Glen Robinson, my favorite professor back at Virginia Law, will be giving a lecture about “Regulating Communications: Stories from the First Hundred Years” at George Mason Law School this Thursday (2/18) at 4 pm. You simply couldn’t find a better person to give that talk. Robinson isn’t quite old enough to first-hand stories all the way back to the birth of the Federal Radio Commission in 1926 and the FCC in 1934, but he started practicing communications law back in 1961, was an FCC Commissioner 1974-76, and has taught at UVA since 1976 (until finally retiring in 2008).
Reading about his long career is a bit like watching the British comedy series Black Adder: Somehow, like Rowan Atkinson’s character Black Adder, Robinson keeps popping up again and again at pivotal moments in communications law history—most notably, he worked to draft early anti-cable rules in the 1960s and voted for the FCC’s indecency prosecution against George Carlin’s “Filthy Words” monologue. But unlike Black Adder, who always happens to be at the right place at the right time, make the wrong decisions and foolishly learns nothing, Robinson sometimes made the wrong decision, but demonstrated that rare ability to rethink his approach and admit he was wrong—an intellectual honesty most famously exemplified by FA Hayek. Robinson grew to become among the most trenchant, and certainly the most sage, critic of the FCC’s constant evolution towards censorship and curtailing competition in the communications industry. His general skepticism about administrative regulation is perhaps the most thoughtful and refined you’ll find in academe—and not just in communications law.
I was extraordinarily lucky to have had both Robinson and Tim Wu (as well as first amendment expert Dan Ortiz) for Internet Law back in 2002. Wu has since achieved a special “rock star” status comparable in cyberlaw only to Larry Lessig and Jonathan Zittrain, but Robinson stands as their equal in every measure—and without peer in his gentility and eagerness to engage with students. I could gush all day about the man who, along with Wu, set me down the path to running PFF’s Center for Internet Freedom and dedicating my life to technology policy, but instead, I’ll just encourage you to come enjoy sitting at the feet of the Master—and one of the best-loved. best-respected and most prolific professors at UVa. As the UVa Dean once put it when introducing Robinson, “You are who we want to be when we grow up.” Me, too!
The lecture is February 18, 2010, 4 p.m., Room 120, George Mason University School of Law, 3301 Fairfax Drive, Arlington, Va. Don’t forget to RSVP (firstname.lastname@example.org)! He’ll be discussing:
three stories to illustrate salient features of FCC regulation: (1) a story about the construction of regulatory paradigms, specifically the natural monopoly model, (2) a story of regulatory parthenogenesis, or the FCC’s self-defining qualities, and (3) a story about the symbols that drive or distort regulation, particularly in spectrum allocation policy.
There’s a reception afterwards. You can join me in line afterwards to get “The Big Dog” (Robinson’s occasional nickname, referring to the more popular basketball player of the same name) to autograph copies of the amicus briefs he wrote back in 2006 in the CBS and Fox Television cases arguing that the Appeals Court should recognize that the Pacifica precedent behind indecency enforcement violated the First Amendment. (Think I’m kidding about the autograph?)
You’ll find this event and other upcoming technology policy events in our new TLF Google Calendar. Click on the event to add it to your own calendar (in Outlook or Google) or just add the calendar to your Google Calendars so you can display it as an overlay on your calendars when you want to.