McDowell and Baker Want To Preempt States on Broadband Reporting? Fat Chance Under Title I.

Sometime back, I coined the term “Cassandrafreude.”  A compound of “Cassandra” and “schadenfreude,” it means “the bitter pleasure derived from seeing someone else suffer in the way you predicted even though you are getting screwed yourself.”

I am experiencing a healthy dose of Cassandrefreude watching FCC Commissioners McDowell and Baker push the FCC to preempt state data collection of broadband deployment (statements here and here). The matter came up when the FCC issued a Declaratory Ruling findng that nothing in federal statutes or previous FCC orders stops states from collecting their own information about broadband deployment. The ruling expresses no opinion about whether state PUCs have existing authority (given that broadband is a Title I “information service”) or whether or not it would be a good idea for states to collect their own data. But even this specter that someone somewhere might do something carriers don’t like prompted Republicans McDowell and Baker to push for the FCC to preempt state authority to collect information. After all, as we all know, broadband providers are timid creatures and likely to be scared off by the least thing that could conceivably raise their cost of doing business — as the broadband providers themselves constantly remind us.

I’ll zip past the usually irony of Republicans who supposedly venerate federalism and demand record evidence before the FCC contemplates action to protect consumers sounding the alarm bell that unless the FCC rushes to preempt state governments, it will mean the end of broadband investment as we know it. Lets get right to the juicy part that fills me with such unbridled Cassandrafreude.

Under what authority, exactly, would the FCC preempt state collection of broadband data?

Continue reading

Status report on Wetmachine crossover

Longtime readers of Wetmachine are aware that we’ve moved to a new blogging platform. This has been a pretty ambitious undertaking and we’ve hit a few snags. Among other things, it’s not possible, yet, to buy or read my books from the site, and our adverts are not working (not that you miss them, but we miss the little bit of revenue they bring). There are some aesthetic tweaks to the layout & rss feeds we’re working on, and a few other things.

Please bear with us. The migration is being handled by Wetmachine’s unsung & unpaid hero Gary Gray, and he’s got a lot on his plate (including small things like the proverbial day job). We’ll address the remaining issues as expeditiously as possible.

Meanwhile we certainly would appreciate any feedback on the new design, and bug reports are always welcome. You can leave them in the comments or use the “contact” form.

I Testify Tomorrow On Set-Top Boxes

Ever wonder whatever happened to “cable ready” televisions, so that now you have to rent a set-top box from your cable or satellite (or other “MVPD” for those who remember the term from last time)? Wonder why getting your TiVo or XBox or Roku box hooked up to your “CableCard” (whatever that is) is such a pain?

I and a panel of other witnesses will explain all this to the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet tomorrow (Thursday, April 29) at 10m a.m. at a hearing on Competitive Availability of Navigation Devices. “Navigation Devices” is the fancy name for set-top boxes that can do things other than switch channels. Almost 15 years ago, Congress directed the FCC as part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act to make rules that would promote competition for “navigation devices” that would make it possible for us consumers to have our choice of fun things to attach to the cable system cheaply and easily. (Law codified at 47 U.S.C. 549)

We at PK pushed for the FCC to take up this issue as part of the National Broadband Plan as part of the general issue of broadband and the next generation of online video competition. To its credit, the FCC admitted that the existing rules have not worked out (as anyone who has tried to find a “cable ready” anything or tried to hook up something that is supposed to be “compatible” with your subscription video service knows). They have kicked off a new proceeding based on our Petition last December to create a “universal gateway” device that would work the way the a phone jack works: plug in the connector and the device connects to the network (more details in this post by PK colleague John Bergmayer.)

I’ll be talking about our proposal and why I think it would not only save people tons of money on monthly rental fees for cable boxes, but would have serious impact on online video, gaming, and content creation generally. Witnesses from various industry sectors will be there to explain what they like and don’t like about the status quo and our proposal. If you are the sort of policy junkie that enjoys watching this (or wonder what I look like hunched over a table reading testimony), you can follow the fun on the Subcommittee homepage via the link they will post in the bottom right-hand corner box.

Stay tuned . . . .

