SILVER SPRING, Md., April 1, 2009 – The Federal Communications Commission is an agency in the midst of a transition, said Wharton business school professor Kevin Werbach, recently co-leader of the Obama administration’s FCC transition team.
“It had been run a particular way,” Werbach said, speaking at a Tuesday morning session at the Freedom to Connect conference here. The agency “was top-down, and the staff could not express themselves freely.”
The Obama administration had set some remedial measures in motion, though initially against a backdrop of limited resources, controlled access to outgoing officials and fewer people to work with to get things going.
In a conversation with Dan Gillmor, director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship, Werbach said that the FCC must be the world's biggest think-tank and conversation-starter on technology issues.
The agency, he said, should take a leading role in innovations and building systems that go with it.
“The last administration cared less for technology policy,” said Werbach. “We are going to have to look into that, and beware of tunnel visioning. We need to ask ourselves what kind of wireless capacity is the iPhone of the next generation going to require.”
Werbach tickled the audience when he called for the death of telecommunication companies, broadcasters and newspapers, before quickly adding that he believes new leadership at FCC would herald an era of “knowledge and skills.”
Others speaking on the second day of the Freedom to Connect conference, an annual gathering of telecommunications geeks half-in-and-half-out of the Washington political milieu, put a spotlight on basic web access principles.
Herman Wagter, CEO of the Citynet Amsterdam, offered thoughts on the Dutch experience. He outlined what he said were essential principles towards availing broadband technology for more people:
- The natural desire by humans for connectivity is obscured by social constructs.
- The need to differentiate between typology and technology.
- Maximizing option values in infrastructure through wise investment decisions.
- Sharing basic networking infrastructure with the competition makes basic sense and attracts investment.
- Deploy fiber.
- Bandwith is the effect, not the cause.
Wagter further said there would be need to explore the place of fiber, materials, cable and labor in any innovation and deployment, saying the entire process was a testament to the “freedom to choose,” only akin to “heresy.”
Yankee Group's Benoit Felten called for net neutrality and open access as he compared the American experience to that of his country - France.