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Words from Charlie - Foreword

Digital and network technologies have transformed the world in many positive ways. But it is increasingly clear that those benefits come with costs, many of which are difficult to measure and even harder to mitigate. Misuse of personal information, manipulation of platforms to influence elections, and failure to extend broadband to underserved areas are a just few of the problems facing society at all levels. Increasingly, policymakers are taking up the challenge of shaping legal solutions to these problems, only to find they lack the technical expertise, tools and in some cases jurisdiction, to regulate wisely, meaningfully and efficiently.

Given the current technological environment, what goals are appropriate to assure that emerging technologies are used to benefit the populace and do not harm society? How do those goals align among local/state regulation, Federal Trade Commission, Federal Communications Commission, European Commission and others?

The 34th Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Communications Policy, which took place August 11 to 14, 2019, sought to respond to these questions. Participants explored approaches to impede harms from digital and network technologies that address user protection, promote consumer choice and competition, and foster access to essential services. They also sought to create a framework to identify jurisdictional authority and enforcement, including my own suggestion that the federal government consolidate various functions and agencies into a new cabinet-level Department of Networks and Data.

The resulting report, written by rapporteur Carol Mattey, offers seven recommendations. These center on the need to reform government to be better equipped to address challenges in the future, address the responsibilities of technology companies, call for technology-focused job training and programs to advance digital literacy skills, and act to close the digital divide. Mattey highlights the harms and benefits brought on by artificial intelligence, 5G, and the Internet of Things and concludes by providing a map and compass for government and industry.

I would like to acknowledge and thank the organizations represented at this conference that have also contributed financial support to the Communications and Society Program. They are Google, Microsoft, AT&T, Comcast, Facebook, New Street Research, T-Mobile, Verizon, Charter, Dodge and Cox, the National Association of Broadcasters, and Emmis.

I also want to thank Carol Mattey, conference rapporteur, for her extensive and informative account of the conference discussions, and our participants for their contributions to these complicated topics. However, not every recommendation or statement in the report reflects the views of all attendees or their employers; rather, they are the rapporteur’s view of the general sense of the group.

Finally, I want to thank Dominique Harrison, Project Director, for producing the conference and editing this report.

Charles M. Firestone
Executive Director
The Aspen Institute

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