Saturday, January 26, 2008

Live Blog - Net Neutrality 2008

Visit the conference webpage,, for full information and schedules.

You can also click HERE for a live video stream of the event. Updates will be posted below the post-modern, self-referential photo:

Session 1:

AT&T's Richard Clarke began by stating that one's definition of fairness "depends heavily on where one sits in the Internet ecosystem." While this may sound reasonable, I can't help but believe that there is an objective notion of what is fair in terms of net neutrality. After discussing (briefly) his opposition to the proposed Dorgan-Snowe legislation, Clarke abruptly ended his presentation by stating the following: "By trying to satisfy all sides, as politicians often do, they end up taking the most extreme position."

I was glad that Tim Wu challenged this "classic framing technique" employed by Clarke which made AT&T's stance seem reasonable while making proponents of net neutrality seem more fringe.

It's easy enough to say that "fairness" is a matter of perspective, but that's a cop out. Clarke should consider reading up on his John Rawls (and specifically the "veil of ignorance") before imposing his (company's) take on what is "fair."

Final note: Lawrence Spiwak seems to think that commoditization of the internet will lead to fewer carriers and, therefore, higher costs. I challenge him to present a single economic model in which commoditization encourages anything other than lower prices and increased market competition.

Session 2:

The rock star here was clearly Mark Cooper of the Consumer Federation of America. Overall, I thought the panel was a bit lopsided, with three libertarian-minded, anti-regulation economists taking most of the spotlight. But their PowerPoint presentations could not match up with Mr. Cooper's informal remarks about the history of a regulated telecommunications industry and the importance of providing correct incentives for companies like AT&T to open up their networks to non-discriminatory practices.

Mr. Cooper also wins the award so far for best extension of the toll road analogy: "It's appropriate for a toll road cashier to count the wheels on your truck, not what you're carrying."

What I don't understand yet is why nobody is talking about the fact that ISP's and content providers are often one and the same entity, or subsidiaries of a parent company, or so deeply entwined in content distribution agreements that they cannot be trusted to police themselves. The anti-regulation crowd would have you gloss over this little detail and ask you to believe that companies like Time Warner, AT&T and Comcast would willingly cannibalize their revenue streams in the interest of public welfare.


Rachelle Chong wins the award for quote of the day (so far): "You've heard of serial killers? Well, I'm a serial regulator."

Session 3:

Richard Bennett introduced his discussion by saying, "I'm against net neutrality because my job depends upon it." Enough said.

Fred von Lohmann put the smack dab on Comcast and AT&T for controlling innovation (a la BitTorrent) and invading privacy (a la copyright enforcement). I hope that someone produces a rough transcript of his remarks because they were that spot on. A new blog entry will be necessary for Fred's analysis of this little gem alone.

I would be remiss if I didn't commend one of the few female voices on today's panels, Colette Vogele, who illustrated beautifully the importance of net neutrality in stimulating innovation from upstart content producers such as Alive in Baghdad and Political Lunch.

The biggest takeaway from this session is the reinforcement of something I've long suspected: innovation comes from the fringe...always. Even in large corporations, it is the self-motivated "intrapreneur" who breaks from the pack. If we are not willing to support and defend innovation from the fringes, then we might as well be overt about our complacency and love of corporate mediocrity.

UPDATE: Maybe the highlight of this session (though for reasons not intended) was the fiery teleconference by Scott Cleland in which he basically concluded that proponents of net neutrality are all "naive and potentially disasterous" in their thinking. The best part was looking at the larger-than-life portrait of a smiling Mr. Cleland as he referred to Fred von Lohmann as a "two-year-old tantrum thrower." Had Mr. Cleland actually been here in person, he might have noticed the subtle but important difference between people laughing with him and laughing at him.

Session 4:

Well, since I still need to pack for a trip to London tomorrow, I will leave it to my colleague to summarize the highlights of this session. (I'm sure this is profoundly disappointing to the two people out there who are reading this blog!)


Sansserif said...

Eh hem! Rule #8 of blogging: Sure, you may have only a handful of readers, but you must never, ever admit it!

Sansserif said...

Ps. Thanks for live-blogging this, and attending it for that matter. =) That was awesome.

Youareyou said...

You're right about Rule #8...but I just wanted to make all those thousands of readers out there feel special. ;-)