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Crawford Has a Dream

At the Free Press annual conference in Denver today, the shameless Susan Crawford delivered one the most amazing speeches in the history of American tech policy, comparing herself to Martin Luther King, Jr. and demanding that President Obama appoint her to head the FCC.  Either one of these claims would be remarkable in its own right, but the combination of the two was simply breathtaking in its arrogance and narcissism. It hardly needs explaining that it’s an insult to the memory of Doctor King to compare him to a self-interested job seeker whose grasp of the subject matter required of the job she seeks ranges somewhere from slim to none, and whose respect for the facts of history is virtually non-existent.

Broadband, the Internet, telecom, media censorship and the other issues within the jurisdiction of the FCC are certainly important issues, and if they weren’t, organizations like ITIF and a host of others would not devote the time and trouble it takes to conduct painstaking research into the facts that define them. But to compare these issues to the civil rights movement is to trivialize the suffering brought on people of color in the American South by populist bullies and thugs such as Bull Connor, Lester (“Axehandle”) Maddox, George Wallace, and the KKK during the Jim Crow era and to reduce the heroism of the leaders of the Civil Rights movement to the status of bargain shoppers at the Dollar Store.

The synopsis of the speech goes like this: “I want to be chairperson of the FCC, but I would be a controversial nominee because the telecom companies don’t like me. I want 100 Mbps symmetrical broadband to every home in America, paid for by your tax dollars. President Johnson told Martin Luther King he couldn’t have a Voting Rights Act unless King could force LBJ to make it happen. You must force President Obama to put me in charge of the FCC so you can have broadband no faster than it is today but for a lower price.” See the video for yourself or read the transcript.

Martin Luther King is turning over in his grave at a high rate of speed at this very moment. I can only hope Congressman Lewis and the Evers and King families do not hear about this.

UPDATE:  See Randy May’s post on Crawford’s speech on the Free State Foundation blog. May highlights Crawford’s pretzel-like definition of the market for broadband services that she uses to justify her claim of a cable company monopoly:

Even though Professor Crawford may think otherwise, for most consumers, telephone company-provided high-speed broadband services provide a satisfactory alternative to those of cable operators, even in areas in which fiber technology is not employed.

In her Denver speech, Crawford made a very rare – for her – move of citing a number. This is unusual for her because factual assertions can be checked, while more mushy assertions such as her claim that Koreans regard the U. S. as a rural country can’t. Here’s the claim she made according to the transcript:

When it comes to wired internet access, cable has a lock – .2% of new high-speed Internet access subscriptions in the last three quarters of 2012 went to the local cable monopoly.

I think she means to say that only .2% of new subscriptions went to phone companies, and the other 99.8% went to “monopoly cable,” her usual claim. However we read it, it’s false. We covered the subscriber churn issue in The Whole Picture, and this is what we found:

The third quarter results show that cable is not growing at the expense of DSL as much as adding customers who previously were non-adopters. Cable added about 575,000 subscribers in the quarter, but telephone companies added a modest 5,000 new customers as well.

More interesting than the overall growth rates of cable and telephone-based broadband is the nature of the technologies that telephone-based broadband subscribers are choosing: AT&T and Verizon added 749,000 fiber-intensive subscribers (for U-verse and FiOS) in the quarter, while losing 799,000 DSL subscribers. Many of CenturyLink’s 44,000 new subscribers use a service similar to U-verse, although the data aren’t detailed enough to show the precise number.(page 37)

So cable is adding more subscribers than phone companies are, but there are more new fiber-based subscribers signing up at phone companies than there are new cable subscribers. For someone who touts the benefits of optical fiber (to an unreasonable degree, of course) the new fiber adds are the important item.

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