Tales of the Sausage Factory

Google Is NOT Getting Into The Network Business, The Further Adventures of T. Googlii

Unsurprisingly, the telecom world is all abuzz over the news that Google will build a bunch of Gigabit test-beds. I am perfectly happy to see Google want to drop big bucks into fiber test beds. I expect this will have impact on the broadband market in lots of ways, and Google will learn a lot of cool things that will help it make lots of money at its core business — organizing information and selling that service in lots of different ways to people who value it for different reasons. But Google no more wants to be a wireline network operator than it wanted to be a wireless network operator back when it was willing to bid on C Block in the 700 MHz Auction.

So what does Google want? As I noted then: “Google does not want to be a network operator, but it wants to be a network architect.” Oh, it may end up running networks. Google has a history of stepping up to do things that further its core business when no one else wants to step up, as witnessed most recently by their submitting a bid to serve as the database manager for the broadcast white spaces devices. But what it actually wants to do is modify the behavior of the platforms on which it rides to better suit its needs. Happily, since those needs coincide with my needs, I don’t mind a bit.

How does that play out here, and why do I compare Google to a protozoa? See below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

FCC “WiMAX Auction” Already Over — Not a Surprise, But Still Impressive.

Some of you may recall that last month fellower Wetmachiner Greg Rose and I published our first industry report on the FCC’s Auction 86. We dubbed this the “WIMAX Auction” because the band at issue, the 2.5 GHz band, is the focus of major WIMAX activity in the U.S. and the report described the current state of the industry (including coverage maps for Clearwire and Sprint and the most extensive private database yet of who holds what in the band), likely outcomes in the auction, and what the behavior of bidders in the auction would tell us.

One prediction we made, that the auction itself would attract very little interest because it was an “ash and trash” auction of the leaving in the band, held up pretty well. The auction opened on October 27, and closed Friday, November 6. In other words, the entire auction lasted a week (4 bidding days) — which in FCC terms is greased lightning (the 700 MHz auction last year, for example, went on for 38 bidding days covering over 2 months). Total haul was $20 million, which will hopefully serve as a reminder to folks that spectrum auctions are not all multi-billion dollar gold mines.

As promised, we will release a post auction analysis available with the spectrum maps and databases for $799 within the next few months, once we (meaning Greg) have a chance to crunch the numbers and the round by round results. (Those who pre-ordered at the reduced rate when they bought the earlier report do not need to re-order). If you order now (the report is available through Muniwreless.com and through BroadbandCensus.com), you will not only pre-order the post-auction updates, but will get a copy of the original report with its industry analysis and coverage maps.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Proposed Wireless NN Rule “No Block, But Not No Lock?”

An interesting tidbit from Washington Post Reporter Celia Kang’s interview with Ruth Milkman, the FCC’s Wireless Bureau Chief. Of interest, Milkman states that the application of network neutrality to wireless would still allow cellular companies to lock cell phones to wireless providers.

How are the proposed rules different from conditions on the C block during the 700 MHZ auction? There, net neutrality rules were put in place that allow any device to attach to the network and prevent Verizon Wireless, who won the spectrum, from blocking Web content.

The difference between what we are thinking about in the general NPRM (notice of proposed rule-making) and the C Block is that we are not proposing a no-locking rule. So I guess it’s no block but not no-lock. If consumers can get an unlocked device and not harm the network, the consumer ought to be able to attach that device to a network. Does a service provider have to unlock the device it provides to the consumer? The draft doesn’t go that extra step.

This is an interesting twist on the application of the third principle of the 2005 Internet Policy Statement:

To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network.

(emphasis in original). This is generally taken as the application of the “Carterfone” principle (and the Internet Policy Statement cites the Carterfone decision in case anyone misses this point). This is the decision that held that AT&T could not refuse to allow you to connect any device, like and answering machine or a phone you owned or a dial-up modem, to the phone network.

Milkman is right that the freedom to connect to a network is not necessarily the same thing as the freedom to move a device that comes locked from one network to another. In the old days, it wasn’t necessary to say it that way because there weren’t other networks to attach your device. The question was whether somebody other than Ma Bell could make something and attach it to the phone network. By the time we got to multiple wireline networks serving the same neighborhood, the consumer electronics market was so well developed that the idea of trying to lock particular laptops or wireless routers to specific network providers did not make much sense. Indeed, even in the never ending fight over set-top boxes and cablecard, the fight is over the ability to attach to an MVPD network, not the ability to unlock a device and move it from one MVPD network to another.

