Tales of the Sausage Factory

Susan Crawford and the Spirit of Cincinatus

Susan Crawford is now back blogging again, looking forward to teaching next semester at Michigan Law and getting back into the blogging game. Because those of us in public policy land cannot imagine anyone ever wanting to do anything else, and because the folks on the right have wanted to claim a kill for their “anti-Czar Campaign,” a number of folks want to claim she was pushed to leave. I would ignore this on the right, but it has a distressing tendency to get picked up and believed on the left as well.

I’ve known Susan for over 10 years now, and consider her a friend, so I am hardly impartial. But I personally believe that Susan always meant to stay a year for the transition — no more no less — just as she told her Dean and everyone else at the beginning of this process. Because Susan is an example of a breed long thought vanished from America — one moved by the spirit of Cincinatus.

In ancient Rome, it was the custom in times of crisis for the Senate to appoint a supreme leader, a dictator (this being the origin of the term), who would wield absolute power for the duration of the crisis, then step down afterward. According to legend, in a time of crisis, the Senate elected the retired Consul Cincinatus to act as dictator, and dispatched messengers with the news. The messengers found Cincinatus plowing on his farm. When he heard that Rome needed him, he left his plow and returned with the messengers to take up his duties in Rome. When the crisis passed, he gave up his position and returned to his plow — picking up precisely where he left off.

Public policy is not a quiet way to make a living. It involves long hours on things ranging from the mind-numbingly complex to the even more mind-numbingly complex. People do not play well with one another. There is little understanding of the work, little credit for doing a good job, and plenty of people who will tell you to your face (and even more who will say behind your back) how they could do a better job. Some folks do it for money, and there are no lack of examples of folk who have done well for themselves after a stint in policyland. Some do it for ideology, or for the fun of it (I confess to falling into the later category myself; much as I often find the work wearing and difficult, I find it enormously engaging and intellectually challenging).

But a handful do it because they are asked, and because they understand that they can do something that will benefit people and their country by devoting some portion of their lives to a process they do not find enjoyable or potentially profitable. They serve as genuine public servants, acting where they believe they can do good, returning to what they really want to do with their lives when their service is complete.

Susan Crawford has enjoyed a very successful career as a law school professor and as the founder of One Web Day. She agreed to join the ICANN Board when asked not because she got anything out of it (other than a great deal of work and little thanks), but because she believed she could make a difference for the better. She did not seek it out, but did not decline when asked, because she knew that her talents were needed. Similarly, when the Obama people came calling, she agreed to help with the transition and to get the ball rolling. This she did splendidly and selflessly. Work done, in the best spirit of Cincinatus, she returned to her normal life.

As I say, those of us who live in Policyland — including the wags, talking heads, bloggers and hosts of others who follow the doings in Policyland with the same fervor as football fans prepping for the Bowl Season — may have a difficult time grasping this. In our modern age, the false wisdom of cynicism has far more appeal than the belief that someone would come for a year, do what she felt was her duty, then simply leave. But knowing Susan, I believe it. So I am grateful she set aside her life for a year, grateful for what she did, and glad to see her back where she wants to be. My one regret is that the spirit of Cincinatus, which was once the ideal to which citizens of this country aspired, has passed so into obscurity that we cannot recognize it when we see it.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Congrats to Adam Thierer! PFF to Get Needed New Blood and New Ideas (But Don't Worry, We'll Still Disagree On Most Things).

Adam Thierer, long-time friend and opposite number in the Libertarian Camp, has just been named President of the Progress and Freedom Foundation, replacing Ken Ferree. Frankly, I hope Adam will bring a dose of new thinking tp PFF, since Ken Ferree has pretty much spent the last several years explaining at great length why everything the Powell FCC did was wonderful, rational, and the epitome of all that was right in public policy whereas Kevin Martin was a revisionist wanker and traitor to the Neocon Revolution. Much as I’m sure this was amusing for the participants, it did get old after a bit.

I expect Adam and I (and PFF) will continue to disagree on most things regulatory. But I have found in the past that Adam is an intelligent and engaging person willing to actually listen to what other people have to say before responding — and generally sticking to substance rather than the ad hominem or mindless talking points favored by too many here in DC. In other words, he is the sort of Free Market enthusiast/anti-regulatory advocate who makes me work for a living and is a necessary counterpoint to make any system work.

