Category Archives: government

Rebooting the FCC: When gov’t needs your help

When the Federal Communications Commission was founded way back in 1934 as a replacement for an earlier government radio panel, no one thought 75 years later it might spend half a billion dollars annually regulating airwaves that bring consumers radio, TV signals, computer and mobile wireless data. Alas, in 2010 the proliferation of media makes governing the electromagnetic spectrum a billion times more difficult than solving, say, how to expand healthcare to Americans.

So now the FCC has basically said screw it. Rather that impose specific suggestions, it has launched a “Rebooting the FCC” web site asking you, dear Americans, to write in with your own answers. So go ahead!

1. Should Internet providers be charged with “network neutrality” and give everyone equal access to the Internet (feels good, right?), or make heavy users like the brat next door downloading movies on your shared cable tether sucking up bandwidth pay more (um, that feels good, too…)?

2. Should big companies be allowed to continue closed standards to maintain market share (sure), or does that stop free-market competition (um, no, that sounds better)?

3. Should the FCC step in to help save ailing mainstream media (yes!), to keep dying journalists from passing away leaving us nothing but blogs, or would that be government putting its thumb on history’s scale of content evolution (um, big government)?

On one hand we admire the FCC’s openness in seeking feedback. On the other, it feels a bit like seeking help from a counselor who says only, “sorry you’re upset, it’s OK to feel that way.” To ask a populous that fights over fictional death panels to make decisions about complex wireless technological enablers leading to game-theory conflicts in business seems a stretch. The FCC’s site proclaims: “The starting point for this effort, of course, is the First Amendment.” Great, FCC. Can’t wait to hear the solutions.

Equal rights don’t exist on the internet, do they?

You’d think our government would take a stand on internet access, but guess what? They punt. Yesterday the FCC launched a fuzzy new blog that talks out of both sides of its mouth. It’s all about the issue of network neutrality, which seems simple at first: the internet should be free and open — no variable pricing, no limits on access, no one blocking your content. Sounds good, right?

Before we explain the FCC’s double standard, let’s dig deeper to see the flip side of unshackled internet use — the painfully slow email downloads in your home office thanks to the teen next door downloading fat movie files, the fact that the United States trails Sweden and Korea in bandwidth speeds. If you’ve ever waited for downloads, you realize the web has costs. The words you’re reading now, on this blog, aren’t free at all, but rather the lucky result of over-building during the 1990s internet bubble. You can watch videos at Hulu today because silly companies got silly stock options back in 1997, and investors jacked up the network infrastructure. And guess what? Your prepaid pipes are getting full.

So the internet issue has two sides — keep all access equal, or allow providers more control to raise money for the strapped global network. As with any scarce resource, the network neutrality concept has fierce advocates (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft) and opponents (your cable company), and no wonder — the companies who profit by sending stuff free over pipes want it kept that way, and the firms that pay for those pipes want to be able to charge more to keep them working. In perhaps the strongest argument against network neutrality, telecoms argue that if they could charge heavy web users more for access, they’d be able to fund future advances in internet technology. That is no more unfair that Apple charging $599 for its first iPhone to fund the production build-out that now allows you, two years later, to pick one up for 99 bucks. Early adopters, like heavy internet users, had the most need, and they were willing to pay more — a wealth transfer that ended up supporting the rest of the population. So why not?

Who’s right? The FCC says everybody.

So back to the Federal Communications Commission. The new FCC blog sounds, in name and tone, like it’s promoting network neutrality. Chairman Julius Genachowski speaks with phrases such as “the fifth principle is one of non-discrimination — stating that broadband providers cannot discriminate against particular internet content or applications.” But wait — Genachowski quickly adds caveats. “This principle will not prevent broadband providers from reasonably managing their networks. During periods of network congestion, for example, it may be appropriate for providers to ensure that very heavy users do not crowd out everyone else.” Um, what?

Genachowski concludes the FCC will make decisions “on a case-by-case basis.” So … cable companies and telecoms should not discriminate against any internet users … unless they need to. They shouldn’t charge more for usage … unless required to reasonably manage their network. The FCC will enforce this … with ad hoc decisions.

If you’re confused, so are we.

Perhaps it’s too much to ask that a government bureaucracy take a clear stand on internet access in an age where suggesting we expand health coverage gets seniors, now on government-funded Medicare, screaming about government socialism. The only clarity we found on the FCC’s site was a link to a Digg-style ranking of user suggestions. Here, the public’s wishes rise to the top. Bring U.S. broadband pricing in line with the rest of the world. Promote telecommuting. End unreal claims of internet speeds. Heck, catch up with Korea’s pipe speeds, where people stream TV shows on cell phones.

The public wants bandwidth, and they want it fast. The FCC says it’s listening and it wants “freedom”. But as with any public good, we suspect eventually someone will have to pay for it.

The 128 failures of George W. Bush?

As the pregnant U.S. election nears its delivery date this month there are plenty of cries rising from both sides of the political chamber. The left scores one with this microsite listing 128 executive branch “failures” since 2000. The site was built by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan news organization criticized in the past for favoring rightist political groups. This go-around, however, George W. Bush gets berated with hyperlinks to complaints spurred by emails from 4,800 government employees.

Left or right, right or wrong, the microsite is notable for how compelling it is as a form of political commentary. It’s branded under “broken government,” certain to grab attention. The 128 articles form a powerful argument, and in-depth analysis — based on government reports and wide sources of journalism — create a McKinsey-ish fact-based pyramid. Whatever your story, when you build it on detailed sources the argument is hard to topple.

(In the spirit of fair play we’ll note the conservatives’ complaints regarding the left soon.)

Via Guy Kawasaki.

DeclareYourself answers question: How do I register to vote?

America, today we provide a public service announcement. You can register to vote right here at

DeclareYourself was founded in 2003 by TV producer Norman Lear as an offshoot of a national tour of the Declaration of Independence. (Apparently Mr. Lear saw the Declaration, got tears in his eyes, decided to take it on the road … sweet story.) The nonprofit group signed up more than 1 million new voters in the elections of 2004 and 2006, focused on the young 18-24 set and minorities.

DeclareYourself is a brilliant case study in how government/public service communications should work today. Rather than just radio or a web site, it’s running tentacles across all media platforms — especially among the Google search, mobile and MySpace social nets that allow hunters to find and gatherers to share information. Media partners include Cricket Wireless, Yahoo!, MySpace, Google, Evite, UWIRE, Good Magazine, Clear Channel, Comedy Central, American Eagle, Harper Collins, Starbucks, and Voto Latino.

And the core of the campaign — converting the audience to action — uses a simple web registration process that blows our mind with what good government service could be like. Imagine if filing your taxes were as easy as this.