Tales of the Sausage Factory

Whether Obama Will Fight For Public Option Is Irrelevant. The Question Is, Will We?

Chris Bowers, as usual, hits it dead on in this piece on OpenLeft. While we may despair of the Democrats lack of spine, the question is whether we are willing to stand up and fight for our principles.

Opponents of the public option are willing to make angry calls, attend rallies, spend money like water to make their point. Why shouldn’t a rational member of Congress assume that they carry the majority if we cannot muster a tenth of the enthusiasm to fight for our principles?

Donna Edwards (D-MD) spoke at America’s Future Now in June. As the audience pressed their demands she responded “Look, I’ve been to a whole bunch of Progressive retreats. I know what the demands are. The question is whether any of you will actually make calls to members of Congress to try to make this happen.”

And now we find that the Obama Administration has taken the silence of the Progressive movement as a willingness to compromise. Why are we surprised? But the question is not whether Obama is a good or bad person, a traitor, a realist, a disappointment, or anything having to do with Obama. The question is, what are we going to do. As the Bible tells us:

It is not in Heaven, that you shall say: “Who shall ascend into Heaven and bring down the Word to us that we may hear it and obey.” Nor is it over the sea, that you shall say: “Who shall go over the sea and bring back the Word that we may hear it and obey.” For the Word is near to you, it is in your mouth and in your heart for YOU TO DO. (Deut. 30:12-14 )

As always, we must rely upon ourselves, not some imagined political party. How can we be betrayed if we will not even get up off our ass to fight?

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

It's time for the NOFA Awards!

No, not the actual giving out of money, silly. My snarky commentary on yesterday’s unveiling of Broadband.gov.

I’ll preface by saying I absolutely still love and respect the folks I know on the inside who struggled with this stuff for months. I know how hard it is to actually implement this stuff, especially with this kind of ridiculous schedule and no one appreciating what it takes to coordinate among this many agencies and how utterly devestated the federal workforce was following 8 years of the Bushies refusing to invest in information technology, outsourcing everything to contractor cronies, and elevating political loyalty over actual talent.

Nor do I have much patience with those who are all “they sold us out blah blah blah . . .” Engineers don’t whine about how unfair it is that trees bloom in the spring and screw up line of sight with their leaves. You deal with it. Same in politics. You want good policy? Then you roll up your sleeves and get ready to fight for it rather than whining like little babies about how Obama the Deliverer failed to smite our enemies for us or persuade incumbents to put the public interest over their corporate interests and magically made all the problems of getting human beings to cooperate with each other go away. Because unless you’re willing to make some actual phone calls to members of Congress like Dittoheads do when Rush gives them the word, then I don’t want to hear it.

And the fact that there are some real issues does not negate all the good this NOFA will do. Anyone who claims that getting a less than perfect result means we pissed this away and it’s just as bad as Bush and blah blah does not know what they are talking about. I’d rather have this than more hymn singing from the worshipers of the gods of the marketplace. The fact that this turns out to be incremental rather transformative, a stepping stone rather than the whole edifice, doesn’t make it crap.

And finally, I promise to do real deep policy analysis soon.

But my selfish indulgence in unfair snarkiness below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Record Now Officially Closed In White Spaces, Mergers, USF.

The FCC has now published the official agenda for the Nov. 4 meeting. The agenda has not varied from the tentative agenda released 3 weeks ago.

For white spaces, and the other items on the agenda, the focus of lobbying is now (of necessity) the Congress and in the popular press. Members of Congress can still write to put pressure on FCC Commissioners, and FCC Commissioners and staff can actively solicit information. But no new presentations can be made or evidence placed in the record.

Items can still be pulled. Or they can be voted on before the meeting — especially if they are non-controversial.

I will do a more full analysis of the agenda a bit later, God willing and there is time.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Comcast to Illinois: I loves Me The Market Power!

As reported on BroadbandReports.com, Comcast has greeted former Insight customers transferred to Comcast as part of unwinding a partnership with a 6% rate hike. Thanks to all the delightful cover given to Comcast by Congressional Republicans, who declare that all is “A OTAY” in Cableland, the Comcast guys are no longer even pretending that the rise in rates has anything to do with cost. Rather, as Comcast rep Libbie Steh told the Springfield Journal Register in a rare attack of honesty: “increased costs are not a factor this year.” Rather:

“Comcast periodically reviews prices and adjusts them to reflect what’s in the marketplace,” Stehn said.

