700 MHz Endgame Part I: Martin Tries To Redefine “Open Access” With A PR Offensive

Martin has opened the endgame on the 700 MHz auction rules with some strategic press leaks to frame the debate and the circulation of his draft Order. According to USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, Martin’s draft proposes including a network attachment/wireless Cartefone rule on two blocks (the “C” and “D” blocks). At the same time, Martin is redefining “open access” to mean network attachment/wireless Cartefone (the issue popularized by Tim Wu with the help of the iPhone) rather than the wholesale obligation pushed by Frontline and the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition (PISC).

What makes Martin’s proposal particularly problematic is that it does actually do some good on issues I (and other folks in spectrum and media reform) care deeply about. It does represent a step forward. But it represents such a baby step, and deferred so far into the future, that it becomes useless for the near term (as Google argued in this recent filing (worthy of a post of its own)) and may actually take the pressure off the FCC to do something real like grant the Skype Petition or do something real on Network Neutrality.

Still, it presents a real challenge for the Democratic Commissioners as they enter into negotiations. Do they hang tough and risk losing everything on a 3-2 partyline vote? Do they accept a compromise, recognizing the political risk?

Worse for the Ds (and supporters of open access generally), the pressure from Congress has gone fairly hard against wholesale open access in recent days. The Republicans in the Senate and the House have bombarded the FCC with letters against wholesale open access. While some Ds (notably Kerry) have supported real open access, the Dem leadership and most Ds have remained on the sidelines. Still, tomorrow’s House Commerce Committee Hearing on Wireless Innovation will offer Democratic leaders to weigh in — if they so desire.

This Is long, so I am going to break it up into a couple of posts. First, the difference between Martin Open Access and Real Open Access . . . .

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Fourthbranch and the Sally Ann Quinn parlor game

By the grace of God I don’t get TV in my house, and, modulo the occasional exception of a cable intermezzo of a few months’ duration here and there, haven’t for nearly twenty years. But I’m not a Puritan, and so, when I’m on a business trip as I am now, I sometimes put on the tube, and if there’s no baseball to be found I check out what’s up with hoi polloi. So it was that tonight I saw for the first time, on TV, the legendary salonista Sally Ann Quinn.

She was pretty hot, I’ll admit; younger and better looking than I had imagined. After all, she was already a doyenne at the time of Bill Clinton’s first inaugural– a priestess in the cult of High Broderism. It was she who famously pronounced Slick Willy too plebeian, too common, to inhabit the place which we rubes across the land had thought belonged to us, viz, the White House, until Sally Ann Quinn set us straight. So you can forgive my imagining her an old hag.

As an habitual, nay, addicted reader of political blogs I had of course read about her shot across “Fourthbranch” Dick Cheney’s bow in today’s WAPO, in which she said that “some Republicans” were looking for an excuse, presumably medical, to ditch Cheney and replace him with the sweet-smelling dreamboat Fred Thompson. So when I got back to the hotel room tonight after a hard day in the Silicon Valley salt mines and began my futile search for non-Giants baseball and saw her name under the crylon “The Plot against Cheney,” I had to stop and look, as at the proverbial car wreck– this one with a decapitation.

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Open Mouth, Insert Foot, and Hopefully Learn Lesson.

Generally, I try to limit myself to talking about things I know about and recognize what I don’t know about. But, like most of us, I occassionally think I know more than I do. Such is the case of my recent comment in ComputerWorld about the muni deployment situation in San Francisco. In the last few days, I’ve received a barrage of angry letters and calls from friends of mine on the ground in SF wanting to know what the Hell I was thinking when I said: “”They’ve created a mess in San Francisco where the city seems to be negotiating with Google or Earthlink and not the community.”

Sadly, I cannot even say I was misquoted or taken out of context. Matt Hamblen got my quote exactly right. It turns out, however, that I had it exactly wrong. As my angry SF friends have let me know in no uncertain terms, the City of San Francisco, Google and Earthlink have been conducting neighborhood surveys, meeting with local community leaders, and responding to this input with substantive changes.

So how did I screw up so badly? And what did I learn from all this? 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 . . . .

My Impossibly Long Field Guide for the 700 MHz Auction (It's Really Important, Even If You Haven't Heard About It Much In The Main Stream Media)

Few events in the wireless world matter so much, yet get so little coverage, as the upcomming 700 MHz wireless auction. Why? Because they’re hard, and the mainstream media (MSM to us “bloggers”) are afraid you will get all confuzzled and bored. Besides, isn’t non-stop coverage of Anna Nichole Smith more satisfying? (Hint: She’s still dead.)

Small wonder that even if you are in the minority of folks who have heard about the “digital television transition” and the “return of the analog spectrum,” you have not heard about the huge policy fights over how to auction off the single most important block of spectrum for the foreseeable future. Which is, of course, how the big carriers like it.

