As Inauguration Day nears, the high-tech sector is submitting its wish lists to President-elect Obama's transition team through letters, one-pagers, and face-to-face meetings. On the front burner is an array of technology-related government incentives that industry groups want included in the economic stimulus package that lawmakers plan to unveil early next year. Last week, the heads of the American Electronics Association and the Information Technology Association of America, which expect to close a merger deal by the end of 2008, wrote to Obama's advisers and members of Congress urging that technology be included in the stimulus bill. The action comes as telecommunications industry interests are campaigning for billions of federal dollars.
In their letter, AeA President Christopher Hansen and ITAA President Phil Bond said Congress should allow financial assets that U.S. companies have overseas to be repatriated at a reduced rate. "This would have positive economic effects for individual companies and their employees and investors, plus the U.S. economy as a whole," they wrote. They called for targeted accelerated depreciation for investment in IT and broadband Internet access as well as language that would speed the cost-effective deployment of fiber-optic broadband networks. Notice should be given to Internet service providers in a given market of any infrastructure projects so they could piggyback on road, bridge, railway and other transportation projects without having to dig up streets. The result would save taxpayers' money, they said.
Legislation passed last year that would provide state grants for broadband mapping infrastructure and support demand-stimulation programs needs to be funded at $335 million over the next three years, they said. Furthermore, a proposal that would improve healthcare quality, reduce medical errors, and make healthcare more accessible should be considered as part of the stimulus as long as it includes standards to protect citizens' personal medical records, Hansen and Bond said. Government-funded basic research conducted at the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and Energy Department's Office of Science must also be enhanced, they said. Similar proposals are included in recommendations for the Obama team from the Information Technology Industry Council. In addition to broadband deployment, tax repatriation, health IT, and a boost in federal R&D funding, the group is calling for a mix of tax and regulatory incentives to spur green technology as well as workforce training for 21st century jobs.
Meanwhile, the Association for Competitive Technology has drafted stimulus suggestions focused on promoting entrepreneurship and innovation by start-ups and mid-sized firms, which face the same liquidity and credit crunch problems that big businesses do. "While it is often true that good ideas fund themselves, the current economic crisis is changing the normal rules," ACT told the transition team. "Many companies are having a hard time staying afloat, and desperately need working capital to pay employees and sustain the business." They said bank bailout money is not circulating fast enough to smaller firms and is itself not enough to spur innovation. Among other things, the group wants tax-free licensing of intellectual property for start-ups; changes to tax law to remove disincentives to corporate-sponsored university research; and a quasi-public entity that would drive innovation through technology-transfer programs.
In addition to stimulus-specific recommendations, groups with a substantial stake in the Internet and intellectual property are submitting proposals of their own. The Family Online Safety Institute, whose corporate members include AT&T, Comcast, Google, Microsoft, Verizon and other high-tech firms, urged the incoming administration last week to ramp up government efforts to protect children online. The group proposed naming a national safety officer to serve under a national chief information officer within the White House; creating a U.S. Internet safety council; and establishing a federal program to fund a range of online safety research and education projects. "We need a paradigm shift in what we do, say and teach about online safety," FOSI CEO Stephen Balkam said in a release. In the same release, MySpace Chief Security Officer Hemanshu Nigam said FOSI's call to action "is opportune with new leadership taking charge of the online safety for our nation's children in a Web 2.0 world."
Increasing efforts to fight illegal movie theater videotaping as well as Internet and optical disc piracy were among key points in a one-pager submitted to Obama by the Motion Picture Association of America. The trade group, which represents major movie studios, said illicit camcording remains the major source of pirated content. The group has worked with the U.S. government to include anti-camcording language in new free trade deals, including the Korean and Malaysian agreements. On the Internet piracy front, MPAA views recent efforts by the French and U.K. governments to protect online content and facilitate inter-industry cooperation as useful models. Furthermore, MPAA has identified Canada, China, India, Mexico, Russia and Spain as countries that should receive priority trade policy attention in 2009.
Meanwhile, the Copyright Alliance's seven-member board of directors met with the transition team recently to discuss strategies for protecting IP. The alliance is backed by NBC Universal, the Professional Photographers of America, Time Warner, Viacom and other stakeholders in the content community. David Trust, PPA's executive director, was among those at the meeting and said in a release that he was "most impressed with the genuine interest they displayed for our collective message ... It feels like we are doing real good for photography and all creators."
CTIA--The Wireless Association, produced a one-pager that stresses the importance of the sector it represents, from education to energy and healthcare and transportation. Supporting the wireless industry has broad public safety implications and can create jobs and economic opportunity, the group said. More than 2.4 million U.S. jobs depend on the wireless industry, which is projected to generate $860 billion in productivity gains between 2007 and 2016. CTIA urged the incoming administration to identify and allocate additional spectrum for mobile broadband services; remove roadblocks to the deployment of towers and other infrastructure; eliminate what stakeholders call "discriminatory and regressive" taxes and fees; and modernize the federal fund that subsidizes Internet connections for citizens, hospitals, libraries and schools in rural- and low-income areas.
The U.S. Telecom Association pointed out in its own paper that a 7 percent increase in broadband adoption will create 2.4 million jobs in an industry that already accounts for about 5.5 million American jobs. The same percentage increase in broadband adoption could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than three billion pounds per year, resulting from increased telecommuting, online commerce, and reduced construction. Healthcare broadband-based remote monitoring for chronically ill patients could reduce U.S. healthcare costs by 25 percent -- a $350 billion annual savings, USTelecom added. According to the trade group, broadband will only be maximized if the new administration addresses barriers to adoption, such as access to computers; targeted deployment policies focused on high-cost, underserved areas; and establishing regulatory parity among competing providers of broadband platforms and services.