John Wohlstetter

Senior Fellow, Discovery Institute


Hollywood & Thine

Are PVRs "Property of Video & Recording Studios"?
If my right to extend my fist stops at your nose, does Michael Eisner’s right to extend his “spyware” stop at your Personal Video Recorder (PVR)? Usually, but Eisner and his Hollywood chums have rights, too. The video pirate who crashes a pre-theater screening of J-Lo’s latest, with a mini-camcorder to lift a pre-release print for black market production and distribution to your PVR, is a thief — one without the celluloid charm Cary Grant lavished on Grace Kelly, to be sure.

Info-War Invades Iraq

On a single horrific night in March 1945, more than 300 B-29 Superfortress bombers saturated Tokyo with napalm and incendiary explosives. The resulting firestorm devoured a quarter of the city, leaving at least one hundred thousand civilians dead and countless others hideously wounded.

Broadband Lite Blossoms:

Whither the "Visionary Gleam"?
Once upon a time broadband meant a cornucopia of services delivered via telecommunications, from frivolities like online video games to vital services like telemedicine, which enables prevention, and remote diagnosis, of disease. Computer science polymath David Gelernter looked towards “the day software puts the universe in a shoebox”— “mirror worlds” in which multi-dimensional virtual space becomes available over vast networks to all users.

Networks for Nothing, Inc.

WorldCom Unbound
Faced with the largest financial fraud in history, what should the feds do? Like Godzilla risen anew from the depths, WorldCom – soon be to rechristened MCI – is poised to emerge from bankruptcy blessed by the federal government.

Cyber-Safe Meets Fail-Safe

The Bush Strategy
This February the Bush Administration released The National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, a long-awaited document spelling out the nation’s cyber-security strategy, a crucial element falling into the homeland security portfolio. Heightening cyber-fears is the military’s concern about battlefield e-mails sent home, which travel through the public networks at the end of their cyber-journey; the military has its own Secret Internet Protocol Network for war messages

The 3-Wire World

Washington has often bedeviled captains of industry, as the telecom industry learned in its infancy. Trans-Atlantic cable entrepreneur Cyrus Field’s brother Henry said of the time he and his brother spent lobbying Congress to match the British investment share (4 percent) in the first cable: “Those few weeks in Washington were worse than being among the icebergs off the coast of Newfoundland. The Atlantic Cable has many a kink since, but never did it seem to be entangled in such a hopeless twist as when it got among the politicians.”

Martin and Lewis at the FCC

The Federal Communications Commission’s February 20 ruling on telecom competition policy is truly beyond satire. Writing into the night like a high school student cobbling together a term paper just before semester’s end, cutting and pasting a 400-page monstrosity, forming a majority by clandestine negotiations behind the chairman’s back, is crazy enough. But then add the two Democratic commissioners, gifts to the FCC from Fritz Hollings and Tom Daschle, who admit in open session that they do not know the full order they are voting on, but that minor fact notwithstanding they will support it. (As Dave Barry says: “I am NOT making this up.”) Stir in Republican usurper Kevin Martin, whose “Jeffords Jump” creates a Democratic FCC majority over key

Dumber than “Dumb and Dumber”

Saving WorldCom
Near the end of his tenure as WorldCom CEO, John Sidgmore told a trade association audience: “If you get away from the debt and fraud, this is a tremendous company with tremendous asset [sic]. It needs to be saved and it will be.” And if you get away from the terrorism and mass murder, al- Qai’da is a transnational affinity group, right?

9-11 Plus One

Have Lessons Been Learned?
The year since “the world changed” has been marked by many changes in American life. By solid margins, both houses of Congress have just voted to authorize the President to use preemptive force against an adversary, based upon apprehension of a threat of mass terror whose imminence is the subject of sharp disagreement.

Local and Long Distance

Deja Vu All Over Again?
WorldCom’s spectacular implosion seems to have caught many regulators by surprise. They missed it partly because they were unable to see that the core voice business of the long distance industry was collapsing. Long distance managements were loudly trumpeting the Internet Age, when data revenues would rise so steeply that voice could be free. That vision likely will come true — eventually. But data revenues in recent years did not grow fast enough to replace losses in voice revenues; this made inevitable WorldCom’s bankruptcy.

Tsar of Telephony

Comes Now the Ghost of Judge Green Past
The Supreme Court recently considered the future of telecommunications regulatory policy, and responded by resurrecting a ghost from the bygone era of monopoly telephony. This threatens the growth of robust facilities-based telecommunications market competition — most notably, that for emerging broadband data and video services.

FCC Reform

Today's Agency and the Ghost of Commissioners Past
It seems almost churlish to suggest reforms for an agency whose current commissioners have shown signs of a welcome shift away from harmful policies of the past. It amounts to penalizing those doing pretty well now for acts of predecessors who did great damage. But there is no assurance that some future constellation of commissioners will retain good judgment, and there is ever the problem of attitudes among longtime staff. Thus, certain reforms are appropriate notwithstanding today’s solid cast at the agency.

The Enron Network

The Emerging Telecom Industry Structure
It has been widely predicted that the collapse of Enron and its politically explosive aftermath will not spur much in the way of regulatory changes, save those pertaining to accounting, executive compensation and corporate governance. These, of course, may well prove far-reaching. But in another way Enron’s impact will reverberate far beyond specific regulatory changes. Enron will, by revaluing specific companies, radically transform industry structures in the telecommunications industry

The FCC’s Third Broadband Report to Congress

January marked a true Internet access milestone: Americans, between work and home, spent more time online with broadband connections than with narrowband, with 51 percent of total hours of use racked up in the fast lane. Reaching this cross point required a 63.6 percent jump in broadband minutes during 2001, while narrowband usage actually declined, by 3.5 percent.

Internet Nation

Online Once and For All
On February 5 the Department of Commerce released its latest report, A Nation Online: How Americans Are Expanding Their Use of the Internet. Prepared by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the report presents a wealth of data on Americans online. And to be complete as well as democratic, the report discusses why many Americans are offline. But its democratic genuflection to those still offline is tempered by its signature statement: “With more than half of all Americans using computers and the Internet, we are, truly a nation online.”

Techno-Terror II

Will the Networks Be Smarter Than the People?
The previous issue of Bandwidth presented a snapshot of how information and communication technologies can help enormously in fighting the war against terrorism. That the war will be long-term and wider than at present was made clear by President Bush in his State of the Union address: No longer counter-terrorism alone, but also a war waged against states who seek weapons of mass destruction, including preemption if necessary — even in the sole judgement of the United States

Techno-Terror and the Information Society’s Homeland Defense

Reflections Upon the New Year
September 11, 2001 will, in American history, “live in infamy” as surely as did December 7, 1941. And our response to the challenge posed by the atrocities of September 11 must match — in effectiveness, not scale (post-industrial war involves highly specialized human and material resources) — that of the “Greatest Generation” in response to the slaughter of December 7.

DSL Delusions

More Bad History, and Even Worse Policy
According to the investment banking firm Lehman Brothers, Bell company negative cash flow for Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) deployment was $2.5 billion in 1999, $3.7 billion in 2000, and is estimated to be $3.8 billion for 2001. So, say defenders of existing FCC broadband policy, clearly the Commission’s rules have not deterred investment. To the contrary, the existing rules surely must be hospitable to network upgrades, and so no reform is needed. The argument is wrong but in fairness it is hardly frivolous.