My Thoughts Exactly

Last day to get your comments to the FCC about Net Neutrality

OK, get off your duff & file your comment with the FCC. Here’s why and how.

My comment:

The Internet is a fundamental engine of our democracy. It’s the equivalent in our day of what “the press” was in the earliest days of our republic. Yielding control of the Internet to large corporations is a betrayal of the bedrock values upon which our nation was founded and still rests.

In the words of MIT professor Daniel Weitzner, in testimony given before the FCC at Harvard, “What’s at stake is everyone’s ability to communicate with everyone else.”

In effect, the FCC must decide whether the Internet is to be optimized as a vital tool for promoting and protecting citizen engagement with each other and with their government, or as a tool for maximizing shareholder value of large corporations. It’s a simple fact that you cannot optimize for both. If the FCC optimizes for democracy and “everyone’s ability to communicate with everyone else”, there will still be ample room for lots of people and lots of corporations to make money.

But if the FCC decides to void the principles of Net Neutrality in the interests of corporations, our democracy will be decisively and perhaps irremediably harmed.

The FCC must now act decisively in the public interest by enacting strong rules that keep the Internet free from blocking, censorship and discrimination.

Don’t give in to pressure from AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and their lobbyists. Stand with us in support of a strong Net Neutrality rule.

Do it now. It will take two minutes. It’s important. Do it. (Weitzner citation from this brilliant eye-witness report ).

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My Thoughts Exactly

Net Neutrality Nearer? Maybe

Some promising noises out of the FCC and Congress lately–even from President Obama– about preserving Net Neutrality. However, the Telco & other retrograde forces out there have lots of money, lobbyists, and influence. Free Press’s “Save the Internet” campaign has some good things going on, including an astonishing $100,000 matching contribution fundraiser sponsored by an anonymous donor. Chip in what you can. And contact your congresspeople today.

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My Thoughts Exactly

Public Service Announcement for Public Knowledge

The great public interest advocacy group Public Knowledge (about which Harold might tell us more, if he feels like it), has issued an alert about efforts by lobbyists of the Hollywood and corporate-state varieties to insert nasty, scary language about “copyright filtering” into the stimulus bill.

I used the Public Knowledge website to register my objection. Here’s the version of the letter I sent to Senator Reid and Congressman Waxman:

Dear Representative/Senator,

It is my understanding that during the conference committee on the stimulus bill, your office may be asked to change the provision that deals with public grants to spur broadband deployment to allow for copyright filtering. This may be proposed as a “noncontroversial” change that would allow Internet Service Providers to inspect its subscribers’ Internet connections to filter out copyright infringement, under the guise of “network management.” Copyright filtering is outside of the capabilities of network management, would be a massive invasion of privacy and would prohibit my lawful use of copyrighted works — for purposes of education, criticism, and commentary.

Copyright filtering is very controversial and I urge you to oppose such changes to the stimulus.

As someone who depends on free downloads of my own copyrighted works for marketing and publicity, I consider copyright filtering not only unconstitutional, unAmerican, but also a threat to my livelihood. Please resist the temptation to go down this corporate-statist road. Nothing good will come of it.

Sincerely,

John Sundman

Please click on the link above and do the right thing.

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My Thoughts Exactly

NAFTA, New Orleans and pageants of fake democracy

The intrepid pro fair-use and anti-hate-speech activist known as Spocko has a link up to a bit by activist journalist Greg Palast about the “Summit for Security and Prosperity” (“SSP”) of the big cheeses of Mexico, the USA and Canada which recently happened in New Orleans, of all places. Whatever its stated purposes, Palast says, SSP’s real goal is the blending together of Canada, the USA and Mexico for the benefits of the non-national power/money elites under the fig leaf justification of NAFTA. Among many of Palast’s interesting point is that under new rules, Chinese products can come into the USA with all the rights and privileges of “Made in Mexico” products.

He also makes the point that the super wealthy are (perhaps ever have been?) post-national–it doesn’t make sense to think of them as “American” or “Mexican” or “Canadian” or “Saudi” or “Russian” or whatever. How many members of the nominally American upper crust, for example, do you think are serving in the military in Iraq and Afghanistan? Right.

