Exit Julius Genachowski

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski will announce his intent to leave the FCC today.  Well, it is the season of the Exodus, and I expect that perhaps Genachowski will be able to say with particular vigor at his seder “last year we were slaves, this year we are free.”

I will hopefully get something more up later, as I am in the midst of my own Passover preparations and then embarking immediately thereafter on the next leg of my “What Do You Have Say That’s So Important?” Tour. So I will limit myself at the moment to simply this. It is extremely easy to let the disappointment and bitterness over the high hopes I (and others) had back when Genachowski started in 2009 color his sins (whether of commission or omission) blacker than they should be. By the same token, it is easy to allow the lowered expectations we all had after 2010 to make his accomplishments seem better than they where.

For now, what is far more important than any attempt to summarize Genachowski’s putative legacy in a few paragraphs is determining who will succeed him. Certainly I agree with those who have said we want to see someone who will be a champion of the public interest, someone willing to stand up to a hostile Republican-controlled House and powerful incumbents. But I will add one particular plea to the President: Send us no scholar. Send us no visionary to lead us into the promised land of gigabit broadband, nor an ideologue wedded to a philosophy. Send us no seekers of grand bargains or painful compromises. Instead, send us someone who likes to get their hands dirty.

Even more so than in 2009, we stand at a peculiar juncture in the evolution of our national communications infrastructure. After years of anticipating convergence, it is upon us. Every aspect of our communications infrastructure — wireless, wireline, broadcasting, cable — is undergoing dramatic upheaval. There are at once tremendous opportunities for a rebirth of independent media and renewed competition, or a collapse into consolidation and control. We are at a delicate point in what Tim Wu in his 2010 book The Master Switch called “The Cycle,” the point where potentially open and disruptive communications technology reach a new equilibrium and begin to become closed and tame, serving a new elite as the previous structure served the old. Stopping that Cycle takes more than just vision (though vision is certainly required). It takes someone who loves the details with wonkish delight, but who can step back enough from them to stay focused on the bigger picture. Someone with a guiding philosophy that inform decisionmaking rather than an ideology that governs decisionmaking. Someone willing to make the hard call and piss people off, but mindful that the person who always does what he or she thinks is right regardless of cost eventually runs up a heck of a tab. Someone who captures the wisdom of Ecclesiastes 7:16-17: “Do not be too righteous, nor too wise — wherefore would you destroy yourself? Be not too wicked, nor too foolish — wherefore would you die before your time?”

In 2009 we wanted hope and change, in 2013 we need grit and courage.

Stay tuned . . . .

Some Reflections on McDowell Departure, And What Happens Next.

At yesterday’s open Federal Communications Commission (FCC) meeting, senior Commissioner Robert McDowell announced he would be stepping down sometime in the next few weeks. As regular readers know, I was often at odds with Commissioner McDowell’s positions. Despite coming from Comptel (the trade association for competing telecoms), McDowell generally hewed to a fairly rigid Libertarian line which holds that government intervention in the market to create or enhance competition doesn’t work and that the only reason for regulation is demonstrated market failure — with a standard for market failure so high as to constitute an almost insuperable barrier to action.

On the other hand, as I have also noted previously, McDowell came by his convictions honestly and defended them eloquently and thoroughly — his dissents were always well-researched and sprinkled with a plethora of citations. He was not a shill for any special interest, shifting his position based on the shifting financial interest of some industry patron. He was (and is, after all, he’s not dead) intellectually rigorous and intellectually honest, willing to engage intellectually, personally charming and quick witted — an articulate champion of a philosophy of governance I find anathema and that I believe disserves the public.

Which is, of course, what makes public policy and democracy work. We get together in the public square and duke it out in the marketplace of ideas to see who can carry the day.  While dealing with Commissioner McDowell was often frustrating from an advocacy perspective, it does not diminish my personal respect for the man.

Some additional thoughts, including on what happens next, below . . . .


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Happy Finno-Irish-American Weekend, Y’all

That great annual harbinger of spring, that mid-Lent quasi-Catholic dual name-day celebration for two saints (at least one of whom probably existed), that diphthong of drinking excuses, the elision of St. Urho’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day is again upon us — and on a weekend, no less!

Now, it’s well known that Irish Americans can be very loud and unsubtle about celebrating their (our) heritage of leprechauns and bullshit artists and crooked politicians from South Boston and great singers like Ella Fitzgerald. And so of course everybody in America and around the world knows that tomorrow is Evacuation Day, I mean St. Patrick’s day, in honor of the great Romano-British Christian missionary who returned to the land of his captivity and bondage as an apostle of peace and went on to drive the serpents into the sea, (or maybe not), and so Guinness will be consumed, and cabbage, and yea, Harp Lager too, begorrah.

Alas throughout much of this country that is not the upper Midwest, the name day of St. Urhu, who drove the grasshoppers from Finland (today, March 16) is sadly neglected, to the point that we can  expect virtually no mention of it by color commentators in television broadcasts of today’s NCAA basketball games. But let it never be said that Wetmachine has forgotten the confabulated patron saint of the Finno-American diaspora (of which I am a proud member), the great St. Urhu, whose famous utterance Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen (grasshopper, grasshopper, buzz off why dontcha?) still stirs our hearts everywhere.


Statue of St. Urho in Minnesota

That saintly collusus!


It’s OK to mark this day without alcohol, but consumption of traditional all-starch foodstuffs is encouraged. So if you can find some Karjalanpiirakka, go for it.

Announcing the “What Do I Have To Say That’s So Important Everyone Want To Hear It” Speaking Tour!

I have a fairly busy travel schedule (for me at least) over the next month. When I explained to my Mom why I needed to bug out immediately after Passover, my Mom said: “Wow, what do you have to say that’s so important that everyone wants to hear it?” Which she meant a lot better than it sounds. But it did give me a name for my speaking tour over the next few weeks. If you are going to be at any of these events, or if there is something in particular you think I ought to see or do while out there, let me know. And, of course, I hope I will see you all there.


Harold Feld’s “What Do I Have To Say That’s So Important Everyone Wants To Hear It?” Tour

March 13-14 California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) Broadband Consortia Summit and California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) Workshop, Sacramento CA

I’ll be doing a keynote Thursday morning on “How to get people in DC to PAY THE #$@! ATTENTION TO STUFF GOING ON OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY/How to engage effectively on Federal policy issues.


April 1-5 WISPAmerica 2013 , Covington KY (aka Cincinnati South)

America’s premier WISP event/tradeshow, put on by the Wireless ISP Association. I’ll be doing a lunch Keynote Thursday April 4 with Steve Coran to discuss What Up In DC on spectrum ‘n stuff.

April 5-7 National Conference For Media Reform (NCMR), Denver CO

From the premier WISP event to the premier Media Reform event. NCMR is put on by Free Press. I will be speaking on a panel at 10 a.m. Friday morning April 5 on “What’s Next For Internet Policy?” (Spoiler alert! I will probably talk about PSTN Transition and spectrum.)

If I can accumulate enough speaking engagements, I will do some tour t-shirts.

Stay tuned . . .

A Farewell to the Higgins

Mixed into all of the “OMG! SNOW!” coverage on the local TV news as I got ready for work last Friday was a small and very sad item: The Higgins Armory Museum will close at the end of the year. The Higgins is in Worcester MA, a few miles from where I went to college. I didn’t go to the museum until my sophomore or junior year, which is pretty shocking since my friends and I were all D&D geeks. How could we have not known about a steel art-deco castle-like building that was crammed full of swords and armor such a short distance away? Finally we could see exactly what a glaive looked like.

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The Progeny Waiver: Will the FCC Wipe Out Smart Grid? Save Thousands of Lives? Both? This Season on Spectrum Wars!

Depending on whom you ask, the Progeny Waiver will either (a) totally wipe out the smart grid industry, annihilate wireless ISP service in urban areas, do untold millions of dollars of damage to the oil and gas industry, and wipe out hundreds of millions (possibly billions) of dollars in wireless products from baby monitors to garage door openers; (b) save thousands of lives annually by providing enhanced 9-1-1 geolocation so that EMTs and other first responders can find people inside apartment buildings and office complexes; (c) screw up EZ-Pass and other automatic toll readers, which use neighboring licensed spectrum; or (d) some combination of all of the above.


That’s not bad for a proceeding you probably never heard about.


For me, the Progeny Waiver is a microcosm of why it has become so damn hard to repurpose spectrum for new uses. The added twist here is that this time it is largely the unlicensed spectrum users acting like incumbents and saying that it will be the end of the universe if Progeny lights up its system (although the licensed neighbors say the same thing, pretty much), and Progeny, the licensee, arguing that everything will be JUST FINE, really, and if it isn’t too damn bad because we are licensed and they are unlicensed so there!


You might ask, “if this Progeny thingie is so gosh darn important, why have I never heard of it?” Well that’s why you read this blog, you clever reader you. This amazing little proceeding is still so deep in the bowels of the FCC that only the true spectrum wonks have noticed. But action now appears imminent, so consider this a sneak preview of this season’s favorite telecom reality show, Spectrum Wars.

What raises the stakes on this too damn high, however, is the implications for the future of unlicensed generally and the implications for the credibility of the FCC as an agency able to actually do the technical job of managing an increasingly complex spectrum world. Fairly or unfairly, everyone is going to compare this to Lightsquared (waiver, followed by worries about interference, arguments that the FCC failed to follow its own rules and procedures, blah blah). Let us add to this House Republicans who would love to call the FCC on the carpet for mismanaging spectrum – especially around unlicensed. Add to that the car manufacturers in the 5 GHz band and the federal users generally wanting to show that the FCC can’t adequately manage the stuff it has and you have a pack of circling sharks just waiting for the FCC to screw this one up and commence the feeding frenzy. So no pressure.


Happily, I have, if not a solution, at least a better way for the FCC to cover it’s rear-end and contain the damage, below . . . .

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Here at Freedom-2-Connect 2013

For the next two days, I will be hanging out at Freedom-2-Connect (F2C), a neat policy conference at the American Film Institute in Downtown Silver Spring (near the Silver Spring metro). It’s a fun conference designed to bring together policy folks (like me) with people outside D.C. who actually live in the real world and do stuff. If you can, stop by. I’ll try to tweet or blog stuff, but with everything going on not sure I can.

So come by if you can.


Stay tuned . . . .