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The Limits of Philosophy

September 11th, 2009 by Blair Levin - Executive Director, Omnibus Broadband Initiative

Blair LevinMy old friend Randy May recently criticized our staff workshops as focusing too little on  regulatory philosophy.  But that, I told him, was by design.

Randy was kind enough to say the workshops have been a useful exercise in involving more people and compiling data.  But I'm afraid his suggestion that we focus foremost on philosophy would have doomed our effort to deliver a comprehensive broadband plan to Congress by Feb. 17, 2010.

Why?  Congress, for starters, told us to devise a plan that will connect every unconnected home.  So if you were trying to solve that problem, where would you start?  With philosophy or facts?

Obviously, you need the facts.  We need to know how many homes are unconnected, where they are, what the technological options are for connecting them, the cost.  Staff got a lot of helpful facts from our workshops, and is busy gathering additional data on this and many, many other questions right now.

Before too long, we will deliver facts and options to the Comissioners, and it will be time to begin discussing philosophical issues, such as the appropriate role of the public sector.  But to do so now would cut off critical fact-gathering.  Moreover, fact-gathering based on a particular regulatory philosophy could effectively blind us to the importance of information that is right before our eyes.

So step back, Socrates.  There's method in our madness.

For my more complete thoughts on this subject, read the speech I gave at Randy's conference celebrating the publication of a new book he just edited on "New Directions in Communications Policy."

7 Responses to “The Limits of Philosophy”

  1. Calamity Jane says:

    Mr. May's and Free State's "regulatory philosophy" is to do and say whatever their benefactors tell them to do and say. Right now, those benefactors are largely the cable industry, some teleco. So no surprise, they are going around saying the usual "keep govt. out" stuff, with a new "extend lifeline to broadband" meme, because cable is on board with that.

    Quite predictable.

    This is where philosophy ends and pragmatics begins, Mr. Levin. You are right to not make "regulation vs. deregulation" the focus of the workshops. But you made, and continue to make, a big mistake not asking your panelists and your own Task Force members to be upfront about their own financial ties to industry.

    Who pays the bills, is not a philosophical matter. It is a data point, one you as Federal Agency should always collect and disclose.

  2. Bill Dollar says:

    Mr. Levin, I assume this part of the speech refers to my 8/21/09 comment:

    "One of my favorites was a critic who accused us of having nothing but the "usual lawyers and lobbyists." When the numbers demonstrated that of the scores of participants, almost none were lawyers or lobbyists, he did not admit error, but rather said that his point was correct because the majority of participants represented corporations. Factually true, but much like the telco lumping together wireless, cable and wireline to try to make a point only about wireline, thinking that Verizon and Clearwire, Comcast and Sezmi, AT&T and Lariat are the same, is, to put it kindly, overbroad and therefore, provides a statistic without meaning."

    Mr. Levin, if you cannot see that Verizon, Clearwire, Comcast, AT&T and Lariat are all companies that are self-interested, profit seeking entities that will always look out for the bottom line first, and will always put profits before the common good, well then things are even worse than I thought over at the FCC. Yes, these companies sometimes have divergent views on policy (though they all oppose Network Neutrality and price constraints), but none of them are public interest advocates.

    The point of my original critique is that these workshops neglected the voice of the public. They shafted the consumer and public interest groups. Mark Wigfeld's further comments that "there aren't that many" consumer groups out there, and CU couldn't be on every panel was both ignorant and insulting.

    There is alot of work to be done getting the public to trust the FCC after what has happened there over the past decade. These first few months don't really do much to move the needle.

  3. Guest says:

    The FCC can devise the best broadband plans in the world, but if you can't get the money to pay for it, the plan is useless. Your broadband plan and the specific recommendations for funding each part of the plan MUST be included by the February 2010 deadline or your plan is DOA. American consumers are already paying excess taxes in their personal and home communication bills (e.g., universal service taxes). Why don't you tax and take some of the exorbitant salaries from communications industry executives and their lawyers to pay for your broadband plan implementation next year?

  4. Guest says:

    "We need to know how many homes are unconnected, where they are, what the technological options are for connecting them, the cost..."

    Well let me tell you...I live on 2 acres between 2 established neighborhoods that were developed in the 80s in Southern MD. The only option for me is Satellite Internet, which is just a step above dial-up. I tried to get cable (which is provided in both developments around me), but they said it will cost me $2,000-$3,000 for them to connect me. DSL, FIOS, or any other broadband service isn't even offered in my area, or at least not the 2 acres that I live on.

    Between online my graduate school classes, my son applying for college for next fall, a daughter's upcoming science fair projects, and my husband's studying for his next level certifications for his career growth, one would think that we could get all the internet we want. Unfortunately, that is not the case. It's either "No" or "Slow" access. And if it rains?

  5. Brett Glass says:

    "Guest," you should check to see whether a WISP serves your area. There are several in southern Maryland, and you will likely find that one can cover you (see http://www.wispdirectory.com/).

    The FCC, as part of the broadband plan, could enable WISPs to do much more by allocating spectrum to wireless broadband (not just the big cellular carriers with the big bucks, but small operators) and ensuring that they can connect to the Internet backbone at reasonable cost.

  6. Guest says:

    Uh, yeah. Blair's the only person on this thread right now who doesn't make my eyeballs bleed. TL;DR, ALL OF YOU.

    It's good that you got your logistics set out in front of you but there's still no denying that the FCC makes a dead log look spritely. The only real action that's been taken has been resolving the TV turnover to digital and frankly, who cares? Not much is going to change from that. The FCC does have a moral calling and the FCC has been rather absent from the discussion of regulation. That's for congress, so the wisdom goes. That wisdom is stupid. It's not wisdom. The FCC as I understood it was a branch of government for people who aim to make communication in the country informative and transformative. Do you or do you not think people like this should have a say? I sure think so.

  7. Michael RT Eagan says:

    I've finally witnessed a a printing of WISP without it's anchor of FCC. Thank you Brett Glass.

    Our government was established to serve and protect the civilians. Should they profit in their endeavor will only create opportunity and a probable increased growth. The fact we have no blanket mentality to protect and serve our electronics and their users.

    The FCC and clearly the collection of non-productive lawyers , regulators and lobbyests is a sorry fact of life here in America while we use foreign electronics and outsourced manpower is a gift of our FCC and IRS.

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