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Republican and Democratic Freedom Fighters Join Hands to Proudly Declare Freedom on the Internet

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WASHINGTON, February 6, 2013 – Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee collectively patted themselves, and their nation, on the back at a hearing on Tuesday entitled, “Fighting for Freedom: Dubai and Beyond.”

Our notions are grounded in freedom, said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas. Indeed, said Rep. Poe, “freedom is what we do in this country.” Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., also echoed the flag-waving spirit in saying that a universal commitment to upholding free speech was “one of many things that unite Democrats and Republicans.”

The hearing focused on the United States’ choice to align with 53 other countries, including Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany and India, against other country’s proposals put forward at the World Conference on International Telecommunications in the United Arab Emirates in mid-December 2012. The event was the subject of the November 2012 Broadband Breakfast Club.

The WCIT conference had been held to examine proposed changes to the International Telecommunications Regulations first adopted in 1988. The 1988 regulations were initially implemented by the Geneva, Switzerland-based International Telecommunications Union to address to the changing world of international communications, namely, telephone systems.

According to a memorandum distributed for the hearing, the 1988 regulations were “conceived in an era when most countries still had monopoly, government owned telephone providers.” These regulations did not relate to any projected internet usage, an option that was not yet on the global horizon.

Founded in 1865 to deal with the birth of the telegraph in global context, the ITU is now part of the United Nations.

Sally Shipman Wentworth, senior manager for public policy at the Internet Society, hoped that the ITU would “become more transparent” and that the “processes need to be more open, more inclusive of civil society, more reflective of a broader community and not a closed door intergovernmental place…which promotes this feeling that it is a secret plan.”

During the WCIT Conference, the U.S. and the 54 other nations united against proposals by Russia, China and Iran to incorporate that might allow government control over its citizens’ access to international telecommunications services, thus allowing countries the ability to censor their citizens’ internet-based speech. Additional proposed rules allowed for international tariffs that might restrict market-based exchanges of information.

Opposing the 55 countries that included the United States were 89 nations “ led by Putin’s Russia and our good buddies the Chinese…[who] want the internet as a weapon against democratic opposition,” said Rep. Poe. He wondered whether aid given by the U.S. to countries that supported the resolution might need to be re-examined.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., warned that the regulations “could be used by oppressive governments to censor and surveil.”

The divided outcome of the WCIT convention has led to some uncertainty as to what will happen next.

In a rare unanimous vote, Congress preemptively voted 397-0 in opposition to United Nations governance over the internet — even prior to the divided outcome in Dubai.

Panelists speaking before a joint hearing of several committees led by the Energy and Commerce Committee warned of the issues that would arise if Congress does not engage with its critics.

Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell urged Congress to act swiftly against the effort. “Let us not look back at this moment and lament that we did not do enough, we have but one chance, let us tell the world now that we will be resolute,” he said.

“The internet is under assault,” he said. “These wonders of the 21st century are inches away from being smothered by innovation-crushing rules designed for a different time.”

Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, D-Calif., agreed with him. She said he hoped that the internet would remains “a success story for generations to come, not only for Americans, but for people around the world.”

Rep. Henry  Waxman, D-Calif., said that the U.S. can continue to strengthen the relationships between “coalitions of countries that stood together in Dubai.”

Also present at the hearing was Bitange Ndemo, secretary for the Kenyan Ministry of Information and Communications. Speaking via internet connection from a location in Nairobi, Kenya, Ndemo spoke of the internet’s ability to give people hope and its ability to empower a nation’s people to see their government is more responsive. He referred to the internet as the “lifeblood for innovations we have made in Kenya.”

Former U.S. Ambassador David Gross praised Ndemo’s desire to “defend that which he believes to be correct.” Gross also spoke of how in recent years, internet connectivity has risen, and that broadband latency has greatly decreased in Kenya.

These kids of technical improvements have enabled the internet to provide a voice – literally as well as figuratively – for Ndemo speaking via an internet connection.

Harold Feld of the non-profit advocacy group Public Knowledge said that the unity between the United States and many nations of the rest of the world gave an “advantage ultimately in the political sphere, by making clear to many in global society what the stakes are here.”

