Gautham Nagesh

Wireless Competition Hangs Over Spectrum Auction

Even for an agency like the Federal Communications Commission, which specializes in the complicated and arcane world of telecom policy, next year’s planned spectrum auction is a doozy.

The FCC faces a tall order in planning and implementing the “reverse” auction that many have called the most complex undertaking the commission has ever attempted. The agency must develop a plan to encourage television broadcasters to relinquish their airwaves for sale so they can then be repackaged and sold to wireless providers to meet the soaring consumer demand for mobile broadband. There are many moving parts, and there is no way to know how many TV stations will choose to participate, or how much spectrum will be freed up for auction.

Encouraging Broadcasters to Sell Their Airwaves

What happens to a voluntary spectrum auction if no company wants to sell its airwaves?

That question has no doubt resulted in some late nights this year at the Federal Communications Commission, which is tasked with planning and executing the “reverse” auction of spectrum scheduled for 2014. The undertaking relies on inducing television broadcasters to relinquish their airwaves for payment, then turning around and auctioning that spectrum to wireless carriers for mobile broadband use.

Software Patent Proposals Divide Tech Industry

Spend any time with tech lobbyists, and one topic is unavoidable: patent trolls. The phrase elicits more scorn in their industry than almost any subject, despite its low profile for those outside the arcane world of intellectual property law.

A “troll,” or patent assertion entity, purchases patents for the express purpose of filing patent infringement lawsuits against other companies to get licensing fees, without actually making any goods or providing any services.

Judiciary Chairmen Intent on Curbing Patent Trolls

A number of bills are pending in Congress that aim to combat the rise of patent trolls, but the ones worth watching are the offerings from the two Judiciary chairmen.

House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., last week released an updated draft of his legislation, which would raise the bar for those filing patent litigation alleging infringement. It includes several transparency provisions for plaintiffs, while giving judges greater discretion to limit discovery and award legal fees to the victorious party.

Congress Is Tuning In to Revise TV Industry Rules

Industries battling over opposing policy goals is not uncommon in Washington. But few rivalries run deeper than the feud between the broadcasters and pay-TV providers over retransmission consent.

Raise the subject of retransmission consent and words such as “greed” and “collusion” are tossed around quickly. It is the most divisive policy issue within the TV industry — it’s also the most likely to shape a future where consumers can access the same video content through a variety of platforms.

Don't Mess With CBS in Broadcast Negotiations

In many ways it’s a good time to be a broadcaster: Profits are high thanks to the surge in political advertising, and the rise of Twitter and other social media platforms has given a new generation reason to embrace live TV shows as a shared experience.

Most significantly, broadcasters continue to enjoy big advantages over cable in the ratings, thanks to highly popular programming such as professional football and “American Idol.” That has given broadcast stations increasing leverage to demand higher fees from cable companies during retransmission consent negotiations, opening up a new stream of revenue for stations affiliated with the “big four” networks.

West Virginia Taps White Spaces for Wi-Fi Network

West Virginia University recently became a pioneer in the use of unlicensed spectrum when it launched a Wi-Fi network based on unused airwaves between TV channels known as “white spaces.”

Earlier this month, the university announced the 15,000 daily riders of its public tram system would get free Wi-Fi access, courtesy of a new pilot program with AIR.U, the Advanced Internet Regions consortium.

Congress Watches as FCC Mulls Spectrum Giveaway

Baby monitors. Bluetooth headsets. Wi-Fi Internet access. E-Z Pass. These are just some of the common technologies used by consumers every day that run on free, public airwaves known as unlicensed spectrum.

Unlicensed spectrum is the interstate highway of the wireless world: Anyone can use it, provided they stay within their lane. Advocates say freeing up more unlicensed spectrum could spawn new technologies, such as super Wi-Fi networks capable of covering entire neighborhoods or even cities. But some lawmakers remain wary of giving away something so valuable for free, and Congress is watching closely as the Federal Communications Commission makes critical decisions about unlicensed spectrum as it prepares to hold a spectrum auction next year.

No Clear Direction on Cellphone Location Tracking

The question of whether law enforcement officials need a warrant to track individuals using their cellphones remains open, but the prospects for legislation on the issue are murky at best in Congress.

Maine recently became the second state to ban officials from accessing cellphone location data without a warrant, highlighting again how Congress has been unable to reach a compromise on updating various elements of federal digital privacy laws.

States Not Waiting for Congress on GPS Tracking Laws

When Maine enacted legislation last week banning law enforcement officials from tracking individuals using cellphones or other GPS-enabled devices, it became the second state to do so after Montana. A similar effort failed in the Texas Legislature, but there is little doubt that other states will also act if Congress fails to update the statutes that govern access to digital communications.

