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Adam Thierer

Progress and Freedom Foundation Closes Shop

in Media by

WASHINGTON, October 4, 2010 – The Progress & Freedom Foundation has announced that it’s closing shop after 17 years as a technology policy think tank. It shut down Friday, Oct. 1.

PFF studied the digital revolution and its implications for public policy while advocating a philosophy of limited government, free markets, property rights and individual sovereignty, the group said in its announcement. The organization convened numerous policy events, including its nationally recognized annual Aspen Summit, which brought together leading thinkers and policy makers in the field.

“PFF has had an amazing 17-year run,” said PFF’s last president, Adam Thierer. “It’s been a great honor to be with PFF for the past five years and I’m extremely proud of everything the organization has accomplished. PFF will be remembered by its scores of scholars and the hundreds of participants in its programs over the years as a cutting-edge research institution that generated exciting ideas in communications, media and high-tech policy. We’re all very proud of the PFF legacy.”

The group’s web site is still available online at pff.org, where the think tank’s scholarly work is available.

Experts Debate Causes, Cures for Cyber Bullying and High Risk Behaviors

in Broadband Updates/Broadband's Impact/Cybersecurity/National Broadband Plan/NTIA/Privacy by

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2010 – The best way to avoid cyber bullying is not to be a teenage girl, said an expert on Tuesday at a panel discussion hosted by the Progress and Freedom Foundation.

The remarks, made by Michael McKeehan, Verizon’s executive director of internet and technology policy, were in response to a question on “high risk behaviors” that lead children to become targets of online bullies.

McKeehan was participating in a panel titled, “Sending an Online Safety Message to Congress,” which addressed challenges and potential solutions that face Congress, communications agencies and others in crafting a strategy to keep children safe from abuse over the internet.

According to McKeehan, this abuse is often gendered, because while boys “will punch each other in the nose and then play baseball,” girls are statistically more likely to engage in prolonged, escalating bouts of abuse.

This gender dichotomy was not the only problem covered at the panel. According to Larry Magid, co-director of ConnectSafety.org, “risk factors” abound on the internet for young children. While 95 percent of children avoid these threats, a statistically significant portion of them will inevitably engage in such behaviors, he said.

Among these risk factors, Magid cited antisocial behavior such as anonymously attacking other users over forums, a practice known as “trolling” or “griefing.”

“Chat rooms tend to be a more risky environment than social networking sites,” Magid said. He added the caveat that, while widespread distribution of compromising photos to classmates would tend to make one a target for cyber bullying, distributing these photos more narrowly didn’t necessarily correlate with a higher risk for abuse. He drew a clear line between the majority of internet users and those that choose to engage in deviant behavior, either as bullies or victims.

“One of the things that bothers me is that there’s this notion that there’s an epidemic,” Magid said. “The reality is that most kids in America do not bully. Most kids in America do not send out naked pictures of themselves, and those that do don’t distribute them widely to schoolmates. These activities happen, but they don’t affect most kids. The abnormal, aberrant behavior is to act out and bully and sext and harass and use the internet in a destructive or self-destructive manner.”

Panelists debated the prospect of the government setting “defaults” on hardware that automatically would protect children from risqué sites and content the instant the hardware is used. Discussing the problem with these approaches, Adam Thierer, president of the Progress and Freedom Foundation, argued that defaults would be a potentially redundant and overly restrictive approach, given that video game console manufacturers and other software vendors already self-police. Thierer drew on precedent from the console market to make his case.

“[Games rated adults-only] cannot be played on the major three consoles in the United States,” Thierer said. “The question that is really contentious is ‘should the government set a default that is more restrictive than the one that is voluntarily set by the market?’”

Thierer suggested that such a default standard might be too restrictive, to the point of rendering hardware nonfunctional.

Another issue that arose surrounding the issue of child protection was the problem of “data retention,” a process by which internet service providers keep records of all data accessed by their customers, to aid in potential law enforcement investigations. Talking about this problem, McKeehan stressed that while data retention was a priority for corporations, national policy would have to tread lightly so as to not damage consumers’ expectations of privacy.

“You might think law enforcement would want all data retained for all time,” McKeehan said. “You’d be wrong. You might think the privacy advocates would want no data retained. Again, you’d be wrong.”

Panelists agreed on two general arguments when offering their final pieces of advice to Congress: firstly, that a diverse set of approaches was necessary, and secondly, that education was one key element of any strategy.

Speaking on this last point, John Morris, general counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, said, “Promote education. Figure out a way to get the resources into the schools to teach kids how to conduct themselves online.”

