Tales of the Sausage Factory

FCC Begins Inquiry Into Arbitron Portable People Meter

Sometime back back, I noted the flap over the Arbitron Portable People Meter and the Petition by the Minority Media Telecommunications Council (MMTC) for the FCC to take action. The FCC put the Petition out on public notice last September, and has now issued a Notice of Inquiry on the matter.

As always, the questions are (a) why do we care about this? and (b) Even if we care, does the Commission have authority to do anything? In answering this last time, I observed: (a) we care because the entire economics of the radio industry are driven by ratings, and the FCC’s own rules rely on Arbitron ratings for a number of purposes, and (b) the FCC can always investigate anything related to its areas of jurisdiction. At worst, it provides a good forum for debate and an opportunity to tell Congress “Yo! this is important, somebody needs to do something about this for these reasons.” these are pretty much the conclusions the FCC comes to in its Notice. After observing in footnote 1 that it has broad powers to investigate, the Commission frames the questions as:

This NOI investigates the impact of PPM methodology on the broadcast industry as well as whether the audience ratings data is sufficiently accurate and reliable to merit the Commission’s own reliance on it in its rules, policies and procedures.

I am hopeful that we see a good, robust debate here although I don’t expect anything in the way of Earth-shattering revelations. There is an interesting problem of what information Arbitron will reveal about its processes, and whether the Commission will provide some assurances that it will keep proprietary information out of the public record. If it does, it makes it much harder for those who say the process is unfair to respond. But if it doesn’t, it’s analysis is going to be incomplete.

Mind you, it’s not at all clear what authority the FCC has over Arbitron directly. But the FCC can take certain actions if it doesn’t like what it sees, giving Arbitron incentive to play and try to resolve concerns. The FCC can declare Arbitron unreliable and no longer rely on it for regulatory determinations. That’s not exactly the kind of publicity you want if you make your living based on the accuracy of your ratings system. Alternatively, if the FCC doesn’t see anything wrong, it can always conclude that Arbitron remains acceptable for the FCC’s purposes. That will be of enormous assistance to Arbitron in removing any cloud over its rating system.

Bottom line, the NOI is a smart move by the Copps FCC on multiple levels. It doesn’t assert any authority, it doesn’t prejudge, and it services an important Democratic constituency. Hopefully, Arbitron and its critics will use the FCC as a neutral forum to develop an mutually acceptable solution.

Stay tuned . . . .

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My Thoughts Exactly

Living in the Strange Loop

All six of you who have read my novels know that, among other things, I’m kind of obsessive about the Hofstadterian notion of the Strange Loop.

Yesterday in my internet voyaging looking for examples of Magic Eye pictures1 (of which I could not remember the name), I came upon Michael Bach’s wonderful website about optical and visual illusions, which led me to Goo-Shun Wang’s quite marvelous short animated movie Hallucii, about a guy (who quite resembles me, actually) who stumbles into a strange loop and, quite cleverly, (eventually, apparently), finds his way out.

Take a few minutes to watch, and see what it’s like to be me:
.

Below the fold: a footnote & a painful comment.
UPDATE The version on Goo-Shun Wang’s site doesn’t seem to be working today. Below the fold, I’ve embedded a youtube version.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Evaluation of the Comcast/BitTorrent Filing — Really Excellent, Except For The Gapping Hole Around the Capacity Cap.

After Comcast surprised me with their filing on Friday, I really wanted to believe they had turned a corner. Not to anthropomorphize too much, but I had hoped that Comcast had gotten such a bad public relations disaster out of this that they were determined to work so hard to be good little puppies that even a Democratic Congress, Democratic President, and Democratic FCC would believe that the we no longer needed rules. And I would be totally down with that (their behaving that is, we still need rules). I love it when companies learn their lesson and stop misbehaving. Remember, public policy is (IMO) all about result. If swatting Comcast on the nose like a naughty puppy gets them to stop pooping on their customers, then they deserve a pat on the head and a tummy yummy treat when they behave.

