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June 4, 2010

[pdf] Aneesh Chopra, Federal CTO

Aneesh Chopra, the U.S. Chief Technology Officer, is opening the second day of Personal Democracy Forum.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other peoples ideas and words. You are warned, people.

He says Katie Stanton at the State Dept. says that the difference between consumer and government cultures is “Theres an app for that” vs. “Theres a form for that.”

President Obamas first act in office was to require far more openness. This means changing the defaults, a cultural change. Aneesh says theyre making progress. A year ago, Vivek Kundra, the federal CIO, announced at PDF the IT Dashboard for browsing the new, a tool for accountability. Aneesh points to reform at the Veterans Admin, resulting in cost savings and faster service. Another example: US Citizen and Immigration Services now lets you opt in to having the status of your application be pushed to you, rather than you having to check in. This type of change has little cost, brings benefits, and is beginning to change the culture of government.

Aneesh is announcing “the blue button to liberate personal health data.” Press it and you can get your data from government databases. “Do it with it whatever you want. Its your choice. Its your data.” This will begin this fall with medical and veteran info.

Another example of the change in culture: The Dept of Agriculture wants to inform us about healthy nutrition choices, part of the First Ladys efforts. The Dept has nutritional info on 30,000 products. What to do with it? The government is holding “game jams” across the country — “Apps for Healthy Kids.”

Theyve been building tools to find widely dispersed knowledge. E.g., NASA has today released a report on its experience with the Innocentive prize system. A semi-retired radio frequency engineer won with an idea that exceeded NASAs requirements. “No RFP, no convoluted process, just a smart person” that the prize system uncovered.

Aneesh talks about the Health and Human Services Community Health Data Initiative that debuted two days ago. Its launched with twenty programs that take advantage of the newly opened data. The OMB has required agencies to make data available at any agency site, at a /open address. Microsoft Bing is now showing on maps the info available at, a site few have gone to. Heres an idea from a citizen: Asthmapolis crowdsources data to help visualize outbreaks; participants have gps-aware inhalers.

[And then my computer crashed…]


[pdf] Non-deliberative deliberation

I moderated a panel yesterday at Personal Democracy Forum on deliberative democracy. Because I was the moderator, I didn’t express my own unease with the emphasis on deliberation. Don’t get me wrong: I like deliberative processes and wish there were more of them. I’m just not as bullish on their ability to resolve real differences.

But there are non-rational deliberative processes. For example, Morgan Spurlock’s tv series, Thirty Days, puts together people who deeply disagree. But they learn more and better by living with one another for thirty days than they do through their rational discussions. If “deliberation” refers to a fair weighing, living with someone with whom you disagree is more likely to right the scales. The issues over which we struggle the most and that divide us the deepest cannot be bridge through careful, quiet discussion. Or, at least, the role of rational deliberation often is, in my opinion, over-stated. When rational discussion fails to change our minds, sympathy based on lived understanding can change our souls.


[pdf] Susan Crawford: Rethinking broadband

Susan Crawford says, “We are in the course of a titanic battle for the future of the Internet in the United States. The technology community is radically underrepresented in this battle.”

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Telephone providers and cable providers have each been merging, increasing monopoly holds on regions.The government has a key role in providing a level playing field for innovators. If you’re worried about personalization at the app level (as per Eli Pariser yesterday), you should be very worried about it at the network level.

“The Net would not exist absent government regulation.” E.g., the telcos were required to allow modems to attach to telephone lines. When cable modems arrived, government regulators were confused. Thinking that competition was right around the corner, the FCC completely deregulated highspeed Net access in 2002 (and 2205,6,7). They took away the “regulated” level but reserved the right to reregulate it (via “ancillary jurisdiction”). The courts have found that labeling a service as deregulated but then regulating it (as in the Comcast case) makes no sense. So, the FCC is proposing to re-regulate, but free of the heavy-handed elements: No rate regulation, etc. But, carriers would be required not to discriminate among bits [= Net neutrality]. This is the FCC’s “Third Wave.” The carriers claim that this is the “nuclear option.”

The FCC needs to regulate to fulfill its mandate to enable Net access to all people. E.g., they need to gather data. And they want to make sure that it’s open for innovation. Also, to keep privacy of packets. It’s great that AT&T is part of this conversation at PDF. But AT&T has spent $6M this quarter for lobbying against any form of regulation. There have also been personal attacks, she says. Comcast spent $29M in the first quarter, she adds.

By 2012, the FCC says, most Americans will have only one choice of provider. [June 5: Susan’s slide actually said that by 2012, 75 to 85 percent of Americans will have one choice of wired provider for 50 to 100Mbps speeds; sorry for the gross gloss. This comes from the National Broadband Plan.] Verizon has backed off on its plans for FIOS. So there will not be another competitor to cable. We should therefore be concerned about Comcast’s plans to merge with NBC, giving it an edge against other major video providers, but also against the growth of online video. Comcast could put content behind an authentication wall, so to see it you’d have to be a cable subscriber. The tech community should watch this merger carefully.

The content providers believe in “vertical integration,” so we’ll see many more mergers.

She says 100 yrs ago, Americans hated Standard Oil which was able to control regional production of oil. Small business people and farmers were enraged by them. Standard Oil required railroads to ship their stuff cheaper, and if the RR’s shipped competitors’ stuff, SO got paid. They also carried out espionage about competitive shipments. Like the electric grid, like the Net, the future of highspeed access depends upon government creation of a level playing field. The tech community should be working together to make sure we retain the ability to innovate.

[I interviewed Susan about the FCC’s Third Way on a Radio Berkman podcast] [Note: On June 5, I made some very minor edits, cleaning up typos and unclear referents, etc., in addition to the insertion noted above.]


[pdf] Aneesh Chopra

My computer froze as I was near the end of live-blogging Aneesh Chopra’s keynote at PDF. (Ubuntu.) I’ll try to recover it later.

The quick overview is that it’s amazing to have a person like him in the White House in charge of the change in culture and change in defaults, from processing forms to releasing info out into the wild so that people with ideas can do something with them. It’s our data, he says.

The shift in attitude is astounding.

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