Blown To Bits

Obama’s Technology Plan

Thursday, November 6th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

The site lays out the science and technology agenda of the new administration. Sounds good for the most part, but let me parse it.

  1. Barack Obama strongly supports the principle of network neutrality. Excellent, especially as the very first bullet.
  2. Obama will encourage diversity in the ownership of broadcast media. Ugh. The right way to do this is to re-engineer spectrum use so the value of a broadcast station declines precipitously, and no one gets excluded. Somehow I’ll bet that isn’t what he has in mind, and we will have some kind of set-aside or affirmative action for minority ownership.
  3. Protect Our Children While Preserving the First Amendment. Fine to say, but there is a certain point beyond which these really are inconsistent objectives. There is too much lip service paid to the dangers to children here; there isn’t really any evidence that children are any more endangered in the Internet era than they ever were. So this bullet is favoring motherhood; no one could be opposed to either. The devil will be in the details.
  4. Barack Obama will strengthen privacy protections for the digital age. Again, a fine idea, but what does it mean? Will the feds still be able to seize and hold my laptop at the border without any suspicion that I’ve done anything wrong?
  5. Open Up Government to its Citizens. This bullet really goes right at Bush’s obfuscations. The promise of transparency is very welcome. It will require a major cultural change in the executive branch, but change is what we were promised!
  6. Obama will appoint the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer (CTO). Though I worry about symbolic gestures, on balance, I think this is a good idea — depending on who it is. (I hereby declare my availability.)
  7. Obama and Biden believe we can get true broadband to every community in America through a combination of reform of the Universal Service Fund, better use of the nation’s wireless spectrum, promotion of next-generation facilities, technologies and applications, and new tax and loan incentives. Exactly right.
  8. Barack Obama and Joe Biden support a trade policy that ensures our goods and services are treated fairly in foreign markets. Again, a bit of motherhood here, but that sounds protectionist to me, and anti-free-trade. But we shall see.
  9. Invest in the Sciences. Thank goodness. If there is one thing I hope for from Obama, it is a return of rational judgment after too many years of politically motivated decisions.
  10. Invest in University-Based Research. How could I be against that? But seriously, I hope for the sort of enlightened investments in fundamental research that gave us the Internet.
  11. Protect American Intellectual Property Abroad: The Motion Picture Association of America estimates that in 2005, more than nine of every 10 DVDs sold in China were illegal copies. The U.S. Trade Representative said 80 percent of all counterfeit products seized at U.S. borders still come from China. Barack Obama and Joe Biden will work to ensure intellectual property is protected in foreign markets, and promote greater cooperation on international standards that allow our technologies to compete everywhere. Any bullet that starts by quoting the MPAA is bad news. This is the same group that persuaded Congress that if the copyright on Mickey Mouse were not extended from 70 to 90 years, Disney would just fold up its tents and not make any more movies, because it couldn’t see the point if people would start making a profit on their creativity 71 years from now. Knowing that Biden has a bad history with technology regulation, I fear that “international standards” will be crippling hardware fixes, broadcast flags, etc., that will make digital devices less generative. Here is one where the explicit mention of Biden’s name makes me worry that Obama has been hanging around with the wrong people.
  12. Protect American Intellectual Property at Home: Intellectual property is to the digital age what physical goods were to the industrial age. Barack Obama believes we need to update and reform our copyright and patent systems to promote civic discourse, innovation and investment while ensuring that intellectual property owners are fairly treated. Actually, “fairness” is not the point. “Intellectual property” has many properties that make the metaphorical comparison with physical property very imperfect. The limited monopoly is not meant to be “fair” to creators, just to give them an economic incentive to create. “To promote the progress of science and the useful arts,” as the Constitution says, not “to be fair to inventors and artists.” I see this as another special-pleading by the entertainment industries.
  13. Restore Scientific Integrity to the White House. Amen, and good for them for coming right out and saying that they don’t plan to consult with church leaders on every scientific question.

The rest looks fine too. I am very hopeful.

One Response to “Obama’s Technology Plan”

  1. Triple J Ventures Presents: The English Blogger » Commentary - Exodus into the 21st Century Says:

    […] Obama‚Äôs technology plans are well documented, a summary of the basic outline can be found here.¬† Technology reforms such as the revamped plan on broadband deployment are not an end in of […]