Posted by Brad @ 3:59 pm on November 17th 2008

An Internet Friendly FCC

Two under-the-radar appointments are nevertheless not under Wired’s radar.

The Obama-Biden transition team on Friday named two long-time net neutrality advocates to head up its Federal Communications Commission Review team.

Susan Crawford, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, and Kevin Werbach, a former FCC staffer, organizer of the annual tech conference Supernova, and a Wharton professor, will lead the Obama-Biden transition team’s review of the FCC.

Both are highly-regarded outside-the-Beltway experts in telecom policy, and they’ve both been pretty harsh critics of the Bush administration’s telecom policies in the past year….

The choice of the duo strongly signals an entirely different approach to the incumbent-friendly telecom policymaking that’s characterized most of the past eight-years at the FCC.

This March at a telecom policy conference in Hollywood, for example, Crawford bluntly told Ambassador Richard Russell, the White House’ associate director on science and technology policy, that he lived in a fantasyland when he asserted that the United States’ roll-out of broadband is going well….

And in a final introductory statement during her talk (that’s likely to send shivers down the spines of telecom company executives) she said that she believes internet access is a “utility.”

“This is like water, electricity, sewage systems: Something that each and all Americans need to succeed in the modern era. We’re doing very badly, and we’re in a dismal state,” she said at the time.


  1. I’m not sure where my fellow bloggers stand on the issue of net neutrality, but I am deeply opposed on the basis of both free speech and free enterprise. So for me, this is deeply internet unfriendly news.

    Comment by Cameron — 11/17/2008 @ 8:55 pm

  2. What? How do you get that out of it? Free marketeers ought to love net neutrality, not oppose it. That’s so wrong.

    Net Neutrality is essential. Obama was a strong backer of it but hadn’t mentioned it much lately, so to see these moves are reassuring.

    Comment by Jerrod — 11/18/2008 @ 12:53 am

  3. Christ, I can only imagine the howls from the right if Obama had been able to use his massive cash resources to ensure faster packet delivery from his website.

    Seriously? Net neutrality is anti-free speech?
    Anti-free market I can kinda see, as long as you’re ok with functional monopolies.

    Comment by Mortexai — 11/18/2008 @ 1:11 am

  4. This is like water, electricity, sewage systems: Something that each and all Americans need to succeed in the modern era.

    Absolute bilge. Contemptible, pathetic gibberish.

    If I lost access to water tomorrow, I would die within a week.

    If I lost access to electricity tomorrow, I would be forced to spend the bulk of my time and energy seeking sources of fuel to heat my apartment.

    If I lost access to a sewage line tomorrow, I would likely become ill from dysentery or cholera within a month.

    If I lost access to my internet connection tomorrow, I would be marginally less aware of global events, and more poorly socially networked. I would retain the entirety of my health and a somewhat larger portion of my income.

    Internet access is a luxury, not a necessity. To argue otherwise approaches insanity.

    Comment by Rojas — 11/18/2008 @ 1:46 am

  5. Luddites attack!

    Comment by Mortexai — 11/18/2008 @ 1:49 am

  6. I am, by the way, as yet undecided on net neutrality.

    Feel free to convince me. :)

    Comment by Rojas — 11/18/2008 @ 1:53 am

  7. If the net doesn’t stay neutral, I’m afraid your site will become too slow for me to bother reading.

    In card games, we call that trump.

    Comment by Mortexai — 11/18/2008 @ 1:58 am

  8. I’m fairly well undecided on net neutrality as well.

    Jerrod and Cameron, sounds like a post war.

    Comment by Brad — 11/18/2008 @ 2:02 am

  9. I’m particularly interested in Cameron’s arguments.

    I would however state that I do think the internet is quickly becoming something that resembles a utility service.

    Comment by Mortexai — 11/18/2008 @ 2:07 am

  10. Come to think of it, I am somewhat surprised by the indecision, is this a lack of understanding or just deciding the merits?

    Comment by Mortexai — 11/18/2008 @ 2:08 am

  11. In my case, you may assume both that I am undecided on the merits and that I lack understanding.

    The latter is a safe assumption about me on more or less all issues.

    By all means, demonstrate your utility claim. I am, as you gather, finding that DAMNED hard to buy.

    Comment by Rojas — 11/18/2008 @ 2:15 am

  12. Telephones are considered a utility are they not? If you don’t accept that at least, well we’ve got no ground to discuss anything from.
    Going from that though, the prevalence of e-mail as a form of telecommunications alone should make my point, but I’ll go further.
    Online banking, online tax filing, online public transportation schedules, online applications, online publications(news, see Brad’s enthusiastic posting about the end of dead tree publications), presidential ‘fireside’ Youtube chats, and on and on. Now I know that none of these are essential in that one can certainly survive without them, but the same can be said for telephone access. Yes, I can go to my bank, make dead tree tax filings, head to the bus depot, buy an actual newspaper(for as long as that lasts), go to an actual store to apply, yadda yadda, but that isn’t a terribly good argument, and it gets less good by the day. As I said, telephone is considered a utility, and to be honest, it’s not an easy thing to manage without one these days, internet is fast approaching that level, one merely need note that the questions is usually, “What is your e-mail?” and not “Do you have e-mail” in normal conversation.

    Mind you, I’m not claiming it is utility yet, but I do think in less than five years it will functionally be so, and living without it will be the equivalent of hand-pumping water from a well.

    Comment by Mortexai — 11/18/2008 @ 2:33 am

  13. Allowing self-interested parties the ability to influence the flow of the pipes would not only lead to cases such as the oft-cited theoretical example of ISP ABC limiting access to MSNCB but keeping the pipes open to CNN. When you have content producers that also control access, you’ve got a recipe for less-than-optimal functionality at best and an outright catastrophe at worst.

