Why the Saints Went Marching In

Filed under: Asides

From the Associated Press today:

Democrats launched a drive at both ends of the Capitol on Wednesday to strip the insurance industry of its decades-old exemption from federal antitrust laws, part of an increasingly bare-knuckled struggle over landmark health care legislation sought by President Barack Obama.

(Washington) The old adage about the perils of watching laws and sausages made seems especially appropriate for antitrust law. Case in point: how the National Football League got its antitrust exemption in 1970, when the old AFL merged with the NFL. At the time, two of Congress’ most powerful leaders were Majority Whip Hale Boggs and Sen. Russell Long, both from Louisiana. With NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle desperate to get the antitrust exemption approved prior to the season opening, he agreed to make New Orleans the first city to get a franchise when the league expanded. That brought the support of Boggs and Long, who were able to attach the exemption to a foreign aid tax bill (no, really). Of course, the effort was not without bumps such as when Long called Rozelle right before the Senate’s floor action to reconfirm that New Orleans would receive the franchise. When Rozelle hesitated, Long allegedly told Rozelle that there would be plenty of time to think this over, as the exemption was no longer going to see Senate action. Sure enough, Rozelle got back to Long later that night with the message: Yes, it’s New Orleans.

There’s more information on this amusing anecdote in Robert Mann’s excellent book on Long, Legacy to Power.

Twitter’s Follies

(Las Vegas) There’s something risibly ironic about Twitter CEO Evan Williams co-signing a letter to the FCC that calls on the Commission to “begin a process to adopt rules that preserve an open Internet.” Leaving aside the irony of a federal agency drafting “openness” regulations, what’s amusing is how Williams seems to have forgotten how easily his own company leapt to an unwarranted conclusion two years ago on precisely this issue. Back in 2007, some T-Mobile customers began having difficulty twittering. On December 14, co-founder Biz Stone blogged: “Hey folks. T-Mobile has definitely turned us off without notification.” Oops! A few days later, the company was forced to admit that it had botched its investigation. There was no blocking at all, but “purely a technical issue between T-Mobile and Ericsson, the folks who serve our SMS traffic.” Stone acknowledged that earlier comments had been made on the basis of “limited information.” (Memo to CorpCom departments: Never let your press releases get in front of the facts!)

A similar incident happened in 2006 when some Cox customers could not access CraigsList.com. At least give Craig Newmark credit for admitting that the issue was “a genuine bug.” However many of his Net neutrality supporters weren’t as dependent on the facts for their conclusions.

Alas eBay CEO and Dartmouth grad John Donahoe also signed the letter. You’re doing a great job at eBay, John, but avoid the temptation of diving into federal regulation. You wouldn’t be the first tech CEO to get burned by a federal policy fight. Remember how Steve Case began lobbying for open access on cable — right around the time AOL was negotiating its merger with TimeWarner?

Big Red on the Big Screen

Filed under: Asides,Secretariat

(Washington, DC) Anyone who had the luck to watch Secretariat’s Belmont win carries a remarkable memory. The late Chic Anderson could barely contain himself, yelling, “He is moving like a tremendous machine” at the 3/5 pole. So amid Washington’s dismaying tomfoolery and worse — don’t even get me started about the nuttiness of the FCC trying to apply Net neutrality to a EVDO cell tower which, even if it’s powered by a DS-1, would crash on a half-dozen Sling streams — it’s good to see that Disney will remind the world of Secretariat’s utterly astounding accomplishments.

Incidentally, for the record, my view is Big Red’s most amazing feat wasn’t at the Belmont. It was when he swooped the field on the first turn at the Preakness, going from almost dead last to first in a little more than a furlong.

Here’s a link to the Belmont: Enjoy!

The Problem With Net Neutrality (II)

(New York) Two years ago, not a single U.S. television network streamed its programming over the Net. Today they all do. In 2005, YouTube didn’t exist. Arbor Networks estimates that YouTube is today responsible for 10 percent of total global online traffic.

And not only are the number of streamed/downloaded videos increasing but the quality is too. The 480p and 640p standards are being eclipsed by 720p and probably soon, 1080p (approximately Blue-Ray quality).

Look at how this impacts the data required: On iTunes, a two-minute QuickTime movie trailer in 480p (standard definition) requires 47 megabytes. The 720p file is 78 megabytes and the 1080p version requires 126 megabytes. Extrapolating from that, a two-hour movie will require between three and eight gigabytes of data.

This surge of online data and the quantum increase in network complexity are worth keeping in mind the next time someone talks of the “light touch” of Net neutrality regulation.

The only way that network operators can handle the surging growth in online data from P2P filesharing, video streaming and other applications involves complex new technology and investment – lots of both.

To take one example, in 2008 Cisco unveiled a new generation of router branded “Nexus” (cost: between $75,000 and $200,000) that can process up to 15 terabits per second. As the great technology columnist Mark Stephens a.k.a., Robert X. Cringley has written,

“[I]f we imagine a DVD-quality H.264 video stream running typically at one megabit per second, that [router] could seemingly support 15 MILLION such data streams.”

Into this sort of complexity walks a federal program to regulate “neutrality” over such a massive (and growing) amount of data transfer. No doubt many telecom attorneys and lobbyists will earn enough to purchase homes at Rehoboth beach from all the lobbying… er, “educating” that neutrality regulation will spur.

Not exactly a great way for America to improve its ranking in the global broadband race.