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December 1, 2008 10:56 AM

Can't We Broadband Advocates All Just Get Along?

Here's a not-so-secret truth about broadband policymaking in DC: everyone likes to caricaturize the other side in less than flattering terms.

For those in favor of open, community networks, the incumbents are big, evil, greedy, soulless corporations bent on improving their bottom line with no regard for what's best for the country or for communities in their footprint.

On the other side I've heard some of my telco friends mutter accusations of Communism when listening to people advocate for publicly owned networks, and that advocates of things like net neutrality don't understand the dynamics of the telecom business.

And yet on a personal level I've found most all of these people on both sides to be reasonable and well-meaning. Everyone's just trying to do the best job they can to represent their constituents and to argue for their particular ideology.

But dealing with conflicting ideologies is one of the central challenges we face when it comes to finding pragmatic policies we can all agree on. Put another way, when it comes to many fundamental issues we start running into the same issues faced when people with differing religions try coming to agreement on things that are central to their beliefs.

The underlying problem is that if I strongly believe something that negates something that you believe equally strongly in, it's hard to resolve this difference of opinion.

You can see this in religion when an Evangelical talks with an atheist. One believes Jesus is our lord and savior and that eternal happiness lies in following him; the other believes the whole thing is hooey. The challenge is if one person's beliefs are right then that negates the other's belief system entirely.

We've got a somewhat similar challenge in telecom. There are people who believe in public networks and those that believe in private networks. But if public networks are the right way, then what role is left for private networks? And if private networks are the right way, then there's no need for public networks.

Of course these issues aren't that entirely cut and dry but this does get to the heart of one of the biggest mountains we have to climb: how can we establish a working consensus on issues where the two sides are diametrically opposed in their beliefs?

Luckily, as in life there are things we can all agree upon. For example, whether you believe in a god or not hopefully we can all acknowledge that it's better to be good and lead a productive life than to be evil and unproductive. The same can be applied to telecom: regardless of who owns/operates the network, we all agree that more should be done to get people to use these networks to a greater degree and therefore create more demand for bandwidth.

The key to all of this is that we need to put aside the name-calling and attempts to turn real people with legitimate concerns into caricatures if we're to have any hope of having a robust dialog that leads to real solutions.

We need to remember that just because a corporation's big doesn't mean they're evil, and that just because someone believes in publicly owned infrastructure doesn't make them a Communist.

This kind of polarization in politics is what's holding us back as a country, so I'd like to suggest that all of us in the world of telecom try to put aside our biases and come together to show everyone else what can happen when we stop talking past and at each other and start talking to and with all parties involved.

That's why I'm so excited to attend an event tomorrow entitled "A National Broadband Strategy Call to Action" that's being put on by the New America Foundation and has been driven in large part by the yeoman-like efforts of Jim Baller to pull competing interest groups into the same room to open a dialog that can hopefully help lead to resolving contentious issues and establishing a consensus on those issues we agree upon.

This is a bold step in the right direction, and you can look forward to coverage of that event in the coming days.

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Comments (1)


Been light on the blogging, so that means busy and busy is good.

Look forward to hearing more on the New America Foundation's event.

Keep us posted.


Posted by Nick Stanley on December 1, 2008 11:48 AM

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