Most of us have always assumed that network neutrality applied to wireless would include both “no blocking” of content and applications and “no locking” devices to networks. But I suppose it doesn’t have to be that way. And, of course, this does not stop the FCC from dealing with handset exclusivity separately.

Still, it comes as a bit of a surprise. Nice to have the heads up, and tip ‘o the hat to Celia for doing this series of interviews with important folks at the FCC.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

D Block Drama Erupts! NENA Breaks Ranks! Wireless Carriers At War! Oh, the Humanity!

Yes, for policy wonks in the summer, this is high drama. Once upon a time, before the 700 MHz auction, we used to have two very clear groups of stakeholders in spectrum policy land. We had public safety on one side and commercial wireless carriers on the other. (We also had us public interest folks, but no one — especially in the Wireless Bureau — gave a crap about us.) While these two groups might disagree internally, they solidified into utterly united and utterly opposing camps when confronting each other — regarding the battle for spectrum as a zero sum game with each side trying to wrestle every last MHz out of the other one.

But the 700 MHz changed all that. It cemented the spectrum advantage of AT&T and Verizon over all other carriers, breaking the commercial world into “AT&T and Verizon” and “carriers who need backhaul, roaming agreements, and special access — all of which they buy from AT&T and Verizon.” And it fractured consensus in the public safety community by creating the enormous loose end known as the “D Block.” As readers may recall (and if they don’t, you can check out my extensive coverage of the 700 MHz auction) the D Block was the private part of a public/private partnership where a private entity would bid and then build out the network, then enter into a sharing agreement with the public safety block. Sadly, for various reasons I will not rehash here, this didn’t work out.

And now, just when it looked like public safety was lining up behind AT&T and Verizon to lobby Congress to reallocate the D Block entirely to public safety, all Hell breaks loose. The “not Verizon and AT&T” wireless carriers have introduced a counter proposal to take back the 12 MHz on the public safety side of the partnership and auction the whole 22 MHz for commercial use as one, unpaired block. And they have received the backing, sort of, of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA).

What drama to greet the arrival of Chairman Genachowski and the finally fleshed out full FCC! Commercial wireless carriers at war! Public safety in disarray! Spectrum brother against spectrum brother in the ultimate spectrum policy smackdown!

I analyze the possible deals, the potential winners and losers, and my guesses on odds for success below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

FCC Announces 2.5 GHz Broadband Radio Service Auction. Who Will Show Up to Fight Over Rules? Or Bid?

One might think from the press coverage that all spectrum auctions are multi-billion dollar affairs like the AWS-1 Auction in ’06 or the 700 MHz Auction in ’08. But these auctions are the exception rather than the rule. More typical are the steady stream of small auctions like Auction 78, which auctioned remaining licenses in the AWS-1 band.

Which brings us to the Wireless Bureau’s Public Notice of the Broadband Radio Service (BRS) auction. Some of us have followed the adventures of the 2.5 GHz band back when it was “Wireless Cable” and the non-commercial licensees used it to offer closed circuit television for what we now call distance learning. These days of course, we know this as the “Broadband Radio Service” (BRS) and the “Educational Broadband Radio Service” (EBRS), and we care about the 2.5 GHz band as the home of Clearwire and the great hope of WiMax.

You might think that the “WiMax” auction would be a big deal — but only if you don’t know the band, its history, and the inventory up for auction. If you know that, you know why this auction is likely to prove as boring but ploddingly necessary as a run for office supplies.

So why do I consider this worth blogging about, other than my sentimental fondness for the band and my general obsession about things spectrum? Because (a) my cause celebre, anonymous bidding, faces its first post-700 MHz challenge, and (b) 2.5 GHz is the home of the major WiMax plays, and what happens in the auction has the potential to shape the field going forward and influence whether deployment goes more smoothly or gets all bollixed up.

More detail below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Spectrum Inventory: “Same Bed, Different Dreams.”

I find myself in complete agreement with the wireless industry on supporting The Radio Spectrum Inventory Act. This Bill, sponsored by John Kerry (D-MA), Chair of The Subcommittee on Communications of the Senate commerce Committee, and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Roger Wicker (R-MS), requires NTIA and the FCC to account for every MHz of spectrum between 300 MHz and 3.5 GHz within 180 days of the bill’s passage. You can see Kerry’s statement here, and Snowe’s statement in here.