More below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

MPAA Suffers “Intelligence Failure” On Piracy, No Weapons of Mass File Sharing On College Campuses

“We have also learned that college students have used university networks to download 40% of all pirated movies, while eating yellow cake (aka ”Twinkies“).”

— Dan Glickman, CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Testimony Before the House Wholly Owned Subsidiary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property

As some of you may know, the MPAA ad RIAA have been pushing their wholly owned subsidiaries in Congress to pass rather draconian laws against those vile dens of vice and iniquity, colleges and universities (Or, as RIAA President Mitch Bainwol explained: “never will you find a more wretched hive of scum and villany.” He was promptly sued by ally MPAA CEO Dan Glickman). They have justified this on the basis of a 2005 report Commissioned by the MPAA and created by
LEK Consulting Services that purported to show that an astonishing 40% of industry loses from internet piracy could be traced to file sharing at universities. Because the MPAA refused to share either the methodology used or the underlying data, a number of folks expressed a healthy skepticism about this evidence. Nevertheless, a credulous Congress accepted this as “credible evidence” of a “weapons of mass file sharing” in our nations colleges and universities, and sought to impose heavy sanctions and possible invasion by federal troops.

The MPAA now admits it overstated the numbers a wee bit. According to this story, it turns out that the real number even using the data and methodology approved by the MPAA and LEK was 15%, not 40%. Further, as Mark Luker at EDUCAUSE points out, since the number was based on college students without regard for whether the activity took place on campus, the real number of files traded illegally over college networks is more like 3%. (And again, that’s based on the MPAA’s numbers and methodology as now disclosed, not confirmed by independent evidence).

Members of Congress — who uncritically accepted the MPAA’s previous statistics despite the lack of any corroborating evidence, the refusal of the MPAA to disclose its data or methodology, and the utter ludicrousness of the number to anyone who actually knows anything about file transfers and the amount of bandwidth and computer powering it would take to even come close to the numbers MPAA estimated for college campuses — expressed surprise at the disclosure. “Wow,” said a Spokesman for a Senator from California who has vigorously supported the sanctions against colleges when she can take time away from supporting immunity for telephone companies who secretly spied on Americans based on Administration insistence this was “necessary for national security” and who voted to authorize the war in Iraq based on intelligence reports and statements by the Bush Administration that later proved to be filled with outright lies, questionable data, and utterly ludicrous statements questioned by the vast majority of reputable experts. “Who would think we’d fall for this again?”

Nevertheless, both California Senators and a majority of the California delegation to the House issued a joint statement that while the MPAA and RIAA evidence continues to turn out to be total self-serving bunk, support for a raft of bills that would curtail fundamental freedoms and cost tax payers billions in both direct costs and lost productivity remained strong. “We will continue to support whatever means prove necessary to end the scourge of piracy that do not impact the monopoly profits of the entertainment industry for as long as the threat against this industry — which produces more of our home state’s jobs and revenues than you could possibly imagine — persists,” said the statement. “Sticking it to colleges and universities seems like a good way to do that even without any real evidence that it will help.” The statement was pointedly not joined by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), who, in a separate statement, pleaded with her colleagues to “please get a Goddamn clue already” And to “stop embarrassing me, the State of California, and the Democratic Party.”

The MPAA blames the gross overstatement of internet piracy on college and university campuses — which it pushed aggressively for the last two years — on “human error.” The MPAA has promised a thorough investigation to determine what has went wrong. “We take this error very seriously and have taken strong and immediate action to both investigate the root cause of this problem as well as substantiate the accuracy of the latest report,” the group said in a statement.

In an unrelated item, the MPAA announced it would give LEK Consulting, which created the 2005 Report, the coveted “Oscar of Freedom” at this year’s Academy Awards.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

So Much For All That “We Are A Nation of Laws” Stuff . . . .

