Tales of the Sausage Factory

Turns Out Our Mobile Broadband Is As Mediocre As Our Wireline Broadband.

It is time once again for folks to file comments in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) annual Notice of Inquiry on the Deployment of Advanced Telecommunications Services, aka the Section 706 Report (after Section 706 of the 1996 Act) aka the data (which along with FCC Form 477) which forms the basis for the FCC’s annual “State of the Broadband” report. You can read this year’s notice here. This year’s notice is particularly good, as (befitting a more mature broadband industry than we had when we started running this in 1998), so of course all those who would prefer we set the bar low enough to give ourselves a gold star for showing up hate it. See, for example, Pai dissent here, comments of NCTA here, USTA here.


Which makes these two reports on the state of broadband particularly timely. According to Akami, we rank 20th in global broadband speeds. Before the broadband industry and their cheerleaders counter that we have the best mobile broadband/most extensive LTE deployment in the world, I point to this new report from OpenSignal that finds we rank 54th in global mobile network speed.


20th and 54th. I’m so proud. USA! USA!


I unpack this a little bit below . . . .

Read More »

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

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Phone Industry To The Poor: “No Privacy For You!”

Back in June, the FCC released a major Order on the Lifeline program. Lifeline, for those not familiar with it by that name, is the federal program started in the Reagan era to make sure poor people could have basic phone service by providing them with a federal subsidy. Congress enshrined Lifeline (along with subsidy programs for rural areas) in 1996 as Section 254 of the Communications Act. While most of the item dealt with a proposal to expand Lifeline to broadband, a portion of the Order dealt with the traditional FCC Lifeline program.

As a result, the wireless industry trade association, CTIA, has asked the FCC to declare that poor people applying for Lifeline have no enforceable privacy protections when they provide things like their social security number, home address, full name, date of birth, and anything else an identity thief would need to make your life miserable. Meanwhile, US Telecom Association, the trade association for landline carriers, has actually sued the FCC for the right to behave utterly irresponsibly with any information poor people turn over about themselves — including the right to sell that information to 3rd parties.


Not that the wireless carriers would ever want to do anything like that, of course! As CTIA, USTA, and all their members constantly assure us, protecting customer privacy is a number one priority. Unless, of course, they’re running some secret experiments on tracking without notifying customers that accidentally expose customer information to third parties. Oh, and it might take longer than promised to actually let you opt out once you discover it. And in our lawsuit against the FCC’s Net Neutrality rules, they explicitly cite the inability to use customer information for marketing, the inability to sell this information to third parties, and the requirement to protect this information generally as one of the biggest burdens of classifying broadband as Title II. But other than that, there is no reason to think that CTIA’s members or USTA’s members would fail to respect and protect your privacy.


So how did the Lifeline Reform Order which most people assumed was all about expanding Lifeline to broadband became the vehicle for the phone industry to tell poor people they have no privacy protections when they apply for a federal aid program? I explain below . . .

Read More »

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

Tales of the Sausage Factory

DISH DE Debacle Part 3: What Happens Now?

In Part 1, I explained at considerable length what happened with the whole DISH DE Debacle and Why DISH owes the FCC $3.3 billion despite not having actually violated any rules. In Part 2, I explained how the FCC came to the conclusions it came to in the Order denying SNR and Northstar their DE credits but granting them their licenses.


Here, I will explain why (as readers have no doubt noticed) I have sympathy for DISH and why I would have done things differently – although I can’t say Wheeler was wrong. Heck, as I’ve noted many times before, I have the luxury of being neither a Commissioner nor a party with skin in the game. So take my Monday morning quarterbacking for what it’s worth.


More below . . .

Read More »

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

Tales of the Sausage Factory

DISH DE Debacle Part 2: So What Did The FCC Actually Do?

In Part 1, I gave a rather lengthy explaination of the factual background why DISH now owes the FCC another $3.3 billion dollars more than the $10 billion it already owed for licenses won in the big FCC spectrum auction at the end of last year (the AWS-3 auction). Here, I give my analysis of the Order denying SNR and Northstar applications for designated entity (DE) credits. Some thoughts on broader implications, what may or may not happen next, and my personal opinion on whether the FCC was right or wrong, I save for Part 3.


More below . . .

Read More »

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

Tales of the Sausage Factory

New D.C. Circuit Decision Knocks Fairly Large Hole In Anti-Net Neutrality Case.

