Tales of the Sausage Factory

What Next For The FCC? Beats the Heck Out of Me — So I'll Just Describe the Terrain.

A favorite Washington sport has become trying to out think the Obama transition team. I occasionally get asked about this or that possible pick, or what I think the FCC is likely to do on this or that, issue. I do not have a friggin’ clue.

Certainly I’m happy with some moves. I wildly applauded the appointment of Susan Crawford and Kevin Werbach to the FCC transition team, and am equally happy to see them joined by Dale Hatfield. Similarly, the policy review team has a number of names I recognize as strong thinkers who both understand the policy issues and have a good idea where the bodies are buried here in DC. But none of this tells me anything specific about what the Obama Administration or the FCC might do.

Nor do I put much stock in the daily news articles suggesting this or that candidate is in the running for Chairman. The Obama team has demonstrated a capacity to hold information tight to the chest. Nor do I wish to push any particular candidate. As I like to point out, when the Communist Party wanted to destroy someone back in the Red Scare days, they would praise them in their official publications. I expect that any candidate I favor will be the target of serious opposition from incumbents who would find my approach and priorities less than pleasing.

Mind you, I still think it is important for folks in the media reform and progressive communities to make their preferences known — especially on policy issues and what we think priorities ought to be. It is very nice that the Obama folks appear predisposed to agree on many issues such as network neutrality and media consolidation. But whoever gets appointed to the FCC (or other critical posts) will face a veritable army of folks all armed with excellent reasons why their issue of choice needs to go to the top of the priority list and how this exactly fits with Obama’s stated goals. Anyone who thinks that electing the right people means we can go home and let them figure it out for themselves needs to seriously think again.

But I can describe one thing with some certainty, the terrain at the FCC. Or, more accurately, I can describe the uncertainty around that terrain and how it will likely effect policy. In addition to the power to designate the Chairman, Obama may be looking at appointing no commissioners (very unlikely), one commissioner (reasonably likely), two commissioners (also likely), or three commissioners (unlikely). This uncertainty makes it very hard to predict what happens with the FCC next year. To add to the lack of clarity, the DTV transition occurring in February will pretty much suck up all the attention for the first two months — possibly more if it goes really badly. Add to this the significant turn over in both the House and the Senate Commerce Committees, with accompanying likely changes in staff, and you have a cloud of uncertainty powerful enough to obscure any crystal ball.

I explore these possible scenarios below . . . .

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Inventing the Future

Five for Talking

Travel for meetings is so last year. This management article in silicon.com describes five alternatives technologies to meetings: instant messaging, virtual worlds, telepresence, Wikis, and social networking. But do these really have to be separate? Let’s take a look at what each of these offers, and what it means for 3D virtual worlds to incorporate the other alternative meeting technologies.

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Inventing the Future

Validation In Depth

A neighbor and I were introducing ourselves to a third at a block party. The first made designer genes, while I made designer worlds. Everyone knew what we were talking about.

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General Exception

Hey, Dan Grabauskas

I spent a charming 40 extra minutes on this evening commute, mulling over the steaming big pile of FAIL that is the MBTA (officially, the Mass Bay Transport Authority, for those of you outside the Boston area). Because, you know, the day before Thanksgiving is the perfect time to have trains break down and buses not show up. Everyone is slacking off and leaving work early… why not the MBTA?

Anyhow, I decided after hearing for the millionth time the every 2-minute reminders to be paranoid and report anything suspicious from MBTA head Daniel Grabauskas, that I realized how I could pitch in and help make the T better. I could rewrite Mr. Grabauskas’s announcement to inject a little truth…

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Pass the Popcorn! CRTC Offers Great Opportunity To Watch Someone Else Play With Critical Infrastructure.

According to this official news release, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) denied a request from the Canadian Association of Internet Providers (CAIP) to stop Bell Canada from throttling without notice the traffic of rival ISPs leasing access to Bell Canada’s network. Instead, CRTC punted to a general inquiry on traffic shaping.

According to Michael Geist, expert on all things telecom and Candian and general super-smart guy, this is not the last word from the CRTC on the question. But since — according to the public notice — the first public hearing on the subject is scheduled for July 9, 2009, Canadian ISPs can look forward to a considerable period of time when they live at the mercy of their largest rival.

