Tales of the Sausage Factory

Rural Carriers File “Skype-Lite,” or “Wireless Carterfone, it's not just for developers and other parasites anymore.”

Today, the FCC will most likely dismiss the the Skype Petition. I’ve already written why I think this is a phenomenally bad idea and, while I continue to respect Kevin Martin and understand why he is doing this, he is totally wrong here. Once again, those worried about “unintended consequences,” “first do no harm,” etc., etc. fail to appreciate that a refusal to take action and granting permission to carriers to control the sorts of devices, applications and therefore what innovation and what free speech, go on over their networks is as much an action as granting the Skype Petition. There is no evading responsibility or avoiding unforseen consequences.

Which brings me to the Petition for Rulemaking filed by the Rural Carriers Association (RCA) to prevent exclusive deals on equipment, aka “Skype Lite.” Mind you, the rural carriers opposed the Skype Petition as much as any other carrier, arguing that it would be awful for their limited capacity rural networks if they could not control what equipment attached to their networks and what applications ran on that equipment. Nevertheless, they too are unsatisified in a world where market size and raw capitalism dominate. So, without ever once raising the same arguments as Skype or referencing the Commission’s information policy statement, the rural carriers argue for what amounts to the same relief as Skype, only tailored differently. Rather than regulate all carriers to require open networks, they ask the Commission to limit the market power of the major carriers by prohibitting exclusives. Otherwise, they argu, rural America will never know the joy of the iPhone or any other significant innovation — since the major carriers will tie up the most valuable applications and equipment in exclusive deals.

Nor are the rural carriers alone in finding the world according to Coase and Friedman less than they desire. The Commission has before it a good handful of petitions from carriers asking for mandatory roaming reform, access charge reform, and other limits on the ability of the dominant, vertically integrated providers from exercising their market power. Of course, all of these carriers asking for regulatory intervention are simultaneously celebrating the dismissal of the Skype Petition, piously telling Skype and the rest of the non-carrier industry that they are a bunch of parasites and that if they want access to a network they need to get their own licenses and build one.

I do not write to underscore the hypocrisy of these contradictory positions. That would be a waste of bits. Companies make whatever arguments they need to make in order to survive and thrive. No, my warning to the rural carriers and the rest of the Skype-lite crowd is simply one of practicality. You cannot win your request for special regulation while simultaneously singing the praises of the fiercely competitive broadband market and arguing that there is no place for regulation in this great free market success story. By contrast, if you simply admit that the industry now suffers from excessive concentration and the cure for this requires a comprehensive approach, you will find yourselves much more likely to prevail.

Martin indicated that he would dismiss the Skype Petition “without prejudice,” meaning that Skype or others will be free to try again — say, in six months or so when the FCC changes hands. In the mean time, I suggest the rural carriers and the other industry players anxious for regulatory relief — whether in the form of spectrum caps in auctions, mandatory roaming, or access charge reform — rethink their strategy.

Or, to put it another way, “regulation, it’s not just for developers and other parasites any more.”

Stay tuned . . . .

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

Tales of the Sausage Factory

I Debate The Would-Be Vulcans

So Marvin and I had our debate with Ken Ferree and Lawrence Spiwak. On the whole, I thought we mixed it up pretty thoroughly and civilly — although you can all judge for yourselves by watching the archive here (free registration required).

The issues won’t surprise anyone, but I want to address one meta-issue on framing. Perhaps not surprisingly, the anti-NN folks repeatedly seek to claim the mantle of reason, relegating us pro-NN types with our emotional commitment to romantic ideas like democracy and free speech to the status of irrational and unreasonable fanatics.

Ah, de ja vu all over again. I can remember when I heard similar sentiments from Ken Ferree and his former boss Michael Powell during the fights over media ownership reform in 2002-04. Of course, these were the same “logical,” “rational,” purportedly proof driven folks who developed the “diversity index” which weighted the Dutches County Community Television station as having the same media power as the New York Times, and inspired the Third Circuit to observe that believing this “scientific” approach reflected reality “would require us to take leave of our senses.” But, undeterred by the fact that the Third Circuit considered his previous efforts at “scientific reality building” to be either a bad joke or an excellent parody, Ken is quite prepared to rely exclusively on the view from “Ferree Land” and denigrate the rest of as emotional hysterics who listen to voices from the past.

