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August 2010 (previous | next)
 

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

How Many Times Has Michael "Dr. Doom" Copps Forecast an Internet Apocalypse?

How many times can FCC Commissioner Michael Copps declare the Internet dead? Like a fire-and-brimstone preacher bombastically bellowing sermons warning of the impending End Times, Commissioner Copps has made a hobby out of declaring the Internet dead and buried unless drastic steps are taken right now to save cyberspace! The problem is, he's being saying this for the past decade and yet, despite generally laissez-faire policy in this arena, the Internet is still very much alive and well.

His biggest beef, of course, is Net Neutrality regulation--or the current lack thereof. He fears that without such a "Mother, May I" regulatory regime in place, the whole cyber-world is heading for eternal damnation. Echoing the fears of other Internet hyper-pessimists, Copps concocts grand conspiracy stories of nefarious corporate schemers hell-bent on quashing our digital liberties and foreclosing all Internet freedom.

Way back in 2003, for example, Comm. Copps delivered a doozy of a sermon at the New America Foundation entitled, "The Beginning of the End of the Internet." In the speech, Copps lamented that the "Internet may be dying" and only immediate action by regulators can save the day. Copps laid on the sky-is-falling rhetoric fairly thick: "I think we are teetering on a precipice . . . we could be on the cusp of inflicting terrible damage on the Internet. If we embrace closed networks, if we turn a blind eye to discrimination, if we abandon the end-to-end principle and decide to empower only a few, we will have inflicted upon one of history's most dynamic and potentially liberating technologies shackles that make a mockery of all the good things that might have been."

But that's hardly the only such fire-and-brimstone sermon that Rev. Comm. Copps has delivered about the death of the Internet.

Continue reading How Many Times Has Michael "Dr. Doom" Copps Forecast an Internet Apocalypse? . . .

posted by Adam Thierer @ 1:33 PM | Net Neutrality, The FCC

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Google / Verizon Proposal May Be Important Compromise, But Regulatory Trajectory Concerns Many

Recently, the Washington Post opined that the best way for the FCC to "regulate the Internet" was through a moderate approach, one which places limited authority in the Commission to address behavior that violates long-standing Net Neutrality practices.

The paper notes that Net Neutrality has been "a rule tacitly understood by Internet users and providers alike" for more than a decade. It then mildly rebukes the FCC's proposal to reclassify broadband providers as common carriers - "a move [which] would be a serious step backwards," in their view.

Within this context, the Post sees important compromise in the Google / Verizon legislative proposal, "especially its designation of the FCC as an adjudicatory body such as the Federal Trade Commission rather than one with intrusive regulatory authority."

Continue reading Google / Verizon Proposal May Be Important Compromise, But Regulatory Trajectory Concerns Many . . .

posted by Mike Wendy @ 9:04 AM | Capitol Hill, Communications, Innovation, Internet, Net Neutrality, Regulation, The FCC

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Two Schools of Internet Pessimism

[I am currently helping Berin Szoka edit a collection of essays from various Internet policy scholars for a new PFF book called "The Next Digital Decade: Essays about the Internet's Future." I plan on including two chapters of my own in the book responding to the two distinct flavors of Internet pessimism that I increasingly find are dominating discussions about Internet policy. Below you will see how the first of these two chapters begins. I welcome input as I refine this draft. ]

Surveying the prevailing mood surrounding cyberlaw and Internet policy circa 2010, one is struck by the overwhelming sense of pessimism about our long-term prospects for a better future. "Internet pessimism," however, comes in two very distinct flavors:


  1. Net Skeptics, Pessimistic about the Internet Improving the Lot of Mankind: The first variant of Internet pessimism is rooted in general skepticism regarding the supposed benefits of cyberspace, digital technologies, and information abundance. The proponents of this pessimistic view often wax nostalgic about some supposed "good 'ol days" when life was much better (although they can't seem to agree when those were). At a minimum, they want us to slow down and think twice about life in the Information Age and how it is personally affecting each of us. Other times, however, their pessimism borders on neo-Ludditism, with proponents recommending steps be taken to curtail what they feel is the destructive impact of the Net or digital technologies on culture or the economy. Leading proponents of this variant of Internet pessimism include: Neil Postman (Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology), Andrew Keen, (The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing our Culture), Lee Siegel, (Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob), Mark Helprin, (Digital Barbarism) and, to a lesser degree, Jaron Lanier (You Are Not a Gadget) and Nicholas Carr (The Big Switch and The Shallows).

