University of Pennsylvania telecommunications professor and Internet pioneer David J. Farber, a longtime outspoken voice on Internet-related issues, last week was appointed the Federal Communications Commission's chief technologist. Farber, who helped design the first electronic switching system, also testified on behalf of the government in the Microsoft Corp. antitrust trial. In an interview last week with Computerworld reporter Patrick Thibodeau, Farber said that despite his new post, he will retain the freedom to speak his mind.
Q: What does the job of chief technologist entail?
A: Part of it is taking part in the internal discussions as policy is evolved.
It's to help educate - and I mean that in the very best of ways - the commissioners who are interested in where the field is going. Everything is sort of a three-legged stool in this business: the economics, general policy implications and the technology. And if you only have two legs, it's really tricky. I think a large part of my task internally is to be that third leg.
Q: How influential is this position?
A: It's as influential as you want to make it, as far as I can tell. I think my past performance shows that I have a tendency to say what I think and be very persuasive about it.
Q: In making your appointment, the FCC chairman said your help would be needed in ensuring universal broadband access. What kind of help and ideas will you offer?
A: The issues involved in broadband have a big component of technology. You can't [set policy] without understanding the technological limits and capabilities out there. Otherwise, you come up with a policy that can't be used or severely cripples new markets. My conversations with the chairman indicate that that's the type of input they would like.
Q: Are you at odds with the Clinton administration's hands-off approach to Internet policy?
A: No. My attitude has always been to the networking community: If we don't fix it, adult supervision will be required. And adult supervision in this world means government.