Award Winning Blog

Friday, October 16, 2020

Freedom of Speech Hypocrites

Conservatives’ whining about a liberal bias in social media strikes me as hypocritical.  When Fox et al receive criticism about a conservative bias, defenders rally around the First Amendment and libertarianism.  Fox can be as biased and censorious as it wants to be.  Fox can serve as a conduit for Russian disinformation so long as the company does not act maliciously, or grossly negligent.  Fox can target, vilify and disparage.  The New York Post can come up with a questionable “October Surprise,” clearly intending to help re-elect President Trump.

These very same First Amendment advocates expect social networks like Facebook and Twitter to serve as neutral conduits, without any “right” to censor, curate or manage uploaded content from subscribers.  Really?  Conservatives loath efforts by a Democrat-led Federal Communications Commission to impose “network neutrality” obligations on Internet Service Providers.  The Republican majority at the FCC championed deregulation as “Restoring Internet Freedom.”

Now, conservatives want to impose a fairness mandate on social networks who apparently have no First Amendment rights in curating, filtering and algorithmic monitoring.  Settled “SUPER PRECEDENT” recognizes a First Amendment right to curate, filter and monitor content.  Librarians do that,  so do web-based news aggregators and surely Fox, the New York Post and yes, the New York Times as well, do that when they deviate from a commitment to  best practices in journalism.  Additionally, a nonpartisan majority provided web carriers and content distributors significant immunity from liability when providing a conduit for harmful content.  This “safe harbor” helped incubate the Internet, particularly when it was technologically infeasible to monitor the torrent of traffic.

In prior blog entries, I have noted that algorithms make mistakes, including the refusal to issue me a credit card in light of my “insufficient credit experience.”  I will readily acknowledge that the algorithms and staff assessments of social networks may overshoot, or undershoot the mark in curation.

I will never accept the view—conservative or liberal—that ISPs, social networks and telecommunications networks have to assess the political consequences of allowing, or blocking specific content.  Do we really want a regulator or judge to second guess decisions made to allow or block content without allowing the conduit operator to assess the veracity and compliance with the terms of service?  

Have conservatives lost respect for the “sanctity of contract”?  Do they really think the Constitution supports revocation of social networks’ management of the content they disseminate?


Tuesday, October 13, 2020

5G Public/ Private Partnerships Versus Auctions

            A remarkable battle pits the Defense Department and the FCC/Congress on the best strategy to activate 5G wireless spectrum in the quickest time. Uncharacteristically, DoD wants to partner with the private sector in a 5G network that the private player builds and shares with Defense Department users who offer nothing more than an agreement to share previously dedicated, exclusive-use radio spectrum.  See  AT&T cut a similar deal for a 5G network offering first responders prioritized access.  See  In both instances, private carriers secure access to spectrum on an expedited basis without having to compete in a usually much more costly and possibly more time consuming auction.  Government spectrum users get access to cutting edge telecommunications simply by agreeing to use new technologies that make sharing and prioritization of access doable.

            I cannot overemphasize the change in attitude by Defense Department spectrum managers who for generations could not tolerate the “national security risk” in having to share spectrum with other users.  The first crack in that attitude arose when launch companies succeeded in offering discounts for multiple-satellite payloads from both the private and public sectors.  Now, the DoD gladly accesses a turnkey 5G wireless network for nothing more than an agreement to share it with private users.  How progressive.

            Ironically, some federal government officials consider public/private partnerships a subversion of the marketplace, bordering on the S word: socialism.  Might their contempt result from the likelihood that less scarce 5G spectrum might fetch lower FCC auction proceeds?  Worst yet, I wonder if some stakeholders seek and benefit from an overall shortage of next generation wireless spectrum.

            If the paucity of spectrum became a glut, carriers could not longer charge above market rates.  Existing licensees, like the Dish Network, would have to “put up, or shut up,” no longer able to avoid fines for failing to install and operate the networks they touted as essential, but never got around to building.  Maybe the FCC would get serious about promoting facilities-based competition from new wireless carriers, by imposing caps on further warehousing by incumbents and by opening up new spectrum access options on an expedited basis. 

            Curiously, the FCC has no problem making public Wi-Fi spectrum available for use by private carriers, free of charge.  Would the FCC actually play it straight and honestly by promoting market entry by new carriers to match, or exceed the competitive pressure removed when TMobile acquired Sprint and lost its maverick disposition?

            Yet again, I see a massive gap between rhetoric and reality.  Libertarian free marketers appear unable to see the public interest benefit in public/private partnerships?  They would rather have the government ration and auction spectrum, no matter how long it takes?  Let’s add another p-word to the mix: pragmatism.