I wish him luck, but (if you will excuse me) not too much success.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Evaluation of the Comcast/BitTorrent Filing — Really Excellent, Except For The Gapping Hole Around the Capacity Cap.

After Comcast surprised me with their filing on Friday, I really wanted to believe they had turned a corner. Not to anthropomorphize too much, but I had hoped that Comcast had gotten such a bad public relations disaster out of this that they were determined to work so hard to be good little puppies that even a Democratic Congress, Democratic President, and Democratic FCC would believe that the we no longer needed rules. And I would be totally down with that (their behaving that is, we still need rules). I love it when companies learn their lesson and stop misbehaving. Remember, public policy is (IMO) all about result. If swatting Comcast on the nose like a naughty puppy gets them to stop pooping on their customers, then they deserve a pat on the head and a tummy yummy treat when they behave.

But I’m having a “Columbo moment” here. For those who did not grow up in the 1970s and therefore do not recognize the reference, Columbo is a television detective who every episode goes to talk to the chief suspect about the circumstantial evidence, and the chief suspect always has a fully prepared and perfect alibi. On the way out, apparently as an afterthought, Columbo will turn around and say: “there’s just one thing that bothers me.” This question on a minor inconsistency turns out to open a gaping hole in the suspect’s alibi and — in classic television fashion — allows Columbo to solve the crime by the end of the show.

I do not pretend there is any mystery here left to solve. Comcast’s filing very neatly explains their past practices, how we reached this point, and how Comcast intends to change its practices. It includes benchmarks for performance and a plan for informing its subscribers. It looks exactly like what the Commission ordered.

There’s just one thing that bothers me. Footnote 3 of Attachment B. Comcast stresses in footnote 3 that its 250 GB per month cap is not a network management policy, is not a replacement for its current network management practices, and therefore is not actually a proper subject of this disclosure report. Now why did they go out of their way to say that?

If you will excuse me, sir, while I adjust my raincoat, a bit more analysis below . . .

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Posted in Censorship Public and Private, Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

The Difference Between Free Market Conservatives and Worshippers of the Gods of the Marketplace.

As regular readers know, I frequently deride those who continue to put their faith in a creed of deregulation despite empirical evidence that this is not suitable to all occasions as worshipers of of the “gods of the marketplace,” after the Rudyard Kipling Poem The Gods of the Copybook Heading (with a fine sense of irony that Kipling would be closer ideologically to the folks I criticize). This leads some to imagine that I am “anti-market” or “pro-regulation” or some other ideology that places process over outcome, rather than a pragmatic sort who believes that the job of public policy is to use all available tools to achieve the goals of prmoting the general welfare, securing domestic tranquility, etc., etc.

I recently came across an illustration of the difference in, of all cases, a collection of Darwin Award Winners (Darwin Awards Iv: Intelligent Design for anyone that cares). The book contains the tale of a “winner” who was a passionate anti-government type who refused to wear a seat belt in protest against mandatory seat belt laws. A car he was in in skidded and flipped over. The the driver and one passenger who were wearing seat belts survived. Our protesting friend was thrown from the car and died.

It occurred to me that this story nicely illustrates the difference between those who favor a free market approach and worshipers of the Gods of the Marketplace. A smart Libertarian may believe that the government has no right to order people to wear seat belts. But, evaluating all the evidence of how seat belts save lives, will voluntarily wear a seat belt even if not required. After all, it would be foolish to put one’s life at risk simply because the government wrongly orders people to do what you think makes good sense.

But an ideological driven soul, indifferent to empirical evidence and elevating process over substance, refuses to wear a seat belt because the government says you should, and therefore wearing a seat belt must be the wrong or inefficient result and believes it the positive duty of all anti-government believers to refuse to wear seat belts.

Now go read the dissenting statements of McDowell and Tate in the Comcast decision, the McCain Tech Policy, or any of a dozen or so speeches by elected representatives or pundits who get their economic education from reciting bumper stickers about free market economics they don’t understand. Then ask yourself, are these guys actually evaluating the evidence and accepting the result? Or are they driving with their seat belts off?

