Stevens Bill Score Card Pre-Mark Up

And what a mark up it will be! Senators have proposed hundreds of amendments (more than 250 at one point, but now down to something over a hundred as deals get done). Meanwhile, the Stevens Bill itself has undergone significant rewrite. You can find the final pre-mark up draft at Jim Baller’s site here. For comparison, you can read about the Democratic substitute here (and my brief summary of same here).

Below, a brief score card on some issues I singled out previously: Opening broadcast white spaces (still in, but facing a “poison pill” amendment from DeMint (R-SC)), program access (dropped by Stevens); Broadcast flag (sadly alive and well); Munibroadband (much improved, thanks in no small part to Jim Baller and the coalition of tech folks, muni orgs, and public interest folks put together by Jim Kohlenberger); and, of course, net neutrality (brought up to COPE levels, with some flavoring added to try to buy off the Christian conservatives).

Most importantly, the telcos have inserted a very nasty joker in the deck, known as “Section 1004.” This Section is designed to rig any post-legislation appeal by giving the D.C. Circuit exclusive jurisdiction over all things FCC. This would be a catastrophe not merely for network neutrality, but for media ownership and just about any other provision of law (and therefore merits a post of its own).

More details below . . . .

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I am (temporarily) blacklisted by Comcast

Ever have one of those days when your paranoid fear seems to be happening. You know, like the guy behind you in the dark suit and mirror shades really seems to be following you?

Yesterday, just after the Senate Commerce Committee voted to delay debate on net neutrality and program access until next week, my emails to Comcast subscribers started bouncing. The bounce message informed me I was permanently blacklisted [i.e., blocked] as a “spam source.”

A nefarious plot to keep this terribly effective and persuasive advocate from reaching The People in time to effect the Commerce Committee vote? The first step in making me an “unperson?”

Probably not, given that it got straightened out reasonably quickly and — lets face it — would do Comcast more harm than good. But it was sufficiently unsettling that I have to ask again, even more strongly than before, why would we want to live in a world where Comcast or any other provider has no need to fix the problem, because we’ve eliminated all the rules?

Full story below . . . .

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Latest on COPE and Latest Video

From what I have heard and seen on the House Whip Schedule, the vote on COPE will likely take place this Friday (6/9). On Wednesday June 7, the House Rules Committee will determine what, if any, amendments members may offer. For example, they may or may not allow Markey to offer his Network Neutrality Act of 2006, or allow Sensenbrenner to offer the version of the Internet Freedom and Non-Discrimination Act that passed the Judiciary Committee as an amendment. After that, the package goes to the floor for debate and a vote.

The smart money expects passage of COPE because the House Republican leadership backs it and enough Dems will defect to provide a comfortable margin. OTOH, public pressure keeps pushing members to change their position to support NN. Not that smart money or conventional wisdom believes in democracy anymore, but I am hopeful we can hand them another surprise.

Meanwhile, Moby has prepared this video that tells you how you can call your representative and tell him or her to support net neutrality.

Remember, don’t make Moby cry! Support Net Neutrality and help spank the telcos!

Stay tuned . . .

Much Better Senate Draft from Democrats

The Democrats of the Senate Commerce Committee have begun circulating this draft revision of the wretched Communications, Consumer Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006 (aka “The Stevens Bill). Not only is the Democrat draft a lot shorter (a big plus), it:

(a) Eliminates the really bad munibroadband provision in the Stevens Bill with good language similar to the McCain-Lautenberg Community Broadband Act.

(b) Eliminates the excruciatingly awful net neutrality provision in the Stevens Bill and replaces it with the good language from the Internet Freedom Preservation Act sponsored by Snowe, Dorgan, and Inouye.

Happily, the Democratic Draft also contains the good stuff from the Stevens Bill: opening up the broadcast spectrum ”white spaces” and limiting cable market power over regional sports programming. (Although the Democratic draft is not quite as strong there as in the Stevens bill. Ah well.) Sadly, the Democratic draft also contains a broadcast flag provision.

