Aspen Summit thrilled telecom junkies

By Julie Dunn
Denver Post Staff Writer

Aspen – More than 200 tech and telecom insiders spent the past three days – and some of them spent $2,500 in registration fees – to immerse themselves in heady discussions about the future of the Internet and deregulation. They listened to movers and shakers such as Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell, who spoke Monday, and to F. Duane Ackerman, chairman and chief executive of BellSouth Corp., scheduled to speak Tuesday night, the summit’s last night.

And while they listened, many Aspen Summit attendees were also happily distracted by the endless stream of e-mails and text messages bombarding their cellphones, laptops and personal digital assistants. In that, they symbolize an ongoing communications boom.

Three-quarters of Americans, or 204.3 million people, have used the Internet this year, according to the Progress and Freedom Foundation, the free-market think tank based in Washington, D.C., that sponsors the Aspen Summit. On an average day, 72 million American adults go online.

And what are they doing there?

Forty-eight percent said they use the Internet to send e-mail, 27 percent use it to check news websites, and 11 percent use it to check sports scores.

“I can’t live without my e-mail and instant messaging,” admitted Jeff Judson, a telecommunications consultant from San Antonio as he downloaded 85 e-mails from his laptop to his Palm cellphone before entering a session at the Aspen Summit on Tuesday morning.

The attendees at the Aspen Summit eagerly embraced the multitasking distractions of a wired and wireless world.

“These aren’t just people who talk about technology, they’re early adopters and users of technology,” said Larry Irving, a technology consultant and former secretary of commerce for communications and information during the Clinton administration. “Everybody wants to know who has the latest gadget, the newest BlackBerry. The future has arrived. Technology is in our hands; it’s very accessible.”

On Monday, Powell said he thinks the Internet will become so ubiquitous that it “will begin to vanish” in the near future.

“I mean that to the average consumer, it slides behind the curtain,” he said. “It’s the thing that lets the magic happen, but you’re not as cognizant or as potentially interacting with it like you are now. It becomes more like electricity; it is an infrastructure that feeds you a resource.”

And while more and more people are using the Internet, Ray Gifford, president of the Progress and Freedom Foundation and former Colorado Public Utilities Commission chairman, compared it to a teenager – one bursting with pimples like spam and struggling with control issues from parental agencies like the FCC.

“Adolescence is a good metaphor, because it’s in adolescence that you see a lot of problems pop up,” he said.

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