Sidecut Reports is In the House in Aspen — Policy, Policy, and Spectrum!

August 21, 2011

ASPEN, Colo. — Four years? Has it really been FOUR YEARS since we’ve been here in Aspen to talk telecom?

Apparently so, since our last communique from this posh mountain resort town, when we tracked down then-Google CEO Eric Schmidt, has a date of 2007. How time flies. But thanks to our good friends at Light Reading, Sidecut Reports is back in Aspen to cover the traditional summertime telecom policy event, now run by the Technology Policy Institute since the Progress and Freedom Foundation is no more. But it’s a heavyweight lineup this year — two FCC commissioners, one former FCC chairman, policy uber-guy Blair Levin, Verizon’s Tom Tauke, our old pal Joe Waz (ex-Comcast), PayPal founder Peter Theil — the list goes on and on. And Harold Feld is in the house to start fires and raise ruckus! We can’t wait.

While you will have to tune in to Light Reading for what we hope will be exhaustive old-school event coverage (yes that means we are ready to throw down on anyone else here with a media badge), you can always come back here to Sidecut Reports for the TPI Aspen after-party, where we’ll toss in some rumors, innuendos and people-watching, like seeing ace C/Net tech/policy writer Declan McCullagh on our flight out of SFO today.

I’ll bet Declan flew into Aspen. Sidecut went the land route, renting a car and going overland through Vail and Glenwood Springs to this haven of skiing and music and just wonderful folks. There are lots of nice restaurants here too but our late-night meal tonight is peanut butter sandwiches and Mama’s Little Yella Pils in a can. Peanut butter because I can’t eat it at home due to a nut allergy in the house; and cold beer in a can because that is how I roll.

Check back tomorrow night for another Aspen update.


The Great Spectrum Hunt: Why it’s Harder Than You Think

January 7, 2011

LAS VEGAS — Just some quick thoughts on a bunch of wireless spectrum talk that surfaced today at CES; while I will try to formulate some longer thought pieces on this subject I know that if I let it sit over the weekend it might never get done. So before Virgin whisks me back home some thoughts, reactions and instant-analysis from some policy panels I attended today at CES.

EVERYONE WANTS MORE SPECTRUM. BUT WHERE YA GONNA GET IT?. It would be hard to find anyone to disagree with FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, who reiterated his earlier claims of a “looming spectrum crisis” in this country’s wireless broadband marketplace. But even as Genachowski and CEA CEO Gary Shapiro talk about “bipartisan support” for a pending bill that would authorize the FCC to conduct an auction of spare broadcasters’ spectrum, don’t hold your breath for it to happen anytime soon.

In the back of the room at Genachowski’s speech some telecom insiders were talking about the chances of such a bill passing in the upcoming Congress — “the chances are zero,” said one large telephone carrier representative. Why? A lot of the broadcaster spectrum sits in the hands of rural providers, whose Congressional representatives rely primarily on over-the-air TV to contact consituents (and run re-election campaigns). City dwellers on both coasts may want to give up the “unused” airwaves so they can have more connectivity for their iPads — but the power and numbers right now are still with the rural opposition.
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End of Net Neutrality? The Real Battle is Just Beginning

April 6, 2010

Given that the Washington D.C. Court of Appeals today smacked down the FCC’s ham-handed attempt to impose net neutrality rules on Comcast from a couple years ago, it’s no surprise that many folks are proclaiming this to be the end of net neutrality and a blow to the Obama administration’s telecom plans.

They should know better.

All this does is mark the start of the real battle for not just net neutrality, but for control over matters broadband and beyond.

In reality, today’s decision is probably a somewhat welcome one for the Julius Genachowski-led FCC and the Obama telecom troops, since it officially removes the taint of questionable decisions led by former FCC chairman Kevin Martin from the net neutrality debate. Martin, the friend of big telcos like AT&T and Verizon, ostensibly presided over the implementation of the net neutrality “principles” back in 2005 and then the Comcast case itself. But being by all accounts a very smart guy, Martin is probably laughing out loud somewhere now, knowing that his tactics and decisions probably got the end goal he and his backers truly wanted — mass confusion around net neutrality and the FCC’s role in adjucating it.

Though we’ve sort of been off the policy beat lately, I remember asking lots of insiders about the Comcast decision after it was initially passed, and even the most pro-net neutrality types all thought it would eventually be overturned like it was today. “Good result, bad process” was the way one net neut proponent summed up the original FCC ruling. Good call.

But since Obama’s election, Genachowski and other administration types have been busy looking well beyond the Comcast case, putting in motion not only a separate net neutrality proceeding, but also developing the recently released national broadband plan, which if executed as described will go a long ways toward making net neutrality principles part of everyday regulatory practices — not by trying to define the slippery idea of net neutrality itself but by implementing a raft of actual measurable, enforceable things like truth in broadband-speed advertising and transparency in network management practices.

Should the broadband plan’s metrics-based ideas come to pass, network service providers would have a hard time hiding the kind of dubious practices that got Comcast in hot water in the first place. And just like with the health care bill, Obama and the Democrats probably have all the votes they need right now to pass new net neutrality regulations should they so desire — in fact insiders we have talked to in the big telco camps fully expect that some sort of net neutrality regulation will appear before the end of the year. But that also means they’re gearing up to fight it, if for no other reason than to keep the nuns safe from Google.

We digress. Clearly there is much more still to happen, and we’ll be watching while it does. But the end of net neutrality? In reality, a much bigger battle for the ultimate control of the nation’s networks has just begun.