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Pai challenges the notion of government providing a free, open internet

Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai today laid out his vision for removing broadband access from under Title II regulations imposed in 2015 by a 3-2 Democratic majority on the Commission.  Two decades prior to the Commission’s net neutrality order that imposed Title II regulations, the internet was already free and open. Companies such as Google, Facebook, and Netflix came into being under a non-Title II regime. Title II was an archaic regulation designed in the 1930s for plain old telephone services.

Title II boiled down to a solution in search of a problem, Mr Pai further argued. Rather than energizing a demoralized Democratic Party base licking its wounds from the butt hurt of the 2014 mid term elections, Former president Barack Obama and the rest of his Title II proponents wound up disincentiving $5.1 billion in capital investment and dissuaded companies to not hire or lay off 75,000 to 100,000 laborers.

What particularly caught my attention in Mr Pai’s remarks was his highlighting the belief that Title II proponents have about government and freedom, namely that government was going to guarantee freedom on the internet. A close read of the American Constitution tells you that its framers were concerned about the natural propensity of government to squash freedom. This is why the document put in place checks and balances against attempts to usurp power over individuals. Net neutrality opponents and members in Congress who support continued imposition of the rules confuse “rights” with “freedom.” The rights issued by government are permission slips that say “a person can be, but only up to the limits we allow them to be” versus freedom which is innate.

This is not to say that freedom doesn’t have its limits. You can’t just violate another person’s spectrum without facing the consequences that result from moving into another person’s space. But how those consequences are managed should be left up to the individuals or in the case of broadband, the broadband access providers and their customers. Allow customers and access providers to define the limits, terms, and consequences of their relationship, including price and type of service. In the 21st century, this type of strategic partnership between customer and access provider is very possible.

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Minorities should seek a bigger slice of new media pie

The digital divide argument, that there is a disparity between non-whites and whites when it comes to broadband access, is losing its mojo for me. While broadband access for minority households via hard line may fall behind that of white households, since the mid 2000s, access via mobile wireless devices by minorities has been on par or exceeded that of whites. Stroll into the Starbucks near I-285 and Cascade Road and see every Black American patron connecting their lap tops to WiFi while checking messages on their smart phones. Even our kids have at least two wireless devices and we parents brace ourselves annually for our teenager’s request for the latest phone even when the one they currently own is still pristine.

Plenty of politicians and civil rights groups have been pushing for greater access to high speed broadband, making the argument that more broadband facilities should be deployed in communities of color especially since Black Americans and Latinos have been spearheading the “cut the cord” movement and going 100% wireless over the past 15 years or so. Minority leadership is demonstrating, however, that it has not been paying attention to changes in business models that would provide entrepreneurs in communities of color exposure to more lucrative opportunities versus following the same consumption of end-use product model that has been plaguing communities of color for decades.

Broadband access providers such as AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon are leveraging their customer data in order to attract advertising dollars. Verizon’s recent disclosure that it lost 307,000 subscribers in the first quarter of 2017 in part due to competition from Sprint and T-Mobile has some analysts on Wall Street wondering if Verizon is up for merger. Bloomberg has reported that the wireless company has considered Comcast, Walt Disney, or CBS for corporate marriage.  Ironically the aforementioned companies are content providers who could probably do well leveraging Verizon’s wireless infrastructure to get content out including use of the company’s spectrum.

While Black Americans and Latinos are, unfortunately, known primarily for providing entertainment content, both communities should consider exploring creating and investing in content storage and content delivery systems. Constructing these facilities in neighborhoods with large numbers of Blacks or Latinos means access to short term and long term employment. High tech labor will be needed to design, construct, and operate server farms and other facilities that result from the decision to do more than buy another cell phone or activate some unlit fiber from the old MCI days.

This is an opportunity for a young Black or Latino entrepreneur or engineer to break from the herd mentality and not wait for permission from the Jesse Jackson posse on whether or not it should be done. One would think that the old heads from the civil rights movement would have the capital or access to capital that would assist outside-the-box minority entrepreneurs in getting capital, but since these leaders have not demonstrated that they even understand the emerging business models in communications, this may be a closed avenue.

In the end, the minority entrepreneur should be prepared to abandon the collective mindset that has communities of color thinking only about the next smartphone and form new, smaller, leaner, profit seeking collectives that generate ideas of value and use these ideas to create their own data and media companies.

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AT&T makes another media play

Posted May 16th, 2016 in AT&T, media and tagged , , by Alton Drew

AT&T today announced that it will acquire Quickplay Media Inc., as part of its plan to support streaming of DirecTV content over any device. AT&T already has an existing relationship with Quickplay. The company provides the platform for AT&T U-verse TV. Subject to a pre-merger review, the acquisition is expected to close in mid 2016.

