Part II of a two-part series.
Technology today is evolving at breakneck speed, and the government must keep up to ensure we take these opportunities to improve the economy, environment, and rebuild America’s knowledge and power infrastructure. Reed Hundt and Blair Levin address problems and solutions in The Politics of Abundance: How Technology Can Fix the Budget, Revive the American Dream, and Establish Obama’s Legacy, delving into the knowledge and power industries that connect our communities and impact the economy.
The Past is Prologue: The Legacy of 21st Century Infrastructure
The Politics of Abundance offers a broad vision for what can occur when regulatory strongholds are put aside for the greater good of the people. Upgrading the knowledge and power sectors is vitally important to the economy because it will encourage innovation and investment. Such investment will spark growth, leaving President Obama with a positive legacy, similar to what the New Deal did for President Roosevelt.
What the knowledge and power platforms have in common is the need for infrastructure, and the authors believe that President Obama should make infrastructure buildout a high priority by creating a position for an Assistant to the President for Infrastructure. The authors note that 20th century investments in land, transportation, and labor helped move the United States to become the dominant global player. The federal government led the way on these issues, and the private sector followed. This could continue into the 21st century with infrastructure investments in spectrum and energy.
Timing is Everything
Many of these pro-growth proposals deregulate or change the nature of current regulatory roles upon which many utilities have built their business models. Others focus on delivering 21st century services to consumers. The authors’ approach to embracing these disruptive technologies is designed to appeal to stakeholders by providing incentives to adopt new technology, not to run them out of business or make their products or services irrelevant. The sweeping changes to the knowledge and power platforms would benefit consumers and industry by creating efficiencies down the line.
Unfortunately, due to Congressional gridlock, implementation of the authors’ broad view is unlikely to come to pass in the short term, particularly where it relates to taxes that penalize inefficient use of telecom and energy resources. Nevertheless, the authors offer a glimmer of hope from a past victory in communications regulation. In President Clinton’s first term, with leadership from the Executive Branch, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 passed with bipartisan support, ushering in a new era of competition with innovative products and services for consumers.
Regulatory barriers aside, there is much to be done in the way of digital literacy before many consumers will be comfortable with these proposals that require them to entrust personal data to cloud-based services over which they will have little control. Even with sufficient digital literacy training, a segment of our population will not be at ease with moving certain data online, particularly in an age where hackers openly challenge networks many users view as secure. The authors acknowledge that new forms of privacy and security protection must be developed.
Further, many of these proposals are based on one another such that if one is adopted, but not the others, the intended results will fail to be achieved. For example, the authors suggest that the federal government award funds for network upgrades to communities that can demonstrate the ability to raise private investment for infrastructure. However, there is little mention of awards of this nature to communities that cannot attract such investment. To address the latter, the authors suggest the government guarantee high-speed access to rural, high-cost, and low-income areas. Adopting the private funding proposal, without ensuring additional funding needed in other communities, could lead to 21st century redlining, exacerbating the current digital divide.
A Foundation for the Future
Hundt and Levin’s ideas are comprehensive and, if properly applied, could stimulate our economy, sustain our environment, and leave President Obama with a legacy of laying the foundation upon which much of 21st century innovation will build upon. These proposals deserve consideration by the Executive Branch, legislators, and stakeholders, as they all must work in concert to rebuild and sustain our economy.
Joycelyn F. James, Esq. is a graduate of the Institute for Communications Law Studies at the Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law. She currently serves as the Cathy Hughes Fellow for the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council, where she works on matters that focus on the advancement of minority and women’s entrepreneurship in the nation’s media and telecommunications industries.