Elon University

Breakout Panel Session – How Better Broadband Benefits Everyone: Competition as a Lever Toward Progress

IGF USA LogoBrief session description:

Thursday, July 14, 2016 – The Internet has grown and spread faster and further than any previous communications technology. Increased access and higher speeds are key drivers of global economic growth as well as freedom and social progress. This panel addressed how advances in mobile and broadband access can create “virtuous cycles” of competition that exert market pressures toward greater access at greater speeds at lower prices. The roads to such virtuous cycles are fraught with challenges at home and abroad. Competition overseas has a bigger impact on the U.S. public than most people realize. More competition and investment by others globally can enable a “global upgrade” to IPv6, DNSSEC, better authentication, strong encryption and better security, which will result in less spam, less phishing and fewer cyberattacks. The panelists examined how countries that encourage competition and innovation are reaping rewards and discussed lessons learned on how to achieve competition in countries that have protectionist policies. They discussed specific policies governments have adopted to encourage innovation and how mobile broadband can provide cheaper access to the Internet. You can view select video highlights from the session on this page or see the entire panel session in full archived here.

      Details of the session:

      The session was moderated by Robert Pepper, communications program fellow, The Aspen Institute; he previously led Cisco’s Global Technology Policy team. Panelists included:

      • Blair Levin, senior fellow, The Brookings Institution
      • Kate Gage, senior policy advisor, International Science and Technology, The White House
      • Nitin Rao, special projects manager, CloudFlare
      • Eli Noam, director, Columbia University Institute for Tele-Information
      • Jim Baller, president, Coalition for Local Internet Choice

      In an age when people can FaceTime their doctor, reach someone across the globe with the click of a button or make the 1990s return in augmented reality via the Pokemon Go application, the Internet is more prevalent than ever. And with it, humans are able to create and compete in the broadband market more than ever before.

      Between a vast set of business models and a push for global connectivity, several panelists and Internet experts predicted that specific cities may move towards providing their own system for stand-alone gigabytes instead of relying on one system to provide for everyone.

      Pepper and Levin Discussion Panel PhotoJim Baller, the president for the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, said that communities are eager to work with willing incumbents or new entrances, such as Google.

      “But if they can’t find willing incumbents, many communities won’t see Google or a partnership,” Baller said. “Communities are looking for business models to get networks out there.”

      Robert Pepper, panel moderator, communications program fellow at the Aspen Institute, said broadband upgrades haven’t been at the top of the local agenda for many municipalities.

      “Others will then raise their hand and say, ‘Then we’re going to do it,’ but then existing operators will say, ‘We’ll just put it higher on the agenda,’” Pepper said.

      “And then neither of them get it done.”

      Levin says the hesitance to upgrade will create the next digital divide

      This hesitance to upgrade, said panelist Blair Levin of The Brookings Institution, is what will create the next digital divide.

      “In about two years you’ll see it,” Levin said. “In cities like Atlanta, Raleigh-Durham, Austin and Nashville, you’re going to be able to have three choices for a stand-alone gig at $70, and in the rest of the country you might be paying $100.”

      Noam and Levin Panel Photo Levin said that the aforementioned cities will be a catalyst for competition by upgrading their specific areas rather than waiting for a larger implementation. Over the next five years, Levin predicted an intensification of competition.

      Kate Gage, senior policy advisor for International Science and Technology at The White House, said she is interested in hearing what role the public sector would have in driving development.

      “Especially in the developing world, where infrastructure needs help, we’re exploring where the public sector is going to have a role in engineering this,” Gage said, noting that one of the United States’ most recent projects was driving local connectivity to refugee communities.

      “It’s a model that the United States specifically has worked on, aggregating demands for NGOs with the intention and delivery of free access to refugee populations.”

      Global Internet isn’t the plan for the future

      From a global standpoint, Eli Noam, director at Columbia University Institute for Tele-Information, said he believes the notion of a global Internet won’t work in the future.

      Rao and Gage Panel Photo“The Internet started out as an innovative effort and the question is whether it can be sustained,” Noam said. “It’s worked in the past but in the future global Internet might work with different companies and countries going different ways … at least they can do what they want in a faster way.”

      Nitin Rao, special projects manager at CloudFare, works with the security and performance of nearly four million websites around the world. Internationally, he said that his company works to make a better, safer Internet, but faces dilemmas in trying to do so.

      “With each country, we face the philosophical debate, ‘Do you work with everybody, or do you provide your contact to a provider, one ISP,’” Rao said.

      Noam agreed that it’s an inner struggle, saying that he believed it to be impossible to harmonize within various countries.

      Thus, competition exists within the broadband market, and the question is how to sustain the Internet as a global enterprise while allowing area access to the most efficient providers. This is what panel members discussed, and this is what experts in their field, they said, will continue to try to achieve as technology continues to expand.

      – By Alyssa Potter

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      The multimedia reporting team for Imagining the Internet at IGF-USA 2016 included the following Elon University School of Communications students, staff and faculty:

      Bryan Anderson, Janna Anderson, Bryan Baker, Elizabeth Bilka, Ashley Bohle, Courtney Campbell, Colin Donohue, Melissa Douglas, Mackenzie Dunn, Maya Eaglin, Christina Elias, Rachel Ellis, Caroline Hartshorn, Paul LeBlanc, Emmanuel Morgan, Joey Nappa, Diego Pineda Davila, Alyssa Potter, Kailey Tracy, Andrew Steinitz, Anna Zwingelberg