Category Archives: microsoft

Broadcast Networks Seek ‘Time Out’ on FCC Push for White Spaces

By Drew Clark

WASHINGTON, October 23 – The top executives of the four major broadcast networks on Thursday urged the head of the Federal Communications Commission to delay a vote on a politically simmering issue that pits broadcasters against Google and high-tech executives.

In the letter, the CEOs of CBS Corp., NBC Universal and Walt Disney, and the chief operating officer of News Corp., urge that the FCC exercise caution before taking irreparable action with regard to the vacant television channels known as “white spaces.”

Google and the other technology executives, including Microsoft, Motorola, Philips and others, want the FCC to authorize electronic devices that capable of transmitting internet signals over vacant television bands.

The network executives – CBS’s Leslie Moonves, Disney’s Robert Iger, NBC’s Jeffrey Zucker and Peter Chernin of News Corp. – want a time out.

They join their local broadcasting colleagues, as well as manufacturers and users of wireless microphones, like the National Football League and Broadway theater owners, who have been actively lobbying the issue.

The broadcasters want the FCC to delay a pending report and subject the technically-laden document to peer review by engineers.

“It would be unprecedented to let the FCC take action of something of this importance, which could potentially introduce considerable interference into the television band, without allowing the public to comment,” said Dennis Wharton, executive vice president at the National Association of Broadcasters.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is scheduled to release the white spaces report at a commission meeting on Tuesday, November 4, which is also Election Day.

Both advocates and critics of the white spaces proposal expect that the report by the agency’s Office of Engineering and Technology could pave the wave for widespread use of devices transmitting in the white spaces.

Traditionally, advocates of white spaces have been politically out-gunned. Non-profit communications enthusiasts, including officials at the New America Foundation and the Media Access Project, have been promoting the concept for years. But until recently, broadcasters have held sway among FCC commissioners.

Fears of Interference

Broadcasters’ fears of interference have kept stations far, far, apart on the television dial.

That’s why even today, if you live in Washington, DC, no more than four of the 21 channels between 30 and 50 are occupied: 32, 45, 47 and 50. That leaves 17 available as white spaces. The FCC’s allocation of TV channels was set in 1952.

The channel numbers vary from city to city, and will likely change with the transition to digital television (DTV) on February 17, 2009. Still, a lot of unused real estate is and will remain vacant in the sky.

Google’s solution: the FCC should give the industry permission to build smart electronic devices that will automatically “sense” their own geographic location, and then offer connections to the internet only when such transmissions would not interfere with television broadcasts.

In the Thursday letter, the network executives don’t extensively rehash the arguments against interference.

Indeed, they say that their companies “have worked with [broadcasters] and other interested parties toward a final plan to utilize white spaces in the television band because we recognize that better utilization of spectrum could mean improved broadband deployment, especially in rural areas, and economic growth nationally.”

Rather, they highlight their concern about potential irreparable consequences.

“The FCC has to get this matter right the first time,” said the executives. “If millions of unlicensed devices flood the market in the next few years, and it turns out the sensing still does not work, … and the result is massive disruption to Americans’ #1 news, leisure and entertainment option, how will that damage be undone?”

The executives are fighting a rear-guard battle against stepped-up advocacy on the part of the tech companies, including Google co-founder Larry Page. Page appeared at a September 24 pro-white space rally on Capitol Hill.

And on Tuesday, October 21, Google and New America Foundation hosted an event at the search giant’s California headquarters entitled “Pervasive Connectivity.”

At the Tuesday event, Michael Calabrese, director of the New America Foundation’s Wireless Future Program, urged: “take TV off the air” in a few years, according to the trade publication Communications Daily. Calabrese said that all of the TV spectrum should be for wireless broadband, replacing over-the-air broadcasters with cable, satellite and internet viewing, according to Comm Daily. (Also see this report from

Who’s Right, Broadcasters or Techies?

Currently neglected in the current debate is a “Third Way.”

