I noted with some considerable interest the February 17 Wall St. Journal Op Ed by Former FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell and Gordon M. Goldstein describing how reclassifying broadband as a Title II telecommunications service will invariably lead to “the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a regulatory arm of the United Nations” asserting jurisdiction over the Internet. As a consequence, McDowell warns us, the ITU will allow freedom-hating dictatorships such as Russia and China to take control of “Internet governance,” extend censorship to the Internet, and generally crush freedom-as-we-know-it.
What I noted, however, was the remarkable similarity between this column and McDowell’s 2010 Wall St. Journal Op Ed on the same theme. “The U.N. Black Helicopters will swoop down and carry off our Internet if we try to reign in carriers from abusing consumers and adopt real net neutrality” has become a perennial favorite for McDowell and some others. We heard the same cries in 2012 as we geared up for the ITU’s World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT). In the lead up to the WCIT, the refusal of then-FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to close the inquiry into whether to reclassify broadband as Title II prompted more than a few anti-net neutrality advocates to claim that supporting Title II, or even just plain ‘ol net neutrality, gave aid and comfort to Russia, China, Iran, etc. in their efforts to use the ITU to take over the Internet.
So no surprise, as we move closer to actually reclassifying broadband and getting strong network neutrality rules in place, it is time once again for the annual reunion tour of Robert McDowell and the Black Helicopter Band. Despite making the same wrong prediction about the ITU for the last 5 years, we will once again see Robert McDowell and the usual suspects singing backup that reclassifying broadband will serve the nefarious agenda of Russia, China and anyone else we don’t like by allowing the U.N. to swoop in with their black helicopters and carry off our Internet and crush our freedoms.
For those new to this performance, I debunk it (once again) below . . .
Like everyone else in the telecom world, I’m pleased and relieved the Senate finally confirmed Julius Genachowski and reconfirmed Robert McDowell. But I need to echo Commissioner Copps’ sentiments that seeing Commissioner Adelstein go makes this particular bit of good news hard to take.
Long time readers know I’ve been a huge fan of Adelstein. I should add that I have equally been a huge fan of his staff, particularly Rudy Brioche and Renee Crittendon, with whom I’ve done a lot of work over the years.
What I have always admired about Adelstein is that he has been a Populist in the best sense of the word, and in the finest tradition of rural America. i.e., someone who actually cares about people and takes the time to listen to them and fight for their issues. Over the years, Adelstein has always tried to make the time to come to events where he can hear directly from people — whether at industry trade shows or a modest gathering of community wireless activists. He has always tried to make sure that everyone has the opportunity for meaningful access to both new media and old. He has spoken passionately about the need to make sure that the benefits of broadband are accessible to everyone. He has been a friend to PEG and leased access as means for independent programmers to bring independent viewpoints to cable and because of his appreciation for the importance of local programming. Side by side with Commissioner Copps, he toured the country and rallied opposition against any relaxation of media ownership rules. He pushed harder than anyone for the Commission to take on the problem of Payolla, and repeatedly called for more ways to get independent musicians and local talent on the air.
I will miss Adelstein’s energy and friendly spirit at the Commission. On the positive side, he is certainly the right man to run the broadband program at RUS. Adelstein has always been at his most enthusiastic when looking to see how new technologies can improve people’s lives, particularly in rural America. I look forward to seeing what he can do with $2.5 Bn to revolutionize broadband access in rural communities. Hopefully, the Senate Agriculture Committee will move quickly to hold a hearing and speed him through the confirmation process.
Stay tuned . . . .
The forces of media consolidation continue to make headway now that the FCC has a full contingent of 3 Republicans and 2 Democrats. At the June 21, 2006 meeting, the FCC, by 3-2 vote, began the process of reexamining the rules on broadcast media ownership. Last week, the proposed order approving the Adelphia transaction began circulating. It has a very narrow outlook and very meager conditions (so far). Procedural moves by Martin could cut off any further public debate or input as early as this Thursday (July 6).
But all is not yet lost. Chairman Kevin Martin had also intended to adopt a rule requiring cable operators to carry the additional digital streams of broadcasters after the DTV transition, the so-called multicast must-carry. The Dems have long refused to go along unless the Commission also resolved the long-pending proceeding to define new public interest obligations for digital broadcasters. Martin had long made it clear that he did not intend to impose any new obligations on broadcasters, and that as soon as he had a third Republican, he would ram through multicast without public interest obligations.
But it didn’t happen. Robert McDowell, the new Republican Commissioner, refused to go along. Either because he didn’t like the idea, or because he didn’t like getting pushed so hard so quickly on a controversial matter, McDowell refused to vote “yes” on the multicast item. As a result, Martin pulled the item from the June meeting.
What will McDowell do on Adelphia? With the Dems dead set against approval without firmer conditions, Martin needs both Rs to toe the line.
More analysis and speculation below . . . .
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 . . . .
Posted in Tales of the Sausage Factory
Also tagged bellsouth, bellsouth merger, cable industry, comcast, fcc, kevin martin, media ownership, michael powell, proceeding, republicans, senators, telecom world
Back in December 2005, I wrote this piece suggesting that it might not be smooth sailing for the proposed deal between Comcast and Time Warner to split the bankrupt Adelphia systems between them and achieve total cable dominance. At the time, I was a lone voice suggesting that the split at the FCC might force the companies to chose between accepting conditions or walking away, especially as Adelphia creditors demand that the parties close the deal and come up with the money.
Apparently according to this article in Variety, I am no longer a lone nut or in denial. The endless delay and the likelihood that the FCC will impose conditions (despite the party-line green light the Federal Trade Commission gave at the end of January) has a number of analysts suggesting the deal may crumble in the face of creditor concerns and possible “deal breaker” conditions on access to regional sports networks and net neutrality.
Meanwhile, Robert McDowell’s nomination as fifth FCC Commissioner, on whom Time Warner and Comcast pin their hopes to break the tie and prevent real coditions on the merger, remains stuck in the Senate. McDowell is non-controversial, but scheduling a vote remains hostage to the vagaries of Senate politics. Senators can place a hold on any nominee for any reason. McDowell has been caught up in various controversies and thus remains in limbo. Given the short legislative calendar this session, because folks want to rush back home and campaign, it is possible that McDowell will remain in limbo until the fall. Or he may get cleared by a Senate vote when they come back this week.
If you were an Adelphia creditor, would you want to bet on the timing? Or would you rather see the deal close? And that gets you fighting with TW and Comcast.
Hmmmm….. maybe the other bids weren’t so bad after all. Anything would clear more easily than this mess. And wouldn’t it be nice to get paid?
Stay tuned . . . .