Category Archives: Innovation

Pessimistic Predictions Which Do Not Fly

Lots of people think innovation is over. Robert Gordon, the author of a grand new book called The Rise and Fall of American Growth, thinks the Information Age may be finished. We disagree.

Flying Machines Which Do Not Fly graphic - NYT 1903 headline 2.0

Flying Machines Which Do Not Fly graphic – NYT 1903 headline 2.0

Great Stagnation? Or Technology Renaissance?

AEI event 2016-01-28a

On Thursday, my colleagues in the American Enterprise Institute’s technology program offered views on “Cyberspace policy at home and abroad,” covering the increasingly contentious realms of hacking, encryption, IP, and global Internet governance and the domestic effects of FCC regulation. I spoke for 10 minutes on technology’s broader impact on the economy and addressed the Great Stagnation question. Has a four-decade dearth of technology caused slow growth and inequality, with more disappointment to come? Or could better policy quickly encourage new bursts of innovation and resurgent economic growth? Watch here (with my segment beginning at 3:20:30, if it doesn’t jump there automatically).

Here’s a longer talk covering many of the same topics, from Purdue’s Dawn or Doom 2 tech conference in September.

Permission Slips for Internet Innovation

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 1.03.35 PM

See my commentary in The Wall Street Journal this weekend — “Permission Slips for Internet Innovation.”

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Continue reading . . .

Moore’s Law: A 50th Anniversary Assessment

See our celebration of the 50th anniversary of Moore’s Law — “Moore’s Law Exceeded Moore’s Expectations.”

And for a longer treatment, see our 19-page paper — “Moore’s Law: A 50th Anniversary Assessment.”

How much would an iPhone have cost in 1991?

Amazing! An iPhone is more capable than 13 distinct electronics gadgets, worth more than $3,000, from a 1991 Radio Shack ad. Buffalo writer Steve Cichon first dug up the old ad and made the point about the seemingly miraculous pace of digital advance, noting that an iPhone incorporates the features of the computer, CD player, phone, “phone answerer,” and video camera, among other items in the ad, all at a lower price. The Washington Post‘s tech blog The Switch picked up the analysis, and lots of people then ran with it on Twitter. Yet the comparison was, unintentionally, a huge dis to the digital economy. It massively underestimates the true pace of technological advance and, despite its humor and good intentions, actually exposes a shortcoming that plagues much economic and policy analysis.

To see why, let’s do a very rough, back-of-the-envelope estimate of what an iPhone would have cost in 1991.

In 1991, a gigabyte of hard disk storage cost around $10,000, perhaps a touch less. (Today, it costs around four cents ($0.04).) Back in 1991, a gigabyte of flash memory, which is what the iPhone uses, would have cost something like $45,000, or more. (Today, it’s around 55 cents ($0.55).)

The mid-level iPhone 5S has 32 GB of flash memory. Thirty-two GB, multiplied by $45,000, equals $1.44 million.

The iPhone 5S uses Apple’s latest A7 processor, a powerful CPU, with an integrated GPU (graphics processing unit), that totals around 1 billion transistors, and runs at a clock speed of 1.3 GHz, producing something like 20,500 MIPS (millions of instructions per second). In 1991, one of Intel’s top microprocessors, the 80486SX, oft used in Dell desktop computers, had 1.185 million transistors and ran at 20 MHz, yielding around 16.5 MIPS. (The Tandy computer in the Radio Shack ad used a processor not nearly as powerful.) A PC using the 80486SX processor at the time might have cost $3,000. The Apple A7, by the very rough measure of MIPS, which probably underestimates the true improvement, outpaces that leading edge desktop PC processor by a factor of 1,242. In 1991, the price per MIPS was something like $30.

So 20,500 MIPS in 1991 would have cost around $620,000.

But there’s more. The 5S also contains the high-resolution display, the touchscreen, Apple’s own M7 motion processing chip, Qualcomm’s LTE broadband modem and its multimode, multiband broadband transceiver, a Broadcom Wi-Fi processor, the Sony 8 megapixel iSight (video) camera, the fingerprint sensor, power amplifiers, and a host of other chips and motion-sensing MEMS devices, like the gyroscope and accelerometer.

In 1991, a mobile phone used the AMPS analog wireless network to deliver kilobit voice connections. A 1.44 megabit T1 line from the telephone company cost around $1,000 per month. Today’s LTE mobile network is delivering speeds in the 15 Mbps range. Wi-Fi delivers speeds up to 100 Mbps (limited, of course, by its wired connection). Safe to say, the iPhone’s communication capacity is at least 10,000 times that of a 1991 mobile phone. Almost the entire cost of a phone back then was dedicated to merely communicating. Say the 1991 cost of mobile communication (only at the device/component level, not considering the network infrastructure or monthly service) was something like $100 per kilobit per second.

Fifteen thousand Kbps (15 Mbps), multiplied by $100, is $1.5 million.

Considering only memory, processing, and broadband communications power, duplicating the iPhone back in 1991 would have (very roughly) cost: $1.44 million + $620,000 + $1.5 million = $3.56 million.

This doesn’t even account for the MEMS motion detectors, the camera, the iOS operating system, the brilliant display, or the endless worlds of the Internet and apps to which the iPhone connects us.

This account also ignores the crucial fact that no matter how much money one spent, it would have been impossible in 1991 to pack that much technological power into a form factor the size of the iPhone, or even a refrigerator.*

Tim Lee at The Switch noted the imprecision of the original analysis and correctly asked how typical analyses of inflation can hope to account for such radical price drops. (Harvard economist Larry Summers recently picked up on this point as well.)

