How Many Times Has Michael “Dr. Doom” Copps Forecast an Internet Apocalypse?

by Adam Thierer on August 31, 2010

How many times can FCC Commissioner Michael Copps declare the Internet dead? Like a fire-and-brimstone preacher bombastically bellowing sermons warning of the impending End Times, Commissioner Copps has made a hobby out of declaring the Internet dead and buried unless drastic steps are taken right now to save cyberspace! The problem is, he’s being saying this for the past decade and yet, despite generally laissez-faire policy in this arena, the Internet is still very much alive and well.

His biggest beef, of course, is Net Neutrality regulation—or the current lack thereof. He fears that without such a “Mother, May Iregulatory regime in place, the whole cyber-world is heading for eternal damnation. Echoing the fears of other Internet hyper-pessimists, Copps concocts grand conspiracy stories of nefarious corporate schemers hell-bent on quashing our digital liberties and foreclosing all Internet freedom.

Way back in 2003, for example, Comm. Copps delivered a doozy of a sermon at the New America Foundation entitled, “The Beginning of the End of the Internet.” In the speech, Copps lamented that the “Internet may be dying” and only immediate action by regulators can save the day. Copps laid on the sky-is-falling rhetoric fairly thick: “I think we are teetering on a precipice . . . we could be on the cusp of inflicting terrible damage on the Internet. If we embrace closed networks, if we turn a blind eye to discrimination, if we abandon the end-to-end principle and decide to empower only a few, we will have inflicted upon one of history’s most dynamic and potentially liberating technologies shackles that make a mockery of all the good things that might have been.”

But that’s hardly the only such fire-and-brimstone sermon that Rev. Comm. Copps has delivered about the death of the Internet. In one speech after another over the past decade, he has cast our future in lugubrious, foreboding terms. At risk of making my PFF colleague Adam Marcus suicidal, I asked him to download, compile, and search through every speech and official statement that Michael Copps has delivered since 2001 [they’re all here], and then tabulate how many times he uttered various terms of gloom and doom. Here are the results:

Term Speeches Statements Total
Discriminate(s)/ Discrimination 40 174 214
End of 13 77 90
Threat 11 79 90
Monopoly 16 64 80
Closed 30 45 75
Dangerous 12 37 49
Damage 7 24 31
Dark 12 15 27
Gatekeeper 6 16 22
Dead 10 11 21
Death 8 12 20
Impede 2 17 19
Bottleneck 5 13 18
Dying 5 9 14
Catastrophe 1 7 8
Retard 2 4 6
Kill 1 2 3
Thwart 1 2 3
Precipice 1 0 1

Who knew the end was so near?! Of course, it isn’t really. Again, the problem for Commissioner Copps and the other cyber-worry warts is that the cyber-sky is most definitely not falling. There’s more innovation across all layers of the Net than ever before. In fact, despite the recent economic downturn, the digital sector has been a rare bright spot. Pick just about any metric (devices, applications, broadband speeds, etc.) and you’ll see great improvements over the past decade. Could some metrics be even better? Sure. But can we at least agree that, contra Copps, the sky isn’t even close to falling?

On the other hand, if Commissioner Copps feels the need to persist with the “Net is Dying” meme, I’d at least encourage him to broaden his vocabulary a bit. I mean, there are plenty of other good terms from which to choose, as John Cleese once taught us.

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