If you read my post over at GigaOM you can see what I thought was the biggest takeaway from Thursday’s open FCC meeting at Stanford. Now that I’ve finally walked all the way across campus to find my car (could there have been any place in the Bay area with more congested parking and access?), here’s a quick take on the winners and
losers not-so-winners from the latest skirmish in net neutrality:
1) Kevin Martin, FCC Chairman. By bending over backwards politically and hosting a meeting on Larry Lessig’s turf, Martin gets to claim he is truly an objective chairman, in search of only the truth. Now back to Washington, where he can scuttle the Skype wireless Carterphone petition.
2) Larry Lessig, Stanford Law prof. See here for more explanation. (Or watch video on Lessig’s own blog.) The only slip in Lessig’s presentation was an arcane dip into a somewhat semantic difference between Lessig’s views on net neutrality, and the recent bill proposed by Mass. Rep. Ed Markey. If the leading net neutrality proponents have differences, shouldn’t they work them out internally? Saying he doesn’t agree completely with Markey just muddles the pro-net neutrality message, something you will never see happening from the other side.
3) Jason Devitt, CEO, Skydeck. One of the newest spokespersons on the net neutrality side, Devitt made some great points Thursday about how PCs are open platforms, but cell phones are not. Expect to see more of this argument, following the Carterphone lead set by folks like Skype’s Christopher Libertelli.
4) Robert “Robb” Topolski, Comcast-blocking hunter. It’s one thing to be geeky enough to spot and call out a major service provider for its misdeeds. It’s quite another to appear at a very public forum and not just hold your own ground (impressing seasoned tech reporters in the process), but to be confident enough to smack down an FCC commissioner, in this case Republican Robert McDowell.
While most of the reports out of the meeting cited Topolski’s comments toward Comcast, he added onto his presentation by pointedly and publicly correcting McDowell on the latter’s misconceptions about Comcast’s practices (McDowell had tried to assert during his remarks that Comcast was only blocking uploads, which Topolski disagreed with).
(I was going to call this section “losers” but that seemed a bit harsh; let’s just say folks in this category failed to impress.)
1) Robert McDowell and Deborah Tate, FCC commissioners. Not much original thought from these two commishes — they could just simply step up to the podium, and say, “big business has told us not to regulate anything in telecom,” and sit down. Whenever you hear politicians, lobbyists or bureaucrats trot out the line about the fear of “unintended consequences” when referring to potential legislation, you know where those words are coming from — big campaign contributors who don’t want Washington mucking around in their profit streams. These two deserved more than the light boos they got. There are valid opinions on the side of lesser regulation, but merely citing the fear of “unintended consequences” isn’t enough. Or shouldn’t be, for regulators at the highest level.
2) Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon. Conspicuous by their absence, the big carriers are just making it easy for people to say they aren’t interested in finding a solution to the net neutrality question, only getting their way.
FLAK JACKET AWARD
1) George Ou, independent network engineer (who used to have a well-read blog over at ZDNet). With all the telco folks missing in action, poor George was left alone to defend the ideas of net-management-not-net-neutrality, and I thought he didn’t do his own past writing justice.
Like other folks I talked to in the audience (including neighbor and Sling Media CEO Blake Krikorian, who had similar comments during his presentation), I’d rather see a different approach to these debates, maybe in a format that allows for more technical give-and-take. Like many folks with more technical details to discuss, Ou seemed handicapped against rhetoric pros like Harold Feld. Too bad, because this debate needs more folks with network expertise, and less D.C. lobbyist types.