Tales of the Sausage Factory

Will Minnesota Senate Screw Duluth's Chances of Getting Google Gigabit Project?

As reported by Christopher Mitchel from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Qwest has scored quite the little victory in its efforts to keep itself the world safe from real competition socialism. A state Senator and a state Rep introduced a bill that would have made it easier to for local governments to build municipal networks. Right now, it takes a local referendum vote with 65% to authorize a locality to build a network that offers commercial telephone service (and therefore any “triple play” broadband access service — or so they read it in MN). A State Senator and State Rep offered a bill to reduce the threshold on the referendum to a simply majority. By the time the relevant jurisdictional committee was finished, the revised bill included one of the favorite incumbent roadblocks to localities: a mandatory “feasibility study” designed to be so onerous and expensive to conduct that few local governments will want to even try.

Meanwhile, the good folks of Duluth are so desperate for real broadband that they made this joke video to get citizens to show support for bringing Google Gigabit Fiber project to town.

Question for the good Senators and Representatives of Minnesota: when you’ve got folks clamoring for real broadband, do you really want to be “protecting” your underperforming incumbent? By “clarifying” that your referendum law applies to any indirect provision of telecom service, and imposing a five year plan on municipalities, you are making it very hard for your local governments to — in the words of Duluth’s mock Public Service Announcement — “suck up even harder” than the competition. While I am hardly privy to Google’s secrets and innermost workings, I am willing to bet real money that when they weigh where to set up their pilot project, they will consider any possible legal landmines. Would you want to set up shop in a city where Qwest or some other provider might sue to block your use of city assets under the amended state law? Even if Google were to ultimately prevail, it would tie up the deployment in litigation. Who wants that, when the number of communities begging for Google to come and work its fiber magic keeps growing?

Mind you, there’s a good argument that even this version of the bill is better than the current law. Dropping the referendum requirement from 65% to a simple majority will do a lot of good even with the feasibility study requirement. But should that really be the choice? Don’t the people of MN deserve the better bill, without throwing (yet another) bone to Qwest to reward its failure to provide what people want and need?

So folks in Duluth, and other communities in MN trying to get Google Fiber, you might want to ask Qwest’s buddies in the legislature to cut y’all some slack and pass the original bill without the study requirement. that would send a signal that MN is serious about bringing broadband to its citizens and would welcome the sort of public/private partnership that Google appears to be offering. Or perhaps the MN legislature is just rooting for the people of TopekaGoogle,” KS instead of the folks in Duluth.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Censorship — Ur Doin It Wrong. And That's Why A Mandatory Filiter For AWS-3 is a BAD IDEA!

I am, of course, the last person in the world to tell other people what they should or shouldn’t advocate for and how they should or shouldn’t filter themselves. Thus, I have no quarrel with the decision of the American Family Association and how they choose to display the news (provided they comply with all relevant laws pertaining to copyright, defamation, etc.) True, I most vehemently disagree with their choice of “pro-family” agenda. I personally think families will benefit more from resolving the pay gap, better laws on paternity leave, and family friendly work policies than focusing on the behavior of consenting adults. But hey, that’s what the First Amendment is all about, so we can have these debates.

So the fact that AFA apparently thinks “gay” is too nice a word and has its news reader automatically replace it with the word “homosexual” does not raise any issues for me — I’m even willing to defend this as a fair use alteration of the text for political speech. But as the good folks at People for the American Way noted (and captured on their own website — ain’t the First Amendment grand?) it can have some humorous and unintended consequences. In this case, the accidental “furtherance of the homosexual agenda” by substituting the word “homosexual” for the proper last name “Gay,” which is a problem now that “Tyson Homosexual” is breaking speed records. Man, I always knew Homosexual could run the distance! What champion.

This would merely be an amusing little anecdote were it not for the fact that the FCC has proposed mandatory network-based indecency filtering as part of the AWS-3/M2Z proposal now out for public comment. For those just tuning in, this is the proposal to create a the equivalent of a free wireless DSL line supported by advertising and a premium service the FCC has out on public notice (comments due July 9).

I promise to try to get a much longer post out on the AWS-3 proposal, but let me focus for a minute on the mandatory filtering (which is not mentioned in the text of the FCC Notice, you have to actually read through the rules). As we can see from this relatively harmless example, filtering is a blunt instrument that often does more harm than good. Even with the increase in computational power from Moore’s Law, blah, blah, no automated filtering system can even come close to making the sort of contextualized judgments of what constitutes indecency that the Constitution demands. Heck, even human beings can’t agree on what makes something indecent and what makes it art. Whenever social networking sites or search engines or whatever get pressured into breaking out the broom in the name of the children, it invariably wipes out cancer support groups, rape survivor groups, and a bunch of unrelated stuff like chess.

And the FCC wants to require that the free network, accessible to every American, will also judge whether a future headline such as “Gay Doping?” is a discussion of a possible Olympic sports scandal or an advertisement for a same-sex rave?

I can laugh about the American Family Association and their personal filter follies that harm no one but those who chose to use their news service. But I shudder to think this may be the fate of our national broadband safety net.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Back In the NCMR: Pappa Bear Comes To Town!

So here I am at the 2008 National Conference on Media Reform, and I have the most exciting news: the FOX NEWS TEAM IS HERE for Bill O’Reilly. (No doubt he is in town to endorse Al Franken in his bid for the Senate.)

Woo hoooo!!!! Talk about your status symbols. We have really made the big time if Poppa Bear himself has come to town to pay his respects. As for me, it’s as if the Goodfeathers had fallen into a catnip truck then accidentally wandered into a cat show.

I understand that some folks, however, may be nervous talking to the good folks at Fox News. Here is my advice: keep confusing O’Reilly with Stephen Colbert.

