Friday, April 08, 2011

How a Government Shutdown Would Affect the IT Industry...

The government shutting down not only affects things like military benefits and social security checks being mailed out to seniors. The technology world will feel some significant fallout as well.

Mashable has put together the following list of ways in which the IT industry would be affected by the government shutdown...

  1. Hold That IPO! - The Securities and Exchange Commission announced on Thursday that it would not process any company filings in the case of a government shutdown, Reuters reports.

    That means that IPO filings would be put on hold. A prolonged shutdown (unlikely, but possible) could affect companies late in the IPO process, like Zipcar, as well as companies that have filed but haven’t set terms yet, like LinkedIn.

  2. Government Websites Go Dark? - A memo that Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew wrote to the heads of executive departments and agencies asked them to make determinations of whether their websites were essential or not, The Hill reports.

    According to this memo, public access to government information doesn’t fall under this category. Websites necessary for operation like the IRS website for filing taxes, however, will remain open.

  3. A Victory For Telemarketers And Spammers - According to a statement that the Federal Trade Commission posted on Friday, the Do Not Call Registry and Spam Database will not be available to law enforcement organizations in the case of a furlough.

  4. Google And Microsoft Wait For Paychecks - It’s not just government employees who might find themselves without a paycheck should the government shut down. Hundreds of thousands of business who have contracts with the government might also be affected. Those companies include mid-size IT firms and giants like Google, which beat Microsoft out to be the provider of choice for the first federal agency to use either company’s cloud-based services. (Microsoft still holds a vast number of government contracts for its Office suite.)

  5. Government BlackBerrys Get Switched Off - Some furloughed employees would either turn in their BlackBerrys or be banned from using them. CNNMoney reports that employees deemed “essential” will be permitted to continue checking essential emails on their BlackBerrys. Which begs the question of how these employees will know which emails are essential without reading them first.

None of this is exactly going to paralyze the digital world. It'll cause some inconvenience, sure, but all those 0's and 1's will, for the most part, keep doing their thing. It does, however, make for some interesting trivia.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Defining the Public Interest: The Communications Act of 1934 and Its Effect on the Net Neutrality Debate...

Some final summary notes on a paper I will be presenting at a conference at Hofstra University this Friday...

Much of the debate over Net Neutrality today is centered on principles established all the way back in 1934. The landmark Communications Act, designed to regulate the allocation of radio frequencies, is currently being used to determine how to regulate (or not regulate) the wireless internet spectrum as well.

The Communications Act of 1934 established that use of the wireless spectrum would be determined based on who could best serve "the public interest, convenience, or necessity". The FRC (soon-to-be the FCC) interpreted that phrase by defining the "public interest" as anything that would bring about "the best possible broadcasting reception conditions". This was an engineering interpretation made principally by engineers. The consequence of defining the "public interest" in these terms was that only the most highly capitalized parties - namely large corporations - were granted broadcasting licenses because only they could acquire and regularly maintain the best technical equipment.

Fast forward to today and the Net Neutrality debate. The issue of whether or not to enforce Net Neutrality rules regulating the wireless spectrum is again being decided based on engineering priciples - specifically those favoring technical efficiency - at the expense of, critics argue, political values.

Central to the Net Neutrality debate is whether to classify ISPs as "common carriers" or "information service providers". This vital regulatory distinction also finds its origins in the Communications Act of 1934. If the FCC decides to classify ISPs as common carriers, then that opens the door to greater regulatory authority and the ability to enforce Net Neutrality rules. On the other hand, if ISPs remain classified only as information service providers, and not common carriers, then the FCC will remain more limited in its regulatory capabilities and Net Neutrality regulations will become far less likely.

The cheat sheet... Classifying as "common carriers" = Yes Net Neutrality; Classifying as "information service providers" = No Net Neutrality.

It's this classification which is paramount, and it has yet to be fully determined. What's at stake is nothing less than a complete reformulation of what the Internet itself will look like, and how it will evolve, in coming decades.

The architecture of the Internet both enables and constrains certain forms of political behavior, and therefore that architecture and the policies which sustain it must be viewed as inherently political. When the Net Neutrality debate is framed in the path dependent context of telecom regulation that began in 1934, history proves a useful guide in predicting the consequences. When private interests conflate the distinction between what are technical engineering decisions versus those that are inherently political, what results is a system dominated by large corporate firms with the highest levels of capitalization. This was the systemic path which began in 1934. Only time will tell if history is bound to repeat itself.