by Dana Blankenhorn
  Volume VIII, No. XXIX

This Week's Clue: My Verizon Crusade

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This Week's Clue: My Verizon Crusade
SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)
SP (Shameless Promotion)
Michael Powell's Final Grade
The Package
In The Time of Pamphleteers
Clued-in, Clueless

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For the Week of July 19, 2004

I have recently begun working with Egoscout (that's number two on last week's list of choices), a company dedicated to teaching people how to get more from their cell phones, giving them bargains on data services, helping them upgrade, and helping those in the cellular data business find their market. (The slogan is, "turn the cell phone into a sell phone." Cute, huh?)

I actually conceived of this business during the recent CTIA show in Atlanta, test-marketing the concept with exhibitors and attendees, drawing an enthusiastic reception. Our CEO is Jeff Vick, a serial entrepreneur with experience at Turner and iXL. (He also votes for Republicans, not that there's anything wrong with that.)

The dark lords of the CTIA show were the executives of Verizon Wireless, who strutted about the event in black suits, arrogantly aserting that they would, could, and should control all data markets on their network. You can't sell data services (like ringtones) to a Verizon customer except through Verizon. All programs must be rewritten, to Verizon's specifications, in Qualcomm's Brew, and before they are marketed they must be approved by Verizon Wireless executives.

Consumers don't know this. They generally don't care. There is no reason why they should, since data represents barely 2% of the total cellular market.

But this is going to change. So-called 3G networks will, along with compression, give cellular networks something resembling broadband capacity very soon. And nVidia chip sets, revealed at this CTIA show, will give phones themselves the kind of graphics capability previously found only in full PCs, by next year, at popular prices.

What's coming is an explosion in cellular data, an explosion which Verizon is standing in the way of. They announced what they called "Mobile Web 2.0" recently but it is in fact a proprietary offering. It's like calling AOL the Internet.

This means that customers are being trapped inside a walled garden of Verizon Wireless's making. It also means that vendors will be unable to advertise their wares broadly, because even if all the other U.S. cellular providers go with open standards, one-third of their ad buys will be wasted on Verizon customers who can't access what they're being sold.

This is why Asia and Europe are so far ahead of the U.S. in the cellular data market. Standards are uniform, Premium SMS billing lets you sell across platforms, so you can advertise ringtones in a magazine, or on TV, and not waste a dollar. At CTIA the recording industry was pushing "true" Ringtones, MP3 snippets taken directly off popular recordings, but so far only Cingular has begun advertising them, thanks to the Verizon roadblock.

You can't expect a carrier to effectively sell complex data services. ISPs don't sell Google or Amazon. They sell bits, they sell access. The services need a way to sell themselves, and they must be reached by their entire market, if you're to get anything resembling the Internet data market in a cellular world.

You're going to read a lot more from me on this in the coming months. It's a very important issue. At some point Verizon, like AOL, will realize it must open up to the mobile Internet. But it won't do that until it feels pressured to do so, until the market starts imposing a price on their intransigence. My goal, as a reporter, is to increase that pressure, and perhaps cause them to pay that price some months or weeks before they would have otherwise.

I hope you'll join me, for your own sake. Don't buy Verizon Wireless cellular services in the U.S. Find another carrier. And tell your friends that, if they want cellular data services, they need to avoid Verizon like the plague.

The sooner we get Verizon Wireless behind open standards, the sooner the mobile Internet market opportunity becomes real.


Shameless Self-Promotion

I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am presently searching for opportunities.

My last book, "The Blankenhorn Effect" won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards .

You have my permission to forward this newsletter widely. And if you have trouble subscribing let me know. Remember: it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...


Shameless Promotion

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Takes on the News

Michael Powell's Final Grade

I've gone back and forth on Michael Powell.

Sometimes he talked a good game. Other times he caved in to pressure, either from industry or pro-censorship forces. But his signature moment, in retrospect, may have been his failure to bring the commission along on his plans for broadband. Regardless of the merits, or how it was treated by the courts, Powell didn't lead. He didn't politick, and he didn't build a winning or governing coalition at the FCC. That's Job One for a chairman.

There is now speculation over whether Powell would return for a second Bush Administration. I doubt it, and I'm no longer sorry about it. Michael Powell is not a big fat idiot. He's worse. He's an arrogant, self-absorbed theoretician in a job that demands a calm, consensus-building politician.

And on the larger questions of the moment he has failed. This FCC has, like the Justice Department, simply abandoned anti-trust. That hurts content and U.S. competitiveness. A half-dozen companies now control nearly every form of U.S. media, which not only means fewer viewpoints are seen, but has left us vulnerable to British journalism, Japanese cartoons and Australian movie stars. Our media products are crap because there is no way for new stories, or new storytellers, to be heard in a concentrated market.

