Disney/ABC/ESPN and Net Neutrality

As you’ll know if you’ve read my previous rants about how broken the TV industry is , the reason why cable and satellite is so expensive is that Disney won’t let carriers offer you ABC unless they also bundle ESPN into their base package; and ESPN is one of the most expensive channels. Well, ESPN are trying to do the same thing with your Internet connection . They’re “offering” ISPs the option of paying a per-subscriber fee, in return for which their subscribers will be allowed to watch ESPN streaming video.

Things that suck

When I moved in with rothko, we bought a vacuum cleaner. At the time we were living in a fully carpeted apartment in Malden, MA. Money was tight, so I did some research via Consumer Reports and bought a Sharp vacuum cleaner. Unfortunately, I overlooked one detail. While excellent on carpets, the vacuum cleaner was entirely unsuitable for hard wood floors. After a couple of years we moved into an apartment with wood floors, and the Sharp took up residency in the basement.

Lost interest

When I read about Lost, it sounded like exactly the kind of show I’d love. I didn’t watch it. To understand why, we need to look at The X Files. At some point during the first few seasons of X Files, the writers decided that it would be good for the show if there was an overall story arc involving the alleged extraterrestrial invaders. Initially, they were right. However, shortly after the movie a problem became apparent: the network was never going to allow them to solve the mystery.

Raise the double standard

The John McCain Suspension of Habeas Corpus / Ignore the Geneva Conventions Bill was getting me down this morning, but suddenly things have turned around. From AP news: In a scandal guaranteed to anger parents, a prominent House Republican has resigned after the revelation that he exchanged raunchy electronic messages with a teenage boy, a former congressional page. Rep. Mark Foley, R-Florida, who is single, apologized Friday for letting down his family and constituents.

ECHELON

As you may have heard, the NSA hopes to create a massive database of every single phone call made in the USA. They approached the big phone companies, and they all handed over data about your phone calls except Qwest. No warrants, no questions, they just gave the information away. [Update 2 days later: If you think it’s no big deal, consider that the government is already illegally tapping journalists’ phone lines in an attempt to root out leakers and whistleblowers.

À la carte TV myths

The controversy over à la carte cable and satellite programming keeps resurfacing. The basic problem is that cable prices keep rising, to the point where the basic level of digital cable is over $50 a month in many places. Prices have risen 40% in the last decade.

(As an aside, I’m amazed at the whiners in the UK who complain about paying £126.50 a year for a TV license that gets them the best premium programming from the US, as well as UK TV. I pay $588 a year to get a similar selection.)

Viewers find it galling to pay for a hundred channels when there are only a handful they watch on a regular basis. Hence there has been a campaign to get the FCC to rule that cable and satellite providers must offer the option of à la carte programming, where you can choose to subscribe to only the channels you actually want.

The cable and satellite companies don’t want to see that happen, as it would eat into their fat profits. Since the same companies own a lot of the mainstream media outlets, I’m constantly seeing astroturf coverage explaining why à la carte programming is impossible, would make your cable bills skyrocket, is tantamount to Communism, and so on.

This is my attempt to cut through a lot of the common bullshit spouted on the subject.

In widescreen where available

We’re right in the middle of the city. I discovered a while back that all I had to do was use unshielded speaker wire and I’d pick up AM radio. I checked, and all the TV transmitters are in a cluster less than 10 miles away from us. So, this afternoon while we were out shopping for Christmas meal ingredients, I picked up an $8 UHF loop antenna, plugged it in, put it on the shelf above the TV, and lo—we can get 10 channels of digital TV.

Viascum

If you watch Comedy Central, chances are you’ve seen a strange and irritating message scrolling across the screen recently. It says something about Dish Network subscribers losing access to the channels they have paid for. It’s actually a complete lie; here’s the real story: Viacom own CBS, MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, and a bunch of other channels. Their contract with Dish Network was coming to an end. Their terms for the new contract were: (1) You pay us an extra 7%, and (2) You carry all of our channels as part of your basic lineup whether the customer wants them or not.

Quote of the week

Sergeant Darin Snapp explains the circumstances surrounding the discovery of a dead body in one of the rooms of the Capri Motel, Kansas City: No formal identification has yet been made, but the motel manageress thinks it’s the body of the previous occupant of the room. She hadn’t seen the man for several days, and assumed that he’d run off without paying, so she rented the room out to a new guest.

Rent-A-Negro followup

In case anyone didn’t work it out, it was Internet performance art by Damali Ayo. See also an interview with the artist, an ABC feature, and a letter she wrote to friends and family. According to the latest Harper’s magazine, several hundred apparently serious inquiries have been posted via the site; I suspect a charming educated black person could make a living by being a token-for-hire. Here are a couple: