I Testify at Tomorrow’s Incentive Auction Hearing on Connection between Wireless Auctions and Larry Bird.

I am testifying at this hearing tomorrow at the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology: “So, How’s that Incentive Auction Thing Going?”  You can read a copy of my testimony here. I can guarantee I am the only one to bring up the 1985-86 World Champion Boston Celtics, or ask the question: “What if The Chairmen and the Ranking Members of the committee and subcommittee were real estate developers?”

To elaborate a bit more, my testimony hits the following points:

1. We actually can still design an auction where we (a) get more low-band spectrum licenses for wireless broadband; (b) boost competition by making sure some of those licenses go to someone other than AT&T or Verizon; (c) pay for FirstNet all while (d) actually improving the current availability of unlicensed TV white space (TVWS) aka “super-WiFi” by opening up more TV white space in the urban markets. Oh yeah, and we’ll still have free over-the-air television for them what wants it.

Sounds too good to be true? Weird as it seems, we can for once have some serious wins on all fronts, giving something to everyone and overall improving public policy. We just have to be smart, patient, and work our way through this very complicated puzzle in a transparent process that emphasizes evidence rather than rhetoric.

Yes, you knew there would be a catch, didn’t you.

For those not up to reading my testimony, here is the brief summary of how we get to — if not the Promised Land, at least the ‘pretty decent place to be’ Land.

Step one: Please stop bashing FCC staff for trying to do their jobs.  Srsly. This is not helpful, particularly since your next question is: “why don’t we have more public notices on stuff.”

Step two: Stop refighting the “yes unlicensed” v. “no unlicensed” battle and accept that fact that the statute says “yes unlicensed.” We can find good ways to get enough open spectrum out there to create a national band for unlicensed use that will have significant value for urban and rural broadband (as well as other uses, like machine-to-machine). The FCC should have a workshop and Public Notice on this issue to get the ball rolling.

Step three: We need a “No Piggies Rule” to keep Verizon and AT&T from snarfing all the good spectrum licenses like the did back in’08. Yes, this is legal under the statute. And, while auction revenue is not supposed to be the focus of all this, a “No Piggies Rule” will likely increase auction revenue.

Should be a fun hearing. Remember, you can find livestreaming link on the Committee’s Hearing Page right before things start at 10:30 a.m. July 23.

Stay tuned . . . .

Update: You can see a copy of my opening statement here.

Is Sauce for the .Halal Goose Sauce for the .Kosher Gander At The ICANN Meeting In Durban?

A rather peculiar circumstance has come to my attention over the new generic top level domain (gTLD) process currently chugging along at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). As is so often the case with such things, it is at the same time both trivial and highly illustrative of the problem of dealing with a global medium where symbols have semantic meaning as well as functionality.


It also highlights the bind for the U.S. Government. Other governments are free to weigh in on behalf of various orgs and groups that petition them for help, if those governments so choose. The U.S., because if its relationship with ICANN, faces serious political problems if it weighs in with regard to TLD policy. This does not preclude the U.S. from acting if it wants (as folks who remember the .XXX controversy will recall). Nevertheless, for the U.S. to preserve the integrity of the process and avoid accusations of meddling, it needs to tread very cautiously before wading in on behalf of any specific TLD or objection.


All of which brings us to the current case. It involves the treatment of two proposed gTLDs, “.kosher” and “.halal.” They have similar meanings to their respective communities, and similar concerns arise from allowing their use. We can certainly say to both communities “sorry, but nothing requires you to respect the designation of the gTLD manager, so just learn to live with it.” Alternatively, we might say “these TLDs raise some questions that impact these communities disproportionately, lets deal with them differently than from regular applications.” But it would be hard to justify treating the terms differently from a principled standpoint. the objections to one apply equally to the other — or not.


There is, however, a rather important political difference: there are about ten to twenty times more people in the world who (potentially)  care about .halal than care about .kosher.  in fact, there are probably more people in the city of Cairo who would care if .halal were held by a Shia rather than a Sunni than there are people in the world who care if .kosher is held by someone who holds by chalav yisroel or not. (The vast majority of the world, of course, does not even know what the last sentence even means.)


Also, as discussed below, while certain governments have voiced objections in the ICANN Government Advisory Committee (GAC) have voiced objections to the .halal TLD, no one has for .kosher. (Israel does not participate in the GAC, for those who jumped to the next logical question.) This has prompted the kosher organizations objecting to the .kosher TLD application to send letters to Commerce Secretary Pritzker, as well as ICANN Chair Fadi Chehade asking for reassurance that .kosher and .halal will be treated the same. While there is no indication that they won’t, we Jews do not take equal treatment for granted (it’s a history thing, got an hour for me to explain it? No? So trust me on this . . .) As noted above, this potentially puts the U.S. in something of a bind.


Which brings me to the peculiar story of .kosher and the question of whether it will or will not be treated like .halal. Because whatever the actual outcome, it would be nice to think that the two communities will be treated with equal fairness regardless of size or political clout. I mean, no one really expects it, but it would be nice.


