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What to Expect from a Trump FCC

In the wake of a generally-unexpected election outcome, most everyone in the Internet space is grasping to understand the implications of an all Republican-led government and a Trump FCC, on their key issues. 

The purpose of this analysis is to spotlight and explain the most predictable changes to expect. By design, it is not comprehensive, because some issues are naturally less predictable than others.

To be most accurate, this analysis will be high-level and strategic, not detailed and tactical, because the “what” and the “why” here are more predictable at this early stage than the specific “how,” “when,” and “who” -- for obvious practical reasons.

I. Why are some issues very predictable at this early stage?

First, the simple, hiding-in-plain-sight, premise here, is the process/values clarity and predictability that naturally flow from unified one-party control of the levers of government.

This is the fourth time in eighteen years there will be unified one-party control of government: the Democrats had it 1993-94 and 2009-10; and Republicans had it 2003-06 and now in 2017-18. History confirms the high-level strategic predictability of one-party control of the levers of government.

The Key Competitive Facts behind the AT&T-Time-Warner Acquisition

This analysis of the competitive facts underlying AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner is an outgrowth of my discussion of the acquisition on NPR’s Diane Rehm Show this morning with Cecilia Kang of the New York Times and John Bergmeyer of Public Knowledge. The show can be heard here.

My main point was that the competitive facts are the best friend of this transaction.

I elaborate on that conclusion below.

The key facts lead me to believe the transaction should and will be approved, most likely by the DOJ, because of: the antitrust-benign competitive share facts in all the relevant markets; the antitrust precedents that constrain the DOJ’s ability to successfully challenge in court a vertical merger with these benign shares; and the companies have signaled they understand that if any legitimate competitive concerns arise they can be mitigated successfully with conditions and DOJ oversight of the transaction.    

If officials examine the competitive facts of this acquisition with an open mind and with due process, they’ll discover first impressions can be very misleading.

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.) 

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Q&A One Pager Debunking Net Neutrality Myths