In the spirit of posting highlights from this week’s Freedom to Connect conference, I’d like to next point to the talk given by former FCC chairman Michael Copps, entitled “Step Number One to Getting our Democracy Right”. Here’s the video:
The full text is here, and it’s probably a quicker read than a watch.
Here’s the part that really rang home for me (emphasis mine):
broadband is indeed the front-and-center infrastructure of the Twenty-first century. It is dynamic and opportunity-creating to an extent greater than any of the nation’s numerous earlier infrastructure challenges. It is part of the resolution of almost every big problem confronting us: creating jobs, making America more competitive in the global market-place, providing better health care, decreasing our energy dependence, stopping environmental degradation, educating ourselves and our children and grandchildren, and opening the doors of equal opportunity to all.
But let’s remember that earlier generations had to respond to infrastructure challenges, too. Turnpikes, roads, bridges, harbors, canals, railways, highways, and electricity. Not to mention plain old telephone service, too—these were all infrastructure build-outs. Each one of them was a huge challenge in its own time. And each one of them helped jump-start the economy; each one created thousands of jobs; each one contributed to making our people more productive and our country more competitive.
This was a major theme of Freedom to Connect and I totally buy it — fast, open, equal access to the internet is a foundation for everything else. For education, and for nearly every aspect of our economy (now and certainly in the future). It is some of our most important national infrastructure. And we’re not keeping up. To keep quoting Copps:
the Internet was invented here and got its start here. Fast forward 11 years later and we’re Number 12 or 15 or 20 in the world. Some would quibble about which ranking is correct—but none of them is anywhere close to where your country and mine needs to be. I don’t say this because I want us to be able to pin a ribbon on our chest and tout our number-one status. I say it because we’re not coming back—America is not coming back—unless and until we get this infrastructure right.
So, the question is, how do we do it? This is the trillion dollar question. Copps’ full remarks are worth a read to get a better handle on the philosophical, political and economic context. Can local communities step up to fill the gap? (Last year, North Carolina said no). Will disruptive innovations catch fire, bypassing our gridlock? I am still struggling to wrap my head around the politics and economics of all this. So I don’t have a fully formed perspective yet. But one thing is undeniably clear: this is really really important. I’ll close w/ one more selection from Copps’ talk:
We have available to us the most open, dynamic and opportunity-creating technology ever devised, but its wings are clipped. Less and less are a thousand points of invention and innovation controlling out technology future, while more and more the models of consolidation and bottle-neck control are. This is not to deny the many good things happening out there, but it is to note that the system we have is making it harder for those good things to deliver their full potential. The struggle for an Open Internet is a new chapter in a very old story. It’s the story of gate-keepers and toll-collectors who have always been there when new technologies or businesses come along. Again, that’s something we should expect. It is also something we need to avoid. To put our heads in the sand on this one would have serious long-term consequences.
This is it — we need to understand and communicate the importance of and potential for this medium. The big takeaway for me, in terms of framing, from both Copps’ talk and Moglen’s, is that there’s a very clear message to be made about innovation, competitiveness and the economy, and that’s where I’ll be focusing my attention.