Putting the "Community Technology" into "Telecommunications"

Thank you Councilmembers.

My name is Chip Rosenthal. I am the vice-chair of the Austin Telecommunications Commission, and I chaired the task force that produced the resolution now before you. My fellow commissioners Deborah Hill and John Green also participated on that task force.

This resolution calls for renaming the "Austin Telecommunications Commission" to the "Austin Community Technology and Telecommunications Commission". It also calls for corresponding changes in the purposes and duties of the commission.

I want to recognize two key dynamics behind this resolution.

The first dynamic is the decreasing role the City plays in regulated services, particularly cable video.

Recent state law enables new entrants into the video services market to bypass city franchise negotiations. Thus, the need for community input on cable franchise agreements is reduced.

Public access television, on the other hand, remains an important concern–yet change is coming there too. We foresee a future where emerging technologies provide nearly unlimited bandwidth, and channel scarcity becomes a relic of the past.

Austin public access has been a pioneer in the realm of community media. This resolution reiterates our city's commitment to community media, but opens the way to new technologies such as Internet streaming and podcasting.

The second dynamic behind this resolution is the increasing importance of community technology.

We define community technology as:

The training on and access to information and communications technology that promotes civic and cultural participation, employment and life-long learning.

There are two important points here.

First, we're recognizing that technology isn't just an economic tool, but a social and cultural one too. Peoples lives are made better, smarter, and more complete when they can connect, learn, and live online.

Second, training and access are essential before those benefits can even begin to accrue.

Those two dynamics, the changing regulatory environment and the growing importance of community technology, lead us to this proposal. We hope it achieves three things:

  1. Put community technology explicitly into the name and mission of this commission.
  2. Maintain support for public access television and explore new opportunities for community media.
  3. Re-orient our focus from regulated services operating in the city right-of-way to those communication and information technologies that can broadly benefit our community.

Thank you for your consideration.

The council subcommittee voted unanimously to pass our resolution on to the full council.