We spoke briefly today with Larry Irving, currently co-chair of the Internet Innovation Alliance and D.C. consultant, and formerly one of the highest-ranking telecom officials in the last Democratic administration, having spent seven years as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and Administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Making it clear he wasn’t speaking for president-elect Barack Obama or his advisors in any way — and emphasizing that the economy and foreign policy issues would no doubt be first on the incoming administration’s priority list — Irving shared a few thoughts with us on where telecom policy, and broadband development in particular, might fit in.
In particular, Irving said he was optimistic to see that in most discussions of building America’s infrastructure, Obama often took pains to talk about the need to build the nation’s broadband networks, in particular in rural areas, as part of that effort. Overall, Irving’s comments were fairly non-partisan in nature, stressing the need for both parties to push for broadband reform, including “a lot more emphasis on private public partnerships” to drive telecom investment and growth. In addition to broadband, he several times mentioned the importance of pushing for the more efficient use of wireless spectrum, another key telecom policy issue. Also on top of Irving’s like-to-see-list: some “experimental” projects driven by the telecom industry that could help drive overall economic growth – such as assistance in connecting schools, hospitals and not-for-profit centers as well as a focus on helping hard-hit sectors such as rural farms and small businesses make better use of technology.
On a more partisan front, Irving recalled his days in the Clinton administration and noted that during the years when the democrats owned a majority in Congress – a situation that the incoming Obama administration will find itself in shortly – it made his job “much easier. We were able to have much more free, candid and unfettered conversations,” he said. On whether such an environment today would have him consider a return to the public sector, Irving replied with a no comment, noting quickly he hadn’t been asked, either.