TPS Notebook: Lawmakers, Tech Pioneers Discuss Broadband's Economic Value

Broadband Stimulus, Broadband's Impact, NTIA May 12th, 2009

, Reporter,

SAN MATEO, Calif., May 12, 2009 – 24 hours into the third annual Tech Policy Summit in San Mateo, two members of  Calfornia’s House delegation and a founding father of the PC age sounded off with different views on the best implementation and potential efficacy of the Obama administration’s $7.25 broadband stimulus program.

The appropriations made in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act for broadband deployment represent the biggest increase in funding for science and technology programs in U.S. history, said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. Lofgren, who chairs the California House Democratic caucus and sits on the Judiciary committee, said Monday during an afternoon keynote that the stimulus funds would not be a one-time expenditure.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., shares Lofgren’s view that the broadband programs will have “tremendous impact” and should not be a one time expenditure, Lofgren said. She was confident of the potential for broadband to enable job growth that would pull her state out of the current economic slump. “We’re going to innovate our way out of this,” she said.

Earlier Monday, her colleague Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., said he would use his perch on the House Commerce-Science-Justice Appropriations subcommittee to push support for a continuing broadband program similar to the Interstate highway system. When asked if he had jurisdiction to do more than introduce a bill for such a program, Honda was pragmatic: “Everything comes through appropriations,” he said.

But PC visionary Mitch Kapor, inventor of Lotus 1-2-3, worried that even with the stimulus programs, “we still lag far behind” other countries in the global digital economy. Even if a next generation network would create 2 million new jobs, building it would require venture capitalists and entrepreneurs to work together with politicians, he said.

Recovery Act funds do create potential for growth and innovation in industries like the health care IT and green technology sectors, Kapor said, but he worried that much of the funds could be squandered if projects are not carefully scrutinized.

Government infusions of cash into nascent industries like broadband risk disrupting markets, said TechVision21 CEO Kelly Carnes. Any grant program requires picking winners and losers, she pointed out. And the White House may not be the right place to rely on for promoting innovation, she said. Carnes said she is not sure administation officials “have their arms around” the responsibility they are undertaking.

Kapor suggested a “holy grail” for innovation would be a program to  bring back the glory days  of DARPA by funding “the best and the brightest” in networking. The DARPA programs that led to today’s internet are the “single biggest success story of government funding — ever.” To award funds, Kapor said the government need only find out “who’s smart, who’s good…and write him and check.”

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