Category Archives: Aspen

Lobbying, Aspen Style

When Washington’s telecommunications policy-makers escape the heat and humidity of the capitol in Aspen, Colo., they brought something else with them — the urge to lobby.Here, former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Reed Hundt stopped current FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, and Martin’s chief of staff Dan Gonzalez, on Tuesday, August 14, after a speech in which Martin imparted impart a message of “a la carte” pricing of cable channels, and mandatory carriage of new television broadcasters on cable systems.

Hundt, one of the organizers of the summit, has important business of his own before the FCC. Indeed, Hundt is a partner in Frontline Wireless, a start-up that was the most active lobbying party in the recent agency decision the 700 Megahertz spectrum, according to a report by the Center for Public Integrity’s project on telecommunications and media. Officials at Hundt’s venture met and talked with agency staff at least 70 times from January through July.

Aspen Institute Forum on Communications and Society

Below is a matrix for the broad themes of the discussion on “Media and Values” that have taken place at the Aspen Institute Forum on Communications and Society from August 13-15, 2007.

Aspen Values



*ensuring universal access

  • creating a national broadband policy
    • Universal Service Fund for broadband
    • loans and grant to underserved areas
    • more spectrum for broadband
  • separating content from conduit

*providing media empowerment and skills

  • require tagging across media (rating from 3rd parties)
  • set filter default for browers, search engines as on
  • copyright rights-clearing for academic fair use
  • teen media empowerment through education & contests
  • new business models:
    • Media Model: share, track, advertise
    • Value Model: pay per download without DRM
    • Application Model: software as a service
  • empowering consumers to understand and control use of personal identifiable information
    • New non-profit to promote privacy
    • Consumer opt-out

  • FTC report on technology filtering tools
  • government led “designed driver” campaign
  • clarify fair use principles to support creation of content:
    • privilege personal use
    • for non-commercial, liberalize sampling
    • for commercial use, lower transaction costs
    • deal with orphan works
    • transparency in use of Digital Rights Management technologies
    • don’t permit widespread distribution for commercial use
    • common standards beyond fair use

*teaching civic engagement

  • generating demand through online games and interactive tools devoted to particular issues
  • public investment for community-based technology projects (e.g. Digital Opportunity Trust, Technology Opportunity Trust)

*addressing local needs and interests

  • businesses adapt to demand for hyper-local content
  • requiring public affairs programming by broadcasters
  • public investment for local news projects
  • low power FM radio
  • leased access channels on digital must-carry

*preserving core journalism values

  • foundation-led National Commission on the Future of Journalism
  • investing in public media like BBC, NPR
  • changing tax laws to encouraging non-profit ownership of media companies, including newspapers

Chairman Martin Proposes Cable Carriage for New TV Broadcasters

ASPEN, Colo. – Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin on Tuesday offered two proposals that he said would address concerns about objectionable content and add “access to new voices in the media.”

Martin repeated his proposal to require cable operators to sell television programming a la carte, or on a per-channel basis. “The ability to pick and choose among the content being offered them by the cable operators,” he said at the Aspen Forum on Communications and Society here.

Parents would have “much have meaningful choices” in the programming they could watch, he said. Currently, “there is little or no incentive for the market or programmers to respond” to parents’ demands for less racy content.

Martin has previously urged a la carte pricing of cable systems, but Congress has failed to enact that policy.

The second suggestion, as with the first, would come at the expense of the cable industry. As television broadcasters transition to digital television, the ability to broadcast multiple channels of programming would “provide us an opportunity for others to lease some of that capacity,” said Martin.

“I have actually proposed that we specifically allow [minority and small-businesses] to lease some of that capacity,” he said.

“They would be treated just like full power stations,” said Martin, meaning that they would have the obligation to provide public interest obligations, such as three hours of child-oriented programming in a week.

“But they would also have the benefits of cable carriage,” said Martin. That means that these new television stations would enjoy mandatory carriage on cable system even if their over-the-air signals were extremely limited in their power.

Berman Regrets Voting to Extend Copyright Terms

ASPEN, Colo. – Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property, said Monday that he regretted voting to extend copyrights 20 years when Congress did so in 1998.

“When it comes to pangs of guilt for things I have done, I have to say that the substantial lengthening of the term of copyright is one of those things,” Berman said at the Aspen Institute’s Forum on Communications and Society (FOCAS) here.

The 1998 law, the Copyright Term Extension Act, added 20 years to all U.S. copyrights, lengthening the term to 70 years after the life of the author, or 95 years for copyrights held by a corporation.

Berman kicked off the discussion on intellectual property in the digital age, one of three panel discussions taking place as part of the Aspen’s “Media and Values” conference. The other panel discussions focused on dealing with offensive and harmful content online and over the air, and localism in media.