  2. Net Lovers, Pessimistic about the Future of Openness: A different type of Internet pessimism is on display in the work of many leading cyberlaw scholars today. Noted academics such as Lawrence Lessig, (Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace), Jonathan Zittrain (The Future of the Internet & How to Stop It), and Tim Wu (The Master Switch The Rise and Fall of Information Empires), embrace the Internet and digital technologies, but argue that they are "dying" due to a lack of sufficient care or collective oversight. In particular, they fear that the "open" Internet and "generative" digital systems are giving way to closed, proprietary systems, typically run by villainous corporations out to erect walled gardens and quash our digital liberties. Thus, they are pessimistic about the long-term survival of the wondrous Internet that we currently know and love.


Despite their different concerns, two things unite these two schools of techno-pessimism.

Continue reading Two Schools of Internet Pessimism . . .

posted by Adam Thierer @ 10:43 PM | Philosophy / Cyber-Libertarianism, What We're Reading

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

GAO: Wireless Prices Plummeting; Public Knowledge: We Must Regulate!

So, the GAO recently released a report on the wireless industry and found that:

The biggest changes in the wireless industry since 2000 have been consolidation among wireless carriers and increased use of wireless services by consumers. Industry consolidation has made it more difficult for small and regional carriers to be competitive. Difficulties for these carriers include securing subscribers, making network investments, and offering the latest wireless phones necessary to compete in this dynamic industry. Nevertheless, consumers have also seen benefits, such as generally lower prices, which are approximately 50 percent less than 1999 prices, and better coverage.

Now, if you are a self-described "consumer advocate," I would hope the bottom line here is pretty straightforward and refreshing: Prices fell by 50% in 10 years. That alone is an amazing success story. But that's not the end of the story. The more important fact is that prices fell by that much while innovation in this sector was also flourishing. Do you remember the phone you carried in your pocket -- if you could fit it in your pocket at all -- ten years ago? It was a pretty rudimentary device. It made calls and... well... it made calls. Now, think about the mini-computer that sits in your pocket right now. Stunning little piece of kit. It can text. It can do email. It can get Internet access. You can Twitter on it. Oh, and you can still make calls on it (but who wants to do that anymore!)

The point is, this is a great American capitalist success story that everyone -- especially "consumer advocates" -- should be celebrating. So, what does Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn have to say?

"These trends do not bode well for consumers, despite any benefits of the moment," she told Ars Technica.

Wait, what?

Continue reading GAO: Wireless Prices Plummeting; Public Knowledge: We Must Regulate! . . .

posted by Adam Thierer @ 8:05 PM | Economics, Innovation, Spectrum, Wireless

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Broadband Investment Leviathan

The August 5th issue of The Economist had a compelling cover story entitled "Leviathan, Inc." in which the author notes "[p]oliticians are reviving the notion that intervening in individual industries and companies can drive growth and create jobs." But direct, long-term government management of companies, corporations or, worst yet, entire industries has proven time and again not to be successful.

Simply put, the head of a company makes decisions to maximize the outcome for that company and its owners or shareholders. Any government employee—even one in a role as acting head of a private company—is legally required to make decisions under a far stricter set of guidelines. Guidelines which force the decisions to be made for what is best not for the business they are charged with operating, but for the country as a whole. This is the case even if the decision made by the bureaucrat will result in a 'net negative' to the company and its owners/shareholders.

The article's anonymous author suggests that instead of "pick[ing] winners and coddl[ing] losers," government should improve the environment for all business by reducing regulations, investing in infrastructure, and "encourage winners to emerge by themselves, for example through the sort of incentive prizes that are growing increasingly popular."

Continue reading The Broadband Investment Leviathan . . .

posted by Adam Marcus @ 2:03 PM | Broadband, Communications, Economics, Philosophy / Cyber-Libertarianism, The FCC

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Governments Privatizing Public Utilities Even As Some Want to Convert Internet Into One

Two articles of interest in today's Wall Street Journal with indirect impact on the debate over the future of Internet policy. First, there's a front-page story ("Facing Budget Gaps, Cities Sell Parking, Airports, Zoo") documenting how many cities are privatizing various services -- including some considered "public utilities" -- in order to help balance budgets. The article worries about "fire-sale" prices and the loss of long-term revenue because of the privatizations. But the author correctly notes that the more important rationale for privatization is that, "In many cases, the private takeover of government-controlled industry or services can result in more efficient and profitable operations." Moreover, any concern about "fire-sale" prices and long-term revenue losses have to be stacked again the massive inefficiencies / costs associated with ongoing government management of resources /networks.

