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February 08, 2005

Freedom to Communicate Conference

David Isenberg is putting on the F2C: Freedom to Connect Conference March 30-31, 2005 in Washington, D.C.  The lofty goal of the conference is to help shape the debate taking place on the future of telecommunications.  Since David runs excellent conferences and he has put together a good list of speakers and should attract influential attendees, it is quite possible that words and thoughts here will have an effect.

Vint Cerf, who has a far better claim to having invented the Internet than Al Gore, is the dinner speaker on the night of the 30th.  Dan Gillmor, Jeff Jarvis, Dan Berninger, Jerry Michalski, Om Malik, and Kevin Werbach are among the bright people who are speaking. David Isenberg, himself, is best known for his paper on the “Stupid Network” which described brilliantly why the strength of the Internet comes from the fact that it has no intelligence at its core, in fact has no core at all.  This thought was revolutionary and subversive at a time when giant telcos including AT&T, where David and I both worked at the time, considered their intelligent networks to be their core assets.  I’m speaking at F2C as well.

Some there will argue that the Freedom to Connect has become a basic right like Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Speech, or Freedom of Religion.  It’s certainly true that more people have the ability to blog than will ever own a printing press.  More interesting to me than an abstract argument over whether this is a freedom which deserves to be ever after written about in capital letters are concrete arguments over the proper relative roles of the public and private sector in making a full range of telecommunications broadly available.  These discussions are sure to generate both heat and light.

Some will say that government ought to “simply” build fiber to every residence.  Others will say that, if government will simply promise to stay out of the way, a bigger and more inclusive network will be built faster.  Seeing how much more progress has been made lately in unlicensed spectrum – that part of telecommunication which doesn’t require either a government license or even a permit to tear up the streets, I lean undogmatically to the latter view.  But that’s not what I’m speaking about.

I think that the freedom to communicate is threatened if there is not some way to restrict the freedom of everyone in the world to communicate with us.  Spam has already reduced the usefulness of email although free market, not government, solutions have helped stem the flood.  VoIP spam (SPIT according to Fred Wilson) threatens to be a far worse problem since filtering real-time connections is a much more difficult problem than filtering store-and-forward email.  I proposed in an earlier post that this problem be addressed by a mechanism which lets each of us charge access charges at rates we set ourselves for unsolicited access to us via email or phone.. 

But, because I don’t know, I didn’t say how the mechanism would ever get in place.  At F2C I will talk about some ideas I’ve had and some that people have sent me since I posted.  More importantly, I hope the conference is a place where smart people will have good ideas for how to implement and/or modify this proposal.  If you’re interested in being one of those smart people or want to contribute to the F2C discussion in any way, you can register at http://tinyurl.com/43ywh.

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