My Thoughts Exactly

Among the BioInformaticians

Last Tuesday and Wednesday I attended the Bio-IT World Conference & Expo, at the World Trade Center in Boston. I was a booth babe for Bioinformatics.org, (“The open access institute”) and also was pimping my books. I discovered the BioInformatics organization about a decade ago while pimping my books (what else) at the O’Reilly BioInformatics conference in Tucson. They started out as basically a sourceforge for bioinformatic software, kind of a reaction to corportization of all things genomic, and have grown from there. I wrote about them a little in my famous Salon article How I Decoded the Human Genome.

Because I’m a total dummy and didn’t look at a map, it took me forever to get there from the place I was staying, one mile away, so I only caught the last twenty minutes of the talk given by Philip Bourne on the occasion of his being named 2009’s Franklin Laureate, by the Bioinformatics Organization — an award named in honor of Ben Franklin, who refused to patent his inventions. I saw virtually none of the show. I attended no sessions, and I didn’t even cruise the exhibit hall. Instead, along with Bioinformtics Organization colleagues Jeff Bizarro and Shailender Nagpal, I staffed our organization’s tiny booth and fielded whatever questions came my way– sometimes fielding them lamely, at which times I was glad to be backstopped by Jeff and Shailender.

Some impressions follow. Because my exposure to the show was so limited, they’re kind of like an image taken by a pinhole camera, so take them for whatever they’re worth. The most interesting part of the whole show, for me, was the discussion with Melina Fan, PhD, founder and executive director of the group Addgene, about which more below.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Last MAP Innovation '08 Panel Wed. Jun 25.

A shameless plug for my employer, Media Access Project (MAP).

As I have written before, MAP has decided to hold a series of events to try to get folks in Silicon Valley to care about Washington policy. Now, we are going to bring some of that back to D.C. On June 25 (this Wed.), MAP will have the last of its Innovation ’08 panels right here in Washington D.C. We have been fortunate enough to get representatives from both the Obama campaign and the McCAin campaign to come and chat about “what we learned while outside Washington — hint, they don’t think we understand their issues.” While fora around the candidates and their surrogates certainly abound here in D.C. at the moment, I feel confident that our unique MAP perspective will make this a grilling policy dialog and discussion to remember.

And, for those who want to understand what makes these MAP fora critically kick ass, you can get video of the first Innovation ’08 forum on DVD from MAP’s website

Details on Wednesday, Jun 25 10 a.m. event at the D.C. Office Dickstein, Shapiro below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

My Testimony From Today

Well, that was fun. I reprint my testimony as prepared, not as delivered. I also cut a very insider joke. I’d planned to start:

“Mr. Chairman, I understand that this is the open Commission meeting, so it is perhaps no surprise that we are running an hour late. Also, as I have not had time to complete this testimony, I ask for editorial privileges.”

But no one off the podium was likely to get it.

[Editorial note from John (to help search engines and any random Wetmachine readers who stumble upon this): This post concerns Harold Feld’s testimony at today’s FCC hearing at Stanford University.]

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Comcast and BitTorrent, or "Honestly Charlie Brown, The Market Dictates I Let You Kick The Football THIS Time.”

[First, a rather important point to Richard Bennett and anyone who may be confused. This blog is my own. It is not a “Media Access” blog, and it does not represent MAP policy. I very deliberately do not show this stuff to anyone at MAP for prior approval before I write it. This is me personally sounding off. Got it? This is in addition to my day job. (Although my wrath at this mischaracterization is tempered by his describing this blog as “popular.”)]

There must be something in the air that has turned Comcast from a fighter to a lover. Apparently, Comcast and BitTorrent have kissed and made up, Brian Roberts has stood barefoot in the snow beneath Kevin Martin’s window at Canossa, and all is now supposed to be well in the world. Nothing to see here, move along, these aren’t the droids we’re looking for, and once again the magic of the market solves everything.

