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CHAPTER VI - Conclusion: A Road Map to the Future

Communications networks that transmit video, data, voice and text are part of a wider social and economic system and, as such, should contribute to a high and rising standard of living for all citizens. To ensure that the video and communications sectors can contribute to that overarching goal, participants identified a number of possibilities, including:

  • Developing new funding mechanisms for public-interest content though expanded use of franchise fees and other similar local fees, inducement prizes and use of public facilities for content production;
  • Increasing the share of Americans with broadband at home by scaling up existing broadband adoption programs and using government programs as levers to draw non-users online;
  • Ensuring that there is a trusted environment for consumers by encouraging multi-stakeholder discussions, voluntary industry self-regulation or—potentially—through a baseline privacy law and an online portal to give consumers more information about the attributes of service plans;
  • Monitoring the competitive dynamics throughout the multilayered Internet ecosystem. This includes the market for content, where licensing practices and retransmission consent rules can impact entry. It also includes seeding innovation through financial support of upstream research and development (e.g., in university settings);
  • Improving incentives for network upgrades through reducing regulatory barriers at the local level that may increase build-out costs, and using government to drive consumer demand for bandwidth through e-service delivery, promotion of digital skills and literacy, and supporting ConnectED and efforts to use digital tools in the classroom.

There are uncertainties in attaining each of these goals. Funding demands, whether for public-interest content like ConnectED or broadband adoption programs, may exceed stakeholders’ resources. Keeping pace with innovation will challenge the capacity of policymakers in areas such as competition policy and privacy. New business models and service offerings can make new products appealing and affordable to a wide range of consumers, yet place information demands (on product attributes and sharing data) that can inhibit use—at least for some people. The proposition for upgrading networks depends on a number of factors—such as capital costs, uncertain market demand and competitive risks—that may not always align perfectly.

To address how to reach the goals for video in the face of uncertainties, stakeholders should develop a policy road map to chart out specific steps to attain them, using the framework developed here as a guide. The goals from this report serve as a starting point for developing specific policy instruments to attain them. In undertaking this, the framework in this report suggests that there are two things that should go along with developing a policy road map. First, stakeholders must agree on what metrics to track to attain goals and, where necessary, to develop metrics for understanding whether programs are attaining desired goals. Second, stakeholders should recognize complementarities in designing policy. If, for instance, a goal is to increase the amount of public-interest content and the range of voices creating it, then promoting digital skills among all citizens would complement increased funding for such content. More money for technology in schools might go further if there are also resources and training for teachers on how to use technology in the classroom. Improving incentives for network upgrades through regulatory relief may prove more effective if stakeholders also help bolster demand for bandwidth by promoting e-delivery of government services and bolstering technology adoption in low-income areas.

Thinking through the specifics requires a wide participation of actors (from the private, public and nonprofit sectors) and careful parsing of responsibilities. Regulatory reform can accomplish a great deal, but Congress may need to make legislative changes in other areas. Federal action may accomplish a great deal, but state and local policymakers may be the right locus for action in other areas. In the end, stakeholders need to be creative in offering ideas but, more importantly, cultivate an environment where the industries that create video and other digital content can contribute to an inclusive society and a high-growth economy.

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