Tales of the Sausage Factory

So Did Anything Actually Happen In Telecom In 2009? And What That Means for 2010.

Ah, the inevitable end of the year summation post. This year certainly started with massive change of the relevant players in Congress, at the FCC, and in the Administration generally. It also began with some massive changes for me personally. Within the first month, Congress passed an economic stimulus bill that focused on the broader broadband ecology and explicitly required we shift from praying to the Gods of the Marketplace to trying to grapple with the very difficult challenge of developing a 21st Century information infrastructure.

So then what happened? More, including the inevitable overused sports metaphor, below . . . .

Read More »

Posted in Life In The Sausage Factory, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments closed

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Merry Christmas and Boosting Creative Commons License

Wishing readers a happy holiday and taking the opportunity to provide a little advertising for Jonathan Coulton, an amazingly creative and funny musician who releases his material under a Creative Commons license, allowing the creation of such amusing videos as the one below by fans which hopefully pique the interest of potential buyers. So if the video below amuses you, check Coulton’s stuff and buy it if you are so inclined.

Stay tuned . . .

Posted in General, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Tagged | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Susan Crawford and the Spirit of Cincinatus

Susan Crawford is now back blogging again, looking forward to teaching next semester at Michigan Law and getting back into the blogging game. Because those of us in public policy land cannot imagine anyone ever wanting to do anything else, and because the folks on the right have wanted to claim a kill for their “anti-Czar Campaign,” a number of folks want to claim she was pushed to leave. I would ignore this on the right, but it has a distressing tendency to get picked up and believed on the left as well.

I’ve known Susan for over 10 years now, and consider her a friend, so I am hardly impartial. But I personally believe that Susan always meant to stay a year for the transition — no more no less — just as she told her Dean and everyone else at the beginning of this process. Because Susan is an example of a breed long thought vanished from America — one moved by the spirit of Cincinatus.

In ancient Rome, it was the custom in times of crisis for the Senate to appoint a supreme leader, a dictator (this being the origin of the term), who would wield absolute power for the duration of the crisis, then step down afterward. According to legend, in a time of crisis, the Senate elected the retired Consul Cincinatus to act as dictator, and dispatched messengers with the news. The messengers found Cincinatus plowing on his farm. When he heard that Rome needed him, he left his plow and returned with the messengers to take up his duties in Rome. When the crisis passed, he gave up his position and returned to his plow — picking up precisely where he left off.

Public policy is not a quiet way to make a living. It involves long hours on things ranging from the mind-numbingly complex to the even more mind-numbingly complex. People do not play well with one another. There is little understanding of the work, little credit for doing a good job, and plenty of people who will tell you to your face (and even more who will say behind your back) how they could do a better job. Some folks do it for money, and there are no lack of examples of folk who have done well for themselves after a stint in policyland. Some do it for ideology, or for the fun of it (I confess to falling into the later category myself; much as I often find the work wearing and difficult, I find it enormously engaging and intellectually challenging).

But a handful do it because they are asked, and because they understand that they can do something that will benefit people and their country by devoting some portion of their lives to a process they do not find enjoyable or potentially profitable. They serve as genuine public servants, acting where they believe they can do good, returning to what they really want to do with their lives when their service is complete.

Susan Crawford has enjoyed a very successful career as a law school professor and as the founder of One Web Day. She agreed to join the ICANN Board when asked not because she got anything out of it (other than a great deal of work and little thanks), but because she believed she could make a difference for the better. She did not seek it out, but did not decline when asked, because she knew that her talents were needed. Similarly, when the Obama people came calling, she agreed to help with the transition and to get the ball rolling. This she did splendidly and selflessly. Work done, in the best spirit of Cincinatus, she returned to her normal life.

As I say, those of us who live in Policyland — including the wags, talking heads, bloggers and hosts of others who follow the doings in Policyland with the same fervor as football fans prepping for the Bowl Season — may have a difficult time grasping this. In our modern age, the false wisdom of cynicism has far more appeal than the belief that someone would come for a year, do what she felt was her duty, then simply leave. But knowing Susan, I believe it. So I am grateful she set aside her life for a year, grateful for what she did, and glad to see her back where she wants to be. My one regret is that the spirit of Cincinatus, which was once the ideal to which citizens of this country aspired, has passed so into obscurity that we cannot recognize it when we see it.

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in Life In The Sausage Factory, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments (Comments closed)

My Thoughts Exactly

Zappadan for Christmas!

As all compulsive readers of every single thing written on the internet know, Zappadan is that period of time, roughly corresponding to Festivus-advent and Festivus, between the anniversaries of the death and birth of Frank Zappa, and in which we now find ourselves.

So I think it’s worth pointing out to any googlers out there who may have stumbled upon our humble blog for the first time–and to our regular Wetmachine readers also, who might wear a tennis shoe or the occasional python boot– that Acts of the Apostles, that fantabulous novel by none other than moi, your host, is chock full of Zappoid goodness, not least of which being a significant plot point that revolves, as you might say, around the track layout of the double-LP Uncle Meat. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, Acts of the Apostles is the only novel in existence for which an absurdly deep familiarity with Uncle Meat (coupled with some understanding of the principles of VLSI design) will aid the reader in figuring out the central mystery of the book.

