The Agenda for the Fall

What’s the House Energy and Commerce Committee doing? Check The Hill’s Hillicon Valley:

Cybersecurity, process reform at the Federal Communications Commission, privacy and spectrum policy issues will dominate the technology agenda for the House Energy and Commerce Committee this fall.

“The American public is desperate for more jobs, and Energy and Commerce Republicans understand the fundamental economic principle that reducing regulatory burdens is imperative to spur job growth and economic recovery,” said Chairman Fred Upton in a statement accompanying the fall agenda.

“Our future depends on our economic growth, and our economic growth depends on our regulatory future.”

Spectrum, spectrum, spectrum. And more spectrum.

Does Free Press Coordinate Strategy with Google?

The ethics complaints against former Google lobbyist Andrew McLaughlin aren’t going away.

Over a two-week period in February 2010, McLaughlin exchanged numerous emails with Free Press director Ben Scott, another prominent advocate for Net neutrality who has coordinated policy strategy with Google and attended joint meetings with Google at the FCC and White House on numerous occasions. They agreed to meet outside the White House at a nearby coffee shop to discuss Internet policy.

It’s interesting to see this level of coordination, given all of Free Press’ claims of independence. But it’s not unusual for members of a coalition to talk to each other; they’re often directed to do so by the government. In a former life, I was often in that position, so this still has a “gambling in Casablanca” feel.

Wrong Way

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).

Read the whole thing.

Assertions without Fact

Eric Schmidt made an interesting point about Washington, DC think tanks recently:

“I spend so much time in Washington now because of the work that I’ve been doing, I deal with all these people who make assertions without fact,” he said. Policy people “will hand me some report that they wrote or they’ll make some assertion, and I’ll say, ‘Well, is that true?’ — and they can’t prove it.”

Perhaps that could change some day, he suggested. Technology could help.

With Google’s vast power for capturing and remembering data, Schmidt painted a picture in which technology could help quantify and verify the assertions made in policy documents. “Government is highly measurable, most of it,” he said. “We can actually see how many people got this shot or read this report or so forth. A government — a transparent government — should be able to [measure] that.”

He’s absolutely right, of course. Policy has a number of sacred cows because it’s a political process, and the last thing Congress ever does is follow-up on the measures it enacts to see whether they produce the desired results. So I challenge my colleagues in the think tank business to support assertions with evidence, and to cite longitudinal studies when they exist. This is the road to good policy.