Charlie Firestone of the Aspen Institute: Critical Technology Policies That Are Being Debated Now

November 7, 2012

1:00 pm

Charlie Firestone will be a panelist at DCWEEK for “The New Economy: Technology for Social Impact.” He is the executive director of the Communications & Society Program at the Aspen Institute. DCWEEK is a week-long festival co-produced by Tech Cocktail and iStrategyLabs. Get your tickets here.

Tech Cocktail: What is the Aspen Institute’s Communications & Society program?

Charlie Firestone: The Aspen Institute is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization formed in 1950 to foster enlightened leadership based on timeless values. It convenes the Aspen Ideas Festival, has a great young leadership program, holds great books seminars, and has almost 30 policy programs. The Communications and Society Program is a policy program that addresses the impact of information and communications technologies on societal values and institutions. We convene business, government, and nonprofit leaders and experts, usually in a seminar format, to address important issues in the field. This includes policy topics in journalism, Internet, telecommunications, media, information technology, libraries, digital literacy, and public diplomacy. From the collective intelligence around the table, we arrive at recommendations or new insights that should lead to innovation and reform.

Tech Cocktail: What have been the most critical technology policies debated this year?

Firestone: Well, one is coming to a head at the end of this year at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai. The question is whether the ITU (International Telecommunications Union), a UN-related agency, should take a role in more direct Internet governance, as China, Russia, Brazil, and others are proposing, or should we stay with the hodge-podge multistakeholder approach currently in effect, as the US and other Western countries want. The answer will have a significant effect on the future of the Internet. Our Aspen IDEA Project has addressed that over the past several years. Other topics of interest are the patent wars, and whether our software patents are being issued too leniently; spectrum auctions to bring more spectrum to wireless operators and innovators; and the application of antitrust law to some of the mergers and acquisitions that are taking place these days.

Tech Cocktail: What issues do you foresee being important next year?

Firestone: I think there will be a more concerted effort to reevaluate the adequacy of the Communications Act that governs regulation of broadcast, cable, telephony, wireless, and other communications industries. Otherwise, the same issues as I mentioned above will be significant in 2013: the WCIT will result in greater attention to the possibility of international governmental regulation of the Internet, the patent wars will continue well beyond 2013, and a lot of work will be done in 2013 to transfer more spectrum to wireless services.

Tech Cocktail: What’s your impression of the DC startup scene?

Firestone: Up-and-coming! Next to Silicon Valley and New York, I think DC is in the next tier for attracting important developers of new ICT businesses.

Tech Cocktail: What are you most looking forward to at DCWEEK?

Firestone: Frankly, I’m looking forward to meeting younger, new entrants in these fields.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact

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