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Susan Crawford

  • The Unequal Racial Burdens of Rising Seas

    April 10, 2023

    All true climate-change stories are about the abuse of power. Knowing this, Susan Crawford makes a plea for climate justice in “Charleston,” her sweeping case…

  • The perfect storm: the US city where rising sea levels and racism collide

    April 5, 2023

    An article by Susan Crawford: Predictions about how much water is coming vary greatly. Some scientists say we should be planning on three feet of…

  • The FCC aims to expand competition for internet service in apartment buildings

    February 25, 2022

    In a unanimous vote, the Federal Communications Commission decided last week to open apartment and condominium buildings to more broadband competition. A 2008 rule already on the books limited landlords’ ability to enter into exclusive deals with cable and internet service providers, but there were loopholes that effectively allowed providers and landlords to keep renters stuck with one ISP — at whatever price it wanted to charge. The new rule would force landlords to disclose those arrangements and give renters more options. Susan Crawford teaches law at Harvard. She said this move by the FCC is pro-consumer but doesn’t fully address the major issues around competition.

  • 14 experts say how the net’s worst problems could be solved by 2035

    February 9, 2022

    In the early 21st century, the internet—and the social internet, in particular—has enabled a more connected world. But it’s also enabled and amplified some of humanity’s worst behaviors. Fringy, toxic opinions and outright disinformation proliferate. Antisocial behavior is normalized. Facts—when they can be recognized—are used to bolster preexisting opinions, not to challenge assumptions. Kids (and adults) measure their self-worth by their Instagram comments and follower count. Expecting the huge tech companies that operate the platforms to proactively fix the problems gets more unworkable as online communities grow into the billions. ... Susan Crawford, John A. Reilly clinical professor of law at Harvard Law School and Special Assistant to the President for science, technology, and innovation policy in the Obama administration “Someday, we’ll cease to differentiate between on- and offline, just as we have stopped talking about ‘electrified’ life. Much that we now treasure will disappear. But the human spirit is creative and playful—we’ll be up to new augmented shenanigans that we cannot now imagine.”

  • Books aligned on window sill with a seaside sunset background.

    Harvard Law faculty summer 2021 book recommendations

    July 1, 2021

    Looking for a new book to enjoy at the beach, park, or on your couch? Six HLS faculty members share what they’re reading this summer. 

  • iPhone 11 Pro showing Social media applications on its screen

    Should the internet be treated like a public utility?

    April 20, 2021

    At the annual Klinsky Lecture, Visiting Professor John G. Palfrey ’01, president of the MacArthur Foundation, says we need a regulatory regime for technology.

  • A line of people waiting to get their vaccine.

    Calling the shots

    March 17, 2021

    Disheartened by tales from family and friends frustrated by his home state of Pennsylvania's vaccine distribution system, Seth Rubinstein ’22, a second year student at Harvard Law School, knew he wanted to get involved.

  • Links America’s Digital Divide, One Internet Connection At A Time

    January 4, 2021

    There is much to be down about in 2020. Yet, America’s heart broke when the story of two elementary school girls spending hours to complete their homework outside of a Taco Bell made national news. Why were those girls in, of all places, a fast-food restaurant to study?  The children did not have internet access at home. Taco Bell was the only place nearby that had a free, stable Wi-Fi connection. Who knew the difference between accessing education during a global pandemic would be found in a fast-food parking lot? America must build better for our nation’s children. Our country can build better for its young...The lack of competition to contest these giant cable corporations’ monopolies destroys any incentive to improve their services, especially in rural areas...Susan P. Crawford, the John A. Reilly Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, details the actions taken by cable incumbents during Kennard’s tenure as the FCC General Counsel (1993-1997) and Chairman (1997-2001). She states, “The major cable providers in this country do not compete with one another. The operators clustered all cable into regional monopolies during the summer of 1997—Leo Hindery, then-President of Tele-Communications, Inc., and the architect of the effort, calls that summer the “Summer of Love”—pursuing swaps and partnerships that put every market in the United States except four in the hands of a single operator.”

