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Linda - A U.S. House of Representatives committee has recommended the U.S. government give out $6 billion in grants for wireless and broadband roll-out in a $825 billion economic stimulus package to be considered in Congress. The House Appropriations Committee's recommendations, released last Thursday, also include $20 billion for health IT programs and $650 million to buy more coupons for digital television converter boxes, as U.S. television stations are scheduled to switch to all-digital broadcasts on Feb. 17. A $1.3 billion fund for the coupons at the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) ran out of money earlier this month. U.S. residents receiving over-the-air broadcasts on older television sets will need to buy a converter to continue to receive TV signals after Feb. 17. The NTIA program provided $40 coupons for converter boxes, which can cost $40 to $80.
Tom - The broadband money is less than several groups had called for. A year ago, Educause, a higher education tech advocacy group, called for $100 billion in new broadband spending, with $32 billion coming from the U.S. government, spread out over four years. The money is needed to bring 100Mbps of broadband service to every U.S. home and business, Educause said. In recent weeks, Free Press, a media reform group, has called for $44 billion in new government programs for broadband, and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) suggested a $30 billion broadband program would create about 950,000 new jobs in the U.S. Still, Free Press applauded the Appropriations Committee recommendation. Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press, said in a statement "While $6 billion is not as much as we had hoped for, it is a substantial investment that represents an important public commitment to broadband,"
Linda - Free Press and other groups calling for a national broadband policy say money for roll-out would create jobs and would bring new opportunities to U.S. residents in areas that do not have broadband. Some experts estimate 5 percent to 10 percent of U.S. households do not have broadband service available. The House Appropriations Committee's recommendations are the first step in a longer process to passing the so-called American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. President-elect Barack Obama and the U.S. Senate are likely come up with different numbers. Obama has said that U.S. government investment in broadband is an important policy goal.
Tom - Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin said yesterday that he will leave the agency upon the handover to the new administration. In a statement, Martin said that he will join the Aspen Institute, a nonprofit leadership group, as a senior fellow on communications issues after his departure Tuesday. President-elect Barack Obama is expected to nominate his technology adviser, Julius Genachowski, a local venture capital investor and former official of the FCC, to head the agency. Martin led the FCC for four years through sweeping changes in the telecommunications and high-tech sectors, adding oversight of wireless technologies and high-speed Internet access to the agency's more traditional role of broadcast and media regulation. Martin will likely be remembered for forcing the winner of a spectrum auction to open its network to outside technologies. He also ruled against cable operator Comcast in its practice of slowing down certain Internet traffic on its network.
Linda - Meanwhile, Martins likely successor, Julius Genachowski has received praise from several public sources. An editorial in the Seattle Times points out that Genachowski, like many of President Obama's appointees, had experience in the Clinton administration. He was chief counsel to FCC Chairman Reed Hundt. Since then, Genachowski has worked for IAC/Interactive, the parent company for Ticketmaster, Match.com and the Home Shopping Network. He also has his own investment advisory firm. The editorial points out that Genachowski is more likely to maintain media cross ownership restrictions, limiting a company from owning a newspaper and a TV station in a local market. Outgoing FCC Chair Martin had tried fought to loosen cross ownership limitations, believing that cable, satellite and Internet technology had made the issue of monopoly moot. The Seattle Times editorial also points out that Genachowski is likely to be a stronger proponent of net neutrality than Martin was. Net neutrality is the principle that the owner of the network, or pieces of it, should not restrict users for reasons against their interests, such as to deny them the right to use certain services because those services are owned by somebody else.
Tom - The American Association of Independent Music (A2IM) also applauded the appointment of Genachowski as FCC Chairman. In a recent statement, they say they are hopeful that this appointment represents a commitment by the new administration to make sure there's a level playing field in the technologies that independent artists and labels use to get their music heard. They note that preserving net neutrality is one key to protecting and promoting independent music and musicians. They note that due to the internet and digital music sales independent label market share grew from 29.49% overall in 2006 to 31.76% overall in 2007. They also point out that independent artist and label music consistently remain under 10% of the music found on AM/FM radio, those numbers are very different for non-terrestrial radio.
Linda - According to the royalty collection society SoundExchange -- who's mission is to track and collect royalties from non-terrestrial broadcasts like webcasting, satellite radio, cable & Direct TV -- almost 40% of music selected by listeners is from independent label music. The American Association of Independent Music statement concludes by saying that "Making certain that open and fair access to market is maintained while supporting fair compensation for the use of music is the worthwhile and achievable goal. At A2IM we're proud to welcome our new FCC chairman, and call on him and and the incoming White House administration to support all of us striving for a more vibrant, more diverse, and more fair atmosphere for independent music."
Tom - The Journal Broadcasting and Cable is reporting that June 12 is the choice on both sides of the aisle in Congress for a new DTV transition date, that according to a draft of the House Commerce Committee version of a bill moving the DTV date. A similar bill was introduced Thursday on the Senate side by Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller. The bill also sets Sept. 15 as the expiration date of any DTV-to-analog coupons for converter boxes. It would also include one replacement coupon per household for any coupons that had expired anytime during the life of the coupon program. The bill would not require broadcasters to remain in analog until June, which means that stations who were ready and did not want to continue to spend the money to keep two signals on would not have to. The bill also tries to address the concerns of companies, like Verizon, that have plans to use the analog spectrum freed up by the digital conversion for advanced wireless services. Verizon has said it is ready to start testing it 4G wireless service on the reclaimed spectrum, in hopes of rolling it out by the end of the year.
Linda - In international media news, The Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement condemning the Israeli military’s bombing last week of a Gaza City building that houses the offices of a number of international news organizations. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) attacked the rooftop of Al-Johara Tower, an eight-story building located in Al-Rimal neighborhood in Gaza City, which houses more than 20 international news organizations, according to multiple news outlets. Al-Jazeera reported that at least one journalist was injured while filing a report from the roof of the building. Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, defended the strike in an interview with Al-Jazeera, saying that communications equipment in the building could have been used by Hamas.
Tom - At least one journalist has been killed in Gaza in direct relation to his work since the Israeli offensive began on December 27. Basil Ibrahim Faraj, an assistant cameraman for the Palestinian Media and Communications Company, died on Tuesday at a hospital in Egypt after suffering head injuries when his crew came under fire on the first day of the military campaign, according to multiple news reports. Turkish, French, and Iranian news organizations are among those located in the Al- Johara Tower, which is meters away from the Shawa and Hosari Tower, which houses a number of major media outlets. Coordinates for both buildings were provided to the Israeli military, and floodlights were kept on both roofs to identify the buildings, according to print and television accounts. Said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney “The Israeli military knows the location of TV facilities houses and news bureaus in Gaza. It is simply unacceptable that working journalists and their offices should come under fire in this way,”. “Journalists enjoy protections under international law in military campaigns such as the one in Gaza. Israel must cease its attacks on the media immediately.”