Communications and Society Program

Conference on Communications Policy

The Aspen Institute Conference on Communications Policy brings together 25-30 key decision makers from the telecommunications and information industries, user and consumer groups, academics, non-profit leaders, and representatives from federal, state, and local government to address issues of telecommunications regulation, competition, and public policy. Expert participants from diverse disciplines and viewpoints exchange valuable insights, and develop innovative recommendations to address the technological, competitive, and social issues that are transforming the rapidly changing communications marketplace.

The Twenty-Ninth Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Communications Policy, titled "Developing Policies for the Internet of Things," will take place August 13-16, 2014 in Aspen, CO. As the world becomes increasingly connected and more objects become embedded with sensors, the Internet of Things is poised to explode, with estimates of 25 billion connected devices by 2020.  Participant will gather to examine how specifically should communications policies accommodate the new Internet of Everything?


Previous conferences:

Video Veritas: Building a 21st Century Video Platform for a High-Performance Society
The Twenty-Eighth Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Communications Policy
August 11-14, 2013
Aspen, Colorado

While cable and broadcast television continue to be the dominant modes of transmission, “over the top” delivery of content via the Internet provides new ways to distribute personalized and targeted programming directly to the viewer. This, and the proliferation of mobile devices and tablets can deliver video to the viewer anywhere, anytime. As a result, the advertising-based broadcast business model is undergoing significant challenge and change. The report resulting from the 28th Annual Aspen Institute Communications Policy Conference, Video Veritas: Building a 21st Century Video Platform for a High-Performance Society, looks at the changing landscape of video regulation and the fundamental shift in how video is being viewed.  Written by rapporteur John Horrigan, the report examines the evolving video ecosystem and offers recommendations for policy that can accommodate the new video market.

Visit the new interactive Communications Policy report website to download a copy of the report.

Rethinking Communications Regulation
The Twenty-Seventh Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Communications Policy
August 12-15, 2012
Aspen, Colorado

As the Internet and other information and communications technologies grow exponentially, and as a new ecosystem is emerging that could conflate previously distinct methods of communication into a single digital medium, questions arise as to whether the traditional silos of regulation are still appropriate. The report resulting from the 27th Annual Aspen Institute Communications Policy Conference, Rethinking Communications Regulation, addresses the overarching concern as to whether the Communications Act needs a radical revision.  Written by rapporteur Richard Adler, the report considers the key goals of a new communications regime and offers regulatory and non-regulatory approaches for achieving these goals in a digitally connected world.

Download Rethinking Communications Regulation


Updating Rules of the Digital RoadUpdating Rules of the Digital Road
The Twenty-Sixth Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Communications Policy
August 16-19, 2011
The Aspen Meadows, Aspen, Colorado

Given the current growth and importance of the Internet, the report of the 2011 Aspen Institute Conference on Communications Policy, titled Updating Rules of the Digital Road: Privacy, Security, Intellectual Property, highlights the elements that will allow for greater use of broadband as the common medium: security, privacy and intellectual property regulation. Written by rapporteur Richard Adler, the report explores a range of threats that plague the use of today’s communications media and provides a series of recommendations which aim to ensure that users’ communications are secure, private and protected.

The report reflects the issues and ideas raised by business leaders, academics, and policy experts at the Twenty-Sixth Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Communications Policy.

Download Updating Rules of the Digital Road: Privacy, Security, Intellectual Property


Rewriting Broadband Regulation
The Twenty-Fifth Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Communications Policy
August 10-13, 2010
The Aspen Meadows, Aspen, Colorado

Rewriting Broadband Regulation, written by David Bollier, considers the domestic and international state of internet and broadband policies. The report examines emerging threats to the internet and broadband and explores a range of policies for U.S. broadband regulation, many of them derivative of the National Broadband Plan.  It also proposes the innovative concept of creating “digital embassies” for treatment of data moving across borders.  This serves as a way of dealing with jurisdictional issues associated with the treatment and protection of data in the cloud.

The report reflects the issues and ideas raised by business leaders, academics, and policy experts at the Twenty-Fifth Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Communications Policy.

Download Rewriting Broadband Regulation


Scenarios for a National Broadband Policy
The Twenty-Fourth Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Communications Policy
August 12-15, 2009
The Aspen Meadows, Aspen, Colorado

Scenarios for a National Broadband Policy is the report resulting from the twenty-fourth annual Aspen Institute Conference on Communications Policy, held in Aspen, Colorado in August 2009.  Written by rapporteur David Bollier, the report captures the scenario building process that participants used to map four imaginary scenarios of how the economy and society might evolve in the future, and the implications for broadband policy.  It identifies how certain trends—economic, political, cultural, and technological—might require specific types of government policy intervention or action.  The report also highlights a number of cross-cutting themes and questions that participants believe the Omnibus Broadband Initiative should address.

