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Geoff Daily

App-Rising.com covers the development and adoption of broadband applications, the deployment of and need for broadband networks, and the demands placed on policy to adapt to the revolutionary opportunities made possible by the Internet.

App-Rising.com is written by Geoff Daily, a DC-based technology journalist, broadband activist, marketing consultant, and Internet entrepreneur.

App-Rising.com is supported in part by AT&T;, however all views and opinions expressed herein are solely my own.

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December 2, 2008 2:58 PM

Yes We Can! Broadband Advocates Got Along Today

Well that was fun!

I had the great fortune to get a front row seat at today's National Broadband Strategy Call To Action up on Capitol Hill.

It was an event sponsored by the New America Foundation and spearheaded by Jim Baller that brought together an unprecedented menagerie of advocates from across the broadband spectrum. Just check out the list of signatories who've indicated their support for this initiative.

It's got telcos and cablecos and munibuilds; wireless and fiber; state, regional, and national public interest groups; and both public and private industry associations alike. The only demographic not well represented were Internet companies with Google being the only one (but that has as much to do with the overall lack of engagement by Silicon Valley on federal policy issues in DC than anything else).

Accompanying the presentations was a document that while less than 1000 words may in fact be the longest thing ever written related to broadband policy that this many entities have been able to come to agreement on and it provides a framework for future discussions between all parties in the great broadband debates.

Ben Scott from Free Press may have captured the atmosphere best when at the beginning of his remarks he noted that it felt strange being on a panel where he didn't have to be prepared to argue with the other panelists. And he wasn't the only person I heard remark upon how different the tenor of these discussions were from before.

In fact, I feel stronger now than ever that we broadband advocates have the opportunity to not only craft a comprehensive, transformational national broadband policy but also through this collaboration set an example for any policymaking that's contentious on how differing interest groups can find a way to work together through finding common principles and goals that everyone shares and working pragmatically towards the best possible policies for the country.

In terms of what was said that I found notable, here are a few observations:

- Ken Peres of the Alliance for Public Technology and Communication Workers of America (who also was credited by Jim as being instrumental to pulling this event off) laid out a commonly used analogy but in a way that made it seem so obvious it hurt, namely that throughout the years we've always had and needed national policies to help spur the deployment of whatever infrastructure was imperative to national interests at the time, whether we're talking rails and roads or the telegraph and telephone. Broadband should be no different.

- Last time Jim Cicconi of AT&T; suggested on a panel that a consensus was emerging around net neutrality he was lambasted in much of the coverage I read as AT&T; changing its tune and generally not believing his observation to be true, yet this time during the Q&A; when he made a similar remark that the differences in the sides were narrowing he was supported by both Ben Scott and Rick Whitt of Google, each representing organizations that have spearheaded the fight for new net neutrality legislation. Rick was even almost apologetic in admitting that the tone of that debate had fallen into too much one of means vs. ends and that now that both sides have come to more of an agreement over goals they can start focusing on the means to achieve them. So color me hopeful that we may be able to achieve a consensus on what has historically been the most contentious of issues in telecom policy!

- During the Q&A; I enjoyed Jim's comment on the dangers of allowing broadband providers to promise fast speeds but not guarantee a floor so that consumers aren't necessarily getting what they paid for. He then mentioned AT&T;'s plan to do just that. Later I learned from him that this doesn't mean a guaranteed minimum level of access, which I've argued for before, but instead a promise that their service will be available at a range of say 1-3Mbps and if for some reason it drops below that floor AT&T; won't charge for the service. I hadn't heard much about this before this event, but I'm loving where they're going with this and will share more extended thoughts in a follow-up post.

- Larry Cohen of Communication Workers of America made a profound statement when he said, "NGOs have to define the public interest for private companies." NGOs are non-governmental agencies, and each argues for the interests of their own groups of constituents, but I think what Larry was alluding to was the needed for more coordination between these public interest groups in order to develop concise, coherent principles surrounding what defines the public interest in the age of Internet and broadband. Divided everyone's fighting for their own things and little gets done; united we have a chance more effectively ensure that the public's interest is always foremost in any policies related to broadband.

- I also liked two other points Larry makes: broadband has as high a multiplier effect on local economies as any other investment, and we need to create digital ambassadors in urban areas (and presumably elsewhere) to educate people on how to use computers and the Internet.

- Ben Scott laid out the two fundamental measures of success for any national broadband policy: availability and adoption. What I love is how forcefully he argued for more attention being placed on the latter of these. As I've reported before we're finally reaching critical mass on getting some momentum behind a serious campaign to get more people using the Internet. And Ben framed our goals in perfect terms: how do we get the adoption of broadband, which can provide endless benefits, to the levels of TV and mobile phones, which have more limited utility?

- Rick Whitt said something I've been thinking about increasingly but hardly ever hear mentioned: broadband does not simply mean faster Internet access. There's also an element of networking people at faster speeds. He referred to it as a "broadband-enabled Internet," which alludes to how the availability of broadband is fundamentally expanding the possibilities of the Internet. He then laid out the three layers of broadband functionality that need to be addressed: availability and adoption, capacity, and openness. Makes sense to me!

And most exciting of all, I made contact with all of the aforementioned speakers and raise the flag for a Rural Fiber Fund to get their initial reactions and the only resistance I got was on how not if it should be done. Even better I was able to reconnect with thought leaders like Tim Nulty of rural Vermont fiber fame who expressed enthusiasm for lending brainpower to the cause of crafting a commonsense framework for the RFF. So the way I see it, the only thing standing in our way is inaction.

Look forward to more on the RFF tomorrow!

(Also, my apologies to the second panelists. In trying to grab all of the first panelists for brief kibitzing I was unable to pay close attention to all of the second set of presentations, which is why reactions to their remarks are not included in this post. I've been promised that video of the event will be made available on YouTube shortly, so when they do I'll post them to this site and have a chance to comment.)

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Comments (2)

Great comment and look forward to your posting on the RFF. Let's see how we can advance the cause in our conversation on

Cheers & good job...

Posted by Nick Stanley on December 2, 2008 7:44 PM

Look forward also to your thoughts on the Rural Fiber Fund

Posted by Catharine Rice on December 3, 2008 5:44 PM

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