Monday, December 29, 2008

Public goods, or private favours?

Lawrence Lessig has recently announced his return to Harvard University as director of the Safra Center for Ethics, sadly removing himself from the running for chairman of the Obama administration Federal Communications Commission. A great shame, given his clarion call for FCC reform:
"America's economic future depends upon restarting an engine of innovation and technological growth. A first step is to remove the government from the mix as much as possible. This is the biggest problem with communication innovation around the world, as too many nations who should know better continue to preference legacy communication monopolies. It is a growing problem in our own country as well, as corporate America has come to believe that investments in influencing Washington pay more than investments in building a better mousetrap. That will only change when regulation is crafted as narrowly as possible. Only then can regulators serve the public good, instead of private protection. We need to kill a philosophy of regulation born with the 20th century, if we're to make possible a world of innovation in the 21st."

Despite their clear legislative mandate to leave well alone ("Please note that Ofcom does not regulate the internet"), the UK's communications regulator is increasingly stepping in to debates over net neutrality, P2P blocking and other contentious Internet policy issues. To avoid problems of regulatory capture and anti-consumer initiatives, perhaps they should listen more carefully to Prof. Lessig.

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