One thing driving the states’ push for clear legal standards is the uncertainty of the current law. Location data is not explicitly addressed by the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (PL 99-508), so instead law enforcement officials rely on elements of that law that govern stored communications and other statutes.

Veteran Civil Rights Lawyer Challenged Over Media Diversity Role

Minority Media and Telecommunications Council President David Honig has devoted his life to civil rights issues, particularly those revolving around the media and telecom policy.

But no issue has defined Honig and his organization as much as the struggle over rules designed to encourage a diversity of ownership among broadcast stations and newspapers in local markets.

Media Ownership Concerns Shoved Aside at FCC

At his confirmation hearing last week, Tom Wheeler, President Barack Obama’s choice to lead the Federal Communications Commission, was grilled on everything from his ties to the telecom industry to his stance on crucial broadband policy issues such as net neutrality.

Media ownership, once considered the agency’s bread-and-butter topic, was a notable exception until Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., voiced concern over newspaper publisher Gannett’s recent acquisition of Belo, a Dallas-based media company that owns 20 local TV stations across the country.

Online Poker Players Short of Winning Hand on Hill

Not long ago, legislation to legalize online poker seemed a good bet to pass Congress. But the retirement of Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., last year has left online poker players without a key Senate GOP ally and a card short of a winning hand.

Since the federal government largely shut down the Internet poker industry in April 2011, poker players and the casino industry have been lobbying furiously for the legalization and regulation of the online game at the federal level. Those efforts have resulted in the introduction of several pieces of legislation, including a high-profile effort last year from Kyl and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Seeing Enemies Across the Poker Table

Opponents of legalizing online poker have cited a number of reasons for their resistance, including a moral objection to gambling and the dangers of giving addicts a constant, easily accessible alternative to brick-and-mortar casinos, where other safeguards could be in place.

But one Florida man has spent the past eight years on a personal mission to expose what he views as the greatest danger of online poker websites: the potential for money laundering by criminals and terrorists.

Will Rising Cable Bills Prompt Congress to Tune In?

When Sen. John McCain recently introduced legislation to reshape how consumers watch cable television, he knew he was picking a fight with some of the most influential companies in town.

“Today, we’re putting up a stop sign,” the Arizona Republican said in a May 9 floor speech. “And we’re going to find out how powerful these companies are.”

Former Cable Chief Tom Wheeler Awaits FCC Confirmation

The cable industry received a boost earlier this month when President Barack Obama nominated Tom Wheeler, a former head of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, cable’s top lobbying group, to chair the Federal Communications Commission.

Wheeler, a former venture capitalist and Obama campaign bundler, is well-known in telecom policy circles and perceived as friendly to industry, which should smooth his road to confirmation. But Senate Republicans might keep the nominee waiting for reasons unrelated to his qualifications.

Lawmakers Push for Sale of Government Airwaves

Lawmakers and regulators are at odds over the best way to satisfy the public’s growing demand for wireless data. Both have made finding more spectrum to expand mobile broadband networks a priority, but members of Congress are pushing for the immediate sale of a valuable chunk of federal airwaves, while the Obama administration appears more concerned with long-term planning.

Most stakeholders agree on one key point: The growing consumer demand for online video and other mobile applications has created a significant burden for wireless carriers, who claim their networks are straining to meet capacity. Those networks run on slices of spectrum, or airwaves, that the wireless carriers purchase at auction from the Federal Communications Commission for their exclusive use.

Calling Dibs on a Valuable Slice of the Spectrum

Because spectrum is such a scarce resource, almost every usable chunk of airwaves in the United States is accounted for and occupied by either federal or private users.

The federal government has worked to consolidate its spectrum holdings in recent years, auctioning off the 1710-1755 megahertz band in 2006 to a host of wireless carriers and planning for next year’s auction, which will include the 2155-2180 MHz band.

Senate Probes Swartz Case as Hacking Law Changes Pitched

Senate aides will learn more this week about the prosecution that supporters blame for causing the death of Internet “hacktivist” Aaron Swartz.

Justice Department officials will brief Senate Judiciary Committee staff members Thursday about the prosecution of Swartz for hacking and other computer crimes related to his downloading of scholarly articles from the subscription service JSTOR. Swartz had reportedly been threatened with a lengthy prison term by prosecutors before committing suicide in January.

Who Really Runs the Internet?

A “multi-stakeholder model” governs the Internet, but what does that really mean?

In essence, it means that no one person or organization controls the Web. The network itself is decentralized, with private carriers owning much of the telecommunications infrastructure and nonprofit groups coordinating standards so the various networks can communicate with each other.