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Quello Interview with Pioneer of Free Software Richard Stallman

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Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

Richard Stallman, perhaps the leading pioneer of Free Software, visited the Quello Center and delivered a Quello Lecture on 11 April 2017 to a standing room only audience. Immediately after his lecture, our Media and Information Masters Student, Irem Gokce Yildirim, did her first interview. She asked Richard to address key issues for the free software movement and related issues over surveillance in a digital society. His responses were clear and give you a sense of his more detailed presentation that is available here.

Richard Stallman interview with the Quello Center from Quello Center on Vimeo.

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Flashing Lights Save Birds: Thoughts on a Talk by Joelle Gehring

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Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

Joelle Gehring, PhD, a biologist for the FCC, works with communications tower operators to minimize bird collisions with towers, which are so serious that they are posing risks to endangered migratory birds. Dr Gehring noted that current estimates are that “6.8 million birds … collide with U.S. and Canadian communication towers during migration.

Joelle described the development of her research aimed at identifying what features of communications towers are leading to so many birds colliding with and being killed by collisions with these towers. The title of her talk was ‘Reducing Avian Collisions with Communications Towers: From Research to Implementation’. Living in Michigan, and studying wildlife ecology at Purdue University, she latched onto the problem of bird deaths being caused by them colliding with the towers. Her study looked systematically at such factors as the weather, the location of towers in the surrounding landscape, the tower support system (guide wires), the heights of the towers, and the tower lighting systems. Height makes a difference with broadcast towers being among the tallest and projecting into the flight paths of migratory birds. But whether the towers had lights that were constantly on or blinking turned out to be a surprising and important finding. Simply by ensuring that towers switched to blinking, flashing lights, created a far more bird friendly lighting system – saving tens of thousands of birds over time.

Dr Gehring’s research is one of the best examples of a clear and insightful project having major policy implications. Hers is research with a clear and major impact on migratory birds.

Joelle Gehring at MSU 2017

Joelle Flyer

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Is the environment a barrier to infrastructure deployment?

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Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

This week, the Quello Center had the privilege of hosting Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Biologist, Dr. Joelle Gehring (event page) to discuss her work on reducing avian collisions with communications towers. Dr. Gehring’s work, which was recently profiled by NPR, presently involves collaborating with federal regulators such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and communication tower owners to adjust tower lighting in order to reduce migratory bird collisions.

Back of the envelope calculations suggest that the efforts of Dr. Gehring and her colleagues have the potential to reduce avian fatalities by 4-5 million per year in the U.S. and Canada alone. Moreover, as Dr. Gehring pointed out, the efforts that tower owners need to undertake are relatively minimal and result in reduced maintenance and energy costs. Dr. Gehring briefly outlines the steps that tower owners should undertake here (additional FCC guidance here) and a more complete set of guidelines is available from the FAA.

Dr. Gehring’s work reminded me of ongoing FCC developments concerning the broader topic of environmental compliance by tower owners, an issue dealt with by the FCC Wireless Telecommunications Bureau’s Competition & Infrastructure Policy Division (CIPD). In particular, as Bill Dutton, Mitch Shapiro and I discuss in our Wireless Regulatory Analysis (see Section 3.1), the FCC’s rules for environmental review ensure that licensees and registrants take appropriate measures to protect environmental and historic resources. In light of all the other major FCC related developments that are grabbing headlines (Susan Crawford tees up some of these here), one that may have been much less noticed is a soon to be released Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Notice of Inquiry (NPRM and NOI) concerning the FCC’s environmental and historic review.

Specifically, the NPRM and NOI commence an FCC examination of the regulatory impediments to wireless network infrastructure investment and deployments in an effort to expedite wireless infrastructure deployment. Among the topics discussed by the NPRM are potential changes to the FCC’s approach to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). Presently, a new tower construction requires, among other things, approval from state or local governing authorities as well as compliance with FCC rules implementing NEPA and NHPA.

NEPA compliance requires three different levels of analysis depending on the potential environmental impact. Actions which do not have a significant effect on the (human) environment do not require an environmental assessment or impact statement and are categorically excluded. For actions that are not categorically excluded, a document presenting the reasons why the action will not have a significant effect on the environment must be prepared. A detailed written statement is required when an action is determined to significantly affect the quality of the environment.

Naturally, wireless providers seeking to enhance service and expand throughout the U.S. have raised concerns that the FCC’s environmental and historic preservation review processes increase the costs of deployment and pose lengthy delays. Issues that have been raised include the need to compensate Tribal Nations claiming large geographic areas (including several full states) within their geographic areas of interest for review of submissions, the burdens of dual reviews by local authorities and State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPO), and the expense of environmental compliance in cases where minimal likelihood of harms are alleged by wireless providers.

