Thursday, March 2nd, 2017
On March 3, the Quello Center co-hosted a roundtable on Fake News with the Department of Media and Information and the College of Communication Arts and Sciences. Talks by Winson Peng, Esther Thorson, David Ewolsen, Keith Hampton, and Rachel Mourao kicked off a wide-ranging discussion. Each colleague seemed to approach the topic from their theoretical or methodological home, whether data science, journalism, social psychology or Internet studies, so I was left hoping for this discussion to help foster more inter-disciplinary collaboration. That said, the unique perspective of each academic was stimulating.
From a Quello Center perspective, I asked how we can reframe this discussion and their various research topics in ways that will have a longer shelf-life and impact on policy and practice. When fake news fades as a hot button issue, how will their research continue to be viewed as relevant. My own sense is that the real issue is the more enduring one of quality news, and how to define it, produce it, and support its consumption.
We hope to have more roundtables like this one, which drew colleagues from across the College. Many thanks to Dean Prabu David, Department Chair Johannes Bauer, and other heads for supporting this, and for the many doctoral students who attended. Our Assistant Director, Dr Bibi Reisdorf, expertly moderated the discussion and summarized key points. Thanks to all.
Monday, February 13th, 2017
A BBC reporter, Rachel Nuwer, wrote a nice piece on what would it mean to people if the Internet stopped working. It was entitled “What if the Internet Stopped for a Day“. I stressed that there are some empirical cases, such as a power outage in NYC, and the pager blackout across the US, that provide some concrete evidence of possible outcomes, and I was impressed how well she embedded these cases and more in a well developed article. I recommend it.
Wednesday, January 25th, 2017
Professor Bill Dutton, Director of the Quello Center, in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, has signed a contract with Oxford University Press for a book on his concept of the Fifth Estate. He has been speaking and conducting research over the last decade on the role of the Internet in empowering a Fifth Estate that can hold other ‘estates’ accountable, including the press, as the Fourth Estate.
The book will develop the concept of the Fifth Estate, provide empirical evidence of its rise, and its implications across nearly every sector of society. While a growing tide of criticism is focused on the role of social media and the Internet in fueling everything from populism to fake news, the Fifth Estate provides a powerful response to the critics. Bill’s work shows the many strategies of individuals of the Fifth Estate for enabling greater accountability and communicative power to create a more pluralistic structure of social control not only in politics, but also, in nearly every institutional setting of everyday life.
Tuesday, January 24th, 2017
From discussions in courses and within the Quello Center Advisory Board, the Center has been developing a set of key issues tied to media, communication and information policy and practice. We’d welcome you thoughts on issues we’ve missed or issues noted that do not merit more sustained research and debate. Your feedback on this list would be most welcome, and will be posted as comments on this post.
I. Innovation-led Policy Issues
New Developments around Robotics and Artificial Intelligence: What are the implications for individual control, privacy, and security? Security is no longer so clearly a cyber issue as cyber security increasingly shapes the physical world of autonomous vehicles, drones, and robots.
Internet of Things (IoT): With tens of billions of things moving online, how can individuals protect their privacy and safety and well being as their environments are monitored and controlled by their movement through space? There are likely to be implications for urban informatics, transportation and environmental systems, systems in the household, and worn (wearables above). A possible focus within this set would be on developments in households.
Wearables: What appears to be an incremental step in the IoT space could have major implications across many sectors, from health to privacy and surveillance.
The Future of Content Delivery: Content delivery, particularly around broadcasting of film and television, in the digital age: technology, business models, and social impact of the rapidly developing ecosystem, such as on localism, diversity, and quality.
Free (and Open Source) Software: The prominence and future of free as well as open source software continues to evolve. Are rules, licensing, and institutional support, such as around the Free Software Foundation, meeting the needs of this free software community?
Big Data: How can individuals protect their privacy in the age of computational analytics and increasing capture of personal data and mass surveillance? What policies or practices can be developed to guide data collection, analysis, and public awareness?
