The Top 10 Tech Liberation Posts in 2017

by on January 2, 2018 · 0 comments

Technology policy has made major inroads into a growing number of fields in recent years, including health care, labor, and transportation, and we at the Technology Liberation Front have brought a free-market lens to these issues for over a decade. As is our annual tradition, below are the most popular posts* from the past year, as well as key excerpts.

Enjoy, and Happy New Year.

10. Thoughts on “Demand” for Unlicensed Spectrum

Unlicensed spectrum is a contentious issue because the FCC gives out this valuable spectrum for free to device companies. The No. 10 most-read piece in 2017 was my January commentary on the proposed Mobile Now Act. In particular, I was alarmed at some of the vague language encouraging unlicensed spectrum.

Note that we have language about supply and demand here [in the bill]. But unlicensed spectrum is free to all users using an approved device (that is, nearly everyone in the US). Quantity demanded will always outstrip quantity supplied when a valuable asset (like spectrum or real estate) is handed out when price = 0. By removing a valuable asset from the price system, large allocation distortions are likely.

Any policy originating from Congress or the FCC to satisfy “demand” for unlicensed spectrum biases the agency towards parceling out an excessive amount of unlicensed spectrum.

9. The FCC’s Misguided Paid Priority Ban

Net neutrality has been generating clicks for over a decade and there was plenty of net neutrality news in 2017. In April, I explained why regulating and banning “paid priority” agreements online is damaging to the Internet.

The notion that there’s a level playing field online needing preservation is a fantasy. Non-real-time services like Netflix streaming, YouTube, Facebook pages, and major websites can mostly be “cached” on servers scattered around the US. Major web companies have their own form of paid prioritization–they spend millions annually, including large payments to ISPs, on transit agreements, CDNs, and interconnection in order to avoid congested Internet links.

The problem with a blanket paid priority ban is that it biases the evolution of the Internet in favor of these cache-able services and against real-time or interactive services like teleconferencing, live TV, and gaming. Caching doesn’t work for these services because there’s nothing to cache beforehand.

Happily, a few months after this post was published the Trump FCC, led by Chairman Pai, eliminated the intrusive 2015 Internet regulations, including the “paid priority ban.”

8. Who needs a telecom regulator? Denmark doesn’t.

In March, the Mercatus Center published a case study by Roslyn Layton, a Trump transition team member, and Joe Kane about Denmark’s successful telecom reform since the 1990s. I summarized the paper for readers after it was published.

Layton and Kane explore Denmark’s relatively free-market telecom policies. They explain how Denmark modernized its telecom laws over time as technology and competition evolved. Critically, the center-left government eliminated Denmark’s telecom regulator in 2011 in light of the “convergence” of services to the Internet. Scholars noted,

“Nobody seemed to care much—except for the staff who needed to move to other authorities and a few people especially interested in IT and telecom regulation.”

Even-handed, light telecom regulation performs pretty well. Denmark, along with South Korea, leads the world in terms of broadband access. The country also has a modest universal service program that depends primarily on the market. Further, similar to other Nordic countries, Denmark permitted a voluntary forum, including consumer groups, ISPs, and Google, to determine best practices and resolve “net neutrality” controversies.

This fascinating Layton-Kane case study inspired a November event in DC about the future of US telecom law featuring FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and former Danish regulator Jakob Willer.

7. Shouldn’t the Robots Have Eaten All the Jobs at Amazon By Now?

Artificial intelligence and robotics are advancing rapidly but no one is certain what the effects will be for American labor markets. In July, Adam looked at Amazon’s incorporation of robots and urged scholars and policymakers to resist the doomsayers who predict crushing unemployment.

The reality is that we suffer from a serious poverty of imagination when it comes to thinking about the future, and future job opportunities in particular. …Old jobs and skills are indeed often replaced by mechanization and new technological processes. But that in turn opens the door to people to take on new opportunities — often in new sectors and new firms, but sometimes even within the same industries and companies. And because human needs and wants are essentially infinite, this process just goes on and on and on as we search for new and better ways of doing things. And that’s how, in the long run, robots and automation are actually employment-enhancing rather than employment-reducing.

6. Does “Permissionless Innovation” Even Mean Anything?

Adam spoke at an Arizona State University conference in May about emerging technologies and published his remarks at Tech Liberation. He commented on the rise of “soft law” for government oversight of tech-infused, fast-moving industries.

