Tales of the Sausage Factory

What We Learn From the VZ-Frontier Deal

Verizon is selling 5 million access lines to Frontier. I expect the deal will go through — after all, a dominant carrier is getting smaller, there is no place where VZ and Frontier compete, etc., etc. What makes the deal interesting is what it tells us about the problem of relying on ILEC/Cable competition to drive broadband. Briefly, (a) we will be perpetually without fiber in a lot of places if we are going to wait for cable and ILECs to meet our needs; and (b) the real problem for is not just the high cost of deployment, but the need to show high rates of return to keep Wall St. happy. It is this latter that will keep telecom policy a very unhappy and complicated place unless we get out of our usual silos and start thinking about some holistic solutions.

More below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Changes for Media Access Project, And For Me Personally.

As everyone not living under a rock has heard, the spirit of change is now sweeping through Washington like a broom enchanted by a lazy animated mouse. Who are we at Media Access Project to resist change? Heck, we bloody well lead change, we make change. We are change agents. We — well, you get the idea.

So what changes will happen at MAP?

1) After 10 years, I will leave Media Access Project, effective January 31, 2009.

2) After more than 30 years as President and CEO, Andrew Jay Schwartzman will become Legal and Policy Director. Andy will handle policy, and MAP will hire a new CEO to handle administrative and fundraising duties.

3) Associate Director Parul Desai will have an enhanced role in the organization going forward.

Why? Because, bluntly, we need to prepare for a very different world. Make no mistake, the telecom policy world still needs MAP — perhaps now more than ever. As I repeatedly stress, anyone who thinks that we can just elect the right people and go home needs to think again. The new Administration, despite what I believe is a very real and strong ideological affinity for our issues and a reasonable skepticism for the blandishments of incumbents, will need a powerful progressive movement to keep it moving in the right direction. MAP will continue to sit at the tip of the spear on media and telecom reform, pushing against media gatekeepers and fighting for an electronic media that lives up to its potential for Free Speech and innovation.

But we can’t do that by staying the way we’ve always stayed. We need to take a deep look at ourselves and ask some hard questions about how we avoid the trap of fighting battles that no longer matter, in ways that no longer work. We have spent the last 8 years in opposition, fighting to hold back some really wretched policies and swimming uphill to create new opportunities for independent voices. Whatever the Obama Administration brings, I gaurantee it will not be anything like the Bush or Clinton years.

Which is why I have decided to move on, or at least give up my job at MAP. I still love this field, and strongly believe in the Progressive movement (including my belief that it is a movement and not a mob). But the time has come for me to move on to something else, although I have no idea what that something else will be (anyone with any thoughts on the subject, don’t hesitate to write). I have a book contract with Ig Publishing for a book on building the modern progressive movement and developing an alternative to the Gods of the Marketplace (I like to think of it as what Naiomi Klein forgot to write about in The Shock Doctrine, the part where people figure out how to get a better system in place). that, of course, will not pay the bills (especially as it will not actually get published until the fall of 2010), so I expect to do some consulting for awhile until I figure out what else to do. I’ll add that if anyone can figure out a way to make this bloging stuff pay, I would love to know it.

In answer to the inevitable question — yes, I’d love to work for the Obama Administration or do something worthwhile on the Hill. And like every other Democratic policy wonk, I’ve filled out the form at change.gov, so they will know where to find me if they decide they can use me.

But even without a job waiting for me, and despite my general satisfaction with my job at MAP, I feel the time has come for me to move on. Cliche as it sounds, I need a change and I cannot think of a better time for one (other than this pesky recession), given how the policy wonk world is undergoing one of its rare ferment moments when the possibility of sweeping away the established order of things seems breathtakingly real if we have the courage to sieze it and dare to do something utterly different.

I may regret it. But I think not. I like to think I’ve done a lot of good doing what I’ve been doing for the last ten years. I also like to think I’ll find other ways to do good and interesting things as well. This feels right, and I would be false to myself if I refused to take the risk.

Stay tuned . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Matt Stoller Interviews Me Over On OpenLeft

As anyone reading the sidebar can tell, I’m a big fan of the folks over at OpenLeft. So I was extremely happy when Matt Stoller asked to interview me on what the November 4 white spaces vote at the FCC means for the future of media and telecom policy.

You can find the interviews here:

Day 1: Broadband and Breaking Up Telecom/Cable/Broadcast Monopolies.

Day 2: Real Use Anywhere ‘Skype-style’ Phone In The Offing.

I have no idea if the Obama people — or anyone else for that matter — agree with me on this stuff. The views expressed in the interviews are my own, just like any other time I talk to the press. In particular, I am pretty sure no one else agrees that our priority should be to “crush monopoly incumbents, drive them before us, and hear the lamentations of their shareholders.” “have a strong national broadband policy that includes federally funded fiber-to-the-home and greater access to federal spectrum for intelligent devices.”

But I hope we can persuade them to agree with me.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

No, I Don't Know Anything About the McCain Story.

I regret to disappoint my fellow Wetmachiner John Sundman and legions of of folks discovering telecom policy is incredibly sexy (a fact I mentioned in my very first Wetmachine post), but I really have nothing to add about the McCain/Iseman story. This is not Wonkette here folks.

