Hold up FCC

Just as Genachowski launches his sprint toward net neutrality, House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee ranking member Cliff Stearns, R-FL, has introduced legislation that would put an immediate stop, or at least a pause, to the chairman’s plans.

The legislation proposed by Stearns would require the FCC to first perform a study that proves there is a need for net regulation. This study would have to be completed before the commission could impose any new regulations on ISPs.

Stearns’ office issued a statement saying, “I see no reason for Internet regulation. Yet, if there is ever a cause for regulation, it is a decision to be made by Congress — not the FCC.” Said Sterns, "Net regulation will discourage investment and innovation precisely when we need it most, especially in light of our push to increase broadband deployment. The FCC should not stand in the way of Internet innovation and expansion."

Stearns said he acted in response to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's decision last week to launch a proceeding that would reclassify the transmission component of broadband service as a telecommunications service under the Title II provisions of the Communications Act. Genachowski has described his plan as a "third way" approach between those who favor applying restrictive Title II regulations to broadband and broadband providers who favor the status quo. An appeals court ruling last month put the FCC's authority over broadband in doubt. Genachowski said his approach will ensure the FCC can preserve an open Internet and implement the commission's National Broadband Plan aimed at enhancing broadband access and adoption.

Under Stearns' bill (H.R. 5357), before the commission could impose new regulations on Internet access services, the FCC would be required to conduct an analysis showing that there is a "market failure" that is "causing specific, identified harm to consumers by preventing a substantial number of consumers nationwide from accessing a substantial amount of lawful Internet content, applications and services of their choice on a continuing basis." Without such a finding, the FCC would be prohibited from imposing new Internet regulations.

The broadband companies were quick to praise the bill. AT&T Executive Vice President of Federal Relations Tim McKone said in a statement, "We applaud Rep. Stearns for drafting a bill designed to address the dynamism of the Internet while protecting consumers from harm ... As the FCC proceeds down the path of regulating the Internet by applying 75-year-old laws developed for the black rotary telephone, we are hopeful that the Congress will take a more prudent path."

Not surprisingly, the wireless industry group CTIA, the NCTA and the U.S. Telecom Association also commended the proposed legislation in their own statements. "This legislation recognizes that unprecedented government regulation of the Internet must be a measure of last resort and that our nation's broadband future depends on continuing policies that promote private investment," said NCTA President and CEO Kyle McSlarrow.

Peter Davidson, senior vice president of federal government relations for Verizon, echoed that viewpoint saying, “Congressman Stearns’ legislation starts with the right premise: Regulators should identify a problem before imposing a solution. It is certainly appropriate for Congress to examine the implications of regulation, and his effort is an important addition to the discussion."

ASCAP gets slapped down

The United States 5th District Court in New York recently issued a ruling on performance licensing rates and terms that can be charged for streaming television and radio content to mobile devices.

In the case, U.S. vs. ASCAP, music performance rights publisher ASCAP sued MobiTV claiming that MobiTV refused to agree to ASCAP’s demanded and newly-created rate structure. Under the new rates, ASCAP claimed MobiTV owed ASCAP $41.3 million.

District Court Judge Denise Cote said not so. The decision will force ASCAP to levy fees based on its current cable licensing framework instead of a new, and much higher, structure it was proposing for wireless delivery.

This could turn out to be an important case for broadcasters and others who want to deliver television over wireless networks. To some experts, ASCAP was merely using the new delivery technology to justify a more expensive licensing fee structure.

New mobile pay system

A company called Square has released a system that allows iPhone, iPad and Android phones to be able to collect payments for products and services via credit cards. Phone users download an application and plug a small dongle containing a miniature card reader into the phone’s headphone jack. After a quick swipe of a customer’s credit card through the reader, the merchant hands the iPhone, iPad or Android to the customer where they sign their name on the phone’s touch screen with a finger or stylus and provide their phone number or e-mail address. The software allows the customer to add a tip if desired by either percentage or amount. Once completed, a receipt message is then sent via SMS or e-mail to the customer’s own phone.

According to an article in Fast Company, while Square has only about 1000 users now online, it expects to ship several million of its free card readers to merchants in the next few months.

The company claims there are immediate benefits for both the customer and merchant. Customers will receive an immediate notification if there is any unauthorized use of their card at a Square-equipped merchant. Receipts and account information are posted on the Square website. For those really paranoid people, users can even post their photo on the Square website and it will appear on the merchant’s phone/device every time the credit card is swiped for verification.

The company claims it does not store much information about customers. It says it doesn't even keep your credit card number on file. While Square does store your phone number or e-mail address because that’s needed to complete any transaction, that information is not shared with the merchant, only with Square.