It's going to get worse. While the UK is now moving toward opening up the phone network to competition , Powell has overseen a re-imposition of the cable-Bell duopoly which results in higher prices, poorer service, and lower take-up rates.

I wish Michael Powell had been a Big Fat Idiot. That would have been an improvement. An idiot could have become a lightning rod for critics in the agency, a permanent minority like Clarence Thomas. Michael Powell was just a useful tool for monopoly.


The Package

I headed out last week to see Dr. King, but I was feeling so frisky when I approached that his ghost motioned me northward instead, toward the steep, short hills around Peachtree Center.

Exhausted, I pulled in to a sidewalk, and entered a brick garden lined with benches. I sat heavily onto one, and as my breath returned looked to see a backpack, or perhaps a bedroll, on the bench opposite me. Quite suddenly I started, and recognized where I sat. Here was where the bomb went off during the 1996 Olympics. It sat there, maybe on that bench, in a pack much like the one I was facing.

Did I feel lucky? I walked a few paces north and found a street person, smoking a cigarette and talking to herself. The bedroll was hers, I concluded, but I was no Richard Jewell. I would not report it, could not be a hero. The space where the streetperson sat held short monuments, stones etched with names. These weren't the bomb's victims, I saw, but the winners of every medal at those Games, in order of their event, from athletics to wrestling. Gold, silver, bronze, immortal.

But it was the bombing, which killed Alice Hawthorn and wounded dozens more (many of whom are still in court over it) through which history still defines those Games. Most of the Games' heroes are forgotten. The villian's act lives in infamy.

That bomb, of course, was just a small precursor to the horrors of 9/11 and the further horrors of the "War On Terror" which has no end. Eric Rudolph stands accused of the crime, but he is in fact being tried for another bombing, in Birmingham. Did he have accomplices? No one knows. But if one man, perhaps with some little help, could do so much damage, destroy a great event's joy, destroy a whole city's reputation, what hope does civilization have against the larger conspiracies loosed by hate upon the world?

I finally understood. We can't protect everyone, everything, all the time. It can't be done. Civilization, like the Internet, can only survive if there is a consensus to keep its peace. Some won't follow that consensus, but unless we do everything possible to keep those numbers small, very small, they will still overwhelm us.

If the history of our time, from that bombing onward, should teach us anything, it is that. And if we don't reach consensus based on that understanding, the war in which we're engaged cannot be won.

So I rode on, lost in thought. One bullet killed Dr. King. One bomb killed the Atlanta Olympics. One conspiracy destroyed the World Trade Center. The Earth consists of 6 billion possible conspirators, each with their own mind, minds that no government - not even the most brutal - can hope to control. When I arrived home, Dr. King asked me, what are you going to do about it?

Tell you, I answered.

In The Time of Pamphleteers

I'm a journalist. I print facts. I try hard to be fair - not objective, fair. When someone is spouting nonsense, I say so. I try not to make it personal, and I try not to tell lies in the process. That's the way I was taught to do it.

That's not how journalists today are taught. Thus Ann Coulter, who writes nothing but personal attack and invective, is equated to Michael Moore, whose films, while polemical, do at least include real facts. . Instead of arguing against the film's content, she calls Moore names, and somehow this is considered rational. It's like Monty Python's "Argument Clinic." . "Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes."

This is nonsense. It is definitely not akin to the journalism practiced at the Republic's founding , which could at least excuse itself for coming at the time when science was just being born. In the Age of Reason, a man like Benjamin Rush was a "Great Doctor," even though he used bleeding and purging against yellow fever, and ignored the mosquitos in the rain barrels. .

Today, I suspect, Wolf Blitzer would sit Rush opposite Walter Reed and in the name of fairness declare both their arguments equally valid. If the Bush Administration favored bleeding and purging, he might well add a second doctor to Rush's side and call the result credible, since he wasn't taking sides.

Is it any wonder then that young people no longer read daily newspapers , that the ratings for all cable news channels are down , and that many now prefer to get their news from blogs?

Journalism is unique among trades in that the people who do the work have no control over the result. Journalism is controlled by publishers, those who create and employ working business models under which the work can proceed. If those men are biased on behalf of any political agenda you'll get Pravda. And the way to answer lies isn't by setting facts alongside them on equal terms. It's by, fairly, destroying the sand on which the lies are built, exposing the corruption of their news-gathering process.

Note to the City University of New York. Forget about training people to be reporters. Train them to become publishers instead.


Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is the John Kerry campaign and its online advertising strategy. . They dominated major sites, they used flash effectively, and they settled on a good price, $50, to maximize contributions. (Even Howard Dean's people made the mistake of harping on a higher price, $100.)

Clueless is the world press which bought MPAA's line about "one quarter of broadband users pirate movies" hook, line, and sinker. If you're just going to reprint press releases, your jobs can easily be outsourced to India, too.


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