“Same bed, different dreams” was the title of a book by David Lampton on Sino-US relations, and comes from a Chinese expression describing people whose lives are fundamentally intertwined but who do not fundamentally communicate with each other. That pretty much sums up supporters of more licensed spectrum and supporters of more unlicensed spectrum, both of whom very much back this bill. Kerry caught this duality nicely by saluting both the 700 MHz auction and the opening of the broadcast white spaces as demonstrating the value of spectrum access and the need for the inventory.

A bit more on this below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Shure Makes Clever Defensive Gambit Against CTIA/Public Safety in 700 MHz Tussle — $1000 Rebate.

In an interesting new development in the wireless microphone saga, Shure is now offering a $1000 rebate on a replacement wireless microphone for anyone who trades in a wireless microphone that operates on the 700 MHz frequencies, provided the purchaser bought the microphone before February 2007. I’m not sure why the magic cut off date, and Shure does not explain.

Shure does, OTOH, offer an explanation for why it will make this generous offer — albeit an incomplete one:

“Our number one priority is to provide our customers with the highest quality products, service, and support,” said Al Hershner, Vice President and General Manager of the Shure U.S Business Unit. “We’ve known for some time that the ‘700 MHz band’ would be reallocated for new services following the DTV transition on February 18, 2009. Although a final decision from the FCC is still pending, we felt the need to assure our customers now that we will take care of them regardless of the outcome.”

Shure does not mention, of course, that the most likely outcome involves outlawing all use of wireless microphones in the 700 MHz, and a reasonable probability that Shure (and other manufacturers) will be required to replace the equipment for free. But that doesn’t mean Shure will miss an opportunity to spin its customers and recruit their support at the FCC explain to interested customers the ongoing FCC legal proceeding:

“There has been a great deal of confusion for wireless microphone users regarding the political and technological developments surrounding the DTV transition and the 700 MHz auction over the past few years,” added Hershner. “As always, Shure has a team of sales, customer service, and technical support staff available to answer any questions people might have about this rebate program or their products.”

Hmmm….could this have something to do with the recent push by the incoming public safety and commercial 700 MHz licensees to take this seriously so it won’t mess up deployment? Could Shure be trying to fob off the FCC with a fake remedial action while boosting its own sales and recruiting its customers for a massive push against the wireless guys and public safety? Or is that just my nasty and suspicious nature rejecting the idea that Shure is deeply — deeply I say — concerned about its customers (which it assures the FCC are only retailers and not members of the public ineligible for licenses to operate such systems) and I should be ashamed of myself for questioning this noble voluntary remediation by an upstanding corporate citizen that just happened to build its business on wholesale violation of federal law?

I explore the possibilities below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

3 p.m., FCC approves another item. Crowd Thins, But Reporters and Hardcore Policy Wonks and White Space Folks Hang On.

O.K., now coming up on 3 p.m. on the meeting that should have started at 11 a.m. The FCC has announced that the Commissioners voted another relatively non-controversial item on circulation, the grant of the Verizon C Block licenses.

As some folks may recall, Google filed a Petition with the FCC after the 700 MHz auction requesting that they put some teeth into the C Block conditions and provide further clarity on how they can enforce the conditions against Verizon if it plays games. It is expected that the item basically says “yes, we mean it,” but not give any further details. We’ll have to wait for when they publish the Order to find out.

Meanwhile, those of us desperate for a white spaces vote continue to sweat it out and hope the Order doesn’t get derailed. Those opposed, unsurprisingly, are now hoping for the opposite.

NEWSFLASH: According to FCC staff, while Commissioner Godot will not vote today, he will surely vote tomorrow!

AAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Vote this thing!!!!!!!!!!!!

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Update on Cablevision Free Wi-Fi, and What It Means for VZ (and everyone else).

Awhile ago, I wrote about Cablevision’s decision to offer free wi-fi to its subscribers throughout its footprint. As I explained then, this amounted to a “Plan B” after the failure to win usable spectrum in either the AWS-1 auction in August 2006 or in the 700 MHz Auction in the winter of ’08. Now, according to this story at DSL Reports, Cablevision is massively expanding and improving its wi-fi service for customers. This represents a real challenge for VZ, more so IMO than Time Warner’s participation in New Clearwire.

Why? See 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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