Robert McDowell, one of the two Republican Commissioners on the Federal Communications Commission, announced on Wednesday that he would soon resign. In his seven years on the FCC, Commissioner McDowell has been a consistent critic of over-regulation and a champion of both Internet freedom and the rule of law. He’s earned a uniquely loyal following among policymakers and thought leaders alike in the free market tech policy community, not only in the U.S. but around the world. Here are just a few tributes to this remarkably humble and personable regulator—the regulator who, again and again, cried, in the most mild-mannered-but-firm way possible: “Hold on a minute, have we really thought this one through?”
Sen. John Thune (R-SD): “As we have seen with his recent leadership on efforts to prevent foreign government intervention in the operation and use of the Internet, Rob has been a consistent voice cautioning against unnecessary governmental regulations. I hope the president’s nominee to replace him will approach the job with the same passion and energy that Rob exhibited and will be similarly committed to finding market-based solutions to our nation’s communications challenges whenever possible.”
Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI): “At a time when broadband and wireless technology are transforming voice, video, audio and data communications, we could not have asked for a better steward than Commissioner McDowell. With every decision, he has fought to ensure we are creating an environment for investment, innovation, and growth. And he has done so with both eloquence and good humor. No question that he has left the communications landscape better than he found it. We thank him for his service.”
Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR): “For more than a half decade, Robert McDowell has embodied the consummate FCC commissioner. He has kept a steadfast eye on how to foster a vibrant communications marketplace for the American people and the American economy. He has always stood up to protect the freedom of the Internet for all, and at every turn he has made sure to respect good process, good policy, and the rule of law. The country is all the better for his service. With much gratitude, we wish him all the best wherever his path may take him.” Continue reading →
Marvin Ammori, a fellow at the New American Foundation and author of the new book On Internet Freedom explains his view of how the First Amendment applies the Internet through the lens of constitutional law and real world case studies.
According to Ammori, Internet freedom is a foundational issue for democracy, equivalent to the right to vote or freedom of speech. In fact, he says, the First Amendment can be used as a design principle for how we think about the challenges we face as Internet technology increasingly becomes a part of our lives.
Ammori’s belief in a positive right to speech—that everyone should have access to the most important speech tools in society and be able to speak with and listen to any other speaker without having to seek permission— translates to a belief that Internet should be made available for everybody, without restrictions aside from those placed on offlinet speech.
Ammori goes on to explain why he thinks SOPA threatened to infringe upon free speech while net neutrality protects it, suggesting that allowing ISPs to control bandwidth usage is tantamount to forcing internet users to become passive consumers of information, rather than creators and content-spreaders.
Joe Karaganis, vice president at The American Assembly at Columbia University, discusses the relationship between digital convergence and cultural production in the realm of online piracy.
Karaganis’s work at American Assembly arose from a frustration with the one-sided way in which industry research was framing the discourse around global copyright policy. He shares the results of Copy Culture in the US & Germany, a recent survey he helped conduct that distinguishes between attitudes towards piracy in the two countries. It found that nearly half of adults in the U.S. and Germany participate in a broad, informal “copy culture,” characterized by the copying, sharing, and downloading of music, movies, TV shows, and other digital media. And while citizens support laws against piracy, they don’t support outsized penalties.
Karaganis also discuses the new “six-strike” Copyright Alert System in the U.S., of which he is skeptical. He also talks about the politics of copyright reform and notes that there is a window of opportunity for the Republican Party to take up the issue before demography gives the advantage to the much younger Democratic Party.
In the New York Times today, Evgeny Morozov indicts the “solutionism” of Silicon Valley, which he defines as the “intellectual pathology that recognizes problems as problems based on just one criterion: whether they are ‘solvable’ with [technology].” This is the theme of his new book, To Save Everything, Click Here, which I’m looking forward to reading.
Morozov is absolutely right that there is a tendency among the geekerati to want to solve things that aren’t really problems, but I think he overestimates the effects this has on society. What are the examples of “solutionism” that he cites? They include:
- LivesOn, a yet-to-launch service that promises to tweet from your account after you have died
- Superhuman, another yet-to-launch service with no public description
- Seesaw, an app that lets you poll friends for advice before making decisions
- A notional contact lens product that would “make homeless people disappear from view” as you walk about
It should first be noted that three of these four products don’t yet exist, so they’re straw men. But let’s grant Morozov’s point, that the geeks are really cooking these things up. Does he really think that no one besides him sees how dumb these ideas are?
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Gabriella Coleman, the Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy in the Art History and Communication Studies Department at McGill University, discusses her new book, “Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking,” which has been released under a Creative Commons license.