Instead of turning the white spaces into yet another political football between competing lobbyists, why doesn’t the government put these frequencies up for sale? It’s the kind of idea that you would think a warm-hearted capitalist company like Google would love.

That, at least, is the idea of Professor Thomas Hazlett of George Mason University School School of Law. (Disclosure: I serve as part-time Assistant Director of the Information Economy Project, where I work with Law & Economics Professor Thomas Hazlett, who directs the project.)

Hazlett favors taking a property rights approach to spectrum, and he elaborates on this idea in the October 3 edition of The Wall Street Journal (with Nobel Laureate in Economic Vernon Smith):

Allot all TV band frequencies to, say, seven national licenses, and auction them. (Competition could be ensured by a one-to-a-customer rule.) TV stations would be grandfathered, and continue to broadcast on current channels. But they would also be able to change channels or accept some interference with their broadcast signals. They would happily accept payments to make way for new wireless stuff. Band usage would be radically transformed.

This procedure greases the skids for efficiency, downloading politically arduous tasks to market specialists. Many wireless services, from PCS to Blackberry to MediaFlo, have been launched through such spectrum trades. Those deals only happen when owners can bargain. To free the airwaves, we must liberate them from the pre-World War II template in which they are now trapped.

I first heard about a variant of Hazlett’s proposal about 18 months ago, at the May 2007 Aspen Institute Roundtable on Spectrum Policy, in Queenstown, Maryland. A long-time critic of broadcasters, Hazlett proposed dividing up the remaining 294 Megahertz – this is the spectrum that will remain after the DTV transition – into about seven segments of about 42 Megahertz a piece. (I lay out the spectrum math in this sidebar.)

Each slice could be auctioned off, or, as an alternative, cleared for use by unlicensed Wi-Fi style devices. The nut of the proposal is that auction buyers – presumably Google and the other technology giants – must bargain with incumbent broadcasters to entice them to either exit their broadcasting business, or to keep from interfering with existing broadcasts.

CEO: Microsoft-Yahoo Will Bring Competition to Media Business

By Drew Clark, Editor,

WASHINGTON, June 3 – Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said Tuesday that his company’s attempt to acquire Yahoo was an effort to bring greater competition to the media business and the advertising industry.

“We are trying to give good competition to the market leader in that category,” Ballmer said about Google, his voice rising to a pitch as he addressed a question about changes in the market for online advertising.

“What about this Yahoo thing?” Ballmer asked rhetorically, referring to Microsoft’s continued quest for an aliance or acquisition of Web portal Yahoo

“The fundamental driver [is that] we are aiming to accelerate our move to get scale in online advertising. We think that this will be an important part of how the media business shakes out,” Ballmer said.

Ballmer, speaking at the annual gala dinner of the electronics association AeA, framed the Redmond, Wash.-based software company’s strategic moves vis-a-vis Google — which opposes a Microsoft-Yahoo combination — as a task to which ingenious software should be applied.

He criticized Google for failing to innovate — “search technology hasn’t changed a lot over five years” — and said that software was needed to empower better searches.

Better software will in turn enhance the sale of advertising, which is, he said “a good part of the media business.”

“At the end of the day, if there is good competition, the media producers will get paid a fair return from advertising on their site,” Ballmer said. “If there is not good competition, they will end up having to think about that in a different way.”

However the Yahoo maneuvering turn out, Ballmer left little doubt that the Internet had turned “the media and the advertising that supports it” on its head.

Ballmer also touted the continued progress of Moore’s Law, the technological maxim which says that computing power doubles every 18 months to two years. Moore’s law is name after Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Silicon Valley microprocessing giant Intel. Technological progress will continue to bring faster processing, better digital storage, more flexible display technologies and faster wireless connectivity.

“We don’t exactly take [wireless broadband networks everywhere] for granted right now, but we are getting very close,” said Ballmer. He recounted how, on a recent trip to the African nation of Burkina Faso, he was “browsing the ‘Net, the same way over wireless as if in Seattle.”


