Tales of the Sausage Factory

A Quick Addendum To My AWS-2/AWS-3 Prediction

Last week, I predicted the FCC would opt to auction the AWs-2/AWS-3 spectrum rather than adopt the M2Z proposal. Yesterday, the FCC issued it’s teaser for recommendations to improve broadband adoption. One of these was “[c]onsider use of spectrum for a free or very low cost wireless broadband service.”

That, of course, was M2Z’s chief selling point. They would provide a free tier for for everyone supported by adds and by the higher-speed, ad free pay tier. So do I want to revise my prediction on whether the FCC will adopt the M2Z or T-Mobile asymmetric auction proposal?

Not at this point. Sure, this tea leaf looks much more favorable to M2Z than it does to T-Mobile. But I note two things. First, the language says “consider” rather than simply “use.” The question of whether to require free service of some kind as a public interest obligation was teed up in the pending AWS-2/AWS-3 proceeding. If they were going to go with M2Z, they wouldn’t say “consider,” they’d say “use spectrum . . . .” Second, there are a number of other ways to use spectrum for free or low cost wireless. These range from expanding the use of unlicensed spectrum to facilitate creation of community wireless networks to mandating “wireless lifeline”-type programs that would require all carriers to offer cheap or free access on a needs basis. It also remains to be seen whether the FCC will actually do anything other than “consider” such an approach, or whether revenue concerns and incumbent resistance will ultimately carry the day.

So while I’m pleased to see the FCC looking at spectrum from a public interest/public welfare perspective, I’m not changing my bet on how the FCC resolves the AWS-2/AWS-3 band fight. The real questions are (a) timetable, and (b) spectrum caps, yes/no? (and no, I haven’t forgotten about Fred Campbell’s standing invite/challenge for me to justify spectrum caps generally, just haven’t gotten time yet). The FCC could conceivably issue an Order with service rules and schedule an auction date. Or it could put out a final set of rules for further notice. My personal bet is thy will move quickly — both to show they are taking action and because OMB would really like to book that revenue. But we’ll have to see.

Heck, I could be entirely wrong in my prediction and they could go with M2Z, or some variant thereof. Stranger things have been known to occur.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Very Interesting Map Of Comments In BB Stimulus Proceeding

In my capacity of consulting with the Benton Foundation, I have been doing work with Kate Williams, a professor of informatix at University of Illinois. Williams has been doing some (IMO) critical work around broadband sustainability. In particular, Kate has been studying the old Technologies Opportunity Program to determine which projects had lasting impact and which didn’t — a rather important consideration for the new and improved BTOP program.

But what caught my attention recently is this very interesting map that Williams compiled based on the comments submitted to BTOP. It places the comments filed on a geographic map, with links to the actual comments themselves. The map includes the 58% of comments filed by the April 13, 2009 deadline which contained reliable information on the location of the commentor. The remaining 42% either gave no location or included location in an attachment which Williams considered insufficiently reliable to determine location.

Why do I find this interesting? Because it potentially provides a very interesting cross check on the state of broadband geographically, as well as who follows these proceedings. I have long lamented that the FCC (and other federal agencies) make so little use of the data they actually collect. At best, an agency may note submission by a class of commentors (e.g., broadcasters, MVPDs, ISPs) in the specific proceeding at issue. But no one tries to take the multiple data sets collected as comments in each proceeding, or in multiple proceedings, and tries to determine patterns and what they might suggest. williams grouping by geography is intriguing, and I cannot help but wonder what would happen if we applied a similar analysis to multiple FCC proceedings — including for comments generated by mass “comment engines” that have become common in some high profile proceedings. It would be very interesting to know, for example, if the people feeling passionate enough about media consolidation or network neutrality cluster geographically and, if so, do we see patterns of geographic interest which might tell us about the actual situation on the ground.

Of course the sampling from comments is not a pure scientific data set in that to comment, a commentor must (a) know about the proceeding, and (b) feel strongly enough to file comments. But the fact that the information has a particular set of biases does not render it meaningless, especially if one controls for this.

I hope researchers use Williams’ map, both to analyze the BTOP comments and as a model going forward for analysis of other proceedings.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Brief update on White Spaces

For those following the current White Spaces follies (or, “how Microsoft crashed an entire proceeding by treating spectrum as if it were software”) the FCC announced it will do further testing on white spaces prototypes.

