So What The Heck Is M2Z? And Why Do I Support It?

So recently, with all the spectrum stuff going on, I hear a lot of people asking about something called “M2Z,” usually like this: “So, what the heck is M2Z? And why should I care?”

Two very good questions. Briefly, M2Z is yet-another-plan to solve our national broadband woes through exclusive licensing. Specifically, it is about giving this one company a free, exclusive, national license for the 20 MHz of spectrum left over from the federal spectrum cleared for last summer’s AWS auction. While M2Z filed its application in May ’06, it took the FCC awhile to figure out what to do with it, since it doesn’t have any rules or pending proceedings that cover what M2Z wants. Finally, back in February ’07, the FCC issued a generic public notice of the application as required under the Communications Act and asked for piublic comment on what the heck to do about it.

Given my rather low opinion of Cyren Call’s efforts to get a free, national license, one might expect me to take a similar dim view of M2Z. Nor has M2Z helped its case much with some rather ham-handed “outreach” to the public interest community, by spamming the attendee list of the National Conference on Media Reform and creating a “Coalition for Free Broadband” website that looks all the world like an off-the-shelf Astroturf project.

Finally, Sascha Meinrath, who I look to for wisdom and advice on all matters spectrum, has written this blog entry on why he opposes the M2Z proposal.

Despite all this, I still think that M2Z deserves support. My employer Media Access Project filed a letter in support of M2Z. At the least, it deserves a good hard look before writing it off as yet another theft of spectrum via privatization.

Why? See below . . . .

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Look Who's Talking 700 MHz: Edwards, Bloggers, and Moveon, Oh my!

[Channeling Our Great Master, Stephen Colbert]
In an obvious attempt to curry favor and win the valuable “Tales of the Sausage Factory” endorsement, John Edwards released a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin the day after I announced I was scoping out his campaign. The Edwards letter endorsed three key policy positions of the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition: open access, network neutrality, and — my all time favorite and beloved of intensly geeky issues no one else gets — anonymous bidding.

That’s right! The Edwards campaign is actually cluefull enough and willing enough to get “into the weeds” to the point of endorsing anonymous bidding. Of course, the Edwards letter does not actually mention “ToTSF” or even PISC by name, but I’m sure that was just an oversight from the amazing speed with which they rushed to endorse the PISC positions after hearing that I was “checking them out.”

So, for all you folks from the Edwards campaign no doubt hanging on these words, all I can say is — well done! A tremendous Tip of the Hat to all of you. Still, in fairness to the other candidates (both Republicans and Democrats), I will need to wait to see whether they chose to endorse the PISC proposals before giving an official ToTSF endorsement.

[End Colbert]

Of course, Edwards isn’t the only one to start talking about the 700 MHz auction and what it means to our broadband future. For who else is talking about PISC proposals and the impact it appears to be having on Washington, see below . . . .

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This Genuine Commemorative 1993 Petition for Recon Available If You Act Within 30 Days

Back before I finished law school, my employer Media Access Project was arguing that broadcast stations that did nothing but air program-length commercials (aka the Home Shopping Network and its various clones) did not serve the public interest and therefore did not deserve one of the scarce licenses made available for broadcast television. This being back in the day when there was still some expectation that broadcasters needed to demonstrate that they served the “public interest, convenience and necessity” as required by the statute, you understand. i.e. a long time ago.

As part of the 1992 Cable Act, Congress forced the FCC to have a proceeding to determine if stations that did only home shopping served the public interest. Unsurprisingly, the FCC found that there is a vital public interest need for people who could not otherwise get zirconium diamonds or commemorative collectors plates.

And you wonder why we learned to treat the “public interest” as a joke?

Anyway, my boss, Andy Schwartzman, filed a petition for reconsideration after the FCC issued its decision in 1993. Under the statute, you must file a petition for reconsideration before going to court. So MAP filed, arguing that the Commission had not really done its job when it claimed that Home Shopping Network and other such stations served the local community, and that the Commission had failed to consider other valuable uses of the spectrum.

And there the matter sat — for fourteen bloody years! — with us unable to go to court until the Commission resolved the damn thing. It became something of a joke. Every year, Andy would have a meeting with the Chairman of the FCC, and every year would ask about this petition. Every time someone new got named as head of the FCC’s Media Bureau, we’d trundle over with our wish list of outstanding proceedings, and at the top of the list was always Petition for Reconsideration in Docket No. 93-8. And every time, the Chairman or the Chief of the Media Bureau would promise to look into the matter. And the matter sat….and sat…..and sat….

Until Kevin Martin, under pressure from the new Democratic Congress, started putting the squeeze on the FCC staff to get the damn backlog under control. And then — Wonder of Wonders, Miracle of Miracles! — the staff decided to address our pending Petition for Recon. Of course, by this time, the record had gotten a tad “stale” (more like “mummified”) so the Bureau issued a Public Notice soliciting comment to refresh the record.

