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The second coming of Larry Lessig

Tim Wu is taking up the mantle left by Larry Lessig.

Years ago I remember when my then-professor, Larry Lessig, announced that he was hanging up the speaker's mic to concentrate on his research (and to give time back to his family). I pleaded that he would not abjure his freedom fighting. I asked who would take up the mantle in his absence?

Larry's answer was typical of him:


By which he didn't mean "me" per se, but rather those who looked to him to help promote open source, net neutrality, etc. Tim Wu of Columbia Law School has taken up that charge. Tim studied under Larry at Harvard and has been particularly involved in opening up the wireless world to competition, innovation, and capitalism. (Yes, you read that right - it's one of those ironic offshoots of freedom. It tends to lead to greater financial opportunities.)

Businessweek recently profiled Tim and noted the following of his growing influence, from the Googleplex to Capitol Hill:

Wu has had a surprisingly large influence on telecom policy on Capitol Hill. In 2006, he was invited by the FCC to help draft the first-ever Net neutrality rules that were attached to the merger of AT&T and BellSouth. They required the company for 30 months to allow consumers to access any content or service of their choice, while barring AT&T from providing faster service to any content or service provider. Over the summer, the FCC adopted two of Wu's proposals for an upcoming auction of wireless airwaves. The rules require network operators to support any device or application on the spectrum they buy. Now, Wu is pressing for network neutrality throughout wireless computing.

Wu's work exploring the nexus of communications and the law has made him the field's most important new voice. Lawrence Lessig, a Stanford University law professor who has been the leader in arguing for reduced restrictions on what can go up on the Internet, predicts that Wu will become even more influential than he himself has been: "The second generation always has a bigger impact than the first."

Maybe, Larry. It is, of course, because Larry spent years talking up net neutrality, open source, and other aspects of software freedom that people like Wu are heard and heeded today.

It's interesting to me that Larry and Tim are both lawyers. I suppose this is good and bad, but you'd hope that the future doesn't belong to those who can manipulate the law (for good or ill). Maybe in our increasingly litigious and law-laden society the lawyers will inherit the earth...? I hope not.

In the meantime, I'd encourage you to read Wu's work. If it's making waves at Google, it probably should be on your radar screen, too.