Welcome to the Obamanet

Welcome to the Obamanet

The FCC snatches political control over more of the economy.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler gestures at the FCC Net Neutrality hearing in Washington February 26, 2015. ENLARGE
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler gestures at the FCC Net Neutrality hearing in Washington February 26, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

The Federal Communications Commission’s decision Thursday to regulate the Internet as a public utility is a depressing moment for American innovation and economic liberty. The FCC is grabbing political control over a vibrant market that until now has been driven by inventors and consumers. Welcome to the Obamanet.

President Obama demanded this result in a November speech, and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Democrats Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel have now dutifully voted to apply last century’s monopoly telephone rules to Internet service providers. They have in the process made a mockery of the agency’s supposed independence.

The rules are ostensibly to prevent Internet companies from blocking customer access to particular websites or slowing down service. But the FCC has presented no evidence that this is occurring, so the power grab is being justified by some theoretical future harm.

By the way, the FCC hasn’t released the text it has now approved as a final rule, which according to dissenting Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai runs to more than 300 pages. It’s not clear when the public will be permitted to see what Washington has done, and the normal comment period has been bypassed on a plan that is vastly different than what Mr. Wheeler has previously proposed.

Meantime, Mr. Wheeler will exercise what FCC lawyers call “editorial privileges,” allowing him to craft his arguments after reading the two dissents. Taxpayers might prefer that regulators analyze the pros and cons beforevoting to impose something on the whole country, and we hope judges feel the same way when the rules are challenged in court.

But based on an FCC summary, it’s clear that the agency has done administratively what Congress has always refused to do: make the old telephone and broadcasting overseer the general regulator of the Internet. Providers of broadband services will be barred from employing any “unjust or unreasonable practices,” whatever FCC bureaucrats decide those words mean. The FCC release also makes clear that government attorneys—not engineers—will decide what “reasonable network management” is.

And while “net neutrality,” the fuzzy concept used to justify these rules, was originally sold as a way to ensure that consumers are treated well, the rules will go well beyond those customers. Digital communications networks that exchange Internet traffic will also have to be “just and reasonable” with each other. The bureaucrats will exercise their discretion to define those words case-by-case, always listening to the best-paid lobbyists.

It’s hard to imagine a more just and reasonable market than today’s Internet. According to the website DrPeering, which tracks the agreements among communications companies to move information, the price of moving data across the Internet has been falling roughly 30% a year since the late 1990s. That collapsing cost per bit is a big reason Internet usage has skyrocketed. Consumers downloading huge volumes of video are paying bills not much different than when they were mainly visiting static websites.

That isn’t good enough for the likes of Netflix , which now generates more than a third of all Internet traffic, and other major bandwidth users that are the chief lobbyists for the new FCC rules. Netflix doesn’t detail its spending on Internet transport, though a telecom source estimates Netflix spends less than a penny for every movie it sends to a customer. But now CEO Reed Hastings has succeeded in subjecting the entire Internet economy to regulations that will be far more expensive.

The FCC’s Democrats promise—for now—to “forbear” from enforcing 700 of the most onerous and unnecessary of the old telephone regulations. But dissenting GOP Commissioner Mike O’Rielly calls it “fauxbearance” because the authorities the FCC is assuming are so broad it can still dictate conditions and practices that were subject to the old rules. And even if they do forbear, activists will sue to force the FCC to regulate under the “just and reasonable” standard.

Under the new rules, an Internet company must be sure that its innovations and actions don’t “unreasonably disadvantage” others. Would Apple even exist if the government had forced Steve Jobs to be “reasonable” with all of his competitors?

The FCC’s power grab is so comprehensive that Google and the other Silicon Valley grandees who promoted regulation may soon come to regret it. Mr. O’Rielly says the agency could enforce the rules against website operators like Google or Facebook . The new rules will also unleash a torrent of lawsuits, and nobody is better at maneuvering through the bureaucracy than giant companies like AT&T and Verizon . The losers will be the smaller companies that can’t afford a lobbying machine.

