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Obama’s Missed Opportunity

According to National Journal, Susan Crawford is joining the Obama administration in a significant new role:

“Internet law expert Susan Crawford has joined President Barack Obama’s lineup of tech policy experts at the White House, according to several sources. She will likely hold the title of special assistant to the president for science, technology, and innovation policy, they said.”

This does not make me happy. Crawford is not a technologist, and the job that’s been created for her needs to be filled by a person with deep knowledge of technology, the technology business, and the dynamics in research and business that promote innovation. A life as a legal academic is not good preparation for this kind of a job. Crawford is a sweet and well-meaning person, who fervently believes that the policy agenda she’s been promoting is good for the average citizen and the general health of the democracy and that sort of thing, but she illustrates the adage that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

As much as she loves the Internet and all that it’s done for modern society, she has precious little knowledge about the practical realities of its operation. Her principal background is service on the ICANN Board, where she listened to debates on the number of TLDs the Internet needs and that sort of thing. IETF engineers generally scoff at ICANN as a bloated, inefficient, and ineffective organization that deals with issues that no serious engineer wants anything to do with. Her other qualification is an advisory role in Public Knowledge, a big player on the Google side of the net neutrality and copyright debates.

At my recent panel discussion at MAAWG, I warned the audience that Crawford’s selection to co-manage the Obama transition team’s FCC oversight was an indication that extreme views on Internet regulation might become mainstream. It appears that my worst fears have been realized. Crawford has said that Internet traffic must not be shaped, managed, or prioritized by ISPs and core networking providers, which is a mistake of the worst kind. While work is being done all over the world to adapt the Internet to the needs of a more diverse mix of applications than it’s traditionally handled, Crawford harbors the seriously misguided belief that it already handles diverse applications well enough. Nothing could be farther from the truth, of course; P2P has interesting uses, but it degrades the performance of VoIP and video calling. This is an engineering problem that can be solved, but which won’t be if the constraints on traffic management are too severe. People who harbor the religious approach to network management that Crawford professes have so far been an interesting sideshow in the network management wars, but if their views come to dominate the regulatory framework, the Internet will be in serious danger.

Creating a position for a special adviser on science, technology and innovation gave President Obama the opportunity to to lay the foundations for a strong policy focus in a significant area. Filling it with a law professor instead of a legitimate technologist simply reinforces the creeping cynicism that suggests Obama is less about transformational change than business as usual. That’s a shame.

By Richard Bennett, Consultant

Richard is co-creator of the Ethernet and Wi-Fi standards.

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I like Susan and appreciate her viewpoints .. Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Mar 26, 2009 4:18 AM

But I must agree with Richard. Reluctantly.

One thing that’s going to help far more here is an open mind that sees both sides of some of these debates - filtering, net neutrality etc.

Which part of the word "policy" did you not understand? Paul Hoffman  –  Mar 26, 2009 3:23 PM

The article you quoted (which still has not been substantiated in the real news, as far as I can tell), says “She will likely hold the title of special assistant to the president for science, technology, and innovation policy, they said”. Some people think that putting someone who is not a policy expert in a policy role might be less than optimal. Susan is a policy and law person who absorbs tech like a sponge. Personally, I’m thrilled that the leader of a major country will have a high-level policy advisor who deeply understands technical details of the Internet.

Crawford is not that person Richard Bennett  –  Mar 26, 2009 5:15 PM

The president has policy advisers on all sorts of subjects, and each of them has more than a passing knowledge of the issues in their area. Crawford understands the Internet in metaphoric terms, not as a real thing. She argues that all forms of traffic shaping are bad, for example, and no serious technologist agrees with her. I write that off as failure to understand the dynamics and economics of the Internet's feedback loops, but if she did actually understand such things and *still* argued that the whole system has to *literally* be a "fat, dumb pipe*, that would make her a fanatic.

