CPNI Is More Than Just Consumer Privacy — How To Apply It To Digital Platforms.

This is the fourth blog post in a series on regulating digital platforms. A substantially similar version of this was published by my employer Public Knowledge. You can view the full series here. You can find the previous post in this series on Wetmachine here.

 

“Customer proprietary network information,” usually abbreviated as “CPNI,” refers to a very specific set of privacy regulations governing telecommunications providers (codified at 47 U.S.C. §222) and enforced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). But while CPNI provides some of the strongest consumer privacy protections in federal law, it also does much more than that. CPNI plays an important role in promoting competition for telecommunications services and for services that require access to the underlying telecommunications network — such as alarm services. To be clear, CPNI is neither a replacement for general privacy nor a substitute for competition policy. Rather, these rules prohibit telecommunications providers from taking advantage of their position as a two-sided platform. As explained below, CPNI prevents telecommunications carriers from using data that customers and competitors must disclose to the carrier for the system to work.

All of which brings us to our first concrete regulatory proposal for digital platforms. As I discuss below, the same concerns that prompted the FCC to invent CPNI rules in the 1980s and Congress to expand them in the 1990s apply to digital platforms today. First, because providers of potentially competing services must expose proprietary information to the platform for the service to work, platform operators can use their rivals’ proprietary information to offer competing services. If someone sells novelty toothbrushes through Amazon, Amazon can track if the product is selling well, and use that information to make its own competing toothbrushes.

 

Second, the platform operator can compromise consumer privacy without access to the content of the communication by harvesting all sorts of information about the communication and the customer generally. For example, If I’m a mobile phone platform or service, I can tell if you are calling your mother every day like a good child should, or if you are letting her sit all alone in the dark, and whether you are having a long conversation or just blowing her off with a 30-second call. Because while I know you are so busy up in college with all your important gaming and fraternity business, would it kill you to call the woman who carried you for nine months and nearly died giving birth to you? And no, a text does not count. What, you can’t actually take the time to call and have a real conversation? I can see by tracking your iPhone that you clearly have time to hang out at your fraternity with your friends and go see Teen Titans Go To The Movies five times this week, but you don’t have time to call your mother?

 

As you can see, both to protect consumer privacy and to promote competition and protect innovation, we should adopt a version of CPNI for digital platforms. And call your mother more often. I’m just saying.

Once again, before I dig into the substance, I warn readers that I do not intend to address either whether the regulation should apply exclusively to dominant platforms or what federal agency (if any) should enforce these regulations. Instead, in an utterly unheard of approach for Policyland, I want to delve into the substance of why we need real CPNI for digital platforms and what that would look like.

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My Insanely Long Field Guide To Cisco’s War On The TV White Spaces

Will Cisco’s war against the TV white spaces tank incentive auctions? No doubt this question comes as a surprise to the vast majority of people unaware Cisco was running a war against TV white spaces (TVWS). True, Cisco has mostly tried to stay behind the scenes. But as we get closer to the Super Committee deadline, which include negotiations for incentive auction rules that would let TVWS survive, Cisco has become increasingly willing to go public with its anti-TVWS lobbying efforts.

This blog post on the Cisco blog, followed by this letter from the High Tech Spectrum Coalition (HTSC), finally say publicly what Cisco and its allies have been saying privately since debate over spectrum legislation began last January: “Death to the TV White Spaces.” Instead, argues Cisco, open up a new block of 5 GHz spectrum to “replace” the white spaces. But with spectrum legislation in trouble – as evidenced by CTIA’s non-stop radio advertising here in D.C. and it’s recent ‘we love unlicensed, can’t we all get along?’ letter to the Super Committee – Cisco’s continued opposition to white spaces threatens to tank any hope of getting incentive auctions passed either in the Super Committee or elsewhere.

Incentive auctions, while popular as a revenue generator, were always a tough sell because of broadcaster passive/aggressive opposition. Adding D Block reallocation made it even more difficult. Cisco’s war on the TVWS threatens to be the final straw that makes this lift just too heavy. It splits a tech community that would otherwise wholly support incentive auctions, while simultaneously pissing off key members of Congress who helped get TVWS done in the first place.

