SOC alumnus Dr. Luis Hestres discusses net neutrality on Texas Public Radio

Dr. Luis Hestres is a tenure-track assistant professor of digital media at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He received his Ph.D. in Communication from American University in 2014.

With last week’s announcement by FCC chair Ajit Pai that the agency plans to dismantle a set of landmark net neutrality regulations, many have asked what such a move could mean for consumers, the tech industry, and the future of the internet as we know it.

Discussing the implications of the proposed repeal on Texas Public Radio’s “The Source” on Monday, SOC alumnus and professor in digital communication at the University of Texas at San Antonio Dr. Luis Hestres described net neutrality as “the principle that internet service providers can’t discriminate against any type of data that flows through their networks.”

Click here to listen to the discussion.

The current net neutrality regulations, put in place by the Obama administration, categorize broadband as a public utility (on par with electrical and telephone grids), prohibiting internet service providers (ISPs) from “throttling” or otherwise slowing down the flow of data from certain websites or from charging more for high-quality streaming from certain websites.

The proposed repeal has reignited a debate between large telecom providers like AT&T and Verizon on one side and increasingly powerful tech companies like Google and Facebook on the other. Silicon Valley firms and internet freedom advocates argue that dismantling the regulations would stifle innovation and give ISPs the power to serve as digital gatekeepers.

Further complicating matters, the FCC proposal comes as the Department of Justice is suing AT&T to block a proposed $85.4 billion bid for Time Warner, a deal that would see the telecom giant acquire CNN, HBO, and Warner Brothers Pictures in an effort to merge content and distribution (a strategy already embraced by one of AT&T’s chief competitors Comcast, whose purchase of NBCUniversal was approved in 2011). Taken together, the government’s contradictory stances toward AT&T reflect the difficulty in reconciling the increasing consolidation of the telecom and media ecosystems with the current administration’s anti-regulatory pro-business agenda.

But as Dr. Hestres explains, the telecoms themselves have engaged in similar doublespeak, especially as it concerns net neutrality. “The telecoms are saying one thing to the FCC and something completely different to their investors,” ensuring their shareholders that they continue to invest heavily in network architecture even as they claim that the net neutrality rules have stalled investment in broadband.

Adding to these competing (often contradictory) set of interests, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman published a letter to the FCC last week alleging that the agency’s public comments process, which allows citizens to voice their concerns on the proposed net neutrality repeal, “has been corrupted by the fraudulent use of Americans’ identities.” While it is as yet unclear who is behind the fraudulent comments (Schneiderman’s office received no “substantive” response from the FCC) it would seem to represent another instance in which networked actors have meddled in institutions of governance and the democratic process. “If law enforcement can’t investigate and (where appropriate) prosecute when it happens on this scale, the door is open for it to happen again and again,” wrote Schneiderman.

Update: On Monday, December 11, Dr. Hestres explained the net neutrality decision on KENS TV, a local CBS affiliate in San Antonio. Check out the video here.

 

 

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Faculty Director Dr. Derrick Cogburn Speaks at OU Cyber Governance and Policy Center

IMG_7146Internet Governance Lab Co-Director Dr. Derrick Cogburn, who holds a joint appointment as Associate Professor in the School of International Service and Kogod School of Business, returned to his home state to speak on multistakeholder global governance and policy issues at the University of Oklahoma and University of Central Oklahoma on November 13-14, 2017.

IMG_7123Dr. Cogburn was part of the inaugural Speaker Series hosted by the Cyber Governance and Policy Center at the University of Oklahoma – his alma mater – on November 13. His lecture entitled “Partners or Pawns? Exploring Multistakeholder Participation in Global Governance of the Information Society” discussed the challenges and opportunities of multiple actors in governing the information society. This talk was based on Dr. Cogburn’s decades-long work and his most recent book Transnational Advocacy Networks in the Information Society: Partners or Pawns?

IMG_7118Dr. Cogburn was joined by Dr. Kenneth Rogerson of Duke University who presented his talk “Do You Trust What You ‘Like?’ Navigating Social Media and Politics.”

Dr. Cogburn also participated in a series of media interviews about his research and today’s global governance landscape while at the University of Oklahoma.

IMG_6666The aim of the Cyber Governance and Policy Center’s Speaker Series is to facilitate the development of research-based policies surrounding modern information and communications technology and cyber physical systems. The center provides a platform to discuss these issues and provide relevant information to the community surrounding University of Oklahoma.

Dr. Cogburn subsequently visited the University of Central Oklahoma on November 14 for a lecture on his book and a series of meetings as well.

Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Andrew Rens on “Emerging Issues in the Internet of Things” at The Centre for Internet & Society

Andrew RensAU Internet Governance Lab Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Andrew Rens gave a talk on “Emerging Issues in the Internet of Things” at the Centre for Internet & Society in Bengaluru, India on October 23, 2017. The talk was based on his research about the complex problems that are emerging around the proliferation of the Internet of Things (IoT), including ownership and control, privacy and surveillance, and ubiquity and network fragility.

The talk also discussed the governance of the IoT, which is equally complex with multiple sites of governance and actors operating across legal borders. Questions raised included: How will legal regulation, standards and the architecture of technology determine how the IoT is configured, and reconfigured in response to problems? What forces will influence the governance of the IoT? What role will permission-less innovation play? How will intellectual property laws complicate the IoT?