The Economics of the Patent System

The third panel at the patent, innovation and antitrust conference has begun, and here is the line-up:

Panel III:  The Patent System

“Favoring Dynamic over Static Competition: Implications for Antitrust Analysis and Policy”
David Teece, Thomas W. Tusher Chair in Global Business, Haas School of Business (U.C. Berkeley)

“Rewarding Innovation Efficiently: The Case for Exclusive Rights”
Luigi A. Franzoni, Professor of Institutional Economics, University of Bologna

“Does the Market Care About Changes In Patent Law?”
Scott A. Baker, Professor of Law, University of North Carolina School of Law

“Patent Notice and Cumulative Innovation”
Michael Meurer, Professor of Law, Boston University School of Law

Patents as Property Rights

We are on the second panel at the patents, innovation and antitrust conference.

Here is the line-up:

Panel II: Patents as Property Rights

“Removing Property from Intellectual Property and (Intended?) Pernicious Impacts on Innovation and Competition”
F. Scott Kieff, Professor of Law, Washington University in St. Louis School of Law

“Commercializing Property Rights in Inventions: Lessons for Modern Patent Theory From Classic Patent Doctrine”
Adam Mossoff, Associate Professor of Law, Michigan State University College of Law

“The Modularity of Patent Law”
Henry E. Smith, Fred A. Johnston Professor of Property and Environmental Law, Yale Law School

Patent Royaltes in Standards

I’m at the “Patents and the Commercialization of Innovation” conference, and Damien Geradin is speaking about how the various theories of royalty-stacking theories “fail to account for cross-licensing.”

There is a great deal of confusion between the minimum cumulative royalty rate, the maximum cumulative royalty rate and the average cumulative royalty rates that apply to the implementation of a standard.

This is the first of several panels devoted to considering the interplay of the patent system, innovation and antitrust.

Here’s the agenda for this morning:

Panel I:  Patents in Standards

“What’s Wrong With Royalties in High Technology Industries?”
Damien Geradin, Professor of Competition Law and Economics, Tilburg University Law & Economics Center

“Federalism, Substantive Preemption, and Limits on Antitrust”
Bruce H. Kobayashi, Professor of Law, George Mason University School of Law

“Patent Holdup and Oligopsonistic Collusion in Standard Setting Organizations”
J. Greg Sidak, Founder, Criterion Economics, LLC

Antitrust, Innovation and Patent Reform

Today, I’ll be attending, and hopefully live-blogging, or live-Twittering, about “Patents and the Commercialization of Innovation,” which is the topic of the George Mason University/Microsoft Annual Conference on the Law and Economics of Innovation. This is the second annual version of this conference, and it is being held at the Hilton Arlington, 950 North Stafford Street, Arlington, VA.

The conference this year has an impressive agenda and list of speakers and presentations — including Richard Epstein, Bruce Kobayashi, Adam Mosoff, Greg Sidak and Henry Smith. The last conference was more directly focused on antitrust and software. This conference delves into the interface with patent reform, a subject that some of the biggest tech players in Washington, including Microsoft, have championed.

Here’s the conference boilerplate:

[This conference] will address the role of patents in the commercialization of innovation—an area of significant and enduring controversy. In particular, the conference will focus on three interrelated aspects of the debate over the law and economics of patents: The intersection of patents and antitrust, particularly in technology standards; the economics of the patent system and patent reform; and the proper understanding (and implications) of patents as property.

It will be interesting to see how Microsoft squares its generally hard-line (or maximalist) attitude towards copyright protection with its more liberal (or minimalist) approach to patent law! Check back here at – or on my Twitter page – for frequent updates!

Note: The George Mason University/Microsoft Annual Conference on the Law and Economics of Innovation is not affiliated with the Information Economy Project at George Mason University School of Law, a program with which I am affiliated, as the Assistant Director. See the “About” section for information about my activities.