October 2012

As you know, Eli Dourado and I have been keeping close tabs on the World Conference on Information Technology (WCIT), which will take place this December in Dubai. We started WCITLeaks.org in June to help bring transparency to the treaty negotiations because U.S. officials and others had warned that some member states, including Russia and China, had put forth proposals to regulate the Internet, and those proposals where not available to the public. Since then, Eli has joined the State Department’s International Telecommunication Advisory Committee and he will be part of the U.S. delegation to the Conference.

Now we’d like to invite you for a final briefing about the conference, looking at what’s at stake and what to expect, on Wednesday, November 14, at 2 p.m. at the W Hotel in Downtown D.C. We will have a keynote address by Ambassador Terry Kramer, head of the U.S. delegation to the conference, as well as a panel discussion including Gary Fowlie from the United Nations, Paul Brigner from the Internet Society, and internet governance expert Milton Mueller.

We hope you will join us for what will no doubt be a lively discussion! Below is the full event information. Please RSVP today.


Please join the Mercatus Center for a panel discussion on the upcoming World Conference on International Telecommunication (WCIT). Once in a generation, governments from around the world gather to revise the International Telecommunication Regulations, a UN-sponsored treaty that governs international telecom practices. This year’s meeting is especially important because it is the first one since widespread adoption of technologies such as the Internet and mobile phones.

In the U.S. there has been widespread concern that the UN may want to exert greater control over the Internet, and the House recently voted unanimously for a resolution opposing any such move. Additionally, there are concerns that the new regulations could require U.S. web companies to pay to deliver content over the Internet.

The panel will preview these and other issues that are likely to arise at the WCIT meeting that begins in Dubai on December 3. The event will also feature a keynote address by Ambassador Terry D. Kramer, the head of the U.S. delegation to the WCIT.

Panel Discussion:

Eli Dourado, Research Fellow, Mercatus Center at George Mason University & co-creator, WCITLeaks.org

Paul Brigner, Regional Director of the North American Bureau, Internet Society

Milton Mueller, Professor, Syracuse University School of Information Studies & co-founder, Internet Governance Project

Gary Fowlie, Head of the Liaison office of the International Telecommunication Union to the United Nations

If the FCC stops moving forward on Internet transformation, the universal service and intercarrier compensation reform order will become a death warrant for telephone companies.

CLIP hosted an event earlier this month to discuss Internet transformation. What is Internet transformation? In a recent op-ed, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai noted that it “is really two different things—a technology revolution and a regulatory transition.”

The technology revolution began with the commercialization of the Internet, which enables the delivery of any communications service over any network capable of handling Internet Protocol (IP). According to the National Broadband Plan, the “Internet is transforming the landscape of America more rapidly and more pervasively than earlier infrastructure networks.” In little more than a decade, the Internet destroyed the monopoly structure of the old communications industry from within and replaced it with intermodal competition. Continue reading →

Joseph Hall on e-voting

by on October 30, 2012 · 0 comments

Joseph Hall

Elections are coming up, but though we’re well into the 21st century, we still can’t vote online. This archived episode discusses the future of voting.

Joseph Hall, Senior Staff Technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology and a former postdoctoral researcher at the UC Berkeley School of Information, discusses e-voting. Hall explains the often muddled differences between electronic and internet voting, and talks about security concerns of each. He also talks about benefits and costs of different voting systems, limits to having meaningful recounts with digital voting systems, and why internet voting can be a bad idea.

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Worst. Sentence. Ever.

by on October 28, 2012 · 0 comments

Here it is:

In an era where individuals take to social networks to not only connect with one another, but also share experiences, the “statusphere” as I call it, is transforming a media ecosystem into a very personal EGOsystem.

Let’s start with the awkward phrasings.

An “era” is a time-period, so you’d modify it with “when” not “where.” And why not simply begin the sentence with “When”? Those four letters could have communicated the same thing as the first four words.

Then there’s the tongue-twisting staccato of putting a prepositional phrase that starts with “to” in series with an infinitive. And not just any infinitive: a split infinitive. (I don’t think it’s always wrong to split an infinitive, but there was no need to do so here.)

The parallel between “connect” and “share” should be signaled by saying “to share” rather than letting “share” dangle eight words from the “to” signal.

The failure to set off “as I call it” with commas at both ends makes it unclear whether the author is coining this term in the first instance or distinguishing his version of the term from someone else’s.

And shifting to substance: that term—”statusphere.” Really? No.

The “-sphere” or “-osphere” suffix is a played-out meme generator.

But that is not the only meme plopped in our laps. We also have the unpunny meme, “EGOsystem.”

Oh, I get it. People are too self-oriented on social networks. (The effort is evidently to make an obvious notion seem ready for the cover of Wired circa 1995.)

My point? I haven’t got one, other than: “If you write, learn to write.” And perhaps, “Let your original ideas shine through as clear expression rather than dressing old ideas in gaudy, new words.”

This has been my review of the second sentence in a piece called “The Erosion of Privacy and the Rise of Publicness…and why it’s a good thing” (pre-existing overdone meme, capitalization fail, and indeterminate reference all in original).

Now I’ll go see if I can get through the next sentence.

There’s been a resurgence in interest in non-contract (prepaid) phone plans and MVNOs in tech reporting lately, which makes sense given recent market dynamics.  Prepaid subscriptions number over 100 million, are now 25% of the mobile subscriber market, and Ars Technica recently reported that post-paid subscriptions declined for the first time ever in mid-2012.  Prepaid is definitely attracting people other than the usual lower-income folks, students, and the tech-savvy, who have the patience (or need) to navigate the hurdles prepaid sometimes presents.  The prepaid market has come a long way since Adam wrote about Straight Talk three years ago, and as one of the newest customers of Straight Talk—an MVNO that leases their networks from the Big Four carriers—I’d like to weigh in on these prepaid market challengers.