Prospects for Cooperation Between Tech and Trump Complicated by Executive Orders

In the wake of President Trump’s sweeping executive order restricting entry to the US to refugees and immigrants from seven majority Muslim countries and with a nascent anti-Trump movement beginning to coalesce, tech industry executives are struggling to navigate an increasingly politicized environment, in which efforts to engage the new administration are colliding with the demands of politically active users and widespread dismay within Silicon Valley over the administration’s policies.  

Reflecting the potential impact of social media to harness popular discontent and underscoring the politically fraught position many tech CEO’s now find themselves in, the hashtag #DeleteUber began trending over the weekend after the ride-hailing app was criticized for undercutting New York City taxi drivers staging a work stoppage to protest the immigration order. Seizing on the popular backlash against Uber was the company’s chief competitor Lyft, whose co-founders Logan Green and John Zimmer announced a $1m donation to the ACLU and issued the following statement sharply criticizing the executive order:

“This weekend, Trump closed the country’s borders to refugees, immigrants, and even documented residents from around the world based on their country of origin. Banning people of a particular faith or creed, race or identity, sexuality or ethnicity, from entering the U.S. is antithetical to both Lyft’s and our nation’s core values. We stand firmly against these actions, and will not be silent on issues that threaten the values of our community.”

And Lyft was not alone. Twitter, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, and Airbnb all released statements over the weekend, ranging from judicious to vociferous. Among the more strongly-worded repudiations was Aaron Levie of the cloud company Box, who took to Twitter to write, “On every level – moral, humanitarian, economic, logical, etc – this ban is wrong and completely antithetical to the principles of America.”

Meanwhile, Google co-founder Sergei Brin was spotted at a protest at San Fransisco International Airport less than a month after Mr. Brin’s co-founder and current Alphabet CEO Larry Page was among a group of tech executives invited to Trump Tower to meet with then President-elect Trump. And while Trump’s meeting with the tech leaders was seen by many as little more than a charm offensive aimed at paving the way for future cooperation with Washington, a new report by Adam Segal of the Council on Foreign Relations provides some context for why such cooperation is necessary.

“The Silicon Valley-Washington rift has real implications for U.S. cybersecurity and foreign policy,” writes Segal, adding, “An ugly fight between the two sides makes it more difficult to share cyber threat information, counter online extremism, foster global technology standards, promote technological innovation, and maintain an open internet.”

As the report explains, the divide between Washington and U.S. tech firms began in earnest over three years ago with the Snowden revelations, which forced global platforms to reckon with an outraged public demanding greater security and privacy protections. Most notably, these new economic and reputational incentives informed Apple’s decision to make end-to-end encryption standard across the company’s products, prompting a protracted fight with law enforcement after authorities were initially unable to access the contents of a cell phone belonging to one of the San Bernardino attackers.

But if debates over encryption, privacy, and net neutrality created the rift between Silicon Valley and Washington, last week’s immigration order left a gaping chasm between the two.

Aside from the obvious constitutional concerns, the immigration restrictions are particularly worrisome for tech companies that recruit some of their top talent from abroad.

On Wednesday Twitter joined Lyft and others, donating over $1m to the ACLU to help fight the immigration order, while the messaging platform Viber announced it would provide free international calls to the seven countries affected by the executive order. Also on Wednesday, the Hill cited several cybersecurity researchers who are declining to work with law enforcement until the immigration order is revoked.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported that an open letter expressing concern over Trump’s immigration policies was circulating through Silicon Valley and beyond, including among CEOs on Wall Street and in the manufacturing, energy, and consumer goods sectors.

Whether or not the combined weight of an overwhelming majority of the tech community is enough to sway the administration’s thinking on immigration (or anything for that matter) remains to be seen. Regardless, critical issues like stepping up cyberdefense, curbing data localization, and protecting a free and open Internet will require some degree of cooperation between Tech and Trump, a prospect that, at the moment, is difficult to imagine.

New Paper on Cyber Sovereignty v. Distributed Internet Governance

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On November 30, 2016, Laura DeNardis, Gordon Goldstein, and Ambassador David A. Gross presented their new paper, “The Rising Geopolitics of Internet Governance: Cyber Sovereignty v. Distributed Governance at the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs (SIPS) on November 30, 2016. The paper was part of the Columbia SIPS Tech & Policy Initiative and the panel discussion was moderated by Columbia SIPA Dean Merit Janow.

 Internet governance is at a crossroads. The 21st century has given rise to two incommensurable visions for the global Internet and how it is governed. One envisions a universal network that generally supports the free flow of information and whose governance is distributed across the private sector, governments and new global institutions in an approach that has historically been described as “multistakeholder” governance. This vision has materialized, albeit imperfectly, in how the Internet and its coordination has historically progressed and is an approach advocated by the United States government and many other countries. This is the model of Internet governance that has dominated throughout the past decade. The competing vision advocates for greater multilateral and top-down administration of the Internet in the name of social order, national cyber sovereignty, and tighter control of information flows. China and other countries interested in greater administrative control over the flow of information have been vocal proponents of a more multilateral approach to Internet governance. These visions are often debated using the language of abstract theoretical constructs but they involve actual policy choices that have arisen in particular historical contexts and whose future will have tangible effects on American foreign policy interests, American values of freedom of expression and innovation, the global digital economy, and the stability and resiliency of Internet infrastructure itself. This paper provides some historical context to the rise of distributed Internet governance, describes some of the key geopolitical conflicts that involve incommensurability between the ideology of national sovereignty and the technical topology and transnational characteristics of private Internet infrastructure, and argues for the preservation of private-sector-led multistakeholder governance rather than a shift to greater government control.