November 03, 2014
Telecommunications policy is far from attractive, much less easy. Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) said, “The telecom rewrite, that’s not for sissies.”[i] But what if it were actually so simple, so intuitive, that elementary schools will be teaching the reemergence of a superpower United States because of telecommunication infrastructure as little as 25 years from now?
By Jessica Schneider, CAS’15
Broadband access, net neutrality, Title II, peering, competitive market share, and STELA are just a few terms in the vast dictionary policymakers are grappling with in the world of telecommunications policy.
The internet is easily the most transformational and disruptive technology our country has ever developed. It’s also no secret that the absence of regulation has allowed the internet to grow vibrantly and enormously on a level playing field that affords a startup with two young grads working on laptops in Starbucks the same opportunities as multibillion-dollar companies.
Our country has been dancing in a crossroads for several years, debating how to treat the internet from a policy perspective. It is difficult enough to understand the many components of the internet—how it is distributed, who manages the structure, who creates the content, and where data is stored, etc.—much less identify the challenges and opportunities associated with digital communication.
The details aren’t simple, and the answers aren’t apparent. But the way that we must approach information technology and it’s place in our economy should be clear—information is an economic good. Viewing information and our accessibility to it in the same way that we do physical goods better allows us to conceptualize the impact that it is having on our economy, and the opportunities that it presents to us as a society.
Just as the United States first had an economy built around mobilization and sale of natural resources, second around the mobilization and sale of manufacturing labor, we now have one built around digital innovation: the mobilization and sale of digital ideas and creations that improve our quality of life. Our economy has changed again, and we are very simply in the third chapter of its evolution.
Our leaders can indeed look to recent history in seeking direction to ensure the opportunities of the information revolution do not pass by America. An innovation economy requires workers to be educated, and so the importance of expanding information delivery networks to rural areas and at low costs is as vital as expanding railroad networks once was. Teaching digital literacy is just as essential to the everyday life of a citizen now as reading once was. Lessons of the governments’ role in supporting and regulating enterprises large and small is strikingly similar to the challenges confronted in mining the oil and coal energy at the onset of our previous economic revolution.
The United States has invested in its economy and society to stay on top of the evolutionary wave since its inception, and this is why our leaders rightly call ours the greatest nation on Earth. We are at a crossroads in which maintaining our place on top requires investments in our society unlike any seen before, but today we have the privilege of being one of a few nations capable of making those investments. The choices and values that confront us in making the choice to do so are not new.
It is my hope that our nations’ leaders will recognize enormous possibility hidden below the obscure and unattractive policy of telecommunication, and seize upon it before the chance, or other countries, pass us by.
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The views expressed on the Student Blog are the author’s opinions and don’t necessarily represent the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative’s strategies, recommendations, or opinions.