Uploading America’s Future

February 5, 2013

By: Daniel Richman

With great resistance coming from some large companies and a seemingly complacent Federal Communications Commission (FCC), whether or not America experiences this digital growth, may not be up to President Barack Obama at all.In his “re-inauguration” speech last week, President Obama spoke of a renewed commitment to building American business. Looking to continue developing the steady, albeit slow, economic progress many regions experienced in his first term, he emphasized technological infrastructure as a key instrument to “power(ing) new jobs and new industries.”

With great resistance coming from some large companies and a seemingly complacent Federal Communications Commission (FCC), whether or not America experiences this digital growth, may not be up to him at all. For a budding technological hotbed like San Francisco, the outcome of this debate may carry some serious consequences.

[How can we use tech innovations to make San Francisco city government work better for all of us? Sign up for the Reset SF Newsletter to learn more.]

Embracing a High-Speed Culture

While such political rhetoric has been around since the invention of the word “invention,” it is undeniable that in today’s economy such infrastructure, like a strong digital communications network, plays a foundational role in modern growth. These tools, especially high-capacity fiber networks like the one Google built in Kansas City, MO, fuel the “marketplace of ideas,” facilitate transactions, and allow today’s entrepreneurs to flourish. More importantly however, they allow more Americans to join the modern marketplace by providing affordable high-speed Internet access.

Acquiring this infrastructure is especially salient to us San Franciscans, because our city has also recently become a hotspot for start-ups and tech innovation. In fact, according to real estate services firm CBRE, San Francisco sports the highest tech-jobs growth rate in the nation, nearly double the rate of the next two fastest growing markets, New York City and Silicon Valley. Unfortunately, the fast track to such nation-wide Internet has stalled.

Internet: The 21st Century Telephone

Susan Crawford, a law professor at the Cardozo School of Law in New York, has prescribed three steps that may help remedy this resistance, helping further Obama’s vision of a new, more technologically competitive economy:

1. First, she argues that the federal government must remove barriers for investment in local fiber networks. It’s clear that while many politicians are jealous of Kansas City’s new ability to attract start-ups, nearly 20 states have laws sponsored by incumbent communication companies protecting them from city’s interested in increasing competition. Politicians have the power to change this.

2. Second, she claims that universal access is a must, and that the FCC must lead the charge to make it happen. This means treating the Internet much like the 20th century did the telephone, by expanding it to all neighborhoods and using active government subsidies to ensure that quality companies can help achieve universal access.

3. And finally, Crawford believes the FCC must commit to changing the culture of competition, to changing the rules that maintain the status quo dominance of a few major companies. Only then, will the FCC reclaim the authority these titans of industry have come to question, and only then will it become an effective tool for leading America into the digital age.

If this commitment to the digital age ever happens, if America is able to fulfill the President’s ambitions and technologically catch-up, it will demand changes not only in Congress from an expenditure standpoint, but also a more fundamental shift in the culture of the communications industry.

What Do You Think?

Having been lured by the big city, relatively cheaper rent, and favorable business taxes, many of the tech industry’s hottest start-ups have recently made the jump from Palo Alto to San Francisco. Venture capital funding for companies here has shot up nearly 40% since 2011, and it’s clear such growth won’t be slowing soon. With Mayor Ed Lee openly expressing an Obama-esque affinity for the tech industry, it seems that investment in citywide tech infrastructure would mean big things for stimulating job growth and should be in our future.

Do you agree? What other steps do you think San Francisco should take to create new jobs? A “new Silicon Valley” in its own right, should San Francisco offer high-speed Internet for all citizens?

Reset SF believes it should, and has started a petition to guarantee universal Internet access for all San Franciscans. If you agree, get involved and sign our petition here!

 

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