Our RSS Feed Is Back!

A number of folks have asked me for awhile what happened to our RSS feed. I recognize that because we post infrequently here (damn you, life, for getting in the way of my blogging!) having an RSS feed really helps people to know when we’ve added something.

The answer is that Wetmachine is kept going on the technical side by the voluntary efforts of Gary Gray and John Sundman. Because of various problems, we needed to migrate Wetmachine awhile ago from one hosting company to another and make various other changes. As a result, the RSS plug in we were using broke. Making sure the site actually worked and stayed up and running took priority over finding a new RSS plug in, and it took Gary awhile to find a plug in that would work with the new site.

In any event, thanks to Gary’s hard work, you can now once again ensure that you will never miss another article by following the side bar on the right down to the RSS button. Please do. Also, you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter, because Lord knows you can now follow individual air molecules on Facebook and Twitter.


Stay tuned . . . .





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A Guide To The Mechanics of the Comcast/TWC Deal. Part IV: Congress, The White House And The Public.

If you read most of the reporting on the Comcast/TWC deal, you would think that Congress and the White House play a huge role. In reality, as I alluded to in the Part I intro, not so much. The political stuff tends to get over-reported in part because it’s easier (it took me about 3000 words just to explain how the antitrust and the FCC review work never mind any actual reporting), and in part because everyone assumes that Washington is a corrupt cesspit where politics invariably determine outcomes.


As always, while the political matters, it plays a much more complicated role in the mix. Below, I will unpack how the political pieces (including public input) play into the actual legal and merits analysis. Again, keep in mind that I’m not talking about merits here. I’m just trying to explain how the process works so people can keep track over the course of the merger review (which will last a minimum of 6 months and may well run for more than a year).


Political details below . . . .

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Posted in Cable, How Democracy Works, Or Doesn't, Life In The Sausage Factory, Media Ownership, Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Leave a comment

A Guide To The Mechanics of the Comcast/TWC Deal. Part III: The Federal Communications Commission.

In Part II, I described how the Department of Justice will conduct its antitrust review of the Comcast/TWC. Here, I describe how the Federal Communications Commission will conduct its review under the Communications Act. While the FCC and the DoJ will coordinate their reviews and work together, the two agencies have very different procedures and operate under very different legal standards. (For those wondering why, you can see this article I wrote on the subject about 15 years ago.)


Details on FCC process below . . .

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Posted in Cable, Life In The Sausage Factory, Media Ownership, Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Leave a comment

A Guide to The Mechanics of the Comcast/TWC Deal. Part II: Antitrust Review

In Part I, I gave a general overview of the regulatory review process for the Comcast/TWC Deal. In Part II, I describe how the antitrust review works (which, in this case, will be conducted by the Department of Justice Antitrust Division). Keep in mind I am not discussing any of the arguments on the merits. I’m just trying to give people a sense of how the process will work and where they can weigh in if they feel so inclined.

Part III will address the review by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under the Communications Act.  Part IV will talk about Congress, the White House and the public.


Antitrust process described below . . .


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A Guide To The Mechanics of the Comcast/TWC Deal. Part I: Introduction

Those unfamiliar with how the merger review process works will want to know what happens next in the Comcast purchase of Time Warner Cable (TWC). In this 4 part series, I sketch out how the application will proceed and what role Congress plays in all this. I’m going to save for another time the arguments on the merits and what the likelihood is of blocking the deal (or getting stronger conditions than Comcast/TWC have already put on the table). I intend this simply as mechanical guide so that folks playing at home can follow the action, and weigh in as they see fit.

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Posted in Cable, Life In The Sausage Factory, Media Ownership, Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Leave a comment

New Alliance of Orgs To Promote WiFi As Totally Awesome.

To calm myself from the news of the proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable by Comcast, I will return to my happy place — spectrum policy. Specifically, stuff that promotes unlicensed spectrum as totally awesome. (Sorry, I just saw the Lego Movie so now everything is awesome!)

Lost in the big news of the Comcast/TWC acquisition last week was the announcement of the launch of WiFi Forward. WiFi Forward brings a bunch of companies and organizations that use WiFi heavily — cable companies, tech companies, the American Library Association, Best Buy, and others (you can find the list here).  You can also watch this 3 minute news video by the Wall St. Journal which talks about the coalition (and the notable absence of Verizon and AT&T, despite the fact that they use WiFi fairly heavily).

