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|Monday, November 23rd, 2015|
|Does possible withdrawal of big insurers from Obamacare spell doom? History of USF suggests not.
News that United Health, the largest health insurer in the country, may pull out of
the Affordable Care Act health insurance exchanges has started the usual stampede of predictions that Obamacare is dying (this time for sure!). While I am not an expert in health insurance, telecom provides me with a little experience about government subsidy programs and how even something that looks like a big deal to us normal folks may not be tempting to the biggest providers.
In my case, it's the Universal Service Fund, which collects about $8 billion a year, but is increasingly uninteresting to major carriers like AT&T and Verizon. This has not, however, caused any appreciable collapse of the fund. I elaborate why big boys pulling out is not a particularly good indicator of the underlying economics of a government subsidy program below. ( Collapse )
So yeah, as Paul Krugman noted, we have come to the end of unmitigated good news on Obamacare and now we get the usual issues associated with a complex program. But those looking for signs of a "death spiral" are, I believe, still looking in vain.
|Tuesday, November 17th, 2015|
|Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015|
|Tuesday, October 27th, 2015|
|Tuesday, October 13th, 2015|
|Like it or not, we're in for another very bloody time in Israel
First, let me getg the blame game out of the way -- neither side has leaders.
There is a delightful belief among progressive Americans that people generally only put themselves at risk and engage in acts of mas violence if they are poor/desperate and have good cause. Bullshit. If that were true, the same progessives would not attribute all mass mortality events here in the US to patriarchy or racism or whatever. We would attribute it to their pathetic poverty and loserdom, which these guys in the US have in spades. But while the pathetic loserdom provides the gun powder, we have no trouble believing that the culture shapes the barrel and aims the gun.( Collapse )
|Thursday, October 8th, 2015|
|Link Harvest: CBO Spectrum Valuation of 2012 Backfires
will appreciate this.
As explaned in this article
, Commerce Committee staff are having a touch of trouble with the "spectrum pipeline" bill. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), from which all budget numbers flow, has decreed that spectrum auctions between now and 2022 get a "0" revenue score or a negative revenue score.
This is an artifact of how CBO does scoring. Back in 2012, when Congress passed the Spectrum Act as part of the "Jobs and Budget Goodness Act of 2012," the leadership promised that FCC spectrum auction authority would generate $25 billion as an offset for the federal government. So CBO needed to find a way to score this at $25 billion. At the time, however, the bands designated for auction by the statute were highly questionable on whether we could actually get them away from DoD, and the valuation of the spectrum using conventional measures was about $15 billion, from which one would need to subtract the cost of moving the federal users (estimated at about $10 billion). The TV broadcast Incentive Auction was extremely difficult to score, and that money got allocated first to paying off broadcasters moving expenses (capped at $1 billion) and $7 billion allocated for First Net.
So how to get the remaining money for $25 billion? The FCC authority to do spectrum auctions at all was expiring in 2012. Part of the bill extended it it 2022. Normally, CBO would designate that as revnue neutral until Congress designated new bands to auction. But CBO needed $25 billionnow.
So CBO assumed that all auctions of federal spectrum the FCC might conduct between now and 2022 would total the remainder. Poof, $25 billion in projected federal revenue to offset expenditures without new taxes.
Fast forward to 2014. We hold the AWS-3 Auction, which raises approx. $40 billion (originally about $44 billion, but DISH just forfeited back about $3 billion). Combined with the $1.5 billion from the AWS-2 auction in 2013, this means federal auctions raised more than enough money to cover First Net and moving fed users before we even got to the Incentive Auction, as well as significant money to the Treasury for deficit reduction.
So now, of course, Congress wants to do it again. CTIA, the wireless people, have a list of federal spectrum bands they want. The bill drafters go to CBO to get a projected score.
"The score is zero revenue, less the cost of interruption to federal users and uncomepnsated expenses, so it is a negative score."
CBO then explains that any possible revenue from any possible auction of Federal spectrum was already accounted for in 2012. True, based on the AWS-3 auction results, CBO was a tad conservative. And yes, the Feds have already made back more than the $25 billion CBO estimated as revenue in 2012. But under the CBO scoring rules, it doesn't matter. Sale of a federal asset, which is how CBO thinks of spectrum auctions. Cannot be scored twice. Had the auctions failed to meet the projected revenues, it would not have mattered, because for budgeting purposes they would have been assumed to meet the projected revenues until 2022, when we would forget about them. But the auction over-performed, so CBO will not rescore it.
