Since the dawn of the Internet era, people have condemned the big American entertainment industry players for failing to meet the challenges of the new age with a spirit of innovation. But that ignores the tremendous amount of creative energies that the RIAA (music) and MPAA (movies) have put into crafting new ways to squash the spread of digital content. They try to sell those inventions to lawmakers, and over the years, a symbiosis has developed where the lobbies lob an extreme, if clever, technological scheme into Congress,. The scheme gets a polite hearing -- Hey, maybe we should think about blowing up people's computers -- but is then either forgotten, or seriously toned down.
This morning, the Federal Communications Commission made a much-anticipated announcement that it was opening up "white spaces" for unlicensed use. "White spaces" are those open portions of the radio spectrum that were freed up last year when the U.S. made the big switch from analog to digital television. Sure, that ancient Sony set in the basement may have stopped being useful, but our common sacrifice made possible the new flowering of wireless innovation today.
In recent years, law professor Susan Crawford has developed a reputation as one of the foremost thinkers on how technology and digital media, and our public-policy responses to them, help shape our modern lives. After the election of Barack Obama, Crawford went inside the administration, first to co-lead the transition team and help the incoming president understand the Federal Communications Commission, and later to serve as the National Economic Council's coordinator on tech-policy issues. After a year, Crawford returned to teaching and is now at New York City's Cardozo Law School.
The anger at Google over its "compromise" net-neutrality proposal with Verizon is understandable, but it's also a reflection of the fact that what exists of a modern media reform movement in the United States isn't exactly awash with good options.
Yesterday's attempt by Google to quell some of the anger made the case that they and Verizon are simply a pair of voices among many in the neutrality discussion: