March 5, 2012
OMG. No more texting while driving in Pennsylvania?
Indeed. Under a new law that takes effect Thursday, drivers will risk fines if they send text messages from behind the wheel. No reading or sending of e-mails and no Web surfing either.
But drivers will still be permitted to talk on their handheld phones, which police say will make enforcement tougher. "The Pennsylvania State Police anticipate the law will educate law-abiding citizens on the dangers of texting and driving and will hopefully create voluntary compliance by the majority of motorists," said Maria Finn, a State Police spokeswoman.
The state law, signed by Gov. Corbett in December after years of debate, also supersedes existing local ordinances, such as those in Philadelphia and two other Pennsylvania cities, which prohibit the use of any handheld device behind the wheel. New Jersey is one of nine states that ban the use of all handheld devices while driving. The Pennsylvania law makes texting a primary offense, which means that police may pull over a driver for texting alone.
But law enforcement officials say it will be tricky for officers to determine who is texting and who is dialing a phone number or looking for something they dropped. "Troopers will attempt to use observations of the driver while the vehicle is in motion to determine if traffic stops are warranted in any particular situation," Finn said. "For instance, if a motorist continues to manipulate the device over an extended distance with no apparent voice communication." Officers may not seize cellphones from drivers. Those who are caught will be fined $50 but will not receive points against their license.
Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood says he is pleased about the texting law, though he hasn't had the chance to read it or brief his officers yet. "The world of technology has made our roadways and our sidewalks unsafe," said Chitwood, recalling the death several years ago of a young woman pedestrian in Upper Darby, who was hit by a driver high on marijuana and texting. At least one driver was found to be distracted in 15 percent to 30 percent of motor-vehicle accidents nationwide, and texting increases the risk of accidents, according to a 2011 study by the Governors Highway Safety Association.
But the same study found that texting bans were not effective at stopping the hazardous habit. Still, law enforcement officials and lawmakers hope the ban will reduce handheld usage by making people aware of the dangers. "The road should always be your only focus," said State Rep. Michelle Brownlee (D., Phila.). "No text or e-mail is worth risking a fatal accident." Philadelphia Inquirer
It was dubbed "TV Everywhere." But for many TV viewers, it has had trouble going anywhere.
Nearly three years after Time Warner Inc. and Comcast Corp. kicked off a drive to make cable programming available online for cable subscribers, the idea of TV Everywhere remains mired in technical holdups, slow deal-making and disputes over who will control TV customers in the future. Now some media executives say the effort, aimed at insulating cable television against a rising tide of cheap online video alternatives, risks getting left behind-a concern that found voice last week at two different industry conferences. While some cable programming is available online, much isn't, or is available only to subscribers of certain pay-TV providers. That is because TV Everywhere-which is a concept, not a specific service-requires a lot of deal-making.
Each cable operator, phone company and satellite-TV provider must negotiate separate agreements for online rights to every cable channel. So far, just a few companies have reached wide-ranging deals. At the same time, the availability of alternative online video is exploding. Google Inc.'s YouTube is spending hundreds of millions of dollars funding new channels that are available anywhere. Netflix Inc. is ramping up spending to buy reruns and now original shows-like a cable channel but without the rest of the cable bill. The danger for media companies, some TV executives say, is that a new content garden is growing up outside of cable TV's walls. "We have to move much faster," said Jeff Bewkes, chief executive of Time Warner, at one of the investor conferences last week. "And if we don't, we do risk letting others take this opportunity."
TV Everywhere is part of a larger effort in many quarters of media, including newspapers and magazines, to build or reinforce subscription paywalls around their content in the digital age. One sticking point on TV Everywhere, however, is how cable operators should compensate a TV channel to make it available online for subscribers. Discovery Communications Inc. Chief Executive David Zaslav, speaking at the conference, described TV Everywhere as "a very favorable platform," but added: "We need to figure out what the right value is for that." Another big hang-up is advertising. While Nielsen measures Web viewing of shows that air exactly the same ads as on traditional TV, it doesn't yet do so on tablet computers. That makes widespread adoption of TV Everywhere difficult for channels that are more ad supported, like Scripps Networks Interactive Inc.'s Food Network. (Nielsen says it is testing a way to include Apple Inc. iPad viewing as part of TV ratings, and expects to "share additional details" in the second quarter.)
As a proponent of TV Everywhere, Comcast has been aggressive with its own website and app-called Xfinity-which offers subscriber-only online access to various current TV shows like TNT's "Southland" or Showtime's "House of Lies." The company recently struck a wide-ranging deal with Walt Disney Co., which includes online access to networks including Disney Channel and ESPN, and could be a template for other deals. Time Warner, likewise, has rolled out a TV Everywhere version of its HBO channel-called HBO Go-and has struck deals with cable operators to make it available to essentially all HBO subscribers. But while Time Warner has other similar offerings like a live online feed of CNN, not all providers carry them. For instance, Time Warner Cable Inc.'s 11.9 million video subscribers don't have access to live streams of college basketball's March Madness games on Time Warner channels. Big media's goal with the online paywalls is to preserve lucrative offline subscription businesses as consumers increasingly watch and read over the Internet.