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Congress likely won’t be able to stop the FCC, so the best near-term response will have to come in the courts. In the best case, the lawsuits will delay the new rules until after the 2016 election. Then a new President less set on political control can appoint a new FCC and rewrite this effort to subject this great engine of American innovation to the untender clutches of the same folks who brought you ObamaCare.

Oscar Winner Pens Letter Accusing Academy of Christian ‘Bigotry’

Oscar Winner Pens Letter Accusing Academy of Christian ‘Bigotry’ in Song Flap (Exclusive)

6:21 PM PST 1/31/2014 by Paul Bond
  • Alone Yet Not Alone Still - H 2014
Anya/Enthuse Entertainment
A still from “Alone Yet Not Alone”

After the best original song nomination for “Alone Yet Not Alone” was rescinded, “Schindler’s List” producer Gerald Molen rips the Academy for “faith-based bigotry.”

Gerald Molen, an Oscar-winning producer of Schindler’s List, is accusing the Academy of discriminating against a religious movie in revoking its nomination in the best song category.

In a feisty letter to Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, a copy of which was obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, Molen attacks the group’s Jan. 29 decision to rescind the nomination for Alone Yet Not Alone, an overtly faith-based film, over allegations that its songwriterBruce Broughton, a former Academy governor, improperly lobbied members of the song branch. If Broughton and co-writerDennis Spiegel are ineligible for an Oscar merely for asking people to give their tune a listen, he argues, more Oscar winners should be required to return their statues because they all promoted their work to some degree or another.

“Every film, director, writer, cinematographer, actor, art director, costume designer and efx house finds a way to pitch or promote their work. Many will see this decision as faith-based bigotry pure and simple,” Molen says in the letter to Boone Isaacs.

The Academy nominated “Alone Yet Not Alone” for best song then took back the nomination two weeks later saying that Broughton improperly emailed “members of the branch to make them aware of his submission during the nominations voting period.” The nomination had been controversial because Alone Yet Not Alone earned just $134,000 in its 21-day run and Broughton is a former governor and current music branch executive committee member.

In the movie, the song is sung not by a professionally trained singer, but by Joni Eareckson Tada, a 64-year-old woman who has been without the use of her arms and legs for 47 years and runs a charity that provides wheelchairs to needy children. She also authors Christian books and broadcasts Christian radio.

“Critics will pounce and accuse us of being out of touch and needlessly offending middle America by stripping this song — a song sung by a quadriplegic hero to evangelical Christians who has captured the imagination of the American people — of its nomination,” Molen writes. “In my humble opinion, it seems to me that this has turned a Cinderella story that America loves into a story of the wicked stepmother who wants to keep her daughter from the ball, with we the Academy cast as the villain.”

After its nomination, several songwriters affiliated with other films expressed dissatisfaction with the selection, and a PR firm representing a song not nominated hired a private investigator to research whether Alone Yet Not Alone should be disqualified for not meeting advertising requirements, but the Academy wasn’t convinced on those grounds.

The email sent by Broughton, though, convinced the Academy to make the highly unusual move to rescind the nomination. Broughton’s email read in part: “I’m dropping you a line to boldly direct your attention to entry #57,” a reference to the track number on a CD containing songs up for nomination consideration. “I’m sending this note only because it is extremely unlikely that this small, independent, faith-based film will be seen by any music branch member; it’s the only way I can think of to have anyone be aware of the song.”

 “My goodness,” writes Molen, “if we were truly to operate by this new standard the committee has cited, your office would be filled with returned Oscars from past winners and nominees who have lobbied their friends and colleagues. This seems to me to have been a normal practice for a long, long time, and yet the Academy has suddenly discovered lobbying in the case of this one song?”

This isn’t the first time Molen has expressed displeasure with the Academy. Last year, he fired offanother letter to then-president Hawk Koch complaining about the selection process for best documentary, including that the selection committee included left-leaning filmmaker Michael Moore.

