FTC Woos Wu


Columbia Law's Timothy Wu, the tech-policy guru behind net neutrality, is set to advise the Federal Trade Commission, according to The Wall Street Journal:

Silicon Valley has a new fear factor. Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu, an influential academic and author who popularized the term "net neutrality," has been appointed senior advisor to the Federal Trade Commission.

Mr. Wu, 38, will start his new position on Feb. 14 in the FTC's Office of Policy Planning, and will help the agency to develop policies that affect the Internet and the market for mobile communications and services. The FTC said Mr. Wu will work in the unit until July 31. Mr. Wu, who is taking a leave from Columbia, said that to work after that date he would have to request a further leave from the university.

In Mr. Wu's view, which he laid out in a book published last year called The Master Switch, new information technologies follow a predictable cycle in which open and free systems eventually become controlled by a single corporation or cartel. Mr. Wu believes the Internet may follow a similar pattern, as a few companies emerge to dominate key sectors: Google in the online search market, Amazon.com in retail, Apple in digital media and Facebook in social networking.

"There is a sense that the Internet is becoming more consolidated," said Mr. Wu.
Mr. Wu, an offbeat academic who has attended the popular Burning Man festival several times, says the next big technology policy issue is figuring out the rules of the road for these emerging platforms, and that is what he will focus on. "I would be satisfied with getting together the rules for the Internet platform," he said.

It's not entirely clear what sort of rules he's referring to. As I describe at length in my feature on net neutrality in the March issue, the Federal Communications Commission has already slogged through the long process of enacting rules to govern the Internet's core infrastructure. But the Journal's report seems to imply that, in his role at the FTC, Wu will focus on setting up rules to govern the the central players at the edge of the network—big search and content providers like Amazon, Apple, and Google. I guess it's not enough to regulate just one part of the Internet.

Wu makes an appearance in my net neutrality feature, which you can read here. You can also find Adam Thierer's review of Wu's new book, The Master Switch, in the same issue. Thierer's piece isn't online yet, but that's why you should subscribe!