The Limits of Net Neutrality

[Commentary] Network neutrality is about attempting to limit the power of Internet access network operators (like Charter or Comcast) to choose winners and losers among the services that have to use their wires — because, remember, competition is so limited — to reach consumers. It’s a kind of synthetic attempt to keep the operators from favoring their own commercial interests when sending Internet traffic from other people to you (or vice versa). But the problem is that where network operators don’t have to compete, and use their digital pipes for multiple purposes (like providing their own TV services that feel just like over-the-top video services), it’s so easy for them to act like media distribution companies, slicing and dicing and packaging, rather than transport providers. And ultimately, that kind of behavior is designed to serve their commercial interests. It’s only rational. But it’s harmful to new competitors and ultimately to consumers.

In the US, the net neutrality issue has been forced to bear too much weight. It stands in for a larger problem that a single law or regulation can’t address. It’s like a small white bird perched on the head of a hippo. The little bird is noticeable and interesting, but really just a side-effect of the reality of the hippo himself. And the hippo in this metaphor is the lack of competition for network access services, particularly higher-capacity services, in a fundamentally unregulated market.

[Susan Crawford is the John A. Reilly Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and a co-director of the Berkman Center]

Net Neutrality Win in the D.C. Circuit Court is a Win for the Arts

[Commentary] After more than six months of deliberation, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit released its opinion affirming the Federal Communications Commission’s 2015 Open Internet Order. While the DC Circuit Court’s decision is important to all consumers, it is particularly relevant to the arts and culture sector. The creative community relies upon a free and open Internet in a number of ways. Artists turn to the Internet to display and distribute work, collaborate with other artists, seek inspiration, educate young artists, market events, fundraise, and access articles like this one. Here are three reasons the arts community should celebrate the network neutrality decision:

1) Artists harness the Internet to maximize audience reach.
2) The Internet is a tool for artists to promote their craft.
3) The open Internet enables the arts community to contribute to society.

Access to a free and open Internet is intrinsic to the liberation of artists. The arts community has very good reason to celebrate the court’s decision.

[Courtney Duffy is the Robert W. Deutsch Arts & Technology Policy Fellow at Public Knowledge]

There’s An Obvious Way to Create More Jobs.

[Commentary] With the highest percentage of fibered homes in the world, and fiber-connected cell towers everywhere, all kinds of digitally enhanced mobile wireless possibilities have emerged in Seoul, South Korea. 5G won’t be a panacea for South Korea. There are genuine structural issues in Seoul that won’t be solved by technology. Like other major cities, affordable housing is a huge problem. Traffic congestion is awful — worse than New York City — and inequality is growing. As the mayor of Seoul, Won Soon Park, put it earlier in 2016, “Low growth is becoming firmly entrenched, drawing a deep, dark shade over our entire economy.” But with innovation on its side — Bloomberg says South Korea ranks first in the world as an innovative economy — South Korea hopes to use the new wizardry of wireless/fiber to create whole new categories of occupations (not just new jobs) for its people.

[Susan Crawford is the John A. Reilly Clinical Professor at Harvard Law School and a co-director of the Berkman Center.]

An open letter from technology sector leaders on Donald Trump’s candidacy for President

We are inventors, entrepreneurs, engineers, investors, researchers, and business leaders working in the technology sector. We are proud that American innovation is the envy of the world, a source of widely-shared prosperity, and a hallmark of our global leadership. We believe in an inclusive country that fosters opportunity, creativity and a level playing field. Donald Trump does not. He campaigns on anger, bigotry, fear of new ideas and new people, and a fundamental belief that America is weak and in decline. We have listened to Donald Trump over the past year and we have concluded: Trump would be a disaster for innovation.

His vision stands against the open exchange of ideas, free movement of people, and productive engagement with the outside world that is critical to our economy — and that provide the foundation for innovation and growth. We also believe in the free and open exchange of ideas, including over the Internet, as a seed from which innovation springs. Donald Trump proposes “shutting down” parts of the Internet as a security strategy — demonstrating both poor judgment and ignorance about how technology works. His penchant to censor extends to revoking press credentials and threatening to punish media platforms that criticize him. We stand against Donald Trump’s divisive candidacy and want a candidate who embraces the ideals that built America’s technology industry: freedom of expression, openness to newcomers, equality of opportunity , public investments in research and infrastructure, and respect for the rule of law. We embrace an optimistic vision for a more inclusive country, where American innovation continues to fuel opportunity, prosperity and leadership.

