A Year of High Tech Forum

We launched High Tech Forum on June 23 of last year to serve as a technical resource for people who care about tech policy, and our goal is the same today as it was then. There is no shortage of opinion in tech policy, much of it right, but as Socrates taught 2000 years ago, “right opinion is a different thing than knowledge.” In the rapidly changing sphere of tech policy, the distinction is crucial: The person with knowledge knows the “why” behind the truth, whereas the person with correct opinion knows only the truth. As the facts change, knowing the why becomes crucial, as it keeps us from adopting the wrong policy position. In real life, many of the policy prescriptions proposed for wireline Internet connections – undifferentiated traffic classes, flat rate billing plans, ever-increasing network capacity – have been abandoned now that mobile connections are paramount and the split between voice and data applications has become visible to the policy community.

Our inaugural posts were written by Dr. Lawrence Roberts and Professor Chuck Jackson, two the brightest lights in the Internet firmament. Larry is currently the CEO of Anagran.com, a supplier of Internet traffic management systems, but he’s best known for a project he headed in 1969 that produced ARPANET, the network on which the Internet was built a decade later. It’s simply a fact that no one has more experience with packet switching than Larry Roberts, so his perspective on Wireless Charging Plans is invaluable. His proposal for tying wireless plans to Quality of Service levels resolves congestion concerns without introducing uncertainty into the billing system.

Chuck Jackson is one of the people known as “bi-lingual” in the policy space because he understands both technical and policy issues, as a computer science professor who has worked for both Congress and the FCC. His inaugural post outlined the ways that technical experts can inform the policy process, something that he does himself on a regular basis. Steve Crowley, a consulting engineer based in Washington, keeps us up-to-date on happenings inside the FCC.

Some of our technical experts work well outside of the policy process: Jim Murphy is a Distinguished Engineer at Juniper Networks, the company that builds most of the edge routers that connect ISPs and large enterprise networks to each other. His observations about Voice and LTE are born out of actual experience, where personal preference sometimes has to give way to practical necessity. Jim’s responsible for the architecture of Juniper’s leading edge products, so his insights are borne out in actual product design decisions.

Jon Crowcroft is the Marconi Professor of Communications Systems in the Computer Lab at the University of Cambridge and formerly a professor in the Department of Computer Science, University College London. He’s a fellow of the ACM, the British Computer Society, the IE[ET], the Royal Academy of Engineering and the IEEE, and a former member of the Internet Architecture Board who attended the first 50 meetings of the IETF. It’s safe to say that Jon’s knowledge of the Internet is as deep as anyone’s, so his observations about the intersection of cloud computing, mobile networks, and security cut to the heart of the issues. Unlike many of the people who work on IETF standards today, Jon has the rare perspective of a true theoretical thinker.

At the outset, High Tech Forum had an engineering orientation, but during the course of the year it became apparent that policy knowledge also comes from economics and even from law. The net neutrality controversy came to a head in late December when the FCC adopted its Open Internet Report and Order, and the legal basis was provided by Kevin Werbach, the technically astute Wharton professor who co-led the Obama Administration Transition Team’s FCC Review and formerly served as Counsel for New Technology Policy at the FCC. Kevin’s thinking on legal authority became the FCC’s thinking, and he explained it to us in The Perfect, the Good, and the FCC.

Our economic insight has been provided by Dr. Ev Ehrlich, the Clinton Administration’s Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs, the principal economic policy official for Commerce Secretaries Brown and Kantor and chief executive of the nation’s statistical system. Ev isn’t just a brilliant economist; he’s a stupendously great author who has produced two of the most readable comic treatments of life in Washington anyone could ever want to read: Big Government and Grant Speaks. Ev has worked in high-level positions in the computer business. His pieces on the tussles for market share in the mobile network space are informed by that rare perspective: The Gang of Four, Video Killed the Radio Star, The Cage Match, and The Tempest and the Teapot.

We’ve also been fortunate to run contributions by some of the leading futurists working in networked business strategies, Dean Bubley, Gareth Spence, and Roger Entner. Dean’s the founder of analyst & consulting firm Disruptive Analysis and author of the Disruptive Wireless blog. He provides commentary, research & strategic advice about mobile and broadband to technology vendors, carriers, investors and policymakers, and explained the highlights of the Mobile World Congress to us.

Gareth is a communications professional focused on developing a global dialogue on the key technologies that are driving the networking industry forward. He analyzed the Microsoft acquisition of Skype, one of the really big deals in the networking space this year, and explained what’s important about the mobile wallet, a technology that’s unfortunately lagging in the United States.

Roger’s the founder of Recon Analytics, where he’s responsible for all aspects of research, consulting and operations. He was formerly the Senior Vice President, Head of Research and Insights for the Telecom Practice of The Nielsen Company, and bases his predictions on verifiable data. When Roger wrote The Data Tsunami is Gathering Strength, he showed his work.

George Ou, formerly the Technical Director and Editor at Large at ZDNet.com, Senior Analyst at ITIF, and co-founder of Digital Society, has been one of our most prolific contributors, offering analysis and insight on wireless networks to the Internet. George has also done several news roundups for us that are major time-savers.

My personal contributions have covered the factual bases of the current controversies in network policy, so I’ve produced a number of articles highlighting technical accuracies and inaccuracies (most common) in the debates over net neutrality, spectrum policy, the Internet, and the networks of the future. I remain convinced that the technical facts don’t answer the policy questions, but they do provide the context that keeps the debates over policy running in a productive direction.

For the next year, our plans include doing a lot more of the same: Expanding the pool of contributors, and responding to current controversies as early as we can offer something of value. There are already plenty of voices in the non-stop, 24 hour news cycle who amplify what others are saying, so there’s really no need for another. But there remains a largely unmet need for knowledgeable, impartial voices who can explain what’s right and what’s wrong in the loudest debates. There was once a time when tech policy was less shrill and partisan than it is today, and we’d like to see if we can’t help restore the balance in our small way. More than anything, our success at this enterprise depends on thoughtful contributions, so keep those cards and letters coming and share our stories with your friends.

Most of all, thanks for reading.