Tech & The District » FCC Tech the way we see it: insights and musings on technology PR, policy and the District, from H&K’s D.C. Tech Team. Thu, 04 Aug 2011 15:06:44 +0000 en hourly 1 2011 Congressional Outlook Fri, 19 Nov 2010 22:34:57 +0000 Ben Breit As expected, the mid-term election turned out to be a sweeping and historic victory for Congressional Republicans, as they snatched 6 Senate seats and at least 60 House seats (plus control) from Democratic hands. House Republicans, in eager anticipation of Nancy Pelosi officially passing the gavel to John Boehner, have wasted little time in drafting an aggressive agenda for the 112th Congress.

Naturally, most of the political discourse since November 2 has been enveloped by issues such as healthcare repeal and the national debt. On that note, we thought it appropriate to put on our public affairs hats and address question that tech insiders from D.C. to Silicon Valley are asking: In this heated political environment, does the tech industry have any chance at all to gain traction on its core issues before the divided Congress?

Handicapping the Republicans’ play appears to be easy at first glance. Following Republican criticism that President Obama neglected the economy in lieu of an insular focus on healthcare reform, future Speaker John Boehner’s agenda is likely stock full at this time.  Indeed, nowhere in Republicans’ much publicized Pledge to America does the word “technology” even appear. Seeing many of its top allies getting relegated to ranking status (or in Virginia Congressman Rick Boucher’s case, relegated out of office) could not have been a pleasant sight for Silicon Valley.

Much of the agenda will ride on who takes over as Chair of the important House Energy and Commerce Committee, which regulates many technology issues. As the current ranking member, Joe Barton would appear to have the leg up. However, the broad nature of a committee that regulates both technology and the environment, coupled with Barton’s defense of BP CEO Tony Hayword, might prove a dealbreaker for Republican leadership. The Texas Republican is facing a spirited challenge from Michigan’s Fred Upton. Both Rep. Barton and Rep. Upton have declared net neutrality dead on arrival under their chairmanships. Still, there is a lot of money on both sides of the issue, so it is likely to at least get raised in 2011.

Alternatively, the issue of patent reform is handled by the Judiciary Committees. Here, the conflict is not between Democrats and Republicans as much as it is between the House and Senate. Senate Judiciary Members reached a deal earlier this year that was criticized by many in the technology sector. House Judiciary Members agreed and refused to participate in negotiations until the Senate came back with a bill that was more tech-friendly. The issue has been stalled ever since.

Since patent reform lacks a partisan divide, is there hope for it in 2011? Possibly. However, anyone who thinks any technology issue – whether it patent reform, net neutrality, privacy or any others – has a realistic chance of making the 2011 Congressional agenda is probably being overly optimistic.

But is it fair to exclude this sector from discussions on the economy and jobs? A strong argument could be made for relying more than ever on technology companies during these trying times. According to a report from the Tech America Foundation, the tech industry has begun its climb out of the recession, having added 32,200 jobs from January-June 2010.

“The technology industry now appears to be slowly turning the corner with the rest of the economy,” said Phil Bond, the Foundation’s president and chief executive officer. “We have weathered the storm better than most. From its position embedded in every other industry, technology remains the best hope for driving robust recovery across the economy.”

Both Republicans and Democrats have had a focus on creating jobs – and understandably so. Perhaps Congressional leadership would do well to realize that in these trying times, it might be worth it to address the concerns of one of the few industries that has actually made job creation a reality rather than a theory.

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Privacy and the Terminator Wed, 17 Mar 2010 21:58:42 +0000 duncanburns

Great piece today by Steve Lohr in the NY Times (A1, above the fold) on How Privacy Vanishes online. Though the concept of digital litter and eroding privacy expectations have been around for a while, and are perhaps fodder for some of our more technology-phobic friends, family and colleagues, the story points to what I think is likely to be a big new battleground in DC. At what point should the government step in online and protect us from ourselves?

They already do to some extent with other forms of content/communication like films and games with rating systems and phone lines with do not call registries, but in some ways these are incoming rather than outgoing communications where we are voluntarily (phishing aside) for the most part divulging what used to be considered personal and private.

Where should the FTC, Congress or states draw the line on what’s acceptable – balancing individual freedom to share with protecting those individuals in spite of themselves? Having been a victim of banking fraud, I personally don’t want anyone guessing my social security number, but perhaps I’m already at risk given what I’ve put out there.

It’s going to be interesting to see how new tech dynamos work with government to find that balance. I’m sure it’ll be a full and frank discussion to borrow some diplomatic speak, but perhaps the discussion in itself will help educate a broader swath of people about the risks of some of what they’re putting online.

For companies in this space, start communicating your point of view now if you aren’t already, and talk about the options you’re giving your customers, and the ways you’re protecting them. Given the Whac-A-Mole style of politics at time, I’m not sure how much longer online companies are going to be able to get away with an approach of “ask for forgiveness not permission” when it comes to privacy. Though Google and Facebook are two prominent examples of firms dealing with these issues, they won’t be the last and at least they’ve built up enough trust, brand recognition and goodwill to make adjustments without too much damage. Can we say that about most companies grappling with these issues?

Perhaps we all just need to go off the grid like John Connor…? 

Is this what we can expect if we share too much online?

Is this what we can expect if we share too much online?

]]> 1 CEA’s Washington Forum Informs, Entertains Fri, 24 Apr 2009 16:32:03 +0000 Vanessa Truskey The Consumer Electronics Association’s annual Washington Forum continued today with a panel discussion on the DTV transition and with a spirited luncheon hosted by Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson – and I found myself right in the middle of all the action.

