Tales of the Sausage Factory

After 10 Years of Struggle, Low-Power FM Will Give Thousands of New Communities A Chance To Get Their Voices On The Air.

Ten years ago, the FCC did a startling thing. It recognized that much of the rise in “pirate radio” came from frustrated demand for small, local licenses of the sort the FCC had simply stopped distributing many years before. So the FCC offered a deal to the “pirate” community: stop transmitting illegally and the FCC would create a low-power radio service. Despite fierce resistance by commercial broadcasters at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) (and, to their eternal shame, National Public Radio, which can be just as much of a bad incumbent as its commercial sisters), the FCC adopted rules to allow 100-watt radio stations to operate on a non-commercial basis. These stations would operate on a “secondary” basis to full power stations, required to protect these stations from any interference. To create space for these new community Low Power FM (LPFM) stations, the FCC would relax the “third adjacent” spacing requirement, a mechanical rule for spacing radio station transmitters far enough apart adopted in the early days radio to ensure no interference. The FCC studied the matter and concluded that relaxing this rule would not cause harmful interference to existing full-power stations.

Needless to say, the full-power broadcasters did not give up so easily. But neither did the supporters of LPFM. It’s a story worth celebrating not merely for the result, but for what it teaches us about staying in the struggle for the long-haul.

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Posted in How Democracy Works, Or Doesn't, Life In The Sausage Factory, Media Ownership, Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Imagination Sinkhole

Take Two Tablets, Call Me in the Morning

Against all previous precedent I’d like to present a product review.

This is not a paid review. It’s not even a particularly competent review. But if you’re at all interested in what might possess an otherwise sane person to buy into a ridiculous and expensive electronics fad and then live with it for six months, read on.

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Posted in Imagination Sinkhole | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Why Australia Is Building A National Broadband Network And the U.S. Can’t Fund BTOP Oversight

So the Aussie’s are spending $35billion (US) to build a national broadband network (creatively named the NBN). Meanwhile, in the United States, not only did we cut $300 million from BTOP’s grant program, but it is unclear that Congress will even fund the necessary oversight of the program to ensure that stuff funded gets built. As for future funding for actual grants — ha!

There is a reason such projects now happen in other countries, where once they happened here in the U.S.

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Posted in General, Tales of the Sausage Factory | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Why Network Neutrality Will Not Die (But It Doesn’t Mean We’ll Win, Either).

Was it only last month when network neutrality was supposedly dead, deceased, passed on, expired, gone to meet its maker, run down the curtain, and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible? Yet here we are, with a network neutrality rule teed up for a vote at the FCC’s December 21 meeting. Even more surprising, it appears that a number of long-time opponents may actually be willing to come to the table on a compromise rule, with AT&T’s Jim Cicconi practically living in the Chairman’s office for the past few weeks presumably negotiating over the details of a proposal. Mind you, if the proposed rule is too much of a compromise, network neutrality supporters will oppose it. And, even if major carriers support it, Republicans at the FCC and in Congress are dead set against it.  But for the moment, network neutrality appears to have once again gone from “totally dead” to “certain to become law.”

Truth is, network neutrality has been declared dead so many times it ought to have its own movie or television franchise. I picture Jim Cicconi as Dr. Evil staring at a garishly dressed Josh Silver as Austin Powers and saying: “But you died in that landslide election, when my Tea Party sharks with laser-beams grafted to their skulls had you trapped in their lair!” Josh flips back his hair and replies: “Network neutrality will never die, baby. It’s too shaggidelic!” Or perhaps I, in my secret identity as Perry the Platypus, will once again foil Scott Cleland as Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz as he attempts to destroy the open internet with his Close-Internet-Inator (besides, I think FCC Chair Julius Genachowski and Chief of Staff Eddie Lazarus would look cute dressed as Major Monogram and Carl). Or perhaps a looming Voldemort-eque composite of the cable industry will turn its high power lobbying wand on a Network Neutrality Harry Potter (played by Sascha Meinrath, since Ben Scott is no longer available) and asking “Why do you live?” and a defiant Meinrath answers: “Because I have something to live for!”

But while network neutrality appears almost comically unkillable, that does not mean those pushing for strong network neutrality rules  will actually prevail.  As The Mikado once observed: “it’s an unjust world, and virtue is triumphant only in theatrical performances.” Hence the concern over the actual substance of the rule and the endless last minute wrangling.

