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Words from Charlie - Foreword to the 2015 Conference on Communications Policy Report

Robust competition among communications providers has always been a crucial goal for policymakers, leading to robust, innovative and efficient delivery of services. It was an integral purpose of the 1996 Telecommunications Act and the FCC’s National Broadband Plan. Today, with the delivery of over-the-top video, games, apps, big data and other content via broadband, the extensive use of cloud, and now fog computing, and the advent of next generation networks, the old definitions and visions of market may need significant revision. Broadband Internet has become a necessary service for all populations. Accordingly, policy-makers need to take steps to ensure that there is competitive pressure within the industry to avoid a stagnant marketplace, that the current digital divide does not widen and that there is sufficient security and privacy with personal data.

What does the competitive communications marketplace of the future look like?

On August 12-15, 2015 the Thirtieth Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Communications Policy met in Aspen, Colorado, to investigate policy goals that can ensure this robust, competitive market- place. The 32 leading communications policy leaders and experts who gathered in Aspen considered how broadband markets can promise delivery of economic and social benefits that improve the quality of life in America for all. They came up with the five recommendations, found in this report, “Skirting Bottlenecks,” written by rapporteur John B. Horrigan.

  • Improve the investment climate for fiber networks
  • Ensure the availability of spectrum for 5G wireless networks
  • Develop “smart vouchers” to promote broadband adoption
  • Invest in training on the Internet and computers for eligible populations
  • Think expansively in promoting information security for consumers

While these recommendations generally reflect the sense of the meeting, no votes were taken. Accordingly, participation in the dialogue should not be construed as agreement with any particular statement in the report by the participant or his or her employer.

I would like to acknowledge and thank the entities represented in this conference who have also contributed to and supported the Communications and Society Program. They are Microsoft Corporation, Google, Inc., AT&T Services, Inc., Cisco, Comcast NBCUniversal, Cablevision, Charter Communications, Dodge & Cox Funds, Intel Corporation, Netflix, Inc., New Street Research, Telefonica Internacional USA, Inc., Time Warner Cable and Emmis Communications.

I also want to acknowledge and thank John B. Horrigan, our rapporteur, for his extensive and informative account of the conference discussions; and our participants for their contributions to these complicated topics. Finally, I want to thank Ian Smalley, Senior Project Manager, for producing the conference and this report, along with the Communications and Society Program Managing Director Patricia Kelly, who oversaw its editing and publication.

Charles M. Firestone
Executive Director
Communications and Society Program
The Aspen Institute
Washington, D.C.
February 2016

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