Policy, sure. I can tell you what made this transaction so controversial. And it may even have some bearing on the next FCC, given that one of the folks involved was Susan Ness, the former FCC Commissioner whispered about as the most likely nominee to replace Kevin Martin if Clinton wins. It also, of course, involved Bill Kennard who, along with Reed Hundt, is advising Obama. So I suppose the policy might have some relevance here. But as for the “juicy stuff:”

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Senators McCaskill & Klobuchar Understand The Biggest Problem in Telecom Policy: Changing How Policy Gets Made

If their performances at Tuesday’s Senate Hearing on Universal Service Fund Reform (USF) are any indication, I am definitely going to become a huge fan of Frosh Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Amy Klobauchar (D-MN). After listening to FCC Commissioner Deborah Tate (who chairs the Federal-State Joint Board on universal Service that oversees the Universal Service Fund) explain that USF reform has stalled because it has been impossible to get “consensus” from the industry “stakeholders,” Senator McCaskill said:

What you’re basically saying to us is the FCC is incapable of moving forward on reform unless all the people who are making money say it’s OK, and that’s hard for me to get my arms around.

Senator Klobuchar echoed similar incredulity and disbelief.

I hope these two maintain that sense of disbelief and outrage. Because the ideas espoused by Tate on the proper role of the FCC and Congress have become so embedded in telecom policy that even friends of the public interest take it as a given.

But hopefully, thanks to McCaskill, Klobuchar, and the other progressive “freshmen,” that may change.

More below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The AT&T Merger Saga Continues . . .

No one could mistake last week’s twists and turns in the proposed AT&T/BellSouth merger for the excitement, titilation and hijinks of the Foley Follies. But by the staid standards of telecom policy, last week’s swirl of activity constituted a veritable Telanovella of intrigue and power politics. Duelling Congressional Committees! Kevin Martin pushes for a showdown, but Dems Michael Copps and Jonathon Adelstein hang tough! Martin stages a “strategic withdrawal,” but schedules a new vote for November 3 after he returns from his long-planned trip to Asia. AT&T offers new concessions, kicking off a fresh round of public comment and criticism of the merger. And what will happen to the Notice of Inquiry on network neutrality that Martin offered the Dems as an incentive to approve the merger? Is it still on the table?

I’m all aflutter, I tells ya. For my continued speculation, as well as my thoughts on the proposed AT&T conditions and how you can still make a difference, see below….

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The Joker in the Stevens Deck — Section 1004

In the dead of night, just before the latest draft of the Stevens bill came out, a helpful Telco lobbyist inserted a little provision to stack the deck in the case of judicial review. Section 1004 of the Stevens draft now places exclusive jurisdiction for all decisions by the FCC in the D.C. Circuit. This includes not just network neutrality, but media ownership, CALEA, wireless issues, anything.

Why would anyone do that you ask? Because the D.C. Cir. is, without doubt, the most activist court in the land when it comes to pressing its vision of media and telecom policy. More than any other court, the D.C. Cir. can be credited with destroying hope of telecom competition in the United States by perpetually reversing and remanding the FCC’s efforts at rulemaking and enforcement until the FCC finally gave up and effectively deregulated. The D.C. Cir. is also responsible for vacating (eliminating by judicial fiat) the rule preventing cable companies from owning television stations where they have cable systems, and overturning much of the FCC’s cable and broadcast ownership limits. Finally, through the legal doctrine known as “standing”, the D.C. Crcuit has done its best to make it impossible for regular people to challenge FCC decisions or bring individual cases on antitrust grounds.

As a practical matter, the move privileges large companies that can afford to litigate in DC. If you are a small company somewhere else, upset about how FCC action impacts your life, you must now get a lawyer familiar with DC practice ad Petition for review here. Of course, the best (and most expensive) firms most likely have deals with your larger rivals, precluding them from taking the case.

So no wonder why the telco lobbyists want this provision. But why on Earth would anyone else? However, because it comes in at the end, while most of the action takes place elsewhere, it may slip by.

So certainly go to Save the Internet and follow the directions on how to call the Senate Commerce Committee and tell them you want real network neutrality. But don’t forget to tell them at the top of your lungs STRIP OUT SECTION 1004! DO NOT GIVE THE DC CIRCUIT EXCLUSIVE JURISDICTION OVER FCC RULES. You’ll be glad you did.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

We take on Chicago and Milwaukee Commercial TV

I had a little unintended hiatus for the last 8 weeks or so. Hopefully, I’ll be back to more regular posting.

To catch up on the news. Media Access Project, where I work, has filed challenges against the licenses of the commercial television stations in Chicago and Milwaukee. You can read the press release here. You can follow the links to the Chicago petition and the Milwaukee Petition. Or you can see my quick analysis about why you should care below.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Tales of the Sausage Factory: MAP Summer Fun Kit

Whose up for a summer of social activism on media and telecom policy? A show of hands please? What if I told you it would only take about 15 minutes using the equipment you are using to read this webpage?

I’ve pegged four FCC proceedings that will benefit enormously from an injection of real world information. My pitch letter for why you should care, along with links to summaries of the proceedings and instructions on how to file, given below.

Stay tuned . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Tales of the Sausage Factory: It Depends What Your Definition of “Any” Is

Fans of municipal community networks were dealt a blow by a Supreme Court decision last month in Nixon v. Missouri Municipal League. The Supreme Court found that Congress needed to be more explicit in preempting the states when it said “the states shall not prevent any entity from offering telecom services” as part of the 1996 Telecom Act. Odd as it may seem to speakers of the English language, I think the Supremes may have got this one right.

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