A Personal Reflection on the FCC’s USF/ICC Reform Order

A Personal Reflection On The FCC’s USF/ICC Reform

Yesterday, the FCC approved an Order addressing about 10 years of accumulated undone work in the telecom world and at least starting work on the more serious issues – such as interconnection for IP-based services – that will govern the next ten years. I have, no surprise, plenty of personal opinion about the substance and I expect that when the Order is published I will have my share of things to say and that some of them will be quite scathing, skeptical and snarky. Nevertheless, it is important to pause first and reflect on why yesterday’s vote represents a real accomplishment for Genachowski and the Commission. Similarly, it is important to appreciate the context of the Order and the limitations on the agency imposed by law.

None of this negates the very real and substantive criticisms that I and others will have – particularly with regard to the self-inflicted wound over the FCC’s legal authority. I have no delusion that hard work and good will somehow transform poor policies into better ones. My appreciation for what the agency did right and its limitations under law do not blind me to the part that political influence plays, nor does it somehow make it more palatable to those who feel that the outcome will make jeopardize their livelihoods or that we missed significant opportunities to do better.

But it is just as poisonous to public policy when we focus only on its flaws and failures as when we excuse them. It is not simply a matter of basic fairness, or that decisionmakers are human beings who do better when praised for what deserves praise. I believe failure to recognize the achievements and limitations of the policy process makes one a less effective advocate and prevents one from seizing opportunities when they arise. This is neither bogus pragmatism that counsels surrender and diminished expectations, nor delusional Pollyannaism that insists we live in the best of all possible worlds. The world is messy and complicated, and policy reflects that.

So, all that said, the accomplishments and context of the Order below . . .

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Comcast Unhappy With Free Market Title I Nirvana. Demands “Access Charges Bailout” But No Reg Oversight.

It says something about the messed up world of telecom today that the “Connect America Fund” the FCC will vote on tomorrow has become the “what the heck are we going to do about IP-based interconnection” proceeding. In particular, the rather high-profile spat between AT&T and Comcast (andother cable companies) over access charges illustrates exactly the kind of cosmic cluster#@$! we predicted would happen if the FCC failed to classify broadband as a Title II telecom service. AT&T is100% right on the key argument: Comcast has the access charge regime it fought for and deserves. Letting Comcast collect access charges as if it were a traditional telecom provider subject to Title II, while shielding it from any actual oversight or obligations as a Title I information service, is nothing more than an undeserved windfall to the company that tore up the social contract in the first place.  If they don’t like the outcome, then perhaps they should have thought about it before they declared Jihad on Title II.

More below . . . .

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Jobs. Ritchie. McCarthy. What’s God up to? When do you think it will be out?

The 40th Anniversary of Lisp was 13 years ago. I remember being mostly relieved that the old man didn’t attend my presentation, as it wasn’t really very good. But I’ll remember McCarthy. I haven’t programmed Lisp on a computer in a decade, but I still think in it. About a week ago, I had a sudden urge to play with it again. Here’s the coolest thing I ever wrote in any language, with comments removed. It’s sort of a y-combinator for a fixed-point of three levels of eval/apply.

(defmacro eclipse::WITH-UNIQUE-NAMES (vars &body body)
  `(let ,(loop for var in vars
	       collect `(,var (make-symbol ,(symbol-name var))))

(defmacro eclipse::REBINDING (vars &body body)
  (loop for var in vars
	for name = (make-symbol (symbol-name var))
	collect `(,name ,var) into renames
	collect ``(,,var ,,name) into temps
	finally (return `(let ,renames
			   (eclipse::with-unique-names ,vars
				`(let (,,@temps)

What Is It About Germany That Makes AT&T Allies Speak Truth? The Curious Case of CWA’s Larry Cohen.

I know, even I am getting bored with blogging about AT&T/T-Mo. It is so bad that I keep hoping I will have time to blog about USF before the FCC votes this Thursday. But the latest slip by Communications Workers of America (CWA) President Larry Cohen that AT&T has only a 20% chance of succeeding in its takeover of T-Mobile, followed by subsequent “clarifications,” is simply too ridiculous and absurd to let slide into obscurity without some passing snark.

More below . . . .

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What Were They Thinking?

