Tales of the Sausage Factory

Today on Telecom Mythbusters: FCC Ancillary Authority in Comcast/BitTorrent

Cable gets a lot of mileage out of repeating things over and over until folks believe it’s true. Today on Telecom Mythbusters I’d like to focus on the question of “ancillary” authority and regulating broadband. The cable guys generally circulate two myths about this.

1) Ancillary jurisdiction by the FCC is an exceedingly rare, wacky, way out thing and the fact that net neutrality advocates even want to rely on it shows how way out there and kooky it is.

2) The D.C. Circuit has been busy trimming back ancillary jurisdiction so that it really doesn’t exist anymore. Specifically, the D.C. Cir. 2005 decision in American Library Association v. FCC, 406 F.3d 689 (D.C. Cir. 2005) (and, to a lesser degree, MPAA v. FCC, 309 F.3d 796 (D.C. Cir. 2002) worked some kind of mojo against the expansive grant of power by the Supreme Court in United States v. Southwest Cable, 392 U.S. 157 (1968) and the Supreme Court’s explicit statement in Brand X so that the FCC cannot regulate broadband access and prohibit Comcast from targeting specific applications such as BiTtorrent under ancillary jurisdiction. A sub-myth of this is “Title I cannot be the source of authority on its own.”

Marvin Ammori, General Counsel of Free Press, has written a stunning tour de force rebutting these arguments. The 100+ page filing masterfully traces the FCC’s authority under Title I and in this particular proceeding. But for those who don’t want to read through the whole thing, I will give my own take below.

I must once again warn readers that this will be a breathtakingly dull review of applicable case law, along with an examination of FCC precedents and does not go to the juicier merits of policy (not that I expct this to stop the Brett-bot from his inevitable comments). If you do not find legal minutia fascinating beyond words, if you do not thrill at the discussion of the subtle differences between a “Telecommunications Service Provider” and a “Common Carrier,” then for God’s sake, turn back now! Lest your brain dissolve into tapioca pudding from the awesome power of legal analysis unleashed.

(and for Brett: Blah blah blah evil blah blah Free Press blah blah MAP blah blah Ginger)

Otherwise, to see both myths BUSTED, read more below….

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

A Black Day For The Rule of Law

The Senate has voted to give retroactive immunity to the phone companies for spying on Americans without a warrant.

As I have written elsewhere, this does violence to the Rule of Law. As usual, the defendants of this measure make the best case against it. As Senator Orin Hatch explained:

“And frankly, if we do not give retroactive immunity, there is not a general counsel of any of these companies that would [again] expose their company to the … litigation that has come since.”

Which is precisely the point. It should not be possible, let alone easy, for the Executive Branch to provide an end run to the Constitution and the law. That a majority of the Senate will retroactively concur in this law breaking — even applaud it and encourage it! — makes mock of the very notion that we are a free people in the land of the free governed by laws, not men, safe from the tyranny of Kings because their power is restrained.

As a Republic, we will recover. We have suffered such stains and indignities on the law in the past. Korematsu and the internment of Japanese Americans, the warrantless surveillance of civil rights leaders, The Espionage Act in World War I, which made it illegal to criticize the government’s military recruitment efforts. The list goes on. Then the pendulum swings back. We stand ashamed, offering compensation and apologies, shaking our heads at what people do and wondering how a previous generation could have erred so dramatically.

What is appalling here is that this is not done in the first rush of panic, pain and fear following the attacks. It is not prompted by “false intelligence.” There are no excuses for those Democrats who have ONCE AGAIN given President Bush everything he asks for, after promising us in 2006 that “the blank check is over” and that the Democratic landslide signaled a return to a government of checks and balances, accountability and oversight? And these Democratic Senators will come to us again in 2008, and expect the party faithful to once again fall in line?

