Cable Set-Top Box Arguments: Nothing But Reruns

It is inevitable that right before a major filing on an issue that the cable guys HATE!!! with all the passion of an injured monopolist, the we see a flurry of distracting nonsense designed to fuzzle the FCC, generate bad trade press, stoke the wholly-owned subsidiaries in Congress, and provide more material for the chanting cheerleader chorus. You may remember this from 2014’s: “Net Neutrality — The FCC Is Totally Gonna Lose On Banning Paid Prioritization,” and its 2015 Sequel: “No Wait, We Were Totally Lying Last Time, Banning Paid Prioritization is Cool But The FCC Is Totally Gonna Lose on Title II.”

 

Meanwhile, Comcast steps up with some “deal” that supposedly totally solves the problem they say doesn’t exist anyway so now there is no reason to do anything. In net neutrality, that was “look, we cut a deal with Netflix so you don’t need that silly old net neutrality.”

 

So it is no surprise that in 2016 we see another rerun. With comments on the FCC’s wildly popular (outside the Beltway) #unlockthebox rulemaking going on, aka the “Expanding Consumer’s Video Navigation Choices” proceeding due tomorrow, the cable industry has run true to form. Yesterday, Comcast announced it would make an ap available to Roku to let consumers stream Comcast content (under Comcast’s licensing terms, subject to Comcast control, and only to those Comcast finds sufficiently non-threatening). The fact that Comcast was messing around with the HBO Go ap on Playstation just last year  has not stopped the usual chorus of useful idiots from chanting hosannah’s of praise and declaring the problem solved. (Hopefully I will get to deal with everything wrong with the ap approach in a future post. But the short version is: “swapping one thing Comcast controls for something else Comcast controls is not “solving the problem.”)

 

But perhaps more importantly, we now come to the inevitable second act of this  well worn cable rerun. The press call headed by NCTA CEO Michael Powell with a panel of high power corporate lawyers who will trot out the same arguments they always do on why the FCC is totally gonna lose. I am eternally mystified why anyone takes this seriously because Duh, what else do you expect the cable guys to say? “Oh yeah, we don’t have a legal leg to stand on and the FCC is totally going to win. Damn, I knew I shouldn’t have drunk that bottle labeled Veritaserum!”

Nevertheless, for some reason, pronouncements by lawyers paid to make such pronouncements seem to have some mind clouding effect which not only makes people forget all the previous times these people have made exactly the same prediction, but forget the actual FCC detailed refutation of these arguments in the notice of proposed rulemaking. So once again, we here at Tales of the Sausage Factory will play the part of the annoying little dog exposing the man behind the curtain while everyone else trembles at the Great and Powerful Oz — played here by NCTA CEO Michael Powell.

 

Curtain pulled back bellow . . .

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Ben’s Social VR Adventure

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There are lots of old and new VR sites with prognostications. This guest blog from a VCpreneur has four “requirements” for social VR, and it sparked some discussion at our office.

It reads to me very much like this investor fellow might be talking with some startup that features his four points, and he just wants to sort out whether the concepts are sticky. I’m imagining a company that uses Facebook for login, uploads your 2D and 3D albums and videos into your 3D space (which is zero-install via WebVR), lets you and your friends like/share from in-world, and folks that click on those shared things in Facebook get brought into your 3D space at the corresponding item. (I pitched such a thing five years ago as “Beyond My Wall”, using the Unity browser plugin instead of WebVR.)

One of the blogger’s “requirements” was that participants use their real-world identity, and this was what interested our gang, both for and against. I think this is a red herring. Although I use my real name online alot, my gut is that an alwful lot of VR is going to be about sex, and folks won’t want to use their real name. But overall, I don’t think it’s killer one way or the other. I’m guessing that he’s trying to turn the limitation of Facebook-login into a feature called real-world identity, and I think it’s a stretch. There’s clearly a lot of things that went into making Facebook win over MySpace, and I’m not persuaded that that real-world identity is the magic ingredient. Indeed, both Twitter and his other example, Youtube, are both counterexamples. I think real-world identity can be a part of many potentially successful killer apps, but I don’t see it being required for all such killer apps. (I think verified identity, whether real-world or not, will be a great service for High Fidelity to offer, but it won’t be required for everything.)

