Tales of the Sausage Factory

An Appreciation For Commissioner Adelstein

Like everyone else in the telecom world, I’m pleased and relieved the Senate finally confirmed Julius Genachowski and reconfirmed Robert McDowell. But I need to echo Commissioner Copps’ sentiments that seeing Commissioner Adelstein go makes this particular bit of good news hard to take.

Long time readers know I’ve been a huge fan of Adelstein. I should add that I have equally been a huge fan of his staff, particularly Rudy Brioche and Renee Crittendon, with whom I’ve done a lot of work over the years.

What I have always admired about Adelstein is that he has been a Populist in the best sense of the word, and in the finest tradition of rural America. i.e., someone who actually cares about people and takes the time to listen to them and fight for their issues. Over the years, Adelstein has always tried to make the time to come to events where he can hear directly from people — whether at industry trade shows or a modest gathering of community wireless activists. He has always tried to make sure that everyone has the opportunity for meaningful access to both new media and old. He has spoken passionately about the need to make sure that the benefits of broadband are accessible to everyone. He has been a friend to PEG and leased access as means for independent programmers to bring independent viewpoints to cable and because of his appreciation for the importance of local programming. Side by side with Commissioner Copps, he toured the country and rallied opposition against any relaxation of media ownership rules. He pushed harder than anyone for the Commission to take on the problem of Payolla, and repeatedly called for more ways to get independent musicians and local talent on the air.

I will miss Adelstein’s energy and friendly spirit at the Commission. On the positive side, he is certainly the right man to run the broadband program at RUS. Adelstein has always been at his most enthusiastic when looking to see how new technologies can improve people’s lives, particularly in rural America. I look forward to seeing what he can do with $2.5 Bn to revolutionize broadband access in rural communities. Hopefully, the Senate Agriculture Committee will move quickly to hold a hearing and speed him through the confirmation process.

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

Republicans Begin To Understand the Poitics of Fear (That They Won't Be Reelected): Senate Rejects Relaxation of Ownership Rules

One of the things the Republicans did when they controlled Congress was to set up a process by which Congress could directly overrule an administrative agency. Called a “Resolution of Disapproval,” it must be passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President like any other law. But the effect is to wipe away the agency action and restore the status quo to life before the agency action.

In 2003, when the FCC first relaxed the media ownership rules into practical non-existence, Congress was still firmly in Republican control. Mind you, many Republicans also disliked the FCC decision and wanted to see it overruled. Some disliked eliminating ownership limits because they understood that if a few companies control the news and therefore control public opinion, the own you forever. Others only hated the FCC relaxation of ownership rules because their constituents absolutely hated the relaxation of ownership rules and made that clear in no uncertain terms. But the Republican Congressional leadership stood staunchly with the Bush Administration (which backed the FCC’s decision to deregulate) and they prevented it from ever coming to a vote on the floor of the House.

Flash forward to now. Back in December, the FCC voted to relax the newspaper-broadcast cross ownership limit. Senator Dorgan introduced a Resolution of Disapproval back in March. Despite a strongly worded veto threat by the White House, the Senate passed the resolution last night in a near unanimous vote. I say “near unanimous” because it was a voice vote, which means that it is impossible to tell the exact number or who voted how, but that it must have had overwhelming support since no one asked for a roll call vote.

After years of exploiting the politics of fear, the Republicans are learning a politics of fear all their own. It does not matter that this was a Republican FCC, or that the Bush White House is threatening a veto. After two losses within two weeks in “safe” southern districts, the fabled Republican Party discipline is disolving into a mad scramble for the lifeboats. With the public in an ugly mood and conservatives now once again on the receiving end of “media bias,” no one wants to go on record proudly standing by “our beloved Commander and Chief” to defend Rupert Murdoch’s right to own as many newspaper/television combinations as he can grab.

It’s not over yet, of course. Not by a long shot. While I would certainly hope and expect that Pelosi will schedule a vote in the House as soon as possible, I also expect Bush will veto the bill. That would require the House and Senate to vote for an overide, which may prove a harder thing to do — especially once the President and his big media buddies start twisting arms and calling in favors. But while we can’t afford to grow overconfident or assume this fight is won, we can certainly feel both that the momentum is on our side and that we have accomplished something really huge here.

And, in my nasty neurons and snarky receptors, I am savoring the new “Republican politics of fear.”

Stay tuned . . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

I Debate The Would-Be Vulcans

So Marvin and I had our debate with Ken Ferree and Lawrence Spiwak. On the whole, I thought we mixed it up pretty thoroughly and civilly — although you can all judge for yourselves by watching the archive here (free registration required).

The issues won’t surprise anyone, but I want to address one meta-issue on framing. Perhaps not surprisingly, the anti-NN folks repeatedly seek to claim the mantle of reason, relegating us pro-NN types with our emotional commitment to romantic ideas like democracy and free speech to the status of irrational and unreasonable fanatics.

