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Reed Hundt: House Spectrum Legislation is "Worst Telecom Bill I've Seen"

(Washington, DC) Former Democratic FCC Chairman Reed Hundt minced no words today when he lambasted spectrum reform provisions contained in Republican-backed legislation passed by the House late last year. Those spectrum provisions are potentially slated for inclusion in a bill that would extend payroll tax cuts, which were approved until February following a dramatic legislative fix in late-December.

"It is a bad bill. It is. It is the single worst telecom bill I’ve ever seen," Hundt told a packed audience at New America Foundation event today. Echoing complaints by current FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Hundt went through a list of seven reasons why the extensive spectrum provisions, aimed at freeing up broadcast spectrum through auctions, would damage telecom competition and regulatory policy.

Chief among his complaints: "It will tell the FCC that auctions should be used to monopolize spectrum," by which he means that under the Republican draft the FCC won't be able to bar the largest mobile carriers from buying up the freed-up spectrum. Hundt's big fear is that if the FCC can't bar giants AT&T and Verizon from buying the spectrum, they'll do precisely that to foreclose competition.

Two other complaints raised by Hundt, which are also sore points for the current FCC, are that the bill tells the FCC which auction methodology to use and bars the FCC from allocating unlicensed spectrum. Senator John Kerry (D-MA), Chairman of the Communications, Technology and the Internet subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee, kicked off the event with an appeal for more unlicensed spectrum (Senate spectrum legislation does not contain the same restrictions regarding unlicensed spectrum).

"It would be unbelievably shortsighted, remarkably self-defeating if we ignored the history of the Internet" by failing to make more unlicensed spectrum available to spur innovation, Kerry said. Jerry Moran (R-KS), a member of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, added his support for using the spectrum freed up by the bill for unlicensed purposes. "You can make an awfully good argument that to maximize the revenue is to leave some spectrum available for entrepreneurship," he said.

Twitter to Censor - It's Probably About Living to Fight Another Day

Twitter is going down the same road that Google traveled in China by agreeing to censor tweets in "countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression."

The social networking giant, which uncensored has played a remarkable role in upending regimes and fighting political oppression around the globe, will make users aware of when tweets have been censored, for what that's worth. The operating theory is that Twitter thinks it's better to be up and functioning in some capacity in countries that censor rather than banned altogether.

Presumably Twitter has studied some of the object lessons Google learned by following the same path in China, where the search giant agreed to do much the same thing for arguably the same reason -- censor search results to comply with the Communist Party's remarkably strict (but effective) censorship apparatus rather than disappear from the lucrative market altogether. After giving in to the Party's dictates, Google got worn down by a series of headaches, including government hacks of its system, and moved its servers to Hong Kong. Google's decision to back away from China wasn't solely based on the censorship issue -- the company faces indomitable competition from Chinese search behemoth Baidu.

Google stood to reap billions from the Chinese market. Twitter on the other hand doesn't yet have quite as much to gain financially. Why is Twitter really doing this then?

Twitter critics are in an uproar and Twitter apologists argue that the new policy is fair because it allows Twitter to cope with the maze of global censorship policies while still supporting free speech where it can. That does makes sense.

Rather than battle tough governments, Twitter is retreating in order to fight another day. Demosthenes, the great Athenian orator, was once accused of being a coward for running away from a mismatched battle in which Athens lost 3,000 men to the Macedonians. Demosthenes basic retort to the accusation was "he who fights and runs away will live to fight another day."

Unlike Google, Twitter doesn't seem to be a coward as much as a pragmatist looking to fight another day.

Need Something New to Protest Post-SOPA? Try ACTA

Now that the uproar over SOPA/PIPA has (temporarily) died down, the next logical target for Internet freedom activists is ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, signed today by the EU and 22 of its member countries. Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and the US are already signatories.

Aimed at cracking down on the transborder flow of counterfeited goods (full text), ACTA will lead to intrusive border searches of electronic devices due to its anti-intellectual property theft provisions, among other horribles, opponents say. Another alleged horrible under ACTA is that ISPs will start spying on suspected infringers to give themselves legal cover under the treaty.

The first set of public protests over ACTA are taking place in...Poland, a nation that arguably has a history of successful protests. Polish government websites have been hacked to protest ACTA and Poles earlier this week took to the street with their mouths covered by anti-ACTA stickers.

Update: The EFF has this post today noting, as it has before, that ACTA is technically being considered by the Administration as a "sole executive agreement" and not a treaty that requires Congressional ratification. Therefore it might already be binding on us. But, Jack Goldsmith and Larry Lessig argue that the President probably has no independent constitutional authority over intellectual property - under the Constitution, only Congress can regulate intellectual property matters.

RT (and Who Else?) Will Carry the Julian Assange Show

Like Rasputin himself, Julian Assange has a remarkable ability to rise from the dead. Just when the Obama Administration started slow-walking its prosecution of the digital libertarian-anarchist-free speech commando because of his purported growing irrelevancy, the Wikileaks founder has snagged TV deals for a show that he is launching, which he claims will reach over 600 million people around the globe.

As the NYT's Media Decoder Blog, reports, the Assange show, which will consist of half-hour segments, will be aired by Kremlin-backed RT (Russia Today) network. ("The show, arguably the most anticipated news series of 2012, will feature ten 'iconoclasts, visionaries and power insiders' – people Assange can clearly identify with, being a rather controversial figure himself," RT's rather charming statement notes.) He'll be doing the show from the British estate where he resides under house arrest while he fights his extradition to Sweden to face charges of sexual "mischief."

RT has a reported reach of 430 million viewers around the globe (with 50 million in the U.S.). Wikileaks says the show has global licensing commitments for 600 million viewers. Wonder where the remaining 170 million viewers are coming from...

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