Assessing the Costs of a More “Closed” Internet

I had the pleasure of moderating a panel at a very interesting and informative OECD workshop this week in Washington, DC, on how to better measure the benefits of the open Internet and the costs of restricting access to it. This is a critical question, because a growing number of governments around the world are blocking Internet flows or prohibiting access to certain content. There needs to be a stronger case for how, why, and to what extent these policies stunt economic growth and inhibit social progress. Yet marshaling such an argument requires not only better data and analysis but also the right conceptual framework.

People often use the terms “open” and “closed” Internet without defining them. Here, fully “open” means everyone is free to share and access any information they wish, and more “closed” means governments or other third parties are blocking or prohibiting vast troves of information. A draft background document that the OECD distributed to panel participants was helpful in that it rightly acknowledged that the Internet is not fully “open,” nor should it be. As ITIF has argued, the Internet is not fully open anywhere,

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Piracy-midnight cowboy

The True Damages of Online Piracy? It’s Hard to Measure

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that online piracy is detrimental to content creators, including in the film and music industries. However, academics studying the effects appear to be behind the curve. A few studies, brandished by illegal content providers to perpetuate the myth that content theft is a ‘victimless crime,’ claim to show that illegal downloads actually contribute to industry profits.

In theory, pirates are additional viewers who could purchase merchandise or generate word-of-mouth advertising that could get others to legally view the content. If the good outweighs the bad, then piracy might actually be helping the content industry. Leaving aside the issue of morality of theft, given the scale of online piracy, it’s hard to imagine the good truly outweighing the bad. Yet there are data-driven studies by real academics insisting that digital piracy is a boon for content creators.

However, a new meta-analysis of literature examining the effects of online-piracy, Friends or Foe? A Meta-Analysis of the Link Between “Online Piracy” and Sales of Cultural Goods by Wojciech Hardy, Michal Krawczyk, and Joanna Tyrowicz, shows that these papers finding that digital piracy does not have

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The Internet Is not (Fully) Open, nor Should It Be

To listen to the debate about Internet governance, the world faces a Manichean choice between an open Internet—where everyone is free to share any information they wish—and a closed one, where governments block and prohibit vast troves of information. Given this stark choice, the only sensible side to take is openness. After all, as ITIF has shown, global information flows are critical not only to commerce but to the general flourishing of the knowledge economy and democracy.

But as in all other aspects of society, we don’t actually face such a binary choice. Reality is far more nuanced. The Internet is not completely open, nor should it be. As a case in point, the world should welcome the recent announcement by major Internet firms including Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo, which are taking steps to block images of child sexual abuse. In this particular case, leading Internet companies are using a database of digital fingerprints compiled by the Internet Watch Foundation to identify known child sex abuse images and block their distribution.

Because what is being blocked is rightly deemed to be horrific and socially corrosive, even the

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High-Growth Entrepreneurship for Development: Report of a Roundtable with Michael Dell

Policymakers around the world have increasingly come to realize that entrepreneurship, particularly high-growth entrepreneurship (HGE), is critical for economic development in nations at all levels of development. That is one reason the United Nations Foundation asked Michael Dell, founder and CEO of Dell Inc., to be the Global Advocate for Entrepreneurship and to work closely with the Foundation and its Global Entrepreneurs Council to help shape and advance a global entrepreneurship agenda.

To inform the Council’s thinking, Michael Dell led a meeting in Washington, DC, on December 2, 2014, hosted by 1776, a cutting-edge “accelerator” to help technology-based entrepreneurs translate their ideas into growing businesses. The meeting participants included tech-based entrepreneurs and policymakers, and I was asked to participate and serve as rapporteur.

Michael Dell opened up the roundtable with a discussion of proposed policy mechanisms to spur high growth entrepreneurship, including ensuring access to capital, technology, talent, and markets. The following is a summary of the themes and recommendations from the discussion.

The Nature of Technology-Enabled Entrepreneurship Opportunities

Policymakers around the world are interested in HGE because they understand that technology opportunities driving this type of entrepreneurship have exploded.

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Chris Dodd and Nancy Pelosi

The Culture Addict Dream Conference

Each year, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) hosts a large conference at the Newseum dedicated to highlighting what is new in creativity, content, and technology around the world. At the most recent confab, held on Friday, April 24, MPAA’s message focused on how creativity and innovation will play an even more integral role in the future than they do today. Indeed, the Creativity Conference is about exploring the critical intersection between technology and the arts, and their capacity to drive invention and economic growth across industries and regions. Bringing together leaders from the worlds of politics, media, business, and the arts, the Creativity Conference engages its audience in an open dialogue on the meaning of creativity, its economic impact across sectors, and the ways in which we can continue to protect and nurture American innovation and innovators.