Subscription fees are crucial to the survival of many cable-TV channels, which reap nearly $38 billion a year from households' cable bills, according to market-researcher SNL Kagan. But even if TV executives agree that it is a good idea to protect that business with something like TV Everywhere, they don't all agree on where the networks should be available online. The reason is that new apps from TV networks-like HBO Go and WatchESPN-threaten the traditional monopoly that cable operators have had on interactions with TV viewers, from the interface on a set-top box to the monthly bill in a mailbox.
The new apps give networks the opportunity to be in direct contact with consumers, sometimes for the first time. That allows the networks to collect email addresses and other information about their viewers directly, and could eventually make it easier for channels to compete with cable operators-or survive without them. That potential for conflict has bogged down TV Everywhere's rollout, as cable operators and TV channels wrangle over whose websites and applications subscribers can use to watch shows online. For instance, News Corp . and Disney have so far insisted that they will include shows from their broadcast networks in TV Everywhere only if subscribers also can watch them through their joint-venture online-video site Hulu LLC. (News Corp. also owns The Wall Street Journal.)
But many pay-TV providers, including Time Warner Cable, have resisted, with some cable executives arguing that Hulu is a "Trojan horse" that could eventually compete with them. A Time Warner Cable spokeswoman said that the company, which was spun off from Time Warner Inc. in 2009, doesn't want its customers to pay extra for content that is available free elsewhere online. The question of controlling the consumer experience is also a factor in why Comcast blocks its subscribers from watching TV Everywhere content on devices where the cable giant isn't releasing its own TV Everywhere app. As a result, Comcast subscribers can't use the app that HBO released last fall for Roku Inc.'s set-top boxes that stream Web video on TV.
"One of the principles behind TV Everywhere is the mirrored approach," said Marcien Jenckes, senior vice president and general manager of video services for Comcast. "We want to do things holding hands." Like many things about TV Everywhere, however, not everyone agrees on that point. Some providers are trying to "hold the customer to themselves," says Dave Shull, senior vice president of programming at Dish Network Corp., which is currently the only pay-TV provider to allow its subscribers to sign in to Hulu to watch shows from News Corp.'s Fox network the day after they air. Of subscribers, Mr. Shull says, "I'd rather let them tell us where they want to view the video." Wall Street Journal
Dish Network Corp.'s hopes to start building a new wireless network have been dealt a setback by the Federal Communications Commission, which denied the satellite-TV provider's request for a needed waiver and opted instead for a formal deliberation that will take until the end of the year.
Dish needs FCC approval to use satellite spectrum to support a ground-based cellphone network and had hoped to receive a waiver this month. The FCC's decision isn't likely to doom Dish's plans but will push them back- something Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen warned last week would make the project riskier. The FCC aims to conclude its so-called rule-making process by the end of the year after taking public comment on changing how those airwaves are used, people familiar with the matter said.
The decision to take a more deliberate approach comes after the commission came under fire for acting too hastily in another controversial case. The commission granted a waiver to network start-up LightSquared Inc., which later saw its plan unravel amid objections from the Defense Department that its network would interfere with Global Positioning System devices. Dish said it was disappointed with the FCC's decision but said it would work with the commission to get the needed approvals. Mr. Ergen has said the company needs to package mobile wireless services with its pay-TV offerings to stay competitive with cable operators and phone companies that already can offer such bundles.
The FCC ultimately is expected to endorse Dish's use of the spectrum. In the commission's 2010 National Broadband Plan, the FCC said rules governing the swath of airwaves in question should be changed allow a ground-based wireless network. "The Commission has been clear and consistent about its intent to remove regulatory barriers in this band through a rulemaking to unleash more spectrum for mobile broadband," an FCC spokesman said in a statement. "The rulemaking process will best serve the public interest and maximize the long-term value of the spectrum for the American economy."
Dish agreed to acquire the spectrum licenses last year, when it spent $2.8 billion buying satellite operators DBSD and TerreStar Networks out of bankruptcy court. The FCC approved the sale Friday. The company, best known as a satellite-TV provider, holds a closely watched wild card in the wireless industry. Newcomers aspiring to build networks have had trouble getting traction against giants like AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless. But spectrum is a key commodity, especially as booming smartphone use strains mobile carriers' networks. Analysts have speculated that Dish's spectrum could command a high price if sold to AT&T or another carrier.
Mr. Ergen personally appealed to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and other FCC officials in late February to approve waivers that would help Dish build a new, national high-speed wireless network. Dish's proposed network wouldn't affect GPS devices, because its frequencies are far enough away to avoid problems. But AT&T and other wireless providers have complained that Dish's proposed network could cause interference with other wireless services. They have asked the FCC to hold off giving the satellite TV company the waivers until the agency completes broader, industry-wide rules for the airwaves.
FCC officials had appeared reluctant to grant waivers to Dish while fielding letters from Capitol Hill about why they had granted LightSquared a conditional go-ahead to build its network. Earlier this week, House Republicans on the Energy & Commerce Committee asked the FCC for internal documents about its LightSquared decision, and hearings are being planned. Wall Street Journal
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