NCAAOM needs to take a closer look at section 257

Came across a press release issued by the National Coalition of African American Owned Media back on January 15. You know, Dr. King’s birthday. You figure that given the shooting in Tucson and Dr. King’s birthday that advocacy groups of all stripes would call a cease fire. But to steal a phrase from my favorite rap group, Run-DMC, it was a dream. I mean after all, we are talking about Washington.

Anyway, the NCAAOM has taken issue with the Federal Communications Commission preparing to bless the joint venture between Comcast and NBC Universal before it has even filed its triennial section 257 report. This report is supposed to give Congress the 411 on the FCC’s efforts to remove barriers to entry that are impeding access by entrepreneurs and small businesses to the telecommunications and information services markets.

Well, I decided to read the section, hoping that it was not long and drawn out like a Clarence Thomas opinion. I looked for language that says that the triennial report must be filed before Comcast’s merger with NBC Universal. I didn’t see it.

I looked for language that says the report must be filed before any merger. I didn’t see it.

What I did see was what the judicial warrior types call a “chilling effect.” Imagine the chilling effect on competition and market synergies if a triennial report were required to be filed prior to every and any merger. For us FCC watchers we know how slow the FCC is. Heck. They are over a year overdue on their 2009 triennial report.

Just imagine if two companies needed a deal to go through and that this deal would help one of the companies avoid bankruptcy, ensure the flow of services to consumers, and make investors whole. Could you imagine the market disruption if the transaction were delayed because the FCC has to file a triennial report? It would mean that any and all mergers would have to be initiated and completed very close to the release of a report before the findings of the report got stale and inapplicable to the conditions facing the two companies.

Sounds to me that NCAAOM’s agenda entails a whole lot more than looking out for a diversity of minority media voices.

Oh well, let me shut up before my five readers compliment me by saying I sound like Scalia.

Come on. How is Comcast stopping my message?

Critics of the proposed Comcast and NBC Universal joint venture have been making the argument that such an arrangement, between a large distributor of video programming and other content and a large content provider, would dampen our ability to fully participate in our great democracy.

I agree that the public should remain suspect of the media and its influence on our ability to keep government accountable. The traditional and major news sources also spend too much time being duplicative. ABC gives me the same old information that CBS gives me. I mean, how many times do I have to hear that the captain of the Enterprise got busted or that John Boehner is a cry baby. The information they provide does not appear very diverse.

And yes, there are a small number of large news organizations that appear to have a lock on the voices being heard on the airwaves. The alphabet soup includes CNN, MSNBC, FOX, CNBC, and Bloomberg.

But even with an apparent dearth of news outlets, am I ready to throw in the towel on democracy? Of course not.

There is no lack of information. There is a dearth of citizen accountability for going after information. We choose and find excuses for being spoon-fed. If we can’t get the news and a Katie Couric smile in 24 minutes, we move on to Facebook and end up spending more than 24 minutes on-line. Between the libraries of our state universities and our public libraries, we have access to lots of information about how our government runs.

With the information that we glean from alternative sources, we can resort to the tried and true methods of message transmission, letter writing, phone calls, and personal visits, to influence the policy decisions of our representatives. The hang-up that critics like Free Press have is really not with democracy. It’s with the use of one medium, namely the Internet, by content providers.

The Internet is sexy, and gets sexier with every new app, blog, and social media network that gets its hooks into it. It’s the fear of “gatekeepers” like Comcast relegating these content providers to the back of the bus and forcing them to pay to play that has critics scared. They could care less about our ability to impact our representative government as long as the pipes on the Internet are clear enough to allow them to send out their messages.

In an information society with access to probably too much information, the real threat to democracy is not whether Comcast will allow me to go to Color of Change’s website. It’s whether Americans will take the time to pursue good information, no matter the source of the content or distribution, and use it.

Dear Miss Clyburn. Please let us watch Sponge Bob Square Pants. Please!!

With U.S. Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan, breathing down the Federal Communications Commission’s throat about expediting and delivering a fair and fact-driven review of the Comcast-NBC Universal joint venture, Viacom wants to make sure that Sponge Bob Square Pants and Dora the Explorer get fair treatment by Comcast.

Back on December 10, 2010, Viacom sat down with staff from FCC member Mignon Clyburn’s office to talk about the impact a joint venture between Comcast and NBC Universal would have on producers of independent programming. Specifically, Viacom is concerned that Comcast would use its market power to favor its own programming over the programming of nonaffiliated content producers.

Let’s keep it real. Viacom has nothing to worry about. My son has been a Sponge Bob Square Pants fan for five years running. I dread this holiday break because I know all I will be hearing is Sponge Bob, Mr. Crabs, Patrick, and Squidward for three weeks.

Seriously though, Viacom should have nothing to worry about. Comcast can ill afford to shun quality content no matter the producer. As long as Viacom can produce hits like Hawaii Five-O, there will not be a problem.

What Viacom’s concerns really highlight, however, is an inability or unwillingness for independent content providers to do what it takes to get their product in front of consumers. Today’s technology almost guarantees that an independent producer with a T-1 can give us the next Jersey Shore (yikes). Comcast, like any distributor, knows the good stuff sells and brings its network value and revenues. The FCC should not allow the canned language of vertical harm and market power keep it from reviewing and approving this merger quickly.

Oh well, while I drop on the deck and flop like a fish, its time for my favorite theme song.


Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?

Rush’s endorsement of Comcast/NBCU merger touts the mergers benefits

Posted October 27th, 2010 in cable television, Comcast-NBC/Universal merger and tagged , , by Alton Drew

Mergers such as the one proposed by NBC Universal and Comcast Corporation always bring out the antitrust cockroaches. We hear every reason why this merger would be bad for consumers, including the nauseating argument about less voices being heard and the probability that Comcast will not share the content it will acquire with other distributors of video programming.

It’s good to see that U.S. Representative Bobby Rush, Democrat of Illinois, has the insight to cut through the melodrama of the Free Press posse and cut to the chase when it comes to benefits that will flow from the merger, especially benefits that should flow to minority communities.

For example, the $20 million capital venture fund would be a win-win for Comcast and minority developers of unique content. Comcast appears to have the political and business savvy to recognize that planting a little seed money in the minority community in return for future content that will drive consumers to Comcast’s network provides some pretty neat upside.

Some of my friends in the Free Press posse will no doubt post on their blogs that Mr. Rush and other minority politicians are being hoodwinked and turned into puppets by towing the Comcast line in return for the benefits. On the contrary. This is how, in the real world of politics, you extract concessions from a business that wishes to extract profits from a community.

Extending program access rules to online video is wrong

Interesting piece in The Wall Street Journal about the Comcast-NBC/Universal merger. The issue is whether Comcast post-merger should be required to provide access to its own content to competitors, specifically online video content providers. My answer is no.

Will start up firms like Sizmo be willing to pay the license fees for public performances or will they complain to the FCC about that as well?

Seems to me that the program access rules that require cable companies share access with direct broadcast satellite providers should be abandoned, not expanded to include online video content providers such as Sizmo.

I’m sure there are a number of unemployed writers, actors, musicians, etc., that can be tapped by these start up content providers to create and disseminate their own content rather than biting on a competitors intellectual property.

Also, this sounds like a first test for corporate speech. Abrogating the right to share information and property with the entity of your choice was not envisioned by the country’s founding fathers and is out of step with today’s values of fairness.