Tales of the Sausage Factory

A minor administrative detail . . .

As I announced last December, I am no longer with Media Access Project. For the present, I am doing a spot of consulting through an LLC I formed with my brother, Strength to Strength Develop-Ed, LLC (or just STS LLC).

I mention this because yesterday I entered a notice of appearance on behalf of Herring Broadcasting, Inc., DBA WealthTV to assist them in their ongoing carriage discrimination complaint against Comcast, Time Warner, Cox and Bright House. So, lest anyone suffer any confusion, I want to make clear this is just me on my own and not anything having to do with Media Access Project or its clients. Also, for anyone who sees me blog on the carriage complaint issues or — I suppose — on other cable matters, and you disagree, feel free to disregard my arguments for entirely new reasons than you did previously.

In other news, in addition to the book I am writing for IG Publishing, I have a nearly completed manuscript based on the last five years of Tales of the Sausage Factory. Anyone with suggestions on who might be interested in publishing such a thing should drop me a line. And, in keeping with the trends of the time, anyone interested can follow me on Twitter or on Facebook.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Changes for Media Access Project, And For Me Personally.

As everyone not living under a rock has heard, the spirit of change is now sweeping through Washington like a broom enchanted by a lazy animated mouse. Who are we at Media Access Project to resist change? Heck, we bloody well lead change, we make change. We are change agents. We — well, you get the idea.

So what changes will happen at MAP?

1) After 10 years, I will leave Media Access Project, effective January 31, 2009.

2) After more than 30 years as President and CEO, Andrew Jay Schwartzman will become Legal and Policy Director. Andy will handle policy, and MAP will hire a new CEO to handle administrative and fundraising duties.

3) Associate Director Parul Desai will have an enhanced role in the organization going forward.

Why? Because, bluntly, we need to prepare for a very different world. Make no mistake, the telecom policy world still needs MAP — perhaps now more than ever. As I repeatedly stress, anyone who thinks that we can just elect the right people and go home needs to think again. The new Administration, despite what I believe is a very real and strong ideological affinity for our issues and a reasonable skepticism for the blandishments of incumbents, will need a powerful progressive movement to keep it moving in the right direction. MAP will continue to sit at the tip of the spear on media and telecom reform, pushing against media gatekeepers and fighting for an electronic media that lives up to its potential for Free Speech and innovation.

But we can’t do that by staying the way we’ve always stayed. We need to take a deep look at ourselves and ask some hard questions about how we avoid the trap of fighting battles that no longer matter, in ways that no longer work. We have spent the last 8 years in opposition, fighting to hold back some really wretched policies and swimming uphill to create new opportunities for independent voices. Whatever the Obama Administration brings, I gaurantee it will not be anything like the Bush or Clinton years.

Which is why I have decided to move on, or at least give up my job at MAP. I still love this field, and strongly believe in the Progressive movement (including my belief that it is a movement and not a mob). But the time has come for me to move on to something else, although I have no idea what that something else will be (anyone with any thoughts on the subject, don’t hesitate to write). I have a book contract with Ig Publishing for a book on building the modern progressive movement and developing an alternative to the Gods of the Marketplace (I like to think of it as what Naiomi Klein forgot to write about in The Shock Doctrine, the part where people figure out how to get a better system in place). that, of course, will not pay the bills (especially as it will not actually get published until the fall of 2010), so I expect to do some consulting for awhile until I figure out what else to do. I’ll add that if anyone can figure out a way to make this bloging stuff pay, I would love to know it.

In answer to the inevitable question — yes, I’d love to work for the Obama Administration or do something worthwhile on the Hill. And like every other Democratic policy wonk, I’ve filled out the form at change.gov, so they will know where to find me if they decide they can use me.

But even without a job waiting for me, and despite my general satisfaction with my job at MAP, I feel the time has come for me to move on. Cliche as it sounds, I need a change and I cannot think of a better time for one (other than this pesky recession), given how the policy wonk world is undergoing one of its rare ferment moments when the possibility of sweeping away the established order of things seems breathtakingly real if we have the courage to sieze it and dare to do something utterly different.

I may regret it. But I think not. I like to think I’ve done a lot of good doing what I’ve been doing for the last ten years. I also like to think I’ll find other ways to do good and interesting things as well. This feels right, and I would be false to myself if I refused to take the risk.