Yet they realize that the trappings of nationalism are important to “the people”, even if “the people” are willing to let go of democracy itself.

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Econoklastic

And the Wheels Fell Off…

For the first time since the Federal Reserve began tracking home equity data in 1945 the amount of equity homeowners hold in their homes fell below 50% in the fourth quarter of 2007 according to the Federal Reserve. More interesting still is the finding by Moody’s Economy.com that approximately 10% of homeowners now have zero or negative equity in their homes. This resulted from a 8.9% drop in U.S. home prices in the fourth quarter of 2007.

And analysts are predicting roughly an equal decline in home prices in the first quarter of 2008. That will put nearly 20% of homeowners at zero or negative equity.

What happens if homeowners are genuinely the rational actors of neoclassical economics? They default on their mortgages the moment they reach zero equity and wait for the up to two years it would take for their lender to force them out by foreclosure. That means large-scale bank failures even with a massive federal bailout. Can we say the magic words “conjunctural crisis of capital”?

More below…

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The 700 MHz Dramedy Continues

Ya know, I had real hopes that, barring a Petition for Reconsideration or two, I was pretty much done with the 700 MHz auction. Sure, Verizon filed a lawsuit with the DC Circuit, but at least we could sit back and stop worrying about the FCC stuff. And besides, the lawsuit didn’t really have much of a chance anyway. So, after a grueling 6 months or so, I thought I could finally relax and turn to something new, like kicking the bejeezus out of the cable monopoly.

Hah.

As recent reports indicate, Verizon has apparently pressed the FCC to “clarify” the C Block conditions. I say “apparently” because Verizon has not actually filed a request for any sort of clarification, reconsideration, or declaratory ruling. Indeed, to my considerable annoyance, it took a modest reprimand from the Wireless Bureau and Martin’s staff for Verizon to actually put something in the record vaguely resembling a description of what Verizon’s most senior lobbyists actually discussed with the Chairman and his staff. Verizon, meanwhile, vigorously denies they ever asked for reconsideration (and, separately, that it finds the accusation that it violated the ex parte shocking and deeply offensive).

In any event, it appears the issue is whether or not Verizon (if it won the C Block licenses) could continue its practice of asking manufacturers to strip out or limit features or applications on devices that run on the C Block. Verizon argues that consumers love subsidized handsets and letting the cell phone operator make all the tough decisions (like what applications can run on the device), and it would therefore be cruel to deny the C Block licensee the right to offer such fantastic products and deals — as long as the C Block licensee will hook up any third party device that meets the technical standards.

To Martin’s credit, he reached out to the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition (PISC) and asked our opinion on whether the C Block licensee should be able to sell “crippled” devices as long as it will also connect any third party device to the network. Martin was apparently sufficiently impressed by my wisdom that he then tried to issue a clarification that Harold Feld is right and Verizon is wrong. The Democrats promptly moved to block, because they suspected a trap, since the idea that Martin would side with me over Verizon is apparently laughable (I have no doubt the Democrats mean that in a nice way and that it does not reflect on the quality of my wisdom). Of course, I have no idea what the proposed clarification actually said, since it is illegal to show me the actual predicisional text. But it is not illegal for Martin to say that he agreed with me or for the Dems to say that’s not how they read the proposed clarification. Remember, ambiguity is the essence of comedy.

In any event, as in any good dramedy, further hijinks naturally ensue from this potent combination of distrust and lack of information. Rumors of this “clarification” prompted Verizon’s arch-nemesis, supporter of wholesale access, and potential rival bidder Frontline to challenge Verizon’s efforts to get the rules changed. This triggered a response from Verizon that they hadn’t asked for a rules change, and that furthermore, on reconsideration, the FCC should issue a declaratory ruling that “Frontline is ugly and their VCs dress them funny.” Meanwhile, now with a full posse of PISC buddies, I went back to the FCC to explain that while I am always flattered to have the FCC declare my interpretation of its rules to be the law of the land (and encourage them to do this on a more regular basis), we at PISC think the Order is perfectly clear and that if anyone wants it clarified they should have to formally file a motion and ask.

