Silicon Flatirons: Highlights of the Digital Broadband Migration Conference

Tiger Pixel | Flickr via Creative Commons




The Internet should be guided by the Prime Directive, so says CU Law Dean Phil Weiser.

While the web may seem like an alien culture for government to vanquish, Weiser and a packed auditorium of early Internet pioneers and telecommunications lawyers would much prefer a cosmic non-interference plan.

It was one of several Star Trek themes to emerge during the day and a half conference on federal Internet policy hosted by Silicon Flatirons and the Federal Communications Bar Association.

A summary of each panel discussion follows with top tweets and any links to slide decks.


Technology Overview
Computer science legend and Google Chief Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf kicked off the conference with a backgrounder on POTS (plain old telephone service), next generation Internet protocol IPv6 and call to arms for advancing software security.

Despite improvements in IP conferencing and Voice over IP (VoIP), Cerf predicts standard wireline telephony will remain for another two decades or more.

One realm that stands to benefit greatly from enhanced wireless IP is emergency 911 systems through data streams fed by geo-location and wireless sensor networks.

Public policy will be increasingly driven by crowdsourcing—both in implementing quality control feedback systems and as a more focused means of civic participation.

Cerf chided university computer science departments to step up their work to improve browser and operating system software.

A common refrain (cue the Prime Directive) was the need for convergence in behavioral conventions with technological advances. As humans, we’re still looking for rules of conduct on Internet privacy, security and reciprocity.

Slides: Vint Cerf – Convergence


Tech Tutorial Backdrop: An All IP Network and its Policy Implications
[spoiler title="Panel participants" open="0" style="2"]Moderator: Phil Weiser (Dean, University of Colorado Law School; Faculty Director, Silicon Flatirons Center). Panel: Vinton Cerf (Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist, Google), Edward Felten (Chief Technologist, Federal Trade Commission and Professor of Computer Science and Public Affairs, Princeton University), Dan Reed (Corporate Vice President of Technology, Policy and Strategy, Microsoft), Jack Waters (Chief Technology Officer, Level 3 Communications)[/spoiler]

Network security loomed large in the discussion of Internet policy led by four Internet engineering luminaries. There concerns primarily revolved around human problems, like network management coordination and incentivizing better security practices to ward off attacks to infrastructure, software and applications. Much like the nameless rabble of gold-shirted federation security officers who were killed in the first encounter with an alien species, brute force doesn’t work well in network engineering either.

The consensus seemed to be that nuance, policy diplomacy and getting network effects right will lead the path to a better functioning and more secure Internet over more technical solutions. Legal and regulatory frameworks of synchronizing multiple personas/identifications to one person, domain name server standards, net neutrality and control of broadband capacity were also emergent themes.


Keynote: Michael Bennet, U.S. Senator for Colorado
Enter the Borg.

Bennet took a “Man vs Machine” perspective during his wide-ranging remarks on education technology, economic recovery, the Stop Internet Piracy Act/Protect IP Act (SOPA/PIPA) bills and cybersecurity.

Bennet pointed to recent increases in GDP and productivity as encouraging economic news that must be balanced with the continued lag in employment and median family income which has crated over the past 10 years. His conclusion is that entrepreneurism, innovation and new Internet-based economic sectors will accelerate U.S. commerce not incumbent industries.

Tekhne’s take: While he stopped far short of declaring “resistance is futile,” it’s clear from his remarks that the misleading confluence of prosecuting legitimate commercial intellectual property violations with national public defense threats signals a continued need for the technology sector to educate Congress. Debating the merits of government’s appropriate role in private markets is critically important as Internet commerce evolves. But treating a multi-networked, multi-layered Internet as a monolithic, single-minded collective by winding public cybersecurity into private competitive disputes only serves to further confuse matters and delay solving problems.