Acts of the Apostles is available for free download. Look to the left side of the screen. Have at it, Zappa-tistas! Eat it before Funobulax does.

This same book (along with its companions Cheap Complex Devices and The Pains) is available in printed ink-on-paper codex format for sale righty-chere on this very same blog you’re now a-readin’. Order now, and it’ll probably arrive at your place in time to put it under the Frankmas Tree.

Posted in My Thoughts Exactly, Writing | Tagged , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

DC Gives Hollywood A Little Holiday Pick Me Up To Show They Care — With A Surprise SOC Ending.

The Copyright Mafia have certainly been feeling needy recently. Maybe it’s all that talk about how wonderful broadband access is — with all the awful piracy it creates — clouding out how movies made record breaking profits this year. Maybe it’s because the London Times linked to studies that show that musicians (but not labels) do better in a world of file sharing. Maybe it’s just the sadness of winter time and the end of a decade in which PK managed to hold off nearly all the awful legislation the Copyright Mafia proposed. But whatever it is, Hollywood has been saying to it’s friends in DC “hold me,” and their DC friends have been ready to oblige.

But what caught my attention was not just the usual round of festivities by Democrats to reassure Hollywood before an election year that “we love you like no other, don’t pay that foolish broadband stuff no mind.” No, it was the surprise statement by Professor Chris Yoo that if the FCC gave Hollywood a waiver so it could shut off your television’s analog outputs (what we call in this biz Selectable Output Control or SOC), it would help stop live sports piracy?

Funny, whenever we say to the folks at the FCC (or anywhere else) that Hollywood wants to control analog outputs generally and that after they get a “narrow waiver” for releasing movies to VoD earlier than they do on DVD, they will come after live sports events, the MPAA does that eye-rolling thing where ya know, whacky info commies and their crazy conspiracy theories about how big bad Hollywood wants to control everything and the FCC staff get those fixed smiles on their faces that anyone who has ever dealt with teenagers will recognize as the “I’m stuck sitting here pretending to listen until you go” look.

So to have Yoo come out and — apparently unprompted and after a hearing that had nothing whatsoever to do with SOC — come out and say “yeah, the FCC ought to waive SOC rules for live sporting events, because everyone knows analog outputs are just STRAWS OF PIRACY SUCKING THE LIFEBLOOD OF THE CONTENT INDUSTRY INTO THE GREEDY CRIMINAL MORASS THAT IS TEH INTERWEBZ” kinda grabbed my attention. As I always tell my critics — if I’m delusional, it seems to be a functional and prescient sort of delusion.

More below . . .

Read More »

Posted in Fighting the IP Mafia, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Tagged , , | Comments closed

Econoklastic

Auction 86 — All Over, But Rural America is Shafted Again.

Auction 86, the BRS auction, is over and all bids have cleared. There were no defaults. The auction netted a mere $19,426,600, rather less than most industry analysts speculated before the auction. However, it must be remembered that the BTA licenses up for auction were heavily encumbered with the need for interference agreements with P35 license holders and resembled more “white space” swiss-cheese spectrum than real BTA licenses.

The bidding ended after 24 rounds in four days on Oct. 30. However, it took until now to be certain that no winning bidder was going to default.

As expected, Clearwire took the overwhelming majority of licenses at offer, 42 of them for $11,177,000. Those licenses represent a deepening of Clearwire’s spectrum pool for national footprint and, in a few cases, even expanded it. Utopian Wireless and DigitalBridge Spectrum, companies which are concentrating on providing WiMax in areas where Clearwire is not deploying, acquired 4 and 2 licenses, respectively. As expected, Stratos Offshore Services and Trident Global Communications shared the three new Gulf of Mexico licenses, 2 and 1 respectively, for a little over $2.5 million, the third most expensive acquisitions. Vermont Telephone Company acquired three licenses in its current footprint for the second highest expenditure in the auction, $2.8 million.

The other successful bidders included James E. McCotter (3 licenses), Ztark Communications (2), Cellular South (1), and Twin Lakes Telephone Cooperative (1) — all reinforced existing license footprint. Broadcast Cable Bloomington, Chevron USA, Emery Telecom-Wireless, Gateway Telecom, N-1 Communications and Pulse Mobile all walked away with no wins.

More interesting still, 17 licenses failed to clear. These licenses were overwhelmingly in rural areas, continuing the pattern established by Clearwire and its cableco and telco partners of redlining a substantial portion of rural America for broadband service generally and WiMax in particular. If this pattern had been allowed to prevail in rural electrification, much of the West and the South would still not have electricity. It makes you wonder where FDR is when you really need him.

Posted in Econoklastic, General | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Could the FCC Structure A Broadcaster Clearance Auction Without Congress? Yeah, actually . . .

