Down To Business: Technology Debate On The Campaign Trail
When you've got border fences and melting ice caps on which to grandstand, who needs tech policy? The country does--or at least some cogent discussion of the issues.
As the presidential primary campaigning starts to heat up, the candidates are being pressed on the biggest issues of the day--national defense, education, health care, immigration, the environment. Technology policy isn't top of mind; net neutrality doesn't quite stir the masses like border control and global warming. But it's a conversation worth forcing, as our country's technology industry and business technology applications are core to our international competitiveness. So here's a very short list of issues to consider.
Questions for the candidates. Where do you stand on immigration reform, including expanding H-1B visas and evaluating visa and immigration applicants based on their skills and advanced degrees? What would you do to promote and improve science and math schooling? Would you spend substantially more money there? Would you give companies incentives to attract and develop employees at home? Would you expand the government bureaucracy to tackle these issues, or do you favor market-based approaches?
Universal broadband Internet access, including wireless connectivity. The professed goal: Upgrade and expand the U.S. telecom infrastructure to improve education, health care, and other critical services, and to make U.S. businesses more competitive by improving remote and home-office connectivity. Some pundits go so far as to call on the presidential candidates to declare the Internet a "public good," putting Net access on an equal plane with electricity, water, highways, and public schooling.
Questions for the candidates. Like most big infrastructure issues, this one comes down to money and market approach. It would, for example, cost an estimated $15 billion to $20 billion more just to roll out DSL to everyone not currently wired. Who foots that bill, assuming that network operators already serve most of the places where they can turn a profit?
Questions for the candidates. Should we just stick with the Internet status quo--"pure" net neutrality? Or since carriers own and operate the Internet's backbone networks, how much leeway should they have to charge extra for enhanced security and prioritized delivery of certain content? What is the role of regulators to ensure that carriers don't favor their own services and those of fat-cat partners to the detriment of others?
Rather than set a sweeping tech industrial policy and micromanage its every element, the U.S. president must play to the country's main capitalist strength: can-do entrepreneurialism. We can set ambitious tech-related goals and challenge the private sector and government agencies to go after them, but throwing money in every direction isn't the answer.
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