The talk was moderated by Stephen Balkam, CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute, and preceded by a speech from Anna Gomez, deputy assistant secretary for communications and information at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Gomez’s speech hit several notes that would be echoed later in the discussion, hitting especially on the need to be wary of “one-size-fits-all” regulations, which Gomez called “a blunt instrument.”

“The first and most important line of defense against harmful content is education,” Gomez said.

Empiris Joins Multitude of Industry Groups in Anti-Berkman Chorus

in National Broadband Plan/Net Neutrality by

WASHINGTON, November 17, 2009 – The consulting firm Empiris LLC joined a host of cable and phone broadband network related entities on Tuesday when it slammed a recent study from Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society on broadband policy.

In July the Federal Communications Commission commissioned the Berkman Center to review the existing literature and studies on broadband deployment and usage throughout the world to inform the FCC’s development of a National Broadband Plan. The FCC sought public comment on the study through November 16.

Empiris held a teleconference with bloggers Tuesday to discuss its problems with the report. Empiris argues the study failed to provide an accurate summary of broadband policies in other countries and advances “conclusions that conflict with the evidence found in existing research.”

“The central question for developing broadband services and the infrastructure required to deliver them is how to provide the requisite incentives for carrier investment in such infrastructure,” noted Robert Crandall, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and a senior expert for Empiris, in a statement. “The Berkman Study ignores this issue, focusing instead on a policy of intra-platform competition that has been thoroughly discredited in the United States,” he said.

Crandall added in the teleconference that the study does not address what policies would induce the deployment of fiber. The economist Everett Erlich said the idea of unbundling presented in the study not only won’t encourage a universally available broadband network but it “takes us down a very slippery slope.”

The Berkman research found that “open access” policies—unbundling, bitstream access, collocation requirements, wholesaling, and/or functional separation—are almost universally understood as having played a core role in the first generation transition to broadband in most of the high performing countries; that they now play a core role in planning for the next generation transition; and that the positive impact of such policies is strongly supported by the evidence of the first generation broadband transition.”

The report said “open access policies in other countries have sought to increase levels of competition by lowering entry barriers; they aim to use regulation of telecommunications inputs to improve the efficiency of competition in the consumer market in broadband.”

Empiris joins a chorus of groups that are speaking out against the study. Last week, Technology President and Senior Fellow Thomas Lenard called the report “incomplete and not objective” in comments he filed (PDF) with the FCC.

These comments “demonstrate that the study is limited in the literature it reviews and that some of the best economic research in this area reaches conclusions at variance with Berkman’s claims,” said Lenard. He argued that “even if the open access policies recommended by the study were effective (and the evidence suggests they are not), by the time they were implemented we would have little need for them.” Lenard said the study fails to discuss any of the analysis undertaken of the U.S. experience with unbundling requirements under the 1996 Telecom Act.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association said in comments it filed with the FCC that the report “is an advocacy piece, not the work of dispassionate scholarship that the commission requested.” Other critics of the study include the U.S. Telecom Association, former Progress & Freedom Foundation senior fellow Bret Swanson, Digital Society Policy Director George Ou, PFF President Adam Thierer, and Link Hoewing of Verizon.

In support of the study, Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press, said, “This is the most comprehensive presentation of international broadband data available today, and it should put to rest any doubts that the United States is falling far behind the rest of the developed world in broadband performance.”

Scott also opted to tie the report’s findings in with the debate about whether the FCC should move forward with so-called Net neutrality rules to regulate Internet access.

“Furthermore, this study makes clear that Net Neutrality is a very moderate proposal compared to other policy prescriptions that have boosted competition in broadband markets abroad. The FCC should consider all of these policy options. In the short term, Net Neutrality is the minimum needed to protect competition in speech and commerce on the Internet and to help put our faltering policy back on track,” said Scott in a statement.

Reporter-Researcher Eli Evans contributed to this article.

FOSI Conference to Feature RI, WA AG's, Plethora of Online Safety Experts

in Broadband Updates/Broadband's Impact by

The Family Online Safety Institute announced the list of confirmed speakers for its 2009 annual conference to take place November 4th and 5th in Washington, DC. Speakers include child online safety expert Danah Boyd, Online Safety Technology Working Group co-chair Anne Collier, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children board member Larry Magid (Collier and Magid are co-founders of online safety group ConnectSafely).

Also scheduled to speak are OSTWG member and parental controls expert Adam Thierer and Attorneys General Patrick Lynch and Rob McKenna of Rhode Island and Washington state, respectively.

