Tales of the Sausage Factory

Yet Another Amazing Esme Conference

Regular readers will know that I have tremendous respect and regard for Esme Vos and her Muniwireless.com website. So I’m pleased and delighted to attend her upcomming conference June 19-21 in Santa Clara, CA: “Building the Muniwireless Ecosystem.”

What makes Esme’s conferences rock (other than her continuing to have me back) is:

(a) Each conference has a new program about 6 months ahead of the “conventional wisdom.” Esme doesn’t just take one conference on the road. Each conference has new program items, new speakers and new insights that folks who don’t attend will have to wait 6 months to read about in the trade journals.

(b) Esme doesn’t just invite industry reps or big names. She reaches out to community organizers, innovators, and others to provide a real diversity of views.

(c) Vendor parties with open bars.

You can still register at the “early bird” discount rate until June 5. Click here to see a schedule of programming items that should convince you why you need to go. Then click here to register. The two conferences I’ve attended have both oversold, so register quickly if you don’t want to miss the fun.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

This Time, We Spank the Telcos

If anything can warm my sad, cynical heart here in the Sausage Factory, it’s seeing people rise up and reclaiming their power and responsibilities as citizens.
So when I saw the House Judiciary Committee voted 20-13-1 (one voting “present”) to send the the Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act to the floor of the House for a vote, a stunning turn around from last month’s Commerce Committee approval of COPE, I get quite giddy about the prospects for legislation that reflects more than just refereeing industry food fights.

Needless to say, the opponents of network neutrality find themselves stammering in amazement and groping for alternative explanations. Surely it must be a turf fight, or an effort to extort more campaign contributions from telcos and cable cos! Surely it must be Google money financing things! Could Moveon.org really make common cause with the Christian Coalition, the Catholic Church and, well, Common Cause? Could the dry bones of democracy again be given flesh? Could the couch potato masses remember their strength and rise again as citizens reborn? Hallelujah!

Well, maybe not quite so dramaticly Biblical (must be working too much with all those religious groups), and we’re not out of the woods yet by a long-shot. But the last few weeks have definitely thrown up roadblocks in the telco victory march through Congress. My analysis, including a Colbert-esque “Tip of the Hat” to Free Press’ Ben Scott for his amazing Senate Commerce Committe testimony and a “Wag of the Finger” to Libertarian Reporter Declan McCullagh for this rather shameful bit of editorializing in the guise of reporting below.

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General Exception

War on the consumer: The DVD War

Businessweek has
this article
about the new DVD standards, which will come locked down with new, onerous Digital Rights Management restrictions. It’s a good overview of how new consumer electronica are being designed to basically protect big corporations from the consumers who buy them.

One point that the article really misses, though, is how DRM isn’t really aimed at pirates, despite all of the entertainment industry’s protests to the contrary. Instead, the only real purpose of this technology is to force you to pay multiple times for same content. Want to watch a movie on your TV? Great! Buy the DVD. Want to watch it on your iPod? Well, here you go, buy it at iTunes. Want that music you downloaded from iTunes as your phone’s ringtone? Cough up more dough. What’s that you say? Fair use? Well, according to the past head of the MPAA, it doesn’t exist.

On a brighter note, Ars Technica has a profile of some of the good guys in the music industry: Emusic. Emusic is a digital music subscription service with no strings attached. No DRM, no limited playlists, no nothing. Just high-quality MP3′s that are compatible with just about all of the digital music players out there. It is interesting to note that they chose to be DRM free not because of any idealism, but because of a sound business decision. They wanted the maximum possible customer base for their product, so they selected the format that is most universal. And they seem to be making money at it, too. I signed up a few months ago, and I have to say I’m a happy customer.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

And Suddenly, the Universe Changed

Well, it’s been busy in the Senate today. While all the Senators were locked down by police on a mistaken report of gunfire, they took the time to confirm Robert McDowell for the FCC. For the first time since Michael Powell left in March 2005, the FCC is now back to 3 Republicans and 2 Democrats.

Over the last year, several controversial items have accumulated that the 2-2 Commission could not agree upon. For example, the long-awaited proceeding on media ownership rules, wherein the FCC will again try to relax or eliminate most ownership limits.