I agree with those in Congress frustrated that this makes no real world sense. But you guys set up the CBO scoring system so you could play cute accounting games. Every now and then, this turns around and bites your patootie.
|Friday, October 2nd, 2015|
|Things You Are Not Supposed To Say to an FTC Commissioner
When they tell you about PrivacyCon
1. I'm gong to cosplay as a EULA.
2. You want me to run filking?
3. Please tell me you don't have a Dealer Room.
4. I plan to run a LARP called "actually enforce consumer protection." Can I get your staff to play?
And the most important thing not to say to an FTC Commissioner when she asks you about PrivacyCon is ---
5. You understand, your event does not get cooler just because you put "con" at the end, right?
|A reflection on the recent Warren/Litan Funding Flap
A few words on U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren and this letter calling out Dr. Robert Litan over some industry funded research.
Industry funded research, IMO, is no different from any other research in the sense that it should stand and fall on its merits, not on its source. In my own field, for example, it is not enough to simply say that a study is funded by AT&T, or Google, or Consumer Federation of America and treat that fact alone as undermining its conclusions. A study by AT&T can be as methodologically sound -- or unsound -- as a study funded by a grant from a foundation or research coming out of a NIH.
The reason genuine disclosure is so important, however, is because most people rarely read studies in full and are rarely in a position to evaluate them. As a result, people tend to give greater weight to the parts they read (generally the executive summary and the conclusion, if that) based on the perceived neutrality of the source.
Which brings us to Dr. Litan. If Litan had appeared at the hearing as an expert witness for the Capital Group, noting his credentials as a non-resident Brookings Fellow, his appearance would be unremarkable and the source of his funding would have been subject to the usual cross-examination of expert witnesses. Had he deliberately hidden his funding, no one would question that he had failed to disclose a conflict of interest.
What makes this case interesting, and very typical of the policy world, is that Litan did disclose on the report that "funding for this study was provided by the Capital Group, which provides investment services worldwide." Litan also disclosed this in his testimony. At the same time, however, he maintained that the analysis and conclusions were his own (and those of his co-author, Hal Singer).
Because Litan's conclusions were so at odds with other research, and because of the acknowledged source of the funding, Warren asked further questions about Litan's relationship with Capital Group and the study. Litan responded that Capital Group paid for the whole study and that they had input into the initial outline, also saw a pre-release version, and provided some additional source material.
None of this actually goes to the merits of the study. Nor is Dr. Litan's conduct particularly nefarious, or even out of the ordinary. At the same time, Senator Warren is right to point out that the way Litan framed his appearance at the hearing and the nature of the initial disclosure were designed to emphasize the independence of the study and obscure the connection with industry. As noted above, this gives to the public and most policymakers an impression of independence that influences evaluation of the evidence which might otherwise be viewed with a more skeptical eye.
It would be nice to believe this is a clear cut case of right and wrong, but it is always somewhat grayer than that. Warren is quite right to point out the level of involvement is important, and that it raises questions for Brookings Institution if they allow a resident scholar to proffer work as primarily done through his affiliation with the Institution rather than presenting the work as being done in his role as expert economist for hire and noting his fellowship at Brookings as a credential of competence.
But finding a perfect formula for disclosure is difficult. I applaud Warren for shining light on a perrenial Washington problem. But there is never going to be a perfect formula for this.
|Thursday, September 10th, 2015|
|My New Goal For Rosh hashanna
I am trying to find a congregation of "Orthodox Jews who don't think the Iran deal is a catastrophe that means the immenent death of Israel."
Problem: I don't think we can get a minyan.
So I will settle for finding any Orthodox minyan where they will not mention the Iran Deal in the sermon.
My even lowered goal after that is to find a minyan where no one will mention Tom Brady in the Sermon.
|Personal Pet Peeve and the Value of Wasting Time
We have an unfortunate tradition in Washington DC, since we are all super busy people. When we go to a speaking gig or panel at a conference, many of us drop in for our panel and leave.
