Tales of the Sausage Factory

AT&T Falls Back on “It's All About Google” Strategy

For some years now, the opponents of Network Neutrality have had the same basic fallback strategy: When all else fails, make it about Google. So no surprise that AT&T, in a letter supposedly about the rather technical issue of “traffic pumping” opens with an attack on Google and Net Neutrality. Because if we have learned anything from our national healthcare debate, it is that it is more important to make this about how awful the other side is rather than debate the merits.

More below . . . .

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Inventing the Future

What are laws for?

Why do we have laws? It seems to me that the only good reason for creating a law or regulation is to protect an identifiable victim. Other arbitrary purposes, such as defining or imposing morality, are simply not good enough. But is this distinction a founding principal of our governing civil institutions? I don’t know. Anyone? (Harold….?)

We do have a variety of non-secular institutions that define rituals, beliefs, behavior, and other constructs along different lines, and these are not bound by the principal of protecting an identifiable victim. Does our separation of civil and religious institutions cover this principal, or does our Western and Judaic tradition blur the distinction?

While civil governments do issue proclamations, such as defining an official seal of the state, or designating a day of commemoration, this seems to me to be a separate function of government outside that which can be decided and acted on by the court system. A political body or office-holder may well declare that one plus one is two — or three — but there are no legal consequences for disagreeing. Unless we can define a specific and testable group to be protected by an answer of two or three, it would be inappropriate to elevate either proclamation to be a law or regulation.

Posted in "A Republic, if you can keep it", Inventing the Future | Tagged | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

2:30 P.M., Still No Meeting . . . .

O.K., I hope tonight’s election results go better. Rumor is the hold up is on roaming conditions in the VZ/Alltel merger. Still, after the DOJ approved the merger with a few divestitures, there was no doubt that the FCC will roll over. The only question is whether Tate or McDowell will side with the Ds to exact some additional conditions for the benefit of the rural carriers or competitors. Hence the speculation that this involves roaming. But I still expect a vote today. You can almost hear the Verizon charatcer in the Alltel ads whispering “Soon Chad . . . .soon you will share your circle for the last time . . . . you ding dong.”

While we wait, here are some preliminary thoughts about the items.

Here’s the original agenda. The FCC dropped item 1, Universal Service/Intercarrier Compensation (USF/ICC), and voted the item on distributed television systems (DTS) and closed captioning on circulation.

Of these, the voted items were fairly non-controversial. DTS is designed to address the fact that DTV signals don’t work the same way as analog, and will allow broadcasters to maintain their audience after the conversion. The only possible pitfall was whether it would allow broadcasters to expand their footprint which would (a) eat into the available white spaces, and (b) give them yet more free spectrum goodies for no good reason. My info is that the order will emphasize that the intent is to maintain the status quo ante transition. I have no idea on the closed captioning item.

That leaves USF/ICC. USF/ICC is a huge mess of biblical proportions that causes even a hardened policy wonk like me to quail and flee the room screaming. It is famously broken, everyone hates it, but no one can agree on how to fix it. There is absolutely no right answer, and any piece of it impacts all the other pieces.

What is interesting is that this created another 4-1 revolt by the other offices against Martin. While I give Martin credit for trying to get hideously controversial stuff done, you are clearly doing something wrong if you have managed to uniformly piss off all four Commissioners to the point where they are making pointed public statements that boil down to “Kevin, you ain’t the boss of me.” It is always hard for a Chairman to get stuff done in the last months of an administration, but unless Martin and the other offices figure out a way to get along, it is going to be a very viscious and unproductive couple of months until January 21.

The delay on this meeting, which caught Martin totally by surprise, is not exactly an auspicious omen.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

That's It! The 700 MHz Auction Is Ovah ! On to Tasting And Judgment . . . .

At long last, the FCC went three rounds without any new bids and declared Auction 73 (better known as Battle 700 MHz) closed. You can see the final provisional winning bids on the FCC’s Auction 73 page here.

Of course, we are all waiting to see who won what licenses, particularly C Block. But we have some preliminaries to go through first. Most importantly, the FCC has to make a decision on whether to sever the D Block from the Auction so that it can investigate what happened, especially the allegations around Cyren Call and Morgan O’Brien.

Even with the information available, Auction 73 has clearly succeeded on a number of key fronts. Unsurprisingly, I am inclined to credit anonymous bidding with the enormous surge in value for the licenses. Even if incumbents ended up walking away with the lion’s share of the licenses, at least they paid market value for a change (as opposed to the AWs auction, where they picked them up dirt cheap). I also note that at the end of the day, the FCC has only 8 unclaimed licenses (compared with 35 for AWS). As Greg Rose observed previously on his blog, there is good reason to believe we saw a lot of new people bidding.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the auction brought in new competitors or if, as the conventional wisdom predicted, AT&T and Verizon walked off with the big prizes. In particular, we all wait with baited breath on who won C Block.

Finally, two points on D Block. First, even if the experiment failed, that did not make it a dumb move. Babe Ruth used to lead the league in home runs and strike outs, because you can’t hit home runs unless you swing at a lot of pitches. With the FCC trying to satisfy the mandate of Congress to promote a national interoperable public safety network, but with insufficient spectrum allocated and with insufficient funds to build it. So the Commission tried to think outside the box and took a chance. turns out — for reasons still unknown — it did not work out.

Always punish innovators if things don’t go exactly right and you run out of innovators damn quick. Anonymous bidding was also an innovation. So is the open device condition. Before folks rush out to buy stink bombs to lob at Martin and the other Commissioners over D Block, consider if we want the next FCC reduced to such political timidity that we always get the same auction rules again and again and again, because the price of innovating is too high.

Second point: the FCC has a silver lining here. With the auction over, the FCC has fulfilled its statutory obligation to hold an auction commencing by January 28. Not only can the FCC take the time it needs to consider what to do, it can also consider other solutions besides trying to fix up D Block or even auctioning it off the highest bidder. That could include non-exclusive licenses, real time auctions, or even an unlicensed commons — if that would best serve the public interest.

I’m not saying what the best solution for D Block is, because we don’t know enough yet. It will depend on a lot of factors, such as who won the other licenses and how much stomach the FCC has to innovate. But I’m hoping that the FCC and others, when assessing Auction 73, will consider the successes as well as the D Block failure. Otherwise, they will vote to do the politically safest thing. Not a result I’d like to see.

stay tuned . . . .

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Inventing the Future

Multi-Bandwidth

A number of folks here have independently started to plan conferences in which Croquet would be used for presentation and interaction during the conference, and would continue after the physical conference ended. I think there’s a good reason that people want to do this.

Face-to-face meetings and conferences are very high-bandwidth encounters, but do not persist well.

Sharing ideas by publishing (e.g., papers in a professional journal) has excellent persistence, but is extremely low bandwidth.

Croquet is multi-bandwidth.
< %image(20060507-multi.jpg|875|556|Four users spontaneously discussing a slide presentation, and sharing other resources such as a Web site and search engine. One user is presenting live video.)%>

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

A good week for civil liberties — mostly

Three opinions came out last week that made a nice little Chanukah gift for civil liberties buffs. Two related to Ashcroft’s attempts to circumvent the Constitution in the name fo security, one cuts short the RIAA’s efforts to gut the Constitution in the name of copyright. But the opinions still leave a lot of room for concern.

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