This past month saw, practically unmarked, the anniversary of the Saturday Night Massacre, in which Richard Nixon’s refusal to turn over the secret tapes sought by Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox for information relevant to the Watergate break-in. Nixon offered instead to turn the tapes over to a trusted Senator, who would provide the Special Prosecutor and interested members of Congress with summaries. The “massacre” involved firing the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General before Nixon found someone (Robert Bork) willing to fire Cox, because Cox refused to drop his subpoena for the tapes and accept Nixon’s compromise after D.C. district court Judge John Sirica denied Nixon’s claims of executive privilege.

Congress then had a choice. Whether to back down and accept the Nixon compromise on a theory that it would avoid a Constitutional crisis while maintaining a fig-leaf of Congressional oversight, or to appoint a new special prosecutor who would continue to demand the President honor the Congressional demand for the tapes. Congress chose the later, and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ordered the President to respect the subpoena and turn over the tapes. A week later, Nixon resigned. At the time, many commentators and scholars saw it as a signature moment in the triumph of the rule of law and a vindication of the principle that the United States is a country of “laws, not men.”

Sadly, we now face another such signature moment. President demands not merely approval of his domestic surveillance program, but wants retroactive immunity for the phone companies that provided the Administration with customer information, lest a court determine that the telcos thereby violated Section 222 of the Communications Act and other provisions of law. Again, scholars and civil rights activists raise grave concerns about how allowing the President to defy the law creates serious concerns about maintaining the Rule of Law and respect for the Rule of Law. Again, we the people look to our elected representatives in Congress to stand firm and protect the rule of law against the encroachment of a Chief Executive convinced that he should have the freedom to act for the greater good. Unfortunately, this time, it looks like the Democratic leadership may prove a weak reed upon which civil liberties cannot trust to lean. Unless, of course, the people rise up clearly in one voice to say, in the words of Rudyard Kipling:

All the right they promise -— all the wrong they bring.
Stewards of the Judgment, suffer not this King!

More below . . . .

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Posted in How Democracy Works, Or Doesn't, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Broadcasters Leverage Monopoly on TV Channels to Push Vacant Channel FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt)

It’s always nice when you can give yourself free advertising time on television. So no surprise the National Association of Broadcasters has launched a major advertising campaign in the DC Area to persuade members of Congress that allowing unlicensed use of the broadcast white spaces will mess up the transition to digital television. Indeed, the NAB has made this into a grand campaign, including a new website called “Interference Zones” complete with adorable graphics of “Wally, the Unlicensed Wireless Device” messing up the “pristine digital television signal” to your “beautiful new digital TV.” I particularly like how they got Wally’s fun-loving but malicious grin rendered so “pristinely.”

And, in case you missed it the first time, the site also contains a link to the Association for Maximum Service Television classic “educational” video Your Neighbor’s Static. “Your Neighbor’s Static” is as realistic a portrayal of the effects of white spaces devices on TV as Reefer Madness is a balanced documentary on the pros and cons of medical marijuana.

It’s all just the usual fun and games here in DC, and a fine example of why the broadcasters have so much power as a lobby.

More below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Why You Need to Call Your Member of Congress to Save Internet Radio

As internet radio subscribers today may have discovered, a number of internet radio sites are participating in a “Day of Silence” to draw attention to the upcoming increase in internet royalty rates that will drive many of the smaller sites out of business (and probably drive up rates for others). On July 15, the rates paid by internet broadcasters will increase dramatically (retroactive to 2006), thanks to a decision last spring by the Copyright Royalty Board.

Supporters of internet radio are pushing members of Congress to support the Internet Radio Equality Act (H.R. 2060 and companion bill S. 1353 in the Senate). The Bill would fix the rates for internet broadcasts to match the rates paid by satellite radio providers (terrestrial radio providers pay no royalties, heck they are able to extort payola from the music industry). You can find much useful information and how to take action from this Free Press Action page.

UPDATE: Members of Congress Beg Industry Not To Force Them to Actually, Y’Know, Do Stuff.

