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tv   The Communicators Jessica Melugin Director Center for Technology ...  CSPAN  April 26, 2021 8:03pm-8:35pm EDT

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then, senate judiciary subcommittee hears from app developers and representatives of apple and google on app store competition. later a hearing on u.s. military operations in the middle east and in africa. >> c-span if your unfiltered view of government we are funded by these television companies and more, including medco. ♪♪ >> they support c-span is a public service along with these other television providers giving you a front row seat to democracy. spee9. >> host: this week of the indicators we want to introduce
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you to jessica melugin, with the competitive enterprise institute and she is the director of their center for technologies and innovation. ms. melugin, first of all, what is cei and what is the center that you are the director of? >> we are a free market think tank in washington dc and i had up our tech center so a little bit of telecommute occasions, a little bit of internetwork and all the things that seem to go along with that today, including a bit of antitrust work. >> host: so, when you talk about cei being free market is telecommunications a free market right now? >> guest: it has been moving that direction for the last couple of years but you certainly would not mistake it for a laissez-faire marketplace, no. >> host: what are some of your concerns about the current environment in telecommute occasions? >> guest: we are very focused right now on the possible return of net neutrality regulation.
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we fought very hard to have those removed and we've seen a lot of positive broadband progress in the marketplace and we would hate to see any of that reversed or slowed with that that neutrality making a comeback. >> host: what would be the effect, in your view, if net neutrality and title to became the law of the land? >> guest: i think we should expect to see reduced private investment in extending our network and getting broadband to some of the americans that still, unfortunately, do not have it yet. we would be concerned about that and there has been talk of a very heavy-handed approach involving rate regulation and would hate to see that kind of distortion in the market place when art networks serve this station so well during the quarantine and so many people were learning and working and trying to stay entertained at home and our networks did a great job and we think that had something to do with the deregulation that we saw a couple of years ago. >> host: let's bring paul kirby into this conversation. paul has been a long time
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telecommute occasions reporter and he is currently a senior editor with walters tr daily. mr. kirby. >> thank you. cia recently criticized president biden 100 billion-dollar proposal regarding broadband that is part of the jobs act. the administration should focus on taking down government elected barriers and advancing market property rights and this top-down info structure plant would prevent innovation by isolating infrastructure and rogatory silos across the sectors. can you elaborate on those complaints? >> guest: you know, our concern is that if you introduced too much public money into these projects it has the unforeseen effect of chasing out the private investment that is usually much more effective in the spacer you see a lot of problems with overbuilding and places they don't need it in the money not going it is most
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needed for people who really, truly are underserved and we are just concerned that this is a part of technology that moves so quickly and there are so many new innovations and advances happening and we would hate to see any of that slowed because we are working within a very rigid, regulated top-down environment which is more what you get with public funding as opposed to private innovation and entrepreneurship. >> what about areas where the business case can't be made in rural areas where providers feel that subsidies might be necessary. >> guest: that is certainly been the case in the past and those are certainly issues we should examine and look at but our point to in terms of innovations, we have a whole new generation coming online here for low orbiting satellites to provide broadband access and when were dealing with that that takes the distance on land portion out of the equation.
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those are just at the beginning and elon musk is involved in that and other companies are involved in the satellite launches but we see that as the market stepping in and solving the problem and really changing the game so that's an example of how, that's a very difficult for public way to anticipate all the innovations and all the technological process that we can benefit from we would hate to see anything get in the way of that. >> host: jessica melugin, do you view broadband filled out as an infrastructure issue and, if so, do you see any room for government partnerships? >> guest: i think it would be fair to say it is sort of updated definition of infrastructure certainly and there is so much commerce that happens over those lines and so much of our lives are tied up with that now and i do think it's too much of a stretch to say that that might, in some ways, be as important to some people as roads and bridges and i don't think that is a crazy assertion on the
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administration's part but i do thank you have to be careful when you start interfering in the market mechanism and you start moving the incentives around and there is nothing wrong with the profit incentive and that has built out broadband in this country and i would like to make sure that nothing prohibits up from continuing it in the right direction that it has been going. >> the emergency broadband program and that provides three-point to billion dollars to support broadband service discounts and there are $7 billion in funding for the emergency connectivity fund and that would provide money for remote learning subsidies and are these funds wise or are they not wise and will they distort the market? >> guest: i think to some extent you can see benefit from them for sure and it is hard to know in part of what makes it a difficult argument to argue for markets is that you don't know what would happen if you didn't put infuse this public money in.