Aside from my personal venting, however, why should anyone care? After all, how many home shopping channels are there at this point (not broadcasters who run infomercials from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m., I mean broadcasters who only show home shopping)?

Because, as explained below, this proceeding actually provides an important opportunity to make two points. First, that the public interest really does matter. After years of neglect, there is (I hope) a body of very angry people ready to tell the FCC that the Commission cannot get away with treating the statutory requirement to serve the local community as a joke; that endless chances to buy adorable porceline figurines of kittens do not make up for the total absence of local programming and coverage of meaningful local news. Second, that there are plenty of more valuable uses for broadcast spectrum, like say opening it up for unlicensed use.

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The 700 MHz Auction as the Next Front In the Cable/Telco War.

There are many ways to parse the fights in the 700 MHz auction: incumbents v. new entrants, rural v. large incumbents, public safety v. commercial use, and the occassional suggestion by us in the public interest community. But, as I recently indicated elsewhere, an analysis of the band plan fight about large licenses v. small licenses reveals another interesting battle: Telcos v. Cable, with new entrants lining up with Telcos for large licenses and non-vertically integrated wireless carriers like T-Mobile aligning themselves with the cable-dominated consortium SpectrumCo.

What makes me believe license size in 700 MHz auction has become a new front in the fight between telcos and cable cable cos? Why has this new battleground emerged? And what are its implications?

See below . . . .

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I, For One, Welcome Our New Google Overlords

In a news report worthy of KBBL-TV’s Kent Brockman, MSNBC’s Olga Kharif writes of Google wielding it’s awesome and terrible powers in preparation for bidding in the 700 MHz Auction (as if I think about anything else these days). According to Kharif, “Google is wielding a surprising amount of power in the nation’s capital,” as demonstrated by “the influence Google is having on a closely watched government auction of $10 billion in licenses to provide wireless service.”

As evidence of Google’s supposed “influence,” Kharif points to Google’s involvement in the 4G Coalition “widely considered Google-led” (by whom, Kharif’s cat Mittens?) and how Martin’s express support for 4G on the large licenses v. small licenses issue shows that the FCC is likely to “play ball” with Google.

I might just let this go as another example of the Google-mania that has takne root in the press, but the normally perceptive and attentive Paul Kapustka on GigaOm made the same mistake. Because Martin said nice things about 4G and the DBS Guys (which I still thinks sounds like a Rock Band that performs at the CES Show), everyone is all “oooohhh the 4G guys are doing real well.” And the Google worshippers are all “Ah, Google Overlords, is there nothing you can’t control?”

Two critical facts tend to drop out of this analysis.

1) Martin lost his first-round bid to get the larger license-size reag plan through. That was the original plan, as noted by the Commission when it initiated this proceeding last August. This large license proposal got enormous push-back from SpectrumCo LLC (Comcast/TW/Cox/Sprint-Nextel) and the independent wireless incumbents (T-Mobile, MetroPCS) and the little rural guys. The fact that Martin was unable to get his fellow Republicans to vote with him and get the large-license band plan ratified in this round (as opposed to considered as one option among several in the Further Notice) is a set back for the supporters of large licenses.

2) The other supporters of large licenses, the ones Martin couldn’t mention for political reasons, are Verizon and AT&T. You might remember these telcos from such Kevin Martin movies as “Local Governments Hate Competition” and “Cyren Call: Song of Satan.” Verizon went so far as to hire ace auction expert Peter Cramton to write this paper on “Why Large Licenses In The 700 MHz Band Make Jesus Happy.”

[WHY the telcos and the cable cos are battling over the sze of licenses is extremely interesting and important, and is the subject of this post here.]

So yeah, Martin gave the big shout out to the DBS and 4G guys, since he’s not exactly going to say to the Dems “I’m puzzled why Ds who claim to hate cable market power back SpectrumCo against Veizon and AT&T.” And I think Martin genuinely does believe large licenses are the best way to get another national broadband competitor on the scene. (I also believe it, which is why I prefer large licenses a la the telcos and our Great Google Overlords.) But the idea that Martin did this just because Google redid the words “Federal Communications Commission” in rainbow and promised that they wouldn’t do evil with the licenses doesn’t exactly cut it. (No offense to Rick Whitt, whom I like and I think is a great lobbyist, but lets stay focused on the actual docket and relevant history, shall we?)

I suppose I should just accept that Google exerts a fascination on the trade press these days and let it go (and figure that anyone who wants my view on reality rather than Googleview will come here). But after spending last summer of watching Google and the rest of the tech industry unable to find their lobbying ass on net neutrality with both hands and a compass and a big sign saying “telcos, please spank us here”, while constantly hearing from the press and the cable cos how all of it was really the amazing Google Overlords at work has made me just a shade irritated.

Besides, it’s Friday afternoon and I’m due for my shabbos rest.

Stay tuned . . . .