Every now and then, the D.C. Circuit throws you an interesting little curve ball. This opinion issued last week would appear to knock a serious hole in the argument made by the cable and telcos against the FCC’s reclassification of broadband as a Title II telecom service.


The case, Home Care Association of America v. Weil (HCAA) addresses the legal question that takes up about a quarter of the main brief for petitioners: does the Brand X decision that the Telecom Act was “ambiguous” mean that the FCC gets deference under the Chevron Doctrine when it reexamines the question in 2015 and comes out the other way? Or can Petitioners argue that the statute is not ambiguous and explicitly precludes the interpretation the FCC now gives it? Under HCAA, the D.C. Circuit appears to find that once the Supreme Court decides a statute is ambiguous, that settles the question. If the statute was ambiguous for an interpretation in one direction, it is still ambiguous — and thus subject to Chevron deference — when the agency reverses course. Nor does the agency have a higher burden when it reverses course then it did when it first made the decision.


Good lawyers can always distinguish cases, of course — as can a conservative panel of the D.C. Cir. that wants to find a particular result. Furthermore, Petitioners have lots of other arguments to make that are not impacted by the HCAA decision. Nevertheless, it seems clear this case is good news for the FCC (and those of us who support the FCC), and Petitioners will no doubt need to spend a good portion of their reply brief explaining why HCAA doesn’t dictate the result here.


I explain in more detail below . . . .

Read More »

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

Tales of the Sausage Factory

So What’s This “Designated Entity” Thing, and Why Does DISH Owe The FCC $3 bn When They Didn’t Break The Rules?

Generally, I loath the cliche “be careful what you wish for.” But I can think of no better way to describe the vast consternation in the spectrum world over the licenses won by SNR and Northstar in the AWS-3 Auction. If you don’t recognize the names off-hand, that’s because most of the time people just refer to them as the “DISH Designated Entities” or the “DISH DEs.” As detailed in many articles and petitions to deny SNR and Northstar their DE credits (totaling $3.3 billion), most people regard SNR and Northstar as “sham” or “fake” DEs, owned and controlled by DISH.

But here’s the funny thing. As far as anyone can tell from the filings, DISH, SNR and Northstar followed the precise letter of the law. And, what’s even more surprising, if you look at the results, this was the most successful auction ever for DEs. Both SNR and Northstar are minority owned (as defined by the FCC’s rules). All the “loopholes” DISH used with regard to ownership interest and bidding coordination were designed to make it easier for DE’s to get capital, win licenses, and benefit from partnering with a larger telecommunications company — which SNR and Northstar certainly did.

As a result, as noted by my usual frenemies at Phoenix Center, as measured by every traditional metric, the AWS-3 auction was the single most successful auction in awarding licenses not merely to small businesses, but to minority owned firms specifically. By every past criteria ever used, the AWS-3 auction results ought to be celebrated as a ginormous success for the DE program. Every aspect worked exactly as intended, and the result was exactly what people claimed to want. Indeed, as noted by Phoenix Center, even the $3.3 bn in bidding credits was in line with other spectrum auctions as a percentage of revenue.

Except, in classic “be careful what you wish for” fashion, when you scaled these results up to their logical outcome, no one was really happy with the result (except for DISH). Which has now prompted FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to circulate an order denying SNR and Northstar their designated entity credits. As a result, SNR and Northstar (meaning their financial backer DISH) must cough up $3.3 bn within 30 days of issuance of the Order or — unless granted a stay or extension — the licenses will revert back to the FCC. Oh yes, and the FCC might need to deduct an additional $10 bn from the auction revenue. And there might be default charges (the FCC charges a penalty for defaulting on payments so people don’t bid and hope they find the money later). Or it might get more complicated, since there has never been a clawback of this magnitude before.


In Part 1, I will explain what exactly happened, why DISH did not violate the rules as written and why SNR and Northstar are technically “minority owned.” Along the way, we will consider some delightful ironies about the whole business.

In Part 2, I’ll tackle why the FCC decided that it could yank the DE discount anyway, and try to figure out what happens next.

More below . . . .

Read More »

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

General Exception

Google Studies the Obvious: People Hate Interstitial Popups

One of the (many) things that piss me off is the growing plague of modal popups (also called interstitials) that seemingly every site deploys these days. These are the popups that dim the screen and take over the web page you just loaded demanding that you “Like us on Facebook!” or “Join Our Email List!” To proceed, you have to find and click on the (often tiny, obscure) X or dismiss button (which surprisingly is never labelled “F**k Off”, which is exactly what I utter when that happens) just to even see what’s on the site.

