Yesterday, when Mr. President announced his support for network neutrality, the Internet exploded with many emotions — joy, outrage and surprise. People on either side of the divide shared their opinions via tweets, blog posts and Facebook messages.
My own take on the announcement expressed through a single tweet was that of cautious skepticism. I have hard time swallowing whatever our legislators have to say if they are in the autumn of their administrative term.
— OM (@om) November 10, 2014
I am skeptical because of the choice of cable industry lobbyist Tom Wheeler as the head of FCC. I am skeptical that Comcast’s shill-in-chief David Cohen is one of President’s fundraisers. I am skeptical because a lot more could have been done a lot earlier.
Today, many folks have weighed in with thoughtful pieces: Fred Wilson has his optimistic take on the news. And while he is generous in his optimism, a more balanced take is offered by my former colleagues, Stacey Higginbotham and Jeff Roberts and I would encourage you to read those.
In his blog post, Wilson points out that “This [President’s statement] is about keeping the Internet the way it has been operating for the past twenty years.” But, I ask, why do we have to look backward to think about future legislation. If anything, technology has taught us that future is unpredictable. Why aren’t we talking about the real challenge of a networked society — control of the network by duopolies.
Why aren’t we talking about the one thing that can actually create a lasting impact more than empty words of politicians who consort with those they publicly posture to regulate? I believe we need more competition and stronger rules that promote competition — both wireless and wired.
However, the reason I am writing today is as a result of something Senator Ted Cruz said in a tweet which reverberated around the Internet.
"Net Neutrality" is Obamacare for the Internet; the Internet should not operate at the speed of government.
— Senator Ted Cruz (@SenTedCruz) November 10, 2014
Since I don’t have a particular political ideology and as such am not loyal to either party, I do not wish this to be viewed through a “party affiliation” lens. The cause (POTUS’ announcement) and the reaction (the tweet) are a perfect summation of the biggest challenge of our time: our legislators aren’t really able to understand the magnitude of change our society is going through.The changes are swift, rapid, and often confusing.Just at the precise time when we need to think about the long term, we have stopped thinking about long term. The basic and applied research that focused on the long term is being replaced by short term developments. There is need for serious and strong leadership — which is in short supply because that doesn’t work in today’s myopic approach.
The Uber phenomenon that has upended an established transportation order is something that is, can, and will be replicated across other markets and throughout society. It is not just about Uber — instead it is the ruthless and deflationary impact of the network that is seeping into our social fabric. Can we legislate it, or make judicial sense or plan for this future if we are not taking the time to think about it from the perspective of change? Such myopia simply is not going to cut it.
The public remarks by our elected officials are result of a pervasive social disease called short-termism combined with a very narrow focus on getting re-elected. The changes influenced by recent technological breakthroughs merit taking a step back such as to understand their impact – twenty or thirty years into the future. Once we have a greater understanding of the scope of both existing and potential change, the legislators can start to craft policies which can last more than an election term. They need not only to be thinking about the long term but also understand the issues at a more deeper level, lest they be outmaneuvered by those for whom they will have to legislate.
Take for instance, Google, which today signed a 60-year $1.16 billion agreement with NASA to restore and use the NASA Aimes facility as a base for its efforts in aviation, space exploration and robotics. That Google be so confident about ability to use the space for six decades is a clear reflection on its grand vision of the future which is appropriately summed up in today’s news. It is spending an inordinate time of money and resources with the patience of a vulture, to feast on the future.
Whether it is through robots, drones or driverless cars, Google, by the virtue of its vast financial resources and muscle can both plot and shape policy of the future. If our legislators don’t understand the future – that is if they are ignorant about the technological challenges of the present, let alone the future – then they are simply going to effectively hand over the legislative power to someone like Google, Facebook, Amazon or anyone else who hasn’t even emerged from the shadows yet.