Home » CurrentHeader, Digital Insight

Top 5 Tech Policy Issues of 2011

By 7 January 2011 6 Comments

It has been a busy 2010 in the world of technology policy, and now we head full tilt into the wild blue yonder of 2011 hoping for free market successes and less rain slicked precipices.  It should be noted that this Top 5 list is of my own accord (As an aside I’ve always find that phrase humorous.  Shouldn’t it be assumed that one is in agreement with themself?), and not some “official” organizational position.  But I’m fine if you hold me to it and send me sarcastic email at this point next year if something doesn’t turn out.  Without further ado:



Thought this was going away did you?  Well too bad.  The reality of the Net Neutrality issue is that because of the FCC’s new rules, the issue is no longer a cornucopia of various ideas, technologies, and arguments.  The way Net Neutrality existed prior to late December of 2010 was sort of this Free Press wardrobe of whatever you wanted it to be.  Now there’s actually rules in place with definitions (sort of) for what you’re talking about.  Policy analysts and engineers alike will now be able to hone in on a specific area of Net Neutrality and bang the drum for all it’s worth.

Additionally, in what may be the most ironic part of the FCC Net Neutrality hypocrisy is that now that we have legalese on papyrus the big dogs can gear up their lawyers and send them to court to take on the FCC’s right to dictate certain power moves over private property.  The small mom & pops and start-ups without access to big money lawyers are left out in the cold to fend for themselves.  These are the folks Net Neutrality regulation is supposedly going to protect.  But in reality, whenever regulation comes into play with anything, the guys with the deeper pockets will win.  It’s not their fault that they have more money to hire lawyers, it’s really the fault of brain dead bureaucrats that continually make these types of maneuvers thinking that “maybe this time” it will actually protect the little guy.

In short, plenty to see and do in the land of Net Neutrality.  It remains the top issue of the tech policy land in 2011.


The runner-up to Net Neutrality will be the National Broadband Plan which essentially spent most of 2010 under the cover of darkness.  It has clearly not been a talking point amongst most of us in the tech policy world in the last year, but was a big issue in 2009 when the plan first came into play with the American Recovery Act.  This is about to change.  In 2011 there will be more interest in where the money has gone, and how the plan has progressed roughly two years into the process and a year after much of the money was given out.  In 2009 I wrote about my concerns with the plan and the likelihood of it becoming a slippery slope for nationalization and transforming private networks into public utilities (just ask Australia).  But speaking of Australia, the Skippies have some good logistical ideas when it comes to what types of broadband to implement and where to implement it, which furthermore brings into question the efficiency and financial responsibility of our plan.

Another major issue that will be ripe for discussion in 2011 with the NBP will be the speed goals.  In 2009 when the plan was coming to life 100Mbps sounded like future technology.  The United States government thought that everyone should have 100Mbps ten years out from the implementation of the plan.  Many have questioned the reality of this.  I question the lack of vision.  We are talking ten years here!  I recall being in graduate school in 2005 and being blown away that I was getting 6Mbps down from Comcast off campus.  A mere 5 years later 50Mbps service is a norm for fiber customers and many DOCSIS 3.0 customers.  Some cable companies like Comcast, Cox and Charter have promised that 100Mbps service will arrive this year, and some areas these companies service already have these downspeeds as they were lucky enough to serve as test beds.  So is 100Mbps really a good goal to set for 10 years out when in the two years since the passing of the NBP speed increases in the neighborhood of 5 times faster than 2008 norms have occurred without government involvement?  One of the really interesting debates on the issue recently has been between Craig Settles and NBP Director Blair Levin.  You can read their back and forth at GigaOm: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.


No one really thinks that the Internet is impervious to regulatory creep, right?  Well if you did, blah, blah, blah, swampland.  The reality is that unless Congress or the Courts were to de-regulate the recent Open Internet regulation, it’s not going to stop there.  Because of recent increased chatter on the wire about Internet taxation either via national decree or increasingly more states passing laws forcing the collection of taxes I bring it in at #3 on the list.  Technically speaking, the notion that the Internet is a tax free zone is entirely a myth.  And I plan to write more specifically on the subject in the near future.  The reason you don’t currently pay taxes on Internet purchases and services is because of some age old laws that applied to catalog companies that were based out of state.  Seeking the remittance of taxes owed them was just too difficult for the states.  So the burden was placed on the honesty system.  When you buy that new set of golf clubs online from an out of state vendor that does not have a brick and mortar location in your state you do not have to pay taxes to that vendor at the time of purchase on the Internet, but you are technically supposed to be turning those tax dollars over to the state at the end of the year.  I trust that you all are doing that.