But the fact that so many were so impressed by an assertion that an iPhone possesses the capabilities of $3,000 worth of 1991 electronics products — when the actual figure exceeds $3 million — reveals how fundamentally difficult it is to think in exponential terms.

Innovation blindness, I’ve long argued, is a key obstacle to sound economic and policy thinking. And this is a perfect example. When we make policy based on today’s technology, we don’t just operate mildly sub-optimally. No, we often close off entire pathways to amazing innovation.

Consider the way education policy has mostly enshrined a 150-year-old model, and in recent decades has thrown more money at the same broken system while blocking experimentation. The other day, the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen (@pmarca) noted in a Twitter missive the huge, but largely unforeseen, impact digital technologies are having on this industry that so desperately needs improvement:

“Four biggest K-12 education breakthroughs in last 20 years: (1) Google, (2) Wikipedia, (3) Khan Academy, (4) Wolfram Alpha.”

Maybe the biggest breakthroughs of the last 50 years. Point made, nonetheless. California is now closing down “coding bootcamps” — courses that teach people how to build apps and other software — because many of them are not state certified. This is crazy.

The importance of understanding the power of innovation applies to health care, energy, education, and fiscal policy, but no where is it more applicable than in Internet and technology policy, which is, at the moment, the subject of a much needed rethink by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

— Bret Swanson

* To be fair, we do not account for the fact that back in 1991, had engineers tried to design and build chips and components with faster speeds and greater capacities than the consumer items mentioned, they could have in some cases scaled the technology in a more efficient manner than, for example, simply adding up consumer microprocessors totaling 20,500 MIPS. On the other hand, the extreme volumes of the consumer products in these memory, processing, and broadband communications categories, are what make the price drops possible. So this acknowledgment doesn’t change the analysis too much, if at all.

Digital Dynamism

See our new 20-page report — Digital Dynamism: Competition in the Internet Ecosystem:

The Internet is altering the communications landscape even faster than most imagined.

Data, apps, and content are delivered by a growing and diverse set of firms and platforms, interconnected in ever more complex ways. The new network, content, and service providers increasingly build their varied businesses on a common foundation — the universal Internet Protocol (IP). We thus witness an interesting phenomenon — the divergence of providers, platforms, services, content, and apps, and the convergence on IP.

The dynamism of the Internet ecosystem is its chief virtue. Infrastructure, services, and content are produced by an ever wider array of firms and platforms in overlapping and constantly shifting markets.

The simple, integrated telephone network, segregated entertainment networks, and early tiered Internet still exist, but have now been eclipsed by a far larger, more powerful phenomenon. A new, horizontal, hypercon- nected ecosystem has emerged. It is characterized by large investments, rapid innovation, and extreme product differentiation.

  • Consumers now enjoy at least five distinct, competing modes of broadband connectivity — cable modem, DSL, fiber optic, wireless broadband, and satellite — from at least five types of firms. Widespread wireless Wi- Fi nodes then extend these broadband connections.
  • Firms like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Netflix are now major Internet infrastructure providers in the form of massive data centers, fiber networks, content delivery systems, cloud computing clusters, ecommerce and entertainment hubs, network protocols and software, and, in Google’s case, fiber optic access net- works. Some also build network devices and operating systems. Each competes to be the hub — or at least a hub — of the consumer’s digital life. So large are these new players that up to 80 percent of network traffic now bypasses the traditional public Internet backbone.
  • Billions of diverse consumer and enterprise devices plug into these networks, from PCs and laptops to smartphones and tablets, from game consoles and flat panel displays to automobiles, web cams, medical devices, and untold sensors and industrial machines.

The communications playing field is continually shifting. Cable disrupted telecom through broadband cable modem services. Mobile is a massively successful business, yet it is cannibalizing wireline services, with further disruptions from Skype and other IP communications apps. Mobile service providers used to control the handset market, but today handsets are mobile computers that wield their own substantial power with consumers. While the old networks typically delivered a single service — voice, video, or data — today’s broadband networks deliver multiple services, with the “Cloud” offering endless possibilities.

Also view the accompanying graphic, showing the progression of network innovation over time: Hyperconnected: The New Network Map.

Prof. Krugman misses the App Economy

Steve Jobs designed great products. It’s very, very hard to make the case that he created large numbers of jobs in this country.

— Prof. Paul Krugman, New York Times, January 25, 2012

Turns out, not very hard at all.

The App Economy now is responsible for roughly 466,000 jobs in the United States, up from zero in 2007 when the iPhone was introduced.

— Dr. Michael Mandel, TechNet study, February 7, 2012

See our earlier rough estimate of Apple’s employment effects: “Jobs: Steve vs. the Stimulus.”

— Bret Swanson

Jobs’ jobs versus “jobs”

On Tuesday afternoon, Apple said it earned $13 billion in the fourth quarter on $46 billion in revenue. Thirty-seven million iPhones and 15 million iPads sold in the quarter helped boost its market cap to $415 billion. A few hours later, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, in his State of the Union response message, contrasted the technology juggernaut with Washington’s impotent jobs efforts: “The late Steve Jobs – what a fitting name he had – created more of them than all those stimulus dollars the President borrowed and blew.”

First thing Wednesday morning, however, Paul Krugman countered with a devastating argument – “Mitch Daniels Doesn’t Read the New York Times.” Prof. Krugman referred to the first of the Timesmultipart series on Apple’s Chinese manufacturing operations.

From Sunday’s Times:

Not long ago, Apple boasted that its products were made in America. Today, few are. Almost all of the 70 million iPhones, 30 million iPads and 59 million other products Apple sold last year were manufactured overseas.