Encryption: Advances in encryption technologies at a time of increasing threats to the privacy of individual communications, such as email, could lead to a massive uptake of tools to keep private communications private. How can this development be accelerated and spread across all sectors of the Internet community?
Internet2: Just as the development of the Internet within academia has shaped the future of communications, so might the next generation of the Internet – so-called Internet2 – have even greater implications in shaping the future of research and educational networking in the first instance, but public communications in the longer-term. Who is tracking its development and potential implications?
Other Contending Issues: Drones, Cloud computing, …
II. Problem-led Initiatives
Transparency: Many new issues of the digital age, such as concerns over privacy and surveillance, are tied to a lack of transparency. What is being done with your data, by whom, and for what purposes? In commercial and governmental settings, many public concerns could be addressed to a degree through the provision of greater transparency, and the accountability that should follow.
Censorship and Internet Filtering: Internet filtering and censorship was limited to a few states at the turn of the century. But over the last decade, fueled by fear of radical extremist content, and associated fears of self-radicalization, censorship has spread to most nation states. Are we entering a new digital world in which Internet content filtering is the norm? What can be done to mitigate the impact on freedom of expression and freedom of connection?
Psychological Manipulation: Citizen and consumers are increasingly worried about the ways in which they can be manipulated by advertising, (fake) news, social media and more that leads them to vote, buy, protest, or otherwise act in ways that the purveyors of the new propaganda of the digital age would like. While many worried about propaganda around the mass media, should there be comparable attention given to the hacking of psychological processes by the designers of digital media content? Is this a critical focus for consumer protection?
(In)Equities in Access: Inequalities in access to communication and information services might be growing locally and globally, despite the move to digital media and ICTs. The concept of a digital divide may no longer be adequate to capture these developments.
Privacy and Surveillance: The release of documents by Edward Snowden has joined with other events to draw increasing attention to the threats of mass unwarranted surveillance. It has been an enduring issue, but it is increasingly clear that developments heretofore perceived to be impossible are increasingly feasible and being used to monitor individuals. What can be done?
ICT4D or Internet for Development: Policy and technology initiatives in communication to support developing nations and regions, both in emergency responses, such as in relation to infectious diseases, or around more explicit economic development issues.
Digital Preservation: Despite discussion over more than a decade, it merits more attention, and stronger links with policy developments, such as ‘right to forget’. ‘Our cultural and historical records are at stake.’
III. Enduring Policy Issues Reshaped by Digital Media and Information Developments
Media Concentration and the Plurality of Voices: Trends in the diversity and plurality of ownership, and sources of content, particularly around news. Early work on media concentration needs new frameworks for addressing global trends on the Web, with new media, in print media, automated text generation, and more.
Diversity of Content: In a global Internet context, how can we reasonably quantify or address issues of diversity in local and national media? Does diversity become more important in a digital age in which individuals will go online or on satellite services if the mainstream media in a nation ignore content of interest to their background?
Freedom of Expression: New and enduring challenges to expression in the digital age.
IV. Changing Media and Information Policy and Governance
Communication Policy: Rewrite of the 1934 Communications Act, last up-dated in 1996: This is unlikely to occur in the current political environment, but is nevertheless a critical focus.
Universal Access v Universal Service: With citizens and consumers dropping some traditional services, such as fixed line phones, how can universal service be best translated into the digital age of broadband services?
Network Neutrality: Should there be Internet fast lanes and more? Efforts to ensure the fair treatment of content, from multiple providers, through regulation has been one of the more contentious issues in the USA. To some, the issue has been ‘beaten to death’, but it has been brought to life again through the regulatory initiatives of FCC Chairman Wheeler, and more recently with the new Trump Administration, where the fate of net neutrality is problematic. Can we research the implications of this policy?
Internet Governance and Policy: Normative and empirical perspectives on governance of the Internet at the global and national level. Timely issue critical to future of the Internet, and a global information age, and rise of national Internet policy initiatives.
