Tales of the Sausage Factory

Could NTIA Please Put ICANN Out of Its Misery Before It Embarasses Itself Further.

I mostly follow the ICANN follies from sentimental reasons. Can it really be more than ten years ago when naive Clintonistas conspired with engineers trying to insulate themselves from politics and a slew of bullies from the intellectual property mafia to create what has become a runaway warning to the world about what happens when you have the power to tax and absolutely no oversight? Why, I can remember when ICANN was a modest little operation with a handful of employees and a budget of under $5 million — and we wondered then what they needed all that money for. What is it now? Oh yes, the FY 2009 Budget was $60.7M. Schweet!

ICANN generally trundles along by being insanely technical, insanely boring, insanely complicated, and never doing anything so outrageous that people get rid of it — primarily because no one can agree on what would replace it. Not that ICANN hasn’t had a few close calls, especially back at the World Summit on Information Society. But, just when ICANN appears about to win itself the global governance equivalent of a Darwin Award, hijinks ensue, ICANN eats a little crow, we All Learn A Valuable Lesson In Life, and we start all over again back where we were next season.

In other words, ICANN is kinda like cross between a bad TV sitcom and a reality show. But like so many TV shows with a small-but-devoted fan base, ICANN now finds itself on the bubble waiting to find out if it will be renewed. Sadly, there are signs that ICANN has definitely jumped the shark. And no, I don’t mean the “new kid on the block” addition Rod Beckstrom to boost ratings. I mean recycling the same tired plot line of ICANN staff and Business & IP constituencies trying to limit the ability of the Non-commercial User Constituency (NCUC) to “cause trouble” — especially those meddling civil society do-gooders Milton Mueller and Robin Gross. Season after season, we get to see the same accusations that NCUC is “divisive,” or “not representative” or other code words for “Goddam it! Get those $#@! civil society groups out of our club house!!!!”

More on why NTIA ought to consider canceling this circus once and for all below . . . .

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Posted in Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged | 13 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Why you can't split D Block and PSST

Unsurprisingly, folks are now proposing to split the D Block from the public safety spectrum, auction the commercial spectrum, and use the money to build a separate public safety network. This got a bunch of attention at today’s House Subcommittee hearing. Despite my frantic attempts to subtly signal I had something relevant to say, no one wanted to hear my opinion on the matter (or anything else either, apparently my opening statement was sufficiently overwhelming that the Republicans did not dare challenge me and the Dems felt nothing further was required). Too bad, because I could have spared everyone about an hour of yacking by explaining why it won’t work.

Or, more technically, to make this work requires such drastic changes in the band plan that it is impossible to predict how much money such an auction would make, if anything. I’m aware Dr. Bazelon gives an estimate of $5 billion or so in his testimony, but I think his use of the A Block demand as a proxy is overly optimistic. Trying to predict spectrum auction results is always perilous, because there are so many factors and every spectrum auction is different from every other in significant ways. But in this case, the difference between the A Block issues and the possible D block issues are of significant magnitude that I anticipate major problems.

Bottom line: I think it would take months to resolve the engineering issues, and that an auction based on necessary rules would fetch very little money.

More below . . . .

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

Tales of the Sausage Factory

700 MHz Auction: D Block Panic, Damping Expectations, And My Final Thoughts Before the Opening Bell.

After so much pre-game hype, it’s hard to believe we have actually gotten down to the 700 MHz Auction week. The fun and games will start January 24, although we won’t know (much) about the auction until it is all over sometime in late February or early March.

Not surprisingly, the news that Frontline Wireless , the company that did so much to shape the rulemaking around the “D Block” public/private partnership, went belly up before the auction even started has triggered a round of hand-wringing about the fate of D Block and finger-wagging by those who always thought it was a bad idea to impose any kind of conditions on licenses. As a result, we see a slew of stories questioning whether anyone will bid for D Block (or, at least, meet it’s $1.3 billion reserve price), with some spillover questioning about the future of the auction itself.

