Obama's Technology Outlook

It's not unusual to see Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama using his cell phone or BlackBerry. And he's no stranger to the Internet.

Obama has called for the creation of a new Cabinet-level position: a "chief technology officer" who would make sure the federal government imports the best technology tools from the private sector. That's according to William Kennard, a technology adviser to the Obama campaign.

Making sure that government agencies have cutting-edge technology would be one part of the technology czar's responsibilities. That person also would be charged with making sure government is more transparent and that there is outreach to the public to get the "best ideas on how we can govern the country," says Kennard, a former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission in the Clinton administration.

Obama's philosophy on technology is "more activist" than that of GOP presidential candidate John McCain, Kennard tells NPR's Michele Norris.

"Obama understands that the future of our economy depends to a large extent on how we can ensure that Americans have access to technology and we empower Americans to use it," he says.

Obama supported a Clinton administration plan to provide all schoolchildren access to the Internet at school; McCain opposed it, Kennard says. He says Obama and McCain also differ when it comes to the universal service fund — a long-standing mechanism for providing phone service to rural areas that Kennard says Obama "embraces."

"The reality is that if we rely simply on the free market, there will be many people in this country that will have to do without. This is fundamentally about economic development. It's about making sure that people in rural areas can participate in the information age," Kennard says.

When it comes to access to technology, some policymakers believe a hands-off approach that allows market forces to prevail is best. Kennard says this argument promotes a "big-business agenda." He says arguments that Obama is "too intrusive" with his policy ideas contradict the history of the Internet's development. That process required government investment and research, as well as efforts to ensure that there were "open networks so people could access the dial-up Internet."

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