Acknowledgements: In addition to the Quello Advisory Board, special thanks to some of my students for their stimulating discussion that surfaced many of these issues. Thanks to Jingwei Cheng, Bingzhe Li, and Irem Yildirim, for their contributions to this list.
Tuesday, January 24th, 2017
What is a cyber security mindset and why is it important?
Quello’s Professor of Media and Information Policy has just published an article in Internet Policy Review, a journal on Internet regulation, entitled ‘Fostering a Cyber Security Mindset’. It seeks to introduce the concept and suggest ways in which research on who has such a mindset and what difference it can make to cyber security can be furthered. It is available free online at: https://policyreview.info/articles/analysis/fostering-cyber-security-mindset
Dutton, William. (2017), ‘Fostering a Cyber Security Mindset’, Internet Policy Review, 6(1): DOI: 10.14763/2017.1.443
Wednesday, January 18th, 2017
The Chief Economist of the Federal Communications Commission is a temporary position—with a term of a year or so of late—typically bestowed on economists with impressive credentials and experience related to media or telecommunications. Having worked at the FCC long enough to overlap with several chief economists, I noticed an interesting pattern. Many join the FCC full of hope—capable as they are—that they will reform the agency to better integrate “economic thinking” into regular policy decisions, but to quote a former colleague, “leave the agency with their sense of humor intact.”
I have heard many a former FCC economist rail against the lack of economic thinking at the FCC, with some former chief economists going very much on the record to do so (for instance, see here and here). Others (not necessarily affiliated with the FCC) have gone as far as to point out that much of what the FCC does or attempts to do is duplicative of the competition policies of the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission. These latter points are not a secret. The FCC publicly says so in every major transaction that it approves.
For example, in a transaction that I have had the pleasure to separately write about with one of the FCC’s former chief economists and a number of other colleagues, AT&T’s acquisition of former competitor Leap Wireless (see here and here), the FCC wrote (see ¶ 15):
Our competitive analysis, which forms an important part of the public interest evaluation, is informed by, but not limited to, traditional antitrust principles. The Commission and the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) each have independent authority to examine the competitive impacts of proposed communications mergers and transactions involving transfers of Commission licenses.
This standard language can be found in the “Standard of Review” section in any major FCC transaction order. The difference is that whereas the DOJ reviews telecom mergers pursuant to Section 7 of the Clayton Act, the FCC’s evaluation encompasses the “broad aims of the Communications Act.” From a competition analysis standpoint, a major difference is that if the DOJ wishes to stop a merger, “it must demonstrate to a court that the merger may substantially lessen competition or tend to create a monopoly.” In contrast, parties subject to FCC review have the burden of showing that the transaction, among other things, will enhance existing competition.
Such duplication and the alleged lack of economics at the FCC has led a number of individuals to suggest that the FCC should be restructured and some of its powers curtailed, particularly with respect to matters that are separately within the purview of the antitrust agencies. In particular, recently, a number of individuals in Donald Trump’s FCC transition team have written (read here) that Congress “should consider merging the FCC’s competition and consumer protection functions with those of the Federal Trade Commission, thus combining the FCC’s industry expertise and capabilities with the generic statutory authority of the FTC.”
I do not completely disagree—I would be remiss if I did not admit that the transition team makes a number of highly valid points in its comments on “Modernizing the Communications Act.” However, as Harold Feld, senior VP of Public Knowledge recently pointed out, efforts to restructure the FCC present a relatively “radical” undertaking and my main motivation in writing this post is to highlight Feld’s point by reminding readers of a recent court ruling.
In 2007—well before its acquisition of DIRECTV and its offer of unlimited data to customers who bundle its AT&T and DIRECT services—AT&T offered mobile wireless customers unlimited data plans. AT&T later phased out these plans except for customers who were “grandfathered”—those customers who signed up for an unlimited plan while it was available and never switched to an alternative option. In October 2011, perhaps worried about the implications of unlimited data in a data hungry world, AT&T reduced speeds for grandfathered customers on legacy plans whose monthly data usage surpassed a certain threshold—a practice that the FTC refers to as data throttling.