Now when that person is the Chairman of the FCC or some other high ranking official, that's cool. These people have time scheduled down to the minute. If he or she even shows up, that's a huge deal. Also, since you aren't really going to be able to say much that hasn't been vetted and cleared, leaving quickly minimizes risk of an "off script" accident. I'm also not talking about a conference like NARUC where they don't comp speakers. If I accept an invite to speak, I do not expect to pay to play and won't pay to stay.
But the rest of the time, when it is one of us non-Governemnt policy experts, it bugs me that people drive by, do their panel or speech, and then bug out. So here are 5 reasons to stick around, at least for a little while.
1. You will actually learn something new and useful.
A lot of us in Policyland develop blinders. We focus very intensely on our specialty, without taking the time to notice how the rest of the world is working. You are extremely likely to learn something interesting and useful by hanging out with other people at their conference. If nothing else, it will give you a different perspective.
2. It will inform your outreach
. In particular, the thing you will learn is 'why does this constituency care enough about my issue that the org extended an invite to me. What are the concerns of the rank and file.' By that, I don't mean just "what do these guys think about Net Neutrality?" I mean "what do they care about in life?"
Example, yesterday I was at the National Rural Assembly. I went to the morning session on rural poverty and rural hunger and an afternoon session on youth leaders as well as the breakout session on broadband. As someone trying to explain to rural constituencies about telecom issues, I am enormously better offer knowing the things they care about. I can tell the youth leader doing rural health and complaining about how they don't have good broadband access how certain programs can help with rural deployment. I can tell the folks involved in rural poverty about the value of broadband and affordabilit programs so that they view broadband as an economic development tool and not as a luxury for downloading Netflix and cat videos.
3. It will improve your policy formulation and advocacy
. Good policy is policy that actually helps people on the ground. To get that policy right, you need to talk to people and find out what lie in the real world is like. Will the policies you push for actually help them? Are they in a position to take advantage of them. And what problems are they facing that have a policy solution you haven't thought of yet?
Many times I go to a conference, get in a conversation, and end up saying "oh, I think I see a way you can get what you want." Sometimes it's just connecting people up to each other or pointing them in the right direction. ("You need to talk to the engineers at the FCC Office of Engineering and Policy. I don't know if they can help, but they will be really interested in this technology.")
4. The people there see it and appreciate it as a sign of respect.
Yes, everyone understands how busy you are and that you can't stick around. But that means they appreciate even more if you can stick around for some of the program and take a genuine interest in them and their issues. If you are there because you are trying to recruit or influence a particular constituency, you need the advantage. Incumbents spend a lot of money in these communities to create the "we're one of you" dynamic. Do not play into their hands by annoncing youself as an outsider not terribly interested in the needs of the community. Conversely, people are more likely to give you a fair hearing if they think you care about them enough to respect them.
To use a crude analogy, if you are on a date, you will not favorably impress your date if you are simultaneously flipping through Tinder to see if you can find someone better. Actually puting down the cell phone and making eye contact, by contrast, may improve things considerably.
5. You are likely to encounter some of these people again some day, or may need something from them.
Finally, to be purely mercenary about these things, you never know when someone you were nice to when they were "nobody" will become "somebody." Additionally, odds are good that there are "sombodies" in the crowd you don't know about -- whether they are funders or people with connections to folks you care about or whatever. If you are there to speak or be on a panel, you will have a measure of visibility that will allow you to stand out in a crowd. Look upon this like any of the other networking events you attend, but as something more of a fishing expedition.
This is not going to work every time. Nothing does. There will be conferences where you will undoubtedly feel "man, I need to get those 4 hours back." But I am a big believer in the value of strategically wasting time. In the end, it pays off.
|Tuesday, September 8th, 2015|
|An interesting discussion and insight
I recently had the opportunity to attend one of these "interdisciplanry" conferences with a very broad theme ("science"). Nothing formal, but a discussion among 50 or so really smart folks from different walks of life. I was something of a "two-fer," being selected for my policy wonkness but asking to speak on the subject of science and religion.
There was a lot of very interesting discussion on all topics. I was pleased with my 10 minute discussion and that it was well attended and I got lots of nice things said to me (as well as stimulating some very good conversation).
