My Thoughts Exactly

Goldman Sachs punked by inside-man code liberator? Please let it be so!

According to this article on the Zero Hedge site (which references a fascinating article from Reuters), Vito Corleone and the Mob, er. . . sorry, I mean the Masters of the Universe at Goldman Sachs may have had some very snazzy software purloined by a software engineer who used to work in their “quants” section– presumably coding highly technical stuff where milliseconds count. The FBI has been called in; an arrest has been made. There are mysterious indicators that something fishy has been going on at the New York Stock Exchange. Billions of dollars possibly at risk. Software uploaded to some site in Germany. Oh, it sounds so juicy. I hope the wildest speculations (see the comments at the Zero hedge site) are true! I hope I hope! For starters, the guy the Feds nabbed is a Russian immigrant.

Conspiracy theories! Hardcore software geekery! Regulatory agency malfeasance! This could be a Wetmachine perfect storm!

Hat tip to Dail Kos diarist bobswern for another layer of analysis and for bringing the Zero Hedge site to our attention.

As to my momentary confusion of Goldman Sachs with a vicious nearly omnipotent criminal syndicate with tentacles in every branch of government, I can’t imagine where that came from.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Is Obama v. Clinton Really Style v. Substance? Or Is the Internet Changing Another Facet of Campaigning?

Unsurprisingly, Clinton has sought to portray Obama as mostly oratory style rather than substance. Whereas Obama may give uplifting speeches, she tells crowds, she is the one with the command of the facts and the true knowledge of policy. Clinton backs this up by giving well researched specifics and detailed policy recommendations in her stump speeches and in her debate appearances.

Also unsurprisingly, the herd beasts of punditryland in their never ending quest for simplistic themes that nicely boil down to “X v. Y” arguments have gobbled this up with a spoon. We hear constantly either about how Obama will need to show he has the same command of the facts, or how voters are more in the mood for change than for experience, and on and on and on.

I will humbly suggest, however, that what Obama has done is to match his message to the medium. He has put the details on his website for folks interested in specific issues. But when speaking in the context of a mass medium (huge rally, television appearance), he makes his broader campaign appeal.

Other candidates have done this in the past. But I believe we have now hit a sufficient critical mass on the wider availability and greater use of the Internet as a tool to become an effective campaign strategy. This relates back to my earlier observations on the interplay between the internet and the traditional mass media. I would love to see some actual empirical research on the subject. But my speculations based on what I know now below. . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Verizon Open Platform: Looks Like A Big Bid For C Block and A Shout Out To Tim Wu

Tearing myself away for a moment from the drama and bitter disappointment of today’s cable vote, we have an announcement from Verizon that it will offer an “open platform” option for its wireless services. According to the news reports, starting in 2008, VZ will publish a standard for connecting to their network, host a conference for developers, work with developers, set up a testing lab to ensure that devices meet the standard and won’t harm the network, and allow devices to connect to the network. They also promise not to interfere with any application running on the device.

They pledge to make this available on the whole network. Not “just on a portion of the network, or a piece of spectrum that may become available after 2009.” For tech support, if you are a “bring your own device,” you can call VZ to make sure your device is connected but you are otherwise on your own.

Verizon says they are doing this in response to market demand. Rumors that this is an effort to head off regulation or declares an interest in C Block are baseless speculations of undisciplined internet bloggers like yr hmbl obdn’t. But they do stress several times on this press call that this is all about the market working, just as terminating early termination fees had nothing to do with regulatory pressure, so there is obviously no need to regulate.

Maybe. But while I’m certainly glad to see Verizon come around to my way of thinking that openness is the ultimate “killer app,” I think credit is due to three other events that helped Verizon see the light on openness: Tim Wu’s incredibly important paper on wireless Carterfone last February; Kevin Martin’s decision to put an “open devices” condition on the 22-MHz “C Block” licenses in the upcoming 700 MHz auction; and the iPhone hearing last July, where Congress made it clear they didn’t like the idea of locking desirable devices to a single provider.

Why? See below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

700 MHz Final Tweaks: Limited Relief for Frontline, Google Looks to Bid

So with the December 3 date for the filing of short forms to participate in the 700 MHz auction looming ever closer, we see some last minute shifting about and settling of a few lingering details. First, in the I called it category (as did my friend and fellow Wetmachiner Greg Rose, various news outlets report that Google seems increasingly likely to bid in the 700 MHz auction. Further support for the idea that Google really intends to bid comes from their filing a request for clarification from the FCC that when the FCC said “no discrimination,” they meant the usual statutory version that allows discounts for volume customers and such what (the usual statutory language prohibits “unreasonable discrimination,” which allows for things like bulk discounts provided everyone that meets the criteria gets the same deal).

Mind, it isn’t a sure thing Google will bid until it files a short form, and folks can file to bid without being willing to put up the money. But given the number of folks who said Greg and I were on crack for expecting Google to actually put up its own money to go against the likes of Verizon, we can perhaps be forgiven for patting ourselves on the back for being so far out ahead of the curve on this.

More importantly, perhaps, is the FCC’s decision last week to provide limited help to Frontline Wireless by allowing a designated entity (DE) that wins the D Block auction to wholesale its spectrum without losing its DE credit. (You can read the FCC Press release here and the full text of the Order here.) Now how does this help? And why limit it to D Block? And what the heck is a “DE” anyway?

Answers and speculations below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The 700 MHz Auction Pre-Show: Live from the AT&T/Aloha Bowl!

The pre-game show for the 700 MHz auction has definitely gone into full swing. Lets ignore for the moment the purely regulatory shenanigans such as Verizon’s war of litigation and regulatory maneuver. Let’s pause for a moment to consider some of the player training and pre-game jockeying for position. Notably, today’s big announcement that AT&T will buy Aloha Partners 700 MHz licenses.

