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News Archive: September 2008

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9/27/08 - FCC Begs Off on Translator-Expansion (for now) [link to this story]

A pleasant surprise: last week, during the FCC's monthly meeting, the Commission was to vote on a disastrous plan to give all AM stations a buttload of FM translators, gratis. However - and somewhat true to form for Chairman Kevin Martin's tenure - the item was pulled from consideration at the last minute. An unnamed source within the FCC reportedly says this is not just a short-term delay; the FM translator giveaway is not slated to be on October's agenda, either.

Some trade publication, whose name escapes me now (because I didn't bookmark to their miniscule blurb on the subject), claims that it is the "forces of LPFM" which have delayed the translator giveaway. Not sure what that's supposed to mean: the "forces of LPFM" are not nearly as organized as they were just a few short months ago, when they lost their most talented and driven public-interest lobbyist for greener pastures. This is a loss that, frankly, cannot be adequately replaced.

Meanwhile, legislation continues to percolate through Congress that would expand the LPFM service, by and large, out to its original scope as proposed by the FCC some eight years ago. As I've said before, I'd rather see this particular effort die and the "forces of LPFM" re-organize to support a bona-fide, no-strings-attached expansion of the service. It's not like the FCC hasn't ever gone against the will of Congress in the past, so I can't see this being a reasonable explanation for the FCC's inaction on this particular issue, either.

Regardless, a bad deed was not done, for once, and that's small solace. Meanwhile, there are still some other poisonous ideas floating around the FCC that could be bad for LPFM, and those are still apparently under discussion. And, oh, yeah, AM stations can still apply for the use of FM translators through the FCC's back door.

9/21/08 - Comcastic Adventures: Capping Your Bandwidth [link to this story]

By now, you've all heard about the FCC slapping Comcast's wrists for engaging in data discrimination; it's simply been required to disclose its current and future "network management" practices, under penalty of...nothing, really. Both Comcast and those who called for the FCC to act on its shady attempts at subverting network neutrality are appealing the FCC's decision.

We've already covered Comcast's history of opaque and unreliable service, especially when it comes to crippling your e-mail. Comcast's initial response to the FCC ruling has been the announcement of a 250 gigabyte per-month usage cap on all residential users, effective next month, with extra-special throttling on the most intensive users at any given time (to be determined at Comcast's discretion).

I, of course, called Comcast tech support to find out if the company had any plans of offering me any sort of tool to know how much bandwidth I'd used over the course of any given month - I mean, if you're going to offer what is essentially metered usage, you should at least have the courtesy to make a meter available for customers to check themselves. Electric utilities and cell-phone companies provide this service as a matter of course, and if Comcast is already so finely-grained in network management practices, providing this service should be a piece of cake, no?

Unfortunately, no, the Comcast rep told me, the company does not plan on letting you know how much bandwidth you're using until you've busted the magic cap - then, you get a threatening phone call. Do it again and your service will be terminated for at least a year.

While I was holding on the phone, I stumbled upon Om Malik, who's already thinking in this direction, and has compiled a handy list of client-side bandwidth-meters to check out (in order to gauge just how easy it might be to bust various companies' bandwidth caps). Make sure to note the comments in this particular post for other bandwidth-meters available.

These programs won't give you an exact reading of your bandwidth usage (no company has yet disclosed just how they will define "usage"), and your ISP's monitoring software and cycle is likely to differ from yours. But some information is better than none, especially in the case. I gave my new Comcast friend the link, too, so he could pass it along to other customers, for whatever that will be worth.

Now, I know 250 gigabytes is a lot - the server on which this site runs has a bandwidth allocation of 800 gigabytes per month, and even with ~20 gigs of audio/visual content online it's an outlier-month when visitors eat more than two thirds of that. But as the Internet grows, so does the complexity and richness of its applications - it is the future utility of the Internet which is endangered by bandwidth caps set in the here and now.

And unlike this site's hosting provider, I doubt Comcast will raise caps to meet the innovation of new applications - they'll just charge more for the artificial scarcity that already exists in their network. Smart broadband policy would not just cover notions of things like network neutrality; it would also encourage, by any means necessary, the construction of a 21st century telecommunications infrastructure - not just the hacks and patches everyone (save Verizon and municipal fiber projects) is currently peddling as "next generation" Internet access.

It was a sad day when I finally locked down my wireless connection, because Comcast's new policy makes my bandwidth something I now need to guard instead of share. I can't wait for the days when students tell me they couldn't finish their papers because they ran of bandwidth for the month.

