Posts containing my opinion of the race.

Time-Warner / Frontier Update

Stop the Cap is on top of the Time-Warner story. TWC's CEO is still supporting the idea of caps, and Time-Warner's customer agreement still has cap language.

Stop the Cap is also on top of a story that has major implications for the future of broadband in Rochester. Frontier purchased a bunch of rural phone lines from Verizon. As the Wall Street Journal notes, and as Stop the Cap has been covering in great depth, Fairpoint Communications, a New England telephone company, got itself in big trouble with a similar move last year.

Frontier is trying to put a positive spin on the acquisition, but there's little to celebrate here. Frontier is promising to bring new technology to rural areas, but the fact remains that Frontier's core technology, DSL, does not work well unless the user is close to a DSL access point. Rural subscribers tend to be a long distance from the "central office". Also, with Frontier staggering under a huge debt load, its unlikely that they will make the massive investment necessary to upgrade any of its service areas to cutting-edge fiber technology.

For Rochesterians, this is just another signpost in the long decline of what was once a showpiece local telephone company, Rochester Tel. Frontier is nothing but token competition to Time-Warner, which has a superior network and is phenomenally profitable. Frontier's business of delivering voice service over copper wire will soon go the way of Western Union, and they'll be left with crushing debt and fleeing subscribers. This bodes nothing but ill for the future of broadband, and businesses that rely on it, in the Rochester area.

Odd Ad Targeting

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is launching a series of robo-calls and TV ads attacking Representatives who voted to quash an investigation of Nancy Pelosi's knowledge of torture. What's interesting about the ads is that Eric Massa, who voted with his party on this one, is not included in the ads.

In fact, the list of targeted Representatives looks like someone threw darts at a Congressional directory. I can understand why Majority Leader Steny Hoyer [MD-5] was included, since the point there is merely to annoy. But Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin [SD-AL]? Her district is rated a "solid D" by Charlie Cook.

In New York, only John Hall [NY-19] made the cut, and Cook rates his district as safer than Eric Massa's, Mike Arcuri's [NY-24] and newcomer Scott Murphy's [NY-20]. In 2008, Hall beat his opponent by 18 points, compared to the nail-biters experienced by Massa, Arcuri and Murphy.

The NRCC was incompetent and ineffective in the last cycle, and this ad buy signals that we're probably in for more of the same in 2010.

Genuflecting to a Monopoly

Reader Vincent sends this Kansas City Star puff piece explaining why Internet rationing is a good thing. The story is chock-full of one-sided analysis, like this choice sentence:

Experts say that changes in the way people use the Internet - and the way some gorge on its endless cache of data - mean current pricing systems could go the way of your dial-up modem.

Characterizing heavy Internet users as pigs ("gorging") and treating price increases as an inevitable side-effect of new technology are two of the techniques used by Internet providers that want to justify higher prices for the same or more limited service. The Star writer never stops to point out that new technology generally leads to higher usage coupled with lower pricing, not the opposite.

Here's another bad analogy in the piece:

"It's sort of like the neighbor was watering his lawn and running his fountain using your connection," Knorr said. "Your water pressure drops, and you're paying his bill."

The difference between a water pipe and an Internet connection is technology: for less than $100 per user, a cable Internet provider can make the pipe 10 times bigger.

The prime example used by the Star is an Internet provider in Lawrence, Kansas, which recently began tiered pricing. The Star piece never deals with the elephant in the room, namely, the consequences of having a monopoly providing a valuable public service. Instead, the Star is happy to give that Internet provider a platform to justify its pricing and practices.

The Star is a McClatchy newspaper. The McClatchy motto is "Truth to Power", but, in this case, power got a puff piece.

"Gaffes" and "Overreaction"

Joe Biden and Eric Massa now have at least one thing in common: both are being accused in some quarters of over-reacting to the swine flu pandemic. This morning, Biden said that he'd tell his family to stay off of airplanes, subway cars and other confined places. Massa's call to close the Mexican border has not been taken up by many, and President Obama didn't pick up on it when asked about it directly during last night's press conference.

While there are great logistical and financial issues with both Massa's and Biden's suggestions, I don't see why everyone's afraid of a "panic" over the flu. Yesterday, the WHO raised the pandemic alert level to phase 5, one below the full-blown phase 6. Here's what that means:

A Phase 5 alert is a “strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize the organization, communication, and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short.”

Is there any way to read that and not think that serious, immediate measures are no over-reaction? I'm afraid both Biden and Massa are right. If we act now to slow down cross-border travel and gatherings of large groups, we'll be less likely to have a pandemic.

If you're interested in reading more, Ezra Klein looks at a study which shows that small marginal changes in behavior can make a big difference in pandemic spread.


