Articles by Carl Gipson

Carl Gipson formerly wrote for the TLF.

San Francisco, often the breeding ground for “interesting” public policy proposals, decided recently to back off its mandate the would have required retailers of cell phones to label them with radiation levels and pass out material explaining the level of SAR in each device (SAR= Specific Absorption Rate).

This has not been done anywhere else and faced stiff opposition from the wireless industry, which filed suit against the ordinance last year.

We’ve commented on the ridiculous nature of this ordinance before. Suffice to say, in the year since this issue hit, there has still been no evidence offered that cell phones pose any sort of carcinogenic threat. This great piece in the NY Times Magazine goes into more detail on the problems of testing this hypothesis but also highlights the common error of confusing causality with coincidence. The author’s main point: Continue reading →

A UK government report issued this week warns that climate change, in addition to threatening many different parts of everyday life, also threatens the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry. The report, available online, warns that regulatory measures have to be taken to lessen the threat of rising temperatures and stormy weather, which would have adverse effects on the radio waves that constitute communications technology.

Specifically, the report’s authors assume that rising temperatures and rainy storms will interfere with radio waves. This assumes that that the aforementioned rising temperatures and rainy storms are indeed a foregone conclusion. For the sake of argument, let’s assume they are correct.

The study mentions that rising temperatures will cause cell towers to lose efficiency, but nothing in the document backs this up. Making such a claim requires scientific data but nothing was offered. A skeptical person reading this report may think, anecdotally, that cell towers are sited in all sorts of conditions all over the globe, taking into account varying temperatures in which they operate. Cell towers sited in Alaska are probably able to handle the extreme cold, otherwise the cell provider would not waste money placing it there. Likewise, a cell tower sited in Arizona would need to take into account the 100 degree+ temperature. And at last count, wireless service is available in both Alaska and Arizona. Continue reading →

So a few weeks ago I hit up Adam Thierer, who has done and is continuing to do great work on all things regulation, on some materials for a project I was working on regarding the precautionary principle in the digital space. Turns out Adam was in the middle of his own Digital Precautionary Principle piece as well. I’ll take our simpatico as a sign that this phenomenon may actually be taking place and that I’m not paranoid. (If you haven’t read his earlier piece on TLF, please do so).

While my piece on DPP is coming, hopefully this week, I’ll start things off with my article in today’s on regulations and risk and how regulating agencies are engaging in traditional “risk aversion behavior” to the detriment of the risk takers (aka entrepreneurs) in the private market. A smarter approach to regulating would incorporate both benefits and risks of NOT regulating. So many times the discussion is geared towards the notion that something has to be done, so how can we minimize the negative impacts, rather than, should we be doing anything at all or should we encourage the trial and error mechanisms that markets utilize?

While the piece isn’t targeted directly at the technology industry, I think it can apply there just as much as any other industry.


A new report out this week in State Tax Notes shows the discriminatory way in which Federal, state and local governments treat their citizens who subscribe to wireless services — and according to CTIA that’s about 93% of Americans.

Federal, state and local taxes and fees for wireless services topped an average of 16.3% in 2010. The highest combined rate was 16.85% in 2005. This far surpasses the average retail sales tax rate, which obviously varies by state.

Some blame can rest squarely on the shoulders of state or local officials who have targeted wireless services for a specific tax. The report points out a few examples:

  • Baltimore: increased its per-line tax from $3.50 per month to $4
  • Montgomery County, MD: increased its per-line tax from $2 to $3.50 per month
  • Olympia, WA: imposed a 9 percent telecommunications tax on top of the state-local combined sales tax of 8.5 percent
  • Chicago: imposed a 7 percent excise tax on wireless services on top of the state’s 7 percent excise tax
  • Nebraska: imposes a local “utility” tax of up to 6.5 percent in addition to the 6.5 percent combined state-local sales tax
  • Tucson, AZ: increased its telecommunications license tax from 2 percent to 4 percent Continue reading →

Citing nefarious, and completely imaginative, examples of “Big Mobile” and “Big Cable” shutting down access to the Internet, the FCC voted today to move towards greater regulatory oversight of Broadband Internet through Net Neutrality principles. (indeed, even the HuffPo is saying in the most hyperbolic way that this is “The Most Important Free Speech Issue of Our Time“)

For a primer of Net Neutrality, visit here or here.

The public is still waiting for the specific language of the regulatory order (FCC Commissioners only recevied it themselves just before midnight last night), so I cannot comment on the language that lawyers are sure to argue over for years to come. However, based on the comments of the FCC Commissioners, both pro and con, on the order I have come to some preliminary conclusions:

1) Those who think this regulatory framework “preserves” the openness of the Internet are wrong. This fundamentally changes many aspects of the infrastructure of the Internet, even if it is below the radar. My foremost concern is that paid prioritized access will be barred. So, count Level3 among the winners here today. How is paid prioritized access a bad thing? If I want a quality experience with Netflix or Amazon or Hulu, I need access to a network that prioritizes video over someone’s email, who won’t be harmed if their message is delayed by less than a second. If my video is delayed less than a second, guess what, jitter occurs. And if too much jitter occurs then I’m turning off my video. How is that good?