You can find a pretty good 12-page summary prepared by some investment analysts over here. But, being the highly-opinionated public advocate and believer in democracy that I am, I also provide a hopefully helpful guide for de-mystifying the swirl of players and activity attracted to the distribution of this multi-billion dollar block of spectrum licenses. Issues include network neutrality, open access, wireless competition, the future of broadband competition, and a whole lot of public safety stuff. It includes a cast of thousands from Frontline to Cyren Call to the Ad Hoc Public Interest Spectrum Coalition (I thought up the name myself! O.K., I was in a rush . . . .) and an army of incumbents that like the universe just the way it is, thank you and do not look kindly on those of us trying to shake things up.

I warn you, this is extremely long (13 pages, I probably should have broken it up into more than one post), and complicated, and all that stuff that mainstream media figures your pretty lil’ heads can’t handle without getting all confuzzled. So, if ye be readers of courage, willing to risk getting all confuzzled and thinking about how our wireless and broadband future will unflold for the next 10-15 years, read on! Or you can go back to Google News and plug in “Anna Nichole Smith” (yup, still dead).

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Telcos Find Link Between Google, Net Neutrality, and Al Qeda

As others have chronicled, the people who brought you “Net Neutrality Is In Its Last Throes” and “Deregulated Telecoms Will Be Greeted As Liberators” have now launched a new campaign based on the highly successful tools of this administration and the conservative noise machine generally. This is perhaps unsurprising given the paucity of arguments the anti-net neutrality folks have at this point.

The fear of Google is attractive. Any huge entity attracts concern, and rightly so. I’m pleased that Google has “don’t be evil” as a credo, and that by and large it has done a good job sticking to that. But they are a large corporation like any other, and if they become convinced that something contrary to the public interest is in their best financial interest, I know which way to bet. For this reason, you find a number of perfectly reasonable folks, such as industry observer Robert Cringley (whose push for local ownership of infrastructure hardly makes him a telco or cable enthusiast) is now worried that Google has accumulated a sufficient mass of resources to take over the internet the same way Microsoft took over the desk top.

Please note that this has nothing to do with network neutrality. In fact, if Google really did have an evil plan to leverage its network assets and services to dminate the internet, thelast they would want would be network neutrality. Network neutrality means treating everyone equal, so if Google became the uber-Tier 1 carrier — what Cringley alleges is Google’s ultimate plan — the last thing Google would want would be a requirement to carry everyone’s traffic equally. It would be like Microsoft fighting to keep its monopoly by making the GNU GPL mandatory for all desktop operating systems.

But, as the current Administration has discovered, we don’t need logic. We just need a big old cloud of anxiety and the power of repetition. If you fear Iran and its nuclear ambitions, you must support a surge in Iraq , because Iran supports U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, and Iran has nuclear ambitions. If you fear Google invading your privacy or dominating net applications, you must fear network neutrality, because Google supports network neutrality and they’re big and scary. Network neutrality is a plot by Google to take over the internet, because Google wants to take over the internet and they like network neutrality. And did we mention they’re big and scary? Biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigggggggg and scaaaaarrrrrrryyyyy!!!! And they like network neutrality. So Network neutrality is scary and bad, like Google, but without the “I’m feeling lucky!” button.

Mind you, you can find plenty of examples of this kind of logic in the mainstream media. You can see this amazing (as always) clip of Stephen Colbert demonstrating how the mainstream media uses this technique on Barack Obama. In a world where the mainstream media apparently believes that voters will make their decision on whether his middle name is Hossein or whether his “business casual look” is too much like Iranian President and fashion plate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, we can expect the cable cos and telcos to push the link between Google, net neutrality, and Al Qeda

I’ve been at Media Access Project snce 1999. Long enough to remember when America Online and the telcos supported not just network neutrality, but “open access” (letting ISP resell broadband capacity). A fair number of folks accused open access supporters of being AOL shills or tools of the telcos. But after AOL merged with Time Warner, and Michael “deregulate them all and God will know his own” Powell took over the FCC, the companies that had backed open access switched sides. But the public interest community, including MAP, kept fighting the same fight (which has now morphed into the ‘net neutrality’ fight) long after the industry folks switched sides or dropped out.

As I have said many times before, citizen movements must stay citizen driven. Corporations will act in their best interest. They will spend money if they think it will help them earn more money. But that’s as far as they go.

You can’t get a million people or more in this overworked, busy 24/7 world to fight for something — in the face of a continued barrage of advertising, push-polling and the pervasive corrosive cynicism that you can never hope to win in our corrupt political system against the corporate powers that be — unless they believe in it. And you can’t get people to believe in it — especially in the face of the barrage of misinformation — unless there is really something to it. Especially when we are talking about a geeky technical policy issue that no one outside Washington ever heard of a year ago.

