Tales of the Sausage Factory

A minor administrative detail . . .

As I announced last December, I am no longer with Media Access Project. For the present, I am doing a spot of consulting through an LLC I formed with my brother, Strength to Strength Develop-Ed, LLC (or just STS LLC).

I mention this because yesterday I entered a notice of appearance on behalf of Herring Broadcasting, Inc., DBA WealthTV to assist them in their ongoing carriage discrimination complaint against Comcast, Time Warner, Cox and Bright House. So, lest anyone suffer any confusion, I want to make clear this is just me on my own and not anything having to do with Media Access Project or its clients. Also, for anyone who sees me blog on the carriage complaint issues or — I suppose — on other cable matters, and you disagree, feel free to disregard my arguments for entirely new reasons than you did previously.

In other news, in addition to the book I am writing for IG Publishing, I have a nearly completed manuscript based on the last five years of Tales of the Sausage Factory. Anyone with suggestions on who might be interested in publishing such a thing should drop me a line. And, in keeping with the trends of the time, anyone interested can follow me on Twitter or on Facebook.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

We Are Finalists for the 2008 Weblog Best Technology Blog! Go us!

My shameless begging last November paid off!

The 2008 Weblog Awards

Yes, we here at Tales of the Sausage Factory and Wetmachine generally are delighted, astounded, humbled and whatever else one says at this juncture to make the final cut for nominees as Weblog’s “Best Technology Blog of 2008.” Given that (a) Engadget has apparently won in this category every year since they started doing this in 2003, (b) Both TechCrunch and Ars Technica also do policy and have real journalists and stuff, and (c) a quick scan of all the other titles reveals that we are probably the only nominated site maintained by amateurs doing this in addition to our full time jobs, I totally expect for us to get utterly creamed.

Nevertheless, as whining pathetically worked to get us nominated, I am going to continue this fine tradition and see if it gets us a win. So I want to urge everyone who reads this to please, please, puh-leaze go vote for us! Polls close at 5 p.m. EST on Tuesday, January 13. Any questions, please read the Weblog Award FAQ.

Thanks all, and stay tuned . . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

As Long As We're On An Electoral Roll . . . .

Allow me to engage in a shameless act of self-promotion.

The 2008 Weblog Awards

If you’ve enjoyed either my shamelessly biased but hopefully entertaining coverage of the FCC and other techno-policy issues, or if you enjoy the whole whacky crew here at Wetmachine, why not go and nominate either Tales of the Sausage Factory or Wetmachine for a 2008 Weblog Award. Here’s the list of categories, and the nomination FAQ. None of the categories really fit, of course, although I will note that “law” and “technology” both have relatively few nominations at the moment.

Stay tuned. . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Why I Have Decided To Endorse Obama.

So here it is “Super Duper Tuesday.” My own local primary (MD) will not be until next week. And while endorsing a candidate is always a perilous thing for those of us that work in Washington, I have decided to give the Tales of the Sausage Factory Endorsement to Senator Barack Obama.

Why? See below . . . .

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My Thoughts Exactly

And counting!

Harold’s post, below, on the subject of ATT’s being [bleep!], is Wetmachine item #1000.

A while ago I came up with the notion of some kind of fireworks display to mark this momentous milestone, but somehow I never got around to it.

The “Nucleus” software that we use to drive this site assigns item numbers not monotonically, but according to some heuristic I cannot figure out. So Harold’s is not necessarily the 1000th blog entry here. But close enough. Harold, you win the booby prize! Which is a lifetime subscription to the Tales of the Sausage Factory RSS feed! Lucky you!

Parsing website stats is an arcane science art perhaps best done under the influence of burning oak leaves. When your referrer log is populated with pornsite spam, and your top search items are things like “freckled breasts” and “Katrina Witt Naked”, which have been driving dozens, or even hundreds of people to this site each month for years, it’s hard to take the numbers too seriously.