My reaction when I see this is immediate: I hit the back button. If you’re near-sighted enough ask me to like your site or give you my email address before you give me a chance to look at it for half a second, I can safely assume you too stupid to actually present content I want to see. I guess, in a way, it does me a service. It’s a nice filter. I won’t waste time on that stupid site. But I really get annoyed being slapped in the face again and again by aggressive levels of stupid.

Read More »

Posted in General Exception | Comments closed

Tales of the Sausage Factory

What the Heck Is The “Duplex Gap” And Why Has It Blown Up The July FCC Meeting?

Difficult as it is to believe, there are times in policy when issues do not break down simply by partisan interest or into neat categories like incumbents v. competitors or broadcasters v. wireless carriers. Sometimes — and I know people are not gonna believe me on this – issues break down on pure substance and require lots of really hard choices. Of course, because these issues are highly technical and complicated, most people like to ignore them. But these kinds of issues are also usually the hardest and most intractable for people who actually care about what the world looks like and how this policy decisions will actually work in reality.


So it is with the question of whether to put broadcasters in the duplex gap as part of the repacking plan in the incentive auction. Did your eyes glaze over yet? Heck, for most people, it’s gonna take a paragraph or two of explanation just to understand what that sentence means. But even if you don’t know what it means, you can understand enough for this basic summary:


  1. Just about every stakeholder in the auction — wireless carriers, broadcasters, wireless microphone users, tech company supporters of using unlicensed spectrum in the broadcast bands, public interest groups — all told the FCC not to put broadcasters in the duplex gap.


  1. Nevertheless, the Auction Team proposed putting broadcasters in the duplex gap, based on a set of simulation that suggested that the FCC would only get back 50-60 MHz of spectrum to auction if they protected the duplex gap. The Chairman circulated a draft order adopting the Auction Team’s proposal.


  1. Everybody freaked out. The Chairman found he did not have 3 votes, or possibly not even 2 votes, to adopt his proposal on duplex gap. The freak out is so intense and so bad that the FCC actually waived the Sunshine Period for this itemso that interested parties can continue to talk to FCC staff and commissioners until the night before the meeting. The FCC also released additional data showing the impact would be limited to a relatively small number of cities.


  1. That helped some, but not enough. Despite progress on negotiations, the FCC clearly did not have time to get to the right solution in the 5 days between the release of the new data and the actual vote. Also, a bunch of people were pissed that the Auction Team hadn’t released the data sooner, and hadn’t provided more explanation of the underlying model and the assumptions behind it. On Tuesday, the Republican Chairs of the House Energy & Commerce Committee & the Telecom Subcommittee wrote Wheeler a letter chastising him for having a bad process and calling on Wheeler to pull the item from the agenda entirely. On Wed., the day before the vote, Wheeler wrote back defending the process but agreeing to pull the item (and the associated item on whether or not to change the spectrum reserve) until the August Meeting three weeks from now.


In Policyland, this passes for high drama. It is, to say the least, highly unusual. Enough so that even folks who find technical issues like this complicated and boring to the point of insanity are asking: “what the heck just happened there? Who lost and who won?” The equally complicated answer: “no one lost or won, we’ve got a serious debate about a technical problem which has consequences no matter how you resolve it” is not nearly as satisfying as “the carriers” or “the tech companies” or whatever.


I explain and unpack all of this below, as well as consider possible impacts and ways to resolve this. But again, I want to stress this is a super hard problem. This is about competing goals and the difficulty of predicting the future with any certainty. It’s also about trust and stuff, which is hard to come by in Washington even at the best of times. This is not subject to simplistic plotlines like “Oh, the Auction Team are out of control” or “The broadcasters and unlicensed supporters are just being stubborn.” (Wait, the NAB and the unlicensed guys and the wireless microphone guys are on the same side? And they agree with Verizon? WTF?) This stuff is hard.


More below . . .


Read More »

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

Tales of the Sausage Factory

The First Net Neutrality Complaint Under The 2015 Rules Is Likely To Lose, And That’s A Good Thing.

As reported by Brian Fung at Washpo and others, a company called Commercial Network Services (CNS) has filed the first network neutrality complaint under the FCC’s new rules — which went into effect June 12 after the D.C. Circuit denied a stay request. You can read the complaint here. While I probably should not prejudge things, I expect the FCC to deny the complaint for the excellent reason that — accepting all the facts alleged as true — Time Warner Cable did absolutely nothing wrong.