This post is mostly inspired by a conversation I had with a policy executive from one of the major carriers at a recent event.  I asked her if she thought Americans would, like the Europeans have, shift towards prepaid in the next few years.  I was optimistic but she didn’t think Americans would go to a prepaid model anytime soon.  (She did say, however, that her company would prefer we switch to a prepaid model.)  So why hasn’t the US market shifted towards prepaid plans like much of the world?  I suspect if we polled economists, carriers, and tech writers, most would agree that prepaid is a better model.  It’s almost always cheaper to use a prepaid plan and you can avoid a two-year contract.  So why hasn’t there been even more adoption of prepaid?  I offer a few possibilities from the demand side (there are likely supply-side issues too, but let’s save that for another day). Continue reading →

Perry Keller

Perry Keller, Senior Lecturer at the Dickson Poon School of Law at King’s College London, and author of the recently released paper “Sovereignty and Liberty in the Internet Era,” discusses how the internet affects the relationship between the state and the media. According to Keller, media has played a formative role in the development of the modern state and, as it evolves, the way in which the state governs must change as well. However, that does not mean that there is a one-size-fits-all solution. In fact, as Keller demonstrates using real-world examples in the U.S., U.K., E.U., and China, the ways in which new media is governed can differ radically based upon the local legal and cultural environment.

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Yesterday it was my privilege to speak at a Free State Foundation (FSF) event on “Ideas for Communications Law and Policy Reform in 2013.” It was moderated by my friend and former colleague Randy May, who is president of FSF, and the event featured opening remarks from the always-excellent FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell.

During the panel discussing that followed, I offered my thoughts about the problem America continues to face in cleaning up communications and media law and proposed a few ideas to get reform done right once and for all. I don’t have time to formally write-up my remarks, but I thought I would just post the speech notes that I used yesterday and include links to the relevant supporting materials. (I’ve been using a canned version of this same speech at countless events over the past 15 years. Hopefully lawmakers will take up some of these reforms some time soon so I’m not using this same set of remarks in 2027!)

Continue reading →

We spend a lot of time here defending the simple proposition that flexible free-market pricing is a good thing. You would think that in 2012 we wouldn’t need to do so, but there’s a growing movement afoot today by some academics, regulatory activists, and public policymakers to have government start asserting more authority over broadband pricing. In particular, they want Congress, the FCC, or state officials to investigate and possibly even regulate efforts by wireline and wireless broadband carriers to use usage-based pricing and data caps as a method of calibrating supply and demand. This was the focus of my last weekly Forbes column, “The Specter Of Broadband Price Controls.” In the piece I note that:

Data caps and usage-based pricing are forms of what economists refer to as price discrimination. Although viewed with suspicion by some policymakers and regulatory-minded academics and activists, price discrimination is widely recognized to improve consumer welfare. Price-differentiated and prioritized services are part of almost every industrial sector in our capitalist economy. Notable examples include airline and hotel reservations, prioritized shipping services, amusement park passes, and fuel and energy pricing. Economists agree that price discrimination represents a sensible way to calibrate supply and demand while ensuring the fixed costs of doing business get covered. Consumers benefit from such pricing experimentation by gaining more options while firms gain more certainty about investment and service decisions.

This is confirmed by an excellent new Mercatus Center working paper on “The Impact of Data Caps and Other Forms of Usage-Based Pricing for Broadband Access,” by Daniel A. Lyons, an assistant professor of law at Boston College Law School. Lyons explains why a return to price controls for communications would be monumentally misguided. Continue reading →

[UPDATE 4/30/13: This article was subsequently published in Volume 65, Issues 2 of the Federal Communications Law Journal in April 2013. The links below now point to the final FCLJ version.]

The Mercatus Center at George Mason University has just released a new paper by Brent Skorup and me entitled, “Uncreative Destruction: The War on Vertical Integration in the Information Economy.”  Brent, who is the research director for the Information Economy Project at the George Mason University School of Law, and I have been working on this paper since the Spring and we are looking forward to getting it published in a law review shortly. The paper focuses on Tim Wu’s “separations principle” for the digital economy, something I’ve spent some time critiquing here in the past. Here’s the introduction from the 44-page paper that Brent and I just released:

Are information sectors sufficiently different from other sectors of the economy such that more stringent antitrust standards should be applied to them preemptively? Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu responds in the affirmative in his book The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires. Having successfully pushed net-neutrality regulation into the policy spotlight, Wu has turned his attention to what he regards as excessive market concentration and threats to free speech throughout the entire information economy.To support his call for increased antitrust intervention, Wu explains his view of competition in the information economy—a view that deviates substantially from current mainstream antitrust theory.

Continue reading →

Stan Liebowitz on copyright and incentivesStan Liebowitz, Ashbel Smith Professor of Economics at the University of Texas at Dallas, discusses his paper, “Is Efficient Copyright a Reasonable Goal?” According to Leibowitz, economists could hypothetically calculate the exact copyright terms necessary to incentivize creators to make new works without allowing them to capture “rents,” or profits above the bare minimum necessary. However, he argues, efficiency might not be the best goal for copyright.

Liebowitz argues from a fairness or justice perspective that society should not favor an economically efficient copyright law, but one that treats creators of copyrighted works the same as workers in other types of industries. In other industries, he argues, workers are allowed to capture and keep rents.

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