Tales of the Sausage Factory

Does Comcast Fear To Win Too Much?

I grant I wasn’t there, but pretty much everyone who was seems to think the D.C. Circuit oral argument in the Comcast/BitTorrent case was an utter disaster for the FCC/pro-NN forces and a total triumph for Comcast. Given my previously voiced opinion about the judicial activists on the D.C. Circuit, I can’t say this surprises me even in light of the previous precedent. Indeed, from what I have heard, the D.C. Circuit appeared breathtakingly eager to rush past the procedural issues and declare that the FCC has absolutely no jurisdiction to regulate anything an ISP ever does, ever.

So why has Comcast, which (along with its trade association) has argued that it would violate its First Amendment rights for the FCC to regulate its conduct as an ISP, posted this blog entry to explain that of course they totally support FCC regulation of broadband ISPs, under the right circumstances, etc.?

Answer: Comcast fears to win too much. For Comcast (and other broadband providers), the ideal world consists of an FCC with jurisdiction but no authority. That is to say, they want an FCC that appears to have authority to do something, but when push comes to shove is prevented from actually doing anything Comcast doesn’t like. Which is why Comcast wanted to win on procedure and, perhaps, get the court to threaten the FCC that it had no authority. In that universe (which could still come to pass), Comcast could keep Congress from giving the FCC explicit authority by saying it has jurisdiction but keep the FCC from doing anything by claiming that it lacked authority for any specific action.

But there is every indication that the D.C. Circuit will go much further, and find that the FCC has no jurisdiction to even consider regulation of ISP behavior no matter what the circumstances, because it doesn’t believe that ancillary authority exists. While that sounds like exactly what Comcast would want, it scares them silly. Because even the fear of this sort of huge loss creates a panic that could lead Congress explicitly delegating the FCC extremely clear and unambiguous authority.

More, including a shout out to all my fellow Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans, below . . . .

UPDATE: According to this blog post by Washpo Reporter Cecilia Kang, I’m not the only one thinking this way. A few more choice remarks from NCTA’s Kyle McSlarrow about how the FCC’s role is to be a big ATM for his members may get even this Congress off it’s rear end.

Read More »

Posted in Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

McDowell Forgets He Already Voted That FCC Has Authority To Enforce NN Rules.

I recently complained that no one else ever seems to follow the record on the network neutrality stuff. But Commissioner McDowell took the prize for failure to remember what he had previously voted for in this very proceeding back in March 2007 when the Commission voted out the Notice of Inquiry that started this whole thing. Mind you, McDowell should not feel too bad, given that nobody else at the FCC seems to remember this stuff either. Not when they wrote the Comcast/BitTorrent Order, nor even when they wrote the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking last week. Despite the fact that both items are actually in the same blasted docket. Because good God almighty, how hard is it for the staff at the FCC to actually know the friggin’ docket? It’s just the basis for this entire proceeding. And the entire collective agency cannot remember that it voted as settled law by 5-0 that it has authority to regulate and enforce network neutrality rules. And that McDowell not only voted in favor, he explicitly concurred!

I swear, it’s enough to make a poor obsessed policy wonk tear out what’s left of his hair and beard.

More below . . . .

Read More »

Posted in Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Canada Adopts Comcast/Bitorrent Standard For Network Management

On the eve of the FCC’s upcoming Network Neutrality rulemaking, Canada has now settled its definition of “reasonable network management” and set rules for traffic throttling. Amazingly, the rules the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) settled on for “reasonable network management” look a lot like the standard our own FCC settled on in the Comcast/BitTorrent Order, but even stronger on the notice and transparency side. Hopefully, the FCC is paying attention here as it considers its own rulemaking on the definition of “reasonable network management.”

You can read the CRTC press release here and the detailed order here. The CRTC also says that it will sue this new framework “to review practices that raise concerns or generate complaints.” i.e., it will treat this as the equivalent of the Internet Policy Statement and entertain complaints like the Comcast/BitTorrent complaint.

