Tales of the Sausage Factory

Support Low Power Radio: Call Your Representative Today!

Low Power FM is a non-commercial service authorized by the FCC in 2000. the National Association of Broadcasters and, to its eternal shame, National Public Radio lobbied Congress immediately thereafter to kill this potential competitor. While not successful in killing the service, the incumbents did manage to get the “Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act of 2000” passed, which severely limited the number of available LPFM licenses. You can get some more background and links at this old blog post of mine.

Today, July 19, 2009, the Prometheus Radio Project is asking everyone who cares about encouraging local, non-commercial radio — as well as anyone who cares about greater opportunities for folks to use the electronic media, to take part in a day of action. Please call your Representative and ask him or her to support the Local Community Radio Act of 2009, which would repeal the RBPA and restore the original rules to LPFM. This would create hundreds of new opportunities for local communities to once again enjoy locally-produced non-commercial radio programming. giving a very different perspective on life, news, art, and entertainment.

Details here.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Senator Pryror Angry At Right Problem, But Picks Wrong Solution.

UPDATE: On reflection, I’ve decided to modify the tone of this considerably. After all, when someone basically agrees with you (the incumbents have too much market power), slapping them around for relying on the press is a pretty stupid and counterproductive move. Besides, my real frustration is with the press for offering up speculation as if it were fact, not Pryor for reading the press and getting upset about the supposed failure of the auction to produce a new competitor. So with apologies to Pryor for needless snark the first time around, here we go again.

Senator Mark Pryor (D-Ark) is upset with reports that AT&T or Verizon probably won C Block. More specifically, he is angry that we don’t have more wireless competition. That’s good. But he accusses Kevin Martin of fixing the 700 MHz auction to benefit the telcos. That’s where he goes wrong, in my opinion. As I’ve said before, I don’t think Martin rigged this for the telcos, especially in light of Verizon’s persistent efforts to get the C Block conditions “clarified” away and Martin’s telling them to go take a hike. Further, adoption of the anonymous bidding rules means that we don’t know yet who won the licenses. We may very well be surprised when we see the results.

But if it turns out that, as predicted, the incumbents did win the lion’s share of the licenses, that doesn’t make the outcome Martin’s fault. Rather, Senator Pryor should direct his anger where it belongs — at the statutory requirement for the FCC to auction licenses for use of the public airwaves. As I explain below, and as many of us explained before the auction, incumbents enjoy real advantages even under the best of conditions because they don’t have additional costs new entrants have — like building the network from scratch or pulling customers away from a service they already use. To make matters worse, Senator Pryor’s Republican colleagues are constantly haranguing the FCC to “not pick winners” and objecting to any kind of mechanism that could neutralize these incumbent advantages.

We can’t have it both ways, and Congress makes the call. Either Congress eliminates auctions, or allows the FCC to exclude incumbents from the auction, or gives up on auctions as a way of generating competition and goes back to regulating market power directly. But blaming Kevin Martin and the FCC for the fact that incumbents keep winning auctions makes as much sense as blaming Bud Selig for the fact that the Yankees and the Red Sox always make the playoffs and the Nationals haven’t gotten to the World Series.

More below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Dr. Rose Proves It Was Spectrum Co. In The Kitchen With the Candlestick . . .

My good friend Dr. Gregory Rose has released two studies on last summer’s AWS Auction. I just bloged about them at length over at the Public Knowledge policy blog. So rather than repeat myself, I will merely say:

I argued after the AWS auction that cable companies and wireless incumbents had used the auction to kill DBS as a competitor. Rose proves that in his first report,
How Incumbents Blocked New Entrants In The AWS-1 Auction: Lessons For The Future.

Rose’s second report, Tacit Collusion In The AWS Auction: The Signalling Problem, looks at the use of bids to communicate. Again, as I’ve argued before, only by adopting anonymous bidding rules can the FCC stop bidders from suing the auction process to signal each other.

For the rest of my commentary, check out my PK blog.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

VDC — Video VOIP

I confess I hadn’t heard of VDC: Virtual Video Cable until they filed a program access complaint. Of course, since the vast majority of people probably hadn’t heard about that either (or even know what a “program access complaint” is), I imagine I remain in the distinct minority.

VDC bills itself as a purely broadband-based cable-like service. I compare it to “video VOIP” (or voice-over-IP for the five readers unfamiliar with the acronym). In theory, a service like VDC could provide real competition to cable by letting you get an actual cable service (as opposed to video clips like YouTube or random episodes from iTunes or from some streaming site) — just like VOIP allows a company like Vonage or Sunrocket to offer voice if you have a broadband connection so you can discontinue phone service, saving a bundle (assuming your broadband provider does not make you buy a bundled service or interere with your VOIP packets).

