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Adam Thierer, Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center discusses his recent working paper with coauthor Brent Skorup, A History of Cronyism and Capture in the Information Technology Sector. Thierer takes a look at how cronyism has manifested itself in technology and media markets — whether it be in the form of regulatory favoritism or tax privileges. Which tech companies are the worst offenders? What are the consequences for consumers? And, how does cronyism affect entrepreneurship over the long term?

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Gina Keating, author of Netflixed: The Epic Battle for America’s Eyeballs, discusses the startup of Netflix and their competition with Blockbuster.

Keating begins with the history of the company and their innovative improvements to the movie rental experience. She discusses their use of new technology and marketing strategies in DVD rental, which inspired Blockbuster to adapt to the changing market.

Keating goes on to describe Netflix’s transition to internet streaming and Blockbuster’s attempts to retain their market share.

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The Information Economy Project at the George Mason University School of Law is hosting a conference tomorrow, Friday, April 19. The conference title is From Monopoly to Competition or Competition to Monopoly? U.S. Broadband Markets in 2013. There will be two morning panels featuring discussion of competition in the broadband marketplace and the social value of “ultra-fast” broadband speeds.

We have a great lineup, including keynote addresses from Commissioner Joshua Wright, Federal Trade Commission and from Dr. Robert Crandall, Brookings Institution.

The panelists include:

Eli Noam, Columbia Business School

Marius Schwartz, Georgetown University, former FCC Chief Economist

Babette Boliek, Pepperdine University School of Law

Robert Kenny, Communications Chambers (U.K.)

Scott Wallsten, Technology Policy Institute

The panels will be moderated by Kenneth Heyer, Federal Trade Commission and Gus Hurwitz, University of Pennsylvania, respectively. A continental breakfast will be served at 8:00 am and a buffet lunch is provided. We expect to adjourn at 1:30 pm. You can find an agenda here and can RSVP here. Space is limited and we expect a full house, so those interested are encouraged to register as soon as possible.

Why did the government impose a completely different funding mechanism on the Internet than on the Interstate Highway System? There is no substantive distinction between the shared use of local infrastructure by commercial “edge” providers on the Internet and shared use of the local infrastructure by commercial “edge” providers (e.g., FedEx) on the highways.

In Part 1 of this post, I described the history of government intervention in the funding of the Internet, which has been used to exempt commercial users from paying for the use of local Internet infrastructure. The most recent intervention, known as “net neutrality”, was ostensibly intended to protect consumers, but in practice, requires that consumers bear all the costs of maintaining and upgrading local Internet infrastructure while content and application providers pay nothing. This consumer-funded commercial subsidy model is the opposite of the approach the government took when funding the Interstate Highway System: The federal government makes commercial users pay more for their use of the highways than consumers. This fundamental difference in approach is why net neutrality advocates abandoned the “information superhighway” analogy promoted by the Clinton Administration during the 1990s. Continue reading →

Many net neutrality advocates would prefer that the FCC return to the regulatory regime that existed during the dial-up era of the Internet. They have fond memories of the artificially low prices charged by the dial-up ISPs of that era, but have forgotten that those artificially low prices were funded by consumers through implied subsidies embedded in their monthly telephone bills.

Remember when the Internet was the “information superhighway”? As recently as 2009, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) still referred to the broadband Internet as, “the interstate highway of the 21st century.” Highways remain a close analogy to the Internet, yet by 2010, net neutrality advocates had replaced Internet highway analogies with analogies to waterworks and the electrical grid. They stopped analogizing the Internet to highways when they realized their approach to Internet regulation is inconsistent with government management of the National Highway System, which has always required commercial users of the highways to pay more for their use than ordinary consumers. In contrast, net neutrality is only the latest in a series of government interventions that have exempted commercial users from paying for the use of local Internet infrastructure. Continue reading →

Free Press is holding its National Conference for Media Reform next week. The conference agenda describes the Internet as “central” to freedom of expression, which is how all mass media technologies have been described since the invention of the printing press ushered in the mass communications era. Despite recognizing that the Internet is a mass media technology, Free Press does not believe the Internet should be accorded the same constitutional protections as other mass media technologies. Like so many others, Free Press has forgotten that the dangers posed by government control of the Internet are similar to those posed by earlier mass media technologies. In a stunning reversal of the concepts embodied in the Bill of Rights, Free Press believes the executive and legislative branches of government are the source of protection for the freedom of expression. In their view, “Internet freedom means net neutrality.Continue reading →