1. I deliberately limited myself to the "Abrahamic faiths" (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and any others that claim to originate with Abraham and share a common belief in the creation story from the book of Genesis) as being the ones I could speak to with some at least academic familiarity and history. But I am curious if the same basic principles apply in other non-Abrahamic religions.
2. What most scientists seem to think is the key point of religion, cosmology (the explanation for the creation of the Universe), is actually not particularly interesting to religion. Historically, religion is not terribly concerned with the mechanics of creation. The Genesis story spends remarkably little time on "creation myths."
Additionally, the modern fundamentalist movements that we see that insist on a literal interpretation of the creation myth as a sine qua non
for religious belief is a fairly modern development. Worse, despite a claim to being literal, it makes stuff up. For example, you will find no place in the Bible of which I am aware that says the world is 6,000 years old. I can tell you how Jews derived the calculation. But I can also point you to various streams of thought among the Rabbis that speak of various creation aspects prior to the creation of this world nearly 5776 years ago.
3. For religion, the critical question is the relationship between man and God.
4. At the same time, scientists who insist on pushing back on religion need to be cognizant of certain things if they are actually trying to make arguments rather than simply look silly to those of us with feet in both worlds. Imagine I said to a physicist "hey, you guys have quantum mechanics totally wrong. Now I don't know any math, and I haven't really studied it, but I've read some popular articles on the subject and I can totally see where you guys are messing up." Would we expect the physicist to be persuaded by my thinking? Similarly, when anyone wants to tell me what the Bible says and they (a) do not read Hebrew, Latin or Greek; and, (b) haven't spent any time looking at any of the religious philosophers who tackle the surface questions like where Mrs Cain came from, I am unlikely to pay significant attention.
But what is more important is the recognition that the Bible is not interested in cosmology or explaining the physical relationship among objects in a scientific way. No, the Bible does not say pi=3. The Bible describes a physical object (the laver) in terms of the measuring equipment of the people trying to build it. The Bible does not say bats are birds. The Bible classes bats in the category of "flying things you are not supposed to eat."
5. The question of how to deal with Creationists is a political problem, not a problem of education or 'belief in science.' The mainstream ofthe Abrahamic faiths easily accomodates modern science in the same way it accomodated Aristotelean science or 19th century science, but not worrying about it terribly much.
I was asked, given the history, where the current tension comes from on the religious side. It's a good question and pompted me to think of the two famous occassions where big sections of organized religion and its followers put their foot down on scientific inquiry.
(a) the rise of the heliocentric model over the geocentric model;
(b) the rise of evolution to explain the origin of man.
In both cases, there is a common theme. Man is displaced as the center of creation. The geocentric model of the universe is consistent with the view expressed in Genesis that creation culminates in Man. (And I use the male deliberately when speaking of this traditional thread, the displacement of Man as the center with Man and Woman being co-equal creates its own revolutions in organized religion). The heliocentric model places the Sun at the center, chaning Earth from God's green footstool to simply one member of the Solar System -- and by extension, the universe.
The second time organized religion flips out in the face of scientific inquiry is with the doctrine of evolution. Here again, Man is apparently dethroned as being the deliberate pinnacle of creation to a mere lucky happenstance.
In both cases, however, mainstream organized relgion adjusts because, as I said at the begining, the role of religion is not cosmology. There is nothing intrinsicly contradictory between God creating a universe which does not place us at the physical center, and where we share a common history and genetic heritage with other animals, and still believing that God elevated human beings by placing within us an immortal soul and that God placed us here for a Reason and and left us a suitable operating manual in the form of the Tanach, or Bible, or Koran.
In short, the conflict between "science" and "religion" is ultimately a meaningless conflict. There is no line of inquiry in science that is barred by an understanding of religion. There is no evidence in science that contradicts religious belief, any more than there is evidence in science that contradicts Locke's theory of the social contract as a poltical theory.
I concluded with a story I recently learned about Levi ben Gershon
, also known as Gersonides. Gersonides developed a way to check Ptolemy's calculations by comparing relative brightness of the stars during their "epicycles." Gersonides's data demonstrated that Ptolemey was off by millions of miles. But rather than producing a scientific revolution, the conclusion reached by Gersonides and the scientific world was that the experiment was flawed. Since the experiment did not produce the expected data, the experimental method employed was at fault.
