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CHAPTER I - Providing a Back Azimuth

The conference opened with a speech by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler who provided a perspective on the present state and the future challenges for communications policy. Noting that we are living in a time of network-driven “opportunity and reshaping,” Chairman Wheeler pointed out that this is not the first time that Americans have had to deal with the impact of new technologies. He looked back to the introduction of two earlier technologies—the railroad and the telegraph—that “combined to make the mid-19th century a still unmatched period of network-driven upheaval” that involved “dislocation, disruption and despair” for many Americans. But he noted that this disruption generated creative responses—including the founding of unions and co-ops that empowered working people, efforts to protect public health and public safety, and the rise of progressive political movements—that ultimately ensured that the benefits of the new technologies were widely shared. He suggested that this past experience can serve as a “back azimuth” to help chart a path from the present to the future.

Wheeler then offered a framework for moving forward and identified five basic components of a “Network Compact” that define the “responsibilities of those that built and operated networks: access, interconnection, consumer protection, public safety, and national security.” He suggested that these domains will continue to be important for the foreseeable future (the full text of Chairman Wheeler’s speech is available at https://www.fcc.gov/document/wheeler-remarks-aspen-institute-communication-policy-conference).

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