Tales of the Sausage Factory

Why The Eviction of Occupy Wall St. From Zuccotti Park Raised An Interesting First Amendment Question.

A bit off topic, but I couldn’t resist. For most folks, the question of whether the recent eviction of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protesters from Zuccotti Park constitutes a violation of the First Amendment has very little to do with law and much to do with principle. Those opposed to the eviction note that the demonstrators were peaceful, the Mayor displayed clear animus to the protestors and their message, and that the claims of health and safety are mere pretext. Those who support the City’s actions argue that the protesters had essentially co-opted the park to the exclusion of other public uses and that the protesters were in violation of the park rules (usually eliding over the fact that the rules were adopted after OWS began) and that it is privatekly owned space in any event.

After reading the Order upholding the right of NYC and the owners of Zuccotti Park to prohibit tents and, potentially, other sleeping things such as sleeping bags, I believe this raised an interesting 1st Amendment Question for those of us who follow 1st Amendment law. Those interested in why this is actually an interesting question, rather than resolution of the question, can see more below . . .

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Posted in "A Republic, if you can keep it", Censorship Public and Private, How Democracy Works, Or Doesn't, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , | Comments closed

My Thoughts Exactly

Credit where it's Due

With the Comcast ruling by the FCC, lots of well-earned congratulations are going ’round. Free Press is getting its props, and Larry Lessig is congratulating Kevin Martin.

But hey, we have our own local hero right here on Wetmachine.

So please join me in three cheers for Harold Feld!

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Comedy Central Send An Omen: South Park and the Upcomming FCC Hearing (spoiler alert!)

As an inveterate procrastinator, I cannot complain too loudly that the Commission only just published the witness list for tomorrow’s (today’s) FCC hearing at Standford. Happily, it looks like I am the only lawyer on the panel. I am also amused to share the panel with George Ford, who took me to task after the last time we both testified in front of a federal agency about broadband — the Federal Trade Commission in February 2007 — for making my First Amendment arguments at the FTC under the guise of economics. My turn to remind him that we are in public interest land now, baby, where the Red Lion still rules the Jungle and maintaining the diversity of information sources is, according to Turner a government purpose of “the highest order.” Come to think of it, I’ll remind some of the Commissioners of that as well.

Meanwhile, on the flight in, I received an amazing omen from Comedy Central (which is why you should always fly Jet Blue if you can, so you can get 36 channels of omen potential). Tonight’s episode of South Park (spoiler alert!) had the internet getting “used up,” with the government rationing the internet for the internet refugees who came to Silicon Valley. But then Kyle, the little Jewish kid, shows them a better way. Rather than rationing users, you can just reboot the internet (which is kept by the federal government in an underground bunker) and try again. In the end, Stan’s father explains to everyone that it is the responsibility of users to manage their internet use respopnsibly rather than rely on others to ration it for them.

I choose to take this as an omen that I, the Jewish kid on the panel, will be sucessful in rebooting the Commission to get them to understand that it’s about the users, not about letting people in the middle ration the internet. Granted that Ben Scott actually looks more like Kyle, and I look more like Cartman. So perhaps I will just limit myself to making wise ass remarks and let Ben reboot the Commission. Either way is good.

Off to write some testimony.

Stay tuned . . . .

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

My Thoughts Exactly

Retroactive Immunity for Criminals? Paging Doctor Feld, stat!

Many many moons ago, when I was just a young dad with lots of responsibilities and not very many dollars, I found myself sitting at an outdoor lunch table with a bunch of my colleagues from work who were single and evidently without the kind of financial concerns that I had. They were talking about sunglasses. Each was wearing a pair of pricey shades that cost about as much as I was spending per month on food and diapers. The whole conversation was absurd to me. Eventually somebody asked me what I kind of sunglasses I favored, to which I replied,

I dunno. Whenever I need something like that I just wait until they put it in a McDonald’s Happy Meal(tm).

Similarly, whenever I need an opinion on an issue that has to do with telecommunications policy, privacy, the First Amendment, cowardice and chickenshitosity in the Congress, or fear mongering and criminality in the Bush/Cheney administration, I generally just wait for Harold Feld to put an article up on Wetmachine/Tales of the Sausage Factory to tell me what I’m thinking. I know how I feel about an issue, more or less, but a good Feldian rant always brings it into focus — and often gets me to call or write my congresscritters.

Lately I’ve been really steamed about all this talk of passing a bill that will grant immunity to the telecommunications companies for illegally spying on their customers, Nixon-style, since way before the magical “all laws cease here” date NineEleven (peace be upon it). From what I can tell, the chickenshit Congress is making noises about going along with Lord Voldemort’s, I mean Bush’s request to make time-travelling the law of the land, at least when it comes to giant corporations spying on citizens on behalf of who-knows-who.

