State of the Net 2011

The State of the Net conference just wrapped up in Washington, DC. This is a unique event that brings policy wonks and technologists to Washington in order to help Congress understand the Internet better; it’s been going on for seven years, and has helped to make the Congressional Internet Caucus one of the most vibrant of the caucuses.

The themes for this year’s event reflect the shift in Congressional concern away from things like net neutrality and toward such issues as privacy, cybersecurity, broadband deployment, and piracy; at least that was the plan until the FCC altered the playbook by passing their two most significant orders of the past year in the two weeks leading up to the event, the Open Internet order the Comcast/NBCU merger order. So SOTN grew an extra day to accommodate panels on these two orders.

Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R, Tenn.) addressed the group with her take on the FCC’s Open Internet order yesterday (speeches by members of Congress are one of the SOTN highlights;) suffice it to say, she wasn’t pleased and has already filed a bill to stop the FCC in its tracks. Most regard the bill as largely symbolic, on the assumption that the Senate won’t go along with the House and that the President would veto it in any case, but politics are far from certain. Whatever develops with the Blackburn bill, the FCC is likely to face legal challenges from both the left and the right as soon as it’s published in the Federal Register. So there’s no great clarity regarding Internet regulation after all.

Cameron Kerry (General Counsel, U.S. Department of Commerce) and John Morton (Director, Department of Homeland Security U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement) explained the copyright protection measures their departments are taking. These measures have generated some controversy, and later panels dealt with these concerns, but the talks by Kerry and Morton provided a factual baseline on what’s actually being done.

The first of these panels dealt with COICA, featuring Daniel Castro (Information Technology & Innovation Foundation,) Dan Kaminsky (Doxpara,) Andrew Pincus (Mayer Brown,) Greg Piper (moderator, Warren Communications,) and David Sohn (Center for Democracy & Technology.) Daniel explained the rationale for COICA, and Dan gave the alarmist perspective (“It won’t work and besides, it will break the Internet!!!”) Daniel had the facts on his side, citing two studies that show that similar measures have been largely effective and haven’t broken anything (see Daniel’s blog post.)

Over lunch, we had a keynote from Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) that celebrated the internet and tended to reinforce Rep. Blackburn’s opinion of the FCC’s Internet order. Following the Congressman, Ed Amoroso (Chief Security Officer, AT&T) and Howard Schmidt, (White House Cyber-Security Coordinator) gave tutorials on security.

The afternoon sessions were highlighted by panels on Internet freedom and Congressional action on broadband. The freedom panel featured a lively debate over some of the issues that came out in the COICA panel, aided by a visit from Dan Kaminsky to reinforce his claim (a largely unjustified one, as it turns out) that anti-piracy measures can never be effective because they can’t be perfect; David Israelite, a lawyer for songwriters, dealt with Kaminsky’s issues this time. Rebecca MacKinnon and Milton Mueller took on the issue of the Internet’s apparently untapped potential to spread democracy about the world. There is clearly a long-standing desire to evangelize populist models of government around the world, and a corresponding disappointment that it’s not really working that way. Turns out that transforming a centrally-managed system like China into a liberal democracy takes more than a DSLAM and an Internet transit provider, but these things certainly help. Realistic expectations are the order of the day here.

The last panel of the day in the track I attended (there were three at a time on Day 1) was “Legislating Broadband Policy: A Government Staff Perspective with Neil Fried and Brian Hendricks from the Republican side, House and Senate respectively, and John Branscome and Roger Sherman on the Democratic side, Senate and House respectively. The general tenor was that the Open Internet remains a radioactive issue, but the issues of privacy, USF reform, spectrum, and the National Broadband Plan are much less partisan and acrimonious.

Day Two in the next post.

While you’re waiting, a number of videos are up on the committee’s YouTube channel.