Congress must continue their support “of the multi-stakeholder model of internet policy…both at home and abroad,” Wentworth said in her closing statements. “We can work together to ensure the internet continues to transcend political divides, and serves as an engine for human empowerment throughout the world.”

Aspen Dispatch: Over There, Telecom Markets and Policy Abroad

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ASPEN, COLORADO, August 19 – Five nations, three continents, and a host of perspectives on telecom policy converged for the final panel of the 2008 Aspen Summit. Convening for a final engagement on the state of communication technologies markets and policies, lead by US Ambassador David Gross, some of the most prominent communications policy makers from Mexico, Spain, Germany and Japan discussed the way forward for governments seeking to unlock innovation around the world.

Ambassador Gross, the US coordinator for international communications and information policy at the Department of State and valuable diplomat for the US’ image abroad, convened this prominent group of international policy makers and exposed the Summit audience to the experiences of ICT business operators and policy players “over there.”

Beginning with The Honorable Francisco Ros Peran, the Secretary of State for Telecommunications and the Information Society of Spain, the panel examined the evolving role of regulators in the new converged environment. For Secretary of State Ros, the policy framework in Spain has also converged and he quickly became responsible for the policy of the broadband, wireless, telephone and broadcast television industries. Likewise, his budget increased 4-fold and a great deal of these funds were invested in developing a national broadband network that now covers the vast majority of Spain.

Matthias Kurth, the President of the federal utilities agency in Germany and an adviser to the European Commission on spectrum issues, focused on broadband connectivity in his county and discussed his solidarity with Mr. Peran in their opposition to the appointment of an EU-level telecom regulator. In Germany, the regulator has over-seen a major unbundling initiative of the incumbent Deutsche Telecom (DT), an effort heralded by Mr. Kurth for delivering increased competition to the DSL and sector and partially instigating DT’s recent fiber roll-out. However, his administration is currently faced with questions over unbundling regulation: should it continue in a now competitive DSL sector and is it feasible for the fiber sector?

“In Mexico, we envy the situation of my colleagues in Spain and Germany,” commented Dr. Rafael del Villar Alrich, the Under Secretary of Communications for the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation in Mexico. Dr. del Villar’s nation has struggled to achieve the kind of broadband connectivity and wireless coverage that he believes is necessary to compete globally. Moving forward, Mexico also faces some key policy decisions – Dr. del Villar summarized his dilemma: “The fact that unbundling worked in Germany and not in the US makes things confusing for us…”

lt appears there is much less confusion in Japan, a country championed for its first-class broadband connectivity defined by the fastest speeds and the lowest prices in the world, according to the praises of Ambassador Gross and many audience members. However, Eiji Makiguchi, the Director of the International Economic Affairs Dvision withing the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) in Japan, made it clear that difficult policy decisions lay ahead for a nation that plans to rev-up its efforts to innovate through its Competition Promotion Program for 2010 [PDF]. Some of the key regulatory and legislative initiatives embedded in the program and discussed by Mr. Makiguchi include the promotion of facilities-based competitors like WIMAX, reforms to network access charges, an overhaul of the Universal Service Fund, legal convergence to eliminate uneccesary laws across the information and communication sector, and the allocation of additional spectrum.

All of the international delegates were able to convey to the Summit audience the unique challenges of telecom markets abroad where incomes may be prohibitively lower (Mexico), where unbundling proved a successful policy tool (Germany), where large-scale government investment in communications networks is politically feasible (Spain), where an initiative to unbundle the fiber sector is underway (Japan), and where Cable is not a significant market player (all of these nations). Despite these differences, it was clear that policy makers and business leaders in the US aren’t the only ones concerned with finding the keys to innovation.

Ambassador: U.S. Wireless Policies Emulated by Developing Nations

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By William G. Korver, Reporter, BroadbandCensus.com

WASHINGTON, June 13- America’s wireless policies continue to be emulated by developing nations, Ambassador David Gross, United States coordinator for international communications and information policy, said Friday at Broadband Policy Summit IV.

Therefore, the U.S. must “think domestically” but “act internationally” in wireless regulation – because many nations “monitor and dissect carefully” the telecommunications debates that now rage in Washington, Gross said in a keynote address here.