I guess I don’t have to worry about giving away any secrets regarding the strange behavior of HP in the last few months, because developers like me haven’t been told anything that isn’t available publicly. Maybe I’m a little more compulsive than most in collecting that info, so I thought it might be interesting to assemble the story so far as I understand it. Continue reading

Well, That Was Weird

On May 7, 2011, my old-man-iest birthday yet, Teleplace stopped paying me. More about the circumstances another time, but what was I to do now? I had been working on Croquet for seven Halloweens, and I had no standard-label skills. My specialty is weird shit — the stuff that happens before there is an established technology stack. For 25 years, this had been at smaller companies selling to larger companies, as enterprise (or the military) had been the only ones who could afford such bleeding edge tech.

Surely since the iPad came out a year before, and probably earlier, this is no longer true. The consumer market is now the place to be. As I already had a year doing weird shit on mobile, I decided to work for Palm. I started on D-Day, just before the launch the TouchPad tablet. Ouch! It turns out that the wise men and women of the HP board think consumer mobile is just about the worst thing in the word to do. I don’t know what will become of the HP division formerly known as Palm, but I’m not sticking around to find out. Friday was my last day.

While I learned a lot at Palm about consumer product production, I don’t think I’ve picked up any positive examples about how the consumer market drives technology and product development. So tomorrow I’m off to TuneUpMedia, a company based on music metadata. There’s nothing more consumer-driven than music, and TuneUp has devoted itself to being smart about its users. The company has substantial revenue directly from end-users (which is very different from how Enterprise Software works), but also has third-party partnerships in the “two-sided market” arrangement so common to consumer tech. I’ll be working again with Teleplace founder Greg Nuyens, who is aggressive about technology development, but conservative about the product direction as experienced by users and partners. Just what I want to see.

Further Thoughts on Being the Future of Printed Fiction, with a Side Disquisition–Traveling Geek Self-Publishing Novelist Blues: the Strange Loop Variations

Some whiles ago I published a long accounting of my decision to head on out to the uber hacker conference Defcon in 2010 to sell my geekoid novels, and what happened when I did. I entitled that post “Traveling Geek Self-Publishing Novelist Blues: the Defcon Variations”, and it has become one of Wetmachine’s most popular stories ever.

Some little while after I wrote that piece, the pioneering cyberpunk author and celebrity curmudgeon Bruce Sterling referenced my blog in his vastly more influential blog on the Wired site, Beyond the Beyond, in a post he called The Future of Printed Fiction. In an oblique way, Sterling more or less said that sellers of printed novels would become kind of throwbacks to itinerant tinkers and rag-and-bone men of a hundred and more years ago. His tone was pretty snarky, as it always is (a friend wrote to me “if you catch a whiff of smug condescension, you can probably trust your nose”). My pride might have been a little hurt that Bruce Sterling was responding to me as a curio, a rag-and-bone man, not as a fellow writer in his genre, but in general I was happy for the attention. His article helped me sell some books and may even have given me the last little nudge I needed to get my panel on the future of the novel accepted at SXSW last year. I responded to Sterling’s post here, and he and I then had a friendly but brief email exchange in which I offered to send him copies of my books (print or ebook), and he declined.

I introduced myself to Sterling in person at SXSW when I saw him sitting in the front row of the grand ballroom where Tim O’Reilly was being interviewed on stage. After Tim’s convo I approached Sterling: “Hi,” I said. “I’m John, the future of printed fiction!” He shook my hand with a limp handshake and asked me how I did. (I hope I didn’t scare him!) A few days later I went to hear his closing SXSW keynote talk — an astonishing, almost Timothy Leary-hallucinatory thing, about which more at some other time, perhaps.

Since returning from SXSW (and as a direct consequence thereof) I’ve become added to a private listserv that discusses the future of the book & publishing & libraries & reading in general. The list is populated by several dozen publishing luminaries like Tim O’Reilly, at least one nobody (me), and several dozen other people whose literary luminescence is hard for me to gauge.

Every day on this list there are discussions of things like the Google Books case, the closing of the Borders bookstore chain, the idea of agency pricing, copyright law, libraries as digital distributors and community centers, Amazon’s strategy as a publisher and retailer, and similar topics. The demise of the bookstore is a perennial theme. (I used to sell lots of copies of my books through technical bookstores, many of them in Silicon Valley and near Boston. They’ve all gone out of business. I seldom sell a book through a bookstore these days.)

