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Remarks of
William E. Kennard, chairman
Federal Communications Commission
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA
February 4, 2000

(as prepared for delivery)

"Connecting the Globe"

Thank you very much. It is a great pleasure to be here at George Mason today with my good friend, Ray Akwule. President Merten, it is great to see you again.

I really feel a connection with this university because I think that the development agenda that I outlined for the FCC really had as its genesis the conversations that I had with Raymond when we first got to know each other shortly after I became Chairman of the FCC. Ray really did provide a lot of the intellectual fodder for the work and the reports that we do. He has kept us on schedule because we always plan our work to unveil something at the AFCOM Conference every year. He has really kept us motivated and working. I appreciate all your support and help.

We are all so privileged to be alive today at the beginning of what is literally the third great revolution in the world economy. The first, of course, was the agrarian revolution, then the industrial revolution, and we are alive at the beginning of the third, the information revolution. I think we will look back on this period in our lives and realize that this transformation of the world economy was just in its infancy with the birth of the Internet and the creation of world markets connected by telecommunications technology. It is an exciting time.

I was the general counsel of the FCC when the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was being debated and lobbied on Capitol Hill, and that, of course, became the most monumental revision of our telecommunications laws since the 1934 Communications Act.

The interesting thing about that law, though, is that the Internet is hardly mentioned in the Act. I think there are two references to it. The reason for that is that, in 1994 and 1995, when that Act was being produced, the Internet was just being born.

In 1994, there were 3 million on-line users in the world. Today, there are almost 200 million: 80 million in the United States alone. So we went from a dead stop in 1994 to 200 million users today.

Nothing has grown that fast in the history of communications technologies. If you compare that to television, radio, telegraph, telephone, nothing has grown that fast. It is revolutionizing the way people live, the way they work, the way they do business. It is making all of us much more productive and competitive in our daily lives because it fundamentally changes the way that people access and process information. In a knowledge-based economy, which the Information Age is all about, those who control and process information have a distinct competitive advantage.

That means that those people in the world who have access to these tools are going to be more competitive. They are going to be more affluent. They are going to be more connected to what is happening in the world. The pace of change is so fast that we have to make sure that the entire world has access to this technology.

I was in Europe last week talking to my counterparts in various European governments. I had been there in January of 1999 for a similar round of meetings. The difference this year was incredible. Last year people listened politely and we had our 15 or 20-minute meetings, and it was over.

This year I spent hours with my counterparts. They were talking notes. People at the highest levels of government were seeking me out because they want to know how we have created this Internet miracle in the United States.

The fact is the world is waking up to the Internet and its power to transform and uplift economies, and we are fortunate in the United States because we have discovered the formula for making it happen. That formula was outlined by Vice President Al Gore in 1994. He gave what has become a very famous speech to the ITU Development Conference in Buenos Aires.

In it he outlined how, as a world, we can create a global information infrastructure. The the building blocks for that infrastructure are a privatized telecommunications industry, liberalization, open networks, strong independent regulatory agencies with the power to break up incumbent monopolies, and the embracing of competition as the organizing principle of our law and policy. That is what we have done in the United States.

The net result of that is the Internet, the wireless revolution, the fastest growing telecommunications network the world has ever known.

The formula works. It was incorporated into the World Trade Organization Basic Telecommunications Agreement which became, in essence, the world framework for bringing technology around the world and creating this global information infrastructure.

But what we can not lose sight of is the fact that you cannot have a truly global information infrastructure unless it includes an African information infrastructure, a Latin American information infrastructure, an Asian information infrastructure and a Central European information infrastructure. In essence, we have to make sure that these world networks are truly global in their reach.

We have a lot of work to do because today we debate in Washington at the FCC and on Capitol Hill about how we are going to build broadband networks and bring multiple megabits of bandwidth into American homes. That vision is becoming reality in this country.

But the fact is that 50 percent of people in the world have not even used the telephone. We are not talking about the Internet. Fifty percent of the world has not made a telephone call, and so we have a lot of work to do.

The good news is that world governments are starting to focus on this for the simple reason that a network is more valuable if it connects more people. E-commerce is more powerful if you can touch more consumers around the world. The market incentives are lined up to build these global networks, but we have a lot of work to do.

The other good news here is that in a lot of parts of the world where people do not have telephone networks they can leapfrog some of the infrastructure that we have had to invest in. Many developing countries are skipping the copper wire generation of technology and going directly to satellite and wireless, and that is a great thing because it is a more efficient way of building networks.

Well, what we have tried to do at the FCC is keep people focused on the fact that the global information infrastructure must be truly global, and that means that we have an obligation in the United States and in those countries that have embraced the WTO to make it real for developing countries. That means that those of us who have embraced independent regulators as sort of a fundamental building block of the global infrastructure have an obligation to go out and help these emerging independent regulatory authorities. That is what our development initiative is all about.

That is why in August we built on our development initiative by traveling to Africa and meeting with a group of emerging independent regulatory authorities in Southern Africa. It is called TRASA - Telecommunications Regulators Association of Southern Africe. It includes 14 nations of that region. Most of them are new, emerging, regulatory authorities.

They are hungry for information about how we have created an FCC, how it works, how we have been able to break open markets and unleash capital.

The most important thing that developing countries can do is to attract capital to build these networks, because we know they are not going to be built by government. I mean, we have been there, done that. The government state-owned monopoly is really is not going to work in the future. These have to be competitive networks.

The most important thing that investors look for when they are looking to invest is to limit their risk. That means they want to invest in economies that have firmly embraced the rule of law, that have transparency, predictability, an absence of corruption. I think we have done a very good job in the United States in telecommunications, of incorporating those things into our policies.

We have an obligation, we meaning those of us in the United States, in the EU and the developing world generally, to impart this knowledge and to help folks get on this Internet train.

So I am very pleased to be able to report on the successes of our development initiative. We have now entered into work plans with three countries in Africa: Uganda, Ghana and South Africa. We met extensively with our counterparts there, identified those substantive areas where we think that we can be of particular assistance; and we are putting our money where our mouth is.

We at the FCC do not have a lot of money. We are not a foreign aid organization, but we have a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience. We can impart that in ways that not only help uplift people in Africa, in the developing world, but also uplift us, and allow us to share our experience and make sure that this infrastructure is truly global.

To close, I just want to again reiterate how privileged we all are to be working in this field at this particular time. It is really a joy for me as chairman of the FCC to be able to wake up almost every morning, open the business pages and read about something that is happening in the telecommunications industry. It is really a fascinating time, a remarkable time to be alive.

And when I read these articles, I have to tell you, sometimes I am a little frustrated because so much of the coverage of this information age revolution is about money and about wealth. So much of the coverage is about how many billions of dollars are involved in a merger, and who is going to get rich, and so much of this new economy today is being defined by its ability to create unbelievable wealth in the hands of a privileged few people, really a few people relative to the rest of the world. Many of them live within about a 10-mile radius of this university.

But the point is that this new economy has got to be about more than that. I has to be more than about creating wealth and creating business empires because what is important about this technology is its ability to connect people, to educate people, to make people healthier, and really make them more productive and happy in their lives, and we have an obligation to spread that word as well. That is what our developing initiative is all about.

I am pleased that we have worked in such great partnership with George Mason to make it happen, and we have a lot more work to do together.

Thank you all very much.