Critically, McDowell’s appointment strengthens Martin’s hand to approve the Comcast/Time Warner/Adelphia merger without significant conditions (whereas just yesterday I was hoping Martin would have to persuade the Democrats to agree to an order). The critical question — does Martin want to approve the merger without conditions? As I have written before, Martin has shown himself willing to stand up to the cable industry in the name of competition. For example, Martin co-authored an Op Ed with Senator McCain supporting imposing a la carte on cable.

So, what will Kevin Martin do? He has a free hand for the first time in his history as Chairman. Once again, I urge you all to help Martin make the right decision by following this link to file a comment urging the FCC to deny the Adelphia Transaction, or impose significant conditions.

As for the rest of the media ownership rules, the AT&T/BellSouth merger, and everything else in the media & telecom world

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Much Better Senate Draft from Democrats

The Democrats of the Senate Commerce Committee have begun circulating this draft revision of the wretched Communications, Consumer Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006 (aka “The Stevens Bill). Not only is the Democrat draft a lot shorter (a big plus), it:

(a) Eliminates the really bad munibroadband provision in the Stevens Bill with good language similar to the McCain-Lautenberg Community Broadband Act.

(b) Eliminates the excruciatingly awful net neutrality provision in the Stevens Bill and replaces it with the good language from the Internet Freedom Preservation Act sponsored by Snowe, Dorgan, and Inouye.

Happily, the Democratic Draft also contains the good stuff from the Stevens Bill: opening up the broadcast spectrum ”white spaces” and limiting cable market power over regional sports programming. (Although the Democratic draft is not quite as strong there as in the Stevens bill. Ah well.) Sadly, the Democratic draft also contains a broadcast flag provision.

It’s still a draft, of course. But it shows how the momentum on critical issues continues to shift in the right direction now that the public has started tuning in and speaking up. Last month, the telcos and the cable cos were enjoying a victory march reminiscent of Sherman’s march to the sea. Now, the telco/cable push to get Net Neutrality eliminated by Congress is looking a lot more like Napoleon’s march on, and subsequent retreat from, Moscow.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Help Stop The Merger Madness

My friends at Free Press have set up this page to file comments opposing the AT&T/BellSouth Merger and the Comcast/Time Warner/Adelphia deal.

I won’t go over old ground again in detail here. You can read why I think the FCC should stop Comcast and Time Warner from dividing up the bankrupt Adelphia cable, the disappointing go ahead from the Federal Trade Commission, and my growing hope that the FCC will impose strong conditions or kill the deal. With a deadline for the companies to walk away from the deal fast approaching, you can help push the FCC to do the right thing.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The GAO Makes the Case for Community Broadband

Not that you would know it either from the headline or the general coverage, but the the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative arm, issued its own report that makes a strong case in favor of community-based broadband and against more regulatory goodies for the incumbent telcos and cable cos. Not that the GOA intended to make that case, and they word their conclusions carefully. But dig down into the actual report and you find a lot of good stuff beyond discrediting the FCC’s rosy numbers on broadband penetration and competition.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

National Day of Outrage on COPE/Stevens Bill

As mentioned in the comments on my previous entry, a number of groups are planning on holding a National Day of Outrage against the continued assault by the telco and cable interests against our information infrastructure and free speech rights.

I want to highlight this and encourage folks to click through to the link above to find out how you can participate. Even if it’s just sending one more email or making one more phone call to your Senator or Representative on this issue, it makes a difference to work it together to highlight the issue on May 24.

Stay tuned . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Debunking some Telco Disinformation.

Given the success of recent pro-net neutrality videos, it comes as no surprise that the telcos have launched their own. You can watch their cartoon on the Hands Off the Internet website (direct link here).

As one might expect from an org primarily funded by cable and telco groups, it contains a few exagerations, misstatements, obfuscations, and the occassional outright lie. My friends at Mediacitizen have written this rebuttal. Savetheinternet.org has also posted a page on the telco anti-NN cartoon, with a link to this point by point response.

But, for those readers seeking more indepth analysis of just how much nonesense the “dontreghulate.org” cartoon dishes out — combined with the trademark snarkiness you’ve come to expect here at “Tales of the Sausage Factory” — please read below. Takes me back to my old days watching Mystery Science Theater 3000.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Susan Crawford Tells It Like It Is

Must give a shout out to my friend Susan Crawford, who has stuck with the mess-that-is-ICANN long after my patience got exhausted. Susan tells it like it is on ICANN’s rejection of the .XXX TLD proposal.

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