Today, speechwriters in the West Wing will put the finishing touches on President Obama’s State of the Union address. The State of the Union provides every President an unparalleled opportunity to showcase his policy priorities. And the opportunity is never more valuable than in an inaugural year, when it can set the tone for the next four. This year I hope the President speaks to the digital economy and, specifically, California's burgeoning tech sector.
In my dream scenario, the President’s speech will sketch a blueprint for building a stronger future for America. To me that means focusing some policies on Silicon Valley and San Francisco, still the headquarters of the new economy, a fact that Washington seems to forget from time-to-time. Tech-friendly policy initiatives will directly benefit the new economy, California, and the U.S. Take these, for example:
Give the app economy a boost. As consumers and businesses use more and more data, California’s burgeoning app economy could use a digital infrastructure upgrade, which could be accomplished by moving to all-IP networks across the country. A new Brookings Institution book by Robert Litan and Hal Singer, The Need for Speed: A New Framework for Telecommunications Policy for the 21st Century, offers a potential roadmap for a regulatory re-think that could help expedite the delivery of broadband to consumers and keep the new economy humming. Meanwhile, the federal government, under President Obama’s leadership, needs to speed the reallocation of underutilized spectrum, the invisible radio waves over which our connected devices communicate. If our telecommunications infrastructure clogs up like our freeways at rush hour, either because of inadequate spectrum or insufficient private investment, then our app economy will suffer.
Give more kids a future and create the next generation of innovators. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the country is going to need to fill 122,000 new computing jobs, each requiring a Bachelor’s degree, every year! A lot of those jobs should be here in this region. We need to strengthen science, technology, engineering and math education in our schools. We need policies to help recruit and train STEM teachers and raise STEM standards. We need to broaden access to computers and computer science. Let’s expand the future talent pool, and give kids a chance to participate in and contribute to Silicon Valley’s prosperity.
Help match skilled workers to companies that need them. While bolstering STEM is a good fix for an ongoing challenge, we’ve got to solve the immediate issue. Every startup CEO I talk to complains about the inability to find qualified candidates for key engineering jobs. One simple solution is to expand the H-1B visa program, which offers skilled workers an opportunity to work here and fill jobs for which we have no domestic candidates. Let’s ensure our innovators have access to the world’s best and brightest talent.
Fight for the multi-stakeholder approach to Internet governance. Last December, the World Conference on International Telecommunications met in Dubai to discuss proposals for U.N. governance of the Internet that would endanger freedom around the world and hurt economic prosperity here at home. Our leaders in Congress led the charge against these proposals, and we had broad support in America for maintaining the multi-stakeholder approach. Ultimately, the U.S. and 54 other countries refused to sign the treaty. But the story did not end there. Just last week, FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell told Congress that such plans for the Internet “must be stopped,” and that the treaty still can serve as a “stepping stone” to more international regulation of the Internet. Let’s hope President Obama makes this issue a diplomatic priority. We must get international consensus to keep the Internet free from mindless bureaucracy.
Our economy hasn’t recovered from the Great Recession. If anything, we’ve stabilized, but we’re still camped out in the ICU. If President Obama sets these priorities in his State of the Union speech, he can give the tech world the certainty it needs to move forward in building the long-term health of the new American economy.