Why California Will Sit Out The National Debate On Shutting Off the Phone System — Heckuva Job Governor Brownie!

In the last two months, AT&T’s announcement that it will convert its existing traditional phone system to an Internet Protocol (IP) based network and the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy have galvanized the telecom policy world. One would think the state of California would figure prominently in this discussion, and that people in California would have a huge vested interest in the outcome of these discussion. For example, given our newfound interest in disaster preparedness for IP networks in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, California (which, I’m told, has the occasional wildfire, deluge, mudslide or earthquake which causes power and telecom outages) might want to hold their own hearings and develop their own state plan and state standards. Similarly, with both AT&T and Verizon (both service providers in California) announcing they are replacing rural copper with wireless and converting their old-style phone networks to IP, you would think California would want to have some say in how these companies (and other IP network providers) serve the customers of their state.

Sadly for the people of California, you will not have that opportunity. All decisions on these matters relative to you will be left entirely to the private sector, or will take place in Washington D.C. Why? Because on September 28, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law S.B. 1161. This law, drafted by the fine people at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and introduced by Senator Alex Padilla, prohibits any agency of the state of California from regulating “voice over IP” or “Internet enabled service” (text of law here) (More on ALEC and its role in drafting the law here, here, and here). While this primarily focuses on the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC), the law prohibits “any department, agency or political subdivision of the state” from doing anything to regulate VOIP or IP-based services.

How does this relate to Hurricane Sandy, emergency preparedness, and the conversion to all IP networks? I explain below . . .

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In case you wondered just how much the EU hates ACTA . . .

As we get ready for the World Conference on Information Technology (WCIT) of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a number of governments and governmental bodies are passing resolutions and doing other stuff to get their positions out there as part of the pre-game show. Last week, the Parliament of the European Union passed a resolution directed at the WCIT which, among  other things, “Supports any proposals to maintain the current scope of the ITRs and the current mandate of the ITU; opposes any proposals that would extend the scope to areas such as the internet, including domain name space, IP address allocation, the routing of internet-based traffic and content-related issues.”

Obviously, given my previously expressed concerns about the potential impact of expanding the ITU’s jurisdiction to the Internet, I think this is excellent news. It also clearly demonstrates that concern about expanding the ITU’s jurisdiction in this area is by no means limited to the United States or motivated from a hostility to the United Nations or global coordination. But that is not actually what I wanted to talk about.

I just wanted to briefly note how the debate around the ITU and WCIT illustrates just how much the EU (and others in the world) have come to hate ACTA. No, ACTA has nothing whatsoever to do with WCIT, although I understand that the folks at the ITU — in what can only be taken as a fine irony — apparently invited the media folks who developed ACTA and SOPA/PIPA to coach them on public relations. Nevertheless, for folks in Europe, ACTA has become the archetypical awfulness that could befall the Internet without constant vigilance. Thus, the President of the European Socialist Party denounced the WCIT for its “secretive processes” similar to the negotiation of ACTA and warned that the ITU would use the WCIT to “allow ACTA by the back door.”

Leaving aside that “ACTA by the back door” sounds like something available at a certain clubs in Berlin or Amsterdam for 10 euros (15 for a side of SOPA/PIPA), I just want to emphasize how very, very much the entire process and substance of ACTA is now despised in Europe. ACTA has essentially become code for “special interests in private trying to destroy Internet freedom.” Despite brief signs that USTR might actually be getting a clue on this last summer, more recent USTR activity shows they are still utterly intent on replicating every mistake they made with ACTA in negotiating the TPP.

I am not sure how many times USTR has to screw up international trade negotiations before they stop taking orders from Hollywood. But if USTR and Hollywood think the hostility to ACTA and SOPA/PIPA are just gonna blow over and they can go back to business as usual, they really need to think again. The fact that opponents of WCIT are scoring points in Europe by comparing it to ACTA is only the latest anvil to drop on USTR’s clueless noggin as a warning to stop trying to use agreements to promote trade to policy launder Hollywood’s copyright maximist agenda.

Stay tuned . . . .

Bullet Dodged; Cannon Now More Clearly in View

Long-time readers of this site who aren’t “only here for the Harold” have surely noted that Wetmachine has not offered much more than Harold over the last year or so. That in itself is not a bad thing, as Harold is a fantastic blogger, and I would read his posts whether I were a Wetmachanic or not. I can’t speak to why some of our other contributors have fallen silent. However, I myself am a Wetmachanic, and I haven’t posted but a few short essays for quite a while now. And I’ve been wondering why that is, for truly, I love and am proud of this site and my role in it. For months and months and months “new post on Wetmachine” has been at the top of my weekly to-do list. And yet. . . nothing. I don’t suppose that looking into my navel makes for compelling reading (imagery!), but y’know, this is part of my pulling myself out of the hole, I hope.

Part of the deal has been, for want of a better term, a kind of PTSD; a delayed reaction to the 2006 — 2008 horrible years, during which time I lost a brother to ALS and a sister to cancer of the brain, saw my wife, son, and both my daughters in hospital with serious illness, waged an endless defensive battle against the IRS (in which I prevailed, miraculously), got laid off, joined the millions of geek greybeards who couldn’t find work nowhere, nearly lost my house to foreclosure more times than I care to think about. . . and more — some of it worse than the foregoing, actually.

