Tales of the Sausage Factory

The Comedy of Comcast v. FCC Part I — What Did The Court Actually Do?

It’s been rather busy the last few weeks. Between my unfairly holding Sprint responsible for its own screw ups, shamelessly cheering on the documentation of our national broadband drought by Our Great Google Overlords, and generally crushing all who dare oppose me, it’s been hard to find time to blog about stuff. So naturally, while I was away for the last day of Passover, the DC Circuit issued its long awaited decision in the Comcast/BitTorrent case, Comcast v. FCC.

Needless to say, the opinion was greeted with the total hysteria that has become the hallmark of the network neutrality debate — with terms like “Nuclear Option,” “World War III,” and “spanking.” Opponents of FCC jurisdiction rejoiced, supporters of network neutrality lamented, and a few shrewd observers noted that the actual outcomes could prove far worse for Comcast and the incumbents than if Comcast had lost (as I noted after oral argument last January).

My co-counsel, Marvin Ammori, has written up his retrospective here. Understandably, he’s rather bummed. Despite this whole thing being my idea in the first place, however, I’m actually rather pleased and amused with how this whole thing is turning out. Sure, I would much rather have won. But as the history of the last 2+ years of this unfolds, the tale of how Comcast managed to bluff, badger, and bungle itself into a position where it has not only guaranteed harsher condition on its merger with NBC-Universal, but revived the possibility of classifying broadband access as a Title II telecom service for the first time in 10 years, is the stuff of high farce. And while I wish I could claim credit for this outcome, the real “heroes” here are Brian Roberts (head of Comcast) followed closely by AT&T, NCTA and the Republican party.

To try to keep this manageable, I’ll divide this into two posts. Below, I will try to set forth what the court actually said and the immediate legal implications, without worrying too much about the overall policy. While I can hardly claim to be an impartial observer, I’ll do my best to identify my editorial comments as such and note where reasonable minds can differ. In Part II, I shall shamelessly indulge myself with my own eyewitness to history and why I think the Comedy of Comcast v. FCC deserves its special place in the realm of farce — although we have by no means reached a certain conclusion.

More below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

GOP To America: All Well In Cable-Land! Skyrocketing Rates and Lousy Customer Service All In Your Mind! Forget What We Said Last Summer About Needing COPE!

I must applaud the Republican House Commerce Committee members for their willingness to stay bought. Why else would 23 of the 26 Republicans on the House Commerce Committee send this letter celebrating the perfection of the cable industry in the United States and opening a can of whoop-ass on Kevin Martin for daring to suggest otherwise? Because if that letter came in response from hundreds of constituents complaining that their cable service costs too little and the service is too good, I’ll eat my lap top.

God knows, with the number of issues on their plate and with their party’s standing plummeting in the polls, you’d think Republicans would decline to publicly defend the cable industry. What with rates consistently rising faster than inflation (and despite increasing profits-per-subscriber until the last quarter or so), cable operators have raised rates every year – whether they need to or not. As if that were not enough, the customer service records of the major cable companies are abominable (or why would Mona “The Hammer” Shaw have attained folk-hero status?). So with us heading into an election, and the Republicans weighed down by all the baggage of the Iraq War, corruption scandals, accusations of cronyism and mismanagement, and a general anti-special interest sentiment in the electorate, you wouldn’t think the Republican party would rise up en mass to defend the cable industry from one of their own?

And yet that is precisely what 23 Republican members of the House Commerce Committee just did. Upset that Kevin Martin has proposed several items for the next FCC meeting that limit cable market power, the Commerce Committee Republicans have leaped to the defense of the cable industry. “Shame!” They have cried to Kevin Martin. “All is well in cable-land! The industry is intensely competitive, prices are low, service is wonderful, and consumers are bursting with happiness! How can you even think of regulating the cable industry?”

Mind you, these are the same Republicans who in the summer of ’06 were so gosh darn concerned about the lack of cable competition that they were all set to completely rewrite the Telecom Act to help phone companies get into video. Because God knows if we didn’t deregulate phone companies we couldn’t get any competition for cable, and Lord knows we needed competition for cable. But when you are a member of the Republican Party and you see a special interest and regular campaign contributor in need, you don’t worry about such fiddlin’ details as consistency with your past positions. Either that, or we should assume Mr. Barton, Mr. Upton, and the rest that championed the “we must deregulate the phone companies to bring competition to cable” bill in 2006 believe that the whole competition thing worked itself out, so that is now — in the words of the 23 Commerce Committee Republicans — “significant competition in the video programming marketplace.”

So now we see the delightful sight of Mr. Barton, Mr. Upton, and the rest of the Republican Cable Commerce Cheering Squad, who last summer couldn’t vote fast enough to deregulate because we needed cable competition, taking FCC Chairman Martin out to the woodshed for daring, DARING to suggest that cable has market power and that therefore the FCC should take steps to address this problem, or at least bloody recognize the reality. (Apparently, flip-flopping is not a problem if it is bought and paid for flip-flopping.)

So rest assured America, in the fight between your personal well-being and the profit margins of GOP campaign contributors, you can always count on the Republicans to stay bought and stand up for special interests.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

TotSF: Theses on the Democratic Church Door

I am posting here a call to arms from Adam Werebach of Common Assets. I agree with the gist of Adam’s Theses (no surprise). And, as I have also long said, it is worth than useless to let others define your rights for you.

All of us who do not share the vision put forward by the Republican Party have an obligation to help craft a new vision. We must not remain mourners at our own funeral, waiting for a majority of the nation to “share our worldview.” Nor should we cling to the delusion that some surface, cosmetic change can make it all better.

I intend to be at DNC Headquarters at 430 S Capitol St, SE at 7:30 a.m. on November 15, if I can find someone to get Aaron to school. For anyone else interested, David Steuer has set up a new website for this.

Now, more than ever,

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Tales of the Sausage Factory: Clear Channel Settlement Signals Indecency Running Out Of Steam

The FCC and Clear Channel reached a settlement on all pending indecency proceedings involving Clear Channel. You can read a copy of the Consent Decree and the statements of the various Commissioners here. As usual, I’m more interested in what it means. To me, this says “the Bush Administration wants indecency to go away as an issue.” Surprised?

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