tv The Communicators Jessica Melugin Director Center for Technology ... CSPAN April 23, 2021 10:32pm-11:03pm EDT
>> this week on "the communicators," we want to introduce you to jessica melugin, she is with the competitive enterprise institute. what is cei, and what is the center that you are the director of? jessica: we are a free market ink tank and washington, d.c. and i had up our tech center, a little bit of telecommunications, internetwork, and all of the things that seem to go along with that today including antitrust work. >> when you talk about the cei
being free market, is telecommunications a free market right now? jessica: it has been moving that direction. that is for the last couple of years, but you certainly would not mistake it for a laissez-faire marketplace, no. >> what are some of your concerns about the current environment and telecommunications? jessica: at cei, we are very focused on the possible return of net neutrality regulations we fought. we have seen positive broadband progress in the marketplace and we would hate to see any of that reversed with net neutrality making a comeback. >> what would be the effect in your view if net neutrality entitled ii became the law of the land? jessica: we could expect to see reduced private investment in expanding our network and getting broadband to some of the americans that still do not have it. we be concerned about that.
there has been talk about a heavy-handed approach involving rate regulation and we would hate to see that kind of distortion in the marketplaces when our networks serve this nation so well especially during the quarantine. so when people were learning and working, and our networks did a great job and we think that has something to do with the deregulation we saw a few years ago. >> lets bring paul kirby into the conversation. paul has been a long time telecommute acacia's reporter, he is currently senior editor with walter's tr daily. mr. kirby. paul: cei recently criticized president biden's proposal regarding broadband as a part of his jobs act. you all said the administration should focus on taking down government directed barriers and advancing property marks. this would prevent innovation,
regulatory silos, so can you elaborate on those complaints? jessica: our concern is that if you introduced too much public money into these projects, it sort of has this unforeseen effect of chasing out the private investment that is usually much more effective in this place. you see a lot of problems with overbuilding in places that do not need it, the money not going where it is most needed for people who really and truly are underserved. we are concerned that this is a part of technology that moves so quickly, there are so many new innovations and advances happening and we would hate to see that slowly because we are working within a very rigid, regulated, top-down environment which is more of what you get with public funding as opposed the private innovation. paul: what about areas where the business case cannot be made,
very rural areas where providers feel that subsidies might be necessary? jessica: that has certainly been the case in the past, and that was -- those are certainly issues we can examine, but with innovations, we have a whole new generation coming online for low orbiting satellites to provide broadband access, and when you are dealing with that, that takes the distance on land portion out of the equation, and those are just at the beginning. elon musk is involved and a lot of other companies are involved in the satellite launches, but we saw that as the market stepping in and solving that problem and changing the game. that is an example of how it is difficult for public money to anticipate all of the technological processes and we would hate for anything to get in the weight of that. host: do you view broadband buildout as an infrastructure issue, and if so, do you see any room for government
partnerships? ms. melugin: i think it would be fair to say, it is sort of updated definition of infrastructure, certainly. there is so much commerce that happens over the lines and so much of our lives are tied up with that. it is not too much of a stress to say that in some ways, it might be as important to people as roads and bridges, i do not think that is a crazy assertion on the administration's parts, but i think you do have to be careful when you start interfering in the market mechanisms, you start moving the incentives around, and there is nothing wrong with the profit incentive, that has built out a lot of broadband and this country and i would like to make sure that nothing prohibits that from an -- continuing in the right direction. paul: the emergency broadband program was passed by congress that provides 3.2 billion dollars to support broadband
service discounts and then $7 billion in providing money for remote learning subsidies. are these funds wise or are they not wise, and will they disturb the market? jessica: to some extent, you can see some benefit from them for sure. it is hard to know -- part of what makes it a difficult argument to argue for markets is a you do not know what would happen if you did not infuse this public money in. i cannot show you numbers of what a parallel reality that would have been. i do not think that broadband investment is any exception to the idea that the private incentives in the marketplace usually end up doing a better job getting consumers what they want, at better prices in a faster way, not to say that there is not the room to explore options and there might be special circumstances. obviously this past year in
terms of emergency funding, this country found itself in an unprecedented place, and that is a lot of the explanation, too. paul: you recommended that lawmakers avoid prohibitions, and all but the most exceptional circumstances. what would those circumstances be. jessica: i cannot say that i have encountered any yet, i do not know what it's going to happen. 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 take the net neutrality regulations again, i think it could hamper the growth that we have been enjoying in and then -- in an accelerated way in the
last few years and i would hate to see all the technological promised that we have hopefully coming our way, 5g being a very popular example, some of the prohibitions in net neutrality regulations would be even more problematic in a 5g universe. there is going to have to be some prioritization of traffic because i do not think any american wants the kind of one-size-fits-all internet that does not prioritize perhaps something incredibly important and a miraculous piece of innovation like long-distance surgery, it should not be treated the same over lines as email or even streaming your favorite tv show or movie. these are decisions that i want left to engineers and every incentive to meet the needs of these different consumers. i do not wanted to come top-down from washington where it might not be as flexible and responsive as it otherwise could be.