That is, there seemed to be some grudging acceptance on both our parts that “soft law” systems, multistakeholder processes, and various other informal governance mechanisms will need to fill the governance gap left by the gradual erosion of hard law.

Many other scholars, including many of you in this room, have discussed the growth of soft law mechanisms in specific contexts, but I believe we have probably failed to acknowledge the extent to which these informal governance models have already become the dominant form of technological governance, at least in the United States.

5. Book Review: Garry Kasparov’s “Deep Thinking”

In May, Adam reviewed Garry Kasparov’s new book about AI, describing it as a “welcome breath of fresh air” in a genre often devoted to generating technopanics.

Kasparov’s book serves as the perfect antidote to the prevailing gloom-and-doom narrative in modern writing about artificial intelligence (AI) and smart machines. His message is one of hope and rational optimism about future in which we won’t be racing against the machines but rather running alongside them and benefiting in the process.

…Kasparov suggests that there are lessons for us in the history of chess as well as from his own experience competing against Deep Blue. He notes that his match against IBM’s supercomputer, “was symbolic of how we are in a strange competition both with and against our creation in more ways every day.”

Instead of just throwing our hands up in the air in frustration, we must be willing to embrace the new and unknown — especially AI and machine-learning.

4. Remember What the Experts Said about the Apple iPhone 10 Years Ago?

2017 marked the ten-year anniversary of the release of the first iPhone. Adam took a look back at some of the predictions made when the groundbreaking device first hit stores.

A decade after these predictions were made, Motorola, Nokia, Palm, and Blackberry have been decimated by the rise of Apple as well as Google (which actually purchased Motorola in the midst of it all). And Microsoft still struggles with mobile even though they are still a player in the field. Rarely have Joseph Schumpeter’s “perennial gales of creative destruction” blown harder than they have in the mobile sector over this 10 year period.

3. 4 Ways Technology Helped During Hurricanes Harvey and Irma (and 1 more it could have)

Jennifer Huddleston Skees joined our team in 2017 and September wrote the No. 3 most-popular post of the year about how technology is aiding disaster relief.

Technology is changing the way we respond to disasters and assisting with relief efforts. As Allison Griswold writes at Quartz, this technology enabled response has redefined how people provide assistance in the wake of disaster. We cannot plan how such technology will react to difficult situations or the actions of such platforms users, but the recent events in Florida and Texas show it can enable us to help one another even more. The more technology is allowed to participate in a response, the better it enables people to connect to those in need in the wake of disaster.

2. Some background on broadband privacy changes

Hyperbole, misinformation, and worse is amplified in too many news stories and Facebook feeds whenever Republicans undo an Obama FCC priority. Early in 2017 Congress and President Trump decided to use the rarely-used Congressional Review Act process to repeal broad Internet privacy regulations passed by the Obama FCC in 2016. My explainer about what was really going on (No, ISPs are not selling your SSNs and location information without your permission.) was the No. 2 story of the year.

Considering that these notice and choice rules have not even gone into effect, the rehearsed outrage from advocates demands explanation: The theatrics this week are not really about congressional repeal of the (inoperative) privacy rules. Two years ago the FCC decided to regulate the Internet in order to shape Internet services and content. The leading advocates are outraged because FCC control of the Internet is slipping away. Hopefully Congress and the FCC will eliminate the rest of the Title II baggage this year.

1. Here’s why the Obama FCC Internet regulations don’t protect net neutrality

There are plenty of myths about the 2015 “net neutrality” Order. Fortunately, many people out there are skeptical of the conventional narrative surrounding net neutrality. My post from July about the paper-thin net neutrality protections in the 2015 Order saw new life in November and December when the Trump FCC released a proposal to repeal the 2015 Order. Driven by the theatrics by those opposing the December 2017 Restoring Internet Freedom Order (and a Mark Cuban retweet), this post came from behind to be the most-read Technology Liberation post of the year.

The 2016 court decision upholding the rules was a Pyrrhic victory for the net neutrality movement. In short, the decision revealed that the 2015 Open Internet Order provides no meaningful net neutrality protections–it allows ISPs to block and throttle content. As the judges who upheld the Order said, “The Order…specifies that an ISP remains ‘free to offer ‘edited’ services’ without becoming subject to the rule’s requirements.”

No one knows what 2018 has in store for technology policy, but your loyal TLF bloggers are preparing for driverless car technology, cybersecurity, spectrum policy, and more.

Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.


*Excepting the most-read post, which was a 2017 update to a 2014 post from Adam about the definition of technology.

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