I still have hopes for the House Democrats. Recently, Representatives Dingell, Markey and Stupak reminded their Senate colleagues of their duty to exercise oversight of the Executive to protect the rights of all Americans. Perhaps these champions of freedom will convince their House colleagues to stand firm in the face of White House pressure, telco PAC contributions, and the craven example of their colleagues in the Senate.

But it is a black day for the Rule of Law, and a black day for the Democratic party. Let every Democrat that has dared adopt a haughty attitude to Republicans for supporting domestic spying, torture, and the assault on our consititution hang his head in shame. Let our tongues be stilled. For our leaders have proven no better than theirs. And will not we, like the sheep we have accused them of being, quietly return them again to office?

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in How Democracy Works, Or Doesn't, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , | 5 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Defending Peter Nickles

This won’t matter to most of you, but a former colleague of mine from Covington and Burling got attacked on the front page of the Washington Post today and I feel an urge to respond.

More below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Latest AT&T/BS Merger Twist, and Why Bill Kennard Case is Different from Robert McDowell’s

In the latest chapter of the FCC’s most gripping “telecomnovella” Death Star Reborn: The AT&T/BellSouth Merger, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has set in motion the process to get 3rd Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell “unrecused”. The FCC has been deadlocked 2-2 because Commissioner McDowell used to represent CompTel, one of the groups opposing the merger, creating a conflict of interest. (You can see my previous coverage explaining all this here.)

McDowell, while not champing at the bit to be unrecused, has announced he’s ready to serve if the FCC’s General Counsel tells him he has to vote to break the deadlock. So it becomes possible to get this done before the new Congress takes over. Although why this should be such a big deal is beyond me, since it’s not like Congress can directly interfere with FCC merger review, and the indirect threats for payback are already on the table.

Martin, conscious of the controversial nature of the move, wrote a letter to the Chairs and ranking members of the Senate and House Commerce Committees explaining the need for such extraordinary action. In doing so, Martin observed that the FCC General Counsel had previously authorized former FCC Chairman William E. Kennard to break a 2-2 deadlock despite Kennard’s previous recusal.

Now some months back, when folks first started wondering about the “McDowell Option,” I opined that while the FCC General Counsel could force McDowell to vote, such a move would be “extraordinary” and “To the best of my knowledge, it has never happened.” So what’s all this about Kennard then?

Art Brodsky does an excellent job explaining why the Kennard situation was radically different. But, my honor being involved and all, I decided to dig a bit deeper. As explained below, the facts on the Kennard case were so bizzare and different (starting with the fact that Kennard had not been legally required to recuse himself in the first place but had done so, in his own words “out of an abundance of caution”), that I still think my original statement stands and that, if the FCC unrecuses McDowell, and requires him to vote, it’s really breaking new ground.

More detail than you could possibly want (including a timeline and relevant quotes from Kennard’s public statement in 2000 on unrecusing himself) below….

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Jews for Jesus Rises Again

According to this blog entry, Jews for Jesus has sued Google over use of a third level domain name: jewsforjesus.blogspot.com You can read the complaint here.

As Ron Coleman’s Likelihood of Confusion blog observes, Jews for Jesus achieved one of the early awful victories for trademark holders in 1998 over this very same issue. In Jews for Jesus v. Brodsky, 993 F.Supp 282 (D.NJ 1998), Jews for Jesus won a trademark infringement claim against the user of the name “jewsforjesus.org” and “jews-for-jesus.com.” (Coleman was Brodsky’s attorney and provides a good summary and links.) This case is actually used to be pretty famous (or infamous) in domain name/TM circles. As use and sophistication about the Internet has grown, however, courts have backed away from it and the pendulum has begun to swing the other way (as I noted last year in my entry on the jerryfalwell.com case).

Comparing the 1998 case and the 2006 case provides some interesting lessons in how much the world has changed in 8 years. My thoughts below, but some disclosure first- I helped draft an amicus brief in support of Brodsky in 1998 in my roll as assistant general counsel to the now defunct Domain Name Rights Coalition.

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