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Thursday, April 22, 2010
FCC ReBoot

 After 8 years of the ideological non-policy of deregulation and merger. Some look to the FCC to provide leadership in an economy that increasing was becoming about information, about distance communication of information, and for all that, about the internet. The FCC was poised to deliver that leadership.

 On 29 June 2009, about 5 months into the new administrations tenure President Obama appoints Julius Genakowski as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC is put back on a public interest orientation after eight to thirty years of only holding forth on corporate and business interests. The interests of consolidating markets FCC broadband plan: It must spur competition - Genakowski also signaled he would be going where the action is, the fastest growing segment of the telecommunications market; Going Mobile. This by making a priority of finding or reallocating spectrum to this growing industry.

 Where the mobile phone segment is reducible at end to burgeoning expansion. To an insatiable appetite for electromagnetic frequency band width, and to the abilities of mobile operating system developers to replicate everything consumers have been accustomed to in a PC squeezed out of an ARM chip. The greater part of the story is in the network more broadly considered. Open not only in its technical aspect,  but also its social architecture. Open in a practical manner to an infinity of potential uses and users. This is the ideal that calls itself net neutrality. It positioned against an internet that would become a partitioned conduits of vertically integrated tele-entertainment industries or similar institutional or state interests each struggling to identify degrade, and censure what is not it 80% say 'Net access fundamental right, split on regulation.

 The FCC is a one of the bureaucracies s led by a committee (commission) rather than a a secretary this lack of absolute hierarchy may leave it with a somewhat more diffuse public relations than other institutions. Aside from the Chair Julius Genakowski the other commission members are Michael J. Copps | Democratic Commissioner (nominated, renominated by G W Bush), Robert M. McDowell | Republican Commissioner, Mignon Clyburn |Democratic Commissioner, Meredith Attwell Baker | Republican Commissioner.

  Sometime last year my sister, a lawyer in the FCC's General Counsel's office mentioned they were in the middle of a comprehensive rewrite of their website Home - Something with a more modern and polished look, designed specifically with the public in mind. It would integrate all the functions and information warehousing of the former and rather sprawling site with a single front page that would showcase all the FCC public and telecommunication endeavors emphasizing the across the board effort to reform the FCC's presentation of their information. Is still an essentially static site heavily reliant on documents in pdf format particularly in the process and rulemakeing section. Which being a mostly universal cross platform format is still better than any other single format they might be in, but is an indication they are just sitting on the server and not in a content management system.

 A veritable spectrum of taskings and initiatives is related on that front page. The Spectrum DashBoard: a interactive graphic that covers and gives detailed information on the use and availability of the entire radio frequency spectrum for communications use. This segment of the site also breaks the available spectrum down by geographical location, license categories and a link-drop out to a list of technical reports. The FCC is trying to develop a consolidated licensing system with a interactive web interface. Every Radio every TV station has to get and periodically renew their charter license. And this must be handled in way that does not devolve in to rent seeking.

One of the more interesting endeavors is the Future of Media. Not only news -- journalism as it increasingly moves from older forms: newspapers, radio, and TV onto the internet and mobile nets. Also all government and other pertinent information necessary to the citizenry of an informed democracy as it too, becomes critically reliant on the internet.

 The biggest effort the FCC is collecting behind is their National Broadband Plan. The showcase of what they mean to the nation and the future National Broadband Plan - Executive Summary. The new broadband plan came from a mandate contained within the stimulus package bill of 2009. It proposed to bring the United States up to parity with other first world nations. In breadth and depth of broadband ubiquity so that no population or geographic segment is left out of the information and educational advantages of the internet. In speed so that the advantages of distance learning and medical (and other technological use of a non-latent and data-rich internet can be realized. Implicit in this claim of charge is that the US was falling behind in telecommunications with its peers. The previous year the FCC paid close attention to a major study of American broadband compared against the rest of the world by Harvard's Berkman Center, and had largely adopted their view and recommendations as the precursor for policy. In April of 2009 the FCC issued a Notice of Inquiry and were underway on a year long odyssey of hearings and workshops. This culminated in the release of the National Broadband Plan in March of this year. An overtly ambitious mapping of networked packet communications in the twenty-first century. Area's of potential use, infrastructure needed, the rapidity of data transfer, the extensively and the latency. Not only raw claimed speed, but the transparent two way communication needed for realtime inter-activity

