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Blair Levin

@aspeninst.org

response from Blair Levin

Karl,

Blair Levin here. A friend was kind enough to send your latest post regarding an interview I recently gave and I must say I found it highly amusing. First, you refer to my “profitable” think tank existence. You must know something I don’t know about my financial arrangements with the Aspen Institute. I’m not complaining—very nice people here—but profitable is not the right adjective to describe my presence here.

Second, you imply you once wrote something nice about the plan. I can’t claim I read all your posts, nor that my memory is perfect. I am pretty certain, however, you were a model of perfect consistency in insisting the plan, the process, and everything about it was always and completely flawed. But if I missed your praise, please don’t hesitate to correct me.

Third, you note that I spent “years” on the plan. It may have felt that way to you—it sometimes felt that way to those of us working 80 hour weeks and it felt like decades to my wife---but in truth, my work on the plan took less than a year.

But there is no reason to beat around the bush about the important substantive disagreement that you and I have: you believe that the only important broadband policy is to require facilities based ISPs to unbundle. I do not. That is an honorable disagreement and I would be happy to discuss it with you whenever we are in the same city. I have only two conditions. First, your readers must have access to the entire discussion. And second, that you answer one question before hand: what is the wholesale discount rate that you think would be required to attract the capital necessary for an unbundling based new entrant to provide long-term competition? (There are reasons this turns out to be an important question---though not the only one—about the potential effectiveness of an unbundling strategy but if it is not answered, it is difficult to have a serious debate on the subject.)

I hope you find those conditions acceptable as I think it would be a fun and illuminating discussion.

And by the way, your most recent criticism of my comments on adoption ignores that I was merely reporting the analysis of everyone who has actually studied the problem---that relevance turns out to be a bigger problem than price. I hate to refer folks to a competitor but Nate Anderson had a thoughtful piece citing the latest study today at: »arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news···band.ars.

Sincerely,

Blair Levin


Karl Bode
News Guy
join:2000-03-02
kudos:39

2 edits
you imply you once wrote something nice about the plan. I can’t claim I read all your posts, nor that my memory is perfect. I am pretty certain, however, you were a model of perfect consistency in insisting the plan, the process, and everything about it was always and completely flawed. But if I missed your praise, please don’t hesitate to correct me.
Will do. Here's my original post on the plan, which actually highlights a number of positive things -- most notably the fact that the FCC finally appears to be using real data instead of lobbyist pie charts. It also, and here's where I've obtained "perfect consistency," notes the plan is heavy on showmanship and doesn't seriously tackle competition.
But there is no reason to beat around the bush about the important substantive disagreement that you and I have: you believe that the only important broadband policy is to require facilities based ISPs to unbundle. I do not.
My criticism goes well beyond unbundling, even if I do think the Australian approach to open access will see significantly more competitive traction than your plan -- which apparently addresses competition by ignoring it completely.

The title of this piece is the root of my criticism: as someone who has tracked your comments regularly, you rarely acknowledge that there's a lack of competition in the space, yet that's the biggest barrier to accomplishing something in this sector -- be it lowering prices for the marginalized, or preventing network neutrality violations without having to craft hard rules.

The entire CNET article in question goes by without you mentioning the word once (perhaps it was edited out?). High price of service is mentioned once, but trampled over quickly as some kind of tertiary and quickly fleeting concern.

To me the plan tries to convince people that if we focus on things like digital literacy and adoption hard enough, the public will collectively forget that most users (if they're lucky) have the choice of one or two providers -- one of them offering sub-par DSL service that won't be upgraded anytime soon.

I'm well aware there's very real political and legal obstacles that bridled the plan; to me discussing and solving these would take priority over debating wholesale discount rates for unbundled access policies you don't believe in anyway. I'm happy to go there, but perhaps we should start more broadly -- like the fact we can afford two wars but not serious infrastructure investment, or more specific perhaps discussing the fact it's 2011 and we still haven't mapped broadband access in the United States properly.