Eric Massa's call for closure of the Mexican border got some attention in the local media. It's too early to tell whether Massa's call is panic or prescience, but some of what I've read about the Mexican outbreak is not a confidence booster:

I'm a specialist doctor in respiratory diseases and intensive care at the Mexican National Institute of Health. There is a severe emergency over the swine flu here. More and more patients are being admitted to the intensive care unit. Despite the heroic efforts of all staff (doctors, nurses, specialists, etc) patients continue to inevitably die. The truth is that anti-viral treatments and vaccines are not expected to have any effect, even at high doses.
The truth is that mortality is even higher than what is being reported by the authorities, at least in the hospital where I work it. It is killing three to four patients daily, and it has been going on for more than three weeks. It is a shame and there is great fear here. Increasingly younger patients aged 20 to 30 years are dying before our helpless eyes and there is great sadness among health professionals here.

One of the most interesting, and scariest, works of history I've ever read is The Great Influenza, which documents the 1918 "Spanish Flu" pandemic. A few take-home lessons from that book:

  • Like this outbreak, the 1918 pandemic killed the young and healthy, not the old and weak.
  • The 1918 pandemic began with outbreaks in crowded areas (Army bases) and it seemed to "flare up", kill large numbers, and then go away for short times. Overall, it was short (18 months) and deadly (50 million killed worldwide).
  • The care in 1918 was mainly supportive. Hospitals quickly became overwhelmed by the large numbers of victims.
  • One of the major contributors to the spread of the 1918 pandemic was minimization by authorities. This included wartime censorship which filled the newspapers with happy talk instead of news which could have led to school closings and quarantines. Authorities also did things like holding massive draft call-ups in cities where flu was reported.


In the many online and real-world discussions I've had about potential Republican candidates in 2010, we've all assumed that Eric Massa's challenger must live in the 29th district.

That's not true. In NY-20, Jim Tedisco doesn't live in the district, yet he was a candidate. Here's why, according to Talking Points Memo:

[T]he federal Constitution does not have a district-residency requirement, only a state-residency requirement. There are in fact House members on both sides of the aisle right now, who either don't live in their districts or didn't at the time when they were first elected -- and this number goes up significantly if we count the ones who really live in Washington.

This means that strong Republican candidates who live on the edges of the district, including Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks and State Senator Cathy Young, would be eligible to run. Of course, technical possibility does not equal political viability, but it does make the speculation a little more interesting.

Why Isn't TW Telling Their Customers to Shut Up?

Ars Technica did a little digging in Time-Warner's annual report, and found this gem: Time-Warner's digital phone bill is an order of magnitude bigger than their Internet bill.

Time-Warner will pay $453 million this year for "digital phone connectivity". They will pay $40 million for "high-speed data connectivity" (i.e., the Internet). Yet Time-Warner's phone plans are unlimited, they charge less for phone service, and they have not discussed capping their customers' telephone usage.


The Star-Gazette has a one-sided editorial about a new provision in some FAA legislation that would require the Elmira Airport to hire new firefighters. The airport's current firefighting and rescue staff does double duty. The new law would require the airport to have full-time firefighters, and perhaps hire as many as 30 of them.

The S-G characterizes this as hiring them to "sit around and be paid for an emergency." Well, yes, that's what firefighters do. But, more importantly, the S-G completely ignores the change in traffic in Elmira in the past year. Prior to last November, the airport was served by regional jets and turboprops, carrying 70 or fewer passengers. With the arrival of Allegiant Air, the airport now hosts full-sized jets carrying 130-150 people.

The S-G calls upon the Congressional delegation to do something about this, as if there's no debate to be had. I think there's a serious debate that needs to happen, and it centers around a real tradeoff between risk and cost savings.

What Smart Conservatism Looks Like

Philbrick at Mustard Street is on-point yet again today on the Time-Warner issue. He's been right from the start, asking smart, skeptical questions and having a conservative (not reactionary) take on Massa's proposed legislation.

Time-Warner's behavior was anti-competitive and monopolistic, and when their rhetoric wasn't flat-out bullshit, it was full of Orwellian doubletalk. There's nothing right or left about fighting a utility company's attempt to gouge consumers, and I hope that some elected conservatives will realize that the next time this issue comes around.

Reading the TWC Tea Leaves

Rachel Barnhart has the news about Time-Warner's new position on bandwidth caps. According to TWC, it's all a big "misunderstanding" that requires better communication. A better "dialog" with customers is needed, one that will be facilitated by new measurement tools that TWC is rolling out.

Putting aside TWC's transparent bullshit, consider this:

  • The old saying "The shortest line between a TV camera and a politician is defined by Chuck Schumer" is proven once again, but the bait that brought Schumer running was the huge amount of national publicity that Eric Massa garnered by pushing this issue.
  • This is the first battle in a long war, and Time-Warner is going to be a hell of a lot smarter next time. Their cable revenue is in danger, and they'll fight until the death to protect their core business.
  • Frontier could have been a major beneficiary of TWC's greed and stupidity, but instead, they're further marginalized:

    Schumer said customers do not consider Frontier, the other major Internet provider in town, to be on par with Time Warner.

    Frontier provides excellent Internet service in Rochester, but their residual phone company idiocy/conservatism leaves them as the perpetual bridesmaid in the Rochester Internet market.

  • Anyone thinking about running against Massa in 2010 should call up Time-Warner, every other cable and telecommunications company, and their associated lobbying groups. Each one of these firms will max out, no questions asked.
Syndicate content