So the time has come for Cisco, CTIA, and others who really want incentive auctions, to ask themselves whether it’s worth it to risk incentive auctions just so that Cisco can keep Microsoft, Google/Motorola, Dell, and others from bringing a competing product to market. The Hutchison/Rockefeller Bill, S.911, was a compromise that kept spectrum for TVWS, gave Cisco the 5 GHz block it wants, and made sure that a minimum threshold of 84 MHz would be auctioned before allocating any recovered spectrum to replace white spaces lost by auction or repacking. While not great from my perspective as a white spaces supporter (and I’d still like to see it tweaked some), it was at least a livable compromise. Cisco’s anti-TVWS campaign already backfired once, with the Republican discussion draft to require auction for all unlicensed spectrum. Will Cisco and CTIA fail to learn just how easy it would be for them to blow this for everyone? Or will they settle for the compromise that got a bipartisan bill out of the Commerce Committee?

Why Cisco has been gunning for the TVWS, the quiet little war of the last ten months, and how to get out of this quagmire before it’s too late, below. . . .

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What Dems Have To Lose If Genachowski Embraces The Latest “Net Neutrality Consensus.”

I occasionally suspect my colleagues in the Public Interest community lack a sense of humor — although perhaps it is simply that I am in a more relaxed frame of mind after my annual vacation from the 21st Century. I am neither surprised nor outraged at the recent news that members of the Information Technology Industry Council (ITIC) are picking up where the FCC “secret meetings” left off and trying to come up with a net neutrality consensus framework. To me, it seems rather sad and funny. My only surprise is that even in Washington, the notion of an industry trade association working with its members is anything unusual or significant. I mean, that’s what industry trade associations do after all.

The sad thing is that, given the utter genius the Obama Administration has shown for pissing off the Democratic base through constant waivering, there is every reason to believe that the FCC might be tempted to view what comes out of this “industry consensus process” as something it can embrace to its bosom. This would be a disaster not merely for Genachowski and what remains of his reputation, but for Congressional Democrats as well. If there is one unequivocal lesson that came out of the Goog-VZ debacle last week, it is that the Netroots care deeply about this issue. While I get that the DC establishment considers the Netroots something of an embarrassment (or, as Rahm Emmanuel famously opined, “bleeping retarded”), Congressional Democrats understand that unless the Netroots (a) keep giving money, and (b) turn out and vote, they are toast — as evidenced by Alan Grayson’s abrupt about face from his previous “let Congress handle it in our own sweet time” to “Congress and the FCC must step up now.

More below . . . .
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The Comedy of Comcast v. FCC Part I — What Did The Court Actually Do?

It’s been rather busy the last few weeks. Between my unfairly holding Sprint responsible for its own screw ups, shamelessly cheering on the documentation of our national broadband drought by Our Great Google Overlords, and generally crushing all who dare oppose me, it’s been hard to find time to blog about stuff. So naturally, while I was away for the last day of Passover, the DC Circuit issued its long awaited decision in the Comcast/BitTorrent case, Comcast v. FCC.

Needless to say, the opinion was greeted with the total hysteria that has become the hallmark of the network neutrality debate — with terms like “Nuclear Option,” “World War III,” and “spanking.” Opponents of FCC jurisdiction rejoiced, supporters of network neutrality lamented, and a few shrewd observers noted that the actual outcomes could prove far worse for Comcast and the incumbents than if Comcast had lost (as I noted after oral argument last January).

My co-counsel, Marvin Ammori, has written up his retrospective here. Understandably, he’s rather bummed. Despite this whole thing being my idea in the first place, however, I’m actually rather pleased and amused with how this whole thing is turning out. Sure, I would much rather have won. But as the history of the last 2+ years of this unfolds, the tale of how Comcast managed to bluff, badger, and bungle itself into a position where it has not only guaranteed harsher condition on its merger with NBC-Universal, but revived the possibility of classifying broadband access as a Title II telecom service for the first time in 10 years, is the stuff of high farce. And while I wish I could claim credit for this outcome, the real “heroes” here are Brian Roberts (head of Comcast) followed closely by AT&T, NCTA and the Republican party.

To try to keep this manageable, I’ll divide this into two posts. Below, I will try to set forth what the court actually said and the immediate legal implications, without worrying too much about the overall policy. While I can hardly claim to be an impartial observer, I’ll do my best to identify my editorial comments as such and note where reasonable minds can differ. In Part II, I shall shamelessly indulge myself with my own eyewitness to history and why I think the Comedy of Comcast v. FCC deserves its special place in the realm of farce — although we have by no means reached a certain conclusion.