Why Network Neutrality keeps coming back from the dead but why supporters still need to pull out the stops to get a strong rule below . . . .

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Posted in Life In The Sausage Factory, Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory, Uncategorized | 2 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

FCC Google “Spy-Fi” Investigation To Establish Network Neutrality Authority? Thanks Scott!

Scott Cleland is mad at Google. This is not much of a surprise. Scott Cleland spends much of his time mad at Google and wishing terrible things would happen to them. This time, Cleland wants the FCC to investigate and punish Google for their collecting user data while sending their truck fleet to find open hot spots as part of their “street view” project. The FCC has confirmed it is investigating Google’s conduct. Cleland hopes the FCC will throw the book at Google.

I’m also hoping the FCC will act. But having pondered this for awhile, I’m not sure Cleland understands precisely what an FCC action against Google would mean for issues like network neutrality and regulation of wireless broadband access. Briefly, it would require the FCC to either assert authority over all unlicensed spectrum and passive reception under some combination of Section 301 (47 USC 301) and Section 302 (47 USC 302a) of the Act, or authority over wireless broadband pursuant to Section 705 (47 USC 605). While this does not trouble me, evil pro-regulatory big-government free-market hating Socialist that I am, I am rather surprised to see those (like Cleland) who usually want the FCC kept at arms length begging the FCC to charge into the fray and extend its authority over Google, especially when such an expansion of authority would extend to network neutrality regulation as well.

More below . . . .

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

My Thoughts Exactly

Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Geraldine Brooks talks with Wetmachine about the future of publishing

Today Wetmachine talks with Geraldine Brooks, whose novel March won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2006, about trends in publishing. She joins the roster of Wetmachine “Whither Publishing?” interviewees including Writer’s Digest impresaria Jane Friedman,  ebook pioneer Mark Coker of Smashwords.com, and book designer extraordinaire Joel Friedlander.

I met Geraldine Brooks when we were seated next to each other at a small dinner party about two months ago. (Geraldine and her husband Tony Horwitz (also a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize — his is for journalism) and I have many mutual friends, including my wife Betty, who directs the lecture series at the Vineyard Haven Public Library, where Tony has been a speaker and Geraldine is on the hook for a talk next year.)

At that dinner party Geraldine and I discovered that we had many similar interests, including a shared taste for dystopian science fiction novels — the very kind of book I write. I offered to drop off a few copies of my books at her house and she said, “Oh, please do.” So the next day I hoped on my bicycle and rode to the address she had given me, and that’s how I discovered where she lived and that I had met her young son Bizu some 9 months earlier, when the fire truck to which I’m assigned, T___ 651, was parked in front of their house during a routine “furnace backfire” call. When I got home from dropping off my books I sent Geraldine the write-up in my diary about that fire call, and she was thrilled to get it, saying “That’s fantastic.  Thank you so much for sending this. I remember that day quite vividly.  I thought, that’s a very nice man out there, letting Bizu ramble away at him..”

Since then Geraldine & I have become  pals. I think the moral of the story is, if you want to get on the good side of a famous writer and get her to answer questions for your insignificant little blog, let her observe you being nice to her child without having any idea who he is or that she’s observing you through the window.

I’ve attached that diary entry at the end of the interview. Read More »

Posted in Firefighting, My Thoughts Exactly, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Protecting The Future of 3D Printing, Don’t Let the IP Mafia Rob You of Your Right To A Replicator.

My colleague Michael Weinberg at Public Knowledge has written a truly awesome piece on 3D Printing and how folks should organize now to prevent the IP Mafia from screwing it up. You can see the full white paper here.

For those unfamiliar with it, 3D printing is the closest thing yet to the Star Trek replicator. You place a physical item in the machine and the machine makes a replica. As explained in the article, we are now at the point where 3D printing can replicate devices with moving parts. You can get a lot more info on 3D printing on PK’s issue page. There are a lot of very obvious advantages to this technology and many potential cool applications — especially as the technology advances. It also challenges a lot of business models and assumptions based on existing copyright, trademark, and patent law.

More below . . .

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

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Did You Know This Election Turned On Network Neutrality? Why Washington Has Its Head Up Its Rear End.

