The effort to craft the first major revision of the Communications Act in 18 years could be interesting but probably will end up to be a politically factious mess. House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said today that he plans hearings and studies for “a multi-year effort to examine our nation’s communications laws and update them for the Internet era.” Upton was joined in a Google Hangout announcement by Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., who says that they “plan to look at the Communications Act and all of the changes that have been made piecemeal over the last 89 years and ask the simple question: ‘Is this working for today’s communications marketplace?’” For example, he says that cable operators complained to him that they have to pay franchise fees but Netflix doesn’t. The GOP leaders didn’t include Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., who’s also on the Communications subcommittee — and says he helped to write “every major telecommunications statute for the past three decades.” He urged his colleagues to proceed “with great care and attention to detail” and “in a bipartisan manner.”
Cable operators serving 85% of all subscribers say today that by the end of 2013 at least 90% of the new set-top boxes they buy and deploy will meet Energy Star 3.0 standards. For example, many will be able to sleep when they aren’t being used — most now don’t, which earned them the nickname “energy vampires” after the National Resources Defense Council released an eye-opening report in June that said the nation’s 160M set top boxes consumed about 27B kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2010. That cost consumers $3B annually, using enough power to serve all of the homes in Maryland for a year, the activist group said.
While it’s nice to see the cable industry do something about the problem, the new initiative is no hardship. Most major operators are reluctantly begining to acknowledge that they can’t keep their grip on
It can’t be a happy day for the FCC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency as they absorb a flood of reports about bizarre results at some TV and radio outlets from today’s first-ever national test of the Emergency Alert System. Viewers and listeners flocked to Twitter and Facebook after the 30-second alert at 2 PM ET/11 AM PT. Some DirecTV customers said they just heard Lady Gaga singing “Paparazzi,” The New York Times says. Several TV stations had minutes of silence. That included Los Angeles’ KABC: It posted the EAS sign without audio, and several minutes later anchors mics were dead. Some radio listeners said that they just heard background noise or nothing at all. Time Warner Cable
Some of Washington’s most powerful lobby groups ramped up their fight today over the Stop Online Piracy Act, which was just introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Independent Film & Television Alliance echoed points that MPAA chief Chris Dodd made in a speech today — that the bill empowering the government to block overseas websites that traffic in copyrighted content would protect jobs. It’s needed to stop “drastic damage to the legitimate marketplace … measured both in films that cannot be produced and in lost returns on investment in films that have been,” IFTA CEO Jean Prewitt said. National Association of Theatre Owners CEO John Fithian adds that the legislation “is an important step to protect the jobs of 160,000 movie theater employees and sustain one of the vital engines of the nation’s economic growth.” The plan also was supported by a collection of unions including the American Federation of Musicians, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Directors Guild of America, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and Screen Actors Guild. If the bill doesn’t become law, they said in a joint statement, then “rogue sites will continue to siphon away wages and benefits from members of the creative community, greatly compromising our industry’s ability to foster creativity, provide opportunities, and ensure good jobs.”
But Consumer Electronics Association CEO Gary Shapiro warned that if Congress passes the bill — also known as the Protect IP Act — then “the notoriously litigious content industry could simply accuse a site that it is selling a product that could ‘enable or facilitate’ a copyright infringement, thereby allowing accusations to shut down sites vital to the Internet economy.” He says that “could lead to mass shutdowns of websites and Internet-enabled services.” The group plans to bring several Internet venture capitalists to Washington tomorrow to make that case.
People who illegally download copyrighted movies, TV shows, and music will soon receive a series emailed warnings — and may temporarily see Internet speeds reduced or have their Web surfing blocked — a coalition of content producers and distributors announced this morning. The measures come from a new organization called the Center for Copyright Information that’s backed by trade groups including the MPAA, RIAA, and IFTA, as well as major broadband providers such as Comcast and Verizon. The coalition says it wants to develop a set of common best practices to treat illegal downloads much the same way financial institutions deal with credit card fraud. The participants say that they are working within existing laws and won’t terminate Internet subscriber accounts or provide user names to copyright holders. They just want to be sure that people know when they’re violating someone’s copyright. “Data suggest that, once informed about the alleged content theft and its possible consequences, most Internet subscribers will quickly take steps to ensure that the theft doesn’t happen again,” the group says in a release. The Center says that content theft accounts for $16 billion in lost earnings each year as well as $3 billion in lost federal state and local tax revenue.
Some of the top executives in cable fear that the anemic economy will soon take a bite out of an industry that has weathered previous downturns without a problem. At a panel this morning for the opening session of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s National Cable Show in Chicago, several members of the audience applauded when Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt said operators should begin to offer a low-priced service with fewer channels than they have in their expanded basic cable packages. “There clearly is a growing underclass of consumers that can’t afford (cable service) and they want it,” Britt said. Even though “the economics make it difficult” for channels that would be left out, if Netflix’s low-priced package of TV reruns ”makes consumers not want to buy the big package that we’re selling, then that’s a threat to all of us.” Cox Communications President Pat Esser says he’s also concerned that the poorest 40% of the population barely has enough money to pay for cable, although he says it hasn’t resulted in much cord-cutting yet. But Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman seems unconvinced. He says the country “lived through the worst recession and the last thing people cut back on is TV.”