While this means I will no longer have my realtime experiment to see if unrestricted traffic shaping screws up broadband, it does make the FCC look less like whacked out nutbars who don’t understand engineering and threaten the entire internet and more like foresighted regulators who are ready now to move on to a formal rulemaking rather than merely rely on a framework.

Moe below . . . .

Read More »

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

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Farewell to Commissioner Deborah Tate

As I observed back awhile ago when describing possible scenarios for the FCC, Commissioner Deborah Tate would need to depart when the 110th Congress expired and the 111th Congress convened at Noon on January 3, 2009. So, at the FCC’s pro forma meeting on December 30, Commissioner Tate stepped down and made her farewell address. Despite the rather tense atmosphere that often prevails on the 8th Floor of the FCC these day, her fellow Commissioners used most of the meeting time to say many nice things in appreciation of her tenure.

Allow me to add my own appreciation for Commissioner Tate’s service. This may come as a surprise to some, given that I disagreed with Tate a fair amount on most matters of substance. As others have noted, Tate voted along fairly standard Republican lines — generally shying away from regulation of “the market” despite a sincere concern about consumer welfare. (I should add that despite her much publicized comments about the dangers of Worlds of Warcraft, her support for strong digital right management and urging ISPs do more to block content potentially harmful to minors, Tate still generally followed a deregulatory line in simply urging industry to voluntarily do more and raising this in the context of voting against the Comcast/Bittorrent Order).

But let me tell a little story below which illustrates why Commissioner Tate deserves a respectful farewell even from staunch progressives such as myself.

More below . . . .

Read More »

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

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Comcast Wins Lottery on BitTorrent Appeal.

Yesterday, the Panel on Multijurisdictional Litigation (PMJL) awarded the Comcast-BitTorrent Appeal to the D.C. Circuit. Obviously I would prefer to be elsewhere for the same reason Comcast wants to be there (despite being actually located in the Third Circuit), i.e. the D.C. Circuit’s reputation as being a pro-industry anti-regulatory bunch of judicial activists who don’t give a squat about actual case law. Still, since some of our strongest precedent is from the D.C. Circuit, and the D.C. Circuit has surprised Comcast in the past, I am not exactly weeping in despair here.

In a portent of things to come, Comcast also filed a challenge to our standing with the PMJL. I expect this to be renewed in the D.C. Circuit once the cases are consolidated.

Anyway, for those following the sequence of events, the Ninth, Second and Third Circuits will now transfer the cases to the D.C. circuit, which will consolidate them. Folks will have a chance to intervene in either or both sets of cases, and parties may also try to file other motions (e.g., motion for stay, motion for expedited trial). Anyone involved in the matter below (or having an interest impacted by either our Petition or Comcast’s) has a right to intervene — either on the side of the FCC or on the side of Petitioner. Also expect cross intervention where parties who like the FCC’s decision in the Comcast-BitTorrent case intervene in support of the FCC and against Comcast and in support of us and against the FCC. Or in support of Comcast in the Comcast appeal and in support of the FCC in ours. PArties may also file for permission to appear as amici for one side or another.

After the time for interventions passes (which I am too lazy to calculate at the moment), and the court resolves any pending motions, the court will set a briefing schedule. It is too early to guess the time frame until we see what motions parties file (other than interventions).

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , | 5 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

If I Love The FCC's Comcast-BitTorrent Order So Much, Why Did I Appeal It?

So last Friday, Media Access Project filed 3 Petitions for Review asking the federal courts to order the FCC to order Comcast to stop blocking p-2-p immediately. None of this wait until the end of the year crap. We filed on behalf of Vuze.com (in the Ninth Circuit), Consumers Union (Second Circuit), and PennPirg (a member of Consumer Federation of America) (Third Circuit).

Comcast, for its part, filed in the D.C. Circuit. I have not heard of any other filings, but it is possible.

More details, and what comes next, below . . .

