National Tech Policy: Which Way Forward?

Expert Opinion June 24th, 2008

, Former Reporter,

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NEW YORK, June 24, Afternoon Panel -This afternoon, the Personal Democracy Forum features a panel with some of the leading minds in technologies policy and moderator Andrew Rasiej wants to know “what would you do as part of a new administration to impact tech policy on day 1 in 2009?”

One of the original Internet architects and current evangelizer for Google, Vint Cerf, would “get rid of the FCC and get Congress to work”; Erick Schonfeld of TechCrunch would start with an IP bill of rights; Alec Ross, who advises Senator Barack Obama, would appoint a Chief Technology Officer; Josh Silver, co-founder of Free Press, would use the Presidential bully-pulpit to explain issues of digital policy to Americans (oh, and Josh would also open up White Spaces, protect muni-broadband, institute net neutrality, and add broadband to the Universal Service policy…); Claudio Prado, who has served in the Ministry of Brazil, would work on explaining tech policy to the rest of his government and make sure every Ministry understands what “Peeracy” is (note: it’s a peer to peer movement and pirates are not allowed).

Alec’s recommendation induces some comments from Vint Cerf and some members of the audience regarding the potential conflict with having a top-down CTO administer bottom-up and distributive technologies. Alec concedes that a tech politcy, particularly not Barack Obama’s tech policy, does not start or end with a CTO and that the goal of universal broadband would be just as important.

There was a great deal of convergence among the panelists around the idea that governments must change their ways of thinking about technology and policy in order to transform technology policy. Claudio describes 20th century, industrial thinking as being a barrier to such a transformation and that people from outside of government are sometimes more fit to help in this regard. Erick seems to agree with this in his recommendation that “one of the five FCC comissioners needs to be an engineer and not a lawyer.” Alec follows-up these points by submitting that Vint Cerf’s initiative announced earlier today, Internet For Everyone, is an example of people outside of government having a better understanding of the public good when it comes to technology

Picking up on Mr. Cerf’s earlier statements regarding the ideals embodied by Internet For Everyone, an audience member asks the panel what the killer app will be of the Internet of the future, the “Internet of Many Things.” (Note: this is referring to the many different devices, from toasters to phones to heating and air that will be connected to the Internet in the near future).

Alec submits that the Internet needs “public purpose content” and that it will arrive in the future. He has started an NGO that is attempting to do just that (be the PBS/NPR for the Internet), but Vint disagrees a bit and says that “content comes from the users and we’re already at the tipping point” – there is plenty on the net for everyone. For Mr. Cerf, the coming killer apps are security, authenticity, and device management.

Audience member and Columbia Professor Tim Wu wants to know if the panel thinks tech policy will ever be more to a campaign or national policy than just a third-tier or “geek issue.” Mr. Cerf thinks it might be more than that one day, but wonders aloud if that will necessarily improve tech policy outcomes. Claudio suspects the question implies narrow thinking about how Internet policy issues can be addressed and submits that the Internet is a transnational issue and needs a transnational discussion.

Panelists and audience members alike call for a consideration of the goals of tech policy in order to determine the approach to it. Josh Silver sums it up in four words: fast, affordable, open Internet. For Alec Ross, tech policy should aim to create a citizen-centered government. Claudio Prado would simply like to see a tech policy that empowers people while Erick demands that technologies and policy contribute to better, more efficient governance.

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