I do think he’s on the right track, though, with his feature set including pre-established friend links and content-sharing. But I’m not sure the guy has really understood why those two things matter or what they are part of. They feed the virality of a lot of social media winners, but the magic is in the viral math, not specifically in the features. For example, “pre-established friends” is helpful, but not necessary for Twitter, Youtube, or EBay. I think that each one of a Facebook liked-story, Twitter hashtag, Ebay auction, and Youtube video/discussion page forms a micro-community of interest with a specific “address” that can iself be shared out-of-band. Each user can and does “belong” to many such micro-communities. I believe that’s the real driver for virtuous-circle virality. High Fidelity is going to be great for this, because anyone can easily create any number of separate, persistent, domains of interest, and each one can have the computation shared by the people who are interested in it. (Our upcoming Beta makes it easy to organize one domain per user’s computer, which I think is a good initial model.) Nothing else I’ve seen (not even Beyond My Wall) can scale like that. This is so very different from social VR startups that offer even a large number of hosted chat rooms.

Of course, none of this is to say what is interesting about any of these domains. That is a separate – and more important – question that remains. The blog (and this response) are about what qualities are necessary, given something interesting, for it to catch on.

Separately, the comment from DiGiCT was interesting, that the huge numbers of Chinese HMD sold are just a series of upgrades to very bad/cheap/unsatisfying units. I wonder if that’s true.

H.R. 2666: House Prepares to Give ISPs License To Price Gouge (Even More).

The House Rules Committee has scheduled a floor vote for Friday April 15 (today!) for an amended version of H.R. 2666 aka the “No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Access Act,” aka the “Twice The Evil of the Beast” Act. Ostensibly, the bill is supposed to codify the commitment made by President Obama, FCC Chair Tom Wheeler, and just about everyone else that the FCC would never use the classification of broadband as a Title II service to engage in “utility style rate regulation.”

 

Surprise! As I explain in a much shorter version over here, H.R. 2666 basically removes the authority of the FCC to take action on any complaints relating to overcharges, fees or other nasty practices that broadband providers may do to overcharge you — provided they disclose them honestly (and, since there is not exactly a lot of competition, disclosure doesn’t help much). It also effectively strips the FCC of its authority to address zero-rating — even in the worst anticompetitive cases where a provider zero-rates its own content while applying its broadband cap (however discriminatory) to rival services. Along the way, it renders various merger commitments involving offering low cost service to the poor unenforceable and has lots of other nasty impacts.

 

Needless to say, the collective trade associations of the broadband industry are thrilled.

 

That’s not just me talking. That’s from the President’s veto threat message. Additionally, this group of 50 public interest groups think H.R. 2666 is a very, very bad bill, and 30 groups signed on to this letter explaining how H.R. 2666 will screw up privacy protection by letting ISPs charge you for it (aka “pay for privacy” like this from AT&T).

 

I’m going to repeat a pitch here I will repeat often: If you think letting broadband providers price gouge and undermine net neutrality is a bad thing, please call your Representative in the House directly, or use this link to go to BattleForTheNet.com and call your Representative (they have a tool to help find your Rep and have a script — but use your own words, that is always more convincing.

 

Made your call? Good. See below for lots more details so you can explain to your friends why they should call. . . .

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How To Use High Fidelity

no-cow-tipping

tl;dr

1.Install the “Sandbox” app(We currently do not provide pre-built installers for Linux, but techies can build from open source for all platforms.) The “Sandbox” is the HighFidelity logo that appears in your system tray. (It is in the corner near where the wifi logo is on your screen, and may be behind the arrow if you have a lot of system tray apps. Sandbox starts automatically on Windows.)

2. Click on the Sandbox app and choose “Go Home” to visit your own personal domain. You can also visit another domain by clicking on a “hifi:” link that someone has given you on a Web page or email.

This is your user interface. While you use this, your actions are seen by others through your representation as an avatar.

3. Use the arrow keys to move, or the joysticks/touchpads on a hand controller. (You may need to turn on some controllers using the Avatar -> Input Devices menu.) Change between desktop display and Head Mounted Display (HMD) using the Display menu. (HMDs and controllers need to be plugged in and have their manufacturer’s software installed before starting the user interface.)

4. Most of the system behavior is defined by scripts that you can get from friends or from the Examples, or that are attached to the objects you find in the domains that you visit. Some initial behavior that you get “out of the box” includes:

  • The Go To button, giving you a directory of places.
  • The Examples button, giving you different avatars to choose from, or things to add to domains that allow it (like your own Home domain).
  • The Edit button, which lets you edit any object in in any domain that lets you.
  • Pressing the “return” key gives you an address bar to specify another place or user to visit.
  • The microphone is on! Use a headset.

If you’ve got 10 people sharing wifi, or have a Comcast connection that turns into molasses on a Friday night, things might be a bit slow when your network sucks. This is especially true when visiting a new domain for the first time. Also, some domains are faster than others. If things don’t feel right, try again later, or see “Stats”, below. Continue reading