Tales of the Sausage Factory

Very Interesting Map Of Comments In BB Stimulus Proceeding

In my capacity of consulting with the Benton Foundation, I have been doing work with Kate Williams, a professor of informatix at University of Illinois. Williams has been doing some (IMO) critical work around broadband sustainability. In particular, Kate has been studying the old Technologies Opportunity Program to determine which projects had lasting impact and which didn’t — a rather important consideration for the new and improved BTOP program.

But what caught my attention recently is this very interesting map that Williams compiled based on the comments submitted to BTOP. It places the comments filed on a geographic map, with links to the actual comments themselves. The map includes the 58% of comments filed by the April 13, 2009 deadline which contained reliable information on the location of the commentor. The remaining 42% either gave no location or included location in an attachment which Williams considered insufficiently reliable to determine location.

Why do I find this interesting? Because it potentially provides a very interesting cross check on the state of broadband geographically, as well as who follows these proceedings. I have long lamented that the FCC (and other federal agencies) make so little use of the data they actually collect. At best, an agency may note submission by a class of commentors (e.g., broadcasters, MVPDs, ISPs) in the specific proceeding at issue. But no one tries to take the multiple data sets collected as comments in each proceeding, or in multiple proceedings, and tries to determine patterns and what they might suggest. williams grouping by geography is intriguing, and I cannot help but wonder what would happen if we applied a similar analysis to multiple FCC proceedings — including for comments generated by mass “comment engines” that have become common in some high profile proceedings. It would be very interesting to know, for example, if the people feeling passionate enough about media consolidation or network neutrality cluster geographically and, if so, do we see patterns of geographic interest which might tell us about the actual situation on the ground.

Of course the sampling from comments is not a pure scientific data set in that to comment, a commentor must (a) know about the proceeding, and (b) feel strongly enough to file comments. But the fact that the information has a particular set of biases does not render it meaningless, especially if one controls for this.

I hope researchers use Williams’ map, both to analyze the BTOP comments and as a model going forward for analysis of other proceedings.

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in Tales of the Sausage Factory, The Stimulus Package (ARRA) | Also tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

A Quick Note On The Departure of Kevin Martin

I will, hopefully, have time in the near future to write up my farewell to Kevin Martin and assessment of his term as Chairman of the FCC. In the meantime, I think Commissioner Copps gives a good assessment and farewell.

As I say, I hope to have more to say later. For now, I will simply say that I have enormous respect for Kevin Martin and for what he tried to accomplish, even when I disagreed with him.

More below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

What Next For The FCC? Beats the Heck Out of Me — So I'll Just Describe the Terrain.

A favorite Washington sport has become trying to out think the Obama transition team. I occasionally get asked about this or that possible pick, or what I think the FCC is likely to do on this or that, issue. I do not have a friggin’ clue.

Certainly I’m happy with some moves. I wildly applauded the appointment of Susan Crawford and Kevin Werbach to the FCC transition team, and am equally happy to see them joined by Dale Hatfield. Similarly, the policy review team has a number of names I recognize as strong thinkers who both understand the policy issues and have a good idea where the bodies are buried here in DC. But none of this tells me anything specific about what the Obama Administration or the FCC might do.

Nor do I put much stock in the daily news articles suggesting this or that candidate is in the running for Chairman. The Obama team has demonstrated a capacity to hold information tight to the chest. Nor do I wish to push any particular candidate. As I like to point out, when the Communist Party wanted to destroy someone back in the Red Scare days, they would praise them in their official publications. I expect that any candidate I favor will be the target of serious opposition from incumbents who would find my approach and priorities less than pleasing.

Mind you, I still think it is important for folks in the media reform and progressive communities to make their preferences known — especially on policy issues and what we think priorities ought to be. It is very nice that the Obama folks appear predisposed to agree on many issues such as network neutrality and media consolidation. But whoever gets appointed to the FCC (or other critical posts) will face a veritable army of folks all armed with excellent reasons why their issue of choice needs to go to the top of the priority list and how this exactly fits with Obama’s stated goals. Anyone who thinks that electing the right people means we can go home and let them figure it out for themselves needs to seriously think again.

