December 2013 brings two important anniversaries for the world of telecom policy. First, December 19 marks the 100th anniversary of the Kingsbury Commitment, the letter from American Telephone and Telegraph Vice President Nathan Kingsbury to to the U.S. Attorney General offering to settle the antitrust action against AT&T by allowing interconnection for all surviving rival phone companies (which by that time mostly meant companies in rural areas AT&T did not want to buy) and supporting the concept of universal service. (text here)
Second, December 10 marks the tenth anniversary of when I started doing this blog, Tales of the Sausage Factory.
Stipulated the first has had much greater impact on telecom policy, but I like to think we here at Wetmachine have done our bit as best we can. For those curious, here is a link to my first ever post, although I actually think this over here (which quickly follows) remains one of the funniest things I’ve ever written about telecom policy (mind you, this is not a hard bar to meet).
A few nostalgic reflections and links to my favorite posts below, as well as seeking reader advice on what to do going forward . . .
The Tales Of The Sausage Factory Amazing Secret Origin Story, Or ‘How I Met John Sundman.’
As with many of the most important things in my life, TotSF started by accident, with no plan whatsoever, and in violation of every rule anyone has ever taught me.
In January of 2003 I attended a science fiction convention in my home town of Boston called Arisia. I was doing a panel on something or other (probably copyright law and policy) and popped in on the panel before mine. A fellow by the name of John Sundman, a self-published author I’d never heard of until then, was on the panel. As I listened, it struck me that he was the only one on the panel who seemed (a) to have any idea what he was talking about; and, (b) who seemed to make any sort of real sense. I got up, did my panel, and noticed John in the audience so I went to introduce myself. “I enjoyed your presentation,” John told me. “You were the only one on the panel who seemed to know what he was talking about, or who made any sort of sense.” “I was just thinking the same thing about your panel,” I told him. We spent much of the rest of the convention hanging out and talking, swapped contact info, and that was that.
Some months later, John contacted me. “I’m putting together a blog,” he told me. Way back in ye ancient days of 2003, blogs had been around for a bit but were just starting to come into their own generally. “I remembered you from Arisia and thought you might like to b one of our bloggers.”
“O.K.,” I said. “It sounds like fun. What do I have to do?”
“I don’t really know. Write. We’ll figure it out.”
Random Maunderings, Building A Readership.
So I started writing with absolutely no idea how to promote this or what I was doing. Mostly I wrote about what interested me and to let off steam. Blogging encourages a certain informality of style that lawyers so rarely get to indulge. Pleadings and articles and even op eds all require a certain formality. Blogging let me write in my own natural voice, mostly snarky but occasionally serious when the mood struck me. And, as regular readers know, I rarely let spelling or grammar bother me.
Besides, I figured, no one was reading this except maybe a handful of friends, so I might as well go to town and speak my mind. Which, btw, is one of those big mistakes they always warn you about.
As I noodled with the blog I decided I could use it to explain things about my work. Hence the name, “Tales of The Sausage Factory,” as in the quote attributed variously to Bismark and Twain, and others: “People who love sausages and respect the law should not watch either being made.” Initially, this started as trying to cover a lot of terrain at a very comprehensive way. But it turned out even that proved too wonky and — above all else — way too long for your average blog reader.
Still, I started to notice I was having some impact. This blog post describing the oral argument in Grokster and Brand X was, I think, the first blog post I ever did that got noticed by the press. And as time went on I noticed my old boss, over at MAP started getting angry calls from people we opposed. (To Andy’s credit, he respected that this was my own work and never tried to exercise control over it.)
Over the years, the blog shifted from trying to be a basic coverage of FCC policy to what I call the “201 Level” Telecom Blog. There are a lot of good tech reporters and blogs out there to give you a basic summary of an issue. And, if you get really into it, you can try to find a good briefing paper. But the universe doesn’t contain much in between. The “suppose I know the basics but I’m looking for something a little more advanced.”
I’ve tried to cover that 201 level over the years, and keep it interesting. Hopefully readers that have come along for the ride have likewise found it interesting and useful.
I Get All Self-Indulgent And Revisit My Favorite Blog Posts.
As long as I’m touring Nostoalgialand, here are a few favorites of mine. Most of these make the favorites list because I tend to go back to them a lot – or at least the basic principles behind them. Others are here because they seem uniquely expressive of what I try to do in TotSF.
In that vein, I’m always proudest of my role in getting an inspector general investigation of the shenanigans around Cyren Call and D Block. As with so many things these days, everything we said that was bad turned out to be true, it just didn’t break any laws. Still, without Cyren Call screwing up the original D Block bidding, there would have been no fight over D Block and no FirstNet. Whether or not that would have been a better alternate universe I leave to the reader.
COPE-ing Nicely, Thank You - written after the House Energy and Commerce passed an awful bill, it neatly sums up my overall philosophy that “citizen movements must be citizens driven” and that we have a responsibility to remain engaged in politics if we want to see good public policy.
Outsourcing Big Brother I still go back to this as a concept. We can do away with the forms of government by having a cozy relationship between a small oligopoly over critical infrastructure to which the government simply outsources everything it is not supposed to do, like domestic surveillance.
And then of course there is Net Neutrality – the issue that just will . . . not . . . die . . . Sadly, some of the first things I wrote on why net neutrality remain important to protect political speech and its negative economic implications remain pretty current.
Similarly, in the perpetual discussion over whether or not the cell phone market is competitive, a bunch of things just don’t change about the nature of the market and the way equipment subsidy is screwing up pricing. Yes, foreclosure is real and yes antitrust and pro-competitive regulation make a real difference. And yes, by enhancing unlicensed spectrum with TV white spaces, there is a possibility of free WiFi for everyone.
It was in the coverage of the 700 MHz auction back in 2007 that I felt I really started to hit my stride on this blog, including the first ever in my Insanely Long Field Guide series. When I say something here is “Insanely Long,” you know I mean it. Meanwhile we’re still trying to figure out what Echostar’s win of the E Block ultimately means, and if Charlie Ergen is a Brave Little Toaster who can build a genuine “third pipe” or a stubborn idiot.
This is the first blog post where I mocked the Gods of the Marketplace, as I like to call the blind worship of market forces. There is a difference between understanding market forces and worshipping market forces as benevolent deities.
And I suppose no walk down memory lane can be complete without mention of the infamous “Man Pants” post, although I think this longer and more serious version was probably the riskiest thing I ever wrote from a career perspective.
Finally, to share an important lesson, no one likes being compared to an intestinal parasite, even in a good way.
So Where To Now?
Ten years is a good run. I’d like to keep going. Not that I lack for things to blog about, mind. I’ve got an Insanely Long List of Things I’d Like To Blog About. But actually finding the time to do decent blog posts is becoming increasingly harder. Heck, I wouldn’t have gotten this blog post done it time if God had not provided a convenient snow storm to close down D.C.
So I’m curious if folks have thoughts or suggestions about what they would like to see out of this blog going forward. Mind you, actual revisions to the website are the province of the actual blog owner John Sundman – who only gets occasionally annoyed when people think Wetmachine is “Harold’s Blog.”
Hopefully, we’ll keep doing this. It’s been fun. I hope it’s been helpful. I know it has pissed a bunch of folks off from time to time.
Stay tuned . . . .