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[liberationtech] [IP] My blog today on "Permissionless Innovation"

Eugen Leitl eugen at
Thu Nov 14 12:02:52 PST 2013

----- Forwarded message from Dave Farber <dave at> -----

Date: Thu, 14 Nov 2013 11:28:48 -0500
From: Dave Farber <dave at>
To: ip <ip at>
Subject: [IP] My blog today on "Permissionless Innovation"
Message-ID: <CAKx4triMv4zeA6mV_POaLfyosZk_1qumW7m+=1Fw37zVs9mC_A at>
Reply-To: dave at

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: *Young, David E*
Date: Thursday, November 14, 2013
Subject: My blog today on "Permissionless Innovation"
To: "Dave Farber (dave at" <dave at>

Dave, Perhaps of interest…

Permissionless Innovation On the Internet

*David Young <>*

Nov 14 | David Young <>

In a story posted yesterday – A Remedy to Clueless Tech
my old friend Jonathan Askin describes some work he did as a young
for another good friend of mine, tech innovator Jeff
In the mid-90s, Jeff was trying to create a peer-to-peer communications
service called Free World Dial-Up

Jonathan beats himself up in his essay because, as Jeff’s lawyer (or “wartime
consigliere <>” as he
called himself), he “put the reins on FWD” and advised Jeff to ask the FCC
for permission “to launch FWD free of regulatory constraints.” Jonathan
rightly understood that the FCC could decide to regulate FWD as a *telephone
service*, and sought to protect his client from that risk.

may be one of the key features of the Internet, but as Jonathan rightly
understood, regulated companies and service providers too often have to ask
permission from their regulators before innovating, or else face potential

After more than a year, the FCC agreed that FWD was an “information
service” not subject to common carrier telephone regulation. Unfortunately
for Jeff Pulver, the many months it took to get permission from the FCC
allowed a non-US company <> to innovate
freely and capture the market opportunity. In 2013, you may not have ever
heard of Free World Dial-Up, but you’ve certainly heard of Skype.

In retrospect, perhaps Jonathan would have advised his client to “just do
it,” as the delay waiting for permission was indeed a very bad thing for
FWD. However, the eventual FCC decision – the “Pulver
- was a critically important precedent. Jeff’s sacrifice helped pave the
way for innovators everywhere to offer new services in the US (and we owe
him our heartfelt thanks!).

As a young phone company engineer trying to get into broadband and VOIP in
the 90s, I experienced firsthand the problem of needing regulatory
permission to try new, innovative things that don’t fit into the existing
regulatory buckets. That is why decisions like the Pulver Order that
protect some new services like FWD from common carrier regulation, the “Vonage
Order <>”
protecting VoIP services from state telephone regulators, the FCC actions
protecting cable modem broadband service from regulation by 30,000 local
franchise authorities <>,
and the FCC orders confirming that traditional common carriage regulation
doesn’t apply to
were so important to enabling innovation without the regulatory
overhang that early innovators like Pulver and Askin faced.

Permissionless innovation shouldn’t be reserved for just certain types of
innovators (like software developers) and not others. Given the dynamism,
innovation and competition that are the hallmarks of today’s Internet
ecosystem, the ability to innovate without having to seek permission from
regulators at every step along the way is critical to the continued success
of the Internet, and must be preserved.

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