 The plan was under attack before it was even released, for various reason. Too long, too vagueFCC Broadband Plan: A Mile Wide and Three Inches Deep | Save the Internet   (more of a plan for a plan), a nightmare mystery house of confusion as Thomas Tauke, former congressman and now Verizon PR and Policy VP terms it Verizon: FCC is a haunted house and can't regulate the 'Net . Part of this reaction was likely due to perceived regulatory overreach. There seemed to be just too many things the FCC wanted to have something say about. Their their short list of long term goals though is remarkably succinct:

  • Goal No.  1: At least 100 million U.S. homes should have affordable access to actual download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and actual upload speeds of at least 50 megabits per second.
  • Goal No.  3: Every American should have affordable access to robust broadband service, and the means and skills to subscribe if they so choose.
  • Goal No. 4: Every American community should have affordable access to at least 1 gigabit per second broadband service to anchor institutions such as schools, hospitals and government buildings.
  • Goal No.  5: To ensure the safety of the American people, every first responder should have access to a nationwide, wireless, interoperable broadband public safety network.

were more specific concerns as well. Electromagnetic spectrum plays a critically central role in this. The telecomm companies were content when they thought bandwidth for mobile came with no strings attached. This is something only the federal government and a public interest perspective could have provided for them,it is considered to be a scarce resource, or at least finite. Some of the most attractive spectrum for mobile telecommunication networks -- in terms of wavelengths that propagate through human environments well and are easy to generate with low power devices -- have already been distributed to radio and television. The telecommunication companies want that spectrum. At the least they need the federal government's acquiescence in this. As a practical matter they want the FCC to facilitate this transition.. They are not so happy now that they realize there will be some degree of oversight with it, now are back babbling that they have enough bandwidth for now -- no commissioning needed. The fact that this FCC is signaling that it intends to rule[make] in the public's interest will only mark them as identity traitors to those whose expectations (from its inception and the FRC before that) are that the FCC will make rules and policy only in utter accommodation to the industries interest.

 The one interesting point made by a Verizon executive in their new ongoing narrative that broad band in the US is just fine -- that the large number of cell phones and plans in European Union may merely represent EU'ers owning two or three cell phones apiece for use in different continental jurisdictions. This only partially bears on the point he is trying to disprove. What it does prove is that Europeans want mobile broadband and get it. A level of service American Telecoms neither foster nor deliver. And won't until it suits them and the monopoly / coordinating duopoly they desire is prepared and paying out. Much of this PR campaign is just dissembling by Verizon's leadership Fact-checking Verizon's CEO on US broadband awesomeness. Talking from the heart of a controlled industry sector, they speak of great achievements and choice. But my dsl broadband isn't. Its only a few scant multiples above dial-up, and not what they advertised, not anything they want me to know about. It was a tool off the Reboot site that showed this Consumer Broadband Test .

 The enormous range of initiatives and areas outlined in the National Broadband plan from a to z, and even containing opinions about copyright leave it open to charges from friend and foe alike that the FCC is chasing relevance with this plan. The FCC seems however to regard this plan -- nearly 400 pages -- as a simple blueprint or rough draft. A sketch of the horizon over which the goal lies, ever in progress.