Yet even these rough metrics tell you something. According to my records, when Harold made his first post here, in December, 2002, we got 47 visitors on our biggest day, with an average of 26/day for the month. Lately we’ve been getting about 1100/day.

I’ll check back in with yz when we get to item 2000, s’OK?

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My Thoughts Exactly

Jabberwocking the Fundies

Here at Wetmachine we have a tradition of posting what the New Critics called “close readings” of arcane texts. Usually these close readings are done by Harold Feld in Tales of the Sausage Factory or by Greg Rose in Econoklastic, and most often the closely-read documents are obscure legal decrees, rulings, opinions, pronouncements, etc, originating from the Oracle at Federal Communications Commission, or they’re drafts of some lobbyist-written telecommunications bill lurking in the shadows of some state legislature or congressional committee, hoping to become law while nobody’s looking –although occasionally Harold treats us to a scholarly exegesis of a biblical or Talmudic text.

Over at Enter the Jabberwock, my erstwhile OpenLaszlo colleague Josh Crowley has a long-running series of close readings of illustrated tracts by the crackpot so-called “Christian” fundamentalist Jack Chick. Crowley calls these analyses “Chick Dissections”. In them he mercilessly skewers the artwork, logic and theology of individual Chick tracts. He does this in a direct, unironic voice, taking each frame of the comic book under review at face value. In other words, he does not come at them with a knowing, jaded air of sophistication and superiority. He engages them on their own terms.

When I first saw these Chick Dissections I wondered what the point was, since the comics themselves are so ineptly drawn and poorly reasoned that they basically are self-refuting; they are their own parody.

But, you know, Jack Chick is not some lone nut promulgating his paranoid ravings in photocopied pamphlets on a streetcorner to an indifferent audience of dozens. He’s a lone nut promulgating his paranoid ravings to an audience of millions, some of them quite credulous, through his website and publishing empire. The fundamentalist meme, in Christian, Islamic, Hindu, or whatever form, is a present danger to civilization. Therefore Jabberwock/Crowley is right to resist it. The Chick Dissections are not to everybody’s taste, but Jabberwock is providing a valuable service. And he’s often quite funny.

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My Thoughts Exactly

Retroactive Immunity for Criminals? Paging Doctor Feld, stat!

Many many moons ago, when I was just a young dad with lots of responsibilities and not very many dollars, I found myself sitting at an outdoor lunch table with a bunch of my colleagues from work who were single and evidently without the kind of financial concerns that I had. They were talking about sunglasses. Each was wearing a pair of pricey shades that cost about as much as I was spending per month on food and diapers. The whole conversation was absurd to me. Eventually somebody asked me what I kind of sunglasses I favored, to which I replied,

I dunno. Whenever I need something like that I just wait until they put it in a McDonald’s Happy Meal(tm).

Similarly, whenever I need an opinion on an issue that has to do with telecommunications policy, privacy, the First Amendment, cowardice and chickenshitosity in the Congress, or fear mongering and criminality in the Bush/Cheney administration, I generally just wait for Harold Feld to put an article up on Wetmachine/Tales of the Sausage Factory to tell me what I’m thinking. I know how I feel about an issue, more or less, but a good Feldian rant always brings it into focus — and often gets me to call or write my congresscritters.

Lately I’ve been really steamed about all this talk of passing a bill that will grant immunity to the telecommunications companies for illegally spying on their customers, Nixon-style, since way before the magical “all laws cease here” date NineEleven (peace be upon it). From what I can tell, the chickenshit Congress is making noises about going along with Lord Voldemort’s, I mean Bush’s request to make time-travelling the law of the land, at least when it comes to giant corporations spying on citizens on behalf of who-knows-who.

So, I’ve been kinda waiting for a duly appropriate, incendiary, and legally impeccable disquisition from Harold on this. The fact that he has not yet weighed in leads me to think that either yes, what I’m saying is as obvious as “water is wet” and this does not merit a TotSF article, or, perhaps, that I’m missing something.