At the conference, a group of leading, innovative women discussed the ways in which Hollywood and Washington, D.C. intersect. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D – CT), Evan Ryan (Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs), Barbara Hall (Creator and Executive Producer, Madam Secretary) and Lori McCreary (President, Producers Guild of

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Mobile Phone

Florida’s Cell Phone Tax Cut Could Help Reduce the Digital Divide

Governor Rick Scott (R-FL) is asking the Florida legislature to cut $470 million in taxes that the state collects from residents on their cell phone, satellite, and television bills. This proposal to cut the cellphone and TV tax rate by 3.6 percentage points will not only put money back into the pockets of everyday Floridians, but it is also a positive step in the right direction to help reduce Florida’s digital divide and will enable more innovation though mobile broadband.

Florida has one of the highest tax rates for wireless services (16.59 percent), falling behind only Washington, Nebraska and New York. In fact, consumers in seven states—Washington, Nebraska, Rhode Island, New York, Illinois, Missouri, and Florida—pay in excess of 20 percent of their bills for their combined state and federal tax rates.

So why have these taxes to begin with? States have traditionally turned to taxing services that people consume in their home because it is a reliable form of revenue. Someone in Florida cannot travel to Georgia to get a lower tax rate on their cell phone bill like they could for purchases of goods that include

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The Miraculous Cell Phone

As the economy emerges from the Great Recession, it is hard to deny that times are still tough for many Americans. Some advocates have attributed difficulties to rising basic costs such as health care and, puzzlingly, cell phones, that limit discretionary spending power. The Wall Street Journal, in an article about rising costs for the middle class, reports that spending on cell phones by the average American middle class family has increased by 49 percent from 2007 to 2013 according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  Some have interpreted this as showing that price inflation for these services is growing faster than the overall consumer price index (CPI).

But what it in fact shows is that while Americans are spending more on these telecom services they are getting more.  Americans are spending more on cell phones in part because more Americans have cell phones- the number of cell phones in the United States grew by 17 percent from 2007 to 2013. At the same time, spending on landline telephones declined by 31 percent over the same period. So spending on all phones, the more accurate measure

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Piracy is Unstoppable (Like MySpace)

On Tuesday, Swedish officials shutdown the notorious illegal file-sharing website The Pirate Bay, striking a serious blow against the content thieves that have sucked millions of dollars out of the U.S. economy. Rushing to defend The Pirate Bay, however, was Caitlin Dewey, a blogger at the Washington Post focusing on Internet and digital culture. On her the blog The Intersect, she wrote an article alleging that the removal of The Pirate Bay from the Internet will do nothing to stem the rise of online piracy. Indeed, she argues that The Pirate Bay, “has done something a bit more significant, and a bit more permanent, too: It’s made digital piracy a casual, inarguable part of the mainstream.”

First, her argument that because piracy is common today, it will be common tomorrow reflects a surprisingly poor understanding of the history of the Internet (especially for a tech blogger). If there is one lesson from the Internet economy it is that nothing is permanent. This applies not only to website like MySpace, but also online behavior: how often are you instant messaging these days?

Second, by alleging that piracy is an inevitable part

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The Clock Is Ticking on ITFA

Since 1998, the Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA) has been essential in promoting the expansion of e-commerce and ensuring a level playing field for Internet businesses. This will change on December 11th without decisive action from Congress.

The moratorium on Internet access taxes has been a central tool in driving innovation and the exponential growth of the Internet over the last two decades. It has spurred development in nearly every sector of the economy from Silicon Valley technology giants to new entrepreneurs to more traditional industries such as manufacturing, health care and education.

Since the ITFA was enacted, the Pew Charitable Trust estimates Internet usage among Americans has grown from below 25 percent in 1998 to over 85 percent today. For minorities, the growth in usage has occurred primarily in the last decade. These gains could be reversed if the act is allowed to expire and costs on Internet access rise.

What’s more, helping consumers, schools and small businesses continue to access the Internet is not a partisan issue. Permanently extending the moratorium on Internet access is widely supported in both the House and Senate by both parties. Everyone agrees:

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Newsflash: You Don’t Have to Pirate Content

Today, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) launched its innovative new Website: (WTW).  The search engine is a simple way for consumers to find all the movies and television they are interested in viewing — from new episodes of The Mindy Project to classics like Casablanca and even Oscar contenders still in theaters, such as The Theory of Everything. Indeed WTW allows consumers to:

  • Search for movie/TV show availability on digital downloading sites, streaming sites or in stores;
  • Find theater times and locations for every newly released movies nearby;
  • Receive notifications when the content they are interested in becomes available from their favorite providers.

The site works by aggregating content from a range of outlets, including Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, Xbox and smaller indie sites such as Snag Films and WolfeOnDemand. By simplifying the search process, consumers will be able to find exactly what they are looking for exactly when they want it: it marries accessibility to content for customers with protection of the intellectual property for creators of the content.

Even more importantly, however, WTW reaffirms the commitment that Hollywood is making toward more legally available content.

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