In 2004, President Bush laid out a broad agenda for America in the age of the Internet.
Among other priorities, he said, “This country needs a national goal for broadband technology universal, affordable access by 2007.”
Nothing happened. According to the OECD, a Paris-based think tank that keeps track of broadband penetration by nation, the U.S. has slipped to 19th in the world.
Smaller countries such as South Korea, Singapore and Japan are leading the world by offering faster broadband at a fraction of the cost.
Now come presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain.
Both have plans that include broadband, new technology incentives and an overhaul of our education system to ensure America can compete in a global knowledge economy.
Obama was first to offer a comprehensive view of the world of technology in every aspect of our life and work in February 2007.
He said: “Let us be the generation that reshapes our economy to compete in the digital age. Let’s set high standards for our schools and give them the resources they need to succeed. Let’s recruit a new army of teachers and give them more support in exchange for more accountability. Let’s make college more affordable and let’s invest in scientific research and lay down broadband lines through the heart of inner cities and rural towns all across America.”
McCain, who served for many years on the subcommittee on commerce that was responsible for telecom issues, and for several years as chairman of the committee, has had a long and reasonably attentive interest in technology. His plan, however, was only recently released.
In contrast to Obama, McCain relies more on private sector initiatives, and says he is not persuaded that government intervention is needed.
In part, McCain says he’ll “provide broad pools of capital, low taxes and incentives for research in America, a commitment to a skilled and educated work force and dedication to opening markets around the globe.” He’s committed “to streamlining burdensome regulations and effectively protecting American property in the United States and around the globe.”
After two administrations in which a federal telecommunications policy was invisible, both candidates are keenly aware of the pent-up demand for U.S. leadership on the issue.
Both candidates seem cognizant of the vital role technology plays in the new economy.
McCain confesses he gets most of his information off the Internet from aides and that he’s “computer illiterate.”
He says his favorite technology toy is his Motorola brand “Razr cell phone.” Obama, on the other hand, doesn’t go anywhere without his BlackBerry, like so many corporate executives and tech literati.
Obama also has won the hearts of the “netizens” by being in favor of “net neutrality,” shorthand for protecting Internet traffic carriers from taxes on the quality or quantity of data traveling over their lines.
While not clear how he plans to accomplish his goals, Obama has called for Internet access among rich and poor, rural and urban across America, suggesting that broadband, not unlike electricity or water or telephone service, is something that every American needs to have a public service that ought be provided by the government. McCain’s thinking would never go this far.
Both candidates understand the importance of using technology as a tool for transformation.
And, both are aware of the importance of cyber security, not only to combat terrorism, but to protect privacy and piracy as well.
Whether Obama or McCain, the next president will be an Internet president, to be sure.
John Eger, the Van Deerlin endowed chair of communications and public policy in the School of Journalism & Media Studies at San Diego State University, is a member of the Envision San Diego partnership, a media forum for discussing public policy issues affecting the region.