The DTV panel featured experts from all sides of the issue, including reps from the Federal Communications Commission, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and a rep from CEA.  My colleague Chad blogged about the DTV transition back in February, and I heard many of the same themes at the panel today.  Consumer awareness of the impending transition is about 97% – but on transition day (now June 12) there will still be folks left with the blue screen.  Procrastination is widespread.  The message was loud and clear today though: this date won’t slip again, so prepare yourselves now! 

Before you complain about the extra work involved (honestly, wasn’t it time to get rid of those rabbit ears anyway?), think about the new benefits we’ll reap after the transition.  Sound and picture quality will be better with DTV.  We’ll have upgraded an important communications infrastructure in this country.  We may even be able to get mobile TV on our phones and GPS devices with the newly-vacated spectrum.  We need to look forward to these new benefits instead of focusing on the minor inconvenience felt by about 9% of the 114 million TV households in America.  If you still think it’s too tough, call the FCC and they will come to your house to help you install the box!

I’m sorry to say that the Begala/Carlson luncheon was too cool for me to even describe here, so unfortunately, you missed out.  However, if you ever meet Carlson, ask him about his plane that crashed in Pakistan.  If you ever meet Begala, ask him about his Hungarian grandmother’s visit to the Oval Office to meet President Clinton.  Neither story will disappoint.

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DTV delay? Do the math Fri, 30 Jan 2009 19:11:02 +0000 Chad Torbin The Senate voted earlier this week to unanimously postpone the upcoming transition from analog-to-digital television broadcasting by four months to June 12. Although the House under newly-elected Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-CA, originally voted against the Senate bill, the House is expected to pass the legislation after some minor tweaks are made early next week. The main concern for lawmakers is the 6.5 million U.S. households according to the Nielsen Co. that could see their signals go dark next month if the transition is not postponed.


Now, I like to watch TV as much as anyone and I too would be upset if I couldn’t tune-in to see Tina Fey and Tracy Morgan on 30 Rock each week, but we’re talking about a very small percentage of overall U.S. households (approximately 5.7% according to Nielsen) that will go dark in a couple of weeks and a delay that would come at a very high-cost to everyone. I have my own fuzzy math here, but if you will…


The U.S. government census bureau estimated in 2007 that there were almost 112 million households in the U.S. In the case of the DTV transition, we’re talking about 6.5 million households going dark. Out of those 6.5 million estimated to rely on the use analog TV signals, how many would we honestly estimate don’t even turn on their TVs on a regular basis? Let’s face it, there’s a small percentage of this country, and we’ve all met one or two in our lifetimes, who for whatever reason couldn’t even tell you who is president of the U.S. or who Michael Jordan is if you stopped and asked them. There’s a percentage of household out there that just don’t tune-in period.


The other issue is that for people that aren’t ready now, what makes the legislators believe that they’ll be ready June? I’m willing to put myself out there and say there’s a small percentage of that 6.5 million that still won’t do anything until the TV screen actually goes dark. Let’s face it, there’s a small percentage of this 6.5 million which for whatever reason won’t walk down to Best Buy and get the converter box until they absolutely have to.


I’m doing really rough math here, but if you take just those two groups and subtract them from the 5.7% Nielsen estimates, we’re really talking about a very, very small percentage of people who will lose out. Again, I empathize with anyone who might lose their signal, but is it really worth the $22 million PBS estimates it would cost broadcasters to delay the DTV transition, on top of increased funding that Congress would need to spend to prolong the consumer education program and issue more coupons?


If they were really concerned with getting viewers to switch, they should simply move up the date to Feb 1 so that people tuning into the most watched television event in the country might actually start to get the picture. Go Cardinals.


For more info check out the FCC webpage on the DTV transition:


Disclosure: Hill & Knowlton represents some companies that do not currently support a DTV delay

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What is "White Space"? Why Does Dolly Care? Wed, 29 Oct 2008 19:51:00 +0000 Sandra Rodriguez Being based in D.C. and working in the Telco policy world, I’ve found myself immersed in the “white space” debate currently being duked out amongst wireless and other technology companies. You may be asking yourself what Dolly Parton, NFL and Joel Osteen have to do with this debate. Let’s start at the beginning.

What is “white space”?  White
spaces are unused pockets of the TV spectrum that will become available
when broadcasters move completely to digital television next year. The Digital TV transition will occur February 17, 2009 (that’s another story).

are two options that the FCC is considering. The unlicensed route will
make the “white space” spectrum available for free and with little
regulation. The licensed route is the traditional method of auctioning
off the spectrum, similar to the 700 MHz auction earlier this year.

“Wi-Fi on Steroids?” (I prefer Red Bull).  Some high tech companies are advocating the unlicensed use of the spectrum, while others disagree and prefer the traditional licensed route.

As for the fight on the hill, Rep. John Dingell of Michigan and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York are for the licensed spectrum and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts is on the unlicensed side.

This is where Dolly Parton comes in.


Dolly Parton and several major sports leagues are opposed to the unlicensed use due to interference in wireless microphones that are used in concerts and by referees.

In a letter to the FCC, Parton says:

someone who uses the white spaces and knows the value of them for the
work that I and many of my friends do around the country, I ask the FCC
to recognize the entertainment industry’s valuable contribution to the
cultural life, I can unequivocally confirm that the importance of
clear, consistent wireless microphone broadcasts simply cannot be
overstated. This industry relies on wireless technology and is in
jeopardy of being irreversibly devastated by the commission’s pending

Who thought Dolly would ever care about (and be a user) “white space?”

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Kevin Martin is proposing that the FCC
vote on the unlicensed use of the “white space” next Tuesday, November
4, at its monthly open meeting.   We’ll be watching closely for its
decision.  With so many items on the agenda for this meeting (including the Sprint-Clearwire merger), who knows if they will even get to “white spaces.”

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