Tales of the Sausage Factory

McCain Campaign Wusses Out On NAF Tech Smackdown.

So my friends at New America Foundation went to all the trouble to arrange for a final Technology Smackdown between former FCC Chair and Obama Campaign surrogate Reed Hunt and McCain Campaign surrogate Douglas Holtz-Eakin. Holtz-Eakin, you may recall, was the man who traced the invention of the Blackberry back to McCain’s stalwart leadership on the Commerce Committee, ignoring the fact that the Blackberry is manufactured by a Canadian company and that only limited models are available in the U.S. thanks to McCain’s awesome tech policies, which can be summed up as “no taxes, no regulation, no clue.”

So needless to say, I and every other policy wonk in DC came ready to see the sparks fly. Reed Hunt, former FCC Chair, known for saying what he thinks and letting the chips fall where they may. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, looking for any kind of “game changer” and hoping to prove how his man has mastery of this key policy arena rather than the young and untested Obama. Who will take it? Whose tech cuisine will reign supreme?

But then this morning, Douglas Holtz-Eakin canceled and the McCain campaign informed NAF they could not send a surrogate. NAF scurried, but could find no one blessed by the McCain campaign to debate Reed Hunt. With Washington tech wonkdom descending on their doorstep, NAF decided to hold the event anyway. This allowed Reed to switch from technology policy and plug his new comedy CD – “Reed Hunt — Unplugged Because I’m Using Wireless Which Will Be Far More Competitive Under An Obama FCC Which I Will Now Illustrate With An Anecdote And Could You Please Remind Me What The Question Was Again.” (Trust me, in policy wonk circles, this is hysterical.)

There may be many reasons why Holtz-Eakin did not show up. But for the campaign to refuse to send a substitute surrogate is a totally punk move. What, no one on the Straight Talk Express can use a computer? And if you all whine about how unfair it was that Reed went on to trash talk you guys or that NAF was “in the tank for Obama” because they went ahead and held the highly publicized and well attended event anyway, all I can say is “shut up, punks! McCain’s tech policy is for wussy incumbents who want their market power protected. In keeping with geek tradition, I shall taunt you with my very very bad Monty Python impression. [outrageous French accent] I fart in your general direction! I wave my private parts at you — you silly de-regulatory free-market Libertarian persons. Now go away or I shall taunt you some more.”

OK, my trash talk is a bit weak. But Holtz-Eakin and the McCain tech team are still punks.

Stay tuned . . .

UPDATE: Apparently, Holtz-Eakin ditched out to try to convince MSNBC viewers that it is Obama who will be four more years of Bush. You can find more details on how the McCain Campaign vetoed Carly Fiorina and generally punked out here on ThinkProgress.

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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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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Microsoft Screws Up the White Spaces; or, Why Citizens Movements Are Citizen Driven — the Latest Example

As most of you may have heard by now, the case for using the television “white spaces” for unlicensed use hit an unfortunate snag when the prototype submitted by Microsoft and the tech allies did not perform according to spec. MS and friends now claim that the FCC managed to break the prototype when they took it out of the box. Meanwhile, of course, the broadcaster are making the most of this opportunity to repeat that unlicensed use of the white spaces can never work (ignoring that the the Philips prototype worked perfectly in the lab and that New America Foundation submitted its own, independent engineering data in support of sensing technology).

I have blogged extensively about this on my Public Knowledge blog. Briefly, while an annoying political set back, it means very little from an engineering perspective. There is plenty of evidence from both the Philips proptotype, the New America Foundation data, and other relevant technologies (such as the sharing of the 5.3 GHz space with military radar) to prove the essential soundness of the concept. While important work needs to be done in terms of actually setting appropriate standards and then building devices that will perform to spec, we know it can be done — assuming Microsoft’s blunder doesn’t create enough political noise to kill or cripple the project.

Which is why I bother to blog again about it here. To underscore yet again the importance of making sure citizen’s movements are citizen driven and that we do not allow ourselves to let corporate allies do all the heavy lifting. It’s nice to have big friends like Microsoft and Google. They sure as heck open a lot of doors and can bring a lot of resources to the fight. But never, never, NEVER make the mistake of letting them handle the driving of an issue when the public interest is at stake.

And, if I may make some pointed remarks to my friends in the open software and GNU Radio movement. Some time back I linked to this excellent piece urging techies to spend more time making the mechanisms of government work and less time merely bitching about how government keeps coming up with the wrong result. Here is an excellent opportunity to step up to the plate and provide some open source prototypes (or even simply additional test data) that demonstrate proof of concept. No, this is not a simple project. It requires an investment of time and resources. But the payoff is potentially huge. I’m making a standing offer for techies who want to contribute some real science and engineering know-how to the cause of open spectrum: if you have something you want submitted, contact me and I will work with you to get it in the record (or explain to you why it is not as useful as you thought and how you can improve it). Because I can tell you from experience that the engineers at the FCC are actually very eager to get as much data as possible and to get the engineering right on this.

Because freinds, this is like anything else in our democracy. If you don’t participate, then you’re just bleeting sheep. But if you come play, you can make a difference. As Ben Franklin once said: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner. Liberty is a well armed lamb protesting the vote.”

Time for us to see if we have enough well armed lambs, or if the techno-herd would rather see Microsoft do the fighting.

Stay tuned . . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

How Broadcasters Make Lobbying Lemonade Out of National Catastrophe Lemons

Jim Snider at New America Foundation has written an excellent piece extensively documenting how broadcasters leverage their response in national emergencies and support of charitable causes to get special regulatory goodies and rules that keep competitors out. You can dowload a copy here.

While in one sense not news to anyone in DC, most people are unaware how broadcasters shamelessly take the coverage of local charity events or other efforts (which (a) are local news and so worth doing anyway, and (b) other companies routinely do) and use them to justify many billions of dollars in privileges such as must-carry rights on cable systems and limiting the ability of rivals such as satellite radio or Low-Power FM to compete. A bit of advocacy expounding, and a few thoughts on Jim’s paper and policy recommendation, below.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

STOP THE WIFI TAX RUMOR

Freaking trade press should know better, or at least learn to read more carefully. There is a steady drum beat of reports, starting I think with this one at RCR Wireless News that the President wants a “wifi tax.” This is, bluntly, a misreading of the plain language of the President’s budget proposal.

Lord knows there is plenty in the proposed budget not to like, but there’s no “wifi tax.” My analysis (and a little context) below.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Is Science Just Science?

Shannon Brownlee, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation has penned an interesting and in depth article about how conflicts of interest warp medical research, available here.

What’s noteworthy here, IMO, is not just the basic message that conflicts of interest can influence researchers or publishers or institutions and that, therefore, as in any other field of human endevor where this issue arises, we might want to have some systems in place that at least disclose the conflicts or, better, try to minimize them. Rather, what’s noteworthy is the belief prevalent among scientists and others that somehow science escapes this universal truth because its, well, science.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Media Reform Conference- Saturday

“Battlin’ the bastards is the most fun you can have with your clothes on.” Jim Hightower, from his keynote speech at the MRC, May 14, 2005.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Columbia Journalism Review on Unlicensed

Columbia Journalism Review has this article on unlicensed and its potential to revolutionize the media. I’m quoted, as are such luminaries as Eban Moglen and Dave Hughes and my co-conspirator Jim Snider from New America Foundation.

Posted in General, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Tagged | 2 Comments (Comments closed)
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