The Adelphia Day of Judgment Comes

For over a year now, I’ve intermitently tracked the transaction between Comcast and Time Warner for the bankrupt Adelphia systems. At tomorrow’s open meeting (assuming no last minute delays for further negotiations), the FCC will issue its decision.

How we got here, what happens, and why you should care below.

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Meanwhile….Back at the FCC….

The forces of media consolidation continue to make headway now that the FCC has a full contingent of 3 Republicans and 2 Democrats. At the June 21, 2006 meeting, the FCC, by 3-2 vote, began the process of reexamining the rules on broadcast media ownership. Last week, the proposed order approving the Adelphia transaction began circulating. It has a very narrow outlook and very meager conditions (so far). Procedural moves by Martin could cut off any further public debate or input as early as this Thursday (July 6).

But all is not yet lost. Chairman Kevin Martin had also intended to adopt a rule requiring cable operators to carry the additional digital streams of broadcasters after the DTV transition, the so-called multicast must-carry. The Dems have long refused to go along unless the Commission also resolved the long-pending proceeding to define new public interest obligations for digital broadcasters. Martin had long made it clear that he did not intend to impose any new obligations on broadcasters, and that as soon as he had a third Republican, he would ram through multicast without public interest obligations.

But it didn’t happen. Robert McDowell, the new Republican Commissioner, refused to go along. Either because he didn’t like the idea, or because he didn’t like getting pushed so hard so quickly on a controversial matter, McDowell refused to vote “yes” on the multicast item. As a result, Martin pulled the item from the June meeting.

What will McDowell do on Adelphia? With the Dems dead set against approval without firmer conditions, Martin needs both Rs to toe the line.

More analysis and speculation below . . . .

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Bracing for the House COPE Vote

The House will likely vote tomorrow (Fri. June 9) on the Communications Opportunity Enhancement Act (COPE). In fact, the vote may come as early as tonight.

According to the report from the Rules Committee, the House has set debate for one hour and approved a number of amendments. The critical amendments for network neutrality are the Markey amendment (D-MA) and an anti-trust savings amendment introduced by Lamar Smith (R-TX) that clarifies that COPE will not preempt anti-trust law (NB: This is not the much stronger Sensenbrenner-Conyer Bill which passed out of Judiciary.

As discussed below, the Rules Committee (which responds to the House Republican leadership) has done its best to stack the odds against NN. Unsurprising, since Speaker Hastert (along with Commerce Chair Barton and Telecommuniations Subcommittee Chair Upton) support COPE and oppose NN. Expect the Smith Amendment to pass, the Markey Amendment to lose, and COPE to pass. Public pressure may still swing some members, but the odds of swinging enough members are vanishingly small.

As I wrote after the loss at the Commerce Committee, we citizens will make the difference. We have gained much ground in the last two months. We now carry the battle to the Senate, where the rules help curb the power of one or two majority leaders to force through legislation.

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And Suddenly, the Universe Changed

Well, it’s been busy in the Senate today. While all the Senators were locked down by police on a mistaken report of gunfire, they took the time to confirm Robert McDowell for the FCC. For the first time since Michael Powell left in March 2005, the FCC is now back to 3 Republicans and 2 Democrats.

Over the last year, several controversial items have accumulated that the 2-2 Commission could not agree upon. For example, the long-awaited proceeding on media ownership rules, wherein the FCC will again try to relax or eliminate most ownership limits.

Critically, McDowell’s appointment strengthens Martin’s hand to approve the Comcast/Time Warner/Adelphia merger without significant conditions (whereas just yesterday I was hoping Martin would have to persuade the Democrats to agree to an order). The critical question — does Martin want to approve the merger without conditions? As I have written before, Martin has shown himself willing to stand up to the cable industry in the name of competition. For example, Martin co-authored an Op Ed with Senator McCain supporting imposing a la carte on cable.

So, what will Kevin Martin do? He has a free hand for the first time in his history as Chairman. Once again, I urge you all to help Martin make the right decision by following this link to file a comment urging the FCC to deny the Adelphia Transaction, or impose significant conditions.

As for the rest of the media ownership rules, the AT&T/BellSouth merger, and everything else in the media & telecom world

Stay tuned . . . .

Help Stop The Merger Madness

My friends at Free Press have set up this page to file comments opposing the AT&T/BellSouth Merger and the Comcast/Time Warner/Adelphia deal.

I won’t go over old ground again in detail here. You can read why I think the FCC should stop Comcast and Time Warner from dividing up the bankrupt Adelphia cable, the disappointing go ahead from the Federal Trade Commission, and my growing hope that the FCC will impose strong conditions or kill the deal. With a deadline for the companies to walk away from the deal fast approaching, you can help push the FCC to do the right thing.

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The GAO Makes the Case for Community Broadband

Not that you would know it either from the headline or the general coverage, but the the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative arm, issued its own report that makes a strong case in favor of community-based broadband and against more regulatory goodies for the incumbent telcos and cable cos. Not that the GOA intended to make that case, and they word their conclusions carefully. But dig down into the actual report and you find a lot of good stuff beyond discrediting the FCC’s rosy numbers on broadband penetration and competition.

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Debunking some Telco Disinformation.

Given the success of recent pro-net neutrality videos, it comes as no surprise that the telcos have launched their own. You can watch their cartoon on the Hands Off the Internet website (direct link here).

As one might expect from an org primarily funded by cable and telco groups, it contains a few exagerations, misstatements, obfuscations, and the occassional outright lie. My friends at Mediacitizen have written this rebuttal. Savetheinternet.org has also posted a page on the telco anti-NN cartoon, with a link to this point by point response.

But, for those readers seeking more indepth analysis of just how much nonesense the “dontreghulate.org” cartoon dishes out — combined with the trademark snarkiness you’ve come to expect here at “Tales of the Sausage Factory” — please read below. Takes me back to my old days watching Mystery Science Theater 3000.

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Last week in CALEA

(And you thought I’d given up on anything but Net Neutrality, didn’t you?)

So last week proved a busy one for the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA). CALEA requires that anyone building a “communications network” build it in such a way that law enforcement agencies (acting pursuant to a proper warrant, of course), can monitor individual sbscribers/users. Last fall, the FCC extended CALEA to include broadband access providers and voice over IP (VOIP) providers. For various reasons, this pissed me off. Meanwhile, a group of folks including the Center for Democracy and Technology and EFF Petitioned the DC Circuit to declare that the FCC had overstepped its statutory bounds in extending CALEA in this way.

Last Wednesday, the FCC issued its Second Order on CALEA, basically affirming the First Order and giving some new details (or at least it will when the text of the Second Order is released). Friday, the FCC defended its First Order in court. Reflections of yr hmbl obdnt below.

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A Network Neutrality Primer

For those just tuning in, Network Neutrality (aka “NN”, becuase every public policy deserves its own acronym) has gone from sleepy tech issue to major policy fight. So I have prepared a rather lengthy primer below for folks who want a deeper understanding of what’s happening (at least as of today, May 3, 2006).

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Stevens Bill IV –The Bad Stuff (Network Neutrality)

Finally, we get to this week’s big enchilada, Network Neutrality (or “NN,” as we policy wonks like to call it when we type it over and over and over again).

Many have opposed the Communications Enhancement Act of 2006 (COPE) because it would limit FCC authority to prevent abuses of market power by the few broadband ISPs in control of the “last mile”. Well, the Stevens Bill would not just limit FCC authority, it would eliminate it altogether. A dream for the telcos, cable cos and my opposite numbers at Progress and Freedom Foundation, a nightmare for the rest of us.

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