by John Kerry
For the past 15 years, "convergence" has been the operative word when it comes to technology, telecommunications, entertainment and entrepreneurship. This was an acknowledgment that, one day, these would no longer be separate industries. Rather, they would become a mutually reinforcing cluster of firms and services that could make your computer, TV, telephone, even your car, into just one of the many machines that connect Americans to information, entertainment, education -- and one another.
That time has come. That future is now: vibrant, rich, wired and wireless. It is helping make life and work more productive and could dramatically improve the ability of public safety officials to respond effectively to emergencies.
What's the challenge now on the public policy front?
Going forward, we need to make sure that entrepreneurs and firms have the wireless and wired platform they need and that the infrastructure remains open to widespread participation to promote continued innovation. And, of course, our agencies and Congress must remain vigilant in protecting U.S. consumers.
We now need a different kind of convergence -- a convergence of communications policy and politics around innovation, inclusion, competition and investment. Differences in philosophy remain about how to promote these ends, but we should start with a shared goal: the promotion of entrepreneurship, job creation and broad-based opportunity.
Over the past two years, we made significant progress. This year, we must build on it.
Right out of the gate, the Obama administration included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act significant funding for broadband deployment and adoption. We are beginning to see the fruits of those efforts.
The Federal Communications Commission presented its National Broadband Plan, then started issuing orders to implement it -- including the release of new spectra for what the industry calls "super Wi-Fi." Through smart tax policy, we have encouraged firms to upgrade investments in capital assets, including telecommunications.
In the commerce committee we passed legislation, sponsored by Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), to expand Internet access for people with disabilities. We debated the best way to ensure that media content is widely distributed and consumers do not become fodder in corporate disputes.
We also had a yearlong debate on the best way to protect and preserve the open Internet. That led to the recently approved FCC order rooted in principles everyone should be able to support: transparency of broadband service operations, no blocking of legal content and websites, and nondiscrimination for or against specific firms or people trying to communicate and compete over the Internet.
This year, we will provide vigorous oversight to ensure that stimulus grants are producing results. And we will continue to debate and discuss the perceived virtues and risks associated with the preservation of network neutrality.
But we can also move on to bigger challenges. We can start releasing additional spectra through voluntary incentive auctions, to spur more growth in mobile broadband services; equipping public safety with the infrastructure needed to keep us safe; reforming the Universal Service Fund to ensure it promotes the next-generation networks in rural communities and does so efficiently and promoting competition in service delivery so consumers in more communities have more choices for providers and widespread access to content across the Internet -- regardless of the device they use to access it.
The communications sector is an essential, driving force in our economy and in the way we live our lives. It creates the town square in which we debate our politics. And it enables increased productivity and previously unimaginable access to educational opportunities.
We have a responsibility to make the most of it -- and ensure it makes America stronger.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.