On a snowy Tuesday morning during the federal government shutdown, 140 people came together from across the political spectrum in search of solutions to improve Internet access for everyone. Coordinated by Next Century Cities, Public Knowledge, and the American Action Forum, the day’s objective was not to highlight areas where we do not agree, but to look for areas of commonality. Folks across the country are frustrated by the stalemate that has come to characterize DC and we hoped that by coming together and facilitating conversations, we might elevate potential opportunities for collaboration.

The discussions were civil, passionate, and focused. We challenged each other to see things differently. We laughed and we sighed. This was not your typical DC “echo chamber.” When we bring together a panel that includes representatives from the Charles Koch Institute, Public Knowledge, Georgetown Law, the American Action Forum, and the National Hispanic Media Coalition and they can find areas of agreement, we can imagine a future where decision-making supports people and not party lines.

The topics for consideration and discussion included rural broadband, data privacy, and spectrum policy – all areas of considerable interest on the Hill and across the country. We need better policy to ensure that rural residents have access to broadband, that all residents know what data is being collected and what is done with that data, and to create a pathway from spectrum scarcity to spectrum abundance.

What is considerably more important than the event itself, however, is what comes next. If all that happens is this one isolated conversation, a long lasting result is unlikely. If we just facilitate a single conversation, how can we expect to impact the impasse that has held us back from helpful and necessary communications policy decisions?

Therefore, Next Century Cities, along with our partners, plan to continue this conversation. We’ll organize and facilitate topic-specific conversations to  find potential opportunities for common ground. Then we’ll share what we learn with legislators and decision makers. If we are going to help all of our country’s residents benefit from being connected, then we must find a way through the logjam. By focusing on problem solving, we trust there is a pathway to success.

We believe in the aphorism, shared at the event by Blair Levin, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute: “Don’t fall in love with a solution, fall in love with solving the problem.” Let’s solve some problems.


Deb Socia is the Executive Director of Next Century Cities