Stay tuned . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

If I Love The FCC's Comcast-BitTorrent Order So Much, Why Did I Appeal It?

So last Friday, Media Access Project filed 3 Petitions for Review asking the federal courts to order the FCC to order Comcast to stop blocking p-2-p immediately. None of this wait until the end of the year crap. We filed on behalf of Vuze.com (in the Ninth Circuit), Consumers Union (Second Circuit), and PennPirg (a member of Consumer Federation of America) (Third Circuit).

Comcast, for its part, filed in the D.C. Circuit. I have not heard of any other filings, but it is possible.

More details, and what comes next, below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The Return of the Great Google Overlords and I Do Another Rant On Why Citizen Movements Are Citizen Driven.

I suppose it was inevitable. Let Google enter the policy arena and suddenly that’s all anyone will ever think about. Never mind that Media Access Project and New America Foundation first participated in this policy exercise back in the spectrum task force days in 2002, that we mobilized around this issue (and I blogged on it) back in 2004 before Google or Microsoft showed up, or that New America Foundation has published some ungodly amount of content on this well before Google even had a wireless policy. No, like last summer and the 700 MHz auction, or the 2006 Net Neutrality fight, it is all about the Great Google Overlords blah blah blah. Because everyone knows that no one in Washington really cares about the public interest groups and its all about refereeing industry food fights.

I should note that the utter refusal of the trade press (and others who should know better) leads them to consistently screw up on where the Commission actually goes. Flashback to last November, and I defy you to find any oh-so wise insider with the cynicism that passes for wisdom these days who thought for a moment that a Kevin Martin-led FCC would even consider our complaint about Comcast blocking BitTorrent. When Martin defied expectation and put it out on notice, no one thought we had a chance of getting an actual judgment in our favor. And of course, when we did win, it didn’t disprove anything, since it was either all the work of the Great Google Overlords or a clever reverse fake by Martin to screw Net Neutrality.

I’d let it go as excellent political cover (since God knows most industry lobbyists make the same mistake) and a reason why folks should read my blog to get some balance, but the pernicious myth that no one in Washington cares about anything but major corporate players is one of those things that becomes self-fulfilling prophecy when regular citizens buy into it. The fact is that decisionmakers and policy folks are all over the map here in DC. You will find people who are wholly owned subsidiaries, people who are driven exclusively by ideology and — surprising to many — a large number of folks in both parties trying to do what they think is the right thing given all the information they have and what they think is right. I class all five FCC Commissioners, even the ones with whom I most frequently disagree, as being in this category.

Does it matter that Google is involved? Of course. Not only is it a question of available lobbying resources, but also a question of whether anyone is likely to take advantage of the rule change. That’s not always determinative, but it certainly helps. As the Frontline debacle shows, FCC Commissioners need to worry about what happens if they guess wrong, while still finding the courage to try new things when required. Seeing a company like Google come gives a certain amount of reassurance and makes it a lot easier for commissioners to beleive us public interest folks when we say “yes, open the white spaces to unlicensed and it will get used.”

But for Om Malik over at Giga Om and other well informed press folks to make their judgments about the white spaces based on Google’s involvement or non-involvement is as ridiculous as the worshippers of the Gods of the Marketplace deciding based on ideology without regard to actual evidence. Google’s financial interests are obvious, their interest here long standing, and their latest outreach effort no more or less noxious than those of any other company. In this case, they have the advantage of showcasing organizations that came on the scene (like MAP and NAF) long before they did.

As I have said before and will say many times again, citizen’s movements must be citizen driven. That is their strength, and why so many pundits and lobbyists who mistake lazy cynicism for experience and wisdom seem utterly incapable of understanding. But as long we believe it we will continue to change the world — and reporters like Malik will continue to be smugly wrong about what to expect.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Off to Big Tent In Denver Next Week.

For anyone who cares, I will be in Denver next week, but not for the Democratic National Convention (although I wouldn’t say no if someone wanted to slip me a pass — hint, hint). I will be attending the Big Tent event for bloggers, progressives, and anyone else who cares to wonder over and see what the changing face of online politics looks like. The event is running in parallel with the Democratic Convention, with significant overlap, although not actually part of it and far enough away geographically to be separate and distinct. I shall leave it to the reader to draw his or her own meaning from this.