While I agree with GigaOm that wireless auctions aren’t for wimps, I do think the panic over Frontline’s failure to scrounge up capital to make the necessary up front payment (the “ante” required to buy “bidding credits” to participate in the auction) is exaggerated. Nor am I as pessimistic that the auction will produce some groundbreaking changes as others, although it could well happen that we get through this auction with no new “disruptive third-pipe providers.” I think we will certainly see the auction hit the $10 billion Congress estimated (and the FCC set as aggreagte reserve price), and we will see C Block meet its $4.6 billion reserve price.

On the other hand, if things start to go poorly in the auction, we may see some panic moves by the FCC, particularly with regard to D Block. The possibility that the FCC may retroactively drop the reserve price on D Block (possibly without holding a reauction) may introduce strategic behavior into the auction. Of course, since no one (including the FCC) can actually talk about this possibility makes the speculation even more insubstantial than usual. Still, since the possibility does exist, and because I think such a course would create real problems with the auction, I briefly discuss it below.

Analysis below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Enlisting The Power Of The Web For A Bit Of Research Help — Taking the MCDowell/Tate Challenge!

I wish my employer, Media Access Project, had sufficient funds to hire me a research assistant. But they don’t. So I’m going to turn to the collective readership for a bit of fast research to help me refute the pack of lies the cable industry is spreading.

As regular readers know, Martin has proposed a slew of much needed cable reform rules. Chief among these is the finding that cable serves 70% of homes in areas served by cable systems of 36 or more activated channels. NCTA, the cable trade association, has denounced the dea that their members serve that many customers as a vicious lie and generally denounced Martin for carrying on a vendetta against his industry (where “vendetta”=”actually enforce existing law and regulate in the public interest“).

Turns out, however, that Martin did not just pull the numbers out of his posterior. They came from the Warren Communications News Television and Cable Factbook, a neutral and respected industry reporter. According to the Warrens data, cable serves over 71.4% of the relevant market — more than enough to trigger the 70/70 threshold and give the FCC authority to reregulate cable to promote diversity.

To my considerable surprise — given how much Warrens depends on their reputation for accuracy to convince customers to pay many thousands of dollars for this research — the cable industry prevailed on the managing editor of The TV and Cable Factbook to declare their own research unreliable. In fairness, they claim the research is unreliable only when used to prove that the cable industry has passed the 70/70 threshold, so I assume all the advertisers and businesses that rely on this data will not be troubled. They also claim tat the data are unreliable due to systemic underreporting by cable which, as my friend and fellow Wetmachine blogger Greg Rose observed, means that the number of households served must be even more than the 71% Warrens initially found.

Such is the power of cable, however, that the industry reporters following this have uncritically lapped up the NCTA party line while failing the elementary school math noted above (ironically, proving the point about how media consolidation is all about serving corporate interests). Martin’s fellow Republicans on the Commission, McDowell and Tate, apparently determined to make sure that everyone knows that they would never pursue a ”vendetta“ against an industry merely because it has demonstrated market power, sent this letter to Warrens asking for more information (and apparently missing the elementary school math that if you underreport cable subscribers that means they serve more than the number reported). The letter takes a rather nasty shot at Martin, as well as inviting explanation for why the other reporters come in so much lower and looking for validation of the numbers.

Of course, as Rose pointed out in his post, the other numbers come in lower because they are estimates where the cable operators provided even less info than they did to Warrens. But it occurred to me that there is a rather simple way to make the point that even incumbent cable operators passed the 70% threshold sometime ago.

Back for the 2005 cable report, NCTA submitted numbers ranging from 62% to 68.9%. Since then, with the exception of the most recent cable quarter, the cable operators enjoyed consistent growth in their basic subscriber numbers. I would like to find out the quarterly basic subscriber statistics for the largest cable operators (Comcast, Time Warner, Cablevision, Cox, and Charter). If the largest operators enjoyed significant growth after NCTA condeded 68.9% as a valid measurement, then we can have reasonable assurance that findings above 70% are accurate. Problem is, I’m a little strapped for time here.

So I’m turning to the distributed power of the web for help meet the McDowell/Tate Challenge of ensuring that the data meet the highest standards of ”trustworthiness, truthfulness, and viability” (which, I have to say, has not exactly been the case with Commission cable reports before Martin took over. Either make a donation to MAP to get me a research assistant, or send me an email with useful cable statistics.

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in Cable, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments (Comments closed)
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