Tales of the Sausage Factory

Fairpoint Tries To Scuttle Maine Broadband Stimulus Grant

Ya know, if my state got a grant for $24.5 million to build out broadband networks in underserved areas, I would jump for joy. Not only does that mean jobs in the short term, but economic development in the long term. So why did Maine State Senator Lisa Marrache (D-Waterville) and Maine State Rep. Stacey Fitts (R-Pittsfield) introduce legislation to keep the University of Maine from participating in the $30 million partnership project with Great Works Internet (also based in Maine)? is it a coincidence that Fairpoint — that champion of rural private sector broadband which has proved the power of the private sector by defaulting on debt, declaring bankruptcy, and pissing off regulators — has been busy challenging this application and has been chanting the usual slogans about how the public sector should (a) keep out of broadband, and (b) hurry up with my Universal Service Fund bailout?

Without knowing whether Marrache and Fitts are direct recipients of Fairpoint’s campaign contribution largess, or merely ideologically sympatico with the notion of keeping federal money for job creation out of Maine and telling their constituents that they’ll get broadband when Fairpoint is good and ready to give it to them, this little incident provides a valuable reminder why Congress ought to finally pass the Community Broadband Act, which would prevent states legislatures from shafting their citizens in the name of ideological purity.

More below . . .

Read More »

Posted in Tales of the Sausage Factory, The Stimulus Package (ARRA) | Also tagged , , , | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

D Block Drama Erupts! NENA Breaks Ranks! Wireless Carriers At War! Oh, the Humanity!

Yes, for policy wonks in the summer, this is high drama. Once upon a time, before the 700 MHz auction, we used to have two very clear groups of stakeholders in spectrum policy land. We had public safety on one side and commercial wireless carriers on the other. (We also had us public interest folks, but no one — especially in the Wireless Bureau — gave a crap about us.) While these two groups might disagree internally, they solidified into utterly united and utterly opposing camps when confronting each other — regarding the battle for spectrum as a zero sum game with each side trying to wrestle every last MHz out of the other one.

But the 700 MHz changed all that. It cemented the spectrum advantage of AT&T and Verizon over all other carriers, breaking the commercial world into “AT&T and Verizon” and “carriers who need backhaul, roaming agreements, and special access — all of which they buy from AT&T and Verizon.” And it fractured consensus in the public safety community by creating the enormous loose end known as the “D Block.” As readers may recall (and if they don’t, you can check out my extensive coverage of the 700 MHz auction) the D Block was the private part of a public/private partnership where a private entity would bid and then build out the network, then enter into a sharing agreement with the public safety block. Sadly, for various reasons I will not rehash here, this didn’t work out.

And now, just when it looked like public safety was lining up behind AT&T and Verizon to lobby Congress to reallocate the D Block entirely to public safety, all Hell breaks loose. The “not Verizon and AT&T” wireless carriers have introduced a counter proposal to take back the 12 MHz on the public safety side of the partnership and auction the whole 22 MHz for commercial use as one, unpaired block. And they have received the backing, sort of, of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA).

What drama to greet the arrival of Chairman Genachowski and the finally fleshed out full FCC! Commercial wireless carriers at war! Public safety in disarray! Spectrum brother against spectrum brother in the ultimate spectrum policy smackdown!

I analyze the possible deals, the potential winners and losers, and my guesses on odds for success below . . . .

Read More »

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

Tales of the Sausage Factory

The UK Broadband Infrastructure And the Debate We Should Be Having.

This article from the London Times is useful both for its substance and for what it says about the sorry state of the debate in the U.S. While the U.K. has much higher available penetration and speed than the U.S., it is considered rather pokey and slow for Europe. As the article observes, the problem is that private companies don’t want to invest in upgrades of infrastructure.

More below . . .

Read More »

Posted in Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , | 4 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

D Block Rides Again! And the NPRM Is Already Released!

If I weren’t generally pleased with my quick flip through of the Commission’s Latest Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on D Block, I would declare it a true sign of the coming of the Apocalypse. Amidst the Mighty Earthquakes, the Great Whirlwinds, and other terrible signs and wonders, THE FCC RELEASED A NOTICE OF PROPOSED RULEMAKING ON THE SAME DAY AS THE OPEN MEETING!!!! Tremble all ye telecom whores Babylon, for the Day of Judgment is surely upon us!

