Why Did AT&T Get Left Off The Cable Investigation List — A Very Boring Answer.

While killing time waiting for the Nov 4 meeting to start FCC Chair Kevin Martin discussed the recently opened investigation into cable pricing. To the surprise of those who conceive of Martin as simply having a “vendetta” against cable, the list of companies getting notices about the investigation included Verizon. OTOH, it did not include AT&T. Needless to say, the “Martin can do no good because he is EEEEVVVVVIIIIIIIIIIILLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!!” crowd hit on this as proof that Martin is merely doing the bidding of his telco masters (Verizon having been added to the investigation merely for protective coloring).

Well, I’ve given my views on Kevin Martin repeatedly. As I have said time and again, I may disagree with him a lot, but I don’t think he is an industry shill. He does what he thinks is right and the devil with the consequences. While this has its disadvantages, notably his managing to piss off the other four Commissioners and thus secure for himself a series of policy set backs and rack up a record of number of votes actually lost by the Chairman, it does mean I tend to look for an explanation that goes beyond “Martin is a bastard 24/7 and therefore this is part of an evil plot.”

Here, I think the non-AT&T conspiracy theory answer is fairly straightforward. It has to do with the particular practice the FCC is investigating — forcing customers to migrate to digital. As AT&T does not seem to be behaving in the same way as the named cable operators that got letters from the Enforcement Bureau, they are not being investigated.

OTOH, even if the FCC does find evidence of deceptive advertising practices or anticompetitive conduct, it may lack authority to act.

Thoughts below . . . .

Continue reading

NPR takes its cue from Howie Carr: Blame it on the Negroes!

The other day I was listening to the exasperating Howie Carr’s talk show. Carr is a Boston-based populist Republican who purports to be an Independent. Like all Republican talk-show hosts, he’s an asshole. However, he does have his good points. For one thing, he took on the corrupt and dangerous Bulger brothers, risking his life to do so (Whitey Bulger is the model for the Jack Nicholson character in The Departed). For another, Carr, who is Catholic, took on the Catholic Church over the child rape scandal and helped drive Cardinal Law from our shores. And finally, he is relentless in exposing corruption and hypocrisy among Democrats in office, especially those in state or city offfices. In a corrupt one-party state like Massachusetts, this is a valuable service.

But he’s basically a Republican shill, and his commentary on the Big Shitpile crisis has been horrible. Last week he was going on and on about how the problem was that so many mortgages had been written for poor people in innner cities (Black people, that is, by obvious implication) who got in over their heads and defaulted, so now banks were failing and Wall Street could collapse, taking our whole way of life with it. And all because of the Negroes! And the Libruls, of course, who forced the banks to make these loans by way of “anti-redlining” laws promoted by Joe Kennedy and his ilk.

And I heard similar stuff on National Public Radio yesterday.

Continue reading

DOA RIAs: Curl, OpenLaszlo and Web 2.0 Noir

Over on his ZDnet column Universal Desktop Ryan Stewart, who describes himself as a Rich Internet Application mountaineer, makes his annual predictions about where the Web is going. Prediction number seven caught my eye:

7. The days of smaller RIA technologies are numbered. I hate to say it but I think technologies like OpenLaszlo and Curl will continue to gain traction in some niches but won’t see widespread adoption. Those companies will still bring revenue but Microsoft and Adobe are pushing too hard and putting too many features into their runtimes for the smaller companies to keep up.

I hate to say it but I think he’s right1.

Watching RIA trends play out is a bit like watching a Film Noir movie (DOA comes to mind), where the good guys don’t win and the bad guys prosper– but not because of any particular genius on their part, merely because of inexorable fate.

I observe this particular web-noir movie from the perspective of an extra actually on the screen. I play a guy cut down by a stray bullet for the crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. For I was manager of information architecture at Curl from April 2000 until being laid off along with most of the engineering staff in April 2002, and I was the sole doc guy on the OpenLaszlo project from April 2003 until being laid off November 2007 as Laszlo Systems gave a quarter of its staff the axe.

Below the fold, a few brief observations on the Web 2.0 drowning pool. Said observations are undoubtedly greatly corrupted by time and rationalization, so take them with whatever quantity of salt you like. I’m just recording them for my own record.

(1)Note: although Stewart now works for Adobe, he’s always been fair-minded about competing technologies. I don’t see him as a shill.

UPDATE: edited a few sentences for clarity & one new comment at the end, in response to private reactions to this entry.

