Academic journal article Federal Communications Law Journal

In Search of a Captive Audience: Susan Crawford's Captive Audience

Academic journal article Federal Communications Law Journal

In Search of a Captive Audience: Susan Crawford's Captive Audience

Article excerpt

TABLE OF CONTENTS  I.      THE TRIUMPH OF PERSONALITIES OVER LAW II.     SKIP THE ECONOMIC ANALYSIS III.    SKIP THE INTERNATIONAL COMPARISONS IV.     SKIP THE HYPERBOLE ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF COMCAST V.      THE ANTITRUST CASE THAT WASN'T VI.     EXAMINING THE CULT OF WASHINGTON PERSONALITIES VII.    THE LOSING CASE FOR GOVERNMENT OWNERSHIP VIII.   WHO IS THE CAPTIVE AUDIENCE? 

Visit an academic conference where Professor Susan Crawford is presenting a paper, and you are sure to find a large crowd and a good story in the room where she is speaking. In the world of academic telecommunications policy, Crawford would appear to be a rock star with a loyal cadre of groupies. Yet as an accomplished classical violist, Crawford does not evoke an image of Led Zeppelin and acid; lead crystal and claret seem more appropriate.

Crawford has her detractors. She is an unapologetic champion of having big government, rather than corporations, solve big problems. She is well-known, but not well-liked, in corporate America. The feeling is probably mutual.

Crawford has something that few in academic telecommunications policy can match: experience at the highest levels of government. (1) And now she has something that many in her academic audience actually can match: a book. Better than many of the books written by those in her audience, Crawford's book is published by Yale University Press and curiously titled Captive Audience. Just who is in this audience, and why are they captive? The subtitle, "The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age," is inapposite. A few strands of fiber are pictured on the cover of the book, but nowhere is there a clear image of the elusive captive audience that she references.

Before exploring the book in search of the captive audience, let's learn a little more about Crawford. The American public owes Crawford a debt of gratitude. From 2005-2008, she served on the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers ("ICANN"). ICANN serves as a minimalist form of governance for the Internet. (2) It may appear innocuous and unimportant, but looks are deceiving. Many who seek to destroy the Internet and weaken America have their eyes set on first eliminating ICANN. (3) If one defines a friend as the enemy of our enemies, America has few greater friends than ICANN, and by extension, its board.

Crawford also worked on President Obama's Federal Communications Commission ("FCC") transition team and then served as a Special Assistant for Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy in 2009. (4) To have supported President Obama in 2008 is not unusual in academia. To have actually served in the White House is.

I once attended a meeting with a small group in a conference room in the Old Executive Office Building. When Crawford entered the ornately decorated room, she remarked something to the effect of: "This room belongs to the American people. Enjoy it. We are all here as visitors." Jimmy Stewart could not have said it better. Unforced and unaffected, humble, and spoken without the slightest hint of sarcasm, these were not the words of a Washington insider. The usual message is both unspoken and unambiguous: "This room belongs to me, and you had better do what I say."

As it turns out, Crawford was indeed a visitor, not a Washington insider; she left the White House to return to academia in early 2010. (5) This is just when the storyline of Captive Audience begins.

There is an old adage in academia that once you leave, you can never return. Academia is filled with those who have never left, who have never seen the vistas about which they write and teach, who cannot imagine the nether world in which mere mortals live and breathe.

Crawford is an exception to that rule. She was a partner at a major law firm before deciding to try academic life. She left academia briefly to witness the highest levels of government. …

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