It’s still a draft, of course. But it shows how the momentum on critical issues continues to shift in the right direction now that the public has started tuning in and speaking up. Last month, the telcos and the cable cos were enjoying a victory march reminiscent of Sherman’s march to the sea. Now, the telco/cable push to get Net Neutrality eliminated by Congress is looking a lot more like Napoleon’s march on, and subsequent retreat from, Moscow.

Stay tuned . . . .

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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Audio and Video Net Neutrality Links

For those following the net neutrality issue, here are a few good links for audio or video (while we still can).

Robert Riech gives mainstream commentary in favor of NN on Marketplace here.

An amusing Halo-themed video infomercial in favor of NN available here.

Public Knowledge has this fairly straightforward “why you should care about NN” video here.

“Ask A Ninja,” which I had never seen before but struck me as downright hysterical, as a pro-NN message here.

Finally, this video montage/commentary clocks in at 6 minutes, but is well worth it if you wants something comprehensive and compelling (plus it has all my friends!). With text on their website here, direct to youtube here.

Please add more to the comments below if you become aware of new ones.

Stay tuned . . . .

Why wait for the Daily Show for Fake News?

This goes back a ways. Between vacation for Passover and the net neutrality fight, this fell a bit by the wayside. But it is still an important issue.

Back on April 6, my friends over at Free Press, working with the Center for Media and Democracy, have issued a rather stunning report on how local television stations rebroadcast “video news releases” — press releases created by corporations — as real news. For example, a “news story” about a new drug treatment may, in fact, an advertisement created by the drug company and packaged to look like a news report.

Free Press subsequently hosted a “blogger briefing” call, which you can listen to here. FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstien spoke. And I attended wearing my blogger hat.

My thoughts on this most recent disclosure of how pathetic our news media has become below.

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COPE-ing nicely, thank you

Throughout the public interest community, one can find much wailing an gnashing of teeth over today’s Commerce Committee mark up of the Communications Opportunity Enhancement Act of 2006 (COPE). “A Bad Day for Media Democracy” reads the headline at Save Access.

Well, I’m not happy with COPE so far, but I think it turned into a good day for democracy, with better days to come. Because if you thought today was grim, you weren’t here for the absolute spanking net neutrality got in subcommittee in the beginning of April. In the week since the SavetheInternet campaign got underway, four democrats switched their votes on Net Neutrality from “anti” to “pro.” The day before mark up, the Republican chair of the House Subcommittee on Antitrust in the Judiciary Committee and their new task force on telecom declared all out war against the Commerce Committee effort to eliminate a free and open internet. The telcos, who earlier this month boasted they could get the bill past both houses and signed into law before the election recess, don’t sound nearly as confident despite today’s win.

What changed? Until the Subcommittee Spanking, folks let the tech companies do the heavy lifting and fought by the standard lobbying play book. Hill meetings, inside the beltway briefings, insider baseball, blah blah blah. Google v. Verizon, people said, and tuned out. And while the tech lobbyist worked with us public interest folks, one could not help but detect a certain — how shall I put it? — condescension and cluelessness as to how this “public interest” stuff really works. It kinda felt like posing for photo ops, while the “real” decisions about spending money on messaging and what strategies to persue and the ever-important smoke filled room meetings never involved anything as messy as the public.

And, as usual, the tech folks got spanked. Spanked real good. The kinda spanking you usually have to pay good money for if you fancy that kind of thing. Because despite having more money than the telcos and cable cos combined, the tech cos can never win using telco and cable co rules. Because the telcos and cable cos wrote the goddam rules and have played this game by this rulebook for a longer than most tech CEOs have been alive. As a result, the telcos and cable cos are very, very good at it. Meanwhile, as my friend and fellow traveller Jeff Chester at CDD observed the tech companies still can’t figure out how to play this game, or what they want to get out of it if they could figure it out. Or maybe they just like getting spanked, and miss the days when the intellectual property mafia would toast their little bottoms for them with legislation like the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.