I elaborate on what CNS gets wrong, why this differs from other high-profile disputes like Cogent and Level 3, and why such an illustration is good for the FCC’s rules as a whole, below . . .


Read More »

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

Inventing the Future

Hackers and Painters

I went to http://www.paintingvirtualreality.com last weekend.

Billed as the World’s First Virtual Reality Painting Exhibition, it featured:

  • artwork one could view individually, using a Head Mounted Display (HMD) with single-camera tracking;
  • artists at work wearing HMD with dual lighthouse tracking (and the results displayed live on a big monoscopic screen).

The work was done with http://www.tiltbrush.com, which appears to be a couple of guys who got bought by Google. The project – I’m not sure that its actually available for sale – appears to be evolving along several dimensions:

  1. 3d Model Definition: covering stroke capture (including, symmetric stroke duplication), “dry” and “wet” (oil paint-mixing/brushwork effects), texture patterns, volumetric patterns, emmision, particles.
  2. Interactive Model Creation: tool pallette in one hand, and brush in the other.
    1.   Videos at tiltbrush.com suggest an additional moveable flat virtual canvas (a “tilt canvas”?) that one can hold and move and paint against. The art on display was clearly made this way, as they all felt like they were a sort of a rotational 2.5D — the brush strokes were thin layers of (sometimes curved) surfaces.
    2. The artists last night appeared to be working directly in 3D, without the tilt canvas.
    3. The site mentions an android app for creation. I don’t know if it is one of these techniques or a third.
  3. Viewing: HMD, static snapshots, animated .gifs that oscillate between several rotated viewpoints (like the range of an old-fashioned lenticular display).

  I haven’t seen any “drive around within a 3D scene on your desktop” displays (like standard-desktop/non-HMD versions of High Fidelity).

  The displays were all designed so that you observed from a pretty limited spot. Really more “sitting”/”video game” HMD rather than “standing”/”cave” exploration.

My reactions to the art:

  • Emmission and particle effects are fun in the hands of an artist.
  • “Fire… Light… It’s so Promethean!”
  • With the limited movement during display, mostly the art was “around you” like a sky box, rather than something you wandered around in. In this context, the effect of layering (e.g., a star field) – as if a Russian doll-set of sky boxes (though presumably not implemented that way) – was very appealling.

Tip for using caves: Put down a sculpted rug and go barefoot!

Posted in history: external milestones and context, Inventing the Future | Comments closed
  • John Sundman’s Books

    Acts of the Apostles

    Acts of the Apostles

    A thriller about nanomachines, neurobiology, Gulf War Syndrome, and a Silcon Valley messiah.

    "...a book infused with a sensibility that you don't normally expect a 'hard science fiction' novel to have: real emotions, real heartbreak and a real sense of the craziness at the core of the human condition."

    —Andrew Leonard, Salon.com

    Buy or Download

    Cheap Complex Devices

    Cheap Complex Devices

    An anthology of the winners of the inaugural Hofstadter Prize for Machine-Written Narrative, with a preface by the editor and an introduction by the Hofstadter Prize Committee

    "Cheap Complex Devices is astonishing, on just about every level a book can be astonishing."

    —Rusty Foster, Kuro5hin.org

    Buy or Download

    The Pains

    The Pains

    In Freemerica, where Orwell's 1984 is fused with Ronald Reagan's 1984, a young monk tries to save the world from disintegration.

    "All three of Sundman's books are somewhere between excellent and brilliant. ... The Pains touches upon the key issues of our time: it is a book which is philosophical to the point of being mystical."

    —Michael Allen, Grumpy Old Bookman

    Buy or Read Online

    Creation Science

    Creation Science

    conspiracy, duplicity, double-crosses, dispensational Christian fascism, misunderstandings, confusions, car crashes, megalomaniacal villains (in and out of government), explosions, gunplay, Russian Mafias, neuroscience, coincidence, mysterious islands not far from Cape Cod, information theory, love, regret, remorse, nostalgia and sex.

    Published by late spring 2010, if not sooner. Pre-orders much appreciated.

    Pre-order Now

  • Connect With Us

    Follow Wetmachine on Twitter!

    Email Updates

    [subscribe2 link='Subscribe with just your email address'] To get updates for all Wetmachine posts. Want more control? Log in using your Wetmachine account (or with your Facebook, Twitter, or other social media account), or register for a Wetmachine account.


If you do not have an account: Register