Susan Crawford Admits It – The Internet Works

by Mike Wendy on June 1, 2011

Last week, the first ever eG8 Forum was held in Paris.  The eG8 was designed to allow “key players of the Internet and the digital universe…to voice their vision of the Internet’s importance and impact on society and the economy.”  Its output was to be included in discussions at the separate G8 summit held immediately after the Forum in Deauville, France.

Alex Howard put together several short video clips from eG8 “civil society” representatives who voiced their views about the Internet.  Of particular note is the one of Susan Crawford (her eG8 YouTube clip here) – an outspoken Net Neutrality activist, Cardozo School of Law professor, and former Obama Official who helped shape the President’s telecom policy during the transition to / beginning of his administration (many believe it was her work that brought the FCC to a tipping point in issuing its Net Neutrality regulations last December).

Within the short video, she makes a startling admission.

Though for the better part of a decade Crawford has stridently urged regulators to neuter private network providers – for instance, calling for “the complete structural separation of network operators from other businesses,” and decrying that “net neutrality is a right-to-life movement for new technology” (like Google) – she seemingly undermines her Internet-is-broken-by-evil-incumbents spiel by essentially admitting that the medium works fine:

Interviewer (@ 1:36 in the YouTube clip): What’s at risk right now?

Crawford: What’s at risk is the future of the Internet.  Whether it continues to be a distributed, open platform for innovation, economic growth, democratic discourse, and participation by all peoples of the world.  Or, whether it becomes a balkanized, taxed, blocked, controlled broadcasting medium, which is what many incumbents would like to see.

Interviewer: How close are we to that happening?

Crawford: Luckily, we have a long way to go because the people who use the Internet will continue to fight back with everything they’ve got.  (Emphasis added)

That sounds an awful lot like…well, the sky isn’t falling.  That the Internet “ain’t broke.”  That it’s nowhere near becoming balkanized, blocked or turned into a controlled broadcasting medium – all of which is the clear opposite of what Crawford and her troops have been telling regulators, policymakers and the media for these past ten years in order to justify regulating the Internet via Net Neutrality rules.

Maybe Crawford has seen the light, reading the FCC’s recent 706 broadband report – the good stuff, that is, detailing America’s robust and growing broadband deployment.  Notes FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell in his dissenting statement within the report:

…We continue to take great strides to provide faster and better broadband to more Americans every year.  Capital investment in fixed and mobile broadband deployment continues to be a tremendous success story…[T]he percentage of U.S. households served by terrestrial broadband grew from 92 percent in December 2008 to 96 percent in June 2010.  In the same period, the number of unserved households dropped almost in half from 8.8 million to 4.6…In just six years, broadband deployment skyrocketed from reaching only 15 percent of Americans in 2003, to 95 percent by the end of 2009. (Emphasis added)

As Commissioner McDowell touches upon, consumers have more choice now than ever before.  This is not to mention the concomitant explosion of apps, content, services, devices and democratic voice occurring on the Internet by virtue of that choice.

All this has happened because regulation of the medium has been largely absent.  Stated differently, we know (and so must Crawford) that this growth didn’t happen because of Net Neutrality regulations – those regulations, which were released in December of 2010, aren’t even official yet.  They have no present effect.

It almost seems as if the market has gone out of its way to prove the regulatory Lilliputians wrong.

But the misguided calls keep coming.

Misguided because, even in light of evidence that the Internet works, the entreaties for regulation continue unabated.

Misguided because, unlike the marketplace, regulations aren’t policed by technology, fickle consumers, industry best practices and inter-modal competition. Once imposed, however, regulations – even “well-meaning” ones – tend to defy physical laws, more often than not engorging and embedding themselves into the Code of Federal Regulations.  Growing. Mutating.  Indelible even in the face of clear facts or reality.

We have a long way to go to change that.  But, I am encouraged.   If a radical Internet activist like Crawford can recognize that the Internet works and is protected by its users, then regulators can’t be that far away from seeing the light, too, and stepping away from the regulatory hookah.

What an audacious, hopeful thought.

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