It is worth mentioning that the week after that aforementioned conversation about sunglasses, I stopped at a McDonald’s and purchased a Happy Meal. There was a nice pair of sunglasses inside, which, moreover, almost fit.

Harold, we await your rant.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

All Over But The Screaming; Assessing the 700 MHz Order: Part I — Putting This In Context

At the end of last week, the FCC released its mammoth 350 page Order on the 700 MHz Auction. As advertised, it resolves most of the major issues, but delegates some details for the Wireless Bureau to resolve so we can continue to have wonky auction fun through the fall. Because the only thing better than Fantasy Football is Fantasy Reserve Prices.

Below, and for the next several posts, I give my patented Sausage Factory long, detailed analysis. Briefly, in my usual contrarian-but-hopefully-sophisticated-and-nuanced-way, I think we did pretty well. In fact I think we totally kicked ass, took names, and got something that — over the long haul — has the potential to seriously revolutionize wireless and broadband policy in the United States.

“Wha?” I hear you cry. “I thought we lost on wholesale. I thought the Order had only wussy half measures that amounts to either a giveaway to the incumbents for crumbs or Google (depending on whom you hate more). Are you just trying to buck us up and make us feel better?”

True, we lost on wholesale and the FCC did not go as far as I would like on the “wireless Carterfone.” But, as with the debate over the AT&T/BS Conditions, we need to assess the results as part of a long-term campaign for reform rather than expecting to achieve a Glorious Revolution in a single stroke. This was our Battle of Britain (or, for those who think of us as a bunch of Socialist enemies of capitalism, our Batte of Stalingrad). We have stood before the united might of the telco, cable and wireless industries, halted the tide of “business as usual,” and extracted some key changes and precedents that we shall leverage for the next phase of the campaign to create a 21st Century information grid worthy of a democracy; an information grid that extends the benefits of modern communications to everyone and eliminates the power of gatekeepers to control what we say and what information we discover.

Which, at the end of the day, is not too shabby — especially when compared to what we expected last April. We got some pretty huge stuff — things that will revolutionize this auction not merely help us for the long term.

Using my “Red Sox scale” of success, this feels to me a lot like the 1975 World Series. Looking back as an adult, I can see that it was one of the finest moments in professional baseball, with the Sox losing by a single run in the 7th game. But at the time, it felt like a Hell of a loss, precisely because we came so close to winning it all.

So I’m not nearly as down as most of my friends in the movement. Part of that has to do with long-term view over short term. Part of that has to do with whether I believe that Martin is acting in good faith or not (again, I’m contrarian in our community by saying “good faith” for reasons I will explain). Part of it has to do with an appreciation of the FCC’s institutional dynamics including, to paraphrase Jon Stewart, the absolute dickishness of the Wireless Bureau staff.

I do see problems and issues in the Order, some of which I hope to get fixed on Recon, some of which reflect rational disagreements on the proper course and what level of risk we should take for political payoff (I’m talking about the reserve price stuff here). And, at the end of the day, we are still facing a host of unknowns that will depend on a future FCC’s willingness to enforce these conditions. But in the end, I’m feeling we at MAP earned our corn and achieved things we can be proud of (I’ll let the other members of PISC speak for themselves on that score, but I hope they feel the same way as well).

Because this is really, really long, and will probably take several days to cover, I am breaking this up into parts. Below, I provide some of the necessary institutional context for understanding the Order and why I think this counts as a big win.

More below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

700 MHz Endgame: Wholesale Open Access Down, But Not Quite Out.

Yesterday, the House Commerce Committee held its FCC Oversight hearing. As expected, the 700 MHz auction attracted a great deal of attention. As I wrote in previous entries, this was make or break time for wholesale open access. If Commerce Committee Chair John Dingell (D-Michigan) and Telecom Subcommittee Chair Ed Markey (D-MA) voiced strong support, that might push Martin to adopt full wholesale open access in light of Google’s commitment to bid. OTOH, if the House Dems did not back wholesale, then Martin would be unlikely to budge.