Don’t be surprised in 2011 when you start hearing that the Net should be taxed and that the early tax free days were just to help it get off the ground.  There’s really no technological excuse as the ability of computers to figure out taxes for multiple states, counties, cities, and municipalities is easier than filling out that 1040 every year, even the easy one.

4) MOAR! Neutrality:

Coming in at #4 on the list is MOAR! Neutrality.  MOAR! is not to be confused with simply needing “more”.  You can brush up on the meme here. Now that we have Internet Neutrality, expect to start hearing that we need MOAR! neutrality across the board.  We will need neutrality in system design, operating systems, in walled gardens, in applications, gadgets, swimming pools, and ice cream sandwiches.  Everything must be neutral in 2011.  This is the year of neutrality, and Switzerland is all smiles.  I actually fear talking about this subject very much because I would hate to give anyone any ideas.  But expect the neutrality mantra to be carried into other genres, products, and services in 2011.


Understandably video games in the grand scheme of things are less important than other tech policy issues.  I struggled to type that, but it is the truth of the matter.  However, because of three very important cases 2011 will be a very big year for law that dictates video games.  In fact, it may be the biggest year ever in video game law, and therefore game law barely makes the cut at #5. In the last several months we have seen these ground breaking cases in the area of game law:

Vernor v. Autodesk, Inc deemed video games licensed goods, and consumers do not really own the programs that are in their possession.  The fall out of this ruling could have rippling effects throughout the industry, but a major concern has been over the ability of game owners to sell their used games, which I discussed here.  Because of the ruling there is potential that game developers and publishers, which in most cases do not like the used games market, could incorporate into their EULA (End User License Agreement) that their game cannot be resold.

In addition to this is the Supreme Court decision in Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association which is expected to come down in the summer of 2011.  The case is examining a California law banning violence in video games.  The case is expected to be the definitive free speech case on the issue.

And finally we wait to see the fall out in 2011 from a recent court case involving Blizzard and their game World of Warcraft in which it was determined that “bot” programs that automate processes, or any third-party software used in conjunction with a video games for that matter, is not a copyright violation.  The consumer using third-party software will most likely still be in contract violation of the games EULA.  However, as long as a third-party bot developer can create their software without it breaking any security features of a video game they could legally sell their product and the responsibility would be the consumers.  This is a potential multi-million dollar industry waiting to be born.

Honorable Mention:

Media Reform, Free Culture Movement, and some future Apple product that will be twisted into a policy issue.

P.S. John Taylor said I botched it with no mention of spectrum. Probably. Sorry about the miss. Though I did say you could send me sarcastic email next year if I was wrong about anything.


  • Garrett said:


    Sir, I would expand your definition of #5 from just “Game Law” to “Digital Property Rights” as these issues don’t just affect games but all digital (and sometimes non-digital ref: Costco V Omega) goods.

    Very Respectfully,
    Garrett Heaton

  • Nick R Brown (author) said:

    Nah, I realize these cases affect other areas in technology. But the sole purpose they were mentioned is because of the significance they pose within video games specifically. Outside of that specific area they would not be significant enough to make the list as hundreds of copyright trials occur every year.

    And you have to remember. The post is regarding the top tech policy issues of 2011, and is not simply conjecture on what all areas those cases may pertain. Rather it is the specific suggestion that Game Law specifically will be a top tech policy issue in 2011 with those cases being an example as to why that will be so.

  • George Ou said:

    @D. Hoover

    That “is an encyclopedia like a wikipedia” comment had me ROTFL.

    Yes, they’ve wanted to go after the App Store for some time. That’s why the current FCC went after Apple for rejecting Google Voice even when there was no official complaint from Google.
    I also did an interview with NPR’s Laura Sydel and she asked me about Wireless Net Neutrality. I asked her if you would ban the free 3G Kindle model where Amazon has a walled garden for web access. Took her a second of thinking to answer a resounding “YES, I would ban the Kindle 3G model”.

  • Nick R Brown (author) said:

    @D. Hoover,
    Look out for AOL’s walled garden to be condemned as a NN violation since it is different from the “real and open Internet”. :)