Saturday, May 23, 2009

Factoid: 78% of bottom-quartile employees don't have employer-provided health coverage

-- From a McKinsey analysis reported in their Chart Focus Newsletter, May 2009. It reports "growing disparities in the percentage of employees at different income levels receiving employer-paid health benefits: only 22 percent of employees in the lowest income group (earning an average of $14,800 a year), but 56 percent, 81 percent, and 89 percent of those in the lower-middle, upper-middle, and top income groups, respectively."

Monday, May 18, 2009

Factoid: more Americans are killed every year by preventable medical mishaps than breast cancer or AIDS

From an Economist special report on health care and technology, April 18th, 2009

A report by the Institute of Medicine estimated that up to 100,000 Americans are killed each year by preventable mishaps such as wrong-side surgery, medication errors and hospital-acquired infections—a larger number than die from breast cancer or AIDS.

Flying Blind, The Economist, April 16th 2009

The story continues:

Sometimes such errors can be prevented without fancy technology. It helps to write “not this leg” on a patient’s left leg before surgery on his right leg. When Kaiser Permanente’s innovation laboratory looked into errors in medication dosage, it found that a lot of them were due to interruptions. Now nurses preparing complex medications wear “do not disturb” sashes, which has caused errors to drop noticeably. A striking study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that surgical errors and complications fall by one-third if hospitals use a simple safety checklist before, during and after surgery.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Protection Payments: Licensed vs. unlicensed radio rights

I have just realized the blindingly obvious: the main value of a radio license is the right not to be interfered with, rather than the right to transmit.

This claim should be testable by establishing the degree to which the protection against interference influences the prices of licenses sold at auction. I’m working with Johnny Chan at the University of Washington to generate some results in this area. It’s certainly true anecdotally; M2Z has argued that T-Mobile knew its AWS-3 license, which had an adjacent band which would generate more interference, was worth less and so paid less at auction.

Proponents of license auctions charge that unlicensed allocations mean that “people” (they’re thinking of Google and Microsoft) are getting something without paying for it. It’s true that users of unlicensed radios don’t pay for a license, and it’s also true that both kinds of licenses confer some permission to operate a radio.

But there’s a big difference: a licensee can stop others from interfering with their operation, whereas an unlicensed user not only may not interfere with licensees, but also has to accept interference from all comers.

The big difference between an exclusive-use license and an unlicensed regime is excludability rather than autonomy, to use terminology I defined in an earlier post (Protecting receivers vs. authorizing transmitters). (Regarding a property, exclusivity means an owner can control what other people do, while autonomy allows an owner to act without hindrance.)

However, since radio licenses are defined in terms of transmission rights rather than receiver protections, what’s being sold is autonomy rather than exclusivity.

In practice there is a gamut of license types, with increasingly strong excludability rights: from unlicensed, to licensed by rule, to secondary licenses, and then primary licenses. The more excludability you get, the more a license should be worth. We’re planning to do regression analysis on US auction results to see if this is the case.

If, as we’re working to show, the main benefit of a radio license is protection from interference rather than the right to transmit, then current radio policy is misconceived in focusing on transmit rights rather than receiver protection rights. While it’s true that defining transmit rights implicitly defines the receiver rights (again, see Protecting receivers vs. authorizing transmitters), not making receiver rights explicit guarantees downstream conflict, as the M2Z/T-Mobile argument over AWS-3 has shown.

Monday, May 04, 2009

A view on the policy making stream

BusinessWeek writes that IBM is pushing “stream computing”, which is processing incoming information on the fly rather than putting it in a database first, and then mining it.

I’ve been trying to mine information in the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS), the repository for all interactions that petitioners have with the agency. The BW story got me thinking what one could do if updates to ECFS were easily accessible on the fly, along the lines of the proposal by Ed Felten and colleagues that government should expose underlying data rather than creating portals.

One could do a lot with just the metadata, that is, cover information on who submitted a document to ECFS. A little extra processing to, say, extract information from the filed documents on all the people present in a meeting, would add a great deal of value. One could also extract information about what topics are being discussed by doing semantic analysis of comments and reports of meetings between petitioners and the agency.

Some things researchers (not to mention commercial information providers) could do with this kind of intelligence:

Track the ebb and flow of meetings related to a particular proceeding

Be notified when a specific company, company in a coalition, etc. reports a meeting with the agency, and see it in the context of other meetings by opponents and allies

Put a watch on the meetings in a particular bureau of the agency

Track the personalities – who’s meeting with whom, who hasn’t been seen lately, who seems to be a rising star. I’ve been told that John de Figuieredo predicted the importance of William Kennard before he was tapped for the FCC by noticing that he was in a lot of key lobbying meetings. (Caveat: I may have misremembered the characters in this anecdote. Please correct me if you know better...)

Given time series information one could develop leading indicators for when a proceeding was heating up, or when something big was brewing.

Of course, the Garbage In, Garbage Out Rule applies; if petitioners file late, or misrepresent their interactions (i.e. lie), all the stream computing in the world will be for naught. We may need a suggestion I heard from Bob Pepper, a former FCC staffer now at Cisco: make petitioners warrant that their submissions are true, on penalty of perjury. Curiously, there is apparently no requirement for petitioners to tell the truth, and no penalties if they lie.