Got a Question for the FCC Chairman? Tell YouTube!

It’s hard to top having Barack Obama as a live-chat guest, but that isn’t stopping YouTube, who is following up their user-generated interview with the President with FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

Next Tuesday, Mar. 16, Genachowski will be answering user-submitted questions to topics like Access and Affordability, Mobile and Wireless and Security and Privacy. So if you’ve always wanted to grill a member of government about why web access isn’t as free and plentiful as it is in other countries, then go to YouTube’s CitizenTube channel and submit your question.

There are four days left to submit, and so far only 15 questions (one of which is this video, embedded above) have been contributed. So your odds of getting Genachowski’s attention? Pretty good. Oh, and while we’re at it: Feel free to link to your question in the comments if you end up participating.

Related GigaOm Pro Content (subscription required): Can Online Video Show Us the Future of Newspapers?

FCC Former Chairman Says Agency Lacks Control Over Handset Makers

FCC Former Chairman Kevin Martin

In an appearance this morning at a Seattle breakfast event, former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, now a partner at Patton Boggs, was careful not to offer any jabs at the current administration.

Instead, he focused on the current administration’s plans for rolling out a new national broadband plan, scheduled to be unveiled Tuesday. One subject that came up was the fight for open access to wireless networks, a key platform issue of his. In particular, he noted how the government is now more concerned about the obstructionist role that handset makers like Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) or Google (NSDQ: GOOG) play, than it is about the behavior of the wireless networks. But regulators have less control over the former.

Open access is a term Martin knows all about. During his stint as FCC Chairman, he helped push through rules in a spectrum auction that would require the winner—in this case, Verizon Wireless—to ensure open access to its network. While vague, it means that Verizon won’t be able to limit users, devices or applications on the network. However, Verizon has just started to build-out its 4G network, so it’s still unclear how that will be practiced. Martin said.

Martin: “I think what the commission did with the open access piece was an important step…Prior to 2007, there was resistance from the carriers to any kind of open architecture, including the inclusion of WiFi chips in devices, even though today that’s perceived as a helpful thing….But I think we haven’t been able to see the ultimate impact because they [Verizon] are still deploying it, I think it did contribute to the shift of the wireless industry, in general, and ultimately will benefit consumers.”

In one example of how the power over open access has shifted to the handset makers, the FCC opened an inquiry when Google’s voice-over-IP application was blocked from the iPhone. The blocking was initially blamed on AT&T (NYSE: T), but as it turned out, Apple was the one that vetoed it.

The FCC’s “direct authority is less and less the more it gets pushed out from the carriers. It has ways, but I think it’s more difficult…This was an issue when I was there, and there’s a balance between protecting a consumer’s rights and having access to the internet, and recognizing that carriers have to manage their networks…I think that you do need to find the appropriate balances and it gets more difficult the further outside the carrier you get.”

As for the national broadband plan, the commission has hinted at what may be included, but the strategy won’t be fully unveiled until March 16. One of the key issues is providing more spectrum to carriers to provide the fastest mobile broadband services in the world. Martin said that while he was Chairman, they almost tripled the amount of spectrum available for mobile broadband. He said the current administration is looking to double it. Currently, he said that all the U.S. carriers use 450 megahertz of spectrum, and the commission is looking to add an additional 500 MHz.

@ Media Summit: The Medium Isn’t The Message; The Brand Is

Media Summit 2010: Paywall Panel

One of the favorite sports of most media conferences these days involves trotting out Wired editor Chris Anderson’s “freemium” idea—which is predicated on balancing free online and paid premium content—and kicking it to the ground. The topic served as a introduction to discussing the problems associated with paywalls and display advertising for major media brands at one of the afternoon sessions at the Media Summit 2010 conference at the McGraw Hill Building. While the panelists certainly didn’t say they were ready to put paywalls around everything, they are clear in deciding that consumers need to be re-trained a little to appreciate more direct payments for the content they expect for free.