Commentary: Rights of Providers Shouldn't Outweigh Rights of Users

in Expert Opinion/Net Neutrality by

Editor’s Note: The following commentary is written by Andrew Feinberg, Deputy Editor, BroadbandCensus.com. The news operations of BroadbandCensus.com strive to produce accurate and objective reporting about the national broadband plan, the broadband stimulus, and wireless broadband.

We do run commentaries by outside individuals and entities. Please send them for consideration to commentary@broadbandcensus.com. In this piece, Andrew Feinberg offers his perspective on one of the big news items of the week. The opinions below do not express the company view of either Broadband Census News LLC, or of Broadband Census Data LLC. See below for more information about BroadbandCensus.com.

WASHINGTON, September 23, 2009 – Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski’s announcement of his intention to codify the commission’s 2005 Internet Policy Statement into actual, enforceable federal regulations using a valid legal process drew expected reactions from the usual parties.

Everybody in this debate means well. I will not suggest evil motives on anyone’s part, because my observation as a journalist is that everyone involved in creating and sustaining today’s online ecosystem wants it to succeed.

But sometimes hyperbole can exceed the reality of the situation. Yesterday, Adam Thierer and Berin Szoka, two senior fellows at the Progress and Freedom Foundation for whom I have the utmost respect as scholars, and confidence in as sources, published a widely circulated op-ed entitled “The Day Internet Freedom Died.”

Thierer and Szoka open by harkening back to the days when the commercial internet was young. When we used dial-up, a single T1 line was considered a fast connection. Efforts to censor speech, impose taxes and regulate encryption tools as weapons were successfully countered by activism and smart legislating.

There was a time, not so long ago, when the term “Internet Freedom” actually meant what it implied: a cyberspace free from over-zealous legislators and bureaucrats. For a few brief, beautiful moments in the Internet’s history (from the mid-90s to the early 2000s), a majority of Netizens and cyber-policy pundits alike all rallied around the flag of “Hands Off the Net!” From censorship efforts, encryption controls, online taxes, privacy mandates and infrastructure regulations, there was a general consensus as to how much authority government should have over cyber-life and our cyber-liberties. Simply put, there was a “presumption of liberty” in all cyber-matters.

This is correct. But as someone who remembers many of those debates quite vividly, I feel the need to point out that those debates of years past have nothing to do with the current issue at hand. Those activism efforts were aimed at protecting individual liberties and intrusions upon individual rights. The “presumption of liberty” was nothing more than an extension of existing privacy principles combined with a “wait and see attitude” towards what was then a new and exciting technology in its commercial infancy.

Case in point: I remember when Yahoo! turned its’ front page black in protest over the Communications Decency Act. Yahoo! was the dominant search engine back then. Remember that? I accessed the page over a dial-up connection using a 28.8 Kilobits per second (Kbps) modem on a Intel Pentium-based PC running Slackware Linux. Now, that might be a bit too much geek-talk in a history lesson, but my point is that was a long time ago. Times have changed. Thierer and Szoka fear they have changed for the worst.

I know their position, and I understand their alarm. I don’t buy the arguments of many “network neutrality” groups that impugn the motivations of broadband providers – both wired and wireless – for managing their networks. But neither do I accept that the market will always create the right result.

What I haven’t heard anyone say is that the fight over these proposed regulations involves issues that are a far cry from the fights of the 1990s and early 2000s that protected the individual. They’re now arguing solely for the rights of the provider – not the rights of the user. Their impulse is to protect the conduct of the network operator – not the speech of the user.

Thierer and Szoka do have a legitimate fear in that an overly broad set of regulations would hamper innovation and “put the FCC in the driver’s seat for a host of Internet economic and social issues.” They worry that “common carrier” principles will be applied without thought to broadband pipes, and that vague “public interest” requirements will be applied to those that provide them.

In a cut-and-paste scenario where old rules would be blindly shoehorned onto new technologies, they’d be right.

But though we may stand on the edge of a slippery slope, there’s some sand on the ice. We do have a rulemaking process that Chairman Genachowski has committed to. We will have the opportunity for public comment.

We should be worried. We should always be vigilant against overreaching regulation. But until we see what’s coming, we should wait, see, and discuss our options and compromises, rather than assume the worst and dig in for a firefight.

About BroadbandCensus.com

BroadbandCensus.com was launched in January 2008, and uses “crowdsourcing” to collect the Broadband SPARC: Speeds, Prices, Availability, Reliability and Competition. The news on BroadbandCensus.com is produced by Broadband Census News LLC, a subsidiary of Broadband Census LLC that was created in July 2009.