So it is unsurprising that when a possible competitor like VDC emerges, cable uses its market power to try to squash it like a bug. In this case, cable companies have resurected one of the old reliable tricks from their early days: deny the would-be competitor needed programming. Here, Time Warner has refused to enter into negotiations to make CNN available to VDC. (We can expect that if this doesn’t do the trick, cable cos will move to the new fangled tricks — mess with the packets.)

But VDC has a few weapons in its arsenal. It has invoked a provision of the 1992 Cable Act called the “program access rule” that Congress passed to force cable operators to make programming available to would-be competitors like Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) providers. VDC has only two problems:

1) The complaint is being handled by the FCC’s usual cable enforcement staff which, as I have observed previously, does not exactly move on “internet time.”

2) The program access rules stop working (“sunset”) this October. So even if staff resolve the complaint in something approaching reasonable time, it may not do much good.

So is video VOIP dead before it even starts? Not necessarily. For a full explanation of what’s going on and how you (yes, you) can help make video VOIP a reality, see below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

FCC Meeting for November 3 . . . . It Just Keeps Getting Stranger

The FCC has issued the agenda for it’s November 3 meeting. Gone is the proposed Notice of Inquiry on Network Neutrality. And a number of non-merger related items have popped up instead. Meanwhile, the trade press report a hot and heavy debate around forcing AT&T to divest wireless spectrum to create a real competitor (you can read the comments I wrote for Media Access Project here).

My thoughts on all these doings below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Back From Vacation And FCC Auction Still Going On . . . .

As I guessed, the FCC AWS Spectrum Acution continues apace. My two weeks off proving an insufficient time for the wonkiest and most expensive of online multiplayer games — spectrum auctions.

You can track the “action” (as we must call it) here. A quick flip through the current standings yields some interesting patterns so far. The DBS Wireless partnership, Wireless DBS LLC, started with some strong positions on regional licenses. Over time, they have been forced out by Spectrum Co (the Comcast/TW/Sprint group), AWS Wireless (the Salmesi “wild card”) and traditional cell phone cos. Dolan family (Cablevision) took a position in the NYC market (its home base) but also appears to have been knocked out.

A look at the overall stats in round 29 shows that T-Mobile, unsurprisingly, has the lead bid on the most licenses — 129. Spectrum Co comes in nest with 96. After that, there is a significant drop off in the number and nature of licenses held, with traditional cellular companies Cingular and Cricket holding 43 each. Interestingly, AWS is next, with 38. There follows a list of smaller fry with diminishing numbers of licenses in less desirable territories. Of the cable players aside from Comcast/TW, only Cable One (Washington Post) continues to have a presence with 24 licenses.

Unless something dramatic happens, the auction is unlikely to yield a drisuptive player/new competitor (unless one counts Spectrum Co).

More after I unpack and look at the stats.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Inventing the Future

outsource top management

This essay by Dick Gabriel is cute, short (one page), and worth reading. Dick has a long history of thought-provoking good-news bad news jokes: this one’s about outsourcing and executive compensation.

By the way, Dick was great Lisp programmer at Stanford who founded a great Lisp company and sold it to his competitor to go work in computer science labs. Then he dropped out of tech at to get an MFA in poetry at a relatively advanced age. He writes, talks to anyone who will listen, and is a great curmudgeon. Reminds me a lot of John. Check out the photo. Better yet, check out his other writings at his Dreamsongs site.

Posted in General, General Exception, Inventing the Future | Also tagged | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Tales of the Sausage Facotry: Will WiFi Phones Displace Cell Phones?

Esme Vos comments on a WSJ article suggesting that WiFi and cell phones are mortal enemies. Sorry, but such a simplistic view of the world doesn’t hold water for me. Sadly, I think the cell phone companies believe it.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

TotSF: Industry Mobilizes to Stop Philly WiFi

Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! As recorded in this article about last night’s community meeting in Philly, Verizon has mobilized to squash municipal wifi in Pennsylvania. This little gem, called House Bill 30, is a classic: it provides huge new public subsidies for Verizon while squeezing out competitors. My analysis below.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

TotSF: The Wireless Circle Jerk

Sascha Meinrath has this blog posting on how Motorola’s acquisition of MeshNetworks is a prime example of corporate welfare gone wild. Of course, in D.C., we call this “the circle of life”. Taxpayers, however, may see it as the Circle of Jerk.

It is unclear to me if Motorola, one of the fiercest foes of expanding unlicensed access, is simply trying to take out a competitor or hedge a bet. I do not expect their filings to change — in fact,I expect them to leverage MeshNetworks as a means of undermining manufacturing comments from folks like Tropos. OTOH, FCC staff are not stupid, and understand how industry filings work.

Stay tuned . . .

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