Tales of the Sausage Factory

Markey To Leave Telecom Subcommittee

As related in Doris Kearn Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, a friend remarked to Lincoln just before the election of 1864 that the only way Lincoln would lose would be if Grant won the war and then ran for President himself. To this Lincoln replied that he felt rather like a man who preferred not to die, but if he had to die, then he knew what he wanted to die of.

That rather conveys my feeling on the word that Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) will give up his post as Chair of the Telecom Subcommittee to take over the Energy Subcommittee. Throughout his tenure on the Telecom Subcommittee, Ed Markey has time and again proven himself a true friend of real people over special interests and fought vigorously and effectively to make sure that legislation worked for the benefit of all. Sophisticated on complex matters of technology and economics, Markey combined these throughout his tenure with a brilliant sense of political tactics.

OTOH, for the same reason, I can’t very well object to Markey moving to the vital area of energy. With an Administration and Congress now primed to act, it is more imperative than ever for someone who can see through the pretty power points and hand waving to shepherd through legislation that will genuinely promote renewable energy and energy independence rather than simply line the pockets of the usual suspects.

I am comforted by the fact that his likely replacement, Rep. Rick Boucher, has also proven himself a strong proponent of open networks, fair use, and using policy to promote vigorous competition. With Waxman as Committee Chair and Boucher as Telecom Subcomittee Chair, I am very hopeful for the future of telecom legislation and FCC oversight for the 111th Congress.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Rural Carriers File “Skype-Lite,” or “Wireless Carterfone, it's not just for developers and other parasites anymore.”

Today, the FCC will most likely dismiss the the Skype Petition. I’ve already written why I think this is a phenomenally bad idea and, while I continue to respect Kevin Martin and understand why he is doing this, he is totally wrong here. Once again, those worried about “unintended consequences,” “first do no harm,” etc., etc. fail to appreciate that a refusal to take action and granting permission to carriers to control the sorts of devices, applications and therefore what innovation and what free speech, go on over their networks is as much an action as granting the Skype Petition. There is no evading responsibility or avoiding unforseen consequences.

Which brings me to the Petition for Rulemaking filed by the Rural Carriers Association (RCA) to prevent exclusive deals on equipment, aka “Skype Lite.” Mind you, the rural carriers opposed the Skype Petition as much as any other carrier, arguing that it would be awful for their limited capacity rural networks if they could not control what equipment attached to their networks and what applications ran on that equipment. Nevertheless, they too are unsatisified in a world where market size and raw capitalism dominate. So, without ever once raising the same arguments as Skype or referencing the Commission’s information policy statement, the rural carriers argue for what amounts to the same relief as Skype, only tailored differently. Rather than regulate all carriers to require open networks, they ask the Commission to limit the market power of the major carriers by prohibitting exclusives. Otherwise, they argu, rural America will never know the joy of the iPhone or any other significant innovation — since the major carriers will tie up the most valuable applications and equipment in exclusive deals.

Nor are the rural carriers alone in finding the world according to Coase and Friedman less than they desire. The Commission has before it a good handful of petitions from carriers asking for mandatory roaming reform, access charge reform, and other limits on the ability of the dominant, vertically integrated providers from exercising their market power. Of course, all of these carriers asking for regulatory intervention are simultaneously celebrating the dismissal of the Skype Petition, piously telling Skype and the rest of the non-carrier industry that they are a bunch of parasites and that if they want access to a network they need to get their own licenses and build one.

I do not write to underscore the hypocrisy of these contradictory positions. That would be a waste of bits. Companies make whatever arguments they need to make in order to survive and thrive. No, my warning to the rural carriers and the rest of the Skype-lite crowd is simply one of practicality. You cannot win your request for special regulation while simultaneously singing the praises of the fiercely competitive broadband market and arguing that there is no place for regulation in this great free market success story. By contrast, if you simply admit that the industry now suffers from excessive concentration and the cure for this requires a comprehensive approach, you will find yourselves much more likely to prevail.

Martin indicated that he would dismiss the Skype Petition “without prejudice,” meaning that Skype or others will be free to try again — say, in six months or so when the FCC changes hands. In the mean time, I suggest the rural carriers and the other industry players anxious for regulatory relief — whether in the form of spectrum caps in auctions, mandatory roaming, or access charge reform — rethink their strategy.

Or, to put it another way, “regulation, it’s not just for developers and other parasites any more.”

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

700 MHz Auction Update — FCC Republicans Interested In Public Interest Proposals While Senate Democrats Take a Pass.

Welcome once again to the topsy-turvy land of spectrum politics. Although Republican FCC Chair Kevin Martin shattered expectations by seeking comment on the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition (PISC) proposals for the 700 MHz auction, the Senate Democrats have decided to avoid having anyone from the public interest discuss the auction at next Thursday’s (June 14) hearing. In other words, despite my hope to the contrary, the Democratic Senate Commerce Committee is still playing spectrum politics under the old rules (treating this as an industry food fight and a chance to raise revenue), rather than using this as a chance to promote a robust public debate on how to ensure that wireless auctions promote competition and serve the public interest.

As a result, when the Senate Commerce Committee gathers to ask how the 700 MHz wireless auction can introduce new competitors for broadband and facilitate the open networks critical for civic engagement and innovation, they will hear from Mr. Dick Lynch of Verizon Wireless, Mr. Michael Small of Centennial Communications Corporation, and Dr. Amol R. Sarva of the Wireless Founders Coalition For Innovation. While Verizon has supported anonymous bidding, and the Wireless Founders Coalition supports open access, that hardly takes the place of having actual public interest representatives up there to press for real spectrum reform regardless of the impact on business models or bottom lines. As I say all too often (everyone repeat together) citizen movements must be citizen driven, and that includes giving us folks pushing the public interest an opportunity to speak rather than relegating us to the side-lines because corporate interests overlap with ours.

More below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Slurpr! Slurpr! For Fun Legal Questions, It's A Wonderful Toy.

Numerous websites that follow wireless news have reported about a new wireless box called Slurpr, which allows someone to aggregate up to six open wifi access points at once. In just about the next sentence, of each of these reports warns of the potential legal consequences of “stealing wifi” by using an open network that the operator does not intend for open use. Or, as Glenn Fleishman put it: “This might get you arrested six times in one day.”

But will it? And, perhaps more importantly, should it? With the rise of applications like FON, wifi enabled phones, and now the introduction of Slurpr, we need to get this issue resolved sooner rather than later. Otherwise, we can expect to see more arrests of folks unaware they are committing a crime and another equipment/application industry killed off by regulatory uncertainty.

As I have argued before, it makes much better legal and policy sense to require access point operators (and the equipment manufacturers who set the defaults) responsible for their own equipment and require them to close a network rather than to require the public to treat all open networks as off limits unless the operator somehow expressly tells the user it’s o.k. Why shouldn’t the act of blasting an open network into a publicly accessible place or onto someone else’s property be sufficient invitation to use the network, especially when it would encourage people to set power levels to appropriate levels and stop imposing interference costs on the rest of us? Why on Earth do we want a legal presumption that imposes obligations on the broader public instead of the operator, makes it much harder for people that actively want to share their networks, and encourages (rather than discourages) interference problems and poor spectrum management? Most especially, why do we do this when creating this presumption actually flies in the face of the usual legal presumptions about intrusions of private property into the public sphere?

The only answer I can come up with is that network technologies appears to have the amazing power of turning certain people’s brains into pudding and making them forget about 10,000 years of human experience of living in urban environments. For further elaboration on these themes, see below . . .

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Posted in Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , | 5 Comments (Comments closed)
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