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i can't show you numbers of what it parallel reality that would've been but i do think that i don't think broadband investment is any exception to the idea that private incentives in the market place usually end up doing a better job getting consumers what they want and at better prices and in a faster way, not to say there isn't room to explore options and there may be special circumstances and obviously this past year in terms of the emergency funding, this country found itself in an unprecedented place and i think that says a lot of the excavation to. >> in your policy agenda for the 117th congress you recommended that lawmakers avoid new mandates or prohibitions with respect to technology and telecommute occasions sectors and all but the most exceptional advances. what were those circumstances be? >> guest: you know, i can't say
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that i have encountered any yet and i don't know what will happen again and this is the crystal ball problem that we are also subjected to as critics of bureaucrats. they don't know the future either and neither do we. i would just say that putting a bunch of, for example, let's say net neutrality regulations again from a rate regulation and all those things i think could hamper the growth that we have been enjoying since the beginning but in an accelerated way in the last couple of years and i would hate to see all the technological promise that we have hopefully coming our way, 5g been a very popular example in some of the prohibitions and net neutrality regulations would be even more problematic in a 5g universe and there will have to be some prioritization of traffic because i don't think any american wants the kind of one-size-fits-all internet but
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doesn't prioritize perhaps something incredibly important and a miraculous piece of innovation like long distant surgery should not be treated same over lines as e-mail or even streaming your favorite tv show or movie and these are decisions that i want us to engineers and people with every incentive to meet the needs of these different consumers and i don't wanted to come top-down from washington or may not be as flexible and responsive as it could otherwise be. >> host: to follow up on paul's question, jessica melugin, what is your take on these syrians that have been held on capitol hill with the heads of some of the social media companies and mood in washington when it came to looking at the social media companies? >> guest: i think the hearings are great example of what is wrong with the debate right now. i think those get a lot of attention and they may score political points and i don't
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know if they do but a lot of congresspeople feel they do obviously. these ceos get drug before congress and it makes a lot of news and everyone could serve for a soundbite but i don't know that we are getting closer to figuring out what the solutions are for the problems people have right now with social media and content moderation. i'm not even sure who we are talking to from the business community and are the most couple people. it would be interesting to hear from actual content moderators of these comedies who do the job day in and day out and i think there would be more educational for the congresspeople and their staff and committees and probably for a lot of americans who may be interested in knowing what are the challenges and what tools did they have and what tools may be helpful for them. we don't seem to get a lot of answers out of those and we get a lot of siding but the problem
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with, if you watch those hearings you hear that two sides are talking about two different things. republicans tend to be very upset about the content moderation being too much and it seems to them to be political motivated and putting conservative voices at a disadvantage online where a lot of the democrats members of congress seem very upset that more content isn't being taken down. they feel that dangerous or untrue things are being left out and that's creating all sorts of problems that spill over into our off-line world. while i think a lot of washington can agree the content moderation is something everyone is upset about, they come at it from two very separate ways. republicans saying there is too much content taken down and democrat saying there is not enough content taken down. when you have two separate problems of something is very
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difficult to see how you will come together on one solution. >> host: is reform of section 230 of the communications decency act, is there anything that you would favor the congress to or are you saying we have to play both sides was probably working? >> guest: i do think there is something to that and i think there's an old phrase about a compromise leaving everyone a little unhappy and i think there is something to that. i think there is probably the could be had about very small at the edge or forms of section 230 and i think that congress is a place to do that and i think that they should be on the record having written that down and voted for or against those things because i think they will have huge consequences and i don't want to see that farmed out to the fcc or any other agency and i think that is not the way to go but i would say for the most part we have picked
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section 230 and that is the start of this race and anytime you then go and change the rules midstream you will have unintended consequences and, i think, some more productive hearings where we talk about all of those issues will be a great start and there would be some pretty scary trade-offs to fiddling with section 230 and we don't even need to guess about that. a couple of years ago there were some reforms for a little carveout and the success of that carveout which evolved some horrible things is that no one would defend having a place online and they still had harmful consequences that involved child pornography, sex trafficking in these issues and they tweaked section 230 a little bit in a very well-intentioned way to handle that but unfortunately there were some harmful consequences and it led to a lot more being
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taken off online then the law intended and it's also a lot of critics say that it's pushed a lot of that very awful activity even farther into the shadows and more difficult for law enforcement to stop. i thank you always have to worry, not intentions are great but that is not all there is. there is a reality to when you make these changes and remove the incentives and that changes things and we need to have a much more productive conversation in these hearings about those very real consequences. >> host: jessica melugin, often legislation in washington or policy in washington is described as an incumbent protection policy. is this the direction we are heading when it comes to section 230 and some of the tech issues that we are facing? >> guest: i should think so. if you look at what section 230 really does we can talk about it
