Men After My Own Heart…

No, I’m not talking about the cadre of Pentagon Shills currently degrading the cover of the NY Times. I’m referring to the brave men and women who got up at 5 am here in Los Angeles, dropped all party affiliations and paddled out into the unseasonably cold waters to surf mediocre waves. It takes a certain kind of person to forgo the warm backsides of their beloved bedfellows, load up cars, stand naked on a pre-dawn beach, pull on stinking neoprene and paddle out into frigid waters which offer only the smallest of waves.

What kind of person, you might ask?

Well, I’ll start with my carload and make it quick- It was me, Slatty, and Sam. Sam lives here and is an avid surfer. Avid in a stealth way. I get emails from Sam at all hours, reporting from breaks north and south. Most missives are brief, “Standing on a pier in Cambria staring at huge waves”. An actor and musician from way back, Sam took to the water in earnest about 4 years ago and has attacked surfing with a kind of masochistic fervor. Sam charges waves (that’s a surfing term for one who surfs fearlessly). He’s got more broken eardrums than a team of deepwater divers and last year he broke his nose…falling on water. This is charging. He shortly thereafter booked a coveted role on a new HBO series, so he may be onto something. As for Slatty, he’s that same character from the last entry, one of my oldest, separated-at-birth friends, who has a Boston Irishman’s gift for comedic flaying and a freshly born addiction to surfing that has yielded terrifying results. He rarely leaves the water when he has the chance. Couple this with the fact that he lives with his family in New York City and only gets out to LA for work (again, an actor. Brilliant, ubiquitous, always gets, “Where do I know you from?” as he walks down the sidewalk), and you see how we came to be up at 6 am, driving 40 miles north when we should have been sleeping. To Slatty’s credit, he pulled up with a full tray of coffees and muffins.

Cut to cold water and a black, neoprene-skinned crowd of surfers bobbing across a 300 yard stretch of 54 degree water: You could be a doctor, you could be homeless window cleaner, you could be a chicken-hawk senator, smirking studio-head or a righteous lefty-campaign volunteer, but if you’re out there when you could be in bed, sipping your coffee, you’re a little bit closer to hearing the big bad rhythm of a much larger beast. And even if those waves are so small you have to paddle like a fool to slide along on a 6 inch face, that wave got it’s start somewhere far, far away and breaks upon your shore like a foreign messenger singing a universal song. And some will surf upon these messages like pros and some will chatter as the cold ebbs through their feet and some will sit like Buddha, big and patient looking out to sea, but all will paddle in eventually. And I feel sagely certain that that news of middle-aged Generals doing Halliburton’s duty, or Democratic candidate’s miserable dividing of allies will all be put in it’s place by the unifying message- that is neither simple nor small- delivered by a cold sea on a Sunday morning.

The FCC's New Broadband Data Gathering: Even the Deregulators Are Losing Patience.

It is a delightful bit of timing that this piece on European broadband comes the same day the FCC voted to amend its broadband data collection for the annual “State of the Broadband” Report. I’d say it was a happy coincidence, except that there are so many articles about how Europe is kicking our broadband bottom these days that the odds were good someone would publish something contrasting the growing penetration (and associated economic benefits) in Europe with the anemic growth in the U.S.

Which highlights the key take away from the FCC’s decision to ramp up data gathering and propose looking at pricing. Even the Republicans in Washington are starting to lose patience. I will provide analysis of the substance (as far as we can tell before an order is published) in a later post, but this point is sufficient important it bears posting on its own.

You will find no shortage of telco/cable shills or hardcore deregulators willing to sing the happy happy joy joy song over our current “wildly competitive” broadband market, or explain why these international rankings are misleading, irrelevant, or just plain wrong, the song no longer gets applause and the excuses are wearing thin. All five FCC Commissioners went to the Consumer Electronics Show this year. They’ve gone on tours of Silicon Valley, talked with venture capitalists and start ups, traveled around Europe and Asia, and — most importantly — are not stupid. In 2005, the industry promised big things if the FCC would only deregulate them and set them free. It’s now 2008. In that time, we have seen a parade of other countries streak by us while we plod along and fall increasingly far behind.

Do not let the last minute squabbling between the Commissioners about the details of the Report and upgraded standards fool you. While the Democrats would definitely like to see more done to get at real data, and while McDowell still frets that the cost of collecting data outweighs the benefits and that using labels for speed tiers is too subjective, everyone wants to find out what the real state of broadband deployment is and how we are going to make it available and affordable for everyone. We’re done with happy songs, the FCC is signaling. If industry wants to avoid the kind of massive reregulation the FCC and Congress would bring to bear under a Democratic administration, you need to start getting it in gear and providing real data. Whether industry will take the hint, or whether it will still find it preferable to remain in a state of denial, still remains to be seen.

Stay tuned . . . .

Cable Operators Shocked…Shocked I Tell You…about Verizon Marketing Practices.

I may occasionally (O.K., more than occasionally) have some snarky things to say about the free market philosophies of my opposite numbers at places like CATO and Progress & Freedom Foundation. But what distinguishes them in my mind from industry shills and sock puppets is their ideological integrity. When they want everything deregulated, they really mean it. Not so the industry and its true sock puppets, who can spin on an ideological dime without the least regard for even the vaguest notions of consistency with their previous statements.

Case in point, this FCC complaint by the cable companies against Verizon for “retention marketing.” Mind you, these are the same folks that complain whenever the FCC even thinks about interfering with the “vibrant and competitive telecommunications market,” and who protest that enforcing the laws passed by Congress to require interoperable set top boxes and set a numeric limit on the number of subscribers they can have constitutes a “vendetta.” But, as usual, consistency is not exactly a strong point for industry. As I continually remind folks, industry does what is best for its bottom line, period. And here, it means using the big bad evil FCC to slap the telcos around.

Which brings me to the point I expound upon below. Too often, the industry gets to win by making this a fight about process and “level playing field” and confusing the issue. But what we really need to care about is what our actual policy IS. If we want to encourage competition because we prefer it to regulation of monopolies, then we damn well better make sure competition actually happens, which means subjecting the incumbents with market power (at least initially) to a very different set of regulations than the new entrants. For many years after the break up of AT&T, the FCC subjected AT&T to a set of regulations designed to keep it from using its position as the dominant long-distance carrier to prevent the new entrants like MCI and Sprint from attracting customers. The FCC did not worry if that was “fair” to AT&T to have different rules that prevented exercise of market power by a dominant firm. It said “hey, we want competition! That’s about economic policy, not about being fair.”

Mind you, I don’t expect my opposite numbers to agree. But they will at least have the virtue of consistency.

More below . . . .

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