The Digital Broadband Migration in Perspective
[spoiler title="Panel participants" open="0" style="2"]Moderator: Phil Weiser (Dean, University of Colorado Law School; Faculty Director, Silicon Flatirons Center). Panel: David L. Cohen (Executive Vice President, Comcast), Brad Feld (Managing Director, Foundry Group), Dale Hatfield (Senior Fellow, Silicon Flatirons Center; Adjunct Professor, University of Colorado), Larrisa Herda (Chairman, CEO and President, tw telecom inc.), Larry Strickland (Assistant Secretary for Communication and Information, National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), U.S. Dept. of Commerce)[/spoiler]

This is what I imagine a policy debate at Star Fleet Academy looks like.

Hierarchies vs networks. Incumbents vs innovators. Government action vs voluntary self-regulation. Lobbyists vs citizenry. Free markets vs fair markets. Power of influencers vs disruption by influenced.

But for all the high-minded economic arguments it still boils down to acquiring and protecting turf and not some greater existential quest for self-determination.

Or as Brad Feld warns, “The machines have already taken over. They’re just patiently waiting for us.”


Intellectual Property Rights and the Digital Migration
[spoiler title="Panel participants" open="0" style="2"]Moderator: Paul Ohm (Associate Professor of Law, University of Colorado). Presenters: Mark Lemley (William H. Neukom Professor of Law, Stanford University), Gigi B. Sohn (President and Co-Founder, Public Knowledge, and Senior Adjunct Fellow, Silicon Flatirons Center), Jonathan Taplin (Director, Annenberg Innovation Lab, University of Southern California). Discussants: Michael Fricklas (Exceutive Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary, Viacom, Inc.), Michael Gallagher (President and CEO, Entertainment Software Association), Stephen Williams (Circuit Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit)[/spoiler]

Damn the photon torpedoes.

This discussion was heated. As in warp core meltdown heated.

About the only fact the panel agreed on is that rogue, copyright-pilfering websites exist. Not the number. Not their economic effect. And certainly not business models, market strategies or regulatory remedies for countering piracy.

Gigi Sohn of Public Knowledge gave a rather damning rogue’s history of copyright law regulation dating back to 2001. Moral to the story: SOPA and PIPA were nothing new and it will happen again in another permutation. But not likely before the 2012 election.

The most unambigously honest description of the situation pitting content producers and distributors came via Stanfor Law’s Mark Lemley: “Existing, entrenched industries resist new technology because profitability is unknown.”

Moderator Paul Ohm bravely attempted to inject some levity into the debate reminding the audience that their questions “may only be a suggestion” and that the panel will likely talk about whatever it wants to talk about. Oy.

Slides: Paul Ohm – SOPA and PIPA: The Bills and the Debate; Michael Gallagher – Content and the Innovation Society; Gigi Sohn – SOPA and PIPA: Déjà Vu All Over Again; Jonathan Taplin – The Knowledge Economy Trap


Multistakeholder Bodies and Internet Governance
[spoiler title="Panel participants" open="0" style="2"]Moderator: Pierre de Vries (Senior Adjunct Fellow, Silicon Flatirons Center). Presenters: Mark Cooper (Director of Research, Consumer Federation of America and Senior Adjunct Fellow, Silicon Flatirons Center), Deirdre Mulligan (Professor of Law, UC Berkeley School of Information, and Faculty Director, Berkeley Center for Law & Technology), Joe Waz (Senior Adjunct Fellow, Silicon Flatirons Center and Former Senior Vice President, Comcast Corporation). Discussants: Kathryn C. Brown (Senior Vice President, Public Policy and Corporate Responsibility, Verizon), Douglas Sicker (Chief Technology Officer & Senior Advisor for Spectrum, National Telecommunications and Information Administration), Daniel Weitzner (Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Internet Policy, Office of Science and Technology Policy, The White House)[/spoiler]

“As a technologist, don’t play God,” warned Berkeley professor Deirdre Mulligan, invoking multiple characters from the Star Trek series but most notably Q.

Crafting a workable intersection between technology, politics and values emerged as the panel’s primary theme. As Mulligan and other panelists noted the traditional view of technology as politically neutral has given way to new perspectives on leveraging technology to protect broadly held values, like privacy.

