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Crawford Has a Dream

At the Free Press annual conference in Denver today, the shameless Susan Crawford delivered one the most amazing speeches in the history of American tech policy, comparing herself to Martin Luther King, Jr. and demanding that President Obama appoint her to head the FCC.  Either one of these claims would be remarkable in its own right, but the combination of the two was simply breathtaking in its arrogance and narcissism. It hardly needs explaining that it’s an insult to the memory of Doctor King to compare him to a self-interested job seeker whose grasp of the subject matter required of the job she seeks ranges somewhere from slim to none, and whose respect for the facts of history is virtually non-existent.

Broadband, the Internet, telecom, media censorship and the other issues within the jurisdiction of the FCC are certainly important issues, and if they weren’t, organizations like ITIF and a host of others would not devote the time and trouble it takes to conduct painstaking research into the facts that define them. But to compare these issues to the civil rights movement is to trivialize the suffering brought on people

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Britain in America’s Rear View Mirror

Ofcom, the UK’s FCC, has published a broadband scorecard comparing Britain’s broadband networks to those of the other large European economies: France, Germany, Spain, and Italy. The report compares broadband deployment, subscription, use, and price in the five European nations that are most comparable and offers limited but interesting insight on performance.

The Brits are taking some stick from European critics who wanted Ofcom to produce a more comprehensive ranking against the entire EU-27 and especially speed merchants Latvia, Netherlands, Bulgaria, Romania, and Sweden. In Ofcom’s defense, the report does include an appendix that provides data on the rest of the EU.

The report is especially interesting as it comes on the heels of our report, The Whole Picture: Where America’s Broadband Networks Really Stand, on the ranking of U. S. broadband versus other nations, especially those in the EU and the OECD.

The UK is the only nation other than the U. S. to publish SamKnows data on broadband speed, so the limited data it has on performance is directly relevant for us. As readers of our report will know, there are many methods of measuring broadband speed,

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Infographic showing broadband choices in the US

Reacting to the Rankings

Ars Technica is the first blog to publish a point-by-point review of our report on America’s standing in the international broadband rankings, so we congratulate them on their timeliness if not their accuracy.  This is to answer questions they raised about sources and to suggest a better way to analyze the broadband problem than the one they offer.

Our figures on the pricing of entry-level plans come from the survey conducted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU,) “Measuring the Information Society 2011.” In 2008 and 2010, ITU collected responses from 165 nations that place the U. S. 2nd in 2008 and 4th in 2010 in low prices for entry-level broadband plans as a percentage of average income. This price point is important because it shows how low the barrier is for getting poor kids online (without exposing them to fast food.) We’re not the first to highlight America’s low prices for basic service; Yochai Benkler’s Berkman Center report “Next Generation Connectivity,” accepts that the U. S. has low prices for basic service as well. It’s not a controversial finding in the research community, even

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An Inconsistent Mandate

Would you rather see bad policy applied uniformly or selectively? That’s the question raised by a letter from four House Democrats to the FCC proposing a “single technology mandate” for some cell networks but not for others.

We’ve previously written and filed FCC comments on cell phone mandates in the 700 MHz band, explaining the reasons that the Verizon and AT&T branded iPhones and Androids aren’t fully interoperable; we’ve also suggested things the FCC can do to increase the range of handset choices for subscribers to small, rural cell companies. Technology mandates amount to under-the-table subsidies paid by the customers of big cellular companies and received by the customers of smaller ones and therefore aren’t desirable as they simply rob Peter to pay Paul.

Adding support for additional bands and channels in a cell phone adds to the recurring cost of hardware in the form of additional circuits and antennas, increases power consumption, increases size and weight, and exposes the phone to more interference, especially from TV channel 51. If there were a regulatory requirement for interoperability among all phones sold by all carriers, consumers would not only pay

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Captive Policy

Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age, Susan Crawford’s long-awaited tome on the Comcast/NBC merger, will be officially released tomorrow in what may be the publishing industry’s biggest anticlimax of the year. The book has an engaging, novelistic style, offering a gritty description of the atmosphere and the players at a Senate Antitrust Subcommittee hearing on the merger in early 2010, but the gripping drama of the Congressional hearing doesn’t excuse Crawford’s shallow analysis of its subject matter.

