Dispatch from the TPI Aspen Forum – Monday Keynotes, Panels and Beyond

Dispatch from the TPI Aspen Forum – Monday Keynotes, Panels and Beyond

(With help from Corey Rhyan)

The first full day of the TPI Aspen Forum began with a keynote speech by Bob Crandall, TPI Adjunct Senior Fellow and Nonresident Senior Fellow, Economic Studies Program at Brookings Institution.  Crandall’s remarks covered how broadband policy should be informed by an accurate assessment of current market conditions.  Despite what Crandall described as a pessimistic tone in recent reports on US broadband, a relaxed regulatory environment has led to a penetration rate over 98% for broadband in the US (including wireless options), and U.S. broadband speeds have been steadily increasing.  The US also leads in deployment of 4G wireless services around the globe.  As a result of robust competition between cable and copper, the US cable companies have deployed super-fast DOCSIS 3.0 technology to 85% of households and incumbent telecom providers have exceeded the cable companies’ capital investment to match their services in recent years.  While super-fast 100 Mbps speeds are often the topic of policy discussions Crandall pointed to evidence that households do not want to pay for extremely high-speed service even when it’s available. Crandall’s remarks can be viewed here.

Next up was the panel “Communications and IT – What Can We Expect From Congress?,” which featured ex-members of Congress Rick Boucher, Cliff Stearns and Tom Tauke, and was skillfully moderated by Brendan Sasso from The Hill.  The free-wheeling discussion began with the open question: what is the most important tech issue Congress is likely to address? While the answers varied from privacy, to spectrum and the upcoming incentive auctions, to cybersecurity, to NSA surveillance, each opined that the current Congress has a “productivity problem” when it comes to passing legislation.  One item some found particularly encouraging was the recently-created working groups on spectrum and privacy.  When asked about the current nominees for the FCC, all agreed there should be an easy confirmation, particularly because of the pair of Republican and Democratic nominees, but concern was voiced over the current nomination process.   Watch the entire (very entertaining) panel here.

The next panel, “Deconstructing Creative Destruction,” was a nod to the overall theme of the conference and featured: Danny Boice (Speek), Chris Ciabarra (Revel Systems), Joshua Gans (University of Toronto), Laura Martin (Needham & Company LLC), Hal Varian (Google) and was moderated by TPI’s Scott Wallsten. The two startup representatives or “real-world doers” according to Wallsten, discussed how their companies have become disruptive forces in their industries.  The key each entrepreneur proclaimed was solving a problem, one in particular that affects consumers and end-users.  The panel also discussed hurdles such as H1B visa use in start-ups and obstacles in hiring, and financing issues in innovative technologies.  Martin discussed today’s tax and investment environment, especially for the media and communications industries. The video can be viewed online here.

The third and final panel of the day, “Competition, Regulation, and the Evolution of Internet Business Models” focused on potential innovations in the pricing of broadband services and featured Kevin Leddy (Time Warner Cable), Robert Quinn (AT&T), Joshua Wright (FTC), Christopher Yoo (University of Penn Law School) and was moderated by TPI’s Tom Lenard.  Much of the discussion of these panelists focused on the potentially new pricing that could make broadband networks more efficient and create value for consumers.  However, a common theme pitted these innovations against the open internet laws current under review by the DC Circuit Court.  In fact, attempts so far to implement usage pricing has been called “discrimination” and resulted in quick backlash. FTC Commissioner Wright stated he believes the FTC is more than capable of protecting consumers in this space and that many of the proposed innovations and vertical agreements are precompetitive and the FTC can prevent those that may harm consumers.  The video can be viewed online here.

Monday lunch featured a speech from the Chairwoman from the FTC, Edith Ramirez, who focused her talk on the future of Big Data and the FTC’s role as a lifeguard for consumers.  Media coverage of the speech can be found here and here and video of Chairwoman Ramirez’s remarks can be viewed here.

Last night’s dinner keynote was the Hon. Mitch Daniels, President of Purdue University and Former Governor of the State of Indiana.  Daniels opined on “creative destruction” in higher education.  Video is here.

Tuesday’s panels and keynotes will be posted throughout today on the TPI YouTube channel.  They include: a keynote by Randal Milch, Executive Vice President of Public Policy and General Counsel at Verizon, and the discussion panels “Who Pays for the Internet – A Global Perspective, “Privacy, Data Security and Trade – Policy Choices,” and “The FCC’s Incentive Auctions – How Can They Succeed?”

The conference concludes this afternoon with “A Conversation with the Commissioners,” moderated by Politico’s Tony Romm.  Video of the talk will be up later this afternoon.

Thanks to all attendees and speakers who came out to the TPI Aspen Forum this year!  All of us at TPI are now taking a little break.  Hope to see you next year!

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