The NPRM seeks to mitigate some of the issues, asking stakeholders to weigh in when and what kind of Tribal Nation compensation is justified, how to deal with delays that may result from SHPO review broadly, and whether or not to include categorical exclusions for small cells and distributed antenna systems (DAS) facilities. These actions may all be well intended, well-reasoned, and ultimately in the public interest, but what concerns me is how one sided the FCC’s NPRM reads at the moment. The NPRM elaborates on and in some instances quantifies the cost of NEPA and NHPA review, but little attention is devoted to attempting to qualify or quantify the potential benefits of these additional review processes, or alternatively the potential costs of NOT undergoing NEPA and NHPA review.

Having learned about this NPRM quite late in the game myself, I noticed that the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System contains comments from stakeholders on both sides, including wireless service providers and infrastructure owners on one side along with Native Tribes and parties concerned with historic and environmental preservation on the other (the relevant Docket Numbers are 17-79 and 15-180). However, having searched for the word “comment” throughout the NPRM, I observed that the FCC has only cited the former in the NPRM (e.g., see footnotes 72 citing Sprint and Verizon, footnote 73 citing the Competitive Carrier Association, Crown Castle, and Verizon, and so on). Is this an indication that the FCC has already made its decision regarding what to do and simply unveiling the NPRM to indicate that it has thought about the issue before making a ruling? I sincerely hope not, but I am concerned.

Thus, in light of the lack of press concerning this issue I urge the following: If you are worried about the impact that the expansion of wireless infrastructure has on the environment, please make your voice heard. If you have an opinion regarding the extent to which wireless infrastructure developers and/or regulators should consider historic preservation, please tell regulators why you think historic preservation is important. If you are an expert in either of these issues, please try to quantify your response to the FCC. I can’t stress enough the last part: the FCC needs to perform a cost benefit analysis, or stated differently, compare the costs of delays to broadband expansion to those of degradation of environmental preservation standards. If the FCC can place a dollar amount on both issues, it makes it far more likely that a socially and economically sensible decision could be reached.

Dr. Gehring’s own work, which was started over a decade ago during her time as a Conservation Scientist with Michigan State University, highlights the importance of reaching and listening to stakeholders on all sides of the debate. Through her teams’ relentless efforts, regulators were able to come up with environmentally friendly approaches that also reduced costs—a win-win. I hope that regulators can learn from Dr. Gehring’s accomplishments.

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Path of a Lecture and Interview with Richard Stallman

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Saturday, April 15th, 2017

Irem Gokce Yildirim, a masters student at MSU in my course on media and information policy, interviewed Richard Stallman after his Quello Lecture at MSU. It was her first interview, and she did a great job, with support from her husband, Ustun. Both are from Turkey and both are associated with the Free Software Foundation, for which Richard is the President and Founder.

RMS and Dutton at Auction of GNU at End of Lecture

The back story on how this happened is interesting to me. Ustun, pictured getting an autograph from Stallman, alerted Irem to an early visit by Richard to Michigan. Irem alerted me in class and suggested we invite Richard. This kicked off communications to get Richard Stallman to MSU for a Quello Lecture, and to asking Irem to play an important role in conducting the interview.

Irem and rms

Her interview and Richard Stallman’s lecture will be posted on the Quello site in due course, but this is how it all happened. Thanks to Irem and Ustun for enhancing the academic climate at the Quello Center and MSU’s College of Communication Arts & Sciences.

Ustun and rms

Post Script: Ustun won the GNU in the auction, and the photo is showing Ustun getting rms’s signature on the GNU. First auction at any Quello event, I believe.

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Stimulating Perspective on Free Digital Society by Richard Stallman: Not So Free?

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Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

Yesterday afternoon, April 11, Richard Stallman, President and Founder of the Free Software Foundation gave a rather comprehensive and critical perspective on the ways in which our digital society is not meeting his definition of a free society. His talk, entitled ‘A Free Digital Society’ began with a focus on free software, meaning software that does not control the user – as users control free software. He developed a set of criteria for the requirements underpinning free software over the first hour of his talk, what he called the four freedoms. To Stallman, free software is a basic human right.

During the second hour, he moved through a litany of other problems with a free digital society, including surveillance, censorship, Internet services, which collect personal data, electronic voting, and the war on sharing around copyright – all of which paint a pretty grim picture of our not so free digital society. I found this to be quite stimulating since we have had decades of discussions about computer-based communication and information technologies like the Internet as ‘technologies of freedom’. It is so important for these widely accepted views to be challenged by critics as sharp as Richard Stallman.

Richard Stallman Lecture

His talk filled our large lecture hall to standing room only, and we had more people lined up for autographs of his book at the end of his two and half hours of his talk and Q&A that attend most lectures. We will post the talk online in due course.

Richard Stallman graduated from Harvard University with a bachelors degree in physics, and went on to work for the AI Lab at MIT before founding the Free Software Foundation. He has won many honors and awards, from honorary doctorates to a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. He has been a pioneer not only in free software, but also in coining the term ‘copyleft’. I had a fascinating discussion with him about Joe Weizenbaum, the author of Computer Power and Human Reason, who wrote about the ‘hackers’ in the AI lab, when the concept of the hacker was defined by their work ethic and not at all by security.