The widespread knowledge and acceptance of the heliocentric model would therefore wait another 2 centuries before going mainstream. Not because of a religious backlash, but because of scientific orthodoxy. Had Gersonides' experiment produced a modest adjustment in Ptolemey's calauclation, it may have proven more acceptable. But it produced a result so out of line with the anticipated outcome that it was simply disccarded.
Religious orthodoxy comes in many forms.
|Thursday, September 3rd, 2015|
|Everything You Need To Know about the LTEU/LAA Fight that the news gets wrong. Short Version.
Me: Cable, Wireless, there isn't any LTEU Wi-Fi curse! You guys have been fighting each other over nothing.
Cable: "But then who blocked the cooperation between 3GPP and IEEE? And who renamed LTEU 'Licensed Assisted Access'?"
Wireless: Oh yeah? Who freaked out at the Mobile World Conference in Madrid and pushed for an FCC proceeding?
Me: Guys! it wasn't either of you guys. It was Patent Troll over here (points to bound figure with fangs and pointy ears). He's the one who came up with the whole idea of the "LTEU curse" to get the wireless guys to pull out of the IEEE standards process.
Wireless: But why would he do that?
Charles Duan: Because IEEE was adopting a new fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory (FRAND) policy that would have required Patent Troll to license its essential patents on reasonable terms to rival chipmakers like Intel and Broadcom. Every time, Patent Troll lost a round on the FRAND policy at IEEE, he went back to 3GPP with stories of the LTEU Wi-Fi curse to get you to leave the IEEE standards process.
Cable: But if Wireless wasn't trying to kill Wi-Fi, why did they change the name to 'license assisted access?'
Christopher Lewis: Patent Troll convinced the wireless guys that unless they linked the use of LTE over unlicensed with licensed spectrum, and changed the name to get rid of the "unlicensed," they couldn't get rid of the LTEU Wi-Fi curse. Patent Troll didn't think there was anything y'all could do. But they didn't count on Public Knowledge pushing the issue in the 3.5 GHz band proceeding and helping get the FCC on the case.
Charles Duan: After that, Patent Troll needed to keep you both fighting. He had to push Wireless to get a pre-standard release out there BEFORE the FCC could push the standard process back on track.
Me: The more Patent Troll pushed Wireless to move quickly to deploy, the more Cable and GOOG became convinced Wireless *wanted* to destroy Wi-Fi.
GOOG: You mean wireless doesn't want to destroy Wi-Fi streaming?
Chris: We're not saying Wireless wouldn't love the opportunity to interfere with your mobile Wi-Fi system if you became a real competitive threat. I mean, hey, would you or cable turn down the technical capacity to mess up a competitor if you could get away with it.
Cable: True. [pause] I mean OF COURSE NOT!
Me: But the real reason wireless wanted LTEU is because they're spectrum constrained.
GOOG: How the heck are they spectrum constrained? Especially Verizon?
T-Mobile: Did you *see* how much the last spectrum auction cost? We bid $1.75 bn and came up with almost nothing! Even Verizon can't keep paying $10 billion forever.
VZ: We only have so many wireline systems we can sell off, and we have a streaming video service to launch. We need to have LTEU so we can charge people when they access our video ap over unlicensed spectrum as well as licensed spectrum due to its internal billing software [glares at cable] since SOMEBODY didn't want to share their Wi-Fi video on demand billing patents.
GOOG: But who is Patent Troll, and how did he convince the wireless guys about the "LTE Wi-Fi Curs."
Me: I think it's time to show you. [dramatically rips off rubber troll mask]
All: (Collective *gasp*) It's old man QUALCOMM!!
Charles Duan: Qualcomm has a huge number of essential patents for the 3GPP LTE standard. But if LTEU were a joint IEEE/3GPP standard, Qualcomm would have to license the essential patents to rival chipmakers Intel, Broadcom and Atheyros. That would not only cost Qualcomm billions of dollars in monopoly profits. It might have jeopardized Qualcomm's ability
Wireless: THAT's why Qualcomm started LTEU forum! To keep control and keep the standards process away from IEEE and Wi-Fi Forum.