Berman made the comment about copyright terms in reaction to a question from Esther Dyson, chairman of EDventure Holdings, who asked whether Berman had ever considered a law to shorten copyright terms.

Berman’s preliminary remarks laid out an agenda for copyright legislation that included extending the performance right to include broadcasting as well as satellite radio and webcasters, providing a means for individuals to make use of “orphan works,” or copyrighted material whose owners cannot be identified or located, and potentially even extending intellectual property protection to fashion designs.

“I represent a congressional district where the content industries are very large employers of a large number of my constituents,” Berman conceded. “There are many tensions between the creators and authors, but they are not the same people. But those owners and creators are a substantial part of my political fund-raising base.”

Among the participants in the conference include a range of heavy-hitters in the fields of entertainment, communications, media and journalism, including Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney, Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post blog, Arthur Sulzberger, chairman of the New York Times Company, and Dean Singleton, CEO of MediaNews Group and publisher of 64 daily newspapers.

Besides Berman, government officials attending the gathering include Federal Communications Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, and Viviane Reding, Commissioner of the EU Commission on the Information Society and Media.

Content Issues for New and Old Media

Tracy Westen, founder and CEO for the Center for Governmental Studies, has just outlined some pointers on thinking about the regulation (or lack of regulation) of media content.

He suggested breaking the field up into offensive content, harmful content, and missing content. Offensive content is that sort of material that can be avoided through filtering and other blocking systems. Harmful content may be that which may represent a clear and present danger. Missing content is that which isn’t, for whatever reason, isn’t produced by the marketplace.

He concluded with these principles:

  1. Whatever you know now will change because of new technologies.
  2. We should try to avoid censorship.
  3. In the western word, there is a a presumption of a lack of harm from speech. Other societies place a much higher value of security. We need to have a neutral and respectful dialogue about free speech versus security.
  4. The line between offensive speech, in which filtering will work on, and dangerous speech, dangerous people would be drawn to, is porous.
  5. The new models of the Internet disrupt social constraints. On social networking – do we put constraints more like it is as it were a television, or as though it was a telephone.
  6. Globalizion is making all of this more difficult, harder, or more interesting.
  7. Preserving free speech is a process; censorship will never be overcome.

Eisner Calls for Self-Regulation of Violent Content

Internet companies offering user-generated content should actively filter violent, pornographic and copyright-infringing content, even when not required to do so by law, said Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney and founder of Tornate Company.

Eisner, speaking at a panel at the Aspen Institute’s Forum on Communications and Society, criticized Google for refusing to remove violent videos about decapitations from Iraq from its YouTube video site.

Referring to a recent exchange at Paul Allen’s Sun Valley resort, Eisner quoted a top Google executive as saying, “I am waiting for the government to tell me what to do. You have told me what to do on pornography; you don’t want me to get involved in user-generated content.”

To this, Eisner replied: “We don’t want the government [involved.] The government’s job is to keep the government out of that. It is responsible of the GOogles and Yahoos and CEOs and managers of these sites to act responsibly, and to create the mechanics of good governance.”

But Eisner’s comments were greeted critically by other participants at the conference.

Google is “scared of people labeling them a monopoly,” said Esther Dyson, chairman of EDventure Holdings. She noted that YouTube offers its users the opportunity to vote for the content to be filtered. “I think that is the appropriate response.”

“There is a law that protects all online operators if they don’t get involved in editorial decision-making,” said Leslie Harris, executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology. “If we simply demand that all online sites, have strong editorial control, we are turning it back into a TV model. It is the online model, and the decision needs to rest in the hands of the users.”

Eisner also said that Hollywood studios were about to release a “bill of rights” in which they identify 25 demands for “file-sharing giants,” referring to Google’s YouTube, Yahoo and others.

If their demands are not met, Eisner said, “they will do a massive Napster-type lawsuit.”

Takeaway Messages from Jeff Cole’s Remarks

In Jeff Cole’s plenary, he outlines the stresses — and opportunities — for various forms of media. Some takeaway messages:

  • While film, music and print will survive (and thrive), it may be as smaller industries, especially on the web.
  • This is not true of television, which will remains significant and immensely popular.
  • On the web newspapers and magazines become like TV and compete like never before
  • Television and web: terms only distinguish where they originated.

Blogging from Aspen

All this week, I’ll be blogging from the Aspen Institute’s Forum on Communications and Society, where I’m participating as a rapporteur. Jeffrey Cole, executive director of the University of Southern California’s Center for the Digital Future, has just begun an open plenary session. He has predicted that teenagers:

  • Will never read a newspaper
  • Will soon never watch TV on someone else’s schedule
  • Will never wear watches.
  • Trust random strangers more than experts

Stay tuned!