Now that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the presumptive nominees for president for their respective parties, we encourage them to develop a smart digital agenda. Specifically, we suggest following these seven principles for progress:
Show preference for private sector investment. Government alone can’t build out these networks. Where would government find the tens of billions of dollars every year necessary to keep pace with technological change and demand? Cut Medicare, farm subsidies, education? Of course not. Some things are core functions of government, but there are others at which the private sector is simply better and more efficient – and building telecommunications networks is one of them. In the last two decades, the U.S. private sector has invested over $1.5 trillion in networks. Imagine what the multiplier effect has been considering the total impact of that investment – new companies, applications, platforms, services, entirely new industries that have grown up because of this investment in networks. So the first principle is to maintain the conditions under which private sector investment can flourish.
Promote competition – and recognize that it exists. The 1996 Act was about promoting competition, and that’s exactly what happened. Cross-platform competition is a reality and will only continue to become more intense if government does not interfere.
Effectively manage spectrum resources, balancing the needs of the private sector and government spectrum users, and licensed and unlicensed uses. Spectrum is the lifeblood of the mobile broadband revolution. As a finite resource, it is vital that spectrum resources be made available for mobile broadband services. We should continue efforts to make spectrum available for mobile broadband by either reallocating spectrum currently used for other purposes or making underutilized government-controlled spectrum available for commercial wireless services. Policymakers should also continue to ensure we find the right mix in making spectrum available for licensed and unlicensed services.
Maintain an open Internet, with appropriate protections for non-discrimination. Here’s the good news: you don’t need a new policy on this. The FCC already did it for you in 2010, when it published reasonable rules necessary to preserve the Open Internet and ensure non-discrimination among network providers and access to information. Don’t confuse this with the rules the FCC put out in 2015; those rules inappropriately and unwisely apply decades-old, monopoly-style regulation to vibrant, competitive broadband and wireless Internet. They deter investment, not foster it. They limit innovation, not promote it. Their impact has been small at first, but it will become more evident over time. Europe had a lead in broadband at one point, too, and then it chose the path of regulation and fell dramatically behind the United States. Don’t let that happen here. Fortunately, the courts may strike down the FCC’s new rules, perhaps even before you take office. At that point, all you have to do is to say that the FCC had it right the first time – and perhaps even encourage Congress to codify those rules in statute law.
Assure access to connectivity, irrespective of geography or income, through universal service. This is easy: everyone deserves access to broadband, which is the key to the 21st-century economy – but the trick is to do it right. We need more rural investment and more investment in schools and educational institutions (50 percent of students today don’t have the tools they need to do their schoolwork). In November 2014, the FCC put forward great ideas on universal service reform, focused on modernizing the Lifeline program, expanding it to cover broadband, closing the “homework gap,” and giving consumers more power over how they spend their Lifeline dollars – while deterring waste, fraud and abuse.
Protect the privacy and security of users. Protecting the privacy of Americans in the broadband ecosystem is vital. Today, different privacy rules apply to the same information traversing the Internet, depending on the regulatory classification of a particular service provider. Policymakers should engage in open discussions across the broadband industry, along with privacy advocacy groups, on the best way to reach agreement on future consumer protections. Cybersecurity is a hugely important issue for both business and consumers. Only by working together with network providers can we achieve the strongest possible level of defense against cyber-attacks of all kinds.
Think through a new Telecommunications Act. While the 1996 Act has been a great success, it’s time to update the Act to reflect current conditions and the competitive markets that now exist with a new regulatory model that ensures government does not slow down the pace of innovation. Support for a new Act would be a major accomplishment of your Administration and would show the public that bipartisan cooperation in Congress is still possible – no small achievement in this time of sharp partisan division.