The (Near) Future Is Now

NCTA President Michael Powell offers a preview of the association’s ‘disruptive’ conference

Why This Matters

NCTA is looking to remind policymakers who puts the “I” in IoT.

INTX is dead. Long live The Near Future—at least for a day next week.

When Michael Powell revealed last fall that NCTA-The Internet & Television Association was canceling its long-running “Internet & Television Expo,” the latest iteration having been planned for April 2017 in Washington, he hinted that that might leave room for something else.

That “something else” is The Near Future, an April 27, Internet-centric, most-of-a-day conference of speakers and demonstrations of virtual reality, artificial intelligence and even—if NCTA and USC pull it off—a combination of the two in the person of a virtual holocaust survivor answering questions about that horrific event in real time.

The Internet is already the transformative technology of the new millennium, but NCTA is looking at what new tech will be transforming it, which depends on the unsexy but vital networks Powell’s members provide.

Powell, himself a former top policymaker as FCC chairman, is famous for waxing rhapsodic about new technology, but the conference is more than just a rhapsody in blue-sky musings, he suggests. Instead, it is meant to be a way to look just far enough ahead so that policymakers, rather than looking backward, can lean forward into that future as they come up with those policies, as well as a chance to remind those regulators and legislators and administration officials who is putting the I in the next generation of IoT—in this case, the Internet of Transformation.

In an interview with Washington bureau chief John Eggerton, Powell talked about his vision of the conference—for one thing, there are no plans to make it an annual event— along with the need for a disruptive and experimental approach to the Near Future. An edited transcript follows.

You said canceling INTX gave you a clean slate. What is your goal for “The Near Future” and what do you hope to write on that slate?

I think it is important to say at the outset that this isn’t INTX, part two. This isn’t in any way intended to be that show or a pale substitute for the show. It is a distinctly different idea that occurred to us based on work we were doing even previous to the show.

And we haven’t talked about this much before, but we have had a lot of discussions about industry positioning and messaging and wanting it to be a lot more focused on the exciting things that are happening in the near future, a lot more focus on our role in the Internet and high-tech ecosystem.

We changed our entire brand in part around that attempted shift in focus. That was all occurring even before the decision [to cancel the show]. So, I think this was a kernel of an idea stemming from that work. The show merely gave us the dates, time and space to do it, and to do it in Washington [where INTX was to have been held].

I think part of what we’ve always felt is that there is an aspect to our role in the great and glorious Internet that’s not always appreciated.

Which is?

Much like the Intel slogan that so many great things were powered by Intel inside, we think there are so many phenomenal things that happened that are fundamentally powered by the infrastructure that we provide. Networks are not always the sexiest part of the story, but they are an indispensable part of the present and the future.

And rather than sitting around talking all day about gigabits and how fast capacity is, etc., we thought that since we are the platform for so many exciting things, why don’t we do a conference that is a platform for presenting those.

So, we will have a series of speakers and presentations that show some of the exciting things that are happening out there that rarely get seen in Washington.

People go out to Silicon Valley and see the latest this and that, or some conferences in Austin or somewhere else will show some of these things. But it is not too common that you will see a traditional industry in D.C. show off some of this stuff and making the connection that what we do helps them do what they do.