What would a national tech policy look like?

The intersection of policy and technology is getting to be a crowded place. Lawmakers and regulators are weighing in with increasing frequency on issues like patent reform, spectrum allocation, Net neutrality and behavioral targeting and consumer privacy.

Just today, a group of industry and advocacy groups [announced](/infra/article.php/3755041/Net+Neutrality+Groups+Form+New+Front.htm) a united coalition that plans to agitate for a national broadband policy that would work to create affordable, high-speed Internet access for the entire country.

Details are sketchy.

One thing that’s clear — the more steam any such effort gathers, the more vigorous the opposition from Internet service providers will be.

Here at the Personal Democracy Forum conference, there were no ISPs to be found. It was a meeting of the like-minded, a crowd with no love for the cable and telecoms.

So just what role should the government play in the evolution of the Internet? A common answer is to create a cabinet-level position overseeing technology. A technology czar — sort of like the chief technology officers employed by nearly all of the Fortune 500 companies.

Vint Cerf, Google’s chief Internet evangelist and a co-creator of the TCP/IP protocols that make the Internet run, took issue with that idea, calling it a “top-down solution.”

“Top-down is not really the DNA of the Internet. It’s bottom-up,” Cerf said.

Alec Ross, an adviser to Barack Obama and co-founder of the nonprofit One Economy, clarified that a government office would not simply be a “box that you would check off.”

“A CTO isn’t an end unto itself,” he said.

After declaring that he would abolish the FCC, Cerf spoke vaguely of a reordering of incentives to bring cable and telecoms on board with some of the tech industry’s priorities, like Net neutrality and how to deploy broadband access to rural America.

“I would not mandate a particular technology. I think that would be counter-productive,” Cerf said. Fiber works great in apartment buildings, but some radio-based access might be the answer for the currently underserved rural areas, Cerf said.

“It seems to me that what we need is something that will provide the right incentives to the resulting networking is something that multiple parties can produce.”

As to exactly what form that will take, Cerf wasn’t entirely sure.

And given everything else that’s going to dominate the election debate (Iraq, the economy, healthcare, globalization), Ross pragmatically (and a little glumly) reminded us that technology will be pushed to the back burner this fall as one of those “things that are important but not urgent.”

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