A recent split of operations helps to clarify the mission of BroadbandCensus.com. Broadband Census Data LLC offers commercial broadband verification services to cities, states, carriers and broadband users. Created in July 2009, Broadband Census Data LLC produced a joint application in the NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program with Virginia Tech’s eCorridors Program. In August 2009, BroadbandCensus.com released a beta map of Columbia, South Carolina, in partnership with Benedict-Allen Community Development Corporation.

Broadband Census News LLC offers daily and weekly reporting, as well as the Broadband Breakfast Club. The Broadband Breakfast Club has been inviting top experts and policy-makers to share breakfast and perspectives on broadband technology and internet policy since October 2008. Both Broadband Census News LLC and Broadband Census Data LLC are subsidiaries of Broadband Census LLC, and are organized in the Commonwealth of Virginia. About BroadbandCensus.com.

Education Remains Crucial Tool of Consumer Protection, Say Panelists at FCC

in FCC Workshops/National Broadband Plan by

WASHINGTON, September 9, 2009 – The second panel at the Federal Communications Commission’s “consumer context” panel on September 9 focused on the tools and techniques that will enable consumers to utilize new broadband-friendly applications.

The continuing growth of possible uses of the Internet brings “good stuff” to consumers; but doing so safely was a cause for discussion.

“For the past nine months, we have noticed that over 65 million people are checking their Facebook’s using their mobile devices,” Timothy Sparapani, director of the public policy for Facebook.

Do children and adolescents who post online do so with an awareness of the privacy consequences associated with doing so, panelists asked. Sparapani said that Facebook was in the process of refining its privacy disclosures for that reason.

“Children need to gain media literacy. They need the ‘rules of the road’ for the internet,” said Sparapani.

To make this possibility a reality, Alan Simpson, director of policy for Common Sense Media, said, “This calls for the funding and implementing of digital literacy.”

With the digital literacy, the lessons would include policies for security and privacy as well as policies of “authorship and authority of information found on the internet,” said Simpson. He also said that the number of students cheating on papers have increased, according to Simpson.

Educating children on broadband usage is important; however, the education has to come from a teacher or a parent.

“Technologically speaking, students are outsmarting the teachers,” said Michael McKeehan executive director of the internet and technology policy for Verizon Communications.

Finding professional educators to teach security and privacy policies a difficulty in itself; however another concern is the location of digital learning.

“Some school districts won’t take time to teach digital literacy or it would be a trade off: either give up biology or physical education in order to have a program [dedicated to the education of digital literacy],” said McKeehan.

“The most important thing is education, education, education,” said Adam Thierer, senior fellow of the Progress and Freedom Foundation.

About BroadbandCensus.com

BroadbandCensus.com was launched in January 2008, and uses “crowdsourcing” to collect the Broadband SPARC: Speeds, Prices, Availability, Reliability and Competition. The news on BroadbandCensus.com is produced by Broadband Census News LLC, a subsidiary of Broadband Census LLC that was created in July 2009.

A recent split of operations helps to clarify the mission of BroadbandCensus.com. Broadband Census Data LLC offers commercial broadband verification services to cities, states, carriers and broadband users. Created in July 2009, Broadband Census Data LLC produced a joint application in the NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program with Virginia Tech’s eCorridors Program. In August 2009, BroadbandCensus.com released a beta map of Columbia, South Carolina, in partnership with Benedict-Allen Community Development Corporation.

Broadband Census News LLC offers daily and weekly reporting, as well as the Broadband Breakfast Club. The Broadband Breakfast Club has been inviting top experts and policy-makers to share breakfast and perspectives on broadband technology and internet policy since October 2008. Both Broadband Census News LLC and Broadband Census Data LLC are subsidiaries of Broadband Census LLC, and are organized in the Commonwealth of Virginia. About BroadbandCensus.com.

On Cyberbullying, Education and Enforcement Bills Compete for Congressional Action

in Broadband's Impact by

WASHINGTON, June 12, 2009 – Hill staffers and online safety said Friday that two bills currently before Congress take very different approaches to issues of cyberbullying and online.

Speaking at a panel sponsored by the Family Online Safety Institute, CEO Stephen Balkam said that the key question is whether or not it is possible to legislate internet safety. Over the past decade, multiple commissions of countless experts have determined that there is “no silver bullet” to protecting young people as they venture online.

Instead, the consensus of each succeeding study has been that a “combination of tools” is required, and that “education is key,” he said. A similar study in the United Kingdom reached many of the same conclusions, he said.

