Barbara van Schewick has impeccable timing.
Her seminal book on network neutrality —Internet Architecture and Innovation (2010)–has just come out in paperback and Kindle in the midst of the D.C. Circuit litigation about the FCC’s Open Internet rules and the same exact week that the three most prominent network neutrality organizations–Free Press, New America Foundation, and Public Knowledge–announced they would file the first Open-Internet complaint against AT&T for its treatment of FaceTime for the iPhone 5.
I will probably have more to say about the FaceTime case. Let’s set aside for now whether AT&T’s behavior is violating the letter of the FCC’s Open Internet rules (as these organizations assert). You might want to understand more broadly whether AT&T’s behavior is harmful and what impact it may have on innovation in the Internet ecosystem. You might have heard someone say “I don’t use FaceTime and Verizon and Sprint allowing FaceTime with their basic data plans, so where is the problem?” Van Schewick’s book answers all these questions. It explains why banning this kind of behavior is important, how users are harmed by it, and also why competition doesn’t solve the problem.
The book came out in hardcover back in July 2010, and so was also well-timed. It was six months before the FCC finally adopted their Open Internet rules, just in time for every tech policy wonk in the White House, FCC, and Congress to read the book or buy a copy, prominently display it on their desk, and pretend they had while debating the finer points of the forthcoming Open Internet rules. There was a several month stretch during which I saw her book on the shelves of a White House staffer, a Washington Post reporter, and the head of a think tank.
For those unfamiliar with Barbara van Schewick, she is a law professor at Stanford Law School. Her work was cited repeatedly in the FCC’s Open Internet order and has shaped how all of us think about network neutrality, whether we oppose or support it, whether we’re mere civilians or government officials. Her work hasn’t just influenced the American debate and American law; European regulators are intimately familiar with her work. She is a super thoughtful scholar, driven by analytical theory and evidence, looking at the issues from every angle. You have to grapple with her objections.
Here are all her fancy titles: Associate Professor of Law and Helen L. Crocker Faculty Scholar at Stanford Law School, an Associate Professor (by courtesy) of Electrical Engineering in Stanford University’s Department of Electrical Engineering, Director of Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society.
I wrote a review of the book when the hardcover came out and Larry Lessig helped get the review on BoingBoing. Many of the top thinkers in Internet policy have recommended the book and explained how much it influenced them. (Here are several of them.)
I’ll include a section of my previous review. I thought of her analysis today in fact–I saw the CEO of Uber speak in Washington, DC and he explained how he wasn’t trying to create a company. He just wanted to create a button for 100 of his friends to press and have a nice ride roll up. It became a business–the amazing Uber now in 17 cities–out of that happy accident.
My Favorite Part
This is one of those rare books where every chapter is full of novel and important ideas. But I’ll tell you about my very favorite part. In the eighth chapter, beginning with “The Value of Many Innovators,” van Schewick presents the stories of how several major technologies were born: Google, Flickr, EBay, 37Signals, Twitter, and even the World Wide Web, email, and web-based email. I had always suspected that the “accidental” beginnings and unexpected successes of these technologies were a series flukes, one fluke after another. Rather, van Schewick explains, it’s a pattern. Her models actually predict the pattern accurately–unlike other academic models like the efficient market hypothesis and theories on valuing derivatives. These entrepreneurial stories (or case studies, to academics) are eye-opening; they’re also counter-intuitive unless you consider the management science and evolutionary economics van Schewick applies to analyze them. So if you wondered what the invention of Flickr, Google, Twitter, and the World Wide Web had in common, van Schewick answers the question.