Lately I’ve been thinking about the phenomenon of the vanishing bookstore, the ubiquity of the ebook, and how right Sterling probably was when he said of future of printed fiction, “It’s all about being a make-do gypsy at the fringes of the web conference scene. Gothic High-Tech, Favela Chic.”

Below the fold: I take my act to Strange Loop.

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Will Wall St. Put The Kibosh On The AT&T/T-Mo Takeover Before the DoJ Does?

The more I see AT&T frantically spend money like water and call in every political chip it has to try to pressure the Department of Justice to settle its case, the more I become convinced that it will ultimately be the Wall St. financial community that will finally persuade Randal  Stephenson to give up before AT&T gets to trial. Oh, I expect to see more wild gyrations. There’s perpetual whispers that AT&T will find a dance partner in the form of MetroPCS (the current favorite of the rumor mongers) or Leap or U.S. Cellular (one even occasionally hears Sprint, but that doesn’t even pass the laugh test) and they will publicly announce some big proposed settlement so that AT&T’s political friends and its cadre of honest politicians can howl some more for DoJ to settle. Who knows? We have five months until trial, and AT&T seems infinitely capable of making all sorts of political noise.

But the more I look at it, the more convinced I become that the upper management at AT&T and that of T-Mobile’s parent, Deutsche Telekom (DT), have not really thought through just what kind of a settlement they would now have to offer and how radically different it is from what AT&T expected to offer before DoJ brought suit. A settlement now is far, far more expensive than anything AT&T envisioned and quietly vetted with Wall St. analysts back in March. Back then, AT&T expected to divest from 30-50 midsized markets via a divestiture trust (allowing them to sell licenses at profit-maximizing prices over time), some wussy roaming and deployment conditions that could be easily evaded or ignored. Now, AT&T will need to divest enough to create a “T-Mo Lite,” something that can at least pretend to replace the loss of a national carrier. As I explain below, that becomes so expensive and complicated that even if AT&T can find the financing to make it happen, its stock is likely to tank on the mere announcement of such a deal.

Mind you, I am not saying a settlement is desirable or good policy. I continue to believe that AT&T’s take over of T-Mobile is so thoroughly awful as a mater of both antitrust and telecom policy that no conditions or divestitures can save it. But even discounting my opinion on the matter, there are certain practical realities that make a settlement at this point not merely bad policy, but so expensive and complicated to manage that it is effectively impossible.

If I’m right, the only question is how much shareholder money and political capital AT&T spends lobbying for a settlement that can’t be done for financial reasons before enough officers on the AT&T and DT Boards sit down AT&T CEO Randal Stephenson and DT CEO Rene Obermann and explain to them that the time has come to face reality, renegotiate the break up fee to let DT out early, and cut their loses before AT&T stock starts to tank big time.

I demonstrate why below. Warning, as this is a “show your work” thing, it’s kinda long . . .

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Deutsche Telekom Keeps Messing Up “T-Mo Is Doomed Unless AT&T Buys It” Song By Explaining Who Else Could Buy T-Mo

 Two weeks ago, Deutsche Telekom (DT) Chief Technology Officer Olivier Baujard accidentally spoke truth about T-Mobile to an audience of German investment analysts. After running through the usual company talking points about the effort to sell T-Mobile to AT&T (e.g., it will happen, DoJ is just playing hardball with negotiations, etc.), Baujard said at a public presentation at a Paris broadband conference that: “any rational company had a Plan B and that Deutsche Telekom had other opportunities for its U.S. operations should the U.S. Department of Justice succeed in terminating the deal.”

This is vitally important because, after accidentally shooting the “this is the only way to bring 4G to rural America” argument in the foot by accidentally leaking documents proving AT&T could bring 4G to rural America whenever it wants, and T-Mobile killed the ‘this will create jobs’ argument by confirming that it was preparing pink slips for more than 20,000 employees after the acquisition gets approved, the “T-Mobile is a sickly gazelle” argument is about all AT&T and it supporters have left. Unfortunately for AT&T, this is not the first time Deutsche Telekom has screwed up the “sickly gazelle” storyline by revealing inconvenient truths about its other options. And while there is usually a rule in Washington that “we totally ignore what you say to investors when it contradicts your chosen story,” this deal is sufficiently high profile and has sufficient problems that eventually someone may notice if AT&T’s “Sickly Gazelle Chorus” keeps getting thrown off key by Deutsche Telekom’s “We Have Lots of Other Options Counterpoint.”

More below . . . .

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