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.
By Harold | March 9, 2014
By Harold | February 18, 2014
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 . . .
By Harold | February 17, 2014
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 —
OH MY GOD!! YOU COMCAST PEOPLE HAVE NO LIMITS! YOU’RE LIKE SOME GIANT, COAX-TENTACLED CTHULHU-BEAST THAT KEEPS PROMISING TO DEVOUR US ALL BETWEEN 8 A.M. AND NOON BUT DOESN’T ACTUALLY GET AROUND TO DEVOURING US UNTIL AFTER 3 P.M. BECAUSE YOU GOT ‘STUCK IN TRAFFIC’ AND A PREVIOUS DEVOURING RAN LONGER THAN EXPECTED . . . .
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 –
COMCAST IS ALREADY BUYING A POWER COMPANY! A FREAKING POWER COMPANY!!! YOU ALREADY ARE DOMINATING VIDEO, DATA AND VOICE AND YOU ARE BUYING A POWER COMPANY AND RUN ALARM SYSTEMS AND ARE PROBABLY GOING TO IMPLANT CHIPS IN OUR BRAINS SO WE CAN STREAM XFINITY DIRECT TO OUR EYEBALLS AND –
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 . . . .
By Harold | February 12, 2014
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 here, here 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 . . .
By John | February 11, 2014
in the business of Control, not the business of Watching.
The two go hand in hand. See, for example, this essay by Cory Doctorow
For courage, take a moment to read the transcript of the late, great Pete Seeger’s testimony before the House Unamerican Activities Committee. “Who I associate with is none of your business.” Really, read it, it’s inspiring and eye-opening.
I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.
The NSA “metadata” sweeps are all about collecting exactly the kind of information Seeger mentions, and it leads, inevitably to the kind of state harassment and terrorizing that Cory Doctorow wrote about.
Call your representatives today.
By Stearns | February 6, 2014
The answer is not Menlo Park. We’ve all made products that don’t work as well in the field as we’d like, but the Apple Maps folks really have to get out more.
And Safari froze when uploading this image to WordPress. Had to use Chrome…
By Harold | January 31, 2014
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.
Impact of Net Neutrality Decision On The Phone Transition, or “What Happens When You Can’t Make The Phone Service Work Like A Phone.”
By Harold | January 16, 2014
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.”
By Harold | January 16, 2014
I will, eventually, have time to write up a full dissection of he D.C. Circuit’s latest magnum opus on Net Neutrality, Verizon v. FCC. Until then, I am going to be recycling here posts I wrote and posted on the blog of my employer Public Knowledge. i also highly recommend this blog post from my Public Knowledge colleague Clarissa Ramon on the impact of this decision and Monday’s D.C. Circuit Order staying the FCC’s August decision to regulate the outrageous phone rates charged by prison phone companies communities of color.
Below, the current — and now thoroughly confused — state of Net Neutrality and FCC authority as it stands today.
By Harold | December 30, 2013
A very few of us have paid much attention to something called the “Globalstar Petition.” Briefly, Globalstar would like a couple of billion dollars in free spectrum favors from the FCC to offer what it calls a “Terrestrial Low-Power Service” (TLPS) on its satellite frequencies. As Globalstar has the great good fortune to have frequencies right next to the 2.4 GHz band most popular for WiFi, Globalstar hopes to leverage existing WiFi equipment and offer a “paid, carrier grade” WiFi-like service.
Recently, Globalstar attracted my negative attention by trying to leverage a fairly important FCC proceeding to expand unlicensed spectrum use above 5 GHz. Globalstar has raised bogus interference issues in the 5 GHz proceeding, and rather unsubtly suggested to the FCC that it could solve the WiFi “traffic jam” by granting Globalstar’s Petition for spectrum goodies so we could have a pay for WiFi service instead of having more of that pesky free WiFi (you can find Globalstar’s extremely unsubtle quotes here on page 3 and here on page 2.
So it seems an opportune moment to explain:
- What’s going on with the Globalstar Petition;
- What’s going on with the UNII-1 Band in the 5 GHz proceeding;
- How Globalstar are being utterly unsubtle in their efforts to hold the 5 GHz proceeding to try to leverage their ask in their Petition; and,
- How Globalstar’s jerkwad-ittude in the UNII-1 proceeding raises serious concerns about Globalstar’s willingness to play nice with the 2.4 GHz band, which could undermine the entire “WiFi economy.”
More on Globalstar’s truly stellar chutzpah, and why the FCC may want to rethink granting the Globalstar Petition, below . . . .