Of course, what's so ironic about this latest privatization wave is that it comes at a time when some regulatory activists are clamoring for more regulation of the Internet and calling for broadband to be converted into a plain-vanilla public utility. For example, Free Press founder Robert McChesney has argued that "What we want to have in the U.S. and in every society is an Internet that is not private property, but a public utility." That certainly doesn't seem wise in light of the track record of past experiments with government-owned or regulated utilities. And the fact that we are talking about something as complex and fast-moving as the Internet and digital networks makes the task even more daunting.

Government mismanagement of complex technology projects was on display in a second article in today's Journal ("U.S. Reviews Tech Spending.") Amy Schatz notes that "Obama administration officials are considering overhauling 26 troubled federal technology projects valued at as much as $30 billion as part of a broader effort by White House budget officials to cut spending. Projects on the list are either over budget, haven't worked as expected or both, say Office of Management and Budget officials." I'm pleased to hear that the Administration is taking steps to rectify such waste and mismanagement, but let's not lose sight of the fact that this is the same government that the Free Press folks want to run the Internet. Not smart.

posted by Adam Thierer @ 4:49 PM | Broadband, Municipal Ownership

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Crovitz on the Great Internet Optimist vs. Pessimist Debate

I've noted here before that Gordon Crovitz is my favorite technology policy columnist and that everything he pens for his "Information Age" column for The Wall Street Journal is well worth reading. His latest might be his best ever. It touches upon the great debate between Internet optimists and pessimists regarding the impact of digital technology on our culture and economy. His title is just perfect: "Is Technology Good or Bad? Yes." His point is that you can find evidence that technological change has both beneficial and detrimental impacts, and plenty of people on both sides of the debate to cite it for you.

He specifically references the leading pessimist, Nicholas Carr, and optimist, Clay Shirky, of our time. In The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains and The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, From Edison to Google, Carr paints a dismal portrait of what the Internet is doing us and the world around us. Clay Shirky responds in books like Here Comes Everybody and Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in the a Connected Age, arguing that we are much better off because of the rise of the Net and digital technology.

This is a subject I've spent a lot of time noodling over here through the years and, most recently, I compiled all my random thoughts into a mega-post asking, "Are You an Internet Optimist or Pessimist?" That post tracks all the leading texts on both sides of this debate. I was tickled, therefore, when Gordon contacted me and asked for comment for his story after seeing my piece. [See, people really do still read blogs!]

Continue reading Crovitz on the Great Internet Optimist vs. Pessimist Debate . . .

posted by Adam Thierer @ 10:35 AM | Books & Book Reviews, Philosophy / Cyber-Libertarianism

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Friday, August 20, 2010

MPAA Ratings Are Better Than the Alternative

Back in March, the Motion Picture Association of America re-launched its film-rating website, filmratings.com. While this may be old news to some, I just learned about it from a post on BoingBoing which makes fun of the rationales given for the ratings, which are available on the new website. Example: The movie "3 Ninjas Knuckle Up" was "rated PG-13 for non-stop ninja action."

Continue reading MPAA Ratings Are Better Than the Alternative . . .

posted by Adam Marcus @ 10:04 AM | Mass Media

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Net Neutrality, Banned Business Models & Price Controls

I continue to be mystified by the contention of some Net neutrality advocates that it is not a form of economic regulation. The reality, of course, is that Net neutrality would ban business models and necessitate price controls. If that ain't regulation, I don't know what is. As Robert Litan and Hal Singer note in their new Harvard Business Review essay, "Why Business Should Oppose Net Neutrality," "Non-discrimination under the FCC's net neutrality proposal means that ISPs cannot offer enhanced services beyond the plain-vanilla access service to content providers at any price." Thus, any type of service prioritization or price discrimination would be prohibited under the FCC's Net neutrality regulatory regime.

As I explained in this earlier essay and in the video below, this would be a disaster for investment, innovation, and consumer welfare. Differentiated and prioritized services and pricing are part of almost every industrial sector in a capitalistic economy, and there's no reason things should it be any different for broadband. As Litan and Singer note, "The concept of premium services and upgrades should be second-nature to businesses. From next-day delivery of packages to airport lounges, businesses value the option of upgrading when necessary. That one customer chooses to purchase the upgrade while the next opts out would never be considered 'discriminatory.'"