It’s a particularly tricky governance structure to pull off when competitive instincts and uninformed government regulations clash with the open-ended policies necessary to advance Internet innovation.

Two particularly interesting ideas for rethinking future Internet governance were offered: Contextualizing the web as a third industrial revolution requiring a more participatory decision-making structure and a co-regulatory model that blends government guidance with a more inclusive group of private sector stakeholders.

Slides: Mark Cooper – The Quarter Life Crisis


Keynote: Mark Udall, U.S. Senator for Colorado
Reading a Senate bill memo must be a bit like viewing the world through Geordi LaForge’s visor. There’s a certain unreality of temporal facts that simply don’t exist outside of Capitol Hill.

Udall’s remarks on Internet policy also reflected a Hollywood-centric view of rampant piracy and IP theft, not unlike his colleague Sen. Bennet.

There was more common ground in his positions on the need to strengthen the technology sector through forging more constructive lines of communication with Congress, increasing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education funding, and promoting immigration reform, like the Startup Visa Act.


Keynote: Barry Diller, Chairman and Senior Executive, IAC and Chairman and Senior Executive, Expedia, Inc.

Barry Diller lives in an alternate universe.

As one of the more enlightened media executives on the limitations of the industry’s stance on copyright, IP law and net neutrality, his remarks were largely crowdpleasers save for some quirky observations and disputed market facts.

Diller was quick to praise the Internet for its power of creative destruction. He criticized content producers, broadcasters and distributors for concentrating their business models and future on controlling media access.

Where he may have parted ways with many in the audience is on privacy. To Diller, since customer data enables better targeted service he’s doubtful companies will mishandle the information. Instances of misuse can be addressed through current law.


Competition Policy in the Internet Environment
[spoiler title="Panel participants" open="0" style="2"]Moderator: Jonathan Nuechterlein (Partner, WilmerHale). Presenters: Jonathan Sallet (Partner, O’Melveny & Myers, LLC and Senior Adjunct Fellow, Silicon Flatirons Center), Howard Shelanski (Professor of Law, Georgetown University), Timothy Wu (Professor of Law, Columbia University). Discussants: Mark Chandler (Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary, Cisco), Christine Varney (Partner, Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP and former Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust, U.S. Dept. of Justice)[/spoiler]

There’s no such thing as a neutral zone for monopolies.

That’s especially true of the Internet since software platforms can dominate due to network effects, scale and/or intentional interoperability with other systems. It’s more of a doctrinal than practical issue, argued Georgetown Law’s Howard Shelanski. But what if, as proposed by Jonathan Sallet, e-commerce adapted a different competitive landscape than traditional goods and services.

Sallet proposes a “value circle” model that integrates content, operating systems, devices, networks and direct-to-consumer plays into the competitive and complementary markets many Internet companies exist in.

The model, whatever it might be, adds another fine point to the challenges of interoperable systems and devices. As Christine Varney and others cautioned those market gray areas lead to a more robust need for government to scrutinize anti-trust concerns.

Slides: Jonathan Sallet – The Value Circle and Evolving Market Structure; Howard Shelanski – Enforcing Competition on the Internet; Tim Wu – Super Monopoly


Closing Address: Julius Genachowski, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission
The final session is best described as the “Damn it, Jim, I’m a bureaucrat not a miracle worker!”

Spectrum access, competition and entrepreneurial innovation dominated the conversation between FCC chair Genachowski, CU Law Dean Weiser and Silicon Flatirons Senior Fellow Dale Hatfield.

Genachowski didn’t break a lot of new ground in his remarks but doubled down on the need to move beyond the “radioactive” disputes over broadband and net neutrality in order to reallocate spectrum more efficiently. The FCC tried to create an allocation baseline that preserves incentives for investment and innovation in both wired and wireless networks.

Weiser teed up a key problem moving forward: Prioritizing innovation “seed corn” in the federal budget. He described the need to advance STEM education, R&D and communications infrastructure as important today as the ARPA funding of early computer network research that led to the Internet economy.


Video of the conference can be viewed at the Silicon Flatirons website.