One of the more important, more contentious, and more complicated tech policy issues is radio spectrum allocation. It’s an issue I don’t have a lot of background experience in but have been learning a lot about lately.
To get my head wrapped around it, I’m reading through the New America Foundation’s excellent Citizen’s Guide to the Airwaves (published in 2003 but lays out the essential foundation afaict). New America also has a website dedicated to the issue at SpectrumPolicy.org.
What I do know is that it’s important that we leverage our spectrum assets to enable as much innovation as possible. Not only to improve our baseline internet connectivity (which is really bad), but to allow for lots of new uses of the spectrum that we might not anticipate (as happened with Wifi and Bluetooth in the unlicensed high frequency bands).
The topic of my talk was “Peer Progress and Regulation 2.0” — something I’ve been thinking and talking about over the past several months, but haven’t yet written a ton about. That will change soon.
In a nutshell: we are seeing an explosion of “peer networks” — networks of people, powered by the web, collaborating and consuming in new ways (think: Etsy, Airbnb, Skillshare, Kickstarter, etc.) As these network-oriented communities touch more and more real-world sectors (housing, transportation, health, education) they are running into regulatory trouble, as many of them don’t fit into traditional categories (is Airbnb a Hotel? a phone book? a real estate broker? Is Skillshare a university?), often operate in legal gray areas, and often disrupt incumbents.
I’ve been working with many of these companies, and with folks in academia and in the public sector, to get a better understanding of what this means (for our economies, our neighborhoods, etc) and how we might approach it. There is tremendous opportunity here — as networks tend to produce solutions that are lower in cost and more scalable than traditional approaches — but there are also new kinds of risk, as the barriers to production and consumption decrease. All of this presents really interesting public policy questions.
Perhaps the most interesting idea that came out of the discussion is the notion scale. When peer networks are just starting out — often in new sectors — they have relatively little overall impact on the economy or society. But as they grow, their impact increases exponentially. The idea of some sort of safe harbor for smaller, earlier networks, that would allow them the freedom to innovate and to explore new opportunities, is an interesting one.
“Peer Networks” are bringing new organizational and economic dynamics to every sector — unlocking tremendous opportunity and potential. At the same time, they threaten incumbents in the private and public sectors, and present new challenges for regulators working to protect the public interest. Please join us to discuss the dynamics of peer networks, the opportunities they present to our economies and societies, and the political and policy challenges facing their advancement.
The gist of Morozov’s argument is that Future Perfect is Internet-Centrism / Cyber-utopianism in a box - conveniently omitting many tough questions and cherry-picking historical examples to fit a pre-determined viewpoint. Johnson’s response is that Morozov’s critique misses many of the nuances of his argument.
The set of goals they kicked off the conversation with were:
Make New York City the most wired city on earth by providing every New Yorker and every New York business, regardless of location, access to the fastest broadband networks at the lowest cost.
Reinvent the education system to allow every child, young adult, and all New Yorkers to develop the skills necessary to thrive in a 21st century economy and world.
Make New York City the clear choice for entrepreneurs, software engineers, and other technically skilled professionals to start a business and build a career by making it easy to find partners, financing, office space and housing, employees, and access to markets.
Support the appointment of a Deputy Mayor for Technology Innovation with an appropriate budget charged with the responsibility of reinventing New York City government with a 21st century framework.
Make New York City’s system for civic participation the most open, transparent, accountable, participatory, and innovative in the world.
Make New York City the most citizen-connected community on earth, where its people connect with each other to unleash a powerful new 21st century economy: selling to each other, renting to each other, funding each other, sharing with each other, coworking with each other, meeting up with each other, and hiring each other.
Support public policies that would ensure that technology and the opportunities available to the tech community can reach all New York’s citizens, and help solve issues related to healthcare, human rights and justice, gender equality, transportation, the environment, and other issues of fundamental importance to all New Yorkers.
(note: I had a hard time bolding the last one :-)
These ideas are a starting point, and it’s been interesting to see how people have reacted to it so far — re-prioritizing (through voting) the list above and adding new ideas.
What I like about the NYTM’s list is that it’s not just about making NYC a place that’s inviting for companies to locate to (through things like tax breaks, etc), but about making NYC a leader as an open, connected, wired city. It’s about using tech policy as a starting point to bring opportunities afforded by the internet and networks of people to the city as a whole.
“What if there really were two paths… I want be in the one that leads to awesome.” -#kidpresident
"On the other hand, it’s easy to see why telcos would love the idea that every play of “your” media involves another billable event. Media companies, too — it’s that prized, elusive urinary-tract-infection business model at work, where media flows in painful, expensive drips instead of healthy, powerful gushes."
“We think this is a kind of Trojan Horse to get people using a large network on their mobile phones to actually transact and get real stuff,” said Fred Wilson, managing partner at Union Square Ventures. “From there, I think lots of interesting things can happen. Alone in the taxi cab market, there’s a pretty big business to be built, and the fact that there’s potential beyond that gives us a lot of confidence.”
We talk a lot about backing into your network - in other words, starting with a thin edge of the wedge and ultimately finding a secondary purpose that may in fact be more profound than the first.
For instance, we often say “twitter backed into identity” — when Twitter started out, it didn’t start by announcing itself as the de facto identity provider on the web. Instead, it became that after achieving ubiquity in public messaging.
A few years ago I wrote about the idea of the Enterprise End-Run, which is related — the idea that we can cause big shifts in enterprise behavior by drawing the change out the back end, rather than pushing it through the front.
I just love the idea that the direct approach is not always (or perhaps is hardly ever) the right one. It’s so interesting to think of other areas where this is happening or could happen.