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No Stamp of Approval From ‘Innovators'

A group of (accurately) self-described Tech Innovators, including voice-over-Internet-pioneer Daniel Berninger and online-video trailblazer Mark Cuban, illustrated their displeasure with the government reclassification of Internet service providers as TitleII utilities with a graphic depicting what they call the innovation-killing chill of those common-carrier regulations.

To accompany a blog post last week spelling out their grievances (check it out at, Berninger included a graphic of an elderly judge rubberstamping “denied” on papers labeled with innovative products and services.

He’s flanked by a black rotary phone, the metaphor of choice for common carrier-style regulations in an age of smart phones.

Tech Innovators is the latest collective noun for the Tech Elders, meant to include that original group that pushed back on Title II, but also to eventually encompass others who agree with them on innovation vs. Title II — which they see clearly as a case of “vs.”

The Wire got to wondering just how literal the illustration was meant to be. No, that was not a caricature of the Federal Communications Commission’s current chairman Tom Wheeler, or even the agency’s only, lonely administrative law judge.

“History will credit Wheeler for ending Internet independence,” Berninger told The Wire, “but the graphic represents the generic bureaucrat as the Internet ideas gatekeeper June 12th forward.” The rules go into effect June 12.

What about all those “denied” innovations? In addition to zero-rating plans and sponsored data, which the FCC is examining with a critical eye, why put video streaming, picture sharing and tweeting in the crosshairs? Aren’t those innovations the FCC is ostensibly trying to keep free-flowing?

“The graphic picks up on a basic point in my motion to stay the [Title II] order about the difference between entrepreneurs and ISP the court declined to review. Entrepreneurs make success/fail and go/no-go decisions before each and every initiative,” Berninger told The Wire. “ [That] decision process is impossible in realms the FCC touches. In other words, having the FCC as gatekeeper entirely ends entrepreneurial involvement — we cannot judge success or failure — which was/is my case for irreparable harm.”

Berninger was trying to make that case in the stay request — but the court declined to review it because it was not bundled with Title II stay requests by the National Cable& Telecommunications Association, the American Cable Association and others.

As to the “graphic” denial of video streaming in the illustration, Berninger had a lot to say, which, unlike the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, The Wire will permit him to say.

“All of the eventual new service successes (video and otherwise) reflect the result of a vast amount of trial/error and a few successes. The presence of the FCC in the ecosystem disrupts this process because the FCC might object to a particular approach before fully vetted and tuned by actual customer experience. We see this in all the supposed violations of open Internet as basically dumb business models that could and would have failed on their own without any help/intervention by the FCC,” Berninger said.

“Keep in mind, the non-regulated Internet does not require a leap of faith. We have 20 years of experience and trillions of successful online interactions without FCC/ Title II interventions.” We rest his case.

— John Eggerton

RFD-TV to Belt Out 2016 Prez Coverage With Orion

Patrick Gottsch’s small, rural-focused cable channel, RFD-TV, had an outsized presence in the regulatory process involving the huge media mergers of Comcast and Time Warner Cable (since abandoned) and AT&T and DirecTV (still in the works).

RFD-TV viewers deluged the government with comments on the mergers, by some accounts racking up more than 90% of the publicly submitted comments, expressing concern for the impact on rural American TV viewers after being encouraged to do so by the Nashville-based network.

“And we didn’t do a form letter or a petition for people to sign,” Gottsch told The Wire.

His channel even picked up AT&T Uverse TV carriage — in standard-and high-definition formats — adding 5.6 million subscribers from the telco pay-TV service last fall, elevating it to more than 47 million.

Gottsch told The Wire he expects his viewers to remain engaged as Charter Communications seeks approval to merge with TWC and Bright House Networks.

“I really enjoyed last year,” Gottsch, who hails from Nebraska, said. “I enjoyed the process in Washington, D.C.”

As for Charter’s plans, he said he was “really optimistic” the deal might end up benefiting RFD-TV. Instead of one big, urban-based cable company buying another big, urban-based cable company, this time it is a smaller cable company, in a lot of rural markets, doing the buying, he said.

“All we want is a chance to be on urban cable, to be well-distributed. And we’re hoping that Charter, with their rural ties, will lead to that.”

Meanwhile, the politically energized Gottsch is offering all the presidential campaigns in Iowa this summer the chance to take part in town hall forums, carried on RFD-TV in primetime and focused on rural and agricultural issues.

Mediacom Communications, the leading cable provider in Iowa, has discussed helping out, Mediacom spokesman Tom Larsen confirmed. “We haven’t worked out all of the specifics, but we do have five production trucks in Iowa that we have offered to use in partnership with RFD-TV,” he said.

RFD-TV is planning to do a lot of political coverage leading up the 2016 elections, much of it led by 81 year-old anchor Orion Samuelson, former host of syndicated TV newsmagazine U.S. Farm Report, whom Gottsch likened to “the Walter Cronkite of rural America.”

So far, Gottsch said, the Republican and Democratic national committees seem interested, as do the candidates who have been contacted. Equal-time rules won’t be a problem, he said. RFD-TV would like to do a forum with every candidate in the race between now and the first Iowa straw poll on Aug. 8.

“And there are so many candidates, we’re going to be busy,” he said.
— Kent Gibbons