Econoklastic

The Embarq/CenturyTel Merger Is Moving Fast in Oregon

The Embarq/CenturyTel merger is not just pending FCC approval. The transaction, which affects more than eight million access lines in 33 states, must be approved by regulatory agencies in several states.

Washington and Oregon are pivotal in this, partly because of the extensive rural coverage CenturyTel has in both states, and the merger raises substantive issues about industry consolidation and quality of rural service. Were the Washington or Oregon Public Utility Commission to deny the merger, it would likely kill the deal. It is for this reason that Embarq and CenturyTel tried to avoid having the Oregon PUC rule on the merger until a decision by the Oregon Attorney General forced them to do so.

Embarq and CenturyTel tried to fly under the radar, quietly filing their petition on January 1, 2009 with the Oregon PUC (note that the actual petition doesn’t start until page 218 of the .pdf; the rest is data pro forma required by the PUC — got to love state PUCs for having data requirements for corporate petitioners that the FCC never thought about having). There was no public notice until Administrative Law Judge Allan J. Arlow issued a Notice of Prehearing Conference on the PUC website today. The conference will take place on Friday, March 6, 2009 at 1:30 p.m. at the PUC in Salem. This conference “will be to identify parties and interested persons, establish a service list with addresses and telephone numbers, identify issues, and set a procedural schedule.” It is possible to be conference-called into this conference from out-of-state. Call the number on the Notice to arrange it.

What is extremely important is that this proceeding is moving forward very quickly. Parties which have filed as intervenors in other states, including public interest groups, have apparently not taken notice of this fact, as evidenced by the lack of filers in the relevant docket, UM-1416. It is possible to file as an intervenor or interested party electronically. Essentially, if there are few intervenors, it is likelier that public hearings will not take place.

There is a real chance to get serious conditions imposed on this merger if people move fast.

Posted in Econoklastic, General | Also tagged | Comments closed

Tales of the Sausage Factory

What Will Comcast Do Today? First Compliance Check On Comcast/BitTorrent Order.

Back on August 20, the FCC released its Order resolving the complaint against Comcast for blocking P2P protocols. As part of the remedy, the FCC ordered Comcast to provide a full report on its current “network management practices” within 30 days, along with a transition plan for how it intended to manage traffic after it discontinued its current practices. The FCC then invited Free Press and anyone else interested to keep a sharp eye on Comcast.

Comcast has sworn up and down that it will comply with the FCC’s Order and it is only appealing in the D.C. Circuit as a matter of principle. I, nasty cynical public interest dude that I am, so doubt this noble intention that i have filed a law suit of my own to get the FCC to clamp down on Comcast now. So, here we are at last on September 19. What does Comcast do?

Comcast has a range of options. Comcast could refuse to comply, forcing the FCC to take action and potentially giving Comcast grounds to go to the D.C. Circuit for an emergency stay. I think that pretty unlikely, given what a big deal Comcast has made about complying.

Comcast could fully comply. But, to paraphrase Arlo Gutherie, that isn’t very likely and I don’t really expect it.

What I expect is for Comcast to file something incomplete, possibly with a request for the FCC to protect its proprietary data. But more likely they will file something that will be just enough compliance to present Kevin Martin with a nasty political choice: Does he enforce the letter of Order and go in guns blazing against Comcast, knowing that Comcast will make great political hay of his supposed “vendetta” against them? Or does he let Comcast thumb their noses at him and — in addition to the humiliation factor — have public interest groups question whether he really intend to enforce that end of the year deadline and thus call his hard-won consumer protection credentials into question? The situation is further complicated by the internal politics of the Commission. Whichever choice Martin makes (and he gets to make it himself, since it is an enforcement action and not subject to a vote of the full Commission), it is almost certain that two Commissioners will call him on it publicly. McDowell and Tate are almost certain to regard whatever fig leaf Comcast files as sufficient, whereas Copps and Adelstein will likely raise a hue and cry if Martin lets Comcast get away with filing an incomplete report.

As an aside, I also expect Comcast to file after close of business and to do so by hand rather than electronically, so that the content is not immediately accessible. I also do not expect to get a service copy, despite being counsel to complainants. That’s perfectly legal of Comcast, as it can take the position that this is a report to the FCC and not a pleading that needs to be served on the complainant or complainant’s counsel. But it does mean I don’t expect to see what Comcast actually filed until sometime next week.

Happily, I put my trust in the advice of the Bible and do not put my trust in princes — or FCC Commissioners. In this case, the pending Petition for Review gives us a certain leverage, and Comcast will have to consider that it will have a tough time arguing my Petition is moot and pointless when they are not actually in compliance with the FCC’s Order.

Perhaps I misjudge Comcast. It would certainly make my life easier if they just complied and filed something open that detailed their past practices and explained how they planned to go forward (including details of he 250 GB cap). In particular, I very much want to know if Comcast intends to exempt its own content from the 250 GB cap. That would be rather anticompetitive, and without any actual rational connection to the stated need to reduce last-mile congestion. Comcast originated packets running from the head-end to the subscriber take up as much capacity as non-Comcast originated packets.

See, there goes that nasty and suspicious mind of mine again. Still, I hope I’m wrong and Comcast comes clean.

Stay tuned . . . .

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

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 . . . .

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

Tales of the Sausage Factory

D.C. Cir. to Comcast: “Making You Obey The Law Is Not A 'Vendetta.'”

When an industry challenging agency action loses the sympathy of the D.C. Cir., it is a good sign that someone overreached just a tad. In apparent preparation for the The Big Cable Show in New Orleans this week, the D.C. Circuit issued this opinion denying Comcast’s insistence that it deserves a waiver of the FCC’s cable set-top box interoperability rules.

The case actually has an interesting precedential aspect I shall discuss below, but the primary reason I am noting it is because this is the first in a series of cases in which Comcast and the rest of the cable industry have actually pleaded that they should be excused from the law because enforcement is all part of an evil vendetta by Kevin Martin against the cable industry. Really. Because while people may accuse Hilary Clinton of having a “sense of entitlement” about the Democratic Nomination, she has the humility of a saint with zero self-esteem compared with the ravening sense of entitlement of the cable industry.

Mind you, the cable industry won won so much for so long at the FCC that a Chairman willing to enforce the law against the cable industry, with 2 other Commissioners willing to vote with him, is quite the shock to the system. And of course, when you have a paid chorus of wholly owned subsidiaries in Congress and captive industry press (combined, I’m sad to say, with a boatload of easily manipulated public interest groups that should know better but hate Kevin Martin for other reasons), it becomes easy to believe your own press releases. Which is why not merely the cable industry, but their allies as well, have started to put some genuinely stupid and insulting things in their filings that make you shake your head and go “whoa! I can’t believe they actually said that!”

And neither could the D.C. Cir. Not only did the panel hearing the case dryly reprimand the cable industry a few times, but they gave Comcast ‘n friends a very thorough bitchslap in the opinion.

More fun details, and the actual useful legal point, below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The Adelphia Day of Judgment Comes

For over a year now, I’ve intermitently tracked the transaction between Comcast and Time Warner for the bankrupt Adelphia systems. At tomorrow’s open meeting (assuming no last minute delays for further negotiations), the FCC will issue its decision.

How we got here, what happens, and why you should care below.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Quick Updates

A quick update. Regretably, I have been too busy since coming back to type up my notes from the last day of the Media Reform Conference. I will say that Bill Moyers gave an amazing speech about the current attempt by the Bush administration to co-opt public television. Hopefully, I’ll have time to write up my take on the conflict around the Corporation for Public Broadcasting later. For other updates, see below . . .

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