More below . . . .

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I Talk On Wisconsin Public Radio About The End of the Phone System

This morning I was the guest on Joy Cardin Show on Wisconsin Public Radio. We talked about the end of the phone system. Not surprisingly, a lot of the talk focused on swapping copper for fixed wireless.  You can download the show here. While regular readers will hardly be surprised by my positions, it is worth listening to the concerns of the Wisconsin residents — particularly from rural areas.

Unfortunately for Wisconsin, Governor Scot Walker is one of the chief cheerleaders in the Chump Parade — as I like to call the states that have decided to totally deregulate their telecom sectors and thus cut themselves entirely out of the most important conversation on telecom we’ve had in 100 years. Mind you, he had a lot of help. As usual, the bill had huge bipartisan support because . . . . well . . . . umm . . . Ma Bell monopoly era regulation bad investment jobs IP magic pixie dust! We didn’t start the fire . . . .

This is rather unfortunate for Wisconsin because, as I noted recently wrt the NY PSC and Fire Island, the only reason the residents of Fire Island have any way to express their displeasure and push Verizon to give them something else is because New York has not joined the Chump Parade and deregulated everything. So the good folks in Wisconsin better hope that nothing bad happens. But really, we’re just playing with critical infrastructure on which every person and every business depends. What could possibly go wrong?

Wisconsin better hope the FCC gets it right. Or perhaps they could call their state legislators and Governor Walker — while they still can — and ask what happens if something goes wrong in the Libertarian Nirvana.


Stay tuned . . . .

Lessons From The Fire Island Voice Link Debacle — This Is Still A Public Utility And People Really Do Care.

We now have some preliminary data for how much Fire Island customers love Verizon using them as guinea pigs for untested services such as Voice Link. Turns out – surprise! – they totally hate it.


Actually, “hate” understates the matter. Forcing Fire Island residents to take Voice Link ranks up there with Microsoft Vista as “most loathed involuntary ‘upgrade’ from our monopoly provider.” Reaction has been so terrible that it likely will have ripple effects for the broader question of the whole copper-to-wireless conversion.


Which in some ways is a shame, because Voice Link is not intrinsically a bad idea and is not a bad product in and of itself. But a combination of disregarding the inability to support certain features as “not important” and a failure to properly introduce the product into the community has created a serious backlash on Fire Island.


On the plus side for our summer sitcom series That Darned Voice Link, everyone has the opportunity to learn some valuable life lessons to make things better for next time. This is, after all, the typical time in the story arc when everything hits the fan.  But if you learn the right lessons, scrappy little Voice Link can still have a the Montage of Self-Improvement, regain people’s trust, and be a successful replacement product for grouchy old Uncle Copper so he can finally retire in peace.


But seriously, above all else, do not use disaster victims as guinea pigs for your new product. They totally hate that.


More valuable life lessons on a Very Special Episode of That Darn Voice Link below . . .

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My July 4th Reflection

For me the contradiction of the American experience is summed up by the fact that George Washington wrote this letter to the Jewish Community of Rhode Island while holding slaves and pursing an “Indian policy” that regarded Native Americans as savages to be quelled.

As a Jewish American, I cannot forget that when my ancestors were dumped by pirates in New Amsterdam, America became the only place in the world at that time to accept Jews with no legal disabilities. After more than fifteen hundred years  in which the best Jews could hope for was “tolerance” as a matter of grace, we became citizens with rights. When George Washington wrote the letter linked to above it was still true that not a single other country in the world permitted Jews to be “citizens” with rights and freedoms exactly the same as any other citizen.

This is a thing that cannot ever be forgotten. It is one reason why I will always love America, and celebrate July 4th publicly as a holiday of pride in my American heritage.

To say all this does not wipe away or somehow ‘balance out’ the real oppressions, ranging from petty indignities to genocides, that populate American history. Nor did this official liberality mean an end to the struggle for real equality for Jews in the United States. And, just as I cannot judge impartially the virtues of the Roman Empire which destroyed the Temple and murdered and enslaved millions of Jews, I do not expect that African Americans or Native Americans who were the primary objects of national policies calculated to crush and enslave them, should share this view.

But nor do these very real evils wipe away or somehow balance against the good that was done and the recognition that all people should be equal in the eyes of the law –even when those who made this declaration and believed in it were able to rationalize their own assault on this fundamental truth.

To borrow from another great American President: “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work” of making the ideals of freedom and equality reality. “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us” to resolve the contradiction between word and deed.

To make the sentiments of Washington’s letter real, we must recognize our virtues and our flaws. For it is only in the recognition of our virtues can we give them power to triumph over our flaws. When we have achieved this, we will achieve the vision of Micah quoted by Washington in his letter. “And each shall sit beneath his fig tree, and his vine, and none shall make him afraid — this the mouth of the Lord has promised.”

Happy 4th