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U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren: “Congress on Technology Issues: All Talk and No Action”

SAN JOSE, CA – I bring your attention to an op-ed penned by one of San Jose’s very own Congressional representatives, Zoe Lofgren, that ran in yesterday’s San Jose Mercury News. Entitled, “Congress on technology issues: all talk and no action,” it walks through an argument of why, in her mind, this Congress hasn’t gotten anything done on technology issues. Her lede is politically focused, “As we approach the November elections, America’s technology leaders should be asking what the 109th Congress has done for the tech sector and American innovation. From my perspective, the answer is a whole lot of talk, and not nearly enough action.” However, among other points, she makes a great point on patent reform lower in the piece, “…legislation to reform the patent system, introduced over a year ago, has yet to move out of a House subcommittee. Parasitic patent lawsuits continue unabated, yielding windfall profits for holders of questionable patents and raising the costs of creating new technologies.”As the elections are a week away and we head to the polling place (or in my case, vote via permanent absentee), we all SHOULD be asking if our Representatives are “representing” us…so Rep. Lofgren is asking the right question.Read the full piece here.

DVR Alert!!! Cisco’s Robert Pepper on C-SPAN

SAN JOSE, CA – So, you’re interested in telecom policy and telecom history. You haven’t had a date on a Saturday in ages. You need something to do on your Saturday evening. Have I got an answer for you!! My colleague, Dr. Robert Pepper, Cisco’s Senior Managing Director of Global Technology Policy, is appearing on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators” program this Saturday at 6:30PM ET.cspan logo.jpgSeriously, if you already have Saturday plans, set your DVR (or if you prefer, VCR) and record this half-hour interview with the man we all know as “Pepper.” He has been at Cisco for a little over a year, having joined us after a 19 year career at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) where he was Chief of Policy Development, and will be appearing on C-SPAN’s new series on communications. Past interviewees on this series include: Craig Newmark of Craig’s List, Jeffrey Citron of Vonage, and Senator John Ensign (R-NV). The interview will also be available on podcast.More information on C-SPAN’s website here.Program schedule:Saturday, October 28 6:30 pm ET, C-SPANMonday, October 29 , 8:00 am ET and 8:00 pm ET on C-SPAN2

Net Neutrality: How can you tell if a lawyer is lying?

SAN JOSE, CA – (With apologies to all of my lawyer colleagues, friends and family)…The answer, of course, is “his/her lips are moving.” This is what I thought of when I read Larry Lessig’s piece on net neutrality in the Financial Times today. He’s a smart guy. I’ve seen him speak and he’s got cool glasses, but he’s just off the mark on this one. He argues in favor of net neutrality, which is arguing for more government regulation, of course. He clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and I’m sure Scalia read Lessig’s piece today arguing for more regulation for the internet and must think that Lessig has lost his way. In Lessig’s Wikipedia entry, it says, “He is best known as a proponent of reduced legal restrictions on copyright, trademark and radio frequency spectrum, particularly in technology applications.” Yet, when it comes to broadband he wants more regulation and restrictions. I’m no academic or mathemetician, but his math on this one just doesn’t add up.So, why is a non-regulatory guy like Lessig calling for more regulation of the Internet? I honestly don’t know. He has done great things with Creative Commons and perhaps some of his conversations with the pro-net neutrality crowd have influenced him to “the dark side” but I can only conjecture.In the FT piece he writes: “Network owners now want to…charg(e) companies different rates to get access to a “premium” internet. YouTube, or, would have to pay a special fee for their content to flow efficiently to customers. If they do not pay this special fee, their content would be relegated to the “public” internet a slower and less reliable network. The network owners would begin to pick which content (and, in principle, applications) would flow quickly and which would not.” This is sheer fiction and he knows it. The truth of the matter is that YouTube and Google, the companies he holds up at stalwarts of fair play, apple pie, motherhood and whiskers on kittens actually charge companies to get premium placement on their websites. What’s this you say? Those who own a website or service are allowed to charge money to allow an advertiser to get top placement on their website? I’m shocked and appalled and will be submitted an op-ed to the FT stating the same. What is the difference of a service provider (in his terminology, a “network owner”) of charging a service to get premium placement on their “owned” network? They are not degrading the services of others, but enhancing the service of those who choose to pay for the premium placement.Here’s another anology: We’re in the throes of campaign season here in the ol’ US of A and television and radio ads play a large role in electing or defeating a candidate. Those candidates who have more money can buy more ads on radio and TV. They can buy them during the most popular shows so that the most amount of voters can see them. If the other candidate has no money and cannot afford to place an ad on television or radio I can only assume that Larry Lessig will offer to pay their way in the name of net neutrality. Why? Because, in his mind, the playing field should be equal for all candidates. Nobody should have an advantage. He is a professor at Stanford, so if you are a D student, but really, really, really want to go to Stanford, give him a call and ask him to lobby for neutral admissions standards. Although it may sound like it, I’m not trying to pick a fight with Lessig…I wouldn’t stand a chance in a debate with him on this or other technology issues (although I think I could take him in arm wrestling), but on this issue he is just plain wrong and he, of all people, should know it.Related non-sequitur (if that is possible): When former Republican Senator from Texas Phil Gramm was retiring he was asked in an interview if the politics of Congress or the politics of academia were thicker (he had been an economics professor at Texas A&M prior to his election to Congress): His answer: (I’m paraphrasing here) “Politics are much tougher in academia. Politics are the worst when the stakes are the lowest.” So, maybe it is politics that got Lessig to pen this op-ed. Maybe it is an affinity for pro-net neutrality companies. Whatever it was, when he was asked to support net neutrality and place more regulations on the internet, he should have said “no.”ADDENDUM: A reader rightly criticized me for conjecturing that Lessig’s position on net neutrality may have been influenced by a relationship with a pro net-neutrality company, so I changed that to “affinity.” UPDATE: Please read Scott Cleland’s response to Lessig’s op-ed in his letter to the editor in the FT.