Ah, de ja vu all over again. I can remember when I heard similar sentiments from Ken Ferree and his former boss Michael Powell during the fights over media ownership reform in 2002-04. Of course, these were the same “logical,” “rational,” purportedly proof driven folks who developed the “diversity index” which weighted the Dutches County Community Television station as having the same media power as the New York Times, and inspired the Third Circuit to observe that believing this “scientific” approach reflected reality “would require us to take leave of our senses.” But, undeterred by the fact that the Third Circuit considered his previous efforts at “scientific reality building” to be either a bad joke or an excellent parody, Ken is quite prepared to rely exclusively on the view from “Ferree Land” and denigrate the rest of as emotional hysterics who listen to voices from the past.

My beef with Lawrence Spiwak is rather different. Unlike Ferree, Spiwak is actually living in the real world. My complaint is not that he lives in fantasy land or ignores evidence. My complaint is that he wishes to define the terms of the debate in a rather narrow way — i.e., only economic analysis and only University of Chicago-type analysis at that. All else is mere “rhetoric” and “emotion,” and only a proper grounding in rational analysis (aka economic analysis by economists of the Chicago School) can properly frame things. (I should point out the Spiwak’s colleague from Phoenix Center, George Ford, took a similar line at the Federal Trade Commission broadband competition hearing last year, chastising Tim Wu and myself for meddling in economic matters in which we were not competent to express an opinion.)

As one might expect, I find the attempts of the would-be Vulcans to define the terms of the debate unpersuasive. To see me do unto them as Kirk did unto the M5, Landru, and the other would be uber-rational computers, see below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The Consistency of Kevin Martin and the Faith Based FCC

So many people are mad at Kevin Martin these days, but for so many different things. He is either a “tool of industry” or “interfering with the market,” depending on whom you ask. And no one seems more confused about this than the ranking member of the House Commerce Committee, Joe Barton (R-Tx).
Mr. Barton understands all bout de-regulating. That’s what good Republicans do, after all. But he cannot understand why Mr. Martin is making such trouble for the “highly competitive” cable industry. As reported in this article:

“It’s been said that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the committee’s senior Republican. “If that’s the case, we could use a few hobgoblins at the FCC.”

Barton complained that Martin plans to ease the cross-ownership ban while doing little on other media ownership restrictions and is attempting to limit the number of subscribers one cable system can reach.

“It baffles me how the same FCC can appropriately eliminate regulations for some segments of industry because of increased competition, and at the very same time refuse to deregulate or even impose more regulation on segments of industry that are creating that very competition,” he said.

Democrats, of course, accept that Mr. Martin as a Republican should be a tool of industry. To the extent they wonder about any apparent inconsistencies, they attribute it to Martin being a shill for the telcos. This, of course, does not explain why Martin denied Verizon’s request for deregulation in six major cities or why Martin told Verizon to bugger off on modifying C Block. But if he isn’t an industry tool, why did he ram through the sale of Tribune and waive FCC regs so that Tribune could appeal in the DC Circuit and try to get the entire newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership ban repealed?

While armchair psychology and analysis based on shreds of available information is always a perilous past-time, I will argue below that Kevin Martin is actually extremely consistent in his decisions and his management style. I say this neither as a criticism or as praise. But pivotal to understanding the actions of the FCC and therefore to exercising my stock in trade of effective advocacy is trying to make some guess on what actually drives the current FCC Chairman in making decisions. Feld’s Second Law of Public Policy states: “Public policy is made by human beings.” (OK, I know Clausewitz said it first about war, but the principle still holds.) So understanding the human beings making policy is a critical step in influencing policy — even if we understand them poorly.

Besides, it’s fun.

Guesses below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

I Can't Take Credit For It, But I Did Think of It First….

Every now and then, my hobbies and my professional life intersect. Indeed, my involvement in this blog comes from the chance meeting of myself and John Sundman at a science fiction convention in Boston called Arisia some years back. He was on a panel right before me, so I saw him in action and he stuck around and saw me. Curiously we both had the same reaction “Hey, that guy is the only one on the panel who makes sense or seems to know what he’s talking about. I should talk to him after the panel.”

So I was thrilled and delighted beyond measure to see that The Harry Potter Alliance, an organization that tries to organize Harry Potter fans for social/political causes, has joined with StopBigMedia.com to create the “Rock Against Voldemedia” campaign at PotterWatch. (We will also savor the irony that Kevin Martin looks amazingly like Harry Potter, but without the scar.)

No shocker that, as I have remarked on occasion, I am a huge Potter fan. So I wish I could pretend I had something to do with fortuitous and felicitous combination of my interests. Alas, however, I can’t. All the credit goes to the folks at Free Press and the Harry Potter Alliance.

I can, however, take credit for having made the connection between the media ownership fight and Harry Potter when Harry Potter And The Order of the Phoenix came out in 2003 and the media ownership issue was hot. I even wrote an op ed on the subject (which, alas, never saw print). But I did include it in a footnote in an article I wrote with Cheryl Leanza (footnote 37 for them what cares, although I recommend reading the entire article).

