Thursday, November 13, 2008

Obama preparing comprehensive technology policy

TECH-SAVVY : Obama preparing comprehensive technology policy

By Hiawatha Bray

The Boston Globe

November 12, 2008


Barack Obama's Internet-fueled campaign has transformed the way Americans choose a president. Now, the president-elect's administration plans to change the way Americans - and government - use technology.

If Obama gets his way, all Americans would have broadband Internet access, whether they live in big cities or remote villages. Online life would be safer, with better defenses against cybercriminals. And there would be greater access to government, with online services to let anyone question members of the president's cabinet or track every dime of the U.S. budget.

"I think it's not going to happen in the first 100 days, but I think a lot of this can happen in the first term," Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press, a media reform organization based in Washington, said.

Calls and e-mails to the Obama transition team were not returned. But judging by the campaign's position paper on technology policy, the president-elect believes Internet technology should be as thoroughly integrated into U.S. agencies as it was in his campaign, where the Web was used to communicate, raise money and get out the vote in a way unprecedented in U.S. politics.

Obama is in the process of choosing the country's first chief technology officer, a post that's long existed in most corporations but never in government.

Obama has also said he wants to put YouTube-like videos of government meetings online and has proposed a Google-like database of grants and contracts, so people can see where their money is going. And he would require his cabinet members to hold regular online town hall meetings, where they would field questions from the Internet audience.

"His use of the technology in the campaign would imply a lot of positive things for government as well," said Phil Bond, a former under secretary of commerce in the administration of President George W. Bush's who heads the industry lobbying group Information Technology Association of America. "I think we're going to see a lot of things we can't even imagine today."

But before they can benefit from online government, many Americans still must get online. The U.S. ranks 15th out of 30 industrialized countries in the percentage of citizens with access to the Internet. Obama promises to make Internet access as commonplace as telephone service.

Obama has called for tax and loan incentives to spur construction of broadband networks. He wants to divert some of the $7 billion Universal Service Fund, collected by the U.S. government to subsidize phone service in rural areas, to build high-speed Internet lines that could also carry phone traffic.

"You don't have to take that money out of budget," said Scott of Free Press, which backs the idea. "It's basically already there."

But Obama is bound to face resistance from rural phone companies. He is also in for a fight on a proposal to reallocate licensed radio and TV frequencies to create new wireless broadband networks. Last week, the Federal Communications Commission approved the sale of wireless networking devices that will transmit over unused TV frequencies.

Promising a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy to make U.S. computer networks safer from criminals, terrorists, or enemy nations, Obama has said he plans to appoint a national cybersecurity adviser.

Art Coviello, president of RSA in Bedford, Massachusetts, the data security division of EMC, said the Bush administration drew up a sound cybersecurity plan but failed to implement it. He is expecting better from an Obama administration.

"He was the first presidential candidate who held a round table on national security that had cybersecurity as a priority," Coviello said.

But any comprehensive cybersecurity strategy must be international in scope, warned Tom Kellermann, vice president of security awareness at Core Security Technologies in Boston.

"Many hackers use less-developed countries as bastions or havens for their acts," Kellermann said, adding that it would take complex multinational negotiations to build global firewalls against online crime.

The president-elect is a staunch supporter of "net neutrality," the idea that Internet providers should be barred by law from discriminating against particular kinds of data. But there is intense debate over whether a law is needed.

Comcast admitted this year that it had delayed the flow of data generated by the popular file-swapping program BitTorrent, used by many Internet users to trade in television shows and movies, to ease congestion on its network. The FCC ordered a halt to the practice. Comcast has appealed to a U.S. court.

A U.S. net neutrality law would prohibit such restrictions by service providers, and has strong support from online activists worried about digital censorship."That's been a key point of our agenda for some years," Scott of Free Press said. But

Adam Thierer, senior fellow at the libertarian-leaning policy group Progress & Freedom Foundation, said such a law is unnecessary and perhaps dangerous. "It will allow the FCC to begin comprehensively regulating the broadband marketplace," he said, "including broadband speech."

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