At least they spelled our name right. The Price of Broadband Politics is the title of a New York Times editorial on the lobbying that’s taking place around broadband Internet regulation that sounds the usual cliche themes about money in politics:
Comcast has spent more than $2 million on campaign donations; Verizon has given $1.2 million. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association — the industry’s collective lobbying group — has spent about $1 million more. And just in case that isn’t persuasive enough of the ills of government regulation, telephone and cable companies spent $20.6 million lobbying the government in the first quarter of the year.
Never mind that money spent on contributions is entirely different from money spent on lobbying, it’s the dollar signs that the Times sees, and only those on one side of the debate. So what happens if regulated industries are forbidden from lobbying? The industries who see a benefit from spinning the regulations a certain way will still lobby, and voices like that of the New York Times editorial page will be all the louder. The Times perceives its self-interest, rightly or wrongly, to depend on these regulations, and it’s spending its own money to advocate for its interests on its editorial page. God forbid its opponents who don’t own printing presses should do the same.
The FCC’s “Third Way” rhetoric is especially interesting to ITIF because the notion that a third way was needed is something ITIF president Rob Atkinson and current Obama advisor Phil Weiser introduced in a 2006 paper. The rhetoric of the third way doesn’t align with the use of a Title II classification, however, because Section 202 has the simplistic “anti-discrimination” construction that’s telephone-specific. Packet-switched networks employ discrimination to do constructive things, so the policy issues are around the sale and transparency of discrimination as a service, not the mere fact of its existence.
The FCC is also usurping the Congressional role and defining its own mandate. See the ITIF statement:
The Federal Communications Commission, the government agency charged by Congress with regulating communications by air and wire, announced today a sweeping new program that goes far beyond its mandate. The FCC’s move is likely to lead to a lengthy and unnecessary legal battle, create needless uncertainty in the market, and detract from the FCC’s important work in implementing the recently unveiled national Broadband Plan. While the FCC is attempting to create a regulatory framework suitable for the ever changing Internet ecosystem, its proposal is tantamount to going duck hunting with a cannon.
This is a story that has become all too familiar. In the recent past, the courts have struck down punitive FCC orders against the Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction” and on, April 6, an overwrought ruling against cable operator Comcast, who sought to preserve good Internet performance for those of its customers who use Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services such as Skype and Vonage. This most recent example of FCC over-reach is a proposal that would take broadband Internet services out of their present status as lightly-regulated “information services” (Title I) and plunk them into a regulatory system devised for the monopoly telephone networks of the 1930s (Title II).
News leaked out earlier today to the effect that the FCC has decided to pursue a Title II regulatory program for the Internet, treating it in effect as if it were a telephone network. Others have called this approach “the nuclear option,” but I think it’s less severe, more like the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. Telecom lawyers will prosper from it, as a move of this kind is likely to take many years of court battles to squelch. Here’s a little discussion I had with a small circle of friends at the TechCrunch pad this afternoon.
I went to the FTC’s second privacy workshop yesterday in Berkeley, and found it a generally interesting and worthwhile event, although it did exhibit some of the familiar patterns. Privacy, like net neutrality, isn’t as much a coherent issue as a grab-bag of grievances about a number of loosely connected concerns. Privacy is even more diverse and more incoherent than NN, which is after all driven by the desire to preserve traditional features of the Internet. Privacy seeks to change Internet tradition, which has never had any meaningful privacy but has simply created a sufficiently strong illusion of anonymity to make some people think there’s privacy on the net.
So what you have in privacy is two major issues of totally different character: (1) the capture of fleeting personal information by various services; and (2) the building of databases of personal activity and the subsequent analysis, use, and sale of the information they contain. These issues have to be resolved against the background of the Internet’s defective security architecture and tradition of people using handles instead of real names. When people feel anonymous, they misbehave, which is why there’s no much theft and generally churlish behavior on the net.
Congress is looking into these issues as well, and toward that end has held several hearings. I’m attaching testimony I delivered at one of these last Spring for your enjoyment. It holds up pretty well.
The FCC should proceed with caution in conducting its inquiry into Open Internet rules, according to comments filed by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation today. All the evidence suggests that the Internet is thriving: network operators are investing and new applications, devices, services, and content are emerging at a dizzying rate. While there is a need to clarify the confused state of Internet regulation in the United States, there’s no compelling public interest for the FCC to adopt a stringent new regulatory framework. The Commission would do well to follow the example of fellow regulators in Canada and Europe who have recently concluded that the most sensible course for national regulators is to emphasize disclosure of terms of service and oversight of business and technical practices.