A Must Attend for Community Wireless Networking

Below the surface, where policy makers rarely go, live the community wireless networkers. They don’t have billions in capitalization, they don’t lay miles of fiber, and they don’t have spectrum licenses. Heck, most aren’t even commercial organizations. Many of them are collections of volunteers, or non-profit organizations. The commercial ones are usually small businesses, embedded in their comunities, trying a run a business in a responsible manner rather than dreaming of huge IPOs.

But the community wireless networks (CWN) change people’s lives every day. They bring broadband connectivity to neighborhoods that can’t afford it and the rural areas that the big boys ignore. They are the development lab of innovation for networking. From open source mesh to solar powered transmitters to “cantenna”-type reuse and recycling of available parts, you can find folks playing with these in community wireless networks.

The Third International Summit for Community Wireless will take place in Columbia, MD at Loyolla Colege on May 18-20. It represents an unparalleled oppotunity to find out what is going on not just here in the U.S., but in other countries as well. This is the place to find out how people confronting the “digital divide” in the trenches are finding solutions in places that the largest companies don’t want to service. Whether it’s how to keep cows from knocking down your towers or how to make sure a local project stays local and sustainable, you’ll find people talking about it here.

I plan to be there. I know a lot of great people listed in the press release reproduced below plan to come as well. If you’re smart, you will as well.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Oh yeah, the Skype Petition . . .

In addition to my pleas to save the 700 MHz auction, save postal rates, save internet radio, save the last dance, etc., etc., I almost completely forgot about supporting the Skype Petition. Comments are due Monday, April 30. You can file comments by going to the FCC’s website and filling out the fields. It’s pretty self explanatory except the docket number, which is RM-11361. Just click here.

Oh yeah, I should probably explain a bit about what this is and why you should care. For that, see below . . . . .

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Open Access Included in Spectrum Notice! Fish In Trees! Rivers Running Uphill!

Yesterday, I wrote, with regard to whether the FCC’s Further Notice on the 700 MHz Spectrum Auction would include questions on our open access proposal:

I think our chances of moving forward to the next round are pretty close to zero. OTOH, I live from day-to-day in the hope of pleasant surprises.

Apparently, I live another day. And so does the open access proposal. As explained by Gigi Sohn, we live to fight another day.

It was a wild meeting. Pushed back from 9:30 to 10:30, then pushed off again until 6:45 p.m. The contentious issue was, as predicted, license size. Apparently, McDowell teamed with the Ds to make sure the Further Notice requested comment on a mix of licenses and not just the large licenses that Martin wanted.

The Order is not yet out, so I can’t really assess yet what the results are. Heck, they don’t even have all the seperate statements up yet. Here are links to the news release, Chairman Martin’s statement (expressing disappointment over the license size issue), Commissioner Adestein’s statement (with a shout out to the public interest coalition!), and Commissioner McDowell’s statement (which basically says “I know I’m the swing vote, but I need to catch up on the comments because I’ve been out with my new kid”).

But whatever happens, I gotta give a shout out to Martin for being willing to put the open access question out there and have it debated. Yes, all credit to the Ds. But I don’t believe we would be positioned to have the discussion about wireless open access if Martin had been dead set against it.

Off to bed. It’s been a day.

Stay tuned . . . .

Get Your Brackets Set for Tomorrow's Spectrum Sweet Sixteen!

In the FCC’s version of “April Madness,” the FCC will hold a meeting tomorrow (April 25). Among other items, the meeting will consider an Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the upcoming 700 MHz Auction.

Readers who plowed through my impossibly long field guide to the 700 MHz auction may recall that I highlighted a large number of issues and players that have clustered around this extremely important auction. Many critical filings and proposals (including, I am embarassed to admit, those of the public interest spectrum coalition) came in after the official deadline. (Hey! We’re busy! If someone wants to give Media Access Project a million dollars or two so we can stay on top of everything, email me!)

The combination of far reaching proposals and lack of time has prompted incumbents to challenge the FCC’s ability to grant these proposals because they do not comply with the “notice” requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The APA requires that an agency give everyone notice of what it plans to do and give interested parties a chance to comment. So the FCC will solve this problem by making some basic decisions now, and rolling over the remaining decisions to a Further Notice. Since we have a statutory deadline ticking away, parties will get only a month for comments and replies, and the FCC will make its final decisions at the end of May or early June. That way, they can still get to the auction by January 2008.

In other words, Wed. represents the first cut on how the FCC will proceed and the general direction it will go for the auction. Will it favor the incumbent push for large license blocks and open bidding? Will it allow the Frontline proposal to go forward? What about network neutrality?

Below I give my “spectrum bracket” for who gets to go from the Sweet Spectrum Sixteen to the Final Four. What’s likely to get cancelled, get renewed, or remains on “the bubble” for next season? Which proposals get “voted off the Island?” For my guesses, and my further entries for the next Stephen Colbert Meta-Free-For-All, see below . . .

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