Apple employs 43,000 people in the United States and 20,000 overseas, a small fraction of the over 400,000 American workers at General Motors in the 1950s, or the hundreds of thousands at General Electric in the 1980s. Many more people work for Apple’s contractors: an additional 700,000 people engineer, build and assemble iPads, iPhones and Apple’s other products. But almost none of them work in the United States. Instead, they work for foreign companies in Asia, Europe and elsewhere, at factories that almost all electronics designers rely upon to build their wares.

Steve Jobs designed great products. It’s very, very hard to make the case that he created large numbers of jobs in this country. Obama’s auto bailout, just by itself, saved a lot more jobs than Apple’s US employment.

So the New York Times thinks all those Chinese Foxconn assembly workers are the primary employment effect of Apple. And Prof. Krugman sidesteps the argument by noting the “auto bailout” – not the stimulus – “saved” – not created, mind you – more jobs than Apple’s under-roof American workforce.

CNNMoney jumped in:

Daniels’ math just doesn’t add up, no matter how successful and valuable Apple has become.

Not even close.

This little episode exposes quite a lot about the fundamentally different ways people think about the economy.

The economy is dynamic and complex. It’s a cooperative, competitive, and evolutionary. In recent pre-Great Recession history, the U.S. lost around 15 millions jobs every year — holy depression! But we created some 17 million a year, netting two million. There’s no way to quantify Jobs’ jobs impact exactly, which is one of the great virtues of capitalism.

An attempt to estimate in a very rough way, however, might be useful:

Apple

Apple has 60,000 total employees, around 43,000 in U.S.

Multiply these numbers by the years these jobs have existed, decades in the case of many. That’s many hundreds of thousands of “job-years.”

Then consider the broad software industry, especially the world of “apps” being developed for iPhone and iPad, and now for Macs. More than 500,000 iOS apps now exist, and 1.2 billion were downloaded in the last week of December 2011. Lots of people are trying to quantify how many jobs this app ecosystem has created. Likely it will mean many tens of thousands of jobs for decades to come, meaning hundreds of thousands of job-years, though even the “app” won’t look this way forever or even for long. We’ll see.

Apple computers, iPhones, iPads, and multimedia software, like OSX, iOS, Quicktime, and WebKit, drive the Internet and wireless industries. (WebKit is an open software platform developed by Apple that most people have never heard of. But it’s crucial to Internet browsers and webpage development.) These devices allow people and companies to create content. They improve productivity and create new kinds of jobs. How many graphic designers would we have had over the years without the Mac?

Apple devices devour bandwidth and storage and drive new generations of broadband and mobile network build-outs, totaling about $65 billion per year in the U.S. So add some significant portion of networking equipment salesmen and telecom pole-climbers and Verizon and Comcast workers and data center technicians. The iPhone alone completely reinvigorated the U.S. mobile industry and ushered in a new paradigm of computing, moving from PC to mobile device. Apple jolted AT&T back to life when the two companies partnered on the first iPhone. How many jobs across the economy did the iPhone “save” by boosting our digital industries when the PC era had about run its course? A lot.

Jobs created a new digital music industry. It’s impossible to gauge how many jobs were created versus eliminated. But clearly the new jobs are higher value jobs.

Apple is now the largest buyer of microchips in the world. It buys 23% of all the world’s flash memory, for example. Much of that is South Korean. But Apple probably buys something like 20 million Intel microprocessors each year. That’s a huge part of Intel’s business. Intel employs 100,000 people (not all in the U.S.).

The notion that “almost none” of the “additional 700,000” people who contribute to designing and building Apple products work in the U.S. is false. And silly.

Apple’s list of suppliers includes many of America’s leading-edge technology companies: Qualcomm, Intel, Corning, LSI, Broadcom, Seagate, Micron, Analog Devices, Linear, Maxim, Marvell, International Rectifier, Western Digital, ON Semi, Nvidia, AMD, Cypress, Texas Instruments, TriQuint, SanDisk, etc.

Lots of Apple’s foreign suppliers have substantial workforces in the U.S. Oft cited are the two Austin, Texas, Samsung fabs, which employ 3,500 workers who make NAND flash memory and Apple’s A5 chip. But many Asian and European Apple suppliers have sales, marketing, and support staff in America.

And of course no government or stimulus jobs are possible without private wealth creation. During the “stimulus” period — 2009-11 — Apple paid $16.5 billion in corporate income taxes, thus financing about 2% of the entire $821 billion stimulus package and thus 2% of the stimulus “jobs.” One might counter that stimulus was funded with debt, but money is fungible, and issuing debt depends on future claims on wealth. Moreover, because stimulus jobs were so extraordinarily expensive, a different accounting says that Apple’s $16.5 billion in taxes could have paid for 330,000 $50,000-a-year salaries.

Pixar

In 1986, Steve Jobs bought a tiny division of George Lucas’s LucasFilm and created what we know as Pixar, the leading movie animation studio. In 2006, Pixar merged with Walt Disney. Disney has 156,000 employees and $41 billion in sales, a growing portion of which directly or indirectly relate to Pixar properties, film development, characters, licensing, and distribution. Pixar really saved Hollywood during a dark time for film and spawned a whole new animation boom. Pixar developed and inspired many new technologies for film making, video games, and other interactive visual media.

An additional consideration: Over the 2009-11 period, Disney paid $7 billion in income taxes, thus financing just under 1% of the stimulus and 1% of the “jobs.” That $7 billion could have funded 140,000 $50,000-a-year salaries.

