Tales of the Sausage Factory

Adelstein To Go To RUS, But When?

In a not entirely unexpected move, FCC Commissioner Jonathon Adelstein will shift over to the RUS program. One would be hard put to think of anyone better qualified to oversee spending to stimulate rural broadband deployment (granted, as regular readers know, I am huge fan of Adelstein’s and hardly impartial). Adelstein comes from a rural state (South Dakota) and has long been a champion of rural issues — particularly broadband and wireless deployment — at the FCC. Overseeing a program to spend $2.5B explicitly on rural broadband seems tailor made for Adelstein, especially if this is just the “down payment” for making sure that we make the benefits of high-speed access available to all Americans.

When Adelstein will get a chance to shift over, however, is less clear. The FCC has dropped down to the bare minimum for a functioning quorum of three commissioners. The Administration has now officially nominated Julius Genachowski for FCC chair. In theory, the Senate could hold a hearing, confirm Genachowski, and then shift Adelstein over to RUS at any time. In practice, however, some other considerations intervene. And while a few months might not normally make much difference in the grand scheme of things, the RUS, like the NTIA, is very busy at the moment setting the ground rules for the availability of the stimulus money. No one wants to show up after the rules are already settled, especially if you have some significant experience that would give you some strong ideas on how to spend the money effectively.

Some elaboration and speculation below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Update: Cable Cos Respond, FCC Reviewing.

To update on the question of whether cable companies think they are above the law. According to this piece by Ted Hearn in Multichannel News, all 13 cable cos responded to the FCC’s letter of inquiries (LOIs) issued in response to the consumer complaints. The FCC is apparently now reviewing the adequacy of the response.

Mind you, according to the article, we are still likely to find that the cable cos responded in a less than thorough way, and will necessitate the FCC coming back with another request. But this is merely the usual fun and games by which large companies avoid obeying the law, rather than an outright statement of defiance that the law simply doesn’t apply to them.

I suspect the cable cos will do their best to run out the clock, in the hopes that the next FCC will be more tolerant of their exercise of market power. Whether that is true or not (and it will certainly NOT be true if either Adelstein or Copps is chair), I would hope that all the FCC Commissioners, but especially the two Democrats, back Martin on this investigation and make it clear to the cable cos they will not tolerate any efforts to run out the clock.

As President-elect Obama observed at his first press conference: “The United States only has one President at a time.” Similarly, the FCC has only one Chairman at a time. Certainly when it comes to investigating consumer complaints, all FCC Commissioners need to stand united in making it clear to industry that a time of transition is not a time when you can get away with screwing consumers.

Stay tuned . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Record Now Officially Closed In White Spaces, Mergers, USF.

The FCC has now published the official agenda for the Nov. 4 meeting. The agenda has not varied from the tentative agenda released 3 weeks ago.

For white spaces, and the other items on the agenda, the focus of lobbying is now (of necessity) the Congress and in the popular press. Members of Congress can still write to put pressure on FCC Commissioners, and FCC Commissioners and staff can actively solicit information. But no new presentations can be made or evidence placed in the record.

Items can still be pulled. Or they can be voted on before the meeting — especially if they are non-controversial.

I will do a more full analysis of the agenda a bit later, God willing and there is time.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The FCC's New Broadband Data Gathering: Even the Deregulators Are Losing Patience.

It is a delightful bit of timing that this piece on European broadband comes the same day the FCC voted to amend its broadband data collection for the annual “State of the Broadband” Report. I’d say it was a happy coincidence, except that there are so many articles about how Europe is kicking our broadband bottom these days that the odds were good someone would publish something contrasting the growing penetration (and associated economic benefits) in Europe with the anemic growth in the U.S.

Which highlights the key take away from the FCC’s decision to ramp up data gathering and propose looking at pricing. Even the Republicans in Washington are starting to lose patience. I will provide analysis of the substance (as far as we can tell before an order is published) in a later post, but this point is sufficient important it bears posting on its own.

You will find no shortage of telco/cable shills or hardcore deregulators willing to sing the happy happy joy joy song over our current “wildly competitive” broadband market, or explain why these international rankings are misleading, irrelevant, or just plain wrong, the song no longer gets applause and the excuses are wearing thin. All five FCC Commissioners went to the Consumer Electronics Show this year. They’ve gone on tours of Silicon Valley, talked with venture capitalists and start ups, traveled around Europe and Asia, and — most importantly — are not stupid. In 2005, the industry promised big things if the FCC would only deregulate them and set them free. It’s now 2008. In that time, we have seen a parade of other countries streak by us while we plod along and fall increasingly far behind.

