FCC Names David Farber Chief Technologist

(January 7, 2000) The FCC named University of Pennsylvania professor David Farber to be its new Chief Technologist.

Related Pages
Resume of David Farber (Univ. Penn web site).
FCC Office of Engineering and Technology.
Written Testimony of David Farber in DoJ v. Microsoft,  Oct. 8, 1998.

David Farber is currently the Alfred Fitler Moore Professor of Telecommunication Systems at the University of Pennsylvania. The Chief Technologist works in the Federal Communications Commission's Office of Engineering and Technology.

Farber told Tech Law Journal that he will offer whatever "technical advice" he is called upon to provide to Chairman William Kennard or the other Commissioners. However, he anticipates working with topics pertaining to "broadband", "spectrum issues, especially those dealing with broadband wireless", and the "Internet".

Farber states that "I remain employed by the University of Pennsylvania, and I am assigned to the government." He will soon move to Washington DC. However, he will spend at least one day a week at the University to work with his graduate students, and other visitors who came to study with him. He is not teaching any classes this semester.

Farber is a faculty member in both the Computer and Information Science Department and the Electrical Engineering Department. He is also Director of the Distributed Computer Laboratory.

Farber added that taking this position "is not a normal step." However, he is doing it for two reasons. First, for the FCC, "it is valuable to have experienced researchers." And second, "I intend to come back with a lot of knowledge."

David Farber

As for why a telecommunications regulatory agency would hire someone known today mainly as a computer industry expert, Farber said that he started his career in telecommunications. "I spent twelve years at Bell Labs," he said. "I helped develop the first electric switching system."

The outgoing Chief Technologist, Stagg Newman, who helped find Farber for the job, said that "much of Dave's background is in data communications."

Newmann told TLJ that "there is no policy shift". Rather, by appointing Farber the FCC restates that "its leading issues are Internet convergence."

"This is not saying the Commission is going to impose common carrier regulation on the Internet," said Newman. "The Chairman has made it clear that his intent is not to take the Internet into common carrier regulation." However, the FCC has "to have the expertise to analyze the interplay."

FCC Chairman Kennard had this to say in a press release: "The FCC, and, indeed, the entire country, are very fortunate to have the services of such a distinguished, world-class technology expert as Dave Farber at this time, as the FCC continues to tackle the complicated and increasingly technical issues involved in ensuring universal broadband access."

Newman is about to complete his two year appointment to the FCC. He will join McKinsey and Company as Senior Telecommunications Practice Expert.

Newman also stated that the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology has recently been examining topics pertaining to open access over cable. It has not, however, been as active in the Internet protocol telephony field. "We are continuing to follow that closely," but "it has developed more slowly."

"It didn't take off, because the quality really wasn't there," said Newman. He continued that it has developed in international calls, and in the enterprise market, but not in the domestic market. "So, not a lot of money has become at stake." For example, it has not yet threatened universal service funding.

However, "that issue will heat up in the future." Newman concluded that "the Commission doesn't try to resolve an issue before it is ripe."

Short Resume
of David Farber
1956. Graduated from Stevens Inst. of Technology.
1956-1967? Bell Laboratories.
The Rand Corporation.
Scientific Data Systems.
1970-1977. Assoc. Prof. of Information and Computer Sciences and Electrical Engineering at the Univ. of Cal. at Irvine, where he created and led the Distributed Computer Research Project, funded by the NSF, which created much of the software concepts for future distributed systems activities.
1977-1988.  Prof. of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Univ. of Delaware, where he worked on distributed systems and the early stages of commercialization of the Internet.
1988-1994. Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at the Univ. of Pennsylvania.
1994-present. Endowed chair at Univ. of Penn.

David Farber obtained some media attention in 1998 for testifying for the government in its antitrust suit against Microsoft. He criticized Microsoft's bundling/integration of its Windows operating system with Internet Explorer. He testified that he was paid $300 per hour.

Farber's resume in the University of Pennsylvania web site lists membership on several corporate advisory boards, including:

Farber testified in the Microsoft case that "I have been on the technical staffs of Xerox Data Systems, the RAND Corporation and Bell Laboratories. I am currently on the technical advisory boards of a number of major corporations in the computer field, including Earthlink, Covad and Com21."

Farber recently met with FCC lawyers in order to learn which associations would constitute a conflict of interest. We "sorted these into two piles," Farber told TLJ. "Pile one I got rid of."

For example, he says that he is resigning from his positions with AT&T and Covad, and divesting all stock in those companies. He had previously ended his position with Earthlink.

On the other hand, he will continue his work with several non-profit groups. For example, he remains on the advisory board of the Center for Democracy and Technology, and he remains involved with IEEE.

Excerpt from testimony of David Farber regarding Microsoft's integration of its operating systems and browser

"The claims that efficiencies exist from this combination of functions are misleading. While the combination may offer certain efficiencies, these same efficiencies can be achieved without bundling of the Web browser software with what Microsoft calls its Windows operating system. This is because there are no technical barriers that prevent Microsoft from developing and selling its Windows operating system as a stand alone product separate from its browser software -- or other software functions beyond the appropriate operating system functions."

"Given the ease with which a properly structured browser application can be unbundled from Windows 98, I know of no technical reason why any OEMs, software developers or retail end users must suffer these negative consequences."