In just a few short weeks, Americans are going to the polls to select the next President of the United States. At Global Kids we’re pretty obsessed with following the elections, staff members shouting out news, debating, joking, and sharing links all during the work day. It’s to be expected from an organization that is about civic engagement — we’re all very civically engaged.
There are of course a number of critical issues being debated by the candidates — the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the economy in crisis, health care, etc. I have not heard much discussion of technology and telecommunications policies by either Obama or McCain, which I find disappointing given their importance for the economy, education, and our democracy writ large.
Here’s some of the key technology issues that I think the next US President will have to treat seriously…
[IMAGE: Replica of Oval Office found at Walleye sim in Second Life (click here to teleport).]
Whoever wins on November 4th will face a number of important challenges related to digital media that will decide the future of these technologies and their development, distribution and accessibility to Americans. Here are five of the most pressing telecom issues he will be facing:
- Broadband Internet Access: As the internet becomes a primary means of critical information dissemination, civic engagement, and artistic expression, who has access to these pipelines becomes more and more important. The United States has some of the highest rates for some of the slowest internet access in the Western World, twice what internet surfers in Japan pay according to the non-profit Free Press. The FCC is charged with regulating the internet service providers in the United States, and the President appoints the chairman of the FCC. An FCC committed to greatly increasing broadband "penetration" into rural and urban poor communities would make a huge difference.
- Spectrum Allocation: Similarly, the FCC is charged with regulating the use of the radio spectrum, which is used for a variety of applications from CB-radio to WIFI, broadcast radio, broadcast TV, and emergency / military communications. There’s a battle between several of the media giants to gain control of a large swath of unused spectrum for the next generation of wireless internet access. Can the radio spectrum be used to bring connectivity to communities for free or will they become monetized by the ISPs?
- First Amendment and New Media: One of the most important roles of the President is to appoint Justices for the Supreme Court. The bench’s stance toward the First Amendment will be very influential in determining how these new forms of public expression — from video games to Twitter — are protected or not by the government.
- Internet Governance – Net Neutrality: The internet was built based on open standards and open architecture that allowed new applications and new kinds of content to flow over the wires (and airwaves). However some warn that ISPs and media companies may in the near future decide to restrict internet access to certain kinds of content and applications, such as bittorrent, VOIP, or streaming video that threatens their own distribution channels and content. Advocates like the Save the Internet Coalition call this a battle to keep the "Net Neutral". Detractors note that ISPs have a responsibility to keep their users from harmful, illegal and pornographic content. The President will have a significant role in promoting a more open or more regulated internet.
- Science & Math Education: America lags way behind the rest of the industrialized world in math and science aptitude in its high schools and college students getting degrees in computer science and engineering. How will the next President work toward making sure we have a workforce prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century?
There are others I could mention — intellectual property, R&D, the peaceful and scientific uses of space, surveillance — but suffice to say that in the Digital Age we will need political leaders who are ready to harness these technologies for the greater public good.
You can read some of Obama’s and McCain’s positions on these issues at http://www.sciencedebate2008.com.