It is my honor this month to take over as President and CEO of Public Knowledge where I have spent the last seven years working as part of an incredible team. I’ve devoted many years to Public Knowledge because I believe it is a special institution. Under our mission to “promote free expression, an open internet, and access to affordable communications tools and creative works,” the PK team prides itself on the breadth of tech policy issues we cover, the expert analysis we offer, and the trusted resources we provide for both policymakers and the broader technology-using public. In this new role as PK President, I wanted to share why my career path has taught me that Public Knowledge’s work and expertise is needed now more than ever.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently published an op-ed in the Washington Post naming a role for government and regulation around four specific policies that continue to be concerns for users of Facebook and broader digital platforms. In two areas (privacy and political advertising) Zuckerberg reiterates Facebook’s agreement with previous legislative proposals, including parts of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union and (although not named) concepts from the Honest Ads Act introduced by Senators Amy Klobuchar, Mark Warner, and the late John McCain. In addition to these two topics, Zuckerberg also moves towards responding to calls from the public interest community for stronger content moderation of hateful content and for meaningful data portability to promote competition in a market that trends towards dominant platforms. While some may view yet another Facebook op-ed cynically, I believe this one should be welcomed.
As Americans woke this morning from their long night of watching election results, there was a new political reality in Washington. A Democratic Party takeover the House of Representatives has created divided government again. Just under two years ago, Public Knowledge President & CEO Gene Kimmelman described a fight for fairness under the newly elected President and Congress. Although fairness is often referenced by President Trump, Americans have not experienced a great deal of it over the past two years in tech policy. This newly elected Congress now has a new opportunity to return to protecting an American public who has seen their interests ignored over the past two years of tech policy. Here are a few areas of focus for legislators looking to bring greater fairness to a technology marketplace that leaves consumers powerless to dominant companies.
Despite public outrage and Congressional pressure, Chairman Ajit Pai succeeded in his repeal of vital net neutrality rules at the Federal Communications Commission’s last open meeting of 2017. This attack on the open internet also rolled back Title II classification of broadband and abdicated the FCC’s regulatory authority over the internet to the Federal Trade Commission.
Unlicensed spectrum has never been more popular! The reason people love unlicensed spectrum is because it is the “public commons” of spectrum that is open to anyone to use and has led to innovations that people use every day. Technologies such as Bluetooth, cordless phones, baby monitors, and Wi-Fi all come from use of unlicensed spectrum, and we expect to see many new innovations in the near future as a result of unlicensed spectrum, such as self-driving cars.
When you visit the website of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the agency describes itself as “a mechanism that protects new ideas and investments in innovation and creativity”. After over two years of debate around how to improve the patent litigation system, opponents to reform are attempting to kill momentum towards reform by suggesting that the nation throw sand into the gears of the USPTO’s mechanism for innovation and creativity. This sand comes in the form of a proposal to limit the USPTO ability to review the quality of patents after they have been granted, called inter partes review proceedings.
There are special interests in Washington that are working to hard to eliminate or curtail this right to inter partes reviews. Big Pharmaceutical companies have billions of dollars in extra benefits on the line if they can continue to make it hard for the small guy to challenge their patents. Patent trolls stand to benefit by gutting the USPTO’s review processes as well. If their patents cannot be challenged or reviewed through IPR, then they will have more opportunities they have to flood individuals and small businesses with requests for payments based on fraudulent claims.
After disasters, the FCC and the American people must decide not just whether to rebuild, but also how to rebuild.
August 29 will be the 8th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a storm that left a level of devastation and death in the Gulf Coast that horrified our nation. Soon after the storm in 2005 there was an open debate about whether it was smart to rebuild in cities such as New Orleans, where the cost to build back the city’s defenses against future storms was great due to the natural terrain and the level of technology needed to do the job. Residents had to choose if they would return to their homes and invest in making their communities whole again, or simply start over in a new town where the prospects where better.
This decision is not unlike what communities faced following the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy along the New York and New Jersey coast in 2012. In both instances, residents decided that their community was “stronger than the storm” and that they would restore their communities back to a place that worked for all its people and businesses.
Even when they agree on what they want, Members of Congress excel at
division and making a noncontroversial bill sound like the road to ruin.
FACT: Ask every member of the House Judiciary Committee if
they support the right of consumers to unlock their cell phones so they can
change service providers and they will say yes. All of them.
And yet for two hours Wednesday, Committee members engaged
in heated debate and ultimately voted by a small margin to move the simple four
page bill (H.R. 1123) sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte out of Committee and to
the House floor for consideration and vote. This should not have been a controversial committee mark up,
but many Members of Congress continue to be concerned about what this bill means,
rather than what it actually does.
challenged to think outside the industry talking points, to what consumers are
saying loudly in their marketplace choices.
As a part of a series of hearings, the Senate Commerce
Committee held a hearing on the “State of Video” communications Tuesday May 14,
Leaders from the cable, satellite, and broadcast TV
industries joined PK’s own video & media policy guru, John Bergmayer on the
panel and made one thing very clear: These industries are making a fine profit
right now and are not interested in having the power of the Internet change
Hearings such as this, that have (somewhat) balanced witness
panels are very helpful because they remind us that no matter how much we are
told through advertising that what cable, satellite, and broadcast are giving
us is what we want, these companies are in the business of protecting their
business. The technology that can
increase competition and lower the price of cable is already available in
online video. Millions of viewers
this choice to take advantage of online video options today.
The 10th Annual IP3 Awards are coming up on October 9th, 2013! Who do you think deserves IP3 Awards this year?
is an exciting time for the public interest community and tech policy!
the last year, we have celebrated winning court decisions such as the Aereo
case and Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, and we have continued to stand up
net neutrality rules when we forced AT&T to step back from its blocking of
Facetime. From bringing about a
balanced discussion around copyright reform following the dark days of
SOPA/PIPA, to carrying the torch for the social contract of the Communications
Act in discussions over the PSTN transition, to introducing DC to innovative
new technologies like 3D printing, we are the thought leaders and activists who
are leading the way forward.
The issue of cell phone unlocking has been hot for the past
month. The White House response to
the over 100,000 person petition to allow for the unlocking of cell phones has
led to a flurry of legislative proposals in Congress and broad interest in a
quick solution to the issue.
Last month the House Republican Study Committee (RSC)
released (and then retracted 24 hours later) a thought-provoking policy paper
Myths About Copyright Law and Where to Start to Fix It. As the leading
group for conservative policy ideas and discussion in the U.S. House of
Representatives, the RSC could play a critical role in presenting the
conservative arguments for copyright reform.
To the average observer Wednesday’s House Judiciary
Subcommittee hearing on Internet music royalties may have simply looked like a
typical DC fight between large industry interests over how to split up a
dollar. While that may be partly
true, it is also important to remember how these decisions can impact what
music that we (the consumers) have access to and the choices we have in how we
listen to it. Public Knowledge provided that voice of what is important for
both consumers and artists through a written
statement for the record.
However, the main event on Wednesday was the oral testimony by an
industry-dominated panel, so lets get to the blow-by-blow.