|Our most valuable resources, connected and safe
|Deborah Taylor Tate
|US Federal Communications Commission
Deborah Taylor Tate has been a Commissioner with the US Federal Communications Commission since 3 January, 2006. Commissioner Tate serves as Chair of the Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service and has represented the FCC officially in bilateral meetings with foreign countries and as a speaker at numerous US and international conferences. Commissioner Tate previously served as Chairman and Director of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority and as Legal Counsel and Senior Policy Advisor to two Governors. Often referred to as “The Children’s Commissioner” for her work promoting online safety and children’s health, Commissioner Tate works to facilitate market-based solutions, cooperative federalism and public/private partnerships to address major policy issues. Commissioner Tate received a BA from the University of Tennessee, and a JD from the University of Tennessee College of Law.
Today’s new technologies are often disruptive in that they challenge existing technologies and business models, as well as regulators and policy-makers. They also provide opportunities to connect our citizens to services, social supports and ‘virtual’ jobs that were not possible just a decade ago. ICT addresses many of the challenges facing families and provides improved educational opportunities. Nevertheless, we must be vigilant in protecting our children as they go online to learn, socialise and explore in this connected world.
In the US there is a term of art that applies to the economy, the environment and to life in an increasingly connected world: “think locally, act globally”. This concept underscores that we are all facing many of the same issues within our borders and that being connected to one another – whether as individuals, businesses, research institutions, humanitarian organisations or governments – is so vitally important in today’s disruptive world. I use disruptive here to describe what are often termed ‘disruptive technologies’ because they challenge the existing technologies and business models, just as they challenge regulators and policy-makers. They also provide opportunities to connect our citizens to services, social supports and ‘virtual’ jobs that were not possible just a decade ago. Countries worldwide face a number of issues related to ICT, including building high-tech skills to compete in an increasingly global environment, improving rural citizens’ access to new technologies, updating our laws and standards to keep pace with the digital revolution and making additional spectrum available so dazzling new services can come to fruition. In the US, for example, the DTV transition will make the valuable 700 MHz spectrum available for new and innovative uses that hold much promise, even as they raise thorny policy issues. I would like to add another issue to the international dialogue: Advancing the welfare of our children. Given my commitment to issues regarding children and families, I believe that ICT can address many of the challenges facing families, such as the need for improved educational opportunities and distance learning through high-speed Internet access via broadband. At the same time, we must be vigilant in protecting our children as they go online to learn, socialise, and explore in this connected world. Broadband is critical to all sectors of our economy, not just education but also information services, financial services, healthcare, manufacturing, transportation, retail, arts and entertainment, and many more. It helps positively impact our quality of life, not only directly through greater access to healthcare and educational resources but also indirectly by increasing worker productivity, which in turn elevates income levels for companies as well as individuals. Therefore, expanding affordable broadband service is a priority in the US, as I know it is in many other countries. The US is making significant progress in broadband deployment, and we have done so with a light regulatory touch that has helped promote investment and competition. We have adopted the same regulatory approach for broadband service provided over cable systems, telephone lines, power lines and wireless platforms, which helps ensure a level playing field among competing platforms. As a result, over half of our households have broadband, and this is a country with over 300 million people in 110 million households. While it is true that the US does not have the highest broadband penetration on a per-capita basis, this should be seen in context. South Korea, which should be congratulated for having such high broadband penetration, is about the size of Kentucky, our 37th largest state. Kentucky, though, a state with many rural areas, has about 40 people per square kilometre, while South Korea has about 500 people per square kilometre. Despite these obstacles, however, Kentucky developed an innovative public/private partnership that includes companies, universities and government entities working together to promote broadband service in that state. As a result, Kentucky has seen some of the fastest rates of broadband growth in the country and expects to have broadband available to the entire state by the end of this year. Fortunately for Kentucky, and other states or countries with large rural areas, dynamic technologies and providers that can offer broadband service continue to increase. The wire-line telephone companies and cable companies continue to deploy fibre-to-the-home. Satellite providers offer broadband service and, increasingly, so do terrestrial wireless providers. Wireless technologies like EDGE and EV-DO have made available Internet service over cellphone networks, and now more advanced versions of these technologies make mobile networks alternative providers of broadband. Then there is the promise of WiMAX and WiFi. In short, wireless services and devices are being marketed to more and more people, including even children in elementary school. As these new providers become competitors in the broadband market, they also need to be partners in protecting our children online. Protecting children is perhaps one of the most basic roles of any government. Our children are our most valuable natural resource and we should do all we can not only to educate them but also to do so in a safe environment. In this area, the Internet presents many more opportunities – as well as risks – than we could have imagined even one generation ago. We all know that the Internet can, with the click of a mouse, take our children on an educational adventure – to the Louvre or the Library of Congress, on an exploration of the Great Barrier Reef or the Great Wall of China – but the Internet can also take our children to the back alleys of abuse and sexual exploitation. In fact, one in seven youth between the ages of ten and 17 has been sexually solicited online. Parents need to be just as aware of the dangers in their online world as they are in their offline one. Given that over 90 per cent of US teenagers between 12 and 17 use the Internet, parental involvement is especially critical. The good news is that parents are becoming more aware and they are getting more involved. About two-thirds of parents report that they have checked up on their child after the child has been online. Even more say they have rules about where their children can go online. Parents are the first line of defence. However, government, industry and civic leaders also play an important role. In the US, law enforcement officials have experience dealing with financial fraud and identity theft and increasingly are applying this expertise to child protection. Many companies also have made important efforts, including starting education and outreach campaigns to teach parents about the tools that are available to protect their kids online. For example, cable companies hosted a ‘teen summit’ with Miss America to reach teens by video. The Entertainment Software Association recently hosted a congressional forum on Capitol Hill, and nonprofit groups such as Common Sense Media (http://www.commonsensemedia.org/) have partnered with Internet service providers to offer ratings systems and blocking tools. To reach young children, the Internet Keep Safe Coalition (http://www.ikeepsafe.org/) has developed animated programmes and a mascot to teach online safety. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children also has developed a variety of resources for both parents and kids, such as NetSmartz (http://www.netsmartz.org/), an award-winning interactive educational programme. There are so many opportunities for cooperative ventures to expand our children’s access to the world via the Internet, and so many ways in which we can work together to allow them to explore that world safely. It is an exciting time for all of us to be part of this new digital revolution. Just like the Industrial Revolution, it will forever impact our world and generations to come. My hope as technology continues to advance is that inventors and investors, developers and dreamers, and leaders around the world will contribute their energies to help ensure that access to the Internet is a reality for all our children. I implore them, also, to help make cyberspace safe for our children, so that they can truly reap all the phenomenal benefits a connected world has to offer.