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Aspen Dispatch: Next Generation Policy Outlook

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ASPEN, COLORADO, August 19 - Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell and a panel of experts from the communications technologies industry addressed crucial issues arising for operators and users of next generation networks today at the Aspen Summit, hosted by the Progress and Freedom Foundation.

"We are just now entering the golden age of wireless communications," Commissioner McDowell told the audience, "spectrum efficiency doubles every 2.5 years, which means we are a trillion times more efficient than Marconi!" The Commissioner presented a litany of statistics highlighting the massive impact of communications technologies around the world and cautioned governments against over-reaching and disrupting such innovations.

Mr. McDowell was joined on the panel by Brett Glass, owner and founder of Lariat Networks in Laramie, Wyoming; David Eveleigh, general counsel for British Telecom Americas; Joe Waz, senior vice president of Comcast Corporation; and Kathleen Abernathy, a former FCC Commissioner herself and currently a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, LLP. The panel would consider the specific policy levers that governments should avoid reaching for while recommending a few that might help stimulate global innovations in telecom.

Brett Glass, the prototypical entrepreneur that so many at this conference have been pointing to as the key innovator, presented a brief history of his up-start wireless internet service company that relies on access to the vast spectrum that could holds a great deal of potential for future global broadband connectivity. Brett keyed-in on the policy issue of net neutrality, stating that it was no longer a policy tool he supported and claiming that proponents of net neutrality may actually be supporting the duopoly system that harms ISP entrants.

David Eveleigh, whose British Telecom is one of the largest telecom companies in the world but in the US is, like Lariat Networks, another up-start entrant. Mr. Eveleigh described his companies struggles to get access to local infrastructure in order to provide business-tier services in the US and asked US policy makers for "further assistance in relation to the access price, which we've seen going up, which is in contrast to what we're seeing in the rest of the world."

Summing up the perspective of many industry leaders, Joe Waz submitted that a key policy goal for Next Generation Networks (NGN) should be the promotion of investment in speed and capacity and competition between technologies. Mr. Waz also stressed "collaboration over confrontation" and a focus on "self-regulation" for his industry. In regards to spectrum policy, he cautioned against any more politics and delays and said that "we need to get on with optimizing that valuable resource."

Kathleen Abernathy concluded the panel by focusing on the need for policy convergence that reflects the convergence we're seeing in the technologies. "We're dealing with outdated statutes," the former Commissioner said - referring to Title I and Title II regulations outlined in the 1996 Communications Act - "this formatting made sense at the time, but we're behind now." However, Ms. Abernathy conceded that there would probably not be any major overhaul in the policy framework in the near future. But given the status quo framework and the struggling economy, she postited that there is more pressure now than there ever was for the FCC to get policies right that stimulate innovation in the US.

Summing up the tenor of the morning session on the US' global competitiveness and the country's ability to innovate, Kathleen Abernathy urged the audience: "we cannot afford as a country to lose our predominance in this area."

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