Tales of the Sausage Factory

'Scuse Me Whilst I Pause to Savor the Irony — Wall St. J Writer Blames Kevin Martin For Slow Broadband

So Wall St. Journal Technology Review Walt Mossberg blames Kevin Martin for our ridiculous slow broadband speed.

Here’s the dialog:

Mossberg: “You are the head of the FCC. How have you allowed this to happen? I AM DEAD SERIOUS. HOW HAVE YOU ALLOWED THIS TO HAPPEN?

Martin: “I am not sure I am solely responsible. I am also not sure the charts capture the whole story. I think you do have to put in the context some of the demographics of the United States and some of the countries we are competing against.

Mossberg: Does that explain why we pay $12.50 per megabit in the United States as opposed to $3.09 in Japan and $3.70 in France? Why are we paying four times as much?

Martin: Yes it does. Because it costs a lot more to build out in more rural areas and people who live further apart… We have a history of averaging some of the cost to make it affordable for people in Montana.

I find this ironic on two levels. First, I have a memory that goes back far enough to remember the Wall St. Journal editorials absolutely crucifying Kevin Martin when, as a Commissioner, he tried to stop Michael Powell’s full-bore deregulation of broadband and the local telephone loop because only a completely laissez faire non-regulatoy approach could get industry to invest and do its job. Ditto the editorials on why C Block open device conditions because any sort of government mandate is bad bad bad BAD and can never, ever, ever be good.

Yes, I know that the Wall St. J. prides itself on having an ironclad fire wall between the reporting function and that editorial function. So I am not saying that Mossberg is being inconsistent or hypocritical in any way. But it is still ironic that reporters dismayed at the current state of affairs blame Kevin Martin for failure to act, while the folks on the Editorial Page routinely pillory Martin for even thinking the word “regulation” without puting a “de” in front.

Second, it’s ironic because, while I will be the first to say that Martin has not done nearly enough for my money (let’s start with not adopting mandatory wholesale as we at PISC recommended for half the auctioned 700 MHz spectrum last year, and the painfully slow pace of Universal Service Fund Reform), he has done more to foster the development of better broadband at faster speeds than any other member of the Bush Administration. Unlike, say, former NTIA Administrator John Kneuer, who explained last year how everything in American broadband was just ducky and we just need to stay the course, Martin has acknowledged that we need to do better and have higher expectations (although, again, not going nearly far enough IMO). This includes not merely making a show of reforming the FCC’s impossibly lame broadband study and report, but actually making some substantive improvements.

Mind you, I’m not defending Kevin Martin’s record on broadband here. And I will readily acknowledge that he’s been a good soldier for the Bush Administration on a number of key issues (I do not hold my breath to learn if AT&T and Verizon broke the law when they cooperated with NSA on domestic spying). But I cannot let the double irony of a Wall St. J. columnist blaming Kevin Martin for our wretched national broadband situation go unpassed, when the Wall St. J. editorial board has been in the vangaurd of pillorying Kevn Martin any time he actually tries to do something.

Again, I know Wall St. J. takes great pride in keeping its editorial board and reporting functions separate, but it’s still delightful. At least, for those of us in the progressive movement who have always been utterly consistent in blaming Kevin Martin and the rest of the Bush Administration for not nearly going far enough. That’s why next week at National Conference on Media Reform, the Martin-bashing won’t be ironic. It will be heartfelt, sincere, consistent, and deeply passionate Martin bashing. Well, actually it will be ironic then, too; but for entirely different reasons I will post about next week.

But for the Wall St. J. and its fellow worshipers of the Gods of the Marketplace, I can only smile and say “what, you don’t like the world the Gods of the Marketplace have made? Then I guess you better pray harder — or perhaps consider a different faith.”

Stay tuned . . . .

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

Tales of the Sausage Factory

We are pleased to offer our customers whatever services they want, as long as they don't help competitors . . . .

As some of you may have heard, carriers Cingular, Qwest and possibly other carriers are refusing to allow their subscribers to call freeconferencecall.com. Expect a number of other services to suffer similar fates — barring regulatory action or other legal steps.

What’s going on? It’s actually not a net neutrality issue (although as Bitchslappin Blog points out, it does serve as a rather nasty reminder of what is likely to happen in a non-neutral network). The issue here stems from a rather complex bit of regulatory arbitrage that I don’t fully understand myself. The facts here remain very murky, and I have no idea of the carriers are legally entitled to block these calls. (although my gut feeling based on my very surface understanding of the applicable law and the available facts is a qualified no — How’s that for legal caveats and wishy-washitude!) But if you’d like my speculaton on what I think is going on here, and why it’s likely to go on, read below….

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Posted in Censorship Public and Private, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , | 2 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

The Tiered Internet and “Virtual Redlining”

If Senator Stevens or Representatives Rush and Wynn ever thought about the impact of “tiered access” (or, as I prefer, Whitacre tiering) on rural areas and minority communities, they’d probably switch their votes. Because the flip side of charging for “premium” access is that the third party has to want to pay for it.

If you are a big company, will you pay extra to reach “undesirable” customers like rural customers or minority communities? Of course not! If you have to negotiate with every ISP for premium access, you are only going to want to pay for the “good” customers. And happily, because the ISP is under no requirement to protect customer privacy, the ISP can provide you with precisely the right target demographic.

Welcome to the new world of “Virtual Redlining.” Made possible by Senator Stevens, Bobby Rush and Al Wynn. I hope they have fun explaining to their constituents why, even when they buy the “high speed” pipe, their content downloads slower than the exact same content in the nice neighborhoods of NYC and LA.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The GAO Makes the Case for Community Broadband

Not that you would know it either from the headline or the general coverage, but the the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative arm, issued its own report that makes a strong case in favor of community-based broadband and against more regulatory goodies for the incumbent telcos and cable cos. Not that the GOA intended to make that case, and they word their conclusions carefully. But dig down into the actual report and you find a lot of good stuff beyond discrediting the FCC’s rosy numbers on broadband penetration and competition.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Quick Take on FCC 3650-3700

The FCC decided the 3650-3700 Order today. You can find a link on the FCC Home page.

As is customary, the Order is not yet released, so we have only the press release to go on.

My first take is below. I know a lot of people are going to be upset that it requires licensing, but it is not a “licensed” regime anymore than a truly “unlicensed” regime. We need to keep an open mind and wait for the actual order to come out.

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

Tales of the Sausage Factory

TotSF: Industry Mobilizes to Stop Philly WiFi

Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! As recorded in this article about last night’s community meeting in Philly, Verizon has mobilized to squash municipal wifi in Pennsylvania. This little gem, called House Bill 30, is a classic: it provides huge new public subsidies for Verizon while squeezing out competitors. My analysis below.

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Posted in How Democracy Works, Or Doesn't, Series of Tubes, Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Unlicensed Spectrum in TV

The FCC has released its eagerly anticipated (or dreaded) Notice of Proposed Rule Making which would authorize the use of unlicensed spectrum access in the television bands. (Word, PDF, and Text). This is one of the real important proceedings before the FCC on unlicensed. You can be sure that major companies on both the pro-unlicensed and the anti-unlicensed side will file? But will you? Are you content to let Microsoft or Intel cut a deal with Viacom, News Corp and the rest of the media conglomerates for you? Or would you rather participate yourself and help define your own rights?

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