And let's not forget, something has to pay for Internet access and investment in new facilities. Differentiated services can help by allowing carriers to price more intensive or specialized users and uses to ensure that carriers don't have to hit everyone - including average household users - with the same bill for service. Why would we want to make that illegal through Net neutrality regulation and the misguided price control schemes of a bygone regulatory era?

posted by Adam Thierer @ 2:30 PM | Economics, Net Neutrality

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Google's Schmidt on Targeted Ads, Monetization & the Future of News

Wall Street Journal columnist Holman Jenkins has a terrific, wide-ranging interview with Google CEO Eric Schmidt in today's paper that is well worth reading. One thing worth highlighting is Schmidt's comments on the "economic disaster that is the American newspaper." He argues that, "The only way the problem [of insufficient revenue for news gathering] is going to be solved is by increasing monetization, and the only way I know of to increase monetization is through targeted ads."

Absolutely correct. It's a point that Berin Szoka, Ken Ferree and I tried to make in PFF's mega-filing in the FCC's "Future of Media" proceeding in early May, and Berin and I stressed it in even more detail in our piece on"Chairman Leibowitz's Disconnect on Privacy Regulation & the Future of News." The key takeaway: If Washington goes to war against advertising -- and targeted advertising in particular -- then there will be no future for private news. As we stated there:

The reason for the indispensability of advertising is simple: Information (including news and other forms of "content") has "public good" characteristics that make it is very difficult (and occasionally impossible) for information-publishers to recoup their investments. Simply put, they quite literally lack pricing power: Whatever they charge, someone else will charge less for a close substitute, inevitably leading to "free" distribution of the content, even though the content is anything but free to produce. Advertising is the one business model that has traditionally saved the day by rewarding publishers for attracting the attention of an audience.

Thus an attack on advertising is an attack on media / news itself. And yet Washington is currently engaged in an all-out assault on advertising, marketing, and data collection efforts / business models.

Incidentally, Google recently submitted comments with the Federal Trade Commission in reaction to its Staff Discussion Draft about the future of journalism and laid out their views on many of these issues. More importantly, as summarized on pg. 30 (of the pdf) of this Newspaper Association of America filing to the FTC, Google has proposed an interesting monetization model that utilizes Google Search, Google Checkout and DoubleClick ad server, "to build a premium content system for newspapers." Worth checking out. Kudos to Google for taking these steps and to Schmidt for again stressing the importance of targeted advertising for the future of media.

posted by Adam Thierer @ 1:30 PM | Advertising & Marketing, Mass Media, Media Regulation

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Friday, August 13, 2010

Government Again Behind the Curve: Efforts to Implement Cloud Computing in the Public Sector

posted by Jeff Levy @ 10:40 AM | Cyber-Security, Innovation, Internet, Software

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Who Cares about Broadband?

posted by Adam Thierer @ 2:14 PM | Broadband, Internet, Universal Service

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Our CNET Column: "Just say no to Ma Bell-era Net neutrality regulation"

posted by Berin Szoka @ 10:21 AM | Broadband, Neutrality

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tenenbaum: Ben Sheffner Concludes That Judge Gertner's Ruling Made No Sense from Any Perspective

posted by Thomas Sydnor @ 1:22 PM | Copyright, IP, Internet

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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Net Neutrality & the First Amendment

posted by Adam Thierer @ 8:46 PM | Free Speech, Net Neutrality

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Friday, August 6, 2010

Join Us for pii2010 "Privacy Identity Innovation 2010" Conference in Seattle 8/17-19!

posted by Berin Szoka @ 9:38 AM | Privacy

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Thursday, August 5, 2010

CNBC Debate on Net Neutrality Regulation & Pricing Freedom

posted by Adam Thierer @ 2:38 PM | Economics, Net Neutrality

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Pub Interest Groups Decry Sunlight - Say It's Corrupting FCC Net Neutrality Process

posted by Mike Wendy @ 8:12 AM | Broadband, Capitol Hill, Communications, Free Speech, Innovation, Internet, Net Neutrality, Regulation, The FCC

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

More Data Confirms: File-Sharing Is Really About Piracy

posted by Thomas Sydnor @ 11:14 AM |

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  How Many Times Has Michael "Dr. Doom" Copps Forecast an Internet Apocalypse?
Google / Verizon Proposal May Be Important Compromise, But Regulatory Trajectory Concerns Many
Two Schools of Internet Pessimism
GAO: Wireless Prices Plummeting; Public Knowledge: We Must Regulate!
The Broadband Investment Leviathan
Governments Privatizing Public Utilities Even As Some Want to Convert Internet Into One
Crovitz on the Great Internet Optimist vs. Pessimist Debate
MPAA Ratings Are Better Than the Alternative
Net Neutrality, Banned Business Models & Price Controls
Google's Schmidt on Targeted Ads, Monetization & the Future of News
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