My beef with Lawrence Spiwak is rather different. Unlike Ferree, Spiwak is actually living in the real world. My complaint is not that he lives in fantasy land or ignores evidence. My complaint is that he wishes to define the terms of the debate in a rather narrow way — i.e., only economic analysis and only University of Chicago-type analysis at that. All else is mere “rhetoric” and “emotion,” and only a proper grounding in rational analysis (aka economic analysis by economists of the Chicago School) can properly frame things. (I should point out the Spiwak’s colleague from Phoenix Center, George Ford, took a similar line at the Federal Trade Commission broadband competition hearing last year, chastising Tim Wu and myself for meddling in economic matters in which we were not competent to express an opinion.)

As one might expect, I find the attempts of the would-be Vulcans to define the terms of the debate unpersuasive. To see me do unto them as Kirk did unto the M5, Landru, and the other would be uber-rational computers, see below . . .

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

My Thoughts Exactly

Where's the goddamn Magna Carta when you need it?

Here’s a story about some shadowy (nominally USian) government agency that’s going around shutting down websites it doesn’t like & snapping up the domain names.

Rankin, the Treasury spokesman, said Marshall was free to ask for a review of his case. “If they want to be taken off the list,” Rankin said, “they should contact us to make their case.”

That is a problematic system, Fitzgerald said. “The way to get off the list,” he said, “is to go back to the same bureaucrat who put you on.”

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Tribute to Becky Lentz

I occasionally grouse that no one in mass movements ever remembers the lawyers, or why else does my employer Media Access Project keep needing to check behind the couch cushions for loose change, given our track record? But I live in the bloody spotlight compared to some of the others that have made the modern media reform movement possible. Which is why I want to take a moment to give Becky Lentz, formerly of the Ford Foundation, a big shout out.

For the last 6 years, Becky worked at the Ford Foundation as program officer for their media policy and technology portfolio. In her own way, Becky had as much to do with the victories of the last few years in resisting – and in some cases rolling back – media concentration and promoting positive change. Last month, Becky’s term ended and she returned to Academia.

What makes Becky Lentz an exceptional figure when they write the history of the media reform movement? See below . . . .

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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

My Day With the Reps, or Today I Am A Wonk.

Every profession has its little milestones. As a confirmed Washington policy wonk, I’ve always wanted to testify before Congress (in a situation where I did not have to take the Fifth). Well, TODAY I AM A WONK. (Actually, it was Thursday, September 21.) I testified at the House hearing on ICANN. You can read some of the (very light) news coverage here, and my official testimony here (executive summary here), and you can listen to an audio of the hearing by going here and clicking on the relevant link.

For my personal observations and comments, see below….

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

UPDATE: COPE PASSES HOUSE late Thursday Night

To further stack the odds, they went ahead and held the debate and vote tonight after Tom DeLay’s farewell address. Fitting tribute, I suppose, sacrifice the finest engine of civic discourse and free speech on the altar of special interest as a going away present.

And yes, we got spanked as expected. The Markey Amendment failed 152-269, with 11 Rs and 1 independent joining 140 Ds. On the nay side were 211 Rs and 58 Ds. COPE itself passed 321-101.

On to the Senate!

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

Tales of the Sausage Factory

The adventures of Fair Use Person?

To my surprise and delight, the good folks at Duke Law have produced this comic book to explain the law of fair use and how expanding copyrights is producing lots of “collateral damage” in the free speech department. Back when I was in law school I had an idea for an entire series of comic books dramatizing the law school curriculum. Happily for the world, I can’t even draw stick figures as well as Jim Snider did in his Cartoon Guide to Federal Spectrum Policy.

Stay tuned . . .

Posted in Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , | 2 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Net Neutrality As Campaign Finance Reform

It is quite possible that the most important piece of campaign finance reform to pass in 2006 will be Senator Wyden’s “Internet Non-Discrimination Act of 2006.” Until now the internet did not require candidates to raise huge amounts of money to pay for the ability to reach voters. Without Net Neutrality, all that changes. The internet will increasingly come to resemble radio, television and cable, where the well-funded buy their way onto your screen and the rest get crowded out. Not because of any evil corporate conspiracy or antidemocracy cabal, but because of the iron rules of economics.

If companies can make money charging political speakers for premium access, they will. If that’s bad for democracy and free speech, too bad. Companies aren’t in business to promote democracy, but to maximize value for shareholders. If that means that well-funded candidates and talk radio hosts can buy “premium” access while independent bloggers and pod casters can’t, that’s what will happen. Too bad about that democracy and free speech thing. Nothing against it you understand but, y’know, it’s just business.

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