But I’m having a “Columbo moment” here. For those who did not grow up in the 1970s and therefore do not recognize the reference, Columbo is a television detective who every episode goes to talk to the chief suspect about the circumstantial evidence, and the chief suspect always has a fully prepared and perfect alibi. On the way out, apparently as an afterthought, Columbo will turn around and say: “there’s just one thing that bothers me.” This question on a minor inconsistency turns out to open a gaping hole in the suspect’s alibi and — in classic television fashion — allows Columbo to solve the crime by the end of the show.

I do not pretend there is any mystery here left to solve. Comcast’s filing very neatly explains their past practices, how we reached this point, and how Comcast intends to change its practices. It includes benchmarks for performance and a plan for informing its subscribers. It looks exactly like what the Commission ordered.

There’s just one thing that bothers me. Footnote 3 of Attachment B. Comcast stresses in footnote 3 that its 250 GB per month cap is not a network management policy, is not a replacement for its current network management practices, and therefore is not actually a proper subject of this disclosure report. Now why did they go out of their way to say that?

If you will excuse me, sir, while I adjust my raincoat, a bit more analysis below . . .

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Posted in Censorship Public and Private, Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

It's Nice WhenThe FCC Listens — Sorta. Why I like The Proposed Resolution Of Comcast's Complaint Against Verizon But Why Some Of It Makes Me Uneasy.

Back in February, I blogged about Comcast’s complaint against Verizon for its “retention marketing” practices. That’s Verizon’s practice that, when they get a request from another carrier to terminate voice service and transfer the phone number of a customer who is switching from Verizon (a practice called “porting” the number), they make one last run at trying to persuade the customer to stay. At the time, I observed (as I have for well over a year now, since I first made this argument at the at the Federal Trade Commission’s 2007 workshop), that if we are going to rely on competition, then we cannot have rules that privilege one side over another. To cancel video service, you have to call the cable operator, who then gets a last chance to pitch you hard to stay and makes it as difficult as possible to terminate service. But to change telephone provider, the cable company can ask the telco provider and the telco provider isn’t allowed to try to keep the customer — but must wait to pitch the customer until after the customer has already switched. That’s crazy. It needs to be consistent, or it puts the telcos at a serious disadvantage against the cable cos.

Well, back in April, the Enforcement Bureau issued a recommended decision that adopts this same argument. (I’ve been a shade busy, or would have blogged on this earlier.) It strongly recommends that the Commission commence a notice of proposed rulemaking designed to harmonize the rules for switching video and voice. No surprise, as this also tracks a Verizon Petition for Declaratory Ruling — as noted by the Bureau in a footnote.

Needless to say, I wholeheartedly approve of such harmonization, having supported this approach for well over a year. So why does the recommendation make me uneasy?

Because of the legal reasoning around the facts of the instant complaint. The Bureau recommends a finding of no violation because number porting is not a Title II telecom service and cable providers offering voice over IP (VOIP) are not providing Title II services. Which means that the FCC can flit back and forth between Title I and Title II at will, depending on its policy needs of the moment. It also means that Title II telecommunications service has now been reduced to only the voice component of plain old telephone service. And even critical elements of POTS, like managing the phone number systems, no longer count as telecommunication services under Title II.

I’m even more queasy about this because it is probably right under the enormous deference shown to FCC definitional hair splitting thanks to the combination of the Brand X decision and the D.C. Circuit’s decision on CALEA in ACE v. FCC. Well, Scalia warned the Brand X majority, but they didn’t listen. And Michael Powell, by trying to put broadband services beyond the reach of FCC regulation, ended up enormously expanding the power of the FCC to regulate services on a whim.

More on what I’m talking about and what this means for the future (if adopted by the Commission) below . . .

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Posted in Life In The Sausage Factory, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

I Can't Take Credit For It, But I Did Think of It First….

Every now and then, my hobbies and my professional life intersect. Indeed, my involvement in this blog comes from the chance meeting of myself and John Sundman at a science fiction convention in Boston called Arisia some years back. He was on a panel right before me, so I saw him in action and he stuck around and saw me. Curiously we both had the same reaction “Hey, that guy is the only one on the panel who makes sense or seems to know what he’s talking about. I should talk to him after the panel.”