The FTC filed a complaint against AT&T under Section 5 of the FTC Act, alleging that customers who had been throttled by AT&T experienced drastically reduced service, but were not adequately informed of AT&T’s throttling program. As part of its complaint, the FTC claimed that AT&T’s actions violated the FTC Act and sought a permanent injunction on throttling and other equitable relief as deemed necessary by the Court.
Now here is where things get interesting: AT&T moved to dismiss on the basis that it is exempt as a “common carrier.” That is, AT&T claimed that the appropriate act that sets out jurisdiction over its actions is the Communications Act, and not the FTC Act. Moreover, AT&T’s position was that an entity with common carrier status cannot be regulated under the section that the FTC brought to this case (§ 45(a)), even when it is providing services other than common carriage services. This led one of my former colleagues to joke that this would mean that if AT&T were to buy General Motors, then it could use false advertising to sell cars and be exempt from FTC scrutiny.
The District Court for the Northern District of California happened to consider this matter after the FCC reclassified mobile data from a non-common carriage service to a common carriage service (in its Open Internet Order), but before the reclassification had gone into effect. The Court concluded that contrary to AT&T’s arguments, “the common carrier exception applies only where the entity has the status of common carrier and is actually engaging in common carrier activity.” Moreover, it denied AT&T’s motion because AT&T’s mobile data service was not regulated as common carrier activity by the FCC when the FTC suit was filed. However, in August 2016, this decision was reversed on appeal by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (see here), which ruled that the common carrier exemption was “status based,” not “activity based,” as the lower court had determined.
Unfortunately, this decision leaves quite a regulatory void. To my knowledge, the FCC does not have a division of Common Carrier Consumer Protection (CCCP), and I doubt that any reasonable individual familiar with FCC practice would interpret the Open Internet Order as an attempted FCC power grab to attempt to duplicate or supplant FTC consumer protection authority. Indeed, the FCC articulated quite the reverse position by recently filing an Amicus Curiae Brief in support of the FTC’s October 2016 Petition to the Ninth Circuit to have the case reheard by the full court.
So what’s my point? Well first, the agencies are not intentionally attempting to step on each other’s toes. By and large, the FCC understands the role of the FTC and the DOJ and vice versa. Were AT&T to acquire General Motors, it is highly probable that given the state of regulation as it stands, employees at the FCC would find it preferable if the FTC continued to oversee General Motors’ advertising practices. A related stipulation applies to the FCC’s competition analysis. Whereas the analysis may be similar to that of the antitrust agencies, it is motivated at least in part by the FCC’s unique mission to establish or maintain universal service, which can lead to different decisions being made in the same case (for instance, whereas the DOJ did not challenge AT&T’s acquisition of Leap Wireless, the FCC imposed a number of conditions to safeguard against loss of service).
Of course, one could argue that confusion stemming from the above case might have been avoided had the FCC never had authority over common carriage in the first place. But if making that argument, one must be cognizant of the fact that although the FTC Act predates the Communications Act of 1934, prior to 1934, it was the Interstate Commerce Act, not the FTC Act, that lay out regulations for common carriers. In other words, legislative attempts to rewrite the Communications Act will necessitate changes in various other pieces of legislation in order to assure that there are no voids in crucial protections to competition and consumers. Thus, to bolster Harold Feld’s points: those wishing to restructure the FCC need to do so being fully aware of what the FCC actually does and doesn’t do, they must take heed of all the subtleties underlying the legislation that lays the groundwork for the various agencies, and they should be mindful of potential for interpretation and reinterpretation under the common law aspects of our legal system.