So for example:
Fox News: Can we interview you for O’Reilly Factor.
Person: Great! I’ve always wanted to be on the Colbert Show!
FN: That’s not us. This is Bill O’Reilly.
Person: Oh yeah. I saw him on the Colbert Show once.
FN: Anyway —
Person: Do you think O’Reilly can get me on Colbert?
FN: No. Now —
Person: Because Stephen Colbert is just a god, you know. A. Total. God. O’REilly should definitely try to get on Colbert again. You know, for the Colbert bump.
FN: We want to talk to you about —
Person: Did you know Stephen Colbert was just given the distinguished “Understandable Vanity Award by the Princeton University Class of ’08 (Go Tigers!). Did O’Reilly ever go to college?
(Persist until FN people quit in disgust.)
Person: Wait! Come back! Does this mean O’Reilly won’t introduce me to Stephen Colbert?

Stay tuned . . . .

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

Tales of the Sausage Factory

American Radio Relay League v. FCC, Why A Good Case Will Bring Confusion And Bad Results

I should be overjoyed with the D.C. Circuit’s latest case: American Radio Relay League v. FCC. First, it affirms the right of the Commission to balance between unlicensed Part 15 users and licensed users, even where operation of Part 15 certified devices/services will cause occasional interference to traditional Sec. 301 licensees. Second, it requires the FCC to publish staff reports on which it relies in their entirety, rather than merely including in the record the parts with which it agrees. Third, it requires the FCC to address proposals by commenters with something more substantive than “well, we’ve always done it this way, so we see no need to change.”

All good news, yes? As a legal matter, absolutely. But as a practical matter, I expect it to slow down movement on the FCC’s white spaces proceeding. Why? Because it was a reversal and a reversal almost always causes the good folks in the Office of Engineering and Technology to go into paralysis for a few months while they try to figure out what the new legal standard is now. That the court actually affirmed the critical part on respecting the FCC’s balance between Part 15 and traditionally licensed services is likely to get lost in the noise — especially as we can expect NAB and other white spaces opponents to dwell on the reversal aspect and ignore what the court actually said. And, in the short term, OET now has to figure out how to issue a report on the WSD testing that conforms to the D.C. Circuit’s standard of disclosure. While I, lawyer and advocate that I am, consider this simply an exercise in “tell the truth and shame the devil,” we can expect that opponents will press their own reading of the case and that OET (and FCC’s Office of General Counsel) will now have the difficult and potentially time consuming task of deciding on the proper interpretation.

So a good case in fact, but more delays while the agency digests its implications.

More below . . . .

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

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)

My Thoughts Exactly

Development Rights in a Carbon-Constrained World

The good folks at environmental/social justice/global policy think tank EcoEquity have just published an intriguing policy paper about a “Greenhouse Development Rights”, which they call a

Climate protection framework designed to support an emergency climate stabilization program while, at the same time, preserving the right of all people to reach a dignified level of sustainable human development free of the privations of poverty.

More specifically, the GDRs framework quantifies national responsibility and capacity with the goal of providing a coherent, principle-based way to think about national obligations to pay for both mitigation and adaptation.

I plan to write a more in-depth synopsis of the paper soon, but in the meantime, all you people who are threatened by the climate crisis (basically all of you who live on earth), and especially you economic policy-wonk types, should check it out.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Raising the Profile on Franchising and Public Access Cable

The good folks at Saveaccess.org are trying to push members of the House Commerce Committee to press Martin on his order preempting local franchising authorities. You can read about Saveaccess.org’s campaign here.

Public access is one of these very useful things that people take for granted, until its gone. I may not want to watch my local city council or local educational programming that often. But when I want it, I really appreciate it being there. Nothing on cable can replace PEG for local programming or “local C-Span” like coverage. We need to push hard to save it.

Stay tuned . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

I was wrong, Second Life Does Teach People (Or, At Any Rate, the IP Mafia) Valuable Lessons for Reality

As regular readers may recall, I have had sharp words for those who can’t tell the difference between MMORGs such as “Second Life” and reality. Nor do I stand alone. Industry Reporter Clay Shirky over at Corante wrote this article a few weeks ago describing how the business press generally appears to have fallen into some sort of Second Life worshipping trance. So it may surprise some to see me lauding Linden Labs’ latest innovation as a fantastic contribution with the potential to make the real world a better place and teach those who need it a valuable lesson in life.

I refer to what the always clever folks at Good Morning Silicon Valley dubbed a “proceed and persevere” letter (the opposite of the “cease and desist” letter). What happened, and why I hope it catches on, below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

How The Conservative/Big Business Alliance Bankrupted Air America

Few things raised joyfull cackles among Republicans in the waning days of 2006. Many, however regarded the bankruptcy of Air America as a bright spot in an otherwise dismal fall. Talk radio, it appeared, remained part of the conservative “heartland” where such liberal voices as Al Franken meet a resounding silence.

However, as reported by the New York Times, the story may have a lot more to it then a tale of silly liberals who can’t run a business and have nothing interesting to say. It appears that 90 major national advertisers engaged in a boycott of Air America programming, to the extent that they wanted their advertising stripped out of syndicated material from other sources (here, ABC Radio Network). The interesting question, of course, is why would supposedly dissinterested companies with no motivation to interefere with domestic politics want to drive Air America out of business?

Hahahahaha…..I love it when I ask silly rhetorical questions like that. For a further specualtion on what apparently went on and why I think the new, Democratic Congress might want to do a little investigatin’ into the Case of Secret Boycott, see below….

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Posted in Censorship Public and Private, How Democracy Works, Or Doesn't, Media Ownership, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , | 3 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)
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