So, while still working with the tech lobbyists etc., the folks in the public interest community finally said “Screw this. You guys may be into getting spanked, but we prefer winning. And the way you win in democracy is by busting open the process, getting people to see what’s at stake, and reminding elected officials that their job is to do what’s best for their constituents not to referee industry food fights.” And thus, through the work of Free Press, Common Cause, Moveon and a host of others, was the SavetheInternet campaign born. And when the mainstream media refused to cover the story as too technical or boring or against the interest of their parent mega-companies, 500 bloggers took up the cry. And all this free speech stuff, that the telcos and the cable cos and the memebrs of Congress ignored because it doesn’t have a trade group and you can’t quantify it in dollar terms, really worked. And more and more people are writing letters and calling members and reminding them that there’s an election this fall.

There’s a lesson here; one backed up by the utter triumph of the pro-munibroadband forces against proposed amendments to outlaw munibroadband, or even to grandfather existing state-level bans. YOU CAN’T OUTSOURCE CITIZENSHIP. You can’t let “the tech companies” or even “the consumer advocates” or anyone speak for you. Citizenship carries responsibilities that go beyond the ritual of voting every two years. But when citizens wake up and speak up, and speak to each other, they find — to their surprise — they are strong. They find they have power. And they find that being a citizen may take hard work, but it is so, so, SO much better and more satisfying than being a couch potato. As the great Jewish sage Hillel said: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, who am I? If not me then who? If not now, when?”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad the tech companies are on our side. They have a lot to offer, lots of resources, and, if they decide they are tired of of playing by the old rules and getting spanked, can really help push this effort over the top. But if we as citizens let this degenerate to a fight with Google, Microsoft and Silicon Valley venture capitalists who like tech start ups on one side v. AT&T, Comcast and Wall Street analysts who like monopolies on the other, with Congress brokering a deal between the two, then we citizens lose no matter which side wins. We can, we must, speak for ourselves.

When Ben Franklin left the Constitutional Convention someone shouted to him from the crowd “Mr. Franklin, what have you given us?” He answered “A republic — IF YOU CAN KEEP IT.” The Sausage Factory of democracy is a messy business, but it’s worth it. We can either let other folks make the sausage and eat whatever shit they put in, or we can wade in and make sure it comes out alright. We lost today’s battle. But we are turning the tide in the war. And if we keep growing and going like we have in the last week, we will win.

Stay tuned . . . .

Comcast/TW/Adelphia Deal In Trouble — Update

Back in December 2005, I wrote this piece suggesting that it might not be smooth sailing for the proposed deal between Comcast and Time Warner to split the bankrupt Adelphia systems between them and achieve total cable dominance. At the time, I was a lone voice suggesting that the split at the FCC might force the companies to chose between accepting conditions or walking away, especially as Adelphia creditors demand that the parties close the deal and come up with the money.

Apparently according to this article in Variety, I am no longer a lone nut or in denial. The endless delay and the likelihood that the FCC will impose conditions (despite the party-line green light the Federal Trade Commission gave at the end of January) has a number of analysts suggesting the deal may crumble in the face of creditor concerns and possible “deal breaker” conditions on access to regional sports networks and net neutrality.

Meanwhile, Robert McDowell’s nomination as fifth FCC Commissioner, on whom Time Warner and Comcast pin their hopes to break the tie and prevent real coditions on the merger, remains stuck in the Senate. McDowell is non-controversial, but scheduling a vote remains hostage to the vagaries of Senate politics. Senators can place a hold on any nominee for any reason. McDowell has been caught up in various controversies and thus remains in limbo. Given the short legislative calendar this session, because folks want to rush back home and campaign, it is possible that McDowell will remain in limbo until the fall. Or he may get cleared by a Senate vote when they come back this week.

If you were an Adelphia creditor, would you want to bet on the timing? Or would you rather see the deal close? And that gets you fighting with TW and Comcast.

Hmmmm….. maybe the other bids weren’t so bad after all. Anything would clear more easily than this mess. And wouldn’t it be nice to get paid?

Stay tuned . . . .