And I want to stress that action to pass this bill is desperately needed. Why? Because conventional wisdom (CW) in DC is that this bill is unnecessary since everyone expects Soundexchange (which reps the music industry on royalty collections for online play) and the “internet radio industry” to cut a deal. As the CW goes, everyone has too much to lose if the rates really do go into effect — what with public radio stations and other smaller radio broadcasters stopping their streaming, popular streaming sites like Live365.com potentially going under and independent musicians losing their exposure and so forth — that the relevant parties must inevitably cut a deal. And, if all else fails, the DC Circuit may solve the problem by reversing the Copyright Board. So why pass a bill when the problem will take care of itself?

Unfortunately, experience tells me that it is precisely in situations like this, when everyone thinks a deal is inevitable, that there is the highest risk of things spiraling out of control and falling apart. Each party thinks that because “failure is not an option” it can hang tough and the other side must blink. Usually, this collapses into a last minute scramble to reach an 11th-hour agreement. But given the diversity of players and complexity of issues, I don’t think you can patch this up with a Marathon session that ends at 11:59 p.m. on July 14.

Consider, there is a huge disparity among the terrestrial radio broadcasters on what would be the acceptable dimensions of a deal. Industry giants like Clear Channel and Viacom will be willing to settle for a much higher rate than either small commercial operators or NPR. NPR, in turn, will settle at a much higher rate than the small non-commercial stations such as those represented by the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. The “internet broadcasters” have even more exagerated divisions by size and business model, with many of the smallest players absent from the negotiations. An industry with participants from Yahoo! to the archtypal individual in the basement is not going to come together on a “unified position.”

Worse, there are other elements of the structure besides the rate itself. Other issues include the reporting requirments and DRM management systems demanded by the music labels. While these are not addressed by the legislation (which only addresses rates), the negotiations among the industry participants will likely include extraneous issues in an effort to get a critical mass of industry players on board. Again, this favors the largest participants with the most diverse interests.

Finally, the largest players — particularly the big radio chains — have incentive to cut a deal that reduces the existing rate but still jacks up the price (either in terms of rates or interms of additional monitoring and reporting costs) for smaller players (both terrestrial broadcasters and internet broadcasters).

On the music side, there is considerable diversity of opinion among musicians about what to do here. On the one hand, independent musicians love internet radio as an outlet where they actually get play time and do not want to see the internet broadcasters strangled. On the other hand, it is very difficult for people to aggressively advocate to cut their own pay. A good analogy is where a union negotiates with management for pay and benefit cuts to stave off a business collapse. On the one hand, workers want to keep having jobs. OTOH, it is tough to swallow — particularly when the fat cats (here, the major labels and the large terrestrial radio chains) are still making out like bandits. There is a natural inclination of independent musicians to ask “why the Hell should people ask us to save internet radio at our expense when we already get shafted by the system? Aren’t we entitled to get a pay raise?”

So, in my opinion, I think getting a “comprehensive settlement” that eliminates the need for legislation is a lot harder than people think. And, even if there is a settlement, it is almost certain to tilt toward the interests of the largest industry players with some crumbs thrown to the little guys. Everyone will pose for the photo op looking exhausted and saying that it was a tough negotiation but something everyone can live with. Meanwhile, the cutting-edge tiny independents — who don’t even register on the DC policy meter but who most need protection of a set, fair rate to survive — will die a silent death offstage.

And, even if there is a settlement and it is livable, this decision will hang over internet radio providers like a damn Sword of Damocles, shaping the industry and forcing them to play by the rules set by the big music labels and the biggest radio operators because they live in fear of when the agreement expires and they have to go through all this again. A world where internet radio broadcasters have a right to music at a set rate is a very different world from one where they must go begging on bended knee to the copyright lords for the privilege of access to music that competes with other powerful interests.

So if you love vibrant and truly independent internet radio, and if you want to keep the door open so that the next generation of internet radio innovators can come into being, please, please, PLEASE call your Sentors and Representative and tell them to support the Internet Radio Equality Act. Tell Congress to resolve this issue for good, in a way that both makes sure performers get paid and still allows internet radio and community-based terrestrial radio broadcasters to defy both the major labels and the big broadcasting chains.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The Adelphia Day of Judgment Comes

For over a year now, I’ve intermitently tracked the transaction between Comcast and Time Warner for the bankrupt Adelphia systems. At tomorrow’s open meeting (assuming no last minute delays for further negotiations), the FCC will issue its decision.

How we got here, what happens, and why you should care 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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