Tales of the Sausage Factory

What Does US News and World Reports Know Anyway?

They’re just STUPID! What do they know?.

USA Today has a much more intelligent article (alas, from before the ranking s were published), especially this quote:

“What made me come back? Don’t be funny,” he says. “Everybody wants to come back to a reunion. That’s what Princeton’s made up of, people coming back to reunions.”

— Malcolm Wornock, Class of ’25.

Tune every heart and every voice,
bid every care withdraw;
Let all with one accord rejoice,
in praise of Old Nassau.
In praise of Old Nassau we sing,
Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!
Our hearts will give while we shall live,
three cheers for Old Nassau.

Harvard. Feh.

When we have a First Lady whose an alumn they’ll change their tune (and no, the fact that he went to Harvard Law does not count).

Stay tuned . . . . .

Harold Feld, Class of ’89

Go Tigers!

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

There's Patriotism, But Then There's Cash

Like many, I have been both appalled at the federal domestic spying program and the subsequent the effort to undermine the Rule of Law by granting the telcos retroactive immunity. Which is why I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at this USA today story reporting that the telcos shut down wiretaps legally authorized under FISA because the FBI failed to make the requisite billing payments.

But, but, but…..I thought the telcos were noble friends and patriots, who only violated our civil liberties because the government asked them to “do the right thing” and “step up to the plate” to help our national security. You don’t mean to tell me that these noble, brave, patriotic telcos — that, in the words of Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) “deserve our thanks, not a flurry of lawsuits” — these true Amerian heroes who so bravely, gladly, and swiftly, and without a moment’s hesitation, broke the law to spy on their customers like you and me, would let a matter of mere money stop them from doing their patriotic duty? You don’t mean to say that when a wiretap is actually legally authorized under the existing law, that the telcos would stop their monitoring of genuinely proven security threats over a trivial matter of a late bill, would they?

Not that I or anyone else should be surprised. “To thine own self be true,” says the Bard of Stratford on Avon, and corporations are profit maximizing firms. Small wonder they will break the law and sell us out in a heartbeat to suck up to the government in the hope of future favors (like, say, subsequent approval of mergers without conditions) while suddenly not giving a rat’s patootie about “national security” or “stopping the next 9/11” when the FBI misses a payment. After all, it’s OK to break the law and abet violations of the constitution to screw your customers, but you wouldn’t want to violate your fiduciary duty to your shareholders.

Even patriotism and national security have their limits, apparently. At least where corporations are concerned.

Explain to me again, Rep. Smith, why these companies “deserve our thanks, not a flurry of lawsuits?” Ah yes, because unlike the FBI, AT&T is NEVER late with the PAC donation check.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Why Teens Are Smarter Than Regulators — The Difference between Ubiquity and Substitutibility

Greetings gentle reader! Welcome to another chapter in my occasional series “What All Policy Wonks Need to Understand About Economics So They Can Spot The Industry Baloney” aka “The Econ 101 Gut Check.”

In today’s lesson, we look at two concepts often confused with one another. UBIQUITY, which means how widely available something is; and SUBSTITUTIBALITY, which means whether people regard one thing as a substitute for their first choice. Most arguments for deregulation of the media and the internet rest on confusing these related but very different concepts. For example, the argument that the availability of video clips on YouTube or other types of content creation confuses ubiquity and substitubality, as does the argument that cellphones compete with DSL and cable for broadband access.

But according to this USA Today article (reporting on this study by the PEW Internet and American life project), teenagers who actually use this stuff on a regular basis understand the differences perfectly. And if regulators, policy types, or even just folks who care about getting it right for its own sake want to get our national media and broadband polices right, then we better learn from these teenagers and get the difference between ubiquity and substitutibility straight.

Class begins below . . . .

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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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Tales of the Sausage Factory

700 MHz Endgame Part I: Martin Tries To Redefine “Open Access” With A PR Offensive

Martin has opened the endgame on the 700 MHz auction rules with some strategic press leaks to frame the debate and the circulation of his draft Order. According to USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, Martin’s draft proposes including a network attachment/wireless Cartefone rule on two blocks (the “C” and “D” blocks). At the same time, Martin is redefining “open access” to mean network attachment/wireless Cartefone (the issue popularized by Tim Wu with the help of the iPhone) rather than the wholesale obligation pushed by Frontline and the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition (PISC).