Liberty Carras, SVP of sales for, summed up the feeling about the “free meme,” which the media execs has become taken for granted. “Unless the price of creating content becomes free, I don’t see how it can be made free [to consumers]. Whether it’s an event or a TV show or a product that delivers content, there’s value there and people will pay for it. There is a place for content to be free. But it’s not about the medium, it’s about the brand.”

Although it’s an obvious point, the panel’s moderator, Edward Moran, director of Product Innovation, Deloitte Services, noted that that to most people, “free” is really a colloquial way to say “ad-supported.” Of course, while many media companies worry about how erecting paywalls will affect the advertising, the panelists argued that it depends on what the content is and who it’s aimed at.

In response to an audience question about Newsday’s paywall strategy—and how the Cablevision-owned daily saw only 35 paid subscribers sign up for access seemed to suggest failure for the idea. Julie Michalowski, Vice President, Business Development, Conde Nast Consumer Marketing, shot back that the panelists aren’t focusing on paywells, but on “what the brand experience and value is.”

But Alisa Bowen, SVP, Head of Consumer Publishing for Thomson Reuters (NYSE: TRI), quickly interjected to defend the use of paywalls. “Paywalls aren’t right for some. Let’s be clear about that. We’ve experimented with putting up barriers on parts of our website. In one case [she didn’t specify], traffic dropped 70 percent after instituting a paywall. In another case, using the same barrier level, mind you, happened to lead to a traffic rise of 300 percent. The value extraction is very specific to different audiences.”

Bowen also alluded to the Newsday’s claim that the paywall model wasn’t intended to drive online subscriptions, but rather to create more value for Cablevision (NYSE: CVC) customers by offering access to the paper’s website.

Digital dimes into dollars: After much happy talk about the rosy future of digital media, one audience member challenged the panelists about their sanguine views after so many layoffs and magazine closures. Michalowski was specifically asked about the shuttering of Gourmet and Domino, and she responded by saying that those titles couldn’t sustain themselves, the audience is still there and Conde Nast has been trying to guide them to other online properties. The publisher is also looking for ways to keep those mag brands alive in other ways across other platforms and through commerce.

“In making the match between digital dimes and traditional media’s dollars, we’re in the process of a learning curve,” CNN’s Carras said. “There’s no easy way to do this. We’re making tough choices.”

Is The Wall Street Journal Abandoning Local Restaurant Reviews?

If it is, it would be an odd move for a the Rupert Murdoch-owned entity, which just last year expanded into the local journalism sector along with The New York Times by adding a SF-bay edition in November. But Raymond Sokolov, who has been doing freelance restaurant reviews for The Wall Street Journal for the past four years abruptly left his position when he was told by editors that they wanted him to start reviewing “food trends” instead: a much broader, nationally-themed topic.

Interestingly, this would buck against last year’s ideology that newspapers needed to start competing with blogs for hyper-local coverage of specific areas. While The Wall Street Journal demurred that it’s not getting rid of its restaurant criticism, but it’s acknowledgment that they are still “committed broadly to food coverage,” reveals a slant toward a more global perspective. Concurrently, the paper plans to start a new section entirely devoted to local New York news, and how can you cover New York without talking about its fine dining? Mike Taylor at Mediabistro sees this not so much an issue of local v. national coverage, but with the recent news of Variety letting Todd McCarthy and three other reviewers go, could signal the death of the traditional critic.

Brizzly Parent Thing Labs Makes Two Acquisitions

Brizzly Logo

Two small—but noteworthy—acquisitions for Thing Labs, the company behind Facebook and Twitter web client Brizzly: Thing Labs has purchased Wikirank, a tool that let users visualize and compare the most popular topics on Wikipedia, and is also announcing the purchase of Twitter iPhone client Birdfeed.

Thing Labs has added some of its own features to Birdfeed—and is using it to launch a Brizzly app for the iPhone. Wikirank, meanwhile, will be integrated into Thing Labs’ Brizzly Guide, “a new site designed to help navigate what people are talking about on Twitter, Facebook, and other social spaces.” Hot topics—like ‘SXSW’—have their own pages, which feature an explanation of why they are popular, along with some relevant links.