So while I can’t take credit for any activism, I can follow in the footsteps of our Glorious Leader, Stephen Colbert, and give a great big I CALLED IT!!!!

Lets hope my prognostications for the 700 MHz auction come off as well.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The Media Ownership Endgame: Martin's Opening Gambit on Newspaper-TV Cross Ownership

As I’ve said before, Kevin Martin plays a mean game of hardball — but an honest one. And while I’m happy to have him on the right side in limiting cable market power, it makes fighting on the media ownership side an utter bitch and a half. Like Belichik prepping the Patriots, Martin has carefully studied the mistakes of Michael Powell, studied the strategies of the media reform movement, carefully considered his own strengths and weaknesses, and set up his game plan with a determination to win.

This tends to make some of my friends and colleagues in the movement hate Martin personally, or get bogged down in the distractions and the moves Martin throws. But that’s as stupid as letting yourself get distracted by trash talk. To win this fight, we need to keep our eye on the game, stay nimble, have our own special teams prepped, and remember we’re in this to win in the long haul.

With this in mind, we turn to the opening moves in Broadcast Media Ownership Endgame. Martin already has one key advantage in that because he is the Chairman, he can set the agenda. He controls the timing and can float trial balloons, decide when to hold new hearings or release new studies, and finally declare when he wants a vote. Martin demonstrated his skill in this over the last month, gradually building to the end game, alternating period when nothing seemed to be happening with sudden frenzied activity. Each such move requires us to mobilize resources and exhaust ourselves, and forces us to make process demands for more time and reasonable opportunities for comment. Martin can then chose to acede to our requests in a limited way, letting a deadline slip a few weeks or postponing something by a month. This makes it look like Martin is being reasonable and accommodating, and casts us in the role of partisan foot draggers. Worse, it makes it increasingly difficult to mobilize our troops, because how many times do we have to fight and win these minor skirmishes over procedural issues and timing? People get tired of the issue, or think we already won when what we achieved was merely a temporary respite. Then, like a matador administering the coup de grace on the exhausted bull, Martin plunges his point directly into the heart. (‘Scuse me a minute, I need to check to see if my ears and tail are still attached.)

But Martin has now clearly committed to the final moves of the end game with a PR blitz/charm offensive similar in many ways to his approach in the 700 MHZ proceeding. And, as with the C Block “open access” condition, I do not expect Martin to make signifcant changes to his proposal now that he has put himself out in front and committed to a public position. Martin the Matador has dropped the cloak and gone for the sword. The question is whether the media reform bull is as exhausted or confused as Martin thinks, or if we still have sufficient wits and stamina to give him a surprise.

More below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

My Annual Shameless Self-Serving Plug for My Employer

As you all know, I do this blog in my own time as a labor of love and the firm belief that the World Needs My Wisdom. During the day, I work as Senior Vice President of the Media Access Project (MAP). The views expressed here are entirely my own, and I keep a strenous “Chinese Firewall” between my MAP work and my blogging.

But I’m still gonna use my wholly independent space here to make a special end of year appeal for for folks to contribute to MAP. Because while I love my job, I can’t have two labors of love.

To keep from compromising our advocacy, MAP does not rely on industry money. We get funded primarily by grants and by individual contributions (and the occassional attorneys fee from those clients who can afford to make a contribution to our work and advocacy). In 2006, we had major wins in Network Neutrality, Media Ownership, Munibroadband, Spectrum Reform, and a personal shout out for our work on the Adelphia transaction from Commissioner Adelstein. And I will now include a gratuitous link to a recommendation from a friend this past fall.

For 35 years, MAP has been kicking ass and taking names to protect the public’s First Amendment right to speak and hear information from a diversity of sources in the electronic media. We’d like to keep at it for another 35. I know MAP is competing with a hundred other worthy causes, and that it is late in the year to make a pitch for that last contribution in 2006 (MAP is a 501(c)(3), so any donations are deductible). But I’m going to ask anyway. If you can make any kind of donation, we’d all really appreciate it.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Talking Dirty for the Public Interest

On December 20, the Second Circuit heard oral argument on an appeal from FCC indencency decisions involving some naughty words spoken live in prime time during the Fox Billboard Music Awards. Some analysis and cynical snark below.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Markey to Take Telecom Subcommittee

Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) has confirmed he will take the Telecom Subcommittee rather than seek chairmanship of the Resources Committee.

I can’t think of better news to close out 2006. Ed Markey displays that rare, brilliant combination of staying true to his principles at all times while still working well in coalition and with his counterparts accross the aisle. On just about every issue I can think of: net neutrality, media ownership, privacy, fair use, consumer protection, digital inclusion, Ed Markey has been a champion and leader.

Whoooooo Hoooooooooo!!!!!!!!

Stay tuned!

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