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Live From the Tech Policy Summit: The Communications Explosion

Tucked away down a dim hallway in the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel isa ballroom where participants in day two of theTech PolicySummit are airing their pressing concerns about technology innovation and adoption.

The recently concludedFederal Communications Commission 700 MHz wireless spectrum auction is generating considerable buzz, as is today’s shocking news that Comcast and BitTorrent have decided to cooperate. Other topics of interest are the ever-expanding online universe and advancements in wireless technologies.

Opening Up

Today’s highlights included a keynote by FCC CommissionerRobert McDowell, who opened up his address by noting that the summitreflects “the wonderful reality that we are privileged to live in themost exciting time ever in the history of communications.”

Half of the world’s population now has a cellphone, he observed. “No technology has ever penetrated this deeply this fast.”

Along with all of the obvious advantages, there’s a downside. “Justlike our gangling and awkward teenage years, the new media economy is working throughgrowing pains,” commented McDowell.

The 700 MHZ auction was “all about trying to bring newblood into the broadband game,” he said. However, with the telecom behemoths dominating the show, many of the worries he harbored about the auction’s outcome apparently were justified.

On open access — a policy that Google had vigorously championed — McDowell remarked that the market had long been heading toward the open waters of open access.

Any self-congratulations on Google’s part were akin to “a rooster taking credit for the sunrise,” he quipped.

McDowell waxed enthusiastic over the future of the FCC. “We havethe building blocks for a healthy, well-funded agency. … We’remarching down the road of technological innovation, and we alwayswill.”

The Wireless Revolution

During her roundtable discussion on wireless innovation,Rachelle Chong, a commissioner on the California Public UtilitiesCommission, jokingly told the audience that the panel members “shoulddisagree with each other often — and if they disappoint me, there willbe hell to pay.”

Carolyn Brandon, vice president of policy forCTIA, dominated the discussion with her enthusiasm over the Comcast-BitTorrent agreement, which she called “absolutely fabulous.”

The other participants — Michael Calabrese, vice president ofthe Wireless Future Program for theNew America Foundation, SimonWilkie, professor and executive director of theUSC Center forCommunications Law and Policy, and Brian Knapp, vicepresident of corporate affairs and chief privacy officer for the”social compass” application providerLoopt — touched on suchtopics as m-commerce, white space andmunicipal wireless.

White space is “sitting there doing nothing,” Wilkie remarked.

Boring? Not So Much

Kai Ryssdal, host of the public radio business program “Marketplace,” picked the brain ofCraigslist Founder and Customer Service Representative CraigNewmark on subjects ranging from society to the Internet to himself.

“People always want to give each other a break,” said the soft-spoken Newmark. “People of goodwill aregetting together … to change things.”

His philanthropic efforts are giving him a new appreciation of lobbyists, he said. “There are a small number of people who have given the industry a bad name.”

As for the fame he acquired for his namesake site — which he called “pretty much an online flea market” — Newmark said it’s “all very surreal … very odd. I’m just not used to that kind of attention. It allchanges when I’m in L.A. I’ve been in L.A. about 36 hours, and already I want to adopt a baby from overseas.”

Newmark maintained a self-deprecating tone throughout the interview. “In high school, I really did wear a plastic pocket protector,” he confessed.

“I’m as boring as you can get. I wear gray socks. Brown is the new black,” he said, in defense of his suit.

Click here to e-mail Rachelle Crum.

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