Macro

The economy-wide effects of Steve Jobs are of course impossible to measure with precision. But a new study from Robert Shapiro and Kevin Hassett estimates that advances in mobile Internet technologies boosted U.S. employment by around 400,000 per year from 2007 to 2011, or by a total of around 1.2 million over the 2009-11 stimulus period. The Phoenix Center found similar employment effects. What proportion of these can be attributed to Steve Jobs is, again, impossible to say. But it’s clear Apple was the primary innovator in mobile Internet technologies in this period, towering over a multitude of other important technologies. More than any other device, the iPhone exploited the new, larger-capacity 3G mobile networks of the period, and once it proved wildly popular it was the chief impetus for additional 3G mobile capacity.

Stimulus

CBO estimates ARRA (the Stimulus bill) yielded between 1.3 and 3.5 million job-years net, meaning created or saved. But as the stimulus wanes, many of these jobs go away, or at least are not attributable to the stimulus.

Robert Barro of Harvard questions whether ARRA created any jobs at all. He says the question isn’t whether the Keynesian multiplier is greater than 1 (meaning break even; spend $1, get $1 in GDP), let alone whether it’s 1.5 (spend a dollar, get $1.50), but whether the multiplier is greater than zero.

Stanford’s John Taylor also thinks ARRA had no positive effect.

And do stimulus-boosters really want to equate these two activities?

(1) the federal government pays a state worker’s salary for a year instead of the state paying the salary;

(2) a new job derived from an entrepreneur who’s created whole new industries with new kinds of higher value jobs that last for decades, spurring yet more growth and jobs.

In Keynesian macro world those two jobs are equivalent, I guess.

The CNNMoney report acknowledged the 43,000 U.S. employees of Apple and also the 850 employees of Pixar at the time it merged with Disney in 2006. It even allowed that perhaps Pixar could employ twice as many people now. It also grudgingly admitted that maybe some Americans are building apps for the App Store. That’s about it.

This imprecise exercise misses the deeper truths of entrepreneurial capitalism and short-changes the dynamic versus static view of the economy. In a new article today, which I just see as I’m finishing this post, Prof. Krugman quite rightly notes the importance of industrial clusters to growth. He cites the Chinese supply-chains highlighted in the NYT series. But he entirely ignores the most famous and successful cluster on earth — Silicon Valley. How many jobs in Silicon Valley do we think are dependent on or symbiotic with Apple. It’s incalculable, but its a lot.

I asked Gov. Daniels what he thought.

“I won’t be reading Herr Krugman,” Gov. Daniels replied, “but I did read the New York Times, and it changes nothing. Just means Dr. K doesn’t understand the dynamism of innovation, either.”

— Bret Swanson

Cloud Wars Baffle Simmering Cyber Lawyers

My latest column in Forbes – “Cloud Wars Baffle Simmering Cyber Lawyers”:

Like their celestial counterparts, cyber clouds are unpredictable and ever-changing. The Motorola Xoom tablet arrived on Tuesday. The Apple iPad II arrives next week. Just as Verizon finally boasts its own iPhone, AT&T turns the tables with the Motorola Atrix running on the even faster growing Google Android platform. Meanwhile, Nokia declares its once-mighty Symbian platform ablaze and abandons ship for a new mobile partnership with Microsoft.

In the media world, Apple pushes the envelope with publishers who use iPhone and iPad apps to deliver content. Its new subscription service seeks 30% of the price of magazines, newspapers, and, it hopes, games and videos delivered through its App Store and iTunes.

Google quickly counters with OnePass, a program that charges content providers 10% for access to its Android mobile platform. But unlike Apple, said Google CEO Eric Schmidt, “We don’t prevent you from knowing, if you’re a publisher, who your customers are.” Game on.

Netflix, by the way, saw its Web traffic spike 38% in just one month between December 2010 and January 2011 and is, ho hum, upending movies, cable, and TV.

As the cloud wars roar, the cyber lawyers simmer. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. The technology law triad of Harvard’s Lawrence Lessig and Jonathan Zittrain and Columbia’s Tim Wu had a vision. They saw an arts and crafts commune of cyber-togetherness. Homemade Web pages with flashing sirens and tacky text were more authentic. “Generativity” was Zittrain’s watchword, a vague aesthetic whose only definition came from its opposition to the ominous “perfect control” imposed by corporations dictating “code” and throwing the “master switch.”

In their straw world of “open” heros and “closed” monsters, AOL’s “walled garden” of the 1990s was the first sign of trouble. Microsoft was an obvious villain. The broadband service providers were of coursedangerous gatekeepers, the iPhone was too sleek and integrated, and now even Facebook threatens their ideal of uncurated chaos. These were just a few of the many companies that were supposed to kill the Internet. The triad’s perfect world would be mostly broke organic farmers and struggling artists. Instead, we got Apple’s beautifully beveled apps and Google’s intergalactic ubiquity. Worst of all, the Web started making money.

Read the full column here . . . .

The Stagnation Conversation, continued

Another review of Tyler Cowen’s The Great Stagnation, this one by Michael Mandel. More from Brink Lindsey.

And Nick Schulz’s video interview of Cowen:


Are we doomed by The Great Stagnation?

Here are my thoughts on Tyler Cowen’s terrific new e-book essay The Great Stagnation.

Brink Lindsey of the Kauffman Foundation comments here.

UPDATE: Tyler Cowen lists more reviews of his essay here:

2. Scott Sumner buys a Kindle and reviews The Great Stagnation.

3. Forbes review of The Great Stagnation.

4. Ryan Avent review of The Great Stagnation.

5. David Brooks coverage of The Great Stagnation.

7. Japan reviews The Great Stagnation.

Arnold Kling comments here.

And Nick Schulz here.