Download Scenarios for a National Broadband Policy


Leveraging Communications: ICT as Economic Stimulus
The Twenty-third Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Communications Policy
August 20-23, 2008
The Aspen Meadows, Aspen, Colorado

In August 2008, the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program convened 29 experts and leaders in communications policy from government, business, academia, and the non-profit sector to address how the next Administration of the United States Government could leverage information and communications technologies (ICT) to help stimulate the economy and establish long-term economic growth. The Institute, a non-partisan, non-ideological, non-profit organization, brought together leaders from across the political spectrum with the aim of making specific recommendations to the new government.

ICT: The 21st Century Transitional Initiative.  Written by Roundtable rapporteur Simon Wilkie, this report recommends how the Federal Government - through executive leadership, government services and investment - can leverage ICTs to serve the double bottom line of stimulating the economy and serving crucial social needs such as energy efficiency and environmental stewardship.

The Communications Policy Follow-up Meeting.  The Communications and Society Program held an invitation only Communications Policy Follow-up meeting on April 7, 2009 to build on the recommendations from the summer conference report, ICT: The 21st Century Transitional Initiative. Since the conclusion of the summer 2008 Communications Policy Conference and the release of the Aspen recommendations, there have been three significant changes: the sharp downturn of the economy, a new presidential administration, and the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. In light of these changes, the meeting participants discussed the future course of ICT as it relates to economic stimulus and set forth a series of next steps for the new administration in leveraging ICTs for economic jumpstart.


A Framework for a National Broadband Policy
The Twenty-second Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Communications Policy
August 15-18, 2007
The Aspen Meadows, Aspen, Colorado

Philip J. Weiser, rapporteur. While the importance of broadband access to functioning modern society is now clear, millions of Americans remain unconnected, and Washington has not yet presented any clear plan for fixing the problem. Condensing discussions from the 2007 Conference on Communications Policy and the 4th Annual Aspen Institute Roundtable on Spectrum Policy (AIRS) into a single report, Professor Philip Weiser of the University of Colorado at Boulder offers a series of specific and concrete policy recommendations for expanding access, affordability, and adoption of broadband in the United States.

Download the 2007 report A Framework for a National Broadband Policy.


The Future of Video: New Approaches to Communications Regulation
The Twenty-first Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Telecommunications Policy
August 16-19, 2006
The Aspen Meadows, Aspen, Colorado

Philip J. Weiser, rapporteur. As the converged worlds of telecommunications and information are changing the way most Americans receive and relate to video entertainment and information, the regulatory regimes governing their delivery have not changed in tune with the times. These changes raise several crucial questions: Is there a comprehensive way to consider the next generation of video delivery? What needs to change to bring about a regulatory regime appropriate to the new world of video? The report of the 21st Annual Conference on Communications Policy in Aspen, Colorado, outlines a series of important issues related to the emergence of a new video marketplace based on the promise of Internet technology and offers recommendations for guiding it into the years ahead.

Download the 2006 report The Future of Video: New Approaches to Communications Regulation.


Blueprint for a Rewrite: Telecommunications Convergence
The Twentieth Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Telecommunications Policy
August 14-17, 2005
The Aspen Meadows, Aspen, Colorado

This year marked the Twentieth Anniversary of the Aspen Institute Conference on Telecommunications Policy, one of the longest running programs of the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program. This year’s conference was held August 14-17 at the Aspen Meadows Conference Center in Aspen Colorado. The participants included FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, FTC Commissioner Jonathan Leibowitz, FCC Chief of Staff Dan Gonzalez along with other leaders from business, academia, and government on the subject. The conference began by considering potential changes in the Communications Act in view of technological convergence in the digital and network sectors, and the changing economic and business circumstances of telecommunications users and providers. The conference concluded that a rewrite was unnecessary but did suggest several new policies aimed at bringing about a more robust, secure, efficient and equitable telecommunications system in the United States.

Download the 2005 report Policy Issues for Telecommunications Reform authored by Robert M. Entman.