We must be talking about a different person Paul Hoffman  –  Mar 26, 2009 8:41 PM

"Crawford understands the Internet in metaphoric terms, not as a real thing." Hrm. The Susan Crawford I have spoken with about the Internet understood it as a real thing. She spoke about actual protocols and bits on the wire, more than almost any other leader in ICANN, and many analysts. She understood IPv6, she understood DNS, and so on. Are you sure about your statements about what she does and does not understand?

Quite sure Richard Bennett  –  Mar 26, 2009 9:10 PM

I've raised questions with Crawford face-to-face and on her blog about congestion, RED, DiffServ, QoS, latency, ECN, and jitter, and in every instance I got a blank stare. Her writing about Internet management contains no meaningful detail, and relies heavily in ill-defined and prejudicial notions like "discrimination is bad." Her description of the old Comcast system that applied a bandwidth quota to P2P described it as "Comcast is pretending to be you," equating it with identity theft. Crawford is one very confused person. I don't doubt that she has tried to learn about Internet protocols by talking to people who she thinks understand them, and that she has absorbed their views like a sponge. She has clearly absorbed David Isenberg's ideas, for example. But she's made the mistake of talking to the wrong people and absorbing bad, incomplete, and one-sided ideas. As I said, she has a little knowledge, just enough to be dangerous. I expected much more of President Obama than the appointment of a well-meaning and clueless law professor to advise him about science, tech, and innovation. This is not the right person for this job.

Relax Dan Campbell  –  Mar 27, 2009 3:34 AM

Wow, where to start.  I’ve tried to stay out of this argument and frankly anything that Joe xx is involved in but no longer can.  This is getting ridiculous.

First of all, Joe “xx”, you claim that everyone is attacking and ridiculing you, yet I’ve kept up on your comments since you’ve joined and it appears to me that it really is you that provide the bulk of the sarcastic, obnoxious, childish comments.  You can’t fault others for eventually losing their patience and retaliating.  In this post you are the first comment and immediately call out Richard as an “overstuffed pompous ass” and make many other obnoxious comments.  That is not necessary.  Perhaps you should read CircleID’s Code of Conduct.

A few things…

1. First, stop being anonymous and just post your name.  It is cowardly to hide behind an anonymous “Joe xx” moniker and post obnoxious comments.  CircleID is a respectable blog composed of a wide variety of people from different parts of the industry – engineers, business people, lawyers and law professors, academics, etc. - that are trying to collaborate and share opinions.  We won’t agree on everything, that’s the point, and the debates are good so long as they remain professional.  CircleID is not intended to be like the many other blogs where people log on anonymously to badger other people and cause trouble.  If that’s what you want to do, please go elsewhere.  In the meantime, be a man (or woman, if that is the case but who knows?), and show your name please.  You can make your rebuttals and points sternly if you want, but be professional.

2. Along the same lines, please provide some sort of bio of yourself in the “About” section.  This goes along with being anonymous.  By providing details on your background it gives people an idea of where your opinion is coming from, what experience you may have (or not) and what affiliations you may have the shape your opinion.  As I said, there are many other anonymous blogs out there if you like, and they are a waste of time.  In the Comcast / network neutrality debate, they bordered on lunacy, and many anonymous comments sounded (from the spelling, grammar, writing style, maturity and general tone) like they were from some inexperienced immature 15 year old HS student who was upset that Comcast was preventing him from stealing music, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s exactly who it was.  CircleID is no place for that.

3. Contribute something to the CircleID blog community besides just comments.  You been a member for less than 3 months yet you already have about 50 comments and a whopping ZERO posts of original thoughts and material.  As I have said before, there’s a reason there are more critics in this world than artists – it’s easy to sit back and criticize someone else’s original work than to create something yourself and have the guts to put it out there for others to critique.  Critics are a dime a dozen and are often misinformed.  Clearly you have plenty of time on your hands to read and comment on other posts.  Many of your comments contain quite a bit of background material, as if you had to do some research or at least some thinking about the topic.  Why don’t you package it all into a consolidated original post and allow others to comment?  Seriously, contribute something, anything.