And while Balkam noted the panelists represented widely differing viewpoints on the best way to approach the problem, he would not minimize the seriousness of the issue: “None of us will deny challenges exist,” he said.

“Children and adults today have… come to rely on the Internet for everything,” said Mercedes Salem, legislative counsel for Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif. Sanchez is the sponsor of the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act, which would impose criminal penalties for severe harassment which Salem said “crosses a line” beyond normal schoolyard antics.

“We’re not dealing with face to face bullies anymore,” she said. Instead, what was once a shove on the school playground is now reaching home to after school hours, and to students’ mobile devices.

“There’s a big difference” when a bully can attack “any time of the day, anywhere.”

And while education is crucial to prevent such behavior from becoming status quo, Salem stressed the need for legislation to “punish people who cross the line” into criminal behavior. “This is not about hurt feelings,” she said, “but punishing criminal acts.”

Jason Tuber, a legislative assistant for Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., did not dispute the severity of cyberbullyin or the consequences of ignoring it. “Everyone can agree this is a serious problem,” he said.

But in answering Balkam’s original question on legislating safety, Tuber was blunt: “I think the answer is simply no.” But Congress can make it more likely that children are safe by providing resources for parents, educators, and other stakeholders, he said.

Sen. Menendez’s bill, the School and Family Education about the Internet Act, would provide for grants for educational programs and award them based on objective criteria, with the grants adjustable from year to year based on changing needs and technologies, Tuber said.

Progress and Freedom Foundation Senior Fellow Adam Thierer, who has served on prior task forces mentioned by Balkam, called the Menendez bill’s educational approach “infinitely constitutional” — a stark contrast to other child safety laws which have been struck down by courts on First Amendment grounds.

Enforcement and regulation-based laws don’t go anywhere but to court, Thierer said. Speaking of the decade-long battle over the Child Online Protection Act, which was overturned last year, he asked: “How did that make kids better off?”

Thierer would not rule out criminal sanctions, but only in cases of “really aggrieved online harassment,” which he took pains to differentiate from “kid on kid” conduct traditionally handled by schools.  And real “adult on kid” harassment – the sort that served as the impetus behind the Megan Meier Act, “may be a different story,” he said.

Salem defended her boss’ legislation as providing a new option for prosecutors, and not a knee-jerk reaction to a single incident. “We want to stop this behavior: We need new tools, new laws.” Schools may be well-equipped to deal with traditional bullying, she said, but they can’t address conduct that may be criminal.

Aspen Dispatch: Who Wants to Police the Internet?

in Expert Opinion by

Blog Entries

ASPEN, COLORADO, August 18 – The Monday morning panel at the 2008 Aspen Summit examined the fundamental protections provided to 3rd party Internet providers and users (Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act) and considered recent common law developments that might upend some of the protections previously afforded to 3rd parties like ISPs and even blog administrators. Thanks to Section 230, everyone from Comcast to WordPress to Facebook to techliberation.com are not considered to be “publishers” according to legal definitions and are theoretically free to facilitate Internet speech, commerce, and other exchanges rather than police them.

  • Adam Thierer, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Digital Media Freedom, The Progress & Freedom Foundation (moderator)
  • Jim Harper, Director of Information Policy Studies, Cato Institute.
  • Chris Kelly, Chief Privacy Officer and Head of Global Public Policy, Facebook, Inc.
  • Eugene Volokh, Gary T. Schwartz Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law
  • Kent Walker, Vice President and General Counsel, Google Inc

While the panelists disagreed to some extent on the question of whether Section 230 can be called a blanket immunity, the legislation is clearly seminal. As Kent Walker stated: “There has always been rules for one to many communications like radio and television and there has been rules for one to one communication like the telephone…until Section 230, we didn’t have rules for many to many communications.”

Adam Thierer, this morning’s most prominent devil’s advocate, pressed the panel to consider whether 230 is a get out of jail free card that leaves the Internet with no police department and only a series of poorly enforced (and enforceable) ad hoc rules that don’t make any sense from an efficiency standpoint.

Jim Harper conceded that in the absence of 230, the common law process may very well have determined a more efficient set of rules for Internet liability, but that justice is a much more important ideal in this case than efficiency. “The electric company’s not responsible for electric fires at a consumer’s house, and for good reason,” Jim concluded.

Other panelists also admitted that ISPs are well positioned to be enforcers of a distinct set of rules (if there was one), but there was general agreement that if you deputize the middleman (the ISP or any network administrator), the middleman will take the easy way out. The part-time bloggers on the panel (apparently about half of them) all noted that if they were liable for the comments on their blogs they would simply have to eliminate all comments.

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