So, I’ve been kinda waiting for a duly appropriate, incendiary, and legally impeccable disquisition from Harold on this. The fact that he has not yet weighed in leads me to think that either yes, what I’m saying is as obvious as “water is wet” and this does not merit a TotSF article, or, perhaps, that I’m missing something.

It is worth mentioning that the week after that aforementioned conversation about sunglasses, I stopped at a McDonald’s and purchased a Happy Meal. There was a nice pair of sunglasses inside, which, moreover, almost fit.

Harold, we await your rant.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The Verizon/NARAL Flap And Lessons for NARAL (and all the rest of you advocacy orgs out there)

It seems like every time I go away, something fun happens on Net Neutrality. I go on vacation and AT&T accidentally censors Pearl Jam. I go away for Sukkot and Verizon makes a major faux-pas by blocking NARAL’s text messaging campaign.

As one might expect, faster than you can say “crap, it’s a Democratic Congress these days,” Verizon went into immediate damage control. It reversed its decision and issued a statement that this was all a big mistake based on an antiquated policy that Verizon had now fixed. Heck, I even believe Verizon that this was an accident. Unlike Comcast or AT&T, Verizon has no prior history of such censorship (although they apparently did play ball with NSA when it came to spying on American citizens). But I make my usual point that I don’t want my free speech dependent on the good will of megacorps, enforced with non-stop vigilance and the ability to raise a great virtual cry every time wrongdoing occurs. The First Amendment is too damn important to depend on getting a front page story because somebody directly blocks access, even if it is an accident. I want my freedom to communicate protected as a matter of right, not as a matter of grace and political pressure.

No, I shall let my more eloquent colleagues like Susan Crawford and Tim Karr make the usual arguments. Instead, I direct my comments to NARAL and other organizations on both the left and the right with potentially “controversial” messages.

Scan this list of organizations, businesses and individuals that are part of the Savetheinternet.com coalition. Are you on it? I don’t see NARAL, or NOW, or a whole bunch of other orgs (left or right) that should care about this stuff — preferably before they get bit in the butt on it. And it’s not just Savetheinternet.com. It’s also about stopping big media and corporate censorship by opposing further media consolidation. Think NARAL will be able to buy ads in the Wall St. Journal after Rupert Murdoch buys it? Heck, the good folks over at the United Church of Christ can’t even get their church advertisements shown on major networks because they might possibly in two frames hint that they accept gays and therefore (by implication) support gay marriage. So you would think that folks with so much to lose, on both the right and the left, would jump on this campaign.

But sadly, they don’t. It is the unfortunate truth that far too many organizations that should support these campaigns “do not play well with others.” They fret about “expending their political capital.” They distrust working with others where they cannot “Control their name and message.” They refuse to participate in coalitions or causes with certain others including people on the same side, because of accumulated bad blood that began with an incident so long ago no one even remembers what it is about. But most fundamentally, they don’t see how issues of network neutrality and media concentration impact them or their core issues.

Hopefully, the recent Verizon/NARAL flap will serve as a wake up call not merely to NARAL, but Second Amendment Sisters, GLAD, and anyone else with a potentially controversial message. YOU NEED TO CARE ABOUT THIS STUFF! Really. Yes, I know you’re busy on a gajillion other things, you hate half the people listed on Savetheinternet.com list, whatever. If you don’t get your rear ends in gear and start dealing with Network Neutrality and media concentration, then it won’t matter what your actual issue or message is, because no one else will freakin’ hear it, see it, or care about it. Because your ability to get your message out and communicate directly with your membership will depend entirely on hoping you can suck up to/brow beat/bribe a handful of megacorps into letting you communicate with your members and the rest of the world, because you will have no legal right to force them to do so.

If that’s the world you want to live in, then keep doing as your doing. Decide that you “don’t have the resources to get involved,” that this “really isn’t your issue” and you don’t want to “dilute your name or spread yourself too thin.” I’m not sure exactly what you’ll do with all your horded “political capital” when you can’t actually get your message out, but clearly that’s not a concern of yours.

Or you can take two whole minutes and sign up on Savetheinternet.com to join the campaign.

Your choice. But if any members of any of these orgs are reading this, you might want to ask your home offices why they can’t take two minutes to fire up the old web browser and go to Savetheinternet.com to join the campaign.

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in Censorship Public and Private, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Assessing the 700 MHz Order Part V: The “Property School” Takes It On The Chin

In this final installment assessing the FCC’s Order on the 700 MHz auction approved at the July 31 Commission meeting, I want to conclude by placing this in the context of the broader spectrum reform debate, notably the Property v.Commons debate.

Short answer, the Property School really took it on the chin here. Not like this was a big victory for the “commons” school either, however, although the C Block conditions helped a smidgen there by reasserted the Commission’s right to regulate and the First Amendment value of open platforms. Actually, I’m talking about the invocation of Section 316 to move a licensee that was making it very difficult for the FCC to resolve the cross-border interference with Canada caused by the new band plan. In keeping with the extremely pragmatic nature of the Martin FCC, the Commission resolved a roadblock by calling upon its statutory powers and telling a licensee: “Sorry dude, you gotta move for the public good.”

