Tales of the Sausage Factory

The FCC Never Regulated DSL, Oceania Has Always Been At War With Eastasia, and My Offer To AT&T.

Hank Hulquist over at AT&T writes that the FCC never regulated internet access.
It’s a funny thing, because I distinctly remember going through a process where the FCC reclassified DSL from a Title II telecom service to an information service. Let me rummage for a bit . . . . ah yes. Here is the link to the FCC’s 2005 Order reclassifying DSL as an “information service.”

In fact, come to think of it, I’m old enough to remember when the telephone companies wanted DSL classified as an “interstate telecommunications service.” Can I find that link on line? Why yes! Here it is: GTE’s DSL Tariff and the Bell Atlantic, BellSouth, GTE, and PACBELL DSL Tariff. (The telcos wanted these classed as Title II telecom to preempt state regulation, if you were wondering.)

And what does the first paragraph of the GTE Tariff Order say?

In this Order, we conclude our investigation of a new access offering filed by GTE that GTE calls its DSL Solutions-ADSL Service (“ADSL service”). We find that this offering, which permits Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to provide their end user customers with high-speed access to the Internet, is an interstate service and is properly tariffed at the federal level.

Which is why carriers providing DSL paid Universal Service support (paid only by Title II telecommunications carriers) until the FCC 2005 Reclassification Order.

[Funny story. The 2005 Reclassification Order phased out USF payments over the course of a year, but in 2006, rather than dropping the USF fee, the carriers tried to keep charging customers for a fee they no lnger had to pay. Then Kevin Martin threatened to investigate the Bells for false billing, and they backed off.]

More below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The Comedy of Comcast v. FCC Part I — What Did The Court Actually Do?

It’s been rather busy the last few weeks. Between my unfairly holding Sprint responsible for its own screw ups, shamelessly cheering on the documentation of our national broadband drought by Our Great Google Overlords, and generally crushing all who dare oppose me, it’s been hard to find time to blog about stuff. So naturally, while I was away for the last day of Passover, the DC Circuit issued its long awaited decision in the Comcast/BitTorrent case, Comcast v. FCC.

Needless to say, the opinion was greeted with the total hysteria that has become the hallmark of the network neutrality debate — with terms like “Nuclear Option,” “World War III,” and “spanking.” Opponents of FCC jurisdiction rejoiced, supporters of network neutrality lamented, and a few shrewd observers noted that the actual outcomes could prove far worse for Comcast and the incumbents than if Comcast had lost (as I noted after oral argument last January).

My co-counsel, Marvin Ammori, has written up his retrospective here. Understandably, he’s rather bummed. Despite this whole thing being my idea in the first place, however, I’m actually rather pleased and amused with how this whole thing is turning out. Sure, I would much rather have won. But as the history of the last 2+ years of this unfolds, the tale of how Comcast managed to bluff, badger, and bungle itself into a position where it has not only guaranteed harsher condition on its merger with NBC-Universal, but revived the possibility of classifying broadband access as a Title II telecom service for the first time in 10 years, is the stuff of high farce. And while I wish I could claim credit for this outcome, the real “heroes” here are Brian Roberts (head of Comcast) followed closely by AT&T, NCTA and the Republican party.

To try to keep this manageable, I’ll divide this into two posts. Below, I will try to set forth what the court actually said and the immediate legal implications, without worrying too much about the overall policy. While I can hardly claim to be an impartial observer, I’ll do my best to identify my editorial comments as such and note where reasonable minds can differ. In Part II, I shall shamelessly indulge myself with my own eyewitness to history and why I think the Comedy of Comcast v. FCC deserves its special place in the realm of farce — although we have by no means reached a certain conclusion.

More below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Will Minnesota Senate Screw Duluth's Chances of Getting Google Gigabit Project?

As reported by Christopher Mitchel from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Qwest has scored quite the little victory in its efforts to keep itself the world safe from real competition socialism. A state Senator and a state Rep introduced a bill that would have made it easier to for local governments to build municipal networks. Right now, it takes a local referendum vote with 65% to authorize a locality to build a network that offers commercial telephone service (and therefore any “triple play” broadband access service — or so they read it in MN). A State Senator and State Rep offered a bill to reduce the threshold on the referendum to a simply majority. By the time the relevant jurisdictional committee was finished, the revised bill included one of the favorite incumbent roadblocks to localities: a mandatory “feasibility study” designed to be so onerous and expensive to conduct that few local governments will want to even try.

Meanwhile, the good folks of Duluth are so desperate for real broadband that they made this joke video to get citizens to show support for bringing Google Gigabit Fiber project to town.

Question for the good Senators and Representatives of Minnesota: when you’ve got folks clamoring for real broadband, do you really want to be “protecting” your underperforming incumbent? By “clarifying” that your referendum law applies to any indirect provision of telecom service, and imposing a five year plan on municipalities, you are making it very hard for your local governments to — in the words of Duluth’s mock Public Service Announcement — “suck up even harder” than the competition. While I am hardly privy to Google’s secrets and innermost workings, I am willing to bet real money that when they weigh where to set up their pilot project, they will consider any possible legal landmines. Would you want to set up shop in a city where Qwest or some other provider might sue to block your use of city assets under the amended state law? Even if Google were to ultimately prevail, it would tie up the deployment in litigation. Who wants that, when the number of communities begging for Google to come and work its fiber magic keeps growing?

Mind you, there’s a good argument that even this version of the bill is better than the current law. Dropping the referendum requirement from 65% to a simple majority will do a lot of good even with the feasibility study requirement. But should that really be the choice? Don’t the people of MN deserve the better bill, without throwing (yet another) bone to Qwest to reward its failure to provide what people want and need?

