Tales of the Sausage Factory

White Spaces Lurches Forward Again. OET Issues Good But Weird Proposal.

Over a year ago, the FCC took a major leap forward on deployment of broadband and rethinking our national spectrum policy by voting to open the unused broadcast channels for unlicensed use (aka the “broadcast white spaces”). The Order left a bunch of questions unanswered, such as who would run the proposed database of available frequencies for white space use. Petitions for Recon got filed, lots of requests for revision and modification of the rules got made, and then nothing happened.

In fairness to OET, it’s been a busy year. First there was a change in administration, then it was “all DTV all the time” until the magic June 12 deadline. Then it was bringing on a new FCC Chair and two additional new Commissioners. Then it was “National Broadband Plan all the time.” But still, it was with a tremendous sense of relief that the process had not utterly vanish off the FCC’s radar screen that I saw the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology release a Public Notice on the database. At last! We can get moving on this again, and hopefully move forward on the most promising ‘disruptive’ technology currently in the hopper.

And move we are, in a very peculiar fashion. Rather than resolve the outstanding questions about how the database provider will collect money, operate the database, or whether the database will be exclusive or non-exclusive, the Public Notice asks would-be database managers to submit proposals that would cover these issues. Further, parties have until January 4, 2010 to submit proposals. The FCC will take comment from members of the public on the proposals a month later.

I label this approach “good, but weird.” On the one hand, this seems to my non-engineering and well ordered mind to be totally backwards. How the heck can anyone tell if they want to manage the database when they don’t even know what the requirements are. On the other hand, this basically accomplishes the same thing by having would-be operators that have been pestering the FCC to resolve the matter and trying to get the FCC to adopt rules that favor their own technology/business model a chance to stop pretending that these rules are neutral and the opportunity to make their pitch directly to the FCC. It also cuts down on the number of steps until we actually have a functioning database and can start deploying the technology. Finally, having just gone back and looked at the 2008 Order, the FCC was fairly explicit (Par. 221) that this was always the plan.

And, as usual, I really wish the FCC would not sit around taking months to decide things and then want an immediate response out of us poor public interest folks with our limited resources.

But on the whole, I’m very happy indeed.

More below . . .

Read More »

Posted in Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

If I Love The FCC's Comcast-BitTorrent Order So Much, Why Did I Appeal It?

So last Friday, Media Access Project filed 3 Petitions for Review asking the federal courts to order the FCC to order Comcast to stop blocking p-2-p immediately. None of this wait until the end of the year crap. We filed on behalf of Vuze.com (in the Ninth Circuit), Consumers Union (Second Circuit), and PennPirg (a member of Consumer Federation of America) (Third Circuit).

Comcast, for its part, filed in the D.C. Circuit. I have not heard of any other filings, but it is possible.

More details, and what comes next, below . . .

Read More »

Posted in Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Sixth Circuit Upholds FCC on LFA Limits: A Bad Decision and A Sad Day for Localism, With Possible Silver Lining for Ancillary Authority and Leased Access.

The Sixth Circuit has denied the Petitions for Review filed by local franchise authorities (LFAs) and PEG programmers challenging the FCC’s December 2006 Order limiting the ability of LFA’s to negotiate with telco video overbuilders. (You can read a copy of the decision here.)

I am rather disappointed with the decision, as readers might imagine. Not only do I think limiting the authority of LFA’s to protect their residents is a phenomenally bad idea, I think the court takes a very expansive view of FCC authority over LFAs given the legislative history and the statute in question.

On the other hand, the decision potentially provides a substantial boost both the FCC’s ancillary authority and to its leased access reform order, currently pending before the Sixth Circuit. While I find this rather cold and uncertain comfort at the moment, it’s the best I can do in the face of what has become an utter rout for LFAs and PEG programmers. God willing, a future FCC will conduct the inquiry into strengthening PEG programming Commissioners Adelstein and Copps have repeatedly urged.

Some further analysis of the decision and what it might mean below…

Read More »

Posted in Cable, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

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

Assessing the 700 MHz Order Part II: “C” Does Not stand For “Crap;” Why the Wireless Carterfone Condition Is A Big Win.

Few things in the last few days have generated more discussion and overall pessimism in the Order than the C Block “wireless Carterfone” or “network attachment” conditions. “A tease,” says Art Brodsky. “Crippled by loopholes,” opines Susan Crawford.

