Econoklastic

Verizon's “Perfect Storm”: A Reason Why 700 MHz Band's C Block Cleared On the Cheap

Some critics of the 700 MHz Band Auction (Auction 73) attribute the failure of C Block — which consisted of large Regional Economic Grouping (REAG) licenses — to clear at the kinds of premium over the licenses in the AWS-1 auction that the Economic Area (EA) and Cellular Marketing Area (CMA) in the A, B, and E Blocks did to the fact that C Block had wireless Carterfone service rules attached.

However, careful analysis of the dynamics of the auction suggest that interaction of the auction’s combinatorial bidding, eligibility and activity rules, and the way in which minimum acceptable bids were calculated created a “perfect storm” in which Verizon was able to scoop up the two most populous REAGs for nearly half a billion dollars less than bidders were willing to pay earlier in the auction. This had a seriously depressing effect on the price at which C Block cleared and had nothing to do with the wireless Carterfone service rules.

More below…

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

YAMA (“Yet Another 'Mission Accomplished'”) On Wireless Carterfone.

“Mission Accomplished” has become a useful catch phrase denoting a declaration of victory so premature as to be ironic, comical, and/or tragic. Sadly, Kevin Martin’s decision to circulate an Order denying the Skype Petition is the latest YAMA (for “yet another ‘Mission Accomplished’”). To refresh folk’s memories, in the Skype Petition, Skype asked the FCC to enforce the Broadband Policy Statement against wireless broadband networks: specifically, the part that says that consumers have the right to attach any device to the network that will not harm the network, and run any application of their choosing.

While not official, Martin has stated that he has circulated a draft Order dismissing the Petition, although Martin indicated at last week’s House 700 MHz hearing that he would dismiss the Petition “without prejudice” (meaning “not now, but try again later if things don’t improve”). Indeed, although none of the coverage of the 700 MHz hearing focused much on this, Martin’s statements and answers to questions indicate that he thinks (a) the C Block open device condition was the right thing to do, and (b) the FCC shouldn’t do anything else on “wireless Carterfone” until we see how the C Block open device condition works out.

While disappointing, this decision is hardly surprising. And, as usual, it is weirdly consistent with Kevin Martin’s First Church of the Market, Reformed ideology and a dash of realpolitik (waste not, want not after all, and if you can make what you think is the right decision serve your political ends, so much the better). Lamentably, Martin clearly has the votes from his fellow Republican Commissioners — although Tate appeared to hedge a bit. Nor do I expect there is much for Copps and Adelstein to do here, other then issue a strong dissent and make sure the damage (in the form of bad precedent) is limited. Indeed, there is a certain appeal to taking a dismissal without prejudice and living to fight another day rather than getting into a fight that may end up with stronger language a future Commission would need to overcome.

Some more analysis below . . . .

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Econoklastic

Breaking News: Frontline Bites the Dust

Frontline Wireless LLC, which submitted an incomplete application to participate in the FCC’s Auction 73 for the 700 MHz band as Licenseco LLC and which was expected to be a major competitor for the D Block nationwide commercial-public safety broadband license, has folded and is “closed for business.”

Industry rumours suggest that Frontline’s bidding entity, Licenseco LLC, failed to make a required upfront payment deadline on January 4.

Speculation focuses on several possible explanatory scenarios. Frontline has changed its business plan several times and, frankly, I was never completely convinced that it would bid when push came to shove. Verizon’s belated embrace of open attachment rules — the Carterfone condition which the FCC has imposed on Auction 73 — gave many of Frontline’s Silicon Valley backers what they wanted without having to hazard the auction or undertake the encumberance of deployment requirements if they prevailed at auction. The possibility that Google might bid the reserve price on C Block to force Verizon and AT&T to concentrate on battling it out for the C Block REAGs while Google seriously bid on the less expensive D Block to acquire a nationwide third broadband pipe and implement its nondiscriminatory, wholesale open access business model may have had something to do with Frontline’s decision to pull out. The possibility that AT&T may have been interested in D Block for national backhaul could have presaged a serious challenge has also been mooted as a factor in Frontline’s decision.

It’s likely that some of Frontline’s backers and associates — Fortress Investment Group’s Backline bidding entity and Cellular South in particular — will remain in the auction, but Frontline’s demise creates extremely interesting possibilities for D Block competition in the auction.

Part III of the 700 MHz series, Bidding Strategies of the Major Actors, coming soon…

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Verizon Open Platform: Looks Like A Big Bid For C Block and A Shout Out To Tim Wu

Tearing myself away for a moment from the drama and bitter disappointment of today’s cable vote, we have an announcement from Verizon that it will offer an “open platform” option for its wireless services. According to the news reports, starting in 2008, VZ will publish a standard for connecting to their network, host a conference for developers, work with developers, set up a testing lab to ensure that devices meet the standard and won’t harm the network, and allow devices to connect to the network. They also promise not to interfere with any application running on the device.

They pledge to make this available on the whole network. Not “just on a portion of the network, or a piece of spectrum that may become available after 2009.” For tech support, if you are a “bring your own device,” you can call VZ to make sure your device is connected but you are otherwise on your own.

