The Digital Revolution and Democracy

Reed Hundt, former FCC Chair

Above: Reed Hundt, former Chairman of the FCC. 



I would say that the digital revolution is still really, still just getting going. if I could roll the clock back approximately twenty years … the thought of all of us at aspen, and all of us who were privileged to be involved in the early days, of the internet as a commercial and social phenomenon, the thought was that the internet would be the global common medium.

That in fact it would be the first common medium that would reach all around the world, it would cross state borders, and would be a framework or a platform for all the people of the world to connect to each other, share information, exercise free speech, make their own personal decisions about where to worship, what to do at work, how to raise their family, but also be able to share all that information.

The Internet as a common medium has succeeded beyond anybody's wildest dreams. Two billion participants in twenty years? It’s astounding. What we dont know yet is exactly how that common medium and democracy in its 18th century form, will really interact productively. So what do we have right now in the United States? We have a lot of legitimate discontent with the functioning of our democracy. Overwhelmingly Americans are unhappy with the functioning of democracy.

Has the digital revolution, has the common medium intensified that anxiety? I thnk so. Has it produced a solution? Not yet. we need a profound rethinking of public policy, how its formed, how decisions are made, how decisions' efficacy is measured. I think we need to move to some of the models that have worked in the commercial sector and the nonprofit sector on this common medium of the internet. We ought to be encouraging in public policy more experimentis. We ought to be doing much more measuring.

We ought to be doing much more commentary about the results of measuring. And we also ought to have a method by which people in the public sphere - people in government - can respond to emergencies in an effective manner.

Economic emergencies, natural disasters. Crises. We’ve been beset as a global community for three straight years with one economic and social emergency after another. We have not demonstrated that government can handle emergencies very well. The internet can handle them well. government needs to get some lessons from the internet. We’re engaged in a very very important debate here, everybody in the world is engaged in this debate over the next twenty years, over whether this common medium will hold to the values of openness and freedom.