Tales of the Sausage Factory

Genachowski Enters FCC In 12-Step Program To Stop Consumer Abuse

“The first step in recovery is admitting you have a problem.” So goes the self-help cliché. For regulatory agencies, the first step is admitting that industry has a problem and that the wonderful happy world of the unregulated market – no matter how wildly competitive it might or might not be – doesn’t always protect consumers and that in fact, sometimes, free market dogma to the contrary, you actually reach the best result for everyone by having government set basic rules of disclosure and enforcement (the classic paper on this being George Akerlof’s oft-cited “The Market For Lemons”). The recent experience with the meltdown of the financial services sector and its ongoing tribulations provide rather vivid proof that “trusting the market” and waiting for “proof of a problem.”

Which brings me to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski’s latest app release for Genachowski 2.0 – the Relaunch. With network neutrality on the backburner until after the election, Genachowski has taken the opportunity to get the agency on track with its substantive agenda. In addition to moving forward for the second month in a row on significant National Broadband Plan Items (White Spaces last month, CableCARD and Mobility Fund this month), Genachowski has started taking the FCC in the welcome direction of consumer protection.
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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Congratulations to Gene Kimmelman, and to the American People.

I haven’t been posting much and will continue to be busy for the next while, owing to Passover and bunch of other things. But I had to give a brief post of congratulations to Gene Kimmelman on his appointment to the Department of Justice as Chief Counsel for Competition Policy and Intergovernmental Relations. Gene has been a tireless advocate for consumer protection and pro-competitive policies as the head of Consumers Unions Washington office. His addition to the DoJ in this critical office is good news for those who want to see policies that genuinely promote competition rather than deregulation for its own sake.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Looks Like Julius Genachowski Will Get The Nod — And What That Means For the Progressive Media & Telecom Agenda

Sometimes the conventional wisdom gets it right. After much speculation, it now seems increasingly likely that Obama’s Harvard Law classmate Julius Genachowski will be nominated to take over as FCC Chair.

From my perspective, this looks like very good news. Genachowski is no stranger either to the FCC or to the private sector, a distinct advantage given the twin difficulties of managing the agency and dealing with all manner of incumbent dog-and-pony shows. Heck, Genachowski is no stranger to the DTV transition, having been involved in the initial standard setting work back in the day. Genachowski’s close relationship with Obama, heavy involvement in the Obama campaign from the beginning, and general tech background provide fairly strong early assurance that — contrary to the hopes of some and fears of others — Obama does not appear to be backing away from his campaign commitment to open networks and media diversity.

All that said, let nobody think the fun is over and we all get to go home. Now more than ever, progressives need to build on our movement momentum and press our case open networks, real spectrum reform, a more diverse media, adequate consumer protection, and regulation that creates real competition by opening bottleneck facilities and limit market power. We have an opportunity, not a victory, and we must act to seize it.

More below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

What Will Comcast Do Today? First Compliance Check On Comcast/BitTorrent Order.

Back on August 20, the FCC released its Order resolving the complaint against Comcast for blocking P2P protocols. As part of the remedy, the FCC ordered Comcast to provide a full report on its current “network management practices” within 30 days, along with a transition plan for how it intended to manage traffic after it discontinued its current practices. The FCC then invited Free Press and anyone else interested to keep a sharp eye on Comcast.

Comcast has sworn up and down that it will comply with the FCC’s Order and it is only appealing in the D.C. Circuit as a matter of principle. I, nasty cynical public interest dude that I am, so doubt this noble intention that i have filed a law suit of my own to get the FCC to clamp down on Comcast now. So, here we are at last on September 19. What does Comcast do?

Comcast has a range of options. Comcast could refuse to comply, forcing the FCC to take action and potentially giving Comcast grounds to go to the D.C. Circuit for an emergency stay. I think that pretty unlikely, given what a big deal Comcast has made about complying.

Comcast could fully comply. But, to paraphrase Arlo Gutherie, that isn’t very likely and I don’t really expect it.

