Tales of the Sausage Factory

Enlisting The Power Of The Web For A Bit Of Research Help — Taking the MCDowell/Tate Challenge!

I wish my employer, Media Access Project, had sufficient funds to hire me a research assistant. But they don’t. So I’m going to turn to the collective readership for a bit of fast research to help me refute the pack of lies the cable industry is spreading.

As regular readers know, Martin has proposed a slew of much needed cable reform rules. Chief among these is the finding that cable serves 70% of homes in areas served by cable systems of 36 or more activated channels. NCTA, the cable trade association, has denounced the dea that their members serve that many customers as a vicious lie and generally denounced Martin for carrying on a vendetta against his industry (where “vendetta”=”actually enforce existing law and regulate in the public interest“).

Turns out, however, that Martin did not just pull the numbers out of his posterior. They came from the Warren Communications News Television and Cable Factbook, a neutral and respected industry reporter. According to the Warrens data, cable serves over 71.4% of the relevant market — more than enough to trigger the 70/70 threshold and give the FCC authority to reregulate cable to promote diversity.

To my considerable surprise — given how much Warrens depends on their reputation for accuracy to convince customers to pay many thousands of dollars for this research — the cable industry prevailed on the managing editor of The TV and Cable Factbook to declare their own research unreliable. In fairness, they claim the research is unreliable only when used to prove that the cable industry has passed the 70/70 threshold, so I assume all the advertisers and businesses that rely on this data will not be troubled. They also claim tat the data are unreliable due to systemic underreporting by cable which, as my friend and fellow Wetmachine blogger Greg Rose observed, means that the number of households served must be even more than the 71% Warrens initially found.

Such is the power of cable, however, that the industry reporters following this have uncritically lapped up the NCTA party line while failing the elementary school math noted above (ironically, proving the point about how media consolidation is all about serving corporate interests). Martin’s fellow Republicans on the Commission, McDowell and Tate, apparently determined to make sure that everyone knows that they would never pursue a ”vendetta“ against an industry merely because it has demonstrated market power, sent this letter to Warrens asking for more information (and apparently missing the elementary school math that if you underreport cable subscribers that means they serve more than the number reported). The letter takes a rather nasty shot at Martin, as well as inviting explanation for why the other reporters come in so much lower and looking for validation of the numbers.

Of course, as Rose pointed out in his post, the other numbers come in lower because they are estimates where the cable operators provided even less info than they did to Warrens. But it occurred to me that there is a rather simple way to make the point that even incumbent cable operators passed the 70% threshold sometime ago.

Back for the 2005 cable report, NCTA submitted numbers ranging from 62% to 68.9%. Since then, with the exception of the most recent cable quarter, the cable operators enjoyed consistent growth in their basic subscriber numbers. I would like to find out the quarterly basic subscriber statistics for the largest cable operators (Comcast, Time Warner, Cablevision, Cox, and Charter). If the largest operators enjoyed significant growth after NCTA condeded 68.9% as a valid measurement, then we can have reasonable assurance that findings above 70% are accurate. Problem is, I’m a little strapped for time here.

So I’m turning to the distributed power of the web for help meet the McDowell/Tate Challenge of ensuring that the data meet the highest standards of ”trustworthiness, truthfulness, and viability” (which, I have to say, has not exactly been the case with Commission cable reports before Martin took over. Either make a donation to MAP to get me a research assistant, or send me an email with useful cable statistics.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The 700 MHz Dramedy Continues

Ya know, I had real hopes that, barring a Petition for Reconsideration or two, I was pretty much done with the 700 MHz auction. Sure, Verizon filed a lawsuit with the DC Circuit, but at least we could sit back and stop worrying about the FCC stuff. And besides, the lawsuit didn’t really have much of a chance anyway. So, after a grueling 6 months or so, I thought I could finally relax and turn to something new, like kicking the bejeezus out of the cable monopoly.

Hah.