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briefly here and there are two major things doing. one is saying that when a user posts third-party contents when you post on the on facebook or tweet you, the poster, third-party are responsible for the content of the material and not the platform. if i tweet on twitter that i'm responsible for that tweet and not twitter the social media company and that is the first thing it does and it places the responsibly on the third party and not the platform and the second thing it does is that remains true even if twitter or facebook or anything else wants to take it down or hide it or move it around so it's less easy to find and that does not change the liability situation because they've curated their sites so that made it so that when these platforms were just starting out they did not have to worry about
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being drug into court constantly to defend their first amended right to remove speech that they did not agree with and if this is that private platform and they were able to do that and what section 230 has been described as is a bit of a procedural fast lane for the first amendment. it's really the first moment that allows these companies to do that and they have their own first moment rights and they don't have to carry speech that they don't want to carry. section 230 set that up front and said you don't have to worry about going to court every time to assert that and you go ahead and let people say what they want to say on your site and you go ahead and put it down if it's something you don't want there because maybe you're trying to make a family from the site or whatever your standards are. that was a huge advantage to the big behemoth social media companies that we know today. now if we went back and took away that protection that would make it so much more difficult for the next generation of social media and, you know, a parallel conversation to all of that has been happening in
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washington is antitrust concerns. to me if you worried about these incumbent social media companies being so big and you're concerned, i'm not, that they can't be caught by new competitors going and changing section 230 so that the big guys have those protections but the next generation won't be able to grow with those protections would seem to increase the concerns that they are monopolies not decrease them so i think that's another thing you have to keep in mind that it's very common ones companies reach a certain level of success then they don't mind being regulated because they have the resources to comply with those regulations much more than, you know, the new companies that are nipping at their heels and often times in washington they have a seat at the table when they are drafting those regulations. they can influence what is written into them and they can make sure that they will be able to comply so i think that is something certainly wise people
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keep in mind when they hear it from tech companies who say that they're happy to be regulated and that should not be a red flag. >> host: you are watching "the communicators" on c-span our guest this week is jessica melugin, with the competitive enterprise institute and is the rector of their center on technology and innovation. our guest reporter is paul kirby, senior editor with walters colors tr daily and let's go back to paul. >> thank you. you mentioned antitrust and when the federal trade commission head states filed suit in december alleging antitrust violations or requesting among other things instagram and what's app they complained that the actions were quote, a perfect example of political theater just up is antitrust law. why is that? in other words does the sec in the states are they just saying
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that facebook is violated antitrust law? >> i think there are two components to that. one right now it's very popular for certain political groups to oppose these tech companies and i think there is a lot of criticism about their perceived political takes and their influence over other things that have very little to do with antitrust or technology so i do think that there are other incentives that work to go after these companies but i do think the really clarifying way to look at this is u.s. antitrust law is unique in that it's not like european antitrust law in this way but at the core of it is consumer harm. you have to show that the consumers have been harmed by the activities of these businesses if you want to have a successful antitrust he's against them. you know, the facebook case is a great example where what you see is a lot of competitors not
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liking what facebook has done but it was very difficult to make a case against, for example, in the case they talk about facebook's acquisition of what's app and instagram and how that is anticompetitive because they are buying up these competitors that they see as a threat. i have no idea what the inner motivations of facebook leadership is but i will tell you that taking instagram, for example, facebook but that company and it was mocked mercilessly for doing so at the time for what it paid for it and it was not clear at all that instagram would be any threat to facebook and the rest of the world and there's all these late-night clips about making fun of mark zuckerberg for spending all that money on this goofy picture app because who in the heck would want that and it can be worth that and what they did was they took this niche, glitchy apps to share photos and they turned it into something, you know, so many more people use and at such a better product
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and people love it and it's all the rage. you can say that might make you feel uncomfortable but it's not a separate company but can't really say that consumers have been harmed because they have a better product and the other problem with the consumer harm is the product is free. it's not clear even on the other end of how these companies make money but the prices for advertising have gone up either so in fact indicates the opposite. i think the u.s. antitrust law being about consumer harm in its center is how the courts have been treating it for decades now and i think it's a really heavy lift to say that these companies are in violation of that when actual consumer harm is very difficult to point to in these cases. >> is it hard to say well, what would it be like a made reference to that if facebook is not so big and powerful would it allow other committees to get into the business and you are