Verizon says they are doing this in response to market demand. Rumors that this is an effort to head off regulation or declares an interest in C Block are baseless speculations of undisciplined internet bloggers like yr hmbl obdn’t. But they do stress several times on this press call that this is all about the market working, just as terminating early termination fees had nothing to do with regulatory pressure, so there is obviously no need to regulate.

Maybe. But while I’m certainly glad to see Verizon come around to my way of thinking that openness is the ultimate “killer app,” I think credit is due to three other events that helped Verizon see the light on openness: Tim Wu’s incredibly important paper on wireless Carterfone last February; Kevin Martin’s decision to put an “open devices” condition on the 22-MHz “C Block” licenses in the upcoming 700 MHz auction; and the iPhone hearing last July, where Congress made it clear they didn’t like the idea of locking desirable devices to a single provider.

Why? See below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Assessing the 700 MHz Order Part II: “C” Does Not stand For “Crap;” Why the Wireless Carterfone Condition Is A Big Win.

Few things in the last few days have generated more discussion and overall pessimism in the Order than the C Block “wireless Carterfone” or “network attachment” conditions. “A tease,” says Art Brodsky. “Crippled by loopholes,” opines Susan Crawford.

“Not so fast!” Says yr hmbl obdnt blogger. In point of fact, there is a a hell of a lot here to like in the C Block conditions. Not just for trying to get actual devices attached, but in terms of FCC precedent and broader spectrum policy. This is an “Eyes on the Prize” moment, similar to the preliminary decisions that culminated in Brown v. Board of Education. We did not win the grand prize, but we got a lot good precedent for future spectrum reform.

Further, as I explain below, I do not think the conditions the FCC imposed here are meaningless. To the contrary, I think the rules are about as aggressive as possible to draft (as I worked hard with Commissioner Adelstein and his staff to think of anything I could possibly add to them). But at the end of the day, what matters is the political will. If the next FCC (which will be the FCC that enforces this) wants to give these license conditions meaning, it has the tools to do so. If a future FCC wants to make this meaningless, then there is nothing we can do no matter how well we draft things.

And I will add that if anyone has some better ideas on what to put in as rules, they should certainly file Petitions for Reconsideration

My analysis of why the C Block conditions do matter below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

All Over But The Screaming; Assessing the 700 MHz Order: Part I — Putting This In Context

At the end of last week, the FCC released its mammoth 350 page Order on the 700 MHz Auction. As advertised, it resolves most of the major issues, but delegates some details for the Wireless Bureau to resolve so we can continue to have wonky auction fun through the fall. Because the only thing better than Fantasy Football is Fantasy Reserve Prices.

Below, and for the next several posts, I give my patented Sausage Factory long, detailed analysis. Briefly, in my usual contrarian-but-hopefully-sophisticated-and-nuanced-way, I think we did pretty well. In fact I think we totally kicked ass, took names, and got something that — over the long haul — has the potential to seriously revolutionize wireless and broadband policy in the United States.

“Wha?” I hear you cry. “I thought we lost on wholesale. I thought the Order had only wussy half measures that amounts to either a giveaway to the incumbents for crumbs or Google (depending on whom you hate more). Are you just trying to buck us up and make us feel better?”

True, we lost on wholesale and the FCC did not go as far as I would like on the “wireless Carterfone.” But, as with the debate over the AT&T/BS Conditions, we need to assess the results as part of a long-term campaign for reform rather than expecting to achieve a Glorious Revolution in a single stroke. This was our Battle of Britain (or, for those who think of us as a bunch of Socialist enemies of capitalism, our Batte of Stalingrad). We have stood before the united might of the telco, cable and wireless industries, halted the tide of “business as usual,” and extracted some key changes and precedents that we shall leverage for the next phase of the campaign to create a 21st Century information grid worthy of a democracy; an information grid that extends the benefits of modern communications to everyone and eliminates the power of gatekeepers to control what we say and what information we discover.

Which, at the end of the day, is not too shabby — especially when compared to what we expected last April. We got some pretty huge stuff — things that will revolutionize this auction not merely help us for the long term.

Using my “Red Sox scale” of success, this feels to me a lot like the 1975 World Series. Looking back as an adult, I can see that it was one of the finest moments in professional baseball, with the Sox losing by a single run in the 7th game. But at the time, it felt like a Hell of a loss, precisely because we came so close to winning it all.

So I’m not nearly as down as most of my friends in the movement. Part of that has to do with long-term view over short term. Part of that has to do with whether I believe that Martin is acting in good faith or not (again, I’m contrarian in our community by saying “good faith” for reasons I will explain). Part of it has to do with an appreciation of the FCC’s institutional dynamics including, to paraphrase Jon Stewart, the absolute dickishness of the Wireless Bureau staff.

I do see problems and issues in the Order, some of which I hope to get fixed on Recon, some of which reflect rational disagreements on the proper course and what level of risk we should take for political payoff (I’m talking about the reserve price stuff here). And, at the end of the day, we are still facing a host of unknowns that will depend on a future FCC’s willingness to enforce these conditions. But in the end, I’m feeling we at MAP earned our corn and achieved things we can be proud of (I’ll let the other members of PISC speak for themselves on that score, but I hope they feel the same way as well).

Because this is really, really long, and will probably take several days to cover, I am breaking this up into parts. Below, I provide some of the necessary institutional context for understanding the Order and why I think this counts as a big win.

More below . . . .

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