9/14/08 - Re-Translating the U.S. Elections Through U.S. Propaganda [link to this story]

Paul the Mediageek recently did an excellent interview with Sarah Kanouse, Assistant Professor in the Intermedia Program at the University of Iowa's School of Art and Art History, about her latest project, Voices of America. In short, this VOA is a re-interpretation of presidential election coverage provided by the real Voice of America - the main radio arm of the United States' international, over-the-counter propaganda efforts.

As Sarah explains, there is technically a ban on U.S. government-sponsored information outlets being used to propagandize the domestic public. Though this ban has long been flimsy, the rise of the Internet both makes it possible for VOA to be sampled by Americans as well as the rest of the world. Voices of America, therefore, is an effort to re-contextualize VOA coverage of the U.S. presidential election using the government's own coverage; the participant-artists are the propaganda's targets, both intentional and otherwise.

One of the things that makes this project notable, especially for remix-culture buffs like me, is that the participant-artists can be any of us. The Voices of America web site provides information on how to pull VOA clips down to edit, provides a link to short tutorial on digital audio editing basics, and allows those who've re-translated something to share it with the rest of the world. On Election Day, the aggregated collection of collage will be "exhibited" in gallery-space and via micropower FM transmission in Los Angeles.

In related news, Skidmark Bob has put together a compelling five minute encapsulation of the chaos that surrounded the recent Republican National Convention. I've stumbled across a few election-related collages, which I hope to add to the Truthful Translations archive in short order.

9/9/08 - HD Radio and Industry Schizophrenia [link to this story]

Interesting samples abound about what the U.S. radio industry thinks about its digital future. When you thread them all together, you find a spot of chaos.

Late August, 2008: Stop IBOC Now!, a coalition of broadcast engineering professionals and listeners, publishes a 10-page list of comments from people within and outside the industry. This list is apparently a sampling of more than 200 received by the coalition to-date. All but one are negative on HD Radio.

August 28, 2008: USC Professor Jerry Del Colliano notes that Arbitron's newest audience-measurement tool, the Portable People Meter, which is supposed to provide more detailed and fine-tuned information about audience-listening habits, cannot rate the listenership of any HD Radio station yet because there are too few listeners to meet Arbitron's reporting requirements. To put this in some sort of perspective, the cumulative national audience for public access cable TV channels still dwarfs HD Radio's national listenership.

August 29, 2008: The fact that the proposed power increase for FM-HD signals will portend disaster for analog listenership is analyzed here.

September 3, 2008: The HD Digital Radio Alliance celebrates "three successful years" of HD Radio's proliferation to-date. Quoting outgoing Alliance president Peter Ferrara, "When we began putting the pieces in place for the Alliance in the fall of 2005, there was little attention being paid to HD Radio and the industry lacked a plan to make it a reality. There were only a few HD stations on the air, no automakers offered an HD Radio and no national retailers carried receivers. Today, it is gratifying to know how far we've come in three short years." Exactly how far is that, given the facts listed above?

September 19, 2008: The 2008 NAB Radio Show in Austin, Texas - the premier yearly gathering of radio broadcast professionals - will host a conference session entitled "HD Radio: From Novelty to Viable Commodity." The title itself speaks volumes. That being said, if "consumer awareness grows" to a point where it can be actually measured, then maybe you'll find a way to "make this new technology work for you." After all, if you can't tell potential advertisers/underwriters that you actually serve an audience in HD, then how do you turn these channels "into revenue-generating entities?"

Put simply, any claims about HD Radio being anything near a "success" at this point in time is akin to calling controlled flight into terrain a "successful landing."

9/4/08 - Berkeley Liberation Radio Collateral Damage in FBI Raid [link to this story]

An FBI raid last week on the Long Haul Infoshop in Berkeley has taken Berkeley Liberation Radio off the air, hopefully temporarily. Details are sketchy as to why the FBI raided the space in the first place, but guns-drawn agents were not picky about what they hauled away.

From the story: "Soul, a long-time [BLR] broadcaster...said the underground radio station had been impacted by the raid. 'We had some of our stuff there,' she said. “They got our hard drive, and that really concerns us.'" What the FBI really got were two computers - an old PC and a laptop - that the station used as webcast-nodes to connect Berkeley Liberation Radio's studio to its transmitter.

The raid also freaked out the host of BLR's transmitter (which remains un-visited), and now the station must also find a new location to broadcast from. Cap'n Fred reports, "We're not sure why the FBI wanted those hard drives but we suspect it might have something to do with some organizing against the republican convention. We really don't know what it's all about, but there is a lawsuit going to get the stuff back."