Read More »

Posted in Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

The Return of the Great Google Overlords and I Do Another Rant On Why Citizen Movements Are Citizen Driven.

I suppose it was inevitable. Let Google enter the policy arena and suddenly that’s all anyone will ever think about. Never mind that Media Access Project and New America Foundation first participated in this policy exercise back in the spectrum task force days in 2002, that we mobilized around this issue (and I blogged on it) back in 2004 before Google or Microsoft showed up, or that New America Foundation has published some ungodly amount of content on this well before Google even had a wireless policy. No, like last summer and the 700 MHz auction, or the 2006 Net Neutrality fight, it is all about the Great Google Overlords blah blah blah. Because everyone knows that no one in Washington really cares about the public interest groups and its all about refereeing industry food fights.

I should note that the utter refusal of the trade press (and others who should know better) leads them to consistently screw up on where the Commission actually goes. Flashback to last November, and I defy you to find any oh-so wise insider with the cynicism that passes for wisdom these days who thought for a moment that a Kevin Martin-led FCC would even consider our complaint about Comcast blocking BitTorrent. When Martin defied expectation and put it out on notice, no one thought we had a chance of getting an actual judgment in our favor. And of course, when we did win, it didn’t disprove anything, since it was either all the work of the Great Google Overlords or a clever reverse fake by Martin to screw Net Neutrality.

I’d let it go as excellent political cover (since God knows most industry lobbyists make the same mistake) and a reason why folks should read my blog to get some balance, but the pernicious myth that no one in Washington cares about anything but major corporate players is one of those things that becomes self-fulfilling prophecy when regular citizens buy into it. The fact is that decisionmakers and policy folks are all over the map here in DC. You will find people who are wholly owned subsidiaries, people who are driven exclusively by ideology and — surprising to many — a large number of folks in both parties trying to do what they think is the right thing given all the information they have and what they think is right. I class all five FCC Commissioners, even the ones with whom I most frequently disagree, as being in this category.

Does it matter that Google is involved? Of course. Not only is it a question of available lobbying resources, but also a question of whether anyone is likely to take advantage of the rule change. That’s not always determinative, but it certainly helps. As the Frontline debacle shows, FCC Commissioners need to worry about what happens if they guess wrong, while still finding the courage to try new things when required. Seeing a company like Google come gives a certain amount of reassurance and makes it a lot easier for commissioners to beleive us public interest folks when we say “yes, open the white spaces to unlicensed and it will get used.”

But for Om Malik over at Giga Om and other well informed press folks to make their judgments about the white spaces based on Google’s involvement or non-involvement is as ridiculous as the worshippers of the Gods of the Marketplace deciding based on ideology without regard to actual evidence. Google’s financial interests are obvious, their interest here long standing, and their latest outreach effort no more or less noxious than those of any other company. In this case, they have the advantage of showcasing organizations that came on the scene (like MAP and NAF) long before they did.

As I have said before and will say many times again, citizen’s movements must be citizen driven. That is their strength, and why so many pundits and lobbyists who mistake lazy cynicism for experience and wisdom seem utterly incapable of understanding. But as long we believe it we will continue to change the world — and reporters like Malik will continue to be smugly wrong about what to expect.

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Really Getting Away From It All for Bit.

I’m off for my annual escape from the 21st Century. Don’t look for me until after August 10. Sadly, this means I will miss the conclusion of the Comcast bittorrent complaint on Friday, and will no doubt miss a ton of other really cool and important things. Such is life. Frankly, if y’all think I’m a snarky SOB now, you should see me if I didn’t get some vacation.

Stay tuned . . . .

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

Tales of the Sausage Factory

I Suggest Giving Comcast What It Asks For . . . . Heh, Heh, Heh . . . .