Saturday, January 7th, 2017
Ruth Shillair is joining the Quello Center’s research team as a Research Assistant in this Spring Semester to support our work on cybersecurity, which is linked to the Oxford Global Cyber Security Capacity Center (GCSEC). She is working with Bill Dutton on an analysis that builds on his concept of a cyber security mindset and another analysis that focuses on the outcomes of national cyber security capacity building: Can we see capacity having a positive, independent impact on cyber security?
Ms. Shillair is a doctoral student in the Media and Information Department at MSU. Her research has focused on cyber security, such as in working with the Online Safety for the Ages (OSA) project with Professors Bob LaRose, Nora Rifkin, Saleem Alhabaash, and Sheila Cotten, which focuses on generational differences in online safety behaviors, particularly in the area of online banking.
Ruth has been recognized at MSU, such as in being awarded with one of the Department’s PhD Academic Merit Awards, and an ‘outstanding doctoral student research’ award. She also participated in the Oxford Internet Institute’s (OII) Summer Doctoral Program (SDP). As Bill Dutton, Director of the Quello Center noted: “We are very lucky to have Ruth onboard as her expertise in cyber security and quantitative analysis is going to help us leap ahead on our cyber security research.”
Thursday, December 29th, 2016
Is Apple Lost?
A. Michael Noll
December 29, 2016
© 2016 AMN
Has Apple been too successful – and overly arrogant in believing only it knows what is best for its customers? Will Apple become the next Yahoo, slowly sinking into oblivion?
Has innovation for Apple become abandoning things, such as leaving out the audio mini-jack in its iPhones? The original iPod was a great music player with its fabulous click-wheel interface – ingenious. But Apple abandoned the iPod click-wheel, rather than updating this product with solid-state storage. Will Apple soon abandon all its iPods? If so, it would be a great opportunity for Sony to acquire the iPod product line and continue to innovate with new features and storage.
The iTunes program tries to do everything: music player, iPhone synchronizer, and iTunes store access. It is challenging to do all these well in one huge program. The different purposes should be different programs, but with sharing across them.
The iWatch promised much – but what did it deliver? I have yet to see someone using one. And the need to recharge it every day is a big chore. The iWatch seems to be just an extension of the iPhone.
Apple has become a one-product business: the iPhone. It is challenging to survive today as a one-product company. Apple’s complete product line (other than the iMac) would easily fit in a backpack. Apple is not a diverse product company – it has become a niche company.
Amazon, meanwhile, is innovating and expanding, such as its new voice-activated Echo product. This clearly is the kind of innovative product I would have expected from Apple. Meanwhile Apple’s iTV remains a challenge to discover what it actually does and how to use it.
Has the Apple that was the past innovator become today a copycat, such as the rumors that it too is working on a driverless car? More significantly, is Apple itself driverless and has it lost its way? Apple possibly needs new directions – a return to innovation – or a re-invigoration of the current paths.
Apple should renew a commitment to legacy products, such as the click-wheel iPod, updating them with newer technology and enthusing their original excitement. Give consumers more control over how things are displayed and used; and change the attitude that Apple knows best.
Sunday, December 18th, 2016
“You may have heard that an engineer is a person who knows a great deal about very little, and who goes along learning more and more about less and less until finally he knows practically everything about nothing. A salesman, on the other hand, is a person who knows very little about many things and keeps learning less and less about more an more, until he knows practically nothing about everything. Of course, a station manager starts out knowing everything about everything, but ends up knowing nothing about anything, because of his association with engineers and salemen.”
– James H. Quello, 11 October 1974
Saturday, December 17th, 2016
Aleks Yankelevich and Mitch Shapiro toast (with new Quello mugs!) the completion of their two reports, both of which were central to a major Quello Center project on Wireless Innovation in Last Mile Access (WILMA). Aleks led the report on regulatory issues surrounding key spectrum of value to wireless, and Mitch led the report on business strategy case studies of wireless initiatives. Both reports will be released in the coming months when reviews are completed.