Monday, June 21, 2010

Thanks be to Comcast

An envoy from Pakistan was in Washington, DC last Thursday at the Federal Communications Commission public meeting to observe U.S. democracy in action. The cautionary tale in American governance to take back to the old country is big and bulky, but the carry-on message is simple: watch out what you wish for.

Once upon a time the connection to the Internet was classified by the FCC as an “information service” under Title 1 of the Telecommunications Act, and everyone agreed to an Internet Policy Statement that protected consumers and ensured (so we thought) open access to content and applications of our choice.

Comcast managed its network in a way that blocked our ability to access certain lawful content and use certain lawful applications. Public Interest groups filed a complaint. The FCC said Comcast violated federal policy. Comcast adopted a new system of bandwidth management. The FCC issued an order telling Comcast to disclose the specifics of its new approach. Comcast complied with the order.

End of story, right?

No, instead Comcast sued the FCC - which led to the now infamous Comcast court decision stating the FCC does not have authority to regulate Internet service providers’ network management under Title 1.

(How do you translate “open a can of worms” in Punjabi, anyway?)

So the FCC announced it will open a proceeding to classify Internet connectivity under Title II in order to expand broadband, protect an open Internet and foster competition. It held its standing-room only meeting in Washington. Commissioners gave passionate speeches and produced a whopping 48 page Notice of Inquiry with 116 paragraphs filled with hundreds of questions that interested parties can comment on before August 12, 2010.

One glaring omission in this tome of questions: Comcast, what in God’s name were you thinking when you sued the FCC?

Business hates uncertainty we are told. Uncertainty chills investment. Everyone knows this, and that litigation in federal court is a crap-shoot where campaign contributions don’t dictate outcomes. “Opening a proceeding creates so much regulatory uncertainty that it harms incentives for investment in broadband infrastructure and makes providers and investors alike think twice about moving forward with network investments under this dark regulatory cloud,” according to Commissioner Baker.

The Comcast decision has led to the FCC proceeding with no end or next step in sight, and gives certain members of Congress one more opportunity to bicker, preen and strut. Meanwhile convoys of lobbyists will get even fatter by the second when they “comment” ad nauseam the daylight out of the time clock.

One thing is for certain. We don’t know what is going to happen at the FCC or in Congress. We do know who to thank, however.

Monday, June 14, 2010

4G government, or a trap for the wary?

While members of Congress, the FCC and various public interest groups scurry around frantically trying to find the way to network neutrality following the Comcast decision, Google, Verizon and other leading broadband and high-tech companies have declared independence from the U.S. Government.

The Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group, or "BITAG," includes unelected representatives from AT&T, Cisco Systems, Comcast, DISH Network, Echostar, Google, Intel, Level 3 Communications, Microsoft, Time Warner and Verizon. These powerful dignataries' stated intent is to find common ground with respect to an open Internet, and create a high-tech bureaucracy that's way cooler than the crazy sausage-making we fondly refer to as democracy.

The BITAG will create policies, resolve disputes, issue advisory opinions, establish best practices and encourage staff from federal agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission, Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice to "observe." Look but don't touch, says the big BITAG.

Ironically these masters of the cyber-sphere want to copy the advertising industry's practice of self-regulation. Most ad agencies, however, would not choose a name like "BITAG" that means "trap" in Filipino.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Let's all roll up our sleeves and protect the Internet

In a recent letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Maine Republican Senator Olympia Snowe invites her colleagues in Congress, the FCC, industry and public advocacy groups to “roll up our sleeves and update existing laws” that pertain to the Internet.

Snowe, a self-described “long-time champion of network neutrality,” rebukes the “hyperbole and rhetoric from both sides” of the issue since the FCC announced its proposal to reclassify broadband under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. She says we must resist the temptation to try and fit emerging technology and the wonders of the 21st century communications network in to the stilted and aging telephony laws of the past.

"Just as technologies, networks, and services have dramatically evolved over the past decade, so too must our policy and regulation--to better reflect the changes in the landscape and ensure our continued competitiveness in the global digital economy.”

As a member of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, and one of few GOP backers of network neutrality, Snowe is seeking what she calls the only true “middle ground.” Described at this point as a “new and appropriate framework” that will include rules to protect consumers and prohibit anticompetitive practices, Snowe also wants to ensure broadband providers have the flexibility to effectively manage their networks and ensure quality of service to all customers.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Nobody's Perfect

Nagging is really quite easy when you live with teenagers. Effortless, in fact. Whether it's asking them to turn off screens after 6 or 7 hours, stop throwing the basketball against the white painted living room walls, or simply pointing out that the pile of Stridex Acne pads on the bathroom floor is pretty good evidence they missed the trash can, the response is the same. Stop nagging me.

Excellence at nagging apparently causes utter and complete ignorance of professional sports. You are not capable of filling out a bracket for March Madness, and clearly not a suitable candidate for a birthday Celtics game. Nagging and sports illiteracy pretty much sum things up for you these days, except for the little bit of weirdness that has also set in. Demanding hugs in exchange for meals is weird. Getting misty when they dress up for a dance or are found snuggling with the dog is weird. Sending them text messages just to say you miss them is really weird. 

It's been described as the worst call in baseball in the last 25 years when with two outs in the ninth inning Detroit, Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga almost threw a perfect game but the first-base umpire, Jim Joyce, called the runner safe at first base. But he wasn't really safe. It was a mistake and Joyce apologized. Galarraga accepted the apology.

You think this is nice. You point out (or nag, rather) that sportsmanship is about more than winning. You predict good things will come to both pitcher and umpire because of their actions. You appreciate at last athletic role models worthy of the money and status they garner. You are so weird.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Welling Up About Oil

President Obama is being lambasted about his lack of emotion, or more interesting, his inability to show emotion about the BP oil spill. Maureen Dowd of the New York Times goes on and on about it, and others in the so-called "main stream" media are also a little too emotional about whether Obama is sufficiently emotional. Newsweek, David Broder and the blogosphere continue to analyze whether the president is too hot or too cold.

Most women are used to being dismissed occasionally as "too emotional" about something or other. No matter who delivers the message, it burns. Temper tantrums are celebrated when BMOC's on the field or in the boardroom do something ordinary, but chicks shedding a few tears or sporting a red face is, well, embarrassing. 

Double standards are standards, though, and Mr. Obama might fail his first test.
Just how should a president respond to the worst environmental disaster this generation has ever faced? What is the appropriate tone to take with a multinational corporation who is simultaneously responsible for the catastrophe and the fix? Do you care whether your president can show emotion, or do you want a caring president to show he can lead to the solution of this horrific problem?

When Hillary Clinton choked up in New Hampshire during the presidential primary in 2008 and had her emotional moment, pundits and psychiatrists analyzed and deconstructed every word and all three tears that formed puddles in her eyes as if she had spoken in Russian tongues. It was a transformative moment - for the media.

This cry baby's advice to the president: let a few tears flow for the reporters, and then get back to plugging that damn hole for the rest of us.