I hope that you’ve all been watching the terrific videos on “Economics of the Media” that Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok have put together as part of their Marginal Revolution University online courses.  They divide their media economics lessons into four groupings: (1) Basic economics of media; (2) Media bias; (3) Media and government; and (4) Media and economic development.  Tyler and Alex asked Jerry Brito and me to contribute two videos on Net neutrality for the project. Jerry’s course offers an overview of Net neutrality as a general engineering principle. My video explores Net neutrality as a regulatory proposal and couches it in a broader discussion of network economics. Each video lasts approximately 6-7 minutes. Here they are:


Christopher Yoo

Christopher S. Yoo, the John H. Chestnut Professor of Law, Communication, and Computer & Information Science at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the new book, The Dynamic Internet: How Technology, Users, and Businesses are Transforming the Network, explains that the Internet that we knew in its early days—one with a client-server approach, with a small number of expert users, and a limited set of applications and business cases—has radically changed, and so it may be that the architecture underlying the internet may as well.

According to Yoo, the internet we use today barely resembles the original Defense Department and academic network from which it emerged. The applications that dominated the early Internet—e-mail and web browsing—have been joined by new applications such as video and cloud computing, which place much greater demands on the network. Wireless broadband and fiber optics have emerged as important alternatives to transmission services provided via legacy telephone and cable television systems, and mobile devices are replacing personal computers as the dominant means for accessing the Internet. At the same time, the networks comprising the Internet are interconnecting through a wider variety of locations and economic terms than ever before.

These changes are placing pressure on the Internet’s architecture to evolve in response, Yoo says. The Internet is becoming less standardized, more subject to formal governance, and more reliant on intelligence located in the core of the network. At the same time, Internet pricing is becoming more complex, intermediaries are playing increasingly important roles, and the maturation of the industry is causing the nature of competition to change. Moreover, the total convergence of all forms of communications into a single network predicted by many observers may turn out to be something of a myth. Policymakers, Yoo says, should allow room for this natural evolution of the network to take place.

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posted an analysis of Netflix’s new Internet blocking strategy last week. I concluded that Netflix is attempting to leverage net neutrality regulations to gain an anticompetitive price advantage in the marketplace. In my view, this harm is an unintended consequence of the FCC’s decision to abandon its free market approach to the Internet and adopt net neutrality rules that enhance the market power of so-called “edge” companies. As Neil Stevens said in his Tech at Night column: “Told you so.”

Harold Feld apparently agrees that Netflix is threatening competition, and he has is own case of Cassandrafreude (“told you so,” but with a smile). In his view, however, the problem is that the FCC didn’t go far enough. He believes this situation could have been avoided if the FCC had applied common carrier regulation to the Internet (also known as Title II), which would regulate the Internet using statutes written for the old monopoly telephone network.

Though Harold Feld and I disagree on the appropriate level of Internet regulation (I would prefer less rather than more), it appears we do agree on several issues raised by Netflix’s decision to block access to its Super HD service. The unintended consequence of Netflix’s decision is that the ensuing debate has clarified some important Internet policy issues. Continue reading →

When the smoke cleared and I found myself half caught-up on sleep, the information and sensory overload that was CES 2013 had ended.

There was a kind of split-personality to how I approached the event this year. Monday through Wednesday was spent in conference tracks, most of all the excellent Innovation Policy Summit put together by the Consumer Electronics Association. (Kudos again to Gary Shapiro, Michael Petricone and their team of logistics judo masters.)

The Summit has become an important annual event bringing together legislators, regulators, industry and advocates to help solidify the technology policy agenda for the coming year and, in this case, a new Congress.

I spent Thursday and Friday on the show floor, looking in particular for technologies that satisfy what I coined the The Law of Disruption: social, political, and economic systems change incrementally, but technology changes exponentially.

What I found, as I wrote in a long post-mortem for Forbes, is that such technologies are well-represented at CES, but are mostly found at the edges of the show–literally. Continue reading →