As the FCC’s examination into our complaint against Comcast winds down, with what looks like a win for us (although with an opponent like Comcast, I am not going to celebrate a win until after the order is voted), Comcast has increased its efforts to woo McDowell and Tate with a show that “the market” will magically cure all ills by cutting a non-aggression pact with Vonage and a new ex parte filing listing all the wonderful things it has done since the Commission put our complaint out on public notice, which is an obvious sign that no regulatory action is necessary since it is merely coincidence that Comcast (and other broadband providers) have been scrambling with ever more serious urgency as the resolution of the complaint moves closer. Ah Comcast “Change we can believe in until all you stupid regulators go away and we can get back to crushing folks like insects beneath our fiber-coax heel.”

More of interest to us legal (and less credulous) types, Comcast filed a lengthy rebuttal to Marvin Amori’s magnum opus on Commission jursidiction. Marvin’s piece was, of course, a response to the Comcast filing after the Boston Hearing, that asserted the FCC had no authority to sanction Comcast or regulate Comcast’s broadband in the first place. Mind you, Comcast told the a California district court otherwise, and got a stay of the pending class action for blocking bittorrent as a consequence. But the first lesson of law school is that consistency is only a virtue if it serves your client. In any event, this most recent filing (which has not yet shown up online for me to link to) is therefore either the rebuttal to FP’s reply or merely the Nth go round in a “permit but disclose” proceeding.

This is reflected by Comcast’s argument, which largely rehashes previous arguments about the limits of Commission authority and whether Comcast had proper notice it could be subject to a civil complaint and civil sanction. Fair enough. Time now for the FCC to decide and then on to the D.C. Circuit. That’s what process is for, to get the arguments out so we can get a judgment and get on with our lives.

But Comcast does raise one new argument, and an intriguing one at that. And ya know, I think the Commission ought to give it to them. Heh, heh, heh . . .

Why am I chuckling? See below . . . .

Read More »

Posted in Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Today on Telecom Mythbusters: FCC Ancillary Authority in Comcast/BitTorrent

Cable gets a lot of mileage out of repeating things over and over until folks believe it’s true. Today on Telecom Mythbusters I’d like to focus on the question of “ancillary” authority and regulating broadband. The cable guys generally circulate two myths about this.

1) Ancillary jurisdiction by the FCC is an exceedingly rare, wacky, way out thing and the fact that net neutrality advocates even want to rely on it shows how way out there and kooky it is.

2) The D.C. Circuit has been busy trimming back ancillary jurisdiction so that it really doesn’t exist anymore. Specifically, the D.C. Cir. 2005 decision in American Library Association v. FCC, 406 F.3d 689 (D.C. Cir. 2005) (and, to a lesser degree, MPAA v. FCC, 309 F.3d 796 (D.C. Cir. 2002) worked some kind of mojo against the expansive grant of power by the Supreme Court in United States v. Southwest Cable, 392 U.S. 157 (1968) and the Supreme Court’s explicit statement in Brand X so that the FCC cannot regulate broadband access and prohibit Comcast from targeting specific applications such as BiTtorrent under ancillary jurisdiction. A sub-myth of this is “Title I cannot be the source of authority on its own.”

Marvin Ammori, General Counsel of Free Press, has written a stunning tour de force rebutting these arguments. The 100+ page filing masterfully traces the FCC’s authority under Title I and in this particular proceeding. But for those who don’t want to read through the whole thing, I will give my own take below.

I must once again warn readers that this will be a breathtakingly dull review of applicable case law, along with an examination of FCC precedents and does not go to the juicier merits of policy (not that I expct this to stop the Brett-bot from his inevitable comments). If you do not find legal minutia fascinating beyond words, if you do not thrill at the discussion of the subtle differences between a “Telecommunications Service Provider” and a “Common Carrier,” then for God’s sake, turn back now! Lest your brain dissolve into tapioca pudding from the awesome power of legal analysis unleashed.

(and for Brett: Blah blah blah evil blah blah Free Press blah blah MAP blah blah Ginger)

Otherwise, to see both myths BUSTED, read more below….

Read More »

Posted in Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments (Comments closed)
  • Connect With Us

    Follow Wetmachine on Twitter!

Username
Password

If you do not have an account: Register