That’s a modest victory for pro-white spaces forces, as the NAB had tried to leverage the failure of the (broken) Microsoft device to force the FCC to shut down the proceeding (or, more realistically, go with stationary devices and say no to mobile devices, with sufficient restrictions on power level and use of adjacent channels to make the white spaces virtually useless). At the same time, however, it ups the stakes pretty severely. Another “blue screen of static” and the NAB will probably get its way.

My sense is that a majority of Commissioners would like to see this happen, if they are convinced the engineering works. That doesn’t just mean a proof of concept. That means a demonstration that the technology today works sufficiently well that the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology can say with confidence “if devices follow these rules, they will not interfere with people trying to watch free over-the-air TV.” We know the theory works, but is the technology ready for prime time?

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Free Press Rescue Internet Radio Campaign and Paper Magazines

My friends at Free Press have put together a campaign to fight the threat to internet radio. you can find out how to take action at their website here.

Meanwhile, going from newest technology to oldest, Free Press co-founder and media scholar/activist Bob McChesney has sounded the alarm on an increase in postal rates that will hit small magazines much harder than big ones. The deadline for comments in this proceeding is April 23.

The Internet is wonderful, but does not eliminate our need for independent magazines and other “old tech” news and diversity of views. So while I hope that folks will sign the internet radio petition, I really want to urge everyone to sign on to the postal rates campaign as well.

Stay tuned . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

And Suddenly, the Universe Changed

Well, it’s been busy in the Senate today. While all the Senators were locked down by police on a mistaken report of gunfire, they took the time to confirm Robert McDowell for the FCC. For the first time since Michael Powell left in March 2005, the FCC is now back to 3 Republicans and 2 Democrats.

Over the last year, several controversial items have accumulated that the 2-2 Commission could not agree upon. For example, the long-awaited proceeding on media ownership rules, wherein the FCC will again try to relax or eliminate most ownership limits.

Critically, McDowell’s appointment strengthens Martin’s hand to approve the Comcast/Time Warner/Adelphia merger without significant conditions (whereas just yesterday I was hoping Martin would have to persuade the Democrats to agree to an order). The critical question — does Martin want to approve the merger without conditions? As I have written before, Martin has shown himself willing to stand up to the cable industry in the name of competition. For example, Martin co-authored an Op Ed with Senator McCain supporting imposing a la carte on cable.

So, what will Kevin Martin do? He has a free hand for the first time in his history as Chairman. Once again, I urge you all to help Martin make the right decision by following this link to file a comment urging the FCC to deny the Adelphia Transaction, or impose significant conditions.

As for the rest of the media ownership rules, the AT&T/BellSouth merger, and everything else in the media & telecom world

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

DSL Item Released — coulda been worse

After pushing the FCC’s open meeting off for a day and then delaying another hour and half to reach a compromise, Martin got his DSL reclassification order by a uninamous Commission. Instead of the complete deregulation proposed by Powell, the Commission will take steps to protect “network neutrality” and will take steps to protect various other “social” policies (including, unfortunately for us civil libertarian folks, the ability of the FBI to read your email).

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Tales of the Sausage Factory: UPDATE on 3650-3700 MHz

I have been making calls today. The situation is moving in a more favorable direction. The relevant decision makers are getting our emails and see broad popular support for mesh as well as high-power.

Key issues on which decisions have not yet been made and where comments may prove helpful:

1) Allowing low power mobile devices in the band is critical to expanding mesh.

2) Low power mesh requires non-exclusivity and cheap equipment. The Commission should not impose overly conservative interference protection criteria that drive up price. Flexibility has been critical to the success of unlicensed as a networking solution.

3) Mesh devices must be allowed to communicate with each other in a peer-to-peer fashion, rather than requiring mesh devices to communicate with a high power base station.

4) Any system of licensing or registration must be non-exclusive; the Commission must not create a “first in time, first in right” licensing systems.

Remember, things are turning our way, but your comments are still needed to build a record to counter Intel and others. The Proceeding Number is 04-151. You can file comments by going here.

Stay tuned . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Tales of the Sausage Factory: Rescue Orphan Works!

The Copyright Office has begun an important proceeding on ways to allow works where copyright status cannot be determined (called “orphan works”) to become accessible to the public. The good folks at Public Knowledge have this useful blurb and links. For my take, see below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Tales of The Sausage Factory: Unlicensed Spectrum Access II

O.K., so what’s at stake this year and how can you participate? Read below on how to help get more spectrum available for unlicensed access, help boost available power, exercise your democratic rights with your web browser, and educate the FCC and your Congresscritter.

Or you can go back to being a cynical consumer moo cow who thinks bitching and moaning about how stupid government is relieves you of your responsibilities. (Think I have an opinion?)

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