More below . . .

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Will Minnesota Senate Screw Duluth's Chances of Getting Google Gigabit Project?

As reported by Christopher Mitchel from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Qwest has scored quite the little victory in its efforts to keep itself the world safe from real competition socialism. A state Senator and a state Rep introduced a bill that would have made it easier to for local governments to build municipal networks. Right now, it takes a local referendum vote with 65% to authorize a locality to build a network that offers commercial telephone service (and therefore any “triple play” broadband access service — or so they read it in MN). A State Senator and State Rep offered a bill to reduce the threshold on the referendum to a simply majority. By the time the relevant jurisdictional committee was finished, the revised bill included one of the favorite incumbent roadblocks to localities: a mandatory “feasibility study” designed to be so onerous and expensive to conduct that few local governments will want to even try.

Meanwhile, the good folks of Duluth are so desperate for real broadband that they made this joke video to get citizens to show support for bringing Google Gigabit Fiber project to town.

Question for the good Senators and Representatives of Minnesota: when you’ve got folks clamoring for real broadband, do you really want to be “protecting” your underperforming incumbent? By “clarifying” that your referendum law applies to any indirect provision of telecom service, and imposing a five year plan on municipalities, you are making it very hard for your local governments to — in the words of Duluth’s mock Public Service Announcement — “suck up even harder” than the competition. While I am hardly privy to Google’s secrets and innermost workings, I am willing to bet real money that when they weigh where to set up their pilot project, they will consider any possible legal landmines. Would you want to set up shop in a city where Qwest or some other provider might sue to block your use of city assets under the amended state law? Even if Google were to ultimately prevail, it would tie up the deployment in litigation. Who wants that, when the number of communities begging for Google to come and work its fiber magic keeps growing?

Mind you, there’s a good argument that even this version of the bill is better than the current law. Dropping the referendum requirement from 65% to a simple majority will do a lot of good even with the feasibility study requirement. But should that really be the choice? Don’t the people of MN deserve the better bill, without throwing (yet another) bone to Qwest to reward its failure to provide what people want and need?

So folks in Duluth, and other communities in MN trying to get Google Fiber, you might want to ask Qwest’s buddies in the legislature to cut y’all some slack and pass the original bill without the study requirement. that would send a signal that MN is serious about bringing broadband to its citizens and would welcome the sort of public/private partnership that Google appears to be offering. Or perhaps the MN legislature is just rooting for the people of TopekaGoogle,” KS instead of the folks in Duluth.

Stay tuned . . . .

Oh. Canada.

Our weekly engineering meeting has a conference table and a huge projection screen. On this Monday, the Vancouver Olympics had just closed, and our three Canadian engineers were celebrating their climactic hockey victory. Being virtual, it was ridiculously easy(*) to find a flag image on Google, drag it in-world, and throw it up on the projector. No mess, no fuss, and no disturbance of the meeting. It might have been an afterthought, but it was appreciated.

In public social virtual worlds, a lot of attention gets paid to avatars — that’s your primary dimension of expression. But in private business worlds, the whole environment is yours to personalize, and it’s easy to change frequently. The discussion referenced in my previous post spoke of spontaneously creating a whole meeting room reserved and named in honor of a visitor.


* Much easier than the mechanics of adding a picture to this blog. See this video, and especially the last minute.

Google Is NOT Getting Into The Network Business, The Further Adventures of T. Googlii

Unsurprisingly, the telecom world is all abuzz over the news that Google will build a bunch of Gigabit test-beds. I am perfectly happy to see Google want to drop big bucks into fiber test beds. I expect this will have impact on the broadband market in lots of ways, and Google will learn a lot of cool things that will help it make lots of money at its core business — organizing information and selling that service in lots of different ways to people who value it for different reasons. But Google no more wants to be a wireline network operator than it wanted to be a wireless network operator back when it was willing to bid on C Block in the 700 MHz Auction.

So what does Google want? As I noted then: “Google does not want to be a network operator, but it wants to be a network architect.” Oh, it may end up running networks. Google has a history of stepping up to do things that further its core business when no one else wants to step up, as witnessed most recently by their submitting a bid to serve as the database manager for the broadcast white spaces devices. But what it actually wants to do is modify the behavior of the platforms on which it rides to better suit its needs. Happily, since those needs coincide with my needs, I don’t mind a bit.

