Where are all the newspapers going? To graveyards every one …

As I wrote back in 2012, newspapers’ raison d’etre, the news, is being spidered and copied, repurposed and regurgitated by thousands of aggregators and bloggers, Tweeters, Googlers and Yahooers and the like, until the original source is irrelevant — as a brand and as a financially going concern.

I quoted Alan Mutter’s Newsosaur blog that warned that newspapers are being outsmarted in the bid for mobile advertising. He noted Apple and Google have increased their efforts to grab a bigger share of the local advertising market via smart phones.

This week Congress apparently is taking notice.

The Associated Press is reporting that the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel heard from news media associations that accused big tech companies of jeopardizing the industry’s economic survival by putting news content on their platforms without fairly compensating those who created the news. (Sort of like this blog is doing right now.)

Rep. David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat and the subcommittee chairman, was quoted as saying Congress must determine whether the antitrust laws “are equipped for the competition problems of our modern economy.”

David Chavern, president of the News Media Alliance which represents about 2,000 news organizations, was quoted as saying, “There’s a real urgency in the industry. We’re at crisis point now.”

But Google’s vice president of news Richard Gringas said in a statement Google drives billions of clicks to publishers’ websites, which creates revenue.

But too often online sites just plagiarize the costly and exclusive news content, denying newspapers customers. Of course, newspapers are also guilty of giving away their own content, often posting news stories online days before they are published in print for paying customers and paying advertisers.

Back in 2012 a Moody’s analysis warned, “At this point, there is no evidence digital strategies are returning most daily newspapers to positive growth. It is merely a way to moderate revenue declines.”

Newspapers keep cutting jobs — jobs that produce the content their customers are seeking. It is death spiral.

Matt Schruers, vice president of law and policy with the Computer and Communications Industry Association, left, David Pitofsky, general counsel of News Corp, center, and Kevin Riley, editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, right, are sworn-in before testifying before the House Judiciary Antitrust subcommittee hearing. (AP pix)

Newspaper column: Ending net neutrality speeded up Internet

It has been a year since the Federal Communication Commission repealed net neutrality rules created by Obama’s FCC in 2015. Yet, the Internet miraculously survives. In fact, it is running 36 percent faster now that the meddlesome feds have been removed from the equation and the free market has been allowed to compete and innovate.

Net neutrality resurrected 1930s-style Ma Bell regulations to prohibit Internet service providers from charging anyone different rates, even the bandwidth gluttons such as Netflix and Google.

Back in May the Senate even passed a resolution seeking to bring back net neutrality. Though the effort fortunately stalled, Nevada’s Democratic delegation to D.C. was all for putting the Internet under the heavy hand of the central planners.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto took to the Senate floor in support of the resolution, saying, “Net neutrality has leveled the playing field for every American consumer, allowing everyone to access and enjoy an open Internet. … We can’t afford to repeal net neutrality. (FCC) Chairman (Ajit) Pai’s misguided decision to repeal net neutrality protections threatens to change the Internet as we know it. It threatens our small businesses, access to online education, job growth and innovation by giving those who can afford to pay more the ability to set their own rules.”

Rep. Dina Titus declared, “I agree with the vast majority of Americans who want the internet to promote innovation, access to information, and a competitive economy. All of that is at risk without strong net neutrality protections.”

Getty Image via WSJ

Then-Rep., now-Sen. Jacky Rosen stated, “This administration’s reckless decision to repeal net neutrality gives internet service providers the ability to stack the deck against Nevada’s hardworking families and small businesses who could be forced to pay more to connect to an internet with slower speeds. This resolution would reverse the FCC’s misguided ruling, which places large corporate profits ahead of people, and restore access to a free and open internet for Nevadans.”

Sen. Dean Heller at the time reasonably argued for the free market approach. “I do not want the federal government to determine content. …” Heller said. “I also don’t want the federal government to tax the Internet. I believe the Internet is the last bastion of freedom in America, frankly both good and bad, but it’s freedom. … Access to free and open internet service providers is especially important for Nevadans living in rural communities.”

Heller was right. Rosen was wrong.

