Presidential candidates stake out tech positions

Future of tech largely drowned out by the war in Iraq, the US economy and social issues

Technology policy hasn't played a major role in this year's US presidential campaign, but the major candidates have staked out positions on issues such as net neutrality and skilled-worker visas.

As in past presidential campaigns, candidates haven't viewed technology issues as ones that drive voters to the polls.

Instead, debate over the war in Iraq, the economy, illegal immigration and other issues will inspire voters in 24 states (plus American Samoa and Democrats living overseas) on Super Tuesday to choose which candidates they want to be nominees of the Democratic or Republican parties.

Some tech groups have long complained that many politicians don't get technology. In late January, the Washington, D.C., tech PR firm 463 Communications released a poll with two-thirds of respondents saying that presidential candidates should have at least as much knowledge about the Internet as they do. However, only 45 percent said the next president will know as much about the Internet as they do.

In December, Garrett M. Graff, an editor at large at Washingtonian magazine and the first blogger admitted to a White House briefing, wrote a column in The Washington Post, complaining about the lack of tech-savvy candidates. That prompted others to comment as well.

Members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, the panel that debates many tech issues, often talk about their lack of tech experience, Adam Thierer, a senior follow with the tech-centric conservative think tank, the Progress and Freedom Foundation, wrote on the PFF's blog.

"Without missing a beat, they make jokes about not ever using the Internet or computers but that they have staffers or young family members who do and keep them informed," he wrote. "And yet, despite this stunning unfamiliarity with all things high-tech, they then move right on to pass reams of regulations governing the Internet and digital economy. Again, it's not funny anymore and we should stop allowing them to pretend it is."

That said, several presidential candidates have taken positions on tech-related issues this year. In alphabetical order, these are some of their views:

Senator Hillary Clinton

New York Democrat Clinton, like other candidates, hasn't made tech issues a central part of her campaign, but she has championed an "innovation agenda" as one of her top issues. That agenda includes several policies that many large tech companies have embraced.

Clinton wants to pump up the basic research budgets at the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy's Office of Science, and the Department of Defense by 50 percent over 10 years.

She also would require that federal research agencies set aside at least 8 percent of their research budgets for discretionary funding of high-risk research, and she would increase funding for research on Internet- and IT-based tools, including supercomputing and simulation software.

"Under the Bush administration, agencies like the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have reduced support for truly revolutionary research," Clinton's Web site says. "This is a problem because DARPA has played a major role in maintaining America's economic and military leadership. DARPA backed such projects as the Internet, stealth technology, and the Global Positioning System."

Clinton also wants tax incentives to encourage broadband providers to deploy services in underserved areas. She has called for federal support of state and local broadband programs, including municipal broadband projects. Clinton has also called for a research-and-development tax credit, extended temporarily multiple times since 1981, to be made permanent.

Clinton has said she would support net neutrality regulations for US broadband providers.

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Grant Gross

IDG News Service

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