How does that play out here, and why do I compare Google to a protozoa? See below . . . .

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Sunset makes me think of Google teeth I coulda maybe shoulda bashed in

So today, depending on how you reckon such things, more or less marks the end of the legendary Silicon Valley company Sun Microsystems, where I worked from January 1986 until April 1994 (badge #1387). Here’s a photo (taken today) of me behind a giant-sized beer mug that I got from Sun on my 5th anniversary. It says, “In appreciation for five years of service in the Kingdom!”

photo of giant sun beer mug
In addition to this beer mug, Sun gave me a fantastic education in hardware, software, management and office politics; a chance to spend at least one night in every hotel on the entire length of El Camino Real from Sunnyvale to Burlingame; lots of good friends and fun times; money, and most of all an inspiration for Monty Meekman, the nastiest villain in the best. novel. evar written about Silicon Valley, my very own Acts of the Apostles.

Below the fold: The day I almost put (Google CEO) Eric Schmidt’s teeth down his throat.

UPDATE
My dear wife says this post makes me sound a whole lot angrier than I in fact am, and she’s right. I just thought it was funny that two of the most arrogant bigwigs I encountered at Sun went on to become bigwigs at Google, an outfit that’s known for its. . . arrogance. Most of my memories of Sun are of good friends and interesting challenges. (And a whole lot of airplane travel and hotel rooms.)


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Doing Kojo Nnamdi Show This Tuesday — and other opportunities to see me.

For those interested, I’ll be appearing on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on Tuesday, January 26 (tomorrow). I’ll be on for a discussion of the future of cable with Greg Sandoval and Derek Thompson. Should be fun and interesting, as I hope to talk about things like our set-top box petition, the SOC Waiver, and how all this ties in with TV Everywhere, overt-the-top video, Comcast/NBCU, and the general “cable digital transition” as more systems convert to all-digital. Should be fun — if you are the sort of person who reads this blog.

UPDATE: You can listen to the Kojo show here.

As long as I’m doing the self-promotion thing, I’ll mention three other events where I’ll be speaking.

February 16: The Administrative Law Review event on Regulatory Change Under The Obama Administration at the Washington College of Law at American University.

March 15: Law Seminars International Telecom Conference in Seattle.

June 10: Pike & Fisher’s Broadband Policy Summit VI, where I shall square off against the ever popular Scott Cleland on everyone’s favorite topic “Who are the Internet Gatekeepers and Should They Be Regulated?” [I know, big suspense on which of us will say “Google” an which of us will go on about ISPs, switching costs, and all that other stuff.]

Stay tuned . . . .

On Highest Authority from Soviet Russia: Sundman Novels “not shit Dan Brown”

So, checking my Wetmachine referer logs this morning, I found that this livejournal entry has already sent me 54 visitors. Since the page is what appeared to be (and in fact is) Russian, I turned to Google Translate, which provided this wonderful text:

A good example for the present writer can become a success John Sandmena.

This is a modern writer, he wrote great novels of an action and distributes them for free. About how this is done you can ask from him, look at the website or call in at www.wetmachine.com kickstarter.com.

In place of, say, Lukyanenko, I have started to click links kickstarter.com. Sandmen requested for the next novel 5 000 dollars. Who? Yes to all. “Kick” it just for this purpose and is intended to collect money from the crowds of internet users in all sorts of interesting initiatives.

John had something to show his readers:

novels “Acts of the Apostles” and “Developing Obama”[Ed: ????] is not shit Dan Brown. “If Brown was Sandmenom, according to Jeffrey Zeldman,” he would have realized that this thriller is far from absurd, flat and one-dimensional. “

Credit confidence Sandmenu from the Internet community for the next novel, ”Science works” expressed in the amount of U.S. $ 8 059. Slightly more than requested by the author. And how much money you need to write this novel?

Note — my final Kickstarter tally was not quite as great as the amount pledged — about $900 did not clear when presented to credit cards; plus, Kickstarter.com and clearing house Amazon.com each take cuts (including on that $900, by the way). But still, not half bad. Or as we say in Russian, according to Google Translate, недурно.