Collective vs. Creative: The Yin and Yang of Innovation

Later this week the FCC will accept the first round of comments in its “Open Internet” rule making, commonly known as Net Neutrality. Never mind that the Internet is already open and it was never strictly neutral. Openness and neutrality are two appealing buzzwords that serve as the basis for potentially far reaching new regulation of our most dynamic economic and cultural sector — the Internet.

I’ll comment on Net Neutrality from several angles over the coming days. But a terrific essay by Berkeley’s Jaron Lanier impelled me to begin by summarizing some of the big meta-arguments that have been swirling the last few years and which now broadly define the opposing sides in the Net Neutrality debate. After surveying these broad categories, I’ll get into the weeds on technology, business, and policy.

The thrust behind Net Neutrality is a view that the Internet should conform to a narrow set of technology and business “ideals” — “open,” “neutral,” “non-discriminatory.” Wonderful words. Often virtuous. But these aren’t the only traits important to economic and cultural systems. In fact, Net Neutrality sets up a false dichotomy — a manufactured war — between open and closed, collaborative versus commercial, free versus paid, content versus conduit. I’ve made a long list of the supposed opposing forces. Net Neutrality favors only one side of the table below. It seeks to cement in place one model of business and technology. It is intensely focused on the left-hand column and is either oblivious or hostile to the right-hand column. It thinks the right-hand items are either bad (prices) or assumes they appear magically (bandwidth).

We skeptics of Net Neutrality, on the other hand, do not favor one side or the other. We understand that there are virtues all around. Here’s how I put it on my blog last autumn:

Suggesting we can enjoy Google’s software innovations without the network innovations of AT&T, Verizon, and hundreds of service providers and technology suppliers is like saying that once Microsoft came along we no longer needed Intel.

No, Microsoft and Intel built upon each other in a virtuous interplay. Intel’s microprocessor and memory inventions set the stage for software innovation. Bill Gates exploited Intel’s newly abundant transistors by creating radically new software that empowered average businesspeople and consumers to engage with computers. The vast new PC market, in turn, dramatically expanded Intel’s markets and volumes and thus allowed it to invest in new designs and multi-billion dollar chip factories across the globe, driving Moore’s law and with it the digital revolution in all its manifestations.

Software and hardware. Bits and bandwidth. Content and conduit. These things are complementary. And yes, like yin and yang, often in tension and flux, but ultimately interdependent.

Likewise, we need the ability to charge for products and set prices so that capital can be rationally allocated and the hundreds of billions of dollars in network investment can occur. It is thus these hard prices that yield so many of the “free” consumer surplus advantages we all enjoy on the Web. No company or industry can capture all the value of the Web. Most of it comes to us as consumers. But companies and content creators need at least the ability to pursue business models that capture some portion of this value so they can not only survive but continually reinvest in the future. With a market moving so fast, with so many network and content models so uncertain during this epochal shift in media and communications, these content and conduit companies must be allowed to define their own products and set their own prices. We need to know what works, and what doesn’t.

When the “network layers” regulatory model, as it was then known, was first proposed back in 2003-04, my colleague George Gilder and I prepared testimony for the U.S. Senate. Although the layers model was little more than an academic notion, we thought then this would become the next big battle in Internet policy. We were right. Even though the “layers” proposal was (and is!) an ill-defined concept, the model we used to analyze what Net Neutrality would mean for networks and Web business models still applies. As we wrote in April of 2004:

Layering proponents . . . make a fundamental error. They ignore ever changing trade-offs between integration and modularization that are among the most profound and strategic decisions any company in any industry makes. They disavow Harvard Business professor Clayton Christensen’s theorems that dictate when modularization, or “layering,” is advisable, and when integration is far more likely to yield success. For example, the separation of content and conduit—the notion that bandwidth providers should focus on delivering robust, high-speed connections while allowing hundreds of millions of professionals and amateurs to supply the content—is often a sound strategy. We have supported it from the beginning. But leading edge undershoot products (ones that are not yet good enough for the demands of the marketplace) like video-conferencing often require integration.

Over time, the digital and photonic technologies at the heart of the Internet lead to massive integration — of transistors, features, applications, even wavelengths of light onto fiber optic strands. This integration of computing and communications power flings creative power to the edges of the network. It shifts bottlenecks. Crystalline silicon and flawless fiber form the low-entropy substrate that carry the world’s high-entropy messages — news, opinions, new products, new services. But these feats are not automatic. They cannot be legislated or mandated. And just as innovation in the core of the network unleashes innovation at the edges, so too more content and creativity at the edge create the need for ever more capacity and capability in the core. The bottlenecks shift again. More data centers, better optical transmission and switching, new content delivery optimization, the move from cell towers to femtocell wireless architectures. There is no final state of equilibrium where one side can assume that the other is a stagnant utility, at least not in the foreseeable future.

I’ll be back with more analysis of the Net Neutrality debate, but for now I’ll let Jaron Lanier (whose book You Are Not a Gadget was published today) sum up the argument:

Here’s one problem with digital collectivism: We shouldn’t want the whole world to take on the quality of having been designed by a committee. When you have everyone collaborate on everything, you generate a dull, average outcome in all things. You don’t get innovation.

If you want to foster creativity and excellence, you have to introduce some boundaries. Teams need some privacy from one another to develop unique approaches to any kind of competition. Scientists need some time in private before publication to get their results in order. Making everything open all the time creates what I call a global mush.

There’s a dominant dogma in the online culture of the moment that collectives make the best stuff, but it hasn’t proven to be true. The most sophisticated, influential and lucrative examples of computer code—like the page-rank algorithms in the top search engines or Adobe’s Flash—always turn out to be the results of proprietary development. Indeed, the adored iPhone came out of what many regard as the most closed, tyrannically managed software-development shop on Earth.