Restructuring Telecommunications: Roadmap for the Future
Nineteenth Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Telecommunications Policy
August 15-18, 2004
The Aspen Meadows, Aspen, Colorado

For the past decade, the telecommunications industries have been on a path of restructuring. Caused by rapid technological change, volatile economics, changing markets, and a lagging regulatory apparatus, the industry has fought to retain the character of its component parts: telephony, wireless, Internet access, cable and all the variations on those industries. Yet, cross-platform competition, convergence, consumer behavior, capital requirements and regulatory reform are all now mandating that, at some point, the various industries will need to restructure.

The 2004 Conference on Telecommunications Policy described the drivers to restructuring, the current obstacles, loci of resistance and complications, and the necessary responses from consumers, capital markets and regulatory authorities. The conference delved into policy and financial issues relating to the future telecommunications network such as voice over internet, inter-carrier compensation, and universal service issues. It arrived at practical recommendation to federal and state regulators on how to anticipate industry restructuring, while at the same time, encouraging the attainment of consumer and social goals, where appropriate.

Read more in Reforming Telecommunications Regulation authored by Robert Entman.


The Telecommunications Sector: Building Next Generation Networks
Eighteenth Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Telecommunications Policy
Summer Meeting
August 10-13, 2003
The Aspen Meadows, Aspen, Colorado

The Summer Meeting of the Eighteenth Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Telecommunications Policy visualized the next generation of telecommunications networks and services (NGN); identified the drivers of the NGN in terms of consumer demand, investment and innovation; addressed the pressure points where traditional regulatory goals will be challenged, such as emergency and security services, economic regulation, universal service and jurisdictional issues; and explored how, if at all, regulatory regimes should be adjusted to foster the appropriate conditions for the most beneficial and effective NGN.

Read more in Spectrum and Network Policy for Next Generation Telecommunications authored by Bob Entman.


Spectrum Policy: Moving the Agenda
Eighteenth Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Telecommunications Policy
Spring Meeting
April 21-22, 2003
Wye River Conference Center, Queenstown, Maryland

The Spring meeting of the Eighteenth Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Telecommunications Policy addressed the state of spectrum policy and management in the United States on the eve of the World Radiocommunication Conference. The group considered the pending proposals for spectrum reform in the United States, what actions appeared advisable, practical, and implementable at reasonable cost in the near term. The Roundtable also considered new models of spectrum management with particular emphasis on developing hybrid options to combine elements of both property and unlicensed commons approaches.

Read more in Spectrum and Network Policy for Next Generation Telecommunications authored by Bob Entman.


Spectrum, Interfaces, and Telecommunications Policy: Moving the Agenda for New Regulatory Paradigms
Seventeenth Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Telecommunications Policy
Summer Meeting, 2002
August 10-13, 2002
The Aspen Meadows, Aspen, Colorado

The goal of the Summer Meeting of the Seventeenth Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Telecommunications Policy was to develop an agenda for assessing the future of communications regulatory paradigms in light of desirable changes in spectrum policy, telecommunications market environments, and regulatory imperatives. Participants considered how wireline businesses, and particularly the changing market environment for telecommunications, might affect spectrum policy in the future. From this discussion, participants then considered how changes in the spectrum and other telecommunications laws and policies could lead to new forms of competition, including cross-platform competition among wireline and wireless entities, and how new business realities might affect other regulatory regimes for those communications industries that compete with spectrum users. Participants further considered these models, addressing their pro's and con's, their respective impacts on business models and competition in a variety of communications contexts, and the advisability of combining these models in some way to foster the goals of the highest and best use, fairness, innovation, and satisfying the nation's non-commercial needs.

See Balancing Policy Options in a Turbulent Telecommunications Market by Robert M. Entman for a thoughtful synthesis of the conference.


Spectrum Policy: Setting the Agenda
Seventeenth Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Telecommunications Policy
Spring Meeting, 2002
April 23-24, 2002
Wye River Conference Center, Queenstown, Maryland

The Seventeenth Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Telecommunications Policy first addressed intermediate and longer-term issues in spectrum policy with the aim of exploring new regulatory paradigms for wireless, and ultimately for all communications media. At this Spring Meeting, participants adduced information, refined issues and attempted to surface new thinking for regulatory paradigms in spectrum policy. The summer conference in Aspen in August further refined the thinking from the Spring Meeting and applied the concepts across various media -- wireless, wire line, cable and satellite.

See Balancing Policy Options in a Turbulent Telecommunications Market by Robert M. Entman for a thoughtful synthesis of the conference.


