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FCC’s STB “Unlock-the-Box” Is a Trojan Horse to Unlock Copyright Licensing

When a PR tactic masquerades as principle or sound policy a mess inevitably ensues.

Google and Public Knowledge, the two leading corporate and interest group entities respectively that are opposed to copyright in America, plotted that they could disguise their real intent to “unlock copyright licensing” and devalue the valuable “information flows” of the $200b a year U.S. pay TV industry, with a clever #UnlockTheBox consumer “gift”/sneak attack… just like Greeks did in the Trojan War using the purported “gift” of a huge wooden “Trojan Horse” as a trick to secretly enable soldiers hidden inside the horse to gain entry to the securely protected city of Troy.  

We now know that this FCC AllVid/Set-Top-Box (STB) rulemaking was not really about unlocking set-top-boxes for consumer benefit, but predominantly about unlocking copyright licenses for the nation’s most valuable video programming – to de facto, open-force more proprietary information to be free on the Open Internet.

Will the Federal Communications Congress Try to Unlock Copyright Licensing?

Multiple sources indicate the FCC is on path to include in its final proposed AllVid set-top box order a de facto FCC office of copyright licensing to try and politically paper over obvious policy and enforcement gaps in FCC authority.

It is further evidence that the “Unlock the Box” proponents pushing AllVid are really bent on “unlocking the copyrights, licenses, and contracts” that collectively protect $200b worth of annual video programming business, not the purported $20b set-top box business.

That’s because AllVid proponents continue to demand their initial outrageous and unlawful claim that the FCC should force the pay TV and video programmer industries to give Big Internet companies their $200b of video programming flows for free -- because the Internet wants information to be free.

The FCC’s big legitimacy problem here is that the FCC is not operating in a legal area where they can argue they are due broad court deference, because in this instance the law is very clear.

The FCC does not have the authority to force property owners to give away their copyrighted property for free or to forfeit their legal licensing or contract rights.

The EU-Google Antitrust Cases’ Implications for Amazon Facebook & Apple

The EU’s recent intense antitrust spotlight on Google can’t help but illuminate some of what EU antitrust authorities think about other dominant consumer technology platforms adjacent to Google -- i.e. Amazon, Facebook, and Apple – companies Europe collectively refers to as “GAFA” particularly in the context of the EU’s Digital Single Market strategy.

In 2011, Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt was the first to identify, and publicly bring attention to, these particular four dominant consumer technology companies “exploiting platform strategies” ironically by branding them the “gang of four.

FCC’s Competition Policy Blind Spot for Dominant “Edge” Incumbents - GAFA

The evidence increasingly proves that Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon, companies collectively known as “GAFA,” are the dominant consumer-technology, “edge” platforms/incumbents in their respective communication sector markets of: information, smartphones, social media, and ecommerce.

The evidence below shows Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon to clearly be the emerging dominant communications incumbents of the 21st century communications sector ecosystem and that an apparent FCC assumption that “edge” companies cannot be a competition problem is both naïve and erroneous.   

Despite the FCC’s “competition, competition, competition” policy mantra, this GAFA dominance reality has not kept the FCC from slavishly favoring the dominant GAFA incumbents, as “insurgent” upstarts deserving of special FCC treatment and protection, in all of the FCC’s current major communications policy revamps it is making without Congress: i.e. its Title II Open Internet Order; its Title II ISP-only privacy rules; its AllVid set-top box rules; and its implicit wireless policy of favoring spectrum sharing and unlicensed spectrum over spectrum auctions and licensing. 

FCC Privacy Regulation Claims: “Believe it or not!”

With due credit to "Ripley's Believe it or Not!®,"so much odd and bizarre is happening at the FCC in the "name" of “privacy” that the topic calls for its own collection of: "Believe it or Not!®" oddities.

Title II Privacy Proposed Rules

The FCC claims consumer privacy is important, but preempted existing FTC privacy regulation of broadband providers before they had any replacement privacy protections in place, so U.S. broadband consumers have been left without any federal privacy protection for over a year! 

Why Is the FCC Regulating the Biggest Privacy Risk Platforms the Least?