Terms of the acquisitions were not released. Thing Labs was started by Jason Shellen, a former manager of new business development at Google (NSDQ: GOOG), and Chris Wetherell, who—while at Google—started Google Reader. The startup has raised funding from Mike Hirshland of Polaris Venture Partners, Jeff Clavier of SoftTech VC and Michael Jones.

Gadi Ben-Yehuda: Education vs. Condescension: Talking to the Public about Gov 2.0

Steve Radick recently posted an entry on his blog, Social Media Strategery in which he argued that

The public doesn't need to understand what Gov 2.0 or open gov is -- but they do need to understand that their government is actively trying to do more to communicate and collaborate with them.

With respect, I disagree.

Though I've written a three-part essay on what Gov 2.0 is, I've since come to boil it down to these 25 words -- and I believe every John and Jane Public can understand and agree with me: Gov 2.0 describes initiatives that use digital access to data, analytical tools, and government services to shift power from governments, corporations, and organizations to individuals.

Indeed, if Gov 2.0 were nothing more than a new collaboration tool (Google Wave, anyone?), I would have no quarrel with Steve's assertion. But that's simply not the case. Gov 2.0 isn't a communications campaign, a mobile app, or way to share information solely for the sake of checking the "transparency" box in a government directive. It's about ensuring that power is decentralized and all citizen have a share in their government.

The set-up for Steve's post is an imaginary letter from "John Q Public" that says:

You people in DC sure are talking a good game -- trotting out your iPhone apps, Twitter feeds, blogs, and wikis -- and I suppose I should care about those things, but in reality, I haven't got the slightest clue why any of that matters to me. I, like 95% of America, don't use Twitter, I don't have any idea how to mash anything up, and I don't care enough about your agency to read your blog.

The allure of the internet and emerging digital tools is also its danger: it allows for individuals and organizations to amass great power. Mr. and Ms. Public may not use Twitter, or have a GPS-enabled smartphone, or read government blogs, but the people who do have a leg-up in determining government policy and accessing government services. Shouldn't it be our job, as advocates of Gov 2.0, to explain this to John and Jane?

It's patronizing to tell people that they don't have to understand the technologies and regulations that are going to shape their lives, just because mass adoption of those technologies is some time in the future.

What percent of America used SMS in 1995, I wonder? In 2008, more than 4 trillion text messages were sent around the world. Who knows what the demographics of twitter (or some other microblogging platform) will look like in 13 years? Whether it will be used to solicit political donations directly from the browser or mobile app or desktop? Or used to send stock tips linked to the ability to buy (or sell) right in the message? Shouldn't average Americans start thinking about it now?

But how can they start thinking about it if they have no framework or vocabulary for it? I'm not saying that everyone needs to have an opinion on the exaflood, or what whitespace frequencies should be made available for private transmitters, but they should know that these decisions are being made right now here today and how they can get involved in the process.

I'm not alone in thinking that we need to do more to educate average citizens. Mark Drapeau, Microsoft's Director of Innovative Social Engagement, wrote last month that:

Creating open government websites, providing more data, and asking for citizen feedback are all necessary but not sufficient for innovative social engagement with communities. Proactive, real-life engagement with constituents is also necessary (politicians know this well), but nearly everyone involved with the OGD seems to be very concerned about technology, and not very concerned about meeting the people who will supposedly benefit.

And everyone will benefit.

Two of the ongoing functions of Gov 1.0 are to determine what can and cannot be sent through the US Postal service and what is the safe speed limit for various kinds of roads. These decisions -- revisited and revised with input from experts and average Americans alike -- have a direct impact on us all. Two of the emerging functions of Gov 2.0 are to decide the question of Net Neutrality and determine what EM frequencies may be used by what kinds of devices. These decisions, too, have a direct impact on us all.

I think it's our job to educate John and Jane about what Gov 2.0 is and why they should care. And when we do that, we shouldn't shy away from the terminology of the discipline; to do so would be condescending. That's why I write about Government as a Platform, and (I'm sorry, anonymous letter writer!) Law by Wiki.