Herewith my new year’s resolutions for the heads of the Federal Communications Commission, Google, the State Department and WikiLeaks:
For Julius Genachowski, Federal Communication Commission (FCC) chairman: Focus on competition, not regulations, lobbyists and lawyers. By a partisan three-two vote, the agency just before the holidays issued a plan to regulate the Internet. The claim is “net neutrality”, but throughout the 194-page order the reality is vague standards such as “reasonableness”. This uncertainty creates a “regulator-may-I?” approach to innovation and ensures years of litigation for a vital industry that evolved freely. The real problem remains lack of broadband competition, caused by government grants of monopolies and duopolies.
As open-source guru Lawrence Lessig recently argued in Newsweek, the FCC should be replaced with regulators whose mission is “minimal intervention to maximize innovation”.
For Google, Facebook and Beijing: When China hacked email and other services, Google almost alone in 2010 stood up to Beijing. Sergey Brin and his colleagues, who transferred Chinese searches to still-uncensored Hong Kong, should resolve to remain patient with Beijing during this hard-line period and to abstain from too much gloating when Google is eventually recognized as an old friend of China. As Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg evaluates an approach to China, he should follow the Google model by reaching out to Chinese Internet users and domestic Web envelope-pushers, not by kowtowing to Beijing.
For secretary of state Hillary Clinton: After her rousing speech in Washington, DC early last year on an open Internet as manifest destiny, the US has done little to empower users in censored countries such as Iran. Using new technologies, the US could enable millions of people to jump over national firewalls at a level of taxpayer expense similar to Radio Free Europe and other Cold War efforts.
For North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il: After showing the soccer movie Bend It Like Beckham as the first Western film allowed in his country, the self-declared “Genius of the Cinema” (typical Pyongyang movie fare includes The Country Party Chief Secretary) should consider more. Perhaps The Wizard of Oz (who’s behind that curtain?) or The Great Escape as an instruction manual for refugees.
For Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks: Become more transparent about his goals. Before founding WikiLeaks, Assange made clear he is an anarchist, hoping to use leaks to undermine “conspiracies” such as the US government by ending their ability to communicate confidentially. Instead, State Department cables show the straightforward dealings of US diplomats. Rather than embarrassing the US, the WikiLeaks document dump endangers human-rights activists and reformers.
Finally, for technologists: The Internet, alas, just became a regulated industry, but technologists can minimize the damage by making consumers, who are also voters, as happy as possible.
Internet providers should keep their rules simple and their service predictable. Facebook should have privacy settings easy enough for 500 million users to figure out. Apple should design the iPad to be as open to innovative content as possible. Technology executives should resolve to spend as little time in Washington as they can—and to keep in mind that in markets like China, a big appeal of their Internet services is the open access it offers the people who need it most.
Technology is for optimists, so here’s to hoping that the great themes of this year will be more competition in the US, less censorship globally, and enough digital privacy and confidentially to stave off information anarchy.
L. Gordon Crovitz s a columnist for The Wall Street Journal