  • Has COVID-19 confirmed it’s time to make high-speed internet a public utility?

    December 8, 2020

    Early worries about whether U.S. internet infrastructure could accommodate an unprecedented surge in usage as COVID-19 restrictions pushed tens of millions of Americans to working and learning from home have, for the most part, proven unfounded. However, that new pandemic-induced dependence on robust internet connectivity has shone a light on the stark inequities of broadband access and helped spur a new focus on addressing a long-standing question — why isn’t internet service a public utility with the same support, disbursement and regulation afforded to other basic necessities like water, electricity and telephone service? ... Harvard University researcher Susan Crawford has been investigating internet access issues for years and taken a close look at how U.S. broadband service has evolved as well as alternative approaches by countries in Europe and Asia that have embraced the development of high-speed internet access as a basic — and critical — public utility. Crawford says the models that work best leverage public/private partnerships to get internet infrastructure like fiber optic cable running to every household and business, then opening access to those lines via lease with private sector service providers. The systems, she said, bear a lot of resemblance to how domestic electricity and telephone systems were built out by private entities but backed by public financing and oversight.

  • Why Is America’s Internet So Slow? with Susan Crawford

    December 4, 2020

    Harvard law professor Susan Crawford joins Adam this week to discuss why America – the country that invented the internet – struggles to provide access to affordable, high-speed internet. She explains why just a few telecom companies monopolize the industry, fiber vs. wireless, the real deal with 5G, and why the internet should become a public utility.

  • In Chicago, 90% of voters agreed the internet should be a public utility

    November 5, 2020

    Chicago voters faced a simple question on their 2020 ballots: “Should the City of Chicago act to ensure that all the City’s community areas have access to broadband internet?” By a nine-to-one margin, they answered “yes.” The result is significant for what it says about public attitudes toward the internet. In the context of a broader debate about whether we should treat the internet like a public utility, Chicago voters signaled that the most basic formulation of this idea—that the government should make sure citizens have internet access—is overwhelmingly popular...The Chicago ballot measure, by itself, won’t make citywide broadband a reality. The referendum was non-binding, meaning city officials are free to ignore it, and voters only supported internet access in the abstract, without having to actually think through the cost of making universal broadband access a reality. But it does give mayor Lori Lightfoot political cover for more projects like the $50 million public private partnership the city unveiled in July to bring broadband into the homes of 100,000 students...Harvard law professor Susan Crawford argues that the internet must follow the path other basic services, like electricity, took from being a demand-driven luxury to a publicly regulated utility. Governments in South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore made that shift early, and their residents have widespread access to low-cost fiber optic internet. With continued investments in initiatives like Chicago’s broadband project and federal grants for rural internet co-ops, the US could follow suit.

  • The Tech Antitrust Problem No One Is Talking About

    October 29, 2020

    After years of building political pressure for antitrust scrutiny of major tech companies, this month Congress and the US government delivered. The House Antitrust Subcommittee released a report accusing Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook of monopolistic behavior. The Department of Justice filed a complaint against Google alleging the company prevents consumers from sampling other search engines. The new fervor for tech antitrust has so far overlooked an equally obvious target: US broadband providers...Critics of the four companies that dominate US broadband—Verizon, Comcast, Charter Communications, and AT&T—argue that antitrust intervention has been needed for years to lower prices and widen internet access. A Microsoft study estimated last year that as many as 162.8 million Americans lack meaningful broadband, and New America’s Open Technology Institute recently found that US consumers pay, on average, more than those in Europe, Asia, or elsewhere in North America...The Institute for Local Self Reliance, which promotes community broadband projects, recently estimated from Federal Communications Commission data that some 80 million Americans can only get high-speed broadband service from one provider. “That is quite intentional on the part of cable operators,” says Susan Crawford, a professor at Harvard Law School. “These companies are extracting rent from Americans based on their monopoly positions.” ... Crawford and other industry critics say cable companies have used that freedom to erode choice through mergers, and have deployed a deep bench of lobbyists to steer lawmakers to lighten oversight and ban cities from building their own networks. Cities that have done so, like Wilson, North Carolina, generally have higher speeds at lower prices and less restrictive terms, Crawford says.

