Tina K. Russell

April 25, 2008

Digital fiefdoms

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 4:58 pm

Senator, Clear Channel dispute DOJ logic on XM/Sirius merger

The Justice Department argued that competition doesn’t exist between XM and Sirius because the two satellite services use different kinds of technology, making an interoperable radio receiver an uphill project even after a marriage. XM and Sirius don’t compete for existing customers. How could they, given that existing customers can’t access the other service with their receiver?

But both Clear Channel and Senator [Bryon] Dorgan [D-MD] note that this lack of interoperability plainly violates the very condition that the FCC set to XM and Sirius when it created a satellite radio service in 1997: All satellite receivers manufactured by licensees must be able to receive all Digital Audio Radio Satellite (DARS) signals.

“For defying this FCC order and for engaging in this anti-competitive practice of locking in car buyers to one of the two satellite companies, the Department of Justice rewards them with a merger,” notes Dorgan with a tone of contempt. To reward this lack of cooperation with the FCC’s rules now, argues Clear Channel, would “make a virtue out of a vice.”

Yes, thank you! I’m glad somebody’s looking out for consumers’ rights in the digital age. Interoperability is the biggest digital challenge of our time, and it’s not helped by digital media companies drooling over the prospect of future platforms being established monopolies instead of open standards, or companies like Microsoft (with their Office suite and Xbox Live media services) or Apple (with their FairPlay DRM used for iTunes) refusing to allow competition into their walled gardens, and instead hoping to establish a vertical chain of dependency for users on their products.

Imagine if your car only ran one brand of gasoline, or if your radio could only pick up stations from one company. Now, adapt this analogy to something that is forming the backbone of society and for social interaction well into the foreseeable future. Imagine if the Internet hadn’t been around to save us from horrendous proprietary portals like AOL and CompuServe, carving America up into closed-off fiefdoms. Now remember how much public funding went into the creation of the Internet (including, I should note, from Al Gore, who championed the project during his career in Congress). Now you’ll see the kind of dire situation we’re in; companies will have to be convinced to change to open standards, even if they are being short-sighted and destroying the market they’re trying to create by not doing so on their own.

When I have children, I hope their social lives won’t have to be dependent on proprietary platforms like MySpace or Facebook. This ensures that one company has veto power over their interactions, and tremendous ability to shape their thoughts and beliefs. Their ability to grow, learn, and interact will be held back by one company’s ability to learn what they need. Their privacy rights will also be an afterthought, something considered by the company’s PR department, not R&D or IT. Instead of being able to take part in a grand, collaborative, social project, they will be feeding from the breast of a new, global, social Ma Bell, one with the arrogance to consider itself merely a platform, a force of good for humanity, instead of the humility to recognize it’s a corporation like any other.

We need to vote in our self-interest, prevent more media consolidation, and take back control of our government. It’s not too late.

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