Although the group is called “WiFi Forward,” it is about promoting unlicensed spectrum generally and not just WiFi or TV white spaces. However, try saying “unlicensed spectrum” to a random person and you get a blank look, whereas everyone knows about WiFi as the home of the Great Intelligence. OK, not the most positive example.


Totally Awesome Resources!

Of immediate relevance to advocates for more unlicensed spectrum is the Resource Page.  In particular, I recommend the report by Dr. Raul Katz on the contribution of unlicensed spectrum to the overall economy. For those unwilling to read the full report, a look at the Executive Summary or just this infographic gives the big headline — unlicensed spectrum (all of it, not just WiFi) provided $222 billion in economic value to the U.S. economy in 2013. That includes about $36 billion saved by consumers from having WiFi in their homes (and thus avoiding data overages and having access to cool stuff).


That’s a fairly big number. One worth keeping in mind when you see rather foolish statements about how the value of unlicensed spectrum is inherently limited. While George Ford (author of the piece) acknowledges that “both licensed and unlicensed spectrum have significant value to consumers,” the statement that “the value of spectrum commons is limited because of the poor incentives that go along with them” appears refuted by actual facts. (Part of the problem, of course, is that unlicensed spectrum is no more a “commons” than it is “property.” But explaining this unfortunate failure of metaphor and the intellectual traps that have resulted requires a much longer piece.)


Anyway, it would be a shame for WiFi Forward to get lost in the other news from last week.


Stay tuned . . .

Posted in Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Leave a comment

Comcast/TWC Merger Explained By Taiwanese News Animation

I will, eventually, have more to say about the Comcast’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable (TWC). My first reaction, I will admit, was pretty visceral. “My God! Aren’t you already freakin’ BIG ENOUGH Comcast?” But then, I realized that I needed to actually calm myself, and recall that bigness is not necessarily —


Breathe, Harold, breathe. Think policy. [pause for calm] Several folks have posted excellent policy analysis, starting with my Public Knowledge colleague Jodie Griffin in this blog post here to this excellent piece by David Karr to this more general expression of antitrust concern by Paul Krugman


As you can see, I’m still having a bit of trouble getting over my visceral reaction to the shear size and scope of this deal. So while I am calming down and getting ready to write my Insanely Long Field Guide To the Comcast/TWC Merger, I will simply let the good people at Taiwan’s fine Tomo News capture the moment. Because nothing really says “Comcast/TWC” better than giant robots and tasers.

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in Cable, I Fear These Things, Media Ownership, Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Broadband and Burgernomics: Is the Monthly “Netflix Rankings” The New Big Mac Index?

Some years ago, The Economist developed an informal metric for determining whether currencies were overvalued or undervalued based on purchasing power. They looked at the price of a McDonald’s Big Mac in the target country currency as compared to the price in the U.S. This “Big Mac Index” works on a theory that currencies should converge on the cost of a standardized basket of goods, and Big Macs are an internationally standardized product using pretty standard food goods available locally, which makes them the ideal metric for comparison over time. (Let us set aside for the moment various tweaks for low wages.)


As explained by The Economist:”Burgernomics was never intended as a precise gauge of currency misalignment, merely a tool to make exchange-rate theory more digestible. Yet the Big Mac index has become a global standard, included in several economic textbooks and the subject of at least 20 academic studies.”


I thought of this when reading this piece by Jon Brodkin on the decline over time of several major broadband providers in the monthly Netflix Rankings. As reported extremely well and in great depth by Stacey Higginbotham at GigaOm (see herehere and here) and others (see, for example, this long and good piece by Jon Brodkin), a lot of factors go into how well or how poorly your ISP performs — particularly on high-bandwidth applications like video. With no standards by which to judge performance and with variability a factor over time, how can the consumer tell if its really worth it to shell out big bucks for top-tier speeds on your ISP when the video you want may still behave unreliably?


Then it occurred to me that the monthly ranking by Netflix of how well its service works on the major ISPs may work as the new Broadband Burgernomics. As I explain below, performance over time allows people to compare relative ISP performance (both the ISP’s performance over time and its comparative performance to competitors – if you are lucky enough to live in a market with good competitors). As with currencies, make a rough estimate as to whether or not the ISP’s speed and performance claims are ‘overvalued’ (i.e., the speed tier purchased does not deliver to the consumer a consistent experience the consumer would expect for the stated speed), accurate, or ‘undervalued’ (i.e., the speed tier purchased delivers to the consumer an experience better than what the consumer would expect based on the stated speed.)