Beyond the lively exposition of the hearing, the book relies on a series of anecdotes and strained historical analogies – and precious little hard data – to make a case for Crawford’s pet policy prescription, “broadband unbundling.” Unbundling would be a new status quo, reducing broadband service providers to the smallest possible role in communications services, that of a wiring plant maintainer lacking the power to move a single bit on its own. This would put both the financial and the technical bases of broadband in a severe bind, of course. Experiments with unbundling have shown that it can reduce consumer prices only temporarily,

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Authoritarians Win, Internet Loses in Dubai

efore Thanksgiving, we released a report on the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai, warning that some bad things were likely to happen at this obscure confab of the 193 nation ITU. We were particularly worried about four things:

  1. Attempts to impose international interconnection fees, similar to PSTN practice.
  2. Attempts to expand censorship and surveillance in autocratic states
  3. China's desire to convert ITU-T “Recommendations,” which are voluntary technical standards today, into mandatory regulations.
  4. Russia's desire to transfer the management of Internet addresses and assigned names  and numbers from ICANN to the ITU.
Most other people were worried about the outcome of WCIT, but a few were full of sunshine and roses all along: ... Read the rest

Cold Dead Hands

Sparks Will Fly at Spectrum Incentive Auctions Hearing

Tomorrow the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing with all five FCC commissioners to examine the upcoming spectrum incentive auction. The committee memo on the hearing says the two main issues to be examined are “unlicensed spectrum and bidder eligibility,” two areas of perpetual friction between the Committee’s Republican leadership and the Democratic majority at the FCC. The auction was authorized by the 2012 Public Safety and Spectrum Act, so the Commission is required to abide by its conditions, and the Committee isn’t at all convinced that the FCC has its heart in the right place.

The two key issues are among the most contentious issues in U. S. spectrum policy because they deal with the first order allocation of spectrum in the civilian sector between free, unlicensed uses and fee-based, licensed ones on the one hand, and limits on licensed spectrum holdings on the other. So the structure of the auction will determine how much of the spectrum relinquished by TV broadcasters will go to licensed uses and who can buy the licenses.

The FCC is under pressure to increase allocations for unlicensed beyond the dictates

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The Charlatan’s Cartels

OK, this is almost too easy to bother with, but I can’t help myself. Last week a former journalist with a book to sell wrote an Op-Ed for the New York Times touting the “woe is us, our network sucks” premise of said book. Because it neatly encapsulates the nonsensical thinking of so many people, it’s worth comparing it to the facts to see just how poorly it stacks up. So in the finest traditions of blogging, here we go with a “fisking” of David Cay Johnston’s “Bad Connections” and his related book,”The Fine Print: How Big companies Use “Plain English” to Rob You Blind,” not to be confused with his previous classic, “Temples of Chance: How America Inc. Bought Out Murder Inc. to Win Control of the Casino Business” on the mafia.

He begins his New York Times Op-Ed with the following pearl:

SINCE 1974, when the Justice Department sued to break up the Ma Bell phone monopoly, Americans have been told that competition in telecommunications would produce innovation, better service and lower prices.

What we’ve witnessed instead is low-quality service and prices

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WCIT Moves Slowly

In case you’re an ITU-watcher and you haven’t seen my report on the World Conference on International Telecommunications (currently running in Dubai until the 14th,) it’s here. For  the rest, here’s the background:

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU,) formerly known as the International Telegraph Union, is an agency of the United Nations responsible for regulating global telecommunications. Primarily, it manages the global use of the telephone network, harmonizes radio frequency spectrum assignments, and establishes worldwide telecommunications standards and interconnection practices. At its upcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai from December 3 – 14, ITU will consider a number of proposals that would expand the scope of its power to Internet regulation, interconnection, and governance as well as to the information technology (IT) sector generally.

These proposals, if adopted in full, would transform ITU from an international telecommunications sector regulator to an “Information Technology and Communications (ICT) regulator,” vastly expanding its reach. The mechanism for this expansion is amendment of the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs,) treaties that specify the ITU’s duties and the common agreements among its 193 member states.

Dr. Hamadoun I. Touré, Secretary-General of

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Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in Summit, New Jersey. Broken utility pole.

Restoring Networks After Sandy

One of the unfortunate consequences of events like the Northeast “Frankenstorm” is the speed with which they’re exploited for various kinds of gain. When food and water are short, vendors show up on street corners selling goods at exorbitant prices, looters rob stores of computers and that sort of thing. After the fact, many people with a policy ax of some sort will point to various things that happened as examples of tragedies and inconveniences that could have been avoided if only they’d had their way in the policy process. The National Association of Broadcasters jumped on Frankenstorm with a rather thin argument to the effect that the storm proves their networks are great for communication, despite their one-way nature. Another example of this phenomenon that struck me as particularly odd was a blog post written by Harold Feld on Wetmachine before the storm had even hit: If your cell tower loses power, be sure to thank CTIA and the D.C. Circuit. Feld argues that the FCC needs broad Title I authority over Title III cellular networks to keep them running after hurricanes strike:

As we hunker down to

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