 At around this point the FCC's net neutrality concepts hit the brick wall of Comcast v. FCC decision from the 3rd circuit court of appeals Court rules for Comcast over FCC in 'net neutrality' case . This not only disallowed a FCC action against Comcast for traffic shaping and prioritization practices Court Favors Comcast in F.C.C. 'Net Neutrality' Ruling - . It explicitly rejected the regulatory grounds used to bring Comcast to court in the first place. Leaving in doubt the ability of FCC foster growth and direction of the Internet at all. Killing outright the idea of little and big net neutrality (say the difference between ensuring enough genuine competition to ensure to no one entity gains the power to say what and how information travels, and on the other hand setting up an intrusive policing regime to examine enforce an ossifying definition of neutral behavior. There was a certain glee in the destruction of FCC's power to regulate the web. Comments of various Lobbyist: "While in the short run it's clearly a reaffirmation of status quo, which is good news, it raises uncertainty in terms of a regulatory or legislative response," Comcast ruling raises questions on FCC regulation,  and a congressmen from Nebraska: "You've been handed your hat in your hand in the Comcast case... [and] you can't go to Title II, it'd be like remaking the world." Making ISPs common carriers: just a simple "error correction". However as people thought about this, the continued reliance on previous administrations weak laissez faire regulatory precepts seemed a self-imposed prison. As the presiding judge in the case, Judge Tatel, said "Policy statements are just that -- they are not delegations of regulatory authority". That patchwork approach was the hallmark of the previous two chairs Powell and Martin.

 The impetus to do something stems from the transparent aim of ISP's intrusive traffic examination. Ostensibly network traffic management, it is more likely an anti-competitive practice: to disturb de-priviledge or break prevent traffic which carries something which they believe is a potential profit stream or properly belonging to them or a partner. How Comcast regards Hulu and YouTube (more to the real point and beyond how they claim to feel about BitTorrent activity). And how Verizon and ATT feel about voip as well. There is latent danger as well is the further potential for its use in social control. An extension of the spirit of Anti-competitive practice into the realm of ideas: ideology and suppression of dissent. The power and ability would be there. Backing up to look at this at a remove this is no society, culture or regime -- and the power centers of all cultures form a regime -- where the elites members truly want transparency, where the electorate is fully engaged and informed. They wanted the people to possess only practical knowledge. To participate only in a bounded and positive discourse on the corporate economy and state liberty.

 As the FCC judges what to do now there are two directions they could jump  Faster Forward - Court cuts FCC's net-neutrality power; now what?. To continue their major initiatives they need a stronger regulatory footing. They may pursue a cooperative approach: get congress to give up new authority. Really here it would essentially be a strong reaffirmation of the FCCs native administrative powers. The exercise of pushing a bill through congress would establish a baseline of consensus at the least. The other possibility is to unitarily declare the internet -- the behavior of ISPs in particularly within title II regulatory category. Title II authority allows the FCC to enforce common carrier rules. Much of the structure of these title ii powers were carried over from FTC regulations for trains, which in turn were based on rules for river traffic and bridges before that. Essentially they say that the interest of the common good desire that a public carrier treats everyone the same in terms of service given. If you're running a ferry: one person boarding gets treated like the next. The Ancillary powers of title I did not convince the 3rd circuit court of appeals to forbear comcast's network network management despite the governments deep suspicion of the government and others of the use and practice of deep packet inspection.  We could all pretend the internet isn't communication. as the industries would rather. Leaving it an industry unregulated. History has emphatically not demonstrated that leads always to the best of all possible ends. It is the express desire of some to show that if that if the internet can exist unregulated, it demonstrates that all telecom ought be unregulated. that rather than an extension of Title they argue for title ii elimination.  Law professor Tim Wu believes, with others, that administratively reclaiming and reasserting the only recently cast aside title II would not be that radical a move Why net neutrality isn't dead. - By Tim Wu - Slate Magazine .

 To regulate or not to be that is the question. The FCC (Chairman Genakowski) seemed on the verge of doing nothing just nothing as of last Monday. FCC Chairman Genachowski expected to leave broadband services deregulated.  Which lead some in the cable/telecomm industry to wax forth on his deregulatory wisdom Randolph Mays "Wagon Train" Metaphor Is it high noon for net neutrality at the FCC?:. Possibly spurred to action by letters from two leading congress Genokowski partially switched direction in midweek announcing a surprise embrace of title II regulatory powers. What he termed as a third way "light touch" oversight rather than full regulation Virgin Queen meets broadband: a third way for net neutrality. It involved distinction between traffic in the last mile and in earlier points of the process. This might be an attempt to tease out discriminatory intent in seeking knowledge of the type or identity of a transmitted object. Prioritizing traffic of the trunk lines of a network, against degrading service to an end user. The ISP's may be contemplating a long term campaign of legal battle to protect their definition of the internet ISPs sound ready to sue over FCC's "third way". They will try to convince the relevant authorities to curb  themselves, by tying themselves to weak regulatory regimes or to ones that are over-reaching enough that they will be struck down by the current Federal courts. The FCC's primary aim is likely to not provoke or attract undue litigation.