I must also take the opportunity to give a huge THANK YOU to Commissioner Copps and whoever else got us a full 30 days for comment and 15 days for reply. Because given how impossible it will be to met these deadlines, I shudder to think what would have happened on an “accelerated” schedule.

A bit more below . . . .

Read More »

Posted in General, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

So What Did Cyren Call Have To Say Now That The Curtain Is Lifted? Turns Out We Agree On A Lot.

Last night at 6 p.m., the anticollusion rules finally lifted and everyone in the universe started blabbing about the auction. Google confirmed that the conventional wisdom was right and I was wrong about their motives for bidding (ah well). AT&T and Verizon talked about their upcoming 4G Networks, and AT&T confirmed it places enormous value on its ability to squeeze monopsony rents out of its customers and vendors and therefore avoided the C Block. But most interesting, and not terribly well reported, was Morgan O’Brien’s response to the allegations around D Block, and subsequent interview with Jeff Silva at RCRWireless. While denying that Cyren call “killed” Frontline or “demanded” $50 million/yr for ten years, O’Brien does say that yes, a meeting took place, and yes, O’Brien asked for $50 million/yr as a lease payment in his opening negotiation positions.

One will pardon me for regarding this as a complete vindication of the story I broke back in January, thank you very much. I have always been careful to observe that I don’t think Morgan O’Brien meant to drive Frontline out of the auction or scare off other bidders, or even necessarily did anything wrong. But whatever O’Brien’s intent, it seems pretty clear that this was the straw that broke Frontline’s back and may have scared away other bidders as well (that still remains to be seen based on the FCC’s processes and investigations, and what turns up at the House Telecom Subcommittee Hearing on the 15th).

Critically, however, I agree with Morgan O’Brien’s bottom line. This should not be about finding a “fall guy” or assigning blame if it turns out no FCC rules were broken. What’s important is to figure out how to make the D Block public/private partnership work (or find some other productive solution for this spectrum). PSST will be an important part of that process going forward, and no one should imagine that I am suggesting otherwise.

More below . . . .

Read More »

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

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Quick 700 MHz Updates

First, we at PISC have sent a letter to the FCC asking the FCC to sever the D Block issues, announce the winners of the rest of the auction, and thoroughly investigate the allegations around Cyren Call and its pre-auction discussion with Frontline. (Martin has apparently already circulated something that severs D Block, so they can announce results as soon as the other Commissioners vote and the wireless bureau finishes the necessary housekeeping.)

Perhaps more importantly for the long run, we ask that the FCC take a hard look at whether to try to fix the public/private partnership or possibly do something else. The FCC has a lot of options here. And with the auction clearing over $19 Billion and the statutory requirement to start an auction before January 28, 2008 fulfilled, the money pressure and time pressure are off. We have time to have a public process and do it right.

Second, here is Kevin Martin’s official statement explaining why the auction was a huge success (and, by implication, why he did a bang up job getting this done). Martin, sensitive to the grumblings from folks who say that different rules could have gotten more revenue, included this handy chart showing that, on a pure revenue basis, the 700 MHz auction is the most successful FCC auction ever.

(In the reading the tea leaves department, I note that the chart subtracts out the D Block bid. And indication the FCC won’t just pass off the D Block to the lone low bidder? Maybe, but no surprise if that turns out to be the case.)

You can find Tate’s statement here. I have not seen official statements from any of the other offices.

Stay tuned . . . .

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

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Stop the Auction! Congress and the FCC Must Investigate D Block Allegations Before Proceeding.

This is a reprint of a piece I just posted on the Public Knowledge Policy Blog.

Read More »

Posted in Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , | 7 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Did Morgan OBrien and Cyren Call Kill Frontline?

I’m getting a number of folks from different walks of life coming forward with the same story: Morgan O’Brien was the direct cause of Frontline’s investors pulling out.

Of course, there is no way I can actually confirm this on the record because the people in the room either can’t talk about it (due to the anticollusion rules) or won’t. Nevertheless, having confirmed this with sources I find reliable and who could not have coordinated with each other, I feel I need to come forward here and put this on the table. D Block and the public safety partnership are far too important to end up falling victim to the combination of insider baseball, manipulation and greed that appears at play here.

I have absolutely not talked to anyone at the FCC about this. No one at the FCC can legally respond to any of this, and I would not ask them to do so. Similarly, in my discussions, I have been at pains to avoid any conflict with the anticollusion rules. Nevertheless, the sources I have are, I believe, reliable, and I have therefore made a decision to go forward with this story. I must also add that because I am on sabbatical, I have not had any discussions about this with my employer, Media Access Project, or with anyone at Media Access Project while developing this story.