  • Your internet is terrible during COVID-19 pandemic. But you already knew that, right?

    September 22, 2020

    It was 8:03 a.m., and the screen of Carlos Cano’s laptop was black. This meant he was three minutes late for his eighth-grade science class. In the next room, beneath a painting of Jesus, Cano’s mother kneeled on the hardwood floor. She was not praying to God. Instead, she faced a white internet router as big as a kitchen blender. She unplugged the power cord, then plugged it in. “Is it working, Carlos?” asked Adriana Medina, Cano’s mother. “Nope,” Cano said. “Oh, come on!” Medina said. “This is supposed to be Verizon’s biggest, fastest router. And every day, it doesn’t work! Why am I paying for this?” As the COVID-19 pandemic forces millions of American families to try online learning for the first time, many are discovering their internet service is not up to the task. Nor is it cheap. Medina has Verizon’s “Fios Gigabit Connection,” supposedly enough broadband to support 100 computers. Along with two cellphones, router rental and other fees, Medina pays $400 every month to connect her family to the world. Yet she can’t even connect to teachers at her son’s middle school, a half-mile away. “I don’t blame the school. I blame the internet service companies,” Medina said. “These people are making billions of dollars during this pandemic, but my kids can’t even go to school.” America, the nation that invented the internet, has terrible internet. Experts who study internet performance find that service in the United States is often too slow for the modern world of constant connection and two-way video chats. “Our telecommunications network, when it first launched, was the envy of the world,” said Susan Crawford, a professor at Harvard Law School who studies internet access worldwide. “Now it’s more like a Third-World nation.” For millions of families, internet service isn’t available at all.

  • Give everybody the internet

    September 10, 2020

    Since the pandemic set in, Grace Riario and Melissa Morrone have witnessed a similar phenomenon at the libraries they work at in New York: people gathering around to try to catch the wifi outside their doors because indoor service is largely shut down...Riario oversees nine libraries in the Catskills region, where some areas don’t have access to broadband internet at all. Morrone is a supervising librarian in Brooklyn, where even if people do theoretically have access, many can’t afford it. They’re both seeing the real-life manifestations of the so-called “digital divide.” The divide is both rural and urban and tied to both access and inclusion. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 21 million Americans don’t have access to quality broadband internet, though some estimates suggest that number is much higher, even double. Millions of people simply can’t access broadband because the infrastructure isn’t in place. Then there’s the question of cost — just because a wire runs by someone’s house doesn’t mean they can use it...Many Republicans and Democrats have taken a lax attitude toward the telecom industry, allowing companies to get big and powerful — the Telecommunications Act of 1996 allowed for an enormous amount of consolidation in the industry. On top of that, at the local level, many municipalities have signed franchise agreements with ISPs to wire up their areas, further locking in monopolies with little negotiating power. “If you leave these guys to their own devices, they will divide up markets, consolidate, and charge as much as they possibly can,” said Susan Crawford, a law professor at Harvard and the author of multiple books about the telecom industry. Crawford has long advocated for nationwide high-speed fiber internet, which would allow for basically limitless amounts of data to travel...The good news, Crawford said, is that communities taking the issue of internet access into their own hands may help shame the federal government into a better policy eventually. The bad news is it’s likely to be a “heartbreakingly slow process.”