Me: Exactly. Qualcomm hoped to throw the FCC off the trail by releasing a stand alone version of LTEU. They muddied the issue further by dropping the LAA name and making it look to the Wall St. Journal and everyone else like this was a fight between cable and wireless. But really it was Qualcomm playing you both the whole time!
Qualcomm: And I would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn't been for those stupid PKers and that dumb Wetmachine blog.
Me: Time for PK-snacks! Which you can get by attending our IP3 awards next week, so remember to buy tickets here.
|Tuesday, September 1st, 2015|
|Must . . . control . . . fist . . . of . . . death!
i think this is the tech equivalent of the Rick Santelli speech widely credited with starting the Tea Party. Dumb ass the WLAN Admin is pissed that the FCC prevents him from jamming Wi-Fi.http://www.networkworld.com/article/2977439/wi-fi/wi-fi-blocking-debate-far-from-over.html
Mind you, they rank up there with the people who think T-Mo going after hackers is a net neutrality violation.
How is this like the Santelli speech? It is the same obnoxious injurious cry of the financial elites called to account. How dare the FCC, a mere government agency, think it can intrude on our sacred technical space! As for the inabilty of these self-indulgent whiny elitist idjits to understand the law, I can only say RTFM, where "M" = 47 CFR.
Oh, did my use of unfamiliar numbers and acronyms confuse you? Wow, now you know how the users you mock on tech support feel. BTW, that thing is not a cup holder/hot pad for your coffee, its a *book* with *regulations* that answer your stupid dumb ass questions if you read it.
Now call me back on the support line again so i can put you on hold and mock you some more.
|Letting Out the Geek
10000 words in 3 blog posts on what happened in a spectrum auction. Because sometimes you gotta get your geek on.
|Monday, August 24th, 2015|
|Thursday, August 20th, 2015|
|Wednesday, August 19th, 2015|
|Friday, August 14th, 2015|
|Free to get hit by a bus now.
There was a time when if I got hit by a bus, that would be it for the public interest community doing complicated technical spectrum work at the FCC.
Then it was if ether Michael Calabrese or myself got hit by a bus. That would be it.
Today, I found out that a whole bunch of the younger attorneys are now busy working on a technical item that just came up. While my advice is certainly welcome, they have a handle on the problem and the matter is unfolding with minimal attention on my part.
Mission accomplished. I am now free to get hit by a bus with no guilt.
Mind you, I have no intention or desire to get hit by a bus. Rather, I will continue moving into more obstruse and obscure areas of policy so that the high level stuff can continue to keep moving in the right direction and other people can enjoy putting out the fires. But it is nice to know that the last 7 years have not been wasted.
|Wednesday, August 12th, 2015|
|Link Harvest: Broadband and Precision Farming
More reasons we need broadband in rural areas.http://www.wsj.com/articles/to-feed-billions-farms-are-about-data-as-much-as-dirt-1439160264
Ten years ago, I got asked by older farmers why the heck they needed broadband when dial up gave them email and that was all they ever needed. Now you can't even repair a tractor without a broadband connection.
Ten years ago, I had civil rights orgs ask why they should even care about accessibility to broadband when they had so many pressing needs and broadband was a mere luxury.
Now, getting broadband to rural communities and affordability for communities of color is a major issue. And look -- it was deployed unequally! Why didn't anyone do anything about that!
(Shall I even bother with the fights we had in 2009 to get community groups to push for fiber to public housing as part of the stimulous, which we *lost*. Now the same groups are upset that children in public housing can't do their homework because they can't get affordable access to high speed broadband. "Why didn't anybody warn us? Why didn't anybody structure this so we didn't fall behind again?")
It teaches me some depressing lessons about advocacy. (1) people are generally very bad at understanding why they need something they haven't previously needed; (2) as a result, the window to prevent inequality before it happens usually closes before the relevant constituency even knows that it cares; and, (3) It is a lot easier to solve inequality before it happens from a policy and cost perspective -- the chief problem is a political economy problem.
Which is what makes spectrum policy so useful. Like the Computer Inquiries in the 1970s and 1980s that produced the Internet and the capability to do dial up, spectrum policy is wonky and out of the way. But it creates the capacity for revolutionary good stuff later on.