Apparently, the election results last Tuesday were a “national referendum” on network neutrality. I’m not sure how I missed this, but the constant repetition of this idea in the blogosphere and on Twitter has now utterly convinced me and everyone else in the Washington Echo Chamber that is totally true. In fact, I am assured that the only reason I refuse to acknowledge this fundamental truth is that I am in deep denial.
For those readers outside Policyland, you may wonder how government officials entrusted with making decisions that actually impact your lives could come to believe something so plainly ridiculous. In all of the various “lessons learned” pieces out of the election, no one outside the Telecom neighborhood of Policyland has even suggested this is the case. But, through the amazing combination of narcissism that puts us at the center of everybody else’s universe, the utter certainty with which people around here make ridiculous statements, and the sheeplike willingness of people on both sides of the debate to retweet this at each other, I now have people asking me about this and whether I think it’s true.

This is why Washington is broken and out of touch with America. There is a difference between stuff that is incredibly important because it has real impact on people’s lives, which applies to a lot of the policy work here in DC, and stuff that people care about, which is not a heck of a lot that goes on in DC. I wish it weren’t so. I would love it if we lived in a nation of policy wonks where the difficult details of national policy are the stuff of kitchen table conversations and earnest discussions at social gatherings.
However, I can assure you from personal experience that trying to engage people in detailed conversations about telecom policy is about as popular with normal people as the intimate details of your last root canal.

Still, as a case study in how conventional wisdom evolves in Policyland, this may amuse some of you non-DC folks. More below . . .

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Posted in How Democracy Works, Or Doesn't, Life In The Sausage Factory, Tales of the Sausage Factory | 5 Comments (Comments closed)

Inventing the Future

Shallow Hiro / Deep Hiro

With all the Avatars running around this Halloween, I figured it was an appropriate time to go back to the book that introduced the world to this usage of the term. But my Hiro Protagonist felt more like a sort of literary Diogenes, wandering the streets and other people’s parties with my pizza box and katana, looking for anyone who had read Snow Crash.

I was disapointed.
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Posted in Inventing the Future, Memology | Comments closed

Tales of the Sausage Factory

The Fox/Cablevision Retrans Mess And FCC Learned Helplessness — The Insanely Long Version

[This is a much longer, wonkier version of a post I did on the Public Knowledge blog, for those who can’t get enough explanation of Section 325.]

I feel a good deal of sympathy for FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski over the ongoing fight between Fox and Cablevision. My brother the educator likes to say that “responsibility without authority is trauma.” Or, in other words, if you are responsible for something, but don’t actually have the authority to do anything about it, then the only thing you can do is suffer when things go wrong. So it is for Genachowski and Fox/Cablevision — under the FCC’s current rules. But here’s the funny thing. The FCC actually has fairly strong statutory authority to take action. So while Genachowski is in a bind, he can actually fix the problem. He even has a vehicle all teed up and waiting in the form of Public Knowledge’s Petition to change the “retransmission consent” rules (I’ll explain what those are below).

So how on Earth did the FCC get reduced from the “cop on the beat” to pathetically tweeting the playoffs? The answer lies with over 15 years of deliberately learned helplessness and rulemaking that I can only charitably describe as auto-castration. Twice, in 1992 and 1999, Congress explicitly directed the FCC to make sure that broadcasters don’t abuse the retransmission consent negotiation process (or as we telecom policy wonks like to call it, “retrans”). Each time, the FCC went out of its way to develop rules that systemically divested itself of all capability to act. So although Congress gave the FCC the job of consumer protection cop, the FCC kept angling for the job of “palace eunuch” to the Media Barons. For 15 years, the FCC has loooooovvvved its job as Palace Eunuch for the Media Barons, wearing a very impressive Palace Eunuch uniform with those great big baggy pants and the cute little fez and toy sword it waves impressively when it tells members of the public to move along and stop trying to hold big media companies accountable for their public interest obligations.

Happily for Genachowski, he can trade in the silly, baggy Eunuch pants for bold, powerful “man pants” the Republican women keep talking about as the fashion accessory for the season. Or Genachowski could do nothing, which will give him time to go shopping for a nice pair of those little pointy shoes with the bells on the toes to go with the baggy Eunuch pants.

Wonky legal details below . . . .

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Posted in Cable, Life In The Sausage Factory, Media Ownership, Tales of the Sausage Factory | 7 Comments (Comments closed)
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