First Coffee for June 9, 2005

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David Sims
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First Coffee for June 9, 2005

By David Sims

The news as of the first coffee this morning, and the music is Miles Davis’s 1959 album Kind Of Blue, one of the best, er, evening activities CDs my wife and I have found:

As has been noted First CoffeeSM is not actually in attendance at Supercomm, but it’s pretty easy to follow things from the Mediterranean coast. Heck, with today’s technology it’d be easy to get married to someone in Chicago from here.

Paul Kapustka kicks off his coverage of FCC Chairman Martin’s speech Tuesday afternoon by saying “[c]alling broadband deployment his agency’s ‘top priority’ is about as exciting and contentious as it got…” Elsewhere he writes “[w]e don’t know, especially after a boring appearance here at Supercomm… what he intends to do as chairman of the FCC.”

Kapustka’s a good journalist, but was it really that boring and opaque of an appearance? By some standards, probably. By D.C. regulatory standards, however, it was not.

“Leveling The Playing Field,” Repeat As Necessary.

Those desiring pyrotechnics might have missed the nuances other reporters, including Broadband Reports picked up on, noting “level the playing field” was a “theme new commissioner Kevin Martin clung to at Supercomm.” For a thoroughly D.C.-ized chairman of a rump commission to go under the industry microscope at Chicago and say anything that could be classified as a “theme” is a fireworks display for those who parse official pronouncements. Granted it’s fairly boring for those accustomed to the hurly-burly of the industry itself.

The Register‘s unfunny comic relief Ashlee Vance – Kapustka’s genuinely witty and informed, Vance is neither – snarks childishly about Martin himself, comparing him to a “turd of brightly colored goo” squeezed out of a Play-Doh machine. One wonders if Vance is peeved Martin wouldn’t give him an exclusive or simply auditioning for one of those snotty London tabloids where reporters spend their days trying to peek into Prince William’s loo.

Vance finds it risible instead of telling that Martin returned to basic themes and emphases in what were clearly carefully-crafted remarks addressed to those in the industry who know what to listen for. But Vance is hep and linguistically frisky, he’ll do well on the Paris Hilton beat somewhere.

Bear in mind that Chairman Martin is the man who will most likely preside over a rewrite of the Telecom Act of 1996, the man who’ll decide, as Broadband Reports says, just how much more regulation everyone needs or doesn’t need, and if you’re not simply snapping your gum and tapping your pencil impatiently for flashy zingers, wondering what Paris is up to now, you can read the tea leaves.

No D.C. observer of any stripe expects the Chairman of the Federal Commission of Anything, especially one who doesn’t even have a fully-seated commission yet, to come out at a place like Supercomm and say “I’m gonna do this by December and that by the end of 2006.” There are the anodyne platitudes one says and the anodyne platitudes one does not say, and by such are intentions subtly, inoffensively, uncontroversially yet clearly conveyed.

What if instead of boringly harping on the “level playing field,” Martin had boringly harped on the “current regulatory framework stability?” Or the “integrity of local regulations?” Or the “need for regulatory consistency” among service providers? Or “a fresh structural regulatory paradigm?” Boring MEGO boilerplate all, yet the weathercock turns.

Deregulation? Local Franchise Agreements? The Chairman Speaks.

EWeek‘s Caron Carlson gets it when she says Martin used his speech to outline a deregulatory program. A statement like “Fundamentally I think the direction is going to be the same” can be boring in certain contexts (NASCAR, say), but when it’s being used by the chairman in front of the industry to describe the FCC’s regulatory approach it’s a meaty thought.

Carlson also reports that “in the wireless realm, the commission will likely move toward less regulation as well,” partly by making more spectrum available for wireless growth. “I think the commission’s going to continue to provide more flexibility in the [spectrum usage] rules,” Martin said, which is a helpful thing to report as the industry’s still getting used to the chairman and wants to know what he says, not what style of Coke he drinks or what unclever insults you can come up with.

Carlson does an excellent job running down Martin’s statements on different topics, each one conveying the Chairman’s intent, explaining how it fits in the current presidential administration’s philosophy and what it means for the industry. It’s exactly what coverage of such speeches should be by someone who understands how to listen to and report on heads of governmental regulatory agencies.

Martin kept referring to leveling the playing field? Great. How would regulation accomplish that, putting service providers on equal footings to competitively offer similar services to the same customers? Look for that to be a theme of Martin’s work on the FCC as those issues arise and don’t expect him to address hypotheticals now.

Kapustka does report that Martin favors dispensing with the city-by-city franchise agreement nonsense which obtains in places like Texas, in favor of what Kapustka calls “looser local-franchising requirements for companies who want to provide video services.” First CoffeeSM applauds this.

“I do not want to have traditional local franchise [requirements] be a barrier to entry,” he quotes Martin as saying. One can be sure the folks at Verizon, SBC and Comcast didn’t find that too “boring,” especially as he’s wading into Verizon and SBC’s beef against Comcast in their Texas shootout, which one learns by reading Justin Hyde’s Reuters reportage, where he places Martin’s comments in the context of Verizon Chairman Ivan Seidenberg’s talk earlier about how no, Verizon won’t redline poorer neighborhoods when they go in to provide video services in competition with cable companies.

Again, Hyde, the daily-deadline pro picks up on Martin’s comment that “I think the prospect of having additional competitors in the video service business is important, and we need to figure out how to facilitate that as much as possible,” which is a) not boring, and b) a pretty clear statement of the direction the FCC’s going to take under Martin.

Deep Throat Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.

For anybody in D.C. above the level of bank teller Martin’s remarks at Supercomm are probably the most explicit statements you’re going to get of policy intent until such policy is actually written. Kapustka realizes it’s policy suicide to spell out too specifically exactly what you’re going to do before you have the guns to actually do it, and while agreeing with him First CoffeeSM certainly can’t blame him for wanting more exciting speeches to cover. No doubt many reporters are wishing ScreaminHoward Dean had been named chairman of the FCC instead of the Democratic Party.

Speaking of which, what’s Qwest and Richard Notebaert up to these days, rummaging around the yard sale of “other options” after losing MCI? There’s a reporter’s dream, someone who was always good for a catchy quote, a bold statement of intent, a fiery indictment. There’s a reason Dick Notebaert doesn’t have Martin’s job – one being that he probably doesn’t want it.

Vietnamese Iced Coffee For The Summer.

If you live around Lowell, Massachusetts hie thee to Pho Da Lat, recently profiled in the Lowell Sun for their Vietnamese iced coffees and Phu Nguyen will craft one for you.

For the rest of us, however,  follow Nguyen’s procedure and using a stainless steel filter that looks like a mini French press, pour hot water over a packed portion of ground coffee. “Some recipes call for chilling espresso overnight, but for the freshest taste, Nguyen brews on the spot,” reporter Kathleen Deely writes. “The coffee slowly drips into the glass as your mouth waters. When enough is brewed, he mixes in sweetened condensed milk and pours the concoction over ice. It’s strong, but not bitter, potent, but not lethal.”

If read off-site hit for the fully-linked version. First CoffeeSM accepts no sponsored content placement and thinks lattes are overrated.

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