Tales of the Sausage Factory

Important DC Cir Opinion on Boring Procedural Stuff for the FCC,And Why We Should Care.

Every now and then, the fact that I am a lawyer leaks through here. OK, it leaks through a lot — including my insatiable tracking of the minutia of the D.C. Circuit and how it impacts things FCC.

Which brings me to last month’s opinion in Globalstar, Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission. In the grand scheme of things, this decision only impacts two companies, Globalstar and Iridium. What makes the decision important is that it addresses the scope of a Petition for Reconsideration and whether a Petition for Recon re-opens the entire docket. Along the way, it once again admonishes parties about relying on ex partes to build an administrative record, which may actually breathe some life back into the procedural rules at a time when every FCC proceeding is “permit but disclose.”

More importantly, this case illustrates that the details of this stuff matter — not just in telecom but in all aspects of regulatory reform. If we want a real progressive movement, we need to nurture our own special teams in every policy area that follow the day-to-day mundane and prosaic details that make the difference for effective advocacy on the big ticket items.

So for all you procedure buffs out there, continued below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Adelstein To Go To RUS, But When?

In a not entirely unexpected move, FCC Commissioner Jonathon Adelstein will shift over to the RUS program. One would be hard put to think of anyone better qualified to oversee spending to stimulate rural broadband deployment (granted, as regular readers know, I am huge fan of Adelstein’s and hardly impartial). Adelstein comes from a rural state (South Dakota) and has long been a champion of rural issues — particularly broadband and wireless deployment — at the FCC. Overseeing a program to spend $2.5B explicitly on rural broadband seems tailor made for Adelstein, especially if this is just the “down payment” for making sure that we make the benefits of high-speed access available to all Americans.

When Adelstein will get a chance to shift over, however, is less clear. The FCC has dropped down to the bare minimum for a functioning quorum of three commissioners. The Administration has now officially nominated Julius Genachowski for FCC chair. In theory, the Senate could hold a hearing, confirm Genachowski, and then shift Adelstein over to RUS at any time. In practice, however, some other considerations intervene. And while a few months might not normally make much difference in the grand scheme of things, the RUS, like the NTIA, is very busy at the moment setting the ground rules for the availability of the stimulus money. No one wants to show up after the rules are already settled, especially if you have some significant experience that would give you some strong ideas on how to spend the money effectively.

Some elaboration and speculation below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Leveraging Law & Order For Cell Phone Jamming.

Ever since the FCC explicitly banned cell phone jammers back in 2005, a company called Cellantenna has been working its little heart out to get Section 333 of the Communications Act declared unconstitutional or otherwise get the FCC to legalize cell phone jammers. (Not surprisingly, CellAntenna hopes to sell cell phone jammers, among other equipment.)

CellAntenna’s latest scheme is to focus on the issue of unauthorized cell phone use by prisoners. I’ll confess, I think the bigger problem is stopping the smuggling in the first place or keeping prisoners under observation so they cannot use cell phones. Or — if I wanted to be real daring — set up detectors and tap into cell phone calls made from prison cells (guards should so not be using their cell phones on duty, so they don’t worry me — set up secure areas where prisoners are not permitted if there is a real issue).

But even assuming a real problem, I don’t see that this gets CellAntenna where it wants to go. If state and federal penitentiaries want to petition the FCC for special permission for a waiver of Section 333, that should not be too difficult. But that’s a rather small market in the grand scheme of things.

Folks hoping for legal cell phone jammers anytime soon should not hold their breath.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Verizon's “Sitefinder-lite,” Cox Traffic Shaping (Without Lying), And The Shape of Things To Come

Jim Harper at Technology Liberation Front pinged me (sort of) to comment on reports that anyone who subscribes to Verizon’s FIOS broadband service who mistypes a domain name will now land on a Verizon search page. So, for example, trying to get to i-want-sprint-cell-phones.com will land you on a a page like this (my thanks to ace domain name practitioner John Berryhill for capturing this in a screen shot and putting it up on his web page). Meanwhile, reports have surfaced that Cox cable is also interfering with BitTorrent uploads, although at least Cox has the intelligence to admit from the start that it actively manages traffic, rather than go through several rounds of idiotic denials like Comcast (which is probably why the Cox issue is getting a lot less notice).

Briefly:

1) I ain’t that excited about the Verizon DNS redirection in the grand scheme of things. Yes, it breaks end-to-end, and I’m not happy about it. But unlike traffic shaping, this development was foreseen and approved of by the FCC and the Supreme Court in the Brand X case when both pegged DNS as the thing that made broadband access an “information service” and therefore free from pesky regulation. At least Verizon’s redirection doesn’t actually hurt the average user.

2) OTOH, it does raise serious privacy issues and highlights the general problems of letting the ISPs control all of this. There was, after all, a reason we regulated telcos and cable cos to keep user information private. It also starts to raise a very troubling question — what happens when network operators and application developers learn to distrust all the basic protocols under which the ‘net operates? It works fine for the first few guys. But what holds this together is everyone agreeing on a set of basic protocols. Eliminate the trust in those protocols, and things start to break down.

3) Some folks that gave a great big yawn to Comcast’s traffic shaping have gone ballistic over messing with DNS lookup. But both are natural consequences of turning this stuff over to ISPs. Folks who hate the thought of even limited government regulation of network management but also hate the thought ISPs messing with DNS and other protocols have some tough choices ahead.

Thoughts below . . . .

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