Aspen Institute releases report on opportunities for expanding digital connectivity

By The Aspen Institute
Real AspenOctober 2, 2012
This month the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program, in association with Grupo Salinas and Caminos de la Libertad, released a new report detailing steps that nations can take to address critical deficits in connectivity and the freedom to communicate across the Western Hemisphere.

Freedom and Connectivity: Advancing the Freedom to Communicate in the Americas calls on government leaders to move communications issues to the top of national agendas and partner with other societal stakeholders to develop the digital infrastructure, tools and human capacity that will improve local economies, create good quality employment and educational opportunities, and enhance political, social and cultural life. National efforts must focus on reaching consensus, increasing investments, ensuring robust competition in telecommunications and media markets, nurturing innovation, and building a stronger legal environment for protecting the freedom to communicate.

Freedom and Connectivity: Advancing the Freedom to Communicate in the Americas presents the findings and recommendations of the first Aspen Institute Forum on the Freedom to Communicate. The report was released as part of a special event at the Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C. The discussion was moderated by Charlie Firestone, Executive Director of the Communications and Society Program, and featured Ricardo B. Salinas, Founder and Chairman of Grupo Salinas; Sergio Sarmiento, President of Caminos de la Libertad and co-moderator of the Forum; and Alec Ross, Special Advisor for Innovation at the U.S. State Department and a participant in the Forum.

The report cites specific opportunities for action in Mexico, where a new government will be sworn in on December 1, 2012. It highlights the need for markets, regulatory and policy structures, and attitudes to "change to align with the new realities of a global digital age." Among the key barriers to connectivity detailed in the report, the lack of political consensus across leading societal institutions, insufficient investment and competition due to Mexico's highly concentrated communications sector, and direct and indirect censorship and the safety of journalists arose as the most critical obstacles to progress. While the report makes clear that censorship remains a problem for journalists across the Americas, the drug-related violence in Mexico has made it one of the most dangerous countries in the world for the press.

"History has demonstrated that efforts to censure and control communication will not succeed. Ideas have consequences that can transform society," said Ricardo B. Salinas in remarks published in the report.

To protect and foster the free flow of information, the report makes five recommendations for action with consideration given to the proper role of and limitations on government in achieving each goal:

- Bring in stakeholders from across Mexican society--including civil society, universities, citizens, journalists, governments and business enterprises--to develop a national consensus and a plan to drive investment and engagement in Mexico's digital future.
- Advance nationwide build-out of digital infrastructure by promoting market competition and rejecting discrimination. Where markets fail, government has a role to play in funding infrastructure to close the digital divide. While targeted government investments in areas such as education can help, Alec Ross, Senior Advisor for Innovation at the U.S. State Department, advises in the report that government should follow the rule of "first, do no harm" when it comes to fostering broadband infrastructure.
- Exploit the talent, knowledge and creativity of the Mexican people by developing a culture of innovation and entrepreneurialism that rewards bold ideas from universities, cultural institutions, corporate research and development centers, and non-institutional settings.
- Develop an ecosystem for investment in innovation that provides access to venture capital necessary to feed innovation.
- Develop the enabling environment for freedom and connectivity. First and foremost, reject censorship. This includes rejecting overly broad legislation and policies that hamper an open Internet. Re-evaluate the 2007 electoral reform law to lessen its harmful impacts on political discourse in Mexico. Complete enactment of a constitutional amendment giving the Federal Government the authority to investigate violent crimes against journalists and fully fund implementation and enforcement of this authority.

"This report is a timely and important contribution to the broader global conversation surrounding the importance of free speech and attempts to impose limits on free expression in the digital age," said Charlie Firestone, co-moderator of the Forum in Mexico City. "I am pleased to have this opportunity to work with such visionary leaders as Ricardo B. Salinas, Sergio Sarmiento and the entire Grupo Salinas team to produce the Forum on the Freedom to Communicate and this report."

The report was written by Amy Korzick Garmer, director of journalism projects at the Aspen Institute, Communications and Society Program, and is available in English and in Spanish on the Aspen Institute website, http://www.aspeninstitute.org/freedom2c.


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