“Whoa!” I hear you cry. “How did Aloha Partners (or anyone else) get 700 MHz licenses? I thought the auction wasn’t until January!” Well, for reasons I will address below, the FCC actually auctioned some of these licenses back in 2002 and 2003. Aloha Partners won a fair number of them dirt cheap (since at the time no one knew if the broadcasters would ever finish the digital transition and get off the spectrum), and then began a steady stream of acquisitions, culminating in the purchase last month of Lin TV’s 700 MHz licenses, giving them a total of 270 licenses overall and healthy coverage in the major markets of the southwest, south, east coast, and portions of the midwest. (You can see and old map of the major coverage areas here.)

And now, in what has become the all too familiar paradigm for the telecom world, AT&T has turned around and swallowed Aloha Partners 700 MHz licenses. What does this mean? What impact for the auction? For other deals? Will this impact the regulatory end game?

My speculations are even wilder-ass than usual, given the utter lack of real data. But if you’re up for a walk through the entrails with me, see below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Sprint Swaps Spectrum Co. for Google: Care To Guess Who Bids in 700 MHz Now?

As I repeatedly observed during the lead up to last Tuesday’s FCC meeting to decide the rules for the 700 MHz band, it is an extremely risky business to try to guess who will bid at this stage. Despite the much shorter time between announcing the rules for the AWS auction last year and the time bidders needed to get their forms in, numerous companies changed their positions, created new ventures, and generally did the unexpected.

Now, with everyone speculating whether whether or not Google will really bid or whether the cablecos will give the telcos a run for their money, comes a significant change. In the course of a week, Sprint has forged an alliance with Google, followed a few days later with a surprise request to exit the cableco consortium SpectrumCo. This comes on top of Sprint’s announcement two weeks ago that it will team with Clearwire to do nationwide WiMax.

And suddenly all those wise speculations about how Sprint won’t bid because it doesn’t have the cash and it has enough spectrum, Clearwire won’t bid because it’s too small to challenge the telcos, and Google won’t bid because they don’t have the expertise and don’t want to spend the money, need some serious recalculation. A Google/Sprint/Clearwire consortium (with possible help from Intel, which both owns a chunk of Clearwire and participated in the auction rulemaking as part of the “4G Coalition” with Google, Skype, and Yahoo!) looks like much more of a spectrum player than any of them alone. Sprint and Clearwire have the infrastructure and expertise, Google has the bucks and the need to expand into wireless. Further, depending on the nature of the partnership, Google could start testing and and marketing its wireless services now so that it does not have to wait until it has built and activated a network (which probably won’t be until 2010 at the earliest).

Meanwhile, what happens to SpectrumCo.? Granted the cablecos still have no plan for the licenses they got in the AWS auction (since, lets face it, the real reason to show up was to block DBS from getting a terrestrial broadband pipe), but to the extent they pretended to have a plan, they usually cited their ability to work with Sprint as a means of implementing it. So what happens now? Granted the cablecos still have tons of money to throw at this, but how will Wall St. treat their stocks if they look set to pour another couple of billion into a business without the benefit of an experienced partner with existing infrastructure? And besides, with the FCC adopting anonymous bidding, the cablecos will find it much harder (if not impossible) to target and block rivals without going all the way and actually winning the licenses. (Remember, blocking is usually cheap because you don’t usually have to spend the blocking premium, you just have to prove to the other guy that you are willing to spend the blocking premium. It’s like when tough guy walks in on shopkeeper and asks if shopkeeper would like to buy “insurance.” Tough guy doesn’t have to actually trash the store to get paid. As long as shopkeeper believes tough guy will break his legs, shopkeeper will pay to avoid testing the theory.)

So, a mere three days after the FCC announces rules, we find ourselves reexamining the conventional wisdom in light of changed events. McDowell rather relished the warning he gave Martin and the rest of the majority that it was “risky” to tailor the band plan to attract a single “white knight” who would become a new national broadband provider. Suddenly, Martin’s confidence that if you set the table folks will come to dinner seems a bit more justified.

But it’s still a few months until FCC forms to participate will be due, and anything can happen in between.

Stay tuned . . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

700 MHz Endgame: AT&T Reverses Course So Fast It Gets Whiplash

AT&T did a full reverse thrust on Martin’s proposed open access plan. According to this USA Today piece, Jim Cicconi, Senior Executive Vice President for Public Policy at AT&T, has nothing but praise for the genius of Kevin Martin and the utter perfection of his proposed 700 MHz band plan with “open access-lite”. No, seriously, that Solomon Guy was a moron compared to Kevin Martin and the clever way he has cut this spectrum baby in half. Further, to hear Cicconi sing it, he cannot imagine why anyone would think that AT&T was threatening to sue the Commission if it implemented this wonderful, perfect, glorious plan that the genius that is Kevin Martin has brought down from Heaven after spending 40 days and 40 nights reading the docket.

So, in the last two weeks, we have seen: AT&T hint that it will bid even if there is a wholesale open access condition, followed by AT&T bactracking without actually denying they would bid, followed by AT&T breathing fire and threatening lawsuits if the FCC adopts the “Google plan” of full wholesale open access. Now, a mere week later, AT&T loves the Martin plan and can’t imagine how anyone could have thought otherwise.

I hope the AT&T Deathstar has good shock absorbers, or they are going to have serious whiplash from all these radical course reversals.

But I know y’all don’t come here just to see me mock incumbents (although I like to think of that as an added service). The big question that everyone wants to know is WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON AT AT&T? Sadly, short of sneaking some veritaserum into Jim Ciconni’s coffee, there is no way to tell for sure. But I provide some guesses, theories, and speculations on the implications for the 700 MHz Endgame below…..

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