McAdams On: Rabbit Holes, August 12, 2011

WONDERLAND: I imagine daily news is a bit like having a pet kraken, the mythic sea creature that eats everything in sight, including Johnny Depp. Constantly searching the vast oceans for floating hors d’oeuvres, the massive beast must encounter the occasional chunk of indigestible flotsam. Once committed, however, the creature is compelled to make food of the wretched object.

And so it kind of is with daily news. The constant hunt for story material frequently leads to rabbit holes where a great tip and several phone calls turn into “Dog Barks, Lays Down, Sleeps.”

This is precisely what led me to write a story this week about an invite-only press conference that was actually just an “in-person briefing” for certain people that were not me. I got a tip that the Feral Communications Commission would be having an “invite-only” press conference on LightSquared, a company trying to knock out global positioning systems and take over the world. I think. I would know for sure had I been invited to the invite-only press conference that was actually an in-person briefing, but I wasn’t because the person whom I talked to at the FCC after-the-fact had never heard of me. I would have preferred to talk to her before the fact but she had not been at the commission long enough for her name and phone number to be in the online directory.

So while I was attempting to ascertain the nature and subject of this press briefing conference with kraken-like determination, I wrote up the framework of a story with background about LightSquared, a company made up of billions and billions of dollars and people who don’t understand that blasting away at the GPS industry isn’t doing them any favors. And of course by then, it’s a quarter past deadline. (Aye, the belly of the beast, how it did rumble!)

The reason I chased the tip in the first place is because LightSquared is a big deal. It is a bigger deal than Johnny Depp, according to Google, which knows and sees all and sells it to the highest bidder. LightSquared would if it could launch the nation’s fastest wireless broadband network so that citizens everywhere could watch tiny episodes of “Jersey Shore” in HD on their phones in real time. It does bring a tear to the eye. Yesiree, Bob.

But in all seriousness, of which we are capable here at McAdams On, there are quite a few communities without any type of broadband that are pretty pumped about LightSquared. It might have been a no-brainer for the commission to greenlight had the GPS industry not been incited to revolt by somebody that AT&T says is not them. So the commission did what it does best and opened a proceeding. A proceeding is a kind of knock-down, drag-out, free-for-all fight executed with the cunning use of documents.

Whoever files the most documents in the proceeding wins, and this one is a battle royale. Nearly 3,000 documents have been filed on the LightSquared proceeding in the last five weeks. Consequently, one might say to oneself upon receiving a tip that there is an invite-only press conference at the FCC regarding LightSquared, “self, you better find out what that’s about.” Thus it is among this week’s headlines, we have “FCC LightSquared Briefing Intended to Calm GPS Concerns.”

I was informed they distributed a hand-out roughly the size of the Poughkeepsie phone book. Not by the after-the-fact person at the commission, who determined through not knowing me that I could not possibly grasp the meaning of the hand-out without someone to explain it to me. Someone that she supposed, sigh, that she could find if I absolutely had to have it. I said sure, thanks, that would help. It is now two days later, and the help factor has diminished to a rating of exactly zero.

I was told instead about the hand-out by someone who went to the brief pressed conference and described it as a “mind-numbing,” 90 minutes of his life he could not get back. Ever. The important thing, however, is that the commission got out the message that it would make LightSquared play nice with GPS. The GPS community was clearly mollified. Only 100 or so filings were posted on the proceeding since the conbrieferpressence. And LightSquared was on point today with a press release that starts out like this:

“The GPS industry’s failure to comply with the Department of Defense’s filtering standards is the root cause of potential interference involving LightSquared’s proposed broadband wireless network.”

This may not be what the FCC intended, but it is all very good. Very good indeed. Because the kraken never sleeps.
~ Deborah Dubious McAdams