FCC’s Harvard Broadband Study Flunks Core Tests

October 20, 2009

In August, the FCC commissioned the Harvard Berkman Center to conduct a “Review of Broadband Studies” “to help inform the FCC’s efforts in developing the National Broadband Plan.”

  • The Harvard draft report flunks several core tests necessary for its fndings to have credibility.Flunks “independence” test: The FCC touted in its announcement that the report would be an “independent review” and the report itself claims to be an “independent” assessment.
    • If the FCC wanted an “independent” external review, why was their no open notification or open bidding process for this important FCC project to allow transparency and competition to bolster confidence in the “independence” claim?
    • Why was the study sole-sourced to only one entity, and to an entity well-known to have strong well-developed advocacy views that broadband should be a public utility, and not a more widely-recognized “independent” entity without a publicly obvious stake in the outcome?

    Flunks the “comprehensive” test: The FCC claimed in the announcement that the review would be “comprehensive.”

    • Is it “comprehensive” to entirely ignore most all the current baseline information undergirding existing U.S. Government policy to determine if it is still current and accurate like: NTIA’s “Networked Nation: Broadband in America 2007″ report; the FTC’s 5-0 “Broadband Connectivity Competition Policyreport; or the DOJ’s formal comments to the FCC on net neutrality for broadband?
      • If Harvard concludes that these existing U.S. Government policy positions are somehow now inoperative or incorrect, why not explicitly state that, explain why, and share the basis for that view?
    • Is it comprehensive to entirely exclude important and well-known, independent global assessments of broadband that contradict the conclusions of the Harvard report like: the IMD Swiss Business School’s 2008 World Competitiveness Yearbook; the Economist Intelligence Unit’s e-readiness rankings; or Nielsen’s Worldwide Status of the Mobile Web?

    Flunks “Fact-Based” Test: The report fundamentally tries to rewrite the history of FCC competition policy: “While Congress adopted various open access provisions in the almost unanimously-approved Telecommunications Act of 1996, the FCC decided to abandon this mode of regulation of broadband in a series of decisions in 2001 and 2002.” This revisionist history omits critically relevant “facts” that:

    • The purpose of the 1996 Act was “to promote competition and reduce regulation;”
    • That Act established “the policy of the United States to preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet… unfettered by Federal and State regulation;” and that
    • It was FCC under Chairman Bill Kennard’s leadership in the Clinton-Gore Administration in 1999 that the FCC decided against imposing open access restrictions preemptively on cable modems.
      • That Chairman Kennard conclusion was the baseline FCC policy decision/precedent that was later affirmed and applied by the Michael Powell FCC in the Bush-Cheney Administration.
    • Omitting these critical facts appears to be an attempt to hide the incontrovertible fact that current broadband policy is obviously bipartisan and much longer standing than the Harvard report tries to imply.

    Flunks “Transparency” Test: Given that the FCC is representing the Harvard Broadband report as simply an “independent review of broadband studies,” and given that a key part of Chairman Genachowski’s Open Internet approach is promoting more broadband transparency, why was the “Principal Investigator” and lead author of the Harvard report, Professor Yochai Benkler, not transparent?

    • Why did he not openly disclose that his professional and personal views are in direct opposition with existing competition law and broadband policy and that he is a leading advocate for a radically different system based on public not private ownership of broadband networks?
    • Professor Benkler encapsulated his views on this matter in one summary quote on page 23 of his seminal book on the subject: “The Wealth of Networks:
      • The “central question is whether there will, or will not, be a core common infrastructure that is governed as a commons and therefore available to anyone who wishes to participate in the networked information environment outside of the market-based, proprietary framework.”
    • Why Professor Benkler’s views are important here is that he has the same viewpoint of FreePress’ co-founder Robert McChesney, who recently said: “What we want to have in the U.S. and in every society is an Internet that is not private property, but a public utility. We want an Internet where you don’t have to have a password and that you don’t have to pay a penny to use. It is your right to use the Internet.”

    In conclusion, it is relevant that the FCC’s outsourced review of broadband studies has flunked core tests of independence, comprehensiveness, factuality, and transparency, because any credible national broadband plan cannot be based on work that is biased, embarassingly incomplete, wrong on the most basic policy background knowledge, and non-transparent about a big and relevant hidden agenda and bias.

    • It is not credible to advocate a radical change in U.S. broadband policy — to create a property-less commons and a public utility broadband system out of whole cloth — that completely ignores existing competition law, policy, official findings and basic marketplace facts.

    The FCC’s test now is will it “pass” a report that has openly flunked all its most important “tests.”

     

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One Response to “FCC’s Harvard Broadband Study Flunks Core Tests”

  1. Brett Glass said

    Scott, you may also want to cite George Ou’s article on the Berkman paper, which finds inconsistencies in the figures cited in the report. See

    http://www.digitalsociety.org/2009/10/new-fcc-net-neutrality-rules-based-on-flawed-report/

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