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An interesting and thought-provoking piece by Malcolm Gladwell over at The New Yorker this month takes a look at the intersection between true civic activism (the kind that could get you killed) and “social networking” activism (the kind that only takes a retweet or hitting the “like” button on Facebook).

Gladwell’s piece starts off retelling the story of how the Civil Rights “sit-in” movement of the early 1960s spread like wildfire among the younger set without the aid of, god forbid, Facebook or Twitter. Contrast that historical example with the more recent happenings in Iran and the Twitter Revolution, where it seemed that tens of thousands of Twitter users stood in solidarity with the protesting Iranians, some of who were literally dying in the streets. The point Gladwell is making, and one with which I concur, is that for all the hype regarding social networking tools, relying on said tools to advocate significant change will end up in a losing battle or inefficient result.

A big reason, Gladwell postulates, is that social networks are at their core good at increasing participation but inefficient at execution. It’s easy to hit the “like” button on Facebook to agree that “I support Darfur victims,” or “down with big government,” but it’s another thing to put your literal neck on the line — as the protestors in South Carolina and Iran did.

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A fun little tidbit from Huffington Post today. Cook County Commissioner Robert Steele penned an op-ed revealing that Free Press, strong advocates for Net Neutrality regulation, is pushing its agenda on minority communities in order to gin up support for further regulation of the Internet. I’m sure there is no connection with today’s FCC decision to move forward with its Notice of Inquiry on reclassifying the Internet to fits Chairman Genachowski’s controversial “third way.”

Take a minute to read the entire piece by Commissioner Steele, but one of the more salient points is this,

“My first thought when reading this [Free Press] email was, ‘what do these folks know about the needs and wants of communities of color, especially on an issue as impactful as Net Neutrality?'”

In assessing a couple of recent surveys on broadband adoption among minority communities (especially African-American and Hispanic), a couple of things become evident. First, the nation is facing an adoption problem, not an access problem. Those who are not connected to broadband are in this position largely due to their own choice. The FCC’s own report shows that, while African-Americans and Hispanics trail the average in broadband access, the gaps have narrowed just in the last year.

Not only that, but when it comes to the African-American community, it is the older folks who are not connecting (both minority and non-minorities). Those in the minority community under the age of 30 have basically the same broadband adoption rates as whites, which mean younger adults are recognizing the benefits of broadband. The same can be said about educated households, but then, educated households have a higher income level than non-educated and higher income is another factor towards higher adoption rates.

Another interesting factoid is that the minority groups are more likely to access the Internet via a handheld device. This means that mobile broadband growth may very well help pick up the slack in the “digital divide.” It seems more and more are relying on their smartphones to handle their Internet needs.

Really though, the bottom line is that people in low-income households, and those who tend to be older, are the ones that by-and-large do not want to connect to the Internet. There is nothing in Genachowski’s “third way” regulatory scheme, nor in anything that Free Press is pushing, that will help bridge this gap.

It’s a shame that Free Press is using racial division as a motivation to push unnecessary government regulation.

A “funny until you realize it’s real” story out of San Francisco today (courtesy of the NY Times) where the city will soon require cell phone retailers to display the amount of radiation in each phone that is for sale on their shelves.

Even though this concern has been debunked time and again — the article mentions the latest major study that found no supporting evidence linking cancer to cell phone usage — the city believes that, though there are plenty of resources for those wishing to research radiation for particular cell phones, the city “thinks that for the consumer…it ought to be easier to find.”

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The city of Bellingham, Washington lies close to the Canadian border. It is a sleep town of 70,000 or so with a decent sized University, a pleasant waterfront and charming downtown. (Full disclosure, the author attended said University a decade ago)

The town’s motto is, “the city of subdued excitement,” something that probably better fits a description of this author than the town, but whatever.

I did, however, get a kick out of the video that city leaders spent $5K putting together to accompany the Google fiber rollout project application. I love a good broadband connection as much as the next guy, but the video, while done in a very professional manner, made my hair stand up on end. For one thing, Bellingham has good broadband networks, including Clear’s WiMax, numerous coffee shops with complimentary WiFi, a networked university system, etc. We’re not dealing with backwood hicks here or stone-cobbled streets.

But I suppose a video looks less desperate than changing the name of your city.

Google Fiber: Put the G in Bellingham

I recently wrote an op-ed for the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Inside ALEC publication. It’s decidedly non-technical, as most correspondance with a majority in the legislative branch must be. In my dealings with those in state government positions, it seems that only in the last few months have many of them become aware of the FCC’s Net Neutrality proposals — or even the issue itself. I don’t blame them. State legislators are often more concerned with local issues such as solving their budget deficits or finding funding for critical government operations.

But it’s important that they also keep an eye on what’s happening in “the other Washington,” (as we Washington state-ers like to call it) as the policies from Congress, the Administration and federal agencies trickle down to affect each and every one of us.

The text of the op-ed is after the break.

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