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Q&A with Dr Robert Pepper

Q&A with Dr Robert Pepper

This month Policy World talks to Dr Robert Pepper, Head, Global Connectivity Policy and Planning, Facebook

Q. Dr Pepper, you spoke at the 20th anniversary of IIC’s Italy Chapter earlier this month – and you referred to a presentation you had given at an IIC Telecommunications and Media Forum in DC 20 years before. (It can be accessed via this link.) You said some of the issues are not new but you said that what has happened is the evolution of the environment for these issues has moved very quickly. What has been the key change over these past years?

A. It is important to remember that computing and in turn, the Internet is a general purpose technology, similar to the printing press, electricity and the like. These are enabling technologies which resulted in dramatic change across other sectors – industry and society alike.

The key enabling change has been connectivity. Let me share this one slide with you, which illustrates the then (20 years ago) and the now:

Robert Pepper Slide pg20

The evolution of the Internet must be seen through the growth in connectivity and access to bandwidth. We are now living through what I call ‘the immersive experience’: 80% of internet traffic is video – that is very hungry of bandwidth and drives the need for spectrum.

Social media are creating communities and sub-communities of people who want to interact with one another. Users want to have the choice to control how, where and when they connect, and to see or do what they want.

We used to talk of applications but now we talk of apps – users can choose how they wish to interact with others, which messaging service they use, which form of voice they use. We did not have those choices twenty years ago.

But, above all, mobility is revolutionising not just our societies in terms of economic progress (which I shall talk about more) but also individual experiences. Wireless is the primary way people connect their devices.

And these changes in turn are requiring a rethink of policy.

Q. Before we look specifically at the ways in which policy might develop due to digitalisation, are we done with the rapid technology evolutions or is there yet more to come?

A. There is much more to come! We are looking towards the ‘digitally connected everything’. I talked about the Internet being an enabling technology – it is leading to the digital transformation of all aspects of our lives: family interactions, education, healthcare, business, our jobs and so on. It is connecting people and connecting things.

Q. So what does this mean for policy makers?

A. These technologies and the way they are being used have the potential to transform almost every industry sector and policy makers, specifically regulators, are finding that they too, are facing dramatic change. Neither the company nor the regulator can predict technology, nor crucially can we predict how consumers are going to respond and use the Internet and the technological change it offers.

Many, if not most, telecommunications companies in the US that have been regulated at the network (transport) layer over the years are building or acquiring applications at the Internet layer and at the application layer, including video. And as these applications are not telecommunications transport, they are not subject to traditional telecommunications regulation which has enabled these companies to invest, innovate, transform and evolve their business model. This is not yet possible in Europe which has handicapped traditional telcos’ ability to transform – there is some catching up to do there.

4. Where now – what are key issues facing companies as they work through their business planning?

A. We need flexibility to have new business models, and no longer just in the telecommunications world but in the retail world and transportation, finance, manufacturing, media and right across all industries.

In terms of policy questions, we were already thinking about twenty years ago, almost every issue today was either already being debated or emerging, including privacy and safety on the Net with one exception. Twenty years ago, we didn’t fully anticipate the cyber security issues that are at the forefront of policy debates today. We were almost uniformly optimistic and not talking about how the internet might be abused.

Q. Dr Pepper, you were speaking at the IIC twenty years ago when you were at the FCC. You spoke at the most recent of our global events as well as this event in Rome. What do you think are the key attributes of the IIC and have they managed to grow alongside the market? Where should the Institute look next?

A. The IIC’s forums and conferences are excellent opportunities for regulators and industry players to network and learn from one another in a “trusted” environment. This trusted environment that the IIC provides is key to its success and comes from the decades of being a respected neutral forum based upon Chatham House Rules. I think the IIC must ensure that it reaches and engages early adopters, both in industry and the policy/regulatory world, to help policy makers see what’s possible and where technology, business, consumers and societies are going, in other words, what is ‘just around the corner.’ Policy needs to be adaptive and allow for innovation – the IIC has an important role in facilitating this evolution.

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