2014 was a marquee year for tech policy, as debates over net neutrality, NSA surveillance, and other key issues took center stage in America’s political discourse. TechFreedom has played an increasingly vital role in these debates. We sounded the alarm on heavy-handed Internet regulation and unconstitutional spying by intelligence agencies. We promoted commonsense reforms and updates to our nation’s aging regulatory policies. We launched our first grassroots petition campaign, unveiled a TV show, and increased our media footprint.
Here are the top themes that united TechFreedom’s work in 2014:
- Net Neutrality. Nearly 150,000 people visited “Don’t Break the Net!”, which explains the downsides of Title II. Nearly 25,000 used the site to file comments asking the FCC not to regulate the Internet like a 1930s utility. Our efforts helped Title II opponents dominate the second round of FCC comments. We also filed the longest set of comments on the FCC’s proposed rules, explaining the legal and practical pitfalls of heavy-handed Internet regulation in detail.
- #CommActUpdate: The 1934 Communications Act turned 80 in June. We spent the year urging lawmakers to write a Comm Act fit for the Digital Age. The problem isn’t just that Title II of the Act is unworkable or that the entire tech-silo approach no longer makes sense. The FCC’s claim that Section 706 allows it to do whatever the agency claims will promote broadband deployment could lead to broader, unchecked regulation of the entire Internet, not just broadband.
- Broadband Deployment: Americans want faster, cheaper broadband and, yes, more choices, but government-run broadband isn’t the answer. We urged government at all levels to focus on making private broadband deployment easier before assuming the answer is state control. And the last thing government should do is raise taxes on communications services, whether that’s by imposing Title II or expanding E-Rate subsidies (instead of fixing the broken, bloated program).
- Stand Against Spying! The NSA’s bulk collection and retention of telephone and Internet records violates our constitutional rights and international law. We joined “Stand Against Spying,” a diverse coalition urging an end to blanket surveillance. We also urged Congress to to fix the watered-down USA Freedom Act, step up its NSA oversight, and pass ECPA reform to protect our cloud data from warrantless searches.
- Big Data: It’s high time that Congress convened a Privacy Law Modernization Commission to identify gaps in current laws on both consumer protection and government collection and use of data. Any assessment of how the private sector uses Big Data needs to incorporate economic and First Amendment analysis, as we told the White House and the Federal Trade Commission.
- FTC Reform: The FTC’s recent enforcement actions against Amazon and Apple raise important questions about the agency’s consumer protection practices. As part of our ongoing “FTC: Technology and Reform” project, we hosted a luncheon to explore the FTC’s use of economics in consumer protection cases.
- Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency: Virtual currencies could revolutionize business, offering far greater privacy and security and cutting transaction costs. But state regulation could get in the way. We teamed up with Coin Center and the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) to urge New York regulators to avoid creating new privacy risks for users and businesses.
- Merger Review: We think opposition to the merger of Comcast and Time Warner is misdirected: blocking the merger won’t help broadband deployment, the merger won’t actually hurt competition, and would actually accelerate faster broadband deployment and more affordable service for underserved communities. Contrary to popular perception, cable companies are facing increasingly stiff competition as telcos upgrade their networks to next-gen DSL. Similarly, an AT&T-DirecTV merger would help AT&T compete more effectively with cable companies and lower costs for consumers.
- FCC Process: Tom Wheeler’s FCC has been the most partisan and dysfunctional in recent memory. Even as Wheeler creates an increasingly Imperial Chairmanship, refusing to allow votes on key issues, he risks turning what is supposed to be an independent agency into another arm of the Imperial Presidency — if he caves to the President’s unprecedented meddling with the FCC’s decision-making. We led a coalition of groups in urging Wheeler to stop playing partisan politics and turning complex decisionmaking into contests over who drum up the most auto-generated comments. We warned that, if the Chairman continues his autocratic approach, he risks provoking Congress into fundamentally reworking the FCC’s structure and authority.
- Spectrum Crunch: Want faster wireless service? Blame the government, which has been slow to redirect spectrum towards broadband — from government agencies and private broadcasters, which use their spectrum inefficiently. We’ve supported bipartisan efforts to free up under-utilized government spectrum and spur broadband investment. And we’re keeping a close eye on the FCC’s tampering with auctions of broadcast spectrum, which could reduce the amount of spectrum made available for mobile broadband.
We also spent 2014 growing as an organization and exploring new platforms:
- TechFreedomTV: This new show features debates, discussions, and interviews with leading experts in technology, academia, and politics. Subscribe on YouTube today!
- The Great Net Neutrality Debate: We gathered top thinkers in the tech policy world for an epic debate on net neutrality.
- Title II, “A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing”: We launched our first viral video to explain the bait-and-switch by which Title II has been substituted for net neutrality.
What can you expect in 2015?
- Net Neutrality: We want to see a legislative compromise that focuses on real threats to competition while constraining the FCC’s discretion. If Wheeler short-circuits that process, we’ll support a legal challenge to Title II — and keep working on a legislative solution.
- #CommActUpdate: If Congress can compromise on net neutrality, that could help clear the way for a long-overdue rewrite.
- Promoting Broadband Deployment: There’s a lot Congress and the FCC could do to make deployment easier, but much of the problem is that local and state governments discourage private companies, even while talking about building their own networks. Competition, not regulation and not government-run broadband, is the answer.
- 2015 Tech Agenda: We’ll be unveiling a positive agenda on tech policy for the new Congress to address a slew of unfinished business, including: NSA surveillance, net neutrality, immigration, copyright and patent reform, FCC and FTC process reform, Internet governance, cybersecurity, and broadband deployment. Stay tuned!
- Disruptive Innovation: Uber, AirBnB, Bitcoin and other innovators in the sharing economy are disrupting entire industries — and their too-cozy relationships with regulators. We’ll keep looking for ways to get government out of the way of technological progress.
What can you do to help?
- Follow us and share our work on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr or YouTube — and ask your friends to do so! And sign up for our mailing list!
- Get involved! We’d love to hear from you — feel free to email email@example.com with any ideas you might have. You can check on available positions here and we’re always looking for smart interns.