As recent reports indicate, Verizon has apparently pressed the FCC to “clarify” the C Block conditions. I say “apparently” because Verizon has not actually filed a request for any sort of clarification, reconsideration, or declaratory ruling. Indeed, to my considerable annoyance, it took a modest reprimand from the Wireless Bureau and Martin’s staff for Verizon to actually put something in the record vaguely resembling a description of what Verizon’s most senior lobbyists actually discussed with the Chairman and his staff. Verizon, meanwhile, vigorously denies they ever asked for reconsideration (and, separately, that it finds the accusation that it violated the ex parte shocking and deeply offensive).

In any event, it appears the issue is whether or not Verizon (if it won the C Block licenses) could continue its practice of asking manufacturers to strip out or limit features or applications on devices that run on the C Block. Verizon argues that consumers love subsidized handsets and letting the cell phone operator make all the tough decisions (like what applications can run on the device), and it would therefore be cruel to deny the C Block licensee the right to offer such fantastic products and deals — as long as the C Block licensee will hook up any third party device that meets the technical standards.

To Martin’s credit, he reached out to the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition (PISC) and asked our opinion on whether the C Block licensee should be able to sell “crippled” devices as long as it will also connect any third party device to the network. Martin was apparently sufficiently impressed by my wisdom that he then tried to issue a clarification that Harold Feld is right and Verizon is wrong. The Democrats promptly moved to block, because they suspected a trap, since the idea that Martin would side with me over Verizon is apparently laughable (I have no doubt the Democrats mean that in a nice way and that it does not reflect on the quality of my wisdom). Of course, I have no idea what the proposed clarification actually said, since it is illegal to show me the actual predicisional text. But it is not illegal for Martin to say that he agreed with me or for the Dems to say that’s not how they read the proposed clarification. Remember, ambiguity is the essence of comedy.

In any event, as in any good dramedy, further hijinks naturally ensue from this potent combination of distrust and lack of information. Rumors of this “clarification” prompted Verizon’s arch-nemesis, supporter of wholesale access, and potential rival bidder Frontline to challenge Verizon’s efforts to get the rules changed. This triggered a response from Verizon that they hadn’t asked for a rules change, and that furthermore, on reconsideration, the FCC should issue a declaratory ruling that “Frontline is ugly and their VCs dress them funny.” Meanwhile, now with a full posse of PISC buddies, I went back to the FCC to explain that while I am always flattered to have the FCC declare my interpretation of its rules to be the law of the land (and encourage them to do this on a more regular basis), we at PISC think the Order is perfectly clear and that if anyone wants it clarified they should have to formally file a motion and ask.

One might logically ask why, if Verizon wants the Order changed or clarified, it doesn’t just file a motion and ask. That would be a problem for Verizon, however, because it cannot simultaneously file a Recon Petition under 47 USC 405 and a Petition for Review by a federal appellate court under 47 USC 402. There are ways to try to get around this, but this statutory conflict would explain why Verizon has danced around this issue and pretended it is merely a continuation of its previous arguments properly filed in this docket. Assuming, of course, that they actually want a clarification, which they claim they don’t.

So, if Verizon hasn’t put in an explicit request, why does Martin feel a need to act? Does Verizon really have a leg to stand on, or is this just an effort to refight the same battle? And what about the tech companies? Why don’t we want the FCC to proclaim that I am right on my interpretation of the Order? And will the Red Sox finally face the Cubs in a World Series “curse off?”

O.K., I have no clue on the last one. But as for the rest of these questions (and perhaps a bit more), see below….

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Public Knowledge And the IP3 Awards

Once again, Public Knowledge is calling for nominations for its IP3 Awards. These awards honor people who have made valuable contributions in the fields of intellectual property, information policy, and internet protocol. Nominations must get in by September 14. Send nominations to IP3nominees@publicknowledge.org.

To quote from the PK announcement:

These are individuals who over the past year (or over the course of their careers) have advanced the public interest regarding one of the three kinds of “IP.” While these increasingly overlapping policy arenas pose important challenges for us, they also create important opportunities for creative individuals in each of the three underlying fields to advance the public interest.