ITIF rejects the argument that the FCC lacks jurisdiction to regulate the Internet, but urges the Commission to carefully consider the evidence before enacting new regulations on Internet access services. The Internet is a complex “virtual network” designed to serve a variety of needs, and as such it does not readily lend itself to traditional telecom regulatory models. The Internet requires regulators to take a fresh approach. The first step for the Commission is to conduct a fair and probing analysis about how the Internet works today.
ITIF applauds the Commission for committing to an open process and feels that careful examination will lead to the conclusion that the Internet is fundamentally healthy.
The big issues here are that we’re not done with network engineering, nor are we done with developing the business models that make the most of network investments. So the companies who develop the insides of the Internet need to continue cooperating with the people who develop the outsides. The Verizon/Google, Comcast/BitTorrent and AT&T/Apple partnerships are instructive.
I asked the net neutrality question toward the end, and applauded the Chairman for the way he’s transformed the FCC. Genachowski brought some of his best staffers with him, and it was nice to meet and greet and share ideas. You have to admire anyone who can make such deep changes to a rather hidebound federal agency as quickly as Genachowski and staff have done.
The long-awaited video of the FCC’s December 10 workshop Review and Discussion of Broadband Deployment Research is finally on-line. This workshop featured discussions of Yochai Benkler’s controversial Berkman Center report on unbundled DSL and Bob Atkinson’s report on current broadband investment dynamics in the US. As the FCC put it:
As part of the Commission’s development of the National Broadband Plan, the Commission has requested two independent studies. The Commission asked Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society to conduct an expert review of existing literature and studies about broadband deployment and usage throughout the world. The Columbia Institute for Tele-Information (“CITI”), based at the Columbia Business School in New York, conducted an independent outside expert review of projected deployment of new and upgraded broadband networks.
Benkler’s report was very politely decimated by Tom Hazlett, an actual economist who knows a thing or two about how Benkler cooked the books, intentionally or by bungling, and the relevant comparisons for the US. One of the many problems with Benkler’s report is that he didn’t do what the FCC asked him to do, which was to simply review the literature on international policies. Instead, he and his Berkman colleagues tried to aggregate all the data into a giant meta-study. Benkler violated the FCC’s “no original research” rule, which should have been familiar to Benkler given his fascination with Wikipedia.
Mr. Levin also dismissed criticisms last week from public interest groups unhappy the plan may not propose some ideas for encouraging competition, such as rules that would require Internet providers to share their lines with competitors.
“I find their criticism not very productive,” Mr. Levin said Monday.
FCC officials have been considering the ideas, some of which were laid out in a FCC-commissioned report by Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society.
The report suggests that other countries have faster, cheaper broadband because they adopted open access, line-sharing rules years ago. But FCC officials appear to have backed away from the open access idea in recent weeks.
“The Berkman (study) did a fantastic job of pointing out what’s going on around the world,” Mr. Levin said. “There are certain things where what’s going on in other countries really isn’t germane for where we go from here.
Thursday’s edition of The Communicators on C-Span featured MPAA CEO Dan Glickman and Washington Internet Daily editor Greg Piper talking about digital piracy. There’s a segment beginning 9 minutes in on the recent ITIF report on stopping piracy.
It’s very good to see people paying attention to the financial side of piracy.
It is time for the U.S. government to take global theft of U.S. intellectual property, especially digital content, much more seriously. A new ITIF report finds that the U.S. government can and should do more to support industry efforts to reduce digital piracy, a growing problem that threatens not only the robust production of digital content, but U.S. jobs. While there are no “silver bullets” to reducing digital piracy, there are a number of “lead bullets” that can and should be implemented. Specifically, ITIF calls on the federal government to not preclude those impacted by digital piracy, including copyright holders and ISPs, from taking steps, including implementing technical controls like digital fingerprinting, to reduce piracy. In addition, industry and government should consider bold steps to limit the revenue streams of those profiting from piracy by encouraging ISPs, search engines, ad networks and credit card companies to block piracy websites and refuse to do business with them. These options should be part of a broad dialogue that engages all stakeholders, including government, content owners, website operators, technology developers, and ISPs and other intermediaries, on how to improve the global response to piracy. Toward that end, this report recommends that policymakers:
And here’s the video of the launch event:
One point that comes across better from the live event than from the paper is that piracy isn’t simply something that takes place between close personal friends, it’s a business that profits from the unauthorized sale of other people’s material. Whatever your views on Internet privacy and intellectual property rights may be, I think we can all agree that the business of piracy is wrong.