July 31, 2014
by Dean Garfield

We live in a 21st century society and economy being driven by technology, but our policies and policymakers are stuck in the 20th century.  The result is rather than letting our economy take flight, our policy-makers are grounding our future. 

My call to those gathered at The Hill’s “Tech Policy 360” symposium at the Newseum last week was that it is time that we do something about that.

The contrast between the advances improving our society and the stagnant policy landscape is stark.  We live in an increasingly Jetsonian world where connected cars will soon be able to drive themselves, watches are also phones and bio-monitors that can save lives, social media is giving voice to the masses and changing regimes, and mobile devices are equalizing access to education, healthcare and even opportunity itself. 

In spite of the power of this technology to transform all of our lives for the better, we operate in a policy environment where “no” is the norm.  Rather than advancing innovation—and accelerating it—the dysfunction in our nation’s capitol is inhibiting it.

The issue that is still most important to voters today is improving the economy.  The same is true for American business.  And yet there are a number of important issues that are critical to the tech sector—but even more important to the country and advancing the economy—that are largely being ignored or not advanced by Congress this year.

For example: tax reform could supercharge the economy and likely catalyze over $1 trillion in new investments back into the U.S. from overseas; immigration reform would fix a broken system and grow our GDP by $1.3 trillion over the next two decades; and patent reform would better channel tens of billions of dollars from wasteful litigation against patent trolls towards innovation and new job creation.

Equally troubling is the increasing focus on side show debates, rather than core issues and areas of consensus.  The FCC has received over a million comments about the future of an open Internet.  And there seems to be broad agreement for real transparency, against content discrimination or blocking, and opposition to creating slow lanes through paid prioritization.

Instead the focus is on a“do-or-die” battle being fought on process.  Title I or Title II has become the new litmus test of purity on wanting a neutral, open Internet—and the result is much of this debate is being fiercely waged on the fringes. 

Title I or Title II will be less important in protecting consumers, advancing consumer choice, and incentivizing investment in the Internet ecosystem than freeing up more spectrum—the airwaves that we use to connect our mobile devices to the Internet. 

Nearly 60 percent of the most valuable spectrum, ‘beach front’ spectrum as many refer to it, is owned or controlled by the government.  Spectrum will be critical to the connected devices coming to our future that will improve our health, make vehicles safer, improve education, and reduce our energy consumption—if we can strike the balance to use it more efficiently.

When we hear technology discussed in Congress, Americans often come away with the impression most of its members must have been born in the 19th century.  So how do we motivate and get greater alignment between policy initiatives that need to advance, the technology that is transforming society, and improving our economy?

Part of this answer is making these issues more tangible and less technical.  The other part is accountability. 

There are tens of millions of us in this country who rely on innovation every minute of every day: from the mobile device in our hands to the laptop on our desks, we have the power to ensure our leaders are driving policies that reflect our interests.  It’s time we connect to them to make our voices heard.   

We live in the world’s most dynamic and innovative democracy.  Let’s use our 21st century technologies to ensure our policies and our policymakers join us in this century.

Garfield is the president & CEO of ITI, the nation’s leading technology industry trade association.

This op-ed originally appeared in The Hill and can be found here.