Introduction to Essays on the Future of Digital Communications

By Laguarda, Fernando R. | Federal Communications Law Journal, December 2010 | Go to article overview

Introduction to Essays on the Future of Digital Communications


Laguarda, Fernando R., Federal Communications Law Journal


I.   STIMULATING DISCUSSION: THE ROLE OF THE TIME
     WARNER CABLE RESEARCH PROGRAM ON DIGITAL
     COMMUNICATIONS
II.  OVERVIEW--POLICY PERSPECTIVES
III. OVERVIEW--TECHNICAL PERSPECTIVES

I. STIMULATING DISCUSSION: THE ROLE OF THE TIME WARNER CABLE RESEARCH PROGRAM ON DIGITAL COMMUNICATIONS

The Time Warner Cable Research Program on Digital Communications is pleased to have supported the five essays in this Federal Communications Law Journal symposium. We launched the research program with the goal of encouraging debate and discussion on ideas of importance to the future of our industry and its role in the communities we serve. We hope to do so by providing a new forum for scholars to engage with the community of stakeholders who make and influence policy. We want to encourage increased dialogue and generate new ideas that bring us closer to solving the challenges we face. The research program will award stipends to scholars to produce twenty-five- to thirty-five-page papers that increase understanding of the benefits and challenges facing the future of digital technologies in the home, office, classroom, and community.

For this symposium, we invited five noted scholars to write an essay discussing a major challenge they anticipate arising as we debate and set digital communications policy during the next decade. Their Essays are published in this symposium. While each author chose a different challenge, they all raise interesting questions that deserve further discussion and debate.

II. OVERVIEW--POLICY PERSPECTIVES

The first three policy papers are by a law professor, a sociologist, and an economist. John Palfrey is a professor of law at Harvard Law School and codirector of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Palfrey writes about the connection between law and social science and the challenge of incorporating current research into policymaking. He uses the example of youth media policy, specifically privacy regulation, to frame a challenge to policymakers: learn how young people actually use digital communications or risk making public policy that is irrelevant to (or poorly meets the needs of) the digital generation. Palfrey recommends establishing "mechanisms that enable collaboration between those who set policy ... and those who best understand youth media practices."

In her paper, Dr. Nicol Turner-Lee, vice president and director of the Media and Technology Institute at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, discusses the Internet as a platform for civic engagement. She explains that digital communications tools present both opportunities and perils for the next decade of social activism and political discourse. In particular, "unequal access to the Internet affects civic engagement when groups are underrepresented or on the periphery of online activity." She offers specific strategies for ensuring the Internet and social media tools provide a constructive forum for deliberative exchange. Turner-Lee's challenge to policymakers is to take steps to ensure that broadband adoption does not create or further solidify existing social stratification and alienation.

Next, Dr. Scott Wallsten, vice president for research and senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute, reviews the approach policymakers have taken to broadband technology and challenges several key assumptions driving recommendations for the next decade. While policymakers "hope that home broadband access will [quickly] spur economic growth," Wallsten suggests that this narrow focus may be misguided. He specifically questions whether residential broadband adoption can have the transformative economic impact many assume it will have. Instead, he writes, the focus should be on "how new communications technologies affect business" because these are the impacts on productivity that will determine whether broadband will "radically reshape the economy." Wallsten calls for a deeper research agenda into the long-term impact of broadband on the business sector. …

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