So folks in Duluth, and other communities in MN trying to get Google Fiber, you might want to ask Qwest’s buddies in the legislature to cut y’all some slack and pass the original bill without the study requirement. that would send a signal that MN is serious about bringing broadband to its citizens and would welcome the sort of public/private partnership that Google appears to be offering. Or perhaps the MN legislature is just rooting for the people of TopekaGoogle,” KS instead of the folks in Duluth.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

AT&T Falls Back on “It's All About Google” Strategy

For some years now, the opponents of Network Neutrality have had the same basic fallback strategy: When all else fails, make it about Google. So no surprise that AT&T, in a letter supposedly about the rather technical issue of “traffic pumping” opens with an attack on Google and Net Neutrality. Because if we have learned anything from our national healthcare debate, it is that it is more important to make this about how awful the other side is rather than debate the merits.

More below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

It's Nice WhenThe FCC Listens — Sorta. Why I like The Proposed Resolution Of Comcast's Complaint Against Verizon But Why Some Of It Makes Me Uneasy.

Back in February, I blogged about Comcast’s complaint against Verizon for its “retention marketing” practices. That’s Verizon’s practice that, when they get a request from another carrier to terminate voice service and transfer the phone number of a customer who is switching from Verizon (a practice called “porting” the number), they make one last run at trying to persuade the customer to stay. At the time, I observed (as I have for well over a year now, since I first made this argument at the at the Federal Trade Commission’s 2007 workshop), that if we are going to rely on competition, then we cannot have rules that privilege one side over another. To cancel video service, you have to call the cable operator, who then gets a last chance to pitch you hard to stay and makes it as difficult as possible to terminate service. But to change telephone provider, the cable company can ask the telco provider and the telco provider isn’t allowed to try to keep the customer — but must wait to pitch the customer until after the customer has already switched. That’s crazy. It needs to be consistent, or it puts the telcos at a serious disadvantage against the cable cos.

Well, back in April, the Enforcement Bureau issued a recommended decision that adopts this same argument. (I’ve been a shade busy, or would have blogged on this earlier.) It strongly recommends that the Commission commence a notice of proposed rulemaking designed to harmonize the rules for switching video and voice. No surprise, as this also tracks a Verizon Petition for Declaratory Ruling — as noted by the Bureau in a footnote.

Needless to say, I wholeheartedly approve of such harmonization, having supported this approach for well over a year. So why does the recommendation make me uneasy?

Because of the legal reasoning around the facts of the instant complaint. The Bureau recommends a finding of no violation because number porting is not a Title II telecom service and cable providers offering voice over IP (VOIP) are not providing Title II services. Which means that the FCC can flit back and forth between Title I and Title II at will, depending on its policy needs of the moment. It also means that Title II telecommunications service has now been reduced to only the voice component of plain old telephone service. And even critical elements of POTS, like managing the phone number systems, no longer count as telecommunication services under Title II.

I’m even more queasy about this because it is probably right under the enormous deference shown to FCC definitional hair splitting thanks to the combination of the Brand X decision and the D.C. Circuit’s decision on CALEA in ACE v. FCC. Well, Scalia warned the Brand X majority, but they didn’t listen. And Michael Powell, by trying to put broadband services beyond the reach of FCC regulation, ended up enormously expanding the power of the FCC to regulate services on a whim.

More on what I’m talking about and what this means for the future (if adopted by the Commission) below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The Bush Administration DOJ Just Can't Do Enough For Its Friends

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. For AT&T and its industry compatriots, domestic spying is the gift that keeps on giving.

Today, the Department of Justice Antitrust Division announced it had filed written comments in the FCC’s Inquiry Into Broadband Industry Practices, aka lets do a wussy study on net neutrality so we can pretend we are defending the public by ‘being vigillant.’ And — surprise, surpirse, SURPRISE! — the DOJ Antiutrust division comments look like the “Cliffsnotes version” of the AT&T filing.

So to recap, in the last few weeks, we have seen top Administration officials go public with classified data to push for retroactive immunity for the telcos for domestic spying, we’ve seen AT&T admit that they “accidentally” bleeped out Pearl Jam’s anti-Bush lyrics, and now we have the DOJ Antitrust division going to the mat for their buddies at the FCC.

I tell you, in this day and age of rampant cynicism and political opportunism, it warms my heart to see the Bushies stick with their buddies through thick and thin, and to see AT&T doing the same. Never mind what it looks like! As Mirror Universe (Evil) Cartman would sing: “You guys are my best friends, through tick and thin we’ll always be together . . . I love you guys.”

Of course, it probably helps that the tiering that the telcos and cable cos want to do makes it much easier to monitor traffic via deep packet inspection, and the fact that it is an “information service” rather than a telecom service means the telcos and cable cos can do whatever they want with the data (they don’t even need to get a warrant, as they would to take advantage of CALEA). But it’s mutual self-interest like this that keeps friendships strong! This way the DOJ gets its domestic spying built into the architecture, and the cable and telcos get to fulfill their fantasies of exacting monopoly rents out of every single bit that crosses their networks (despite the collateral damage to free speech and the long term damage to the economy as a whole). But hey, a “duopoly tax” in the form of higher costs for slower speeds is a small price to pay to have surveillance equipment built directly into the network architecture — and to help a true friend.

You can read my official reaction as VP Media Access Project in this press release on the MAP web page (also reproduced below).

Stay tuned . . . .

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