So I was thrilled and delighted beyond measure to see that The Harry Potter Alliance, an organization that tries to organize Harry Potter fans for social/political causes, has joined with StopBigMedia.com to create the “Rock Against Voldemedia” campaign at PotterWatch. (We will also savor the irony that Kevin Martin looks amazingly like Harry Potter, but without the scar.)

No shocker that, as I have remarked on occasion, I am a huge Potter fan. So I wish I could pretend I had something to do with fortuitous and felicitous combination of my interests. Alas, however, I can’t. All the credit goes to the folks at Free Press and the Harry Potter Alliance.

I can, however, take credit for having made the connection between the media ownership fight and Harry Potter when Harry Potter And The Order of the Phoenix came out in 2003 and the media ownership issue was hot. I even wrote an op ed on the subject (which, alas, never saw print). But I did include it in a footnote in an article I wrote with Cheryl Leanza (footnote 37 for them what cares, although I recommend reading the entire article).

So while I can’t take credit for any activism, I can follow in the footsteps of our Glorious Leader, Stephen Colbert, and give a great big I CALLED IT!!!!

Lets hope my prognostications for the 700 MHz auction come off as well.

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in Media Ownership, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , | Comments closed

Inventing the Future

The Deadest Generation

Most folks I know are pretty cranky lately. They cite the economy, or the wars. But I don’t think we’re being honest. My generation is dead. We did die before we got old. But we only know it on a subconscious level, and that makes us cranky.

Our last hurrah and last attempt to change the world was in the late ’90’s with the Internet Boom – although that was largely driven by the next generation. Now we’re just running on Cialis. It’s the only thing we care about anymore, or which gets a rise out of us. Dead.

I work at the University of Wisconsin, which had been a hot-bed of violent youth revolution in the ’60’s. Now, when a part time instructor named Barrett raises questions about 911, the university threatens his job. (Even as Syd Barret passes quietly away.)

John just wrote a great blog about serious and enduring issues that will have meaning long after 911 is a footnote, but even he doesn’t wants to talk about 911. Who wants to be thought of as a weirdo? Don’t say such things! I hope interest rates don’t get much higher. Have you tried Flomax?

Surely, the idea that 19 losers wreaked all this havoc, orchestrated by a guy in a cave in Afghanistan, is the looniest conspiracy theory of all time! Imagine a US government that thinks nothing of breaking into the personal files of its domestic political opposition, breaking the law to destroy its bureaucratic opposition, waging war without reason, spying on its own citizens, ignoring treaties, and “temporarily” but indefinitely closing the Whitehouse press office. This is reality, and we’re not outraged? Dead. Now, I can’t imagine that such a government could have deliberately orchestrated 911, but mostly because I think they’re too incompetent to have pulled it off. (Hey, I want to keep my university job!) I don’t know what the reality is. Either of the two opposing conspiracy theories is equally depressing. But I think that folks of my generation are old enough to sense bullshit when we hear it, and we know at some level that we’re up to our eyes in it from all sides. I believe that the recognition that we don’t truly care enough to act on this – or even discuss it – is what’s got us so down. If you’ve still got a pulse, I encourage you to Google on the 911 conspiracy videos.

Posted in "A Republic, if you can keep it", Inventing the Future | Also tagged , | 2 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Tales of the Sausage Factory: A Good Copyright Decision . . . Priceless

As some of you may recall, in 2000, Ralph Nader ran an ad as part of his Green Party candidacy for President satirizing the Mastercard ads. Mastercard sued for trademark and copyright infringement.

As one can see, the wheels of justice grind rather slowly. But occassionaly they come out right. A good decision on copyright and trademark . . . which proves a point I’ve long been saying on the impact of footnote 14 of _Accuff Rose_ on copyright analysis (how’s that for lawyer geek speak!) A copy of the decision is here. A bit of analysis below.

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Posted in General, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged | 5 Comments (Comments closed)
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