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Obama's Technology Outlook

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Obama's Technology Outlook

Election 2008: Issues

Obama's Technology Outlook

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Now for Senator Obama's tech policy ideas, we go to Bill Kennard. He's also a former chair of the FCC under President Clinton. He's now an adviser on technology and media issues for the Obama campaign. Welcome to the program.

Mr. BILL KENNARD (Former FCC Chairman): Thank you. Good to be here.

NORRIS: Could you explain Senator Obama's plan for what Mr. Powell referred to as a top tech guy or perhaps gal? What would a tech czar do?

Mr. KENNARD: Senator Obama has called for the creation of a new cabinet-level position which he would call the chief technology officer. And that individual would be responsible for making sure that the federal government imports from the private sector the best technology tools to make government work better -things like making sure that all of the government agencies have cutting-edge technology, making sure that our government is much more transparent, making sure that we're reaching out to the public to get some of their best ideas on how we can govern the country.

NORRIS: Simply put, how would you explain his philosophy when it comes to the role of federal government in tech policy? Is it something that's very activist or more of a hands-off approach?

Mr. KENNARD: Well, it's certainly more activist than John McCain. Senator 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. I've had a lot of experience with John McCain. He was chairman of the commerce committee when I was chairman of the FCC. So his view is starkly different from Senator Obama. I'll give you a few examples.

When the Clinton administration went to implement a policy to make sure that all school children in America had access to the Internet in their schools, Senator McCain vigorously opposed it. Senator Obama not only embraces that policy but wants to take it to the next level, to make sure that not only schoolchildren in America have access to dial-up Internet but they have access to broadband Internet.

NORRIS: Now, we just heard Michael Powell, who acknowledged that it won't be easy getting broadband companies to invest in rural areas, but he says it's something that John McCain is committed to doing. What is Senator Obama's plan for this?

Mr. KENNARD: Well, there again you have a stark difference between the two candidates. Senator McCain has not been supportive of the universal service fund in the country. That is a mechanism that we've used for decades in this country to get phone service into rural areas. Senator Obama embraces it. Because the reality is if we rely simply on the free market, there will be many people in this country that will have to do without.

And Senator Obama believes that this is not just a question of access to technology. This is fundamentally about economic development. It's about making sure that people in rural areas can participate in the Information Age.

NORRIS: When you talk to tech analysts and tech advisers who fall on the Republican side of the divide, they say that he should take a much more hands-off approach and that the best way to allow technology and technology policy to develop is to allow sort of market forces to prevail.

Mr. KENNARD: Well, I've heard this argument and I believe that it's a caricature, but it also typically promotes a more big business agenda. We didn't get here with a robust Internet in this country with a hands-off approach. It required not only government investment and research, but also ensuring that we had open networks so people could access the dial-up Internet.

So the argument that Senator Obama is too intrusive or it's sort of a command-and-control approach really contradicts the whole history of how we've gotten to this point to date.

NORRIS: Bill Kennard, thanks so much for coming in to talk to us.

Mr. KENNARD: Thanks for having me.

NORRIS: Bill Kennard is a former FCC chairman and an adviser on technology and media issues for the Obama campaign.

One final note: In our conversation, Mr. Kennard mentioned a program that was debated during his tenure at the FCC. The program provides schools with discounted access to the Internet. Mr. Kennard said that Senator McCain opposed that program. In fairness, we're also seeking comment from the McCain campaign to clarify Senator McCain's position on that program.

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