colin: just a follow-up, what is your take on some of these hearings that have been held on capitol hill with the heads of some of the social media companies and the mood in washington when it comes to looking at the social media companies? jessica: they hearings are a great example of what was wrong with the debate right now. those get a lot of attention, they may score political points, but i don't know stay do, but a lot of common people feel like they do -- congress people feel like they do and the ceos get drugs before congress and it makes a lot of news, and everyone gets their chanter a sound bites, but i do not know that we are getting any closer to figuring out what the solutions are for the problems people have right now is social media and content moderation. i am not even sure that who we are talking to from the business community are the most helpful people. it would be interesting to hear
from actual content moderators at these companies who do the job day in and day out. i think that would be more educational or the congress people and their staff and committees, and probably for a lot of americans who might be interested in knowing what are the challenges, and what tools do they have and what tools would maybe be helpful to them that they do not have. we do not seem to get a lot of answers out of those hearings. we get a lot of fighting. but the problem with -- if you watch those hearings, you see that two sides are talking about two different things. republicans tend to be very upset about the content moderation being too much and that it seems to be politically motivated to them and putting conservative voices at a disadvantage online, where a lot of the democrat members of congress seem very upset that more content is not being taken down. they feel that dangerous or
untrue things are being left up, and that is creating all sorts of other problems that spill over into our off-line world. i think a lot of washington can agree that content moderation is something that everybody is upset about, they come out from very separate ways. republicans saying there is too much content being taken down and democrat saying there is not enough content taken down. when you have two separate problems with something, it is difficult to see how you are going to come together on one solution. paul: is there anything that you all would favor that congress do on section 230, or we have it fighting on both sides what is probably working? jessica: there is an old phrase about a compromise leaving everyone a little unhappy. i think there is something to that.
there is probably discussions that could be had about very small of the edger forms of section to 30. congress is the place where that, i think they should be on the record because i think they have consequences. i do not want to see that farmed out to the fcc year any other agency, that is not the way to go. i would say for the most part, we picked section 230 as sort of the start of this race, and anytime you then and go in change is, you're going to have unintended consequences. i think the more productive hearings we talk about all of those issues would be a great start but it is a pretty serious trade-off with section 230, and we do not and we need to guess about that, and the success of
that carveout had things that no one would defend having a place online, still having some harmful consequences that involved child pornography, sex trafficking, these kind of cute, so they tweaked section 230 a little bit in a very well-intentioned way to handle that, urgently, there was some harmful consequences. it has led to a lot more being taken off online then the law intended, and that is also a lot of critics have said that it pushes a lot of that very awful activity even further into the shadows and more difficult for law enforcement to stop. i think 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, you move the incentive, and that changes
things. we need to have a much more productive conversation in these hearings about those very real consequences. colin: colin: often legislation in washington is described as an incumbent protection policy. is this where we are headed with section 230? jessica: i think so. if you look at what section 230 really does, we will talk about it briefly here, there are two major things it is doing. one it is saying, when a user posts third-party content, so when you post something on facebook or tweet, you, the poster are responsible for the content of that material, not the platform. if i'd tweet on twitter, i am responsible for that tweet, not twitter, the social media company. that is the first thing it does. it places the responsibility on the third party and not the platform.