One might logically ask why, if Verizon wants the Order changed or clarified, it doesn’t just file a motion and ask. That would be a problem for Verizon, however, because it cannot simultaneously file a Recon Petition under 47 USC 405 and a Petition for Review by a federal appellate court under 47 USC 402. There are ways to try to get around this, but this statutory conflict would explain why Verizon has danced around this issue and pretended it is merely a continuation of its previous arguments properly filed in this docket. Assuming, of course, that they actually want a clarification, which they claim they don’t.

So, if Verizon hasn’t put in an explicit request, why does Martin feel a need to act? Does Verizon really have a leg to stand on, or is this just an effort to refight the same battle? And what about the tech companies? Why don’t we want the FCC to proclaim that I am right on my interpretation of the Order? And will the Red Sox finally face the Cubs in a World Series “curse off?”

O.K., I have no clue on the last one. But as for the rest of these questions (and perhaps a bit more), see below….

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Muniwifi and the Minneapolis Bridge Disaster

While the telco/cable lobbying war to make muniwifi illegal has died out (as demonstrated by the most recent defeat for the telco/cable lobbyists in North Carolina), the debate on the actual merits of munibroadband lives on. And it’s a good debate to have. States, cities and local governments should consider their projects carefully. What works in St. Cloud, Florida or Philadelphia will not necessarily work elsewhere. And, with all the possible goals of a muni system (service to residents, service to muicipalities, public safety, digital inclusion, enhance local media, economic stimulus), it is a sound idea to have figured out your benchmarks for success in advance.

Unsurprisingly, those generally opposed to government providing services (particularly where such services are available or could be available from private companies) have spent much time and effort arguing that municipal broadband projects usually end as costly failures. These analysis generally use the standard economic criteria of a for-profit business. i.e., Does the network pay for itself over expected time?

That’s an important question, particularly if a government has made this a goal of buiding the network or if you are a private business looking at a public/private partnership. But governments often make investments in infrastructure or provide services on a residential or subscription basis for other reasons. Here in DC, for example, no one pretends that the City will directly make back the hundreds of millions of dollars spent to attract a professional baseball team. This cost gets justified on the grounds that it will revitalize the Anacostia waterfront area, serve as a source of civic pride, and offer additional benefits that justify the cost.

Which brings us to the performance of Minneapolis muniwifi network in the recent bridge collapse diaster. The presence of the network proved an enormous boon to public safety and the citizens of Minneapolis. Because the city had deployed the network for residential service, it was there when they needed it for public safety. That’s difficult to capture in a balance sheet, but there’s no doubt you’re damn glad to have it when you need it.

Of course, local governments can always build public safety muni networks. And many do. But multiple use networks (like the Minneapolis one) are a good way to fund such networks, make sure they get fully deployed, and make sure they stay upgraded and operational. A town reluctant to spend money on public safety communications (and many are) may feel better if the public safety network will also provide low-cost connectivity to poorer neighborhoods. Alternatively, a town might feel better about providing residential services at a possible financial loss if they look on the network as also providing critical infrastructure for emergencies.

At the end of the day, every local or state government looking at municipal broadband needs to do a careful evaluation and figure out what it wants and how it will pay for it. The business case is an important piece of that, especially if local governments promise their citizens the network will end up paying for itself with subscriber fees. But the tragedy in Minneapolis provides an important reminder that local governments have other measures of success besides turning a profit.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Open Access Gains Another Convert, AT&T Denies Poisition Change

A brief update on my recent post that AT&T recently conceded it might consider bidding on an open access license. Unsurprisingly, Frontline Wireless — the party pushing for the “E Block” public safety/open access network — filed a copy with the Commission stating that this proves that an E Block auction would attract bidders and that the business model is workable. In response, according to today’s (6/29) Communications Daily an AT&T spokesperson said: “Our position has not changed. As we’ve stated on the record at the FCC, mandated ‘open access’ conditions on licenses in the 700 MHz band should be rejected. We need to see the specific rules the FCC adopts for auction before determining our level of participation.”