Transition to an Ideal Competitive World
The Sixteenth Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Telecommunications Policy
August 11-15, 2001
The Aspen Meadows, Aspen, Colorado

Building upon the new regulatory framework presented in the report of the 2000 Aspen Institute Conference on Telecommunications Policy -- that of viewing communications functions in "layers" rather than by medium -- this year's meeting used that and other approaches to address ways to transition the current telecommunications and mass media markets to a fully competitive ideal. Participants tested new approaches by exploring what a fully competitive environment looks like, assessing the current structure, and developing specific communications policy initiatives that implement a change in regulatory approach at the industry and governmental levels while also considering the ultimate welfare of the consumer.

See Telecommunications Competition in a Consolidating Marketplace by Robert M. Entman for a thoughtful synthesis of the conference. This report also contains an essay, "M. Noam. Opening the Walled Airwave," by Eli Noam.


Transition to an IP Environment
The Fifteenth Annual Conference on Telecommunications Policy
August 12-16, 2000
The Aspen Meadows, Aspen, Colorado

This meeting examined the implications of the new, digitized Internet Protocol (IP) environment for telecommunications policy and regulation; considered methods of re-aligning regulatory incentives, regulation, and competition; developed policy recommendations that map to current marketplace realities, technological possibilities, and social goals.

See Transition to an IP Environment for the full report and an essay by Michael L. Katz, "Thoughts on the Implications of Technological Change for Telecommunications Policy."


Six Degrees of Competition: Correlating Regulation with the Telecommunications Marketplace
The Fourteenth Annual Conference on Telecommunications Policy
August 15-18, 1999
The Aspen Meadows, Aspen, Colorado

The Fourteenth Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Telecommunications Policy examined whether the six predominant pathways to the home (wireline, wireless, cable, broadcast, satellite, and utilities), should be regulated by similar or different rules. Conference participants considered scenarios in which "silo" regulation (distinct rules for each transmission mode) yielded effective and ineffective outcomes. They also explored alternate regulatory schemes under which providers of similar services (or providers who use similar technologies) face similar rules. Conference participants adopted a "rebuttable presumption" against asymmetry.

The conference began with a paper presentation by Michael L. Katz, professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley and former FCC Chief Economist. The paper, Regulation: The Next 1000 Years, grapples with the issues that arise when markets and technologies converge, but regulation does not. Katz's paper explores the positive and negative consequences of regulating the communications industry asymmetrically, examines alternative harmonized regulatory regimes for functionally equivalent service providers or for service providers using similar transmission modes, and addresses the geographic scope of harmonization. Finally, the paper outlines three scenarios for residential telecommunications services to highlight some of the difficult tradeoffs that regulators must make when deciding whether or not to harmonize regulation of the communications industry.

See Six Degrees of Competition: Correlating Regulation with the Telecommunications Marketplace for the full report.


Residential Access to Bandwidth: Exploring New Paradigms
The Thirteenth Annual Conference on Telecommunications Policy
August 9-13, 1998
The Aspen Meadows, Aspen, Colorado

The Thirteenth Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Telecommunications Policy convened a select group of leaders to discuss the current status of residential access to bandwidth services. At this conference, participants reached near consensus that the ubiquitous deployment of residential broadband services is both normatively desirable and economically feasible. They identified the current regulatory regime as one of the biggest barriers to the realization of this public policy goal and offered solutions to promote broadband to the home within the current regulatory structure. Likewise, they suggested a new regulatory paradigm. In suggesting regulatory reform, conference participants offered recommendations that would bring the telephone-based universal service tradition into the broadband future.

The report Residential Access to Bandwidth is available online.


Competition, Innovation and Investment in Telecommunications
The Twelfth Annual Conference on Telecommunications Policy
August 10-14, 1997
The Aspen Meadows, Aspen, Colorado

The Twelfth Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Telecommunications Policy convened a select group of leaders and experts to consider the complex issues of competition and investment in telecommunications. The 1997 conference, occurring at the conclusion of the FCC rulemakings on access charge reform, universal service, and interconnection, covered both competitive and regulatory issues, going beyond the rulemakings. The program, entitled Competition and Investment In Telecommunications, was aimed at identifying factors that affect investment in competitive telecommunications and examining which policies at the federal, state, and local levels promote or create barriers for such investment.

Dale Hatfield, chief executive officer of Hatfield Associates, Inc. began the conference with a presentation of his paper An Essay on Competition, Innovation and Investment in Telecommunications. A full report of the conference as well as a list of participants is available online.