The acquisition provides another example of convergence 2.0 as legacy companies such as AT&T and Verizon take their infrastructure to a media level.

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Verizon makes it clear. They are a media company

Verizon’s Craig Silliman published a blog post discussing the appropriate regulatory framework for the application of net neutrality principles. He reiterated the broadband provider’s support for no blocking, no throttling, no paid prioritization, and a general conduct standard for protecting consumers and competition. What I found interesting was Mr. Silliman’s description of Verizon’s media efforts. In Mr. Silliman’s words:

“We have invested billions in businesses that depend on the ability to reach customers over the networks and platforms of others. We invested in digital ad technology through our $4.4 billion purchase of AOL and own content through properties like the Huffington Post, MapQuest, and TechCrunch. We have an expanding presence in the digital media and entertainment space; Verizon Digital Media Services helps content companies deliver their services in digital form to any screen or device, anywhere in the world.”

To me, Verizon sounds more like a content delivery network. A content delivery network is a large distributive system of servers deployed in multiple data centers across the internet. The goal of a CDN is to serve content to end users with high availability and high performance.

Akamai, a company that touts itself as the global leader in content delivery services, might vehemently disagree with me about Verizon being a content delivery network given Verizon’s position as a gatekeeper to end-user customers. End-users don’t use Akamai to get on to the internet. Access is that functionality that pulls Verizon into the Federal Communications Commission’s sandbox.

As Verizon continues to evolve in the media space, however, it increasingly distinguishes itself from T-Mobile and Sprint whose claim to broadband fame is strictly as a mobile broadband access platform.

Although Verizon has expressed its willingness and the importance of complying with net neutrality principles, should those principles intrude into its content delivery operations? If yes, then should content delivery services provided by edge providers like Akamai also fall under the Commission’s transparency principles? Why should Verizon’s content delivery components be treated differently from Akamai’s content delivery services? Verizon’s evolution will force the Commission to address these questions.

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By pursuing STEM education and digital media opportunities, minorities can add value to broadband

Posted August 30th, 2015 in Broadband, edge providers, Internet, media and tagged , by Alton Drew

A recent article in the Times-Pucayune has me thinking (again) about the approach inner city communities take to developing their economies.  It has me questioning the entire “community activist” approach to bringing jobs and businesses to an area.  In the article the heads of a number of non-profits and a small business participated in a panel discussion on economic development post Hurricane Katrina.

The panelists raised concerns about billions of public and private sector  coming into the New Orleans area while black businesses were relegated to the sidelines with hardly any of this new capital flowing to them.  If the article caught the sentiments of the panelists correctly, the emphasis of the panel appeared to be on creating more public policy that would ensure more public and private funds go to black-owned businesses.

What I didn’t pick up from the article was any discussion on what value black-owned businesses in New Orleans would bring to an investor; whether these businesses could generate sizable returns on and growth of capital to satisfy an investors.

One area of growth is digital media.  According to an article in The South China Morning Post, an unprecedented amount of capital is flowing to online media outlets like BuzzFeed.com, Vice Media, and Vox Media.

One thing for sure is that it won’t be barbershops, beauty salons, convenience stores, package stores, or fast food restaurants.  These types of businesses make up what you see in black communities.  They have low barriers to entry and are very competitive industries.  They are also what I call “echo effect” industries which most people also call service industries.  These industries pop up to serve people who people who work in what I call the “impact” industries.  In San Francisco, an echo effect industry is a dry cleaners.  The impact industry is Google or a data analytics firm where its workers are creating intellectual property and earning the higher incomes that come with it.

In black communities it’s tough for these impact industries to get started because the first investment in intellectual capital hasn’t been made.  For example, in Delaware only 19% of African American students are enrolled in STEM-related courses. Getting students into these courses is necessary if entrepreneurship in the tech area is ever to grow in the African American community itself.

STEM-related employment is expected to grow 16% between 2014 and 2024, according to the website, ChangetheEquation.org.  Non-STEM jobs are expected to grow 11% over the same period.  And right now students of color are not getting the inspiration they need to pursue the education that leads them into the more lucrative STEM careers.  Again, according to ChangetheEquation.org, African-Americans and Hispanics comprise just over 20% of those who earn computing degrees.

If black communities are to generate business ideas that capture capital and generate higher incomes in the 21st century, its leaders have to recognize the clog in the labor supply line.  That clog is caused by a labor pool that is growing to slow to meet STEM-related demand.  The community approach to generating wealth sets itself up for failure if its leadership does not take a more proactive and innovative approach to managing the community’s political economy. Falling back on arguments for revamping affirmative action alone wont lead to a revitalized economy.