Video: Susan Crawford’s Fallacious View of Internet Innovation

by Mike Wendy on October 15, 2012

The other day I heard Professor Susan Crawford speak at a Brookings event, entitled “Fostering Internet Competition.”  If you watch the short clip below, it’s clear that Crawford either does not know how innovation works, or is purposely belittling infrastructure-related aspects of it in order to spread the false narrative that networks are no more than “dumb pipes,” bereft of innovation.

In her view, all Internet innovation comes at the so-called “edge” – from services like Google Search, or YouTube, or Facebook, or Pandora, or iPads, etc.  To get there, she derisively likens networks to simple public streets or utilities, important only insofar as they allow traffic to arrive where and when users direct it.  Nothing more.

Now, it’s true that quantitatively 99.99% of all innovation occurs at the “edge.”  But to suggest that infrastructure / transmission has no role in Internet innovation is simply preposterous.  To the contrary, it’s fundamental and core, even as “small” as it is.  Innovation flows fluidly between infrastructure and the “edge” because they interdependently build upon each other.

Want proof?

Just try getting your bandwidth-intensive YouTube, Pandora or iPad applications (among all others) to run without those core infrastructure providers streaming fast-and-perpetually-getting-faster-broadband to you.

You can’t do it.

Crawford, in her zeal to make infrastructure providers our digital indentured servants, conveniently ignores the fact that these private actors have created at least a half-dozen (and growing) competitive, interstate highways over these ten-or-so years.  This fact plays no small role in why the “edge” is so innovative.   With rising speeds and quality of service, providing an ever-evolving national footprint of “superhighways,” infrastructure innovation has exploded…

…enabling the “edge” to explode, too.


I started with CompuServe and a 300 baud modem (yes, an “edge” device) in 1987.  Since then, the “streets” have gotten fatter, the speeds faster, and, not accidentally, the content, applications, services and devices richer.  They all work together to make the Internet more innovative.

No doubt, the much beloved “edge” is important to Internet innovation.  AND, so is infrastructure.


txpatriot October 16, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Brookings hosted it — I fully expected industry-bashing and the panel did not disappoint.

Mike Wendy October 17, 2012 at 1:17 pm

Agreed. There was a fair amount of industry bashing, which seems automatic for the Brookings crowd / event. A dog whistle of sorts.

Zara Tretyakova October 20, 2012 at 3:36 pm

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Brett Glass October 20, 2012 at 5:37 pm

Susan Crawford has long had a very cozy relationship with Google — it was a major funder of her “OneWebDay” organization. So cozy, in fact, that she has even lied directly to Congress, claiming that there is no competition among broadband providers and that therefore they should be regulated in ways that would harm them and benefit Google.

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