Progress and Freedom Foundation has recently published this piece by Adam Theirer and Barbara Esbin on how encouraging a deal between broadcasters and wireless providers to reduce the spectrum used by broadcasters and auction more spectrum for wireless use would serve the public interest. The piece raises some good points. For one thing, it is happily free of the “broadcasters are obsolete and we ought to take their spectrum back” rhetoric that often accompanies these proposals (not from PFF, I should add, but from a number of others). But the paper is woefully short on specifics. It touts the value of such a deal (freeing up spectrum for wireless) and lays out some general approaches, then urges the FCC and Congress to broker a deal between the broadcasters and the wireless industry through a number of possible auction mechanisms.

And now, the FCC has issued a public notice in the National Broadband Plan soliciting input on what they should think about using broadcast spectrum as part of the national broadband plan.

This got me thinking. Is there a mechanism the FCC could use, consistent with existing law, which would allow for the sort of broadcast band clearance the FCC would like to see? And, as a bonus, could this also clear some space for white space use? After some consideration, I hatched the scheme below. It is somewhat slower than than the wireless industry would like. I expect it would take about 5 years to finish the transition. But that is not bad given that it took 4 years to manage the DTV transition and auction from the time Congress set the hard date in 2005 to the end of analog broadcasting in June 2009. Also, my plan would allow continuing gradual build out, and combines some sticks to go with the carrots.

I’ll add that I’m not convinced this is worth doing. I think the current obsession with broadcast spectrum as the solution for the upcoming spectrum crisis suffers the same myopia as focusing on offshore drilling to cure the energy crisis — it defers the crunch but doesn’t solve the underlying problem. Wireless demand is going to continue, and we need to fundamentally change how we manage spectrum access (rather than spectrum allocation) to remain on a sustainable path for growth. I also point out, as we discovered while doing the broadcast white spaces proceeding, that there are a lot of non-broadcast uses in the existing television bands that are not broadcast users. These secondary services are going to get awfully squeezed if we crunch the broadcast bands further.

All that said, a well constructed auction could free up a nice chunk of spectrum in the short term that could promote wireless services and competition — especially if it came with a spectrum cap so VZ and AT&T didn’t hog all the good stuff again.

More below . . . . .

Read More »

Posted in Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments closed

My Thoughts Exactly

Bernie Sanders puts hold on Bernanke nomination

Evidently Mr. Sanders is considered “a radical”. If this is radicalism, give me more of it.

(I admit, I do have radicalist tendencies. Why, I brush and floss my teeth pretty regularly, and I also always wear a seat belt when riding in an automobile.)

Posted in "A Republic, if you can keep it", My Thoughts Exactly | Tagged | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

“Will Comcast Join the NAB?” Measuring the Merger On The Trade Association Scale

Few rivalries in the media world match those of cable operators and broadcasters. Since the first cable regulation by the FCC to prevent cable operators from importing blacked out sports events and “distant signals” that threatened local broadcast content back in the 1960s, broadcasters and cable operators have constantly sought regulatory advantage over one another. Broadcasters once ruled video as its unchallenged masters. Then came cable, which became the dominant platform for delivery of video. But broadcasting continues to aggregate mass audiences and produce more popular programming. Despite all the yapping about how no one can tell broadcast and cable apart anymore, neither one can survive without the other, but both have radically different interests. As a result, the broadcasters and the cable operators, and therefore their trade associations, are constantly at loggerheads.

The fact that Comcast, after acquiring NBC’s broadcast stations, will be eligible to join the National Association of Broadcasters, underscores just how radically and completely the proposed Comcast acquisition of NBC extends Comcast’s reach into every sector of communication. In ideological terms, it is rather like Vatican City joining the Arab League. But that’s not the only powerful trade association Comcast would now be eligible to join. Comcast will also be able to join the MPAA. Depending on how it develops its broadcast spectrum and other wireless assets, it could join CTIA and other wireless trade associations. These, of course, join the already impressive list of trade associations Comcast already belongs to as the largest broadband access provider, one of the largest residential phone companies, purchasers of telecommunications equipment, etc.

So I propose a new metric for measuring antitrust impact of mergers, the uniquely Washington “Trade Association Scale.” How many trade associations will you qualify for after the merger. If the number is too high, that shows you are getting into far too many lines of business to be healthy, because you have too much influence on everybody else’s business. And on the Trade Association Scale, the Comcast/NBC merger ranks a 10 out of 10.

More below . . .

Read More »

Posted in Cable, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments closed

Tales of the Sausage Factory

An Open Letter To Blair Levin On The Subject of National Broadband Public Notices

Dear Blair:

I surrender! I admit defeat. I cry “uncle.” You win. Despite my earlier doubts, I am now prepared to say the National Broadband Plan process is the most open, transparent, comprehensive, bestest and wonderfullest proceeding ever in the entire history of the FCC since passage of the Communications Act of 1934! Just please, please PLEASE no more public notices. [break off into uncontrolled sobbing]

Read More »

Posted in Tales of the Sausage Factory, The Stimulus Package (ARRA) | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)
Username
Password

If you do not have an account: Register