The federal government, under presidents of both parties, has largely surrendered to monopoly power. “The ‘anti’ in ‘antitrust’ has been discarded,” as the legal scholar Tim Wu puts it in his new book, “The Curse of Bigness.” Washington allows most megamergers to proceed either straight up or with only fig-leaf changes. The government has also done nothing to prevent the emergence of dominant new technology companies that mimic the old AT&T monopoly.
In 2012, Massachusetts passed a law forcing automotive companies to share diagnostic information with third party repair shops. The law set a precedent and the industry rolled out the changes nationally. Now, Massachusetts has commissioned a study to see if similar legislation should extend to consumer electronics such as smartphones and video game consoles.
The move against WhatsApp comes as Brazilian phone companies have urged the government to restrict the use of free voice-over-internet services offered through WhatsApp.
The phone companies argue that the rise of WhatsApp has damaged their businesses.
“When a company, a communications company or a ISP or social media company elects to build in its software encryption, end-to-end encryption, and leaves no ability for even the company to access that, we don’t have the means by which to see the content”, he added.
“When we intercept it, we intercept encrypted communications. So that’s the challenge: working with those companies to build technological solutions to prevent encryption above all else.
Steinbach insisted that he wasn’t asking for a “back door” to be built into encryption products, telling legislators that “we’re not looking at going through a back door or being nefarious.”
He proposes using the side door, the door no one else knows about, instead.
“We felt really good the last couple of days,” said the tech lobbyist. “It was a good deal—one we could live with. Then the trial lawyers and pharma went to Senator Reid late this morning and said that’s it. Enough with the children playing in the playground—go kill it.”
Senate Bill 304 would prohibit cities and counties from building public broadband networks. The Commerce Committee, which Lynn chairs, was scheduled to have a hearing Tuesday, but Lynn released a statement that hearings have been postponed indefinitely.
Tracy King, AT&T’s vice president for public affairs, said in a written statement that Google “appears to be demanding concessions never provided any other entity before.”
“Google has the right to attach to our poles, under federal law, as long as it qualifies as a telecom or cable provider, as they themselves acknowledge. We will work with Google when they become qualified, as we do with all such qualified providers,” she said.
Google qualifies as an Internet Service Provier (ISP) and not a telecom or cable provider. AT&T’s poles reside in public rights of ways.
Of course, today’s discussion draft is not perfect. Compared to the Shield Act, the attorney’s fees provision is watered down. (It does not include a bond requirement, for example.) And the customer suit provision is too weak. We need stronger reform to stop the disturbing trend of patent trolls picking on customers and end users. Finally, today’s discussion draft focuses on litigation system, rather than targeting the root cause of the problem: the flood of low-quality, over-broad software patents. Despite these reservations, we are encouraged to see so many good reforms in a single package.
The Alliance letter calls for legislation that would:
– Create a cheaper, faster alternative to litigation by allowing the Patent Office to review – when evidence justifies – all business method and software patents so that start-ups have a chance to fight against the low-quality patents that are trolls’ best ammunition.
– Require the Patent Office to create public searchable demand letter databases so we can track the basis and volume of patent claims and quickly identify abusive trolls;
– Reduce litigation costs by requiring parties to pay if they demand more in discovery than “core” technology documents, which are generally all that is needed to know if a technology is infringing.
– Protect end-users of off-the-shelf hardware and software. Just as coffee shops should not be sued for providing wi-fi to customers, app developers should not be sued for using off-the-shelf APIs that infringe a patent.
“The patents system doesn’t work for software because it is almost impossible for genuine technology companies to create new software without breaching some of the hundreds of thousands of software patents that exist, often for very obvious work,”