Part I of a two-part series.
As our nation slowly recovers from the recent recession, policymakers are devising ways to improve the job market and restore consumer and corporate confidence to generate spending that will improve the economy.
In The Politics of Abundance: How Technology Can Fix the Budget, Revive the American Dream, and Establish Obama’s Legacy, Reed Hundt and Blair Levin delve into the two industries that connect our communities and impact the economy – knowledge and power. The knowledge platform consists of the Internet, related technology, and all devices that connect to it. The power platform relates to energy resources necessary to support modern society and commerce. The authors assert that creating and sustaining efficiencies in these areas will promote private investment, lead to job growth, and ultimately generate revenue.
The authors offer over 20 proposals that, by their calculations, will yield over $130 billion dollars in revenue for the United States. Hundt and Levin are veterans in telecommunications regulation and policy, both having served at the Federal Communications Commission; Hundt as Chairman from 1993 to 1997, and Levin as Hundt’s chief of staff who, more recently, oversaw the creation of the National Broadband Plan in 2010. Therefore, it is no surprise that many of their proposals involve technology and ways that it can be effectively applied to all walks of life to create efficiencies that are not met by our current systems. Knowledge and power both rely upon infrastructure development, a recurring theme in many of the proposals.
To be clear, The Politics of Abundance is not influenced by bias in favor of technology. It is influenced by the reality that technology and innovation are drivers of our economy. Citing a study by McKinsey & Company, the authors note that the Internet created 2.6 jobs for every job lost due to this disruptive technology. A new, more efficient power platform based on renewable energy is projected to bring 8,000 to 10,000 jobs for every billion dollars of spending. It is also expected to reduce energy costs for consumers and drastically reduce emissions. Ensuring a smooth transition and/or upgrade of the knowledge and power platforms is instrumental to stimulating and sustaining our nation’s economy in the 21st century.
Laying the Foundation for the Future of Technology
The need for individualized, secure data will spur the growth of the knowledge platform. Two broad proposals mentioned by the authors as “race to the moon” goals focus on education and health care. In education, all students would have access to a data exchange via a secure mechanism for academic assistance by 2016. A similar, secure exchange could be created in health information by 2020.
The way consumers use mobile devices is driving the need for efficiencies on the knowledge platform. The growth in devices such as e-readers suggests that every student could use a digital reader for individualized education in the near future. To overcome the challenges that prevent using devices for education, including cost of the device and Internet service, the authors urge the government to ensure ubiquitous access to content, devices, and broadband service for those who cannot afford them. In addition to education, the knowledge platform provides unique opportunities for medical advancement if properly developed. The authors suggest that creating a secure data exchange, or “Medicloud,” for healthcare providers would improve delivery of services and reduce waste, fraud, and abuse. The federal government could lead the way in health information technology using its power to regulate participation and its influence as purchaser of services via Medicare and Medicaid.
Public safety services would also be a key driver to expand broadband connectivity to public facilities. The First Responder Network Authority, or FirstNet, a public-private agency created by Congress to address first-responder’s interoperability issues after 9/11, would benefit greatly from expansion of the knowledge platform. The authors suggest that with the construction of networks to support public safety, the private market for bandwidth and devices will expand as well.
Power Moves: The Untapped Potential of Clean Energy
The Politics of Abundance makes clear that the U.S. is in a prime position to lead the world in building an efficient power platform. However, our nation needs a solid, comprehensive plan to achieve this. The authors suggest a national energy plan, designed in a manner similar to the National Broadband Plan, to chart a course that will remain consistent through changes in presidential administrations. This plan will set out how the nation can adopt cleaner and renewable energy sources as it transitions from pollution-producing methods.
Creating the power platform will address the jobs crisis and strengthen the economy, but there is also a deeper significance to developing sustainable, renewable energy sources – saving the planet. The authors cite to research indicating that within 16 years, the world will face a climate catastrophe unless carbon emissions can be drastically reduced. This is critical as countries like China and India increase carbon production as their economies improve.
However, all hope is not lost. The authors assure readers that with the cost of cleaner energy sources dropping, such as natural gas, solar, and batteries, the energy sector will expand at a steady pace. Comprehensive regulatory changes, some of which incentivize private investment, will cause the new power platform to expand rapidly. Suggested incentives include lowering the cost of capital for clean energy companies by creating loan programs, offering tax credits for clean energy technology, and modifying utility zoning and access to public property to ensure continued expansion of the power platform.
With the carrot comes the stick, in the form of a tax on energy generated through methods that produce emissions. Encouraging companies that generate high amounts of carbon to convert to clean energy methods of production sooner rather than later, corporations would be taxed on a standard of 1,000 pounds of carbon per megawatt hour, as proposed last year by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Certain state and EPA mandates to replace emissions-producing methods of energy production would also increase the demand for renewable sources of energy. As most energy regulation is done at the state and local level, the authors suggest that the federal government establish state “green banks” to help utilities pay for cleaner energy solutions, particularly in states that that heavily rely upon coal for power.
Part II of this article will discuss specific proposals the Executive Branch should consider to maximize the implementation and effectiveness of new technology.
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.