Again, CircleID is a respectable blog and behavior like yours just drags it down. 

Please don’t.

On Crawford Dan Campbell  –  Mar 27, 2009 3:40 AM

Now, as far as Crawford.  I don’t have an opinion on whether that position should be filled by someone with more of a legal / policy background or one with more of a business or technical background.  There are good points here on either side.  But I mostly agree with Richard with respect to Crawford’s technical abilities.  I have followed Crawford’s posts and it is crystal clear to me beyond any reasonable doubt that she doesn’t know much about network technology, the practical realities of the Internet, or even the business and financial parameters that govern service providers’ business models.  She may be a brilliant lawyer and law professor – I don’t know, I’m not in a position to judge and wouldn’t have the knowledge to do so if I was.  But I do have the technical and business background in this industry to know that she doesn’t have it.  Her posts are evidence of it.  One of her posts was so incredibly bad that not only will I no longer bother commenting on her posts, I won’t even bother reading them anymore.  It began using some analogy about walking down the sidewalk with a friend and the sidewalk listening into the conversation or something.  Suresh – I think I remember you calling her out (rightfully so) on it being a really bad post not fit for CircleID.

As everyone knows, she has been active in promoting Network Neutrality, which is a noble cause but one that is often more an unachievable ideal in light of today’s practical limitations.  As Richard said, her views on network neutrality and how the Internet can and should be operated are incredibly naïve, idealistic and misinformed.  They may be nice thoughts in a perfect world but they don’t represent reality, and as Richard said she is not technical enough to know anything about the plethora of traffic shaping technologies out there much less how they could or should be applied.

Heck, Brett Watson, even you eventually conceded that some forms of traffic shaping were appropriate and justified on the Internet, though you seemed to prefer an application- agnostic total rate cap / traffic limit, or maybe a DiffServ model rather than the (inelegant) Sandvine / P-Cube model.  Crawford seems to say that you can’t do ANYTHING to a packet other than forward it.

Crawford seems to think the Internet should be, as Richard put it, a big fat dumb pipe.  I wonder if she realizes how much manipulation of her traffic actually goes on, that the network often “tells” her computer, in one way or another, to throttle back and reduce transmission speed, that the network will throw her traffic out periodically whether discriminating by application or not, that her traffic may be redirected (e.g., to a cache) or translated in some way, or if probably 9 out of 10 times she uses the Web her PC’s IP address is changed and probably to one that is shared by others (in which case her port numbers are changed as well.)  But I wonder if she knows what a port is?

The NN debate is complicated.  The best I can do to simplify it is to reduce it to 3 areas: legal/policy, technical and business.  There are probably other valid areas that can stand on their own as well, but that’s the best I can do to simplify it.  I think you need to bring experience in at least 2 of the 3 to the table to be able to present a valid argument.  Crawford brings only the legal side, which isn’t enough.  Congrats to her, that’s a great appointment for her and something to be proud of as none of us here qualified (at least no on the legal/policy side), but I just hope she does a bit of reading, learning, consultation (with technical and business folks), keeps an open mind, and does the right thing for everyone.

Crawford belongs to a school of thought you can probably see a lot of on the IP list .. Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Mar 27, 2009 4:27 AM

