Wednesday, January 23, 2008

USA - policies for a new president

Working group focuses on communications policy for new administration

University Park, Pa. -- While the presidential election moves through its primary stages, a group of Penn State faculty members and colleagues from across the country has its sights set beyond the outcome of the general election in November. They're not focusing on a specific candidate, either.

Instead, the faculty members anticipate January 2009, the next president's inauguration and the corresponding change in the federal government as the time to present an outline — as well as the practical steps necessary for implementation — of a new U.S. communications policy.

The Future of American Communications Working Group, supported by a $75,000 grant from the Media Democracy Fund, a project of the Proteus Fund, plans to produce a volume outlining a comprehensive telecommunications policy agenda for the federal administration to be entering office in January 2009. That agenda will emphasize the potential of information technologies for improving democratic discourse, social responsibility and the quality of life. It will specify the means by which those technologies can be made available to all Americans.

"The unique concentration of such a large group of leading communication policy scholars in the College of Communications has made Penn State the natural place to serve as the center for such an ambitious project," said Amit Schejter, an assistant professor in the Department of Telecommunications and director of the working group.

Other Penn State faculty involved in the project include: Robert Frieden, the Pioneers Chair in Cable Telecommunications; Krishna Jayakar, associate professor of communications; Jorge Reina Schement, distinguished professor of communications and co-director of the Institute for Information Policy; Andrea Tapia, assistant professor of information sciences and technology; and Richard Taylor, the Palmer Chair professor of telecommunication and law and co-director of the Institute for Information Policy.

Additional collaborators represent universities across the United States, including Carnegie Mellon University, Columbia Law School, Fordham University, the University of Nebraska, the University of Illinois, Rutgers School of Law, St. John's University, the University of Southern California and the University of Texas.

The volume produced by the working group will include a comprehensive vision for the United States as a 21st-century information society that is both internally inclusive and globally competitive; an analysis of the reasons for the failure of the previously most ambitious attempt at rewriting American telecommunications policy (the Telecommunications Act of 1996); and an international benchmark and best practices survey.

It will address issues such as: public service media; network neutrality; universal broadband policy; rural connectivity; universal service funding mechanisms; media ownership; minority ownership; municipal networks; spectrum policy; access, unbundling and structural separation; wireless and mobile services; and media ethics regarding matters such as product placement, "fake news" and the fairness doctrine.

A concluding chapter will summarize and contextualize the recommendations in the various fields and present them in the form of a plan for action.

Penn State faculty members and Institute for Information Policy have consistently earned respect among academics and policy makers, both nationally and internationally, for the outcomes and recommendations produced by similar working groups. A project on universal broadband service provides one of the most recent examples.

"For more than a decade, the Universal Service Working Group at the Institute for Information Policy has been at the forefront of universal access policy in telecommunications," Schement said.

The Media Democracy Fund, which provided $75,000 to support the working group's effort, is a newly formed foundation and donor collaborative in support of media reform and media democracy. It is rooted in the belief that freedom of expression and access to information are necessary elements to civil society and basic human rights.

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