Media diversity is non-negotiable

[Commentary] While the nation is increasingly diverse, broadcasting remains mostly the province of white males. The number of Black-owned radio companies has dropped by more than 50 percent since 1995 and just 12 television stations — mostly in small markets — are Black owned. How did we get here? Like almost every industry, broadcasting historically has been dominated by white men. The Federal Communications Commission was 38 years old before it got its first Black member, in 1972; it did not get a Black chairman until 1997. Its policies generally have amplified this legacy of discrimination by allowing sweeping consolidation of media companies, further entrenching the status quo. As a practical matter, consolidation means far-away corporate owners more focused on the bottom line than on quality local journalism. And as media consolidation grows, people of color and women become less significant players in the media ecosystem.

We are deeply troubled by reports that the agency is poised to approve yet another Quadrennial Review without commissioning this research. That would spark more litigation and lead the courts to conclude, as they have three times now, that the agency must root its decisions in good social science. America’s strength is its diversity; we need to take advantage of it. Consigning communities of color and women to the sidelines in media programming, jobs, and ownership not only closes doors of opportunity for them, it weakens our society. It’s precisely the wrong way to go. We hope the FCC will choose better this time.

[Michael Copps is a retired FCC Commissioner and a special adviser for the Media and Democracy Reform Initiative at Common Cause. Wade Henderson is the president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights]

The Information Counter-Revolution

[Commentary] We have entered a new era -- one where our rights to connect and communicate are under constant siege by governments and corporations. It is the information counter-revolution.

The once democratic online world is giving way to a model where governments and powerful communications companies call the shots. In this new reality, Internet users have turned into data profiles and bargaining chips. A whole new surveillance industry has cropped up to provide governments with the tools to filter online content, break privacy-protecting encryption codes and aggregate and sort data on Internet users.

[Karr is Senior Director of Strategy, Free Press]

Last Call

[Commentary] Contrary to the contrived ignorance of media reporters, the future of the daily newspaper is one of the few certainties in the current landscape: Most of them are going away, in this decade.

The closing of a local newspaper matters more than the closing of a local shoe store for only one reason  -- newspapers employ journalists. I asked several reporters, editors, and scholars what journalists should do to get ready for the next wave of firings.

There were three strong consensus answers: first, get good at understanding and presenting data. Second, understand how social media can work as a newsroom tool. Third, get whatever newsroom experience you can working in teams, and in launching new things.

[Shirky is an American writer, consultant and teacher on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies.]

What does the Facebook experiment teach us?

[Commentary] I’m intrigued by the reaction that has unfolded around the Facebook “emotion contagion” study.

As others have pointed out, the practice of A/B testing content is quite common. And Facebook has a long history of experimenting on how it can influence people’s attitudes and practices, even in the realm of research.

But why is it that this study has sparked a firestorm?

Facebook is not alone in algorithmically predicting what content you wish to see. An entire industry has emerged to produce crappy click bait content to manipulate emotions under the banner of “news.” Somehow, shrugging our shoulders and saying that we promoted content because it was popular is acceptable because those actors don’t voice that their intention is to manipulate your emotions so that you keep viewing their reporting and advertisements. And it’s also acceptable to manipulate people for advertising because that’s just business.

But when researchers admit that they’re trying to learn if they can manipulate people’s emotions, they’re shunned. What this suggests is that the practice is acceptable, but admitting the intention and being transparent about the process is not.

[boyd is Researcher, Harvard Berkman Center]

First Response won’t use FirstNet

[Commentary] The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) is designing a nationwide wireless broadband LTE network for use by public safety. “Public safety” specifically includes traditional first responders -- law enforcement, firefighting and emergency medical response. But “public safety” also includes other services such as electrical and water utilities, transportation and even building inspectors --having structures built to withstand hurricanes and earthquakes is definitely a “public safety” issue! In the FirstNet design process, we emphasize “first response”.

We’ve developed a number of scenarios for such responses, for example school shootings, SWAT team actions, home and apartment fires, automobile accidents with injuries, and so forth. We think about scenarios where first responders are racing to a scene, lights flashing and sirens blaring, and what information they’ll be pulling down wirelessly to their smartphones or tablet computers to support the response. While most of the first responders to such incidents use a public safety wireless network only sparingly, if at all, responders will make considerable use of FirstNet once the initial situation on the scene is stabilized. In the aftermath, 4G LTE networks, including FirstNet, will be invaluable to dispatch centers and incident commanders.

[Schrier is a former CTO City of Seattle now with Office of the Chief Information Office, State of Washington]