Convergence vs. regulation: Is Canada being left in the cold?

OTTAWA, ONTARIO -CANADA. Canadian financial markets and the business media have been engrossed with income trust conversion announcements from two of Canada’s largest telecommunications companies (Bell Canada & TELUS). While the announcements are hugely important to investors who seek higher returns and the federal government who is concerned over lower tax revenues, scant public attention has been given to convergence and its effect on the heavily regulated Canadian telecommunication sector.Although Canadian consumers are driving change, they haven’t realized the extent convergence is shifting the competitive landscape for video, voice, data, and mobility services. Companies that were once in separate market places now compete head-to-head. But together these companies are also playing a major part in demanding regulatory reform in Canada. It would appear the current federal government has grasped the situation and is preparing to act.Industry Minister Maxime Bernier, responsible for the telecom sector, has publicly stated he wants to introduce major, market-oriented reform of Canada’s $33B telecommunications sector this fall. He assures that any package would include sweeping legislative changes, massively overhauling the regulatory apparatus, and a gradual opening of the market to increased foreign competition.Speculation over what the reforms could look like has been centred on the 127-recommendation report from the Telecommunications Policy Review Panel tabled this past March. While the report is comprehensive on telecom, its authors came to the conclusion that reforms should also address the future evolution of Canadian broadcasting policy as it is”inextricably related to it [telecom reform]” With the rapid change convergence creates, it makes sense for a combined review of telecom and broadcasting policy. However given the current electoral landscape in Canada, the politics surrounding a simultaneous review could be impractical. Is the Canadian government ready for convergence? No, not by a long shot. Regulators need to realize, that a failure to review current policies will undoubtedly hamper innovation, stunt nation-wide productivity gains, and ultimately make Canadian regulation irrelevant. But despite resistance Bernier is apparently facing from his own department (making a fall introduction of reforms somewhat of a stretch), he has clearly signaled that he gets it.

Time to Review Merger Reviews

WASHINGTON, DC – Hasn’t the AT&T-Bell South merger closed yet? No. Didn’t the Justice Department approve the merger last week? Yes. So what is holding up the process? Answer: an antiquated FCC merger review process.The FCC had placed the T-BLS merger on its agenda for last Thursday. But the item was pulled from the agenda when the FCC Commissioners apparently were split 2-2 over the potential conditions that they would place on the merger. According to an AT&T filing, these potential conditions include: universal broadband availability, broadband pricing, disaster recovery capabilities, UNE rates, special access rates, naked DSL, net neutrality, and “forebearging” from asking for forbearance on UNE availability. Even this impressive list of conditions was not sufficient for at least 2 of the Commissioners from approving the merger. Interestingly, the Justice Department did not place these types of conditions on its approval of the merger.How can these two different regulators come to such totally different conclusions about this particular merger? Easy, the Justice Department is only concerned with any anticompetitive impact of the merger, while the FCC acts under a much broader (and never clearly defined) “public interest” standard. With such a broad standard, some FCC Commissioners are trying to shoehorn policy issues unrelated to the merger, such as net neutrality and broadband deployment, into the conditions. Is that what merger review should be about?Regardless of what one thinks about the proposed merger conditions, using the merger process to impose them makes no sense. If the conditions are aimed at preventing potential anticompetitive activities, then the Justice Department has clear authority to deal with any such problems in its merger review process. If the conditions are mere policy objectives, then why should they apply only to the companies that are merging? Shouldn’t they apply to all similarly situation companies? And doesn’t the FCC have a rulemaking process to make these kinds of decisions? It’s time to review the merger review process. I think that the FCC needs to get out of the merger review business. They should merely determine whether the combined entity can properly hold FCC licenses and leave questions of competition to the antitrust enforcers and questions of telecom policy to broad FCC rulemaking processes that apply to all parties.