The 10 Most-Read Posts of 2015

by on December 30, 2015 · 0 comments

Another year in the books for the Technology Liberation Front. Many developments unfolded in 2015 in the technology world and we covered much of it (on TLF and in other outlets). The most popular posts this year revolved around the Internet of Things, privacy, unlicensed spectrum, and municipal and public broadband networks. Thanks for reading, and enjoy the year in review.

10. What Cory Booker Gets About Innovation Policy, by Adam Thierer

In February, Adam appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee to testify about the Internet of Things and technology policy. During the hearing, Adam discovered a like-minded innovation advocate in Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). In his post, Adam recounts Sen. Booker’s statements during the hearing on the importance of promoting US leadership in technology, and rejecting policymaking based on techno-panics.

[P]erhaps most importantly, Sen. Booker stressed how essential it was that we reject a fear-based approach to public policymaking. As he noted at the hearing about these new information technologies, “there’s a lot of legitimate fears, but in the same way of every technological era, there must have been incredible fears.”

9. Bipartisan Internet of Things Resolution Introduced in the Senate, by Adam Thierer

Adam commends a bipartisan Senate resolution in March that announced a strategy to incentivize the development of the Internet of Things in the US. Adam likens it to the light-touch Internet policy vision from the 1990s that made the US a leader in Internet-based technologies and media.

We got policy right once before in the United States, and we can get it right again with a policy vision like that found in this new Senate resolution for the Internet of Things.

8. Unintended Consequences of the EU Safe Harbor Ruling, by Adam Thierer

In this post, Adam spells out some possible ill effects after the announcement that the European Court of Justice invalidated the 15-year old EU-US safe harbor agreement, which facilitated data transfers between the EU and US. Amongst the problems is that digital trade may suffer and the decision may accelerate the Balkanization of the Internet.

7. New ITIF Study on Privacy Panics, by Adam Thierer

In September, Adam appeared at an Information Technology and Innovation Foundation event to discuss privacy panics as new technologies are deployed. In his post, Adam reviews ITIF’s report about the latest privacy scares and posts video of the event.

I think one of the most important takeaways from the study is that, as Castro and McQuinn note, “history has shown, many of the overinflated claims about loss of privacy have never materialized.”

6. How the FCC Killed a Nationwide Wireless Broadband Network, by Brent Skorup

Clemson economist Thomas Hazlett and I published an article in the Duke Law & Technology Review about the bankruptcy of wireless carrier LightSquared and I summarized the piece in a blog post. We showed that FCC regulations regarding unlicensed spectrum often compel costly rent-seeking rather than parties’ reliance on market processes and Coasian bargaining.

The evaporation of billions of dollars of LightSquared funds was a non-market failure, not a market failure and not a technology failure. The economic loss to consumers was even greater than LightSquared’s. Different FCC rules could have permitted welfare-enhancing coordination between LightSquared and GPS. The FCC’s error was the nature of rights the agency assigned for GPS use. By authorizing the use of millions of unlicensed devices adjacent to LightSquared’s spectrum, the FCC virtually ensured that future attempts to reallocate spectrum in these bands would prove contentious.

5. 5 Great Books on Innovation and Technology Policy, by Adam Thierer

In September, after inquiries from tech scholars and students after an event, Adam provided his top-5 list of books to read about the conflict of visions over the direction of technology policy.

4. Don’t Hit the (Techno-) Panic Button on Connected Car Hacking and IoT Security, by Adam Thierer

Adam pushes back against the “panic-first” approach toward connected cars and the Internet of Things on display in a 60 Minutes segment and congressional hearings. Adam notes that most of the hype surrounding “car hacking” and malicious use of our connected devices are exaggerated. Further, market pressures and existing liability laws incentivize firms to act in ways that protect consumers and in these fast-moving industries, standards are rapidly improving as new IoT technologies enter the mainstream.

We are at the beginning of a long process. There is no final destination when it comes to security; it’s a never-ending process of devising and refining policies to address vulnerabilities on the fly. The complex problem of cybersecurity readiness requires dynamic solutions that properly align incentives, improve communication and collaboration, and encourage good personal and organizational stewardship of connected systems. Implementing the brittle bureaucratic standards that Markey and others propose could have the tragic unintended consequence of rendering our devices even lesssecure.

3. Will LTE-U Mark the End of the Unlicensed Spectrum Commons?, by Brent Skorup

Technologies using unlicensed spectrum have come and gone over the years but 2015 marked the year when one unlicensed technology–LTE-U–received substantial attention from technologists and tech reporters. The testing and possible deployment of technologies like LTE-U and Globalstar’s TLPS received significant opposition because of concerns about interference to and competition with existing unlicensed spectrum technologies like Wifi and Bluetooth. Despite the coverage in 2015, many predicted this “spectrum NIMBYism” in unlicensed spectrum years ago. The FCC created these circumstances because it provides no interference protection to existing users but its open access policy makes interference conflicts likely. Whether and how the FCC gets involved in approving new technologies using unlicensed spectrum is increasingly an issue to watch. Will the FCC continue to allow permissionless innovation in unlicensed spectrum or will it declare the spectrum commons a failed experiment, rescind its existing rules, and require more from new entrants?

By law unlicensed spectrum users have no rights to their spectrum; unlicensed spectrum is a managed commons. In practice, however, existing users frequently act as if they own their spectrum and they can exclude others. By entertaining these complaints, the FCC simply encourages NIMBYism in unlicensed spectrum.

2. Trouble Ahead for Municipal Broadband, by Brent Skorup

In early 2015, the Obama administration made publicly-funded broadband networks a major priority. I pushed back on the idea that public networks are good for consumers and taxpayers. I named several major operational and legal obstacles that municipal broadband operators can expect when they attempt to provide TV, Internet access, and telephone service.

If the federal government dropped over $100 million in a small city to build publicly-owned grocery stores with subsidized food, local grocery stores would, of course, strenuously object that this is patently unfair and harms private grocers. …The activists’ response to the carriers, who obviously complain about this “competition,” is essentially, “maybe now you’ll upgrade and compete harder.” It’s absurd on its face.

1. My Writing on Internet of Things (Thus Far), by Adam Thierer

In the run-up to Adam’s Internet of Things talk at CES 2015, he outlined his thoughts about IoT policy issues to watch. He attached his popular presentation about IoT and wearable technologies, helping to make this the top-visited TLF post of 2015.

[T]he Internet of Things finds itself at the center of what we might think of a perfect storm of public policy concerns: Privacy, safety, security, intellectual property, economic / labor disruptions, automation concerns, wireless spectrum issues, technical standards, and more. …[W]hen a new technology potentially touches all of these issues, then it means innovators in that space can expect an avalanche of attention and a potential world of regulatory trouble. Moreover, it sets the stage for a grand “clash of visions” about the future of IoT technologies that will continue to intensify in coming months and years.

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