More than 100 independent regulatory agencies have been modeled on the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. Gross also said that it was the U.S. model of private enterprise that is “now widely adopted throughout the world.”

Gross, who will be attending the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development “ministerial” next week in Seoul, noted the exponential growth of cellular devices. He said that India and China represent the height of cellular expansion.

In India, the cell phone industry gains over 10 million new subscribers each month. In China, seven to eight million are added monthly.

Wireless expansion has also occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan as well, he said.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and the Taliban in 2001, cell phones have increased from minuscule amounts to more than 10 million in Iraq and some five million in Afghanistan, he said.

Because of such success stories as these, somewhere between 3.3 and 3.4 billion people now own cell phones, or more than half of the world’s population.

These numbers are up from an estimated 780 million people owning cell phones in the year 2000.

Earlier in the day, during a “Wall Street Speaks Out” panel, Blair Levin, managing director for investment firm Stifel Nicolaus, said that the Bush administration had flip-flopped on whether or not the OECD global rankings of broadband penetration were important.

Julius Genachowski, a special adviser to the firm General Atlantic and a key technology advisor to presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, said that Americans should expect even more technology improvements with Obama as president. The Illinois senator has a strong belief in the importance of technology and has used technology to connect with voters in his campaign, he said.

Panelists Debate Success of U.S. Deregulation in Broadband

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By William G. Korver, Reporter, BroadbandCensus.com

WASHINGTON, June 9– Experts on both sides of the Atlantic squared off on Monday about whether the United States’ broadband policies were a success, with Europeans arguing that U.S. broadband cost too much, and an American praising a deregulatory telecom policy.

Costs in the U.S. Are rising because competition is “drying up” with the consolidation of telecommunications companies, said Aryeh Friedman, senior competition and regulatory counsel at British Telecom. He also said that U.S. internet speeds declined in comparison with the United Kingdom.

By contrast, Thomas Hazlett, professor of law and economics at George Mason University School of Law, said that deregulation of broadband by telecommunications carriers in 2003 led to a “substantial increase in deployment” of digital subscriber lines (DSL).

The panel, titled “Transatlantic Perspectives on Broadband Policy: Inter- versus Intra-Platform Competition,” was co-sponsored by the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels, and the Technology Policy Institute, a new Washington-based think tank. The event was hosted at the National Press Club.

Friedman also stated that more than 99 percent of households in the U.K. are now DSL-enabled, with 55 percent broadband penetration. He said that 90 percent of DSL subscribers have speeds of 3 megabits per second (Mbps) or higher. He also said that the U.S. has not subsidized enough money into deploying broadband.

The large number of providers in the U.K. meant that Network Neutrality was “really not a debate”over there.

Hazlett also addressed wireless broadband, and said that the U.S. government had not done enough to make use, for broadband, the vast amount of radio frequencies currently reserved for television broadcasting.

Andrea Renda, a senior research fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies, said that some feared that the European Commission might suffer if it followed the model of structural separation used by the U.K. Enforcing such competition might create an “everlasting monopoly,” he said. Further, it might not ever present the Commission with an opportunity to roll back regulation when the market becomes competitive.

In any case, Renda said that “the future is mobile.” He also cautioned against comparing broadband penetration in the U.S. with that of a small country like Denmark.

Marvin Sirbu, a professor of engineering, public policy, and industrial administration at Carnegie Mellon University, said that broadband penetration levels in the U.S. and France were fairly close. But the differences in prices were start, with a typical purchase costing $12.60 per megabit per month in the U.S. versus $3.70 per megabit per month in France.

Sirbu attributed this difference to a market with more competitors in France, versus a duopoly of cable and DSL providers in the U.S.

The differences in approach are “highly related to the Anglo-Saxon” fondness for checks and balances versus the French historical preference for centralized planning, he said.

Complimenting the panel’s discussion, Ambassador David A. Gross, U.S. coordinator for international communications and information policy, extolled the remarkable progress of the world in telecommunications.

Gross said that telecommunications had “broadened as no one could have reasonably anticipated or expected” over the past 10 years. The world has experienced a “quantum leap,” he said.

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