  • ‘People need broadband’: Internet projects are taking place or in pipeline, but some concerned about their closed structure

    July 31, 2020

    There are two projects underway in western Nevada County to bring stronger internet to select homes and businesses. The first is a $27 million Bright Fiber project, connecting 2,000 households in six zones along Highway 174 — from Idaho Maryland to Chicago Park — to high-speed internet. The second is run by Nevada County Fiber Inc., using the county’s Last Mile Broadband program to bring underground fiber optic to 25 homes and businesses in the Red Dog and Banner Quaker Hill Road areas. But more projects are potentially in the works...Harvard law professor Susan Crawford believes the reason rural areas do not yet have strong, reliable internet is due to a lack of regulation over privately controlled telecommunication companies. “The completely deregulated private companies on which we depend for wired communications have systemically divided markets, avoided competition and established monopolies in their geographic footprints,” she writes in her 2018 book “Fiber.” “The results are terrible: very expensive yet second-rate data services, mostly from local cable monopolists, in richer neighborhoods; the vast majority of Americans unable to buy a fiber optic subscription at any price; and many Americans, particularly in rural and poorer areas, completely left behind.” The spaces in the U.S., and around the world, that have provided affordable and universal access to strong internet are where the service is treated like a utility, and run by a democratically operated and owned entity via either a cooperative or government agency, she argues. Kristin York, vice president of business innovation for the Sierra Business Council, said her organization shares many of Crawford’s concerns.

  • Want affordable, abundant internet access? Competition’s the key.

    June 25, 2020

    All this week, we’ve been looking at internet access, cost, infrastructure, and today, competition. Actually, the almost complete lack of competition.  According to a 2017 study from the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance, more than 129 million people in the U.S. only have one option for broadband. Is that a government problem or a free market problem? I spoke with Susan Crawford, a law professor at Harvard and the author of the book “Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution — and Why America Might Miss It.” The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.

  • A third of Dallas families are without home internet, making online learning all the more difficult

    May 11, 2020

    Rocio Lopez paused for a second before heading into Dallas ISD’s Young Women’s STEAM Academy in Balch Springs. A handful of parents had lined up on April 24, crammed in a tight vestibule outside the school’s main office, waiting to pick up a mobile hotspot — a device that can connect computers and tablets to the internet through a cellular network...Schools in Dallas and the rest of the country are closed for the year. Learning, such as it is, now happens online. But logging online isn’t a given for many families in Dallas, where approximately 1 of every 3 people lack fixed access to the internet, Lopez included...These differences between digital haves and have-nots worry experts and educators, who see the COVID-19 crisis as a potential accelerant to existing learning and opportunity gaps. In truth, said Susan Crawford, a Harvard University law professor, author and WIRED columnist who focuses on tech and telecom policy, the inequities in broadband access were already causing problems. “Three-quarters of American teachers assume that their students have access to the internet, and hand out homework accordingly,” said Crawford, who served as former President Barack Obama’s special assistant for science, technology and innovation policy during his first year in office. “Families were already scrambling to cope with this gap in internet access, and the pandemic has shone a bright light on the terrible state of internet access in America. We have all these poor kids in America, all these kids who deserve an opportunity, not being able to exist above a subsistence level. And from the beginning of the Republic, access to education has been a central tenet to the American experiment. And here we are denying that access to potentially half of American schoolchildren.”

  • Internet access proves necessary to ‘participate in life’ during pandemic

    April 29, 2020

    Reliable, reasonably priced, high-speed internet access has been an issue in the United States for quite some time, but the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ are even more evident during the pandemic. Susan Crawford, a professor at Harvard Law School and author of Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age joined KIRO Nights to discuss the digital divide. “Like many other fragile structures in American life, like our public health infrastructure, and our ability to vote securely, internet access is turning up to be a giant, difficult issue for America,” Crawford said. “It’s been in place as a huge issue for years and years, but the pandemic reveals that those who have it and have it inexpensively are able to educate their children at home…are able to visit doctors at a reasonable price without having to go directly to the hospital in person, are able to participate in life.” The coronavirus pandemic has proved the centrality of internet access to our daily lives, and Crawford said has shown we are failing as a country to make sure everyone has access. To understand the internet access situation today, Crawford went back to 2004.