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

A Reminder Why the PK Petition On Mobile Texting Matters (lest you think I only pick on cable operators).

Today’s NYT has this op ed on Obama’s use of text messaging to announce his VP pick. It provides a nice reminder about the importance of the pending Petition by PK and others on text messaging. Filed after Verizon denied NARAL a short code but reversed itself within 24 hours the mobile texting petition often gets bundled with the Comcast complaint as if they were essentially two examples of the same thing. They aren’t. The Comcast complaint asked the FCC to follow through on its previous commitment to prevent broadband providers from blocking or degrading content or applications. For all the (well deserved) hoopla around the decision, it was at heart, as Commissioner Tate described, “a normal enforcement proceeding, regarding a particular complaint within the confines of the specific circumstances presented.”

The Petition for Declaratory Ruling on mobile text messaging and short codes is not a complaint (although it is an adjudication). It does not seek to punish Verizon as a bad actor, and it only refers to the NARAL incident as an illustration of why the Commission needs to act. Rather, we ask the Commission to decide — for the first time — whether mobile text messaging is a Title II telecommunications service, like the underlying phone number and voice service. If the Commission decides that it is a actually a Title I enhanced service (like the internet access you can buy separately), we ask the FCC to impose rules that would prevent wireless carriers from denying a short code to someone or from messing with anyone’s text messaging.

Not that Verizon or any other provider would be so foolish as to deny the Obama or McCain campaigns short codes or block their text messages. I’m not even worried about independent candidates like Barr and Nader. No, I’m worried about us ordinary schlubs, or even unpopular folks who can’t count on getting a front page story on the NYT if something happens but still deserve the right to organize and spread their message to willing listeners.

More below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Today on Telecom Mythbusters: FCC Ancillary Authority in Comcast/BitTorrent

Cable gets a lot of mileage out of repeating things over and over until folks believe it’s true. Today on Telecom Mythbusters I’d like to focus on the question of “ancillary” authority and regulating broadband. The cable guys generally circulate two myths about this.

1) Ancillary jurisdiction by the FCC is an exceedingly rare, wacky, way out thing and the fact that net neutrality advocates even want to rely on it shows how way out there and kooky it is.

2) The D.C. Circuit has been busy trimming back ancillary jurisdiction so that it really doesn’t exist anymore. Specifically, the D.C. Cir. 2005 decision in American Library Association v. FCC, 406 F.3d 689 (D.C. Cir. 2005) (and, to a lesser degree, MPAA v. FCC, 309 F.3d 796 (D.C. Cir. 2002) worked some kind of mojo against the expansive grant of power by the Supreme Court in United States v. Southwest Cable, 392 U.S. 157 (1968) and the Supreme Court’s explicit statement in Brand X so that the FCC cannot regulate broadband access and prohibit Comcast from targeting specific applications such as BiTtorrent under ancillary jurisdiction. A sub-myth of this is “Title I cannot be the source of authority on its own.”

Marvin Ammori, General Counsel of Free Press, has written a stunning tour de force rebutting these arguments. The 100+ page filing masterfully traces the FCC’s authority under Title I and in this particular proceeding. But for those who don’t want to read through the whole thing, I will give my own take below.

I must once again warn readers that this will be a breathtakingly dull review of applicable case law, along with an examination of FCC precedents and does not go to the juicier merits of policy (not that I expct this to stop the Brett-bot from his inevitable comments). If you do not find legal minutia fascinating beyond words, if you do not thrill at the discussion of the subtle differences between a “Telecommunications Service Provider” and a “Common Carrier,” then for God’s sake, turn back now! Lest your brain dissolve into tapioca pudding from the awesome power of legal analysis unleashed.

(and for Brett: Blah blah blah evil blah blah Free Press blah blah MAP blah blah Ginger)

Otherwise, to see both myths BUSTED, read more below….

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Wireless Broadband As Information Service: Brand X Is Not Enough

According to this story, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin told the Senate he has circulated a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to classify broadband via wireless as an “information service.”

This might at first seem no big deal. After all, in the wake of the Brand X decision, the FCC has moved to declare broadband an “information service” for DSL and cable and, more recently, for broadband over power lines (BPL). So, while I may not be happy with using regulatory classifications to achieve back-door deregulation, what makes wireless services different?

The answer has to do with the peculiar way the Communiations Act works, and the physical reality that use of the electromagnetic spectrum really is different than laying a fiber line. True, “technological neutrality” is one of the great regulatory shibboleths these days, even if it does to reality what Yiphtach (Jeptha) did to the people of Ephriam. But the law and reality do matter sometimes. Like here.

I must give fair warning that the analysis below hinges on what will appear to non-lawyers an incredibly bizzare and artificial distinction with no apparent difference in immediate outcome. But among lawyers, this is like mistaking a Satmar Chassid for a Hesder bachur.

Some analysis below.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Tales of The Sausage Factory: PA HB 30 Now Law *sigh*

Gov. Rendell signed HB 30 into law an hour before the deadline last night (11/30). In a last minute deal, VRZN agreed to waive its right of first refusal against the proposed Philly municpal wifi system. Rendell promises to work with other municipalities to the extent their systems are “viable” to “ensure that they succeed.”

I’ll have more analysis later, including what I think is the likely aftermath in both PA and for other states. Short version: we did surprisingly well for organizing from ground zero the week before Thanksgiving. We have also put a spotlight on the issue of municpal broadband systems (and wireless in particular) that will take this out of the back rooms and turn it into a real issue for public debate.

A copy of Rendell’s statement on the ban and a link to the full text of the statement below.

Stay tuned . .

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