Normally, this is where I would insert a rather broad hint that the labor of yr hmbl obdnt blogger and others in the realm of open spectrum would make me an excellent candidate for nomination. Fortunately, you are spared this outrageous and self-serving spectacle by the fact that I am actually judging the nominations this year. Accordingly, nary a word of encouragement that might suggest bias on my part shall pass my lips or make it to this public page.

Instead, I’ll just urge everyone to send nominations in by September 14. Remember, send your nominations to IP3nominees@publicknowledge.org.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Microsoft Screws Up the White Spaces; or, Why Citizens Movements Are Citizen Driven — the Latest Example

As most of you may have heard by now, the case for using the television “white spaces” for unlicensed use hit an unfortunate snag when the prototype submitted by Microsoft and the tech allies did not perform according to spec. MS and friends now claim that the FCC managed to break the prototype when they took it out of the box. Meanwhile, of course, the broadcaster are making the most of this opportunity to repeat that unlicensed use of the white spaces can never work (ignoring that the the Philips prototype worked perfectly in the lab and that New America Foundation submitted its own, independent engineering data in support of sensing technology).

I have blogged extensively about this on my Public Knowledge blog. Briefly, while an annoying political set back, it means very little from an engineering perspective. There is plenty of evidence from both the Philips proptotype, the New America Foundation data, and other relevant technologies (such as the sharing of the 5.3 GHz space with military radar) to prove the essential soundness of the concept. While important work needs to be done in terms of actually setting appropriate standards and then building devices that will perform to spec, we know it can be done — assuming Microsoft’s blunder doesn’t create enough political noise to kill or cripple the project.

Which is why I bother to blog again about it here. To underscore yet again the importance of making sure citizen’s movements are citizen driven and that we do not allow ourselves to let corporate allies do all the heavy lifting. It’s nice to have big friends like Microsoft and Google. They sure as heck open a lot of doors and can bring a lot of resources to the fight. But never, never, NEVER make the mistake of letting them handle the driving of an issue when the public interest is at stake.

And, if I may make some pointed remarks to my friends in the open software and GNU Radio movement. Some time back I linked to this excellent piece urging techies to spend more time making the mechanisms of government work and less time merely bitching about how government keeps coming up with the wrong result. Here is an excellent opportunity to step up to the plate and provide some open source prototypes (or even simply additional test data) that demonstrate proof of concept. No, this is not a simple project. It requires an investment of time and resources. But the payoff is potentially huge. I’m making a standing offer for techies who want to contribute some real science and engineering know-how to the cause of open spectrum: if you have something you want submitted, contact me and I will work with you to get it in the record (or explain to you why it is not as useful as you thought and how you can improve it). Because I can tell you from experience that the engineers at the FCC are actually very eager to get as much data as possible and to get the engineering right on this.

Because freinds, this is like anything else in our democracy. If you don’t participate, then you’re just bleeting sheep. But if you come play, you can make a difference. As Ben Franklin once said: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner. Liberty is a well armed lamb protesting the vote.”

Time for us to see if we have enough well armed lambs, or if the techno-herd would rather see Microsoft do the fighting.

Stay tuned . . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

700 MHz Endgame: Martin Antes. AT&T Raises. Google Calls. Does AT&T Fold or Call?

So yesterday, AT&T was extolling the virtues of the Martin plan. Among its virtues, Jim Ciconni included:

In effect, Chairman Martin’s plan faces Google and others with a “put up or shut up” opportunity. If they are serious, they will be able to bid and test their model in the marketplace against the business models of companies already enjoying widespread consumer acceptance.

Critically, Ciconni was referring to the “reserve price” feature of the Martin plan. To protect himself against the threat that even his device only open access would depress auction revenues, if the 22 MHz “C” block did not fetch at least $4.6 billion in bids, the FCC would cancel that part of the auction, split the 22 MHz int two 11 MHz blocks, and reauction without conditions. (Reserve prices are not uncommon in spectrum auctions, although as far as I know they have never been tied to a specific condition.)

