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Obama talks tech policy

The upcoming 44th president of the United States has given an indication of his policy on technology.A video released on Sunday, shows Barack Obama speaking to an audience of Google employees at their Mountain View HQ.
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Written by Tom Espiner, Senior Reporter on

The upcoming 44th president of the United States has given an indication of his policy on technology.

A video released on Sunday, shows Barack Obama speaking to an audience of Google employees at their Mountain View HQ.

The speech is a mixed bag of straightforward and frankly elliptical statements. It starts fairly clearly, then goes a bit wobbly.

Obama kicks off by saying technology can lead to prosperity – well, that's been true since our ancestors first picked up rocks and started banging them together.

"If America recommits itself to science and innovation, then we can lead the world to a new future of productivity and prosperity," said Obama.

Fair enough. He intends to double federal research funding, make R&D tax credit permanent, and reform immigration to "attract the best and brightest." I'd imagine the immigration reforms will be aimed at those involved in research.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INo69f7f8bo

Obama seemed very keen to attack "special interests". This is where for me the speech started to get woolly. Obama wants to enforce antitrust laws "to encourage startups". Was this a warning, or an encouragement to Google? Both Microsoft and Google have been engaged in antitrust allegations about each other, with Microsoft complaining about Google's DoubleClick acquisition, and Google complaining about Vista desktop search behaviour since last year.

Then, in what some may see is a dig at Microsoft, Obama said that US government data is to be put online in "universally accessible formats". Microsoft has had a lot of trouble with the whole OOXML debacle, and has ended up with an ISO standard that could be almost impossible to implement.

Obama said that US citizens will also be able to track federal grants, contracts, earmarks and lobbying contracts, and participate in government forums in real time.

One goal of the Obama administration will be that every American has broadband access, raise standard broadband speed, connect schools, hospitals, and libraries, and encourage technological literacy in schools. No timescale was given for this, but there's a maximum of eight years at Obama's disposal.

However, after this the speech got really opaque.

"We'll take on the special interests so that we can finally unleash the power of wireless spectrum for our safety, our security, and our connectivity," said Obama.

I have no idea what this means. There are a range of different organisations that could be deemed as having "special interests" in wireless spectrum allocation. As far as I understand, in the US it's been the broadcasters which have been arguing that they need white space as a buffer to cut down on interference. However, both Google and Microsoft could also be classed as "special interests" in this, as the white space could be used for wireless broadband.

However, the president has no input into spectrum allocation. It's decided by the FCC, and what's more, it was decided by the FCC on election day, months before Obama is due to take the reins of power.

I've also no idea how you would square increased connectivity for the population with increased safety and security. Is that a reference to combined civilian and military use?

Finally, Obama had a pop at more "special interests", saying his government would make "aggressive investments in clean and renewable energy", so that America "can end our addiction to oil, create millions of jobs, and save the planet in the bargain". A fine and noble sentiment, and I really hope he manages it.

However, those "special interests" will want to hold onto those powers. Texas oilmen have already been investing in clean technology, while oil companies have invested millions in rebranding and greenwash. The risk is that the existing "special interests" will hold onto their power, just in a different form.

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