the second thing it does, 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 is less easy to find, that does not change the liability situation just because they have curated their sites. that made it so that when these platforms were just starting out in small, they did not have to worry about being drug into court constantly for defending their first amendment rights to remove speech they did not agree with. this is their private platform and they were able to do that. what section 230 has been described as is a procedural fast lane for the first amendment. it is the first amendment that allows these companies to do that. they have their own first amendment rights, they do not have to carry speech that they don't want to carry. section 230 said that you do not have to worry about going to
court, you let people say what they want to say on your site and you pull it down if it is something you don't want there because maybe you are trying to make a family friendly sites, 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 a parallel conversation to all of that that is happening in washington is antitrust concerns. to me, if you are worried about these incumbent social media companies being so bay and you are concerned that they can't be caught by new competitors, going and changing section 230 so the big guys had those protections but the next generation won't would seem to increase their monopolies, not decrease them. that is another thing you have to keep in mind that it is very common once companies reach a
certain level of success, they do not mind being regulated because they have the resources to comply with those regulations much more than the new companies that are maybe nipping at their heals. and they often have a seat at the table when they are drafting the legislation. they can influence what is written into them and they can make sure that they will be able to comply. that is something certainly what people keep in mind when they hear some tech companies say that they are happy to be regulated, that that should be a red flag. colin: you are watching "the communicators." our guest this week is jessica melugin, she's with the competitive enterprise institute and our guest reporter is paul kirby, a senior editor with walters close tr daily. paul: you mentioned antitrust
when the federal trade commission and states filed suits against facebook alleging antitrust violations, the cei complained that the actions were "a perfect example of political theater dressed up in antitrust law." why is that, in other words, are they off-base in saying that facebook has violated antitrust law? jessica: there is two components to that. right now it is very popular for certain political groups to oppose these tech companies. there is a lot of criticism about their perceived political takes that has very little to do with antitrust.
the clarifying way to look at this is that it is unique in at the court of it, it is consumer harm. you have to show the consumers have been harmed by the activities of these businesses if you want to have a successful antitrust case against them. the facebook case is a great example where, what you see is a law of competitors not liking what facebook has done, but it is difficult to make a case against, for example, they talked about facebook's acquisition of whatsapp and instagram, and how that is anticompetitive, because they are buying up these competitors they see as a threat. i have no idea what the inner motivations of facebook leadership is, but i will tell you, taking instagram, for example, facebook bought that company, it was mocked
mercilessly for doing so at the time for what it paid for it, it was not cleared all that instagram would be any threats. there is all these late-night clips of making fun of mark zuckerberg for this goofy picture app, and what they did is they took this sort of niche, glitchy at, and they turns it into something that so mean more people use, it is such a better product, people love it, it is all the rage. so you can say that might make you feel uncomfortable, but it is not a separate company, but you cannot say that consumers have been harmed because they have a better product and the other problem is that the product is free. it is not clear either -- even on the other end of that their prices for advertising has gone up either. indicates just the opposite. i think the u.s. antitrust law being about consumer harm at its
center, that is how the courts have been treating it for decades. it is 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. paul: it is hard to say well what would it be like if facebook was not so big and not so powerful, what is allow other companies to get in, and you are saying, how do you prove the negative? jessica: i think that is a challenge. particularly at the state level, if you think about the ftc and the doj, these are specialists in antitrust, they have a lot of tools and expertise, i do not always agree with them, but i expect -- respect their level of competency and knowledge and i do not think 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. as i said, even at the national level, these are going to be difficult cases once you get into court and have to show real consumer harm. colin: going back to your conversation on section 230. you said that companies have the right to take down content that they do not agree with. does that apply to former president donald trump and his removal from twitter and to facebook? jessica: we saw some activity on that question this week at the supreme court who basically said they were not going to consider that because, donald trump is no longer president, and he is no longer on twitter. so they handed that back, but the confusing, 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. but i think that the first amendment and section 230 builds on this, it affirms this idea that just as important in free-speech as having a right to say what you want to say is that you you do not have to host speech on your private property that you do not want to be associated with. that is what we saw there. at some point, it is just a business decision and if it is worth to twitter or not, and those motives are not some plastic -- simplistic.