The epic flaw in the FCC’s Title II privacy NPRM is that it purports to best protect consumers’ private information by only regulating broadband providers’ use of that private information, while emphatically protecting dominant edge platforms from FCC privacy regulation when they use that same FCC-regulated private information indiscriminately without consumers’ meaningful knowledge or consent.

Yes you read that right.

Apparently the FCC thinks it is more important to protect dominant edge platforms from FCC privacy regulation, than it is to protect consumers’ private information.

The issue of privacy lays bare the FCC’s contorted and arbitrary logic of both its Title II cleave that only ISPs can be gatekeepers, and that the goal of net neutrality, protecting dominant edge platforms from ISP interference, is logical and appropriate to apply to privacy. If it was, that would perversely mean that the purpose of the FCC’s privacy rules should be to protect edge providers’ businesses, not consumers’ privacy.  

If you want to see a visual representation of this problem, please see the attached one-page graphic here.

FCC Unequal ISP Privacy Policy Is Unequal Protection & Unequal Opportunity

The FCC’s just-passed, 3-2 unequal ISP privacy policy spotlights how badly the FCC has lost its way.

In prioritizing the equality rights of inanimate digital bits above the equal protection and equal opportunity rights the American people enjoy under our constitutional republic, the FCC is discriminating in favor of open cronyism over equal consumer protection and equal competitive opportunity.

Moody’s Investors Service has done everyone a service in exposing the FCC’s Title II reclassification and privacy policy for what it really is – arbitrary unequal treatment under the law.

When the FCC proposed these ISP privacy rules three weeks ago, Moody’s called the FCC’s proposal as it saw it in a Sector Comment March 14 entitled: “FCC’s broadband privacy proposal credit negative for linear TV and wireless providers – Over half a trillion in rated debt affected.” 

Google’s the Encryption Ringleader Thwarting FBI Investigation of Terrorism

Google is the ringleader thwarting the FBI’s high priority to make smartphones subject to the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act, CALEA, like all other communications technologies were before smartphones, so that the FBI can continue to wiretap, investigate and thwart terrorism (ISIS etc.), and crime, like it routinely did prior to the smartphone era.  

(Anyone that doubts Google is the de facto encryption ringleader, see the evidence here. And don’t miss the fourth segment of this analysis about how Google cleverly thwarted the FBI in lobbying for a de facto anti-CALEA, last-minute, change to the FCC’s Open Internet order.) 

Google’s “Going Dark” Encryption Leadership Threatens Sovereign Security

Google is unique in its leadership, plans, and global marketpower to accelerate the majority of all global Web traffic “going dark,” i.e. encrypted by default. Google’s “going dark” leadership seriously threatens  to neuter sovereign nations’ law-enforcement and intelligence capabilities to investigate and prevent terrorism and crime going forward.

Google is not the only U.S. Internet company endangering the national security of many countries by “going dark” via end-to-end corporate encryption in an environment of exceptional terrorist risk -- Apple has been self-servingly irresponsible as well.

Nevertheless, Google warrants the spotlight and primary focus here on “going dark” for three big reasons.

The FCC’s Abjectly Illegitimate Premise for More Cable Regulation

There are troubling signals that the FCC is gearing up to further increase regulation of cable -- on top of the extra-legal new utility regulation the FCC already did in its 2015 Open Internet Order. 

What is profoundly troubling is the abject illegitimacy of their premise for more regulation of cable, i.e. the FCC’s new arbitrary and capricious definition of broadband that illegitimately redefined long-recognized, strong broadband competition -- out of existence with the stroke of a pen.

So what are the signals of more cable regulation? Two speeches from the FCC Chairman, one from the FCC General Counsel, another from the DOJ Antitrust Chief, a variety of Hill and edge-industry entreaties to regulate cable more via new MVPD or ALLVID regulatory proceedings, (but of course without regulating favored edge providers), and an explosion of new opposition to the proposed Charter-Time-Warner merger (by the exact same cast of characters whose opposition doomed the Comcast-Time-Warner merger).

This broad simultaneous level of focused regulatory chatter and organized activity is not coincidental, but highly-orchestrated and abjectly illegitimate.

Why is more cable regulation abjectly illegitimate?   


Q&A One Pager Debunking Net Neutrality Myths