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saying how do you prove a negative? >> i think it is a challenge. you know, i think it's particularly at the state level if you think about who is at the ftc, doj, these are specialists in antitrust and they have a lot of tools and they have a lot of expertise and i don't always agree with them but i certainly do respect their level of competency and knowledge and i told thank you find that same level of specialization in the state cases. state offices are doing a lot of work and are not sure that national antitrust cases is the best use of their time or expertise but i think, as i said, even at the national level these will be difficult cases once you get into court and have to show real consumer harm. >> host: jessica melugin, going back to your conversation on section 230, you said companies have the right to take down
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content that they don't agree with. does that apply to former president donald trump and his removal from twitter and facebook? >> guest: wheat selectivity on the question this week at the supreme court who basically said that they weren't going to consider that because a, donald trump is no longer president and b, donald trump is no longer on twitter. they bounce that back but the confusing or the complicated part about that particular question is that you have to answer to what extent do we have the public sphere and the private sphere overlapping there. that makes it a little less clear where the rules are for whose free speech we are protecting. i think the first amendment in section 230 builds on this and it is sort of affirms this idea that it's just as important in
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free speech is having a right to say what you want to say is that you don't have to host on your private property that you don't want to be associated with. i think that is what we saw there. at some point, you know, it's a business decision if it is worth it to twitter or not and those motives are not simplistic, you know. they had advertising considerations and they also probably have some moral considerations about what they feel good about what they don't and that's for each different platform to decide. the great thing about section 230 and it empowering these platforms to come up with their own terms of service and standards and ideas about what will and won't be removed part of the idea was that you won't have a one-size-fits-all and you won't have kind of a dumb high situation where everything gets
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left up. you really wouldn't want an internet like that and there's a lot of stuff that gets taken down, much of it is just spam and is a waste of your time but a lot of it is probably constitutionally protected speech but very unpleasant and that being most people would want any really wouldn't want facebook and twitter to stop taking that stuff down. it might not be a place where you want to be. the point is when they are empowered to do that the decisions that facebook makes is not going to be the same as twitter and not the same as tiktok and not the same as parler and hopefully many many more examples that are coming online. that is a better way for people to be able to pick and choose where they want to be and what online communities they want to be a part of in that way than just saying you have toast everything, no matter what. i think a lot of the energy from the right forgets that it's easy
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to say that when you feel genuinely that your voice and your perspective is being discredited against by these platforms until you realize that they really loved everything out you really wouldn't want to see a lot of what is taken down. like i said, the trump question is different because it's about a public government figures so that's a little more complicated. >> host: paul kirby, we have four minutes left? you said there's room perhaps for tweaking of 230 in the margins and realistically the congress and the democrats have a slight margin in the house and they have a vice presidential vote in the senate although with joe manchin deciding one way or the other he's -- is it realistic that even that tweaking would occur in the current political situation in congress? >> i have to say i don't hold out much hope that anything will actually get past as a matter of
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law there for the reasons we talked about and the republicans want everything left up or they want some system built that can validate neutrality or something and there is nothing neutral that would exist in the schedule for 230 and because that would be figure out what neutral ever meant. what i think might be neutral what might not be what the next person thanks neutral. that's dangerous because you're getting government involved in controlling speech and also a fools aaron because i think the aim should be for competing that should have their intrinsic bias and its human nature to see the world from a certain lens and that's reflected in these platform policies and should be more speech not controlled speech and from the democrat side they want more and more
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taken down and that is problematic to and i don't want to see any senator or house committee being sort of the shadow from policymakers for these companies and i think what is dangerous or miss information is probably the same as elected members of congress from both sides of the aisle and so i think it is better that congress stay out of this and that we leave this in private hands where we have choices and exit and options and i think the next generation of social media will probably be a much more decentralized approach where that content moderation moves out of the hands of corporations and into the users in the online community and we are already seeing that develop and it's exciting and i think that the government gets in there now and start over regulating encryption or lodging technologies with bitcoin and all of those things that might empower people to be
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a little more involved in the online communities and how there are moderated more like how it is in real life where we, it's a little less top-down and we tend to work that out amongst ourselves in a way that is much more equitable and productive than setting big rules at the top so i don't see how the two groups coming at it from agreeing that there is a problem and they aren't happy with the current state of content moderation but coming at it and polar opposite ways. republicans there's too much taken down, democrats are not enough taken down and it is hard to see what, mize would make both of those groups happy. >> host: jessica melugin of the competitive enterprise institute and paul kirby of tr daily has been our guest this week on "the communicators". >> c-span is your unfiltered view of government we are funded by these television companies
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