I want to stress this doesn’t tell us whether the ISP is doing anything illegal or immoral. It doesn’t tell us anything about blocking or throttling. It also doesn’t tell us whose “fault” it is that performance drops — at least not for month-to-month variations.  But, as I explain below, using the same logic as “Burgernomics,” the “Netflix Rankings” index, taken over time, should provide a reasonable rough indicator for consumers as to whether or not their ISP can make that higher speed tier worth the money for the upgrade, and a possible indicator to policymakers and investors about deeper changes in the market.


Before all you carriers and the usual suspects who go apoplectic on the subject of ISP performance metrics and the various policy issues freak out, read my full reasoning below . . .

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Posted in Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | 1 Comment

Jessica Rosenworcel And the Mantle of Michael Copps

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) moved forward on the transition of the phone system by adopting an order at its February open meeting. By a 5-0 vote, in addition to a number of other important first steps, the FCC adopted a set of governing principles for the transition. The principles focus on core values: Universal Service, Consumer protection, Competition, and Public Safety.


These principles did not just drop out of thin air.  Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel first proposed them in this speech in December of 2012. While few have noticed, Rosenworcel continued to quietly and effectively push this framework, culminating in a unanimous vote with broad approval from both corporations and public interest groups.


More amazing for this hyper-partisan and contentious times, the principles capture both progressive values and conservative values, traditionally shared by Republicans and Democrats alike. The idea that access to communications services is so essential to participation in society that the Federal government has a role in making sure that ALL Americans have affordable access goes back to the New Deal and Section 1 of the Communications Act. But the basic precept is even older, going all the way back to Founding Fathers. Article I of the Constitution gives Congress the express power ”to establish post offices and post roads” in recognition that ensuring that all Americans can communicate with each other is what helps make us a single country and one people — a core conservative value. As the arteries of commerce and the means of communication have evolved from post roads and post offices to steam trains and telegraphs to the automobile and the telephone, we have continued to preserve this idea of universal service to All Americans as a core traditional value of what it means to be an American.


But as essential and shared as these values are, no one was talking about them as the basis for the Phone Transition, or how to bring them forward into what Chairman Wheeler calls “The Fourth Network Revolution,” until Commissioner Rosenworcel started the conversation. From the time AT&T first proposed a “sunset of the Public Switched Telephone Network” during the National Broadband Plan in 2009 until Rosenworcel’s December 2012 speech, no one even talked about values – let alone proposed that a set of fundamental values needed to guide the transition. The conversation remained mired — and stalled — in myopic focus and bickering on the details of specific regulations. Commissioner Rosenworcel understood well before anyone else that the best way to move forward, and the way to keep the process firmly centered on the public interest, required reaffirming our fundamental values as the first step.

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Posted in How Democracy Works, Or Doesn't, Life In The Sausage Factory, Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | 1 Comment

Impact of Net Neutrality Decision On The Phone Transition, or “What Happens When You Can’t Make The Phone Service Work Like A Phone.”

I suppose I can best sum this up as “sucks to be rural.” On the plus side, it looks like all those lobbyists who went around getting states to pass laws prohibiting any kind of regulation of IP-based services and prohibiting local governments from offering broadband service wasted their money.

Also on the plus side, we can regulate the crap out of IP-based phone services to enhance consumer protection because it is all part of the virtuous circle of innovation. On the downside, if you are Mosque in the middle of small town USA, your local VOIP provider can now totally refuse to serve you. Sure, the fact that we cannot impose a duty to indiscriminately serve the public on VOIP providers (since that is the “hallmark of common carriage”) will only impact a statistically small number of people like the poor, the unpopular, and those in high cost rural areas. But screw it. Protecting the weak and helpless is soooo ‘New Deal.’ Who the #$@! needs a rule of law when we got markets baby!

Sure, some people we like might get rolled over by big companies and have no recourse. But ya know what? Who cares. Cause if a few big companies accidentally run over a few customers now and then, does that really matter? I mean, really?

And the best part of getting rid of that dumb old common carriage stuff? All the people that matter — like the judges making the decisions and the lobbyists arguing how we don’t need this stuff — will never even notice.  They never even have to deal with all those annoying weak, poor, vulnerable or unpopular people that the law protects. It’s like getting rid of the 4th Amendment, or stop and frisk, you only miss it if you’re someone we don’t give a crap about.

Read below to preview the exciting new world that now awaits us as “the fourth network revolution” meets “I can’t do rural call completion but I’m too scared to make VOIP Title II. So suck it rural.”

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