Next Century Cities, Public Knowledge, and the American Action Forum hosted Opportunities for Bipartisan Tech Policy yesterday, January 15, 2019, in Washington DC. Elected officials, policy leaders, and industry experts gathered, along with more than 200 attendees, to discuss potential action steps around some of the most important tech policy issues. View a full recording of the event here.

Deb Socia, Executive Director, Next Century Cities, moderated an opening keynote conversation with Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, Federal Communications Commission. Commissioner Rosenworcel touched on the digital divide, rural broadband, consumer privacy, and the FCC’s role in addressing these issues. She called the fact that 12 million American students face a homework gap, “the cruellest part of the digital divide,” and suggested that unlicensed spectrum might be one of many innovative solutions for improving connectivity for students across the country.

Socia referenced the fact that Internet access is an issue for 58% of rural Americans, and Commissioner Rosenworcel responded by saying that the FCC can and should be collecting more accurate data in order to address the problem. Commissioner Rosenworcel explained, “There are too many places in this country where they aren’t talking about 5G, they’ve got no G.”

Afterwards, Blair Levin, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution, and Robert McDowell, Partner,  Cooley LLP, took the stage for a conversation moderated by Will Rinehart, Director of Technology and Innovation Policy, the American Action Forum. The two touched on the potential of 5G and the economics of different broadband deployment models.

Levin said, “We need to have a race to the top,” as a country to innovate around 5G. He also explained that local government should be empowered to make decisions around the issue, because, “The digital divide is going to get greater… Some areas are going to get fiber and 5G, and cities next door will struggle to get good broadband access.”

Both speakers criticized aspects of federal broadband deployment programs. McDowell stated that, in the end, the more than $300 billion in private investment capital is what will determine the future of 5G in America, not a $600 million federal program.  

The first panel discussion of the day focused on rural broadband and was moderated by Christopher Mitchell, Director, Community Broadband Networks Initiative, Institute for Local Self-Reliance & Policy Director, Next Century Cities. Panelists included Shirley Bloomfield, Chief Executive Officer, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association; Jonathan Chambers, Partner, Conexon LLC; Harold Feld, Senior Vice President, Public Knowledge; and Brent Skorup, Senior Research Fellow, Mercatus Center, George Mason University. During the conversation, Chambers said that rural broadband does not need to be complicated, and that we already have a solution. Harold Feld, Senior Vice President, Public Knowledge agreed with him, saying, “We need to fund infrastructure, not providers.”

David McCabe, Technology Reporter, Axios, moderated the following panel on data privacy and security. Panelists included: Neil Chilson, Senior Research Fellow for Technology and Innovation, the Charles Koch Institute; Ryan Clough, General Counsel, Public Knowledge; Laura Moy, Executive Director, Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology; Francella Ochillo, Vice President of Policy & General Counsel, National Hispanic Media Coalition; and Will Rinehart, Director of Technology and Innovation Policy, the American Action Forum. Clough stated that there is enormous potential for systemic discrimination with data collection. Ochillo, agreeing, added that, those most impacted by data privacy harms have least ability for recourse. In the end there was some consensus on the panel on the need to keep consumer privacy a bipartisan conversation. Ochillo said, “It doesn’t really matter what community you come from, we all want our data to be protected.”

The final panel of the day focused on spectrum, and was moderated by Austin Bonner, Associate, Harris, Wiltshire, & Grannis LLP. Claude Aiken, President & CEO, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association; Michael Calabrese, Director, Wireless Future Project, New America; Andrew Clegg, Spectrum Engineering Lead, Google; and Bartlett Cleland, General Counsel and Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer, American Legislative Exchange Council, contributed to the conversation. Panelists discussed the hype around 5G, freeing up unused spectrum, and how spectrum can contribute to tech innovation.

In the midst of an ongoing government shutdown, the conversations that took place yesterday offered some hope for future bipartisan action on rural broadband, digital privacy, and spectrum issues. In closing, Deb Socia put it simply, saying to the audience, “We can find ways forward on these issues. Let’s make it happen.”

Watch Opportunities for Bipartisan Tech Policy below:

Thank you to our gold sponsor, Magellan Advisors, our lunch sponsor, WifiForward, and our webcast sponsor, the Internet Society, for making this event possible!