The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) hosted a two-part panel discussion of Jan. 17 titled "Tech Policy 2014: The Year Ahead."
The first session, hosted by AEI's Jeffrey Eisenach, considered issues affecting the tech industry other than the National Security Agency (NSA), and the second session, hosted by AEI's Jim Glassman, dealt with NSA. The program was sponsored by AEI's Center for Internet, Communications and Technology Policy, which was established last fall.
Richard Bennett of AEI took on the question of whether the United States is falling behind in the area of broadband quality and availability, and he argued that this is "a myth from a technological standpoint," one that is expressed emotionally as a fear that the United States isn't getting proper service.
He cited a survey by Akamai showing that the United States is 10th in the world with regard to Internet performance and has fluctuated from as high as 7th to a low of 27th, but the recent trend has been upward. Bennett also referred to a Dec. 30 New York Times article that warned the United States if falling dangerously behind. Bennett noted that the United States leads the world in wireless technology. Therefore, he contended that "The argument for more intervention by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is quite flimsy."
In background developments, Bennett reported that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said the agency should only intervene where there are problems. On Jan. 14, the D.C. Circuit Court vacated longstanding "Net Neutrality" rules representing a bipartisan consensus dating back to the first Clinton administration.
However, the FCC could impose "common carrier" service on the Internet, provided that it reclassifies the internet as a "telecommunication" service, rather an "information" service.
The consensus of the panelists was that the FCC would not take this step.
Michael Wolff, writing in USA Today on Jan. 20, predicted that telecom companies will charge higher prices for high-value content, and this will create an incentive for service and content providers to combine in quest of the most favorable competitive position. The power of Big Media will be restored.
On the second panel, Glassman raised the issue of a speech President Obama would make that morning proposing a new model for the NSA to collect data without retaining so-called metadata.
AEI's Claude Barfield remarked that this would trigger another round in the ongoing debate between the national security and civil libertarian communities, and he derided the idea of extending some sort of privacy protection from NSA snooping to foreigners. Barfield accused Obama of "leading from behind" and of "punting to Congress." He added that it is impractical for European countries to enact a policy of requiring servers to be located there, because wherever they are located, they would be subject to hacking.
Bret Swanson, president of strategic research firm Entropy Economics LLC, predicted that third parties and foreign governments would continue broad monitoring of data. Bennett traced the controversy back to "missing pieces of architecture" of the Internet.
In an online survey, participants predicted 70 percent to 30 percent that the FCC would not impose common carrier regulation; 44 percent to 56 percent that T-Mobile and Sprint would merge; 42 percent to 58 percent that patent reform will be enacted; and 18 percent to 82 percent that the NSA would stop collecting metadata.
(Archived video can be found here
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