So today, Google’s Eric Schmidt called Ciconni’s raise. In a letter to Chairman Martin, Schmidt committed to bidding a minimum of $4.6 for the “C” Block — but only if the Commission adopts all “four opens” that Google demanded in its letter last week and endorsed by the public interest coalition, Frontline, and a bunch of others. That means not just real device attachment and open application rules, but also real wholesale obligations at non-discriminatory prices. (You can find Google’s blog post explaining their letter here.)

The fear that Google would not bid no matter what, or that only one or two companies would bid on a license with wholesale open access conditions, has been one of the central features of the debate. Even ardent believers in real open access like Commissioner Adelstein have expressed real concerns over this. And, as I have noted previously, AT&T and its various sock puppets and Republican subsidiaries have used the threat of messing with the revenues as a major weapon against wholesale open access.

In a stroke, the Google letter changes the nature of the game. Google has now guaranteed that the feds will make their auction projections — but only if they include real open access. Meanwhile, rumors swirl that it may be AT&T, rather than Google, that sits this auction out. Suddenly, we switch from “will including wholesale open access keep out bidders and lower the revenue” to “will not including wholesale open access keep out needed bidders and drive down revenue.”

Meanwhile, the clocks ticks toward deadline. What does it mean? What happens next? And will I ever get a vacation this summer?

See below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

700 MHz Endgame: Has AT&T Asked Bush to Put Thumb On Scale?

Unsurprisingly, in the swirl of folks around this week’s House Commerce “iPhone” Hearing, rumors and gossip about the 700 MHz Endgame abounded. In the nasty-but-sadly-believable category comes a rumor that the Bells have asked (through a wholly owned subsidiary in the House) for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to do a “study” on whether any open access condition (of any definition) or other incumbent restriction (such as the spectrum caps urged by the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition) will depress auction revenue.

To those who know how these things usually work, the first question is “Why Ask OMB and not the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) or the Congressional Research Service (CRS), which usually do this sort of thing?” And to those of us who have lived through the last 6 years of an Administration that spells “research” P-R-O-P-O-G-A-N-D-A will cynically answer, “because that way the telcos can make sure they get the ‘right’ result.” Unlike CBO or CRS, which are under the control of Congress and generally take their research pretty seriously, OMB is directly under the control of the Bush administration.

Man, Telco spying for NSA is just the gift that keeps on giving. First the Bush Justice Department behaves like a nice little lap doggie and rolls over and plays dead for AT&T buying BellSouth. Then Bush tried to give the Bells retroactive immunity for what they did. Now, according to rumor, Bush will help the telcos rig the auction to keep the status quo.

Some needed background and why the oft-repeated idea that open access will automatically reduce auction revenue is a load of nonsense below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

700 MHz Endgame Part I: Martin Tries To Redefine “Open Access” With A PR Offensive

Martin has opened the endgame on the 700 MHz auction rules with some strategic press leaks to frame the debate and the circulation of his draft Order. According to USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, Martin’s draft proposes including a network attachment/wireless Cartefone rule on two blocks (the “C” and “D” blocks). At the same time, Martin is redefining “open access” to mean network attachment/wireless Cartefone (the issue popularized by Tim Wu with the help of the iPhone) rather than the wholesale obligation pushed by Frontline and the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition (PISC).

What makes Martin’s proposal particularly problematic is that it does actually do some good on issues I (and other folks in spectrum and media reform) care deeply about. It does represent a step forward. But it represents such a baby step, and deferred so far into the future, that it becomes useless for the near term (as Google argued in this recent filing (worthy of a post of its own)) and may actually take the pressure off the FCC to do something real like grant the Skype Petition or do something real on Network Neutrality.

Still, it presents a real challenge for the Democratic Commissioners as they enter into negotiations. Do they hang tough and risk losing everything on a 3-2 partyline vote? Do they accept a compromise, recognizing the political risk?