 There is a role semantics is playing in all this as well. Creating a distinction between a communication medium and information medium, a barely tenable artificial construct to enable a different regulatory regime between telephone and television -- particularly cable television. In a era of broadband internet -- non latent bilateral movement of information this is a meaning less distinction and a sign of obfuscation.

 Content providers and their ISP Partner/divisions  would like to simply create another consumption supply channel. Balkanized owned and controlled. The internet that would be a medium of communication between the people and their government, a medium for education -- replicating classroom instruction intensively or health care matters not only in the realm of medical records, real time medical diagnostics as well. Even the extension of broadband beyond the wealthy prime markets of the nation. This is a distinct afterthought for the telecommunication industry if it is even a thought at all.

11:55:38 PM    comment [];trackback [];

Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Positively Positronic Street

  I had the thought of writing a post about the FCC's new redesigned website "FCC Reboot". There is a lot going on there, though. There is a lot going on with the FCC in general. Many articles to read. I find myself deep in the weeds. So I decided to cast about for something else to put up here in the meantime. The moral equivalent of listening to musak while your phone call is on hold.

 For many years, probably thirty-five or more a short measure of a song has rattled about my consciousness. Which I've never been able to place. I suspect I have several similar half-remembered things, but when they are not with you it's impossible to recall and deal with them. This one was a song played on a Boston area radio station in the mid Seventies perhaps in conjunction with an interview of the band. I was in middle school at the time most likely. I don't recall understanding any part of this song at the time. Every so often ever since, I will say what lines I remember to others, attempting the snippet of melody also. Both of which have dissipated over time. Generally this only causes people to back away from me slowly in a straight line keeping their eyes on me with side glances towards the exits. As they tell me in a calm and even voice that I might be imagining the whole thing. At least once or twice in the modern "internet" era I've typed what I recalled into a search engine and got no result.

 The other day while I was eating lunch the song came back to me. I thought to myself "if I can keep humming this line until I get back to my desk (because it comes and goes) I can search for this song again. What I remembered was: "Deep in the darkest hour of a very heavy night the earth men did confront me and I was weak with fright."  Perhaps this was the problem because the line actually reads:

"Deep in the darkest hour of a very heavy week three earth men did confront me, and I could hardly speak. They met me in a hurry and they left me tired and sore, and when I'm fit for wishing I hope they'll come no more. When I'm wishing I'll hope they'll come no more...They showed me 19 terrors and each one struck my soul. They threw me 13 questions each one an endless hole. 13 questions each an endless hole ..."

 Revealed now, by the ever-increasing density of positronic tubes within the internet, it proved to be the band Seatrain Seatrain (band) - Wikipedia and their song "13 Questions". The song was actually a minor hit when it came out. I must not have been asking the right people about it all these years. This live video of the band at a festival in Toronto circa 1971 is a lovely lovely thing YouTube - Seatrain 13 Questions.

The radio piece I heard was probably around the time of their 1973 album Marblehead Messenger at a point when the band was located in Massachusetts. No radio in our house was ever tuned to a rock and roll station until my older sister was in high school. The Wikipedia page for the band claims that George Martin (Sir George "abbey road" Martin) produced two of their albums including the one "13 Questions" is on. The surviving members of the band - at least Richard Greene and Peter Rowan - are still active musicians. Rowan I believe is the bearded shirtless guitar player in the Toronto YouTube video, Greene the fiddle player. Singing is the keyboardist Lloyd Baskin. Looking through the discography I see Rowan's earlier band, Earth Opera, had a song called "the Red Sox are winning" Clearly a right-thinking kind of person.  

 Mystery solved; the moon is now, at long last, hung properly "like a Chinese ball". 

11:30:37 PM    comment [];trackback [];

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