This does not depress me, as I do not live in Canada. Rather, I am excited at the prospect of some other country (for a change) deciding to make offerings to the Gods of the Marketplace and play games with its critical infrastructure while I get to watch. Until now, Canada has generally been outranking us in the international rankings on penetration, although it ranks less well on affodability and only so-so on speed (as compared to countries with real broadband). Those who see such things as relevant (and not everybody does, the situation is complex and the data messy, hard to come by, and subject to multiple interpretations) generally regard this as a consequence of bad policy choices by the FCC (again, not everyone agrees, the data — to the extent we even have data — is very messy and complex). In particular, a lot of us think that the decision to eliminate mandatory wholesale access and rely on “intermodal” competition was a phenomenally bad idea.

Now we may get a chance over the next few years to test this hypothesis, and at someone else’s expense! Go Canada!

More below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Adelstein Is Right On FCC Authority to Launch An Investigation Into Arbitron Portable People Meter.

FCC Commissioner Adelstein wrote Chairman Martin a letter yesterday asking Martin to launch a formal inquiry into Arbitron’s use of the new portable people meter (PPM). As I noted back in September when the FCC put the Petition for an inquiry out on Public Notice, this issue means a lot to minority-oriented stations and their audiences, as they believe the PPM undercounts listeners to minority radio programming.

Also as I said back then, I think the FCC has very broad authority to investigate just about anything related to its core mission of, in the words of Section 1 of the Communications Act, “to make available, so far as possible, to all the people of the United States, without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex, a rapid, efficient, Nation-wide, and world-wide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges, for the purpose of the national defense, for the purpose of promoting safety of life and property through the use of wire and radio communications.”

Mind you, having the power to launch an official inquiry does not mean you have the power to actually do anything. The FCC’s mandate is fairly broad, but it has limits. But one of the questions the FCC can ask is: “So, if we discovered something we didn’t like, what could we do about it?” That answer may be nothing more than “tell Congress this sucks,” a conclusion the FCC has reached in the past on occasion when it concluded it could take no action under existing law. But it also allows the FCC to explore other options. For example, the FCC could decide that concerns over the ppm make Arbitron ratings unreliable for certain measurements relating to its rules, like determining whether or not a station is in the “top four” for purposes of permitting a merger. Or the FCC could decide, after seeing lots of opinions and legal research from interested parties pro and con, that the FCC does have authority even if it has never exercised this authority. Adelstein cites 47 U.S.C. 257, which requires the FCC to eliminate market barriers to entry. I think a fairly strong case can be made that regulation of ratings services falls under the FCC’s ancillary authority over broadcasting. That’s a little difficult after American Library Association v. FCC (the broadcast flag case), because a ppm is not a “communication” and ALA held that ancillary jurisdiction must regulate an actual communication or transmission rather than simply have some possible impact on the future of television. OTOH, ratings are so clearly integral to the entire broadcasting industry that the connection with the “statutorily mandated” responsibilities and goals of the Communications Act is very strong.

Neither of these views may bear out on close investigation as authority to act. But again, this is why the FCC conducts inquiries. While it is easy to point to things that might have an impact on broadcasting that clearly lie outside the FCC’s jurisdiction, such as building the Sears Tower in Chicago, and easy to point to things that lie squarely inside the authority of the FCC to regulate (such as media ownership limits), there is also a middle ground of things that are rather murky. In a case such as this, where interested parties have submitted a mess of evidence that raises questions on a matter that potentially impacts millions of people getting access to diverse programming, I think the FCC ought to go ahead and have an inquiry.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Apparently, I Am Even Less Influential Than I Thought . . . .

Or so says Paul Kapustka with his list of “Top Ten Net Neutrality Influencers”, on which I do not rank even an honorable mention.

Tip of the hat, however, to friend-of-the-blog and occasional sparring partner Richard Bennett included in the honorable mention slot.

On the plus side, no one will care if I take Wednesday and Friday off.

Stay tuned . . . .

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My Thoughts Exactly

Dogbark wisdom

Two cute woof-woofs from dear old Atrios, at Eschaton. ( I will link to him even though he refuses to acknowledge my existence (I hate that).)

In the most recent bark, he ironically says, Damn those unions for destroying Citigroup!!!. In the immediately prior arf-arf, he says,

I guess the Very Serious People are incapable of seeing how absurd this all is.

Nov. 24 (Bloomberg) — The U.S. government is prepared to lend more than $7.4 trillion on behalf of American taxpayers, or half the value of everything produced in the nation last year, to rescue the financial system since the credit markets seized up 15 months ago.

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Inventing the Future

Bill Gates Last Day

I missed this when it came out at the Consumer Electronics Show this year. Hilarious.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

It's Almost Like Colbert Reads This Blog . . . .

I know he doesn’t, but oh….wouldn’t it be cool if he did.

Here is his Most Awesome Thruthiness riffing on my favorite subject, the worshipers of the Gods of the Marketplace.

Stay tuned . . . .

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