Worse for the Ds (and supporters of open access generally), the pressure from Congress has gone fairly hard against wholesale open access in recent days. The Republicans in the Senate and the House have bombarded the FCC with letters against wholesale open access. While some Ds (notably Kerry) have supported real open access, the Dem leadership and most Ds have remained on the sidelines. Still, tomorrow’s House Commerce Committee Hearing on Wireless Innovation will offer Democratic leaders to weigh in — if they so desire.

This Is long, so I am going to break it up into a couple of posts. First, the difference between Martin Open Access and Real Open Access . . . .

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Econoklastic

The XM-Sirius Merger: Part One

For a first go I thought I would try something a bit controversial. We expect that the media reform movement, and I count myself part of that movement, would generally oppose mergers which increase media consolidation. As a general rule, that’s true. But the XM-Sirius satellite radio merger is a different case and raises questions about how we approach the issue of mergers generally. This is going to be a bit long (and I tend to be a bit longwinded in any case), so I shall be posting it in installments. Endnotes are at the bottom of the page. There will be a brief quiz…. No. Sorry, forgot where I was for a moment there.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Open Access Included in Spectrum Notice! Fish In Trees! Rivers Running Uphill!

Yesterday, I wrote, with regard to whether the FCC’s Further Notice on the 700 MHz Spectrum Auction would include questions on our open access proposal:

I think our chances of moving forward to the next round are pretty close to zero. OTOH, I live from day-to-day in the hope of pleasant surprises.

Apparently, I live another day. And so does the open access proposal. As explained by Gigi Sohn, we live to fight another day.

It was a wild meeting. Pushed back from 9:30 to 10:30, then pushed off again until 6:45 p.m. The contentious issue was, as predicted, license size. Apparently, McDowell teamed with the Ds to make sure the Further Notice requested comment on a mix of licenses and not just the large licenses that Martin wanted.

The Order is not yet out, so I can’t really assess yet what the results are. Heck, they don’t even have all the seperate statements up yet. Here are links to the news release, Chairman Martin’s statement (expressing disappointment over the license size issue), Commissioner Adestein’s statement (with a shout out to the public interest coalition!), and Commissioner McDowell’s statement (which basically says “I know I’m the swing vote, but I need to catch up on the comments because I’ve been out with my new kid”).

But whatever happens, I gotta give a shout out to Martin for being willing to put the open access question out there and have it debated. Yes, all credit to the Ds. But I don’t believe we would be positioned to have the discussion about wireless open access if Martin had been dead set against it.

Off to bed. It’s been a day.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Get Your Brackets Set for Tomorrow's Spectrum Sweet Sixteen!

In the FCC’s version of “April Madness,” the FCC will hold a meeting tomorrow (April 25). Among other items, the meeting will consider an Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the upcoming 700 MHz Auction.

Readers who plowed through my impossibly long field guide to the 700 MHz auction may recall that I highlighted a large number of issues and players that have clustered around this extremely important auction. Many critical filings and proposals (including, I am embarassed to admit, those of the public interest spectrum coalition) came in after the official deadline. (Hey! We’re busy! If someone wants to give Media Access Project a million dollars or two so we can stay on top of everything, email me!)

The combination of far reaching proposals and lack of time has prompted incumbents to challenge the FCC’s ability to grant these proposals because they do not comply with the “notice” requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The APA requires that an agency give everyone notice of what it plans to do and give interested parties a chance to comment. So the FCC will solve this problem by making some basic decisions now, and rolling over the remaining decisions to a Further Notice. Since we have a statutory deadline ticking away, parties will get only a month for comments and replies, and the FCC will make its final decisions at the end of May or early June. That way, they can still get to the auction by January 2008.

In other words, Wed. represents the first cut on how the FCC will proceed and the general direction it will go for the auction. Will it favor the incumbent push for large license blocks and open bidding? Will it allow the Frontline proposal to go forward? What about network neutrality?

Below I give my “spectrum bracket” for who gets to go from the Sweet Spectrum Sixteen to the Final Four. What’s likely to get cancelled, get renewed, or remains on “the bubble” for next season? Which proposals get “voted off the Island?” For my guesses, and my further entries for the next Stephen Colbert Meta-Free-For-All, see below . . .

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