What makes Martin’s proposal particularly problematic is that it does actually do some good on issues I (and other folks in spectrum and media reform) care deeply about. It does represent a step forward. But it represents such a baby step, and deferred so far into the future, that it becomes useless for the near term (as Google argued in this recent filing (worthy of a post of its own)) and may actually take the pressure off the FCC to do something real like grant the Skype Petition or do something real on Network Neutrality.

Still, it presents a real challenge for the Democratic Commissioners as they enter into negotiations. Do they hang tough and risk losing everything on a 3-2 partyline vote? Do they accept a compromise, recognizing the political risk?

Worse for the Ds (and supporters of open access generally), the pressure from Congress has gone fairly hard against wholesale open access in recent days. The Republicans in the Senate and the House have bombarded the FCC with letters against wholesale open access. While some Ds (notably Kerry) have supported real open access, the Dem leadership and most Ds have remained on the sidelines. Still, tomorrow’s House Commerce Committee Hearing on Wireless Innovation will offer Democratic leaders to weigh in — if they so desire.

This Is long, so I am going to break it up into a couple of posts. First, the difference between Martin Open Access and Real Open Access . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

FCC Spikes Report Undermining Deregulation

Author’s note. I have significantly reedited this story in light of the fact that Michael Powell denies seeing the report or ordering it purged and that the only source on record states only that the order came from “a senior FCC official.” It is entirely possible that Powell never saw the study, and that someone much lower down the chain took action on his or her own. But this is why we need a thorough investigation.

“Unfortunately, many have turned this critically important policy debate into a political one, substituting personal ideology and opinion for the facts. If we are to craft responsible media policy for the 21st century, everyone involved in this debate must set aside the rhetoric, put the public interest before political interest and focus on ‘just the facts.’”

So wrote Michael Powell in an Op Ed in USA Today in January 2003. Powell was talking about the FCC proceeding to review its media ownership rules. He believed the facts would prove that deregulating the mass media would not harm local news. If anything, I expect Powell believed it would improve it. Doesn’t deregulation make everything better?

But according to this story by the Associated Press, The FCC conducted a study on the impact of deregulation of the media on local news, only to suppress it when it proved deregulation significantly hurts local news.

I do not believe Kevin Martin knew this report even existed before Senator Barbra Boxer (D-CA) sprung it on him yesterday. But I do think Martin has an obligation to investigate and make the results of the investigation known. If the FCC did suppress the report, then it needs to take steps to ensure that such things will not happen again. Because, while Powell was wrong about the impact of deregulation, he was right about one thing: “Only the facts will enable us to craft broadcast-ownership restrictions that ensure a diverse and vibrant media marketplace for the 21st century.”

A bit of back story below.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Outsourcing Big Brother Redux and Network Neutrality

About a year ago, I gave a speech to the ACLU called Outsourcing Big Brother. In it I argued that a big problem with consolidation in the media and telecommuniations industries is that it facilitates a partnership between big government and big business in which we, as citizens, lose.

Yesterday’s revelation in USA Today provides yet another chilling reminder of why we need to embed principles like network neutrality and competition into law, and vigorously defend them if we care about our civil liberties.

As I keep saying, since the telcos and cable cos and others keep wanting to frame it this way, Network Neutrality isn’t AT&T v. Microsoft. Yes, the economics matter, and, as I’ve said before, I think abolishing NN is a disasterous economic policy. But, at the end of the day, I care because it goes to the heart of democracy and self-governance.

More below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

I hope USA Today got it wrong on Kevin Martin and local franchising of telco video.

After a brief vacation from the 21st Century, I am back on the job and as puzzled as ever by this USA Today story.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The RFID Privacy Questions Continue

USA Today has a story about how a uniform supply company is using its RFID tag uniforms. The company scoffs at the idea that it is tracking individual workers. As for me, I ain’t laughin’.

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