The latest bad news in consumer taxes is suitably framed against a backdrop of by terrorist and hacker disruptions and by disappointments from automobile recalls, excessive drug prices and the chronic bickering over how to increase income taxes.
Alan Daley | All Articles
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Alan Daley is a writer for The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research, a nonprofit educational and research group. He is currently retired, after working in the tech community, including a startup small business.
The ongoing scuffle over launching competitive set top boxes has the FCC, the White House, and wannabe program packagers, like Google, lined up against the cable, satellite and telephone companies, also known as multichannel video programming distributors or MVPDs. The superficial version of the scuffle is whether consumers should have a competitive alternative to paying an average of $89 yearly to rent a set top box. Of course, all things being equal, they should have a competitive choice. But what the FCC wants is not that simple, and in its zeal to score populist points it ignores what makes the industry viable.
Willie Sutton said he goes after banks because that is where the money is. Hackers go after retail databases because that’s where the data is. Willie’s banks knew they’d been robbed when they heard bullets hitting the wall. Today’s retail outlets may get a firewall breach alarm but confirmation comes when banks start telling the retailers about consumer charge card anomalies.
When evidence is erased, everyone’s access to it is denied, but erasure creates an asymmetric advantage for the perpetrator. Loss of access to email evidence can shield the perpetrator from the orderly process of investigation and justice. Destruction of evidence conducted in pursuit of a politically partisan goal weakens the public’s perception of government integrity. The central goals in cases of evidence destruction must be to restore the public’s access to evidence and nullify the perpetrator’s illicitly obtained advantage. The court’s treatment depends on its assessment on whether the destruction was likely done in bad faith.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) declared that too many Americans have no access to broadband. This complaint arrives one year after the FCC raised the definition of “broadband” to 25 Megabits per second (Mbps ) up from 10 Megabits per second. That redefinition of what qualifies as broadband is the cause of the broadband shortage that the FCC complains about. It doesn’t require a law degree to know that unilaterally setting a higher standard will result in fewer homes meeting the standard.
In the United States, three pieces of legislation set the stage for government and national security agencies to access and use private information stored in electronic media. In the United Kingdom, a bill would make national security access easier. The European Union’s new privacy law is set to replace the 28-nation hodgepodge of privacy and security laws, and that new regime carries draconian fines. The three sets of laws have different emphasis and will make tripartite legal compliance often impossible for commercial vendors.
The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) has guided law enforcement’s collection of emails for three decades. In that time, the processing and location of emails has changed, many people have objected to the use of warrantless email searches, and some government entities were poorly served.
Between 2010 and 2014, the IRS budget was reduced, resulting in a hiring freeze and a net loss of 13,000 staffers. The demographic mix of IRS workers has tilted toward older workers and expected retirements will further deplete the IRS’s capabilities. The current staffing may be too thin and in some functions and it may be too inexperienced. The IRS Commissioner observed that “more than 6 out of every 10 people who call can’t reach a customer service representative,” a level of level of customer service he regards as “truly abysmal.” The IRS Commissioner claims it will focus its efforts on collections of taxes lawfully owed. To the contrary, IRS employees feel free to commit illegal actions in pursuit of partisan goals. This shows a failure of leadership.
The need for more radio spectrum devoted to consumer use is obvious from the increasing demands that consumers place on wireless carriers. U.S. wireless providers carried 3.23 trillion megabytes of data traffic in 2013, up 120 percent from 2012, and that was up 69.3 percent from 2011. Most carriers are able to quickly put into productive use the spectrum they buy from Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auctions. Finding spectrum that can be auctioned is the difficult and slow part.
The EPA claims that both science and economics support its global campaign to force U.S. states into halting carbon dioxide emissions. EPA’s Administrator Gina McCarthy says the EPA’s Clean Power Plan authority calls for an end to debate on climate change and emissions control: “people overwhelmingly consider climate change to be a problem — and they want action, not more debate or discussion.” Unfortunately, McCarthy’s policies are at odds with economics, law, and science. All that remains solid is the arrogance of the “my way or the highway” attitude shared with the White House.
Thinking of retiring in a few years? Beware of what is likely to come.
In the FCC’s recent incentive auction for spectrum, a total of $41 billion was bid. As expected, the winning bidders tended to be enormous, but this time, exceedingly small Northstar Wireless and SNR Wireless LicenseCo stood out. Both have affiliation with Dish Network, the satellite TV outfit with revenues of $14.6 billion and a market cap of $32 billion. Since Northstar and SNR’s were reportedly penniless and their bids were backed by Dish, the team’s bids were logically bids from a large bidder, Dish Network.
Last year, we were appalled when the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a search warrant to Microsoft demanding that it hand over the emails of an Irish drug suspect stored on a server in Ireland. The incident raised major questions about the ability of U.S. companies to operate overseas.
Oxfam International, a UK-based non-profit, changed its mission to ending poverty and injustice. While Oxfam’s historic focus had been ending world hunger, its U.S. affiliate is now campaigning to bite the hands that feed the world most efficiently.
At the end of 2012, there were 634 million websites scattered across the world. In the U.S., physical connections to websites are carried by dozens of commercial backbone operators and large last mile ISPs (Internet Service Providers), such as those using cellular, satellite, cable, fiber or plain old copper. As well, there are hundreds of smaller ISPs, including many small ISPs, over builders, Wi-Fi and WiMax networks.
The Network Neutrality saga began a decade ago when “bits just wannabe free” thinking embraced a theme of socialized broadband benefits from privatized investment. The early, aggressive Net Neutrality backers were website sources with the highest internet volumes at that time (search and email, music downloads, and a handful of video sources).
Entertainers and ticket sellers have a right to earn an honest living, but we’re tired of being mugged at the ticket booth. Shameless greed has become standard practice and it’s neither entertaining nor sportsman-like conduct. Ticket vendors have perfected the art of trolling. They slap high fees on ticket sales and for the event tickets that are returned and resold, total fees sometimes 75 percent above or even higher than the ticket’s face value.
Tesla sells its electric cars directly to customers, no middleman, and customer demand is so brisk that a backlog of has developed. The popularity of the cars and the direct sales model is very disturbing to automobile dealers, and in some states they have enlisted politicians to hobble Tesla’s distribution model. Five states have banned Tesla direct sales and four have imposed nasty restrictions or have similar legislation pending.
Winning lawyers from the big tobacco award of $246 billion are preparing to take on “big food.” We can expect disruptions in our food supply due to packaging, promotion and labelling changes, ultimately ingredient changes and price hikes, and especially limits on that most heinous of demons – sugar.