fall, but a disagreement between cable providers has kept it off some residents’ television sets. Dedham Public Television, which began broadcasting a town government, education and public access channel in September, has only been available to Comcast subscribers, because the town’s other providers, Verizon and RCN, have been unable to connect to the system.
For years, Comcast was the town’s only cable provider and was responsible for providing all public access programming. But as competition has stiffened from newcomers Verizon and RCN, Comcast has moved out of the public access business. This year the company turned over that responsibility, which is funded by all three companies, to the nonprofit Dedham Visionary Access Corp. When DVAC took over cable access responsibilities and introduced Dedham Public Television this fall, Comcast was the first to be connected to its new Eastern Avenue studio. —>
Op Ed: Time For A Falmouth Internet
by David S. Isenberg
Falmouth Enterprise (MA)
Falmouth can’t trust its Internet providers anymore. Two weeks ago, the Associated Press caught Comcast covertly blocking file exchange among peer-to-peer programs such as BitTorrent, Gnutella, and Lotus Notes. Comcast does this by injecting reset messages into Internet file exchange sessions. Reset messages tell one computer in an Internet file exchange that the other computer wants to end the exchange. Comcast’s reset messages are injected in the middle of the connection to fool both ends. The result is unsuccessful file transfer. There are no reports that Comcast’s Falmouth customers are affected yet, but Comcast has not renounced the practice, so it’s only a matter of time.
Until 2005, Comcast couldn’t legally interfere with our Internet activities, but a series of FCC and court decisions now makes it perfectly legal for Comcast, Verizon, and other Internet access providers to decide what our Internet connection can and can’t do. Congress is debating Network Neutrality legislation that would return control of our Internet connection to us. (When a Network Neutrality bill came before the House Judiciary Committee in May 2006, Representative William D. Delahunt was the only Democrat there who didn’t vote “Yes.” He voted “Present.”) So far, Network Neutrality remains an actively debated proposal. —>
Pakistanis find it on the Web
Musharraf’s crackdown on news and dissent has managed to miss a vibrant Internet community.
by Shahan Mufti
The Christian Science Monitor
Islamabad, Pakistan – When Hamzah Tariq, the owner of a small software-development firm, returned home on Saturday night after Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had declared a “state of emergency,” he discovered that all of the news channels were missing from his cable signal. The only option: PTV, Pakistan’s state-run news channel. “There was a ridiculous show about bridal makeup and then I read the ticker at the bottom: ‘Chief of the Army Staff declares emergency. Suspends 1973 constitution,’ ” says Mr. Tariq. After half an hour of meticulously applied mascara, there was a news bulletin. “The newscaster came on and read out those same lines, nothing more, and said “and now, some sports.”
So Tariq and millions of other Pakistanis, faced with a ban on about a dozen domestic and international TV news stations and curbs on newspapers, are finding breaking news in live video feeds and special blogs set up online – the only forum of public discourse that the media ban has missed. Indeed, Pakistan today is a very different country from the one Musharraf took over eight years ago. In his 1999 coup, the military had only to target the offices of PTV, the only TV news source in the country at the time, and cut off all phone lines provided by the state-owned company to complete an information blackout. Since then, Musharraf has allowed for a blossoming of free and independent media – a force with which, ironically, he now finds himself in contention.
A recent Gallup report suggests that today, more than 15 percent of urban Pakistanis now have Internet access. A small percentage compared with some nations, but a good chunk of Pakistan’s politically active middle class. There are also estimated to be more than 60 million mobile phone users, says Mr. Rehmat. Together, the technologies have connected people in ways unimaginable a few years ago and fed a growing hunger for real-time news.
As a result of the ban, which pushed all TV news off the air, GEO-TV’s news website added streaming video. But the typical 100,000 simultaneous logons that the website allowed quickly proved insufficient. Citing “enormously heavy traffic,” the website went “light” on Sunday by removing all other content except for text updates of breaking news. Later that day, the channel upgraded its servers to allow 500,000 simultaneous users. “We’re getting millions of unique hits,” says Asif Latif, the webmaster at GEO’s Karachi headquarters. “But our viewers were feeling deprived, so we decided to go online with our telecast and sacrifice the website content.”
Blogs and social networking sites have also managed in the past three days to organize protest rallies, start international petitions, and plan strategies for opposing military rule. Many independent blogs are now also hosting channels like GEO-TV, AAJ-TV, and ARY. While not shown on TV in Pakistan, TV news networks here continue to send reports abroad via satellite. So, Pakistanis living in London or Los Angeles get the news. They, in turn, are putting the footage on their own websites, enabling Pakistanis back home to see the news.
