Tales of the Sausage Factory

USTR 301 Comments: Crashing the IP Mafia's Party

Time for another little instructional video, aka “5 Minutes With Harold Feld.” Here, I talk about the US Trade Representative’s “Special 301” Process. This is where the US Trade Representative (USTR) makes a “naughty list” for countries which, in the words of the statute: “deny adequate and effective protection of intellectual property rights” or “deny fair and equitable market access to United States persons that rely upon intellectual property protection.” (You can find last year’s list here.)

But while Congress intended this to be about protecting U.S. interests from wholesale piracy — you know, the warehouses with the industrial copying machines that crank out 10,000 counterfeit DVDs and hour and such what — the usual suspects have hijacked this to ratchet up intellectual property law in other countries. That includes trying to outlaw in other countries things that are not only legal here, but critical to our electronics industry and online services (not to mention free speech and civic expression). For example, because “space shifting” is a perfectly legal fair use, SlingMedia can sell a product that lets me watch shows I pay for through my broadband connection. Because we don’t hold “providers of interactive services” liable for copyright infringement if they follow the Digital Millennium Copyright Act notice and takedown provisions, Youtube can have an open video service that’s easy to use and easy for people to upload content.

Eliminate these provisions and we don’t just lose access to foreign markets for these goods and services. We potentially expose U.S.-based providers to foreign liability. Needless to say, Hollywood and the music industry are deeply concerned about how mucking around with other countries and pressuring them to change copyright law hurts other businesses — let alone the impact on civil liberties. But while it is not the job of these industries, and their associated trade organizations, to care about others, it is the job of the USTR to care about all U.S. goods and services, not just the entertainment industry.

You can read more about this issue from my Public Knowledge colleague Rashmi Rangnath here, including her exciting day testifying before USTR staff here. Rashmi is too polite to say as bluntly as I will that USTR staff give every sign of having been so thoroughly indoctrinated by the entertainment industry that they don’t even remember what their actual job is anymore. So we will need to whack them up the side of the head with a pretty big Clue Hammer a few times to get this process heading back in the right direction.

Stay tuned . . . .

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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

URGENT: TECH EQUIPMENT AND VOLUNTEERS NEEDED FOR KATRINA VICTIMS

Please distribute this broadly.

At 2 p.m., I participated in a conference call hosted by the FCC Chief of Staff on how network operators providing service with license exempt spectrum can assist in re-establishing critical voice, data and video service in areas devestated by Katrina.

Part-15.org is taking
the lead in organizing volunteers and donations of equipment from individuals,
WISPs and community wireless networks. Companies such as Cisco and Intel are
also heavily involved.

THERE IS AN URGENT NEED FOR DONATIONS OF EQUIPMENT AND VOLUNTEERS FROM THE TECH
COMMUNITY WILLING TO TRAVEL TO THE AREA EFFECTED BY KATRINA. Interested parties
can volunteer or describe contributions through www.part-15.org (there is a link
on the front page).

There is freely available software and instructions on how to convert a computer and wireless router into a mesh network node from the Champaign Urbana Wireless Network. Their website is http://www.cuwireless.net/

The FCC will remain open throughout the holiday weekend to address the crisis. Coordination efforts are ongoing, but part-15.org hopes to have a preliminary asset list for coordination with federal authorities by Noon Saturday 9/3/05. It would therefore be enormously helpful to hear from people who can donate equipment or time, even if they cannot provide the equipment or time until a later date.

Harold Feld
Senior VP
Media Access Project

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

WiFi Turbulence at Logan could be trouble for WISPs, CWNS and Munis.

Sadly, the latest fuss about wifi and airports doesn’t come from an Apple update. As some of you may have read, Logan airport wants to stop Continetal from running its own wifi network. Instead, it wants Continental to pay to use Logan’s wifi network. While this might look like just a local fight, it has big implications for wireless ISPs, community wireless networks, and municipal wireless networks.

The FCC has put out a public notice on the matter. So it looks like I have a new set of comments to file when I get back from vacation (sigh).

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