It is shared by some extremely intelligent people, with substantial tech background but is unfortunately ill-informed, to say the least. Several posts on Dave Farber's IP list are from highly vocal, intelligent but - as I said, uninformed people who share that school of thought, the same one Ms.Crawford appears to share. Joe-xx is unfortunately not the only one to conflate everything from spam filtering to differential treatment of various applications / protocols into the catchall term 'net neutrality'. Several organizations that have been solidly democrat (and a large part of the 'internet' presence the democrats have had for some years now) - such as moveon.org - have advocated precisely this kind of viewpoint. The trouble with that kind of policy advocacy is that it is extremely glib, founded on wrong headed ideologies, and enthusiastically tries to harness grassroots support from even less informed people. Effectively, an overuse of what is called a 'meme' these days, but is a principle that's been a mainstay of propaganda cited even by people like Goebbels (yes, I'm probably invoking Godwin's law here, but ..). The one that goes 'keep repeating something and even if it isnt true people will start to believe it'. This is characterized by wrong, just plain silly (but in the end result, harmful) analogies - such as the 'goodmail is blackmail' campaign moveon and others launched some years back with various posters all coming out with posts about AOL / Goodmail that involved words like 'shakedown' and 'big brother', and this circleid article by Susan you cited, where the net neutrality debate somehow manages to morph itself into 'the sidewalk snooping on you'. Too many people have read Orwell. And too many of them are eager to over-stretch his message in order to fit it into this current situation. And that's something which saddens me. I have had my share of battles with the EFF / moveon etc when these tactics were applied to spam filtering. I run a network that filters spam, so that I could take the nonsense being spouted there personally enough to respond and react to people like Brad Templeton, Danny O'Brien, Cindy Cohn etc in multiple places (IP/Politech, Circleid etc). The network neutrality debate is repetitive enough to bore me, and I dont run a network that provides 'internet access' (cable/dsl etc connectivity). So, I've somehow managed to resist the temptation to rebut various advocates of net neutrality in the same manner. The debate I've seen so far is even more boringly ill-informed than the one on spam filtering was, and I dont quite have the time and inclination to rebut this kind of posturing more than occasionally. Ms.Crawford making such statements was one such occasion. I doubt if it were political, in her case, but she is a victim to a certain school of thought that I deeply disagree with. It is a school of thought that doesnt seek to distinguish between 'friends' and 'enemies' .. 'friends' in this case being people from the internet security and network operations community who seek to use the same tools that are being decried by various people (DPI for example) to ensure the safety and well being of internet rather than to make money out of it. ISP network security jobs actually pay a lot less than most people think they do. And none of the people opposing this kind of nonsense gets a better salary because they're out to favor one application over another to make money out of such discrimination. Network security is a cost center, even a loss leader rather than a profit center - but it is an absolutely essential cost center, the consequences of not having it around do not bear thinking about, any more than the consequences of my running stop lights or going down one way streets because traffic restrictions are a violation of road neutrality. And senseless advocacy of network neutrality, that translates to a blind distrust of DPI, spam filtering etc as 'violations of network neutrality' has far worse consequences than if I were to end up in hospital and have my car get totaled because of my blind advocacy of 'road neutrality'.

Ah... the problem becomes clear The Famous Brett Watson  –  Mar 27, 2009 6:19 AM

As I said earlier, nobody ever opposes an innate good like transparency or truth in advertising. We don't have to go to the cynical extreme of Goebbels and the lie oft repeated to understand what's going on. It's a simple case of, "people will claim the moral high ground, no matter what their position." For example, everyone is anti-spam in principle, but the spammers themselves claim the moral high ground of supporting freedom of speech, and the likes of the EFF claims the moral high ground by being anti-censorship. (And people who support censorship claim the moral high ground of protecting the children, and so on.) This article by Richard Bennet is just another example of that. The simple fact of the matter is that Richard is vehemently opposed to Susan's ideological position on matters of Net Neutrality and such like. As such, he thinks that her influence on policymaking will be terrible. If he'd simply pointed out some of her more extreme views as examples of this, I probably would have agreed with him. Instead, however, he takes the approach of besmirching Ms Crawford's knowledge and qualifications. Why's that? I think it's just the same old rhetorical device mentioned above: claiming the moral high ground. It's patently obvious that we don't want an ignorant or unsuitably qualified person in such a high position. Who could possibly argue against that? If you forsake this rhetorical weapon and simply say, "I don't like her policies", your position becomes much more assailable. Paul Hoffman and I have been making the error of defending Ms Crawford's knowledge and the appropriateness of her qualifications. We did so because that's what Richard's article was about. How silly of us: those topics were never really the point! They were just collateral damage in an attack on Ms Crawford's ideological views. Sadly, however, it won't be possible to have a rational discussion about policies here. Richard has chosen to attack Ms Crawford's knowledge and qualifications, and when one attacks, one must resolve to win. As such, I don't hold any hope that this discussion can rise above the level of "political slanging match". And on that note, I'll bow out.