“We Oppose Emergency in Pakistan,” a group on the social networking website Facebook, now has more than 3,000 members. The website has appointed officers and coordinators in at least 30 different cities across the globe. From Pakistan to New York, London, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Switzerland, expatriate Pakistanis are organizing protests and discussing strategies for the days to come. The group helped stage a protest outside the Pakistani embassy in London on Monday, which drew hundreds.
“This just isn’t sustainable,” Rehmat says of the government crackdown. As an example, he mentions the rumors that circulated Monday about a possible military coup against Musharraf. The rumors were so pervasive, the president had to publicly deny them. The government, he says, is digging its own grave by cultivating a credibility deficit. “People had become very used to knowing,” says Rehmat. “You can’t just take that away from them. It’s only going to create more hate.”
Fixing the “clear mismatch” between technology and copyright law: six ideas
by Anders Bylund
A lobby group from the free-speech, fair-use side of the tracks just presented a six-step reform program for outdated US copyright laws. Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn presented the plan in a New Media conference speech at Boston University recently and expressed no patience with the “disconnect between the law and the technology” of media production and distribution. “For the past 35 years, the trend has been nearly unmitigated expansion of the scope and duration of copyright, resulting in a clear mismatch between the technology and the law,” she said. Advances in technology keep making it easier to copy and distribute songs, movies, books, and so on. Meanwhile, the kind of legislation that gets big-money lobby support from content producers makes it increasingly illegal—but not necessarily harder—to use these new powers of information and entertainment.
The question is: how to fix it? According to Sohn, fair use reform is at the top of the list. The US must allow for more incidental and non-commercial media uses; it is currently far too easy to break the law without knowing it, as anyone who has ever worked in a library knows. Sohn also argues that the landmark Betamax decision from 1984, which gave consumers a green light to make use of recorded materials at home and to “timeshift,” should be elevated from a mere legal precedent into actual law. Innovation in media distribution is currently harmed by the fear of spurious lawsuits, as Big Content argues that the Betamax decision should only be interpreted in the most limited sense (as only applying to analog signals, and only applying to timeshifting on a VCR).
She also criticizes the DMCA, arguing that it needs some limitations to keep the number of frivolous takedown notices to a minimum. Sohn suggests that copyright holders be given a dual-edged sword: give them power, but also punish them for “knowingly or recklessly” demanding takedowns without a real case. In other words, shut down the SLAPP suits and the other forms of censorship that comes via the DMCA.
Then there’s the whole kerfuffle with digital radio. Sohn thinks the music industry suffers from a “byzantine” licensing system in need of a clear and simple legal framework. Traditional radio broadcasters enjoy lower royalties than their new-media rivals (e.g., web radio) thanks to “solely a historical accident,” and the playing field needs to be leveled. At the same time, it’s simply too hard to find the rightful owners of a composition and its recorded performance and get cleared to use them. Public Knowledge wants that quagmire cleaned up, too. —>
A Day Full of No Iran War Activity
by Bruce Gagnon
Organizing Notes (ME)
Today I spent a couple of hours working at the voting polls here in Bath gathering signatures on a petition calling on the Maine congressional delegation to speak out now and forcefully against Bush’s impending attack on Iran. We will have had volunteers there from morning til the polls close at 8:00 pm. Our local group, PeaceWorks, is doing this in several towns in our MidCoast Maine region today. The response from the public was better than I had expected. I had little trouble getting people to sign the petition or take the leaflet that we had prepared on the subject.
Earlier in the day we taped my public access cable TV show on the same subject – an Iran attack. We turned the tables and had one of our PeaceWorks leaders, Rosalie Tyler Paul, interview me. Usually I do the interviewing. Eric Herter produces my show, which is called This Issue, and is now editing it and putting maps of Iran and photos of everyday Iranian life into the final product. —>
Ithaca DSA Presents: Humanitarian Crisis for Immigrants
by Theresa Alt
Ithaca Action Network (NY)
Ithaca Democratic Socialists of America Presents #324: “Humanitarian Crisis for Immigrants.” Arnoldo Garcia talks about the wall to keep immigrants out, dangerous border crossings, workplace raids, and a history of discrimination against speakers of languages other than English… This program will be available Tuesday in the Alternatives Library in Anabel Taylor Hall on the Cornell Campus.