Do not let the last minute squabbling between the Commissioners about the details of the Report and upgraded standards fool you. While the Democrats would definitely like to see more done to get at real data, and while McDowell still frets that the cost of collecting data outweighs the benefits and that using labels for speed tiers is too subjective, everyone wants to find out what the real state of broadband deployment is and how we are going to make it available and affordable for everyone. We’re done with happy songs, the FCC is signaling. If industry wants to avoid the kind of massive reregulation the FCC and Congress would bring to bear under a Democratic administration, you need to start getting it in gear and providing real data. Whether industry will take the hint, or whether it will still find it preferable to remain in a state of denial, still remains to be seen.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Comcast to Illinois: I loves Me The Market Power!

As reported on BroadbandReports.com, Comcast has greeted former Insight customers transferred to Comcast as part of unwinding a partnership with a 6% rate hike. Thanks to all the delightful cover given to Comcast by Congressional Republicans, who declare that all is “A OTAY” in Cableland, the Comcast guys are no longer even pretending that the rise in rates has anything to do with cost. Rather, as Comcast rep Libbie Steh told the Springfield Journal Register in a rare attack of honesty: “increased costs are not a factor this year.” Rather:

“Comcast periodically reviews prices and adjusts them to reflect what’s in the marketplace,” Stehn said.

More below . . . .

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Econoklastic

McCain and the Dirty Deed

John Sundman wants sexy details on John McCain, Vicky Iseman, and Paxson Communications. I’ll tell all I know.

Cornerstone TeleVision had sought to obtain the noncommercial license for WQEX, owned by Pittsburgh public broadcaster WQED, and then to transfer the license to Paxson Communications with Cornerstone and WQED splitting the $35 million Paxson was putting up for the sale. The proposal was virtually unprecedented since it involved transfer of noncommercial license held by a public broadcaster to a commercial enterprise. The complicated plan was an attempt to end-run a 1996 FCC ruling that WQEX could not be “dereserved,” i.e., commercialised, by a direct sale to a commercial broadcaster.

The Republican minority on the FCC supported the plan, the Democrats opposed… until John McCain weighed in via his December 10, 1999 letter to the FCC, demanding that the FCC Commissioners ”advise me, in writing, no later than close of business on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 1999, whether you have already acted upon these applications…. If your answer to the latter question is no, please state further whether you will, or will not, be prepared to act on these applications at the open meeting on Dec. 15. If your answer to both of the preceding questions is no, please explain why“ (the full text of McCain’s letter to FCC Chairman William Kennard may be found here).

McCain had held up confirmation of Democrat Susan Ness’ reappointment to the FCC since the previous July. Apprised of McCain’s adamant support for Paxson on this issue, Ness voted against her fellow Democrats to approve the deal. As far as I know, the only ones getting screwed in all this were the Democrats by Ness (who caved to pressure from McCain — and despite repeated gutlessness in dealing with the Republican Congress Ness is frequently mooted as the next FCC Chairman if Clinton is elected).

And even then the well-laid plan of Paxson fell apart over a condition placed by the FCC on the deal, prohibiting Cornerstone from ”proselytising,” an important issue, since the transfer involved a religious broadcaster taking over an educational TV station.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

McDowell: “I Am Not A Pawn; Solve Your Own Damn Merger!”

In a very special Christmas episode of the Telecom worlds favorite Telenovella, Death Star Reborn: The AT&T/BellSouth Merger Commissioner McDowell gives his fellow FCC Commissioners a lesson on ethics, the power of the Christmas spirit to facilitate good will towards all men, faith in negotiations in multibillion dollar mergers, and why it REALLY PISSES HIM OFF when people try to use him as “a pawn.”

You can read McDowell’s written statement (and supporting documentation) here, and watch the archive of the video of McDowell’s press conference here. You can see the statement from my employer, Media Access Project, here.

But for my personal analysis, see below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Two good conferences

I want to flag two important conferences in the next few weeks where I’ll be attending.

First, the Second National Summit for Community Wireless Networking. The last of these was in August 2004, and was excellent. For anyone interested in any aspect of community wireless broadband, whether it is the future of CWN as a movement or simply the nuts and bolts of setting one up in your neighborhood, this conference should be on your “must attend” list. The Summit is scheduled for March 31-April 2 at Lynnewood University in St. Charles, MO (easily accessible from St. Louis Int’l Airport). I’ll be speaking and generally making a nuisance of myself.

The second, much closer to home, is Dave Isenberg’s Freedom 2 Connect 2006. Again, last year’s was excellent, and it has the advantage (to me, at least) of being half a mile from my house. Dave has drawn together some of the top thinkers and respected pioneers in internet development to discuss the future of the internet in a world where the “freedom to connect” is no longer guaranteed. Speakers include such luminaries as Muniwireless.com founder Esme Vos, net personalities and pioneers Om Malik & Doc Searls, political heavyweights such as Congressman Rick Boucher and former FCC Commissioners Michael Powell and Reed Hundt, etc., etc.
Sadly, yr hmbl obdnt is not quite “A List” enough yet to make the schedule, but it will still be a good conference and I expect I will manage to make my presence known (those who know me understand I am not generally a quiet person).

Stay tuned . . .

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