Tales of the Sausage Factory

Obama Moving Appointments Along in Telecom — Strickling Named, Genachowski & Adelstein Likely to Go Late April/Early May.

The Obama Administration has nominated Larry Strickling for the post of Administrator of the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA). While long anticipated, the nomination was delayed until Commerce actually had a Secretary — it being polite to give the person running the Department at least the opportunity for input into who his assistant secretaries will be. It also looks like, contrary to my analysis last week, that Genachowski may come on board as soon as late April/Early May when Congress comes back from recess rather than after the DTV transition in June, and that Adelstein will simultaneously move to RUS. This would mean that the Obama administration would have their primary media/telecom team on board within the first 100 days, with the balance of the FCC waiting for the Republicans to come to some sort of consensus on whom to recommend for the second Republican slot.

More below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The Google Non-Story On Network Neutrality — And Once Again Why Citizen Movements Are Citizen Driven.

Both Dave Isenberg and Tim Karr have already cast a rather skeptical eye over the Wall St. Journal story claiming that Google is in secret negotiations to get “fast lane” treatment for its content in violation of Network Neutrality principles. I’ll therefore limit myself to a few additional points. I’ll not along the way that one of the nice things about having a blog is that I can point to stuff I said a long time ago for the inevitable accusation that I am simply an apologist for the Great Google Overlords.

More below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The Boston Tea Leaf Party

Those interested in a great eye witness account of what happened at the FCC hearing in Boston on February 25 should read fellow Wetmachiner John Sundman’s piece on the part he saw (including the reception afterwards). But after listening to the FCC’s video archive, reading the statements, and reading the coverage, I’m willing to read the Boston Tea Leaves and see where we are so far and how I think this ends up.

Speculation below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

AT&T's $10 DSL and the Renomination of Commissioner Tate: What The Senate Confirmation Hearing Should Ask

The Consumerist runs this good but inaccurate report on AT&T’s offering its mandated $10 DSL intro rate for those who have not subscribed to DSL previously. AT&T accepted this as a merger condition when it acquired BellSouth last year. What Consumerist gets wrong is that this condition comes not from the FTC, which did not review the merger (regular readers will recall that it was the Department of Justice Anti-Trust Division that gave the merger a thumbs up with no conditions). The price control aspect came from the FCC, as part of the bucket ‘o concessions AT&T made after it failed to get McDowell unrecused and suddenly had to respond to Democrats rather than blowing them off with bogus concessions.

This matters for two reasons. First, it means that complaining to the Federal Trade Commission, as suggested by Consumerist, is not exactly effective. FTC had nothing to do with the condition and won’t enforce it under their merger authority. If AT&T makes it damn hard for people to order the cheap rate, then there might be a claim as an unfair or deceptive trade practice, but I think that is kind of a stretch.

No, the place to complain is at the Federal Communications Commission. While it doesn’t hurt to file a complaint with the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, you will also want to make sure that you copy it to the FCC’s record in the AT&T/BellSouth merger via its Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS). The relevant docket number is 06-74.

But, more importantly, this raises some serious questions that Congress needs to ask not merely about AT&T’s commitment to honoring the merger conditions, but also about the FCC’s willingness to enforce them — especially in light of statements made by Chairman Martin and Commissioner Tate at the time of the merger. Fortunately, President Bush’s decision to nominate Tate for a second term provides an excellent opprtunity for members of the Senate Commerce Committee to put these questions to Commissioner Tate directly.

Because while $10 DSL is important, this is also important to other AT&T merger conditions, such as network neutrality condition. And while, unlike many of my colleagues, I don’t think Martin or Tate are mindless Bellheads or wholly owned subsidiaries of AT&T, I do think it’s important to get them pinned down on the record that they will vigorously enforce the merger conditions and not allow AT&T to weasel out by “complying” in a way that deprives these conditions of meaning.

More below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Why Yoo Is So Wrong on AT&T Net Neutrality Condition

Professor Christopher Yoo of Vanderbilt sent an email to Dave Farber’s Interesting People list explaining why the inclusion of network neutrality conditions in the AT&T/BS merger agreement violates the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

I usually disagree with Yoo on matters regulatory (he being of the neo-con deregulatory school, I being of the pragmatic regulation for a real world school). But that’s a matter of opinion. Here, however, he’s legally and factually just plain wrong. While he’s entitled to argue that he thinks “regulation by merger” sucks rocks (a point with which, no surprise, I disagree), the idea that the merger conditions run afoul of the APA is contrary to statute, contrary to case law, and contrary to the facts of the instant case (with which Professor Yoo seems surprisingly unfamiliar).

Usually, I wouldn’t bother to respond to something like this, but it got picked up by Communications Daily and seems to be making the rounds among tech folk unfamiliar with the case law in question. So while no offense to an opponent who usually knows his stuff, I explain in blistering detail what’s wrong with Yoo’s argument below….

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

AT&T Net Neutrality Condition: Win, Lose or Draw?

Unsurprisingly, in an area as complex as this, opinion has split on what the merger conditions mean. Some, like Tim Karr and Columbia Law Professor Tim Wu, and Matt Stoller hail the conditions as an important victory. Others, such as Cardozo Law Professor and ICANN Director Susan Crawford, Jeff Pulver, and Dave Burstein think AT&T has cleverly played us for dupes by giving us conditions with loopholes that render the conditions meaningless. While others, like Dave Isenberg, strike a middle ground. Others, pointing out that the conditions only last two years,

What do I think? As I observed in July, when we got got some conditions out of the Adelphia transaction, evaluating wether you won or not in opposing a merger is a tricky business. But I reject the idea we got taken for a ride. To the contrary, anybody who thought this merger was going to provide the answer to the net neutrality issue, or eliminate the need for national legislation, does ot understand what was going on or what we were trying to accomplish.

And no, this doesn’t make a bad merger good. I certainly would have preferred seeing the FCC reject the merger. But given broad hints from Dingell that he never wanted the Ds to go that far, and given the fact that McDowell could have decided to come off the bench in June if the merger was still pending (since the Ds could not get a majority to vote to refer the matter to an Admin Law Judge), I don’t think a rejection was realistic to expect.

More detailed analysis below.

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