Media Bureau Sides Against Over The Top Video In Round 1 Of Sky Angel Case.

Last Wednesday, those trying to use broadband to compete with cable video offerings (aka “over-the-top” video providers) lost the first round in a small but important case: Sky Angel v. Discovery Channel. Happily, it’s only the first round. But the preliminary ruling by the FCC’s Media Bureau (“MB”) highlights why either Congress or the full Commission needs to focus on the question of whether the rules that protect cable competition (or, as we in the field say, “multichannel video programming distributors” or “MVPDs” — which includes everything from traditional cable to FIOS to satellite) will also protect competition for online providers.

Continue reading


I, journeyman, await the judgment of the guild. Am I master or fool?

The dogs prowl the perimeter. I pour a glass of rye. I check my watch again: how many hours removed is the west coast?  If I’m sitting in a stationary building on Thursday in spring during a waxing moon, am I two hours ahead or three? Are we saving the daylight now, or were we doing it last winter?  What is the relative velocity of California?

Rye again.

*            *            *

My skill is zed.

Our guild has no formal body, only a loose association of masters.  There is no crest or seal or fundraising jamboree. If I pass my journeymanship I will gain no additional letters after my name. There is no recognition but trust.

But that’s worth something. Because zed is hot, my friend, very very hot. Zed is putting gas in my car, and oatmeal in my children.  Zed pays the tax man. Zed helps me get ahead.

Why hasn’t my thigh rung? It’s almost nine.

They can put a man on Pandora but they can’t call me back on time.

I mean, shit.

Continue reading

The human genome sequence’s 10th anniversary collided with the invalidation of a major DNA patent

The US patent office has made it very clear that purified DNA is not the same, in their view, as the DNA in each of our cells. Myriad Genetics used this ruling to put a choke hold on medical tests for BRCA1, which was first identified not as a gene, but as a region of Chromosome 7 associated with susceptibility to breast and ovarian cancer (review, 1993). The gene was later cloned, a patent issued, and the patent rights ended up licensed from, near as I can tell without going into it deeply, the University of Utah to Myriad Genetics. Knowing whether a patient has BRCA1 has strong implications in deciding the right course of patient care for breast cancer, both in treatment of the disease and in screening. It’s one small example of the potential for personalized medicine, and it was in the hands of one company.

Continue reading

A Bad Bit of Timing For RCN — Public Comment Opens On Merger Day After Blocking Goes Public.

Welcome back everyone to the new and improved! I beg everyone’s indulgence while I figure out our new interface.

Every now and then, the universe hands you some lousy timing. Case in point for RCN. Back in March, when RCN announced its pending acquisition by Yankee Group, no one gave it a second thought. It all looked very uncontroversial and part of the natural consolidation for the few survivors of the debacle we call “intermodal competition.” But in what RCN can only view as the worst possible timing, the FCC put the deal out for public comment right after several stories that RCN had settled a class action for blocking p2p applications in a manner reminiscent of Comcast. (RCN “vigorously denies all wrongdoing,” but it is unclear whether they deny blocking or whether they deny they did anything wrong by blocking.)

Why does this matter? Because RCN has just become the prime opportunity for the FCC to answer the question “What’s our authority after the Comcast/BitTorrent case?

Continue reading

This I Believe

The relaunch of Wetmachine on newer blogging and serving platforms is a good opportunity to re-introduce myself. I’ve been working on this project — this atttempt to make on-line places where real people can really work together — since October 29, 2004 (and bloging about it since the next day). I write this blog for my children, to read in the future, to show them why I’ve loved going to work each morning.

I want them to know that I believe that right now, we are transitioning from the information age to the imagination age.

Continue reading

We’re Back

Hi Folks! The last few days have been busy around here, as we have moved to a new blog system. That involved a lot of data conversion, various kludges and hacks, late nights, caffeine consumption, and a bit of patchwork to get things up and running. It also required a last-minute emergency move to a new web hosting system, as our old web server wasn’t up to the task of running our new blog software.

There’s still more change to come, but the basic setup is complete, and most of the kinks ironed out.

After the jump. more details including a list of some new features.

Continue reading