I would have written earlier, but I was having a flashback to when AOL Time Warner committed to creating an interoperable instant messenger. Then I was flashing on when AT&T Broadband and Earthlink “solved” the original open access problem by negotiating a contract and thus proving that “the market” would guarantee that independent ISPs would be able to resell cable modem service just like they were reselling DSL. Then I woke up vomiting. I always have a bad reaction to whatever folks smoke to conclude “the free market solves everything” especially when (a) this was the result of a regulatory two-by-four applied directly to Comcast’s scalp, repeatedly; and (b) nothing actually happened except for a real and sincere comitment to yack about stuff — at least until the regulators go away. Still, like Lucy and Charlie Brown, there are some folks for whom this just never gets old.

So while I’m glad to see Comcast forced to play the penitent, confess wrongdoing, and appear to give a full surrender, and while I generally like the idea of industry folks and ISPs getting together to actually do positive stuff on internet architecture issues, I think wild celebrations from the anti-regulators and the expectation that we can declare “Mission Accomplished” and go home is a shade premature. Indeed, the only people who believe this announcement actually solves anything are — by and large — those who didn’t believe there was a problem in the first place. I believe the technical term for such folks is “useful idiots.”

My further thoughts below….

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

700 MHz Auction Pre-Game: Just A Bit More Unseemly (and perhaps untimely) Gloating . . . .

So last summer, as we debated the rules for the upcoming 700 MHz Auction, one of the big questions we at PISC repeatedly kept getting asked was “so who is really going to show up to bid?” Especially on controversial issues like open access (and even its wussier cousin, device open access), block size (have big blocks and combinatorial bidding, or maximize smaller blocks), and anonymous bidding, the incumbents all kept repeating over and over again how any deviation from previous rules would keep people from bidding and the auction would be a failure and everyone would hate us forever. Commissioner McDowell reiterated these criticisms (at least with regard to the open device conditions on C Block) in his dissenting statement:

Curiously, however, in an effort to favor a specific business plan, the majority has fashioned a highly-tailored garment that may fit no one. It’s not what Silicon Valley wants; it’s not what smaller players have told me they want; and it’s not what rural companies want. To date, the Commission has received no assurances that any company is actually interested in bidding on the encumbered spectrum. Not one.

Because, of course, everyone knew Google wasn’t going to bid, the DBS companies weren’t going to be real players, and if anyone new was planning to show up, there was no sign of it. Even those most eager to see new competitors emerge (and who ultimately supported the PISC proposals) had their doubts and looked for as much reassurance as possible before taking a leap of faith that we were right.

Well, the FCC just released the list of applicants to bid in the upcoming 700 MHz auction. A total of 266 potential bidders filed (the bulk of the forms are “incomplete” due to procedural defects that will be corrected, but this is pretty standard). That’s more than the 252 potential applicants that showed up at this stage for the “wildly competitive” and “highly successful” AWS auction in August ’06. The list includes Google, Frontline, Echostar, and — as I kept insisting — a number of companies that could not possibly be predicted as bidders until bidding rules were actually determined and potential bidders got to assess whether they had a chance or not.

Towerstream is an excellent example of this last type of bidder. No one could possibly predict that they would show up, and many folks still can’t believe it. But Towerstream CEO Jeff Thompson cites the FCC “embracing the open access model supported by Google” as making the spectrum a “natural fit” for his entreprenurial wireless broadband company, and credits the FCC for making the auction amenable to new bidders. Nor is Thompson alone. A host of newcommers apears to have found the rules attractive enough to make it worthwhile to ante up for a chance to play.

We must still see what happens, of course. I can recall all the pre-game prediction for the AWS auction, where the most valuable licenses ended up in the hands of the usual suspects. In many ways, this is working out like my waiting to see if the Patriots complete a perfect season or if the Red Sox would win the World Series. There is lots of room still for things to go badly. But I can’t help but feel a happy, warm contented glow (and breathe a quiet sigh of relief) that I don’t have to answer the age old question “what if we throw a party and no one shows up?”

Stay tuned . . . .

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Econoklastic

Well, Yeah, Actually, I Am Gloating…

I try not to gloat, but it’s impossible not to take a certain amount of satisfaction in the Wall Street Journal‘s confirmation on Nov. 16 that Google intends to bid in the 700 MHz auction in January, regardless of whether it has partners in a bidding consortium. This confirms my prediction back on August 2 in Econoklastic that Chairman Martin’s refusal to impose a wholesale open access condition on the C block would not prevent Google from bidding, despite naysayers in the press and on Wall Street.