Ideology as opposed to ideals is not the best way to get unbiased advice Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Mar 27, 2009 6:39 AM

I like Susan Crawford, and I respect her too. But ideological blinkers of one kind or the other are not appropriate for someone in such a post as Ms.Crawford is. An open mind, and an unbiased viewpoint are all that I ask for.

False Dichotomy Richard Bennett  –  Mar 27, 2009 9:37 AM

I made a case for Crawford's unsuitability to advise the president on science, technology, and innovation on the basis of her failure to meet the minimum requirements for the job because that's the first question that I ask about any presidential appointee since the Bush administration made a practice of crony appointees. The fact that Crawford happens to hold wild and fanatical views on Internet regulation is secondary in my mind to her general lack of understanding of the Internet, but probably indicative of it as well. The general public likes to divide people into "Internet expert" & "Internet non-expert" groups, often inappropriately (people who worked in IP protocols 30 years ago tend to be regarded as experts even if they've done nothing since,) so I'd like to establish that Crawford is no expert in this area, not to mention her total lack of understanding of science in general (she was a media studies major as an undergrad) and of technology outside the scope of ICANN. So my criticism doesn't hide an ant-neutralist agenda. There are forms of net neutrality that I can agree with and others that I can't. The better definitions come from technical people who endeavor to get beyond the "happy bunny rabbit dreams" of utopian virtual networks where everything is done by magic and nobody has to pay a bill.

Unqualified and a bad choice, for many reasons Anonymous Coward  –  Mar 29, 2009 10:37 PM

Firstly, Susan Crawford is not qualified for this post. She is not a technologist and has no technical training; she is, rather, a lawyer and lobbyist. Many of the policy recommendations she has published have reflected a complete lack of understanding of technology (and, in fact, an unwillingness to accept its realities) and would be harmful to the country if they were enacted. As a technologist myself (I created the first wireless broadband Internet service provider), I could make far better recommendations for this post, such as Professor David Farber of CMU (if one wanted someone who was primarily a technologist but also had a policy background) or the University of Pennsylvania’s Professor Christopher Yoo (if one wanted someone who is primarily a legal scholar but also understands technology and economics). Both have a far deeper and more well rounded understanding of both technology and policy than Crawford.

Secondly, Susan is part of (and sits on the “advisory board” of) a lobbying organization known as Public Knowledge, which has been lobbying Congress and the Administration on many issues. Most recently, Public Knowledge has been urging government officials to impose extremely stringent regulation upon the Internet—regulation which could destroy competition and innovation, dry up investment capital, and prevent deployment to unserved areas. Susan herself has recently appeared before Congress promoting her organization’s views. Since it is this Administration’s policy not to hire lobbyists to work in areas where they have lobbied—a policy of which I, as a citizen, very much approve—this likewise disqualifies her for this appointment.

Finally, and most disturbingly, Ms. Crawford has made false statements to Congress in an effort to promote her lobbying agendas. In a speech to the Antitrust Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee about one year ago, Susan stated that there is no competition in the realm of Internet services. Ironically, I—a competitive Internet service provider—was in the hearing room at the time! But despite the fact that I approached Susan during the break and pointed out that I and my approximately 4,000 fellow independent Internet service providers were indeed creating a great deal of competition in the marketplace, Ms. Crawford continued to state otherwise to Congress. Needless to say, the administration should not be comfortable appointing a lobbyist who made false statements to Congress, in an attempt to mislead it into crafting bad policy, as an advisor.

—Brett Glass

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