According to Speedtest, fixed broadband speeds in the United States are rapidly increasing. Data for 2018 revealed a 36 percent increase in mean download speed and a 22 percent increase in upload speed. This meant the U.S. ranked seventh in the world for download speed and Nevada ranked seventh in the nation.

Back when the net neutrality rules were jettisoned many in the news media predicted doom and gloom. CNN declared it was “the end of the internet as we know it.”

But The Wall Street Journal correctly stated at the time that net neutrality created uncertainty about what the FCC would allow and thus throttled investment in new technology, because it prohibited paid prioritization — under which bandwidth hogs, such as video streaming companies, could have opted out of heavy traffic and switched to a toll road — which could increase profits to pay for innovation and greater speed.

The newspaper predicted both content providers and consumers would benefit from increased investment in faster wireless and fiber technology in the free market.

The invisible hand of the free market has again proven itself superior to the heavy hand of the central planners.

As economist Milton Friedman once said: “When government — in pursuit of good intentions tries to rearrange the economy, legislate morality, or help special interests, the cost come in inefficiency, lack of motivation, and loss of freedom. Government should be a referee, not an active player.”

Be forewarned, when Democrats take control of the House, expect another ill-advised attempt to resurrect net neutrality, despite empirical evidence to the contrary.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Solar plant producing less power than expected, so owners seek more tax money

BrightSource’s Ivanpah solar power plant.

As you drive south on I-15 and cross into California you can’t help but be mesmerized by the three shimmering towers that are the focus of an array of mirrors and squint to try to catch a glimpse of a smoking bird plummeting to earth, cooked in the 800-degree heat that also boils water and generates a bit of electricity.

But the plant may turn out to be more of a black hole for taxpayer and ratepayer money. After getting a $1.6 billion loan from the Energy Department to build the $2.2 billion plant its owners — NRG Energy, Google and BrightSource Energy — now are seeking a $536 million federal grant to help pay off that federal loan, according to an article in Forbes.

This because the sun has not cooperated with an adequate amount of sunshine. Instead of operating at 30 percent of its rated capacity as anticipated, it is operating at a mere 12 percent. Earlier this year the plant owners asked to be allowed to use more natural gas than had been planned due to this underperformance.

The plant has contracts with California utilities to sell power for 12 cents per kWh, about three times the cost of a natural gas plant, but even if the plant were operating at full capacity its construction cost would be 9 cents per kWh, according to the Forbes write. With operating costs the fact it is underproducing, this would appear to leave no room for something we like to call profit, with which I’m sure the plant’s billionaire owners are familiar, though risk is something to which they are averse.

The plant also uses something the desert doesn’t have much of: water. It sucks 32 million gallons of groundwater a year for its boilers, and that is more than can be naturally replenished. That is called water mining. Eventually, they will run out.

Now, how did this project get built on federal public land in the first place?

According to an Inspector General report, Steve Black, at the time a senior counselor to former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, pressed scientists to soft pedal their estimates of the damage Ivanpah would cause to endangered species, such as the desert tortoise.

The Crescent Dunes power plant near Tonopah is scheduled to go online after the first of the year. It will use focused sun rays to melt salt instead of boil water. We shall see how it does. It was built with more than $700 million in federal loans.



Who is liable when a driverless car wrecks?

The Nevada Legislature in 2011 approved the testing of driverless cars. Google has equipped eight test cars that sport special license plates, ones with a red background and an infinity symbol on the left side, according to a Las Vegas Sun story.

Gov. Brian Sandoval “test drives” a driverless car. (AP photo)

But the Arizona Legislature is now grappling with the burning question that makes the hearts of lawyers everywhere go pitter patter: Who is liable if a driverless car is to blame for a wreck?

A Wall Street Journal article addresses this by asking: “Is it the company that designed the technology? The car’s owner, or a passenger who should have assumed control? The auto maker who built the car?”

The WSJ article says Nevada bureaucrats at the Department of Motor Vehicles have come up with 22 pages of rules for the robotic test cars, including that the tester must post a liability bond of $1 million.

I think this is an area Isaac Asimov may have overlooked when he came up with his Three Laws of Robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Perhaps we need a codicil that addresses whether a robot has a right against self-incrimination.