But on top of all that, I think the terror of Obama not getting re-elected was weighing on my soul more than I knew. Now, I’m no Obama fan-boy. It was his hypocrisy on the FISA bill (when he was a Senator) that finally got me to quit the Democratic Party for good. But at least with him in office, I felt, and feel, that there was some chance our nation and civilization might go on, and maybe one day once again set its sights on the quaint concept of Liberty and Justice for All. So now, to my great relief, to my astonished relief, my fellow citizens have voted Mr. Obama back into the presidency and 55 Democrats and progressives into the Senate — and nobody was able to steal the victory. Really, I don’t think I had experienced such relief since I emerged from a giant overhead tube courtesy of Hurricane Agnes of Long Beach Island, New Jersey, in 1972. Had the Romney/Ryan pair been elected, had Republicans won the Senate. . . well, I can’t imagine I would be writing anything now. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan were the most horrible men to lead a major-party ticket since, I don’t know — does the Confederacy count? The mere contemplation of where we would have been with those guys in charge fills me with abject dread. And those of you who’ve been around this place a while know how well I do dread.

But now, dear friends of Wetmachine, the smoke of our little election clears, and we see looming before us the tsunami of climate change ( how’s that for imagistic writing?). And we see it’s a threat more ominous than anything humanity has faced since Hitler. So I’ll be back to join Harold, rolling up my sleeves again. Writing about the rise of the overmind, technoparanoia, self-publishing and my usual hobby-horses. But mostly I’ll be talking about how to save the world, or more correctly human civilization, by dealing with climate change. I don’t claim to be an expert in this field any more than my father was an expert in military or world affairs when he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1944. But he saw what was what and joined in to do his part. As our mainstay Harold says, stay tuned. . .

This Is Why Policyland Is Complicated

Yesterday, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski circulated a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to address the problem of high phone rates charged to inmates and their families.  For those unfamiliar with this issue, many state prisons team with telecom providers to charge outrageous phone rates, sometimes exceeding a dollar a minute, for inmates to call family. Since these calls are collect, the burden falls on the inmates family, who are often poor. For too many, the weekly or monthly choice is whether to pay to talk to a son or daughter (or spouse, or father or mother) behind bars or whether to have enough to eat or pay for needed medication. This phone gouging is not only cruel, it is also bad policy. Just about all research on preventing recidivism shows that the more contact and support someone in jail receives from their family and community, the less likely they are to return to crime. So from a societal standpoint, we would want to do everything to encourage prison inmates to stay in tough with family.

As you might imagine from the above, I regard the current practices as cruel and abusive of the most helpless. This is literally a case where, as the Bible commands us, “suffer not the oppression of the widow, the orphan, the stranger or the poor.” (Zach 7:10). If ever there was an “unjust and unreasonable rate or practice” this surely qualifies. I cannot praise Genachowski enough for acting on this.

Also yesterday, Genachowski circulated a draft order to conclude the pending review of media ownership. He proposes to entirely lift the television/radio cross-ownership limits and to permit newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership in the top 20 markets.

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Shutting Down The Phone System Gets Serious: The Implications of AT&T Upgrading to An All IP Network

(This is a reprint of a piece I wrote for the Public Knowledge blog)

I believe AT&T’s announcement last week about its plans to upgrade its network and replace its rural copper lines with wireless is the single most important development in telecom since passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. It impacts just about every aspect of wireline and wireless policy.

For those who missed it in the morning-after blur of the election results, AT&T announced that it will invest an additional $14 billion to upgrade its wireline and wireless networks, so that it projects investing $22 billion a year for the next several years in capital expenditures (“CAPEX” as they say on “The Street”). At the end of the three year time frame, AT&T expects to have converted its existing “time division multiplexing” (TDM) phone network entirely to an IP-based network which will seamlessly mix its wireless, remaining souped-up copper, and fiber (but not fiber-to-the-home). Since all existing phone regulation governing universal service, consumer protection, and competition rest entirely on the existing TDM/copper network, AT&T simultaneously filed a petition with the FCC to “begin a dialog” on how to address the regulatory issues raised by this shift and proposing some entirely deregulated “pilot programs” to determine what regulations are “really” necessary.

Setting aside my skepticism that these pilot programs offer anything of value, I thank AT&T for beginning with an offer to talk. At the same time, I’m mindful we need to get the key elements of the new framework down over the next year or two – which is practically nothing given the complexity of the issues and the number of stakeholders involved. It puts a premium on communities working quickly to come to internal consensus and on trying to bring as many allies to the table as possible. Ideally, we would set universal rules for all IP networks, but this would meet fierce resistance from existing IP-providers. Nevertheless, AT&T raises a valid point of concern if the rules for the TDM to IP apply only to it and other Local Exchange Carriers (LECs) upgrading their networks. The FCC must balance these concerns about competition and fairness with the broader questions of what happens when our 100-year-old copper safety net gets replaced by an essentially unregulated IP-based networks.

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Open Letter To Congress: Please Do Not Try For A Grand Bargain When “Competence” Still Eludes You.

Dear Congress:

Please solve the Fiscal Cliff, but please don’t try for any “Grand Bargain.” Frankly, the fact that you can even suggest with a straight face that this is the time for a total rewrite of not just the tax code, but just about every major social program on which Americans rely, is a good indicator that you have absolutely no business trying to make decisions like this at the moment.  Like texting while drunk or Tweeting while in a rage, I know this seems like a really good idea. Worse, all your buddies in the media keep egging you on, telling you to “think big” and “show leadership.” Do not listen to them. Remember when your former best friend told you that drunk text to you coworkers was “outrageous man, do it!” or when your Tweeps kept saying “yeah, you totally tell it like it is!” And then when you came back later you realized you had totally embarrassed yourself? The media is not your friend here.

Just solve the fiscal cliff problem then go home for Xmas break. Get rested, maybe even laugh a little at yourself for all the ridiculous and crazy insults you shouted about the people you need to negotiate with, then come back in January ready to do the real work.

Still don’t believe me? Meet me below . . .

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