Continue reading

The Consistency of Kevin Martin and the Faith Based FCC

So many people are mad at Kevin Martin these days, but for so many different things. He is either a “tool of industry” or “interfering with the market,” depending on whom you ask. And no one seems more confused about this than the ranking member of the House Commerce Committee, Joe Barton (R-Tx).
Mr. Barton understands all bout de-regulating. That’s what good Republicans do, after all. But he cannot understand why Mr. Martin is making such trouble for the “highly competitive” cable industry. As reported in this article:

“It’s been said that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the committee’s senior Republican. “If that’s the case, we could use a few hobgoblins at the FCC.”

Barton complained that Martin plans to ease the cross-ownership ban while doing little on other media ownership restrictions and is attempting to limit the number of subscribers one cable system can reach.

“It baffles me how the same FCC can appropriately eliminate regulations for some segments of industry because of increased competition, and at the very same time refuse to deregulate or even impose more regulation on segments of industry that are creating that very competition,” he said.

Democrats, of course, accept that Mr. Martin as a Republican should be a tool of industry. To the extent they wonder about any apparent inconsistencies, they attribute it to Martin being a shill for the telcos. This, of course, does not explain why Martin denied Verizon’s request for deregulation in six major cities or why Martin told Verizon to bugger off on modifying C Block. But if he isn’t an industry tool, why did he ram through the sale of Tribune and waive FCC regs so that Tribune could appeal in the DC Circuit and try to get the entire newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership ban repealed?

While armchair psychology and analysis based on shreds of available information is always a perilous past-time, I will argue below that Kevin Martin is actually extremely consistent in his decisions and his management style. I say this neither as a criticism or as praise. But pivotal to understanding the actions of the FCC and therefore to exercising my stock in trade of effective advocacy is trying to make some guess on what actually drives the current FCC Chairman in making decisions. Feld’s Second Law of Public Policy states: “Public policy is made by human beings.” (OK, I know Clausewitz said it first about war, but the principle still holds.) So understanding the human beings making policy is a critical step in influencing policy — even if we understand them poorly.

Besides, it’s fun.

Guesses below . . .

Continue reading

My letter to the Today Show about Coulter

Well, I don’t get telvision in my home, and I haven’t seen the Today Show in 25 years, so I don’t suppose I could threaten to stop watching. Anyway, here’s the letter I sent to the Today Show on the occasion of the latest outrage by Republican shill Ann Coulter. I haven’t gotten a response yet.

NBC and the Today Show’s producers know well by now that Ann Coulter is an inflamatory hate-monger. That is her schtick; that is what she does: she spews hate and mocks those who are in pain, especially those who are in pain as a result of service to the United States of America.

So now she has slandered the so-called “Jersey Girls”, the group of September 11 widows, who, thrust into a role that none of them sought, and at a great cost that Ms. Coulter is unable to comprehend, being herself neither wife nor mother, have dedicated themselves to the noble task of trying to save us the kind of pain that they have had to endure.

Will NBC apologize for inviting that wretched Coulter onto their show? Will they apologize for condoning and enabling slander?

Most importantly, will the Jersey Girls be given the chance to respond to this hateful, vile, obscene, America-hating, cruel lying harpie, Coulter?

NBC’s producers, and managment, and staff — including you, whoever you are reading this note– bear some measure of responsibility for Coulter’s remarks. Especially the hosts and the producers. Were this the first time that Coulter had done this kind of hateful stunt, you might be excused on the grounds that you didn’t know what a horribly deranged person she is. But you have no excuse now, in June, 2006. Everybody knows that shit-stirring is Coulter’s stock-in-trade. She is a shit-stirrer; that is what she does. If you invite a clown to perform on the the Today Show, you expect a clown’s performance. And if you invite Coulter, you expect coprophilia. Well, congratulations, you’ve made the Today Show into a bucket of shit. You can either accept this situation — who knows, you may love the aroma, may even love painting your face with faeces– or you can attempt to clean and disinfect and air out your studios and your reputation.

For NBC to begin to redeem itself, the Today Show must perforce allow the slandered persons a chance to respond. Under whatever studio conditions they stipulate.

That’s only step one. Other steps towards rehabilitation are evident to any persons possessed of common decency.

Frankly, I have a hard time imagining that the Today Show will ever again be, in my eyes, anything but a moneygrubber’s cesspool. I would be delighted to be proved wrong.


John Sundman
Vineyard Haven, MA