What I expect is for Comcast to file something incomplete, possibly with a request for the FCC to protect its proprietary data. But more likely they will file something that will be just enough compliance to present Kevin Martin with a nasty political choice: Does he enforce the letter of Order and go in guns blazing against Comcast, knowing that Comcast will make great political hay of his supposed “vendetta” against them? Or does he let Comcast thumb their noses at him and — in addition to the humiliation factor — have public interest groups question whether he really intend to enforce that end of the year deadline and thus call his hard-won consumer protection credentials into question? The situation is further complicated by the internal politics of the Commission. Whichever choice Martin makes (and he gets to make it himself, since it is an enforcement action and not subject to a vote of the full Commission), it is almost certain that two Commissioners will call him on it publicly. McDowell and Tate are almost certain to regard whatever fig leaf Comcast files as sufficient, whereas Copps and Adelstein will likely raise a hue and cry if Martin lets Comcast get away with filing an incomplete report.

As an aside, I also expect Comcast to file after close of business and to do so by hand rather than electronically, so that the content is not immediately accessible. I also do not expect to get a service copy, despite being counsel to complainants. That’s perfectly legal of Comcast, as it can take the position that this is a report to the FCC and not a pleading that needs to be served on the complainant or complainant’s counsel. But it does mean I don’t expect to see what Comcast actually filed until sometime next week.

Happily, I put my trust in the advice of the Bible and do not put my trust in princes — or FCC Commissioners. In this case, the pending Petition for Review gives us a certain leverage, and Comcast will have to consider that it will have a tough time arguing my Petition is moot and pointless when they are not actually in compliance with the FCC’s Order.

Perhaps I misjudge Comcast. It would certainly make my life easier if they just complied and filed something open that detailed their past practices and explained how they planned to go forward (including details of he 250 GB cap). In particular, I very much want to know if Comcast intends to exempt its own content from the 250 GB cap. That would be rather anticompetitive, and without any actual rational connection to the stated need to reduce last-mile congestion. Comcast originated packets running from the head-end to the subscriber take up as much capacity as non-Comcast originated packets.

See, there goes that nasty and suspicious mind of mine again. Still, I hope I’m wrong and Comcast comes clean.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The Boston Tea Leaf Party

Those interested in a great eye witness account of what happened at the FCC hearing in Boston on February 25 should read fellow Wetmachiner John Sundman’s piece on the part he saw (including the reception afterwards). But after listening to the FCC’s video archive, reading the statements, and reading the coverage, I’m willing to read the Boston Tea Leaves and see where we are so far and how I think this ends up.

Speculation below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Watch Me and My Public Interest Buddies Beat the Odds At FTC Network Neutrality Smackdown!

Back in the summer the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) decided to get in on the Network Neutrality game. As I observed at the time, I’m skeptical the network neutrality will get a fair shake under FTC Chairman Majoris.

But, like the gambler who comes to the crooked poker den because “it’s the only game in town,” you gotta show up to play even if you think the odds are stacked. So I and a number of other public interest folks and sympathetic academics will face off against a less-than-level playing field at the FTC’s Broadband Task Force’s Competition Policy Workshop on February 13 & 14.

Why I consider this playing field “less than level,” and why we will still kick butt, below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Markey to Take Telecom Subcommittee

Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) has confirmed he will take the Telecom Subcommittee rather than seek chairmanship of the Resources Committee.

I can’t think of better news to close out 2006. Ed Markey displays that rare, brilliant combination of staying true to his principles at all times while still working well in coalition and with his counterparts accross the aisle. On just about every issue I can think of: net neutrality, media ownership, privacy, fair use, consumer protection, digital inclusion, Ed Markey has been a champion and leader.

Whoooooo Hoooooooooo!!!!!!!!

Stay tuned!

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

FCC Staff really starting to get the hang of this “enforcement” thing . . .

In another sign that the FCC has gotten serious in crackdown on cable abuse of market power — and that this message has penetrated to the staff level — consider the case of the NFL Network and Time Warner.

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