“Not so fast!” Says yr hmbl obdnt blogger. In point of fact, there is a a hell of a lot here to like in the C Block conditions. Not just for trying to get actual devices attached, but in terms of FCC precedent and broader spectrum policy. This is an “Eyes on the Prize” moment, similar to the preliminary decisions that culminated in Brown v. Board of Education. We did not win the grand prize, but we got a lot good precedent for future spectrum reform.

Further, as I explain below, I do not think the conditions the FCC imposed here are meaningless. To the contrary, I think the rules are about as aggressive as possible to draft (as I worked hard with Commissioner Adelstein and his staff to think of anything I could possibly add to them). But at the end of the day, what matters is the political will. If the next FCC (which will be the FCC that enforces this) wants to give these license conditions meaning, it has the tools to do so. If a future FCC wants to make this meaningless, then there is nothing we can do no matter how well we draft things.

And I will add that if anyone has some better ideas on what to put in as rules, they should certainly file Petitions for Reconsideration

My analysis of why the C Block conditions do matter below . . . .

Read More »

Posted in Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

“Our Viewers Don't Need News! One percent of time is too much already!”

In the last week of December, my employer Media Access Project filed Petition to Deny the television license renewals in the Portland-Salem market in Oregon. As detailed in the Pettition to Deny, the broadcast stations spent only 1% of time in October covering local elections. We argue that this amounts to a complete failure under any standard by these stations, individually and collectively, to meet their obligations to their local viewing areas. (We filed similar Petitions, still pending, against stations in Milwaukee and Chicago.)

Bill Johnstone, spokesman for the Oregon Association of Broadcasters did not dispute the findings of the study on which MAP based the Petition to Deny. Instead, Mr. Johnstone asserted that the the one percent was too much. Mr. Johnstone argued that one percent of time devoted to local political news for the people of Oregaon (or at least, the Salem-Portland market) was “more than our fill.” Indeed, Mr. Johnstone reckons that folks is generally sick of all that politics and news stuff because (and I am not making this up) “Very few politicians can tell the truth.” Mr. Johnstone also opined that it served the puiblic to make broadcast a local-politics free zone because “given everything else that the public has access to — the Internet, the ads they see and hear, the billboards, the unwelcome calls from candidates” the public must be plum sick of news.

This, of course, explains why broadcasters keep dropping the amount of local news available to the public (as documented in places like the Project on Excellence in Journalism). It’s a public service to provide viewers with a refuge from all that unwelcome input from reality.

At least they are no longer relying on the obviously false statement that they are only ”giving the public what they want“ and that ”if people wanted to see more ‘hard news, we’d broadcast that.“ As surveys and analysis continue to show audineces fed up with the lack of news fleeing in droves to other media. No, apparently the public is best served by making the broadcast media a ”safe haven“ from news. And broadcasters are courageously willing to take the hit on audience share to do it!

Now some of you might think that if, as Mr. Johnstone thinks, most politicians can’t tell the truth, that actual journalists might have the job of exposing those lies and challenging these politicians. In fact, if local news programs started doing that regularly, politicians might try lying less and telling the truth more.
Silly people! That is no longer what we rely on ”journalists“ and ”news“ for. According the the FCC, we now rely on such programs and ”Howard Stern,“ the ”Tonight Show,“ and ”Good Morning America.“ Each of these, the FCC has assured us, is a bona fide news program. And, as the broadasters constantly tell us at the FCC, we have the internet now! ”The internet“ amazingly gives us all our news. In fact, as Mr. Johnstone explains, the internet and paid political advertising provide so much news that it falls to the brave broadcast media to provide a ”safe harbor” where we can insulate ourselves from all this inconvenient news by getting updates every five minutes on the latest celebrity scandal, heartwarming pet trick, or desperate family missing their vacation in Disneyworld due to snow in Denver.

So keep hope, people of Portland and Salem Oregon, you’re local broadcasters are looking out for you! If you, like Mr. Johnstone, thought 1% of time covering local politics in 2006 was too much, then sleep easy. We can promise you that, if things keep going as they’re going, you’ll be even safer from accidental exposure to news in 2008.

Or, if you feel different, you can meet the rest of us down at the National Conference on Media Reform this week and help us plan on how to turn things around.

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in General, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , | 2 Comments (Comments closed)
  • Connect With Us

    Follow Wetmachine on Twitter!

Username
Password

If you do not have an account: Register