May 23, 2012
Google Inc.'s purchase of mobile-phone maker Motorola Mobility, completed Tuesday, makes the California-based search-and-software giant a major employer in suburban Philadelphia. At least for now. Horsham remains headquarters for the company's Motorola HomeTV systems arm, still headed by veteran engineer Dan Moloney. Beyond that, Google is not talking about its plans for the site, spokeswoman Niki Fenwick told me.
Descended from the former General Instruments and its predecessor, the late Pennsylvania Gov. Milton Shapp's Jerrold Electronics, the business has built generations of set-top boxes and other equipment for cable TV purveyors led by Comcast Corp. The General Instruments boss who opened the Horsham complex, Ed Breen, now head of Tyco International, served on Comcast's board until last year. When General Instruments considered leaving three scattered sites in the region in the 1990s, then-Gov. Tom Ridge lured the $65 million, half-million-square-foot complex, and 1,100 engineering, office and skilled production jobs, to Horsham, with more than $10 million in tax breaks and subsidies.
Is Gov. Corbett as eager to keep Google? Corbett's Department of Community and Economic Development "will continue to monitor the situation," said state spokeswoman Theresa Elliott. "There's still several hundred people there, but Google has been pretty mum" on confirming where the plant fits in its future, affirmed Peter Putnam, head of Last Mile Communications, a Bucks County-based consultant. "It wouldn't surprise me if, over time, they move what they want [from Horsham] out to California. Like Cisco did with Scientific Atlanta," when the router-maker bought another East Coast specialty electronics maker. "You don't really need a set-top box anymore," Putnam added. "The way video is evolving, everything is being built into" the video receiver, or can be plugged into its USB port. "Every Google TV device I saw at the Consumer Electronics Show this year was built into the TV."
But the end of the TV box has been prophesied before. "Those little boxes eat about $5 a month in electricity because of all that's happening within them," marveled Mark Naples, Philadelphia-based managing partner of digital consultancy Wit Strategy. Cable companies want to keep control of that kind of power, not share with Google or anyone, if they can help it, he added. "Boxes are efficient and entrenched," and it will take at least a decade for them to be replaced by streamlined technologies, Stefan Tornquist, U.S. research chief for London-based Econsultancy, told me. "Beyond that, Google" and its smartphone rivals "will be looking to move future capabilities" into tablets and other company-branded handhelds, Tornquist added. "In the future, the only person who'll be able to program your VCR will be [Apple's] Siri and her as-yet unnamed counterpart at Google." Philadelphia Inquirer; more from Associated Press
Most consumers have no idea what an M.V.P.D. is, but they mail a check to one every month. What they call Comcast or Time Warner Cable or DirecTV, the government calls a "multichannel video programming distributor," or M.V.P.D. for short. When that mouthful of a phrase was coined decades ago, it was pretty easy to identify what was a multichannel distributor - any cable or satellite company - and just as important, what wasn't. But the Internet is changing that - so profoundly, in fact, that the Federal Communications Commission is now rethinking even the definition of the word "channel."
In a public comment period that ends in the coming weeks, the commission is asking whether the rules of multichannel distributors - like the right to carry certain popular channels and the responsibility to carry some less popular ones - should apply to new online distributors like Hulu and YouTube. If it decides that they should, then more companies could stream TV shows to computers and smartphones, hastening an industrywide shift to the Internet. "We recognize it's going to have very, very broad implications," said Austin Schlick, the F.C.C. general counsel, at a cable industry conference here on Tuesday.
Many companies are urging the F.C.C. to move carefully, citing the pace of change in the media industry. The Internet has already changed what it means to publish, mail and copy - dictionaries certainly haven't been able to keep up. "We're barely into the second inning of how video distribution will ultimately work," said Will Richmond, the editor of VideoNuze, an online publication that covers the industry. "Broadband delivery is leveling the playing field for new, deep-pocketed, over-the-top entrants to disrupt the traditional pay-TV model."
Going "over the top" means atop the Internet infrastructure provided by companies like Comcast. "Somebody's going to come over the top" and sell a package of cable channels via the Internet at some point, David M. Zaslav, the chief executive of Discovery Communications, predicted at the conference on Monday. He did not name any names, but Apple, Google, Sony and Intel, among others, have all at least considered such an offering. Those companies could theoretically give consumers new ways to buy bundles of programming, breaking open the cable model - though an incumbent cable or telecommunications company would most likely still need to provide Internet access.
A change to the definition of multichannel distributor could make it easier for the companies to acquire programming, analysts say - which may explain why the incumbents have opposed any such change. This notion was tested a few years ago when a Christian media company called Sky Angel tried to add Mr. Zaslav's Discovery Channel to the lineup of family-friendly channels that it sells over the Internet. Discovery did not want to sell, but if Sky Angel were legally deemed a multichannel distributor, it would have had to, under current rules.