The Academy’s decision to take back its nomination caused a stir in Christian media, with many journalists and bloggers speculating that Hollywood is simply prejudiced against faith-based films. But Molen’s stern letter amounts to much more significant criticism, given his pedigree as an Oscar winner for best picture and producer credits on blockbusters like Jurassic Park and Minority Report. He also produced the political documentary 2016: Obama’s America and is working on the follow-up to that film, called America, set to open July 4.

“It has been reported that a rival film hired a private investigator to find dirt on the film in an attempt to discredit it as not having been advertised properly and that when this failed to sway the committee, a decision was instead made to disqualify it because of the email,” Molen wrote in his letter to Boone Isaacs. “I urge you and the Academy to reconsider this decision and restore the song and fairness and integrity to our process.”

 

Christian film stripped of ‘Best Song’ Oscar nomination

Christian film stripped of ‘Best Song’ Oscar nomination

Academy says that writer broke its rules against lobbying.

By Victor Morton

The Washington Times

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

This year’s most-obscure Oscar nominee is no more.

At a meeting this week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences board of governors decided to strip the surprise nomination for Best Song from “Alone Yet Not Alone,” which appears in the independent Christian-produced film of the same name.


 


Writer Bruce Broughton, a former member of the board of governors and currently on the music branch’s executive committee, violated the Academy’s rules against lobbying by personally e-mailing “members of the branch to make them aware of his submission during the nominations voting period,” according to a statement released by the governors Wednesday.

The nomination of “Alone Yet Not Alone” raised the eyebrows (and hackles) of many veteran Oscar-watchers when the nominations were announced Jan. 16. The film had a public profile more associated with obscure foreign films and nobody had tipped it as a possible nominee in any category.

“Alone Yet Not Alone” played on 11 screens nationwide for one week in October and grossed less than $135,000, BoxOfficeMojo.com said. As of Wednesday evening, fewer than 100 people had rated it on the Internet Movie Database. By comparison, the Sandra Bullock October release “Gravity,” which was nominated for 10 Oscars, has grossed more than $260 million and been rated by more than 250,000 IMDb users.

The producers of “Alone Yet Not Alone” plan a broader release in June.

Studios sometimes give films a short end-of-the-year “qualifying run” to make it eligible for the Oscars, with a broader release planned for the spring, cashing in on the publicity and cachet of the nomination.

The Japanese animated film “The Wind Rises” by Hayao Miyazaki was nominated for Best Animated Feature this year using the same strategy. But that strategy usually requires a much more-aggressive and high-profile publicity campaign than “Alone Yet Not Alone” could manage.


 


Ironically, the song had survived an earlier challenge to its eligibility based on the fact the film’s producers had not purchased any advertisements for its short and barely-noticed qualifying run in Los Angeles. The Academy ruled in that case that the theater listings for its showtimes qualified as the required advertisement.

According to the Academy governors, no other song will be nominated in place of “Alone Yet Not Alone” when the final ballots are sent out Feb. 14, and the Oscar will go to one of the four remaining nominees on March 2.

“Alone Yet Not Alone” is a religiously themed period piece about 18th-century settlers dealing with colonial wars and Indian kidnappers in the Ohio Valley. The song is presented in the movie as a traditional family hymn and sung on the film’s soundtrack by Joni Eareckson Tada, a well-known evangelical minister.

Mr. Broughton, who wrote the song with lyricist Dennis Spiegel, told the Hollywood Reporter that he was “devastated” by the stripping.

“I indulged in the simplest grassroots campaign, and it went against me when the song started getting attention. I got taken down by competition that had months of promotion and advertising behind them. I simply asked people to find the song and consider it,” he told the prominent trade publication.

The film’s status as a small Christian film led Orthodox Christian film blogger Peter Chattaway to predict charges of religious persecution in the coming days, playing off the image of Hollywood as a liberal bastion hostile to Christianity.

“The Academy may or may not have ruled correctly when it comes to Broughton’s e-mails. But it probably, however unintentionally, just gave certain Christians a little more fodder for their persecution narrative, and thereby threw just a little more fuel on the culture-wars fire. Sigh,” Mr. Chattaway wrote on his Patheos site Wednesday night.