Details below . . . .

Read More »

Posted in Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

700 MHz Auction: D Block Panic, Damping Expectations, And My Final Thoughts Before the Opening Bell.

After so much pre-game hype, it’s hard to believe we have actually gotten down to the 700 MHz Auction week. The fun and games will start January 24, although we won’t know (much) about the auction until it is all over sometime in late February or early March.

Not surprisingly, the news that Frontline Wireless , the company that did so much to shape the rulemaking around the “D Block” public/private partnership, went belly up before the auction even started has triggered a round of hand-wringing about the fate of D Block and finger-wagging by those who always thought it was a bad idea to impose any kind of conditions on licenses. As a result, we see a slew of stories questioning whether anyone will bid for D Block (or, at least, meet it’s $1.3 billion reserve price), with some spillover questioning about the future of the auction itself.

While I agree with GigaOm that wireless auctions aren’t for wimps, I do think the panic over Frontline’s failure to scrounge up capital to make the necessary up front payment (the “ante” required to buy “bidding credits” to participate in the auction) is exaggerated. Nor am I as pessimistic that the auction will produce some groundbreaking changes as others, although it could well happen that we get through this auction with no new “disruptive third-pipe providers.” I think we will certainly see the auction hit the $10 billion Congress estimated (and the FCC set as aggreagte reserve price), and we will see C Block meet its $4.6 billion reserve price.

On the other hand, if things start to go poorly in the auction, we may see some panic moves by the FCC, particularly with regard to D Block. The possibility that the FCC may retroactively drop the reserve price on D Block (possibly without holding a reauction) may introduce strategic behavior into the auction. Of course, since no one (including the FCC) can actually talk about this possibility makes the speculation even more insubstantial than usual. Still, since the possibility does exist, and because I think such a course would create real problems with the auction, I briefly discuss it below.

Analysis below . . . .

Read More »

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

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Muniwifi and the Minneapolis Bridge Disaster

While the telco/cable lobbying war to make muniwifi illegal has died out (as demonstrated by the most recent defeat for the telco/cable lobbyists in North Carolina), the debate on the actual merits of munibroadband lives on. And it’s a good debate to have. States, cities and local governments should consider their projects carefully. What works in St. Cloud, Florida or Philadelphia will not necessarily work elsewhere. And, with all the possible goals of a muni system (service to residents, service to muicipalities, public safety, digital inclusion, enhance local media, economic stimulus), it is a sound idea to have figured out your benchmarks for success in advance.

Unsurprisingly, those generally opposed to government providing services (particularly where such services are available or could be available from private companies) have spent much time and effort arguing that municipal broadband projects usually end as costly failures. These analysis generally use the standard economic criteria of a for-profit business. i.e., Does the network pay for itself over expected time?

That’s an important question, particularly if a government has made this a goal of buiding the network or if you are a private business looking at a public/private partnership. But governments often make investments in infrastructure or provide services on a residential or subscription basis for other reasons. Here in DC, for example, no one pretends that the City will directly make back the hundreds of millions of dollars spent to attract a professional baseball team. This cost gets justified on the grounds that it will revitalize the Anacostia waterfront area, serve as a source of civic pride, and offer additional benefits that justify the cost.

Which brings us to the performance of Minneapolis muniwifi network in the recent bridge collapse diaster. The presence of the network proved an enormous boon to public safety and the citizens of Minneapolis. Because the city had deployed the network for residential service, it was there when they needed it for public safety. That’s difficult to capture in a balance sheet, but there’s no doubt you’re damn glad to have it when you need it.

Of course, local governments can always build public safety muni networks. And many do. But multiple use networks (like the Minneapolis one) are a good way to fund such networks, make sure they get fully deployed, and make sure they stay upgraded and operational. A town reluctant to spend money on public safety communications (and many are) may feel better if the public safety network will also provide low-cost connectivity to poorer neighborhoods. Alternatively, a town might feel better about providing residential services at a possible financial loss if they look on the network as also providing critical infrastructure for emergencies.

At the end of the day, every local or state government looking at municipal broadband needs to do a careful evaluation and figure out what it wants and how it will pay for it. The business case is an important piece of that, especially if local governments promise their citizens the network will end up paying for itself with subscriber fees. But the tragedy in Minneapolis provides an important reminder that local governments have other measures of success besides turning a profit.

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in Spectrum, 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