But I can describe one thing with some certainty, the terrain at the FCC. Or, more accurately, I can describe the uncertainty around that terrain and how it will likely effect policy. In addition to the power to designate the Chairman, Obama may be looking at appointing no commissioners (very unlikely), one commissioner (reasonably likely), two commissioners (also likely), or three commissioners (unlikely). This uncertainty makes it very hard to predict what happens with the FCC next year. To add to the lack of clarity, the DTV transition occurring in February will pretty much suck up all the attention for the first two months — possibly more if it goes really badly. Add to this the significant turn over in both the House and the Senate Commerce Committees, with accompanying likely changes in staff, and you have a cloud of uncertainty powerful enough to obscure any crystal ball.

I explore these possible scenarios below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The Markey-Pickering “Net Neutrality” Bill: Grinding Out One More First Down In The Internet Freedom Bowl.

God knows I love Ed Markey as one of the true defenders of us average folks. Time and again, he has proven himself that rare combination of smarts and political savvy to remain an effective champion against media consolidation and telco and cable interests even when he was minority member. Which is why it always pays to pay attention when he acts.

Markey’s latest bill, The Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008, H.R. 5353 (co-sponsored by retiring Republican “Chip” Pickering (R-MS)), would seem at first glance pretty weak gruel compared to his previous bill in 2006. So what lies behind this apparent retreat from an outright ban on ISPs discriminating to Congressional findings, a mandate for some FCC hearings, and a report? After all, with Markey chair of the Subcommittee, shouldn’t he be pushing something more aggressive? I mean, the Dems control both houses of Congress now, right?

The answer lies in the pragmatics of Washington and the recognition that — unlike in the movies — major battles aren’t won overnight. As I have said before, this is a long, messy fight in which both sides invest a heck of a lot of time and energy in positioning themselves and grinding out short yardage plays to advance the ball. Seen in that context, the Markey Bill is a very effective tool for both keeping the debate alive and advancing the ball another ten yards toward the goal post.

Analysis below . . .

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

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Responding to Kevin Martin and Other Reflections On Yesterday's FCC Broadcast Ownership Vote

(As you may have seen from John’s post, we lost several days worth of material yesterday and couldn’t get this posted promptly. So forgive me for posting what is literally yesterday’s news. And hopefully I will be able to get back or reconstruct the other posts.)

So the day has come. Martin has crossed the ownership Rubicon, and we now move on to the campaign to force Congress to over-rule the FCC vote while simultaneously fighting in the courts. (And if you want to see us stay in the fight and have a chance of winning, I highly recommend making a tax deductible contribution to my employer (and lead counsel for the case) Media Access Project).

First, a hearty congratulations to the Commissioners, and Kevin Martin in particular, for starting only an hour late from the announced time! This is quite the improvement from the last meeting. Who says FCC reform doesn’t work? Second, if it is going to take 2 hours for everyone to read their statements, please let us know so we can use the bathroom first. Third, if the FCC is going to make a habit of this, I recommend putting in a concession stand so we can buy snacks during the intermission.

That out of the way, a few more serious reflections below….

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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)

Econoklastic

The XM-Sirius Merger: Part One

For a first go I thought I would try something a bit controversial. We expect that the media reform movement, and I count myself part of that movement, would generally oppose mergers which increase media consolidation. As a general rule, that’s true. But the XM-Sirius satellite radio merger is a different case and raises questions about how we approach the issue of mergers generally. This is going to be a bit long (and I tend to be a bit longwinded in any case), so I shall be posting it in installments. Endnotes are at the bottom of the page. There will be a brief quiz…. No. Sorry, forgot where I was for a moment there.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

NCMR Day One: Free Press Amazing At Everything But Planing Parties

The official National Conference for Media Reform has now gotten under way. Alas, as it is now less than an hour before Shabbos, when I will stop using all things electronic (which makes staying in a hotel with electronic card keys soooooo much fun). So I can only hit a few highlights.