Dingel and Markey did not back wholesale open access. Indeed, Dingell backed off slightly from his previous hard-line stance on even device open access (aka, “open access-lite” aka the “Martin plan”), asking for assurances that including such a condition would not hurt auction revenue or limit bidding. Markey, while enthusiastically supporting device open access and suggesting ways to improve it and make it effective, did not mention wholesale at all.

The biggest supporter of wholesale open access was Mike Doyle (D-PA), who gets a huge Sausage Factory cheer for stepping up to the challenge. You can see a clip of him asking the Commissioners where they stand on wholesale open access here. The good news is that Democratic Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathon Adelstein remained staunch in their defense of wholesale open access as a means of encouraging competition and deployment. Intriguingly, Martin did not slam the idea, but said this was not the place to do it because he had concerns about the incentives for network build out of wholesalers. McDowell remained adamant against (as he did against even Martin’s device open access proposal), although McDowell praised the pending FCC proceeding to open the broadcast “white spaces” for unlicensed use (which I hope he remembers when the time comes). Tate did not answer Doyle’s question (no time), but elsewhere said she was keeping an “open mind” on device open access.

Republicans, with the exception of Pickering (R-Miss) slammed Martin hard for supporting even device open access. To his credit, Martin defended the idea that the auction was not about maximizing revenue but about getting the best policy. But the near-uniform opposition to any conditions on licenses by Republicans, combined with the silence of key Democrats on wholesale, puts Martin in a real bind.

So what happens now? Are there any cards left to play, rabbits to pull out of hats, or Corbemite maneuvers to run that could still save wholesale open access. Yes, but they are very long odds indeed. With the vote now scheduled for July 31, we are just after the two minute warning and down a touchdown and a field goal.

More analysis below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Adelstein to Tech Sector & Frontline: Can You Hear Me Now?

FCC Commissioner Jonathon Adelstein’s recent speech at the Wireles Communications Association (WCA) conference — and subsequent remarks to the press on the 700 MHz auction have caused quite a stir among those in the blogosphere following this issue. My fellow advocates of open access, such as Matt Stoller at Mydd.com, voiced considerable concern that Commissioner Adelstein (a long-time friend of the public interest) would come down against open-access proponent Frontline and against the position staked out by the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition, the 4G/Tech industry and others in support of larger license blocks. (Go take a look at my Impossibly Long Field Guide if you are lost on who these players are). OTOH, Publius over at Obsidian Wings has posted a defense of Adelstein, in which he also falls into the classic trap (as he does in his (much shorter than mine) auction guide for dummies) in believing that the telcos are the antichrist when, at least in my opinion, it’s a Hell of a lot more complicated. Yo, Netheads! You can hate other incumbents besides the Telcos! Really!

Anyway, to get back to the issue of the day: Adelstein’s speech and subsequent reactions. Matt and Publius raise good points, but neither sees the full picture here. But heck, that’s why folks need TotSF (or so I like to think), to fill in the blanks and provide the needed backstory for those not familiar with how life in the public policy sausage factory works (and its why the average TotSF post is about 4 single-spaced pages — yeah, I talk too much, I know).

Short version: Adelstein was not committing to a position or dissing a proposal. He was sending a signal to the tech guys and Frontline that if they want to get what they are asking for, they need to answer some very real and legitimate questions. Because Adelstein and McDowell are widely considered “swing votes” on critical questions (with Tate and Copps believed focused primarily on public safety), their public speeches (along with Chairman Martin’s of course) get particular scrutiny. Adelstein has not sold out (as feared by Stoller). Nor is Martin a “a wholly owned subsidiary of Verizon”, nor are 4G Coalition (or yr hmbl obdnt) “useful idiots,” as argued by Publius.

So what is going on (at least in my long-winded opinion)? See below….

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