Standing Room Only

Bill Dutton

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James Quello on ‘Common Sense’ in 1988

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Friday, April 7th, 2017

“I find great wisdom and guidance in a quote expressing Franklin Roosevelt’s view of the role which administrative agencies should play in government. The great President said: ‘A common sense resort to usual and practical sources of information takes the place of archaic and technical application of rules of evidence, and an informed and expert tribunal renders its decisions with an eye that looks forward to results rather than backward to precedent and to the leading case. Substantial justice remains a higher aim for our civilization than technical legalism.’ By taking this action today, we elevate substantial justice over technical legalism and best serve the overall public interest.”

The Honorable James H. Quello
July 20, 1988

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A Whole New Class of Faculty at the Quello Center

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Sunday, March 26th, 2017

One major outcome of the new faculty joining the Department of Media and Information this academic year that been a coming together of a critical mass of very strong faculty key to social scientific research on the digital age. Suddenly, the Quello Center can enjoy a dramatic rise in the strength of faculty that can inform research, policy, and practice central to the Center’s focus on policy for the digital age.

To ensure that these faculty are visible and recognized from afar, the Center has begun a new category of faculty, entitled Quello Research Fellows. The first four Fellows include three new faculty, Keith Hampton, Natascha Just, and David Ewoldsen, and one long-term member of the Quello faculty, Johannes Bauer. They bring major strengths in Internet studies, sociology, economics, social psychology, and policy into the Quello Center’s multidisciplinary team.

Together with our research team, associate faculty across the university, and graduate student researchers, these new Quello Research Fellows boost the capacity of the Quello Center to tackle an ever-wider range of research of importance to policy and practice for the digital age.

I fully expect this new class of faculty to help inform and lead debate over policy and practice that responds to the societal implications of the Internet and related digital media, communication, and information technologies.

Natascha Just

Esther Thorson and David Ewoldsen speaking at Fake News Roundtable

Keith Hampton and Rachel Mourao at the Fake News Roundtable

Johannes Bauer

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A Click Away from the Quello Center: Founding Director Steve Wildman

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Saturday, March 25th, 2017

Emeritus Professor Steve Wildman, who held the Quello Chair of Telecommunication Studies at MSU, and was founding Director of the Quello Center, may be away, but he has certainly not stopped contributing to studies of policy and practice. He remains active in our Advisory Board, contributes as an affiliated faculty member to the Silicon Flatirons Center where he is also a Visiting Scholar in the Interdisciplinary Telecommunications Program at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

This spring, Steve will be teaching a two-week graduate class in information technology and the organization of economic activity at the University of Cologne. The class runs during the weeks of May 15 and May 22.

Steve Wildman at the Quello Center

The invitation to teach at Cologne was arranged by Professor Christian Wellbrock, a Professor of Media Management at the University of Cologne. He moved to Cologne recently from the University of Hamburg, where Steve had been teaching a similar course over the previous three summers. Christian Wellbrock is one of a number of Quello Center ‘alums’, having been a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Media and Information (then the department of Telecommunications, Information systems and Management (TISM) in 2012, which enabled him to also serve as a visiting scholar with the Quello Center.

The students Steve will be teaching are masters’ students in the business school at Cologne. He says he will be “emphasizing recent research on platform management”, a topic that connects to work he undertook at MSU on social media, such as with the Quello Center’s Governance of Social Media Workshop at Georgetown University in 2011.

The week before his course begins, he will be presenting a paper at an annual meeting of the European Media Management Association (EMMA), which will be held in Ghent, Belgium. The title of his paper is: “The Competition is Only a Click Away? The Behavioral Economics of Lock-in and Leveraging for Online Services.” With apologies for the pun, we are delighted that Steve remains only a click away from the Quello Center.

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Best Wishes to Visiting Fellow, Dr Jingwei Cheng

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Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

Our Visiting Fellow from China over the past year, Dr Jingwei Cheng, has left to return to her position as an Associate Professor in the School of Economics and Management, Communication University of China, where she is the Vice Director of the School. With a doctorate in media economics, Jingwei Cheng has been studying the theory and regulation underpinning the media industry in China, such as through focusing on the impact of regulation on the diversity of programming on television in China. In addition to work on broadcasting, she has done research on China’s cable industry and mobile communication. Professor Cheng Jingwei was supported at the Quello Center through a State Scholarship Fund supported by the China Scholarship Council. One of many valuable commentaries before her departure, Jingwei Chen remarked on the serious levels of poverty she saw in the US, and wondered why so little attention is provided to this issue by the media, in comparison to Tweets and other issues surrounding the President, Donald Trump.

Bill Dutton and Jingwei Chen, 2017

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Talking about the politics of the Fifth Estate with students in Lisbon

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Saturday, March 11th, 2017

Talk on the politics of the Fifth Estate at University Institute of Lisbon, March 2017

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