they have advertising and moral considerations about what they feel good about and what they don't, and that is for each different platform to the side. the great thing about section 230 and empowering these platforms to come up with their own terms of service and standards and ideas about what will and will not be removed, part of the idea was you will not have a one-size-fits-all. you will not have a pipe situation where everything gets left up. you really would not want an internet like that. there is a lot of stuff that gets taken down and much of it is just spam and a waste of your time, but a lot of it is probably constitutionally protected speech, but very unpleasant and nothing that most fluid want to see. you would not 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 it
not going to the same as twitter, not one to the same as tiktok, not want to be the same as parler, and hopefully many more examples that are coming online. and that is a better way for people to be able to pick and choose where they want to be, what online communities they want to be a part of in that way than just saying you have to host everything, no matter what. i think that a lot of the energy from the right forgets that it is easy to say that when you feel very genuinely by these platforms, and until you realize, if they really left everything up, you would not want to see a lot of what gets taken down. the trump question is a little different because it is about a public government figure, so that is a little more complicated colin:. colin: paul kirby, we have four
minutes left. paul: you said we have some room for tweaking the margins. the democrat has a slight margin in the house and they have lice presidential vote in the senate, although if mansion decides one way or another, he is the 800 pound gorilla on issues. is it realistic that the tweaking would occur even with the current political situation in congress? jessica: i do not hold out much hope that anything will get past as a matter of law there for the reasons we talked about. republicans want everything left up where they want some sort of system built that can validate neutrality. there is nothing about being neutral that actually exists in this section 230, that is not real thing, and that is because it would be almost impossible to figure out what neutral meant. what i might think is neutral is probably not what the next
person thinks is neutral, so that is dangerous because you are getting government involved in controlling speech, and also, it is a fools errand because the aim should be for competing platforms that each have their own intrinsic bias, it is just human nature to see the world through a certain lens, and that is reflected in these platform policies. it should be more speech, not patrolled speech. i'm the democrat side, they want more and more taken down, and that is problematic, too. i do not want to see any senate or house committee being the shadow policymakers for these companies. i am sure what i think is dangerous or misinformation is probably not the same as many elected members of congress from both sides of the aisle. i think it is better that congress they out of this, 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 the content moderation moves out of the hands of corporations and into the users in the online community. we are seeing that develop and it is very exciting. if the government gets in there now and start over rhiannon -- over regulating encryption are blocked chain technologies is kit -- with bitcoin, it mao -- in my empower people to be more involved in online communities and how they are moderated, more like how it is in real life. it is a little less top-down we tend to work that out in a way that is more equitable and productive than setting big rules at the top. i do not see how the two groups coming at it from -- agreeing that there is a problem, i am happy with the current state of
moderation, but coming at it and totally opposite ways. republicans, there is too much taken down, democrats, there is not enough taken down. colin: jessica melugin at the competitive enterprise institute and paul daley, has been our guests on "the communicators." >> c-span is your unfiltered view of government. >> good morning students. >> teachers are doing whatever it takes to connect with their students. and cox is, too, by connecting students in need with low-cost internets. with the connect to compete, program, from cox. >> cox support c-span as a public service along with these other television providers, giving you a front row seat to democracy. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] [captions copyright national
cable satellite corp. 2021] >> c-span's "washington journal, every day, we are taking your calls live on the air and we will discuss policy issues that impact to you. coming up saturday morning, senior fellow at the competitive enterprise institute discusses the debate over covid-19 vaccine passports and the role of government and the private sector. then charles wilson, chair of the national association of black law enforcement officers on the debate over police reform in the wake of the shelving verdict. national geographic phillip morris talks about his recent article, "sentenced to death." watch on "washington journal, live at 7:00 a.m. eastern be sure to join the discussion. >> the space x crew dragon endeavors successfully launched from kennedy space center in florida.
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