1) They say 3000 people are here, and I believe it. While media consolidation as an issue is non-partisan (or bi-partisan, if you prefer), the conference attendees are most decidedly progressive. I hope the conservatives have their own anti-media consolidation conference.
In fact, I make it a challenge. Yo, conservatives! We hate main stream media more than you do! Can you get 3000 conservatives together to talk about how sucky media is? Well, when you do, lets get all 6,000 together and march on the Capitol. That will show us white-wine swilling effete liberals a thing or two!

2) Go to the Free Press video links and watch the speeches from the main ballroom. For most moving short piece on why media reform is a critical human rghts struggle and essential to the dignity of us all and our democracy, I nominate Danny Glover’s opening piece. Short and beautiful.

Bill Moyer’s speech was, as one would expect for Bill Moyers, brilliant. He began with some much needed words of caution. We can feel good about the fact that this is now a bona fide movement, and one that is winning. OTOH, this is the traditional moment when left-wing/progressive movements start fracturing and battling each other (usually with a little assist from the powers that be). How about we not do that this time? We got a lot of people working toward a common goal essentially to preserving our free society. If we keep working together, we will win.

Jesse Jackson gave the afternoon speech placing the media justice movement in the context of the civil rights movement and why we cannot achieve the success of the “broken promise” of liberty for all dating back to the Emancipation Proclamation without media reform. Why, he asked, do people have to learn about race relations from things like the “Call me, Harold” commercial? How can the same person who shows amazing affection and loyalty for a black athlete get all suspicious when the same black man is in a store buying groceries? Because the consolidation in the media deprives people of a diversity of voices and views.

Very good afternoon sessions as well as a good dealers space below. Also kudos for ubiquitous free wireless network which I am using to post this. Working pretty well so far.

Lest one thing that my affection and admiration for Free Press has blinded me to the need for journalistic objectivity, I should mention that last night’s “Save the Internet” party was totally lame. When I go to a party, I do not expect to pay $2/bottle of water. When Dorgan-Snowe (no longer Snowe-Dorgan!) passes, I am definitely letting the party animals at the Chirstian Coalition and United States Conference of Catholic Bishops plan the party.

O.K., journalistic integrity and “fairness” reestablished, I bid you all Good Shabbos. I’ll be here and around. You’ll know me as the guy who is standing by the electric doors waiting for someone else to work in first. Stupid electric doors.

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in General, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Tagged | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Look what the FCC Found in the Basement!

In response to a Freedom of Information Act Request filed by the Georgetown Institute for Public Representation Communications Law Projects and my employer Media Access Project, the FCC has now posted a collection of 42 final and draft reports relating to media ownership (no Hitchker’s Guide jokes please. Anyone who thinks these studies are definitive answers to anything needs to find their towel and get a life).

A very preliminary bit of analysis below….

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

“Updating” Media Ownership Rules — Is That Like Boiling a Frog?

It’s an old cliche that it’s easy to boil a frog. Don’t drop the frog in the boiling water — he’ll just climb out. Drop him in the pot and raise the temperature a little at a time. Before he knows it, he’ll be dead.

We have that with media consolidation and the non-stop relaxation of the rules. But instead of calling it “boiling,” proponents of consolidation call it “updating.” This attempt to describe relaxing the ownership rules to allow more consolidation as “updating,” when the evidence shows that the last round of consolidation kicked off by the 1996 deregulation has been a disaster for the industry and a disaster for democracy, came up again at yesterday’s media ownership hearings.

Powell tried to frame it as a debate about evidence v. “emotionalism.” He lost because the evidence did not justify his efforts to relax the rules. Now FCC Chairman Martin is trying to frame this as “updating” the rules, when a real “update” would mean forcing the biggest companies to sell off assets to scale back to a healthier size.

My analysis below . . .

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