Still, the hope is that the Big Tent event will attract significant cross over from the convention. On Tuesday, in conjunction with Common Cause Colorado, there will be a symposium on media issues and all that policy stuff I do over in my day job at Media Access Project. If you’re there, you can catch me speaking on media ownership and its impact on diversity in the afternoon, and/or my colleague at MAP, Parul Desai, talking on network neutrality. In the morning there will be a bunch of other speakers, including FCC Commissioner Jonathon Adelstein, so it should be fun.

Anyway, if you see me out there, feel free to come up and say hi.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Last MAP Innovation '08 Panel Wed. Jun 25.

A shameless plug for my employer, Media Access Project (MAP).

As I have written before, MAP has decided to hold a series of events to try to get folks in Silicon Valley to care about Washington policy. Now, we are going to bring some of that back to D.C. On June 25 (this Wed.), MAP will have the last of its Innovation ’08 panels right here in Washington D.C. We have been fortunate enough to get representatives from both the Obama campaign and the McCAin campaign to come and chat about “what we learned while outside Washington — hint, they don’t think we understand their issues.” While fora around the candidates and their surrogates certainly abound here in D.C. at the moment, I feel confident that our unique MAP perspective will make this a grilling policy dialog and discussion to remember.

And, for those who want to understand what makes these MAP fora critically kick ass, you can get video of the first Innovation ’08 forum on DVD from MAP’s website

Details on Wednesday, Jun 25 10 a.m. event at the D.C. Office Dickstein, Shapiro below . . . .

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My Thoughts Exactly

The happenin' place to be today in San Jose

The Media Access Project’s Innovation ’08 Forum on Content and Control. Be there or b x b.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

MAP Brings DC To The Valley

Time for a shameless plug for my employer, the Media Access Project (MAP).

As long-time readers know, one of my frequent complaints is why don’t folks whose lives depend on the rules made in DC bestir themselves and get active on the policy front. All it takes is a web browser and a docket number, after all. Why don’t we see more Silicon Valley folks, VCs, and others show up at FCC proceedings.

Answer, they live as much in their own isolated bubbles as the DC folks do. If you are out in Silicon Valley, odds are good you rarely think of DC as having any relevance to your life and there is not going to be anyone or anything around you to tell you otherwise.

Well rejoice, lucky Silicon Valley people (and whoever else wants to make the trip out)! Media Access Project is sponsoring a series of policy forums (fora?) in Silicon Valley, wherein we will bring the D.C. policy world to you. And, lest you think this is some sort of socialist cult-like retreat wherein we will brainwash you with our public interest ways, we are working with big corporate partners like AT&T and eBay to assemble panels that present a wide variety of views. The primary purpose here is to get folks actually thinking about policy and why it is important for everyone to participate in the process. Think of it as a kind of “Rock the Vote” for Silicon Valley.

In any event, details below.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

SCOTUS Gets Down & Dirty with Indecency!

The Supreme Court just agreed to hear the FCC’s appeal on the indecency case. This case involves whether the FCC acted correctly when it changed previous precedent and held that even a “fleeting utterance” of certain words (in this case, the “F-word”) can qualify as “indecent.” Previously, the FCC had a rule that it would take the entire context of the use of an obscenity into account, and that a mere “fleeting utterance” in the context of live television (especially of a newsworthy event) would not constitute indecency.

What’s at stake? See below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Did Morgan OBrien and Cyren Call Kill Frontline?

I’m getting a number of folks from different walks of life coming forward with the same story: Morgan O’Brien was the direct cause of Frontline’s investors pulling out.

Of course, there is no way I can actually confirm this on the record because the people in the room either can’t talk about it (due to the anticollusion rules) or won’t. Nevertheless, having confirmed this with sources I find reliable and who could not have coordinated with each other, I feel I need to come forward here and put this on the table. D Block and the public safety partnership are far too important to end up falling victim to the combination of insider baseball, manipulation and greed that appears at play here.

I have absolutely not talked to anyone at the FCC about this. No one at the FCC can legally respond to any of this, and I would not ask them to do so. Similarly, in my discussions, I have been at pains to avoid any conflict with the anticollusion rules. Nevertheless, the sources I have are, I believe, reliable, and I have therefore made a decision to go forward with this story. I must also add that because I am on sabbatical, I have not had any discussions about this with my employer, Media Access Project, or with anyone at Media Access Project while developing this story.

Details below . . . .

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