So yeah, Google supports network neutrality, and for their own reasons. But chosing to support or not support a cause because Google does is about as stupid as deciding whether or not to vote for Obama because both he and Ahmadinejad hate ties.

For the record, I hate ties too, and I support network neutrality. Just like Obama supports network neutrality. So I guess I must have links to Ahmadinejad. Hopefully, this will not scare away too many readers. But for those unafraid of the frightenng link between network neutrality, me, Barack Obama, and Ahmadinejad,

Stay tuned . . . .

Stunning Announcement! Ward Churchill appointed to Hoover Institution!

We all remember Ward Churchill, poster boy for the “blame America first” crowd, who basically wrote about the September 11, 2001, attacks that “we (Americans) had it coming to us.” In particular he slandered the actual dead who had worked in the World Trade Towers as “little Eichmans.”

His invitation to speak at Hamilton College caused a national stink (google can tell you all about it), even though he had been invited to speak on another topic and the person who invited him had no prior knowledge of his controversial opinions about September 11th. (I paid some attention to this stink because I’m a Hamilton alumnus, and also because the person who invited him to Hamilton is a good friend and former professor of my sister Muggs, who is also an alum.)

Well as anybody who has spent any time at wetmachine at all knows, I’m a left-leaning liberal pinko Christo-athiest from Massachusetts; you can hardly get any further away from Bill O’Reilly and the other torchbearers who kept Churchill from speaking at Hamilton (the death threats which the State Police deemed ‘credible’ kind of forced the college president’s hand, according to her letter to the community). Yet even I am no defender of Ward Churchill, and I find his remarks scandalous and cruel. ANYWHO, imagine, then, my surprise, upon learning that the conservative Hoover Institution, a right wing “think tank” closely associated with Stanford University, had appointed this hate-filled, blame-America nut job, Ward Churchill, to its prestigious faculty! Ward “Blame America First” Churchhill on the faculty of the Hoover Institution!

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A monkey by any other name. . .

Down in the ex-Confederate state of Virginia, seems that a fella name o’ G. Felix Allen Jr., candidate for US Senate on the Republican ticket (and presumptive candidate for the US presidency), has taken to singling out dark-skinned people for public ridicule, using the code word “macaca”, a French colonial term perhaps best translated as “sand nigger”, to invoke the ridicule of an all-white audience on a fellow Virginian, one S.R. Sidarth. Interestingly enough (and this was news to me, but Google can confirm it), it seems that the term “macaca” (“monkey”), long favored as a racial epithet by French and Belgian hatemongers, has migrated across the Atlantic and is well known among the set who are nostalgic for the glory days of lynching–a set that includes G. Felix Allen Jr., evidently, to judge from his fondness for displaying Confederate flags and nooses.

Now, Virginia is a great state and has given us great military men like Robert E. Lee, and you might make the argument that if we Northern Liberals and sissified academics had been decent enough to let the great Robert E. Lee salvage a win at Gettysburg then the South would have won the war, slavery would still exist there, and the term strange fruit would imply nothing more sinister than a pomegranate–lynchings being generally unnecessary in a state where the monkeys are bonded slaves. In which case Mr. G. Felix Allen would presumably be a senator in the Confederate senate, not our USian one, and I would have no standing to make any comment at all about his retrograde opinions, any more than Rush Limbaugh has to make about those of politicians in France.

But I myself have walked the paths of Little Round Top — on a sweltering August day twelve years ago (with two bored, irritated, resentful young daughters (aged 5 and 12) in tow), and I’ve actually thought about this, and I’ve come to the conclusion–politically uncorrect as this may be– that I’m actually happy that the Northern Liberals won the Civil War consequent to Gettysburg, however disappointing that may be to G. Felix Allen and the NASCAR, Blue-Collar-Comedy set, and not only because of A. Lincoln’s stirring neo-Shakespearean speech about government of the people, by the people and for the people, even ones named Sidarth, that that victory ensured I would get to hear, but also because I believe in the principles for which so many heroes gave their last full measure of devotion, falling dead to Southern bullets, bayonets, and grapeshot on that Pennsylvanian battlefield so long ago.

So here’s my token contribution to the anti-neoconfederate cause, ridiculing George Felix Allen, junior; doing my little bit to keep alive the “Felix is his middle name” meme, keeping “macaca” high atop the technorati search lists. The Republicans of Virginia have embraced this racist goon as their candidate. Let them deal with it. But since G. Felix Allen Jr. has given us Chamberlainites a pin to deflate his presidential trial balloon, by all means let us use it. Won’t it be funny if a macaca makes it go “pop”?