The F.C.C. staff initially sided with Discovery, but Sky Angel persisted and this spring, the commission decided to ask for input. That is when the panel asked for input: in this day and age, how should we be defining "M.V.P.D." and "channel," anyway? Suddenly, television executives and public interest lobbyists were doubling as lexicographers. "If the F.C.C. comes out the right way on this, it would make it possible for online services like Sky Angel to easily carry popular cable channels and broadcast TV," said John Bergmayer, a staff lawyer for the public interest group Public Knowledge. "Video distribution could become much more diverse - Sky Angel is a Christian service, after all, and there's no reason different groups shouldn't be able to buy TV services tailored to their needs." Mr. Bergmayer said Public Knowledge wanted the F.C.C. policies to enable more competition and "demonstrate that new entrants are welcome to try to reach viewers."
Major distributors like Comcast and Time Warner Cable want the definition of M.V.P.D. to remain rather narrow, to include only those who provide the transmission path for programming, like themselves. Some broadcasters, however, want the definition to be broadened to include online video sites, because then the sites would be subject to the same rules as cable operators, called retransmission consent, and would have to pay fees for their station signals. A number of online TV start-ups, including the Barry Diller-backed Aereo, are trying to sidestep these rules.
Jack Perry of Syncbak, which helps stations simulcast their signals on the Web, said his company would be able to grow more rapidly if the F.C.C. adopted a "21st-century definition of M.V.P.D.'s." "The impact could be huge," he said. Still other stakeholders, including trade groups that represent giants like Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Netflix, have said that the F.C.C. should take more time before deciding. In one of many such letters to the F.C.C., the Motion Picture Association of America cautioned that "even small changes to video programming regulations can have a far-reaching impact." All this over a four-letter abbreviation - proof that every step toward online TV will be done with care. New York Times
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski said he supports cable and telecommunication companies adopting a usage-based pricing plan for broadband. "Usage-based pricing could be a healthy and beneficial part of the ecosystem," Genachowski said in an appearance at the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn.'s annual convention here. Genachowski, who was interviewed by former FCC Chairman and current NCTA Chief Executive Michael Powell, added that a tiered pricing approach may "increase consumer choice and competition" and "result in lower prices for people who consume less broadband."
Genachowski made his endorsement of usage-based pricing for broadband consumption just days after cable giant Comcast Corp. said it would adopt that model. Comcast is going to introduce a fee for consumers who use more than 300 gigabytes a month. Comcast Executive Vice President David L. Cohen said the amount would likely be $10 for every 50 GB over the base allowance.
The FCC chairman also addressed concerns in the cable industry about increasing regulatory oversight of distribution negotiations between cable operators and broadcast television stations. The cable industry has been calling for an overhaul of FCC rules regarding so-called retransmission consent negotiations.
While Genachowski continued to indicate that broadcasters have the right to seek cash in return for distribution of their channels, he did question whether broadcasters have too much leverage in some negotiations. For example, some television stations that have different owners have entered into what is known in the industry as a "shared services agreement." Such arrangements can result in one company negotiating on behalf of as many as three television stations. "That raises real issues," Genachowski said. Los Angeles Times
We've seen Google transform the logo on its search homepage into a variety of complex homages, from a game of Pac-Man to the playable Les Paul guitar. But its latest tribute to synthesizer inventor Robert Moog might have been among the most difficult to pull off.
Visit Google.com, and readers will find the logo is a playable synthesizer with four-track recorder. "Probably one of if not the most technically challenging," says lead engineer Joey Hurst. Each key can be tapped with the mouse or keyboard, along with every knob from the modulation wheel to the oscillators.
The best part? Users can record tunes on the synthesizer, then share them through a short link or Google+. "I've been a lifelong fan of Robert Moog even before knowing who he was, just loving the sounds of electronic music," says Ryan Germick, chief Doodler at Google. "We're always looking for interesting things to celebrate, particularly in the arts and sciences." Robert Moog was born on May 23, 1934 in Queens, New York. In 1964, Moog invented the synthesizer, becoming a pioneer in electronic music. USA Today
A Dauphin County judge this morning denied bail for former state Rep. Bill DeWeese, who was expected to return to state prison this afternoon. DeWeese, 62, last week began his two-and-a-half to five-year prison sentence for charges that he directed state employees to campaign using public resources. But the state Superior Court on Friday evening allowed him to be released because Judge Todd Hoover had not ruled on a request that DeWeese be let out on bail while appealing his conviction.
Judge Hoover ruled against the bail request this morning. DeWeese's attorney, William Costopoulos, said the ex-Waynesburg Democratic lawmaker would surrender himself at the state prison in Camp Hill, Cumberland County, today. "He has been notified of Judge Hoover's order, and will continue to comply with all lawful court orders," Mr. Costopoulos said. The attorney said his client plans to appeal the ruling. He remains on the fall general election ballot for his former legislative seat, despite having to resign as a result of his felony conviction. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
- Los Angeles Times: Comcast service would connect home phone line to smartphones
- Kansas City Star: Google project's success is up to Kansas City
- Bloomberg: Sony, Samsung Ask U.S. Retailers to Curb Discounts on TV Sets
- Politico: Verizon says T-Mobile hypocritical about spectrum
- Philadelphia Inquirer: Attack ads start early in PA for presidential election
- Philadelphia Daily News: Editorial: Justice Joan Orie Melvin's been indicted. She has to go.