The carefull reader will note that these statements are not inconsistent. Of course AT&T would prefer not to have open access, and — at the drop of a hat — will explain why open access is an unworkable awful idea and you should ignore all the evidence from Europe or from the U.S. until we abolished open access in 2005. But there is a huge difference between “we hate open access and think it’s a bad idea” and “we absolutely refuse to bid on a license with an open access condition and nobody else with any money would bid either.” Given that the most potent argument against open access from a political perspective is “don’t mess with the revenue” (as evidenced by the recent Op Ed in the Washington Post by two CTIA lobbyists wearing their “think tank” hats), proof that folks other than Frontline will even show up to bid (and folks with deep pockets at that) on an open access license is rather significant.

Meanwhile, open access for the 700 MHz auction continues to attract new supporters from different sectors of the industry. Northop Grumman, rather a heavy-weight in the equipment manufacture and public saftey/defense contracting world, filed this document supporting open access and explaining that yes, you really can construct a secure public safety network that shares spectrum with an open access commercial network. So much for “it will never work, it’s too hard, lets stick to what we’ve always done.”

In addition, the Frontline cover letter on the submission that introduced the “Well Connected” post with the AT&T interview stated that Citibank had made a presentation to the Commission “last week” explaining that open access is a workable business model. Annoyingly, I can find no record of this presentation in the record for Docket 06-150, but I may just be missing it (it is a pretty big docket). (UPDATE: My thanks to Susan Crawford for pointing me to the appropriate ex parte filing.)

But assuming that Frontline accurately describes a presentation that took place, we now have:

1) A statement by a major financial investor that open access is an attractive and workable model from a business perspective;

2) A statement by a major equipment manufacturer and network operator that commercial open access — even in the more complicated universe of a dual use public safety network — is technologically feasible;

3) A statement by a major incumbent that it would at least “look at” bidding on an open access license if the Commission adopts such a rule;

4) Statements by wireless equipment and wireless application providers that there is a desperate need for open access in the wireless world and in the provision of broadband services generally;

5) Over 250,000 individuals saying the status quo sucks and we want open networks and new providers.

On the other side, we have the entire incumbent industry and its usual cheer leading section chanting that everything is vibrantly competitive, we live in the best of all possible worlds, everything works perfectly and competitively, and even thinking “open access” too loudly will scare away bidders and reduce revenue to a fraction of the expected $10-15 billion. And besides, open access can’t possibly work either on the business side or the technical side.

And all the while, the clock ticks away, as everyone scrambles to get this done before the end of the summer.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Not Only Will the Lion Lie Down With the Lamb, He Will Make Big Bucks Opening a Feed Store (While Still Running a Butcher Shop on the Side)

Y’all remember how AT&T (under its old name SBC) launched over a hundred lobbyists into the Texas legislature to kill muni broadband in TX? How it tried to kill muni broadband in Indiana? Not just once, but twice?

Guess what? AT&T has now cut a deal to build a muni wifi system in Springfield, Il. The article quotes an AT&T spokescritter as saying that AT&T expects to close many more such deals, and will seek them out where it makes economic sense.

Whoa! What happened to all of that rhetoric about the brave incumbent telco capitalist captain of industry going eyeball to eyeball with the evil Socialist menace of a publically financed internet? Answer: increasingly, the incumbents have realized this is a losing issue for them and have decided to figure out how to make money out of it.

While I take this as the latest and most potent sign that the move to outright kill muni broadband has run out of steam, I think a note of caution is advisable as well. Some victory snark and reflections on the future challenges for both muni broadband and other forms of community-based broadband below.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The GAO Makes the Case for Community Broadband

Not that you would know it either from the headline or the general coverage, but the the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative arm, issued its own report that makes a strong case in favor of community-based broadband and against more regulatory goodies for the incumbent telcos and cable cos. Not that the GOA intended to make that case, and they word their conclusions carefully. But dig down into the actual report and you find a lot of good stuff beyond discrediting the FCC’s rosy numbers on broadband penetration and competition.

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