Actually, Silicon Valley is remarkably good at not making collectivization mistakes when our own fortunes are at stake. If you suggested that, say, Google, Apple and Microsoft should be merged so that all their engineers would be aggregated into a giant wiki-like project—well you’d be laughed out of Silicon Valley so fast you wouldn’t have time to tweet about it. Same would happen if you suggested to one of the big venture-capital firms that all the start-ups they are funding should be merged into a single collective operation.

But this is exactly the kind of mistake that’s happening with some of the most influential projects in our culture, and ultimately in our economy.

U.S./China Innovation Race

Intel CTO Justin Rattner

says many people underestimate America’s lead in post-graduate education. Intel has found, for example, that the skills of PhDs from Chinese universities that the company has hired do not yet match those of U.S. graduates, he says.

On the other hand, Rattner says, tougher immigration laws are weakening the U.S. advantage as a magnet for students from around the world. Many Silicon Valley companies were founded by foreign students after they got degrees from Stanford, the University of California at Berkeley, Caltech and other U.S. institutions.

“Now we tell them to go home, and don’t come back anytime soon,” Rattner says. Such a policy could have made it impossible for people like Andy Grove, Intel’s Hungarian-born former CEO, to have risen to the top of the U.S. tech scene. “Nowadays we would have packed him up and sent him home,” Rattner says.

Growth Clusters

Ed Glaeser, William Kerr, and Giacomo Ponzetto have a new paper on “Clusters of Entrepreneurship.”

Employment growth is strongly predicted by smaller average establishment size, both across cities and across industries within cities, but there is little consensus on why this relationship exists. Traditional economic explanations emphasize factors that reduce entry costs or raise entrepreneurial returns, thereby increasing net returns and attracting entrepreneurs. A second class of theories hypothesizes that some places are endowed with a greater supply of entrepreneurship. Evidence on sales per worker does not support the higher returns for entrepreneurship rationale. Our evidence suggests that entrepreneurship is higher when Öxed costs are lower and when there are more entrepreneurial people.

Agreeing with Kessler

After challenging Andy Kessler over the Google Voice-Apple-AT&T dustup, I should point out some areas of agreement.

Andy writes:

Some might say it is time to rethink our national communications policy. But even that’s obsolete. I’d start with a simple idea. There is no such thing as voice or text or music or TV shows or video. They are all just data.

Right, all these markets and business models in hardware, software, and content — core network, edge network, data center, storage, content delivery, operating system, browser, local software, software as a service (SAS), professional content, amateur content, advertising, subscriptions, etc. — are fusing via the Internet. Or at least they overlap in so many areas and at any moment are on the verge of converging in others, that any attempt to parse them into discreet sectors to be regulated is mostly futile. By the time you make up new categories, the categories change.

Which naturally applies to one of the most contentious topics in Net policy:

Competition brings de facto network neutrality and open access (if you don’t like one service blocking apps, use another), thus one less set of artificial rules to be gamed.

Exactly. Net Neutrality could be an unworkably complex and rigid intrusion into this highly dynamic space. Better to let companies compete and evolve.

Kessler concludes:

Data is toxic to old communications and media pipes. Instead, data gains value as it hops around in the packets that make up the Internet structure. New services like Twitter don’t need to file with the FCC.

And new features for apps like Google Voice are only limited by the imagination.

The Internet is disrupting communications companies. Although yesterday I defended the service providers, who are also the key investors in all-important Net infrastructure, it is true their legacy business models are under assault from the inexorable forces of quantum technologies. Web video assaults the cable companies’ discrete channel line-ups. Big bandwidth banished “long distance” voice and, as Kessler says, will continue disrupting voice calling plans. On the other hand, the robust latency and jitter requirements of voice and video, and the realities of cybersecurity will continue to modify the generalized principle that bits are bits.

Even if we can see where things are going — more openness, more modularity, more “bits are bits” — we can’t for the most part mandate these things by law. We have to let them happen. And in many cases, as with the Apple-AT&T iPhone, it was an integrated offering (the exclusive handset arrangement) that yielded an unprecedented unleashing of a new modular mobile phone arena. Those 100,000 new “apps” and a new, open Web-based mobile computing model. Integration and modularity are in constant tension and flux, building off one another, pulling and pushing on one another. Neither can claim ultimate virtue. We have to let them slug it out.

As I wrote yesterday, innovation yin and yang.

Innovation Yin and Yang

There are two key mistakes in the public policy arena that we don’t talk enough about. They are two apparently opposite sides of the same fallacious coin.

Call the first fallacy “innovation blindness.” In this case, policy makers can’t see the way new technologies or ideas might affect, say, the future cost of health care, or the environment. The result is a narrow focus on today’s problems rather than tomorrow’s opportunities. The orientation toward the problem often exacerbates it by closing off innovations that could transcend the issue altogether.

The second fallacy is “innovation assumption.” Here, the mistake is taking innovation for granted. Assume the new technology will come along even if we block experimentation. Assume the entrepreneur will start the new business, build the new facility, launch the new product, or hire new people even if we make it impossibly expensive or risky for her to do so. Assume the other guy’s business is a utility while you are the one innovating, so he should give you his product at cost — or for free — while you need profits to reinvest and grow.

Reversing these two mistakes yields the more fruitful path. We should base policy on the likely scenario of future innovation and growth. But then we have to actually allow and encourage the innovation to occur.

All this sprung to mind as I read Andy Kessler’s article, “Why AT&T Killed Google Voice.” For one thing, Google Voice isn’t dead . . . but let’s start at the beginning.