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in "A Republic, if you can keep it", General, How Democracy Works, Or Doesn't, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

It's Always Nice When The FCC Listens

A few months ago, fellow Wetmachiner Greg Rose and I wrote a wrote a white paper on how to improve the FCC’s processes, make FCC rulemakings and proceedings more accessible to the public, and generally increase the legitimacy and reliability of FCC decision making. As one relatively easy change, we suggested the FCC post the agenda for open meetings far enough in advance that people can come in and make their last pitches to the agency before “Sunshine” (the period when communications stop under the “Government In the Sunshine Act”) kick in. As we explained, providing the agenda at the last second often advantages insiders who hear when an item is likely to go on the agenda, who therefore rush in while those who don’t know the item is going on Sunshine will lose their last chance to rebut arguments or press their case.

So it was pleasant to see Chairman Martin announce that from now on he will publish the likely agenda 3 weeks in advance. That should be a big help to everyone — including the other Commissioners, who will not suddenly find themselves with a week to digest an agenda of a dozen items.

Yes, it is a relatively minor change, but it is important in two ways. First, practical details really do matter. That sometimes gets lost in the fight over specific substantive issues. Second, it demonstrates a willingness by Martin to listen to criticism and take action — at least on the low hanging fruit. Such things deserve notice and suitable (although not overly elaborate) praise. Remember, public policy is made by human beings, and you get what you reward.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Tim Wu Writes Incredibly Important Paper on Wireless Networks

Tim Wu, a brilliant scholar who combines an understanding of law, technology and economics to his writing, has written an incredibly important paper on wireless networks for the New America Wireless Future Program. You can download it here.

But Tim has done more than write a brilliant paper about why we need network attachment rules and network neutrality rules for wireless networks. He has — by accident or design — put his finger on the critical issue of public policy of our time. Do we regulate to increase public welfare, or do we only regulate to cure “market failure”?

What the paper is about, why it’s important, and what the opposition to it tells about the state of public policy these days, below….

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Posted in Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

Inventing the Future

Hat's-off to Ken (and treats on the tube)

I’ve written before about my belief that we’re inexorably entering — and some of us resisting — a paradigm shift in how humans think of information, imagination, creativity, freedom, and non-real property. So I was unexpectedly delighted to receive this letter to all of the university’s Division of Information Technology staff, from our new (heh heh) interim CIO, Ken Frazier. (Below the fold.)

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Posted in General, Inventing the Future | Also tagged , , , | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Handicaping This Week’s Big Spectrum Auction

And what a long strange trip its been to get here! In 2004, Congress passed the Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act (CSEA), which required government users to vacate some choice spectrum so the FCC can auction it. You can see the FCC’s official page for this auction here. You can see my recent general musings on this auction on the Public Knowledge policy blog here.

But none of this tells the whole story. After two controversial rulemakings, a pending legal challenge, and the appearance of a host of new bidders, FCC Auction 66: AWS-1 is ready to start this week on August 9. A look at the list of who has come to play signals an auction of unparalleled visciousness, determination, and probable manipulation by sophisticated bidders because the FCC wussed out and did not adopt anonymous bidding.

For those interested in my handicaping what a report from the Center for American Progress describes as a corrupt means by which incumbents keep out competitors and what I have called “a really wonky version of Worlds of Warcraft,” read on!

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

A Network Neutrality Primer

For those just tuning in, Network Neutrality (aka “NN”, becuase every public policy deserves its own acronym) has gone from sleepy tech issue to major policy fight. So I have prepared a rather lengthy primer below for folks who want a deeper understanding of what’s happening (at least as of today, May 3, 2006).

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

FCC Bidding Credits and Digital Inclusion

For the forseeable future, we’re stuck with spectrum auctions, so we may as well try to get them to work as well as possible. Contrary to what some folks argue, I don’t think that means just jacking up one-time revenue to the government. It means trying to get licenses to folks who don’t usually get ’em (like women-owned businesses, minority-owned businesses, and small businesses generally), trying to get services deployed to underserved communities, and trying to foster real competition.

So last week, MAP submitted a lengthy set of comments (including a 30-page econ analysis from my economist friend Greg Rose) on reforming the FCC’s designated entity “bidding credit” for the upcomming AWS auction.

What does all this mean, and why should the guy who says “spectrum auctions are the crack cocaine of public policy” care? See below . . .

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