    The whole notion of “net neutrality” is that the network doesn’t care what the endpoints are: all devices and uses are treated equally. This function-blind approach opens up the widest road for innovation and use of the network by removing obstacles and ensuring that new uses have a chance to rise to the top based on users’ preferences.

    Or maybe to put it another way that might be best received by a libertarian audience: Net neutrality ensures that we can use the internet how and why we want to. Sacrificing net neutrality transfers a fair amount of those choices to the ISPs.

    Opponents of net neutrality have tried to start a campaign “against regulation of the internet” but its a red herring. The regulation in question would protect the openness of the network. These opponents want to be able to limit it and close it as they choose. I’m going to venture a guess that Cameron got caught up in this and opposes regulation of the internet but might not realize that this “regulation” would only serve to protect what has served us so fabulously for so long.

    RE Rojas #4: Agreed that net access isn’t an existential issue but I think you might be attacking the letter rather the the spirit of the comment. I think it is reasonable to argue broadband access as an element of modernity. I wouldn’t go so far as to put it on par with water/electric/gas but its a pretty important thing and the nation is likely to be better off with more broadband penetration than less.

    Comment by Jerrod — 11/18/2008 @ 2:45 am

  14. I just noticed that you edited your ‘bilge’ statement Rojas.

    Water cut off and you’d die? Nonsense, you could go buy water or go hit up a local creek(you’d have to filter it yourself but quit whining)

    Lost access to electricity? You could go solar, isntall a woodburning stove, blah blah blah.

    Sewage access lost? Poop in a bucket and dispose of at an RV dumpsite. Dig a hole and poop in that.

    Now all these are ridiculous in modern life, and that is the point I’m making, what is ridiculous in modern life and what isn’t. As I said, internet isn’t quite a utility yet, but it seems unlikely that it won’t become so and in a relatively short while.

    Comment by Mortexai — 11/18/2008 @ 2:58 am

  15. Your claim is that having to pay my electric bill through the mail is analagous to having to poop in a bucket?

    I can understand that there is a connection-in-kind, but the difference in degree is so extreme as to render the analogy ridiculous.

    Comment by Rojas — 11/18/2008 @ 3:01 am

  16. Rojas #15
    You started the absurd comparisons by suggesting that death was imminent without access to water from the tap.Bare survival isn’t in the argument, so don’t get snippy about my treatment of your silliness.
    However, in the case of electricity, you hit the nail on the head. Spending time searching for fuel to heat one’s abode isn’t considered normal or reasonable in modern times. Spending time doing many things the old way is quickly becoming unreasonable. As I said, it’s not quite there yet, but do you really think being without it will even slightly be reasonable to be without internet access? Have you any idea how much of job search market has moved to the internet even now?
    Again, I direct you to telephone access, do you think that is a utility or not? If not, how do you justify that against the idea of gathering fuel for your fireplace being ridiculous in this modern age?

    Comment by Mortexai — 11/18/2008 @ 3:28 am

  17. Well, I can at least see your point.

    In what ways would “net neutrality” treat internet access the way telephone access is treated now?

    Comment by Rojas — 11/18/2008 @ 10:27 am

  18. For the record, we consider postal service a public utility too.

    Comment by Brad — 11/18/2008 @ 2:01 pm

  19. I’m glad you mentioned the Postal Service Brad.
    Currently, the net operates much like telephone service, packets are routed as are telephone calls, on a first in, first out basis. Net Neutrality has come about because the telecommunication companies want to become more like the postal service, wherein you pay for faster delivery.
    I don’t think I need to explain why in the case of postal service it is necessary to charge more for faster service, or the fact that this doesn’t apply to really apply to routing packets on the internet.
    Now the argument can be made that selling preferential routing is just another service that telecom companies should be able to sell, but I wasn’t really going to get into that unless Cameron and Jerrod drop the ball.

    Comment by Mortexai — 11/18/2008 @ 3:54 pm

  20. I apologize for not responding to my remarks here but I’m struggling to find the time to do so correctly. If I have a chance in the next couple of days I’ll weigh in here, but if not, look forward to a top level post at some point in the future.

    Comment by Cameron — 11/18/2008 @ 5:08 pm

  21. The postal service tier example is only partly accurate though because the internet already serves up packets at its fastest. A tiered internet would in effect permit them to charge you more to keep what we currently have while reducing what the basic tiers get.

    It also differs in that the post office runs on a per-packet basis: this letter gets priority service but the rest of them go normal. A tiered internet isn’t the case that basic service is slower than the upper tier, you can already buy different classes of service in that regard (at least in Japan). Rather it would be that the ISP would automatically grant you priority delivery of your packets to websites A,B, and C based on the deal that sites A, B, and C worked out with the ISP. You wouldn’t see it and its unlikely that your access charges are going to change significantly if at all. ISP probably would make more money from content producers who pay to get on the whitelist, but in the process, any website that isn’t on the whitelist is going to load slower.

    But this isn’t just about website loading times (which is a huge part, to be sure). The problem is that part of the internet’s success has been that the network has NEVER cared what devices are hanging off the ends of it and what the data is that they are sending. As long as they use the TCP/IP protocol, you can pump the tubes. The beauty of this is that there are no limits as to what you can put on the network and how you can use it and we’ve seen a huge explosion in the utilization of the internet.

    But as soon as the network removes this blinded approach, you immediately loose this no-holds-barred openness and flexibility. As soon as the network starts to examine what the packets are, what’s in them, what they are being used for, where they are going, you lose that opportunity. Current uses become entrenched and new and innovative applications find it harder to break into. This matters wether you’re talking about the emergence of MySpace, YouTube, Twitter, Blackberry, or the LHC.

    Comment by Jerrod — 11/18/2008 @ 6:17 pm

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