Kessler is a successful investor, an insightful author, and a witty columnist. I enjoy seeing him each year at the Gilder/Forbes Telecosm Conference, where he delights the crowd with fast-paced, humorous commentaries on finance and technology. Here, however, Kessler falls prey to the innovation assumption fallacy.

Kessler argues that Google Voice, a new unified messaging application that combines all your phone numbers into one and can do conference calls and call transcripts, is going to overturn the entire world of telecom. Then he argues that Apple and AT&T attempted to kill Google Voice by blocking it as an “app” on Apple’s iPhone App Store. Why? Because Google Voice, according to Kessler, can do everything the telecom companies and Apple can do — better, even. These big, slow, old companies felt threatened to their core and are attempting to stifle an innovation that could put them out of business. We need new regulations to level the playing field.

Whoa. Wait a minute.

Google Voice seems like a nice product, but it is largely a call-forwarding system. I’ve already had call forwarding, simultaneous ring, Web-based voice mail, and other unified messaging features for five years. Good stuff. Maybe Google Voice will be the best of its kind.

There are just all sorts of fun and productive things happening all across the space. It was the very AT&T-Apple-iPhone combo that created “visual voice mail,” which allowed you to see and choose individual messages instead of wading through long queues of unwanted recordings.

But let’s move on to think about much larger issues.

Suggesting we can enjoy Google’s software innovations without the network innovations of AT&T, Verizon, and hundreds of service providers and technology suppliers is like saying that once Microsoft came along we no longer needed Intel. (more…)

Doom? Or Boom?

Do we really understand just how fast technology advances over time? And the magnitude of price changes and innovations it yields?

Especially in the realm of public policy, we often obsess over today’s seemingly intractable problems without realizing that technology and economic growth often show us a way out.

In several recent presentations in Atlanta and Seattle, I’ve sought to measure the growth of a key technological input — consumer bandwidth — and to show how the pace of technological change in other arenas is likely to continue remaking our world for the better . . . if we let it.

Bandwidth Boom – NARUC Seattle – Bret Swanson – 07.22.09

Biting the handsets that connect the world

Over the July 4 weekend, relatives and friends kept asking me: Which mobile phone should I buy? There are so many choices.

I told them I love my iPhone, but all kinds of new devices from BlackBerries and Samsungs to Palm’s new Pre make strong showings, and the less well-known HTC, one of the biggest innovators of the last couple years, is churning out cool phones across the price-point and capability spectrum. Several days before, on Wednesday, July 1, I had made a mid-afternoon stop at the local Apple store. It was packed. A short line formed at the entrance where a salesperson was taking names on a clipboard. After 15 minutes of browsing, it was my turn to talk to a salesman, and I asked: “Why is the store so crowded? Some special event?”

“Nope,” he answered. “This is pretty normal for a Wednesday afternoon, especially since the iPhone 3G S release.”

So, to set the scene: The retail stores of Apple Inc., a company not even in the mobile phone business two short years ago, are jammed with people craving iPhones and other networked computing devices. And competing choices from a dozen other major mobile device companies are proliferating and leapfrogging each other technologically so fast as to give consumers headaches.

But amid this avalanche of innovative alternatives, we hear today that:

The Department of Justice has begun looking into whether large U.S. telecommunications companies such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. are abusing the market power they have amassed in recent years . . . .

. . . The review is expected to cover all areas from land-line voice and broadband service to wireless.

One area that might be explored is whether big wireless carriers are hurting smaller rivals by locking up popular phones through exclusive agreements with handset makers. Lawmakers and regulators have raised questions about deals such as AT&T’s exclusive right to provide service for Apple Inc.’s iPhone in the U.S. . . .

The department also may review whether telecom carriers are unduly restricting the types of services other companies can offer on their networks . . . .

On what planet are these Justice Department lawyers living?

Most certainly not the planet where consumer wireless bandwidth rocketed by a factor of 542 (or 54,200%) over the last eight years. The chart below, taken from our new research, shows that by 2008, U.S. consumer wireless bandwidth — a good proxy for the power of the average citizen to communicate using mobile devices — grew to 325 terabits per second from just 600 gigabits per second in 2000. This 500-fold bandwidth expansion enabled true mobile computing, changed industries and cultures, and connected billions across the globe. Perhaps the biggest winners in this wireless boom were low-income Americans, and their counterparts worldwide, who gained access to the Internet’s riches for the first time.

total-us-wireless-bandwidth-2000-08

Meanwhile, Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin is egging on Justice and the FCC with a long letter full of complaints right out of the 1950s. He warns of consolidation and stagnation in the dynamic, splintering communications sector; of dangerous exclusive handset deals even as mobile computers are perhaps the world’s leading example of innovative diversity; and of rising prices as communications costs plummet.

Kohl cautioned in particular that text message prices are rising and could severely hurt wireless consumers. But this complaint does not square with the numbers: the top two U.S. mobile phone carriers now transmit more than 200 billion text messages per calendar quarter.

It’s clear: consumers love paid text messaging despite similar applications like email, Skype calling, and instant messaging (IM, or chat) that are mostly free. A couple weeks ago I was asking a family babysitter about the latest teenage trends in text messaging and mobile devices, and I noted that I’d just seen highlights on SportsCenter of the National Texting Championship. Yes, you heard right. A 15 year old girl from Iowa, who had only been texting for eight months, won the speed texting contest and a prize of $50,000. I told the babysitter that ESPN reported this young Iowan used a crazy sounding 14,000 texts per month. “Wow, that’s a lot,” the babysitter said. “I only do 8,000 a month.”