Coleman, whose background is in anthropology, shares the results of her cultural survey of free and open source software (F/OSS) developers, the majority of whom, she found, shared similar backgrounds and world views. Among these similarities were an early introduction to technology and a passion for civil liberties, specifically free speech.
Coleman explains the ethics behind hackers’ devotion to F/OSS, the social codes that guide its production, and the political struggles through which hackers question the scope and direction of copyright and patent law. She also discusses the tension between the overtly political free software movement and the “politically agnostic” open source movement, as well as what the future of the hacker movement may look like.
With each passing year, Washington’s appetite for Internet regulation grows. While “Hands Off the Net!” was a popular rallying cry just a decade ago—and was even a shared sentiment among many policymakers—today’s zeitgeist seems to instead be “Hands All Over the Net.” Countless interests and regulatory advocates have pet Internet policy issues they want Washington to address, including copyright, privacy, cybersecurity, online taxation, broadband regulation, among many others.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) wants to do something to slow down this legislative locomotive. He has proposed the “Internet American Moratorium Act (IAMA), which would impose a two-year moratorium on “any new laws, rules or regulations governing the Internet.” The prohibition would apply to both Congress and the Executive Branch but makes an exception to any rules dealing with national security.
Will Rep. Issa’s proposal make any difference if implemented? Any congressionally imposed legislative moratorium is a symbolic gesture and not a binding constraint since Congress is always free to pass another law later to get around an earlier prohibition. So, in that sense, a moratorium might not change much. Nonetheless, such symbolic gestures are often important and Issa is to be commended for at least trying to raise awareness about the dangers of creeping regulation of online life and the digital economy.
If policymakers really want to take a more substantive step to slow the flow of red tape, they should consider a different approach. Instead of (or, perhaps, in addition to) a two-year legislative moratorium, they should impose a variant of “Moore’s Law” for information technology laws and regulations. “Moore’s Law,” as most of you know, is the principle named after Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore who first observed that, generally speaking, the processing power of computers doubles roughly every 18 months while prices remain fairly constant.
As I argued in a Forbes column earlier this year, we should apply this same principle to high-tech policy. Continue reading →
In the wake of the election, Matt Hindman, author of The Myth of Digital Democracy, analyzes the effect of the internet on electoral politics.
According to Hindman, the internet had a large—but indirect—effect on the 2012 elections. Particularly important was microtargeting to identify supporters and get out the vote, says Hindman. Data and measurements—two things that the GOP was once ahead in, but which they have ceded to the Democrats in the past 8 years—played a key role in determining the winner of the presidential election, according to Hindman.
Hindman also takes a critical look at the blogosphere, comparing it to the traditional media that some argue it is superseding, and he delineates the respective roles played by Facebook and Twitter within the electoral framework.
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!)
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Looking for a concise overview of how Internet architecture has evolved and a principled discussion of the public policies that should govern the Net going forward? Then look no further than Christopher Yoo‘s new book, The Dynamic Internet: How Technology, Users, and Businesses are Transforming the Network. It’s a quick read (just 140 pages) and is worth picking up. Yoo is a Professor of Law, Communication, and Computer & Information Science at the University of Pennsylvania and also serves as the Director of the Center for Technology, Innovation & Competition there. For those who monitor ongoing developments in cyberlaw and digital economics, Yoo is a well-known and prolific intellectual who has established himself as one of the giants of this rapidly growing policy arena.
Yoo makes two straight-forward arguments in his new book. First, the Internet is changing. In Part 1 of the book, Yoo offers a layman-friendly overview of the changing dynamics of Internet architecture and engineering. He documents the evolving nature of Internet standards, traffic management and congestion policies, spam and security control efforts, and peering and pricing policies. He also discusses the rise of peer-to-peer applications, the growth of mobile broadband, the emergence of the app store economy, and what the explosion of online video consumption means for ongoing bandwidth management efforts. Those are the supply-side issues. Yoo also outlines the implications of changes in the demand-side of the equation, such as changing user demographics and rapidly evolving demands from consumers. He notes that these new demand-side realities of Internet usage are resulting in changes to network management and engineering, further reinforcing changes already underway on the supply-side.
Yoo’s second point in the book flows logically from the first: as the Internet continues to evolve in such a highly dynamic fashion, public policy must as well. Yoo is particularly worried about calls to lock in standards, protocols, and policies from what he regards as a bygone era of Internet engineering, architecture, and policy. “The dramatic shift in Internet usage suggests that its founding architectural principles form the mid-1990s may no longer be appropriate today,” he argues. (p. 4) “[T]he optimal network architecture is unlikely to be static. Instead, it is likely to be dynamic over time, changing with the shifts in end-user demands,” he says. (p. 7) Thus, “the static, one-size-fits-all approach that dominates the current debate misses the mark.” (p. 7) Continue reading →