The underlying reality is that Google needs a third broadband pipe to escape imposition of monopoly rents by the wireline and cable carriers, since net neutrality provisions with real enforcement teeth are nowhere to be seen on the horizon: that means do it themselves or get someone to do it for them. That reality hasn’t changed, and the guys at Google clearly recognise this fact. I am equally heartened by assurances from Google counsel Rick Whitt at a conference in NYC week before last that Google still intends to implement its full wholesale open access business plan over any spectrum it obtains in the 700 MHz auction.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

700 MHz Appendix: A List of All My Posts on The 700 MHz Auction Proceeding

Well, it’s been a fun couple of months. I expect we will see more action on the actual implimentation of 700 MHz Auction, new developments, and so forth. But I’m rather hoping to ratchet 700 MHz back from overwhelming white-whale-type obsession to just one more spectrum item amidst the spectrum and non-spectrum stuf I cover. For example, the M2Z application has taken a serious turn for the interesting.

So, preserved for posterity, and because it makes my life easier than going through the archives, I list every TotSF 700 MHz Auction post to date.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Assessing the 700 MHz Order Part III — Anonymous Bidding Alone Makes This a Big Win

Regular readers will know that, as far as I am concerned, getting anonymous bidding automatically makes this Order a big win. I pushed hard on this in the lead up to the AWS auction a year and a half ago. Sadly, I lost. As a result, the cable companies were able to block the DBS guys from winning any new licenses, and the incumbents generally succeeded in keeping out any potentially disruptive new entrants (the cable guys having made it clear they would not compete with the cellular guys).

Fortunately, Greg Rose spent a year crunching the data and demonstrated that if the incumbents hadn’t rigged the auction, it sure looked like it from a statistical analysis/game theory perspective. With this “smoking gun” evidence in hand (utterly dickish footnotes by the Wireless Bureau staff to the contrary), we were able to persuade the Commission that adopting anonymous bidding rules would make the auction more competitive, give new entrants a better chance, and as a result probably increase the auction revenue overall.

So, having lost this last time around, I consider it a real coup to get it now. As both Google and Frontline supported anonymous bidding as necessary to encourage new entrants, I am hopeful that we may still get our “third pipe” provider even without wholesale open access.

Analysis below . . . .

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Econoklastic

Why Google May Still Bid

Journalists and industry analysts have been characterizing Tuesday’s FCC decision not to include a wholesale open access condition on the C block licenses as a defeat for Google which makes it very unlikely that Google will bid in the 700 MHz auction, obviating the best chance for emergence of a third broadband pipe to challenge the cablecos and telcos. This seems highly premature to me for several reasons.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

FCC loses Barry Ohlson

At the conclusion of yesterday’s meeting, Commissioner Adelstein announced the departure of Barry Ohlson. Barry has been Adelstein’s wireless adviser since forever, and Adelstein’s senior legal adviser for sometime. Lord knows he deserves a rest.

Commissioners, of necessity, rely very heavily on their advisers because Commissioners must be generalists. In addition, because the Government in the Sunshine Act prevents the Commissioners from meeting together except at public meetings, a far amount of the drafting and negotiating on FCC decisions happens at the adviser level. Finally, advisers serve an important meeting and screening function for overworked commissioners. A Commissioner must therefore rely on an adviser for a multitude of skills. An adviser must not merely have expertise in the law, policy, economics and engineering of the subject matter, but must have a rare combination of discretion, diplomacy and judgment.

In my opinion, Barry has been one of the best and a fantastic asset to Commissioner Adelstein’s office. I will miss working with Barry on wireless issues, although his successor, Renee Crittendon, has certainly come through her trial by fire in the 700 MHz auction with a fine crown of laurels based on the conditions Adelstein and Copps were able to secure for enforcement of the device open access rule in the C Block.

So good luck to Barry Ohlson, wherever he ultimately lands. Who knows, perhaps someday he will be back on the FCC’s 8th floor, but as a commissioner instead. After all, Kevin Martin got his start at the FCC as adviser to Commissioner Furchgott-Roth. I can hope, anyway.

Stay tuned . . . .

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