I laughed. Only eight thousand.

In any case, Sen. Kohl’s complaint of a supposed rise in per text message pricing from $.10 to $.20 is mostly irrelevant. Few people pay these per text prices. A quick scan of the latest plans of one carrier, AT&T, shows three offerings: 200 texts for $5.00; 1500 texts for $15.00; or unlimited texts for $20. These plans correspond to per text prices, respectively, of 2.5 cents, 1 cent, and, in the case of our 8,000 text teen, just .25 cents. Not anywhere close to 20 cents.

The criticism of exclusive handset deals — like the one between AT&T and Apple’s iPhone or Sprint and Palm’s new Pre — is bizarre. Apple wasn’t even in the mobile business two years ago. And after its Treo success several years ago, Palm, originally a maker of PDAs (remember those?), had fallen far behind. Remember, too, that RIM’s popular BlackBerry devices were, until recently, just email machines. Then there is Amazon, who created a whole new business and publishing model with its wireless Kindle book- and Web-reader that runs on the Sprint mobile network. These four companies made cooperative deals with service providers to help them launch risky products into an intensely competitive market with longtime global standouts like Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, LG, Sanyo, SonyEricsson, and others.

As The Wall Street Journal noted today:

More than 30 devices have been introduced to compete with the iPhone since its debut in 2007. The fact that one carrier has an exclusive has forced other companies to find partners and innovate. In response, the price of the iPhone has steadily fallen. The earliest iPhones cost more than $500; last month, Apple introduced a $99 model.

If this is a market malfunction, let’s have more of them. Isn’t Washington busy enough re-ordering the rest of the economy?

These new devices, with their high-resolution screens, fast processors, and substantial 3G mobile and Wi-Fi connections to the cloud have launched a new era in Web computing. The iPhone now boasts more than 50,000 applications, mostly written by third-party developers and downloadable in seconds. Far from closing off consumer choice, the mobile phone business has never been remotely as open, modular, and dynamic.

There is no reason why 260 million U.S. mobile customers should be blocked from this onslaught of innovation in a futile attempt to protect a few small wireless service providers who might not — at this very moment — have access to every new device in the world, but who will no doubt tomorrow be offering a range of similar devices that all far eclipse the most powerful and popular device from just a year or two ago.

Bret Swanson

Huge $1.45 billion, a new low

After the EC antitrust authority today leveled a €1.06 billion fine against Intel, the company’s general counsel Bruce Sewell gave an illuminating interview to CNBC:

We better come up with a better way to restrict the EC’s range of motion on these matters. Sewell called the action “arbitrary.” The CNBC reporters called it a “shakedown.” They’re both right.

Meanwhile, EC competition commissioner Neelie Kroes added insult to injury when she blithely noted that Intel is now supporting European taxpayers.

A huge array of experts in the legal and economic fields quickly denounced the EU “fine,” (Can you really call $1.45 billion a fine?), and raised very serious questions about arbitrary antitrust becoming the chief protectionist tool of the 21st century.

Scholar Ronald Cass said the EC Competition Directorate acted as

prosecutor, investigator, and judge.

Grant Aldonas of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said,

Given the implications for R&D that drives Intel’s investment in both Europe and the United States, it makes little sense to divert these funds to the European Union’s coffers instead.

And as we attempt to emerge from a brutal economic crisis, where unemployment continues to rise, my former colleague Ken Ferree made the crucial macro point:

If you love jobs and economic growth, you have to love the companies that drive the economy and create employment demand.

The global economy cannot function if large nations or regions, like the EU, the U.S., or China, engage in over-the-top punitive actions against any company, let alone one of the most inventive firms of our time. Without engaging in the type of tit-for-tat protectionism that leads to destructive trade wars, we need to find a way to roll back what I called in a recent Wall Street Journal article “Europe’s anti-innovation ‘antitrust’ policy.” Moreover, we should resist letting the EC’s casual intrusiveness seep into our own antitrust jurisprudence, which has for the most part fortunately been more tightly focused on the question of consumer harm. As this excellent article notes, there is some reason to worry we might be sliding in the wrong direction.

Resisting these impulses will promote the global cooperation we need to rebound from the crisis. It will be better for innovative companies. Better for consumers of innovative, life changing products. And . . . better for the citizens, consumers, and entrepreneurs of that too-long underperforming land we call Europe.

Info-tech = recovery

In testimony before Congress’s Joint Economic Committee today, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke noted that

In contrast to the somewhat better news in the household sector, the available indicators of business investment remain extremely weak.

But it is these key business sectors that are most important for a U.S. — and global — economic recovery. As important as stabilization of the housing sector is, we are not going to be led out of the recession by another housing boom. Nor should we desire that. We need real productivity-enhancing innovation, which is largely enabled by non-real estate investment and entrepreneurship.

Among the myriad policy actions being taken in Washington this year is a potential overhaul of our communications strategy, under the aegis of the FCC’s new Broadband “Notice of Inquiry.” The first goal of this plan should be to to encourage the continued investment in leading-edge information technologies. Broadband communications especially makes all our businesses in every sector more productive and also connects an ever larger number of citizens, especially those who may be struggling the most in this tough economy, to the wider world, improving their prospects for education, health, and new jobs in emerging industries.

Information and communications technology (ICT) accounts for an astounding 43% of non-structure U.S. capital investment, totaling $455 billion 2008. In this new FCC communications policy review, we should do everything possible to keep this huge source of American growth rolling. Any policy obstacles thrown into the path of our information industries would not only reduce this crucial component of absolute capital investment, which is already under strain, but also diminish and delay all the positive cascading follow-on effects of a more networked workforce and world.

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