This would be wholly unremarkable if some of us didn’t remember back to a distant time a few years ago when the times, they were a changin’, the ideology battles was ragin’, and partisans on both sides confidently predicted the end of “command and control” regulation. But change for anything with as much inertia as spectrum regulation does not happen overnight or even in a matter of years. It happens gradually, with many maddening ebbs and flows. And, as in the case of the stubborn licensee and shift to avoid interference with Canada, we rediscover why “command and control” is never quite so dead as academics, reformers, and others seem to think.

More below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

My Academic Article on Unlicensed Spectrum Gets Published

Every now and then, I take a break from the delightful and snarky world of blogging to dash off the odd researched piece for an academic journal. This is always an annoying and painstaking process, because academic journals want footnotes not just the occassional link. They also dislike articles that use terms like “incumbent whankers.”

Still, the effort (when I can find the time for it) is usually worth it — at least from my perspective. You can judge for yourself by following the link to the Commlaw Conspectus website and downloading From Third Class Citizen to First Among Equals: Rethinking the Place of Unlicensed Spectrum in the FCC Hierarchy.

For those unsure if its worth slogging through 39 pages of lawyer writing, here’s a summary. The FCC has a basic hierarchy of licensed spectrum, licensed by rule (family radio service and a few other things), and unlicensed spectrum. From a wireless perspective, the FCC exists for licensed spectrum, has a few oddball things licensed by rule, and has a few slivers of space open for unlicensed spectrum. Unlicensed spectrum is the “third class citizen,” required to shut off if it causes the least interference to licensed services while accepting any interference that comes its way. When the FCC allocates spectrum rights, it does everything possible for licensed services while looking with askance at the free-wheeling unlicensed poor relation. As a result, licensed services get choice spectrum and unlicensed services get the leavings — and that on sufferance.

In my article, I argue that the First Amendment calls for standing this on its head. Licensing of spectrum came about because old technology couldn’t handle everyone using this all at once we call this the “scarcity rationale,” because the need to license spectrum to avoid interference made licenses ‘scarce’). But because the FCC must give the approval for any new technologies, the technology to eliminate scarcity (and thus eliminate the need for exclusive licensing) will never come about. This circular reasoning offends the First Amendment. Accordingly, when the FCC considers whether to permit unlicensed uses, it should need to justify its decisions under a higher Constitutional standard than it does in other licensing cases (“intermediate scrutiny” rather than “rational basis” for all you legal types out there).

Besides, I argue, it’s also better policy.

While I hardly expect the FCC and the federal courts to read my piece and exclaim: “At last! What perfect wisdom! What fools we have been!” I do hope this helps advance the debate some. As with everyone else who publishes in a field where the debate has simmered for a few years, I argue for a “third way” between licensing and commons. Rather than eliminating exclusive licensing altogether, or proposing we split the spectrum down the middle, I propose allowing a gradual evolution in technology and until exclusive licensing will gradually wither away, with perhaps a handful of truly sensitive services still licensed exclusively.

Of course, if that happened, your cell phone bill would drop like a rock, ubiquitous wireless broadband would become too cheap to meter, and television and radio conglomerates would lose their precious monopolies on the airwaves. So don’t hold your breath.

Stay tuned . . .

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

Tales of the Sausage Factory

My Annual Shameless Self-Serving Plug for My Employer

As you all know, I do this blog in my own time as a labor of love and the firm belief that the World Needs My Wisdom. During the day, I work as Senior Vice President of the Media Access Project (MAP). The views expressed here are entirely my own, and I keep a strenous “Chinese Firewall” between my MAP work and my blogging.

But I’m still gonna use my wholly independent space here to make a special end of year appeal for for folks to contribute to MAP. Because while I love my job, I can’t have two labors of love.

To keep from compromising our advocacy, MAP does not rely on industry money. We get funded primarily by grants and by individual contributions (and the occassional attorneys fee from those clients who can afford to make a contribution to our work and advocacy). In 2006, we had major wins in Network Neutrality, Media Ownership, Munibroadband, Spectrum Reform, and a personal shout out for our work on the Adelphia transaction from Commissioner Adelstein. And I will now include a gratuitous link to a recommendation from a friend this past fall.

For 35 years, MAP has been kicking ass and taking names to protect the public’s First Amendment right to speak and hear information from a diversity of sources in the electronic media. We’d like to keep at it for another 35. I know MAP is competing with a hundred other worthy causes, and that it is late in the year to make a pitch for that last contribution in 2006 (MAP is a 501(c)(3), so any donations are deductible). But I’m going to ask anyway. If you can make any kind of donation, we’d all really appreciate it.

Stay tuned . . . .

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